Thursday, October 14, 2021

What is our Why? Part 2


In my last post I started with the concept from Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, which argues that if you want people to respond to what you are doing you have to have a clear concept of why you are doing it.

If you recall, he also said that if you want to find your Why, one of the best ways to do it is to look back over your life and see what themes and tendencies keep surfacing. That will give you insight into Who you are which will give you clues into Why you are.

Last post I also went through a quick search of my life as an example to figure out my Who and Why.

But what about 2nd Street? People each have a Who and a Why, and so do groups, organizations and churches.

Let’s look back at 2nd Street and see if we can figure anything out.

I wasn’t around when 2nd Street was birthed, but my understanding is that 2nd Street was launched by Newberg Friends to be a bridge to those for whom Church might be an uncomfortable experience, or those who might make lifelong churchgoers uncomfortable.

In those days 2nd Street attracted people who had been hurt or marginalized by their previous churches, people who had broken marriages and broken lives, People for whom Church didn’t feel safe. We met in a building that didn’t look like a church, recovery was part of our landscape, and smoke breaks were a Sunday morning routine.

I guess we were edgy, by the standards 30 years ago, but being edgy wasn’t the point. In fact, just the opposite was true. The point was to be a safe place for those for whom traditional church was too far over their edge.

2nd Street came into being to be a bridge between the two extremes of the social and religious spectrum in Newberg. 2nd Street was common ground between those who saw church as the nurturing mother who raised them, and those who saw church as an angry bully that kept punching them in the face.

2nd Street didn’t argue with either side, it simply stood as common ground where the two could meet each other, little by little get used to each other, and eventually see the humanity, and the grace of God, in each other.

Even today, through the drop-in Center, 2nd Street is acting as common ground where the churches and greater Newberg community, can rub elbows with those who are often forgotten or ignored by the church and community, so the two groups can get used to each other, and hopefully begin the see the humanity and the grace of God in each other.

So, what do we make of this heritage?

2nd Street has always been a bridge. 2nd Street has always seen itself as a safe place of common ground between those who, at first glance, don’t seem to fit together or who have a suspicion of each other.

Could that be our Why?

You can talk to 10 different groups and probably get a dozen opinions on what the greatest problem or issue the world is facing today is. But I think if you look closely, the common denominator in all the issues is a lack of listening, a lack of recognizing the humanity in each other, and a lack of humility. Both sides of most issues or debates are convinced they are right, and the other side has nothing of value to say to them.

In far too many cases, the church is just as divided as the rest of the world.

We live in a world where people are shouting their opinions and their own “truth” at the top of their lungs and it is so loud no one can hear anyone else. Unfortunately, large segments of the Church, on both sides of most issues, are in there shouting right along with everyone else.

The world doesn’t need another church who shouts at the top of it’s lungs. The world doesn’t need another church who separates itself from those who think differently or see life differently.

The noise is deafening so nobody is listening.

The world desperately needs the Church to lead them out of this angry, belligerent, deaf and blind hole we find ourselves in. I think Jesus would say it’s our job.

Richard Rohr says, “the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”

The world desperately needs a bridge. The world desperately needs a place where the decibel level has been cranked down. The world desperately needs a place that stands as common ground where the differing views can meet each other, little by little get used to each other, and eventually see the humanity, and the grace of God, in each other.

I think it is in 2nd Street’s DNA to do just that. I think that may be our Why.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

What is Our Why? Part 1


In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek argues that if you want people to respond to what you do, you need a clear sense of why you do it. Most organizations can tell you what they do and how they do it, but often Why they do it gets lost in the shuffle. Effectiveness and competence are necessary, but all things being relatively equal, people are drawn to purpose and passion.

Sinek goes on to explain that finding, or remembering, your Why is not hard, it just requires some self-examination. If we take time to look back over our lives, most of us will see themes and tendencies that are clues to our identity—to who we are. That is what our Why grows out of—who we are.

When I do this for myself, this is what I come up with.

My mother’s family was instrumental in starting a denomination called the Church of God Independent Holiness. It was a very strict, very conservative movement where men couldn’t wear ties or any other form of accessories like cuff links or rings. Women couldn’t wear makeup or jewelry.

