Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, December 29, 2008

what matters?

Perhaps you were able to watch last night's 60 minutes presentation about Obama's rise to the presidency? Surely there are questions still hanging out there about what kind of policies this man will initiate, and whether or not the convergence of massive problems will disable him from making significant changes to the landscape. But of one thing I am nearly certain: this is a man with a happy marriage. To watch this couple relate to each other with intelligence, self-deprecation, humility, humor, and healthy banter, is as deeply refreshing as it is rare. As much or more than any speech he's given, the quality of their marriage gives me hope for this administration. Their obvious love for each other makes me think they might believe in family values.

I understand that holding hands and doing the dishes together doesn't assure that one is equipped to lead the free world. But I also believe many American Christians are too quick to assess the quality of a person by the way they answer a pre-posed set of questions, often ignoring the core issues of character. "What do you think of abortion, homosexuality, supporting Israel?" Check. Check. Check. "You're in. You're on God's side."

Really? Ted Haggard, leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, had the right answers to the questions, and sexual promiscuity on the side. I could list a dozen others as well, but it's getting late. Paul mentioned the danger that, when the game is over, some of us might be found to have only been cheerleaders, even though we'd convinced lots of people we were really in the race. That's why Paul took personal discipline and character so seriously. So should the rest of us, both personally and as we anoint leaders.

Then there's the case of Jimmy Carter, who wrote a book challenging Israel's right to treat Palestinians unjustly and was excoriated by many evangelical leaders as a result. Never mind that this man is deeply devoted to Jesus, and committed to using his power and privilege to contribute to peace, justice, and reconciliation in the world. He's (gasp) criticizing Israel. "That's it. Now we know that this man isn't from God." His plea for peace and accountability for all parties has never been more timely, as the middle east heats up yet again, but countless Christians won't listen because he failed some sort of litmus test.

He's in good company. Jesus' treatment of the woman at Simon's party convinced Simon that Jesus couldn't possibly be a prophet. After all, if he was, he'd know who this woman is, what her reputation is, and he wouldn't let her touch him. How convenient for Simon that this woman, bursting into the party, proved Jesus identity as a false prophet once and for all. Our tendency to create a doctrinal checklist and, like Santa, check it once or twice to determine who's naught and who's a heretic is well documented in church history. It's equally well documented how often we destroy people of integrity and elevate charletons. Will we never learn?

As I enter 2009, I'm convinced that, more than anything I do, and certainly more than anything I write or teach publicly, who I am will be the determinant of whether what God has given me to do will have any lasting quality. The being precedes the doing every time, and this rings true for presidents, pastors, parents... really everyone. While I may or may not agree with a certain leader's particular positions or ideologies, if that person exudes an aura of integrity, I'll listen carefully to what they have to say.

I pray that each of us will pursue character and lives of integrity in our private moments, when nobody is looking, because it's those moments that will finally determine our impact and legacy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

reading... and honoring

I hope your Christmas was meaningful, and hope that the coming year finds you seeking growth by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, for this is what it means to live fully.

On the reading side of things, I'm thinking back in this post, on some of the best books I've read in the past year, in no particular order:

Deep Economy
- if you'd like to catch a vision for an economic model that is different than the one that's gotten us into the deep mess of this moment, you ought to read this. McKibben casts a vision for more localized economies, a vision that leads to ecological sustainability and better balanced lives in the process.

The Faith of Barack Obama - if you're interested in the man who will soon be our next president, read this. A chapter called "Four Faces of Faith" traces the spiritual biographies of Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and John McCain. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking the Resurrection - This book is a little weighty, and I surely don't agree with all of it, but Wright's material challenges a lot of conventional wisdom regarding the nature of our resurrection and the new world God has planned for us.

Sophie Scholl - My newest in a growing list of heroes, Sophie and her brother lived fully, courageously, and creatively as they challenged the Nazi regime, at cost of their lives. The book reads, for the most part, as a historical novel, though there are a couple of sections that go deeper into history and theology than some might like.

Letters from Prison - Bonhoeffer's final thoughts, captures in letters to family and friends before his execution by the Reich, I'm impressed by the thoughtfulness, integrity, and joy that Bonhoeffer demonstrated right up until his execution. His example encourages and inspires me.

Bird by Bird - if you're interested in writing, this materiel by Annie Lamott should be on your shelf. Funny. Though provoking. Exemplary writing.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
- Tim Keller. All of us have questions about suffering, hell, the Bible, the exclusivity of Christ, and more. Keller's book deals with each question thoughtfully.

