Saturday, December 24, 2005

a conception 3/3

Jesus grew up and Mary loved him. She loved him and raised him and it wasn’t easy, her being a teenager and all. Joe struggled to keep things going but between the local ‘God’s Pantry’ and food stamps, they kept food on the table. When Jesus was old enough Joe would take him to the various day-labor sites on the weekends. This allowed Mary to pick up some work as a Wal-Mart ‘Associate.’ Joe was a good learner and could turn his hand to almost anything if someone gave him a chance. Jesus watched him carefully, listened well, stayed out of the way, and eventually learned to help out some – picking up trash, fetching tools, buying cigarettes for the workers. All the people that met him thought Jesus was a “sharp little tack”, and more than one friend of Joe’s remarked Jesus “was something special.”

Mary would tell stories to Jesus when she put him to bed. Stories her Daddy and Granddaddy had told her about the mountains and the first ones that came through Cumberland Gap. She sang some of the songs she remembered and made up the parts she had forgotten. So he grew up and went to school and walked the dirt road from the four-lane to the trailer park every day to catch the bus. As he walked he would go over the stories his Mom had told him and imagine he was a part of the drama, picking up sticks and rocks and discarded cans to engineer the props. A couple of his favorite stories were actually about him. Mary would recount the story of Jesus birth and how they had been driving all day and how Joe had worried about going to war and how amazing it was to see those trash-guys approaching the truck in the half-light of early morning. Jesus loved to hear about the wild preachers that had spectacular things to say about him when he was just a few days old.
(Continue reading....)

A couple of these preachers were Ol’ Simmy and Miss Ann. As Mary would recount it to JC, Ol’ Simmy came bursting into the church whoopin’ and hollerin’ about the time that had come and how he had waited so long for “this chile’.”
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh Lowwwwwwwwd-ah,
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh LOWWWDD-AHHHH!,
MMMMMnnnngggggggg LOWDYYYY!!”
He gathered JC in his arms and gazed lovingly at the child. After several minutes he started rocking and groaning, gradually setting a rhythm, swaying to music so one else could hear,
“Ohhh Lord, You’re lettin’ me go
Jus’ like you said,
Jus’ like you said,
I’ve seen the hope, you’ve let me know,
Jus’ like you said,
Jus’ like you said,
There is a light and you’re lettin’ it show,
Jus’ like you said,
Jus’ like you said,
Ohhhhh Lord, You’re lettin’ me go….

Mary always stood and swayed as she told this part to JC and, even as a toddler, he would rock along.

Simmy prayed when he was done singing. In a small storage room at the back of the church he prayed a prayer Mary would never forget.
“This boy’s gonna expose the frauds and lift up the righteous folk. He’s gonna see right through us all. He’s gonna inspire and be despised. He’s gonna break our hearts….he’s even gonna break his momma’s heart.”
Mary never told JC this part. She was afraid it might be true.

Ol’ Simmy had barely said “Amen” when Miss Ann started banging on the closet door with the front legs of her walking frame. Even though he couldn’t actually remember meeting her, JC loved Miss Ann and her renowned commitment to being at the church day in day out. In fact, when her husband had died she started a prayer ministry called “Miss Ann’s Prayer-Line” and spent 8 hours a day praying for everyone and anyone who called or came by the church. The elders of the church eventually set her up with a cot in the coat-room so she could keep an eye on the place 24/7.
When she saw Jesus that day she cried out and hugged Ol’ Simmy. She parked her walker and shuffled over to Mary with arms out to take the child. Continuing her tottering gate, she made it to the front steps and called out at passers by, repeating many of the things Ol’ Simmy had been saying. She spent the next couple of days calling every number she had collected through “Prayer-Line”, leaving messages on answering machines that usually only found their end with the impatient tone of the machine cutting her off.
Jesus loved these stories. He became fascinated with the House of God. He counted the days between their yearly journey to visit the folk in Lexington. His fascination became obsession and he began to believe he ought to be interested in “the Lord”, that somehow he might need to question things relating to God, Life, and even his own family. This worried Mary and Jo so for a time she stopped telling him the bedtime birth-stories and she instead read Psalms from a bible Miss Ann had given her.......

Friday, December 23, 2005

a conception 2/3

Joe, being eighteen years old, was required to register for the draft. The US was spreading democracy and, apparently, needed his help. There were concerns about security at home and abroad. The war was going badly. The unrest across the country was typified by the violence breaking out on University campuses. This unrest bred fear and fear caused the powers that be to make demands on the people. Liberties needed to be curbed for protection. In this spirit, the President was re-initiating the draft.
Joe traced his family back to Lexington so he made his way there with Mary to take care of some paperwork. They were planning their wedding for later in the summer when they could get the money together. She was over 8 months pregnant now and the long journey along I-75 was made longer with the bathroom, stretch, and rest breaks. For most of the trip Mary sat right next to Joe in the middle of the bench-seat, her legs straddling the stick-shift housing and her painfully swollen feet propped up on the dash.(Continue reading....)

