Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Jordon points to a Time article on Stanley Hauerwas:

Hauerwas has been a thorn in the side of what he takes to be Christian complacency for more than 30 years. For him, the message of Jesus was a radical one to which Christians, for the most part, have never been fully faithful. Christians, he believes, are called to be a pilgrim people who will always find themselves in one political community or another but who are never defined completely by it. Thus, as the body of Christ on Earth, Christians must be a "sign of contradiction," to borrow a term from Pope John Paul II, a moral theologian much admired by the very Anabaptist Methodist Hauerwas...

...If Hauerwas' rough speech and pointed views are taken as scandalous within academic society, he believes that what really scandalizes the so-called wisdom of the world is the message of the cross. If Christians really faced up to the facts of Jesus' story, they would be shocked. It is a radical tale: God revealed himself in inauspicious circumstances — in a provincial backwater of the Roman Empire and among a beleaguered people, the Israelites. Through his ministry and death, Jesus offered humankind a radical vision of forgiveness and freedom from revenge. To a world obsessed with power, that is outrageous. An omnipotent God incarnate who relinquishes his power and dies an ignominious death in order that human beings might "have life and have it more abundantly"? Whoever heard of such a thing?

A God who embraces powerlessness unto death is a message the world will never accept, says Hauerwas. Yet, he argues, it is that message the Christian is bid to take to all nations. If you were to ask Hauerwas to define himself by a single word, once he got Texan out of the way, he would probably say disciple and add that anyone who uses the word "better damn well mean it."

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.

Dorothy Day
My student told me this story about a famous Nagoya citizen. Amazing.

Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese imperial army straggler who lived in the jungles of Guam for 28 years after World War II ended, died at 5:07 pm Monday Sept 22, 1997 of heart failure at JR Tokai General Hospital in Nagoya Japan. He was 82. Yokoi lived in a tunnel-like, underground cave in a bamboo grove until Jan 24, 1972, when he was discovered near the Talofofo River by hunters. Yokoi, who had been a tailor's apprentice before being drafted in 1941, made clothing from the fibers of wild hibiscus plants and survived on a diet of coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, snails, eels and rats. "We Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive," Yokoi said in 1972. "The only thing that gave me the strength and will to survive was my faith in myself and that as a soldier of Japan, it was not a disgrace to continue on living," Yokoi said in 1986. No one in the history of humanity, except stragglers later discovered in Philippines, has equaled his record. Few have struggled with loneliness, fear, and self for as long as twenty-eight years.

And another one...

For almost one more year, Onoda continued to live on his own. He was prepared to die on the island. Then, February 20, 1974, he encountered a young Japanese university dropout named Suzuki living alone in a tent. Suzuki had left Japan to travel the world and told his friends that he was “going to look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order. (He found Onoda, he could go to any big zoo to see the panda, but one can’t help but wonder if he ever found the Abominable Snowman.) Onoda approached cautiously and the two soon struck up a conversation that lasted many hours. The two became friends, but Onoda said that he was waiting for orders from one of his commanders.

Suzuki left and promised that he would return. And he did.

On March 9, 1974, Onoda went to an agreed upon place and found a note that had been left by Suzuki. Along with the note, Suzuki had enclosed two photos that they had taken together the first time that they met along with copies of two army orders. The next day, Onoda decided to take a chance and made a two-day journey to meet up with Suzuki. His long hike paid off handsomely. Suzuki had brought along Onoda’s one-time superior commander, Major Taniguchi, who delivered the oral orders for Onoda to surrender his sword.

Monday, April 19, 2004

and then it occured to me. maybe all this peace on earth stuff--you know, peace on earth, goodwill to all men--maybe it is completely and totally possible. but we just don't want it. or at least not if it means i must enter into someone else's suffering, that i must descend into someone else's hell in order to find some redemption for both of us. jesus said, whatever you do for the least of these, you've done it to me. what if i prefer the supply-side jesus, and i just can't bring myself like jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all i have and give to the poor. what if i'm too busy thinking about how to buy a house or how to keep my kids safe or my future secure or my life comfortable to give any time to the things that make for peace? what if?

Jen Lemen

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I felt all at once properly rebuked and filled with hope by this passage today from Not Religion But Love , a book we are reading together at our house (it's a long one... the quote, not the book):

Practicing compassion, like Christ, involves developing power that is strong but gentle with people. Power that is strong but gentle with people is not power that is exercised over people, but power that people exercise over themselves. Essentially it comes from within a person or a group of persons. Yet nearly every time I talk with people about developing a project in their community, the conversation quickly turns from talk about internal to external sources of power.

