In the letter I wrote about our recent retreat, I opened with something Heather had noticed:

I remember T, the biggest man of the group, a tall, broad-shouldered, strong man, who gave off that calmness we associate with strong men; and who seemed to me to be one of the strongest spiritually as well. He had been hoping, out here in the country, for a clear night to see the stars; and when he got one, on Saturday night after the campfire, a couple of us were with him. He was on a search for a way back to his first love, the relationship with God he had had as a teenager; the stars made him feel God, he said.

I remember standing in that dark meadow, looking at the rising golden moon as he stood with his head back, looking at the still, white, immensely distant stars, and hearing him whisper, “I—I worship God.” Hearing how he said it from the depths of himself, an old awe returning to take him over again; a strong man knowing strength when he sees it, knowing true power, that which is immensely bigger than himself. The fear of the Lord.
When our retreat guests arrived Friday afternoon and climbed out of the car, one of them wondered, “So where's the welcoming committee?” Just then Heather stepped out our front door and threw her arms wide. “Welcome!” she said, beaming.

We were ready for our guests, though just barely. Friends had given us a dining room table and chairs just the day before. And only a few days before that we had finished painting the third guest room; we were still short two mattresses, two bedsprings, and a nightstand. Two families here at the farm loaned us mattresses for the weekend. So we decided to just put the mattresses on the floor, and set up a temporary nightstand; the two staff people with the group could sleep in that room. God had provided what we needed just in time. God also provided fresh blueberries, green beans, potatoes, and lettuce from our garden, and several kinds of bread from the bakery here.

Saturday, after Taizé prayer and breakfast, we spent the morning listening to each other. Everyone spoke about what was on their hearts and why they were here. Emmaus Ministries works with guys that have been involved with male prostitution, usually as a result of addictions or homelessness. So all the guys had rough things to share, most are still struggling to recover from their difficult past, and some are still on the edge of homelessness. We were impressed with their openness and honesty. Though we came from very different backgrounds, through very different life experiences, by the end of the morning there seemed to be a spirit of trust and intimacy among us.

After lunch, Heather began our study of Mark 5:1-20, the story of the man from whom Jesus cast out a legion of demons. She introduced the passage with a story she had written. One of the points in her story was that the man may have clung to his demons, because they made him strong and they made people fear him. Often we would rather be feared than despised. Several of the guys identified with this. “I think that's why I lash out at people,” said one guy, who admitted that he has sometimes told people he is a “son of Satan.” “I think I've found my answer.”

There were several hours of free time Saturday afternoon. All our guests napped. They said they slept more here since it was quieter, a more peaceful place than where they lived. When everyone awoke, Heather and a friend who lives here led the guys on a bike ride along the nearby canal, while I made pizza for dinner. Our guests really liked the food. One guy teased Heather because it seemed like I was doing all the cooking. I told him he would be eating his words on Sunday, when Heather made us a chicken dinner. No chicken and gravy for him to eat, just his words.

That evening we looked at the story of the demoniac again. We talked about the things that hold us in bondage, things that we cling to even when they become self-destructive. And I ended the session by recalling Jesus' question to the man, “What is your name?” I asked each of us to think about how we would answer that question, being honest about who we think we are.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a campfire together, with some kids who live near here roasting marshmallows with us. A few of us stayed out to enjoy the night sky glittering with stars, and watch the full moon slowly rise though the silhouette of trees. Some of the guys played cards together after that (and pulled out the leftover pizza). Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

After breakfast Sunday we joined the other families here for worship. Then we had our final bible session together. We discussed why the townspeople wanted to send Jesus away, while the man freed from his demons was willing to follow Jesus anywhere. Someone observed, “They don't want Jesus, they want their pigs.” Their security and hope had been in their property, their income, their established lives. The man, on the other hand, had nothing to lose but his demons. Jesus became his security and hope. So Jesus chose that man to send out as his witness, to “tell what God has done for you.” I pointed out that, again and again, Jesus chose the poor, the lowly, outcasts—those who had nothing to lose—to communicate God's message to the world.

“So... God is picky?” one of the guys asked. I said that Jesus chose the poor and lowly, and became one of them himself, because those were the ones who were open to his good news. Those were the ones who depended on God completely because they had nothing else to depend on, who gave God all the glory because they obviously had nothing to boast about themselves. We read Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1:
...Consider your call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
God chose to reveal himself through people just like the guys who were on retreat with us, and he still does. I closed our discussion by asking again, “Who are you—in God's eyes?”

After our chicken dinner and ice cream with blueberries, we prayed together one last time and shared communion, a sign of our unity no matter where God might lead us from here. The guys prayed for us. That God would continue to meet our needs and bring many more people to this quiet place to listen to God's voice. They were encouraging and thankful and hoped to come again. We hope for that as well.

