How Shall We Then Live


Mark Twain once said: Whiskey is for drinkin’.  Water is for fightin’ over.  I heard about and then read an article the other day about this new fangled word that is cropping up in California:  Subsidence.  Have you heard about this word?  Basically as people drink and use the water from the aquifer under the valley, the land on top collapses because there is nothing holding it up.  The severe drought there has only exacerbated the problem, of course, and now in places the land is collapsing as much as 2 inches per month.  That is a two feet a year.

It’s causing a feedback loop, like if you don’t exercise, you get out of shape, and if you are out of shape the harder it is to exercise, which makes you more out of shape, etc.  Well as the aquifer collapses then there is less room to store water, which means that when it rains or snows, there is nowhere for the water to go, so there is more run off.  The aquifer is shrinking, and the smaller it gets, the quicker it shrinks.

This is big problem in California, one that has been steadily growing over the last 70 or 100 years, but while it is reaching crisis there, the problem of draining aquifers faster than they are being replenished is a problem throughout the US.  Even here in the very wet Northwest, we have seen longer, warmer, drier years.  There have been years about as bad as this year in the past, but climate change is not a problem for the future, it is already broadly impacting people throughout the world.  Looking at this from a biological and anthropological standpoint it is probably the largest single natural change that humans have faced since the ice age.

Now having said that, I do not believe this will destroy all life on the planet or wipe out humanity, but over the next several generations, as always, things are going to change, people will have to adapt, and I believe it is a real question whether our complex, global, society will be sustainable.

But the question is: what are we to do?  How shall we then live?  And I mean specifically the church and Christians.  Do we have a role or a voice in this transformation of society?  There are some that might say no, that the church’s job is the care of souls, and only the care of souls.  

But if the world is heading to a transformation, and if you talk to any young person, this issue is of paramount concern, and the church has nothing to say, why would anyone listen to anything it says.  Is the church selling fire insurance during a flood?  Are we still arguing about who can take communion when an army is invading?  Are we practicing a personal relationship with God, that, no matter how satisfying or important it might be for me, has nothing to do with the person at the coffee shop who just doesn’t have a taste for that sort of thing?  Are we celebrating pastors who teach us to be personally successful when the survival of Social Security is a big question for people under 40?  Perhaps the church is seen by younger people as irrelevant because it has made itself irrelevant.

How shall we then live?  I have some ideas, but I think you should think about this too.  The church should not be trendy, but neither should it be irrelevant.  How do we get our voice back?  And what should it be saying?



Bread of Life

August kicks off with Scandinavian Festival.  We will (I hope and pray) get lots of people making aebleskiver for lots of visitors.  Serendipitously, all August (nearly) we are going to be reading through chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, which talks about another flour based food, bread.  In it Jesus feeds 5000 people with bread (and some fish) and then has an extended conversation about what that sign, that miracle, means.  One of the key pieces of that conversation is the metaphor that Jesus uses when he says, “I am the Bread of Life.” We will be digging into this conversation this month, but one thing to remember as we get into it is that Jesus is talking about life, about life made abundant in ways that surprise and even provoke and offend some people.  Life which is beautiful, loved, cherished and blessed by God, though some regard it as worthless and nothing.  I ran across this poem the other day, and thought, in a way, it says the same thing.  You can find the poem here:



They Say that I'm Nothing, but I'm Something

By Londeka Zondi, a 19 year old from South Africa

They say I’m poor,

They say I’m nothing.

They say I’m poor and they say I’m nothing because I’ve got nothing to offer to any living soul.

I’ve got no money, no food, no child, no wife nor husband and no home to go home to that is because I’ve got no money.

But I say I’m blessed

I’m blessed because God told me so.

He loves me the same way he loves every life on earth. I’m blessed because I’m still alive.

I breathe the same air that rich men breathe,

I walk on the same ground that rich men walk . . . therefore  I am no different.

I am rich with life

I am rich with love

I’m rich with hope that one day they will see the beauty that God treasured in me because I am something indeed


May you find the beauty that God treasures in you and in those you encounter this month, this season, this year, and this lifetime.




New Creation

One of the ways the church has talked about what is happening in Holy Week is that God is making a new creation, God is remaking this world into a new world. This world is still a part of it this new creation, but that God is making it whole. God is fixing and healing what is broken, and the death and especially the resurrection of Jesus is the way God is doing that.  As Bishop NT Wright writes:

“It is a matter of glimpsing that in God's new creation, of which Jesus's resurrection is the start, all that was good in the original creation is reaffirmed. All that has corrupted and defaced it--including many things which are woven so tightly into the fabric of the world as we know it that we can't imagine being without them--will be done away. Learning to live as a Christian is learning to live as a renewed human being, anticipating the eventual new creation in and with a world which is still longing and groaning for that final redemption.”   

