Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Another mass shooting. Another troubled young man. Two words: male socialization. There are any number of extra security measures, scanners, surveillance cameras, metal detectors and bullet-proof materials we can put up around everything from preschools to Amish schools to porta-potties to churches and malls and airports and courthouses to military bases themselves. 

All will be at best band-aid diversions from addressing the root cause: male socialization. Let's start today by asking the question at home, in school, at church and at work: WHAT AM I HERE FOR? 

 I love the scene in Rob Bell's short film "Name" in which he describes the wrestling match between God disguised as an angel and the struggling shepherd, Jacob, when the angel asks, "What is your name?" The question really asks, "Who ARE you?" Then this line from Bell's narration: How much of our pain in life comes from not knowing how to answer that question? 

Indeed. Bullets. Nerve gas. Pressure cooker bombs... Who ARE we? And what ARE we for? I'm not fearful that the answers would terrify me. I'm more convinced that the silence would break my heart.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

We Hold These Truths...

...to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...

The little document drawn up in that hall in Philadelphia back in '76 could have used a few footnotes.  It would be nice to know who the signers of the document considered "men."

Most likely, they thought the definition itself to be "self-evident."  Men????  Why, people like ourselves, of course!

Certainly not people of color, nor the "merciless Indian Savages" (ref., section 10 of the Declaration), could be considered "men" who had been created equal.  Created?  Sure!  But equal?   Equal to ourselves?  Not this side of Eternity!!!  Or the Atalantic.  

We are not so different from these men of 237 years ago.  We have some grand visions, some very flawed ones.  

But here's an oddity for us to consider.  They had mutually pledged to each other "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." 

They said in higher sounding words: 
This is how we will live as of today. 
This is worth living for. 
This is worth dying for. 
So be it!


They did not draw up this declaration after years of war, bloodshed and eventual capitulation by the British.  1776 was years before what we call "The Revolutionary War."  The Declaration was not part of the surrender documents signed by the British, after which the American colonists finally sighed, "At last we can think about being free--because we have won a military victory."

No.  They became free when they had declared themselves to BE free of George III of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 


Yet, to die for is the number of times we have failed to embody and insist on the most basic concepts of the Declaration.

Or when we have willingly let go of them because we were honestly afraid of being that free.  Or couldn't be bothered to take the effort.   

It's wonderful at this national holiday celebrating the birth of our nation to remember that it was not a military victory that founded it.  Rather, it was the birth of an idea.  Honor members of our military, veterans for sure.  Always.  

But honor others even more highly:  people not afraid to speak and write and live the highest ideals and vision of which we human beings are capable.  Honor our best thinkers.  Especially the ones who are willing to pledge their lives in the cause of these ideas.

Living here requires more of us than being allegiantly inert, dutifully uniformed, steadfastly inactive, loyally blind, unconvinced of the common good.

Living here requires more than complacently thinking that we are kept "free" by a volunteer military that over 98% of Americans will never participate in. 

Freedom is not the same as safety and security with which it is too commonly conflated and confused.  Safety and security exist in the absence of threats and violence.  Freedom exists in the presence of activity.  Freedom exists not in its having but in its doing.  It must be exercised or it asphyxiates.      

In honor of the visionary forebears who thought their way to freedom before anyone ever fought their way, here's Roger's "Pledge of Performance":

I recognize, and I accept the privileges and the responsibilities of citizenship in these United States of America.  And I pledge my very best efforts in the faithful exercise of both my whole life long.   

May such truths become self-evident.  Soon.  Always. 


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Paper or Plastic? No problem!

This Japanese man supposedly has invented a plastic-to-oil distillery.  Hmmmm? 

Seems simple enough, agreed. Several basic questions that come to mind for me:

1) How much energy input is required to achieve the output?

2) Some plastics are more complex compounds than others. What happens with the residues that surely remain with some? 

3) Some plastics surely give off very noxious gases as they are being heated. I doubt that they simply sit in the retort and quietly transform themselves into gaseous petroleum. Are these gases condensed in the water, or do they escape and themselves become a source of atmospheric pollution?

Best way always to "solve" problems is to make as little of the problem as possible in the first place. Nearly all products we make, sell and purchase here are WAY overpackaged and WAY under-durable. I'd like to know more about the plastics distillery, but don't have time to do any research.

Some years back, I looked into the business of motor oil bottles... ugh!  What do we do with those?  Why the near total absence of recycling available for motor oil bottles?  The brand new, unused motor oil that ends up in landfills every year because people are too impatient to completely drain oil bottles before disposing? It's the equivalent of about 3.5 Exxon Valdez oil tankers.  Every year.  Every...  year.  Why? 

Over a decade ago, the US Department of Energy patented a process for cleaning the excess oil from plastic bottles, even the film residue that remains after thorough draining, using CO2 as the solvent. In the process, the CO2 is captured and recycled, not released. So far as I could tell, only one company in CA was engaging in the process several years ago, operating on state grant money that was probably budget axed after the original 2-year grant.
A friend and I once collected several large cases of plastic oil bottles, flattened them, and shipped them down to CA. Of course, the big question is whether more energy was spent in shipping than retrieved by the recycling process.  We felt good for a few minutes, but solved nothing.    

