predicting a spicy winter

Heather got me to help canning some salsa a couple days ago. Lots of tomatoes that need to be used right now or they go to waste. We had a good recipe from our friend Celina, with cilantro and lime, and I think we managed to convert it well into the large batch that we did. Thirteen and a half quart jars. That should hold us for a while.

Heather also canned strawberry and blackberry jam from the berries here, thirty-two quarts of tomatoes, and froze lots of green beans. I'm impressed. Didn't expect us to manage so much our first year here.


ours or his?

Another good conversation with Chico and Tatiana this past week (apologies to Chico for sending his name out into the technosphere). We were talking about the current move in the church to be more honest about our limitations and faults. Admitting the sinfulness of the church or our local community, but trying to accept that "it's the best we can do right now." I am uncomfortable with that acceptance. Not too happy admitting that the church—the body of Christ—is limited or sinful, either, though I know that we who call ourselves Christians are certainly limited and sinful. I raised the question:

"Is the nature of the body of Christ determined by its members?"

I guess I don't think so. I don't think the nature of Christ's body is determined, or even limited, by us. What the body of Christ is, what it has to offer, who it encompasses, all of this is determined by Christ, not us. It's his body. The nature of it has to be his nature or it's not his body. What we offer to people when we invite them into the church is Jesus—his fulfillment, his promises, his provision, his protection—him.

The best way I can understand this along with our experience of people in the church (or in our local communities) being so unlike Christ, is to think that we are only part of Christ's body when we are being directed by him as our head, only when we are acting as part of his body.

That seems like a strange way to think about it, and maybe that imagery doesn't work for everyone. Perhaps we can't think of a body as losing and gaining parts of itself so fluidly; with a body the parts tend to be pretty permanent. Maybe the imagery of Jesus' followers as "the kingdom of God" is better in this regard. That's what Jesus used to describe the church. And I've heard many people talk of this kingdom as not clearly defined (by territory or ethnicity or political boundaries) but as the people who are living under the reign of God, those who obey and are loyal to God. With this understanding it's easier to see that we can and do regularly rebel against God's reign over us, are disloyal and disobedient. And so are we still properly called people of God's kingdom at those moments, during those times of rebellion?

We are always freely invited into the kingdom of God (or invited back into it). And we are offered the power of God to live as his people if we are willing. But the kingdom of God is God's kingdom, not ours, and so he determines the nature of it, its membership, what it has to offer those who enter it, God determines this, not us. We can decide whether or not we will be a part of it, but it is not ours. We don't shape it or limit it. It is God's.



We're celebrating Heather's birthday tomorrow with a picnic by the creek, real French cheese (and homemade French bread), an Italian Merlot, and some peach jam that our friend Mandy made.

Maybe I'll make a computer desktop for her from this bouquet I captured (to send to her in Nigeria) a while back...


"those who hate..."

We're leading worship next week, and I've been thinking that we need something a little more challenging. I've facilitated the adult discussion times on Sunday this summer, and it's been good to have several weeks of easier topics to talk about and agree on (though I've struggled a bit to keep it engaging). But I feel the need for some of the words of Jesus' that shake us a little. Last week we talked about fruitfulness, and then there's the harvest going on, so maybe this would be good:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. (Jn 12.24-26)

After some reflection I thought I might mix up those lines and add some commentary. And maybe have different people take turns reading lines from different places among the assembled group. Something like this:
Very truly, I tell you,
whoever serves me must follow me
a grain of wheat that falls

Those who love their life
their place in society
will lose it

But those who hate
the expectations
the applause
the rewards of the world
if they will die with me
they will bear much fruit
they will live

They will not be alone
because where I am
that's where my servant will be also



"corporate sin" revisited

Yesterday I was in Evanston at Reba Place, to deliver vegetables from the farm. And I got into a discussion with a friend there. It brought up again the concept of "corporate sin," in this case mostly to do with how we all contribute to the technologizing of our society and how it hinders our relationships with each other and with God. What we eat (or buy) also came into the discussion at points.