If you've read a good book in 2008 that you'd like to recommend, please leave a comment.

On another subject, if you don't here from me in the next few days, some health issues with my mom might well be occupying me to the point where I won't be able to write. I'll be grateful for your prayers on her behalf as she faces the challenges and changes that come with aging, and will certainly try to post by Monday


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Come and see...

Come and see...
Come all ye faithful
Come all ye faithless, who are, nonetheless, looking, seeking
Come all ye who are carrying the weight of guilt, fear, shame
Come all ye who've tried and failed
Come all ye who've climbed to the top and are wondering why
Come all ye bitter, hopeless, weary, aimless
Come and see... this thing which God has done.

A Savior... Christ the Lord

What has he saved you from?
What is he saving you from?

O Come. See. Celebrate. Receive. Declare. Christ the Lord

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

tidings of comfort and joy...

It's always heartening to see little hints of grace, the more so at this time of year as we ponder the "unspeakable gift" of Christ. I'm planning to write more about the unspeakable gift tomorrow, but for now, note with me that hints of grace and good things can be seen in more than hearth and home, if we'll but look.

Consider ING direct, whose employees skipped their holiday parties so that they could forgive a month of mortgage payments for 500 families who offered the most compelling essays of need. Let the cynics rant. When they're finished, it's still true that Christine Feterowski, who has bladder cancer and is thus not working, will be able to receive care from husband during her impending surgery without needing to worry about the mortgage, at least for a month.

In Seattle, the snowstorm has so severely curtailed travel, that last minute shoppers in the city are skipping trips to the mall on icy roads, choosing instead to buy from (gasp)local merchants! Instead of wii, Legos, board games, and wooden trains have becomes the purchases of choice (or perhaps necessity). Local bookshops are even seeing a spike in sales because our streets are so snow clogged that even mail delivery is sketchy. Bill McKibben and Wendell Barry, both advocates of more localized economies, would be proud because this kind of living has countless advantages for families, economies, and the environment.

Luke 4:19 says that the presence of Jesus will result in the "favorable year of the Lord" being proclaimed which, of course, has its roots in the Old Testament forgiveness of debts as seen in God's jubilee year. That's why I love the ING story. Our hearts sing when we hear about forgiveness of debts because we're born in need of forgiveness and called to live in such way that forgiveness and mercy flow through us, being poured out onto a parched world.

The story of localized shopping reminds me that people find a way. Can't travel? The stuff you want can't travel either? Maybe we'll learn to want different stuff, shop at Farmer's Markets, interact with our neighbors, and in the process pollute less, exercise more, lower your stress levels, give work to craftsmen and craftswomen, and find beauty in creation. It can happen, because this week it has happened in our city, paralyzed by snow, yet finding a way to get on, and perhaps finding the alternative is better than the original.

These are hints of grace, tidings of comfort and joy, reminders that we have eternity in our hearts. Maybe you've seen some hints too. Feel free to share them.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Leave your flocks

"Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened..." Luke 2:15

"Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary" Luke 10:41,42

It has been, if I can put it mildly, a difficult autumn for me. On the surface everything's looked just fine: pastor of a growing church, first little bits of the empty nest as my youngest moved three miles away into college dorms, three healthy, intelligent and witty adult children, a wife of 29 years who shares love, laughter, and tears with me, teaching opportunities beyond my local world, and much more. At a level, I've no reason to complain.

However, it's been an autumn that, even if everything had worked properly, had only the tiniest of margins. And everything didn't work properly. My aging mom has had some health problems down in California; a relative died down there unexpectedly, in her 50's, last month; there were car issues; the house needed painting; the cat had fleas and they started biting me too. There's more; much more, but it would bore you.

As a result, the tiny margins disappeared, those margins in which I was planning to meet God. In their absence, I took no steps to altar things so that I might discover the wonders of Jesus, being consciously with Him and discovering His invitations, receiving His healing, following His path. Unlike the shepherds of that first Christmas night, I've refused to leave my many cares in order to see the wonders of Bethlehem. I've been Martha, concerned about many things to such an extent that the cares crowded out Jesus.

