Crossing the Bottom of the Sea

GOPR0693.JPG

I left my beloved island in Alaska last week. I miss it already.

 

DSC_0562.JPG

This morning I woke up in Denver. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be sleeping on the couch of my beloved son Noah and his new wife Lizzie. I’m supposed to be reunited with my family in Spokane, Washington. But a delayed flight from Grand Rapids (Thank you, United Airlines!) delivered this 24 hour gift. I haven’t seen Noah and Lizzie for almost a year, since their wedding.

Denver mountains highway.jpg
Noahs wedding-Noah leslie + Duncan.jpg

This will be my family’s life these next 8 months, every day setting off in a car, train, boat or plane, and ending up somewhere else at the end of the day. Maybe somewhere completely unexpected. But isn’t this the simple truth: whether we’re on a year long journey or simply swinging our legs over the edge of our bed to plant our feet on the cold floor of a new day----Every day is a trek into the unknown. And that can be scary. Especially now.

We now know the truth:

we can stay home most of our lives cause we’re afraid of flying;

we can avoid subways and trains because of the bombings;

we can keep our kids home from school to protect them from armed intruders  

(today the Kodiak High School was in complete lockdown after a threat);

              and one day,  to reward ourselves for our safe but claustrophobic life, we take our kids to a music festival for a few fun hours of country music and . . . . a man is waiting by the window with an arsenal of guns.

 

So we go out into the wide world because we must. And, because of something that happened thousands of years ago----------the spectacular defeat of Pharoah’s army and the march across the dray-as-bones bottom of the sea. That day, God defeated the most powerful army on the face of the earth on behalf of a ragged horde of helpless slaves. That day God set all the captives free.

 The Hebrews were ecstatic. This god was nothing like the Egyptian gods they had known about for 400 years. Slaves win? The mighty are drowned? The imprisoned are freed? They could do nothing less than writethe first praise song recorded in the Scriptures. Can you see the glad riot it must have been? Half a million women following Miriam, dancing with tambourines, with feet kicking high and voices laughing and loud:

Hands raised to worship-image not photo.jpg
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider[a] he has thrown into the sea!

 
They sing and shout and dance all the way to the ending: 
“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain . . .
 The Lord will reign forever and ever."
 

And on it goes today. Our rescue from slavery to freedom is already accomplished. And still, deliverances come to us every day! Have you seen them? Sometimes you can’t miss them—you and your family are saved through a devastating cyclone and flood. Just before the rent was due, an envelope came with just the amount needed. The bullet missed the vital organs by an inch.

And so many times they are tiny and tender: Today my lunch with my faraway son. The Uber driver who took me to the airport---our conversation about forgiveness, this heartbreak she has just endured. Yes of course SHE was the one that came to pick me up.  At the Breathe Writer’s conference this weekend, a friend surprised me with my favorite candy and a card with a quote exactly for this year:

Secretary of Praise quote--Herbert.jpg

I have no tambourine right now, but I have a pen. So I write this:

Every morning we are all travelers (and secretaries), waking and treading a trail into hours and moments, valleys and places we’ve never been before. We don't have to be afraid. Every day our God leads “in steadfast love the people He has redeemed.”

And even when the bullet doesn't miss,

                      and the flood sweeps us away,

we’ll wake on that mountain, God’s holy house,

          now ours as well,

a tambourine in one hand and a pen in the other:

And we will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!

 
dancing mountains better.jpg
Amen.

Your turn with the pen! (Either that or post a video of you dancing with a tambourine?)

One tiny or huge deliverance that came to you this week?

Leaving Alaska: the Crooked Path Toward Praise

leaving kodiak--suitcase+barometer.jpg

On Monday, I left Alaska.  I am going to keynote the Breathe Writers' Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan this weekend----and then I’m not going home. For a long time. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, or exactly when I’m coming home but I’m not going alone. My two youngest sons, 14 and 16 go with me. And my husband will join us when he can. (Someone in this outfit must be gainfully employed.)

 

leaving alaska--plane wing.jpg

We’ll be gone for 8 months traveling throughout the U.S., Europe and southern Africa. 

I wanted to leave rejoicing, singing. Remember my March into Gladness last spring, the long winter hikes, leaving sadness and griefs behind? This is that same travel, just longer, further, deeper. But I could not know this would happen: I left the day the news broke of the Las Vegas shooting. 

We have all had too much practice living with horrific headlines. We are all too acquainted with grief. And we must sorrow, lament and grieve in these times. We must go to the Psalms, many of which include gut-deep howls and wails to the God who often feels absent, silent, in the very times we need Him most.

Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
 Why do you hide your face?
    Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

O God, why do you cast us off forever?
    Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?

How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
    Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
    Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!

Don’t cut it short. And hold your place there in those grief-songs because they will surely be needed again. I cannot say that better days are coming.

But I also know there is more to speak and sing than sorrow. This is not the whole of human life even now in the aftermath of 59 dead and 523 wounded. Nor is it the whole of the Scriptures. Again and again I read words that speak of something else, something that is foreign to our tongues, especially now:

The apostle Paul writes from prison, “Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice withyou all."

David writes, "Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever."

Paul admonishes us, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name."

The Psalmist writes, "As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more."

 

DSC_0227-002.JPG

Do you hear this? The imprisoned Paul is GLAD?  I will praise you more and more? Every day I will praise you?  Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise?  I rejoice with you all?”

I want to be like this: glad, always hopeful, continually offering praise, but I am not good at this.   I am good at lament and complaint and poor at praise.  I have excuses. I don’t want to be the loony woman in a flowered hat pasting a red lipsticked “praise the Lord! PTL!” all over every life event.  I don’t want to be the bright-eyed ever-chipper front pew-sitter ready to slap an upbeat Bible verse on every bent back. I don’t want to be the silver-lining addict pulling golden threads from every disaster.  I don’t want to be the church clown handing out tracts and balloons at the door while the neighborhood burns.  

This is gross hyperbole and stereotype, I know. But I want to be real. True. Authentic. Human. I want to own my feelings. AND I want to be true to what is most true of all---that no one is more worthy of our worship than Jesus, the bread of the world, our Savior, our Creator, the lamb of God who has died for us all. (Praise him!)

I want to be the kind of person who praises God with more than occasional parenthetical inserts (see above.) I want to be the kind of person who offers “The sacrifice of praise” the way He deserves to be praised. (But also surely praise is more than saying “praise?” And surely praise is more than singing praise songs at church.) And can’t we do this in a way that doesn’t necessitate a Bible verse every minute, that doesn't send the sane running for cover? Yes, many of the prophets and disciples were thought mad. Does it take a kind of madness, then, to praise "continually"? (Please, no!)

This is my quest this year.  This is the path I am pilgrimming this year. I am following the footsteps of the apostle Paul (again). Where he lived, died, started churches. While on the road, I am also journeying into the Psalms and the life of David. There will be many detours and hijackings along the way. I will probably have to report on chocolate somewhere, and on getting lost, and breaking down, and running out of money and arguing with my sons and meeting strange angels and dangerous seatmates. Because that’s exactly how the crooked path toward praise and gladness goes. I hope you will come with me?

 

Leslie in Corinth cobbled path.jpeg

 

So there it is, my announcement. If you’ve signed up to visit Alaska every week, I hope you’re not disappointed. I am returning. And I'll likely use some of the 1500 photos I took this summer at fish camp along the way, especially when I'm feeling homesick. Like now:

DSC_0798-002.JPG
DSC_0874-001.JPG
DSC_0942.JPG

But now----I am in the air, on the road, seeking to enlarge this poor heart, to teach this lame tongue real gladness and praise. 

Don't we need it? Doesn't He deserve it?

 

DSC_0368-002.JPG

 

 

Leslie and Philip Yancey Talk Jesus & Politics: Are We Missing The Good News?

leslie + philip--Politics and Jesus intervw.png

 

Dearest Friends, I have to share this with you. These are some of the wisest words I have heard about our place in politics. These words will strike deep, and bring clarity and healing. I promise. Please listen.  (Transcript below)

 (12 minutes, filmed at the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop this month.)

 

Leslie: I’m here with Philip Yancey. He and I have been having some really interesting discussions about the American church, the church in japan, the body of Christ around the world. One of the things I see in the American church is that our first concern is about safety. I hear it in my own prayers. I hear it in the prayers of many around me: comfort and safety. When I look in the scriptures, I don’t see a lot of prayers concerned about that. Are we losing our way a little bit?

 

Philip: I’ve been to the underground church in China. They’re in a society where the government is actively hostile to them. I’ve interviewed pastors who have spent 20- 30 years in prison because they refuse to sign a statement renouncing their faith. I don’t speak ask Chinese so I’ve asked my interpreter, “How do they pray for their government?”

 She said I’ve never heard them pray, Lord change our government, deliver us from this hostility. What they pray is “Help us to bear the burden that we face.” 

Frankly I think in America we’ve been spoiled. It’s been a great blessing to have a Christian heritage. That’s changing. Our society is growing much more diverse. The media, especially the media is growing somewhat hostile. It’s a divided society. Everybody knows that. The elections showed that. A lot of people, a lot of Christians especially get concerned about that. They think we’re losing the way things used to be. And that is true.

But I have a different take on that. I get to travel overseas. I get to go to China, Japan, where the government is not hostile to it, but it’s just a ministry. And frankly I have found that Christians there are more like the situation that Jesus, Paul and the early Christians faced. Think of the hostile Roman empire.  I go back to the images that Jesus used of the kingdom. They’re all small things. There’s salt, a little bit of that keeps a whole hunk of meat from going bad. There’s yeast that raises a whole loaf of bread. It’s the smallest seed in the garden, not the largest, but it grows into a great bush and the birds of the air come nest in its branches. That’s what we can offer as Christians.

