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love justice

this is the place where I'll wonder about when love and justice will meet...

Updated: 2014-10-03T04:10:50.018-04:00


Service toward kinship - The wisdom of Father Gregory Boyle


I woke up this morning ready to run.  As I scanned the available podcasts for the 40+ minutes of my run, I decided to listen to Krista Tippett's interview "On Being" with Father Greg Boyle from the summer of 2012.

Find it here (or free at the iTunes store):

Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has run a remarkable operation called HomeBoy Industries, a collection of businesses and social services that provide resources for people affected by the reality of gangs in Los Angeles, since the early 1990s.  He has written a well-received book called Tattoos on the Heart, a book that has deeply affected my friend and pastor, Ruth Boven, who regular quotes from it in her sermons at Neland Church.

So while I was out on my run listening to the podcast interview from last summer at the Chautauqua Institute, I heard remarkable statements from Father G, including, "anything worth doing is worth failing at," and something to the effect that "service must lead to kinship."  So imagine my surprise when I opened my liturgy this morning at Neland Church and found that Pastor Ruth was preaching this morning, and her topic was from Amos, the prophet, on "Just Worship."  And one of her main sources for the sermon was from an interview Krista Tippett did with Father Greg Boyle on "The Calling of Delight: Gangs, Service, Kinship."  More than a coincidence, I think.

The passage in Amos that Pastor Ruth focused her sermon on was from chapter 5:18-24, subtitled "The Day of the Lord." In this little passage, something strange happens - we are warned that this "Day of the Lord" that Christians think they are waiting for might not be so awesome and wonderful as they think.   It might be like while we are running away from a lion, we meet a bear instead.  And Amos tells us that our religious festivals and activities are not the point, not at all, especially if we don't get the main point, which is to "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!"  I have heard it suggested that our translation of "righteousness" in the New Testament should actually usually be "justice," so I would be interested in a language scholar's explanation of the two different words here.  In any case, Amos seems to be saying quite clearly that worship of God is meaningless, and even offensive, if it isn't accompanied by careful thought and action toward justice.  This will be hard, and require sacrifice.

 Perhaps the most interesting point of both Pastor Ruth's sermon on Just Worship, and Greg Boyle's interview with Krista Tippett revolves around the question of the relationship that develops in the act of service - something Boyle refers to as "kinship."  If we can't name people who are poor when we are asked to think of people in our close circle of family and friends, then our circles are probably too small.  This is a deeply challenging and disturbing suggestion to me, and I hope, to you.  Fits with the idea that a good sermon (church, Christian life etc)  will "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." 

Paying attention as prayer, as paying attention


For our first staff meeting of the summer, I chose to read aloud from a couple of influential sources to set a tone for our work.  I first read a short passage from Peter Kreeft's little book, Prayer for Beginners, the piece was entitled "Work: Praying Always."  Kreeft suggests in this little piece that the New Testament mandate that we "pray constantly" can only make sense if we understand that our actions can be prayer.  "Therefore we can pray even in working (not just as we work); we can make our works prayers."

We then read aloud from Simone Weil's well-known essay, "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God."  Here, Weil makes a case that the point of learning, of work, of school studies, is not mastery of content, but rather the ability to pay attention.  And paying attention, really paying attention, by bringing "more light to the soul," will eventually bear its fruit in prayer.  "Students must therefore work without any wish to gain good marks, to pass examinations, to win school successes; without any reference to their natural abilities and tastes; applying themselves equally to all their tasks, with the idea that each one will help to form in them the habit of paying attention which is the substance of prayer."  In an age of increasing distraction, and what appears to be decreasing abilities to paying attention, Weil's suggestion, for those who seek to understand the mysteries of prayer, is constructive.  Keep reading books, keep learning new things, keep exercising the muscles of attention.

But she warns that it won't be will power that enables the kind of attention we need to develop.  "Will power, the kind that, if need be, makes us set our teeth and endure suffering, is the principal weapon of the apprentice engaged in manual work.  But, contrary to the usual belief, it has practically no place in study.  The intelligence can only be led by desire.  For there to be desire, there must be pleasure and joy in the work.  The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy.  The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running."

And finally, Weil broadens her definition of "love of God," to include neighbor-love.  She writes, "The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: "What are you going through?"  ... This way of looking is first of all attentive.  The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.  Only he who is capable of attention can do this.

"So it comes about that, paradoxical as it may seem, a Latin prose or a geometry problem, even though they are done wrong, may be of great service one day, provided we devote the right kind of effort to them.  Should the occasion arise, they can one day make us better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required to save him, at the supreme moment of his need."

