at table in the kingdom of God

Here's the readings I chose for tomorrow, All Saints Day (and a communion Sunday). I'm using the image of the gathering of the remnant to sit at table in the kingdom of God. And calling for repentance here as well.

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time
to recover the remnant which is left of his people,
from Assyria, from Egypt,
from Pathros, from Ethiopia,
from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath,
and from the coastlands of the sea.

He will raise an ensign for the nations,
and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.

There will be a highway from Assyria
for the remnant which is left of his people,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from the land of Egypt.

Jesus went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. And some one said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?"

And he said to them, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."

"When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us.' He will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.'

"Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.'

"But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!' There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out.

"And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

(Is 11.11-12,16; Lk 13.22-30)


Here's highlights from the Peanuts Halloween special. I watched it tonight for old times sake.

Heather might like to see him sneaking across the French countryside. He's quite the music lover, too.


an ineffective ritual

I've been struggling emotionally for several days now. Last week we heard that another family has decided to leave here (though I imagine it will be quite a while before they can actually move). I mentioned scapegoating a month ago; that's what I felt I was seeing here. But I wasn't sure whether it would end with them actually leaving the community.

And I don't think this will rid us of the community's transgressions or reconcile us. Maybe a good theme for worship next Sunday would be repentance.

I tried to do what I could to prevent this from happening, especially now, when we're struggling to find some common ground among all of us and come together to meet the urgent practical needs here. And I've been trying to get us all together to see what we can do to meet those needs. It's been a little frustrating because several families have been away recently (taking vacations, which is understandable after the long, busy farm season). But now I'm glad that it has been delayed. Because it's important to let the heavy discouragement of another departure fade a bit, before we try to move forward as a community again. I'm hoping to stir a spirit of unity and generosity; it would do us good to see people stepping up to help each other in a hard time. But I think the current spirit here needs some time to dissipate first.



questions raised by mother teresa

From a conversation over at Jesus Manifesto (referring to a book of Mother Teresa's letters that reveal her long spiritual dryness). Jason says:
The most fascinating thing to me (one that gives me courage) is that she was willing to give whatever He would take (assuming that, in fact, He did take away His felt presence for so many years). She eventually came to understand that she was experiencing the same spiritual state as the dying and destitute in the slums and could better empathize spiritually with their experience because of it, which I think she clearly did. Mother Teresa's experience of spiritual absence was obviously problematic and even disturbing, something she obviously deeply felt, especially after years of close felt union with Him. But why didn't God answer her prayers to take it away or to bring His felt presence back? And why did she appear to have such tremendous faith (her response in the pain) while admitting to a wasteland of spiritual feelings?
I replied:
Those are interesting insights, Jason (and also a bit confusing, I agree). It certainly isn't easy to interpret. And I should say that I don't mean to critique Mother Teresa's spiritual life at all, not knowing her personally, and having no access to her real experience and situation.

I only mean to address certain interpretations that might be drawn from her situation and letters. Like the implication that God wanted her (and perhaps us?) to experience the spiritual state of the people she served (an experience of spiritual abandonment by God?) so she could better empathize with them. That seems to make sense. But do we ever see this in Jesus' ministry? What I see is Jesus demonstrating a continual intimacy with his Father that he then freely offered to those he served, inviting them (and us) into his spiritual experience. Not the other way around.

Then there's the apparent presentation of God as asking continued service from her (us?) but withholding the joys of his presence. This seems to result in a much more selfless and heroic servant, who continues to give to God without getting much of anything back. But, again, is this the way Jesus ever presented his Father? What I see from Jesus is a God that gives us everything, with overwhelming generosity, demanding no payment from us. I don't see God trying to build servants that need little from him, but servants that are completely dependent on him, with little strength or heroism of their own ("so that no one might boast in the presence of God") who's great deeds point not to human capability but to the God to does great things through feeble human beings. Jesus' poverty and weakness exemplify this for me (and Paul also presents himself this way often).

These interpretations are easy to draw from Teresa's experience, and people might want to emulate them since Teresa is so highly respected. But I really think they point in the opposite direction from what Jesus showed us. They glorify human beings rather God.

I don't blame Teresa for this, since she didn't intend to reveal her confusing struggles. But I can see why people in the church institution might value servants that continue tirelessly in dedicated service no matter what their spiritual state...


someone watching over me

I got restless in church this morning, so slipped out before it was over and went for a walk. Beautiful fall weather. And the road just south of the farm is perfect for walking, fields and woods mingled, with no houses, only a couple barns along the mile and a half stretch. The road twists and rise and falls, with deer trails crossing it often. Huge old trees shade it in places.

And a couple big red-tailed hawks live along there; I see them often, circling far overhead. Last week one of the guys we met through our retreats for Emmaus Ministries was with us for a week-long personal retreat. I took a couple long walks with him and once we saw one of the hawks, perched high up in a tree close to the road. When we got near he launched and disappeared over the woods.

