8.31.2006

I remembered that I wrote about wind (at Plow Creek) a year ago:

On the way back we stopped at Plow Creek farm and spent the night. We saw old friends (and new baby Elaina), were welcomed warmly, and Heather and Miranda even got to ride the horses. Then yesterday morning I sat outside as the sun was rising and listened. It was very quiet. Only the wind was moving, and as it stirred the trees it felt very familiar and comforting to me. I don't know if it was the feeling of God in nature, or the symbolism of the Spirit, but I rejoiced in it and at the same time respected it deeply. And I thought, this is the source of my identity and at-home-ness much more than any human organization or culture.

8.29.2006

slight movements

I really like this video clip. At first glance, it might seem to just be a snapshot of trees. But there's something else there. Click the play button to see it again.

The wind. I noticed it the other morning as I was looking out my third floor window and saw movement in the leaves. The wind is very powerful at times (I think it's hurricane season down in Florida where my parents live). But usually it's easy to overlook.

Like God. I've been straining to see him, to perceive what he is doing. Straining hard, because it has seemed very dark. But I think the lack of light has begun to open my irises enough to catch things I couldn't see before. Slight movements that may be God.

My thoughts go back to the story of Elijah that I quoted two weeks ago. After his night of despair he traveled to Horeb and waited on the mountain for a word from God. And the word came to Elijah, but not in the earthquake or fire. It came as a still small voice.


Some of the slight movements: The unexpected strengthening of Heather's and my commitment to one another, though we're far apart (for almost three months now); the Fosses coming from Plow Creek farm to preach here last week, and offering me some encouragement; and a change of plans that allowed me to start visiting the farm weekly, to deliver vegetables. I don't know if this adds up to much, but it's been enough to make me think God is there.

8.26.2006

"I cannot see him..."

I was thinking about Job this morning. Not that I compare my current problems with his; I've just been frustrated by the good advice that people have felt compelled to give me. And I still feel bad, in the dark, confused, irritable.

That's what reminded me of Job, my bad mood. Everyone seems to think Job was such a patient sufferer, I guess because they usually read just the first and last parts of the (very long) book of Job, and everyone remembers his words, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." But that's not a very good example of Job's attitude. For most of the next thirty chapters, Job complains. Bitterly. He wishes he had died at birth. He says God is treating him as an enemy.

And people know that Job's three friends aren't helpful, but who actually reads what they say? Basically the three defend God against Job's complaints. They say God is just. They say Job is wrong to criticise God and must have done something wrong that God is correcting. There's not much really wrong with what they say, except they assume Job has done more wrong than he actually has.

But their saying how good and just God is doesn't comfort Job much. Because he's not experiencing this justice and goodness.

I think that's what really sets Job apart. Not his theology—he basically believes the same as his friends, he just knows he didn't do what they think he did. I think the difference is in his hunger to see God. Job will not be satisfied with words; he wants to know where God is, he wants to experience the God he knows.

We hear this especially clearly in his complaint in Job 23:

"Today also my complaint is bitter, [God's] hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me...

"Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him; on the left hand I seek him, but I cannot behold him; I turn to the right hand, but I cannot see him...

"My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth.

"But he is unchangeable and who can turn him? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind.

"Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; for I am hemmed in by darkness, and thick darkness covers my face."

In the end God does answer him. And Job's complaints are silenced and he falls down and repents of his ignorant presumption.

But he got what he begged for. God spoke to him. God made his presence known. And despite Job's impatience and rash demands, God commends him and gives him more than he had before—telling Job's friends that they'd better hope Job prays for mercy for them.

Could it be that the passionate hunger for God's presence is more important than saying the right things about God? If so, Job's complaints make more sense than any patient defense of God's goodness.


What was Jesus' response when God seemed to have abandoned him?

8.25.2006

"don't make me use the spoon"

It's Heather's birthday tomorrow, and she just got a cell phone (since regular phones are almost never available to her). So I used this cartoon to make her a card...






And Heather just sent news from Nigeria. Here's an excerpt:

Let me tell you some of my favorite memories from this week.

