Monday, December 27, 2010

the Life was the Light of all people

It's Evangelist John's version of the Christmas story:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being.
John 1:1-3a

"Word" in this passage is "logos" in Greek. Logos can be loosely translated into English as "word". Not simply those little clumps of letters separated by spaces--the ones I'm typing and that you are reading now. And we also shouldn't think of it as we often do in a modern sense when we talk about "the word of God" and mean our favorite illustrated, hard-bound, annotated and copyrighted version of the Bible. No, this logos is a living, Divine Agent that welds together words, thought and activity.
What has come into being in him was life, the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:3b-5
Logos in John begins with the same root as the second half of the compound terms we are so familiar with today. For example, the term psychology. Literally translated, psychology means "that which is known, said, thought and taught about the mind/soul continuum".
John tells us that this logos was there at "the beginning". That means, at creation. As if eternity could have a beginning. But we say and believe that the stuff that exists has a beginning.
This creative mind/soul continuum not only made all things but illuminates all things and has entered the created order of things with light. Light that is life. Life that is light.
Light by definition cannot do other than shine or it isn't light. Where light is, darkness cannot possibly be. Light is, by definition, by action, by illumination, the destroyer of darkness. Light is not absence. Light is presence. Darkness doesn't have to do anything. It can't do anything because it is the absence of everything.
Light has to be the presence of something. It has to do something. It has to shine. It has to be. It is. Therefore, what else could you call it but life?
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. John 1:6-8
Testify... Witness... English words with the same Greek antecedent: martyreo. Yes, one who testifies to or witnesses to is one who "martyrs" self to... In other words, one who demonstrates by their whole being what their psyche, their body/mind/soul continuum is about, what it is animated by, energized by, what it lives for. And by whom it lives.
The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. John 1:9
According to John, this logos, this light, this life, is Jesus of Nazareth, the One God present in Jesus of Nazareth. Not only God made flesh, but God permeating and imbuing everything with something that does what light does. (See above discussion of the contrast between light and darkness.)
That photograph above? We took it on a short weekend at Cannon Beach, OR. August 2008. Jean knew something was not right but did not yet know that she had a brain tumor. Kiwi fruit-sized brain tumor.
In the days and weeks after the photo was taken, we would not so much remember the photo itself but the incredible, surrounding presence of the light that afternoon. After I had taken the shot, I looked back at Jean. She was in tears. "So beautiful!" she sobbed. "It's just so beautiful!"
That's what the Evangelist John is bringing with his symphony of basic Greek words: a witness to light that is life all around us and in us and through us.
Where darkness can no longer be because the Light has shined. Here. Arrived. Shining....
Merry Christmas, and thank you, John.
May the Light be with you all!
Roger
P.S. The word photography? Yeah, Greek too. It means "writing with light". Cool, huh?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Of the Father's Love Begotten...


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.
The lyrics are by one ancient church father named Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, dating to the fourth century. In our Lutheran hymnals, the beautiful five verses are set to stunningly simple and flowing music, a plainsong from the 13th century. It's one of the oldest liturgical pieces we have. It's by far one of the most beautiful.
It's not about the cuteness of a baby, the quietness of a night that wasn't quiet--what with displaced people scrambling for shelter before darkenss left them at the hands of robbers or raping Roman soldiers extorting protection money.
No, "Of the Father's Love Begotten" is actually one of the most beautiful Christian creeds we own--if we would choose to see it as such. It tells God's story. It's not about what we humans have projected onto a single night or a few days surrounding it that we really have no way of knowing a whole lot about. It's about what God has been doing eternally.
And, no, unlike every children's pageant and program, unlike every courthouse/church lawn nativity scene, unlike every creche on living room mantles, the shepherds, the eastern astologers and the newborn child were not all there simultaneously.
If the world had not been very imperfect, the Perfect would not have needed to enter it so intimately.
The gospel text for this Sunday, the day after Christmas, is from Matthew 2. The Holy Family is on the run, escaping to Egypt. On the run for the life of their child, on the run for their own lives if they had been caught defying Herod's order. A paranoid megalomaniac who does not hesitate to murder siblings, spouses, children will not bat an eyelash wiping out a couple of fleeing peasants who might constitute a threat to Herod's power.
Here God begins. Or continues... Here God chooses to crawl inside of human flesh that can't even walk, talk or feed itself. Here God forsakes "lording it over" and chooses to live under the world that so desperately needs hope, help, healing and a whole host of things besides redemption.
So God begins where God always does: with nothing, or next to nothing. In weakness, not strength. In vulnerability, not supremacy. In flesh, not just spirit.
In life, not in death.
In order to spend time with us for all time.
It's begotten in love. Always was. Ever shall be.
Fall on your knees. Hear the angel voices. Where you least expect to find them.
Christmas blessings!
Roger

Monday, December 20, 2010

From Hanoi With Love: a New Messiah Chorus

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

Josh Butler and a couple of other church members arrived about two hours before the 9:00 AM worship yesterday morning at Imago Dei Community. They were bearing gifts from the East.

As in, the Far East.

As in the "East" that we on the West Coast of North America have to travel west to reach.

As in Southeast Asia.

As in Hanoi, Vietnam.

As in, yes, the same Hanoi our country engaged as a blood adversary for 16 years, deployed 3.5 million Americans to serve in, shed the blood of over 58,000 of our own, over a million of theirs.

We cannot begin to tally the cost of war.

We left behind thousands of maimed, orphaned Asian children, thousands of Amerasian children conceived by the union of American GI sperm with the eggs of Asian prostitutes and abandoned "girlfriends".

Thousands of square miles of Vietnam were tainted and poisoned with Agent Orange. Over 30,000 Vietnamese have died since the end of the American War in 1975 as a result of one cause: accidental detonation of unexploded mines, bombs and other ordnance that are the inevitable byproducts, whether accidental or intentional, of war.