If they want to organize a welfare programme, they want to talk about funds. 'Where can we get the funds we need to run the programme?' they inquire. If they want to organize a protest movement, they want to talk numbers. 'How can we get the numbers we need to get a major social movement on a roll?' they ask. These reactions reveal that people, both on the right and on the left of the political spectrum, believe that external resources matter more than internal sources of power. They believe that we can only do significant work in our community if we have access to either lots of cash, or large crowds, or both. It's essentially all about fundraising and number-crunching.

Because so many communities frame their problems, and the solutions to their problems, in terms of access to resources which, by definition, are beyond their control, they disempower themselves. If they can't get access to the resources they require in order to act, they simply do not act. If they do get the resources they require, they may act, but they only act according to the terms and conditions that have been set for the support they receive. Either way, they abrogate their power to solve their own problems; they project the power to solve their problems onto others; and, in so doing, they render themselves powerless.

Christ challenged people's dependence on external resources for community work. On two occasions he sent his disciples out into various villages to do community work. On the first occasion, he forbade them to take any money at all. According to Christ money was not essential for community work. Money is merely a note promising to share a certain amount of commodities or services. What mattered to Christ was, not that his disciples carried a note that held the promise of help, but that his disciples actually helped the people they met out of their own internal resources. On the second occasion Christ sent his disciples out into the community, he allowed them to take a little money - but not much. According to Christ, money was never to be considered a primary but a secondary resource. External resources like money could be helpful as a secondary resource for community work. But, if external resources ever became a substitute for internal resources, and money became a primary rather than a secondary consideration, then Christ warned us that money would not only destroy our work, but also our community. After all, 'the love of money is the source of evil' (l Timothy 6:10).

On both the occasions Christ sent his disciples out to do community work, he didn't send them out in big numbers, and he didn't expect them to get big numbers involved. It was less of a mass movement - more a micro movement. He didn't send his disciples out in their hundreds, or thousands, but in twos. And he didn't expect them get hundreds, or thousands, involved, but one here, and one there. As far as Christ was concerned, two meeting one and forming a group of three was a big enough crowd to begin to overthrow the order of the day. A group of three could create within themselves the stability and security necessary for any development; as Jewish wisdom had it, 'A cord of three strands is not easily broken' (Ecclesiastes 4:12). A group of three could create within themselves the subjectivity and objectivity necessary for community development. 'Let every matter be decided on the basis of two or three witnesses' (Matthew 18; 16). And a group of three could create within themselves the time and space necessary for Christlike community development. 'Wherever two or three of you gather in my name', Christ said, 'there am I in the midst of you' (Matthew IS:2O). According to Christ, a small, apparently insignificant group of just three people can actually have all the internal resources they need to create a significant movement in society towards community.

Most attempts to bring about change in society haven't come unstuck because the groups involved lacked the funds or the numbers. Most came unstuck because of power struggles that caused the groups to self-destruct. The people involved lacked the power to change themselves, let alone their society. Hence, Christ taught that the most important single issue in bringing about change was for groups to discover the power to be able to manage their affairs in a way that gave everyone a fair go; power that enabled them to transcend their selfishness, resolve their conflicts and deal with their issues in a way that did justice to everybody involved. Without that strong but gentle power, Christ said, we should not even try to start working for change, lest we end up destroying the world that we are trying to create (Luke 24:49)- However, with that strong but gentle power, Christ said, nothing on earth can stop us from building a better world - neither lack of funds; nor lack of numbers; nothing (Matthew 17:20). So when Christ sent his disciples out to build a better world, he imparted to them what he called 'the power of the Spirit' (John 20:21-22). This Spirit was not a spirit of timidity, but of power, characterized by discipline of self, and compassion for others' (2 Timothy 1:7). So, as they opened themselves to this Spirit, it produced in them the strong but gentle power to control themselves, and to love others as they loved themselves.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Derek, I really have got to print this book off and read it...

Here are some excerpts, again, from Jacques Ellul's "The Subversion of Christianity". He's talking about systems of morality, and how Christ came to bring freedom from them. If you think of the Pharisees, they were the highest moral characters, and Christ was constantly "calling their bluff." Their actions were squeaky clean, but selfishness and vanity darkened their hearts. Also, if you think of a lot the parables, it was the "moral" characters that ended up being taught a lesson. For example, the prodigal's older brother, the men that worked 12 hours and got paid the same as those who worked one, etc. Ellul communicates that the freedom Christ gave is a heavy burden, and only something that someone can be mentored into, not taught through a moral system. He says that moral systems in the church originated along with the mass conversions of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Prior to this point, churches were "small flocks," and the ability to live in the freedom of Christ was passed on from mature believers that had, themselves, been mentored by mature "freemen." When the church ballooned after it's imperial sanctioning, rules and systems had been set up to maintain the order of the masses. There became no room to mentor, and no ability to keep others accountable in the freedom of Christ, so they decided to do away with it. I'm not sure what I think of all this, but I'd like to hear others' thoughts. Here are some of the quotes:

"In the Gospels Jesus constantly breaks religious precepts and moral rules. He gives as his own commandment "Follow me," not a list of things to do or not to do. He shows us fully what it means to be a free person with no morality."

