Saturday, March 29, 2008

a couple of books

i wanted to recommend a couple of books i read recently.  i wish i could make the time to write proper reviews but i would rather be doing other things and my point would be ultimately to just say, "these are great, you should read them!"

The first is Tom Sine's latest offering, "The New Conspirators".  Tom does a brilliant job of surveying much of what God is up to in the next generation of church as it shapes up in North America and Western Europe (and those little islands called Australia and New Zealand).  I was particularly glad to see the way Tom, at the same time, listens to the people involved in the various 'stream', offers his own opinion about their relative strengths and weaknesses, and unpacks a little of the theological/missional imagination at work across several cultural contexts.  Because Tom (and Christine) are such wonderful servants - active in and pastors and wise friends of so many different groups - one gets the impression this is an accessible, inside-take as much as it is a scholarly survey.  But that is not to say it is light reading.  Tom brings a depth and breadth of practice and reflection to his writing that one is very aware we are just getting the tip of the research-iceberg.  this book would be ideal for reading in a cell group or sunday school class (or whatever it is you bright young things call it now days) as it contains discussion questions and items for action.  if you are even a little bit interested in the work of God in the (western) world, this is a must-read.

The second book is called, "Free to be Bound" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  The book is essentially biographical insofar as Jonathan explores the issue of church, race, and justice through his own life and vocation.  The first thing i would want to report about this book is that Jonathan writes beautifully.  He is a really gifted story-teller and has an almost magical way of dealing with very intense and difficult issues with profound grace and tenderness.  If you know Jonathan this will come as no surprise - he is a supremely gracious and kind person.  As a stranger in this strange land i found his discourse on race-relations very helpful and i appreciated his accounts about the 'inner life' of his church.  With the recent Obama speech on race and the ever-present undertow of racial inequality across this country, now is a perfect time to read this book.  be warned, there are no quick-fix answers, yet Jonathan will show a way forward for the careful reader longing for hope across 'the color line'.

ps: if you want to read either/both of these books, let me know and you can borrow our copies.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter's Whisper

This is a little Eastery, but I've been trying to contemplate the fullness of what it might mean for a few weeks now, which probably means that it will last a while after Easter, too.

In the pause, where light shades into darkness
and time inhales,
when angels crouch upon the precipice
in electric anticipation, all is still.
Before the moment that strikes and time exhales,
magic and mystery blur reality,
and love and justice and peace
stand, waiting, in the foyer of day's dawning.
Here I sit, as a prophet, once, on a mountain sat,
waiting, wondering how the voice might speak.
Witnessing the whirlwind, earthquake, and fire,
finding they lacked meaning and speech.
Then, a whisper. And light breaks into darkness,
and time exhales and angels leap from their crouchings;
love and justice and peace flow as a might river
and in reply, I pray -

"Cast me as the echo of your whisper."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

obama and coal

i thought this was a great article.  here are the first two paragraphs and you can follow the link to read the whole thing.  a well timed challenge to obama in light of one of our regions most pressing justice issues - mountain top removal.      (geoff)

Beyond Race: Obama's Green Opportunity

In the eyes of most pundits, the upcoming primaries in Appalachia -- including western Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia -- will most likely deal a blow to Sen. Barack Obama's ability to transcend the brewing racial quagmire in presidential politics. Didn't Sen. Hillary Clinton score a landslide victory among white voters in rural and Appalachian areas of Ohio? Conventional wisdom says Obama will never have a chance in "redneck" Appalachia, even among the Democrats.

Perhaps. But Appalachia could also provide Obama a historic opportunity to move beyond our racial politics with a truly new vision. Instead of offering worn out ideas for poverty relief, like Clinton, or succumbing to the anachronistic schemes of the dying coal lobby, Obama should shatter these artificial racial boundaries by proposing a New "Green" Deal to revamp the region and bridge a growing chasm between bitterly divided Democrats, and call for an end to mountaintop removal policies that have led to impoverishment and ruin in the coal fields.

