Good worship yesterday. We also used this poem by Wendell Berry:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Good worship yesterday. We also used this poem by Wendell Berry:
Because of a mix-up, I'm putting together worship for tomorrow. I thought an emphasis on rest would be appropriate, after the busyness of the festival and a month of strawberry harvest. We'll use Taizé music (maybe "In God alone" for the psalm).
If some others will help me, I'd like to read from Matthew 11 with three other voices interjecting words as I read. Like this:
At that time Jesus said,
"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned..."the capable"...and revealed them to little children."
those in chargethe weak"Yes, Father. For this was your good pleasure."
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened..."you responsible ones"...and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you...
you managersput down your own heavy yoke"...and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
"For my yoke is easy and my burden light."
Since the festival I've been thinking and having discussions about popular people in the "movement" that drew the festival crowd. I can't help but be troubled by the fact that Jesus got crucified for his presentation (and life) of the radical gospel, while some who claim to preach it now get interviews on national radio shows and multiple book deals.
It brought to mind something from a letter I wrote from the road last summer (we passed this out after our talks at the festival):
It was dark when we approached the church, hoping to find shelter there for the night. Rain was coming. We surveyed the church grounds, not finding much, but it was rather late to be looking elsewhere. Then we saw a light in an upstairs window of one of the buildings. We thought we should at least ask permission before laying down, so we rang the bell and waited, a bit nervously. After a few moments we heard movement inside. Then the blinds on the window of the door parted and two eyes peered at us.
Heather and I looked at each other, then back at the eyes, and didn't know what to do. Did he really expect us to explain our situation shouting through a closed door? Then his fingers appeared, shooing us away. Heather thought she heard him say "We don't have any" as he turned away.
We found another church in time to hide from the fierce storm that blew in that night. But the next morning I thought again about those fingers, shooing us into the dark. That's the experience of nobodies. I remembered reading John Dominic Crossan's commentary on the Beatitudes in a library a few days earlier, and his description of Jesus' followers as "a kingdom of nobodies." Outsiders. Those who are considered of little or no value to society, and so are pushed to the margins. Or simply ignored. Yet among these Jesus found the ones he called "blessed."
Earlier in our walk, it had been much easier. We were well received and well provided for. I'd noticed a difference from walks in previous years; people seemed more open and welcoming now with Heather along. But that seemed to end with those eyes behind the door that didn't open.
For the next week and a half we weren't invited in. We slept outside night after night. Spent one night in a run-down, overpriced motel room, mostly to get ourselves clean. And there weren't any good conversations with people, either. Those we did meet at churches seemed to see us simply as a homeless couple—a problem. When that happens a lot, it's hard not to think of yourself that way. As a nobody. When everyone seems to be looking at you that way, it's hard not to see yourself as you appear in their eyes.
We both struggled with frustration, and argued more than usual. But it was during this time that I remembered the words of Jesus that had been so important to me in years past: "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." (Mt 10.39)
I had thought of "losing my life" mostly in the sense of letting go of possessions and advantages and ambitions. But now I began to think that a lot of a "life" is its place in society, a good reputation, the acceptance and cooperation of the people around us who have what we need. Being a somebody among those who are somebodies in our social circle. To lose this means not only losing people's help and material support, but also being rejected, ignored, unneeded, losing value in the eyes of the people that seem to make up our whole world. It seems to make us valueless as persons. Nobodies.
Yet Jesus apparently was drawn to society's nobodies, and followed a path that led to becoming a nobody himself, rejected, scorned, mocked. Why?
Struggling with this during those hard days of our walk, I began to wonder if the experience of such rejection is an important part of "finding" our life. Finding our true source of value and purpose and security. Not in popular opinion, or our place in the social order, or our image in the eyes of the many, but in how we appear in God's eyes. We have to choose where we will find ourselves, and the trial of social rejection becomes the place where that choice is forced upon us.
The festival went very well. Not too overwhelming and lots of fun. Good to see old and new friends. I enjoyed one of the discussions on parenting, and was impressed by the care and maturity of the parents there. Our talks on pilgrimage also went well, with lots of good questions and positive responses (as well as some discomfort and resistance when I challenged the glorification of "community"). It was great to sit by the edge of our gravel road and talk to a group gathered in the grass.
The bands were also very good, the Psalters and mewithoutYou especially. They had fabulous live shows, and the audience danced so hard a huge cloud of dust rose in front of the stage like incense. Heather traded some homemade strawberry jam for a Psalters album, and for some art by our friend Chico (I thought both were very generous with their trades).
