"my tongue shall tell"

I prayed these lines at the end of Psalm 35 this morning:

Let those who desire my vindication
shout for joy and be glad,
and say evermore, "Great is the LORD,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!"
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long.

And I was immediately taken back over a year, to a snowy morning last February. Now I sit only a few hundred yards away. But we've come so far.


weeds and ants

Our church service today was different, and pretty interesting. It was a time for thanking God for the farm and praying for his blessing on the farm workers and the land. We even went down to the barns and prayed by the garden and the green house and the tool shed. And there were lots of bible readings having to do with growing things.

There was a reference to the creation story, too: "And God saw that it was very good." But not much mention of the part about the curse on the soil, bringing the weeds and "the sweat of your brow." I noticed that especially because those are the things that we've been dealing with this week. Weeds in the strawberry rows already. And, in our kitchen, the ants have started intruding (we found diatomaceous earth to work very well).

It's not very enjoyable to work hard killing things, even weeds or ants. Not at all like the idyllic image of the farmer nurturing tiny new plants. But a good reminder that the world we live in is not the one designed for sinless Adam and Eve. We no longer receive gratefully from God's hand as they did, but try to grab for ourselves, seek our security in what we can hold, taking pride in what we have piled up for ourselves. So now we have to fight the competition. The thistles and Japanese beetles and deer. And even what we do manage to gather begins to rust and decay (and draw ants) as soon as we get it in the storehouse.

That's an important lesson. So I'm glad to be reminded of it regularly, at home or in the fields, and to accept the truth and rightness of the world God has designed for us as we are. There's something in it, though, that also encourages us to look elsewhere for our ultimate purpose. The bugs and rust and rot says to me, "This is not what it's all about."

So I'm also glad to turn the main focus of my thoughts and efforts to work like we'll be doing in the retreats here. Trying to give myself to something that will last. As Jesus taught, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life..." (Jn 6.27)




When Heather arrived home from the writer's conference (which she really enjoyed), she didn't go in right away but wandered around back. I found her looking at the flowers that are appearing. Daffodils are in full bloom, and patches of trilliums are starting to come up.

The most abundant wildflowers in bloom here now are Dutchman's Breeches. There are several large patches just into the woods behind our place. You can see why they are called that from the picture (click it for larger size).

We received another sign of hope yesterday, too. Someone from Emmaus Ministries will be coming to our first "come and see" retreat next month. Looks like it's going to happen after all.


he went directly to the bottom

Last week Brandon was her visiting, and we had a long conversation one afternoon about where we spend our money and whether that makes us complicit in the wrongdoing of companies that mistreat workers or the environment. I was mostly interested in the guilt feelings that occur in people who feel they are complicit but can't find any other way to get the things they need. Those guilt feelings are then often pressed on others. But I don't see anyone finding a way out.

I offered many arguments, and so did he. But the one that seemed to finally get us past our impasse surprised me, and I want to remember it. He was quoting someone, saying that we not only need to work to shut down oppressive corporations (by refusing to buy their products) but also help provide better jobs for people in developing countries who are pressured into working for these corporations. I had doubts about the realism of such a far-reaching goal. But, more importantly, I wondered who decided that we were in the position to take jobs away and give new ones, taking the lives of so many workers into our hands. Doesn't that put us into the role of overlord, only hoping we will be more compassionate overlords than the CEO of Walmart?

From what I can see in Jesus' life, that's not the position he put himself in. He had great compassion, but he didn't attempt to take control over people's lives, even to make them better. He didn't rally people to bring down oppressive governments or corporations and build better ones. That may have been the type of savior many people wanted, but it wasn't Jesus. Instead of taking the position of "good overlord," he went directly to the bottom, to the people who were oppressed, and showed them how to be free. Not by changing their world for them, but by helping them to change themselves. By showing them the power of faith. So the poor and weak could face their oppressors without fear and refuse to beg from them or be controlled by their threats, obeying only God, their loving Father.

So they could be free. And Jesus himself showed the way, a poor, free man himself. Not driven by guilt, either. Free.

It's a difficult approach to take, though. We've been trying to find the way for years now, eventually being led into the retreat work for the poor here. But to many people it seems to offer no hope for really changing things. The other day I read the story of John sending word to Jesus, from a prison cell, asking if he was the chosen one. Understandably, John wanted to see some major changes. But Jesus replied, "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk ...and the poor have good news preached to them."

"And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."


i (ouch)... P (urgg)... o (owww)...

The weather was so nice yesterday that my face and hands got sunburned while planting strawberries. Sadly, now I can barely type.

(Actually, this is short because a box arrived yesterday with a mysterious iPod in it. I think it's my brother's, passed on to me, since he had said something before about a belated birthday gift. I am very grateful. I've been trying to make it work with our Linux computer, with hard-won success. Great fun messing with gadgets while the wife is away!)


a few bachelor days

I meant to write today, but Heather has been busy on the computer preparing for the writer's conference she's attending. She leaves for Michigan tomorrow morning, for five days. And then I got the call to help with strawberry planting this afternoon. The weather was a lot nicer today than last year when we planted.

Being out in the field with the new strawberry plants reminded me of something I wrote last year: "in the setting sun."


