Monday, October 31, 2005
-- The Sycamore (a poem of Wendell Berry)
-- Peak Weekend
-- Background Noise (an original poem reflecting on Libby's indictment)
-- Casualties of War
-- To Be Evangelical (reflecting on an excerpt by Brian McLaren)
-- Choosing Poverty (quote by Henri Nouwen)
Grace Notes and archives back to 1998 can be accessed online at www.geocities.com/bikehiker. Let me know if you'd like to receive Grace Notes in your e-mail inbox once a week.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
OF ACCIDENTS AND PURPOSE. I love this poem from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 1998). We contemplate whether or not to fell a backyard sycamore that started as a mere twig brought home by Abby on Arbor Day when she was in third grade; twelve years later the gangly thing seems to be taking over the place, overshadowing a once productive garden plot and thinning the grass. But Berry's contemplation on an ancient sycamore on his Kentucky farm gives me pause. "It has gathered all accidents into its purpose." This phrase alone provides enough fodder to stew on for a long while.
In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that its death, through its living, brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
PEAK WEEK. I look no further than our driveway to begin to see the glory of autumn in this brilliant display of color on my neighbor's maple tree. This tree is really not exceptional. Central Indiana is bursting with color under clear skies this weekend. It's "peak week" for fall leaf colors. Perhaps we'll have it a few more days. Sam stands beside the "bicycle Beetle." He's playing in a soccer tournament in Fishers, Indiana; it's a 45-minute drive each way. The bright foliage makes the drive enjoyable. The tournament games start at 7:30 am, which means Sam and I left the house in the dark at 6:15 am this morning.
TRUNK OR TREAT. This evening our church hosted a Harvest Party in our West Park that included a "trunk or treat" event. In all, about 120 children and adults enjoyed the event. Congregational participants opened their trunks or hatchbacks to serve treats to all the costumed kids. The event included outdoor games, a bonfire, popcorn, cider and candy. I was proud of our folks. It is one of our efforts to bring good fun and joy to our inner-city neighborhood, a way we can serve as we cross borders together.
It was background noise;
nothing Texas drawl and swagger couldn’t
But by week’s end
no two-stepping or spinning could
The chatter crescendoed,
ringing out across this land of
free and brave.
The sound was a lie
being spread in finger-pointing and
Once told in whispers
to intimidate and frame,
it now blares.
It reveals more lies,
each one tempting truth’s limits
for small gain.
Hear the sound's echo:
No one is above the law, not even the
We may never know
how much the President knew or
But the veil is torn;
the self-righteous facade is gone;
truth has a chance.
Friday, October 28, 2005
NOT THAT KIND OF EVANGELICAL. After the 2004 Presidential campaign, I was certain I could never call myself an evangelical again. Indeed, I do not identify with "big-E" Evangelicals who have allowed the interests of the Republican Party and thoroughly secular right-wing ideology masquerading in religious clothing to co-opt the evangelical witness. In case you are reading this and you see no distinction between being an evangelical and being a conservative partisan American voter, I'm afraid you just don't get it at this time.
ON SECOND THOUGHT. Only recently, reading Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, does it seem remotely possible for me to begin to think of myself as an evangelical. McLaren's book is a study in the paradox of "both/and," not "either/or" when it comes to many of the polarizing labels we endure. I am one who considers himself both conservative and liberal (or, as I would rather put it, progressive). The following perspective offered up by McLaren is heartening to me:
EMOTION AND MOTION. “From crossing oceans as missionaries to crossing town to volunteer in a skid-row mission to crossing the street to serve humbly and faithfully in a local church, evangelicals have a passion that drives them to action; their emotion puts them in motion. And this emotion goes right to the heart of what it means to follow Jesus: loving God and loving others. I know that ‘Evangelicals’ have lately become more judgmental, more isolated, more critical, and more controlling…but that shift is a betrayal of evangelical faith, not a consequence of it. When evangelicals are being true to their identity, they do whatever it takes to express their love for God and God’s love for their neighbors—however unconventional and innovative their methods might be.”
