Heather and I went to the park yesterday afternoon, and ate our lunch under a huge tree of yellow leaves lit in the afternoon sun. Its branches covered us and reached down to almost touch the water of the stream before us. Heather had made tabouleh, a Lebanese salad that she used to eat in France; she'd found the makings for it among the donated food. Very good. Then we lay and read in the sun.
The night before I had felt overwhelmed, because I came back tired then found out one of the women were coming in late from work so I would need to get up and open the door for her. And then there were some men who had been drinking and started yelling on the porch around midnight. So I went out and got one of them to leave. No big problems, really, but nights like that always leave me feeling shaky.
And later I thought that there is a fine line between getting burned out and not getting burned out. The experience of being pushed to the edge is the same, I think. The difference is just the small movement of faith, being able to fall over the edge and be caught and carried. The alternative, trying to keep everything under control and manageable, doesn't work. Not if we're going to follow Jesus where he's going. He didn't stay where things were manageable.
My instinct, when I feel overwhelmed, is to either run away or take control. But those are not the responses of faith. I need to just go ahead with the loving task I see right before me and not worry about the chaos that swirls around.
And trust that God will have a picnic beside a stream for me when I need it.
Heather and I went to the park yesterday afternoon, and ate our lunch under a huge tree of yellow leaves lit in the afternoon sun. Its branches covered us and reached down to almost touch the water of the stream before us. Heather had made tabouleh, a Lebanese salad that she used to eat in France; she'd found the makings for it among the donated food. Very good. Then we lay and read in the sun.
To Heather, for coming over this morning (because I was tired) and talking with the new guest who arrived on the porch late last night with no place else to go.
To Panera bakery, for donating the good bagel I ate while I prayed and listened to Heather laugh with the guests.
To Cynthia, for offering the movie and popcorn last night.
To Mary, for going with Cynthia to the doctor's office the other day.
To Clyde, for fixing our boiler (at no charge) this week so we have heat in the house.
To Lee Ann, from our church, who brought a bunch of teenagers over yesterday and planted some hostas and iris and crocus bulbs that will come up next spring.
To the anonymous giver who brought the new (used) dryer, and to Roy, who offered to bring the tools and connect the gas line for it.
To Serif software company, for offering free desktop publishing software that we'll use to lay out our next newsletter.
To Jeff, who is right now organizing the college students as they prepare lunch for the eighty guests that will show up to eat.
To God, in whom we hope, who richly provides all things for us to enjoy.
Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Lk 6.20)
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5.10)
These passages came up in our discussion Tuesday night (which was our best yet). One of the men argued that these pointed to "negations" (setbacks?) of kingdom life, that the kingdom ultimately overcame. But I insisted that this voluntary endurance of poverty and persecution was part of kingdom life, central to the experience of the kingdom of God here and now. So we should expect these and not shy away from them. And we should also question ourselves if we have side-stepped them, fearfully stepping back from the invitation into God's kingdom.
I chose these beatitudes specifically, because while all the others speak of some future fulfilment, these both speak in the present tense. "Blessed are you... for yours is the kingdom of God." And Jesus' own life also demonstrated that these are part of the kingdom experience now. I think part of it is being able to experience this blessedness right in the midst of the things that make most people miserable.
Next week we're starting another book, Robert Inchausti's Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, And Other Christians In Disguise. And I chose some readings to go with it, from the authors being studied in the book. Two readings, from Kierkegaard and Chesterton, highlight ways that voluntary poverty contribute to kingdom life: in nurturing a "sublime dependence" on God; and in our willingness to invite all (especially the most vulnerable) to come to us. Like Jesus did.
Here's something else from about a year ago, again about Jesus' community. It's from an essay I wrote then: "My power is made perfect in weakness" (this is a RTF file, so any word processor should be able to handle it, 12 pages).
And at our discussion group tonight we're talking about the kingdom of God, so this is relevant to that as well...
What does this community look like?
