Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: A Bigfoot Retrospective

There was a TV series in the late 50's or early 60's that I used to enjoy. It was called Wagon Train. As I think back, it had some intriguing storytelling, actual drama set in the 1800's during the great settling (or unsettling, depending on your native or immigrant status) of the Great Plains. It wasn't mile-a-minute dialog in an overstaffed, overequipped crime lab or DA's office. Ho-hum.

One episode of the show was titled "The Great Beast of the Cimarron." Apparently, a variant of the legend of Bigfoot was well established in middle America (now western Kansas and northern Oklahoma) before the white folks ever arrived in droves.

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we live in Bigfoot Country, Sasquatch Land. There have been some pretty convincing photgraphs and footprints over the years. I've also worked alongside people who know for a fact that some of the photos were staged by field mechanics of a helicopter logging company based in southern Oregon. While the big Sikorsky's were out working, gorilla suits, masks and wigs were donned by the mechanics at their service trucks. Then, 35mm black-and-white pictures were shot to be intentionally fuzzy and blurred. At some point later, a picture would be sent anonymously to the editor of a small-town newspaper.

That was before the Internet, YouTube, and blogs like this.

I wish the past decade had gone very differently. I wish we could suddenly hear the alarm clock, wake up and find it all a bad dream. I wish we could say the footprint of the "zeroes" or the "aughts" had all just been a poorly designed doormat or a bogus print in the mud made by a cast rubber foot, a hoax.

And speaking of Cimarron country, I wish a prominent Oklahoma Senator's disbelief of global warming were the hoax that he claims human impact on the planet to be.

Ten years ago tonight we sat in our living room looking out at the snow in the back yard and watching black-and-white TV to see 2000 rung in around the world with no Y2K disasters. I was glad to leave the 90's behind. One of our cars had been stolen that year. Work that decade had been extraordinarily draining. As I parent, I felt like I had been beaten to death at times. A member of the family had experienced things I wish did not happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

But we both had jobs, health insurance and a lot of hope that things would be better as we exited a decade, a century and a millennium. [Now actually, the new millennium did not happen until January 1, 2001; and looking back on 9-11 it's obvious that we would make a better breaking point with 2001. But nobody else thinks or counts that way, so I'll concede.]

I wish I could say I had the same hope and optimism I had ten years ago. I'm aware of too much missed, too much wasted, too many bills coming due in the future that we refused to face in the ten years past. And if they honestly knew the scope of that, our kids might justly say to us, "Mom and Dad, older generations, we don't want more of what you had. We want different."

So do I. I'm ready to EXIT the failures of the past ten years. I'm ready to begin anew. Soberly, but anew. I hope you are, too.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Your Problem Is...

So in a matter of hours it's all over. First, we are warned by the Christmas ads in the newspaper or on TV that we have only days or (panic!) hours to save. Then, as soon as Christmas is actually kaput for another year, we get all sorts of year-end and New Year ways to save.

Meanwhile, other folks go out thinking about saving (cue the trumpets, stars and fireworks) YOU!

On our Christmas day walk as we passed this little "how to" pamphlet tucked into the latch of the street light switchbox, my gut reaction kicked in. I finally figured out what these impersonal bits of strategically placed litter have to say. It comes down to several basic messages all under the umbrella of this family:

1. There's something wrong with you.

2. Without knowing you, I know what's wrong with you.

3. You don't know what's wrong with you.

4. I'm going to tell you what's wrong with you.

5. Your problem is, you're not me.

6. Because, obviously, there's nothing wrong with me. Now.

I have no doubt that the little pamphlet will paint a brief picture of the fallen state of humanity that condemns us all to death and hell, a loving God who sent his Son to die in our place and redeem us through the cross, and the simple sinner's prayer that accepts Jesus as savior and "asks Jesus into" the suppicant's heart. A few Bible passages will be quoted.

But by offering the prescription in the complete absence of dialog, examination and diagnosis requested by the patient, the writer and poster of the pamphlet acting as physicain may unwittingly be sending a very condescening message, providing an answer to a question that the other person is not asking, actually doing more harm than good.
Physician, do no harm. Physician, heal thyself.

The pamphlet, to another person, may look much like the graffitto (singular) scrawled onto the side of another stainless steel box a mile away. It's like a poke in the eye by somebody who doesn't even know they did it. Except, in this case, they intended to.

Does that swirly black paint convey a cogent message to you? Does it make any sense? Does it answer any of your questions?

Does it ask, "Where does it hurt and how can I help?"

From stem to stern, Scripture instructs us to: 1) Love God. 2) Love our neighbors as ourselves. But we cannot love people we do not actually know because love requires action, not a passive predisposition. Love is not a noun unless it is first a verb--an active voice verb, no less. It has no life unless it has legs.

How can we give any witness to the love of God if that witness is not given in human love and at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way? If that is true, how can we give any witness at all to people we have not made any effort to know or care about even as we summarily judge them? Before we ever speak, it's very wise to first look and listen.

We could save a lot of paper, spread a lot of love and clean up the place at the same time.

All by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Somebody very wise and holy used to talk about that, lived it too.



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Magnificat 2: A Son Is Given

2000 years remote in time we have convinced ourselves that the Messiah the world got was the Messiah the world--at least the Israelite world--wanted and expected. And we have convinced ourselves that what everyone wanted and expected was somehow the opening night performance of all that we have associated with lighted manger scenes and children's Christmas pageants with children in crooked cherub wings, 10-year-old boys with woolen beards, a plastic doll wrapped in a towel and kids in ill-fitting purple robes and gold spray-painted cardboard crowns.

It all went down so smoothly. Everyone expected this and knew all about it. They googled all the pertinent prophecies, got the streaming video online and texted all their friends who instantly pounced on all the packages under their trees exclaiming, "It's happened! Now let's get to the stuff!"
Tradition may not be very accurate. It may not serve us well. It may not even serve us at all. It may only serve to keep us in the dark rather than lift us into the light.
I never really confronted anything prophetic in the worship liturgies of decades of Christmas worship and children's programs at my Lutheran elementary school in Nebraska. Too much about a baby. Too little about the man and eternity. He actually did grow up. And I've never experienced a more thorough telling of the story since then.
Until years had gone by.
Until I picked up a 12" vinly LP of Gregorian Chant some years back. I was intrigued. It was sung by the choir of the Hofburg Chapel in Vienna, Austria. Since I've lived there, I wanted to know more. I bought the album. It contained liturgical compositions for Advent and Christmas, some of the oldest church music we have. It contained no instrumental music, only the heavenly, unitary music of male voices that eschews polyphony. I now own a 2-disc set on CD to include the season of Epiphany as well.
We can know all the "events" of the Christmas story written in our gospels and really be almost completely in the dark about what it all means, then or now. But that original 12-inch LP has the Latin lyrics, the English translations and brief commentary about each.
Here's what the record has to say about the Introitus for the Third Christmas Mass, based on a familiar verse Isaiah 9:6. Sadly, this text has been so dominated by Handel's "Messiah" and videos of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that it's difficult to recover anything more authentic. So before you read the quote below, read Isaiah 9:6 in its immediate context of vv. 1-7. Then go on:

