Tuesday, March 31, 2009

That's Just Stupid

When it comes to scripture translations, my preference as of late has been the TNIV, although I use the NRSV for a lot of my study time.

But sometimes you just have to love the NLT, as with the reading for last Sunday's sermon - Amos 6.

Can horses gallop over rocks?
Can oxen be used to plow rocks?
Stupid even to ask -
but that's how stupid you are
when you turn justice into poison
and make bitter the sweet fruit of righteousness.
And just as stupid is this bragging
about your conquest of L0-debar.

So there. The Bible says people are stupid.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Christine Sine on "Are we Twittering Our Lives Away?"

However I do wonder if we need to hear the blow by blow description of your delayed plane trip or enter into the intimate details of the delivery of your baby. in fact that kind of twittering is likely to make me want to disconnect rather than connect. It always makes me feel that my twitter friend sees themselves as the centre of everyone else’s attention, behaviour I expect of a 3 year old but not of an adult.

Read the rest here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Everything Flies Away

#1 Album, #1 Song, all in one week.

If you were to ask me for my top three favorite albums of all time, Charlie Peacock's "Everything That's On My Mind" would definitely be on that list. In many ways, that album is the album to define the years I spent in Upland, that in-between time, finished with college but not yet married and established in life, learning the ropes of youth ministry, having a grand old time living the Southern California lifestyle of beaches, Colorado Boulevard, and desert Jeep rides.

And, if you were to ask me for the one song on my ipod that tops the rest, the one that would remain if all the rest should disappear, it would have to be John Doan's "Farewell." We saw him play this at his Christmas Concert last year, and the moment transcended magic. The back story of Doan playing "Farewell" on a visit to Burl Ives, shortly before he passed away, truly added a poignant touch. This is one of those songs that carries the soul beyond space and time into the place "ineffably sublime."

Everything That's On My Mind
- Charlie Peacock
Faded Coat of Blue - Jolie Holland
Fairest Lord Jesus - Jill Phillips
Faith My Eyes - Derek Webb
Falling - Mindy Smith
Falling for You - Leeland
Farewell - John Doan
Farthest Shore - David Wilcox
Favorite Year - Dixie Chicks
Feelin' The Same Way - Norah Jones
Flow - Mars Hill Music
Fly Away - John Denver

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quick Plug

It was just pointed out that the new Center for Student Missions website is up and running, and they've used some pictures from our trip to San Francisco last summer. There are a couple different versions, so once there, hit shift+reload a couple times to see my mug, along with some of our kids at work and play around the Bay Area.

Lyric for Lent #3

Behold the man upon a cross,
my sin upon his shoulders.
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held him there
until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life.
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything:
no gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ:
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from his reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart:
His wounds have paid my ransom.

- Stuart Townend, "How Deep the Father's Love For Us"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lyric for Lent #2

Well I've never been much for the bearing of soul
in the presence of any man;
I'd rather keep to myself all safe and secure,
in the arms of a sinner, I am.
Could it be that my worth should depend
on the crimson stained grace on a hand?
And like a lamp on a hill, Lord, I pray in your will
To reveal all of you that I can.

So turn on the light and reveal all the glory
I am not afraid
to bare all my weakness, knowing in meekness
I have a Kingdom to gain
Where there is peace and love in the light, in the light
Oh, I am not afraid
To let your light shine bright in my life, in my life
Oh, I am not afraid.

Jennifer Knapp
- Martyrs and Thieves

Monday, March 23, 2009

Words for Lent, Approaching Holy Week

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood.
Sealed my pardon with his blood,
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we,
Spotless lamb of God was he
'Full Atonement!' Can it be?
Hallelujah What a Savior!

Lifted up was he to die,
'It is Finished' was his cry.
Now in Heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dress - Everybody

In honor of the first day of spring, Mars Hill (not that Mars Hill - the other one) brings us a song of creation.

This world is enchanted/lean closer to see it/this world is enchanted/dare to breathe it in

Do you know Alli Rogers? You need to. And you need to know Sierra Hull, if you don't already. This version of Everybody's Somebody's Fool makes we want to get up and dance.

