Thursday, February 18

there's no such thing as dragons

I think people in my context will look at these power healing acts with skepticism and maybe even fear... disapproval.

TWe are confident in modern medicine, and only when all these possibilities fail and we have nowhere to turn to do we choose to appeal to or blame God, or any version of supernatural powers. Then, when we finally pray and God answers, heals, performs a miracle, we look for the medical, scientific reasons behind the healing, no matter how improbable. And we allow that to stamp out our ascription of glory to God.

We feel a real confidence in the powers of our own will, ingenuity, perseverance and technology. And I think we feel only a fairytale confidence in the powers of God to heal and perform miracles. Vern said, “…when the people realize that there is no spiritual power in medicines, they soon reject them as simply a way of covering up the physical symptoms, but as having no real power to get at the spiritual causes of the problem.” I see our context in America as the stark opposite. Neither culture calls on the power of the living God, but ours calls not on the power of any god or divinity. The power of God is not bound by the boarders of our understanding it. The power of God can work and be made visible in all contexts, no matter the culture. But, as I think of our (my) human works in this context of mine, I realize how much further the American culture in Grand Rapids seems from that of the Tzotzils in Chiapas. We don’t begin from the point of spiritual powers, however lesser or demonic they may be, like the Tzotzil do. We, in my context, hold our medicine and personal self-discipline at the core of what makes our bodies and minds and even spirits survive and thrive.

Wednesday, November 18

Participation in the Apocalypse: What do you think?

