life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


By the way, thanks to Adam Cooper for linking from his blog to this one. If you would like to visit his blog, it is found at

justice and mercy and the kingdom of God...

Well, I received what might be good news about the insurance situation last night. Maybe. Evidently, someone along the line gave an additional diagnosis code which is not covered (and which my daughter does not have) and that has held up the entire works. It is still not resolved, but at least there is some hope that resolution is possible. The insurance company hates like thunder to allow changes in diagnosis code, but this appears to be a clerical error. I hope. This has been very scary and very frustrating for me. It represents a very large sum of money (to me at least—one-third of my annual gross salary). Having said that, when I look at the images and hear the voices of those from New Orleans and Gulfport and Biloxi and Mobile and other devastated cities/areas on the Gulf Coast, my problem is a pimple compared to that full-blown stroke.

I would point you this morning to Larry James’ post of two days ago (see my “Links” in the left-hand column). He has made me think about how many of those who are really suffering there were already near or below the poverty line. I also heard in yesterday’s news that we added another 1.1 million people nationally to the poverty rolls last year. Yet the rich get richer. Personally, I don’t think God is happy about this.

If you are like me, you probably sat in front of your television when Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans and wondered out loud about why people were staying. I am sure that the word “idiot” and other words perhaps a bit stronger were used by some of us.

Consider this (as Larry James points out). Some of them had no transportation, nowhere to go, no one to stay with, no money with which to rent a motel room or pay for food. Nada. Hard for some of us who are well-provided for to comprehend. That we can’t is even more scary than my insurance fiasco. True?

I’ve also watched the scenes of looting. Have you noticed how many folks are stealing diapers? People are also grabbing food off of shelves. I’m not trying to defend looting. But I would point out that there are no neighborhood stores where these people can get the supplies they need to survive right now. And relief efforts are being hampered by all the flooding.

Of course, some of the looting comes from hooligans. But still. It’s something to think about.

On the suture zone, the church is going to have to reexamine how it engages (and serves) those in poverty. Part of the in-breaking kingdom of God involves good news to the poor. In the words of an old His Players vignette that echoes a passage in James, that doesn’t mean patting a needy little girl on the head and saying, “Be warmed and filled little girl.”

The real question is to respond to the poor in a way that is transforming for them... and for us. “Oh, trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet,” is the line from the old hymn. It speaks of the cross in more juridical terms. But I would suggest that the kingdom continues to break in at the meeting place of justice and mercy. That goes for the poor, the sick, those who are enslaved, prisoners, the desperate, the widows and orphans, the hungry and thirsty.... You get the idea.

How the church engages the poor and disenfranchised is a measure of how much it resembles (or doesn’t resemble) its avowed Lord.

Sobering. Much to chew on. I wish you good chewing!

Grace and peace,


Monday, August 29, 2005


Has anyone out there been praying for me to learn patience or something?!? Would you please stop!!!

Friday night when I got home I opened an estimate of benefits letter from my health insurance company. They were informing me that, after six months of deliberations in a dark, smoke-filled rooom somewhere in Los Angeles, they've decided to deny the claim for my daughter's surgery last March. Well.... Well....

There's a whole lot I could say, as you can well imagine! But there is probably an equal amount of what I should not say, directly corresponding to what I could say.

Please be patient with my posting. It seems that another major circumstance/distraction has blown up in my face and interrupted my ability to post here. There are letters to write and attorneys to see as I pursue the ERISA appeal process. Oy, vey! (Again, only Yiddish suffices in these moments!)

By the way, rather than adding a comment to those on the last posting, I wanted to say out here in the open that I think Marshall is a marvelous poet! If you haven't read them, you might want to check out the comment sections of the last several posts. He has graciously added the poems there. There are a lot of people struggling with faith on the suture zone of our times. I appreciate his honesty and lack of pretense with the questions -- and the God -- he is struggling with. This is something we very much need, IMO.

