Friday, July 29, 2005

A profound admission of defeat: Antiochian Church reportedly withdraws from NCC

If the below report is indeed the case, it is a sad day for the Orthodox. It represents a massive failure of Fr. Florovsky's vision of an engaged Orthodoxy, a vibrant Orthodox Church serving as salt and light within the ecumenical movement, encouraging its better aims and curbing its less desirable tendencies. It is a profound admission of defeat. The rationales that are offered are paltry and sloganistic, lacking theological substance. "General liberalism?" News flash: NCC has had liberal leanings since its inception in the 1950's. The Bob Edgar incident referenced by the author happened half a decade ago. What has changed? Why now?

This is a victory for no one. It looks to me like the beginning of a very long retreat.

Breaking News: Orthodox Leave NCC
Dearborn, Michigan. July 28, 2005.

This afternoon the General Convention of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America voted overwhelmingly to leave the National Council of Churches of Christ. The General Convention is holding its annual meeting this week in Dearborn, Michigan.The action was not a temporary "suspension" of membership, but a formal withdrawal from the NCC. The clergy unanimously approved the withdrawal, followed by a unanimous vote of the lay delegates supporting the move. An announcement of the final vote was met with thunderous applause by the Convention.

Reasons given for the withdrawal include the general liberalism of the NCC, whose General Secretary, Bob Edgar, withdrew his signature from a statement defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. Metropolitan PHILIP, head of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, was reportedly outspoken in calling for the church to withdraw from the NCC, stating that the relationship had proven fruitless.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rules of Non-Parliamentary Procedure

For The Orderly Conduct of Orthodox Parish Meetings

So that all Greek/Russian/Antiochian/Serbian/(insert your ethnicity here) Parish Meetings may be conducted in an orderly manner, with due respect for propriety and dignity, the following rules are hereby established by universal consent (with the majority dissenting):

  1. Point of Personal Outrage: At any time during a meeting when a participant becomes extremely upset, he or she shall have the right to interrupt any other speaker, will not be required to wait for recognition from the Chair, and has the obligation to speak at a volume considerably higher than required for normal Conversation.
  2. Point of Irrelevant Interjection: Irrespective of the motion on the floor, the participant shall have the right to monopolize the meeting for not more than five minutes as he or she discourses on a point the relevance of which escapes all other participants.
  3. Point of Personal Attack: In response to a point raised by another speaker, the participant shall have the right to reply by launching a personal attack. At no time shall the point itself be addressed.
  4. Point of Ethnic Purity: The participant shall of the right to impugn the ethnic identity of any other participant, alleging that he or she or their families have not maintained adequate “Greek/Russian/Arabic/whatever-ness”.
  5. Point of Contempt: The Participant shall have the right to grunt, throw papers down on the table, shake his or her head vigorously, or otherwise demonstrate contempt for the proceedings.
  6. Point of Harassment: The participant shall have the right to introduce irrelevant motions for the sole purpose of delaying the meeting. It is only permissible to resort to a point of harassment when the outcome of the vote is obvious.
  7. Point of Redundant Information: This is not to be confused with the more familiar “point of information”. Whereas a point of information is a request for information from the chair, a point of redundant information entitles the participant to tell those in the meeting something they already know.
  8. Point of Redundancy: This is a motion that entitles the participant to make a point made by another participant no more than five speakers earlier.
  9. Point of Pious Posturing: This entitles the participant to make reference to any item in the Bible or Orthodox Teaching that allegedly supports his or her point of view. A correct quotation, however, immediately disqualifies the point.
  10. Point of Grudge: Entitles the participant to raise an issue debated by the organization not less than five years earlier, for which the participant has not yet forgiven those involved.

(adapted from "Chioros' Rules of Non-Parliamentary Procedure for Meetings of Greek Organizations," by Michael Chioros)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

No one else

Psalm 22
Journal entry dated March 15, 2005

"Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else will help me."

This psalm is a cry of anguish and abandonment. In the line "no one else will help me," we hear an echo of the words of the paralytic, άνθρωπον ούκ έχω, "I have no one." In desperation the psalmist is pleading, on behalf of all the forsaken of the world, that God will not abandon him as well.

"No one else will help me" is a statement precariously balanced between hope and despair. While other translations simply read "no one," "no one else" is a kind of breathless anticipation, the first part of a question that ends, "will you?" It is a prayer of not-yet-complete abandonment, of not-quite hopelessness.