Mark 13:1-8 As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”* and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. These eight verses, near the end of Mark, are often referred to as the Little Apocalypse… the language in this section might sound familiar, a little like the prophets, and a little like the visions of Revelation, but it’s really hard to make sense of, in lots of ways. And, to be honest with you. I had no idea where to begin. Writing a sermon on these verses was not easy. It was a very emotional process. Because I just ended up finding more and more problems here. It seemed like there were contradictions, even, to the rest of the Scripture narrative. I began in confusion about which events Jesus was even describing, was it the destruction of the temple? The end of the human story on earth? Or His own death? I didn’t know what to make of the violence and desolation that Jesus is talking about here, the famines and wars and earthquakes. And I certainly had no idea what to do with Jesus’ statement, in verse 7, that war and strife are necessary. I’ve spent the better part of my seminary formation, becoming an earth dweller, and a member of the Church Universal, who’s desperately striving in a vision of God’s Shalom, extended, deepened, dazzling, permeating peace on this earth. And this Shalom vision, that we are to participate in, doesn’t seem to look like the Mark 13 vision of what is coming. Here, a Shalom vision, might look more like this: Isaiah 2:2-4 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks, be to God. Well this doesn’t look like what Jesus is foretelling here in Mark, I spend my time living in the category of Isaiah. I spend my energy trying faithfully to apply this unfolding vision of peace to all the small places of my life. No more violence. No weapons. Grow vegetables and hope instead of strife and destruction. And now this. Jesus is telling us, the disciples, not even to be startled as the wars rage around us. …As strife and conflict take root and hold on tight to resist the works of God in the people of God. …As our selfish ambitions for power and luxury and freedom tear holes in the fabric of God’s Shalom. …As we live our lives in the blind pursuit of security and comfort in this life by neglecting the hopeless and by marginalizing those who don’t think like us. And I just don’t know what to make of it. Is this Shalom we participate in already here? Should we plant gardens marching in rows instead of armies? Or is it not here yet? Are we still living in the age of destruction and death without the renewal of Christ’s resurrection touching us yet? What do you think?... Now maybe you can see the contradictions. Maybe you can see how the boundaries of my God box, you know, the one we’re not even suppose to have, slipped chillingly out of focus for me in Jesus’ words about nations rising against each other and kingdoms too. So I talked to a lot of people. I asked lots of questions about all this confusion. And I got lots of insights from thoughtful, faithful people. A few people reminded my to start with the biblical context. What’s happening in the book of Mark? What’s happening on the ground when Jesus is speaking these things? Well I think, if we read through the entire chapter, Mark 13, we might see that, indeed, there are many things being revealed in Jesus long, discourse here, the longest in the whole book in fact. Jesus is speaking of the coming destruction of the temple by the Romans, which will take place before the listening generation has passed away from the earth. And Jesus is talking about the end of his own life. He’s further unscrewing the lid on the secret of his divinity and salvation. But, Jesus is, in fact, also speaking of the end of the age. The end of humanity on the earth… reality as we know it now. And in all these things, Jesus is telling us to wait, be watchful, beware. The temple will be destroyed and so the center of Hebrew faith will be shaken. Many will come with lies and seduction to bring us further away from the renewing power of Shalom. And we have to vigilant. Keep watch. Do not be deceived. We must… discern what God is doing in our midst, which way do we go to follow? and how we can live in service of Shalom with each decision we make and each confusion we face. You know, the Jews in the context of Mark lived with an iron clad loyalty to the ritual and symbol of religion. This is embodied in the temple, where inside, lies the Holy of Holies, and the Spirit of God itself. The people Jesus speaks this to also carry a deep sense of mourning and fierceness about the temple, See, it had been destroyed once before, and rebuilt even more glorious, centuries later. This place was not to be trifled with. It was the one place that should remain untouchable. The one place that would never be shaken. And the disciples embody this notion in their admiration in verse 1, “oh Lord what great stones, what great buildings!” they marvel. There is great satisfaction in the stability of knowing exactly how one’s worship and life should look. There is strength found in knowing exactly how to approach God and live out a faithful life. The temple, which is about to be devastated, represents this coveted assurance of how to live faithfully. And now, post Temple assurance, the disciples and the rest of us, have a difficult job. We hear of the robust and glorious redemption story that begins with the birth of the soft, fleshy baby Christ. And we also hear of wars. We know that the people have fought and killed in the name of many motives, some even religious. We know that we all too often steal freedom and dignity from those in our own lives. We can’t get away from it. We can’t deny that we’re in the midst of wars and rumors of wars. We may even be having a part in them. And now… The weight and yolk of what Jesus is speaking here, begins to come into clarity. Which world do we live in? Is redemption already here? Can we participate in the weaponless, warless reality of Shalom? Or are we waiting for redemption in some other life? Is it out there somewhere on the horizon? Both. We live in an Already, Not yet sort of world as Christians. In Christian hope we look for a final restoration that we do not experience now. But, in the life of Christ, we have already received the gifts of grace and salvation for this life, now. The redemption is both here and yet to come. So, which world do you live in… today? Do you feel inside you soul the spacious Shalom of Isaiah or the resistance and urgency of Mark? This is why we mourn the loss of the temple assurance. We’re mourning, with the Hebrews, the loss of a categorical definitive. The answer is not a trifle one. Peace is just not an easy descision. We are cast to confusion in the light of the command to beware, to discern. We have to live in both worlds. We cannot turn our sights only to a coming redemption and pretend that there isn’t a power struggle for the hearts of the world, that there isn’t resistance to this Shalom that God’s already bringing. Neither can we live only in a world of weapons and conflict, throwing ourselves to the cause of violence, thinking foolishly that we ourselves can force the kingdom of God into the world by destroying those in the way. We have to discern at each turn of the tides, which vision is ours to live into in that moment, in that battle. One of our Old Testament professors at Western said this to me in my confusion. Then what in the world do we preach? Which way should we choose for peace? I had asked him: “Rachel, Sometimes we preach ‘wait on the Lord. Trust in the Lord. Lay down your weapons which can bring you no security.’ And sometimes we preach ‘The Lord is coming to break the powers of the oppressors. Participate in that.’” No matter the vision, we are always in the search to let God’s restoration into our world. Sometimes we fling those doors wide open. Sometimes we push with exhausting force for a small crack and a leak of that hope. But it’s always in the service of God’s peace to the world. We simply have to decide how to play our faithful part. Each of us has a different journey, a different set of battles to stand back and evaluate. Sometimes we must join Christ in God’s breaking of the powers of oppression. Sometimes we must plead for the cease of conflict, for the laying down of weapons. We no longer have the Temple to make our path to God simple and crystal clear. Now we have Jesus. Now we must beware. Be watchful and discerning for where God works in the world, and how we can join. You see, we can’t live faithfully, blindly. We can’t participate in the Already and Not Yet reign of peace in the world, without getting stumped at times, without getting dirty and a little bit confused. We can’t participate in the renewing peace of Christ without becoming tangled into murky decisions and faced with slippery slopes. We need space to wonder and to talk and love in order to know how God would have us let in Shalom. This is the way of faithful living that Jesus presents to the disciples here. Clearly, in our world, it is presented to us too. The temple will be gone. In only a few short years, before this generation passes away, Jesus says in verse 30 of this same chapter, the safe and sturdy center of the Jew’s religion will be shattered. The magnitude and splendor that boasts certainty, finality and stability of faith in God will be dismantled by the very forces of those resisting this coming Shalom. And there will be no marvelous white marble stones gleaming brightly in the center of the Jewish universe, no structure to turn to, no physical assurance. And this is the time, these are the times that we are meant to be faced with the challenge of peace. These are the times we are left without the security of symbol and ritual. And here we are called still to participate in peace though our bearings seem lost. We are constantly called back to God, back to unity with the Father. We are constantly meant to work for peace, justice, hope… in this world, in this life. And we will ask ourselves, we will discern in anguish sometimes, over and over again, how do we participate in peace… today? …looking in the face of this person and lifestyle …wondering if this opportunity is right for our family …searching to find a way to repair this relationship ….or resist this oppression Will today be the day that we decide to melt down our weapons, to call others to set violence aside? To realize and embrace the folly, the futility of placing our certainty in sword and army? Or will today be the day that we are struck painfully by the violence of those who would resist the coming and present reign of Christ? Is this a day to know that a fight is already being waged, the powers collide and the conflict and strife already tear our churches, our nations and our own hearts to tender, bleeding ribbons? Which world do we live in today? A vision which includes the toppling of the Berlin wall? A vision that has space for the certain pain and prospective death that some experience in the face of violence, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, … countless others who know first hand of the nations rising against each other and accept the challenge of participating in the powerful coming of peace in the midst of it. All these were not deceived into thinking that there are only gardens here and not battles. Neither did they choose to invoke the power of violence or oppression against those who resist God’s reign. And we have to make these same choices. The challenge of peace. The confusion of faithfulness in a broken world. The hope of final restoration. All this we carry with us as followers of Christ.

