4.30.2009

a tricky phrase

Some comments of mine from recent Jesus Manifesto discussions (part of this relates to the essay I wrote about idolatry)...

"We had to ask him to leave" is a pretty tricky phrase, Brandon. We don't really "have to" put people out; it's always a choice we make, based on the consequences we are willing to accept. But I think I can understand the pressures you were dealing with. I've seen a good number of people taking (unholy) advantage of hospitable Christian communities; and we got to the point of asking a couple different guests to leave the Catholic Worker (due to untreated alcohol addiction and mental illness--see my journal entries here, here, and here).

I didn't feel good or justified in those decisions, however. It felt more like those in power (us) kicking out those weaker than us (and homeless). Even if they deserved it, and weren't being helped very well by staying in the house, putting them back on the street can hardly be called love. That's not the kind of thing I went to the Catholic Worker to do.

I actually began to wonder if the apparent impossibility of acting completely like Christ (in difficult hospitality situations like those) raises the more fundamental question of why we have settled into the position of ownership (control of property) in the first place. Jesus didn't seem to face those apparently impossible dilemmas. But then he also didn't own a house. His hospitality was of a different sort.

And he did talk a lot about "sell all and give" and "those who leave house and lands for my sake will receive a hundredfold now and in the age to come"...


I wondered if we should have been holding on to the house so firmly that we felt we had to act coercively towards someone (a weak, lowly someone) rather than lose control of it. And I still wonder if property ownership (another form of wealth) is part of the power of institutions, and fundamentally problematic in the following of Jesus. It certainly seems that property ownership is intimately tied into the greater institutional powers of our society (deeds, taxes, police enforcement, etc).

I think this is one of the ways those powers influence our choices and behavior, so that we feel we have no other option, but can only choose the "lesser evil."

4.28.2009

life on the road

Since I'm getting (re)organized, I thought I'd also make a new page for all the journals I kept while on my eight walking trips. These pilgrimage experiences, over eight years starting in 2000, were eye(and spirit)-opening and very influential in my understanding and following of Jesus.

There are seven earlier journals, with thoughts (and format) that are rather unpolished. But they give a good idea of my feelings and experience at the beginning. The first one is the easiest to read, probably. The second gives the most detailed description of day-to-day life on the road, though what it was to become was still being discovered. These are RTF files, which can be previewed and downloaded via the links below:

May-June 2000 (Appalachian Trail to the Abbey)

July-September 2000 (Abbey to Chicago, St. Louis, Florida)

October 2000-February 2001 (winter study notes)

On Pilgrimage (excerpt of my early "pilgrim" theologizing)

March-September 2001 (Florida to Denver and back)

October-December 2001 (to the Florida Keys)

April-July 2002 (return from Florida to Detroit, Chicago)

April-September 2003 (Chicago to New York City and back)

I didn't walk in the summer of 2004 (having just met Heather...). And in the following years, I was able to post journal entries from the road, in libraries along the way. Those entries begin here:

June-July 2005 (from Akron, OH, to Plow Creek farm)

June-July 2006 (in Virginia, with a partner)

July-October 2007 (Boston to Florida, with Heather)

These entries can also be found using these tags, which will display twenty entries at a time, but in the usual blog reverse-chronological order: 2005 pilgrimage, 2006 pilgrimage, 2007 pilgrimage

4.27.2009

(very) short stories

Recent interest in some of my short fiction (written years ago) has prompted me to review the stories and make a new page for them here. They are all very short (and hopefully to the point). All the files below are simple RTF files (unless otherwise indicated), which can be downloaded by clicking the links.

These first twelve are the best, in my opinion. They can be viewed online or downloaded using the links below. These can also be downloaded together as a collection, formatted for easy reading or printing, in a PDF file here: baby killer and other stories

These next eight are not bad; they have their moments.
All twenty stories, plus nine more than didn't make the final cut, can also be downloaded as a single ZIP file (which must then be unzipped on your computer): stories

4.26.2009

are we the people? (part 3)

Continuing the essay on idolatry...


In recent years, a number of theologians have recognized the apparent spiritual nature of our institutions and organizations, Walter Wink being the most widely recognized (with his extremely popular Powers That Be series). But they do not seem to notice that, despite the powerful effect produced by many people believing in a god, an immaterial “power” that they depend on and serve, such a god is not actually real. People create institutions and organizations, corporations and nations. But people do not create spiritual entities. Their gods are not real (and so cannot be redeemed, as Wink claims). They are idols, the work of men's hands (and minds), with no breath in their nostrils or sight in their eyes.

