kids! bills!

Spent all day with Becky and her two children, Renata (3) and Carlos (1), and even managed to have some good conversations while still keeping an eye on the kids. Fun kids. And I really like spending time with her and her husband, Jared. But there's not too much time or energy left over for writing today.

I will post this favorite Calvin & Hobbes, though:

Oh, I also got bills from the hospital and one doctor:

Wow. It's so high it just seems absurd to me. Or unreal. I'm interested to see how God takes care of this...


"No one can serve two masters"

Good group discussion here last night, about authority. Heather led it for the first time (which helped) and there seemed to be a different make-up of the group, younger and less invested in "the institution" (such as Reba Place) with its authority structures. The different, "outsider" voices were very good to hear.

And one of the passages we discussed is Mt 23. 8-10:

"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."
Which is a great saying of Jesus, especially when set beside this other great saying (Mt 6.24):
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."
We can only have one master--so we better make sure (1) that we obey and serve the Master--alone--not his (supposed) delegates or intermediaries, religious or secular, and (2) that we aren't setting ourselves up as masters over others.

Speaking of masters and people in authority, here's a good article from the Onion:

Many Americans Still Unsure Whom To Vote Against

WASHINGTON, DC—According to Gallup Poll results released Monday, 6 percent of Americans are still undecided about whether to vote against President Bush or Democratic challenger John Kerry in November's presidential election.

"At first, I was really leaning toward voting against Kerry, because the way he tried to hide his ambivalence about his military service made him seem like a political operator," poll participant and Trenton, NJ resident Amber Barthelme said. "But then, the Bush Administration's mishandling of the Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal got me thinking that there's a lot to not like about the current administration. It's almost impossible to decide which side I don't want to be on."

According to the poll, 46 percent of the registered voters surveyed would vote against Bush if the election were held tomorrow, while 45 percent said they were ready to vote against Kerry. Factoring in the 2 percent margin of error, the two candidates are essentially deadlocked in the race to determine which candidate America doesn't support.

Researcher Jack Harmon, an analyst for the independent Beltway think tank the Dewey-Markham Institute, said these undecided Americans will be crucial in deciding the next election.

..."The two major parties face a tough struggle," Harmon said. "As the election approaches, both must convince undecided voters that the opposing party's candidate is worse than their own. As both parties take more moderate positions in an election year, it's getting harder to convince citizens that there's a reason to get out there and vote against anyone."

Brad Thomas, a Louisiana machinist, is one of many Americans who have yet to decide whom they'll vote against. "I'd like to say I'm against Bush because he lied about weapons of mass destruction," Thomas said. "On the other hand, Kerry's lack of substantive positions really disgusts me, as well."

Tina Schalek, a Branson, MO theater manager, said she is also undecided. "John Kerry's only virtue is that he hasn't been in a position to make any major mistakes," Schalek said. "On the other hand, I hate Bush's views on abortion.

"My only consolation is that a vote against either candidate is a vote against Nader."


the principled life

I'm too busy to write much today because I'm getting ready to go to Colorado to see Becky (and her family, including Carlos, who they recently adopted from Guatamala).

But I liked Calvin & Hobbes this morning:


"Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig"

[My understanding and opinion of this quote has changed significantly over the past ten years. Now, in 2014, I'd write this, under the new title, "There are no heroes in the kingdom of God."]

“Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig.”

I suspect that when Leon Bloy wrote that famous line, he was not thinking of himself as a hero. Perhaps the other one. If so, it might have been of some comfort to him to discover that actually there are no heroes in the kingdom of God.

At least Jesus didn’t seem to think so. That is, if “hero” is taken in its common sense: a great person who we can look to as a model and source of hope. Jesus resisted even being called “good” himself. ‭“‬Why do you call me good‭?” he said. “‬No one is good but God alone.‭” (‬Mk‭ ‬10.18‭) And Jesus taught his followers to respond the same way. Should they expect admiration for living the life he taught them?

‬“Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded‭? ‬So you also,‭ ‬when you have done all that you were ordered to do,‭ ‬say,‭ ‘‬We are worthless slaves‭; ‬we have done only what we ought to have done‭!’” (‬Lk‭ ‬17.9-10‭)‬
‭Jesus turned our attention away from heroes, people we’re inclined to admire, and away from the admiration of other people, and directed our attention towards God. No one is good but God alone. You have only done what you were ordered to do. It is not the servant but the master who is the source of any goodness, and the source of hope. Later, Jesus used imagery of vine and branches to present this even more clearly:
“‬Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.‭ ‬I am the vine,‭ ‬you are the branches.‭ ‬Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,‭ ‬because apart from me you can do nothing.‭” (‬Jn‭ ‬15.4-5‭)‬

‭It is God who is good, and who brings good into the world. Not heroic people. The apostle Paul taught the same thing when some in the early church started choosing heroes for themselves:
When one says,‭ “‬I belong to Paul,‭” ‬and another,‭ “‬I belong to Apollos,‭” ‬are you not merely human‭? ‬What then is Apollos‭? ‬What is Paul‭? ‬Servants through whom you came to believe,‭ ‬as the Lord assigned to each.‭ ‬I planted,‭ ‬Apollos watered,‭ ‬but God gave the growth.‭ ‬So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything,‭ ‬but only God who gives the growth.‭ (‬1‭ ‬Cor‭ ‬3.4-7‭)
‭God even intentionally chose servants who were not great, wrote Paul, not admirable, not heroic:
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,‭ ‬things that are not,‭ ‬to reduce to nothing things that are,‭ ‬so that no one might boast in the presence of God.‭ ‬He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus,‭ ‬who became for us wisdom from God,‭ ‬and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,‭ ‬in order that,‭ ‬as it is written,‭ “‬Let the one who boasts,‭ ‬boast in the Lord.‭” (1 ‬Cor‭ ‬1.27-31‭)

‭What matters is not human greatness or heroism. Those are more of a hindrance than a help to the followers of God. What matters is the God who is the source of goodness and life. To live as a child of his kingdom, inspired by God in our actions big and small, noticed or unnoticed, this is all that matters.

