Monday, December 24, 2007

O Holy Night... (bawl... or fire us!)

Christmas Blessings, PDX!

Last night we stretched a bit at Operation Nightwatch worship. The folks were good sports about trying to sing an older Christmas hymn that arouses some curiosity in me. It's a vocal stretch. As a kid I remember singing "O Holy Night" in Christmas programs at St. Paul's Lutheran Elementary School, Arlington, Nebraska. Yet I don't find it in The Lutheran Hymnal that I grew up with. It's not in the Service Book and Hymnal (red) of the old Lutheran Church in America, nor is it in the Lutheran Book of Worship (green), This Far By Faith (burgundy) nor Worship (dark red) that have followed. It's not in Liturgy, a wonderfully varied worship book of the General Church of the New Jerusalem that was on the shelf at Powell's Books.

I finally found it in the 1974 edition of Book of Worship for United States Forces, a great old compilation of Judeo-Christian worship materials. The other books all have the sentimental favorite, "Silent Night, Holy Night", but not "O Holy Night". Curious to me. The theology of "O Holy Night" (OHN) is vastly better. It does not paint a sentimental, idealized child's world of the birth of Christ that seems stuck in suspended animation. Consider these OHN lyrics:

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger...

Truly he taught us to love one another,
His law is love and his gospel is peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease...

Apostle Paul would identify with and affirm all of that.

I didn't pay too much attention to OHN for most of my life. Then I visited Washington, DC over Veterans Day in 1997. At the Women Veterans of Vietnam Memorial sculpture, people were telling their stories. One of them happened to be Kammi McCleery who had been a "donut dolly" with the USO in Vietnam. She talked about putting on Christmas celebrations with the troops there and asked the crowd to sing with her. "If you've ever celebrated Christmas in Vietnam, sing along and sing loud," she said. We sang "O Holy Night".

Well, I hadn't been to Vietnam but celebrated a couple of Christmases in Turkey while in the USAF. Still, I knew a few people who had celebrated Christmas in Vietnam, especially the one right before the Tet Offensive. Wes was one of those. He would survive Tet but not April. So I said to myself, "I'll sing this for Wes and everyone else who has spent Christmas in a war zone." That's when I began to stand in awe of the lyrics and the message of OHN.

Fall on your knees, Oh, hear the angel voices!"

Imagine the scene of the worst firefight in Vietnam, the horror of the trenches and poison gas in WWI, the Battle of the Bulge, Nazi death camps, Guadalcanal, Bataan, Iwo Jima, Normandy. Imagine the darkness of drug addiction, child prostitution, the depth of depression and despair, the grim rape of Darfur, the genocides of that land and Uganda, Stalin's pogroms, the Shah of Iran's Savak secret police and torture chambers. Imagine Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bombing of Dresden, Saddam's gassing of the Kurds. Imagine jumbo jets being swallowed by massive Twin Towers and their collapse. Imagine what you will in this world that is broken. In that most unlikely way, God already had it all in view and gave his Son anyway and precisely because of it all.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn...

Preaching to people who are homeless, cold and wet is at once a challenge and at once one of the greatest joys in life. They don't need Germanic fairy tales. They need some bona fide gospel, some hope to stay off the booze, off the drug and on the path to another day.

So we sang "O Holy Night" and I saw a few tears. Every time I listened to the choir and the baritone on the CD we used for our worship accompaniment I began to bawl. I saw a few tears last night, and it was all I could do to keep myself together well enough to lead.

If God's love does not put us on our knees in tears, if the message of that love from people like me does not have the power to leave us bawling in awe, then you (that's collective YOU, all y'all out there) should fire us. That's all of US, all who wear the collar, carry the Bible, preach the word that is to be the best news ever heard. Doesn't matter if we are Bishop Hansen (Lutheran), Bishop Jefferts-Schori (Episcopal), Pope Benedict, Billy Graham, Luis Palau, Pat Robertson or James Dobson. If the word we bring does not put you in touch with a Christ who leaves us bawling at being held in the arms of love, then we are wasting your time and failing God. Miserably. Fire us! Fast! And by all means start over and get it right.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til he appeared and a soul felt its worth...

Fall on your knees. Hear the angel voices that had those unclean shepherds bawling in the fields, those scared and shaking troops doing the same....and hoping for the break of a new and glorious morn. Your soul is worth God coming down to earth to be born into human poverty.

Fall on your knees and hear the angel voices proclaiming a love that dissolves every darkness you can name. Hear the voices and strap on some knee pads. You might want to stay there a while. Go ahead. Bawl like a baby. It's consistent with God's story 100%. O Holy Night! Indeed! Amen.

Pastor Roger

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Are You The One or an AK-47?

Hello, PDX and the world!

Westroads Mall has already faded from memory. We've already moved past the Colorado churches. People have polarized. Some are again advocating for more gun control, for a general disarmament. Others want more guns on more folks all the time. Maybe. Maybe not. I think about the situation in Omaha. Suppose an armed citizen down the hall had heard the first shots fired in the store and had rushed in with his/her 9mm Glock drawn. Suppose two more similarly armed citizens had then arrived seconds later and had mistaken the first armed citizen or each other for the real shooter. Coulda been real ugly. Would my relative in the store have been less traumatized if gunfire had only come from three directions instead of one? (Yes, you read that question correctly.)

Band aids. Treating symptoms. How can we make safer people, for God's sake? That's not taking the Lord's name in vain. For God's sake, for everyone's sake, how can we make safer people in the first place? Just read in the paper the other day that programs for mentors and big brothers/sisters have an oversupply of women volunteers but a chronic shortage of men who are willing to do the same. Men fear relationships, it seems. Even with troubled kids who long for a healthy male role model? Apparently.

OK, guys, listen up. We get as we give. We can't love weapons and mall/school shootings more than children and the next generation... Or can we? We get as we give. We are the change we scream for. Or don't.

But there ain't no reason on God's green earth why any ordinary citizen needs to own an AK-47. So wise up, all of us, when we see someone with depression/drug/relationship problems who owns an Avtomat Kalashnikova sorok syem' (that's AK-47 in Russian). Wanting to own one and needing to own one are two different things. Goals: making safer people, distinguishing wants from needs. Is that too hard for us?

John the Baptist was in prison. Herod strikes again. John had said God was gonna come through, winnowing fork in hand, to separate the wheat from the chaff. So when his cousin Jesus has made his debut as an itinerant preacher/teacher/rabbi at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, John wants to know where in blazes is the winnowing fork. Messiah will kick butt and bust heads. That's what John and all of Israel expect. Jesus replies, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." (Matt. 11:1-5). I wonder, what kinda thoughts went through John's head when he got the answer? Mighta gone back and re-read or re-thought the prophets with a whole new outlook. I hope so.

Funny way to winnow and bust heads, kick butt. Healing. Restoration. Resurrection. Fixing what's broken, claiming what people had thrown away. How many weapons did Jesus own, what kind of "war on terror task force" did Jesus use to get that done? What were his weapons of choice? Love. Forgiveness. Healing. Good news of the kingdom of God. Hmmmm..... Not an AK-47 in the arsenal! Hmmmmmm......

Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth. Right on. The strong always screw it up because we end up trusting in ourselves and our wealth, fame or weapons systems instead of the only souce of strength there is.

So why do we have such a hard time buying Jesus' words when Jesus and Apostle Paul both showed us that weakness is the only position of strength we have? Why?

Jesus said not to oppose an enemy by becoming him. That's the sense of Matt. 5:39a. Do not resist an evildoer by becoming him. Do not resist an enemy who tortures and decapitates by torturing and decapitating the moral high ground. Do not attempt to make a safer world by proliferating weapons. Make safer people.

Make disciples of this Jesus, the Christ. The one who winnows with love, hope, healing, forgiveness, and the moral high ground.

Oh, and Jesus said one more thing to the messengers from John the Baptist and anyone else willing to hear. He said, "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." (Matt. 11:6) True. When our trust is in weapons and the chimera of economic growth, Jesus' message is indeed offensive. May I indeed live to be 1% as offensive as he!

Safer people. That's the goal. Time to beat swords in minimum tillage farm tools, chain saws into wind turbines, AK-47's and F-18's into affordable housing, nuclear warheads into health care, and spears into solar panels.

Jesus has already answered John's question "Are you the one?" Ultimately we must also answer that question about him for ourselves. Possible answers are yes and no. We have a choice. Choices have implications. Choices have consequences for the world Jesus came to save, one broken soul and one crowded mall at a time.

Blessed fulfillment of Advent,

Pastor Roger

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Hello, PDX!

Got an e-mail this AM from my niece in Fremont, NE. She reported that her mother-in-law was at the Westroads Shopping Center during the shooting. Saw a lot, hid in a clothes rack, then in a restroom. Shaken but OK. Thank God!

Pray for the families of the victims, all of them. Pray for the parents of the shooter and for the family with whom he had been living. If people come out of war with survivor's guilt when they themselves were in harm's way, I cannot imagine what parents and friends of the shooter, Mr. Hawkins, might feel as they second-guess missed signals, missed opportunities or simply their own helplessness now. May God have mercy on them all!

The D-word. Depression. I know something of that dark monster. It is possible for the darkness to get so dark that one can be standing surrounded by light and see none of it. It is possible to get so low that one literally cannot help oneself. Thank God I have been able to get free of that and know its symptoms and warning signals. I don't ever want to be there again.