I've written about "corporate sin" before, years ago, and since then the idea has become even more widespread. My arguments yesterday were similar to what I wrote then:

One of my main objections is that "corporate sin" implies that we are guilty for the sins of others (because we enabled them in some way through our [economic, political, social] inter-connectedness), implying that we sin without meaning to, without even knowing about it. This is not the understanding of sin Jesus preached, [he said] that sin is "in the heart," or in the intention/will...
And I am also concerned because it seems to implicate us in an evil or sinfulness that we cannot escape, since we need to participate in society to some extent and there often are not options that are completely unconnected from injustices and oppression.

But after further reflection, I think I'm more troubled by the way "corporate sin" is tied up with thinking of ourselves as part of a corporate entity, a body, a "we," that is not the body of Christ. Because if it is a "we" that is caught in sin or evil, it is not the "we" that is Christ's body. And the apparent difficulty (perhaps even impossibility) of breaking free from involvement in this sinful "we" makes us feel even more tied to and identified with it. We are set against a great social beast, much greater than ourselves and quite impervious to radical change—and not only that, we are told we cannot deny that we are part of the beast. I understand that the preaching of "corporate sin" is meant to challenge people to see how they are part of the world's problems. But Jesus' challenges were never like this.

There is no great beast, no sinful corporate being that can claim us or hold us. There is only the body of Christ, waiting for us to let go of ourselves and our delusions of grandeur and submit our own will to his.


freshening up

I redid my profile ("a little about me"), so I don't have to link to the old site, and updated it a bit. Not much new there, but I did include the essay about the retreat ministry. And linked some parts of my story to essays I wrote about those times.

Also added links in the sidebar for my favorites among the short stories I've written.


"if you wish to be perfect"

The lectionary reading for today is a favorite of mine, one I'd like to be reminded of again and again:

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”

He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.


"a prisoner stepped out from the ranks"

I just noticed that the Catholic church is celebrating the memorial of Maximilian Kolbe today. I wrote about him in my journal a couple years ago. Here's an introduction to his story, told by some witnesses at Auschwitz:

Tadeusz Joachimowski, clerk of Auschwitz Block 14A:

In the summer of 1941, most probably on the last day of July, the camp siren announced that there had been an escape. At the evening roll-call of the same day we, i.e. Block 14A, were formed up in the street between the buildings of Blocks 14 and 17. After some delay we were joined by a group of the Landwirtschafts-Kommando. During the count it was found that three prisoners from this Kommando had escaped: one from our Block and the two others from other Blocks. Lagerfuhrer Fritzsch announced that on account of the escape of the three prisoners, ten prisoners would be picked in reprisal from the blocks in which the fugitives had lived and would be assigned to the Bunker (the underground starvation cell).
Jan Jakub Zegidewicz takes up the story from there:
After the group of doomed men had already been selected, a prisoner stepped out from the ranks of one of the Blocks. I recognized Fr Kolbe. Owing to my poor knowledge of German I did not understand what they talked about, nor do I remember whether Fr Kolbe spoke directly to Fritzsch. When making his request, Fr Kolbe stood at attention and pointed at a former non-commissioned officer known to me from the camp. It could be inferred from the expression on Fritzsch's face that he was surprised at Fr Kolbe's action. As the sign was given, Fr Kolbe joined the ranks of the doomed and the non-commissioned officer left the ranks of the doomed. Fritzsch had consented to the exchange. A little later, the doomed men were marched off in the direction of Block 13, the death Block.
(continue reading)



the growth of the soul

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died recently. When I heard of it, I remembered some lines of his that I quoted in my journal years ago:

Long periods of well-being and comfort are in general dangerous to all. After such prolonged periods, weak souls become incapable of weathering any kind of trial. They are afraid of it. Yet it is a fact that difficult trials and sufferings can facilitate the growth of the soul. I know there is a widespread feeling that if we highly value suffering this is masochism. On the contrary, it is a significant bravery when we respect suffering and understand what burdens it places on our soul.

