Monday, March 31, 2008

The saga of flashbacks, PTSD, and dysfunctional lives of Iraq War vets emerges

LOST AT HOME. The story of this young Iraq War vet is tragic. Eric Hall, recently returned from Iraq, had a flashback when a brush fire broke out, burrowed into a pipeline and died of suffocation. The manner in which his Indiana family and New York Times reporter Damien Cave tell his story and relate it to the larger and growing picture of the ongoing trauma of returning vets is gracious. It is a story we will likely hear repeated again and again in coming years.

A NEW GENERATION OF LOST SOULS. Veterans have a saying that on the home front, wars last a lifetime. As director of a homeless day center for several years, I addressed many Vietnam-era vets who had not yet come home twenty years after the U.S. evacuated the last troops from Saigon. Let us prepare ourselves to caringly address the war that will rage in the minds of some veterans long after the last of American troops leave Iraq. Militarism can train young people to fight wars, but it has yet to adequately return many to our communities and families without serioius war-induced psycho-social traumas. We've got a ways to go and lots of work to do.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

As I grow older, will I regress or grow?

O God,

What shall I become
as I grow older?
Less of what I have been?
More of the same?
Will I be more irritable,
less sensitive to all that now irritates me,
or free of such petty cares?
Will I continue to forgive,
or be less inclined to let go
offenses and harsh words?

As I grow older
do I continue to change,
or regress back into patterns that make me
rutted, and

O living Word,
Continue to change me.
Let Jesus Christ continue
to be formed in me,
so that whatever you intended me to be
I shall yet become.
Help me grow up in you.


“Until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13, The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Frederick Buechner challenges me to speak out of my own sense of hope and the resurrection

SPEAK FROM YOUR OWN HEART. The following paragraphs by author/preacher Frederick Buechner come from He's telling preachers that if they're going to preach about hope and the resurrection they should do so more out of their own experience of hope and faith in the resurrection than out of impersonal examples, history, experts, or saints. Good point well taken.

HOPE AND HOPELESSNESS. "And at the heart of the heart is Christ -- the hope that he really is what for years [we preachers] 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.' 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."

WHY WE HOPE. "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. "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."

YOUR OWN TRUTH. "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, March 27, 2008

From a holiness ghetto into community life and service

Recently, I was asked to respond to a questionnaire regarding turning points in my spiritual life. Here's an excerpt of my response:

LOVE IT, WARTS AND ALL. I grew up as a “preacher’s kid” in a Wesleyan/holiness parsonage and church. I sought God early and often; I felt and knew the love of God in my heart. I loved the church and readily conformed to its many stipulations. By the time I was an adolescent, however, I wanted nothing to do with patten-leather shoes, beehive hair-dos, racist jokes, legalistic rules, or easily-offended authority. My critical eye, however, could not dismiss the depth of religious experience and personal integrity in many of the people of our congregation. Unlike most of my teenage church friends, I could not walk away from the church. Warts and all, misguided and imperfect as it appeared to be, this faith and the experiences of faith of many in the church was real. I determined to follow Jesus and be a part of the church—even to be a part of redeeming it and delineating essentials from nonessentials, authentic from the inauthentic.

CALLING WITH AN URBAN FOCUS. During my freshman year of college I had an existential crisis that opened me up to a calling to full-time ministry. Based on my reactions to most pastors that I observed, I could not envision myself being a “typical” pastor. I was, however, drawn to a few ministers who spoke in our college chapel about their work in inner-city areas of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. These people were engaging in ministry beyond the walls of the church in places that were being left behind in fear and devastation. They drew clear Biblical connections in the Old Testament prophets and in Jesus’ call to serve the poor. They pointed to the ministry of John Wesley and the holiness movement as taking root and flourishing among the poor and in the cities. They called for a renaissance of such ministry today. My heart resonated with this arena of ministry and this is the track I followed in college and seminary. Since seminary, I’ve been privileged to share urban ministry, in one way or another, in the city of Indianapolis. I have had an open door of leadership both in congregations and in community-based organizations. But even this creative service and leadership has seemed preparatory to something that lies ahead.

SPIRITUAL JOURNALING. I have found spiritual journaling to be an important aspect of my journey of faith to this point. I learned this practice during a spiritual formation course in seminary and have practiced it ever since. Journaling has helped me through several personal and spiritual crises, guiding me to discern difficult choices, overcome deep disappointments, and work through complicated relationship challenges. I’m grateful for this avenue as a means of grace. In addition to helping me form, express, reflect on and grow in my faith, it has sharpened my speaking ministry and developed into a ministry of writing. In addition to published articles and stories, I weekly glean and share insights and reflections on a couple of websites and blogs (this being one!). An e-journal called “Grace Between the Lines” is accessed by over a 1,000 readers each week. I find joy in exploring and articulating what I learn and observe of God’s incredible grace.

