A Memorable Weekend

Scott, Rich & CherylThis last weekend Tom and I drove down to Newberg Oregon for graduation at George Fox University. It was a memborable event as Scott Mackey, son of my best friend Cheryl was graduating. We stayed with other good friends Ruth & Dana Austen. Cheryl, Ruth and I roomed together when I first joined the mercy ship Anastasis in 1981. This is friendship is one of the most important in my life. It has grown and strengthened over the years as we have shared life together through good times and through hard places. It was very meaningful to all be together for this important transition celebration in Scott’s life and as I love to remind Scot I have known him since before he was born.

Taking time for good celebrations like these is probably one of the most valuable accomplishments of our lives yet so often in this culture of disposable relationships we let them slip by without a murmur. Jesus placed so much emphasis on friendships and community. He spent more time together with his disciples than he did healing the sick and preaching the good news. And they did not just work and minister together. They spent much time in fun food and fellowship. My friendship with Ruth and Cheryl has been like that. We have helped each other grow and mature in our love for God and our commitment to God’s purposes. What greater thing could one accomplish in life? Ruth and Dana Austin

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Not For Sale

Since I wrote my comments yesterday I have been thinking a lot about accomplishment. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that in order to move from poverty to the middle class people often need to give up relationships for accomplishment. My question is why don’t we see relationship as accomplishment. This week I have had 4 lunches with friends, provided afternoon tea for out of town guests, and talked to numbers of others on the phone…and tonight we pick up the Rosarios from the airport then early tomorrow morning head down to Portland to visit my best friends and attend the George Fox graduation. Why don’t I see that as accomplishment? I realize with embarrassment that I really have bought into our culture’s idea of what is important and what is of value. If it doesn’t produce a product (such as when I work on the MSA Seed Sampler) or produce an income (such as a speaking event) then I tend to under value what I do.

Maybe I need to read some of my own articles about the need for balance again. I realize that this business of living to the rhythm God intends for us is a continual learning experience. I feel sometimes that I take 1 step forward and 2 steps back. May God give me the grace to see all I commit my time to as accomplishments to the kingdom.

Kronos Eats His Children

Another busy week and I feel at times as though I am running on the spot accomplishing very little. At times like this I need to remember what is really important in life. Reading this email reflection sent to me by my friend Doug Woods after he read Mark Buchanan’s latest book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath certainly restored my soul and made me want to dip into Mark’s book too…but maybe I am too busy.

As I stepped outside this morning I was bathed in the sounds of a sweet spring symphony performed in perfect harmony by an invisible multitude of birds. The air was soft and crisp and the heavy marine layer overhead made the light so even that the colors leapt out of every flower and leaf clamoring for attention. In an instant I was in Mexico – years ago – on spring break building houses with a youth group – only this time I was not smelly or aching – I was simply inhabiting the imprint of a sacred time – the mark of time steeped in God – the thumb print of Kairos.

There are two types of time: Kronos and Kairos. Kronos (or Chronos as in chronology) was the name of the father of Zeus who is famous for devouring his children. Kronos is our everyday time – our day planner time. Kronos is our time spent grasping at the straws of our lives and the time squandered in the vain pursuit of recapturing time that we have already lost. Kronos is our time of desperate striving, struggling to avoid being devoured – and yet we always are. Every time we grab hold of our schedule and wrestle it to the floor it evaporates and we are left with nothing. That is Kronos – he swallows his children whole and before he can burp he is ravenous again.

Kairos is different. Kairos is sacred time. Kairos is time dedicated to God. A time that does not aim at creating, but being instead re-created. Kairos is time spent in imitation of God, time spent following God’s examples of Rest and Peace and Play and Community. Kairos is Shalom. Kairos is Sabbath. Kronos leaves no marks on us – it just swallows us whole, but Kairos leaves a mark. Kairos changes who we are. With Kronos we can never return but with Kairos we can go back. With Kairos we can capture that sacred moment again and again. If you think about it you stumble over those marks all the time: remembering the first kiss of your beloved; or the wonder of seeing your child born; or that one sunset that made you stop the car and get out and watch and watch and watch until it was dark; or that triple rainbow that made you forget the worry and struggle of the day and just sit or stand and watch in silent wonder; or the song or verse that pierced your heart with grace so pure that to this very day it brings tears to your eyes and makes your heart swell with love and wonder. That is Kairos. That is the imprint of a sacred time.

The sages equate sinning with “going down to Egypt” and returning to the slavery of Pharaoh. We were delivered from that slavery. In the same way, when we spend the precious few moments we have on this planet vainly chasing after the last few we have left, we are returning to the slavery of time – we are climbing up into the lap of Kronos and begging to be devoured. He always obliges us. This culture of ours demands that we be devoured and tells us the lie that the only way to be safe is in the belly of Kronos. God asks us – no, God knows us better than to simply ask – God Commands us to devote 1/7th of our time to Him – to spend, to surrender, to submit, to sacrifice every 7th day (at a minimum) to Him. This is not for Him – none of the commandments are for him – but for us. He knows us – he knows that we would rather be swallowed alive than spend a single moment in dumb wonder. He knows that we are insanely utilitarian with out time. So he commands us not to be.