This defies reason, intelligence and civilization, of course. Since motor oil bottles are sold in every community on earth that has motor vehicles, there should be a closed loop system everywhere for the recovery and re-use of these containers. Oil filters, too.  Sure... 
If you want to hear anger and annoyance on the other end of the phone, merely call a local recycling resources hotline and ask the poor person who answers the phone where to recycle oil bottles locally. The usual response is something bordering on "Stop asking me that @#$%^&* question, you *&^% idiot, before I blow my @#$%^&* brains out--or yours if I could just get at you first! I HATE THIS JOB!" 

Should be a local, universal system to do this.  Just as there should be for things like dry cell batteries, compact fluorescent bulbs, shoes and baby diapers for the people who can't or won't wash cloth ones.

Why not?  Simply this. All problems are solvable if we decide we want to. No problems are solvable if we decide that we can't because we have already decided that we won't. Problems aren't problems at all.

People are problems.  Problems go away when our thinking changes.  

Jesus wept...  And I don't think it was over gay marriage.  


Monday, July 1, 2013

Defense of Marriage: A Prescription

I've read comments recently that fear a backlash.  That is, some people fear that the newly empowered supporters of same sex marriage may now unload on portions of the Christian community in the same way they have felt unloaded on in years past.  Maybe.  Mostly, I doubt it.  The tug of war in the legal arena is far from over since same sex marriage is still not permitted in approximtely 3/4 of the states.     

But a little history here, dating back to the civil rights struggles of the 1960's and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  For there to be a backlash, there first has to be a lash. Or, to use a term perhaps coined by President Lyndon Johnson, there has to be a "frontlash." I, too, pray that the backlash to the Court's decisions is not a sequel to the frontlash.

Marriage. Civil union. Life partnership. I hope we all ask ourselves exactly what that means. How do we support and encourage durable, healthy human relationships in any form, marriage specifically?

Since I now have the recognized authority to perform marriages that pass legal muster, I find it a sobering responsibility, given the flawed nature of humanity. I worked long and hard to be recognized and vested with the authority conferred by the ordination by my church. It wasn't a cereal boxtop version or an online instant thing. Worked my butt off for a decade in classes, CPE and internship while working full time. Much to the neglect of home maintenance and retirement savings. All to do legitimate ministry in a position that does not pay.

But I can now marry people legally, and also pronounce the blessing of God on couples who wish to have that. I have married one couple, and I felt good about it. I also just "solemnized before God and witnesses" the marriage of a couple who had already legally been married by a judge some time prior. I don't know for sure how to feel about this couple since they both have personality traits that could be very troubling if they don't manage them; plus, they both have a disastrous previous marriage in their past. My prayer is that the sacred ceremony in which they sought God's blessing serves as a sobering incentive to succeed despite their own human faults.

A local columnist who is herself divorced has written several times about the importance of doing things that support and strengthen marriage. I want to call her to account because she has failed to describe what that would be. Should we enact a marriage "death penalty" by making it illegal for anyone who has ever divorced for any reason to remarry... ever?

Absent the columnist's definition, I offer my own. It's the same prescription I give for eliminating poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, low graduation rates, DWI deaths, drug cartels, sectarian wars, terrorism and world wars: character formation. Better formed, better built, more fully committed human beings. Ultimately, we have no other and no higher calling but to make more of us who better qualify for the humbling, lofty title divinely bestowed on us: God's own handiwork.

Meanwhile, how many married people can recite their marriage vows 90 seconds, 90 minutes or 90 days after the wedding? Or say what that vow actually means? Instead of blowing megabucks hiring wedding planners, people would do much better to spend a few hours actually being marriage planners themselves.

How do we make life together happen for any of us?  How do we make it better than Civil War? 

More on that subject later this week. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Clothed... and In His Right Mind

They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind...  Mark 5:15

November, 2011.  It was a sunny but chilly day with a stiff east breeze.  In that season of the year, there is nearly always a stiff, chilly wind coming out of the Columbia Gorge when we are fortunate enough to have sun.

I was on the phone with a colleague as I looked out my home office window overlooking the cul-de-sac north of our house.  I blinked, and my eyes confirmed what I had seen first.  Yes, indeed.  The muscular man, appearing to be in his mid-30's, was indeed walking down the street buck naked.

He seemed to be conversing with, or responding to, things I could not see.  At one point, he stopped as he entered the alley between the fence of my yard and the chain link fence around the school athletic field.  Then he walked to the school fence and began to climb it, fingers and toes gripping the diamond-shaped holes in the fence.  He was as agile and strong as a chimp on his play structure.

When he reached the top rail of the fence, the man squatted and rested up there a bit before he leaped down into the schoolyard.  I cringed.  The soles of his feet had been resting atop these sharp, twisted wires supporting the man's full weight...  but he appeared to feel no pain at all. 

Next, he walked in a circle.  Then he returned to the fence, climbed back over and came walking down the street in front of my house.  He came down my driveway, stood in my open garage for a few minutes, before returning to the street, going back to the schoolyard and climbing the fence for yet a third time. 

Oblivious of pain...  oblivious of the chilly wind...  oblivious of all that most of us are attuned to in our daily relationship with the world. 

