Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holy of Holies

Partly because I know the landscape and the sights and smells and weather, the juxtaposition of salt water and fresh in modern day Istanbul, I pause about many things we still take for granted in our worship and practice of the Christian faith in churches today. For it was in Istanbul, formerly Byzantium, formerly Constantinople, that the worship life of the Christian faith got itself tangled up with the trappings of royalty, the processional grandeur of the imperial court.

Hagia Sofia, the church begun by Emperor Justinian in AD 536, still stands on one of the city’s hilltops. If there was a place where the deadly prosperity gospel may have first reared its ugly head to become the official iteration of the church, perhaps it was here in this maritime city that is more like Seattle than Phoenix--our usual impression of anything and everything in the Middle East.

Hagia Sofia was a Christian church for over 900 years before it became a mosque. The minarets were added much later. One at a time. They don't match. It was a mosque for twice as long as the United States has been a country. It's been a state museum for nearly a century. I know what it looks like and feels like and smells like inside, how worn many of the stones are in the floor and doorways.

That fascination with pageantry, with clerical robes and vestments, bejeweled artifacts, "sanctuaries" veiled behind screens, became the order for worship that was supposed to trickle down to the provinces. How ironic that when Jesus on the cross yielded up his spirit, the veil in the temple was rent asunder, from top to bottom, from one end to the other. Completely. Totally. Irreparably. It was torn "ANOTHEN", according to the Greek.

Jesus opened the Holy of Holies. The Imperial Church with its grandeur seemed to close it off again in so many ways.

Anothen... That's the same adverb Jesus used in his conversation with Nicodemus when he told him that he must be born "from top to bottom". How utterly poor our translation "born again" in this passage! Jesus was hinting at something that defies description in human experience, leaving us almost tongue-tied. It should.

It's not something that I think Jesus would ever have said needed the special protection of a sanctuary, a closed circle of special practitioners with special Gnostic knowledge and initiation.

Conversely, what the church and its worship became here in Constantinople, thanks in large part to its unholy alliance with Constantine--even its celebration of the passsover meal of the brand New Covenant--seems to have become the polar opposite of the "breaking of the bread" by which the Emmaus travelers recognized the risen Christ on Easter evening.

It takes two or three gathered, not a cathedral...

When the church became royal and imperial, it also became territorial hierarchical. Bloodily so. Oh, God, bloodily so! The most troubling book that modern Christians could ever read would not be the work of atheists, Communists, Nazis, racists, libertarians, the KKK, or space aliens.

It just might be our own story, The Story of Christianity, a masterfully researched and unemotionally told tale by Cuban-American scholar Justo Gonzalez. It's required reading for many seminary students. Might help if a few more folks in the pews had cracked the covers.

The book forces us to take a long, hard look at what we have been. At what we have done. In the name of religion, in the name of an establishment, in the name of hierarchy, and fiefdoms, and property and cathedrals, in the names of kings and queens and princes and thrones.

The Desert Fathers were apalled by what they saw going on in Constantinople. They fled to save their consciences. Unfortunately, that was no solution either. Most of the people in the cities, towns and villages had families and crops to tend. They could not go out to the wildernesses to find healing and guidance. Those tasks were always the responsibility of the church from the get-go. But too much of that mission got lost when the church became royal, imperial, territorial, wealthy and addicted to itself.

How many sectarian wars? How many denominational splits? How much abuse of vulnerable people in monastery, convent, college, church bathroom, priestly quarters or at youth campout? How much of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was built on the fear-induced offerings of souls held hostage by a tyrannical and corrupt priesthood?

To be sure, even in dark times, much good work has always been done. Even clerics holding the power of life and death in their hands could not stop the humble spirit of Christ in the hands and feet of his true servants.

Still, huge tragedies persisted. Modern ones do, too. How many modern worship wars over liturgical style, hymn books, the color of carpet in the narthex, paint on the walls, the volume and tempo of music played?

Kind of like the tragic life of a gifted artist who is also a drug addict.

As Augusutine said, "The church is a whore but she is still my mother." Yeah, a whore and a druggie both. Often, by choice, it seems. Still, our mother.

Today, some friends bemoan in their Christmas messages the dearth of creches and Nativity displays. I wonder... They see the change as empirical proof that we live in an anti-Christian age. As if Christmas decorations could change that. Or should. I wonder...

As a child I memorized Luther’s Small Catechism. It was required. I still recall this explanation of “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, the third petition of the Lord’s prayer: “The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.” It doesn’t depend on plastic decorations made in China, nor on constructions cut locally from plywood.

If we want to be strictly biblical, it doesn’t seem that the Eastern astrologers bearing gifts were ever there side by side with the shepherds. The infant in the manger was not born to have a life apart from the cross. The serenity of the supposed “silent night” cannot be savored apart from Herod’s slaughter of children and the little family’s recapitulation of flight into Egypt without which there could be no Exodus from it.

If there’s a model of where and how God works, we might consider a refugee family today. The homeless man, self-medicated and asleep in the doorway...

We can have perfect and comprehensive knowledge of what happened in events past, or at least convince ourselves that we do. But unless we know what these events mean, we really have little more than an empty symbol. In every time and every age, the Lord reigns, and Christ’s church needs renewal. Resurrection is possible only when there has been a death. Whatever we mourn as a death is passing, however, because re-birth is going on regardless. The church, ironically or perhaps not, has had its most vibrant life in times of severe adversity. Angels call to us today to look about for that re-birth. It is always ahead of us, never in the past.

The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer… even without our decorations. It is always done first, if Scripture and the Incarnate Word are at all reliable witnesses, among poor, hungry and lonely folks carrying burdens larger than themselves.

Instead of asking where the creches and Nativity displays have gone, perhaps this season and any season we'd do better to ask ourselves this question:

Whom do I know by name and life story that I otherwise would not know, were it not for the fact that I know Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth and Calvary and Emmaus?

That may be all the decoration we'll ever need in life. God works anothen. The undecorated Gospel is anothen, not sentimental.


