Friday, April 28, 2006
"One of the tasks of ministry is to show people their divine gifts. A gift becomes visible in the eyes of the receiver. As ministers, we awaken others to their own qualities by receiving, celebrating, and valuing them, by accepting those gifts and expressing our gratitude."
"This happens when we interpret something as the grace of God in the other. It becomes revolutionary when the poor can realize their giftedness and know that they have something to give the world. Liberation theology is about claiming that giftedness and setting it free."
-- Henri Nouwen, quoted in The Road to Peace edited by John Dear (Orbis, 1998)
Thursday, April 27, 2006
CONNECTING THE DOTS. I haven’t found a more striking statement regarding Christian insight into the idolatry of money and the relationship of rich and poor than the following excerpts from Dissenter In A Great Society by William Stringfellow. This is food for thought, and prayer, for all of us who tend to segregate our quest for financial security from the poverty of others.
IDOLATRY OF MONEY. “The idolatry of money means that the moral worth of a person is judged in terms of the amount of money possessed and controlled. The acquisition and accumulation of money in itself is considered evidence of virtue. It does not so much matter how money is acquired—-by work, or invention, through inheritance or marriage, by luck or theft—-the main thing is to get some. The corollary of this doctrine, of course, is that those without money are morally inferior--weak, or indolent, or otherwise less worthy as human beings. Where money is an idol, to be poor is a sin.”
ONE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE OTHER. “This is an obscene idea of justification, directly in contradiction with the Bible. In the Gospel none are saved by any works of their own, least of all by the mere acquisition of money. In fact, the New Testament is redundant in citing the possession of riches as an impediment to salvation when money is regarded idolatrously. At the same time, the notion of justification by acquisition of money is empirically absurd, for it oversimplifies the relationship of the prosperous and the poor and overlooks the dependence of the rich upon the poor for their wealth. In this world human beings live at each other’s expense, and the affluence of the few is proximately related to, and supported by, the poverty of the many.”
POVERTY MAINTAINS LUXURY. “It is true today as it was in earlier times: the vast multitudes of people on the face of the earth are consigned to poverty for their whole lives, without any serious prospect whatever of changing their conditions. Their hardships in great measure make possible the comfort of those who are not poor. Their poverty maintains the luxury of others. Their deprivation purchases the abundance most Americans take for granted.”
SEARCHING QUESTIONS. “This leaves prosperous Americans with frightful questions to ask and confront, even in customs or circumstances that are regarded as trivial or straightforward. Where, for instance, do the profits that enable great corporations to make large contributions to universities and churches and charity come from? Do they come from the servitude of Latin American peasants working plantations on seventy-two hour weekly shifts for gross annual incomes of less than a hundred dollars? Do they depend upon the availability of black child labor in South Africa and Asia? Are such private beneficences in fact the real earnings of some of the poor of the world?”
ENTANGLED AND IMPLICATED. “To affirm that we live in this world at each other’s expense is a confession of the truth of the Fall rather than an assertion of economic doctrine or an empirical statement. It is not that there is in every transaction a direct one for one cause and effect relationship, either individually or institutionally, between the lot of the poor and the circumstances of those who are not poor. It is not that the wealthy are wicked or that the fact of malice is implicit in affluence. It is, rather, that all human and institutional relationships are profoundly distorted and so entangled that no person or principality in this world is innocent of involvement in the existence of all other persons and all institutions. ”
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
AWARE OF OUR NEIGHBORS? In the wake of the first round of rallies by Latino immigrants, conversation has been brewing about these heretofore "invisible" people. Such might have been similar conversation when Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man was published over 50 years ago detailing the realities of African-American life, realities that seemed to surprise most white Americans across the economic and educational spectrum. But were they/are we really that dull? I think not. I think our narrowed perceptions are very much part of the sin of racism and classism that still grips America. We know more of what is convenient and self-reinforcing for us to know than the complex and sometimes difficult reality of our national and community context. We are particularly resistant to direct or indirect cause-and-effect links between affluence and poverty.
PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF POVERTY. In light of the renewed "I never knew it was that bad!" conversations, I recently pulled my file of the National Public Radio survey on poverty conducted by the Kaiser Family Fund and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. It is four year old now. But the survey (I don't know if it is still available online at www.npr.org) reveals the prevailing attitudes of Americans about poverty these days. A few highlights:
· Only one in 10 Americans now rate poverty as one of the two top issues government should address.
· 40% of households with income under $34,000 (under 200% of poverty) fell behind in utility payments or couldn't pay for medical care in 2001; Over 30% of these say that at some point they had too little money to by enough food.
· Americans are divided over the causes of poverty--about half blame the poor themselves; about half point to circumstances beyond their control--like low wages, medical bills, etc. More well-off and conservative citizens think the poor aren't doing enough to help themselves.
· Most poor people are working--but most Americans surveyed agree that the jobs available to low-income neighbors aren't very good and don't pay the bills adequately.
· Sympathy for the poor is slipping--many well-off citizens think that people living in poverty have it too easy to change their situation.
WHO ARE THE DESERVING POOR? Are we are back to trying to distinguish the deserving poor from the undeserving poor? Are we back to the blame game? Are we more ready to commend and support a family or person that momentarily appears to be trying hard and simultaneously shun and blame an individual whose light has all but gone out, who has all but succumbed to the despair borne of poverty, and who has adopted raw survival tactics just to...survive? Do we really think that withholding life's most basic sustenance from one and offering it to another we deem more deserving is consistent with a Judeo-Christian ethic?