Finally, Springsteen's is worth checking out for the band he has assembled. They groove in an amazing way.

Dress of Laces - Nanci Griffith
East of the Sun and West of the Moon - Diana Krall
Eden - Alli Rogers
Edge of Love - Mindy Smith
Electrolite - R.E.M.
Enchanted - Mars Hill Music
Enough - Chris Tomlin
Enter This Temple - Leeland
Erie Canal - Bruce Springsteen
Every Grain of Sand - Derek Webb
Everybody's Somebody's Fool - Sierra Hull
Everybody Hurts - R.E.M.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Lent

This is the first year I've truly tried to maintain a daily walk inside the season of Lent. In the past years, Lent has only shown up on Sunday mornings; prior to that, not at all. But this year I purposed to take this journey seriously and see what came of it.

I'm reading a couple of different Lenten journals, including the aforementioned Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (see a couple weeks ago when I reviewed it), and a digital Lenten devotional that shows up in my email inbox every day, sent by the faculty and staff at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno. In addition, our worship on Sundays remains cross-focused, drawing us ever nearer holy week and the remembrance of Christ's sacrificial death upon the cross.

At the same time, we're right in the middle of Amos, a series I've been preaching for a couple of months now, and one that, if we stick with it, will last at least until summer. Do you know Amos? He's angry, indignant, sarcastic, verbally violent, he calls men 'stupid' and women 'cows.' He doesn't relent with all the judgment and accusation and prophecies of destruction and desolation.

And I find myself becoming depressed with it all. I didn't really realize it until I was randomly working through a hymnbook at our piano earlier this week, and came into the Easter section and began to work through some of those songs. . .and suddenly felt a release, a joy, a gladness that had long been missing. I felt hope again, I felt excitement again. The clouds parted and peace was restored. I felt. . .good, I think.

So was that cheating? Did I skip to the end of the book too soon? Did I shortcut Lent? Or is the combination of Lent and Amos really that unhealthy, that perhaps we all need to come up for air for a moment? I long to return to that place of joy and gladness, which is a healthy longing. But would it be unhealthy to go there, rather than allow Lent to do its work? Purging is good, fasting is good, sorrowful repentance for sin is essential. . .but how long, O Lord, must we remain here? How long must we live in the tension of judgment and sorrow, accusation and repentance? How long until the clouds part and we feel your joy once again flood our souls?

I know, Easter is coming soon, and all this will be over. And Amos will end soon enough, and I'll need to preach on 1 John and all the 'Love' passages, just to restore our sense of hope and peace. And perhaps we'll be a little more careful about issues of justice and righteousness for all the time we've spent here.

Just, next year, if I decide to do a minor prophet at the same time as Lent, somebody step on my toes, ok? Remind me never to do this again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One more reason to boycott Starbucks

Did you hear the one about the Egyptian Cleric who denounced Starbucks, because the SB logo depicts Queen Esther?

No, seriously.

"Have any of you ever wondered who this woman with a crown on her head is? Why do we boycott Starbucks? I will tell you, so you will know why you should boycott this company, and what this logo stands for. . .The girl in the Starbucks logo is Queen Esther. Do you know who Queen Esther was and what the crown on her head means? This is the crown of the Persian kingdom. This queen is the queen of the Jews. She is mentioned in the Torah, in the Book of Esther. The girl you see is Esther, the queen of the Jews in Persia."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Say Goodbye to the P-I

As has been widely reported, today is the last print edition of Seattle's oldest newspaper, the Post-Intelligencer. While they plan on continuing with an online-only version, the hard copy, the tangible, physical version is going away for good.

I believe I've shared some of my connection with the P-I here already. But to those who missed it. . .

My grandfather worked for the P-I for 39 years. His whole career, the job by which he supported my grandmother and their children, the money he earned so that he could treat us grandkids to ice cream or camping trips - it came through the P-I.