I think it looks like Jesus and his disciples. They do not have a place that is “theirs,” controlled by them, but rather live and move among the places owned and controlled by those more powerful in society. (How could they have their own property if they will not fight to possess and defend it but instead give freely?) And they are mixed in with the rest of society, allowing any who wish to be among them, so the only way you can tell who is really a part of the community is to identify who really lives like Jesus. There are not clear boundaries of the community, neither property or membership boundaries. They are a scattered few, mingled with many unlike them. But isn’t that how Jesus described his community? He said that his people, his kingdom, would not be easily identified:
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17.20-21)Those who followed him could surely be recognized by their likeness to him, in their faith and in their active love. But they would not be recognized as a kingdom, with no clearly defined borders and no identifiable king. Because God would be their king. God would unify them and protect them and direct them through his Spirit. And so they would appear to be leaderless, landless, undefended and unconnected (at least lacking the kind of things that connected other people), yet with a common way of living and a common allegiance different from the kingdoms in which they mingled. “In the world but not of it.” As Jesus prayed:
“I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine… The world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one.” (Jn 17. 9, 14-15)They are hated because they do not identify themselves with the groups in which they mingle, so they are seen as outsiders, “not one of us.” They do not fight to defend their own borders or attack the trouble-makers among them, and neither will they do so for the cities and nations of “the world.” They do not need legal or authoritarian structures to unite or preserve their (God’s) community and so will not support or enforce those structures around them. So they are seen as subversive and hated. And excluded and attacked. And they do not resist this. If they suffer pain or loss they rejoice, and if they are driven away they wipe the dust from their feet and move on.
The reason for Jesus’ community being like this is that it is the perfect way to express faith, experiencing God’s care and encouraging others to look to God with faith as well. Their willingness to embrace weakness voluntarily and joyfully stands out, because no other human group acts in this way. Jesus’ community can be weak because of their faith in God who is strong. Who does (and will continue to) unite and guide and preserve them, just as he promised.
...They are God’s pilgrim people on earth.
This weekend I was looking at my journal entries from last October and noticed this one, which seems to elaborate on some of my comments about "Jesus' community":
Jesus promised the “kingdom of God” experience to those who follow him in a life of radical giving and complete dependence on God. This is God’s gift to us, and only God can make it happen. The experience certainly seems like a miracle. Because most everyone around us does not live the kind of life Jesus taught.
That raises the question of how to interact with those who do not follow Jesus’ way, or who only follow it to some extent. The more extreme the giving and vulnerability, the fewer that practice it. But the path to more giving and more dependence on God is usually a gradual one, so any steps in that direction should be encouraged. Jesus always spoke well of those who gave, who let go of some of their own wealth and self-sufficiency, even if they did not yet give everything. This was a good step. But, at the same time, Jesus was still not “satisfied” with simply giving from our excess. He continued to set the example of radical giving, calling everyone to keep taking the next step.
And Jesus’ life of dependence did not only set the example, but also helped others enter into it by beginning to give. Many who did not leave everything and follow Jesus were inspired to at least begin to give by supporting him and his followers. This offered them the experience of giving, and also brought them closer to Jesus, to know him better. To these, Jesus was thankful and accepted what they chose to give. But he did not direct them to remain as benefactors, to continue to gather wealth so they could share a portion with others, even if it was to his benefit. To all, Jesus said, “Follow me.” Whatever people chose to give was good, a beginning perhaps, that brought them into contact with Jesus’ way of life. But (whatever their particular gifts) everyone was called to be like Jesus in radical giving, in embracing vulnerability, and in complete dependence on God.
From this we can see how others can be drawn in to Jesus’ way. People first see something in the faith of Jesus’ followers and also see their vulnerability and need. So they are inspired to offer some help. This gives them the experience of God’s love, God working through them to support his own children, and also exposes them to Jesus’ way of life. If they then open themselves to this life, they will progressively give more, becoming more vulnerable and dependent themselves. And so they too will become inspirations to encourage giving, both by their example and their need. As people grow in this way, their gifts change. They have less material possessions to share, but their lives become a more valuable gift, both as an inspiration calling others to enter into God’s love and help care for his children and as a model for faith by which we become (and live as) God’s children.