And thank God I grew up in a different time and place. Thank God I grew up surrounded by a farm with animals and a community that helped keep me in line. And thank God it was a simpler time to be alive. No Internet. No downloading files on the making of bombs. No simulated slaughter of video games. And thank God I had parents and siblings who cared deeply about me. Thank God there was such a world of fields and creeks and woods and animals of the wild to explore when I was a kid. Little did I know then how many miles of the Columbia Gorge I would hike as an adult, husband and father and how much peace I would find there in troubled times. Those life-saving respite walks kept my brain and body going. They kept my spirit going. They were God's emergency room.

I've always known that God brought me here to Portland from Nebraska and Turkey and Texas. He brought me here to keep me alive.

Last night at Advent worship we sang Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Vespers:

"Let my prayer rise before you as incense,
the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world
the light no darkness can overcome.
Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening,
and the day is almost over.
Let your light scatter the darkness,
and shine upon your people here."

Let light scatter the darkness in Omaha and in every darkened heart on this earth.

The peace of Christ be with you all!

Pastor Roger

Monday, December 3, 2007

Every Day Matters

Dear Advent Conspirators, (see previous post)

I may receive a "cease and desist" letter from an attorney. I happened to see the words Every Day Matters right above the JCPenney brand name on their 12/02 advertising catalog that came in the Sunday paper. This catalog has "must-have gifts for everyone on your list!" To further implant impulse buying in us, JCP has made Every Day Matters a registered trademark. No kidding. It's there. TM.

Must have... Really??? I looked through the entire catalog and I did not see one opportunity to provide food for the hungry people who came to Operation Nightwatch worship last night. I did not see one dry place to sleep for the people who came in wet and cold after more than 24 hours of cold rain, another 24 hours still to go. I did not see one bed opening up for the heroin addict who in the harshest of environments has cut his drug use by 2/3 and has been waiting for nearly a year to get into a program but is still number 7 on the waiting list. I did not see one place in the catalog for the prayer we gave this man so that he keeps it together long enough to see his lucky number finally come up. I didn't see anything in the catalog to help the people we can't even serve now because the cold and the wet have pushed them back into drug and alcohol use to numb the misery. I didn't find any jobs or housing in that catalog. So am I to assume these would not be "must-have gifts" for the people on my list?

Every Day Matters. Is "matters" a noun or a verb? I think it's like love. Love is meaningless as a noun unless it is first a verb. Active voice, transitive verb.

The gospel text for the First Sunday in Advent was Matthew 24:36-44. I added verse 35 also. Makes more sense that way. There are many themes in this passage. It teases us into the Advent season by teasing us with eschatology, the end of days, the coming of the Son of Man. We get sidetracked into the question of when instead of dealing with the question of what it means. We waste so much time wondering about the Second Coming that we seem to completely miss the implications of the First Coming.

Jesus says, "Keep awake!" That means, "Don't go to sleep. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that you live in a time when every day does not matter." Every day does matter. Jesus came not only to save the world in the future, but to shake up its very foundations, to turn things upside-down and right-side-up. Today. Every day. Days matter. Everyday matters matter.

Yesterday morning in church Heather T. preached in her delicious accent born in the UK. She read Matthew 1:18-25. Two names in that text. Jesus = Yeshua = Yahweh saves. Emmanuel = God with us. I was looking out the window defaced by black painted gang graffiti as Heather read the words "for he will save his people from their sins." In my mind still echoed the sounds of the young woman's voice as she earlier played her guitar and sang, "Mary still had to rock her Savior to sleep."

How God begins. Where God begins. Why God begins.

From what sins must his people be saved? Personal foibles and failings, little white lies? Only? How about from the very arrogance of nations that choose war but claim it was thrust upon them and disguise it under idolatrous patriotism? How about the sin of drowning in our own stuff even as we are blind to the destruction of God's creation and the hunger and need for shelter all around us? How about having turned the birth of Christ into a commercial abomination and having staked our whole economy, whole way of life, our very children's future on it?

Sin does not come to the world looking like sin. It comes looking like righteousness. I repeat. Sin does not come to the world looking like sin. It comes looking like righteousness.

He will save his people from their sins.

Yeshua. In Hebrew that is not simply a name. It is a complete declarative sentence: subject and verb. Yahweh saves. God, that's good news! Keep awake. Every Day Matters.

JCPenney, I'll see your registered trademark and raise you one kingdom of God.


Pastor Roger

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

Hello, Decembrists!

Welcome to "the time between". I'll explain that in a minute.

We just returned from Cinema 21 on NW 21st Avenue in Portland. We saw what likely will be the only local engagement of the documentary film What Would Jesus Buy?, produced by Morgan Spurlock. Mr. Spurlock (who gave us Supersize Me in 2004) was at church last Sunday and was interviewed by Pastor Rick. It was certainly one of the kairos timing events of God's own doing. Spurlock decided to make the film after meeting Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. The film is a documentary of Reverend Billy's campaign to get people to give up the madness of Christmas buying and indebtedness, giving instead loving, relational gifts to family and friends. Gifts that cost nothing, or almost. Priceless!

The film begins with the Reverend Billy's arrest at Times Square in NYC when he and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir simply urge people to stop shopping. From there it chronicles our absurd addiction to buying as the campaign crisscrosses the country enroute to the Promised Land of Disneyland. Yes, there is a stop in Bentonville, Arkansas! And you won't forget the purchase of the sweater at the small clothing store in Traer, Iowa. I hope you never do.

This year we Americans are projected to spend somewhere around 450-460 billion dollars on Christmas as we buy goods with money many of us do not have, goods that are almost entirely NOT made here.

450 billion dollars... or more... this year... Great film!

(Thought. No wonder fiscal responsibility at the federal level is anything but. We tolerate it because it looks like the personal fiscal affairs of many American households. Chicken and egg thing? No, more like a deadly virus.)

Kairos timing. Sunday was also the day Pastor Rick and the Imago Dei Community kicked off the Advent Conspiracy for 2007. This is the campaign to reduce or not buy commercial gifts and instead put the money into changing the world. Last year's campaign raised over $110,000 locally. Part of the change in the world from that $110K came in the form of 11 water wells for 11 communities in Liberia where health problems and mortality are at levels unimaginable to us. In many communities the children are not even named until they have survived at least two years. Until then, many are not considered viable enough to have a name. In some communities, 100% of the people have guinea worms, a waterborne parasite that has a horrific and disfiguring life cycle in the human body.

A representative of Living Water International was interviewed after Morgan Spurlock. This young man brought pictures and stories of the people Imago Dei helped last year. How to describe the sheer joy of people who have been given access to clean, safe water for the first time in their people's entire history?

Pastor Rick said that for about $10 billion, clean and safe water could be brought to every person on earth who doesn't have it now. In the USA we just spent half that amount on Halloween. We will spend 45 times that much on Christmas this year.

Last year Imago Dei and four other churches started Advent Conspiracy. This year over 500 churches have signed up to join the Imago Dei effort and another 500+ have gotten the idea and pledged their efforts directly to Living Water International.

Ponder the implications of that change in the world brought about by a simple change in thinking and change in spending. Ponder as you continue reading about this in-between time we call Christmas.

A Time Between

Christmas is a time between
It's not yet the New Year, nor really the old
It's pre-income tax, it's post-Halloween
It's long before springtime. It's winter. It's cold.

Christmas is a time for joy. And peace. And love.
We save these all for one brief day
For the time between designed to remove
The burden of failure, of losing our way.

"Give love for Christmas this year!" by the sign
in the store I am told.
How much it will cost? How long it will wear?
Am I too late? Am I too old?

"Sorry! We're all out of love this Christmas...
Come back next year when it's sold."
But it's long before springtime. It's winter.
I'm cold. --R.F.

That's how I felt about commercial Christmas before Advent Conspiracy.

So, what would Jesus buy? He didn't come only to save the world. He came to change it, to shake up and turn upside-down its very foundations. I think Jesus would buy Advent Conspiracy. I think he'd buy it big time. Kind of thing he gave his life for. Big time.

Blessed Advent! Conspire big time!

Pastor Roger

PS Wanna get your church (or non-church) group into the Advent Conspiracy business? Go to or and click on Advent Conspiracy to learn more and get started.

PPS If an Advent Conspiracy can do this much, imagine what a 24/7 Conspiracy could do.
Jesus had another name for it: kingdom of God.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fresh Red Roses

Happy Post-Thanksgiving, PDX!

Fresh red roses on the beach...

We'll get back to that in a minute, but first a word from our sponsor... or not. Actually, an apology. A little while back I posted an address for sending get-well cards to "A Recovering American Soldier" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Nice thought; but it may be an urban legend, or a cyber-gag. Recent word has it that WRAMC will not deliver such mail, and the USPS will not accept it. Too bad! Too bad if we live in such a world. Anonymous letters may contain harmful substances and heartbreaking insults. Too bad we are a society like that. What ever happened to trust? What ever happened to integrity? What ever happened to honesty? Gone, I guess, perhaps not to be rcovered fully in this society before we fade from the earth.

But maybe it's God's way of telling us to be genuine. In other words, don't care more about an anonymous soldier whom you will never meet than the one down the street or across town from you that you haven't bothered to get to know. Keep it local. Keep it second-person instead of third. Kinda like Luke's version of the Beatitudes in comparison to Matthew's. Life is meant to be lived face-to-face, not in theory.


