stepping out of the boat

I read this favorite passage this morning and think I may use it for worship this Sunday:

Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear.

But immediately he spoke to them, saying, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear."

And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water."

Jesus said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me."

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Mt 14.22-31)

Maybe we'll use Taizé music for worship, like this one:

The words mean:

"Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you, whoever holds onto God lacks nothing. Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you, God alone is enough."


watching this happen

"The [scapegoat] ritual consisted of driving into the wilderness a goat on which all the sins of Israel had been laid. The high priest placed his hands on the head of the goat, and this act was supposed to transfer onto the animal everything likely to poison relations between members of the community. The effectiveness of the ritual was the idea that the sins were expelled with the goat and then the community was rid of them.

"...In a distant period when the ritual was effective as ritual, the transfer of the community's transgressions onto the goat must have been facilitated by the bad reputation of this [type of] animal, by its nauseating odor and its aggressive sexual drive.

"...When human groups divide and become fragmented, during a period of malaise and conflicts, they may come to a point where they are reconciled again at the expense of a victim. Observers nowadays realize without difficulty, unless they belong to the persecuting group, that this victim is not really responsible for [all that] he or she is accused of doing. The accusing group, however, views the victim as [utterly] guilty, by virtue of a contagion similar to what we find in scapegoat rituals. The members of this group accuse their "scapegoat" with great fervor and sincerity. More often than not some incident, whether fantastic or trivial, has triggered a wave of opinion against this victim...."

René Girard, from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning


Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

W.H. Auden


"the garden"

We're offering this movie to the teens tonight. It's an Academy award nominated documentary called "The Garden." About the largest urban garden in the country, and the legal battle to keep it from being sold and destroyed. Lots of surprising twists, and inside looks at the hidden maneuvering of both politicians and community activists.

If you want to see it for yourself, don't read further...

It's obvious that the filmmaker supports the farmers, who are lower income and mostly Latino. Their gardening is very impressive. And their legal and political fight against the secret deals that sold the land are impressive also. They almost stop the sale in the courts, and then when that fails they are able to use the press and new influential friends to raise over 16 million to pay the asking price for the land.

But, as in any war, there are costs. Serious disagreements within the group of farmers cause them to turn against some of their own, in order to have a better chance of winning against the developer. And then, when against all odds they somehow managed to get the money to buy the land, the developer won't sell. He has been so angered by the battle in the courts and the press that he won't even take their money (even though he would profit over $10 million). The garden is bulldozed and nothing is built on the site.

I see it as an example of the forceful approach, of how even those who are right (and who are the "empowered" under-dogs) can destroy their own cause by making a power struggle of it. So that animosity and conflict is only increased, and no one wins.

In contrast, we see Jesus never using human power to force people, not even to make them do the right thing or prevent them from doing wrong. Power and force hardens hearts, like it hardened the heart of the developer in the movie. Vulnerability and love softens hearts and encourages a true, voluntary change of heart. Which is what Jesus wanted.


another retreat

It looks like the unusual connection last year with folks from the Marquard Center, a Franciscan soup kitchen, might bear some fruit after all. Chris called from there today and wants to bring some staff and interns for a come-and-see retreat next weekend.

That doesn't give us a lot of time, but we're very glad they're coming. We'll use Mary's magnificat as the retreat focus again. I hear some of the interns may not be Christians, so that may add a new challenge, but I'm intrigued by the chance to try it.


"as a Gentile or tax collector"

From some recent conversations about how to respond to wrongdoing in a community, and whether authoritative punishment is appropriate when others are being hurt...

We seem to agree that the truly Christlike response to wrongdoing is what Jesus taught in Mt 18, which you have tried, yet the wrongdoing continues. In that case, I think Jesus' teaching and example is that we should suffer the wrongdoing (though we can certainly let the person know how their behavior is hurting us). And forgive again and again, hoping that our willingness to suffer wrong rather than retaliate will gradually soften the heart of the person.

In Mt 18, the response Jesus taught for an unrepentant brother or sister was to treat them "as a Gentile or tax collector," which is not to punish them but simply recognize that they have put themselves outside the way of life of the community (to whatever extent they are living in sin). We should recall that Jesus welcomed Gentiles and tax collectors, ate with them, treated them with compassion.

In his own community, I think Jesus acted toward Judas in this way. Though he knew Judas was conspiring against him (perhaps also stealing from the cash box), he did not try to stop him or turn the other disciples against him. Jesus suffered because of that choice. But he did not drive Judas out of his community.

In Jesus' story of the prodigal son, the father lets the son take advantage of him (suffering loss of property before he is supposed to give it to his son). Then he welcomes him back gladly when the son finally realizes the wrong he has done to his father and family.