This progression is like a cycle of life which continues to draw others into Jesus’ way.
The last couple days I've engaged in a discussion in the Jesus Radicals forum. Here's something I wrote yesterday:
I'd just like to offer a couple things. One, the discussion of a wholly Christian society, how we would arrange it, how to deal with difficult situations (like psychopaths), etc., is purely academic, isn't it? Do we ever expect society, even a substantial portion of society, to be completely Christian in the radical sense as we understand it? Jesus does not seem to suggest that this will ever be the case. So I'm not sure these are the questions we should be grappling with, and I don't think we should present ourselves with difficult cases that we will never face.
Because Christians will always live in the context of a society that does not follow Jesus. This will greatly impact any situation we face. For example, I work at a Catholic Worker house. We periodically encounter apparently uncontrollable and potentially violent people. In my short time here, I have tried to respond to these people in a loving and noncoercive way, and my experience has been fairly good so far (one example is Willy, who I wrote about on my blog). Others here also try to respond to difficult people this way. But these efforts have to occur in the midst of the not so patient and much more coercive responses of others around us. We can choose to risk our safety and get personally involved and not call the police, but others get fearful or angry or concerned for their property and they call the police, or make threats, etc. We don't want this, don't ask for it. But it happens. So I think our discussion has to take it into consideration. The question is not: If we aren't coercive, no one will stop this person, and they will do terrible damage. The question is: Given that a violent or forceful response is coming soon from someone who loses patience with this troublemaker, how can we try to bring mercy into this situation for everyone involved.
My second point is that this is not "shifting the dirty work to someone else." As I said, we don't ask them to intervene with force. They are quite eager to do so without our asking. They have their own fear or anger or possessiveness to motivate them. There is often the assumption that no one wants to do the "dirty work," that it's some great virtue to take on this unpleasant task, but from what I've seen people are pretty quick to do the dirty work when they get pissed. And they seem to find it pretty satisfying, at the time at least. My point is: They take the dirty work on themselves, we don't shift it there.
I recognize that force is sometimes necessary, and I see God using force to stop some evil from being acted out. This is usually done through the power-wielding of other people who also have not-so-good (usually self-serving) intentions. God uses their actions, but the power-wielders are not justified. They also will be held accountable for their choices and selfish intentions. So God uses evil against evil, force against force, turning "the world's violence back onto itself" as Andy just wrote. God (not us) decides what is necessary and provides it.
Our place as Christians is to try to be a loving presence (for all involved) in the midst of this.
The leaves are changing here, and beginning to fall. It's beautiful.
Another little joy this week: I found out that New Covenant church doesn't have official membership. They just consider those who attend and are involved in the church activities to be the members there. Brothers and sisters are recognized by their deeds and participation, not by whether their name appears on an offical list. I don't know all the reasons behind their decision. But I like it. I remember complaining about church membership practices about a year ago; it's a nice surprise to find out they don't have that problem here.
Last night during our book discussion we focused on this passage in Jacques Ellul's Anarchy and Christianity (where he's commenting on Jesus' teaching: "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you..." Mk 10.42-43):
"But you... it must not be the same among you." In other words, do not be so concerned about fighting kings. Let them be. Set up a marginal society which will not be interested in such things, in which there will be no power, authority, or hierarchy. Do not do things as they are usually done in society, which you cannot change. Create another society on another foundation.I like this idea, and think it is an accurate interpretation of Jesus' teaching (and his actions). Although I'm not sure what exactly is meant by "setting up communities."
...Jesus is not advising us to leave society and go into the desert. His counsel is that we should stay in society and set up in it communities which obey other rules and other laws.
Often this has been attempted through some structured "intentional" community, where land and property is acquired so Christians can live together in an area that can be sheltered and in which they can control the conditions of their life together. But, from what I've seen, this accumulation of property and using the power of ownership to control their environment is a departure from Jesus' way and inevitably leads to power struggles and the same "exercising authority" that Jesus warned against. And the money and political influence required to acquire and hold onto this property are also constant causes for compromise and deterioration of the community's spirit.