Pastor Roger

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy ONW 10/23/11

Occupy ONW 10/23/11. . .

Sunday afternoon on the way to Operation Nightwatch worship, I stopped by Occupy Portland again. Talked with a pair of guys holding signs and waving to cars at the stag fountain in the middle of SW Main Street. One remarked on the ironic location right between City Hall and the Justice Center jail. “I think,” he said, “that’s why Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.” He said we needed to stick together to change some laws. The other young man added, “We need to stick together to change some hearts.” We all agreed we needed both.

I thought about the demonstrator’s words as I drove up SW 13th Avenue to set up for Sunday worship. The words on the demonstrator’s heart came right out of the gospel text for the evening: Matthew 22:34-46. It was an easy lesson to preach. The evening brought us folks with some extra cares weighing on their hearts. There were some extra things to pray about. And there were some extra opportunities to do what the scripture reading said: to love those around us in prayer and the excellent meal we shared, thanks to Judy and Dave.

The picture on the worship bulletin came out of the Occupy PDX camp. A boxboard sign taped to a canopy reads “TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER”. I’ve seen people doing that for years at Operation Nightwatch. It was our mission of hospitality before it ever became a movement. Occupy ONW! Yeah, we do that! Amen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Flying Leap

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who want to lose their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

After the torrential floods in Pakistan last year, the famished and thirsty refugees nearly overwhelmed the first aid helicopters to arrive. Hang enough hungry bodies on the landing gear or the basket for carrying litter patients, and you could probably pull it right out of the sky.

One of my favorite collections of music is by Canadian poet/sing/songwriter/social conscience Bruce Cockburn. On one of his songs from many years ago, he is taking the International Monetary Fund to task for lending money to nations as a stop-gap measure, not enough to turn things around without massive outside planning and management, but keeping them on the hook for the debt:

"IMF, dirty MF, takes everything it can get; always making sure that there's one thing left: keep them on the hook with insupportable debt..."

Mild. Cockburn's harshest words are in the song "And They Call it Democracy". I won't print 'em here. Go look 'em up. Take a listen. Cockburn says we don't give a "flying leap" about the people in misery. Except he dosen't call it a flying leap. Another word with four letters.

And think about how our country has partnered with the most bloodthirsty tyrants in the past to forward our "national interest" and "national security" and "economic growth" (aka cheap oil). These include Manuel Noeiga, the Shah of Iran, Pervez Musharraf and Saddam Hussein, among others.

This past weekend they were supposed to dedicate the memorial to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm glad we were forced to wait. Maybe give us some time to think about what he stood for, what he was able to think, and what he had the guts and the divine call to say out loud: We don't really give a flying leap about the people in misery.

And we think we have democracy.....

And we think the church we see around us isn't part of the scam...

Only if WE keep it from being so. Only if WE drag it, kicking and screaming in another direction.

More on the Matthew passage in the next post.

There are some new developments in that cross Jesus calls us to take up as we follow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dog Tags: Summer of 42 Years

August 15. 1969.

Date of enlistment. Got up while it was dark, had a quick bite of breakfast, then drove to downtown Omaha, NE with Mom and Dad in their '62 Ford Galaxie 500 4-dr sedan.

Couple of hours later, after being poked and probed and prodded for the second time by military medics, I was the proud owner of these. Dog tags.

They say "NO REL PREF". No religious preference. Such was or were the times. I also have on the chain the little Lutheran cross given me by Rev. Carl Hellmann a few days prior. It would be a long day of waiting before a bus took us to Eppley Airfield in Omaha where would would board a flight for Dallas, Texas. We would land at Dallas Love Field, then board a second flight (Boeing 707, as I recall) that would fly us through a Texas thunderstorm before we finally landed in San Antonio.

I'd flown a whole bunch the summer before to Europe, all over Europe, and back. Had flown to San Francisco and back Christmas '68. No big deal. We arrived on Lackland AFB close to midnight, as I recall.

Then the yelling began. Were herded off to the "Hell's Kitchen" midnight chow hall for a meal, then herded to the barracks building in the 3708th BMTS Squardron, bay B8, Basic Training Flight. The yelling continued for the next six weeks.

All began 42 years ago today.

How time flies.

August Recession, maybe...

Been a tough couple of months. Lots of things in the way of getting work done. FAA obstacles. FAA shutdown because Congress is reflecting the blindness and polarization around us. Except in Washington, DC it's all imprisoned in the endless quest for campaign contributions and the prospects for the next election. It can't possibly be about doing the work at hand and actually going somewhere.

A friend wrote this morning that he thought things are the way they are because God wants them that way. I don't think I can agree. I wrote back:

An old Air Force buddy maintains that people don't change when they see the light. They change when they feel the heat. He also says he believes in social Darwinism. It's kinda scary because it's a short hop from his view to Hitler's master race. The persistent cry of the prophets and Jesus himself was justice and compassion for the poor. Unfortunately, well-to-do folks can insulate themselves pretty well and let or force others take the heat. Our leaders today are using the wrong approach. One the one hand, they have disparaged the wealthy. It made me ill to hear the number of times President Obama invoked the phrase "corporate jet owners" in recent days.

At the same time, people are enraged by what they often perceive as a government-operated redistribution of wealth, meaning from have to have-not. At the same time, the haves control the power of regulation and politcial decision making at nearly all levels. So they will always act in selfish self-interest, meaning the system will be rigged so that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor--unless the hearts of the rich are formed to another kind of self-interest that says "I'm not doing well unless my neighbor is; none of us does well unless we all do".

Trickle down economics didn't work in the time of the prophet Amos. They don't work today. They never will. I'm nothing but dumbfounded that Bible toters today can't see this. Looking around can be discouraging. I'm certainly discouraged. But I don't believe the prophets said that the poor are being screwed over because God is in control and God wants it this way. They said the opposite. So the preachers and prophets and leaders of today have a responsibility, indeed, a divine calling, to point another way and call the people to repentance. What has been completely lacking in our national discourse is a sense of direction, a place to go. It's as though Moses expected to sway Pharaoh with name-calling and mud-slinging and then expected the people to follow him into the wilderness with no sense that their destination was the Promised Land, or that there even was a Promised Land.

