Several months ago I helped a friend transplant a tree. It would have been cut down if we hadn't moved it, so we dug it up and replanted it in a new place. We weren't sure if it would survive, but it would have died anyway, so it was worth the risk.
The tree has survived the winter, and has continued to grow. I have hope that it will live for a long time in its new place, providing shade and oxygen and beauty.
That day back in September was a rather bleak sort of day so I was thinking about the end of the world. A friend of mine had called with the worst sort of news. And while not everything is better for my friend, he has survived the bleak winter, and has continued to grow. I have hope that he will continue for a long time as well.
I have been enjoying the words of my new favorite lyricist, The Quotable Becca - but the words for this new song come from the daughter of another set of friends; these are from The Existential Lilly. It's a bleak twist on an old favorite.
Hey dad, Why did the chicken cross the road?
I don't know. Why?
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities
that faithfully keep the second amendment; for there is no authority except
from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God to protect
your guns. Therefore whoever tries to restrict your access to firearms resists
what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers
are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear? Then
do what is good - buy a gun and you will receive its approval, for a gun is
God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid,
for a good guy with a gun does not bear the gun in vain! It is the servant of
God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.
The story is told of a time of hunger – not uncommon in those years before
great mechanized farms, 24 hour slaughterhouses, and supermarkets larger than
your grandmother’s village – a time of drought and famine, when the creeks and
streams failed and brave hunters returned with nothing but their bravery, a
time when mothers fed their children with tears while they themselves went
The story is told of Winter Oak, a widowed mother with three young children:
Laughter, Hope, and Joy-on-the-River. Their father had been killed the winter
before, and ever since then the resourceful and clever Winter Oak had kept them
fed and clothed with the strength of her hands, the dexterity of her fingers,
and the nimbleness of her mind. She gathered food and flowers that could be
eaten, she tanned leather, and sharpened knives. And Laughter, Hope and
Joy-on-the-Water grew the way that all beautiful children do.
But with the drought and famine and the hunters returning home with nothing
more than dry throats and empty packs, there was little food for anyone. Even
the resourceful and clever Winter Oak struggled to find food enough for her
One evening as Winter Oak was cooking the last of their food and dividing it
into three small portions (one for each of the children and none for herself) she
heard a knock at the door. Outside stood a strange women in a tattered gown and
shoes worn through. Her grey hair and wrinkled eyes were those of a woman with
faded dignity and dim-remembered beauty.
“Please,” she said to Winter Oak, “have you any food to share with an old
Winter Oak looked at her children, Laughter, Hope, and Joy-on-the-River, and at
the three little mounds of boiled grain she’d prepared for them. Then she
sighed and invited the woman inside to join them for dinner. Winter Oak divided
the boiled grain into four even smaller portions and called them all to eat.
After the meal, brief and unsatisfying as it was, the stranger woman thanked
Winter Oak for her kindness and left. She went out into the dark night and was
not seen by anyone else in the tribe.
This is end of the story as it is told, as brief and unsatisfying as the final
meal Winter Oak fed her children and the mysterious woman. In other stories,
the strange woman would be revealed to be Mother Nature herself, or a messenger
spirit sent from the 7 Horned Lamb, and she would bless and reward Winter Oak
for her kindness and selfless giving and would give her and her people a
blessing of food and the promise of the end of the drought and famine. But not
in this story, not as it is told. Whether she was in fact Mother Nature or a
ministering spirit, I cannot say. The mysterious woman was never seen again.
Winter Oak died not long after, but Laughter, Hope, and Joy-on-the-River struggled
My parents, Majors Loren and Janice Carter, are retiring after 92 years of combined service as Salvation Army officers. They asked me to speak at their retirement service - no pressure, right?!
Now I have the chance to get my revenge for all the times my father used me as a sermon illustration... I'd like to welcome you to the roast of Majors Loren and Janice Carter.
It’s more than a job, more than a career; being a Salvation
Army officer is a calling. There are other jobs and careers with fewer frustrations
and higher levels of compensation. There are few tangible, visible, real
rewards from a life of service as a Salvation Army Officer. We discharge our
duties without the expectation of earthly recompense. We do not amass personal fortunes (not, that
is, if we are doing it correctly.) We do not have monuments erected to our
memory. We do not build buildings emblazoned with our names. We serve, and
toil in relative obscurity. Few will ever notice or regard the multiplied hours
we’ve spent as chauffeurs for young people and church janitors. Few will ever
notice or thank us for the time we’ve spent cleaning toilets and preparing
There is, as the song says, “joy, joy, joy in the Salvation Army” (say it with
me: “try and find it.”) There is Joy
perhaps, but there is little in the way of tangible, visible, real reward. What
can we point to to say, “I did this”? In a hundred years, what evidence will
remain that we were here? Our work is largely invisible and interior. Unseen. It
can, at times, feel discouraging. It can be disheartening to look back over a lifetime
of service only to ask, “What have I accomplished? What have I done?” We might
even wonder, “Has it all been worthwhile? Have I achieved anything in all those
years? Have I had an impact at all?”