A few lines later Ellul writes, "One might rightly object that setting up independent communities outside the political power was relatively easy in the days of Jesus but it is no longer possible today." But I'm not so sure Jesus "set up [an] independent community." They were not well-defined or organized. They were simply those who chose to follow Jesus at that particular moment; all along the way people continued to join while others left. And they were not independent physically or economically. They stayed in the houses of sympathizers, ate at the tables of friends or those who were curious, and were provided for by anyone who chose to give to them. It seems more like an inspired gathering than a "set up" community, and more dependent than independent.
Also, the boundaries of the community were not clearly defined. There were many who followed and contributed in some manner who were not completely committed to Jesus' way. They followed as far as they felt they could, gave what they were inspired to give, but then pulled back when it got too hard or too dangerous. Jesus did not exclude them or reject their contributions. So they were "in" in a way, but not fully in, not fully reflecting what it meant to be a part of Jesus' community. Actually, there were very few that demonstrated this community life very clearly or consistently. (Perhaps only Jesus himself?)
I'm thinking about this because I'm trying to understand how following Jesus should look, and how to understand my relationship with the people I meet and work with here. Because of the Holy Spirit, I do expect to find some real experiences of Jesus' community wherever I go, including here. But I don't think we can expect to see it among a lot of people all in the same place (since even Jesus' preaching and example couldn't produce that). "The gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." I think I can expect to find many more people who are willing to follow Jesus to some extent, to contribute to his work to some extent, and they should not be rejected although they still might leave us feeling a little lonely when they pull back. That's been my experience here so far.
It helps to see how God uses these "to some extent" folks, and the resources they are willing to share (to some extent), to provide for Jesus' community, his itinerant, inspired gathering (of a few scattered here and there), poor and dependent, who must continually look to their shepherd for care and protection. This allows Jesus' closer followers to live like Jesus and his first disciples, free from the dominating and self-corrupting powers of money and property and politics. It provides a way for them to exist and avoid the spiritual traps of power and wealth. And it also helps others, especially the "to some extent" folks, by providing an example and an inspiration for them, urging them to follow closer. Further, the dependence and scatteredness of Jesus' close followers helps keep them leaning on God while also making them accessible to many others, since they are necessarily mixed in among them.
Like leaven. Like salt. Like lights.
Tim showed up last night and signaled for a pencil and paper. He's deaf and also mute. And apparently homeless; he sometimes stops in for a shower or to use the rest room. "I would like eat the dinner?" he wrote. So Andy got a plate and some of the excellent fried fish that Florence had just made.
This morning I read this in Luke:
Jesus said to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid.
“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Lk 14.12-14)
I finished the essay last night...
Ever since I had felt the powerful movement in the dark, I had believed that God was in control of what was going on around me. It was easier to believe that sitting in the monastery garden than it was in a lawyer’s office in the middle of the largest naval base in the world, but I still believed it. This comforted me during the months of waiting. I found out my case was being delayed because there was a disagreement between the authorities involved. The naval lawyers wanted to avoid a trial, perhaps because they didn’t think the charges were severe enough to warrant the cost and work of a courts-martial or the bad publicity of an officer going AWOL. But the captain of my ship was insisting on a courts-martial. So the lawyers had to start the trial process and then abort it when the captain no longer had jurisdiction; this took time. I never thought any of the authorities involved had my best interests in mind. Each was pursuing the course of action that they thought was most advantageous to themselves. But through that struggle I saw God’s hand at work, freeing me.
I was amazed how it ended. I had not demanded my rights or asked for mercy. I had stated my beliefs, but never asked for CO status. Then, after four months, they offered to drop all charges and release me. With an “Other-Than-Honorable” discharge. Surprised, I accepted; I had no desire for an honorable discharge from a service I now saw as dishonorable. And I wasn’t interested in taking veterans benefits from the military. I even returned the money that the Navy had paid me during the months I had been waiting (less the amount I had to spend for food and lodging during that time). The pay officer didn’t understand when I tried to explain it to him. But I understood: I was giving to Caesar what was Caesar’s. As for me, I was no longer Caesar’s. I had been delivered by a much greater power. I was God’s.