I had been on the phone to the police dispatcher minutes before, and at last a police cruiser sped across the athletic field and stopped.  The officers kept their distance, not threatening the man, thankfully.  They engaged him in conversation before finally convincing him to enter the warmth of the back seat of the patrol car. 

The man of Gerasa (Mark 5, Luke 8) was clearly in another world from most folks, an alien to them.  Jesus apparently engaged him in another way from most people in the man's life.  The results are stunning.  And I have no doubt that the encounter also changed and informed the way Jesus and his students engaged and related to people after that.

What if we did the same?

Sarah Thebarge did.  It changed her.  It changed a family.  It changed the world.  For good.  For goodness.    http://sarahthebarge.com/theinvisiblegirls/

The divides of culture, class, language and life experience can be every bit as formidable as the divides of mental health and mental illness.  Likewise, the divide of mental illness can be as formidable as all of those other things that clearly exist but are not seen as being so formidable as mental illness. 

Jesus paid attention.  He engaged the person first, always before the labels. 

Sarah paid attention to the invisible girls she met.

What if we did the same?  How much more of the world would be clothed and in its right mind?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Few Good Men

Kevin's Dad, Delmar, whom we all knew as "Del" when he also worked at AAR Western Skyways, had been a U. S. Marine.  USMC.  At Kevin's memorial service, Del talked about teaching his two children, Kevin and his sister Jerilyn, how to shoot and handle firearms. 

Del had taught them well, at least Kevin.  Del told us how Kevin and young buddies decided to go deer hunting, armed only with Kevin's .22 caliber rifle.  Kevin was too young to get a hunting license at the time--which he hadn't bothered to consider.  Nevertheless, Kevin bagged a deer on his first time out...  with a .22 rifle. 

So much for the argument that you need an AR-15 with 30-round clip for deer hunting.  When I was young, a high school classmate went hunting for the first time with Dad and carried a .270 Winchester.  The kid had such buck fever that his shots were poorly placed and didn't kill the deer until he had fired nine times.  Nine rounds...  Sounds like a local police shooting.  Yet in his first time out, Kevin was able to bring down a deer with the lowly .22.  Go figure.  Clearly a difference in training.    

The .22 is so small and low powered that it's barely useful for more than plinking at cans and taking out small rodents.  To be sure, the .22 can kill you.  When I was a boy, a second cousin of mine, Alan, accidentally shot himself with a .22 when he was shooting sparrows around the barn.  I once scared myself half to death when the single-shot .22 I was carrying discharged a few inches from my left ear. 

I had a cartridge in the chamber, but the hammer wasn't cocked.  But I was foolishly using the butt of the stock to hammer through some ice so I could check a trap I had set under the ice on the Bell Creek.  The jarring was enough to nudge the hammer against the firing pin causing the cartridge to fire. 

I thank God I survived that excursion into stupidity and lack of judgment.  It's not the only time God has spared my life. 

But Del and Kevin's mother had done much more than teach their kids about guns.  They taught them responsibility, judgment, committment, and steadfast relationships.  In a word, adulthood. 

As I read about crime, violence and shootings; as I hear the stories of the lives of young children and their home life that Jean tells me when she comes home from school; as I learn of yet more city, state or federal officials whose conduct is anything but mature and responsible, I come back to Kevin and where he came from. 

I come back to Kevin and who he came from.  I come back to Kevin and who he knew he needed to be:  a good man.  I had a Dad who was a good man.  And a Mom who was the equal of that as a Mom.

A number of years ago, I was in class with a female colleague who was pastor of a small Lutheran church in Omaha, Nebraska.  The majority of her congregation was female.  Over 90%, according to this pastor, had experienced sexual violence, domestic violence, or both.  After listening to her grief and the challenge it presented--for not only her congregation but society at large--I responded, "We could fix most of what's wrong with society by fixing a few things wrong with our men."

That pastor calmly and quickly replied, "You got that right."

Like the USMC, I think we're all looking for a few good men. 

I wouldn't mind if a couple million of 'em were named Kevin.  Or Del.  Or Oswald.  Good men can be named anything.  But they need to be good men first, every one of them. 

Happy Father's Day!



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Somebody Named Kevin...

"Somebody should DO something!" 

People often say that.  But who is "somebody?"  Kevin always understood that he was somebody...

Sunday morning I received some of the most painful news of my adult life. A good friend, Kevin Hamann, was killed Saturday in a motocross race in Spokane. Kevin was 51 and became a grandpa for the first time in February.

I've known Kevin for over 30 years, beginning when he came to work for AAR Western Skyways located at Troutdale Airport, my place of employment for many years and the reason that Jean and I moved to Oregon in 1978. The photo of Kevin at the Stewart-Warner model 2000 balancer, taken circa 30 years ago, is from a Western Skyways Gold Seal engine sales brochure of that era.  Talk about a handsome guy! 

Kevin was a somewhat unsettled youngster barely out of high school when he came to work in the machine shop I supervised.  He had tremendous energy, a sharp mind that wanted to be challenged.  Kevin became one of the best machinist apprentices I ever had--and I had some VERY good ones.

This early experience eventually led to work at Boeing out on NE Sandy Blvd, where Kevin was most recently a supervisor in charge of complex hard metal machining of parts used on Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Between stints at Boeing, he also manufactured replacement hip and knee joints that many people walk around on today. Everything he made, he made better--including our ministry.

