Friday, October 30, 2009

AUTUMN AS METAPHOR

Parker Palmer challenges us to see the paradox of dying and seeding in this incredible season


"Autumn is a season of great beauty, but is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer's abundance decays toward winter's death.  Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn?  She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring--and she scatters them with amazing abandon."

"In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted.  In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fixated on surface experiences--on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a vocation.  And yet, if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come."

"In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time--how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the 'road closed' sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sewn."

"In a culture that prefers the ease of either/or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together.  We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter, and the Faustian bargains we make fail to sustain our lives."

"When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows ever more terrifying as we try to hold it off.  Split off from each other, neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allow the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing."

From The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb.  Parker Palmer's books include Let Your Life Speak, The Active Life, In the Company of Strangers, and The Courage to Teach.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

GOOD WORK

If I don't root my work in awe-full reverence and creative stewardship and consider its impact on 'the least of these,' I'm part of the problem.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WHO MAKES THESE DECISIONS?


I wrote this poem in 1998 after a rather intense citizens' forum in Shelbyville, Indiana


Who makes these decisions
     About where traffic lights go,
Where highways are built,
     How fast or how slow?

Who makes these decisions
     About size, width, and scale,
About where parks can be planted,
     Where county jails?

Who makes these decisions
     About developing land;
How much shall we grow,
     Which trees shall stand?

Who makes these decisions,
     That give shape to a town,
That set habitation,
     That move us around?

Others make these decisions
     When we don’t get involved,
When we choose not to care,
     When we have no resolve.

Others make these decisions
     They speak in our names,
They assume our places,
     It’s part of the game.

Others make these decisions
     Representatively.
But do they represent or
     Count on passivity?

Who makes these decisions
     Is up to you and me.
If we care not about them,
     Do we care to be free?

We make these decisions;
     These decisions are ours.
Unless we concede them,
     These are within our power.

 In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

LEAN INTO LIFE

Do we unwittingly lean away from life, afraid of its tough challenges? Instead, lean in.


DO WE LEAN AWAY FROM LIFE?  I wrote this piece in 1995 and it appeared in a periodical called The Standard (thanks to the encouragement of a friend).  Today I pulled out a file looking for something else, and the poem reminded me of an important turning point in my adult life.  Perhaps it will resonate with you.  I've resisted the temptation to edit it after 14 years of living and leaning and learning...

I’ve spent a lot of energy avoiding life’s lessons.
Couched in tests of character,
Cloaked in difficult relationships,
Revealed in spiritual temptations,
I’ve resisted what I’ve needed to learn--
And as a badge of Christian virtue.

I notice that we Christians take great pains--
Even make careers out of--
Avoiding temptations,
Resisting difficulties.

Frantically, we keep such at bay,
Deny our susceptibility,
Subordinate our emotions,
Don the cloture of holy immunity, and
Presume to live above such toxic exposures.

We may successfully put off
Difficult dilemmas for years
And think we’ve accomplished
A God-assisted feat.


Yet, sooner or later,
We wind up having to undergo them,
Just like everybody else.
We aren’t spared.
We aren’t immune.
We, too, are led into the wilderness,
Through the valley,
Where there are no “Pocket Bible Promises”
that seem adequate.
We, too, must weather heat,
Pierce illusion, and
Endure until a way out is divinely provided.

By avoiding pain,
Displeasure,
Suffering,
Temptation
(Or thinking we should be exempt from such),
We lean away from life.

Tiptoeing around its edges,
Watching others join in the game
(Some of whom are ripped by lions),
We become fearful, denying spectators.
Instead of courageously living through,
We finally, fearfully,
Crash into life.
Sooner or later, thankfully,
We will find grace to be sufficient.


If only we could learn to lean into life.


The Christian way is less about avoiding and
More about learning through the tests.
As long as we avoid and resist
We will live at the periphery of life.
We will create subculture.
Counterculture, on the other hand, is
Forged in an active engagement of life.


Do not fear your energy.
Set your heart and mind to please God.
Do not resist the way you are led.
Guard your heart.
And live forwardly.

Lean into life.
Only then will we begin to know
How to be “in the world and not of it,”
Co-laboring a new world with God.



