Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From the Writer's Almanac

This was today's poem from The Writer's Almanac. Enjoy.


by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it's something that
My mother told me

There's not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Letter to Non-Believers by Shane Claiborne

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quarry Walls

You should have seen the granite face,
the sixty-foot walls ash and gray.
I stood in the emptied chamber,
the heart
of so much land taken away -
taken as stones in chunks, to be pummeled and pounded,
burned into a chalky powder.
They took the earth from its place to make of it something useful.
They stripped the diverse and dense hills - the land of pine and birch and oak, the home of white-tail and vulture and finch.
They made of it a scraggly ruin of fallen stone.
Extracted except for piles at the base of the transgressed walls.
And for what?
To take the rock and return it not into the land, but upon it,
as roads,
as pavement,
and harshness.
So, I was not surprised
to see the weeping walls,
the water running from the cliffs and through the crevices,
crying upon the granite face,
frozen in places.
Transgression and harm.

My heart may have fallen prey to despair, but for the life I saw
in the walls and in the air,
in the geese and in the doe.
For even the marred land is still living,
the very tears streaming down the face and emptying into that quarry floor -
that was rejuvenation
God reclaiming
the Kingdom come,
in steady persistence,
in a way - thanks be to God -
deeper and more sustained than the violence
we visit upon the earth
in our days as grass and struggle.
We shall be overcome
when the river pours not only from granite
but from heaven
to earth's empty floor.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009


The following statement comes from The Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment and was published in May of 2008. The whole manifesto is worth reading, but I was particularly struck by the following passage which details the need for Evangelicals to be radically refashioned in their own life and witness. It conforms to my own beliefs and views regarding the Church and culture:

Our second major concern [as Evangelicals] is the reformation of our behavior. We affirm that to be Evangelical or to carry the name Evangelicals is not only to shape our faith and our lives according to the teaching and standards of the Way of Jesus, but to need to do so again and again. But if the Evangelical impulse is a radical, reforming, and innovative force, we acknowledge with sorrow a momentous irony today. We who time and again have stood for the renewal of tired forms, for the revival of dead churches, for the warming of cold hearts, for the reformation of corrupt practices and heretical beliefs, and for the reform of gross injustices in society, are ourselves in dire need of reformation and renewal today.

Reformers, we ourselves need to be reformed. Protestants, we are the ones against whom protest must be made.

We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior.

All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the church and for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial, diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of the surrounding world.

All too often we have set out high, clear statements of the authority of the Bible, but flouted them with lives and lifestyles that are shaped more by our own sinful preferences and by modern fashions and convenience.

All too often we have prided ourselves on our orthodoxy, but grown our churches through methods and techniques as worldly as the worldliest of Christian adaptations to passing expressions of the spirit of the age.

All too often we have failed to demonstrate the unity and harmony of the body of Christ, and fallen into factions defined by the accidents of history and sharpened by truth without love, rather than express the truth and grace of the Gospel.

All too often we have traced our roots to powerful movements of spiritual revival and reformation, but we ourselves are often atheists unawares, secularists in practice who live in a world without windows to the supernatural, and often carry on our Christian lives in a manner that has little operational need for God.

All too often we have attacked the evils and injustices of others, such as the killing of the unborn, as well as the heresies and apostasies of theological liberals whose views have developed into “another gospel,” while we have condoned our own sins, turned a blind eye to our own vices, and lived captive to forces such as materialism and consumerism in ways that contradict our faith.

All too often we have concentrated on great truths of the Bible, such as the cross of Jesus, but have failed to apply them to other biblical truths, such as creation. In the process we have impoverished ourselves, and supported a culture broadly careless about the stewardship of the earth and negligent of the arts and the creative centers of society.

All too often we have been seduced by the shaping power of the modern world, exchanging a costly grace for convenience, switching from genuine community to an embrace of individualism, softening theological authority down to personal preference, and giving up a clear grasp of truth and an exclusive allegiance to Jesus for a mess of mix-and-match attitudes that are syncretism by another name.

All too often we have disobeyed the great command to love the Lord our God with our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and have fallen into an unbecoming antiintellectualism that is a dire cultural handicap as well as a sin. In particular, some among us have betrayed the strong Christian tradition of a high view of science, epitomized in the very matrix of ideas that gave birth to modern science, and made themselves vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith. By doing so, we have unwittingly given comfort to the unbridled scientism and naturalism that are so rampant in our culture today.

All too often we have gloried in the racial and ethnic diversity of the church around the world, but remained content to be enclaves of separateness here at home.

All too often we have abandoned our Lord’s concern for those in the shadows, the twilight, and the deep darkness of the world, and become cheerleaders for those in power and the na├»ve sycophants of the powerful and the rich.

All too often we have tried to be relevant, but instead of creating “new wineskins for the new wine,” we have succumbed to the passing fashions of the moment and made noisy attacks on yesterday’s errors, such as modernism, while capitulating tamely to today’s, such as postmodernism.

We call humbly but clearly for a restoration of the Evangelical reforming principle, and therefore for deep reformation and renewal in all our Christian ways of life and thought.

We urge our fellow-Evangelicals to go beyond lip-service to Jesus and the Bible and restore these authorities to their supreme place in our thought and practice.
We call our communities to a discerning critique of the world and of our generation, so that we resist not only their obviously alien power but the subtle and seductive shaping of the more brilliant insights and techniques of modernity, remembering always that we are “against the world, for the world.”

