Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Going to Work Empty

Hi, PDX!

Wow, it has been six weeks since I fired up this site--if anyone is out there who still remembers. Summer finally arrived in mid-June, and it's been home and property fix-up time ever since. I'm at last replacing the wood fence that came with two sides of our property 30 years ago when we bought the place. Fence needed pressure washing and painting then. I now have most of a chain link fence in place, minus some finishing details. Always more to do.

Going to work empty... That's what I found myself thinking when Jean and I drove to Operation Nightwatch to set up for Sunday evening worship on 7/27. Most of the time when I drive there I find myself feeling really empty--especially if I have preached and led worship in the morning. Makes for a long day.

But it's more than that. Worship and ministry with people who live on the street, people with mental illnesses, people who make do in their own unique way is always somewhat unpredictable. What will the evening bring? Will someone act out, get belligerent? What about the drug addicts who might be up or on their way down?

I couldn't preach and share prayer time with these folks if they didn't help me. And I especially could get nothing done there if Christ weren't already working there, already present there. "Carry us tonight!" That's what I usually pray as I drive in on the Banfield Freeway. "Help us to care for your people" is another prayer I constantly repeat because I am empty, going to work empty.

The only strength that will carry me must come from outside. And at 8:00 PM when we close the doors I realize that it has happened yet again. Come to think of it, the more empty I feel going to "work" in this ministry, the more of Christ's strength I must rely on. Christ is already at work there, never leaves. It's only Jean and I who show up at 5 PM. Christ has already been there, spent the night and the day on the street.

I wish more of my life went that way. It would if I would let it... How about you?


Pastor Roger

Monday, June 16, 2008

Honest Conversation, part I

Happy Father's Day, PDX!

Well, it was yesterday, of course. Time to ponder this important role. And repair it. But on to the point.

My old military colleague plans to write a book. He lives in an upscale community on the West Coast, but his roots are in the rust belt of Pennsylvania. He's interested in social trends and what has happened to his place of origin: white flight, decreasing population, increasing poverty, increasing crime. He notes that so-called liberal interests have sought to bring low income housing to the area he now lives in but have been prevented from doing so by strong opposition (from folks like himself). He notes that the difference between where he now lives and where he used to live in PA is the absence of low income people of a certain race. He wonders "when we can have an honest conversation" about this without eliciting cries of racism.

I put on my thinking cap and replied with four questions for him to ask himself:

1. Whis is/are "we"?
2. What is conversation?
3. What is "honest conversation", as opposed to the dishonest variety?
4. What is my expectation of the conversation?

These questions made me think about them also. I'll share my thoughts tomorrow.


Pastor Roger

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Christian Supply


Went to the Christian Supply store yesterday in search of a small, cheap communion set. Current one-day/week supply ministry has me calling on people who can't get to church. Two men, both veterans, and anyone else sick or just out of the hospital.

I can barely stand to set foot inside the Christan Supply store. It's as though I need to hold my breath before entering, quickly run inside to see if I can find what I need/want, then escape to breathe the fresh vehicle exhaust on busy SE Division Street. Really. Went there once looking for candles. Found better, cheaper ones at Fred Meyer. Far better, way cheaper.

Since the word "Christian" is always used as a noun in the New Testament, never as an adjective, should I understand the name of this store this way? That is, does it supply Christians to the world? I didn't see any on the shelves. I did see a lot of needless junk that will soon end up in landfills. There's a yellow and black plastic flashlighlight made in China. It's Christian, I guess, because it has a sticker saying something about Jesus lighting the way. Batteries not included. Life expectancy of the product? About 10 weeks if you never use or drop it.

There are bad art prints of a Jesus so cosmetized, idealized and fictionalized that he would never touch lepers, tax collectors and sinners. Not without 24 hours at a day spa, hair mousse and a pedicure.

The music department is a mystery. Large flat screen TV's run non-stop videos of "Christian" rock conerts with light shows, blue smoke in the air, screaming teens, weeping SUV Moms and Jesus-haired young studs wearing five kinds of die-cast metal crosses. Each. I have scrounged and scrounged and scrounged the recordings looking for things I could use to lead the singing at my little Operation Nightwatch worship service on Sunday evenings. Almost all of it is unusable because it is about performance, hype, manufactured and manipulated emotions that encourage listening but not singing, non-participation rather than participation. In other words, a concert, not worship. Even the stuff packaged and promoted as designed for leading worship. I thought worship was about doing, not watching...

Is this what it takes to be a Christian in consumer culture? Do we comment on our culture by not only copying it but also by trying to outdo it?

Never did find a communion set. Cheapest ones I have seen in catalogs have been around 40 bucks. They go way up from there depending on how much cuteness you want.

Escaped empty-handed. Ah, the fresh exhaust and traffic noise! L'chaim!

Went to the little Salvation Army thrift store on NE Halsey Street. Found a nice little blue/white china dish (Israelite colors) for a paten and a nice little glass goblet for a chalice for 99 cents each. Found a great little Liz Claiborne genuine leather bag for $2.50. All I have to do is shorten the strap. No vinyl. No shipping clear from China. Well-made. Sturdy. Simple. Basic. Not destined for a landfill or rummage sale in 90 days. Total price: $4.48.

WWJB? What would Jesus buy if he went to Christian Supply? Is this what he had in mind as the fulfillment of seeking first the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof?

What do you think?

About 10 blocks away men stand on the I-205 overpass with their signs. Several weeks ago one of them, a Vietnam vet, said to me, "I've been standing on this bridge for six years and no one has ever offered me a job." And we consumers bitch about the economy and gas prices.

I guess we've all been too busy trying to get to the next source of Christian supply. WWJB?


Pastor Roger

Friday, June 6, 2008


A moment of silence, please!

June 6, 1944. D-Day. Sixty-four years ago over 6,000 Americans died on the coast of Normandy. More by nearly half than in 5+ years of the war in Iraq, more than in six months of 1967 during the costliest period of the war in Vietnam. Many didn't even get to fire their rifles. Some drowned. Many didn't even make it ashore. That was just the first day.

It seems a ghastly sum of butchered humanity. It was. It is. But alongside the commitment and loss leading up to that point it was a loss considered acceptable, one that could be absorbed.

June 6, 1944.

The Beatles song: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"

I'll be that in just over two years. Those who were 20 on D-Day are 84 now. The ones still with us are dying at a rate of over 1,000 a day. Time marches for those long since beyond doing so.

A few moments of silence, please! Amen.


Pastor Roger

Romancing the "R-word"

Good mornin', PDX!

Koine Community forum with Dr. Jeffrrey Parker of Reed College was a great discussion last Wednesday evening. We talked about where dollars go in our community when we buy things, what makes the old economic engine tick along. Or not.

Many interesting questions came up. Such as: Can oil prices continue to rise, can the dollar continue to fall? Yes to both. Could there be a crash? Yes. Is it likely? No one knows, but it's not in the interest of nations such as China that hold megatons of dollars to have that value shrink precipitously. Still..... the U.S. hole of buying more abroad than we send abroad is enormous and getting deeper.

Read a news report today about concerns over job losses and still-higher oil prices. Fear is that "consumers" will stop spending on "nonessentials". Seems 2/3 of our economy is based on consuming nonessentials. If the majority of what keeps our so-called standard of living and quality of life going is nonessential and killing the planet, it's no wonder we are in trouble. And our deathly fear is that there will not be more of it, that it might slow down? Wow!

Luther said that what we cling to in times of distress reveals who and what our god is. Read today that South Carolina is also selling Christian license plates with the words "I believe" on them. Believe? Believe what?

Bible says something like knowing the followers of Christ by their fruit (what they do in the world) not by their license plates. Might it also follow that the same people might by known by their non-consumption rather than their consumption?

Used to be that consumption was a synonym for tuberculosis. Maybe we shoulda left it that way.

Look out for your neighbor today. And tomorrow.

Pastor Roger

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sounds of Silence

Hi, PDX!

That 4-years-late White House report on climate change (see previous post) includes the following language:

Finally, climate change is very likely to accentuate the disparities already evident in the American health care system. Many of the expected health effects are likely to fall disproportionately on the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the uninsured.

Increasingly, those categories describe my wife and me.

A February 2002 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, titled "Degrees of Danger--Health Effects of Climate Change and Energy in Oregon", found much the same. Six years ago...

When the scientists are essentially telling us that climate change comes down to a matter of looking out for the poor and loving our neighbors as ourselves it reminds me of the lyrics of that Simon and Garfunkel song "Sounds of Silence":

And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls...

So even the scientists are telling us what would be the Christ-like thing to do. Then why for so long has addressing climate change been considered an idolatrous thing to do by so much of the church? Why is it still in many circles a sound of silence? And why, for God's sake (literally) has that been true of a so-called born again White House? Born to what?

Father, forgive us; for we know not what we do.


Pastor Roger

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Things that make you go, "Hmmmm...."

Hi, PDX!

Last post was 4/15, six weeks ago. Been a hard six weeks, more than I can share or you want to know. All in all, the past year has been the hardest year of my life; and that may be a foretaste of the feast to come, as some church liturgies say. We'll see, won't we?