Monday, March 24, 2008

a School for Conversion


we are excited to be hosting our third School for Conversion.  You can register here if you are willing and able to come.

here's the scoop: 

April 11th-13th, Lexington, Kentucky.  eating, serving, learning, reflecting, listening, conversing, being converted.

easter monday poem

i published this last year at easter...thought it was so good i'm posting it again (thanks to marcus curnow for giving me this last year).


by Michael Symmons Roberts
(from Corpus, Cape Publishing, 2004)

Food for Risen Bodies – I

A rare dish is right for those who
have lain bandaged in a tomb for weeks:
quince and quail to demonstrate
that fruit and birds still grow on trees,
eels to show that fish still needle streams.
Rarer still, some blind white crabs,
not bleached but blank, from such
a depth of ocean that the sun would drown
if it approached them. Two-thirds
of the earth is sea; and two-thirds of that sea
- away from currents, coasts and reefs -
is lifeless, colourless, pure weight.

Food for Risen Bodies – II

On that final night, his meal was formal:
lamb with bitter leaves of endive, chervil,
bread with olive oil and jars of wine.
Now on Tiberias' shores he grills
a carp and catfish breakfast on a charcoal fire.
This is not hunger, this is resurrection:
he eats because he can, and wants to
taste the scales, the moist flakes of the sea,
to rub the salt into his wounds.

Food for Risen Bodies – III
Generations back, a hoard of peaches,
apricots and plums was laid down
for the day of resurrection; treats for all
those dry tongues, soil-caked palates.
Fruit was picked, clad, crated,
shelved in beech sheds.
doors were sealed with wax, padlocked
and left. Children’s children waited.
In the sheds, each fruit still lies
cocooned in careful shrouds of vine-leaves,
tissue, moss. Each is now a dark, sweet
twist of gum, as sharp as scent.
Outside, stripped trees as light as balsa
ring the sheds and knit into each others
roots to stand. Mosquitoes cloud,
as if they sense a storm.

Food for Risen Bodies – IV
The men they silenced
-now heads of tables –
slit their stitched lips free
as if to kiss and bless
the dinner knives.
They whisper grace
through open wounds.

Food for Risen Bodies – V

Cautious and clean-shaven
all his life, the next world
woke him gaunt and stubbled
by the shrinkage of his skin.
He turned down the banquet
-broth to brie – ‘Later, later’,
and went straight for the cigarettes.
Do you have any with filters?’
Food for Risen Bodies – VI

Abeja blanca zumbas – ebria de miel – en mi alma
-Pablo Neruda
No longer ravenous, they smoke
and sip. Some carry tables out
to get a feel for sun on skin again.
More words are coming back,
so there’s a lot of naming.
Old ones still hold good – oak,
brook, crab, sycamore – but more
are needed now. They mull
potential titles for these new
white bees, as sharp as stars
against the ivories of cherry
or magnolia. Word gets round
the bees were new creations
made in honor of a poet,
so they wait for him to choose.
He’s in no hurry, cups them
in his hands, weighs up the tenor
of their hum. The sun brings colour
to the diners’ sallow skins.
Although these bodies were not
theirs before, there are resemblances,
and flesh retains a memory
even beyond death, so every
lovers touch, each blow or cut
is rendered into echo on the hand,
the lips, the neck. Some fall silent,
while their own phenomenology
is mapped across them.
Others look astonished
expecting their new skin to be
a blank sheet, but the man
who went ahead to find a route
for them came back with wounds
intact and palpable. No pain,
but a record nonetheless, a history
of love and war in blank tattoos.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

holy week...awaiting the resurrection

here are some pictures of our holy week (so far - i missed the good friday service so i'm sorry i have no images from that gathering).  you can click on any of the photos to see some more at my flickr page.



holy week - foot washing

holy week - foot washing


holy week - passover

holy week - passover

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lazarus at Our Gate

* my dad sent me this from a CMDA newsletter.  (Sherry)

At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. (Lk 16:20-21)

Peter Yok was only 11 years old when Muslim soldiers attacked his Christian village in southern Sudan. Like thousands of young Sudanese, Peter was permanently separated from his parents and other family members. After spending several years in a refugee camp in a neighboring African country, Peter was granted permission to immigrate to the United States. On arriving he was given a few hundred dollars to pay for food and the rent on a sparse apartment in a declining section of town. Having received some instruction in English while in the refugee camp, Peter was able to secure low-wage employment in a factory that was accessible by bus. He was granted Medicaid health insurance for nine months. Apart from the emergency room at the nearby county hospital, there were no primary health providers near his apartment willing to accept his Medicaid insurance.

