Christian Hills Camp

When I was a kid, I spent one week each summer at Christian Hills Church Camp, near Eureka, KS. And I loved it. It was fun, and my faith deepened there.

In the lodge, where we ate our meals, we sat with about eight people at a table, about 60-100 people in the hall. There were “hoppers,” who arrived 15 minutes before the meal, set the tables, brought the food, and cleaned up afterwards. As meal time neared, we would gather on the porch of the lodge, hang out, and preen for each other.

Once, the waiting on the porch was dragging out. We were told we were going to have a meal based on world food distribution. But rumors started circulating that there had actually been a kitchen incident. The food was burned, and they were coming up with an emergency plan.

We waited on the porch for dinner. We were getting hungry and restless.
As we entered the dining hall, the counselors gave us slips of paper, and told us to go sit at the table with our number on it. The table represented a certain country in the world.

There were about twelve tables; and I found mine, but I wasn’t sitting with any of my friends. Some of the tables had too many kids at them… so people were standing around their table. Some of the tables had just a few people and there were some empty chairs. I was at a table that had about the right number of people and chairs.

Usually, the hoppers had set the table and the food was in family-style serving dishes. But this time, our table was empty. There were plates and water glasses. But the only food on the table was a stick of butter. It looked pretty meager. But there was always peanut butter and jelly on the table in the corner. It was the safety-net option for people who didn’t like what was being served. I looked over; and, yes, it was still there. That gave me just a bit of comfort.

Then the hoppers started coming out of the kitchen with loaves of bread and pitchers of water. Only some hoppers had platters that were piled high with bread, others had a couple of loaves, and some had almost nothing.

Then, the hoppers with almost nothing went to the tables with the most kids. And the ones with platters that couldn’t hold all the loaves went to the tables with extra chairs.

Too many had too little. And too few had too much.

When our hopper got to our table with just a few loaves of bread, we asked, “What’s for dinner?” He said, “That’s all they had.” He was worried, and we looked around the dining hall as this news spread.

At that point, chaos broke out. I don’t think the counselors were ready.

As hoppers arrived at the tables with more people than loaves, kids started stealing loaves from other tables. I remember one person at a table that had way too much bread, laying on top of the bread and hugging it to protect it from other tables that had nothing. But the bread was getting squashed. And I remember someone from that same table, pulling loaves out and throwing them into the crowd.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt lucky because I was at a table that seemed to have enough food for the people sitting at it. I figured we were going to be fine. But I had no words to calm the storm. I knew that guarding bread when you had way more than your neighbors was selfish; I knew that throwing bread to those who had less was wasteful; and I knew that stealing was wrong. A lot of the loaves just hit the floor. And no one was hungry enough to pick those up. To even think about eating them.

About this time, the counselors started shouting for people to settle down, scolding us for not sharing. Real food was on the way. And the hoppers were called back into the kitchen, and they returned to the tables with pots full of spaghetti, bowls of sauce, and plenty of garlic bread. Everyone actually got plenty to eat.

It turned into a feast.

And that scene has given me much to think about. I had been singing “We are the World. We are the children. It’s time to make a better day, so let’s start givin’.” But I know in the crucial moment, my first instinct was not to share. I was glad that I had enough but not so much that people wanted to steal what was mine.

But that bread wasn’t even mine. It was just my luck that I was sitting at that table.

And so, now, when I have been so blessed with talent and opportunity, I want to share God’s gifts with more people. I want the rain to fall and the sun to shine on all God’s children. Because if we share, I believe we can turn loaves and water into spaghetti, sauce, and garlic bread.

As Gandhi said, “The Earth provides enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

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Good Friday: It is finished.

The seventh word is from John 19:30.

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” the It could be many things. For one, he has lived a full life as a human, from birth to death, temptation, joy and grief – He has set a perfect example of what a person can be.

And He has finished the work of reconciling the World with its Creator. He has laid the foundation of a new and deeper relationship between humanity and God. A relationship based on grace – not rules and regulations.

This “It is finished,” shows us how to break the cycle of violence and vengeance.

This “It is finished!” is triumphant.