"remembering his mercy"

Yesterday I got a note from Ken Kalina, someone who may be able to refer people to us for retreats. I hadn't heard from him for weeks and was becoming concerned that he had lost interest. Happily, he's still in. So now we're trying to arrange an introductory retreat for him and someone from Emmaus Ministries in Chicago, and maybe a few others, to meet them in person and let them see what the retreats will be like. In about a month, I think. I'm excited.

We're thinking of focusing the retreat on Mary's words to Elizabeth, the magnificat (Lk 1.46-55). They are part of my prayers every morning:

My soul glorifies the Lord.
My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
He looks on His servant in her lowliness;
henceforth all ages will call me blessed.

The Almighty works marvels for me.
Holy His name!
His mercy is from age to age,
on those who fear Him.

He puts forth His arm in strength
and scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones
and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things,
sends the rich away empty.

He protects Israel His servant,
remembering His mercy,
The mercy promised to our fathers,
to Abraham and his sons and daughters for ever.

Those words should be good for discussing the main themes we want to have in all our retreats (summarized in our essay "Good News to the Poor"), and also inspire discussion that would be relevant to the particular folks that will be at that first retreat. We may use Heather's short story about Mary, and the Marty Haugen song based on the magnificat, too.

I was beginning to wonder if God had forgotten about us, but now I'm suddenly amazed at how things seem to be coming together in just the right way, and in the right time.



old feelings

The other day Heather was telling me about what she was going through during the same year that I was AWOL (which I mentioned in the last entry). She was in a new high school, and extremely unpopular. It reminded me of my own high school days. Days I've done my best to forget.

But I began to wonder if there are some buried emotions from those formative years that have been influencing me lately. There's a guy I know who just came out with a new book, published by a huge Christian publishing company, and it's been the talk of people I interact with. He's pretty popular right now. And the book is marketed to young people, with unconventional layouts and an edgy, hip look and language. Meant to be very cool, obviously. A lot of the things he writes are quite similar to what I've written here; the book challenges the church for being too closely tied to the state, and to power politics. So you'd think I'd like it, like most of the people I know do. But it's been really bugging me. Really bugging me, more than it should, so I started wondering if it was somehow stirring up some forgotten emotions in me.

Heather's comments about high school seemed like a clue. I suffered a lot in high school, often at the hands of those who were more popular than me, sometimes just feeling ignored and left out by them, or angry at them for the social system that they seemed in command of, which was such a source of pain for me. As I thought more about it, I recognized that I had had a lot of anger towards the popular people. And maybe that anger is still there.

Back then, I just had my experience and my feelings. Now I see that there were very legitimate reasons for my anger. I don't think the popular people were actually in control in the way I thought they were then, but they did use their power for their own benefit and left a lot of us out. And by using that social (political) power, by playing the game well, they encouraged and supported the system as it was, making it that much harder for those of us who could not (or would not) excel according to those social rules and standards. So even if they didn't create the system or control it, they did contribute to its overwhelming oppressiveness.

Now I see a popular guy, a naturally charismatic guy (who found it easy to be one of the popular people in his high school, he once said) trying to use his gifts to spread a radical Christian message to a wider audience. And he's gaining a national hearing now with his books and speaking engagements, almost making following Jesus seem like a cool thing to do.

And I'm feeling angry.

Because the most radical edges have to be cut off for it to be as cool as he's making it. Because the audience is young, middle-class, mostly white, the privileged and cool. Because the big publishers are begging for it. Because he's using the money of the big publishers and his popularity to try to promote a gospel given to the poor and outcasts.

Because all this glorifies the people on top and their power, no matter what the book says.

But, while I think there's some legitimate cause for anger, now I realize I need to get past the anger. It helps to recognize it for what it is, rather than just stewing, getting madder, and not knowing why. I think the wrong has been understood, though, so I need to move on to trying to understand the person, and forgive. I know this guy does a lot of other good stuff in his daily life, reaching out to the poor and some very unpopular people in society. And he faces temptations that I don't have to deal with. Because of his natural gifts he has enticing offers and opportunities that I don't have to struggle over. Jesus was able to turn away from those who wanted to elevate him, to choose not to use his popularity, or the power of the crowds that were drawn to him. But that's such a rare thing, even among Christians. It's not so hard to understand and forgive when gifted people stumble and take the impressive offers that promise so much good.

How did Jesus turn away? How did he justify squandering all the popularity and support he had—when he knew it meant the end of his ministry?

And how do we follow his example?


"when my spirit is faint"

I read Psalm 142 this morning and it reminded me how far God's brought me. The memory of reading this psalm in a monastery church in England, while I was AWOL, crying, the drops wetting the stone floor...

I cry with my voice to the LORD,
with my voice I make supplication to the LORD,
I pour out my complaint before him,
I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit is faint,
you know my way!

In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
I look to the right and watch,
but there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me,
no man cares for me.

I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, you are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.
Give heed to my cry;
for I am brought very low!

Deliver me from my persecutors;
for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me;
for you will deal bountifully with me.

I wrote an essay about that time; it appeared in this journal about two and a half years ago. (It's also available as an RTF file). It's good to stop and remember, from time to time, how far God's carried me. And through what.