Christmas, in the Liturgy and the Chant, is not a charming children's festival, in 6/8 time and with pastoral songs. The splendour of the Lord's festival, which primarily concerns God the Father who sent his Son, flows from the text and the songs. Only our Introitus attains mellower tones too. In bright, joyous lively melodies it sings of the Child who was born to us and ponders on the greatness of His Dominion of the World, but in his spirit it already sees the Cross and celebrates, in majestic tones, the Child as Executor of the Heavenly plan of Redemption.
Not a charming children's festival. . . Have you ever thought about the theological statements made by the three gifts of the Magi?
Gold. The noblest of metals and the gift you would present to one in authority, one who has ultimate responsibility.
Frankincense. Something burned with the offering of a sacrifice.
Myrrh. A fragrant substance used in embalming and preparing a body for burial.
The Magi did not present these gifts because they were 60% off at Macy's or because they had gift cards to the MessiahMart Superstore.
They were foretelling what Messiah means. Have you ever thought what it means to be more than head of the government? What it means to have the authority for all things on your shoulders?
Read Colossians 1:15-20. How many times does the term "all things" occur? Does it mean less than all things? If it means all things, really, what does that mean?
If you celebrate Christmas as the coming of a Savior and the only thing you celebrate is the forgiveness of sins, you are correct but woefully short. You have picked up the penny but left the rest of the vast treasure on the table.
Jesus proclaimed the presence, nearness and fulfillment of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is about all things, ALL THINGS, not a silent night.
Have you ever heard a grown up enough presentation of the Christmas story that it touched all things? If not, we might look back in time to the majesty of Gregorian chant. Or farther still.
Since most churches can't or won't do Gregorian chant, here's something we could do: the ancient hymn "Of The Father's Love Begotten". It's about the oldest piece of Christmas music we have. It tells the story like a creed, far better than nearly all modern traditions. The text goes back to Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius who lived from 348-413. The common tune is a plainsong from the 13th century. Here's the first verse:
Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega
He the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.
All things! Evermore and evermore. Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Magnificat: My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord!

16 year-old Mary couldn't stay away from her new iPhone. One of the first texts she sent was to her cousin Elizabeth. It went something like this:

"LUV my new iPhone!!!! Joe just texted me and wants to get engaged!!!! Already got the diamond on sale. Mom and Dad said I could go on American Idol next year, and if I finish in the top 5 I don't have to finish high school! Got a 90% off shopping spree at Wal*Mart. Oh, and found out I'm 3 months pregnant. Joe's OK with it but wants to have the reception after the baby comes. Got three new piercings with my STUDZ gift card. Life just doesn't get better, Liz! Wish we had Christmas every week."

The Bible tells no such stories, except of foolish people who were detroyed by floods, famines, fire and brimstone.

So, is that what we're counting down for? The ad here says redemption means getting a $20 prepaid Visa card. Oh, and I thought... Well, never mind.

Luke 1:35-56. Maybe it's time to get past the cute baby version of the Christmas story and take a fresh look at the stage God has set. So we'll begin again with Mary who, once she has agreed to the terms ("May it be to me as you have said."v. 38), is speechless until she reaches the home of her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognizes in Mary's expression that something earth shaking is in progress.

Mary is both dead serious and energized at the same time. It is as though he has aged 40 years since Elizabeth last saw her eight months ago. Mary explains why:

1) My child will be called "Son of God". This could be dangerous. Caesar is known by the same title and wants the whole empire to acknowledge that. The Romans might try him for treason. He could be crucified.

2) My child will be known as "Savior". Caesar is known as "savior of the world". This won't go down well.

3) You and I aren't members of the priestly class and we don't even have family in Jerusalem. Whatever my child does, I doubt it will sit well with the priests and the temple in Jerusalem. They might declare our whole family to be blasphemers and heretics. We could be excommunicated, stoned.

4) My gut feeling is that whatever comes of my son's life, it will turn the world order upside down. Kings and powerful people will be toppled because of it. The world economic order wil be turned uipside down because God will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. Kings and rich people won't like that. What's good news to us will set them on fire.

5) I feel and sense all of these things, and all I can say in response is, "So be it, Lord. Thy will be done. My soul doth magnify the Lord." (I love that Jacobean English. It's so much more vivid than "My soul glorifies the Lord.")

After Mary and Elizabeth meet and greet, Mary paints a word picture in verse. We call it the Magnificat. That's actually the Latin verb declined to state, "My soul doth magnify".

Have you ever sat back and contemplated Mary's words? Really? Think about this. Read what Israel sang after crossing the Red Sea when Paharaoah's army was destroyed (see Exodus 15). Whenever the Old Testament records an historic event of earthshaking importance, the significance of the event is interpreted via a song or poem, something composed and read or sung so that the people could remember and retell the story.

Luke has done no less with the Magnificat. It says that what will occur with Mary trumps the Exodus, the 10 Commandments, the temple and the Torah combined.

Sit back and seriously consider the import of Mary's words. Were Caesar and Herod the only ones that need/needed to be put down from their thrones? Oh, and if the hungry are to be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty, what does that say to us today?

There are more poor people on earth than ever. There are more hungry people than ever. All while there are more rich people than ever who consume more of the earth's resources than ever. All while we have, here in the U.S. at least, two epidemics: obesity and diabetes, both occurring at alarming rates in young children.

Here in the U.S., we have backed away from and denied our role in the consumption of the wealth of the earth. We have wasted the last two decades, particularly the last one, living in denial. While we now complain that China is the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, we fail to recognize that much of what China makes we import. So much of their CO2 stuff really becomes OUR responsibility. We could choose to not buy things made in China, of course, but then what would we buy? It's so artificially cheap because we have always externalized the costs of industrial production. We can, for a while. But earth can't. Ever. We worship the golden calf of abundant, cheap stuff. Willingly.

The church has largely been complicit in this. While parts of Christianity have been very vocal in pushing the teaching of creationism in schools, I am stunned by the deafening silence of much of the church in the face of the wholesale destruction of creation before our eyes and within our lifetime. How can we simultaneously insist on a belief IN creation but in our daily consumption and in our waste have so little regard for the CREATION itself?

My hero, Lutheran pastor, theologian and professor, Joseph Sittler, once wrote:

I am not altogether certain how to respond to some of the great moral dilemmas of our time. But I am absolutely clear that there is such a powerful damnation existing in our time that if the church does not think and act on it, we call down rightful judgment on ourselves.

Sittler was most concerned about nuclear weapons and pollution, both of which pale and seem utterly simple by comparison to global warming and climate change. [Yes, climate changes all by itself, but generally rather slowly. We dare not be in the position of accelerating it or exacerbating it with our own actions (anthropogenic global warming). That's like mashing the accelerator of a car with no brakes and a very dirty windshield. Duh!]

If the church here in the rich world (where Mary's finger clearly points in the Magnificat) is complicit in the detruction of the very life support systems of creation on which all food production depends--because we are unwilling to reject our own belief in a prosperity gospel--we in fact condemn more people in our own day and far more in the days to come to hunger, poverty and untimely death. Not a very good way to say, "My soul doth magnify the Lord."

If we believe that Mary and God are not simply bluffing and talking through their hats, where are our words and the deeds to match our words? How can we in the church expect to be unfaithful to God's most basic insistence on unyielding support for the poor and the hungry and not expect to be swept away by God in favor of a new church that is faithful?

