Thursday, December 31, 2009

Part 3 - Final Thoughts

According to Bishop Wright, the gospels tell a double story:

“They tell the story of how the evil in the world - political, social, personal, moral, emotional, and demonic - reached its height. And they also tell the story of how God’s long term plan for His people, and if we can put it like this, God’s long-term plan for Himself, finally came to its climax. They are about the atonement with every line; they are about the problem of evil with every paragraph. They are about evil of all sorts converging like a dark storm cloud and about God’s representative Messiah going to the heart of that storm cloud alone. The gospels read in this way offer us a richer theology of atonement and a deeper understanding of evil in our own day.”

From the political evil of Rome and Herod to the casual injustice of Caiphus to the corruption of the Pharisees to the screaming demoniacs, we are able to witness what ultimate goodness does when faced with the dark reality of humanities malevolence. In Romans 12, Paul instructs us to “overcome evil with good.” Is this a call to righteous vengeance? No. Rather it turns us back to the cross, where Christ himself confronted social, economic, political and individual evil, defeating it through the power of the Spirit. According to Wright, God’s just response to evil is not simply designed to solve a philosophical puzzle, nor is it designed to help a world that’s gottten out of kilter; rather, His response is meant to bring to glorious fruition the creation which evil has devastated and “uncreated.” An answer to the problem of evil is found in the life of Jesus, where evil reached its terrible zenith, and the suffering servant withstood it to bring new life to His errant creation.

God’s restorative, redemptive justice is ever at work; we only need the eyes to see it. One way to learn what justice looks like is to examine how He has worked before; read the Bible, and especially the gospels, carefully examining Jesus’ handling of evil. Ask questions and seek answers, but reconcile yourself to the mystery of the Creator God.

Judging from the screams of the demoniacs echoing off the waters of the Sea of Galilee to the air of deadliness lingering over the killing fields of Pol Pot, there is the overwhelming sense that we live on an embattled precipice. This is not to suggest that the ultimate victory will not belong to Christ, but rather that we are purposed to be much more involved in the darkness of our present times than we are. Albert Einstein says, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” A theology of evil is not an easy framework to construct, but it is a necessary one. Careful study, active discussion and insistent prayer are critical places to start when facing the overwhelming reality of the human condition.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Part 2

In his book "Can God Be Trusted?" John Stackhouse says that ultimately we must face the reality that “as individuals and communities we are in a negative condition: we are not peaceful. We are corrupt, weak, mean, unstable and destructive of shalom.” Evil touches each of us, and it is an actuality that must be confronted by constructing a framework around all the horrible ambiguities of this exhausted earth. Before a framework can be sketched out we must examine several ideas which have been promoted and largely followed in the past century.

A common misconception springing from the enlightenment is that the world is gradually improving. This can be witnessed in the politics of the last several decades. In 2001 both George W. Bush and Tony Blair made the statement that the goals of their respective governments were nothing less than “ridding the world of evil.” According to this view, a little more democracy, a little more global planning, a little more progress, and the problem will be resolved. Such immature naivety has only contributed to humanity’s growing ignorance of evil as a reality. Another fallacy has been brought on by the relentless onslaught of post modernity. This position states that evil itself is abstract, just as good is abstract. Hand in hand with the relativism is a callous indifference which detracts from the repulsion necessary when encountering both daily evils and mind-numbing calamities. These philosophical attempts at saying what needs to be said fall sadly short of truth.

Conventional responses to the problem of evil have proven insufficient, and it is clear we can’t simply continue to ignore evil until it erupts in angry devastation. God has given truth and set His image in each of us, it is humanity which has distorted and marred those gifts. Mankind, in his disobedience to the commands of God, is the prime mover of evil. This distinction is necessary because without responsibility there can be no accountability. We are accountable to God for our actions done on this earth, but He has not left us in this state of depravity. God has taken responsibility for the world and assures us that He will bring to fruition that which He created in His own timing. According to Brueggemann, God has made this resolve “not in anger, but in grief and sorrow” because “the grief of God moves beyond vengeance.”

The Psalms offer a model for prayers of protest while the gospels illustrate what action should resemble through the life and words of Jesus. According to Walter Brueggemann, to employ the psalms for a “domesticated spirituality” is a misuse of their original intent. He says, “When we turn to the Psalms it mans we enter into the midst of that voice of humanity and decide to take our stand with that voice. We are prepared to speak among them and with them and for them, to express our solidarity in this anguished, joyous human pilgrimage. We add a voice to the common elation, shared grief, and communal rage that besets us all.” Learning to object and protest the evil in which we live is an indispensable part of a Christian response. In the midst of a darkness which encompasses and threatens humanity, the immanent God of love makes Himself visible, but, in the words of Henri Nouwen, “Can we recognize His presence?” Cultivating a theology which allows for an involved, suffering God requires us to read the gospels more holistically and to pray more fervently in light of what we find.