Got a letter today from Jim Jewell, COO of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN). I've given them a small donation which gets me a subscription to their quarterly magazine Creation Care. It contains good, thoughtful and helpful writing by people of faith. I recommend it. http://www.creationcare.org/.

Mr. Jewell reported that EEN had applied to display at the 2008 convention of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) held in Nashville in April. The NRB convention staff accepted the application. EEN prepared to go. Then they got notification that the NRB executive committee had reversed the decision of the staff. No reason given.

Think about that a minute. This was the Evangelical Environmental Network that had been denied, not the network of Wiccans, atheists, pagans or Communists. People in the EEN are people who have faith in the Triune God, worship God as creator and take their role as stewards of God's creation seriously. But they can't display to people associated with religious broadcasting. Hmmmm... EEN now plans to buy air time to run Creation Care Minute segments on Christian radio stations. Could be way better than a display at the NRB gig. Bad news turned into good. Hmmmm....

To me, there is no choice but to do the best with what God has given us since we all depend on it for life. So if we take care of creation, don't we help or neighbors who also depend on it? And didn't Jesus say that loving our neighbors as ourselves was parallel to loving God? Hmmmm....

In other news, the Bush Administration was finally pushed into publishing a summary of scientific consensus regarding the effects of climate change. Had been stonewalling on a report that is required by a 1990 law to be produced every four years. Last one was in 2000. Much of the news points us to serious changes ahead, things we should have been addressing as our top priority for years. Hmmmm... Why?


Pastor Roger

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just Askin'

Hi, PDX!

Whole buncha words have come your way from me. Now it's your turn. Gonna start asking you questions. You tell me what you think. Really! Please... Y'all can respond to one or more of the following. We'll start with three questions, one for each person of the Trinity.

1. Complete this sentence: The goal of the United States of America is__________.

2. At John 10:10, Jesus says he came around so that his followers "might have life and have it abundantly." What do you understand by having life and having it abundantly?

3. Jesus comes back for a weekend and spends it with you. Surreptitiously. No, he's not having the "big second comeback", just hanging out for a weekend for old times' sake. You offer to take him to church with you on Sunday, and you ask if he has a denominational preference. Jesus gets a very puzzled look on his face and says, "Denomination? What's that? Whatever for?" You reply:______________________________.

OK. There you have it. Fire away.....


Pastor Roger

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Double Dude II

Hi, PDX!

My apologies for an absence far longer than I had planned. Our daughter's life has taken a real tumble, and Dad has been called into service to help again. Family. It's what we can still have when all else is gone.

Thomas. Jesus told Thomas, "Do not doubt but believe." That's what we think Jesus said because that's how our English-language Bibles translate the Greek. The above is from NRSV, but most others will be similar. Sounds like flipping the light switch, something you do on your own, something you could do with enough self-help books under your belt--or your bed.

My translation: "Stop becoming unfaithful and instead faithful. Stop becoming a person without faith and instead a person with faith." That's much closer to the Greek, and it might enable us to see a more prolonged rather than instantaneous process here. It's more like going on a journey than simply opening a door that is done in an instant.

Something else that cannot be translated from the Greek to English. The verb is a middle voice verb. English only has active voice (subject is doer of the action) and passive voice (subject is receiver of the action).

In the middle voice, the subject participates in the action. Hmmmmm....? You mean we don't just manufacture faith and believe all by ourselves? No, we don't. It's a journey we go on with Jesus through his Spirit.

Jesus invites Thomas to stop turning away and start turning toward Jesus so that they can go on the journey together. It's a lifelong deal.

Maybe some of you have had instantaneous faith experiences. You are probably a distinct minority in this world. Most of us have the Double Dude experience, and Jesus actually blesses it.

Jesus extends his wounded hand. Take it and start walking along. Start looking for the beginning of that journey rather than thinking you will see the destination before you have ever begun. It's a process. Lifelong.


Pastor Roger

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Double Dude: Thomas

Easter light be with you all!

Jesus' disciples had real world names, even nicknames. Simon Bar-jonah was nicknamed Kepha in Aramaic, Petros in Greek. We translate those as Cephas and Peter. In other words, Rocky. Jesus gave him that name. Jesus called James and John the "sons of thunder". Was he describing their personalities, or body functions after they ate fiber? Andrew means "manly guy". Philip is literally "friend of horses". Horse Dude. Thomas comes from the Aramaic "Thoma", twin. Double Dude.

We know him, unfortunately, as "doubting Thomas", today a metaphor like "good Samaritan".

Maybe it's time to go back and re-read John 20 with open eyes and minds instead of two millennia-worth of predispositions.

So Jesus was raised from the dead... So....? Big deal! What does that mean, exactly? Do we have a genuine answer that comes out of our own life experience? Or do we only have 2K years' worth of stale sermons to regurgitate?

John 20 is the evangelist's answer to the question, "What does it mean?" John answers through two people: Mary Magdalene and Thomas.

Thomas is my hero. Thomas has guts. Consider John 11:16. Jesus, who has been blacklisted and marked for death by the religious establishment in Jerusalem for healing on the Sabbath, proposes to return to the Jerusalem slum of Bethany to bring life to his dead friend Lazarus. Everyone knows it could be a fatal decision. It is Thomas who says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Not Peter. Not James, John or Andrew. Thomas. Double Dude.

We begin the story in question at John 20, verse 19. Don't forget that this is set on the evening of the day when Mary M. has come running in with news far bigger than the empty tomb personally inspected by Peter and another disciple. "I have seen the Lord!" Mary exclaims.

Should have blown the doors off the disciples' safe-house. They are hiding behind locked doors "for fear of the Jews." Still. Even after they know that Jesus is no longer dead. So is "for fear of the Jews" more of a statement about the Jews? Or about the disciples themselves? Ponder that.
Jesus appears among them, gives them his peace (twice) and the gift of the Holy Spirit, without which they are unable to grasp the meaning of the resurrection or have faith. Hmmmm.... Jesus shows them the physical wounds in his risen body, but Double Dude is not there to see. So when the rest of the gang relates this encounter with the risen Christ and how they now believe, Thomas is at a significant disadvantage.

Thomas has guts. He has the guts to say out loud what everyone else was thinking. Thomas states the problem for every human being in relation to God. Unless Thomas is able to see, he will never believe. He will never be able to believe.

Thomas nails it. Thomas asks the question on behalf of the other 6.9 billion of us who were not in the room either. Thank you, Double Dude!

A week later, Thomas gets his chance. Jesus again appears. Thomas states his case quite opnely to Jesus, asking for only what the other disciples have already received, the ability to "see" Jesus as the crucified one who is no longer dead.

Jesus complies. He doesn't say to Thomas, "Get outta my face, you faithless fool!" He presents his hands and his side saying, "Touch. See. Believe. And by the way, not everyone else will get ths chance. But rest assured that the witness of my resurrection that you provide is genuine, and I will bless it with my Spirit and with faith. It will be effective for all who come after. That's how things will work from now on."

That's mighty good news for the rest of us who were not in the room.

If you have faith in Christ today it is because somebody told somebody else who told somebody else--for two thousand years. Somebody made it possible for you to "see", which in John's gospel is always how one comes to believe. For John, seeing is believing. The book is all about seeing. You didn't get there all by yourself, now, did you?

Who had the guts to help you "see"?

More next time about Jesus' words to Thomas: "Do not doubt but believe". The Greek says something a bit different from what we have always heard. 'Til then, happy seeing!


Pastor Roger

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter lilies


Lying long in loneliness
crucified by its own cares
A heart, hardened, hiding
In a silent, solitary sepulchre
of stone.

Dry and seeking solely seed
to make it green
The heart, once sown
from a clear blue sky entices rain
And lilies bloom where lately seeds of love were lain.

He is not here.
He is!


Easter blessings!

Pastor Roger

(c) 1970 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Collision Course: Mary Magdalene

Morning in the 'burbs...

Sometimes I look out my window and wonder why I live here. It's not like the compact little street of apartment buildings, small shops and businesses, tea houses, bakeries, the ceramic tile factory and the muffler shop in Yalova, Turkey where Jean and I first lived. I'm a farm kid by background and a city kid by the majority of life experience. The 'burbs are neither. I don't like lawns, but this patch of land that we are five mortgage payments from owning outright also gives us a garden space. My "farm". Seems like most of the area is on a collision course with what we are, though.

Several things were on a collision course in the gospel according to John as Jesus is crucified and laid to rest. But I realize that for most of my church-going history, almost no Easter preacher could ever say why Easter was so important except that it had somehow bought us resurrection--at some undefined time in the future, after we had died, whenver it was that Father God decided to send Jesus back to earth to at last usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God and take our glorified bodies to Heaven.

We had the details of what happened down pretty well. But what did it mean, for God's sake? No male preacher was ever able to say in ways that connected with me. I didn't feel any resurrection in my life.

I never thought about that much--indeed, couldn't see it--until I began to listen to John who told us the meaning of Jesus' resurrection through the eyes of two people in chapter 20: Mary Magdalene and Thomas, the twin. Ladies first. Thomas next week.

