Monday, March 01, 2010

Mumford & Sons - Winter Winds

Thank-you Tim (my friend who is about to walk the Camino in Spain) - you are super.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

thirst and outpour

Rivers of Living Water (John 7.37-39)

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Water Flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47.6-12)

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fisherman will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."

Praise to be our Father who reveals himself to us as a Covenant keeping God. A God who is what we need him to be in our life situation. He is our righteousness, our holiness, our peace, our shepherd, our God who is here, our provider, the I AM.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

How the Earth Loves You by David Waltner-Toews

How the Earth Loves You

David Waltner-Toews

From: The Fat Lady Struck Dumb. Brick Books, 2000.

One day, perhaps when you are
in your forties, he is at your door
with a spring of daffodils.
Another day he bears lilies,
or jack-in-the-pulpits,
every day a flutter of fresh petals
and another scent whispering
at the skirt of your hair.
He seems disconcertingly traditional.
He brings roses, for instance, red ones.
You are bemused.
You look past him, sheepishly,
to the shapes of clouds,
to the paling blue sky.
When your eyes return from flight
you see your hand is bleeding,
you are clutching a sprig of thorns,
and he is gone.

He returns with fat red tomatoes,
waxy green peppers, a peach pressed firmly,
gently, from his palm to yours.
You can still feel the scars
from his roses. Your hand retreats.
Your fingers brush.
Your breath like a wave curls under, tumbles,
pulls back. Your belly tenses.
You are surfing, barely skimming the sand,
an unspeakable fear swelling your tongue.

Do not speak it.
This is what you were made for,
the heat of his gaze on your fore-arm,
burning your cheek.
You feel the slack first in your knees,
then your back. Do not succumb.
The best is still to come.

In the fall, he leaves in a glorious swirl
of gold and rust, amid the chatty travel songs
of migrating birds. You ache in his absence,
raking at the unreachable pain
in your chest. When you think of him,
you balk at his easy certainty,
his knowledge of your desire.
You delight in the melting snow-flakes
that catch in his hair.
You sigh at how his breathing undulates
under the white quilt. It is enough to lie
in bed on a slow Saturday,
to know he will come, his cool palm
stroking your belly, your breasts,
unexpectedly clutching your breath
as if it were another bouquet.
Do not hasten his wooing.
He will come soon enough.
You must not speak his name.
Only when you slip life's pearls
through your fingers, like a rosary,
counting the day after day
of his unfailing courtship,
when you have ached for him
in all the little things - in how you walk,
how your fingers probe a place for seeds,
how your cheek presses to his hard belly,
how you touch the mound where new life stirs —
only then will you be ready,
the light will break through
and the darkness, together,
and you will understand, finally,
who it is who has loved you
all this time, so well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Planet Earth - PK Page

In tribute to PK Page, an accomplished and inspiring Canadian poet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prophet in Kentucky

Before people can live in harmony with their communities, or their spouses, or their topsoil, they need to be at peace with themselves, and that is Berry’s main concern. We need to live in real places, not in the generalized lobbies that modern houses often are. We need to be at home in our bodies, too – not in the “useless, weak” husks that we drag daily to the flourescently cheerful “health club,” but a body that each day knows the “elemental pleasures of eating and drinking and resting, of being dry while it is raining, of getting dry after getting wet, of getting warm against after getting cold, of cooling off after getting hot.” Of being tired at sundown and at life’s end feeling “a great weariness... like the lesser weariness that comes with day’s end – a weariness that had been earned and was therefore accepted.”

The rigorous life, with some goal beside a higher “standard of living,” Berry implies, need come not only through farming. The same forces that distort and maim our agriculture – fear of dredgery, the endless demand for more, and faster – also cause many other problems, both environmental and social, that we face. We drive or take a taxi when we should walk or ride a bike – if we were on foot we would not only emit less carbon dioxide, we’d be in closer touch with our communities, the way a farmer on a horse-drawn plow knows his field better than the pilot of a huge combine. And we would use the muscles that we must have been born with for some better reason than bouncing in front of a video. We would be out in the weather, and at day’s end we’d be weary instead of tense.

