7.31.2010

"we're not called to trust one another"

Many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing. And they believed in his name. But Jesus did not fully trust them. He knew what people are like. He didn't need others to tell him what people are like. He already knew what was in the human heart. (Jn 2.23-25, NIRV)

I like this translation of this passage. It came to mind after a conversation I had this week with Dan, a new friend in Evanston. He had spoken of past disappointments in relationships, and the difficulty of trusting people again. Trust is something that is emphasized in "intentional community" settings, where long-term relationships are promoted, along with the benefits of learning to trust one another through years of experience. But long experience together doesn't always lead to trust. As we get to know people, we learn to what extent we can trust them and also to what we extent can't. We come to know, like Jesus, what these people are like.

Pretty much every group of people has in their history stories of painful failed trust. Even the story of Jesus' small band of disciples climaxes with the revelation of deadly betrayal. I said to Dan that, while communities promote trust within the group, I didn't see that message in Jesus' story. We're not called to trust one another. We're called to love one another.

But does that mean we cannot trust? Isn't an atmosphere of trust needed to free us to love?

I believe we can trust, and are called to trust—to trust God. Jesus' story is a story of complete, unreserved trust in his Father. And it's out of this trust that Jesus could love with free abandon, even those who he knew would betray him and attack him. Jesus did not trust them (and sent his disciples out among them "as sheep in the midst of wolves," telling them to be "as shrewd as serpents"). But he trusted that his Father would provide and protect him and his followers to carry out the mission God had given them. And preserve their lives no matter what people did.

I've felt shaken recently and more unsure of people, as I've seen them act in ways I didn't expect. When various pressures (especially social pressures) seemed to force decisions from people that went against the convictions I thought they had, or brought out aggression I never knew was there. As if they were not free to act rightly, or even as they wished. In situations like those, there seems to be no basis for trusting, since people may not act like themselves at all. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus saw taking place "in the human heart."

Yet Jesus showed us we could trust God anyway. No matter what people chose to do, God would be faithful to us. (I've sometimes even experienced God doing good with the bad that people intended towards me.) So we can be vulnerable to people, and love them, even when we don't trust them completely. It's complete trust in God that gives us the freedom to love.

7.27.2010

for chico

7.26.2010

"he raises the lowly"

My soul glorifies the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness;
Henceforth all ages will call me blessed.

He puts forth his arm in strength
And scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones
And raises the lowly.

We used these words of Mary from the first chapter of Luke for the women's retreat a week ago. They've been a daily prayer of mine for years, a comfort during my walks and words that I thought would be well received by those considered "nobodies" in our society, like many who come for retreats with us. We focused on Mary's embrace of her lowliness, without shame or fear. And it was very well received. The women at the retreat seemed pretty familiar with such humble trust in God (though seemed glad to hear it affirmed once again), and we discussed God's intentional choice to reveal himself through the lowly. "God chose what is weak in the world... God chose what is low and despised in the world..." (1 Cor 1.27-28)

I didn't strongly emphasize the part about casting the mighty from their thrones, though that's been important to me as well. I find myself now, as I have often been in other places and other communities, bringing sharp challenges against some people in organizational leadership here. Against their use of power to punish or coerce, something Jesus strictly avoided. And against their hypocrisy, something Jesus hated. It has gotten to the point that I pray that Mary's words will be fulfilled here, that I realize I have no chance of a good relationship with these particular people until they are brought down, and that I'm pleading for God's arm to move soon and irresistibly.

When I look to our new friends from last weekend, though, my heart melts. It was such a relief to hear their stories and experience their friendship. One of them has already written about bringing another group for a retreat later this summer, and we're eager for it. I need to keep my attention focused on them. That same woman told us of a dream she had here, of many fish being pulled from the big meadow in front of our house, a great catch being drawn in, but then other people intruding, seeming to disrupt or distract from the fishing. As I think about it, we do see all those who come for retreats appear from the direction of the meadow (where the parking area is), though they certainly are fellow fishers as well. And I do need to take care not to be distracted. God is raising the lowly and I want to be involved.

One practical thing I recognized during the retreat was the need to gather a group of advisers again, people to offer ideas and help us coordinate with the rest of the community here. It's fallen apart as different people have left the community in the past couple years. But I want to make sure we don't include people who are in leadership positions this time. There's just too many temptations in those positions, and acceptance of those positions of power really indicates a spirit opposed to the spirit we try to nurture in our retreats. A spirit that embraces lowliness. The Spirit of the anawim.

7.21.2010

visitors

We had a great retreat this past weekend with women from Good News Partners, a real inspiration and encouragement for us. I should write more about that when I have some time.

Also the butterflies have arrived. Swallowtails like the phlox outside our back window, and dangle from the long stalks. And on my walk yesterday I kept seeing these gatherings of small yellow butterflies on the roadside. As I approached they would suddenly scatter, filling the air around me with careening splashes of yellow.

7.15.2010

"repent? you think that'll work?"

