Happy 2018

Yes, I have been silent for a while. Too silent.

I have been busy with work, and I try to keep work things for work, and not here. If you are all that keen on reading my journalism, you can wander over to the Columbia Basin Herald.

I have also been terribly busy with this novel, tentatively titled Kesslyn Runs, and I’m about two-thirds done. I have it all mapped out at this point. In addition, I have two sequel novels partially sketched out in my head and an idea for a prequel as well.

I don’t have an elevator pitch for the novel yet, and am hard pressed to describe in 25 words or less what it is about. The genre would loosely be “Christian Noir,” though a Google search turned up a fashion designer with a perfume line, and not a literary genre.

And that, dear readers, is why I labor in utter obscurity.

It is loosely based on this miserable ministry I have done — a much more successful version, at least. It is the story of a group of wannabe monks gathered around a failed congregational pastor who help abused foster kids, and occasionally go out to save them. Kesslyn runs from her abusive foster home for the sanctuary of the monks, and they begin to grasp the abuse she suffered was not merely random but part of a much larger pattern. Oh, and there’s a reporter who helps them as well, and a very bad guy who … well, if any of this interests you, you’ll have to read the book when it comes out.

Yeah, it’s a convoluted noir plot. With twists and turns and liturgy. It’s not a sweet, feel-good Christian story. It’s a dark novel, though it is not without hope. That hope is a resurrection hope.

I’ll sell dozens, I wager.

As I said earlier, much of the dialog and the general plot comes from a series of texts I had with a couple of kids — Melina, Lola, Grace, Annie, and several others whose names I cannot remember, though I’m convinced they were all the same person — as recently as earlier this month.

How do I think they were all the same people? There were some significant shared details and rough general shape to all the stories. They’ve gotten less dramatic or involved over time — I’m guessing playing with me has gotten less interesting or amusing. Which is fine with me. I just wish whoever was messing with me be up front and honest, rather muck around with nonsense. Because I’m growing tired of the pretense.

But, at least I got a great idea — well, okay, fine, I think it’s a great idea — for a series of novels out of it. It’s not often someone hands you a steaming pile of bullshit and you can find a good use for it.

Actually, that’s not true. Bullshit is a fantastic fertilizer. Makes the flowers and the trees and the vegetables grow.


ADVENT 2017 — Conspiracy

I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. (Hebrews 1:9 ESV)

I wish this was about me.

Honestly, I wish this was about you.

But it isn’t.

Hebrews says that God speak this of the Son, the Son through whom the world was spoken into being. The Son. And not us.

Who are the companions of the Son? The Angels, about whom this bit of Hebrews also has much to say? Maybe. But I don’t think so.

Those companions are us, the people the Son is made like us in every respect, the one for whom the Son suffered, so that we may be saved. He is anointed, and because of the we are anointed.

So, yeah, I suppose this is about me. And you too.

We have been made holy and righteous in our calling. And our redeeming.

But remember, the righteousness here is not ours. The hating of wickedness here is not ours. They belong to the Son, and he has shared them with us. We have not done this work, we have not been this righteous. We have not earned this oil which drips down our faces and the backs of our necks. Our holiness and our sanctity and our gladness, our joy, are gifts, unearned and undeserved.

I will put my trust in him.

ADVENT 2017 — Speak

I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets … (Hebrews 1:1 ESV)

“… but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

So begins this anonymous letter.

God has spoken to us. Through prophets, who frequently said little of anything happy and upbeat, except that we will eventually be delivered from the consequences of our sin. The prophets came, generally, as a divine check on royal power, a reminder to the king we wanted but should not have that God is, in fact, in charge. And not the king.

And not us, either.

Before then, God chose our rulers in a rather haphazard fashion, judges who were raised in times of emergency to deliver us. Even the first two kings of Israel — Saul and David — were “chosen” by God for reasons clear only to God.

There is no recipe in scripture for governance, except to trust God. Which we clearly cannot do. In our failure to trust God — to demand a king that we be like everyone else — God tells us of the consequences of that desire, that we shall be enslaved and impoverished by our king. However, our God also makes promises to us and to the world through the lineage of that king.

In short, God uses our very sinful condition and our faithless demands in which to ground and make real the promise of redemption.

The prophets tell us two things — that we have sinned, and that we will be redeemed. Sometimes that first message is harsh and imponderable. “Do not pray for this people” or “I am in the army making war on you, and I am bringing famine and pestilence and death.” I think as church, as the assembled people of God, we do not hear or heed those prophetic utterances enough. (Someone else is always responsible for the sin that brings misfortune, and that sin is never idolatry, never a failure to trust God.) We go straight to the redemption part, confusing it with modern promises of freedom and liberation, thinking our salvation has some kind of identifiable political shape, that there is some kind of political and social order God wants for the world and if we just work and struggle and fight we can and should make that happen.

But that gets us to the second message. The redemption God promises is sometimes harsh and imponderable as well. Jeremiah had to remind the exiles more than once that promises of a quick deliverance were not coming from God. Many would die in exile, and many would be born in that exile who would never be delivered. Hope is sometimes finding ourselves in the wilderness, being guarded by our conquerors and captors, and having to build homes and beget families. Hope is sometimes heading to the hills to avoid the coming disaster, as Jesus tells his disciples when they remark on the awesomeness of the temple complex in Jerusalem.

It stinks to live at a time when hope is consists largely of waiting in a place that is not your home under the rule of people you would never choose. When hope is planting and building, knowing what you are making is only obliquely for the ages, only a way to get your children and their children to whatever awaits in some distant, unspecified future.

