Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jesus was No Exception

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Anyone who has been a teenager knows what if feels like to be exceptional, immortal, borne aloft by angels. To drive my car at breakneck speed. To climb trees and mountains in any weather. To paddle into the ocean into the wake of an incoming wave. To sleep under the stars in a wilderness known for its bears. I am young and I am strong. My reflexes are awesome and life would not dare to kill me, not now when I am standing on the pinnacle of my future. In this spirit, the devil reminds Jesus that he is God’s chosen child. He has been set aside for a mission. No harm can possibly come to him. Since God will protect you, why not live a little? The devil does not pull empty enticements out of his brain. He quotes Psalm 91.
There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you in their hands, *
lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Like adolescents, nations, too, can feel exceptional and invulnerable. I know because I live in one. Most of my life I have been cloaked in assurances that being an American is enough to keep me from harm, that the tragedies that happen to other countries cannot happen here. Even a cursory look at photographs shows that Americans look younger, have better teeth and smile more than the denizens of other lands. God is on our side, isn’t he?

Maybe yes, maybe no. And what does it mean that God is on my side? If I am in with God, does that mean that God’s plan is a heavenly reflection of my own?

I remember when my eighteen year old cousin died in a car accident. The minister at his service said, “This was not part of God’s plan.” I was haunted. I was tempted. If this was not part of God’s plan, then who was more powerful than God and could take my cousin away? How could such a terrible ending cut short such a charmed, young life? But as I prayed through my tears I realized that I had fallen for a simple and literal world of black and white. I had assumed that a charmed life was the same as a long one. In all his eighteen years, my cousin had never known pain, failure, or poverty. He had never known rejection, hatred or fear. My cousin’s death at such a moment of perfection -- captain of his football team, most popular boy in school, soon to be mid at Annapolis -- made me realize what a chancy thing this life is. The longer I live in this body, the more chancy things I am likely to encounter. I've been around too long to be charmed.

To claim privilege with God and bungee jump off the temple into the arms of waiting angels is to ask God to work for me rather than my trying to work for God. It is to take a literal interpretation of what it means to be saved and make it the only one. If I, the chosen of God, announce at the outset of my ministry that the meaning of “salvation” is “survival,” then I have condemned all who suffer unjustly. I have rejected all the young people who die too soon in senseless car accidents, who were too stupid to grab a passing pair of wings. I’m saying “tough luck” to the poor. But Jesus says, quoting Moses in the desert, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Do not limit God’s reach. God is a God of life, and we humans, who are mostly limited by death, cannot see life in its surprising fulness. Trust God.

In our world of today, we have been taught since birth that the material world is dependable, that literal, provable, quantifiable explanations, while they may not tell us everything, are at least real in all circumstances and for all living beings. The spiritual effect of all this has been that we tend to read the spiritual world in much the same way, as a series of literal happenings, teachings and laws. This, too, puts God to the test. While God is certainly entirely present in the material world, it is not the only place where God is to be found. God is also to be found in the content of prayer, the content of dreams, in the hope that fills a heart, all of which, although it is possible to measure their biochemistry, it is not possible to measure the way they change my life.

In the world of the One Earth Lent, we have seen the terrible effects of materialism in the equation of material wealth with salvation, in pollution, in the enslavement of third world populations simply to satisfy my transient whims and desires. What of the nineteen year old Chinese girl who died of exhaustion making stuffed animals for American novelty shops? Where were her angels? All this reminds me that there is more than one way to fall into the arms of the living God. That maybe there is more to life than what lies before the eyes inside my head. Maybe there are also eyes that lie inside my soul. Maybe there are also eyes that lie inside my heart.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Political Power

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God,and serve only him.'"

After I told this story on Sunday, one of the children in the congregation, a kindergartner, came up to me quietly during the peace and said, “You were talking about Voldemort, weren’t you?” I was surprised that one so young would know that, but he was right. His dad said that he had become deeply interested in the world of Harry Potter. There is little question but that Voldermort is the closest thing one will find to the devil in children’s literature. Like Harry, children live in a world that is not always friendly to them. Too often, in order to keep their own integrity, they must contend with forces that seek to humiliate and hurt them. The stark world of reward and punishment in a modern school is not too far removed in the minds of the young from the terrors of the police state where absolute conformity is a matter of life and death.