Thursday, October 27, 2005
PREPARING FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT. “Every time we choose poverty over wealth, powerlessness over power, humble service over popularity, quiet fruitfulness over loud acclaim, we prepare for our rebirth in the Holy Spirit. This might sound gloomy, unnatural, and even impossible. But once we have embarked on the journey of faith, our eyes will be opened to the way of the poor without any coercion or force. We will discover, first of all, our own poverty, fears, doubts, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. In faith, we will no longer ignore or avoid these things, but embrace them as the place where Jesus walks with us and sends us his Spirit. Then also we will see clearly the poor around us, and we will realize that they reveal to us God’s presence in ways nobody else could. We will feel drawn to them, not because of their poverty, but because of the Holy Spirit shining through their poverty.” – Henri Nouwen in “Reborn from Above”
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
500,000 IRAQIS SLAIN? I particiapted in a dialogue last evening that offered two community leaders discussing the pros and cons of the Iraq War. The "pro" perspective was represented by a recently-retired, three-star General from the Indiana National Guard. He commented on yesterday's news that 2,000 troops have now died in the Iraq War. He also noted pointedly that over 23,000 American troops have been wounded in the conflict and that the lives of more than 500,000 Iraqi soldiers and citizens have been snuffed out.
BEYOND BODY COUNTS. The Iraq Body Count initiative (www.iraqbodycount.net) gives an up-to-date body count of civilian deaths as a result of the military intervention. Their estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths to date is between 26,000 and 30,000. Of course, casualties of war are inestimable. They cannot be summed up with body counts. How can we tabulate the massive loss of integrity, the reduction of our witness, the demise of our souls, the reduction of our expectations, the depression of our psyches, the rise in global cynicism, the festering of hatred, or the seeding of a new generation of violence?
- What Concerns God
- The Seven Deadly Social Sins Revisited
- Preparing for the Holy Spirit
- Thanks for the Sunset
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Monday, October 24, 2005
Here's a paragraph I couldn't work into a chapter I recently submitted for a book to be titled Kingdom Christians:
Kingdom Christians don’t set their own agendas for achieving personal success. In fact, they discover along the way that personal success is not a Kingdom value. Nor do they set their own priorities for social wellbeing or political influence. Instead, as they grow in Christlikeness, they care more about what Jesus cares about. When they pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Luke 11:2), they really mean it. To them, God’s Kingdom coming is not so much something God will eventually bring about at the end of time. It is a way of living, caring, and acting in reflection of God’s character that brings the reality of the Kingdom to bear upon the present.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
REDEEMING CREATION. I’ve been working with a writing assignment that begs the question: Are the things that concern God a core part of my concern? The story of the Bible involves a cosmic recovery effort--catalyzed in the incarnation, testimony, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth--of the whole of creation. God’s care to save persons includes a care to form them together into redemptive, prophetic communities that co-labor with God’s future in focus. The "big picture" of the Bible demonstrates a God who cares to salvage literally everyone and everything--material and spiritual--sparing no expense.
PARADOX OF ONE AND ALL. I’m also impressed that there are paradoxes in the recovery mission of which we are a part. The call of shalom is as sweeping as a global movement and as intimate as peace between two people. Justice denied one is enough to bring down a whole nation. Breaking chains of oppression and releasing the oppressed is the hinge on which swings authentic personal faith. As we do it unto the least we have done it unto Jesus. The power of the witness of one may well trigger the faith of multitudes.
BEYOND PERSONAL SALVATION. From this perspective, I find lots of room for growth in my vision and practical concerns. My evangelical heritage places near total focus on personal salvation. But we will not be Biblical people or Biblical communities if we care only about helping people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “Getting right with God” coincides with getting right with one another, getting right with our community, with our enemies, with creation, with the universe. Being “born again” brings not only spiritual rebirth but new eyes and energy with which to refocus and reshape a fallen creation.