As a young man, Kevin had many questions about faith, life and God. On a number of occasions out in that shop at Troutdale, we would wait until the end of the day when most folks had gone home. Then, I would quietly go over to the door, lock it, and we would talk.

After I left the company in Troutdale in 1987, I didn't have much contact with Kevin until about four years ago. One Monday morning, after a particularly unsettled Sunday evening at Operation Nightwatch Worship in the old Julia West House in downtown Portland, Kevin sent me an e-mail completely out of the blue. "We need to get together," he said. Indeed.

I was about ready to pull the plug on worship unless we had someone else to help us mind the guests and the front door. I never expected Kevin to do that. But when he heard what we were doing, he said, "I want to help." For more than a year, Kevin was there most Sunday evenings supporting us in countless ways.  He helped calm things down a great deal. 

One evening after worship, a homeless guest asked if we had a belt to help him keep his baggy pants up around his waist.  Belts in our clothes closet were more scarce than hen's teeth.  "Sorry," I said.  "We have none."  Kevin overheard.  "He needs a belt?  Here, he can have mine.  I've got more."  Without hesitating, Kevin pulled off his own belt and handed it over. 

He'd have given the shirt off his back.  No.  He gave more...

For the past three years, or so, Kevin and his wife Jackie have been faithful food providers every 4-6 weeks, but they have done SO much more...  Clothing. Shoes. Blankets. Gift cards to McDonald's at Christmas time for our guests.  Hundred-dollar WinCo gift cards for us to buy food and serving supplies when Jean and I provide the meal.

One winter evening, Kevin brought an entire 3/4-ton pickup load of coats and sleeping bags collected from his church. Kevin has provided the cell phone I have in my pocket and paid the monthly bill. He gave me the digital camera that has been an invaluable tool for both my worship ministry and my aviation work.

Kevin also provided the cell phone that enabled a man named Rick to eventually contact family in Michigan and end 25 years of homelessness.

For several years, Kevin and Jackie have provided us a modest monthly stipend to help offset the cost of our non-salaried ministry. All while living under the cloud of uncertainty about staying in their their home due to the recession's effect on Kevin's motorcycle business. Still, Kevin was one of Nightwatch's most ardent supporters.  Few knew what Kevin did for us and for God's people.  But God does.

Kevin is survived by his wife Jackie, his parents, a sister and brother-in-law, a grown daughter and son, and one grandson. Please give thanks for them and pray God's peace and grace in coming days.

"Very truly, I tell you," Jesus said, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."  (John 12:24 NRSV)

Kevin's life bore much fruit.  And it's easy for the rest of us to say, "He's in a better place."  He is.  But for his family, there was no better place than here among them for a good, LONG while yet. 

For us at Operation Nightwatch, the blessings Kevin gave us are beyond words and description.  And surely, there would have been no better place for Kevin than here among us for a good, LONG while yet. 

I'm not here to explain God.  Or rationalize God.  Most days, not even to make sense of God.  I trust God to make sense of what I can't and to be faithful to Jesus' promises.  Jesus promised to be always with us, that he would be there when the stuff hits the fan.  It has.  Now the ball is in the court of Faithful God's Faithful Son.  That's all I need to know.

Because I've already seen what happens when God's Son is in somebody's heart.  It's why Kevin understood that he was somebody... 

Thanks be to God!  Amen.     

Kevin's memorial service will be Saturday, June 8, 2 PM, at Grace Community Church, 800 SE Hogan Road in Gresham. Jackie and the family request that memorial gifts be directed to Operation Nightwatch, P.O. Box 4005, Portland, OR 97208; www.operationnightwatch.org.  

Thank you!
Pastor Roger

Friday, May 24, 2013

45 Years of Music in My Head

Perhaps it was the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater, Jackie DeShannon.  Even the Monkees.  Maybe the Mamas and the Papas.  Could be Beethoven.  Or that Bach guy.  Crosby, Stills and Nash.  Blood, Sweat and Tears...

BST.  You know, musical groups don't name themselves with titles like that anymore.  It was a title that may have reflected the time a bit too accurately.  In the late 1960's, lot of blood was being spilled.  In some parts of SE Asia, over 3 million mostly young Americans would sweat great drops of blood.  And there were tears.  In Asia.  In households and graveyards across America.  In the souls and wounded places of people for decades to come. 

The time was infused with music. 

Music still rings in my head.  It still rings true.  One little masterpiece movement of a classical orchestral work by Bizet will always suffuse an episode as I neared the end of college and would then go off to military service a year later. 

I cannot hear the piece of music without having all the memories come in a vivid rush.  Because the music seemed to transcend the fractious world of human events with a divine mystery of beauty.  Or a beauty of divine mystery. 

It was early June 1968. On one momentous day, I had left Omaha on a United Boeing 727--my very first airplane flight--landed in Des Moines, gone on to Chicago, thence to Newark, NJ. From Newark, I'd made my way by buses to JFK Airport. Finally by evening, I had boarded the queen of the skies, an Air France Boeing 707 Intercontinental bound for Paris. After a tired day in Paris, I would board a train for a 17-hour ride to Vienna, Austria, which was to be my home for a summer study of German language and literature and the culture, cuisine and art of Europe.
I would live with a host family, visit countless museums, concert halls and churches. I would venture behind the Iron Curtain three times, encounter the sobering reality of the grounds of a Nazi death camp only 23 years liberated, still see the damage of Allied bombing in Munich, visit with men who had been POW's in the USA and the USSR. All with the memory of a friend KIA in Kontum a few weeks before, and with the memory of JFK, MLK and RFK still in the forefront of my mind. All this while never having been east of the Mississippi River, west of the Rockies, or south of Kansas in my life.

