the harvest

We've been bringing in the harvest. My first day we dug potatoes and garlic. Yesterday it was tomatoes and red onions.

And this morning we started picking corn at 5:30 to be able to send it fresh to the farmer's market in town.

Then I came back, got a cup of coffee, and found the library. There was a book there by Jacques Ellul, on Revelation (a harvest of a different kind). I'd just been reading Revelation so I took a look, and it brought something interesting to my attention. There are only two (of the seven) churches that are not criticized or threatened by the Spirit in Rev 2-3. Smyrna and Philadelphia. Notice how they are described:

"I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)... Do not fear what you are about to suffer."

"I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word... you have kept my word of patient endurance."
(Contrast this to the description of the church I wrote about a few days ago.)

And the promise to these poor, powerless churches?
"Behold, I will make [your oppressors] come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you."


like a child

"Truly, I say to you,
whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child
shall not enter it." (Mk 10.15)

Yesterday I was telling Heather about a conversation I had with Catherine in South Bend. I'd been describing my surprise about Heather, how I was not looking for a girlfriend when I met her, and even when I had imagined a woman who might embrace me, it was not a woman like her. I'd imagined a physically and mentally tough woman. One who was frugal, used to roughing it, who could handle a hard life of voluntary poverty. If any woman would put up with a life like mine, I thought it would be a woman like that. And that's not Heather.

But as I wondered about that, I realized something. I'm not like that either.

It's not toughness that has drawn me into this path or enabled me to persevere. It's not frugality or hard work that have made it possible. It's grace. And because of that, the path hasn't made me harder as I walk it, but meeker, gentler, more willing to be vulnerable and dependent. More childlike.

And that's what Heather is like, in the very best sense. A child. With a heart that wants to believe, to trust, to hope. Idealistic. Wanting to be a saint, because that's the very best thing to be (why don't all Christians want that?). Open. Eager. With hands up, ready to be lifted by God.

I won't beatify her any more than that. I'll just say: Me, too.


and... I'm home

"Sidebar," Ashley said, pulling one of the guys off for a private talk. When they came back, I was very surprised by what they had in mind.

I had stopped at a church just over the state line into Illinois, and was sitting out back reading, wondering if it would rain that night. Then I heard voices. Some teenagers had pulled up and began talking and joking. Soon someone noticed me sitting there and I introduced myself. They didn't seem bothered by my presence.

Then Jeremy came over to ask questions about my walk. We began talking and gradually all of them gathered around. They were friendly and interested, some of them members at the church, all of them surprisingly comfortable with a stranger. Then they surprised me more by offering to drive me all the way to the farm. "We've been thinking it's about time for a road trip. What kind of music do you like?"

They also arranged somewhere for all of us to stay that night (after I met some parents). We all slept in the lounge area at Restoration Ministries, a live-in rehab center affiliated with their church. Or rather, I slept. They spent the night mostly talking and laughing and telling each other to be quiet.

At around six the next morning, we piled into Eric's car with Joe driving. When we pulled up next to a red convertible with a businessman at the wheel and a "MR G" license plate, Joe shouted, "Hey, it's Mr. G! Hi Mr. G!"

"What are you teenagers doing up so early?" Mr. G wanted to know.

The ride was pretty loud and very fast. I had to brace myself around every corner (and broke into spontaneous prayer more than once). But even though they admitted to being "directionally challenged," we only made one wrong turn in our 100-mile journey.

The car bounced into the gravel farm road before eleven, and I went looking for Heather. Christi followed along, wanting to see Heather's reaction, and the rest of the group followed her. After knocking on two doors (since I didn't know which house Heather was staying in), she appeared at the third one. Her expression was a beautiful mixture of happiness and shock. How...? And who were all these teenagers looking at her?

Then we embraced and I was home.

They all stayed for lunch, then started back, arms waving out the windows all the way down the road. "Have a nice life!"

In all my travels, I never met a group of young people (or any people) like that before. But I'd like to again. That was a fun fifteen hours.

This morning Heather and I saw the sun rise as we walked to the fields for work. And later, sitting in the grass overlooking pretty Daisy hill, quiet all around, we chanted psalms together again:

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.


took a short cut

Hammond, IN

Really enjoyed my time with the Catholic Workers in South Bend. Especially the longer talks with Catherine and Violet and Patrick. And going to mass with Jenna and Liz and others from the house.

At church there was a Holy Cross brother from Uganda, talking about their work and gathering funds. So I gave him $10. Then after the service a woman (who had just heard I'm walking) comes up to me and offers me $20. "If you wouldn't be offended," she said.

That suddenly came in handy this morning. As I was walking out of South Bend, concerned about the heat and about whether I'd make it to Plow Creek before the Jesus Radicals conference (it didn't seem likely), I came to the airport. Where I had caught a commuter train into Chicago to conclude my walk two years ago.

