An Advent Litany for those in Consumer Captivity

December 7, 2008

This is an advent litany that I wrote for the second week of Advent (year B). I’m sure it is a bit over the top, but given the apocalyptic imagery of the lectionary readings (particularly 2 Peter 3:8-15a) I thought it worked out ok. :)

Behold! a shopping mall on a hill, peddling baubles of bondage and trinkets that entangle.

Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great!

May we, like camel-clothed prophets, lead people out of captivity.

Come out of her my people!

The American Dream is a poor substitute for the Kingdom of God.

Come out of her my people!

Consumption and Credit are cruel masters.

Enter the wilderness in prayer and fasting!

Emerge into a world that no longer sees us as its own.

For you are a peculiar people. A nation of priests.

Behold, a mighty citadel built upon a hill of bones!

Bring every mountain low, raise up every valley.

A citadel that imprisons the poor yet fetters the affluent. 

Her sins are piled up to heaven. God remembers her crimes.

Her war machine offers salvation to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some may trust in chariots, but we will trust in the Lord.

The Kingdom of God is in our midst.

Your salvation is near those who fear you!

We long for a world where righteousness dwells.

Where your justice and peace kiss.

A nation of Jubilee, a where your Spirit is poured out on all flesh!

Not a land of Debt where our desires smothers your Spirit.

Our consumption crushes those cast upon the altar of capitalism.

Consume us, O God.

Forgive us for our waywardness, O God!

We confess our complicity. Restore us, O God!

Make your dwelling among us, Emmanuel.

And guide our steps along the path of peace. AMEN.

Litany of Thanksgiving in the Midst of Empire

November 26, 2008

Sisters and brothers, rejoice! We live sustained by the presence of the Humble God.

Thanks be to God.

God the Father, source of all life,

Thanks be to God.

God the Son, giver of hope,

Thanks be to God.

God the Spirit, voice of love.

Thanks be to God!

As we lament over the wounds of this land

God weeps with us.

As we give thanks for those who live faithfully in Babylon

God gives thanks with us.

As we struggle for justice

God struggles with us.

As we strive for peace

God strives with us.

As we seek to cut the root of Empire from our hearts

God works in us.

As we give our possessions and gifts away

God blesses us.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

God of all nations, we praise you for your faithful servants who’ve done justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with you, their God.

May we be counted among them, O God.

For apostles, martyrs, leaders, and saints, and for humble folk whose names are lost but you’ve remembered in the book of life.

We give you thanks, O God.

For nameless multitudes who suffer violence and oppression; who are beaten, raped, or murdered; and for the nameless multitudes today whose lives are maimed by economic and social structures that dehumanize.

We grieve and promise to work for justice, O God.

In the midst of Empire we recognize our inadequacy. We cry out for the power of your Holy Spirit.

Spirit, fill our lungs with prophetic speech, and animate our limbs to work justice.

We cry out to your Son, whose love for humanity led to a cross.

May we walk in your path, Brother Jesus.

God, source of life, sustain us.

In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

The Prophetic Vision of Liberty Hyde Bailey’s Poetry

November 23, 2008

( A longer version of this piece originally appeared in The Englewood Review of Books)

Liberty Hyde Bailey, born in 1858, was raised on a farm in Michigan and it was farm life that would set the tone for the rest of his life. He studied first at the Michigan Agricultural college and then under renowned biologist Asa Gray at Harvard. From there, he maintained a long and successful academic career teaching botany and horticulture in Michigan and then later at Cornell in Ithaca, NY. He wrote a number of significant books for academic and popular audiences on plants, agriculture, rural life and conservation. His writings were foundational for today’s new agrarian writers, and he has been praised extensively by Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and others. Bailey’s writings in botany are well-known and his essays rooted in rural philosophy are also widely recognized. However, much less is known about Liberty Hyde Bailey, the poet. Wind and Weather, originally published in 1916, was the only collection of Bailey’s poetry that received widespread distribution.

