Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day--A Little Bird Told Me

Back in February, a little bird told me to suggest that Julie Sullivan of The Oregonian newspaper be our featured speaker at the 2010 Memorial Day ceremony at the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Living Memorial. I'm not on the Board but attend the annual dinner just to visit with folks and check in.

Julie turned out to be Plan B. The group had already contacted someone else who ended up with a conflict. VP Ron Cannon took over and contacted our Plan B. Plan B turned out to be a God-send.

About a month ago, the same little bird told me to send Julie an e-mail just to say "Hi!" and to thank her for accepting the invitation. That led to several more e-mails and a couple of phone calls. That led to my invitation to Julie to come up to the annual work day on May 22, a day that was chilly and wet.

She did.

That led her to meet a number of people with significant stories to tell. Stories of blessings and hope. Stories of help and healing. She told them, and now they have life.

Stories of, as she put it, "the gift of Vietnam". I'd never heard anyone call it that before. But Julie brought us many gifts, and there have been innumerable gifts from this traumatic time. Times of great travail do indeed plant great seeds.

We would not always have called them gifts. And we would not have expected to receive gifts from this time.

But gifts they are. And a gift she was, and a gift she has been to countless Oregon military families and their loved ones.

So what a thrill it was to share the microphone with her today. You can share her gift at:

And what a joy to know that her gracious words came to us and came into being all through the actions of a little bird.

Now, between you and me, I didn't see or hear any little bird flying around while I was at the computer. But I sure do believe that the Spirit of God was at work in all this.

The same Spirit has care of the souls whose lives we remembered and gave thanks for today.

Thanks again, Julie!

God bless! And God bless all who share the memories of loved ones who gave their all.


PS. Unless you actually BUY a newspaper, or unless you are willing to actually pay for your ability to view news stories online, true journalists like Julie don't have a revenue source or a job. Think about that. We have a surplus of opinionated bloggers (yes, you can include me) distracting us every which way. Today we have a true shortage of people like Julie who bring us fact-checked stories based on hard-won personal research. There's a difference between story and opinion or hyperbole. Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow and Fox News didn't come up to the Memorial to work and meet people. Julie Sullivan did. All the difference in the world...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

From My Cold, Dead Hands

A newspaper.

Something we always took for granted that most Americans now don't. I'm not sure that bodes well for our future as a democracy and a free people, the mountain of the world's computers, "smart" phones and ipads notwithstanding.

The Oregonian's writer Julie Sullivan is telling the story of one of this nation's nearly unknown gems. But it's not just the stone, the landscaping, the expansiveness or the vegetation. It's the people whose stories we are at last beginning to know and treasure.

These are not just the stories of loss in war. They are the stories of people whose lives have been changed and whose lives have been poured out in unimaginable ways in the saving of other lives. They are a gift growing in value.

Read more at:

That's why my newspaper is far more important to me than Charlton Heston's blackpowder muzzleloader. The only way you'll get me to part with my newspaper is to tear it from my cold, dead hands.

Even more and even better to come tomorrow. God bless you, Julie!

And thanks,


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spare Change?

Spare some change?

Oregon just got word that the state can expect to run $563 million short this year. That requires an immediate 9% budget cut for all state spending. On the school side of things, that could mean (if nothing else changed) the loss of 4,000 teachers next year.


But that's nothing compared to the projected 2011-2013 budget shortfall of $2.7 billion.

That's billion, with a "b". Ditto for much of the decade to follow.


Check it out:
After clicking on the link, click on "Editorials".

I'm thinking, there goes Jean's job. There goes our health insurance. Same for a lot of other folks. Glad our house is paid for; but now when we should be saving retirement money at the highest rates of our lives, our incomes are the lowest in two decades. And they may go lower. We aren't getting any younger or any healthier.