There are a thousand other ways we could try to shift our lives to create a more sustainable world; but, as Berry makes clear, it would be foolish to underestimate how difficult this will be or how powerful are the habits and interests that must be overcome. As economic actors we, through our investments, require corporations to look ahead a quarter or a year at a time, to make for us as much money as possible, even if that means, to give the tiniest example from the most recent Exxon annual meeting, not building our oil tankers with double hulls. As consumers, even those of us who are well-to-do often demand the cheapest possible food, though this requires the most harmful farming, and the most comfortable cars and houses, though they may well be helping to create an uncomfortable planet.

As citizens we deamnd lower taxes, instead of devoting ourselves to figuring out how to share the world’s greatest concentration of wealth with an increasingly poor nation and world. Suspicious of real change, and of more work and less luxury, we place our faith in frequent incatations about unceasing economic growth and technological expansion, even though our logic tells us they are as unlikely as endless growth in the food supply and our scientific instruments tell us they are starting to harm our planet as surely as poor farming erodes our soils.

Wherever we live, however we do so, we desperately need a prophet of responsibility; and although they days of the prophets seem past to many of us, Berry may be the closest to one we have. But, fortunately, he is also a poet of responsibility. He makes one believe that the good life may be not only harder than what we’re used to but sweeter as well (McKibben 276-277)

McKibben, Bill. The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life. New York:Henry Holt and Company, 2008.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gift of Creation

This post was written by Byron Borger for his monthly book review column. He operates a diverse independent bookstore, Hearts & Minds Books. I met him last year at Jubliee and absolutely fell in love with what he does.

It is late Friday night here in South Central Pennsylvania and the weather people are predicting a serious storm with deep snowfall. It is coming down brisk but soft even now. As a struggling businessman, I am frustrated that this will surely kill holiday shopping on what, for us, needed to be the busiest day of the year. As a Christian, I stand in awe at God's power and the power of creation, wanting to praise Him in all things, and trust His providence. And as a human being, as a busy and stressed person this crazy time of year, I'm actually looking forward to the reprieve that a heavy snowfall brings. Ahh, yes, my bad back will hurt as we shovel out, but the stillness and beauty will be spectacular. As I grow older I dislike the cold and hassle, but I still relish the sheer beauty of God's changing seasons. Snow really is an amazing thing, isn't it? A servant of God, Psalm 119:91 assures us.

So, a quiet night, tense with anticipation of the coming storm, and a time for reflecting on the importance of (again) a robust and serious doctrine of creation. Obviously, this is why I wrote about Copenhagen earlier in the week, and reminded BookNotes readers of the call to stewardship of creation, and the duty to do justice to all creatures (not the least of which are the people in developing countries that feel the anguish of environmental disregard.) The whole creation (as Romans 8 puts it) is really groaning. Can we "read the signs of the times" and see judgment and mercy, and the need for response in this groaning? Let us pray, in Jesus name, for eyes to see and ears to hear. Despite controversies of fudged climate data and debates about proper policy and carbon offsets and such, we know God wants us to care for His beloved planet.

Besides the dozens of great, theologically-sound and quite compelling Christian studies of the environment, creation-care and proper response to the environmental crisis that we stock (and that we hope your church library or fellowship group or parish reading group has a few of), we can---and I believe, we must---read books to remind us to
enjoy the beauty of the Earth. Of course some of us may be able to do this without reading about it, but I am sure that some of us need a little help (or, at least, can use books as resources in this habit of heart.) Of course we must protect her from the ideologies, systems and practices that assault her. (We would not sit and gaze at the beauty of our lovely spouse or sister or mother if she were being mugged or raped, would we?) Yes, we need analysis and action, theology and politics, research and guidebooks. Yet, I am confident that sustained care for these things (from daily acts of recycling or buying more organic food to lobbying for wise public policy options) will not just come from a stewardship theology or duty. It will come, also, from delight. (Maybe you know the Bruce Cockburn song from the CD You've Never Seen Everything reminding us "don't forget about delight." Lovely, lovely quiet rock, with cool, jazzy fiddle and soothing harmonica, from a profound poet and prophet on these very matters!)

Here's are three books to help us regain our focus, see the sensuous real-ness of things, train our hearts and eyes to enjoy and care.

Remember Creation: God's World of Wonder and Delight Scott Hozee (Eerdmans) $15.00 Thank goodness that this previously out of print collection of essays and sermons is now back in print! It is one of my personal favorites for insight and sheer beautiful writing. It is less about the science or economics of protecting the Earth or fighting for ecological sustainability but worshiping God by appreciating creation. It is truly about the spirituality of seeing, of understanding the complexities of the Earth, of being doxological in our walking around on the Earth. A lovely collection, wonderfully written, enjoyable and entertaining and, very profound. It, I think, would be pretty convicting for most of us. Very highly recommended.