Political power, like education, is all about shaping the way people think and live. It’s about forcing the many to the will of the one. It’s the story of our age. The industrial age gave humankind an inflated sense of power and influence. It gave us the idea of the "masses." It gave us such “great men” as Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Ze Dong, Pol Pot, Augusto Pinochet, and the Taliban. It gave us the atrocities of colonialism and the doctrine of "shock and awe." Totalitarianism and the violence it spews are truly satanic. You know that. But would you recognize the devil if you ran into him on the road?

In Hebrew, ha satan means not a creature with horns, hooves and tail, but simply, “the adversary.” He is whatever opposes God. To say that there are powerful forces which oppose God is not necessarily to engage in dualism. One does not have to be equal to God to oppose God. Satan was only an angel who couldn’t stand it that God was greater than he.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us a tantalizing hint of what happens when we abandon God. Reflecting upon the temptation stories, he writes that Jesus became one of us, “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”(2:14b-15)

Political regimes, such as the ones the devil was offering to Jesus, all capitalize on the fear of death. Fear is quick and efficient. Fear is impersonal. In our culture avoiding death and staying young have become a multi billion dollar industry. Getting back to Voldemort, the fear of death was what drove his rise to power. He killed to feed his own pathological drive for immortality, while those who opposed him, James, Lily, Sirius, Dumbledore, all of them chose something else.

I remember one day walking in the woods thinking about these things. and the thought came to me that God who was good had created death, which meant that death had to be good. It was at this moment that I encountered fear as temptation. I wonder whether it is fear, in the end, that tempts me to wield the kind of power that Jesus so wisely resisted.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stones into Bread

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

The diet industry has transformed our ideas about temptation. Temptation is another word for food. Savory chocolate, fattening donuts and cakes, chips in every flavor you can imagine dipped into mountains of sour cream, ice cream melting on the tip of the tongue when we should be melting away those extra pounds. That Jesus is able to fast for forty days is heroic to a dieter. He is able to put aside his emotional need for food. He quotes from the books of Moses, from Deuteronomy, “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (8:2-3)

We know that eating when one is not supposed to is tempting, but what kind of a temptation is it, really? Does a successful diet make me humble? Or proud of my healthy, slimmed body? What is the harm of turning an old stone, a useless amalgamation of non-usable minerals into something nourishing and fine? Especially when someone is very, very hungry? Who’s ever going to miss one dumb stone?

When the diet industry has done such a good job of transforming fat people into thin people and made so many people into millionaires in the process, it can be very difficult to fathom why Jesus would refuse to turn an old stone into something nourishing and profitable. Think of all the transformations you’ve seen in your lifetime. Indeed, modernity is all about transforming slow, old, inefficient and uncertain ways into new, shiny and convenient ones. Technology, manufacturing, literature and film: all these transform raw materials into amazing products for me to consume. Living in the world I do, it’s hard for me to put myself in Jesus’ place. Perhaps I can resist turning a stone into bread to break my own fast, but what about this world’s hungry? I could feet a planet with these stones. I could make things right. And who would miss a few stones?

But when a few stones turn into millions and billions of stones, the very surface of the world begins to change. The desert disappears and I am suddenly faced with the Tragedy of the Commons. Unlike privately owned land, land owned in common is there for everyone’s benefit. I am free to take what it has to offer, and I should put something back, but when it does not directly benefit me, I often don't. Let somebody else clean up. I have a living to make. It’s just common space, after all. I got there first. That's fair.

But in God’s eyes, isn’t the whole earth our common space?

In the nineteenth century, both Russia and America got very rich on the Siberian, Alaskan and North American fur trade. There were all these seals and otters just living in the sea which no one owned. Forests teamed with sables, mink, muscrat, beaver. A hunter could grab some cheap native labor and take as much as he wanted. The profits were huge. Millions of otters, millions of seals and other fur bearers were hunted by these men on land and water that nobody owned, at least in the way the West understands ownership.Except that the seals and the otters nearly died out, and nobody asked them if they wished to be transformed into skins.