But unseen, interior, and invisible is not immaterial, and is not
Every young person taught to play a horn, every hungry family fed, every family
given a Christmas gift, every senior citizen comforted in a care facility,
every prisoner visited in jail, every sermon that is preached (even the ones
ignored by the officer’s eye-rolling-teenaged-son), every life that is touched
has an infinite, unseen, rippling effect. The future is set and reset, and
unsettled again with every act of service, even the unregarded, unrewarded
ones. Holes in the very time/space fabric of the universe are repaired as great
kingdom of God on the march is proclaimed and put into practice and vigorous
action by faithful Salvation Army officers.
Serving as both corps officers and officers at divisional headquarters in seven different commands across the Midwestern states of the United States of
America- through 92 years of combined service, Majors Janice and Loren Carter
have been good and faithful servants; they have been “Undaunted” “Light
Bringers.” And we can know that-even if there are few tangible, visible, real rewards
for their service-countless lives have been blessed by their faithfulness. And
those already countless lives have each one, spread that blessing to
innumerable others. They are a great, uncountable crowd of witnesses.
We can, with God say to Majors Loren and Janice today: “well done good and
faithful servants.” I realize that it may be somewhat premature to quote from
that particular chapter and verse, as we often reserve it for Promotion to Glory
(funeral) services; I hope they’ll forgive me and trust that I’m not just
getting anxious. It’s my niece K. who has been referring to Loren and Janice’s
retirement as their funeral… But they have been faithful in their service, even
in the small things, faithful even with small rewards; they have been faithful
and their reward will be great.
Our founder and first General said, “Making heaven on earth is
our business.” It’s what we are called to do, and for 92 combined years my
parents have done just that. At camp, in nursing homes, in 15 passenger vans,
at disaster sites and pot-luck dinners (and sometimes those are indistinguishable), on street-corners, in quiet hallways
and noisy gymnasiums - they have been faithfully making little bits of heaven
in the here and now world. They have been proclaiming the good news of Jesus to
the desperate, the lonely, the poor, and the afflicted. They have lifted the
fallen, healed the injured, and comforted the disturbed. They have grieved with
those in mourning; they have celebrated with the joyful. They have consecrated
marriages and solemnized funerals.
They may not be renowned musicians but they taught me the joy of music, how to
read music, and how to play a horn. They are not leaders of great grass-roots
social justice movements, but it was Loren and Janice who lit the fire of a burning
social conscience within me. They are no great theologians with divinity
degrees, but they taught me of God’s unbounded love, and there is nothing
greater than that. If only one life had been affected by their ministry, as the
Jewish people say during the Passover celebration, Dayenu“It would
have been enough.” If only one person had been changed for the better, "Dayenu" - it would have been enough.
But I am not the sole recipient of their devoted ministry; they have ministered
to thousands and thousands of individuals and each of those thousands has gone on to
touch a multiplied many more – a great multitude that no one can count, from
many nations and languages. And that great crowd of witnesses to their ministry
can stand before the throne of God, singing out in a loud voice, “Salvation
belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
I know that you will stand with me today, and with God our Savior to say to Majors Loren and Janice Carter: “Well
done good and faithful servants.” Thank
you for all that you have done for the Kingdom of God.
What follows is not a proper review of Count Leo Tolstoy’s final novel Resurrection; it is instead a few of my
thoughts about and responses to the book. It’s been a few years since I read Anna Karenina, and ages and ages since I
read War and Peace. I feel like I
should revisit those now (but there’s so much still left in my to-be-read pile…)
The story feels somewhat autobiographical – if not in details, in its theme.
The journey of Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Neklúdof from noble born, silver-spoon,
aristocratic, playboy to a fervent idealistic religious revolutionist who
dreams of changing the world is Tolstoy’s story.
Neklúdof wants to atone for his frivolous life, to correct the mistakes he’s
made, to heal the wounds he’s caused. And this, not for himself, but because it
is the right thing to do. But there is no such thing as a selfless good deed and his attempts to do right are viewed with suspicion and outright rejected.
When he tries to give his land estates to the peasants who live upon them, they
believe that it’s just another trick from a member of the wealthy elite to squeeze
another ruble from the poor. His sincere offer to marry the woman he left destitute
is refused; she can’t believe him.
Resurrection is a literary attempt to
find a way to put into practice the radical claims of the gospel.
“I don’t know whether
they deserve it or not, but I do know how they suffer,” said Neklúdof. “You are
a Christian and believe in the Gospel, and yet you have no mercy.”
“That has nothing to do
with the case. The Gospel is one thing and what we despise is another. It would
be worse if I pretended to love Nihilists, especially short-haired one, when to
tell the truth I really hate them” (Tolstoï
Resurrection Vol. 2, 40).
Much of the novel is a defense of Georgist ideas –
a subset of socialist thought, an economic theory that says that the economic
value of the land should be owned and shared by the community that lives on the
land. Again, this is part of Tolstoy’s literary attempt to put into practice
the radical claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But radical is not easy. And Tolstoy knew this. He was not a wild-eyed
unrealistic idealist. Resurrection is
filled with the details of observed real life. In fact these detailed stories
begin to pile up towards the end of the novel that it begins to feel like a
fevered dream. Reality is incredibly unreal. How can this be real? But it is.