Leslie: Sometimes we have this language about changing the world. I feel for young college students at Christian colleges because they’re charged to go out and redeem the culture, change the world. I know for many of them they feel this impossible burden, that it’s their responsibility to change government, to change the culture. The kind of pictures that Jesus was painting were not, “Turn the world upside down, and “Get out there with your sword!”

Philip: Yes, I joke about this when elections come along. You hear such things as, “Who should be God’s man in the White House? Who should we vote for?” There were no elections in the Roman Empire. Go back to Paul’s day. Let’s see, should it be Nero or Caligula?  And yet, that was when the church blossomed. Why? Because it stood out in great contrast against the society around it.  

I believe America is at a hinge moment. it’s a divided nation. You cansee it on an electoral map, the center versus the coasts. It is very easy to join that division. Christians should be over on that or this side.  We represent something that can heal that division. That can bring people together. Even if we strongly disagree with people over there. Jesus teaches us a new way to handle these people says, “Love yr enemies.”

Leslie: The question is, are the people on the other political side really our enemies? I don’t think so! But even if they were, we’re to love them!

Philip: I believe that Christians Artists have a crucial role to play, and not just writers like I am. People who do plays, movies, art. We represent that universality. Artists don’t buy into the natural either/or divisions. They’re always trying to find a third way, a different way of looking at things, the universals of humanity that speaks to both sides that can bring them together.

Jesus certainly did this. People tried to pin him down. Which side are you on? This side or that side? Is this God or Ceasars? He comes up with these mystifying statements: Render unto Ceasear, to God what is God’s. That clarifies a lot! You can’t pin him down on these things.   He throws it back on us and says, find a creative way under the leadership of the Spirit and show the world a different way.

Leslie: Blessed are the peacemakers. I look at the church right now. I’m not seeing a lot of peacemaking. I’m seeing a lot of warmongering in the name of politics and in the name of God. That really grieves me. I’m afraid of what the culture at large is seeing from us.

Philip: It’s true. I get the question sometimes, “How can you possibly still call yourself an evangelical?” But I do. Because the word evangelical means “bearer of good news.”  But the media at large views evangelicals as a political lobby group. That’s it. That’s not what the good news is all about. The good news is something that speaks to every one of us, especially the marginalized, especially the weak, the alcoholics, the sinners, the people Jesus was hanging around and getting criticized for it. That’s the good news. Jesus never bought into the divisions that society creates. “Oh, I want to be one of these people.” He goes against that and reaches out to those who aren’t in that group.

Leslie: I think at first the disciples were really disappointed too because they expected Jesus to come andsave them from their political situation. They expected Israel, a suppressed oppressed nation, they expected the Messiah was going to deliver them, to “make Israel great again!” They discovered, at the end of those 3 years when he died on the cross, that Jesus’ plan was to win by losing.

Phillip: Absolutely. At least one of the disciples we know was a zealot. They were the terrorists of their day, against the occupying empire of Rome. A lot of scholars think thatmay have been Judas’ motive for betraying Jesus, because he didn’t fulfill that promise, the hopes that he excited.

Jesus shows us a different way. Through brokenness. Through losing. Through crucifixion comes the resurrection. Our job is not to manipulate that. Only god can do that. Our job is to be faithful, to reach out, to sacrifice, to go against the cultural mainstream by showing the world a different way. 

I look back on the Roman Empire. We think our country is losing its moorings. Go back there. We have violent football games. They would go for paid entertainment and see people kill each other. We have abortion. They were far worse; they would let the babies be born and then abandon them by the sides of the roads and let the weather, wild animals take them. No question is this a human being. They were out of the mother, living infants and just abandoned. This was infanticide. Scholars say a third to a quarter of all babies born in the Roman Empire were treated this way.

What did the Christians do? They didn’t primarily respond by lobbying. There were was no political action committees. They responded by saying, “lets show the world a diff. way to live. Romans would abandon their babies, the Christians would come and adopt them. They had platoons of wet nurses who would keep them nourished until they could adopt them out within  the church. When plague would hit a Roman town, everyone would flee into the hills; they didn’t want to die. The Christians would stay behind and nurse not only their own families but their pagan neighbor’s families. After awhile, it took a couple of centuries, but people thought: I like the way they live better than the way we live.

I think that’s what were called to do, to create a third way,  to be a city on the hill. To show people we don’t have to live that way, that violent divisive way.

Leslie: That power hunger, always trying to access and accrue more and more power.

Philip: The Church, when it gets too close to the power starts acting like the power. It’s just like everything else only moreso, because it’s got this religious impulse.  When they’re close to power as they were in the middle ages, course that’s what sparked the reformation. They just started acting like the roman gov. the medieval government. And that’s when the church is no longer good news, not evangelists, no longer the bearers of good news, but we’re like everyone else. Our job is to show the world a different way.

n the US, politics is an adversary sport. We see that in the U.S. Congress. If the Republicans propose something, all Democrats oppose it. If Democrats propose something, all Republicans oppose it. There’s no crossover. No one’s saying, “What’s best for the country?” That’s not a third way. That’s not the Jesus way. The more Christians identify with either side, you join an adversary sport, which is not what Jesus taught us.

How to Fall, Rise, Be Caught and Be Freed

S1030035.JPG

Fall begins this week.  I feel it. I have fallen.  I've just left Harvester Island after four months. I have leaped from outhouses and banyas and wilderness to land back in Kodiak, to roads, Walmart and flushing toilets. I didn't want to leave. Especially as the colors blazed orange and pink, the skies blue, yellow and black. Even the tideline kelp bloomed red under Autumn's burnished light.

 

S1030036.JPG
 
S1030018.JPG
 
 
S1030006.JPG

Leaves are falling, school schedules are filling and falling. So much falls during the Fall. Even animals fall.

Last year I watched as a squirrel fell from a tree and landed on a raspberry bush right in front of me. 

As Fall begins, as I leave one island for another, one life for another, I want to began again. Is it possible for any of us to start over? Trevin Wax, who wrote the words below, is right: This is what we are missing, dear friends, readers, and anyone confused, hungry, weary with themselves. We need a Start-Over,  a Do-Over. And here's how to begin: with Repentance.

Re-what?? We are not a repentant people. We run from guilt. We don't want to forgive. We don't want to submit to anyone. We fear all of this will rob us of our power. But here is our greatest power: the power of smallness, the power of humility, the power of weakness, the power of falling.  

Are you ready? Take this short ride with me, and I promise clarity, catharsis and arms to catch you!

(Words by Trevin Wax, images by God as seen by my camera)

                                                                   *************************                  

Christians, We Are Repenters---------

                                    

We repent of all the good things we have failed to do, and so we ask God to open our eyes to the opportunities for us to shine His light in a dark world.

DSC_0442-002.JPG

          ----------------------------------------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of serving ourselves and our own interests, and so we ask God to empower us to serve others in the name of His Son.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2aed-001.jpg

            ------------------------------------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of making God out to be more like us, and so we ask God to change our hearts and make us more like Him.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b0c.jpg

                                   ----------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of our silly attempts to justify ourselves before God and make ourselves pleasing to Him through our own efforts, and so we ask Him to save and sustain us in His unwavering grace and help us rest in Christ’s work on our behalf.

DSC_0141.JPG

                          ----------------------------------

We are repenters.  

  We repent of our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, and so we ask God to deliver us from doublemindedness and help us seek His righteousness above all.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c4e.jpg

                 ----------------------------------------------------

We are repenters.    

We repent of valuing most what other people think, and so we ask God to help us value most what He thinks.

DSC_0218-002.JPG

                                    ---------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of withholding areas of our life from God’s command, and so we ask God to invade and overcome every part of us – our hopes, our desires, our dreams, our thoughts, our actions – and show us how to love Him and love others from a whole heart.

HIWW--group photo-8.jpg

                           ---------------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of seeking a life of ease and comfort, and so we ask God for the courage to pick up our crosses and follow Christ no matter the cost.

DSC_0679-002.JPG

                                   -----------------------------

We are repenters.

We repent of taking pride in our own repentance, and so we ask God to remind us that salvation is all of grace and to humble us before the cross.

DSC_0669.JPG

This Fall, my life is about to change. (More on this next week.)  Maybe yours will too?

And it begins here.

Not until you let go        and

         (finally)        fall

will you be caught

 by the Everlasting Arms.

"Then shall the fall further the flight in me. "

                                   ---George Herbert

 

6Ein11%ISzqL77ZiFvm8tw_thumb_2af1-001.jpg

Naming the Wild and Hungry World w/ Philip Yancey & Friends

E1ke4LX1Tk+rZO88owgETA_thumb_2b8e-001.jpg

*Loaves and Fishes---a Poem

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

               -----David Whyte

 

21 people parachuted down onto this faraway Alaskan island last week (including Philip and Janet Yancey.) What kind of world would we create? In boots with backpacks men and women from everywhere clomped tremulously down the pontoon into the water onto the beach, through the open garden gate. Each one came freighted with apprehension, with the weight of their families’ worries, their own burden of words.

What would we make of this island this week?

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ac4-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c4d-001.jpg
6GlQ2pw2TD2FEysnK6SHkw_thumb_2cd7-001.jpg

 We gathered around words every morning. Not so much to fix them. More, to listen. Sprung from our closets, where we write, all of us, utterly alone, here, now, every class, every meal is a feast of presence.