‭When Jesus was asked about John the baptizer, he acknowledged that John was a hero of his time: ‬“I tell you,‭ ‬among those born of women no one is greater than John.”

“Yet,” said Jesus, “the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.‭” (‬Lk‭ ‬7.28‭)


a death in the household

I thought of this prayer again this morning:

We were having a long talk about a woman who died here recently, and one of the words that kept coming up was "difficult." Which was a polite way of saying it was hard to live with her, to be in relationship with her. And this couldn't be overlooked, though I could tell people wanted so much to see her in a positive way now that she was gone. But even the reminisces of the good things about her seemed very depressing to me. I guess they just seemed so... insufficient (to cover the "difficulties").

The only way I could feel less depressed was to look away altogether and, like in that prayer, focus only on the person of Jesus.

Is this wrong? Idealism? I don't know, I suppose it is important to look at our shortcomings and faults--if the point is to repent and change and live differently. But simply "admitting" faults or "accepting" our failings, and saying we're just "human" or "real" (as opposed to the perfection or ideal of God), I don't see that helping. It may make us feel better when everyone nods and says it's okay, but I don't think that gets us any closer to who God calls us to be (individually or as a community). And that just makes me depressed and impatient.

Didn't Jesus also get impatient with the "real," "human" response he encountered? Did he accept it because "they're only human"? For example:

A man came up to Jesus and kneeling before him said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him."

And Jesus answered, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me." And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you." (Mt 17.14-20)

That's what we should be saying to one another: "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed... nothing will be impossible to you."


"I myself will be the shepherd"

I was feeling inspired this morning and found this chapter in Ezekiel (34). I feel like framing it and putting it up on my wall. Notice the harsh words against the wealth and use of power/force by the leaders, and also against the strong "fat sheep." Also how God responds by taking charge himself ("I, the Lord" will do it), and in place of the many shepherds God establishes one shepherd, David (symbolizing Christ--as Jesus said, "Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ." Mt 23.10):

The word of the LORD came to me:

"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

"So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them."

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

"As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep."

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

"Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

"For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

"I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.

"As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, rams and he-goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

"Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

"And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken. I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase.

"And they shall be secure in their land; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them; they shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will provide for them prosperous plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations.

"And they shall know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord GOD. And you are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, says the Lord GOD."

Is this not already being experienced and lived by those of the kingdom of God?
Jesus opened the book and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

And he said to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Lk 4.17-21)

p.s. Here's The Duplex from the day after I got out of the hospital:


poverty and property

I sent these passages from an old journal to a friend yesterday, to help prepare for our discussion on poverty (and property) at the upcoming Ekklesia Project conference.

I decided not to be an official presenter there, but just a participant in the discussion instead. One of the things that contributed to that decision is the rather high registration fee ($120). I couldn't afford that myself, and certainly wouldn't feel right about preaching "give freely" in front of a group of people that had to pay $120 admission. But the conference organizers assured me that anyone who just "walks in" (unregistered) would not be turned away, so that's what I'm going to do.

I thought the quotes in this journal entry might be good conversation starters:

I found a book by a Mennonite (modern ancestors of the Anabaptists) that offered many excerpts from Anabaptist works. It's Peter Hoover's The Secret of the Strength: What Would the Anabaptists Tell This Generation?

The Anabaptists were a diverse group. They had no centralized doctrine or hierarchy. So what I found was not so much the official beliefs of a denomination, but the witness of Christians that shared a similar faith (also similar to mine). They also shared great sufferings for that faith. Anabaptists were tortured, beheaded, drowned, and burned--by Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Zwinglians alike. And they accepted these persecutions as part of the Christian life. But I'm most interested in their beliefs and practices concerning business and politics.

