"In moments of joy"

I discovered a book of poetry by W.H. Auden in the house and found this:

It is the unimportant
who make all the din:
both God and the Accuser
speak very softly.

And this one made me smile, thinking about Heather finally coming on the train this evening:
In moments of joy
all of us wished we possessed
a tail we could wag.


I was perusing some old comics that I had saved and found this one...


soup and leaven

Today the soup kitchen opened, with a rush of activity, volunteers, and guests. There's some description of the place in this article about Eric, who I met through the Jesus Radicals discussion forum. (He's a little embarrassed about how favorable the article is.)

I had planned to mingle with the guests every day and eat lunch in the soup kitchen, but felt a little intimidated today. I'm not very comfortable in crowds. And the people waiting for lunch are in many ways strange to me (and I to them); I'm not sure how to approach them or if they even want me to try.

But I went anyway. And found a young dog tied up on the porch, so I petted her and then met her owner when he came out. Then I went inside and noticed Robert and Darcy, the couple who had showed up here this past weekend and eaten with us. So I asked how their weeked had been. And found out a pastor had put them in a motel for the past two nights, but now they were homeless again and the other shelters were all full.

We were planning to open our house for hospitality on Friday, in four days. But even then only women can live here (it makes the women feel safer to have no male guests staying in the house). That's what they had been told by another volunteer here.

But I wondered: What if they could both stay for the few days until we officially opened the house? I'm already sleeping downstairs, so I could be there for them if they need anything...

So I proposed this to Eric, Miranda, Andy, Florence, and Katie, and they seemed agreeable. It's not how things are normally done, but in this case it seemed possible. And all of us do want to welcome people when we can. So it looks like they have a place to stay tonight, and for a few more nights as well while they look for a more stable situation.

This situation made me think of my favorite kingdom analogy:

Jesus said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Lk 13.20-21)
I'd like to be mixed in, and so help inspire and influence others to be more Christlike, more like the kingdom of God. Offer creative new ideas. Offer moments of courageous faith. Offer encouragement and challenge when facing difficult situations. Not in a way that involves worldly power or prestige, but mixed in with everyone else, even "hidden." So it is clear that the leavening and rising is God's work.


"this place"

Yesterday was busy. I helped Florence (a live-in volunteer here from Nigeria) cook for the celebration feast, and a homeless couple showed up at the door and ended up joining us for the meal. Great food. Then there was a presentation about the history of the Catholic Worker and this house in particular. Followed by stories by six former volunteers. And then a discussion about the differences between the house as it was years ago and how it is now, with a focus on the current challenges.

Being very new here, I guess I had an outsider perspective of the conversation. And one thing I noticed was a lot of emphasis on "this place."

The former volunteers saw this place as very special, somewhere where things were different from the rest of society, somewhere where it was easier to live as we ought to live. Though each of them were significantly influenced by their time here, they are now in pretty mainstream jobs (though they still do volunteer in other ways). One woman said leaving here was very hard, because she didn't know where else she could live like she did here. So they look back on this place with nostalgia. But they seem to have not been able to maintain the life away from here, or find another place comparable.

The present volunteers emphasized "this place" in a different way. They're in the midst of a bit of a political struggle here. There are some in leadership here who have made it more institutional and created a strong financial support base, to ensure the survival of this place. But several of the live-in volunteers think this has changed the nature of the house, making it more controlled and impersonal. They would like to have a greater say in the running of this place in order to make it a more authentic "Catholic Worker" house (poor, open to all, chaotic, exciting).

But all the talk about "this place" concerned me. Is it really so important? Is a place like this really so crucial to living a Christlike life? Is it so important that we should struggle for control of it?

Yesterday morning at mass, the gospel reading was the parable of the talents (Mt 25.14-30). This passage often troubled me, because it uses investment imagery that is often misinterpreted to suggest that Jesus was interested in economic or political success. But I began to feel better about it when I recognized that Jesus was not talking about material things. He never considered money or worldly success to be "treasure":

"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)

"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (Mt 19.21)
And then there's this:
"The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil." (Mt 12.35)
For Jesus, the treasure we accumulate is not wealth or success but becoming a better person. The treasure is ourselves. That's always what Jesus was interested in, and that's what we will bring before God at judgment, not money or ministerial institutions or "this place"—just ourselves, who we have become, who we are in relation to Jesus.