Jean and I are in Cannon Beach, OR. Drove down here Thursday noon for two nights. Weather has been fantastic, and we are miles and miles from the nearest mall and mega-store (aka a dumping ground for lead-laced products made by ex-Maoists). This is our summer vacation, two nights at the Coast. And it is wonderful. I'm even starting to take photographs again, just for fun. And I miss the camera that the home burglar robbed me of in January of last year. The replacement just is not the same... Shame on him!

This morning there was only a light breeze on the beach. It was mid-to-high tide, so the surf kept us yards and yards away from Haystack Rock. We walked briskly heading south toward that distinctive lnadmark. I noticed the first one washed up on the beach, run aground in a nice cushion of sea foam. A red rose cast into the sea and returned respectfully by the sea to the land. I photographed it in the bright morning sun thinking of ways I might write it into my album of photos on the Oregon Vietnam Veterans' Memorial.

A couple of steps later there was another, then another, then a clump of them, then just a few drowned petals. Red roses all. That's when I began to get another picture. Perhaps not just a coin tossed into a wishing well, perhaps not just a casually tossed token of a boyfriend's affection.

Perhaps these were instead a family's remembrance for a life lived. Perhaps they were the last beauty of a living thing sent to sea to bless the ashes of another living thing. Ashes. Perhaps ashes of a friend, a Mom, a Dad, a son, a daughter. Perhaps a veteran of Iwo Jima, Inchon, Ia Drang or Iraq. Or perhaps a veteran of motherhood and mentoring, now missed and mourned. Fresh red roses on a beach...

Whoever had sent those roses to sea had clearly done so in remembrance. And I believe in thanksgiving. And I hope in thanks-living.

A wise teacher of mine once said, "Thankfulness is an attitude in the heart of the giver that inspires the same in the heart of the receiver." Just backward from how we usually think. We don't become most thankful by receiving. We become thankful by giving, even if we have nothing more to give than fresh red roses on a beach.

The moon over the Pacific tonight is more magical than words can say. God gave it to earth, to creation, long before we were ever here to give thanks. Thankfulness is an attitude in the heart of the fresh red roses on the beach.

Thankfulness is an attitude in the heart of the giver that inspires the same in the heart of the receiver. Dear hearts, give thanks in peace!


Pastor Roger

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bipolar Veterans Day

Hello, PDX!

Although today was the federal and school holiday, every veteran knows that yesterday, 11/11, was Veterans Day. That's how we do it now. No apostrophe before or after the "s" ('s or s'). That way it's no longer a singular- or plural-possessive. Now it's just a day that has something to do with veterans. Vaguely... Big sales. No USPS mail. Government holiday. "Holiday" shopping. Yada, yada, yada.

It's also a bipolar day in churches. Some go all out, moving big flags into the sanctuary, nearly or completely displacing both the cross and the body and blood of Christ. For others, the day doesn't even exist. Not a whimper, not a mention. Nado.

That's how it was where we worshiped yesterday. Great young, compassionate and growing congregation. 30 seconds. That's all it would have taken to ask veterans to stand and be seated.
Then we could have had a short prayer of thanks and blessing, prayer that we as a nation might be worthy of their service. 30 seconds. But......nado!
Ten years ago I was in Washington, DC for three days taking pictures for a play, to mourn a couple of fallen men, and to come to terms with some things about the veteran in me. Memories of that day still stir me powerfully, especially at the Women Veterans of Vietnam Memorial sculpture. Clearly inspired by Michelangelo's 500-year-old marble sculpture of Mary holding her crucified Son, sculptor Glenna Goodacre's masterpiece of three bronze women, one holding a dead/dying soldier, goes way beyond its antecedent.

So powerful is this sculpture, so profound its effect on veterans that it set me on a half-day detour. I visited every other piece of bronze sculpture in our nation's capital that I could get to on foot or by Metro. I photographed them and studied the photos later, comparing what was different about the bronze sculptures at the Vietnam War Memorial.

The difference is startling. Gone are all allusions to the glory of imperial Rome. No soldiers dressed like victorious war gods. No racing chariots, swords the size of flagpoles. No galloping steeds with trampling hooves, flying mane and snorting nostrils. No soaring, swooping eagles with stern eyes, open beaks and extended talons, lightning bolts and arrows beneath their feet. Nado.

Instead there is at last Glenna Goodacre's genius of a woman's face and a few human hands. At last there is a human face on war. At last the glory is gone, replaced by the too long absent anguish that war truly is. For some in my generation, the sculpture is too powerful, too evocative of their own experience to touch. Yet they are touched by it. And some do touch back. The hand of the dying man remains polished from being touched by other hands. This may well become the most touched bronze sculpture in history. I hope so. For the sculpture beckons, "Come and feel the weight of war. Come to know us and carry our burdens. Come to share what we for too long have borne alone. It's never too late to know the cost of war."

With all due respect, I wish that for once a president or vice-president would forgo the wooden photo op at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The full dress Army honor guard soldier walking backward with the wreath is clearly doing the work and could guide that wreath in his sleep. No, Mr. President or Vice-president, forgo all that. Turn it over to the Legion of Valor.

Instead, Mr. President or Vice-president, come down to the National Mall. Come empty-handed and bare-headed, without the motorcade and escort helicopters. Come kneel at Glenna Goodacre's work. Come gaze into a bronze woman's countenance as she endlessly seeks to snatch one life back from death with only her heart and her hands. Come spend time at the tomb of the knowns, the Wall. Come as a person, not a persona. Then go back to the White House and lead like leaders who get it, not like members of a conspiracy.
Five of them were there last night at Operation Nightwatch worship. Veterans. Homed and homeless. They stood. We clapped. We prayed. We prayed for those still in harm's way even as we breathe and sleep securely. It was the least we could do. It only took 30 seconds, 45 seconds max. Any reason not to? Nado!

Thank you, veterans; and welcome home! The peace of Christ be with you all.

Pastor Roger

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Dear PDX,

The student interrupted in one of the late Joseph Sittler's theology classes at the U. of Chicago some years back. Said the student, "I think I finally get it. If God is not God enough for everything, then God is not God enough for anything."


Let's run that round in our heads for a couple of days, why don't we?

Pastor Roger

Monday, November 5, 2007

God's Life Support System

Hello, PDX!

Hebrew has no word for nature, or Mother Nature, or such phrase as "the natural world". All of the concepts which we associate with these terms today could only be expressed by one Hebrew word: God. Nature is not God. But God is nature. God is the universe. God is not only the "maker of heaven and earth: but also the maker "of all that is, seen and unseen," to quote the Nicene Creed. God is all of this, and so much more and so much more and so much more. Unless God is, nothing else is. All things are therefore a manifestation of God.

Creation lives and breathes because God lives and breathes. God lives and breathes in creation. God lives and breathes in you and me. Otherwise we wouldn't. Period. God is not simply some sort of reclusive master bulider who built the biggest possible sandbox and at the completion of that building somehow retired to a 9' x 9' tin garden shed located somewhere clear outside the universe, now suspended in metahybernation until, so overcome by infinite boredom and inactivity, God at last rouses and puts a match to the whole thing and the whole idea. As though it never were and had no purpose in the first place. God is incapable of such.

The God who got muddy by mixing clay with hands, then shaping and molding life and putting the breath of his/her own life into that clay life is incapable of such remoteness or separation. Life inheres in God. Therefore, God inheres in life.

I know. I'm married to a painter. She can't paint unless the paint gets onto her as well as the fabric or the pot or the paper, whatever she's painting. Paint is not only applied with brushes or sponges or rags. Paint is applied with everything she has, first and foremost herself. It's not that she's a sloppy painter. That's simply how it's done. A painter cannot apply the paint without first being the paint. It's a bond that exists before it is ever visible. It's a bond that is never broken. For a painter that's an impossibility. The paint is nothing without her. She is no painter without paint and painting. So why would it be different for a creator, a maker of all that is, seen and unseen? How could it be?

That's different from magic. That's different from manufacturing. Creation is neither of these.

So I no longer talk about "the environment". That's a piteous, disgustingly, insultingly inadequate term meaning, to most of us, simply our surroundings. As though they were optional. As though they were inconsequential. As though they were only trivial scenery or props. As though they had no life. As though we were separate. As though we could exist without them. As though we were independent. As though we and they were not God's.

How ironic that Christ followers who are custodians of the doctrine of creation and for whom, according to the Nicene Creed and the book of Colossians, Christ is the means through which all creation was created, should seem to have such a stunted sense of creation. I never encounter other Christ followers who have Webster's fuller definition of the environment as "the complex of climatic, edaphic, and biotic factors that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival" on the tips of their cognitive tongues or their faith. If you're out there, where are you? For God's sake, where are you?

Yep, I've given up on the term "the environment". It's been hijacked, looted and emptied.

New term: God's life support system. "Creation" doesn't cut it because we instantly relegate that to an activity over and done with eons ago. (I disagree, but I may be in a minority among Christ followers. Sadly, creation has become too radioactive to use these days. Nothing wrong with the term, but our minds seem too small to do it justice and respect...)

Hence, I now do God's life support system. Or perhaps it should be written God's Life Support System. OK, bold type may be too much; but doesn't it at least deserve the upper case letters of proper nouns?

God's Life Support System. That's not an empty label but a theological statement declaring: 1) whose it is; 2) what it does; and 3) how it works. Think about it. Think about it, think about it, think about it.

