Friday, May 29, 2009

Jane - Keep (with Just Jesus in between)

I die, just a little, so I can live a little bit more. . .

Jane - Barenaked Ladies
Jesse James - Bruce Springsteen
Jesus Loves Me - St. Olaf Choir
Jesus Messiah - Chris Tomlin
Jesus, Lover of My Soul - Shelley Nirider Jennings (from the Best of Passion Live)
John Henry - Bruce Springsteen
Jolene - Mindy Smith and Dolly Parton
Just a Little - Leigh Nash
Just the Way You Are - Billy Joel
Just the Way You Are - Diana Krall
Katie Lynn - Jill Paquette
Keep on the Sunny Side - The Whites (from the O Brother soundtrack)

Since this just went public: a response to a couple comments down below

Since this discussion is now reaching a larger audience, I ought to clarify something. My basic philosophical and theological position has always been that laws are secondary to changed hearts. You can push this all the way back to Exodus 20, or even to the Abrahamic Covenant. God calls, God delivers, and only then does God lay down his expectations, his 'rules,' if you will. "I am the Lord your God, who delivered you out of Egypt. . .You shall have no other Gods before me." Grace comes first. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." "Therefore, since you have been saved, make every effort to. . ." Salvation, grace, redemption precede obedience and expectation.

So, in essence, I agree wholeheartedly with Ann's opening comments in the abortion thread below. In many cases, laws will only accomplish so much; if we aren't working on the human issues behind those laws, then we may cause more harm than good. I know the argument against that one - the William Wilberforce argument, that laws were necessary to end slavery; in the same way, the desperate plight of the slaughter of so many unborn children demands we pass laws to protect them. I understand that thinking; in fact, I would lean in that direction myself. However. . .while I would support laws limiting abortion for the sake of saving those children, that has not been my primary calling. I recognize and respect those who have a calling to the legal/governmental field. Well, most of them. I'm still not sure about Randall Terry. But, in general, I support the cause of those in the Kingdom who are pursuing this from a legal standpoint.

But I realized a long time ago that my calling is a different one. My calling is more along the lines of Ann's comment - to work toward healthy communities, to call people to Christ's message of sacrifice for the weaker and the marginalized (note: if you take that seriously, I think it puts you in the odd place of being both pro-life and a feminist as historically women have been the marginalized ones, and babies/children the weakest of the weak. I know. . .you can tear that apart.) 15 years ago I was part of a very conservative Bible Church, who regularly took part in voting drives and anti-abortion protests. Somewhere in there I realized we were defining ourselves as over and against, rather than coming alongside of. And even though I had yet to spend time among the Mennonites, I found myself feeling uncomfortable by this division, this violence in our language, this hatred being spewed in the name of Christ. The idea of being an alternative community, being salt and light, grace and peace was non-existent; it was all about power and control. And I realized I needed to do something different.

Since then, my passion and work have gone into coming alongside of people who feel marginalized, people without options, people who feel alone, people in broken situations, and leading them toward the healing power of Christ's Spirit. For me, it's been about building healthy communities where Christ's power infuses his people in such a way that they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the poor in prison, look after widows and orphans in their distress, AND stand up to injustice and oppression, side with the orphan and the immigrant, break the bonds if oppression. In other words, being the Kingdom of God, rather than forcing the Kingdom of God onto people.

So. . .back to the post a couple days ago. I was challenged in a response for the notion that I was supporting laws without thinking through the consequences of those laws. And I freely admit, I'm guilty. But not because I've been blindly supporting the laws; it's more that my efforts and endeavors have been put elsewhere. So the question was less about "hey - I'm an idiot for not thinking through my own position," the question was more put out there for those who have spent their time and energy into the legal side of things: I was echoing Hugo's question, recognizing that, perhaps, those who come along here are the real target of Hugo's question. My 'audience' would be more representative of the pro-life side, or so I assume, anyway. And I was really curious about the response, again assuming that people out there had thought this through, had spent more time crafting a response. I was curious what those people had to say.

So, all that to say, if you come in here, I just want you to know that I'm not your caricatured version of the anti-abortion crowd. While philosophically I am opposed to what I see as the taking of human life, and while generally I would vote for laws limiting abortion, the legal options are secondary to my greater desire to see God's Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven, but to come as Christ came, giving himself away, choosing love over violence, humility over power, freedom over coercion, sacrifice over control.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In memory of Ralph Winter

I used this quote by Dr. Winter in last Sunday's sermon:

“Don’t ever think that. . .the Bible is simply a bundle of divergent, unrelated stories as taught in Sunday school. Rather, the Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of ‘The Kingdom strikes back.’

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Getting political for a moment

A week or so ago, Hugo wrote on his blog the story of a group of anti-abortion protesters on the campus of Pasadena City College. In that entry, he asked the following:

So the question I would have for my pro-life friends is about policy. What specific policy recommendations do you call for? If doctors continue to perform abortions once it has been made illegal, what charges do you intend to bring against them? What crime do you think a woman ought to be charged with if she seeks an abortion? If you believe that women are “victims” of abortion, do you see them as emotional children who cannot be held accountable for their actions? Do you think penalties should be enhanced for women who seek more than one abortion over the course of their lifetimes?

