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.



a little problem

Things are finally settling back to normal around here. And I wanted to take the time to recall the little excitement we had just before the retreat a couple weeks ago.

We had been preparing all the week before, Heather had written a new story for the retreat, and we were very eager since it was our first retreat this summer. It genuinely felt like an opportunity again to have a group come out. And it had taken so long for us to come up with a date that worked for them, we were just grateful that they were finally coming.

The staff in Chicago had done a good job of arranging it on their end. The guys were signed up, even an extra in case someone dropped out at the last minute (as often happens). They had planned a lunch together, an extra incentive to show up, and would leave right after with plenty of time to get started before rush hour traffic. A good plan.

But at around 12:30 we got a phone call. A little problem. None of the guys had shown up for lunch.

The staff had managed to reach a couple of they guys who had signed up. One was in Indiana. But he thought he could get back in time for them to pick him up on the way here. One or two others had decided not to go. The others couldn't be reached. They would try to find a few others to come, but if they couldn't find at least three they would have to cancel the trip. They just wanted to let us know they might not be able to make it.

A big disappointment pressed in on us. Heather suggested that they would probably try again later if it fell through this time, but I wasn't so sure. We did some hard praying. I just couldn't believe it would be cancelled. A few weeks before, I had gotten to the point of begging God for a sign to keep up hope, and that same day they confirmed their date and then another woman called and asked to come for a personal retreat. I couldn't believe it would end up being a false hope. So we kept up with our final preparations and prayed.

It was a long hour and a half.

Then the phone rang again. I picked it up and was told that it looked like they had found enough guys to come. "God provides," he told me.

We actually ended up with a full retreat group, one of the best groups we've had. They had fun together and there was lots of music and laughing and everyone engaged and shared and made our time together good. Two of the guys had been with us before, it was great to see them again. And they all seemed eager to come again. We hope they do, soon.

Though maybe with a bit less pre-retreat drama next time.


the paths we walk

Another song from the weekend gathering, this one by Heather and Katie, who sang it during communion. The lyrics of the first verse are changed a little from this early recording by Katie:

"The Paths We Walk"

We were not strong
We were not wise
We looked on your light and we closed our eyes
When for your love
Dying alone
You broke us and healed us and made us your own

Though the paths we walk may be dark indeed
Though the paths we walk may be dark
We trust you, we know you Lord

You hear our cry
You hear our call
When the storm is so raging and we are so small
The only reason
Our souls still stand
Is the wine and the bread we've been fed by your hands

In that dark valley
You know so well
You shielded us from the powers of hell
We have wept at the touch
Of death's hand in the night
We have danced at the dawning of your holy light

We wait for you
We wait for you
We wait for you and we will rise


be still, God'll fight your battle

We're in the middle of the Shalom Mission Communities camp meeting here on the farm. Yesterday for worship, Heather's aunt Helen led this great "old time camp meeting" song (here sung by Rev. Timothy Fleming; it's his song I believe):


"one little clink, and then another"

The retreat this past weekend went very well. One of our best experiences, I think. I'll write more about it when things quiet down a little around here, but here's the dramatic reading Heather wrote to get us into the story of the widow's two coins:

I have walked two miles today, and now I am at the Temple. The house of God, the glorious place, where I will do what I have got to do.

But now I stand looking at it, the white marble pillars, the engraved gold on their tops, and I seem to shrink into myself. I'm sweating. It's so hot. The beautiful lady walking ahead of me, with the gold woven into her veil, she has a servant with her, fanning her with a huge fan. I have my old brown dress, and my sweat, and the two pennies clenched in my hand. I follow her in through the high gates, watch the heads turn toward her. Their eyes slide quickly over me, they don't see me, and why should they? People don't like to look at ugly things. Not here in the Temple, where everything is beautiful, to honor God. Not here where you can hear the choirs singing, even from out in the courtyard, the music rising like incense—incense and marble and gold, gleaming in the sunlight, what am I doing here? What did I ever think God wanted with me and my rough hands and my old clothes and my ugly face? What did I ever think God wanted with my two pennies, him that has marble and gold? I should turn around. I should turn and go home. But I can't face it, the walk. Home under the beating sun, for nothing. I swore I would do this. I made a vow to God. You're not supposed to break that. Even if you offered God something he didn't want. You promised. That's all.

I promised. I go on.

God has everything. He made everything, all of it is his. Things more beautiful than gold or pillars—the thousands of stars in the night sky, the red poppies with their petals softer than the silk that woman ahead of me wears. Water. Is there anything as beautiful as running water, the way it gleams like live silver in the sun? A man gave me a cup of water on the way here—a water-carrier with two heavy buckets he'd probably carried for a mile, I knew he couldn't afford to be giving it away, but he did, and smiled and called me “mother” for respect. I never tasted anything so good. I tried to give him one of my coins—though I could hardly stand to let it go—but he wouldn't let me. Such a kind young man, such openness in his face, it made me wish that my Johanna were still with me. A man like that, that was what she needed. Johanna. I pray for her every day, and every day I wonder. Where she is. If she's all right.

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—”

And I stop for a moment; for a moment I turn back towards them, because I am amazed. Because yes, they do. Because Simon, the man who now owns the house I birthed my babies in, he does, he prays long prayers in the synagogue and everyone thinks he is holy, and when I went to the judge to say that Simon cheated me the judge yawned and looked away. Because why should he listen? Simon is somebody and I am nobody. Nobody at all. And this teacher in the temple, how does he know?

As I pause, as I look back at the teacher, he raises his eyes and meets mine. He sees me. His face isn't hard, for a moment, it's like that young man's, the one who gave me water. But sadder. Tireder. Like he knows the weight of it, like me. And for that moment he sees me.

It's only a moment. One of the other men opens his mouth to say something, and I turn away, hoping they didn't see me, hoping they didn't see their teacher staring at an ugly old woman, and her staring back. I go on. The beautiful lady is there, a few steps ahead, at my destination. The offering box. She is untying a purse from her belt; it's heavy. Other people are watching her too. She tips it into the slot, holding it by the bottom; I hear the heavy ring of the coins falling in, I see the glint of gold. Someone near me gasps. “All of it!” I hear someone murmur a blessing. I stand there, not moving, hoping no one sees me.

I am nobody. Nobody.

I stand there for a minute, trembling a little, as one by one the well-dressed people put their money in. Silver, gold. I am nobody. I am ashamed.

But I promised.

I step forward, still shaking. There is no one by the offering box now, no one to shoulder me aside, this is my chance. Oh God, take what I give, you know it can't be more. You know I would if I could. Oh God, have mercy on me, have mercy on my Johanna. I hear the tiny clink of my little copper coin falling on the silver and gold in the box; one little clink, and then another, and my hands are empty. I have nothing left to give.

I turn away, quickly, hoping no one saw.