Wednesday, January 28, 2009


A time to mourn here in PDX,

Lower the flags of humanity to half-staff... And hold them there awhile.

What could go through the mind of a 24-year-old man who could so despair of life that he would aim his weapon at a clump of bright, adventuresome teenagers? Guests from around the world waiting to dance and celebrate a couple of birthdays?

Then turn the gun on himself?

If he wants to end his life, why doesn't he just do that? Why does he have to inflict suffering and death on other human beings first?

Unfathomable... Unless you've been in such a deep hole that you can no longer even see light, let alone find it or get to it.

Only intense blindness can do this. He could think of what to do with a few belongings: car, bank account, PlayStation 3. But he could not think of the feelings or the sufferings of family or strangers. He could not see them. He could only see... darkness. And no end to it.

Perhaps some sort of strange mechanism kicks in. Perhaps the only way he could act on his inclinations was to fire at other people first. Just like in the video games. After people had fallen, just like in the video games, and the trigger finger was warm, just like in the video games, and the rush was in, just like in the video games...

After all of this he could finally carry through his intentions for himself. But not before.

Unfathomable, unless you've ever been in darkness that deep. It takes over. Reason leaves. Emotion and feeling shut down. You are unable to help yourself. You are unable because you can't see. All you can see is the drain and it seems like the only way out.

Alone, you are no more able to fight back than do brain surgery on yourself.

PlayStation 3 and life blend and blur.

Be aware of people who might fit the description. Ask. Intervene. Don't look away or pretend it's not there.

You might save a life. Or half a dozen. Maybe someone else's child. Or your own.

Pray for the survivors. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...


Pastor Roger

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Class and Culture

Happy Winter, PDX!

Seems like the winter of '69-'70 I spent in intensive Russian in Syracuse, NY while in the USAF. Snowed every day for at least two months. Total immersion in Siberia, USA. But first...

A FREEBIE!!! Don't miss Dan Merchant's superb documentary dialogue movie, "Lord Save Us From Your Followers--Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?" Showing is this Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 7 PM in the Vollum Auditorium on the Reed College campus. Merchant himself will be there. Brought to you FREE by Reed and Koine Community.

But now... Been reading two timely books. The first is Consuming Jesus--Byeond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church by local author and professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Dr. Paul Louis Metzger. Metzger makes some good and timely points on race and class but entirely misses the third from Paul's three-legged stool in Galatians 3:28: gender. Christ has torn down all three divisions of race, class and gender, not just the first two. The Evangelical church and the Catholic church have a way to go on this one. The U.S. Armed Forces and corporations like Intel are light years ahead of the church here.

But Metzger needs to get out a little more to really see what's going on in America. Poor non-whites in Mississippi aren't the only ones taking it in the shorts. But at least Metzger's heart is in the right place. He just needs to get to Winchester, Virginia. Thereabouts...

Second book is Deer Hunting With Jesus--Dispatches From America's Class War by Joe Bageant. Bageant himself grew up in Winchester, VA, then got out for several decades. After returning to live there, he takes a long, hard look at the permanent underclass of impoverished and undereducated Americans around him. Winchester is like much of America's small towns and rural areas which are only 25% of our population but which have contributed 50% of our war dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Winchester, hard working folk who despise government aid can work all their lives and maybe advance to $9/hour before they retire. And if they are lucky, they may be able to afford home ownership consisting of a mobile or modular home costing over $250K in payments and made of "exterior Masonite" that only depreciates in value and doesn't outlast the payment schedule.

BTW, Bageant published in 2007 and absolutely nailed the housing market collapse and the implosion of the financial world with it. Where were Alan Greenspan and the U.S. Congress? Deer hunting in Iraq or election La-La Land? Times can't be good in Winchester. Or Central Oregon.

Why is life becoming more impossible for so many folks in this "pro-America part of America"? And why do guns hold such strong attraction for these folks, half of whom don't vote but all of whom own guns? Go deer hunting with Bageant and find out why his brother is legend, why Lynndie England ended up in Iraq and in prison. For an honest look at America's heartlands that political speeches will expropriate but never show accurately, go Deer Hunting With Jesus. And maybe take Metzger along to the deer stand, the nursing home and the local bar. Five thumbs up for this spicy read.

Thought: if trickle-down economics work, why isn't America experiencing record wealth and economic growth across the board? After all, never has so much wealth flooded the penthouse holdings of so few. Surely it's going to come flooding down the stairwells and elevator shafts to us in the cellar soon! A trickle maybe? Or not.

