Friday, December 22, 2006
Praying the Psalms

From Pastor Dietrich, in his Life Together published in 1954:

How can God's Word be at the same time prayer to God?

This question brings with it an observation that is made by everybody who begins to use the psalms as prayers. First he tries to repeat the psalms personally as his own prayer. But soon he comes upon passages that he feels he cannot utter as his own personal petitions. We recall, for example, the psalms of innocence, the bitter, the imprecatory psalms, and also in part the psalms of the Passion. And yet these prayers are words of Holy Scripture which a believing Christian cannot simply dismiss as outworn and obsolete, as "early stages of religion." One may have no desire to carp at the Word of the Scriptures and yet he knows that he cannot pray these words. He can read and hear them as the prayer of another person, wonder about them, be offended by them, but he can neither pray them himself nor discard them from the Bible.

The practical expedient would be to say that any person in this situation should first stick to the psalms he can understand and repeat, and that in the case of the other psalms he should learn quite simply to let stand what is incomprehensible and difficult and turn back again and again to what is simple and understandable. Actually, however, this difficulty indicates the point at which we get our first glimpse of the secret of the Psalter. A psalm that we cannot utter as a prayer, that makes us falter and horrifies us, is a hint to us that here Someone else is praying, not we; that the One who is here protesting his innocence, who is invoking God's jugment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. He it is who is praying here, and not only here but in the whole Psalter.

Not too shabby for a Lutheran pastor.

posted by Peter at 8:14 PM
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
The semester ends.... finally

I've spent the last four days holed up in the house working on a research paper on refugees. I just emailed it away, and so my semester finally ends.

I don't really know what to say.

Greg has set up a blog to keep up with Barb's progress: How's Barbara Doing? Today is more of the same: high heart rate, low blood pressure, doses of morphine.

My car is at the shop getting the center console fixed back up. So I'm at the hospital, sitting the waiting area, waiting for the call to pick up the car. Among the things taken was the face plate off the stereo (but not the stereo), so I'll have to make a trip to Circuit City next to take care of that. I want to punch the thieves in the face for the sole reason that they made me go to Wal-Mart the week before Christmas.

Both Alan and Kevin have been reflecting about what ol' St. Benedict was up to. Here's a sample:
Simple. Regular. Total. A way of living. Not a way of serving.
This nailed me with particular force this morning. Monasticism (the old or the new, cloistered or friar-ed) was never intended to be a program or an add-on. It is total. It is baptism. It is immersion... in a whole new way of being.

In my refugee research, I found a handful of very helpful and interesting websites. Here's a few:

UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency
Lots of basic stuff here--international news, statisitics, humanitarian info.
This one is a UN-led campaign to raise awareness about the 9 million refugees across the world who children and youth, as well as raise funds for education and sports programs.

Church World Service
This is an American agency that specializes with resettlement. Lots of great resources here including statistics as well as a "Refugee's Journey."

Kentucky Refugee Ministries
This is a local agency partnered with CWS. Their main office is in Louisville with a sub-office in Lexington. I had the opportunity to volunteer with them for a few hours several weeks ago. I know that our church is currently exploring ways to sponsor local refugee families through KRM.

posted by Peter at 12:53 PM
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Saturday, December 16, 2006
Saturday morning update
Here is the email that Greg just sent out this morning. It was a scary night.


We’ve all been encouraged by the good reports for Barbara, but we should still keep in mind that she remains very sick and in critical condition. I say that to brace us all for the fact that last night, as they were preparing Barbara for an MRI, she stopped breathing and her heart stopped. They bagged her and performed CPR, and brought her back to a relatively stable condition. They don’t know what caused this, and the MRI was not done.

This morning she has a very high heart rate and a low blood pressure. The lung doctor told us the medical name of a condition they now believe her to be in, but the oversimplified version of it is that she’s having a hard time overcoming the carbon dioxide build up in her body. She is very, very sick and in a very tenuous condition right now. They have assured me that they are doing all they can – but the problem is just that – there doesn’t seem to be much else they can do to pull her out of all the things she’s being plagued with at this time. She is laboring to breathe, and looks absolutely miserable.

She is somewhat alert at times, but we’re not sure what she knows. She smiled at us a little this morning, but still seems very confused. This is also a great concern of mine. The doctor’s don’t understand why she hasn’t come around after a week or so off of the sedatives. That is why they were doing the MRI.


