I was born on October 2, 1933 in Marion, Indiana. At that time, my parents were newly married, and in Dad's attempt to find work in the midst of the Depression, he worked at "stoop labor," picking tomatoes and whatever jobs he could find. After a year, they put me in the back of the Model A, drove to New York State, and moved in with my father's parents on their dairy farm. Dad helped with the dairy farm, and he and my grandfather also worked in a cotton mill, a cloth­making factory around Clinton, New York.

Living with the family was not the best, so when I was three years old, they moved back to Iowa, and Dad got an appointment as a pastor in north Iowa at Superior and Montgomery, near Okoboji. Dad had three years of college and the district superintendent told him they wanted him to finish college and go on to seminary. They moved Dad to Sioux City where he served Riverside Church, and he completed his college education at Morningside. My memories probably began there, at three years of age - there was the old Model A, the couch by the door, the black cat - all those kinds of things that impress a three-year old.

Dad was then assigned to Quimby, Iowa where I began school, but due to tonsillitis, I studied at home almost the entire year. I began school in first grade rather than kindergarten, and given my birth date, I really began school at five years of age. That meant I was always young for my class, always small, the shortest, light boned, and I always felt I was about a year behind.

Our next move was to Maple Park, Illinois, where Dad was appointed as pastor and studied at Garrett Seminary in Evanston. He commuted 50 miles back and forth, and Mother, my brother Del (Delbert), three years younger than me, and I, stayed in Maple Park.

Maple Park was a little town that originally had the nickname "Little Hell." It was a place that did not want a church but by the time we moved there, there was a Methodist Church and a Catholic Church. There was a gang that attempted to way-lay me on the way home from school, and beat up on me. Being small, I was intimidated. I would drop out of the second-story lavatory window of the school at the end of the day, and walk home through the cornfields to avoid going where they could find me. Finally I caught one of those kids alone in our garden. I knocked him down, sat on his chest, and pounded him. That was the end of the harassment. They understood one thing - I was willing to defend myself. My folks would have been very disturbed because they taught me not to fight. But that was the time when and the way I learned that I had to defend myself.

It was an unusual period of time. I remember listening to the radio when the Second World War was declared and Pearl Harbor was bombed. We had one of those little Gothic ­ shaped radios. There was lots of static and we had to turn it up loud. I remember being very confused by what was going on and asking my folks, "Who is this guy Hitler and why are these people fighting one another?" That was kind of where my mindset was at that age. My folks did their best to explain, but it was still pretty confusing.

We moved on to Sutherland, Iowa where I went from fourth to ninth grade. It was there I began to sense the peculiarity of being a preacher's kid, and all the teasing that went with it ­ always being the new kid in town. I was small in size and left-handed, which meant that I thought and did things in a different way. All those things gave me the feeling of being isolated.

We moved to Eagle Grove in the middle of my freshman year. Changing schools in mid­year was not easy, but it was a good move to get me out of Sutherland. I had started responding to the kinds of thing I felt, by stealing. I stole guns and everything. I stole cars, not to keep but to joyride. I'd take them back to where I'd gotten them and there were no problems. I was never caught at it. My brother would try the same thing and, being younger, he'd get caught. Between us, we got into all the preachers' kids difficulties, but Eagle Grove was large enough that it gave a certain amount of anonymity. That was a good thing. To a degree I could be me instead of just being a preacher's kid. I began to do better. I quit stealing, but there was still some harassment by older and bigger kids.

In that town the harassment came with initiation of freshmen. One of the things they did would be to take a kid out in the country, strip him naked, smear him with cow manure, and drag him through town tied to the hood of a car. I was not about to have any of that happen. I began to go to school with a loaded revolver and a knife under my shirt. Fortunately, I wasn't pressed at the time I was carrying those weapons. My folks didn't know I had them. I kept them in my room. They were old weapons, which I could come by without any record, and I knew how to fix them to make them work. But fortunately it didn't come to a confrontation.