7.12.2010

I made this comic into a wedding card for friends who were married this past weekend:

7.09.2010

an update

Here's a letter I just sent to let folks know what's been happening here:

Friends,

It was evening when the fire started. Heather was cooking dinner and looked out the window to see the back of our neighbors' house ablaze, black smoke filling the sky. We rushed over. Everyone was out and no one seemed hurt, but the fire was spreading too quickly to stop and it looked like very little from the house could be saved. The power and intensity of the flames was shocking. (Pictures available here)

By the time firefighters arrived and got water on the fire (there are no hydrants here), it was clear the house would be a total loss. I saw people rushing around in confusion and grief. The family would lose almost all their possessions and the community would lose the newest and best-built house, a duplex, precious space that could provide homes for two families. And there would be no compensation, as it was not insured. Just a total loss. As the sun set, it mirrored the blaze, slowly dropping away to leave people standing in the dark.

When I got back home, Heather had already begun preparing the retreat guest rooms for the family. It was the best place for them with their five children, where they could all stay together and have enough kitchen and bathroom space. I saw the oldest son and told him they were welcome to stay in the rooms. But he hesitated. "No," he said, "those are for the guests." Meaning the people who come for retreats, many of them poor, struggling with homelessness. I almost pointed out that his current situation wasn't so different from theirs, but then just said, "You can be the guests for a while." They all moved in that night.

Within a month someone had offered them a nearby house for low rent. And many others had donated clothes and household items and other necessities. The family is still in a very difficult situation and the community here is unsure how they can replace the living space (the house had been built by people on the farm, people who are no longer here or no longer up to such a task). But we are grateful that God provided a way through the devastating crisis.

And we are grateful for friends from two new ministries who will be visiting us this month. The chaplain of Good News Partners, a ministry that helps people transition out of homelessness, is bringing a group of women next weekend. And a man who leads a bible study at a weekly soup kitchen at his church just north of Chicago is coming the following weekend to meet us and see the farm. He hopes to bring a group for a retreat later this summer.

Thanks for your support and prayers. We're especially grateful for them this year.

7.04.2010

for the 4th

We're at a family reunion this weekend; lots of spectacular "bombs bursting in air" last night from neighboring houses. Here's my contribution to the festivities, our national celebration of the establishment of our homeland and its flag. It's a psalters song I used in the "prayer of dependence" at the farm last year.

Banner ( listen here)

(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

7.02.2010

the return of the kingdom

A recent conversation on the kingdom of God reminded me of an essay I wrote not long ago. I especially liked reading over this last part. I find myself eager to hear again that the experience of the kingdom of God is available to us now (whether or not those around us embrace it), and that we shouldn't confuse the kingdom with our limited church organizations, which so often disappoint us:

This saying of Jesus in Luke 17 was spoken when the Pharisees asked him when the kingdom of God was coming. Jesus answered:
"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst." (Lk 17.20-21)
That last phrase has also been translated "the kingdom of God is among you." Which suggested that the kingdom of God was already present, already among them, appearing in the lives of Jesus and his followers. But Jesus' words about it not coming "with signs to be observed" are curious. And he said that we couldn't point to it and say "there it is!" What kind of kingdom could this be?

Those who insist that the kingdom of God must exist as distinct, organized communities of people usually want to emphasize that the kingdom is not merely "internal" or "individual," but exists enfleshed in people and their real, visible love for one another. And they are right about that. The kingdom of God exists as real people, wherever the followers of Jesus stand, and these people are not alone or isolated but are connected by real relationships, demonstrated by real acts of love, and truly united in the one kingdom that Jesus has established and invited us into.

But the fact that it is one kingdom challenges the idea that it appears as the distinct Christian communities and organizations that we see, which are not all united. And the fact that the kingdom of God has one King (and is God's kingdom) also challenges the "kingdom" claims of the many communities that we see organized under many different leaders and leadership structures, with membership and group identities determined by the human beings who have organized those communities. The actual all-too-human history of our organizations also makes it clear that these are not themselves the kingdom that Jesus announced. (Even the community of Jesus' twelve disciples included a traitor.) We can certainly point to a Christian organization or intentional community and say "there it is!" But what we cannot say is that any of them are the kingdom of God, or that the kingdom must appear in such distinct, organized communities.

Jesus once said, "The kingdom of God is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Mt 13.33) I think this describes well the nature of the kingdom of God, mixed in among the people of the world, effecting its influence in small, often unnoticed ways, like leaven. We are not able to point to a distinct, clearly organized group and say "there is the kingdom of God," but it does exist among us. Mixed in with our organizations and communities, but not defined or ruled by them or limited by their borders. Coordinated not by any human board of directors or organizational structure, but by God's one, all-permeating Spirit. And made up of those who truly follow Jesus in his kingdom life, bound together by love in the real relationships that connect and unite all the children of God.

"The kingdom of God is among you." Its boundaries are not distinct, nor its organization obvious, but it is real and the life of those in it is miraculous, just as Jesus' life was. And that life of the kingdom of God can be ours now. Not by our own long and difficult work, but as a free, undeserved gift from God.