jesus seems to like it

I laughed at this one on Christmas but didn't get around to posting it until now. We had friends over for our traditional "chicken with forty cloves of garlic," fresh baguettes, and a French chocolate custard.

And a gift for us this year was hearing that that interns from Emmaus Ministries want to come for a retreat next month. That'll be our first winter retreat and our first specifically for staff, something we've been wanting to try for a few months now.


"to bring out the prisoners"

From a discussion today:

This strikes me as a good example of a common assumption these days: that we are complicit in the evil (or violence) of our social system simply because of where we were born or the color of our skin or our gender. So that the only way we can be "nonviolent" (or not evil?) is by bringing down the system. As you suggest, the idea is that it is not possible to be nonviolent in our current context. Thus I see it argued more and more often that it is meaningless to try to stick with more "innocent" methods, because innocence is meaningless while we are part of this horrible system, and what's most important is the destruction of the system, sometimes even "by any means necessary." Only then might it be possible to be nonviolent.

The moral bondage implied by this theory of unavoidable complicity seems to me the obvious point where it diverges from the message of Jesus. Jesus offered freedom from bondage, and not a freedom only when the system had been brought down. He demonstrated that freedom (including the freedom to be nonviolent) in the midst of imperial domination. This strikes at the claim that our complicity is unavoidable, or that innocence is impossible in the midst of this system. For true freedom, what must be brought down is not the system but the lies, including the lie of unavoidable complicity. And Jesus offers us freedom from those lies.

That doesn't mean we won't continue to also challenge the lies that sustain oppression, sexism, racism, etc. Only that we can challenge them as Jesus did, from the position of the freedom of the kingdom of God, not as co-prisoners beating on the walls of the gulag we created. From the position of an alternative life, where we are not dominated by society or complicit in its evil, and don't have to resort to its methods. A position to offer hope to others that a different life exists. That's what Jesus showed us and offers us now.
Makes me think of Isaiah 42 from the other day, "to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness..."



from Isaiah 42

I think I'll use this as a meditation this Christmas:

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;
and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread forth the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
"I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to graven images.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth I tell you of them."

Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise from the end of the earth!
Let the sea roar and all that fills it,
the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice,
the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy,
let them shout from the top of the mountains.
Let them give glory to the Lord,
and declare his praise in the coastlands.

Cantate Domino "Sing to the Lord"

The Lord goes forth like a mighty man,
like a man of war he stirs up his fury;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
he shows himself mighty against his foes.

For a long time I have held my peace,
I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in travail,
I will gasp and pant.
I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.

And I will lead the blind
in a way that they know not,
in paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them.

Da Pacem Domine "Give peace, Lord"


more waiting

Did you ever think about the fact that after the angels' momentous announcement to the shepherds—that a savior had arrived—they had to wait thirty years before anything actually happened?


My traditional Christmas haiku is noticeably more hopeful this year (here's last year's, with links to earlier ones). The star as the symbol of God breaking through what we know, through the accepted limitations that our failures have taught us. The new wonder that we could neither imagine nor create.

That we can only be grateful for, and rejoice in.


"all are yours"

the world
or life
or death
or the present
or the future, all are yours;

and you are Christ's;
and Christ is God's. (1 Cor 3.22-23)

In this season of waiting, this year I find myself feeling a bit impatient. I think I'm impatient because I'm seeing hints of good things coming and now I want them here right away. Maybe that's the best kind of impatience. But it still makes waiting hard.

I mentioned to Heather the other day that God didn't have to struggle with impatience. Because God isn't bound by time, past and future are all present to God (Heather looked a bit skeptical about that). But if that's true then those words of Paul to the Corinthians take on a deeper meaning. The future is not an unknown to God, God is not waiting for it like we are. Impatiently, like we are. My feeling was that I'd rather have God's experience. But maybe that experience is not so far off, just as God is not so far off.

"You are Christ's and Christ is God's," Paul wrote. And in that union with God we live in the eternal present like God does, in the eternal life that Jesus gave us. The future may not be known to us, but it is also not unknown. It is known. It is assured and it is a present reality to the God who is present with us. In that presence we need not be impatiently waiting, but can be grateful for future gifts and promises certainly fulfilled. "The world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours."



st. nick

Continuing Christmas commentary, from five years ago (and I still think it is important):

The inspiration for Christmas gift-giving (and for Santa Claus) is St. Nicolas of Myra. Not a whole lot is known about him, but this story seems to be the reason for his reputation:

A poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of their plight, Nicholas decided to help them but being too modest (or too shy) to help publicly, he went to their house under the cover of night and threw three purses filled with gold coins through the window. One version of the story has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes "of age." Invariably the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Nicholas say it is not him he should thank but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead.

People soon began to suspect that Nicolas was behind a large number of other anonymous gifts to the poor, using the inheritance from his wealthy parents. After he died, people in the region continued to give to the poor anonymously, and such gifts were still often attributed to St. Nicholas.

A pretty inspiring example. But right away I notice that his giving was very different from our Christmas gift exchanges. Take each point I mentioned yesterday: Nicolas gives without expecting anything back; he gives to someone who most likely can't pay him back (as Jesus taught us). Nicolas gives quietly, anonymously, avoiding praise. And he didn't give for the sake of a holiday; he gave because he saw someone in need right then, and he responded to that need. That's real gift-giving. So very different from our Christmas distortion.

Where I'm living right now, in a Christian intentional community, Christmas gift-giving has been moved to Epiphany, or "Three Kings Day." To try to connect the traditional gifts with the wise men's gifts, something more meaningful than Santa. But the distortions of gift-giving are pretty much the same (a public, seasonal exchange, among people who don't really need anything).

And what of the wise men? Again, their gift-giving is very different. They give to someone in need, a poor family from Nazareth, who cannot repay. And it wasn't any holiday. They gave when God moved them to give. We made a holiday of it because their giving was truly beautiful.

But why don't we follow their example?


18 days, 6 hours, and 1 minute until Christmas

I recently sent this entry (from five years ago) to a friend. He'd mentioned that he's enjoying Christmas less and less each year, "with the drive to shop, shop, shop and the stress of figuring out what presents to get people."

I stepped away from of Christmas gift-giving gradually. My first confused questions started when I was a teenager, wandering around a crowded mall trying to complete my gift list. And the questions persisted, growing more and more bold, until I finally stopped giving Christmas gifts altogether about ten years ago.

Ironically, during that same time it was becoming more apparent to me that gift-giving was central to the Christian life. I was coming to believe that everything we do should be a gift to others, just as it was in Jesus' life. When I could finally specify clearly what I disliked most about Christmas gift-giving, it was that what happens at Christmas is almost the opposite of what true gift-giving should be.

As Jesus taught, gifts should be given without expectation of anything in return. That's basically the definition of a gift. Yet at Christmas there is definitely an expectation of something in return—we don't give gifts, we exchange. Jesus also taught that, when we give, we shouldn't make a show of it or expect recognition. "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." But what have we made of our Christmas gift exchange? The biggest show of the year, a show in every home ("OK, this one is from Aunt Lily..."), a parade of charity emblazoned on billboards and full-page newspaper ads.

Perhaps the part that confused me the most when I was younger was how to find the inspiration to give gifts suddenly at a certain time of the year. Now I think I understand love better. Love doesn't appear out of nowhere at Christmas like Santa Claus; it doesn't count the days until it can express itself. Love gives when the need arises. Love appears when we encounter someone that God wants to touch and we let that healing touch work through us. But this doesn't happen according to the calendar. And we don't have to scratch our heads trying to figure out what to give. When God shows us someone in need, and we're paying attention, God also shows us what to give.

This is all lost when we make gift-giving a seasonal event, and gifts become meaningless trinkets destined to clutter someone's closets and garage (and storage locker, etc)—because no one we know really needs anything. Such a show is not a beautiful celebration of gift-giving. It is a twisting, an undermining, of the true meaning of gift.

Tomorrow: But what about St. Nick?


hints of a path

I haven't written anything personal in a while. I've been wondering about that. I thought about it out in the cabin this morning as I prayed and ate pancakes. At times I haven't written because things are going badly and I don't know what to say. But now I actually feel very encouraged and have been surprised by a clear sense of hope.

Maybe it's that I don't quite know how to explain that feeling. Many aspects of community life here seem to be hitting new low points. Maybe it seems to me that we're close to "hitting bottom" (as they say in AA). I do think I can start to see hints of a path rising on the far side of this deep valley. It does feel like the tide is turning.

I know one thing that's encouraging is that I'm feeling some resolution to my most heart-wrenching prayers and yearnings of the past couple years. I remember writing this almost two years ago:

I still feel like I want the hard consequences of some decisions here to make it very clear that those choices weren't the best or most loving for everyone involved. That the path that has been chosen is not the path of freedom and peace that Jesus showed us in his life. But I can also see that hoping and praying for mercy is right. Maybe praying that not all the hard consequences have to be borne, that our relationships and our connection here be preserved, and a way forward offered. That it be clear that God is not pleased, but also that God is merciful and still holds us in his love. And that we have a chance to choose differently in the future.
It seems to me that God has made this crystal clear through the many tumultuous experiences here since I wrote that. And now I'm finding it much easier to keep praying for mercy. That feels good.

I also see God bringing various surprising pieces together that could potentially provide what we need for a good community life, and real church, here in the future. Like real friendships. Organic community. Generosity instead of subsistence. And these pieces are coming together in ways that none of use could have managed (or even known what we really needed). So I'm encouraged that God is doing something, and has been all along. I think there is still much difficulty and pain to be faced yet, by many people here, but no matter what we choose or do, I believe and am beginning to actually see that God is doing something good.

God is merciful, and still holds all of us in his love.



Another by Chico, this one called "Umbrella." A better way to look at our current weather...


"O give thanks to the Lord"

I thought I'd use Psalm 107 for Thanksgiving worship, maybe chant it. And I found the Grail version online. The Grail, a translation of the Psalms intended for prayer and singing, is traditionally used in the monastic Liturgy of the Hours. Here it is with one of the Gregorian tones:

"O give thanks to the Lord for he is good;
for his love endures for ever."

Let them say this, the Lord's redeemed,
whom he redeemed from the hand of the foe
and gathered from far-off lands,
from east and west, north and south.

Some wandered in the desert, in the wilderness,
finding no way to a city they could dwell in.
Hungry they were and thirsty;
their soul was fainting within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their need
and he rescued them from their distress
and he led them along the right way,
to reach a city they could dwell in.

Let them thank the Lord for his love,
for the wonders he does for men:
for he satisfies the thirsty soul;
he fills the hungry with good things.

Some lay in darkness and in gloom,
prisoners in misery and chains,
having defied the words of God
and spurned the counsels of the Most High.
He crushed their spirit with toil;
they stumbled; there was no one to help.

Then they cried to the Lord in their need
and he rescued them from their distress.
He led them forth from darkness and gloom
and broke their chains to pieces.

Let them thank the Lord for his goodness,
for the wonders he does for men:
for he bursts the gates of bronze
and shatters the iron bars.

Some were sick on account of their sins
and afflicted on account of their guilt.
They had a loathing for every food;
they came close to the gates of death.

Then they cried to the Lord in their need
and he rescued them from their distress.
He sent forth his word to heal them
and saved their life from the grave.

Let them thank the Lord for his love,
for the wonders he does for men.
Let them offer a sacrifice of thanks
and tell of his deeds with rejoicing.

Some sailed to the sea in ships
to trade on the mighty waters.
These men have seen the Lord's deeds,
the wonders he does in the deep.

For he spoke; he summoned the gale,
tossing the waves of the sea
up to heaven and back into the deep;
their souls melted away in their distress.

They staggered, reeled like drunken men,
for all their skill was gone.
Then they cried to the Lord in their need
and he rescued them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper:
all the waves of the sea were hushed.
They rejoiced because of the calm
and he led them to the haven they desired.

Let them thank the Lord for his love,
for the wonders he does for men.
Let them exalt him in the gathering of the people
and praise him in the meeting of the elders.

He changes streams into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
fruitful land into a salty waste,
for the wickedness of those who live there.

But he changes desert into streams,
thirsty ground into springs of water.
There he settles the hungry
and they build a city to dwell in.

They sow fields and plant their vines;
these yield crops for the harvest.
He blesses them; they grow in numbers.
He does not let their herds decrease.

He pours contempt upon princes,
makes them wander in trackless wastes.
They diminish, are reduced to nothing
by oppression, evil and sorrow.

But he raises the needy from distress;
makes families numerous as a flock.
The upright see it and rejoice
but all who do wrong are silenced.

Whoever is wise, let him heed these things.
And consider the love of the Lord.


no good option?

From a discussion on "tragic" situations, when it seems there are no good options:

I see Jesus showing us that we are always free to do good, to respond with God's uncompromising love in any situation, no matter how bad it looks. Isn't that the message of Jesus' response to his crucifiers? I agree that sometimes no good option seems available. But God can make the impossible a reality through us. The miracle is being shown the truly good option that we could not see for ourselves, and being given the strength to do it.

I'm inclined to say that the popularity of the idea of tragedy is itself tragic, a sign of our despair. But I suppose we gravitate to it because it does offer some comfort. Our "lesser evil" choices then appear not as our own failure or compromise, but merely the inevitable result of the broken world we have been placed in.

I can fully support saying that we cannot always know that we are responding in a truly good, Christlike way. And sometimes we will clearly fail. (If we keep trying, though, God will help us do the good that we seek.) But that is quite different than saying that sometimes we cannot respond in a truly good way, because there are no good options available to us.

From my reading of Bonhoeffer, though, I think he crossed the line to willingly doing the "lesser evil." He seemed to think there was some moral heroism in taking the "necessary" sin on himself (and then trusting in forgiveness) if it seemed that act would lessen the suffering of others. That seems to embrace the "no good option" idea, and adds Luther's "sin boldly" idea (both serious mistakes, in my opinion). From Bonhoeffer's Ethics:

When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, and no responsible man can avoid this, he imputes this guilt to himself and no one else; he answers for it; he accepts responsibility for it... Before other men the man of free responsibility is justified by necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience; but before God he hopes only for mercy.
I can see why this view is attractive in its heroism and apparent self-sacrifice (of the soul). But such a "responsibility" that demands our knowingly taking guilt on ourselves seems far from the teaching of Jesus. He said "follow me," and that did not include self-sacrificially doing any "lesser evil."

If we know it's not good, we should not do it, even if it seems a necessity. Jesus showed us to always and uncompromisingly do good, like he did, no matter what. That is what is most useful to God in lessening the suffering of others and making the kingdom of God apparent in our broken world.

Jesus called us to be like him, and promised that he would provide the wisdom and strength to do so. "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do..." Of course it is a matter of faith whether we believe such promises enough to act on them, and try to respond in the way we see Jesus doing.

This is not an easy thing, as you well know. I appreciate and encourage your study of peacemaking models. But those won't always apply (or be sufficient) just as we don't have examples of Jesus responding to every situation that we might face. So we try to learn as much as we can from the examples we do have, and through prayer and practice and relationship with other followers of Jesus deepen our faith and intimacy with God. So that when we don't see the good option the Spirit of God can guide us in this new situation. Again, this is a matter of faith, trusting that the Spirit that Jesus spoke of will be with us to show us what we cannot see for ourselves. This may not be given in advance, we may have to wait in faith for the good answer right up until the moment when action is required. Like when Jesus told his disciples: "When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."

God knows how much time we have, and when action is required. I'm just encouraging us to trust God's guidance and believe that God will be there to show us the good response. It seems to me that if we settle for the "lesser evil," concluding that sometimes "there is no good option," then we're giving up on the good that God could do through us in that situation.

We all struggle. There is no certainty, only faith. And if it is faith in Jesus (not faith in our ethic, or in our strategies, or even in our own imagination, but in Jesus), there is also hope.



we can?

Maybe I'll revive this "homily" from three years ago for worship group this weekend. It was originally preached the day after All Saints day and two days before Obama's election (the readings were Hebrews 12.1-2 and Psalm 146). This seems even more true to me now, after the experience of the last three years:

Barack Obama's campaign slogan is “Change you can believe in.” But he doesn't just want you to believe that he can bring change; he wants you to believe that you can. He wants you to believe that, together, we can change this country and change the world. He's even selling t-shirts with big letters that say, “Yes, we can!”

There are many differences in the policies of the two presidential candidates. But they clearly agree on one thing: They both believe in the power of the people. The power of people working together, combining their strength, their will, and their resources. That is the power they are seeking, that is why they want your vote. Without the power of the people, they are just men and can do very little. But with the support of the people, they will have great authority and power in the world, and great wealth that can accomplish great things. That is their hope. They believe in the power of the people.

Everyone's attention is on these men right now, but in our reading from Hebrews we are reminded to “look to Jesus.” And when we look to Jesus, we don't see someone who believed in the power of the people. We don't see someone who preached “together we are strong and can change the world.” We don't see someone who tried to get the support of the crowds. When they tried to make him king, he refused. He did not seek their power or their wealth to accomplish great things. Jesus accomplished great things not through the power of the people, but through the power of God. It was by the power of God that he fed the hungry and healed the sick and raised the dead. It was by the power of God that he spoke words from God, giving us real freedom and real hope. Jesus' life did not show that people working together can change the world, but that, through one poor, lowly, vulnerable man, God can change the world. It was the power of the people that crucified Jesus, the voice of the crowd, their leaders and their soldiers. It was the power of God that raised him up.

Today we also remember the saints, the many heroes of the faith. But, like Jesus, they did not encourage us to believe in the power of the people. They were the first to admit that the church is not great because of the people, because of them. They made it clear that all the good that we see in their lives was not their work, but God's. As we read in the psalm, it is God who gives food to the hungry, freedom to prisoners, justice to the oppressed. For all the good that the saints did, God gave the inspiration, the direction, the energy, the resources, everything. God once said to Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” And it is in the saints' humility, their poverty, their vulnerability, their weakness, that we can see more clearly the greatness and the power of God. They are heroes to us because their lives pointed, not to the power of the people, but to the power of God.

That is also our mission: To point people to the power of God, to help people believe in the power of God. Let's not join our voices to those who preach the power of the people, those who rule by the authority and wealth that comes from people, those “princes, in whom there is no help.” Let's join our voices and our lives to those who proclaim the power of God, “the Lord who will reign forever.”


O bless the Lord

Great worship time yesterday evening; a new couple came. And this morning I was down by the creek again, singing the "Canticle of Daniel," a traditional part of Sunday morning monastic prayer:

O all you works of the Lord, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, angels of the Lord, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, the heavens of the Lord, O bless the Lord.
And you, clouds of the sky, O bless the Lord.
And you, all armies of the Lord, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, sun and moon, O bless the Lord.
And you, the stars of the heav’ns, O bless the Lord.
And you, showers and rain, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, all you breezes and winds, O bless the Lord.
And you, fire and heat, O bless the Lord.
And you, cold and heat, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, showers and dew, O bless the Lord.
And you, frosts and cold, O bless the Lord.
And you, frost and snow, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, night-time and day, O bless the Lord.
And you, darkness and light, O bless the Lord.
And you, lightning and clouds, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

O let the earth bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, mountains and hills, O bless the Lord.
And you, all plants of the earth, O bless the Lord.
And you, fountains, rivers and seas, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, creatures of the sea, O bless the Lord.
Ad you, every bird in the sky, O bless the Lord.
And you, wild beasts and tame, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, children of men, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

O Israel, bless the Lord, O bless the Lord
And you, priests of the Lord, O less the Lord.
And you, servants of the Lord, O bless the Lord
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

And you, spirits and souls of the just, O bless the Lord
And you, holy and humble of heart, O bless the Lord.
Ananias, Azarias, Mizael, O bless the Lord.
To him be highest glory and praise for ever.

Let us praise the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
To you be highest glory and praise for ever.
May you be blessed, O Lord, in the heavens.
To you be highest glory and praise for ever.


father, son, and holy spirit

I might also share some of my friend Chico's art at worship group. I just found some pictures he had put online years ago. This one is titled "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."


holy fool

I'm thinking of sharing this (very) short story with our worship group this weekend...

Climbing the winding stone steps that rose into the pulpit, he felt a peace come over him. As it almost always did. The pulpit was a secure place, solidly clinging to the huge pillar, raised above the crowd, wrapping close around him. And the elevation, along with the ornate carvings and the focused lighting, reinforced the authority of the words he spoke there. God's words. He held up the large, gilded book for all to see, then opened it and read. His voice, amplified, filled the grand old church, rising with emotion as he concluded. "...God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." The words echoed and disappeared, leaving a powerful stillness. But then another voice piped up, from almost directly below the pulpit.

"Amen, brother! Preach it!"

An amused murmur rose from the people, and he smiled generously. Once in a while there were strange moments like this. Last week, a tall, gangly fellow had stepped into the aisle during the prayers and sprawled out face down on the stone floor. But the congregation was very understanding. There was a psychiatric care halfway house not far from the church, and people from there often showed up for services. Some of them regularly. So occasionally there were minor disturbances, but he'd learned to just smile and carry on, as he did now. Their presence added a little color to the church, he thought. And didn't Jesus try to be friendly with social misfits like these?

Two weeks later there was another incident, involving a man he had never seen there before. Probably a new resident at the halfway house. It was in the second or third row, right in the middle of his sermon; all of a sudden the man's head lolled back and snoring was heard. At first this was ignored. And he had continued to preach, just raising his voice a little and watching the scene out of the corner of his eye. But then the snoring got louder and people started looking and there were some laughs, so an usher approached the man. The sleeping eyes popped open and stared at the usher. Then a gruff voice. "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath!" The volume of this proclamation, and the laughter that warmly welcomed it, sent the usher scurrying away.

It had been difficult enough to get back into the flow of his message after that; but the next week was even worse. The man―who he later found out was named John―showed up again, and again sat up front. This time, however, John did not fall asleep but listened intently. Throughout the sermon John stared at him. And there were no interruptions as he preached eloquently on the building block of society, the family, ordained by God as the fundamental human community. He finished with an Amen as usual, closed the large bible, and turned to descend the steps. That's when John spoke up.

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" John cried out. And spread both arms wide. "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother―amen, preacher?" He hesitated. So John answered himself, "Amen!" Then wrapped an arm around the person sitting on either side―a young man to the left and an elderly woman to the right―and gave each a loud, smacking kiss on the cheek. "Amen!"

That scene inspired him to preach about peace the next Sunday. Specifically the passage that concludes, "For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace." About orderliness in worship. But he didn't limit himself to that; he also spoke about how Christians can spread their peace throughout the wider society. How Christians can be a calming influence in a world full of conflict. This time John listened without any outbursts. He was relieved. Perhaps his message had touched something deep in the man's troubled psyche. As he stepped from the pulpit, he thought he recognized a quiet, thoughtful look on John's face.

But when an usher approached to collect the offering, John suddenly jumped up and grabbed the usher's long pole with a basket on the end. Then leapt into the aisle, shouting. "Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth―I have not come to bring peace, but a sword!" And immediately John began swinging the pole-and-basket with both hands, like a longsword. A woman shrieked. The rest of the people were frozen. Then two ushers rushed over, and John took a wide swing at them. There were several dodges and lunges. Then the madman was subdued. From behind the altar, as he watched them drag John away down the aisle, he was pretty sure he heard John say, "Yeah―this is more like it!"

The following Sunday, he stationed an usher at each church entrance. If John returned, they were to tell him that those who did not respect the other worshippers' here were not welcome. But none of the ushers saw the man. And John's face was not among those in the first few rows. He climbed into the pulpit with the familiar sense of peace.

But he didn't even make it through the scripture reading. A loud slam silenced him and he jerked up to see the front doors flying open and John lunging through. The man was surprisingly fast. And completely naked. Streaking up the aisle, John wailed, "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked shall I return!" Then the nude man was standing up front, by the altar, with eyes closed and both arms raised. "Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

He could take no more. He shouted from his perch in the pulpit, his angry voice booming through the church. "A God of peace, not confusion!"

John opened his eyes. Looked at him. Then smiled serenely and spread both arms wide. "Who's more at peace than this?"

As John strode towards the door, none of the ushers tried to grab the naked man. And no one made a sound. So even from way up in the pulpit he heard John say to a woman in the last row, "The kingdom of God has come near to you!" And with a laugh, the fool was gone.


"in our name"?

Another discussion comment I want to remember, replying to the idea of "violence done in our name"...

I've heard that often an important part of gang initiation is committing some violent or criminal act. The initiate has to do it to be fully accepted. I suppose the reasoning is that once the new person engages in violence or crime with the gang, then they also are implicated and as guilty as the rest, and so are more closely bound, and less likely to resist or turn in other gang members in future occasions of violence. If any are guilty than all are guilty. They are one in a bond of violence.

Your words about complicity in state violence reminded me that more "legitimate" gangs use the same tactics as well. I always remembered Chesterton's description of it:

...In self-governing countries [the] coercion of criminals is a collective coercion. The abnormal person is theoretically thumped by a million fists and kicked by a million feet. If a man is flogged we all flogged him; if a man is hanged, we all hanged him. That is the only possible meaning of democracy...
But is that true of each of us, simply because we happened to be born into a democracy? I think that's what those in power want us to believe, that their violence is our violence, that we are all guilty together. They want us to participate in the political system, even to try to change it, because then when they win, again, "fair and square," they can say they are our legitimate representatives, that their actions and their violence are ours. That if any are guilty then we are all guilty together.

This seems to me to be quite a vicious lie. One that seems to be accepted, though, without question by almost everyone (since we have all been indoctrinated into the myth of "democracy"?). I've made an effort to help free my friends of such a guilt-inducing ideology of complicity, by which you can be implicated in violence by the mere fact of your birth (or the color of your skin). And there's no possible way out.

That's not what Jesus taught or showed us. He showed us that there is real freedom, and that we can be nonviolent without hypocrisy (even as a male in a patriarchal society). Please don't believe the lies of unintentional complicity. And don't let it condemn you and turn you from the uncompromising path of nonviolence that Jesus showed us.



the fire will test

From Sunday's sharing time here...

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.

For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor 3.10-15)


demonic powers (bwaa ha ha!)

Another comment from the discussion on my corporations article (following up this comment):

Yes, I do believe there are demonic powers, real evil spiritual entities (not created by people). And I do think they manifest themselves through our modern corporate idols, just as they did through the idols of biblical times. But that doesn't change anything I said above. Humanly built states and corporations are not spiritual entities any more than the little blocks of wood were spiritual entities: "They have eyes but they cannot see, ears but they cannot hear...." These idols are useful, though (to the demonic powers) in confusing people. They seem to substitute for God, claiming to be higher Powers we can depend on, that will provide for us, protect us, etc. Thus God hates them, hates the lies they are. (And God didn't tell us to try to "redeem" demonic powers either, but wholly reject them.)

My main critique is that the "power of the people" fighting against corporations does not really fight against this lie, but only proposes a different form of the same lie. "The corporation is not God... 'We, the People' is God!"

I think this is seen especially in the fact that uprisings and revolutions almost always soon result in a consolidation of power and domination just like that of the oppressors they threw off. The distribution of power is only temporary at best. If the power is "of the people," coming from the combined might of organized people, then the temptation will always be to consolidate and attempt to throw off our dependence on God. The tower of Babel story forever repeated.

I don't see primitivism offering any help against this (and I don't hear any helpful evidence from anyone who's actually tried to live that way). Neither do I see activist groups and movements avoiding the consolidation of power. Quite the opposite. They need to consolidate all the power they can in order to affect any real change in the system, so compromises are made, groups merge, politicians are brought on board, voters are mustered, money is raised, and the power of the people is seen in action. It's not enough to avoid the anthem. It's the actual power we use that matters, the nature of it, how it tempts and corrupts us.

The only real alternative I see is the one Jesus offered. Reject the power of the people and stay poor and humanly weak, that the power of God may appear in and through us more perfectly. It's quite a different power. It purifies rather than corrupts. It humbles rather than causing pride. And it is never controlled by us, but is always God's alone.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.


Here's the WWI Flying Ace escaping across the French countryside (for Heather),
from "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."


"we don't need them"?

Another discussion comment to add to the article:

Okay here's an example relating to one of the core concerns of the Occupy movement. This isn't about what to do on Wall Street, because I honestly think that's not the place to go for answers to these problems. But I think this is directly relevant. I just read an article about the Oakland protests, and one of the organizers (who was threatening to "shut down the city") said, "The only thing they seem to care about is money and they don't understand that it's our money they need. We don't need them, they need us.''

That sounds good, but is it true? "We don't need them"? There was an article here on JR recently that confessed and lamented a dependence on products from the corporations. But even before we can decide what products to buy, where is our money coming from? I would bet a large portion of the protesters (and those reading this as well) get their income from corporations, large and small. And even those who do not now have jobs seem to think hope lies in the actions of government and the financiers of Wall Street. "Where's my bailout?" So, really, we don't need them?

Starting our own small businesses (being our own "job producers") isn't much of an answer either. I live on a small farm with a community that runs several cottage industries, and it's hard for them. You have to compete in the business world. And that means also competing with bigger businesses. But more importantly, you have to compete in the capitalist system, which means playing by the rules of capitalism that so many at OWS seem to hate (I do too). I've seen what running your own business can do to people. I try to encourage my friends to get out.

So what might "God's power" look like in this difficult situation? It wouldn't look like competing with corporations, or demanding anything from businessmen or politicians. Those are the struggles of human power. Struggles that Jesus didn't seem to engage in, though he also had needs for food and shelter and clothing. So what did God's power look like in his life, economically? Pretty much like this:

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. ...if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?

"Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys."
That may sound idealistic, but Jesus lived it. He showed what a life like that looked like, and it wasn't one of abject poverty. Because our Father is generous. At the Passover, Jesus asked his disciples, "When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" They answered, "Nothing."

Now that's a life where we don't need the money of corporations, or government bailouts, or anything from the rich and (humanly) powerful. Because, though we remain weak and poor, God's power is far more than sufficient to provide everything we need, and much more.

Maybe this example seems too far in the past, though, so I'll just say a bit about my own experience trying to follow Jesus' example in this. I've lived for years without a job, doing only volunteer work and living on gifts given in various ways. I'm married now, living and working in a rural community, with food and income coming from a variety of sources, all gifts. No car or medical insurance, but those needs also have been met by gifts when they arise. And we very rarely even have to ask. Like Jesus said, "Your Father knows your needs." Our income is way below the poverty line, but we feel very generously provided for, and I think anyone who visited us would think so as well.

I suppose that's quite enough. There's more info here, if you're interested. But the journey this far has shown me quite clearly how God's miraculous power makes human power (even organized mass human efforts) seem like nothing in comparison.


they exist only on paper

There's been some good little discussion about the article at Jesus Radicals. Here's one of my responses that I think adds to the article:

It sounds like you believe that "legal entities" have actual existence, that they're real things. People have real existence, their labor and the things they produce are real, buildings are real, but "legal entities" exist only on paper, and in the minds of those people who create them and enforce them and obey them.

The OWS protesters (and the movie makers) are right to object to a corporation being seen as a "person." Because that is a lie. Persons are created by God and honored by God; a "legal entity" is a creation in the minds of human beings only, and is infinitely less than a real person. A corporation has no soul to save.

I'm glad you mention Walter Wink's work; I almost included his theories in the article. I agree he has been quite influential in convincing people that corporations and other institutions are spiritual realities, "powers," with a real existence distinct from the people that make them up. But this also is false. Corporations are quite clearly created by human beings, and human beings cannot create real, living spiritual entities (only "legal entities"). Wink's institutional "powers" are certainly believed in by people, and treated as real, but only in the same way that people have always created false gods, idols that have no actual existence (except as a piece of wood or stone).

I think Wink's critiques in the Powers series are very good. But his theology of corporate entities (that can be redeemed) perpetuates and legitimizes the lie that corporations and states would have you believe, that they are real things, mighty entities, even spiritual entities. What Wink's theology does is keep us from completely rejecting the false and corrupting power of our human institutions and keep us committed to them, trying to "redeem" them. How convenient for the institutions. I'm not at all surprised that message was so well received and popular in our society.

There is real power in corporations and other human institutions, but it is just the power of organized human beings working together. A limited power, easily twisted and very tempting. The power of Babel. The power of "We, the People." But Jesus shows us that we can avoid the temptation of that power and instead wield the unlimited, incorruptible power of God.


the power of corporations... (part 3)

Continuing "The Power of Corporations is the Power of the People":

When the religious leaders asked Jesus by what authority he cast the money changers out of the temple, he replied with a question of his own. “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” The leaders argued, worried about the possible reaction of the people, thus revealing that their power was “from men,” the power of the people that depends on the support of the people. They finally answered diplomatically, “We don't know.” And Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” If all they cared about was the power of the people, they would not recognize the source of Jesus' authority.

The authority and power that Jesus demonstrated came not “from men” but from God. It wasn't the power of gathered, organized people. It was the power that calmed storms and created bread and raised the dead, by the word of a single man, power greater than any mass of human beings can produce. This is also a power that cannot be abused. A power than cannot be used for anything but the will of God, since it is God's work, not ours, that produces its results. Thus it also does not tempt those who use it (or are used by it), because it cannot be bent to our will. God's power is and always remains, God's alone.

Jesus avoided using the power of the people, to more clearly demonstrate the power that can truly set us free, the power of God. So also should we, his followers, shun the power of the people, the power of the corporation and the state, but also the power of the union and the political activist, the power of the mass movement, the power of the crowd. And instead demonstrate a truly different power. The power that cannot be corrupted or corrupt us. The power that cannot make us dominators. The power before which no other can stand. The power not of the people, but of God.

(Download essay as RTF file here.)


the power of corporations... (part 2)

Continuing "The Power of Corporations is the Power of the People":

It seems that what the makers of The Corporation and the OWS protesters are promoting is not a different power, but a redistribution of power. They want the power to be in different hands, more hands. Such a transfer of power is certainly possible. The power of the people has been transferred from the few to the many often throughout history, often after popular uprisings. It has been shifted from the aristocrats to the political parties of the noblemen, and even to the political parties of the “commoner” many times. The power has been shifted from business owners to unions of workers. Through demonstrations and voting, organized people have shifted power out of the hands of kings and CEOs and bankers and owners time and time again.

Yet the power of the people keeps ending up back in the hands of those who dominate. How is that? Why is that?

It's because “the power of the people” is precisely that: the power that comes from people. The power that people can give, that people can muster, the power of their work and their wealth. And people, as we all know from first hand experience, are quite malleable. They can be convinced in any number of ways to contribute their work and wealth, and that convincing doesn't have to be honest or upright to be effective. As we see throughout history, people can be quite effectively organized through deception or threats. The power of the people is available to whoever can gather it, to whoever can get enough people to cooperate or obey, for as long as they can keep that cooperation. That's always been quite tantalizing to those who wish to dominate, and overwhelmingly tempting to whoever has access to that malleable power. The power of the people can be used to dominate because it is the power of human beings, and human beings can be used by other human beings. And if it can be used to dominate, there will always be people who will use it to dominate.

What we need is not “the power of the people” fighting against the power of the corporations, for those powers come from the same source, and always end up looking almost indistinguishable. What we need is a power that is not “of the people.” A power that does not come from malleable people, a power that is not available to whoever can take it, a power that cannot be used to dominate. This is the only power that can truly oppose the power of corporations and nations and every human power.



the power of corporations is the power of the people

I've been thinking of writing up something for Jesus Radicals, and started it today. Probably called, "The Power of Corporations is the Power of the People." Here's the beginning:

“I learned, at that time, a very important lesson,
that one should never underestimate the power of the people.”
(from The Corporation)

In the news recently there have been images of large crowds of people, shouting at the financial towers that line Wall Street. The people, “the 99%,” have showed up to demand an end of the overwhelming influence of corporations in our political system, and the vast majority of wealth being controlled by the few at the top. It reminded me of the excellent documentary The Corporation, based on a book by the same name by Joel Bakan. It offers an in-depth analysis of the rising power of the corporation, and the nature of the beast (a legal “person,” yet with “no soul to save and no body to incarcerate”). But the movie concludes with a strong message of hope, perhaps the same message often heard among the Occupy protesters in cities across the country: “The people, united, will never be defeated.”

As the movie's theme music fades, however, and the shouts recede, I ask myself what is this “power of the people”? The power of united people, organized people, many hands working together, combining their resources and their ideas and their labor? But isn't that the same power that the corporations wield?

Aren't corporations basically large numbers of people, organized around a common purpose to produce impressive results, demonstrating the considerable power of “the people, united”?

Certainly, many of the means used by corporations to organize people and effectively utilize their resources and labor are far from fair or democratic. Workers are lured by needed wages, customers are convinced to give their money through the appeal of low prices (often at the expense of quality), and both are made more dependent on corporations by the intentional elimination of better alternatives. According to capitalist theory, corporate suppliers are supposed to be driven by the demands of the market, the demand of free consumers. But in our modern society, too often powerful corporations can manufacture demand for the product they want to sell, and influence economic forces to keep workers too dependent to make any demands. This power, when used in this way to dominate, is clearly seen to be an evil power. Yet is it not still the power of many hands working together, organized, the “power of the people”?




Reading about the "Occupy Wall Street" protests going on right now, and the comparisons and contrasts with the Tea Party protests, I remembered this clip from the Daily Show. OWS is also having a little trouble focusing their message...


two coins

Another really good retreat experience this past weekend, with a family this time. We used the story of the widow's mite again (I'm sure we'll use this one many times). Heather wrote such a good back story for it; our guests really liked it. Here's a piece:

God gave me a good life. Oh, you could say it was a bad one, people do say that; what do they know? I'm alive, not dead. I still have joy, in a cup of cold water, in the face of a young man. I have something to give to God, even if they say it's nothing. My husband is dead, and of my two daughters one died in childbirth and the other ran away. And yes, it hurts. It always has and it always will. God hurts, too. It doesn't help to have gold or stars or incense, I think, when you have children who've run away, who are living their own nightmares and still will not come home.

I wanted to give him something. I wanted to give him something, to tell him thank you, to tell him I know, to say please, please do all you can for my Johanna and I know you love her too. And this is all I have, and he knows that; if he allows it I should be getting a little more next week, but until then I don't know what I'll eat, and he knows that too. It was the only way I could do it. I tried and tried to save a little up, but I couldn't. So I had to, I had to do this for him. He'll take care of me, I thought. He's taken care of widows before.

But now I don't know. Now I feel ashamed. The temple shines with gold in the sun and I have come to give him two pennies. Two pennies, as if they were worth something. As if I was doing something important, as if me and my sweat-stained dress were something God wanted to see. What will they use my two pennies for, in this temple? To buy a rag to wipe the floors with? What will people think of me, seeing me drop them in the offering box?

The beautiful lady in her silk dress is still ahead of me, walking slowly between her servants under the colonnade, gracefully. She turns aside a little, to avoid a group of dusty men listening to some kind of teacher. They lean in, all eyes on him; his face is hard and angry as I pass by, and I hear him saying “they eat up widow's houses and then they pray long prayers in front of everyone—”

(The whole story can be found here: "Two Coins")


salsa fresca

As the growing season comes to an end, we're enjoying fresh salsa a few more times while we can. Salsa fresca, also known as pico de gallo (beak of the rooster), was a revelation to me. The reason the salsa tasted so much better in Mexico is because it was fresh, not cooked like all the canned salsas we're used to. I tried it last summer and since then there's no going back.

Here's a recipe close to what I usually do. Lemon juice can substitute for the lime juice if you don't have any. And red pepper flakes fill in nicely if there's no jalapeƱos around. I haven't tried adding cumin, but I think I will.

I serve it at retreats, too, like the one this weekend. The guests are almost always surprised and really like it.


the corporation

"A corporation has no soul to save and no body to incarcerate."

That's a line from this very interesting, in-depth documentary, The Corporation. It immediately reminded me of something I've said before about institutions, which include corporations, states, and all other kinds of humanly-created organizations: "Institutions are not persons, they have no soul. They cannot love."

Once the movie starts, there's is a little gray box you can click to select the different chapters.
(The pop-up ads are a bit ironic. I'd think companies wouldn't want to be popping up there...)


"the secular prophet"

From a very insightful article about Steve Jobs' recent death, by Andy Crouch (in the Wall Street Journal):

Steve Jobs was extraordinary in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (demanding and occasionally ruthless) leader. But his most singular quality was his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple's early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and turned it into a sign of promise and progress.

That bitten apple was just one of Steve Jobs's many touches of genius, capturing the promise of technology in a single glance. The philosopher Albert Borgmann has observed that technology promises to relieve us of the burden of being merely human, of being finite creatures in a harsh and unyielding world. The biblical story of the Fall pronounced a curse upon human work—"cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." All technology implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence. And technology is most celebrated when it is most invisible—when the machinery is completely hidden, combining godlike effortlessness with blissful ignorance about the mechanisms that deliver our disburdened lives.

...Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment—but technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket.

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. He believed so sincerely in the "magical, revolutionary" promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It's worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn't, say:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

...Mr. Jobs's final leave of absence was announced this year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And, as it happened, Mr. Jobs died on the same day as one of Dr. King's companions, the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, one of the last living co-founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King, too, had had a close encounter with his own mortality when he was stabbed by a mentally ill woman at a book signing in 1958. He told that story a decade later to a rally on the night of April 3, 1968, and then turned, with unsettling foresight, to the possibility of his own early death. His words, at the beginning, could easily have been a part of Steve Jobs's commencement address:

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now."

But here Dr. King, the civic and religious leader, turned a corner that Mr. Jobs never did. "I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

Is it possible to live a good, full, human life without that kind of hope? Steve Jobs would have said yes in a heartbeat. A convert to Zen Buddhism, he was convinced as anyone could be that this life is all there is. He hoped to put a "ding in the universe" by his own genius and vision in this life alone—and who can deny that he did?

But the rest of us, as grateful as we are for his legacy, still have to decide whether technology's promise is enough to take us to the promised land.



I've been noticing the autumn flocking of birds (though not as spectacular as this, which looks like one of the Danish gatherings of starlings, called sort sol, or "black sun"). The movement is fascinating.

Much of it seems to be the simple behavior of each bird maintaining a certain proximity to those around it. But there's also a freedom or randomness of individual motion that sets off the unique patterns. I wonder why they do it. Flocking has clear benefits, but why the occasional mass displays like this?



More from that discussion...

That book [Anarchy Works, by Peter Gelderloos] looks interesting, thanks. And in good anarchist fashion, it's available free here.

From a brief perusal, though (and correct me if I'm wrong), many of the examples are similar to what I've seen before. For significant anarchist alternatives (like making healthcare accessible, removing the necessity of wage labor, defending against oppressors, etc) large numbers of organized people are required. In certain places and times in history this has been possible to some extent. But for the vast majority of us, those alternatives are not possible now, where we are. We can try to work in that direction, "convert" more people, organize, but the life we hope for is usually not achievable by the means anarchists offer. We just can't get enough people to agree and cooperate.

I think this also points to a place where anarchism (as a political approach) stands in stark contrast with Jesus. He did not achieve his freedoms and anarchistic life through organizing large numbers of people. Jesus' message was not "Organize." The kingdom of God was offered to us here and now as a gift of God, and his life was an example of what that looks like.

...But I have no desire here to say Christians are better than anarchists. Only that Jesus offers something much better, that we can live here and now. That's perhaps an even more challenging invitation to most Christians (who say "we can't live that way in this fallen world") than anarchists (who say "we can't live that way until this filthy rotten system is brought down").


real alternatives

A recent discussion comment...

It is helpful to point to the various real people throughout history who demonstrated some of the anarchistic aspects of following Jesus. But maybe even more helpful to demonstrate those aspect ourselves, showing how they can be lived in our time and place (or even simply that they can be lived here and now). Real, concrete, and practical examples are crucial. That's what we see in Jesus.

Anarchists, while often offering good critiques and well thought-out analyses, have often been weak in providing real, practical alternatives (from what I've seen, at least). The anarcho-primitivists are just the most recent and obvious example of this. Thus anarchists so often come across as merely critics, just throwing ideological bricks (if not real ones) at the real attempts others are making. Even if the critique is accurate, it's not much help if no concrete alternatives are offered, or if the proposed alternatives are not possible for people to live here and now.

Even if Jesus' teachings seem impossible to live by in this world, he showed it was possible (with a little divine intervention perhaps). That kind of lived example can really give people hope. It's hard for others to say it's not possible if we're doing it. And it's hard for others to say it's against God, if God seems to be supporting it in our lives, and our lives are beautiful.



a satisfying resolution

I attended our church here this morning, the first time in over a year. My extended absence had been weighing heavy on me lately. And I finally decided that I shouldn't wait any longer for changes that didn't seem to be coming, that what I was standing against was not the worshiping people of God but the poor leadership and exercise of communal power by the organization, and so what I should do is come back to worship and at the same time give up my membership in the church organization. I'll keep on visiting another nearby church, and also meeting with our little worship group, and probably spend some Sunday mornings by the creek. But I'll worship here again sometimes, too.

This feels like a satisfying resolution for the church struggles over the past couple years, and I feel like I'm in a better place now than I was when it began. The membership issue has been hard, as I recalled a week ago. I still wonder if I consented in order to fit in better initially. I know I've worried a bit about giving up membership, about whether it will be a problem for others now that I have no official connection here. Hopefully I've demonstrated by now that I'm committed to stay and help out in lots of real ways that people can depend on, member or not. But I feel much better having our connection based on lived experience together, and perhaps our shared membership in the one Body, rather than some frail and untrustworthy human organization.

Two things I think are important here: taking a clear stand in contrast with the status quo, and being present. Too often we feel pressured to choose one or another. Take a stand and leave, or compromise so we can stay and fit in. But Jesus showed us how to do both together.

I hope my choice of giving up membership can be seen as a way of laying down power, giving up rights. Putting myself at more risk. Because that's what is necessary to overcome the bondage of fear and be able to act in the freedom of love. And that's the path to new life, here or anywhere.


I made jam for the first time today. Raspberry, from berries we picked yesterday. Too bad a picture can't capture the aroma of the steaming jam being poured into the jars.

We dribbled the last bit over a couple brownies. Raspberries on warm brownies are amazing.


a difficult journey

I've been looking back over some journal entries from the past three years relating to my struggle with church membership...

Tomorrow Heather and I are going to "become members" of the church here. I've been a bit conflicted about it...

To make things as clear as possible, however (and perhaps make myself feel a little better), I'm making a few adjustments. In the commitments, instead of being asked, "Do you commit to...", we'll be asked, "Are you committed to...." To emphasize that we are not becoming members of the church, the body of Christ, tomorrow morning; we have been members of the body for some time. (3.15.08)

When Heather and I became official members back in March I had hesitations, but decided I was satisfied with the membership commitments. I still am, mostly. But the one about church decision-making has caused problems for me since then, bringing back all my objections to institutional membership. Finally I've decided I have to ask to be let off that one (though I should say that I don't think decision-making is worse here than in other churches; it's probably better).

My biggest disappointment is that I may have overlooked this before because church membership seemed necessary for us to be able to do the retreat work here. I might have overlooked the problem because I didn't want to see it, or was afraid of the consequences. (9.13.08)

[From a letter written to the church:]
For a number of years I've been troubled by how churches appear to operate so much like other human organizations, when the church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be so unique. Jesus seemed to offer so much to his followers when he gave the Holy Spirit. He promised we could always be connected to him like branches to the vine, and that he would unite us all as one and guide us all by the one Spirit. This seems very different from any human organization, since it offers what no amount of human effort or ingenuity could ever produce.

