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