In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, October 26, 2009

MORNING GLORY



I could travel the world and not find anything more glorious than this view that greeted me on Eagle Creek Reservoir this morning.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, October 19, 2009

WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE ENVIRONMENTALISTS


Christians are called to stewardship and mission--including creation care

Here's the guts of a reflection I recently prepared for a magazine. I'm indebted to Dr. Howard Snyder for help with some of these perspectives.

LITANY OF CONCERNS. We read and hear about local, national, and global environmental issues all the time: Global warming. Climate change. Deforestation. Loss of wetlands. Air pollution. Strip mining. Water pollution. Impacts of suburban sprawl. Acid rain. Species depletion. Depletion of nonrenewable natural resources, like oil. Degradation of the Ozone layer. Dying seas. Endangered species. Etc.

URGENCY FOR ACTION. Like never before, we are constantly made aware of the fragility of planet Earth. We could debate each other on cause and effect, levels of severity, who’s to blame, and what’s to be done about any and all of these concerns that confront the future sustainability of human habitation. But it all adds up to a clarion call for new levels of care for God’s creation.

WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS CARE? But why should Christians, in particular, care for God’s creation? Isn’t it enough to leave environmental issues to people with a passion for them? And aren’t Christians involved in a greater rescue, salvage, and restoration project--the human heart? Here’s why Christians are called to care about the environment:

1. CREATION IS A GIFT

Genesis 1 records that after God had caringly created the heavens, earth, sun, moon, stars, cycles of seasons, days and nights, sea creatures, fowl, land creatures and humans in his own image, God declared it all to be “very good.” God gave creation to humanity as a stewardship. God called for us to be joyful, responsible guardians of it all--from the greatest to the least. The Old and New Testaments repeatedly compel us to see creation as a gift of God to be used carefully, restored restfully, and renewed prudently. God’s people were called to be the first environmentalists.

2. CREATION IS GROANING

Genesis 3 tells the story of how the sinful choices of humans led to a downward spiral of sin that even impacted the environment. Since Adam and Eve rebelled against God, all of creation has been “groaning,” Paul says (Romans 8:22). Our selfishness, carelessness, violence, and greed have increasingly harmed the earth, its living creatures, plant life, and natural resources. All creation feels the brunt when we sin, abuse, and misuse the resources God has given us. Still, all creation hopes and waits for its liberation from this time of degradation. As people liberated from sin and sinful ways, we begin to live and act in ways that anticipate and cooperate with what God originally intended and ultimately desires for the people and world God created.

3. CREATION--THE CONTEXT OF RECONCILIATION

When John says “God so loved the world,” (3:16), it wasn’t just humans that were the focus. Paul makes clear that God is interested in reconciling “all things in heaven and on earth” to himself (Colossians 1:20). Instead of just rescuing a handful of the created human species from a dying earth, the New Testament paints a picture of a renewed heaven and earth in which people--once estranged from God, from themselves, from one another, and from creation--are reconciled to each other and to God. So, working for reconciliation between humans and the created order is an essential part of the Gospel we have share with the world.

4. CREATION CARE—A WITNESS TO THE WORLD

Paul called for the Christian community to be a company of reconcilers--literally to stand in the gap and pull people and creation together in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we know full well the power and impacts of sin, and if we know full well the power of Jesus Christ to break the self-destructive sin, attitudes and actions, then we are living witnesses to hope in a world that alternately worships the creation and despises it. Instead of blindly participating in the degradation of creation or foolishly worshiping it, we can be reconcilers of all to one another and to God, working across traditional boundaries and divisive barriers.

4 FALLACIOUS VIEWS OF NATURE

· Romantic – views nature as the primary source of beauty and truth, rather than reflecting the glory of God. Romanticism also overlooks the violence of nature.

· Commodity – views nature as raw material for profit-making. Nature is something merely to be used, consumed, diverted, exploited, and capitalized. This view degrades nature and often “kills the goose that lays the golden egg.”

· Worship – some people in ancient and current times view nature as a god to be worshiped, appeased, offered sacrifices, feared, or loved. This perspective is popularized today through several New Age gurus and animistic religious sects.

