meditation for the party-goer

This morning I randomly flipped to this entry from my journal, written eight years ago, at this time of year...

"Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may;
its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw."

As I've thought about these lines [by G.K. Chesterton], I've become more conscious of the true nature of joy. It has the nature of goodness, as a sharing of God's own nature. Thus true joy springs from an eternal source.

I think this important truth is obscured in many of our "joyful" celebrations. A celebration or holiday should be the result of some good in our lives, the expression of a joy that springs (hopefully) from some very deep well. But often the holiday or celebration becomes for us the cause for rejoicing. We anticipate and cling to the celebration, the holiday becomes exceedingly important, because it is a precious moment of happiness in a life that seems otherwise depressing. At least that's how it looks, especially during the holiday season. This season is seen as a crucial morale-booster, and when it's brief festivities are over, people are left in a funk. If there was truly something to be joyful about (besides the party itself), then the celebration would be a bonus, a brief expression of a joy that continues long after the streamers are swept away. Then celebration could be the enjoyable emotional release it's supposed to be. It could be the happy accessory to joy, because it doesn't have to be its source. Like a wedding reception: the newlyweds leave the party early, anticipating the lasting joy of a life together. Or like an ancient harvest festival: the celebration could be light-hearted, because the real joy was in the rich harvest that would sustain the community throughout the winter. Real joy does not need to grasp at brief pleasures "for their own sake," like a parched man straining for a drop of water. Because real joy has a real source, even an eternal source.

Chesterton makes another interesting comment about joy at the end of his book "Orthodoxy." He writes, "Joy... is the gigantic secret of the Christian." And he emphasizes both 'gigantic' and 'secret,' even connecting the two in the life of Jesus:

The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
Jesus himself spoke of his own joy, and commended it to his disciples: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full."(Jn 15.11) But it does seem that his joy was somehow restrained or hidden. That's odd.

In movies, Jesus has often been characterized as stoic or solemn, but as Chesterton points out, that's a characterization of our own worldly ideals, not Jesus. Just as the recently popular image of a "laughing Jesus" is a characterization of our own ideal. Obviously, our ideals change. But Jesus did not conform to our ideals; he didn't try to impress us by hiding his grief or his anger, or by showing off his joy. All of these have been selling points for philosophers and religious leaders throughout history, and we continue to see them today. But Jesus demonstrated a grief and an anger that didn't need to be hidden, and a joy that didn't need to be paraded.

That brings me back to the true nature of joy. Real joy doesn't necessarily need a celebration, it doesn't need to draw attention to itself, just as true grief doesn't need to be ashamed of itself and righteous anger doesn't need to suppress itself. But, as Chesterton notes, expressions of joy are noticeably absent in the Gospel descriptions of Jesus' life, making it seem like he was hiding his joy. Why? I like the suggestion that Jesus' joy was something primarily between him and his Father, best expressed in solitary prayer. And I also can believe that his joy was somehow too great to be publicly displayed. I can imagine a divine joy that might not be fitting for expression among sinful people. Or maybe Jesus wanted to avoid a serious misunderstanding; because the way to happiness is also the way of the cross. I have a feeling all these are hints about the truth. But I firmly believe that Jesus knew real joy, eternal joy, and that he is the eternal source of joy for us. Also, I believe the more real our joy is, the more it will look like his.


"how you favor the weak and lowly one"

Here's the song we sang on Christmas. We also used it often for evening prayer when we were on the road. From Marty Haugen's "Holden Evening Prayer."


Christmas night

For Christmas dinner, Heather made "Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic," prepared with chicken stock we made ourselves. Wonderful. (Though there weren't literally forty cloves; twenty, maybe.) It's a French recipe, and I made baguettes to go with it; we spread the roasted garlic on the bread. With ginger glazed carrots. A bottle of Chardonnay, too. And the dessert was also French, Pots de Crème au Chocolat, gloriously rich little chocolate custards.

At the end of the evening Heather read a short story she wrote about Jesus' birth. Here's an excerpt from the middle of it:

“How close together are they? Can you sit up? Here...” The midwife beckons me to slide my hips forward onto the torn blanket, and Joseph supports my shoulders as I try to push myself up on one arm. I inch myself forward, off our mat and onto the packed earth; I can feel it through the thin blanket, rock-hard and unforgiving under the weight of my hips. A wave of power and pain passes from the core of my body down towards my legs. Or not power... power going out of me, not coming in, yet it doesn’t feel like my own at all. I have no power. I am breathing fast. Can I do this? How much worse does it get? Will there be room for him to come out, through that place where I have never been touched? Will I tear?

When the angel came, there was strange light in the room, different from anything I knew. Like a color I’d never seen. It outlined everything so clearly—my needle and thread, the folds of that cloak in my lap, looked twice as real as they had ever been, almost alive... There is no light here. Rachel and the midwife crouch beside me in the dark, whispering.

I know what they think. They can’t help it. The oil lamp lies dead and silent in a corner of the doorway, and I will give birth in the dark. Sometimes I could wonder myself if I really saw that unreal light—that light more real than me...

Another pang grabs me and twists my body on the hard earth. Joseph’s hands on my shoulders grip harder and I can hear his whisper: Breathe... it’s all right Miriam... I’m here... I want to answer him somehow but all my breath is stolen.

I knew. The strange light and the strange voice, saying God was with me, God... I knew then that there was reason to fear. He told me not to, but he didn’t say I had nothing to fear. God’s favor, yes; I know the stories, I know how it is with those on whom God’s favor rests. Hard earth and darkness, David in the caves and Jeremiah in the cistern, yes, and your husband’s family all around you calling you a whore under their breath... God is with me. It’s His son they’ll call a bastard. I know. He knows.

Another pain is coming. I take a long slow breath in the huge dark.

We followed that by singing a song based on Mary's magnificat, and then took turns reading the passages from Luke and Isaiah that I quoted in the last entry. A good way to end the day. Maybe we'll make a tradition of it.


"he will assemble the outcasts of Israel"

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."

In that day the root of Jesse shall stand
as an ensign to the peoples;
him shall the nations seek,
and his dwellings shall be glorious.
In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time
to recover the remnant which is left of his people,
from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia,
from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath,
and from the coastlands of the sea.

He will raise an ensign for the nations,
and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.

...there will be a highway from Assyria
for the remnant which is left of his people,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from the land of Egypt.

And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

You will say in that day:
"I will give thanks to thee, O LORD,
for though thou wast angry with me,
thy anger turned away,
and thou didst comfort me.
"Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation."

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day:

"Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the nations,
proclaim that his name is exalted.

"Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel."
(Lk 2; Is 11, 12)


'tis the (electoral) season


by the lake where the waves were frozen

We found a tree cheap this morning, and are preparing to have our first guest over Christmas, Heather's close friend Roselyn, from Reba Place in Evanston. Heather's Christmas gift to me two years ago was a poem about our time together there:

By the lake where the waves were frozen
Into dunes of sand and snow,
Talking of art and abstract things,
You and I then would go.

In streets where air grew warmer
And slowly pale grass greened,
We spoke of people we knew, and hoped
Things were better than they seemed.

