7.31.2009

We're thinking of going to this free folk festival this weekend...

7.30.2009

"do you want to be healed?"

Here's the letter I just wrote describing our recent retreat:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed.

One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?"

The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me."

Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his mat and walked. (Jn 5.2-9)

A little over a week ago we hosted a retreat on the farm for another group of guys from Emmaus Ministries in Chicago. After supper with others from the Plow Creek community here, and an extended group "listening session" the next morning to build intimacy and set the tone for our time together, we got into the focus for the weekend: The story of the man at the pool of Bethesda. To help everyone understand and identify with the paralyzed man, Heather introduced the story with a reading (that she had written). It began:
There are so many of us here; and we are all so dirty. How could I be clean—a man like me, who can't even raise his legs out of the dust? There is a woman who comes and washes me once a day, and brings a plate of food. My cousin's wife. She hates me, I can see it on her face. But she does what she has to do. She puts the food down by my mat, and she turns me over and washes me, while I turn my head away. At least I can still turn my head away.

And then she goes, and I lie here, looking up at the clean stone pillars all around me and the wooden roof-beams up above and the rows and rows of mats, all around me, all the stinking, useless cripples like myself. And beyond them, off to the right out of the corner of my eye, there's the water of the Pool, flashing in the sun. The pool where the angel comes, or so they say; and when the water stirs it means the angel is there, and if you can leap into the pool the moment the angel stirs it—if you can be the first one in, or maybe even the second—it will heal anything that's wrong with you. Anything. That's what they say.

There is no angel. It's all a mean lie, made up to torture cripples like me. Leap into the pool, cripple! Be healed! No, no, there is an angel, it's no lie. I've heard the shouts of joy, I've lifted up my head and tried to see through the crazy crowd to where the cripples are dancing, and I've seen. I think. But oh God in heaven, I will never be one of them. I never will.

(The whole reading can be downloaded here)

We chose the story because the guys who came this weekend were older, men who had struggled with addictions and life on the streets for many years. And they seemed to understand and respond deeply to the story of the man paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Including Jesus' unexpected question, "Do you want to be healed?" We talked about the reasons why we might hesitate to accept healing, why paralysis and suffering might become part of our identity, and it might seem easier to remain victims, rather than accepting the gift of wholeness and the higher expectations that go with it. The paralyzed man had had an excuse for not answering Jesus' frequently repeated call to "follow me." He couldn't walk. Then Jesus offered him healing, freedom from his bondage, but then also the choice whether or not he would follow the hard and perilous path Jesus walked.

We also discussed Jesus' selection of this one man, among so many, a man who had perhaps almost given up on healing after so long. But then Jesus usually chose the weakest and poorest, the most hopeless cases, who were more ready to accept God's gift of healing because they knew they could not help themselves. People not so different from the guys from Emmaus. We concluded by hearing Jesus ask each of us, "Do you want to be healed?"

It turned out that one of the guys that was here for the weekend is Muslim. We found a copy of the Quran in our library, with both Arabic and English text, and he borrowed it while he was with us. He even offered a prayer in Arabic during our closing worship time. But he was also quite willing to study this story of Jesus with us, and eagerly took part in the discussions. And he asked for our prayers as well.

Another one of the guys had been here for a retreat last summer, and brought news about the guys that came then. (Most now have their own places to live. One is currently in a live-in recovery program.) And we were so impressed by this man's enthusiasm and maturity that we're working on a way for him to come back by himself, for a week-long spiritual retreat later this summer.

The rest of the weekend was feasting together on homemade pizza and roast chicken, and fresh-picked blueberries from the farm, green beans, pink "Mountain Rose" potatoes, cantaloupe, and several kinds of breads made in the bakery here. Homemade strawberry jam that Heather had canned earlier this summer. And eggs from our neighbors' hens.

We also got to know the Assistant Ministry Director at Emmaus, who came with the guys and seemed very enthusiastic about the retreats after her time with us. She wants to come back herself. We're hoping to continue to build good relationships with staff in a number of different ministries, so they can offer our retreats to the people they serve.

