Friday, December 10, 2010

More thoughts on last post

I got an e-mail response the other day to my last post asking an important question. The respondent was asking me for more detailed thoughts on my views of the "conquest" narrative in Joshua in the light of the (obvious) conflict it creates with the teachings of Jesus-and very significant portions of the rest of scripture(something I purposely acknowledged in my post). There are many different opinions and approaches that people take in their views on this matter. Personally, I'm not sure that there can ever be any definitive answer to the overall question-the why question (aside from declaring the book non-canonical-an approach that seems to me to be quite close to procrustean reasoning). My purpose in referencing the "conquest" narrative was to openly acknowledge (and confess) it while at the same time asserting that the "hermeneutical trajectory" of scripture, and indeed God's actual work in the world through the life of Jesus, goes in exactly the opposite direction. It seems to me that whatever ambiguity-in terms of the "Divine" character-exists in regard to the Joshua narrative (and other "violent" OT narratives) is more than surpassed in the theological clarity and actual practice of the life of Jesus (and in the core eschatological vision of the Prophets). I know that this does not completely resolve or erase the issue. But I think it does serve to highlight the stark contrast between where that narrative enters the story and where God chooses to complete the story. In my opinion, among other important things, this gives the very ugly narrative in Joshua a kind of "reflexive" quality wherein we are called, perhaps, to look at the nature of ourselves-to see ourselves in that very narrative. What do I mean?

I've been unambiguous about my belief that the overall teaching of the Torah, Prophets, Gospels and Epistles, make it quite clear that God's vision for the future of his creation is to see the end of all forms of violence and all the manifold ways that nations and people use violence and systemic forms of oppression (often codified and expressed in the form of law) to divide, separate and subjugate others (including "creation")-principally for the self-interested gain of some person, group of persons or nation. I think that Jesus' teaching, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, is very clear on these points; and his actions were even more resolute. It is in this sense that the "conquest narrative" (and related violence in scripture) takes on a "reflexive" quality for me, viz. the "object" of our examination in this instance, the "conquest," refers or bends back upon us, who we are, and prompts the difficult question, "Are we really, truly, any different in the way that we live and act in the world?" In order to judge that story and have any type of moral indignation about it, don't we first have to be substantially different from it? When Jesus says, "First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye,", I think he is pointing to the critical importance of being able to do this kind of reflexive self-examination. And this becomes much more difficult when Jesus teaches that even having a harsh word to say to your brother is essentially tantamount to murder. When we look at the "conquest" narrative (and all of the hideous violence that's falsely been predicated upon such grounds) it is easy to feel justified in conducting a "moral inventory" of God. Is that our job? Perhaps that is part of our job (or maybe part of the Job in us!). Whatever the case, I'm confident that the narrative and the God behind it can bear the weight of reflection. But for me this is the more important question: who's going to do our "moral inventory?"

After the Holocaust of WWII, with the formation of the UN, the world was introduced to the phrase "Never Again!" Since the entrance of that phrase into the world vocabulary-and the shared commitment that it was meant to symbolize-some experts estimate that there have been over three-dozen cases of organized mass-murder, with almost everyone agreeing that there have been at least 7 instances of full-blown genocide. So, what is my point? I believe that in his teaching Jesus is trying to direct us to the fundamental truth that all violent catastrophe and injury in the world (whether to persons or eco-systems) begins and grows from the smallest instances of neglect, abuse, withholding of affection or nurture, dereliction of duty to others for the sake of self-interest (or national interest),etc. When all of these sins of omission and commission become "aggregated" at national or international levels they become enormous crimes against person or planet that make us feel helpless and overwhelmed. What can we do to stop such things? What is the point in trying when the crimes are so enormous and when we didn't commit them in the first place? I think Jesus is trying to tell us that he wants us to be responsible for the whole plot, to follow his example and quit trying to avoid responsibility for the "sins of the whole world" that he gladly accepted-and not just doing this in the abstract sense of "life after death," but in the joy and the misery of the "here and now." But we can't do that unless we're willing to take the hard look inside and stop covering over our own fundamental refusal to "bear the sins of the world" by highlighting or using as an excuse the "sins" of someone else-or the painful lingering questions about our own God.