Across the board, things will feel the fiscal tsunami that's coming. Churches will cut more staff, cut more services, and more will close altogether. Might be a really good time to get very familiar with the model of the house church that ministers in the neighborhood with practically zero overhead. Our neighbors are gonna need it. WE'RE gonna need it--all of us.

And American affluenzics who've never tasted such a time will not cotton to it very well, methinks.

Bricks and mortar operations may have to be severely decreased as overhead becomes unaffordable but the need for us to be the salt, the light and the glue in our communities grows by orders of magnitude.

Change is here. Change is coming. Change is.

There's more than enough of that to spare. We'd better get used to it. Like the megachurch in the area, we're all going to have to "do church different" (sic).


Monday, May 24, 2010

All The World's A Stage

The young woman in the video was excited. She was leading a quick tour of the church building that a very active and mission minded young congregation will be moving into soon. The younger church is swapping space with an older congregation that no longer fits. A kind of hand-me-up deal.

When she got to the worship space itself, she called the front part of the church, the focal point for all the seats, "the stage". Not the altar platform but the stage. In the full-page newspaper spread for a nearby megachurch, I notice that the focal point of worship looks more like the set or stage for American Idol than the focal point of the floorplan for a Romanesque, Gothic or even a modern church built in the 20th century.

There is no altar. There is no cross. There are video screens, lights and big speakers. There's a clear plexiglass enclosure for the drummer so that he can pound away vigorously without overpowering. What may have in the past functioned as a screen for the actual "sanctuary", the holy of holies in an Orthodox church, the place where the elements of Holy Communion were consecrated in sacred reverence, now functions as a sound deflector. It's transparent so we can see that drummer working his set. We expect to see that, don't we?
One could wonder, what god is being worshiped here--if this is about God at all? Is it the god of culture, the god of performance? The god of entertainment? The god of cool light shows and videos? Is what happens here about worship as the activity and participation of the people (the true definition of liturgy), or performance where one can either sing along and emote or just watch and be entertained by it all?

There are so many things that seem to be happening right: discipleship groups, not just outreach to but actual involvement by new ethnic and language groups.

And yet, I wonder. The only symbol in the entire full page ad, other than the logo of the church itself, is for Seattle's Best Coffee. Not the cross of Christ. What is being said between the lines? Has the cross become such a ubiquitous piece of costume jewelry that churches have had to distance themselves from it in order to not be understood? Or not be misunderstood?

Is it Seattle's Best Coffee that "does church" here? Is that what "doing church different" means? Jesus asked us to follow him. Is that different from doing church? How?

How much of what we think worship is about speaks to our culture? How much speaks to Christ? Does the term "corporate worship" mean something very different from what it did even 20 years ago? Do we understand that difference? And where do we go from here?

Is all the world a stage now? Has the church become one, too?
I hope that when we're not doing church we're still being church. With or without the coffee.
My hero, Joseph Sittler, wasn't much for the coffee. But when he'd lead worship, he'd go buy a bottle of good wine, very good wine, to go along with very good bread. He was insistent that like creation itself, holy communion was not an insipid thing to be dutifully trudged through but a marvelous giift to be enjoyed. So the wine and the bread should actually taste like something. Something good. Something very good.
For that, worship really needs an altar, not a stage.

Happy ponderings,


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mark 5:1-20 The Man Who Has No Home--and Jesus

Pick a title:
1) Jesus Heals The Gerasene Demoniac.
2) The Human Being Story.
I know which one I like better:
Thanks to all at Cornerstone.
God bless you on your journey.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Little Blue Tag

Not this little blank card.

The little blue tag I'm thinking of had a hole punched in it. In the hole was a length of white cotton string.

The string attached the tag to the bag collecting my blood platelets. It was my fourth donation of platelets via the two-hour process known as apheresis.

The Red Cross nurse monitoring the donation progress congratulated me. As my platelets were still being collected, our wonderful system had already identified a recipient in Washington. She is a woman for whom my little platelets are a particularly good match. Now, platelets aren't as demanding of a match as whole blood. So that means that the woman is in a particularly compromised state of health. She needs something her body won't have to struggle with but can put to work right away.