From Hoover:
The joint council of Z├╝rich, Sankt Gallen, and Bern condemned the Anabaptists in 1527. One thing they held against them was their teaching on economics: "They say that no Christian, if he is really sincere, may either give or receive interest on money. They say that all temporal goods are free and common and everyone has full rights to use them."
Again, after a mass arrest of a community of Anabaptists:
The authorities questioned the heads of the homes: "May a Christian own property?" Answers received varied in detail but they were consistent: "A Christian may have property but in such a way that he has it not, and no one should call property his own.... Holders of property yet owning nothing, Christians use property only as long as it pleases God. Then, when a neighbour or when God needs it, they let it go..."
Berndt Rothmann, a south German Anabaptist, wrote:
We hope that the spirit of community among us is so strong and glorious that community of goods will be practiced with a pure heart through the grace of God as it has never been practiced before. ...All that have served their own materialism and the owning of property, such as buying, selling, and working for personal gain, interest, or speculation, even with unbelievers, and drinking and eating the sweat of the poor through whose labour we fatten ourselves--all this has disappeared completely among us through the power of love and community.
But the common use of goods was not compulsory. Leupold Scharnschlager wrote:
The example of the first Christians is often misunderstood, and because of it some try to make laws, put on pressure, and get people into a corner with what appears to be a human or carnal way of becoming "righteous." We should remember that the community of the first Christians in Jerusalem was totally voluntary. ...Some say that since the Lord Jesus expects everyone to live in community of goods, we should boldly require it of everyone. But the Holy Spirit does not want it that way. It is not man's work to force others into community, just as community itself is not a work of the flesh. We should not go about it in a fleshly way but in a spiritual way, being careful not to violate the free will of the Lord's people.
Not using force was very important to many Anabaptists. This is seen most clearly in their beliefs about politics and violence, but it was also closely connected to their beliefs on economics. An Anabaptist booklet that came out in Augsburg connected violence to private property:
Those who think they possess their goods want the government to protect them. They think it necessary to use force to keep peace, to protect their own possessions and the possessions of others. In fact, all use of force comes from the possession of property. From the holding of property comes all government and force in the world. But the communities of Christ are not based on the holding of property, but on Christ. They are subject to Christ before all else.

Also, I found this interesting passage from De Tocqueville's Democracy in America:
Not only are the men of democracies not naturally desirous of revolutions, but they are afraid of them.

All revolutions more or less threaten the tenure of property: but most of those who live in democratic countries are possessed of property--not only are they possessed of property, but they live in the condition of men who set the greatest store upon their property.

If we attentively consider each of the classes of which society is composed, it is easy to see that the passions engendered by property are keenest and most tenacious amongst the middle classes. The poor often care but little for what they possess, because they suffer much more from the want of what they have not, than they enjoy the little they have. The rich have many other passions besides that of riches to satisfy; and, besides, the long and arduous enjoyment of a great fortune sometimes makes them in the end insensible to its charms. But the men who have a competency, alike removed from opulence and from penury, attach an enormous value to their possessions. As they are still almost within the reach of poverty, they see its privations near at hand, and dread them; between poverty and themselves there is nothing but a scanty fortune, upon which they immediately fix their apprehensions and their hopes. Every day increases the interest they take in it, by the constant cares which it occasions; and they are the more attached to it by their continual exertions to increase the amount. The notion of surrendering the smallest part of it is insupportable to them, and they consider its total loss as the worst of misfortunes.

Now these eager and apprehensive men of small property constitute the class which is constantly increased by the equality of conditions. Hence, in democratic communities, the majority of the people do not clearly see what they have to gain by a revolution, but they continually and in a thousand ways feel that they might lose by one.
And I believe this also applies to the "revolution" of the kingdom of God.


"Voting doesn't do jack."

That's a quote from the discussion last night, by Eric (a new intern here). There wasn't much discussion about voting, but the issue is close to home because it seems Heather and Katie (Eric's girlfriend) do vote while Eric and I do not.

Hmm. I was thinking of saving this for later in this election year, but what the hey. It's a section from my journal several years ago:

I found several interesting passages about government and voting in G.K. Chesterton's book, What's Wrong with the World. For example:
This is the first essential element in government, coercion; a necessary but not a noble element.
What's especially interesting is that Chesterton believes in government; he believes it's unavoidable. He may call political institutions ugly, or consider them the result of evil, but he takes them to be necessary evils. That makes his evaluation seem more fair and honest to me. And I think many people who understand politics and history would agree with him. Even I agree with him, in his critique of "ugly" government (it's the necessity I don't accept--if we could only get rid of the malicious fallacy of "necessary evil" maybe we would stop forcing that evil on others!).

As Chesterton continues to describe the ugliness of government, he also considers the unique ugliness of democracy (though he is a strong supporter of democracy, as the lesser evil):
All government then is coercive; we happen to have created a government which is not only coercive; but collective. ...in self-governing countries the coercion of criminals is a collective coercion. The abnormal person is theoretically thumped by a million fists and kicked by a million feet. If a man is flogged we all flogged him; if a man is hanged, we all hanged him. That is the only possible meaning of democracy.... In a republic all punishment is as sacred and solemn as lynching.
I've thought about the coercive aspect of democracy before. We usually see democracy as non-coercive, since it is "rule by the people." But "the people" are not all of one mind. The usual result is rule by the majority, with their decisions being forced upon all others. As Chesterton pointed out, the "abnormal person" is subdued or silenced by the mob--by collective coercion. We take that to be a good thing in the case of wrong-doers; but the same treatment is also given to saints and prophets, who are abnormal in the opposite way.

Another great line:
Voting is not only coercion, but collective coercion.
Through the process of voting, people in a democracy take responsibility for their own government. This is considered a "right." But is government something we want to take responsibility for? Are coercion and lynching what we want to take responsibility for? We allow people to govern themselves rather than having to obey the will of a despot, but then all the people gather together to become despotic.