Monday, September 21

I learn things in Seminary. I pay to learn things. Today I learned: Justice is the virtue that means to infuse order into things. I'm taking an Eco Justice course next month. What does that mean?

Sunday, September 20

which loss is greater: the death of the one who fights to keep you, or the lack of one who fights to keep you?

Monday, August 3

Co Dependent Jesus

What has been your experience of the emotion of God?

Has your experience changed at over time?

This is going to answer both questions, even without design. I don’t like to think God is emotional. I don’t want to follow and mirror and worship a God that can be so swayed by fleeting and flawed, even out of control, human-like function. And then I realize how hopelessly human that response really is. This week, Jesus meets the needs of the 5000, even without them asking. He doesn’t wait for the people to become starving or desperate. He doesn’t ask for them to voice the need or the pain. He just anticipates and becomes provider. We humans call this co dependence, and we are right about that… when it’s our human efforts trying to meet needs. Because we are flawed in motive. We can’t possibly do it all, and we can’t possibly do it right. But, this same flaw doesn’t apply to Jesus. What’s misguided and weak... destructive in us, is perfected in God.

And so, are emotions the same? I only assign weakness and vanity to emotions because it’s the only form I’ve ever seen and known in myself? What if emotions are not merely human, but divine? That must mean God is emotional. And it must also mean that these emotions are totally other than ours and also completely the same. It seems the only things I'm consistently sure of, about God, are born from my understanding of the image of God in us and the work of God in creation. So, if we are created adequate, even pleasing, or perfect and are merely distorted and clouded and diluted by sin, what we posses inside is of God, created and purposeful. God must be an emotional being. For God is love. And what do we know of love but what’s affected and promoted by emotion? God is justice. What do we know of justice but what’s driven and compelled by our emotions and affections? So I think that while my own weaken state of being, often condemns emotion to the same weak state, God is not bound by that weakness.

Wednesday, July 22

Death makes me sigh. I learned this in high school. My friend committed suicide my sophomore year. And I sighed for two weeks. It was usually when I looked in the mirror, getting ready to leave the house, trying to force the real pieces of my self into some form that was presentable to the world and forgetting how to do that. Mostly, forgetting why I should appear presentable at all. That part of high school life didn't seem to makes sense right then. Deep, absentminded breaths. Long sighs. I've been sighing about death ever since. Early this morning Allison's mom died. I think I sigh because no words come.

Thursday, June 18

This is such a simple story. It’s not too long past, maybe 4 years ago, and I remember it each time, like the first. I worked at a church. We were a new church, not many of us. We only met at night and shared a building with an old, dying RCA congregation in Grand Rapids. The building itself was beautiful, by reasonable human estimation.

Each Sunday, I would get to church about 3pm and begin to set up and rearrange for our 6 o’clock service. Each week I took a deep breath before entering the building and I resolved not to rush, whatever got done, was good enough for that service. I never kept that promise to myself. Each week, like clockwork, I was swept up, first slowly and reluctantly then with abandon, in the tasks and unfinisheds. I would move from task to task at an honest run on most weeks as we neared service time. Each duty crossed off the list, inevitably, was replaced by two more.