Yet there are real spiritual “principalities and powers,” entities not created by us, existing long before we gathered ourselves into collectives and institutionalized ourselves. And these have always found our idols useful.

The question for us is who do we believe in? Who do we depend on for our daily bread, and our security for the future? Who do we serve?

Do we identify ourselves as members of the corporate bodies of idols, have we made ourselves their hands, their mouths? Do we wield their authority among those others who also believe in them? What is our answer?

Jesus' answer was clear:
And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.”

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'”



(This essay can be downloaded as a RTF file here.)

4.25.2009

are we the people? (part 2)

Continuing the essay from yesterday...


What is this great beast? What is the monster that Steinbeck describes? An institution, a social structure created by human beings. With no actual reality, except in the minds of the people who believe in it. Yet, as more and more people gather, believing in and submitting themselves to its order and purposes, it gains power in men's minds, great power, seeming to become something much greater than ourselves. Those who believe and serve it become dependent on it, dependent for their very lives. And it grows in complexity and influence until it eventually reaches the point where no human leadership seems to be in control of it; it seems to have taken on a life of its own.

“Men made it but they can't control it …it can make men do what it wants.”

Isn't this what an idol is? The work of men's hands, yet with the apparent power of a god, that people depend on, and fear, and serve. With no reality in itself, yet very real in the minds of those who believe in it. Wielding great power through those people.

And wasn't that always the nature of idols? They represented local gods, wielding power over the inhabitants of a city or region. Where they were believed in they truly seemed to have power, and their power was precisely the power of their united, organized believers. When the people were defeated by another people, their god either disappeared or took its place with the defeated people, submitting to the victorious people's god. The power of the idol was and always is the power of the people.

But that power can seem very great. We, the People—the monster, the Great Beast—even appears to have the power to define good and evil. Weil borrowed the image of a great beast from this passage of Plato's Republic (where Plato critiques those who are “wise” through their study of collective society):
I might compare them to a man who should study the tempers and desires of a mighty strong beast who is fed by him—he would learn how to approach and handle him, also at what times and from what causes he is dangerous or the reverse, and what is the meaning of his several cries, and by what sounds, when another utters them, he is soothed or infuriated; and you may suppose further, that when, by continually attending upon him, he has become perfect in all this, he calls his knowledge wisdom, and makes of it a system or art, which he proceeds to teach, although he has no real notion of what he means by the principles or passions of which he is speaking, but calls this honorable and that dishonorable, or good or evil, or just or unjust, all in accordance with the tastes and tempers of the great brute. Good he pronounces to be that in which the beast delights and evil to be that which he dislikes…
To Plato's observation, Weil adds this insight: “The power of the social element. Agreement between several men brings with it a feeling of reality. It brings with it also a sense of duty. Divergence, where this agreement is concerned, appears as a sin. Hence all returns to the fold are possible. The state of conformity is an imitation of grace.”

We, the People is a demanding god, but also a forgiving god. If you conform you are accepted, and a use is found for you.

We desire so much to be forgiven and accepted. To become a part of something greater than ourselves, to be united as one with our fellow human beings. And with good reason; we were created for this. But there is only one real, living, corporate Body, and it is not created by us. All other corporate "bodies" are lies, false substitutions for the living One. They are idols.

Now it may seem that the belief and participation in collective "bodies," our creation and service of human institutions, is too widespread to be considered idolatry. It pervades our whole society, both now and throughout history. But we should recall that Jesus' term for those who do not serve God was "the world."


continued...

4.24.2009

are we the people?

That article I wrote on movements, and the intense discussion that followed, made me wonder why I think it's so important. I talked it over with Heather and she encouraged me to write this essay (which I'll post over the next few days). It brings together some important thoughts from the past several years.

I submitted this to Jesus Manifesto, too, with the title, "Are we the people?"


The owner men explained the workings and the thinkings of the monster that was stronger than they were…. “You see, a bank or company… those creatures don't breathe air, don't eat side-meat. They breathe profits; they eat interest on money. If they don't get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. It is a sad thing, but it is so. It is just so…. The bank—the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. When the monster stops growing it dies. It can't stay one size….”

And at last the owner men came to the point. “The tenant system won't work, any more. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop. We have to do it. We don't like to do it. But the monster's sick. Something's happened to the monster….”