That gave me an idea. I checked the map, then hopped on the train. And now I'm several days closer (and I also slipped through a couple big thunderstorms). I wasn't sure where I'd be when I got off the train, but the concessions guy in the station pointed me to the library. So I'm back on track.


"in the waves of the divine will"

I have the feeling that what is asked of us is to live in the whirlwind, without keeping back any of our substance, without keeping back anything for ourselves... in fact to let ourselves pitch and toss in the waves of the divine will till the day when it will say: "That's enough."

-Raissa Maritain

I've had some good conversations with the Catholic Workers here in South Bend. Like today, with Patrick, about how to best help people who are alcoholics. Yesterday I happened to be there when several of the workers were confronting a guest who has alcohol problems, who has made life in the house very difficult at times and who has had trouble making any progress. They continue to be patient with him. But it's hard to know what love calls for in a case like that.

A couple things seem important for me in dealing with such hard situations. One, I'd want to remember to always keep focused on doing what is best for that person, rather than myself or even others in the house. That's the only way for love to be communicated clearly. If we're trying to protect ourselves or our property or other people, the person will sense that our loyalties are elsewhere. And I believe if we truly are doing what's best (most loving) for that person, we will also be doing good for the other people involved. As was read in church this morning: "In everything God works for good with those who love him." (Rom 8.28) Real, God-inspired love cannot be divided against itself. Love never conflicts with love.

And, two, I'd want to be ready to suffer when the person is untrustworthy or unfaithful. God keeps his covenant with us even we don't live up to our part of the agreement, so we should also forgive and be faithful in our love for others even when they break their promises (as people with addictions often do). And this usually includes loss and suffering on our part. Are we willing to let go, "to let ourselves pitch and toss in the waves of the divine will"?

I'm very thankful not to be alone in this. At lunch I was making new friends with Mike and Violet, a young couple who are also interested in raising a family in community and with the poor. And this morning in church, backed up by a lively gospel choir, Brenna sang beautifully this song by Danielle Rose:
Holiness is faithfulness
Holiness is joy
I am not bound to loneliness
When I follow Christ my Lord


"To the church in Anytown, USA, write..."

I'm in South Bend, IN, at the Catholic Worker here. This is also where they have the offices for the Catholic Peace Fellowship, an organization to inform and assist conscientious objectors.

This morning I read these words in Revelation, and think they are appropriate for most churches in this country:

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

"For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing'; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

"Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments [of suffering] to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

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


the brethren

Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus...

Thinking this morning about how I got to be among friends here, I remembered the story of Saul's conversion (in Acts 9). From the moment his eyes were opened he was led by the hand, into a series of relationships and underground communities who helped him and sheltered him. The vision of Christ threw his plans into disarray and isolated him. But then someone was sent to take him in and introduce him to new brothers and sisters, who (cautiously) embraced the one who had formerly hunted them.

When I left the seminary and first started walking, in the summer of 2000, I felt very alone. Not many encouraging voices and no one (at least no one alive I could see) to show me the way. That isolation made even an introvert like me hungry for someone who understood. Then, that winter I found the Jesus Radicals website, which said what I was hoping to hear: "You are not alone."

I spent a lot of time that winter in the JR discussion forum, talking with Andy and Nekeisha (and others around the country) about a wide range of thoughts on the Christian life and the society around us. And, in the years that followed, I visited many of those people on my walks. In South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York. During one walk, Eric, a friend from the forum and a Catholic Worker in Illinois, arranged to pick me up to take me to the first JR conference. That was in New York City, where I first met Andy and Nekeisha in person.

The following year I heard of Reba Place in the forum, and since I was walking to Chicago anyway, I decided to visit. And ended up staying for almost three years. There I found many new friends, living in a household with ten other people. And there I met Heather.

Last fall, just as Heather and I were wondering about our next step, Eric invited me to lead a discussion at the Catholic Worker in Champaign, IL. That turned out to be our introduction to the many people who we'll be living and working with for the next year. And it inspired my visits to several CW houses this summer, in Akron, Cleveland, and now South Bend. Lots of new friends and kindred spirits.

This year's walk will end at Plow Creek farm, a community that sprung out of Reba Place. There I'll see Heather again, as well as Reba friends, and get to see Rose, a new friend I recently met in the JR forum. And several of us will go to this year's JR conference in Chicago. Then back to the farm for a few weeks, to work and get to know "the brethren" there.

It just seems like an ever widening web of relationships and friendly places that I've been led to, from the moment of my first shaky step. And my travels and visits to a variety of communities has helped me see the common spirit and spiritual interconnectedness among the people of God. So I'm not inclined to accept a structured, institutional substitute for "the brethren." It's the Spirit that makes us brothers and sisters, and that spirit blows where it pleases. It shows us the relationships that we have been brought into through Christ, directing us to the people and places prepared for us. Leading us by the hand.


thy kingdom come

I'm still in Elkhart, but now that Andy and Nekeisha have come home I'm staying at their place. Their being away, though, allowed me to spend several enjoyable days at Emmaus house with Biff. We have a lot in common and had some long conversations.

