Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas eve

christmas eve 07

light in the darkness.  pregnant pauses.  local lamb.  sleeping children. banjo and piano.  all part of an advent-ending gathering.  a beautiful night of celebration.  god is with us!

christmas eve 07

christmas eve 07

christmas eve 07



just wanted to let people know about ryan's fantastic initiative.  in recent months he has been working to start up a non-profit aimed at installing and maintaining community and school gardens here in Lexington. 

it's called SeedLeaf and you can check out the website here:


as we think about the new year and all the great kingdom projects communality people are involved with, please pray for each other and these initiatives.


Communion with fruit from the promised land

anticipating the nearly-with-us new year (a time for considering the future/past/present), here's the notes i made for a recent eucharist at one of our high st gatherings...

We have heard today about the importance of our being more than sentimental memory keepers. We are encouraged by the writers of the New Testament to be far more ambitious in our remembering. We are called to believe that these times of ritual and celebration are in fact moments when the future world God is making – the Kingdom of God – comes into the present.

The future fullness of God’s re-made world penetrates our time and space, affirming the story of God’s work through history and all the while, remaking us. We are invited to taste the goodness of a world re-made by God, a world that has gone through the trauma and struggle of re-birth. As we gather in this way and eat in this way we are like midwives to new creation - to each other’s rebirth and to the coming kingdom.

In the Passover – the meal where Jesus taught us these things - Hebrew people don’t just recall past history. Instead, they enter into the reality that they are exodus people freed from slavery. This Eucharist meal calls us Jesus followers to that same awareness– we are the people, this is the night! So, at the same time we are here in Lexington, gathered as the people of God, we are also the disciples in that upper room, and last, but not least, we are also the heirs of the kingdom, gathered to eat the messianic banquet in the new heaven and the new earth. Past, Present, and Future.

In Numbers(13:17ff), when the children of Israel are still on the border of the Promised Land, Moses sends spies to check things out.

“Moses sent them to spy out the land…he told them to be bold and bring some of the fruit of the land …grapes, pomegranates, and figs.”

Can you imagine the people of God as they first tasted the fruit of the land they would someday soon call their own? Grape juice coursing down smiling faces. As we pass the cup and the bread, and as we gather to eat together, can we also dare to expect that we are indeed tasting the goodness of food from the celebration feast hosted by Jesus - our brother and our God?


Sunday, December 23, 2007

neighborhood feast

Lis and CG worked hard to coordinate our neighborhood christmas dinner.  it was a fantastic banquet with the highlight (for us) being the prayer to end the meeting and offer grace for the meal.  we circled up and all held hands.  very inspiring moment in the midst of a neighborhood that has often been neglected.  thanks for all your work Lis and CG...




coal mining heritage

The following came to me via an email from the tireless MTR activist, Dave Cooper.  it is a stirring testimony from kentucky author, silas house.  please take the 5 minutes to read it...



Kentucky author Silas House (Clay's Quilt, The Coal Tattoo) recently spoke to a group of state legislators who came to see a mountaintop removal mine in eastern Kentucky. I thought his speech was so powerful that I would like to share it with you:  Testimony by author Silas House, Dec. 3, 2007

... Like many others across Kentucky, I have a complicated history with coal. It has marked my family just like it has marked the land. My family was able to rise up out of poverty in large part due to jobs provided by the coal industry. My mother is proud to call herself a coal miner's daughter. My uncles are proud of the many hours they spent underground, on strip jobs, and driving coal out of these mountains. My grandfather lost his leg in a cave-in at a Leslie County mine, never losing consciousness until the doctors at the Hazard hospital knocked him out. He recuperated for six months and then promptly went back into the mines, where he worked for twenty more years. My people are proud of their coal mining heritage, of the hard work they have done in these mountains. None of them got rich from working in the mines, but they were able to make a living, and that was all they were asking for.

I am proud to come from a people who helped to build this nation.

But I also saw another side of coal. I was raised across the road from a sprawling strip mine. For three solid years everyone in my community breathed the dust and grime, put up with the constant blasting, heard the groan of dozers. We watched as the coal company's overloaded trucks destroyed our road and when we complained we were told that our taxes would pay to fix the holes. When the company pulled out they scattered some grass seed that never took, planted a few scrub pines, and left, never looking back. Twenty-some years later, that land is still struggling. Some of it is out-right dead.