While we sing the "Alleluia Chorus " of Handel's Messiah in churches, civic auditoriums and via flash mobs in shopping malls, we may in the midst of our celebrations, wrapping paper and debit/credit slips forget the verses of Isaiah 9:2-5 that come immediately before the familiar verses Handel set to music:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as soldiers rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

The "gifts" Josh Butler and the others presented at Imago Dei's worship yesterday were these church bulletins printed in Hanoi. They were printed at a growing community business started by Imago in Hanoi in order to give work and dignity and worth and community to people with disabilities who are often hidden by their families who consider disabled people a shameful disgrace. Some of these workers and their families are so moved by this act of grace and kindness, this new view of life, this new beginning, that their hearts and minds are ready and eager to hear a message of steadfast love and hope.

We call it the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I call it taking the words of Isaiah 9:2-5 seriously because we have taken the words of Isaiah 9:6-7 seriously.

For once.

In Southeast Asia.

Or wherever we are.

Christ came not to sanction the economic growth of the righteous but to break the rod of the oppressor and to burn forever the boots, the armaments, the instruments and the uniforms of war. Including those that say: Made in USA.

Cleberate and get to know this Christ whose birth we proclaim. Get to know Isaiah first. Then be ready to unwrap the package of Jesus' birth by asking the question, "What does this call me to?"

The peace of Christ be with you all,

Roger

PS: The crooked cut on the bulletin? No, it wasn't done by the disabled person in Hanoi who ran the copies. Josh Butler himself took full responsibility for that.

Q: And where did the money come for this project?

A: Imago Dei's alteration of commerical Christmas known as Advent Conspiracy: http://www.adventconspiracy.org/










Sunday, December 12, 2010

Give The Mall!


Well, they've got it all figured out.
Jesus is coming back on May 21, 2011. Guess we don't have to worry about 2012 anymore.
This group has it all figured out. Down to the day. But they wouldn't do the hour, I suppose, cuz that might actually be stepping into God's turf.
Have a gander:
"The Bible teaches that. . .", etc.
So it has to be true. Only people who "interpret" the Scriptures can be wrong. Those who simply read it know the full truth. So they can't be wrong.
Funny, I've never heard that line of reasoning from a native speaker of ancient Hebrew, ancient Aramaic or Koine Greek. Just so you know, the last "native speaker" of Koine Greek died at least a thousand years ago when common Greek had already transformed into something between it and modern Greek.
So if Jesus is a'comin', might as well run up the credit cards to the max. Give the Mall this Christmas. But why stop there? Go whole hog, hog wild. Since we won't even see Memorial Day 2011 according to these folks, might as well have a Holly, Jolly Christmas.
And then some... Foreclosure and garnished paychecks move so slowly you won't even be homeless yet by May 21. Go for it.
Bible teaches. . . Or not.
Roger

Thursday, December 9, 2010

R U the 1 We've Been Waiting 4?

Now when Jesus had finished instructing his disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus asnwered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." Matthew 11:1-6

Advent is quite a ride. Last week we see John at the Jordan warning people that God's chosen anointed ("Messiah" in Hebrew, "Christ" in Greek) was upon them. Messiah would shake up the world, gather the grain into the bin and set the waste products (unprepared, unrepentant people???) on fire.

Messiah's winnowing fork is the equivalent of being run through a combine. Or a hay baler. Any farmer who has ever run either of these machines has at one time or another seen the unfortunate snake, rabbit or pheasant go through the machine. As a kid, I don't know how many rats and mice I saw hop into the feeder and go through the corn sheller.... Never saw any recognizable pieces come out with the corn, the husks or the cobs.

John is expecting action, unmistakable action. No person on earth can confuse fire with no fire. One burns. The other doesn't. And people know they'd better pay attention to John. He looks, dresses, eats and sounds like Elijah. And they know when Elijah shows up again it will be to inaugurate something like the Day of Yahweh. God gonna DO somethin' big!

So when John gets tossed into the slammer for having called murderous, immoral Herod on his behavior and liftestyle, he expects Jesus, the one whom he, John, had personally "anointed" with water there in the Jordan, to at last begin the campaign. "Let the conflagration begin! Nuke 'em, Big Guy!"

In a first century jail you don't get a cell with bunk, toilet and three squares. If you don't starve, it's only because your friends come to feed you--and bribe the corrupt guards every step of the way to do so. You're lucky if even crumbs get through.

But John has friends and followers. They come. John wants to know, "What's going on with Jesus? Has the revolution begun yet? Anything on fire?" They don't have anything like that to report, so John gets to the point. "Go ask Jesus himself. Are you the one, or are you going to turn out to be just like every other self-appointed false Messiah before?"

"I preached fire back there at the Jordan, Jesus. I was sure I had it right. I expected to see a clear/hold/build plan in place in the first weeks of your campaign. I expected to see a strategy to kick the Romans out of Judea by Passover and clear out of Galilee by Succoth next hear. I expected to see the heathen pagans and idolaters burning at the stake and the direct rule of Yahweh from center court of the temple. I expected fire, but so far I ain't even seein' any smoke."

"Are you the one, Jesus.....

or ain't you?????"

Jesus tells John's friends to report back what they hear and see. It's the same fulfillment of Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5-6, 61:1 that got Jesus into such trouble in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4:18-19). They were about to kill him... Yep.

What upsets us so about a Messiah of grace and mercy as opposed to a Messiah of war? Why is it that Jesus inherits the titles Messiah/Christ and, in the words of Isaiah 9:6, "Prince of Peace"? Not Prince of War, Generalissimo Jesus.

Is it true that we believe so strongly in our ability to save and perfect ourselves that we would rather die, would rather kill, would rather go to war, would rather burn up the world and all of creation rather than see someone else get a break?

As my professor of Old Testament studies said once, "Our primal fear is that someone who doesn't deserve it will beat the system and get into heaven anyway."