We were FOR each other, not against. We were not competing with one another but collaborating. We never went hungry. We could hardly stop.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b31-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b5f-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2be1-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b2f-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c10-001.jpg

Do not say “Of course! Of course!”  This is not the usual world. I have been in classrooms, universities, workshops with dire shortages of food and water. In these deserts, honor and kindness were bargained or stolen, yanked from the uncertain, the humble, the seeker, the meek. Just one or two were the lucky ones, the smart ones. The desert got only one queen.

 

But not here. Nor anywhere people gather whose hearts are not theirs but their Makers. When the bread and fish kept breaking and breaking, and thousands lugged home their bursting stomachs---this was us too. Abundance, excess, overflow, love.

 

What is this open-gated place? Where do we find it? What do we name it?

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2bec-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2aed-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b6d-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c9d.jpg

This is the body of Christ.  This is the economy of heaven. These are the metrics of the “Kingdom Come” life . Here. Now.

(But how did you do it, God? Did you really turn it all over to us, your just-made red-dirt beings fresh-hatched from your hands? How did you turn your Very-Good world over to them, to us, to know-nothing Us? How did they dare to begin?)

Your love made them brave, those two: first man and woman of the new earth who set about settling, naming and harvesting with vigor and joy.

 

Your love makes US brave too, brave enough to leap out of floatplanes, to sail rainy seas, to inhabit a wilderness island, to see fully into another’s dark closets of pain, to harvest true words. To make of a desert, a wild and profuse ocean-garden of love . . . .

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ae1-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b88-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c2b-001.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c83.jpg

 

And it was all very very good.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2c4e.jpg
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2cc2-001.jpg
HIWW 2017-group photo.jpg

 

    Friends, we will be gathering again next September with Ann Voskamp. (More info and application here ) How I wish I could fly you all up here to join us!! Sadly, I can accommodate only 21! (But that's part of the joy of it---this intimate family that's formed.)   

But you have been called to the same work no matter where you live-----naming this wild world, and taming it with love. I pray you seek and speak sweet true words all this week!!

    Always,

      Leslie

*Special thanks to Carol Lee, poetry-spotter extraordinaire

The Prayer I Cannot Live Without

(Welcome to Focus on the Family listeners! Other friends, if you've not heard the FOF broadcasts on Crossing the Waters airing this week, you can listen Here. (I will not listen. I hate hearing my own voice!) Tell me how it goes?)  I do tell the honest hard mothering truths of raising children on the ocean---as well as that we're-gping to-hit-the-mountain story that slays me every time . .. .)

But now!!! 

I start with Cute. I start with Love. Because who does not want this right now, this very moment??

When horrific storms loom, and as we enter the next round of political losers, braggers and ousters----shall we turn to the otters? 

Here, the dear creatures who swim around my island so languidly, so full of love and protection for their babies.

 

Do you see that little baby face?

Do you see that little baby face?

 

I am joyful as I write this---because of a prayer.  (I can even follow the daily news because of this prayer.) A prayer spoken in the spring, before I came out to Harvester island. I prayed this prayer because I did not think I could do it. Again. Another fishing season out on this island. Building another cabin. SO much work. So many people. Never alone in my own house. (And next week, a film crew from RightNow Media comes, to film a video study of Crossing the Waters.) No margins. No downtime. Four months of round-the-clock work.

And those days of, another pregnancy? Another child? Another book? Another death? Another more of everything I haven't got?

And for many of you, another illness? Another prodigal child? Another foreclosure? Another fight?

We ask, "Are you really asking MORE of me again, God?"

I think Jesus might join us in this refrain. In the gospels, when he and the disciples find out that the one they all loved---John the Baptist---had been murdered, they fled in a boat across the sea to find some lonely quiet place to grieve this unspeakable act. They arrive at this "desolate place" but look---thousands, yes thousands are there before them, the worst kind of thousands: the sorriest neediest lot of humanity ever seen, and all of them shouting, milling, crying out for help. All wanting the touch of this magician's healing hand.

This grieving Jesus, what did he pray as he stepped out of the boat??  Oh Lord, not the pathetic masses again? Father, just give me some peace and rest for once, would you?

If Jesus was fully a man, surely he prayed something like this under his breath.

 Why does God keep calling us to things we cannot do? More than this, his messenger Paul had the gall to implore us to rejoice in the white-hot center of our worst stressed-out mess! "Rejoice in the Lord Always!!"

But No, He is not cruel. Two and half months into a summer I was on-my-knees about, I am rejoicing. Fourteen and sixteen years after birthing those mid-life babies, I am rejoicing. Six years after multiple deaths, one month after finishing another book, I am praising God. For God has done it. God has answered my face-down prayer again and again, even when I did not see it at the time.

 And the words of that prayer? Not Jabez’ prayer

'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.
 

No, not that. As I climb out of the boat each time facing multitudes and messes I have no strength or ability for, what do I pray? Not "enlarge my territory" but 

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

They are not words from Scripture. They are not holy inspired words. They are simply the words from an often overwhelmed heart and body:

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

Because my natural heart is  a one-seat leaky dinghy with broken oars and a rotting line that will not cross the sea, and will not throw out a line or an anchor on any hillside hospital for anyone. So----

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

And He does. The years spool by and the boat slowly lengthens, the hatches open, the galley seats two, then five, then dozens;, the engines rumble across a pond then the ocean, and soon the ferry carries more than I can count sometimes. And each one is a wondrous marvel, easy to love. There is even room for me. 

How does He do this? The same way he does all of this: 

 

He cannot not fill the impoverished, empower the weak, beautify the plain, overflow the destitute, make peaceable the angry, make bounteous the miser, dazzle the dim.

It is His very nature. As nature itself shows us.

All we need do is ask. Each morning we awake and step out of our sleepy boat to a needy throng on a hill we thought was ours alone, Let us breathe,

 “Lord, increase my capacity. Make me more like you.”

 

And He does.

 

(And my prayer for our contentious leaders: "Lord, Decrease their territory. Make them more like you.")

fire and fury pinterest 2.jpg
fire and fury pinerest 1.jpg

Your turn!! What's the one prayer you cannot live without??

 

The Fishing Storm that Killed My Cameras (and my gods)

DSC_0672-002.JPG

I don't have many words this week. Not just because the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop is about to begin (very excited to have Phillip and Janet Yancey with us for the next 10 days)

 

leslie and Phillp+Janet Yancey.jpg

 

But the storm. I will let the photos and videos tell the story, mostly. 

 

The storm blew in three nights ago. We have at least one of these a summer, sometimes more. And we have many of these storms in the winter. I'm sorry you won't hear the language of this blow-----the howl and scream of the wind, the whistle of the water, the splat and slash of the spray and rain pelting our faces, the slam of the skiff into the roiling seas. I heard it. 

Everyone was out to get the salmon in the nets. that's what fishermen do. That's what my husband and 3 sons and the crew were doing: going after the fish before they were ruined. Me, I didnt go for the fish. Nor did I go because I'm a thrill seeker. I went because I'm a God-seeker. I brought my camera. Two of them. Surely I would catch Him somewhere in this storm.

GOPR2282.JPG
G0122177.JPG
DSC_0628-002.JPG
DSC_0664-002.JPG

My nephew Ryan was out with his camera too. We never do this. We never act like tourists or pilgrims when the seas are high and the nets might be full and danger is all around. But we did this time, the two of us. We knew what we were looking for.  We know what counts.

Here is Ryan's video of this night.  (Hold onto something steady---or better, sit down.) 

Near the end, In the midst of these water mountains, a rogue wave caught us unaware. I was sitting in the stern, sheltering my cameras and filming when a massive hand of water broke over us. One camera washed out of my hands. The other was deluged. I didn't have time to do anything about it.

   BAIL!! Duncan screamed at Levi and me. We let go of the net and, struggling to keep our footing, scrambled to empty the gallons of extra water that weighted us down. One more wave and we'd swamp. The wind keened yet higher, spray whipped our faces. But we are no strangers to storms. Duncan and his brother have ridden these waves for 55 years. I have been here for 40.  

 

GOPR2274.JPG
DSC_0672-002.JPG
GOPR2110.JPG
DSC_0701-002.JPG
DSC_0720-002.JPG

We live too much in a too human world, most of us, surrounded by the work of our own hands, cossetted and comforted and cozy most hours of the day and night. We fashion our lives and our prayers around safety, success, We cannot escape ourselves or our own small desires. But enter a storm, climb a mountain, sail the sea, wander an old-growth forest---be afraid---and you will so suddenly and gloriously disappear. You will feel the wind blowing through your clothes and your soul. If you are lucky you'll be terrified and you may cry like Peter, "Lord, I am a sinful woman, go away from me!" Your little household gods will die, and part of you will die with it.

And you'll be glad.

 

 

The end of my story? Both of my cameras died (though I salvaged these images). And my little household gods. 

Yes, it was worth it. 

 

GOPR2271.JPG

                                                  ***********************************

 

Missing the Eclipse & What the American Church Needs Most

DSC_0372-002.JPG

I missed the eclipse. Entirely.  My son came in from fishing saying, “Wow, did you see it? I watched the eclipse form the boat, through the clouds! It was really cool!”

My eyes went wide. “You’re joking! We’re not supposed to be able to see it in Alaska. I’ve seen the maps! Oregon is the furthest north to see it!” Now I am slightly angry. I love all things celestial and seeing this eclipse would have soothed my earth-and-politics-ravaged heart.

“Well, I saw it!” 

I conferred with nearby experts, my nephew and his wife, both science-smarties and sure enough, they watched it too, but safely, through a pin box.

I felt betrayed that I had missed it.

But that night, that very night,  the sun went down in flames, torching every mountain and sea around my island.  I grabbed my camera and for an hour, I breathlessly tracked its path across the beaches, up on the hills, on the cliffsides, over the water. 

DSC_0390-002.JPG

I

DSC_0476-002.JPG
DSC_0415-002.JPG
DSC_0503-002.JPG

 

I wish everyone I know and love had been there with me. And I imagine people gathered by families and communities to watch the eclipse together. What is better than this, for all of us together to tip our heads skyward, to remember we are creatures under the same sun who spin in the same orbit of the same planet. We are people who get wet under the same rains and who parch under the same summer sun. When we take our eyes off our hysterical screens and look at each other and peer together beyond our tiny roofs to the canopy of heavens above us-----maybe we will remember who we are.

DSC_0413-002.JPG

 

Maybe I have been burned by last night’s gold fire, but I hope for so much more than this. Because I must. Because otherwise I will despair.

I spent the last 3 years writing Crossing the Waters ----about following Jesus. This last week a film company flew up to Harvester to film a 6 part study based on the book. With multiple cameras in my face, I was immersed in those Scriptures, those moments when Jesus called those twelve men from their occupations, from their families, from their politics (Simon the zealot, who wanted to overthrow the Romans through violence. Matthew, through tax evasion.)

Again, I traced Jesus’ life through the gospels----from storm to feast to crucifixion to resurrection to his last words to us all: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Are we doing this?

While the (amazing) 5 person film crew was running circles around me, Charlottesville happened. After the week of filming, I felt deeply Holy-Spirit moved to say something. I joined my voice with thousands, millions of Americans exposing racism, neo-nazi-ism and white supremacy for what it is (here) because any form of any of these is in violent opposition to the gospel.      

But there was blowback on this basic human affirmation---from fellow Christians. Everywhere I see this: the drawing of lines, jutted chins, defiant gestures. From Christians.

Our obsession with politics has divided the Church and stolen our mission, and it worsens every day. Right now, we are not making disciples of all nations, we are losing disciples.

But a divided church is not new. It  happened in Paul’s day too:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”;another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

 

 Paul’s rhetorical question should be ours as well: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Was President Trump crucified for you? Was Hilary Clinton or Barak Obama or Joel Osteen or any other religious or political figure crucified for you? 

There is only one man who went to the cross to defeat sin and death. There is only one name that will drop every body and soul to its knees at the end of time. There is only one man worthy to open the scrolls of judgment at the end of the ages. There is only one man sitting at the right hand of the father.

DSC_0452-002.JPG

 

Those who love and follow this Savior bear His name: We are Christ-ians, “Little Christs.”  Our identity is not as republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives. We are not Americans, Russians, Cubans, Koreans.  We are not Trump-ians, Clintonians, Reaganites, Sanderites or anything else. If we have been “baptized into Christ,” then “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I am praying the Church would be unified---around Christ, and no one else.

I am praying that we would remember our calling to disciple-making.

I am praying most of all that our anxious divided hearts would be overshadowed entirely by Christ.

Entirely.

That's the total eclipse I am praying for.

Would you join me?

 

DSC_0442-002.JPG

What We All Get Wrong about Racism

20915507_10154584506971230_6663391962201948874_n.jpg

Friends, I have been immersed in filming this last week, but I have not missed the events of Charlottesville and the aftermath. Finally I have a moment to speak. Here’s what I must say:

We are all racist in some ways. We all make judgments based on externalities. We all categorize—it is the mind’s natural state to sort and order and try to contain all the disparate information our brains are constantly receiving , which means we all place people in boxes with labels. This is the means whereby we attempt to order a disordered world. This is our means of trying to control a world too big for us. This is the human condition.

It is also the human condition to prefer ourselves over others. To make ourselves look better than others. To seek our own well being above the wellbeing of others.

We are also often willfully blind, preferring to suppress and ignore God’s glorious image inherent in every person of every color, shape and nationality. Our view of God is too small.

We are also lazy, preferring clichés and simple labels that allow us to ignore the true complexity of the world and its peoples.

We are also afraid, that goodness and abundance will run out. That others’ success will diminish our own.

We are all racist in some ways.

To say this is not a statement of despair but rather a statement of hope. For there is no hope for us until we see ourselves as we are. There is no rescue from our condition until we recognize the immensity of our lostness and darkness.

“Lord I am a sinful man! “ Peter cried out when he glimpsed the holiness and perfection of Christ.

And so are we all. There is no hope for us until we can say these words: “Lord, we are sinful people!” Now there is hope, because these are the very people Jesus came to rescue.

There is no rescue from our terminal human condition apart from Christ. He alone frees us from blindness, captivity, self-adoration. He frees us to see the beauty of God in every human being. He frees us to love all others and to recognize them as sisters and brothers. He frees us to joyfully lay down our lives for one another.

Let us live, then, not in our human condition but in our rescued condition: as the freed, redeemed, loving people of God.

Happy-group-of-people.png

The Prayer I Cannot Live Without

I start with Cute. I start with Love. Because who does not want this right now, this very moment??

When horrific storms loom, and as we enter the next round of political losers, braggers and ousters----shall we turn to the otters? 

Here, the dear creatures who swim around my island so languidly, so full of love and protection for their babies.

 

Do you see that little baby face?

Do you see that little baby face?

 

I am joyful as I write this---because of a prayer.  (I can even follow the daily news because of this prayer.) A prayer spoken in the spring, before I came out to Harvester island. I prayed this prayer because I did not think I could do it. Again. Another fishing season out on this island. Building another cabin. SO much work. So many people. Never alone in my own house. (And next week, a film crew from RightNow Media comes, to film a video study of Crossing the Waters.) No margins. No downtime. Four months of round-the-clock work.

And those days of, another pregnancy? Another child? Another book? Another death? Another more of everything I haven't got?

And for many of you, another illness? Another prodigal child? Another foreclosure? Another fight?

We ask, "Are you really asking MORE of me again, God?"

I think Jesus might join us in this refrain. In the gospels, when he and the disciples find out that the one they all loved---John the Baptist---had been murdered, they fled in a boat across the sea to find some lonely quiet place to grieve this unspeakable act. They arrive at this "desolate place" but look---thousands, yes thousands are there before them, the worst kind of thousands: the sorriest neediest lot of humanity ever seen, and all of them shouting, milling, crying out for help. All wanting the touch of this magician's healing hand.

This grieving Jesus, what did he pray as he stepped out of the boat??  Oh Lord, not the pathetic masses again? Father, just give me some peace and rest for once, would you?

If Jesus was fully a man, surely he prayed something like this under his breath.

 Why does God keep calling us to things we cannot do? More than this, his messenger Paul had the gall to implore us to rejoice in the white-hot center of our worst stressed-out mess! "Rejoice in the Lord Always!!"

But No, He is not cruel. Two and half months into a summer I was on-my-knees about, I am rejoicing. Fourteen and sixteen years after birthing those mid-life babies, I am rejoicing. Six years after multiple deaths, one month after finishing another book, I am praising God. For God has done it. God has answered my face-down prayer again and again, even when I did not see it at the time.

 And the words of that prayer? Not Jabez’ prayer

'Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.
 

No, not that. As I climb out of the boat each time facing multitudes and messes I have no strength or ability for, what do I pray? Not "enlarge my territory" but 

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

They are not words from Scripture. They are not holy inspired words. They are simply the words from an often overwhelmed heart and body:

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

Because my natural heart is  a one-seat leaky dinghy with broken oars and a rotting line that will not cross the sea, and will not throw out a line or an anchor on any hillside hospital for anyone. So----

“Lord, increase my capacity.”

And He does. The years spool by and the boat slowly lengthens, the hatches open, the galley seats two, then five, then dozens;, the engines rumble across a pond then the ocean, and soon the ferry carries more than I can count sometimes. And each one is a wondrous marvel, easy to love. There is even room for me. 

How does He do this? The same way he does all of this: 

 

He cannot not fill the impoverished, empower the weak, beautify the plain, overflow the destitute, make peaceable the angry, make bounteous the miser, dazzle the dim.

It is His very nature. As nature itself shows us.

All we need do is ask. Each morning we awake and step out of our sleepy boat to a needy throng on a hill we thought was ours alone, Let us breathe,

 “Lord, increase my capacity. Make me more like you.”

 

And He does.

 

(And my prayer for our hot-tempered leaders: "Lord, Decrease their territory. Make them more like you.")

fire and fury pinterest 2.jpg
fire and fury pinerest 1.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Biggest Sea Lion, the Wildest Heart

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind."    Job 12

Nearly every day at fishcamp is a day of life and birth and blood.

In my house, my dog Sophie brings forth young, birthing each into my hand.

The spider in the corner window lures the fly, wraps a wicked cocoon around the buzzing struggle, and soon he moves no more.

Fish are caught and gutted and walked up the hill to my kitchen, where my knives and hands parse its red flesh into lunch.  

I leave the house to sit and watch the eagles, young and old, 

who spin the sky blue, and watch for fish to feed their brood. 

eagle liftoff.JPG
leslie with smoked salmon--in blue top.JPG

Out in the bay, I hear fin whales spouting, He rises and falls, feeding. 

Sea lions skirt the nets, shopping for fish, blasting sea from their nostrils so loud I can hear it on top of the hill,

then haul out on rocks and reefs, argue and fight over king of the rock, rule by force and heft and roar.