GOD’S “TOP TEN” CONCERNS. Both the Old and New Testaments make clear that God is primarily concerned with some things that do not make the “top ten” list for religious groups seeking to influence American politics. Poverty. Violence. War. Hunger. Absence of peace. Injustice for the innocent. Abuse of power and privilege. Life crushing debt. Wrongful imprisonment. Ignoring the stranger. Blocked access to health care and healing possibilities. The list could go on (Specific Biblical references supplied upon request, or simply read the Scriptural references in Bread for the World). If these are unmistakable primary concerns in the Bible, I must ask the question: why are they not primary concerns for people who say we read and live by the Bible?
READ IT FOR YOURSELF, FOR THE WORLD. It seems to me that those of us who claim to know Jesus “better” than others would do well to get to know the Bible better ourselves. As we do, more of us will discover that we are being unmistakably called to realign our personal and political priorities and passions. As we do, more of us will be called upon to recant our unholy alignments with political wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. As we get to know what concerns God most repeatedly and thoroughly throughout the multi-millennial cosmic recovery effort, more of us will be challenged to break with both the dominant culture and pseudo-evangelical subculture and to live with radical abandon the Kingdom that is within us, among us, and still yet to come.
DANGEROUS READING RESULTS. Reading the Bible for oneself has produced the most radical breaks with culture and religious subcultures in history. Augustine was radicalized as he read the Bible for himself. Francis of Assisi read it, abandoned convention, and lived joyfully in poverty. Martin Luther brought scandal upon himself and reformation for the church after he read the Bible for himself. Hand-me-down, run-of-the-mill religion is always safe…this side of heaven. But let us dare to read the Bible for ourselves, observe God’s concerns, and align our lives with God’s passion for people, for creation, and for the future...whatever the cost.
Friday, October 21, 2005
WHEN IT RAINS, HEAD DOWNTOWN. Fall Break means a few days out-of-school for three of our children. It usually finds us heading to Brown County for a day of hiking the state park, dining at The Hob Nob, and browsing Nashville shops. However, a Wednesday night Regional soccer game, practice on Thursday, and rain today kept us in Indy. So, today we headed downtown to Circle Centre Mall, ate at P.F. Chang's, and enjoyed the energy of the city's center.
BY DESIGN. I had breakfast on Thursday with Bob and Sheila Kennedy, my old Brother Junipers breakfast buddies. Bob is one of Circle Centre's principal designers. What an inviting urban space CCM is. It is an important component of Indianapolis' urban vitality. Around it continues to develop strong architecture, commerce, and tourism. Now, if we could just get going on effective mass transit...
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Here's a poem of Ted Loder from Guerrillas of Grace (Innisfree Press, Philadelphia, 1984). Loder's poetry is meaningful to me, in part, because he wrote it as a pastor of a local Methodist congregation in Germantown, Pennsylvania.
O extravagant God,
in this ripening, red-tinged autumn,
waken in me a sense of joy,
in just being alive,
joy for nothing in general
except everything in particular;
joy in sun and rain
mating with earth to birth a harvest;
joy in soft light
through shyly disrobing trees;
joy in the acolyte moon
setting halos around possessing clouds;
joy in the beating of a thousand wings
mysteriously knowing which way is warm;
joy in wagging tails and kids' smiles
and in this spunky old city;
joy in the taste of bread and wine,
the smell of dawn,
joy in having what I cannot live without--
other people to hold and cry and laugh with;
joy in love,
and in all that first and last
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
BEN DAVIS BOYS BREAK OUR HEARTS. This week's IHSAA Indiana State Soccer Tourney regional round action leaves us "happy sad." Tuesday night the Ben Davis boys came out flat against Avon, got down 1-0 early in the game, and couldn't mount a serious offensive attack. So, they lost 2-0 to a team they trounced two weeks ago. Jared, our 17-year old senior, played hard and well--just like he has all season. We are so proud of him. I'm personally taking this defeat surprisingly hard. I lost sleep over it. I can't believe my son's excellent high school soccer career ended so unceremoniously and heartlessly. I want that game back! I'll get over it sometime...but not likely anytime soon.