It's a good series of questions, questions we don't seem to talk about very much. In my experience, the push is all toward repealing Roe v. Wade and then outlawing abortion. But supposing that succeeded - what then? And why isn't this part of the conversation?

Perhaps it is, and I've missed it. But, as a pastor, I receive a fair amount of literature in the mail regarding abortion; as a reader of Christian newsmagazines and websites, I certainly hear many who labor tirelessly to 'end abortion,' mostly by working to have abortion made illegal in the U.S. But, honestly, I think this is the first time I've ever been asked "and then what?"

These are questions I admit I haven't really thought through, and questions for which I'm not sure I have any good answers.

Let me be clear about this: I am of the firm belief that life is a gift from God, be it life in the womb or life in a convalescent home, and that life ought only to be taken by God except in the extreme necessity of self-defense (even then I'm not so sure, thanks to those Mennonites. . .). I've read most sides of this debate, and, in the end, I believe that a human fetus is still human, and thus, killing it is wrong. Again, lest there be any confusion: abortion is a sin. Having an abortion is the wrong choice. Performing abortion is the killing of a human. So, yes, you could say I am against abortion, and would gladly vote for laws curtailing abortion rights, even making it illegal, just as murdering somebody on the street is illegal.

But Hugo's opened up some interesting questions. If we were to see abortion outlawed in our day, what, then, should be the consequence of having an abortion? Of performing abortions?

Just the other day I heard of a young woman, barely a teenager, who became pregnant; uncertain what she should do, she followed her mother's advice and had the baby aborted (the mother, btw, does consider herself a fine Christian woman, or so I am told. . .but felt her daughter was too young for this responsibility, so abortion was the 'sensible' choice). And this story is told time and again across our nation. Place that story into a world where abortion is illegal. What would we expect as a proper consequence? Prison? Paying a fine? Community service?

With the doctors, I suppose it may be an easier call. If abortion is illegal, and one performs an abortion, if one profits from performing abortions, I personally wouldn't have trouble with mandating jail time. Immediate revocation of one's medical license. Paying fines, doing community service.

Except. . .would it be equitable to give one set of consequences to the doctor, and another to the woman who sought the abortion in the first place? Would we think it fair to imprison the abortionist, while only giving a slap on the wrist to the one who wanted their child aborted? Because if not. . .then are we ready to start putting 14-15 year old girls into prison for this? Or 26-year old women, or 35-year old women who may just happen to have other kids at home for whom she is caring?

And what about the mother who pressures her teenage daughter - is she guilty? And what about the boyfriend/husband who pushes his girlfriend/wife into this decision?

In a moral universe, all share some of the guilt - the doctor, the pregnant girl/woman, the person pressuring them. None can claim complete innocence for causing the end of a baby's life.

But in a legal universe, are we ready to charge them all with the same crime? Are we ready to call these women "murderers"? (Okay, I know some are; I've seen the signs and bumper stickers. That's not primarily the crowd I'm addressing here). Do we want to make the case that aborting a baby is the same as murdering a child or adult? If so, do we want the same set of consequences?

Viscerally, when one hears of a woman throwing her child off a bridge, or a man murdering the little girl next door, we instantly think "lock them up," or at the least "stick them in an institution somewhere so they can get help." But what about our next-door-neighbor, the PTA president, the woman who volunteers at Little League, what about our teenage daughters - otherwise normal kids or upstanding adults, who just happen to have had an abortion.

Are we ready to lock them up? To institutionalize them?

So we have Hugo's question. What should be the penalty for performing abortions? What should be the penalty for seeking an abortion. If we were to see abortion outlawed. . .what then?

(final note: the assumption of this discussion is that pro-life people ought to have a discussion about the far-reaching consequences of acheiving their goals. It's not to have a debate on whether or not abortion is wrong/a sin. Please remember that, should you choose to leave any comments.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The perfect weekend

Just to make you all jealous, I think I just had the perfect weekend. Evening bike ride through the woods Friday night, worked with friends at our rummage sale on Saturday. Worship Sunday morning was wonderful, then my parents and brother came over Sunday afternoon and we had a good visit. Memorial Day dawned sunny and clear; my dad and I headed down to the Longbranch Marina where I met the fine folks from the yacht club there. I got to stand high up on a yacht overlooking the bay to deliver Taps as they laid a wreath upon the water in honor of the day - did I mention Mt. Rainier was coming out through the haze as the ceremony commenced?

Then we picked up my brother and drove to the home of some friends, where we spent an hour on the beach collecting oysters and steamer clams. Back to the house to shuck the oysters, then more friends came over and we had a Memorial Day feast. On the deck. Under the sun.