The Gift of Creation: Images From Scripture and Earth edited by Norman Wirzba, photography by Thomas Barnes (Acclaim Press) $39.95 There are many books of nature photography, collections of stunning calendars and coffee table collections. Some are by serious photographers, some are a bit cheesy. You can probably get 'em cheap at the bargin bin at the local big box store. A few are breath-taking, but have stupid new age quotes over the pages (or Bible verses in ugly fonts, which, aesthetically speaking, isn't much better.)

It is hard to find a book that has top-notch photography, caringly produced by local folk with real integrity, and that isn't marred by goofy or sappy/inspirational text. We trust Norman Wirzba, who has written widely on a Christian philosophy of creation, directs a remarkable program at Duke U. researching a sense of place, and (for what it indicates) has written about, and is friends with, the poet-farmer-essayist Saint Wendell Berry Wirzba's book on sabbath is radical and wise and grand; he is one to listen to. When I heard that Wirzba had helped pull together this Kentucky photographers pictures, I knew we had to have it. It is from a small regional indie press: of course. We had to order it.

Little did I know that this heavy, well-produced hardback--big, but not too big-- has over ten essays alongside this amazing, amazing photography. The photographer is well respected and teaches forestry at the University of Kentucky. He's worked in extension services as a wildlife expert and his photography skills have been widely used all over the country. And, little did I know (ha!) that a few of the contributors to the text of this book are acquaintances, writers I deeply respect and appreciate. Within this handsome full-color gift book you will also find really important and wonderfully serious essays by the likes of Calvin DeWitt, Matthew Sleeth, and an essential, creative and exceptional piece by Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat (a New Testament scholar best known as co-author of
Colossians Remixed.) If this book just had the essays, it would be worth shelling out for. That it is also a coffee table gift book full of rare and wondrous shots, meditation pieces about the gift of God's wonderful world, the value far exceeds the cost. This book is a treasure, a delight, and I intend to spend time looking carefully at it tomorrow during the snowstorm.

Here are some of the authors and their topics found in
The Gift of Creation: Ellen Davis from Duke (who has a brilliant book on agrarianism and the Bible, by the way) on Genesis 1; Norman Wirzba reflecting on "being a creature" in light of the Noah story; John Rausch (who directs the very important Catholic Committee on Appalachia) explains the relationship between "sabbath creation" and "sabbath economics." There is a piece on the Psalms, one by a Jewish scholar and activist on "natural intelligence in the Song of Songs" and there is a very important one called "Nature's Travail and Renewal in the Prophets" (written by Presbyterian Bible scholar and activist, William Brown.) I think the chapter on Jesus and the Earth (in Luke) looks very good and I have thoroughly enjoyed, and learned much, again, from the remarkable piece by Sylvia Keesmaat on Paul and the hope for creation. It is so beautifully written (even as it is in formed by serious scholarship and profound Bible knowledge) that it nearly cries out to be read out loud. Lastly, Barbara Rossing from the Lutheran School of Theology reflects passionately on themes of creation found in apocalyptic literature. There is a helpful appendix offering various internet sites for creation care and a good and serious bibliography. Who knew a gift book could carry so much intellectual learnings and Biblical scholarship?

