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