"If you love me..."

Thinking more about yesterday's thoughts, I wanted to emphasize what seems central to experiencing the Spirit present and active in our lives. Jesus points to it repeatedly in that passage in John 14:

"Those who have my commandments and keep them, those are the ones who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and manifest myself to them."

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?"

Jesus answered him, "If you love me, you will keep my word, and my Father will love you and we will come to you and make our home with you." (Jn 14.21-23)
This is not just about a new attitude of heart, or a fervency of worship. It is complete surrender of our whole lives (relationships, work, money, etc) to God in faith, so his love--his Spirit--moves us to act. To speak and serve others as Jesus did and taught.

"If you love me, you will keep my word."

That reminds me of this classic Calvin & Hobbes:

p.s. Someone suggested I share something "good" about a worship service. Okay, how's this? From an old journal:
Sunday night was a happy surprise. I stopped at a church, hoping for a service that never happened, but a group of women showed up (with some children). They did some aerobics, then their own version of worship. Like a charismatic prayer time, but with music and dancing instead of words. The middle of the church was an open area, and 4-5 of the women (all ages, kids too) danced with hand-held flags, and sometimes without. Very vigorous and beautiful. Singing would swell with the music at times, and some loud shouts. Laughing. At climatic points, they seemed to feed on each other's energy. When they were finally tired, they laid around on the floor with closed eyes. A few children laid close to their mothers.

It seemed more harmonious than other charismatic prayer I'd seen, and I told them. Dance also seems more edifying to others, since we can watch each other pray. (They sometimes do choreographed dances for church services, too). I was delighted to have been a witness to it. Not many men have seen it, I bet.

Several women asked about me, and we talked in a small group afterwards. Then Shari, a single mom, took me home with her and her kids, and Sharia. Sharia is maybe 19, a girl Shari found in a homeless shelter (after a rough past), who is now a member of their family. I talked with both of them on the way and before bed. Very impressive women. Inquisitive, courageous, and eager for God.

We talked more in the morning over strong Spanish coffee. The kids fussed and fooled around getting ready for school. Shari went to work. Then Sharia invited me to join her morning communion. She brought out bread and wine ("It's real--don't tell anyone!") and prayed simple prayers as we took each. Wow. She said I was the first to join her.

I could really go on and on about these women. I felt and overwhelming love for them, and so honored to be their guest. Again (as a few times before), it was like God said, "Look, I've got someone here I'd like to show you."


come Holy Spirit?

Today we celebrated Pentecost, with a lot of songs asking for the presence of the Spirit. "Come Holy Spirit," over and over. I started to get uncomfortable. Then as the energy of the singing rose and the people got more and more urgent in their pleas, I had to quit singing altogether.

Come Holy Spirit?

Wait a minute. Aren't we Christians?

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3.16)

But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Rom 8.9)
Why are we pleading "come Holy Spirit," as if the Spirit was far from us? One song used rain imagery, as if we were dry land thristing for the Spirit to rain on us (people really got worked up over this one). Are we really dry land? Do we not know the Spirit dwells in us--or are we just not paying attention?

It reminded me of a different but somewhat similar Sunday I wrote about years ago in my journal:
I visited another, larger, Pentecostal church yesterday evening. They had a guest evangelist preaching a revival ("'Revival' sounds strange," someone once said to me, "it sounds like something was dead"). He used the imagery of the Israelites shouting to bring down the walls of Jericho. And that was really the perfect image for what I saw yesterday. Uninhibited shouting against the various "walls": personal fears, financial limitations, etc. Let us in to the blessing! Which is good in that it recognizes that all that popular society and popular religion offer is nothing compared to what God has promised. But yelling at the walls (or the devil) does little more than make us light-headed and out of breath. The promised land is not behind these walls.

As Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is in your midst." We're not locked outside, beating on the stonework; we should be inside, where there is true peace and power--the love of God. We shouldn't be begging to be let in; through faith, we are the kingdom of God. It's the devil who has to shout against us, and (through others) beat on us, because he's the one locked out.

Oh, how close these people are to all they cry out for, and more. If only they had the faith to see. The kingdom of God is already here. And this means much more than gifts of tongues and healing. It means perfect providence for all our physical needs, the hand of God to lead and protect us, freedom from every so-called "necessary evil," and the power of God's love to motivate and guide our every action. Love--not fear, not money--LOVE.

[Incidentally, I started yesterday with 37 cents. Last night, I went to sleep on the porch of the church with pockets (and stomach) full of food, clean clothes, and $50. I didn't shout (or even ask) for a thing.]

I felt the same way today: "Oh, how close these people are to all they cry out for, and more." These words of Jesus about the Spirit were read at the beginning of the service:
"I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

"I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me" ...Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?"

Jesus answered him, "If a person loves me, they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." (Jn 14.16-23)
"You know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate..." Don't we believe this? Don't we experience this?

Apparently we're not so sure. But Paul was sure, and I love the way he describes the Spirit active in us:
As it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him," God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the inner spirit of that person? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. (1 Cor 2.9-13)


action in inactivity

I just sent this journal excerpt to a friend:

From the Tao Te Ching, an ancient text held sacred by the Taoist religion:
The best of man is like water,
Which benefits all things,
and does not contend with them,
Which flows in places that others disdain,
Where it is in harmony with the Way.
One of the major themes in the Tao Te Ching is "action in inactivity." In quietness and stillness, great things can be accomplished, battles won. This ties in with another major theme, "harmony," which is mentioned in the passage above. By living in harmony, we can act without striving, and lead without coercion. It reminds me of the whole active life vs. contemplative life argument. Doing vs. being, the practical vs. the ideal, etc.

I think the greatest challenge to Taoist "inactivity," or contemplative spirituality in general, is the problem of evil. We can't just let evil happen, can we? We HAVE to act, resist, fight, kill when it comes to evil, right? What other choice do we have? To this, Jesus responds with one of the hardest sayings he ever uttered (Mt 5.38-41):
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles."
This is not submitting to evil out of fear. It is overcoming evil with good.

This all helps describe the dynamics of faith. Faith is really inactivity: death to self, openness, surrender. Yet it is the portal to love, which is the source of all good action. Love is the activity in faith's inactivity. Love motivates our good-doing, while we remain in the non-doing of faith. Faith does not strive or resist or coerce. Yet, through faith, love creates, heals, conquers, overcoming all evil. Love cannot be overcome; it is the ground of all being, God himself. And faith is 'harmony' with God.

Here's a good passage from Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism, about contemplative 'work':
...the 'quiet' to which the mystics must school themselves in the early stages of contemplation is often the hardest of their tasks. ...Work they must but this work may take many forms--forms which are sometimes so wholly spiritual that they are not perceptible to practical minds. Much of the misunderstanding and consequent contempt of the contemplative life comes from the narrow and superficial definition of 'work' which is set up by a muscular and wage-earning community.
To clarify "contemplation" (from later chapters in the same book):
The condition of all valid seeing and hearing, upon every plane of consciousness, lies not in the sharpening of the senses, but in a peculiar attitude of the whole personality: in a self-forgetting attentiveness, a profound concentration, a self-merging, which operates a real communion between the seer and the seen--in a word, Contemplation. It is an act, not of the Reason, but of the whole personality working under the stimulus of mystic love. ...We pour ourselves out or, as it sometimes seems to us, IN towards this over-powering interest: seem to ourselves to reach it and be merged with it.