Now my wife and I live with the Christian community at Plow Creek Farm in Illinois, offering free spiritual retreats to poor people from the city, continuing to conscientiously object, continuing to look to God for justice and mercy.
And once in a while I tell a sea story.
The whole essay is available here (Rich Text Format).
Continuing the essay...
Applying for CO status seemed to be asking for permission to be excused. I wanted to object to the wrong, take a stand against it, refuse to participate in it. That’s what I had done so far. And while I had initially fled in fear of the consequences of that objection, now I had come back to face them. But I was not repenting of my refusal to participate, my refusal to keep giving military orders. I was not asking for mercy from those who I was objecting against. I was not asking permission to be excused.
During this time of waiting and being summoned before military lawyers, I frequently thought of Jesus’ trial. I didn’t see myself as completely innocent; I was at fault for promising to serve in the military in the first place, and for running away. But I still looked to Jesus as my model. And it was clear that he didn’t ask for mercy from the authorities that had charged him. He didn’t defend himself or insist on his rights and often he even refused to answer their questions. Why? Because Jesus wasn’t the one on trial—they were. Their judgment would determine God’s judgment on them. Despite how it appeared, the situation wasn’t in the hands of the authorities, it was always in God’s hands. I remembered Jesus’ words to Pontius Pilate:
Just a little more of the essay today...
My failure to cooperate brought me another charge, "Disobeying a Lawful Order," and two days in the brig. The strip search was unpleasant. But the food was surprisingly good.
For the next several months I stayed at the Bachelor Officer's Quarters on base, waiting for the military justice system to process my case. During this time I read Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. And I realized that my experiences were not isolated and that there was much in Jesus' life and teachings directing us to choose mercy instead of discipline, meekness instead of power. I came to believe that it was not right to use violence or the threat of violence against others, even those considered our enemies. I suppose I had always thought of myself as a conscientious objector, of sorts. But my reasons had been personal and private. Now I had the convictions that were generally recognized as those of a military conscientious objector. But I never considered applying to the Navy for CO status.
It was probably too late at that point anyway. But the more I became convinced that what the military was doing was wrong—not just wrong for me, but simply wrong—the more I thought it was important to stand against that wrong.
Some more of the essay...
I waited one more month to make sure I understood. I went to Ireland, walked a hundred miles from Dublin to visit another monastery, and said one more prayer before going home.
When I presented my passport in the U.S., the customs agent entered my information, then paused, staring at her computer with a look of concern on her face. For a terrible moment I was sure she was going to call security and have me arrested. I wouldn’t be able to see my parents or turn myself in voluntarily. Then she looked up, smiled, and waved me through.
I watched my mother cry when she opened the door and embraced me. The next day my parents went with me to mass and heard the priest read the story of the prodigal son. Then I rode twenty hours to the naval base in Virginia, staring out the window of the bus, reminding myself what I was doing.
But it wasn’t until I was onboard the ship again that I truly felt fear. I remember standing on the thick carpet in front of the Executive Officer’s desk; he was patiently ordering me to put on my uniform again. I had been an officer and it seemed they wanted to handle my situation quietly. I spoke calmly but my knees felt weak. My face seemed to twitch and tremble and it was all I could do to hold it still. I told him I couldn’t do that—it wasn’t right. He looked at me for a moment. Then he dismissed me.
Not that I considered myself a pacifist at the time. When I joined the Navy I saw military service as honorable, and I believed that some wars could be just. And my recent change of heart had not been theological or ideological. It was caused by the tension that grew inside of me as I tried to be a good officer and a good Christian at the same time. The existential tension between mercy and discipline, meekness and power. Finally, when it had become unbearable, I had admitted to myself that I could not do both. I had to choose. That was all there was to it.