"Someone else will help you;" this is, more often than not, our response to those who have been abandoned like the psalmist. Someone else will do it. It is someone else's job, someone else's responsibility. We create this experience of isolation every time we say "someone else." And we begin the creation of a new world, a better world, when we stop saying "someone else," and start saying "I".

Sunday, July 24, 2005

When I look at you, I see me

This morning, I was meditating on Psalm 122, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Historically, this is a prayer that God should grant peace and prosperity within the walls of Jerusalem, but not outside them, or at least not outside the borders of Israel. Interesting to note that Israel never had any allies among the surrounding nation; it was a nation surrounded by hostile forces, hemmed in on every side. Jerusalem enjoys security in inverse proportion to that of other nations, to the extent that their walls lie breached and in ruins and their people live in fear and insecurity.

Eschatologically speaking, however, Jerusalem represents a kind of "everycity," Mother Sion, the dwelling place of all nations, where everyone is assured of a place. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem within this eschatological vision, then, means to seek the same for every city as for Jerusalem: peace and prosperity and blessing and happpiness. The psalmist prays for the peace of Jerusalem "for the sake of my relatives and friends," and this involves the recognition that every human being is actually my relative and potentially my friend.

In a sense, what we are talking about here is two competing visions of prosperity. The first is a prosperity that comes at the expense of others: others have to fail so that I can succeed. The other vision says that no one will live in peace and security until everyone does, that anything that lowers the dignity of another person degrades me as well, that my neighbor's success is my success. I would like to claim to be a believer in the second version, but which is truer to the way I actually live? Don't I often secretly gloat at the misfortune of others, cherishing the notion that this proves that I deserve the spoils of victory, that I am not a loser in the game of life?

After this, I caught the train downtown and then walked the rest of the way to church. While I was approaching the Green Zone (the fenced courtyard around my parish), somebody whistled at me. I looked over across the used car lot to see someone waving at me. It was Hector. So I went over to say hi.

Hector is an alcoholic living on the streets in this neighborhood. I first met Hector as I was passing by the entrance to a little Protestant church on my way to church a few months ago. Hector was standing outside, and started trying to get me born again in good evangelical fashion. Maybe this was a fit of the religious fervor that sometimes goes with bouts of sobriety. I listened politely for a minute, then pointed out it was tough for me to buy his concern for my eternal soul when he hadn't bothered to ask my name. So we made our introductions. I saw him again after bible study one night a few weeks later, drunk and slurring his speech, lapsing frequently into Spanish. I gave him some money for bus fare to get someplace I can't remember, and we talked about his struggle with alcoholism and homelessness. I hadn't seen him since.

Hector was glad to see me. We talked for a minute about how things were going. He told me he has really been trying to get God into his life. Then he looked me up and down (I was wearing a cassock at the time) and said, "You know, I used to be a seminarian. I studied for five years. I needed to finish seven in order to get ordained, but then I started drinking. When I look at you, I see me. I see what I might have been."

I thought about what Hector said for a long time after I said goodbye and walked into the church. The question is, when I look at Hector, do I see myself? Am I that honest? A few different turns, a couple of additional setbacks, and my life could have been very different. I could have been an alcoholic on the streets. I could still be one. I know enough people like Hector to have disabused myself of the notion that there is some great moral chasm between him and me. The line between those who "make it" and those who are ground up in the machine is ever so fine. Sometimes it all just seems random.

If I was Hector, and he was me, what would he say to me? Would he invite me into church? Or would he worry about upsetting the old ladies who don't like seeing strange faces, particularly those with bloodshot eyes? Would he worry about inviting me, like I was worrying about inviting him?

In his beautiful essay "Call Me by my True Names," Zen master Thich Naht Hahn writes:

In Plum Village in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean; only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia.

There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate.

She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself. When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I am now the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I cannot condemn myself so easily. In my meditation, I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

"When I look at you, I see me. I see what I might have been."

I invited Hector to come to Liturgy, which started in about an hour, or at least to stop by for coffee hour afterwards. He said he would. Then he embraced me, and I went in.

But I didn't see him in church, or afterwards.

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second to be a bud on a spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, in order to fear and to hope, the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river, and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond, and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands, and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people, dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life. My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.