“Sure,” cried the tenant men, “but it's our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it's no good, it's still ours….”

“We're sorry. It's not us. It's the monster. The bank isn't like a man.”

“Yes, but the bank is made up of men.”

“No. You're wrong there—quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it but they can't control it.

“…The monster isn't men, but it can make men do what it wants.”

That passage, from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, is perhaps the best description of human idolatry that I have ever seen. We commonly think of idols as ancient, exotic things. Little carved statues that superstitious and simple-minded people bowed to in their homes and in their pagan temples. But I have become convinced that idols are, and always have been, us.

Not little carved images, not things at all. The idol is us. People, gathered into a collective, man-made “us.” We, the People.

In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil wrote:
The Great Beast is the only object of idolatry, the only ersatz of God, the only imitation of something which is infinitely far from me and which is I myself.

It is impossible for me to take myself as an end or, in consequence, my fellow man as an end, since he is my fellow. Nor can I take a material thing, because matter is still less capable of having finality conferred upon it than [individual] human beings are.

Only one thing can be taken as an end, for in relation to the human person it possesses a kind of transcendence: this is the collective.

continued...

4.23.2009

prayer bells

Heather and I went out yesterday evening and sang night prayer together sitting in the woods behind the house. The first time it's been warm enough to do that this year. Nice to pray watching the sun set through the stark trees.

The Dutchman's breeches are flowering in large patches in the woods. And the Bluebells are in bloom now also.

We're trying to pray for the retreat work more regularly now. And it looks like we're going to get a chance to visit Chicago soon to meet and talk to a few more people about referring folks to us.

4.22.2009

"little flock, your Father has given you the kingdom"

Something more I wrote in the good discussion at Jesus Manifesto:

Yes, Andrew, I agree we aren't the builders of the kingdom of God. And I agree that we should just be following what God is doing in the world. Of course we won't figure that out by looking for what's popular or trendy.

And I hope we don't get caught up in semantics about the meaning of the word "movement." In the article and this discussion, my main interest was to draw our attention to the way Jesus taught his followers to think and act differently from those who wish to harness the power of massed, organized people. He did not teach or act in a way that would gather and maintain strong popular support. He did not appeal for help to those who had wealth or influence (not even in his own religious community) in order to get their people on his side. He even seemed to think it was an advantage that he and his preachers were poor and not granted authority or protected by any large, influential organization of people. They were to depend on God, not any human organization, for their support, their protection, and their authority. That was the faith they were preaching and demonstrating. Faith in the power of God, not faith in "the power of the people."

Every other human organization (including nations, corporations, denominations, and movements), on the other hand, preaches in word and action that "Together we are strong, together we can accomplish great things." Sound familiar? It is the story of Babel over and over. God does not abide this for long. The downfall of every nation and movement bears witness to this.

Unfortunately, Christians have been seduced by "the power of the people" again and again. We compromise and appeal to the rich and influential for support and think we can accomplish so much more good if we can gather and organize masses of people. And we end up assimilated by the world instead of changing it. Or God scatters us like he did at Babel.

But Jesus showed us a way that avoids the temptations of social power, "the power of the people," a way that builds our faith in God instead. He said:

"Go, intentionally poor, as lambs among wolves, provided for and protected by God, and speak and live the truth that I have showed you, that the kingdom is offered to all by God, as a gift, that it does not rely on the power of the rulers or the power of the crowds, that 'the power of the people' is not worthy of your faith and obedience, only God is, and when you are despised and rejected and attacked by the vast majority for that message, do not despair but trust God, and keep saying it and living it, together with the little family God gathers for you, rejoicing in the care of your Father.

"Fear not little flock, for your Father has given you the kingdom."

(That's a bit of a paraphrase, and not all-inclusive, but I think you get the idea...)

4.20.2009

"the crowd is untruth"

From a discussion on Jesus Manifesto, about my article "Does Jesus need a 'movement'?":


I thought it might be worth returning to Mark's question, "How much should we resist movement-building?" As I understand it, this resistance is not something separate but an integral part of following Jesus' example, living the life of the kingdom of God.

I think of Jesus' words to Pilate, describing the meaning of his life:

Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world."

Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth..." (Jn 18.36-37)

And then this challenging passage by Soren Kierkegaard comes to mind, which seems like a commentary on Jesus' words:

The crowd is untruth. There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd. Let someone, some individual human being, certainly, approach such a person, what does he care about him; that is much too small a thing; he proudly sends him away; there must be at least a hundred. And if there are thousands, then he bends before the crowd, he bows and scrapes; what untruth! No, when there is an individual human being, then one should express the truth by respecting what it is to be a human being; and if perhaps, as one cruelly says, it was a poor, needy human being, then especially should one invite him into the best room, and if one has several voices, he should use the kindest and friendliest; that is the truth....

Christ [was] crucified, because he, even though he addressed himself to all, would not have to do with the crowd, because he would not in any way let a crowd help him, because he in this respect absolutely pushed away, would not found a party, or allow balloting, but would be what he was, the truth...


If we just, like Jesus, "bear witness to the truth," we will avoid the temptations of movement-building and the assimilating power of society. Giving our attention and help to the one poor, needy person in front of us, who means nothing to society but everything to God. Consenting to be poor and weak ourselves (politically and organizationally as well), because our kingdom is "not from the world," and does not need to be built or defended by us. Ignoring (or even denouncing) the power of rulers and the power of the crowd, though everyone else thinks these powers control everything (including "truth")—because we put our faith in the power of God, not the power of organized people. Announcing all this with our words and our actions, the truth, which has never had a popular following.

I see this as a genuine alternative (that God creates and supports, not us), one that the powers of society would not find useful but rather offensive or dangerous, like they did with Jesus. And this is the kind of life that makes us, as Ellul says, "a question put within the world, a question invincibly confronting it."

4.18.2009

for bloggers



I thought I'd bring out that old cartoon because I don't have anything meaningful to say today, but I recently found something really cool for bloggers. An add-on to Firefox called ScribeFire. It's a built-in post editor that allows you to compose while still viewing other web pages, even letting you drag pictures and links from those pages right into your post. It lets you save what you're working on, too, and publish it later (helpful if you're having trouble accessing your blog's online editor, like I am—as I write this, actually). Very nice. And it's worked great for me so far.

4.17.2009

"at the right hand of the needy"

From Psalm 109, for Easter:
With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.

For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
to save him from those who condemn him to death.

("needy" = Hebrew ebyown)

4.15.2009

"he is not God of the dead, but of the living"

From a discussion today on the Jesus Manifesto site...
I also wonder if the resurrection was really such a unique, unprecedented revelation, if it had not been revealed (or even experienced in a way) before, for those who had eyes to see. I noticed, Brandon, that in your fine synopsis of the Jewish backstory to the crucified Christ, only images of sacrifice appear, and the longing for an end of the suffering and exile, for the answer of God. But aren't there also images and experiences of resurrection also?

These words of Jesus come to mind: "That the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him." (Lk 20.37-38)

Then there's the experience of the Exodus, which seems to embody (in many ways) both death and resurrection, at least for those few who believed and could enter the promised land. There's the experience of Abraham and Isaac ("By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac... He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back." Heb 11.17-19). And the parable of the prodigal son, a story of death and resurrection that probably happens again and again, then and now: "...for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." (Lk 15.24)

I do believe that Jesus' death and resurrection is the extreme example and perfect revelation of this, and the act of God that makes all experiences of resurrection possible. But I hope we don't just contemplate and argue about the theological meaning of what God did then. I would think it would be more important to experience it ourselves. And God's still raising the dead now, right, for those who have eyes to see?

I sometimes wonder if most Christians ever get beyond the question, "How, if we are supposed to be the righteous servants of the almighty God, are we still in this bind?" Or at most hold out hope for the savior who will one day vindicate them and undo their exile.

But isn't God offering experiences of resurrection now, just as he always has for those who believe and (following Jesus) enter the promised land, the kingdom of God?

4.13.2009

"what are you, a glutton for punishment?"

Today I found this madTV video clip, a favorite from years ago:

(if the player doesn't work, try here)

4.11.2009

the daffodils are blooming

Just in time for Easter. I'm having a little trouble, though, getting into the spirit of Easter; I think I'm just more in the spirit of spring.

Maybe I'll look back in my journal to last year, when Heather wrote a dramatic reading for our Easter worship here. It really captures the feeling of Jesus' friends when they thought they had lost him: "He's dead."

4.09.2009

"that you may all be one"

Heather and I are leading worship tonight, remembering Jesus' last supper with his disciples. We wanted to focus on Jesus' example of humility and lowly serving of each other, and how that is related to our unity with one another.