She's probably going through surgeries and chemotherapy, perhaps radiation. Her family has drawn tightly around her in this treatment that they pray will save her life.

We take it for granted that when we need medical care everything will be there. We tend to think that cancer will be defeated and sent packing by pharmaceuticals and skillful use of the knife. We tend to think that our healing is in the hands of the surgeon.

Actually, it's up to our bodies. Sometimes it takes more than one body. Sometimes it takes having one body donate something it makes to another body that can't or doesn't make enough. We have more than enough platelets, all of us healthy people do. We have more than enough to go around. All we need to do is take time out to share a few.

I don't know the name of the woman who received my platelets. But God knows her name. I prayed for her to be healed in some small way by the gift that cost me nothing to give. It doesn't even cost me time. I take along something to read and study while I'm there. I donate in the early morning so I don't fall asleep. It's a blessed experience.

Having the gift of life and health, I can think of nothing better to do but to share it.

Thank you, God. Let the healing begin!


Friday, May 14, 2010

Church on the Side

It kinda turns your concept or definition of "church" on the side.

That's what we do at this little building owned by the folks who own the one with the big steeple. First Presbyterian is one of downtown Portland's gems. The stone work and windows are great. But the gracious curving lines of the woodwork inside simply cannot be described in words. The grand organ is built right into the woodwork behind the altar.

But the organ wasn't new when the First Presbyterian folks bought it. They bought it used in San Francisco and had it shipped up here. Hmmmm...? Why was such a grand instrument on the market in the late 1800's anyway?

Be that as it may, Julia West House becomes church every Sunday evening at Operation Nightwatch worship. For over three years now, it's been church to a little corner of Portland's downtown folks. Folks like Fred (not his real name).

Fred used to live in Section 8 housing right across the street. He often brought his cheery personality and beaming face to our Sunday worship. Although this section of downtown Portland has half-size city blocks, Fred would not go to either corner to use the crosswalks. Instead, he'd step out the door of his building, listen for traffic, then point himself straight ahead and march right across two lanes of parking and two lanes of traffic to reach us at JWH.
I always worried that the driver of some quiet running Toyota Prius would not see Fred's white cane and be the death of him.
Fred suffered grievously from psoriasis. He suffered even more grievously from the bites of the bedbugs that he could not see. Repeated efforts to exterminate them never rid his building of them completely. Fred didn't rejoice in (or because of) his sufferings as Apostle Paul did. But he always found a way to rejoice and be thankful at worship.
Then, we no longer saw him. Weeks went by. Finally, we learned that he had moved (or been moved) to an apartment up in the hills, miles from downtown. I don't know where he is, so I can't go see him. I wonder if Fred has found a community there or if one has opened their eyes enough to find him. Can he step out his door, take a short walk and be greeted by name? Is he surrounded by people who will set down their backpacks to help him with a plate of food and a chair?
We can be surrounded by walls, covered with a roof and for sure not be houseless. But without a community, we can have secure shelter and still be homeless.
If the better definition of church is a community like the one Fred had at Operation Nightwatch, I sure hope he has found an equal or better one. And I pray that he has forever left those insufferable bedbugs behind.
Not that would be cause for rejoicing!
Prayers for Fred,

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

House Rules

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?
But all of you are kindlers of fire, lighters of firebrands. Walk in the flame of your fire, and among the brands that you have kindled! This is what you shall have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment. Isaiah 50:10-11 NRSV