Mary of Magdala. We don't know much about her except that she seems to have lived on the s--t end of life until Jesus found her. Was she a prostitute? Had she been raped or sexually abused as a child? Was she homeless, divorced? Did she have a crooked nose, bad skin, ugly teeth? Did she have mental illness, the "seven demons" that were reported to have been cast out of her?

One thing is for sure, whatever she had come out of she found a fresh start among the followers of Jesus. I'm sure she had a servant's role in the group: cooking, shopping, serving, laundry, sewing, mending, whatever. I have no idea how the disciples regarded her or treated her. Roles were deeply cast back then, and expected. But for the first time perhaps in her whole life she must have felt love, acceptance and even the favor of God, protection from abuse, clucking tongues and preying males.

Imagine this fresh start in life being crushed, puverized at the foot of the cross. Look at the world through Mary's eyes and let that view soak awhile. It's one thing to have lived without much hope. It's another to have been given hope so briefly, only to have it ripped away by the public torture and execution of your hope giver.

One more thing. Handling a dead body, as the women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem did, would have made them ritually unclean, very unclean. Mary M. was used to that. She'd probably been considered unclean most of her life. For "good" people a huge stretch, for Mary a way of life.

After the crucifixion, the male disciples are anything but an inspired bunch. They sequester behind locked doors, scared to death. Mary goes to the graveyard (surely in the company of other women, but Mary M. is the one John shines his spotlight on) just as it is getting light on the first day of the week. She wants to finish the job of preparing Jesus' body for burial. By her own admission she goes expecting to find a body, nothing else.

It is gone! Nothing but an empty hole and cloth body wrappings...

She rushes back to town, alerts the disciples. Peter and John run out to the tomb, find it empty, see the folded shrouds and "believe". Believe what? That Jesus is gone? But what else? They don't really know yet, and John doesn't say, except that they have no biblical basis to hope for or expect anything but a dead end at Jesus' grave. The guys go back to Jerusalem. At least they have a "safe house" to go to.

Mary? Mary stays. She stands weeping outside the tomb. Why?

Did it ever occur to you that Mary had nothing to go back to? The one shred of remembrance of the new life she had been given was the body of Jesus. Now even that is gone.

Empty. Devastated. Crushed. Hopeless. Inconsolable. What else could she possibly have felt? A stranger asks why she weeps, whom she seeks? Then the stranger she doesn't recognize calls her by name, and she returns the recognition. Instantly she has her arms wrapped around him like a tree intending to never let go.

Jesus says she must let go of the old Jesus she knew in order to inherit the one who will never leave her and be present through water, Spirit, bread and wine, community, the kingdom of God.

Mary heads back to town, stumbling at first, I'll bet, in her overwhelmed state. Then I'll bet she begins to run. The meaning of the empty tomb finally begins to sink in!

Nothing ends here. This is where it begins! Mary has her life given back to her again. It might be fair to say that Mary has her life given to her for the very first time.

Why does Mary get to be the first person on the planet to see the risen Christ and proclaim, "I have seen the Lord!" My only answer: at that moment in time no person on the planet had such a desperate need to see.

From nothing to being filled. From death to life. Emptiness is where God begins. God always starts with nothing. At the beginning that's all there is. Same is true for God's new beginnings. Perhaps even in your own life. Pretty fantastic collision course!

There wasn't just one resurrection that day. There were effectively two. Or perhaps 10 billion, including yours.

Christ is risen, and so are you. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Pastor Roger

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sixth year, day one...

Hi, PDX!

Good Friday. Black Friday. It's where sin has been leading us. We have arrived. More on that in the next post...

I'm pretty good about anniversaries. They are important, and I continue to surprise my wife Jean with what I remember and observe.

Wednesday we had a memorial service for the "downtown fallen", as I call them. These are the people, many without homes, most with addictions and some mental illness--as well as great gifts and big hearts, who have died in our city's core during the past year. At the end of the service their names were read and candles were lighted in their memory. Then the woman who read the names added, "And for all our soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan." They lit as many of the remaining candles as they could in a brief time. Right on!

Some of these fresh-faced, clean-shaven young men (and women) will be on our streets in a few years, despite our best efforts which often fall far short of the real need. Alcohol, drugs and exposure will eventually kill the bodies where an untimely death of the soul has already occurred.

I don't see nearly as many of those yellow "Support Our Troops" magnetic ribbons on cars these days. And it's been a coon's age since I've seen one of those photocopied red-white-blue "Proud to be American" 8.5 x 11 sheets in the back window of a car.

So I've been grieving as the Iraq war enters its sixth year. And I didn't write on the anniversary, 3/19, when we started bombing. I've been waiting for someone here to say something about all this that made sense. And it hasn't happened.

So I have one simple request that will require about 39-40 minutes of your head and your heart. America, do you support the troops? Are you proud to be you? Then take a little time to listen to some voices that will never stand beside the president or one of the candidates. Take a little time to listen to people who have gone where our leaders and our news media cannot go. Hear what these voices have to say. This is what you own. This is what you have a responsibility to know, to think about, to pray about, and to act on. It's called the responsibility that comes with freedom.

1. Go to www.npr.org. On the left sidebar scroll down to the program Fresh Air. Click on it and then select "past shows" and select the date 3/18. Listen to Terry Gross' conversation with Charles Sennott of the Boston Globe upon his return from Iraq. Listen to all of it. And especially ponder what he has to say about two things near the end: Afghanistan, and the lack of news reporting from overseas in our US newspapers/TV. Iraq has been far too dangerous for most US news agencies to even keep reporters there, and few can venture outside the Green Zone. So do we really know what is happening there? We don't. We should. We must.

2. Again, go to www.npr.org. At the bottom of that sidebar, click on "more programs" and you will get the alphabetical list. Scroll down to "w". Click on The World with Lisa Mullins. When that page comes up, look on the right side for the link to Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's "Baghdad, City of Walls" narrated video. It's about 5 minutes. But I also suggest you take in his stories on "80,000 Angry Men" and the story on Iraq's orphaned children that are available at the guardian.co.uk page you will go to.

Listen. See. Think. Pray. Support our troops by informing yourself, now and when some of them are on our streets and under bridges in the future. We owe them that. We owe them better decisions than we have made in the past. We do.

See you at the foot of the cross.

Pastor Roger

Friday, March 14, 2008

Scar Tissue and Tenderizer

Happy Friday, PDX!

The young woman didn't feel up to it. After a day at the oncology research clinic she just wanted to veg. She does intake with patients who have come to offer themselves for experimental treatments. They are dying of cancer that hasn't responded to approved treatments. So they have come to be living laboratories so that perahps other people might one day be made well.

But after forcing herself out the door she came to the church home community gathering to be in the company of friends who could hear her and care for her, pray together.

She wants to eventually work in the salvage business. And, I hope, in the prevention business. She wants to salvage human beings from the scrap heap of the international sex trade.

I looked at her across the room. Such radiant skin, even when her inner candle was buring dim. She's not a parent yet. She's not even married. She hasn't yet gone into the work she plans to prepare for. So much heartache and heartbreak await her, as well as brief but intense joy from unexpected places. So much intense living awaits.

She could not begin to write the script of the next three decades of her life. No one can. But I could look back through the past three decades of my life and offer a comment.

"You are in the right place," I said. "This job you have now is preparing you to survive what lies ahead. God is giving you what you need. Tenderizer to make your heart soft enough to bend and bend again without breaking. And enough scar tissue to be tough enough to hold all the battered pieces of it together."

Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Read Matthew 26-27. Listen to the human drama taking place, all the painful reality of it. And see the hand of God at work inflicting both tenderizer and scar tissue on himself.

For us. Since no one else could.


Pastor Roger

Monday, March 10, 2008

Jay's Vision

Happy Monday, PDX!

It was a blessed night at Operation Nightwatch Evening Worship. Blessed in most ways. After worship I visited with a quiet man named Jay who has seen quite a bit of the West Coast and is back in Portland to take steps to climb out of life on the street. He shared with me his vision. It's simple and profound at the same time. Here it is:

1) Jobs for everyone in Portland who can work.
2) Housing for everyone in Portland so they can get off the streets if they want to.

Is that so hard? Sounds like the kingdom of God to me. What if we all shared that vision? And lived it?

Every city in the country has a desire to "end homelessness." That often translates into a program to end homeless people. What if we scrapped plans to end homeless people and adopted Jay's vision instead? One month of spending in Iraq would do this for every city in the country.


A blessed night, almost. Some of our regular worshipers were not there. Some have been worn down by the grind of winter and the stresses of life and seriously stumbled on their quest to stay upright. And some have just had another of those cycles of mental health that does to the mind what the flu does to the body. It's heartbreaking when they aren't doing well, ecstatic when they are.

And one little group of regulars could not be with us and have been out for several weeks now. In addition to everything else confronting them in their battles to stay even remotely clean and sober, body lice have attacked them with demonic vengeance. How do you live with that? How do you sleep with that? How do you get help for that? How do you trash all your stuff--even the infected squat where you have been sleeping--and start over again? How do you fight off the hammering of the addiction that demands to be fed when all your sources of meeting that demand are now off limits? When the only thing you can sell is unmarketable? How do you live one more day?