My first real job was with the P-I, delivering papers every morning through junior high and high school. Those memories are still important to me; the early morning walks through rain or sun, the virgin snowfalls, the sunrise over Lake Washington, the birds singing in spring as the sky began to lighten, the crisp starlight on cold winter mornings. The sights, sounds, and smells of those mornings stay with me to this day. And that paper route bought me my first personal radio, my first music tapes, it bought clothes and books and new stuff for the model railroad in the basement. It even gave me spending money when I went off to college. So the P-I was good to me.

We made it in the P-I a couple of times - from the day my brother arrived on the plane from Korea (an article complete with family portrait), to the edition where I was featured as "carrier of the month," to a full-page ad with my brother's face at the top (he took over the route when I gave it up).

In my garage I have a box with mementos from important occasions. In it I have P-I clippings going back to the Seattle Supersonics' NBA championship, I have articles from the day after Ronald Reagan was shot; there are clippings from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, as well as the day the Challenger exploded in the Florida sky.

And the P-I website was important over the years, as well. Once this internet thing really caught on, I visited the P-I's site to stay in touch with all that was happening in my hometown. Through the years in Gresham and Turlock, I visited the P-I online most every day, reading the articles and sharing in the online forums.

I guess I could admit to being a part of the ultimate demise of the P-I, since I was among the masses who chose to receive my news for free online, rather than paying for it. . .but at least we have an excuse, living so far in the outerlands that I'm not sure we could get the paper delivered even if we tried. Still, I often picked up a copy when we were in town, and any visit to mom and dad's wouldn't be the same without sitting down and reading through their edition of the paper. So it will be missed.

Here's hoping that in years to come we'll look back and see that this wasn't really a death, but the necessary change that led them into the forefront of local web-based news. I'm hopeful I can still log in every morning and catch the local news, sports, and weather. The fear is that Hearst will use their national connections and turn the P-I into a space for national entertainment gossip, fashion news, and all that other stuff people want in spite of its utter worthlessness. But perhaps they will be wiser, and continue to connect us all with important local happenings.

In the meantime, thanks, P-I, for delivering all the great content over the years, thanks for the years of paychecks that filtered into my family, thanks for being a local icon. And cheers to a great future.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ready for some Global Warming

I was up at 6:00. It was still dark outside. Took my shower, made the coffee, ironed my shirt. Stepped outside to grab a couple logs for the wood stove, just to warm up the house for my honey.

"What's that stuff on the firewood," I asked myself. Looked closer. Snow. Looked up. Snow falling. Big, thick, heavy flakes, falling from the dark sky. Looked across the yard. Already 1/2 inch and collecting. What?

Woke up Olivia, had some breakfast. Now the sun is rising and the sky is growing lighter. I can see across the bay into the far trees. Snow is falling hard.

Phone call to the worship leader, to see if he can make it in. I drive Olivia and myself up to the church in the Jeep. We wait around, and wait around, and the phone starts to ring with people saying they can't make it in.

Eventually, we have a good inch+, the trees are coated in white, the parking lot is deep in slush, and about 1/2 our normal attendance has shown up.

By the time our worship celebration is over, the snow has turned to rain. Heavy, thick, pouring rain. And the wind is blowing. Everybody heads home to hunker down for the afternoon. We remain at the church with another couple, cleaning and closing things up. Then the lights go out.

Lock the doors, head down the hill to our house. The power is out there, as well. So it's off to town to get lunch and some coffee, plus some wifi so I can watch the afternoon shuttle launch.

I hear the power is back on, so we'll be heading home soon. But. . .snow, wind, rain, power outages. Aren't those a couple of the scrolls the unrolled in Revelation? I think the end of the world is upon us.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Living the High Life

As a local clergyman, I was invited to the open house at the new St. Anthony's Hospital in Gig Harbor last night. I wasn't sure what to expect, but thought there may be a few dignitaries, some light refreshments, and a tour of the building.

It was all that and more.

Everywhere you turned there were tables with all sorts of delicious fine foods. Every hundred yards or so was a wine bar offering reds and whites, as well as beer and soda. The coffee shop was serving a fine Starbucks Sumatra roast. And did I mention it was all free for the taking? Musicians played in each section we wandered through - jazz combos, string quartets, and blues guitarists. And the place was flooded with hundreds (a thousand?) dignitaries, as well as the upper crust of Gig Harbor and Tacoma. I bumped into the mayor of Gig Harbor getting out of an elevator.