One of the best ones had to do with the present reality of the kingdom of God. As I was looking at a Catholic Worker paper the day before, I noticed indignant protests against injustices, and frequent references to hopeful Old Testament promises. It made me think of the Israelites crying out from bondage in Egypt. And that's how I've often heard people praying "Thy kingdom come." As a cry for mercy. A cry that doesn't seem to be answered, if we look at the suffering around us.

Is God really withholding his kingdom from us, delaying his promises to his suffering people? Or is his kingdom being held back by the powers of this world: oppressive governments, global corporations, authoritarian religions? It would seem that way, from some of the sermons I hear and the diatribes I read...

But what of Jesus' proclamation: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand!" (Mk 1.15) Isn't that the "good news"? The long hoped-for moment, the release the Israelites cried out for?

Doesn't Jesus' announcement make any difference? He didn't mean it as just some internal attitude adjustment, or a salvation for souls only--someday. Jesus spoke in very concrete terms:

"Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." (Mk 10.29-30)
And his life demonstrated the very physical reality of this. I read these lines again yesterday morning, sitting in a new house, with a new brother waiting for me downstairs.

The kingdom of God is not withheld from us. It is available to all who accept it as real and as a gift from God, the "pearl of great price" for which we are glad to sell everything we own (Mt 13.45-46). And we don't have to be privileged (socially, intellectually, economically) to experience it. To the privileged, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." (Mt 21.28-31)

They're going in. Right now. We need not complain to God or blame the powerful for holding back God's kingdom. We need to joyfully accept Jesus' announcement, "The kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12.28), and enter in.


followers, not admirers

Yesterday I found this in an excerpt from one of Soren Kierkegaard's writings:

It is well known that Christ consistently used the expression "follower." He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.

...Admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm. Admirers are only all too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. As such, they refuse to accept that Christ's life is a demand. ...[If] they honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience the tranquillity they so much seek after. They know full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being up for examination. Even though he says nothing against them personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs.

...Now suppose that there is no longer any special danger, as it no doubt is in so many of our Christian countries, bound up with publicly confessing Christ. The difference between following and admiring still remains. Forget about this danger connected with confessing Christ and think rather of the real danger which is inescapably bound up with being a Christian. Does not the Way--Christ's requirement to die to the world and deny self [in the midst of a society that does the opposite]--does this not contain enough danger?

...The admirer always plays it safe. Though in word he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, will not reconstruct his life, and will not let his life express what he supposedly admires. ...The follower aspires with all his strength to be what he admires. And then, remarkably enough, even though he is living amongst a "Christian people," he incurs the same peril as he did when it was dangerous to openly confess Christ.

"[We] know full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being up for examination..." So we imagine a Christ set apart from us, who we can admire--but never be.

This may even be the case in the Catholic Worker emphasis on "seeing Christ in the poor" (illustrated in this popular picture, "Christ of the Breadlines" by Fritz Eichenberg) or "serving Christ in the poor" (based on Mt 25, which I've written about before: here, here, and here). This seems to be a humble attitude to take, seeing "the other" as Christ. Just as it seems humble to say "I'm only human." But seeing Christ in others, loving Christ in others, serving Christ in others, is still setting ourselves apart from Christ, distancing ourselves to some extent.

And Jesus prayed that he be, not "the other" to us, but in us:
"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word... that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (Jn 17.20,26)
And Jesus taught his followers that they would be his presence, his body, in the world: "He who receives you receives me... He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me..." (Mt 10.40, Lk 10.16)

To accept the call to be the presence of Christ in the world is not prideful--terrifying is the better word. Because we constantly must face the "examination" of his life compared to ours. And the dangers of following his Way. We recall that when Jesus said, "It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master," (in Mt 10) he was sending out his followers "as sheep in the midst of wolves."


"Take nothing for your journey"

On recommendation by Andy Alexis-Baker (a Jesus Radicals friend), I'm staying with Biff Weidman, a pastor at the Fellowship of Hope Mennonite church in Elkhart. Years ago, Fellowship of Hope used to be a common purse intentional community like Reba Place, and a few of the Reba interns grew up here. The house I'm in was formerly the home of a big communal household. Now it's used for hospitality. There are pictures from the Catholic Worker and quotes by Thomas Merton and Charles deFoucauld on the walls, so I feel very comfortable here. This morning, I prayed with Biff and a few other women, then we had breakfast together and a good discussion.

Perusing the bookshelves, I found this passage in Take Nothing For Your Journey, by Mary Fritz (a commentary on Lk 9.1-6):

"Take nothing for your journey" means detachment; not to possess or be possessed... the condition for preaching the Kingdom and healing.

The truth is, nothing and no one belongs to me. If I am gifted with some thing or some person, the only truthful posture is gratitude, reverence, the open hand, awe. As soon as I grab on to, clutch, cling, chain down or pull apart, I sin against the truth. I destroy the givenness of reality. I become lost in an illusion.

