"providence vs. a slugfest"?

Stephen offered an interesting reply yesterday, and I want to respond to it. Here's part of what he wrote:

...it is a stretch to think that everyone will forgo payment for professional services rendered. The doctor didn't go to work that morning as an act of charity, and he is only using the tools his institutions offer as the most efficient. I think it would be stubborn to insist that he change to your way of seeing things if he's not there of his own accord.

You would be resorting to the use of the "system" to resolve this matter, which would no doubt be stuck in your craw for a long time to come. As you've made such a point of allowing providence to provide for you, it seems prideful to turn it down when it is offered as an act of love.

Yeah, I was wondering about that last part myself. That's why I bounced the idea off a few people first, but they didn't seem to think it was prideful.

Maybe part of why I see this gift differently is that I don't have a need for money. I did have a need for medical care, and that was provided for--that I see as a providential act. But I don't accept this demand for payment as a need on my part. If that doctor really would only help me if he was well-paid for it, then (for his sake) I wish he hadn't helped me at all. I thank God for taking care of the needs I had. I'm sorry for the way the doctor (or his employees) are trying to meet their own needs now.

And I'm actually not insisting that the doctor change. I'd like to appeal to him to change, though I don't know who I'll get a chance to talk to during this process. When I told the billing person today that I couldn't pay, she said, "Then you leave us no recourse but to send it to collections." Of course that's not true. There is another option, and I said that, but if they reject that then I won't fight what they choose to do. There will be no "slugfest." And I will not use "the system." If there will be any attempts at coercion, any use of the legal system, it will be on their part not mine. I simply don't have what they want.

But the deeper I get into this, the more twisted it seems, the more grieved I am that our health care works this way, and the more it seems worth the suffering to make the evil more obvious. For the sake of everyone.

And isn't that the example Jesus set? He went to Jerusalem voluntarily, though he knew what awaited him there, and even though his good friend wanted to spare him (Mt 16.21-25). He simply lived as God taught right in the midst of the world, then suffered the world's response to him. And he even seemed to believe that this suffering (because of and for the world) was the most important part of his life...


that's just so God

I wasn't quite sure what to do with the offer of $500 (from my mother) to help with my medical bills, but I think it was providential. Just not in the obvious way. I've thought and prayed about this quite a bit, and talked to a few friends, and I don't think I'll use that to pay off the troublesome bill.

I just don't feel good about responding to "if you don't pay your discount will be revoked and it'll be sent to the collection agency." I'm not afraid of that, and I think it's wrong, and I don't want to encourage it. I'd much rather encourage those who cared for me and didn't demand payment. So I think I'll ask that the $500 be donated to the hospital instead, which seems like a very good thing to do; and I'll deal with the collection agency, which also seems like it has good (or at least valuable, challenging) possibilities.

And I feel much better about making donations, giving gifts, rather than "paying off" those who demand payment for their service. (Incidentally, Heather also made a donation to one of the doctors who treated me and then cancelled the bill.)

I think this is providential because it made me struggle much more with it, and it also drew in more people. I had to make an intentional, voluntary choice (since I could have paid the bill). And not only does it involve my mother in the decision, it also brought in the friends I consulted. I like that.



waiting on

Maybe the best phrase that describes true service is "to wait on." As in a restaurant, where servers are commonly called "waiters." But in any situation, the one in the subservient position can be seen because he is the one who waits, waiting for the people he serves to call on him or make up their minds or finish what they are doing. The one who waits, the servant, is not in control. And "waiting on" someone is always a humbling experience.

Now think of most of our Christian "service" ministries--who does the waiting? The benefactors, the "servers," or those standing out in the bread line?

This also brings to mind Jesus' example leading up to cross. He demonstrates love not in active labor but in endurance. Submitting to the decisions and treatment of others towards him. Humble waiting. Waiting to see what they would choose to do with him.

