Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Charlie Chaplin's Final Speech in "The Great Dictator"

While I was at work today, a facebook friend of mine posted this video online. While watching it, I immediately began to choke up. I felt something again. For the first time in months, I felt that there was some sense of goodness out there, and that there are others who know it exists. I sat there weeping at my desk, wanting so badly to believe in what the little man with the Hitler mustache was saying. For a brief moment, it made me feel human again.

For those interested, the full text of the speech is below.

"I'm sorry but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others' happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men's souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say "Do not despair." The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men---machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don't hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers! Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.

Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite! "

Friday, December 9, 2011

An Apology and a Suggestion

Dear friends and readers of my little blog,

It has been quite some time since my last post. I have been in the thick of some serious spiritual and emotional difficulties, and suffice it to say that I've been feeling a little more "everyday" than "revolutionary" lately. It might be a delusion of grandeur to believe that anyone has actually missed any posts here, but I apologize for my own inactivity. I am working through a mound of junk in my head and in my heart, but will be posting regularly again soon, once I can sort out my thoughts.

In the meantime, I would love it if you could do me a favor. Please check out my friend Mark's blog, Points on the Wheel. Mark and I have been close friends for a couple years now; both of us share a passion for service and a mutual (and I would say, "healthy") mistrust of the institutional Church. So here's a bit of "revolutionary" to go with your "everyday": Mark is attempting to do wonderful, wonderful things in Haiti (that's right...remember Haiti?). He is an inspiration to me, and given the chance, I think he can inspire you, too. Check out his blog, get a feel for the work he does, and consider making a contribution of $10 to help his cause. We are in the midst of one of the most frenzied seasons celebrated by a consumer-obsessed culture; perhaps instead of buying that extra sweater your uncle would never wear anyway, your money can go to help fund the building of a locally operated chicken farm in Haiti.

It's a small price to pay for the realization of what Jesus called the "Kingdom of God" in the here and now. My friend Mark calls it the "Dream of God." Dream on, my friends. Dream on.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Everyday RevoLectionary, 10/16

Thoughts on the Gospel reading for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost:

In this strange story, we find Jesus being approached by Jewish representatives of two opposing ideological camps who are working together to trip him up: the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians. The pairing of these two groups is rather odd; while the Pharisees were a religious sect who opposed Roman imperialism (they were a religious class "for the people," truly the religious Tea Party of their day), the Herodians were a political movement of Jews who were supportive of Herod Antipas and the legacy of his father, Herod the Great, and were very likely supporters of the Roman occupation.

Faced by these opposing views, the question is asked of Jesus: "Do we pay taxes to the Empire, or don't we?"

If he says, "Yes, pay those taxes," he is supporting the Herodians and their enthusiasm for the political power of the Empire, suggesting that Jesus himself is more Roman than Jew; if he says "No, don't pay the taxes," he is liable to be arrested, or worse, executed as an insurrectionist and all-around rabble rouser.

The writer of Matthew is very interested in the relationship between the power of the Kingdom of Heaven and the power of earthly authority, especially when it comes to money.

Just a few chapters earlier, Jesus and his disciples are approached by the collectors of the Temple didrachma tax, asking if the Teacher "pays his dues" to the established religious order. Jesus suggests to Peter that children of the Heavenly Father should be exempt from paying such a tax, but—so as not to offend—he sends Peter to catch a fish, and in the fish's mouth is a stater coin (a tetradrachm, or four-drachma), which serves to pay the Temple tax for both Jesus and Peter. Strangely enough, the demands of the human institution are satisfied by nature's provision. 

The miracle of the fish exposes the triviality of the entire Temple tax system.

In both stories, Jesus is actually somewhat flippant, in a way that recalls his answer to Peter's question about "the disciple whom Jesus loved" at the end of the Gospel of John:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’John 21:20-22 

In a dualistic world, Jesus is a perpetual proponent of the "third way." Jesus almost always answers with a non-answer to show that the issues which seem most pressing to us, in an eternal sense, are really non-issues. We betray our own humanity by consistently asking precisely the wrong questions.

"What about him?" we ask. "What about him?" Jesus answers.

So what is it that serves to "tax" you?

Jesus, do we pay taxes or not?
Jesus, do we support gay marriage or not?
Jesus, do we vote Democrat or Republican?
Jesus, do we support our five wars or not?
Jesus, do we shop at Wal Mart or not?

Jesus's response reminds us that the answer is both strikingly simple yet intimately complex:

"Don't bother me with trivialities. As for you, you follow me."

The Kingdom has bigger fish to fry.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sabbath, October 9th

This particular Sabbath means a lot to me. I am currently resting on my couch, enjoying my first day off from work since September 26th.

I have spent the last evening and morning throwing on the pottery wheel, and the results of my labor have been a dandy little coffee cup and a tall, thin, eucharist chalice.

Before bed last night, I began a loaf of sourdough bread, and left it to rise overnight. By the morning, it had tripled in size. I formed it into a loaf and baked it.

I am quickly (although somewhat reluctantly) learning to be grateful for solitude. With Alyssa working and going to class, I rarely see her. And while my fascination with community is still strong, I am starting to realize how much I can accomplish on my own, whether or not other people in our community want or are able to join me in some of my endeavors. If I don't get caught up on having to have someone enjoy my interests with me, I become free to fully enjoy them on my own.

Maybe I'll can some blackberry jelly this afternoon.

Wendell Berry wrote a series of Sabbath poems over the course of many years. This is one of my favorites:

     Whatever is foreseen in joy
     Must be lived out from day to day.
     Vision held open in the dark
     By our ten thousand days of work.
     Harvest will fill the barn; for that 
     The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

     And yet no leaf or grain is filled 
     By work of ours; the field is tilled
     And left to grace. That we may reap,
     Great work is done while we're asleep.