So when I refused to put the uniform back on, it was not because I didn’t want anything to do with the military. It was simply because it seemed false. I wasn’t an officer any more, no one was going to give me the responsibilities of an officer, I didn’t deserve the respect of an officer, so why should I pretend to be an officer? And I hadn’t come back to play along with a lie, hoping for mercy. I had come back to submit to discipline.
Continuing my essay about my AWOL experiences...
A month later I was sitting outside another monastery. At the time I imagined that the monks were worriedly deliberating about me, but the decision probably wasn't a hard one to make. I had asked to join them. An AWOL American who showed up two weeks ago. Did I really expect them to consider this seriously? It was a foolish dream: To flee the merciless world and disappear among the monks, behind monastery walls, where everything was different, where they would understand me. It was foolish because of course everything is not different behind those walls. In his confusion the monk had said the first thing he thought of: “We use the national health care system, and you’re not a British citizen.” But it was also foolish because I should have known we cannot flee. We cannot disappear.
I walked along the garden path, past the cross, high on the rocky hill, and slowly lowered myself onto a mossy rock. To await the answer I already knew. Here was where my dream ended. Here I was finally waking up—I pressed my eyes shut tight.
Then it was all dark and I was alone. Far from everyone who knew me and everyone I had called a friend, far from the land of my home, where I was now considered a criminal. I saw my life broken in ugly pieces. All the opportunities and benefits I had been given I had ruined; all that I had gathered and protected I had squandered. It felt like I was falling, falling into the dark. I cried out.
It was then that I felt the movement again. Again in the deep dark. But this time it was all around me. I was in that forbidding place and the movement was close on every side. The darkness itself seemed alive.
But, just as before, there was no fear. I now knew this thing would consume me, was already consuming me, and I was in awe of it. I lifted up the pieces of my broken life. “Here, take it. It’s ruined.” And I felt the awakened Spirit move again, with such raw power that the garden seemed to lift from the earth. And I knew what I had to do.
I would go to prison. I had no doubt that when I returned I would be arrested and jailed, perhaps for several years. But now I had felt something greater than the thing I feared. I could go back, even to prison. And when I realized that, it was clear that the right thing was to return and submit myself to their judgment. I talked with several of the monks before I left the monastery, and they nodded approvingly, but I could tell they did not understand. That didn’t matter. I was the one going to prison.
Robert and Darcy, who are guests at the house, went to New Covenant with me Sunday and I think they'll keep coming. Rose was also there (she goes to St. Mary's too; we got to know each other because we both go to both churches, and I think she'll be helping out at the house soon).
There was a very good dramatic reading from the play Shadowlands, about the life of C.S. Lewis and his wife. And these words of his caught my ear:
I think that God doesn't necessarily want us to be happy. He wants us to be lovable. Worthy of love. Able to be loved by Him. We don't start off being all that lovable, if we're honest. What makes people hard to love? Isn't it what is commonly called selfishness? Selfish people are hard to love because so little love comes out of them.
God creates us free, free to be selfish, but He adds a mechanism that will penetrate our selfishness and wake us up to the presence of others in the world, and that mechanism is called suffering. To put it in another way, pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Why must it be pain? Why can't He wake us more gently with violins or laughter? Because the dream from which we must be awakened is the dream that all is well.
Now that is the most dangerous illusion of them all. Self-sufficiency is the enemy of salvation. If you are self-sufficient, you have no need of God. If you have no need of God, you do not seek Him. If you do not seek Him, you will not find Him.
God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering we release our hold on the toys of this world and know our true good lies in another world.
We're like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in the world is not the failure of God's love for us; it is that love in action.
When I visited South Bend this past summer, someone at the Catholic Peace Fellowship said I should write about my AWOL experience and send it to them. Yesterday I started it, and thought I'd post it here as I go...
I was walking alone along the road outside a monastery in England, thinking about where I was. AWOL in a foreign country. I'd gone on a two-week leave several months ago, but instead of driving back and reporting for duty on the aircraft carrier I had boarded a plane. It felt like the only thing I could do. And I didn't think I deserved to be punished for it, so I'd fled.