Since our services were only at night, it was often dark, or at least dusk as we began, and surely as we ended our worship. But not on this Sunday. There was something changed in my spiritual geography this week. As I run up the stairs in the front, two (maybe even three, for it was nearly 6 o’clock) at a time, I absently glanced up at the stained glass window before me, a window that I never looked at, no time for it. And I was stopped heavy in my tracks in front of the display of light in the window. Had I been conscious enough to form a thought, it would have been “Why is there light in that window? Is it summer already?” The veil being lifted as it was, I was able to neither speak nor think… nor move. I stood, gazing at the muted colors of glass, and entranced by the fresh green leaves from the tree outside, clinging to the window’s edges in a perfect frame. Though the waves and colors of the glass subdued the light and everything else outside, it could not hush the leaves. No, they nearly glowed their green selves right through the glass. They were still and silent and insistent that I notice them as they seemed to force themselves not only into the building but into my spirit too.

I slowly crept up to the top of the stairs and gingerly placed my finger tips against the sillohetes of the green leaves. I felt the heat and light and depth of color behind the glass. All at once, I remembered two things. Fist, I had once again broken my weekly promise to slow down. Second, there is a reality that is other, fuller, brighter and more God, than this one that I live in. There is a God. God is here, and God is not here. Finally, I thought one word, “beauty.” And I realized that there is a veil which separates, only lightly, the world we live in and the world of angels and shining restoration. That moment I began a quest to ponder beauty. I wonder if all beauty, not things attractive or compelling, enticing or sensual, but all things truly beautiful, each view of beauty, is a glimpse behind this veil. I wonder if all the beauty that connects us emotionally to something bigger or heavier or sadder or better, or the beauty that connects us to ourselves, is a thin place, a small pinhole, or an open streaming floodgate into the world that is true reality.

Tuesday, May 26

Once, I wrote how life seems to be about times of scattering the parts of ourselves out across space and time and then, in turn, gathering them back again only to throw them once more. Today I realized the heaviness I carry in the past few weeks is a symptom of my gathering back again. I have to gather. I have to collect myself back again. But it's not easy. It's not comforting. It's tempting to let in the assault of regret and embarrassment, even sorrow and loss penetrate my already soft heart. But truly, they have no place here. Sometimes, like this time, it means that I'm walking carefully up to others, and gently taking back that piece of myself I once offered, or that they took. With wide wondering eyes, they're usually reluctant. But then... so am I. It's not a mistake to give it away. For everything there's a season. I don't always stay. Not everyone can always keep that piece of me that's become so familiar to them. I walk away sometimes because it's how the creatures work. I give and take. You do too. The hardest part is to know what's left when I've taken back myself. See, I can never have it all-the-way back. I'm a creature of memory, so some things always stay given, and others always stay taken. And when the gathering begins and ends, what is left of the relationships that changed? They are now new, uncertain. Maybe I'll give again. Maybe the same part of me. Maybe a different one. Maybe I won't. But... I'm aware once more, and so I'm gathering once more. Sometimes I can't get the losses out of my heart. I can't stop feeling them, thinking about them. But they come in turn. One and then another and another, then the first again. Gathering is weary work. But it's the way we stay alive, in every way.

Wednesday, April 15

Hospital Hallways and the Heart of Mourning:

I was sitting at my desk, working on the budget, when I answered my cell phone that day in January. What are the words to that song? “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.” Well, it was 4pm when the phone rang, but it was Thursday. “Rachel? Josh was in an accident. He’s not breathing or moving. They’re trying to get him to Mexico City. I don’t know what to do. Can you call everyone?” In that simple breathless conversation I had lost my friend.

He didn’t die, but almost. He didn’t disappear from my life forever, but almost. I spent the next week living in Josh and Shelly’s house, praying on the hour every hour, even through the night, making arrangements for medical intervention from state -side, parenting their two kids, keeping 130, 000 people/day updated on Josh’s situation, leading the church who was now left pastor less and trudging through the early stages of my own grief, together with my two best friends.

I flew down to Miami the next week. Josh’s new address was the University of Miami hospital, 7th Floor, transferred there out of ICU on the day I arrived. that was a long week. The warm weather in January didn't even seem to faze me. I cried once in the hallway on a phone call to my friend that week. She was living far away and I had to explain to her that Josh was in a near drowning accident, his neck was broken and he was paralyzed… forever. I got reprimanded that night for allowing Josh to see my sorrow. “That’s not what he needs right now Rachel.”

