In Jerusalem
the count goes on; the king waits
asleep in the straw

(previous Christmas haikus here)


gobbler's revenge

 We enjoyed seeing our friend Al Tauber today. Here's a Thanksgiving gift from him, a little late:


perfect love casts out fear

 "Perfect love casts out fear."

I've often thought of that biblical line in fearful times. And this year seems to be an especially fearful time, with the deadly pandemic, the related severe economic downturn, and a bitter national political battle on top of it. I guess I used to think that verse meant that if we focused on loving others, it would push out our fears for ourselves. Maybe that's true, but then love for others in distress can also stir fear for them. And lately I've been seeking for a deeper answer to the fears so prevalent around us.

It seems to me that only the love of God can cast out all fear. To love God is to love the one who cannot be threatened or lost or taken from us. It is loving the one who will never turn on us or let us down. But loving God can sometimes seem amorphous or intangible, more like an idea than a hug. Lately I've been trying to understand the reality of God more through the reality of the good things that come from God. God is not merely a conceptual "good." God is the source and sustainer of all that is good and right and beautiful in our world, all that we delight in and are inspired by every day of our lives. To affirm and embrace and participate in the real good we see around us is to love God. But there's even more in that. A few words after "perfect love casts out fear," John wrote, "we love because he first loved us." Thus the love we have for God, for all that is good and right and beautiful because it is from God, this love is evidence that God loves us. The love we have for God is the love that is from God, for us, in us. And to be loved by God, the almighty, eternal God, should be enough to cast out any fear.

So often we respond to fear with "fight or flight." And usually that leads to the desperate pursuit of power, in order to more effectively protect ourselves or destroy our enemies. But Jesus showed us how to dissipate fear with love. People could see the love of God in Jesus casting out his fear, and that showed them something beautiful that they could love. So that they might have God's love in them also.


psalm 146

Do not put your trust in princes, 
in human beings, who cannot save. 
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; 
on that very day their plans come to nothing. 
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, 
whose hope is in the LORD their God. 
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, 
the sea, and everything in them— 
he remains faithful forever. 
 He upholds the cause of the oppressed 
 and gives food to the hungry. 
The LORD sets prisoners free, 
the LORD gives sight to the blind, 
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, 
the LORD loves the righteous. 
The LORD watches over the foreigner 
and sustains the fatherless and the widow, 
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 
The LORD reigns forever, 
your God, O Zion, for all generations.



love one another

Continued from  "my brother and sister and mother"...

If it is true, as Jesus said, that "whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother," then our family, our community, is determined not by us, but by God. This has radical implications for us as followers of Jesus. It is not us who decide who is in our family. It is not us who decide who is a "member" of our community. God decides this, God knows who his children are, who is doing his will. We can only try to recognize this and acknowledge it, and so appreciate the amazing, interconnected family of God. But who's in or out is not ours to determine. And this doesn't just mean "church" relationships, either. Jesus didn't speak this way about religious affiliation, but in answering a question about his biological family. He speaks of the one real community, and his words speak to all our relationships. So also, we don't choose our brothers or friends or "neighbor." Remember Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan. It is love that connects us to one another, because it is love that connects us to God, and when we are connected to God we are connected to one another.

Sometimes we speak of God's community as the body of Christ, or the vine and branches, images which also emphasize that the nature of this community is determined by God, not us. It is Christ's body; the vine is Christ. We can be joined to it, made a part of it, but we do not define it. It is Christ. So we don't need to worry about the one community of God being changed or led astray. People can be led astray, but that doesn't mean God's family is broken or sick or lost. It just means people can be led away from the family (and also led back). Human organizations can change and even disappear, but the community that Jesus spoke of is no human organization. The one community, the family of God, is and will always be of the nature of Jesus himself, made up of those who are inspired and filled by his love. We don't need to depend on people to preserve this. God preserves this. The very existence of Jesus, of God's love made flesh, makes the one community real, now and always. If this is our community, we need not fear it ever dying. As Boenhoeffer put it, "We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity." 

This sounds so very different from how we act in our human relationships and organizations. But it fits perfectly with the simple guidance Jesus gave his followers: "Love one another." Deciding who's in or out, defining the nature of the group, preserving and defending it, trying to be appealing so the group doesn't die out. All of these are absent. Because none of these are our concerns in the one community of God. Jesus tells us simply, love one another. We only need concern ourselves with loving those around us, doing the will of God. That love unites us with God and with one another in God's family--we need only focus on that. The reality and life of the one community is not in our hands. It is all God's.


"my brother and sister and mother"

One is a brother to another only through Jesus Christ.... What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ.

We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity.

―Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I've been thinking a lot about relationships lately. Maybe part of it is that a friend wrote recently, talking about his search for community, "a family." And then there's our years of experiencing the organized community here weakening and dissolving. Also, again and again over the years, I've reflected on our relationships within the church, the body of Christ, as I moved between churches and denominations and seen what what was similar and different among them. And in all this I keep being brought back to Jesus' words, when his mother and brothers asked to see him:
Jesus replied, "Who are my mother and brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Mk 3.33-35)
Those words emphasize that Jesus' relationships with other people were determined by their relationship with God. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." The relationship is not defined by the two (or more) people involved, but by God. I remember writing something similar before, thinking about the church:
The more organic biblical imagery for the church, such as "the body of Christ" or "I am the vine and you are the branches," point to something very different. If these are accurate, then the life and nature of church is not determined by us, but by Christ. It is not us, our choices or actions or constitutions, that make the church what it is. It's Jesus. The church is the corporate, communal manifestation of Jesus in the world. It is his presence and nature that make it what it is. If he is not in it, it is not the church. If it is not like Jesus, obeying him as head, doing his work, loving with his love, then it is not the church. This is not something we decide about or make happen. It's not an issue or challenge or question for us to solve. The church is, and can be nothing other than, Christ.

And that seems to agree with the words of Bonhoeffer about Christian community: "I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ."

I believe this is true. But, if so, then it presents an understanding of the church that is markedly different than what we see in our church organizations. And I can't help but notice that Jesus wasn't talking about some kind of religious membership when he spoke those words quoted above. He was responding to a question about his family, the most basic human community. Jesus described the basis for the most real, the most fundamental, relationship with others: "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." That doesn't just describe "church" relationships. That describes the one community that Jesus knew, the one real community. So, for Jesus' followers, that presents an understanding of all relationships that's markedly different from what we see all around us, all the time.

Continued in love one another...


scenes from the protests



if it was up to us, we'd fix it

From a recent discussion with a friend...

I think I'd like to reply to this interesting passage, especially interesting in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and economic shutdown:

I remember you saying at some point that Jesus never taught us to divide the kingdom of God into "the already" and "not yet," but to instead focus on, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." Is that more or less accurate? I ask because we all see a pretty dramatic difference between our present world and what God will bring about when He makes all things new. So when it comes to the kingdom of God now, what can we expect? 

I guess I think Jesus, by his life, showed us what to expect. And it seems his first followers experienced the kingdom of God in much the same way. There was a dramatic difference between their lives before Jesus and after, and there was also a dramatic difference between their lives and the lives of most other people. Wasn't there? Like in Jesus' life, sometimes this meant things changed around them, miraculous deliverances, their ability to do the seemingly impossible. And sometimes it meant that they experienced the sufferings and loss that others also experience (or even more so) but they were able to respond in an amazingly different way. We see this also in the lives of many more of Jesus' followers throughout history. These real and dramatic differences make apparent the actual presence of God's kingdom that Jesus said was "in your midst," here and now.

But this does exist "in the midst" of so much that is not the kingdom of God. We look at all that and wonder why God doesn't fix it, if he's so loving and powerful. If it was up to us, we'd fix it, wouldn't we?

We keep trying to fix it. We've found that we can do so much to change things around us, by working together and through technological advancements. We've solved so many problems, cured diseases, reduced pain, organized society, made human life longer, more comfortable, more well-ordered. We've been so successful that it seems we think that's the whole point of life. (Or we hope that's the point?) Then we wonder, indignantly, why God doesn't seem to be dedicating himself to this project as eagerly as we are.

But even with all our medical, societal, and technological advances we are still so isolated, lonely, confused, enslaved by our fears and lusts—lost. We are not so capable at fixing this problem, though it is more fundamental. So we throw ourselves into fixing everything else around us and try not to think about our inner isolation and bondage.

Jesus made it clear that he was interested in addressing this more fundamental problem. This deeper, more important problem. He came preaching the freedom and deep connectedness that God's love offers us. That comes through abandoning our own fears and desires and will, and depending on God to provide and protect and guide us. It's not a problem we can fix. Only God can.

And through our life experiences, God is working to bring each of us to himself, to bring us to the point where we abandon our own strength and reach out our hand to God. What is needed to bring us there is somewhat different for each person, I think. So none of our lives are exactly the same. At some moments we need deliverance, and other times we need to go through the shadow of death. Sometimes we need the pain to be taken away, and sometimes we need the pain. Maybe to help us see more clearly, or help us let go. That has been my experience. I wouldn't presume, though, to know what someone else needs at any moment. But I believe God can know and can provide the escape, or the hardship, that will help us most in the place we are in our journey to God. God offers this in love, with mercy, so that we will not be broken but be made free.

That does seem relevant to the current upheaval in our world. But everyone's experience is different and it's impossible to say what exactly God is doing with all these experiences in so many different lives. Except that he's trying to draw each of us to himself. This is the goal, not perfecting our society or the environment in which we live. The kingdom of God is found in following Jesus, no matter what's happening around us. It's real. And it's now. And what's happening in our lives can't keep us from the kingdom of God.

But it can help us get there.


"do you not care that we are perishing?"

We read this story for our family worship Sunday morning:

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!"

Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"

And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mk 4.36-41)

And then we sang this:

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far off hymn
that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?


a hidden life

We recently saw A Hidden Life, based on the life of Franz Jägerstätter. He was a conscientious objector in Austria during World War II. A very powerful film. I was especially moved by this scene, when Franziska Jägerstätter meets her husband for the last time:


spirit in the sky

I hope they play this at my funeral...