The nakedness with which I came from the womb and the nakedness with which I will be returned to the earth, the empty hands and helplessness of birth and death, describe the parameters of the non-possessive life, i.e., TOTAL.

The only thing I will have to call mine... the only thing I will have to bring back to the Father, will be my "heart," that is, the real self, where truths contemplated have made a difference... where loves have become communions and not conquests.

When I read "...the open hand..." I was immediately reminded of something Heather once wrote.

(And, lest we take this non-possessiveness in a merely "spiritual" sense, it's good to recall Jacques Ellul's words:
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...
For more, see this previous journal entry.)


"from the river of your delights"

Elkhart, IN

As I chanted Psalms 95 and 36 in the simple chapel at Emmaus house this morning, I was overwhelmed with gratitude:

O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

How precious is thy steadfast love, O God!

The children of men take refuge in the shadow of thy wings.
They feast on the abundance of thy house,
and thou givest them drink from the river of thy delights.

For with thee is the fountain of life;
in thy light do we see light.

Moments from the weekend rose up in my mind:

Heather coming across the gas station parking lot, her shoulders brown and her skirt flowing, happiness on her lips and in her eyes. I should have run to her but I was overwhelmed by the sight and couldn't move. I could only smile and welcome her into my arms.

Gathering around the campfire late into the night with the young people from Reba Place, talking and laughing, and then singing with the guitars, "I am the Lord of the dance, said He..."

Alone, starting the fire again in the quiet morning to pray. "Fanning the flames with the Word!" she said, her bright voice surprising me. (And I was, with my little pocket bible.)

Laughing as Andi and Al Tauber sang ominously "...the day the turkeys fought back."

And meeting Heather's eyes during the chorus of Andru Bemis's last song: "Home for me is where you are."

Then, after the festival, talking with Tim Lowly (a former Reba Place member), when he recognized and thanked Heather and I for being a supportive audience. Heather asked about some of his lyrics and he surprised her by giving her one of his albums.

And, finally, Matthew's sincere prayer for me as they dropped me off last night. "Thank you, Father God."

The gospel reading this morning was Mk 9.14-29:
"...If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us."

And Jesus said to him, "If you can! All things are possible to him who believes."


"But... why?"

White Pigeon, MI

Yesterday a man stopped me on the street and asked what my walking stick was. I though for a second, then said, "Sycamore." "But... why?" he replied. And this morning a young guy picked me up on his way to work, and he too asked why I was walking.

They didn't seem very interested when I gave the answer, just amazed. But I'd been thinking about that answer. I was wondering if I've gotten lazy in answering, and if I could have done a better job explaining to John the other day. Or at least focused my answer better.

It's really about the most important thing in life: faith. Trying to demonstrate faith (and the love that shines through it) in action as well as words. I wrote these words about it last fall:

It's not enough to simply identify God's will and agree with it or try to cooperate with it. It's not enough to figure out what is "good" and do it. This might gain me the approval and admiration of many other people, but it would not unite me with God. If I still stand apart and decide for myself what is good and to what extent I will participate, then I am still separate from God. To approve or cooperate with God is still separation from God. I would have achieved nothing.

What I need is God's presence, God's goodness filling me, so that we are not apart but together, not two but one. And God has shown that there is only one path to this union. Faith.

But this faith is not the blind acceptance of religious beliefs without evidence. That is useless. Faith is not an intellectual exercise, or an exertion of the will. Faith is the surrender of the will. It is letting go of my ego and ambition and trusting God to preserve and guide me, accepting God's will in place of my own. So there is only one will, one intention. Sometimes this is described as "dying to self," in which we give up the one thing we have to give, our freedom of will, to God. This is faith.

A good example of a moment of faith in Jesus' life was his prayer in Gethsemene. Jesus struggles with how to respond to the dangers that approach him. He seems unsure about God's will. But his response is the response of faith: "Not my will, but Yours, be done." (Lk 22.42)

This surrendering of self doesn't achieve anything in itself. It doesn't unite us with God. But God has shown that he will respond to those who set aside their own will in faith. God freely gives himself to the faithful, to the heart that trusts him. When I trust him. For as long as I trust him. At the moment I take up my own will again, God lets me, and I make myself separate again. But when I surrender my will in faith, God fills me with his presence.

"It is letting go of my ego and ambition and trusting God to preserve and guide me..." To lead and protect and feed and shelter. To put me where I need to be. To connect me with those who are his own.

And this faith is exactly what we all are called to, both as the way to union with God and as the way to live every day.


taste and see

Sturgis, MI

I enjoyed praying Psalm 34 this morning, sitting in a shady meadow, dew still clinging to the long grass:

My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

This poor man cried,
and the LORD heard him,
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him,
and delivers them.

O taste and see that the LORD is good!
Happy are those who take refuge in him!

It looks like I'll be meeting Heather (and some interns from Reba Place) tomorrow night. She sent me a cell phone number to contact them on their way and arrange our meeting place. I'm excited.