Today, as a result of a mass movement to turn stones into bread, the earth may be dying. Jesus saw this at the very beginning, saw where it was going and had the wisdom to say "No."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The First Sunday of Lent: Temptation

In 1977, while he was still professor of philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary, Diogenes Allen wrote a wonderful meditation on Christian spirituality. He titled it Between Two Worlds. Later he simplified it to Temptation. I bought the book in a reprint edition during the fall of 2004. Like any work of genius that focuses upon a difficult subject, Temptation was not a comfortable read. It took me two and a half years to get through its hundred and fifty pages. I would open the book in the morning after a good night’s sleep and, in the purity and freshness of a new day, I could face that the world was trying to diminish my spirit by tempting me to seek material goods, security, and prestige in place of God. “How wise,” I would say, underlining yet another passage, “how on the mark.” Then I would come home in the evening, exhausted, pushed out of my comfort zone by the day and I would pour myself a nice, relaxing bourbon and soda and sit down in my chair. But when I opened the same book that I had enjoyed that morning, I suddenly saw myself in a whole new light. It seemed far easier to just close the book than wrestle with my own temptation. It’s not very often that I feel unworthy to read a book, but I sure felt that way about this one. And yet, I was also intrigued. How could such a little book be such a mirror? So I would creep back sometimes. Bit by bit I would sneak looks into its pages, never quite letting it out of my sight. I was always impressed. Here was a man who did not make excuses. Like saying how poor and humble Jesus and Mary were and then adding, but of course they are the heavenly king and queen and so could afford to be humble in a way that you, with your need for prestige, just don’t get. Allen knew humility. Humility does not blame and neither did Allen blame. Little by little I began to learn how to forgive myself for those things that God had already forgiven me. Little by little, in my own flawed way, I learned just how much God actually likes me. I also learned that temptation is not about confrontation or resistance; it’s just an ongoing thing in religion. It’s easy to confuse the desire for God with the desire for a new car. Both seem to promise they will get me where I need to go, and yet, as my heart grows wise, I begin to see that my route to God may take me where no car can ever go. Temptation is just the other side of desire. It is not some black and white tapestry of good and evil, morality and judgment, but a nuanced conversation between myself and the world, an ongoing reflection of strengths and weaknesses and how they are so often the same.

Again and again, scripture tells the story of people succumbing to temptation: Ham sneaks in and sees his father naked, Abraham lies and tells Pharaoh his wife is really just his sister, Jacob robs Esau of his inheritance, Moses kills an irritating Egyptian, David has his most faithful captain Uriah killed so that he can have Bathsheba. People in the Bible are capable of dreadful things. That’s not the point. The point is what they do after that dreadful thing. Do they learn from it or not? Scripture promises that if we can but hang on, God will give us another chance. Even if we as a species completely succumb to our wasteful ways and lose the entire earth, as scientists are now hinting we might, God isn’t going to give up on us. That’s the deal.

I needed to tell you this before I move into the very serious story of Jesus’ temptation, the story with which we begin Lent every year. It’s too easy for a preacher to look good when she plays the part of Jesus in the desert, but I want you to know that I can barely go without food for a day, much less forty. Jesus’ temptation is an ideal I check in with every year and against which I chart my own spiritual progress. I can tell the story, and I might even be able to tell you some things about which it means, but I’m still far from being able to live it.

Diogenes Allen talked about temptation in a very individual way. He looked at how I trust my possessions more than my soul, how I see a happy ending in a stock portfolio, how prestige in the world assures me of my right to live. But because scripture may be read in many ways, in the spirit of the One Earth Lent, I would like to explore temptation a little more globally. Jesus didn't come just to save me. He come to save the world.

I invite us to stop and imagine. What it might have been like to be Jesus, having given myself to a wild and wonderful wilderness adventure with my cousin John, to have seen the light and the beauty of God, also God’s wild, inhuman terrors, and then to go in, to take the baptismal plunge and to come out of the waters only to discover that it is all true. I have been Chosen by God. I am the One. I want you to imagine that before we go one step further. Try it on in your own skin. Hear the voice whisper, “You’re the One. You’re the one.”

