is fertile territory.  

Let’s begin with that simple premise, and see how it unravels as we try to grasp it firmly.  

What I mean to say is this: when I drive along High Drive, getting ready to descend the hill into downtown Spokane, that vast, cavernous space below seems mysteriously inviting.   For one thing, the meandering creek transports silt from the centuries before white folk of European ancestry set foot on a slippery stone.  For another thing, the brush-covered landscape only recently has given way to assorted housing developments—which might imply that the region along Route 195 truly recovers from a historically shameful stigma.    You may or may not care to explore what happened just south of the Spokane River over one-hundred and fifty years ago, but below is a cogent synopsis:

1858-September 24-30-Colonel George Wright hanged Chief Qualchan of the
Yakima for his role in the Indian wars of the past few years on both sides of the
Cascade mountains. Wright also hanged a few members of the Palouse tribe who were held accountable in the deaths of U.S. soldiers during the Steptoe campaign. The exact number for those Indians hanged on Latah Creek (Hangman Creek) was never reported. The number varies widely from source to  source .”



Just prior to that ugly episode, Wright had camped along the creek and dictated the terms of a truce, in which the cessation of his own hostilities evidently were not included.  And that, you see, brings me to the crux of why I’m sharing this tragic trivia in the first place!


Yes, it’s 2007, and the war in Iraq and trouble in the Middle East trump any concern we might harbor for the military practices of the nineteen century Indian Wars.  But the fact remains that in 2007 the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest and the Presbyterian Church (USA) would like to start a new church in the vicinity of those brutal acts.  Moreover, as organizing pastor, I have been called to lay the groundwork and to cultivate the dynamic community who will gather and serve in the name of Jesus the Christ for generations to come. 

Hence, my dilemma.


With names like Hangman Creek, or Hangman Valley, the field of this new church development has been coated with a thick residue of remorse and regret.  We can turn parts of it into a golf course.   We can build houses, condominiums and infrastructure galore.  [We can even construct elaborate church facilities.] But nothing will wipe away the stain of what human beings have done and will do to one another.  Nothing will waft away the stench left by the dead or by the culture of death.

No, I’m not talking about political correctness.  Neither am I interested in regurgitating (or redressing) the old wrongs of ornery ancestors. 

But what if the gospel story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is true?   What if, prior to all the impediments instituted by organized religion, there stood a frail man before the political and religious authorities of the first century—and what if his testimony is still true?  


“Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’   

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’   

Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’” 

[John 18:37—38]. 

Despite the Roman procurator’s cynicism—and perhaps yours as well—if Jesus’ words are true, LATAH VALLEY is fertile territory.   That’s right.  Just as fertile as that dry, despairing strip of land, through which runs the Jordan River, LATAH VALLEY gushes with the possibility of resurrection and re-creation.   In other words, there’s life in a church community that welcomes all comers and all questions.  There’s life—true life—in a Christian faith that will not surrender to the onslaught of consumerism and easy, formulaic answers.  There’s life and the potential for change and transformation when we get to that place at the bottom of the hill. And so, to all sincere seekers, who may have arrived at the bitter end of this opening blog, I’m picking up where the Colonel George Wright left off.  We now encamp in the LATAH VALLEY, along the banks of a forgotten stream, under the flag of a truly ultimate truce.   I cannot promise you the biggest or the best church in town.  But I can echo the promise in Revelation 7:9:

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”  



February 28, 2007

The model of ministry that is being shaped in me–and that I propose and recommend to other pastors–is that of STRUGGLING POET… 


Consider these quotes:

“When the text comes to speak about this alternative life wrought by God, the text must use poetry.  There is no other way to speak.  We know about the future–we know surely–but we do not know concretely enough to issue memos and blueprints.  We know only enough to sing songs and speak poems.  That, however, is enough.  We stake our lives on such poems (Walter Brueggemann, Finally Comes The Poet, 1989:  41).

“Poets are the articulators of experience.  They image and symbolize the unarticulated experiences of the community, identifying and expressing the soul of the people…  Many voices speak in the church today at a superficial level.  They speak of how our personal needs may be met, of patching up the old ship so that it sailed as it did before in the sea of the culture, or one more new method of renewal and evangelism.  But the poet hears voices at a deeper level–the fragmentation and alienation of modernity, the loneliness of our individualism…  The poet is of no pastoral use to the congregation if he or she can do no more than express personal feelings of anxiety and confusion.  Such poetry is little more than therapy, the reconditioning of people to live in the ambiguity of their context.  Rather, the poet writes so that the congregation hears their story as God’s pilgrim people.  Thismeans writing with as much intellectual engagement with the culture as passion for the experience of the people.  The tapestry must be woven of both elements before the possibiliity of transformation can emerge in the condition of liminality (Alan Roxburgh, The Church Between Gospel and Culture, 1996: 330).

Much more to come…