These weeks of walking the Scottish moors and visiting monasteries to rest and pray had soothed some of the turmoil inside me. But still I didn't know where I was going. The initial gut-wrenching fear had eventually settled into the thrill of a new adventure, but it was now threatening to sink into dread. What would happen if I stopped running? Was my life ruined? Turned inward, I didn't notice the trees around me or the ancient stonework of the monastery. Was this all a terrible mistake?
That was when I first felt it. Deep inside, down in a dark part of myself where I never looked, it felt like something was moving. Like the stirring of a hibernating animal, something large. The slow uncoiling of a hidden predator. I couldn't see anything clearly, but it felt real enough to inspire awe at the power of the thing. It was enough to frighten me, yet the deep sensation was not fear. I remember thinking: Not yet. But it was coming. And it excited me.
A little over two weeks ago, Willy was in a drunken fight and was thrown off our porch, knocked unconscious, with serious bleeding and a fractured neck. Since his release from the hospital he's been belligerently demanding money from us. Even threatening to damage the house if he is not paid. People here have been growing increasingly tense, and some finally called the police to have him removed and banned him from the property for one year.
I've tried to talk with him when he shows up and have offered him food and drink. He sometimes has seemed appreciative of this, and other times seemed to demand it as his due. When I've told him he won't be paid he's gotten angry and yelled. The day before yesterday he got pretty verbally abusive with Heather and me, attacking us personally, saying we were freeloaders here, any self-respecting man would provide his own place for his woman (instead of sharing the house here as we do), etc. I've tried to be patient with this, though I admit it is upsetting.
His anger worried me, and I decided to hang around the house last night in case he showed up again. The previous night he had barged in and grabbed food and spit on the volunteer when she tried to make him leave. I didn't want her to have to face that again alone. But I wasn't sure what I'd do if he did show up. I haven't liked the approach of those who have called the police and banned him from the property. They seem to be primarily interested in protecting themselves and the house and getting rid of "the problem." That doesn't seem like loving our enemies. And I'm sure it doesn't seem like love to Willy, either. I imagine it feels like being thrown off the porch again, only in a more "civilized" way. And isn't that pretty much true? I had hoped that trying to love him would help ease his frustration and anger, but the forceful response of others seemed to be making him more angry.
Then last night, after dark, Willy showed up on the porch again. And asked for me. I went out and we walked down the block a ways. He had been drinking. But he wasn't aggressive this time, he was repentant. He said he was sorry for causing so much trouble, he didn't want to hurt anyone and he would stay off the premises. He shook my hand and thanked me and Heather for "trying to see him as a better person." He was lonely and "just trying to get attention," he said; he thought he might like to volunteer at the house some time. We shook hands again and I asked if he needed anything. He said he'd be all right. Then we said goodbye and he left.
This morning I chanted these lines from Psalm 138:
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies...
On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
"...joy comes with the morning." (Ps 30.5)
It was quiet this morning. Like the calm after a storm. I got up and made coffee, then woke up Heather. When I came back, Mary was cooking bacon and waffles in the kitchen. The morning sun was streaming in through the large round glass of the front door.
I sat down with a cup of coffee and chanted Psalm 95. "In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it; for his hands formed the dry land." I heard the kids moving around above me. They pounded down the stairs and stumbled happily with their backpacks out the front door, to walk to school. Janine shuffled by in her slippers to get some breakfast. It felt peaceful, domestic.
It didn't even bother me much when Willy showed up. He had been in a scuffle yesterday and been banned from the house, then barged in last night and grabbed some food, upsetting the women here. I went out to him and listened to him yell for a while. Then I asked him if he wanted something to eat. When I brought out two sandwiches and some orange juice, and said he could sit on the porch and eat them, he apologized for yelling. I went back inside to finish my prayers and coffee. When I checked later, he was gone.
"For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." This morning I felt that God had things securely in hand. When I went back to the other house, Heather was praying quietly. It made me feel happy and safe. It was a good morning.