I know that I've opened a lot of big questions and have only begun to sketch some basic thoughts. I sincerely appreciate the comments and e-mails and want to continue the discussion. I wanted to share one final thought that was brought to mind by some of the questions raised by the last post. This is something from Soren Kierkegaard that I love and thought was apropos in this instance:

What is the difference between criticism of a text and radical
accountability to it?
“Imagine a country. A royal command is issued to all of the office-bearers and subjects, in short, to the whole population. A remarkable change comes over them all: they all become interpreters, the office-bearers become authors, every blessed day there comes out an interpretation more learned than the last, more acute, more elegant, more profound, more ingenious, more wonderful, more charming, and more wonderfully charming. Criticism which ought to survey the whole can hardly attain survey of this prodigious literature, indeed criticism itself has become a literature so prolix that it is impossible to attain a survey of the criticism. Everything became interpretation-but no one read the royal command with a view to acting in accordance with it. And it was not only that everything became interpretation, but at the same time the point of view for determining what seriousness is was altered, and to be busy about interpretation became real seriousness. Suppose that this king was not a human king-for though a human king would understand well enough that they were making a fool of him by giving the affair this turn, yet as a human king he is dependent, especially when he encounters the united front of office-bearers and subjects, and so he would be compelled to put the best face on a bad game, to let it seem as if all this were a matter of course, so that the most elegant interpreter would be rewarded by elevation to the peerage, the most acute would be knighted, etc.-Suppose that this king was almighty, one therefore who is not put to embarrassment though all the office-bearers and all the subjects play him false. What do you suppose this almighty king would think about such a thing? Surely he would say, “The fact that they do not comply with the commandment, even that I might forgive; moreover, if they united in a petition that I might have patience with them, or perhaps relieve them entirely of this commandment which seemed to them too hard-that I could forgive them. But this I cannot forgive, that they entirely alter the point of view for determining what seriousness is.”
For Self-Examination, pp.58-59 (SV XVII 69-73)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Reflection on second week of Advent

"For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever for the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the Lord Almighty will guarantee this!"

The above verse from Isaiah 9 is probably the most regularly read and cited verse relating to the season in the Christian Calendar that we call Advent. As we enter the second week of Advent, I'd like to share some thoughts and images that I've been meditating upon during this season. This meditation began several weeks ago while reading The Presence of the Kingdom, by Jacques Ellul, and has continued and deepened for me with the coming of Advent. For quite some time I've been meditating upon Moses' words to the Israelites, who are preparing to enter the promised land, in Deuteronomy 30. In that chapter Moses says, "Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between prosperity and disaster, between life and death," and then further, "Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live!" The more that I've reflected on this exchange (and its broader context), the more that I've come to the conviction that it is an absolutely central text in my own understanding of the story of scripture. Why is it so central? It is central because I think it states with the utmost clarity that God wants his people to live and prosper, that the desire to share the gift of life is the fundamental choice God made in creating the cosmos.

Now, it is obvious to anyone even moderately familiar with Deuteronomy that these words of Moses are closely followed by the story of the conquest in Joshua. That is a story filled with death and mayhem for the people of Canaan; this is a fact that I cannot and will not dispute here. It seems clear that God wanted these people to die. What do we do with that part of the story? It raises many legitimate and troubling questions; the kind of questions that have been picked up with vigor in our own time by people such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others. The only hint at an answer that I can provide here is that, fortunately, the story does not end here. Indeed, it seems to me that if we follow the story through Isaiah and into the the life of Jesus and the early church, God's choice of life for all people, his desire to see everyone prosper, and to eschew the violence and division of the world (the status quo), becomes quite abundantly clear. Isaiah 9 has always been an important stop on this journey, a clear and visible marker that the one whom God has chosen as saviour is the one whose reign will be characterized by an ever expanding "peaceful government."

So, why am I raising these issues and what do they have to do with the images I've provided? I raise them because they raise for me two primary questions as we enter into the advent season: Where is my life in view of the promised end of all things evoked in Isaiah 9? & Where is the life of the world at present? The first picture is of St. Basil's Cathedral in the central square of Moscow, Russia. When I was a kid growing up in the 1980's, St. Basil's was (at least for me) the preeminent symbol of the Kremlin, the "enemy," the Soviet government that had thousands of ICBM's aimed at my country. I never thought, or was never prompted to think, about what "that" building actually was, or what narrative lie in back of it (a mixed narrative, to be sure-apparently built to symbolize the conquests of Ivan the Terrible!). Hence, it has been one of the most disturbing-but at the same time liberating-revelations of my adult life to learn not only that St. Basil's is supposed to be a place devoted to the worship of the "Prince of Peace," but to see Russian thinkers, artists and activists become some of the most influential people in my own thought and development as a Christian and a human being (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Berdyaev). I knew nothing of this "other" Russia when I was a kid. Why? There are undoubtedly many reasons. But what I'm meditating on this season is the incredible damage done by the language of "enemy," how the use of this term severely warps our ability to see others, makes us slaves to whatever ideology is dominant at the moment and prevents us from being able to realize any kind of lasting peace. The "Russia" that has become such a vital part of my intellectual and spiritual life as an adult was hidden as a child behind the fear, anxiety and paranoia evoked by the language of "enemy."