BUYING INTO SUBCHRISTIAN ASSUMPTIONS. Yet this posture and policy, long a practice in the world of dominance and competition, has now a strong foothold among some strains of American Christianity. How quickly many Christians arrive at judgments based on unredeemed, subchristian ideologies and assumptions. Social scientists, usually acting at the behest of politicians who are constantly pandering to a self-serving electorate, do not operate with an anthropology or social ethic that is informed by the living Word of God. To whom are we listening?
BLESSED ARE THE POOR? I wonder to what extent similar perceptions about poverty--and people who are affected by it--were prevalent in Jesus' day? There are many indications that poverty was rampant, that if you were poor it was considered a curse and a spiritual malady. There was plenty of finger pointing and avoidance going around. And there is indication that some poor folks were considered more worthy than others. Into this polarized arena Jesus stepped and declared with his words and life: "Blessed are the poor."
REVIVAL IN AMERICA? Folks in my evangelical circles talk about the need for revival in our churches and in America. If Isaiah 58 is to be taken seriously, then revival begins with rightly perceiving and treating the poor and then changing the unethical values and utennable behavior that makes people desperate in the first place. You just can't talk about revival apart from addressing this injustice. What would it mean for affluent and middle-class Americans to truly "bless the poor" today? What will it take to draw us out of our self-protective cocoons, blame games, and self-serving "deserving" analyses and into an understanding, constructive engagement, and shared pursuit of the end of poverty in America?
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
MOLLY AND BEN DAVIS. Molly's a freshman member of the Ben Davis High School girls varsity track team. She runs the second leg of the 4 x 800 meter relay, the 800 m, and a leg of the 4 x 400 m. After warm temperatures over the past two weeks, today it turned considerably colder with rain and wind. Temps dipped into the forties by track meet time and even though it stopped raining, the wind whipped up to 35 mph in the runners' faces on the back stretch. Times weren't good. The student athletes were freezing; the parents and friends were, too. It was the only home meet for BD girls this season. They easily defeated Warren Central. But both teams were holding their best back in preparation for the MIC Conference meet on Friday. Molly ran a good leg for BD's 4 x 800 winning effort.
GIRLS TRACK IN ILLINOIS. I covered girls track as my spring beat when I wrote sports for the Kankakee Daily Journal. I grew to like the sport and enjoyed that beat as I criss-crossed northeastern Illinois following south suburban Chicago high school track squads in 1982 and 1983. I became somewhat familiar with some of the subtleties of the track. The 800, 1,600, and 3,200 meter runs were my favorite events to cover. Believe it or not, there were young women who took these events and their performance against well-known area competitors quite seriously. I've watched them shove and try to trip each other, curse at each other, and cry over narrow losses. These were disciplined and high-caliber athletes, tough and tender. So, given that backdrop, it's been especially fun to support Abby and Molly as they have pursued the sport here in Indianapolis.
Monday, April 24, 2006
I try to ride downtown, the Canal, and the Monon frequently. These are three good urban areas for walkers, bikers, bladers, and other people using various mobility contraptions. But urban biking isn't limited to these areas. I like riding through urban neighborhoods, sometimes veering off the Monon just to see what's going on. While I still love to ride the woods--and the developing trails in Brown County State Park are the best ride I've had so far on a mountain bike--the city is where I live and biking is quite fun in this terrain and setting. Riding through the museum district or business district or around Conseco Fieldhouse, RCA Dome, or Victory Field at game or event times is a blast. As I do this, I try to keep in mind and to pray for my upcoming 2000-mile ride from the southern tip of India to New Delhi in January 2007.
My postings throughout last week were predominantly quotations or excerpts by others on the meaning and application of Jesus' resurrection. As with most of my postings on bikehiker, I am putting out there (on here) things that I am reading, considering, processing, or just find interesting. Some of the writings inspire me, some challenge me, some prod me to move outside my usual patterns of thinking and acting. As they are helpful to me, I hope they are helpful fodder for the soul searching of others.
HOW DOES IT FUNCTION? I realize that I am not overtly or directly spilling my guts regarding my personal beliefs, doubts or issues with such things as the Resurrection (capitalized when it refers to the resurrection of Jesus Christ; non-caps when referring to resurrection in general) in my postings here. It should be clear that I'm primarily interested in how resurrection faith is interpreted and applied in daily patterns of individual decision-making and behavior and in corporate, governmental, and social structures and behavior (i.e., principalities and powers). I will leave arguing historicity to others. I'm not sure we "prove" anything or win the hearts of people by traditionally-accepted arguments, argumentativeness, apologetics, etc. "Influence," yes; "prove," no. Regardless, what interests me is whether or not, and if so, how the Resurrection functions in our lives, relationships, organizations, society, systems, and world.
PERSONAL APPLICATION. At the heart of this inquiry/exploration is also the personal question for me: how does the Resurrection function in my life, relationships, leadership, commitments, decisions, understandings, approaches, perspective, outlook, attitude, actions, etc? I am on alert because of this concern: religiosity, or what one commenter recently called "Churchianity," talks big about the Resurrection but does not make it central in practice. Why? I have my suspicions and opinions. But what am I overlooking? Is there more substance to traditionally, conservatively-articulated and expressed notions of the place of the Resurrection than I am giving credit?