Singing this morning with the kids. Sometimes these Nigerians just get into it. Singing, clapping. Christy raises one song after another, most of them in Hausa, dancing and clapping up a storm, and the others get into it and you've got this really complex rhythm with different people clapping at different times, everyone working together. Once at the weekly Mashiah Foundation prayer meeting we had this great complicated rhythm going during one song after another, and when Christy couldn't think of any more songs we didn't want to give it up, and just continued it, like a jam session.

(Incidentally, I know a lot of basic Christian-song words in Hausa now: thank you, love, God, Lord, etc…and did you know that God in Hausa—the most common tribal language here in Jos, by the way—is Allah? It's because the Muslims got to the Hausa before the Christians did… but now its just their basic word for God, everyone uses it.)

...Story-time. Story-time is always my favorite memory. I'm reading Tales of the Kingdom to them, a really beautiful book, a sort of myth with these profound spiritual themes but totally accessible to children. Kids love it, in fact. I'm sure some of you have heard of this book, and if you haven't…well, look it up. Except that I think the version I have (with beautiful illustrations) is out of print. Anyway… I won't be able to read them all the stories before the school is over, so I've even started to read some to the Bezer Home kids in the afternoon. I just read one about a girl who had named herself Dirty, who'd been taken in by a woman named Mercie but lived with the pigs and refused to come into the house until she met the King in the guise of a beggar… I got interrupted right before the end and had to go immediately, and the next day they just couldn't wait to hear the end. (It's a happy ending, so you know.)

I like to give kids stories. A story is something you can always keep, even if you lose everything you can hold in your hands. Like a song. Especially a story that reminds you of God, that's got an echo of glory in it.

8.23.2006

hospitality and home

Recently I came across the idea that hospitality is about giving attention to the guest. Having lived for several years in houses dedicated to hospitality, and also having received quite a bit of hospitality myself, that made sense to me. And it reminded me of Simone Weil's words about attention and love. I also liked the thought that we can offer hospitality even if we don't have a house to welcome people into. (Maybe that's more interesting to me now that my hopes of having a place to offer hospitality are getting dimmer...) I'd certainly like to think Jesus offered hospitality, even when he himself was homeless.

At the same time, I read something else related to this, in the Psalms. It had to do with finding our home in God. (Then I remembered I wrote about this a year ago.) From Psalms 90 and 91:

LORD, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations. (Ps 90.1)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
who abides in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust."

Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent. (Ps 91.1-2,9-10)


I'm not sure how these are related exactly. Being at home in God, wherever we are. Welcoming others into that, by our attention (love), whether or not we have a physical place to offer. A new understanding of hospitality that I need to absorb more...

8.22.2006

"uncertain the road we trod"

I'm still very confused, and a little angry at God for leaving me so much in the dark. But Heather is feeling some sense of direction, and I've found some comfort in leaning on that.

I also found a poem she wrote for me last Christmas. These last lines have been an inspiration these past few days:

...Skies broke blue with the glory
God spoke when the world was made,
And earth was warm beneath my feet,
And I was sore afraid.

But I sat by the lake unfrozen
As it flashed the sun back to the sky
And asked God if this was madness
And could not believe the reply.

And my hand was in yours and yours in mine;
Uncertain the road we trod.
Yet we vow in the dark still to throw ourselves
into the arms of God.

8.16.2006

"it is enough"

Despite the wedding, it was a rough weekend. Bob (the man with muscular dystrophy who I help care for) had a freak accident and fell and broke his leg. That meant surgery and hospital time and complications and lots of extra work and stress for all of us.

And in the midst of this, at the wedding I saw some people from Plow Creek farm (where I've been hoping to start a retreat place). I talked with one of the women, and she mentioned my retreat idea, but then made it sound like it probably wasn't going to work. Not so much because of the project itself, but because we (or I) didn't seem right for Plow Creek. It was implied that I didn't "fit in." This really shook me. Because I knew it was a long shot and would only have a chance if there was good community support, and now it seemed that at least some of the people were already against our (or my) coming. This surprised me since I thought the time Heather and I spent there last summer was very good and well-appreciated.

I felt very dark after that. Because I don't really have another idea of where to go next. And I wondered if Heather and I really don't have a chance, or even if I was closing doors for her. That was an extremely painful thought.