Photo: me and Abby, our 22-year-old daughter who will graduate from the university in a month and marry later this summer

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

William Stringfellow puts the focus of resurrection in our present struggles

"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."

–William Stringfellow
Time's Joe Klein challenges the logic of permanent bases and 100 more years in Iraq

Joe Klein, Time magazine's political columnist, made the following post on the Time blog "Swampland" yesterday, the day that marked the 4,000th Amercian troop death in Iraq (bold emphasis is mine):

"But I've now heard--twice today--first from Fred Kagan, the military theorist and one of the "fathers" of the surge strategy at a briefing at the American Enterprise Institute, and just now on TV, from Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom, the latest neoconservative line: The civil war in Iraq is over. Kagan also added--and I agree--that the rejection of Al Qaeda in Iraq by the Sunnis is extremely good news about the dim prospects for the salafi-jihadists throughout the region.

"So, if the civil war is over and AQI is defeated, why not bring the troops home now? Uhhh, not so fast, Kagan fact, he doesn't even want the surge brigades brought home. By this sort of logic, if things get even "better" in Iraq, we should probably send more troops. Then again, permanent bases in Iraq--one of the worst ideas in history, just ask the British, the Romans, the Persians and any other non-Arabs who tried it--is precisely what the neoconservatives want.

"The desire for permanent bases in Iraq dishonors the American dead, and ensures that many more will die. This is the real horror of John McCain's hyperbolic statements about another 100 or 10,000 years in Iraq: he thinks the occupation of Iraq can be like the U.S. occupations of Korea, Japan or Germany--all three ethnically homogenous, non-Islamic countries. He should read a little history. So should Kagan. But then, if they'd been familiar with the history of Mesopotamia, we probably wouldn't have invaded in the first place."

Monday, March 24, 2008

I penned this prayer-poem on a Monday after Easter

O God,

Removed a day from celebrating Resurrection,
I wonder if I have yet begun to grasp
but a fraction of its meaning and power
for my life,
for the church,
for the world?

I press on presumingly,
speaking Resurrection words
but do I carry on as if little had occurred?
I got stirred up about the Empty Tomb
but how much have I changed?
I don't want Easter to dissipate into
minor adjustments,
shallow commitments,
tepid dreams.

I dare to hold to Easter faith,
to believe that on that morning
no mere rustled resettling occurred,
but a tectonic plate shifted reality
for a world without transcendence,
people without hope,
life locked in death.

Help me to explore and live the Third Day
in the face of my own doubts.
Believing you live and go before me,
meeting me in unlikely moments,
I go forward into this day,
this work,
these relationships,
your world.

In the 5 years since invading Iraq, human casualties in all categories are staggering

On Sunday, another American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He or she was number 4,000 in troop deaths in Iraq in the past five years. That's 4,000 young people, folks. And to what end?

Of course Iraqi troop and civilian casualties number into the hundreds of thousands of lives snuffed out in this unnecessary military fiasco. And the numbers of injured and maimed is higher still. For every American troop death, 15 soldiers are injured.

Who dares count the wrecked emotional/mental health of many? And the toll beyond human death or injury?

When will this end?

When will American citizens end it?
Engaging in "the savage confrontation" and expanding boundaries

"The life-giving Spirit of the risen Lord manifests himself…in our willingness to stand fast, our refusal to run away and escape into self-destructive behavior. Resurrection power enables us to engage in the savage confrontation with untamed emotions, to accept the pain…And in the process we discover that we are not alone, that we can stand fast in the awareness of present risenness and so become fuller, richer, deeper disciples. In the process we not only endure, but are forced to expand the boundaries of who we think we really are.”

-- Brennan Manning

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Church historian Timothy L. Smith connected Easter to peace-living and peacemaking

AN ABIDING GIFT. "Eternal life began in a special sense for [the disciples] on Easter night, in the grace of shalom, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, who would abide with them forever. Temporal holiness and everlasting salvation thereafter were two sides of the same priceless coin…"

PERSONAL HOLINESS. "The cross, and the resurrection which triumphed over it, had brought them a shalom which the world could neither give nor take away. It would heal their wearied and sin-bound spirits, and set them to bringing peace on earth and good will among men…"

RESOURCES FOR CREATIVE PEACEABLENESS. "His shalom can fill those who trust in Him with the spiritual resources which will enable them to wage war on war, and provide them with weapons which by their peaceableness partakes of the nature of the kingdom for whose coming they both pray and work.”"