When we cut through all the clutter of dreams and visions and plans and worries and the utilitarian necessities that plague us, the heart and soul of what we are about up on Camano island is Kairos. Sacred time. Time sacrificed to God. The Hebrew root of the word for sacrifice means to “draw near”. We are simply about creating opportunities, now and for all the time we have left on this planet, to draw near to God; opportunities to be recreated, to be marked by the fingerprints of God Himself. We are about creating those opportunities to both be alone and silent before the Throne and to stand there in community – so that we can learn a little about living in the the proximity of God.

 

Its Earth Day

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Today is Earth Day and as it is a beautiful day here in Seattle I have been able to spend most of the afternoon outside in the garden.This is such a wonderful time of the year and seems a very appropriate time to celebrate God’s good creation. As I walk around and examine how much my new seedlings have grown since my last time out in the garden I am reminded of how little I actually do to bring about growth and harvest. I may plant the seed and water the soil but it is really God who germinates and grows the plant

Even during the dark cold days of winter God has been at work putting down roots, enriching the soil and preparing for the spring growth. Similarly God gives life to all our efforts. We plant the seed of God’s word. Sometimes we have the privilege of seeing it burst into bloom, but it is God who breathes life into our efforts. Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and in those around us God still grows mighty plants out of tiny mustard seeds.

Suqirrel on PokersHere is a liturgy I wrote for Earth Day last year that you might enjoy.

God of wind and storm,God of trees and flowers,
God of birds and beasts,God of men and women
God of all creation
Come down, come in, come amongst us
(Silence)
God all of life reflects your creative presence and sustaining love
God we see you in the wind and calm
We see you in the sun and the moon
God all of life reflects your creative presence and sustaining love
God we hear you in the song birds and bees,
We hear you in the crash of waves and waterfalls
God all of life reflects your creative presence and sustaining love
God we feel you in warmth of sun and cold of ice
We feel you in the richness of soil and softness of fur
God all of life reflects your creative presence and sustaining love
God we smell you in the perfume of rose and jasmine
We smell you in a fresh cut apple and peach
God all of life reflects your creative presence and sustaining love
God we see you in the rich abundance of the harvest
God we hear you in the voices of those who enjoy its bounty
God we feel you in the care of those with whom we share its generosity
God all of life reflects your creative presence and sustaining love

Adapted from Ps 65: 5-12

God you call forth songs of joy from all the earth
You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness,
God our Saviour you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
You are the hope of the farthest seas,
When morning dawns and evening fades
You call forth songs of joy
God you call forth songs of joy from all the earth
You care for the land and water it;
You enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
To provide the people with grain,
For so you have ordained it.
God you call forth songs of joy from all the earth
You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
You soften it with showers and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty,
And your carts overflow with abundance.
God you call forth songs of joy from all the earth
The grasslands of the deserts overflow;
The hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
And the valleys are mantled with grain;
They shout for joy and sing.
God you call forth songs of joy from all the earth

Ezek 34:25-31
Rom 8:18-26

Upon all who seek to care for God’s good creation,
Lord, have mercy.
Upon all who seek to conserve and preserve the earth’s bounty
Lord, have mercy
Upon all who seek to preserve or restore this world’s beauty,
Lord, have mercy
Upon all those who suffer through pollution and destruction of creation,
Christ, have mercy
Upon all whose land has been spoiled by drought or flood or war
Christ, have mercy
Upon all farmers, market gardeners, foresters and all who work the land,
Lord, have mercy
Upon ranchers, shepherds, zoo keepers and all who work with animals
Lord, have mercy
Upon conservationists, landscape gardeners and all who care for the environment
Lord, have mercy

Almighty God, Creator of all life,
The work of your hands reflects your great love and compassion,
May we share with justice the rich resources of your world,
And ensure that none of your creation will be spoiled or misused.
Unite us through your covenant of peace
So that we may share your generous
And work to ensure that no one will hunger or face oppression,

The blessings of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always
Amen

Parrots

Does God Cause Evil?

Over the last couple of days we have been devastated yet again by the horrors of violence as we heard about the shooting at Virginia Tech University. The rhythm of violent death is one that cuts across all our lives like a bolt of lightning. The shockwaves reverberate through our society raising important questions for all of us. As I listened to the reports and the responses to this horrible event I was taken back to our sermon on Sunday in which the question “Does God Cause Evil?” was raised. I do not believe God causes evil but I do believe that the goodness of God and the love of God can shine through every evil event that occurs in our world. Often we equate pain with evil and flee from any situation, thought or emotion that is traumatic. Yet pain is a very necessary part of our lives. It protects us from injury when we hit ourselves and from burning when we get too close to the fire.

As I contemplate this horrible event I cannot get away from the fact that Jesus was recognized by his scars and his suffering. We serve a scarred and crucified God whose very pain has brought us salvation. Without God’s suffering, without God’s scars we could not be made whole. Part of the message of Easter (and we are still in the Easter season) is that through Christ the worst experiences can be transformed into the best of God’s presence.