(retreat pictures available here)


memories from our first (real) retreat

Still working on a letter about the retreat (and trying to figure out how to upgrade our old computer), but here's some pictures from the retreat that Justin sent:



Writing a letter about the retreat, Heather recalled something that I hadn't seen:

I remember T, the biggest man of the group, a tall, broad-shouldered, strong man, who gave off that calmness we associate with strong men; and who seemed to me to be one of the strongest spiritually as well. He had been hoping, out here in the country, for a clear night to see the stars; and when he got one, on Saturday night after the campfire, a couple of us were with him. He was on a search for a way back to his first love, the relationship with God he had had as a teenager; the stars made him feel God, he said.

I remember standing in that dark meadow, looking at the rising golden moon as he stood with his head back, looking at the still, white, immensely distant stars, and hearing him whisper, “I—I worship God.” Hearing how he said it from the depths of himself, an old awe returning to take him over again; a strong man knowing strength when he sees it, knowing true power, that which is immensely bigger than himself. The fear of the Lord.

I won't forget that.


people seem to think...

from The Daily Show last night:

(Is Barak Obama the Messiah?)



We ended the retreat after communion by reading together the well known prayer of Francis of Assisi. We'd like to keep doing that, though one of the guys said it was a little confusing, so we came up with a clearer version:

make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love;
where there is bitterness, let me bring forgiveness;
where there is doubt, let me bring faith;
where there is despair, let me bring hope;
where there is darkness, let me bring light;
and where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

O God,
let me not so much want to be comforted,
as to comfort others;
let me not so much want to be understood,
as to understand others;
let me not so much want to be loved,
as to love others.

For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in forgiving that we are forgiven,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



among the tombs

Our retreat guests just left, and we're flushed with excitement and gratitude. For the guys who came and for how good it was. I'll write about it when I have time to gather my thoughts, and when I've rested a bit, but I wanted to remember what Heather wrote for the retreat. To help us all get into the story we were studying, about the man possessed with a legion of demons (from Mark 5, right after Jesus calms the storm). Her version begins with the storm still raging, the demoniac speaking...

Bad storm today. The sky is as black as my mind, and the wind is whipping the lake till it heaves and groans with the pain, humps itself up into waves that are taller than me. Lightning rips down the sky onto the water, close—very close—the thunder cracks as soon as the light is gone, a sound of huge stone smashing against stone, almost drowning out the voices in my head.

I look up to the cliff where the pigs are pastured; I can hear them when the thunder fades, grunting and screaming in fear. The pig-herders are having a bad day of it. Everyone is; except me.

Anyone out there on that lake is a goner. I've seen bodies washed to shore with fish-bites taken out of them; this is where the currents bring them, here to the tombs where I live. Handy. Anyone out on that lake is a goner, but here on my hillside of rocks and caves and graves I listen to the thunder and it wraps me in sound, and the voices are stilled to a low angry mutter and I can hear myself think.

I like storms.

I squat here in the rain, not moving, looking up into the angry sky. The rain comes down in fury, battering my face. Any sane man would be crouching under a rock ledge, even inside one of the caves where they bury the rich dead, to be out of this.

I am not a sane man.

I am Legion.

(for the rest of her story, click here: "Among the Tombs")


"God has so composed the body"

For communion at the end of the retreat, I think I'll use this passage:

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

...There are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the lowly parts, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12-13,20-26)

These lines also comforted me after last night's disappointment. I think the song and words of Jesus I read before the church meeting will be all I contribute to that ongoing discussion. It's about leadership, but it seems apparent to me what people want is institutional leadership, someone empowered to handle the problems they see in the group. That doesn't seem to have much of anything to do with the body of Christ, in my opinion.

God arranges the Body, and God moves to correct and heal its problems. That is the reality, whether we think it is sufficient or not, whether we think we need a king (or "leadership team") or not. Our unity and cooperation is not created or managed at church meetings. It exists and is recognized and experienced when we are in touch with—and obey—the Head.


"you have one master"

We're starting the leadership discussion again in the church meeting tonight. I'm interested to see where it goes. And I offered to start it off by leading the worship time, using that song. Also these words of Jesus:

"You are not to be called rabbi [that is, teacher], for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ." (Mt 23.8-10)


with the fumes still in the air

Yesterday we painted the third guest room, our tenth paint job (and hopefully last, at least for a while) since we moved in here. The Clarks, friends from Reba Place, have offered a large dining room table and some chairs. And Heather found a mattress and steel frame bed when she was in Evanston recently. I found a few more sets of sheets at the local resale shop (which gives us supplies for the retreat ministry free of charge). So we still may have to borrow a mattress and box spring, and maybe some towels, but it looks like we'll have what we need for the retreat a week from today. We have a good Provider.