The second image will probably be familiar to some of you. It is a picture of an Atari video game called, "Missile Command," that was big (along with movies like "Red Dawn") when I was a kid. The game was based upon the "Star Wars (or SDI-Strategic Defense Initiative)" technologies that the Reagan adminstration was attempting to develop in the 1980's to defend the US against ICBM attack (the same types of military technologies that have continued to garner hundreds of billions of our tax-dollars to this day). The object of the game was simple: intercept the ICBM's before they obliterate your cities. Some of you will also remember "Space Invaders," which is the game where you have to eliminate the "aliens" before they get you. All these games and movies give us the abiding impression that the world is fundamentally a hostile place where we must use cunning and lethal force to defend ourselves or else suffer the consequences. Now, I am certainly not going to blame these or any other games for creating the larger human ills that they merely symbolize (and perhaps reinforce). But when we are raised in the language of "enemy," using so much of our ingenuity & imagination to create video games and other media that exult these types of things, it is not hard to see why we live in an era where many of our best contemporary prophets, like Walter Brueggeman, say that the primary failure of the church in our time is a "failure of imagination." So, what is the true cause of the violence? In his book "The Powers That Be," Walter Wink describes what he (and others) call the "myth of redemptive violence", viz. the belief that the use of lethal force in "appropriate" situations-killing other people-"enemies"-is an effective way to bring about peace and resolve conflict. I agree with Wink that this is one of the great humans myths that never gets old and is appealed to in every age to justify the necessity (and nobility) of war and violence. Maybe that is what God had in mind with the conquest? Whatever the case, apropos of Isaiah 9, I've become even more convinced this Advent Season that there is only one true act of "redemptive violence" in human history. Jacques Ellul states it best:

"In the world everyone wants to be a wolf, and no one is called to play the part of a sheep. Yet the world cannot live without the living witness of sacrifice. That is why it is essential that Christians should be very careful not be be wolves in the spiritual sense-that is, people who try to dominate others. Christians must accept the domination of other people, and offer the daily sacrifice of their lives, which is united with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ."

The last image comes from a news story featured on CNN and most of the major media outlets yesterday. I saw the live CNN story where Ari Fleische enthusiastically stated that the Pentagon just announced that a new weapon (featured in the picture-just in time for Advent!) was being unveiled in Afghanistan that would make US troops "far more lethal and safer." The weapon is essentially a "smart grenade" launcher that through the use of laser targeting mechanisms and radio waves allows grenades to be programmed in real-time to blow up immediately after they pass over walls, around corners or above foxholes. This ensures that the "enemy" will no longer have many places to hide on the field of battle. Perhaps a helpful question for us would be this: Where are we going to hide all of these wonderful weapons we've made-at such enormous costs-when the "Prince of Peace" returns? From a worldy point of view it is easy to justify the need for such weapons and the necessity of putting some of our finest scientific minds to work on such projects. But as we think about the season of Advent, and reflect upon what the significance of Jesus' coming means, I think it is critically important for us to consider the damage that we're doing to ourselves with the language of "enemy," and the continued costs (with ever-rising rates of spiritual (dis)interest) that we're passing on to our children when we affirm the myths of the empires of this world. As you can see, I'm still in the process of assessing the costs from my own childhood.