(And isn't he the ugliest, most massive sea lion you have every seen?)

 

Everything on the hunt. Everything looking to kill.  

Which means, everything looking to feed and live.

And I am the wildest thing out here, I know.  

Me with my camera, stalking and shooting their beauty and 

blood, me with my untamed heart

that wants not to yield to another. 

(Not even

sometimes to You, O Lord.) 

And can't I kill with a single word? 

Can't I maim without talons or teeth?

Just to speak or withhold speech alone

can do someone in. How powerful 

the tongue, how wild and dark this wandering heart!

But these creatures live as they must and as they should, as they were made. 

They set out each day to do all that God has put

in their thumping animal heart to do.

And they do it well, 

so boldly and so thoroughly, 

they are never not praising You, O Lord.

 Simply by living, flying, breathing, roaring, swimming and

spinning 

they speak the language you have given them.

They delight you,

they love you

and you love them back. Entirely.

(Even that king-of-the-rock sea lion!)

They are all you created them to be.

Would you grant us this, too, Lord?

Would you so inhabit our wild hearts that we only want

to do what You have created us to do,

So that we please you, 

we delight you, 

And in all we do we love you back?

Would you do this in us?

Even now? 

"In his hand is the life of every creature

    and the breath of all mankind."   

7 Reasons to Cling to Hope When Your Storm is Not Calmed

Friends! Is your boat leaking right now, in choppy seas?  May I throw you a lifeline??

 

 

When I think of the “storms of life” I remember twelve men in a boat on high waters who couldn’t get home. They fought the winds and seas with nothing but arms and oars. For nine hours they rocked and pitched, but barely moved. Another time, in a worse storm, they nearly sank, which would have meant death to all. I’ve been out in storms like this, with nothing but oars against the ocean. Storms aren’t always prayed away. But hang on, because even when the storm doesn’t end, there’s still hope and good news.

 

1.    God seldom calls us to jump out of the boat.

 

We’ve made much of the story of Peter jumping into the stormy sea to walk on water toward Jesus,  but we may have gotten it wrong. It is more likely that Peter jumped not out of faith, but out of doubt. Jesus clearly identified himself in the storm three times: ‘Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” But Peter did not believe it could be Jesus. “IF it is you, Lord, tell me to come to you.” Peter is lauded for jumping into the water, but God had already given him a boat, oars and friends to row with. Jesus didn’t ask him to leap into the waves. So with us. God has given us friends, family, a church, doctors. God often works powerfully through these daily providences. Use them!

 

 

 

2. No storm is random, trivial or without purpose.

God doesn’t waste any storms in the Bible—or in our lives either. Both of the Galilee squalls revealed to the terrified disciples their own physical and spiritual limitations. From that place of need and desperation, they witnessed Jesus’ true identity as Lord over all of creation and as Rescuer and Deliverer. We cannot reduce or dismiss suffering as simply a means of “teaching us lessons,” but God has genuine purposes for our struggles, including his desire to display his love, mercies, and power.

 

 

3. When the storm is relational, God has equipped us to love and forgive. Some of the biggest tempests come within our own families. We have little control over other people’s response, but we do have control over our own. When your mother disowns you, when your father cannot love you, when your son rebels---God can enable us to love and forgive. The person who has wounded us may have no resources beyond herself, but we do. Christ has shown us the way, that we are to forgive others as our Father has forgiven us. When hate and hurt are met with love and forgiveness, the storm may not end but we will find calm and peace.

 

 

4. Even when it seems that Jesus is “sleeping” in your boat, He is still with you and for you. This is one of the hardest parts of this storm narrative, when Jesus is stone-cold asleep while the disciples are sure their boat is about to sink. It appears that Jesus “sleeps” through some of our cyclones as well, particularly when they go on for years. But where did we get the idea that Jesus’ presence in our lives would assure smooth sailing? Not from the scriptures. Jesus pronounced blessing on our neediness—our hunger, our mourning, our persecution---knowing it would not end until heaven came down to earth. The apostle Paul assures us that nothing----not danger or sword or famine or persecution or life or even death---none of these calamities separate us from the love of God. God does not abandon us in our suffering. Ever.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Don’t Wait to Call on Jesus.  Those twelve terrified men waited until they were sure they would drown before they awakened Jesus.  Of course. Because they didn’t yet know who he was. (I rather think they awakened him so he could take a turn at the oars. They certainly did not expect him to shout down the wind and seas.) But they suffered and struggled in their ignorance and aloneness far longer than they needed to.

 

 

 

 

6. Deliverance often looks different than we expect.  We always want the storm to end, but The ultimate deliverance from our greatest enemy—sin and death—came in a shocking act: the promised long-awaited Messiah staked out on a Roman cross. From violence and death springs life, hope, and redemption.

 

 

 

 

7. Even if our boat sinks and we go under, we’re still safe. I felt this truth so powerfully one day when our boat was about to sink.  My husband and I were in rough water along an empty stretch of ocean. Our boat was disabled, taking on wave after wave. We were about to sink. But I knew in those moments that no matter what happened, even if we should die, we were still safe. My husband and I knew Jesus, knew He was with us and even death would not separate us. The disciples in both storms that night were not safe---because they didn’t yet know who Jesus was. I believe Jesus rescued them both times not so much to save them from death, but to save them from a worse fate---from disbelief. Nothing can separate us from God’s love----except our own disbelief.

Nothing.

 

 

 

Have you found this to be true as well?? Share with us how and why!?

                                                                ************************

Congrats to Crystal S. and Jean F. who won some smoked salmon and wild rose petal jam this last week!! (Mailing soon!!)  

This week, I'm giving away some copies of "Crossing the Waters:Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas " to anyone who emails a request, explaining why they want/need a copy.  leslieleylandfields@gmail.com

May Jesus calm you in every storm this week!

 

 

Disappointed with God (and Salmon Giveaways)

This month, on Kodiak Island, it is raining almost every day.

We are mending our fishing nets in the cold and rain. We don’t love it. (But I did get our wonderful crewmen to smile for a moment!)

 

 I am not too holy to complain: I want to graduate to a real summer. I want a promotion to another job.

 

And, this week, a small heartbreak too. No, let me be more honest: a big heartbreak that I'm not sure will ever go away. What to do with all this disappointment, small and massive? I know you are carrying some today too.

What else to do but Cross the Waters, then, to a time and a place that yields unending truth and fruit? Especially with something to say about disappointment. 

In last week's post, Jesus showed up on a Palestine beach and snagged a ragtag gang of the least likely followers ever: Scaly fishermen, a revolutionary, a tax collector and other men not known for anything in particular. 

These men have done the incredible unthinkable: when Jesus said, “Follow me,”----they did. They dropped their nets, left the tax booth, the secret Blow-Up Rome meetings. They gave up their families, their jobs, what little security they had to tag along after this maybe-rabbi.. Why? This maybe-rabbi might be the Messiah---and everyone knew what that meant: He’s going to Make Israel Great Again! Rome will be Crushed like a Bug! The Temple will be Restored! The Kingdom of God is coming! Sound the trumpets and Grab a Sword!

 

But in those first weeks, Jesus must have disappointed them. Again and again.

Their first stop, a wedding. Water turned magically into wine. Can you imagine what they thought?

“THIS is the miracle? THIS is the Messiah’s power? We’ve left our father high and dry for this? We need him to restore the Temple, save our people---and instead he saves the host embarrassment for running out of wine?”   ----Simon Peter, former fisherman

James is ready for battle, not a wine-tasting at a wedding. Andrew wants to see the Roman Empire collapse, want its ruin. Wine? John longs for the days of fasting and atonement, when the people mourn over their sin. The kingdom of God is coming and this is what we get----wine? A wedding?  Feasting? Where’s the blood?

 

         Not long after the wedding, they sat on gentle hillside with thousands of the sorriest mass of villagers from around the sea. Jesus seemed to collect them: the ones every other leader ignored, the kind of followers no one else wanted: the sick and weeping, the lame and palsied. It could not have happened, but it did---the mute wagging their tongue to sing! Crooked legs made straight! The blind watching the flight of a hawk! It was a riot there on the hill for hours! The start of a revolution? This was more like it! This was promising indeed! Maybe he’s raising an army! But then, what’s he teaching?  They could not believe his words at first:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, Blessed are those who are persecuted, Blessed are you when others revile you . .love your enemies
 

 

"Love your enemies What is this?" Peter and James, John and Andrew must have wondered. This does not sound like a triumphant Messiah! And maybe a few of them felt confused.  "Don’t bless our need, our emptiness and poverty. Don’t tell us this is blessing. Change it! Take it away! Just like you fixed all those legs and hands and eyes. Fix us! Be our king and vanquish our enemies!"

Jesus kept going.  “You have heard that it was said.”. . .  and now he was talking about adultery, taking oaths, divorce, an eye for an eye. But this rabbi changed the words. He didn’t do as the Pharisees did, who tightened the noose around every command from God to make it smaller, harder, and longer. This man opened up the words to make them larger, generous, capacious even, opening up a meaning that penetrated straight to their hearts. And scaring them as well:

Give him your other cheek to strike as well, give him your cloak also, do not worry about your life, go the second mile, pray in secret, forgive their debts, do not judge.

Everyone who heard these words were astonished. Astonished! And 2000 years later I am astonished too.

What is this kingdom you’re giving us, Yeshua? Love our enemies? Here, strike my other cheek, too? Here, take my last cloak? We who have little----are you taking even our "little" away?

