Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter at its Best

This year I had the best Easter I have had in years...maybe ever. Starting with a sunrise service at beacon Rock with a groups of hearty Camas Friends folks (The only down side to this was that I had to get up at 4:00 am to make it too the service and I still was late).  Then later an Easter Potluck, followed by worship. The Service just happened to meet all my preferences and I left feeling I had really worshiped, not just watched a program. There was no hype, no children dressed as Roman Soldiers, no special music, just worship...a dream come true. We, of course, celebrated Easter in the singing and Scripture, and the sermon was about the resurrection, but there was a quiet reverence about Jesus' renewed life and some genuine consideration for the implications of Jesus' life and form. It occurred to me that we (the church) spend a lot of time spicing up and beautifying a dead Jesus but are scared out of our wits to hear what the living Jesus is saying or asking of us. We wrap Jesus in laws, traditions, pages of the Bible, our sectarian version of what Christ's message really was, etc. etc. The truth is that such behavior is a way of not allowing Jesus to speak for himself.  It is a lot easier to put one's own words in a dead Jesus' mouth than it is to hear Jesus' call on our lives.  In this service there was ample space to consider these things and to feel the tug of the Spirit on my soul.  Now that's what I'm talking about!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A letter to my sister before her radical sinus surgery.

Sister, I’m sorry about the upcoming surgeries.  Sounds really daunting.  I, too, am one who has undergone unpleasant surgeries.  Here are a couple of tips to add some color to the whole experience:
1. Take a whole bottle of laxatives 30 min. before surgery. Doing so will give the nurses something else to do besides commenting on the enormity of your nose. ( Oops! did I say bad... I meant normalcy.)  And the laxative effect will keep the surgery moving right along.  No dawdling.

2. Shove some limburger cheese as far up your nostrils as you can.  It'll give the event the flavor of a treasure hunt not unlike trying to find what is stinking up your refrigerator. 

Hope those help turn the experience to a zany experience for the surgeons and staff.  Too bad you'll be asleep and won’t hear the laughter and gratitude expressed by all involved.

Now on a more serious comment, I want to share some little known Biblical facts that might be a great motivator to endure these "light and momentary" troubles. (For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. II cor. 4:17)

You see, the word sinus is really a transliteration of the Hebrew word Sinai.  The OT instance during which Moses climbed Mt Sinai is based on an incident during which Moses got drunk and pushed an olive pit way up his nose and then couldn't dislodge it.  He had an enormous nose.  No one had the huevos to mention it except the sons of Korah who were eventually swallowed by the earth. (Numbers 25: 8-10)  Anyway, references to climbing Mt Sinus (Sinai) were used (mostly by the sons of Korah) to refer to Moses' battle to get the olive pit out of his nose.  No one wanted to be around when he was in full battle mode with the pit so the people would rope off an area around him so others wouldn't get too close to the epic battleground.  Eventually (here's where it applies to your situation) Moses got so desperate that he took a shard from a broken clay pot (In his state of panic he didn’t notice that the shard was from a chamber pot) and went up Mt Sinai for the final attempt to defeat the cursed pit.  The pain was so intense that Moses began to hallucinate and believed he was talking to God.  Thus the Tem Commandments. He also shouted out the score from the 1991 Super bowl during which Buffalo lost at the last second because Kicker Scott Norwood missed a field goal. Go figure.  Anyway, Moses was always angry from then on for his entire life.  Partly at himself for using a shard from a chamber pot to dig out the olive pit and partly at everything and everyone else.  The hair in Moses' left nostril (the one with the olive pit and the stinking chamber pot shard) died and never grew back which gave him a sort of scary look.  He even wore a veil most of the time from then on whenever there were plenary sessions that required his attendance.  In his anger he broke the first set of stone tablets shouting in anger:  "This is all God has to say?  Everyone knows these; they're simplistic, open to all kinds of misinterpretation, and boring."  That very night he dreamed about American evangelicals and it became clear to him why they would need a simplistic set of commandments, commandments that wouldn't interfere with their consumerist view of life and the church.  So he had a six year old girl re-write them and he made sure he referenced them in detail in the Bible he was working on.
Moses was always angry - whacking stuff with his staff, creating snake plagues, etc., plus he looked like an idiot with that black sheave of hair growing out only one nostril.  Thus when it came time to enter the promised land, God said, "I don't want some crazy, one nostril haired, angry madman to lead my people at this time.  So he picked Joshua, who had balanced nostril hair, wasn't really angry with anyone and was really photogenic, to lead the Israelites into the promised land.