Think about it next time you toss a plastic water bottle, paper cup, alakaline battery, food wrap or oil filter into the "trash". Think about it next time you start a war. And think about it next time you say "people first" or "my generation first" or "my country first" or "my family first" or "we can't do this because it might harm the economy". Tell me, please, what economy can possibly exist without God's Life Support System? I'll wait patitently for the first demonstrable answer. And I'll buy it a $200 dinner with wine--from God's Life Support System.

Aren't we all in God's Life Support System together? Could it be that Jesus, citing bedrock concepts of Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6, was really getting at something fundamental when he said that loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself were inseparable? Tell me, how can we separate ourselves from God's Life Support System? By comparison, walking on water is a snap. How can we separate ourselves from God and have life?

So think about God's Life Support System. Think about it. Share the term with friends and family and people of faith or non-faith everywhere. I've coined the phrase and I'm giving it away free of charge. Take it. Use it. On-the-house. Give it away.

Kinda like grace. That's another thing. God's Life Support System also happens to be God's delivery system for grace. If you can dispute that, I'd like to hear all about that past or present life outside of God's Life Support System. All ears here.

Makes sense. We humans have brought sin into God's Life Support System by putting something, anything--ourselves included--in place of God. Makes sense that the remedy for this should come through whom all things were made, Jesus the Christ, God made flesh. Makes sense that the remedy should come within God's Life Support System and on behalf of it. How else could it happen? Where else could it happen? How else could we know it?

So believing in Jesus Christ is hard? No way! It's a no-brainer in God's Life Support System! Comes with the territory.

So think about it. And tell us what you think. Any and all comments desired.

Happy life! Happy support! Happy system! Happy breath of God-knowing!

Pastor Roger

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Jet Fuel and Walter Reed

Hi, PDX and the world!

My former Air Force supervisor Brooks sent me a useful address:

A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20307-5001

Support a recovering soldier and his/her family by sending some thanks and good wishes their way. Mine will go into the mail tomorrow to WRAMC.

Brooks also forwarded a little video clip of a Russian built Sukhoi 30-MK fighter jet. With vectored thrust and canard surfaces near the nose it can "fly" in almost any attitude. More like an aerobatic helicopter than a fighter jet. All it takes is a lot of kerosene. A LOT of kerosene--which is essentially what jet fuel is.

Made me stop to think how we could really support our troops: cut household fossil fuel and electricity consumption by 25%. Here's a thought. Trucks and trains that transport our goods don't burn much fuel compared to what we ignite daily driving our cars and pickups all over God's kingdom as though it didn't matter. Every gallon of gasoline, kerosene or diesel fuel burned produces somewhere between 20 and 22 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Next thought. In Lincoln, NE where I got my undergraduate degree the football stadium holds around 80,000 people. If every person at the game burns one gallon of fuel to get there, that's somewhere around 1,600,000 pounds of CO2. Just for one game. Granted, some students walk. But many folks drive dozens or hundreds of miles round trip. Still, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the daily combustion in any U.S. town of 100K people, not to mention Portland, Seattle, LA, Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth or Chicago.

Next thought. How would life change if Saudi Arabia came apart and oil went to $150-200 per barrel overnight? Would the job or church you commute to now pencil out if gas went to $7 per gallon? Would your job still be there? Where would your food come from? What would it cost? Could easily happen. Could happen by the time you read this. Pakistan is in the process of imploding before it explodes. Pakistan: nuclear power. Pray for calm. Please pray for calm. And reinvent your life. Soon.

Apart from all that, we know better than doggone well that earth systems and life as we know it cannot withstand a repeat of the 20th century, let alone one worse. So why are we so slow to adjust? Beats me. Totally beats me. What good is a war on terrorism or secure borders when the very life support systems of earth are under deadly assault? All life as we know it depends on those systems. All of it. Only all of it..... Wow!

So why is this so hard to wrap our little heads and hearts around? Maybe our terminology is too small...

Next time: Why I no longer talk about "the environment".

Cards and letters to WRAMC. Remember?

Pastor Roger

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Another Jesus Sighting! 2 of 'em, actually!

Hi, PDX and the world!

Movies always get it wrong. Mel Gibson got ultra-graphic with the torture and execution of Jesus. I doubt that any film maker will top Gibson's effort. No problem so far. But there was that scene earlier in the film that fell into the same trap that snares most makers of biblical films. For Gibson it was the woman about to be stoned after being caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)

She was too pretty. Clothes were clean, face washed. Straight teeth, smooth skin. Groveling in the dirt she still looked like a million denarii. How about Mary Magdalene, a person people hissed at, didn't speak to, never made eye contact with? What do you suppose the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) looked like, coming at midday to avoid the townsfolk? Or the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15) begging for the life of her daughter? The poor soul with endometriosis (Mark 5) who had to sneak up behind Jesus, her last hope in life? How did Mary Magdalene look after Good Friday and the most miserable Sabbath of her life, bawling her eyes out in the graveyard at the empty tomb because now even the body was gone?

I doubt any of these women had just had their hair done or were L'Oreal models. Yet their brokenness and Jesus' response to it have become some of the most compelling testimony in history.

She was there at worship again on Sunday night, looking incredibly pale and tired. Hollow eyes. She'd come in with a terrible cough the week before. It's getting cold these nights. Often she closes her eyes during the psalm and the sermon. It may be the first rest in a warm place that she's had all day. That's fine. She always comes up for communion. And she'd asked for prayer for that cough. How'd you like to have a sore throat, fever, stuffy sinuses, aching muscles and be on the street? All night. What do you think it's like being a young woman out there, a person nobody makes eye contact with but who often hears hisses and obscenities? How thick would your armor have to be to survive that day after day?

She was there. Three times while eating she set down her food and just hugged and thanked my wife Jean who hadn't done anything out of the ordinary. Said she'd been a little depressed... Understatement of the decade. Within whatever wounded and tired flesh this woman lives today, there is still a bit of a girl who just needs to be hugged by her Mom. And almost any tender-hearted mama-type will do. Don't need to be clean and coiffed to need that. Don't need to be Superwoman to do that. Just need to be real. Just need to be there.

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto my sisters and brothers whom the world chooses not to see, ye have done it unto me (my paraphrase)," Jesus said.

Jesus stood there needing a hug. Jesus (aka my wife Jean) also stood there hugging back. Another Jesus sighting. 2 of 'em, actually.

God, it's special when Jesus shows up at worship! Amen.


Pastor Roger

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Introversion Season

Welcome, PDX!

(Puzzled by our name, Koine Community? Visit the first posts from 8/15 and 8/19.)

A very wise teacher of mine observes, "If you don't know where an extrovert is, you're not listening. If you don't know where an introvert is, you're not looking." So I think autumn is that introverted season when we draw into more layers of clothing ourselves and look on in amazement as the earth around us draws into herself also. And there she will restore and renew her energy in preparation for all the new life to come six months hence.


(eternal memories of leaves in autumn)

Now hushed upon the forest floor
memories of sunlight suspended by shade
Torn from the twig where magically made
afloat on the breezes of summer no more.

Deep green life given away by the day
that wood and bark and branches might grow
Now fallen to dampness, to darkness, decay
their remnants upon the roots they bestow

Hopeful that one day, whenever, they'll be
united again by the heart of a tree
Again in the heavens on branches to soar
and finally hushed upon the forest floor.

Such amazing variety in autumn's ritual! There have been times when the color has simply overwhelmed me, left me speechless. Sometimes the color is an entire palette found in a grove of trees, shrubs and grasses. Sometimes it's that same rich variety all jammed together in a single leaf--if we but stop to notice. Ten years ago next month I went to Washington, DC to do some grieving and photography on the National Mall. I spent much of my three days there at the trilogy of the Vietnam Memorial: the Wall and the two bronze sculptures. The grass on the lawn was still a rich, bright green. Tree leaves, many attached but some falling, were every color that leaves can be. They matched the brilliance in every way of the primary colors of the nation's flag and her battle flags. And the flags some of our fellow citizens still carry inside.

In this season of hushed leaves it might be good to look inside to see what could use some attention. And what could be laid down to rest. God grant you good introversion. 'Tis the season.


Pastor Roger

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stocking Feet...twice

Hi, PDX!

Jesus showed up again tonight at worship. It's been a cold, miserable, rainy week. The sky had finally wrung itself out today, and the pavement dried. As Jean and I neared the center to open up and prepare for evening worship, K____, a man we occasionally see there, was sitting on the sidewalk next to the patio gate. K____ came in for worship. As we were serving food afterward Jean noticed that K____ had no shoes. Socks but no shoes. He'd probably been walking in wet shoes and socks all week and finally found a pair of dry socks but couldn't bear to put them in smelly, wet, unhealthy shoes. So, he'd been walking the pavement all day in his socks.

Jean asked me if we had any shoes, size 9. I thought we did in the upstairs storage at the center, but it was locked. L____, a long-time guest at Operation Nightwatch and recent volunteer at Daywatch, had a solution. His shoes were size 9. He'd just gotten them that day. He began taking off his shoes. "L____," I exclaimed, "what will you do?" L____ said he would wait until the storage area opened the next morning, borrow a pair of shoes to get home to his apartment, and then return the borrowed pair.

L____ gave K____ the shoes off his feet. Went to stocking feet himself so that K____, who will spend the night outdoors, could have shoes. Dry, new shoes. L____ may be able to get another pair before boarding the train. L____ is going home to see his Dad who will not live out the year. Did I tell you that L____ is recovering from cancer surgery? Instead of surgery to remove the cancer, it turned out to be exploratory for cancer too advanced to remove. Did I tell you L____ is a widower, a former Marine, HIV positive, younger brother of another Marine KIA in Vietnam?