How do you do that and not simply jump off the Burnside Bridge?

Life can age a person ten years in two weeks' time.

I admire these profiles in courage.

We prayed for them last night. We'll pray for them fervently and richly. And we'll pray for Jay's vision. The Christ still walks the streets sowing seeds of the Kingdom.

Won't you do the same?


Pastor Roger

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Take Away The Stone!

Happy PST, PDX! Tomrrow will be PDT.

Jesus told them to take away the stone, the stone blocking the entrance to the cave where the grieving sisters had laid their brother Lazarus. It had been four days. In first-century Palestine you were really dead after three days. The soul sometimes hung around the body for two days, never three. That probably also ruled out any comatose people or extended fainting spells. Lazarus was clearly over the limit. Martha, the good housekeeper and detail person, noted what an act of foolishness it was to move the stone. There was already a stench from the inside.

Jesus talked to Martha about faith. And the men in the crowd moved the stone. Jesus called to Lazarus, and the dead man was raised to life. He had to be unbound from his grave clothes.

To begin with, Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived in a poor suburb of Jerusalem. Bethany literally means "house of poverty". Jesus liked to hang out here among these humble folk living on the edge. He felt safe and welcome here. The little household of siblings received him and his friends.

So when word reaches Jesus on the road that Lazarus is seriously ill, the sisters hope Jesus high-tails it to their house to heal him. Jesus had healed many, even given sight to a man born blind. But that noble work of healing, especially on Sabbath, had gotten Jesus quite crosswise with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Some had tried to stone him, and he was in danger of arrest or stoning if he returned to Jerusalem and happened to cross paths with the wrong person(s).

Jesus takes his time deciding to return to Bethany and the Jerusalem area. Meanwhile Jazarus dies. Mourners arrive at Mary and Martha's house. Jesus is too late to save Lazarus. The sisters each inform Jesus of their take on things: If Jesus had just arrived sooner, He could have saved the man.

Mary and her mourners are weeping as the dialogue transpires. Jesus asks where Lazarus' body has been interred. They reply, "Come and see." Jesus begins to weep.

That little verse is so often cited as confirmation of Jesus' humanity. He began to cry. He could. He did that in the face of the grief and mourning of his friends.

But we usually overlook the words that come before Jesus' tears: "Come and see."

"Come and see'' could be called John's gospel in a nutshell. Come and see Jesus. Come to believe in Him and have life. Eternal life.

But this encounter in Bethany is the only place in the whole book where things are turned around. Instead of people asking other people to come and see Jesus, now the people ask Jesus to come and see. Come and see the grave where your dead friend is buried. Come and see dashed hopes. Come and see human frailty. Come and see death, God. Come and face it.

Jesus does and Lazarus lives. Again.

The story will be repeated from Good Friday to Easter. When the women set off at dawn to finish preparing Jesus' body for its final rest in the earth they ask, "Who will take away the stone for us?" When they arrive they find it already taken away. The grave clothes are folded as only someone who had finished the job completely would do.

For all that's broken in life let us pray, "Lord, come and see."


Pastor Roger

Friday, March 7, 2008

King of the Jews?

Hi, PDX!

Roman Governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he were king of the Jews ( Mt. 27:11). We have a problem with kings here in the U.S. We think we settled that in 1776 or 1789.

I have news. We want a king. Desperately. And we act as though we had one.

The area pastor has a food pantry at his church. He sees poor, hungry people all the time. And he said that government was all about big money and special interests. So far, I agree. But then he went on, essentially saying that he wouldn't be able to change a thing, that the only person he can have a political discussion with was a sibling in another state where he vacations once a year.
I heard capitulation, giving up without a fight. Now I sadly disagree.

We are in a war that threatens to bankrupt us and unravel balances of power that help prevent wars. Supposedly the war is to save us from enemies who "hate our freedoms" and supposedly have the power to take them away from us. Think about that premise a minute. Think about it all day. What "freedoms" would those be?

Recently I talked with a contemporary who grew up in Chicago during the Vietnam War. He quite calmly described his family as "white racists because that's what most (white) people were back then." His parents were as loyal as any Americans he knew. They pledged allegiance to the flag. They were as honest and as Republican as they could be. Christians, too. But they were torn down the middle. Their son was about to graduate college, and the draft awaited him.

They had a problem with the war and had very mixed feelings about having their son serve. They talked about Canada and told their son that if he went there, they would regularly visit him because they would not want him to come back across the border. They knew where that led.

The son of friends had gone to Canada. Then that young man's father died. He came back to the U.S. for the funeral. He was apprehended at the church and not even allowed to attend. He was sentenced to five years in prison. In prison the young draft dodger became known as a "pussy". The prison rapes began almost immediately. They continued for five years. I can't imagine what his anguished mother felt like, powerless to stop it. PTSD. Prison-trauma-stress-disorder.

The above was already well underway when my friend and his parents had their talk. They would sooner cut off their hands than have the same happen to their son.

"Now I have to stop you," I said. "I have a question. Maybe you know the answer, or maybe you don't care to say. But I must ask. In this whole process did your parents ever write one letter or make one phone call to representatives in Congress or to the President?"

None that he knew of. That speaks volumes. First class postage back then was only 6 cents, air mail 10 cents. Other than myself, I have yet to meet another person who wrote a single letter back then--either in support of continuing the Vietnam War or in support of a timely end. Not one. What precious freedoms were exercised here?

So I ask, what freedoms have enemies, terrorists included, ever taken away from us that we don't fall all over ourselves on a daily basis to surrender? Think about that a minute. Think about if for the rest of your life.

Could it be that we have completely deluded ourselves into thinking we live in a democracy when really we want to live in a kingdom? After all, if all the decisions are made by someone else we can freely complain and blame someone else for everything. And not do anything because we don't think we can.

Not the country I swore with an oath to put my life on the line to defend.

What kind of king do we want Jesus to be? And how does the "Jesus creed" of loving God and our neighbors as ourselves (thank you, Scot McKnight!) call us from inertness and blame to action and responsibility?

Ready for a little freedom exercise anyone? No enemy can take away from us what we have already surrendered. Without a fight.


Pastor Roger

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Fog in the Mirror

Hi, PDX!

Short showers are my rule. Energy miser, I am. Except when I get one of those monster muscle tension headaches and I need to stand under the old Teledyne Shower Massage until the water runs cold. That's the only time I'm in there long enough to fog up the mirror. There are times that are life or death situations.

A foggy mirror. Stand in front of yours the next time it's really fogged up good. Stand and look at yourself a good while. Do you see anything that appears to be the "you" of your memories? Can you pick out unique features of your facial structure that make you "you"? Or do you simply see a vague outline and blotches of hair color and skin tones? Could you tell the you in the fogged up mirror from any of 5 million or so other people of similar coloration or build?

He was there at worship again tonight. Knows the work of N.C. Wyeth and especially that of son Andrew Wyeth, one of our favorite artists. He mentioned Wyeth's painting "Christina's World". I can see parts of it still in my mind. He knows the place named "Chadd's Ford, PA." He knows bits of John's Gospel that I haven't heard others there quote me.

On the street he has no name to those who walk past. He may as well be the blurred image in a foggy mirror. But as I placed the broken body of Christ, that little piece of bread torn from a small loaf, into his hand I addressed him by name: "_____, the body of Christ for you." You would not believe how his face brightened when he heard his name from a man who had met him only once before. His face brightened like a mirror wiped clean of all its fog.

This winter has been hard on folks, very hard. This morning it is foggy. But the fog is lifting. A smile on one face has the power to wipe some fog from others. God gave us these mirrors to be a reflection of being known by God.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Roger

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Prayer Request

Hi, PDX!

It's almost March. That could mean several things in Portland. NW weather has a way of doing monthly inversions. Could be that March will be cooler and wetter than February. It does happen here!
It happened in February. On Valentine's Day, to be precise. I'm filling out a deposit slip in the bank branch. Young man comes in just a-jabbering away on his cell phone. Louder than normal speech because he's excited. That way everybody gets to hear. So nice of him to share.

That's when I hear the first f-word. Then, by the time he's directly opposite me endorsing his check I hear the second f-word. And the third. Something about the f-ing woman and her f-ing panty drawer. Maybe he's put her Valentine in there.

But he's putting his words right in my ear. A conversation he could have kept to himself--or at least outside.

I speak up. "I'd appreciate it if you would keep your language to yourself, sir!" I state.

Gave him the best message I could, an I-message. I was polite. I called him "sir". I didn't dispute anything he said, just said I'd appreciate it if he kept it to himself. Be considerate, in other words. I kept it positive and on point. It was about the langugage, not him.

He barely skipped a beat: "It's a f-ing free country, and I can f-ing say whatever I want! So f-off!"

His mouth was a 30-round clip that he emptied into me.