I won't blame God for anything until my fingernails are gone and my fingertips bloody from clawing at the obstacles. As one of my inspirations, Canadian songwriter/poet Bruce Cockburn, sang years ago, "You've got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." And Crosby/Stills/Nash sang during the Vietnam War, "The darkest hour is always just before the dawn".

Pretty dark. Maybe we're about 2:30-3:00 AM here. A little while to go yet. People have to start being honest, they have to get real. In order to close our budget gap, there needs to be universal sacrifice. It must be shared but it can't be shared equally. Those who have more ability will have to do more, not because we hate them but because they are the only ones who actually have the resources to do more. Things like the mortgage interest deduction on income taxes will probably have to go. Tax rates for the wealthiest will have to go up. Spending will have to go down.

Health care costs will have to go WAY down. The spears of war spending will have to be beaten into the pruning hooks of peace spending. Farm subsidies for things like corn that gives us obesity and diabetes and heart disease will have to go down or end. People will all have to take more responsibility for their own health and fitness, walk more, drive less, play more sports, watch less TV/video. Not because these things are evil, but because there is a better place to go, a much better way to live.

We will have to make more of what we need here, not bring it in from China on the cheap. Walmart will have to go back to its red-white-and blue roots. And so will we. We will have to pay a little more, but the result of doing so will pay us back many times over. And we'll have sto stop worshiping the god of war and start following the way of Jesus.

Until we have leaders who can speak courageously that this is not the coward's way but in fact the most courageous way and the way of Christ, we'll continue to wander in the wilderness and be beset by poisonous serpents. So we'll have to grow a whole new generation of spiritual leaders who have a clue about how the world works, who know how poplitics work, who can actually follow the money, and aren't afraid to call Caesar to account the way Jim Wallis has.

To have listened to the ridiculous efforts of Christian leaders over the past 20 years or so, you'd get the idea that God was obsessed with one thing and one thing only: sex. Maybe it says that the Christian leaders themselves were obsessed with sex--as many of their personal lives so agonizingly revealed. God is self-sacrificingly obsessed with the care and redemption of all that he has made. That involves justice for the poor, liberation from our exploitative, consumptive, war-directed lifetsyle. God's way is not an austere way, not a way of misery. It is a way of blessing and a way of abundance, a way of life that is the only way to be about what he created us for, LIFE itself.

It's life that is not full of stuff but full of meaning. Conservatives don't get this or they would be at the very forefront of conserving God's creation instead of steadfastly denying that we are selfishly, hoggishly killing it. Liberals don't get this because they seem to be too weak and inarticulate to stand for and fight for anything. One has the god of stuff. The other has the god of self. Maybe they both have both.

They could not have given us a broader opening. As followers of Christ, we are called to be something entirely different. We are called to be salt, to have a flavor, to actually taste like something beneficial and useful and necessary. We are not called to turn the whole world into salt and nothing but salt. Nothing grows in a salt desert.

And we are called to be light, the kind of light Jesus was and is. 2:30 AM. Maybe 3:00. The clock is not standing still.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Grieving that Lingers for Life

Memorial Day and Veterans Day are special times of grieving for me. It happens on many levels. First, I grieve the loss of good friends. Second, I grieve the burden borne by their families and loved ones–as well as countless others. It is these endless stirrings that led me years ago to write and produce a 2-hour drama as a tribute and a fundraiser. Preparation for that production led me to Washington, DC, for three days to take photographs on the National Mall, some of which I would use in production.

While I was there over that period, something unexpected happened. By that time, the trilogy of the Vietnam memorials (the Wall and the two bronze sculptures) was in place. It didn’t take long for a person with half an eye to see that something was different about the Vietnam memorials. They spoke of war with an entirely different vocabulary. The glory was gone. The classical allusions to imperial power of Greece and Rome were gone. There were no screaming eagles with bared talons, no chariots, no horses in full gallop with fire-breathing nostrils. Perhaps for the first time, the memorials created to give expression to the experience of Vietnam put a human face on war.

To prove to myself I wasn’t imagining things, I took the better part of a day getting to every other piece of bronze and marble sculpture I could get to on foot and by Metro, including Arlington. The only thing that comes remotely close (that I found) is the Iwo Jima bronze, but its focal point is more the flag than the figures themselves.

Going back to the Wall, then, and to the Women Veterans of Vietnam sculpture, cemented what I had come to see and the role I have played ever since in giving verbal expression to the human experience of war and its costs.

When we speak today of freedom and the human costs of war we are always walking in occupied territory where objectivity and subjectivity have been put into a blender along with the deepest human emotions. The going must be slow and careful.

As each year I seek to give voice on behalf of the Vietnam generation, and now the Iraq/Afghan generation, I find the reality of the human experience, not how we may have idealized it or politicized it, to be the genuine article.

I think of my boyhood friend Wesley who, with less than three weeks to go, gave his life to retrieve the body of a mortally wounded medic he likely did not even know. Wes died for a set of remains and thus became remains himself. His family could only take small comfort that Wes had been so unselfishly loyal to a fellow soldier and his unknown family back in the States, but they could never convince themselves that Wes’ sacrifice had been for the cause of freedom.

And my late friend Jack who had countless human lives on his hands from the ordnance fired from his Cobra had absolutely no way of differentiating “the enemy” from the elders and the children who might have been inside those grass-roofed houses that went up in flames. He struggled with how to think of himself as a moral human

being all his days. Talk of fighting for freedom could enflame him because there was such a chasm between the rhetoric of the time and what he saw and did.

It’s true, of course. Freedom is not free. The price is high, indeed. But for me, we essentially had that fight back in the American Revolution. And for me the Civil War was not primarily about state’s rights or slavery but over the definition of humanity and citizenship–and we didn’t come close to settling it with 600K lives lost. Since then, WWII included, I think America’s wars have been primarily about security.

