Best Practice or Best Evidence?

My friend, Dick Meyer, leaned back in the rocking chair and got a faraway look in his eye. Dick had been raised on a farm in Washington. Then he ran a successful landscape business in Hawaii and presently he runs “My Little Farm,” a five acre micro-enterprise in Santa Rosa.  He has never been known as a romantic poet type.  He possesses that hardscrabbled demeanor of a grower who knows you put your best effort into the land and then wait patiently for the yield. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes not. His words often are hedged with the same timbre.

But I had posed a question to him. “Tell me what it means to be waiting for bud break in vineyard management,” I asked.  The occasion generated a fifteen minute soliloquy the likes of which I have never heard in our twenty year friendship. A poetic, reflective summary of one of nature’s greatest cyles of stark bareness giving way to potential fruitfulness.  He articulated the care with which the farmer prunes, chooses and incises to promote growth. Then he said something profound.  “The grower then hopes that God and nature will do what no farmer can do, make something better than ever.”

When it comes to this time of the year our sense of peace and “goodwill toward men” will ultimately fall on one of two outlooks. Either people can capture a sense of what constitutes the ‘best practice’ of peace and reduplicate it until it is realized or there will be a general belief that our measly efforts will fall hopelessly short of any desirable harmony and communalism. In that case we must decide if there remains a better sense of evidence that something else can occur.

My sense of faith, hope and peace rests firmly in the second camp.  While I remain a staunch supporter of encouraging the best practice of peace, that is exactly what it is…practice.  The best evidence is found in the message of hope and peace that comes from Jesus’ entry into the world. Frankly, I want to know the peace that comes from a baby being born by God into a malevolent world, a young man raised from the dead after being crucified for preaching about love, and a movement of followers, faulty as we are, carrying on a message of peace. I want to know a God who is not threatened by our egregious self-interest but who calmly, regally leads the world toward a peaceful outcome while many assassinate his character.

The best evidence for peace, like vines budding, is that God is doing something better than ever.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

There Once Was a World

Peter Steinke has written a pristine little summary of the nostalgic longing pastors have had for the good old days when clergy did their thing, people flocked to church, congregants swore allegiance and the community discounted the minister’s golfing expenses.  Today, it’s a different story. At a recent debate between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and writer Christopher Hitchens, held at a Toronto University, out of 2700 attendees, 53% said they thought religious interests were harmful to a civil society.  On a personal level I’ve done more than 400 weddings in the wine country over the past 12 years and nearly two-thirds of the couples I’ve married were interested in a “spiritual, but not religious ceremony.”

Steinke calls this phenomenon “dislocation.” In my mind this phenomenon is the single most profound cultural artifact of our north American social scene.  As I lunched with a former Campus Life student this past week he was brave enough to admit that his family and work life had “swallowed up his soul.”  The creative juices he had as a young man were absent and the life he lived was devoid of real friends.

In the midst of this existential crisis my friend resisted looking to church life as an answer to the dilemma. He’d become wary of the dogmatic and group peer pressure he had seen in his earlier forays into formal worship. He was looking for genuine community and real joy.

This week’s Advent readings encourage believers to see the connection between hope and joy and communalism. “As a farmer waits patiently for the fall rains….” is the beautiful picture of hope that informs activity found in James 5.  For people of faith we look forward to God’s making straight the path and our activity and love for the brethren and sisterhood are consequential responses to the Hope we have in Christ’s kingdom.  People rightly connected to this kind of essence can reach out to touch others in harmony with a future calling and a present sense of joy.

Rembrandt's Prodigal Son