Looking back, I learned a lot of lessons from this experience. Although people in our community complained, they were mostly met with silence.

The handful who did get their phone calls returned were given the runaround by their government. We were told that it was our duty to the region, something we had to put up with to support the economy. We were told that complaining about it would cost other people just like us their jobs.

Everybody in my community worked like dogs, raised their children the best they could, stood in line on every election day. Yet it seemed that no one cared about them.

They were a forgotten people. An invisible people.

I developed complicated feelings about the coal industry from these very different experiences. Mostly, I fell in line with other family members, usually justifying the actions of the coal company by reminding myself that we had to support the economy, that Eastern Kentucky couldn't make it without coal. This is what I had been taught.

This is what the companies had brainwashed us to believe to keep us from questioning them.

And then, I went up in an airplane, and at the risk of sounding overdramatic, I have never been the same since. I couldn't believe that such disrespect could be done to the land, to the people, to my heritage.

My convictions only thickened when I heard stories from the people. And I educated myself, researching both sides of the argument, which led me to the conclusion that mountaintop removal is wasteful and disrespectful. That it takes jobs away from the region instead of supplying them. That it epitomizes everything that is wrong with big

business: corporations putting their bottom line before their ethical responsibility.

Mountaintop removal is a case study in greed, in taking from the community without giving back, in instant gratification.

We are at a crossroads here in Kentucky. This issue will prove to be a defining moment for us. We live in a world where our children have very few people to look up to. We live in a society where money is valued more than integrity or respect, or just about anything, to be quite honest. We need heroes. And this is your chance to be someone who stands up for something important, to stand up and say, "This might not be the most popular thing to do, but I'm going to do it anyway because it's right."

In times when people feel invisible to their leaders, they often turn to the artists in their community. That's why so many writers and musicians and photographers and other kinds of artists have become so active in the fight against mountaintop removal: because the people have asked us to. I can't tell you how many people have written to me to thank me for standing up and saying that mountaintop removal is wrong, for speaking out for what I believe in. I also can't tell you how many people have written me nasty letters, or have cussed me out, or have refused to speak to me at family gatherings.

For the last three years I have heard the testimonies of more than four dozen Eastern Kentuckians who are living with mountaintop removal in one way or another.

And every single one of them always finishes by saying: "Tell my story." After the very first person said that to me, that became my responsibility. There was no turning back. Their voices became the burdens of all the artists fighting mountaintop removal.

We felt a moral obligation to tell their stories, to be their voices, to make the invisible visible. But, as artists, we can only do so much.

As our elected representatives, these stories and everything you see today now becomes your burden. By virtue of your constitutional authority, each of you has the ability to truly change people's lives by standing up for your constituents – whether you represent Eastern Kentucky or Western Kentucky or Lexington or Louisville – and saying that they deserve better. That they deserve to be seen and heard. That their land and woods and water and roads deserve respect and protection.

That mountaintop removal is wrong.

That our brothers and sisters living in the shadow of this awful practice are no longer invisible to their leaders.

I know what it's like to feel invisible. I felt invisible the time I was far away from home and somebody called me "a stupid hillbilly." I felt invisible when an editor at a major New York magazine told me a joke about "incestuous Kentuckians". I felt invisible when I overheard a woman in a not-far-away city make fun of the way my mother talked. I felt invisible when I was giving a speech on mountaintop removal in New York and someone stood up and asked if the reason my people were allowing such a thing to take place was because they were so ignorant.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. Our region is invisible everytime one of our politicians blames our water pollution mainly on straight pipes, thereby suggesting that pollution is the fault of Eastern Kentuckians and not the coal industry. We felt invisible when the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee said that he had heard no public outcry against mountaintop removal from the people of Eastern Kentucky, even though we had marched and lobbied in Frankfort and given speeches and sung songs and spoken at community meetings and written to the paper and begged him to help us.

We are entire state of people who feel powerless and unseen by our leaders. And so I thank you for making us feel visible today, for seeing us.

When you are able to do that flyover [of the coalfields], I hope you will see what lies below you with open eyes and an open heart. See all those trailers and houses that sit just at the edge of those sites.

