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