The week before I had sat with him in four meetings for the church we worked with, and every week before that for the last year was the same. The week before we were working out a schedule that would allow us to share a car in an effort to avoid repairs on another vehicle. The week before, I had dinner with Josh and Shelly and the kids three times. But this week, these two weeks, we different. I didn’t have Josh’s friendship anymore. I didn’t have his creative support for my radical ideas about church and worship. I didn’t have our intricately woven banter on philosophical musing of little consequence. I didn’t have phone calls. I didn’t have emails. I didn’t have a home to drop in to when I was feeling single and bored. This week was different.

Josh was transferred to Mary Free Bed after that week in Miami. He wanted to be nearer to home and his kids, 3 months of rehab ahead of him. I won’t ever forget the feeling in my heart and stomach the first day I came to his room in the hospital: it was the hallway, heavy and smooth, beckoning. I soon learned to park in the parking garage instead of the parking lot. The entrance there was on the level of Josh’s room. Room #322. Immediately inside the automatic sliding glass doors, the hallway began. It’s a long hallway. First the glass skywalk to the hospital building, then the brain injury rehab unit hallway, then the nurses’ station hallway, then the Spinal Cord unit. Josh’s room was on the left, two doors from the very end.

Passing through that hallway was passing through every fragment of my grief over and over a gain. And each time took a lifetime. And each time was harder than the last, until one day, it got familiar. I started to belong there, in that hallway. I started to covet my time walking through my grief. Slowly, some days, at a near run on others. I would look at myself in the reflection of the skywalk walls. Or I would focus my eyes on a single brick, almost undecipherable at the end of the hallway, in the middle of the back wall, so far away. I always felt God there. Sometimes I cried on the way down the hallway. I always remembered life and death. I always remembered love. I always felt nervous about what I would find at the end, in room #322, for I knew I would not find my friend as I knew him. Who would it be? Would we ever regain our world, in any shade or shape? No we would not. The consequences of the accident and Josh’s new life would blot out the energy and life of our little friendship. I would leave the church before Josh was even released from Mary Free Bed. I would separate my life from that family. They would move to another house, far away from the one I dropped in to so often. We would painfully try to commit to a friendship in the next year, make it work, look for the positives, remember the past, but it would not stick. I had lost.

I think God put that hallway there for me. Maybe for Shelly too. Maybe for the kids. Maybe for all the visitors to the Spinal Cord unit. But certainly for me. The end of the hallway wasn’t just that brick in the wall, it was the heart of God, and… I think, the heart of me too. The hallway was a whole life of hurt and suffering and sorrow, sometimes a river of comfort, sometimes an ambush of pain. You see, our grief is never alone. It's never only this grief at this time. It's all the losses and broken wishes of our whole lives, our whole self. All at once, resurfacing each time we lose again. I loved that hallway. I miss that hallway. I don’t think I could have gone on without it.

Wednesday, April 1

I had a mind for practical ministry, personal spiritual heath and theological exploration. But, I had a very weak compass for pursuit any of this. I never thought I’d end up in seminary, much less in an RCA Seminary. I grew up in the RCA but had mainly seen some form of hurt and exclusion mixed with dry, fearful lifestyles in each RCA Church we attended during my childhood. So, I left the RCA and started going to a Baptist church plant then a Campus Ministry Program and then a large non-denominational church, then a Wesleyan church plant. I moved through most of these experiences with relative ease and minimal inspiration. I never got ‘called’ to the Church. I mostly felt that I was taking a step to promote my spiritual health but I rarely felt energized and compelled to invest in the church or Church, or to see her as the redemptive, unifying agent tothe world, more a servant of the people. I did periodically run into friction, though, in both the theologies and practices of each of these church communities. First, unconsciously, then more obviously I felt the tension between what seemed rooted in my own spiritual identity and what I experienced around me. Coming to Western has turned out to be, at least for me, the revelation of my spiritual family tree in a historical, Reformed Theology way. I will not soon forget my initial experience here on the first day of orientation. As we filed into Mulder, I was handed the order of worship; printed and beginning with the Votum! Tears betrayed my sense of coming home, belonging. As we moved through the liturgy, something inside my spirit awakened and began to unfold. This was something put deeply into my past, my history, my soul. The liturgical moves had been silent in my worship experience for many years but had not been forgotten. They floated up with no urging of my own. This way of experiencing God was familiar. The habits were immediately responsive to the call of the Spirit and came forth to connect me in that moment, just as they had not in so many worship moments like this, both in my childhood and my young-adulthood. The identity of my own spirit came forth in a new way that day, during chapel. The following two semesters were hardly less moving. Each class and interaction revealed more and more of my spiritual identity, rooted in the Reformed Tradition. I believe the words of the creeds. I believe in the sacredness of the sacraments. I feel the provision of the container of liturgy. I feel God’s call back to communion by the longing of my own heart. It’s not that God isn’t present and moving in the expressions and theology of other traditions. It’s not that the Spirit isn’t transforming. But my belonging, the expression that my soul finds most robustly, is here in the Reformed tradition. It is my home in some very real way. As I’m trained in the Reformed tradition, I’m learning about my spiritual family history. I’m learning about the pastoral questions of many centuries that have led us to differentiate our theology they way we do. I’ve learned about our mistakes and our fears. I’ve learned about our patterns of anxiety, love, tension and openness. And as I look back to the experiences of my spiritual life, outside the RCA, my evaluations are beginning to change. Learning about my own spiritual personality has transformed the way I felt those tensions in the past. I’m beginning to sense that our diversity and anxiety are necessary. I’m beginning to see that my own expression needn’t be the one we all gather to. I’m learning that my frustration and disappointment with churches I’ve attended doesn’t have to mean that they are unfaithful to the gospel or infiltrated by the world, it may often just mean that it’s not my home. Not the home of my spirit. And it emboldens me to join these other types of communities and participate in other expressions. I once read an idea about the rhythm of home and pilgrimage in the human soul. When we know our home, and have belonging there at least for the moment, we are free to become pilgrims, exploring and returning, exploring and returning, all the while sharing what we’ve heard and seen in other places.