He sure told me. And he insulted our country. I'm not sure he understands freedom at all. I wonder what he's given up to live here, what citizenship means to him.

So whatcha think? Should I have:

1. Said nothing
2. Pretended not to hear
3. Excused him because, after all, he's on the phone
4. Called the branch manager
5. Taken it to the next level
6. Waited for him outside
7. Reminded him to be respectful of his elders
8. Gotten his vehicle description and license plate number
9. None of the above

Tell me what you think. Then I'll tell you what I did.

Brave new world.....

Pastor Roger

Monday, February 25, 2008

Everything I've Ever Done

Hi, PDX!

People have become so public about themselves that I'm sure there are already several children well on their way. To what? To a completely documented life. Fully recorded and available for download and public viewing. Every sleeping and waking hour, including showers and bathroom visits.

Far fetched? Check the news item on p. C9 of the 2/25/08 "Oregonian" newspaper. A company called Emotiv Systems Inc. will be selling the $299 EPOC neuro-headset later this year. It will allow the wearer to play video games with his head, hands-free. Emotiv will work with IBM to explore applications beyond video gaming to expand the "brain computer interface".

Think about that. Really think about that. While you still can. On your own.

Mary Pipher's 1996 book The Shelter of Each Other--Rebuilding our Families observes that our children are being "raised by appliances." And Joshua Meyrowitz wrote that "We are becoming a nation of neither children nor adults. Rather we exist in some age zone between childhood and adulthood. We're a nation of adolescents--preoccupied with ourselves, sexualized, moody and impulsive, seeking freedom without responsibility."

Agree or disagree, that describes many K-3 students my wife works (or attempts to work) with in school--and by implication their parents as well. Recently a girl missed school to participate in a national cheerleading competition in Dallas, TX.

National competitions for third-graders? Isn't that for later in life? Isn't childhood for being a kid? Aren't there other things that need to go on first, most importantly developing the brain and then developing relationship and social skills?

Parents, do you know where your children are? Parents, do you know where you are? Putting on the ol' neuro-headset will be so much easier than parenting. Will you be able to take yours off long enough to know what's in your child's neuro-headset? Think about it while you still can.


John chapter 4. Jesus and the Samaritan woman have a conversation that breaks all the rules. It goes outside all gender, class and religious bounds. "Come see a man that told me everything I've ever done," says the woman. Full-life video, or what?

Read the story. I doubt the conversation spanning a few minutes was a lifetime play-by-play. I doubt that Jesus dumped out things like: "Remember that time when you were cooking oatmeal for your third husband who had been pretty mean to you the night before? Remember, Samaritan woman, how you noticed a bug in the oatmeal and were going to remove it but then thought, 'What the heck?'"

No, I think "he told me everything I've ever done" means that Jesus got to the focal point of the brokenness and pain in her life. The point of the encounter was not "This is what is wrong with you." Instead it was, "Tell me where it hurts." He offered her living water in a conversation completely out of bounds as people thought of them.

And the gist of the conversation was, "OK, that's done. Now, how do we see you not as a slave to your past but as a person who still has a future? How do we see what was broken as something that can be and is being healed?"

If Jesus sat down next to you and told you everything you've ever done, what would your story be? War? Abuse? Addiction? Depression? Broken relationships? All of the above? Where does it hurt?

Sipped any living water lately?


Pastor Roger

Friday, February 22, 2008

Born-Again Smarty Pants

Hi, PDX!

The last post on "born again" theology may trigger some reactions. Such as, "OK, smarty pants, what makes you think you know so much that you can come up with a different translation from noted Bible scholars and thousands of pastors and church leaders?"

Nothing much except that there are millions of Bibles in print that don't translate John 3:3 and 3:7 as "born again". That's one way but not the best way.

One other thing. "Born again" is easily made into a truncated sound-bite of a concept. We like that. A sound bite is tidy. Fits into the head like a snapshot fits into a wallet.

Just don't confuse the snapshot with the whole travel experience, the journey of a lifetime.

I've sat above the top row of seats in the grand theatre at Ephesus and heard the acoustics of voices in the stage area. I remember the sunlight, the breezes, the red poppies and the clouds on that April day many years ago. I remember how green it was, how full of the life of the Aegean Coast of Turkey, how it felt like a threshold of the ages. Whether cresting the hills overlooking the city if arriving by land or entering the city via its once vibrant seaport, the ancient traveler would have been awed. That's still true today.

I have snapshots. But I wouldn't dream of exchanging my visit to Ephesus for any snapshot, no matter how much better that photo might be than any crude pictures I took. I have the real thing. To think a snapshot better than the real thing would truly make a person a smarty pants. And not very enlightened at all.


Pastor Roger

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nicodemus and Being Born_______.

Hi, PDX!

John 3:1-17. This is the pericope, that group of paragraphs that seem to hang together that include the famous v. 16 ("...for God so loved the world..."). But for sure don't forget v. 17. "God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him." It's not hard to get so hung up on finger-pointing and Schadenfreude that the "no condemnation" part might elude us. Or "conveniently" elude us.

But the passage also contains the evangelist's take on what has fimiliarly become known to us as "born again" theology. We'll get to that in a minute. First, Nicodemus. Greek name. Literal meaning of the name is "victor over the people." Hmmmm.... What kind of Mom or Dad with a superiority complex hung that name on this kid? Visions of fanatical Little League parents who can't accept that their kid struck out and want to deck the umpire. After all, they named him Winner! Oh well... Everybody loves a winner. Sometimes.

However, Nicodemus seems to have been a quiet but influential leader among the Jews of Jerusalem. He was establishment. But he can't quite square what he thinks with what he sees. There's obviously some sort of God-thing going on with Jesus, but it doesn't fit with his understanding or his expectations.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Dangerous, first of all. Before the invention of electric lights, people were mighty superstitious about the dark. Muggers, thieves, bandits, shanghaiers lurking. Witches and demons'll getcha. Second, ol' Nick probably doesn't want his peers to see or to know he's actually visiting the heretic, Jesus. Third, light and seeing are such important themes in John's gospel that the symbolism cannot be overlooked. To come out of the darkness to Jesus the Light is to come from unseeing to seeing. In John's gospel that's a way of saying to come from unfaith to faith. "Victor over the people" comes out of the darkness to the Light.

Oddest conversation ever:

Nick: "No one can do the signs and wonders you do unless God is with him," etc.

Jesus: "Unless a person is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Nick is confounded by the birth metaphor, thinking, "My Mom's gonna have a tough time with that one!" How can one's mother give birth to a person for the second time?

"Ain't about physical birth," Jesus replies. "It's about having been given life from above, from outside of yourself. It's about being born of the water of Baptism and by the power of the Holy Spirit. 'Cuz without that, you can't even see what I'm talking about, can't even know God's different way of seeing and doing and being."


Ask someone to complete this sentence: He/she is a _______Christian. About 99.9% of the time the words "born again" will fill the blank. It's become so prevalent that it's now a popular idiom. He's a born-again environmentalist. She's a born-again vegetarian. Candidate X is a born-again conservative. Unfortunately, the words "born again" have become synonymous with fervor or extremism, my way or the highway. Seemingly more a hardening of the heart than a change of heart. I once was lost, but now I'm a bulldozer, etc. Too bad.

But what does the Greek text say?

I did a word study on that a few years back. Having been baptized at the ripe old age of 14 days back in January 1947 I couldn't point to one of these come-to-Jesus conversion moments in my life. That's not to say my faith journey was ever a smooth skate. More of a wrestling match, a leaving and returning.

But was I missing something? I had learned that my baptism was a "washing of regeneration and a renewing by the Holy Spirit", but I didn't have this conversion experience that the popular perception of being a Christ follower has promoted as being mandatory. So was I really a Christ follower? If I was, did I occupy some kind of second- or third-class status?

We can get so focused on an event or a kind of experience as being definitive or exhaustive that we lose track of the meaning of the whole works.

Back to that word study. I wondered about the different translations of the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus. My KJV Bible said "born again". My RSV Bible said "born anew". My NRSV said "born from above". Why so different? Why all the confusion?

The answer? anothen. As opposed to palin. Those, of course, are words you've likely never heard. They are both Greek adverbs. Palin is the Greek adverb commonly translated "again", as in a repetition of something. It is used 141 times in the New Testament. Anothen is another Greek adverb used only 13 times in the entire Greek New Testament, three times in John 3 alone. Its rare uses and its emphatic contexts suggest special attention and a much more careful translation than "again". Two examples:

John 19:23. The soldiers who roll the dice for Jesus' garment to keep as a souvenir have decided not to divide it up into scraps because it was a garment that was woven anothen. In other words, it was woven wholly, seamlessly as a unit from the top down. To say that Jesus' garment was "woven again" would be a nonsensical statement.

Mark 15:38 and Matthew 27:51. At Jesus' death on the cross and along with other traumatic pehnomena, the veil in the temple was torn in two, torn anothen. In other words, it was torn from top to bottom, from end to end, ripped asunder. To say that it was "torn again" would be false and downright misleading. Had it been torn before?