And later, after those words, where did he eat and drink, whom did he consort with but the worst of men and women: traitorous tax collectors, prostitutes, the greedy,  those as broken on the inside as the ones on the hillside hospital that day. How disappointed and shocked they must have been. 

But maybe they began to see it.  Do we see it now? Maybe this man has come to save us not from Rome or any human government, but from ourselves. And maybe this new kingdom is a place of such surfeit, such unending provision, such upside-down bounty that what is given up and given away is not lost? Maybe heaven is beginning right now, and the guilty are forgiven, meekness is winning, the persecuted are blessed, the reviled are loving their revilers, the mourners are being comforted, the pure in heart are seeing God, the thirsty and disappointed are already being filled? 

Yes. I see it too.

When I finish these words, I will go out and stand in the rain until 10 tonight with my family and crew, mending net. I will not forget my heartbreak, but these words will pulse and echo all the while, mending me. 

 

This week, I'm also smoking salmon and I'd like to send some out. I'll send out 2 small boxes of my jarred smoked salmon and my famous Wild Rose Petal jam, both made here in my kitchen and the smokehouse:

 

Friends, listen. Giving away stuff is fun. But what I care about most is that these words go out to those who need them. This is a way of encouraging you to help me share the gospel good news.  Here' show to enter the salmon and jam drawing:

1. Find 5+ friends you know would like these weekly journeys into faith (and Alaska).

2. With their permission, send their email addresses to heidionia@yahoo.com where they will be added to the list of weekly subscribers.

3. Let me know you've done this in the comments below or by email (leslieleylandfields@gmail.com). Be sure to SUBSCRIBE to the comments so you'll find out if your name is drawn!

Thank you, and may God meet you in your disappointments this week!

 

How Do We Know Jesus is Real?

(Crossing the Waters, Part 3. )

At 3 am, through my windows a ghostly orange mooned the white mountains, glowing the waters toward morning. A pod of fin whales breathed out orange mist. The world was being born again, every creature waking. I could have worshipped such beauty, sworn my life to such wonder. Instead, I whispered, Jesus.

 

 

I know all the reasons God can’t exist. 

I know Christians do stupid things. We hurt people, we are unkind, we are judgmental. We are blind sometimes.  We don’t live up to who we are supposed to be.

I know there is inexplicable suffering and pain in the world and how can it be that a God of love presides over it all?

I know God promises peace and deliverance, but why are only some people delivered and not others?

I know we are enraptured with ourselves and the worlds of our own making. Who would give up such freedom for some invisible God who will make unreasonable demands?

 

 

And if you lived in Galilee under Roman oppression in the year 30 A.D. you would have more reasons not to believe.

God said He would be our Father and our God and live among us but He’s nowhere in sight.

God said he would deliver his people through the Messiah, but here we are nearly slaves to the Roman Empire and slaves to all the other empires before them. No one can wait this long. 

Religion? The ones who call themselves Religious distort the Scriptures and control the rest of us with impossible rules and laws we cannot keep.

 

There are always reasons not to believe. And one day, against all arguments, an ordinary man in an ordinary robe got baptized in the Jordan River, and walked the shore of Galilee, calling to some obscure fishermen to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. Within moments, their all-night-empty-nets were sunk with fish. One more thing he had to say, this man that day: “Come, follow me.”

 

God showed up. Right there on the beach, in the midst of their ordinary labor, in the midst of all the good reasons no one expected God to show His face. But He did. They didn’t know yet that it was Him. They only knew God’s promises, and somehow this man was unlike any other they had known. And they knew one more thing: they knew their need, their undeniable longing for the Being beyond all they saw: beyond the orange moon in the morning, beyond the strangely relentless beauty of the world. Beyond the inexplicable resilience of their people. Could he be The One?  

 

Jesus is still showing up. Nearly every day, if you are looking. For me, he showed up in a storm when I thought I might die. He showed up when a gun was pointed at me and my son. Last week He gave me the courage to confront injustice. I heard him as I read the gospels yesterday.

For you, maybe you will have a dream. Words from the Scriptures may jump alive. Maybe there’s a friend who won’t stop caring about you, a last-minute provision, the disappearance of the cancer cells, the fall down the cliff that didn’t kill you, the forgiveness you didn’t deserve from your son---all of them some form of miraculous sighting. All of them some sort of glimpse of the crazy inexplicable abundance and love of Jesus. Because it comes to you when you least expect it. It comes to you when you least deserve it. It comes in spite of your doubts.

 

We can revel in the fish, in the dream, in our new health, in the love of a friend, a son, but none of that will be enough for long. None of that will sustain for long. We have to know--who did this? Who has this kind of mastery over disease? What is the source of this wisdom? Where does this love come from? We have to know, because somehow we know that here, here, is life itself, the life we have longed for but could not even name.

 

Listen, those with ears to hear. A call comes to every man and woman and child. We have all been called. We must follow to find out who it is that calls us, and what we have been called to. Those men that day did not yet know either one: what they would be doing or even who it was who had called them.  They didn’t even know who Jesus was for sure. But they knew the poverty of their old lives. They saw the miraculous catch of fish. They knew the power of the Scriptures and its promises.

They would go, then. They would follow. They would find out.

 

Come, follow me. Do not be afraid.

 

This is our call as well:

 

Come, follow me. Do not be afraid.

 

Friends, would you share your life for a moment? Give me one reason you know Jesus is real.

And if you're not sure, tell me one reason you doubt. 

Under the Waters, Drowned and Saved

Crossing the Waters, Part Two

A few days my son blew in from the nets drenched from head to socks. "It's really nasty out there. A rogue wave caught us," he explained, peeling off his dripping sweatshirt. It blew for 3 days, turning our seas into mountains. Off Kodiak Island, another huge wave hit a  boat, the Miss Destinee, capsizing it. Two people were saved by the Coast Guard, two were lost, an 18 and 22 year old brother and sister. (Please pray for the family.)

 

We spend the first nine months of our lives curled in water, held safe. Even as those waters rupture, delivering us to air and light, we never stop craving and fearing the water, which delivers both life and death. 

Skiff in waves--barely see people.jpeg

 

Standing in the Jordan River, in Israel a few years ago, I thought of all this. The Jordan was green and sludgy, nothing like our vast clean Alaskan ocean, but it's water just the same. It promises more life (and maybe more death?) than any other body of water, perhaps. 

Hundreds from every nation and tribe, it seemed, were there that day at the baptismal site, stirring the dirty river into beautiful mayhem.  One group held everyone’s attention. Fifty olive-skinned men and women, dressed in the white robes, lined up beside the river clapping and singing hymns and praises in four part harmony, with rich-throated beauty. Two guitarists accompanied them as they sung and swayed rhythmically at the water’s edge. One by one they waded out to their two pastors, who put their hand on their head, spoke, then dunked them under the water. Then each one would rise, their faces erased for a moment, then they wobbled and fainted, each one. Men in white robes caught them and carried their slain-in-the-spirit body lengthwise, like the dead, slowly up the steps to lay them down beside the ones before them.

What was this swoon? Was this their death to their old selfish self? Swallowed by the water that once swallowed up Jesus, wasn't this also a birth?

I was baptized in a river as well. I was 17.  My pastor was there and others from my youth group. I was wearing a white robe, and I walked out into the water like these Jordan River pilgrims. My pastor leaned me back into the water, I rose spluttering, and it was done. No one was singing. I did not faint or swoon or see heaven open, but I was asking for just as much. I lived in a house without heat, without hope. I died there a long time ago, until I heard of this man Jesus. I would follow him, I decided, into the desert, into anywhere, even into death, under the waters of a river. As I broke through the surface, gasping air again, I was starting life again. 

Here, in the Jordan, this day, it's a circus of hope and joy, with crying and guitar-playing and river-splashing and dunking. People are shouting and singing and hugging each other in their wet robes. The waters have swallowed them up; they are reborn.

I stay for hours and speak to a group of Amish pastors. They tell me their people are giving up their old ways of law-keeping and are finding a new life in Jesus. I speak to three laughing sisters from Ghana who have come with their church to be baptized. I cannot contain my wonder.          

 Overwhelmed, I sit down next to a 70-ish man dressed all in white. We begin to talk. He is off a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, he tells me. They are in Israel just two days. He is German, from Saskatchewan. In just seconds, he confesses to me, “I don’t beleef in any of this hocus-pocus,” he says, with a wave of his hand, as the praise music fills our ears. “It’s ridiculous. How can there be a god? What are you going to tell me about Hitler, eh? And the Tsunami that killed all those people. No, with that kind of evil, there’s no god. I beleef in the stars.”

I am not surprised by his words. Don't most of us do this---blame God for every calamity and credit ourselves for every Good? 

Now I see others here who are tourists from the cruise ship. A few are positioned on the railings, gaping at the baptizers. An older man dressed in beige looks down on the people in the river with disdain. I watch an Asian man and woman carry a plastic jug into the river, filling it with the brown water to take back home. Out beyond the barrier in the river, where no one is allowed, a church group of teenagers and adults are hooting and cannonballing off a boulder. I see a small African man by the kiosk nervously break off an entire branch of an olive tree and hand it quickly to two women who guiltily look for a place to hide it. The Amish pastors stand at the rail smiling at everyone below. And above and through it all, the sweet strains of hymns as the Brazilian church choir sings praises to Jesus.