· Spiritualize – this view, often mistakenly espoused by some Christians, states that creation has no value in itself, it only exists to demonstrate spiritual realities. It degrades the real value of the material world that God created and declared good. It also leads to using devalued creation for one’s own purposes willy-nilly.

2 EXTREMES TO AVOID

· Only saving the earth from ecological collapse.

· Only saving souls from destruction of the material universe.

Instead, the Christian perspective is to pray and work for RECONCILIATION between all. 

Learn more about Creation Care and get involved with others in this effort: http://www.creationcare.org

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

THE WOODS, A GRACE

Wendell Berry reflects on autumn's glory in the woods

A brief ride in nearby Eagle Creek Park moved me into renewed appreciation for the autumn season. Later, I came across this poem by Wendell Berry titled, simply, "Grace."

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking,
the way is the same. Be still. Be still.
"He moves your bones, and the way is clear."

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

Friday, October 16, 2009

RECONCILERS

Five ways to bring together what has been unnecessarily separated and/or segregated

To “reconcile” means “to bring together,” "to resolve, settle," "to restore to friendship or harmony." The Apostle Paul described the Christian mission primarily in terms of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2). Here are 5 ways to be a reconciler:

1. Break barriers.  Fear, suspicion, doubt, bigotry, ignorance: challenge and break through these strongholds of division and discord by choosing to dwell in the love reflected in Jesus.

2. Bridge gaps.  Insulation, seclusion, division, suspicion, resentment: span these with simple but courageous acts of hope and faith.  Sometimes we have to be the bridge...and bridges get walked on.

3. Cross borders.  Put yourself in the situations where you can grow in grace.  Cross cultures by intention again and again.  Be enriched by those whom you consider poor.  Love the city though you may prefer the country.  Learn as you teach.  Receive as you serve.

4. Welcome strangers. Make room for those whom the dominant culture and society discards, looks down on, suspects, or dismisses. “Let every guest be received as Christ.” “Strangers expected” is the watchword.

5. Stand in the gap. Many situations and people resist reconciliation for a long time. You may be called to literally live in the tension between conflicts and estranged people. That is what Jesus does on the Cross. As an ambassador of reconciliation, dare to stand in the gap with the grace, love, and power God gives.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A TIME TO GATHER

A poem of Gregory Norbert, Weston Priory quoted from "Celtic Daily Prayer"


A time to gather, a time to reap
the fruits we've planted, hoping to bear peace.
The seeds have fallen so many months ago:
the harvest of our life will come.

In tenderness is life's beauty known;
and as we listen the morning star will shine.
The days go by; why not let them be filled
with new and surprising joys.

A time for kneading love's leaven well,
to open up and go beyond ourselves;
and as we reach for this moment, we know
that love is a gift born in care.

A time for hoping and being still,
to go on turning away from brittle fear.
A time to come back with all of one's heart
and bending to another's call.

This is our journey through forests tall;
our paths may differ; and yet among them all
life's dreams and visions sustain us on our way,
as loving gives birth to joy, gives birth to joy.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRRELS

I wasn't expecting Olney, Illinois to be the "Home of the White Squirrels"


I'd never before seen a white squirrel. And I didn't anticipate seeing one when I rolled into Olney, Illinois early on a Sunday morning.  But there, on one of the signs welcoming visitors, "Home of the White Squirrels."  What a strange and interesting welcome!

A bit later in the morning, my hosts laughingly but proudly explained to me that somehow, generations ago, the town became populated with an abundance of albino squirrels.  The stories of how it happened are conflicting and mostly the stuff of town legend.  But the high concentration of squirrels of this gene pool in and around Olney, Illinois is real.

The snow white squirrels with pale eyes are a source of community care and pride.  Each year, a meticulous count is conducted.  Last year, over 400 white squirrels were identified. The white squirrel is featured on the city seal and on a patch on local police officers' shoulders.

I had to see one of these critters.  On an afternoon bicycle ride, my friends took me slowly through the city park so that I might see a white squirrel for myself.  I saw lots of gray squirrels; they still outnumber white squirrels 10-1.  I didn't see any on the first few passes through the park, but then a snow white squirrel bounded across the roadway just ahead of me.  I pursued it with a camera.  It climbed a telephone pole and made its way along the wire and to a tree to get away from me.  I gazed up at it, fascinated.