Finally, late in the night, they made it to Lexington, but the long journey had brought on Mary's labor prematurely. The last part of their trip had been the most exhausting - hours of sitting in traffic while Mary's body shuddered under each heavy contraction. Joe's white-knuckle hold on the steering wheel and his taut, worried face flexing in rhythm with Mary's pain-throws. The city was flooded with people and cars. There was no way to pull over and rest, no place to go once they were part of the gridlock. When they finally made it there, the UK maternity ward was packed to overflowing and they were eventually turned away. Just a few hours later, in the back of Joe's pick-up, on the third level of the parking deck, Mary gave birth. Their tears splashed into the puddles of blood and water mingling in the corrugated troughs of the truck bed. For a moment Joe forgot that this wasn’t his child. He looked on Mary and the baby with a fondness and compassion and love that he could never have willed. In the months and years to come Joe would still find times where he resented Mary, entertaining the thought that she had been with another guy, the father of this child. He was bitter about the talk that went on behind their backs - gossip and slander. But he would always come back to this moment in the truck. The heroism of Mary, the closeness that such a painful experience forges. Out of this dark, solitary pain came a light and companionship that was as warm as skin and as invincible as it was fragile. They padded Joe's toolbox with blankets and lay the baby down.
It was early morning and the sky was turning from black to blue in the pre-dawn light. On the wrong side of town some sanitation workers were doing the rounds. As they wrestled the overstuffed trash bins into lines on the corner of 4th and Chestnut, they noticed someone calling for them. They could barely hear the voice over droning hydraulics and the piercing bleepbleepbleep of the truck. She was standing across the road in an empty lot and as they caught sight of her she seemed to be glowing with the clarity and brilliance of the rising sun.
Without even thinking they clamored and crammed into the cab with the driver - too scared to approach but too enchanted to look away. Three huge men, dwarfing the wretched insides of the garbage truck, startled but fearfully frozen. As they watched they could see she was trying to talk to them. A quivering hand slowly wound down the window.
"Don't be afraid,” she said,
"I want to tell you some wonderful news. A message for everyone: This morning a liberator was born at UK, the one we've been waiting for. The one who will set things right by bringing real justice and love to this city. Here's the will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, in a brown pickup, in the UK hospital parking deck."
And suddenly she was gone. Just then the radio starts blaring, all static and buzz. After several seconds the white noise gave way to the most wonderful voices - men, women, young, old, black, white, hispanic. They were singing with all the passion, energy, and spirit of a church choir...
"Glory, Glory, Glory,
To God in heaven,
& Peace, Peace, Peace
To the one's He loves on earth"
The radio cut off as quickly as it had come on. The sanitation workers were left staring at an empty lot in the quiet stillness of early morning. For a few minutes, the only thing to move was a piece of trash that skipped along the gutter. After some minutes of silence, Benny, the most outspoken of the men, and the most religious one among them spoke up.
"Let's go to the hospital and see what he Lord is up to!"So they went quickly, after all, they hadn't finished their route and a couple of the men had second jobs to get to later that morning. After walking up several ramps they finally discovered Joe, Mary, and the little one. All three were sound asleep under blankets and jackets in the bed of the pickup. Mary stirred, startled by the three strange men staring at her baby. But soon their warm smiles and fantastic story of what had happened put her at ease and she was comforted by their loving-kindness. After visiting for a while and sharing the story again with Joe and Mary and the others who were coming and going with the hospital staff shift changes, the men returned to the remainder of their route.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

a conception 1/3

Zachariah was born in Harlan County. His wife, Elizabeth, was also born in Harlan County. In fact, her family had been in that county since before the Civil War, which is a long time for a group of people to stay in a place like Harlan. No one in Harlan knew them as Zachariah and Elizabeth; they were Betty and Z.
In addition to picking up a disability check for the coal dust that clouded his lungs, Z performed various services for his neighbors. A sign reading NOTARY hung above the porch. He was an official accredited minister. Z first received the call to full-time ministry sitting at the kitchen table, eating a piece of sausage, and watching preaching through the fuzz of their black and white TV, occasionally reaching across to adjust a knob or tug at the aluminum foil covered rabbit-ear antanae. It was during an impassioned sermon on Moses and the Pharoah and obedience. A commercial with the words 'no hassle' flashed across the screen like a burning bush. He, too, could earn a graduate degree from F.A.I.T.H, the Firsthand Account Institute of THeology in Alamogordo, New Mexico. They didn't care that Z had dropped out of middle school; the institute looks for men with spiritual knowledge, men with pure hearts.
For Z, the duties piled up. He started off as no more than a glorified justice of the peace. He found that when he opened his mouth to bless a young couple, or eulogize a dearly departed, he was filled with a new confidence. He could bring the crowd to tears; he could bring about repentance. People started to look to him. It was only a matter of time before he started official church meetings. He slowly became the Right Apostle Z, shepherd of the flock, The Pillar of Fire Church of Children Marching Toward Zion. (Continue reading....)