So I believe that's what we should emphasize and invest our time and effort in: becoming more Christlike people. Jesus did not invest himself in building or preserving or struggling for control of places or things. He focused on being perfect himself, as an example and inspiration and challenge to help others become like him too. Treasures themselves.


my first day

I'm in Champaign, IL, now. At the Catholic Worker house here, where Heather and I will be living and working for the next year (at least). They're having a 25th anniversary celebration here tomorrow so everyone's making preparations today.

For my first day here, I think I'll include a couple of my favorite "Easy Essays," by Peter Maurin:

In the first centuries of Christianity
the poor were fed, clothed, and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice
and the Pagans
said about the Christians:
"See how they love each other."

Today the poor are fed, clothed, and sheltered
by the politicians
at the expense
of the taxpayers.

And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed, and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice
but at the expense
of taxpayers
Pagans say about Christians:
"See how they pass the buck."

The world would be better off,
if people tried
to become better.

And people would
become better
if they stopped trying
to be better off.

For when everybody tries
to become better off,
nobody is better off.

But when everybody tries
to become better,
everybody is better off.

Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried
to be richer.

And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried
to be the poorest.

And everybody would be
what he ought to be
if everybody tried to be
what he wants
the other fellow to be.

(Happy birthday, Heather!)


relating to the next generation

I've been thinking about relating to "the next generation." Perhaps it's a bit early for me to be considering this, but it's come up in conversation and I'm intrigued.

A couple days ago, Kevin made some interesting comments (about raising kids) that deserve some serious thought. How important is parental discipline in a child's learning of God's ways? I've had a number of conversations with Heather about this as well. I wondered: Is it necessary for children to first learn the way of "the law," with its punishments, before they can understand the way of grace? It seems that's how Israel learned during its history. But does that also apply to each individual? And could I bear to shift back into a law maker (and enforcer) role? I don't know.

In this I think I have to look to Jesus' life for guidance. He wasn't a parent, but he did interact with children and also played an important role in training the disciples. And I do see a clear and firm moral standard in Jesus' training. A much higher moral standard than anyone else of his time (even most teachers today call his teaching "idealistic," "unachievable"). But Jesus' discipline doesn't seem to go beyond rebukes. He never raises the hand of power. Of course, if the disciples chose not to follow his Way, they could not stay with him. And eventually we do see them fall back as he goes to the cross. But their love for him (the Love of God in them) impelled them to keep following, even after his death. I'm not exactly sure how that might shape my parenting, but it seems important.

I was also talking with Lynn this morning on our drive to Bloomington (on my way to Champaign). She was sharing about the challenges of carrying on their farming community to the next generation. "Why don't they see how radical our life is?" she asked, wondering why it hasn't drawn more young people hungry for the radical Christian life.

I've wondered myself how I might relate to young people when I get older, how I might fit in to communities like at the Catholic Worker houses, which tend to be made up of younger people. Maybe it's a question of maintaining a spirit that continues to be vibrantly alive. A childlike spirit? A revolutionary spirit? A spirit on fire, maybe.

Again, I think the answer is in Jesus' life. "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!" (Lk 12.49)

I don't think this fire can exist in an institution or a lifestyle, only in persons. And only if we continue to live in the complete abandonment of faith. Then our lives should look like Jesus' life, one of utter vulnerability and risk, trusting in God for everything, filled with his own Spirit of fire. That's pretty exciting and awe-inspiring, no matter what age you are.


Then there's this point of view (which I find myself quite sympathetic with):

Hmm. Maybe we could just share our kids...


"You knit me together"

There are lots of kids here at the farm, and there will be another one in a day or two. Kate's been out walking and climbing hills to try to encourage the baby to come on out. We're supposed to leave here Thursday, but Heather may stay to help with the delivery if it doesn't happen by tomorrow.

And we've also been talking to people here about raising children, how they educate them, advantages and challenges in a close-knit community, etc. Each family is a little different, so we're getting a variety of perspectives. Heather's also warming a bit to the idea of home schooling, something I've wondered about as a possibility (since we don't know what sort of environment we might be raising children).