We'll be using the same schedule as the first retreat in May, but the content will be different because the guests are different. They'll be coming from Emmaus Ministries in Chicago (if they can find enough guys who will come). We're planning to use the story from Mark 5, "In the country of the Gerasenes."


laundry day


a few left

I really enjoyed being out in the strawberry fields this morning, gleaning. The season is over but a few berries remain. I found two and a half quarts of beautiful ripe strawberries that showed up on our homemade shortcake at lunch, with Heather making the rest (with others she picked) into jam right now.

It was great to be out searching for the remaining treasures in the wide field, not for any market but just to enjoy them, and keep them from being wasted. I had contacted some other gleaners as well, "Gleaners for the Lord," who donate the produce to the poor. Unfortunately they couldn't get people to come on this holiday weekend. But they probably will come later in the season, for corn or tomatoes or melons. I remember writing about them last year; now I'm able to help keep the farm connected with them.


the red, white, and blue

I was reminded that today is a national holiday when I arrived at the library and it was closed. Oh yeah, July 4th. Which made me think of a song written by our friend Sara Harding (inspired by the story and lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner"):

I was a prisoner on the ship
And forced to stay below
While through the night the battle raged
With bursting rockets’ glow

And when the morning came at last
I rose and went to see
Who had won and who had lost
And who was made more free

Across the bay I strained to view
The land where I’d been born
And from the fort the banner waved
Though blackened, shredded, torn

Yet turning round I saw again
From each embattled mast
Those colors same in different form
Proud to the very last

Then suddenly the deck did heave
There rose a sickening swell
Lifting the bodies of all the slain
The bitter truth to tell

Red was the blood upon their hands
And white the pallor of death
Blue the depths that swallowed whole
Their bravest and their best,
Their bravest and their best.

The wave washed by, and in its place
I saw a mountain there
Upon it was a table laid
With earth’s abundant fare

And seated round from every race
Were those who had withstood
And bowed no knee nor gave salute
To king or national god

And to their host their voices raised
Their anthem ceasing never
“Power and justice and freedom alone
Belong to our Savior forever”

Red is the blood he shed for them
And white each righteous deed
Blue the heavens from which they shine
The truly brave and freed.


Some pictures I found online from the Psalters show here...

(click on the picture for larger size)


on movements

From a discussion in the Jesus Radicals forum (referring to the current Jesus for President book tour, featured on CNN the day before yesterday)...

Andy wrote:
...That is why I say Shane [Claibourne] is a very different breed than [Jim] Wallis and such. They are simply trying to do some reaching out, through the evangelical medium... (Not that those of us on the "radical" end have our stuff together...but come on...there is a difference, and difference is the basis of witness.) So I think Paul, I would make some distinctions there. You might be right though about the whole "movement" thing.

What do you mean by "movement" though, if you don't mind saying?

Yes, I guess our perception of "difference" all depends on what's most important to us, and whether there is a noticeable difference in that area of concern. From many perspectives there appears an obvious difference between the Democratic and Republican platforms, but for those concerned about the coercive use of wealth and political power, they don't seem much different.

One of my main concerns is our dependence on human social power, the power of the multitude, "We, the People," rather than on God's power. This is the idolatry of Babel, which God struck down and scattered its people. It is the temptation of "together we are strong." It is the lure of political might. And it is what is so enticing about gathering a "movement."

Jesus drew crowds, due to his miracles. But he avoided using the power of those crowds, he would not let them make him king, and he spoke the hard and perfect truth to them even when that meant that many of his followers (even his closest friends) would leave or betray him. See John 6 for a good example of this. He had no use for the power of a movement. He was not proclaiming that "together we are strong and can change the world." Jesus proclaimed only God's power to deliver us from bondage, we who are helpless to save ourselves. And the way he proclaimed that was in human weakness, without the power of the multitude, their money or their political might. His rejection of these put him on the cross.

Shane has repeatedly spoken of "doing small things with great love" and letting God make great good of it. That's a good message. But like with the other popular Christian leaders, a different message comes through when we think it is necessary to choose wealthy and powerful corporations (and skirt around touchy political topics, like voting) to "get our message out there" and attract lots of people to our movement. Making use of such human powers of money and mass organization simply reinforces the worldly message that these are the powers we depend on to make the world a better place. God is not glorified; We, the People are glorified.

A good sign that our message has been compromised for the sake of gathering social power is when we become attractive to big powers (like Zondervan). They know what sells and they want that. Jesus got crucified for his speaking and living of the gospel. How can we think we're proclaiming the same gospel when we're getting interviews on national radio, covers of magazines, and multiple book deals for what we're speaking and living?