     When we work well, a Sabbath mood
     Rests on our day, and finds it good.

I hope this Sabbath brings you the peace that comes with solitude, and the courage to enjoy it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Getting Restless

"I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life."—Leo Tolstoy

Where next, God?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Everyday Revo-Lectionary, 10/9

Growing up, I attended a tiny United Methodist church in my hometown. It was there that I developed a fascination with church liturgy and holy day observance that has continued (with the occasional lapse here and there) to this day. We hung the greens for Advent and decorated the Christmas tree with chrismon ornaments that my great-grandmother had made, we held baptisms in the river not far from our chapel, and each spring practiced a number of somber observances for Holy Week. 

Every year on the morning of Good Friday, the 20 or 25 members of my church would gather together for a somber recitation of a Good Friday litany, followed by a breakfast of homemade hot cross buns, coffee, and "Russian Tea" (which I later learned was really just hot tea, orange juice, and cinnamon). For me, this simple gathering and observance of one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar has dug itself into my memory, and it has become an integral piece of my outward expression of my own faith.

photo credit
Every Good Friday for the last three years, I have tried to uphold the breakfast tradition so familiar to me from my childhood. Each year I wake up at 3 a.m. to begin making the hot cross buns from scratch; I keep a silent vigil while the dough rises, and at around 7 a.m., I put on some liturgical music to listen to while I wait for people to arrive. When everyone has gathered, we participate in a litany that I have written, followed by prayer, and just being together. 

However, in the last three years combined of keeping this tradition, I'm pretty sure I can count on one hand the number of people who joined me for Good Friday breakfast. This year, only one person showed up—our friend Lake. Alyssa and I were left with two enormous pans of fluffy, newly-iced hot cross buns, and no one else to eat them. 

At the time, we lived in a coffee shop, and the shop was open on that day. After it was clear that no one else was going to join us, Lake, Alyssa, and I took the hot cross buns downstairs and shared them with our community of friends there. Folks that came from a variety of backgrounds—very few were religious at all, let alone Christians who observed Good Friday. Gay, straight, Pagan, art students, biology students, young folks, older folks. People who came to mean a lot to us during our time at the shop. These were people that we loved. 

Perhaps not everyone grasped the gravity of the holiday—heck, we were giving out free buns! who cares about the religious tradition?—but we all certainly felt the importance of community and we all enjoyed one another's company. Though no one showed up to our planned event and we felt disappointed and under-appreciated for the briefest of moments, we were given the gift of celebrating community with food and conversation. To this day, that Good Friday has been one of the most memorable holy day observances I have ever experienced.

In our work for the Kingdom, sometimes we operate under the assumption that If you build it, they will come. And, most unfortunately, this is very often quite untrue. Sometimes people just aren't going to show, no matter how big you build it, or how well it is built. Sometimes our best ideas fall flat simply because of a lack of interest from others. Sometimes folks just don't want to get out of bed, even if for some delicious hot cross buns. 

There are many possible pieces of Christ's parable of the wedding banquet to fixate upon: the seemingly over-the-top rage of the king that essentially leads to the genocide of all who are "too busy" to come to the wedding (surprisingly, not an option I have previously considered for my Good Friday gatherings); I could go into Jewish wedding customs from the time of Christ; I could analyze why the king calls the mysterious robe-less man "Friend" before proceeding to throw him into the darkness for showing up without the proper attire (seems pretty harsh—beggars shouldn't be choosers, after all).

But to me, the entire parable hinges on verse 10. Those who were welcomed to the feast initially but turned down the invitation suddenly become the subject of the king's wrath. So his servants take to the streets dragging in everyone they can find. Good and bad, all are brought to the wedding feast together. The great message here is that it doesn't take the people who are "worthy" to build the Kingdom of God. It takes everyone: good and bad alike (we might say insiders and outsiders). A wedding without guests is lousy. So is a Kingdom without people who are willing to help build it together. Perhaps, if we personally commit ourselves to building it regardless of who shows up to help us, we just might receive the unexpected surprise of unintentional community. And therein lies unexpected grace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Blog Series

It's been a long-standing joke between my good friend Tyler Tankersley and myself that our passion for Biblical academia has evolved in almost opposite directions. Tyler's love of the Hebrew Bible rivals that of most rabbis I know (okay, I don't really know any rabbis), and I have been more and more fascinated by the Gospels since I took my first New Testament literature class my first semester of college, almost six years ago.

A couple weeks ago, Tyler started a little experiment with the weekly Hebrew Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, posting his thoughts each week, so I decided to copy his idea and provide some of my own thoughts for the correlating weekly Gospel readings (I'm not much for the Epistle passages, personally).

So stay tuned for my new series on the Gospel readings for each week, Everyday Revo-Lectionary (see what I did there?). Looking forward to posting and hearing some of your thoughts.

Friday, September 30, 2011

John's Revelation, Bonhoeffer's Germany, and Our America—Guest Post By Lawrence Garcia

Around the turn of the first-century, several congregations in Asia Minor received a letter from a grey-haired and banished Apostle John who, at that moment, was a resident of the island of Patmos. No doubt they had received Johannine correspondence before, but this one was different. This letter functioned more like a gateway to another world, with John himself playing the role of mediating host. It would not be long after they had taken up residence within John’s visionary escapade that they would realize they weren’t in another world per se but rather their own world, albeit from a different perspective. This was home—Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum—this was Asia Minor.