INCARNATING RESURRECTION. I appreciate Mike's comments, as he is expressing the reality of resurrection fellowship through the neighborhood ministry of Broadway UMC. If you knew of the urban community context in which he serves, these expressions of resurrection would be all the more heartening. I am certain of this: we will not know the reality or power of resurrection apart from the practice of it in relationship and in tough situations. The quest continues...
Sunday, April 23, 2006
“To practice resurrection means being an agent of redemption, and agent of healing, an agent of reconciliation. Because we have been forgiven, we, too, are called to forgive…To practice resurrection means finding ways to help people realize that even though the world appears to be going to hell in a hand basket, it really isn’t. Christ is at work giving people a chance to start again, helping people to believe even after they have considered all the facts that there is still hope.” -- Kenneth Kovacs
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Friday, April 21, 2006
A LIFE IN SERMONS. One of my favorite thinkers, preachers and writers is Frederick Buechner. Reading him always seems to put me more in touch with myself and with God. He's best known for books like Wishful Thinking and The Alphabet of Grace. I am currently reading a selection of his best essays and sermons, A Life in Sermons. Here's an excerpt of Buechner's wisdom on hope and the Resurrection:
AT THE HEART OF OUR HOPE. "At the heart of all our hoping is the hope that God whom all the shouting is about really exists. And at the heart of the heart is Christ -- the hope that he really is what for years we have been saying he is. That he really conquered sin and death. That in him and through him we also stand a chance of conquering them. 'If Christ has not raised from the dead, your faith is futile and you are still in sins,' Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians. 'If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.'"
HOPE AND HOPELESSNESS. "If preachers are going to talk about hope, let them talk as honestly as Saint Paul did about hopelessness. Let them acknowledge the darkness and pitiableness of the human condition, including their own condition, into which hope brings still a glimmer of light."
SPEAK PERSONALLY, PLEASE. "And let them talk with equal honesty about their own reasons for hoping -- not just the official, doctrinal, Biblical reasons but the reasons rooted deep in their own day by day experience. They have hope that God exists because from time to time over the years they believe they have been touched by God. Let them speak of those times with the candor and concretness and passion without which all the homiletical eloquence and technique in the world are worth little."
SPEAKING OUR HEARTS TO DEAREST FRIENDS. "They believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life because at a few precious moments that is what they have found him to be in their own small deaths and resurrections. Let them speak of those moments not like lecturers or propagandists but like human being speaking their hearts to their dearest friends who at any given point will unerringly know whether they are speaking truth or only parroting it."
COURAGE TO BE OURSELVES. "The trouble with many sermons is not so much that the preachers are out of touch with what is going on in the world or in books or in theology but that they are out of touch with what is going on their own lives and in the lives of the people they are preaching to.Whether their subject is hope or faith or charity or anything else, let them speak out of the living truth of their own experience of those high matters. Let them have the courage to be themselves."
Thursday, April 20, 2006
I don't know much about China, but I know enough to be unsettled by our President personally apologizing to China's leader, Hu Jintao, today for a heckler and protesters during his visit to Washington, D. C.
Here's some of the little that I know...
- I know what I saw on TV during the Tienneman Square stand-off and subsequent repression of the Chinese student-led freedom movement in 1989. Those images are etched in my mind. We know from the free press that many of these students and their families were jailed, tortured, and some killed.
- I know from news sources that China's detention, torture, and killings of thousands and so-called dissidents are well known internationally. I listened to a report on the radio about it again today.
- I know that news media, Internet and e-mail is heavily monitored and censored in China. Again, the free press makes this clear.
- I know that some forms of religion are heavily monitored and suppressed. I correspond with Christian missionaries working in China who cannot let it be known that they are Christians or missionaries. We cannot use the key words "prayer," "Bible," "God," "Jesus Christ," etc. in our correspondence or their cover will be blown. They tell me Christianity is alive and well--and growing--in China, but still in underground mode because, for all its attempts to put on a different image, China is not a free society.
WHY APOLOGIZE? So, why would the President of the nation that claims to set the moral standard for human rights, personal freedom of expression, and freedom of religion apologize to the Chinese head of state for American people expressing their grief and angst over the realities of oppression in China? Why apologize? China makes a mockery of openness and a move toward a free society. Instead of apologizing, our President should be turning up the pressure on Chinese leadership regarding human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of worship.
WHEN THE BOTTOM LINE IS MERELY BUSINESS. And all those on the right who ridiculed President Clinton for his soft approach on China during his state visit there should be turning up the heat on Bush now--because he is doing the same thing Clinton did. When the bottom line is merely business--which is the modus operandi of this regime--human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of worship take a back seat or are moved off the agenda entirely. As long as our national leaders pretend that China is a trustable and reforming partner instead of the greed-driven, power-obsessed oppressor that it really is, it doesn't seem to me that China will do anything differently regarding values that are dear and critical to a world in which freedom rings.
WHY DON'T I HEAR THIS FROM EVANGELICALS? I don't hear the following kind of interpretation and application of the Resurrection among my evangelical brethren. What I hear from our corner of the theological domain is mostly about a future life after death. Of all branches of Christendom, evangelicals ought to be echoing and magnifying this proclamation of William Stringfellow. But perhaps Stringfellow's interpretation is too unsettling to the shallow underpinnings of the marriage of conservative Christianity to right-wing American politics to be uttered.