Yesterday I found out another doctor cancelled my bill, which means almost all the bills (about $28,000) have been cancelled now. But another doctor's billing company called and it looks like they will not cancel their bill (they did offer a 50% discount but I still can't pay $450). If I do not pay, the woman said it would be sent to the collections department. Which means legal action, I think.

I'm ready to go that path (though I'm very disappointed). Grateful to God that all the larger bills went away, and even glad to have a chance to more fully explain why I can't pay and also to challenge the inflated costs and depersonalized bureaucracy of our medical system. But I'm not looking forward to it. I imagine it will be a long, stressful process. Which means a big part of my service to all those involved in this process will be waiting on them...


"as one who serves"

I wrote this in a discussion earlier this year, and came across it yesterday:

Too often I think we set ourselves an ideal of service that keeps us in the role of benefactor, a well-respected role, a role of relative control...
I think this is where our service clearly departs from the cross, from the example Jesus set. When our "serving" elevates us rather than humbling us. It brings to mind these words of Jesus:
"The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.

"But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves." (Luke 22.25-27)

What does it mean to be "as one who serves"? We commonly use phrases like "public servant" or "servant leadership," but these people and the authority they wield and the respect they get looks very different from an actual servant. We may put the poor person at a table (at a soup kitchen, for example), but then we decide how much they get to eat and when they have to leave--is this how a servant acts? And we get honor for our benevolence--does a real servant get treated like that? Real servants are like a waiter in a restraurant, or a cleaning person, or like Jesus washing feet.

I'm continuing to seek ways to serve that do not put me in control. That are lowly, not honored. That do not put me above the one I'm helping, do not make me their "benefactor," do not make them feel like beggars. I need to make myself low, so I can serve as a peer, a brother. This is the kind of service Jesus demonstrated, a servanthood that is just like the cross, "laying down our life" for one another.


the cross and the serving spoon

I've thought before about Jesus' shift from a more obviously "helpful" ministry (healing, feeding people) to his turning towards Jerusalem and the cross, an act that couldn't have seemed at all helpful or valuable at the time. And now it comes back to me again. Specifically in relation to recent anxieties about being (or wanting to be) admired as a good or virtuous person.

People readily respect and admire those who help others in tangible ways (food, clothing, shelter, etc). They easily see the value in ministries like that. Not too long ago, the government even wanted to provide public funding for such ministries, seeing them as important "social services." But this respect and admiration and official embrace makes me suspicious. And what about Jesus? He was gaining admiration and acclaim as a healer, providing a tangible service to society--why leave it and turn his face towards Jerusalem? And why does he say "take up your cross and follow me," instead of take up your hammer, or serving spoon? The cross is not admired. It doesn't seem to have any value as a "social service." And the government is certainly not going to promote such useless activity (except maybe to provide the wood and nails).

I think this highlights a big difference in values. People value productivity, the services we render that enable society to function better and that raise "standards of living." But that's not what God values. God doesn't want our productivity. God doesn't need us to improve society or fix the problems around us. God isn't interested in us for the services we can provide him. God is interested in us--for ourselves.

We come to God telling him what we can do for him, like we're applying for a job or something. What a joke. What God wants is faith, our complete dependence on him, putting ourselves in his hands. It's not our work God wants, God wants us.

That's why the cross is a lot better witness than the serving spoon. But while the person with the serving spoon is everywhere respected and admired, the person on the cross is despised and mocked.

And that's part of the witness, too.



"The kingdom of heaven is like leaven"

I've been thinking about these parables of Jesus:

"The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Mt 13.33)

"The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how." (Mk 4.26-27)

We like to promote God's kingdom (or God's purposes) on the grand scale, with lots of people and lots of resources so we can show big results. But Jesus describes the kingdom as "hidden," or even underground (like a seed). Working and growing at the smallest level, even too small for us to see, so that only the cumulative effect is noticeable and we can't understand how this effect happened.