Friday, February 23, 2007

There May Be More to Apples Than You Think

As I ponder vipers and fruit trees, the wild John the Baptist and the waters of life, as I look ahead to tomorrow, the first Sunday in Lent and the temptation of Jesus, I also find myself looking back. Another time, another temptation. You know which one I mean. To your left is Lucas Cranach the Elder’s beautiful sixteenth century painting of Adam and Eve in Paradise. The snake and the apple are both here. So are the animals of the woodland. And temptation. Adam scratches his head like a slightly clueless guy who typically drinks a few beers with his buddies and watches football on TV. Eve is more self contained. Although the Bible suggests that she herself tasted the fruit before sharing it with her husband, in this painting, she is a good wife and offers it untouched. Vines are already reaching upward, shielding the body parts in question, hinting at embarrassments to come, as if leaving Paradise were less a matter of original sin than the inevitability that living things, be they vines or people, must grow.

Original sin has been a hot topic for a long time. The Jews never believed in it, but St. Augustine, the fifth century Bishop of Hippo sure did. He decided that babies were born into sin, tainted at the very moment of conception. This, of course, made the sex act suspect and women even more so. For centuries Augustine’s hypothesis has been used to vilify women, to say nothing of serpents. Even Jesus, who loved women, even Jesus who said that he would be lifted up like a serpent, even Jesus could not convince his own church that the forgiveness of sins he offered extended even to women and sparrows and snakes, down to the very stones of earth. Jesus could not have made it more clear. When he upturned the moneychangers' tables, he also freed the animals from their bondage. The first person to whom he appeared following his resurrection was Mary Magdalene. He appeared to her in a garden. But men have not been able to get this. For some reason, men must see women and nature as temptation.

I often wonder why it is so hard to grasp the radical inclusivity of Jesus’ message of salvation. “I came not to judge the world,” Jesus said. “I came to save the world.” You can’t save the world if you leave people out. You can’t even talk about a world if you leave things out. But for millennia, men have made a church by leaving things out.

When I am honest with myself, I know that no matter how hard I try, I leave things out, too. It is impossible for us humans not to leave things out. Our vision is, by its very nature, partial. We cannot see what we cannot see and until I am ready to face it, the light of truth will simply blind. I’m not ready for lots of things yet. I want to go back to John the Baptist one more time. I want to return to the waters, for baptism is where my, and Jesus’, journey into Lent really begins.

Even before modern psychology linked water with the oceanic unconscious that lies beneath our veneer of civilization, water was seen as a force of chaos. In creating the world, God closed off the waters. In Egypt, Greece, Babylonia, water was an elemental force to contend with, the home of Mother Tiamat, rushing wave and fiery dragon. The sun’s night sea journey represented the soul’s descent to the depths in sleep. Although we cannot live without water – indeed our earthly bodies are largely composed of water – we cannot live in it.

But by calling the watery world unconscious, psychology suggests that the unconscious is something we grow out of, something terrible and primitive that our rational intellects finally master. John’s baptism, on the other hand, suggests that the unconscious is something we grow into.

When You Meet a Prophet in the River, Ask Him

When John the Baptist went down to the Jordan, people followed. He he washed a lot of old assumptions right out of people’s eyes. In the shock of new seeing we asked him, “What should we do?” His answer just drips with life. “Bear fruit,” he said. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”
By telling us to bear fruit, John reveals that the primary task of being alive is to grow, not just as children in school, but always. To multiply our gifts. An apple tree does not produce a single apple then sit back and collect the royalties. It produces enough to keep a family through the winter, and then starts all over again when it bursts into bloom the following spring. If I cling to my fruit, it will only rot. Life is process, says the tree, and as life, I am process, too. I am put here to keep life going, to be delicious, to nourish those who come after me and as long as I do that, there will always be enough.