LET THE STREET LAWYER SPEAK. While "liberals" doubt and debate the reality of Christ's resurrection and "conservatives" bash "liberals" and any unsuspecting unbeliever or suspected believer for not believing it the way they have come to believe and apply it, leave it to a scrawny little Episcopalian street lawyer and lay theologian who suffered and died early with diabetes to speak what all people need to hear of the Resurrection:
FREEDOM NOW. “To become a beneficiary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ means to live here and now in a way that upholds and honors the sovereignty of the Word of God in this life in this world, and that trusts the judgment of the Word of God in history. That means freedom NOW from all conformities to death, freedom NOW from fear of the power of death, freedom NOW from all bondage of idolatry to death, freedom NOW to live in hope while awaiting the judgment."
IN THIS LIFE, IN THIS WORLD. “His victory is not for himself but for us. His power over death is effective not just at the terminal point of a person's life but throughout one's life, during THIS life in THIS world, right now.”
AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES. "This power is effective in the times and places in the daily lives of human beings when they are so gravely and relentlessly assailed by the claims of principalities for an idolatry that, in spite of all disguises, really surrenders to death as the reigning presence in the world. His resurrection means the possibility of living in this life, in the very midst of death's works, safe and free from death.”
PRETENSIONS AT AN END. "The reign of death and, within that, the pretensions to sovereignty over history of the principalities, is brought to an end in Christ's resurrection. The claim of a nation, ideology, or other principality to rule history...is exposed and undone. How and in whom salvation is wrought is disclosed and demonstrated. Christ is both the end and fulfillment for all principalities, for all humanity, and for all things.”
From A Keeper of the Word, selected writings of William Stringfellow compiled and edited by Bill Wylie Kellerman (Eerdmans)
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
I came across a prayer attributed to Eric Milner-White in A Diary of Prayer by Elizabeth Goudge that I think is striking for its application of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus:
whose wondrous birth
unless we be born again,
whose death and sacrifice
unless we die unto sin,
if You be risen alone:
Raise and exult us,
to the estate of grace
to the state of glory;
where with the Father
and the Holy Spirit
You live and reign
for ever and ever.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Warning: this is a long and somewhat heavy entry...longer and heavier than usual for this blog.
WHAT RESURRECTION LIVING IS NOT. The last line of a well-known Wendell Berry poem ("Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front") is "practice resurrection." Taking Berry's cue, what will it mean for me to practice resurrection today?
I’m pretty sure I know what it does NOT mean:
- Practicing resurrection is not the same as having some kind of confidence that life--and justice, truth, freedom, etc.--ultimately triumphs because “that’s the way life is.”
- Practicing resurrection is not the same as having a “positive mental attitude” or possessing a hopeful outlook on the outcome of things.
- Practicing resurrection is not the same as believing everything will turn out okay if you just do the right things.
- Practicing resurrection is not the same as believing in the immortality of the soul or eternal life.
- Practicing resurrection is not simply observing and getting in sync with the “circle of life.”
GO AHEAD, THINK POSITIVELY. Don’t get me wrong: I believe it is valuable to think positively; I try to practice thinking positively each day. My frame of mind is “can-do.” I take Wayne Dyer seriously when he says to “shun naysayers, whiners, complainers, critics, and those who say it can’t be done.” I believe in my God-given capacities to positively impact relationships, communities, and the world. I am convinced that doing the right things (and, secondarily, doing things right) impacts foreseeable outcomes significantly. If we do not think greatly or deeply we will not realize great things or become people the world must reckon with. I am convinced we live at the lower limits of what is humanly positively possible; a representative few of our race in each generation seem to exercise their capacity more fully and make it clear that we can become and do much more than most of us think we can become and do. I believe in eternal life.
THOUGHT, ATTITUDE, DISCIPLINE. But little of this has much to do with my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or what I believe it means to “practice resurrection.” All of the above are primarily matters of thought, attitude, and discipline. It requires nothing obviously or overtly transcendent. It requires challenging your thoughts and thought patterns; it requires checking your attitude and training yourself to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty; it requires discipline to follow through, to stay committed to principles, to master a science or trade or profession, and to “make the most” of what one has been given.
A RELATED ASIDE. (Regarding looking only at the bright side or at the glass as half full, my refusal to acknowledge emptiness does not somehow negate or fill up the emptiness that really does exist right under my nose! Application: looking only at positive things and good situations does not make the reality of negative things and dreadfully hurtful situations go away; every positive person has got to deal with what is going wrong in our world, for it may well be that what makes me feel so positive is at the expense of others who suffer directly or indirectly for or by my PMA-motivated actions.)
RESURRECTION IS NOT NATURAL. Practicing resurrection is something entirely different. To begin with, resurrection is not natural. Things decay. Animals die. People die. Death is natural, part of the “circle of life”--birth, growth, contribution, reproduction, maturity and legacy, decay, and death. It is not in the natural order of things for something or someone to come back to life. Metamorphosis is in the natural order of things; seeding is in the natural order of things; renewal of life after a season of dormancy is in the natural order of things (I think Berry is most likely referring to these in his poem, though poets leave much open for interpretation and meaning); but resurrection is NOT in the natural order of things.
REALLY DEAD AND REALLY ALIVE AGAIN. Resurrection means that a living being dies completely and it is subsequently raised to life again in all its material reality. Resurrection means a once-living being is really dead and then is really alive again. To believe in and practice resurrection is to step outside the natural order, “the circle of life,” “the way it is.” To believe in and practice resurrection is to move in the realm of faith and the transcendent.