This morning, we trust in Your deep faithfulness,
and attempt to rest in Your wondrous love.
These are things we know of You,
and we are thankful.
Show us also things we have not yet seen or heard,
we pray this for our own lives,
and for the sake of those around us.
In the name of the wounded, risen Christ.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hope and an Exhausted Earth part 1

Today, I miss being overseas.
Today, I am restless.
Today, old questions resurface with a new urgency.

I have recently listened to N.T. Wrights lecture titled, “God, the Tsunami, 9/11 and the New Problem of Evil” and have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “Praying the Psalms.” I highly recommend both. The next several blog posts are some thoughts about what they said. I think a lot of these posts will focus on evil, the vengeance of God, and the overwhelming reality of humanities condition. Maybe it will add desperation to our prayers.

When choosing to enter more deeply into humanities vast anguish and lostness it may surprise us to find God already there. Sometimes witnessed in the miraculous, but many times He remains constant among us in small, often unlooked for glimpses of His presence. Recognizing Him is in itself committing an act of hope. (I love that idea)

We are puzzled and shocked by a never-ending stream of violence, anguish, absurdities and hurt emanating from our televisions, newspapers, websites and radios. Often the hardest surprises come from within our very families. Sickness, emotional abuse and a lack of care add to the chaos and poignancy of our daily pilgrimage. The Book of Common Prayer says that we pray together “for all sorts and conditions of men”, Brueggemann would say that this becomes possible by being “attentive to what is happening in our own lives”, by adding our voice to the “common elation, shared grief and communal rage that besets us all.”

Stopping long enough to consider, we realize that things are not as they should be, that each of us suffers from a curvature of the soul. Many of these daily evils simply pass us by, and on the whole we continue to live untouched lives. But then there are the cataclysmic events which shatter our small worlds and leave us breathless. We just don’t have categories for this kind of darkness, often because we fail to acknowledge the darkness of our own souls. This realization shocks us, so we often fail to properly process evil, preferring to ignore it, enter it, or simplistically categorize it into ill-fitting boxes. Understanding why evil is there in the first place, and how God has dealt with it and will deal with it, and how the cross of Jesus has anything to do with these matters, are deep mysteries that an in-depth look at evil brings to the surface.

There is so much to be learned of God in His compassion and grace as well as His grief and anger. The last chapter of “Praying the Psalms” discussed the vengeance of God. In relation to the topic of mankind’s sin Brueggemann writes,

“Instead of humankind suffering, God takes the suffering as His own. God resolves to turn the grief in on Himself rather than to rage against His creation. God bears the vengeance of God in order that His creation might have compassion.”

This is perfectly seen in the cross, the place where the evil of the world reached its bloody climax and the wrath of God was poured upon the Son, that we might know mercy. There is such hope in this! At the end of a run this afternoon all I could do was sit down on a park bench facing the mountains and pray “thank you.” It was enough.

More thoughts coming soon...Lord willing. :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Crossing the wall

Last year I was in Israel, this is a story from my sister and I's midnight trek to Bethlehem on Christmas morning...enjoy!

There was tension as soon as we crossed the wall into Bethlehem at 1 AM on a rainy Christmas morning. We knew we had crossed a barrier, a visible and invisible line, a deep rift and a crack in the heart. While traveling through the rubble left after the collapse of the Soviet Union Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.” Yet here, on the border between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank a 40 foot concrete wall testifies to man’s inability to see past the blinders of politics and religion. A kind of art adorned the high walls, angry protests against an enemy that existed more in the propaganda shouted from bull horns than in the daily headlines of the newspapers sold at the local cafĂ©. On one side the barrier screamed that Israel must die along with the supporting West, while the other side of the wall stood grey and faceless.
A stones throw from the wall the first houses of Bethlehem stood dark and empty. They were empty and deemed dangerous due to their close proximity to the 40 ft. concrete slabs jutting into the black. Walking the stone streets at 2 am we passed houses with painted murals commemorating fighters who had been killed in the war for the liberation of Palestine.

On one side of the wall is a people who have undergone a holocaust and now desire freedom from living in fear, freedom from always being the victim. Contrasting this are the walled-in, a people who desire freedom from Israel and their land returned to them. And there, in the very midst of the turmoil, is Christ. The One who was birthed in a cave, crucified on a hilltop, raised from a tomb, and now stands before the Father interceding for us. In His divine freedom He chooses to see us, be with us, and deliver all these groans to the Father.

Arriving at the Church of the Nativity everything ceased to exist except the flickering candles, the thick smell of incense, and the low murmurings of the monks. The church was vast and empty except for a small, crowded room underneath the main floor. Sitting atop the steps that descended into the basement, we watched the faithful through the arched doorway; they were lighting candles to symbolize the One who came as light. A few robed Pilgrims came and went; their incessant, echoing chants remembering the innocent Virgin Mary and the Incarnation of Christ. I thought about the razor wire, the wall, the bombings in Gaza and Sederot and the aching and pain of two peoples who each desired a form of peace. The sacred, unfamiliar chanting thus became a voice for the dying in which we are all engaged, partly because the world is a place of death and is passing away, partly because God gives new life, but only in the pain of death. “It is because God is at work even in the pain of such death that we dare enter God’s presence with these realities. They have to do with God.” (Brueggemann)

Leaving the church several hours later we joined the mass of men gathering at the wall. It reminded me of the cattle chutes I had worked during a summer in Nebraska, narrow avenues into which men were driven as they crossed the checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel. Five a.m. was definitely not the time to cross; the morning rush of men going to work caused an uproar when the border failed to open on time. The restless shuffling of several thousand men replaced the silence of the predawn streets of Bethlehem and the holy peace experienced in the Church of the Nativity.

