Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Beware "Christian" voter guides and litmus tests for this--or any--election.

PRAISE GOD AND PASS THE VOTER GUIDES.  I am not sure when I started seeing them, but I think it was back in the 1980s.  Christian Coalition-type groups started trying to lasso the evangelical votes for their ultra-conservative power block.  Pastors and church leaders either did not know what was being purveyed in the voter guides distributed to their congregations or they became complicit in this less than Kingdomly political influence peddling.  To me the congregation-targeted distribution of so-called “Christian” voter guides is a breach of a sacred trust.

DISTORTIONS IN OUR WORSHIP FOLDERS.  In Indianapolis and Central Indiana, some voter guides are put together by ultra-conservative attorney Eric Miller.  Miller’s missives will be delivered to churches to be inserted into worship folders next Sunday.  Miller’s “Indiana Family Institute” purports to know and defend what’s best for Christian families and congregations.  But Miller has routinely distorted the views and positions of local candidates. Miller and the Indiana Family Institute should be duly regarded for what it actually is--a cheap partisan Republican political operation, not an even-handed nonpartisan Christian organization.

NON ISSUES?  Here are ten items I have not seen on a voter guide.  Nor have I heard one candidate seriously address these.  Add these to the voter guides and some of the so-called “Christian agenda” candidates may well be exposed as the typical politicians that they really are:

1. A demonstrable preference for the poor  (Matthew 19:21; 26:31-46)

2. Supports/defends orphans & widows  (Deuteronomy 10:18; James 1:27)

3. Favors beating swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:10)

4. Priority is urban renewal (Jeremiah 29:4-14; Isaiah 61:4)

5. Promotes economic renewal through Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55; Isaiah 61:1-11; Luke 4:14-21)

6. Will do away with the yoke of oppression (Isaiah 58:6, 9)

7. Exposes idolatry and tears down false idols (see: the life of Elijah)

8. Leads community in public repentance (Jonah 3:6-10)

9. Keeps self from being polluted by the world (James 1:27)

10. Demonstrates compassion and incorporates mercy into public policy (Micah 6:8)

NO MORE LITMUS TESTS, PLEASE.  Looking at this list, perhaps the biggest question is whether or not any of us would vote for a candidate – local or national – who rated high on this “litmus test.”  Maybe the list best serves to expose the futility of all voter guides as a fair aid to or replacement of the hard work of democracy.  Don’t take someone else’s word for it; become familiar with candidates and make responsible choices at the poll.


"In Times of Great Decision" reflects a hopeful possibility amid much cynicism and hyperbole

A few election cycles ago, Michael B. Ross sent me the following contemporary hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. It is sung to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation." To me, it reflects a hopeful possibility and sacredness amid much cynicism and hyperbole.

In times of great decision,
Be with us, God, we pray!
Give each of us a vision
Of Jesus' loving way.
When louder words seem endless
And other voices sure,
Remind us of your promise:
Your love and truth endure.

O God, whose gifts are countless,
You send us bearing peace.
You fill our dreams with justice
For all communities.
You give us global neighbors
That all may justly live.
May those we choose as leaders
Reflect the life you give.

0 God, you bridged the distance;
You opened wide your door.
You call us by our presence
To reach to serve the poor.
You teach us: Welcome strangers!
Seek justice on the earth!
May those we choose as leaders
See every person's worth.

You call on every nation
To put aside all greed,
To care for your creation
And for your ones in need,
To care for those in prison,
For children, for the ill.
In times of great decision,
may we choose leaders well.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Wendell Berry's poem satirizing stiff theological discourse resonates with me

Perhaps one too many duly-appointed church official or slave of the academy--those who "know" sacred correctness and Lord over what they know wrongly--felt compelled to critique, correct or school Wendell. Been there. Have you?

Between the lines of satire, Berry points to a purity of heart and simplicity of faith--which is, to me, inspiring.

Having written some pages in favor of Jesus,
I receive solemn communication crediting me
with the possession of a "theology" by which
I acquire the strange dignity of being wrong
forever or forever right. Have I gauged exactly
enough the weight of sins? Have I found
too much of the Hereafter in the Here? Or
the other way around? Have I found too much
pleasure, too much beauty and goodness, in this
our unreturning world? O Lord, please forgive
any smidgen of distinctions I may
have still in my mind. I meant to leave them
all behind a long time ago. If I'm a theologian
I am one to the extent I have learned to duck
when the small, haughty doctrines fly overhead,
dropping their loads of whitewash at random
on the faces of those who look toward Heaven.
Look down, look down, and save your soul
by honester dirt, that receives with a lordly
indifference this off-fall of the air. Christmas
night and Easter morning are this soil's only laws.
The depth and volume of the waters of baptism,
the true taxonomy of sins, the field marks
of those most surely saved, God's own only true
interpretation of the Scripture: these would be
causes of eternal amusement, could we forget
how we have hated one another, how vilified
and hurt and killed one another, bloodying
the world, by means of such questions, wrongly
asked, never to be rightly answered, but asked
and wrongly answered, hour after hour, day after day,
year after year--such is my belief--in Hell.

in Leavings, poems by Wendell Berry, Counterpoint Press, 2010

Thursday, October 18, 2012


This prayer reflects where I am and what I hope for in relationship with God these days

God, I come to prayer dragging my feet not out of unwillingness or lack of need or respect, but out of what is presumed about prayer and prevailing notions of its relational set-up.  