THE RESURRECTION OF ONE. To this point in human history, we know of only a handful of humans who are reported to have been bodily resurrected from death. One who has been resurrected, the account of which has been more scrutinized than any single event in human history, was raised in a transcendent act of God for a cosmically salvific purpose. In this case, resurrection was not simply because the person was sorely missed and longed for, not because the person’s death was a tragedy or unfair or untimely or scandalous. Resurrection, in the case of Jesus of Nazareth--the unique Son of God, Son of Man--(1) completed a divine work of salvation, (2) revealed the power of God’s love for Jesus and all humanity, (3) set in motion the reversal of the curse of death, and (4) signaled the ultimate defeat of death itself as a power at work in the world.
TO PRACTICE RESURRECTION. So, here's what I think it means for me to "practice resurrection":
- To practice resurrection means to yield oneself fully to God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ and to reflect that love in word and deed as fully as humanly possible into one’s relationships, community, culture, and world--realizing full well that the same sinfulness that crucified Jesus may well condemn and kill you.
- To practice resurrection means to live and act faithfully in the living Word of God (do not make the mistake of limiting "the Word of God" to the Scriptures; here I mean it in the fullest sense, like William Stringfellow used it, including the Resurrected Christ and the guidance of the ever-present Holy Spirit), trusting one’s outcome into the hands and care of the same God who resurrected Jesus.
- To practice resurrection means to dare to do what is faithful with and for God’s creation and creatures in spite of economic loss or the accusation of treason.
- To practice resurrection means to live in faith that the same power the raised Jesus from the dead has raised you to a new spiritual life and is currently at work in you (See Ephesians).
- To practice resurrection means to say “no” to death’s powers manifested in the “do this or else” messages in the marketplace, institutions, ideologies, and images that make up the fallen principalities and powers.
- To practice resurrection means to do the humanly responsible thing rather than the personally or nationally advantageous thing.
- To practice resurrection means to act from a perspective of shared mission with the whole living body of Jesus Christ--the church--rather than in isolated, insolated, institutional or individual self-interest.
- To practice resurrection means to hold one’s confidence in the Word of God (remember, this is bigger, broader, wider, deeper than the Scriptures) even as foes assail, bodily functions fail, and breath itself is snuffed out.
- To practice resurrection means to live and act against a backdrop of belief that “death cannot keep his prey.”
- To practice resurrection means to live fully by faith in a God who resurrected Jesus and who promises resurrection to life to those who so trust in God.
HOW DO YOU "PRACTICE RESURRECTION?" I'm interested to know how you "practice resurrection." What does this mean for you? How do you live in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? How do you live in light of Easter faith? What difference does it make in your dailyness, critical decisions, and ultimate challenges?
Sunday, April 16, 2006
A PRAYER FOR US ALL. I’ve been sharing the following poem by Wil Winget for a number of years each Easter. I am grateful my seminary New Testament professor Morris Weigelt shared it with me. Morris was Wil Winget’s brother-in-law. Wil taught at Spring Arbor College before he succumbed to a painfully terrible death by cancer several years ago. In Winget’s words I find the spirit of Easter and a prayer for myself, those I love, and the world.
O Mighty, Holy Breath of God
On this glorious Day of Resurrection
Blow open all the shutters of our minds
bursting the barriers of
prejudice and pride
insensitivity and sloth
ignorance and fear
stretching wide our vision of
what you are doing
where you are working
in our fascinating
Blow wide the doors of our hearts
impelling us outward to
the lonely and loveless
the angry and hopeless
the empty and faithless
as ready instruments
of your Grace.
Blow up our lungs to keep us shouting
Yes to Faith in the face of fear
Yes to Hope in defiance of despair
Yes to Love in spite of apathy
Yes to Life in the teeth of death
Through Christ, the Living One,
EVERYONE IS SO UNTRUE. It occurred to me recently how profoundly cynical my generation has become. We disbelieve sincerity, reject the notion of certainties, question the validity of most authority, doubt heart change is really possible, and are sure most every one acts only out of self-interest. We take things at face value but don’t value that very much. Billy Joel’s lyrics reflect the perspective: “Honesty is such a lonely word, everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard and mostly what I need from you.”
CLOUDED YOUTH. My generation’s cynicism is not without reason. One of my earliest childhood memories is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was four years old. I recall the extended national mourning that ensued. Those of us who moved from childhood to adolescence in the 1960's and 70's absorbed the social-emotional impacts of the Vietnam debacle, student killings at Kent State University, the struggle for civil rights, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and, to cap it all off, the Watergate scandal and the resignation of the disgraced Richard M. Nixon. And looming silently as a backdrop to this drama, was--is still--the omnipresent specter of a nuclear mushroom cloud.
FROM IDEALISTS TO CYNICS. So, the young idealists called to "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country," became the drop-out generation, the drugged-out generation, the self-absorbed generation, the self-promoting generation, the ever "seeking" generation. We have pushed the divorce rate to record levels. We have clogged the courts with frivolous litigation. We blame everyone and take little responsibility. We use communities and people and then discard or disregard them. It appears that our collective generational response to the socio-political traumas of the 1960's is a robust and cancerous cynicism.