Andy Baker-Alexis was here last week and brought me a copy of School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. I wrote about an article on this new movement before. Maybe we can get a conversation going about the book.
One thing caught my eye already. In a chapter about sharing our resources, there's this comment: "I am convinced that most of the terribly distrubing things which are happening in our world in the name of Christ and Christianity are primarily the result not of malicious people, but of bad theology (at least, I want to believe that)."
Thinkers always want to believe that what we really need is just a better philosophy or theology. People are eager to hear that, too. "It's not our fault, we didn't know, we're just doing what we were told." But Jesus didn't blame bad theology for the evils of this world:
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Lk 6.43-45)Evil comes from within each one of us, from our heart, and that's what needs to change. Thinkers are not going to save the world with a new theology. Each of us needs, by God's grace, to change ourself; then we'll see a difference.
The preaching at church Sunday was on suffering. It encouraged Christians to suffer patiently, which I liked, but there was the usual confusion between natural suffering (like illness, accidents, etc) and persecution. For example, to offer comfort, it was said that bearing with an illness is sharing in Christ's sufferings, and passages like this one were used to support this idea:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Cor 1.3-5)
It's a powerful passage, and comforting. But it's not about illness. It's about the sufferings that the apostles were going through because of their faith, because of the forceful resistance to their way of life and their preaching. A few verses later, Paul writes:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Cor 1.8-10)And this experience was not just for the apostles, but also for the rest of the early church. Paul tells the Corinthians to expect "the same sufferings that we suffer":
If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Cor 1.6-7)This is comfort for those who suffer as the apostles suffered, who suffered as Jesus suffered, because they followed his example and lived in his spirit. This is what we are called to as Christians.
The promises and comforts of Christianity are not just meant to help us get through the natural troubles of life. They are a call to an extreme life. A life where we will be attacked and taken advantage of for our generosity and forgiveness, but where we will also experience extreme comfort and deliverance by God.
And this is something worth striving for. We don't seek illness or accidents. But we should seek to "lose your life for my sake," as Jesus taught (Mt 10.39). Paul put it in these words:
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3.8-10)
What does this look like in daily life? A few tense situations from the past week come to mind:
-After sending a couple to their new home with many things that they would need, they borrowed an expensive item and have not returned it. I've been trying to keep in mind Jesus' words, "Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again." (Lk 6.30) But others here are starting to demand that I do something to get it back."To make us rely not on ourselves but on God..."
-There was a loud disagreement in our front yard during soup kitchen and the neighbor called the police (the argument was over before the police arrived). We explained that we try to solve disputes through listening, patience and our personal relationships with the guests here, rather than resorting to the physical force of the police. But they said if we weren't going to start calling the police, they would file an offical complaint against us.
-Willy, who was in a fight here and now has his neck in a brace, is still threatening to sue and demanding money. He is hard to deal with and will not listen when we try to explain that his own drunkenness and belligerence led to his injury. So we just listen and give him food when he is hungry, blankets, bus tokens, etc.
This morning we had mass at the house and the priest mentioned it was the feast of Therese of Lisieux. I remember reading her writings years ago. She died very young.
Here's a few lines by her about suffering and the spiritual life:
I have noticed that the experience of suffering makes us kind and indulgent toward others because it is suffering that draws us near to God.
Trials help us detach ourselves from the earth; they make us look higher than this world. Here below nothing can satisfy us.
Sanctity lies not in saying beautiful things, or even in thinking them, or feeling them; it lies in truly being willing to suffer. ...do I suffer well? That is the important thing.
It is so sweet to serve our Lord in the night of trial; we have only this life to practice the virtue of faith.
Suffering doesn't always produce good effects. But it does provide the stimulation and opportunity to recognize that "here below nothing can satisfy us," and to turn our eyes to God. Suffering also provides the darkest night in which we must "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5.1-7). And it is through this exercise of faith, this leaning on God in our most helpless moment, that we are drawn nearer to him. This is suffering "well."
And the nearer we are drawn to God, the source of all love, the more we have to offer to those around us.