Just in case you missed the subtlety of my story here, let me make it plain.  You can't be a prophet and get favored appointments if your nostrils and Sinai are all messed up.  God doesn't want unseemly prophets.  So that’s what Paul was referring to about the light and momentary trouble (the Greek word for trouble really means excruciating pain) you have to endure to be a proper prophet.  But it’s really worth it, really.  So I am praying that you make a full recovery and are able to someday stand with other great men, prophets of God who.....oh no…wait! you're a woman, aren't you.  Oh man I'm really sorry, I totally blanked on that piece of’re toast as a prophet… you'll still be blackballed from getting to lead groups anywhere of significance..I feel terrible for building your hopes...well, you’ll be able to be a terrific help meet.  That'd be sort of cool as long as you didn't have a lot of  kids...Oh there I go again...I'm sorry Sis... Still, I think it would be helpful if you got through the surgery OK, with minimum pain.  Don't get mad though whatever you do.  If you go around like an eternally menopausal crazy woman, your friends might rope you off and isolate you....Oh yeah, your elders already did that...never mind then.

I will keep praying, dear sister; I love you very much and hope these surgeries turn out to be really helpful. (This was a serious sentence, in case you were wondering.)

Brother Stan

Monday, November 21, 2011

Do You Speak Kingdomese?

At the end of Mathew 26, Peter disowns Jesus completely with a string of curses that would have made a sailor bow in awe. Peter was in a fix and wanted to hide the fact that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Of course it was a lame idea since his homeland was written all over him, in his clothes, mannerism, and especially his accent. Galileans' heavy accent resulted in a distinct way of pronouncing (or mispronouncing) common Jewish words. Their speech was seen as definitely low brow. In spite of his protests, everyone standing around the campfire knew he was Galilean. Galileans were seen as tool belt jockeys – uncouth, unlearned, and good for blue collar work and/or ultimate fighting. In fact there were no teaching synagogues in Galilee and the learned rabbis from Jerusalem made guest appearances only rarely. That’s one reason the intellectuals from Jerusalem were so bewildered with Jesus’ authority. It would be like Rocky Balboa stumping Richard Dawkins from Oxford in a debate over the existence of God. “Where’d you learn this stuff?” they kept asking Jesus, “to what school of thought do you belong?” Jesus kept saying, “I learned this stuff from my Dad.” which was not a very satisfactory answer.

As I was reflecting on this passage, it occurred to me that even though we who follow Jesus claim that we are not from the Kingdom of the World but instead, we are of the Kingdom of God on earth, it’s really easy to hide our faith from folks outside the church – in fact we have to manufacture circumstances under which to surprise them with the news flash that we are actually people of Jesus. Would it be fair to say that Peter was more obviously Galilean, than we are Christian? Wouldn’t it be cool if followers of Jesus had a clearly distinguishable “accent” that made the fact of our choice to be such followers a dead giveaway?

When I was a teenager we were challenged to carry our Bible on the top of our books. The adults were challenged to attend worship every Sunday so our neighbors would see us backing out of our driveways and thus witness our commitment with their own eyes. The Bible thing never worked out for me – maybe I needed a bigger Bible – maybe a Jerry Falwell Drive-thru Bible would have done the trick. Also the car we backed out of the driveway every Sunday morning was a 1953 Plymouth Sedan – not a real attention grabber. A cooler car like a white 58 Chevy impala with four on the floor and tan tuck and roll leather seats would have made people more likely to want to be Christians.