– Timothy L. Smith, in Perfect Love and War (a compilation of presentations as a conference on holiness theology, war, and peace)
An Easter poem by Wilfred L. Winget

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
exasperating world.

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 instrumentsof 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,
Our Lord.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

A poem for Holy Saturday by the Rev. Stacey Littlefield

Thank you for the day in-between;
Safely tucked in the middle of
Death and Life.

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
grow stiff.
Quiet, lonely, without the intrusions
of daily routine or plans for the future.
He does not move.

And I am thankful for this
Day In-Between--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
I ponder
I meditate
I wait
I remember
and I begin to Hope.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Amid his crucifixion, Jesus dies and lives by the Word of God

JESUS EMBODIES PSALM 22. In our Tenebrae Service earlier this evening, as the last of seven candles on the altar was extinguished and the sound of a door slammed, I stood in the dark sanctuary and read Psalm 22 to the congregation. The opening words in this Psalm are in Jesus' mouth as he draws his last fleeting breaths: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The first half of the Psalm so closely silhouettes what eyewitnesses to Jesus' crucifixion convey in the Gospels, it would seem that only Calvary could be its prophetic fulfillment:

Verses 7-8:
"All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
'He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.'"

Verses 14-16:
"I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced
my hands and my feet."

Verse 18:
"They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing."

LIVING & DYING BY THE WORD OF GOD. It would seem that Jesus is reciting the Word of God in this Psalm--at least--in his agonizing death. This practice of calling forth the Word of God at the threshold of death was echoed in the stoning of Stephen. It is now a longstanding tradition of martyred saints across two millenia. Those who live by the Word of God find in it their comfort, counsel and hope in the midst of death's final assault on human and all created life.

ON THE CROSS, JESUS EMBODIES ISRAEL. William Stringfellow points out that in his Passion and with the utterance of Psalm 22, Jesus radically identifies with the plight of Israel. "Jesus, crying aloud from the cross, speaks as Israel," he writes. "He is...the embodiment of the whole people of God, and he alone, then and there, assumes and exemplifies the generic vocation of Israel to trust and celebrate the redemptive work of the Word of God in history. In the drama of the Crucifixion, Jesus' invoking the 22nd Psalm signifies that the cross is the historic event in which Jesus Christ becomes Israel."

STARK, DARK, SCATTERED. For the sake of embracing the impact of Jesus' death on Good Friday, in our Tenebrae Service we stop reading Psalm 22 at verse 21. This is the point of death. A great shadow envelopes the community of faith and we walk from the Sanctuary in darkness, we scatter in silence. We will not gather again until we hear, hopefully, an astounding report at daybreak on the first day of the week.

BEYOND THE POINT OF DEATH. The Psalm moves beyond verse 21, as does Jesus' action in behalf of human and all created life, into death and the place of the dead (Hades). A Psalm which initially appears to be a song of despair, reveals itself and the One who embodies it to be a song of Easter (more on that portion of the Psalm in a couple of days). We may see despair in Jesus' death, but the Psalmist sees intentional mission and a ministry even unto those who have died and a redemptive testimony to life. It is not, as Stringfellow puts it, "a dirge of ultimate despair," but "a hymn of eschatological hope."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I wrote this poem shortly after the United States invaded Iraq five years ago

We are told
Coyly cajoled
To anticipate victory

Flags wave
We behave
As if it was meant to be

With every death
Gasping breath
Resolve is supposed to deepen

Till debt is paid
For every grave
We are chided not to weaken

It seems inane
Surely insane
To follow this logic through

We buy the lie
Exchange right
For a tough man’s stunted view

On battlefields
Clarity yields
To prior and distant choices

Ignoring wiser voices

Quagmire ensues
Still we choose
To pursue paths of violence

On it goes
Till who knows
So long as most keep silence

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

William Stringfellow's insights into paradoxical responses in Holy Week

BELIEF AND DISBELIEF. “In the drama of the redemption of the world in the Word of God, Holy Week is heavy parody,” says William Stringfellow. “If in such events the disciples exemplify not faith in Christ as Lord but doubt, and if meanwhile the public authorities, in spite of themselves, confess Christ as Lord, what are we, nowadays, to make of this?”

