When I started caring for our elderly neighbor, I soon realized that one of my personal articles of faith was going to be tested. I remember writing about it earlier this year:

I believe what Jesus demonstrated is that we can trust God to always provide all that we need to be free to love and do good. So even in times where we must go through pain or loss, or afflictions and oppressions from other people, God will bring whatever is needed to give us freedom in those situations. It may be financial resources or the help of a friend or a spiritual experience. But we can trust God for real help, real things, real intervention to free us. Not simply to spare our suffering but to allow us to be our good self, a unique loving presence, the presence of God in the world. In all situations, at all times, throughout our whole life. That's what living in the kingdom of God means.
Situations of care-giving, like perhaps for an infant or a very elderly relative, frequently test this belief. Because the needs in these situations can often escalate beyond our capabilities. And we don't usually feel like we have much choice in the matter, the person is helpless, and they're our responsibility, and their needs come first. It's easy to conclude that the demands on us could very well keep increasing, regardless of the toll it takes on us. That's scary.

The belief, though, which I think is intrinsic in Jesus' announcement of freedom and good news, is that God does have regard for our needs. And that God won't lay a limitless burden on us that will crush us. We will not be destroyed by doing good.

Our experience can be very confused, however, because it is often not easy to discern the actual good we personally are called to do. There are plenty of demands from others and guilt trips and pride and social standards that have little to do with good or God. Demands that are not limited or merciful or considerate of our needs. So the difficulty comes in sorting out what is really good, and what good God wants us to do, and what good God has given for others to do. It's not about being the hero. It's about submitting to God's choice for us, and accepting the help we need as we also serve the needs of others. In this we are all servants and all dependent on God's care. Only God is the hero.

There were a few times these past few weeks when I wasn't sure if the demands were going to push me too far. But I tried to focus on what was the good service God was asking of me, and I asked for and accepted help from others as well. It's important that care-giving not be one-way. We all need to care for each other.

Now things seem to have settled into a routine, and it's not overwhelming. I'm actually surprised how well it fits my life right now. And the situation ended up offering an unexpected answer to needs that we had as well. All while providing just what was needed for our friend next door, in this vulnerable time in his life.

"Your Father knows your needs. Seek his kingdom, and I promise, those things will be yours as well."



The changing of the seasons reminded me of this Onion article...

God Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder

NEW HAVEN, CT–In a diagnosis that helps explain the confusing and contradictory aspects of the cosmos that have baffled philosophers, theologians, and other students of the human condition for millennia, God, creator of the universe and longtime deity to billions of followers, was found Monday to suffer from bipolar disorder.

Rev. Dr. J. Henry Jurgens, a practicing psychiatrist and doctor of divinity at Yale University Divinity School, announced the historic diagnosis at a press conference.

"I always knew there had to be some explanation," Jurgens said. "And, after several years of patient research and long sessions with God Almighty through the intercessionary medium of prayer, I was able to pinpoint the specific nature of His problem."

Bipolar, or manic-depressive, disorder is a condition that afflicts millions. Characterized by cycles of elation followed by bouts of profound depression and despair, the disorder can wreak havoc on both the sufferer and his or her loved ones, particularly if it goes undetected and untreated for an extended period. Though the condition is estimated to affect, in one form or another, 5 percent of the world's population, Monday marks the first time it has been diagnosed in a major deity.

Evidence of God's manic-depression can be found throughout the Universe, from the white-hot explosiveness of quasars to the cold, lifeless vacuum of space. However, theologians note, humanity's exposure to God's affliction comes primarily through His confusing propensity to alternately reward and punish His creations with little rhyme or reason.

"Last week, I lost my dear husband Walter to the flood," said housewife and devout churchgoer Elaine Froman of Davenport, IA. "I asked myself, 'Why? Why would God do something like this, especially when He had just helped Walter overcome a long battle with colon cancer, and we were so happy that we finally had a chance to start our lives anew?'"

New York attorney Ruth Kanner also gained firsthand knowledge of God's wild mood swings.

"Last Saturday, on a gorgeous spring afternoon, I was jogging in Central Park with my daughter. We were marveling at the beauty and majesty of nature, and I remember thinking what a wonderful world we live in. Then, out of nowhere, I heard the gunfire," said Kanner, speaking from her hospital bed at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. "All they took was a measly $17, and for that, the doctors say my daughter will never walk again. If only Our Holy Father didn't have those mental problems, my precious Katie might not be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life."

Jurgens said he believes God's essential condition is seasonal, as evidenced by the bursts of energy and elation associated with springtime and summer, followed by the decay and bleak despair of fall and winter. Sometimes, however, the condition cycles even faster.

