Saturday, November 30, 2013

Wendell Berry - 2 Quotes & A Poem

I listened to an interview with Wendell Berry last night on the way home. His gentle spirit and his view of humanity sorta captured me. I've never read anything by him... I think I may need to.

A Quote
"I consider myself a person who takes the gospels very seriously. And I read in them and am sometimes shamed by them and sometimes utterly baffled by them. But there is a good bit of the gospel that I do get, I think. I believe I understand it accurately. And I’m sticking to that. And I’m hanging on for the parts that I don’t understand. And, you know willing to endure the shame of falling short as a price of admission. All that places a very heavy and exacting obligation on me as a writer. A lot of my writing I think, when it hasn’t been in defense of precious things, has been a giving of thanks for precious things." 

A Poem - "The Peace of Wild Things"
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


A Quote - Explaining "The Grace of the World"
"People of faith know that the world is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred (or secular) places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent - Waiting for God

This is a great article by Henri Nouwen on how to "do" Advent. It'll take you a little while to wade through it, but it's good stuff.



Waiting For God
Henri Nouwen – from “Watch for the Light”

Waiting is not a very popular attitude. Waiting is not something that people think about with great sympathy. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait!” For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something.

In our particular historical situation, waiting is even more difficult because we are so fearful. One of the most pervasive emotions in the atmosphere around us is fear. People are afraid – afraid of inner feelings, afraid of other people, and also afraid of the future. Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid we want to get away from where we are. But if we cannot flee, we may fight instead. Many of our destructive acts come from the fear that something harmful will be done to us. And if we take a broader perspective – that not only individuals but whole communities and nations might be afraid of being harmed – we can understand how hard it is to wait and how tempting it is to act. Here are the roots of a “first strike” approach to others. People who live in a world of fear are more likely to make aggressive, hostile, destructive responses than people who are not so frightened. The more afraid we are, the harder waiting becomes. That is why waiting is such an unpopular attitude for many people.

It impresses me, therefore, that all the figures who appear in the first pages of Luke’s Gospel are waiting. Elizabeth and Zechariah are waiting. Mary is waiting. Simeon and Anna, who were there at the temple when Jesus was brought in, are waiting. The whole opening of the good news is filled with waiting people. And right at the beginning all those people in someway or another hear the words, “Do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you.” These words set the tone and the context. Now Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and Anna are waiting for something new and good to happen to them.

Who are these figures? They are representatives of the waiting Israel. The psalms are full of this attitude: “My soul is waiting for the Lord. I count on His word. My soul is longing for the Lord more than a watchman for daybreak. (Let the watchman count on daybreak and let Israel count on the Lord.) Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption” (Psalm 130:5-7). “My soul is waiting for the Lord” – that is the song that reverberates all through the Hebrew Scriptures.

But not all who dwell in Israel are waiting. In fact we might say that the prophets criticized the people (at least in part) for giving up their attentiveness to what was coming. Waiting finally became the attitude of the remnant of Israel, of that small group of Israelites that remained faithful. The prophet Zephaniah says, “In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people, and those who are left in Israel will seek refuge in the name of Yahweh. They will do no wrong, will tell no lies: and the perjured tongue will no longer be found in their mouths” (Zephaniah 3:12-13). It is the purified remnant of faithful people who are waiting. Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Simeon and Anna are representatives of that remnant. They have been able to wait, to be attentive, to live expectantly.

But what is the nature of waiting? How are they waiting, and how are we called to wait with them?

Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the Gospel, is waiting with a sense of promise. “Zechariah,…your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son.” “Mary,…Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son” (Luke 1:13, 31). People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more. Zechariah, Mary, and Elizabeth were living with a promise that nurtured them, that fed them, and that made them able to stay where they were. And in this way, the promise itself could grow in them and for them.

Second, waiting is active. Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? You cannot do anything about it, so you have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” Words lie that seem to push us into passivity.

But there is none of this passivity in scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. That’s the secret.  The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is THE moment.

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her. Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were very present to the moment. That is why they could hear the angel. They were alert, attentive to the voice that spoke to them and said, “Don’t be afraid. Something is happening to you. Pay attention.”