I took the tour with one other man, led around by the marketing director for the hospital. We wandered through the ER, the chapel, the imaging centers, the critical care unit, we saw simulated brain surgeries and heart explorations, we met nurses and doctors, we saw the cancer center (did I mention each area had its own food, drink, and music?), the dining area and the standard hospital rooms. Everywhere you look the hospital has placed statues and artwork designed and created by local artists. Large fireplaces warmed waiting areas; a healing garden graced the western border of the grounds.

It really is a beautiful place, but, more than that, it's a welcome addition to the area. Nice to have a hospital on our side of the bridge for a change.

I just hope the bill to cover all that food, drink, and music isn't coming from the patients.

Did I mention that just as I was leaving they brought out buckets full of King Crab legs? And it was all free?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Deportee's Dream, and all the times we Don't

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) - Nanci Griffith
Desire- U2
Doesn't Have to be This Way - Alison Krauss and Union Station
Don't Dream It's Over - Sixpence None the Richer
Don't Get Around Much Anymore - Steve Tyrell
Don't Know Why - Norah Jones
Don't Miss You At All - Norah Jones
Dooley - The Dillards
Doubting Thomas - Nickel Creek
Down in Flames - Mindy Smith
Down to the River to Pray - Alison Krauss
Dream You Back - The Infamous Stringdusters

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review: The Holy Wild

Who is God? What is he like? Can God be trusted? Is God worthy to be worshiped? In The Holy Wild, Mark Buchanan searches wide and deep for the answers to these questions. His verdict: All too often, we perceive God as capricious, or boring, or angry, or irrelevant, somebody to turn to in trouble but otherwise ignore. Instead, Buchanan says, God is wild, God is just, God is beyond our expectations and dreams. God may not be as stable as we'd like, but God can be trusted.

The chapters of the book are organized around different lenses through which Buchanan ponders this Holy Wild God: God's goodness, love, wrath, mercy, victory, holiness, creativity, and so on. The prose is a mixture of meditation and story - stories from the author's own life and ministry, and a salting of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, church history, poetry, and philosophy.

The Holy Wild is in the end a devotional book, pulling one deeper rather than broader. I'm not so sure I learned anything new here, but I was forced to sit and linger over many things I'd rushed by in the past. In the end, it was a nice patch of grass in which to sit and reflect.

Congregational Response to a Sermon on Amos 5:18ff

We confess there is much pain in this world, much suffering, much sorrow and misery. We confess that we, too, are guilty of stepping over our neighbor in pursuit of glory, comfort, fame, or wealth. We confess that the ways of the world fall short of the ways of the Kingdom of God.

And yet we have been called, by Christ, to seek the better way – to replace empty religion with active hearts and hands, to cease with false pretense and show, instead pursuing justice and righteousness for all God’s children. We hear this call, and we respond:

Yes, Lord Jesus, we will serve you gladly.

Yes, Lord Jesus, we will seek justice and equity for all people.

Yes, Lord Jesus, we offer ourselves to you, to be used as your hands and feet in our land and around the world.

Yes, Lord Jesus, our love for you will be reflected in our love for those around us, and our compassion toward the poor, the lonely, those who live at the margins.

Yes, Lord Jesus, let there be a flood of justice in our land. We want to be a part of your restoring work. Let it flow through us. Let your healing for all people and our nation flow through us. Let your love and life flow through us. Amen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interview With Debbie Blue, Parts 4-5

Continued from yesterday.

Part 4: Why is this so important to you?

Part 5: Where's the Hope?

We interrupt these videos for some religion news

To point you to a great article here.

"On Monday, a new religious study was released that showed that 15% of the US population defines themselves as belonging to no religion. Here is an excerpt from the American Religious Identification Survey—conducted by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College.

The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million 'Nones.' Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent 'Nones,' leading all other states by a full 9 points."