So when Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born anothen, He is saying almost anything bigger than the idea of again-ness. Here's a list of translations nearly all of which would be far better than "again":

Born anew, wholly, completely, fully, seamlessly, totally, from end to end, from the top down, from above, from start to finish, from on high, from the outside, radically, altogether. Best translation I can think of that might invovle the word "again" would be a multiple redundancy such as "one-more-time-around-again-from-the-get-go-all-over".

In other words, it ain't about an instantaneous experience but a complete revolution. It ain't about an instant or even a lifetime but an eternity. It ain't about a moment in time but a reality that is out of time. It's something that comes from the outside in, from the top down. Wowsers!

Consider the impact of John 5:24 and John 11:25-26. Even death and life have been joined seamlessly in Christ? Resurrection is not just a resuscitation, not a burrowing out of a casket and concrete vault somehow? It's a present and eternal reality which makes death and dying meaningless? Something anothen going on with that... Wowsers!

That's the news with Nicodemus. The "born_____" stuff here is not about our action. It's not about being a superior or exclusive kind of Christian . There are no ranks, categories, classes, qualifiers or adjectives that have any Biblical basis for modifying the word Christian. None. Because it ain't about us. It's about what God is doing in Christ which is giving us life anothen. That's another way of describing the kingdom of God. (More info? Go back to the blog archives for the whole KoG series.)

Next time someone talks about being "born again", ask them what they know about the kingdom of God. If they give you a puzzled look, there's your open door to a deeper discussion. May wanna brush up on that yourself first. What exactly is the KoG doing in your life these days?

Here's another translation of being born anothen: born for the very first time.

Jesus came preaching and bringing in the kingdom of God. And it was good news.

That's, like, so totally anothen, dude! Wowsers!


Pastor Roger

Rodents in Trees


It does happen here, usually accompanied by an east wind. Both today.

Saturday Gary and two associates came by. They offered to cut out some dead limbs and branches from two big-leaf maples in the back yard, then haul the mess away. We negotiated. I also wanted some dead limbs taken off the trunk of the biggest Douglas fir in the back yard. We worked out a deal. Gary got to work.

Gary, it turned out, was a human fly. He'd gotten into rock climbing in his teens, found climbing trees much easier. He climbed the maples and trimmed as much as it was safe to trim without a ladder, spikes or harness of any kind--not even a rope to haul the McCulloch chainsaw up the tree. Watching him climb the trunk of the fir tree above my extension ladder using the nubs of some dead and rotten limbs and other more sound ones as foot- and handholds was both frightening and fascinating. Glad the job is done. It was necessary.

But the trimming won't save the maples. They are slowly dying. Actually, they are being killed by the squirrels. Last spring I watched the ravenous little rodents mercilessly attacking the tree, muching on bark. They are girdling whole limbs and branches, picking on the tenderest growth at the top where it's too high to trim. They are killing both trees from the top down.

Squirrels in the wilds of our back yard live an average of perhaps three years. The trees are perhaps 50 years old. I built quite a sizable treehouse on the two of them when our daughter was a kid. It was a popular neighborhood hangout for a number of years. I even slept in the treehouse a couple of hot summer nights back then. But the treehouse is long gone, and so is our daughter.

The trees are taller than ever, but the little red squirrels are killing them. One can forgive the squirrels for their shortsightedness. The trees have to them an incomprehensible life span. To the rodents, the trees have always been there and always will be. The squirrels conduct no studies of sustainability of their lifestyles and leave no written record of their damaging way of life for future generations of the little buggers to learn from. As long as they can get up in the morning and have something to gnaw on, they assume everything is cool. But it isn't. Their life support system is dying right before their eyes. They are the cause of it.

One can forgive the squirrels. They don't have the wherewithal to know better.

We humans do. So why are we acting like a bunch of squirrels?

I will miss the big-leaf maples when they are gone. I won't miss all the seeds they drop, seeds which the squirrels munch on like trail mix. But I will miss the shade and the big leaves. Last fall, after a very dry summer, the trees still managed to produce a miracle. As I was raking up leaves to add to the compost bin, I came across one beauty of brown, tan and yellow, the faintest hint of green still on its tip. I pressed and dried it. I will frame it. It measures 22-7/8 inches from stem to tip. One leaf. It will always remind me of the shady back yard when we first moved here in 1978, the yard where our daughter and her friends grew and played.

It will always remind me of this spot of earth that saved my life. God's creation does that because God does.

We have the ability to know how our way of life is undoing God's life support system of earth. We know it, have known it for quite some time.

So why are we still acting like a bunch of rodents in trees?

There is shalom, and there is broken shalom. There is a difference. One sustains life. One does not.


Pastor Roger

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Catch 'n Release Season = KoG

Hi, PDX!

Catch and Release Season. That's my new name for Lent. Went through years of glum Lenten services as a kid. No desire to repeat. After all, if we were all born into sin (original sin, the sin of Adam and Eve and every intervening bloke), then actual sin (our own sin that we daily commit with virtually every breath of our own being) the problem always was and always will be way out of our hands. It was always a thing only God could fix, which he/she has done once and for all. Period.
So we are caught on the hook of sin but released by the work of Christ. Time for dancing in the streets, I say! Why wait for Easter? Every new morning is a new Easter.

Decades of my life have been ground into agonizing pulp wrestling with this stuff. At last, like the sudden movements of plate tectonics that finally shake up the world, it has fallen in on me. Stop groveling in your shame as though you didn't want Christ to have redeemed you on the cross, as though you'd rather reset the movie and try to do it on your own. "For freedom Christ has set us free," wrote Apostle Paul. So be! Free!

"Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last!" MLK didn't use those lyrics for nothing. We'd do well to heed.


Been thinking a lot about the eight years I spent away from the church and why. Many reasons. But a great big boulder of a reason was the fact that during the Vietnam War my church had nothing to say. Yep, nothing. Flat out nothing. No help with the toughest moral decision of my life. Nado. At least nothing new. Same old message about forgiveness of sin, a message which I really had down since Kindergarten. Or thought I did. Yes, I could recite the words with the best of 'em. But I modeled the behavior of those around me.

Meaning I lived in the realm of mercy. Not in the State of Grace. Stayed stuck in mercy: "God forgives us again and again. He wouldn't have to, again and again, if we didn't keep sinning again and again." Message: you are a royal pain in God's butt, but ol' God just takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin', as the Timex watch commercials used to stay back in the non-digital Stone Age.

Mercy. Definition: God doesn't give us what we deserve. Underlying message: Keep feeling guilty about that for the rest of your life. Keep coming back for your weekly fix.

Did we ever hear the words of Paul about freedom? Did we so easily blow off Luther's revolutionary concept of the Stae of Grace?

Grace. Definition: Receiving from God in superabundance what we do not deserve. Redemption that leads to: Life. Freedom. New life. Breath each day. Creation. All that exists. Hope. Life. Eternal life. Passing, as John's gospel says, "from death to life." Not coming under judgment. Where is the dancing in the streets?

In short, receiving and living in the Kingdom of God. If you are clueless about the Kingdom of God, then go back and get to know Jesus and what he actually said. And don't feel bad. Even the church has been largely clueless about its own treasure for 2K years, at least much of the time.

Through millennia, the church has had much to say about sex, marriage and divorce. You could get the idea that God had a genital fixation and nothing else going. Maybe that's why when it comes to the most destructive human activity of all, war, the church has time and again been a gutless wonder. And has even waged wars of its own. Unwilling to trust grace while trying to keep a monopoly on mercy. Or power. The Kingdom of God has never been about the power of an institution. It has always been about the power of Christ.

Oh sure, WWII against the Nazis was a just war. Necessary, we say. I disagree. Because if the followers of Christ had lived the Kingdom of God, they would never have allowed the Nazis to come into existence in the first place. The "It's the economy, stupid!" screams that led to racism and genocide would have been dissolved by cheers of "It's the Kingdom of God, brother!"

Naive? Well then I guess Jesus was too. But did we actually ever trust his way enough to try his way? Fairy tale? MLK... Amish...

For sure, let's remember what we have been freed from. But for God's sake let's grasp and embody what we have been freed and empowered to: GgRrAaCcEe. (<--- Only way I know to grapically represent Paul's "grace upon grace" image.)

Kingdom of God. Search the Scriptures on that one. You were caught. You've been released.

As they say in New Hampshire, "Live free or die."

Stop wondering whether or not you could actually risk having anything to say about war.

Stop wondering whether you could stop war when you've actually been given the formula for dissolving it.

Since when have you let yourself believe that you need the Pentagon to defend your faith? Since when? The Kingdom of God is here. Shalom,

Pastor Roger

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Good morning!

Chaos theory. String theory. Six degrees of separation. We moderns with silicon wafers for brains are rediscovering what earlier peoples knew in their DNA and always saw with hearts and minds. All things are related. Lakotas simply called it the great hoop that encompassed all of creation and all of life. That's why their mobile homes made of lodgepole pine and hides were always set in a circle. They lived in a hoop within the hoop.