I've been thinking a lot about 'activity.' I don't want to fall into a quietistic position of despising active 'doing.' But I also don't want to be driven by a need for activity, the desire for results, wanting to 'make something happen.' I believe ministry is best if we're free to do or not-do.

One of the reasons I lost interest in 'contemplative' writing years ago is that much of it seemed to describe a prayer life that was separated from normal human existence. Often the contemplative life was presented as being incompatible with physical activity, so people had to choose: contemplative or active life? I certainly was attracted to the deep life of prayer that contemplatives described. But did it have to replace active ministry? Shouldn't prayer enhance ministry?

Teresa of Avila presents a better view in this quote from Mysticism:
"You may think, my daughters," says St. Teresa, "that the soul in this state [contemplation] should be so absorbed that she can occupy herself with nothing. You deceive yourselves. She turns with greater ease and ardour than before to all that which belongs to the service of God, and when these occupations leave her free again, she remains in the enjoyment of that companionship."
I agree that contemplation is an asset to the active "service of God," not only helping us to discern what God wants, but also motivating our actions with love. In addition, when there is a pause in our occupations the 'activity' of contemplative prayer remains. Thus we can act in the power of God's love when we see others in need, and at other moments we can sit like Mary at the feet of Jesus.

This becomes clearer when the 'activity' of prayer is understood. It's not just asking God for things, or trying to exercise some spiritual power to make things happen. Prayer is actively willing what God wills. It is the power of Love (the Holy Spirit) moving in us through faith. Thus, in intent, prayer is essentially the same as active ministry--the only difference is the physical movement. Ministry and prayer become one piece. "Pray without ceasing" becomes a possibility.

The crucial part is that we surrender our will to God in faith; then we move or don't move according to his will. We're ready to jump to the service of others as we encounter their need. And we're also ready to remain 'waiting for the Lord' when our hands seem tied. Yet, whether we're in a moment of doing or not-doing, we're always active if we remain in prayer. Because prayer means an active giving of oneself, willing with God's will, loving with God's Love.


liberty and the weaker conscience

Because of recent conversations, I've been looking again at Paul's advice about responding to a "weaker" brother or sister. Someone who is easily offended or has moral scruples that might cause them to "stumble" (or be tempted) when they see other Christians acting more freely than they think is right. Paul speaks of this a couple times concerning the issue of eating certain foods. And his advice seems to be to accede to the scruples of the other, summed up best in lines like these:

Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Cor 8.9)

Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor 10.32-33)

And, in most cases, I agree with this. I shouldn't flaunt my liberty when I know it tempts another person. Nor should I provoke their weak conscience.

But it must be understood that the "weaker" person's conscience should not be automatically taken as a standard for behavior, nor should they dominate the life of Christian community. As Paul writes amidst his other advice on this: "Why should my liberty be determined by another person's scruples?" (1 Cor 10.29)

And I think we also need to look at how Paul responded in specific situations. For example, when the scruples of some Jewish Christians were demanding circumcision for all. Could the stronger, freer Christians have acceded to this? Sure. Yet Paul resists it strongly:

Because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage -- to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

...when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Gal 2.4-5,11-14)

Why? Because the "scrupulous" demands revealed deeper problems that needed to be addressed, and (more importantly, I think) human power was being exerted to force subjection to these scruples. To which Paul replies (gloriously):

For freedom Christ has set us free;
stand fast therefore,
and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5.1)

And how about in Jesus' life? We see more of the same:

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?"

And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abi'athar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?"

And he said to them, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath." (Mk 2.23-38)

Does Jesus give in to their moral concern, based on the law and probably a serious matter of conscience for them personally? No. He argues with them, and refuses their request, angering them quite a bit. (This same response is seen several times in incidents related to the sabbath, and also concerning the washing of hands, in Mark 7.) How does this fit with "Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God..."? I think those words of Paul have to be carefully interpreted, in light of the example of Jesus.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore...


little joys

A heart-warming Calvin & Hobbes for pacifists...


"nothing shall hurt you"

Following a thought from yesterday (especially that passage from the Tao Te Ching), I remembered this quote by Dorothy Day:

"What is all this talk about radioactivity in the milk of the middle west? My feeling is that we should be like the three children in the fiery furnace, singing canticles to the Lord. If we take up any deadly thing it shall not hurt us."

Then, this morning at breakfast, we read these words of Jesus (similar to those Dorothy Day referred to):
"Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you." (Lk 10.19)

These are encouraging words. But maybe a little hard to find application for in our daily lives. (Unless you live in Texas, maybe--scorpions?) But I think they're actually very relevant. Because, even if we don't fear serpents or scorpions, we often do fear our environment. Or feel oppressed by the people around us, by the systems that seem to control the world in which we live.

Don't Jesus' words apply just as well to those threats? "I have given you authority... over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you."

And I think this becomes even clearer when combined with another teaching of Jesus:
"There is nothing outside a person which by going into them can defile them; but the things which come out of a person are what defile them." (Mk 7.15)
Nothing outside us can defile us, taint us, corrupt us. Nothing outside us can control us, make us do the wrong thing, or limit our options to "lesser evils." Nothing outside us can hurt us, even, not hurt who we really are. Unless we let it.

Unless we surrender to it. Unless we retaliate. Unless we take the evil in and become part of it, give ourselves to it, grow it.

But we never have to. Not because of our own strength, but because of God's (which is far greater than "the world" or any power of evil). If we will only not give up, if we will only have faith and wait to be shown the Good, then God will always open a way.

This is freedom.



Sunday, Heather and I talked a little about asceticism and the goodness of physicality (which we're really feeling at the moment). It reminded me of this passage from an old journal:

Current popular thought tends to shy away from duality of any kind. But I think there is a duality; and Paul certainly speaks of some sort of flesh/spirit duality in many of his writings. Many have interpreted this to mean physical/contingent is bad, spiritual/eternal is good. But I think that's a mistake. Various passages in Paul's writings (such as Romans 6.16-18,20-22) present it better: sin/death = bad, righteousness/life = good.

The duality is not between the physical and the spiritual but between the real and the unreal, the truth and the lie. When I've written against 'worldliness' I meant to condemn, not the physical world, but our false illusions about the real (and good) world. This falseness is not 'out there'--all reality is good and true. The falseness (sin, lie, worldliness, 'flesh') exists only IN US when we exercise our free will against God.

[Later I found this passage in Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism, which echoes what I'm saying:]
By false desires and false thoughts man has built up for himself a false universe: as a mollusk by the deliberate and persistent absorption of lime and rejection of all else, can build up for itself a hard shell which shuts it from the external world, and only represents in a distorted and unrecognisable form the ocean from which it was obtained. This hard and wholly unnutritious shell, this one-sided secretion of the surface-consciousness, makes as it were a little cave of illusion for each separate soul. ...The world, which we have distorted by identifying it with our own self-regarding arrangements of its elements, has got to reassume for us the character of Reality, of God.
Illusion/Reality: that's the only duality. And it's a duality that can only be overcome through faith...