Monday, January 19

gift or market?

When I was at LAbri, Andrew Fellows taught us about the gift economy. The gift economy exists, at least for the questioning minds at LAbri, only in contrast to the market economy, the world we live in, the world we trade and shop in. Although, Andrew Fellows says that in reality, by the grace and creation of God, we actually live in both gift and market economies simultaneously; we belong to both. I've read through my notes on those talks again and again. Each time, I catch some glimmer of peaking truth in the idea of the gift economy, some sporadic and fragmented sense of freedom and peace. But what has it to do with Jesus? Why do we need the gospel for a gift economy? It all seems so quaint but not all that necessary. We seem to be living moderately peacefully and successfully in our market economy. In Chiapas, the glimmer became a glare. All the the pieces about truth and freedom, all the shadows of release and peace that before only simmered in the gift economy, now overflow. In Chamula's tribal worship center, where we saw the Shaman ceremonies and witnessed the blood sacrifices, the candles and incense, it all became clear. People make a lot of money in this tribal religious system. There are the candles to be bought, and the chickens and the incense, all the tools that go with them. And there are Shamans to be paid for diagnoses and instruction and intersession. And of course, when the families entire month's salary is spent and there is nothing left to pay for the healing ceremony your 3 month old child desperately needs, there is always money to be borrowed, for the modest interest rate of 100+%. Many make a living in this system, some get rich. And the families? When the money is gone and undignified begging is just around the corner, there is no freedom or peace. And what's more, your baby daughter is still dying. So, this is a cycle you see. Spend the money, get no results, borrow more, get behind, go without food, shoes, water.... and never recover. You have nothing left to pay, your baby dies. This is the market economy. When the consumer, the family or the tribal council, has nothing left to offer the Shaman or the money lenders, there is no more hope. This is when they turn to Carla, and Rene. Because you see, there is another economy, another system. There is healing and power offered from an open hand. There is a gift to be received. "Would you like us to pray for your baby?" they offer. "But I have no more money, no way to pay for it!" "That's OK." And the baby grows stronger everyday after. Imagine your relief when a tiny salary, barely enough to buy food and clothing, is no longer spent in vain, begging the gods to cease anger or heal your loved one. Imagine a God that gives and loves and you need only receive and let your gratitude overflow. This is the real life of the gift economy. It's not a cute idea to better build the postmodern community reputation of the church. It's a matter of life or death, a matter of love or neglect, a matter of freedom or oppression, poverty, hopelessness... darkness. Here the gift economy means everything. The joy and peace of the Chiapan evangelical churches is no wonder. These people have been given their lives back. That's not all. The gift is to us all. An open hand to all humanity. We are all given our lives back. It just means more to the Tzotzils in Southern Mexico, than to us in our middle class, materially comfortable lives. Our own oppression is much more faint, more elusive. We are more submissive to it. We play along with no fuss: buying, selling, trading: ebay, craigslist, WalMart.