The torrent of images all had their points of contact with aspects of daily Greco-Roman life and history: the wounded and healed head of the beast recalled the recent rumor of Nero redivivus, the prostitute on the beast had its correspondence with the Magna Mater, the goddess Cybele worshiped in the area, and Babylon’s opulence that depicted all too well the wealthy aristocrats situated on Rome’s posh Palatine Hill. Thus, it is in this sense that John’s letter is an “apocalypse”, that is, a removal of the veil exposing what was previously hidden.  According to the revelator, the particular reality that was being unmasked was that of the Emperor Cult and its ubiquitous propaganda which the churches seem to have accepted as truth. Dio Cassius, a contemporary of John wrote:

At that time Caesar was attending to general matters, and he permitted the establishment of precincts to Rome and to [his] father Caesar—calling him the hero Julius—in Ephesos and in Nicea, for these were the most distinguished cities of Asia and in Bithynia respectively. He ordered the Romans who settled among them to honor these two. But he allowed the Hellenes—to concentrate precincts to him, the Asians in Pergamum and the Bithynians in Nicomedia… Yet even there (Rome), various god-like honors are given after his death to those who rule uprightly; and heroic shrines are built to them.”[1] (emphasis added)

The bestowal of divine honors upon the emperor, coupled with the erection of imperial shrines, had its very beginnings in Asia Minor, which happens to be the locus of all seven churches. This is not a connection to be merely glossed over in a mad rush to have the book tell us all we want to know about the end of the world.  Such a shallow reading is ruled out of court, precisely because the parodying of Roman-imperial propaganda that can be witnessed throughout Revelation was designed to reveal the true nature of the empire itself at that exact point in history. Small wonder then that the letter asks of its recipients to “Hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” for it would demand that they open their hearts and minds to this startling alternate reality. One commentator sums it up well:

Revelation is a call to have faith in God rather than empire. This call takes place in a narrative through which John tells of his visionary experiences… This plot is the story of YHWH’s plan for the people who live in a world dominated by concentrations of human power. The Biblical Story of a people called to be ‘set apart’ from power arrangements that characterized Egypt, Canaan, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.”[2]

So in the light of John’s vivid drama, Rome’s military glory, its material prosperity, and its forms of justice and peace were shown forth to be nothing more than a ravaging of the earth, blatant economic exploitation, and raw violence and bloodshed.   Thus, the churches in Asia Minor were to renounce their allegiance to Rome, see Rome for what she really was, and “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.”  In light of this realization, they would find the Lamb’s way of conquering not by way of martial victory, but rather, that of blood-stained love.

Undoubtedly, John’s creative way of unmasking empire would have proved invaluable in the churches continued struggle to not be absorbed into the wider imperialistic culture—a struggle endured from the days of Constantine to our own.  Perhaps the struggle is due to our susceptibility as human beings to be shaped by the constant bombardment of imperial propaganda?  For those in Asia Minor, absorption occurred by way of imperial temples, altars, coins, festivals, and inscriptions, all serving to legitimate the divine status of Roma Aeterna (Rome eternal)And closer to our own time, such as exemplified in the early twentieth-century by Hitler’s propaganda machine, as Erwin Lutzer, states:

Hitler believed that books could never bring about a revolution; only the spoken word, delivered by a person who could convert them to a radical agenda. He said that when you want to tear down a world and build another in its place you must first separate the supporters and the members. The function was to attract supporters, and change people’s minds so that they would be in agreement with the aims and the philosophies of the movement.”[3]

Lutzer continues to site Hitler’s Mien Kampf which is worth quoting:

“The first task of propaganda is to win people for subsequent organization… The second task of propaganda is the disruption of the existing state of affairs and the permeation of this state of affairs with the new doctrine, while the second task of the organization must be the struggle for power, thus to achieve the final success.”

We can only speculate, but could the mass murder of millions of innocents have been averted if the largely German Christian nation would have “heard and obeyed” John’s call to resist uncritical allegiance to Empire?  In his book, Authentic Faith: Theological Ethics in Context, Heinz Eduard Tödt recalls Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s (one of the few German Protestants to actively resist Hitler) reflection on social “stupidity” in the face of power:

Bonhoeffer knew that what he saw was not obvious to all. His surprising thesis in the section on stupidity [Dummheit] is that stupidity ‘is not an intellectual defect,’ and ‘not so much a psychological problem as a sociological problem… On closer examination, it appears that every strong external exhibition of power, be it political or religious, stupefies a large section of people.’ Under the ‘overwhelming impression of exhibition of power,’ people often lose their ‘inner independence’ and refrain from ‘finding an authentic way of responding to the given circumstance of life’.”[4](174)

Bonhoeffer’s analysis of society’s “Dummheit in the face of impressive displays of power characterizes the failures in Asia Minor vis-à-vis Rome, and in Germany vis-à-vis Hitler.  Indeed, seductive displays of power need apocalyptic visions to counteract these stupefying effects of imperial propaganda. Thus at this point  it can become all too easy, as we stand from our perspective at the precipice of history, to critique those in Asia Minor who colluded with the imperial cult, while also passing judgment on those German Christians who signed oaths of allegiance to Hitler, silently stepping aside and standing by as he “Cleansed the Land.”  Engaging as it were from a superior perspective while ignoring the question of whether or not we in America today, in something of a Constantian power paradigm, are likewise  blindly following the pro-military propaganda that allows our government to advance its agendas unhindered.  I suggest that it is vital for us to begin reading John’s apocalypse in light of our current situation, especially as our government maintains a constant idle of fear and power that it might quickly rev-up new military ventures by employing the familiar rhetorical tactics put to effective use by Rome and Germany. We would do well to heed the warnings of the apostolic visionary, lest we also be condemned by history for refusing to “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches”.