The only thing that grated on me was when they had famous people like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider ("elders," they were called) phone in and address the crowd. Don't we have much better elders in our own communities? Why do we need celebrities (with all the compromises they have made to get and maintain their fame)? It was just a reminder of how much popularity and mass appeal have been a focus to the leaders of this "movement." A disappointment. But other than that, a fun and interesting weekend.
The festival has started, though not everyone is here yet. More should come this evening since the weekend is starting. A good atmosphere, and several friends I haven't seen in a while, including Andy from the Catholic Worker and some guys from Koinonia Farm. Several bands play every night.
Tonight the Psalters close the show. Heather and I met them and rode on their bus three years ago. An interesting group. (Click here for music and video.)
The strawberries are coming in, so it's getting busy around here. Heather and some friends made jam the other day. There's also the big conference this weekend with lots of people already here, setting up for it.
Then, yesterday, I got a note from the folks at Emmaus Ministries and they want to come for a retreat in a month. Wow, great. Except that we're short a guest room, three beds, and our dining table and chairs (on loan) are supposed to go away in two weeks. I'd really like to do it, though. Something to pray about.
We're having Taizé prayer here tonight, focusing on the preparations all next week for the big crowd coming next weekend. I thought I'd use this reading:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying.
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."
But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (Lk 10.38-42)
And it looks like Heather and I are going to lead a session during the gathering. They needed more leaders, and I noticed that there wasn't anything on poverty, though that's supposedly one of the main concerns. Most all of the sessions are about communal living and environmental issues. So here's what we're going to talk about:
Pilgrimage—abandoning communal security to join the poor of Yahweh
Inspired by Jesus and his disciples, as well as the Exodus story, and drawing on seven years experience and thousands of miles walking various highways across this country, Paul and Heather will share stories of pilgrimage as an act of faith. Practical advice will be offered, and lessons learned from months lived on the road in voluntary poverty, without tent or prearranged accommodations, being provided for by God through the people they encountered along the way. Their walks have provided a unique experience of the oneness of the people of God beyond denominational and community boundaries, and the thrill and peace of radical dependence on God rather than on communal organization and ownership. Paul was previously a member of the Dominican Order, and they both have spent years in intentional communities. They are currently preparing a retreat house for the poor here at Plow Creek farm.
I just heard back from someone at Good News Partners, who offer transitional housing for homeless people in Chicago, and he said they are interested in working with us and referring people for retreats. They started years ago with help from the Gatlins at Reba Place. The Gatlins' daughter is at Reba now, and she helped connect us with Good News Partners. Sounds like some good people to work with.
I also had a meeting last week with someone from the Ignatian Spirituality Project. They had been helpful to us, but then it really looked like we wouldn't be able to do much with them in the future. But the meeting went very well and now I wonder if God has opened that door again. A happy surprise.
Worship went very well this morning. We sang "Go Down, Moses" without instruments, with a leader singing the verses and everyone responding, "Let my people go." Great. And the refrain for the psalm reading was "Wade in the Water," with these verses from Psalm 77:
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders,
You redeemed your people with your mighty arm...
"Wade in the water, wade in the water children
wade in the water, God's gonna trouble the water..."
When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid,
yes, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightning lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The discussion afterwards was a little more difficult. I thought it went well, but it was obvious the some people were uncomfortable with the direction we took and the implications of it. I hope it serves as a good introduction to the leadership discussions that are coming up in church meetings later this month.
I actually wasn't planning to say anything on the topic. After talking it over with an experienced person in the community here, I thought it would probably be best to just abstain from the voting and leave it at that. But in the last month the discussions on church leadership took an unexpected turn, which made me think people here might be open to something different (and perhaps not satisfied with the form of leadership we have); and then someone asked us to lead worship right before a church meeting on the topic. And it had been planned to have discussions on the worship scripture readings afterwards, starting today. So it seemed like God was making a big opening for me to say something.
Also, I had just begun feeling that things were a bit easy, going a bit too well, and wondering if I was being tempted to make compromises or stay quiet so that things would continue to go well for us. I don't know. We'll see what, if anything, comes of this.
Heather and I were talking a bit about uselessness the other day, and the desire/pressure to be "useful." It prompted me to go back and look at some older journal entries, and I found a number of relevant ones in August 2004, especially "the cross and the serving spoon." (There was also an interesting one about leadership.)
Someone traded worship-leading with us this coming Sunday, which is right before the next church meeting about elders. It also happens to be the first week we start having discussions about the Sunday scripture reading in our adult session after worship (which I previously offered to facilitate). So I'm planning to focus worship and the discussion on questions of leadership and authority. And use the passage where the elders question Jesus' authority.
I also would like to use Black spirituals for the music. I discovered this good one in our hymnal:
We shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death
We shall walk through the valley in peace
If Jesus Himself will be our leader
We shall walk through the valley in peace