You'd never know it, unless you knew me quite well, and even then, I might have fooled you. This is because I've been busy with God's things: preaching, teaching, writing spiritual entries for web sites and newspapers, doing weddings and funerals, spending time with people talking about God. But as honorable as all this looks, these activities can be just so many "sheep", flocks preoccupying me so that the invitation of the angels goes unheeded because I've "more important" things to do. Like Martha, I've multiple cares, in "God's Work" and in the "Real World", so that my many things crowd out the one thing that is genuinely necessary: sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning to love Him and receive His love. When this happens, I end up feeling hollow, tired, and isolated, even in the midst of all the people and activity. I sometimes feel that I talk because I have to say something rather than because I have something to say. This culminated in me coming home from recent travels and getting sick.

Then one night this past week, alone in the silence of my house (having shut off all media), I listened for the voice of Jesus and heard Him say to me: "I've missed you." The prayers and repentance which came from those moments have helped me recommit to leaving the flocks and the many cares so that I can once again sit at Jesus' feet. I don't think leaving the flocks means irresponsibility. It simply means priority. It means that being with Jesus, really meeting Him in some real sense, is the priority out from which all activity should flow. Often, we get it reversed: we set the agenda of our days and our lives, filling them with cares and flocks of all stripe, and then seek to touch base with God, asking God to bless it all, while promise to meet Jesus "in the margins", when we have time. It won't work. Trust me. I've tried.

God wants to love us, heal us, lighten our loads. We need to leave the flocks for a little while. We need to shut down the computer, turn off the wretched television, pull the buds out of our ears, and see the wondrous Lord of the universe. I've found, again and again, that these few moments away from flocks and cares are vital if there's to be genuine life, creativity, intimacy, joy, in my own life. Yes, this is Christmas - it's letting everything go for a little bit in order to encounter the source. Hopefully, we'll find what we've been missing and never let of of Him again.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Rose in Winter

As most of you who read this know, it's been snowing in Seattle. Since we're normally in the 'temperate' zone and our Decembers are characterized by rain rather than cold, our flora often make it straight through the winter unscathed. The sight of roses in December aren't uncommon. But the sight of roses with snow on them? That's another story entirely.

The picture, taken by my youngest daughter, reminds me of a less common carol entitled, "Lo How a Rose E're Blooming". It was written in Germany in the 16th century to celebrate the unlikely event of Mary conceiving and giving birth to the son of God "in the midst of winter".

Of course the winter is poetic, referring to the Roman empire. But in what sense are to think of the prosperous, peaceful, educated, artistic, civic minded, united, architecturally progressive empire as "winter". Doesn't it seem that, in light of everything, this was the best of times? Yes, perhaps. It was a good time indeed unless you were a slave, because of course slaves were necessary to keep the economy prosperous. And it was a good time if you were wealthy, but if the heavy taxations of the empire led to your bankruptcy, you and your land would become the property of a wealthy lord for whom you would then spend the rest of your life working, living in hunger and poverty and dying in disgrace. Of course, if you were a woman you had no rights at all, neither educationally nor maritally, legally nor financially.

Yes, it was a great time to be alive unless you were part of the disappearing middle class, or a woman, or a slave. For those people it was winter, a time when the power structures of the world were holding people in darkness, fear, hunger, and poverty. The songs wonderful declaration is that, right in the midst of it winter's grip, a rose blossomed!

This is Mary's womb receiving the life and light of the world.

This is Father Christmas bringing gifts to the children in Narnia.

This is International Needs in Ghana, saving women from sexual slavery.

This is "N", who will celebrate four years of sobriety this month, and quickly claim Christ as the source of his victory.

This is ____ whose marriage was ravaged by infidelity and pornography, but who, in their darkest night, found Christ blooming in their hearts, and well able to heal and deliver - not instantly by any means, but relentlessly, so that they have found love blossoming "in the cold of winter"

I could go on, but you get the picture. The rose that is Christ is blooming all around me this Christmas, if I've but eyes to see. This is why I have great hope, both for my own heart, my family, my church, my world. LIFE wins! The rose flowers when everything points to frigid death. Jesus beats the tomb. Justice will triumph over mercy.

Lord of the thaw - in the cold and dark of our world, give us eyes to see the warmth of your life that is blooming all around us, and faith to believe and receive its flowering within us. Grant that we might be people of hope and joy, not naievely, but precisely because we see the reality of your glorious life, within us, around us, and spilling into world. May we sing your praises precisely because we see your life, right here, right now, in the winter of our world.


The text, with a literal translation of the song can be found here.