Happy 40th anniversary of the Tet Offensive! That feels all wrong to say but somehow necessary. January 30-31, 1968. Tet Nguyen Dan, first morning of the first day of the lunar new year, changed all of life in South Vietnam and the world. Took a while, but it did. No doubt about it.

People in two colliding cars are directly affected by the crash. People who swerve to avoid the wreckage or stop to render aid are indirectly affected. People in houses a block away may be unaware that anything life changing has occurred. And yet somehow they are affected too, or will be. Time will show that. And God knows it.

I'm the youngest of four siblings. Events that began to unfold with the Tet Offensive 40 years ago shaped my life profoundly. Those events and the things that followed made me very different from my blood family. Do any mark this day? I doubt it. Do any go to Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremonies and feel something more than a vague nudge of regret, American pride or "patriotism", whatever that is? Do any feel "victory", whatever that is? Do any still feel deep grief and profound anguish after all these years? Did they ever? Have any read or written anything because of it? I don't know. We live apart and don't talk about these things anymore. But they still matter. Time will show that. And God knows it.

Today I will e-mail Dick. Today I will attempt to reconnect with Jack. I will say, "Happy 40th" and let them go from there. For those of you whose lives seemed unaffected at the time, and for those not yet born back then I simply leave these words. They are the themes and struggles that resulted in a 2-hour play "The Walls of Jericho" ten years ago. Not all these questions have answers. And they don't cease to exist even if we fail to ask them. But they still matter. Time will show that. God knows it.

What's it mean to go to war?
And to get married?
What's it mean to lose someone?
What's it mean to come home?
What's it mean to farm?
What's it mean to lose your way?
Even faith itself?
What's it mean to be a Dad?
Or be a kid?
What's it mean to scream at the sky?
And God?
What's it mean to write a poem?
Go fishing?
What's it mean to find a friend?
What's it mean to love? Again.
And how in the world can mountains heal?
What's it all mean?
Who built this wall anyway?
Copyright 1998 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.
Happy anniversary, and welcome home to the hoop. Shalom!
Pastor Roger

Monday, January 28, 2008


Hi, PDX!

Nemeses. Plural of nemesis. 'Cuz I have more than one. A nemesis can be one that inflicts retribution or vengeance. Can also be a formidable and usually victorious rival. Mine seem to be the latter.

Nemesis 1. Nearly always adopts a pained expression, then looks downward shaking his head when I speak. Sometimes that's too uncomfortable and he simply leaves the room. Really bothers me because I'd like at least to be given the respect of having my errors acknowledged and explained out loud. What have I said that was so offensive, so flat-out wrong? At one time on a retreat I thought we had reached an accomodation. Nemesis 1 even apologized. But then I guess I must have irritated the same sore spots. I once went to visit him at his house to seek further understanding and reconciliation. It didn't work out so well.

His faith journey has been very different from mine. I respect and admire him for the life of ministry he has led and for inspiring other people to do the same. Try as he might (if he actually does), he does seem unwilling or unable to see the world thru my eyes or accept my journey of faith and where God has led me. But I didn't design my life ahead of time or write the script for God. So it's a bit painful to be so judged and so misunderstood.

I have to remember that so that I reprove myself when I do the same. I cannot forget how hurtful this can be--so that I don't hurt someone the same way.

Nemesis 2. Also a formidable and usually victorious rival. That is, when he starts a conversation by asking a question and I reply the dialogue ends. From there it's monologue. His. Can't get a word in edgewise. He wins. I will never stand and fight for my right to speak. Today I was about to though. Then it hit me. Not what he was saying but what he was saying.

In the same conversation he was telling me how much he had sterotyped homeless people and judged them on the basis of one or two people begging on street corners. He didn't see it as stereotyping or judging, of course. But he doesn't know the folks I know.

At the same time he was telling me how lonely he was since his wife had died and how everybody related to him differently now. That was unexpected. So I listened. I let him emerge victorious in setting the agenda of the "conversation". He had a lot of hurt and uncertainty to share.

He called me brother. I'm so glad I didn't turn away and become one more of the folks who have pulled back and now relate to him differently or not at all. I let him win, something he needed.

Another good thing to remember. Nemeses hurt too. Even our nemeses may also see us as sisters and brothers. That's how I've come to see the people on the street and the ones who come to worship at Operation Nightwatch.

Someday life will bring Jean and me to the day when that line "'til death do us part" in our wedding vow is fulfilled. If I am the one left behind I honestly do not know how I will cope with the pain. I will with God's help. I will have to. I won't pretend that I will do a neat job of it. It'll likely be pretty darn messy. Until that day comes I will be unable to grasp the enormity of it. I don't want to until I'm forced to.

And then people will relate to me differently, perhaps pull away also.

If so, I hope someone will still listen and still call me brother. Maybe even somebody who regards me as their nemesis although I have been too blind to see. I could even end up on the street myself. If I do, I hope someone like Operation Nightwatch is there. I know Jesus was, is, and always will be. And if they are still alive, perhaps even Nemesis 1 and 2 will call me brother. That will be sweet.


Pastor Roger

Monday, January 21, 2008

Abraham, Martin and John: 1968

Happy birthday, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Had you lived, you would now be the age my Dad attained on this earth. I wish you had. I miss your words, I miss your faith, I miss your vision, I miss your conscience. I miss your burning heart.

1968 is now 40 years past. It was a tumultuous year. In the spring of 1968 I was concluding my junior year at the University of Nebraska/Lincoln. As ever, the nation was ripping its guts out with indecision and misdirection in the Vietnam War. We had passed through the dark night of 1967 when at some points up to 1,000 young Americans per month had sacrificed their lives. Then we were met with the Tet Offensive as 1968 began. After a slog of four years of ever-increasing commitments of lives and resources peaking at over half a million men and women deployed to Vietnam, eight years after committing the first advisors, American efforts in Vietnam were met by the Tet Offensive, launched January 30-31, 1968. The Viet Cong attacked Saigon, the U.S. embassy and 37 cities and provincial capitals in S. Vietnam. It was to be a general uprising that would produce a general revolt. It failed to bring the latter.

The VC suffered as many as 75,000 casualties, tactically a crushing defeat but strategically something very different. Along with Walter Cronkite, the iconic anchor of CBS Evening News, many more Americans began to ask, "What the hell is going on here? I thought we were supposed to be winning this war."

March 31, 1968. President Lyndon Baines Johnson announces that he will not seek nor accept the nomination of his party in the '68 elections. Won't ever forget where I was when watching that.

April 3, 1968. Dr. King, in a speech echoing the foreknowledge of Moses, declared that he had seen the promised land of freedom for black Americans, though "I may not be there with you." Chillingly prophetic and, regrettably, dead accurate.

As it always had, the war dragged on. As spring blossoms and short sleeves returned to the UNL campus there was a ray of hope. Also on April 3, the enigmatic dialogue between the US and the government of N. Vietnam bore a small fruit. North Vietnam offered to talk about the beginning of peace talks--a chimera of hope that would dance before us elusively for seven years but finally culminate in the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

Scarcely had this thin ray of light settled on the ground when it was bulldozed by darkness the next day, April 4, 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was cut down by an assassin's bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. Black ghettoes in over 120 American cities erupted in flames and riots.

"So this is where it leads for those who have a dream?" I wondered. The biblical "wrenching in the guts"--that's the literal translation of the NT Greek expression--that had come to me on November 22, 1963, the day JFK was killed, returned to me on April 4, 1968.

First Abraham Lincoln, then John Kennedy. Now Martin. That's what we did to our leaders in America, apparently. Abraham, Martin and John....

We wouldn't find out for a few days that the next day, April 5, 1968, my mother's birthday, had borne yet another sad fruit half a world away. Friend, classmate, fellow confirmand, card partner and high school girlfriend rival Wesley Sperling was MIA in Vietnam. Buddies there knew he had been killed, but it would be a week before his body was recovered. Site of the firefight: a heavily wooded hilltop called Mile High. Wrenching in the guts...

About this time I also learned I'd been awarded a summer language fellowship to study the German language and culture in Vienna, Austria. Unbelievable! Something I hadn't even applied for! Down, up, down, up... Roller coaster.

June 5, 1968. Robert F. Kennedy, running for president, was fatally shot three times in Los Angeles, just short weeks after I had heard him speak at the UNL campus. "Some folks see things as they are and ask why. I dream dreams that never were and ask, 'Why not?'" I had heard these words from his own mouth with my own ears. Another inspiring leader cut down by yet another assassin's bullets. My body wanted to puke. My soul already had.

My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty...??? What land was that song about?

Four days later my college friend and inspiration, Wayne Pfeiffer, was married. Four days thereafter I flew to Europe where I would see both the grandeur of Germanic art, architecture and music as well as the abyss of Nazi death camps only 23 years liberated. Roller coaster. Wrenching in the guts... On August 20-21, 1968 the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, a day I was in East Berlin and trying to get to Stockholm. Back home, the Republican and Democratic national conventions turned into theaters of the surreal. Or the absurd.