After the foot washing, different people will read John 13.12-17, John 12.24-26, John 17.20-22, and then Luke 22.19-27 before communion. And at the end, each of those readers will say lines from their readings like this:


Unless a grain of wheat falls and dies, it remains alone

Do you know what I have done for you?

This is my body, which is given for you

That you may all be one

Let the greatest among you become as the youngest

That you may all be one

And the leader as one who serves

For I have given you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you

I. your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet

I am among you as one who serves

And where I am, there my servant will be also

That you may all be one

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them

4.08.2009

does Jesus need a "movement"? (part 3)

Continuing from yesterday...


Having lived in a Christian community for a number of years now, I've been hearing again of a "new monasticism." And I can't help but notice the similarities with the old new monasticism. There is the radical call to live more like Jesus, renouncing wealth and sharing life with the lowly, which I am glad to hear again. There is the bold (and much needed) critique of the church of our day. Perhaps there is also the desire to rebuild it.

And then there is the way this new new monasticism appeals to the hungers and hopes of our time. The growing popularity (and support of influential church leaders) that makes it seem that significant revival and change might actually be achievable. It is now seen as "a movement," and is becoming more organized. But then I see wealthy publishing companies already turning "new monasticism" into bestsellers for themselves. And powerful media outlets making room in their programming, and even adorning their front pages with "new monastics." And I get a sinking feeling.

Does Jesus need a popular movement? Is the gospel message communicated more effectively by a large, organized effort? Do we need the cooperation of wealthy corporations to attract large numbers of people and achieve significant change? Who does the kingdom depend on?

My hope is that we can follow Jesus in rejecting both the power of the rulers and the power of the crowd. That we can be poor and weak (politically and organizationally as well), because our Father has given us the kingdom. "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Lk 12.32-33) We only need to embrace the gift and announce it as Jesus did, from a position of vulnerability and need, where we can best demonstrate the true meaning of faith—utter dependence on God.

Perhaps it is better to be seen as just bums, rather than as members of a recognized, growing, popular movement. Bums cared for by God. I don't think the powers of our society have much use for those, but I believe Jesus does. Ellul continues:
We have simply to be, and we can only be a question put within the world, a question invincibly confronting it. This is our efficacy. It is the efficacy of the question, a question which society and sociological movements cannot assimilate. Israel and the church have never been efficacious except to the degree that the world has been unable to assimilate them. This is the vocation of the people of God incomparably more authentic than "service" or "works."

It is not at the level of works and their results that this efficacy may be seen; it is at the level of inassimilability.


That's it. I'm thinking of submitting it to a couple "new monastic" magazines, just hoping that they will read it...

(Download this essay as a RTF file here.)

4.07.2009

does Jesus need a "movement"? (part 2)

Continuing the article on the Dominicans and Franciscans...


It seems that Dominic and Francis perceived something of this important aspect of Jesus' life in a time when much of the leadership in the church did not. They also seemed to be in tune with the hungers and hopes of their age. Many responded to their call for a new monasticism, for committed followers of Jesus who would abandon their possessions and the security of respectable monasteries and live in small, poor communities, wandering as beggars among the common people.

Francis and Dominic both envisioned Orders that would help rebuild the church. And the strong popular response they received encouraged them that this was possible. They were critics of the wealth and laxity of the clergy, but they managed to get the support of enough influential leaders of the church, and a following of people large enough to potentially achieve significant revival and change in the church of their day.

Unfortunately, this initially encouraging support was not without its costs. When Dominic's early attempts to convert the Albigensians faltered, he had to watch and attempt to work alongside the crusade that was ordered against the heretics. Much of the population of southern France was decimated. (The Waldensians were also targeted during this crusade, though in many ways they were quite similar to the Dominicans and Franciscans, differing primarily in their refusal to submit to church authority.) Within a short time, the popularity of the new monasticism brought overwhelming pressures to ease the standards of poverty that Francis and Dominic had set. And then, within the century, the size, mobility, education and discipline of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders made them the perfect tool to exercise the power of the church hierarchy. The overwhelming majority of Medieval inquisitors were chosen from among the Franciscans or Dominicans.

Which is a tragedy considering Francis' and Dominic's desire to follow Jesus in his vulnerability and lowliness. Looking back, I now wonder if they got a bit carried away by the enthusiasm of their followers and their own ambitious hopes for change in the church. Did their longing to see the church rebuilt lead them to take advantage of their popularity? Did their desire to be a part of that rebuilding lead them to gather the necessary support and numbers to effectively achieve that goal—which produced organizations terribly useful to the powers of their day?