POWER SOURCES ROBBED. It occurs to me that cynicism might make sense, were it not for the Resurrection. But Easter robs cynicism of its power sources. Whereas cynicism would say you can’t count on anything, the Empty Tomb says there’s a least one thing that can be counted on. Whereas cynicism asserts that nobody is true to his or her word, the Resurrection indicates at least one Person is. Whereas cynicism charges that every act has a selfish motive to it, Jesus’ self-giving issues a counter. Whereas cynicism says nothing’s going to change the way it is, the Third Day has started that brings transformation and hope to every individual, community, and culture.
COUNTERING CYNICISM. Any of us would be foolish to let down our guard in a culture that breathes and breeds cynicism. At the same time, we would be foolish to yield an inch to cynicism’s ultimate claims. We are invited, as beneficiaries of the Resurrection, to live in counter to the widely-accepted cultural excuses and half-truths that pass for “the way it is.” More than that, it is the privilege of people who live in Easter faith to share the counter-claims and counter life with fellow citizens who do not realize that the way, truth, and life has been opened for all.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
by the Rev. Stacey Littlefield,
Bethany Covenant Church
Thank you for the day in-between;
Safely tucked in the middle of
At the start
a torturous journey,
an uphill climb,
stumbling, staggering, sweating
under the weight of the wood.
Muscles tired, strength exhausted,
body beaten, bruised and bleeding,
stretched out on display,
for mockers, curiosity seekers and saints.
A final breath, an impassioned cry
and it was finished.
On the other side of this Dark Day
a light awaits the dawn.
But, not yet
...This is the Day In-Between.
Today His body is still silent.
Drops of sweat and blood have
cooled and come to rest.
Dark, Cold and Damp
is the bed on which his limbs
Quiet, lonely, without the intrusions
of daily routine or plans for the future.
He does not move.
And I am thankful for this
a chance to wait, to meditate,
to embrace the silence and the sorrow,
the call and the cost.
My very life, my only hope
is there in the Dark with Him;
I am surrounded by the Holy Silence of Death,
almost afraid to move,
to disturb the calm;
afraid that the noise of my anxious, shifting feet
might drown out the sounds of hope:
-- a breath, a heartbeat, the crackle
of stiffness softening.
In the Day In-Between
and I begin to Hope.
Friday, April 14, 2006
By Christina Rossetti
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
One of the world's outstanding voices for waging peace has fallen silent. The Reverend William Sloane Coffin died yesterday; he was 81 years old. Former Yale chaplain and Senior Pastor of New York City's Riverside Church, Gerry Trudeau used Coffin for his "Doonesbury" character "Rev. Sloan." Listen to or read a tribute to Coffin at NPR
THE RING OF TRUTH. I've admired Coffin at a distance for years. I've repeatedly read of him in Sojourners. I've read a few of his essays and books (his latest was Credo). I heard him speak once, during the Persian Gulf War, at Christian Theological Seminary. Coffin was firey, precise, and poignant; he had the ring of truth about him.
ECHO AND RESONATE. Perhaps his perspective and voice will continue to echo; perhaps it will find resonance in other like-hearted prophets. Here are few snippets from a 2004 "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly" interview:
WHOLESALE JUSTICE. "What this country needs, what I think God wants us to do, is not practice piecemeal charity but engage in wholesale justice. Justice is at the heart of religious faith. When we see Christ empowering the poor, scorning the powerful, healing the world's hurts, we are seeing transparently the power of God at work."
GOD'S LOVE. "God is not too hard to believe in. God is too good to believe in, we being such strangers to such goodness. The love of God is to me absolutely overwhelming."
HUMAN MALPRACTICE. "It's clear to me, two things: that almost every square inch of the Earth's surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent, and it's not God's doing. It's our doing. That's human malpractice. Don't chalk it up to God. Every time people say, when they see the innocent suffering, every time they lift their eyes to heaven and say, 'God, how could you let this happen?' it's well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: 'How could you let this happen?' So you have to take responsibility."
ALIVE...OR BORING. "If you back off from every little controversy in your life you're not alive, and what's more, you're boring."
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
PRAYING OTHERS' PRAYERS. The prayers of other believers and those shared by the ancient church help me in my own praying. Sometimes others' prayers jump-start my own. Sometimes I find insight and wisdom for my path in the heart-cries of others. Sometimes I am just too overwhelmed, disoriented, or anxious to pray my own prayers at the moment of prayer; I, who often lead others in prayer, am led in prayer by these.
MY PRAYER. May these three prayers help you as you pray and walk your way through the Passion of Jesus this week. I am praying that God will open each of us up to grace in fresh ways this week, pointing the way for heart renewal, church revival, and transformation of people, systems, and projected outcomes.
AS IF IT WERE PRESENT THIS DAY. “O God, eternal Might, hasten unto us. You, who by Your power makes things future to be as things past, and also by Your presence, things past to be as things present; grant that Your Passion may be as saving to us as if it were present this day: You who reign forever with the Father and Holy Spirit, now begin to reign over us--Man, God, Christ Jesus, King for ever and ever. Amen.” -- from an ancient Holy Week prayer service
MAKE US PARTAKERS OF JESUS' SUFFERING & RESURRECTION. “Almighty and everlasting God, who, of Your tender love toward humanity has sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross, that all humanity should follow the example of His great humility; mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of His patience and also be made partakers of His resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” -- from The Book of Common Prayer
JOYFUL AMID SUFFERING. “O Lord God, whose blessed Son, our Savior, gave his back to the smiters and hid not His face from shame; grant us grace to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” -- from The American Book of Common Prayer
Monday, April 10, 2006
I made my way downtown early this evening for the immigration rally in support of fair legislation regarding Latino residents and neighbors. About20,000 people, mostly Latino, gathered peacefully on the southside of the City/County Building. It was a very inspiring event and I've been told it is the largest rally in Indy history. These were families and individuals who our neighbors and who are making a significant commitment and contribution to our communities. Hundreds of thousands gathered peacefully across the nation--all for a fair way to legalization of undocumented aliens and against prejudice and exploitation.