Now anyone who knows me will know my own struggles with temper, frequent lack of emotional restraint and the interpersonal-violence that I do when I fail to listen to or respect the opinions and views of others. These are some of the personal forms of violence in my own life, and areas where I need the "Prince of Peace" to continue to shine his light. Please pray for me in these areas as we all pray for the world and the coming reign of peace forever.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reflection on the meaning of gratitude

Tomorrow is the holiday in America that we call thanksgiving. It has become cliche to comment upon the fact that the thanksgiving holiday in our global consumerist culture has become essentially an afterthought on the way to christmas, and christmas in turn an afterthought on the way to gift giving and bargain hunting. Therefore, it becomes almost impossible to say anything that hasn't already been said a thousand times, that doesn't sound like the same old drone of the advertisements and solictations that bombard us daily; it seems like we've branded and marketed every aspect of existence....staked out some kind of claim of consumption on every word and idea. However, I got an e-mail today from a friend in Uganda that I thought was truly remarkable, a fresh and inspiring word as we prepare to celebrate thanksgiving. My friend is a formerly homeless boy who now as an adult lives with and walks alongside others in the same life space that he once occupied. He is a bright, articulate and inspiring person.....a bright light shining in the midst of a "generation" that is, frankly....struggling. I spend most of my time trying to make things "add up" and figure out how to find the necessary resources for the task at hand. Consequently, I regularly lose perspective and fail to heed the incredible wisdom of the words below....I wanted to share them with you. I hope that the folks in Pyongyang and Seoul, and all of us around the world, can take a break and sit with them this season.

Dear Billy,

Rhita and I and all the Rukundos would like to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. We join you in thanking God for all the blessings and we know you are all grateful for many things He has done in your lives including the gift of life.

Gratitude implies a total stance or orientation toward life. It is rooted in a conviction that life has meaning that it was designed and is sustained by a loving God, who can ‘work all things together for our good.’ It is why Jesus taught: “…in this world you will have tribulation – but be of good cheer – I have overcome the world…I tell you these things that you might have peace.” John 16:33

In other words, gratitude sees all of life as a gift. And once we develop that orientation – it is a ‘game changer.’ It redefines everything and all other virtues flow from that orientation. This is why an individual can almost be defined by the level of gratitude in their life.

Gratitude means thankfulness, counting our blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that we receive. It means learning to live our life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much we’ve been given.

Gratitude shifts our focus from what our life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient, it strengthens relationships, it improves health, and it reduces stress.

Happy Thanksgiving,


Friday, September 24, 2010

Darryl Gardiner's Sin Chat

Darryl Gardiner's Sin Chat

check out this fantastic rant from Daz Gardiner. Daz is a friend from New Zealand who (in my opinion) manages to cut right to the heart of the good news in this short video.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Come and help celebrate KEF's 20th anniversary!

This coming Wednesday, Sept. 22, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation is celebrating its 20th anniversary at Natasha's Bistro and Bar in downtown Lexington. The event will be from 8-10pm. KEF has done amazing work over the last twenty-years in leading the fight to insure the safe disposal of chemical weapons stored at the Bluegrass-Army Depot. In the last several years KEF has turned their attention to assisting in the regional fight for cleaner and more sustainable energy solutions. They have been a valuable partner of our community (and One Horizon Foundation) for 3 years and have used our downtown facilities for meetings and press conferences in the past. The celebration will also be a fundraiser for KEF with the proceeds from the $20 admission fee going directly to KEF. There will be great live music and food provided by Natasha's. You can find out more about KEF's work and the fundraiser here.

Friday, August 27, 2010


The other day Geoff sent me a link to a blog post done by a friend of his. The link touched upon two Wall Street Journal articles that took a critical view of the role of public charities, unfavorably contrasting them with the greater good (that is the claim) done by "private" entrepreneurs operating in "free-markets." You can read it here if you'd like. As unsavory, naive & reductionistic as I find this type of view to be (the WSJ stuff), it is hardly surprising. It is part of the core of the current debate in our country pitting the private sector against (the perceived)encroachment of the federal government into its affairs and dealings. In the popular media and town halls of America this is expressed, in various forms, and often high-decibels, as the epic and ongoing battle between "freedom" loving capitalists and "authoritarian" socialists. Personally, I think this whole debate, in current format, is a conceptual false-dichotomy orchestrated by people in positions of power to manipulate voting blocks to their advantage and ultimately leverage power and capital for their own ends. It is, in my opinion, fundamentally disingenuous. However, the underlying question is unavoidable. How do we live together and govern our lives in the world? I'm not going to attempt an answer to that question here, or attempt an answer to the question about the future course of American life and polity. I would, however, like to share a couple of things that have happened this week that have been very helpful reminders that impact this larger picture.

The first thing is a thought from the book "Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing," by Chris Rice and Immanuel Katongole. The first of "Ten Theses" that Katongole and Rice offer to help us recover "reconciliation as the mission of God," reads like this:

1. Reconciliation is God's gift to the world. Healing of the world's deep brokenness does not begin with us and our action, but with God and God's gift of new creation.