EXPOSING FRAUDULENT POWER. “If the authorities of this world--including the whole diverse array of principalities and powers, ecclesiastical, political, military, commercial--recognize Jesus as Christ the Lord, it is because his reign is active now and constantly disrupts and confounds their rule and exposes their power (which is no more than the sanction of death) as transient and fraudulent.”

EXPOSING NAIVE PRESUMPTIONS. “If the disciples are ambivalent, recalcitrant, incredulous toward Jesus as the Christ and toward the reality of his reign in the world, it is because they anticipate some other kingdom--one associated merely with the emancipation of Israel or one that appears immediately or miraculously: another worldly regime or an otherworldly realm--and so they are hindered in seeing the ridicule of such fragile and false hopes as when Jesus processes into the city mounted on a colt, and their Palm Sunday expectations turn into demoralization and fear.”

THE LIFE TO WHICH WE ARE CALLED. Stringfellow concludes: “The Kingdom of which Christ is Lord is not worldly but it is not otherworldly; for it is a Kingdom in this world, a historical and political reality, which both devastates and consummates the apparently prevailing order and all of its regimes and putative regimes and revolutionary causes. The life to which those in Christ are called consists of living as a society, now under the reign of the Word of God, beholden to Christ as Lord of all of life within the whole of creation, until that day when his reign is vindicated and the fullness of the power of death is exhausted, and all persons, principalities, and powers are rendered accountable, and this history ends.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Today's speech on race is evidence that we're not talking about the same ol' politics

AN ACT OF LEADERSHIP. I didn't hear it live but I watched it online a few hours after he delivered it. Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia today on race in America was truly moving and, I believe, a breakthrough perspective. It was honest. It was clarifying. It was, in itself, an act of leadership. It's evidence that we're not talking about the same ol' politics of divide and conquer. It may be one of the most outstanding speeches in recent American history. Listen to it here. Here are a few excerpts:

"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible. It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one... "

"The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American..."

"Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding. This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own. But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union."

"For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies. We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time.'"
From A Diary of Private Prayer, a stirring, enduring collection

JOHN BAILLIE'S PRAYERS. A Diary of Private Prayer is, to me, the most stirring collection of heart-felt Christian prayers in publication. There's a prayer for the morning and evening of every day of the month. Even though I have read and prayed these prayers off and on over the past fifteen years, I have not begun to exhaust them. Here is one:

Here am I, O God, of little power and of mean estate, yet lifting up heart and voice to You before whom all created things are as dust and a vapor. You are hidden behind the curtain of sense, incomprehensible in Your greatness, mysterious in Your almighty power; yet here I speak with You familiarly as a child to parent, as friend to friend.

If I could not thus speak to You, then were I indeed without hope in the world. For it is little that I have power to do or to ordain. Not of my own will am I here, not of my own will shall I soon hass hence. Of all that shall come to me this day, very little will be such as I have chosen for myself. It is You, O hidden One, who appoints my lot and determines the bounds of my habitation. It is You who has put power in my hand to do one work and have withheld the skill to do another. It is You who keeps in Your grasp the threads of this day’s life and who alone knows what lies before me to do or to suffer.

But because You are my Father, I am not afraid. Because it is Your own Spirit that stirs within my spirit’s inmost room, I know that all is well. What I desire for myself I cannot attain, but what You desire in me You can attain for me. The good that I would I do not, but the good that You will in me, that You can give me power to do.

Dear Father, take this day’s life into Your own keeping. Control all my thoughts and feelings. Direct all my energies. Instruct my mind. Sustain my will. Take my hands and make them skillful to serve You. Take my feet and make them swift to do Your bidding. Take my eyes and keep them fixed on Your everlasting beauty. Take my mouth and make it eloquent in testimony to Your love. Make this day a day of obedience, a day of spiritual joy and peace. Make this day*s work a little part of the work of the Kingdom of my Lord Christ, in whose name these my prayers are said.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Forgiveness is the only way forward in the face of evil and enemies--real or perceived, personal or global

1. REFUSE to try to repay evil with evil, violence with violence, insult with insult. This is the first and basic choice: I will not respond in the manner in which I have been harmed. See: Romans 12:17, 19, 21; Matthew 5:38-39

2. RECOGNIZE and reckon with the real enemy at work behind hurtful people and situations. The real enemy is unseen, at work influencing the people and institutions which we usually think of as evil or the enemy. See: Ephesians 6:10-13

3. RESIST “enemy formation,” the process of unnecessarily “demonizing” people and institutions. Be careful where you go with your anger, fear, and suspicion. We create monsters. See: Ephesians 6:10-13