And security from attack by another nation state or from terrorism by a homicidal ideology is very different from freedom as established by the Constitution and the laws of our nation. Security is maintained by vigilance always and by fighting occasionally when and where we must. But freedom, for me, is maintained only by the full exercise of citizenship by an educated and invovlved people who in their hearts and minds are willing to take the effort and pay the price of doing so. That’s not free either, and it certainly does not happen unless WE do it 24/7/365.

Karen Zacharias is right. The Congress is tasked with having the discussion and making a DECISION about where and when and how and what for to send men and women of the armed forces into harm’s way. But Congress are not our rulers. They are our servants. It comes back to us.

For me on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and other days, the mourning returns not only over the loss of life but more frequently over the loss of discussion and sense of the bigger picture of citizenship here. One of my spiritual mentors once admonished to “watch our language”. I think he’s right. When we use the term “freedom” in place of “security” it tends to close the door to discussion. To question then seems disloyal. When responsible discussion stops, freedom ceases. When our nation’s alliances and interventions in the world in the name of security or freedom are colored by narrow economic interests that control the debate, we become both less secure and less free. The military cannot and will not fix this. It’s not their job.

Only the locus of freedom, “we the people”, can fix this. We do this by using our eyes and our heads and our voices. As the most empowered people the world has ever seen, the opportunities we have are nearly limitless–unless we choose not to excercise them at all. Or unless we think it’s only the job of the military “over there somewhere”.

The British churchman Tarney once observed that “the church that ceases to think ceases to count.” Seems like it’s true for our nation--or any nation. We only get one chance to do that while we're on the sunshine side of one of these.

This has been my attempt to think out loud, not for my benefit but for the benefit of all.

May the next person now come along to help us all think better than me. Amen.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Heaven and the World

Heaven and the World

In the World. . . all girls look like high school sweethearts
voices all the song of angels
their touch the breath of God, back there
Back home in Heaven and the World...

Back in the World, fireworks fan only Fourth of July fun, not fear
doors slammed by the wind ignored
dreams all end in restful sleep
In Heaven and the World.

In Heaven, mothers always arrive there first
not long years after their young sons
they shed no tears on sunny days for seemingly no reason
Dads don't go for long and longer drives alone, oblivious of the season
in Heaven.
Girls have grown up to be women never leaving
homemade notes on distant granite walls
collages, plastic covered photos of a youthful man in uniform
posters asking, "Did you know my Dad?"
Boys today are men who never wondered, "How much am I like him?"
And children never grew to celebrate first years of life
synonymous with their fathers' last
In Heaven and the World...

In Heaven, gold stars are simply local scenery galore
not adjectives describing mothers, families, wives
no logo on the door of households changed forever
In Heaven, no memories of things you cannot tell your soul
come hell, high water, enemy all about
nothing there unutterable, unspoken, unresolved
In Heaven...

and in the World today
Pray God keep these names we number
Pray God grant them rest in Heaven's grace
Pray God keep alive a dream that slumbers
of life beyond a world at war with all that gives us life.
Pray God keep alive that peace
surpassing human understanding,
healing all our weariness here assembled.

Pray God multiply this grace
Pray God ever sanctify this place
And pray we live and die to see His face
In Heaven and the World.

© 2007 by Roger D. Fuchs, Portland, OR 97230-6151. All Rights reserved. 701120

Heaven and the World. For those serving overseas when I did, especially those in Vietnam, the World, capital “W”, was back home, the idealized version of home so unlike Vietnam that it was practically heaven.

As John Ketwig, author of “And a Hard Rain Fell” wrote, the World was a 396 Chevelle with cheater slicks. The World was the back row at the drive-in movie on a summer night with your girlfriend and her sweet perfume. The world was cold beer, hot coffee and just about everything you and I so easily take for granted on a daily basis. The World was populated with round-eyed, energetic young girls like the ones above who on 5/21 helped to prepare the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Living Memorial for the ceremony tomorrow. The World, that dream, kept many a soldier alive and sane and still does today.

Perhaps instead of discounting this dream that kept the soldiers going we would do well to make their dreams our goal and destination. Perhaps our task is to make the world a little more like heaven so that heaven is more like the world.

Today, I dedicate this poem to Jim and Marilyn Weisenburg of SE Portland. Their son David J. Weisenburg of the 2/162 Oregon National Guard was killed by an IED in Taji, Iraq on September 13, 2004. The Weisenburg Family has carried on with grace and faith through the loss of a beloved son but far, far more. They are a shining example of the ordinary and extraordinary Oregon families that make “the World” worth living and dying for.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sounds of Silence, Part II

Hello, darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again..." (Simon and Garfunkel, from the Sixties)

Heard anything about soldier suicide lately? Divorce?

If the journalism of today is the answer, what is the question?

I maintain that we get exactly what we pay for in terms of the dollars or hours we spend. While the nation has gone nuts over the failed Judgment Day prediction for May 21, and its current replacement date in October, lives and families are being shed by the stress of war and repeated deployments. How many of us have actually asked "the media", any form of it, for different content? Better yet, how many of us have contacted advertisers and asked them to pull their dollars?

We are the most empowered people the world has known but exercise little of it. I'm 64 years old, and I have yet to meet one of my peers or any member of my extended family who ever bothered to write a single letter, either pro or con, re the Vietnam War. Postage was only 6 cents back then, and you'd think that over the span of 15 years most would have written multiple times, given the cost and the omnipresence of that war. So much for government "of the people and by the people".

Here are some now old stats from Chuck Dean's 1988-90 book "Nam Vet" in which he describes his journey to healing for self and help for other vets:

*Of vets married before going to Vietnam, 38% were divorced within 6 months of returning.

*Divorce rate for all Vietnam veterans is in the 90th percentile.

*40-60% of all Vietnam veterans have persistent emotional adjustment problems.

*Accidental death and suicide rate for Vietnam vets was (then) 33% above national average.

*While 58K+ actually died in the war, over 150,000 had (as of 20 years ago) committed suicide.

*500K had been arrested or incarcerated; between 100 and 200K were in prison or on parole.

*D&A abuse problems ranged between 50 and 75%.

