ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



A reminder to myself

Sometimes you extend hospitality to others, and it’s warmly received. And sometimes people take advantage of you and spit you out. It’s mostly for that last bunch that I created a reminder for myself…

Reminder wristbandIt says…

Hospes venit, Christus venit

Which is Latin for “When the stranger (or guest) comes, Christ comes.”

Inspired by Matthew 25 and the Rule of St. Benedict (Chapter 53: On the reception of guests):

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

Matthew 25.35-36, NRSV



Cambodia, part 18b – Jackfruit chips, clothing factories, and Advent

(Or “Jesus came: Did we get what we expected?”)

In early November last year, Christine Sine invited bloggers to join a “synchroblog” for Advent. She proposed two questions for consideration:

  1. On November 23rd: Jesus is coming: What do we expect?
  2. On December 28th: Jesus came: Did we get what we expected?

I’d like to take on the second question now, even though I’m a month and a half too late. I apologize for the messiness of my thoughts…

A few weeks ago, I shared how the first question was in my mind in the days leading up to my family’s travel to Cambodia. I was disillusioned with American consumerism, with Black Friday, and with stores opening at 10 pm Thanksgiving Evening so that the holiday shopping season could get off to a roaring start. And so, even though Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday were atypical for me (since we were in Cambodia), they were very welcome. Those were days of genuine thanksgiving.

Jackfruit chipsIn my last blog post, I mentioned how my family’s time in Cambodia was nearing an end. As we returned from Kampong Som, we stopped at a rest area where I purchased some jackfruit chips. From there, we continued on and as we approached Phnom Penh, we began to pass trucks full of women. These were pickup-sized vehicles that may have had thirty people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the back. Essentially, the trucks were serving as buses. The Guests Complacent told us that the women were coming from their jobs in clothing factories that were nearby – factories contracted by companies like Wal-Mart.

They make about two dollars a day…

This little fact from Mrs. Guest Complacent sent my mind in about a million directions at once. I thought about the connection between Wal-Mart and my disgust with American consumerism. Then I remembered the bag of jackfruit chips in my lap – the bag that I had purchased for $2.50 – and thought, “guilty as charged.” Then I thought about my yearly salary, and how I am paid about as much in two days as they’d receive all year. She continued…

But before you go judging Wal-Mart, consider this: two dollars isn’t a bad wage. It isn’t a good wage, either, but it’s not bad for someone who doesn’t have education. So before you begin your Wal-Mart boycott, think about the jobs you affect here.

I’m not sure if that’s exactly what she said, but that was the gist of it. I don’t even know if she was aware of my feelings about Black Friday sales (and the stores offering them), but she managed to ensure that I couldn’t settle for easy answers.

Just this evening, I took a survey of the clothes in my closet to see where they were made.* This map shows the results…

* This idea isn’t original with me. I saw someone else do this, but I can’t remember who. You’ll have to forgive me for not giving proper credit.

Clothes made in ???

(Click for a larger image.)

Each pin is a different country – 29 countries in all, or 31 depending on how you count Hong Kong and Macau. And it wasn’t an exhaustive survey. There were more clothes in the house.

What happens when I purchase my clothes? Do I see only the product? Or do I see beyond to the person who made it? Am I able to receive my clothes with thanksgiving for the hands that made them?

As I wrestle with this discomfort about wealth and poverty, as I struggle to discern God’s voice, and as I try to understand how to use this knowledge that some people are paid $2 per day, I think it’s helpful to begin by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Clearly, I have neighbors living where each of those pins is located.

Two dollars isn’t a bad daily wage. It isn’t a good wage, either, but it’s not bad for someone who doesn’t have education…

“For someone who doesn’t have education…” That stuck with me, whether it was intended to or not. The Guests Complacent work with Mennonite Central Committee in southeast Asia. In Cambodia, MCC has a program that supports Angkearhdei Primary School – a school in the same province as my brother-in-law’s host family. My family decided that we wanted to help support the school, as one way of expressing concern for people making $2 a day.

Charitable giving can be a tricky thing. I think that if we’ve been blessed by God, it is so that we can bless others. But the temptation is to give some money somewhere, and then say that we’ve fulfilled some obligation. So what’s the difference here? How can we resist the urge to give and forget? Hopefully, we ask, “Who is my neighbor?” And when we answer that, we remember the people we saw in Cambodia; the homes we ate in; the hands the welcomed us in.

This is a lesson that we try to pass on to our children. This past summer, Oldest Daughter earned a little money by running a lemonade stand. After being in Cambodia, she decided that she wanted to share it with the same school.

So – getting around to the original question…

Jesus came: did we get what we expected?

Well, probably not. Not if I expected a rubber stamp on my righteous indignation with consumerism in the United States. I should know better by now…

I should know that I’m not the 99% (as it’s currently popular to claim). I’m the 1%.

I should know that it’s easier for a camel to go through the of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom.

And in spite of that, this is the image that keeps coming to mind…


This was our meal the day after Thanksgiving. How is it that we received such generous hospitality?