--Thich Naht Hanh

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Lord's triumph

Psalm 21
Journal entry dated March 14, 2005 (Clean Monday)

"Rejoice, Lord, in your triumph!"

What does the Lord's triumph look like? This psalm begins and ends with a reference to the triumph of the Lord. The psalmist envisions this triumph as a great slaughter of the enemies of the king, to the point of ethnic cleansing: "their race you wipe from the face of the earth." For centuries, millenia actually, the Lord's triumph has been regarded as a victory for "our" side, as if God were merely some provincial deity, as the psalmist consider God to be. Can we re-envision the triumph of God as a universal human triumph? As a triumph of justice over injustice, compassion over cruelty, goodness over evil? Can we cease to understand the triumph of God in narrow, national terms, and regard it instead as a victory for the human community?

Easier said than done. Owning up to this psalm means admitting that there is something within me that would gladly point bows in the faces of those who endanger my way of life or standard of living. The first step towards the triumph of God is acknowledging this capacity.

If the Lord's triumph were to occur today, if the values of God's kingdom were to universally prevail, would I be among those who rejoice, or those who mourn and weep?

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep (Luke 6:21).

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Tainted charity

I didn't see this coming.

Today, when I walked past the library at the corner where I live, Larry was lying passed out on the grass. "Boxcar Larry," they call him around here, or "Wolfman," for his hairy face. Sometimes, Larry walks around talking to himself, gesticulating wildly. Other times, he can be fairly lucid. Somebody in our neighborhood has a really sick sense of humor: every time Larry passes out on the library lawn, this person pulls the hose over from the library, leaves it next to him, then turns it on and runs. Larry wakes up soaked.

Some welcome wagon. "Welcome to the neighborhood. Now get the hell out."

I stopped for a minute to talk to Milton, sitting in his wheelchair outside the library, and while we were talking, Larry woke up, soaked, the hose lying next to him. He coughed for a long time, then lay back down in the wet grass. I went over to ask him if he was OK. He asked if I had any money, and I said no, and then he asked if I had some food. I said I'd go up to my apartment and see what was cooking.

The she-guerilla was making heirloom tomato spaghetti. Mmm, mmm.

I took some out to Larry, and we got to talking. He's very intelligent, studied history in college. We talked about the war in Iraq. He said he thinks Tony Blair was behind the bombings in London. I said I didn't really think so, but there is no question he will benefit in terms of political capital. We got to talking whether Alex Haley's biography of Malcolm X or Spike Lee's movie was the more accurate portrayal of his life.

Then things went south. In a big way.

I asked about Larry's cough, and he told me that he has an infection and needs to get a prescription filled for penicillin; he has prescription waiting at a drugstore downtown. He's on some kind of assistance program, so the drugs only cost a five-dollar copayment. I told him I didn't have any money to give him, but that maybe we could go to the drugstore across the street (another franchise in the same chain) and try to get the prescription transferred, and I'd buy it with my credit card.

Larry kind of stiffened. He said that if I didn't trust him with the money, I should just come right out and say so. He told me that the only thing a homeless person really has is independence. I started explaining again that I didn't have any cash, but he cut me off.

"You know, I really don't think I like this conversation. I don't like it at all. I don't need your charity. This is all about you trying to feel better about yourself, isn't it? I probably shouldn't be eating this food. I shouldn't eat it at all. It's contaminated. Tainted with your, your... charity."

And he threw the spaghetti, the bread, the fruit, the coffee, all of it into the street. He was really agitated at this point. Told me to get away from him, jumped up, grabbed the sweatshirt he had been lying on, swung it around violently, narrowly missing my face, and stalked away, yelling "It's all a game to you isn't it? Just a big game!"

Milton wheeled over and started yelling at him to calm down, but Larry continued past him up the street, screaming at the top of his lungs. Meanwhile, the birds swooped in and started eating up the spaghetti. So it didn't go to waste, at least. I suppose, in the long run, nothing ever does.

Milton came back and apologized for Larry. "He should show some respect," he said. I pondered that for a minute, and all I could think of to say was, "Nobody respects him, so why should he respect anybody?"

Now I am sitting here, still working it over. The clinical part of my brain says that Larry is most likely displaying the symptoms of mental illness. He has many of the classic signs of paranoid schizophrenia: "flat" aspect, neglect of personal hygiene, speaking to unseen personages, suspicion that other people are out to get him.