Think about how it would feel if you didn't have any other choice but to live next to such a thing. And think about the people who live there, about the children and the babies and the men and women who work hard and just want to come home and enjoy their little spot of land on this earth. People who have had joys and sorrows and hopes and dreams, who are just trying to do the best they can, to get through the day without hurting anyone. People who are now looking to you to do the right thing.

Look down at the roads and think how we've paid for them over because of corporation coal companies overloading the coal trucks. Realize that those creeks and rivers below you carry the remnants of mountaintop removal to people all over this state and this country.

This is a chance to show our fellows Americans that the stereotype is

wrong: that Kentuckians are not ignorant, that we're not the sacrificial lambs for big business anymore, that we have elected politicians of integrity who are going to stand up for us.

I'm not asking you to ban coal mining. All I'm asking is for you to see the problems that mountaintop removal is causing, to see how it's a sacrilege to the land, to stand up and say, "Now listen, we can mine coal, but we've got to do it with some integrity, with some respect, with some compassion for the land and our people." To vote for more regulations and then to make sure that those restrictions are enforced.

To follow the leadership of Representative Don Pasley and support the Streamsaver Bill when it is introduced next legislature session. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an issue of being informed, of having the courage to do what's right.

Andrew Jackson once said that "one man with courage makes a majority."

You have this golden opportunity to make the invisible seeable, to make the unheard audible. Most of you went into public service because you wanted to do something important, because you wanted to change things, because you wanted to make a difference. These mountains are offering you the perfect opportunity. You've listened to all of us today, you're about to see the devastation done to the land. So now, it's up to you.

We're depending on you. And we thank you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Advent: The Pain of Waiting

I never imagined that waiting at Christmas time could be so painful. This year, I await both the Christ child and, possibly, the appearance of my future brother-in-law. The former I know will come; the latter, well, I'm not getting my hopes up, but Christmas shouldn't be like this. Fear, darkness, some joy, some pain, suffering, waiting. Maybe this is the part that we fail to see when we wonder and rejoice at advent. I wonder if Mary felt all of these things? I wish an angel would come to this family and say that everything is going to be fine. So, this poem flows from the pain of waiting. I know who sees; I know the One who sees even in the darkness. I am glad that Christ's eyes are better than my own.

In the darkness, he cannot see.
Weighed down by years of something
we only know to call pain,
he is drowning himself in shame and guilt.

......A flash of light erupts!......
The sound of rock cracking and boiling
drowns any sense of reason and responsibility.
And the darkness closes in and no one sees the smoke.

A phone rings. And rings. And rings.
A busy signal here, an automated voice there.
The silence is deafening, like the darkness blinding,
and no one is free to let go of anyone.

Despair and fear hook their claws deep;
anger flies like arrows at the wrong targets,
and painfully hits those marks.
And blood and tears flow freely like a river.

No one sees the smoke. No one sees the boy.
No one sees another. No one sees the blood.
No one sees the tears. No one sees.
No one sees. Who is looking? Is anyone seeing?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


As we approach the end of the advent season I am pleased to announce that One Horizon Foundation, in cooperation with Communality, has begun a matching grant program designed to support the amazing work in micro-lending that is being done by Kiva. Kiva is an organization that has been much in the news lately for their remarkable work, and we are happy to announce this matching grant program on the Ashram in an effort to encourage even more people to get involved with Kiva. If you feel so led please include links to this page on your blog or feel free to republish this post on your own blog. We want to get the word out so that we can get more people involved and by so doing invest the $3000 in matching grant money that we have. The directions for becoming a part of the OHF matching grant program are below. Please feel free to e-mail me (at the address below or with any questions that you might have, or feel free to go to the One Horizon Foundation website if you want to find out more about our wider work ( Thanks for considering becoming a partner!

Kiva/OHF matching grant program:

1. Person (any person) chooses to invest money in Kiva entrepreneur.

2. Lender establishes a profile on the Kiva site, lends money ($25) to an entrepreneur of their choice, and receives an e-mail confirmation of loan from Kiva. Follow the weblink below to the first entrepreneur to receive OHF matching grant funds, or simply Google Kiva.

