28 May, 2007
Song is not always easy, though. Music derives its power from movement. It's the distance of one note from another that sets its mood.
The piano marks that distance best. No instrument lets so many notes hang in the air at one time, or time them so exactly. The guitar lets you do some of the same things with a little less precision, but with more freedom. You can bend the strings, and wander to tones between the notes, setting up tensions that the human understands.
The only problem with these instruments is that they take years of learning, two hands, and constant concentration.
The harmonica, on the other hand, does all that and lets me think more about what the music's saying than about how to say it. The harmonica is the lazy-man's guitar -especially in that it lets me bend for notes between the notes.
There's something about having the music I make three inches away from my ears that makes every note a prayer.
Duke Ellington or some such was playing the sax and stopped in the middle of a song one day. He looked up, and told the audience that he had forgotten the words. The same works for me. As I play, "It Is Well With My Soul," I am declaring it.
So, a word or two about the harmonica itself.
The first key skill is just learning to play one note at a time. The easiest way is to cover 4 holes with your lips, then block three of them with your tongue. It takes a little getting used to, but it's easy to do.
The next thing to learn is where the notes are. Blowing into the 4th hole gives you the note of C. (On a C harmonica.) Drawing and blowing on up the holes will give you the major scale.
What makes the harmonica sound cool, though, is playing the key of G on a a C harmonica. To do that, you have to start back on the 2nd hole, and make some notes that aren't naturally there by bending the note above them down a little bit. Once you learn to do that, you'll be amazed at how harmonica-y you sound.
If you like to express yourself in song, but don't have years to dedicate hours a day to refining and keeping you skills, I cannot recommend the harmonica too highly.
27 May, 2007
My key assertion is that Gaia, the earth mother, the meta-being formed of all living stuff on this planet, is forcing her way into the church. She's not displacing Christ there, but she's forcing us to talk about Him using her vocabulary.
It's killing us.
I feel it more than think it, and cannot put it into words yet. I am at a complete loss for a way to express this thought. No matter what you find beneath this point, rest assured I am not happy with it. But, I am going to give this my best shot.
It is scaring me that humanity seems to be finding its voice. More and more, whether you are in Asia, Africa, the Americas or Europe, you hear the same message. Save humankind. Save the earth. Give everyone a fair start in life, and a fair chance. These things are good, and I wish them for everyone too, but when the chorus is the same from every corner of the globe, it catches my ear.
The message itself is the thing I've named, "Gaia." To me Gaia is not a demi-god, but the combined voice of humanity everywhere.
Have you ever been at a European event in which the crowd really got excited, and broke into spontaneous applause? After a short while of wild, enthusiastic clapping, everyone is suddenly clapping to one beat - everyone. It's an odd experience for an American, hearing 10,000 people transition from a wild cacaphony of applause into 20,000 hands striking each other as if controlled by one brain. The crowd is going nuts, and suddenly thousands of people are clapping in perfect time with each other. In the space of mere seconds the people become a thing, one single entity, clapping in one rhythm.
It seems to me that this is what I hear happening around the world. Science, philosophy and art are all converging around the idea of "One planet. One people." And they are doing it at Internet speed.
Gaia is the single worldwide entity, clapping in one rhythm and telling everyone to get on board for the good of everyone. Gaia is the united voice of of every person who believes that the world is divine and worthy of our love and sacrifice.
And the church is struggling to decide how to react.
Gaia keeps whipsawing the church with her questions. When the church draws a line, she asks why we're not compassionate. When the church reaches out to those in need, she asks why we don't just join in her service to humanity. When we fight amongst ourselves she asks whether we are united, and when we unite she asks whether we're just a bunch of mindless robots.
Before long, we are doubting everything we do. We're ashamed to be "exclusionary," and afraid to seem old-fashioned. We're terrified of representing Christ as less than merciful - especially in front of a world that is working so hard to extend a helping hand to everyone. God so loved the world that we had better always show Christ as winsomely as possible.
It's killing us.
Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
Jesus came once to Israel meekly. She would only accept Him on her own terms, which was the same as rejecting Him.
Jesus did not long pine for her, nor did He turn aside from his path.
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
His purpose is unchanging, and His goal is all-consuming.