But it cannot be fretting over demise of the church we know or have known that motivates us. It can and must be the same concern as God's: loving our neighbors as ourselves. No more. Certainly not less. Luther talked about the invisible church. It's the only real one.

Here's a problem for too many of us today in prosperity land. Most of us now spend nearly our entire lives encapsulated in completely artificial and manufactured environments. We have been, within two generations, almost entirely segregated from creation itself.

We cannot love what we do not know, be that God's creation or our poor neighbors.

Christmas for me has become annually a time of increasing blessed unrest. Now I find that blessed unrest is actually a fairly good translation of a huge chunk of the occurrences of the word "peace" in the Bible.

Read the Magnificat. Read it slowly 10 times and ponder each statement in these last days of Advent. Continue to read it through Christmas and into the New Year. Peace on earth!

Blessed unrest!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bound and Determined

Luke Gullberg. Katie Nolan. Anthony Vietti.

All three went climbing on the Reid Glacier route up Mt. Hood last week. Luke was found dead on Friday. He died of hypothermia although his body bore signs of some kind of tumble. Katie and Anthony have not been found. Katie and Anthony may have been injured in a fall and stayed on the mountain in a hastily dug snow cave while Luke attempted to go for help. Or they may both have been killed in whatever went wrong.

All three are wonderful young people, people of faith, people of service to their fellow human beings. If any had been asked before the climb if they would consider doing anything to bring grief and sadness to their families, they would have been shocked by the thought. It would have been inconceivable to them.

They elected to go on a winter techincal climb of Mt. Hood without a mountain locator unit that rents for $5.00. They elected to go during the shortest daylight hours of the year. They elected to go when weather systems that can last weeks move in. They elected to go in a weather window that left no margin for error at the end, should anything go wrong. They were bound and determined to have a good experience despite the risks and the danger. "How could they?" we ask.

This is the decision-making of wonderful and level-headed people who are still in their 20's. We stand aghast and ask how. We would never do that. Or would we? Are we on a daily basis?

Nations of the world are meeting in Copenhagen to seek a way forward in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming that is caused and/or accelerated by human activity. I am not at all hopeful that anything remotely close to positive, timely action will result. We will posture, pose, pretend and obfuscate. We will do so because as short-sighted, selfish people we will, whatever else we tell ourselves, be more concerned about short-term dollars than long-term health of our planet and our children. In terms of promoting and supporting life, those dollars that dazzle our imaginations may prove to be far less negotiable than the broken sand dollar in the picture.

Collectively as a species, we will exhibit no better decision-making than the 20-somethings above. We are bound and determined to believe that the totally interactive climate system of earth can somehow defy physics and be radically altered by us to no effect. We are bound and determined to believe that if there is a problem there will be some magic escape plan that pops up in the future. We are bound and determined that the biggest challenge to ever confront humanity can be solved at no cost to us and no change in our way of life today. That's my unfortunate conclusion based on our totally inadequate action to date.

Katie and Anthony could still be found alive, but the chances are less than 1%. They may never be found. Their lives hung in the balance of decision-making that they would not have believed came at such a price.

Do you think that we 21st-century humans have any more of a clue of the costs of our decision-making today than the wonderful young climbers?

Pray for wisdom and divine guidance in all ways for our flawed human actions and decisions. Multiply the grief and anxiety of the families of Luke, Katie and Anthony by millions as you do. Pray for life. No less is at stake.

Pray without ceasing.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let There Be Light!

And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind. . . and it was so."

And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

These verses from Genesis aren't usually a part of the Christmas story that we retell at this time of year. I've always wondered why. This year I decided to stop wondering and just go ahead. So our Christmas cards will have a different look this year. Only the envelopes are white--because they were given to us as a gift. The cards are in the pale green of early spring and the yellows and beiges and blues of summer and fall--all the seasons that have more light than winter when we celebrate the birth of Christ.

No silver bells. No red or deep green of traditional Nordic Christmases. Jesus wasn't born in Norway or Sweden or Germany or Alaska. And he probably wasn't born in the winter when no shepherds would have been out with the flocks since the pastures then would have been grazed out and nearly dormant.

John's gospel helps us out. John begins with the beginning, where the creative and active and powerful logos, or "Word" of God, was bringing all things into being--beginning with the light. You don't have to get very far in John's gospel to run into the significance of light.

The light that enlightens all humanity was coming into the world...

From then on, it's all about seeing the light.

Our cards this year will show things made by the hand of God, all of which required the light God made in order to create them. That includes even the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. Had it not been for the hundreds, if not more, cataclysmic Bretz floods resulting from the glacial melt and the gigantic inland lake formed in western Montana, there would be no Columbia Gorge as we know it. And the soil around our house would not be filled with rounded, smoothed stones, some the size of apricots and others the size of Volkswagen beetles. These rocks and boulders and the megatons of soil were washed here by the floods, the rocks having been tumbled hundreds and hundreds of miles to make them smooth.

All of it was caused by the return of the light. So our cards will celebrate the marvelous gifts brought by that light on the earth, and they are made in the colors of the seasons of light.

At the Vigil of Easter on the dark Saturday night before the dawn of the day, a fire is lighted outside and there is a procession by candlelight into a worship sanctuary darkened to resemble a tomb hewn in rock. Thrice these words are chanted:

Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

And the antiphon chants in reply:

The light no darkness can overcome.

May the light of Christ fill your hearts in all days and seasons, especially now.


Pastor Roger

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dogs Only!

Cannon Beach, Oregon, has it figured out. Towns of the Old West once had hitching posts on the street in front of the stores. Portland, Oregon, still has steel rings embedded in the curbs of paved streets all over the older parts of town. Tie the reins of the carriage horse to the rings, and horsie wouldn't wander off while you were visiting the store or the home nearby.

Not many horses on our city streets these days. But all kinds of folks bring their doggies to the beach. Now the stores near the beach are faturing doggie hitching posts as a convenience for shoppers.

In view of all the moral failures and infidelities of politicians, sports stars, pop stars and the family failures in the news and among our friends and acquaintances lately, one wonders whether the hitching post wouldn't be a good idea for a few two-legged creatures--males and females alike. As my high school peers would have said so long ago, "What do you hear from fidelity and faithfulness these days?"

Pray for marriages and families everywhere, especially during these stressful times and time of the year. God help us all to be better people, to set a better example, live a higher standard and to support anyone needing to pick up the pieces and start over.



Friday, December 11, 2009

Peace on earth. . . Yes, Virginia!

The R.H. Macy Co. is milking the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" for all it is worth. They've been pushing the "believe" theme for several weeks now, one newspaper ad even showing an old-fashioned clockwork driven "believe meter." Hey, these days it would be digital and made in China, right?

They don't say what to believe in. But they do encourage people to "demonstrate that you believe in what the season's all about." Macy's encourages people to do good deeds in the community this time of year, and their Street Teams who go out and actually observe someone doing those good deeds are empowered to hand them $25 Macy's gift cards.

Hard to fault that. Macy's taking up the mantle of street ministry, demonstrating belief through action. Amen, amen, amen. And they're willing to put up to $1 million into the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They will contribute one dollar for every letter to Santa received in the "mailboxes" in their stores. Amen to that also. I guess.

I wonder if they receive any letters to Jesus? I wonder what they do with those?