These parables reinforce my conviction that the kingdom of God works and grows at the personal level, not at the level of organizations or institutions. The seed's sprouting and growth occurs on an individual level. The leavening happens between the smallest particles, in the relationships between persons. And though we "know not how" this contributes to the overall reality and impact of God's kingdom, this is the level on which we are to grow and work.

I'm trying to work this way here. I've been concerned about recent plans to open a store to sell Amish furniture and quilts and also some artwork, and to have the interns work in the store. It seems to me a money-making venture much more than a service to the community. And I can't see much value in having interns spending their time selling high-priced furniture and art to wealthy customers. But I've tried to challenge this on the personal level, talking with people I know in the community and the interns themselves, rather than appealing to leadership (who came up with the idea and are pushing it). I just hope some people can see this is not a spiritually beneficial direction to be moving.

And isn't this the way Jesus appealed to people? He didn't go to the leaders but to the people themselves, not trying to influence a group en masse but appealing to each person. Because it is the person who Jesus is interested in above all.


in God I trust

At the Ekklesia Project conference, Kelly asked for stories about God's provision and protection, to help encourage people to trust and take risks. I haven't got around to sending any stories yet. But I thought this one might be good--I took early journal entries and developed them into a short story (it's about my first night out without food or money):

In God I trust

I sat down on a bench under a tree, feeling weak and slightly sick. Took a long, slow drink from my canteen. Apparently, I'd pushed myself a little too hard and gotten dehydrated. After a week at the monastery, I had started out early that morning, and had walked hard. I'd been anxious to get going. And the walking had been soothing, in a way. The shoulder of the highway was rough, not built for pedestrians, and the highway drivers weren't used to walkers along that stretch of road. So I had to focus on what I was doing and forget my other thoughts. But maybe I'd been focusing a little too hard. I hadn't even taken a break for lunch, just leaned against a guard rail while I ate an apple and one of the three sandwiches I'd brought with me. I wouldn't make that mistake again. I drained the canteen, stretched out in the shade, and closed my eyes.

When I woke up an hour later I felt better. So I refilled the canteen and started walking again. I wasn't sure how far I would get, but there were several hours of daylight left, and it felt better to be moving. Not knowing how far I would get also meant not knowing where I would sleep that night.

In the quiet of the monastery, early that morning, I'd read again the words of Jesus that began, "I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing..." It ended, "Instead, seek God's kingdom and all these things will be yours as well." I tried to keep my mind on that. But other questions pushed their way in, questions I imagined people demanding an answer for, questions I had to answer for myself before I could even approach those people. "How can you be so irresponsible? How can you ignore your duty to support yourself, carry your own weight, pay your own way?" But how could they be so responsible? Did they really think that they could support their own life, or pay their own way? It seemed to me a dangerous delusion. And an excuse. For the endless gathering and heaping, fencing off, posting no trespassing signs with the threat "...will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." And for all that backed up that threat. Was Jesus so responsible?

As the sun was setting, a sign told me I was entering the town of Hayfield. And from what I could see it was aptly named. Where would I find shelter for the night? I hadn't brought a tent or sleeping bag. Just a small pouch and an army jacket. Not much. But when Jesus' disciples were sent out, they hadn't taken much with them either.

Then I came up over a rise and saw a little church. And next to the church, a house. And next to the house, a large shelter, with several picnic tables under it. I hesitated, unsure. Then approached the house and knocked on the door--the first of many I would knock on in the years that followed. When the pastor appeared, I explained that I was on a kind of pilgrimage, and was hoping to stop here for the night. The pastor suddenly looked like he wished he hadn't answered the door. So I asked, "Would you mind if I slept under your picnic shelter?" "Make yourself comfortable," the pastor replied.

The table was hard, but I felt excited as I lay there, listening to the night noises, with the pouch for a pillow and the jacket for a blanket. My first night out, and I was sheltered. And I'd been able to knock and present himself, though I knew I'd likely be met with nervous looks and suspicious questions. I was here. And it was okay. The emotions of fear and excitement are so close, I thought. How easy it is to move from one to the other.