[1] Dio Cassius 51.20.6-9 Translation by Loeb.
[2] Wes Howard-Brook, Anthony Gwyther, “Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now,” (Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY, 1999), pg 23.
[3] Erwin W. Lutzer, “When A Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn From Nazi Germany,” (Moody Publishers: Chicago, IL, 2010), pgg 76-77.
[4] Hienz Eduard Tödt, “Authentic Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context,” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI, 1993), pg 174.

Guest Blog Post Coming Soon!

Hello, fellow revolutionaries!

I am pleased and very excited to announce an upcoming guest blog post from my friend Lawrence Garcia entitled John's Revelation, Bonhoeffer's Germany, and Our America.

Lawrence is a thought-provoking writer who has made it his life's work to "teach Christians not only to tell and live out their faith, but to think it through with equal vigor." I am honored to be featuring his thoughts here at EverydayRev.

I encourage you to check out the post when it arrives later this evening (I have read it, and it is fantastic!), as well as generate some meaningful discussion based on the information. I would also highly recommend Lawrence's blog, where you will find even more good thoughts and discussion starters.

Looking forward to watching the conversation unfold!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Brief Polemic Against a Bumper Sticker Faith

Beware the bumper sticker faith, my brothers and sisters.

You know what I'm talking about. There are lots of different types: those who prefer icthus fishes to express their faith for them (and those who go one step further, in case anyone didn't get the picture), and those who prefer hellfire and damnation stickers; there are those who choose cutesie stickers with theologically shallow messages, those who prefer theological stickers with thinly veiled political agendas, those who prefer political stickers with thinly veiled theological agendas, and then there are those of us that just prefer stickers, period:

(This is my own truck, by the way)

I say again: beware of this, my friends.

Admittedly, I am just as guilty of this as any. And it's pretty easy to see how others derive satisfaction from the lazy activism that bumper stickers afford. I enjoy waiting at the millions of stoplights on the main highway that runs through my town, watching in my rear-view mirror the expressions of unsuspecting drivers who pull up behind me as they read the stickers that plaster the backglass of my camper shell. These looks are extremely gratifying, ranging anywhere from, "Ugh. He's a Christian with a big mouth," to "Hooray! He must be a liberal!" to "What the hell does that even mean?"

But we must realize that a bumper sticker faith—like a faith that relies on so-called "contemporary worship" songs to emotionally stir the person singing them—often says more about the person who shows them off than it does about the causes they represent. Telling the world that you are against abortion or the death penalty is the bumper sticker equivalent of bragging to your entire congregation, "I could sing of Your love forever!"

When we begin to let our catchy slogans speak the truth of the Gospel for us, we're just being lazy, or clinging to what we know is safe when we know that we should be sticking our neck out. In a video interview made for Alter Video Magazine by The Work of the People, Phyllis Tickle says this on the "politicalization of spiritual virtues":


We have our liberal or conservative niches (or even moderate niches, I'm now finding), where we titter and gossip about what our niche is doing right that the the other niche is doing wrong. We get angry at the injustice of the world and pound our fists and get red in the face—but none of this really does all that much. We convince ourselves that we can't really do anything where we are at the moment—or worse, we erroneously try to convince ourselves that we actually ARE doing something where we are at the moment—but that's really just a cover for our own shameful inactivity.

If all you're doing for the Kingdom is talking about it, or blogging about it, or tweeting about it, you're not really doing anything at all for it, are you? It's much easier to do these things than to actually commit to some level of activity. To paraphrase Tickle, your activism and "noise" should only arise from the experience of serving others. I know that I often try to do this the other way around, and it just doesn't work. If you really want to "be the change you wish to see in the world," it begins with love, and it begins with the simplest actions born out of love: Feed a stranger. Stop when you see someone stranded on the highway, no matter how much of a hurry you think you're in. Give money to those people who wait at the interstate ramps, even if you are assuming they will use it to buy drugs—a radical idea, right? Better yet, pick one of them up and take them out to lunch.

I'm gonna get off this stinkin' computer and go do something.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bucket List

Hooray for having a list of things you'd like to do before you shuffle off this mortal coil!

For some time I've been thinking, What do I want out of life? I mean, what do I really want?

And so I've decided to put together a small list of attainable goals that, once I have accomplished them, I can look back on my life and be proud of my experiences. Here's what I have so far:

1. Learn Neil Young's "Old Man" on the guitar and perform it on my 24th birthday.
For some reason, this song always reminds me that I'm going to die. And it's such a beautiful song, it just seems apropos to play it at a point in my life where I have to submit to the realization that a quarter of my life is over.

2. Visit the Holy Land; particularly the Church of the Nativity, the Mount of Olives, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 
This one has some personal significance, as my great-grandfather (a Methodist minister) traveled to the Holy Land back in the 70s. But I am also excited by the actual historical implications of such a visit. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. Now, having a little experience in history and anthropology and a deep abiding fascination with archaeology and the religious experience, I really would like to gain a visualization of where some of these events occurred that are so formational to the Judeo-Christian faith.

3. Float in a canoe from Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico via the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Yes, it's possible. And it will take almost 50 days to reach the Gulf. I had to use math to figure that one out.

4. Hike a sizable portion of the Appalachian Trail. I don't care where or how far exactly. I just want to spend about a month or so hiking and camping. Preferably with friends.

5. Help organize and run a house church for one year. House churches are quite possibly the only churches that are able to function with little to no money. It has long been my dream to be a part of one, ever since I learned of their earnestness in "doing church" through my reading of Wolfgang Simpson's Houses that Change the World. Not long ago, a professor asked me what 100 questions I would ask of a church that is seeking relevance and (financial) sustainability. My main answer: I really don't care, since most of what a typical "church" is seeking is usually tied up in how to pay the church's bills in the long-run. But Christianity is a philosophy, a Way of Life, and costs nothing to practice. To me, helping to run a house church is perhaps the best way of engaging in real and honest Christian worship. 