Please join us in praying today that Barbara’s vitals will once again grow stronger and healthier,

That her body will be cleared of all infection and disease,

That her mind will clear and she will be able to move,

That her heart will strengthen,

And that God will move more quickly on all of these things!

Many of you remind me that this will take a long time. Frankly, I’m tired of the wait. I am continuing to pray BIG Zechariah type prayers. I’m reminded of this:

Isaiah 38:1-5 (NLT)

About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: "This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness." When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, "Remember, O Lord, how I have always tried to be faithful to you and do what is pleasing in your sight." Then he broke down and wept bitterly. Then this message came to Isaiah from the Lord: "Go back to Hezekiah and tell him, 'This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will add fifteen years to your life.

Enough said!


posted by Peter at 12:17 PM
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Friday, December 15, 2006
Live from Indiana

This is Greg and Barb. Greg is the pastor of the Free Methodist Church here in Griffith, IN. Barb is responsible for developing, forming and nurturing the most phenomenal woman I've ever met, so much so, I'm going to marry that girl of hers. Barb has also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 20 years and fibromyalgia for about the last 7.

Over the last six months, she's been suffering neck pain. In November, the doctor diagnosed it as a severe pinched nerve, so severe that he was suprised the nerve hadn't already snapped and permenantly paralyzed her. The week before Thanksgiving she entered the hospital for 2 days of traction (which involved a vise and screws in her head to align her spine for surgery) and then surgery to fuse two of her cervical vertebrae. She seemed to be recovering normally for a day or so and then her vital signs began to spiral out of control--low blood pressure, high heart rate.

On Thanksgiving day she was found to have an extreme case of pneumonia from lying on her back for a week at that point. That day the doctor also found that due to the very soft nature of her bones, the plate and screws in her neck were not holding the way the should at this point. They operated a second time, putting a rod through five of her vertebrae. She was additionally put on a respirator to aid her breathing and completely sedated.

Two weeks passed with no improvement. For the first week, no news was good news. The second, no news was bad news, and the doctors began to be gravely concerned about the state of her heart and how long it could continue with her body in such a frail state. Her kidneys dropped to 15%. Her oxygen rates dropped to precipitously low levels at one point. Two weeks is as long as is allowed on a respirator before irreperable damage can happen to the throat and voicebox.

She had a tracheostomy this past week, so the ventilator tubes are now connected to her throat rather than going down her mouth. This has meant she can begin to be weaned off the sedative. She seems to have good days and bad days.

Jackie and I finished our obligations in Wilmore on Tuesday and drove the six hours to Griffith on Wednesday. Today was a good day for Barb. She's responding and smiling when she sees us. You should see her light up when Jackie walks in the room. She is unable to talk because of the respirator, and that seems to frustrate her. Greg gets to communicate by answering 'yes/no' questions by blinking her eyes or sticking out her tongue. She can wiggle her toes a little. She tires out quickly, so her responsiveness is limited.

Her respirator oxygen level is now down to 50%, and she is breathing more breaths on her own. The lung doctor is very happy with her progress in what was once the area of greatest concern. Her blood pressure is back to a good level, but her heart rate continues to be high. She is also bleeding internally somewhere, and they’re having trouble finding out just where or why. There still are various and sundry things the doctors are trying to figure, fix or find. Infections continue to be an issue and her temperature can raise to 102 with regularity. They are also having a really hard time getting her stomach and digestive system to work again. However, we are quite pleased with the progress, albeit slow.

Her lungs are looking good, but there as always other concerns. She is completely unsedated now, but it still having difficulties being alert and appropriately responsive. Sometimes she acts like herself and other times she does not seem to recognize us nor respond to us in her usual ways. They're not sure what effects if any these days have had on her brain. We're hoping it's just her having a hard time coming off the sedation. There is word of infection, but as usual no one knows what it is specifically. She is also in A LOT of pain. She grimaces something awful when the nurses touch her legs. There are still problems with her kidneys, stomach, and colon. She's not near out of the woods yet.

While Barb had a relatively good day, mine was horribly bad. Greg woke me at 8 am: "I am so sorry to tell you this, but your car has been broken into." I had gotten to the house around 9 pm Wednesday after dropping Jackie at the hospital. I was so exhausted from the final weeks of school that I decided I'd unload the car when I woke up in the morning.

