lone soldier

It was the day after Christmas, 1944. In Europe, the Battle of the Bulge was in full swing. On the other side of the world Hiroo Onoda, an elite Japanese soldier and intelligence officer, was dropped behind enemy lines on Lubang Island in the Philippines. His mission was to link up with a small group of soldiers already on the island and conduct guerrilla warfare and covert operations. The departing orders from Onoda’s commander, Major Taniguchi, were clear:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.

In February of 1945, Allied forces took the island, forcing the Japanese soldiers to split up and flee into the jungle mountains. Over the next several months most of them were killed off. But not Onoda.

Teamed with three other soldiers, Onoda continued to carry out his mission. They ate whatever they could find in the jungle or pillage from farms and villages. They plundered enemy stockpiles to refill their weapon stocks.

August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to Allied forces ending World War II. No one ever told Onoda and his compatriots. They’d heard nothing of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs. No news of the fall of Berlin had reached them. As far as they knew, the war was still on. . . .

This is an exclusive piece I wrote for The Antioch Session. Read the rest and join the conversation there.

Image by Davidd, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Loss of Lament

June 25, 2014 — 2 Comments

 

Image credit: philippe leroyer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image credit: philippe leroyer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On a hot summer night in 2012, I tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep. I was angry and frustrated. The year before I’d been fired from a large church for “not being a good fit.” After blaming the church leaders failed to satiate my anger, I turned to blaming God. If God was omnipotent and loving, why didn’t God prevent this from happening to me and my family? I’d committed no great sin; there was no moral or ethical failure that led to my dismissal. Yet, within just a few weeks of being let go, my family and I moved out of our house and headed to a duplex on the other side of the country.

As we settled in to our new place, we became quick friends with the couple renting out the other half of the duplex. He was a mechanical engineer from Switzerland and she was a nurse from New Jersey, both in their mid-forties. They’d moved to Oregon from Nashville only a week before us. As we got to know them, we danced around the topics of faith and religion. They knew I worked at a seminary in the area. I  learned that he was an atheist and she was a lapsed Catholic. Both were angry at God and religion.

See, she’d been battling breast cancer for a long time. A few years prior, it had gone into remission (again). Then, in 2010, she lost her house in the Nashville floods. All the church could offer her for why bad things kept happening to her was an paltry, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” She decided that God was a jerk and that she’d done nothing to deserve the tragedies that seemed to follow her around. She left church and never returned. The reason they left Nashville and moved across the country was to try and make a fresh start, to leave behind cancer and chemo and flooded houses and Christianese.

Less than a year after the move, she learned that her cancer was back. She had to quit her job at the hospital and become a patient in it. She underwent round after round of treatment, losing large amounts of hair and weight. That restless summer night in 2012, I’d just had a conversation with her husband who confided in me that things were looking bad.

As I tried to go to sleep that night, I was angry. I was still being angry with God for what had happened to me and my family, and now I  was angry that God allowed our neighbor’s cancer to return. These friends already shouldered more sorrow than was their fair share. So I tossed and turned, anger welling up inside me and, for the first time in over a year, I prayed. It went something like this:

“Who do you think you are, God? You call yourself ‘Love’? There isn’t anything loving about this. What we’re dealing with here isn’t fair. It’s not right. But I don’t want you to do anything for me. You want to do something? Heal HER. Destroy her cancer. Give her hope. Or maybe it would be better if you just left us all alone.”

I waited for the lightning to strike.

It didn’t.

And I felt a little better.

*******

We have lost the art of lament and it is killing our faith.

Western, affluent, success-oriented Christianity is so focused on blessing and praise that it doesn’t know what to do with tragedy or pain. In a weak attempt to offer consolation and hope, we sputter out platitudes about what God’s motivations must be (“God needed another angel in heaven”), what the grieving person should do (“just trust God’s plan”), or what we’ll do on their behalf (“I’ll pray for you”). At our core, though, we have no idea what to do with anger and tragedy and grief, so we do or say whatever we can to put some distance between us and it. In doing so, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to lament.

This is an exclusive piece I wrote for The Antioch Session. Read the rest and join the conversation there.

Confession has gotten a bad rap. In our strengths-driven, success-oriented, put-on-a-good-face, USAmerican culture, we don’t like to deal with our shortcomings, our failings, our sins. We deny, we equivocate, we rationalize, anything we can think of to avoid having to deal with the ways we’ve failed to love God, to love others, and love ourselves. We sweep those things far under the rug, out of sight, out of mind, where they fester and gnaw at our insides.

In confession, we are asked to confront head on all those things that we suppress so well. We are afraid that confession will somehow make us into Hester Prynne, that we will have to don our own scarlet letter. But that’s not at all what happens.

Confession doesn’t brand us with our sins, it releases us from them. Confession exposes the dark things in our lives to the Light. There can be no darkness where there is light. Confession destroys our sin. It heals us.

This is an exclusive piece I wrote for The Antioch Session. Read the rest and join the conversation there.

The myrrhbearers visit Jesus' tomb only to find it empty.

The myrrhbearers visit Jesus’ tomb only to find it empty.

Once again, it is Holy Week. As the Deacon of Creative Liturgy for Theophilus Church, I serve our community by dreaming up creative ways for us to worship together. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are our big three services. For each I try to come up with imaginative ways for us to express our common faith together.