Emmaus Ministries is planning to bring another group of guys in late August, which is a joy and encouragement for us. Please pray with us that God continues to help us build these relationships. And opens the way for more men and women in need to come listen for a healing word from God in the quiet and beauty of this place.

7.28.2009

tomatoes are here

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_TjEuxE_yL1g/R9k-gYQnKsI/AAAAAAAAAkE/p1ajoAWZppo/s320/squash+blossoms+and+fresh+pasta+010.jpgThe day before yesterday we had the first fresh "tomato and mint pasta" of the season. We got the recipe from the Simply in Season cookbook; it's a variation on their tomato and basil recipe. We found the mint version more interesting and very good (and we have lots of fresh mint around here).

Ingredients  (serves 4)
4 large cloves garlic (minced)
2 pounds fresh tomatoes (chopped and drained)
1/3 cup fresh mint (chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix and let sit at room temperature for an hour or two to mingle the flavors, then serve over pasta.

7.26.2009

all in "the family"

Here's my comment on a recent Jesus Manifesto article on "The Family":


Jeff Shalet wrote an article for Harper's in 2003 (available here), in which he claimed:

The Family's only publicized gathering is the National Prayer Breakfast, which it established in 1953 and which, with congressional sponsorship, it continues to organize every February in Washington, D.C. Each year 3,000 dignitaries, representing scores of nations, pay $425 each to attend. Steadfastly ecumenical, too bland most years to merit much press, the breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can "meet Jesus man to man."

As is traditional for presidents now, Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast this year. I think his comments there demonstrate a pragmatic understanding of faith and politics that is much milder but in some respects fundamentally the same as that of the Family: God works his purposes through the Power of the People.

For example, from Obama's NPB address [italics are mine]:
I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose.

In different ways and different forms, it is that spirit and sense of purpose that drew friends and neighbors to that first prayer breakfast in Seattle all those years ago, during another trying time for our nation. It is what led friends and neighbors from so many faiths and nations here today. We come to break bread and give thanks and seek guidance, but also to rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity. As St. Augustine once said, "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."

So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God.
This view is also shared by many, many people (where the Family's view is a bit too extreme for most people). And that Augustine quote is a hugely popular one, always used with the emphasis on "work as though everything depended on you." Which is quite useful for those who want to harness the Power of the People.

(I think we should also work as if everything depended on God...)

7.22.2009

way to go, Dave

I recently heard that Dave Mustaine, the singer/songwriter for the metal group Megadeth, became a Christian. Good for him.

I liked them a lot in college (classics like "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?"). And hearing the good news got me listening to them again, though it's the kind of music you have to be in the mood for...

7.20.2009

My prayer this morning after the retreat, from Psalm 66...

For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid affliction on our loins;
you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us forth to a spacious place.


Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.

7.18.2009

retreat this weekend

We're having a retreat this weekend, for a group from Emmaus Ministries (they also came for a retreat last summer). The focus for the retreat is the story of the healing at Bethesda, John 5.2-9. Here's the beginning of the dramatic reading Heather wrote to introduce the story:

There are so many of us here; and we are all so dirty. How could I be clean—a man like me, who can't even raise his legs out of the dust? There is a woman who comes and washes me once a day, and brings a plate of food. My cousin's wife. She hates me, I can see it on her face. But she does what she has to do. She puts the food down by my mat, and she turns me over and washes me, while I turn my head away. At least I can still turn my head away.

And then she goes, and I lie here, looking up at the clean stone pillars all around me and the wooden roof-beams up above and the rows and rows of mats, all around me, all the stinking, useless cripples like myself. And beyond them, off to the right out of the corner of my eye, there's the water of the Pool, flashing in the sun. The pool where the angel comes, or so they say; and when the water stirs it means the angel is there, and if you can leap into the pool the moment the angel stirs it—if you can be the first one in, or maybe even the second—it will heal anything that's wrong with you. Anything. That's what they say.