The darkness covered individual features; each man was just a darker shadow till one by one we stepped through the fluorescent lights of the security block. Beneath the bright lights and searching hands we were all proved as human; the uniformed guards, the turbaned men and the unlucky tourists. In our individual and collective existence there resembled something of the image of God, a God who became man for the shouting guard, the angry Palestinian, the crying child and the frightened mother.

At the close of the bloodiest century ever suffered by man, humanity is faced with the reality that the walls which separate us are often necessary because of the relentless hate harbored in the darkness of our hearts. They are necessary because the One born 2,000 years ago has not yet come again to set all things to right. And so we wait, secretly longing that the evils which touch us would have ended yesterday, and that the disclocatedness which is a reality would have already been redeemed.

I am a witness, and to not attempt to portray what I saw and felt would only add to the injustice experienced on both sides of the wall. Wiesel says, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. “

This Advent, teach us what it means to live expectantly for your return.
We are a people grown weary of waiting.
“Our time would be a good time for your kingdom to come,
because we have had enough of violence and travail.
Give us the grace and the impatience
to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,
to the edges of our fingertips.” (Brueggemann)
Come soon, Come here,
to our shut down places,
to those without homes,
to those without families,
and to us who have all these and still choose to live in our several worlds,
Come soon, Come here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Pursuer

"God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was i who didnt." ~ Lewis

Our faith is as small as the doubters who came before us... maybe smaller because we at least have an Advent on which to remember His faithfulness. Yet God, the first mover, the initiator, the constant pursuer, seeks us even in our doubt. Have you ever marveled at the fact that you couldn't escape God?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Empty Chairs

These are good times, though they are tiring.

And now I sit alone in my room, my only company being the two empty chairs of my roommates. I love these moments of solitude. Much can be learned from an empty chair. We remember the friends and family which have filled the empty seat before, and we remember those that are no longer with us. In tribute to them we endeavor to always keep enough room for one more to join us in our struggle homeward. And lastly, an empty chair can teach us to be willing to lose, because life is momentary, fragile and unsure, and people come into our lives and leave again in a moment.

Perhaps what we don’t realize is that squandering is a doorway through which God enters in. we are guilty of “dolling out” our love and care because it is so immediately satisfying, but slowly we exhaust our hoarded resources and have failed to fill them because we felt no need to. There is a relief in coming to the reality that Jesus is not only all we need, Jesus is all we have.

I’m going to try and post some prayers and thoughts about advent in the next several weeks because, to be honest, I feel like I’m missing it in the blur. I am failing to sense the stillness of the eternal in the chaos of the hours. This prayer is written by Walter Brueggemann:

In our secret yearnings
we wait for your coming,
and in our grinding despair
we doubt that you will.
And in this privileged place
we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than we do
and by those who despair more deeply than do we.
Look upon your church and its pastors
in this season of hope
which runs so quickly to fatigue
and this season of yearning
which becomes so easily quarrelsome.
Give us the grace and impatience
to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,
to the edges of our finger tips.
We do not want our several worlds to end.
Come in your power
and come in your weakness
in any case
and make all things new.

Give us the wherewithal to long though we are weary, to remember even when our minds feel numb. The gift of advent is so deep that we do not want to miss it; but many of us, myself included, are helpless to sense the joy of your presence. Come soon, Come here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Story For An Image.

Two mutes led us through the winding, sullied roads to the top of the muddy hill. It seemed like it would never stop raining. I sighed; there was really nothing else to do. The camp continued on forever, an entire people made homeless. The sight from the ridge revealed yet another valley filled with ripped tarp hovels. In such places you would think the world must have gone mad. On the side of the hill five bearded men worked diligently on nailing thin sheets of plywood to a small frame. Doctors Without Borders had supplied the resources for the construction of toilets for the 22,000 Rohingya refugees. The metal on the outhouse roofs contrasted starkly with the black plastic which filled the surrounding hills.

Turning back to the interior of the camp we descended into more of the same; more tarps, more mud, and more crushing passivity. A rising wind grabbed at corners of the tarps and snapped them like sails in a gale. The scream of a playing child or yell of an angry mother were the only sounds that broke the weariness of inaction. Men sat everywhere.

At times I thought, “If I don’t go on it will stop,” like the man who reads half a book and thinks if he quits that the story is finished. What he doesn’t realize is that each page adds a greater depth to the characters; just as each face I passed by revealed more about the camp than I knew moments before. Every successive sight begged the question, “What is it to suffer loss, to be permanently wounded, hopelessly defeated?”