As a sophomore, I went out for wrestling, in spite of my parents' objection. To them, it was fighting, but it was a good thing for me. I wrestled my own weight class, and through that I learned to defend myself without having to be dangerous to myself or somebody else. That had long term consequences. Later, when I was a chaplain in a mental hospital, and in some prison situations, we needed to go in to confront the inmate. That was before there were any tranquilizer drugs, and I was in a couple situations in which other chaplains were afraid, because of the insecurity of going alone. The patients or prisoners could be very violent. To my surprise, going in didn’t bother me. The reason was nothing more than the fact that I knew I wasn't afraid of physical harm due to the wrestling experience. They sensed that I was not afraid and could be relaxed with them. It was a great benefit. On occasions when somebody was out of control, and the guards were really working them over, I could go in, sit down, and quietly talk with them. I would urge the guards to back off, and it was good for them and good for me. So, contrary to what my folks thought, wrestling was very important in my life, providing me the ability to deal with my environment, surroundings, and other things in my life.

As I matured and became a junior and senior in school, I began to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I'd had some wild ideas before that, but by that time I began to think I wanted to be a lawyer. What impressed me and made me think I wanted to look at a career in law was my own sense of being an underdog. It made me sensitive to animals and people whom I saw being mistreated. I began to sense that, even though where we lived in Iowa, there were no black people, the attitude toward them was unjust. Dad would have the Rust College singers come, and inevitably somebody would phone, without identifying themselves and say, "Preacher, you'd better have those folks out of town by sundown," then hang up. Dad would go ahead with the program, they would sing, socialize, go to the movies, or wherever Dad chose to take them. I was proud of him and glad for the contact.

All those kinds of experiences left me with a sense that I wanted to work with the underdog and make my life useful in that respect. I think I was like most p.k.s (preacher's kids). There were good people in the church, but I was not terribly impressed with the church itself. I considered myself Christian and had gone to camps in Okoboji and was moved by that experience.

My understanding of wanting to be a lawyer personally and as a Christian, led me in my senior year in high school, to take my studies more seriously. I re-took the IQ (intelligence quotient) exam, and contrary to what they expected, I jumped 15% between the time I was a freshman and the time I was a senior. That wasn't supposed to happen. You have an IQ, and that is where you are, and they talked to me about that. However, it was clear to me that as a freshman I wasn't motivated. I didn't care what the results of that test were. It was the least important thing on my mind. But as a senior, I cared. I was motivated, and that was the difference. Until then my grades had been pathetic. I had been a total goof-off. I was forced to go back in the summertime of eighth grade and do some studying. From then on, I applied myself but still not much. As a senior, I began studying hard and doing straight "A" work.

I went to junior college in Eagle Grove because I didn't have money to do otherwise. I'd worked since I was ten, delivering newspapers, clerking in a grocery story, doing construction, life guarding at the pool, being a surveyor's assistant, and putting away what I earned. But going to college was still beyond me, so I went to junior college and continued to be a straight "A" student, because of my motivation.

At that time I was still pre-law and decided to go to Cornell, primarily because they had wrestling. I worked 35 hours a week went out for wrestling, but over the course of time, in my junior and senior years, I decided that I wanted to change my goal. As I lawyer I would be working with people after they got in trouble, not before. It seemed to make more sense to do preventive rather than curative work, but not as a pastor. I'd seen too much of that, and thought that was the last thing I'd ever want to do, so I applied to the Mission Board. They said, "We could send you on short term mission work, but we would suggest you go to seminary at least a year and then come back."

I enrolled at Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey and again life guarded, taught swimming at the "Y," and my wife, whom I married just out of college, became a teacher in the school system there. After one year, I became a student pastor at Dover, New Jersey. This was a part-time appointment at the Mt. Fern Church, 15 miles from the seminary. It was a tiny little church with a tiny little parsonage, a coal stove in the basement, one radiator above it, and a wood stove to heat water for the bath. The church had something like 87 members. The first Sunday I was there, I met the patriarch of the church - the retired State Superintendent of Schools. Before the service, he came up to me and said, "Preacher, good to have you here. I'll make the snowballs, you throw 'em." It was very clear where he was coming from.

I didn't say anything, but it was obvious that some changes needed to be made. Over the course of the time while I was there, the church doubled in size, bought a second house, renovated the first house, and renovated the church. So it was good for them, and for me it was a great beginning. I was extremely fortunate. They were good friends, good people, and we got a lot done. However, I had a falling out with the president of the Board and his wife, because I recommended that we help the town integrate blacks into the community. The Board chair was a realtor and didn't want anything to do with falling property rates, but more than that, he and his wife were blatantly prejudiced. And so, even though the community began to become integrated, there was some friction by the time I left.