The day ended with a trip to Raft Island, where we joined some other members of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Symphony Orchestra for an evening of conversation revolving around music, photography, and much more.

This morning it was back to the beach, to join the grade school students on their annual beach exploration day. Even as we wandered around, looking for clams and urchins and sea stars and crabs, a bald eagle swooped out of an overhead tree, pulled a fish out of the water, and flew off into the woods for some fine dining.

At the moment I've got cuts on my fingers from the oyster shells, I've got a sunburn on my face and sand between my toes. Yep. That was the best Memorial Day ever.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bike Ride Report

Route: Side roads through the woods to Longbranch, side roads through the woods to Penrose Point State Park, side roads through the woods back home.
Distance: 10.2 miles
Time: 58 minutes (plus a 20 minute water break at the beach at Penrose)

Nothing special to note regarding this ride, other than the fact that it was early evening, the sun was cutting across the trees onto the western flank of Mt. Rainier, the spring flowers are in full bloom, lawns are mown short, the water in the cove was smooth as glass, and the campground at Penrose is full of happy campers gathered around campfires, preparing for another warm night.

Memorial Day weekend is rarely sunny in the Puget Sound area. If I believed in karma, I would think this was all a straightening-out from our cold, wet winter. But I don't - instead, I simply give thanks to the God who paints his world with such glorious colors, smells, sights, sounds, creatures, plants, coves, waves, and people.

These are the days I'm convinced there is no more beautiful spot on earth than where I live.

As to the greater day:

- Our rummage sale brought in about $4000 in one day - almost twice last year's total.

- The recycling bin has been emptied up at the local solid waste disposal site

- The yard and deck are looking clean

- The propane tank is full

- All we need is the family to show up for a party; then we can say summer is here.

And one more thing: If you're down in Longbranch Monday morning, in the vicinity of the marina, and if you hear taps floating across the water a little after 9:30, that would be me, doing my part for the local Memorial Day wreath laying.

Friday, May 22, 2009

If-Jacob

If I Didn't Know Any Better - Alison Krauss and Union Station
If I Ever - Alli Rogers
If I Had $1,000,000 - Barenaked Ladies
If I Had a Hammer (the Hammer Song) - Nanci Griffith
If You can Tame My Heart - Sierra Hull
In the Morning - Norah Jones
In the Sweet By and By/Do Lord - Mars Hill Music
Instead of a Show - Jon Foreman
It's the Same Old Song - David Wilcox
Jackson - Johnny Cash
Jacob's Dream - Alison Krauss
Jacob's Ladder - Bruce Springsteen

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The hardest thing(s)

A couple of weeks ago, at our men's breakfast, Ron asked me, "what's the toughest thing for you about being a pastor?" I thought about it a moment, and answered honestly - it's been a different thing at each church I've served.

Lakebay is the fourth church at which I've had the privilege of being paid to do ministry. And in each of those four churches, the struggles have been unique to that location. The 'toughest thing' in Upland was different than the 'toughest thing' in Gresham, and my struggles in Turlock were vastly different than anything I've struggled with here in Lakebay. In one of those churches, 'the toughest thing' was a manipulative, deceitful pastor who undermined my work and lied about me to the congregation (btw - he's now passed on, so if Brad or Gary are reading this, I'm not talking about you :) ); in one of those churches, I struggled with dogmatic fundamentalist types who felt that anything not matching up to their expectations must necessarily be sinful. In one of those churches I struggled with the remnants of a battle fought 25 years earlier; in one of those churches 'the toughest thing' was simply unworked-through personality differences and unspoken expectations.

That's not to say all my struggles were the fault of others. Add in to those issues my own lack of education early on, my own naivete and pride, my own sheer exhaustion at working while going to school and having babies at home, my own sin nature. . .I own the fact that struggles are always a two-way street, and I have been far from perfect over the years. So, yes, many of those 'toughest things' were exacerbated by my own actions and plans, or lack thereof.

But if I had to give a long-term, across-the-years answer, I would say that, for me, there are a couple of "toughest things about being a pastor" that stand out.

1) I've been in this long enough that I've witnessed people with whom we've ministered crash and burn in explosive ways. What's tough is getting the news that that person you've loved, with whom you've gone camping and shared meals and gone on mission trips, that person you've discipled, cried with, laughed with, shared a cabin at camp with - that they're living on the streets with an alcohol addition. Or they're in prison for rape or theft or drug abuse. Or even getting onto their facebook page and finding out that their greatest pleasures are drinking at parties, drinking with the guys or the girls, getting drunk and having sex with random people (it's amazing what people put on their facebook pages, isn't it?). Or even, they're doing relatively okay in life, but they just have no time or space for, or interest in, following Christ. When they left their youth, they left God behind, and now they're pursuing anything and everything but Christ. I've seen people slam hard into walls, I've seen people simply fade away; either way, when these are the people with whom you shared the Word, people for whom you threw Christmas parties and organized mission trips and people you led in worship. . .it's tough to see them throw it all away. It's painful to hear "did you hear about (____)?" and know that, whatever comes next, it won't be good news. So that's tough.