BD GIRLS MOVE ON TO SEMI-STATE. On the other hand, BD girls varsity defeated Lawrence Centeral 2-1 this evening. Molly, our 14-year old freshman, played solid, tenacious defense. I'd hate to be the offensive player who meets her on the field. The team moves on to the first game of Semi-State on Saturday. They will face Zionsville, a team they defeated earlier in the season. But at this point there are no easy games. Whatever happened in the regular season is no measure for this level of competition. Teams need to bring both their best preparation and greatest heart to each contest. May the Lady Giants put it all together and take care of business at noon on Saturday.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
"It is the rare person who, looking back over his life and seeing what he has done to it, hasn't sighed for a chance to redeem what he has cheaply used or carelessly ruined. If only somehow, somewhere, there was a way to live again the days we have darkened with our blind haste - the innumerable occasions when our indifference trod on all the pearls of God’s graciousness; the times when our pride, or our fear, or our meanness poured the acid of contempt over the fair countenance of another’s soul! If this grace were ours, how we would leap to the chance!"
-- Samuel Howard Miller, "The Life of the Soul" (Harper, 1951), from today's Daily Dig by the folks at Bruderhof.com
Monday, October 17, 2005
OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS. I rode the trails at Washington Township Park in Avon with Brandon Bowles for a while yesterday afternoon. Brandon's a great trail rider and it was all this 46-year old could do to keep him in sight. Some mountain bike lover created this bridge--one of several--in the matrix of trails at the park. Autumn's the best time to ride mountain bikes in the woods. Trails are dry. Trees are in full color. Leaves are falling. The air is crisp. You've just got to carve out a small chunk of time to be in the moment of these incredible days.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
AIRPORT RIDE. I took my camera along for my daily ride around Indianapolis International Airport. The sky was clear as the sun set. These three trees stand on the far west end of the airport. I assume they will be felled soon as road preparations and construction on the new midfield terminal progress. I do not know how much longer my 14-mile circuit around the perimeter of the airport will remain intact. Over the course of the week, I plan to post a few more of the photos I took this evening. In the distance, behind the trees, the new air traffic control tower is visible.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
DOUBLE TREAT. Becky and I were treated to a double victory today as soccer parents and as supporters of high school soccer teams that have struggled for years in the shadow of a dominant football program. With Jared a senior captain and Molly a freshman starting as a defender, we had a pretty nerve-wracking evening. BD soccer reached its highest level of respect earlier this evening, winning IHSAA State Tournament Sectional Championships for both boys and girls. Ironically, BD's highly-touted football team is not even ranked with a record of 5-4.
BD BOYS SHUT DOWN PIKE. Ben Davis boys upset the state's #1-ranked Pike, 3-2, to win the Pike Sectional. Jared shut down Elihadji Dieng (again) while Ben Davis' offense attacked repeatedly. Tamba Samba provided the first goal, Alberto Terran booted a solo second goal from fifty feet out, and Brock Easton shuffled in a score at the 18-minute mark in the second half. BD held off Pike's frantic late-game comeback effort. What a celebration it was when time ran out! This is the first Sectional Championship for the Ben Davis boys. They move on to play Avon in the Regionals on Tuesday at Avon.
LADY GIANTS WIN ON PKs. We drove from Pike High School back to Ben Davis, where the BD girls' Sectional Championship game with Pike was underway. BD scored early in the game and dominated play, but could not muster another goal. Pike scored midway through the second half and the game went into overtime. Still tied at the end over overtime, the game was settled with each team taking five penalty kicks each. BD put more PKs in the goal than Pike and won the nail-biter. But a win is a win, and the lady Giants advance to Regional play next week.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
"In the Great Economy all transactions count and the account is never closed. We cannot afford maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner. The ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love. Competitiveness cannot be the ruling principle, for the Great Economy is not a ‘side’ that we can join nor are there such ‘sides’ within it. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a membership of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole.”