I served that church for three years while I went to seminary, and one year afterward, but when I finished, didn't immediately reapply to the mission board. I needed to find out why I had done what I did as a kid, getting into things I'd gotten into, and also to be of help to other people. So I went to Boston University and earned a masters' degree in psychology and counseling. By this time I had two children.

While I attended Boston University, I served the Chicopee Falls Methodist Church near Springfield, Massachusetts, and commuted 90 miles three times a week to do the graduate work. That community was one that Al Capone used as a training ground for his mobsters. It was an old Yankee town, and the church I served was called "the white church," in the center of town. It was white in color, and was located back to back with the Savage Arms Factory. The people in that congregation was the white workers of the Savage Arms industry, and all strong Masons. They invited me to join the Masonic Order but my dad's experience made me less than enthusiastic. I got to know these folks, and through little comments here and a little comment there, I found out they were the supervisors in the Savage Arms industry, and kept blacks "in their place." Concurrently, they were members of the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) as well as being in the Masonic Order. So that was a kind of cover for the community. It was a strange experience. I got along reasonably well, but I would say it was a dysfunctional church, not well integrated into the larger area and racially intolerant. I did what I could do.

I graduated from Boston in 1962. After my experience in the New England area, I returned to my desire to go overseas. My wife was agreeable to that, and we went through missionary training at Stony Point, New York, at an ecumenical mission training center supported by many denominations. It was well organized and we had a good experience. While we were there in 1963, John Kennedy was assassinated and Martin Luther King led the march on Washington, D.C., where he gave the "I Have a Dream" speech. I was urged to head up an organizing effort to take a busload of missionaries in training to that rally in D.C. and participate in the rally, and I did so.

That was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I remember being in that crowd, so densely packed that you literally moved without moving your feet. I remember seeing a black man up a tree, trying to hear and see over the crowd. The story of Zaccheus came to mind, of the little man up a tree wanting to see the action. With the speeches going on and on, the crowd gradually thinning out a little bit, crowded up next to me was a black woman with her family. She was carrying a Mason jar with a foil over the top held by a rubber band, and before she offered water to her family, she offered me a drink. She offered me food and I thought of the feeding of the 4- and 5,000. It choked me up. I couldn't accept anything, I was too moved by the graciousness of the woman, and the experience of being in that mixed crowd. It was the first time I had been in an interracial crowd for the purpose of fighting against racism.

When I completed the missionary training, I was 30 years of age. We were assigned to go to Costa Rica for language education. I had studied French in college but didn't know any Spanish, and neither did my wife. We studied full time in the language school in San Jose, Costa Rica, and I also taught a New Testament theology course in a Methodist Seminary at Alajuela, near San Jose, in addition to being asked to be field treasurer for the Board of Missions.

In language school you learn polite ways to talk but you don't learn the street language, so whenever I had a chance, I got out in the streets and marketplace and talked to people. While doing so, I kept seeing GIs walking down the street, and noticed that they went into a building that was bristling with antennas, in downtown San Jose. I asked what they were and they said, "We are Military Mission people." That was all I ever learned about them while in Costa Rica. But they were there and obvious in their presence. At the same time I became acquainted with a newspaper reporter who took me around and showed me the society in ways I wouldn't have seen it otherwise. One thing he took me to see was a Communist Party Rally. They had a band and were marching down the main street and, coming from Iowa, that a first. It was a broadening experience to be there, to ride the buses with people, have your pocket picked, and see the way things were done in a very different culture.

When we had completed our education in Costa Rica, the Board of Missions asked us to go as missionaries to Argentina. We were assigned by the Bishop to a pastorate in Cordoba, in the central part of Argentina. It was an old city dating back to 1570, which had a university graduating people in five degrees by the year 1600.  It was an old Jesuit mission outpost between Peru, where they dug up the gold, and Buenos Aires harbor on the Rio de La Plata (River of Silver). The outpost was an R and R station, to replenish the mule caravans taking the gold and silver back to Spain. I was appointed as pastor of a union congregation, made up of North American people serving in business, government, the diplomatic corps, and Military Mission people. I enjoyed the work and made friends, but I was also assigned to two Hispanic congregations - one middle class, one lower class. That gave me a different perspective.

