a tea party

Yesterday the heat broke and we had an afternoon teatime together outside. Sitting in cheap plastic chairs, at the table Heather had snatched from a dumpster, feeling the breeze pour over us out of the cool woods, a tiny wren feeding her new chicks in the birdhouse nearby and the calico cat we adopted sauntering over through the grass. Heather said, "This is my ideal of the good life." Then she read some poetry, and waxed a bit poetic herself, the cool air tasting to her "like wine."

"And we're sucking it down like winos!" I replied.


"a flow of blood for twelve years"

I think I'm going to use this story for our discussion Sunday:

And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well."  And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, 'Who touched me?'" And he looked around to see who had done it.

But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (Mk 5.25-34)
I think the length of her suffering (and struggle to overcome it) is notable, and also Jesus asking her to step forward and confess her story and her healing, despite her reluctance. A good story for us here.

There are reasons that we might even cling to our suffering, and not reach out to accept the healing that is offered. Like the false comfort of seeing ourselves as victims, of whom little is expected. Or the pride of our long struggle with suffering. Maybe even our belief that we can overcome it eventually by our own will and efforts (like the woman with her many doctors). To accept healing means admitting that we are helpless, unable to get past our suffering by our own endurance or coping mechanisms, admitting that we have failed. It also means giving up all control of our situation, and accepting that much more is asked of us than just surviving our pain.

But accepting healing is also the only way to true abundant life.


mandatory medical coverage?

I've been closely following the health care reform debate that's raging in congress right now. The high cost of health care is a topic I've written about before (and struggled with quite a bit). A challenge to my hopes and beliefs about "giving freely," without asking anything in return—because how can you then expect to pay enormous medical bills?

But my hospital experiences have been good so far (sometimes due to generous doctors, but not always), and my more recent experience with a dentist in town here was really encouraging.

Now it looks like everyone will probably be required to have some form of health insurance. I've avoided insurance because the main reason people usually buy it (fear of future calamity) doesn't seem like a good reason for Christians to be doing anything, much less feeding an industry that makes huge profits from fear. Plus Heather and I can't afford it, even if we did believe in it. And I haven't wanted to go to the government for help, which would basically be saying we need them and their money and depend on them for our health (I've been unsure what to do in the case of kids, though...).

But if the government is demanding that we have insurance (imposing fines for not having it), and also offering free coverage for folks living below the poverty level (like us), then I don't think we need to kick up much fuss. Must submit to those in authority, right?


for father's day

Congratulations to Katie and Eric on the birth of their second child, right here on the farm (in the middle of a thunderstorm that knocked out the power!)

I used this (slightly edited) cartoon to make Eric a father's day card yesterday.


"selling is something completely different"

After some doubts a few months back, it's been good and reassuring to again be "preaching" about work and "giving freely" (as opposed to "working for a living"). There's been some good discussion at Jesus Manifesto about my three-part essay, "Come to me, all ye who labor for a living." Here's a recent comment from one of those discussions:

Actually, buying and selling are two very different things. We all need food and shelter and physical care, etc. But we find in the world that people who have these things usually will not share them with us if they are not compensated in some way (i.e. they usually demand payment). From many things that Jesus said about money (such as his conversation about taxes) we know that he thought very little of the value of money. So to give people the money they demand was really a very small thing on his part, as it should be a small thing for us. And we receive the things of real value (food, clothing, etc).

Selling is something completely different. Now we put ourselves in the place of demanding money before we will provide the goods or service that others need. We are asking for a contract or agreement to ensure that we will receive as much (or more) in return for anything we give. These things demonstrate an attitude that seems to me goes directly against Jesus' teaching and example. (Unless, of course, we are selling in order to give all the money away, as when Jesus said, "Sell all and give to the poor....")

Also, Jesus' directions to his disciples to accept the food and shelter given to them is quite different from "receiving pay" for their service (which Jesus told them to give "without payment" Mt 10.8). In their visits in towns, they taught and healed very many people (for free) and only received hospitality from one family (according to Jesus' directions). This is not reciprocation or a trade for services rendered. They gave to many people, and some people gave to them, the gifts all determined by the needs of each, not an equal trade or individual deal.

I'll just add that I never characterized any of this as defining sin, or describing any economic system (as I clearly stated previously). This is Jesus setting an example and telling us what perfect love looks like in our interactions with others, many of which are "economic" interactions. He did that all the time, referring to all areas of our lives.

(Oh, and if you wish to discuss [the apostle] Paul's take on this, there's some comments about that after Part 2: click here)

It's also helped remind me of the importance of this, at a time when the work life here can get pretty "market dominated." I'm making a point of staying out of that (the markets, not the work), and maybe helping others see the burdens and pressures they face in a new light.


for flag day

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.


I've been enjoying some comic books that a friend here passed along to me. Ones I read years ago and really liked, but got rid of when I took to the road.

It's always nice to let go of something good (for a good reason) and then have it given back.


Jesus' response to evil

Here's a recent comment I made about an article on Christians and the police, on Jesus Manifesto:

Jim asked what we should do, instead of calling the police. And perhaps Sarah also had that question in mind when writing this article. It's an important (and more constructive) question.