That statement is something that has given me comfort and hope this week as I've struggled at points to digest the underlying anger and accusation that characterizes so much public & political discourse, and grappled with the manner in which this often filters down to the level of personal and professional relationships and divides us. As a Christian (recognizing that Christians sling a lot of the mud), I take refuge in the belief that this is God's work first and foremost, that we're graciously invited into it and that we can depend on the love and grace that come from the communion of the Godhead to carry us in our shared efforts to make life work, as well as we can, for everyone. It is a gift.

The second thing comes from some time that I spent this morning reading scripture and sitting with an icon that has been critically important for me. I've been reading Luke's gospel and this morning I came to the tenth-chapter. Prior to reading it I looked briefly at the previous chapter to brush up on the context. It was that glance at chapter 9 that set-up a really stunning, heretofore unrecognized, link between the two chapters. At the end of chapter 9 we read:

"He(Jesus)sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But they were turned away. The people of the village refused to have anything to do with Jesus because he had resolved to go to Jerusalem."

This event is followed, at the end of the tenth-chapter, by Jesus making the "Good Samaritan" the "hero" of one of the Bible's most famous, oft quoted and powerful stories. That was a real stunner for me this morning. Jesus responds to the rejection of this Samaritan village (having in the background of it centuries of extreme alienation and hatred between Samaritans and Jews), by making a Samaritan person the heroic figure of one of his most far-reaching teachings about how God wants us to relate to each other. Wow! What does that have to say about the manner in which we engage with each other?

After I finished reading this passage I was sitting in front of the above icon contemplating the reading. For perhaps the first time my attention became almost exclusively focused upon the cock in the left corner that is gazing down as Jesus washes his disciples feet (Judas included). I don't think that to this point I'd ever quite focused my attention upon the cock. And it was in this moment that that cock began to crow at me, bespeaking the inevitable wave of human hyposcrisy and frailty that envelops all of us at some point, and hopefully draws us back out with its tide into the deep graces of God. Life is a gift. Reconciliation with each other and our world is a gift. I just wanted to thank the giver of these gifts for precious reminders of them at an important moment.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

columbus community

check out this great article about our friends in Columbus, OH.  if you live near Columbus look this crew up…they are wonderful and faithful jesus-people.


Faith & Values

Where would Jesus live?

Housemates try to emulate Christ by choosing simple lives and doing good deeds in low-income Franklinton

Friday, July 2, 2010  02:51 AM

By Meredith Heagney


Praying before dinner yesterday are, clockwise from lower left, David Rowe, Kelly Young, Ashley Laughlin, Greg Lanham, Brian Gillis, Heather Thompson-Gillis and Mary Bumpus. Young, Laughlin, Lanham and Bumpus live in the house.

Fred Squillante | Dispatch

Praying before dinner yesterday are, clockwise from lower left, David Rowe, Kelly Young, Ashley Laughlin, Greg Lanham, Brian Gillis, Heather Thompson-Gillis and Mary Bumpus. Young, Laughlin, Lanham and Bumpus live in the house.


The seven people in their 20s share everything in their Franklinton home: bedrooms, meals, bills and the mortgage. They even share duties caring for the chickens they raise in their backyard.

All are college-educated and capable of finding good-paying jobs and housing in safer parts of town.

Instead, they choose to live in a low-income neighborhood and dedicate their energy to helping the people who don't live there by choice.

They take exception to the word "help," though. They say they simply love their neighbors, the way Jesus did.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Parable

Here is a parable that I wrote many years ago. I wrote it in the context of trying to come to grips with my own feelings about the costs of trying to live the Kingdom of God in the here and now. I first shared this at a "New Monastic" gathering at the CCDA conference in Atlanta. It came up in a conversation that I had with Steve Pavey today and I thought I would share it here.


There was once an astronomer who lived out the vast majority of his days in the era directly preceding space flight and missions to the moon. He was, by all accounts, imminent among his peers, spending all his waking hours studying the heavens through his telescopes, identifying and naming the various planets and stars and working feverishly on developing the calculations that helped to describe the delicate relationships that existed between them. He gave his heart and soul to the pursuit of expanding this body of celestial knowledge, and the overwhelming beauty he perceived daily in the heavens never failed to make him quiver with delight.