And we finished with a poem from Wendell Berry, titled, "Some further words."  The poem explores the meaning of identity, of living "fully human" lives, and the goodness of "the domestic world of humans, so long as it pays its debts to the natural world, and keeps its bounds."  

We were reminded in these readings, (and the tone was set for our summer together), that we can learn from prophets and teachers at the margins of many faith traditions, and that the relationship between the material and the spiritual is a many-splendored, inexplicable, and wonderful mystery.

Celebrating 52 years together


I just turned 48 two weeks ago.  And tonight Julie and I celebrated with my parents their 52nd anniversary of their wedding, on June 1, 1961. 

We celebrated in style, with a three course gourmet meal in the home of a very long-time friend, Scott Hoezee, with able assistance from his son, Graham.  Bought at church a few months ago, the dinner was  a "service auction" item, and at this dinner we were treated with a foretaste of God's good kingdom through Scott and Graham's skill, affection, and hospitality.  From champagne with Mushroom Gratin with French Baguette Slices as an appetizer; we moved to our first course from Asia: Sesame-crusted Sashimi Tuna, Thai slaw, ginger and wasabi, and sesame dipping sauce.  After that our second course was Persian: Lamb Osso Bucco in a Moroccan tomato sauce, served with lamb Megueyez sausage and saffron risotto.  Then third course came from France: Seared breast of duck in a morel mushroom sauce, and confit of duck and truffled mashed potatoes.  All topped off with orange and cinnamon creme brulee served with fresh raspberries and blackberries.  All accompanied by red, and white wine along the way.  My comment halfway through dinner was that Scott was preparing us for the tastes of heaven, and he was. 

Fifty-two years of marriage is something worth celebrating.  Congratulations, Mom and Dad.

This is the second course, mmm.

Awe at La Sainte Chapelle


So this photo of Bastian was taken on Christmas Eve, 2011, in Paris at La Sainte Chapelle, an unbelievable Gothic gem, built during the thirteenth century by Louis IX, to house relics from Christ's passion.  The wall of light created by these enormous stained glass windows had everyone in our family in awe.  The stained glass windows are not just colorful - they tell the stories of the Old Testament, the life and passion of Christ, and the on-going stories of the Church, up to the time of Louis IX and the building of the chapel in Paris.  
We were thrilled for the privilege of being there.

You can vote for this in a family photo contest at this website:

On Creation Care


I was invited to offer some comments in Chapel yesterday at Calvin College, and, with just a few edits, I'll post my remarks below.  Special thanks to Steven Bouma-Prediger, for his excellent resource: For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care, (Baker Academic, 2001/2010) from which I borrowed liberally, and also learned much.Here is the text of my remarks:Colossians 1:15-20                  The Supremacy of the Son of God 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.         “The Word of the Lord”In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes from prison in Rome.  His goal is to remind believers in Colosse that Jesus is supreme – the Creator and Redeemer, and Caretaker of the universe – Jesus is the center, the origin, the One in whom all things hold together, and through whom all things are being reconciled.  It isn’t exactly a letter about caring for creation, but let’s see how this idea that Jesus is at the center helps us understand our role in caring for God’s good creation.The first thing you should all know is that I am not an expert on creation care.  When asked to kick this series off today, I seriously considered spending my entire fifteen minutes outlining for you the many ways that I could improve in my personal life in the area of creation care.  I own a car, a house, a dog even, and I eat meat and have used up more than my share of the world’s carbon and other resources.  Just like many of you.  I decided against this strategy, but I’m well aware that I can’t live up the standard set by one of my favorite characters from John Green’s book, The Fault in our Stars, Hazel Grace Lancaster.  When asked why she was a vegetarian, Hazel replied simply, “I want to minimize the number of deaths I’m responsible for.”   I do know some experts though.  On creation care, I have learned a lot from students over the past ten years while working and teaching here at Calvin.  The students who work with me in the Service-Learning Center, for example, always have valuable lessons to teach me from their own experiences, or from their courses, or from things they read.  Just yesterday I received an email link to a New York Times article from a recent alum, the article telling about some creative Indian engineers starting a company that provides power to dozens of small villages in rural India, using corn husks for fuel.     This happens to me all the time.  Once, on a trip with students to Birmingham, Alabama several years ago, while we were touring the Civil Rights Institute and learning all about the important period of civil rights activism during the 1950s and 60s, I remember asking myself and some student colleagues a difficult and important question.  I wondered, “How is my life today like the lives of those well-meaning white Christians during the early years of the civil rights movement in the South?”  What will be the issue that my grandchildren will look back on and ask me how I could have been a part of something so obviously wrong?  And u[...]