When Jesus comes, there is always grace.

That is my only explanation.

Am I able to receive grace when it is offered?

That is my hope.

Up next: The final day in Phnom Penh

Experiments in prayer

My congregation is in the middle of its worship series entitled, “Experiments in Kingdom Living”. We’re studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and attempting to put his teachings into action in a manner similar to the one that Mark Scandrette outlines in his new book, Practicing the Way of Jesus.

One of the things that I’ve been learning throughout this series is a new appreciation of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Many people are familiar with it. In Matthew’s gospel, it reads like this:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6.9-13

In our experiments, we’re trying to experience a new way of living — one that is Christ-like and rooted in discipleship. That new way of living is tied to a new way of thinking*, and that way of thinking was taught to Jesus’ disciples in the Lord’s Prayer. In this short prayer, we seem to find references to the entire Sermon on the Mount, if we look for it.

Scandrette talks about this in his book**. As they read the gospels, Scandrette and his community wanted a way to simplify all of the different teachings that they found. They identified five broad themes which seemed to encapsulate the individual instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples:

1) Identity
2) Purpose
3) Security
4) Community
5) Freedom and peace

And these themes are mirrored in the five lines of the Lord’s Prayer, as I’ve formatted it above.

Those of us who have memorized this prayer may have a tendency to recite it without thinking. After all, there is a good chance that we’ve been saying it since we were children. Throughout this worship series, the experiment that seems to be transforming me most is an intentional, deliberate, and conscious practice of prayer – learning the Lord’s Prayer again for the first time.

* Which comes first: Christ-like thinking or Christ-like living? Talk amongst yourselves.

** Practicing the Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette, pp. 64-67.


You saw to my center,
Past every imposter,
And you whispered my True Name.

– “My True Name” by Carrie Newcomer

My name is ‘Derek’. It’s possible that this is a bit of a revelation for some readers – I’ve been a bit cautious with personal information on this blog. Likewise, I really hadn’t alluded to this blog from within my Facebook account. But I decided a few weeks ago to begin doing away with my split personality. One of my friends even wished me a “Happy Internet Persona Integration Day!”

Nevertheless, I’m going to leave it at that for now – just ‘Derek’. I suppose, however, that some of my other “names” are over on the right sidebar. Husband. Dad. Et cetera, et cetera. And this brings us to the inspiration for this particular blog: a song by Carrie Newcomer entitled “My True Name” (from the album of the same title). In her song, Carrie equates someone’s name with the deepest truth about who that person is. Each of us – to varying degrees – has a variety of names attached to us. You might say that we wear them as a type of clothing. Some of these names we choose for ourselves. Some of them are placed on us by others. Maybe the clothing fits. Or maybe we’re really trying to squeeze into someone else’s clothing. But, says Carrie, “there is a name that is the essence and combination of all I am. Whenever that name is known or spoken, it is the finest of gifts.”

Carrie ends her song with these lines…

And if you see me standing on the banks of Lake Griffy
Throwing white bits of paper to the wind
I’m just throwing the shards of all my calling cards,
And I’m speaking My True Name

I think that’s lovely, partly because I recognize part of my “true name” in those lines. I’d begin to re-write it like this: “If you see me sittin’ quiet beside some Jacob’s Creek tributary /  throwing rocks into the stream…” My favorite places are part of my true name. Other parts of it include the color blue, tapioca pudding, my family and community, my moods, love, compassion, anger, humility, pride, and impatience. Some parts of my name I don’t speak to you. Some parts, I don’t speak to myself. Ultimately, as Richard Rohr indicates in The Naked Now, there is only One who truly knows my name. My name is “God’s image of [me], which includes and loves both the good and the bad”. I must learn to listen for my name.

It turns out that Carrie talks about names on her most recent album, as well. But this time around, she’s talking about the name of God…

I do not know its name though it’s ever entwining, but I believe it must look like an old man shining…

I do not know its name no matter how I try, but I think it must taste like peaches eaten by the roadside…

I do not know its name, elusive and subtle, but I believe it must sound like that man singing in the shuttle…

I do not know its name, swimmer or watcher, but I believe that there is always something moving beneath the water…

“I Do Not Know Its Name” by Carrie Newcomer

If these lyrics aren’t quite clear, consider these lines that she offers from the opening of the Tao Te Ching (translated): “The Tao that can be expressed is not the Everlasting Tao… The Name that can be named is not the Everlasting Name.” In other words, the god that you are able to describe is not the true God.

During Advent this year, I’ve had some related thoughts. Some of our names for God likely include Omnipotent or Omniscient or Omnipresent. But if I confess that my best understanding of God comes from observing the life of Jesus, then I may need to rethink how I understand those names. After all, what does it mean to claim that a newborn baby is omnipotent? What does it mean for an omniscient God to ask, “Who touched me?” And what does it mean when someone says to the omnipresent God, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died”? (Luke 2, Mark 5, or John 11)

To be clear, I’m not saying that I don’t believe God to be omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. I think that I do believe that. Then again, those are terms that I use to describe God (not God’s own self-description), and maybe they just aren’t applicable. It’s like I’m asking, “What’s two plus two?” and then coming up with the answer, “Red.” My answers just don’t make sense with my questions.