There is no angel. It's all a mean lie, made up to torture cripples like me. Leap into the pool, cripple! Be healed! No, no, there is an angel, it's no lie. I've heard the shouts of joy, I've lifted up my head and tried to see through the crazy crowd to where the cripples are dancing, and I've seen. I think. But oh God in heaven, I will never be one of them. I never will.

(The whole reading can be downloaded here.)

7.14.2009



We've been planning a trip for the teen group here to go to Chicago next month. And next week some youth are coming from other communities for several days at the farm. So they're a little less surly at the moment...

7.12.2009

"as the wind upon the sea"

Heather wrote a song (to the tune of the Irish folk song, "Down by the Sally Gardens"). I like it:

Come to me, all ye heavy laden,
all ye weary from the road.
Rest your head upon my shoulder
and let me take your load.
For see, my yoke is easy,
my burden very light,
as the sunlight on the meadow,
as the south wind in the night.

Leave behind your anxious labor,
follow me, I will care for you.
For the name of my yoke is freedom
and all my words are true.
Oh leave behind your money,
your glory, let it pass,
as the rain upon the river,
as the dew upon the grass.

Come and drink of my still waters,
without money, without gold.
Of the light in my green valley
no tongue has ever told.
Oh turn and be like children
where my children's laughter runs free,
as the stream upon the mountain,
as the wind upon the sea.

7.10.2009

as bad as individualism, if not worse

From a recent discussion on Jesus Manifesto...


You raise a good point about my sensitivity about group dynamics and the evils of institutions (if anyone's interested, I tried to explain my reasons for it in the article "Are we the people?"). But I don't think I automatically spout "Woe!" every time the church is mentioned. Only when it seems that submission or commitment to some human group is being pushed as a demand of Christian discipleship (perhaps because, as in a previous discussion, "God is always more present to the community than to the individual"), which happens to be in fashion these days in certain circles. Not at all Jesus' message, and nothing like his life (which was seen as dangerously rebellious to the religious leaders and community of his day). It's as bad as individualism, in my opinion, if not worse. And I think the history of institutional churches (and intentional Christian communities) with their suppression and abuses committed against rebels in "the community," bears out my concerns.

I agree with your observation that Paul called people to be the church, to live up to "who they are." But then he was preaching to people who had no concept of the church, who were just learning what it was. We, on the other hand, do have a concept of church, based on our experience of the multitude of churches on every street corner (often two or three on a street corner). And our concept is usually wrong, severely distorted (perverted?) by the institutional "incarnations" of the church that are often not the Body at all. So I think our preaching has to be different now, at least breaking down false views first, by contrasting them with the truth about the Body of Christ.

And don't we see some of that in later writings about the church? For example, in Revelation, this passage that I think fits a lot of our American churches quite well:

"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.

"For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

"Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent." (Rev 3.15-19)

And then there's Jesus' words in John's gospel (which also appeared later than Paul's writings):
"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

"If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned." (Jn 15.5-6)
Which emphasizes that the crucial part is being connected with Jesus, since he is the source of fruit and life. He is the vine; we can be part of that, but we never determine the nature or fruit of the vine. If we move away from him then we are cut off, no longer part of the vine (though we are welcome to return). We can't drag the vine down with us; the vine is Christ. But we can separate ourselves.

Isn't that what Jesus is warning us about when he says, "Apart from me you can do nothing"?

7.09.2009

prayer of dependence tonight

For our "prayer of dependence" tonight, I printed a small picture of the Declaration of Independence. Then set it on a stand with a crucifix punched through it. Red fabric covers the stand, flowing down onto the floor.

It's meant as an image of our utter dependence on God amidst the pressures and challenges of a world that glorifies political power and self-sovereignty. The psalters' song "Ol' Glory" works really well with that image as well (hear it here).