How was your sabbatical?


From January 1 until June 1, I was privileged with a sabbatical from my work at Calvin College.  The purpose of this sabbatical, as I understand it, was to allow some space for me to read, write, reflect, and rest, and to prompt some fresh thinking for my work and scholarship.  So that's what I worked on.  I  spent time at home, in coffee shops, and most inspiring, at the headquarters of ICCF.  I read several institutional histories from colleges and universities with faith commitments - places like Augsburg, Baylor, Calvin, DePaul, Gordon, Gustavus Adolphus, Messiah, Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Valparaiso, Whitworth, Wheaton, and others.  I wrote lots of notes on these stories, and I've gotten well along on a draft of a plenary lecture I am scheduled to give at the 22nd annual Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts in October.  I was at home to say goodbye to my kids in the morning as they headed off to school, and I was often home when they've arrived back home from school.  We visited a nice beach and state park in South Carolina as a family for spring break, and we went with friends to see Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  I met a few students for breakfast every Wednesday morning, and I reconnected with dozens of friends from whom we were disconnected for the fall semester - over coffee or at one of Grand Rapids' wonderful beer pubs.  I organized, with some neighbors, a potluck Memorial Day picnic in our backyard, and was thrilled when nearly 50 of us gathered last week Monday.  And as the sabbatical time turned back into the normal routine, as May turned to June, I was, appropriately, in the middle of a national conversation about faith-based higher education and service-learning, at Messiah College in Pennsylvania - with colleagues and students from Calvin, and from around the country. Now I have been back at work for one week.  During that week I spent several hours each day in a faculty workshop on "Christian Engagement with People from Other Faith Traditions."  We read from J.H. Bavinck and Diane Obenchain (our seminar leader), Andrew Walls, and E. Stanley Jones, among others.  We talked about missions, and about inter-faith dialog and service.  It was inspiring and thought-provoking.  I also worked with four students and my colleagues in the Student Life Division, the Student Development Unit, and the Service-Learning Center, to get things unpacked, to hear about the year I missed, and to move into the summer with new energy, new rhythms of work and study, and a fresh vision for the work of connecting Calvin College with a host of service-learning and community engagement partners from around the city and around the country, and increasingly, from places where we send students for study abroad opportunities around the world.I am encouraged by my work, my study, and my rest.  I see evidence of a growing host of people who understand what Wendell Berry means by affection, and who are spending their considerable intellectual, creative, and spiritual passions on building systems, institutions, families, communities, schools, and organizations that give witness to a coming kingdom of hope - a world turned right-side up.  This host includes, among many others, the Association for a More Just Society, the New Horizons Foundation, *culture is not optional, and ICCF - the Inner City Christian Federation, in Grand Rapids.Thanks, Calvin College, for the gifts of this past year, including five months in Budapest and other places in Europe.  And for the rest of this winter and spring, and the hope of the summer and academic year that lies ahead. [...]

It all turns on affection


Wendell Berry’s 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities earlier this week was titled: “It All Turns on Affection.”  You can find it here, and while it is long, it is worth the time it will take to read: it he tells stories and offers some explanation for the times we live in – stories of his family’s land, an explanation of what an economy really is, and stories of what happens when people, over time, disconnect their “light within” from their practices, their business, their learning and their economies.  These are tragic stories, difficult explanations, and they only leave a very thin thread of hope for humanity.  But Berry very intentionally and very clearly leaves room for hope.  And for that I am grateful.The hope that Wendell Berry offers and imagines comes from people he calls “stickers.”  For Berry, borrowing from his mentor and teacher Wallace Stegner, stickers are people who settle in and “love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.”  He paints a picture of his family over the past several generations, and its relationship with a particular local landscape and its challenges and beauty.My sense is that what this “poet, essayist, novelist, farmer and conservationist” is saying to me in my daily work and life is that things are connected, and it matters that we learn to love the world and all that is in it.  When we have forgotten affection, or how to care for the whole, we have brought tragedy and destruction, violence and poverty on ourselves and our world.  I think he is right here.  And I think I am to keep working on helping people figure out how to care – to plant seeds of affection in my own heart and in the lives of others.Thanks Wendell Berry and all of my co-laborers in this field of affection.Indeed, as Berry concludes, “this has not been inevitable.  And we do not have to live as if we are alone.”[...]