I even remembered the story of Elijah wishing he were dead. Then Sunday, it was read at church:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow."

Then he was afraid, and he arose and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers."

And he lay down and slept under a broom tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat." And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time, and touched him, and said, "Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you." And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. (1 Kings 19)

It seemed like the end for Elijah, but his adventures were not over. Perhaps it is the same for me and Heather. But I can't imagine the way forward; I don't even know what to prepare for or work toward. And I feel very alone (Heather is out of communication right now).

Maybe, though, this is God's way of showing that all people (and their communities) are a vain hope, and that he alone is our hope and security. I'd like to be the servant that trusts that completely. And I'd like to think God has another adventure for me yet.

8.12.2006

wedding day

Eric and Katie got married today, friends who Heather and I met a couple years back, when they came to Reba Place as interns. A wildly colorful couple. We like them a lot.

Here's what I put on their wedding card (Katie is a dancer, by the way)...




And inside:

May your attempts to communicate be lusty and unrelenting.
-traditional African marriage blessing

(Of course I made that up, but it's practical and down-to-earth, like I imagine Africans—and marriage—to be...)

8.09.2006

"the brightness and gaiety"

I've been reading V.S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River. It's about a foreigner living in Africa (maybe I picked it up because Heather is in Africa—I also learned to play a Nigerian song on my recorder, one we sang in church on Sunday) and there's this interesting part about an African servant who doesn't want to leave his master, because of the security in the position of servant. We don't usually think of advantages to remaining a servant, basically a slave. But as circumstances begin to pull him away into a life of his own, it's described this way:

He altered. He lost the brightness and gaiety of the servant who knows he will be looked after, that others will decide for him; and he lost what went with that brightness—the indifference to what had just happened, the ability to forget, the readiness for every new day. He seemed to go a little sour inside. Responsibility was new to him...

Of course we see this as a necessary loss for the sake of freedom and maturity. And it is true that slavery to another human being is degrading. But I recall that Jesus frequently used the imagery of slavery to describe the Christian life, our relation to God ("You also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have only done what we ought to have done.'" Lk 17.10), even his relation to the Father ("I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge... I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me." Jn 5.30).

Simone Weil wrote that the more obedient a slave is to his human master, the greater the gap which widens between them (as the slave becomes less than human?). But the more a person is obedient to God, the more that person becomes an expression of God.

So I'm drawn to the "the brightness and gaiety of the servant who knows he will be looked after, that others will decide for him" when the one looking after us and deciding for us is God. Who can decide much better than we can for ourselves. And who can actually take responsibility for what happens.

The message of human "freedom and maturity" urges us to take charge and take responsibility for our own lives. This sounds ever louder as we get older and as we become parents (and masters?). But the models Jesus offers us are children and slaves—who know the true meaning of freedom.

8.08.2006

vital desire

I've been thinking about something I quoted yesterday:

Their learning frequently (I’m tempted to say 'always') depends... on their desire to learn.

My own experience supports this. And I'm immediately reminded of the similar 12-step teaching, that people need to want to change, and enter into the steps voluntarily.

The motivation has to come from within the person. So often I've seen (and experienced) frustrated efforts to help someone who doesn't seem to want to be helped. A waste of energy at best, and sometimes even harmful. "Pearls before swine," perhaps? But can anything be done to encourage people to desire the help they need? I've written before about how suffering the consequences of our own bad choices can help us admit our need for help. But this often takes a long time, and it's a painful process. Even to watch.

Often, though, I think this is what we have to do—let others make their own choices and suffer from them. But not punish them ourselves (though a rebuke may be in order from time to time). And always be ready to embrace them if they admit their need to change their lives.

I think this is what is expressed in these words of Jesus that I was reading this morning:
"I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day." (Jn 12.46-48)

"And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (Jn 3.19)
Though Jesus came to give light, he let people remain in darkness, let the darkness do its work on them, until they desperately wanted the light.

8.07.2006

unschooling

I got to talk to Heather on the phone yesterday, the first time in two months. That felt good. And then she sent out another e-mail about the summer school she's organizing, sort of a one-room schoolhouse (which starts today). Here's some of it:

There is a group of about 40 kids, AIDS orphans (they use the term "orphan" a little loosely here—it means they've lost one parent) that Mashiah Foundation pays school fees for (it's not free here—ever), and Mary Beth Oyebade learned this year that an unacceptable proportion of these kids were failing. (Remind me to give you my rant on the Nigerian school system. Later. All I need to say right now is that it's inadequate.)