This morning, after watching the sunrise as we picked corn for the last time, we talked about children again. I was saying that I wanted to avoid the idea that our children are our project. Little people that we are shaping the way we think they should be. No. Each of us is God's work. It makes me think of these verses of Psalm 139:

You formed my inward parts,
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

You know me right well;
my frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Ps 139.13-16)

God is the father, the author of our story, the potter who shapes us. I don't want to get in the way of that as a parent, or take over God's responsibility, but simply be a servant who helps when prompted and stands aside when told to--by the Father of us all.

Also, there's this...


"I have made the Lord God my home"

Last night after the community potluck I gave a short talk about my walking experiences over the last five years. I focused on the meaning of "home." And found these two journal quotes to use:

May 2000

All the world is God's, so the pilgrim is at home everywhere though no place is "home."

July 2005

Coming home is coming into the presence of God Who is Love. And if we are with God, everywhere is home.

And this morning I came across these similar words in Psalm 73:
Whom have I in heaven but thee?
And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.

For me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge...


It's very dark here at night (when the moon isn't full like last night). Great for admiring the stars...



I was perusing the Jesus Radicals discussion forum and came across a question about practical ways to simplify our life. So I responded:

I think the most direct practical way to simplify is to share.

Our society encourages everyone to own their own of everything. I look at suburbia and see little fenced in yards where everyone has almost all the same things, sitting idle, locked up. This practice serves the makers and sellers of all these things, but it only gives us more stuff to maintain, move around, and protect from thieves. And it keeps us isolated on our own little plot of property.

So, share. Start borrowing instead of buying. Get a book at the library instead of a bookstore. Go to a neighbor for a tool instead of buying your own. Eat out at a friend's house instead of a restaurant. And then be ready to make your things available to others who need them, offering them when you see the need.

I've been living for several years in communal settings, where almost everything is shared: houses, cars, food, tools, labor, etc. It makes much better use of things and it draws people together. I can't always get what I want exactly when I want it, but I've always found my needs met and often found much better things than I hoped for, because I asked someone for help. I've lived for years with almost no property of my own, simply accepting what is offered and contributing what I have to give. It's very difficult at times, but in a way that helps me (and others) grow. I know if I get married and have a family (possibly within the next few years) there will be many more material needs, but I haven't found a need yet that can't be provided through sharing.

Not everyone can immediately jump into a completely shared living situation, but we can immediately start sharing more than we do now. And the more we do it, the more relationships develop, and the more possibilities for a simpler life begin to appear.


Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. (Mk 15.43)

Yesterday while praying with Heather on Daisy Hill (though there's more coneflowers there than daisies), I noticed Mark's description of Joseph of Arimathea. All the gospels speak of him (Mk 15.43-46; Mt 27.57-60; Lk 23.50-53; Jn 19.38-42). And he's an interesting character.

Matthew calls him a rich man, and a disciple of Jesus. Luke says he was a member of the council and "a good and righteous man." And I've heard people commend him as an example of how wealthy and politically powerful followers of Jesus ought to be.

I agree. Joseph appears in Jesus' story at the point when he is stepping out of the shadows and beginning to really follow Jesus. John says that Joseph had been a disciple "secretly, for fear of the Jews," and associates him with Nicodemus, another man of position who sought Jesus secretly. Not the best way to be a disciple. But here both Joseph and Nicodemus step up publicly in support of Jesus (even if it is to bury him).

I wondered about Joseph being "a respected member of the council"--the same council that condemned Jesus. Even if he "had not consented to their purpose and deed," as Luke says, it is no honor to be respected by those who sent Jesus to his death. Did Joseph continue as a member after this? We don't know. But I imagine he was not so well respected after laying Jesus, a condemned blasphemer, in his own new tomb.

This was a generous gift, to be commended. In his wealth, Joseph was far from Jesus' own example, far from "sell all, give to the poor, and follow me." But in this act he did give away something, at a great risk. This was definitely a step in the right direction. And if he continued acting this generously, he wouldn't continue to be a wealthy man for long.

Mark said Joseph was "looking for the kingdom of God." As he stepped out of the shadows and out of his fears, away from his wealth and the respect of the powerful, he may have begun to actually see it.


doesn't feel like family?

I'm having a relationship difficulty that reminded me of the difficulty between Christians of different denominations. Where we may admit that we believe these others are Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ, yet we don't feel very connected with them. They seem foreign to us. Maybe this is because of cultural differences, or points of doctrine, or our different ways of living the Christian life, but we don't really feel one with them even though we call ourselves parts of the same family, even the same Body.