We ought to ponder that statement a long while, especially in Advent, especially with John's questions echoing in our ears. Especially with Jesus' answer.......

Advent blessings,

Roger.











Monday, November 29, 2010

Swept Away...

...things will be just as they were when Noah lived. People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day that the flood came and Noah went into the big boat. They didn't know anything was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man appears. Two men will be in the same field, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. Two women will be together grinding grain, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. (Matthew 24:37-41 CEV)

Swept away... If you've ever let your eyes stray to the covers of the romance novels on sale in the grocery store, the cover art says it all.
Studly man with Greek god hair and physique to die for (either no shirt on or already unbuttoned to the waist) is holding woman in his arms with her clothing shredded like that of the eyesore women's costumes of Dancing With The Stars. She's swooning in his arms.
She's being "swept away".
Yeah, right. Until the divorce lawyers get involved.
**********************************
One minute the two guys were standing on top of this peak on the east edge of the Wallowas in NE Oregon, their hang gliding chute on the ground. The next minute, their wing was aloft on the breeze and they were flying. Swept away.
Their world changed instantly, you better know!
We've often heard this passage, the first gospel text we read in the season of Advent, as a prediction or description of the end of the world. At least, talk about "End Times" to people and they'll always, always, always come up with end-of-the-world scenarios of tribulation, calamity, and blood up to the bridles of the horsemen of the Apocalypse.
That solo understanding of biblical End Times is flat out "corpus abuse" of the text. No, the man in the field who was taken, the woman grinding who was taken, were not raptured out of the evil world into heaven while the ones who were left suffered horribly.
No, the ones TAKEN were overcome by life. Their lives were completely thrown off track when life changed, when the world changed. They weren't prepared.
The ones who were left were prepared. They stayed on the job, continued to serve and get the work done in radically altered conditions.
The Noah reference informs us if we are ready to shove rapturous misinterpretations out of our minds and actually hear what Jesus has to say.
Noah and family weren't swept away. The others were. Noah and family lived in, on, with and through the worst natural disaster imaginable--and they saved God's living creatures along with them.
How? The big boat didn't fall out of the sky. They didn't pick it up at 75% off on Black Friday. It wasn't imported from China. Didn't steal it on e-Bay. They spent years building it.
They were preparing and so became prepared to serve when the whole world changed.
We live in the times between our Lord's first appearance and earthly life and our waiting and expectation of the next. We are not living daily looking for the end of the world but its New Beginning. Actually, we are already living its new beginning.
In the best of times and the worst of times, we are on the job and prepared to serve because we are prepared with Jesus' durable word that outlasts earth and sky.
And happy landings, all you hang gliders out there!
Blessed Advent!
Roger

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In Flower Years...















Iris After Veterans Day

The iris did not expect
autumn's chill so soon,
shivers in the rain,
in vain awaits the sun
among the casualties of war,
roses and the wilted red carnations.
Cut tulips skyward reach
for a helping hand
an entire week after Veterans Day,
too weak to lift their wet winged leaves
from the cold gray granite.

Frost and snow failed their fight for life
somewhere in its prime:
Age nineteen in flower years.
Copyright 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.














Thursday, November 18, 2010

Angels Among Us


Steve Hanks is our favorite living watercolorist. His rendering of the human form has a draftsman's precision. But his shading of skin tones has to be a gift of the Creator. You have to be born with it, I think. Gosh, he's good.
This painting is titled "There Are Angels Among Us".
OK, which one is the angel? Woman walking the dog? The dog? Guy walking away? Guy in the background with his kid? Couple way in the background?
The woman in black?
Guy wearing the hoodie?

Kids would be willing to hazard a guess. Probably won't get a peep out of adults. Too afraid of being "wrong".
"Pastor wants me to say it's the homeless guy in the hoodie." That's what we might think.
"Or maybe it's the gal in black... Do angels really wear black? Could they?"
How might your answer about the angel question change if I asked this:
"OK, hold the answer to who the angel is. Meanwhile, ask this question: Who is the Christ?"
While you ponder, ponder another question. Is there someone else in the picture you haven't seen yet?
How about the person whose eyes are seeing this picture? How about you?
Rob Bell in his breathtaking short film DVD "Open" poses this thought. Maybe God wants to involve you in the answer to prayer. Then he gets to the meat. "Don't ask God to feed a hungry person if you have plenty of food."
We have no idea what act of kindness and grace anyone in the painting has just performed--or is about to. Even the person behind the eyes that see the scene before us.
There are angels among us. And so is Christ. So are you.
Amen.
Roger

Monday, November 15, 2010

Far Greater Generation

Tom Brokaw may not have coined the title "Greatest Generation", but he certainly gave it a permanent place in our psyche.

I don't contend a single qualification of the Americans who lived and served and experienced the sacrifices and the decisions of World War II.

They deserve all the thanks and honor we can give them.

But as my fellow Nebraskan, Dr. Mary Pipher observed in her book The Shelter of Each Other--Rebuilding Our Families, when the wolf is at the door and the enemy is external, coming together is so much easier to do.

When the wolf is inside, it's a totally different deal.

I fought the Cold War in the Vietnam era. I've actually heard WWII veterans say in front of Vietnam veterans, "I fought the GOOD war." I found it gracious of the Vietnam vets that they kept their silence and didn't shout, "Excuse me, but we didn't get any more of a choice than you did."

I've had it stuck in my face for much of my life that I'm a "baby boomer". As if I had a choice. I'm supposed to be one of America's first worthless generation, a generation that lost America's first war, the generation of free love and no morals. The generation of Americans that expected the government to do everything for them. Totally spoiled. Well...

I've got a beef with a few things. The Greatest Generation did great things in WWII. But it was also that generation that got us into Vietnam and then could not figure out what the hell to do with it or how to be honest about it. A guerilla war for national unification was constantly fought with the mentality (on America's part) of a traditional European land war with fronts and opposing powers wanting to annex adjacent territory. It was none of those. Greatest Generation was not great enough to see that or to make an appropriate course correction if they did. Political calculations colored everything but were colorblind to the color of blood--my generation's blood.