Ducking inside a tea shack my interpreter and I found the 10 by 16 foot plastic room already crammed with men trying to escape the rain. Their stares were filled with curiosity and resignation and sorrow. A space was made for us on one of the plank benches. Other men who had seen us enter crowded around the entrance. I was like a traveling circus, something to relieve the tedious boredom for a few hours. But I would not stay long, and life in all its complicated horror would continue.

I listened for a long time, each man shouting in turn to be heard over the din of rain beating against the black tarps. A gray-bearded man with bloodshot eyes began, propping himself up by his arms. The empty space where his right leg should have been gave him the look of half a man. He spoke of home and fear and death and the depths of evil to which man sinks. His story was echoed by others who recounted torture and brutalization and tire-burnings and senseless hate. I asked another man, Omar, to tell me his life story, and where he came from. Omar’s answer did not match the wrinkles of experience that creased his brow and grew out of the sides of his troubled eyes. All he said was, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.” He had no beginning, nothing to which he could connect his later life – and how does one relate a life without a seed, a source, a commencement?

The travail had not ended since the arrival in the camp. An aged man with black eyes told me he had buried his son that morning under a grey sky and without tears. It was then that I realized the tragedy I shared with these men and with God. Sitting there in the presence of a human being, awe suddenly seized me, and I pitied him. Evil had done its work, though. Hate had still prevailed. Sin, in all its terrible complexities and distortions had corrupted the pure image of God placed in him. My heart ached. I’ve seen what we have done to that image, how we have wounded and marred what was put inside of us as good and right. When human beings turn their back on God and embrace the distortion of the image place inside of them, where is God to be found? Something resembling God was buried in the red clay with the son, suffered silently with hunger, screamed with the playing children, and shouted loudly the story of injustice. God is the mute, the amputee victim, the father, the aid worker, but he is also the torturer, the military guard, the corrupt official.
In that unbearable moment of reality I grieved for the huddled men in the tea shack, but I grieved also for humanity because I realized how sick we are. Reaching out, I placed my hand on the shoulder of God’s image and said, “I’m sorry about your son.” The father broke internally, the black eyes softened, the proud face fell and the bony shoulders sagged with age and grief.

Tell me, how does love respond to that?

Love doesn’t shut its eyes; it bears witness and endures the sights it beholds. A face grants permanence to statistics and desperation to prayer. Love delivers all these internal sighs to God. It longs for someone to be fed as much as you long to be fed, clothed as you are clothed, sheltered as you are sheltered.
It was finished. The circus was over. I rose and left the tea shack, the men, and the camp. Glancing back on that stretch of exhausted earth I sighed. The last thing I saw were the shiny metal roofs of the toilets on the hill. Could a glimpse of hope look like a toilet? Perhaps. But injustice will happen again tomorrow, it is a constant in life, like a memory.

Monday, November 30, 2009

a place of meeting...

Sorrow is a holy sanctuary, but that is all. It is simply a place, or a long path, in which to meet the seeking, Creator God. Perhaps its this way with all emotions. learning to feel in a way which is not self-focused keeps us from despair, it is the fulcrum between coping and hoping. It's the beauty of agony. its hope. its everywhere.

its Immanuel...God with us.

"I would have despaired unless i had believed that i would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord." ~ Psalm 27:13-14

Stir our hearts, quicken our steps, soften our eyes. Come soon, Come here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Come soon, Come here.

We celebrated the first week of advent this week at church. We sang, "O Come, O Come, Immanuel," its my favorite Christmas hymn. I remember singing it last year when walking to Bethlehem at 2 am with Maegan and a few other friends. it was one of those sacred moments which I am learning to treasure, for we are all fighting an indifference which erodes at the sacred in our lives.

Do you remember in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy is reading from the magicians book? There is one which reads, "for the refreshment of the soul." As she begins to recite the spell she finds herself reciting "more of a story than a spell." Upon finishing she exclaims its the most beautiful story she has ever read but realizes that she can't at all remember anything about it. When Aslan finds her in the house she begs him to repeat the story to her. The lions response is, "Indeed yes, I will tell it to you for years and years." I thought of this during the sermon today, though its barely related...

The pastor spoke about advent and hope. Advent is a reminder that we are only part of a larger story, a story which continually reveals the Creator God intimatlly involved in His creation, both in an individual and collective sense. Amid the sickness of family members, the pain of broken relationships, the utter devestation shouting at us from the news, the ache of daily evil and all the horrible complexities of sin we dare to talk about a Prince of Peace. We sing Immanuel, God with us. May what our eyes see grant desperation to our songs and words.

Come soon, Come here, be with us in blessed hope.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

a day.

Today i worked outside putting up Christmas was dreary and drizzling the whole day. bleh. depressing. Things just seemed flat, shabby, and worn-out looking, as if the earth was exhausted and needed a break.

then, quite suddenly, the sun broke out for 5 minutes before setting. i love it when that happens. everything was golden and quiet and perfect, a respite in the midst of a soggy day.

i'm still working through "A Grief Observed" by Lewis, here is the quote for the day...

"And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling."

honestly, i'm tired and worn out, but somehow gratefully so. i think thats possible. just like i'm grateful for the grey day because that 5 minutes of sunshine was so perfect and right. does that make sense?