I haven't seen so many American flags waving in a long, long time. And to think our legislators (and the hateful, fearful people who give them money and pressure them) want to make a significant number of these folks felons? I am hopeful cooler heads and more compassionate hearts will prevail in Washington, D. C. regarding proposed and pending legislation on immigration. More on this later.
Sunday, April 9, 2006
Like never before, I am noticing the cultural precariousness of observing the suffering and death of Jesus--and of celebrating his resurrection. I felt it yesterday on the airplane from Denver to Indianapolis as I used my laptop to work the points of my Sunday sermon into the PowerPoint that would be projected onto the screen on Palm Sunday. Wedged between two passengers, I felt their eyes wandering over to my work. I typed the simple words "Palm Sunday brings together confidence that Jesus is the Messiah and hope that he begins his kingdom now." I heard the passenger on my left mildly "harrumph" and turn away, as if to say "O brother, this weirdo really believes that stuff!" The guy on my right, who was watching "Napoleon Dynamite" on a personal-size DVD player and tending intermittently to his two children and wife seated across the aisle, had no reaction at all. The words and meaning did not even register.
FEELING CONSPICUOUS AND IRRELEVANT. Somehow, my simple theological statement rang at once both powerfully profound and terribly hollow. To people flying on a jetliner at 35,000 feet in 21st century-America, what does Jesus as Messiah and kingdom-bearer mean? To an older man whose body language said "don't even try to talk to me, I am in no mood to be bothered with mere conversation," who is Jesus? To a dad and mom with their hands full of children and electronic gadgets and worries about life, how does God's kingdom compute? For a few moments I felt conspicuous and irrelevant and overwhelmed. How does the Gospel compute to these folks?
GO AHEAD AND SIN. After I powered down my laptop on the approach to Indianapolis International, I opened the airline magazine. I was taken aback by a two-page ad for Hyatt resorts. On one page was a picture of a very tempting pastry--a huge cinnamon roll with blueberries on it. At the bottom of the page was one word: "sin." On the opposite page was a shapely woman running blissfully on a treadmill. At the bottom of this page was one word: "salvation." We know what that means, right? But when I think of the assumptions of such theology, I tremble. Sin is a much bigger issue than indulging in a high-carb, high-cal dessert. And salvation is not about letting yourself indulge in sin because you know you can work it off later. But do the passengers sitting all around me know or care about these distinctions?
I REALLY BELIEVE THIS STUFF. These incidents leave me perplexed and prayerful. I don't know what else to do but pray. In the face of such sophisticated messaging and cultural cynicism, I find myself driven back to "the foolishness of preaching." Sometimes, I feel like such an out-of-touch vessel and one who purveys an antiquated or apparently irrelevant message in apparently unimaginative ways. But, in spite of this, I really believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the hope for all humankind--one and all--both to deal radically with our utter sinfulness, brokenness, and estrangement, and to open up and make possible here and now the kind of life and relationships which God's future will bring to fullness. That's why I am observing Holy Week. I pray that along the way, grace may be conveyed to me and through me to people like my fellow passengers at 35,000 feet.
Saturday, April 8, 2006
Photo: This is the whole gang who worked the peaks of Breckenridge this week. Molly's guest was Ashley Sullivan; we were privileged to have John & Marilyn Thomas join us for most of the week, too.
We're safely back on the ground in Indy after a
week in the Colorado Rockies, grateful for the week that was and looking forward to the fullness of Holy Week ahead.
A week in Breckenridge is physically challenging and invigorating as well as restful and renewing. We ski and snowboard until we are worn out then go inside to rest, read, converse, and sleep. I'm usually asleep before 9 pm during Spring Break. This is one difference between being twenty-something and forty-something!
Here are a few things I engaged during the week while not on the mountain slopes:
1. Started reading The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman, subtitled "A brief history of the twenty-first century." Friedman details how the flatness of the world, due to information technology, has changed and WILL change our lives. My interest in checking the book out of the library was his heavy reference to India as a primary symbol of the developing flatness.
2. Read more poems in Wendell Berry's newest collection, Given.
3. Watched "Emmanuel's Gift," an inspiring documentary about a young man from Ghana who pedals across his country with one leg in order to challenge long-held negative notions about disabilities. Oprah Winfrey narrates the DVD.
4. As part of my weekly discipline, I edited "Life Together on West Morris Street," "The Compass," "Grace Notes," and helped coordinate worship planning and Sunday's bulletin. Writing is an integral part of my life and expressions of ministry.
5. I read a bit more of other folks' blogging efforts than I typically have time for. Folks who don't blog don't understand it or appreciate it's promise very well. And even those of us who are attempting to work with this medium (for the sake of being a hopeful and redeeming presence as it develops) don't begin to realize its fullest positive potential. I thought this week that I would like to make positive comment and contribution to others' blogs more in the future.