*40% were unemployed and 25% earned less than $7K per year.

From the current wars, we are now beginning to see them on the streets: young men self-medicating on more than marijuana and alcohol of yore. Their decline on meth is stunningly rapid.

Recently, author Karl Marlantes was on public radio here to talk about his Vietnam novel "Matterhorn" now out in paperback. One statement was sobering. At a book signing recently a young couple came up. As he signed the book, the young wife started to cry. Her husband was shipping out again soon. Marlantes asked the young soldier, "Your second deployment?" "No, sir," the soldier replied, "my seventh."

While somewhere around 80% of the names on the Wall in DC were men not old enough to vote, I once took slight comfort in the ages of the KIA's reported regularly in the paper: usually in the mid- to upper-20's. Very small comfort, really. Maybe with only one tour under their belts, these later 20-somethings would do a little better upon return than the 19- or early-20's vets of the Vietnam War. But with multiple tours for nearly all of them, I see nothing at all to be encouraged about.

It's mostly too late now, but I will suggest this in writing to the local newspaper editor (after I get my daughter's car fixed today): in addition to name, age, rank and branch, hometown, unit and casualty info, I'd like to know this number for EVERY reported casualty: NUMBER OF DEPLOYMENTS.

Pray for our invisible soldiers and their young families. Nobody you talk to this week will honestly know the current rate or total of solider/family suicides.

And the numbers reported above for Vietnam vet suicides are two decades old and way low. WAY low.

No way? I could only wish.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Practicing Resurrection

During prayer time at our worship last evening, a guest from Hawaii asked that we pray for those whose predictions had yet again proven wrong. We prayed for humility, for the wisdom to leave to God the things that are God's. I read some words a while back that have proven very useful: "It seems that some believers have been saved from death without being brought to life." Amen. What good is my life unless it is filled with life each day?

A story. On Saturday, I sat in on the second installment of a 90-minute intverview/dialogue at the downtown Central Library. The series is called "A Mile in my Shoes." Each week, a different guest is interviewed by Emily Harris, formerly with NPR, now back home at Oregon Public Broadcasting. What's it like to be Muslim? What's it like to be homeless? What's it like to be a victim of sex trafficking? These questions...

The homeless man (he prefers to say "I sleep outside") is a very intelligent and articulate man with rather severe bipolar disorder. I wish everyone had heard him. He's a felon with a record with some drugs in his past; needs legal drugs to help manage his condition and stay right side up. His dreams? Go back to college and finish his degree in psychology, specifically eco-psychology and start a D&A rehab program outside the city where residents can plant, nurture and harvest the crops whose bounty they will enjoy and be healed by. He has an integral view of living in the Kingdom of God, although he might not call it the KoG.

I don't give the prophets who expropriate God's domain a second of my time because there is so much living to do. Now. And the man with BPD shows us what it means to be both saved from death AND brought to life.

As Simon and Garfunkel wrote so many years ago, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls." We'd do well to pay attention. They are right before our eyes. God put them there.

Have a blessed life. Live.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 21--and beyond... South Sister and Heaven

If May 21 is "Judgment Day", so be it. Been ready since January 12, 1947, the day I was baptized as an infant. Meanwhile, I've been to the mountaintop a time or two. Gives me a climpse of heaven... Or heaven's garbage dump. Ha!

Imagining Heaven

I cannot imagine heaven
unless there are mountains in it
Cannot imagine majesty beyond
Jagged rock and snow against the sky.

What sound would ever be heard from
quickened mighty winds
Unless they blew against the rocks and trees
That reach into the clouds?

Whenever I am blessed, or someday glorified
Whenever I am lifted to eternal life
Oh please, oh please let there be mountains!
Such places for the soul to soar!

For I could not imagine heaven
If mountains were no more.

- -Roger Fuchs
above Golden Lake/South Sister

© 1995, 2003, Roger D. Fuchs, Portland, OR 97230. All rights reserved. 598180

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Happy MSHD!

Three decades plus...

It's only been 31 years since the moderately sized eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

We thought it a big deal. It was. People died. The landscape changed. The economy changed a bit.

I even wondered at the time whehter the company I worked for then, AAR Western Skyways, would be able to continue to overhaul and sell aircraft engines.

Who would want an engine that had been test run on a diet of air laced with volcanic ash?

We didn't really have a tangible sense of what volcanic ash even was. When we think of ash, we typically think of flakes of sooty gray or black carbon. That's what we get when we burn paper and wood. When mountains burn, we get rock dust. Silica. Glass powder, essentially.

The mountain I love to spend time on, South Sister, is a volcano. There's a crater at the top, now filled in with snow and ice. But the whole thing, and everything around it, are piles of rock that was once molten foam, piles of dust, and piles of volcanic glass known by the exotic term "obsidian".

South Sis is a recent little gem on the earth's surface. She got there by the violent birthing process of eruption. She's part of the young Cascades. There are older Cascades buried and reburied underneath. Life goes on. Creation goes on. The earth shapes and reshapes itself. That's how it works.

We sometimes think things are more violent today, that stuff like quakes and tsunamis are indicators of the end of time, the end of the world. No, we are living in a quiet time now. Really, we are. It's just that there are more of us two-leggeds in more places on the face of the earth. We have more of our stuff in the way of earth's movements, so we think things are more violent.

Life goes on according to God's time, not our evaluations of it. My prayer is to leave a little of me in the people around me for a time, but to leave as little as possible of me on the earth itself when I am gone. After all, I need to leave as much room as possible for those still to come on this planet.

I thank the One who made it and makes it. I thank those who left room for me.



Monday, May 9, 2011

Folding the Flag

Folding the flag is taking care of the nation.
Folding the flag is putting it to bed for the night.
I'm falling through a hole in the flag...
--lyrics from the 1968 Broadway musical "Hair"

When word broke a week ago that Osama bin Ladin had been killed, a demonstration broke out across from the White House.

Cool. Ever since back in '68, we haven't been able to get very close to the White House. It may have been during the Vietnam War demonstrations that some of the barriers went in. We couldn't have mobs getting too close to the seat of power where they might actually be heard.