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 woke up several times during the night. Mostly because of the hardness of my bed, but also because of the cold that settled in just before dawn. Then I couldn't go back to sleep and lay shivering in the morning dark, my mood significantly altered from the night before. Why do I have to be out here in the dark, cold and ignored, a nobody? I sat up and looked at the pastor's house. I remembered, with some shame, how the pastor had looked at me. Or am I doing this to myself, God?

I warmed myself in the rising sun, then washed my face and prayed. And ate the last of the food I had brought with me from the monastery. I had brought no money. Not wanting to sit and think about that, I tied the jacket around my waist and started walking again.

After a couple hours, the sun was hot on the back of my neck and I needed a break. So when I came to the neat, white, historic-looking church, I stopped. I drank and refilled the canteen. Then noticed that there would be services there in about an hour. It was Sunday. I wasn't sure how I would be received in churches, but here I was and it was Sunday morning. So I waited.

A woman showed up early, to open the building, so I introduced myself. And she invited me in. I shaved and washed the morning's sweat from my face, and soon after, the pastor arrived. That introduction set off a barrage of questions. His third was, "So how are you financing this thing?" "Actually, I'm not," I replied. He reminded me that Paul had said, "If any one will not work, let him not eat." (I should have reminded him that Jesus said, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but the food which endures to eternal life.")

The congregation was small and the singing weak, but the preaching was good to hear. I didn't join them, though, when they stood and declared their allegiance. To the flag. And I was disappointed to see the small altar decorated with red and white carnations and little American flags, for Independence Day. When the ushers put the offering plates up there, the image was complete. Trembling plastic flags, begging allegiance and promising "liberty and justice for all," surrounding shiny gold plates piled with ones, fives, and tens. Every bill insisted "In God We Trust!" but I couldn't help wondering.

After the service, when I shook the pastor's hand, he told me to wait. And once the people had cleared out he took me to the corner store. There he told me to pick out a sandwich and a soda. Then we walked out together and I thanked the pastor, both for the preaching and for the meal. He smiled broadly. And handed me the change from the twenty dollar bill. "Be careful out there."

I ate happily. Seek God's kingdom and all these things will be yours as well. Yes, I thought. That was why I was out here. For life is more than food. That's what I wanted people to see.

When they stare from their deck chairs and say, "Harold, look at that kid," that's what I want them to see.

That's still true...

(Download this story as an RTF file here.)


busyness and idleness

Yesterday morning I managed to find a $650 flight that afternoon to Germany, for a man who showed up here who needed to get home before his visa ran out. (That's one good thing about living here in community--you're always running into people who need help.) But even after the flight was booked he was still searching for lower fares or alternative flights. It was like, in the stress of the moment, he needed to be doing something about his problem, even though there was really nothing he could do himself (and in this case, nothing more to be done).

It reminded me of this story about the Greek philosopher Diogenes:

One day, in the midst of the town's frantic war preparations, Diogenes began rolling around an empty wheelbarrow, very industriously. The townsfolk, accustomed to his antics, laughingly asked him what he thought he was doing this time, and he responded, "I just wanted to show everyone I was doing my part for the war effort."

While Heather was gone, I thought quite a bit about busyness and idleness. And that these can't be judged simply by activity. The crucial thing is not just to be moving around, doing something. What matters is whether or not we're doing what is needed, helpful, important.

Thoughts about idleness always remind me of the parable of the talents (Mt 25). Jesus has such harsh words for the last servant:
He who had received the one talent came forward, saying, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."

But his master answered him, "You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? ...Take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."
This story seems to condemn wastefulness and idleness. But what ought we not to waste? What are the "talents" we are supposed to invest and increase? In the story money is spoken of, and if taken literally it seems to echo what we hear everywhere: Don't waste money (or time, since "time is money"); don't waste our abilities, physical or mental; don't waste the resources we have available...

But are those the kinds of things that are valuable to God?