I think this is true. Though I suppose what was important to him was not suffering so much as "the growth of the soul." I agree this is important, but it seems to me that not many of us achieve this growth by desiring it directly. We desire something (or someone) else with great passion and are willing to suffer personally for it. And if our desire is love then our soul grows in the intensity of that love.

When this passionate love is lacking, we fall back on the meager motivations of avoiding trials and suffering, establishing security for ourselves, and arranging our comforts. This, I think, is what I have most despised (is that the right word? maybe...) in those I usually categorize as "middle class." An apparent all-consuming concern with the trivialities of comfort and social convention and a cringing avoidance of pain. Not even having the intense human struggles of survival in a hostile environment, which many people in our world face. It's debatable whether the "long periods of well-being and comfort" are the causes of a weak soul or the symptoms of it.

But I think what I'm most disappointed to find missing in people is a passionate love that makes them forget themselves and risk all. Or suffer all. That is the force that shapes great souls. Those without it seem to me to be pitiable, or else they stir my anger, because they seem to be wasting the life they have been given. And the Love.


nice salad

Heather's parents are visiting us this week. They are missionaries in France (where Heather grew up), so they aren't in this country very often. We've been doing our best to serve them food up to the French standards, fresh baked bread, French onion soup (though I suppose they just call it onion soup over there).

And yesterday Heather made a beautiful salade niçoise, with tuna, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, green beans, most of it these from the farm, and a vinaigrette dressing she learned to make in France. Wonderful. It'll be a summer favorite of ours, I'm sure.


no joke

We took some of the teens to see The Dark Knight yesterday. Good movie, though very dark and upsetting. Today I saw this in an insightful review on HollywoodJesus.com:

Maintaining continuity with the conclusion of Batman Begins, Batman's war on crime is intended to inspire ordinary people to combat injustice and evil, but he has equally and inadvertently inspired the criminal element. The Joker is Batman's fault in the sense that the Dark Knight made the criminal "community" desperate enough to follow a maniac. The Joker goes from being a maniac without motive to one whose life now has a greater purpose, confessing to Batman that without the Dark Knight, criminal activity is ordinary and petty. "What would I do without you?" he laments.

...Batman has always revolved around the theme of maintaining dual realities. [Though Bruce Wayne is the actual identity of Batman,] Bruce Wayne is the façade and Batman is the truer representation of who this person really is.

[I remember a scene from Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne's childhood sweetheart was beginning to hope again for their relationship...
"But then you put on the mask."
"The mask is only a symbol. Underneath..."
She reaches up and touches his face. "This is the mask. Underneath is what the criminals fear."]
The theme of dual realities even spills over into other characters in the film. One could argue that the only character not wrestling with dual realities is the Joker. We want there to be some psychological determinant—a back story that explains the Joker to us. But there isn't one. The Joker has no hidden agenda. He is no hypocrite. The Joker sees his role more as being the one to expose the discrepancy between internal reality and external façade in the other characters.
Including the rest of the people in society. A memorable sermon by the Joker:
Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don't have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do if I caught one. I just do things. I'm a wrench in the gears. I hate plans. Yours, theirs, everyone's. [The mayor] has plans. [The police chief] has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I am not a schemer. I show schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are...

It's a schemer who put you where you are [in the hospital, disfigured, having lost his fiancée]. You were a schemer. You had plans. Look where it got you. I just did what I do best—I took your plan and turned it on itself...

Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds!

And to Batman, Joker says:
Don't talk like one of them. You're not! Even if you'd like to be. To them, you're just a freak. Like me! They need you right now. But when they don't, they'll cast you out.

See, their morals... their code... is a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. They'll show ya. When the chips are down, these civilized people... they'll eat each other.

See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve.