I've been off the grid for a few days due to some bad fiber optic cable, but I'm back baby!


from psalm 81

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Raise a song, sound the timbrel,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our feast day.

For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.
I hear a voice I had not known:

"I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder..."


continuing "birds of prey week"

Yesterday Heather heard a loud thud and looked out to see a small hawk lying in the snow, stunned. It must have been diving after a small bird eating at our window feeder and hit the window, hard. It was alive but wasn't moving. We thought it might have broken its neck.

Heather brought it in, though, and put it in a dark, warm place (covered by a laundry basket just in case it revived). And after about a half hour it was sitting up. The next time we peeked at it, it flapped around frantically. So we slowly moved it to the door and raised the laundry basket. And it flew. It was quite moving to watch it sail gracefully out over the snow.

From what Heather can tell, it was a young sharp-shinned hawk. The picture shows what it probably looked like just before it hit the window. I named it, too. We'll always remember the day we were visited by little Noggin.


in the clear cold air

An enjoyable winter day today, after a bitterly cold night. I hauled firewood home with a garden cart, which has been an unexpected pleasure these past few months.

And we've been seeing bald eagles lately. They come down and winter here most years, drawn by nearby unfrozen rivers, I think. This morning Heather noticed one circling overhead. Very, very high. The smooth, unhurried soaring certainly does bring to mind the word majestic.


"nothing is impossible for God'

From a discussion on whether sinful people can thwart God's purposes:

I know many Christians (now and throughout history) who believe quite firmly that all things are in God's hands, that nothing occurs without God allowing it, for the working out of his own good purposes.

This doesn't mean that God wills sin. For sin is an intention, not an action or situation. Actions and situations can clearly indicate that sin is present in the intent of those acting, but sinful intentions also can and do result in actions that end up playing a part in some good effect (such as making sinful intentions apparent, stimulating repentance or selfless love, or even actually helping someone that the sinner did not intend to help). I've experienced this often. The crucifixion is the most extreme example. God does not will sin, but what God allows to actually happen, God can work with to bring about his good purposes.

As Jesus (and many others) said, "nothing is impossible for God." But if sinful people can thwart God's ability to carry out his purposes as you insist, how can Jesus truthfully say nothing is impossible for God?

Faith in God's sovereignty over all things, the belief that all things are securely in God's hands and nothing is impossible for God, these distinctly separate our actions of charity and justice from what the "secular leftists" offer. These truths are the sure foundation for our courage and selfless abandon. But I know these traditional beliefs are not so popular among modern, left-leaning Christians; perhaps that's part of the reason they often end up hardly distinguishable from their secular social justice counterparts.

Acting (and speaking) in such faith, though, is what most clearly points people to a God they can depend on completely. That is the way to real salvation, in every sense of that word.

p.s. happy birthday to me!




From a discussion about the current direction of the Mennonite church...

Who gets to define what "Anabaptism" is? The religious historian? The current church leadership? The majority of official members? I think any of these could legitimately claim the right to define what is Anabaptist or Mennonite.

I think that is one of the major shortcomings of our human institutions (and their ideologies), among which "Anabaptism" and "Mennonite" clearly stand. People created these and defined these (and can redefine these if they want to), decide who's in or out, etc. This of course leads to endless controversies and rifts, as history shows, with people creating and re-creating their plethora of institutions continually. That's a fact of human life. But it should make clear to us that the church, the body of Christ, the kingdom of God (whatever you choose to call it), a singular and unique corporate reality which God alone creates and defines, is something quite different from our institutions.

Thanks for noting this: "I think [institutions] always tempt practitioners to focus on external goods like money and influence rather than being good ministers or teachers."

My suggestion (and my practice) is to avoid wasting any energy on the fight over the nature and direction of Anabaptism and focus instead on submitting to and demonstrating the reality of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. The integrity of that kingdom is never in question and it cannot be altered by changing trends in theology or culture. Find other Christians, in whatever congregation they might be, and worship with them. Encourage and challenge them (and be encouraged and challenged by them), not to be real Anabaptists, but to be real followers of Jesus. See and be his one Body on earth. It's not an unachievable ideal, it's as real as Jesus is. And, unlike every institutional body, it doesn't die.

Leave the wrangling over human institutions to those who rely on those for their identity and security. As Jesus said, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."


a dishonest steward

Chico noticed this article in the Chicago Tribune. It sounds oddly familiar...

'Generous' banker gets 63 months in prison

First Security Trust & Savings Bank loan officer Jeffrey Gonsiewski, who pleaded guilty in August to one count of federal bank fraud, was sentenced to 63 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo on Tuesday.

The U.S. Government last summer had accused the 56-year-old high school graduate of changing loan terms or arranging loans to be made in a scheme that ultimately caused the Elmwood Park-based lender, part of the Wirtz family empire, to lose more than $5.5 million.

Some monies have since been recovered, so Gonsiewski now has been ordered to pay nearly $5.2 million in restitution. On Jan. 20 he’ll report to a still-unspecified prison.

Gonsiewski had admitted that he changed the terms of at least 100 loans for more than 50 struggling borrowers to make it appear that their payments were current when in fact they were overdue. He’d change due dates to a later time period, or monthly payments to quarterly ones, or principal-and-interest payments to interest-only payments.

“As stupid as his plan can be judged, he never sought to profit from it,” Gonsiewski’s lawyer wrote, adding that he “never took one cent from anybody.”

Gonsiewski, who after spending more than 30 years at the bank now works as a caterer’s helper and a stock boy and also recently as a delivery driver, told the judge before his sentencing that he was “truly sorry.”

“I really only had good intentions,” a bearded, balding and bespecled Gonsiewski said softly. “I spent 34 years doing a job I loved.” He said he has also apologized to family and friends, particularly his wife, Beth, who was one of only a handful of people to attend the sentencing.

If Gonsiewski was indeed helping troubled bank borrowers, few if any showed up to express their appreciation during his sentencing in a U.S. District Court in Chicago. Both Jeff and Beth declined to comment afterward. Beth, with short hair and wearing a black suit and white shirt, retained her composure throughout the proceedings, as did Jeff.

Judge Bucklo seemed baffled by Gonsiewski’s behavior in light of the fact that he didn’t appear to profit personally from it. His salary at the bank was $69,000 a year; his wife has worked as a bartender and as an assitant manager at a restaurant.

"How it would be worth it," she said, "I just don't understand."


cutting wood with a chainsaw

I've been reading Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace, recommended by a friend. Interesting so far. I liked this passage, defending his wife's work at home:

Another decent possibility that my critics implicitly deny is that of work as a gift. ...what appears to infuriate them is their supposition that [my wife] works for nothing. They assume—and this is the orthodox assumption of the industrial economy—that the only help worth giving is not given at all, but sold. Love, friendship, neighborliness, compassion, duty—what are they? We are realists. We will be most happy to receive your check.
I think I'll mostly agree with his social critiques, and probably learn a few disappointing realities that I'd rather not have known about, but that give me a clearer picture of our society. I'm pretty sure, though, that I won't agree with his alternative, though, which seems to be agrarianism. Going back to the land, living like simple farmers. (Though it seems I'm halfway there already!) Much like with the political anarchists I read years ago, I agree with their criticisms, but their solution doesn't seem good enough. Nowhere near Jesus' answer, anyway.

For example, even though Berry has simplified his life very intentionally and with much success, he has to admit:
I am, however, still in bondage to the automobile industry and the energy companies, which have nothing to recommend them except our dependence on them. I still fly on airplanes, which have nothing to recommend them but speed; they are inconvenient, uncomfortable, undependable, ugly, stinky, and scary. I still cut wood with a chainsaw, which has nothing to recommend it but speed, and has all the faults of an airplane, except it does not fly.

...I am not an optimist; I am afraid that I won't live long enough to escape my bondage to the machines.
How can any answer be sufficient if it still leaves us in bondage?

Jesus' answer seems to be focused on faith, dependence on God. Which I think doesn't necessarily require cutting ourselves off from energy companies or tossing our chainsaws (they can fly!). But it could relieve our bondage to them. I think Berry's bondage in this case is mostly in his head, but in any case I think anything that's truly a gift cannot be a source of bondage. And in the life of faith, everything we need comes as a gift from God.

He's right about chainsaws being scary, though.