After 9/11, things really became hardened. Barriers in front of U.S. Courthouses across the land. You know about all the airport stuff. Kids today don't even know that at one time, a non-passenger could walk right up the airport concourse and actually greet arriving passengers as they stepped off the jetway into the terminal. Or walk with them and give them an embrace and goodbye kiss just before they boarded the big bird.

Back during the 'Nam War, protesters sometimes desecrated the flag. Sometimes they flew it upside down. 'Cause it seemed like things were upside down. About 80% of the 58,200 names on the Wall in DC are people who were considered capable of giving their lives in battle but not old enough or responsible enough to vote. Upside down alright.

Sometimes the upside down situation led protesters to burn the flag. They weren't usually people who'd saluted the flag or seen it folded at the funerals of loved ones. But sometimes those folks, sometimes those veterans who'd seen the discrepancy between what the war was supposed to be and what it actually was, sometimes those folks did other things. Like throw their medals back at the White House. Or demonstrate for health care and benefits for disabled veterans.

Lately, we've seen other mobs of people demonstrating. In Cairo. In Syria. In Bahrain. In Lybia. In Afghanistan after a Florida pastor insisted on burning a Quran/Koran.

Then came the demos on May 1 when bin Ladin was pronounced dead. I hardly knew how to take it as I heard people chanting "USA, USA, USA!" at something other than an Olympic medal victory when a gazillion Nike sponsorship dollars had finally turned to gold and a mega-gazllion dollars' worth of incidental advertising and expected sales.

At the spontaneous demo, some held the flag and wrapped themselves in it. Some waved it around like a pom-pom at a high school pep rally. Some practically stuck it right up the lens of the news cameras.

In many ways, it felt like being given the finger. The flag turned into a fabric form of the finger.

Legitimate manifestation of pride? Relief? Or a desecration of the flag?

Whether it's celebrating the death of a terrorist murderer or the women's 4 x 400 relay, wrapping oneself in a flag is desecration in my book. Pure desecration. Not of the piece of fabric itself, but of the intangible ideal behind it

That's why the flag is not supposed to touch the ground. It's supposed to FLY!

It's supposed to fly over all of us, to remind us that the ideals of our Constitution are of value only when lived out in our daily lives and when upheld through the rule of law. Such things are not honored when the flag is used as a beach towel over a sweaty or intoxicated body. They are not honored and actualized in a hopelessly gridlocked Congress or a hopelessly (almost) gridlocked populace unable to pay attention to where we are going.

Over the past several years I've heard that rallying cry "Take our country back!"

From whom, for God's sake? From ourselves, I conclude. From our inattention to it and what the flag stands for: our duty to pay attention to it.

The vacuum our inattention and non-participation have left has been backfilled with planet-sized bags of campaign money. The ideal over which the flag must fly is us, not money.

I hope we have a resurgence of citizenship. I hope the flag never again becomes a fabric form of flipping off friends, enemies or neighbors

Long may it wave.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

If We Build It, They Will Come: Field of Dreams

They came once. So they built it. They kept coming for a few decades. Maybe even a century. Then fewer came. Then the ones who were left began to age.

Soon the ones aging were the vast majority of the ones who were left. Look around at many older mainline churches, and the sign on the fence for special parking will seem like a redundancy. Because, aren't all church-goers elderly? Don't they all carry some disabilities?

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 58% of the congregations have an average worship attendance of 100 or fewer, the size considered the minimum in order to employ a full-time pastor. Oh, and those were 2008 numbers.

Here in the Oregon Synod, 12 of 118 congregations are growing. The others are holding steady or declining. And with churches and the mission of the gospel, holding steady IS declining.

In 1969 I was shipped off to San Antonio, Texas, for Air Force basic training. On a weekend pass, I attended church with two other buddies, both Lutherans from Iowa. St. XXXXX Lutheran in the heart of San Antonio, was an American Lutheran Church congregation, I believe. Church was packed that Sunday. Nearly all were white folks looking and dressed much like those I'd grown up around in Nebraska.

Less than 20 years later, that church was gone. Closed. The neighborhood around it was becoming increasingly African American and Hispanic. "Our people" (at least, not enough of "our people") didn't see "those people" as God's people. Well, maybe they were God's people. But they weren't St. XXXXX people. Not those people......

"Those people" were never made them feel welcome. "Our people" never went out to invite them or get to know them. Instead, "our people" clung to a vision of who they were that matched the neighborhood of 25 years ago. Or more.

The etched glass on the window pane is aside the main entrance to the church of the SE Asian Vicariate along NE Sandy Blvd in Portland. Look closely at the outlines of the three nation states represented: Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia. The map is superimposed over the cross.

Or the cross surrounds the map. It's a large and growing congregation: tons of young people, people we were once at war with. Refugees and immigrants built this church into what it is today: a house of God and a vibrant center of community life.

That's how churches of European immigrants started out. It's the way they all start.

Whether or not they remain such has entirely to do with how churches hear the gospel and see their mission:

A) stability and preservation in a changing world


B) outreach and rebirth in a perpetually changing and challenging world.

I'm betting that Jesus is betting on option B.

What do you think?


PS: The sign in the first picture? It's in the parking lot of another church right across the street from the one with the etched glass window.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Living Remains

The young men above never knew their Grandpa. His own kids barely knew him, if at all. He died young. His two kids were very, very young. But something of him lives in his grandsons, both of them serving in the United States Air Force. I've met all the survivors in this family. I wish I'd met the one who left us at age 24.

Osama bin Laden has been taken out. Someone's sons had to do it. America wants to hug these highly trained, secretive young men who did this work for us. Mostly, because of their work, they will have to remain anonymous to us. They could not do what they do as celebrity idols.

But they will carry something of this work with them for life. It may never be something they are able to discuss with family and loved ones. We owe them a lifetime of gratitude. But we also owe them our prayers for health, healing and wholeness.