All the verses in english can be found here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Horticulture for soul soil

"Behold the sower went out to sow..." Thus began Jesus ministry of teaching in parables, using the common things of the earth to teach the profound mysteries of eternity. Many of us read this parable lightly, having heard it since we were little children, and perhaps having planted a seed or two in soil, in little paper cups in Sunday school. But as I'm pondering the possibility of tearing a big tree out of my front yard and creating a living and thriving garden space instead, I've been thinking a lot about soil over the past weeks, and these thoughts have brought important light to the parable, light that I'd not considered previously.

Before I can understand what this parable is really about, I find it helpful to name what it's not about:

1. It's not about the sower - There's no problem with the sower of the seeds. Of course, this simply means the good news of Christ's invitation to embrace and know life is doing just fine, going out into all the world. While some might care to debate this, the argument is quickly over as we see that absolutely every event in history has the potential of declaring the reality of God's love. Beauty and blessing are intended to point us to Christ. Suffering and ugliness show us our need for a savior. The aching and longing for eternity that CS Lewis describes in "Surprised by Joy" invites us to life. The Bible explicitly invites. Creation declares God's glory and character. Shoot, even movies and music of every stripe can have the effect of calling us to something higher if we'll let them. As the Psalmist says, "His voice has gone out into all the earth."

People who argue that God needs to show the world more revelation are, according to this parable, missing the point.

2. It's not about the seed - Maybe you've planted a garden at some point in your life and you did everything right but the reality was that, sadly, nothing came of it. There's always a chance it was the seed that was the problem, because when the seed is bad, all the preparation and receptivity in the world simply won't bring life where there's no potential for life. But Jesus is telling us, in this story, that the problem isn't with the seed. The seed carries within it the potential for an abundance of life, so much so that beauty displaces ugliness, love displaces hate, and strength castes out weakness, wherever the seed takes root and grows. This, of course, has proven to be true down through the centuries, as the preponderance of hospitals, schools, clinics, reconciliation ministries, housing projects, prison ministries, justice ministries related to slavery, and so many more declare: the seed will bring life!

3. It's about the soil - If there's no problem with the seed, and no problem with the sower, it's clear that the problem is in the soil. That would be you and me friends - we're the soil. This would be depressing news indeed if we believed that there was nothing we could do to prepare the soil of our heart to better receive God's seed. I know strict Calvinists who believe precisely that, believe that we have no power whatsoever to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive what God has to offer, because our hearts are incapable of ever choosing wisely. The problem with this line of thinking is that, if it were true, all the exhortations in the Bible about caring for our hearts, guarding our hearts, choosing life, seeking God, and loving God would be pointless noise, like telling a man with no hands that the key to really living is to play Beethoven Piano Sonatas.

But of course, Jesus does tell us to follow. He does invite anyone who is thirsty to come and drink. He does invite us to choose life. Unless all these invitations are entirely bogus, it appears that we do have some role to play in preparing the soil of our hearts. There are choices we can make that lead to life.

This is what the book O2: Breathing New Life into Faith is all about. If our heart is soil, we're invited to be horticulturists, caring for this soil that the seed which will be sown will be fruitful. We do this by developing intentional habits of silence, prayer, Bible reading, solitude, sabbath rest, generosity, and more. After all, the sower will sow; we know that. The seed will be good; we know that too. All that remains is for the seed to find good soil.

It's the state our heart soil that determines whether, during this Advent season, we'll be Herod (hating Jesus), the Shepherds (seeking, seeing, declaring) or the materialist masses (ignoring Jesus as the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth take over the show).

It's your soil. Get it ready.

Monday, December 15, 2008

the darker side...

It's not preached on very often because, rather than giving comfort and answers, it opens a box of questions. It doesn't fit well with "The hap-happiest season of all" or the cool Budweiser commercials where the horses are pulling people across a snow clad field for Christmas. Still, it's part of the story, and perhaps a more central part than the fact that Jesus was born in a manger.

I'm talking about that ugly passage in Matthew 2:16-23, where Herod's paranoia about the news of a new king results in his murder of all the male babies under two in the Bethlehem area. It sticks out in stark contrast to everything else, perhaps because everything else reminds us of childhood and innocence, while this story reminds us of the reality that beneath the Currier and Ives depictions, the fundamental issue surrounding Christ's coming has to do with His reign, and whether we'll let Him exercise it.

The bad news is that Herod is nothing more than a caricature of that quality in each of us: our fierce refusal to submit to God's reign. Going clear back to the garden, we've preferred our own reign, thank you very much, to God's reign. In our worst moments we'll contribute to the suffering of others so that we might enjoy excess of power, or money, or water, or oil, and when we're this way, we show ourselves to be part of Herod's family.