But there is more. Waiting is open-ended. Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something that we wish to have. Much of our waiting is filled with wishes: “I wish that I would have a job. I wish that the weather would be better. I wish that the pain would go.” We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. For this reason, a lot of our waiting is not open-ended. Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future. We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen we are disappointed and can even slip into despair. That is why we have such a hard time waiting: we want to do the things that will make the desired events take place. Here we can see how wishes tend to be connected with fears.

But Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.

I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping. It was only when I was willing to let go of whishes that something really new, something beyond my own expectations could happen to me. Just imagine what Mary was actually saying in the words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord… let what you have said be done to me” (Luke 1:38. She was saying, “I don’t know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen.” She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities And she did not want to control them. She believed that when she listened carefully, she could trust what was going to happen.

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our own imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

Now let me say something about the practice of waiting. How do we wait? One of the most beautiful passages of scripture is Luke 1:39-56, which suggests that we wait together, as did Mary and Elizabeth. What happened when Mary received the words of promise? She went to Elizabeth. Something was happening to Elizabeth as well as to Mary. But how could they live that out?

I find the meeting of these two women very moving, because Elizabeth and Mary came together and enabled each other to wait. Mary’s visit made Elizabeth aware of what she was waiting for. The child leapt for joy in her. Mary affirmed Elizabeth’s waiting. And then Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” And Mary responded, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Luke 1:45-46). She burst into joy herself. These two women created space for each other to wait. They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for.

I think that is the model of the Christian community. It is a community of support, celebration, and affirmation in which we can lift up what has already begun in us. The visit of Elizabeth and Mary is one of the Bible’s most beautiful expressions of what is means to form community, to be together, gathered around a promise, affirming that something is really happening.

This is what prayer is all about. It is coming together around the promise. This is what celebration is all about. It is lifting up what is already there. This is what Eucharist is about. It is saying “thank you” for the seed that has been planted. It is saying, “We are waiting for the Lord, who has already come.”

The whole meaning of the Christian community lies in offering a space in chich we wait for that which we have already seen. Christian community is the place where we keep the flame alive among us and take it seriously, so that it can grow and become stronger in us. In this way we can live with courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us that allows us to live in this wolrd without being deuced constantly by despair, lostness, and darkness. That is how we dare to say that God is a God of love even when we see hatred all around us. That is why we can claim that God is a God of life even when we see death and destruction and agony all around us. We say it together. We affirm it in one another. Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment – that is the meaning of marriage, friendship, community, and the Christian life.

Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the word. It is waiting in the knowledge that someone wants to address us. The question is, are we home? Are we at our address, ready to respond to the doorbell? We need to wait together to keep each other at home spiritually, so that when the word comes it can become flesh in us. That is why the book of God is always in the midst of those who gather. We read the word so that the word can become flesh and have a whole new life in us.

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps. Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful -waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

God and Country


Rant alert!!!


At the beginning of our worship services this weekend, I asked "does anyone know what we celebrate this weekend?" There was a resounding "Memorial Day!" I screwed up my face a bit, and one young man with Down's Syndrome shouted "Pentecost!". Way to go, Paul! At least one guy gets the proper hierarchy of calendars!

Pause rant...

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful to live in America. I'm grateful for the freedoms we enjoy, and I understand that battles fought for those freedoms cost many people their lives. I will commemorate and even mourn their loss.

Resume rant...

BUT, it seems we've lost our ability to rightly discern the proper order of things. Romans 13 tells us that it is God who ordains governments and authorities, and that ultimately, there is no authority but His. It seems then, that His rhythm, His calendar, should trump the civil one.

Somehow, even in worship, we've elevated the civil calendar to a place higher than the Christian calendar. On this important weekend – the birthday of the church, the empowering of the church to really BE the church – most of the believers in my church got it backwards. Many would have preferred me to lead patriotic songs affirming our allegiance to our country and our flag.

I'm not suggesting we ignore the civil calendar, just suggesting we keep things in proper order... God,  and THEN Country.

End rant...

There, I feel better.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Passage to India





Becki & I are headed to India in October. Click the picture to the left to read about what we'll be doing while we're there.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Adventure on the River

Flat tire? No big deal. Until you discover that the truck you bought with those shiny custom wheels doesn't have that special lug-nut key that you need to get the wheel off. Oh well, I'll just call my roadside assistance... wait, no cell coverage in the Deschutes canyon? Let the adventure begin!