-- Wendell Berry
AUTUMN IS FOR OUTDOORS. "Staying inside the house breeds a sort of insanity always. Every house is in this sense a hospital. A night and a forenoon is as much confinement to those wards as I can stand - and then I must go outdoors." -- From an 1856 entry in the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (quoted by the folks at Bruderhof in "The Daily Dig")
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
DEFENDING THE BEST. Jared got his mug in the Indianapolis Star again. The second time within a week. This time it was with a story on another player--Elhadji Dieng, a student playing for Pike High School who is from Senegal. A junior, Dieng has scored 28 goals in 17 games and is considered a world class striker. This photo was taken as Jared defended Dieng in the championship game of the Marion County tourney two weeks ago. Dieng did not score in regulation, but knocked in the winning goal on a rebound in overtime (Jared had no way to defend the rebound). Jared may get another chance to hold the prodigy at bay on Saturday if Pike and Ben Davis advance to the Sectional Finals of the IHSAA state soccer tourney.
I retrieved Nancy Comiskey’s commentary in the Indianapolis Star on July 29, 1998 which Lou Zickler pointed out to me. Instead of wanting to know about community demographics and the standard ways of rating a community’s quality of life, Nancy wants to track the "screen door" factor for quality-of-life in small towns. She says she wants to know the following:
- The percentage of homes with wooden doors that slam when you go in and out.
- Does the town have a diner where they serve homemade jam and know how YOU like your eggs?
- The life expectancy of dogs who like to sleep in the road.
- The percentage of houses with window boxes full of flowers.
- The number of retirees who happily chat with neighborhood kids and keep Popsicles in their freezers.
- The percentage of houses with front porches.
- The average number of rockers on the front porches.
- The percentage of drivers who practice the "country wave."
"Most of all," Nancy says, "I want to know if it’s the kind of town where the fact that you are a neighbor is more important than your age, background, politics, or income."
Monday, October 10, 2005
WENDELL BERRY. Larry Voelker loaned his personal copy of “Home Economics: Fourteen Essays” by Wendell Berry a while back. Larry had pointed out a few passages, most of which I have included below. This excerpt is from an essay titled “Two Economies” in which he contrasts little human economies with the Great Economy. He captures what I have been trying to articulate about an economy as big as the Kingdom of God. Here Berry’s always interesting, provoking reflections pierce the fragile underpinnings of our “prosperous” economy.
KINGDOM DIMENSIONS. “The whole thing that troubles me about the industrial economy is exactly that it is not comprehensive enough, that, moreover, it tends to destroy what it does not comprehend and that it is dependent upon much that it does not comprehend. In attempting to criticize such an economy, we naturally pose against it an economy that does not leave anything out, and we say without presuming too much that the first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of the sparrow is a significant event.”
MYSTERIOUSLY CONNECTED. “Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and to everything else that is in it; that is to say, the Kingdom of God is orderly. A third principle is that humans do not and can never know either all the creatures that the Kingdom of God contains or the whole pattern or order by which it contains them.”
SEVERE PENALTIES. “To say that we live in the Kingdom of God is both to suggest the difficulty of our condition and to imply a fairly complete set of culture-borne instructions for living in it. The difficulty of our predicament, then, is made clear if we add a fourth principle: Though we cannot produce a complete or even adequate description of this order, severe penalties are in store for us if we presume upon it or violate it.”
ORIGINATING VALUE. “We participate in our little human economy…by factual knowledge, calculation, and manipulation; our participation in the Great Economy also requires those things, but requires as well humility, sympathy, forbearance, generosity, imagination. Another critical difference is that, though a human economy can evaluate, distribute, use, and preserve things of value, it cannot make value. Value can originate only in the Great Economy.”
WHEN WINNERS LOSE. Berry envisions our small human economies as a smaller wheel turning in sympathy (even synergy) with the larger wheel (the Great Economy). “Then, because in the Great Economy ALL transactions count and the account is never closed, the ideal changes. We see that we cannot AFFORD maximum profit or power with minimum responsibility because, in the Great Economy, the loser’s losses finally afflict the winner.”
JOINED TOGETHER. “Now the ideal must be ‘the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption,’ which both defines and requires neighborly love. Competitiveness cannot be the ruling principle, for the Great Economy is not a ‘side’ that we can join nor are there such ‘sides’ within it. Thus, it is not the ‘sum of its parts’ but a MEMBERSHIP of parts inextricably joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole.”