As an example, I read this in Luke 21 this morning:

"They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.

"You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake.

"But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives."

The persecution, the physical suffering, the isolation of "hated by all" seems like the reality. Yet Jesus says the reality is "not a hair of your head will perish [Gk: be lost]. By your endurance you will gain your lives." How can this be? Can we believe this--see it?

The reality is not this:

More like this (from the Tao Te Ching):
Those who are filled with life
Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
Nor wear armor and shields in battle;
The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon,

For death finds no place in them.


"out of her poverty"

This morning I began Luke 21 during my prayer time. I love this story:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins.

And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."

And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, "As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."

I especially like how Luke puts the saying about the temple right after the story about the poor widow. It's not money or buildings ("noble stones and offerings") that God needs, or even wants. We're eager to heap praise on wealthy benefactors when they "support" God's work. We think we need them. But to God, the poor woman's two copper coins were much more valuable (and they really have done far more for God's kingdom than those other noble stones and offerings, which disappeared long ago).

It makes me think of how I've been overwhelmed by the unbelievable richness of my experience with Heather, though we have very little. Our privacy is rather limited (because our lives are shared with many others). Our entertainments are always simple and inexpensive. So much of what we use is borrowed. But it's all so good (or maybe it's so much better because it's been shared with us or given--all a gift).

I introduced her to some poetry by John of the Cross recently. Because she is also a poet and interested in the intuitive/mystical aspects of the spiritual life--plus the tone of his poems seemed rather appropriate right now. Here's "The Dark Night of the Soul" (which follows this same theme of great richness in poverty, complete fullness in emptiness...):

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings--oh, happy chance!--
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised--oh, happy chance!--
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

This light guided me
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me--
A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.


a poor husband?

I've been noticing that Heather's family doesn't seem too excited about me (as a possible husband for her). Not surprisingly, the main objections seem to be that I don't have a career or income (or home, savings, etc., and intend to keep living that way). Her aunt phrased it this way: "I question whether his vocation is compatible with marriage."

Their worries make me think of this Cornered, a favorite of mine:

Pondering this, I remind myself that all the teachings (and example) of Jesus that I've followed to come to my present way of life were offered for all of his disciples, not just for Jesus alone (or celibates alone). There's evidence that many of his disciples married. And Jesus never discouraged them from doing so (while teaching them his Way). So it seems to me that Jesus did not see a conflict between marriage and the radical way of life he taught his disciples. Such as in Lk 12.29-34:

"Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Obviously I can see why people would question whether a person that seriously followed such teachings could be an effective "breadwinner." But I'm saddened that Christians would see this wonderful guidance in conflict with (or even ruling out) being a husband and father. Because for most people that would mean setting aside these teachings as impossible for them as spouses or parents.

I think Jesus' teaching alone is clear (and convincing) enough on this, but it's also nice to have examples of people actually following this teaching and experiencing God's overwhelmingly generous support ("all these things will be yours as well"). Such as George Muller of Bristol, England, who died in 1898. Here's a passage about him from The Varieties of Religious Experience (by William James):

...Early in life he resolved on taking certain Bible promises in literal sincerity, and on letting himself be fed, not by his own worldly foresight, but by the Lord's hand. He had an extraordinarily active and successful career, among the fruits of which were the distribution of over two million copies of the Scripture text, in different languages; the equipment of several hundred missionaries; the circulation of more than a hundred and eleven million of scriptural books, pamphlets, and tracts; the building of five large orphanages, and the keeping and educating of thousands of orphans; finally, the establishment of schools in which over a hundred and twenty-one thousand youthful and adult pupils were taught. In the course of this work Mr. Muller received and administered nearly a million and a half of pounds sterling, and traveled over two hundred thousand miles of sea and land. During the sixty-eight years of his ministry, he never owned any property except his clothes and furniture, and cash in hand; and he left, at the age of eighty-six, an estate worth only a hundred and sixty pounds.

Further research on Muller revealed: He would not accept a salary for his ministry (no secure income). He refused to borrow money (no debts), and paid in full for every purchase (no credit). He believed that "to lay up stores or hoard money was inconsistent with a life of faith" (no investments or endowment funds). And while the general needs of his ministry were known, as a rule neither he nor his co-workers asked people for money (no fund-raisers). Yet for years God fed, sheltered, and clothed him and his family... plus teachers, and missionaries, and thousands of orphans! He writes: "In all my experience I have found... that if I could only settle a certain thing to be done was according to the will of God, that means were soon obtained to carry it into effect."

Very encouraging. Thanks, George.


a beautiful poverty

I got this exciting message yesterday from a professor I contacted months ago about her dissertation and work concerning voluntary poverty:

Hi, Paul--

I hope you remember me from a brief exchange we had last November. I have had you on my mind for the past month because I'm wondering if you'll be around for the ekklesia project conference, or if you would consider being there for it. It's July 19-21 in Chicago.

Here's the story: I've been asked to organize another workshop session on some topic around wealth and economics. We did a session a couple of years ago in which I offered my critique of stewardship. Then last year, we did a session on koinonia and almsgiving. This year, the whole conference is organized around the magnificat, and I'm thinking that it's time we had a good discussion of voluntary poverty. And to be frank, I can offer some academic commentary on it, but I think you would be far better suited to talk about what it means, especially for the whole church within this context, that there is such a thing as holy poverty. Who is invited to this and in what ways? How is this part of the Christian witness? What do you say about the two-tiered ethic the church has commonly held when confronted with the witness of poverty? etc.

Think and pray about that. I hope that I haven't put off talking to you about this so late that you wouldn't be able to be in Chicago at that time. Your contribution would be important for the ongoing project of trying to hear Jesus' call, to claim gospel freedom, within this culture and economy.

Let me know what you think--


Cool. I want to do it.

And this inspired me to look back through some of my old journals for passages about voluntary (holy) poverty. The first one I found in Saul Bellow's novel Herzog. He was saying that the ugly, degrading poverty of Skid Row is necessary for the success of Wall Street, since Skid Row inspires the the fear that motivates the continual money-making. The message being, "If you don't play along with our system, look what will become of you." Then Bellow remarks, "if there were a beautiful poverty, a moral poverty in America, that would be subversive."

I was also impressed by these passages from The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James:
We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly--the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape.

...I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers.

And here's G.K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man:
We often hear of Jesus of Nazareth as a wandering teacher, and there is a vital truth in that view in so far as it emphasises an attitude towards luxury and convention which most respectable people would still regard as that of a vagabond. It is expressed in his own great saying about the holes of the foxes and the nests of the birds, and, like many of his great sayings, it is felt as less powerful than it is....

It is well to speak of his wanderings in this sense and in the sense that he shared the drifting life of the most homeless and hopeless of the poor. It is assuredly well to remember that he would quite certainly have been moved on by the police and almost certainly arrested by the police for having no visible means of subsistence. For our law has in it a turn of humour or touch of fancy which Nero and Herod never happened to think of, that of actually punishing homeless people for not sleeping at home.

