Darkness and Light

She said…

John 1: 1-5 NRSV
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Over the last two years we have sold or given away most of our possessions, including a lot of artwork that I either traded for or got great deals on. This mask is a piece I gave to Shannon as a birthday gift. It made the cut and is now hanging in our home on wheels, partly because it is lightweight and not too fragile, but mostly because I like the story. It was carved by Gerard Tsanakwa, from the Abanaki tribe.

 

When Abanaki children misbehave, they are not punished, they are told a story. Tsanakwa is a story teller, and this mask is a character from one of his stories. I have forgotten the name of the character, so let’s just call him John.

John represents the battle between Darkness and Light. John went out into the world to do battle with the darkness, but the harder he fought, the more the darkness spread. When he saw that he was not making any progress with his quest he decided to change his tactic; John decided to surround and overcome the darkness by spreading light.

It is our job here at Circle J Camp as well as in the world in general to spread the light. It is not our job to overcome darkness by doing battle, or trying to fix everything we perceive as broken with any system. We will never win. It is our job to do the work God has put us here to do and spread the light.

John 1: 6-9 NRSV
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b]

Ten Sleep: Week One

She said… 

Ten Sleep, Wyoming, gets its name from a Plains Indian Tribe who used to travel here, ten days (or nights) from their home. The Circle J (keep Jesus at the center of your life) Camp is lodged in a beautiful canyon with high rock walls and what is right now a roaring river. In a couple of weeks the spring melt will have passed and the roar of the river will subside, the threat of flooding will diminish.

When we take a Nomad’s assignment we agree to work for three weeks, Monday thru Thursday, 8am to 4pm. Friday thru Sunday is our own to do with as we like. Free camping is provided on site with full hookups.

We are serving here at Circle J with three other couples, and a fifth to arrive next week. There is a group of kids here for church camp on Wednesday thru Saturday of our first week, so our priority tasks were to help get the camp ready for their arrival. We have had some down time while they are having camp, so our job on Thursday was to hang out and help where needed.

The first part of the week we built four 7’ long flower boxes for the kids to paint and plant vegetables in, cleaned and painted the girls shower room floor, built a new dumpster enclosure, did repairs on roofs and walls of buildings at the camp, did some electrical work, deep cleaned all of the bunkhouses and guest quarters, and cleaned the chapel, a beautiful historic old church that is living its third incarnation here at the camp. The list seemed formidable when we started, but we made short work of it, and it seemed to make an enormous difference to the staff, all volunteer, a husband and wife team and a couple of college-age kids, to have the help.

Church Camp: There are thirty-five kids here from all over north central Wyoming. A lot of adults have showed up to help as well so it seems that they have everything well in hand. Lessons for me. . .it’s always so easy for me to look at a situation and assume that I have a better way to do things. It’s wonderful here to be able to just stand back and watch God use His people to do His work.

The members of the team take turns doing devotions each morning. My day was Wednesday, and I chose 1 Thessalonians 5:18, where Paul tells us that we need to be thankful for ALL the things in our lives. It’s easy to be thankful for the beautiful surroundings, and the opportunity to serve Circle J, for all the good things that happen to us. But when things get a little hard or don’t go as we want them to, we need to remember that God uses our discomfort and our perceived difficulties to build our characters. A reminder, yet again, that we can’t see the big picture, that we need to trust and put everything in His hands.

It has been hot and sweaty here, so it is imperative that we get laundry done this weekend. We decided to do it on Sunday in Worland after church. For our tourist day this weekend we drove up the Tensleep Canyon and over the Powder River Pass into Buffalo, Wyoming. Buffalo is a very cool little town with great museums and good restaurants. The ladies at the Jim Gatchell Museum asked us what our favorite place was so far and we said “Buffalo!”. It all just keeps getting better and better!

Bits and Pieces

She said…

We are almost there. Hopefully, we close on the house next Friday and we are on the road a week from Monday. For me there is a palpable buzz in the air, the mood has shifted yet again, and we are intent on doing things for (really) the last time. One set of things is the housekeeping chores, like doing the last load of free laundry and emptying the tanks so we can start out on empty. The other is emotional and relational things, like spending extra time with Shannon’s folks, a last meeting with my reunion group, one last trip to our favorite date spot in Durango (low on the priority list, as I know there are restaurants in the outside world. . .there will be more dates, but we have this coupon for free appetizer or desert). Today we had a farewell potluck at the church where we have attended and served for the last fifteen years, and experienced a tremendous outpouring of love and generosity. We will be able to buy the rest of the tools we need for our Nomads service with the gifts from our church family.