For our church communities today, however, perhaps the most striking part of Bailey’s poetry is his notion that “poetry is prophecy” (OTN 32). There are, of course, many ways in which the term “prophecy” is used. Bailey describes the function of prophecy as helping humanity in the effort of “acquiring a stronger hold on aspirations that are simple and elemental and universal” (OTN 32-33). Such a return to the simple, elemental and universal, parallels Bailey’s description of the prophetic in his book The Holy Earth: there he notes that prophecy is rooted in a vision of the eschatological reconciliation of all things, especially the reconciliation of humankind with nature. Thus, Bailey’s poetry is prophetic, first and foremost, because it points to a vision of an inter-connected creation that is reminiscent of the scriptural eschatology of shalom, i.e., “the reconciliation of all things.” This vision of harmony in creation flows throughout the poems of Wind and Weather, but is most poignantly expressed in poems like “Brotherhood”:

I am the bird in its nest of straw
And I abide by my time and law,
I am the tree standing night and day,
And I am the plant that fades away;
And men grow green and the men grow brown,
And life rises up and death drops down;
And men, and life, and the things that be
They flow on and on unceasingly.

I am the wind that blows to the sky,
And ageless cloud that goes floating by;
I am the rain and the river flow,
I am the seasons that come and go;
I am the dusk and the morning light,
The call of day and the voice of night;
And I pass out to the silent sea,
Flowing and flowing eternally.

Bailey’s poems stand as firm reminders that art (written, visual or otherwise) plays a key, prophetic role in the life of the Church, by helping us imagine and keep before our minds the end of creation, the reconciliation toward which all history is flowing. Bailey emphasizes this point in The Holy Earth: “[The biblical prophet] Isaiah proclaimed the redemption of the wilderness and the solitary place with the redemption of man, when they shall rejoice and blossom as the rose, and when the glowing sand shall become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water” (THE 11-12). Thus, for Bailey, the nature poet today functions in a similar way, reminding his listeners that their salvation is bound up with that of all nature.

With such an eschatological vision in mind, Walter Brueggemann observes in his classic work The Prophetic Imagination that “the task of the prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us” (3). I would contend that Bailey’s poetry serves prophetically in exactly this way. Although published almost a century ago, Bailey’s critiques of the dominant consumer culture in poems like “Enough” and “Goods” (”And all my kin may have their goods / For the deep old glooms [i.e., woods, ed.] are mine”), ring as true today as if they were written yesterday. Another key facet of his poetic critique of the dominant culture is his opposition to the city and all the technological achievements that it represents. Although there are a few explicit references to this opposition (e.g., in “Wreck”), it is primarily manifested by its notable absence in the landscape that Bailey paints over the course of Wind and Weather. Bailey emphasizes the intentionality of this omission in his essay on nature poems: “[T]he nature poem of wide reach must be the poem of the man who is free. Such poetry must spring from the open air; perhaps it must be set to words there – at least outside the city” (OTN 31). Similarly, in The Holy Earth, he faults the urbanization of human culture for the increasing lack of being “brought into touch with the earth in any real way” (18).

In contrast to the dominant culture, Bailey envisions a culture grounded in an alternative consciousness (to use Brueggemann’s term). Although there is no evidence that Bailey was sympathetic to the monastic tradition, it seems that his alternate vision resonates with the traditional Benedictine virtues of prayer and work (“Ora et Labora”). These virtues of reverent contemplation and diligent working of the Earth will be useful for us in describing the ethics that Bailey proposes to guide us toward the eschatological reconciliation.

Prayer in Bailey’s poetic vision is rooted in our humility. One should especially note this word’s root humus, meaning earth. Such an earthiness is a fundamental virtue of Bailey’s thought, and is manifested in the virtue of connectedness as described above. The posture of our prayerful humility, says Bailey, is silence: “We need now and then to take ourselves away from men and the crowd and conventionalities, and go into the silence, for the silence is the greatest of teachers” (OTN 36). This posture is also reflected in poems like “Discovery” (”…I went into my questioned heart, my heart of hopes and fears – I found the perfect silence there, the silence of the years.”) and “Majesty.” Bailey also addresses the energizing role of contemplative prayer in “Horizon”:

Lift me out of my laboring day
Lift me up to the blue and away
And let me discover my own horizon line,
Then drop me back to my work and play
And the far ends of the world in my day shall shine.

Indeed, for Bailey the rightful state of all creation is prayer; e.g., see “Prayer”:

How sweet the world at sunrise was
How fresh the breezes lay
How joyously the song-birds prayed
To herald in my day!