I don't think this can be answered easily, or generally for all situations. But some observations from Jesus' life may be helpful to us as we try to hear how God might be leading us in some particular situation. As Jim pointed out, Jesus did not seem compelled to prevent evil from happening. I think he certainly did much, in word and example, to try to convince people not to do evil and convert them to do good. But when they chose evil anyway, he did not physically (or with a legion of angels) step in to stop it. And his actions in this regard matched his teaching, "Do not resist one who is evil." (Mt 5.39)

This, I believe, points to a difference in how Jesus viewed the problem of evil. It seems that, to him, evil was not "bad things that happen to people." Those bad things that happen were rather symptoms of the evil that exists within people. The external violence or injustice points to the very real evil in us. Jesus expresses this in his interpretation of the Law in the sermon on the mount, especially clearly in his line, "I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." The evil is in the intent, not just the external action.

We can see from this why Jesus would not choose physical (or otherwise coercive) means to stop evil. He wants to root evil out of hearts, and coercively "preventing" evil intentions from being carried out does not reduce the evil intent, but often actually increases it (hence, the "cycle of violence"). Jesus chooses means to respond that go to the heart of the matter, the root of evil. Such as courageously rebuking powerful oppressors, revealing to all the evil in their hearts, and drawing out their wrath (towards him, which he does not reciprocate) to make the hidden evil visible and obvious—obviously wrong. His innocent (and non-resistant) suffering and death at the hands of evil-intentioned men is the extreme example of this response. The desire is that people will recognize the evil within themselves, and repent, turning away from it.

This also presents the situation of the "victim" in a different light. If evil is truly "in your heart," in our intentions, then evil cannot be imposed on us forcefully from the outside. If evil is in us, it is in our own desires and choices, not in what is done to us. We cannot be made evil or corrupted by evil unless we choose to let it into our own hearts. Now, often when evil-intentioned acts are done to us, we do let evil into us, responding with vengeance or hatred. It is difficult not to do so. But Jesus' example (and his presence in us) shows us how we, like him, can resist this and remain "untouched" by evil, no matter what is done to us. We need not be "victims" of evil.

And this is the beginning of "overcoming evil with good." We can prevent the evil from spreading from the hearts of others to our own hearts. And then we can begin to show others that evil can be quenched in their hearts as well. This is how Jesus responded to evil, and it is the best thing we can do for others, both for those who are "evil-doers" and those who suffer under them (and usually we are both).

In all this we also see Jesus showing us that violence or coercion (such as we see in our criminal "justice" system) has no value for us if we wish to respond to evil the way he did.


"there ain't nothing in this world for free"

I heard this song on the radio this morning as I was driving to Chicago to deliver vegetables (and strawberries!). I thought it fit well with my recent thoughts about work and pay, describing the usual understanding of those things...


"much more like what we would call 'play'"

The second part of the work essay is getting a little more discussion (on Jesus Manifesto). Some good stuff. Here's a reply I offered this morning:

I am not aware of Jesus ever adding the stipulation that God would care for our needs "if you were actively helping people/society/the environment" "pretty much all your waking time." Jesus was not demanding more work of us, but offering rest.

What we are called to do is obey God's will for us in our work. From Jesus' example it is clear that this does indeed mean giving and caring for others. But the motivation for this work does not come from some ethical demand to work "all your waking time" (which means always wondering if we are working enough to satisfy God) but from the love for others that God inspires within us. Free gifts of love. And the type and amount of work we are called to is the work we are created for, thus the work that satisfies us and gives us joy in fulfilling God's purpose for us. This is much more like what we call "play" (which can still be physically hard, but in a good way—if we have forgotten, we can take a look at our kids).

I think it's also worth pointing out that serving God (alone) as our "boss" is much better for us, since God knows what we are made for and how much we can handle and loves us. And God is not driven by a production goal or by the demand to make profits for shareholders. God calls us to do what we can do—what we can do well, and what we can do in a healthy, satisfying way, for our good as well as the good of those we serve.


"...and have not let my foes rejoice over me"

I prayed these lines from Psalm 30 this morning...

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name...

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.


gobble, gobble

This morning we saw a large wild turkey swoop around our house and land in our back yard. Then he went neck-bobbing off into the woods. I'd like to have seen the cat try to take down that bird.

And, completely unrelated (honest), there's been a good discussion this past week on Jesus Manifesto, about wealth and following Jesus.


"he will teach you all things"

We're leading worship this Sunday and plan to use this reading (and discuss it afterwards):

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt,
my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband,
says the LORD.

"But this is the covenant which I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

"I will pray the Father,
and he will give you another Counselor,
to be with you for ever,
even the Spirit of truth...
he will teach you all things,
and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."

"And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor
and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,
says the LORD."

The anointing which you received from him abides in you,
and you have no need that any one should teach you;
as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true...
just as it has taught you, abide in him.

(Jer 31.31-34; Jn 14.16-17,26; 1 Jn 2.27)

Also, before communion, we're going to play the Agnus Dei by the psalters ( hear it here). The lyrics (in Latin) mean:
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.