6. We made our annual visit to the outlet mall at Silverthorne. I comb the store for necessities and rare "good deal" finds. I came up almost empty-handed this year (possibly because I just have much more than I really need!), but purchased three books at a wholesale bookstore. One by Howard Kuntzler, titled The City in Mind, looks like it will be a good read. I continue to be fascinated by all that contributes to the unique personality and heart of a city. Kuntzler, an urban architect and author of the breakthrough books Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere, is always insightful.
Friday, April 7, 2006
This won't happen in Indianapolis, but a snow storm in Breckenridge, Colorado is par for the course for April. I took this photo at about 6:30 am today. We're looking forward to riding the new snow with snowboards later in the morning. Sorry, all you folks who went to Florida. This is what Spring Break was meant to be!
Thursday, April 6, 2006
"We can't become nonviolent on the basis of intellectual conviction. Commitment to non-violence demands a very profound conversion of mind and heart. If we take the time to pray with Jesus, we too will be converted in mind and heart. It won't work if we try to reason it out. The only way is through a change of heart, a coming into a way of being that is the way of Jesus."
-- Thomas Gumbleton (Gumbleton is Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit; his reflections are posted weekly on The Peace Pulpit, a project of The National Catholic Reporter)
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
CROSS WALK. Lent tracks with Jesus as he sets out resolutely for Jerusalem and the cross. But even after he began to walk and talk disturbingly about his and his followers' crosses, everywhere he went life broke through. The way to the cross is filled with paradox--hope intersects despair, understanding intersects confusion, promise intersects pain, life intersects death. It would be a mistake to walk through Lent--or any other season of life--with a somber heaviness, as if on a death march.
TWISTED IMAGERY. How does one march to death? Marching, after all, is imagery robust with triumph and pageantry; with music of the band and prancing of the horses and regimented rows of rhythm-stepping soldiers. Most often a march celebrates a victory, graces a holiday, or highlights heroic efforts.
ANOTHER'S AGONY. But not a few marches truly have the stench of death. One group's triumph is another's agony. Our family lived for a few years in Oklahoma where Native Americans were marched from their homelands in what is now called the Trail of Tears. I ponder 65-year-old photos of French spectators weeping despairingly as Nazi tanks and troops rolled into a Paris pounded into submission. History is full of prisoner-of-war and ethnic-purging marches that served to grind oppressed people into oblivion.
BREATHTAKING JOURNEY. But Jesus' march toward Jerusalem was neither morbid nor despairing. Though one of his disciples resignedly said "Let us also go with him that we may die with him," they misunderstood both the spirit in which Jesus journeyed and the redemptive mission he resolved to fulfill. His trek was no denial of life; nor is ours. The journey will be as breathtaking as heart-rending, as life-giving as disturbing. It is important for us to grapple with the specter of the cross in light of the hope and life and grace that loom larger on the horizon.
IN CHRIST'S TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION. The Apostle Paul writes in terms of a marching procession: "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Read or listen to a good article by Phil Powers on "The Practice of Slowing Down," one of NPR's "This I Believe" series. An excerpt:
"When I was 19, I learned something called the "rest step" from an old mountain climber named Paul Petzoldt. He advised me to rest in the middle of each step completely, but briefly. The rest step, which I still practice today, allows me to walk or climb with little effort. I can move very quickly yet still find a pause in every step."
"The awareness of pace I owe to my teacher has served me whether I am seeking the world's highest summits, sharing my love for the mountains with others or kneeling to look my son, Gus, in the eye when he has a question."
"It serves me as I drive, adjusting my speed to gain a bit of calm and reach my destination only minutes behind the "record time" a faster lane might provide. It serves me at home where we maintain a tradition of gathering each night at the dinner table to eat and talk to each other."
Monday, April 3, 2006
We rode the new Imperial Superchair, now the highest chair lift in Colorado, to an elevation of over 12,800 feet. While temperatures climbed into the 60s in the town of Breckenridge far below, things stayed cold and snow was massive up on top of Peak 8. As I have over the past eight years, I'm boarding again. The snow is as good as I can ever remember for April in Colorado. The vista from this height is incredible. In the distance is frozen Lake Dillon, a major source of water for metro Denver. Generous snow this year bodes well for water supplies and reduces the threat of forest fires.
Saturday, April 1, 2006
We start the day in Indianapolis and wind up in the heart of Colorado's ski country. I begin the day working and end it launching into a week of R&R. The Final Four hoopla is just a few miles away from our house; by the time the second game begins on CBS national telecast this evening, we'll be watching it 1,000 miles away in Breckenridge. This will the 8th year in a row our family spends Spring Break in Breck in the hospitality of my in-laws.
RECREATING RESPONSIBLY. Conditions in Summit County are excellent for spring skiing; there is a 78-inch base of snow on the mountains as of this morning. Midday temps are projected to be in the mid-40's with partly sunny skies throughout next week. In addition to recreating responsibly, we pray for safety and renewal of our hearts.
WORSHIP AT THE MOUNTAIN. Our tradition is to attend the early service at Saint John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Breckenridge on Sunday morning. There is no music in the early service, but rich liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer and a challenging Gospel sermon can be counted on.
WESLEY & THE BCP. By the way: Did you know that John Wesley and the early Methodists used the Book of Common Prayer both in Sunday worship and in daily reading? Did you know that John Wesley partook of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper weekly in worship--and as often as he had opportunity between Sundays--and advocated the same for the early Methodists? Contrast: a third-generation Free Methodist recently observed that the Sacraments were, during his upbringing, "optional."