What a world this river has made!!

yardinit---thronged.jpg

 

An obscure man named Jesus whom people knew only as a carpenter from a nearby village, itself known for nothing, walked the shores of this ordinary river and submitted himself to a loony man in animal skin to be shoved under water--and 2000 years later, churches, families, tribes from all nations still come across continents to fall into these waters, waters nearly killed by politics, agriculture and economics. Yet still they come to confess, to sink, to rise, to swoon, to watch, believing that all can be cleansed under this water, that forgiveness and reconciliation between enemies is possible, that foreigners can be made a family.  There are even benches here for unbelief.

What is the power of this water and this place? Who is this man Jesus?

Half the world away, we stumble in from our own waters, drenched, fatigued, but we keep going back, we keep launching our boats onto and under the waters, always returning. 

What do I know?

I don’t know all that happened that day almost 2000 years ago when the much-loved son burst from those waters, and a piece of heaven ripped wide, but I do know this from my own sea and from this river:

Wherever there is water, the thirsty, the desperate, and the dirty are there.

We are all invited in. 

Once we go under the water, we’re never the same.

 

Naoh + Elisha coming out of dock jumping.jpeg

                

(At the Sea of Galilee)

 

Have you been "under the waters?"  If yes, tell me what happened for you. If not, what is holding you back?

 

 

Congrats to Dawn, Jensen, Ingrid and Amy who each won a Crossing the Waters book this last week. This week, I'm sending out 4 more. To enter the drawing, Would you do the same as last week?

1. Share this post on your social media. Let your friends know what this is about (getting a closer look at Jesus and what it might mean to "follow Him."

2. Let me know you did that in the comments below. Include your email address.

That's it!

Thank you, friends. May God lead you safely through the waters this week! 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Give Up on Jesus (and 3 Giveaways)

I went fishing with my daughter a few nights ago. She was here at Harvester Island for a visit. Just five days. This is the trouble with children. They grow up and leave and only come back to visit, like guests. Sometimes you can hardly stand for the wonder of it: the babies you birthed from your body become your nearest friends, no matter how far away they live. How does this happen? It only takes a lifetime. 

We went out fishing one night. We have fished together many times, she and I, over almost 30 years. Mother and daughter out on the ocean, one skiff of women among many skiffs of men. We do the work quickly, hardly talking about the net, the tide, the fish, the kelp, the task at hand. We don't need words for any of this. 

We were out until 11 pm, as is usual. It was a kelp-y night, the nets full of roving bands of bull kelp, finger kelp, rockweed, the gardens of the ocean uprooted by storm and high tides. We have to pick the nets, then, of these unwanted vegetables. It takes hours.

 

Shall I tell you it is fun? For me, maybe, the occasional fisher, but bot for the ones who do this every day. Three of my 5 sons are here for the duration of the season, until the end of September. It's a very  long season of nearly unending work, with no days off. 

But there is still so much to discover here---beyond perseverance. In my better moments, whether I’m riding a wild sea, walking the beach or mending net on shore, I remember the disciples. I feel a special connection to those men fishing and washing their nets two thousand years ago by the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus chose fishermen as His very first disciples, and Peter was chief of them all. Sometimes I feel it—this life on the shoreline, on the water, in the storms, has grown my faith immensely. But after 39 seasons here, in the middle of this life, I confess---I need to see Jesus again. I need to hear Him again. Maybe you do as well on whatever island and in whatever waters you sail every day. I am more than guessing this. I have met so many who have left their faith, who have left the church, who have given up on the Bible, who have “unfollowed” Jesus. 

 

How many? I have found numbers that describe what we’re all seeing and experiencing. Are you ready? In their 2014 book, Churchless, George Barna and David Kinnaman report that

*43 percent of Americans are “Unchurched,” meaning they do not attend any church or have any kind affiliation with a church.

*33 percent of the population is “De-churched,” meaning they once were active in church but are no longer.

*The Barna Group has also found that the numbers of those who are skeptical or agnostic toward the Bible, who believe it’s “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories an advice” has doubled in just the last three years.

Even the 49 percent that fall into the “Actively Churched” category includes those who attend church as little as once a month.

Clearly, many are struggling with their faith, with the church, with Jesus Himself.

Even those of us who are sure we are followers of Jesus, we have issues too. We’ve read the Gospel countless times. We’ve heard about Jesus’ miracles in more Sunday school lessons and sermons than we care to recall. We can instantly extract a moral lesson from any of the parables and miracles. We’ve got it down. The suspense is gone. The surprise is gone. We know how it all turns out.  And, if Jesus is so loving, why are our lives so hard? 

Maybe we need to go again, then. One more time. We need to be surprised again. We need to live and breathe the words of Jesus as though they matter, as though they're real--because they matter and because they're real. Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas takes us there. You may have read it already.  If so, wonderful and thank you. If not, in these next weeks in this space I'll give a taste and a fresh look into this island life and the ways it reveals Jesus to all of us. (In August, a film crew from RightNow Media will join me here on our island and film a video study of the book for churches and small groups. Stay tuned for this 

 

Crossing the Waters--COVER.jpg

(In August, a film crew from RightNow Media will join me here on our island and film a dramatic video study of the book for churches and small groups. Stay tuned for this adventure!)

Lest you are afraid of boredom, don't worry. You can't be bored in a storm when you know you're going to die. You can't be bored when one fish explodes into a boatload that breaks your nets, or a sardine that turns into a 200 pound halibut that feeds the thousands at your table. And maybe you think you already know this man Jesus----or you're sure he's just a fable? Yes, of course. I used to think both of these as well. I hope you'll follow me these next summer weeks as I show you why I've changed my mind. 

Carol Scott--storm skiff duncan.JPG
DSC_0925-001.JPG
 

I'm giving away three Crossing the Waters books this week, (and more in the coming weeks.) I hope you receive one! Here's how to enter the draw:

 

1. Share this post on your social media,

2. Let me know in the comments below,

3. include your email address so I can get your address

 

Blessings on your week, dear friends!!

Leslie

Christian Male Rompers, Arrogance and Holy Fun

Last week after the two shootings in our country I urged you, Don’t despair of despairing. This week I am urging you, Rejoice! We must do both because the times call for both. This week, I’m pretty sure, we could all use a little holy fun. 

The Babylon Bee is ready to help. 

Thanks to this new publication of Christian satire (by christians) I can finally catch up on the  news that matters: Here are a couple of my recent favorites:

Article HERE

Article HERE

We’ve earned it. We’re a pretty ridiculous lot much of the time. The Bible tells us so. Paul reminds us that God chose “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” but here’s the catch. We’re not supposed to remain foolish. 

One day last year my radio dial landed on a Christian radio talk show I actively avoid. But the two hosts were laughing. That caught my attention: Christians laughing on a news show? How refreshing! A break from the usual doom and gloom of Christian political commentary. I listened closer.  They were discussing upcoming peace talks with two warring nations. How timely! They quoted the Bible’s prophecies that these nations would always be at war and then broke into derisive laughter and jokes at the leaders’ upcoming attempts to forge peace. Yes, that's truly funny. The entire show was a smug preemptive I Told You So.

Too many Facebook posts from Christians are equally presumptive and arrogant about a "Christian perspective" on national and world events. I don't read them anymore. We only lose friends and neighbors through such posts.

How did we get to be so arrogant and so humorless? I know we’re all caught up in what is probably the most tumultuous first year of any president. The stability of nations feels perilous. Wars are raging, slavery is rising, the environment is degrading. And so has it always been! In the midst of worse global events, endemic slavery and brutality, two men sat in a prison one night, both beaten to a near-pulp, and out of bloody mouths they sang praises to God. With shackles around his ankle and his own execution impending, that same man wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again---rejoice!”

Paul was one man armed with the dangerous gospel of the relentless love of Jesus Christ for the entire world. He was stoned for it, shredded for it, shipwrecked for it, imprisoned for it, and he never stopped telling us to Rejoice! Again I say, Rejoice! Not in the world, not in the news, not in wars, not but Rejoice in the Lord!  (And every time we say "Lord!" We must think of the crucifixion. So we're to glory and be joy-filled before images of that Roman instrument of torture. That's the power of redemption!)

 

Yes, crying is often easier. And yes, Jesus was “ a man of sorrows.” Yes, Jesus wept. But there’s no doubt that Jesus also laughed. He feasted with sinners with such gusto and joy—he was accused by the Pharisees, a sober lot indeed, of gluttony and just generally having too much fun. I imagine some serious laughter there as well at the wedding feast when he waved water into the best wine anyone had ever tasted. And have we forgotten his hilarious hyperboles against the Hyper-Religious: you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel; A camel can squeeze through a needle easier than a rich man can get into heaven.  You try to pick out a sawdust speck from your neighbor’s eye when you’ve got a 2x4 jutting from your own!

I’m with Jesus and Paul. Rejoice! Laugh at least occasionally! Count it all joy! And with that, get some historical perspective! Even if you’re a last days gloom-and-doomer look around. How many of us are in prison?  How many of us have been beaten for our faith and face execution? We think we live in the worst of times, when by many measures we live in the best of times. Both times are causes for joy in the Lord. And maybe we can turn off the media long enough to remember that we’re the messengers of the greatest happiest news ever: God is on His throne. He rules over the nations. Death has been conquered! All of creation is being redeemed!

 

 We’re living in a comedy, friends, not a tragedy, that ends with a massive jubilant wedding between Christ and his bride, the Church. We’re going to sit down to a giddy feast with our sisters and brothers. We’re going to sing songs, tell stories and jokes. But I’m not waiting until then. Jesus didn’t. I’m starting now. And I'm starting by laughing at us, because we are crazy-funny people.