With all that awaiting me, the big 707 flew over the North Atlantic overnight, occasionally tipping a wing slightly for a course correction. One of the tracks of recorded music that I listened to over and over on that trans-Atlantic flight included a memorable

movement from Carmen. To my dying day, the flutes and strings and harp in this work of Bizet will soar in my mind as a metaphor for the grace of flight and the grace of God in which such stunning heights of creativity and art soar over the equally stunning depths of destruction that is also within human capability and human history.

Whose loving hands could possibly span that gulf but God's? And whose mind and eternal Spirit could possibly envision a universe in which the simplest vibrations of air could so clearly embody pure joy?

We hear only the smallest portions of it, and it is more than enough. The music says more than we can ever know.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Out of Uniform

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied..."  John 14:8

Yesterday was Pentecost.  Contrary to current perception, early Christians did not invent Pentecost.  It was a harvest festival when people from all over gathered in Jerusalem.  Just like yesterday's Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in Portland:  runners from 10 countries as well as every state except North Dakota and Montana (hey, you Big Sky and Bakken oil boomers, get outta your pickups and run!). 

The suddenly competent and over-reacting Peter gets up and preaches like a pro.  Because there was an outpouring of something like fire and wind.  Then came the water as converts were baptized. 

For two millennia, the church has lumbered along under that supernatural, charismatic experience, at times celebrating it, at other times trying to explain it.  Most of the time, I finally conclude, the church has blown precious time and energy enviously trying to replicate Pentecost in Jerusalem, AD 33.  As we joyously sing its praises, we are forced to sheepishly concede that we can't.  Because it was never about our power in the first place.  As Jesus said, the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it wishes, not when our churchy calendar says so.  Not at 10:30 AM on Sundays because that's when our service is planned.     

Yet, we haul out the trumpets, big choirs, pipe organs, handbells, and all the Western/Northern European tropes of music to celebrate a one-shot deal 2000 years old, all the while sidestepping and avoiding a problem that's been screaming at our faces ever since that BIG DAY in Jerusalem way back when. 

What problem?  This one:  when people start acting strangely because a "spirit" has overtaken them, they give us the willies.  We avoid them like the plague.  Or at least like herpes. 

For good reason.  Since I've spent the last six years of my life rubbing elbows with people who have varying degrees of mental illness and substance abuse issues, I've seen the lines between sanity, mental illness and unhealthy religion almost disappear.  Sometimes, even the lines between healthy religion and mental illness get pretty blurred.   

So yesterday, I did my church thing out of uniform.  I didn't wear my red clergy shirt.  Couldn't go near the "tongues of fire and the sound of the rushing mighty wind."  The sound of the rushing mighty wind belongs in mountains and canyons and gorges, not in meeting halls and unpredictable crowd (mob?) psychology.

Instead, I heard Philip's plea, for once, as a genuine and earnest request:  "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."  Amen to that.

Jesus, show us your God connection in convincing, genuine ways.  Jesus, show God to us in ways that make sense for here and now, in my life.  Jesus, show me God who meets the struggles I face and in ways that let me "get it" in my head, and my heart, and in my gut.  Jesus, make it real!  Please, SHOW us!  Amen to that. 

Jesus says to look at the stuff he does, why he does it.  He promises, in the way ahead, another "Advocate". 

Advocate?  Absolutely insipid, sterile, inadequate English word for the Greek parakletos.  Other attempts to render this word come out equally institutional:  Counselor.  Helper.  Comforter.  Are we talking lawyer here or a warm bed linen? 

Actual translation:  one who comes alongside of.  Think of someone helping a runner train or bringing them hydration and cool packs to fight heat stroke. 

Better yet, think of the Central Washington University women's softball players who came alongside the injured Western Oregon University player Sara Tucholsky a few years back. 

They came and carried her through what she could not do herself because she was unable to walk or even crawl around the bases.  They did it at great cost to themselves:  they eliminated their own team from the playoffs by helping the injured girl who had hit the ball out of the park but could not run the bases. 

No tongues of fire...  No sound of rushing, mighty winds...  Just the sound of cheering fans and players who were witnessing a spontaneous act of grace and kindness that meant more than any victory over an opponent ever had--because it was the right thing to do. 


It was a Pentecost moment in the present.  The best kind.  Not pre-meditated.  Unmistakable. 

A God picture that left people speechless just like Jesus' best parables.  The kind that Philip and you and I can get in our gut.  Substance, not show.

Oh, and it was the injured girl who wore red.  The "advocates", the players from Central Washington "who came alongside of?"  They wore black.  And white.  No red. 

The "helpers" were out of uniform according to church tradition that is too often backward looking instead of forward.  And they were perfectly suited for the job.       

Friday, May 17, 2013

What 4?