So these kids have been invited (for free) to Hope School, a summer school taught in Bezer Home. Forty kids from 4 to 17, thankfully divided into two groups of 4 to 10 and 11 to 17. The younger kids will come Monday and Wednesday and the older kids Tuesday and Thursday, and everyone will show up on Friday, which I have nicknamed Mass Chaos day. It's going to be a sort of cross between VBS and remedial tutoring. Bible lesson, singing, crafts, storytime; and two intensive sessions of one-on-one tutoring in the 3 R's, every day.

..Please pray that the team works well together, that we set a good precedent with the first day and make the kids feel enthusiastic about the school and confident about their ability to overcome their learning difficulties. ...And that they learn. Just that they learn, throughout the time of the school—which will be the whole month of August. It's so important for them. I really want to serve them well. They get so little that is good, so little of the focused attention and motivation and encouragement and praise that is what we all want for our own children when they learn. I've been seeing, this month, how inadequate (or even wrong) schooling can cripple a person's ability to think. At Hope School we want to uncripple.

Some of what she said reminded me of a presentation on education that I heard at the Jesus Radicals conference. It was given by a professor from Seabury seminary, A.K.M. Adam, and was very well done. He has had extensive experience in education and comes from a family of teachers. Here's some of the questions he was asking:
What do we want to say with the ways we teach? When we assign our children to institutional structures that divide them into manageable divisions of age and, sometimes, alleged “ability,” of differentiated fields of knowledge, and then tell them that nine months of this experience are compulsory, but that three months constitute a liberation from learning—what are we teaching them? When we determine in advance that every normal eleven-year-old will attain proficiency in these areas in this sequence taught according to that curriculum, what effects can we reasonably anticipate? When we constitute for our children a primary social group of other children mostly their own age, what behavior and inclinations can we suppose that they will reflect? And what do all of these characterizations suggest that the culture we inhabit thinks about education?
And here's a taste of how he's answering these questions, selected from entries in his blog:
Not only will people always surprise you by their hunger and capacity to learn, but their learning frequently (I’m tempted to say “always”) depends for its quality on their desire to learn. Again, my experience confirms this, as a learner and teacher and as a home-school dad. Few things stick with me from high school as well as the probability theory I taught myself, the soliliquies I memorized walking to and from school, the basics of international relations, organizational politics, and diplomacy that I learned in Student United Nations and the Strategic Gaming club. We grounded our approach to teaching Nate, Si, and Pippa on that premise; I’ve wished any number of times I could teach seminarians that way (and I’m always looking for ways to approximate that more closely). I don’t think we should abolish schools and classes in favor of un-organized general learning, but it would take a lot to convince me that the goal of learning is best served by the assembly-line, compartmentalized structure that institutional education has taken in the U.S. and its sphere of influence.


Margaret and I have home-schooled the three kids we raised, partly on the basis of our commitment to their very distinct patterns of learning and interest, partly out of frustrating experiences in our own educational history, and partly from the conviction that they would learn well on their own terms, at their own time, what they really wanted to learn (and wouldn’t learn well what we tried to induce them to learn on our terms, at a time we chose). Our experience as learners, and our experience as home-school parents (“un-school” parents, to be more exact), places me squarely on the un-structured side of the discussion.... I wish there were some way I could choose to home-school the seminarians at Seabury.


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

8.03.2006

stability

I rode along to Plow Creek farm yesterday to pick up produce to bring back to Evanston, part of a CSA set up between the communities here and there. And of course talked about my hopes to work out a retreat ministry at Plow Creek.

A lot of my plans and ideas are based on Jesus' teaching and life, but they sound pretty far-fetched from a practical point of view. A friend even said, "Jesus' way just doesn't work." And it's hard to disagree, given what happened when Jesus tried to live it. It also seems way too unstable and insecure for family life.

But I was encouraged by these words of Jesus this morning:

"Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great." (Lk 6.47-49)