We call all who follow Jesus to keep his commandment and love one another, to be true to our unity in him that underlies all lesser differences, and to practice first the reconciliation in the church that is so needed in the wider world. In a society divided by identity and gender politics, Christians must witness by their lives to the way their identity in Jesus transcends all such differences.

We call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life. Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman, we must follow the model of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness, by promoting reconciliation, encouraging ethical servant leadership, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation. We believe it is our calling to be good stewards
of all God has entrusted to our care so that it may be passed on to generations yet to be born.

We call for a more complete understanding of discipleship that applies faith with integrity to every calling and sphere of life, the secular as well as the spiritual, and the physical as well as the religious; and that thinks wider than politics in contributing to the arts, the sciences, the media, and the creation of culture in all its variety.

Above all, we remind ourselves that if we would recommend the Good News of Jesus to others, we must first be shaped by that Good News ourselves, and thus ourselves be Evangelicals and Evangelical.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Lot to Learn

I’m sitting in our living room, on the north wall, the one right below the trees Anna etched upon the wall, the one across from the wall where three boards from the old barn hang as art. The walls around me are sand yellow, or – rather – “graceful willow” according to the label on the gallon can. The floor is covered in shag carpet with the colors of a different type of sand, the sand of rocky beaches. It is as if this home rose out of the ground, which was our goal. We wanted the interior of this place to speak about the world outside.

What we did not plan for, though, is that there really is no barrier between the outside and inside of our home. Surprisingly, construction terms like “shell” and “insulation” apparently weren’t in use when homes were built in the late 1800’s. I mention that as a way to explain why we have recently killed six mice in three days through the old trick of peanut butter and snap-traps. Those are the most recent invaders. Earlier, it was the lady bugs. Before that, the wasp and flies had their run of the house.

We are doing our best to persist and stake a claim on this land.

A few feet away from me, Anna pulls a needle and thread through the red binding of a modern Christmas quilt. She plunges the metal into the cloth, than pulls it out like a hook from the sea, up towards the ceiling. On the back of the slipper sofa a roll of thread and a pair of Ginger scissors lay awaiting their next job. Slowly, I believe Anna and I are drifting backwards into a time of home economics.

We have no television in this home. There is no internet. Our lone portals into an outside world are as follows : a handheld radio we turn on in the morning occasionally to listen to NPR, Anna’s iPhone, Netflix, and two local newspapers that appear two days out of seven and present a macabre world of local news, celebrity gossip and farmer’s almanacs.

Actually, I lied about the internet. We use the iPhone for that purpose. But, it is internet in need of a technological enema. The cellular reception streams just enough information to keep us on the fringe of society. Anna consults some design blogs. I check sporting news on ESPN. Often I forget to check the weather, uncertain if my light fleece vest will be enough to get me through the day.

We have a few other indulgences. We eagerly await the arrival of a Netflix movie to our mailbox, connecting us to art and cinema in ways we could not otherwise unless we drove all the way to the north side of Indy.

Sometimes, though, that is precisely what we have to do – like the days we travel the fifty miles or so to the nearest Trader Joe’s, stocking up on necessities and luxury items, returning home like old farm families from the market.

The last time Anna went, she spent just over $230. We both were aghast. We admonished ourselves for the expense, but then we looked again at the five bags sitting in our kitchen, stuffed full of whole wheat flour, extra virgin olive oil, marinara, havarti and parmesan cheeses, full pound bars of milk chocolate with almonds, and several bottles of Honey Moon Viogner to stash for dinner guests (or, more likely, for those days when our children’s screams reverberate off the walls for far too long).

Forgive us our indulgences as we forgive yours.

But, really, the luxuries are not much. Consciously or by necessity, we have chosen to live a fairly meager existence these days. This farm home is just over a thousand square feet, which is neither large nor small. There is one bathroom, nicely redone, but nothing lavish. The wind howls through the old windows on cold nights like this one, just as it does through the wooden boards layered up the body of this old farmhouse.

I have about finished the painting of the exterior. Unfortunately, I likely will not finish the remainder before spring. The burgundy trim only extends to a height of fifteen feet where it abruptly ends. The ladder extended no further, and even then I was becoming uncomfortable with the flimsy aluminum and the great height.

Besides, in recent months, my attention has turned to another chore: collecting wood for the winter. Two months ago, I had an old Paulson saw repaired at Humphrey’s Outdoor Equipment store on the north end of 231. They flushed out all the fluids, replaced the fuel line, put on a new bar and chain and got it churning again. I was well on my way to local heat, gathered from the fallen timber to extend my father-in-law’s runway. Then the engine shuddered and froze upon itself.

I put the lifeless saw back up in the blue shed. Two days later I was back at Humphrey’s. I picked out a Stihl Farmboss, a carrying case, and a new chain. Total cost: just over $380, which seemed just as damaging as the groceries. But, the investment in the saw has quickly proven worth it. The boss starts easily, and churns through logs. Plus, it is an investment, or so I rationalized as I took out my debit card to pay for it. $380, would – in fact – quickly be returned in the decrease in gas costs. Sure enough, the gas bill arrived this week. The cost was a pleasing $0, and at the bottom the service man noted that he saw the smoke coming from our outdoor wood-burning furnace. Said he would check back in come spring.

Now the leaves have all fallen from the tree. Life itself won’t be back until the spring. For the world has gone quiet and hushed, into the winter season. I have learned a lot, with a lot more to learn.