And then there are these well-known words from the sermon on the mount:
"You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

"You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?"
Wouldn't these teachings directly apply to a situation where we are being hurt unfairly or unrepentantly? If anything, we are to expect persecution (unfair attacks, bad treatment) from others, not be the persecutors ourselves, which is how it often looks when punishment is applied in community. How could we end up looking anything like persecutors when we're supposed to be the ones turning the other cheek?



"a wise man who built his house upon the rock"

Something I want to share during worship here this Sunday, based on Matthew 7.24-27:

"A wise man who built his house upon the rock."

Isn't that who we want to be? And aren't we now trying to "build our house," or maybe rebuild our house here? That requires a foundation, a common ground that we all share. A solid basis for life together, for a life that will last.

Now there are many things that people try to "build their house" on, things they hope will unite them and be a reliable basis for their life together. For example:

The land. It seems that the land we live on together is a good foundation to "build our house" on. We all need the food and shelter that comes from the land, and this shared need motivates people to work together. To bring in the harvest, chop wood for the winter, re-roof a house. But we also see that the land is limited. There's only so much. This often leads to conflict and division about how the land will be used, who will get the limited resources we have. And then the land can be taken away from us, can't it? The land is not a firm enough foundation for a shared life that endures. It is sand.

In the sermon on the mount, however, Jesus offered an alternative to relying on our land and our common work. He said, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" And "seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." Is Jesus' promise a more reliable foundation for us than the land?
Then there's family. It seems that family is the natural foundation to "build our house" on. We have a God-given connection with the people in our family, a connection that is physical and emotional. And a natural love that motivates parent to care for child, and then child to care for parent. But we also see that family is not enough. We need others outside our family. And a shared life based on family will not connect us with these others, and often sets up fierce conflicts between families that tear both families down. Family is not a broad enough foundation for a shared life that endures. It is sand.

But Jesus offered an alternative to the limited, natural love of family. He offered a love that extends beyond our family, to anyone who asks for help, even to our enemies. "For if you love those who love you," he said, "what reward have you? ...And if you welcome only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?" Is this love Jesus offers a better basis for a shared life than the love of our family?

Then there's a group's common way of life, a basic part of what we call "community." It seems that commitment to a common way of life is a good foundation to "build our house" on. Commitment to a certain group of people and commitment to a common way of living together, values and practices that we all share, has been the basis for most all human societies. But we also see many different ideas about what this "way of life" should be. Conflicting ideas. And the bigger and stronger our community becomes, the more often we see the weaker members being crushed. We also see that a common way of life, after a long time, can become a rut that we have a hard time getting out of. A common way of living is not a stable enough foundation for a shared life that endures. It is sand.

Jesus offered an alternative, though. He was living in the Jewish community that had a well-developed common way of life, with values and practices based on commands from God himself. But in his sermon, Jesus offered something more. He said over and over, "You have heard that it was said to the men of old... But I say to you...." The alternative Jesus offered was himself. His listeners already had clear directions based on their common way of life, but Jesus called them to trust him instead. Instead of their community laws—a living, loving person. Instead of many teachers debating their values and practices—one teacher. Jesus.

He ended his sermon by saying, "Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock." I believe all of us here can find a common ground in this one man. In our commitment to Jesus. I believe if we "build our house" on him, if we trust his promises together, if we show each other the love he gives us, we will find a life together that endures.


with africa guy

I've been putting together a slideshow of the teen trip to Chicago, to share at the harvest festival here today. Here's a sample.

(There was a carving of an African man in the apartment we stayed in. I thought it would be interesting if he came along with us on our excursions. Can you spot him?)

For all the pictures, click here.



It's been a whirlwind of activity this past week. The retreat last weekend went well, with five guys here from Emmaus Ministries and two staff people, our biggest group yet. We used the story of the demoniac, the same one we did last summer ("Welcome!"). A little rowdier group this time; it took more attention to keep us together in the discussions, but everyone participated eagerly. The campfire was fun. One of the guys likes to sing, so he got Pete to play a bluesy riff on the guitar and roped Heather into improvising some poetry, and he picked up a line or two from that and sang a refrain under her spoken words. I was impressed. He also sang a solo on Sunday morning, and got rousing applause (quite an unusual occurrence during church here).

Then we barely got the beds stripped before Heather and I left with the vegetables for Chicago, then continued on to Michigan to pick up over a hundred bushels of peaches, apples, and pears. Which required us to haul a big horse trailer behind the truck (not an easy feat through city streets). Sprung a coolant leak, too. But a Reba Place friend got us to see their mechanic (free), and he said we could make the trip as long as we kept adding water. So we did. And we got to visit Chico and Tatiana in Ford Heights, too, and brought them bounty from the farm.

The guy at the orchard in Michigan gave us several samples of his fruit to try, including white peaches and yellow plums. Pluots, too, which is a cross between a plum and apricot. Very good.