Even as a young man I saw how shallow a “witness” such behavior actually was. I wanted to say, “Really?” “Do you really think that seeing me carrying a Bible or seeing a neighbor back out of the driveway the same time every Sunday morning, is a compelling case for our faith? Will people see these surface behaviors and cry out, “Woe! Woe! We’re slime sucking sinners from Hell, we need and want to be saved…Please Someone help us!”?

As sincere as these believers were, they never really had the will to break with the culture, join God in God’s business, and take Kingdom values and paradigms as their own. And because of that Christians became just another part of the culture. We spoke with the same “accent” as everyone else.

This cultural buy-in wasn’t so in the practice of most Christians prior to president Truman’s signing of the “Employment Act of 1946.” which made “propensity to consume[i] Federal policy. So the church joined the consumerist movement out of patriotism, countering its historical message of asceticism and moderation. Indeed, the whole country seemed to drink the Kool-Aid of materialism. Larry Rasmussen asks some pointed questions aimed at the outcome of this change within the church.

" Has "getting and spending"—consumerism—so laid waste our powers, sent our hearts packing, and alienated our souls that we no longer belong to nature and see ourselves in it? Has the commodification of all things so deadened the living world, so leeched away the sacred, that even plaintive winds and open seas don't wash over our spirit and move it to mystery and wonder? Are we this bereft, this "out of tune," this unmoved?"[ii] It seems that we were unmoved by much except the frenzied race to realize our American Dream.

“ Global consumer classes produced and consumed as many goods and services in the mere half- Century from 1950-2000 as throughout the entire period of history prior to that date.[iii]

Most Christians lost their accent which reflected life in the Kingdom, and its values and priorities. Many Christians lost the intimate connection with the each other and nature and these vital connections became just tools to use as they wished – eventually they seemed blind to the environment and, even worse, became the earth’s enemy. Recently, care of the earth is making a comeback among Christian politics, but seldom has it become an integral part of Christian spirituality. Our Native American friends have a lot to teach us about loving the earth as a major step in loving its creator.

Does our “accent” clearly show that we are people of another Kingdom? Does our accent remain prominent in our conversations with or about our Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and/or transgendered friends, or other minorities? Do we speak clearly with our Kingdom accent when we deal with with the poor, the oppressed, the diseased, and the lonely? Does our accent smack of inclusiveness as we encounter folks of other faiths or rituals?

The church could be a powerful force in turning this horse around (OK, I don’t really know what horse this saying talks about or why it is going in one direction or the other but I’m on board for turning it around.) and begin to use our common voice to help our country see how healing it is to value things, people, and the earth for who they are, not as fodder for our voracious appetite for more and more.

What if Christians across our nation could speak with one accent about the values of the Kingdom and love for each other, God, and the created order? Our country is lacking in Spiritual leadership because the church is so divided. What if we laid down our political swords and simply gave witness to Jesus’ teaching and the presence of God’s Spirit in everyone? After all, Regardless of what the New Apostolic Revolution would have us believe, we are not called to take over the government, we are called to simply obey Jesus’ way of peace and invited to adopt God’s world view?

Imagine that we are in the circle around the fire with Peter and others and we are spotted as followers of Jesus. “Saaaaay, aren’t you one of this criminal Jesus’ followers?” “Oh no!” we reply, “We never knew him!” After a tense moment the accusers say, “Yeah, OK. We can buy that, but why do you carry a Bible there on top of your books?”

[i] Brink Iindsey, The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture (Collins/HarperCollins Publishers, 2007)

[ii] Rasmussen, Larry ,” God Honoring Asceticism and Consumption”, CrossCurrents - The Journal of Addiction and Mental Health, January 1, 2008.

[iii] Alan T. Durning, How Much Is Enough? (London: Earthscan, 1992),

Friday, January 07, 2011

Do You Like Lifesavers?

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks”, was my reply.

Floyd, (not his real name) was leaving the hospital where he had been my roommate for a few days and was going home. Trouble is that he was leaving with four big tumors in his liver, a failing immune system, and many more problems.