On that corner by the bushes,
Yellow flowers hung thick and wild
And you shuddered my heart into longing
When you spoke of faith like a child.

And the spring storms fell on the city,
and birds sang wild and sweet;
In the rain trees blossomed and flourished
And wet petals dropped at their feet.

And skies broke blue with the glory
God spoke when the world was made,
And earth was warm beneath my feet,
And I was sore afraid.

But I sat by the lake unfrozen
As it flashed the sun back to the sky
And asked God if this was madness
And could not believe the reply.

And my hand was in yours and yours in mine;
Uncertain the road we trod.
Yet we vow in the dark still to throw ourselves
into the arms of God.


This year's Christmas haiku. I usually try to choose a scene from
the nativity story that also somehow reflects my feelings or
experience that Christmas. This year it's Mary and Joseph's arrival
at the stable, and their grateful relief that God had provided a
place to rest, humble as it was.

I didn't manage to come up with a haiku last year, but the previous
one was about the shepherds, here.


"Who wants to own your own business?"

I read an article yesterday that seems like a good illustration of trusting God to bring success to our own plans and efforts. It's about the spread of the prosperity gospel in Latin America:

Doris Cuxun will never forget the words that shook her out of a daze one Sunday morning during a service at Showers of Grace, a Neo-Pentecostal megachurch here. "Who here wants to own your own business? Lift your hand!" the pastor hollered.

"I want to, I want to," she whispered amid the dancing and chanting.

...Early Pentecostals reached out to the poor with the idea that poverty on earth would lead to riches in heaven. They gained a reputation for being concerned only with the "otherwordly." But the movement has unabashedly adopted a new ethos: God doesn't want anyone to be poor.

This message, known as "prosperity theology" or "health and wealth gospel," is most often associated with the newer Neo-Pentecostal branches of the religion where adherents, mostly upper and middle class, fill massive megachurches. But in Guatemala even the more traditional denominations are adopting a message of social mobility, making the words "self-improvement" and "ascent" part of the daily lexicon.

...Edmundo Guillen, the head pastor of Showers of Grace, explains their mission: "Our greatest dream is that they all become entrepreneurs."

The success of such preaching and beliefs comes, I believe, through the optimism it encourages, the so-called "power of positive thinking." At least I don't think God's behind the entrepreneurial push. I don't hear any such preaching from Jesus, who chose to be poor himself.

It just never seemed to be God's way...


more than optimism

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides for ever. (Ps 125.1)

I've written a lot about dependence on God (including my last entry); I think it's the meaning of faith, and the essence of the spiritual life, the ultimate purpose of our existence. I thought of it again this morning as I read these lines.

But trusting God means more than just expecting God to bring success to our own plans and efforts; it's more than blind optimism based on how contritely we pray, "I trust you, God." We can't just trust God for results, for things to turn out well. We have to trust God for the beginning, not just for the end. We have to depend on God for the inspiration and guidance that will set our path and direct our choices and actions in the manner he would have us act. We have to trust God to give us the patience and faithfulness to avoid compromise and stay with his way and his purpose. And then we continue to trust God, to bring what he started to his completion.

Then we can expect "all these things" to be provided, as Jesus promised. Then we are "like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides for ever."


at Meribah and Massah

Traditionally, monks' daily prayer starts with psalm 95 (and so does the Jewish shabbat service), and I always start my day with that one, too. But it happens to end on a rather dark note:

Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers tested me,
they tried me, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, "Their hearts are astray,
these people do not know my ways."
Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest.

I looked up the story behind Meribah and Massah; it's in Exodus:
The people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?"

So Moses cried to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." And the Lord said to Moses, "Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink."

And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah [test] and Meribah [contention], because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the Lord to the test by saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Ex 17.3-7)

"Their hearts are astray," which angers God so much—this seems to be their lack of trust that God can provide for them there in the desert. Of course, it's easy to understand why they doubted, with no water anywhere around. But they had seen much coming out of Egypt. God expected them to know his ways.

This is not a minor thing. "Therefore I swore in my anger that they should not enter my rest." And how about us? What have we seen of God? And what great rest are we denying ourselves by our lack of trust, worried and driven like everyone else, acting as if we know nothing of God's ways?


"it is marvelous in our eyes"

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
(Ps 118.21-25)

This passage from prayer yesterday came back to me this morning. Last night at the church meeting it only took fifteen minutes for the community to decide that the Common Building apartment will be used for retreats. That also means we now have a place to move into and start preparing. It's been a long, uncertain road to get this far.

The line about rejection reminded me of our first attempt at retreat work, a year and a half ago. A crushing disappointment. But soon afterward, Plow Creek came to mind, which has many advantages over the retreat place we originally tried (much more acreage and natural beauty, larger community with kids too, close to Heather's relatives and our friends in Chicago, and more freedom in developing our own retreats). We had to wait quite a while, and at times it seemed very unlikely that it would work. But then we were surprised with an enthusiastic welcome almost a year ago. I even had thoughts then about using the Common Building apartment, but people were living in it, and there were a number of other objections to the idea. Now everyone is supporting and encouraging us to move in and get started.

I also hope that the retreat work here can be a focus of new life in the community. A means of reaching out and giving. And a way of exercising a more radical trust in God. When people come for the gatherings here this summer and next, it will be good to be able to tell of the new ministry for the poor here. And Heather and I hope our home, in the center of the community, will be a place of welcome and prayer for all the people who live here as well.



"good news for..."

One criticism of Malcolm X, and something he also tried to change, was that he was "all talk." That his work focused on preaching and speaking. Words. That's a common criticism that is overused and has much less weight than is supposed. I wrote about it a couple years ago ("only words"?):

And what of Jesus' many words? Looking at the passage quoted yesterday, we see how Jesus saw his own mission: "to preach good news," "to proclaim release." Words. And this is what he did, not physically opening jails or throwing off oppressors, but announcing freedom. Even his healings came, not through physical skill or work, but through the healing word.

One thing I admire in the words of Malcolm X is that they spoke to the people at the bottom. They offered dignity and hope to the most oppressed. He was accepted as one of them (more than any other civil rights leader) and his words spoke to their hearts powerfully.

I hear the folks who put on the conference PAPAfest ("People Against Poverty and Apathy") are inquiring about having it here this year. I'm not sure if it will work because of the large number of people who attend that gathering, and it happens in June, a very busy time for the farm. But it would be fun. And probably good for the community here, letting lots of young people know we're here.

I've started getting a little uncomfortable, though, with such gatherings (and related popular books, and magazines like Geez). Because, while they say good things about giving up affluent lifestyles and helping the poor, the preaching/ministry seems primarily focused on middle-class, white young people. Of course these folks need preaching, too, and it's not a bad message. But it starts to feel more like helping ourselves than helping the poor.

And I wonder what a truly poor or oppressed person would make of such a gathering (if they ever showed up there). Would it make any sense? Would there be anything to offer that person? Would they hear "good news for the poor"?

I'm not sure how well we'll be able to offer a powerful word, proclaim freedom, announce good news, to those who come for retreats here. But I pray we learn to do it like Jesus did.