They have taken life to avenge its loss. They have taken life to save life. They have done so at our call. They have done our work. Living remains to be done. For them. For us, too,

Living Remains

"Grandpa, were you in the war??
question rarely asked by sons and daughters
of their Dads.
Mamas often warned them not to
Mostly, they just somehow knew.
Sons and daughters may not ask
unlike the way that grandkids do…

He who talks of it openly most days
has likely never seen it
never carried sounds of rounds,
sweaty smell of fear,
bloody mud beneath his fingernails, or else
He has a mission to see that others never do
Mission to unpack the things old warriors carry still
In Grandpa bellies, feelings in the gut that never feel
more than the age of twenty
inside a body graying now on every edge.

"Grandpa, were you. . ."
If I say “yes”, what will you do?
If I concede these keys to me, where will you drive me to?
What will we do when we arrive there, will we ever?
And will we ever leave?

In places overgrown with trees and vines,
grasses taller than a man
where annual floods bring fields of rice to bloom
They are finding them in bits
and pieces, remains of stories never told
Lives that filled their quotas long ago

I may have let the jungle grow awhile
Because there are human remains in earth
and me
remains in heart and mind and memory
Remains of war live on forever, so they are forever
living remains
And in these things, all things
Living remains for us to do.

"Grandpa, Grandma, were you in the war?
Was war inside of you?"
You tell me so. You tell me true.
While living remains for you.

--Roger Fuchs

© 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs, Portland, OR 97230-6151. All Rights reserved. 018011

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Color of My Soul

Eight years ago in the march to war, Jean and I were more than apprehensive about the outcome.

War is eating our country alive financially, morally, imaginitively.

For all the talk lately about big government / "waste, fraud and abuse" / spending, nobody has really owned up to the cost of war and the fact that we've been doing two on borrowed money for the better part of a decade.

Big question that looms is this: Has all that spending and loss of life actually achieved the conditions for peace and progress? Jury is out on that one. Was the revolution in Egypt the result of regime change in Iraq or the inevitable result of a world of Facebook and Twitter that not even the Commies and the dictators can entirely shut down?

Don't know for sure. But I do know this. Greg Mortenson offered a different path to peace that looked much more like the way of Christ. And I believe he has done an untold world of good. But has has some "issues", and they aren't small one.

And now, yet another hero has proven to have a ton of baggage. Was the fame virus at work here too, or was it just ego?

Mortenson's work is not all fiction, but it's now under a huge cloud. Nick Kristof's recent NY Times piece was well thought.

A young (34) woman served with me on a key committee a few months ago. "Sarah" (not her name) repeatedly brought up the fact that her generation has a lot of trust issues. I've wanted for the longest time to get her to sit down and just talk at me for 45 minutes or so. I grant that she's got a case to make. Her generation has seen a lot of heroes fall, a lot of religious leaders prove to be corrupt sex addicts and liars.

But I also told her a while back to not feel like the Lone Stranger. After all, how much truth did an entire generation of us get about the Vietnam/American War? Jade is not just a carvable stone or a plant with waxy, thick leaves. It's often the color of my soul.

These "grave stones"? Part of a neighbor's Halloween yard display last October. I wonder whose grave they will mark this year?

Meanwhile, we await resurrection. God knows, we need it.

He lives!


Thursday, April 7, 2011

For all the people...

The nursing students from Linfield College do much of their training at Good Samaritan Hospital, aka "Good Sam" up in inner NW Portland. As many young people do these days before settling down into families and careers, they travel in their downtime. They see parts of the world where their parents or grandparents never traveled--except during time of war. Several years ago, a group traveled to Southeast Asia. They spent time in Thailand and Cambodia. They spent a lot of time in Vietnam. They took a lot of pictures, brought home many more in their heads. At one of the Linfield/Good Sam buildings there is a small space for art exhibits, often photography. This group took one of their photos with the sun at their backs and casting long shadows on the street to make a composite collage. Over 10,000 pictures. Most contain people. The students themselves. Or the people they encountered. From these images they reconstructed the one street photo on a large panel measuring approximately 4 x 5 feet. If your computer can do so, zoom in on either of these shots. See the people. All the people... As April 5 came and passed this year, I thought again about Wes and how few days he had left in his one-year tour in Vietnam. 5 April 1968. His last. I live. He doesn't. Most of the people in the photos were not alive when Wes lived. And died. None of the people who took the pictures were. For all the people, Christ came. He lived. He died. He lives... Amen. Roger

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Memory of Jack

Two years ago on March 29 it was a Sunday. The phone rang in the morning. Early, but not too early. It was Nila. "We lost Jack this morning," she said. I can't believe he's been gone that long. I remember beers at the Ramada Inn on Dallas Love Field in 1977. I remember a flight over north Texas in a Piper Cherokee 140, N6341W. I remember dinner at a cafe across the way from the Hooters in the Atlanta Underground. I remember the conversation we had there. How Jack told me he was doing after the war: the imponderable implications of having taken human life. Perhaps quite a lot of it. Jack flew a Cobra. He also flew Hueys when he wasn't on a direct combat mission. He flew all he could to stay out of base camp where the drinking was non-stop. People didn't have to think so much about what they were doing that way. I remember the conversation we had a few years later at an Applebee's in Fayetteville, or thereabouts. Jack told me what he would do if he were in my situation where a family member had been wounded by another person in ways we can't talk about. I remember a rainy night in Georgia in a restored '67 Valiant convertible with an intermittent electrical system. I remember Jack's love of books, flying and his friends. I remember Jack's skepticism about religious types but his trust and honor of me. We could talk about anything, and we did. In his last e-mail to me a week before he died, Jack wrote that knowing me was one of the highlights of his life. It's one of the best things anyone ever said to me. I'll never forget it. Ditto, my friend. Ditto. Rest well. I remember. I miss you, Jack. Roger

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Three In A Row...