"The average person with bipolar disorder may go through as many as 10 or 12 cycles of mania and subsequent depression in a lifetime. In severe cases, a sufferer may experience four or more per year, which is known as 'rapid cycling,'" Jurgens said. "We believe God suffers from the even rarer 'ultra-rapid cycling,' which would account for the many documented cases in which He alternates between benevolence and rage toward humanity within a matter of seconds. For example, last week, He brought desperately needed, life-giving rain to southern Mali while simultaneously leveling Turkey with a devastating earthquake."

The Book of Job, Jurgens noted, marks the best example of His condition. The book begins with the bleak lamentations of Job and ends with a full-blown manic episode by God, complete with such classic bipolar symptoms as the illusion of omnipotence and delusions of grandeur.

"One of the major 'heresies' of Christian history is the Gnostic belief that the Creator, or 'demiurge,' of this troubled world is a blind, idiot god who is insane," Jurgens said. "This idea surfaces in many religious traditions around the globe. As it turns out, they were only half right: God has His problems like anyone else, but He is essentially trying His best. He just has a condition that makes His emotions fly out of control at times."

"So it's up to us to make the best of God's emotional problems," Jurgens continued. "Thus, mankind is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward."



Some encouraging news lately. This spring Heather shifted to working on a community garden, growing vegetables to give to the families here, and also to friends nearby and in Evanston. I thought that was a great idea. And many people appreciated the produce this summer. One drawback, though, was that Heather no longer grew vegetables for the farm business, so we wouldn't receive much of a farm donation. That meant over a third of our income would go away. But we felt like she was making the right choice, and that God would find another way to provide.

One encouragement was a unexpected donation from a friend. And now we just found out that we've been offered a large rent reduction, in gratitude for the care-giving I volunteered for our elderly neighbor. A very generous surprise. One that more than makes up for the shortfall in our income. We couldn't have imagined such an arrangement a month ago, but now it meets our current needs very well. With a little extra, too, in case we do manage to add a child to our family in the not too distant future.

We also recently heard from a Catholic Worker house that I contacted over a year ago. I didn't get any reply then, but now they're coming for a retreat in a month. Emmaus is coming about a month after that. So our winter looks a little more interesting than usual.


a hard question

Spending more time with our elderly neighbor has raised at least one important question for me already:

Whatever it is you live for, whatever gives you hope and inspiration, guidance in your choices, meaning for your actions... would it still be there for you, giving hope and guidance and meaning, if you were 90 years old, confined to a recliner or a bed, your spouse and the friends of your youth all deceased, your children moved away living their own lives, too frail to work and dependent on someone else to help you with even the most basic physical needs?

That situation is not uncommon, and for many people, their purpose for living can't endure that hard question. But shouldn't it be important to make sure ours can? And shouldn't that impact how we live now?



Our neighbor, who's over ninety, got out of the hospital Monday (after a bad fall) and I've been very involved with his care this past week. It looks like I will be from now on. Which feels good to me, but it's thrown my life into a bit of disarray for the moment.

I did take some time today, though, to get a few pictures of the leaves. Really beautiful colors this year.




coming to "one mind"

The recent discussion on voting, along with the upcoming election constantly in the news, got me thinking about voting in the context of communities. The intentional Christian communities we've lived with have attempted to make decisions by consensus rather than majority vote. That does seems more in keeping with the desire to come to "one mind" in Christ. And it also avoids perhaps the most obvious drawback to "majority rules," which is that the minority gets decisions forced on them against their will. This is the impetus for political power struggles, trying to gather a majority on your side of the issue. Because the majority clearly has power over the minority. Consensus decision-making seeks to avoid this.

Of course there are drawbacks to consensus decision-making as well. One big one is the pressure that is felt when only one or two people disagree and hold back the group from proceeding. Often people can feel forced to give in in those situations. But the main drawback, which has caused most communities (including the ones we've lived among) to give up on consensus decision-making, is that it's too hard to get everyone to agree. Decisions are made too slowly or not at all. Too much gridlock, and not enough gets done. So, for example, the community here has moved to a 75% majority vote for decision-making. Which gets us back to the power dynamics mentioned above.

What I've noticed, though, is that consensus is not as hard to achieve in smaller groups. It's easier to understand each other when you can talk freely among a few people, and often people in these smaller gatherings are initially closer to "one mind" when they come together for a project, a common interest having drawn them to it. "Majority rule" is unnecessary in small groups, and usually even feels inappropriate in these more intimate settings.

So it seems to me that many of the problems of group decision-making could be avoided if the groups in which decisions were made were smaller. That's not to suggest oligarchy instead of democracy, but that decisions be made on a lower level, by the few people involved in the work. That fits with my other recent thoughts on work and getting things done with minimal low-level organization. When we gather the power of bigger groups of people, we also get ourselves into the power struggles or gridlock of big group decision-making.

Of course our communities are not going to reorganize themselves into smaller groups. But in whatever situation we find ourselves, we can look for and cooperate with the smaller gatherings of people that are coming to "one mind" around something God is doing.

"Where two or three are gathered in my name," Jesus said. And very often that's all that's needed to get the job done.