I'm sending this letter to the people who have supported us in starting the retreats here:


In July I wrote about the fire that destroyed a house here on the farm this spring. No one was hurt, but very few things from the house survived. One thing that did was the sturdy wood stove. (Not the cause of the fire, by the way.) Now that stove is in our living room, making it a much warmer and more welcoming place in the winter. Heather had hoped for a wood stove for quite a while, but we couldn’t afford one. So it was an surprise this year to experience, amidst our grief for our friends’ loss, a feeling of gratitude for God’s unexpected provision. We cleaned the rust off the stove and, with the generous gifts offered by several people, were able to install a chimney ourselves so that the stove was burning before the snow fell.

We were also surprised this year to have three different Chicago ministries come for retreats with us. Guys from Emmaus ministries, which helps men get out of prostitution, were here for the third year now and are becoming good friends. And we had our first women’s retreat for a group from Good News Partners, who showed us the depth of sharing that can happen among sisters who really love each other. One of those women later brought a group from her church, five charming and enthusiastic friends with developmental disabilities. That weekend was a bit of a stretch for us, but with the reward of glimpsing some of God’s true anawim, the poor of spirit. Hopefully all these folks will come to visit us again and again. One more bible study group from a church soup kitchen also planned to come this summer, but last minute health problems forced us to cancel that retreat. Maybe we’ll get a chance to meet them next summer. (Or in the winter, if they’d like to gather around a roaring fire.)

There were some unexpected personnel problems on the farm this summer, so Heather offered lots of hours in the garden to bring in the harvest. Please pray for all the families who depend on the farm here. We’re grateful for our friends and for all the healthy, delicious fruits and vegetables that they give us to eat and to serve to our retreat guests.

One more little surprise came when we received a Christmas card last week from Mary, who was with us on a retreat this summer. She wrote, “May the Savior be in everything that you do and say!”

We’d be grateful if, when you think of it, you’d pray those words for us. We’ll do the same for you.


try crying

A response to someone having a hard time breaking out of Christmas consumerism because of family expectations...

You know what I found that works? Tears.

I remember one year when I was a teenager, out shopping for Christmas gifts with my mom, having a hard time making myself pick out just the right thing (which I wasn't good at) for people who really didn't need anything anyway. I got increasingly frustrated and unhappy, until I finally just stopped in the middle of the mall. I looked around at everyone else rushing around under the Christmas gift-giving pressure, and I started crying. When my mom showed up I sobbed, "It's just all so bad!"

We had a talk about it and she never pressured me about gifts at Christmas again. Years later, I'm completely out. No one expects a gift from me and no one seems to mind, it's just accepted. I came up with lots of arguments against our Christmas gift-giving traditions, but I don't harp on those any more. I usually just write a Christmas haiku, my own little tradition (like this one) and send it to friends and family. That's it. Not a problem any more.

Seriously, tears work.


This year's Christmas haiku, a little tradition of mine...



"...and on earth peace among men on whom God's favor rests"

From a conversation today...

I agree that intervention was clearly part of Jesus' ministry. And maybe provocation, too, depending on what you mean by that. I don't rule out either intervention or provocation, it's just that there are many ways to intervene and many ways to provoke, and I don't see Jesus intervening and provoking in many of the ways I see political activists (or even CPT) doing it.

One of the biggest differences is that I don't see Jesus coming into a place and attempting to make it peaceful, or free of conflict. He said, "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." And I think your two examples (the incarnation and passion week) demonstrate this well. As far as I can tell, those places did not immediately or in the long term become more peaceful places after Jesus' intervention there. The most obvious impact, actually, seemed to be that they became more violent (I'm thinking of Herod's killing of the children and the crucifixion). And the conflict in Israel seems not to have abated much since then.

If Jesus' goal was to "make peace" in the way political activists try to do it, then he wasn't much of a success. But then he even said that wasn't his goal. What Jesus did succeed at, though, was what he said he was doing: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." Jesus demonstrated the fearless peace of God and he passed it on to everyone who would accept it from him. Not a peace that exists only when conflict has been quelled, but a peace that exists in the midst of conflict, the kind that existed in Jesus even when his actions actually resulted in greater conflict around him.

The key to this apparent contradiction, I think, is that Jesus seems to have always expected his followers to be a small minority. So the peace they experienced and demonstrated would certainly affect those around them, but it wouldn't determine the overall way society acted. They wouldn't make the world a peaceful place. (Only a place that now had a few more peaceful people in it.) More likely, as Jesus predicted, there would be more conflict because society would attack the new "outsiders" in its midst.