Friday, January 9

Trip to Chiapas Mexico

The hot smell of melty wax was mingled with the familiar christmas aroma of half dried pine needles. "remove your hats please" the man at the front door whispered in Tzotziel as we stepped up into the sanctuary, absent mindedly handing him our tickets. The smell of pine came from the slender soft needles blaketing the shiney tile floor we crept hesitantly across. The smell of wax whafting in every direction from the hundreds, no, thousands of burning candels lit before the saints at the instruction of the Shamans. The smell. It's what I remeber most. On the long slow way up toward the front of the huge room, we kept our hands to ourselves and our cameras hidden. Pictures could steal part of the soul. All around us we saw dedication and desperation. Small groups, of tribal mexican natives littered the space. Crouching on the floor, they melted the ends of hundreds of tiny, thin candels and stuck them upright onto the floor in front of them. Shamans breathed prayers and waved incense and gifts over fathers and babies and grandmas. Each tiny congregation mumbled prayers of healing and petition in near silent whispers. We, obvioius tourists, shuffled from entracne to alter and back again, wide-eye, disbelieving and an honest bit frightened. None of us, as far as I know, have ever seen and animal sacrifice before today, or heard the whispered words of an Animistic prayer recited over and over, not to our God, but to someone, somewhere, expected to save the dying grandmother or cure the sick baby if only the correct amount of candels are burned for the correct amount of time, the proper number of chickens layed expectantly before the alter. Our Mexican lunch following the experience was anything but silent ...or certain. We decided that we couldn't possibly know what God thought of what was happening in the Tribal Center this morning but what we did know is that we saw fear, and spiritual oppresion in these people and perhaps more trust and dedication than any Western Seminary student has ever known. What is it about these peole, Christian or Animistic, that gives them such trust and devotion? When we cannot drag ourselves to chapel more than once a week to worship the Living God, the Mexican tribal people spend days and nights, travel miles and thousands of feet in altitude for their beliefs.

Tuesday, December 16

Be Longing

Churches seem to be decreasingly useful to the last two or three generations of faith seekers. Why? If these faith people are not in churches, where are they? Where are they spending time, living, being, growing up?

One public space patron had this to say. The question was, “Why do you find yourself so often in small, independent coffee shops and bars?” Answer: “Because it’s like home. I live alone, and staying in [at home] presents a really different reality of environment than going out to do my studying. And sometimes I want to go out not just for a practical reason. Sometimes I go out because I want to see people; my friends, acquaintances or even strangers sometimes.”

“So you might go to the bar without anyone else you know? Why not just stay home?”

“Well, I guess it’s just more inspiring in the places I go to. There’s interesting things to look at. There’s people I might meet who I never knew or people I might see that I haven’t seen in a long time. And there’s always the staff in these places that I sometimes have a relationship with. When I go to the same places over and over it feels like I live there, sort of. It feels like my living room in a way.”

“But why choose these specific places? Why not others? Why do you choose independent places over chains? Why bars and coffee shops over restaurants?”

“I think it’s because of the way they look; they way they’re set up, you know? Like in a chain, you know what to expect and sometimes that’s OK but you don’t look around and get inspired, because you’ve seen all this before. But if you go into an independent place it has the style of the owner or the manager all over in the way things are set up and the way it’s decorated; or the way it sounds, what music is playing, what the lighting is like. I guess this all just means that somehow the person who runs the place had decided what they want the life of this place to be and made it that way. So I get to connect to a real person. And it makes it a better place for me to connect to other real people in the same space at the same time, you know?”

“Can you describe this a little more? What is it about a place that makes it like a living room and not an institution? Is that the right way to ask it?

“Yeah, that’s right. I want things to seem like home and family and not an established, market researched institution. Umm… OK. There’s this place I go to. It’s a coffee shop called the GreenHouse. It’s organic. So already I know something about the owners and their values, even if it’s a small thing. They like to keep things as healthy has possible: people and the earth. Then I go in and see an upright piano in the corner. It’s open for anyone to play if they wish. And I sit in a big chair. It’s like the one in my living room and in the living rooms of most of my friends too. And then I take off my shoes and put my computer on the footstool in front of me. There are lamps and rugs around. I go up to the counter where Ray is cutting turkey. I order some tea and he brings it to me. We have a conversation about school and whatnot before I go back to my chair. I’m reading and writing and people come in and out: a book group from the school next door or a couple of guys drinking coffee after work. And the members of the family who owns the place are in and out too. After a while, Cybil, Ray’s wife starts baking for the next day. And the place begins to smell like the house smells when mom starts supper. So there I sit in my living room chair smelling supper from the kitchen and conversing mildly with people who come in and out of the house as work and school get done. See what I mean? It’s like home.”