With the new demands on his life he made time to do what he called his "priestly duties." He would enter his "holy of holies," which was his fanciful description of Betty's garden. He buried himself to the neck in the rich soil in order to be "brought low," so that he could "seek the face of the Lord." It became his habit to do this in the summers on Friday evenings with the cicadas for company in the warm thick air. He wanted to be prepared to exhort his flock on Saturday (Z's church had their Sabbath meeting on Saturday because that was the day the good Lord decided to take for his rest after making this Earth and that was good enough for them).
Z’s custom started with digging an oblong hole in the tilled ground. He would then lay down and pull the loose soil over himself. Once settled in the fecund stillness Z would pray and sweat furiously. As a rule angels did not show up. He did not have visions, nor did he dream particularly relevant dreams. He slept and slobbered and woke up smelling like compost. But this time in the gray area between prayerfulness and sleep, where all things are possible, Z had a visitor. It was big and blonde and bright like an illustration in a King James Bible. Its’ bulk hovered over the tomato and pepper plants not damaging a leaf. The angel declared that Z would have a son, and that his name would be John:
“Thou shalt have joy and gladness, for many shall rejoice at his birth. He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many in the flock shall he turn to the Lord their God. He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Z rubbed his eyes, trying to wake himself and murmered, "what in the shittin' hell?" And becoming more alarmed he hollered loud enough to wake Betty. Seeing no response from the house he tried to run, but finding himself still buried he urinated and passed out.
The angel, somewhat deflated, sat down, squashing a zucchini, and shook Z to rouse him, "Look, because you can't wake your sorry ass up and see things for how they are, because you don't believe me, you’re gonna be mute until the day the child is born. Then, you’ll believe."
Z laid there the rest of the night too stunned to move and too afraid to attempt to talk. He came to church the next morning half an hour late. He didn't bother to shower. He gesticulated wildly to the audience. He opened his mouth to deliver the words he thought the Lord had given him, but nothing happened. He pulled the chalkboard out of the closet, writing furiously about a vision, a visitation. The people were not surprised knowing that Z often heard from God and that it was usually good. They were surprised when he said he was having a son and that he couldn't talk because of his disbelief. The people laughed uncomfortably waiting for the punch line. They joked about his age and potency.
He never started talking again, though. The punch line was slow in coming. No one really believed until Betty's belly started to extend and stretch the colorful floral fabrics of her favorite muumuus. Betty and Z were relieved and excited. A child, they thought, would make things much better.

About the same time Betty's muumuus started to stretch, another strange occurrence was taking place elsewhere in the southeastern part of the state called Appalachia. There was a girl named Mary. She was engaged Joe a boy from Barbourville who could trace his lineage all the way back to Daniel Boone.
Mary was sitting in the tattered velour lazy boy in the living room/dining room of her parents trailer in Happy, KY. Her mother worked the breakfast shift at the Big Totem diner attached to Harry’s gas and convenience store. Her father was currently staying elsewhere but rumor had it that he found steady work warehousing for a company that bought relics like coal mining tools to sell as art in New York City.
But, back to Mary . . . She was sitting in the Lazy Boy watching the TV and trying to decide if she would go to school that day. She had a bowl of cereal in her lap. Her Coke was on the table next to her chair. Right before the show’s last commercial break the screen went fuzzy. Mary reached over, split the blinds, light pouring through aluminum, to see if something had knocked the satellite off the garage. A voice came from the TV and she let the blinds slap back.
“Mary, wake up. You’re as beautiful as the day you were born. Not a beauty bought at the mall, but from God. There is a spark in you.”
Mary pushed back against the arms of the chair until it reached its maximum recline and tipped. She lay startled with her feet and the footrest pointing toward the ceiling, the remains of her cereal soggy on her chest. She scrambled to her hands and knees staring wildly as the voice started again.
“Mary, relax. This is good news. You are going to have a baby. This child will have your spark and more. He is going to change things.”
“Is this a trick. . . Joe? Momma? I told you I ain’t done it with him yet.”
“Mary, relax. I told you this child would be different. I have also been to visit your relatives Betty and Z. She will have a child as old as she is. Amazing things can happen.”
Mary shrank back sitting on her heels with both hands on her belly, crying and muttering softly: “god, I hope this ain’t a joke,” as the TV flipped back on in time for the weather forecast.
Mary had righted the chair and was sitting in it with her arms pulling her legs up to make a chin rest of her knees when her mother got home early from work.
“Hey, momma.”
“What are you doing? Do you think I go to work so you can stay home all day doing nothing?”
“Momma, stop. Things have been weird.”
“Are you on some kind of drugs?”
“No. It’s not. . .it’s just. Well, I think I’m pregnant.”
“What? In my house and me out working everyday. No, that ain’t gonna happen. Get out. Get your crap and get out.”
“Momma, stop. It’s different.”
“It ain’t that different you little tramp. I remember fifteen years ago pretty clear. Believe me, things don’t change that much. Am I stupid or what?”
At that she slammed her bedroom door. She sat on the side of her bed and waited, one hand holding up her head, the other lighting a cigarette. She took deep pulls not bothering to find an ashtray or open her eyes even.
Mary got a ride up to the gas station by the highway. She walked from there up to the main road, her backpack slung across her narrow shoulders. The bottom inch of her tight jeans darkened from dragging the still wet road. The sun was hot after the morning’s storm. Her t-shirt left two inches of her white belly exposed which she unconsciously rubbed with her right hand as she lifted her left, signaling her need for a ride.

Betty was waiting on the porch. She had heard that Mary left home the day before. She had been busy preparing the sleeper sofa, cooking some things that could be heated quickly, and sweeping the beetle carcasses off the indoor\outdoor carpeting on the porch in case Mary stopped by. It had gotten late. Z was already snoring in the back room. The bug zapper had been on for hours. Betty stood in the doorway sipping a glass of freshly brewed sweet tea.
An unknown pickup pulled into the drive. Betty sat down wincing. As the pickup pulled away Betty hollered, “Hey there, you sure are one lucky lady carrying that treasure. Tell me, why am I lucky enough to be visited by the mother of such a treasure. The moment I heard those tires on gravel this little guy started kicking away. You believe what God has for you.”
Mary stayed with Betty and Z for nearly three months before her mother finally called. She apologized and cried and said she loved her no matter what she did. She arrived the next day still wearing her brown apron and bow tie. Her eyeliner was smeared. There was a half a pack of smoldering slender, pink-stained cigarette butts in the ashtray. Mary went home happily.