I can also see Jesus provoking, but I don't think his entry into Jerusalem was intended to provoke the authorities to arrest and kill him. Maybe he knew they would be offended and would choose that moment to act against him; but I don't think his triumphant entry was about the authorities. I think it was about declaring the truth clearly, while he still had the chance (since they already wanted to kill him). And I think it was for the people who waved palms and shouted hosanna and laid their coats before him. That the authorities would likely respond badly was a sad side note, but Jesus was not deterred by that. To make this action primarily about provoking them seems to greatly diminish the meaning of his prophetic act.

And I don't believe Jesus would intentionally provoke anyone to do evil. Do you? I can't say the same of some activists who seem to want to be thrown in jail, or score some damning video footage...


the baby's here!

Hey Jude (the Beatles)

Hey Jude don't look so sad
Take a long cry and you'll feel better
Remember to let us into your heart
Then we can start to make it better

So let it out and let it in
Hey Jude begin
You're waiting for someone to perform for
And don't you know that it's just you
Hey Jude you'll do
The movement you needed is in your diaper


"take one or two others along with you"

I came across the famous "Matthew 18" passage again this morning:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
And I started thinking this might be the best approach to take with most things in a Christian community, not just "when your brother sins against you."

I mean start small and from the bottom up. We don't have to wait until people in leadership positions decide to initiate everything, when we see what is needed we should respond as we can: individually first, then if we need more help, ask one or two others. And if it's something that a few can't handle and it needs everyone in on it, only then bring it before the group. So often I've seen ideas presented to leadership or in a meeting, and then watched them get bogged down when everyone feels they have to have their say on it. Or things not getting done because the group can't come to a consensus. When most of the time only a few people are really needed to accomplish the task, and someone could certainly find one or two people that could agree and take care of it.

That approach also has the feel of the Good Samaritan to it. Instead of avoiding problems (or problem people) because "it's not my job to handle that mess," we step in and act, even if it's just as an individual. I think that makes it easier for the Spirit, too. Just having to move one or two people in the right direction, instead of having to overcome the inertia of a large group.

And notice in Jesus' Mt 18 instructions, no leaders mentioned. A troublesome situation like that, and there's no directions for when the people in authority positions should step in and handle it. If it's that way for dealing with unrepentant community members, what's could possibly be so difficult that we would have to call a leader at all?


I got a letter from Chico yesterday with some really nice artwork in it. Here's his idea of Heather and me appreciating our wood stove:

Chico's a bit of a tree hugger...


I just found out our friends' baby boy could come any day now...


the power of empire

Here's something from a conversation today. I was responding to this statement: "I would also like to argue that the power of people is [not] the power of empire. The power of empire is violence."

Is that really true? Your understanding seems to be a common one among those who struggle against empire nonviolently, but I think it misses the deeper truth. Yes, empire uses violence. But so does, say, a mugger. The mugger is not considered "empire," though, is he? The mugger is considered a "criminal" and is arrested and punished by empire, which uses violence to do it. So what's the difference between the mugger and empire? They both use the power of violence, but the violence of empire is considered (by society) right and good, while the violence of the mugger is considered wrong and is punished. Empire here seems to have more power than just violence, they have power to determine guilt, to define justice, to decide what is "good" and what is "evil."

Where does this (apparent) power of empire come from?

It comes from the support of the people. The power of every empire comes from the many, many people that support its laws, its rulers, its organization. People usually support governments because they want to use the power (and wealth) of large organizations of people. For example, Democrats and Republicans both want the power of empire so they can achieve their goals, so they all support the empire, though they fight against each other for control. But everyone thinks "united we are strong." Empire is the result of that uniting of human strength.

Jesus wasn't just against violence. He was also against the pride of people thinking "together we are strong." He saw that the power of humans gathering their united strength was a temptation to us, it corrupts us, it makes us feel like we can provide our own security and food and everything we need. It even makes us think we can define justice, what is "good" and what is "evil." It makes us think we don't need God. It makes us think we can be our own god. Just like with the tower of Babel, when human pride in their united strength tempted them to build a tower to heaven. So Jesus rejected that power of many organized people, the power of the crowd. He stayed small and few and weak and poor. All the power he demonstrated came from God, not the people.

I think we as his followers should do the same. Not try to muster the power of movements or cooperatives or denominations. Not try to use the media to get public opinion on our side. Reject the motto "together we are strong"; reject the call to "Organize!" All of these are simply smaller attempts to gather and utilize the very same power that empire uses: the power of the people.

Jesus, even when he was alone, wielded a power that made the power of all people seem like nothing, truly nothing. Jesus showed the power of God was even greater than death. With that power, we don't need any big organization to accomplish God's purposes, and we don't need to fear anything from governments or corporations or any other human group. We can experience the freedom and power that Jesus demonstrated, right now, right in the midst of empire.

But we have to reject the power of the people. And look to God alone to be our help, our protector, our source of food and shelter and every good thing.