One thing I noticed in the parable is the reference to "sowing," which brings to mind the parable of the sower (earlier in Matthew 13.1-23). And these two parables also share an identical saying; here's the line from the parable of the sower:
[Jesus] answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Mt 13.11-12)
Here it's clearly not material resources that are being spoken of, but "the secrets of the kingdom of heaven." Spiritual resources. Spiritual potential which we can invest in and nurture to maturity (and return to God), and which last forever. This brings to mind other similar sayings of Jesus:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Mt 6.19-20)

"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you..." (Jn 6.27)

Our spiritual life is what should not be hidden, neglected, left idle. And this doesn't just mean going to church or searching the bible for more and more religious trivia. It means seeking out the "secrets of the kingdom," the way of kingdom life that is so different from how others live, and changing our lives to become more and more like Jesus' life. This is what we must invest our time and energy in.

But, ironically, our attempts to avoid idleness usually lead to an outward busyness that does nothing for us spiritually. Our physical and mental busyness becomes simply a cover for our spiritual idleness. We do much, but we do not grow. We rush around with an empty wheelbarrow. Instead, we should be setting everything else aside to invest ourselves in the "one thing needful," the most important thing in life:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."


"the refuse of the world"

I quoted this passage replying to Erin's comments on yesterday's entry, and I think it's a great challenge:

I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.

I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. ...I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Cor 4.9-16)
...as Paul imitated Jesus in this. Why don't our Christian "leaders" look like this--fools for Christ's sake, weak, in disrepute (not to mention ill-clad and buffeted and homeless)? Is this what we ourselves are headed towards?



"Empowerment" is a popular cause these days. It is seen in civil rights movements, social justice campaigns, even Christian organizations like CPT seem to think they are doing a great thing by "empowering the people." This is seen in their efforts to gather and organize the many weak individuals into a powerful collective. The message is "Together we are strong."

But is this God's message? I can immediately think of two examples where God decisively rejected such an idea: The Tower of Babel and Gideon's army.

They said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves"... So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Genesis 11)

The LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, 'My own hand has delivered me.'" (Judges 7)

I think this is also why God does not have his church organized under some human leadership (he alone is the head of the Body), or gathered into "empowered" institutions. Because then people would say (and give the impression to others) that their own power had accomplished the work.

I see something similar in Jesus' life. He intentionally stays (humanly) powerless and poor. He does not make use of the political or economic power which he could have exercised (and been so much more "effective"!). Even in his healings and feedings, he does not use money or human capabilities, but only heals or feeds people through miracles, so that it is clear that this is God's power at work and not man's.

We see the same message in Paul's writings. Such as these lines:
We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor 4.7)

[God] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12.9)

And why is serving out of our weakness so important? Because the goal is not to convince people of how strong and effective we human beings can be--when we are "empowered." Our purpose is not to assure people that they can depend on us.

Our purpose (as Christians, following Jesus' example) is to encourage faith in God. Not just "I believe in God" faith, but faith that actually leans on God. Faith that demonstrates God's reality and love by resting all our weight on something that other people can't see. Not just psychological dependence, but also physical dependence, economic dependence, spiritual dependence, resting our whole self on the love of God. To do this and to encourage others to do the same is what we must be about.

And this is best done and best demonstrated in weakness.


the church

I've been thinking about ecclesiology, or how we understand "church." Becky was here the night before last and we talked about this some. Partially because of her struggles within the Catholic church (both doctrinally and with local leadership), but also because she is someone I've had a long personal relationship with, grounded on our common faith. And that's closer to my present understanding of what church really is.

Kierkegaard was often criticized for not having an ecclesiology at all. But I think maybe his understanding of church just didn't fit with what his critics were looking for. For example, in this passage (from Training in Christianity) others might see only individualism, but I see aspects of a solid ecclesiology:

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.
First, there's the basis for (and call to) unity: "...every man, absolutely every man, has or should have for his part the same relationship to God." There is one God, and therefore to have relationship with him is to have relationship with one another. And it is precisely this God-relationship that unites us. As Paul writes:
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... 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.