Especially during this election time, I hear and read about "getting involved," "changing the system for the better." We're supposed to improve things by exercising our voting rights and using the power we've been granted. We're told we can make government better by being a part of it. But I don't see that happening. What I do see is people supporting political candidates they don't really believe in because that candidate is the "lesser of two evils" or the only one who has a chance to win. I see people manipulated by the media to support someone that those in power have selected (either of the mainstream candidates). I see people being dragged (or enticed) into a very ugly political institution. And they're told it's a right, a privilege, a sacred duty. Ugh. If people want to subject themselves to the coercion of government, fine. If people decide to take part in the governmental coercion of others, that's bad, but worse for themselves. But to try to convince other people to join the mob is the worst.

Joining government is not the way to make things better. Being better ourselves, and being a good example for others is the best way. And part of that is to stop pushing other people around. Stop trying to MAKE THEM be good. Jesus' life was a continual practice of non-coercion--turning the other cheek, not resisting the evil person, enduring death rather than calling down a legion of angels--so that people's hearts might be converted. That's love, that's goodness--not government.


falling on my face

It seems I had a great fall last Sunday morning (I don't remember, but I don't think I was prideful just before that...). Fell pretty hard, too: broken nose, concussion, amnesia, and lots of bruises. Spent four nights in the hospital. And though they did lots of major tests (spinal tap, two CT scans, chest x-ray, MRI, EEG, and multiple blood tests) the doctors couldn't figure out what happened, other than that the fever I had seemed to indicate some kind of infection. Weird.

Now I'm curious to see what happens about the (very large) bill, since I don't have insurance. I told them that right away. The care was good, though, and they didn't spare any expense or test. A good sign was that I didn't have to pay for the antibiotics the doctor prescribed (to finish the treatment). We'll see how St. Francis hospital handles a poor man...

Then this past weekend I went to Plow Creek farm to visit Erin. It was great. A perfect place to recuperate. We picked strawberries and Erin made some strawberry-rhubarb pies (like Mom used to make when I was a kid). Her sister also came and Heather, too. So it was a fun gathering. I'm so glad I didn't miss it, especially since Erin just got back from Colombia and is leaving soon for Canada (on another CPT assignment).

At one point, Heather asked about what I thought heaven would be like. And this weekend did seem to have heavenly aspects for me. I don't know if it was being detached from my normal routine by the hospital stay, or the rush of new strength after being in bed so long, or just the joy of being with good friends in a beautiful place, but I got this feeling of eternity there. Time seemed suspended. It felt like we had been there a long time together, and yet it was as if the minutes weren't passing at all (and I was happy about that!). Made me think of 2 Peter 3.8:

...with the Lord
one day is as a thousand years,
and a thousand years
as one day.


dog days

I'm house-sitting for the neighbors to keep their dog company (which also means I get a house to myself for a couple days--a nice luxury).

That reminds me of this Mother Goose & Grimm:


poor in spirit?

I was writing to a friend just now and quoted parts of this thing I wrote a while a back:

When I talk to fellow Christians about wealth, they usually say: "There's nothing wrong with having money, as long as you're not attached to it."

Or something along those lines. But when I read Jesus' words in the Gospels and note his way of life, I couldn't help feeling dissatisfied with that answer. Great struggle with this issue led me to an understanding almost identical to Jacques Ellul's (as presented in Money & Power).

The question I'm most interested in is this: Does becoming "poor in spirit" include giving up material wealth? (This would be an issue for most Christians in our country, in my opinion.)

Ellul insists that true, complete "poverty of spirit" includes a call to give up material wealth. Material poverty alone does not make us "poor in spirit," of course. Our heart has to be right. But Ellul seems to think that as our heart becomes more united with Jesus, it will lead us to also become more like Jesus (was) in material wealth.

But I'll let Ellul speak for himself. I was especially struck by this passage:
There is no real poverty that is not material. We affirm that the Bible habitually rejects the possibility of poverty in spirit when a person is rich in money. It is much too easy when we are rich in money to talk as if we were poor, to speak of spiritual detachment, and so forth. The Bible expressly condemns this attitude. We do not need to tell the story of the rich young man, which is characteristic enough; but it is good that we encounter a text in Proverbs which is singularly explicit about this: "[A man] pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth" (Prov. 13:7). It is worth noting that the Hebrew word used here is not the one designating the authentic poor person, but rather a pejorative term whose root implies the idea of sin, impiety and lying.