My father’s family, on the other hand, were Danish Lutherans. While the church was a central part of their social and cultural life, it made few demands on their lifestyle or personal choices.

As you can see, my Christian heritage came from two very divergent sources. In fact, in today’s climate those two groups might have openly questioned whether the other was actually Christian.

Our immediate family chose to attend a Nazarene church because they felt it fell somewhere in the middle. In my sophomore year of high school, we changed to the Church of God (not the Independent Holiness group).

When it came to my college education, I started at a Church of God college and finished my degree at a Mennonite Brethren college. I got my master’s degree at a Nazarene institution, and my doctorate at George Fox.

In the various places I lived while in the Navy, I was part of a Conservative Baptist Church, a Wesleyan Church and a Disciples of Christ church.

When I was pastoring the church in Mariposa, one of the groups I hung around with consisted of a Lutheran pastor, a Methodist pastor, a Catholic priest and a Foursquare pastor. We rode motorcycles together and backpacked together. (I know, that sounds like the start of a joke: “A Lutheran pastor, a Methodist Pastor and a Catholic priest went backpacking together….”) During the time I was there I exchanged pulpits with nearly all of them. Our church was richer for it.

My favorite spiritual director was a Catholic hermit. His theology was different than mine, but that’s not what mattered. He listened to me and helped me think deeply about my own faith.

One of my nephews is a Southern Baptist pastor. We disagree on several issues, but when my office burned down along with my entire library, he gathered some of his books and commentaries, begged books off of his friends and other pastors and sent me a “starter library” to get me through until I could restock my own (of course that was before you could look up everything you need to know—and a lot of things you don’t—on the internet).

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I have a deep appreciation and affection for the vast breadth and diversity of the Body of Christ. If you asked me why I was a pastor, I would have to say that at the root of it I deeply love the Church.

I believe the Church could be the most influential, world changing entity on Earth if we would live up to our potential. To do that, however, we have to start listening to each other, appreciating each other and learning from each other. We need to think deeply about who God is, who we are, and what we can learn from the diversity in the Church.

Those who are Calvinist have much to teach the rest of us about the sovereignty of God. Wesleyans have much to teach the rest of us about personal responsibility and holiness. Catholics and Anglicans have much to teach us about tradition and sacrament. The Charismatic movement has much to teach us about the dynamic nature of the Spirit. We Quakers have much to teach the rest of the Church about appreciating the presence of the Spirit in each other.

To live up to our potential we’re going to have to quit blocking each other out—canceling each other—and start listening to each other. We need to think deeply about our faith instead of just thoughtlessly clinging to the version of Christianity we’re accustomed to. The stakes of an unexamined faith is too high.

My job as a pastor is not to separate my little group and protect it from those who think differently. My call, my Why, is to expose those I pastor to the richness that is their birthright and heritage and challenge them to think deeply about their faith so we can live up to the potential Christ planted in us as a local church and us as a part of the big C church.

That is my Why. Everything that I do comes out of, or should come out of, that.

In my next post we’ll examine 2nd Street’s Why.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

How do We Shift Our Focus Away From Mere Survival?


We’ve Been at this Covid-19 thing for over a year and a half. As former pastor and blogger Carey Nieuwhof put it, the pandemic has shifted from being an acute crisis to being a chronic condition.

When the pandemic first raised its ugly head, most organizations, including churches, including our church, shifted into survival mode. We all did what we had to do to get through the crisis, and we adapted our operations to accommodate to the world as it was. That works fine, and is even necessary, in the short term. But now it is obvious that COVID is not something we’re going to get past in a few months, it is something that could potentially affect our way of life for years.

So, this raises an important question. How do we shift our thinking from surviving-and-hanging-in-there-until-it’s-over, to how do we answer Jesus’ call to be his body and his hands and feet in this new world we find ourselves?

When God first led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, they saw themselves as just that, the descendants of the patriarch Jacob/Israel. But God was molding them into a nation, so God provided them with the Law, animal sacrifice, other temple sacraments, and sacred objects like the Ark of the Covenant to set them apart as God’s chosen people and reinforce their identity as a nation.