I confess, I don’t make a very good worm.  I’m not a good groveler.  I’m not a very good pretender.  Or cow-tow-er.  Or obsessive confess-er.

But, God, if you are willing to be my friend--and understand and guide as such—I’m praying, even now.

May we dispense with posturing and posing?  May we relate and explore and plumb the depths carefully and caringly?

I am not in a place for any authority to Lord anything over me, coerce me, manipulate me, to tell me to get in line, to serve the institution or play the game.  Not now, at least.

I am not, either, trying to make you to be anything less than you are or me any more than I am.  I acknowledge that you can, like Jacob at the river, with a touch--and whenever, however you want--shake me up and turn me inside out and upside down.  You’ve already done that--repeatedly.  You can always make a raw power play.  That’s not what I hope for with you at this time, but you’re the wiser; you know.

What I’d really like is just to talk with you and get to know you in a fresh way.  Not in a fear-based way.  Not in a preacher-talk way.  Not in a servant-to-master way.  Not in a “my way or the highway” way.

I’m suggesting the privilege of something akin to friendship, something akin to counseling, something akin to heart-to-heart, something more trusted and intimate and mutual; something that is beyond religion, something that is, well, like grace.

Maybe, in a friendship, you can help me move beyond my resistances and hesitancies, counsel me beyond my learned and earned cynicisms, show me plausible ways forward and through, rekindle passion and renew disciplines and nudge me into a fuller creative stewardship of the capacities, relationships and opportunities with which you’ve already graced me.

Perhaps this way will convince my heart and change my mind more powerfully than if you demanded worship or called for surrender or wrenched this God-wrestler’s hip one more time.

Thanks for listening.  I’m listening, too.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


This has to be the best-ever short autumn poem

by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

You can read and listen to a variety of Robert Frost poems at Robert Frost Out Loud.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


A Wendell Berry poem of Autumn 

The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth's green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.

From the ongoing series "Sabbaths" that continue through Berry's numerous books of poems.  This segment, written in 1984, is from his collection of poems titled A Timbered Choir (Counterpoint, 1998)

Saturday, October 6, 2012


The late psychiatrist and author reflects on the nature of spiritual breakthrough

WHAT RETURN? When M. Scott Peck became a Christian, he published a wonderful but little-read book called What Return Can I Make (1985, Simon and Schuster). It is, essentially, his confession of faith and quite an evangelistic piece, at that. It is an artistic combination of his writing, the graphic art of Patricia Kay and original music by Carmelite Marilyn von Waldner. I want to share a few excerpts from What Return on bikehiker blog over the next few weeks. Peck's poignant manner of thinking and writing shines through on some elemental aspects of Christian faith.

GOING IT ALONE. "Conversion means 'turning with.' Turning with what? With God. When we are converted, we turn and begin walking with God. But what about before conversion? With whom were we walking then? The answer is, no one. We were walking alone. We were walking alone because we preferred it that way."

WANTING TO BE IN CHARGE. "Those of us who have been converted know now that God was walking with us all the time. Only we didn't know it then. Because we were not ready to acknowledge His presence with us. Because we still thought we could go it alone. We wanted to go it alone. We wanted to be in charge, and because we wanted to be in charge so much, we actually believed we were. And because we believed we were in charge we could not see God--except sometimes perhaps at very great distance and never close enough to actually experience Him as real."

THE LIMITS OF SELF-DETERMINATION. "It is good that we should take responsibility for ourselves and have what psychiatrists call a 'sense of autonomy.' It is, in fact, an essential foundation for spiritual growth. But there is a subtle yet crucial point beyond which a sense of self-determination not only becomes prideful and begins to interfere with further spiritual growth but also denies reality."

A SORT OF EGO DEATH IS REQUIRED. "The essential turning point of the conversion process, then, is the new understanding that the individual human ego--important though it its--is not King. The King is the Lord God. But the ego is not easily dethroned. A very real sort of ego death is required. In order that this death may occur, the individual must first in some way be broken..."
DROWNING IN BAPTISM. "This breaking--this ego death symbolized by the drowning of baptism--the death of which Christ spoke when he said, 'Whosover shall lose his life shall save it"--occurs in many different ways. For myself it was mercifully slow, taking place in gentle stages over a dozen years. For others it may come through weeks or months of illness or other agonizing suffering. For still others it may come almost like a searing flash or pure blazing pain. If it comes at all. Many will never be broken--at least not until death..."

WHY NOT GET ON WITH IT? "A wise priest said to me when I was dragging my feet over becoming baptized: 'We all have to die sooner or later; why not get on with it?'"