4. RECONSTRUCT your perception of an enemy by trying to give them a human “face.” An enemy can be a monster only as long as we refuse to give them a human face. We will never effectively address an enemy until we have "faced" them. See: Romans 12:9-18

5. RESPOND to evil or an enemy in a way that counters abuse with personal dignity and offers an opportunity for redemption of one's adversary. Jesus' instructions in dealing with insults, bullies, and arrogant people are intended to expose the impotence of the so-called powerful and open up the possibility for a transforming outcome. See: Matthew 5:38-48

6. RETURN love for hatred, kindness for insult, blessing for persecution. This is the way to personal and social transformation. It's how we change and how the world changes. See: Romans 12:14, 20; Matthew 5:38-48

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Celebrating the King who reigns from the Tree

The following is attributed to Frederick C. Grant:

NOT, AND YET. "Palm Sunday is the festival of a paradox, the paradox that lies that the very heart of the Christian faith. Jesus is the Messiah, and yet not the Messiah. Nevertheless in a higher and final sense he is the Messiah, the one who was to come, and who came, and who is still to come. He was the Messiah of Jewish expectation, yet he was not, for he never fulfilled the nationalistic expectations of his people. And yet he was, and is, the Messiah in the sense that he more than fulfilled those expectations."

THE KING WHO DID NOT REIGN. "He is the one whose coming the prophets had foretold, but the fulfillment so greatly exceeded the hope that we can only say He is the one whom the prophets dimly foresaw, interpreted, and misinterpreted. 'Jesus is the King who did not reign.' Even so, Christians have described him as the 'uncrowned King.' He was uncrowned, but it was with a crown of thorns, and his scepter was a reed. He did not reign, yet he does reign, he has reigned, he will reign for ever and ever."

REIGNING FROM THE TREE. "For Jesus has reigned ever since his crucifixion. As medieval artists and poets described him, the Lord is 'reigning from the tree' (Psalm 96 10). That is how John understood the words 'If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me' (John 12 32). That is how Paul understood the words, 'He became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is a above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knew shall bow.'"

FAITH UNDERSTANDS. "Yet it is a paradox, which can be understood only by faith. And not only understood, for faith finds it the life-giving reality which expresses and explains all Gods dealings with men, the clue to this all encompassing mystery of our brief life here on earth, our alienation from God, our reconciliation to God, indeed our whole and our only salvation."

Friday, March 14, 2008

A brief response to some of the news for the week of March 9-14, 2008

NEWS FEATURE. Here's a new feature for bikehiker blog I want to try. We'll see how it goes. Given the amount of news I "consume" on a weekly basis and the manner in which I pray/reflect on it, a few morsels might emerge on Fridays.

TIBET AND THE 1,000-LB. GORILLA. Since no other people group or nation seems to be able or willing to acknowledge the 1,000-lb. gorilla on the world stage, it looks like the people of Tibet alone are going to challenge China's long-standing and grievous human rights violations. China has gotten by with murder but wants to achieve world legitimacy with the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Watch for China to crush the Tibetan uprising and blame them for their own plight....again. Who will stand with Tibet? How will other peoples and nations respond to China's white-wash?

SAVE YOURSELF, BARACK! Even as the kitchen sink is being thrown at him by the Clinton campaign, Barack Obama and his campaign coordinators need to refrain from responding in kind. The perception of Obama offering a new way of doing politics is slipping away amid he-said, she-said, tit-for-tat rubbish. The Clintons have lured Obama into a "rope-a-dope" strategy. The only way for Barack to win is to stop reacting, take the risk of a high road, lift up his voice, and trust the majority of people to see through the lies, half-truths, negativity, and innuendos.

ARROGANCE OR LONELINESS? Eliot Spitzer got caught with his hand in the forbidden cookie jar. An otherwise readily-forgiving or easily-assuaged press and public seems to have little compassion for a guy who himself took no prisoners and cut no slack in his administration of justice. Spitzer is only the latest in a long history of people who's self-righteous pursuit of a brand of justice bred incredible power and, with it, an arrogant blindness to their own foibles. On the other hand, without making any excuses, it's worth asking: Was it because Spitzer was a self-deluded power freak or because he was incredibly lonely that he found comfort with a call girl?

SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE ALERT. A report released early this week found that 25% of teenage girls in America have one sexually transmitted disease (STD) or another. That number includes those who are not sexually active. Forty percent of adolescent girls who are sexually active have STDs. And what percent of boys have STDs? Not sure. Given the lifestyles and norms portrayed in the mainstream entertainment media, are we to be somehow surprised at this? How will communities strategize differently to reduce STDs? What is working? What's not working? What needs to change?