Got this message in an e-mail yesterday: 


On Thursday, May 16th at 7 p.m., Imago Dei will bring together families and leaders from local churches as well as DHS staff for an evening of stories and dialogue about how the church can partner with DHS to care for children and families in Oregon’s child welfare system. Feel free to invite your friends and neighbors!

The event will be held in Imago Dei's sanctuary at 1400 SE Ankeny Portland, OR. Childcare is available by RSVP for children ages 0-5 years old. If you'd like to arrange this, visit the Embrace Oregon Facebook page and send a private message with the number of children you're bringing and their ages.

As usual, this bunch of faith leaders is responding to the clear call that echoes (cries out!) from a number of Karen Spears Zacharias' blog posts and comments:   http://www.patheos.com/blogs/karenspearszacharias/

About time the church embraced the problem.

Meanwhile, when will we wake up to the other cries sailing past our ears? A couple of "screaming A's" that have come to our fragmented attention spans here lately:

1) Suicides. Not just soldiers but across the population. Numbers are up.

2) Sexual assault and harrassment in the military. 3K+ reported annually. Estimates of 20K+ occurring annually. It suggests to me far more than a military culture problem. It suggests to me a raw material problem.

3) Brothers arrested in New Orleans in connection with shooting 19 people at a Mother's Day parade. Gang members. How macho is shooting into a crowd of women and children--that are your NEIGHBORS?  Young man in Portland who survived a gang shooting refuses to testify as a witness. Rather spend a month in jail on contempt of court charges than press charges against his would-be killers... People wanted him dead, but now that he's not, he's afraid to speak up for fear that... people will want him dead?

We seem to be drowning in numbers of people--especially men--who have no clue, NO clue, how to answer this question: What the heck am I for on this earth?

What 4?  Without an answer, any person is a lost cause. 

Father, help us answer that question.  Amen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cleveland, USA

"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us...  I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."  John 17:20-21a, 26  NRSV

Jesus prayed.  For us.  Was it effective?  Was He praying for the girls in Cleveland?  Or not?  One?  What is that? 

Discussions of divine prayer always seem to end in human dilemmas and conundrums--because that's all we know. According to the best theology that two millennia of Christian tradition have produced, I am a human being "conceived and born in sin" and condemned equally by sins of commission and sins of omission.

The sovereign God who allows, tolerates, or permits sin and grievous evil would seem to be as equally implicated, then, as I am when called to account for my sins of omission. How can God come away clean while I am on the hook when, after all, the cards were stacked against me before I was ever born? Who was it again that was "conceived and born in sin?" Seems like God could end the whole sin issue rather quickly by simply making no more of us.

Thus we can drive ourselves in vortices by attempting logical, finite answers to infinite questions in turf that is not ours. In reply to my own musings above, maybe God's got another plan that makes no sense through our backward view of the lens. I think so.
So I like to ask questions I cannot answer, stack 'em up before God. I'm not alone. Rob Bell's stunning work in the video "Open" is about the best piece on prayer I've seen in my 6+ decades of life. Just because we can't get exhaustive answers, we have no excuse to stop asking better and harder questions--or to stop living.

Meanwhile, I can fret about what makes national news. Here locally, an equally tragic story leaked a few drops in the AM's paper. A man 33 was shot to death at 2:32 AM outside a nude bar. Argument over a woman...

The deceased had, in his short life, "fathered" five children, according to the paper. Had a bit part in their creation I would say. Fathering them, not so much, I'd bet. Who is fathering them now, and who ever will? While we puzzle over the senselessness of questions surrounding Cleveland, alarm bells are sounding in every community and neighborhood where we live.

Five children conceived and born in sin. Like me. Children. Like their father once was.

How many more? there's a question...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

You Can't Pray A Lie

Recently, my friend Karen Zacharias asked her readers what adventures of goodness we had been on lately?  Avdenture of goodness...?

Well, some may not see it so; but it came during the prayer time at Operation Nightwatch worship on Sunday. We, of course, had the people of Boston, the runners and families, the community of West, Texas on our list. Our soldiers and their families. Then, someone led by the Spirit of God piped up and said we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his family. We did.

After catching our spiritual breath over the shock of that, the still, small voice of grace finally leads us to ask, "Why would we not?" Indeed. A few seconds later, someone else asked that we pray for the President and his family and advisors. Indeed, why would we not? And just a thought... with the approval of Congress at an all time low, why would we not be praying for them? Instead of complaining.

It was Mark Twain who perhaps gave the advice on prayer that to me ranks only a short step below the Lord's Prayer itself. It's actually a chapter title from Huckleberry Finn: You Can't Pray a Lie. Praying for wounded, grieving people comes naturally. Praying for those who cause such things is hard. Because it can't be a lie. But the gospel we had just shared from John 10 is about the voice of the Shepherd who calls together a disparate bunch of sheep who would otherwise never hang together. Whose voice do we hear? Whose voice did the Tsarnaev brothers hear? What voice could they no longer hear? Who are our shepherds?

Good prayer doesn't come easily. It comes hard. I'm thankful for the homeless voice who led us to that hard spot of necessary prayer. An adventure of goodness, you might say. No lie.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hearing Voices

The Lord be with you!