Heather is doing a scripture study this summer, on "the kingdom of God." I was thinking of that this morning as I walked. Probably my favorite kingdom sayings of Jesus are these:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand..." (Mk 1.14-15)

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

"Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'" (Lk 10.8-11)

"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)


though I'm weak and poor

Bronson, MI

Last evening I stopped for a Wednesday night service at the World Harvest Assemby of God. I had read their website and noticed the proclamation: "It's Time for The Church to Rise Up and VOTE FOR GOD."

(Is God running? I hadn't heard that.)

The service was pretty good, though. Excellent music, including these lines from "The Heart of Worship":

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much you deserve.
Though I'm weak and poor
All I have is yours, every single breath.
And, during the preaching, the pastor caught my attention when he talked about stealing. He said it's also stealing when we use more than we need, or hoard for ourselves, when others are suffering because they don't have enough. I agree.

I talked with several people afterwards, but my favorite part was when the young kids gathered around me. They liked my tire sandals and my staff--one boy ran to get it for me then came charging back through the hallway shouting and wielding it like a spear. They asked questions then ran excitedly to tell their parents the answers. And one girl, as she waved goodbye, said, "I'll pray for you tonight... and tomorrow and the next day."


a fellow traveler

Quincy, MI

Yesterday as I was sitting in the library, a man came in and asked the librarian to help him contact the local churches. He said he was walking, had walked all night, and needed a place to sleep and wash. She pulled out the phone book.

After he reached a few answering machines and one pastor told him no, I approached the man. Some people had been very generous to me recently, so I had more money than usual, and thought this might be a good use for it. I told the man I was walking too and offered to share a motel room with him.

He hesitated, then tried calling a few more churches. When the second pastor he talked to also said no, he finally came over to where I was sitting.

His name is John. Probably in his 50s. He's traveling, hitchhiking mostly, from Colorado to upstate New York, where there is a job for him. He had been playing guitar in bars along the way to collect some money, but then someone who picked him up drove off with his guitar and backpack, everything he had. Now he's carrying a bag and some clothes that Goodwill gave him.

We found the only motel in town--a nice one--and then went to dinner together. We talked quite a bit about my travels and the reason for them. On the way back, he stopped to buy some cigarettes and a beer, not a great use of the few dollars he had left. But then as we left the store, he noticed that the cashier had given him a dollar too much in change. So he went back. "I try to be honest," he said. "I've learned it makes a difference. Some people call it karma, but I just think God pays attention to those things... I'm not always good, but I try." I nodded. "And the more we try," I replied, "the easier it gets."

So we both got fed and clean and a good night's sleep. And there was free breakfast at the motel this morning, though I left before the office opened. As I started walking, I remembered the man who had given me some money as I was leaving the men's breakfast last Saturday. He had smiled and said, "I'm sure you'll find someone to give this to."


difficulties and difficulties

Jonesville, MI

At the men's group Saturday morning, after my comments about avoiding the "thorns," Kevin pointed out that there are still many difficulties to be faced. Even more than usual, if we're following Jesus' footsteps.

Yes, but there are difficulties and difficulties. Jesus spoke of thorns that choke faith, and also persecutions that purify our faith. Unfortunately most of the stresses of our lives are the thorny kind, we bring them on ourselves through our own desires and are afraid to move away from them.

After the bible study, many of the men went to breakfast together. And Kevin and I talked with a man who had done counseling and charity work and found that many who received his help were ungrateful and demanding. That's a common enough experience. Trying to help those who lie and take advantage of good intentions. But I pointed out that these are exactly the kind of difficulties that can purify our faith.

To take a risk, trying to love someone, means that we may receive evil in return. Jesus showed that this happens even when the love is perfect. Knowing this, will we still reach out to others? And when we are burned, will we reach out again? And again?

To face resistance when we're trying to make money, or gather possessions, or exercise power over others, this is simply the struggle for the things everyone wants for themselves. It drags us all down--unless in it we recognize the futility of the struggle. But to face resistance when we're trying to give, and persevere in the giving, this purifies our intention, our heart.

"As for what was sown on rocky ground... he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away." (Mt 13.20-21)

"But he who endures to the end will be saved." (Mt 24.13)


"he crowns the poor"

Concord, MI

One of the other psalms I chant every Sunday (Ps 149) has these favorite lines:

For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation.

Saturday morning I went with Kevin to his men's bible study. Good discussion. One of the passages we looked at was Matthew's version of the parable of the sower. Someone mentioned struggling with the "thorns" and another man said that they are an unavoidable part of this life. But I questioned that. Jesus describes the thorns as "cares of the world and the delight in riches," and he taught that we ought to avoid those thorns:
"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." (Lk 12.33)
And Jesus himself avoided the lure of money and possessions, and also avoided positions of power (such as when they wanted to make him king) with all the "cares of the world" that those roles lay on us.

I also got to have several conversations with Kim and Kevin about marriage; they have led marriage retreats and have lots of good insights. But Heather and I have the added challenge of a life of poverty and working with the poor.