2) One thing that has always stuck in my craw has been the people who are a part of the church, or the youth group, but then they just. . .drift away. One week they're not there, then two, then three. Then you begin to wonder. . .and awhile later you bump into them at the store, and it's awkward, but eventually they'll tell you "I'm going to the group over at that other church now. Nothing against you, but they have ______" And you wish them well and walk away. I remember a couple times over the years when people had the backbone to tell me right up front "we're leaving, and here's why. . ." And as painful as those times have been, I must say I appreciated those people. And I think it was a healthy process. Even if I didn't agree with the reasons they gave (other than moving to another state. . .), I felt honored that they would choose to make a clean break, to be forthright and honest, to let me know exactly what was going on so I wasn't left wondering. I've never fully understood how people could be completely tied into one church, and then just suddenly leave for another, without so much as a goodbye. When people choose to leave, I figure they're responsible for their own choices, and it's not my place to try to argue them back. But I've always appreciated straightforward, direct communication, so that everything is in the light, rather than slipping out the back door with nary a "so long and thanks for all the fish." The first is painful, but healthy, the second is also painful, but in the way that lingers on and on. It's a little like dating, I suppose. Telling the other "I want to break up" is painful, but better than pretending to be busy, not returning phone calls, leaving them hanging and wondering and hoping eventually they'll figure it out and leave. Losing people is always tough as a pastor (well, not always. I can think of a couple people. . .), but it is a lot more irritating when you're left to wonder if they're just on vacation or if they've jumped ship completely.

3) It really comes back to communication. And I think lack of clear communication would be the final 'toughest thing.' And by that I mean either people who never speak to you, but still get angry when you don't meet their expectations, or the passive aggressive, smile and tell you they love you when really they're thinking about leaving. Or even the people who tell you everything is fine, when really they're going through a divorce, battling with addictions and depression, and just found out they have terminal cancer. As I see it, I'm called to sit with people in their dark spaces as well as their light ones. True ministry happens when there is honesty and open-ness. I think sometimes people feel like they "don't want to bother the pastor with their problems." But that's exactly why I am a pastor - so that the Lord's grace can flow through me into their difficult spaces. I'm not saying it's easy to continually walk beside people in the valley of the shadow of death, but it's a lot better than finding out six months later that they walked through alone, simply because they were too prideful or ashamed to say anything about it. I used to wander over to the local coffeehouse to hang out with the youth of our church. From a distance, I'd see some of the kids smoking. At some point, they would see me coming and attempt to quickly hide the cigarettes before I reached them. And I always told them "I hate to see you smoking, because it's disgusting and it'll kill you. But I'd rather you be honest and smoke in front of me than have you hide it and pretend you're not. In the end, we need to be honest and transparent with each other. I love you enough that I want to see you as you are, not as a fake shiny happy copy." Or something like that. And I still feel the same way. I'd rather hear from people that they're feeling crappy, than have them smile and say they're super when in reality they're not.

However, with all that said, I still love being a pastor, even with the difficult, hard things. The joy of serving the Lord and serving others continually inspires me, and the experience of grace in my own life allows me to have grace for others when they fall short of these impossibly high standards I have. Even when former youth stumble, even when people wander away, even when people hold up their walls and refuse to let me inside, I still love them and still love serving the Lord with them. So don't think I sit around and stew about these toughest things; not most days, anyway.

But Ron asked, so there you go. Hope this answers the question.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Affirmation of Faith for Amos 9

We believe and trust that, one day, God will make all things right.

That pain will wash away in peace, that anger will disappear in divine love.

That starvation will give way to abundance, and hunger to satisfaction.

We believe that God is at work, even now, to destroy death and pain and misery with life and joy and gladness.

We also believe that we are called to do our part, to feed the hungry, to welcome the outcast, to forgive those who do us wrong, to stand up for justice and mercy in this world.

Until he comes again, we will do his work, trusting that his victory is our victory, and that our hope will be rewarded with endless joy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bike Ride Report

Route: North to Home, South to Longbranch, back north to Penrose Pt, then home again.
Distance Ridden: 11.2 miles (but let me tell you about those hills. . .)
Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes (plus a 20 minute break on the beach at Penrose)
Weather: stunningly perfect
# of bald eagles which flew alongside for a short distance: 1
# of times I was buzzed by a C-17: 2 (well, maybe not buzzed, but he was awfully low to the deck)
# of hills upon which I was descending at a high rate of speed, only to discover my brakes had disconnected and therefore were not working: 1
# of oyster-diggers at Penrose Point: app. 10
# of Jennifer Knapp songs that popped up on the Ipod mix: 3

Friday, May 15, 2009

All the "I"s

I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow - The Soggy Bottom Boys ('O Brother' soundtrack)
I Am Nothing - Ginny Owens
I Can't Do This - Plumb
I Don't Want to Get Adjusted - Iris Dement
I Dreamed a Dream - Mandy Patinkin
I Give you to His Heart - Alison Krauss
I Guess He'd Rather be in Colorado - John Denver
I Left This Space for You - Arturo Sandoval
I Love Being Here With You - Diana Krall
I Repent - Derek Webb
I Saw the Light - David Crowder Band
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2 (Rattle and Hum version)
I Walk the Line - Johnny Cash
I Want Jesus to Walk With Me - Mars Hill Music
I Will Rise - Chris Tomlin
I Wonder - Infamous Stringdusters

Thursday, May 14, 2009

From whence commeth the scam?