Have you ever tried praying the news?

Photo from

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Inspiring couple sells everything and pedals the globe

A WONDERFUL LIFE. I'm glad this story made headlines on CNN. It's a rare but wonderful story at several levels. It's wonderful because it's a soulful journey of a middle-aged couple. It's wonderful because it's a discovery in neighborly hospitality and international border-crossing. And it's wonderful because it's about what's possible on a bicycle--no petrol required.

PEDAL POWER. Selling their business, house and cars and giving away their furniture, Pat and Catherine Patterson took only what they could strap onto their bicycles. They toured through 57 countries on four continents in four years, from 2002-2007. Pat was 62 when they began this epic journey; Cat was 48.

YOUR WILDEST DREAMS. They describe the adventure as life-changing. Cat told CNN: "I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would do something like that in my life. I think you just have to be open-minded and willing to take chances and risks and not be afraid. ... You just have to open your mind to other cultures and countries and, you know, like Pat says, 98 percent of the people in this world are good people. On a day-to-day basis you're meeting the average person in the world and they're just like you."

More of this story, along with photos and a map of their four-continent route is at this link.

I'm jealous!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Walter Wink's clear interpretation of Matthew 5:28-48 reflects Jesus' original intent

RESIST EVIL NONVIOLENTLY. Many people dismiss Jesus' teachings about "resist not an evil person" and "turn the other cheek" as impractical and misguiding in a world of domination and neighborhood and international bullies. Jesus' teaching has been misinterpreted as non-resistance instead of what it actually means. But Walter Wink points out that within the context of the Middle Eastern culture and social interactions of his day, Jesus' guidance is clear: resist evil, but do so without violence, in a manner that claims human dignity and points to possible redemption for both the would-be victimizer and would-be victim.

DISMISSED TEACHINGS RECLAIMED. Walter Wink's work on such tough Bible references is widely available in his books (such as Engaging the Powers) and on the Internet. He, perhaps more than any other New Testament scholar in this generation, has laid the interpretative groundwork for bringing Jesus' teachings about nonviolent Kingdom living into practicable range at personal as well as international levels. Do a Google search on "Walter Wink + non-violence" and see what all you access. Wink recovers many Biblical directives that have been dismissed by those choose, instead, to counter violence by violence.

PASSIVE CAPITULATION OR NON-VIOLENT STAND? For instance, Wink deals with the statement, "do not resist an evil person" (Matthew 5:39) first by pointing out that the Greek word (anti-stenai) interpreted in the King James Version as "do not resist" is under-interpreted. It's more correct meaning would be "do not retaliate against violence with violence." Wink writes:

"Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. His entire ministry is at odds with such a preposterous idea. He is, rather, warning against responding to evil in kind by letting the oppressor set the terms of our opposition... Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters like Barabbas. The only difference was over the means to be used."

BREAKING DOMINATION AND SERVITUDE. The teachings to "turn the other cheek," "give your undergarment to the one who takes your outer-garment," and "go the second mile" when compelled to carry a Roman soldier's burden--these are all acts of defiance, dignity, turning the tables, confusing the evil-doer, and undermining the very principles of domination and servitude that prevailed in the social order of the day. These actions in response to bullish behavior make clear that neither passivity/compliance nor violent reaction/vengeance were in Jesus' mind. A third way--the way of nonviolent action that reclaims human dignity and opens the way for liberation for all--is being introduced.

JESUS' THIRD WAY. Wink points out some of the principled actions of Jesus' "third way:"

* Seize the moral initiative.
* Find a creative alternative to violence.
* Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person.
* Meet force with ridicule or humor.
* Break the cycle of humiliation.
* Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position.
* Expose the injustice of the system.
* Take control of the power dynamic.
* Shame the oppressor into repentance.
* Stand your ground.
* Force the Powers into decisions for which they are not prepared.
* Recognize your own power.
* Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate.
* Force the oppressor to see you in a new light.
* Deprive the oppressor of a situation where force is effective.
* Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws.

