my so-called life

Heather has been away for almost two weeks now, visiting a friend from high school, who now lives in Canada (Saskatoooon!). I've been coping by comforting myself with episodes of "My So-Called Life." It was a really good show about 15 years ago, about life in high school, that got canceled after its first season. But at least there's nineteen great episodes, and they're all available on Yahoo.

Here's a good one I watched yesterday, about parenting and "other people's kids," and being a friend to someone struggling with addiction. (Sorry about the commercials!)


"behold my servant"

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him,
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not fail or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth... (Is 42.1-4)

I'm supposed to lead the discussion Sunday on the first two "servant songs" in Isaiah. I didn't choose them, but they seem like a good way for me to respond to the reorganization going on the in the community here (which I've decided not to participate in). The idea is that Jesus came as a savior very different from the usual political leaders, very different from what the people expected. And I think we are called to be different in the same way.

The first servant song above provides a good contrast, I think, between political leaders ("saviors") and the more prophetic leadership that Jesus offered. He didn't need to "lift up his voice" to gain the people's support, or demonstrate his strength and authority by breaking a few bruised reeds along the way. And he didn't need to cut deals or compromise his goals in order to keep sufficient public support to get things done. His establishing of justice needs no popular support and is never in danger of failing.

Because, unlike political leaders, the servant (note that he is called God's servant, not the servant of the people) doesn't accomplish his purposes through the power of people. His purposes are accomplished by the power of God. This is more clear in the second servant song (Is 49.1-6). "My God has become my strength." Jesus led prophetically, by speaking God's truth and living the reality of the kingdom that God had established. He didn't need the political power to enforce his own words; God enforced them. So Jesus could be humanly weak, gentle, and even seem to be a complete failure (at the cross), and still "bring forth justice" surely and without compromise. Because God made it happen.

I think we're still caught up here in trying to find political solutions to save ourselves. Trying to reassure people by exerting authority, even to the extent of pushing some past their breaking point, hoping to find support for various different (and conflicting) proposals, which I'm sure will end with the necessary political compromises and no one getting all they hoped for.

The prophetic vision sees that we already have a beautiful structure, given by God, called the body of Christ. And we already have a leader, our perfect Head, Jesus. To whom we are already all committed, I believe, as much as we can be committed to anything—so why do we think some communal membership or mission statement could unite us any better?

Prophetic leadership, in our case, I think, means being able to see and reassure each other about that God-given unity and common purpose, stop struggling over politics and serve God as we are called to, humbly tending to the needs of one another.



bookkeeper and maintenance man?

Thanksgiving will mark two years since we moved to the farm for good (we were in this apartment by Christmastime). Much has changed since then. I think I might take a day retreat in the cabin this week to reflect on those changes.

One change that I've been aware of recently is that I'm getting increasingly involved with the practical aspects of the overall community life. Like organizing a maintenance meeting to handle repairs and maintenance projects for the buildings here, and probably helping with many of those repairs myself. And taking over the bookkeeping for the church, and for the farm next season. I remember my concerns shortly after moving here, about not wanting to be pressured into community work (and get distracted from retreat work), about not wanting anxieties about survival to drive my work. I was thinking mostly about financial and business pressures, which often drive our work. But now I find myself about to be a bookkeeper and maintenance man—how did that happen? It makes me a bit uneasy.

When I think of it, though, I wasn't pressured into either of those things. I just volunteered. Maybe it's that I came to see the real need in those areas, and I seemed to be the one most able to take on those things, to help meet those needs. And they seem to be a service to others, things I don't so much need for myself but that others would struggle and suffer without. So I don't feel pressured to do it except by love.

And maybe I have been able to better distinguish what are real needs (given by God as ways to love each other) and what are self-imposed "needs," driving us by our anxieties and ambitions. For example, I'm not interested in promoting the businesses or making more money, but it does seem a real need that bills and workers get paid and records be accurate. And it seems a real need that we work together so our houses stay in good shape. On the other hand, I'm staying completely out of the current efforts to set up a new form of governance in the community, something that I don't see Jesus calling us to do. Like when the Hebrews demanded a king, when they already had God's governance (only I think the body of Christ is even better than what they had).

It's probably valuable also to show in action that I really do care about the needs of the people here and am committed and intimately involved, though I reject some of their current plans and efforts. And I like being involved on the service level, rather than the manager/leader level.