"And Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: 'Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.'" (Lk 6.20)


"To you I will give all this authority..."

Another piece of Jesus' response to (human) authority was his avoidance of taking on such roles himself. Even when they were pressed on him. For example:

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.'" (Lk 4.5-8)

One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me." But Jesus said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?" (Lk 12.13-14)

When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (Jn 6.14-15)

Then there's these passages, which are not as straightforward, but I think they highlight that Jesus was not an offical, trained (or "ordained") scribe or rabbi. (Though his followers did sometimes call him rabbi, recognizing his wisdom and ability to teach.) Notice also, in both of these passages, how Jesus contrasts human (our own) authority and God's authority:

One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, "Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority."

He answered them, "I also will ask you a question; now tell me, Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?" And they discussed it with one another, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet." So they answered that they did not know whence it was.

And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Lk 20.1-8)

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it, saying, "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?"

So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood." (Jn 7.14-18)

Jesus did not need human power or authority to serve God (and us), and he saw that the use of it contradicted his message, witnessing to human self-achievement rather than demonstrating faith and dependence on the power of God--who said, "My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12.9). So Jesus rejected it. He had no more need for Caesar's (physical, political, institutional) might than he did for Caesar's money.


authority issues?

A couple Sundays back, I got up during the sharing time and challenged something the pastor had just preached. (About the military, which I have a lot more experience with than he does.) The next day, another leader in this community sent me a letter calling my public challenge prideful. The letter did not ask for a response and I did not respond (but I did think about it).

Then, this morning, this man brought up the incident again. And at one point called my challenge an exercise of "power" (presumably because my tone was stern and my words sharply challenging). I mentioned to him that I had no actual power in that situation, but rather the pastor had all the power there. Which he exercised by immediately taking the microphone and rebutting my statement, something he usually doesn't do during sharing time.

But the mention of power got to me. Later I wrote a note to this man pointing out that my resistance (and challanges) in this community have been almost always directed at those who hold positions of authority and power here (while I have none and am completely vulnerable to being sent away at any time). I asked him how that compared to Jesus' words and actions during his life.

Jesus' criticism was almost always directed at those in authority or power (usually within the religious organization of his time). Why? I remember, years ago, when I was challenging someone in authority over me and they accused me of having "authority issues." Couldn't we ask the same thing about Jesus?

I think it's a relevant question, especially because Jesus so often made such broad generalizations about the wrongs of those in power and authority (for example, in Mt 23):

Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.

..."But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

..."Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, `If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.

"You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"
(That's not this Jesus, is it?)

But how can Jesus say such harsh things so broadly, to whole groups of people (the leaders and religious authorities of his time)? Did Jesus have authority issues?

Or is there perhaps something inherently wrong (and corrupting) in assuming positions of human authority and exercising the power of those positions?

I think Jesus' other teaching (along with his consistent behavior towards those in power) supports that conclusion. For example:
"But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ." (Mt 23.8-10, from the same discourse quoted above)

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.

"But it shall not be so among you.

"But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mk 10.42-45)

Pilate entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave no answer.

Pilate therefore said to him, "You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin." (Jn 19.9-11)

[Note that it is implied here that Pilate is also sinning, as Jesus says the sin of the leaders that delivered him up is "greater" (than Pilate's).]

At this point people always protest, "But didn't Jesus have authority?" And I say, "Yes. But it was very different from the authority I'm challenging here." It was quite clear to the people of the time that Jesus' authority was different: "And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. ...And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, 'What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.'" (Mk 1.22,27)

So I'm led to believe that my inclination to resist and challenge those in (humanly instituted) positions of authority may indeed be appropriate and Christ-like. But when I do resist (often harshly, as Jesus did), those in power act surprised and say they just want to be my friend (this morning he wanted to be my father). They want to help me get over my authority issues. I have to smile at that. It reminds me of this cartoon I clipped from The New Yorker:



I sent this Go Fish to Heather the other day and she really laughed:

We had a difficult (and very rewarding) conversation last night, through which I discovered that what I am called to in my relationship with her is a lot like faith. That I cannot "hold" her. That I have to let her go (again and again) so that she is always free to give herself. Or not. But, in any case, she must be free or it's not love.

That made me think of some things I wrote about faith in an old journal (Oct 2000-Feb 2001). I'd been thinking about this anyway, because it follows from yesterday's post about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit also comes (and guides us) through faith. So what is faith?

I like this quote by Dionysius the Areopagite:

Attainment comes only by means of [the] sincere, spontaneous, and entire surrender of yourself and all things.
Such a surrender is exactly what I mean by faith. The Love of God is the "attainment" which comes through faith. "The one who loses their life for my sake will find it." (Mt 10.39)

In another journal entry, I expanded on this:
Faith is really inactivity: death to self, openness, surrender. Yet it is the portal to love, which is the source of all good action. Love is the activity in faith's inactivity. Love motivates our good-doing, while we remain in the non-doing of faith. Faith does not strive or resist or coerce. Yet, through faith, love creates, heals, conquers, overcoming all evil. Love cannot be overcome; it is the ground of all being, God himself. And faith is 'harmony' with God.

Prayers of faith (the first is by Charles deFoucauld; I memorized it years ago):
Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you--
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me
And in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.

I offer it to you
With all the love of my heart.
For I love you Lord,
And so need to give myself--
To surrender myself into your hands
Without reserve,
And with boundless confidence
For you are my Father.

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

...Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done."
(Mt 26.39,42)

And here's another passage I think is relevant (or at least interesting). It digresses a little into thoughts about boredom and death, but I think these are closely related to the experience and understanding of what faith is (the meaning and implications of death also came up when Heather and I were talking last night):
At the heart of our fear of boredom is a fear of nothingness. We dread the emptiness of time. Because with no distraction, we become conscious of ourselves AS IS, not in relation to other things but isolated, alone. Or rather in relation to God, from whom we are never isolated. This results in a consciousness of sin, guilt, negation. But that could all be collected under the heading of nothingness. And our fear of nothingness is fundamental--the fear of death.

I think the fear of death and the pride of life are synonymous. Many have said fear is our primary motivator, while others insist that pride drives us. But they're the same. To take pride in my own existence is also to fear the loss of that existence--pride immediately turns to fear once the source of pride is threatened. And nothingness constantly threatens the source of our pride.

I see the struggle against nothingness becoming obvious in several ways. First is the basic struggle for physical survival. But this struggle doesn't stop at "daily bread"--it continues into the quest for security and material wealth and power. The clutching of physical reality to convince ourselves that we are something and will continue to exist as something. Second, the struggle for fame and political power. We attempt to become something real in the minds of other people--the more, the better. With this is all identities based on role, profession, hierarchy, etc. And third is what I've been writing about in relation to boredom: the struggle to fill time with activity. If we can just keep moving, building, theorizing, then we're convinced that we're something. We try to carve out a place for ourselves in the material world, in people's minds, and in time. If we're taking up 'space' then we must be something.