But the second element of this poverty is spiritual. It is not enough to be poor in money. It is also important to be poor in spirit. The inner attitude of humility is necessary. This is neither kindness nor virtue; it is simply an agreement between spiritual life and material condition.
Ellul uses the story of the rich young man (Mt 19:16-22) to outline the ideal he sees:
We see in this story everything we have described up to this point: material emptying ("sell what you possess"), spiritual emptying ("follow me"), joining the ranks of the poor without there being any social solution, without any amelioration of their fate ("give to the poor").
And (unlike most preachers on this topic) Ellul is crystal clear about where his conclusions lead, in practical terms. He recommends specific (quite radical) actions for Christians:
We have very clear indications that money, in the Christian life, is made in order to be given away. Note especially Paul's lovely text (2 Cor. 8:10-15) based on the law about manna given in the wilderness: "He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack" (verse 15). If among fellow Christians we study Paul's law of equality, we see that money must be used to meet our needs, and that everything left over must be given away. There is no place for savings accounts. If it is necessary to earn money, it is "so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). If we really worked in order to give away the money we earned, that would undoubtedly set limits to the thirst for money which can possess us!
Now, Ellul is NOT saying that material poverty is required for salvation. His discussion is about what is the best way to live--ethics, in other words:
We must not be confused: the subject here is not salvation. Salvation is entrusted to God's grace, and nowhere are we told that this rich young man is lost; in fact, the implication is quite otherwise. The subject is our attitude, our life, our response to God's question about our actions and our concept of life. Here and nowhere else we are at the heart of the whole problem of ethics. The story itself tells us this: "If you would be perfect," Jesus says to the rich young man. [my italics]
He is very careful to say that giving away possessions or living with very few material things does not "earn" salvation or favor with God. But Ellul does seem to believe that such behavior should be the result as we shift our allegiance more and more from Mammon to God. It's not a question of initial conversion, but of growth and maturity. It's not a question of being saved, but of being made more and more perfect by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it's a challenge: Are we accepting the call of the Spirit?
Remember that even giving all we possess will not pardon our sins or redeem us or draw God's attention to us. All this gift can do is express the enthusiasm of our love and gratitude, and because of this it is an act of freedom and joy. If we feel too much sadness in giving, if we feel torn or irritated, it is better not to give. But we must clearly understand what this means: it means that we are still under Mammon's power, that we love our money more than God, that we have not completely understood forgiveness and grace. This is what the end of the young man's story means. "He went away sorrowful" (Mt 19:22). He was sorrowful not so much because he had been given an order he could not follow, as because he felt far away from God's grace. And as long as this healthy sorrow lasts, if we are not right with God we will at least feel the call to give, which comes from God in his love.

This act [giving all we posses] which only a few people carry out (and this does happen) must remain a call for all of us, a promise, but also a judgment on what we are not doing ourselves.


price tags

Mr. Boffo was interesting this morning:

Except it wasn't God who put the price tags on everything, it was us...

I like the observation, though, that in Eden everything was free, a gift. I believe Jesus calls us to live that way again, and promises that we will be supported (by God's gifts) when we do: "Seek God's kingdom and all these things will be yours as well." And I've experienced this, too. It's real.

A couple days ago I was answering questions about "giving without pay" and depending on the gifts of others, and included this part of an e-mail I once sent to Erin (her words are in quotes):

"If all Christians were to embrace a form of living as gift that is similar to yours..." Yes, I've been asked this again and again. But I've come to see that this is not a real problem, just a theoretical one. Because, as you say, all Christians will not live their lives as gift as Jesus did (I'd rather keep him as the model, not me). Jesus' extreme example is the ideal for Christian maturity, which few get close to. This is not his fault, but ours, and we don't have to remain as immature as we are--but that's the reality. So I encourage all Christians (all people) towards the ideal Jesus demonstrated, but at the same time I know not many will approach it. (It's a great miracle and incredible witness when they do, though!)

"Does the way you’ve chosen to live almost count on other people choosing to live in a more material, worldly way?" Again, let's focus on the way Jesus chose to live. But I've asked myself this same question, too, and it's a good one (I don't want to need or hope for others to live in a more worldly way). This reminds me of something I wrote in my journal this past summer. I was talking to a pastor about wealth:
One thing he suggested was that Jesus 'validated' the lives of rich people who supported him, by accepting their gifts and not admonishing them. But I said why admonish them when they were being generous and giving away their wealth? They were taking a good step towards the kind of life Jesus demonstrated. And if they kept being more and more generous (as Jesus taught), what would be the result? I don't think they would be wealthy for long. You don't maintain wealth by giving, but by holding back...
Jesus never suggested or encouraged people to stay wealthy in order to support him or the poor (that's a rationalization we provide ourselves). He always encouraged people to give, the more the better, lauding the widow for giving away her last two coins, telling the rich young man to "sell all and give."

But giving like this is usually a gradual process (it was with me). A process of growth, a process of letting go. People mature and change over time; they're not just benefactors or recipients always. I see Jesus living the ideal that we should be growing into. When we give selflessly, sacrificially (and thus diminish our wealth, our property) then we are moving towards the ideal he demonstrated. That's a good step. But we shouldn't stop there and establish ourselves as "benefactors," maintaining control of our wealth and doling it out as we see fit. That wasn't what Jesus taught or lived. We should keep giving, more and more radically, and as we do we move closer and closer to being "one of the least of these my brethren" ourselves. And closer and closer to how Jesus himself lived.

But at the same time, growth and change is happening in the lives of those around us (perhaps partly because of our witness and example). As we grow and become more materially dependent (but also more spiritually rich with lives that are a gift), others who have been living in a more material, worldly way are also beginning to grow and change. They start to become givers, start to sacrifice and share. So the beginning of their growth is used by God to support those who have become poor for his sake, and the new givers are also blessed in the giving (especially when they're able to give to those who receive like Jesus did, in a way that satisfies and inspires the giver). But this relationship is not fixed or static. It's fluid, alive, growing. People grow from worldly material takers, to beginning material givers, to mature spiritual givers (which includes gracious material receiving as part of it), more and more like Jesus.

Of course part of this also is that spiritual maturity is often "short-lived." Spiritual maturity, becoming more like Jesus, also means becoming an "offense" like he was and walking the way of the Cross. So part of mature spiritual witness is usually (always?) letting go of life also, literally, dying well, "laying down your life for your friends." So they leave this earth and others grow up to be like them (which is to say, like Jesus). And new followers begin to be givers. So the progression of spiritual life and growth continues.