3. When you make a Kiva loan you will get an e-mail confirmation of the loan from Kiva. The next step is for the Lender to forward the e-mail of the loan confirmation and amount to OHF. Any questions or concerns that a potential lender has should also be forwarded to this address. The address is as follows:

4. OHF then matches the loan amount, up to $100, by lending to the same entrepreneur or someone in the same general region if loan amount for the entrepreneur has already been funded. Kiva currently allows you to lend a maximum of $25 to a particular entrepreneur, so by the guidelines of the OHF program you can lend to up to four different entrepreneurs ($100). The OHF matching grant program has a ceiling of $3,000 for the current fiscal year and will conclude at such time as this ceiling is achieved for 2007-08 (A grand total of $6000 would then be invested!). Our desire is to make this a yearly program and build it up over an extended period of time; if we are able to achieve this goal then the OHF/lender match program to Kiva could become a substantial pool of capital over a period of years. Our first concrete goal will be funding the initial $3,000 matching grant.

5. OHF matching grant funds will remain permanently invested in Kiva entrepreneurs. When/if loan is successfully repaid OHF money will be reinvested in another Kiva entrepreneur and will remain a permanent legacy of the original lender. The original lender may choose to withdraw his/her money on completion of the loan term or reinvest it. Withdrawal of money by original lender (upon successful loan repayment) will have no impact on OHF matching grant funds.

Advent IV: Conceive

In this final week of Advent, almost upon the inbreaking of Christmas, we conceive 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 the re:creation that starts with Jesus and continues with us.  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.

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 obediently 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.
  • read these scriptures and let them shape your imagining: Isaiah 2:1-5, Isaiah 11:1-10, Isaiah 35:1-10.

Monday, December 17, 2007

annual chili cookoff

over the weekend we witnessed another wonderful gathering for chili, carol singing, and neighborliness.  this annual event was hosted this year by john and katheryn.  thanks to everyone who made it happen....



chili judge


divorce bad for the planet

"Forget about staying together for the sake of the kids.  Researchers have a new reason: Do it for the planet.  An analysis of data on domestic relations and resource use in the United States and 11 other countries shows that divorce leads to more households, so more land gets built up and more building materials are used."

the rest of the this interesting article is here

the focus of the article is divorce but speaks to the wider question of living in community...

Sunday, December 16, 2007


i'm currently reading this book called 'thanks' by robert emmons.  it is an exploration of the science of happiness.  emmons is making the case for the measurable positive value of gratitude in human psychology.  he goes beyond the idea that being thankful is nice, polite, or appropriate and argues forcefully that it is essential for mental health and for a civil society.

i am finding his arguments compelling and obviously echoed throughout all major religious traditions.  here are a few quotes (in bold) and notes that might be stimulating...(more to come when i read the second half of the book).

"[recognition] is more than politeness or superficial thanks... recognition is the quality that permits gratitude to be transformational" (p.5)

"Gratitude binds people together in relationships of reciprocity - it is the building block of a civil society." (p.9)

Ingratitude leads inevitably to a confining, restricting, and shrinking sense of self and to emotions such as anger, resentment, envy, and bitterness. (p.10)

"When people report feeling grateful, thankful, and appreciative, they also report feeling more loving, forgiving, joyful, and enthusiastic.  These deep affections appear to be formed through the discipline of gratitude" (p.11)

Joy is not a biologically set point, ie. one cannot discount another's joy as natural - 'they are just happier individuals'.  the research shows that people can and do improve their default happiness state. (p.11)

We must develop ways to affirm gratefulness - to 'want what we have'. (p.12)

Studies show that American males generally show very little gratitude - because to do so would imply dependency and indebtedness.  American men do not like to be reminded they need others. (p.15)

Gratitude is a chosen attitude - not a response to what you get (a contrast to happiness which is more often related to happenings) (p.17)

To say that gratitude is a choice is not to say it is easy.  things that block our ability to be grateful are...a sense of being victimized, an inability to admit ones shortcomings, a sense of entitlement, an inability to admit that one is not self-sufficient. (p.18)

"In a culture that celebrates self-aggrandizement and perceptions of deservingness, gratitude can be crowded out.  it is also easy to see how gratitude can have a difficult time surviving in a culture that celebrates consumption.  But in gratitude we recognize that we are not ultimately producers and consumers but, above all, the recipients of gifts" (p.18) 

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." (p.18)

depression is inversely proportional to gratitude. (p.40)