I walked into a campground and explained my predicament. A very nice guy named Tom from Bend drove me to where we could get cell service so I could call for help. That help ended up being my roadside assistance who phoned for a tow-truck to come tow me back to where Becki and I were camping. Funniest part of the conversation with the dispatcher for the roadside assistance was her insistence that she needed a cross-street to tell the tow truck where to go. I explained that there were no cross-streets on the Deschutes River Access Road, but she insisted that she could not dispatch a truck without a cross-street. Aye-yi-yi!!! We finally settled on having the tow truck come to where Becki was, and she could ride with him to where I was.

I headed back with Tom to his campsite near my truck. As we drove, he learned that I was a pastor, and got real quiet. He was apologizing for his language and informed me that I'd probably hear more language slip out once we got back to the camp. I told him not to worry about it, and asked him not to spread the leprous news about my occupation to the rest of the group (nothing puts the kabosh on a party like finding out there's a pastor there!) We had a deal. I spent the next 3 hours around a camp-fire with a dozen very colorful people who were happy to offer me beer, margaritas, joints (been a long time since I've been offered one of those!), and some "magical cookies" (I don't even want to know!) while we waited for a tow truck to come from Alabama (actually not sure where the tow truck was coming from, it never got there).

Eventually, a "loosened up" cowboy named Paul from The Dalles walked into the camp to join the party. He heard about "New Guy" (no one could remember my name, but everyone needs a name, so I was "New Guy") and says "Aw *****, I can get that wheel off! I got this special tool! (Lord knows what that's used for!) Let's go git'r done!" Cowboy Paul did git'r done, and everyone cheered and offered up another round of drinks and magical cookies, which I politely declined, and I was on my way. I got back to Becki at about midnight.

After I got back, I learned that my cell phone (which I had left with Becki, because that was the number the tow-truck was going to use) had died, and the likelihood was that no truck was going to come that night. Thanks to a good internet connection and facebook, she had mustered a bunch of people to pray. I'm pretty convinced that my colorful friends from Bend and Cowboy Paul from The Dalles were direct answers to those prayers - proving again that the Lord, does indeed, work in mysterious ways!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Glorious Day


I much prefer this version to the viral Casting Crowns one... besides, Jeff's was first.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lenten Fast - Week Five

Suggested Fast – Food
Food is one of the most basic needs of our lives. It sustains, energizes, and heals us. Not only that, but food brings comfort; it is the centerpiece for much of our fellowship. Jesus used food as the tangible representation of His own life in one of our most important sacraments.

Without food we soon lose strength, begin to wither, and will eventually die. Long before we experience any real physical effects of going without food, our stomachs and our minds will tell us to eat. They will nag at us, complaining louder and louder until we feed the desire – all the while, reminding us of our need, of our mortality.

While our abundance in America can make us prone to gluttony (a very real sin issue), the purpose of this week’s fast is to intentionally deny ourselves of the very thing that sustains us. As the hunger grows, we redirect our appetites to the Bread of Life – Jesus, who is our true sustainer, our source of abundant life – and allow Him to satisfy our deepest pangs of spirit-hunger. It’s a good idea to use this time to confess sins and read Scripture.

As with the other fasts, you need to determine the extent and length of the fast. You may wish to skip a certain meal each day this week, or fast for a whole day, or multiple days. It is very important to make sure that you are physically able to do the fast you are intending. If you choose to fast for several days, you should consult a physician about how to do that safely.

Prayer
Lord, You have built into us a need for food. You also have created it for our pleasure. Today though, I choose to lay aside this need, this desire, this comfort, in hopes of drawing close to You. As I do this, feed my spirit, nurture my soul, remind me of Your sustaining presence in my life. May each pang of hunger prompt me to pray, feasting on Your very self.

As you break the fast…

Lord, thank-you for the food You have provided to sustain my body. May I never take one bite for granted. May this food strengthen me to do Thy will this day. – Amen.

Suggested Scripture Readings
Nehemiah 9:1-3; Matthew 6:16-18