Monday, November 16, 2009

another thought...

mom says she feels God has chosen her for this.
What does this say of her faith? That she is chosen to bear such a thing. what a thought.

Lewis says that time is just one more name for death. my first reaction was to underline it as something that sounds good. my second reaction was to disagree.

Time is a human construct, but it is also the medium of obedience. the timing of daily events which come from the hand of God are what move us, they are the things which shape the character of our own beings.

I am learning to live with irruptions in the day to day, learning to percieve the value and preciousness of the common and the simple. a walk, a conversation with family, laughing with friends, a good book, times of deep silence, longings not fulfilled. i was taking a walk this morning and looked up at the breaking clouds. i remembered a line from Wiesel which talks about all of those who make who we are share in the sight of our eyes lifted to heaven. many of them contribute to our awareness of the ineffable. i thought of mom. and i was glad.

time is of man, but timing is of God. We are not given the chance to choose the things over which we will ponder, we are each placed in reality. what will we do with these few moments? do we even see them? do we "feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal?" (heschel)

tonight was really hard. i wrote in my journal,
"i know You will keep us limping all the way home, but did You have to do this?"
maybe that is asking to much or to simply...or maybe its not saying enough.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

some news.

Last weekend we went out to the Santhouses for the weekend. It was harvest season and we watched the tractors work late into the night in the field behind their house. It is always so refreshing being with them. The wisdom and good questions of Mr. Santhouse, the joy and peace of Mrs. Santhouse and the warmth of the kids make their house a wonderful place to be.

On Monday I found out mom has cancer. Lewis said, "I never knew grief felt so like fear." I feel a lot of this recently. its a learning experience. We still don’t know a whole lot, but it came as a shock to my family. Life really is fragile; I feel it in the dryness of my eyes. When faced with such a terrible reality there are many doctrines and ideas which fail and fall away. Yet we are assured of God’s fidelity every morning we wake up. With that assurance I ask for prayer, that God’s presence would be sensed in the midst of this, and that he would grant patience until it is. This snatched the breath right out of me. I’ve experienced a tightening of my chest, a pit in my gut, a wince of my eyes, and an ache in the depths of my being. To be honest, its all rather confusing. Some things just age you.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this whole thing. somewhere I read that all a cancer patient wanted was someone to “walk with me to the head of that lonesome valley.” But that’s just it, he wanted the humanly impossible. It seems that one of the horrors of cancer is that its an individualistic disease, a diverging road, a separation which cannot be fully understood.

How do you pray for what is a part of your own heart? Mom is such a part of me that I am not afforded the comfort of having a perspective of distance. Lewis says, “One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness. One only meets each hour or moment that comes… One never gets the impact of what we call ‘the thing itself.’ But we call it wrongly. The thing itself is simply all these ups and down. The rest is a name or idea.”

The fact is, “the thing itself” is exactly what I feel in my bones. It’s the glaring word which is imprinted in my mind, the concept which dries my eyes, the ambiguous magnitude which follows me to bed and prohibits rest. Its not the many possible outcomes that I fear, nor the weight of grief, rather it is the memories of years which seem to be swallowed up in the vacuum of “the thing itself.”

Mom said she felt “called” or “chosen” to bear this severe mercy. What a strange and unlooked for reminder. When faced with our mortality it seems that the quandary draws one closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter and drags into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our “normal time.” It seems the afflicted are granted the faith of two people while the few surrounding loved ones are given the worries and fears of two people. Nevertheless, disease and tragedy are doorways into which the suffering God can enter in the fullness of His being.

We have known since the day of our birth
that our primal task is to grow in basic trust to you.
To rely on You in every circumstance,
to know that you would return when you are away,
to trust that in your absence you will soon be present,
to be assured that your silence bespeaks attentiveness and not neglect,
to know that in your abiding faithfulness,
“all will be well and all will be well.”

It is at times like this that we remember that Jesus is not simply all we need, Jesus is all we have. And we are thankful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Sometimes something really good has to end...
We would as soon that life, God and ourselves were predictable.
Yet in our rare moments of honesty we are grateful that life is doubtful and full,
that God is Himself to us,
and that we are constantly learning...and in constant need of grace.

There are times that I feel like i'm bursting with sighs, that my whole being just winces. its not a bad thing, simply an acknowledgment that He will keep us limping all the way home.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

At the end of a distracting week...

Heschel says that life is lived under wide horizons, I love this thought because in it is the reminder that life is full and deep and a journey. I often forget that in the midst of a place like Chicago, I have found that long walks are much needed. This past week has been crazy. It began with writing a paper on the suffering of the Godhead as seen in the crucifixion of Christ. For one of the first times this semester I gave myself to an assignment, and as often happens, did not feel like I did it justice. But that’s not the point; I really enjoyed writing and researching the topic. Since last semester’s Theology of Suffering class I have looked for glimpses of what Dr. Schmutzer discussed in everything I have read. When the time came to finally put some thoughts down on paper I realized how fragmented my thoughts were. The opportunity to study this in addition to other things has led me to consider grad school. That was one of the reasons for the walk, such a thought is a violent irruption into what I had “planned”, and deeper than that, into who I am.