Floyd stood there awkwardly, dressed in flannel shirt with cut out sleeves, sweats that showed he was familiar with car repair - truly a “man’s man”, very reluctant to show emotion yet filled with fear and showing an obvious desire to somehow “connect”. I know the signs in People who are desperate for a sense that God exists and that God loves them despite their rough and obnoxious exterior and/or, ( in Floyd’s mind at least) a huge pile of sins.

My encouragement to him had been to simply get himself in God’s presence and pray the prayer of the father in Mark 9: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” “Your part is just to get there, God will do the rest.” Recognizing that God was already in his heart and that his lifestyle had not fully separated him from God, was a great relief to Floyd.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

How badly I wish I would have just said, “Floyd, I love Lifesavers,” and received his gift with grace. I was too distracted to notice…I never ask, “What would motivate a man like Floyd to give a near-stranger a somewhat worn out pack of Lifesavers?”

I believe whatever motivated Floyd was far more profound than a few words of encouragement I spent on him. I believe absolutely that God, who knows our hearts and minds had created an “opening” to this man’s soul through which he was reaching out to almost anyone who could help him find a connection to the Divine. He would have been proud to have given me the lifesavers but even more proud to feel he was worth my attention.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I also believe that it would have been pure arrogance to have kicked myself and felt guilty for neglecting to “hear” Floyd’s heart, as though everything depended upon me. God offers us opportunities, we probably miss a high percentage of them. For me, the sadness that accompanies the realization that we missed such a gift from God (…”blessed are those who mourn”) is sufficient to motivate greater vigilance.

Often others don’t see the pain behind our smiles when we show up at church feeling brokenhearted, or defeated, or sinful. It’s painful for us and sometimes hard to believe we are loved. At other times we gather together in worship with deep pain from a new divorce, or a financial disaster that sinks us from “well off” to bankrupt. We need each other to be ready to watch and listen for the nuances that would key them into our pain and brokenness. We need to pay attention to each other and try to discern the hidden message embedded in small gifts: kindness, or a smile, an extra firm handshake, or a pack of Lifesavers.

“Do you like Lifesavers?” He asked me. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

31st day in the hospital

Here's a report from my brother, Kent, after today's procedure:

Today was a good day for Stan. His procedure went well without any
serious mishaps. The doc who did the work was a technical genius. Time
will tell regarding how much it will help his condition. For me, I have
high hopes that he will experience substantial improvement.

Kent is the most cautious in his reports...I'm a bit too positive. Here's my additional comments:

They were able to find two veins leading to the esophagus which they believe are causing the high pressure and resulting aneurysms in my esophagus. They tied those veins as they did the vein that they believed was most dangerous around the bile duct. Took 5 1/2 hours but seems well worth it.

Ok you have to hear this exchange between me and the recovery room docs. I had just gotten into the recovery room and opened my eyes for the first time and saw a half dozen anxiety ridden faces peering down at me. They ask almost in unison, "Do you have pain?" Lacking my normal inhibitions, I starting laughing uncontrollably and couldn't stop. Finally, "Pain? You've been literally digging around in my liver for 5 1/2 hours, I have an unhealed wound to my liver from the last procedure...Pain? Yes, I have nothing but pain. Not a smile from these docs. Me: "Is this an irony free zone or something...doesn't anyone see the irony of your question? (me laughing and them blank stares.) I went on, "There's not a spot on my body that doesn't have pain and if I had one, I wouldn"t tell you where it is because you'd go right there and do a procedure. Yes, I'm in excruciating pain." Still not a smile. Wow! very tough crowd. I'm still laughing about it. I hope that when they get home and are brushing their teeth they finally get it, "Oh yeah, that was irony, we don't get much irony in these parts." (line from movie - can't remember.) I hope you are laughing with me. You are aren't you??? uh oh.

Comments overheard from the nurse's station (directly across from my room.)

1. "Mr. Thornburg is writing again. I wonder what this is about. (I've shared some articles I'm working on..."Honesty vs truthfulness", "How do we create a safe environment so our young children feel free to ask us anything - a working title" - article includes some of your comments, "Unconditional Compassion" - the article about Andy from my first ICU experience -, "A Quaker Experience of Advent" - kindly edited by Jon Holt Friends Journal to publish it next year, Untitled article on spiritual transformation, etc.