The passenger front window of my car was shattered and someone had made an attempt to steal my car CD player. They gave up and settled on taking Jackie's bag of clothes from the backseat, everything she'd packed for three weeks, a good chunk of her winter wardrobe--sweaters, nice clothes, shoes, makeup, casual jewelry. They left her basket of clothes in the backseat with a container of brownies and cookies on top. What were they thinking?

They popped the trunk, most likely looking for stereo speakers and instead found my basket of dirty laundry, which they helped themselves to. (I hope there are lots of poop stains on my dirty underwear.) I had also just Wednesday purchased the books for my January class that I need to have read before the ninth--a bunch of books about Jesus and Christian community. They took those. There were also a handful of my favorite DVDs I'd brought to entertain myself with in the hospital this week as well as my camera and some dress clothes. All in all, the police report lists about $1300 worth of stuff taken. On the plus side, the damage to the car comes to less than $300. On the minus side, the insurance covers completely the car but nothing that wasn't attached to the car.

At least they didn't take books from the library about refugees so I can still write my research paper.

I feel like I spent the whole day at the police station waiting for a report, the auto glass place waiting for a piece of plastic and the body shop waiting for an estimate.

It's a rough time here in Indiana.

posted by Peter at 12:28 AM
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Thursday, December 14, 2006
Advent: Hosea 1-2
My grand hope of reading and blogging about the prophets thus far has been thwarted by real life events. The semester is now over (there is still a research paper of which I've been granted an extension). But it's time to start. So here we are with the book of Hosea.

A first question I have: Why Hosea? The 12 so-called "Minor Prophets" were considered at one stage of the canon one complete book, instead of the twelve individuals books currently in the Protestant books. And they aren't in chronological order. The oldest, in terms of historical events, is Amos. So why this order? And why Hosea first? What's so special about this book of Hosea? You never get another chance to make a first impression. Does what starts here have implications or set the stage for the whole Twelve?

If the books of 1 & 2 Kings are like the front page news, and 1 & 2 Chronicles are the editorial section, then the Twelve represent the letters to the editor. Or maybe letters from the Editor.

The list of kings in the intro to Hosea place the prophet and his message some 200 years after the ten northern tribes (Israel) separate from the two southern tribes (Judah). It's a good 700-750 years before Jesus. Most of Hosea's message to Israel is during the reign of Jeroboam II. It's a time of financial security and military success and political expansion not seen since the days of Solomon. It's also a time of spiritual bankruptcy. This is the last generation

This is when Hosea comes on the scene.

When Yahweh first spoke through Hosea, Yahweh said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking Yahweh" (1:2).

When you write a story, the most important parts are the beginning and the end. So this is how the story of the Twelve begins. Whoredom. Infidelity. Adultery. Unfaithfulness. Promiscuity. Intercourse for pay. Is there a more graphic picture for violation between the trust and intimacy between two people? I imagine this isn't what Hosea signed up for when he went to seminary.

We see in the first chapters of Hosea a ton of family language. The wife who is a prositute. Three offspring with symbolic names. Watch chapter 2 and we see the introduction of what specifically Israel has done: worship the Baals, Phoenician deities that are not Yahweh. The adulterous imagery is related to a nation that is unfaithful, that has turned its back on its god. There's some witty wordplay going on here. The Hebrew word "baal" functions not only as the proper name of a deity, but also as the word for "master", "owner", or "husband." Unfortunately, for us, in this ancient Near Eastern cultural, there is much overlap in these social roles. It is not the only word in Hebrew for husband, and this is key to the contrast in 2:16:

On that day, says Yahweh, you will call me "My husband [Heb: 'ish]," and no longer will you call me, "My Baal."

There is no dynamic love to a "Baal." No passion. Only dutiful servitude. Heartless work. We might do well to translate the proper name "Baal" in the Old Testament narrative as "The Pimp."

There is irrational, emotional pathos to the book of Hosea. There's something about the story of a broken relationship between a man and woman that pulls at our heart strings. Maybe this is the point to get our attention that maybe the broken relationship between Yahweh and His people should pull our heartstrings, too.

Interestingly, Paul quotes 1:10 in Romans 9:25-26 in the midst of his crucial argument in Romans chapters 9-11 about what Christians are supposed to do about Jews. And I wonder, too, about bride imagery in Revelation 21 and 22. Perhaps before we can rightly understand what it means to be the Bride of Christ, we must also understand what it means to be the Whore of Israel.