6. Visit an ancient Irish monastery for a retreat. Many of the Celtic abbeys in Ireland are only accessible by boat! This makes my inner monk smile with joy. Iona, one of the oldest monasteries in Europe, is still open to visitors and pilgrims seeking reprieve.

7. Go one week without speaking. In today's world, it is nearly quite literally impossible to do something like this. All I want is to find my inner silence, and practice equanimity of mind. It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he carried stones in his mouth until he learned to be silent. 'Nuff said.

Well, there you have it. My bucket list, thus far. I will be adding to it periodically, but for now I have enough to work toward. Do you have a bucket list? Why or why not? What are some things you'd like to accomplish before you die, and why?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The One Thing

The man was pushing 85 years old, and spoke with a rural accent so thick it was often hard to understand him. But he had kind eyes, and walked with delicacy that disclosed his care and concern for the land that he tilled. Later, I sat speaking with him as he carefully washed a bucketful of freshly picked jalapeno peppers one by one, dropping them into another five-gallon bucket.

It was cold, and I pulled the sleeves of my sweater down from my elbows to my wrists.

"It's pretty chilly today," I said.

"Yessir, it is. I gots my long underwear on today." He chuckled, plunging his hands into a bucket of water that had to be nearly freezing.

A long silence.

"I can do anything," he said suddenly, without looking up from the task at hand.

I leaned in to listen.

"What I mean is, my whole life I've been able to do stuff on m'own. If I see a brick-layer layin' brick, I think to myself, Wull, I can do that, and I do; and they say to me, 'Why, you been layin' brick for years!' and I tell 'em, 'Nope. This is my first time.' This is jus' plain survival skills, that ever'one needs to have. You need somethin', you learns how to do it yourself."

I've been stewing on this conversation all day. It prompted me to recall another discussion I had with a former employer—a pastor—of mine. Not long before I moved from Cape Girardeau to Liberty, this pastor (who was under the mistaken notion that I am intending to direct my life towards the pursuit of leading worship through music) mentioned to me that I do too many things. "You try to do so much; narrow it down, or you'll end up being mediocre and many things, and truly excellent at none." This of course, in context, was a suggestion to give up my peripheral interests—canning, baking, pottery, art, literary study, poetry, etc.—in order to become a full-time worship leader.

The core sentiment was still striking. My personality is much like that of the farmer's: I look at things, think Well, I can do that, and then I do them.

But sometimes the pastor's words haunt me; occasionally I wonder if my conversation with him was perhaps unintentionally prophetic. Paul Tillich said that faith is essentially what a person is most concerned about. In a similar fashion, Jesus proclaimed that "where your treasure is, there your heart is, also." Where, I often find myself asking, is my ultimate concern? Sometimes I feel that I have sacrificed a life focused on the One Thing (whatever that may be) in order to attempt to experience the Many. Let's face it: I'm good at a lot of crap. Any of my friends can attest to this. But often, my little abilities are really just that: crap. No real substance or power to be found; just a petty little interest or hobby that is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire.

This reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, a romanticized film version of the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Do few things and do them well, Francesco proclaims as he rebuilds a burned-out chapel that will become his home, Take your time; go slowly. Good advice. How I so strongly desire greatness through focused concern! To be like St. Francis, or Gandhi, or Dr. King. People of conviction, who pursued their conviction with tenacity. These people sacrificed their lives for their One Thing.

What is your One Thing? Have you sacrificed any measure of faith in the One in order to pursue the Many? Gimme some feedback.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Farming: A Handbook," by Wendell Berry

This week I got my brand new copy of Wendell Berry's Farming: A Handbook, a re-released collection of poems first published in 1971. It was from this book that Berry's famed Mad Farmer first crawled from the pages and began to preach megaphonically the gospel of the land.

Every single poem the man writes seems to speak directly to how I feel. Observe:

The Wish to Be Generous
All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods and the hill and the whole earth, all
will burn in man's evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know
my little light taken from me into the see
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.

This, my friends, is poetic nourishment. Thought for food.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On Fasting

You should know that I have a pretty poor body image of myself. I have struggled with overeating and being overweight for as long as I can remember, and it is still something that fills my thoughts most often during the day. Even in high school, when I was in reality quite trim, I saw myself as grotesquely fat.

For several years, I was involved in an unhealthy relationship with a girl that I almost married. Once, not long after I started college, I began to experiment with fasting. At the root of this was my own self-loathing; I ate too much, and saw the best solution as not eating at all. However, I was also deeply psychologically tied to this girl. Once, in a conversation about fasting, she told me, "I don't think you should do it; you are doing it for the wrong reasons." This simple declaration has haunted me since she said it.

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The modern or contemporary evangelical understanding of fasting is pretty simplistic in nature: one fasts because it is a sign of devotion to God, that one has the faith to give up something as a show of faith. It is something that a person must want to do, or they shouldn't do it at all. Usually, fasting is associated with the liturgical observance of Lent; in my personal experience, I have met few evangelical Christians who regularly practice the spiritual discipline of fasting.

"I am giving up chocolate for Lent, because I believe in God."

"I am listening to only Christian music instead of secular music during Lent, because I want to be close to Jesus."

"I am giving up television."

The laundry list of New-Year's-resolution-style fasting commitments goes on and on.

So I've been doing some thinking, and I keep coming back to that same question that my ex-girlfriend provoked me to ask of myself almost five years ago:

What is the "right reason" to fast?