We got a little sign of God's support, though. I got to Ann Arbor a week early, then Heather got invited to the Mennofolk folk music festival next Sunday--in Michigan, right near my walking route. And my brother Glen offered me a ride on his way to Chicago yesterday. So this morning I started walking from Jackson, MI, and should be able to make it to the festival by Sunday. An unexpected mid-summer rendezvous.


blessed are You

This morning in church I was reading in Revelation (I often read the bible during uninspiring sermons), and came across these lines that reminded me of my thoughts a couple days ago:

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty...

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead... (Rev 1.8,17)

And one of the Sunday songs I chant has the same feel. It's from an apocryphal part of Daniel:
Then the three, as with one mouth, praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace, saying:

"Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever;
And blessed is thy glorious, holy name
and to be highly praised and highly exalted for ever;
Blessed art thou in the temple of thy holy glory
and to be extolled and highly glorified for ever.

Blessed art thou, who sittest upon cherubim
and lookest upon the deeps,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.

Blessed art thou upon the throne of thy kingdom
and to be extolled and highly exalted for ever.

Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven
and to be sung and glorified for ever..."



fear and trembling

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom... (Ps 111.10)

Last night Heather sent me a piece she has been working on, an imaginative re-telling of the Abraham and Isaac story (her version is available here, as an RTF file). It's very good.

She's been reading Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, an in-depth analysis of the Abraham and Isaac story. The title is a reference to Phil 2.12: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." And a couple days ago I noticed the phrase in this passage:

Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?"

...The woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.

And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (Mk 5.30, 33-34)

I think many who call themselves Christians lack that awe, that fear of God that is central to faith, that unavoidable human trembling when we recognize that we are in the presence of the Almighty, the living God. "For our God is a consuming fire." (Heb 12.29)

Two Sundays ago, in a reflection on the Abraham and Isaac story, a man shared with the rest of us his conclusion that the "God" who told Abraham to sacrifice his son could not have been God. The whole thing was interpreted as a temptation. Apparently this guy would have done much better than Abraham, because he wouldn't have been duped in the first place, he wouldn't have even left the house. As I listened, a bit of the consuming fire flared up in my own heart.

Is God our daddy, our friend, our comforter? Yes. But also Creator, Sovereign, Omnipotent, Holy. The Unapproachable--who approaches us. The God we can trust completely, because nothing is beyond his power or outside of his hand.

The God we fall down before and worship.


feels like home

I'm spending the day on the University of Michigan campus, where I went to college years ago. Michael is pastor at a church near here. And Kevin (my brother-in-law) works in the university architectual department. This morning I prayed and read in one of my favorite spots on campus, the reading room in the law library. I enjoy returning to places that have been home to me.

While I was in the library, I pulled out a card that Heather had given me just before I left. The last thing she wrote was "...and come home to me."

That made me think. What if home becomes less a matter of place and more a matter of person. Not a where, but a who. I certainly feel like I'll be coming home to Heather, though it will be in a place neither of us has lived before. And I can imagine anywhere feeling like home if she is there.

I wonder if children experience home in a similar way. Home is where mommy and daddy are.

And isn't that how it's supposed to be with us and God? Coming home is coming into the presence of God Who is Love. And if we are with God, everywhere is home.


writing day

Michael and Anne and the kids--Aaron, Katie, Adin, and Elise--arrived yesterday afternoon, surprised and happy to see me. But before they tumbled in I had time to work on another story, one I've been thinking about as I walked:

Self help

It was shortly after moving into his new apartment that he started hearing the voices.

He was so excited about having a place of his own that he didn't notice them at first. Then he became aware of something that sounded like a low hiss. He started looking around for a leak of some kind, dreading some hidden flaw in his new home. But he could find nothing.

Soon the sound was barely audible whispers. This made him suspect that he might be hearing his neighbors' conversations, but he couldn't make out any actual words. He crept to the wall and pressed his ear against it. But the sound didn't seem to be coming from there. He walked around the apartment, listening. The faint whispers were heard in every room, but always from somewhere behind him; when he would turn to follow the sound it would slip away. Then it was behind him again.

For a week he considered the possibility that his new apartment was haunted. Because he didn't hear any whispers when he was at the office, or even on the drive to work. This thought seemed ridiculous, but he had seen too many horror movies for it not to at least enter his head. He began to work longer hours, simply to avoid going home, though every night he convinced himself that wasn't the reason. And he even briefly considered moving out, despite his lease.

But soon he began to hear it on the way home from work. Then there were whispers when he was still at his desk, or in a meeting. And by this time, the voices at home were noticeably louder, like the murmuring of a restless crowd. Not only in the apartment, but also when he went running, or to the park to read. He began to worry about his mental health.