John, who does not mince words, and who indeed, calls us "a brood of vipers," suggests that most of us are not doing that. He suggests that most of us are more like snakes gone astray than we are like fruit trees. Like people, vipers can be both life giving, shedding their skins and starting fresh, or death dealing, hoarding earth’s treasure to themselves and brushing others aside with their poisonous kiss. The bad reptilian brain was carrying the day in Rome, John said. Don’t go there. Bear fruit. Dare to be a tree.

But the crowds persist, "What then should we do?" And so John built the image more completely. To be a tree of life, John says, is to understand boundaries. It is to be less restless, to live within our means, to share what we have. ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ Note, however, that he did not tell them to stop being tax collectors and soldiers. God does not tell us to give up being who we are; God merely invites us to be generous with who we are.

There's a good reason to give things away. When I stop to help another, face to face, like a tree offering fruit to an outstretched hand, I realize that that hand is attached to another person quite as precious as I. When I share my fruit, the other ceases to be an object, a charity case or an uncertain Muslim; he looks into my eyes and, as who I am touches him, and we share stories, he becomes part of my world. Or as the saying goes in Fairbanks, where the winters are bitterly cold and people must stop and help one another on the road lest they freeze and die, “There are no enemies at forty below.”

Repent, says John the Baptist. Bear fruit. Grow until you become that tree that dispenses eternal life. Drink deep of God’s living water. Revel in the skin that God gave you. You can shed the old and still live. Be not afraid. Go out and listen to nature until you are alive with it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Voice in the Wilderness

Thursday, February 22
God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God's command.

In a prison cell, shortly before being put to death by the Nazis, Jesuit Father Alfred Delp wrote, “There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up. Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation, we need to know this too and endure it. . . . Many of the things that are happening today would never have happened if we had been living in that movement and disquiet of heart which results when we are faced with God, the Lord, and when we look clearly at things as they really are. . . .Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way and three paces that way, with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate, I have a new and different understanding of God's promise of redemption and release.” During his confinement, Fr. Delp invited into his cell three companions: the Announcing Angel, the Blessed Mother, and the Voice in the Wilderness. Who the announcing angel is, who the blessed mother is, seem easy for us to grasp, but the third is much harder. Who is the Voice in the Wilderness? What does it mean to Prepare the way of the Lord? To fill valleys and make the mountains low? What does this mean?

Wilderness is traditionally known as a place of emptiness, (indeed the Russian word for wilderness means “empty place”), a place that I, as a human, enter not as owner, but as guest. Wilderness has the capacity to change and surprise me, and the stories about it vary greatly: from Jack London’s snowy waste of savagery and death to Barry Lopez’ encounter with fierce little horned lark on the tundra that made him bow. Some have said that nature is the great theme of American literature and the battle for who controls it may be decisive or divisive to the future of the entire planet. Finally, and you should not be at all surprised, wilderness is where the ancient prophets went to talk with God.

John the Baptist was the Voice in the Wilderness, whose baptism of Jesus sends Jesus on his own wilderness trek. John is also one of the most enigmatic figures in the Bible. Religion scholar Nicholas M. Beasley calls him a cryptic wild man. That is one of the milder descriptions I have heard. If you’ve seen any Bible movies, the Baptist is really frightening: a gaunt, hairy and slightly hysterical creature dressed in skins, standing in the river and shouting “Repent!” like an evangelical nut holding forth in Justin Herman or Sproul Plaza. He is a man made crazy by locusts and wild honey, while Jesus arrives on the scene, gentle, luminous, dressed in white. And yet, I’ve always suspected that this image is not entirely accurate. Would people flock to someone who yelled at them? Would they trust themselves to be baptized by a crazy man? I can’t help but wonder whether it is John who is shrill or whether it is we who are made crazy hearing him.

The wise ones tell us that unless we can hear the voice in the wilderness, unless we are drawn to John the Baptist, we may not have eyes to see the coming of the Christ.