Just reading some of the posts on other blogs/forums of people that I know who live in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, I have already seen people trying to make sense of this in relation to their faith in God. Does the struggle reflected in poetry help us? Yes, most definitely. It may not give us the black and white answers that modernists crave, but poems are often more honest about the struggle and lack of resolution of all the tensions. Again, my opinion.

Anyway, the people in those areas are facing a challenge much greater than the one I'm facing. Mine doesn't compare... but it's mine.

Grace and peace (said through gritted teeth in the direction of Los Angeles!),


Friday, August 26, 2005

this God-forsaken place...

Okay. So I’m working on Café Dolce 5, but it’s taking a long time. And this is the first week of school, which means that Dorothy is back at school. Her first class starts at 6:55 a.m., so she has me up at 5 or just before to walk. I’m on my third cup of coffee this morning and the brain has yet to click on.

With your permission, I’m just going to start blogging a little bit each day. It may be blather. It may contain a tidbit here or there. But at least it will get my juices running again.

On our way back to Texas, Steven and I drove past a wide spot in the road called Desert Center. (Actually, he was driving and I was whipping out my Palm to record the images I was seeing.)

I said, “This is a God-forsaken place, isn’t it?”

There was a double row of date palms parallel to the highway, but half were missing their tops, chopped off by high winds or some crazed man with a chain saw and no sense of artistic balance. Most, if not all, the buildings were boarded up and abandoned, except for an apparently non-brand gas station. I saw dust billowing up behind a car that was driving up its dirt driveway.

That is pretty God-forsaken, isn’t it?

As the words came out of my mouth, it hit me. Is there any such thing as a God-forsaken place in this world?

Perhaps one of the things the suture zone has taught me is that God is a whole lot more active “out there” in these god-forsaken areas and with these god-forsaken people than he is in the cloistered environs of church and family and communities marching in religious (and political) lockstep.

I’m reading a book right now that is definitely a good read. A bit difficult to get through because of the blended writing style of its four authors, but I would recommend it. It’s called StormFront: The Good News of God (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), and is on the recommended reading list for the upcoming Zoe conference in Nashville. One of the things the second chapter author refers to is what missiologists call the missio Dei, or mission of God. They contrast the typical approach to missions characterized by “Let’s go on this mission for God” (in other words, let’s do this for God) with “God is on a mission. Let’s see if we can recognize the work he’s carrying on around us and see if he will let us join him in it.” It seems a subtle difference, but it is really quite profound. One is what we do for God, which I’ve said for a long time isn’t worth much. The other is finding ourselves in the midst of his story and his action and his love, and being used by him as he accomplishes his purposes around us.

There are no God-forsaken places in the world. There are no God-forsaken people in the world. God, in love, is working as hard as he can – within the bounds of the free will he has given us – to turn it around. That’s what Jesus was about. Not some mental salve for my conscience. Not some magical hocus-pocus wielder that turns us all into God’s Stepford Wives. Rather he was yeast in the dough. Salt on the food (and in some cases wounds). Light in the darkness. A treasure hidden in a field. Healing for the afflicted. Good news to the poor. Freedom to the prisoners. A cup of cold water. And many, many other metaphors, all of which are meant to bring us back to loving God and loving each other; doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God; God setting the world right again, no matter what race, ethnicity or religion we are, and asking us to join him in that work.

It’s tense work, what God is doing. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s eye-opening. It’s dangerous. Many have ended up crushed by the overwhelming evil that infects the world. But God is an optimist, isn’t he? Why else would he send Jesus, if he didn’t think his mission stood a chance in hell?

One last thought… God did not send Jesus into the world to provide us with the correct belief system or doctrinal structure or faith community organization or any other such thing. God sent his son into the world that the world might be saved through him. We need to read that word “saved” with new eyes, I think.

So, what’s happening in your God-inhabited piece of the world? May you (and I) join God in what he’s doing today.

Grace and peace!


Monday, August 22, 2005

Word verification for comments

Hi, everybody...

Well, Steven is back in Texas at school now, and Rebecca is heading to Fresno tomorrow. So, you'll probably start seeing a bit more action on my part on this blog in the next week or so.