Does that make sense? No one "must" remain at any limited level of maturity, no one is needed (by me, or anyone else) to remain as a wealthy "benefactor" to support Christians who live gospel poverty like Jesus did. They are affirmed in their giving (not for what they hold back). But they are also encouraged and called to keep giving more, and to themselves become more Christlike, more like the ones they may be supporting. I try to do this (like in that conversation with that pastor, for example, who was at that moment a benefactor to me, or in my conversations here with Reba people). In a way, I'm trying to cut off my own support, by encouraging them to give away everything. But I know that's better, for them and for everyone--including me. Because I would rather have a closer brother (a partner, a stronger Christian witness) than a benefactor. And I know even now God is preparing others to begin the gradual growth into making their lives a gift.


catcher in the rye

I just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye (for the third time). It was even better than I remembered. Dark and funny. But Salinger has one of his characters giving advice by quoting a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel. I've heard this often, too:

"Here's what he--are you still with me?"

"Yes, sure I am."

"Here's what he said: 'The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.'"

Lofty wisdom, eh? But maybe someone ought to have quoted that to Jesus:
[Jesus] was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him...."

But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. (Mk 9.31-32)
Maybe his disciples were embarrassed to ask him, because they thought Jesus was acting a little immature...

But these paragraphs are one of my favorite parts. I think they're really at the heart of the book, too:
I couldn't stop thinking about those two nuns. I kept thinking about that beat-up old straw basket they went around collecting money with when they weren't teaching school. I kept trying to picture my mother or somebody, or my aunt, or Sally Hayes's crazy mother, standing outside some department store and collecting dough for poor people in a beat-up old straw basket. It was hard to picture. Not so much my mother, but those other two. My aunt's pretty charitable--she does a lot of Red Cross work and all--but she's always very well-dressed and all, and when she does anything charitable she's always very well-dressed and has lipstick on and all that crap. I couldn't picture her doing anything for charity if she had to wear black clothes and no lipstick while she was doing it. And old Sally Hayes's mother. Jesus Christ. The only way she could go around with a basket collecting dough would be if everybody kissed her ass for her when they made a contribution. If they just dropped their dough in her basket, then walked away without saying anything to her, ignoring her and all, she'd quit in about an hour. She'd get bored. She'd hand in her basket and then go someplace swanky for lunch. That's what I liked about those nuns. You could tell, for one thing, that they never went anywhere swanky for lunch. It made me so damn sad when I thought about it, their never going anywhere swanky for lunch or anything. I knew it wasn't too important, but it made me sad anyway.

...It wasn't as cold as it was the day before, but the sun still wasn't out, and it wasn't too nice for walking. But there was one nice thing. This family that you could tell just came out of some church were walking right in front of me--a father, a mother, and a little kid about six years old. They looked sort of poor. The father had on one of those pearl-gray hats that poor guys wear a lot when they want to look sharp. He and his wife were just walking along, talking, not paying any attention to their kid. The kid was swell. He was walking in the street, instead of on the sidewalk, but right next to the curb. He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." He had a pretty little voice, too. He was just singing for the hell of it, you could tell. The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing "If a body catch a body coming through the rye." It made me feel better. It made me feel not so depressed any more.


two poems

There was also some poetry on the disks my parents sent. Heather liked this one (which I wrote after skinny dipping, when my ship had a port stop at Corfu, Greece):

Expansive blue
To sight's end
Completely empty between sky and sea
Its simplicity hypnotic
Sunlight kindles the flame of depth
And I am lost
Swimming for my life

Below the temple
Set on a rock against the sky
A free child plays
Flying naked above the crystal depth
Wrapped in cool blue
And the love of a father
Who knows
The needs of a lonely son

I think my favorite is the one I wrote about sunrise and sunset at sea, seen from the tower of the aircraft carrier:

Over water
The darkened veil falls away.
Day appears on the unseen shore
And climbs
Into clouds, gathered,
Fiery with the dawn.
Stars are lost in brightness
And blue blaze sea.

Over water
Day's jewel rests,
Fixed for a moment in scattered light,
Falling carefully
To the slate sea all gilded gold:
A thanksgiving song,
Lost in the terror of aircraft.


that's Heather

I saw this New Yorker cartoon and said "That's Heather!"

And she just started a blog (with a great opening entry). I loved this:

It was my senior year, the year the Meaning of Life became important to me. The year I read "The Hollow Men" and Waiting for Godot and yearned with all my soul to write a message of hope as powerful and sophisticated as that despair, but could only crank out stiff little poems about broken-winged birds who stood up and flew again...

It's at swallowfeather.blogspot.com

Also, my parents just sent me some pictures and disks that I had left with them. On the disks were old seminary papers and a couple stories I wrote while in the Dominican novitiate. Here's a scene from the short play I wrote, "Herod & John: The Common Good":


Scene 1

Herod, seated on his throne, appears troubled. John is brought before him. Herod is silent.

John: You summon me again. Am I to be your court jester?

The guard moves to strike John, but Herod motions to him. The guard withdraws, leaving them alone.

Herod: No, no... calm yourself. I have been thinking of your words; they perplex me. Please tell me again how I have “earned the wrath of Yahweh.”

John: It is unlawful for you to have your brother’s wife.