Finally, I was assigned as advisor to the Student Christian Movement in the University of Cordoba, a university of 33,000 students. Across the street from my office was the high school Che Guevara attended. His family had lived 20 miles outside of town. It was a revolutionary period. After having lived there for about three years, and having gotten well acquainted with some of the Military Mission folk, I finally asked, "I see you running around in your uniforms, you come to church, but what do you do? What are you up to?" They said, "Well, every six weeks we are supposed to take a trip, somewhere we haven't gone before, and we are to carry a journal and a camera. We are to write up what the terrain is like, what the roads are like, we are to photograph the bridges, and we are to map this country militarily." I said, "For the Argentine military?" They said, "No, this goes back to the Pentagon." I found that pretty interesting.  "We are to make friends with the Argentine military and see to it that they get all the training they need." "What would that be?" "Well, that is counter-insurgency training at Fort Benning, Georgia. In our system, the upper class is the high military rank; the middle class comes in as lower ranking officers-lieutenant, captain; but at the rank of captain, if they haven't been before, they are to go to take the training at Fort Benning."

I came to learn later that Latin Americans call the School of the Americas, the School of Assassins because all the dictators, all those who have been involved in massacres and assassinations, have gone to the school of the Americas. They teach torture. That is what it is all about, being, of course, subservient to the U.S. military. The hooker was that if, as a middle class officer, you wanted to move up in the ranks, you would go through the School of the Americas, after which you had a right to bring back, duty free, a new automobile, and a house full of furniture. This would automatically catapult you into the upper class. That was the class system and that was the military connection with the U.S. military. Needless to say they would come back with the mentality and the connections to be subservient to the CIA and the Pentagon.

One day as I was listening to TV, I heard the president of Argentina, who was a middle class doctor, retired, middle-of-the-roader, say, "I am going to nullify the oil contracts of the oil companies, because they were made under duress. We had a dictator at the time and by definition, they are illegal. I'm not going to nationalize the companies, but we are going to renegotiate the contracts so they are fair to the Argentine people as well as being fair to the companies." That sounded reasonable to me, but it didn't sound reasonable to oil companies. Military Mission friends came to me and said, "Preacher, you need to know that pretty soon we are going to have a new government. It is going to be a military government, and the man in charge is going to be General Ongania." I just thought it was rumor but two months later when I turned on the radio, there was nothing but march music, and no matter which station I turned to, the same march music. When that happens, the Argentines would tune in to Uruguay, or Bolivia, or Chile to find out what was going on in their own country, because the military had taken over. General Ongania was the dictator, and from then on we lived under a military dictatorship. Obviously, he had all the connections with the U.S. military. The government was recognized by Lyndon Johnson within one day, even though it nullified a democratically elected government by a military coup d’état.

We lived under those conditions for the next 1 1/2 to two years while I was there and I began to learn things I had never learned before. For example, 15 - to 30,000 people began to disappear.  They would be kidnapped by the military or the death squads. They would be questioned, tortured, and now it has become known, they would be taken out over the ocean in helicopters and pushed naked out of the plane or thrown down a mine shaft which would then be dynamited, or thrown into a lime pit, and the lime would eat their bones and body entirely. They would “disappear." The purpose was to terrorize the population. If you find a body, at least you know what happened. If you find or hear nothing you are left in limbo.

When the military took over in Argentina, over the course of the time I was there, I knew a number and worked with a number of people who later disappeared or were assassinated. One was a young student in the university who became a Catholic priest. He was one who was assassinated by the military because he was working with the poor and trying to get rid of the dictatorship. Another was a Methodist pastor; another was a daughter of the president of the Kaiser automobile industry. The biggest wedding I ever performed was her wedding. She was delightful, living a life of luxury, and married a young man from the Argentine upper class. About three years after I came back to this country, there was a little article buried on the back page of the Des Moines Register saying that she had been assassinated in an underground safe house, which meant she had been working with the Argentine underground to overthrow the dictatorship, I would guess over against her husband's family. Without a doubt, he would have been on the other side. There was someone I misjudged and she had more integrity than I knew.

