the mystery of ministry

The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

– Henri Nouwen

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mending wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:                                    5
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,           10
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.                                  15
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.                20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.                       25
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.            30
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down!” I could say “Elves” to him,                 35
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,                                40
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
– Robert Frost

lamentations

Friends.

Often we don’t know what to do with sorrow. Those who are Christians are sometimes taught (explicitly or implicitly) that because one of the fruit of the Spirt is JOY, that when we feel sadness, we just need to trust God more and try to cheer up. When joy feels impossible to us, our responses are often anger, cynicism or despair. Instead, the Bible proposes a response known as lament.

There is definitely tension between the call to joy and the embracing of lament, I would like to take time to remind you that the Bible is filled with examples of people who remain in their sorrow. From Job, to Moses, to the psalmists, to the prophets, to the apostles, and even Jesus. God welcomes us when we cry out to Him from the midst of our grief. He is not waiting for us to cheer up, but meets us in our pain. In fact, I believe He would rather receive our raw uncensored complaints, rather than have them directed toward someone else, or have our prayers somehow cushioned with spiritual sounding language.

Again, as a society and as Christians, this is not something we always do well. Today I came across this set of songs of Lamentations, and I would like share them with you with the hope that in whatever sorrow you may have today, you may find some words with which to help you cry out to the God who hears the groaning of His people and is faithful.

a reminder from my son

So Sam learned about the story of the Good Samaritan this week at pre-school, and he really liked it, so he’s been asking to read the story in his kids’ Bible. We were reading it again tonight as we were getting ready for bed, and so, as we’re praying in the dark our conversation goes something like this:

Me (praying):…and help us to show love and kindness to people who are hurting and need someone to be kind to them. Amen.

S: Dad, you forgot the important people who walked by.

Me: …oh, okay. And help us also to be kind to the people who don’t show kindness to others. Amen.

S: You forgot the people who were mean, and took all the money.

Me: And help us to be kind to the people who are mean and take all the money.

Now I don’t know if this is something they talked about at his school, or if he was just naming all the characters in the story, but in this brief interaction he reminded me a fundamental truth about God’s love and grace. It’s for the good guys and the bad guys. The robbers and thieves, the hypocrites and self-important, the wounded and beaten down, the oppressors and the oppressed, the kind and the caring.

Jesus shows love and compassion to a blind man, talks with him, and restores his sight, and then in the very next story, shows love and compassion to Zacchaeus, the wealthy, abusive, swindling tax collector. And he doesn’t demand that Zacchaeus reform his ways, give back all he has stolen before he invites himself into Zacchaeus’ home. It’s right away. (Luke 18.35-19.10).

Father, forgive us for the ways we disregard those with whom we disagree. Remind us that our enemies are not your enemies. May we show love to our neighbors, the hurting and mistreated, the indifferent who just walk by, and bandits who are mean and take all the money.

25 lessons 

These lessons come from Mark Kurlansky’s book, Nonviolence: 25 lessons from the history of a dangerous idea. I have a hard time believing all of these, but I believe #5 is particularly relevant for today. 

In a struggle for justice in any sphere, it’s important to distinguish nonviolence from pacifism. The latter seeks peace at all costs, while the former recognizes that the path to justice may involve confrontation and conflict, but that these things don’t require bloodshed (or at least that of your enemies…it might require your own). 

Finally, for those of us privileged enough to live separated from the reality of physical violence, it is important to recognize that there are all sorts of ways we can enact violence on others – particularly through coercion, manipulation, hateful speech, snide remarks, gossip, greed. To love our enemies means to love even the worst our civilization has to offer. 

  1. There is no proactive word for nonviolence.
  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.
  3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
  4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.
  5.  A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead.
  6.  Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.
  7.  A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.
  8.  People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
  9.  A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won.
  10.  The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power.
  11.  The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.
  12.  The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannot conceive of power without force.
  13.  It is often not the largest but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails.
  14.  All debate momentarily ends with an “enforced silence” once the first shots are fired.
  15.  A shooting war is not necessary to overthrow an established power but is used to consolidate the revolution itself.
  16.  Violence does not resolve. It always leads to more violence.
  17.  Warfare produces peace activists. A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists.
  18.  People motivated by fear do not act well.
  19.  While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal repression to rise up in a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolent resistance.
  20.  Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military.
  21.  Once you start the business of killing, you just get “deeper and deeper,” without limits.
  22.  Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation – which is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails.
  23.  Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
  24.  The miracle is that despite all of society’s promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values.
  25.  The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done.

(P. 183-184)

Long-term

Long-term

Encounter with the living God changes individuals, communities, and eventually the world. It is the eventually part of change that tempts us to abandon the way of the Lamb and take ethical shortcuts. We know that Jesus called his followers to put away the sword, to lay up treasure in heaven, and to love the enemy. But when terrorists strike, or when we fear for our security, the dominant culture socializes us to be “realistic.” We want short-term, surefire ways to alleviate fear and insecurity. But Christian eschatology takes a long-term view of change.

J. Nelson Kraybill
Apocalypse and Allegiance

*This was in my daily email from Toplology Magazine. Check them out. 

The Good Samaritan – November 2015 edition

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he said, “I sure would like to help you, but this is a dangerous road. There are robbers around. For all I know, you might be a robber yourself, and just pretending to be hurt.” So he too passed by on the other side, and the man eventually died of his wounds.