For this Easter, I’ve written a child’s monologue in three parts. It is for a girl, 8-12, and is based on the fictional daughter one of Jesus’ female disciples. In chapters 8 and 24 of his gospel, Luke refers to a woman named “Joanna” as one of the women who followed Jesus. She was the wife of Chuza, who was King Herod’s chief steward. Some scholars think that Joanna may be the same woman that Paul refers to when he writes about “Junia” in Romans 16. They posit that Junia could easily be the Latin version of the Hebrew Joanna.

At any rate, for this piece I imagined what it might have been like if a child was given the opportunity to give her own first hand account of the story of Jesus. I do hope that you enjoy it. Feel free to use it in your community this Easter or some Easter in the future.  Continue Reading…

Fog lifting from a field on a December morning in Oregon. © R. Anderson Campbell, 2011.

Fog lifting from a field on a December morning in Oregon. © R. Anderson Campbell, 2011.

I’m done with “spiritual formation.”

I’m over it and you should be, too. Let me explain.

In much of the evangelicalism, “spiritual formation” is only an veiled way of referring to disciplines or practices intended to be undertaken by an individual for the sake of the individual. This compartmentalization of faith, this dualism, must stopContinue Reading…

Photo by Ed Ouimette (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo by Ed Ouimette (CC BY-SA 2.0)

HUMBUG WARNING: If Buddy the Elf best describes you during the holidays, you’re gonna hate this post.

Have you ever paid attention to the lyrics of the songs that are played around the holidays? I mean, really listened to them and considered their meanings? While many of them do a fine job and bringing glad tidings and cheer, some of them are just awful. Here are 10 Christmas Songs Whose Lyrics Are The WORSTContinue Reading…

Photo by gabrieleventi (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by gabrieleventi (CC BY 2.0)

I’m co-teaching a master’s class with Leonard Sweet for George Fox Seminary students called “Communication in Christian Ministry.” One of the things we want students to come away with is a better understanding of how to strategically integrate online communication and social networking tools into their ministry contexts. The students design a short-run social media project, track and assess interaction, then write up a report on their findings. Their projects are currently underway (check out Ed Pagh’s twitter hashtag #ExtendWorship and Tobyn Bower’s facebook group, “On the Trail” for great examples). Any foray into social conversations online quickly reveals the sometimes hostile grounds that exist “out there.”

With more people and more people joining social media conversations each year, have we lost our manners? In the midst of all the tweets and retweets, likes and status updates, pins, posts, comments and replies, upvotes and downvotes, is there a place for civility online? How can we make our virtual interactions more hospitable?  Continue Reading…

In this video from The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Roman Krznaric talks about the importance of outrospection and empathy when it comes to social, political, and economic transformation. I think that the same empathic imagination is needed in the church as well.

Continue Reading…

"I'm not botherin' you, am I?"

“I’m not botherin’ you, am I?”

When you think of “spirituality,” what comes to mind? Prayer? Yoga poses? Light and peace and health? For much of my youth, “spirituality” was something that only Buddhists or New Age hippies pursued. As a good, Southern Baptist evangelical, I didn’t have “spirituality,” I had my “walk with Jesus.” 

Mostly, this consisted of a daily “quiet time” with God, in which I read a passage out of the Bible, wrote down my thoughts in a journal, and prayed. The undercurrent was one of fear, though. I viewed God as a Divine Curmudgeon, the Great Mr. Wilson in the sky. My attempts at daily discipline were to try and placate him, to show him how serious and studious I was about wanting a relationship with him. And to apologize. Every time I prayed, I brought with me a long list of sins for which I needed forgiveness. I begged God daily to allow the blood of Jesus to cover over my latest transgressions. Theologically, I understood that God would forgive me, but I sure didn’t think he was very happy about it. I figured he was fairly put out by having to hear from me every day about how I’d screwed up since the last time I’d prayed. I felt guilty about exercising the Jesus-Loophole; God had to forgive me because I am a Christian. It’s like he was under contractual obligation.
Continue Reading…

A couple nights ago, I received a call in the early evening from a prominent speaker and writer here in the Portland area. He was having a dinner party and wondered if I was free to come and join him and his other guests. He said that most of the people at the party were, like him, from the area and he thought that having me, a Southerner now living in the Pacific Northwest, would add a different voice to the conversation. Though somewhat unsure about what he meant by that, I rearranged my plans for the evening and drove across town to his house.

When I arrived, it was immediately clear that I was late. Everyone else was already seated at the table and finishing up the salad course. Still, I was welcomed and introduced as guest of the host. I looked around the table and noticed that there wasn’t an empty place setting. All the seats were occupied. Slightly embarrassed, the host quickly had people rearrange their chairs and make some room as he retrieved a folding chair from his garage.

I sat down, a little bit lower due to the height of the cool, metal chair, and began to eat the salad placed before me. The shorter chair meant that the surface of the table came up to my mid-chest. I felt a little ridiculous sitting a full head lower than everyone else, like a child invited to sit with the grown-ups. The party staff cleared everyone else’s empty dishes. I shoveled the greens into my mouth, trying to catch up. In between bites, I tried to politely answer the other guests’ questions about my upbringing in Georgia. Continue Reading…