Pray for a cloudburst, pray for a gusher, a deluge. Soon. And love your neighbor as yourself because God loves you. God was here first. Galatians 3:28.


Pastor Roger


Saturday, January 24, 2009


Strange word to have in a president's inaugural address, isn't it? Curiosity...

In Errol Morris' documentary The Fog of War, Robert S. McNamara stares straight into the camera. MacNamara, who was Secretary of Defense for a number of critical years during the Vietnam War, talks about nearly coming to blows with the former Defense Minister of North Vietnam. Decades after the war these two old men were at a dinner. The Defense Minister asked McNamara why the U.S. had fought his people so hard for so long. McNamara replied, "Our hope was to keep them from falling under the domination of Communist China. Why did your people fight Americans so hard?" The Defense Minister was incredulous. "My people had been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years. We were fighting for national unification of North and South Vietnam. First we had to drive out the French colonizers. Then America tried to colonize us. You forced us to seek help from our Chinese enemies."

How could we not have understood this? Did we so misunderstand our enemy? Were we so uncurious?

I'm curious. The U.S. invaded Iraq after 9/11. It became the major front in the war on terrorism. "We have to fight them there so that we don't have to fight them here," we said. Only problem is that nearly all the 9/11 plotters and attackers came from Saudi Arabia, not Iraq. Ooops!

Funny. I've heard many people, many Christian people espcecially, agonize over why anyone would attack the U.S. And how could anyone strap explosives onto a person? How could anyone become a homicide bomber, even killing his own people? Why are all those Muslims so backward and bloodthirsty?

Since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 when Americans were held hostage for 444 days, our attention has been focused on Muslim militants and extremists. And especially since 9/11. Over the years I've heard many of my fellow citizens talk about what we need to do to them. Nuclear weapons are frequently mentioned.

Many people know that Jean and I lived in a Muslim country for over 2-1/2 years. Hundreds actually, in workplaces and churches. Not one--family members included-- not a single one has ever asked, "You've lived there. What makes these people so crazy? Why do they act this way?"

Have we so little curiosity? Or do we think we already know the answer, or that the answer doesn't really matter? Were our minds made up before they were ever made?

Far too much history lies behind the events of recent years to go into it here. But consider this, how could 20th-century Germans do what they did? These are my own people by blood. They were educated, literate people, nearly all Christians, either Protestant or Catholic. They were a sophisticated people who had contributed so much to science, mathematics, physics, anthropology, art, architecture, literature, chemistry, metallurgy, manufacturing, optics, medicine, music, poetry, philosophy and theology. What made them do it? What made them even capable?

What made white Anglo-Saxon Christians in our own country capable of putting on hoods and hanging people in cold blood, or burning down Christian churches, or tying people to trucks and dragging them to death, sicking dogs on them or blasting them with fire hoses? What about Wounded Knee and the Trail of Tears?

Have we forgotten the Inquisition, the Thirty Years' War, Sarajevo, Srbrenica? And long before terrorism ever became synonymous with Islamic militants in the Western mind, it was synonymous with Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians in Northern Ireland, 99% of whom were surely baptized. But not converted.

My answers? Poverty. Fear. Ignorance. For sure, ignorance. Feeling threatened by anyone or anything. And using religion as a tool instead of being humbled and reformed by it. That's all I can figure out.

Is that happening anywhere in the world today? Could it happen here? Again? De we even have enough curiosity to ask? What blood-curdling risks do we take when we have no curiosity?


Pastor Roger

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hard Work

Happy Friday, PDX!

In the ancient past, cartoonist Ace Reid did a series titled "Cowpokes" for a monthly called "The Nebraska Farmer". An issue came to my family's Nebraska farm home every month during my youth. Reid's characters were the crustiest, wiry old codgers that ever lived in the ranching country of the Nebraska Sandhills. In one cartoon, the gnarled, skinny speaker complains to the other, "Doctor said he couldn't see how anybody who dranks lack I do could work hard too. So I shore slowed up on that hord work!" (misspellings intended for pronunciation)

OK. We're well along into wars whose costs wildly exceeded initial promises and projections. They have hardly self-funded, and they are hardly over. Along the way, we've never been asked to pay with money, either through tax surcharges, voluntary contributions, or even by buying war bonds. We've not been asked to pay in kind through a military draft of ourselves or loved ones. We've let so-called "volunteers" do the job, although stop-lossed active duty troops, the recall of inactive ready reservists and the repeated deployments of active duty and National Guard/Reserve troops is certainly pushing the envelope of volunteering.