Over the course of their history, Israel had several designated sacred places where they practiced these sacraments and kept these sacred objects. First there was the Tabernacle Moses commissioned while they were wandering in the wilderness. After settling in the promised land, a more permanent location, Shiloh, was chosen. When David became King and chose Jerusalem as his capital, the Ark was moved to Jerusalem and eventually Solomon built the temple that became the center of Jewish life and identity.

Centuries later, the people of Judah and Israel were taken into exile and the temple was destroyed and their sacred objects were plundered. Suddenly the centerpiece of their religious identity was no longer available to them. They had to figure out how to be who they were without the very thing that gave them that sense of identity.

During that time in exile, new innovations were introduced into the Jewish faith. Rabbis, local synagogues and community owned scrolls of the Torah were developed to fill the void left by the loss of priests, the temple, and the sacred objects. By the time the exile was over, many of the Jewish people returned home, and Herod rebuilt the temple, rabbis and synagogues had become a permanent part of the Jewish religious landscape.

Why did things not return to “normal.” I think there are a couple of reasons. First, those who did return to Israel still saw value in having local teachers and local places to worship and learn—that’s what had kept Judaism alive during the exile. The second reason is that a large chunk of the Jewish people never came home; they chose to, or had to, stay where they were.

In some ways we have been, and still are, experiencing a form of exile. Things in our lives have radically changed and many of us are looking forward to things getting back to normal. Things will settle out to some form of normal, but it won’t be the normal we knew before COVID. Out of necessity people have developed new habits and have learned to navigate life in new ways. Some of those acquired habits might be abandoned when we return from exile, but some of those things will become permanent fixtures in our landscape.

The truth is, many of us will choose not to return home. Some of the people who have disappeared during COVID will never come back—at least not in person. Over the past year-and-a-half we’ve rewired our brains. New ways of doing things have replace many of the old and we couldn’t replicate the old normal no matter how hard we tried.

 Our job now is to figure out some new ways to practice our faith and new places to house the sacred. Nobody really knows what the new normal will look like. We can choose to stubbornly hold onto what was, or we can creatively lean into whatever comes and seize the opportunity of what could be.

If we choose to wait for the old normal to return, we’ll be waiting forever. If we choose to lean into what comes, we can start being what Jesus is calling us to be right now.

We’ll talk about that in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Passion Week Day 3

 Read: Matthew 26:6-13


On Wednesday of Passion Week, Jesus was anointed in Bethany.

Culture plays a huge part in how we view things, what we see, and what we don’t see. In China, people blow their noses right onto the ground. Most westerners think that is disgusting, but the Chinese see the ground as the place where you dispose of things you don’t want. When westerners blow their noses into a handkerchief or a tissue, people from China would think that is disgusting. They would wonder, “why would they want to keep that?”

Our cultural lenses are just as powerful when we read the Bible.

If you were a first-century Jew, and you were either present and watching what was happening or reading the account Matthew wrote, there would be nothing in this story that played by the rules, that would be considered acceptable by social norms. Nobody experiencing this or reading about it would be comfortable. Even the disciples, who by now probably thought they had Jesus and his priorities figured out, were thrown a curve. The only one comfortable here is Jesus, and he is turning everything upside down on everyone else.

Jesus was eating at Simon the Lepers' house. Lepers were considered unclean. To be in the same room as one was unacceptable; to accept hospitality from one was scandalous.

Next, a woman comes and pours expensive Nard over Jesus’ head. An adult Jewish woman would never talk to a man who wasn’t her husband or brother or father, much less touch one. Either of these two things would have had most self-respecting Jews heading for the exits.

But wait, there’s more.

Pouring expensive oil over the head was symbolic of anointing someone to be king. That act was the responsibility of a priest—a male priest—yet Jesus accepts this anointing from a common, unnamed woman.

The disciples begin to critique the extravagance saying the money should have been spent on the poor, after all Jesus always advocated for the poor. But Jesus even rebukes them.

You see, taking care of the poor falls under the 2nd most important commandment (love you neighbor as yourself) and Jesus wants them to understand that you can’t fully fulfill the 2nd most important commandment until you’ve fulfilled the most important commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart).