Now, the one thing that was especially curious about this remarkably talented astronomer was his antagonistic attitude toward the work of his peers. For in addition to the research interests that animated his own life many of his esteemed colleagues also entertained dreams of one day traveling among the planets and stars. He found such dreams to be foolhardy, even cosmically offensive and refused to assist them in their efforts. The glory of the heavens is fit for God alone, he vociferously insisted, and to attempt to go among them is profane, the height of human arrogance. So, he continued to concentrate intently upon his own work and in the process managed to persuade some of the best and brightest students of his day to come over to his opinion. However, unbeknownst to these young aspirants, there was a deeper and more painful reason why their mentor scorned the efforts of his peers.

When he was a young student at university the astronomer had also entertained fervent dreams of traveling among the stars; and he worked incredibly hard at that dream, as hard as he had ever worked in fact. But after a tragic series of failed experiments his courage began to falter and his imagination was gradually conquered by overwhelming waves of fear and doubt. It was during this time that his perspective on things began to dramatically shift. "How," he pondered, "can I continue to invest in something that might very well never occur? I think I will concentrate my attention upon studying the wonder of the heavens and that way I don't have to worry about wasting my efforts," he decided. All of the other attendant excuses gradually developed as he continued to wrestle with his ambivalent decision. "Perhaps," he silently thought, "it will become easier with age?" But regrettably, suppressing the dreams of his youth never got any easier.

And so, it was with great sadness that he watched in his final days as the spectacular images from the voyageur probe began to stream into the university laboratory; and as the Lunar Lander touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, there was no tranquility to be found in his soul. No longer able to move and confined to a bed in a nursing home, he watched in agony as the dreams of his elderly colleagues became a reality. Many of them were also confined to their beds but he could only now see the freedom in which they had lived. For, even though their bodies were now wasted their spirits were soaring to the heights with the people now living out their dreams. But all our astronomer was left with was the bitterness and regret of a life lived in fear and the empty quest for personal comfort and safety.

Friday, August 06, 2010


I wanted to ask a favor of all the readers of this blog. My sister (Tracey) has successfully submitted an idea to the "Pepsi Refresh Project" and is one of a large number of people who are now eligible for a $25k grant. Her idea centers upon providing comfort and support to patients awaiting organ transplant and raising consciousness about this vital issue. I'm trying to support her by soliciting votes for her proposal. If you could consider voting for her project (info & voting via link below) I would greatly appreciate it. I would also appreciate it if you could consider posting this link to your own blog or facebook pages. Thanks!

"Pepsi Refresh Project-Tracey"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The note

Feeling grateful and giving thanks for the amazing gifts of life and companionship are not things that come easily to me. I spend way too much time trying to figure out what's "happening" in the world and what "needs to happen" to avoid falling prey to the tendency to fixate upon what remains undone, broken, unjust or otherwise unhelpful in the overall scheme of things. And lately I've come to the realization that, far from being prophetic-for prophecy always walks hand-in-hand with a robust vision of hope-my meditations upon the maligned have on balance probably caused more discouragement and alienation than anything else. Why do I share this? I share it because I am trying to grow in this area and by God's grace I'm finding some pretty incredible reasons to be thankful and grateful. I had such an occurrence this past week and wanted to publicly declare it.

Last Sunday I was sweeping our kitchen floor in anticipation of some close friends coming over for brunch. As I swept, I encountered a crumpled note card that had been kicked under one of the cabinets. It was covered with lint and dust. I picked it up, dusted it off and looked it over. I was genuinely astounded by what I found. The note card was a gift from a friend of mine in high school named Angela Phipps. Angela and I became friends because we shared a passion for writing and reflecting on life through our own tender poetry and prose. Angela was a very bright & gifted student, and an even more luminous person. Tragically, she was killed in a car accident during our junior year in high school. I will never forget the day when we learned of Angela's death. Everyone was devastated by the event and the school administration decided to create a space in the library where students could come to talk about what happened and share their feelings. The day was especiallly significant for me because I had a teacher (Eleanor Griffin) who recognized that I needed some extra time to be in that space to process my feelings. But even more, I think Mrs. Griffin realized that it was a special opportunity for me to serve and walk alongside my classmates. I was without a rudder at that point in my life and really struggling to find my way. Mrs. Griffin discerned this about me and made the room for me to be present in that space for most of the day.