MINUTE PARTICULARS. “It is the Great Economy, not any little economy, that invests minute particulars with high and final importance. In the Great Economy, each part stands for the whole and is joined to it; the whole is present in the part and is its health. The industrial economy, by contrast, is always striving and failing to make fragments (pieces that IT has broken) ADD UP to an ever-fugitive wholeness.”
Saturday, October 8, 2005
Friday, October 7, 2005
CAN I GET A WITNESS? Johann Christof Arnold of the Bruderhof Communities apparently resonates with my own sentiments for keeping the military out of national emergency relief plans (see my earlier post on bikehiker). Here's his comment from The Daily Dig on Thursday:
ONE MORE STEP TO A FULLY MILITARIZED STATE. "For years health officials have warned that a virulent strain of avian influenza could rapidly spread the globe, killing millions. Headlines about such an outbreak now seem to pop up daily, and there is reason for increasing concern. But President Bush's recent request to Congress, asking for the authority to call in the military as part of the government's response to such a disaster, is wrong."
WHO WILL PROVIDE THE LAST SERVICES OF LOVE? "Calling in the troops would set a worrying precedent, and not only because it would be yet one more step to a fully militarized state. If we die alone, under the control of the military, who will provide the last services of love for us, and who will comfort the loved ones we leave behind?"
HOW WILL NEW "LEPERS" FIND COMFORT? Reflecting on plans for military to enforce strict quarantine, Arnold writes: "Sick and dying people are lonely as it is, even in situations where they do have a family and friends. How will they feel when the government forces us to treat them like lepers? How will they find comfort, if they are not even allowed to talk about what is happening to them?"
FUELING FEAR ABOUT DEATH. "Are we going to sit back while we are denied the chance to lay down our lives for each other, which Jesus says is the greatest act of love we can ever perform? A military response will not bring out the best in people, but only magnify the fear and anxiety we already have about death."
SAY "NO" TO FURTHER MILITARIZATION. There are valid and preferable alternatives to a military-led and gunpoint-enforced response to a national emergency like a flu pandemic. We need to think long and hard before we allow this Presidential Administration to lead us down the last leg of the path toward complete militarization of our freedom-loving society. These are the same folks who led us enthusiastically into the quagmire in Iraq under false pretenses and without a credible or workable exit strategy. Whatever interests they are serving and whatever they say, I am convinced Bush advisors do not have the best interests of all the American people in mind or at heart. Say "no" to further militarization.
Thursday, October 6, 2005
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
These excerpts are from an online article by Hughes Burns. He reflects on gratitude as something that grounds us. I appreciate his thoughts:
"Gratitude and humility form the solid ground we can stand on when everything around us is shaking, when our personal life seems to be collapsing like a house of cards, or when we are exhausted from trying to be someone we are not and never have been, when we are no longer the ruler of our universe, when we are no longer able to pretend that it doesn't hurt/we can overcome/we never give up."
"Gratitude can anchor us so that we don't rise like the hot air balloon that can't stay up forever."
"Gratitude can give us the relieving sense of un-importance that we don't have to be perfect or always in control."
"Such gratitude comes to all who will notice the things that make our lives possible and that enriches us. The sun always rises. Food tastes good. Sleep refreshes. People smile. Children laugh. Seasons change. Spring returns. Good is more common than evil."
"An ancient prayer ends with these words: 'One thing more I ask: give to me a grateful heart.'"
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
A GRACIOUS PLACE. I am in Burlingame, California (adjacent to San Francisco) at The Mercy Center, taking part in Pastors In Community, hosted by Apostles Anglican Church of Lexington, Kentucky. This is a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc. The Mercy Center is a gracious place of hospitality facilitated by the Sisters of Mercy.
FOUR PRACTICES. The focus of this symposium is "gratitude" as one of four practices that make or break community. The other three practices are truth-telling, promise-keeping, and hospitality. This concept is being developed by Christine Pohl, Ph.D., and will likely be fleshed out in a book she is working on with these four practices in mind. Dr. Pohl, who co-facilitates the Pastors In Community SPE group, teaches a ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Her first book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, is a valuable guide to anyone who seeks to make real the kingdom of God in simple, daily personal practices or in organizational or wider community life.