Even greatness has limitations.

Our country, our culture, our families, our political system and our economy and our churches and our entire way of life are threatened today by insidious enemies from within even as our way of life threatens the entire planet without. So far, we are not responding well at all. We are mostly like the grumbling Israelites longing for "the flesh pots of Egypt." We're looking back. We still like Ike and wanna go back there.

We haven't found our Moses to show the only way: forward.

I don't know who the parent was who left their child's note at the Oregon Vietnam Memorial in May. I wonder if the adult(s) involved had any more of an idea how to spell, construct a simple declarative sentence or to reason than the child who made these letters in crayon. At least the kid had the wisdom and the courage to say something, whatever it means.

So here's my response to the accusations that my boomer roots and birth date have made me a substandard American:

1. We've never bounced a check.
2. We've never been in jail.
3. We've never been in credit card trouble.
4. We've been married to only each other for nearly 40 years.

5. We've raised a daughter who has been employed and self-sufficient since she graduated from college over 8 years ago.
6. Our house is old and paid for.
7. Our cars are old and paid for.
8. We pay our taxes.
9. We inform ourselves and vote.
10. We have never collected a dime of unemployment compensation.
11. We have household income at the poverty level.
12. We go to church and actually provide church and meals for people who are homeless and mentally ill.
13. We've never sued anyone, but I have helped to defend others wrongly accused and sued in court.
14. We've both interrupted education tracks and careers to serve our country and live overseas at well below poverty level.
15. We've never expected the government to provide for us.

16. We've let our elected representatives know repeatedly what we think is right and necessary.

None of this deserves an award or a certificate of achievement. It's simply the minimum standard we should expect of everyone who lives here.

We've got serious problems here in the USA, and they are bringing the nation to its knees. We have actually glorified war over responsibility.


These problems will not be solved by entertainment and thinking no deeper than 140-character tweets. They will not be solved by spending even more money on election campaigns.

"Getting the message out" is not the impediment to moving forward. Being clueless or careless is.

Crushing burdens have been handed to Americans under the age of 35, burdens which Jean and I have decried in every way we could because we foresaw them. We are not ready to quit, but we are discouraged. VERY discouraged.

And here's my take on things. If Americans under the age of 35 can figure out how to salvage the mess that's been left to them, they will far, far exceed the Greatest Generation in imagination, courage and sacrifice. They will indeed have earned the title "Far Greater Generation".

By comparison to what today's younger Americans face, the challenges of WWII were flat out idiot-simple.

Younger Americans, we're here to help. Let's talk.

Time we got going. Waiting makes none of the tasks ahead easier or simpler.

Prayers accepted and appreciated. Thanks!

Roger

Thursday, November 11, 2010

With Alcohol He Built A Wall...

Veterans Day...

We're supposed to fly flags and be patriotic today. Whatever the "being patriotic" part means... For the record, I AM flying my flag today but only at half staff. In fact, I never fly my flag at anything but half staff. Flying the flag should humble us. "Pride goeth before a fall." We've had enough pride, and falling is a distinct possibility now.
Time to check out the humility side of the aisle.
Well, Veterans Day 2010...
The newspapers have been full of Biggest (Christmas) Sale of the Year flyers already.
Ain't even Turkey Day yet.
I was supposed to donate blood at the Red Cross today. But I'm recovering from a cold and will shed the red stuff another day when it's healthier. I gave them a triple unit of platelets just a week ago today. My veteran's gift to life.
But on this day I'm remembering so many things, and I know there are so many unshared memories and untold stories. Please read a few of these and share with friends: http://www.patheos.com/community/karenspearszacharias/

And on this day I can't help thinking about Wes. And what he told Ron just before he shipped out for Vietnam in '67. Wes didn't expect to return. And he didn't. Almost did, but he didn't. You can only wish all soldiers would return alive. Most did return alive, of course.
Not all were well.
I saw first hand the life and death tightrope that many walked daily when many years ago I visited the counseling groups for veterans and their families at the Klamath Falls office of (then) Lutheran Family Service of Oregon. LFS was saving countless lives with tools other than surgery, IV's and antibiotics.
Let's say Wes had returned. What kind of life would his have been? I don't know, and no one but God does. Years later my late friend Jack, an 1800-hour Cobra pilot, would tell me point blank:
"When you have killed other human beings, it can be hard to think of yourself as a moral person again."
I learned in the vets' groups at Klamath Falls just how many returned vets and their loved ones were struggling to make it. Not all who made it, "made it." For those who did not, for those who still struggle today, these words:
Vet
The time never stopped
though it seemed to come and go, inverted
Nightmarish nights of terror, unnerving days between
He died in the spirit at nineteen
too wounded to feel the pain--injury went unseen
And a youthful dream was left to rot
stillborn in muddy fear.
His body returned, warm and breathing
though the eyes told pale death within
Never certain if it ended,
if anything else had been...
With alcohol, he built a wall
Held together with pills and pain
People never got near, let alone inside
They never cared to once they'd tried
And somewhere the fog would close again,
remind him of the rain...
Chills and sweat and pain, bloody mud and rain
The fog would close...
Sometime between his childhood
and early Friday afternoon
The fog came in...
And he walked off the edge of the World.
Copyright 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.
God's eternal peace to you today, brothers and sisters.
Thank you for your service, and welcome home!
Roger

Monday, November 8, 2010

Swords Into Plowshares, or Back Again?

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:4

I traveled to my hometown of Arlington, Nebraska last month to visit my Mom. She's lived her whole life in this county until the past two months in neighboring Dodge County, the county where I was born.