Harold Frye, in one of his many devotions, helped me hear the note of triumph. He compared Jesus to a runner who has finished a race to the best of their ability. Jesus – after years of teaching, preaching, and healing, totally exhausted, crosses the finish line and reaches the goal. He is exultant.

In a parallel to God pronouncing, “It is very good!” on the sixth day of Creation; Jesus says, “It is finished,” before he rests on the Sabbath.

That is why we call this Friday “good.”

But then “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” And there is no denying that this is a dark hour.

Dear Friends, tonight, we are here to remember the death of our savior and hero, Christ the Lord.

Jesus – convicted of blasphemy by the religious authorities – convicted of sedition by the empire – is taking his last breaths. Powerless, we are here to remember an execution.

As I have held this moment in my heart, my own emotions are dominated by fear, grief, and bewilderment.

I grieve because my hero was rejected and humiliated. I am afraid, because I am called to this same struggle against evil and because I will also lose my life – one way or another.

I understand why Peter denied Christ and why the disciples scattered: The cross is where those who challenge and question the status quo wind up.
And I am bewildered because I cannot figure out the theological accounting that balances our sin with Jesus’ death. I accept it. I am amazed and inspired.
But I do not understand it.

I do know this… Unless it gets dark. And I mean really, really dark; you cannot see the Milky Way. And the Milky Way is beautiful.

I think of it as the echo of “Let there be Light!”

Once upon a time, I saw the Milky Way.

It was after a week of wilderness backpacking with a mixed group of scouts from across the country. The landscape was breathtaking, and the experience was exhilarating; but I was young, and several of the boys teased me for being the smallest, the slowest, and the weakest.

Finally, the trek was over, and we were in basecamp. That night, I couldn’t sleep.

I left my tent, walked into a field, and cried. It was a dark, clear night. I was far from the city; and I could see the Milky Way.

As I stood there, I realized // how insignificant I was // how lucky I was to be alive. I realized // how trivial my troubles were // and that my tormentors were weak themselves.

When I regard Christ on the cross, seemingly defeated, I realize how much he loves us despite the mean, sinful, and evil things we do. He is more than the Milky Way. He is the human incarnation of “Let there be Light.”

If you have eyes, see:

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The darkness cannot overcome it.

Please pray with me.

God, you are with us in our darkest hours. Shed your Light on us. We grapple with fear, grief, and confusion. Comfort us. Give us hope and the courage to face the night. Amen.

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Ask the Pastor

Our pastor offered to field our toughest questions.
Like… if God is great and God is good,
Why did my uncle die from cancer?
Questions like those.
He opened up and let us hit him with our best shot.
He stood there like God’s punching bag.

And I sat there silent.
While others posed theirs.
Because I was too afraid to ask my questions.
Since I already knew the answers.

I believe that God’s good and God’s greatness
Is far beyond anything I can imagine.
I believe that God can create a rock of any size,
Lift it, and make a bigger one.
And then repeat.
Ad infinitum. Ad absurdum.

And that gives me some peace.

I believe that we all wind up in heaven.
But that doesn’t make it any easier
Here on Earth.

And that gives me some peace.

I believe that God said,
“Let there be Light.”
And I know that I can only see the
Slimmest slice of that Light.
Just the colors of the rainbow
When there is everything from Gamma rays
To radio waves and beyond.
Literally. I am blind to God’s Light.

And that gives me some peace.

And I believe that Jesus,
Full of grace and truth and light
Came to save us, and that by dying on the cross
He redeemed us.
He atoned for our sin, now and forever.

And that gives me some peace.

Still. I wanted to know
Why aren’t food and medicine
Distributed equally? Why is there so
Much injustice?
And God just asks me back,
“Why can’t you share?”

And I wanted to know
Can war ever be justified?
And God just asks me back,
“Can your yard, which poisons the water
With the fertilizer that runs off it, and which
Pollutes the air with the exhaust from
Your mower, and which is losing its
Topsoil right into the storm sewers because
You have no idea how to tend the Earth…
Can your yard be justified?”

And it pains me to come to these answers:
I am a sinner. I have fallen short.
As much as any Senator, any President, any King;
I need God’s grace.
I need hope and peace.
And I need to change.
I have to find what I am looking for.

