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

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy Leap Year, unChristians!!!

Hello, PDX!

2008. It's leap year. We get an extra day. It's coincidental that the year with 29 days in February also brings us the summer Olympic games and national elections for all seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and many in the U.S. Senate, not to mention the seat at the Oval Office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. In time. In good time, all that will come.

Meanwhile, two generations of younger Americans have come to some sobering conclusions about those who claim to follow Christ. I've just finished reading unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. It's a 2007 book that contains the results of a three-year study of how so-called outsiders perceive so-called insiders who claim to follow Christ. Sobering work, but also important work. Also hopeful work. No matter what the findings, knowing is better than not knowing. That's hopeful.

By way of example, I'll simply cite one paragraph by Gabe Lyons who commissioned the research leading up to the findings and the publication of the book by the Barna Research Group:

Christians in the older generations will need to work hard at rediscovering what it means to follow Christ in today's culture. It may start with an honest admission that some of what you may have called Christianity has no connection with the faith at all. It may require letting go of the baggage that surrounds ardent denominationalism, or decisively stepping away from the comfortable Christian subculture. It could mean taking the risk of being labeled "worldly" or "liberal" because of a biblically based commitment to advocate for cultural issues, like social justice and caring for God's creation. Maybe it's a willingness to consider how much your faith has become entangled with Western values that are at odds with the heart of Christianity, such as consumerism and materialism. Overall, it requires openness to the idea that you may be living an incomplete or inaccurate version of the faith. ("unChristian", p. 225)

No pastor, church leader, Outreach Committee, mission developer or church planter who proposes to relate to Americans under the age of 60 should let the next month go by without reading this book. It is that pertinent, that relevant. Yes, it is!

My only question is this. Gabe Lyons, the man who commissioned the research, was 28 years old when he gave up a good job and financial stability for his young family in order to found a non-profit foundation in order to fund the research. Why did a man only two years older than my daughter have to do this? Why not the president or presiding bishop of any major church body? Why not the Vatican and Pope Benedict? Why not your local faith community or congregation?

Could it be that the church as we have known it has become so isolated that it cannot conceive of what it does not know and/or has no desire to find out?

Don't know, but thank God a young Christ follower the age of Jesus simply could not rest until he had turned his and his family's life upside down in order to find answers to questions everyone should have been asking. Thanks, Gabe. Thanks a million!

Happy Leap Year!


Pastor Roger