"When you come to the fork in the road, take it." Perhaps that's the advice we should take when trying to figure out Luke 2:14. Greek manuscripts of the text, every one of which is a copy of a copy of a copy, contain a spelling discrepancy of one letter. This is not a spelling mistake. Both spellings are grammatically correct, but they say different things. This accounts for some of our different translations:

...and on earth, peace, good will toward men. (KJV)
...and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased. (RSV)
...and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (NRSV)
...and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. (NIV)
...and on earth peace to those with whom he is pleased. (ESV)

And then there is the clarifying footnote in most annotated Bibles, "Other ancient authorities (meaning mansucripts, not scholars) read 'peace, goodwill among people.'"

"Men" vs. "people"? "People" is correct since all the Greek manuscripts use anthropos, the inclusive term equivalent to "humankind", not andros, which would mean only males.

Is God peaceably inclined to all people, or only those who please him, those good enough to be deserving? I won't answer that question for you on the basis of text criticism. The answer you and I and anyone will accept will have everything to do with whom we believe Jesus to be: the Messiah, and what we think Messiah to be. Is Messiah the Suffering Servant, the one who ended all atoning sacrifice through self-sacrifice? Is Messiah primarily a harsh judge or primarily the apocalyptic horseman riding roughshod over a world awash in blood up to the bridle of the snorting steed?

Yesterday President Obama received his Nobel Prize for Peace and delivered a speech making the case for just war. It's deeply ironic because war is deeply ironic. And always will be, no matter the cause or the combatants.

Is there peace on earth? Will there be peace on earth?

Perhaps better to ask if there is even a shred of peace on our streets. Yes! In the spirit of gold, frankincense and myrrh, here are three current examples:

And there's J. who has been off the streets and in housing for several months. And there is D. who went back home to reconcile with family after finally kicking drugs. A donor who wishes to remain anonymous bought him the ticket and put him on the plane so he wouldn't get lost on a week-long bus trip.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth."

I'm glad that statement didn't come from a campaign speech or someone's five-year plan. It gives me a lot of peace.

Peace on earth to all, no distinctions made!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

On the line

It's so easy to do these days. Years ago you would have to pick up a pen and paper or sit down at the typewriter with your eraser (what a godsend white-out was!). Then you'd have to find a mailing address, put your letter in an envelope and wait for perhaps 3-4 weeks for the mail to be opened by a staffer. Now our representatives in Congress can be contacted by e-mail, Twitter, facebook and who knows what else.

I've now sent all three of my reps the letter below. It took about 10 minutes. I've put my considered views on the line. I've voted. I will again soon. This is not only our freedom. This is our repsonsibility as free citizens.

Dear Congressman Blumenauer:

I listened to every word of President Obama's December 1 address at the United States Military Academy at West Point. To be sure, he inherited a situation he did not create; and the choices are all bad. But I do not believe that he has made the case for sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops for what was presented as a short and limited deployment. It may take 18 years to accomplish what we hope in Afghanistan, not 18 months.

The President stated that Afghanistan and Pakistan are vital to U.S. security, yet he has not really established how or why. Yes, Osama bin Laden was there and may still be there; but what is the real threat today, and how will the President's proposed strategy be the best response? He really hasn't made the case.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal now says he can accomplish what he needs to do with the additional 30K troops. He says so because he knows that's all he can get. He himself had projected a need for at least 80K, but Gen. David Petraeus' own anti-insurgency manual calls for several times that number. That will never happen, and it's time we all told ourselves the truth.

The 30K troops and the stated strategy presented to us on 12/1 taste exactly like the chimeras of WMD and a self-financing 90-day war in Iraq sold to us by President Bush.

Give President Obama this clear message: say why and say how much Afghanistan will really cost us. Tell us the truth or say no. No more half measures that make things worse.

Either implement a draft and a war tax and put 500K troops in Afghanistan by next September, or bring them all home by December 31--this year.

Thank you!

Roger D. Fuchs

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Render therefore unto Caesar...

Then saith he unto them, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things which are God's." Matt. 22.21b
I've always liked the KJV language for that verse. It has a ring to it that more recent translations seem to lack.
Now then, Donald Miller says that Jesus kept his spirituality and his politics separate. He may derive that conclusion from far more than this verse taken out of context here. But see the story about Don's newest book:
Donald Miller carries quite a bit of weight these days (less of that physically than in the past--he looks great). Donald Miller has sold over a million books. I've been published twice in another author's books but haven't sold a single one myself. Maybe I should keep quiet. I think I disagree with Don, however.
For one thing, Matthew sets the whole dialog containing the citation above smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem. The question about the lawfulness of paying tribute to Caesar (that may be a far better term to use than "taxes" as in modern translations) comes from people in the religious community whose way of life is very much tied up with the occupation and taxation by Rome.
And yet, Jesus doesn't give them a laundry list of two columns: these things are Caesar's, those are God's. Essentially Jesus says to them, "You're big boys. Go figure it out."
Really, I think it comes down to this unspoken message from Jesus: You're going to have to figure out what you worship. Who is your god or God? Having been born during the reign of Augustus Caesar, Jesus could not possibly be oblivious of the divinity claims of Caesar and the Roman occupiers. It was written on public monuments and read in public announcements everywhere in the empire. Caesar was known as "Son of God," "lord of the whole world," and "god from god." Sounds somewhat like the Nicene Creed.
Then there was the preaching of the good news of the kingdom of God. It's the first thing Mark's gospel tells us Jesus did after his baptism, temptation and John's arrest. The kingdom of God was the gold standard hallmark of Jesus' teaching and preaching. It's a spiritual concept for sure; but it's certainly not apolitical. By proclaiming the nearness and presence of the kingdom of God, Jesus throws down a direct challenge to both Herod and Caesar every time he says it: the story of life centers on God, not on your fiefdom (Herod) or your empire (Caesar). It's not coincidental that the people who want Jesus executed proclaim, "We have no king but Caesar."
I don't think the "render unto Caesar" verse separates religion and politics at all. I think it puts them on some sort of collision course. If not that, I think it sets them in dynamic and creative tension. And I think Jesus knew what he was talking about in so doing. That's where they need to be: in tension, not in separate worlds that never touch each other.
I understand Donald Miller's current position. He, like many Evangelicals, sort of got burned by the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition politics of the late 70's, 80's and 90's. This movement sought quite openly to use government to legislate Christian values and moral standards for the entire country. The rub came when those values and standards became synonymous with only their view of things. Trouble was, they were shown to have an imperfect view of morality and had some very public moral failures. That's a whole other discussion.
For now, leaving the other viewpoints of pagans, atheists and agnostics completely out of the picture, Marcus Borg in his book Jesus points out that:
1. Many followers of Jesus oppose evolution and defend the literal-factual truth of the Bible's stories of creation. Yet followers of Jesus were the first to reconcile evolution with the Bible by understanding the Genesis stories symbolically and not literally.
2. Followers of Jesus are among the strongest supporters of our nation's invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. Followers of Jesus are among its strongest critics.
3. Followers of Jesus are among the strongest opponents of gay marriage. Followers of Jesus are among its strongest advocates.
4. Followers of Jesus are among the strongest supporters of an economic and tax policy that benefits especially the wealthy and powerful. Followers of Jesus are among it most vocal critics on the biblical grounds that such a policy betrays God's passion for economic justice for the poor.
What does it mean for us to take Jesus seriously? Marcus Borg rightly, I think, observes that "our culture wars are to a considerable extent Jesus wars."
Our country was founded (as a result of disastrous experience in Europe and the Middle East) on some very sound principles. A key one is that government shall establish no state religion. But that principle does not imply the inverse: That government shall ensure that no religion is established or allowed.
Christ followers might do well to consider a similar reflection: religion shall establish no government. But that does not demand the inverse, that religion shall ensure that no government is established.
While doing my seminary studies, a course in Church History required the reading of Justo Gonzalez' exceptionally well researched and written two volume texts, The Story of Christianity. Many parts of this work by a deeply committed Christian man who did not engage in hyperbole at all, were extremely distressing to read and contemplate. Ours is an extraordinarliy bloody history. Consider only one brief chapter, the Thirty Years' War from 1618 to 1648. Protestant and Catholic armies making war on one another and ravaging the civilian population beneath their feet. Over 8 million dead. Ungodly, simply ungodly.
My struggle through this material came precisely at a time when our attention was so focused on Islamic terrorists and homicide bombers (they really want to commit murder, not suicide), and considering what was done by my own people, the Germans, to God's own people, the Jews, I arrived at Roger's Rule:
Whenever religion uses government as a religious tool, blood flows.
Whenever government uses religion as a government tool, blood flows.
And yet, government is a tool to be used for order, justice and purposeful action for the common good. So here's how I think it comes down.
1. If someone's house burns down or floods, it's my call as a follower of Christ to come to their aid with food, clothing and shelter.
2. If government has burned down or flooded that person's house, it's not sufficient for me to simply come by with the food box and the clothes. It's my job to reform government so that the burning and the flooding by government cease.
3. If someone's house burns down or floods and Christians come by with the food box and the clothes but are unable to build or help build the house--but government could--then it's for sure my job to ensure that government does it and does it timely and well. It's also my job to ensure that I don't attmept to use that government help as a way to turn those being helped into converts to my religion or clones of myself.
Life is not a neat set of shelves with fully separated categories. The categories leak, often profusely. They sometimes exist in conflict, but our calling as Christ followers is to make that conflict creative, not destructive. There will be tension, but it can and must be creative. We can do that because of who God is: Creator and Lord of all.
It's in tension right there on that penny with the cross cut into it. "In God We Trust" is still there. But the cross has replaced Lincoln.
"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation..." 2 Cor. 5.17a
Happy creating! Enjoy the tension!