Now I don't think simply that everyone is united, "ALL ONE!" as Dr. Bronner proclaims on his soap bottles. But those who are Christians, who confess Christ and offer signs in their lives that they are like him (and are becoming more like him), are truly united. When Paul heard of divisions in the Corinthian church, he asked incredulously, "Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor 1).

But there are denominations now. And some Christians do feel disconnected from one another. So what do we do?

I think the first thing to do is not accept those denominational lines and feelings of otherness as the reality. The reality is that Christ is not divided. If we are connected with him then we are connected with everyone else who is connected with him, we are brothers and sisters with them, we are the same Body. (I've tried to live this practically by worshipping and working with Christians of all kinds, wherever I find them.) And the deeper we enter into oneness with Christ, the more we will feel one with those who are his.

As for those Christians who don't feel this yet, I think the best thing to do is wait for them. We should neither despair nor try to force unity by debate or compromise. Dialogue may help, but it is often very limited. The simpler language of actions may communicate better. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jn 13.35) "For the tree is known by its fruit." (Mt 12.33) And we wait, resting in the oneness that is real, and waiting for them to recognize us as their family, their own body.

Then we can rejoice together.


vasovagal syncope

This past weekend Heather had a short fainting episode, brought on by a sharp intestinal pain. She's fine now. And she said she's fainted before when she experienced intense pain. It sounds like vasovagal syncope to me.

I think that's also the cause of my fainting episodes this past year. The first one caused me to fall and break my nose (and run up a large hospital bill). The second one was in a restaurant, but I didn't get hurt. When the ambulance came, I chose not to go to the hospital. Then I did some research and think I understand the cause (a vasovagal attack). Since then I've been able to recognize an attack coming on and avoid fainting. Some people are more prone to these than others (though most people experience it sometime in their life), but if care is taken there are no serious negative effects.

[Heather just said, "Maybe one day one of us will get to say to a doctor, 'Oh, that's just vasovagal syncope.'"]

This ailment seems like an appropriate one for me (and perhaps Heather, too). Because fainting is commonly seen as a sign of weakness. A perfect reminder, like Paul's:

A thorn was given me in the flesh... Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me,

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12.7-9)

And doesn't all illness offer us such a reminder, emphasizing our vulnerability and weakness, reminding us that we need to depend on God for our life? I don't believe illness is redemptive, or "a sharing in Christ's suffering," or some kind of martyrdom. Suffering illness is not the same as suffering for our faith. But illness can be a good reminder of our dependence on God and a way to grow in faith. And if we do that well, our endurance of illness can become a great witness to those around us as well.


"Take it"

From Dorothy Day's Loaves and Fishes, describing a scene in the first house of hospitality:

Mr. Breen remained with us until he died. As the end drew near, we all sat around his bedside, praying. In his last moments, Mr. Breen looked up at us and said,

"I have only one possession left in the world—my cane. I want you to have it. Take it—take it and wrap it around the necks of some of these bastards around here."

Then he turned on us a beatific smile. In his weak voice he whispered,

"God has been good to me."

And smiling, he died.


I thought of this New Yorker cartoon while at the conference this past weekend. It was during Nekeisha's very good presentation on capitalism as a religion, about our society's faith in the powerful, mysterious workings of "the Market."

how we look

Yesterday I came across this passage in Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart:

"You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth," said Akunna on one of [the missionary] Mr. Brown's visits. "We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods."

"There are no other gods," said Mr. Brown. "Chukwu is the only God and all the others are false. You carve a piece of wood--like that one" (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna's carved Ikenga hung), "and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood."

"Yes," said Akunna. "It is indeed a piece of wood. The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them for His messengers so that we could approach Him through them. It is like yourself. You are the head of your church."

"No," protested Mr. Brown. "The head of my church is God Himself."

"I know," said Akunna, "but there must be a head in this world among men. Somebody like yourself must be the head here."

"The head of my church in that sense is in England."

"That is exactly what I am saying. The head of your church is in your country. He has sent you here as his messenger. And you have also appointed your own messengers and servants. Or let me take another example, the District Commissioner. He is sent by your king."

"They have a queen," said the interpreter on his own account.

"Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma [court militia] to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person."

Despite what we say we believe as Christians, others see our actions. They see that our God needs functionaries and delegated authorities to manage his work, because it is "too great for one person." Or they see us as a human organization like any other, just with a different religious myth to hold it together.