If you comment on this blog, I need to let you know about a new feature. A number of blogs that I a read have begun to receive computer-generated blog spam in their comments section. has created a word verification process for comments similar to what they have in place to create a blog. It will show a word or series of five or six letters that must be typed into a box prior to your being able to post.

I apologize for having to do this but I found a computer-generated ad-related comment this morning when I checked my blog. With what I've seen with other sites, I thought I should take care of it now. Please let me know if you have problems with it and I'll try to explain how it works in more detail. If you have a blog and this is happening to you, too, I would be glad to direct you to the place in your dashboard where this feature can be turned on.

Thanks for reading...


Saturday, August 06, 2005

the poor...

Something has been bugging me for awhile. In my opinion, it’s an illustration of how our culture can influence or tweak our understanding of things that Jesus said, turning them into something he never intended them to mean.

We live in a society that values bootstrap efforts to improve yourself. Find yourself growing up in a family with not enough food? Wearing hand-me-downs all your life? Dead-end job? No job? Then get with it. Take advantage of the opportunities that are out there to pull yourself out of that situation.

It’s the American dream.

Mind you, I’m not against personal responsibility nor do I question the necessity of self-motivation. But I do believe we have a responsibility as a society to create opportunities for things like that to happen. And to create policies when dealing with poverty that offer healing rather than perpetuation of the cycle.

First, the phrase from Jesus... “The poor you will have with you always....” Where our bootstrap ideology has led us in interpreting that phrase... “Poor people are not our priority since they’re always going to be here. There’s nothing we can really do to effectively address poverty, so throw a little money at it, relieve a little suffering, and that’s it. Poverty is a result of personal attitudes. They have a way out if they have enough gumption.” Now, I don’t believe any of what I just said. But I’m afraid that churches in general have looked at poverty in that way based on a misunderstanding of what Jesus was trying to say to Judas.

The way I read the text, Jesus is providing for an exception rather than creating a rule. The story revolves around a woman, perhaps of questionable reputation, who breaks open a very expensive jar of perfume and anoints Jesus with it. It is an extravagant expression of love and thanks. It acknowledged God’s work in this woman’s life through Jesus. And it, according to Jesus, anticipated his own life sacrifice only a few days off. In addition, he is responding to a less-than-forthright motivation – theft – that possesses the soul of the complainer (Judas), according to one of the gospel writers.

Somehow, this phrase has been subtly used to disengage much of evangelical and free church practice toward poverty, other than just throwing money at the problem, a tactic that, used as a sole component in addressing the issues, tends to perpetuate poverty rather than heal it. I would credit Mennonites, socially-conscious Catholics, some old-time Protestant liberals, Jews and some Muslims with attempting by their actions to refocus on the plight of the world’s poor in more constructive ways. There are others, too. A growing number of emerging churches have taken this up, and even some evangelicals are beginning to hear the call.

Jesus valued the poor, those who are "insignificant" in the world's eyes. His mission was to "seek and save that which is lost," a perfect description of those caught in poverty. And are they ever caught! I have had friends who are recovering addicts, who have a "record", and I'll tell you that the hole they have to dig themselves out of is incredibly deep. The hole is filled with poverty, temptation, rejection, mistrust and all kinds of other sludge that they must swim up through. One could almost say there is a societal plot to keep them down, unemployed, and incarcerated, even the ones who have taken ownership of their lives, followed 12-step principles (which I heartily endorse, by the way), and have wholeheartedly committed themselves to pursuing sanity.

I’m not trying to solve the complex cycle of poverty in one blog entry. I certainly think the church at large needs to cooperatively weigh in to a greater extent in seeking just and compassionate solutions to this crisis. But, I do think it is also a warning that the interpretations we have on the modern side of the suture zone are perhaps more products of our modern culture/society/worldview, than we might have thought. Assumptions are dangerous things, especially when it comes to the inbreaking kingdom of God.

Am I misreading this about us? What do you think?

Grace and peace,


P.S. Check out the link to the left to Larry James' blog. He is much more on top of this stuff than I am.