POIGNANT MOMENT. One of the most poignant moments of my early adulthood came during my participation in a community-building workshop facilitated by psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck. The three-day event called upon all participants to do the heart and soul work of forming authentic community. Toward the end of the third day, Peck began to openly weep.
FREE TO CRY. “I know we are experiencing authentic community, now,” he said through his joyful tears. “I can only cry when I am sure it is safe, and it just occurred to me that this group has done the hard work and has yielded themselves and have become a community. And I am free to cry. No one is going to make fun of me or criticize.”
WORLD’S BIGGEST CRYBABY. Peck related that he was, indeed, a crybaby as a child. So much so that one year at a carnival his parents purchased and gave to him one of those newspapers that personalizes the front-page headline; it read: “Scotty Peck: World’s Biggest Crybaby!” After that, Peck did not cry for over twenty-five years. Not until he was in therapy at age 34 did Peck shed a tear. And he cries now only in the context of community.
THE KINGDOM COME. I saw in that moment an image of the Kingdom come. The Revelation of John envisions all tears of sorrow being wiped away and ended when God’s kingdom comes. But I see tears of joy and freedom and authenticity flowing as a sign of God’s kingdom breaking into our lives and relationships and communities even now. Let us do the hard work of developing spaces and encouraging contexts where community can occur, where people can be safe enough to cry—and to make critical, world-changing, peace-bearing decisions.
What we receive weighs something.
It may weigh us down
but need not do so.
But there is gravity in a gift;
It bears substance.
Pray for such a burden,
such a blessing.
If you want to throw your weight around
give a gift,
bear a grace,
And receive what’s given,
feel its impact on your soul;
may your soul be supple enough
to absorb its blow,
lest it be deflected,
as if bouncing off a brick wall.
I teach my child to receive a soccer ball
by absorbing its weight with her foot or leg or body;
yielding to it, it drops in your lap
instead of bouncing out of your control.
Feel its weight and you possess it.
And then you can work with it--drive it to the goal or pass it along.
Receive a gift;
yield to its impact,
be changed by its weight;
then use it,
or pass it on.
Monday, October 3, 2005
A LESS TRAVELED ROAD. I missed the news over the weekend of the passing of M. Scott Peck. A friend e-mailed me the obituary from CNN. I will have a fuller reflection on his life and influence later on bikehiker, but for now I simply want to mark his passing and point to his legacy.
ACCESSIBLE PSYCHOTHERAPY. Peck opened up the practical value of Jungian psychotherapy for most of us who have never had the privilege of working with a psychotherapist. His own journey into Christianity was spurred on by his recognition of grace at work in the lives of the patients he served. Peck explored extensively the borderline between religion and psychotherapy, challenging foregone conclusions, blistering dogmatism in both religion and science, and pointing the way of grace.
UNORTHODOX BUT QUITE ORTHODOX. Though he guarded his non-sectarian perspective carefully, Peck was no "new age" Christian (as some conservatives suspect). Read People of the Lie if you think he has any soft spot regarding the existence of evil and Satan. Read What Return Can I Make if you doubt that he depth or range of his grasp on orthodox Christianity.
COMMUNITY FIRST, DECISION-MAKING SECOND. While The Road Less Traveled is Peck's popular legacy, I prefer The Different Drum and A World Waiting to Be Born as his most important contributions for soul-searching truth-seekers. His principle of "community first, decision-making second" in itself, once grasped and embraced, has the potential reshape relationships, organizations, and communities.
A LIVING LEGACY. I was privileged to participate in one of Peck's early community building workshops (a "CBW," as he called them) in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1986. It was an experience that shaped my understanding and thirst for authentic community ever since. Those days with Peck gave an insight into him (imagine Peck sitting cross-legged on the floor weeping) that is often missed in his formal lectures--in which he seemed stereotypically Ivy League, doctinaire, and guru-like--and writings. This legacy, as much as his writings, is with me to the end of my days. I am thankful he lived a road less traveled, and for his contributions to the world and to my life.