Across the globe and around the corner, we have the poor at our gates. While Americans enjoy an unrivaled standard of living, 2.8 billion people (47% of the world), live on less than two dollars a day.1 Here at home, 12% of Americans live at or below the established poverty level, the majority of those being women and children.

The collective hardship and suffering of so many people, particularly women and children, is so overwhelming that many of us have chosen to turn away. Our ability to do so is facilitated by the fact that we can live our lives without having much real contact with the poor. For some Christian physicians and dentists, our affluent suburbs, social organizations, educational institutions, and even churches make it possible to largely avoid meaningful interaction with the needy, except in distant or token ways. Such a world makes it easier to forget the needs of the poor and subsequently accumulate more for the purposes of personal and family consumption. One generation of affluent Christians teaches the next generation, by virtue of the economic choices they make, to build prosperous and protected lives. Without careful consideration, we can unknowingly blend in comfortably with our self-directed culture. In that case, we neither honor God, nor help our needy neighbors.

O God, please help me open my eyes to Lazarus at my gate!

1 World Bank PovertyNet,

Adapted from Practice by the Book.

You can read all CMDA weekly devotions online at


I came across this poem today in a prayer book I'm reading.


Long, long, long ago;
Way before this winter’s snow
First fell upon these weathered fields;
I used to sit and watch and feel
And dream of how the spring would be,
When through the winter’s stormy sea
She’d raise her green and growing head,
Her warmth would resurrect the dead.

Long before this winter’s snow
I dreamt of this day’s sunny glow
And thought somehow my pain would pass
With winter’s pain, and peace like grass
Would simply grow. (But) The pain’s not gone.
It’s still as cold and hard and long
As lonely pain has ever been,
It cuts so deep and fear within.

Long before this winter’s snow
I ran from pain, looked high and low
For some fast way to get around
Its hurt and cold. I’d have found,
If I had looked at what was there,
That things don’t follow fast or fair.
That life goes on, and times do change,
And grass does grow despite life’s pains.

Long before this winter’s snow
I thought that this day’s sunny glow,
The smiling children and growing things
And flowers bright were brought by spring.
Now, I know the sun does shine,
That children smile, and from the dark, cold, grime
A flower comes. It groans, yet sings,
And through its pain, its peace begins.
---Mary Ann Bernard

My relationship with my mother has often been difficult, frequently characterized by pain we are causing one another. The past few weeks, we have together mourned the death of a beloved dog that has been a part of our family for many years. Memories of his life are tied to many other memories of happier times in the life of my family. Much pain has surfaced. For me,and I think for my mother as well, more than just his death has been mourned. But out of that pain and death, something beautiful has been growing. The love my mother and I share has been given new life.

Thanks be to God for the hope we have in the Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

food shortage?

when my dad sends me an email i usually open it, only to see that it's a forward, and quickly delete it. this one caught my eye. it's an interesting article about the rising price of food. it might be worth a look-over.

could we really run out of food?

he sent this to encourage us to keep gardening.

merton thoughts

In Louisville, on a corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers...I have the immense joy of being human, a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. If only Everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is not way of telling people that they are all walking around Shining like the Sun!

Thomas Merton. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday): 156

Friday, March 14, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nicely Put

I've made a great new friend here in Durham. Last night, she and I had dinner with my advisor and his wife and talked about community, the kingdom, and living faithfully. At one point, she quipped, "Well, community is basically a necessity to keep you from disappearing up your own arse."