Arlington has a little VFW Hall, now headquarters also for the American Foreign Legion, or what's left of it. They have burger barbeques regularly and post honor guards at funerals of veterans, plant flags on veterans' graves on Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

Outside the VFW Hall is, of course, a flagpole. But there's also the mandatory piece of non-functional armament. In this case, it's a 155mm model M1A2 Howitzer.

It's been brush painted with several coats of olive drab paint that are now badly oxidized again. The military tires have actually been replaced since a previous visit, but they are not faring and aging well in the heat and sun of Nebraska summers and the cold of Nebraska winters.

In the few minutes I spent around the artillery piece last month, I probably looked more closely at some details than almost anyone in town. It's kinda like that with things we see every day and take for granted. Kinda like veterans whom we see every day assuming that we know what's there.

Within the length of two football fields from this big gun, one can be standing in my cousin Verdel's soybean or corn field, depending on what he's planted that year. Farming is now an industrial process limited exclusively to two heavily genetically modified crops: corn and 'beans. It wasn't always so, but things are always changing in this technologically driven world of ours.

Illinois blacksmith John Deere gave the world the steel plow. It worked so much better than its cast iron predecessor because the steel would polish up nice and smooth and scour much better as it turned the soil. It tilled better. The horse could pull it more easily. John Deere's peer named Oliver accomplished the same thing using chilled iron.

And with the growth of the iron and steel industry, American manufacturers were able to bolt and rivet together huge 10-bottom plows to break up the prairie sod when pulled by monstrous steam tractors burning coal and wood. Hello, Dust Bowl, a few decades later!

As with all things that rise rapidly, an apex is reached, then a fall. At the height of intensive tillage, turbocharged diesel farm tractors pulled 6-bottom plows, mostly 16-inch bottoms unlike the smaller 12- or 14-inch bottoms pulled by the steamers. Some of the better ones were made by the Oliver Corporation of Chicago, Illinois. Zip code 60606.

Chi Town. Also home of International Harvester, successor to the McCormick-Deering Company that grew out of the reaper invented by Cyrus McCormick. Among Chicago, Moline, Waterloo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Coldwater (Ohio), you had over 90% of the farm equipment manufactured in the United States.

The Oliver Corporation went belly up long ago. IH had to merge with Case to stay afloat. There is no Minneapolis-Moline. No Massey-Harris, no Cockshutt (Canada), no Ferguson, No Allis-Chalmers, no Avery. Thankfully, farmers no longer use plows. No-till farming has begun to save a lot of fuel and topsoil, and none to soon. But we've replaced plowing to some extent with genetic tinkering and massive amounts of chemicals. How long before we figure out that doesn't work in the long haul either?

I wonder how many of the farmers or farm rooted people in Arlington know that the gun carriage for the big Howitzer was made by The Oliver Corporation? 1955. Says so right on the barely legible data plate. It's a composite piece, this big gun. Barrel came from the Watervliet Arsenal, 1984. Breech has been welded shut. So has the muzzle.

Sometimes these big guns took lives. Sometimes they saved them. Sometimes they took friendly lives on our side when we put expired Korea era shells into them: short rounds that exploded near the gun, not the target.

A friend's father, David Paul Spears, was killed that way in July 1966. He left behind a young widow, Shelby, and three little kids. Years later, David Spears would also have a granddaughter named Shelby. And since we're talking about iron and steel, how about this irony: The Oliver Corporation manufactured carriages for the 155mm Howitzer at its Shelbyville, Ohio factory.

And sometimes the big guns took lives even when they weren't present. Because they existed and we sold them to others, munitions were made and stockpiled. Sometimes, as the Saturday Night Live Coneheads used to say, "in mass quantities."

Decades later a whole new technology of asymmetric warfare would emerge. The shells would be pilfered "in mass quantities" after the fall of Saddam because we went in with too few troops to actually occupy Iraq and then naively dismissed the entire armed forces of Iraq.

Can you say "Improvised explosive device?"

Proclaim this among the nations:

Prepare for war, stir up the warriors. Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, "I am a warrior." Joel 3:9-10.

Seems so many things are becoming obsolete all around us. The military draft has become obsolete. But war hasn't yet. I wonder when we'll figure out that we can't afford war. Philosophically or financially...

Funny how much the M1A2 on the Howitzer's data plate looks like MIA2. I wish war would go MIA, too. I wonder if we could grow to embrace that thought?

Peace,

Roger

P.S. In case it looks insignificant, the inside diameter of the welded shut Howitzer muzzle below measures 6.1 inches.







Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Here Come da Judge!

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told them a parable to show them that shey should always pray and not lose heart (give up). He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who niether feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in the town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'"

The Prinveville Bible Fellowship meets in a building that had a former life. We hope. We notice that the "Payment Slot" has been disabled with screws. That didn't disable someone's imagination in altering the text, however.

Some churches have worked that way. Many so-called justice systems around the world have never worked differently. Justice is given to the highest bidder, the one with the most power.

When Jesus sets the stage of the parable by introducing the corrupt, unjust judge, the one who decided not on the basis of his faith, public pressure or the human community's constitution and laws--but apparently on the basis of how he felt or how well he was paid by the powerful--I imagine someone in the crowd piped up and said,

"Yo, Rabbi, name me a judge that doesn't work this way!"

Point taken.

And imagine the widow going up against this kind of bullheadedness and corruption. What's she got going for her? Nothing. Total zip.

In Jesus' day, and still in our day in many places, you are the bottom rung of the ladder if you are female and without a family, without male power brokers. 'Specially if you got no bucks.

But the widow does not give up. She won't take no for an answer. She wears out the crooked, corrupt judge. Nags 'til the cows come home. Good on her!

So Jesus says, "If the most powerless person you can imagine can prevail against the most corrupt system you can imagine, what's keeping you from taking advantage of your much more favorable conditions?"

For the widow, the system is completely stacked against her. But it eventually crumbles her way.

For us, the God system is completely stacked in our favor. Do we have faith enough to ask? And keep at it? At all?