But Jesus said we have one Master, and we are all brethren (Mt 23.8-10). And that God Himself would be in direct contact with each of us, inspiring our work and showing us what he is doing through us and others:
"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing....

"You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant 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 15.5,14-15)
This is very different from every human organization, and it should look different in practice, and so direct attention to the One God of All.


living water

It has been very dry here, so there was wonder and joy this morning when the thunder sounded and the rain began to fall. Heather and I walked to the fields under a big umbrella. And took off our shoes while we picked tomatoes, letting the mud ooze through our toes.

At times like this, it's easy to thank God for providing the water we need. It's easy for anyone to acknowlege our dependence on a power beyond ourselves. But I'm reminded that Jesus offered us something startlingly greater:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"

Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive... (Jn 7.37-39)
Not just the awareness of a God who provides, but a God who becomes one with us, a Source within us.

This offers a great and unique freedom. I was talking about it yesterday with Lynn (who's hosting Heather this summer). And emphasizing that, unlike every other human organization, God's people do not need an external organizational structure to guide and coordinate them. They do not need human CEOs to determine their goals and methods. The Spirit of God Himself is within them, each of them.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one...

All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor 12.4-6,11)
This is what makes the Body of Christ one, not a unified doctrine or administration, but a single, unifying Spirit. And we bear witness to this Spirit by demonstrating a oneness that it not dependent on human headship or structures.

At the conference this past weekend, I was disappointed to hear talk of trying to create new organizational structures to connect people and allow us to work more effectively. As if we are not already connected. As if we can organize ourselves more effectively than the Spirit can (if we will only listen). And I've often heard people talking of new institutional structures and calling them "new wineskins" for the new wine of the Spirit. As if the Spirit ever inhabits institutions. The Spirit is poured into people, never into dead structures but only and always into living persons.

If we feel disconnected or disorganized or in need of direction in our work as Christians, we need to turn to the Guide, the Teacher, the Source of our unity. To listen to the Spirit within us and help each other listen and be led. "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink."


one bread, one body

The last part of the camp meeting was a sharing time. Many shared thoughts similar to those I discussed yesterday. Then there was going to be a communion service.

So I got up and said that I have struggled while living in and among intentional communities, struggling mostly with the "intentional" part. The part that draws our man-made boundaries around people and things, boundaries of membership and property. The part that establishes man-made laws and authority structures. The part that uses our corporate power to impose our intentions on others. The part that defines "we" much too narrowly.

And I thanked them for closing with communion, which draws our attention away from our intentional communities and helps us focus on the one, true Community, the Body of Christ. As Paul wrote:

The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor 10.16-17)

I'm very thankful to God for the experience of the Body I've had here and at Reba Place, and at the Catholic Worker houses and personal homes I visited this summer. And I look forward to encountering and sharing life with God's Community in many other forms and places in the future.


young and old

The camp meeting is over and things have quieted down here again. But it was a fun weekend. Like a family reunion, several people said. And I enjoyed seeing friends from Reba Place again.

The meeting seemed to focus on the interactions between the older and younger generations. New, younger communities (like The Simple Way and Camden House) were there. And also the young interns from Reba Place. Many from the older communities are looking for young people to give their groups new life, or looking to see the next generation of intentional communities. At the meeting they welcomed the energy, new ideas, and risk-taking industriousness of the young. And several younger people thanked the older ones for sharing their wisdom and humility, gained through years of experience.

But as I listened to this, I began to feel uneasy. Because it sounded so familiar. The young honoring the wisdom of their elders; the elders commending the industriousness of the young. Isn't this common to all societies? In some cultures the elders are more honored, in others (like ours) the young are exalted more, but all seem to value the strength of youth and the experience of age.

And doesn't Christianity offer something more than this?

I thought of the images of the strong young man and the wise old man (or woman), so commonly honored among us, and wondered whether Jesus ever held up those images as examples for us. Or if the model he pointed to was quite different...

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18.1-3)
Not a strong young man or a wise old man, but a child.

Humility, energy, and wisdom are all good, but Jesus presented a different vision of these things. In variations of the saying above, Jesus used the child as a model for humility. It is not the humility of the older person who has learned it through repeated failures and disillusionment, or had it forced on them by encroaching weakness and dependency. It is the humility of the child who is happy to be protected and provided for, who doesn't want to be in charge. The humility that lets God be God, and is happy to be his child.