And I can’t even sleep.

And that is when I hear God say,
“It is alright. When I made creation,
It was good. And it still is.
I made you. I love you.
Live. Be my child.
Be a reflection of my grace and truth.”

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2088: Swallow the Fly

America is not Germany in 1933. But we are tolerating a nativist, xenophobic, misogynist, deceitful President with autocratic tendencies. Impeachment proceedings have not begun and do not seem likely.

As a country, we are powerful and rich without equal, weaponized, bristling, and bungling. And some of us are rich. Some of us are still free. While one in three African-American males will be incarcerated during their lifetime, only one in seventeen Caucasian-American males will be (based on 2001 incarceration rates). And things have improved, but-still the 2010 census showed an incarceration rate of 2.2% for blacks and 0.4% for whites. I don’t like those odds. Meanwhile, Thirteenth is streaming on Netflix.

Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, LGBT folk, and the mentally ill are not the Jews. And I am not the silent, side-lined, fearful, addled majority. I don’t want to tweet, I don’t want to call my senator every week, and I don’t want to hear your “what about isms.” They distract and deflect me. I am just convicted in my complicity and impotency. I know that I will have to apologize for this coming Age of Darkness. But this sheep does not listen to the dog whistle. I hear the voice of the shepherd.

I admired President Carter as a young boy, and I scoffed at Reagan and the Moral Majority with the help of Bloom County. But it was on August 2, 1990, when I lost faith in the President of the United States. That day George Bush, the First, started the Gulf War. I was a going to be a sophomore at KU, I was home over the summer, and Wolf Blitzer was breaking the news of the Gulf War on CNN. My grandmother was sitting in her lazy-boy saying over and over again that she had been praying and praying that this would not happen.

Then grandma said, “Turn it to channel 9 for Wheel of Fortune,” but it had been preempted by the twenty-four-hour War-News-Cycle. She asked, “Is this channel 9?” I said, “Yes, grandma. They’re covering the war.”

And she said, “Then just turn it off.”

And I had been praying, too, that I would not be drafted to fight in a war that I could not understand. At least my prayer was answered.

Wikipedia explains the First Gulf War easily enough: Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of slant-drilling its oil. So he invaded Kuwait. The United Nations levied sanctions against Iraq, but when these did not result in Iraq withdrawing its forces, the United States led a coalition of the Willing (a group of 34 nations) into a conflict to push Iraq out of Kuwait. But President Bush didn’t invade Iraq; he did not remove Saddam Hussein from the Presidency.

And after 9/11/2001, Dubya didn’t rid the world of terror.

It’s now up to Trump, who is not Hitler, to build a wall and implement a travel ban.

But it still makes little sense. I don’t know why we started the fire, why he started the war, how a wall or travel ban will help, or why she swallowed the fly; perhaps we’ll die.

Very few of us are brave. We are not the best and brightest. But we lack all conviction. And we will not be denied first place at the wedding banquet of the church and the state.

But here is what I am pretty sure of, especially late at night: The United Stats is Rome, Incorporations are the incarnation of Moloch, and our cities are Babylon. We are divided by city limits and color lines. And we-the-people are the Second Coming, a bumper-sticker laden beast that is slouching out of the heartland, into the city and toward California, munching chocolate-covered almonds and carrying a concealed handgun, preaching law and order, with a gaze as pitiless as the bottom line. And we have a President who is carrying the key to nuclear annihilation, and I think he figures he can survive it.

And we know that the American Way is neither scalable nor sustainable, but we will not repent. We can neither afford to kill the people who hate our way of life nor allow those who envy us to have our standard of living. And we will not turn back. Our hearts are hardened. We are locusts, the eighth plague. Soon only those who are useful to the Incorporations will have health insurance, will be free to speed down the highway to their busy-work; they will have their ersatz Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Property. And when the fossil fuel runs out, when the merry-go-round creaks to a stop, Darkness (the ninth plague) will come. Next up… the Angel of Death.