We struggle against nothingness feverishly (pridefully or fearfully, it's all the same) because nothingness is death. To be hungry, poor, ignored, forgotten, lonely, bored is to be threatened at the core of our being. Such experiences question our very existence. It's not just the physical discomfort; it's the threat of death. So we try to establish ourselves in things, in people, and in time--yet these all disappear just as we do. It's a futile struggle, really, but I suppose it does keep us occupied and distracts us from facing our fear directly. And that's generally enough. Because we cannot face our fear directly; we simply cannot face death.

[What about suicides, or those who wish for death but cannot carry it out? I think they are a good example of what I am saying rather than an exception. Such people perhaps come closest to experiencing nothingness. What they plead for is not death (as I have been using the term) but the end of their living death, the end of their conscious experience of nothingness.]

To face death is to live with it, to be conscious of the overwhelming evidence that we are nothing. And this we cannot do.

By ourselves, that is. We cannot, by our own power, face death and live. We can, however, be resurrected through faith, by the power of God's love. Faith is the death of self in which we face our own nothingness, only to be raised by God's free and loving affirmation of our somethingness. This is a somethingness not carved out of crumbling stone or fading time, but an absolute value granted by God. Only God creates, and this is God's re-creation of us. Our second birth.

One more thing. I just remembered this image of faith from my (true) story, In God I trust:
The feeling reminded me of something from my early childhood, something so far back I knew it more from stories my parents told than from my own memories. My father was standing chest-deep in the pool, about six feet from the edge, waving for me to come. And I did come. Pumping my little legs, I rushed to the edge and threw myself into the air. Out over the water. But all I could see was the strong hands, and my father's face. There was a terrific splash. And then I was held and was safe and my father was laughing. And I was laughing. "I do it again!" I scrambled out, stepped back, dripping, and again I leapt out over the water that was too deep for me. Again and again. An old lady in a deck chair poked her husband. "Harold, look at that kid."


i'm alive

This song was part of Sunday worship here. It moved me so much I could barely sing:

"Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.'" (Mk 10.18)

"Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ." (Mt 23.9-10)

You alone

You are
the only one I need
I bow all of me at your feet
I worship you alone.

You have
given more than I could
ever have wanted
and I want
to give you my heart and my soul

You alone are father
and you alone are good
You alone are Savior
and you alone are God

I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive!

You alone are father
and you alone are good
You alone are Savior
and you alone are God

This morning I asked Heather if I could join her "walking briskly" to the train station on her way to work. She smiled and said yes. I love how she says yes.
Do I make my plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ... was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. (2 Cor 1.17-20)
We broke into a run at one point. That was fun.

She's also been encouraging me not to make up my mind so quickly, but hear people out. It makes me think of this Dilbert I clipped a while back:

We stayed up late last night watching The Matrix and talking. At one point I read this great passage in 1 Cor 2:
As it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him," God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of the person which is within? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The unspiritual person does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to them, and they are not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Spiritual persons judge all things, but are themselves judged by no one. "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Here Paul emphasizes the Spirit as Wisdom, Teacher, Revealer, Guide. Other passages that speak of this:
"...the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (Jn 14.26)

The anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 Jn 2.27)

This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord... (Jer 31.33-34; also quoted in Heb 8, describing the new covenant mediated by Jesus)

And talk of the Spirit always makes me think of Jesus praying "...that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them...." (Jn 17.26) That's the best description of the Holy Spirit I've seen. Though Meister Eckhart did a pretty good job too:
The best masters say that the love wherewith we love is the Holy Spirit. Some deny it. But this is always true: all those motives by which we are moved to love, in these is nothing else than the Holy Spirit.


"I told him no, but..."

The most encouraging and exciting message I got this week was from Erin. She's in Colombia right now, working with a Christian Peacemaker Team:

People come to our door asking for things. As CPT we don´t give material aid and at first it was pretty easy to say that it´s against our rules. Then I was reading in Lk. where it says give to those who ask and I decided I needed to at least be open to engage with the people who come to our door. At least offer them something to drink (which is basic hospitality here.) So, I´ve begun to do that. Last week a man came to our door asking for some mercado (groceries) and talking about his sick mother. I told him no, but I did offer him some coffee to drink and sat and listened to him for a while. Well, he came back today and said he had to take his mother to the hospital yest. because she was bleeding. I gave him more coffee to drink. And listened to him a few minutes and offered to pray with him and we did. Doing that tho I recognized that I did not pray for my heart and I thot of the scripture from Js. [James 2.15-17] that says that those who say, "go well" but do nothing for the needs of the body aren´t being true Christians.

We certainly have a surplus of mercado in this house, all the time. Yesterday, some women from the Opón came to visit for several hours. We were chatting and they talked about how in the city everything costs money and they just scraped enough together to eat. It made me very conscious of how much food we have in our house. And, this is in the sort of moment that might cause some team members to think we should go shopping!

I think Jesus would say that, "give to those who ask" means exactly that! We do have a lot. I expect I could give to whoever came to our door and we would not even notice it. Unlike at home, people here usually ask for food, not for money, so there´s no way to say that folks would just waste the money on booze or whatever.

I´m fighting with the reality of thinking I should break CPT rules (that doesn´t seem that big now tho) and with all the advice I´ve heard my whole life about it not being helpful in the long run to just give the material aid that people ask for. But, I bet I wouldn´t like to hear that paternalistic speak if I was the person needing food for the day and needed to go door to door asking for it. It makes sense to me that often giving just the things for rt. now isn´t the best in the long run, but if you´re hungry sometimes you don´t have time to think about the long run.

I feel like Jesus is asking something of me. And, I feel sure that what he´s asking is that I step off the cliff and the next time someone comes to the door I give them something. Letting those people past my barrier of just saying no using CPT rules and letting them in our door to drink something and listening to them is what brought me to this point. I could have been safe in my castle of sin without even noticing it if I hadn´t decided to let people in my door.

And here's a recent Agnes I laughed at:

Last night (and this morning) I listened to Metallica's St. Anger, and liked it a lot. Here's some of the lyrics that stood out for me (with some scripture passages I thought of while listening):

St. Anger

Saint Anger 'round my neck
He never gets respect

I feel my world shake
Like an earthquake
Hard to see clear
Is it me? Is it fear?

I need to set my anger free
I need to set my anger free
Set me free

"Jesus said to them, 'Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?' But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart..." (Mk 3.4-5)

"Jesus he began to teach them that he must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.'" (Mk 8.32-33)

some kind of monster

These are the eyes that can't see me
These are the hands that drop your trust
These are the boots that kick you around
This is the tongue that speaks on the inside
These are the ears that ring with hate
This is the face that'll never change
This is the fist that grinds you down
This is the voice of silence no more

These are the legs in circles run
This is the beating you'll never know
These are the lips that taste no freedom
This is the feel that's not so safe
This is the face that you'll never change
This is the god that ain't so pure
This is the god that is not pure
This is the voice of silence no more

We the people
Are we the people?

Some kind of monster
This monster lives

This is the face that stones you cold
This is the moment that needs to breathe
These are the claws that scratch these wounds
This is the pain that never leaves
This is the tongue that whips you down
This is the burden of every man
These are the screams that pierce your skin
This is the voice of silence no more

This is the test of flesh and soul
This is the trap that smells so good
This is the flood that drains these eyes
These are the looks that chill to the bone
These are the fears that swing over head
These are the weights that hold you down
This is the end that will never end
This is the voice of silence no more

We the people
Are we the people?