On Monday, my daughter in California asked that we pray at Operation Nightwatch Bible study (Tuesday evenings) and worship for the tragedy of Boston. She's a runner, planning to be in PDX next month for only a half marathon this time. I told her, "We pray at Operation Nightwatch every time there is good news and heartbreaking news." We pray.

Been thinking again about the sheep metaphor from John 10, as I do whenever the image comes up. Perhaps 15 years ago, a friend brought me a news item from the Capitol Press, an agriculture newspaper published in Salem. A local Jewish man, Dan Florea, had contracted with an area farmer to raise a flock of "Jacob sheep", direct genetic descendants of the sheep tended in Palestine 2K years ago. They were being raised as a source of the ram's horn, shofar, for the call to worship.

Eye opening, this sheep story. Little buggers are only half the carcass weight of modern breeds. Anything but dumb white cotton balls. Brown, white, black, tan, blotchy, spotty, speckled. All different. Rams have huge horns. Even mature ewes do. But mostly, Florea's description of their personality is what struck me. Strong-willed, stubborn, fiercely independent. Pretty well capable of taking care of themselves in the wilderness alone, thank you very much. They bear about as much resemblance to modern day sheep--and our understanding of them--as wolves and coyotes do to lapdogs.
Jacob sheep would never submit to being herded by a sheepdog. In fact, the only way they could ever be turned into a flock or community of any kind was by learning as young lambs to identify the voice calls, the songs, of their shepherd who led them out in the AM to pasture. That's why sheep of several flocks could all be gathered into a single shelter overnight and separate themselves out as their shepherds called and sang to them in the morning. And of course the shepherd knew his own. No two looked alike!

Jacob sheep. Not at all unlike congregations. Not at all unlike the human community that finds itself in the wilderness of chaos, war and strife. Bombings. Shootings. Bickering over everything and going nowhere... 
What voices do the perpetrators hear? What voice can they no longer hear? What voice do they need to hear? What voice do our leaders and caregivers hear? Who are our shepherds?

Blessings in being that voice!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Whodunnit? Why?



The list of enemies without is nearly endless, the default list we go to when asking why.

The list of enemies within is more problematic, much more difficult for us to see and confront.

Discipline yourselves, keep alert.  Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in your faith...  1 Peter 5:8-9  NRSV

Peter uses the metaphor of the lion only because he didn't know the metaphor of the booby trap, the Bouncing Betty mine, the IED, the sniper, the Stealth fighter, the Predator drone and the Hellfire missile, or the backpack pressure cooker.

At least a lion roars and breathes. The things that lurk inside us are quiet. The first thing they go for is the window shades, the curtains, the blinds. If these can be drawn around our minds and our hearts isolating us from our common humanity, we can be led into anything. We can be walking in the broadest daylight with 20/20 corneas and retinas and yet be stone-cold blind, enveloped in darkness. Let us pray for light and the ability to see.

Over a century ago, Black Elk prayed a good prayer:

"Grandfather (Tunkashila), Great Mysterious One (Wakan Tanka), You have been always; and before You, nothing has been. The star nations all over the universe are yours, and yours are the grasses of the earth. There is nothing to pray to but You. Day in, day out, You are the life of things. Grandfather, all over the world the faces of living ones are alike. In tenderness, they have come up out of the ground. Look upon your children with children in their arms that they may face the winds and walk the Good Road to the Day of Quiet. Sweeten our hearts, and fill us with light. Give us the strength to understand and the eyes to see. Help us, for without You, we are nothing. Hetchetu aloh (this is true)."


Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk, "Joseph Black Elk" after his baptism) was truly a seer whose words we do well to ponder. One of the most sacred spaces I have ever visited is the little Lakota prayer garden built outside the little Neihardt Museum in tiny Bancroft, Nebraska. It was there that newspaper editor, poet and author, John G. Neihardt, wrote of Black Elk's life and the end of "Sioux" culture, after visiting Black Elk whose life spanned from the Civil War to the candidacy of Dwight Eisenhower. He was nearly blind, but certainly able to see. The composite prayer above written by Neihardt is basically a summary of how Black Elk saw himself, life, the Creator, creation and humankind. It's a timeless creed for life that I know by heart and say frequently to remind myself.

Monday, March 18, 2013

American Idyll

In the small apartment building where my wife and I lived in Yalova, Turkey from 1971-73, there was a crack in the plaster above one doorway. The cracked plaster had appeared after a small earth tremor in this very seismically active area. Early one summer morning as we were awakening, the bed shook a bit. We looked up to see the ceiling light fixtures, suspended only by their cords, swinging gently. After several seconds they stopped. Thankfully. We are alive today because that gentle tremor was just that, not the huge shock that destroyed the entire town in 1999.

How we wept when the day came in 1973 to leave this small apartment that had been the only home we had ever known as a young married couple. I would not trade our humble beginnings there for anything. For all around us was a seaside town that supplied everything we needed for life. There were little corner stores and neighborhood bread bakeries on nearly every block. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Hardware stores. Paint stores. Lumber dealers. Flower shop. Butcher shops. Car repair. Ceramic tile manufacturing. Restaurants. Appliances, housewares. All there. Women wore head scarves and more traditional attire--OR current fashion with their hair down and skirts above the knee. Even blue jeans. And five times a day the call to prayer.