Dad has come to visit for the weekend. It’s good to have him here; I realized how close we became when working together over the summer. We went to Ho Jo this morning for breakfast and I listened to his many ideas of what might come next for him… he always has new plans.

And now, a new week is almost upon us. Silence is sometimes the only healing balm to the wondering soul. As we come before the Fountain of Trembling Silence we may at least know that from Him no secret can be hid, and that the Creator God who sees all is also among us, I love this thought…but still wonder what the implications of this really are. I closed my last paper with this question,

“Perhaps it is enough to say that maybe God is more, or less, responsible for evil than we previously thought. And maybe God is more, or less involved in His creation than we have previously experienced.” Things may not be as straightforward as we think they are. In the midst of a darkness which encompasses and threatens humanity the immanent God of love makes Himself visible, but, in the words of Nouwen, “can we recognize his presence?”

We pray for His peace upon this week, His immanence in our weariness, His joy in our eyes. Have a great week friends.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Friends, i hope this update finds you well. it has been far to long since i have written. that must change. now. this might be a little fragmented, but its a start... :)

Since returning from B'desh almost three months ago it seems like life hasn't stopped. I continued working up in the mountains on my folks cabin till it was time to return for my final year at Moody. During the month back home I had Coen and Carolien from Holland visit as well as Charity, Mariah and Andrea from Moody. Being able to spend time with good friends up in the mountains was so refreshing after the somewhat strenuous time in B'desh.

I have missed spending time with family since college and overseas trips began 4 years ago. This summer was a much needed time with them, and i enjoyed the oppertunity to work with Dad again as well as spending quite evenings with both of them apart from distractions like running water or electricity. :)

One of the best parts of this summer was reading. Nouwen's book The Genesee Diary was sometimes all that got me through days in B'desh while Greene's book The End of the Affair is beyond a masterpiece. Below is an excerpt from a review that i wrote on it,

"Although titled “The End of the Affair”, the reader is left with the impression that the eternal, seeking God does not see ends in stories when Maurice says, “O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone forever.” Perhaps T.S. Eliot said it best in his “Four Quartets”: “In my end is my beginning.” “The End of the Affair” is not a masterpiece because of the brilliance of its faith but because of the intensity of its doubt, it’s characters filled with uncertainty that the God to whom they pray does, in fact, exist. When we are faced with the damning reality that in our eyes our sins hold so much beauty we are forced once again to ask, what is left for us but grace?"
It is that same question which stuck with me coming back from the Islam on Capital Hill event several weeks ago. in response to 5,000 muslims gathering for Jummah prayer on the lawn of the Capital several of us went in partnership with the South Asian Friendship Center to pass out Jesus Videos and talk with those that would communicate. It was intense and refreshing all at once. It is uncomfortable to see people as they really are, made in the image of God and precious in His sight. No one can understand the image of God who has no fallen in love with the Gospel and seen a person as an eternal being. I went down thinking that what i had learned about honor and shame in the muslim world would help and came back realizing that I did not understand grace as i should.

I can't believe its halfway through the semester. so much has happened and I would love to tell you about it, but i don't think either of us has the in closing these are the books i am reading apart from school:

Facing the Abusing God by Blumenthal
Praying the Psalms by Brueggman
Brighton Rock by Greene

In his book Blumenthal says, "Humanity in its individual and collective existence, is created in God's image, and hence struggles, together with God, to live the depth of that image." what a thought. I have so much I want to write about this, but it will have to wait till another blog post.

I've also decided I want to intentionally write prayers more. I finished one this weekend, its in the style of Brueggman, someone who I am learning to appreciate a lot...

This morning, we pray to the God of furnaces;
we remember the smoke of Sodom and Gomorah,
we remember the sacrificial offering by fire which you saw as right
we remember the heat of the fiery furnace where you met 3 men in the flames.

And, very differently, we remember the ashes of recent years;
we remember the smoke as the towers fell,
we remember the flames as Dresden burned,
we remember the furnaces where six million people were reduced to ash.

Into these manifold ambiguities,
we yield to the depth and fullness of Your being.
Into these irruptions of reality,
we ask for grace to pray in the presence of sufferings.

This morning, we confess that You are the God whose presence filled these many furnaces,
and we submit.
we pray in the name of the risen, wounded Christ. Amen.

and a few pics....

Mariah, Andrea and i in Colorado

in front of one of the decks we built.

mom and i at PPP

Saturday, July 18, 2009

a picture.

This is in the camp. I like this picture because it shows the reality without victimizing it. I also like that the child is looking up. check facebook for some more...

It seemed to continue on forever. Ascending each hill only opened up another valley filled with tarp and plastic sack “houses”. Each sight begged the question, “What is it like to lose, to be among the permanently wounded, the hopelessly defeated?” The people there told us that they left Myanmar because they were being tortured, one of the men, telling a story I won’t repeat here, propped himself up with his arms. The empty space where is right leg should have been gave him the look of half a man. I asked another man, Omar, to tell me his life story, where he came from. Omar told me he didn’t know, he couldn’t remember; there was no beginning, nothing to which he could connect his later life – and how does one relate a life without a seed, a source, a commencement?