So he went to the bookstore, a large, plush store that had a coffee shop built right in. Shopping often comforted him. A new purchase was always so hopeful, even if it was just a toilet brush. As he walked through the rows of new books, shiny on the tall hardwood bookcases, he didn't hear any whispers. He found his way to the "Self Help" section. Perusing the titles, he picked two that looked interesting: Listening to Yourself, and Me, Myself, and I (Can't We All Just Get Along?). Then he noticed the classic, I'm OK, You're OK, and grabbed it, feeling optimistic. And as he left the store with his books and a cappuccino, there were still no restless murmurings. He smiled, thinking he may have just taken his first step towards recovery.

But by the time the books were on his shelf at home, the voices were back. Pursuing him. And reading the books was no help at all; he quit before he finished any of them.

It was then that he decided to see a psychiatrist. Making the appointment made him feel better; the sound of the receptionist's voice sounded so confident and professional. The psychiatrist was very professional too. After their first meeting she suggested that his problem may be caused by stress, and recommended that he try spending some more time with friends. So he threw a dinner party. It was catered and everyone admired his new place, and it did feel good to be the host. He remembered reading somewhere, "Who has but once dined his friends, has tasted what it is to be Caesar." But he woke the next morning with the guests gone and the table cleared and the voices buzzing at the back of his head like a hangover.

His psychiatrist prescribed medication. Taking the slip to the pharmacist was comforting, but he had to take the pills for three weeks before he could expect to see results. And then the only result was that the voices were louder, more menacing.

Thoughts of hauntings returned to him; he actually imagined that he might be possessed. In a moment of desperation he went looking for a priest. The church he found was impressively built and the priest was respectful, professional, nodding thoughtfully as he explained about the voices. "What do they say?" the priest asked.

"I can't always make out words, but sometimes it sounds like... 'Not enough.'" Not good enough to sell.

The priest considered that for a moment. "Do you think it could be your own voice you're hearing, maybe? In our culture we're conditioned to push ourselves..." No one is going to pay for this story. The priest recommended that he take a personal retreat. "I know this beautiful place not far from here. A good place to pray."

"Can't I pray at home?"

The priest smiled, leaning back in his chair. "Yes, of course. But it sounds like you need some quality spiritual time. The retreat center is a little expensive, but isn't it just as important to invest for our mental and spiritual health as it is for our physical health?" This is a waste of words. You should be writing something people want.

Ha! But I like the ending!

He saw the priest again two weeks later. "Ah, did you go? How was it?"

"Yes. It was... enlightening."

The priest grinned broadly. "Excellent. I thought it was just the thing you needed to relax and clear your head. Feeling better?"

He didn't know what to say. But then he heard his voice reply, "You're coming along fine, my good Reverend, but you still have a few things to learn."

The priest's smile faded and his brow darkened. "Such as?"

"Such as," his voice answered, "you cannot cast out Mammon with mammon."


dear pastor

Because of the ride Sunday night, I didn't get to visit that pastor who told me I couldn't stay at his church (because he couldn't supervise me). So I sent him this note yesterday:

Dear Pastor,

I wrote to you about a week ago, because I was walking through your town and had met Pastor Avers two years ago. As it turned out, I didn't need a place to sleep last night after all. A man offered me a ride before I got to your church (and I wasn't even asking for a ride). Now I am in Ann Arbor, MI, at a friend's house.

But I wanted to send you a note since I didn't get to talk to you in person. To let you know that I had good experiences at your church with Pastor Avers. I don't know how often he welcomed strangers, but he certainly welcomed me.

The first time I stopped there, asking if I could sleep outside the church (as I often do), he invited me to stay inside on one of the couches. And I recall he also offered me some gift certificates to a fast food restaurant, which were very much appreciated. Then, on my walk back from New York, I stopped at your church again. This time Pastor Avers offered to take me to a nearby motel and paid my bill there. I walked to the church the next morning for services. There I met and talked with several people about my journeys, and one woman offered to drive me to Woodville. As we were leaving, Pastor Avers offered me some money (though he said he doesn't usually do that) and his prayers.

I just thought he listened pretty well to Jesus' words, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Mt 25.35) And also, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Heb 13.2) I don't know if he preached about these things much, but he practiced them.

If you have an address for Pastor Avers, feel free to forward this to him with my thanks. But mostly I just wanted to share with you my previous experiences at your church.




I was walking out of town yesterday evening, wondering about a place to sleep (and if I had enough money to make it through the week), when a car pulled over on the highway. And the guy offered me a ride. It was a four-lane divided highway, and I was walking on the far side, so he had had to turn around and come back to ask me this. "I know what it's like to be out there walking." He said he was going all the way to Toledo, to see the fireworks.

At first I balked. I didn't want to be dropped off in downtown Toledo so late in the day. And I hadn't looked that far ahead on the map, which meant I wouldn't know where I was or where I needed to go. So he said he could take me to the far side of Toledo. I thought for a minute.

What the heck.

So I suddenly went from 3 mph to 65 mph. The towns I had planned to walk through in the next few days flew past, and we talked. Don is in security and is also a volunteer fireman. I found out field fires can be a big problem around there. And I told him quite a bit about my life. It was dinner time, so he offered to buy me a burger, and as we talked and kept driving, he then offered to take me all the way to Ann Arbor. He said he had time to do that and still make it back for the fireworks.