Herod: Yes. Though we are both legally divorced. The law you speak of... this is some law of the gods?

John: There is only one.

Herod: So the law of your god condemns me.

Yet I have acted for the good of your people, the people of the very god that rebukes me. I have strengthened the house that governs them and represents them in Rome.

John: You have become an adulterer for your own sake, because you desire wealth and power.

Herod: Power, yes. But not for my sake alone. A governor must have power for the sake of those he governs. What is a ruler without power? He is useless, his dominion falls into chaos, and all that is good in it is destroyed. And the people lose the order and prosperity that his hand--wielding power--could preserve for them.

John: The people lose much more when your hand crushes them. But their cries do not go unheard.

Herod: The only ones that are crushed are those who resist. I am sorry for those foolish ones, but I must always think of the greater good. I must protect order so that all can live and work in peace.

If I don’t, who will?

John: Yahweh watches over his people.

Herod: Your faith is inspiring.

I wish I could believe as you do. But my position does not allow it; and besides, I have seen too much. I have been to Rome. The peace we now enjoy is an incredible achievement; the barbarians do not give way easily, you know. But this was not accomplished by believing, it was accomplished by genius and strength. And it must be preserved by genius and strength.

(Sighs) I am not always confidant that I have the intelligence and strength of will to rule a people. I sometimes doubt my own decisions. And I am not without compassion, which often tempts me to hesitate.... I felt bad about sending my wife away, and I’ve felt bad for those who have died by my orders. But you must understand, whether I like it or not, I am a ruler. I have responsibilities to Rome and to the people--your people. Sometimes I must protect the people from themselves. And sometimes individuals must be sacrificed for the good of all.

John: “For the good of all....” A tree that is rotten does not produce good fruit. And every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Even now the ax is laid to the root.

Herod is silent, with eyes cast down. Then, with great effort, he looks at John.

Herod: I recognize that you are a good man. But this is not a good world we live in. I respect men like you; but they seldom succeed, and never live long--because they will not understand. They fling themselves against the hard reality of this world: that there is a difference between what is good and what is necessary. And they are broken. I hope that is not your fate.

(Pause, then calling out) Guard!


the secret


faith and fatherhood

I sent this to a friend yesterday, responding to an e-mail from him:

I wanted to respond to this interesting paragraph: "I do have my hesitations here when it comes to raising children. ...you must shelter; you must protect your children from some people. You can offer your own self, but I doubt very much God would ask you to put your kids at risk. ...I'd want to be darned sure it was God talking before I'd put my kids in harm's way."

I certainly agree with the "I want to be darned sure it's God talking" part. Of course I want to be darned sure it's God calling when I risk my own life, too. But the concern will be much more when it starts to include others as well (especially those I care for as much as I would my own children). The risk and challenge is multiplied a thousandfold, I agree.

I'm not so sure about the "must shelter, must protect" part, though. Or the (implied?) idea that "normal" life is less risky for kids (depending on what kinds of risks we're considering). Our children's lives are always at risk, I'm sure you realize that. I would think parenting also teaches how incapable we are to shelter and protect our children completely, or even as much as we want to. It's simply too much for us. I think that's something God means to teach us through the experience of being a parent. We cannot do what must be done. I think the news clipping you sent is a good example of this [a girl fell into the water and father died trying to save her but was unable--rescue workers found her unconscious and revived her].

Our kids rely on us--but hopefully we know enough to not rely on ourselves. We have to rely on God, and let our kids provision and protection rest on God's shoulders. If we do not, the only options I see are a life of fear/despair or complete delusion.

Which brings me to "I doubt very much God would ask you to put your kids at risk." Certainly God does allow all of us (including children) to be at risk. Risk is not bad when it helps us towards faith. But I agree that God loves our children even more than we do and is ultimately concerned with their care and safety. So why would I not trust him to provide for them just as well (or better) than he has provided for me? Is he not able? Has he not promised to do so? Do I really need to take things back into my own hands if I get married and have children (because the risk is just too great)?

God provided abundantly for Jesus (whose example I'm trying to follow). But not just for him alone. God also provided for twelve others that lived with him. How is this different from having a family with me?

I like your questions. Several others have not asked questions, but rather have told me that family is impossible while living the way I do (the way Jesus did). But I'm getting the distinct impression that it's not so much me that they are concerned with, but themselves. Justifying and excusing themselves. Because if following Jesus this way is incompatible with marriage, then as married people they are excused. Or they are justified in their compromises because of the duty and demands of parenting. This is beginning to anger me. Because, to justify and excuse themselves (bad enough) they are throwing a hindrance, a temptation, in my way. And in Heather's way. Very bad.

I don't see you doing this, though. And I am grateful for your sharing and concern. I just hope in this discussion we can be guided by faith and not just by what we see (2 Cor 5.7).



"Is Christ divided?"

I've been thinking more about community since writing the day before yesterday, because I know the question that people have is whether such a Christian community is possible (or only the "ideal"). It is the ideal, yes. But it is also possible--and actual. It exists.

Paul often wrote about the one, unique Christian community as "the body" (of Christ). And when we read words like these we are again tempted to think he's describing some unrealizable "ideal":

For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Rom 12.4-5)

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor 12.26-27)

[God] has put all things under [Christ's] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1.22-23)
"One body"? "All... members one of another"? "If one member suffers, all suffer together"? "The church... is his body, the fullness of [Christ]"?