"as the eyes of a maid"

This morning I thought of these lines from psalm 123:

Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God

That's the kind of waiting on God I was thinking of in the last entry. Waiting for the word or sign of what to do next, as well as waiting for the care and protection that comes from the Master we trust. A waiting not from a distance but close.


waiting on God

The advent season has begun and there was discussion on Sunday about waiting. Not surprisingly, this focused on the idea of waiting for Jesus' return. And natural parallels were made between this (Christian) waiting and the Jewish waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Waiting for God to set things right, waiting for suffering to end, waiting for God's promise to be fulfilled. But this raises an uncomfortable question. Is our waiting the same? Don't we say the Messiah has already come? But we're still waiting for the promise to be fulfilled? The Christian explanation usually says something cryptic about "already and not yet" or "Jesus is already with us, but... It's hard to explain." And for all practical purposes our waiting for Jesus' coming is no different from the waiting of the expectant Jewish believer. Which isn't so bad; it's not a futile waiting. Just far less than Jesus offered to us. When Jesus began preaching, he proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand!" (Mk 1.15) The waiting for the Messiah—God With Us— is over; he is with us always, to the end of the age. We are invited into his promised "kingdom of God." For those who follow him, eternal life begins now. Waiting on God thus takes on a whole new meaning. Not waiting for God to reveal himself, not waiting for our exile to end, not waiting for the Good to prevail. All this has been (and can be for us) fulfilled already. We can now live the life Jesus lived and promised for his followers. Our waiting on God now takes on an immediate sense, the experience of God present and our utter reliance him, continually looking to our Father moment by moment for protection, provision, guidance, motivation, answers, justice, peace. Not the waiting of absence, but the waiting of intimate dependence.


a man of action

I found a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X on a bookshelf here and am rereading it. A pretty gripping story. From a life of crime to the most popular leader in the Nation of Islam to his conversion to true Islam. There is much in his character to admire, and it is impressive how influential he became. It's sad that his life ended just as he was beginning to truly see the light.

The intensity of his life and relentlessness in acting on his convictions have made me wonder a bit whether I've taken too quiet a path. He says: "I've never been one for inaction. Everything I've felt strongly about, I've done something about." And his energy and zeal certainly made an impact on many people. But the tragedy is that he eventually realized that he had been relentlessly preaching a religion practically as racist as the people he denounced. Men of action are so admired, yet how often do they end up wishing their action could be undone?

Interestingly, in the epilogue Malcolm X is commenting on the threatening response when he left the Nation of Islam and remarks heatedly, "There's nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."


settling, as they say

We've been busy covering the strawberry rows with straw, the very long strawberry rows, and there's lots of them. Then there was an ice storm yesterday that knocked out our internet access for most of the day.

But we were able to have one meeting this week about a place for us to move and have retreats, and it went well. And hopefully at the church meeting next Monday we'll get a decision. So we may be able to start setting up house in a little over a week.

I find I'm nervous about it. Maybe because it seems like a big step, and a lot to take on with no stable source of income (and no furniture, not even a bed). But I'm beginning to think there's more to it for me. Yesterday in my prayers I came to psalm 105 again. It was the psalm "given" to us last year when we thought we had found a home in Virginia. About the Hebrews' pilgrimage and their arrival in the promised land. It seemed appropriate at the time, but then we were bitterly disappointed. Now it seems more likely that we will be able to live and work and join the community here long term. Settle down, as they say. Maybe that's what makes me nervous.

I've spoken and written so many times about the importance of being "strangers and exiles" (especially here, but also much earlier here). I remember often repeating how Israel's most faithful times were when they were exiles and pilgrims, and how they fell away from God when they became settled and gathered wealth and security around them. This same effect also appears in the history of most every religious congregation or organization. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the thought of moving in here leaves me feeling a bit on edge.

In the way we've envisioned our life here, there are some things that may help prevent us from becoming too settled. We won't own the place we live in, or store up savings or property, and our only income will be donations, which is far from stable or secure. Our home will also be intentionally set aside as a place of regular hospitality. I know that's not enough in itself, but it should help. We'll have to be continually vigilant and dependent on God to preserve us from settling.

I like the point in one of those old entries about Jesus “pitching his tent” among us (Jn 1:14, literally translated). Maybe that image will be helpful for me.


'tis the season

I've enjoyed flipping back to past entries (using the link on the right). Here's one from last year that's worth seeing again...

The inspiration for Christmas gift-giving (and for Santa Claus) is St. Nicolas of Myra. Not a whole lot is known about him, but this story seems to be the reason for his reputation:

A poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of their plight, Nicholas decided to help them but being too modest (or too shy) to help publicly, he went to their house under the cover of night and threw three purses filled with gold coins through the window. One version of the story has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes "of age." Invariably the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Nicholas say it is not him he should thank but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead.

People soon began to suspect that Nicolas was behind a large number of other anonymous gifts to the poor, using the inheritance from his wealthy parents. After he died, people in the region continued to give to the poor anonymously, and such gifts were still often attributed to St. Nicholas.

A pretty inspiring example. But right away I notice that his giving was very different from our Christmas gift exchanges. Take each point I mentioned yesterday: Nicolas gives without expecting anything back; he gives to someone who most likely can't pay him back (as Jesus taught us). Nicolas gives quietly, anonymously, avoiding praise. And he didn't give for the sake of a holiday; he gave because he saw someone in need right then, and he responded to that need. That's real gift-giving. So very different from our Christmas distortion.

Where I'm living right now, in a Christian intentional community, Christmas gift-giving has been moved to Epiphany, or "Three Kings Day." To try to connect the traditional gifts with the wise men's gifts, something more meaningful than Santa. But the distortions of gift-giving are pretty much the same (a public, seasonal exchange, among people who don't really need anything).

And what of the wise men? Again, their gift-giving is very different. They give to someone in need, a poor family from Nazareth, who cannot repay. And it wasn't any holiday. They gave when God moved them to give. We made a holiday of it because their giving was truly beautiful.

But why don't we follow their example?


good to be back

We arrived back at Plow Creek farm on Thanksgiving day. Our friends from Reba Place, Greg and Heather Clark, are here for a year sabbatical, so we joined them for the feast. Then we spent the weekend in the retreat cabin, figuring out how to stay warm with a wood stove.

It's good to be back. Everyone joined in cutting and splitting wood the morning after Thanksgiving, and there was a common meal that evening. Next weekend we're planning to talk about our walk and tell about experiences that helped shape our ideas for the retreat work.

But we're not sure what space we'll be moving into yet. One possibility is the lower level of the common building (pictured), which seems like it might work well for us and for retreats. That needs to be discussed with everyone, though, and it may take a few weeks to make a decision. So it'll be slow here at first.

That's a little hard, since we're eager to get started. But perhaps it's another good practice of waiting on God. We didn't get this far by hard work and ambitious energy, and we need to be careful to continue to listen and wait and only go ahead when the way is opened for us. It's not our project, or our work.

We're very close to seeing another big part of the gift God is giving. I need to be patient and savor that gift.


I found a good Thanksgiving addition for the site, a way to take a random look back and read old journal entries. It's now on the right, under "From The Archive."


holy darkness

I've been thinking of putting together a service for night prayer, which is said right before going to bed, that Heather and I could use, maybe invite others to join us, and also for retreats. And I remembered this song by Dan Schutte, "Holy Darkness," inspired by the writings of John of the Cross. I used to use it when I led night prayer with the Dominicans.