As I think about this my thoughts go back to the shooting of Amish schoolgirls in Pennsylvannia last October. The Amish community forgave the killer and reached out to the widow to offer her comfort and solace. Incredible and only possible because of the love of God that resides so powerfully in their community.

We all have the choice to respond to the brutalities of our world with despair, anger and bitterness or with hope, love and compassion. If we respond in anger and bitterness the violence and atrocities only seem to grow and multiply. If we respond in love and with compassion God’s presence is able to shine through and transform the horrors into hope. This does not belittle the horror of atrocities such as this but it does make us aware that our God, who is scarred and disfigured by all our sins, our God who suffers with us in the midst of pain, will one day make all things new.

As Christians we look forward to the advent of a new heaven and a new earth in which all suffering and pain and death will be done away with. At the centre of our faith is the hope that through Christ all that is distorted by evil can be transformed into the goodness and glory of God.

Several years ago I came across this poem by Michael Leunig It seems very appropriate for today.

There are only two feelings
Love and fear
There are only two languages
Love and fear
There are only two activities
Love and fear
There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results
Love and fear, love and fear

In meditating on this prayer I wrote the following reflections which are based on 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear.”
Fear is of this world, love is from God
Fear closes us in, love opens us up
Fear builds walls, love constructs bridges
With fear nothing is possible, with love all things are possible
Fear destroys, love creates
Fear kills, love gives life

God may we live by the love that flows from your spirit, the love that casts out fear and evil. May we reach out with care and compassion to all those who are hurting and in need. May we drive out the world’s fear with your perfect love. AMen

An Orgy of Reading

Over the last few days I have feasted on books.  Reading a lot is not unusual for me , in fact it has been part of the rhythm of my life since I was about 5 years old.  I have always loved books and for me to read 5-10 books a week is quite normal.

What is unusual is the number of really good books I have come across this week.  My favourite was The Contented Soul by Lisa Graham McMinn.  It is a beautifully written book of reflections on simplfying and finding a more relaxed rhythm for life.  I have also dug back into From Strangers to Neighbours, a provocative book written some years ago by David Evans and Mike Fearon of Tearfund UK about how to make a difference in your community.  Andii Bowsher‘s  little book Praying the Pattern, The Lord’s Prayer as  a Framework for Prayer and Life,  is an interesting and very practical book that explores ways that we can use the Lord’s prayer to deepen our prayer life.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter that looks at different body movements for each part of the prayer.  I read some years ago that connecting actions to words actually creates neural pathways in the brain and facilitates our learning processes.

I also read a great article by Lauren Winner Divine Mysteries about why so many detective stories are set in churches – particularly liturgical churches .  I love her suggestion that  “Perhaps liturgical forms of Christianity, which emphasize theological mystery, lend themselves to the consideration of criminal mystery. In any case, a candle-lit, stained-glass Episcopal church seems a more fitting setting for a mysterious deed than a bright and airy Baptist church.”

I am a keen reader of mystery stories and nothing delights me more than a good clerical detective.  My favourite is Brother Cadfael, Ellis Peter’s twelth century Benedictine monk who is constantly tripping over dead bodies.  He is also the herbalist in the monastery which is another attraction from my perspective as a medical doctor.  I am not embarrassed to admit that I have learned a lot both about my faith and about medicine by reading Ellis Peters.

Does Faith Care About Justice?

Last night I was a panelist discussing The Global Community and the Participation of Difference at the Film Faith & Justice 2007 forum put on by the other journal.  The discussion was meant to focus on the economic disparity between the rich and the very poor in our society and the injustices in trade and economic policies that perpetuate this disparity.  Most of the discussion focussed on multinational organizations and whether or not they were a good or bad influence in poor countries.  It was a very difficult discussion and because I am neither an economist nor a theologian I found it difficult to express what I felt.  However I have spent most of today thinking about what I wish I had said.

I have known so many poor people who have been pushed over the brink of an already precarious economic situation into destitution and starvation because of economic restructuring and subsistence wages.  My heart aches for the millions of parents who watch their children die of hunger related diseases because no matter how hard they work they can never earn enough to provide for their family.  The cries of the poor for justice are loud and clear yet many of us are indifferent – often because consciously or unconsciously we are afraid that if we take action we will lose our own positions of power and comfort.

In a class I teach on urban poverty I often ask my students “Should the minimum wage be a livable wage?”  In other words should we pay everyone enough tocover the basic necessities of life – food, rent, health care and education.  I was shocked the first time one of my students said “No! If we did that then we would need to decrease the wage of people on the top salaries.”  It was obvious that the student identified more with the wealthy than with the poor.  Yet as Christians I think that we are meant to stand with the poor and not with the rich.  One of the scriptures I am most challenged by is 1 John 3:16-18.  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  

To be a follower of Christ means we care drawn into community with the rich, the poor, the old and the young.  We are drawn into community with people of every tongue and tribe and nation.  And as a single community we are responsible to care for each other.  At President Franklin D Roosevelt said in his inaugural address in 1937: The cost of progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.