Now finally it came time for Betty to give birth. She woke Z in the middle of the night with a death grip on the forearm and the rigid but steady words, “Z it is time.” He hopped up silently as usual. The birth went off without a hitch. Both Betty and the baby were radiantly healthy. Their friends and family swarmed into the hospital to congratulate the unlikely new mother and the quiet father, bringing casseroles and smuggling in cigars.When it came time to name the baby there was some confusion. Several people had already begun calling the child Little Z, or Baby Z, or even Z Junior. Betty announced that his name would be John. The collective head turned towards Z. He pulled out his pad and begun to write. As he turned the pad for all to see he surprised everyone including himself by saying in a scratchy voice, “His name is John.

a conception

imagine Jesus was born here and now.
a couple of us let our imagining turn into a story.
here is part one of a three-part-post.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Advent IV: Conceive

In this final week of Advent, almost upon the inbreaking of Christmas, we concieve of reality in which the Messiah is right here. Imagine the coming of Messiah. Break out of cynicism and pessimism. Challenge yourself and others with the presumption that God is acting and that creation is being drawn into redemption. Conceive of a love as genuine, as tangible, and as pervasive as the struggle which we more readily perceive. Let that conception be birthed in your actions.

This is the stuff of faith.... a substantial outworking of what we haven't fully seen yet; the kingdom of God, just within reach.

(Continue reading....)God calls us to the same radical re-visioning of life to which the people of God have been called throughout Scripture. We are called to "see" through the eyes of God's redemptive story. Mary is told that she will become an unwed mother, and she obediantly rejoices. Zechariah hears that he will be a father, contrary to reason and biology, and loses his voice for his unbelief. Joseph moves his family to Egypt on the word of a dream and the trust of his faith. Magi journey to see in flesh the child whom they have glimpsed in the stars.

And the beauty of submitting to the dreams of God is that they become reality.

Some suggestions for action:
  • Give $10 when asked for a quarter by the guy on the street. Imagine that God can change a life with grace.
  • Take lunch with a coworker whom you've written off as "impossible". Imagine that you can appreciate them without antagonism.
  • Imagine an hour without cynicism, skepticism, fear, distrust, or something else that you struggle with.... and then meditate on your feelings within the context of the whole redemptive story of God, and the ultimate hope of new life.
  • Imagine your own action, and post a comment here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Thin Line Between Love and Hate . . .

Given the title of my blog, you're probably hoping for a review of the mid-nineties movie classic staring Martin Lawrence. Perhaps another time. I'd have to watch if first.
But the title does convey a frustrating experience I had the other night. It's a fairly insignificant event, yet I keep coming back to it in my mind.
First, Anna and I were in St. Louis, MO for the U2 concert. The show was amazing. We sat behind the stage, but our seats were only 4 rows up. We had a great view and a great time together. Our son-to-be-born-next-month went crazy in the womb. While I'm very biased (being a fan since I was in the womb myself- (that doesn't make sense?)), they perform like, almost, no one else. Going to one of their shows is like a religious experience (I think I'd even take the simile out of that sentence). So Bono took us to a great place. We felt positive about ourselves, our neighbors, and the world. This was the love part of the evening.
So then the goal was dessert. Particularly for Anna (my goal was beer). We caught a cab to go to a dessert/bar we had read about on the internet. We chated with the driver about the show and we're feeling good. Then he got a call from a regular passenger. I decifered from the conversation that we were picking more folks up and being a mini van cab, he assured them he could take 4 more. This was cool the more the merrier. So at the pick up, five people stumble up the van, 3 women and 2 guys. The driver says its cool, 3 pile in the back and 2 in the front seat (Anna and I remained in our captain seats in the middle). Well the 3 piled in the back and one in the front and Mr. Drunky went for my seat. I said "No" and closed the door. As he piled in the front with his friend, he bagan to berade me with "You MotherF**ker" this and that. "Who do you think, you are". I was in between he and his freinds behind me with my eight months pregnant wife beside me. I was in a vulnerable position and a little frightened as we rolled down the streets of St. Louis. But I was primarily mad. Then of course came the insincere apology and the hightened abuse after not acknowledging the half hearted hand shake. (of course all the while I was filtering my cynical mind and smart ass coments) We arrived ok and ate our desert, trying to recover. This was the hate part of the evening.
Long story, yet I can't seem to get over it. Mainly for this reason, these folks had been at the concert too. How could Anna and I experience this concert of love and peace, more church then rock concert, and this guy come out and do this to somebody? But what's more, how could I so quickly move from a holy place I hadn't been in a longtime to wanting to rip a man's head off, visualizing his downfall. I at least want to ridicule him and make him feel small (the idea of me being able to hurt anyone physically given my build has honed my smart ass coment ability). I had to work very hard with Anna to not let this ruin my night.
But it's made me think of the broader world. If I can switch from love to hate over something, relatively small, how can we expect those in the world with real greviences, like the bruttal death of multiple loved ones, to not make the switch too. Bono said at the concert, "Let's not become a Monster to fight the Monster." Easy to accent to in the concert hall, more difficult in the taxi.