7.06.2009

"not today"

7.04.2009

prayer of dependence

I'm planning a different kind of prayer for our evening prayer next week, in response, I guess, to the independence day celebrations around us today. I call it "prayer of dependence":


Banner ( listen here; these first four songs by the psalters)

(Farsi) "God you are my Beloved;
no matter what happens I want nothing more than to stand next to You"

Broken bodies lie soaking ashen ground,
empires within and out crushing the refugees
No one is left to fight for them but you and me,
and the One we say we love is with them
bleeding red that ground

The armies of evil we made are now surrounding
and so we run to hide ourselves and leave the bleeding,
saving ourselves we leave the Saviour of refugees.
Run back to Him run back to those struggling.

Banner wave high for the lowly, wave the suffering Chi Rho
Stand with your Love of long ago,
Run with Him to fight the shallows we all know

Banner You are all the lowly and for those mourning you alone are Home
We stand with You as the armies crush Thee,
Run to You as Your Blood covers even these

Banner wave high for the lowly, wave the suffering Chi Rho,
Stand with your Love of long ago
Run to those suffering
If you Love Him then worship Him there that is where He is found....
He's the Home for refugees

Opening prayer

Agnus Dei ( listen here)
"Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us" (twice) "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world grant us peace, grant us peace"
Silence (concluding with Ps 146.3-10; Heb 11.8-10,13)
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign for ever, thy God, O Zion, to all generations. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. ...These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Refugee ( listen here)
Revolution come free us, Holy Brother us desert wanderers have no place to call home Physician come heal us Holy Mender us blind ol' lepers can not find our way home Refugee just like me please don't leave You're our only... Home, Home, Home, Home... Compassion come save us Holy Lover us warmongers ruined this place we call home Refugee just like me please don't leave You're our only... Home, Home, Home, Home...
Gospel: John 15.13,17-20
"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. ...This I command you, to love one another. "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also."
Ol' Glory ( listen here)
The killing fields are striped with red, white lies in between While on a placid blue they float like islands safe from all they sowed beneath High above that poor man's toil they lay in sacred isolation Safely placed in rows they are stars of self-preservation And on good Friday, (and all that glory,) and on good Friday... In that corner sea serene fifty stars line up against you Flying high but they will sink with the weight of a heavy millstone No man is an island, no one can run from all they've done In that deep blue they'll sink, fifty stars never to see the sun And on good Friday those red stripes are carved into your back And on good Friday those stars spangled your body blue and black And on good Friday the stars and stripes were torn in two And all that glory, all that ol' glory belongs alone to You
Your prayers
(Taizé song, in Latin: "O Jesus Christ, in you I trust.")
Closing prayer We shall walk through the valley (African American spiritual, with drums)
We shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death We shall walk through the valley in peace And if Jesus himself will be our leader We shall walk through the valley in peace There will be no sor-rowing there There will be no sor-rowing there And if Jesus himself will be our leader We shall walk through the valley in peace (hum) And if Jesus himself will be our leader We shall walk through the valley in peace

7.02.2009

something about the postmodern approach

From a recent discussion...

Thinking over some of the conversation here, and remembering my observations during my years in seminary, I think I've realized something about the postmodern approach. Its focus on the ways that our personal points of view and cultural frameworks filter our perceptions and influence our interpretations does offer a "lofty" perspective from which to critique, say, the false certainties of evangelicals (quite rightly, I should add). But it also seems to disconnect us from God, in that we can never be sure whether we are hearing God's voice or just hearing our own prejudices or the accumulated formation of our tradition and community.

So we're left with an apparent detachment, which makes it easier to analyze all the various accounts of God's activity in people's lives, comparing and contrasting their confessions with those of others, which might lead us to any number of interesting conclusions about the nature of religion and belief. But what seems to be left out (conveniently?) is the voice of God speaking directly to us. Presenting us with the choice: believe or reject, act or do not act. The "voice of God" becomes an object of detached study, never the prophet Nathan standing before us saying, "You are the man!"

And doesn't that easily turn us into consumers as well? Eagerly devouring and digesting all the various religious confessions and theological viewpoints, churning out our educated theories, without ever having to face the choice, the demand, God's voice speaking directly and clearly to us, his eyes on us waiting for our answer?