In my experience, churches seem most like other human organizations when they are gathered for church councils or members meetings. This is when I have seen most clearly the dependence on authority structures and the struggles to influence and make use of the power of the group. (Decision-making by vote is perhaps the clearest exercise of this power.) Fears of group power often appear then also. And these times of group decision-making seem to be when the temptation is greatest to follow and trust the will of the people, rather than the will of God.

When Jesus invited us into the kingdom of God, I believe he was offering us an experience of common life incredibly better than any human organization can accomplish. God himself would be our father and master, leading us not by any hierarchy but directly, through his Spirit within each of us, and not by group pressure but by our free acceptance of the Spirit's prompting. We could be parts of Jesus' own body, with him as head. This means we could experience a unity beyond our ability to achieve, and a power working through us much greater than “the power of the people,” the power of our organized groups. I believe this also means that we are not responsible to manage this common life that Jesus offered. We do not set the policy for this group or determine its membership or make the decisions that guide its course. We are not in charge of it. The weight of oversight and decision-making does not rest on us. In this family of God none of us are the parents, we are all the children. All that is asked of us is to obey our Father, trust in his care and oversight, and enjoy the miraculous common life that he gives us as a gift. (9.13.08)

I eventually realized that, whether or not the organization is much like the actual body of Christ, we ourselves can live as the actual body of Christ (the body he alone offers to us). And so experience all that Jesus promised for his followers. That is much more important than trying to get everyone else to live up to that ideal, especially when they don't seem to want to. (1.31.09)

I think I've been moving in the right direction here for a while, towards the margins, towards simple service and away from governance and positions of control. But I've felt conflicted about not attending the church lately. And when I think of the other options, other churches around here, I don't see them as much better in the areas that troubled me so much in this church. What to do? I don't want to reject them all, but neither do I want to affirm them wholeheartedly. Did Jesus show the way to respond to this situation, to the various religious establishments that certainly include many of God's people, but are also human organizations rebellious against God?

My most satisfying church experiences may have been when I was on the road, visiting different churches regularly. A perpetual visitor. And now that I think of it, that seems like what Jesus was, a perpetual visitor in the synagogues of his time. He didn't reject them, though he did challenge their ways (and got thrown out of at least one for telling of God's displeasure with them), but Jesus insisted that the most important thing was not where we worship but that we worship in spirit and truth. (Jn 4.19-24) He also compared that Spirit of truth to the wind that blows where it wills—not where people want it to. I'm thinking that I'd like to try to be a perpetual visitor, in several churches near here. Ready to worship with all of them, standing with God's people in all of them, but also a question mark, holding back from fully identifying with that institutional group. Because the organization is not the Spirit, and that's obvious in so many ways.

I find myself feeling much more satisfied with that as a long term response, even if I do eventually join worship here in the community again (every once in a while). It brings back thoughts on church membership from years ago: "I am a brother to all who are also part of Christ. I will recognize them, not by their official affiliation, but by their Christlike lives." (8.22.10)

I hope others can do the same.


Lots of driving today, for my weekly vegetable delivery to Chicago...


for labor day

Come to me, all ye heavy laden,
all ye weary from the road.
Rest your head upon my shoulder
and let me take your load.
For see, my yoke is easy,
my burden very light,
as the sunlight on the meadow,
as the south wind in the night.

Leave behind your anxious labor,
follow me, I will care for you.
For the name of my yoke is freedom
and all my words are true.
Oh leave behind your money,
your glory, let it pass,
as the rain upon the river,
as the dew upon the grass.

Come and drink of my still waters,
without money, without gold.
Of the light in my green valley
no tongue has ever told.
Oh turn and be like children
where my children's laughter runs free,
as the stream upon the mountain,
as the wind upon the sea.

That's a song Heather wrote, to the tune of the Irish folk song "Down by the Sally Gardens." And for a fuller commentary on Jesus' words, there's this: "Come to me, all ye who labor for a living"


"the Lord is not slow"

"Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Pt 3.8-9)
I noticed these lines this morning. They reminded me of what I was saying before about bearing the tension: "In most cases, it takes people a long time to learn a hard truth. When we just make our objection and go, we relieve ourselves (and others) of discomfort, but we don't give much time for anything to actually sink in." Understanding that, I think, also helps us understand why God sometimes seems to take such a long time to respond, to bring justice, to fulfill his promises. He doesn't wish that any should be crushed, but that all should reach repentance.

So, Peter says, "count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation." Not the quickest salvation, but the most complete salvation, if we have the faith to wait for it.


the prophetic

I've been thinking again about the prophetic. What it is to be prophetic. Maybe I'll try to put it together into a coherent whole eventually, but I just wanted to jot down a few notes. I've written about it before, in past years. Most of my thoughts have to do with the misinterpretation of the prophetic in recent years, confusing it with activism (Christian activists really like to claim the term).

One thing is that the prophets tended to speak alone, not in a crowd. Speaking boldly, but from a position of vulnerability. Speaking with the voice of God, not the voice of the people. And that's the biggest thing, that the prophet spoke for God. They weren't kicking off a social campaign against injustice, they were announcing God's judgment and prophesying what God would do. If God didn't actually make it happen, then they were shown to be false prophets. But it always depended on God, the initiative, the words (or actions), and the actualizing of the words. The prophet himself remained weak and often marginalized by the people. But God's power was evident through the prophetic words.

So the key aspect of the prophetic is not boldness or critique or the imaginative use of props. It's a deep awareness of what God is saying and doing.


plow creek

Some pictures from the creek, where I pray some Sunday mornings. I think I'll bring these to our worship group tonight.



Yesterday we threw a surprise birthday party for Heather (her first ever!). I made French bread and bruschetta, and a peach pie and blueberry pie, with berries we just picked.

And I also found some old pictures to make into a little slideshow. Here's the first one, a favorite of mine.


bearing the tension

Over the years I've tended to favor some sort of conscientious objection when the group I'm a part of seems to be headed in the wrong direction. It probably started from my Navy experience. But I've found a similar refusal to cooperate or participate has often seemed like the best response when the majority of the group doesn't listen to my objections. It doesn't try to force them to relent. It just says I object enough to not want to be a part of what they are doing. And it leaves it for God to bring out the truth in the end.

One aspect of a conscientious objection, though, is tension between the objector and the majority of the group. That's hard to bear for long, in my experience. In that situation the tendency is to find a way to relieve the tension, either by leaving the group, or by somehow pressing the issue to a crisis, so that the group has to give in or expel the objector. Either way, the tension ends.

I can understand why people choose these tension relievers, and I've done it myself at times. It's very unsettling to be at odds with the community of people around us. But our inability to remain at tension usually leads to breaks in the community, and those usually do not benefit anyone very much. In most cases, it takes people a long time to learn a hard truth. When we just make our objection and go, we relieve ourselves (and others) of discomfort, but we don't give much time for anything to actually sink in.

So I think it's really important, not just to have the courage to conscientiously object, but to have the greater courage and patience to object and stay. To stay involved. To find other ways of showing we care, and that our relationships are about more than whatever we may be disagreeing about. To give people the time they need. To bear the tension until God relieves it, not by breaking but by mending.