Instead, we've been given tax cuts, cooked books about budgets and deficit projections, unregulated financial instruments and a 2008 stimulus check--not enough to go out and buy anything really significant that would actually boost employment. No, just enough to buy more junk made in China or slightly pay down the credit card debt too many people already have from buying too much of that Chinese stuff already.

Almost zero progress on energy independence or sustainability. Transportation infrastructure that looks more and more like the Thrd World. No answer to the costs of health care except to let it become even more unaffordable to even more people. Hopes all pegged on one thing and one thing only: economic growth.

Translation of the term economic growth: at no cost to me personally. Things will somehow magically boom. Miraculous wealth will fall from the sky like manna that will not only fill all the holes we've been unwilling to pay for but all the needs we'll have in the future. Ever.

Wow! Do you believe in magic too?

Seems to me we've been drankin' so hard that we've shore slowed up on that hord work. Our current situation seems analogous to a laden wooden sailing ship that's taking on water. So we've steadily been chopping off the masts and rigging to lighten the load so that she'll still float (never mind that you can only drift without masts, sails and rigging) . Now we've come up with a new fiscal plan: we'll prevent the ship from sinking in the water by setting the deck on fire so that the heat of the fire will boil the water so that the ship won't sink into the water so that... There will be no cost to me personally. We'll just borrow the money...

Slight problem. Not enough wood in the ship. Too much water in the ocean. And once the superstructure is chopped down and the decks are up in smoke you can't do it again. And you can't put them back either. Not without a long time in drydock--if you can somehow get there.

When was the last time you read about a company that was hiring hundreds or thousands? Adding to its employees' benefit packages rahter than cutting?

Is the mounting national debt already past the point of no return even if all in the future goes 500% perfectly? Do things ever go perfectly? What happens if things go seriously out of whack?

Shouldn't we have paid our way as we went? But we didn't. Now what are we going to do? How much hard work are we willing to commit to? What costs are we willing to bear personally? What's this future going to cost us? Who's already paying? Ready for more?

Pray for our new president. Of course. But also pray for the person you see in the mirror. And for that person's kids.

What is God teaching us here?

Thus I still say, "Shalom!"

Pastor Roger

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Public Prayer as a Prop

Good morning, America!

Felt so good to fly the flag yesterday that I went out and did it again today. Not out of pride (which goes before a fall) but out of humility and hope. It feels like a boot heel has been lifted from my throat. I can breathe again.

The public spectacle of inaugurations always makes me grimace at one point: prayer. Odd thing for a pastor, huh? Odd thing for somebody who does spontaneous prayers weekly in response to the requests of the people at the Operation Nightwatch worship service.

It really crashed in on me listening to Franklin Graham's invocation eight years ago when George W. Bush took office the first time. I thought, "Who in the world taught this man to pray out loud?" Answer: Billy Graham. That ought to be enough to shut me up. But I couldn't help feeling turned off by the prayer. It didn't seem genuine. It seemed postured. It seemed to be bossing God around, like ordering God to put the divine stamp of approval on all that would follow--or else. To me, the prayer came across like a prop.

That nailed the feeling I had again yesterday as Pastor Rick Warren prayed. Did he really need to say again for the billionth time "first African American president"? This was news to God? It didn't seem very humble. It seemed like going through the motions, that because of who he was as megachurch pastor, or because of what the USA is or thinks it is, God was now obligated to act. Act, God! Not according to divine wisdom and will but according to our plans.

Note to future event organizers: Don't give pastors two minutes to pray. Give them 20 seconds. Or less. Pinch them hard if you want to hear them being humble for once.

BUT IN FAIRNESS, I went back this morning and re-read Rick Warren's prayer. It reads much better than its delivery. Yes, the much maligned liberal rag, The Oregonian, actually reprinted Warren's prayer. In full! Even coached us that one of the uses of Jesus was Spanish.

In reading Warren's prayer I realized its true value. It had put Warren on the spot of having to pray with and for all the people of our country--and for once be overheard doing it. Strip away the walls of sectarian sanctuaries of samethinkingness and finally we might get somewhere!