But there is another side of this. Part of me knows that Larry nailed me, and that's why I'm still stuck on it. The reality is that there is a selfish motivation that underlies all my seeming altruism: the desire to be in control. This is the eternal problem with the charity model: rather than remedying the disparity of power between giver and receiver, it actually reinforces it. What does it say about me that I gravitate to relationships with people who are down and out, and have all my life? That I like being powerful? That I'm insecure and need to feel in control? In my relationships with "the poor," I hold all the power. I can walk out of the relationship at any time, and lose absolutely nothing. But those on the other side have much more to lose. So they are careful not to argue with me, cheerfully agreeing with almost anything I say. And they are careful to show their gratitude. If I happen to be feeling good that day, I take time to share, to listen, to care. If I'm feeling bad, I stay home. They have to take what they can get, when I want to give it.

Larry was right. It is a game for me, and I hold all the cards.

So now I am trying to sit with this lesson, trying to hear deeply what Larry said to me today.

I am sitting here with the taste of tainted charity in my mouth.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Rejected Stones

Every human society
Is an unsteady stone structure
Built from fewer stones
Than are actually at hand

The landscape outside its walls
Is littered with rejected stones
Wrong shape, wrong size, wrong color
Deemed expendable by the architects

There is Mark, the would-be writer
Who instead uses his words
To hustle passers-by
For his daily bread

And Jeannie, the beautiful artist
Young, vivacious, talented
Struck with schizophrenia
At the age of twenty-eight

And Buck, the wounded veteran
Disabled and out of work
Hero for a day
Then forgotten for a lifetime

And Jesus, the great Reject
Whose design for a kingdom
Never did fit in
With the plans of the architects

The day that the Lord has made
Is a day of salvation
Which is to say a day of salvage
A day of reclamation

Of reintegrating these stones
Not from some misguided charity
But out of the true recognition
That they are indispensible

Misplaced cornerstones
Essential if we are to construct
The temple of living stones
The community designed by God

But they lie unnoticed and invisible
Because they are unwelcomed
For it is as Jesus said
You will not see me until you say

Blessed is the one who comes
In the name of the Lord.

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Psalm 118

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tammy's redemption

The other day, I was saying prayers for the departed, and Tammy popped into my mind. I hadn't thought about Tammy for a long, long time.

I first met Tammy at the food outreach we used to have when I lived out in the country. We started out hauling USDA surplus commodities up to the mountains and handing them out. Just about anybody can do this through the FEMA program; just contact your local food bank. With some volunteers, we would sort and bag the commodities and give them to folks in the mountains, lots of senior citizens living on social security, people on disability, pregnant teenagers living in trailers, people who weren't making it in the city. At first people would just come and take their two or three bags of groceries, say thanks, and leave. Then a soup kitchen in the city offered to make us a free meal to serve with the food. And a local bakery started giving us fresh-baked bread. My wife arranged to get us some organic produce donated through the local CSA. After that, people came and stayed awhile, and talked, and told us their stories.

Tammy was already quite bad off when we met her. She was using a walker, hobbling along very slowly, gasping for breath just from the short walk across the parking lot, looking pale and slightly sallow. She was only about fifty, but she looked twenty years older. Most of her teeth were gone. Life looked like it had been real hard on Tammy.

As we got to know her, she started to tell us her story. About life with her first husband, who used to beat her up pretty bad. And about the alcohol. How she and her husband would drive to a bar and leave the kids asleep in the van while they stayed up drinking until the wee hours of the morning, then drove home drunk. How her oldest son had disowned her after a childhood of alcoholism and neglect.

Now she had a new husband, who didn't beat her, and she had stopped drinking. Together they had a son who was only about eight. But Tammy's health was deteriorating. She had diabetes, and cirrhosis of the liver, and hepatitis, and other health problems. Tammy was not long for the world, and she looked it.

One day, out of the clear blue, she asked if she could come to church with us. We hadn't made a big deal about God or church at the food distribution, figuring it was better, as St. Francis once said, to "preach the Gospel, and if absolutely necessary, use words." A few people asked us now and again about our church, and some even said they would come, but no one ever did.

Not until Tammy.