christianity makes for an unhealthy society?

this article from MSNBC today is worth reading. the basic question posed is this:
is a society (liberal, democratic) "healthier" if it is also "christian"?
here's a quote from the end of the article which seems to get us to the heart of the debate,
But Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist seminary — even as he questions Paul’s academic credentials and data — now says it doesn’t really matter whether he’s right or wrong. His paper sends the wrong message because it asks the wrong questions.
Sure, he’s concerned that “there were those trying to make the argument that a society made up of secular citizens would be better off than one made up of Christian citizens,” he said.
But “I also wanted to warn Christians that the argument for the truth of the Christian faith is independent of the social science statistics. It actually has very little to do with suggesting to a society that if you adopt [Christianity], you will better off as a people,” he said.
“I would go so far to say that I would not want a person to become a Christian because they want to see a lowering in social pathologies, but because they’ve come to believe in Christ.”

as i understand it, the truth of the christian faith is firmly rooted in social science statistics. Matthew 25 and Jeremiah 29 spring immediately to mind. but should this be a primary motive for us to engage in mission and introduce people to Jesus? what think ye?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

from life to death and back again.

this happened just hours ago...
"Former gang leader Stanley "Tookie" Williams has been executed by lethal injection, 24 years after he was convicted of killing four people." see this article for the details.

sherry and i went to see the movie "Capote" over the weekend. a disturbing film for many reasons, but worth seeing if you are interested in north american literature. the publicly funded death of Tookie and the graphic scenes related to the hanging of one of the movie characters has me thinking about death as a penalty.

my background in criminology has given me an interest in such modes of retribution and i've never been able to see the rationality nor the holiness of state sponsored murder. I certainly don't want to open up a debate about the death penalty here...there are plenty of other places for that. i guess my reflection here is more about advent and the coming of a Life-giving King.

through reading about Tookie's "just desserts" and seeing "Capote" i have become freshly aware of the sinful ugliness of killing - i guess i have become re-sensitized.
gang violence, revenge killing, random and pre-meditated homicide. just war, suicide bombers, torture, genocide, 'the mercy seat', and justice in the shape of a noose.
dark things that in recent days have served to quicken my need for the light of a savior who would live and die in such a way that death would not be the end result of murder, and perhaps, more profoundly, to show us that killing is never the Kingdom of God option. we need(ed) someone to break the cycle of death for death. for me this starts with becoming more attuned to the thoughts that objectify (and therefore murder) people around me, and extends out into issues of verbal violence (gossip, slander, et al), corrupting rage, the death penalty, and war. God, help me! God, help us! and so i pray this advent prayer with Isaiah (64:1), "Oh that you would tear the heavens, that you would come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dancing, Learning

In a recent conversation a friend of mine used the term "reverse mission" experience to explain the surprise learning that occurs on the part of the one who is sent on a mission. This morning our gathering was blessed with the presence of a group from the Marietta, GA, church that has partnered with us to serve refugees in Lexington. I got to talk to one young missionary, age 11, who described her group's hosting of a party for the refugees for whom they had been praying. She was touched by a 4-year-old African girl who danced for joy at one point during the party. My missionary friend noted that nobody in her home danced so, despite all of out talk of the joy of this season. I could see that this girl was taking home a gift. It seems that a portion of the gift she came to give, the gift of her time and attention, was returned to her. The mission was reversed as this blessing travelled outward in widening circles.
This may explain why I was so touched by my short talk with the young missionary. To hear that she will go home contemplating joy and giving and receiving blesses me so much. God is using her gift to help me reconsider giving and receiving. Lord, we thank you for those you send.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Advent III: Be Patient

Wholeness, love, and joy come with the Advent of Messiah. We've been awakened to that. But we've also been awakened to the reality that our journey is potholed by brokenness, hate and discontent... and we're caught in the middle.

We welcome the coming. We are surprised and challenged by the glimpses of advent that God reveals to us, and we would welcome its full coming sooner. We expect it; we anticipate it; we long for it.

And we wait.

(Read on...)

Wait for the coming of Messiah. Slow down and watch for it carefully. The faithful have been doing so since the story began. Abraham looked for the seed of blessing, and only caught a glimpse. David shepherded the people of Israel in seeking God's heart, and struggled through. Isaiah prophesied of the judgement and restoration of that inbreaking of Messiah, and himself waited for that culmination.

And so we wait as well... and active, hope-filled waiting leads us to faithfulness.... and calls us to patience.

Some suggestions for action:
  • Fast from convenience. Fast from the microwave or the car or perhaps fast food.
  • Choose to wait in line. Take the "human" register at the supermarket and take the time to tell the cashier, "I appreciate you."
  • Think of a person or situation that has left you in a place of exasperation or wanting to give up, and pray for patience. Genuinely, expectantly... pray for patience.
  • Post your own comment or suggestion here.

didn't know i'd let go of that one

Something happened my senior year of high school that bugged me with all the force of an infestation! I mean, this thing bugged me for years, itching me, crawling underneath the surface of my gray matter, hiding around the corner and saying, "Boo!" every once in a while.