Lest you think the woman got away without her actions being turned upside down, Jesus accepted her anointing him as king, but he described it as anointing him for burial. After all, that’s how his kingdom would come, through death and resurrection, not through might and conquest.

That is always how his kingdom always comes.

Jesus started out this week by turning the tables on the Roman authorities when he rode into Jerusalem. On Monday he turned over tables in the temple. 

Passion week is all about Jesus turning over tables.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Passion Week Tuesday

 Read: Luke 21:1-4


Have you noticed that Jesus noticed?

The gospels are full of Jesus paying attention to things that nobody else noticed. He noticed that the woman with the issue of blood had touched him as he was walking through a crowd, he noticed Zacchaeus watching him from a tree when no one else saw him, he noticed the man sitting by the pool of Bethesda waiting for the waters to be stirred when no one else cared.

On this particular day of Passion Week, when each successive day is marching Jesus closer to his encounter with the cross, Jesus noticed a poor widow drop a couple of pennies into the temple offering. The woman wasn’t wealthy, and she wasn’t what the rest of society would consider important, so I suspect it had been a while since anyone had noticed her at all.

I don’t think Jesus commented on her because he wanted to have a teaching moment with his disciples, I think he pointed her actions out to his disciples because he was truly touched by her faithfulness and selflessness.

The day before this Jesus had passed judgment on the temple system by throwing out the money changers, immediately after this Jesus prophesies about the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But Jesus doesn’t critique her gift because of who she gave it to. What Jesus saw was the sincerity and sacrifice of her gift and it touched him. I wonder if it was one of the highlights of his week.

It is easy to think of Jesus watching our actions and categorizing them as good or bad, right or wrong, and putting a checkmark in the appropriate column on our ledger. But this story makes me think that Jesus is paying attention, but he’s looking for something different. I think he might by scanning back and forth looking for people who are doing something sincere, loving, and selfless, but so small no one else notices.

I think he looks for those things because those are the things that touch him.

Dominus tecum

Monday, March 29, 2021

 Read Matthew 21: 12-17 


On Monday of Passion week, Jesus cleared the temple.


 I can just imagine how the disciples might have felt when they woke up that morning. Just the day before, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem to shouts of hosanna.


Earlier that week the Roman Consul, Pontius Pilate, would have ridden into Jerusalem from His Headquarters in Caesarea. Pilate would have made it a point to be in the City for the Passover because of the crowds that would be there. It would be a potentially volatile time.


Pilate would have ridden into the city on a warhorse with a full military escort so everyone would know who was in charge. When Jesus rode in on Sunday, he humbly came into the city from the opposite direction on the colt of a donkey--everything he did was the opposite. What he did would be seen as mocking the Romans and their military authority.


The crowd loved it and loved him.


Jesus was at the zenith of his popularity. The disciples may well have been anticipating what might be coming next. Maybe they were wondering if Jesus was finally going to be taking his throne and push the Romans out. I suspect they couldn’t believe what he did next.


One of the acts the Messiah was expected to do was to take authority over the temple. Jesus did it in a way no one expected and few appreciated. He grabbed a whip of cords and began turning over tables. While he was running out the money changers he was shouting, “My house will be called a house of prayer, ’but you are making it 'a den of robbers.’” That’s the same thing the prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 7 when he was prophesying about the destruction of the first temple twenty years after that.


The religious leaders couldn’t have missed that or misinterpreted that. And that’s when they committed to killing Jesus.


Now Jesus had alienated the Roman leaders, and the Jewish leaders both. I can just see the disciples burying their faces in their hands thinking, “and just when things were going so well.”

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Word Became Flesh and Fed a Crowd

Read John 6:1-15

After Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem where he heals the man at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus rejoins his disciples in Galilee. You might remember when he was there before, he was a bit perturbed at the people because they were clamoring after him to perform some kind of sign or miracle. It seems that things hadn’t changed much. Word had gotten out about him healing people, so instead of asking to see a miracle people just followed him around hoping to catch him in the act. This wasn’t a small entourage, John says it was a “huge crowd.”

When I was in Middle School, they called it Junior High back then, I had a friend from church, Lonnie, whose mother had some kind of breakdown and had to be institutionalized for a summer. Lonnie’s dad was a long haul truck driver and would be gone as long as a week or so at a time. When Lonnie’s dad was gone, Lonnie and his brother Lance would stay with us.