Today I didn't see them, but as I got back to the farm I heard them calling to each other again and again. An eerie sound. (Go here to hear it, and find more info about red-tailed hawks.)


the least of these my brethren

I wrote this story several years ago, but just shared it over at Jesus Manifesto [Now combined with Jesus Radicals]. It's not bad, though more appropriate for a certain audience, the more dedicated, charitable types.

the least of these my brethren

They were chopping onions when the fight broke out. A coffee mug hit the floor in the dining room and shattered, and there were shouts. She heard Steve sigh "not again" as he rushed from the kitchen. Then she looked out through the serving window and saw Jack take a swing and miss. Steve was there before he had a chance to swing again.

There was a struggle, then Jack growled OK, OK. But Steve started him towards the door. "You've been drinking again, haven't you?" Jack didn't say anything, but he tried to get out of Steve's grip. "You know the rules, Jack. You can't be in here if you're drunk." "I'm not drunk." "And if you get in a fight, you're out too. You know that. C'mon, let's go." Jack resisted, but Steve was firm and calm and kept him moving towards the door. Then a brief wrestle and Jack was out. But from the sidewalk she heard "You wouldn't treat Jesus like this, you sonuva..."

The door slammed shut. "I would if he was drunk," Steve muttered angrily, and went to get the mop.

Situations like that always made her uneasy. But she wasn't sure what else to do, and someone like Steve, more experienced—and bigger—usually stepped in right away. And there was the rules, which were pretty clear cut. How could they run a place like this without them? But she still didn't feel quite right—especially when it was up to her to enforce them.

And once again she asked herself the question, How do we see Jesus in people like Jack? I know we're supposed to be able to see Jesus in everyone, especially in the "least of these," but it's not easy. Especially in the "least," the poorest, the most down and out, like Jack...

She wasn't sure what she heard first, the crash or the words. It was almost as if the front window exploded from the force of words alone. "...damn hypocrites—screw you!"

Large pieces of glass, and the garbage can he had thrown, crashed to the dining room floor. Steve stumbled back against a chair and fell. But none of the tables were near the window, and no one seemed to be hurt. Steve jumped up and looked, but apparently Jack had fled. She started into the dining room to help, but Steve told everyone to stay back, he didn't want anyone getting cut while he was in charge. She brought gloves and a bucket from the kitchen, and some coffee to refill the mugs of the men still there. They didn't look like they wanted to leave, even with stuff like this happening. Actually, they didn't even look surprised.

As she started on the potatoes, she heard one of the men ask, "Do you want to know why you couldn't see Jesus in that guy just now?" She looked up. The man wasn't a regular, she didn't recognize him; but his army field jacket was familiar, lots of the guys who showed up here wore them. He was looking at Steve when he said, "Because Jesus didn't act like that--and he still doesn't."

Steve glanced at the man. Then going back to work, he replied, "Jesus said he was even in 'the least of these'... hey, is there some plastic sheeting back there? Something to cover this window?" She took him the plastic and some duct tape.

The man asked, "Did he call them 'my brethren' just because they were 'the least,' the poorest?" The man leaned forward. "Or did those 'least' get that way, poor, powerless, outcast, oppressed, because they were his brothers and sisters, because they did what he taught and followed his example—and so ended up just like he did..."

She didn't hear Steve say anything, but when she was back in the kitchen she heard the man say, "Instead of looking for him, trying to serve Jesus, you should be him. His body—his hands, his mouth, his heart. Be Jesus to others..."

Steve came into the kitchen to wash his hands. "We need to replace that with plexiglas. Should've done that a long time ago." She asked softly, "Who is that man?" "I don't know, I don't think he's from around here." He turned off the water. "Someone with too much time on his hands..." Steve smiled and went back into the dining room.

Yeah, she thought. And what's he talking about? We feed over 100 people a day here, take in 30 off the street every night, and are constantly giving out clothes to whoever needs them. How can we "be Jesus" any more than that?

Then she heard the man ask, "How many stories do we have of Jesus feeding people, compared with all the times he was fed at other people's tables? Who did he clothe? And how many did he take in off the street—Jesus, who himself 'had no place to lay his head'?" She looked up. Huh. I never thought... wait—how did he know what I...

The man continued, his eyes on Steve, her eyes on him. "You don't have to serve blindly, like those who helped Jesus without recognizing him. You too are called to be one of 'these my brethren.' To be 'one of the least,' in his kingdom where the least are the greatest. To become 'the least of these' yourself. The poor, the powerless, the outcast—who are like that because of him. Who Jesus identifies with because their life is just like his. But then you won't be in charge anymore, you won't be the benefactor..."

"Shut up!"

