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.