We all want to be home, to be delivered to the place where we shall struggle no more in a kingdom that will have no end, where justice and peace shall reign forever, world without end. But that is not our fate. Likely not our children’s fate. Nor theirs either. We sit on the banks of a strange river and sing praise and laments. We will be redeemed. We will also never live to see that redemption.

ADVENT 2017 — Idolatry

I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)

Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Malachi 3:18 ESV)

So is the day of the Lord’s coming.

What does Malachi mean here, about serving God? About not serving God? He spikes of tithes, of robbing God by failing to give to God all we are commanded. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Through Malachi, God says we have spoken against him, called the arrogant blessed, and allowed those who do evil to prosper, and escape their accounting with God.

We fail to trust God. To trust God is to give what we have to God first, to trust that after we give to God, there will be enough for us. It’s hard to do this, as individuals and as a community of believers. We give of our leftovers, what remains, if we give at all.

We take for ourselves first, hoping we will be enough left over for God.

And we say, “God helps those who help themselves.” No. God helps those who surrender all sense of agency, who give up power, who accept that we are always stuck in that place between Pharaoh’s army and the deep blue sea. We don’t save ourselves, we don’t deliver ourselves, we aren’t responsible for our own good fortune. Hard work or not.

Now, Malachi says that to trust God is to earn God’s blessing. To fill the house of God with food is to test the Lord’s promise that he will “pour down blessing … until there is no more need.”

So, the Lord does help those who help themselves … in a roundabout fashion.

The Lord delivers those who trust in the Lord. Not in their own wealth, or strength, or power, or influence. But in God’s. And that is what the day will reveal.

ADVENT 2017 — Disregard

I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. (Acts 3:17 ESV)

A least we aren’t alone in not knowing what we were doing.

This is Peter speaking, of the killing of Jesus, and demanding the release of Barabbas instead. but honestly, it could describe damn near everything.

It describes the elders of Israel in 1 Samuel 8 when they come to the old judge and demand a king. Samuel’s sons, like Eli’s before him, have proven corrupt and worthless. Israel doesn’t want the spoke of Samuel to judge them. “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations,” they demand. “A king to protect us from our enemies, maintain order among us, so that we may be like the other nations.”

And Samuel does. God, through Samuel, warns Israel what a king means — he will take their money and conscript their sons and daughters and all of that he will use for his own benefit. “You shall be his slaves,” God says through Samuel. “And in that day you will cry out out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you on that day.”

“Give us a king anyway!” Israel demands.

We acted in ignorance. We want what we want.

But so did our rulers, turning away from what God required of us, worshiping idols, trusting in supposed gods that have not saved us, believing in wealth and power to save rather than the Lord our God.

God came to us, proclaimed peace and kingdom and redemption, and here we are, blood on our hands. We cannot help ourselves. It is who we are. If we think we can escape for our sinfulness and the earthly consequences, we are sorely mistaken.

But Peter calls upon the people to repent. It is not too late, he says, and we who are lost in sin and ignorance can still be redeemed. We can turn — again and again — to the mercy that comes to us unasked for, the mercy that chose us and called us to follow.

ADVENT 2017 — Upset

I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)

For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong. (Psalms 125:3 ESV)

“The scepter of wickedness.” Now there’s a phrase.

It evokes a wickedness that rules as a sovereign, sits on a throne, issues commands and orders and will not be opposed. That rules, and not merely reigns, as a unitary executive who will not be denied.

This is a fairly simple psalm, but it speaks to us something of a disturbing and harrowing message — if we do evil, then evil will rule our land.

But is that wrong? Are we so blameless and righteous that we have not earned the rule of this “scepter of wickedness?” Again, Israel’s whole history is an understanding of Israel’s sin — idolatry, cruelty to the poor and weak and strangers, those who have no one to seek vengeance for them if they are wronged. The prophetic cry, and the prophetic promise, is given to a people who are being led away.

Because they, and their ancestors, stretched out their hands and did wrong.

This being led away, however, is not all there is. It is not the final answer. And the “scepter of wickedness,” which rules over the land, will not cast its shadow forever. A day will come when it will be broken.

And we will be redeemed.

ADVENT 2017 — Unbelief

I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)

For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:32 ESV)

Who are we?

There’s an argument going on, and has probably always gone on, among the followers of Jesus.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

I have found, and I think many others have too, that the church really isn’t a place where tax collectors and prostitutes — sinners — are welcomed much. It is a tension embedded deep in our history. Because if we do church right, if we are church right, a people who both love our neighbors and live with self-discipline and restraint, we create a kind of righteousness that becomes its own mark.

And that can be a good thing. But this kind of individual-centered piety, often grounded in the letters of Paul, frequently becomes a version of the pharisee’s prayer at the temple:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people — greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.” (Luke 18:11-12 CEV)

We get right with God. And stay right. That marks us as righteous, saintly, even sinless, and earns us … well, whatever it’s supposed to earn us.

Jesus today asks the chief priests and the elders who did the will of God: a man who said “no,” but then went to work later after changing his mind; or a man who said “yes,” but who didn’t? Acts speak, and the work in the vineyard was done by those who initially refused.

The sinners who hear, and wander into the wilderness to be baptized — they understood what was happening. They believed.

But Jesus says one more thing. You saw all this, and it didn’t change your minds about John. Or God. Because God could not possibly be calling cast-off sinners to repent. They have no place in a righteous, well-ordered world.

They  — we — have no place in the church.

But God calls us. Because the only righteousness that matters is the righteousness God gives us, and not what we give ourselves. No amount of right, pure, and sinless living makes us people of God.

Only God’s call does that.