Lonnie was the same age as me, thirteen, and Lance was 3 or 4 years younger. When you’re 9 or 10 years old, you don’t realize that a middle school boy is probably the most confused, unpredictable, bi-polar creature on the planet. All you know is they are older than you which automatically makes them mysterious, worldly and godlike. 
Lance stuck to Lonnie and me like glue; he followed us everywhere.

Looking back, I can’t blame the kid; there was no one around his age to play with. Even my kid sister was older than him, and she was, well, a girl. But I remember how annoying it was to have someone following me everywhere I went and watching every move I made. It was particularly frustrating when some of my other friends would come over. We would go to great lengths to ditch Lance every chance we got.

One time we ditched him so well we actually got him lost—after all, it was an unfamiliar neighborhood for him. When he didn’t follow us home, we were ecstatic. My Mother, however, did not share our excitement. She wasn’t sympathetic to our pleas that he was annoying and embarrassed us in front of our friends. Neither did she think Lance’s dad would be enthusiastic about us permanently misplacing his son, even if he was annoying and embarrassing. Mom made us go find him and bring him home.

If it was that disturbing having one nine-year-old kid following me around, I can only imagine what it might have been like for Jesus. He couldn’t get away for his quiet time in the morning. He couldn’t get time alone with his friends. Imagine what it must have been like sitting around the campfire at night reviewing the day with his disciples and seeing the firelight reflect off of dozens of pairs of beady eyes in the dark and knowing that the eyes didn’t belong to owls or coyotes or raccoons but to people watching to see if you’ll conjure up hotdogs or s’mores out of thin air. Or, imagine visiting a friend’s house for dinner and trying to recline at the table and have a conversation while a crowd of people clamored to watch you through the window—and remember windows didn’t have glass panes in them then.

This was Jesus’ life when this story opens.

In an attempt to get away with his disciples Jesus takes them up on a mountain. It didn’t work; the crowd followed him up the mountain. Instead of getting upset and chasing the crowd away, or lecturing the people about personal space or rights of privacy, Jesus had compassion on them. He decided to feed them.

John tells us the Passover was near. That is important for a couple of reasons. Most Jews who were physically capable and could afford it would travel to Jerusalem for the Passover. After all, it was the major event of the Jewish calendar so this crowd probably did not represent the cream of society. Chances are these people were too poor, too weak, too sick, or maybe considered themselves too sinful to be able to, or want to, travel to Jerusalem for Israel’s most sacred religious observance.

There is another reason John wants us to know the Passover is near. This is the second of three different Passovers recorded in John’s gospel. During the first Passover mentioned, Jesus clears the temple. John means for us to connect that with the first deliverance of God’s people, the Exodus. During the Exodus, initiated by the first Passover, Israel received the Law through Moses. When Jesus cleansed the temple, he was passing judgement on the laws, and particularly the temple worship and sacrifice system’s inability to deliver God’s people—to truly set them free. John wanted his readers to realize that Jesus was taking on that role himself.

During the third Passover in John, Jesus is crucified. That again connects Jesus to the first Passover, particularly the Passover lamb which delivered God’s people from death. Again, John is showing how Jesus is taking over that role.

In this second Passover John tells us about, Jesus again is connected to the original Exodus story, this time the manna in the wilderness.

In the gospels, Jesus is often compared to Moses. Moses was the first deliverer; Jesus is the new deliverer, Moses wrote down the law; Jesus fulfills the law. As we read last week, Moses even wrote about Jesus. John goes beyond comparison here; he ups the ante.

In the Exodus story God’s people were hungry and began complaining. God heard their complaints and gave Moses instructions for the people. Moses was merely a messenger who passed along information then sat and watched while God provided bread and quail for the people.

As John shows us, Jesus sees the need, and he himself is the one who breaks and multiplies the bread and fish and feeds the people. He is not a bystander or messenger. He provides the bread that feeds them, and later in the chapter we see that Jesus himself takes on the role of “the bread of life.”