Someone was given an award that was rightfully mine. I'd worked hard that year. Didn't miss a game. Tried my best and did the best. You know how that goes.

This morning, I remembered that. Realized it's probably been a good decade since I thought about all that. Realized I just didn't really care about it anymore. God bless all involved. They're good people.

Nice feeling.

Sometimes Advent has visited and you didn't even know it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

some random links

"Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion"
an interesting review of the new Narnia film from one of Britain's best known atheists here

"Strangers in the Dazzling Night: A Mix of Oil and Misery"
a fascinating article from the NY Times about natural gas and poverty in Nigeria here

"From Africa to Ukraine: Eastern Europe's most influential pastor is a Nigerian who wants to reach the world through his Ukranian congregation. "
great article about today's global-missionary context here - affirms the idea that mission in our time is 'from everywhere to everywhere'

Christmas and Context

It has been in the local news this week that "our mega-church" (Southland) is not holding services on Christmas day this year (link).

This N.Y. Times article today has me wondering some more about the complexities of mission in this weird and wonderful country....especially that dicey interplay between contextualization (appropriate/strategic adoption of forms to incarnate the good news in a particular setting) and syncretism (contextualization "taken too far").

In the article, "our very own" Ben Witherington says this:
"I see this in many ways as a capitulation to narcissism, the self-centered, me-first, I'm going to put me and my immediate family first agenda of the larger culture," said Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. "If Christianity is an evangelistic religion, then what kind of message is this sending to the larger culture - that worship is an optional extra?"

so here's my 2 cents worth after reading the article....It seems to me closing down a large vendor for religious goods and services on Christmas day makes sense. what doesn't make sense to me is having a such a large 'operation' in the first place. the mistake (if there is one) is not shutting the doors on Christmas day, it is in this hugely complex way of being church where the problem seeds are planted. if church is indeed a building you go to then we should be horrified that the church (or at least many of the big ones) will be closed on christmas day...however, if the church is something far more liquid and expansive and family is so much more than your kin, then religious festivals like Christmas can and should take all kinds of forms. if the church is the people of God in the mode of movement then making the choice between family and church on Christmas day is a false dichotomy. But i could be wrong...i am just a stranger in a strange land. perhaps the mega-church model (Christmas day closings and all) is the perfect shape (contextualization) for a culture where people are accustomed to shopping at mega-malls, eating at mega-food courts, and living in mega-homes.

Where would Jesus shop?

Those involved in 'outing' Walmart in recent months, the 'Wake up Walmart' crew, have taken their activism to people of faith. here is the press release. they have asked people of faith to sign this letter and they have launched this video.

For many Christians, Christmas is a cultural location for the convergence of family values (very important to evangelicals in this country), good will, generosity, and getting those things that we have been eyeing all year (or perhaps just since the Thanksgiving sales).

Is this 'consumer activism' a step in the right direction or an annoying intrusion of bah-humbug-ish rhetoric? Does Jesus really care where we shop? What about the poor who often have little choice about where they can shop and afford food/presents/luxuries that mark christmas as a special time? Is this just the bleeding-heart lefties coopting/manipulating people of faith or is it a wake up call (stones crying out)?

Here's a brief quote from the letter mentioned above:
The holiday season is a time to honor and remember the virtues of hope, love, joy, sharing, sacrifice, and faith. For people of all faiths, the celebration of the holiday season is a time to remember and embrace the best of our values. It is a time to reflect upon our lives, the impact we have on others, and the responsibility we all have to improve the lives of those less fortunate than us. The prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 25:13-15 teaches "Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy ... lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee." During this holy season, we must ask ourselves - at what moral price do we accept the sins of exploitation and greed? Sins, it is sad to say, which are exemplified by one of America's largest and richest corporations, Wal-Mart.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Advent and the redemption of all creation

I'm inspired by the Welcome post from Clinton and Lisa. It is a great reminder that the incarnation is a divine "yes!", not just to humans but to all of creation. this is a saviour interested in the healing and wholeness of all things. it made me think about a recent trip greg leffel, howard snyder, and i made to charleston, WV four weeks ago.

we went there to attend the christians for the mountains conference. it is a new coalition of christian people interested in helping to end Mountain Top Removal as a coal mining method. we hope to do this by sharing information with churches and mobilizing an informed response within christian communities. this is a picture of us in a small plane viewing MTR mining near charleston. the scale of the destruction is simply mind boggling.

anyway, at the conference howard presented a short summary of his recent paper on the environment and theology (please email me if you would like a is a brilliant overview of why evangelicals in particular should be actively engaged in 'creation care').
i loved this quote howard used. it is John Wesley waxing eloquent about all of creation finding redemption. Wesley is suggesting that there is more to salvation than "human soul harvest." I think this is an important reminder at this time of advent as we specifically recall the birth of Jesus in the manure and straw among the animals, mystics, and working people.

But will "the creature," will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition? God forbid that we should affirm this; yea, or even entertain such a thought! While "the whole creation groaneth together," (whether men attend or not) their groans are not dispersed in idle air, but enter into the ears of Him that made them. While his creatures "travail together in pain,"he knoweth all their pain, and is bringing them nearer and nearer to the birth, which shall be accomplished in its season. He seeth "the earnest expectation" wherewith the whole animated creation "waiteth for" that final "manifestation of the sons of God;" in which "they themselves also shall be delivered" (not by annihilation; annihilation is not deliverance) "from the" present "bondage of corruption, into" a measure of "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
from his sermon on Romans 8:19-22

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"I'm glad I'm just a good old-fashioned bootlegger"

I love hearing about folk heroes like Maggie. Quite a character, it seems. This lady will be remebered for her kindness. Full article is here.

'Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers' dies at age 101
By Jennifer Hewlett

Maggie Bailey, known as "The Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers," died of complications from pneumonia Saturday at Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital. The Kentucky legend, who began selling moonshine when she was 17 and was still selling alcohol from her modest home at Clovertown in Harlan County when she was 95, was 101.

Over and over again, often despite a preponderance of evidence against her, Mrs. Bailey beat charges of illegally selling alcoholic beverages. Juries just would not convict her.

"Everybody knew her and she had helped everybody. Why do you bite the hand that feeds you, as the old saying goes," said Helen Halcomb, who is married to Mrs. Bailey's nephew.

Mrs. Bailey was well-liked and well-respected, and she often helped poor Harlan Countians, buying coal to heat their homes in the winter and giving them grocery money so they would not go hungry, friends said. Mrs. Bailey put several children through college. Anybody who wanted to get elected went to see Maggie Bailey, Halcomb said.

"She was very influential. She had power," she said.

"She was a very well-spoken person. I never heard her curse. She sold whiskey, but she wouldn't sell it to anyone who had a whiskey problem," Goss said.

Any time Mrs. Bailey heard about someone doing something reprehensible she would say: "'I'm glad I'm just a good old-fashioned bootlegger,'"

Darfur is still hell

Take Action to Help Darfur's Displaced People
Ask your Representative to co-sponsor the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2005

Although the United States declared the violence in Darfur "genocide," the killing of internally displaced people in Darfur by the Janjaweed and government forces continues nearly unabated. The United States must take stronger action to support peace efforts for Darfur and to end the genocide.

The "Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2005," H.R. 3127, would impose sanctions against those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, support measures for the protection of civilians and humanitarian operations and support peace efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Go here to take action.

Lexington: a city of ONE

During the week on December 10th, cities all around the world will be declaring themselves a “City of ONE” illustrating their commitment to the fight against global AIDS and extreme poverty and urging everyone to recognize the devastating impact poverty and AIDS have around the world and take action to bring about change.

Mayor Teresa Isaac has proclaimed December 10th, 2005 as “City of ONE Day” in Lexington. Please join us to celebrate this achievement of this important international campaign.

Thursday, December 8th, 2005
The Dame, 156 West Main Street, Lexington
5:00 Reception
5:30 Program including the reading of the Proclamation and messages of support from area officials
6:00 Entertainment by local musicians

Light food will be served. Cash bar will be available.

For more information or to attend, please call Chantel McCormick at 859-685-1035 or

ONE is a new effort by Americans to rally Americans – ONE by ONE – to fight the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty. ONE is students and ministers, punk rockers and NASCAR moms, Americans of all beliefs and persuasions, united as ONE to help make poverty history.

ONE is a broad movement of Americans from every state and walk of life —more than one million Americans have joined ONE since April 2005, and over 1.5 million have lent their voices to ONE by visiting and signing the ONE Declaration. More than two million Americans are also wearing white bands as a show of support for ending extreme poverty and global AIDS. ONE is Americans spreading the word in churches, coffee shops, on television, college campuses and the Internet. Go to to find out more.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The perfect Christmas gift for the sim-kiddies........

The following post is an e-mail forward from my friend Richard.
It is economic and political commentary by Bill Bonner,
taken from the website "The Daily Reckoning."
I thought it might be interesting material to reflect upon during the Advent season. However, it doesn't go so well with my daughter's otherwise excellent four-month check-up this morning. But this is just one man's opinion............

By Bill Bonner

In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson asked how, “one generation of men has a right to bind another.” He concluded by saying, “No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”

But contracting debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence is precisely what Americans are doing. In fact, they are contracting debts that increase over the course of their own lifetimes.

George W. Bush will go down in history not as a great war president, we recall predicting earlier this week, but as the greatest debt-beat president the country has ever had. In his few years in office, the feds have borrowed more than $1.05 trillion from foreign governments and banks. This is more than all the rest of the nation’s administrations put together, from 1776 to 2000.

Last month, the U.S. national debt passed the $8 trillion mark. This year’s budget deficit alone added $319 billion to the country’s obligations. According to the feds themselves, deficits will rise to $873 billion per year within 10 years. Two years more and they will be at $1 trillion per year, with a national debt edging up to $20 trillion. By 2017, annual deficits are supposed to reach $2 trillion per year.

These figures are not just guesses. They’re projections based on boondoggle laws already on the books.

According to the Bush-friendly Heritage Foundation, federal deficits are expected to rise to $1 trillion per year, by the year 2017, with a $16 trillion national debt, twice today’s level. After that, deficits should grow to $2 trillion per year,

Public debt is a remarkable thing. Through generation after generation, over thousands of years, each one usually left the world a little bit better off than it found it. More land was placed under cultivation; more animals were tamed and corralled; more houses were built; more factories were put up.

Occasionally empire builders, adventurers, or natural calamities set things into reverse. After the collapse of the Third Reich, for example, Germans found themselves with a pile of rubble and armed occupying troops on every street corner. Still, the little Kraut born in Dusseldorf in 1945 entered the world almost completely free of debt! He could rebuild, and enjoy the fruits of his own industry.