Two eyes - one crying, one smiling


As our family was  leaving Budapest last month, my friend Zoltan Monos shared this Hungarian saying with me: "Egyik szemem sír, a másik nevet" (~My one eye is crying, the other is smiling).  This is an apt description of our readjustment to life in Grand Rapids.  Many thanks to Zoltan, and to other generous and hospitable Hungarians (and some Americans, Kenyans, and others as well!) for making our five months abroad life-altering and positive.  Here Zoltan and I are outside a favorite cafe, Morricone's, last August.My days lately have been spent reading and reflecting in a beautiful new spot, here at the headquarters of the Inner City Christian Federation, a top-notch housing organization working to provide beautiful and affordable quality housing in Grand Rapids.I don't think there are any easy answers to the question "How was your semester in Hungary?" but we are grateful for all the interest, and for the time to ponder.  We are also grateful for the on-going involvement we have with the students from our semester.  Last night at our home, in addition to sixteen of our Hungary students,  we welcomed also Akos Molnar,  a Hungarian student who has spent January as a transfer student at Calvin.  Moving forward, my sabbatical time from January through May is, and will be occupied with questions about how learning takes place, particularly in college and university settings, and what connections there are between co-curricular activities like community service-learning and students' intellectual and faith development.  I've just finished re-reading my 2004 doctoral dissertation, and am excited to return to the quest linking movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with today's reality in higher education.  Recent experiences in Europe make the task more complicated, but more interesting as well.One of the poems we read in class during the fall semester, Healing, by Wendell Berry, concludes with these two stanzas, and I find them intriguingly relevant to my current project: VIIIThere is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers. The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner. In ignorance is hope. If we had known the difficulty, we would not have learned even so little. Rely on ignorance. It is ignorance that teachers will come to. They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.IX The teachings of unsuspected teachers belong to the task, and are its hope. The love and the work of friends and lovers belong to the task, and are its health. Rest and rejoicing belong to the task, and are its grace. Let tomorrow come tomorrow. Not by your will is the house carried through the night. Order is the only possibility of rest. –from Wendell Berry’s Healing, in What Are People For?[...]

A poem for the new year


Thanks to my students, I recently discovered Denise Levertov's poetry, and for Christmas I received a used copy of her 1982 volume, Candles in Babylon. This poem, "Beginners," speaks to a hope that endures in the face of sin and much hopelessness. It seems apt for another year's beginning.

'From too much love of living, hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river, winds somewhere to the sea -'

But we have only begun
to love the earth.

We have only begun
to imagine the fulness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
- so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
- we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet -
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

2010 in Michigan


(image) This is a photo of the Michigan wall map inside the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. Free, full of interesting Michigan history, and easy, cheap parking right outside. I couldn't help but wonder as I was "designing my own" really cool concept car, what the Michigan Historical Museum will have on hand in 30 years to demonstrate the radical changes in the state's identity during this apparently post-industrial shift. My way has been paid for by GM because of my dad's 40 years on the payroll there - will my children find meaningful work in sustainable energy? Without the jobs and income for families from the auto industry and its spin-offs, how long can schools and colleges stay viable to keep people like me at work? Here's hoping for a turn for this fair state sometime soon.

Creative Eastown


Two things have conspired to prompt this post. First, I just finished re-reading "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, in an attempt to inspire some writing this year. Get over the fear of bad writing by knowing that bad writing has to come to get to the good writing. Second, I just heard a short presentation on some of Grand Rapids' interesting neighborhoods, and I overheard a remark that "Eastown is sometimes compared to something like the East Village for Grand Rapids." This struck me as funny, but it also reminded me of this short writing project I did last spring. One of my student staff members at Calvin presented a short exercise for new staff members to get familiar with each other by spending 5 minutes writing, with no preparation, about a place from their lives that holds some importance. I decided to join the exercise, and I wrote about Eastown. This is what I wrote, as uncut as I can make myself leave it.