The good news is that Christ isn't shut out that easily. God goes to great lengths to make provision for our catastrophic failures and then continues to seek reconciliation with us, inviting us to come to Him, lay down our warring pride and every other burden, finding rest in His reign instead. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overpower it.
O Patient Lord... May the spirit of Herod be crushed in each of our hearts, so that we might rest in your reign, relinquishing our lust for control and resting instead in the confidence that your ways are life giving, be to us, and to those you bless through us. Amen

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bethany Scattered...

Julie Johnson is a Bethany attender who's on staff here at the school where I teach. It's been great to watch her working as the residential life person, caring for the students, leading a trip to Salzburg, cracking jokes during announcements, checking assignments, helping in the kitchen, and just generally doing whatever needs to be done in order for Tauernhauf to be one of the best 12 week Bible School options on the planet. She'll stay on and teach snowboarding this winter for ski/snowboard camps, revert to the residence life role for spring school, and then be a mountain guide for their summer programs.

I love being part of a church that seems to always have people out and about, living the adventure of the Christian life in obedience to God's calling to cross-over, whether that means crossing the room to talk to a stranger, or crossing the world to lead ski trips - all in order to be the presence of Jesus to some people who will be blessed by the crossing.

I'm also struck, while here, by the power of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words: "it is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others" In this ministry, the teaching is upheld and reinforced by residence life, cooks, housekeeping, maintenance, administration, finances, and residential teachers. Together, Christ is seen. On our own, nothing happens. This is the case at home as well, at Bethany Community Church. Where there is interdependency, the functioning of a variety of gifts, and blessing of the Holy Spirit, there is life. This is the reality of being the body of Christ.

I'm looking forward to coming home very soon now, but I leave this place encouraged that Christ's "Bethany" body is scattered, in the best sense of the word, around the world.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

On Being Carl Muth

In the Bavarian countryside, during the days of WWII, there was a small house, surrounded by a flourishing garden. Carl Muth lived in this house. Born in the 2nd half of the 19th century, Muth became a leading Cahtolic theologian, publishing a journal of Catholic Existential Theology for many years, until the work was censored and ultimately shut down by Hitler.

Hans Scholl found his way to Muth's tiny house, having heard of this man who was now living in relative obscurity as the war was unfolding. It was here, at Muth's house that Hans found both a mentor, and the theological underpinnings to carry out the subversive work of the White Rose, work which would eventually cost Scholl his life, but work which would also contribute to freeing Germany from Hitler's grip, and contribute to the rebuilding of Germany after the war.

Two things stand out about Muth. The first is his relationship with a younger generation. We read, "Muth's magic was not only his philosophical sweep of knowledge or his deep hatred for National Socialsim, but his youthful, amost playful snesne of ethical and metaphysical exploration. He not only listened to young people, he wanted to live and share their experiences." I love his posture towards emergent generation because I sense mutuality in it. He's not only teacher, he's student. He's not only mentor. He's friend.

The second quality I notice is his call to courage in the face of darkness. Again we read, "In a universe where all values have been shattered, where religions and histories and literatures and social structures have lost their meaning, man has to stand up again, accept his condition, accept that he is alone and has no protection, and proceed to create his own world, his own values, his own decisions, his own actions - and be willing at all times to pay the consequences."

These are powerful words, calling people to stand courageously in a world adrift in every way. Hans and Sophie Scholl heeded Muth's words and paid with their blood. Sophie took the words to heart, and every testimony said that she remained calm, steadfast, courageous to the very end. Hans shouted, "long live freedom" loud enough for his voice to be heard beyond the walls of his Munich prison, just before the blade fell, severing his head.

One of Sohpie's last letters was sent to Carl Muth, expressing her deep gratitude for his friendship, and admiration for his life.

A man's ministry of publishing and parish work is shut down and he's left with nothing but tending his garden and getting by as he can. Then, a young man enters his home, his life, and soon his house is bursting with conversations and idea which would become part of the soil in which, in a world gone mad, sanity would once again be born.

Fame is over-rated. Muth isn't even in Wikipedia, at least not in English, at least not when I'm trying to access it from Germany. But seeds of faithfulness, sown in obscurity, may well be the seeds that matter the most. Carl Muth - quietly investing in a few young people who would shake the world. I think that's the calling that belongs to all of us. I hope I can be that faithful.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

happy advent from Austria

I took this video so that you could here the church bells and see where this Bible School is. Tonight, there's a Kidd Rock concert right next door to the school, in the parking lot of the ski area, just about 150 meters (or less) from the classroom. I'll be using the lyrics of his song "Amen" to talk about Christ meets our longings for justice, peace, and reconciliation.

