Listening to the Stones from the Wall Street Wall

Last evening we published Susan Lince’s wonderful poem “Every Stone Shall Cry” and her accompanying art work. Thanks to Susan for permission to publish them.

Not everyone is familiar with this line about the stones. The poetry of the stones crying out has its roots in Hebrew Scripture in a poem from the Book of Habakkuk, later echoed by Luke as Jesus’ response to those who want to silence his disciples and protesters to Roman occupation – “I tell you,” says Jesus riding on an ass into the city occupied by the Romans, “if these [people] were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40).

The original Ode of Woe against the Chaldeans’ foreign interventions and military-economic occupation becomes, on Jesus’ lips, the ode against the Roman system of occupation and internal collaboration by indigenous leaders, and, on Susan’s lips, it echoes from the walls of intractable powers that nature itself will not long abide in silence. Nature will not be silent! Think of the stones in the wall of Wall Street. Even the stones cry out against the abuse. Here’s the text from the Book of Habakkuk where the reference to the crying stones first appears:

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long? —
and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell in them.
Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house [society/empire],
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,and the beam from the woodwork respond.
Woe to him who builds a town with blood…

– Habakkuk 2: 6b-12a

The ode against the Chaldean Empire ends with a lovely line looking for the day when the most intimate knowledge of the Breath of Life will cover the earth “as the waters cover the sea” and the stones will no long cry.

Susan is a writer, painter, poet, composer, environmental and social justice activist. She and her spouse, John Lince-Hopkins, developed the movement Requiem2020. They will lead the First Tuesday Dialogues event on Climate Departure at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN Tuesday evening, March 4, at 7:00 P.M.

The View from the Bristlecone Pines

Bristlecone Pines photo

Bristlecone Pines photo

Clinging tenaciously to the ridgetops
and twisted by the winds,
bristlecone pines are the oldest
living trees on Earth. The oldest
of them, found only in the White
Mountains of California, are
4,600 years old. Those pines were
already 1,400 years old when the
Egyptians were building the pyramids.

The Bristlecone Pines on Windy Ridge,
Colorado (picture, taken by friend
Harry Strong) are nearly 1,000 years

These gnarled trees have endured
strong winds, cold temperatures,
drought and poor soils. They learn
to grow horizontally. The sign posted
on Windy Ridge invites visitors to
“walk through these survivors and
stand watch with them over the vast
South Park.”

How will these remarkably adaptive
creatures do with the projection of
Climate Departure? Are they calling
out for help from down below, echoed
back to them in song by Pete Seeger’s
“God’s Countin’ on Me; God’s Countin’
on you”?

You might say that Pete’s life was a
reply to the Bristlecone pines, a
modern day Habakkuk whose writing
we have from the time when the Bristle-
cone Pines were just teenagers:

“I will stand upon my
watch, and set me upon the tower,
and will watch to see [God] will say
to me, that I will answer when I am
reproved. And the LORD answered me,
and said, Write the vision and make
it plain upon tablets, that he may
run who reads it.”

Sojourners Today

This morning Sojourners chose to publish last Sunday’s sermon (posted yesterday on “Views from the Edge”) on it blog, “God’s Politics:  a Blog with Jim Wallis and Friends”. Click THE STONES ARE SINGING for the Sojourners post to read and hear it, “like” it (If you do :-)), post a comment,or send it to a friend by email.

Once again, special thanks to Dennis Aubrey and Via Lucis (click the link for today’s Good Friday photos) for permission to use his magnificent photographs and written description of his time in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Vezelay, France.

Reading Dennis’ words from the pulpit near the end of the sermon, I had to stop. It was as though years of trying to understand had come together into a single moment. When  the Gospel writer has Jesus respond to his critics with “I tell you, if these keep silent, the very stones will cry out,” he is quoting from the Scriptures of his Jewish faith – Ode against the Chaldeans in the Book of Habakkuk “The stone shall cry out from the wall, and the beam out of the framework shall answer it. Woe to him that builds a town with blood, and establishes a city by iniquity.” (Hab. 2:11-12)


On and off my rocker

My Rocking Chair

My Amish Rocker

“WHY, in a world filled with yelling and screaming, would you ‘PREACH’? Are you off your rocker?”

I can’t help it. I’m a preacher. I have to preach. But it’s the time in the rocking chair that matters most, times when I sit in Jacob Miller’s Amish rocker preparing for Sunday that I love the most. Jacob made the rocker just for me in his Amish shop in Millersburg, Ohio on a farm that spoke volumes about peace and love.

I approach the pulpit in fear and trembling, knowing that it is sacred space where people expect to hear a different kind of word, its sacredness only as real as the humanity that walks into it. The requirements of preaching result in a daily discipline: a fresh cup of strong coffee with the Scriptures in one hand the newspaper in the other.

We live in a crazy world where religion is a source of great sorrow as well as a source of joy. Religion divides and religion unites. It opens us up to the Other, or it walls us off. It broadens us or narrows us.  It increases our circulation or it constricts our arteries.

Not long ago American Christians seemed to take for granted that Christianity and our country were simply flip sides of the same coin (a curious blending of the Judeo-Christian idea of an “elect” people and the national misappropriation of Jesus’ “city set upon a hill”  as a light to the other nations). That bogus idea is dead, but the news is still reaching our ears, like the news of the town crier in Frederich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science:

Have you heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who do not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter…Whither is God,” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I.   All of us are murderers…. God is dead.  God remains dead. And we have killed him….

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), Section 126.

That god is already dead, but the message is still reaching our ears. The death of this god “clears the decks for the God of the Bible,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter from a prison cell July 18, 1944 before his execution by the Third Reich:

Christians range themselves with God in his suffering; that is what distinguishes them….  As Jesus asked in Gethsemane, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” That is the exact opposite of what the religious man expects from God. Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. He must therefore plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or try to transfigure it. He must live a ‘Worldly” life and so participate in the suffering of God. He may live a worldly life as one emancipated from all false religions and obligations. To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism (as a sinner, a penitent or a saint), but to he a man. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

I’m no Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But his words and life frame the way I look at the world. To whatever extent the sermons and commentaries that appear here reflect Bonhoeffer’s spirit, I am grateful to him and to others who have shaped my ministry: Ted Campbell, Paul Louis Lehmann, Lewis Briner, William Sloan Coffin, Jack Stotts, William Stringfellow, James Cone, Sebastian Moore, and a host of others. When my attempts fail to keep faith with their examples, they reflect my shortcomings and foibles. If and when any of them manages to speak a Word through my human frailty, it is because I have stood on their shoulders on the watchtower, grasped again by the Spirit of the Living God.

“I will take my stand to watch, and station myself on the tower, and look forth to see what G-d will say to me, and what G-d will answer concerning my complaint. And the LORD answered me, ‘Write the vision; make it plain…so those who run may read it. For still the vision awaits its time….'” (Habakkuk 2:1-3a)

Jacob Miller’s Amish rocker is my watchtower. A cup of coffee, Habakkuk, and the morning newspaper. Thank you, Jacob, for the place to be on your rocker when I’m about to go off mine!