...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)

Second, Kierkegaard highlights that there are many related to God (and thus to each other) in this way. United not by doctrinal statements or institutional membership but by their relationship with the one God. This is the church, the Body. Yet what church accepts this, or preaches this? What church does not equate unity with institutional (congregational, denominational) membership? As Kierkegaard says, the institutional church "refuses to entertain the notion that [the church] might consist of so loose an aggregation of millions of individuals each of which severally has his own God-relationship."

This "aggregation" cannot be controlled by anyone (except God) and serves no human institution. It cannot be harnessed for our purposes. But it is real and can be recognized and experienced--if we know what to look for. The experience is in discovering others with a Christlike spirit, like the spirit that inspires us, recognizing them by the way they live and act. Loving these brothers and sisters. Feeling the warmth and strength of the God-relationship that connects us. This is the experience of the Body, the church.

(for previous thoughts on institutions, community, and relationship, start here...)


"Work, not wages"

Eric just wrote an essay on Peter Maurin, which interested me in him again. This morning, I found this passage in a short biography about him:

A radical even among radicals, Maurin thought protest would do little to bring about real change. "Strikes don't strike me," he said, arguing that the old order would die from neglect, not censure. What was needed first of all was a vision of a future society, and with this a program of constructive steps with which to begin realizing bits of the vision in one's own life....

He saw no point in struggling for better hours or more pay in places where the work was dehumanizing. It was time, he said, "to fire the bosses."
What does that mean? I think this favorite saying of his helps: "Work, not wages--work is not a commodity to be bought and sold."

And this, from one of his "easy essays":
They say that there is no work to do.
There is plenty of work to do, but no wages.

But people do not need to work for wages.
They can offer their services as a gift.



"Love needs reality."

Heather is away camping this week, which has led me into thoughts about detachment again. But reading Weil's Gravity and Grace this morning, I began to see that detachment is not so much about letting go of good things, but discovering them as they really are:

Perfect detachment alone enables us to see things in their naked reality, outside the fog of deceptive values [the false, imaginary values we put on things or people]. That is why ulcers and the dung-heap were necessary before Job could receive the revelation of the world's beauty.

In other passages, she again points to the connection between reality and beauty, and also joy and love:
Beauty and reality are identical... Joy and the sense of reality are identical.

Love needs reality. ...The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. It is the same with the act of love. To know that the man who is hungry and thirsty really exists as much as I do--that is enough, the rest follows of itself.

Friendship cannot be separated from reality any more than the beautiful. It is a miracle, like the beautiful. And the miracle consists simply in the fact that it exists.

Too often we feel forced to "face reality," like slaves. For instance, when we are separated from a loved one, or experience some other suffering or loss. But separation (or loss) is not meant to make us bitter or make us flee from reality. It is meant to help free us from "the fog of deceptive values" so we can better see things and people as they really are. And love them because they exist, and because our relationship, our friendship with them, exists.

Heather exists, even if she is not with me. Her existence is beautiful. And our friendship exists and is beautiful, even if it is not tangible and even if I cannot interact with her at the moment. It is as real and beautiful as the earrings she forgot and left laying on my desk. Their tiny existence reminds me.

In all things God invites us to see the goodness and beauty in what really is, and find joy in that and will its goodness with God. We are not forced to do this. But God wants us to share this with him, like friends:
"No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (Jn 15.15)
So we can see what God sees, and love what God loves.


pure and impossible, pt.2

Heather just wrote a very good essay on Jesus' economics, and I laughed as I read this comment (about some communities' attempts to give up individual wealth by setting up a "common purse", or some other form of communal ownership):

For one thing, it is too sensible. It does not leave in your mouth that taste of foolishness, the way Jesus' words about the widow's mite do. It is a plan which, on a human level, works, as the kingdom [of God] economy does not.
It makes me think again about directing our attention towards "pure and impossible goodness," and letting God make the impossible possible. Instead of settling for a "lesser evil" (like we usually do)...


pure and impossible

The gospel reading at church this morning was Luke 12.32-38:

"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.

"Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants!"

A favorite. I like how it emphasizes attention: Set aside possessions and money because "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"; and be alert and expectant, "like men who are waiting for their master to come." Our lives show where our attention is directed.

This makes me think of this passage by Simone Weil:
That action is good which we are able to accomplish while keeping our attention and intention totally directed towards pure and impossible goodness, without veiling from ourselves by any falsehood either the attraction or the impossiblity of pure goodness.

In this way virtue is entirely analogous to artistic inspiration. The beautiful poem is the one which is composed while the attention is kept directed towards the inexpressible inspiration...


"amount due and payable"

I received this from St. Francis Hospital yesterday:


Date of service: 6/13-6/17/04
Patient balance: $25,389.10

Dear: Paul Rohde

The Financial Assessment Form that you submitted and the information you provided determined that you are eligible for a discount of 100 % under Resurrection HeathCare's Uncompensated Care Program. The determination applies to the date(s) of service specified above and to amounts due and payable by the patient/guarantor ONLY. Any amount now due and payable by insurance or other third party, or any amount found to be due and payable by insurance or third party, is not eligible for the discount.

Your account(s) will be credited a total of $ 25,389.10 and you will owe $ 0.

Not overflowing with warmth, but it made me feel pretty good anyway. I'm very grateful to have such excellent Coverage.


commitment and compromise

I got an e-mail from Stephen yesteday, and he happened to mention that the Spanish word for commitment is compromiso. Which seemed very close to "compromise." The possible connection between these intrigued me, so I looked it up.

Here's the entymology and current usage (from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary):


[F. compromis, fr. L. compromissum a mutual promise to abide by the decision of an arbiter, fr. compromittere to make such a promise; com- + promittere to promise.]

1. A mutual agreement to refer matters in dispute to the decision of arbitrators. [Obsolete]

2. A settlement by arbitration or by mutual consent reached by concession on both sides; a reciprocal abatement of extreme demands or rights, resulting in an agreement.

3. A committal to something derogatory or objectionable; a prejudicial concession; a surrender; as, a compromise of character or right.

So we see the original meaning having to do with a mutual promise (literally, promise together), which is very similar to our idea of "commitment." But from this good-sounding "promising together" we end up with "arbitration," "an abatement of extremes" (which also means giving up extreme good), or even "a prejudicial concession; a surrender; as, a compromise of character or right." Not so good-sounding.

Of course, our promises (commitment) to God do not result in compromise, only our promises together with other people. And I even see our many commitments to other people (which individuals and groups are always demading) often conflicting with our one, single-minded commitment to God. Paul warned about this when he wrote about marriage:
The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.

And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. (1 Cor 7.32-34)

Our commitment to God, however, does not conflict with our commitment and love for others. Because our commitment to God is commitment to Love.

Do we need other commitments? One way I've resisted the demands for commitments is in refusing official membership here (while still living in community and full interdependence). This is seen as reluctance to commit. But have I not already committed myself fully to the one Community? And doesn't that also include the Christians here?

Commitments divide us and lead directly to compromise. God calls us to one commitment--to love:
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Rom 13.8-9)


sublime dependence

Yesterday I came across this passage from G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi:

If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasise the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging. It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hung the world upon nothing.

If St. Francis had seen, in one of his strange dreams, the town of Assisi upside down, it need not have differed in a single detail from itself except in being entirely the other way round. But the point is this: that whereas to the normal eye the large masonry of its walls or the massive foundations of its watchtowers and its high citadel would make it seem safer and more permanent, the moment it was turned over the very same weight would make it seem more helpless and more in peril. It is but a symbol; but it happens to fit the psychological fact.