From the study itself:

Other key findings:

Baptists, who constitute the largest non-Catholic Christian tradition, have increased their numbers by two million since 2001, but continue to decline as a proportion of the population.

Mormons have increased in numbers enough to hold their own proportionally, at 1.4 percent of the population.

The Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in 1990 to .5 percent in 2001 to .6 percent in 2008.

The number of adherents of Eastern Religions, which more than doubled in the 1990s, has declined slightly, from just over two million to just under. Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.

Those who identify religiously as Jews continue to decline numerically, from 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.8 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2008--1.2 percent of the population. Defined to include those who identify as Jews by ethnicity alone, the American Jewish population has remained stable over the past two decades.

Only1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic. But based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900 thousand to 1.6 million. Twenty-seven percent of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

Adherents of New Religious movements, inc luding Wiccans and self-described pagans, have grown faster this decade than in the 1990s.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Interview with Debbie Blue, Parts 1-3

Debbie Blue is the Executive Minister of the Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice for the Evangelical Covenant Church. She was one of the keynote speakers at last Saturday's Leadership Matrix training event for the North Pacific Conference. Since I was preaching Sunday on Amos 5:18ff ("Let justice roll down like mighty waters. . ."), I interviewed Debbie, asking her thoughts on this issue of Biblical Justice.

For your convenience, I've divided the interview up into five sections.

Part 1: What is Justice?

Part 2: What are instances of Injustice in the world?

Part 3: What can the Church do to pursue Justice?

Parts 4-5 tomorrow

Friday, March 06, 2009

Copperfields - Delia

In which we take an earthy turn - Fields, Cowboys, Dakota, and Dirty Ground. Not to mention a couple fun shuffles there in the middle - Creepin' and Crooked. And, of course, a very powerful song dealing with cutting and self-mutilation. And then there's "Danny Boy," which my mother used to sing to me as she woke me in the mornings.

- The Dillards
Cowboy Take Me Away - Dixie Chicks
Crazy as Me - Alison Krauss and Union Station
Creepin' In - Norah Jones (With Dollie Parton)
Crooked Deep Down - Derek Webb
Cut - Plumb
Dakota Themes - Peter Ostroushko
Danny Boy - Harry Connick, jr.
Darcy Farrow - John Denver
Daysleeper - R.E.M.
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground - Chris Thile
Delia's Gone - Johnny Cash

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Maybe I'm in the wrong camp

Yesterday on a lark I took the belief-o-matic test over at beliefnet.com. Answer 20 questions, and they tell you what religion/denominational stream best fits your beliefs.

Truthfully, I found I could only answer about 1/4 of the questions with any certainty. In other words, none of their definitions matched my definitions, so a lot of my answers were along the lines of "I suppose, of the 5 options presented, this one is closest to my belief, even though it's still not quite exact. . ."

With that being said, I scored 100% as an Orthodox Quaker.

At least I only got 23% Mormon.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Looking for Justice

This Sunday I'll be preaching (If the Lord allows. . .) on Amos 5:18ff.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

We've been working through Amos for a couple months now. As we've worked our way along I've touched a little on the deeper definitions of Justice, but I've really been waiting until this passage to fully explore the issue. There are many ways to define Justice, but for the sake of this sermon, I'm working along these lines:

All humans were created by God to live in healthy, mutual relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation. A planet marked by justice would be a planet in which every human had their basic needs met in such a way that they could live contentedly within that web of relationship. Injustice would be anything - thought, word, or deed - done by one human or people group toward another that intrudes on the latter's ability to partake in those healthy, mutual relationships. Justice does not mean equality - Justice would not mean that everyone is rich or famous or good looking or dating someone who is. But justice does mean everybody has the time and resources to enjoy their relationship with God, with others, and with the creation.

From another perspective - If a people group cannot feed themselves, nor maintain healthy lives, because others are stealing their food or their land or dumping pesticides in their drinking water, then injustice is being perpetrated. If a whole people-group aren't able to pursue education or jobs that would allow them to provide for themselves or their families, and are instead reduced to working impossible hours or begging or stealing food in order to eat, the injustice is being perpetrated.