Walking further into the camps the word “why” came to mind, and has stuck with me this whole week, I suppose memory can be tenacious. But at the same time this, along with many other things, has driven me to my knees, and I’m thankful for that. Victor Hugo said, “There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.” In a different situation about a month ago I asked,

“What does love do?”

I suppose it mourns, endures, and doesn’t close its eyes. Love gets its feet dirty in a lonely garden and its hands bloody on a cross. Love doesn’t sleep sometimes, while at other times it gives rest when nothing else can. It longs for someone to be fed as much as you long to be fed, clothed as you are clothed, sheltered as you are sheltered.

So what does this mean? It means that when I read stories about 60 somali refugees being killed on the border of Ethiopia I will see the body of Omar, dead, and dead and dead again. Or if I read of 5,000 refugees granted status in the States I will see Omar’s smiling face leaving his camp for a new home. A face grants permanence to statistics and desperation to prayer. This is a strong theme in Jewish writing. In the Talmud it says that to kill one person it is like killing the entire human race, and to save one person is like saving all humanity.

The preciousness of one soul. oh God, teach us to see things in the light of eternity.

In other news, i leave tommarrow. crazy. i can hardly believe it. I'm excited and sad and content all at once. It has been such a gift to spend six weeks here. I read this in Nouwen's Genesee Diary yesterday and it sums up how I am doing, "Calmness, repose, even-mindedness, restful joy, gentleness: these are the feelings that describe best my present life. No great hostilities or dissapointments, no great anxieties about leaving or fear about returning home. Nothing of that. It is a grace filled time and God is close."

There is nothing like knowing that God's hand does not leave us, in spite of what we see, wrestle through, question, fail at, or triumph in. He is sufficient, and He is all we have.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The sky was absolutely epic tonight. it seemed to open and transcend everything else. Dark gray clouds surmounted by the oranges and yellows of the late afternoon sun. i really needed to see that.

May we see things in the light of eternity and remember the preciousness of one soul, even if the remembrance brings a deep sigh.

Love you guys.

Friday, July 10, 2009


The monsoon rains started last week, but from what I’m told they are not anything like they should be. In Rajshahi, a district to the northwest of Dhaka the rains have not yet come and the rice paddies are quickly drying up. While there, we heard many rumors of widespread famine if the rains don’t come soon. No matter how much it rains here in Dhaka the filth and dirt never seem to wash away. Have I mentioned its overwhelming here? I think so.

Last week several of us traveled north to Sylhet where we met with a man working among the Meitei people, an unreached people group with strong roots in animism and Hinduism. A small church has been started, but the cost has been very high, whole families are ostracized from the village for converting. With a little dodging about we were able to find pictures for all 6 of the language groups for the book. We took the train back to Dhaka on Friday then grabbed another train that night for Rajshahi where, after some difficulties and a lot of walking, we were able to locate 5 more of the language groups.

In a Paharia village my translator and I ducked inside a tea shack and were able to talk to the gathered muslims, about 20-25 men. By way of parables we were able to introduce the gospel, and my prayer is that some seed fell on good ground. Paul writes that the aroma of the gospel of Christ is life to some and the stench of death to others. He follows that with saying, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Piper says that as preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ we are dividers of the human race. Not because of any effort we do, but simply because we are living as children of the light and that is the stench of death to some. When walking through villages, or looking at the boys at soccer, its almost more than I can bear to think that they are dying. I think that is why Paul asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?” or who can bear this? That hymn, I will arise and go to Jesus, has stuck with me this week as the answer. But that doesn’t make it easier, it only allows us, through the grace of Jesus, to see things in the light of eternity and bring them back to God. The Rebbe Kotzer says, Assuming truth is concealed in melancholy, is that any reason to seek it elsewhere?”

It makes me tremble.

It was hard taking photos and being able to talk very little, and not be able to really “be among the people”. Before I went out I prayed that God would allow me to capture the essence of people, to get a glimpse of how God sees them and to convey the suffering of a soul living apart from God.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week is a soccer tournament which I’m taking part in. We won our first games today and afterwards was able to talk with a few people about Jesus. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but there are few things that make me feel more alive than telling someone about Jesus…I was practically bursting when I got home this evening. I hope your summers are going well, if you get a chance shoot me an e-mail, I would love to hear about how you are doing. May we be constantly reminded that He is sufficient and may we work to make Christ great among us.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tomorrow I am leaving for Sylhet district in North Bangladesh. I have been working on compiling, writing and designing a book of the 41 language groups dwelling in B'desh, and as part of the project I am traveling to several unreached ppl groups that we don't have pictures of yet. There are 6 in Sylhet district. I'm excited to go (you all know how i love to travel) but a little nervous about finding the different villages. I could be gone anywhere from 5-10 days, I really don't know how long it will take! :) It will be so refreshing to get out of crowded Dakha and back into the bush...