Do we have faith enough to ask?

If we don't, here's a piece of advice: Act as if we do.

Pray anyway. Pray until it hurts. Pray until it feels better. Don't give up. Don't quit. Don't lose heart.

Pray for what you really need. Which is the same thing God really needs. God can't be unfaithful to God's self. So, doggone it, ask for it!

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...


Amen.

Pastor Roger








Saturday, October 9, 2010

EIA, not MIA


Mom is 103. Actually, 103.5. I brought her three yellow roses on her half birthday on Tuesday. It was humbling to see my sweet little Mom, carrying on the noble fight for her life with grace, peace and a little humor not common to the general lot of us.

Mom might not ever be able to walk much or very far again. A bum knee she's had for 50 years is really acting up now. That saddens me because it limits her so.

We shared some deep and wonderful time for four days this past week. We can talk about almost anything. Her mind is there still. She doesn't have the latest information on things. Who does? But she's willing to talk about what she knows.

She and I can talk about the war. Wars, actually. We can talk about Iraq and how we got there. We can talk about Afghanistan. And how we got there. And where we're going. We can talk about what it means to go to war and what following Christ calls us to do.

I deeply love and respect my Mom for this. Always have. She's an EIA, elder in action. On the life and death subject of war, she's willing to talk and use all the mental faculties she has left--which are quite a lot.
In her lifetime, Mom has seen the Great War, the Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, a bunch of Middle East Wars, the Cold War, the Iran-Iraq War, civil war in Yugoslavia, the First Gulf War, civil wars in Lebanon, the Chechen War, the Iraq War, nearly endless war in Afghanistan--and a pile of "ethnic cleansing" genocial wars in places like Cambodia, Rwanda and Kosovo.
Then, of course, there are the 11,000,000 human beings exterminated by our own ethnic blood brothers and sisters. (6 million were Jews; 5 million more were not.)
That's just the short list.

Mom stands in sharp contrast to a horrifyingly large number of Americans with far fewer years, far more energy, far more information and far fewer limitations but who are strangely MIA, missing in action, when it comes to talking and thinking and doing something about war.

Unwilling to volunteer for service, unwilling to buy war bonds and pay a tax surcharge, unwilling to send their own into harm's way, too many Americans are also unwilling to use their minds, their voices and their words--their practically unlimited opportunities--to think or talk about this war. These wars...
Oh, and what about using their faith? What about working feverishly to prevent war?

Too many are MIA, and I'm sad about that. That's not making very good use of the so-called freedoms which our so-called appreciation for veterans claims we are undyingly grateful for.


Freedom to be silent is what not what they fought for. Freedom to be inert is not what they served and died for. Freedom to be uninvolved is not what we live for. It's not why I gave four years of my life.

Let's give up being MIA, missing in action. Let's come home. Let's become CIA, citizens in action.

Afraid to start talking and listening?

"Every time I start talking politics, it simply leads to a blow-up and friends storm off in anger," you say?

Who said anything about talking politics? The subject is war, not politics. War has us by the throat, so we kinda sorta oughtta talk it out and talk it through. Isn't that what the Constitution we swore we would preserve, protect and defend requires of us?

Fear of possible verbal conflict is never an excuse. Not when violent conflict that sheds blood, ends lives and engulfs a nation's future well-being is done in our names.

Here's a helpful hint. Don't begin the conversation with any of the following:

"The Democrats..."

"The Republicans..."

"Obama..."

"Bush and Cheney..."

Use this starting point instead: "Christ calls me to..."

Yeah, He does. As in "Blessed are the......."

Something about peacemakers in there. Yeah, those guys. And Moms.

I'm inspired by one little EIA, an elder in action: my Mom.

Pray for Mom, our country and one another. And end this pall of silence. Make peace, for God's sake. It's war.

Thank you. Amen.

Roger

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Increase our Faith."

Luke 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

It comes like kind of a curveball amid Jesus admonitions about stumbling blocks and their implications. Something about putting a millstone-sized piece of ballast around our necks as we go swimming.

Not much forgiveness in that! But what do we think Jesus was talking about as a cause for stumbling or offending? Not saying please or thank-you? Talking out of turn? Dumping all over someone's favorite sports team, alma mater, style of worship, taste in music?

Could Jesus be talking about pedophilia, sexual abuse of minors, fascination wtih (additcion) to porn, cheating on our spouse?

All that... and more.

Trusting anything more than God. Putting anything in the place of God. That kind of thing.

Then Jesus goes on to talk about inexhaustible forgiveness, makes it sound as though one allows oneself to be completely ripped off, taken advantage of, in giving out forgiveness. Well... OhhhhhKaaaaaay.......

Then what about the spouse beater who has a five- or ten-day orbit cycle? Every time it happens she/he swears sorrow, that it won't happen again?

We have to mince words and protect the vulnerable, say that this kind of cylical behavior does not meet the standard of repentance (turning back) that is called for in order for forgiveness to be granted.

Jesus says that faith the size of a mustard seed could uproot mulberry trees. He talks about doing the servant's duty in coming in from the fields and then preparing our master's meal before we tend to ourselves.

In other words, be faithful and trust that we will be faith-filled in the course of doing so.

We should not pretend as if, act as if, we were the master. And we are well advised to not wait around until we have enough faith in order to set to work making the Master's meal--or anyone else's, for that matter.

Our Vietnam POW's held up very well considering. They might not have considered themselves strong enough to do so before finding themselves in the situation.

Odd thing about faith. It's not quantifiable or directly comparable. It is really only given in the doing of something that seems behond us before we do it. Kinda like comparing the size of the mustard seed to the full-grown mulberry tree.

The tree started from a seed even smaller than the mustard seed.

May we have and be given the life and faith to grow each day.

Amen!

Pastor Roger

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

No Minors Allowed!