Monday, December 7, 2009

In The Wilderness Prepare the Way...

Luke 3 quotes Isaiah 40. Luke 3 is introducing John the Baptizer as the one who prepares the way. John is in the wilderness crying out, "Prepare the way of the Lord."
That's not what Isaiah 40 says exactly. To a discouraged, dmoralized people who believe the Lord has dumped them or forgotten them, the prophet Isaiah is the voice crying, "In the wilderness prepare the way!"
Moses asked Pharaoh to free his people so that they could go into the desert to worship. We understand that as a request for religious freedom. Actually, it would become more a time of religious instruction. Maybe Israel couldn't properly worship YHWH in Egypt because they didn't have sufficient time off or because it was prohibited. Or maybe it was because Israel could never properly know or worship or depend on YHWH so long as they depended on Momma Egypt for safety, security, identity, work and food security.
It took 40 years, two generations in the wilderness, to grow the Egypt out of the Israelites. There would be more wilderness in their lives; as in Babylon, the Herods and Rome. Not to mention Nazi Germany.
The artful (I think it says "Boogey 1", what do you think?) bit of graffiti is on the Morrison Street bridge over I-405 a block from where we do our downtwon ministry through Operation Nightwatch. Lots of people I know are afraid of downtown Portland. Really! They think it's a wilderness that they are afraid to visit because they think it's less civilized than the 'burbs. Oh, my! Portland is a dinky city, just a town, really. You can walk from end to end of downtwon Portland in a few minutes.
Take a place like Philadelphia. The ghetto section of that old city is, by itself, probably four times the size of downtown Portland. Now there's a wilderness!
We live in the 'burbs. NE 162nd Avenue, the arterial street we use to get to and from our house, is one of the highest crime areas of the city. Several weeks ago, a 12 year-old-girl left a late night party on 162nd with a bunch of other rowdy teens headed to the MAX train. On the train, a police officer spotted her and recognized that she was banned from the system because she had previously mugged a rider and stolen her purse. At the next stop, the officer attempted to escort the girl off the train. She punched him in the face. It took two officers and a bean bag shotgun to subdue her. 12 years old. Her life and home are a wilderness.
In the past month, there have been six incidents of domestic murder/suicide in the metro area. Not one has been in the wilderness of downtown Portland. All have been out in the 'burbs in really nice areas newer than where we live.
Wilderness is a state of mind, a state of turmoil, a state of estrangement, not a place.
In the wilderness, in the desert, prepare the way..."
Where else would you prepare it? We are all born into the slavery of some kind of Egypt. There is no such thing as being born in the Promised Land, and there is no route to the Promised Land that does not go through the wilderness. None. That's where we learn to trust and depend on God. That's where we learn to take the next steps and go on.
What's your wilderness? Can you name it? What needs to be smoothed? What valley needs filling? What obstacles need to be brought down? What barriers stand in your way?
"All flesh shall see the salvation of God. " That's how Luke 3:6 ends its Isaiah quote. Salvation in the biblical sense is far more than forgiveness of sins. It is God's entire process of making way, of enabling, empowering, removing barriers and obstacles from. The Hebrew root means "to make broad". That's the opposite of narrow and constricted.
John wasn't just a wacko in the wilderness hawking his Left Behind books and the latest Christian fiction DVD's or video games. He was calling us to own up to the wilderness in our hearts so that God could start applying his salvation to the wilderness of our lives, the whole shebang. John knew that "salvation" was not some distant hope or prospect or fantasy. It was already walking the earth on human feet.
John had this cousin, you see. He was more than your ordinary relative that you go hunting or four-wheelin' with. We're in the wilderness. Let the preparation begin.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tea Party?

Tuesdsay evening, President Obama gave a speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He outlined a plan to deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. He outlined his strategy for the way ahead.

Afghanistan is a hard place, an impossible place. Central government is a foreign idea. Ethnic divides are deeper and more numerous than in Iraq. The vast majority of the population cannot read or write. Other than opium production, the most constant part of the economy is corruption and graft by the few who have any means at all. It is and has been the only clear and viable path out of poverty for a select few who could grab or extort a piece of the action. It has been that way for generations. It is mountainous. It is, for the most part, logistically more remote than Antarctica. The recently "re-elected" president, Hamid Karzai, has been almost completely ineffective at governing outside of the capital, Kabul. He won another term in a clearly fraudulent election. And he is our best hope for leadership. Actually our only choice.

That's not a very good best hope.

Tuesday evening, I sat in a room with a dozen young Americans. Half aren't even married yet. Only one couple has small children. I'm not sure if any have a sense of the first Gulf War, how we got there, related issues, etc. There doesn't seem to be much concern over this one. I'm not sure any of my community members heard the President's remarks or contemplated the implications. We didn't pray about it. We pray about a variety of things, but war almost never comes up. Most people under 40 don't receive a newspaper these days. (Many people I know over 40 have also stopped taking the paper. They're tired of the news. Not sure what that says about their ability to be full and informed participants in this so-called democracy.)