Best thing of all was what people did on summer evenings before television changed even this part of the world: whole families went out for evening strolls. Mom, Dad and the kids--children walking holding their hands, infants and toddlers in strollers. Talking, greeting neighbors. Eye contact. Fresh air, exercise. Family. Music at outdoor cafes and restaurants along the sea wall. Doors to apartments not only unlocked but even left wide open when people went out to shop or stroll.

Nobody looking at glowing displays in their hands. 40 years ago but within living memory. Food, clothing, shelter, basic health care and work that provides these things, or community that does. None of the other "stuff" is really of value unless there is community. Too much stuff, which isn't really all that much, comes at a very high price: our souls.

It wasn't America, yet it was far more like the America that we were--but no longer are--than we might care to admit.

What else do we have in common with the rest of the world that we seem to have lost in pursuit of American exceptionalism?  Has the thought ever occurred to us?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Farming With Jesus

Ever since Tabitha Schulke's story ran in Thursday's Oregonian,

 I've been thinking about her and the questions posed by today's text from Luke 13. In Jesus' own day, the default questions were:

1) Why did this happen?

2) Who is to blame?

3) What is this all for?

4) When will the bad people finally get what's coming to 'em?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

But that's really a stupid question. Why do bad things happen at all? To anyone? But then, we can ask those questions 'til we are blue in the face. And I can ask another "w" question: Where do all of those other questions get us in the first place? Nowhere. Wrong questions. Wrong letter of the alpahbet.

Instead of "w" for why, I like "h" for how. Now that life is this way, whatever way it is, HOW do we live with this, whatever "it" is? Tabitha Schulke and her mother could certainly waste their entire lives asking why this gorgeous, loving, 18-year-old got some lethal infection that took her legs in order to save her live. But because there is something else in Tabitha's heart and soul, I predict they don't. I predict they ask the question, "How do we live with this?" And then they proceed to do so: live with it.

After questions about human disasters and loss of life, Jesus told a story in Luke 13 about a barren fig tree. And a vineyard owner who wants the barren tree taken out. Now. But there's a hopelessly optimistic gardener who has some sort of miracle grow fertilizer: manure.

Until this week, I've heard that story putting God in the place of the landowner. And Jesus in the place of the gardener... Which means that Jesus' whole purpose is protecting us from the God who wants us out of the picture--and who could fire the gardener at any time and finally carry out three-strikes justice. So much for Jesus' revealing the heart of steadfast love... Or...

Maybe the story works better if the "vineyard owner" equals the way much of the world works: Three strikes, you're out. You've had your chance. Time's up. No hope, no forgiveness, no future. Buzz off!

So maybe we could see God as the crafty gardener who has a sly smile on his face and says, "I got a plan. I got this miracle-grow stuff. I don't need three years, just one. I'll bet the whole farm, the entire future on my "fertilizer", because I know that all it needs is just one chance to work. Just one."

Interesting. Cause that makes Jesus Messiah the manure, doesn't it? The natural, organic, life-giving substance that the gardener (God) has been willing to stake everything on, you and me included.

"For He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin:  that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."   2 Cor. 5:21 KJV. 

That's some high quality manure. Gotta love that divine nitrogen cycle. 

Back up to Luke 13.  After the fig tree parable, Jesus is met by a woman who has been beset by a crippling condition that has kept her hunched over and contorted for 18 years, same span as Tabitha Schulke's entire life to date.   Then, instead of going down every rat and rabbit hole with questions of why and who's to blame, who's at fault, Jesus does something with that fertilizer of steadfast love and compassion.

"Woman, you are set free from your ailment,"  Jesus says according to Luke 13.  Nice.  She straightens up.  Fixed.  Cured.  Fairytale world of the Bible. 

But that was then and this is now...  Does that kind of miracle ever happen today?  I think so...

Tabitha Schulke will never wake up some morning and find her amputated legs and feet restored. But she, like the woman Jesus healed on the Sabbath, has been freed of her ailment. She is not stuck in the death spiral of asking why. She and her Mom are busy answering the question "how". The fertilizer of Christ has been spread on their hearts.

My friend Karen whose father was KIA in Vietnam in 1966 when she was nine will never look across the room and see her father standing there alive.  Not until the next life, anyway.  Karen, along with her sibs, has lived with the "ailment" of his death nearly all of her life.  In pain, denial, anguish and confusion to be sure, her life has taken turns and been transformed into a life of compassion, understanding, healing, comfort and hope for so many people who have also suffered great loss.  Gold star wives, parents, children, siblings.  Communities and households shattered by the horrible death of battered children.  Parents who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Countless readers around the globe.    

There's a common ingredient here:  the miracle growing stuff of the parable.  Tabitha's life and story are yet to be written, mostly.  Yet I predict that her loss becomes a source of life and grace according to a script none of us could have written.  A miraculous product exists:  grace around the roots of our barren fig trees.    

A wily gardener knew what he was doing back when.  Still does.   

Jesus called on his hearers to repent, to turn around to see the kingdom of God right before them, right beside them, right behind them.  He calls them to see life where others see only death; to see a way forward where others see only dead ends.

Can you smell the fresh fragrance? Life, I tell ya. Life. Happy farming with Jesus!

There is a way to live with this, whatever "it" is. Fertilizer's guaranteed. Amen.

Pastor Roger