Here we go again.
By my count, it was March 19, 2003 when President Bush sent U.S. forces into Iraq.
We're still there, of course. We'd been in Afghanistan since October 2001, although we diverted most of the effort in Afghanistan to Iraq.
We're still in Afghanistan.
Of course.
Anybody want to place bets on how this will go?
First, we cheered as Libyans revolted and took control of half the country.
Next, we waited, thinking that Gadhafi (remember when we called him Kaddafy??) was toast.
Then, we watched as his forces began nibbling away at the poorly armed and organized rebels' gains. Cities and towns got taken back, retaken, retaken again.
Now, with practically nothing left as a haven for rebels except Benghazi, we decide to move.
Must have been a few neighbor-against-neighbor episodes in there. Quite a few.
And what comes next?
I got two things to say: 1) Where's the money for this coming from? 2) Whose sons and daughters are going to be there to police up the mess when the Libyan air defenses are crushed, the military dispersed and neighbor-against-neighbor clashes erupt as the Libyan economy further collapses and the blame thing starts to set in?
Another question. If Libya were buying U.S. debt the way China has been, would our response have been different? How? I wonder.
Pray for peace.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

If you're the Son of God, jump.

That's what the ol' guy with the pitchfork told Jesus up there on a high place on the wall of the Temple in Jerusalem.

This was after Jesus had gone without food and water for 40 days, 40 nights and had already been tempted with food and fame.

"Jump," the devil says.

"Just do it. Just DO it. If you're the Son of God, angels will never allow any harm to come to you."

But then, if he's the Son of God, why does he need angels in the first place?

Lots of unanswered questions here.

But the biggest one of all is this one: Who are you, Jesus?

As in, "WHO ARE YOU?"

Just between you and me, if I'd been there, I'd probably have said the same thing: jump.

'Cause if he jumps and doesn't get hurt, or if a flaming chariot comes out of the sky... well, then that proves he was never like us in the first place and always had this "ejection seat" capability to punch right outta here.

But if Jesus does jump as the devil asks, and if he gets hurt or dies... well, then that proves that he was just plain silly to listen and has wasted his life for nothing.

I don't want a God who can't go where I am, who can't go with anybody who might climb up onto one of the fire escape landings or a bridge railing and decide to jump and just end it all. I don't want a God who can't be underneath piles of earthquake rubble or who can't be underneath the muck and debris of a tsunami bigger than a Hollywood disaster flick.

I don't want a God who either can't die at all or who dies stupid.

We ordinary human beings, we seem to have a lock on that latter category. We die stupid all the time. Yep.

Nope, I need a God who dies real. I need a God who gets real. I need a God who looks the devil's choices in the eye and says, "I'll see your shortsighted, self-serving choices and raise you all I have. I'll raise you life. Life is of God. Death is what you are all about, Mr. Devil."

I need a God who says to me or anyone else climbing up on the railings above, "Come down. Don't jump. You leave the fixing of things to me. Don't harm yourself or anyone else. Leave the death and sin business to me. I came to raise you from that. And I'll show you how by going first. "

Jesus says, "Trust me on this. I won't lead you to harm. I'll lead you to life. Trust me on this."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Bondage to Sin: Ashes to Ashes... Lent

According to Matthew 4:2, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. THEN, famished and weak, he met ALL EVIL face-to-face. It came in a condition of weakness, not strength.
Moses went up to the mountain 40 days w/o food, only the presence of God. Elijah went into the wilderness and lived on the strength of his last meal for 40 days. They both knew the legend of Noah and his family and the onslaught of being tossed about after 40 days of rain (and nights).

In Reformation times, the practice of doing penance went seriously out of whack. The Basilica of St. Peter in Rome was essentially built on the fundraising efforts of paying a monetary sum as a demonstration of true contrition. But the church detoured from being discipling agent to dispensing agent.
Along the way, a very important and beneficial practice got lost or disarmed. The step back to consider the seriousness of one's sins and doing something different in life as a reminder, that got turned into the purchase of forgiveness--with advance ticket sales offered for a nice price.

No coach I know would consider scrapping the entire practice of taking a time-out. The team needs it. He/she needs it. And so do we. It's more than our little foibles, the unkind word here and there, the lustful thought, the alms not given, the prayer not said, that constitutes our sin.

It is our whole condition. Our whole broken relationship with God and with each other. As my church says in corporate confession, "We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves..." This rift is not repairable by self-help, a six-week diet, or a makeover at the spa. It is by the grace of God. Grace is a very dramatic story. It never hurts to take a time-out. Any discipline or ritual that serves as a mnemonic device for that time-out time is helpful. It can open the heart and mind just like prayer.

And I think sometimes the best prayers we can ever pray are not the ones that ask for what we don't have. They may be those that for once do an honest job of saying who we are, what we are, what is--without a pre-fab answer in mind.
We all need time for that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thank You, Fran

Fran. . .

Frances Roselee Wagner Rauschkolb was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 10, 1922. During World War II, Fran served at Ft. Knox, Kentucky as a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

She met Frank Rauschkolb, a flying officer of the United States Army Air Corps, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for great heroism in the rescue of 17 downed U.S. airmen. Fran and Frank were married in 1945.

After several years, Frank returned to military service, serving as a commissioned officer for more than 20 years in the new United States Air Force. Together, Fran and Frank raised five sons. Fran was preceded in death by her loving husband Frank and by their son Jan who was killed in action in 1969 while serving in Vietnam with the United States Marine Corps.

Fran was called to eternal rest on March 2, 2011, at the age of 88 years, 10 months and 2 days. She is survived by her sons Frank, Jr. (Fairview, OR), Barry (Parker, CO), William (Oklahoma City, OK), and Fred (Tigard, OR) as well four grandsons and eight wonderful great-grandchildren.

As veterans and Gold Star parents, Fran and Frank, along with many other dedicated souls, worked tirelessly to bring our community, our state, and our nation the treasure of the Garden of Solace, the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Living Memorial. In lieu of flowers or other gifts, the family requests memorial gifts be given to the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial Fund, Inc., 1750 SW Skyline Blvd., #15, Portland, OR 97221.
It's been a great honor to know you, Fran. It was indeed a privilege to lead your memorial service today.
Thank you for your service, and welcome home.
Pastor Roger