"Not only is it honestly impossible to derive a moral system from the Gospels and Epistles, but further, the main keys in the gospel - the proclamation of grace, the declaration of pardon, and the opening up of life to freedom- are the direct opposite of morality."

"All things are lawful," Paul twice proclaims. "Nothing is impure," he teaches. We find the same message in Acts. We are as free as the Holy Spirit, who comes and goes as he wills. This freedom does not mean doing anything at all. It is the freedom of love. Love, which cannot be regulated, categorized, or analyzed into principles or commandments, takes the place of law. The relationship with others is not one of duty but of love.

The Christian masses naturally found it difficult to live in this freedom of spirit and of love. Norms soon had to be imposed. Duties had to be indicated. Every time there was a return to a community that rejected morality so as to live, as was said, according to the Spirit, this resulted concretely in disorder and rapid human and spiritual deterioration (e.g., the community of John of Leiden).

We may live truly by the Spirit in a community like that described in Acts; but if we do there will have to be a small number of truly converted believers who are fully both in their humanity and in their faith and can bear the risk of freedom. A numerical limit will be imposed. This corresponds to Jesus' own dealings with his disciples (a maximum of seventy) and his statement that they will always be a little flock. At issue here is a true understanding and living out of revelation that has nothing whatever to do with morality and that to moral persons seem to run contrary to morality and defy it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The metaphors Jesus uses for the kingdom of which he speaks in the extant texts at our disposal are small things with leveraged, pervasive impact: yeast, mustard seed, salt. Interestingly, these things are also marginal things when compared to that within which they exist--marginal elements whose efficacy is directly tide to its measure. The pinch of salt is enough. The bit of yeast is effective. The smallest bush is sufficient.

It is not the work of yeast to make all that it comes into contact with like itself. Yeast's natural form is to work its way through the diverse ingredients that constitute dough to help bring about a loaf. The messages coming from many corners of Christendom today are more an effort at changing the natural form of yeast than an exhortation toward bread. It is bread not yeast that is the desired outcome of the baking process. The gospel of the kingdom is about bread. It is about being people of influence. It is about impact. It is about a rolling, pervasive, ongoing transformation. It is life well-lived together, life shared and abundant, not a uniform, systematic christianity, that is the desired outcome of the gospel of the kingdom. It is life not correct ideology that is the measure of this transformative process. This is the teshuvah of which Jesus speaks. This is the kingdom among us.

Theyblinked expanding eloquently...

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Jesuits traveled with Portuguese and Spanish explorers and traders and were the first to bring Christianity to Japan, as well as to China. They benefited in both Asian countries by appearing to be officially sponsored by their governments, well educated, highly trained and strongly motivated. In Japan, their discipline and firm-mindedness struck a resonant cord in the samurai class] and the Jesuits found themselves able to meet and convert some very high-ranking individuals. The Jesuits were soon followed by Dominican and Benedictine fathers and soon the Christian community was divided by doctrinal and other disputes between the three orders...

But of course... that's what we do... we dispute... stuff...

Gradually, most Christians gave up their religion, although a few went underground. When they were finally discovered hundreds of years later, they were called 'hidden Christians'. By that time, their Christianity was hard to recognize for they had changed many elements in order to disguise it from their authorities. Although they considered themselves Catholics, for example, their priests were all women, much to the consternation of papal authorities in Rome.

Poor Japanese women. They always get stuck with the boring jobs...

The reasons for the persecutions of the Christians in the late 16th century and throughout the Edo period are not entirely clear. One possible reason is that the Japanese reunifiers viewed the Europeans as a threat; they might invade and take over.

Nahhh... not these guys, they're Christians...
Nakasendo Highway: A Journey to the Heart of Japan

Ugly page but really good content for Japanese history, basing itself around the Nakasendo Highway, a centuries old link between Kyoto and what is now Tokyo (then Edo).
Jason Clark found some good atonement discussion at time magazine (see his site for the full text):

Some modern atonement theorists maintain that only one answer - theirs - flows inevitably from Scripture. But more agree with Chicago Theological Seminary's Theodore Jennings Jr. "The New Testament is just all over the map" on the question of why Christ died, he says. Its writers "are all persuaded that something really drastic, fundamental and dramatic has happened, and they're pulling together all kinds of ways to understand that."