I had a bit of an epiphany last Sunday. Over the last two years of preparation, I have never felt like the guy who made all of these grand plans and then presented them to God for his approval with an invitation for God to join him, and God just laughed. It has felt from the beginning that God has been with us, behind us and before us on this journey and that we are looking forward to seeing what He has in store for us out there. If this is the case, then I also have to believe that when things happen that are not according to our hopes and dreams, that this is still God’s plan and there is a good reason for it. Looking at my life this way has allowed me to let go of a lot of the silly little stuff I was fretting about.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NRSV

So last week when we failed our septic inspection, and we both had visions of the whole house sale unraveling and having to stay here for another year and pour thousands of more dollars into this house, we were able to slow down and look at the big picture. Is there something besides hair and grease clogging our leach line going on here? Is there some reason beyond our knowing that we are supposed to stay here a little longer? Well, apparently not. Thanks to our friends Mr. Rooter and Dr. Pumper we found a creative way to solve the problem that is acceptable to the buyer and doesn’t require our presence. We are waiting for final approval of the plan by the buyer’s lender to see if we go ahead with the close on Friday.

I can feel Shannon and I testing our personal boundaries and settling into a different mode, too. Even though we do a lot of our lives as a couple, there are aspects of our day-to-day that we do separately.  As we embark on this journey together will we be ok doing everything together or will we each need to be more sensitive to the other’s need for “me time?” I know we wouldn’t have started off on this journey if we felt that we didn’t have the kind of relationship that could stand up under this kind of pressure.

A lot of my leavings in this life have been sort of skulking out under the cover of darkness, with no fanfare or tearful goodbyes. This one has been a matter for much open discussion and prayer as we have purged and sold and gifted our way into a simpler way of life. This time we are being sent out with a lot of love and the continued prayers of all of our friends and family here in Aztec.

The Bible on Perfection

She said…

Eileen Utton was our guest pastor yesterday. She really got me thinking, which I like when I go to church. This was her scripture and her illustration from Dorotheus.

Concerning Retaliation
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:38-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

This is a really hard scripture. If you are going feel free to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to live by this is a great place to start. There is no “unless” in this scripture, no qualifiers. He doesn’t say “Love your enemies unless they are persecuting other Christians, or unless they want to harm you.” It is easy to love my enemies from a distance, like praying for ISIS, but what about the guy who is breaking into my house to steal from me or cause me bodily harm. Does Jesus not want me to defend myself? Am I trying to compromise with God if I have a concealed carry permit? Am I parsing the Word if I support our military? Am I supposed to give money to every single one of the people I see in parking lots and on street corners? And is Jesus really serious when He tells us to loan money to anyone who asks? Seems foolish to me.

I don’t know the answers to these questions.

I know that Biblical perfection is a process, a growing and maturing in the Word. I know that God doesn’t expect me to be perfect right now (good thing!). I know that “fear” and “love” are opposites, that I can’t love if I am full of fear. I know that it is easy to say “I love everybody” the same way I say “I love ice cream” but what does that really mean? What is it to feel that kind of love?

I love this illustration from Dorotheus of Gaza, a 6th century monk:

From The Letter from Calcutta:
“Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.”

I have always seen this example one way, that the closer we are to God the closer we are to each other. But today I saw the last sentence as more significant, that the closer we get to other people, the closer we are to God. So maybe the solution, or at least on the way to the solution, is getting close to other people, not as groups but as individuals. It is much harder to judge an individual’s race, gender, preferences, income level, appearance, or religion than it is to judge a group. I need to look people in the eye and see them as unique beings, loved by God as much as I am.

Thanks Eileen!

The Middle of Creation

She said… 

Even after dementia had pretty much scrambled her faculties, my mother always said: “As long as I’m still here, God has something for me to do.” This may be one of the most important gifts she ever gave me. At first I didn’t understand, then I started watching her. It wasn’t a conscious kind of purpose, like going to work or fixing dinner, but for as long as she was with us her presence was teaching us something, even if it was learning to love and care for someone who was leaving us bit by bit, or how to love each other through the pain of her leaving.

I am so blessed. I am, 65 years old, and I’m starting out on a brand new adventure. I have friends around me who are battling cancer and friends who have defeated it, friends who are facing the death of a loved one, friends who are facing the loss of jobs and the changing of career paths, friends who are finding the fulfillment of jobs and careers they love, friends who are facing the sadness of divorce and the uncertainty of a future without a life-partner, friends who are facing the challenges of aging and the specter of grieving, friends who are facing the consequences of poor financial decisions, friends who have embraced retirement and the excitement of travel or spending more time with family, friends who are seeking, and friends who have given up.

I just finished a really excellent book, destined for my all-time favorites list. Through a veil of tears, I have read the ending at least a dozen times. 

From “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman

“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

* * *

And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps. Afternoons in the sun with someone’s hand clutched in one’s own. The fragrance of flower beds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a café. Grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future.

* * *

Love is a strange thing. It takes you by surprise.

* * *

Life is a curious thing.”

No matter our age, we are in the middle of our creation. No matter where we are in life, we are not cooked yet. God has not finished with us. There is always something more to learn, to experience, to do. As Shannon and I venture forth to explore God’s creation I am increasingly aware of my unfinished condition, of the possibilities for the rest of my time here, of the uncertainty of our future, and of the excitement of facing the unknown with the  awareness that God has great plans for us. As long as we’re still here, God has something for us to do.