2. "What do Quakers believe, anyway? Are they Christians? Whose Got the guts to ask him?" Carl got the short straw on that one.

3. "I can't tell if he's sleeping or do you know.?" Chad's answer, "If there are several pages of the letter K across his screen...he's sleeping." (Lots of laughter)

4. I think he's a Mennonite.

5. He rides his bike to the wineries. (what I actually said was that I like to ride in wine country because of the beautiful vineyards.... really.)

Ok, enough of this Tom foolery. G'night


Sunday, December 26, 2010

21st day in hospital

I was pretty down last evening and this morning. I began to question the value of my little conversations up here - how petty and insignificant they seemed. Then two things happened to lift my spirits again. First, a young woman walked in to my room today - she is a woman I have seen every day I have spent in ICU in every hospitalization - I have always said "Hello, good to see you," but she had never made eye contact or spoken back to me - she just restocks the medical supplies and walks out - OK, today she saw me and broke into a big smile and said, "Stan, how great to see you!" - she was literally beaming. I said, "Nice to see you too, but I'm sorry you have never spoken to me so I don't even know your name." She ignored my statement and said, "I love coming in the rooms where you are because it always feels good and I feel loved." I was speechless. Then after putting her supplies away, she said, "What kind of Christian are you anyway." I didn't even know she knew I was a Christian. I ask, "What do you mean, what kind of Christian; if you are asking what denomination I am I'm Quaker." She introduced herself and then proceeded to tell me a version of her life story and some of the places she is struggling. We talked for almost a half hour before she left.

I quickly saw that Jesus was undermining my little self pity party, and I began to regain my sense of mission and call that I know is solid no matter what the circumstances. Then later today Steve Fawver (pastor at NVFC) posted some quotes from Evelyn Underhill (wonderful chrstian writer and woman of great power in prayer). Here's the part of his post that so moved me.

"The Church is in the world to save the world. It is a tool of God for that purpose. Every one of its members is required, in one way or another, to co-operate with the Spirit in working for that great end: and much of this work will be done in secret and invisible ways. We are transmitters as well as receivers. Our contemplations and our actions, our humble self-opening to God, keeping ourselves sensitive to his music and light, and our generous self-opening to our fellow creatures, keeping oursleves sensitive to their needs, ought to form one life: mediating between God and his world, and bringing the saving power of the Eternal into time"

This reminded me that my delight is to open myself to others, keeping their needs in mind and seeing myself as a mediator between them and the divine. What calling could be more of an honor than that? Then my mind flashed to that wonderful passage in 2 Cor. 2

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

"OH God, may I be the aroma of life through you while I am held captive here by my own body." A few days ago I proclaimed triumphantly that Jesus is always here. Always. That is so true, but its true that Jesus is always here for everyone, not just me...for this woman with all her struggles...for my roommate who was dying of aids...for everyone. And the witness (aroma) of Jesus is obvious whether we speak or not. It is not us who are charged with saving the world but Christ in us. Cool eh?

Thanks be to God for God's wonderful grace and power...for God's relentless pursuit of the heart and soul of every living being...for the Divine Light by which we order our worship, or business, our ministry, our very lives.

Monday, December 20, 2010

8th Day in Hospital

God is really blessing my time here. Like last stay, I am having many opportunities for deep, spiritual conversations. Its uncanny. I wish they came this often and easily in the real world. Several of the folks who I spoke with during my last stay have heard I am here again and have dropped in, including the Buddhist nurse who taught me so much about compassion. I spend a good time of the day wiping tears of joy from my eyes because of God's obvious deep work in the lives of folks with whom I talk. I really like that about God. God seems to know that the only way I can faithfully live out my faith in the midst of these discouraging circumstances is to be involved in ministry and have to depend on the Spirit for guidance and discernment. God gives me new eyes through which I can see (like "the condition of all people." I get a glimpse into their hearts and seem to know where their longing lies. It's just a wonderful experience...all God's doing.