And the energy of children is also well known. But theirs is the energy of creative play. Not the driving dissatisfaction of the young person out to "change the world," not the pressure to "take responsibility" and "be a man." But the child's wonder and joy at what he has been given, and the satisfaction of making something with it. In another version of the saying, Jesus emphasized this childlike receptiveness: "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mk 10.15)

This humble, joyful receiving is also what sets God's Wisdom apart from the wisdom of human experience. Just as a child, close to the Source of their life, knows only by instinct and not by experience, true Wisdom comes, not from the hard knocks of human life, but from a connection to the Source, living Wisdom Herself. This is not our own accumulated lessons-learned, but the gift of God (through childlike faith). Paul emphasizes this difference in 1 Corinthians 1, concluding:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor 1.27-29)

Though every other society honors the strong young man and the wise old man, Jesus sets a child before us. Foolish in the world, weak in the world, low in the world. Shaming both young man and old man--and showing us the Way.


the holiest place

Last night, back at the farm for the rest of the Shalom Mission Communities camp meeting, we enjoyed a musicians and poets gathering. Heather offered this poem-prayer, based on Psalm 123. It was inspired by circumstances one summer that had sent her bicycling from church to church, asking for a temporary place to stay.

I lift my eyes to you Lord for a moment—
Then the light turns red and I brake.
The sun stares down hotly at this grimy-sweat stranger,
Glances sharp off the comfortable windows of cars
At the bike swimming desperately through traffic.
The girl waiting frantically for her God.
If you look closer, Lord, you might see my eyes have changed.
They're slave's eyes now; they watch your raised hand and know
You owe me nothing. Not the pay from my work, not shelter tonight,
Not protection; (the locked door we need, we who are prey). —Mercy.

So for mercy I come to these clean doors of glass,
to beg at this sanctuary of ease.
Inside, the cool air greets my face like a blessing. My stumbling story spills
Out among the organ's booming praise. My listener (busy frightened eyes)
Escapes the panhandler at last. I will see no other grace
From those who've always had what you owe no-one. The stares
Soak in like sweat stains. I am an insult here.

Rose, who I met through the Jesus Radicals discussion forum, also shared a poem that I really liked (and it offers a meaningful contrast to Heather's experience that summer):
I rush out of the house finely dressed in my sunny day best
And run straight up the trail to the holiest place in the meadow
Sheer grace all around me
I look up at the heavens so gospel true blue
Oh it's here that I come when I'm wanting to pray
When there's something needs saying to you

In my wildflower church I kneel down with my knees in the dirt
Full exposed to the heavens, no props no pretentions
Just this feeling I get and these thank yous to set on the altar

Yes this is the place where I gather my blessings
And make my confessions of passions inspired
By meadowsong choirs and moments transcendent and true

Oh give me this day a full measure of beauty
Of sun in my heart and joy in my duties
And let all who I meet share a taste of this sweet
Nectar communion with thee

Her 6-year-old daughter, Sophie, also went up to the microphone to sing a song, introducing it by saying, "This is really a kid's song, but I'll sing it anyway..."


on the road again, with the band

The Psalters' big black bus showed up at Plow Creek yesterday to drop someone off and then had to leave right away for the Jesus Radicals conference in Chicago. So Heather and I jumped on (Heather didn't even have time to go back for her shoes).

The Psalters are traveling musicians, a community of troubadours, pilgrims in a converted bus full of instruments, good books, and a little dog named Catfish. We had a lot in common. I hope to keep in touch with them. And the music was great at the foot washing service last night. Here's one of the songs they did (a gypsy-sounding version of it, with accordion, violin, and drums):

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav'lers on the road.
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony,
born of all we've known together of Christ's love and agony.

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

Andy's preaching was also very good. A transcript is available here. And the Psalters closed worship with their own song, "Refugee our Home." We all made a tramping sound with our feet for the basic rhythm, and chanted the low "Home, Home" mantra:
Revolution come free us,
Holy Brother us desert wanderers have no place to call home
Physician come heal us
Holy Mender us blind ol lepers can not find our way home

Refugee just like me please don't leave You're our only...
Home, Home, Home, Home...

Compassion come save us
Holy Lover us warmongers ruined this place we call home

Refugee just like me please don't leave You're our only...
Home, Home, Home, Home...