"The kingdom of God is like an HIV positive, widowed ex-Marine, dying of cancer and about to lose his father, who gave a homeless man the new shoes off his feet..."

HIV. Yes, L____ got it that way. I know some Bible thumpers who would declare L____ an abomination and unfit for the kingdom of God. I saw something different. I saw Jesus show up needing size 9 shoes. Then I saw Jesus giving up his brand new size 9 shoes. I saw a miracle. I saw Jesus walking on water, except that his time it was on stocking feet. Twice.

That's our Lord, going where folks would not expect him, giving the shoes off his feet while facing his own death... Semper fi, Jesus! Semper fi, L____! Semper fi, kingdom of God! Always faithful.

Enjoy your dry shoes, everyone!


Pastor Roger

Thursday, October 18, 2007

24/7 Conspiracy

Hello, PDX!

New readers, welcome! We've been exploring the Kingdom of God (KoG). To get some perspective on where we are now you'll have to backtrack to previous posts. The 10/14 post asked a few questions related to war and peace issues. Before we remake Jesus in the image and colors of our own battle flags it's always wise to ask hard questions. And, hey, if the church doesn't have anything to say on war/peace issues if wouldn't seem to have credibility on many other life issues either. So here's another one to consider: how we live in God's creation.

For the past year my wife and I have been hanging around a lot with the Imago Dei Community in Portland. This is an amazing (and growing!!!) band of Christ followers who seem to be turning most definitions and abstractions of church upside-down. Amen to that! Last year, Imago Dei and four other faith communities started the Advent Conspiracy. The idea is to buy no commerically made Christmas gifts but to instead give relational gifts (as in doing something with someone) and perhaps small, home-made gifts to friends and loved ones. The money saved by not buying gadgets is instead offered to make the world a seriously different and better place. Such as? A new well to provide clean water for a community, an alpaca to provide a family with income for 20 years, help for needy families and schools in SE Portland. Good stuff that says, "God's gift to the world changes everything."

This year, over 1,000 churches have joined Advent Conspiracy. The "mustard seed" is already growing into a huge shrub. Next year, it will be an incredible tree!

Last Sunday we got to watch video clips of people who have no clean water and who rummage through an awful dump in Guatemala to make a living. Flies, barefoot children, vultures and piles of putrid stuff as far as the eye could see. That's the "before" picture. With help from Advent Conspiracy 2006, a couple of pastors were able to purchase land away from the dump, put in a new well. People have fresh, clean water for the first time in their lives. The day of the well dedication was a picnic and BBQ. Lots of water fights. Showers and shampoo. Wet T-shirts, Slip 'n Slide, kiddie pools. Smiling faces all around. The start of a new life. That's the "after" picture.

All week I've thought about the dump and what must be in the groundwater under it. Some people have been relocated, but others will take their places. How long will the well water last? Will the polluted water in the ground under the dump eventually reach the well? What then?

The dump. Among other things beyond description, the dim video showed one ubiquitious human creation: plastic, plastic, plastic. Poly bags and broken plastic stuff everywhere. Multiply this picture globally. Start with your own trash. How are you adding to the pile? How long can we keep this up?

The Waste Management trucks that serve our area have an interesting placard on both sides. It states, "Our landfills provide over 17,000 acres of wildlife habitat." Gee, what do you suppose those 17K acres were before they were landfills? What's in the groundwater under them? What's going to be there in 100 years? 200 years? Will the water wells dug by last year's Advent Conspiracy soon be used up or polluted like the land under that Guatemalan dump which also was wildlife habitat and human habitat. Once. Now it's inhuman habitat.

How can we give ourselves a way of life that respects and cherishes God's creation as if it really were God's? As if we really thought so? Seems we need a 24/7 conspiracy.

Where to start? How about with a way of life that doesn't use plastic bags, plastic packaging and plastic water bottles? We could do this. Actually we could. Question is, will we? If not now, when? Why not?

The kingdom of God could help. Think alternative contrast society. Think Christmas 365. Talk about it with friends and family. Think 24/7 conspiracy. It could catch on. 24/7.


Pastor Roger

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wing And A Prayer

Hello, PDX!

The kingdom of God (KoG) comes in unexpected ways, at unexpected times. Sometimes Jesus tried to show it to people, and their eyes simply glazed over. Other times, they got it, they saw it; and they were amazed to the point of being speechless. I saw it last night, and it took my breath away.

I do ministry at Operation Nightwatch in downtown Portland. I've volunteered at this nighttime ministry of hospitality for four years. Since May, I've led a Sunday evening worship service in this little community of people who are homeless, low income, mentally ill and also very gifted human beings. I hate using those labels, by the way. We're all just people.

We had just been meditating on Luke 17: 11-19, the story of Jesus' response to the 10 lepers who asked for mercy. He saw them not only for what they were: people afflicted by disease that kept them isolated from the rest of the community. He also saw them for what they could be: people who were well and whole again.

Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests who would have to certify their healing and their "wellness". On their way, the ten noticed that they had indeed been made well. Only one, a Samaritan (biblical code for "outcast"), returned to not only thank Jesus but to worship him. All ten had been made well, but only one really understood his healing as an encounter with God. Only one "saw" Jesus for what He was. The unlikely one saw...

Our prayer time at Operation Nightwatch worship is rich, the richest I have ever known in worship. Last night, I already had a long list of prayer requests before worship even began. At prayer time I still asked for other prayer concerns. Ted (not his real name) raised his hand. Ted knows he is mentally ill and that he doesn't have the same freedom most other people have. He knows his life will never be like theirs. "Yes, Ted," I said, "what would you like to pray for?"

"For the well," Ted said. "I think we should pray for the well so that they understand what it's like to be sick."

It took me a few seconds to catch my breath and regain my speech. My reply was something like, "Thank you, Ted. That's about the best prayer request I've ever heard. We will pray for the well. We will pray that we all can see each other." And we did.

The kingdom of God had come like a lightning bolt or a gull over the waves. It had come on a wing and a prayer. I'm still nearly speechless.

KoG can do that.


Pastor Roger

Sunday, October 14, 2007

KoG V. Still Viable Today?

Hello, PDX!

Welcome, new readers and returning ones, for sure. Please pass along the site address to anyone you know. If you are just joining us, you mght want to back up and get the first installments on the kingdom of God, which I abbreviate KoG.

OK, so Apostle Paul set himself up for a big time conflict with Rome by proclaiming the KoG. KoG brought peace through God's justice which was received by grace through faith in Jesus as Messiah, as opposed to Rome's pax Romana: peace (and economic growth) through military victory and reverence for the emperor as divine. And lest we forget, Paul did not invent KoG. This came directly from the life and ministry of Jesus.

But with the constant threat of terrorism that could very well turn into nuclear terrorism, hadn't we better first turn the world into a safe and stable place and then set about the task of converting the survivors to faith in Christ? Shouldn't we gird ourselves for an all-out war to cleanse the world of false religion in order to make it safe for Christ? Are these in fact our choices? Is this in fact how we think? Does the KoG actually make any sense today, or was it simply a sort of fairy tale dream for a simpler (so we imagine) world of 2K years ago?

Sorry to disappoint you if you are expecting answers. I can tell you what I think, but the important thing is what you think because that determines how you live your life. So instead I'll toss out a few questions:

1. How many people did Jesus kill in order to bring in the kingdom of God?
2. How many insurgent groups did Jesus organize to oppose godless Rome** that occupied his own country and even Mt. Zion itself?
3. How many people, and whom, did Jesus instruct his followers to kill in his name?
4. What did Jesus say would make his followers free?
5. What did Jesus say we should seek first?
6. What weapons system did Jesus instruct his followers to employ in carrying out Matthew 28:19?

**Note: Rome wasn't godless at all but had many gods. Martin Luther had it right. Our god is whatever we flee to or cling to in times of distress.

And last but not least:

7. Was Jesus just talking through his hat?

That last one has two possible answers. Yes or no. I guess that will have everything to do with whether or not we think KoG makes any sense today or at any time in history for that matter. Any at all.

* * *

Last evening as I bought a Street Roots newspaper from Vicky Sittinghawk outside of Powell's Books, she gave me this little card:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6


Pastor Roger

Thursday, October 11, 2007

KoG IV--For Free or Via Caesar?

Hello, PDX!

Lately the high temperature in Baltimore where our daughter lives has rivaled the high temperature in Baghdad. Here we've been abnormally cool and much wetter than we've been accustomed after a very dry summer. We live in different worlds that yet are one.

Circa AD 33: Saul was a "young Turk" although he didn't know it at the time. The city of Tarsus, today located about 25 miles WSW from the vital U.S. airbase at Adana, Turkey, already existed before the time of Christ. Talk about centennials! They've probably been able to observe over 25 of them. Two millennia ago the region around Tarsus was known as Cilicia. Today it's a part of the Republic of Turkey, the Middle East's oldest democracy. 2K years ago, this area produced a young Jew named Saul who took his faith and traditions very seriously. That's why he traveled to Jerusalem for further study at the epicenter of his people and his faith.