But, yet, again, it is the artwork here, the gloriously well-done photo shots that make the book. It is a nicely made, handsomely arranged and nicely shown story of a man and his camera, the work that he does, and the fruit of his amazingly wise eye for the details of this world of wonder. There are fairly standard pictures of winter churches and National Park vistas and delightful waterfalls and sunset lakes and grazing fawns--which could be cliched, I suppose, but are not in this arrangement. And then there are the close up looks at the bright color of a spotted salamander or the dull grayness of a cliff or the brown, brown fur of a hare. Yes, some of these look like Audubon calendars or Sierra Club appointment books (and, I hope you know, that is a great compliment, indicating the quality of the composition and the beauty of the work.) I admit that a few shots perhaps seem a tad plain, but perhaps this is good. Not all of God's good world is stunning. There are rather ordinary looking animals, rather mundane fields, barns that are, well, just barns, and not striking in their cool paint-peeling hipness. I sense that this Tom Barnes guy is (how do I say this nicely) not an elitist or at all pretentious. He sees stuff that most of us see, and some of his shots are fairly ordinary--even the ones of moose or flowers. They are accessible. Yes, yes, there is stunning light and odd shadow and blasts of colors in autumn leaves and sheer mist over giant waterfalls. Still, I think some of these shots are somehow more approachable than some in the calendars, showing us the subject--the ordinary life of the creation itself---and not drawing attention to the artfulness of the photographer. That is, these are less about Barnes talent and more about the flora and fauna, the landscapes and locations. Even the graphics are under-whelming, nice little fonts that aren't powerful; again, some designers these days are so absolutely fabulous that you end up looking at the sidebars and pull quotes and color and shades. This is not like that. I think it works well. It is, after all, produced by Norman Wirzba, a friend of Wendell Berry's, and the photographer works in forestry. This is a book for homes and outdoors-lovers and Sunday school classes, not the bohemian galleries.

The subtitle is "images from Scripture and Earth" and indeed the Biblical study is serious, but often imagistic. And they open up our minds to have hearts to see. Conversely, these nice pictures open us up to hear the Word of God. Excellent photography, wonderful creation, serious Bible study. I don't know of any book like it, I really don't. Thanks to Wirzba for pulling it off, and many, many thanks to Mr. Barnes for focusing our attention on the handiwork of a generous, involved Creator.
The Gift of Creation is a fine, fine book, a gift itself, in more ways than one. Enjoy!

Winter: A Spiritual Geography Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch (Skylight Paths) $18.95 We have often promoted these four books (I've noted the Winter one, here, but there are three others, naturally entitled Spring, Summer and Autumn.) These are a dream-come-true for literary-type nature lovers. Edited by two fine writers from the English department of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, with a very broad spiritual eye, these include short pieces, poems, essays, excerpts of novels, and great literature from across the ages and faith perspectives. From Annie Dillard to Henry David Thoreau, from Sanskrit to Hebrew Bible, from E.B. White to John Updike, these essayists and writers help us see the season as a metaphor, to enter into, to appreciate, to experience. What a genius idea. I know a few folks who have given all four as a handsome gift pack, wrapped together with rugged twine or seasonal yarn.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Purpose of Vocation: Living Outside Ourselves

I found this booklet on The Circumcision and the Name of Jesus, by Rev. Marcus Zill, pastor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church and Campus Center. This particular section is addresses vocation and I found it challenging and moving.

God our Father, Your Son grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men. Bless, guide, and govern the children and young people of Your Church by Your Holy Spirit that they may grow in grace and in the knowledge of Your Word. Grant that they may serve you well and usefully, developing their talents not for their own sakes but for the glory of God and the welfare of their neighbor…through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Petition “For Young Persons,” LW, p.127

The purpose of all vocations is the self-sacrificial service of others. As Wingren puts it “God does not need our works, but our neighbor does.” Strictly speaking, we don’t “serve” God; He is always the one serving us. Rather, we “serve” our neighbor. Thus Luther taught that the Christian always lives outside of himself – in Christ by faith and in the neighbor by love. Through His Divine Service to us and in us, Jesus turns our selfishness inside out.

“Holiness before God is a gift of the Gospel, already established by Christ. Love towards the neighbor is a requirement of the law (Matthew 23:29 “You shall love your neighbor…”)

It is only before God that man stands alone (i.e. as an individual). In the earthly realm man always stands in relation to, and bound to others. Before his neighbor, the Christian is a doer of what God wants done in the world; Before God, the Christian is not a doer but a receiver.

“The sun shines in exactly the same way on all: the peasant and the king, the thorn and the rose, the pig in the alley and the lovely girl. They all receive alike of the sun’s light and warmth. But the works and actions which such diverse creatures carry on in the sunlight are widely different, and must be so. Likewise, all people are alike before Christ, who, like the sun, gives himself alike to all. All receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper; and all hear the same gospel. As for the reality which makes us Christians there is not the slightest difference between man and woman, young and old, learned and unlearned, great saint and frail character. The differences among persons all lie in the things which they can severely do, a capacity or a work, and these activities are directed ‘downward’ to the service of others. Before God in heaven there are no differences; all are simply human beings and sinners, to whom Christ is given, just like the sun that sheds its light on all without discrimination.”[1]

[1] Wingren, 174.