Today's Calvin & Hobbes seems to fit with yesterday's thoughts somehow...


child's play

Lots of kids here on the farm. And a certain rather annoying song that has become popular among them. Heather and I altered it into a more satisfying version:

This is the love that never ends
It just goes on and on, my friends
Some people started doing it, not knowing what it was
And now they go on doing it forever, just because
This is the love that never ends...

Then last night a new friend was showing me the Gospel of Thomas, and I noticed this verse...
Jesus said, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid."
...just as their daughter decided that it was too hot for clothes and dropped her shirt and diaper to the floor.

God's fruit is not built

Last night there was a discussion after dinner about political action and I brought up the thoughts in yesterday's journal entry. About the difference between "action" and "living." The difference between staged political events, rationally planned to produce some effect, and our natural, inspired responses to situations that we encounter in life. The previous evening I had been talking with another couple about learning to use our natural emotional energy to motivate a response in challenging situations. We often stifle this (in the moment) and opt for a more controlled response once we have "cooled off." This way is seen as "more effective." But this starts to look much more like political action than living.

And how about Jesus? As I look at the settings and the play of his emotions when he delivers his strongest challenges, they seem much more like life. Two examples:

Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come here." He said to them, "Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent.

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the [crippled] man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (Mk 3.1-5)

A Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.

And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places. Woe to you! for you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it."

One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, in saying this you reproach us also." And he said, "Woe to you lawyers also! for you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you!" (Lk 11.37-47)

Even in the story most used by political activists to validate their methods, Jesus seems to act, not in clear-headed calculation, but in the passion of the moment:
When he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation."

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers." (Lk 19.41-46)

Jesus was moved by the Spirit within him, the Spirit of life. And this is also what we should be attentive to in all the situations that life presents us, rather than trying to produce results through our own orchestrated "events."

God's fruit is not built, it grows.



I noticed this passage in Ellul's The Presence of the Kingdom:

The central problem which today confronts a Christian is not to know how to act, it is not to choose one method out of innumerable forms of action which the world suggests to us, it is not to act with, or against, or in any other way. When we see the innumerable efforts for action that the Churches make, when we see all the 'calls to action' and programs... we cannot help but be horrified at this miserable imitation of the world, of the works of the prince of this world.

...What matters is to live, and not to act. In this world, this is a revolutionary attitude, for the world only desires (utilitarian) action, and has no desire for life at all.

...What hinders us is that we can only conceive action in the rational form of mechanical means. We can no longer conceive it in the form which is constantly suggested in the Scriptures: the corn which grows, the leaven at work within the bread, the light which banishes the darkness.... Yet it is this kind of action which we can really have, because it is how the Holy Spirit works.

Thus it is the fact of living, with all its consequence, with all that it involves ["our words, our habits, our decisions"], which is the revolutionary act par excellence.... In a civilization which has lost the meaning of life, the most useful thing a Christian can do is live, and life, understood from the point of view of faith, has an explosive force. We are not aware of it, because we only believe in 'efficiency,' and life is not efficient.


"Without money and without cost"

The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
(Ps 145.15-16)

The day I arrived it rained two inches here, but it's been very dry this summer. The harvest is noticably smaller. Yesterday I read in the paper that this part of Illinois has been designated a national disaster area because of the drought. One of the farmers was quoted as saying that the lack of water had destroyed almost a third of his crop.

Wait a minute. Destroyed? I can understand saying that he wasn't able to grow as much as usual, but a drought doesn't destroy, it just doesn't give as much as we want or expect. The rain is a gift of God, as is the sunshine and the seeds and the growth of living things. Yet when the gift is less we say our crops are "destroyed."

The readings this Sunday emphasized God's way of giving gifts. From Isaiah 55:

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
Then we heard the story of Jesus feeding the crowds. The disciples wondered where they could get money to buy food for all those people. But Jesus told them to sit down and then he fed them. Free. A gift. The fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, the appearance of the kingdom of God.

And Jesus' act is a model for us as well. Heather has been reading The Long Loneliness, by Dorothy Day, and I noticed this passage the other day:
[Peter Maurin] always spoke of giving. Those who had land and tools should give. Those who had capital should give. Those who had labor should give that. "Love is an exchange of gifts," St. Ignatius had said. It was in these simple, practical, down-to-earth ways that people could show their love for each other.