"Now I can die in peace," I joked to my friends.  "You really need to get a life, John," they shot back.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A FAITH DECLARATION FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM

Jim Wallis offers the following 5 principles for a re-set on health care reform at a critical moment

This following is copied from Sojourners (www.sojo.net).  If reflects my sentiments regarding important considerations as the health care dialog moves into a critical stage of legislative development.

Over the course of the health-care debate, voices of faith have been raised about the moral values at stake beneath the policy discussions. As bills are finalized and moved through both chambers of Congress, now more than ever we need to remind ourselves of the values that move us to reform. From the Bill of Rights to the abolition of slavery, from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, those who have raised the question of values have often changed our country for the better. Change can be scary in uncertain times, but it always comes when a nation chooses hope over fear.

Unfortunately, God sent Moses down from the mountain with only the Ten Commandments, and not a health-care bill ready to be passed out of committee. There is no one “right” religious position on how health care should be provided. But I believe there are some fundamental moral and biblical principles on which to evaluate any final legislative agreement, principles on which many people of faith -- even politically diverse people -- might agree. After the heat of the summer’s confrontations over health care, it’s time for a cooler fall debate. It’s time for a re-set of the health-care debate, and a return to some basic principles could help.

Five Principles of Faith for Health-Care Reform
  1. Health, not sickness, is the will of God. We can see this from the story in Genesis of the garden, where sickness was never found, and from the vision in Revelation of a city in which death will be no more. When we are instruments of bringing about that good health, we are doing the work of God. The gospel stories of Jesus healing people, of restoring them to physical wholeness and full participation in their community, always signaled God’s presence.


  2. United we stand, divided we fall. The division between those who can afford adequate coverage and those who cannot is a threat to our unity, to the health of our neighbors, and to our nation. 46 million people in our country are uninsured, and millions more who are insured still can’t keep up with their bills. Our moral and religious standards say no one should be left out of a system simply because of not being able to afford good health. The common good requires a system that is accessible to all who need it.

  3. Patients not profits. No one should be discriminated against in their health care because they are sick. Our faith mandates that we give extra consideration and help to those who are sick, but every time an insurance company denies coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” excluded ailments, or confusing fine print, their profits go up. Every doctor I know decided to pursue medicine to help people. Many insurance companies make a profit by not helping people, but our faith requires it.

  4. Life and liberty must both be protected. The health-care system should protect the sanctity and dignity of life in accordance with existing law and the current rules, and the prohibition on federal funding of abortions should be consistently and diligently applied to any legislation. Strong “conscience” protections should be enacted for health-care workers to ensure they have the liberty to exercise their moral and religious beliefs in their profession. Evidence suggests that supporting low-income and pregnant women with adequate health care increases the number of women who chose to carry their child to term -- if we reform health care in the right way, we can reduce abortions in the U.S. While religious people don’t all agree on all the issues of abortion, we should agree that those differences must not be allowed to derail the crucial need for comprehensive health-care reform.

  5. For the next generation, health-care reform should be based on firm financial foundations. Health care is a vital and wise investment for the future of our families and society. But the way we pay for it should be fair and equitable and seek to lessen the burden on succeeding generations -- both in bringing everyone into the system and by bringing the costs of health care under control over time. Our religious traditions suggest that social justice and fiscal responsibility must not be pitted against each other, but balanced together in sound public policy that is affordable for individuals and for society.
So let us have the moral dialogue and debate -- let’s take the best of who we are, the greatest parts of our tradition, and use that to lead the way. The misinformation, falsehoods, and outright lies that have been circulating obscure the moral and religious core of this debate: that millions of people are suffering in an inequitable and inefficient health-care system, and that too many powerful people are profiting from that broken system in defiance of the common good. Perhaps the faith community could help model a more civil debate and find the sensible moral center that will help the country find the best solutions to the health of the nation.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

LETTERMAN

A few thoughts in response to David Letterman's on-TV disclosure of affairs with some of his Late Night staff 


This is no defense of David Letterman or his behavior.  But I keep in mind:
  • Letterman has never made any pretension of being Christian or of upholding Christian values.

  • He married just this spring after over 10 years of a more-or-less monogamous relationship (obviously somewhat less).