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

lights out

More than 88,000 individuals and over 5,000 businesses have taken this pledge ---
Please consider signing it --- turning your lights off for one hour -- from 8- 9 PM (local time)
on March 29th -- to show that we support legislation to stop global warming NOW--

The truth is found underground......

I thought that I would share this pretty fascinating passage from a book that I'm reading called Cradle to Cradle:Remaking the Way We Make Things, by Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart. In the book the authors argue that it is not good enough to simply use less of a "bad thing," but that we need to totally redesign the way that we live and how we make things so that materials can be used continuously and the "flow" of materials and resources will be mutually beneficial and reinforcing. As an example they give this amazing description:

"Consider a community of ants. As part of their daily activity, they:

-safely and effectively handle their own material wastes and those of other species
-grow and harvest their own food while nurturing the ecosystem of which they are a part
-construct houses, farms, dumps, cemeteries, living quarters, and food-storage facilities from materials that can be truly recycled
-create disinfectants and medicines that are healthy, safe, and biodegradable

Individually we are much larger than ants, but collectively their biomass exceeds ours. Just as there is almost no corner of the globe untouched by human presence, there is almost no land habitat, from harsh desert to inner city, untouched by some species of ant. They are a good example of a population whose density and productiveness are not a problem for the rest of the world, because everything they make and use returns to the cradle-to-cradle cycles of nature. All their materials, even their most deadly chemical weapons, are biodegradable, and when they return to the soil, they supply nutrients, restoring in the process some of those that were taken to support the colony. Ants also recycle the wastes of other species; leaf-cutter ants, for example, collect decomposing matter from the Earth's surface, carry it down into their colonies, and use it to feed the fungus gardens that they grow underground for food. During their movements and activities, they transport minerals to upper layers of soil, where plant life and fungi can use them as nutrients. They turn and aerate the soil and make passageways for water drainage, playing a vital role in maintaining soil fecundity and health. They truly are, as biologist E.O. Wilson has pointed out, the little things that run the world. But although they may run the world, they do not overrun it. Like the cherry tree, they make the world a better place (pg.80-81)"

Monday, March 10, 2008

what we don't see

i've gotten hold of ryan's copy of wendell berry's "andy catlett."  in this work of fiction, berry recounts a childhood like his own.  it is a sweet remembrance and a delightful read.  it is set in the period of world war II.  in it, a nine year old boy relishes a trip to his grandparents' farm and his relationships with the farm hands.  in one conversation the boy has with the wife (sarah jane) of a beloved black worker (dick), berry gives us a moving and eloquently forceful reflection about issues of race:

"but not everything she told me came from the realm of wonder.  she also spoke that day, as she often did, of the rights that her people had been promised but had never been given.  she was my first preceptor in the matters of race and civil rights.  because i always listened attentively to her, everything she said struck in.  she made me feel responsible, for i knew, as she required me to know, that i was a product of my culture; but i felt it vaguely, for i could not precisely locate in myself the cause of the injury.  i had no ill will toward her or dick, or in fact toward any of the black people i knew, and besides, if i were greatly to blame, why was she so nice to me?

both the sense of responsibility and the perhaps necessary vagueness have stayed with me until now.  starting probably with those conversations so long ago with aunt sarah jane, i have learned to understand the old structure of racism as a malevolent convention, the malevolence of which is hard to locate in the conscious intentions of most people.  it was a circumstance that was mostly taken for granted.  it was inexcusable, and yet we had the formidable excuse of being used to it.  it was an injustice both accommodated and varyingly obscured not only by daily custom, but also by the exigencies and preoccupations of daily life.  we left the issue alone, not exactly by ignoring it, but by observing an elaborate etiquette that permitted us to ignore it.  white people who wished to think well of themselves did not use the language of racial insult in front of black people.  but the problem for us white people, as we had finally to understand, was that we could not be selectively complicit.  to be complicit at all, even thoughtlessly by custom, was to be complicit in the whole extent and reach of the injustice.  it is hard for a customary indifference to unstick itself from the abominations to which it tacitly consents.  but we were used to it.  what is hardest to get used to maybe, once you are aware, is the range of things humans are able to get used to."