Sometimes i'm overwhelmed at the reality of my own finite humanity, i am incapable of solving the grievances and injustices around me.
I look at the boys i play soccer with, or the men i meet in their shops, and the thought that they live before the Father's wrath as much as we live before his love is hard, really hard. I question it. I am so thankful for the tough semester God brought me through this past spring, i'm not sure i could have borne the weight of some of these thoughts without his loving preparation.

There is a lot more I would like to say, but it will have to wait till I have more time to process and write it out. I hope your summers are going well and that God is continuing to guide and to comfort each of you. It's crazy to think that grace is the only thing that separates us...

miss you guys.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Brick Kilns...

The Jewish writer Chaim Potok says that this earth is exhausted, I’m inclined to agree with him. I went to the Brick Kilns outside of Dakha a few days ago. It was the closest thing to slave labor I have ever seen. Fat men under black umbrellas overseeing other men carrying bricks, mud or lumbar. When I asked them if I could take pictures they agreed and began bragging about how many men they “had”. One would say, “I have 300”, another, “200 of these are mine”, I’m not sure they realized that they were talking about other men, humans, image bearers. My God, these are people.

Tell me, what does love do in this situation?

I’m not sure. I am gradually becoming more and more aware that Love breathes, aches, and doesn’t shut its eyes…it bears witness and it endures the sights it beholds. Love delivers all these internal sighs to God. I also learned that a smile goes a long way.

Sometimes I can’t believe I’m here, and more often than not, I’m at a loss as what I should do or pray. I’m devastatingly aware that none of this is about me, yet still, I am a witness to what I see.

It will happen again tomorrow, injustice is a constant in this life, like memory. We all suffer from a curvature of the soul, yet God has chosen to work within creation gently straightening that which is bent. I’m encouraged by that.

Oh God, make Christ great among us.

In other news I have been daily playing soccer at the local park. After we finish I call them together in the middle of the field to tell them a few parables. It’s exciting and a little scary all at once. Yesterday I had one of them confront me a little angrily telling me to convert to Islam…crazy times. Yesterday as I was watching them kick the ball around before we started I looked at them individually, seeing the way they laughed, grimaced, yelled, winced…these boys need Jesus…as much as we need him every day. Please pray for their souls, God desires them. I’m sorry if this update is a little scattered. Maybe next time I’ll tell you how the actual internship is going. Haha. Here are a few pics from the brick kilns, more are posted on facebook.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

something i love...

I love being in a foreign country for a week and having people already know me. I went to play soccer again this evening and on the walk to and from the park several people who I had met before called out "Jack! Mr. Jack! How are you this day?" I don't know, it made me smile, many people here seem kind, and many more seem over eager to practice their english...still, i like it.

In other news I have a busy few days ahead. I need His grace to get through these days well. May we continue to work hard to make Christ great among us...wherever we are. In Sudan my friend would always ask me, "Did you know that you were made for such a time as this?" I love this thought, and I ask you the same question...

P.S. check out this crazy video of the brickies here in B'desh...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Enjoy! Miss you guys.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First Impressions

Dakha, city of collisions., like many overcrowded cities, and perhaps the nature of our time. Watch the people and you will understand that it is a city built on a foundation of tension. This tension wears on you, its tenacious; like a bad memory or a recouring parasite. The people walk proudly with stiff backs and unwavering glances, as if concentrating on staying upright so as not to fall among the crippled, mute, disabled, blind and forgotten whose hands line the edges of many streets. Unlike the crowds that move past them these beggars are devoid of eyes. Read any amount of Jewish Literature and one will soon notice that most write to defend or explicate humanity, one of the things they focus on is that we have eyes; it’s a connection point, a reference, an indication. But you can’t see these beggars’ eyes because they never raise there heads, and so, up till now, I have joined the masses that pass by. But I see them, I see that they too are image bearers, and it breaks my heart. I wish I could see there eyes though…

My first reactions to this country is that everything screams, its overwhelming. the bright colors, the piles of trash, the heat, and the sea of people all scream to the senses, thus making it all overwhelming. Here one does not see stark differences because everyone is poor beyond endurance. The awakening soul wants to shout "NO" to the vast poverty that is daily life, but that cry seems lost when faces become crowds; crowds, neighborhoods; neighborhoods, cities; cities, regions and regions devolve into statistics. What is the accurate response to a half a country on its knees? Or a whole people targeted as somehow less than human? Or a region made homeless?

I struggle against the chaos to live under the hand of a good God, and to live before his righteousness, his justice, his peace. With eyes wide open I see that life is full, and if I take time to see it then I will behold God with us and his gentle straightening out of that which is bent. Someone once said, “earth is crammed with heaven, and every bush alight with the presence of God, only those who take the time will remove their sandals and sit on holy ground, the others sit around and eat blackberries.” I like that idea.

Alright friends, thank you for listening. Please pray that I would see people as God sees people and I would remember that I am made for Him. He’s teaching me a lot, its just hard sometimes. May we daily strive to make Christ great among us. He is the reason we woke up this morning. Beautiful. I hope your summers are going well.