FORGIVING OUR ENEMIES. I was reminded of the power and promise of Wink's Biblical interpretation this week as I've been doing research for a Palm Sunday message on "facing" (giving faces to) and forgiving our enemies. This is one in a six-part series on forgiveness. I invite you look in on the series notes on the WEMO website (click on "The Compass") or join us over the remaining four Sundays of the series. Almost forgot: it's possible to listen to these sermons too, via our WEMO website (click on "Sermons Online"), even though its a bit embarrassing for me to point out.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Counsel from a Saint of Calcutta

“People ask me
what advice I have
for a married couple
struggling in their relationship.
I always answer:
pray and forgive.
And to young people
from violent homes, I say:
pray and forgive.
And again, even to the single mother
with no family support:
pray and forgive.”
— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Saturday, March 8, 2008

These recurrent choices are essential to the health and renewal of authentic relationships

REPENT OFTEN. I am convinced that repentance and forgiveness are necessary aspects for all relationship-building and spiritual growth. Repentance, not as a one-time turn from darkness to light, from death to life, but as a continuous turning away and turning toward, relinquishing and embracing. Forgiveness, not as a rarely-exercised rite of confession and absolution, but as a daily challenge and gift. Marriage, family life, friendships, neighboring, and community depend on these.

THEY GO HAND IN HAND. Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand. Forgiveness without repentance is hollow. Repentance without forgiveness is enslaving. Seeking forgiveness without remorse for and turning away from offenses is something less than what the Word of God describes. Repenting without receiving or embracing costly but freely-offered forgiveness is a trap that beholdens us to small tyrants--even one's own judgmental self. Any discussion of forgiveness must assume repentance and any teaching of repentance must fully imply forgiveness.

SEASON RELATIONSHIPS WITH FORGIVENESS. In As For Me and My House, Walt Wangerin writes about daily forgiveness in small offenses as the part of the backbone of continuing and developing trusting relationships. It is not a matter of “if” we need forgiveness, it is “when” and “how often.” And it is not just a matter of an offending person needing to be forgiven, it is that an offended person’s health depends on their act of forgiveness. We're invited to become increasingly aware of the incredible value of forgiveness in relationships.

I REFUSE TO LET IT STAND BETWEEN. I like the way Frederick Buechner describes forgiveness in Wishful Thinking: “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.'”

SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE. Buechner continues: “To accept forgiveness means to admit you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride. When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. Forgiveness means the freedom to be at peace inside our own skin and to be glad in the other’s presence.”

GRACE CHANGES THE HEART. In some situations, I have found the challenge of forgiving to be beyond the abilit of my mind and will. I am, however, finding grace--unfathomable, mysterious, and ever-available--to be sufficient. What I am unable to accomplish by exertion of will or by “reasoning it through” is possible by grace, which transcends mind and will. Forgiveness is not just the right thing to do, it casts us into the arms of the One who changes our hearts and renews our relationships.

CONVERSION IS CONTINUOUS. Because we are always discovering self-defeating attitudes, outlooks, and actions that limit or disrupt our relationships, repentance is always necessary. And because we offend-- inadvertently, ignorantly, or obnoxiously—forgiveness is always a challenge. Thus, conversion is continuous--the possibility of transformation and growth are dynamic and current as today. The Shaker hymn sings: “To turn, turn will be our delight; ‘til by turning, turning, we come ‘round right.”

Graphic by Lora Shelley

Thursday, March 6, 2008

We've been let down so many times this season, it's hard not to doubt

PROMISES, PROMISES. Last night, I overheard someone mention a possible snow storm coming to Central Indiana on Friday afternoon. We've heard these predictions several times this winter...and nothing happens. It's been a tough year for snow lovers around here. We get dustings, a flurry here and there, ground cover that melts quickly. The season's getting late for a good dumping of snow. Still, my cross-country skis await.

HOPE SPRINGS. I'd get my hopes up for that massive blob of moisture I see on the Internet satellite composite graphic inching our way, but as sure as I do, it'll veer to the south of us. Louisville will luck out, just like Fort Wayne did last week. I'll hope anyway. Nothing to lose. If it doesn't snow enough to ski, I'll hike through the woods and fields. Can't quench a winter-lover's spirit.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

It's not too late to live Lent, redeeming its remaining days

FORTY DAYS. Most of us start Lent. I wonder how many of us keep it to its conclusion? My guess is that most folks, myself included, rarely keep focused on anything for forty days. It might have been different in days in which the pace was slower and information processing was not so complex and the things that push and pull us were fewer. Who can even remember forty days ago?

LOST AMID MANYNESS & MUCHNESS. Lent gets lost in the backwash as we speed through the weeks. Lent is a victim of manyness and muchness. Lent is not blaring at us, is not selling us, not phoning us, not e-mailing or instant-messaging or sending us reminders by post. Did it even have a chance?