Some kind of monster
This monster lives

This is the cloud that swallows trust
This is the black that uncolors us
This is the face that you hide from
This is the mask that comes undone

I'm in us
I'm in us

"We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one." (1 Jn 5.19)

"I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. [But] He has no power over me...'" (Jn 14.30)

shoot me again

I won't go away
Right here I'll stay

Stand silent in flames
Stand tall 'till it fades

Shoot me again
I ain't dead yet

Shoot me again

I won't go away, with a bullet in my back
Right here I'll stay, with a bullet in my back

I'll stand on my own, with a bullet in my back
I'm stranded and sold, with a bullet in my back

I bite my tongue
Trying not to shoot back
No compromise
My heart won't pump the other way

"You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

"But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also..." (Mt 5.38-39)


the truth will make you odd

Last night Heather told me that more people have been speaking against me, to her, apparently to protect her, warn her. Good people. Respected in the community. Hearing that made me feel very helpless and low. I cried. She kissed me. She loves me anyway.

Some scripture passages that came to mind this morning:

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me...

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
it is melted within my breast;

I will tell of thy name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
all you children of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you children of Israel!

For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted;
and he has not hid his face from them,
but has heard, when they cried to him.
(from Psalm 22)

Then Jesus' words:
His brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." For even his brothers did not believe in him.

Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil." (Jn 7.3-7)

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household....

"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul....

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

"He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." (from Mt 10)

I think that last passage is important because it's for Jesus' followers. Warnings, promises, about what to expect if we try to walk in his footsteps, draw close to him and be like him, in the midst of the world.

Looking back at an old journal I smiled and found comfort in these:

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." --Flannery O'Connor

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.

'Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,--you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

--Emily Dickinson

I remember quoting that poem to Heather, and she knew it by heart too.

The community discussion group Monday night will be sharing things we have written. I plan to read this story, inspired by something the pastor here said several weeks back:

Robin Hood

As the ushers approached him with the offering baskets, he gently raised his hands over them and closed his eyes. "Lord, you have blessed us. We thank you for all you have given to supply for our every need. And now we offer back this small portion." He squeezed his eyes shut tighter as the emotion rose in his voice. "We liberate this money for your work, Lord. Caesar says it is his, and puts his mark on it, but we say it's yours now. We set these resources free for your use, God. Here and now, and where and when ever we can, we take what is Caesar's and give it to you, God. Please bless it. Make it fruitful, Lord. In your name we pray. Amen." From the people a low amen rumbled in reply.

After the service, a young woman approached him. Robin. He had watched her grow up in his church and was proud of the intelligent and passionate woman she had become. She hadn't been around much over the past few years, because of college and other summer trips and projects. But today she was back. And her young, beautiful face was beaming.

"Thank you," she said, grasping his hand warmly. "Your prayer over the offering meant a lot to me." He smiled and nodded. "It's nice to be back here," she went on, "I don't go to church much at college. There's just no good churches there, not like here. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. You're an inspiration." Then she ran off, before he could ask her how school was going. A fleeting moment. But moments like this one were what kept him going.

She must have just been home for the weekend, because he didn't see Robin again for weeks. Then he got a letter from her. It was actually just a short thank you note, with a copy of a letter she had sent to the IRS. When she'd filed her taxes, she had included this letter explaining that she believed the government's spending was unjust and that its taxation was simply extortion. She would not pay. But Robin had carefully figured out what her taxes were, and told the IRS she would donate that amount to a Christian charity. She had even used the phrase "take what is Caesar's and give it to God." The IRS must have loved that. Her note to him thanked him for inspiring and encouraging her; she hoped to see him again soon.

He suddenly felt a little sick. Robin could go to prison for this. He had to do something. So he quickly pulled out some paper and wrote to her, telling her she shouldn't have taken his words so literally, and he wished she had talked to him before taking such a drastic and risky step. He wondered if there was still time to correct it. It was a rushed note, not as well-composed as he would have liked, but he sent it off immediately.

Robin's reply came back just as quickly. "I'm disappointed," she wrote. "Didn't you mean what you said? Are you taking it all back now? What's 'Caesar's money' if not taxes? And you know it's used for wars and propaganda and supporting dirty governments and dictators whenever it suits our 'national interests.' How can we keep paying for that, instead of giving that money for God's purposes? Don't tell me all you said about that was just words. You've been a big influence on me. You're not like those other preachers. Please don't back out on me now." It was signed, "With admiration and hope, Robin." He didn't write back to her.

But her words haunted him. Wasn't she right? And didn't "take what is Caesar's and give it to God" lead directly to what she had done? But it troubled him. And it wasn't just her rebelliousness or the danger of prosecution. There was something else.

When Jesus had spoken of Caesar and God, he recalled, it had been in response to a question about taxes. But Jesus' answer hadn't called for tax resistance. He knew the passage well, but opened to it again. "Jesus said to them, 'Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription is on it?' They said, 'Caesar's.' He said to them, 'Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'" Reading this again, he noticed that Jesus hadn't even had a coin then. He frowned and closed the book.

Over the next few months, he began to hear rumors about Robin. But he tried not to listen. Until the Sunday her parents requested prayer because Robin had been arrested.

He visited them several times during the week that followed and learned that Robin had been suspected of some kind of embezzling. But the charges were dropped within a few days and she was released, apparently due to lack of evidence. Her parents were still terribly worried, though. They asked if he would visit her.

When she answered the door, the first thing he noticed was that her young face seemed hardened. But she smiled when she saw him. "Pastor! Come in!"

And when he asked her what had happened, she hid nothing. "I found a way to use the computer to tap into some corporate accounts and divert some resources," she said. Then added with a grin, "For God's work." He stared at her, expressionless. "But that's... theft." She laughed. "Sure. But how do you think they got that money? Fair and honest business practices? These big companies get control of a market and then force costs down and prices up. So they pay less and less to their workers and we pay more and more for the product. It has nothing to do with what the thing's worth. It's simply stealing. Legal, systematic theft."

"Well, maybe," he faltered, "but that doesn't make it right to..." "C'mon Pastor," she interrupted, her dark eyes burning. "There's only two ways to get what's Caesar's. Either obey Caesar and get paid off for your service, or use Caesar's methods to take Caesar's wealth. And there's no way I'm gonna be Caesar's paid lackey."

He didn't know what to say and couldn't meet her eyes. She continued, "Look, it's okay. I'm very good; they can't get anything on me. And the money's all going for good work. God's work. Your church gets a large cut too, y'know..." He looked up sharply. "Wait a minute. I didn't know... we can't accept that. Especially now that I know how..." Suddenly she was on her feet. "What? I go through all this, risking it all to liberate these resources, and now you're saying you don't want it? What about 'take what is Caesar's and give it to God'? That's exactly what I'm doing, what you preached--and you're going to turn your back on me now?" He couldn't think. He heard himself murmur, "I don't know..."