(note: of course we're not including those generally lazy people who aren't willing to put in the work necessary to support themselves. It is not unjust if a lazy man or woman have to face the consequences of their choices. We're also not including the fact that nature intervenes, as well - drought and flood are not always caused by the actions of other humans and thus, while cruel and unfair, don't exactly fit the definition of Injustice).

I think I'm pretty aware of some of the Big Issues at play. We've covered any number as we've worked through Amos:
- The current economic mess, in which a few corporate bigwigs made out like bandits while millions of average folk are losing their homes, their retirement, and their income.
- The use of human slavery in so many of our economic systems, from slavery in the chocolate trade to slavery in the diamond trade to slavery for sexual purposes.
- The destruction of the land and indigenous people groups to supply our endless need for cheap electronics and clothing and furniture
- The system at work on so many schoolyards and in so many businesses, wherein lying and bullying and gossiping are tools to climb to the social/political top.
- The hoarding of wealth in our bank accounts and buildings when 26,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes.

And, in one sense, it's easy to preach about these things, and call for change: drink fair-trade coffee, consume less stuff, support children through Compassion or World Vision, cancel your Cable TV and donate that money to the Rescue Mission, donate to good causes rather than buying so many Christmas presents, become involved in the lives of your neighbors, plant a garden, shop locally, etc.

But what about where you live? I admit - sometimes, I feel a little distant from it all. We preachers have the difficult job of bringing the Gospel to bear in worlds we seldom enter. We're not working 'out there,' out in the offices and streets of 'the world.' We spend a lot of time meeting with church people to talk about church stuff; we spend a lot of time sitting alone in front of books or computer screens or blank pieces of paper. I'm no longer on the school playground, I don't sit in the break room at your company and talk about the scuttlebutt around the office.

So help me make this thing truly relevant. Do you see examples of injustice where you live, work, play, or study? Have you experienced injustice at the hands of another? If Christians are called to work for justice, to seek justice - what does that mean to you? How do you see people misusing others, taking from them whatever is rightfully theirs (reputation, pay)?

When we talk about injustice, and you consider your context, how do they connect? And how might followers of Christ work toward justice in that place?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Book Review: Amish Grace

In their book Amish Grace, Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher explore the concept of forgiveness through the lens of the Amish, and specifically the Amish response to the tragedy at Nickel Mines, PA.

You probably remember the story - Ten small schoolgirls shot in their one-room schoolhouse by a distraught gunman, who then turned the gun on himself to end the slaughter. One more school shooting in a long series of attacks on our country's children. Yet what made this particular event stand out was the reaction of the Amish. Within days, they were speaking of forgiveness. They visited the family of the shooter; some attended his funeral. They cared for his family even as they grieved their own losses. Glaringly absent was talk of reprisal, revenge, condemnation. Instead, there was grace.

The whole event took America by surprise. Comparisons were drawn between this reaction and the aftermath of Columbine and other school shootings. Many couldn't help but notice the sharp difference between this response of forgiveness, and America's bloodthirsty call to retaliation and revenge following the 9/11 attacks.

The authors of Amish Grace, having spent considerable time studying the Amish, stepped into this counter-culture and explored their unique method of dealing with tragedy. They interviewed many in the area of Nickel Mines, including some of the families who lost children; they read Amish papers and listened to their stories, and have gathered all that work into this wonderful, challenging, thought-provoking book.

There are any number of different threads running throughout Amish Grace, and the authors don't shy away from Big Questions. What is forgiveness? Is Forgiveness always appropriate? What about the role of the state to punish wrongdoers? Does forgiveness ignore the price paid by the victim? Is forgiveness realistic for the rest of us?