For example, consider the scene in the garden, just before Jesus is arrested. He rebukes his disciples for trying to defend him by saying, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26) The obvious answer is, “Of course, you could!” He is Jesus, after all. But think again. What would happen if he did appeal for legions of angels? Wouldn’t he then be acting in a way that was opposed to his Father’s will and was antithetical to who he claimed to be? So he could ask, and yet he won’t. In fact, in some sense he couldn’t.

To my understanding, Jewish people do not speak (or even write) the name of God. It is a way of showing reverence, of keeping the commandment to not use God’s name in vain. I would like to affirm that deep respect. And with great humility, I would suggest that Advent invites us to take the risk of learning God’s name and even trying to speak it. As last week’s lectionary reading indicated, one of God’s names is ‘Emmanuel’. God is with us. God wants to be known and says, “Come follow me.” Learn my name. Never mind that you probably won’t succeed. Follow and learn anyway.

At the very least, you may discover your own true name.

The Scandal of 2:00 a.m.

I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to blog at 2:00 a.m. Nevertheless, I’ve been flummoxed by the confluence of Advent, Shane Claiborne, and perhaps the cocoa in the mocha that I enjoyed before bed (although I’m pretty sure that the coffee itself was decaf…).

I woke up two hours ago with my brain churning over something random that I read in a blog last evening. In my grogginess, I decided that there were more productive things to think about, and so I shifted to Advent. However, I think that I’m somewhat stressed by my worship responsibilities at church between now and Advent, so unfortunately that just got my mind going faster. Well, as long as I’m awake, I might as well try to redeem these thoughts…

Advent is scandal. Jesus is a scandal. My faith is a scandal. Scandal – derived from the Greek word for a trap or something that makes you fall or trip. Jesus makes worshiping hard. Who do I worship? A baby (Luke 2)? Someone in poverty or prison (Matthew 25)? A servant at my feet (John 13)? What kind of God is that?

And at this point, a passage from Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution” comes into my head. Oh, why must I read all these thought-provoking things right before bed? Shane writes…

“In my suburban comfort, I increasingly felt disturbed by God. I became very uncomfortable in the comfortable suburbs. The beautiful thing was my discomfort arose not from a cynical judgmentalism but from a longing for something more. I did not want to settle for comfort. I did not want to settle for a life detached from the groaning of the slums or the beauty of playing in open fire hydrants and having block parties in the inner city. I wanted to see the community of [my church] shared with the lonely suffering masses that needed it so badly but would never make it to [the suburbs]. The more I read the Bible, the more I felt my comfortable life interrupted.”

And now, it’s 2:30 a.m. Since I have to get to work early tomorrow, I’m going to go try to sleep some more.  But I’m not sure that sleep will relieve the scandal of 2:00 a.m. Something eventually will. I just wish I could see more clearly what that might be.

Downward mobility

The great mystery of the Incarnation is how God descended to humanity and became one of us and, once among us, descended to the total dereliction of one condemned to death. At each critical moment of the journey, Jesus obediently chose the way downwards.

Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction

I encountered this quote from Henri Nouwen yesterday. The concept of “downward mobility” struck me as being very profound. However, I haven’t read this particular Nouwen book and I don’t have any context for the quote, so I’ve begun pondering what I might learn from it.

My first thought concerned Nouwen’s phrase “at each critical moment”. The analytical side of my brain turned on and wondered if we indeed see this to be the case. In fact, I think that we do encounter Jesus repeatedly choosing the path of servanthood:

  • He chose to make God known to us by coming to earth.
  • He chose to be baptized – a somewhat confusing act, but I think it demonstrates solidarity with the rest of humanity.
  • He chose to resist temptations to assert authority.
  • He chose relationships with those who are on the fringes of society.
  • He chose to kneel and wash his disciples’ feet.
  • He chose to expose the full ugliness of humanity in his crucifixion.

These are off the top of my head; I think that we could easily find others. The point is that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, and in Jesus we consistently see that God’s kingdom is the opposite of what we are usually taught.

Let that settle in for a moment. This was the most important point for me – the complete “oppositeness” of God’s kingdom. Ask yourself this: What does society expect of us? What do our schools teach children? What do we learn in our churches? (gasp)

Aren’t we told to be good people? Play nice? Don’t run with scissors? Follow the rules and get ahead. But in God’s kingdom, things get done differently. ‘Being good’ doesn’t suffice. When we are offered the chance for upward mobility, we have to consider the cost. When we get ahead, who suffers?

Jesus consistently chose the way of service, relationships, and reconciliation. He would not participate in things that perpetuated violence.

I don’t do this. I don’t know how to live or work this way. I’m not sure how to learn this, but I’m trying. And I wonder how to pass this on to my children.


(There is a flip side to this story. I’ll include a quick thought in the comment section.)

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