"Eastown is the place where I feel most like I'm in Grand Rapids. My memories of this place go back to about 1984, when I began mentoring my "little brother," Tierre Rogers. Our first meeting was at the McDonald's just west of Fuller, on Wealthy, one of the only McDonalds to ever close a few years later. Ironic that it was a McDonalds that first drew me to this neighborhood, since the real appeal has ever since been the many locally-owned businesses. My other memories of Eastown include bowling at the old bowling alley behind "Just Breakfast" which is now Wolfgangs, seeing the "Return of the Jedi" at the old Eastown Theater, which is now the Uptown Church, meeting friends at Just Breakfast, ice cream at the old Baskin Robbins, which is now the Chinese Restaurant, and of course many many trips to Yesterdog's over the years with friends, my wife, our kids, and even this week, with visitors from Mexico. The smells, sounds, rituals, taste, and general feel of Yesterdog's are a wild combination of about 30 years of memories, ranging from high school craziness to recent recent recent experiences bringing my kids there for birthdays and other occasions - our photos on the wall from the early 1990s become more and more interesting as time goes by. My other memories include running through Eastown on my morning runs, having my UM diploma framed at the Eastown Gallery, eating at the Pita House with SLC staffs, eating at Don Rafavs for Mexican in recent years, beginning new traditions at Brandywine, and taxes..."

Then I ran out of time.

Earth-careful hope


I recently finished reading Lionel Basney's little book, An Earth-Careful Way of Life: Christian Stewardship and the Environmental Crisis, and I moved immediately to N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. I love how the two connect. Wright's reason for writing Surprised by Hope is to counter ages-old misconceptions about what kind of a "place" heaven is. With a host of other observers, Wright observes that the less your idea of heaven connects with earth, the less you are likely to care for the earth. Why bother, if its all going to burn, and besides, what really matters are our spirits, right? Wrong, and shockingly so.

Basney offers a hopeful little commentary on the relationship between nature and culture that defies easy categorization. He covers a lot of important ground, explaining why our connection to the earth, not vaguely but in actually touching dirt in the growing of productive gardens, enables us to a fuller humanness. He has all kinds of potential to sound off prophetically about the wasteful ways most American Christians consume in blissful and self-centered ignorance. But for the most part, he contains his cynicism and stays hopeful. Hopeful for a world that turns upside down, mostly through local communities and their growing connections to earth. He also avoids any hint of pantheistic earth-worship that worries many Christians about their friends who are "into the environment."

Wright’s contribution to the conversation is primarily in reminding us that the weight of scripture points to a future in which earth and heaven are reunited. He spends quite a bit of energy countering the popular notion that heaven consists of an existence that is ethereal, or non-material, drawing on C.S. Lewis’s description of heaven as a place where our bodies are actually “more solid, more real” than they were on earth. Again, if this is so, and if this earth will be transformed rather than burned up, then Basney is right to encourage us to get to work on this transformation of the earth.

If you’ve paid attention to some of the work that Calvin students and faculty have been up to over the past few years, you will recognize in these projects (rain gardens, native plantings, invasive species reduction efforts, LEED certification programs, and re-forestation projects to name a few) you will recognize the influence of contemporary prophets like Lionel Basney and N.T. Wright.

A visit from the Chimals


Earlier this month our family had the unique privilege of hosting friends from Mexico, Reverend Andres Chimal and his wife Maria de la Luz Gonzalez (aka Paty Chimal) at our house during their first visit to the United States. The Chimals were our hosts for 6 months during the summer and fall of 1993, back when we were young, childless, and much more mobile. They were phenomenal hosts, turning their dining room into a bedroom for us for half a year, and patiently teaching us many many things, including how to really speak Spanish, and what Mexican food really tastes like. We have since made two trips to visit them with our children, in spring 2005, and winter 2007.

Fittingly enough, they arrived on Cinco de Mayo, and we promptly introduced them to Dutch Tulip Time festivities in Holland, Michigan nearby. The privilege for us was in seeing our lives, their joys, frustrations, opportunities and temptations, through new eyes. From the overwhelming abundance of opportunities to obtain more stuff, to the rapidly changing spring weather patterns, to the relatively very quiet urban neighborhood in which we live, the absence of any walls around any homes, and our inability to introduce any uniquely American food (with the exception of mom's good old fashioned beef-roast, mashed potatoes and green beans on Sunday...), we found ourselves ranging in emotion from gratitude to shame and back to surprise.

Maundy Thursday 2008


Today is the day to remember Jesus' washing his disciples' feet.  This night he proclaimed peace, and a new commandment - to love one another.  Coming this year the first day into the sixth year of a tragic war, and amid all kinds of other signs of unfaithfulness on the part of God's people, this day, this reminder, is a good gift.  The rhythm of Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter brings appropriate opportunity for reflection, repentance, lament, waiting, and finally, joy unspeakable.  So many conversations, even today, have reflected the deep longing for the One who will finally bring Shalom - Come, Lord Jesus.

three-tiered wonder


So I don't know quite how to describe it, except that it was one of those, "I'm not worthy" moments. We were riding our bikes, from the Jenny Lake campground to the Visitor Center, inside Grand Tetons National Park. Over my shoulder flew a beautiful butterfly, a Western Tiger Swallowtail as it turns out. I was immediately struck by the layers of beauty in front of me - first the butterfly, then my 8-year old daughter Abbie, and beyond her, the grand vista of the Teton range beyond the crystal blue water of Jenny Lake. I wondered then, and many times during our three-week trip in the west, about the beauty evident in the world, and the many ways in which it is revealed to me.