She came to Church that Sunday, and it was hard to see her. She had put on her very best dress, and garish makeup. To be honest with you, she looked just awful. And yet there was something touching and deeply vulnerable about her as well, so serious in her dress-up clothes, like a child intent on acting out her part in a grown-up ceremony, like a flower girl in a wedding dropping every petal with care. She took a Liturgy book and tried to follow, watching other people to see when to stand up and sit down. She was trying so hard to get this right.

At the end of the Liturgy, we gave her some of the blessed bread, and anointed her with oil from one of the oil lamps. We invited her to come have breakfast with us.

On Thursday of that week, I was traveling in Mexico after visiting St. Innocent Orphanage, a ministry of Project Mexico. I hadn't had cell phone reception for days, but we passed near the border at one point, and the phone beeped that I had a message. Tammy was in the hospital.

By the end of that day, she was dead.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about redemption, in which I said, "the search for redemption is an ache, a yearning for a pathway out of a world in which it seems there are no good choices." I think this is what Tammy came to church seeking that day: redemption. Redemption and reconciliation. After a life that had seen more than its share of bad choices, she was determined to get this one thing right. I think she knew it was her last chance.

I thought about Tammy for a minute, and said a prayer for her. A prayer that she had found what she was looking for.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Psalm 20
Journal entry dated March 13, 2005

"Some rely on horses, others on chariots, but we count on the name of the Lord our God."

Some rely on tanks, others on machine guns; some rely on bombs, others on missiles; some rely on the weapons and implements of war, but we count on the name of the Lord our God.

To the psalmist, confidence in the name of the Lord does not mean divesting oneself of the weapons of war, but simply not placing one's faith in them. There is an exuberant pre-exilic confidence about this psalms, a kind of unexamined and as-yet-untested assurance that God will always send help from Sion, that God's armies will always triumph.

Some rely on nuclear weapons, others on missile defense systems, but we...

...what do we rely on?

Do we have the faith to make ourselves defenseless, to disarm ourselves even in the face of imminent threat?

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Psalm 19
Journal entry dated March 11, 2005

"Above all, free your servant from presumption."

"Above all;" this is a strong statement, as much as to say that presumption is the worst kind of sin. What is presumption? An arrogant assumption of understanding. We are presumptuous when we jump to conclusions about situations or people, when we assume that others' intentions or motivations are transparent to us. Presumption is blindness that says, "I see." Presumption begins with the inability to fully understand ourselves, carries over into our inability to understand others, and arrives at our inability to understand God.

The opposite of presumption is listening. Presumption is summary judgment--it is the Sanhedrin saying, "we have no need to hear any more," and rendering its verdict: "guilty." Presumption is a period at the end of a statement, while humility is a question mark at the end of a query: "I'm not sure I understood that; could you tell me more?"

To be freed from presumption is to escape the prison of narrow-mindedness (or as the Greeks say, stenopsychia, "narrow-souledness") in order to enter into the ever-expanding universe of inquiry and curiosity, to embark on a journey of discovery.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Psalm 111
Journal entry dated July 8, 2005

"He has sent redemption to his people."

In this psalm, redemption is connected to God's works, including that of giving to his people "the lands of other nations." Redemption for one group often looks like destruction and annihilation for another. A redemption that means new hope, new possibility for one people means ethnic cleansing, reservations, refugee camps, and displacement for another. And these uprooted peoples will eventually seek their own redemption. War is a conflict of opposing redemptions.

Although we claim to believe in a universal God, we are not really very different from the worldview of the psalms, where God is more or less a national deity and redemption means victory for our side, redemption for "us not them." Is it possible for us to envision a redemption more universal in scope, a redemption from war and violence rather than through them? In what ways does the redemption I am pursuing--my personal quest for security, stability, and happiness--create insecurity, instability, and suffering for others?

The search for redemption is an ache, a yearning for a pathway out of a world in which it seems there are no good choices, in which we cannot choose food and clean water enough for everyone, and shelter and security for all. Any redemption that scatters human flesh across the streets of London or New York or Baghdad or Kabul is no redemption at all. It is a false path, leading back to where we started.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A wound in the earth

Psalm 18
Journal entry dated March 19, 2005

"I ground them fine as dust in the wind; I trampled them like mud in the streets."

Psalm 18 is a psalm of vengeance, unabashed in its glorification of violent retribution. It is the song of triumph of the king who has killed his foes and brought nations into subjection.

How to pray this?

