I heard this song on the radio the other day and liked it. It's by a group called Flyleaf. The song, "Chasm," is based on the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

(If the video doesn't quite match the words, that's because someone put this song over a video for one of the band's other songs.)



"the opiate of the masses"?

Marx's critique about religion being the opiate of the masses never concerned me much, at least not since I recognized that Jesus himself was far from being any opiate. He was much more a revolutionary or prophetic firebrand ("I came to cast fire upon the earth!") than any stupefying pie-in-the-sky parson.

But Marx's phrase came to mind again lately, and seems worth reconsidering, because he was talking about religion, not Jesus. And perhaps much of what happens in churches does actually act in society like the opiate that Marx described, lulling people and providing a form of "comfort" that doesn't actually change their situation or get at the real source of their problems. Reframing difficult situations with religious language can make them seem noble and worth enduring, when what's really called for (even called for by God himself) is change. And I mean change in ourselves first of all. Our religious consoling of each other, often using Jesus' own words, can easily get in the way of Jesus' actual challenge to us.

I also wonder how much just sitting there in the pew lends our passive support to this "blowing of the smoke," so to speak. Our tacit acceptance of the religious lulling adds one more person to the social weight of what's going on, making it seem more real, more true (since everyone seems to agree). Beyond the issue of whether I can sit there and bear to listen to it, I wonder if I also owe it to the others to stop sitting there and listening to it.


The bee balm is blooming now, a favorite of the hummingbirds around here. A favorite of mine, too. I first saw them on the Appalachian Trail years ago and liked them, so we transplanted some from our neighbors in the valley. They're an herb, too, Heather tells me. But I prefer to look at them rather than chew on them.


"for the sake of the Giver"

I was talking the other day with a friend who used to live here, and we were reflecting on the changes since he moved away. One is my increased involvement in practical work like maintenance and bookkeeping. And I recalled that this developed because I had been "preaching" against us being driven by material needs and pressures and an older man here had objected to that because he was carrying much of that load alone at the time. Over the next six months, I ended up taking over most of those duties for him. But now I wonder if I have changed my mind or forgotten my earlier "preaching."

Looking back at some journal entries from that time (and earlier), I found these lines that express my concern then:

I think the real choice is between a work-focused struggle for our own survival and a faith-focused acceptance of the life given us by God, a life we cannot produce for ourselves, a life for which we can never claim credit. A life not lived for its own sake, but for the sake of the Giver.
I still believe that. But I wonder how well my life has demonstrated that lately. I may have gotten too focused on just fixing the broken things and completing the "necessary" tasks, instead of communicating dependence on God.

Jesus was described in John's gospel as "the Word." Meaning that his life, his words and all his actions as well, was meant to communicate a message from God, the message of faith, that we can trust and depend completely on our loving Father. I'd like my life to communicate that as well. But that means the focus of my work can't be just solving physical problems. The work has to be done in a way that communicates both love and trust in God.

For example, much of our work is done "out of necessity," most often to make money so that we can buy what we need. We do what will pay, we serve and obey those who pay us. This communicates clearly. But it is not the message of faith or dependence on God but dependence on those who have money, it is much more the message of slavery than freedom and love.

I've resisted that message pretty well, I think. But I also think I like feeling capable and feeling that people can depend on me, and I probably communicate that in the way I've been working. That's not good. So how do I change?

I suppose first I need to be more aware of my interactions with those I'm serving, not just the technical problem at hand but how my service is affecting the person in need. Perhaps some might also suggest "empowering" the other, to allow them to be less dependent on me. But I'm not trying to help them become more self-dependent or in-dependent (which is an illusion of no spiritual value). Maybe there's a way to help them see that I'm only a part of God's care for their needs, and that if I wasn't there God would provide another person or another way. Actually, that would probably ease pressures on me as well as offering them the truth about who is really the Giver.



they are not the ones engineering society

...where are the anawim whenever there is a social crisis like this? They are not the ones scrambling to hold things together. They are not the ones engineering society. They may well be the ones who suffer the most physically, but it's not the burden of responsibility that they suffer under. They are like the children in the family when there is a crisis. And they know who is truly the Father.

This is the part that I've been thinking on some more. Because I've been feeling pulled to "do something" to solve our pressing social problems, and because I'm trying to be more and more deeply one of the anawim.

I've dropped out of all official leadership positions, including "spiritual" ones (which are usually more organizational leadership than actual spiritual leadership—that doesn't require any official position). Instead, I've worked to meet actual material needs, fix things and solve logistical and physical problems that arise. But the problems of crumbling social structures are very different kinds of problems. They are not actual "needs," in my opinion. People certainly treat them that way, they want clear leaders and ordered hierarchies and duties, and if they are not there people get disturbed enough to perhaps even leave the community. That, then, seems like a real problem (since we lose their help). But the cause of it all is the perceived need for these structures, the perceived need of the group. The will of the (frightened) people.

Those who are in social positions of leadership must respond to these demands of the group (which are driven by their fears and perceived needs). They have to grapple with these and try to come up with structures and organizations that satisfy the group, and so hold the group together. But the anawim, the lowly people in society (or a community), do not have to respond to these demands. They don't have to hold the group together. That is not their burden.

The anawim who trust God for order and security and support in their need do not have to fear when the social structures tremble. Their structure, the structure of the body of Christ, is never in jeopardy. And their support, the care of their Father, is never threatened when others run away in fear. They can simply continue loving those around them, tending to their real needs. And show them there is no need to fear—and no need to set up another king.


trembling revisited

I'm feeling this way again (this is an entry from a year ago):
Not sure how to begin with this one. I feel like I'm looking at things at the farm differently now. Before, I saw some weakening organizational structures and thought this might be an opening for change, for trying something interesting, for taking a chance on something more radical. But things got weaker and shakier, and people got more worried. Now I look at it and don't wonder about the possibility of change, I see the structures starting to crumble and wonder how long they will last. And then nervously wonder about what will happen if they don't.

I guess it's similar in a way to the serious challenges our financial systems are facing. I know people (myself included) who criticized the system as unjust and oppressive and hoped it would be brought down. But to get a glimpse of its actual collapse is pretty scary.

It makes me aware of how much I'd been expecting these structures to be there, even as I lamented them and criticized them. Maybe I even have relied on them being there. I know I feel pressure to save them, even though I don't agree with them. I'm not sure how much I want to save them for my own security, or maybe it's for the sake of the other people who rely on them. I realize that I should depend on God and not these human organizations. And I have a hard time getting up the motivation to take any leadership when I don't really believe in what's being done. But what will happen if they fall?

...I think I need to resist the urge to try to save the structures. The real church, the body of Christ is not in jeopardy, God insures that. I need to make my choices reflect that truth.

Also, where are the anawim whenever there is a social crisis like this? They are not the ones scrambling to hold things together. They are not the ones engineering society. They may well be the ones who suffer the most physically, but it's not the burden of responsibility that they suffer under. They are like the children in the family when there is a crisis. And they know who is truly the Father.


This morning I cut a few peace roses from the bushes by our front door, and brought them in. As I prayed I admired them, with dew still on their petals.