1968. When that sad year ended, over 14,500 more Americans had died in Vietnam. No end in sight. God, no end in sight!

It took a while for a generation of us to find words. Rockabilly songwriter Richard Holler composed the song "Abraham, Martin and John", including Bobby (Kennedy) in the final verse. Dion DiMucci, newly recovered from heroin addiction, first recorded the song. It became a theme for the year. Therapeutic to a generation, it also helped to save Dion's life.

Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lotta people but it seems the good they die young;
I just looked around and he's gone...

Yesterday at church, we got to hear the entire "I have a dream" speech of Dr. King, delivered in the heat of August 28, 1963. JFK had only 11 weeks to live. There were 200,000 people on the National Mall in Washington, DC. MLK sent them home elevated and inspired with his words and the grandeur of his concepts. But these were things he did not invent. They came from the very words of America's founding documents and from the incredible good news, the gospel of God's love in Jesus Christ. Dr. King simply painted them onto the backdrop they so justly deserved. Lest we forget, he was only 34 years old in 1963. And he would not see his 40th birthday.

The good preacher, Martin Luther King, this prophet of God, sent people home with hope and inspiration, knowing full well that they would still face tear gas, police dogs, billy clubs, fire hoses, smashed windows, burnt churches, burning crosses, imprisonment and hatred--but with the injunction to not respond in kind.

By comparison, the so-called "leaders" of today seem able to speak only in imported plastic and paper replicas of the silver, gold and diamond concepts that endowed the speech and the thought of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Leaders" twice his age don't seem able to muster 10% of his character.

Terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, a failed attempt on the very houses of our elected leaders in 2001. 3,ooo Americans dead. And, among other things, the President of the United States encourages us to respond by going shopping? And we declare war on a sovereign nation that had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no WMD? Are we really so terrified that our God-given right to shop might be in jeopardy? Or is it our God-given right to oil?

Much has been gained since 1968, but so much has been lost. As much as we seem unable to speak today in better words, we also seem unable to think in higher terms. When all we can visualize is consumption we can't get even the faintest glimpse of the promised land of God's kingdom. Dr. King, I miss you sorely! I grieve and weep and mourn America's loss.

In John 1:29-42, the gospel reading for yesterday, January 20, 2008, two of John the Baptizer's followers go after Jesus whom John has identified as the Lamb of God. Jesus turns to ask what they are looking for. They reply with a question, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Jesus replies, "Come and see." This is not a conversation concerning lodgings or campsites but what it means when the Spirit of God comes and remains, what it means to see Jesus. In John's gospel, to see is to believe. To believe is to pass from death to life, no less.

"Come and see" is the key to the whole book. "Come and see" is the key to the whole life of being a Christ follower. For that is to see the world through God's vision, not our own. It is a grand view, unrivaled by anything on earth or in heaven.

"Come and see" is our job description as Christ followers. There could be no nobler job on earth. It is a mission entrusted to you, the redeemed.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., thank God for you! You were a great man, a great preacher, a great civil rights leader, a great American. But most of all, you were one through whom we could see Christ. You heard the call to come and see, and you helped so many of the rest of us to do just that. Thank you! God rest you. God inspire and lead us still to see and have a dream.

Google the lyrics to "Abraham, Martin and John." Listen to the "I have a dream" speech from start to finish. Ponder them.

Come and see. And help someone else to do the same, this day and always.


Pastor Roger

Sunday, January 13, 2008

It all started when...

Happy sunshine, PDX!

It all started when the sun came up, but it was foggy. But then it cleared. Actually it all started a long, long time ago. God had to make the sun first, then a whole bunch more stuff. Patient God. Plans ahead and all.

It all started when I sent a thank-you letter to the Great Harvest Bread Company at Clackamas Town Center. They have been a most generous donor of bread and other baked goods for Operation Nightwatch worship. Bootsie always turns them into a luscious feast for our Sunday evening worshipers. I thought it was important to thank not only Bootsie, our first Sunday worship food provider, but also the Great Harvest Bread Co. Wrote a thank-you letter.

Then Pam, a customer, saw the thank-you in the store and called to find out about the ministry. She started coming to worship. Brought her husband. Started bringing her parents too. But actually it all started long before that.

Pam's Dad had an accident. Lost both feet. Smart guy has a heart for Christ and a head for figuring out how to make his own prostheses fit a lot better. Knows good people in the prosthetics business.

Then one night at worship there was a prayer request. A man new to the area had an amputation, no prosthesis, no pain meds. Needed prayer. Pam's Dad heard the prayer. Offered to give the man one of his own man-made feet. I made calls and e-mails. Daywatch got them hooked up. Turns out that the old prosthesis wouldn't fit. Didn't stop Pam's Dad. He got the man hooked up with people who make and fit new ones, offered to help it all happen. But it all started long before that.

Debbie, the former Executive Director of Operation Nightwatch came to speak at my home church, Resurrection Lutheran. Brand new on the job. I was midway in seminary studies. Al, a longtime supporter and volunteer at Nightwatch, took me by the hand after service and said, "Roger, come here and meet Debbie." I did. I was her first volunteer recruit. I thank God it happened. Best thing that happened in many years.

But it all started long before that when Debbie, a young mother herself, went from being a married Mom to a single Mom. Couldn't stop caring for kids. Took in over 50 foster kids along with her own. That OJT led her to the Greenhouse ministry to teens in downtown Portland. That experience led Debbie to Operation Nightwatch. And God's love in her own life led her to seek to add a worship service to ONW's ministry. I heard the call, sent the Board my plan. They said yes.

But it all started when two parents back East gave birth to a son. A son who found his way to Portland. A fall into drug use and the need for money. Crimes committed. Arrest. Charges. Repentance and a turning. Facing the consequences in court. One of the most significant prayers I've ever been asked to pray was for this man. Prayer for both justice and mercy. They are not exclusives. God's justice is mercy.

But it all started when John the Baptist pointed to someone greater than he. No, wait. It all started when a young woman named Mary gave birth to a son and when Joseph, at God's request, didn't dump her.

No, wait! It started with exile and return, slavery and freedom of a people. Or maybe it all started when Abraham and Sarah had a son... Or when Abrham believed God... Or when God got muddy in the dust of his own creation, making mud with the moisture of his own mouth and gave the creatures his very breath.

It all started when... When the God without beginning knit all of life together in the fabric of new beginnings.

Look at your own life. Find the time when you can say, "It all started when..." Go ahead. How long do you have? God has forever.

And it all started when...


Pastor Roger

Sunday, January 6, 2008

9:50 PM

Good evening!

That's how the late Alfred Hitchcock always began his little monologues when the TV program "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" was on TV years ago. "Good evening!"

9:50 PM is when Jean and I sat down to dinner. That's about par for Sunday nights. We don't have dinner until we return from Operation Nightwatch Sunday evening worship. Tonight was the 36th consecutive Sunday evening I have led worship there. And Jean has been there with me for more than 25 of these Sunday evenings. Faithful servant, she is. Thank God for Jean!

Epiphany. First Sunday of a new calendar year, second Sunday after Christmas. Time of celebrating God's appearing in the birth of Jesus and the announcement of that appearance through the light of a star. Have you seen any stars lately?

Incredible story. Astrologers (magi) from Persia are in Judea asking about the birth of a king. They end up in an audience with Herod the Great, the tyrannical king of the Jews who is clueless about the meaning of the star that caused the magi to journey so far. Yet the locals all seem clueless. "What star? OK, we might have seen a star; but what's that got to do with the birth of Messiah? Star, shmar! He'll come with an army that will be like King David on ultrasteroids!" Local priests and scribes, when pressed by Herod, interpret the sighting of an unusual star in the heavens as a likely fulfillment of Micah 5:2: the one who would shepherd Israel would be born in Bethlehem.

Herod sends the travelers to Bethlehm to explore and report back. Herod wants to worship this newly born king wannabe also. Yeah, right! His track record of murdering suspected challengers, even if they happend to be among his wives or children kinda puts the lie to his public posture. Doesn't matter that he's just been informed by experts at the Hebrew Scriptures that God might be at work here. He will defy both man and God at all costs. Mortal Herod, acting like he was gonna be around forever.

Meanwhile, you'd think the chief priests and scribes would have wanted to get to Bethlehem also to check things out. We have no indication anybody went on their own. Were they too afraid of losing the favor of Herod that might end the lavish construction project of rebuilding Zerubbabel's temple? Did they value all that wealth and infrastructure more than being ready to receive God's Messiah for which they and their forebears had supposedly been living in expectation for centuries?

The magi go to Bethlehem. They worship, leave costly and highly symbolic gifts and return home at God's direction without checking in with old Herod-dude. They aren't called wise men for nothing!

The outsiders get it. They worship. Those who should be in the know are blind. But it's one thing to be blind. Refusing to see is another. How am I guilty of that very thing?

Odd that outsiders need to show us the work and the will of God. Kinda like that book unChristian I just wrote about. Happened 2k years ago, still happening today.

Any homeless people in your neck of the woods? Anyone to feed or pray with? Anyone to house? Who knows, you might just be extending hospitality to magi or to a uniquely born Son of God. Would we recognize either if we saw them?

Have we seen any stars lately? Good evening!


Pastor Roger