As I listen to this unfold, I’m thinking about the idea of home and noting that these places, where so many are spending their time, are more like “home” than our own residences. Why is that? And why is it that we are so driven to find home? This idea of creating public spaces that are like our living rooms, intimate and familiar, is based on the understanding that we want to belong. Like the famous lyrics “Where everybody knows your name.” We, as a whole culture, aren’t as convinced about the value of independence and self-sufficiency as we once were. This mentality is leaving us lonely. It’s not fulfilling our needs for connection and intimacy. So, new kinds of places are becoming meaningful to us. The answer to the question, “Where are these postmodern generations?” is… out. Not at home.

In her essay, contained in Growing Up Postmodern, Sharon Daloz Parks talks about the deep rhythms of the young person’s soul that pulse between pilgrimage and home. These ideas used to by closely related. Citizens of a “home” would press out on a pilgrimage only to return home with “gifts, blessing and wisdom.” But we have since lost this connection as we have, culturally, a dwindling connection to place and “home”. Parks says, “Particularly since the Enlightenment, we have been keenly aware of the limitations of our knowledge – especially our knowledge of God, Truth, Ultimate Reality. We have become poignantly aware of the relativized and partial character of truth. Our understanding is always incomplete – and, hence, we have a consciousness of always needing to press further in an ongoing intellectual and spiritual journey toward but never quite arriving in our quest for truth and wholeness.” So, in essence, today we are on pilgrimages our entire lives. We are constantly swinging, sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently, between the press forward for more knowledge, experience, understanding, truth and wholeness and our desperate search for belonging and home in which to flourish in order to make this pilgriming possible and meaningful.

Saturday, November 8

my Aunt Mimi

AUTUMN WISDOM FORM THE MONASTERY :voices from The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkeht ----- "While many people dread the approaching winter season, often these same people claim autumn as their favorite season. Perhaps this says something about the haunting call of this season...Autumn touches the core of the soul with its wordless message about the necessity of transformation and death. We are gently encouraged to look toward the west and embrace the bittersweet truth that all things are transitory. As we face the painful reality that nothing lasts forever, autumn teaches us humility. We learn to honor the dying. Everything is moving, flowing on into something new. In this lovely season when the dance of surrender is obvious, we find large spaces left where something beautiful once lived. As one by one the leaves let go, a precious emptiness appears in the trees. The naked beauty of the branches can be seen, the birds' abandoned nests become visible. The new spaces of emptiness reveal mountain ridges. At night if you stand beneath a tree and gaze upward, stars now peer through the branches. This is an important autumn lesson--when certain things fall away, there are other things that can be seen more clearly. Autumn is a wondrous metaphor for the transformation that takes place in the human heart each season. We we notice a subtle change of light outside...we know the dark season is near...Autumn calls us in from summer's playground and asks significant questions about our own harvest: What do we need to gather into our spiritual barns? What in our lives needs to fall away like autumn leaves so another life waiting in the wings can have its turn to live? ...Autumn speaks of connection and yearning, wisdom and aging, transformation and surrender, emerging shadows, and most of all mystery. This is the season that touches our longing for home, for completion. We are invited to let go, to yield...yes, to die. We are encouraged to let things move in our lives. Let them flow on into some new life form just as the earth is modeling these changes for us." I wonder: As some things fall away, what other things can I begin to see more clearly? What in my life needs to fall away like autumn leaves so another life waiting in the wings can have its turn to live? So, friends, as I look toward January, I look forward to Edna Buit who looked forward to the winter rest for the land, I too will begin a "dormant" season. Like Edna, I will wonder what new surprising life might emerge come spring, what flower will blossom that I had forgotten was planted. But until then, I will treasure Autumn, look forward to Winter rest, in hope for Spring. (Miriam Bush)

Tuesday, October 28

sometimes i feel like perhaps life is just spent throwing out pieces of ourselves around us like fisbees, across space and time and geography. and then running around gathering them all back up again like bright red fallen leaves, only to throw them out once more. and throughout our life span, we simply spend our time throwing and gathering and throwing and gathering. i'm not sure it's such a bad way to live life. throw as much as you can and gather it back in time. but i think the times that hurt are the times inbetween. when we realize we've thrown too much or for too long and it's time to gather again. and we face the gathering with emptiness from the past months or years of throwing it all away. in these times it seems impossible to get it all back again and until we begin to do it, and the pieces fall back together, we just might fear and be sad. but, inevitably, slowing, almost dutifully at first, we begin to collect the parts of our spirit back again and reassemble them in a new way than ever before. and then we get to decide where to throw them out next and to who. and the truth is, we don't have to work at all for this. time does the work. we only think we can control the throwing and gathering. but our spirit does it all on it's own i think. our joy only comes from recognizing and being grateful for the process no matter where we are in it. i guess this is what the earth does. she has seasons: giving and gathering, giving and gathering. i think it's the same.