As I've reflected on the contents and context of the notecard, I've been powerfully reminded of how that day helped to birth a nascent revolution in my life. A kid with a lot of passion and desire to be with others and serve them, but carrying an awful lot of emotional baggage and pain, began to slowly find his way on that day. The same kid that to this day continues on much the same rocky journey. But how easily we forget where we've come from and how much God has done for us! As I read the beautiful and hope filled words on Angela's note card, I couldn't help but be reminded anew of how much that day meant to me and how unbelievably faithful God has been to me on every subsequent day since. I can look back and laugh at the cheesy nature of my attempts at grief counseling that day-"And ever has it been that love knows not its own depths till the hour of separation"-a line from the poet Kahlil Gibran that I remember reciting to several fellow students that day. But there is no doubt that this day was one of the foundation stone's of my future life; and in typical fashion something that I'd almost completely forgotten until I found that note card on my kitchen floor.

I have no idea where that note card came from or how it ended up on my kitchen floor at such a "kairos" moment in time. However, the message to me is unmistakable. For me it was kind of like King Josiah rediscovering the Torah in ancient Israel. Angela Phipps' life, and all of the vast potential it represented, was cut tragically short. My own life, which was far more uncertain and disordered than hers, was elevated and forever blessed and expanded by the sacred opening that her death created. For the last twenty-one years, by the sheer grace and love of God, I've been allowed to continue slowly (and quite often ineptly) finding my purpose in life by serving others. Truthfully, I doubt that many of my current efforts are any more effective or sophisticated than they were on that first day. But the good news for me is that that simply does not matter. That is not the point. The point is to celebrate the incredible life that I've been given and celebrate the amazing way that God has carried everything precious born in my heart on that and all subsequent days; and to remember the friends like Angela, past and present, who have incarnated this loving effort of our Lord to steward me through life on a good path. I want to conclude by sharing Angela's words, as recorded on the card.

"I have learned to respect the advice as well as the advisor, the actions as well as the actor and the opinions as well as the opinion giver, for we must all realize that without these traits and the people bold enough to give them-we would live in a narrow-minded, unchanging society which would eventually die of ennui."

Angela Phipps

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Art of life

Today I came across the section below while reading Zygmunt Bauman's book entitled "The Art of Life." I was really taken by the power of the words of Robert Kennedy, shared by Bauman, and thought I would share. Seems to me a particularly relevant meditation on a day where we've heard Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke say the immediate future outlook on economic growth is "unusually uncertain."

" long ago as 18 March 1968, in the heat of the presidential campaign, Robert Kennedy launched a scathing attack on the lie on which the GNP-bound measure of happiness rests:

'Our GNP takes into account in its calculations the air pollution, tobacco advertising and ambulances riding to collect the wounded from our motorways. It registers the costs of the security systems which we install to protect our homes and the prisons in which we lock up those who manage to break into them. It entails the destruction of our Sequoia forests and their replacement through sprawling and chaotic urbanization. It includes the production of napalm, nuclear arms and armed vehicles used by policce to stifle urban unrest. It records....television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to children. On the other hand, GNP does not note the health of our children, quality of our education or gaiety of our games. It does not measure the beauty of our poetry and the strength of our marriages. It does not care to evaluate the quality of our political debates and integrity of our representatives. It leaves out of consideration our courage, wisdom and culture. It says nothing about our compassion and dedication to our country. In a word, the GNP measures everything, except what makes life worth the pain of living it.'

Robert Kennedy was murdered a few weeks after publishing this fiery indictment and declaring his intention to restore the importance of things that make life worth living; so we will never know whether he would have tried, let alone succeeded, in making his words flesh had he been elected President of the United States. What we do know, though, is that in the forty years that have passed since, there have been few if any signs of his message having been heard, understood, embraced and remembered-let alone any move on the part of our elected representatives to disown and repudiate the pretence of the commodity markets to role of the royal road to a meaningful and happy life, or evidence of any inclination on our part to reshape our life strategies accordingly (pg.5)."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sewing in hope.....

I've been reading through a book entitled "Reconciling All Things," by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. The book is part of the "Resources for Reconciliantion" series that is being done colloboratively by IVP and the Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation. Communality community member Sarah Brown and our good friend Andrea James recently returned from Duke's Summer Institute which was hosted by the Center and focused on the topic of reconciliation. Sarah and Andrea have shared with us many inspiring and insightful stories from their time at Duke and brought back a number of excellent resources (including this book) that have edified us. This book is really accessible, a pleasant yet profound read that makes a convincing case as to why the idea of reconciliation (writ cosmically large) is at the very heart of the Christian gospel. I think Chapter 4, entitled "The Discipline of Lament," is an absolute must read for anyone involved in Christian work. There are a lot of great passages tucked away in this book, but I wanted to share one in particular today. I share it because it brings to memory so many wonderful friends in divers places who sow seeds of hope, both symbolic and literal, in their sacred quest to find ways to live and die well for the world around them. The picture is from a patch of volunteer cone flowers that we transplanted in the spring to one of the "out of the way" areas of our yard. After looking fairly wilted for a couple of weeks, consistent watering and a little time to root have caused them to explode this summer.