i think these words of art capture a bit of the magnitude of unreconciled differences between races, the unacknowledged power within society and the gap that stands, even today, between comprehension and action.  as i begin to contemplate the gospel work of reconciliation in our neighborhood, this passage brings me painful humility (and humiliation).  it also demonstrates wendell berry's almost unending capacity for the prophetic.


good words from merton

We must in all things seek God. But we do not seek Him the way we seek a lost object, a "thing." He is present to us in our heart, in our personal subjectivity, and to seek Him is to recognize this fact. Yet we cannot be aware of it as a reality unless He reveals His presence to us. He does not reveal Himself simply in our own heart. He reveals Himself to us in the Church, in the community of believers, in the koinonia of those who trust Him and love Him.

Seeking God is not just an operation of the intellect, or even a contemplative illumination of the mind. We seek God by striving to surrender ourselves to Him whom we do not see, but Who is in all things and through all things and above all things.

Thomas Merton. Seasons of Celebration. (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950): 223-224.


To live for oneself alone is to die. We grow and flourish in our own lives in so far as we live for others and through others. What we ourselves lack, God has given them. They must complete us where we are deficient. Hence we must always remain open to one another so that we can always share with each other.

Seasons of Celebration: 229

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

tortured wonders (short) review


i just finished reading 'Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for people, Not Angels" by Rodney Clapp.  the basic premise of the book is that much of the spirituality (and related disciplines) we are offered as christians is falsely anchored in the idea that we are (at best) body-less beings.  we are just waiting to shed this fleshy part of us so we can "be all we can be".  Clapp argues throughout that 'the flesh' is something not only to be celebrated in the present but shows through scripture and theology/history that there is a radical and surprising continuity between this body and the body we will receive in the fullness of god's time (he masterfully incorporates pop culture icons, great artists, church fathers, and scripture).  Clapp claims that is perspective on the body (in light of the resurrection) is "generous, orthodox christian spirituality."  by no means does he fail to face up to much of the pain and struggle of our mortal coils.  the second half of the book is an unflinching examination of death, disease, sex, and body image (exercise, diet, etc.) 

other highlight for me were Clapp's discussion of the eucharist and his passionate, clever, and amusing chapter, "Jesus and the grotesque" (chapter 9).  the grotesque chapter included a subheading, "a spirituality that breaks wind"...what's not to like about that!

low-lights were infrequent but overall i felt like his bias toward augustine might have been moderated with some more reflection on irenaeus (he did use irenaeus some so this critique probably just exposes my own bias).  Clapp also missed the chance to draw out his celebration of human createdness to all of the created order.  this also has huge missional implications that were scarcely mentioned.  instead Clapp seemed satisfied to limit his discussion to 'the church' which had me wondering about the missio dei and a more expansive vision for the kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.  on page 220 he summarizes christian spirituality as, "participation and formation in the life of the church", which i feel comes up short of God's already-work of redeeming the whole cosmos - where else might god be at work to spiritually form his creation.  but, the book was already 256 pages and he probably needed to stop.

overall, i highly recommend this book, especially if you are interested in another angle on the fleshy spirituality that people like Tom Wright are bumping their gums about.  great easter reading...we are a resurrection people!

Monday, March 03, 2008


exciting times in several communality gardens with seedleaves and sprouts all over the place.  i heard the Graham's have some spinach growing, the Koch's have seedlings up.  hoorah.  bring on the spring.  anyone else getting some green growth?

first seedlings 08

Sunday, March 02, 2008

closing doors

being a part of this intentional community has raised many questions for us about how it is we express our fidelity to God, each other, and this place called lexington, kentucky.  we can take our love for God on the road and we can even honor our commitment to people we live far away from (in a sort or email-y, phone call-y, diminished way).  however, it seems to me one of the most difficult things to do is vow fidelity to a place.  making a covenant with God expressed in an unwavering commitment to a particular place seems like a reckless act that undermines opportunity for bigger and better things and places. we all want to keep our options open.  hyper-mobility is a treasure of this age so to say that one is sticking around "till death do us part" is a very provocative and offensive act.  i hasten to point out that i think staying with intentionality is a qualitative leap from sticking around because it is easier or makes sense.  'staying', done well, is a energy-drenched-action that requires every bit as much determination and willingness to be unsettled as does 'going'.  you might even say that in this time of unparalleled mobility, staying (with intentionality) is the new going.  will has suggested that one of the most daring things we can do as missionaries is to tell our neighbors that we are going to be living next to them "till death do us part".  a powerful challenge.