Somehow, I keep going back to the images of dust and mud. The image of earth. Dust and mud are both images of fruitless soil, earth that has been trampled until nothing grows there. When the rains come, the earth turns to mud and erodes away without the rootweb of vegetation to hold it. When the heat comes, it bakes dry and blows away. Dust and mud are images of erosion. They are images of a wound in the earth, of a place where nothing grows.

And the only way to heal this wound is to stop trampling on it, to change our paths, to change our way of walking.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Psalm 17
Journal entry dated March 9, 2005

"Show me your love, O savior of outcasts"

What is an outcast? A person who does not worship the gods of a particular age, or upon whom they do not smile. War, the state, capital, productivity, competition--anyone who rejects these gods, or anyone whom they reject, becomes an outcast. Outcasts are those whose life and story does not support the dominant retelling.

If God is the savior of outcasts, it means that God is seeking such people, bringing them together in order to create a new community, a new story.

Where are the outcasts in our churches? Have we created a welcoming space for them? Or do we spend our time aiming to please the well-adjusted middle and (reverent pause) upper-class people around whom we design our gala events and our imperial churches? If God is the savior of outcasts, will God save us? If we are not outcasts ourselves, can there be any reason other than the fact that we have not sufficiently challenged the values of a sinful and adulterous generation, that we pose no threat, that we are regarded as harmless?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Offerings of blood

Psalm 16
Journal entry dated March 8, 2005

"Never again will I make them offerings of blood"

In this psalm, the psalmist renounces the false gods of his age. What are the false gods of our age, to whom we make offerings of blood? There is, of course, the god of war, Mars, the blood-soaked planet, demanding ever more victims. There is the god of productivity, upon whose altar we sacrifice all those who cannot keep up, in the name of consumer demand. The god of competition is an especially bloodthirsty deity, to whose worship we train our children from an early age.

The gods of a particular age are cultural loci, representing the shared values of a society, the pillars upon which it is founded. To call these gods into question or renounce them altogether is a dangerous act, threatening the community with non-existence, and is therefore always punishable by banishment or death, as the early Christians were punished when they refused to go to war or swear allegiance to the state.

Who are the gods of this age, demanding their offerings of blood, whom we must renounce in order to join ourselves to the Lord?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

It's here!

People have been anxiously awaiting the next installment in the story of the magical adventures of this young boy. No, it's not Harry Potter, it's my son's story blog, which he just updated!

God's holy mountain

Psalm 15
Journal entry dated March 7, 2005

"Lord, who has the right to make his home in your tent, to dwell on your holy mountain?"

What does it mean to dwell on God's holy mountain? The mountain is an image of ascent. Like the Kingdom of God, the mountain of God represents a movement towards a better world. On God's holy moutain, human relations are undistorted by falsehood and slander, the basis of abusive and exploitative relationships. On God's holy mountain, no human being mistreats another. On God's holy mountain, the poor and needy are not oppressed by those who exploit their insecure position for their own gain. God's holy mountain is a shining image of a better world rising up before us from the plain--Sodom and Gomorrah, the "cities of the plain."

The image of God's holy moutain asks us the question whether we have the courage to speak the difficult truth rather than the convenient lie; whether we have the will to cease slandering and sabotaging others, and instead support and uphold their dignity; whether we have the compassion to extricate ourselves from exploitative relationships, to raise up the fallen so that we may look one another in the face as equals.

God's holy mountain is that part of the world that is straining towards heaven.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Back on the wagon

So tonight I tried to buy drugs.

Well, it's not what you think. See, our friend Sheri came over for dinner tonight. She's been sober now for almost three months, but she doesn't have any money; she's been denied welfare for two months in a row on technicalities. Mark, her partner who is in prison, sent his personal effects to our house in a big box with her name on it. Sheri told us that there should be some valium and klonopin tablets inside, which are worth two bucks apiece on the street. She wanted to open the box and get the pills, so she could sell them and get some money for smokes and morning coffee.

So I offered to buy them from her. Kind of a toilet amnesty, you might say.

But when we opened the box, we found no pills, just clothes and papers. So I guess I'm back on the wagon. I gave her some money anyway.

We had a nice dinner together. And at the end, we got talking about books we were reading, and E. mentioned Anne Lamott. Turns out Sheri grew up with Anne Lamott, went to school with her. Anne Lamott got clean and sober fifteen years ago, and now she writes books about the experience. Sheri is just getting cleaned up now.

Small world.