I don't think Don is a Christian. But he was enthusiastic in his help. "You do something good for someone," he said, "and someone else does something good for you." I told him that was a good thing to believe. And I believe God backs it up.

We talked about many things: how Jesus taught his followers to act, having the courage to take a risk and trust others, and being willing to drop our plans and accept the opportunity that presents itself. That's crucial if we are to recognize what God is offering us:

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain"; whereas you do not know about tomorrow....

Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills..." (Jam 4.13-15)

But yesterday's adventure was not over when Don dropped me off in Ann Arbor. I'd assumed I could call Michael and have him pick me up. But no one was home. I didn't remember exactly how to get to his house, and I didn't have a detailed map of the city. So I stopped in the first gas station--and there on the wall was a big Ann Arbor map.

As I was walking to their house, the thought occured to me that they may be away for the holiday weekend. Maybe I could camp out in their back yard until they got back? But then I remembered, when I had written to tell Michael I'd be here next weekend, he had said if they're not home I could let myself in with their hidden emergency key. At the time, I'd thought that was a superfluous detail.

So I'm here with the cats. A week early. "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town...'"


a big church

Fremont, OH

This morning I stopped at a big church. I usually avoid big churches. But walking from Clyde, I arrived at this one just as services were starting, so I went in.

I was a little late for Sunday school, but because of the holiday weekend there were only three people in the men's group and they welcomed me eagerly. And we had a good discussion. About communicating love to your spouse; this week was about physical intimacy. It started slow, but when we turned to Song of Solomon I perked up. We talked about how the imagery of the sexual relationship says so much about the ideal of our relationship with God: desire, openness, vulnerability, trust, nakedness, acceptance, tenderness, abandon, fulfillment, adoration.

The worship music was good, but the preaching raised serious questions. It was on Colossians 2.8, about not being led astray by empty and deceitful philosophies. The pastor warned of the many "isms": moralism, legalism, ritualism, deism. But apparently overlooked patriotism. In honor of the 4th, the worship had begun with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (which was written, incidentally, during the Civil War, when our nation was fighting itself). The words were superimposed over the image of a waving U.S. flag:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
[originally: let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
A strange juxtaposition, especially in a time when our nation is at war. Is this about evangelism, or war? Are we supposed to equate the death (or life) of soldiers with the death of Christ, who died with no weapon in his hand, crucified by soldiers? Or are we talking about making men free through faith, as Jesus did? But then what does the flag have to do with it?

It was followed by an emotional song about the pledge of allegiance (the loyalty that citizens owe to their country, or subjects to their sovereign). Not allegiance to God, but to the flag and "the republic, for which it stands."

What ever happened to "no one can serve two masters"?

One interesting thing the pastor mentioned was that many in Germany don't want to recognize Scientology as an official religion, because they see it as a money-making enterprise. Everyone in the audience nods approvingly. But look around. We sit in a huge auditorium, with stadium seating and plush theater seats, two giant video screens projecting images throughout the service. There's a coffee shop in the lobby (with another video screen there). And at the end of the service the pastor announces that, for their fall outreach event, a secular music star is coming... Randy Travis. The crowd oohs and aahs. "It will be expensive... to bring him in," the pastor informs us.

See, if done properly, Christianity can be quite a money-making enterprise too.


U.S. 20

Bellevue, OH

Cooler weather has blown in, making the walk much more enjoyable. This morning was especially fine.

A vast wheat field, lit gold by the morning sun, with a backdrop of heavy, purple-sooted clouds. Red-winged blackbirds, like sentries in their dress uniforms, circling and shouting over my head as I passed.

And beyond an expanse of young corn a train slid along the tree line, so long that I couldn't see its engine when far ahead it wailed to pass.

I'm on a familiar road, but both of the pastors I met and stayed with two years ago have moved since then. I'd hoped to visit them again. One of the new pastors responded to my e-mail by saying the former pastor (who had let me sleep in the church) was gone, and since he couldn't supervise me (not living in the sanctuary himself) there was no way I could stay there. Hmm. Maybe I should visit him anyway, or at least write back to him...



Norwalk, OH

I've been getting up early and on the road by six in the morning, to avoid the heat of the day. Yesterday that was good because a fierce storm blew up suddenly in the early afternoon. But I was sheltered in St. Mary's social hall. Sister Edna put me up for the rest of the day (and night) there; and I helped her set up for the wedding reception they're having today. I was also able to get well washed. I had a sudden urge to run around in the rain to shower off, but the sink worked well too (and was a bit more seemly).

And I got this poem from Heather yesterday:

I woke when the storm was over
And the petals all were wet
I woke from the thunder's raging
And the rain's alarm—and yet
The leaves were streaming with wonder
Since the moment the storm began
And I could not remember the thunder
But only the touch of your hand.