There were others, but one circumstance I want to tell about in particular was a young man, 15 years old, from the English speaking congregation, British in background. His mother brought him in and said, "Gil, I don't know what to do. I must tell you this in confidence. Charlie is in big trouble." They told me he had gotten involved with a right-wing terrorist gang. They trained these kids to be the death squads, as they grew older. They would train them to kidnap people, torture them, and give whatever information they uncovered to the military so that the victim could be eliminated. Charlie didn’t understand what he was getting into. He was told, when he joined, "You don't get out alive." It was exciting. It was big time stuff. I said, Charlie, you know I can't go to the police; they are part of it. I can't go to the military; they are the head of it. There is only one thing I can think of; you sit down at my desk and write down all the names of the group, their addresses, and all the things you've done together, and sign it. Tell them that if they do anything to you or to me, the same thing will be done to them by those who serve in the underground against the dictatorship. I am going to turn my copy over to the under ground.” Charlie didn't know the underground, but I did, and I did precisely what I had said.

However, the underground said, "We will do it but we have to tell you that we can’t really protect you, because we can't follow you 24 hours a day, but here is what we suggest: you carry a loaded revolver, put a loaded shotgun by your bed, put triple locks on your door, keep your dog inside, and if they come, here is the way they will come. It will be in the middle of the night, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, in three or four stolen cars that can't be traced. They will beat down the doors and windows. In three minutes they will be in and out. You will either be killed or you and your family will be beaten to pieces. About 15 minutes later the cops will come, they will say, 'My, isn't this terrible? We don't know who would have done such a thing.' That would be the end of it. You have to look out for yourself, and if your family members aren't killed we will see to it that they have some means of protection. In the meantime, we're a deterrent. I followed exactly what they said. I did have to go into hiding a time or two, but that was because we lived under marshal law. They can stop you on the street, stand you up against a wall, search you, and if they don't like what you say, they can kill you on the spot. That was the way we lived for the rest of the time we were there. It went on for the Argentine people for 15 years.                                                                                                                      , ·,··

I came back to the states, and the Argentine Church invited me to return as a missionary but the people, who knew me well, said, "You can do us more good staying in the United States telling what you know, than coming back here." That made sense to me. The underground invited me to join but I knew the circumstances well enough to know that it wouldn't matter if I wore the same clothes, even spoke without an accent, I was obviously North American. I would be obvious. That is not the way to be in the Underground.

So I came back and for 1 ½ years I went around speaking, telling what I knew. One of the churches that invited me was The Bartlesville Methodist Church, in Oklahoma, the head of Phillips Petroleum. I warned the pastor ahead of time what I was going to say because I didn't want to put him in a bad position, and he was very good. He said, "You say what you need to say." The reaction was as though I had never said a thing. Not a word was said. The pastor thanked me because he said that was what was needed.

I wanted to continue speaking, and to be free to speak on weekends, so I took a job driving trucks for hog confinements out of Cedar Falls, Iowa, to farms in eight states. I would haul the buildings, help put them on foundations, go back and get another load, and take them somewhere else. I had never driven a truck in my life. It was an experience in itself to be part of the working class. We tried to unionize the place and 2/3rds of us got laid off because of that. They weren't going to share the profits, to be sure. So we organized a union of the unemployed, and the state of Iowa called us a bunch of Socialists. We exposed the fact in newspapers that the unemployment figures were inaccurate because after 2 1/2 months we were no longer counted as unemployed, we were "those no longer seeking work." We were able to show that the unemployment statistic was about half what the real statistic was.

I took another truck-driving job, a tree planting vehicle with a big spade that would plant trees 20 feet tall. I did that about 1 ½ years before I decided I'd done all the speaking I was going to be able to do, and it was time to take a church. I was appointed to Comanche, Iowa. That was during the Viet Nam war, and I spoke out against the war and organized a protest in downtown Clinton, Iowa. That was an experience in itself because we had almost all the sub district ministers participating with the exception of First Church, Clinton. The city said they were going to hose us off the sidewalks in January and charge us for the windows that got broken by sweeping us through them. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. We made our protest.

I was there for 10 years and the church finally participated with me in the strike against the Clinton Corn Processing Company, an ethanol production. My father had been a pastor in Clinton prior to my being there and saw the number of people who were burned to death in that plant. When notice was given of OSHA '(Occupational Safety and Health Administration) coming to inspect, everything was prettied up. The workers did a wildcat strike first and a year later a full scale strike. I worked with the labor unions. We had a rally one time of 2500 people. Amazing!