From vast lunar landscapes in the Badlands, to boiling hot crystal clear geysers in Yellowstone, to the arid red-rock of Arches, the multi-hued hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, out-of-place orchards in the water-pocket fold that is Capitol Reef, towering cliffs named for the Biblical Patriarchs in Zion, the breadth and depth of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley's strange collection of reddish stone monoliths, Mesa Verde's remnants of the Anasazi cultures in the clif(image) f dwellings, Ouray's natural hot springs, and Rocky Mountain National Park's 12,000+ foot highway in the clouds - our family saw, heard, smelled, tasted and touched the beauty of the American west this summer.

Learning from the Amish


(image) I spent the weekend in Amish country, in Newburg, Pennsylvania. Our family has spent quite a few of the past 10 Mother's Day weekends gathering here on the land where my wife's maternal ancestors have lived for the past century or so. Each year on the Saturday before Mother's Day the local Christian school operated by the Amish community organizes a large auction - selling everything from new and used farm and garden tools to beautiful flowering baskets and herbs, to horses, buggies, homemade food like doughnuts, ice cream, soft pretzels, mouth-watering seasoned barbequed chicken, and culminating in a hundred or so hand-crafted quilts and other art.

So after a day of sharing space, buying stuff, farm and country smells, delicious food and craftsmanship ranging from quilting to auctioneering, alongside perhaps 600 Amish and 400 non-Amish folks, I have been wondering about this cultural and faith tradition and trying to piece together an adequate critique and appreciation based on my own tradition within the historic Reformed branch of Protestantism. *disclaimer - I actually know very little about contemporary or historic Amish faith commitments - most of my thoughts are rooted in observation and a loose story line about the Amish. I came away from this past weekend wondering also how to make friends within this tradition who can enlighten me...

A big part of me is jealous, I'll start with that. The Amish community I observe in Newburg has preserved a simplicity of life (or so it appears to me) that my own tradition has long since given up. Not that the Amish life is easier, far from it - in terms of actual work, I'm sure it is much more difficult to complete the tasks of living required by Amish commitments. But not having to think about redeeming new technology, or not having to keep up with a flood of email and cell phone and a variety of forms of popular culture, not to mention the array of worship styles and theological issues that continue to manifest themselves in my tradition, this appears to me as a blessing. Ironically, the contemporary discussion around local food, fair trade economics, organic eating, and general awareness of how justice and consumption link - these all point to the wisdom of the Amish in preserving a local and a simple lifestyle.

And yet. When I think about the reach of a place like Calvin College through the very murky and complex work of doing higher education with an unwavering commitment to engagement with culture and embrace of historic Christianity, I think of what would be lost without this messy engagement. For now, I'm glad for the reminders I get from my Amish brothers and sisters, and I'll continue to wish for a stronger dialogue between our two traditions.

a flourishing garden


"It doesn't matter where you got the seed - if you got it from a Benny Hinn revival or the bottom of a Chicken Coop cup - what matters is how the seed grows in you." This was the quote of the day in this morning's sermon. Colossians 1:1-14 was the backdrop for a baptism, and a celebration of a year of active ministry at Neland church. A good challenge and reminder that our 21st century consumer mentality regarding church and the gospel (I like it this way, not that way - with these people, not those people) is irrelevant to Paul's way of thinking. Several questions arise, though, not least of which is the observation that it was my "choice" to worship at Neland, and this brought me into the place where I could hear this truth preached week after week. What matters is the growth, the vitality, the flourishing of seed and garden.

neighborhood gardens


I spent time with dirt today, and with neighbors. Two good things to spend time with, I think. I transplanted tomatoes that have been growing indoors for the past 6 weeks into bigger pots, and Julie planted beans and lettuce. Then Steve, and JB and I dug with shovels and a roto-tiller to make a second garden bed behind the first. In a few weeks we will plant pumpkins, zuccini, sunflowers, and other good stuff in this bed. Reminds me of Wendell Berry's insistence that topsoil is a signpost of the kingdom. I agree with him.