Robin stepped towards him, powerful, demanding, "You have to choose, Pastor. Do you want what is Caesar's? Yes or no?"


the storm petrel

The storm petrel is a small sea bird not often seen because it usually stays far out on the open ocean. I found this at dictionary.com:

Storm petrel is an alteration of earlier pitteral, probably so named in allusion to St. Peter's walking on the sea, from the fact that the bird flies close to the water [with its feet touching the surface] in order to feed on surface-swimming organisms; called storm petrel because in a storm the birds are active catching the small organisms which rise to the surface of the rough seas; when the storm ceases they are no longer seen.
The second definition given was "One who brings discord or strife, or appears at the onset of trouble."

I remember Kierkegaard referring to himself as a "stormy petrel." And I feel akin to that bird myself (Heather and I were wondering the other day what kind of birds we most resembled. She was a swallow.)

The connection with Peter on the water also reminded me of an incident during the weekend I was inquiring about joining the Dominicans (a Catholic religious order). I recorded it in my journal years later:
...Because of [the Dominican Order's] wealth and security, I felt they wouldn’t be a realistic option for me. Then during the final gathering of the weekend, the reading at Mass was about Peter coming to Jesus on the water. I felt that turning down the Dominicans [which I did at that time] was like stepping out of the boat: crossing the sea, but not by the usual means. It would be difficult, and I was afraid. But Jesus said, "O ye of little faith...." The words excited and scared and comforted me, all at once. I remember a tear falling to the floor at that moment. Of course, I did join the Dominicans a year later; I didn’t get pushed out of the boat until almost three years after that. When the whale coughed up a repentant Jonah. But I remembered that tear.
In the years that followed I often thought of my experiences on the road as a walking on the water, without the usual institutional support (governmental, religious, corporate, insurance, etc). Lots of big waves not to look at. But thrilling.

Then there's this prayer that I put together recently, after some long conversations with Heather. I detect a theme...



I went out walking for the majority of the past four summers (and some of one winter, too), and this year I'm not. I'm going to stay here at Reba Place. Which is a change. But my intentions and convictions and expectations haven't changed, and I want to remind myself of these as I open this journal.

I began last summer's journal with these quotes, and I think they're still important for me to see:

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. But all this they will do to you on my account..." (John 15.18-21)

And from Jacques Ellul's The Politics of God and the Politics of Man (my italics):
The action we attempt will always be regarded by the world as a failure, and the more so the more it is authentically faithful. We cannot be successful or show the church to be effective in the world unless we adopt the world's criterion of efficacy, which means adopting its means as well.

As the world sees it, action which is faithful to God will always fail, just as Jesus Christ necessarily went to the cross. Such action always leads to a dead end. It is always a fiasco from the standpoint of worldly power. But this should not worry us. It does not mean that our action is in truth ineffectual. Efficacy measured in terms of faithfulness cannot be compared at any point with efficacy measured in terms of success.

...These successes, this efficacy as it would be called from man's standpoint, and especially in our own society, will never amount to anything more than the approval given by the world, by society, to certain acts and means. It is the stamp of a group of men, a social body. But if we do not believe that society is good and right, this approval proves nothing except that the action is in conformity with the world. It does not mean that the world has changed; quite the contrary. 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....

There can be no question of securing the approval of the world or its conformity to us. ...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.

Feeling the resistant pressure (or persecution) of "the world" was a major reason for me going out walking. Putting myself right in contact with the animosity of the world against the poor, the weak, the stranger. And I do think it's easier to identify when living in a Christlike way right out "on the street." But I also believe that animosity is really present everywhere (didn't Jesus face the greatest resistance and animosity "in church"?). So I think I can (and ought to, and will) encounter the same thing if I stay here, though it will probably be more subtle and call for a greater focus and faithfulness on my part.

One area where I have already experienced this here--and probably will even more in the future--is related to these favorite passages of mine from Kierkegaard's Training in Christianity:
[The God-relationship] must be for every individual man the absolute, and it is precisely this God-relationship of the individual which must put every established order in suspense, so that God, at any instant He will, by pressure upon the individual has immediately in his God-relationship a witness, a reporter, a spy, or whatever you prefer to call it, one who in unconditional obedience, or by unconditional obedience, by persecution, suffering, and death, puts the established order in suspense.
There is an "established order" here, clearly. And the heavy emphasis on "community" (above everything else, it seems) is certainly in some respects harmful to the individual (and our relationship with God).

I believe wholeheartedly that the community experience of becoming part of the Body of Christ is central to the Christian life. But the Body (the one true Community) is never against the individual, who is always loved and given complete freedom. Conversely, humanly instituted "communities" (nations, corporations, institutions) are always against the individual, who they do not love. Because they cannot. ("Only persons can love," I once wrote in a journal, and institutions are not persons--no matter how hard we try to personify or spiritualize them.)

But society (at every level) makes it very difficult to resist "the established order." Kierkegaard continues (my italics):
When the individual appeals to his God-relationship in opposition to the established order, it looks indeed as if he made himself more than a man. Nevertheless, he does not by any means do that; for he concedes that every man, absolutely every man, has or should have for his part the same relationship to God. As little as one who says he is in love denies by this that others have the same experience, just so little or even less does such an individual deny that another (but always as an individual) has the same God-relationship. But the established order refuses to entertain the notion that it might consist of so loose an aggregation of millions of individuals each of which severally has his own God-relationship. The established order desires to be totalitarian, recognizing nothing over it, but having under it every individual who is integrated in it. And 'that individual,' who expounds the most humble, but at the same time the most humane doctrine about what it means to be a man, the established order desires to terrify by imputing to him the guilt of blasphemy.
This is true in my experience as well. And I agree with his conclusion:
...he who disparages such an established order [in this way] is regarded as one who makes himself more than a man, and people are offended in him, although in reality he merely makes God God and man man.


holy fool

Climbing the winding stone steps that rose into the pulpit, he felt a peace come over him. As it almost always did. The pulpit was a secure place, solidly clinging to the huge pillar, raised above the crowd, wrapping close around him. And the elevation, along with the ornate carvings and the focused lighting, reinforced the authority of the words he spoke there. God's words. He held up the large, gilded book for all to see, then opened it and read. His voice, amplified, filled the grand old church, rising with emotion as he concluded. "...God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." The words echoed and disappeared, leaving a powerful stillness. But then another voice piped up, from almost directly below the pulpit.

"Amen, brother! Preach it!"

An amused murmur rose from the people, and he smiled generously. Once in a while there were strange moments like this. Last week, a tall, gangly fellow had stepped into the aisle during the prayers and sprawled out face down on the stone floor. But the congregation was very understanding. There was a psychiatric care halfway house not far from the church, and people from there often showed up for services. Some of them regularly. So occasionally there were minor disturbances, but he'd learned to just smile and carry on, as he did now. Their presence added a little color to the church, he thought. And didn't Jesus try to be friendly with social misfits like these?