I have tried you in fires of affliction;
I have taught your soul to grieve.
In the barren soil of your loneliness,
there I will plant my seed.

I have taught you the price of compassion;
you have stood before the grave.
Though my love can seem
like a raging storm,
this is the love that saves.

Were you there when I raised up the mountains?
Can you guide the morning star?
Does the hawk take flight
when you give command?
Why do you doubt my pow'r?

I think I also might use Psalm 121 and Psalm 131:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a child quieted at its mother's breast;
like a child that is quieted is my soul.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and for evermore.


"a blessing to be shared"

I was encouraged to see these thoughts in an e-mail from one of the farm managers at Plow Creek, reflecting on his experiences over the past few years:

Might some adjustment to the business model help us actually rejoice over crops as a blessing to be shared, and not primarily as marketable income potential to be realized? If we are relieved from the vice of accumulated riches, shouldn’t we also be free from the vice of seeking after them? If this farm is really a ministry, how can that be reflected in the produce we give out and the money we take in? Part of the solution, I believe, lies in the CSA model which we have already come to appreciate (currently 15% of farm income). Another piece, also a natural fit for Plow Creek and its friends, is to make the charitable giving of fresh produce a central part of the farm’s plan and purpose.
It reminded me of something I wrote last spring while working on the farm: "I hope everyone here can enjoy the richness, even luxury, of these good things, and not get overwhelmed by the increasing demands of the farm work. Or distracted by the desire to turn the harvest into income."

He also offered the example of the Food Bank Farm, in Massachusetts, which gives a large percentage of its produce to the food bank there. I'd love to see Plow Creek move in this direction.


back north

I gave a talk this morning at my dad's church men's group, and it was pretty well received. The focus was on the passage that also serves as the basis for our retreat work:

Jesus said to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid.

"But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Lk 14.12-14)

Tomorrow morning we'll ride the bus back to Chicago, and spend the weekend with friends at Reba Place fellowship. We may also get a chance to meet with Bill Creed, who started the Ignatian Spirituality Project, and who has been supportive in developing our retreat plans.



We're finally getting some prints made of our wedding photos, so we've been cropping and editing. This shot was perfect as is, though (click it to appreciate the vibrant emotion playing across our faces). When we get back to Plow Creek in a week, we'll be staying in the retreat cabin for a few days, without running water or electricity, like we did for our honeymoon. It'll be a bit colder this time, however...


for veterans day

Every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9.5-6

I was walking alone along the road outside a monastery in England, thinking about where I was. AWOL in a foreign country. I'd gone on a two-week leave several months ago, but instead of driving back and reporting for duty on the aircraft carrier I had boarded a plane. It felt like the only thing I could do. And I didn't think I deserved to be punished for it, so I'd fled.

These weeks of walking the Scottish moors and visiting monasteries to rest and pray had soothed some of the turmoil inside me. But still I didn't know where I was going. The initial gut-wrenching fear had eventually settled into the thrill of a new adventure, but it was now threatening to sink into dread. What would happen if I stopped running? Was my life ruined? Turned inward, I didn't notice the trees around me or the ancient stonework of the monastery. Was this all a terrible mistake?

That was when I first felt it. Deep inside, down in a dark part of myself where I never looked, it felt like something was moving. Like the stirring of a hibernating animal, something large. The slow uncoiling of a hidden predator. I couldn't see anything clearly, but it felt real enough to inspire awe at the power of the thing. It was enough to frighten me, yet the deep sensation was not fear. I remember thinking: Not yet. But it was coming. And it excited me.

It's a true story. For the rest of it: "A conscientious objection"


is the only one
who does not grow tired
of listening to a man.

—Soren Kierkegaard


evening prayer

We found a nice place near my parents' house to sit and pray in
the evening. When Heather's not climbing on the rocks...


take it up

I was reading in John 19 the other day, and noticed this line: "So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull..." Perhaps it caught my attention because in the other three Gospels, we are told that Simon of Cyrene carries the cross for Jesus (Mt 27.32; Mk 15.21; Lk 23.26). Maybe Jesus started out carrying his cross then Simon had to take over. I like how that shows Jesus' vulnerability and his need of help, right to the end.

It seems important to me that Jesus didn't carry his cross. We often hear the words about "bearing our own cross," urging us forward under the load. But someone else came when Jesus' cross was too heavy and took it off him (even if it wasn't a voluntary act of compassion, the cross was taken off).

The passage we think of most often actually says, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mk 8.34) Take it up, not bear it. The willingness to take up the cross is important, even if we don't think we can carry it. If we can't (like Jesus couldn't), we can trust there will be someone there to lift it from us. It may even me more of a denial of self to admit that we cannot carry our cross and let someone else take it.


A few pictures from the Renaissance fair we enjoyed this weekend, a belated birthday gift for Heather from my parents. To hear the band, the Empty Hats, click here.


"...and him who has no helper"

I came across these lines in Psalm 72 this morning, and they reminded me of the letter I just sent back to our church. The psalm is about God being glorified, specifically as the one who helps those who have no other help:

May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.


we'll be taking the bus back

Last week I briefly mentioned that housing space has opened up at Plow Creek farm, so we're thinking of returning there soon. There's more to that part of the story. When we left the farm in July, their housing space was completely full (since our wedding we'd been staying with another couple, in their guest room). So there wasn't room for retreat work, and we didn't know when there would be. We were hoping that space would open up by the spring, when we planned to return, or we'd at least have an idea by then when there would be an opening.

We didn't have a good plan for the winter, though. I'd had thoughts of walking down to the Florida Keys, as I'd done years ago, but this time offering presentations to churches dealing with homelessness and our experiences with street churches on our walk. Not a bad idea, but quite a long shot. Churches aren't too receptive to unsolicited offers of presentations by unknown (and unaffiliated) people, I'd guess. And did we really want to start walking again, after three and a half months on the road?

As it turned out, two families decided to move from their places on the farm near the end of October, just as we were ending our walk. And now it looks like the best idea is to go back in a couple weeks. That way we can take part in the discussions about use of the newly open space, and then spend the relatively unbusy winter making preparations for the retreat work.

Oh, I don't think I mentioned how we could afford to move into a new place and pay for the early expenses of preparing guest rooms, etc. There was some money from wedding gifts and a gift from the Plow creek community, which started a church fund for the retreats. But the biggest surprise was a gift from Heather's grandparents. As missionaries they had once been given a very large legacy, more than they needed, so they decided to pass that on to their grandchildren. Heather didn't know about it. Her parents sprung it on us around the time of the wedding, and it seemed like just what we would need during the retreat preparations, before others knew about the ministry and could help. Now it allows us to go back this winter and get things started.

I guess all this is just another way of God providing a way forward, very much like we experienced on the road. I'm praying we can maintain the same spirit of complete dependence on God that I've learned through my many pilgrimage experiences. I know it will be somewhat different as our situation and needs change, but the early signs are that it may not be so different...