Patriotism runs deep in most communities in this country, especially in our smaller towns and more rural areas. We don't always have the bucks to keep things in tip-top shape in many of these places.

Paint peels a bit, especially where the full sun shines all day long most days. The wood trim is often a bit dried out and cracked.

The red-white-blue is at home here under the blue of the sky, the white of the clouds and the frequent red sunsets.

Sometimes we take for granted the things in front of us. And we don't see them.

Like the fact that if you're a minor you can't go to the Vets Club in this town...

You can already have served a tour in Iraq, another in Afghanistan and been lucky enough to come home physically intact. Or not completely.

But you can't go to this club for a beer or a game of darts.

Then maybe we shouldn't have sent you to war either until you were 21.

But at least you can't smoke here. We're lookin' out for your health.

We got your back.

I hope.

I pray.

Amen,

Roger

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Burn That Thing Down! Or not...

Lotsa folks wouldn't let anyone build this in their town. "Burn that thing down!" they'd say.

Or blow it up.

Sometimes we forget how time passes, how young and recent our experience and understanding of the world is, we Americans.

For us, like 1803, like the Louisiana Purchase, that's really... like... OLD! Practically the Stone Age.

And 1776, that hall with powdered wig guys and a hot, muggy day in Philly when it was barely more than a glorified cow town on the edge of the woods.... Paleolithic, Old Stone Age. Right?

This building with the four different minarets... It didn't always have them. It's the third church by its name on the site in modern day Istanbul, formerly Byzantium, Constantinople before that.

The name? Aya Sofia in Turkish. Hagia Sophia, transliterated from Greek. It's the Church of Holy Wisdom. The first church on the site was begun by Constantine himself and his son Constantius between 325 and 360 AD. Fire destroyed it in 404 AD. A second church was consecrated in 415 AD and destroyed during riots in 532 AD. 29 days later, Emperor Justinian ordered the construction of a new church that would surpass Solomon's temple in Jerusalem. It was consecrated December 27, 537. I've stood inside under its 55-meter dome, an absolute engineering marvel not only 1500 years ago, but even today.

It has suffered from earthquakes, fires and wars, has been repaired and rebuilt numerous times.

On May 27, 1453, Sultan Mehmet II entered the city after conquering the armies of the dying Byzantine Empire. Muslim worship and prayers were conducted here from then until 1935 when it was declared a museum of the Republic of Turkey after Kemal Ataturk ordered repairs between 1926 and 1930.

So, let's see... A Christian church for 916 years with already two centuries of Christian worship under its belt on that patch of land.

Then, a Muslim house of worship for 482 years.

Then a museum for the lifespan of the average American in the age of fast food and lack of exercise.

Nearly 1473 years old. 6.3 times as old as our independence from Great Britain if we use that '76 event in Philly as our starting date.

What is America's long-term role in the world? How will the events of September 11, 2001 be regarded 100, 200, 1473 years from now?

Way too soon to tell. Meanwhile, do we know our neighbors in this world?

Have we learned to love them as ourselves?

Have a blessed day in prayer for all who mourn and work for a better world on this day.

Amen.

Roger

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Peace Is At Hand... Question is, whose hand?


First Day of Peace
(for our nation and all who mourn on the first day that US combat units have not been in Iraq since March 19, 2003.)

The first day of peace brought showers,
then a touch of sun, change of season
No sense of battle won, lives lost,
a mother's quiet tears,
child's dreams still folded
Like the flag in a wedge of stars
that will never fly.

The nation had already withdrawn its sense of urgency
and purpose
battle lines pawned in polls and surveys
No goals came to the surface more than once
per day.
Piece by piece they came undone
in threes like WMD, IED, MRE...
Up-armored Humvee's gave their place
to Strykers, MRAP's, Predator drones and more
GOP! DEM! USA!
Us and them. At war. Sort of...

Disappointment did not fall on the first day of peace.
It came early on and left soon after, numb
Passion should not fail us when our young lives are lost
sacrificed with seemingly no notice.

That could never happen in a war,
real war like The Good One!
Would never be allowed among us on these shores
Unless a demon in the cloak of pride
denied our knowing,
stole our seeing, our giving of a care
citizen share of duty, honor, country, cost
Courage of knowing why,
why not
And what is lost that cannot be won militarily.

What will these families, loved ones tell their children
someday, one day,
soor or late
About why this was, what this was
What winning does when it does not happen
on the first full day of peace?

Copyright 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs, all rights reserved.

From all I can tell, there is no way that US troops will be out of Afghanistan by next year. Or Iraq. Yet America has long since moved on in our minds because we never really moved into these wars. We rail against budget deficits while we leave the things that are really killing jobs here (the cost of health care and insurance) and our failure to have infrastucture and energy policy for a brighter future unattended, unresolved. And we seem incapable of doing the math of what these wars have cost financially and the calculus of what they are costing and will cost in the future by having changed the world in a way that moves it toward more violence, not peace.

I hope I'm wrong. God, let us all pledge our best efforts to make me out to be completely wrong on this one. Help us, Lord.

Amen.

Roger

Saturday, August 28, 2010

In Praise of Samuel I. Berek

It was a big old frame building along the Union Pacific tracks on East Factory Street in Fremont, Nebraska. That was before Fremont had the ZIP Code 68025.

The building was painted a dark forest green although a bit dilapidated. Just below the eaves in big white letters was painted "JAKE BEREK IRON AND METALS".

Sam was the son who had taken over the scrap metal business from his father Jacob who had died before I ever got to go there. The office was dingy and littered, but there was a coal burning stove that kept it toasty warm in cold weather.

And inside near the window to the street was a big old stuffed chair of a color that defied description. On the one armrest of that chair sat an old round woman with gray hair. Jake's widow. Sam's mother. She said little. And when she spoke, it was with a heavy foreign accent.