Last year, we bought a new car. A Kia Rondo, to be exact. And like all Kias, it came with a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty.

Yesterday we got the ubiquitous "Your warranty is about to expire! Call today to renew and expand your original factory warranty! Don't be left without coverage!" letter.

I know these are essentially scams, coming from third parties hoping to prey on the feeble-minded who get suckered into these things. Our warranty is nowhere near to expiring. They know nothing, except that we own a newer Kia Rondo.

But the question that comes to mind is, how do they know that? There are only two places I can think of: the original dealer, or the department of licensing. Somebody had to pass on to these scammers the fact that we bought a new car. I'm assuming these nimrods probably paid somebody for this information. It's how business works; somebody has information, somebody else pays them for that information.

But who? Is the Kia dealership selling off lists of new-car-purchasers? Is the Washington State Department of Licensing? I don't like either option. The dealership made enough just in selling us the car; if I found out they were making further profit by aiding and abetting illicit scammers, I would be upset. And I certainly don't want to go down the road of suspecting the government of handing out this information.

So who is it? Who told the Acme Insurance Institute about our new car? Anybody have any ideas?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One Last Reminder

The choir from Alaska Christian College
will be presenting a program of music and dance
shared in their native style and language
tonight at Lakebay Community Church

7:00 p.m.

Snacks and fellowship to follow.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Hurricane - I've (the jazz standard edition)

". . .waiting to find a little bluebird in vain"

Hurricane
- Mindy Smith
I'm Always Chasing Rainbows - Mandy Patinkin
I'm Asking You - Blue Highway
I'm in the Mood for Love - Steve Tyrell
I've Been Waiting - Sixpence None the Richer
I've got the World on a String - Steve Tyrell
I've Got to See You Again - Norah Jones
I've Got you Under My Skin - Diana Krall
I've Just Seen a Face - Jim Sturges (from the Across the World Soundtrack)
I've Just Seen a Face - The Dillards

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Pit

This is the sermon I gave on Easter Sunday. It was offered as is, with no introduction or concluding remarks, allowing the story to stand on its own.

+++++++

. . .His dying into the earth

begins the great reversal –

as blood from a vein leaps

into the needle, so with his rising,

we surge into light.[1]

“And then he was alive. The tomb could not hold him. The stone was simply blown aside by God’s returning life – not returning human life, which always ends in dissolution and death, but God’s life, which is triumphant over anything and everything that threatens human existence, including most of all dissolution and death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that God has reversed the story, reversed the odds, reversed the direction – from death to life.[2]

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.[3]

From our earliest days, the Pit lay on the edge of our dreams. It was in the lullabies our mothers sang to us; it was the theme of the nursery rhymes we chanted as children.

Lullaby, my little one,

rest sweetly through the night,

should terrors come into your sleep,

my love will be your light.

And what terrors could those be, but the terror that was the Pit.

Sing and Dance around the land,

through forest, plain, and town,

close to home we all remain,

we always fall back down.

Falling down – as children it seemed so simple, the stumbling of boys and girls attempting their first early steps. But scholars point us back further; falling, they tell us, has always meant the Pit.

Our earliest morality tales, the fairy tales we learned upon grandfather’s knee, often ended with the naughty child wandering too close to the Pit, falling in, never to be heard from again. Our teachers, our preachers. . .certainly, they taught of so many other things: how to be good, how to be wise, they taught us reading and writing, they taught us the ways of nature and the universe, but most lessons eventually returned to the Pit.

It lay a short ways beyond the back of our village. On the playground, boastful classmates would claim they had been there, they had seen it, they had heard the anguished wailing said to pour out on warm harvest nights; but we never believed them. Still, we wondered. Wondered what it looked like, wondered if the rumors were true.

This is what we did know: the Pit had always been there; at least, in the history of our people it had always been there. Our preachers told us that at the very beginning there had been no Pit, but that the people had made the gods angry; in retaliation, the gods had created the Pit as punishment. Again, more stories and fables, no way of knowing how true they might be.