This is the deep core of Jesus and the God revealed to us through him: you can't love someone you do not know, and it becomes much harder to condemn anyone you truly and deeply know. When known, they become real. I'd venture that Rick Warren came away with a deepened sense of that yesterday, even if not one other soul did. That's huge! Brilliant choice, Mr. President!

(NOTE: Rick Warren is to be studied and emulated in many ways, having given back every cent of his lifetime salary and having devoted himself to ending as much poverty as his lifespan will allow. Church leaders and people everywhere: are you watching?)

For the record, the Rev. Joseph Lowery who led the benediction prayer also went too long. But he was much better. He even got lyrical with a dance of words near the end. But then, this old civil rights leader and veteran still has what our new president and first family have: soul. Our new President got soul! Dig it?

Enough of using public prayer as a prop! And I speak as one who does both prayer and poetry at public gatherings. Get to it. Get real. Get humble. Stop telling God what God already knows. Stop shoving God into the prefab box that looks just like us. Pray humble. Pray honest. And pray big, as big as you can get.

Better yet, I wish all our leaders would stop having people stand up to pray for them and stop giving people speeches others have written for them (Obama wrote his own!). Here's what I would have done yesterday at the end of my inaugural address instead of "God bless America":

Father, I can't do this without your help. I can't do this without theirs. Help us all, Father. Amen.

Ten seconds. That's all it took.


Pastor Roger

Monday, January 19, 2009

Going to the Mall in a Dream

Happy MLK Day, USA!

It's fitting in a way I can't begin to describe that the last day of the presidency of George W. Bush should fall on a day when we honor and remember the life and unfulfilled dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who gave his life for his Lord, his faith, his humanity, and our country. He was not an old man, only 39 when he was shot. But he will always be remembered for one August day on the National Mall in 1963. He had a dream...

My first visit ever to our nation's capital was in May, 1970. Campus unrest at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio had ended in a tragic and bloody scene of confusion. Shots were fired by National Guardsmen called in to maintain order. Four students lay dead. A generation bled with them, either here at home or in Southeast Asia. One was a cousin; another a classmate of 12 years. Their names are both on a black granite wall there on the Mall.

Some Air Force and Navy classmates and I, in a program of intensive Russian language and area studies at Syracuse University, were torn. We were sworn members of the U.S. armed forces with 3.5 years remaining in our 4-year enlistments. We had been found healthy enough to serve, loyal enough to at least be permitted to continue training in what would eventually become a highly classified career field. Yet we were also students who could not simply extract ourselves from a generation of our peers by means of a military haircut or a different wardrobe.

And so we drove to Baltimore on a Friday night and crashed at the apartment of a buddy's friend. The next morning we made our way to Washington, DC to join a vast throng of mostly young Americans who had come to mourn and to ask what had gone wrong in our country and where we were going as a nation.

I still have the black and white photographs. In one, a young couple, very clean cut, is heading toward the gathering on the Mall. They have a little baby in a backpack. Where is that child today? He or she is now 39 years old, same age as Dr. King when he died. Does he or she know why his/her parents were there that day?

Later that day I would breathe tear gas. Not because I had done anything threatening or illegal. I had simply exercised my right and my responsibility as a citizen and an airman sworn to defend the Constitution. So I was there. Being a citizen, you sometimes get in the way. And need to.

Yesterday I listened to some of the hopeful songs and addresses in anticipation of tomorrow, 01/20/09, a day I thought would never come. In many ways, I'm too wounded and too jaded to let my feelings go. But they have a little. I've been disappointed and betrayed before.

I think about where we parked my car on that day in May 1970. A little boy named Eric was on the street, seemingly with no adult to care for him. My friend Haukur (standing) lent little Eric his Frye boots. Fellow airman, big Eric (in trunk), posed next to little Eric. Little Eric lived in a neighborhood that in a few years would be obliterated by rioting and a fire. I wonder where little Eric is today, if he ever had a dream. Did he have a future that didn't involve prison? Did he survive?

In my heart I will be going to the National Mall tomorrow. And for the first time in my life I will fly the Stars and Stripes from my own house. Not at half staff as I did at a former workplace to mourn yet another American's death in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This time the flag will fly at full staff. From home. And I'll let my feelings go a day. I have a dream today. Long may it wave...


Pastor Roger

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rob Bell: Lent--not what's in your dryer vent!

Happy overcast, PDX!