Finally, I was arrested one night when the people from the church went down to picket at the plant at the time of the shift change. The police came with riot gear, clubs, masks, and guns. They outnumbered us and we said, "Let's just leave. This is stupid."  We walked away and were
1 ½ blocks from the plant, going over the viaduct of the railroad, when they caught up with us. A man from out of town was behind me, and he said, "Turn around and walk backwards and watch what happens to me, please. I can't keep up."  A priest beside me and I turned around and walked backward, and as we did, the cops caught up with him, stomped on his heel and jammed him in the kidneys with axe handles. I said, “Knock it off. He's not doing anything." They clubbed him to the ground and clubbed me to the ground. A Jesuit took off and watched from a distance, and later said, we thought you were going to be killed." I had been in the Iowa National Guard and I knew from my training to grab my knees, roll into a ball, and keep moving. That way you don't get hurt as bad. You get bruised but you don't get bad blows.

They arrested us, took us to jail, and charged us with rioting and interfering with the police. I was put on trial in Davenport. The UAW (United Auto Workers) got me a good lawyer, and the jury found me innocent of the charges. I asked my lawyer, "They violated my civil rights, I didn't interfere with them. Can I sue them?" He said, "Yeah, you can sue them, and I'll take the case, but you need to know we will have to go to the Supreme Court, and all you will ever get is $1." I said, "I don't care about the money. My purpose is to point out what they are doing."  He said, "The other thing you need to know is that you will be spending most of your time in upcoming years in court rooms." I decided there were better ways to spend my life than sitting around in court rooms, so that was that.

At the time I was arrested, the Bishop called and said, "I want you to come in to Des Moines and meet with the cabinet on (such and such a day) at 8:00 in the morning."  That would have meant getting up at 3:00 in the morning to get to Des Moines by 8:00. I said, "Well, what is this about?" "It's about your appointment." I said, "I'd like to bring a friend along with me." "No, this is in confidence, you can't do that."  "Well, then, I guess I need to bring a tape recorder." "No, that shows a lack of trust in the brotherhood."  I said, "Well, I guess the only thing I can do is talk to the media." He didn't take that seriously, but at the next labor union rally, with about 1500 people there, I told them that I was going to have to appear before the cabinet. They said, "Well, we'll take busloads down to Des Moines and we'll march around the headquarters building while they are talking to you."  The pastor of First Church went back home and called the Bishop, who called me that night and said, "We are indefinitely postponing the meeting." That was the last I heard.

I was in Comanche for ten years, 1971-'81 before moving on to Cedar Rapids where I was pastor of two congregations. There we did sanctuary work for Hispanic refugees in the church, as well as continuing with the same kinds of concerns that we worked with in other places. I was in Cedar Rapids from 1981 to 1991, and then in the Des Moines area from 1991 to the present. In Des Moines I was hired to work for Prairie Fire, an advocacy group in support of farmers going bankrupt. I did ecumenical Bible studies all through southwest Iowa, trying to help people as Christians to come together in support of those who were going through the farm crisis, with the Bible as the basic motivation. The time came when the director of Prairie Fire moved on and I was appointed its director. By that time the farm situation was still a crisis but nobody wanted to recognize it. We united Prairie Fire with Farmers' Union, and I started half time each with Prairie Fire and the Hispanics in Des Moines, under appointment by the Bishop. I am now retired, doing the same kind of work as a volunteer.

My concept of being a Christian may well be different than for many people. I don't think it is a question you settle once for all. What it means to me now is that this world is a world that has been created by God and it is a good world. To be Christian is to respond to God's call in order that God's world remains a good creation. In order that this world be what God intends, we need to be responding as people of integrity, faith, and commitment. The focus for me and what that means is to be able to follow the example, teachings, and practice of Jesus, to take him as the benchmark from which to judge and guide our own lives. I see Jesus as the Messenger, the One who brings an understanding of the gospel as the kingdom of God. I don't think Jesus is the good news. He is the Messenger, not the message. He embodies the good news, but I think the church has confused the message with the Messenger.  They put Jesus on a pedestal and then they don't have to follow him.

To me, to be a Christian is to take seriously what Jesus did, what he said, and to do likewise. "Take up our cross, and follow me." That's what it means. Do it. If we do so, we will be able to be a part of God's work and help make this world what it can and should be. I don't think it is "works righteousness." The grace of God has been there from the beginning, from the first breath we take. That doesn't come from Jesus' death on the cross. God has been a gracious God from the beginning. We're not "earning salvation," which means liberation, the freedom to be. Rather, we are thanking God for the unmerited gift of life, the possibilities that it brings, and doing our best with it, knowing we will make our mistakes and even be terribly off track at yimes, and yet God is a forgiving God - thank God! - we will go on from there.