What we did know was that the Pit remained, deep, dark, impenetrable. And we knew two more things: Those who went into the Pit never, ever returned, they were never heard from again; and we knew this: eventually, everybody went into the Pit. Both were mysteries. Our sages and philosophers attempted to explain the first; perhaps, some said, the other side of the Pit was so wonderful that nobody would want to return. Others taught that the Pit had no bottom – those who fell in would keep on falling, forever. But nobody had ever returned to tell us; it was all so much guessing.

The second truth was the most troubling. We all knew the Pit was dangerous. We all knew the warnings: Never go near the Pit. And yet. . .eventually, everybody fell in.

Or, at least, that was what we assumed. Some went out for a walk and never returned; others were seen climbing into their beds at night – in the morning, their blankets were cold and empty, and they were nowhere to be found. Ever again. There were stories that were told of shivering hunters in the woods on the edge of the Pit – glancing up from their hot soup and coffee to see a child, a man or woman walking through the fog toward the Pit, turning neither right nor left, simply wandering toward the edge and, without slowing, stepping over the side. Why? we asked. Why would anybody jump into the Pit? It was a question that had no answer.

We had many questions without answers, but we learned to live with them. Usually.

One summer in my youth, the mother of my best school-friend disappeared. It was early one morning, as summer’s heat was finally breaking the fog and gloom of the rainy spring; they gathered together for breakfast, a basket of homemade bread and fresh milk; they said their morning prayers, and then went out into the day. She carried a basket out into the field, “to get enough berries to make a pie for dinner,” she told them. They watched her as she happily walked beyond their field and reached the woods. . .and she was gone.

When she didn’t return that evening, we all searched the woods; the police asked around town, they offered a reward, they passed word on to the other villages in the valley, but everybody already knew. She had gone into the Pit. I said we learned to live with our questions. But I knew differently. My schoolmate was never the same. None of us were. Our own parents fretted, they tried to make excuses, they even tried to blame her - “she never should have gone over there; she should have known better” – but, in the end, nothing lessened the fear, or the sadness. We suffered as our friend suffered. And we learned to fear the Pit like never before.

Those were the difficult times. Sometimes an old person disappeared, and we were sad, but we all agreed, “She lived a good life; if the Pit is kind, she will be happy again.” But the other times – when a mother or father disappeared, when a child went in. . .it was anger that surfaced. Rage. Men and women would scream, they would break things. They would yell out their hatred of the Pit. They would cry out about how unfair it all was; they would scream that they could no longer stand it.

But nothing could be done. Nobody seemed to have any power over the Pit. No matter the warnings, the nursery rhymes and morality tales. . .still, year after year, people would disappear into the Pit. And this we knew: the Pit never returned her prize. There was only one direction with the Pit: Down.

I learned the mystery of the Pit when I was a young man, taking on new responsibilities as a member of our family. Childhood was fading. “You’re becoming an adult,” my father told me. “Time to start earning your keep around here.”

And so that cold autumn morning I left early, carrying only my rifle and pack with the few supplies needed for a day of hunting. Winter would be here soon enough; we had to fill our food supplies to carry us through. The fields were mostly picked clean; but I thought a small deer, even a wild turkey or few grouse would make a nice addition to the dinner table on those long, cold nights that lay ahead.

It was a miserable day, with mist giving way to drizzle as I made my way across the small creek that marked the west boundary of the village. At lunchtime my luck had only been wretched; two small pheasant flushed, and both shots missed. I paused to down some tepid coffee and a sandwich made of leftovers from last night’s table. The food offered enough energy to carry on through the afternoon, but my luck wouldn’t turn. Nothing to be seen but the endless wood, the thickening moss, the water drops collected from rain and mist dropping to the dark forest floor. I was cold and wet, dejected, tired; I could think of nothing better than the fire of home, and mother’s stew on the table. Giving up on the hunt, I turned toward home.

But I heard music.

Through the trees, I heard music. The soft splinter of notes, mixing with the late afternoon wind, the dripping of rain through the leaves. It came, it went, it came back again. From time to time gypsies would camp in our woods; It was well-known that teenagers from the town would often sneak out, away from the watchful eyes of parents; there were hidden alcoves among the trees where a dozen could gather and party and never be discovered. Whether this music came from the fiddle of passing vagabonds or even friends of mine out for a night of fun, I couldn’t tell.

Wandering closer, I soon made out a campfire, with two huddled shapes sitting close by. They seemed to be singing – it was sweet, it was mournful – but there was music behind their voices; its source, beyond my sight. It drew me toward them, out of the woods into the small clearing in which they sat. I didn’t think I knew them from our village, their singing in a language I didn’t understand. And yet. . .it was an enchanting melody they sang. Plain, simple, and yet it touched a chord inside and pulled me forward. A small kettle hung over the fire; I smelled a soup of some sort cooking inside; the hunger from my day’s wandering jumped at the thought of a warm meal; and yet, these two singers, these two strangers took no notice me. Their song and their food alone was working their magic

Until I said, with some trepidation, “hello?”