DAYS OF KAIROS. Nonetheless, here we are, turning onto the down stretch of Lent. Maybe we've lost focus, given up on what it was we gave up for Lent, but we have opportunity to refocus ourselves and rejoin the journey. Palm Sunday is 11 days away; Easter is full 18 days off. So it's not 40 days of preparation. Still, one could commit to a pretty intensive and intentional spiritual discipline for the next 18 days. Two and a half weeks: it's enough time for a life's trajectory to be reset. Two and half weeks in kairos time is an eternity.

NOT TOO LATE. It's not too late to keep Lent. So what if others have been more faithful; it's not a contest. And it's not about them; it's about grace. Just don't waste this day. Now's a good time. Why not take this opportunity?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

It's turning me into a low-grade political news junkie

SOMETHING'S GOING ON HERE. I confess to being more than mildly fascinated by the current race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. I've become a bit of a low-grade political news junkie since a few days before the first Super Tuesday. Whenever I can, I tune in to CNN or MSNBC for an update, or pull up a polling blog on the Internet. Apparently I am far from alone. Citizens--at least Democratic citizens--are turning out for rallies and going to the voting booth in historic numbers. Something out of the ordinary is going on here.

IOWA SURPRISE, SUBSEQUENT RISE. Back in Autumn, I admired Obama for his Christian faith and progressive politics, having listened and viewed online his "Call to Renewal" message and read of his efforts to bridge historic divides. He opposed the war in Iraq for all the right reasons and ran his campaign for the U. S. Senate based, in part, on this. But he was a rookie Senator; no one would take him seriously, I thought. Then he won, incredibly, the Iowa Caucuses. Apparently, his presence, proposed policies, ability to articulate ideas, and organizational ability have convinced many that his lack of experience and youth are not the most important factors for moving forward to a legitimate Presidential bid.

BOBBY KENNEDY-ESQUE. The meteoric rise of Barack Obama, along what his movement represents in terms of hopes and ideals for many who are weary of business as usual, is a phenomenon I haven't ever seen. It is being compared to the candidacy of Bobby Kennedy; I was nine years old when Kennedy was a candidate. Even then, even in West Virginia, we sensed the vibrancy and hope embodied in him. Obama seems to bear a similar presence and to articulate a hope for some fundamental changes in a government that seems bought, inaccessible, unresponsive, and mired in commitments to use violence as a first response to international crises. I'm thinking I'll be telling stories of this campaign to my grandchildren years from now.

WHAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN. I do not know if Obama will win the Democratic nomination. He will do well just to survive the Clinton machine, which is currently throwing the kitchen sink at him and following a scorched earth campaign policy. If she can't win, her campaign currently seems committed to crippling the eventual contest winner (Interesting, isn't it, that Obama has not brought up a thing out of Clinton's sordid political past.). Let's hope for a better outcome. The citizens of Texas and Ohio, in particular, have been treated to as intense a primary campaign as has ever been waged. We'll see how they vote and we'll see where the process stands this time tomorrow. May these candidates show respect for the renewal of civic engagement this contest has generated.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I used to see my own challenges in this quote; now I offer it to my children

"To leave home, whether it was a good or bad home, is one of the greatest spiritual challenges of our life. Two of the most important ways of leaving father, mother, brother, or sister are forgiveness and gratitude. There is so much to forgive. But if we are willing to see our own parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents as people like ourselves with a desire to love but also with many unfulfilled needs, we might be able to step over our anger, our resentments, or even our hatred, and discover their limited love is still real love, a love for which to be grateful." - Henri Nouwen

MY PARENTS & MY CHILDREN. Years ago, when I first read and wrote out this quote, I found it personally helpful as I applied it to my own challenge of leaving home and looking back on those chapters of my life without bitterness. Now, many years later, I realize that it may be helpful to my own children as they leave home. I, not my forebears, may be their focus of contention or puzzlement.

GRACE TO FORGIVE. I have tried to be different--better--than my parents at expressing attentiveness, support, and future-focused guidance to each of our four children. But I know my love, like my own parents' love, has been as imperfect and conveyed through a character full of its own foibles. But my love has been--and will continue to be--real love. May God grant us all the grace to forgive and see beyond many faults to loving hearts.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Our youngest child soon to be behind the wheel

Hard to imagine that Sam is old enough to be in driver's training. Sam behind the wheel! I've been working with him on how to drive my manual-transmission Beetle. He's determined to get it down and I'm sure he'll master it. I made the mistake of showing him how to "burn rubber" on a take-off; I'm sure I'll pay for that in tires and a clutch before long. Happy birthday, Sam! Everybody else: you've been warned!