I am reminded of the words of Jacques Ellul: "Each time the people of God becomes effective according to the world's criteria, this only implies that society has absorbed our action and is using it for its own ends and for its own profit. ...The efficacy we think we have is simply a power in the world's service, for the perfecting of its own being, for its better organization...."

And I am also reminded that Jesus sent out his disciples, not only poor, but humanly powerless, "as lambs in the midst of wolves." I recall how he squandered his popular following and fell prey to the religious authorities of his time, because he did not respect the power of the crowd or the power of rulers. Jesus did not need their power to build his kingdom. God had given the kingdom. It existed in the lives of Jesus and his disciples as a gift to them, and they announced it as a gift wherever they went: "The kingdom of God has come near to you."


continued...

4.05.2009

does Jesus need a "movement"?

I'm supposed to lead a discussion here in a few weeks on the Dominicans and Franciscans. Thinking about it, I got the idea to also write an article involving that same information (and weaving in a few other things I've been thinking about). I think I'll write it here, over a number of days. The title I have in mind is "Does Jesus need a 'movement'? Lessons from the old new monasticism."


"So you're gonna be a bum?!"

That was my father's initial reaction when I told him I was leaving on a long walking trip, hundreds of miles, without backpack or tent or sleeping bag—or money. I tried to explain that Jesus was my inspiration. Jesus' life and the way he sent out his disciples:

Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals... Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' (Lk 10.3-4,8-11)
Three years earlier I had joined the Dominican Order, following that same inspiration, looking for a way to follow those words of Jesus. Dominic, and also Francis of Assisi, had also been inspired by those words when they started the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, introducing a new form of monasticism in the Middle Ages. That's what drew me to them. But during my years of novitiate and seminary I struggled, resisting the wealthy and established organization that the Order had become. Eventually one of the brothers sat me down and told me I was "not fitting in." It was then that I gave away the rest of my belongings and took to the road, to try to experience the life of the kingdom of God that Jesus had described.

Before I joined the Dominicans I read the story of Dominic and Francis and was impressed by their desire to follow Jesus example more closely. The monks and clerics of their time were wealthy and politically connected. Many people were rejecting the Christian message because of the obvious corruption and oppressiveness of the church leadership. Francis, however, found inspiration in Jesus' call to "sell all, give to the poor, and follow me." He gave up his inherited wealth and embraced poverty with a passion, believing that the church would find healing along the path of selfless giving and humble poverty rather than the path of wealth. Dominic had a similar vision. He noticed that the common people had lost respect for the powerful, pampered clerics, while "heretic" preachers wandered among them demonstrating their zealous commitment with lives of charity and extreme austerity. Dominic saw Jesus' life of poverty, and the way he sent out his disciples with nothing but their faith, as the best way to preach the gospel.

I agreed with this when I joined Dominic's Order, and after leaving the Order, and spending months at a time on the road over the next eight years, I was even more convinced. Jesus' life was not just a good way to preach the gospel, it was the gospel. His good news was that God was offering salvation from sin and freedom from fear as a gift. We were only asked to believe, to put our faith in God completely, to depend on his love to protect and sustain and guide us. And this is clearly seen in Jesus' life of poverty. Like the birds and lilies he trusted God for everything, and God provided. He sent out his disciples without money and without power, as "lambs among wolves," to demonstrate what it looked like to depend on God completely. And at the end of his life, when Jesus asked them if they had lacked anything, they answered, "Nothing." This was also my experience. And I saw that presenting this good news to people from a position of weakness and poverty does not diminish the message, but rather directs all attention and honor to God rather than the poor, weak messenger. It encourages faith in God's power rather than faith in our own.


continued...

4.02.2009

somewhere else to write

I recently submitted a few things to the online magazine Jesus Manifesto. I first noticed it during the election season when the editor took the highly unusual and challenging stand against voting. He took a lot of flak for that one. And late last year I wrote about the article I saw there with an unusual (and, I think, accurate) interpretation of Jesus' often quoted words about "the least of these."

So last week I submitted my short story "Baby killer" and the article I wrote about going AWOL, "A conscientious objection." They appear on the site now. I also wrote a new article for them about responding to the recent rise in popular atheist critiques of Christianity, "An answer for the atheists," which started an interesting discussion.

I've liked the response and interactions I've found there so far. I think I'll keep checking in, and submit a few more stories or other things I come up with.