Any good jokes to share, friends?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Killer Whales and Killers

The day of two shootings in our country was the day my kids were followed by killer whales. It was 10 pm, light as day, near the end of the day’s work on the fishing nets. A pod of 8 orcas appeared, a family, with two babies right beside their skiff. They watched their massive black and white bodies as they dipped and rose around their boat, enthralled. Then one of the orcas surfaced, spun and gulped down an unsuspecting sea otter in one crunch, right before them. A rainbow arched overhead. (No, there were no unicorns.)

DSC_0791.JPG

I saw the rainbow. It chased me out of the house where I was unloading 25 boxes from the last shopping trip. Where I was listening to NPR news about the shooting at the baseball practice, when the announcer broke in with news of a new shooting in San Francisco.

 

That morning I watched a bald eagle snatch a salmon from the sea. Sometimes we see them scoop ducks from their innocent feeding, lifting them to their nests, plucking their feathers before they eat. I saw two orcas round the corner of our island below me, scanning for sea lions, otters, seals, any warm body to feed their own.

Two summers ago we boated past a sea lion rookery. One rock still flowed with blood, where an orca had nabbed a sea lion and sunk into the depths.

 

We are enmeshed in killing, all of us.

 

I don’t know what orcas or eagles think when they are killing.  Or eagles when they impale a warm squirming bird and feed it to their young.

 

I don’t know what a man thinks as he points a gun and squeezes the trigger to kill another human being. This is when we are most like animals: brute, unfeeling, predatory.

 

DSC_0863.JPG

Is our country unraveling? Fellow Countrymen have become enemies.  Anger rules. Words are arrows, and when insults are not enough for rage, guns take their place. What kind of wisdom or solution can be spoken into this spiral? I have only cold comfort this morning, but comfort nonetheless.                  I am immersed in the Psalms these days, each day writing out a Psalm in my own best hand, word for word. Letting its phrases, poetry, complaints, longings, laments and praises run through my body, through my fingers to the page. Here is what I know so far.  The court and the nation of Israel three thousand years ago is little different than ours today. The King, the man on the throne was often under siege. Violence erupted constantly. His enemies lay in wait for him. The righteous were attacked and embattled.

 

So has it always been. 

It’s a story as old as humankind. (Yes, not much comfort---yet.) How can we not, then, run out of sorrow and righteous indignation? Sometimes I’m just fresh out. But somehow King David never seemed to run out. He did not deny the harsh realities around him. He did not shrug his shoulders in resignation. He did not grow numb and cloister himself in a sanctuary. Nor did he mount his horse to kill his enemies. Instead, He did the two most powerful things possible: He took up his pen and his harp. And he fell on his face before God. Again and again. 

He continued to long for righteousness. He prayed unceasingly against evil and beseeched toward good. He cried tears of frustration and despair. He kept calling upon God’s righteousness. He continually praised and mourned and sang to God in every moment of need. 

This is the narrow way. It’s the harder way. It’s easier to accommodate, to adjust, to adapt, to accept creeping incivilities and outright evil as normal. It’s easier to give up. To rely on ourselves. To fall silent.

 

This is all I'm saying: Don’t despair of despair. Don’t grow weary of longing. Don’t give up mourning evil. These are signs of life. If we did not know the light, we would not see the dark.

But we can’t carry this darkness or it will kill us. Carry it to our Lord, our King who alone can bear it.

And If you’re out of words, use the Psalmist's. God gave him those words, because he knew

we would need them too.

Like this, we will not give up on our country.

Like this, we will not forget all that is Good and Right and True.

 

When the Fog Rolls Down and the Wind Blows High

DSC_0740.JPG

It was a mad dash out to fish camp. I had less than a day to get ready. I was supposed to stay in Kodiak and clean our house for renters. I was supposed to do the shop-till-you-drop at Safeway (remember last year's shopping cart entirely full of tortillas?) But the salmon season opened early----surprise!! About a week sooner than anyone expected. Duncan and I jumped from one plane to another then to a boat and here I am. Again. My other life. My "Crossing the Waters" life. 

 

Leslie holding Crossing book.jpg

But I am not always smiling. Yesterday the fog rolled in. A strange fog that arched and rainbowed over the fishermen as they drove home to our island. It's message? No, you will not die by flood, but you will get very wet. And so it came. We woke this morning to a North East wind, blowing 40 mph, making fishing out of skiffs on the open ocean-----hard. Messy. Very wet. Sometimes impossible. Here, the waters in the channel, where they begin, are the calmest the seas will be for the next three days. They will head out from here into high galloping seas.

 

And here it is. This life on this island, in these waters. Not simple. Not easy. It's war sometimes. I watch them go into the storm, three of them my sons, and two nephews. Some just kids. But not really. Not after a lifetime of doing this. And for me, it's been a lifetime of watching them go, or joining them. Thirty-nine seasons. Yes, nearly a lifetime. Is there anything here I haven't yet seen or done? Is there anything new under this fish camp sun?

 

 

 

The Preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes wonders this too. He opens with a wail and a moan, and both eyes wide open:

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
 What does a man gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
 . . .  All things are wearisome;
man is unable to speak.

 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
 Can one say about anything,
“Look, this is new”?
 

Some commentators and readers over the centuries have insisted this “wisdom book” could not be canonical, could not be inspired by God. Where is the cheer, the victory, the triumph of the Christian life? (“The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.”)

No one is spared. Even writers get a dose of reality:

         The more the words,
         the less the meaning,
         and how does that profit anyone?

 

What DOES profit us here in the midst of this furious cycle of life? He answers this question three times in the course of his book. Here, my favorite rendition:

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.  . .  and Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
 

 

Soon it will be lunch. Ten men, my sons, nephews, husband and crewmen will lumber through the door soaked in salt water, muscles weary, hungry. As they have done for decades. Soon after lunch they will go out again. And then after dinner, they will go out into the storm yet again. But right now? Right now the carousel stops. Right now we gather around the table. We gather dressed in work clothes that shine with fish scales and sweat.  We shall eat our meat and homemade bread and drink our tea with gladness. We will laugh. For God is with us. For we are working with all our might. For God approves the work we are doing.

 

 

Like this, I will make it through today. Through another fishing season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kodiak Spring, Beauty in a Time of Bombs

Spring shot its first green on Kodiak this week. The earth has awakened and we must too. 

All of creation speaks the good news: it is time to be born. It is a time to bloom, grow, feed and rest.

But this is also the week of two terrorist massacres---in Manchester, and the bus of Coptic Christians in Egypt. I cannnot turn away. I make myself look at the tender faces of the innocents, the teenage girls, the Egyptian families, of 8 year old Saffie, and I do not stop the tears. If we run out of tears for the evils done in this world, we shall all surely die. 

But in these days of spring, when there is so much light in the sky yet so much darkness in the world, what shall we do? The question has come on the heels of every tragic headline: the Sandy Hook massacre, the Orlando night club bombing, killing 49, the shooting of nine African American congregants at a prayer meeting in a Charleston church.  I pick up my sorrowing hands and try to write, even today. But in the face of such evil, what good is my own tiny art? What value is a frail craft of words sent out on such a terrible black sea?

But I have seen an answer. 

When my daughter graduated from college, she moved to El Salvador where she lived alone in a concrete rowhouse in a small city. She worked for an NGO committed to addressing El Salvador’s endemic rates of domestic violence. Every other day, Naphtali, alone, would walk or jump on the back of a truck and grind down dirt roads to three tiny villages strung along the washed-out tracks. The families were subsistence farmers who lived in dirt-floor huts dizzied with chickens and hungry dogs. Some of the women could not read; all the women bore many children who worked in the corn and bean fields. Men wanted sons, not daughters. Her assignment was to gather women and young people into groups that would meet weekly. The women would be given micro-loans and would be taught how to manage them. More, Naphtali would use theatre workshops to help the women and youth unravel the vicious cycle of violence. I worried about her safety, and I wondered, what could theatre do against such poverty and oppression?

 

 

I flew down to El Salvador twice in those two years, standing with my daughter on the truck as it slowly growled its winding way to the thatched bamboo houses. One of those days we went to a party Naphtali had planned for weeks, an Intercultural Fiesta she called it. We played charades, each of us acting our our lives before the others. The women had practiced songs and skits they had written themselves. One skit was about a girl born to a poor mother. The mother decided to pass her daughter off as a boy, so she would be valued. The daughter grows up as a son. No one knows her true identity. One day she solves a crucial problem for the community and after, reveals her true identity. She is accepted and valued by the male leaders of her village.

 They were awkward. They mumbled their lines, shyly glancing and smiling at the audience. They had never acted before. No one had ever helped them tell their stories before. But that day, standing on a dirt stage, they saw themselves; their children saw them; we saw each other.

 “Beauty can save the world,” Dostoevsky has famously written. Is this our best weapon? Can Art really defuse bombs, mend the blasted bodies of children, heal the blindness of misogyny? I am learning the answer is sometimes “yes.” Even simple pantomime opens our eyes to one another, revealing the stranger as our neighbor.  I suspect that terrorists and the violent must vigilantly guard their hearts against it. Music and dance could enlighten and humanize. Tender, true stories could loosen the grip on a gun. Theatre could reveal that the "other" is much like you. Thoreau asks, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

 

Now, I write these words that you may see the shy brave women on the dirt stage, that you may see Saffie and her bright brown eyes, that you may see our Christian brethren. In this time of guns and bombs, get busy. Use the weapons of love and Art to keep our eyes wide open.  

multicultural group of friends.jpg

 

Thank you for being here, dear friends. Thank you for seeing with me.