Sam and his mother were Jews. My family, Lutheran to their DNA, had inherited much of Luther's animosity toward Jews. I won't attempt to describe it here. It wasn't overt, but I could sense it in my Father's speech and manner. That's the subject for another time.

And in our vernacular, we never called the Berek business a scrap metal business. The term "recycling" hadn't been invented yet. No, the Bereks ran the "junk yard". The scrap metal we sold them, old iron from obsolete farm machines, the guts of old cars scrapped out for the running gears to make farm wagons, old radiators and plumbing, water tanks, etc., that was all junk to us.

I liked going there and unloading the junk from the Ford pickup. We'd first pull onto the scale to get weighed, then unload. It was such fun to toss everything off and hear the clang as it landed on the pile with other people's junk. Then we'd get weighed again and go into the office to get paid. The Bereks always gave my brother Robert and me a candy bar, often a Baby Ruth bar. We liked that, of course, and said a shy "Thank you". Sam and his Mom always fawned over us as kids, almost more than relatives did.

I'm sure my Dad thought it was their way of making the stingy (in his eyes) prices for scrap metal more acceptable. Ingratiate the kids, chisel the parents. That's how everyone I knew regarded the modus operandi of Jews, be they jewelers, clothiers, furniture sellers, car dealers or junk dealers.

Sam always wore a top hat with a narrow rim. It was a way of keeping his head covered as a Jew that would not offend his entirely Christian customers had he worn a yarmulke. I didn't know that then. I didn't know about the Holocaust of Jews, the Showa, back then either.

World War II wasn't a decade behind us then, and I didn't know. Maybe it was because we were ethnic Germans. For that very reason, we should have known, even as little kids.

Sam was a community fixture in Fremont, and he did a bit of public speaking whenever he got the chance. He loved to talk to high school students and recognize them for academic achievement. Independence Day was one of his favorite days of the year. For decades, he organized the Fourth of July parade and fireworks display at the Moeller Field ballpark where the annual Fremont 4-H Fair was also held.

Sam loved to praise America for her freedoms. Sam saluted and respected the flag more fervently than anyone else I had ever met. To say that Sam was patriotic would be a gross understatement. For years I regarded Sam as a bit of an eccentric, somewhat of an extremist in his loyalty to America. He was in awe of this country but not the fanatic kind of flag waver I've since come to know in America.

DUH!

I wasn't astute enough or informed enough to observe whether Sam had a serial number tattooed onto his forearm. Or whether his mother did. But one was certainly tattooed onto Sam's heart. He knew his people's history, the horrors of what my German blood relatives had done to his people, what Stalin and his Russian Communists had done. Sam knew he lived in a different place, a promised land of sorts, where he and his family had freedom and could never be treated this way.

And he thanked God for the soil he lived on, free of persecution and protected by the Constitution of the United States of America and its First Amendment. He wasn't ever going to take that for granted, and he would do his best to prevent his fellow Americans from ever doing so as well.

I think Sam, God rest his soul, would be appalled at the timidity, flawed vision and fear that Americans seem to exude today. He would be aggrieved at our lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution, the things we take for granted, the trust we have in weapons and lack of trust in the strength of our own freedoms. He would be mortified at our cynical attitude about voting, our indifference to human and civil rights.

And if he'd heard someone say "they hate our freedoms" as a justification for war, he would instantly have countered, "Perhaps they do hate our freedoms. But do we actually love them?"

And Sam would not stand for America's rush to judgment of the Islamic Center planned for New York City. Sam would see that hysteria as the thing long visited on his people now taking root here.

He would not stand for it. And he would wave the Stars and Stripes, read the Constitution aloud on street corners, and send fireworks into the night sky until America awoke.

Thank you, Sam. Thank God for you. I'm proud to have met you and heard you speak. Thanks you for all you did there in Fremont, Nebraska. I will never forget. Never. Nie wieder (never again).

Amen.

Roger

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bar Hopping... Or, What's Church For, Anyway?

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and sid to her, "Woman, you are freed from your disability." Luke 13:12

Jean and I often go for walks in Portland's West Hills. The area is a bit unique and intriguing because of all the public stairways. There are plenty of private ones that lead from the street or the tiny garages carved like grottos in the rocky hillsides. But many are public, put there so that residents have a much more direct way to get downhill. Or uphill.


Sometimes the stairs are elevated for a portion before coming donw to earth, like the upper landing of this one on SW Vista Drive.

At one time, it probably served as a place for teenagers to go and drink, smoke and make out. In fact, a girl nicknamed Priscy signed her name in lipstick along with a heart to state that she and Roger loved each other.

I wonder how long ago that's been and how it's gone for them since.

Probably long after Priscy and Roger exchanged passionate kisses under this concrete shelter, somebody thought it looked like a more permanent one and started camping or living there. That would be when the neighbors said "No way!" and ordered the City of PDX to have custom made bars installed.

Bars can either keep us locked in or locked out. Sometimes, they aren't even made of steel.

Jesus was teaching in the temple. His teachings were often refreshing and not infrequently stirred the pot of the establishment in uncomfortable (to the official dudes) ways.

That's when he saw the hunched over, crippled woman. She didn't get in Jesus' face and demand a miracle. He called her over and set her free from her disability. She could stand up straight for the first time in 18 years. Maybe she was no older than that. We don't know.

The ensuing ruckus turns around healing on the Sabbath, something the higher-ups in the Jerusalem Temple considered work. The rules prohibited work of most types on the Sabbath. There were exceptions. Domestic livestock could be untied and led to water. That would involve less "work", fewer steps, than carrying the water to the animals. Hence, closer living within the law.

A miracle, a sign of God's power, was accomplished, no question. The woman could stand up straight. But Jesus knew there was more to the story. So he set the woman free.

It seems like a minor nit-picking detail until we consider this. She would need to change how she saw herself. If, though able to stand straight and tall, she continued to see herself as stooped over and crippled, she would never see herself and never live as someone not disabled.

More to come.