St. Francis might love his little town as much as before, or more than before; but the nature of the love would be altered even in being increased. He might see and love every tile on the steep roofs or every bird on the battlements; but he would see them all in a new and divine light of eternal danger and dependence. Instead of being merely proud of his strong city because it could not be moved, he would be thankful to God Almighty that it had not been dropped; he would be thankful to God for not dropping the whole cosmos like a vast crystal to be shattered into falling stars. Perhaps St. Peter saw the world so, when he was crucified head-downwards.

It is commonly in a somewhat cynical sense that men have said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed." It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, "Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything."

It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero, from the dark nothingness of his own deserts, that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them; and they are in themselves the best working example of the idea. For there is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset. But there is more than this involved, and more indeed than is easily to be expressed in words. It is not only true that the less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of his good luck and of all the gifts of God.

...This sense of the great gratitude and the sublime dependence was not a phrase or even a sentiment; it is the whole point that this was the very rock of reality. It was not a fancy but a fact; rather it is true that beside it all facts are fancies. That we all depend in every detail, at every instant, as a Christian would say upon God, as even an agnostic would say, upon existence and the nature of things, is not an illusion of imagination; on the contrary, it is the fundamental fact which we cover up, as with curtains, with the illusion of ordinary life. That ordinary life is an admirable thing in itself, just as imagination is an admirable thing in itself. But it is much more the ordinary life that is made of imagination than the contemplative life.

He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth...


prophetic "uselessness"

This is from an e-mail I sent to Erin this morning (the initial part in quotes is from her message):

"The slower pace of this project seems really healthy to me just now. ...I think I sometimes feel like my worth is tied up into how much I can do or produce. I've been trying to work against that and letting myself just be still and not be 'productive' has been part of that." I like how you're searching your motives and how you wove biblical 'contentment' (or peace) into that.

Of course, "being still" is only valuable if we do it in imitation of Jesus, being at peace and focused on the "one thing needful" like he was. This is very important for us and also is an important service to others. It reminds me of this little piece I quoted in an old journal; it's a reference to Catherine de Hueck Doherty (heard of her? She started Madonna House and was a friend of Thomas Merton...):
She cautioned against the impulse to be relevant by doing something useful as the world measures usefulness. "If you want to see what a 'contribution' really is, look at the Man on the cross. That's a contribution."
In other words, Jesus' greatest contribution was when he wasn't really doing anything. Following that quote I wrote:
The contribution is witness. Such a life helps others by pointing to Christ with some greater clarity, preaching by living.

This is all the more valuable when it occurs in the midst of a society that propagandizes against Christ by its political structures, business practices, and worship of power and violence (through both awe and fear). As Jesus said to his brothers: "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil."(Jn 7.7) So society also hates those who follow Jesus, hurling its worst epithet at them: "Useless!"


"We piped to you, and you did not dance"

I went to New York City this past weekend for a Jesus Radicals conference. And the best part was seeing Andy and Nekeisha again, and spending lots of time with Eric and Katie (interns here) and Eric (a Catholic Worker from Champaign) on the drive there and back. A great experience of the personal relationships that make up the Body.

At the conference I also came across this passage by Kierkegaard:

Christ was crucified, because he, even though he addressed himself to all, would not have to do with the crowd, because he would not in any way let a crowd help him, because he in this respect absolutely pushed away, would not found a party, or allow balloting, but would be what he was, the truth...
Jesus never tried to please the crowd, never trusted their support, never asked for a majority opinion to discern God's will. And they turned on him. Because the crowd, the group, "We, the people," does not like to be ignored or resisted. It makes me think of Jesus' words:
"To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'

"For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Mt 11.16-19)
The one who does not bow to the group is always condemned.

This also connects to something else I was recently talking to Heather about: That Jesus was not a "success" in the world (in society, among the many), and so neither should we expect to be. Faithfulness is not successful, effective, victorious in the world. It is crucified.

Yet we should not worry about this, but like Jesus just focus on being who we are, the body of Christ, the Truth in the world.