I admit, I'm older and lived through 16 years of Vietnam. I know what it cost and what it did to people. With compulsory military service, I was already engaged in concerns about that war as a young high schooler. My church wasn't, though. They didn't give my generation much much to go on. We were on our own. OK, that was then.

Now, 30K more troops will cost at least $1 million apiece to deploy for a year. The President called for this "surge" to last 18 months, or more.

So that's somewhere between 30 and 45 billion dollars of additional spending. If there are 300 million Americans, that's $100-$150 of additional short-term spending for every breathing one of us. But since only about 1/3 of Americans actually pay taxes, the surge may actually amount to about $300-$450 apiece for those of us who do. And since we already have 68K troops in Afghanistan and already spend about $90 billion or more a year there, the effort is actually asking these young taxpayers, some of whom are still accumulating student loan debt, to pony up about $1200-$1500 a year. Extra. Just for the Afghan war. Except that they aren't really paying, just going deeper into debt. Without a wimper. Or, seemingly, any knowledge.

The President said that when he took office, the U.S. had already spent about one trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost all of that has been borrowed. Care to tally the interest payments on that? Interest payments don't build schools, sustainable energy or provide any health care. They don't make our country safer or create jobs. They go to China, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday evening, we didn't pass the offering plate. Nobody wrote any checks or offered to put their share on their credit or debit cards. But the money is not waiting for their assent in order to be spent. It has been, is being, and will be spent.

Nearly all of it will be borrowed--which means that it comes with more added costs of interest payments.

I positively cannot figure out America today. On the one hand, we keep telling ourselves that the wars on terror are absolutely essential to the safety and security of our country. On the other hand, we tell ourselves that the cost can be paid for by borrowing (so that it won't cost us any money or "hurt the economy") and paid for by shedding the blood of volunteers who apparently want to spill their blood because they have nothing better to do with their lives. Apparently. That way, it won't actually cost us any personal or moral anguish. Or any commitment for success. Or any accountability for the outcome.

Only one percent of the population serves in the military or has family in the military.

For the rest of the population in whose name and with whose acquiescence all of this has been a-gathering, these wars and their costs and what they divert us from doing here at home might as well be like the opening line of the original Star Wars movie back in the 1970's: a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

Almost as soon as President Obama and the current Congress took office, groups of people gathered around the country to protest what they pereceived to be out-of-control government spending. Taking a theme from the Amercian colonial "Boston Tea Party", they called their gatherings Tea Parties.

Where were they in the years leading up to 2009? Having our nation's most expensive wars with no military draft was just fine then. Bailing out Wall Street was just fine then. Doubling the national debt was just fine then. Depending on China for everything was just fine then.

Or maybe they simply awakened slowly. Very slowly. Rip van Winkle slowly. Maybe.

Better late than never, I guess. I want the Tea Party folks to come back in force. I may actually join them. And I want them to be as honest as they want their political opponents to be. I want their sons and daughters to enlist or be drafted. I don't want 30,000 new troops in Afghanistan by next summer. I want 300,000 or 600,000. I want every last square meter of the country under control and reconstruction; and I want every Afghan under the age of 60 in school by September 1. And I want the border with Pakistan either permanently sealed or permanently eliminated; i.e., make the entire mountainous region either part of Pakistan or part of Afghanistan.

I want this paid for up front and as we go with taxes and war bonds. No more borrowing. I don't want it done in 18 months. I want it done in eight. I want it done either this way, whole hog, or I want it done today: finished, outta there! Why do it any other way?

And I want the Americans under 40 who will inherit this whole mess to get involved up to their hip waders every step of the way. I'm nearly 63. If I live to be my Dad's age, I have only 16 years to go. I'll be gone before you know it.

I have the tea. Ready to party?

Blessed Advent!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

He Was Jesus

He was Jesus. That's what Maurice Clemmons told his wife and young relatives as he ordered them to line up and undress. He had visions, apocalyptic visions of the end of the world.
At age 37, Maurice Clemmons is now dead after taking the lives of four Lakewood, Washington, police officers and taking away three fathers and a mother from nine children.
They're always Jesus. They always have the apocalyptic visions. Ain't it uncanny how the nightmarish imagery of the Bible's minority report goes so hand-in-hand with mental illness, delusions and violence involving guns?
I found the little die-cast aluminum soldier with his ancient water-cooled machine gun while cleaning the attic. Our house wasn't built until 1955-56, so the toy is only about 50 years old. But he's in World War I attire. Definitely no camo and Kevlar vest, no night vision goggles.
These days the average madman and middle schooler can get their hands on more firepower in a heartbeat. And end a bunch of other heartbeats quickly.
What the damaged and seriously ill Jesus wannabe's never seem to grasp is that Jesus never packed heat, likely not even a knife. How many did Jesus kill? How many did he save? Whose life was laid down in order to do that?
Guns don't kill people. People kill people--so often with all their @#$@#$%^#$%^# guns. We won't stop making guns. We'll never keep them out of the hands of seriously ill and angry people. But we can save the lives of countless people by taking care of the sick, by being honest about the mental health of people raised in violence and who turn to violence at a young age.
And we can prevent so much by making better people: parents, families and children.
In the Portland metro area in the month of November, there were five incidents of domestic violence that led a man to kill his wife/girlfriend/children and then himself. Oh, my God!
200 years ago Charles Wesley wrote, "Come, thou long-expected Jesus; come and set they people free..."
He has come. Time for us to set ourselves and others free from our darkness, our chains, our delusions and our violent ways. Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jean!

Happy birthday, sweetheart! I'm so blessed that for 2/3 of our lives you have been my wife, best friend and partner in all things.
And besides, you're a pretty terrific bag lady!
God bless!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Day '09

We drove down to Cannon Beach on the Northern Oregon Coast for Thanksgiving Day. Rainy drive, and light rain on the beach. But not too rainy to walk. We had mid-afternoon turkey and trimmings next to the big warm hearth at Morris' Fireside Restaurant after our walk.

They've had powerful storms on the coast recently. How'd you like to drive up to your rather spendy beach getaway house and see this in your driveway? Yes, that's sand. It's on the roof and in the gutters above the covered entryway. It wasn't all blown there by wind.

Notice how much sand is between the sliding glass doors here. There was sand on the sills of the windows to the left.

The once bare concrete patio looks like just another part of the beach. I can't imagine how much water flooded into the house as the waves were pounding the windows and doors. Inside, the floors, subfloors, carpet and drywall have to be soaked. It will take a major "gut and stuff" rebuild.

How many of us have wished for some kind of beach house all our own with sunset and sunrise views to die for? Can you imagine the consequences around the globe if sea levels rise another six inches? Another two feet? The poor will suffer much more than the wealthy.

There are many things to be thankful for in life. I find more all the time.

Most of all, I'm thankful for these two people of my family. That's especially so considering our (now) long life together. There were times when I could have lost them both, these gifts, these priceless treasures.

We have each other. We shared hours together loving the company of one another. We drove to Cannon Beach and returned home safely in our newer car with 411,000 miles on it. We've all had our colds in the past few days but no flu. We have our health. We have a home with a few leaves to clean up but not a truckload of sand and water damage to face as our Christmas gift to each other. Life is truly good.