One of the things I love about the Gospel of John is its many layers. While John gives us the big picture by highlighting the signs that point to Jesus as Messiah and focusing on stories and events that teach us about the kingdom he came to initiate, he is also careful to show how Jesus interacted with people in their everyday lives, in everyday situations, with everyday problems, and everyday fears.

I know there is no real everyday problems or fears. Every person’s situations, problems and fears are unique. As the saying goes, “there is no such thing as minor surgery when you are the patient.” The point I am trying to make is that everything in John is not prophetic or big picture, most of it is real life situations—except that maybe the way Jesus related to people in their everyday life is the big picture. Anyway, that everyday, person to person, picture of Jesus is what I want to focus on here.

Jesus looks out over the crowd and has compassion on them. Instead of taking charge and barking out instructions, Jesus turns to Philip and asks, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”

Philip was most likely the youngest of the disciples, so chances are he was on the bottom of the disciple pecking order. When a task came along that no one else wanted to do, I suspect the other disciples passed the job off to Philip. He would have been the last disciple to think that anyone would be interested in his opinion.

Put yourself in Philip’s shoes for a moment.  When Jesus asked Philip that question it must have been exhilarated and terrified for him all at the same time. Here you are the youngest, least experienced and least qualified of the disciples yet this man who you suspect might actually be the Messiah (although you’re not sure yet whose version of the Messiah he will turn out to be) is asking your advice on how to accomplish a task. The problem was, the task was impossible.

Philip’s answer sounds like someone who has no idea how to proceed, but wants to sound smart at the same time. He knew he was the disciple of an itinerant rabbi, and he knew that whatever funds they did have were gifts of generous benefactors. They didn’t have the means to be so extravagant. “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” A denarius was equivalent to a day’s wage. So in essence 200 denarii was nearly a year’s wage (considering festivals, sabbaths, etc.) “A year’s salary couldn’t buy enough to feed this crowd” Philip was implying.

Pause the story here. Notice how Philip doesn’t answer Jesus’ question? Kind of reminds me of the man at Bethesda.

“Do you want to be healed?”

“It’s not my fault, someone always gets into the pool ahead of me.”

“Where can we buy bread to feed this crowd?”

“It’s not our fault we don’t have money to feed them.”

I think Philip avoided Jesus' question because he thought it would make him look foolish. Maybe he thought if he answered Jesus’ question directly Jesus would laugh at him and say something like, “do you think we have the money to buy food for all these people?” Perhaps Philip was uncomfortable with the question Jesus asked so he answered a question that he felt comfortable answering.

When I first arrived on the Submarine and was working on my qualification, I had to go to specific qualified members of the crew and get oral checkouts in order to qualify to stand watches.

To qualify for the Auxiliary Election watch (AE for short), I had to be checked out by the Electrical Division Chief Petty Officer. He was the one who made out the watch bill and assigned all of the tasks for our division right down to field day assignments—he decided who had to do the bilge diving—and he even determined who slept where. What I’m trying to communicate here is that whether my life on the Submarine was miserable or relatively pleasant depended largely on his opinion of me.

I know my main motivation going into that oral exam should have been to qualify so I could be a productive member of the crew. But I confess that my main goal was to not look stupid.

For a couple of weeks I had tailed the AEs around, and I knew where all the readings were that I had to monitor and log. The normal range for every reading was engraved on my memory and could be recited without thought. I had studied all of the electrical systems in the boat and understood how they worked. I was confident; I was ready—I thought.

I sat down on the stool facing the Chief and waited. I kind of hoped he would ask me a complex question right off so I could dazzle him. He slowly lit a cigarette and leaned back against the bulkhead. “What is the first thing the AE does when seawater gets into the ships battery?” That took care of my confidence instantly.

Three things flashed through my mind. First, when the sulfuric acid in the battery mixes with seawater it causes a reaction that releases chlorine gas. In the confined spaces of a submerged submarine chlorine gas makes people start dying quickly. 

Whatever it was I was supposed to do had to be done fast.
The second thing I thought was that the battery compartment was located in one of the hardest parts of the ship for seawater to get to. If seawater had made it to the battery compartment, a bunch of other really bad things had to have already happened. 

Mentally I could envision seawater gushing out of burst valves and feel the Sub beginning to nose down and accelerate as it sank.