Happy All Saints Day!


one more letter

I've been working on a short letter to give a feel for the second half of our walk, to send to our church back at Plow Creek farm. Here's the beginning of it:

We were just about to lay down for the night, on the concrete under a church's picnic shelter, a dry and quiet place to sleep before the long stretch tomorrow. There was twenty-six miles of road ahead with no towns, further than we could walk in a day. I was a little nervous about it. That's when the police car pulled up, its headlights trained on us.

We approached the car as the officer got out. Initial pleasantries were exchanged. As I began to explain about our walk, the officer asked Heather to take her hand out of her pocket—he was keeping an eye on our hands—and then asked if we had any identification. But his questions became less suspicious the more he heard. And after a few minutes he was trying to think of how to help us. He couldn't leave us at the church since someone had called to have us removed, but he saw that we were no threat. So he offered to drive us to a sheltered place twelve miles down the road.

We climbed into the caged back seat, where the door handles don't work, and set off into the night. The officer asked us more questions and we talked about our visits with people and how God had taken care of us and the retreat work we were planning to do when we finished the walk. The police radio squawked. A cheerleader had apparently fainted at the high school football game. "Cheerleader down," we joked, "repeat, we have a cheerleader down!"...

The whole letter is available here. The letter I wrote for the first half of the walk is available here.



morning songs

Lady Lake, FL

From Psalm 59, the psalm I prayed this morning...

I will sing of your might;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
and a refuge in the day of my distress.

O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.

I also just found some online audio files of singing by the Burundi refugees at Jubilee Partners, who we visited and sang with on our walk. (To hear them, click here.)


the finish line

Jennings, FL

We happened upon another revival last night, and were invited to come in. Good music and energetic preaching (with a bit of dancing thrown in). The pastor that organized it even asked us to come up at the end and be prayed over, and he anointed us with oil on the forehead and hands. I'll always remember him for his unusual praise exclamation—Halelu-yeaaah!

Then this morning a woman arriving at the church we slept at found us just finishing our breakfast, and recognized us as the walkers she'd seen on the road. "You seemed to be having a great time," she remarked. She left to take her son to school and returned with a friend who wanted to meet us, and we talked enthusiastically for about an hour. A good, encouraging conversation to send us off this morning.

Then one more seven mile stretch and we arrived at the sign that marked the finish line of my first pilgrimage. For the past week I'd been remembering experiences along this road, and now we arrived in this small town where my parents had come to get me at the end of my first walk seven years ago. It seemed right to end this walk here as well. Mom and Dad were glad to come get us; they walked into the library just as I was typing this.

We've heard that housing space has opened up at Plow Creek now, so we're thinking about the possibility of going back there soon, to start preparing for the retreat work that we've been telling everyone about. Maybe after a few weeks of rest. It's been a long road—more than 1400 miles over three and a half months—and a very good one.



"it growled at us!"

Lake Park, GA

Something awakened me outside the church early this morning. Heather stirred. Then informed me, "It's a dog—it growled at us!"

I looked up and it was a big, black dog, very close. But my first instinct was to say, in the pleasantest voice I could muster, "It's okay, boy, it's okay." And that did the trick. He seemed to recognize us and started to wag and even acted like he wanted to come over for a pet. But then he and his buddy dog wandered off, continuing their morning romp. I've often noticed that dogs wandering free seem to be the happiest and least aggressive.

That was our excitement this morning. Tomorrow's excitement (God willing) will be walking across the state line into Florida.


just another Red Sea

Valdosta, GA

We were invited to a church yesterday that happened to be having a celebration meal afterwards, so our first hot meal in a week was all-you-can-eat barbecue chicken. We were also surprised by a big gift at that church. Rain held us up that afternoon, but we did find another church just as its evening service was starting. A revival in a small charismatic church. With good, southern gospel music. I liked this one, called "It's Just Another Red Sea":

Well let me tell you 'bout a story, the prophet Daniel told
How three Hebrew boys wouldn't bow to the Kings image of gold
Well he threw them in the fire, but the Lord was there too
And he delivered them the same way He'll deliver you

It's just another Red Sea
That the Lord will walk you through
It's just another giant
Like the one that David slew
Well it's just another battle
An opportunity, for you to claim the victory
Don't worry when the water looks deep
It's just another red sea

So you say you've got a problem, feelin' helpless and afraid
Another dead-end situation, with no hope for your escape
Just remember when it looks like you have faced your final hour
God sees it as another chance to move and prove His power

We got to sleep inside there, but no chance for a shower or clothes washing. So I'm dragging a little today. I don't like being dirty. And I may be getting a little tired, after three and a half months. My parents have been asking about coming up to get us once we make it into Florida, and we're thinking of taking them up on that.


"y'all can go out to the cotton fields, too"

Hahira, GA

We're getting near the end of the deep south, and I wanted to remember the cotton fields we've been walking by. (I've also been reading the southern classic To Kill a Mockingbird.) Here's a passage from Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch version of the bible to go with it:

"The God Movement is like a farmer who went out early in the morning to hire some field workers. Having settled on a wage of ten dollars a day, he sent them into the cotton field. Then about nine he went to town and saw others standing around idle. So he said to them, ‘Y’all go on out to the fields, and I'll pay you what’s right.’ And they went. He did the same thing about noon, and again around three. Then about an hour before quitting time, he saw some others just hanging around. ‘Why have y’all been knocking around here all day doing nothing?’ he asked. ‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they answered. ‘Okay, then y’all can go out to the cotton fields too,’ he said.

"At the end of the day the farmer said to his field boss, ‘Call the workers and pay them off, starting with those who came last and continuing to the first ones.’ Well, those who came an hour before quitting time were called up and were each paid ten dollars. Now those who got there first thing in the morning supposed that they would get much more, but when they were paid off, they too got ten dollars. At that, they raised a squawk against the farmer. ‘These latecomers didn’t put in but one hour, and you’ve done the same by them as you did by us who stood in the hot sun and the scorching wind.’

"But the farmer said to one of them, ‘Listen, buddy, I haven’t mistreated you. Didn’t you and I settle on ten dollars a day? Now pick up your pay and run along. I’m determined to give this last fellow exactly the same as you. Isn’t it okay for me to do as I please with what’s mine? Or are you bellyaching simply because I’ve been generous?’ That’s the way it is: Those on the bottom will be on top, and those on top will be on the bottom." (Mt 20.1-16)


rainy reminiscence

Adel, GA

Lots of rain. Last night, hard, and then five straight hours of it this morning. We stayed dry, though, under a church's picnic shelter. And a short ride yesterday and again today allowed us to make good progress anyway.

The long rain reminded me of my first walk, passing along this same road seven years ago. Here's a passage from that journal, written along this stretch:

I was a little ashamed of the church last night. I arrived at a church in the late afternoon, tired from walking all day. Just as I sat down, a church van pulled up, bringing members back from some function. I was sitting on the front steps. Of course everyone could see me, a few walked right by me, saying nothing, until I asked one woman when Sunday services were held. After they left, a woman wandered over from next door, looking for her cat. We talked a little; then when she left, her son came over and I talked to him. He was impressed that I wanted to be poor, that I'd "rather be doing this than driving a Cadillac," like other preachers. He asked how much money I had ($1), and promptly pulled out his wallet and gave me a ten. Then he invited me to his house. We had real Southern fried chicken, talked for over an hour, and they gave me something for breakfast (though they were by no means wealthy). Then the mother called the pastor of the church, to see if he'd let me stay inside. Nope. They'd had problems, so it wasn't their policy anymore. I couldn't stay with my hosts because they had cats [I'm allergic], but they gave me a blanket and I slept just fine outside the church. "I'd rather sleep on the threshold of the house of God..."(Ps 84.10) Those people were great; I'm just sorry the church looked so empty-hearted in front of them.