  • He's lived his life getting laughs for making light of serious stuff and pushing the edge in any way permissible (egged on by adoring audiences).

  • Once it was clear what he described as his own "creepy" behavior was going to cause harm to himself and his loved ones, instead of covering it up or excusing it, he came out with it publicly and straightforwardly (unlike so many others, even in Christian circles).

  • I was watching the night he made his statement (unaware what he was doing) and I think the audience laughed more out of not knowing what was coming, what to do, or how else to respond. I don't think their laughter and applause was somehow excusing or supporting his "creepy" behavior.  They were there for levity; they got an unexpected jolt of reality. They laughed nervously, it seems to me, somehow trying to support someone doing/saying something very difficult and awkward. 
MARRIAGE MONOGAMY STANDS.  Is this one more assault on monogamy in marriage, a signal of its unraveling?  I don't think so.  I don't think Letterman or America has rejected the idea of monogamy. It is still the norm, even outside Christian profession or values observance. Letterman's subsequent apology to his wife, child and staff, and the public humiliation and pain he's experiencing, along with his self-confessed determination to try to salvage his marriage, makes it clear that, whether he or anyone else likes it or not, monogamy in marriage is undiminished as a bedrock of meaningful adult relationships in this culture.

    In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

    Monday, October 5, 2009

    NEVER A MORE HOLY AGE THAN OURS

    Weary of hearing how bad "these days" are, with Annie Dillard I affirm the holy possibility of this day.
    "There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less. There is no less holiness at this time -- as you are reading this -- than there was the day the Red Sea parted, or that day in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as Ezekiel was a captive by the river Chebar, when the heavens opened and he saw visions of God... In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander, or the grief of loss; or to endure torture." -- Annie Dillard in For the Time Being

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    WORK, PATIENCE, SABBATH

    Work, patience and the Sabbath of God's unresting love

    IN THE WOODS ON A SUNDAY. This is from Wendell Berry's "Sabbaths" series of poems in his collection Given (2004, Shoemaker & Hoard). The "Sabbaths" series extends through earlier collections by Berry, too. I gather that these poems emerge from his weekly Sunday walks in the woods near his Kentucky farm that borders the Ohio River. In this poem, I like the way he considers the nature of honorable work and patience and places both in the context of living within the "Sabbath of Thy unresting love."

    Teach me work that honors Thy work,
    the true economies of goods and words,
    to make my arts compatible
    with the songs of the local birds.

    Teach me patience beyond work
    and, beyond patience, the blest
    Sabbath of Thy unresting love
    which lights all things and gives rest.

    I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    EVERY DAY I MUST CHOOSE

    No matter how many times I've chosen them before, these are essential daily choices

    Every day
    I must choose.

    Every day
    I must choose to forgive
    and to seek forgiveness
    in the most near and common relationships.

    Every day
    I must choose to let go resentments,
    releasing grievances, self-pities and jealousies
    that would barnacle and weigh down
    my soul.

    Every day
    I must choose to release my will to control outcomes,
    realizing I cannot control people or things--
    only influence with love.

    Every day
    I must choose grace over judgment,
    mercy over a sense of self-justification and
    entitlement to redress.

    Every day
    I must choose to see beyond my needs and desires,
    to perceive my complicity and responsibility
    in the basic survival of millions far
    and neighbors near.

    Every day
    I must choose to express the Kingdom
    instead of hiding my light or squandering
    the gifts I've been given and
    the opportunites before me.

    Every day
    I must choose gratitude over complaint,
    joy over solemnity,
    peace over disharmony,
    hope over despair,
    life over death.

    Every day
    I must choose to awaken to the life of God
    given to me as a precious gift
    to generously give away.


    In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    OCTOBER


    A poem of Wendell Berry to mark the beginning of October


    Now constantly there is the sound, 
    quieter than rain, 
    of the leaves falling.  

    Under their loosening bright 
    gold, the sycamore limbs 
    bleach whiter. 

    Now the only flowers 
    are beeweed and aster, spray 
    of their white and lavender 
    over the brown leaves. 

    The calling of a crow sounds 
    loud--a landmark--now 
    that the life of summer falls 
    silent, and the nights grow.