But perhaps the heart of Bailey’s ethical vision –- the intertwining of prayer and work -– is best embodied in “Country Church”:

And out of it all
As the seasons fall
I build my great temple alway;
I point to the skies,
But my footstone lies
In commonplace work of the day;
For I preach the worth
Of the native earth, –
To love and to work is to pray.

I recently had the opportunity to share a few words at the funeral of my grandfather, a lifelong farmer. I read this poem to his rural church congregation there and encouraged them that Bailey’s vision as expressed here captures the essence of our gathered obedience to the way of Christ. A church community – rural, urban or otherwise – can, in my estimation, do no better than to set their sights on embodying such a prayerful, diligent and connected life, as is depicted in Bailey’s “Country Church.” Bailey also advocates the virtues of work through the image of the well-worn hands of the farmer in “Hands” or in “Farmer’s Challenge.”

Ultimately, the tone of Bailey’s prophetic vision is one of hope. We see this hope set forth best in “The Signs of Life”

The gaps fill in; the earth is rife
With energy that mastereth –
The upwards signs of birth and life
Are greater than the signs of death.

Here we are reminded of the scriptural theme that though the resurrection of Jesus, death will be swallowed up in life. This theme echoes throughout the poems of Wind and Weather and indeed is another reason why we, the Church, should immerse ourselves in Bailey’s poetry.

As followers in the way of Christ, we have been made ambassadors of Christ’s coming reign of peace, which will cover all creation. Bailey’s poetry, as collected here in Wind and Weather, is prophetic in that it points us in this direction and energizes us for the work to which we have been called. In his essay on nature poetry, Bailey proclaims “I believe … in the power of poetry – in its power to put a man at his work with a song on his lips and to set the mind toward nature and naturalness” (35 OTN). May we open our hearts to the power of Bailey’s poetry, and more importantly, may we tune our hearts to the song of God, who created and is now reconciling all creation!

WNW – Wind and Weather.
Indianapolis: Doulos Christou Books, 2008. Reprint edition.

THE – The Holy Earth.
Indianapolis: Doulos Christou Books, 2008. Reprint edition.
OTN – Outlook to Nature.
New York: Macmillan, 1905.

(image courtesy of zen)

Author Bio:: Chris Smith lives in Indianapolis with his wife and three children. He is am member of the Englewood Christian Church community, a bibliophile and the editor of THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS.

An Ironic Faith

November 1, 2008

An Ironic Faith

I hate pain.
That’s why I‘m silent
around people who are belligerent
or strange.

I hate violence.
That’s why I support strength,
paying for crimes,
and being good citizens.

I love women.
That’s why I urge them to
vote their conscience
and start email campaigns.

I love God.
That’s why give Him
all the glory
and then just pray.

Author Bio:: Jason leads a small faith community in Chico, California and enjoys the art of writing. His day job is as a social worker with teenagers in the foster care system. He and his wife are expecting their first child in December! You can read more from Jason at

on justice

October 6, 2008


the scroll of the prophet was handed to me

release the oppressed
shout favor found in God
today the scripture of the Lord is fulfilled

i wore justice like a turban
i am eyes for the blind and feet for the lame
father to the poor

you have heard the cry of the humble O my God
we will rescue the weak from the fist of the strong
we will see a might river of justice
and the poor at last with hope

there is abundance in the fields of the destitute
but it is swept away by injustice

legislate evil
make laws that make victims
do violence to the refugee orphan
and this palace will become a ruin

you who lie down beside every altar
you who give to the poor
you who defend the oppressed
you will lack nothing
you will know me

do what is right
rescue justice

do what is right
open your hands

do what is right
and healing shall spring up
you shall call and I will answer
your light shall rise in the darkness
and your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt
and rise up on the foundation of many generations
righteousness flowering
peace until the moon fades to nothing

Author Bio: Andrew Breitenberg is on mission in South Africa writing a voice for the voiceless.
He just got engaged to Mariah and has found in her a new home! For a closer look at his work in Africa email breitenberg [at] for his field reports.