The members of the church turned out to be much more impressive than the pastor. The Sunday school was good (a rare find!), much better than the preaching; and the music was excellent. At the end of the service the pastor did mention my pilgrimage, apparently forgetting that the pilgrim that he was now commending was the same pilgrim he turned away the night before. Two people also gave me gifts: $30. And I met a big guy, "Bane," who hung around me all morning and even stayed and ate lunch with me. He was huge and somewhat limited mentally, but very gentle. Happy and interested, too. He gave me a pack of gum as a gift. After lunch, the guy from last night ("Big John" West) pulled up and offered me a ride to the next town. I got some food there and walked to the outskirts, finding a place to stop just as the rain started. Now it's been raining for a couple hours. I'm on the covered porch of a "Jaycees" meeting hall, with my poncho hung up to shield me from the splashing drops. Looks like I'll be here all night.

...That night turned out to be a wet one. A tropical storm had moved inland from the Gulf, triggering 18 hours of rain where I was. I managed to stay dry until about 6am, then had to flee to a warehouse across the street. Talked to a couple of truckers there about my pilgrimage. I couldn't proceed in the rain, so I walked back towards town, where I had seen a laundromat not too far back.

There I met old Samuel. We talked probably an hour about politics and money in the church, and how he felt his church often seemed to be more about entertainment than worship. He also didn't think much of seminaries: "That's not where you learn to preach; that's where you learn to manipulate people." He was something of a preacher himself—a prophetic type, true to his name.

And yesterday, for the first time, I stopped in a homeless shelter. I was worried about the cold and the rain that wouldn't stop. The place was funded solely by donations, and had 20 or so occupants. Not a real uplifting place, though. There were Bible verses tacked up everywhere, but I didn't find them comforting at all. They came across as a stern voice spewing propaganda. I ate lunch there (not bad), then left. It rained a little more on me as I got started, but the sky was clear by evening and I had covered almost 20 miles (surprising myself). Big monster mosquitoes as I walked. They were gone, though, when I found a church for the night.

I hope the mosquitoes are smaller this time...


playing cards with popcorn

Lenox, GA

We were approaching a church last night, wondering whether to go into the service late, when an older man called out to us from across the street. He had seen us walking around and wondered if we needed a place to stay for the night. We talked with him a bit, then accepted. It was funny, though, no matter what we said, Gaye held onto his assumption that we were simply homeless (which I guess is literally true at the moment) and kept giving us advice from times when he had been homeless. "I been there," he kept saying.

We got to take a much needed shower, then his neighbor brought over some sandwiches and pillows for us to use. And another neighbor, a black woman named Popcorn, came over and taught us how to play Deuces. None of them seemed far from poverty, but they were very hospitable to us. "It's what Jesus would do, right?" Gaye said. We slept safely and well on the floor of his one-room apartment, thanking him as he sent us off with a couple packs of crackers, which he was sure we would need. "I been there," he said.


his name is Van

Tifton, GA

Yesterday a man approached us while we were waiting for the library to open. He asked whether we knew of anywhere to get help; he had been on a bus home to his wife and child in Florida and got robbed during a layover in Atlanta. So he was without a ticket or money or identification. He'd gotten a ride this far with a trucker, but then couldn't get another ride or any work (or even shelter, since he had no ID). He'd been stranded here two days. Harassed by the police and turned away by churches. With little sleep and running out of hope, he was a bit frantic.

It reminded us of our days at the Catholic Worker. We listened to him, and also told him our story, and offered food. But he didn't want to take any (since he saw us as little better off than himself). He said the Lord would help him. So we went with him into the library to get phone numbers of places that might help, as well as the number for the bus station so we could see exactly how much the ticket would be. We were willing to offer some money for his ticket, but I doubted we could pay the full fare. The library wouldn't let us use their phone, so he walked to find the nearest pay phone.

When he returned, he was smiling. He had run into someone who let him use their cell phone, and who then offered to pay for his ticket. He had just come back to tell us, and thank us. And give us hug (Heather even got a kiss on the cheek).

We hadn't done much, though, to deserve such gratitude. Just listened, and helped him calm down and keep trying. Acted as a friend to him when everyone else seemed to be turning him away or calling the police.

Afterwards, I thought that this is the way I hope we can help others in the future. By being with them and encouraging their faith, not above them as benefactors but alongside. Rejoicing together when God comes to their aid as he comes to ours.

As we were walking out of town that evening, a young man offered us a ride, and even took us farther than he was going, a two day walk. When we mentioned our plans for a retreat ministry for people coming out of homelessness and addiction, he was very encouraging. That's when he told us he is a recovering drug user himself. "We can't do it without God," he said.


a reminder for spiritual directors

Acree, GA

I saw this line by Simone Weil in a library recently (written in a farewell letter to her spiritual director) and I wanted to remember it:

As to the spiritual direction of my soul, I think that God himself has taken it in hand from the start and still looks after it.

I also wanted to remember seeing the razorwire along the top of a fence, with a fine ivy (perhaps a variety of Morning Glory?) climbing up to it. In places, the ivy had wrapped around the razorwire so completely that the leaves and small purple flowers were all that could be seen.


"like so many soft rootlets"

Albany, GA

We walked away from Koinonia farm yesterday, fallen pecans crunching underfoot. Our visit there worked out very well. Ann, who had visited Reba Place in January, offered us her house since she was away, so we had a little place of our own for the week. And we were able to be inside during an unexpectedly early appearance of some cold nights. All the folks there welcomed us as family, too.

For some reason, I'm reminded of this quote by William James. I'm not sure if it was read at a devotion time at Koinonia, or if it just came to mind in connection with my recent thoughts on Clarence Jordan. I very much agree with it:

I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of man’s pride, if you give them time. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top.

The walk yesterday was quiet, through woods on a red dirt road, no traffic. We scared a deer off the road at one point. And Heather discovered some small, ripe persimmons.

We stopped in the first town and found a church with an evening service, and ended up at the pastor's house soon after. Then followed the youth group out to play flag football. Pizza followed. And we found out that, Tina, the pastor's wife, was driving to Albany this morning for work (a two day walk for us). We're almost getting used to being carried along.


"Let brotherly love continue..."

Just got this surprising (and encouraging) e-mail from the pastor of a church we visited several weeks ago...

Brother Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me with the overview of your pilgrimage. I shared a message from Hebrews 13:1-3 about God's Call in the life of a Believer ["Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body."]. This message really hit home to a lot of people as I explained to them the reasoning behind the message.

You see, I am the pastor of the church that you and your wife visited back in September in Lake Wylie, SC. It was my wife that would not give permission for you two to stay there. I did not find out about the situation till the next day as no one called to inform me of the request.