No smoking in front of church. For sure, no smoking inside!
How things change!
At one time, not only did people smoke in church, they burned big fires there. They burned the carcasses of butchered animals with blood poured all around the altar.
Far cry from the incense and smell of candle wax that came later.
Now, we get upset if the kid in the row ahead of us drops a couple of Cheerios and steps on them. Maybe she was sacrificing to the Lord!
So much of Isaiah, so much of the prophets is so manic. Utterly and polarizingly manic. Did even one of this voluminous collections of poetry and prose written over centuries get written with full knowledge of the context of the other writings that it would eventually become part of?
Not many, I'll bet. That's in part why they are so difficult to read today. You need an owner's manual that practically translates every line and metaphor and establishes the context. Trouble is, nobody has time for that. The explanatory material would be 10 times the length of the Isaiah text itself.
Who has time for that besides Walter Brueggemann?
Another thing. The natural imagery of so much of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, is no longer of much import to people today. Back then, the world and its weather and cataclysms were a matter of life and death to most people. Nights were dark, and mostly silent. Shelter from violent storms was minimal. Famine happened regularly about every three years. People were by and large very skinny, and they starved, got sick and died regularly. Often very young.
There was no massive international shipment of food aid and medicine. The natural world ruled.
The manufactured world didn't exist.
Today, we waste so much time fighting the creation vs. evolution pitched battle. We who are custodians of the doctrine of creation are often woefully ill-informed about the very processes that God uses to create and sustain life--the very creative processes of God staring us in the face! Soil, air and water do not come from WalMart. Until WalMart owns it all. Then it will.
No, the real conflict today is not creation vs. evolution. It is manufacturing vs. God. We won't fight a war to prevent the name of God from being blasphemed. But we'll sure as Hades fight one if we think our right to manufacture is in any way threatened. Even if all that manufacturing is keeping us from knowing God and is choking the very breath of life all around us.
Rush Limbaugh thinks the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is "natural" and should be left alone.
OK. Let him give away his broadcasting wealth to the poor and buy a fishing boat. Let him spend the rest of his days trying to be a shrimper out of Houma, LA. Let him power his boat with oars and sails instead of with a diesel engine.
No smoking in church. No not using your eyes and your brains either.
House rules. Amen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fame and Fortune

Hello Kitty is a Japanese brand. They market to consumer kids. Or kid consumers.
Hello Kitty was the rage here in the U.S. in days gone by. When our daughter was in Middle School, it had about run its course.
But there were Hello Kitty pencils, pens, notebooks, binders, lunch boxes.
Sweatshirts, tennies, tees. Little girl makeup, mirrors and hair brushes. Boom boxes.
In the late 80's, Dr. Mary Pipher observed a little girl out on the beach with her mother in a very small and rather isolated community in Scotland. This little girl had on bright pink Barbie boots.
Dr. Mary commented that it finally dawned on her then that consumerism had won. It's the thing we are most successful at doing as human communities. We may not teach kids to read, write, speak and understand the English language or a foreign one. We may not teach them to know God or to pray.
We may not teach them the work ethic or the value of money, how to balance their checkbook, to not spend more than they earn. We may not teach them how to love, commit, be faithful or parent. We may not teach them to be law-abiding, drug-free or citizens who responsibly exercise their rights and duties here.
But the one thing we will succeed at 99.99999% of the time is making every human being a consumer. And that microscopic percentage that somehow falls through the cracks is more than made up for by the majority who don't.
That's why today 70% of the U.S. economy depends on "consumer spending."
Dr. May wrote that a frustrated Mom once remarked that the first words her children learned to say were "I want".
No wonder it's hard to keep ourselves upright some days. Most days.

Third World II: or being "school homed"

They looked like a fleet of trucks. Parked overnight in the freight yard and waiting for the drivers to come, fire them up and head out on the day's runs.

Actually, they are a fleet of trucks. The engines don't burn fossil fuels, but they do emit carbon dixoide. The "engines" are the young bodies of kids in primary grades K-3.

The trucks are all red Radio Flyer coaster wagons with white rimmed wheels and wooden sideboards. Felipe (not his real name) keeps the tires aired up and gathers the wagons into the school gym overnight. I saw them parked there when I went to school at the end of the day last Wednesday. I helped Jean take down her growing collection of painted bird murals that the 2nd grade teachers use in their classrooms each spring when they do their units on birds.