I knew I had to do something, but so much was happening so fast. It was overwhelming.

The third thing that went through my mind was, “I don’t know the answer.”

I wasn’t about to say that to the Chief, so I grabbed for something I did know. I launched into a detailed explanation on how the battery worked and how it connected to the other electrical systems on the boat .

The Chief let me go on for several minutes.

When I finished, he just sat and looked at me for a moment. “That was a fine answer, Stef, but you must have been answering your own question because you sure didn’t answer mine. He looked at me for a moment more as if he was waiting.

“You don’t know, do you?”

That was it; I was toast. I came in determined to not look stupid but it only took one question to expose me as exactly that. At least I was smart enough to realize that anything I said to try and recover would only make things worse.

“No, Chief.”

He sat for a moment, “Tell me, where does the AE stand his watch?”

“All over the boat. It’s a roving watch,” I answered.

“So, where would he be if seawater got into the battery?” he continued.

I was puzzled at where this was going, “he could be anywhere.”

“So, do you think we would assign a specific action for a battery casualty to someone who might be anywhere in the boat?”

“No, I guess not.”

“What is the first thing everyone on the boat is supposed to do when seawater gets in the battery?”

“Put on their Oxygen Breathing Apparatus so they don’t die.”

“So what is the first thing the AE does when seawater gets in the battery?

“Put on his OBA so he doesn’t die.”

He nodded almost imperceptibly. The compartment suddenly felt really hot.

He crushed out his cigarette, “Let’s take a break. Go play some cards or something and clear your mind. Come back tomorrow and we’ll try again.”

I was devastated, but there was nothing I could do. “Okay, Chief.”

As I stood and turned to leave he said, “A couple of things for tomorrow.”

I turned back toward him, “yeah?”

“Don’t try to solve the whole problem by yourself. Trust your shipmates to do their job; you worry about your job.”


“And the second thing--answer the question you’re asked.”

Maybe Jesus was just setting Philip up to state the obvious so the eventual miracle would be understood as the miracle it was. But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Philip had actually answered Jesus’ question. What if he had said, “Gennesaret is a couple miles away,” and then waited to see what Jesus would do next. I think Philip was trying to figure out the whole problem himself instead of just answering the question he was asked.

Jesus never responds to Philip’s answer. I wonder if he just looked at Philip for a moment the way the Chief looked at me.

Just then Andrew walked up followed by a boy carrying 5 loaves and 2 fishes.  “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”

I think this is the heart of the story. Andrew’s offer seemed ridiculous, even to him. He offers Jesus the loaves and fishes but acknowledges that they are not nearly enough. That may look like a lack of faith, or even sarcasm, on the surface, but the exchange between Jesus and Andrew is very different than the one between Jesus and Philip.

This whole story is about not having enough. The crowd didn’t have enough to eat, Philip didn’t have enough money, Andrew only had a boy with a lunch to offer—which wasn’t enough—and the boy only had 5 loaves and 2 fishes—which wasn’t enough. None of them had enough, and, in fact, if they had all pooled their resources they wouldn’t have had enough.

Philip came to Jesus and essentially said, “I don’t have what you need.”

Andrew and the boy came to Jesus and said, “this is what we have. It isn’t enough but you can have it.” See how different that is? Jesus took what was offered to him and made it enough. In fact, he made it extravagant.

What if Philip had answered the question and left it up to Jesus? Would Jesus have multiplied their coins so Philip could have purchased enough bread? We’ll never know. Philip didn’t offer, so Jesus had nothing to work with. Andrew offered and Jesus took it from there.

This is an important lesson. It must be because this is the only miracle recorded in all 4 gospels. It also must be important because there are 12 baskets full of bread left over. Coincidence—12 baskets, 12 disciples? I suspect not.

I’m not a painter, but if I was, I would love to paint a portrait of what each disciple might have looked like later in life as they carried the gospel to the rest of the world. I would paint each one carrying a basket on his back, a basket that had once been full of leftover bread and fish, a basket that served as a reminder that when something insurmountable faced him and he didn’t have enough, his job was to give whatever he had to Jesus. Jesus’ job was to take it from there.