Or maybe it could be a way of leading from below rather than from above.


Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not keep with you.

from Psalm 32


an other-than-honorable veteran

Sam was just here asking questions so he can tell my Navy AWOL story as a speech in his English class. It was interesting to try to boil it down to a 5-minute presentation, and make it understandable for high school students. The message, I think, is that the courage of taking a stand has to include the courage to take the consequences.

I also thought of this story this week because of Veterans' Day. I guess I'm a veteran, though I don't deserve any honor (or medical benefits) for it. Here's the story I wrote about my leaving the Navy, "A conscientious objection":

I was walking alone along the road outside a monastery in England, thinking about where I was. AWOL in a foreign country. I'd gone on a two-week leave several months ago, but instead of driving back and reporting for duty on the aircraft carrier I had boarded a plane. It felt like the only thing I could do. And I didn't think I deserved to be punished for it, so I'd fled.

These weeks of walking the Scottish moors and visiting monasteries to rest and pray had soothed some of the turmoil inside me. But still I didn't know where I was going. The initial gut-wrenching fear had eventually settled into the thrill of a new adventure, but it was now threatening to sink into dread. What would happen if I stopped running? Was my life ruined? Turned inward, I didn't notice the trees around me or the ancient stonework of the monastery. Was this all a terrible mistake?

That was when I first felt it. Deep inside, down in a dark part of myself where I never looked, it felt like something was moving. Like the stirring of a hibernating animal, something large. The slow uncoiling of a hidden predator. I couldn't see anything clearly, but it felt real enough to inspire awe at the power of the thing. It was enough to frighten me, yet the deep sensation was not fear. I remember thinking: Not yet. But it was coming. And it excited me.



technology and the collective

Nate and Angela just visited and stayed with us last night, on their way home to St. Louis. The last time we saw them was over two years ago when we stayed with them in DC, on our walk from Boston to Florida. Now they have a son, John Paul (who was in a cute little monkey suit the whole time). Good to see them again.

We talked about a lot of things, but I wanted to remember a thought from one conversation, about the negative effects of technology. I agreed that our mechanized and technologically-driven society tends to dehumanize us and detach us from the natural way of life God created us for. And much of our technological equipment even seems to push us further from each other and from God. But I've heard many people blame this on technology itself, as if it is somehow inherently evil, and I don't agree with that. I think the problem is deeper.

I've written much about the idolatry of the social collective, how we organize and institutionalize gathered human beings to form "We, the People," a power much greater than any one person, a terrible substitute for the Body of Christ. I think our technology, as it has developed, has become a clear reflection of the evils of the social collective. No advanced technology can develop apart from this organization of people, and it necessarily reflects the values of the group. Technological developments have to be funded and so are driven by money and the purposes of the group, because what serves them well is what sells. Technology doesn't drive itself, though it seems to (yes, I've read Ellul's book). And it doesn't drive people. People are driven by the power of the collective, driven to develop technology in a certain direction and driven to use it and serve it—or be cut off from the group, the source of life.



the mercy of crumbling bodies?

I've been looking at 1 Cor 12, in preparation for a discussion I'm supposed to lead Sunday. It's about the body of Christ. I really like the imagery of the Spirit giving gifts to each of us and inspiring and coordinating us to provide for each other. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." And I think focusing on this has also helped me make some sense of the recent experiences here that have troubled me so much.

It's not too hard to see from Paul's descriptions of the body of Christ (or Jesus' descriptions of the kingdom of God) that our organizations and churches and communities are not it. And when our disillusionment with our organizations and leaders is worst, when they may even be collapsing around us, it becomes that much more apparent that this is not the one Body that is Christ in the world, that never dies. But is that as bad as it seems? It is so easy for us to substitute our little "bodies" (families, institutions, churches, communities) for the one community, the one Body, that we long for. We do it all the time (I've often thought it is our persisting idolatry). So it may be for our good that God brings down our organizations, disillusions us about the structures we build and the leaders we elect. To clearly show us the limitations and falseness of the "bodies" that we create for ourselves. I think it can help turn us away from dependence on these and stir a longing in us for the experience of the one Body of Christ. Helping us become better and truer members of it.

At least I hope that is the effect here. In any case it gives me the sense that there may be some important purpose and meaning in the events that have just seemed destructive and discouraging up to this point.