And they were up. Throwing back their cloaks, clutching out at me with bony, darkened hands, cackling with sickened delight; and I realized, in a glance that left me cold with horror, that we allstood on the edge of the Pit. Fear lurched in my stomach and I turned to flee, but it was too late. I was too close, too tired to fight. Showing surprising strength for their withered arms, these two grabbed me and pulled me back, thrust me toward the Pit, pushed against my last efforts to save myself. . .

and it was over. For a moment the cloudy evening sky tumbled overhead, I could see the light of campfire flickering off branches, and then, all was dark.

How long I lay there, I have no idea. Hours; days; years? All was black, all was silent. I could hear nothing, I could see nothing, I could feel nothing. My shouts into the darkness fell flat, as if underwater. I drifted, losing all sense of time and space. The only thought that remained was this: those who fall into the Pit never return.

Were there others around? All those who had gone before? I couldn’t tell. How does one describe utter darkness, total silence, lack of any feeling? It was like floating in water, only I couldn’t move. That, I knew. My body seemed frozen, paralyzed. Perhaps I was? Perhaps in the fall my body had been damaged? Only I felt no pain. I felt nothing except fear, at first, sheer terror and panic; but, eventually fear gave way to despair. All was nothing. Blackness surrounded me, silence like the grave held me tightly. And I lay there, waiting in eternity.


Until. . .how does one tell the exact moment when the afternoon sky begins to darken into dusk? When the day turns to evening? How do you mark the moment when stars first break through the canopy of sky?

In the same way. . .in a moment after eons, somewhere out at the fringes of my senses. . . something was different. Something was. . .changing. I began to make out. . .sound. Muffled, but becoming clearer. At first, incoherent murmurings, but as I strained to understand, they gave way to voices – shouts. Angry shouts.

I cried out to them “I’m here! I’m here! Save me!” but could feel the uselessness. As if rags were stuffed in my mouth, my voice wouldn’t carry. I gave up, trying to listen all the more.

And this is what I heard:

“Throw him in! Throw him in! It’s all his fault!”

No distinct voices, just the murmuring, the chanting of an angry mob.

“He said he’s the Master of the Pit! Throw him in!”

It grew louder and louder; moving as if toward victory it reached a fevered pitch, and then – the loudest of cheers, punctuated by a single cry of anguish, and all grew silent again. Except for the singular sound as of gravel sliding a steep slope, the pop and crunch of falling sand, an echoing thud. And then all truly was silent.

I strained to hear more; I called into the blackness, I lay in stillness, straining my ears for more, hungry for something, anything, but it was pointless. All was as it had been before.

Except. . .

How does one mark the moment of first light, when the eastern horizon begins to glow in primal sunlight? How does one mark the beginnings of the gentle song of a lark singing in the distant wood? How does one measure the exact time when night gives way to early dawn?

My eyes beheld a quickening light.

At first, only the faintest light and deepest dark, shadows of shadows. Slowly these gave way, and I began to see gray dark walls of stone, as in the inside of a mountain cavern. I tried to look around, but found I was still frozen in place; and yet, in front and above me I could soon see soaring walls of granite reaching beyond my sight, and then, looking down, I found the cause of my imprisonment: ropes like vines held me fast to the floor. Growing out of the ground itself, long tapers wrapped around my legs, my arms, my torso, my neck and head. Much as I strained against them, it did no good. They were strong as a new steel chain. I could see, but I could not move.

The light was growing brighter now – inside this cave, inside the Pit it seemed almost as bright as day – and finally I could see why.

A man lay on the ground a few yards away. I could only see him out of the corner of my eye; he wasn’t moving. And yet he was, I almost don’t know how to say it – he was glowing. The light was coming from him. From inside of this man. His skin was translucent, his face was radiant. All the light in the room seemed to find its source in this man, as if he were made of electricity itself.

In spite of this strange light, I assumed he was dead, or unconscious, stuck like me, until. . .he laughed. The deep, heart-felt laugh of one who recognizes the joy of work well-done. The laughter of one who has no care in the world. Beautiful, rich, joyous; it was wondrous to me to hear.

And then his eyes opened and he was looking at me. I could see – his eyes staring into mine with a strange fervor, and yet he was smiling. Tears of joy were streaming down his face as laughter filled this cavern. . .and then he sat up. The vines wrapped around his body simply slipped off, as if melting at his motion. He climbed to one knee, then the other, and pulled himself up, stretching his arms up to the heavens, laughing, a laughter of pleasure and of song. He turned; looked at me, and finally walked over.

He stood over me a moment, his laugh temporarily muted, he shook his head and – I shall always remember this – a tear dropped from his cheek. For a moment it hung in midair, as if suspended in space, but it was falling toward me – it landed on my chest, and to my amazement, the vines that had held like steel pulled back – recoiled even, as if the tear was poison to them –

he reached out his hand – I took it in mine, and stood.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, we are finished with this place. Let us go.”