Why would people agree with what I have said and not be where I am? Why would they hear and agree and not take the risks?  The answer, I think, in part is that people must have a chance to hear the Gospel of the Kingdom of God on earth, instead of the Jesus so often preached by the church- a Jesus who is a spiritual scapegoat who has done it all for us so we don't have to! And then knowing the shape of the world, and knowing that our own nation is involved in the preparation of death squads, who are trained in Fort Benning, Georgia, and that as Christians we can’t divide our loyalties between Caesar and God. That's unheard of! No good Jew, Muslim, or Christian, comes to that conclusion. God is God. That loyalty is divided with no one. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me!" So we revoke our nation. We revoke our law ­ not that we don't take it seriously, but if it comes to a choice between the law of the nation and the law of God, we have a responsibility to obey God and do what God calls us to do. That's what the crucifixion was all about. Jesus was a good Jew, not the way the Romans defined it, not the way Herod defined it, not the way the High Priest defined it, so he had to face up to the possibility of death, and he did. Hopefully that is not true for everybody, but it is not an easy kind of commitment we are called upon to make.

I don't say, "Jesus died for our sins on the cross." I think Jesus died faithfully confronting the powers of evil of his day, and we are called to lay our lives on the line just as he did, not depend upon him to carry out a sacrifice on our behalf like in some pagan mystery religion. He did his part, now it is our turn. It is not something we read in the Bible or discuss together. It is something we go to work and do something about, and in the process, and in putting it into practice, we get an education we never bargained for.

Nicodemus went to Jesus by night because he didn't want to be identified by day. When Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You have to be born again," he didn't say that to everybody. Nicodemus was part of the upper class. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Jesus came from a different sector, as did the disciples. They were lay people, they were not clergy, and they were not upper crust. Jesus was simply saying to Nicodemus, "Man, before you can be part of the Kingdom of God movement, you have to start over from scratch to find out what the world is all about. You don't know." Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea found a burial place for Jesus but the question is; did they ever find more than that? We don't know.

Frankly, we are more in the category of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and Zaccheus and the rich young ruler, than we are of any of the others. We tend to identify with the disciples. We don't have the foggiest. So we have to learn from the third world what the real world is about, and the third world is in our midst. Those who are crushed by the burden of living in this society would like to have a silver spoon in their mouth, but never will, short of the Kingdom of God on earth!

We need people like the ones John Wesley met, who were being driven off the land in England at the time of the Industrial Revolution, into the cities, homeless, working without end, child labor, prostitution, drunkenness, just total destruction of life, and that is the situation of most of the world today. We start working with those folks, and it gets thrown in our face every day, so we can't forget it, even though we'd like to, and all of a sudden the world that we think is not a bad place turns out to be quite different than we'd thought. We learn things we'd never signed on for. But in the long run, we find out what the Bible was saying in the first place, that we wouldn't have guessed had we not experienced trying to put it into practice.

So whether it is working with people who are immigrants, or people who are lower class without opportunities - never have had - kids in abusive homes, kids and adults under drugs, whatever it may be, and we start working with those folks, we find there is a whole other world than we have known, and that it is not the minority, it is the majority, taken on a world-wide scale. And it is not necessarily the fault of those who are caught in it, not at all! In fact, we may find that we are the ones who got them caught in it, whether we did so intentionally, directly, or not. That is the most bitter lesson of all, to find that we have been part of the cause rather than part of the answer. Then we start having to reexamine everything.

I have to keep myself accountable, so I do Bible studies every single week with people, and several Bible studies, in which we look at scripture together and talk about it and relate it to the events of today- what is told in the newspaper and what isn't told in the newspaper, and we have our conversations. We may not come to an agreement, nevertheless we hear one another out and we hold one another accountable. I think that is what the old Methodist Class meetings were all about, to come together, to help one another be faithful, and be willing to call one another to accountability. To me, Bible studies aren't a way for me to be teaching. They are a way for me to be taught together with others. So I take my commitment to faithfulness in community, not American individualism. That's a heresy. We are called into community with all God's people. I have to put that into some form of practical expression and the Bible studies for me have been that possibility. So it keeps me aware of the Bible, the newspaper, and our attempts to be faithful within those two contexts.



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Last Revised November 10, 2012