Imagination and the Way of Christ

October 1, 2008

Read more

Thy Kingdome Come

September 22, 2008

**The following was inspired in part as I was reading N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope,” a work of theology which is at times quite poetic as well. If you would like, you may consider this equal parts “poem” and “book review.”**

The Kingdom of Heaven has captured my heart
the more I feel it’s power take root
the more I yearn for Beauty and Justice

Today, I thought about buying a building.
something old, abandoned, ugly
and turning it into a castle for the Kingdom
A sanctuary
stain glass replacing iron bars
a hedge of roses instead of the fence
that everyone expects
in this neighborhood…

I want to see a sick person get well again
not so they’ll listen to me
or attend my church
or go to heaven
but so they can know, like I know
the kingdom of heaven is near

I want to be a portal to an alternate universe
a stitch where the fabrics of heaven and earth are sewn close

I want to write the most beautiful words I can imagine
and paint them on a billboard
over ads for beer and cheeseburgers

I want to walk these city streets till all the walls crumble
build porches for all my neighbors
and sit
and talk
about how great the Kingdom is starting to look.

Author Bio:: Ted works for the Kingdom of Heaven in Asunción, Paraguay with his wife Sarah. You can read more about their adventures at their website

The Beliefsale

August 26, 2008


The laying down of my life

is beginning to look like a garage sale.

As the sun rises over suburban horizons

dew is gathering on boxes of

possessiveness and dogmatism


          but readily negotiable.

A blanket on the pavement

has all my individualisms

spread out, with a sign that reads

“25 cents each.”

You see

I had previously been tempted to sell a few old ideas

(if only to make room for new ones)

but today I´m selling the whole cabinet

          drawers included

          make me an offer.

Instead of buying new ideas

          to replace the old ones

          like I’ve always done

(I think I´d rather rent.)

And as for the basics

the permanent

the non-negotiables

not for sale?

A scroll on the post of my door

is more than big enough.


Author Bio:: Ted is a poet who is currently pretending to be a missionary in Paraguay. When stateside, he enjoys shopping at garage sales with his wife, Sarah. You can read about their adventures at their website,

mere anarchy

August 5, 2008

foundations have to crumble
in order
to break new ground.

The center
that once held
is now
dangling from the fringe.

What is new
may not be true
then again,
what was
was not

questions have to surface
in order
for answers to emerge.

The certainty
that once soothed
is now
scratching to get out.

What is new
may not be sure
then again,
what was
was not

things fall apart
in order
to come together.

The cracks
that once tormented
are now
letting in the light.

What is new
may not be pure
then again,
what was
was not

Papa Prayer (a poem)

July 16, 2008

Subvert this society of spiritual insincerity! These pseudo-saints
wear masks of metaphysical maturity
veiling their vulgar visage and voluminous villainy
Prattling proudly, they publicly proclaim their piety. It’s pathetic!

Don’t buy it, brother.
Don’t get snared, sister.
They’ll get their due.
But as for you,
Do the prayers you do…
In the quiet place.
With simple words.
And an open heart.

Like little kids call for papa
Call out to your Heaven-Father.
Yes, he is Huge and Holy,
But still closer to you
than you are to yourself.

Reach up to him and say:

“We need a regime change,
From Bush or Obama or McCain
To a divine administration.

We don’t need laptops and lattes,
Macbooks or machiattos
We don’t need Red Robbin
Or Little Debbie
Or Colonel Sanders
Or Ronald McDonald
Or Famous Dave.

All we need is
what we need
right now.
And that’s you.

We’re beggin’ you, papa
For debt forgiveness.
Our bedrooms are wallpapered with past due notices
Our cars run off violent oil
Our homes built upon a mountain of bones.
So we declare bankruptcy!

But we can’t point a finger of judgment at others.
We pass along the debt relief that you’ve given to us
And forgive everyone for what they owe us…

…at least in theory, papa.

‘Cuz we are cracked people.
Greedy, lusty, and grumpy by nature.
Always willing to secure ourselves
At the expense of the other
Even if it makes you look bad, papa.

So help us not to be tempted
To secure ourselves with dark dealings…

Deliver from this damned depraved design
of the despicable deceiver who devours divinity!

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

If you appreciate articles like this, consider making a donation to help Jesus Manifesto pay the bills.

Next Page »