May we all walk more lightly on the earth and treasure each step together.

Give thanks each day in peace.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In God We Trust?

This penny appeared in the offering basket at Operation Nightwatch last Sunday night.

It reminds me of something Mr. Behrens said perhaps 55 years ago. Mr. Behrens was principal of St. Paul's Lutheran school in rural Nebraska, my school for the first eight years of my education. All our U.S. coins and currency bear the words In God We Trust. Mr. Behrens pointed out how the more of them we have in our pockets, the less we seem to trust in God.

That was before sports stars and rock stars and Wall Street stars made millions and billions.

Lately, I wonder whom we trust and how much.

Consider what we can't do because we don't have the money (bear in mind, that "we don't have the money" often comes across as "it might hurt the economy"):

1. Be the leading innovator and global example for renewable energy, all sorts of new technologies and replacing throw-away lifestyles with sustainable ones.

2. Provide universal health care cheaper than we do it now non-universally.

3. Provide ourselves with transportation and infrastructure that doesn't increasingly make us look like a thrid-world nation.

4. Begin planning for the implications of global climate change (even if it's 100% non-human caused, climate change will require nearly everything about our lives to change in some way; the sooner we plan and prepare, the less disruptive and costly it will be).

5. Work increasingly toward non-military responses to terrorism, poverty and ignorance. I'm dead certain that they would be far cheaper and far more effective, both in the near-term and long-term, than what we are doing now--which, by the way, we can't afford.

We seem to be approaching the world from one perspective only, that of scarcity. We are afraid there won't be enough so we withdraw from embracing the world of possibilities. Our actions seem to say that we trust our dollars and not our God. Are we more motivated by fear than love?

I'd love to be wrong about this.

What do you think?

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Five Barley Bagels

Five barley bagels. No, the next lines don't lead to "And a partridge in a pear tree."

Jesus once fed 5K people with five barley bagels. And two cans of tuna. When all was said and fed, his students policed up 12 bushels of leftovers from the picnic grounds. They were so blown away by this incredible multiplication of gifts that they didn't even notice the 14 black plastic bags. The bags were huge, some 50-gallon size. And stuffed. The rabbi's students walked right past 'em, left 'em lying out there on the grass.

But the people from Cornerstone Church went gleaning on the picnic grounds. They found those 14 bags and delivered 'em to where they belonged. Bags were stuffed with coats, sweatshirts and blankets.

My friend Kevin delivered 'em to Operation Nightwatch last night. Filled up the whole bed of his F250 pickup. Some were a challenge to carry up the two flights of stairs leading to the third floor storage area.

In one fell swoop, Cornerstone Church just out-donated dozens if not hundreds of other churches. No committee proposal or big debate. Somebody just went ahead and did it: asked people to go through their closets.

Pastor Barry was pretty modest about it. He says it says something when this much warm clothing can be found just lying around unused in our closets and garages. Some folks for sure went out and spent money to buy things for other people, either new or from thrift stores and garage sales. But Pastor Barry says even his generous folks still have some way to go before reaching the level of Philippians 4: giving until they themselves have "need".

Maybe. But his people are far ahead of most of us. Makes a person wonder what we might do here if we gave as the folks in Philippi did. Even the folks at Cornerstone Church.

Why, we could be walking around lucky and not even know it.

We could be walking around wildly wealthy. And not even know it.

Give thanks in peace!

Pastor Roger

Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas According to Mark

When Jean and I lived in Turkey, we would occasionally visit Istanbul. I remember walking past the Consulate of the Soviet Union several times. It had a heavy steel gate around it. At the gate was a guard shack and a room about the size of this garage. A bronze plaque near the entrance to the room proclaimed Zal Ozhidaniya ("Hall of Waiting").

I often joked, "Yeah, I'll bet there's ozhidaniye going on in there alright. Hour after hour after hour. . . Waiting is something modern folks don't do well, especially with the advent of online shopping, a 24-hour news cycle and instant messaging.
OK, a few days back I asked people to read the Christmas story in the Gospel According to Mark. By now, everybody must think, "Well, he must have meant Matthew, not Mark. There is no Christmas story in Mark."
Exactly my point.
But there is really a Christmas story in Mark. It just looks different. Consider this. In Mark, there is :
1. No genealogy.
2. No annunciation to Mary.
3. No magnificat.
4. No angel Gabriel telling Joseph to take Mary (with child) as his wife.
5. No stable and manger.
6. No shepherds abiding in the fields.
7. No Magi from the East. So that means no star seen in the East. No gifts.
8. No slaughter of the innocents by Herod.
9. No flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.
10. No presentation in the temple and Nunc Dimittis by Simeon.
11. No boy Jesus at the age of 12 staying behind in the temple in deep discussions of the Torah while his parents walked a whole day's journey.
12. No water turned into wine in Cana of Galilee.
None of the above. But here's what Mark does have in the first 15 verses:
1. Mark says it's a good news story and that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God.
2. There's a prophetic reference, actually from Malachi, not Isaiah.
3. John the baptizer is preaching a baptism of repentance.
4. John is wearing the attire of a true prophet like Elijah. (In the Passover seder ritual, a door is left open so that if Elijah returns he can enter the house; the return of Elijah will signal the arrival of Messiah and a new messianic age. If Elijah's here, so is the age.)
5. Jesus is baptized by John and the Spirit descends to identify him.
6. Jesus is immediately tempted in the wilderness w/o food and water--just like Elijah.
7. John is arrested.
8. Jesus takes up the prophetic mantle and returns to Galilee calling people to repentance and to believe in the good news that the kingdom of God has come near.
The kingdom of God is Mark's Christmas. The kingdom of God is what Jesus proclaimed. It was the hallmark of his ministry. Today it seems like a present that we have never unwrapped.
What are we waiting for?
I hear people on radio and TV talking about "the Christmas season". They universally refer to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when they talk about the Christmas season. But wait, doesn't the season of Christmas begin after Christmas?
What do we have before Christmas? We have Advent, a time of waiting, a time of preparing, a time of living in the kingdom of God. Followers of Christ in the time of Mark referred to their core beliefs and the life they led them to lead as "The Way".
Maybe we should wait to celebrate Christmas until we have actually experienced Advent. Maybe we should wait to celebrate Christmas or even speak the word until we have lived Advent, until we have figured out what The Way and the kingdom of God are.
Mark's gospel has no traditional birth narrative. But it does have Easter. It does have the kingdom of God. Should we have any trouble figuring out the implications of relative importance from that?
Happy journeying on The Way! Awesome Advent to you and yours! It won't be Christmas until we figure out what the kingdom of God is--another 34 days or as long as it takes in the Zal Ozhidaniya.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Uncle Sam Wants You

We often say that we owe our freedom to our soldiers. Some of our honored veterans of military service are in this picture of the recent Living History Day at Milwaukie, OR High School. Thanks, sisters and brothers!
We owe our freedom to our military?
That may be true of Gen. Washington's Continental Army which lost most battles but won the campaign by being an insurgency, not much of a military force. It may be true of WWII.
As a Cold War veteran during the Vietnam era, I think that our military--especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan today--contribute to our safety and security. That is, provided that the net result of these wars is not an overall increase of extremism and terrorism. The jury is still out on that.
But only we can keep ourselves free as a people. We do that by vigorously exercising the rights and responsibilities of citizenship: informing ourselves, educating ourselves, expressing ourselves, asking questions, seeking answers and solutions, and communicating regularly with our neighbors as well as our representatives and leaders in government. It also requires us to hold our sources of information every bit as accountable as we do our leaders and our own family members. There is no substitute for honesty. Anywhere.
That requires us to actually know something about what is going on. That requires us to invest some sweat equity to acquire actual information and to process that into some kind of knowledge. That requires us to do more than simply hold opinions which are plentiful and free-of-charge. How well are your fellow Americans doing that?
Take this little self-test as a starter. Then see how your friends and neighbors do.
Test your knowledge with 12 questions:
Still think we are a free people? Are terrorists the only ones who hate our freedoms? Do we deserve the service of the people in harm's way on our behalf today?
As Jesus said, "Watch and pray."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Christmas in the Gospel According to Mark

It's here. It's been here for a while already. The True Value hardware store I frequent, mainly because it has a selection of fasteners I have never found on the shelf anywhere else in my life, had its Christmas lights and displays out in early October.