Here is what these times are like. Donald Trump wants to be the star of his favorite television show, CNN. Trump thinks the world is his stage; but we in the audience know better. Some are scoffing; others are cheering; others are going about their busy-ness. We are players in a time-warped version of James Ensor’s “The Entry of Christ Trump into Brussels.” Or whisked into Tolkien’s Middle America, where the Biscuit is the ring of power, Trump is Sauron, and we are the orcs. And we are being caught on tape; and all the world’s a cage.

We (the divided states) are a twin, wrestling inside our mother’s womb, waiting to be born. We are eager to slurp up our brother’s stew and claim our birthright. [Genesis 25:39-34] And the lessor will best the greater. The pendulum will swing. The center will not hold. The cradle will rock and tip over, spilling our children into the desert, where they will be cared for by ravens. And they will become the ancestors of a great multitude, as many as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the shore of the steaming sea.

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Where you from?

A guy walks into a bar, sits down, and orders a drink. The bartender asks, “Where you from?” The guy says, “I am from a place where we do not end our questions with prepositions.” And the bartender nods and says, “So, where you from, asshole?”

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Nelson was Meyers-Briggs INTJ, the expert.

To gain energy he focused his energy internally. He was constantly confronting the demons, searching and listening for angels. He preferred to think and read. But he could never be sure that he was thinking independently. Like Descartes, he feared there was a trickster (a middle-man) who was hiding things, masking reality. He feared he was in an echo chamber – with his own ideas bouncing off the walls and coming right back to him. “Hello. (Hello.) I’m at a place called Vertigo.”

He sure as hell wasn’t sure that he was right.

Nelson relied on theories and principles to provide a framework for the details. Nelson was concerned with the entirety of things. Nelson understood implication, analogy, connections, possibility, probability, and inference. He could jump to conclusions in a heartbeat. He also was moved by statistics more than anecdote. Tell him that forty-percent of kids were on subsidized lunches, and he was ready to write a check. He couldn’t care one wit for an instance of a welfare mom driving a Cadillac. As far as he was concerned, she was a rounding error, an aberration. She still needed enough money to put dinner on the table and a good healthcare plan that included birth control.

Nelson felt lucky, privileged.

He wondered, “Why aren’t there more news stories about kids who get free or reduced lunch?” He answered himself, “Because that is boring, normal. We might start to sympathize with the poor and unfortunate. We might look at a kid in a scruffy jacket and a beat-up backpack and see someone who likely got beans and rice for dinner last night. We might see someone who is courageous, tough, determined.”

He choked on the constant diet of Welfare-Cheats.

He knew he was a cheat (a sneaky-monkey) at least some of the time, that he was gaming the system. He was speeding down the highway at 7-8 miles per hour above the speed limit. He was burning gasoline that his children would not be able to afford. And just because everyone else was doing it, that did not make it right. Just because he was not likely to get pulled over, not likely to get harassed when he ran, that did not mean this was the best of all possible countries.

And he knew the truth: the lucky and unlucky, the fortunate and unfortunate, the privileged and the vulnerable were all the same. We are they, and they are us. And we are all God’s children. We turn a profit, achieve our dreams, if we are lucky, if God wills it, if we were born at the right place. But the luck blinds the fortunate to the truth that we and they are the same. We are all sinners, cheating and gaming the rigged system to the best of our ability.

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Zika (2088)

In the days before Heaven, the Zika virus was rampant. It was created as part of a secret-government program that was supposed to give people a USB jack in their amygdala so that they could easily interface with a computer and be under thought-control. But instead it gave babies small brains, microcephaly; and it killed a lot of people. People thought it was being transmitted by mosquitos, but that was just an excuse for the secret-government to bug the neighborhood.

But then the secret-government figured out people with small brains could be thought-controlled very easily. And so instead of using USB jacks to control people’s thoughts, they just controlled peoples’ thoughts with FOX News. That’s when Trump became President. After that, there were the Dark Ages, when Trump TV, Trump University, Trump Vodka, and Trump Health dominated the Fortune 500. There were going to be President Trumps until 2088, when we would run out of fossil fuels.

Jesus came and changed all that.