So, i was interested to read this article in the New York Times that suggests closing doors of opportunity might actually be the most sane thing to do.  here's a clip from the piece and you can read the whole article here.  closing doors and welcoming continuity in our living situations might be an important missional ethic for the church that is emerging - but it might be one of the most difficult.

So what can be done? One answer, Dr. Ariely said, is to develop more social checks on overbooking. He points to marriage as an example: “In marriage, we create a situation where we promise ourselves not to keep options open. We close doors and announce to others we’ve closed doors.”

Or we can just try to do it on our own. Since conducting the door experiments, Dr. Ariely says, he has made a conscious effort to cancel projects and give away his ideas to colleagues. He urges the rest of us to resign from committees, prune holiday card lists, rethink hobbies and remember the lessons of door closers like Xiang Yu.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

'clean' coal?

this article will appear in the Washington Post as an opinion piece tomorrow.  it is an excellent piece that exposes some of the falsehood that surrounds energy policy.  i have clipped the start of the article below. 

(btw, the author of this piece, Jeff Biggers, has co-edited one of my favorite books about a forgotten hero of this part of the world, Don West.  if you are interested in Southern-preacher-activist-types who are way ahead of their time, check out the book here)


'Clean' Coal?  Don't try to Shovel That   By Jeff Biggers

Sunday, March 2, 2008; Page B02

Every time I hear our political leaders talk about "clean coal," I think about Burl, an irascible old coal miner in West Virginia. After 35 years underground, he struggled to conjure enough breath to match his storytelling verve, as if the iron hoops of a whiskey barrel had been strapped around his lungs. In 1983, during my first visit to Appalachia as a young man, Burl rolled up his pants and showed me the leg that had been mangled in a mining accident. The scars snaked down to his ankles.

"My grandpa barely survived an accident in the mines in southern Illinois," I told him. "He had these blue marks and bits of coal buried in his face."

"Coal tattoo," Burl wheezed. "Don't let anyone ever tell you that coal is clean."

Clean coal: Never was there an oxymoron more insidious, or more dangerous to our public health. Invoked as often by the Democratic presidential candidates as by the Republicans and by liberals and conservatives alike, this slogan has blindsided any meaningful progress toward a sustainable energy policy.

Democrats excoriated President Bush last month when he released a budget calling for more -- billions more -- in funds to reduce carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants to create "clean coal." But hardly a hoot could be heard about his proposed cuts to more practical investments in solar energy, hydrogen fuel and home energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, leading Democrats were up in arms over the Energy Department's recent decision to abandon the $1.8 billion FutureGen project in eastern Illinois, planned as the first coal-fired plant to capture and store harmful carbon dioxide emissions. Energy Department officials, unlike politicians, had to confront the spiraling costs of this fantasy.

Orwellian language has led to Orwellian politics. With the imaginary vocabulary of "clean coal," too many Democrats and Republicans, as well as a surprising number of environmentalists, have forgotten the dirty realities of extracting coal from the earth. Pummeled by warnings that global warming is triggering the apocalypse, Americans have fallen for the ruse of futuristic science that is clean coal. And in the meantime, swaths of the country are being destroyed before our eyes.

Here's the hog-killing reality that a coal miner like Burl or my grandfather knew firsthand: No matter how "cap 'n trade" schemes pan out in the distant future for coal-fired plants, strip mining and underground coal mining remain the dirtiest and most destructive ways of making energy.

Coal ain't clean. Coal is deadly.

(read the rest of the article here)