I had not thought anything else about this till someone showed me where you had blogged about the situation. God used this to really burden me about the missed opportunities Christians have to do ministry and also how some people give up everything, just to reach certain people groups. I admire and praise God for you and your new bride for living the life of those you seek to reach.

I would like to ask if you are ever coming through this area again, I would love for you and your wife to share with our church family. If I can ever be of assistance feel free to call. [His phone number was included.]

In His Service,

Brother Jerry


various endings

We've been enjoying work in the bakery here, packing pecans—including hickory smoked and cinnamon spiced—and also chocolate (with pecans, of course). A tasty and aromatic place to work.

I believe the mail-order pecan business here was started back in the 50s when Koinonia was under a local boycott (because black and white people were living and working together here when tensions over racial issues were coming to a head). We saw a film about those times. I was impressed about Clarence Jordan's faithfulness under such intense pressure. And how he died without much notice or honor in this area (his renown mostly came after his death).

In contrast, Millard Fuller, who came up with the idea for Habitat for Humanity with Jordan, developed that organization into a huge, successful institution, and was highly acclaimed. Now I hear he has been forced out of leadership of that organization by the board of directors. He's 70 years old.

And I'm also reminded of Mother Teresa's story. Another widely acclaimed ministry, though it seems she suffered almost lifelong spiritual emptiness.

I have to say, I find Clarence Jordan's story much more like the example Jesus' left for us.


without even sticking out a thumb

Americus, GA

We arrived at Koinonia Farm yesterday evening, just as the sun was setting over the fields. Someone came out and welcomed us joyfully, though we were several days early. It was hard to believe we had started the day over 45 miles away.

We had traveled so quickly, it's hard to keep track of it all. After Darlene dropped us off, we'd only walked a few miles out of that town and found a quiet church with shelter for the night. But it turned out to be an eventful evening. An old truck pulled up with two big guys in it, asking us a bunch of suspicious questions, but our answers seemed to satisfy them and they left. Just as we were about to lay down, though, a police car pulled up. Someone had seen us and called him. When he heard our story he was sympathetic, but couldn't let us stay there because of the complaint, so he offered to drive us thirteen miles further down the road to another sheltered place there. So we got a ride in the back of a police car (where the door handles don't work). We talked with him more on the way, and when he dropped us off he gave us the last three dollars in his wallet, apologizing that he didn't have more.

That long ride allowed us to reach the next town by evening, after a nice walk through the rolling Georgia countryside, and we found grocery store and a church to sleep at. We attended there the next morning. And met the pastor, Eddie, who invited us home with him for Sunday dinner and a much needed clothes washing. Then back to the church while he prepared for the evening service, where we got to shower in the "bridal suite" (a nicely decorated room for use during weddings). After the service we went home with Eddie and Stacy again for subs and conversation and slept there too. We left the next morning very grateful—and with the further possibility that they might pick us up on their way to the next town later that evening. We were hopeful for that ride, since it was almost 25 miles to the next town, further than we could walk in a day.

As it turned out, we had managed about ten miles when a man on his way home from work offered us a ride in the back of his pick-up. We hesitated, then accepted, a little sorry not to see Eddie and Stacy again. But when we were dropped off and began to look for a church for the night, we had only walked a few blocks when I heard someone call my name. We turned and there was Stacy. She had just dropped Eddie at a meeting and was headed for Americus for dinner, did we want to come along?

So we shared another meal with her and found ourselves in the town we had been headed for. Having moved so far so quickly, however, I didn't know the area. So we wandered, looking for a church, and not finding much, when I thought of the Habitat for Humanity headquarters there in town (Habitat started from Koinonia Farm, and now operates out of Americus). Maybe someone there would point us in a good direction. It was closed when we arrived, but there were some people in the parking lot, so we introduced ourselves and explained our situation. Hearing we were headed for Koinonia, one of the women promptly offered to drive us. So our third ride of the day landed us at our destination.

Our most extreme experience yet of being carried. Over two twenty-five mile stretches which offered little shelter or water, through the hands of a half dozen people we hadn't met before (not to mention the hands that dialed the police to get rid of us). Almost as if someone arranged it. You know, it may not be so bad to be a nobody, as long as you have someone looking out for you...


not the ride we expected

Butler, GA

Not much time to write today, but we are being passed along very well. I'll write about it when we get to a library in a couple days. It involves a ride in the back seat of a police car, and a shower in a church's "bridal suite"...


hand to hand to hand

Thomaston, GA

We passed into other hands again last night. Walking out of town, we were looking for a sheltered place for the night, as rain was predicted again. Before we found it, however, a car pulled over and the woman asked where we were going. When we explained, she invited us to her home. "Are you sure?" Heather asked. "No..." she replied, "but I've passed you three times now and I think God's telling me to pick you up."

It turned out that Darlene lived a days walk in the direction we were going. When we got there she introduced us to her mother, Jackie, who was happy to have us spend the night with her. We enjoyed a good talk over dinner, and for a couple hours after. They're quite a lively pair. "My tongue's tied in the middle and loose at both ends," Jackie joked. They also have a strong trust in God; we felt very comfortable there. "If we don't meet again here, we'll recognize each other in heaven," they said. Darlene also drove us to the next town this morning, saving another days walk, and sparing us a wet morning.

After today, though, the next few towns are pretty spread out, then there's the library holiday on Monday. So I may be out of touch for the next three days. It may be a rough stretch, so we're hoping that God has prepared other hands for us to grasp along the way.

In the meantime, enjoy this reading of Jabberwocky; it's Heather, recorded and arranged by Glenn from Jubilee Partners.


mmm, bacon

Griffin, GA

I thought of this comic during the bible study yesterday evening, when the discussion swerved to this topic. Heather and I arrived in time to join them for the service, but a little late for their weekly fellowship meal. Good to see churches doing that regularly. And after hearing our story, before we could ask to sleep outside the church, the pastor offered to get us a motel room nearby. But then plans changed again when a couple there offered to take us home with them instead.

So we had a warm bed for the night and stayed out of the rain, which lasted until late this morning. Brian and Angie also had pancakes and bacon ready in the morning, and offered to keep us dry by driving us to the next town, even waiting for us while we stopped for groceries. Actions that showed what's in their hearts.

Again, I get the strong impression of being passed from hand to hand, carried along on our journey, so that it seems very little our own doing. A way of God glorifying his name?


"for this purpose I have come to this hour"

Hampton, GA

Rain today, so the going was slow. It will probably continue on and off for the next couple days. This part of the country really needs it.

I was thinking more about Jesus words, "And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." This is often understood as referring to the crucifixion, though I don't think Jesus' death does much to glorify the Father's name. The Greek word translated here as glorify also can mean "to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged." It seems this may refer more to how God carried Jesus through his death and preserved his life. The Father is glorified by proving that he is trustworthy, that his love is stronger than death.

It is a severe trial for Jesus to walk into the place and people that threaten him, when he is so vulnerable, refusing to use the strength of his followers to protect himself, and knowing that even his disciples will desert him. But it becomes a more perfect opportunity for God to show his power and infinite worth. An answer to those that mocked, "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now..." (Mt 27.43) Yet Jesus seems to desire, not so much a vindication of himself, but a vindication of God.