Who is John the Baptist? The following piece of nature writing may bring him better into focus: “The forests seem kindly familiar, and the lakes and meadows and glad singing streams. I should like to dwell with them forever. Here with bread and water I should be content. Even if not allowed to roam and climb, tethered to a stake or tree in some meadow or grove, even then I should be content forever. Bathed in such beauty, watching the expressions ever varying on the faces of the mountains. Watching the stars which here have a glory that the lowlander never dreams of, watching the circling seasons, listening to the songs of the waters and winds and birds, would be endless pleasure. And what glorious cloudlands I should see, storms and calms – a new heaven and a new earth every day, aye, and new inhabitants. I feel sure I should not have one dull moment. And why should this appear extravagant? It is only common sense, a sign of health, genuine, natural, all-awake health. One would be at an endless Godful play, and what speeches and music and acting and scenery and lights! – sun, moon, stars, auroras. Creation just beginning, the morning stars still ‘singing together and all the sons of God shouting for joy.’” Written in the High Sierra, June 23 (eve of John the Baptist)

If you recognized John Muir in this passage, you are quite correct. I suspect he is as close to the Baptist as I will ever come. Muir, like the Baptist, is a man of the waters. He spent a raging spring night behind Yosemite Falls. He wrote odes to water ouzels, the little brown birds of the rapigs. And he went up a tree in a thunderstorm and God came down in all the fury of nature and loved him. To be baptized is to encounter love. The wilderness, hint both our Johns, is where God can love us back.

Welcome to the One Earth Lent


low the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near--

On July 7, 2002, the London Observer blew the trumpet on Zion. Earth will Expire by 2050 said the headline. Quoting a report put together by World Wildlife Federation, and based on scientific data from across the world, the story revealed that more than a third of the natural world has been destroyed by humans over the past three decades. As I write these words, 10,000 species a year are dying out in the greatest mass extinction since the end of the Permian, 65 million years ago. Blow the trumpet in Zion; said the prophet, Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble.

Exactly one year before this report was published, I was in Alaska, discovering my vocation as God's sled dog. A native Californian born at the half century, I have lived to see my own country paved and plundered, but knew it not. The once verdant orchards of Santa Clara County have all hardened into a Silicon Valley; the choked and overcrowded roads tremble with the idling of gas guzzling vehicles, monuments to the kind of wealth that is possible when one knows how to transform nature into money. Land based economies move much slower than industrial ones. They include dormancy as well as abundance. They are about relationship with the power of nature rather than a relentless drive to overpower. Land based economies remind us that we as humans are vulnerable. I learned this viscerally in Alaska where the land still has the power to captivate me. I saw also that the silicon economies that I had come to take for granted tempt us with perfect rational control. They also, in subtle ways, tempt us that death will make an exception in my case.

While I was in Alaska the trumpet sounded in my heart. I was blessed by the privilege of standing upon living soil and experiencing a land that was still an entity on its own and not the slave of mankind. But I saw also that this incredibly vast, seemingly inexhaustible wilderness was slowly dying of global warming and drifting human-caused pollution. The former Bishop of Alaska, The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, literally watched his house fall down as the permafrost melted beneath it.

Blow the trumpet in Zion.

Long ago, when my 80 plus year old parents were still infants, an epidemic of diptheria broke out in Nome, Alaska, over six hundred miles from the nearest railroad stop. It was January. Frigid winds blew across the dark interior and in from the Bering sea. It was not traveling weather. Certainly the infant aviation industry was not up to the task of delivering serum to save the lives of the children, to save the life of the future. Thus the task fell to the dog sled drivers. Today, this event is celebrated every year in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, a celebration most dear to my heart, but it still misses what may be the most hopeful point of the whole story. The Nome Serum Run, as it came to be called, was one of the few moments in the twentieth century when old ways trumped new ways, when life proved itself more resourceful and resilient than machines. The fact that 85 mushers show up in Anchorage every March to run their dog teams the 1100 miles to Nome shows me how deeply we long for that connection back to our animal roots, our oneness with nature rather than our relentless drive to conquer her.

As God's sled dog, I want to see us all get to Nome. I want to see our children live.

And so the prophet continues:
Call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.

The prophet reminds us that it is not our cleverness that will save us, but the grace of coming together in community. And, of course, our tears. Bringing a future to life may seem a daunting task, but with God all things are possible. Lent gives us 40 days to practice. Blessings on this first day of Lent.