And this was most wondrous of all – he lifted off the ground, as if flying upward; and, with my hand in his, I flew with him. The walls of the Pit drifted downward past us, the wind picked up in my ears, I looked in wonder and awe at this man, this man who had been thrown into the Pit by the mob; His gaze remained upward, as if seeking out the line that would mark the lip of this cavern.

Was this possible? Was I dreaming? Could it truly be that he was lifting me out of the Pit? Returning me to the land from which I’d fallen? It was unheard of – nobody returned from the Pit. And yet, and yet. I saw it with my own eyes. Far overhead a slit appeared, it quickly widened as we flew upward; the space between filled with the brilliant blue of a summer sky; we rocketed skyward and as we did this man who was pulling me upward began to sing – a shout of glory, a cry of triumph, an exuberant melody of joy and satisfaction. . .

And then we stood at the top. The impossible – returning from the Pit – had been accomplished. He and I stood, gazing in wonder as the deep green wood seemed to bend around us; the songs of the summer lark and the buzz of the dragonfly hammered in our ears, the fresh, clean taste of air filled our lungs.

A small pool lay ahead of us. He walked over, bent down, sank his face deep in the clear water, and drank. It was all the invitation I needed; I joined him as quickly as I could move; the icy, crystalline water poured down my throat, fairer and sweeter than any wine I’d ever tasted. The moment was glory.

Finally, after all this time, I found my voice to ask him: “Who, who are you?”

He turned to me, a gentle, friendly smile on his face.

“It depends on who you ask,” he replied. “I’ve been know by many names. Some have called me a wretch, others have called me a King. My friends have called me Joshua, or Teacher. For now, you can call me friend.”

“Will you come back with me?” I asked. “Will you come back to the village – to see my family, to join us? Will you stay?”

He glanced wistfully over his shoulder, back in the direction our village lay, and shook his head.

“No, that’s for you. You go – your mother is waiting. Go and tell them what you’ve seen. Go and tell them the story has changed. Go and tell them of this reversal. Go and tell them this: No longer will the Pit hold you. What had been true: those who go into the Pit never return, well, I’ve reversed that. The Pit couldn’t hold me; they should have known that. And since I have returned, the Pit has lost its power to hold you. Up to this moment, there has only been one direction possible with the Pit: In. No longer. Now the Pit must give up her prize. Now all must rise as you have risen. All is reversed. All is changed. The Pit can no longer hold you.”

“But won’t you come with me, even for a day?” I asked. “I have so much to ask you.”

“No, I can’t.” He said. “I have work still to do.

And, with that, he rose, he wrapped his mighty arms around me, he embraced me for a moment. . .letting go, he gazed skyward, said “yes, I have work still to do,” and, even as his words echoed in my ears, with a victorious shout he dove back into the Pit.



[1] Shaw, Luci. “Present,” in Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross, Mark D. Baker, ed. ©2006 Baker Publishing

[2] Rutledge, Fleming. “Reaching Out,” in This Incomplete One: Words Occasioned by the Death of a Young Person, Michael D. Bush, ed. © 2006 Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co.

[3] Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Not sure who I am anymore

In today's mail, I was:

Pastor Dan Whitmarsh
Dan Whitmarsh, religious leader
Mr. Dan Whitmarsh Clergyman

and

Dan Whitmarsh Lakebay Community Church

Oh, and then generically "Pastor of Lakebay Church"

That's my problem. I seem to be lacking a sense of any central identity. Still, I think from now on I'm going to have "religious leader" printed on my business cards. Sound so official or something.

Something I just realized

Other than a short jaunt to Orcas Island last July, I haven't had a vacation since our trip to Gualala last February. As in, a year ago February.

And honestly, I think my soul is wearing thin.

I'm not complaining, just observing. I'm not as patient these days as I usually am. Not as creative. Not as energized. Not as playful. Perhaps a little edgier. I suppose that's the soul's way of saying it needs a break.

I'm not even sure how that happened. I thought I was pretty good about using the vacation time given me. I suppose it just disappeared in the flush of getting things running last fall, then all those snowstorms in December, then all the Covenant stuff this winter and spring, and here we are again. And I did have a couple tentative plans that fell through - plans to be in Mexico, plans to head to Virgina. . .but other stuff intervened.

And I guess it's true: vacations won't schedule themselves. So, I think the plan this week will be to grab a calendar and get some dates on there to go play with my family somewhere else.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Holy - Humble

"I'm on my knees empty; you humble me, Lord."

Holy, Holy, Holy
- St. Olaf Choir
Homeless Man - Blue Highway
Hop Up and Jump/Simple Gifts - Barrie Phillips and William Coulter
Hope- Alli Rogers
Hope For Resolution - St. Olaf Choir
Hosanna- Jill Phillips
House of Prayer for All - Mars Hill Music
How Can I Keep from Singing? - St. Olaf Choir
How Great is Our God - Chris Tomlin
How to Grow a Woman from the Ground - Chris Thile
Hullarious - Sierra Hull
Humble Me - Norah Jones