The book Hebrews, for instance, directly appropriates the Jewish sacrificial metaphor, except this time, Jesus is both priest and sacrifice, spilling, "not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." The Gospel of Mark favors Roman legal language for the freeing of slaves: "the Son of Man came ... to give his life as a ransom for many." The First Epistle of Peter, meanwhile, takes a radically different tack, posing Jesus' trials as occasion for imitation: "because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." And Paul's letter to the Colossians pauses only briefly at the Cross on its way to the triumphal image of the risen Christ parading demonic enemies in chains: "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him."

Monday, April 05, 2004

This I would love to go to. But I am far away:

Ours is an Age of Disconnect. Estrangement, loneliness, and injustice are in epidemic proportions. In response, many emerging intentional communities are taking the plunge, daring to show that another way of relating exists. What might this other way be? Are there practical ways of sharing life with others that can change us as well as our world?

A Call to Community will be a weekend of seeking what it means and what it takes to build communities that counter the flood waters of fragmentation in our world today. Here is a chance to swap ideas, encourage each other, brainstorm solutions, and form new and lasting relationships.

We will do more than talk. We’ll cook meals and wash dishes together, take part in workshops, sing and work together in nature, share our creativity, all with one aim: to envision how it might be possible to forge a life together in a world that tears people apart. How can the radical example of Jesus and his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount lead the way? What does it really mean to seek first God’s justice on this earth? Are we ready to sacrifice our lives and lifestyles for it? If so, how? What is keeping us from each other and from showing a different way?

From the Bruderhof through Mike:

Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God's will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff's office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar...

No one knows what Judas said. In John's Gospel he does not say a word, but where he stands says it all. After he has led some 200 Roman soldiers and the temple police to the secret garden where Jesus is praying, Judas stands with the militia. Even when Jesus comes forward to identify himself, Judas does not budge. He is on the side with the weapons and the handcuffs, and he intends to stay there.

Or maybe it was not his own safety that motivated him. Maybe he just fell out of love with Jesus. That happens sometimes. One day you think someone is wonderful and the next day he says or does something that makes you think twice. He reminds you of the difference between the two of you and you start hating him for that - for the difference - enough to begin thinking of some way to hurt him back.

I remember being at a retreat once where the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Christ in our lives. When it came time to share our answers, one woman stood up and said, "I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking, Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?" According to John, Jesus died because he told the truth to everyone he met. He was the truth, a perfect mirror in which people saw themselves in God's own light.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

I am just finishing up a biography on Hirohito, the Showa Emperor of Japan, or the one who preceded the current one. Japanese Historical trivia: the current one is the Heisei Emperor, his dad, Showa, his dad, Taisho, and his dad, Meiji. They give names other than their actual ones to their reigns, and then the country dates everything according to that reign. For example, we are now living in Heisei 16 (current Emperor Akihito began his reign 16 years ago). I was born in Showa 50. Meiji dates take you back to the late 1800's.

The Showa emperor is the one who reigned during the attack of Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Hiroshima, etc., so this book deals in depth with WW2. Anyway, I am not planning to review the book or anything, I just wanted to write down a possibly strange string of thoughts that I had while reading the book. It started with thinking, wow, if there can be a good guy, then, despite atrocities like Hiroshima, the Americans were the closest thing to a good guy in WW2. And it ended with me thinking how small groups in intentional community is really the best expression of the values of the kingdom of God that I have encountered. Here is the path:

From what I can gather, the culture of rulership in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century had really taken a page from our book. Where I am from, the white man showed up on the shores of... well, pretty much every continent that wasn't theirs, believing that they had come to bring the absolute truth of their superior culture, and to bestow or impose the God-ordained natural racial order upon those who needed some "civilizing". The Japanese at the time had embraced a very similar ideal within an Asian context. They saw Asia, and ultimately the world as existing within a divinely ordained racial order, of course led by the benevolent yet superior Japanese race. I guess the Germans probably thought roughly the same thing. One shudders to think at what might have happened if these facist ideals had not been stopped... but then one shudders again to think that in the case of the Spanish, the British (I include Canada in there), the Americans - the ones who got down to it first and committed their sins two or three hundred years earlier - the same fascist ideals were not stopped. Mass genocides were committed, entire cultures were enslaved or destroyed. From this it would be easy to argue that we got away with our fascism, but had grown up a little by the time WW2 rolled around. It makes one wonder at the answer to the question, what would have happened if the Axis powers had triumphed?? One or two hundred years later, would Japanese and German societes have evolved to a place of increased freedom, though with vague knowledge and guilt about the cultures they had oppressed or destroyed - something like what we have now in North America?