"consumerism fuels ingratitude." (p.43)

"Gratitude requires that we affirm our dependency on others and recognize that we need to receive that which we cannot provide for ourselves." (p.54)

Friday, December 14, 2007


i just finished reading a fascinating book called 'the naked brain' by richard restak.  he argues that the relatively new science of neurology is shaping to radically transform our expectations and observation of society (or what he calls 'neurosociety').  he describes the common left hemisphere/right hemisphere analysis as dated and suggests a far more useful way of analyzing human behavior is to examine the different and complementary functions of the front and back of the brain.

anyway, i found his most interesting chapters looked at the profound influence we have on each others brains.  he argues that we effect each other at the most basic level and our 'mirror neurons' function in such a way that, "the neat division between you and me breaks down and we form a unit in which each of us is influencing the other's action at the level of imagination" (p.59). 

Wow.  is it any wonder the scriptures bang on about the importance of holiness and righteousness in our dealings with one another.  it's sobering to think that we can be having such a powerful influence with the moods we unleash on one another.  in fact, people who spend a lot of time together over many years (eg. spouses) even begin to look like one another - facial expressions are mimicked unconsciously and over time mirrored wrinkles and creases form on partner's faces.

another and related insight from the book was restak's argument that the human brain has a strong bias toward negative ideas and thoughts.  it is thought said bias is an evolutionary advantage - we are more ready for things that might injure or kill us if we are imagining the worst. 

it follows that if we are to be hopeful, creative, and joyful jesus-followers we will need to be very intentional about our thought-lives.  we're up against some seriously embedded neural-negativity.  no wonder becoming the vibrant, hopeful, loving people of God we want to be is hard work.  our brains are working against us  :)


goodbye melissa


we gathered on wednesday night to celebrate melissa as she leaves us for Houston.  here are some pics from the evening.  to see more, go here




Thursday, December 13, 2007

Interesting article.....

It looks like we're not doing so bad here in Lexington.......

a passage from barth

this is an excerpt for the dec 13th from the much-enjoyed advent book called "watch for the light":

"We must once and for all give up trying to be self-made individuals.  Let us cease preaching by ourselves, being right by ourselves, doing good by ourselves, being sensible by ourselves, improving the world by ourselves.  God wants to do everything, certainly through us and with us and never without us; but our participation in what he does must naturally originate and grow out of his power, not ours.  O, how we could then speak with one another.  For whatever does not grow out of God produces smoke, not fire.  But that which is born of God overcomes the world (1 John 5:4)."

see this week's reading - james 5:1-10; 2 peter 3:13-15


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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.

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.

Monday, December 03, 2007

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.

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.

We hope to go beyond remembering this Advent season. We want to do more than recall the events of 2000 years ago. We hope to learn what it means for us to be re-made and re-formed as if this incarnation was as close to you in time and space as the skin on your hands and the tears in your eyes. Our being welcomed by and welcoming Messiah should quicken us with the same present-tense energy as today’s headlines.

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 vulnerable and open up your sins and struggles with him or her.

Read Romans 15:1-13..."welcome one another!"

words from merton

The Merton Reflection for the Week of December 3, 2007

Unfortunately, the true Christian concept of love has sometimes been discredited by those who have sentimentalized it, or formalized it in one way or another. A sincere subjective disposition to love everyone does not dispense from energetic and sacrificial social action to restore violated rights to the oppressed, to create work for the workless, so that the hungry may eat and that everyone may have a chance to earn a decent wage. It has unfortunately been all too easy in the past for the man who is well fed to entertain the most laudable sentiments of love for his neighbor, while ignoring the fact that his brother is struggling to solve insoluble and tragic problems.
Mere almsgiving is no longer adequate, especially if it is only a gesture which seems to dispense from all further and more efficacious social action. This is not always, of course, a question of genuine insincerity: but the "good works" that measured up to the needs of small medieval communities can no longer serve in the fantastic and worldwide crisis that is sweeping all mankind today, when the population of the world is counted in billions, which double in forty, twenty, and then fifteen years. In such a case, the dimensions of Christian love must be expanded and universalized on the same scale as the human problem that is to be met. The individual gesture, however commendable, will no longer suffice.

Thomas Merton. "Christian Humanism" in Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, editors. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979: 124.