To understand the Amish perspective on these issues, one must first understand the Amish culture, and the authors spend considerable time exploring their history, their understanding of the world and Christianity and the future. It was in this section that I was pleasantly surprised to have some of my own thoughts and feelings clarified. For four years I studied with the Mennonites, distant cousins with the Amish, and even as the authors were explaining the basic underpinnings of Amish thought, the lightbulb went on in my head saying "aha - so that's why I see things the way I do." One quote, in particular:

From their beginning in the sixteenth century, Anabaptists have emphasized 'following Jesus' as an essential mark of the Christian life. Of course, other Christian traditions value Jesus' life and example, but they find the essence of the Christian faith in something other than discipleship. Roman Catholics, for instance, give priority to the Eucharist, and Pentecostals stress the work of the Holy Spirit. For anabaptists, the primary expression of faith is following - even imitating - Jesus.

This works itself out in the often literal interpretation of the words of Jesus. The sermon on the mount is meant to be lived, not admired. When they pray "forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us," they believe it - our forgiveness is dependent upon our willingness to forgive everyone else. If Jesus chose death over self-protection, if he chose non-resistence over violence, than we must do the same. If he chose submission over self-promotion, then we, too, must submit to the Lord and to each other, rather than seek our own comfort or safety.

It is from this foundation that Amish forgiveness flows, not as an aberration but as the most natural thing in the world. Multiple times the Bible teaches that forgiveness is an expectation for followers of Christ. On the cross, Jesus cried out "Father, forgive them." Any question of retaliation is put to rest when God says "Vengeance is mine."

But is forgiveness that simple? What about the reality of evil, of the unrepentent wrongdoer? It was here that I was truly taken by Amish thought, and the work of the authors to tease it out. For the Amish, forgiveness and reconcilation are two different things. Forgiveness is a requirement on the part of the wronged person to release the wrongdoer of any harm or ill intent, to not hold against them anger or a desire for revenge. But reconciliation requires repentence on the part of the wrongdoer, and often restitution or acceptance of punishment meted out by the larger society. "Amish members emphasize that forgiving an offender does not mean releasing that person from disciplinary action." And, "Restoration is always the goal, but because repentance by the wayward person is the key to restoration, the goal is not always achieved."

Or, in an extended passage,

Amish forgiveness, like forgiveness in the outside world, can be offered regardless of whether an offender confesses, apologizes, or expresses remorse. Extended by the victim to the offender, it is an unconditional gift. Pardon, on the other hand, at least in the Christian tradition, requires repentance. The Amish believe that the church is responsible to God to hold members accountable to their baptismal vows. When a member transgresses. . .he or she is given several chances to repent. Upon making a confession and accepting discipline, a member receives pardon from the church and is restored to full fellowship. If the person does not confess, the Amish, drawing on particular New Testament texts, practice shunning, with the goal of restoring an offender to full fellowship.

There is much about the Amish that seems odd to the rest of the world - their dress, their avoidance of most modern technology, their isolation from the world, and, not least of all, their willingness to forgive, rather than seek restitution or vengeance. But, I'm convinced, when we look closely at the Amish we see a people seeking to live faithfully as disciples of Jesus, and, often, they are doing a better job than the rest of us. They cry out as modern-day prophets to the world, and to the larger church, who too often blindly adopt the ways of the world. The church is called as a community of believers, a family - and the Amish show us what true community looks like. The church is called to forgive when wronged, and the Amish represent that to its fullest.

No, the Amish aren't perfect. They have their own weaknesses, and the authors don't shy over that fact. Amish life is neither idyllic nor utopian. Even forgiveness, they admit, is an ideal the Amish don't always live up to.

But that only strengthens Amish Grace, for showing that even broken humanity can still get it right sometimes.

I'd recommend this book to anybody interested in exploring the issue of forgiveness, including anybody struggling with forgiving someone who has wronged them. If even for a socialogical exploration of the Amish people, the book is well-worth the time to read. Mostly, as people who will one day stand face-to-face with God, giving an account for the ways in which we've lived our lives, it can only help us as we learn from a group who take discipleship so much more seriously than the rest of us often do. This book, and the Amish it represents, are a challenge to us all, but also point us in helpful directions, opening up pathways onto which we can enter as we seek to live as Christ lived.
(with thanks to Ron and Cathlee, who gifted me Amish Grace in the first place.