Classrooms have never had bird posters and bird murals like these. They can't be ordered from any publishing or school supply house. One-of-a-kind in all the world. Jean's gift to learning.

But as we took a shortcut through the gym to the parking lot, I saw the whole fleet of wagons parallel parked and pointing diagonally across the gym floor.

It used to be chaotic when all the youngsters would arrive at school and had to stand in line for breakfast in the school cafeteria. Now they no longer do. They go to their classrooms. Two students from each classroom go down to the cafeteria with one of the wagons and bring back breakfast for the whole room.

Breakfast........................ Here in America...................... Breakfast. At school. Not at home?

Here in nirvana-land where we can know the latest foibles of Amy Winehouse or Tiger Woods at the speed of light, we manufacture new little human beings and send them off to school without breakfast in their tummies?

Say what?

I thought that only happened in the third world.

Our former neighbors in the bustling town of Yalova, Turkey would have been so humiliated by such a failure to parent, such a failure to "household", such a failure to "family"--sending their unfed children to school for a day, a day that was hours longer than the typical American school day--that they would have been ashamed to walk down the street.

They weren't ashamed to walk down the street. They did so proudly: Mom, Dad, kids. Whole families on weekend afternoons and pleasant evenings. They didn't consider themselves as wealthy as Americans, but they sure didn't think of themselves as Third World people either. They could do far better than that.

That's what they thought. So that's what they did.

WE have become the Third World if "we" (as in everybody out there who reproduces) can't feed our kids breakfast at the beginning of the day.

My nephew, responsible father of four starting a new business in a time of recession in the state's highest area of unemployment, said it well:

"We all know kids who are home schooled. Now it seems a whole lot of parents are expecting their kids to be school homed."

I thought that's what happened in the Third World...

If they aren't getting breakfast at home, what else aren't kids getting there? Pray for kids and families here in Third World USA.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Third World

There was a time when we would have been shocked to kingdom come to see that Slavic New Beginnings roadside sign.

"The church for you and your children" it says in Russian. Oh, and they meet on Sunday at 12:00 noon.

Russia was the enemy. Well, not exactly. The Soviet Union was the enemy. Some of the people there spoke Russian. That was the language of trade, government and the military. But in that huge union of "republics", there were many peoples besides Russians and many other languages.

That's why the current Russian Federation is much smaller geographically than the former Soviet Union. After the fall of communism, many of the old republics left to form their own political entities. How much of a nation really is Kyrghyzstan? Uzbekistan? Tadjikistan?

There are lots of familiar place names on the map when I look at that part of the world today in my little atlas of the former USSR. All the place names are in Cyrillic. Just like the Russian on that church sign. The past is now here.

There's some kind of new church in the former location of Dial Travel. I used to have Al and Diane Vavra book all of my air travel there. That was before I had a computer and Internet service at home and had to do it myself.

They booked flights for us from our duaghter Hilary's infancy through her college graduation. I kept up with their family also: kids getting married and having grandkids. In bunches. There was this set of quadruplets all named for baseball parks: Brooklyn, Fenway, etc. You get the idea.

Now it's New Zion Ministries. I guess you'd never call a storefront church "Old Zion Ministries", now would you?

We used to think of the church as bricks and mortar. Jesus always knew it was the people and their bonds of faith and love in the world.

May the Holy Spirit of God bless all these new avenues of good news. The world is smaller every day. It has now arrived here. May we welcome God's people everywhere.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Recognizing The Need to Do It....

The Rich Man and Poor Lazarus

Rich Dude had the ability to stuff Lazarus the beggar 'neath his table with good food on a daily basis. Didn't, though. Couldn't see ol' Laz. Not 'til Rich Dude died.

We see poorly when smoke gets in our eyes. Rich Dude probably did, too. But fire... Now that's a whole different deal. Clears the vision right up, smoke and all.