Glad to be here, though it's also true that I miss being there.

Blessed Advent

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The importance of showing up

There was a big temptation to stay in bed this morning, because when I looked out the window it was thick fog; icy, wet, and wholly uninviting. But I'd told my friend Martin that I'd meet him at breakfast, and had indicated, before arriving here in Austria, that I'd hoped to ski today. After breakfast, Martin fixed me up with skis, and in short order I had boots too so that, almost in spite of myself, I was boarding the gondola for the many meter ascent here at the Planai ski area which is literally next door to the school. The lift ascends and quickly I'm above the fog, with new vistas emerging constantly as we gain height.

Once again, I'm reminded of the value of showing up. Israel failed to show up when they were called to enter their calling and inheritance in Numbers 12 and 13. Nobody was planning on showing up to address Goliath's evil until the shepherd came on the scene with his slingshot. Peter, Zacheus the tax man, the Roman Centurion at the cross, Mary with the provision of her womb - the Bible is filled with stories of people showing up. As I read through the lives of Hans and Sophie Scholl, I realize that their main complaint was how many of their own countrymen had abdicated authority to evil, simply by a failure to show up courageously and do the right thing.

Of course, showing up can lead you out of the fog, but it can also get you killed, as the Scholl children's lives also testify. But as our brave hearted friend William Wallace said, "All men die... not all men really live." The issue isn't length, but quality, and the words of Jesus, when he says "follow me" as he does again and again, mean that there's life to be found by walking down wherever his road leads.

Happy Advent... there are more pictures on the Europe post of a few days ago if you're interested.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tired of the Christmas Treadmill? Try this

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

advent and the politics of the cross

I'm in Southern Germany this week, in Friedrichshafen, which has quite a history related to WWII. There's a great deal of munitions manufacturing that occurred here, along with the production of the Zeppelins. Ulm is a nearby city, and was the home of Sophie Scholl, an outstanding woman of courage and faith who was willing to put her life on the line for her convictions. She paid for her courage with her blood, beheaded at the age of 21 for distributing pamphlets to warn of the Reich's dangers and encourage resistance. You need to read the book, or at least see the movie.

I have the book with me here and Germany and was carrying it at a staff meeting the other night. Her name is well known in this part of the world, with streets named after both her and her courageous brother. The history of these events is still recent enough here that one of the staff members explained her recently deceased Aunt knew Sophie personally. It's a long story, but the leaflets that Sophie and her friends wrote and distributed eventually found their way to America, where they were printed and dropped by allied aircraft, by the tens of thousands, as a means of both exposing the darkness, calling Germans to courage, and imparting hope.

It's all interesting history, but I hope and pray it becomes, for us, more than that. I hope Sophie's courage demonstrates the reality that the gospel is political, that all legislation is the legislating of morality. Deciding whether or not to provide access to basic health care for children is a moral issue. So is a government's decision to offer or withhold aid to a developing country. So is a decision to engage in a war, preemptively or not, for right reasons or wrong. So is how we view both a woman's right to have destiny over her body, and a fetus' right to live.

Please don't accuse me of comparing any particular issue to the Reich, in terms of the weight of evil, for to do so would be to miss the point because of the story. The point is that all through history, people have had the courage to stand apart from the prevailing ruling powers in order to defend those who can't defend themselves, or in order to bring a particular evil into the light. This is the responsibility of people of faith, and when we abdicate that responsibility we rob the gospel of its power, and in so doing distort its true nature, for it is intended to bring, "freedom to captives, justice for the oppressed" and so much more to our broken and hurting world.

"Advent" simply means, "the arrival of something special" and with the signs of advent everywhere here in Germany, that the presence of Jesus has continued to show up in human history through countless people, laying down their lives so that the reign of Christ might unfold in some measure, right here, right now. Leaflets falling from the sky were an advent. William Wilberforce introducing legislation to end slavery was an advent. Elisabeth Elliot bringing the Bible to Auca Indians in their own tongue was an advent. Blessings in Jesus name, wherever they break into our broken world, are an advent. Surely it is God's intention that advent continue, through you and I, at this moment in history. That's why the gospel remains not only spiritual, but political.

PS - there are more pictures on the previous post. They're from a bike ride to Meersburg