It was Slim, one of the older regulars. "You shut up about Jesus. He wasn't no bum like you! An' these people here, they're doin' sumthin'. They're makin' this a better place. We need more people like them... so just shut up. Or get out." The old man stopped and it was very quiet. Then the stranger looked at him and said, "The one who has ears will hear." "What? What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Slim was on his feet.

Now Steve looked up. "All right guys, we don't need another fight today. I think it's time you took a walk, buddy." She saw the stranger get up, zip his jacket, and move quietly to the door. But before he went out, he bent and said something to Steve that she couldn't hear. Then the door closed behind him.

Steve brought the bucket of glass through the kitchen. But just as he was going out the back, she turned and asked, "What did he say to you?" He stopped, but didn't look at her.

"He said, 'Would you treat Jesus like this?'"

She watched the back door close. And slowly put down the knife. Then she quickly took off her apron and rushed through the dining room, grabbing her coat—then paused at the door. "Tell Steve I won't be here for lunch." And she was out on the sidewalk, looking up the street.

"Hey! Hey mister, wait up!" She jogged to catch up with him.


it's a boy

Erin just had her baby! A boy, arriving just as the gardening season ends (which is good for Erin). We're happy for her and Carlos.

We're also happy her discomforts of pregnancy are over. Here's a clip from a recent episode of "The Office" to celebrate that. [Warning: Not for the faint of stomach!]


hold the rat

We had our first frost last night, and there's supposed to be a real freeze tonight, so that'll mark the end of the growing season. Heather grabbed the last few eggplant and zucchini, though, so I'm making one more batch of ratatouille. A classic French peasant's stew, it's become a summer favorite of ours.

We like the recipe from The Joy of Cooking, that has you cook the eggplant and zucchini over high heat first, then set them aside so they don't get mushy while the rest of it cooks (the recipe is here). I'm planning to take it to share with Matthew and Christiana, a young couple who just moved here this spring. We hope they hang around for quite a while. Christiana has a blog about their move to the farm, called "And on this farm there was a..."


rising to the occasion

In the past year I've become more aware of the reality of the body of Christ, the community of poor, lowly people of God, a "remnant" within the institution we call the church, who live by the leading of the one Spirit more than the human organizational structures that attempt to manage "the church." That awareness came as a reassurance, that no matter what the church organization looks like or the majority decides, the body still exists and lives like Jesus lived. And we are just called to do this as well. Recognize and cooperate with what Christ is doing in his body on earth, and not worry too much about trying to sway the politics of the religious organization to make it what it ought to be. Its scandal only proves that all human institutions are reflections of their sinful human creators. The body of Christ is God's creation, defined by Jesus alone, full of the same life he lived on earth, and that's something we can't change. We can only enter in, or not.

But lately the reality of this has been an encouragement to action. Not that I have to act, to fix the church (or our little community here), but that I can act and expect something good. The body of Christ exists. It's mixed in there, and in moments of grace it might shine through in inspiring ways.

Like in times of crisis, when the human structures are trembling and falling (like here right now) and people don't know what to do. That's when I think God's lowly people rise to the occasion, holding firm and helping when others are breaking down. When people need mercy and inspiration, and Jesus offers it, through his body on earth.

Eventually, I imagine, things stabilize and order and security and power structures are reestablished and they command the majority and overshadow God's lowly people again. And they let themselves be overshadowed, though they are not any less important or real, just forgotten again amidst the rising din of prosperity and power. But they've been seen, they've shined again.

And they're still there.



trying something new

I usually stay out of community governance and management, but the current urgent needs here have prompted me to try to offer something... organizational? I don't want to try to offer a new authority structure. Or even work through the leaders that exist, who are overwhelmed with demands of all different kinds. I want to keep it simple. So I'm going to help arrange a meeting so those who know the needs to present those needs (starting with the most critical practical ones) to all the families here on the farm, and simply give them the chance to volunteer to help with specific things. Keeping it on the personal level and trusting in the generosity of people wanting to help each other here. "Ask and you will receive." "Give to those who ask of you."

I think people may accept this approach because it allows for immediate action and a clear way to move ahead and get needs met. And I'm hoping that it will stir up good feelings in the community, with many people pitching in to help. Maybe, if it goes well, we can continue to less "practical" needs. Like needs for people to help in reconciling disputes, providing counsel, prayer, teaching, hospitality, etc. I'd like to see the gifts we have rise up to meet the needs, as God provides through all the people who he has brought together here.

I'm not sure how it will go, if people will be satisfied, or if they will want to add more well-defined structures or authority positions on top of the personal volunteering that happens. I don't really mean this approach as something temporary, to get us through the current crisis (though that may be how others see it). As I wrote before, I think true leadership in the body of Christ derives from the gifts God has given, and happens when we are moved by love to use those gifts to help others in need. We don't need to layer any man-made structures over it (which always end up binding and burying the body). Just trust the Spirit who has given the gifts and who moves and coordinates us to act for the good of the body.