Is this real? Where--how? Most people see "the church" and conclude that the body of Christ is broken or divided or tainted. But Paul doesn't speak of it this way at all. Even when there were divisions in his time among those who called themselves Christians:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."

Is Christ divided? (1 Cor 1.11-13)
The implied answer is "No, Christ is not divided--how can he be? Christ is one." But he answers more explicitly later in the letter (1 Cor 3, then again in 1 Cor 12, quoted above):
For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely men?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

...So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's. (1 Cor 3.4-7, 21-23)

It seems that a lot of our confusion comes from equating "the body" with our religious organizations. We see lots of divided "churches" and conclude that the church, Christ's body, is divided. This is a mistake.

Our organizations, our religious institutions, are man-made. Humanly instituted, humanly organized, humanly defined, humanly supported, humanly defended. With all the limitations of everything else that human beings build. They're marred by human sinfulness--and they all eventually die.

But the church, the body, the one Christian community is not man-made. It is God's creation. And God's gift to us. It exists because Christ exists; it is one because Christ is one. We can join it or leave it, but we cannot build it or define it or organize it or control it. The body of Christ does not need our support or defense. It is unassailable--because it is established by God forever ("...on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." Mt 16.18) Thus it is eternal. Unlike every man-made institution or community, the one Christian community never dies.

Paul describes the body as God's work--not ours--in Ephesians 2 (just a few verses after "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God..."):
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God... (Eph 2.13-19)
This is a unique thing. Not any community we gather or organize. This is God's work.

And God also coordinates and directs this one community, according to the gifts he has given to each person. There is one Head, one Father, one Master. And all the members of the one body answer to the one head (though the work of the Spirit in and among each):
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor 12.4-11)
This is the nature of the one body of Christ. And it is real, it can be experienced here and now, among those who are Christ's (who we recognize by their likeness to him). We much accept no false substitutes.

The one Christian community exists.


"all who desire to live a godly life..."

Overheard during the breakfast reading this morning (2 Tim 3.12; my italics):

Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...

Sounds like Jesus:
"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, because they do not know him who sent me." (Jn 15.18-21)
Not that we hate others, but the prediction that they will hate us (and we should not worry or be confused by this). This is not just being teased or called names, either. But the kind of thing Jesus faced: hatred. And why?
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 7.5-7)


"that they may all be one"

Heather is working more actively on the internship program for this summer, and it looks like I will be involved in some of the discussions at least. The main focus will be community. This has been a point of some contention between me and others who live here, so I imagine the discussions will be interesting. And I thought it might be good to clarify some of my thoughts on Christian community now, in preparation.

One of the passages that speaks about Christian community most powerfully to me is Jesus' prayer in John 17. Especially this part:

"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

"The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me." (Jn 17.20-23)
I believe this is what sets Christian community apart: "that they may all be one." That 'all' referring to "those who believe in me through their word." Which is not an institutional unity, or a local organization unity, or denominational unity, but universal Christian unity. In other words, there is only one Christian community: the Body of Christ.

Any communal "boundaries" that are set more narrowly than the one Body I have to reject. Boundaries that make other brothers and sisters in Christ "them" (i.e. not "us") are false, and so that "community" is false, not the one Christian community. To cut ourselves off from other Christians is to cut ourselves off from the Body and thus to cut ourselves off from Christ.

Another aspect of Christian community is seen a few verses earlier in John 17, where Jesus says:
"I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."
This is also unique about Christian community: its mixed-in-ness. In the world but not of it. A people who are different, unique, but not physically set apart or spatially (or even politically) defined. This is how I understand these other words of Jesus:
"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is among you." (Lk 17.20-21)
Just as Jesus had no place to lay his head, Christian community has no "place" in the world, no niche carved out that is "ours," or "home." Nowhere you could say "there it is, there's the kingdom, there's the Body, there's the Christian community."

It certainly exists, however. It is real, with evidence to be seen: the love of Christian brothers and sisters for one another in word and action. But the community, the Body, is not segregated. It does not have its own town or nation or even organization (with duly elected leaders to rule it). We see this reflected in these teachings of Jesus:
"My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." (Jn 18.36)

"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..." (Mk 10.42-43)

"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)
That's how the one Christian community is: There is one Head, one Father, one Master. God. And we all obey, cooperating and supporting each other as we serve God's purposes in the world. Not a hodge-podge of institutions and local organizations, each with their own laws and authority structures, but one Body, spread throughout the world, acting in unity and harmony under God's direction, inspired by the same Spirit, the same Love.

There is one body and one Spirit,
just as you were called to the one hope
that belongs to your call,
one Lord,
one faith,
one baptism,
one God and Father of us all,
who is above all and through all and in all.
(Eph 4.4-6)


prints in the sand

One night I had a wondrous dream.
A set of prints on the sand was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
Yet mine were not along the shore.

But then a stranger print appeared.
I asked the Lord, "What have we here?
This print is large and round and neat,
But Lord it's just too big for feet."

"My child," He said in somber tones,
"For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to seek My face,
Take up your cross and walk in grace.

"You disobeyed. You would not grow.
You would not stand against the flow.
Your neck was stiff, your ears were shut,
So there I dropped you on your butt.

"Because in life there comes a time,
When one must fight, when one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave one's butt-print in the sand."