"A friend told us of visiting a very large religious community with a long history of activism and service. For generations St. Benedict's monastery had built hospitals and sent teachers to public schools. In its early history on the American frontier, it had literally saved the lives of weary travelers with its hospitality. Walking with one of the sisters in the community's beautifully cared for cemetery, our friend asked what the elderly sister loved most about the community. 'We do death well,' she said. 'You should see a funeral here. It's really a beautiful culmination of a life lived in worship of God.'

Over time a community like this monastery can transform a place through its service and work, creating space for human life to flourish. But such a community is sustained through small acts of beauty like doing death well. These acts point to a deeper vision that is easily lost in the urgencies of a broken world. They are themselves seeds in this broken world that are just as prophetic as our work for justice and peace.

There is no guarantee that these small seeds will take hold and grow into something beautiful for all the world to see. They could die from lack of water or be choked by weeds. We plant in hope, not certainty. But we plant because we know it is true and right and good. Even as we bend to push the seeds beneath moist soil, we are learning that hope is the patience to work and wait for a future not yet seen (pg.108)."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Another world is possible..........but how?

Yesterday I read a passage in Miroslav Volf's book "Exclusion & Embrace," that gave me a lot of hope and encouragement. In the light of my time at the US Social Forum last week, and the struggle to envision and believe that "another world is possible," Volf's eloquent thoughts are a critical reminder to me of both the steep cost and the incomparable joy of being with Christ in this struggle. I've included a photo I took several years ago outside a little mud-hut church in a village in Uganda.

"The ultimate scandal of the cross is the all too frequent failure of self-donation to bear positive fruit: you give yourself for the other-and violence does not stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life-and stabilize the power of the perpetrator. Though self-donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence. When violence strikes, the very act of self-donation becomes a cry before the dark face of God. This dark face confronting the act of self-donation is a scandal.

Is the scandal of the cross good enough reason to give up on it? Let me respond by noting that there is no genuinely Christian way around the scandal. In the final analysis, the only available options are either to reject the cross and with it the core of the Christian faith or take up one's cross, follow the crucified-and be scandalized anew by the challenge. As the Gospel of Mark reports, the first disciples followed and were scandalized (14:26). Yet they continued to tell the story of the cross, including the account of how they abandoned the Crucified. Why? Because precisely in the scandal, they have discovered a promise. In serving and giving themselves for others (Mark 10:45), in lamenting and protesting before the dark face of God (15:34), they found themselves in the company of the Crucified. In his empty tomb they saw the proof that the cry of desperation will turn into a song of joy and that the face of God will eventually "shine" upon a redeemed world (Volf, 26.)"

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

more mr earl

thanks for the post, billy.  it was nice to hang with mr earl at our tuesday eve gathering last week too.  he’s a treasure.



Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thanksgiving for simple pleasures....

Today I had the chance to visit with one of our local downtown treasures, Henry Earl, on the front porch of the High Street House. Like all of us, Henry has undoubtedly had his struggles along the road of life. But in his own inimitable way, he has one of the most entertaining and indefatigable personalities of any one I've ever met. He just seems to keep going, keep grinding, in spite of all the stumbles and missteps. And today, as we sat and talked, I found myself sincerely hoping that he will keep going for a long time. He is a unique character, one of a kind, and the downtown is just not the same when he's not around. So, I just wanted to give thanks for Henry and mark this moment, a moment in which I've been reminded of the vital importance of friendship; particularly those friendships that can never be easily explained!

Sunday, June 27, 2010



a wonderful mission team from Riverstone in Marietta, GA have returned home after 5 days.  they served our life together and the wider community by working to care for the London Ferrell Community Garden, Kid’s Cafe (bowling, picnic, fun at the fountain), and a brief visit with Luella at KRM.  the team of 11 (6 adults and 5 kids)worked very hard and showed such generosity and grace during their time with us.  her are some pics…