"glorify your name"

Jonesboro, GA

Alice served us Belgian pecan waffles for breakfast and drove us well out of the city this morning. A good visit with her, and a chance to get to know each other. We also visited Heather's cousin Madell and her family in Atlanta, and they surprised us with a belated wedding gift. So we're in very good shape as we start walking south again.

Praying in the library I came across these words of Jesus, as his arrest and trial nears:

"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name."

Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. (Jn 12.27-29)

I've been thinking about our experiences as "nobodies" on this trip, and about how our experience has been markedly different during the past month. I'm feeling I'm being shown something, perhaps something to do with this prayer in the midst of threats, "Father, glorify your name."


prayer and listening

Yesterday we worshipped in a park in downtown Atlanta, and met Bob and Holly Book who started the street church there, then walked through the Martin Luther King Jr. national historic site, and ended up at the Open Door community to worship with them. The Sunday gospel was the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which takes on a powerful meaning in communties like those.

Another good discovery came through a conversation with Aunt Alice, who is a psychologist for an international missions organization. She told us of a practice started by Karen Mains, small listening groups, where each person is given time to talk about anything they wish:

We gather, go into silent listening prayer, one person shares, the others keep praying and listening. When the person who has been sharing is done, we go again into silence, which is only broken when that person thinks of something else that needs to be spoken or gives permission for the group to respond. And we do respond, but only with questions. Then we go back into prayer-filled silence and this is broken after a few minutes when the next person begins the cycle again.
Both Heather and I think this might be good to use at our retreats, to get a sense of each retreatant, to set the tone of respectful listening, and most of all to show love by our complete focused attention on each person.


an afternoon by the lake

Atlanta, GA

Yesterday the library was closed so we spent the afternoon in Fort Yargo State Park. It seemed like we had the whole beautiful place to ourselves. We even bought hot dogs to roast over a fire and warmed our baked beans right in their can. (Heather knew we would find a chance to use the matches she brought along!)

Then there was a change in plans and Heather's Aunt Alice drove out from Atlanta to get us a couple days early. So now we're enjoying her hospitality for a few days. This also gives us the opportunity to visit the street church here, Church of the Common Ground, which has a service in a downtown park tomorrow afternoon. And we may get to stop for the Sunday evening service at the Open Door Catholic Worker, too.


"not every Christian"?

Statham, GA

We got a reprieve from the concrete last night when Glenn from Jubilee invited us to stay with him at a house he was house-sitting in town. So we got to spend time with him, and also enjoy fresh farm eggs and coffee this morning.

They are having a New Monasticism "school for conversion" conference at Jubilee this weekend (we would have been there for it, but unexpected rides brought us there a week early). I don't know. I like a lot of what the New Monasticism communities are saying and doing, and we have friends involved with them. But I'm uneasy about their quickly growing popularity. And I imagine that has something to do with their connecting with the monastic model, which historically fit into society by suggesting a two-tiered spirituality—high standards for the religious "heroes," but much lower expectations for most Christians. People like that. Much less confrontational.

I noticed signs of it in the workbook they're using this weekend. In the introduction, there's a line to ease concerns right away: "Not every Christian is called to be a monastic."

Perhaps that is meant in a humble way, to say their way isn't the only right one. But I think something important is lost when we begin proclaiming something narrower (or wider?) than the Christian life, the life of following Jesus, which we are all called into. Jesus said to all, "follow me." And then lived such a radical life that most turned away and then decided he was a threat to society. He wouldn't let them accept him as a monastic. I'm also reminded of Clarence Jordan (who I quoted a couple days ago), who regularly challenged all the segregationist Christians of his time to live their faith and who was seen as a threat for his following of Jesus. From what I've heard, Koinonia didn't try to gain acceptance as a sort of monastic community of their day. They just saw it as the Christian thing to do.

But that's what gets us into trouble. If we say we have a special calling, people say fine. But if we say we're just following Jesus, doing what he said and did, then people who call themselves Christians get upset. Because we're implying that they should be following Jesus that way, too. And he did some pretty upsetting things.


lots of listeners

Athens, GA

We sure weren't lonely during our visit at Jubilee, meeting lots of community members, volunteers, refugees, having most meals in common, and work and play times together. Got to run our retreat idea by several people, including some who know about a ministry supported by volunteer work and donations. They were encouraging. And they routinely get news from Plow Creek here, so they can follow our future developments.

Also, we enjoyed working in the garden (except for the fire ants!) and eating the produce coming in. Tomatoes, peppers, green beans, various greens, squash, and some unexpected fruits like figs and Asian jujube. Now we're on our way again, so it's back to hobo burritos...


"The Lord does."

This weekend I was reading some sermons by Clarence Jorden, who started Koinonia Farm, from which Jubilee Partners sprouted. And this passage jumped out at me, both because it's a commentary on "the birds and lilies" (which was recited for me a few days ago) and because I think it supports what I was writing about yesterday:

Suppose now this little lily that he was talking about says, "You know, I don't like it out here in this field. The farmer just drove by with a manure spreader. I want to get into a better environment. The cultural opportunities are horrible out here. So I think maybe I'm going to write to my cousin in the town and see if he can't find me an apartment and I'm going to move in there." Suppose that little lily has the free will, as we have, to determine his own conduct and can move into the city and live on the concrete. Jesus is not saying to that little lily, "Take no thought about tomorrow." It had better! It won't let God take care of it; it better take care of itself. So long as it will stay in the environment which God intended for it, God will take care of it. But when it wants to govern its own course, then it takes itself out of God's care.

This promise is given only to people who are willing to set their eyes on one object, and that is, the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Jesus said, "You can count on it, from there on out, things will be added to you." And I can speak from experience. I believe this; I've seen it operate time and time again. In the establishment of Koinonia Farm, I remember quite well that we were supposed to pay the fellow $2500 down. Martin England, who was a missionary under the American Foreign Mission Society to Burma, and I started it together. We agreed on the common purse and I had the idea that Martin was loaded. I don't know why I should think that, he being an American Baptist missionary, but he talked about, "Let's do this and let's do that," and I said, "Yeah, let's do" and I thought he had the money. And so I said, "Let's do this and let's do that" and he said, "Yeah, let's do" and when we finally pooled our common assets, we had $57.13. We were three weeks from the time we had agreed to pay $2500 down! To make a long story short, we put down that $2500. A fellow brought it to us and said the Lord had sent him with it. I didn't question him—we took it right quick before the Lord changed his mind.

Years later, a newspaper reporter came out there and asked, "Who finances this project?"

Well, all along, folks who had helped us said that the Lord had sent them, so I said to this newspaper reporter, "The Lord does."

"Yeah," he said, "I know. But who supports it?"

I said, "The Lord."

"Yeah, I know," he said, "but who, who, who, uh, who—you know what I'm talking about. Who's back of it?"

I said, "The Lord."

He said, "But what I mean is, how do you pay your bills?"

I said, "By check."

"But," he said, "I mean—hell, don't you know what I mean?"

I said, "Yeah, friend, I know what you mean. The trouble is you don't know what I mean!"