Jesus could heal people from Zika and inoculate them against the virus. But that enraged the secret-government because people were not primed for thought control.
Nobody knew it (not even Jesus), but it was Communion that healed people from Zika. Jesus would go from city to city, feeding people by the five-thousands, sharing bread and wine, and wiping out Zika in the process.

Eventually the secret-government caught up with Jesus, and he was arrested for violating food-handling laws. He was convicted of providing food without using hair nets.

Jesus was jailed and put in solitary confinement. And since he could no longer have Communion, he died soon after that. But Jesus’ followers kept up with Communion; and they defeated Zika, thought-control no longer worked, FOX News went bankrupt, and the secret-government had to shut down.

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Everyday Cyborg

When I dress for a run, I put my headphones in, and I run the wire under my long-sleeve shirt to the music player that perches on my wrist. I cuff my shirt over the player to hold it in place. The shirt is like a second-skin.

I hope for some near-future time when the music player would be implanted and the headphones would be braided into my auditory nerve. That would be so convenient. I wouldn’t even have to worry about blue-tooth. Of course, if things went bad, like there was an infection or rejection, it could get ugly.

In a vision, I imagine a young cyborg coming down for breakfast, much like my children do, dragging, disheveled, not quite dressed.

The mom-cyborg says, “OMG! My son! My computer! Put on some clothes – a kilt, a burka, a cloak – something! For Ford’s sake! I can see all your wires… Gross!”

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Doubting Thomas

In John 20, you can read about Thomas, known as the doubter. He is one of my patron saints.

Thomas says he will believe in Jesus’ resurrection when he has visible, tangible proof. He says, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” Then, when Jesus does appear, eight days later, Thomas exclaims, “My Master! My God!” Which can be shortened to OMG!

I frequently recollect that Thomas went to India and converted many Hindus there, bringing Christianity to the Far East. I think that is so cool. He seems like a Beatle to me. Eventually he was martyred. He believed so profoundly in the resurrection and that Jesus is YHWH that he was willing to die. I have built my faith (to some extent) on his.

When I asked google “How did Thomas die?” It said, “Ephrem the Syrian states that the Apostle was martyred in India, and that his relics were taken then to Edessa.” And I thought, “OMG!”

You see, Thomas is still gaining converts.

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The Dragons

Every year, Forbes publishes a list of the 400 Richest Americans. In 2016, the entry criteria was a one-point-one-billion-dollar fortune. They also published a “self-made” grade, ranging from 1-10, indicating to what extent their wealth was inherited, earned, or simply maintained.

Oprah Winfrey, who grew up in poverty and overcame significant obstacles (including abuse) rates a 10 on the self-made scale. (Way to go, Oprah! Why can’t everyone be like you?!?)

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook among other things, rates an 8, which is described as self-made who came from a middle or upper-middle-class background. (Kudos to you as well!)

Donald Trump gets a 5. (A five on the self-made scale?!?) He is not only self-made but also fact-making up as he goes along.

On June 17, 2016 US Senator Bernie Sanders said, “It is an outrage that in America today the top 1% makes 25 times more than the bottom 99%. That’s 20% of all income going to 1% of the people.”

Those are mind-bending, heart-breaking numbers.

I was told that if I worked hard and played by the rules, I would achieve the dream-come-true. And that was true for me. But when I look around, it seems everyone is working harder and most of them are playing by the rules, so where is the dream-come-true for them?

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but at Olathe North High School, 40% of kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. The average in Kansas is 43% on free or reduced lunch. Meanwhile, at Olathe Northwest, the percentage is 16%. Thus, Olathe Northwest is not average. For a family of 4 to qualify, your annual income must be below $44,000.

Why do we force people into poverty before we help them? Wouldn’t it be better if we prevented poverty instead of just maintaining it? Perhaps the battle against poverty could be won by a fair education for everyone, young and old and rich and poor. It seems we are fighting the wrong battle, making the investment too late in a person’s life.

This makes me think the Forbes 400 who got eight or less on the self-made scale don’t know shit about poverty. The nines are just barely acquainted with it. Did 40% of the 400 grow up on free or reduced lunch? It seems that Oprah is an exception… Why do we hold her up as an example? When really, she is a miracle.

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