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I've been taking a church history course at my seminary called "Sacred Journey," and last week we covered a small unit on early Christian monasticism. In contrast to the modern evangelical understanding of why we fast, ancient desert monks saw fasting as a form of self-denial; something that they didn't necessarily want to do, but that they recognized they must do. Ancient monks believed—in contrast to so many Christians today—that all sin stems from hunger, physical or otherwise (This contradicts Augustine's assertion that human sin originates with human sexual lust). The temptation of the stomach is at its core what makes us human and what also draws us into overconsumption (America, anyone?) and excessiveness. Of course, monks did all kinds of crazy things to themselves. It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he carried stones in his mouth until he learned to be silent.

Fasting reminds us that one of the greatest fruits of the Spirit—self-control—is the fruit that is not eaten.

I have seen this illustrated in the life and teachings of the Mahatma Gandhi. In his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi writes at length about the relationship between food and the spiritual life, and confesses his own struggles with indulgence. He writes:

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"Passion in man is generally co-existent with a hankering after the pleasures of the palate...I have considered myself to be a heavy eater. What friends have thought to be my restraint has never appeared to me in that light...I began with a fruit diet, but from the standpoint of restraint I did not find much to choose between a fruit diet and a diet of food grains. I observed that the same indulgence of taste was possible with the former as with the latter, and even more, when one got accustomed to it. I therefore came to attach greater importance to fasting or having only one meal a day on holidays. And if there was some occasion for penance or the like, I gladly utilized it too for the purpose of fasting. But I also saw that, the body now being drained more effectively, the food yielded greater relish and the appetite grew keener. It dawned upon me that fasting could be made as powerful a weapon of indulgence as of restraint." (pp. 320-21)

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So I am coming to find that my own misguided journey hasn't been so misguided, after all. My conversation with my ex should serve as a warning that we must be careful of what we choose to say to one another, as we never know the spiritual consequences of our own words. Though it has been an exciting adventure to rediscover fasting as of late, there were several painful years of being caught in the uncomfortable position of thinking that I was not good enough or that I did not have the right mindset for fasting, paired with my discomfort at my own excessive behavior. I overate, but couldn't fast to correct myself.

I recently learned that the word "prodigal" is a synonym for indulgence. When we refer to someone as prodigal today, we usually mean it with the connotation that the person has been gone for a while and has returned; this is, after all, the plot of Jesus's famous parable. But prodigality—excessiveness—was the sin of the younger son and the primary motivator in the story plot. The great humility of the son that prompted him to return home resulted from his own "forced fasting," which was a consequence of his extravagant living. Why do we not remember this?

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I am learning more and more that fasting is indeed the answer to excessiveness, rather than conviction of excessiveness being the reason not to fast. My own hunger disgusts me, and fasting is a way of combatting that self-disgust, laying aside my preoccupation with what I will eat and what I look like, and spending time focusing instead my relationship with the Divine.

I now begin my own little "experiment with truth." And I am able to do so with a freed conscience.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The People or the Land?

Alyssa and I have evolved a lot over the last year of our life together. We've begun asking questions—specific questions—about our future as a couple that has committed to serving others for the rest of our lives.

Life is smoooooth sailin'.
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But lately, as we have settled into our cushy suburban community, I have begun to feel...well...comfortable

We have a front porch that is perfect for sitting, and enough space in the house for two families to live comfortably. I have a nice job working for a nonprofit in the city, and Alyssa is a manager at a coffee shop in downtown historic Liberty. As I sit in Starbucks writing this, sipping on my iced coffee and occasionally checking facebook on my fancy iPod Touch that my sister gave me, I am less than 30 miles from almost any restaurant or chain store anyone could possibly dream of wanting to spend time in.

And not too long ago, at a house concert that Alyssa and I hosted for our friends Derek and Nathan, one of the folks in attendance looked around at the house, the porch, and the well-groomed, safe, white neighborhood, and remarked, "I could never live in  place like this."

Now, 1,900 years of Church Tradition has reasoned that Jesus didn't really mean the things that he said—when he said, "Sell what you own and give to the poor," he didn't mean actually sell what you own and give to the poor, but instead, "Be a generous person" (obviously some rich folks in the ancient church had an issue with that one). When he said, "Blessed are the poor and blessed are the peacemakers," and "Foxes have their holes and birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head," he didn't mean for his followers to be poor, to become peacemakers, or to live their lives as homeless wanderers. 

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I don't agree with this line of thinking. To me, the suburban life and the Christian life are incompatible. To live a Christian life is to "take up your cross daily, deny yourself, and follow Jesus." To live a suburban life is to be comfortable. Whew! You want to talk cognitive dissonance? I am a really comfortable person.

However, admittedly, it has become popular to move to the inner-city and be poor. It's really rad for white middle-class kids to relocate into at-risk neighborhoods (whatever that means) and "do art," or swoop in with the "great white savior" mentality. I call this hipster gentrification, and it is just as dangerous as being comfortable. Creating a subculture in the world of the poor but not of the world of the poor is not what Jesus had in mind. This is not anavah. This is not the mindset that says, "You have something to teach me, perhaps even more than I could possibly teach you."

Lately, I've been thinking more about simplicity and sustainability. I've been greatly inspired by the so-called "Tiny House Movement." I have thoroughly enjoyed working together in community with my dearest friends on our small garden plot. I've been researching simplicity in the way I eat and the way I eat with others. I've been overjoyed in learning how to make my own bread completely from scratch. This is the life that is appealing to me—you put in a little hard work, and you are satisfied with the fruits of your labor. The simple life is increasingly capturing my spiritual imagination more than the inner-city New Monastic life. 