Two weeks later there was another incident, involving a man he had never seen there before. Probably a new resident at the halfway house. It was in the second or third row, right in the middle of his sermon; all of a sudden the man's head lolled back and snoring was heard. At first this was ignored. And he had continued to preach, just raising his voice a little and watching the scene out of the corner of his eye. But then the snoring got louder and people started looking and there were some laughs, so an usher approached the man. The sleeping eyes popped open and stared at the usher. Then a gruff voice. "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath!" The volume of this proclamation, and the laughter that warmly welcomed it, sent the usher scurrying away.

It had been difficult enough to get back into the flow of his message after that; but the next week was even worse. The man―who he later found out was named John―showed up again, and again sat up front. This time, however, John did not fall asleep but listened intently. Throughout the sermon John stared at him. And there were no interruptions as he preached eloquently on the building block of society, the family, ordained by God as the fundamental human community. He finished with an Amen as usual, closed the large bible, and turned to descend the steps. That's when John spoke up.

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" John cried out. And spread both arms wide. "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother―amen, preacher?" He hesitated. So John answered himself, "Amen!" Then wrapped an arm around the person sitting on either side―a young man to the left and an elderly woman to the right―and gave each a loud, smacking kiss on the cheek. "Amen!"

That scene inspired him to preach about peace the next Sunday. Specifically the passage that concludes, "For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace." About orderliness in worship. But he didn't limit himself to that; he also spoke about how Christians can spread their peace throughout the wider society. How Christians can be a calming influence in a world full of conflict. This time John listened without any outbursts. He was relieved. Perhaps his message had touched something deep in the man's troubled psyche. As he stepped from the pulpit, he thought he recognized a quiet, thoughtful look on John's face.

But when an usher approached to collect the offering, John suddenly jumped up and grabbed the usher's long pole with a basket on the end. Then leapt into the aisle, shouting. "Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth―I have not come to bring peace, but a sword!" And immediately John began swinging the pole-and-basket with both hands, like a longsword. A woman shrieked. The rest of the people were frozen. Then two ushers rushed over, and John took a wide swing at them. There were several dodges and lunges. Then the madman was subdued. From behind the altar, as he watched them drag John away down the aisle, he was pretty sure he heard John say, "Yeah―this is more like it!"

The following Sunday, he stationed an usher at each church entrance. If John returned, they were to tell him that those who did not respect the other worshippers' here were not welcome. But none of the ushers saw the man. And John's face was not among those in the first few rows. He climbed into the pulpit with the familiar sense of peace.

But he didn't even make it through the scripture reading. A loud slam silenced him and he jerked up to see the front doors flying open and John lunging through. The man was surprisingly fast. And completely naked. Streaking up the aisle, John wailed, "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked shall I return!" Then the nude man was standing up front, by the altar, with eyes closed and both arms raised. "Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

He could take no more. He shouted from his perch in the pulpit, his angry voice booming through the church. "A God of peace, not confusion!"

John opened his eyes. Looked at him. Then smiled serenely and spread both arms wide. "Who's more at peace than this?"

As John strode towards the door, none of the ushers tried to grab the naked man. And no one made a sound. So even from way up in the pulpit he heard John say to a woman in the last row, "The kingdom of God has come near to you!" And with a laugh, the fool was gone.

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song of songs

“Oh that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!
For your love is better than wine…”

She looked up at the shiny black box at the front of the church, and noticed the silence. Not even a whisper. It made the shabby little church seem even more depressing than usual. She’d been coming here with her parents since she was a little girl, more reluctantly each year, and she knew every inch of every pew and every face. All these people who had come to pay their respects to her grandmother were exactly the same ones she saw on Sunday. Sunday after Sunday. And she was sure the pastor’s words would sound exactly the same as they did every time he got up behind the pulpit. She’d heard them too many times to pay attention for long. So before the service even began she’d reached for the bible in the rack in front of her and flipped to her favorite book. “My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts… Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.”

She didn’t have a boyfriend yet, but there was someone she liked and she thought he liked her too. And this time she was going to do something about it. She and her friends had been telling each other about their crushes for years. But it usually never amounted to more than whispers and crumpled notes and a lot of embarrassed giggling. She was tired of that. She wanted more than daydreams and empty talk. She wanted to know what a real relationship was like.

The pastor interrupted the silence and she looked up. The usual funeral words. The usual songs about heaven. She wasn’t sure if she believed in heaven; it sounded a little too good to be true—at least it seemed unlikely that all the people they said were going there actually were. She hoped her grandma was at peace, though. She hadn’t known her very well, but her grandmother had been a nice lady. And a good cook.

She realized she was hungry, and as she scanned the lines of poetry in her lap, images of honey and milk and fruit appeared again and again. This part was her favorite: “How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden! You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me. Come my beloved, let us go forth into the fields…” Yes, she wanted a real relationship, not a daydream. Someone who was really hers and she was really his and they would go out to face the world together.

“Margaret was an inspiration and model for us all. I could always count on her smile from the third row, right over here, and she always showed up for the women’s bible studies and prayer breakfasts. She helped organize the church potluck every month…” Grandma had spent a lot of time at church after Grandpa died. The thought made her kind of sad. “…because Margaret loved her Lord. That’s what made her such a faithful servant in this church, doing the Lord’s work. She was the first one here every Sunday, making sure the doors were open and there were fresh flowers on the altar.” She looked down again and read, “If I met you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me…” “We’re glad Margaret is in a better place now, but this church will miss her. We’ll all miss her. And I’m sure she’ll miss us too; this church was her home. Now if any of Margaret’s friends or family would like to say a word…”

“Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” She looked up from the page as her Aunt Helen strode up the aisle. Helen lived in some big city down south and they didn’t see her often. There seemed to be something vaguely scandalous about her aunt, at least that’s the feeling she picked up from her parents.

“I wasn’t planning to say anything,” Aunt Helen began, “but I get the distinct feeling that my mom’s not missing this place much right now.” A long pause, as if she wasn’t sure what to say next, then Helen spoke again. “I believe she did love Jesus. Or at least she longed for him in her heart; I could see that. She just never knew what to do with that longing. I suppose she was a little afraid of it. Now maybe Mom finally has the kind of love, the kind of life, she could have had all along. Not bible studies and potlucks and tending this old church, but a life walking next to Jesus.”

Suddenly a memory rose up. She was small. Her mother and Aunt Helen were in the next room arguing. Helen was leaving. And her mother wanted to know “why do you want to throw your life away” and “how are you going to survive in a place like that.” And she remembered Helen’s voice, so soft she could barely hear it: “Because that’s where Jesus is.”

“It’s like he said, ‘Where I am, there my servant will be also,’” Aunt Helen continued, the words tumbling out faster, and it somehow didn’t feel like a funeral anymore. “And we know where he was and what he was doing during his lifetime… I mean, among the poor, preaching good news to them, and suffering at the hands of the rich and powerful. He’s still doing that now.” Then, softer, her eyes shining, “Do we really love him? Do we love him enough to want to be with him?” Helen seemed to run out of breath and her eyes fell to the casket, then she stepped away from the pulpit and returned quietly to her seat. The only sound was the creaking of the pews as bodies shifted uncomfortably.

“Amen,” the pastor said with a smile. “Thank you for that sharing… uh… ” Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? “Is there anyone else…”

She glanced over at Helen, who smiled at her with flushed cheeks.

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