And Neklúdof (the novel’s stand in for Tolstoy himself) is shocked to realize
his place in it.
There are few easy answers. Many of the questions Tolstoy raised about the
criminal justice system and the state of prisons in Czarist Russia at the end
of the 19th century remain unanswered – and could be asked with tragically
continued relevance about the criminal justice system and state of prisons in
America in the 21st century.
The version of Resurrection that I’ve
read was published in 1911, translated by Aline P. Delano. This may not be a complete
version of Tolstoy’s work. The full novel was heavily censored by Russian
authorities, and an unexpurgated text wasn’t published until 1936.
Tolstoï, Lyof N. Resurrection Trans. Aline P. Delano. New York, NY: Thomas Y.
Crowell & Company. 1911. Print.
I have returned from a trip out to the far end of South Dakota with my good friend, J. It's a mighty long drive, and I've got my "driving arm sunburn," but we had a great time, saw (some of - there's just too much to do and see in one trip) the sights and learned a bit too. (You can't go on trips with me and not go to at least one edumacational place...)
Along the way we stopped at a couple of those "cheesy" tourist spots. They're not much, but they break up the hours of driving. The first was the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota. J. thought he'd be jollier. A few hours later we stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota for dinner, and to see the "world famous" Corn Palace. It's not actually either, but it's a neat place. We happened to visit during a street party and had the opportunity to listen to a local rock band playing "The Letter", to watch a toothless old man dancing in the street, and little kids laughing in a bicycle race.
Our campground is situated near Rapid City, South Dakota, right along Rapid Creek, and is a beautiful place in the shadow of steep granite cliffs. We slept in tents next to the rippling creek, listening to the wind in the pine trees.
At Mount Rushmore, under the shadow of George Washington's cavernous nostril, we listened to Park Ranger D. Redcloud tell stories of how Gutzon Borglum, the artist responsible for the Rushmore carvings, helped the starving native people living near the monument. "We always had good relations with him," our ranger said. But I wondered if this was bit of National Monument whitewashing. Other sources that I've read suggest that Borglum was a "nativist" and sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan - and his work on the monument to Confederate leaders at Stone Mountain, Georgia would seem to give support to those claims. This isn't to say that the stories D. Redcloud told us weren't true (several of them involved his grandfather), but those stories may not represent the entire truth.
We visited Wind Cave National Park - which has over 145 miles of explored caves (and many times that still unexplored), located next to Custer State Park, and learned about Boxwork formations within the cave, as well as the Lakota emergence story. Park Ranger Shena told us the story. Afterwards J. and I discussed the places of similarity between the Lakota story of Iktomi (the spider), Anog-Ite (the double faced woman), the Creator and the first people and the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It may be tricky to make cross cultural comparisons like that, but there is some overlap in the stories.
At the Crazy Horse Monument we watched a group of young Pueblo Hoop Dancers. We missed the opportunity to actually walk out along Crazy Horse's arm by a few hours - an opportunity that only happens a couple of times a year.
I purchased a book in the gift shop - Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz. I chose this one over the other available book about Crazy Horse because of the introduction written by Vine Deloria Jr., whose book, Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, I'd purchased on a previous trip to the Black Hills and have enjoyed reading.
On our way home we drove through the Badlands loop - a little out of the way, but worth it for the incredible landscape. We might have stayed longer, but we were hungry, and there was still so much driving to do to get home.
An urn of ashes is set next to the flour jar in the kitchen; dad never did make
The plans of the clumsy fencer have been foiled again. Curses!
–There is a fine, but significant difference between “someone out looking for
you” and “someone looking out for you,” but the sheriff refuses to investigate
– I love you, but you are not well. The bacterial counseling sessions have not
been going well. We’ll have to take other immediate actions.
Leo – Take
either the bowl of Revolution or Revelation. It might be either one-one or the
other, but not both. Why do we hesitate before the improbable? We can only
delay the impossible.
The quest for beauty has replaced the search for truth. Hello? Can you hear me?
Please. Where is your number? It’s your
In the next One Hundred Years we will be frightened. Frightened. You can hear
me; I know you can hear me. I am here to help you. I am here to help you. Help
you. Nine telephone calls and counting.
– You are the victim of catastrophic wars on foreign soil. You have also
inherited a common form of suicidal intent. I don’t understand this lack of
comprehension. Can you feel math?
– Three strangers have moved into the house next door, three leather clad
strangers. Three men on motorcycles ride across the stage. You can see them
outside the window, late at night. What are they trying to hide? Drink a nice
glass of water and relax. There is no cause for alarm.
Capricorn – Bring on the plague
angels, bring on the government. Expect sedative visitors and narcotic guests
to arrive before nightfall, just like in Shakespeare.
– We can reshape the middle sequence (following World War I) but it will still
be too late for dinosaurs and flying reptiles.
When everyone is memory, it is all the same. Take a look for yourself.