Today, the child born in America practically has an electronic ankle tag put on him immediately. He’s got his share of about $50 trillion in obligations to pay; they need to make sure he doesn’t get away. As far as we can tell, no other generation in history has ever been burdened to such an extent with the expenses of its parents.

Even in the private sector the ‘get it while you can’ attitude crushes the next generation. In the third quarter of 2005 alone, Paul Kasriel of Northern Trust reports, U.S. households spent $531 billion more than their after-tax earnings. About half of that money came from “equity extraction.” In other words, the present generation is selling off its houses one room at a time. By the time the tadpoles come of age, there will be nothing left.

Consumer spending has risen to 76% of the economy; before 2000, it was only two-thirds. The savings rate has fallen to less than 2%. Student loans outstanding have risen more than 800% since Ronald Reagan took office. Mortgages are up nearly 900%. Credit card debt is up more than 500%.

Finding no better source on the subject, we quote ourselves:

“America’s debt will not be paid by those currently working, nor even by those currently breathing. It will be pushed on to the next generation…and the next. One generation consumes, the other pays. What the first enjoys as a blessing comes to the next as a curse.”

It doesn’t seem fair.

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I Wanted to Blog Too

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have covered a Radiohead song called Black Star (you can look at the lyrics here), a song in shich the speaker laments her/his lover's emotional distance. At each refrain the singer asks, What are we coming to?..., and can only blame external forces. The singer takes no responsibility, but locates the problems in the other. It is only in the final stanza, when it seems that the relationship is over, that the singer predicts her/his own meltdown. The singer denies that this relationship haunts her/him. Peace has not replaced the tempestuous relationship.
While I enjoy Radiohead, the Welch/Rawlings version breaks my heart. The blend of her forlorn voice and his lilting guitar dramatize the longing and the trouble that can characterize human relationships. The acoustic form seems much more apt to me for this everyday sort of tragedy than Radiohead's electric version. I don't mean to try to convince you; this song just moves me.
It came into my head (at first unwelcome, but I didn't kick it out) recently in my Marriage and Family Therapy class. I was hearing Gillian wonder, What are we coming to?... when my professor observed the following (I'm paraphrasing): We marry an assortment of problems hoping that these problems will improve. Some of these problems will improve over time. Some will take ten, twenty, maybe fifty years before they improve. And some will never improve. She was arguing for a place where couples could allow themselves simply to accept some of their partner's shortcomings. This could be called grace. This professor is also one to encourage individuals to focus on what they can change in themselves rather than on what they see as being problematic in their partner. It is not exactly insightful or helpful to simply blame a problem on a star or a satellite.
But it is failry human. Black Star is a statement of an individual who still wants to see improvement in her partner but is not willing to wait hopefully for this change. It is this hope that can make a fifty year marriage a holy place. This song reminds me that my marriage is a chance for me to grow up. Relationships, community, marriage are all potential means by which God sharpens us. Part of the tragedy of this song is that so many conclude that a relationship is not worth all of this effort, and that life would be easier alone. As the singer comes to recognize, this loneliness only makes one more susceptible to melting down.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The people ask, "Where is God?...," and God asks "where are you?"

Thanks to Geoff and Melissa for organizing last night's viewing of "A Closer Walk." It was a difficult movie to watch, and I wasn't expecting the connection to the plight of so many people suffering in Uganda. I am sure that the sights, sounds, and personal stories probably dealt an even greater blow to others who have travelled in Africa far more than I. I suppose it is easy to feel helpless in the face of such immense suffering. However, I got an e-mail just this morning from a young man much like "Hassan" in the movie, who is a seventeen-year old orphan trying to make a life for himself and his younger siblings in the midst of very difficult circumstances in Kampala. His name is Paddy, and James and I spent quite a bit of time with he and his younger brother Mark in Kamapala. He is currently trying to raise money for school fees for his siblings and also to ensure that they have a more stable home environment. This is an opportunity for us to join the struggle in a very tangible and direct manner. If you are interested in learning more about this then simply let me know. This might be another way that we could welcome the coming of the King at advent. Thanks.........

Advent II: Welcome

Welcoming the Advent means welcoming not only Messiah come to us, but also welcoming Messiah come through us. We welcome as God has welcomed.... graciously, eagerly, lavishly, expectantly. This week of Advent, open yourself up and invite the "other" in. You may find you are hosting Jesus; you may find that Jesus is hosting you.

This welcome surprises us. It comes in times and places that are unexpected, and draws us into journeys that are challenging. No less could be expected of the coming of Messiah.
(Continue reading....)

The call of the first Advent was the call of love and was the call of transformation. Within the incarnation is found the welcoming of God on all that is human; it is a divine and intimate embrace of creation, if you will. Similarly then, in that same incarnation is found the exposure and rejection of all that is inhumane; and herein lies our responsibility to welcoming the new life to which God invites us.

Some suggestions for action:
  • Host a lavish dinner at your place and invite someone who would not be able to do the same for you.
  • Spend time in prayer and meditation. Imagine that you have an evening get together with an old friend, and share that kind of time and space with God.
  • Invite the change and transformation of repentance. Call on a friend with whom you can be vunerable and open up your sins and struggles with him or her.
  • Post your own action or comment below.