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.