This new creation starts in Jesus resurrection and is completed at his return, but we are still very much a part of its story. This new creation is not something only far away but lived out in our everyday lives as we live out those lives as reflections of the life of Jesus.  Paul makes this point very clear in 2 Cor 5, as he connects the new creation with being in Christ.  The old has passed away and everything has become new, and this newness is found through God reconciling all things in Christ and we find that new creation as we are also reconciled to God and to all things.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

The new world is not some far off future.  Resurrection is not some far off past.  This new creation is here all around us pulsing with life.  As ambassadors of Jesus we participate in manifesting this new creation in our daily lives.  Every time we forgive one another, every time we reconcile, when we are patient and kind, compassionate and humble we make it a reality in our lives and in the lives of others.  The new creation is made real to us as the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the truth that shapes our lives.  I pray that the spirit of resurrection, the spirit of new creation, the spirit of Christ be alive in your every moment this Easter.




As we draw closer to Lent we began to ask again what this season is about.  We do not, afterall live in a culture that encourages us to consistently deny ourselves indulgence.  Our entire economic system is built on consuming, and hence it plays an important part of our society.  Leaving that for a moment, I’d like to focus this month on another aspect of Lent, self-examination.  Self-examination is not something that needs to be esoteric or even particularly soul searching.  It is simply a kind of evaluation, a taking stock.

As a pastor I try to evaluate things that we do, and I often try to ask, how did that go? What worked?  What should change?   This can be far more helpful than simply asking, what went wrong or what went right.  It can sometimes even be more helpful than trying to figure out why something did or didn’t work.  We often can’t explain why something did or didn’t work.  We might decide to try again, or we might decide to do something different.  By that it worked is usually more important than why.  Why comes later.

To evaluate something, to thoughtfully look back on something we have done or something that happened, is to learn, to develop as people.  If we don’t evaluate we are often condemned to repeat bad patterns and old habits and can get stuck in unfruitful routines.  Reflection and evaluation invites us to bend back and peel open our lives, to get up in the balcony and see a broader perspective, to see our experience through a larger lens.  

There’s about three things that go into a good evaluation.  First, how do you feel?  This might seem a bit touchy feely, but feelings are important, and paying attention to our feelings can lead us to greater wisdom about ourselves and about our world.  This is not simply about personal taste, or whether we “like” something.  If we are uncomfortable with something or particularly happy about something that might lead us to ask if there is an aspect we hadn’t noticed before.  Perhaps it has to do with us; perhaps it has to do with the situation; but asking ourselves how we feel is a vital step to doing a good evaluation of anything.

Second is what is sometimes called the Plus/Delta.  What is going well and what needs to change.  What is a positive and what could we do or be better, and how.  It is important to avoid blame here.  We tend to try to simplify life, find a simple solution, fix it, and move on, often slaughtering a scapegoat as a part of the process, whether it is ourselves or someone else.  Life isn’t that simple.  

Third, we need to name and address the elephants in the room.  How often in our lives, in our families, in our churches, have we let the elephants sit in the room taking up space and making our lives uncomfortable.  We usually don’t gain anything by ignoring them.   In my own life I had an elephant in the room for a while: I hadn’t been to a doctor in years.  During the previous visit, which had come up because of a rather scary symptom, I had come through fine, but that had been a number of years ago.  I finally broke down and went for a full check-up.  Everything was fine again, but one number had climbed to dangerous levels.  I didn’t know it; and if I had gone even more years without paying any attention to it, it could have caused some problems.  But I addressed that elephant; I had my tests, got my medication, and things are now under control.  

Take this Lent to address your elephants-in-the-room.  Evaluate your life, your relationships, your work.  What is going well?  What do you need to change?  How are you feeling?  These kinds of questions can lead to the deep personal and spiritual growth that Lent is all about.




The Big Picture

Summer in Oregon is the best summer.  It is green, it is warm, there are weeks of sunshine.  The forest is full of trees, the ocean is cold and crisp.  There is almost nowhere you can go where you will not be surrounded by the beauty of nature. 

In a way this beauty is a cathedral and God's presence is known intimately and immediately in ways that we perhaps struggle to find in other more quotidian (day-to-day) environments.  We may even begin to suspect that this is where God truly is and the only place to truly meet God.

I'm sure you've known people who have said as much, and you may have struggled with that question.  Why go to church?  Why not go camping?  Why all the talk about God when God is here to be experienced?  And while that all sounds good, upon further reflection, it is found wanting.  After all, what if I don't experience God's presence in the forest, or even further: so what if I do?  What does that mean?  What does that change? 

It is only in community that experiences can be shared, discussed, considered.  What is "God in the forest?"  What about "God in the desert," or "God in art," or even "God in the skyscraper?"  What about all the other places people have encountered God, how does that change our understanding of what God is?  If we only have individual experiences of God we are like the old tale of the three blind men describing the elephant.  But together, we get a bigger, better picture of God (this is what we call theology), and that picture is like a map that allows us to discover, experience and learn more. 

C.S. Lewis addresses this very point in Mere Christianity, a book everyone should read at least once, and I'll leave you with his quote.  I hope you're enjoying your summer.

"Now, theology is like the map.  Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert [when he felt god's presence while out alone under the stars].  Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map.  But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God - experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused.  And secondly if you want to get any further, you must use the map.  You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it.  It leads nowhere.  There is nothing to do about it.  In fact, that is just why a vague religion - all about feeling God in nature, and so on - is so attractive.  It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach.  But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.  Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea.  Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.  (Mere Christianity)."