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I grew up in the country. I mean, some people say they were raised in the country, but I really was. One of my grandpas raised and sold cattle; the other grandpa raised donkeys and mules. At Christmas, my entire hometown gets together and reenacts the story of Stone Soup and then gathers around a large lit cedar and sings "Welcome Christmas," just like they do in Whoville. My dad was a conservation agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation, then later a resource forester for the U.S. Forest Service. Growing up, I was taught to appreciate the land. And lately, in my readings of Wendell Berry and in my own feeble attempts at a simple life, I have begun to miss the land. Sometimes I yearn for the land so much that my heart aches. "Put your hands into the earth," Berry says. "Live close to the ground. Gather round you all the things that you love, name their names."

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So I've begun to consider some options. What if, rather than a communal home somewhere in the forgotten corner of an inner city neighborhood, Anavah instead took the form of a small 20-acre farm within a half-hour of a larger city? My thoughts have shifted to allow me to believe it would be spiritually and physically gratifying for a small group of families (say, three or four, perhaps) to all pitch in funds to buy a small plot of land, build a series of tiny houses on that land, and then proceed to work the land for sustenance. The Backyard Homestead, a book that I have been reading lately, suggests that it is possible for a medium-sized family to comfortably live off of about a quarter acre; imagine what great things a small, organic farm could produce, if a few people were willing to live in community with the land and with each other! We could go off the grid, running off of solar or wind energy, and live comfortably and simply in our tiny houses, and perhaps even have an extra "barn" that could serve as a guest house and a common area for worship and study, and maybe even the occasional music jam. We could essentially be a Missouri version of Koinonia Farm! It's the perfect plan!


There's that whole Jesus thing again. I believe that to be a Christian is to be outwardly focused (some people as of late have taken to calling this "being missional," a fluff phrase for which I've had little use). In order to live out the gospel and the teachings of Christ fully, we must be zeroed in on the needs of others—particularly the plight of the poorest, the "least of these." And for the life of me, I can't quite bring myself to rationalize my desire to be a hermit farmer with my perceived obligation to live and work among the poor. 

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I don't want to live in the city. People get shot in the city. There's no fresh air there. It's crowded and there are so many rude people that cluster in America's cities. But this is exactly why I feel Jesus would want me there. People without homes live in the city. There are junkies whose families have turned them out. There are children who live on the fringe of society because they have been cast away from civilization. How can I speak for the voiceless if I am not  near the people who need to be heard? This is quite the existential funk.

So where do I go from here? Do I commit my love to the land, or to the people? Are those two mutually exclusive? I have no idea. And I don't necessarily feel that God is very interested in helping me figure that one out. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sourdough Bread Recipe

Tonight I made my second loaf of homemade sourdough bread. I made my first loaf a couple days ago, and it didn't turn out as well (I used whole-wheat flour, and it was much heavier—it takes some experimenting to get it right). But tonight's loaf turned out to be one of the most delicious, most beautiful loaves I've ever baked (if I do say so myself). Here's how I did it:

In order to make homemade sourdough bread, you have to begin with a starter. There's a really cool tradition of sourdough starters that goes back to the Gold Rush in the early 19th century. Due to the fact that many miners considered their bread starters as precious as the gold they panned for (fresh yeast bread was hard to come by in the western frontier), some even carried their starters in a small container hung around their neck. The putrid mingling of the bread batters with—let's not kid ourselves—outrageous body odor led to them earning the nickname, "Sourdoughs."

Anyway, enough with the history lesson.

Making a starter is simple, but it's a little involved. After all, the active yeast is a living thing.

Sourdough Starter
In a medium-sized tupperware, combine about a cup of flour with about 3/4 cup water. Add a tablespoon of honey (this is to help feed the starter; some folks use sugar, some even use pineapple juice). Stir with a wooden spoon until it resembles a thick pancake batter. Then, cover it! This is important—when the starter begins to ferment, it will attract fruit flies unless it has a lid on it.

Repeat the same action the next day, and again the next day. Eventually, the starter should get kind of bubbly and frothy, and smell kind of...well, sour. This is how you know it's working.

When you end up getting a good three or four cups of starter built up, begin taking away and discarding about half of the starter each time you feed it (by this time, you'll only need to feed it once every few days). If—like me—you feel kind of wasteful and uneasy about simply throwing away half your starter, you can give it to a friend for them to start their own, or you can begin making bread!

Sourdough Bread
Once your starter is good and bubbly, you can start making bread. Literally all you need is pretty much flour and water and starter:

—3 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur Flour, since it's a small business with a social and environmental conscience)
—2 cups water
—3/4 cup of starter
—1 teaspoon salt (optional)
—1 tablespoon butter (optional)

Combine the flour, water, and starter and mix until it makes a wet dough. You may need to add more flour to keep the consistency of bread dough. However, with sourdough bread you want to make sure the dough is a little bit wetter than regular bread dough. Fold in the butter and salt, and knead for about 5 minutes.

Pat the dough into a ball, and then place in a well-greased bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and then cover the bowl with a towel.

Here's where things vary:

If you're in a hurry for bread, you might try placing the bowl in the oven with your oven light turned on. This will help it rise faster. Then again, if you're in a hurry for bread, why are you making sourdough?

Otherwise, just leave the dough on the counter, covered in the towel. Keep an eye on it until it is doubled—the rising could take anywhere from a few hours to just over a day. When the dough is doubled in size, carefully scoop it out of the bowl and fold the ends in, overlapping them into a round loaf.

For baking, you will need some sort of covered pan. I have seen covered stoneware bakers, but I just use a small chicken roaster that we've owned for as long as I can remember. If you're in a pinch, you can also use two deep-dish pie pans—simply use one as the pan and one upside-down on top of it for a lid. The reason for this is that it helps trap the moisture from the dough inside the pan, creating a thick, shiny, golden-brown crust that you see on most sourdoughs and baguettes.

Before you put your dough in the oven, take a small kitchen knife and make three or four cuts in the top of the loaf, then three or four more cuts to make 90 degree angles. This helps the dough to expand easily while baking.