We don't know that Saul ever heard Jesus of Nazareth preach or teach, but he was determined to eliminate followers of this Jesus whom they confessed to be "Xristos" or Christ, the one anointed to be Israel's Messiah. Saul was a consenting eyewitness at the lynching and stoning of Stephen, the first Christ-follower known to be martyred. Saul became a bounty hunter, intending to make a career of rounding up others like Stephen. On the way to Damascus with arrest warrants in his backpack, Saul was encountered by a blinding light and a voice calling him to repentance and service. Saul was met by the very Christ, the risen and glorified Christ, whose followers he was set to arrest and eliminate. Instructed and baptized in Damascus by a Christ follower name Ananias, Saul eventually returned to Jerusalem, his own life now in danger, to meet with the very wary leaders of the community of his former enemies.

After an apparent period of self-imposed exile, this transformed Saul adopted the Hellenized name "Paulos", traveling widely in the known Mediterranean world as a missionary to Jews, Gentiles and people on the fringe. Paul's letters and epistles to various communities of Christ followers predate the written gospels in our New Testament Bibles. He took the title "apostle" (one who is sent) because he had been called and sent directly by Christ, not by fledgling church leaders in Jerusalem--although he did come to an accomodation with them.

Paul's message went far beyond any sort of Judaism vs. Christianity debate. Paul's message set him on a direct collision course with the very organizing principle of the civilized world in which he and his hearers lived. Rome was the power. Rome said peace in the empire would come through military victory that would crush opposition. Prosperity would come by turning the imperial authority of Rome into a state religion. Personal piety and loyalty to the emperor would ensure the favor of the gods. This would bring economic growth. Roman emperors sealed the deal by being declared divine by the Roman senate. Sons of emperors thus became known as "son of (a) god" and "savior of the world." Prosperity would result from a sort of trickle-down economics so long as the Roman state maintained its hold on the world by military victory. This order would be maintained at all costs. Rome tolerated other religions only so long as they supported the existing order.

Paul knew a different Son of God, a different Savior of the world: Jesus, the Christ. Following this Christ led to a different kind of peace, a peace that came not through military victory of Rome or through keeping the Jewish law but through the grace of God in Christ. And this grace was received through the oxymoronic "law of faith" as Paul sometimes put it. The peace that Christ offered came not through military victory but through the justice of God. God had things right. God could therefore make things right. God had done so and was doing so through his Son Jesus. God's justice was God's right-making.

For Paul this was the best news he had ever heard because it turned the world upside-down and right-side-up at the same time. Paul opposed the kingdom of Rome with the kingdom of God (KoG). One kingdom sought to seize the world and then forever freeze it through imperial rule. The other kingdom sought to free the world. One came at a very high price and was good news for some but very bad news for others. The other kingdom came free-of-charge as good news for all willing to receive it. One kingdom was patently unsustainable. The other lasts an eternity.

The two kingdoms could not be more different. What's your pick?

Next time: Does any of this make sense today?


Pastor Roger

Monday, October 8, 2007

Kingdom of God (KoG) III

Good morning, PDX!

Portland is PDX to locals. KoG is my shorthand for kingdom of God, the singular hallmark of Jesus' ministry. Back to the future. Back to the KoG. (NOTE: For this discussion I am eternally indebted to my guru, the late Lutheran pastor and professor, Joseph Sittler. Read anything and everything by this man you can get your hands on. Read it 5 times until your mind begins to expand to the magnitude of his faith and thought.)

If I had a dollar for every time I've spoken the Lord's prayer, which may be a different number from the number of times I've really prayed it with my heart and mind, I could take a very long vacation. Maybe even fly both of us to Italy for a month to savor the art--a trip Jean and I once dreamed of taking to celebrate our 35th anniversary, now nearly two years behind us. Every time I've spoken those sacred words, the triad "thy kingdom come" has been among them. How does the KoG come about? How does it happen?

That's a mind bender. As we saw in KoG II (Matt. 4:23), KoG has immediate application and fulfillment against the diseases and distresses of human beings. KoG is about healing, to be sure. Yet, we are dumbstruck when a simple question is asked. If Jesus had the power to heal, and if Jesus was moved with compassion, then for God's sake why didn't he heal everybody? Instead of being an itinerant teacher/preacher/healer who hit a few sore spots but missed the vast majority, why didn't Jesus set up a permanent headquarters in Jerusalem, marshal all the best human and financial resources available, and then use the demographic data of Rome's census to attack the high disease areas first? Aft that he could have systematically expanded the operation throughout the whole of Palestine and thence to the entire globe?

Because KoG is not about system but style. It's not reducible to rules or principles. It's like the gull flying above the waves, only occasionally diving straight down to snatch the tidbit of food before flying on above the rolling sea. It's like the powerful but unpredictable and chaotic lightning bolt that only fleetingly illuminates the texture and color of storm clouds at night. It's not an externality that is imposed in order to make a cookie cutter clone out of you and me and every other human being or artifact of nature. It's not about imposition but participation. KoG is not closet Christianity.

Instead, KoG is the living, breathing inbreaking of the perfection of God's creation that has never been lost and never forsaken in the Divine mind. KoG is not private but relational, not something done to you and me but with and through you and me. KoG is like planted seeds or an implanted embryo. KoG is life in formation and the predecessor of new birth. KoG touches now here, now there, not all at once. Yet in so doing it has power, in Sittler's words, to touch all that "saddens, maddens and gladdens us."

They brought Jesus a denarius with Caesar's image on it and asked if it were lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. Jesus replied, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." They asked for a tidy rule. Instead, he gave them a messy policy. Essentially Jesus replied, "Go figure it out in real life. Stop standing there dying and get busy living." Thus the KoG broke in for them.

Two days ago I sat across the table from someone who shared a new vision. Some loving folks want to quietly provide child care for strippers. That's right: young Moms who take their clothes off and do table dances for a living. Kids will be safe and well cared for while Mom is at work. And if she wants it, Mom will be offered a hand out and perhaps a hand up (as opposed to a handout) when she comes home. If that ain't the KoG, I don't know what is!

A lightning bolt out of the darkness, a gull diving into the turbulence and depths of there... Thy kingdom come... Amen!


Pastor Roger

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Tribute to Roger

Hello, Portland!

Time out from the kingdom of God. We'll get back to it directly. But first, a tribute to Roger is overdue. Maybe I'll call him St. Roger. No, I'm not talking about myself. I'm talking about Roger who sells the Street Roots newspaper at the NW 11th & Couch entrance to Powell's Books in downtown Portland.

My wife Jean and I try to spend an afternoon in downtown Portland (PDX to us locals, same as the airport identifier) every week. Powell's Books is a regular stop. And there is Roger, often standing in the cold for hours quietly making his papers available. I first started buying the Street Roots newspaper published by the PDX homeless community because I thought it was a charitable thing to do. Vendors buy the papers for 30 cents each and sell them for a dollar, making 70 cents a paper. That's how they support themselves. It's their job. In the first few issues I found poetry I liked. Then I found well written articles that told me things about our city, about housing and poverty and homelessness that I wasn't hearing elsewhere. Now I buy the papers to stay informed. Roger is our most frequent vendor.

After seeing him regularly for a few weeks I thought we should at least know a name, so we introduced ourselves. Found out his name is Roger, just like mine. Asked about his little dog companion who is frequently there in a stroller. A few weeks ago we noticed Roger wasn't wearing a shoe on his right foot. People on the street spend a lot of time on their feet. Bad feet and you can't get to where you need to go to stay alive. His foot is still mending--slowly. Roger now uses a platform walker that he can sit on.

Last week when I bought a paper, you should have seen Roger's face brighten when he saw two familiar friendly faces. Not many people greet him by name. Not many people ask him about his foot and how he's doing now that the weather has turned cold again. It doesn't take very much to make a person smile.

An hour later as we prepared to leave the store, I watched people ahead of us exit. Faces turned either right or left. Footsteps accelerated. Conversation quickened and voices raised. These are avoidance mechanisms. It's not that people couldn't see Roger. It's that they did and immediately made a decision to avoid him, to avoid eye contact at all costs, to act as if he weren't there so that, for all practical purposes, he wasn't. In seeing, they judged and chose not to "see".

Roger is always fully and neatly dressed. He doesn't smell and doesn't have alcohol on his breath. He's anything but pushy. Nearly inert would be a better description. He's learned to read people and conserve his energy. He won't make a push to sell a paper to someone who's already going into the sprint avoidance mode to get away from him.

Besides his energy, Roger is also conserving his heart. What's it like to sit there hour after hour, day after day and have people not only not see you but refuse to see you? Roger is no dummy. He sees what people wear and what they drive. He knows they probably have running credit card balances, car payments and mortgage payments that rival his total income in the past 3-10 years. They may spend more on lattes in a day than he spends on food in a week. No wonder Roger has a dog. Few people love like that little four-legged ball of fur.

The most unfortunate part? The folks who whiz by will never get to know his smile or hear his friendly "You folks have a good day now!" as they leave the store. And they will never know the vital information and honest-to-God stories of life in their own city found in that little Street Roots newspaper. The paper is only a dollar. The humanity of St. Roger is free, total gift like the grace of God. All ya gotta do is reach out and let it touch you.

Bless you, Roger!

Blessings, all!

Pastor Roger

Friday, October 5, 2007

KoG II--Y Not?

Hello, Portland!

Kingdom of God (KoG) as good news????? Y not?

Matthew 4:18-23 slaps us upside the head. Jesus recruits Peter and Andrew, good ol' boys who fished. Peter (literally "rock") and Andrew (literally "manly guy" or "macho man") must have been quite a pair. Called by Jesus, "Rocky" and "Macho Man" leave boat, nets and bewildered Dad behind. They take off to follow an unlicensed free-lance teacher who declares that he will have them fishing for people. Can't imagine how the neighborhood tongues wagged about that scandal! Or what ol' Dad must have thought. Powerful words, "follow me".