As my friend Tom likes to say, "People don't change when they see the light. They change when they feel the heat."

Every now and again, but not so much lately, I would hear someone say, "We know what we need to do. We just need to find the political will to do it."

As in:
End homelessness.
Cut our dependence on foreign oil.
Stop deficit spending.
Cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2050.
Stop acidification of the oceans before it's too late.

Yada. Yada. Yada....

The term "political will" is an oxymoron. It wouldn't have to be, but it is.

We're wasting time searching and hoping for political will. Political will doesn't happen much in democracies. It happens in dictatorships, be they malignant or benign ones. When the majority of people get to decide, the majority will generally stay home and not participate. The minority that participate by educating themselves and making a wise choice based on the best information and a sense of the common good . . . well . . . that may be too much to hope for.

What we get instead are tons of advertising and red herrings and a majority of those who vote actually deciding on the basis of short-term self interest, not on the basis of long-term common good.

Take a listen to what this man, Peter Maass, has to say about how our thirst for oil translates into very unhealthy things for the planet and the people:

Forget greenhouse gases. Forget global warming, any of that touchy-feely environmental "hogwash" that many people perceive most calls for political will re: climate or energy to be. Just consider the amount of crude oil, refined products and waste products that get spilled onto the soil and into water and the air.

Consider who lives with that and how they live with it. And we can't see 'em?

People who benefit from cheap and plentiful oil will never change their ways when they get "political will". In an effort to pay little or nothing, they will fight, deny and delay action to such an extent that it will cost them (us, actually!!!) much more than doing the right thing in a timely fashion.

It's not a matter of politcal will. It's a matter of moral will. Rich Dude couldn't see Lazarus because he wouldn't see Lazarus. He refused to. Didn't have the moral will to do so. The five Sullivan brothers died in the Solomon Islands because they saw the need to fight. Today I think we'd have hit the remote and clamored for a tax cut.

Peter Maass says we have to make changes in how we use energy so that we drill less, spill less, kill less.

It ain't creation or evolution we're talking about. It's God's life support system. Not that God is on life support. It's that we are--through the system God created. We expect it to function just fine as a non-system. I guess we'll see, won't we?

We will not change until we recognize the need to do so. Abundant evidence of that need is already two decades, 20 years, behind us.

But we won't change if/when we see the light.

We'll only change when we feel the heat. Or . . . get some moral will maybe???

May be a warm "summer" ahead. D'ya think?


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy FOSD!

Older Americans lived through 1942. The attack on Pearl Harbor was fresh in the minds of everyone. The Japanese were on the roll in island hopping and establishing outposts across a vast expanse of the Pacific. Europe was a huge mess and not nearly as messy as it would become. U.S. Marines would pay a heavy price and be marched to torture, sickness and death on Bataan.

In what seems now like an incredibly short interval, less time than the average kid spends in high school, things were turned around. Heavy losses were turned into victories, and an incredible national effort, primarily with Britain and the Soviet Union, brought hostilities to an end in 1945.

Americans win. We always do. We've grown up with that unyielding vision of ourselves. And for the most part, it's been good for the world when we do.

We remember June 6, 1944, the Normandy invasion known as "D-Day". We remember V-E Day and V-J Day.

Not many of us remember Fall of Saigon Day, FOSD. There won't be any parades calling that to mind for us. But for family members who lost loved ones in America's 16 years of war in Southeast Asia, April 30, 1975 will be a day they always carry with them. Nobody will go around wishing someone else a Happy Fall of Saigon Day!

But it's something a generation will always carry. That's why they've become so good at making their own parades. This I'm willing to bet: There would be no such thing today as the Patriot Guard Riders if Hanoi had fallen on 04/30/75 instead of Saigon. Notice what the owner of this bike is?

If war is much too important to be left up to the generals, its aftermath is also much too important to be left up to the veterans. It's for all of us.
Yesterday was FOSD. I hope it was a happy one.