Set your oven to 500 degrees (no preheating necessary), and place your loaf in the oven immediately. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for 10 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown.

Homemade Butter
What's better to go with homemade sourdough bread than homemade butter? Even though almost everyone has made butter this way (maybe when you were a kid), I'll post it anyway.

All you need is some heavy whipping cream and some salt. Pour about 2/3 of a cup of the whipping cream in a glass jar along with about a teaspoon  of salt (or more, depending on taste). Screw the lid on and shake pretty thoroughly for about 10 or 15 minutes, or until you can feel/hear that all the liquid in the jar has solidified. Unscrew the lid, and you should have a jar full of creamy, tasty white butter to go with your sourdough.

I enjoy the spirituality of making bread. There is a deep, soulful connection that comes with producing your own food and investing the time and energy it takes to provide your own sustenance. Besides: someday, in the post-apocalyptic not-so-distant future, you're going to need skills like breadmaking and canning! (kidding)

Best of all, though, with a bread recipe that literally only has three ingredients, you can feel good about making conscientious, simple food! Enjoy!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Love or the Ax?

Anyone who knows me or who reads my blog with any regularity can tell you that one of my favorite movies is Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. Actually, it's kind of a joke among my friends that I quote the film more than I quote the Bible.

One particular reason for my fondness of the film is that it captures a single but important tension that I have struggled with now for years. Not long after Jesus is baptized in the film, he is sitting with John the Baptizer discussing the tension between the love of Yahweh and the wrathful judgment of Yahweh:

Later, when Jesus is driven into the desert and is tempted, he comes to the realization that the "tree is rotten to the core," and receives a vision of John, who shows him an ax and an apple tree, which Jesus proceeds to chop down.

Upon returning to the disciples from this period of solitude, Jesus proclaims, "God is inside of us. The devil is outside of us, in the world all around us. We'll pick up an ax, and we'll cut the devil's throat. We'll fight him wherever he is: in the sick, in the rich. Even in the temple. I'll lead you. If you have sheep, give them away. If you have family, leave them. I believed in love. Now I believe in this..." He punctuates his point by brandishing an ax.

To me, almost all Christian belief boils down to the question of what medium we choose to deliver the message. Love? or the Ax?

Jesus? or John the Baptizer?

Oh yeah? Well to Hell with you! Literally!
One of the reasons I appreciate Scorsese's depiction of John the Baptist is that I have a huge fondness for the Hebraic tradition of prophecy. When I was in college I began to study the Minor Prophets, because since we didn't talk about the prophets much in church, my only understanding of them was that they were judgmental and wrathful. They probably wanted to send you to Hell for premarital sex, or cussing too much, or something.

But what I found in the Prophets was the continual painful admission that we live in a despicable world. Consider Amos, who is sent to Israel from Judah to call the rich out for trampling on the poor. Or Hosea, who is told to marry a prostitute, and to give his children names like "Not-My-People," and "Not-To-Be-Pitied," to symbolize Yahweh's estranged relationship with the Jews. Or think of Jeremiah, caught between an angry God and an angry people, sent as a young boy to bring a message of repentance to the Hebrew people—a message which ultimately costs him his life.

Living is painful, and that pain is usually brought on by our own rotten actions, or the rotten actions of those in power—in today's terms, think of banks that foreclose on the homes of the poor, or bankers and CEOs who still receive millions in yearly bonuses while people are starving on the streets of our country's cities. Or, in a more immediate sense, think of the hate or greed in our own hearts, and how that hurts the people around us.

I. am. PISSED. And I feel like God is too, and that God has something to say about it.

However, this can lead to closed-mindedness, fear, and more hatred. People are usually far too anxious to take on the role of prophet, which is why we have Chick tracts and bullhorns.

Jesus: "Trust me, this hurts me way more than it hurts you."
What about love? Is there a way of avoiding calling out the sins of the world, and instead simply trying to live out Christ's teaching to love our enemies? My heart sees the injustice of the world, and is disgusted by it. Do I attack with all my might and risk falling away from the love and humility of Jesus? Or do I practice love and humility instead of getting angry?

The problem is, I want to believe in both. I want to scream at all the injustice of the world. I want to chop the rotten tree down. I want to burn the infested forest until there is nothing but a pile of ash from which we can start over. I want to be a prophet.

But I also want to be like Jesus. I want to love my enemies. I want to practice self-control and discipline. I want to speak intimately with God as a friend. I don't want to worry about what tomorrow will bring. I want to forgive others.

The problem is, Jesus seems pretty conflicted on this whole struggle, himself. It doesn't take an in-depth reading of the gospels to see the things that enrage the Son of Man. Look no further than the so-called "cleansing of the Temple."

So which is it for you? Love? or the Ax?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Feast of St. Clare

A couple years ago I had the fortune to come across a copy of Mark Pryce's Literary Companion to the Festivals, and have enjoyed reading some great literature associated with or inspired by the powerful and moving stories of the Saints. On this Feast of St. Clare of Assisi, the reading is a liturgical letter; a poem that Clare sent to Agnes of Prague in the thirteenth century:

When You have loved, You shall be chaste;
When You have touched, You shall become pure;
When You have accepted, You shall be a virgin.
Who power is stronger,
Whose generosity is more abundant,
Whose appearance more beautiful,
Whose love more tender,
Whose courtesy more gracious.
In Whose embrace You are already caught up;
Who has adorned Your breast with precious stones
And has placed priceless pearls in Your ears
and has surrounded You with sparkling gems
as though blossoms of springtime
and placed on Your head a golden crown
as a sign to all of Your holiness.
      (source—Literary Companion to the Festivals, by Mark Pryce)