From hauling in fish nets half naked on hot days and chopping fish heads ashore Rocky and Macho Man morphed into some kind of off-the-wall outreach committee in one fell swoop? Yeah, right! But it happened. Let's see, now.... Extreme makeover like that would require: a) getting their GED; b) 4 years of Bible college; c) 4 years of seminary including an internship in outreach. Optional: d) three years' doctoral study abroad and several years of learning Christian principles and discipline in a monastic order while writing five books. Next they invented a liturgy, wrote a hymn book, formed a band, copyrighted a logo, put out 10 CD's and went on TV. Then they built a temple and waited for the people to show up. Right?

Wrong! It's all OJT. Rocky and Macho Man go synagogue-hopping with Jesus who preaches and teaches about the good news of the KoG (kingdom of God). Then he does a mind-blowing thing. He cures all kinds of diseases, heals all kinds of conditions: physical, mental and spiritual! Right there in front of God and everybody! KoG is good news and it has immediate application in the child with ear infection and 103-degree fever. It fixes leprosy, paralysis, mental illness and the demonic darkness of depression. Good news? Ya, you betcha!

Mind-boggling! KoG is not a quaint, theoretical notion gathering dust on the shelf until Judgment Day comes. It's up-close and personal. It's on-the-fly and unpredictable. It always has a face and a name. It's immediate--but always arrives with more to come. It's something Jesus talked about in parables and then proceeded to do right in front of their eyes. KoG turned things upside-down and right-side-up. KoG fixed things and was good news to people who desperately needed good news. It's something they would participate in directly. The impact of that probably took years to soak in for Rocky, Macho Man and crew. I doubt they swallowed the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12) all in one bite either. Things take time, y'all! God's got lotsa time. Fact is, He's got it all.

KoG changed the world, and the world needs lots more of it. And Y not? Or has everything in the world suddenly become just hunky-dory overnight and only I have failed to notice? And how's the KoG happen anyway?

Next time: KoG-For-Free... or Caesar's Alternative Economic Growth Plan? U choose!

KoG blessings!

Pastor Roger

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kingdom of God I

Hello, Portland!

Nature has flipped a switch. Now it really is fall. From dry to damp (OK, wet!). From warm to cool. From blue to gray, brown to green. All within a 24-hour period. That's how quickly seasons change here. Now we get to adjust to seeing our everyday world in an entirely new way. It's an annual ritual. I love Portland!

OK. Kingdom of God. Christ followers today talk surprisingly little about the kingdom of God. Maybe shockingly little. Why? Many reasons, I think. First, we don't do well with royalty here in America. We figure we were all done with that back in 1781 when we at last managed to sufficiently bloody the nose of George III of England so that he finally bowed to our colonial insurgency.

Second, "kingdom" offends egalitarian sensibilities today. Some of us figure that if there's a kingdom an even-handed God ought to also have a queendom. So we weasel on the words and either drop the "g" to get "kindom of God", or else we adopt the entirely new word "dominion" instead.

Not sure either of those do anything but further obscure things. Talk about door-slammers! Just imagine saying to somebody you know or work with, "Hey, let's have coffee (or a beer) so I can tell you all about the kindom of God or the dominion of God!" They'll probably conclude that you're either dyslexic or a fundamentalist Canadian. Once they recover from their bewilderment enough to speak, the first excuse they can think of will probably erupt. Maybe something like, "Sorry, but no. I have to help my dog with his homework--right now!"

Kingdom of God. I like to abbreviate it KoG in my notes, jottings and Bible margins. Yeah, I do write in my Bible--all over the margins. In pencil; no highliters, please! Where did this KoG thing come from anyway?

It has deep Old Testament roots. Yahweh (the "name" we give to the God of Israel whom those folks would only refer to by the letters YHWH or as "The Lord") is regularly worshiped as king of the universe, king of creation, ruler of all. So far, so good. Almost.

Then Jesus took that ball of kingship and ran 99 yards with it. It was absolutely a hallmark of his teaching and preaching along with great aphorisms and the engaging illustrations we know as parables. KoG was a high-stakes, risky move. Why? 'Cause people had some genuinely first-hand bad experience with kings. Kings nearly always came with armies. That's how they got power and retained it. And often that's how kings exercised power: armies. Great if you're in the in-crowd, absolutely deadly if you aren't. Besides, kings levied taxes. And more often than not, kings had abysmally immoral lives.

So for Jesus to run around proclaiming the KoG more steadfastly than anyone in history ought to stop us cold in our intellectual tracks. KoG? Are you kidding, or what? What is that? What's it look like, taste like, feel like? Why should I not fear it but long for it? Why on earth should KoG be good news? Why would it possibly be the best news one could ever hear? Why? For God's sake, why?

Maybe it's like fall here: seeing our world in an entirely new way.

Next time: KoG II--Y not?


Pastor Roger

Sunday, September 23, 2007

2 many churches?

Happy Autumn! (you, too, Suzanne!)

A season has turned again. The sun is at a lower angle giving that goregous autumn light here in the Pacific Northwest. Maple leaves are looking very tired after a very dry summer. Early signs of color are creeping into the changing light. Perhaps it's a time to consider things in a different light.

Doug was across the street doing yard work for our neighbor. He asked if I had a church yet and told me about a vacant one in SE Portland. Sunday we drove by it. It looks nice. Right up and down the road from three others that are active but don't look as nice.

Starting a church? Why, when there are so many (it seems) churches around? Out here in East County 'burbs it seems there are little churches every few blocks. Now and then there's also a BIG one. Some big ones even look like industrial parks--because they ARE in industrial parks. Others look like the forlorn and forgotten little neighborhood groceries that once prevailed in these neighborhoods 60 or more years ago.

Some former churches don't even look like that. One nearby little Lutheran church where my wife and I went for childbirth classes after first moving here in 1978 has been a Buddhist temple for some years now. Same with another Lutheran church we joined soon after, the church where our daughter was baptized: Buddhist temple. The original buidling of our home church (the congregation quickly outgrew the building and sold it) has been a porn shop for the past couple of decades. Ouch!

Truth be told, if 90%, or even 60% of Portlanders awoke some Sunday and went to church, the buildings could not begin to hold all of us. Not even close. But doing church and being church ain't about buildings. Never was. So that can't be the measure. Church is about the people. People gather, and people scatter. Then they gather again. Different groups of people are different sizes. They can gather in all kinds of spaces. The groups can be like tent campers that occupy a space only briefly. Or they can be like heavy industry that digs into property for the long haul. Question is, what's the mission?

Marva Dawn and Richard Lischer call the church an "alternative contrast society." Alternative to what? A contrast how? Those aren't rhetorical questions but embarkation points of a life-changing journey. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is nothing if not a vision of God's alternative contrast society. Most people who heard that straight from Jesus said it was the best news they'd ever heard. If that's so, the question is not whether there are too many churches, too few or just right. Question is whether there is enough kingdom of God. Can't ever be enough good news. Can't ever be enough of the best news. Right?

Kingdom of God... Waddizzat?!?!?!?

Next time: KOG, the alternative contrast society

Pastor Roger

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Starting a Church?

Hello Portland!

"So, are we starting a church, or what?" Starting a church... Would you mind if we did? Would you care? Would anyone? Why would we want to?
Lots of questions to think about. We can go back to the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19, and it conjures up all kinds of images. It could be the Fuller Brush man who during my childhood came around to every farm home in the community about every two months, selling (of course!) brushes and home cleaning products. His counterpart, the long-gone Watkins salesman, surely saved my life countless times. Without that yellow can of Watkins salve and Mom's home-made bandages torn from old long underwear, I don't know how I'd have recovered from all my childhood burns, cuts and puncture wounds.

But does the Great Commission make door-to-door salesmen/women of us? Maybe, maybe not. How about neighbors who help neighbors? How about supporting families in transition times of birth and death, graduation and marriage, illness and unemployment, war and peace, loss of a home or warming a new one? Is there a place to either be the Samaritan who stops on the road or be the one receiving the aid that the Samaritan offers? We think so, both in lean times and in times of plenty, in old neighborhoods and new ones.

The can of Watkins salve seems more like an appropriate metaphor for the Great Commission than the pomp, circumstance and costly materials of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. At least it does to us. We think there are still wounds in the world and still a need for healing. We think the Great Commission calls for uncommon love. We think it calls for common folk, common ground and uncommon love. We think it calls for Koine Community.

Next time: Enough churches already?


Pastor Roger

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Special


It's an anniversary day. Six years ago I parked my motorcycle at Troutdale Airport preparing to begin a routine work day. A man from another company at the airport whom I'd never met approached from his car in the next parking lot. "Have you had the TV on this morning?" he asked. "No," I replied. "I always read the paper." "Might want to do that," he advised. "World Trade Center's been attacked. We're at war."

Inside, a couple of early arrivals had the radio on. Both towers in flames. The first one collapsed. A few minutes later, the second. What did this mean? Work started at 7:30 AM, PDT. Workers slowly went about their tasks. About 9 AM as I walked through the shop I noticed it. They all looked "dazed and confused." It only took me a few minutes to decide and I immediately cleared it with the General Manager. I went around to each employee. "At 10 o'clock break I'll have a prayer time in my office. Everyone is welcome." I didn't know if anybody would show up. Turns out the whole company did, even front office staff. Phones weren't ringing much anyway. We met for prayer and sharing of concerns for the next seven work days. It was the right thing to do.