We're under that January pall for sure. I remember a couple of springs like that in Nebraska when I was in high school. Didn't warm up forever. Didn't see the sun forever. Country roads were without a bottom. Mud everywhere. Could just about do a person's spirit in for good. Not here to talk about that though.

Here to talk about Rob Bell. If he and some of his ilk are the future spokespersons and visionaries of those who follow Christ, then we have indeed emerged from a long spiritual pall. And thank God! Just when I was about to asphyxiate, breath comes along. Perhaps that's why he calls his series of monologues NOOMA. That's Anglicization of pneuma, the Greek word for spirit, or breath.

Bell looks straight at the camera and talks like a person who lives in the real world. He asks the questions I've asked for years. He knows that following Christ is not about spending decades of your life trying to get your belief system right before you ever take a step. It's about living in the world where God works and is already at work, proceeding without having much of anything figured out. But proceeding anyway.

That's why I'm so pleased that a little group of Lutherans out in the Woodstock/Eastmoreland area of SE Portland have decided to throw open the doors on six Wedesday evenings, starting February 11 at 7:00 PM. A different Rob Bell video (10-13 minutes) will kick off the evening. Then we'll talk over coffee and cookies for 45 minutes or so. We'll just talk honestly and see where the NOOMA and the pneuma lead us. All questions and comments are fair game if they are spoken in honesty. Really!

Yup! Starting February 11, 2009, 7:00 PM. 7220 SE 39th Avenue, Portland.

Spread the word. Bring friends. It's our way of doing Lent. Which is not what's in your dryer vent.

In succeeding posts I'll give you a preview of where we'll go with Rob. Hard to choose only six of these gems from the 23 he's done so far.


Pastor Roger

Friday, January 9, 2009

Is Your Faith a Gas-Guzzler?

Happy Epiphany, PDX!

Epiphany. From a Greek adverb and a Greek noun, meaning "to appear upon". I wonder how we'd hack it if God actually appeared upon earth today, like a star or comet did in the sky 2K years ago, the way a newborn had done in humble beginnings? What's it mean for God to show up in today's world? Doesn't matter much unless God also shows up in our lives some way.

That leads me to the question above. I was just leafing through the Christian Book Distributors latest sale catalog. I was all done with these folks a couple of years ago. Then I posted a review of a friend's book. Now back on the ol' mailing list.

Still tired of their merchandising. Tired of books aimed at women with the theme of "Jesus is my boyfriend." Hey, Favio doesn't only exist in romance novels! Tired of books for men with the theme of "I stocked my survival cellar, killed three grizzlies, got a new 4WD and 80-inch plasma last week, learned to follow every sentence with PTL! but still trying to reconcile with my kids--if I can even find 'em."

Tired of Christian consumer goods. Tired of having a sense that following Christ requires so much support merchandise. Tired of having tons of words telling me that understanding God and Jesus are so hard that I need their help--instead of listening to Jesus.

So the pointed question: How much "stuff" does it take to run a faith these days? Did God plan it this way? Were redemption and discipleship ever supposed to turn into the church and an industry? Is the only church we know actually an industrial model rather than a discipleship model?

How much "stuff" does my faith need to keep it propped up and limping along? Will more stuff make it healthier? Is my faith a gas-guzzler? Or a green model in which there is no consumption, no waste? Is my faith actually an energy producer rather than an energy consumer? (Use any definition of energy you want here.)

And then there is Rob Bell... Oh, wow! More about him later.


Pastor Roger

Monday, January 5, 2009


Happy New Year, PDX!

I can hear those old codgers of yesteryear now: Back in ought-six ('06), we had snow clean up to the tops of the barn windows... Back in ought-nine ('09), them was the biggest rockslides we ever seen...

We're living in the oughts. For one more year, at least. Now when my Mom was a young girl in school and doing her arithmetic problems, a zero was called an "ought". Sometimes a "nought". That's more dignified than being called a nothing.

This year I wonder if we won't be giving reprise to that Peter, Paul and Mary song of so many years gone by: "Too Much of Nothin'". We'll see. And as Crosby, Stills and Nash used to sing, "It's been a long time coming. . . and it appears to be a long, long, long, long time before the dawn."

Here's hoping you are keeping your job, your house and your food supply.

This is a very good year for hope. And it's finally the last year of the oughts. Dawn can't come soon enough.

Got things to tell you about. Stay tuned.


Pastor Roger