Yes, there's a life-size Santa Claus seated in a recliner. His motorized head scans slowly left and right. I say words to him each time I pass. I won't print them.

Every year as we enter this part of our culture--and modern Christmas is really about commercial culture, not about Christ--I encounter those rare individuals who seem to thrive on it. I'm always amazed by them and wonder, "If this didn't exist (tinsely decorations, advertising, etc.), would our lives be joyless? Or would we in fact discover a lasting source of 'Joy To The World'?"

Our modern celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem does not coincide with the date of his birth. Long ago it got plopped onto a pagan festival of the winter solstice, which by definition is very different in the Northern Hemisphere from what's going on in the Southern Hemisphere. Snow and reindeer? Not in Australia, Argentina, Namibia.

Maybe we should lift up the layers of tradition to look at what lies beneath. So here's a challenge. Read the Christmas story in the Gospel According to Mark. Read it and meditate on it this week. Then get back to me. As you meditate, here's a little Northern Hemisphere poem for the season:

A Time Between

Christmas is a time between
It's not yet the New Year, nor really the old
It's pre-income tax, it's post-Halloween
It's long before springtime, it's winter, it's cold.

Christmas is a time for joy. And peace. And love.
We save these all for one brief day
For the time between designed to remove
The burden of failure, of losing our way.

"Give love for Christmas this year!"
by the sign in the store I am told.
How much it will cost, how long it will wear?
Am I too late? Am I too old?

"Sorry! We're all out of love this Christmas.
Come back next year when it's sold."
But it's long before springtime.
It's winter. I'm cold.

Happy exploring in the Word according to Mark.

Stay warm!


Friday, November 13, 2009

My little friends

I love little piggies. Of all the creatures we had on the farm when I was growing up (a few steers and heifers for beef, 500-600 laying hens, Muscovy ducks, a Guernsey milk cow, a tired Shetland pony, cats, dogs and hogs), the little oinkers we by far my favorite.

Contrary to popular urban myth, they don't like to be dirty. In hot weather they need to stay cool. But clean the pen and provide fresh straw for little feeder pigs, and you can find no more joyful and grateful creatures on earth.

As a group, they would agree on one corner of the pen to do their business in first. When that was thoroughly soiled, they would move to the next and the next. It was a sad day for them when they had to use their remaining sleeping quarters for their bathroom. And when the opportunity finally came for us to clean the whole thing, they would run and play like the happiest kids when school lets out. (That was before video games paralyzed our children.)

We Americans are chronic complainers, I think. And yet, we are the most empowered people on earth in so many ways. We get to choose where we spend our dollars. A week ago I needed some clear tape for shipping cartons and some strapping (filament) tape. I went to the local Fred Meyer grocery/variety. I had my choice between tape made in China, or clear tape from Canada and strapping tape made in the USA. I bought the North American products for several reasons:

1. They were shipped a far shorter distance.
2. They would have been manufactured to higher standards of quality.
3. They would have produced less industrial waste handled more responsibly.
4. They would have been made with cleaner electric power.
5. They would have given somebody on this side of the globe a job.
6. They were more expensive.

You get what you pay for.

Yeah, the label of these little piggy banks says, "Made in China". They are in the grocery store where we buy most of our food. Most of that still comes from here, fortunately.

If I'd gone to Wal Mart, I'm sure I would not have had a choice between North American or Chinese tape.

Save money. Live better. Wal Mart.

Not always. Every choice is a voice. Every dollar is a vote. We're staring a "jobless recovery" in the face. There's no secret trap door for our economy like there is in this Chinese piggy bank.

There will only be jobs for our neighbors nearby when we buy what our nearby neighbors make. When they buy what we make.

Every choice is a voice. Every dollar is a vote for what the world and our country will look like in the future. We have incredible power over those choices.

You get what you pay for.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day

I'm married to the daughter of a World War II veteran. I wish my father-in-law Herb were here today for me to thank him again for his service and his daughter. My sister-in-law is married to a Vietnam vet. My two brothers served in the Army National Guard. My best male friend in life, Jack Moore, was a Cobra pilot in Vietnam and won his final battle with his last breath on March 29. My friend and schoomate of 12 years was KIA in Vietnam on 5 April 1968. My great uncle N.O. Wittmann was a WWII pilot and went on to a Navy career that eventually put him in charge of maintenance of U.S. Navy aicraft in the Pacific, including the one in which Sen. John McCain was shot down.

N.O. Wittmann, Jr., his son, was my second cousin and gave his life in Vietnam in August 1967.

I fought the Cold War, helping to keep it from becoming hot. I served three years, 11 months and 28 days. This portion of my life changed my life forever.

I've been to Washington, DC many times but only once on a Veterans' Day. That was in 1997 to take photos for the multi-media segment of the play I was writing and would stage 11 years ago this month. It was an incredibly moving three days. If I could be anywhere on this earth today besides my own house, it would be in Washington, DC for another Veterans' Day.

In 1997, my head and heart were so filled with hundreds of emotions and thousands of sights and images that I literally could not sleep. Finally, I gave in to the stirrings in my head and heart and got up at 4 AM to write. One of those pieces was the following, and I dedicate it today to Narvin (both of them), to Wes, to Jack, to Les, and to my college fraternity brother Lyle who served in U.S. Army Special Forces and was laid to rest today in Omaha:

A Time of Changing Leaves
In a time of changing leaves,
In a time of leaves that bleed the colors
of the seasons all
We pass and place our fingertips into
Familiar spellings on the Wall
Of those whose journey passed its outer marker
just a little sooner than our own
In a time of changing leaves.
In a time of changing leaves,
In a time of leaves that shed their passing quietly
Upon the earth once more,
We are again confronted
by the passing of ourselves
Even the passing of our passing...
Whose familar letters?
Whose the names well-worn into our hearts?
And whose the memories that rain again into the earth,
One by one
Day by day
Year by year,
Now in a time of changing leaves?
One day, no one shall come here
Who has ever heard the voice of any
Upon these sacred walls.
And yet, they shall keep coming
To pause, and to pray in passing
When all have taken their turn in passing quietly
Into a time of changing leaves.
Copyright 1997 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.
Veterans, thank you! Welcome home. To those no longer with us, we know that you are receiving the best of care in the hands of the One who created you for us.
See you again one of these days. One of these fine days.