Ok that was a rabbit trail. But my basic thought was that in WW2, all things considered, the Americans were as close as you can get to a good guy. So then my thought becomes, in the realm of the people of God, perhaps the thing that makes the most sense is for the Christian to throw his or her lot in with these "good guys" as they are as good as it gets. But then methinks, what about the Romans? They were the good guys of their times too, known for brutal excess at times, but generally history gives them a good report. Yet it was exactly within a Roman context that Christ and his followers lived out their "love your enemy", "do good to those that hurt you", "though we live in this world, we do not fight as the world does" kind of lifestyles. Christ gives no indication that identifying yourself with these "good guys" is the way to go. On the contrary, in this context of various and competing national loyalties, Christ consistently speaks of only one loyalty for his people, that of the kingdom of God.

And maybe that is because he was a perfectionist. Invariably in the discussion about Christian allegiance the notion of "realism" comes up; something along the lines of "we know Christ said some radical stuff, but it can't really be applied, we have to be "realistic". But Christ was no realist, at least in that sense of applying the principles of the kingdom to over-arching entities, like nations, which have no interest in applying them. Or maybe no ability. One can imagine what a nation applying kingdom principles might look like , but what results is so far from reality that it's laughable. But Christ was the perfectionist, asking for big things from his followers, whether love for enemies or freedom from possessions and money, etc (of course, don't get me wrong, he was also big on grace when we don't meet his perfection - nobody does - but he still points us there).

Perhaps that is why Christ's metaphors for his followers are salt or yeast, because we were never supposed to try to be the whole ball of dough. Generally in history when Christians find themselves in a place of power, a lot of pain for any one in the way, and not a lot of unconditional love and compassion, result. What I am thinking is that maybe, due to the nature of power, large powerful entities are unable to put into practice the ideas that Jesus taught. That is why you hear them finding alternate options to the teachings of Christ.

But if this challenge is impossible for large groups, where so quickly the demand for government and control choke out the heart of compassion, maybe it is just a little more possible in the context of a small group of people committing themselves to love and incarnation. I say "a little more" because where I am coming from, it still seems almost impossibly hard. Everytime I try to live in a place of closer community, I quickly run into my own selfish amibitions or desires which compel me right back out of community. And I wonder if maybe that cycle is the just same thing that has been happening since Jesus went up into the sky that day. The first disciples, the ones who walked with him and knew the best of anyone what he was all about, looked his life and teachings in the eye and decided that the best way to live like he had told them to was to sell their stuff and live in a community setting where "none of them had any need". But bible historians say that right off the beginning is the only place in the early church where you can find this happening. Well, I can tell you what happened. Humanity happened. They found out that it is damn hard to try living that close to a Jesus sort of perfection while having the nature that we have. Then later on, again and again, some brave groups, whether the Franciscans or the Waldensians or the Hutterites or Jesus People USA looked Jesus in the eye and decided once again they had to give it a try, with various degrees of success.

K. Long enough. And that was the basic thought trail, with some embellishment...
Today is April 4, 2004; that's 04/04/04. Not so significant for us Westerners but in Japan, at least among the superstitious, it is just about Halloween. "Four" in Japanese is pronounced "shi", which is the same pronounciation for "death". So basically, today is death, death, death day. Being married, or born or pretty much anything else on this day is a bad idea here. Well, I guess dying would be ok.

So happy Death Death Death Day!

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Great article from Tom Sine that makes me think there is no need to pioneer something new - just join in on what God is already up to... but how...

This small mission group bought a quarter-acre lot in inner-city Oakland and refurbished the two older dwellings that were on it. They then constructed seven new units for the 22 people in their group. Everything was designed to be environmentally friendly, with water-on-demand water heaters and photovoltaic collectors that provide 85 percent of their electricity. They have a play area and a mini-soccer field for the kids and a common room where they eat together a couple of times a week.

The new community has come to represent the shalom of God in their neighborhood. Rather than homeschool their kids or place them in private schools, they send them to the local public school where members of the community volunteer in order to redeem it for all the kids that go there. One of their nine units is a transition house for mothers coming off welfare. They organize neighborhood block parties and host art shows for the community. They even interview older residents so their stories can be shared with the neighborhood.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Of the places I have been, I don't think I have encountered a nicer looking mountain than Fuji. This isn't a good shot but, c'mon, it is so shapely, it's sexy, a topographic turn on.

Anyway, lots of pictures from our trip to Izu.