But how to feel about all of it? Confused and conflicted seemed to be pretty standard. Over the next weeks and months "Proud To Be An American" signs and bumper stickers sprouted everywhere. The phrase never quite did it for me. If "pride goeth before a fall", should pride be what I felt? If pride wasn't it, what did I feel, what should I feel? It took six months to sort it out, but it was something deeper than pride. As a veteran and loyal citizen I felt something way deeper than pride.

Deeper Than Pride
More than mountains, oceans, rivers, the rain.
More than cities and highways, quiet plains.
More than the red, the white, the blue that is dyed
onto the banner that waves like the grain...
More than anthems played by marching bands,
or star spangled chords of memorial choirs
More than the skirl of the lone piper's drone
More than I feel when the flowers are dried--
those tears yet unshed for all who have died
Far more than we could ever ask of each other
yet what we unexpectedly do every day,
It's a feeling way deeper than pride.
America, good land of brave and the free
Conceived an ideal for the world--our Miss Liberty
bearing her torch night and day just off the Manhattan shore
Welcoming peoples and tongues, hopes, dreams and more,
families praying their children will know nevermore
the fears they have sought to finally flee.
It's more than we attain, achieve, or even claim to be,
ideal far higher than we dare strive!
It is a feeling way deeper than pride.
Freedom is won solely by laying it down, setting it free
by citizens, soldiers, teachers, parents-to-be,
Rescuers giving freely on our behalf the ultimate prize
of life...
God bless these things in us, O set them joyously free!
Rebuild in us compassion, a lust for justice, hunger for liberty,
Rebuild, rebuild!
Rebuild! Yes, rebuild, rebuild, rebuild!
"Rebuild and rebuild and rebuild," I cried,
rebuild in us that feeling
of a nation way deeper than pride!"
Have a blessed day of rebuilding,
Pastor Roger

Monday, September 10, 2007

Uncommon Love, Rplaceable Dollars

Hello Portland!

Uncommon love is not an either-or deal. Last night, as I have done for the past 19 Sunday nights, I again preached and led worship at Operation Nightwatch, a ministry to homeless, street people and folks carrying significant limitations in downtown Portland. They are a cross-section of humanity we often do not see or choose not to see. But if the gospel is not good news for all of us, it's not good news for any of us. Through their eyes I have begun learning just how good and how important that news is.

Shared the word from a tough passage from Luke 14:25-34. What?!?!?! I have to hate my family in order to love and follow Jesus? That's what the words on the page say. Shows us the importance of considering not just the flower but the whole garden in order to get a more accurate picture. It's like a pyramid. Try standing it up on its point. It falls over instantly. But put it on its base and it's as stable as can be. With the point in the right place, everything else is too. Uncommon love is like that. Stable. In the right place.

A friend and former co-worker, John Towns, was always a prime example to me of having the pyramid right-side-up. His love of God, family and neighbor were inseparable and manifest in everything he did. Grew up in a poor household in Alabama where his father worked and his mother took in laundry and sewing to help make ends meet. In one childhood photo John is standing next to an African-American woman. "That's my Mammie who raised me," John said, his voice clearly filled with love and admiration decades later for this woman who was a part of his family in one of the most segregated places in the USA. If John's family was poor, we can only guess how poor Mammie's family was. But there was love. Uncommon love.

John went off to war. Twice. A son served in Vietnam, a grandson in Iraq. And John served faithfully by his beloved wife's side as the war of Alzheimer's disease took her mind and their relationship away. John's love never faded, only grew. Daily he was there in her care facility talking to her, nursing her, loving her. And when at last her breathless body was laid to rest in Willamette National Cemetery, John continued. He'd place his little wooden stool on the steep hillside next to her grave carrying on the conversation as he tended to each blade of grass or memorial bouquet as lovingly as he had tended to her. He'd read the Bible to her. Uncommon love is not an either-or deal. The uncommon love of Christ enabled him to love Christ back and to love his family in the same way, the right way: uncommonly. Amazing how stable the pyramid is when it's right-side-up.


Replaceable dollars. We have the best dentist in the world, I think. His staff are equally outstanding. On a recent visit, Dr. T and my wife were talking about the cost of health care. Yes, he feels it too in trying to provide benefits for his staff. My wife remarked how much could be done if we were spending the dollars currently going to Iraq (dollars we don't really have since we are doing this war on our children's and grandchildren's credit cards) in a different way. The young hygienist, J, commented three times during the conversation, "Yes, but the dollars are replaceable." Kind of a roundabout way of saying, "The lives being lost in Iraq aren't replaceable, and that's what we should focus on." True enough. True enough.

But are the dollars really replaceable? And do the human needs currently going unmet simply vanish into thin air, as though these needs were never real in the first place? What future golden age do we think our current war dollars are buying us? And what human needs in the future will go unmet because future dollars are making interest payments on money we borrowed today or last year? How and where and at what level of society we spend the dollars and meet human need should always be open for discussion and improvement to do it the best way possible. But there is absolutely no such thing as saving money by not meeting human need. That's the most wasteful spending we are capable of. And we do it regularly. Where is the right-side-upness of this pyramid? And what's uncommon love got to do with it? Anything? Think about it...

Next time: So are we trying to start a church, or what?

Blessings and uncommon love be with you!

Pastor Roger

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Uncommon love 2.

Hello, Portland!

Love. Love as I lay there on the cot bleeding. I bled a whole pint before we stopped it. It was intentional and done at the Red Cross Donor Center in N. Portland. Kinda like God's uncommon love, but we'll get back to that.

A few years ago Andy Rooney was a hot item on CBS' "60 Minutes". His weekly sarcastic commentary was sometimes ironic, sometimes humorous. Often it was caustic and designed to provoke a reaction something like, "It's their fault. I knew it, I just knew it!" One week he was having a fit about tolerance. Rooney read off a whole litany of behaviors he found objectionable but felt he was being expected to tolerate by an army of tolerance do-gooders. Some sympathetic soul obtained the transcript of the broadcast. In the form of forwarded e-mails, Rooney's tirade circumnavigated cyberworld three times a second for the next couple of years. Dennis, an aviation industry colleague and outspoken Christian, forwarded it to me one day at work.

The bad taste in my mouth developed instantly. I wrote back that I understood that Jesus had instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to not stand in judgment so as not to suffer the same. Conversely, Jesus had not instructed us to "tolerate" a bloody thing. I asked Dennis not to send me any more e-mails that weren't directly work-related. Never understood how he had the time for that at work anyway.

I guess that was the day that I finally began to seriously consider the meaning and application of Jesus' words. What does it mean to love? What does it mean to not stand in judgment? Not quite as simple as the oft-quoted bromide "hate the sin, love the sinner". Too easily words like Rooney's run away with us. Far too easy to enumerate other people's sins so emotionally that we end up hating after all, feeling justified and Divinely sanctioned as we do so. It is possible to hate an entire class or race of people without ever actually knowing a single one of them. And always it seems, the sins we hate (while claiming to love their owners) are, in the words of that insightful Episcopal priest and professor, Barbara Brown Taylor, "behaviors that are conveniently not our own." Yeah, how convenient! This is precisely the death trap Jesus warned against and offered a way out of. The way out is uncommon love.

Pondering Ronney's words and how they were being used like spears blindly thrown, I reflected on some painful and very diffcult family history. Parenting has never been an easy job, but I think it has gotten much harder. So many more forces at work today shaping and clawing at our children's minds and values and lives. As Mary Pipher observes, parents used to work to prepare their children to enter the culture. Now the job seems to be protecting children from it. That task can be positively overwhelming.

When those challenges broke into our family, my wife and I chose to stand and fight as best we could. Not for the sake of fighting, mind you, but for the sake of doing what was right. It wasn't pretty. Matter of fact, it was often pretty ugly. Love didn't have any of the warm fuzzies of a romantic comedy. At times it felt more like cutting off a hand. But love compelled us to do the
loving thing. That meant not accepting the unacceptable. It meant not tolerating the intolerable. It meant, as best we could, not continually re-defining right and wrong until the words became meaningless. Love did not allow us to simply say, "Oh, well!" Love didn't allow us to quit. Love required us to keep going even when we could not see the end, which was most of the time. It was love we could only learn through OJT.

Tolerance can be quite passive. Love requires action. Tolerance can be a noun. Love, as a noun, is meaningless unless it has first become a verb. Love has to be done, or it can never be felt. And love has to be given away in order to be had. That's the only way it has life. It's not always about warm fuzzies, romantic infatuatation. In fact, it rarely is, if ever. As often as 1 Corinthians 13 is used at wedding ceremonies, I wonder how often it is read and understood appropriately.

Uncommon love. That's what Jesus had in mind because he was talking about the love of the Father as well as the only effective kind of love in this world. Perhaps that's what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers they were the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). Salt is useful and necessary but only if it tastes like something (Luke 14:34): salt. Not sugar, not artifical flavoring. Likewise, not vinegar or battery acid. Salt. Salt can only do its job when used properly, when put into or onto something, not when it is accumulated and stored.

At the Red Cross I was giving away the very stuff of life flowing in my veins. It only hurt a little and only for a little while. Who would receive it? I had no idea, but my blood could only give and sustain life if I gave it away. My body could then make more. I thanked God for the privilege and prayed for the recipient. I asked that they be given a measure of uncommon love.

Next time: Replaceable dollars.


Pastor Roger