This is how the Twelve begin.

posted by Peter at 10:14 PM
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Sunday, December 03, 2006
Blogging the prophets for Advent
... a.k.a. Or whatever it takes to resuscitate this blog and get me writing about anything.

Some suckers would have you believe that Christmas is all about one day, that being, December 25. Others might convince you that Advent is all about opening windows on a calendar. Take for instance, the "Advent Calendar" you may have seen me pitching if you ever came through the drive-thru at my coffeeshop. No mention of Jesus. None of Yahweh. But it does have 25 individually wrapped pieces of chocolate for every day in December leading up to the holiest day in the consumer village called "America." Sorry, that ain't Advent.

Advent, rather, is the four weeks leading to Christmas (that is, Christ's Mass) anticipating that Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us, is coming.

Thus, for Advent this year I am reading and writing the Twelve Prophets. Hosea. Joel. Amos. Obadiah. Jonah. Micah. Nahum. Habakkuk. Zephaniah. Haggai. Zechariah. Malachi.

Why the Twelve? For a number of reasons. Because Paul writes that "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." And when he writes "All scripture" he isn't refering to the letters to Timothy. Instead, he's talking about the Law, the Writings, and you guessed it, the Prophets. Ignore them, though we try, the Prophets are Yahweh-breathed Scripture that must be reckoned with.

Secondly, when Jesus is left to explain the meaning of the Resurrection to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus how does he do it? With the prophets. Somehow the resurrection of Jesus only makes sense in light of what's going on in the prophets. Thirdly, on the mount of transfiguration, according to the Gospel of Mark, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John are told from heaven to listen to Jesus. There they are--the Law, the Prophets, and the Apostles--all told to submit before Jesus. And so somehow the Prophets anticipate and listen to Jesus.

But I think mostly why I want to listen to the Prophets this Advent season is because of something Diane told me. Diane comes to Bible study every Sunday morning at church and we've been looking and Habbakuk and Amos over the last couple of months. As we've talked about the broad outlines of Israel's story--the victory of the Red Sea, the spiritual unfaithfulness, the wicked kings, the corrupt religion, the constant wars and upheaval, the exile--Diane keeps coming back to this idea that the Old Testament reminds us how much we, Israel, all of humanity, needed Jesus. Things are getting really desparate. And that's when God comes. And I think that's what Advent is all about--remembering how much we need Jesus.

I can remember in my church when I was a kid there being on the walls portrait illustrations of the twelve apostles--Peter, James, John and the rest of the gang. I think they were these lifelike representations with biographical info to make these characters come alive to the contemporary congregation. The twelve apostles may get all the attention in churches today, but interestingly, Scripture tells us much more about the speakerphones of the Almighty that are the Twelve Prophets.

I'm a busy guy. I really don't have time for this, honestly. Finals are a week away, and I have miles to go before I sleep. But you know what? This is what Advent is all about, Charlie Brown. The sun's light is at it's shortest this time of the year. But this is the time we celebrate God's coming. At our darkest moments, this is when God arrives. This is Advent. I need Scripture shaping my soul.

So join me, if you so desire, in this exercise in spiritual reading and journaling. Oh sure, it's intrusive and inconvenient. What we find may be weird and baffling and downright bizarre. But should we expect anything less from Scripture? That's why we call it a "discipline."

But more than anything, I'd bet the house, it makes us anticipate Jesus all the more.

posted by Peter at 12:40 AM
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Friday, December 01, 2006
Check out the latest issue of the Asbury Herald, the quarterly seminary magazine for alumni. You may see a familiar photograph on page 23.

Speaking of photography, I've set up another flickr account. Here you can see my original photography for sale.

Prices are:
$15 for 8x10 (add $10 if you'd like it matted/framed)
$10 for 5x7 (add $8 if you'd like it matted/framed)
$7 for 4x6 (add $8 if you'd like it matted/framed)

Whether you are looking for a perfect Christmas gift, a memento from Kentucky or something visual to set the mood for your room, study or sacred space. There are scenes of the seminary and the surrounding smalltown, other images of Kentucky such as the Abbey of Gethsemani and Shaker Village, scenes of Israel and many, many more.

Drop me an email.

Operators are standing by.

posted by Peter at 1:08 AM
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