Pilate was wrong. Truth can be known, and He was standing right in front of him.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
This is the age when it is determined what offends and what does not. What is iniquitous and what is righteous is being proven today.
There is that which offends, and no persuasion will be offered to it.
1 Peter 3:22
[Jesus] is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
The kingdom is now. It is only in part, but it is today that Christ is taking all into subjection.
1 Cor 15:23-25
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
The kingdom ends with judgement, and utterly without remorse.
Gaia says there is only, "us." Gaia reminds us that we are all in this together, for better or for worse. There's only one planet, and one people no matter how many tribes, creeds, or borders there may seem to be. She is deceived, and she would deceive us.
There are two "us's." There are those who are His, and those who offend Him. And the latter group He will cast into a furnace without remorse. His kingdom, though, is His. We are His, and we are separate from those who are outside the gates.
But somehow that message is not getting through to even the members of our own churches.
I have met people who attend mainline Christian denominational churches and who were amazed when I told them the gospel. They were amazed to learn that God is holy. They were amazed to learn that Jesus was harsh with seekers ("Sell all you have," "Let the dead bury their dead," "You follow me only because I fed you"). They were amazed to learn that their kindness to others does not change their position with God one whit.
I tell them about Adam's sin, and about how God cannot accept them into His presence due to their dirty rags. I tell them about mighty seraphim covering their faces and their feet before God, and Isaiah collapsing in His presence. I tell them about the wrath of God unleashed against Christ on our behalf. They have never heard of these things.
They have never heard of these things!
They know all about Christ loving His neighbors, but they know nothing of the love it took to save us. They know about the noble sacrifice of Christ at calvary, but they know nothing of the divine wrath of God that Christ swallowed for us.
Why are people in our congregations ignorant?
I won't kid you. I'm plumbing for a reason here. I'm not declaring the word of God here, nor any revelation or vision that I have received. I'm digging hard to find an answer. I've not yet put my finger on it, but it's out there. There's something wrong.
Whatever it is, the clues are in our vocabulary.
Gaia speaks of "humankind."
Christ speaks of "the living and the dead."
Gaia unites her own around their humanity. Christ divides His children from humanity. His children are divine as He is divine, and the rest of humanity are "the dead."
Gaia speaks of "believing."
Christ speaks of "knowing."
Gaia wants us all to believe, because beliefs stabilize us. That we believe in Christ is no skin off her nose. Christ's brothers are His because they know Him specifically. They believe in Him, but they do more than believe. They know Him.
Gaia speaks of "unity."
Christ speaks of "oneness."
Unity is presented as transcending truth. Oneness is founded within truth.
Gaia speaks of "a personal experience."
Christ speaks of "a new life."
Accepting Christ means that I add Christ to myself. Being born from above means that I quit being who I was, and become someone else completely.
Gaia speaks of "centering."
Christ speaks of "approaching God."
Centering ourselves is presented as the highest work of humankind. But those made alive in Christ are pure, and they no longer need to center themselves within themselves. They approach the throne of God boldly.
Gaia speaks of "equality."
Christ speaks of "His kingdom."
Gaia would have every person get a fair chance at life, and get an equal opportunity. Christ would have every man, woman and child submit to Him, and He will have exactly that, one way or another.
These differences are significant, but I'm not sure whether they are the core of the matter. I suppose the core to be humanism in Christian garb, but I'm not sure yet. I'm watching. I'm a strong, strong fan of the humanities, and yet utterly oppose humanism.
When I see church members blithely unaware of what they do not know about the Christ of Christianity, it scares me. It scares me for them, but it scares me for us, too. If we said we were blind, then there would be mercy for us. It terrifies me that we say we see.
26 May, 2007
I don't like the French Open. I don't like it because my players don't do well there. If you look at a list of my favorite players, and a list of French Open champions, you will not find a single name on both lists.
My players don't do well in France because the courts there are tuned for defense, and all my favorite players attack. In Roland Garros, on the terre bateau (the courts are of red clay), the player who risks making errors to gain the advantage gains nothing. The red clay slows the ball, blunts the attack, and still counts every error the same. The upshot is that Sampras needed to hit 4 winners to win a point, when on grass he only needed to hit 1. The rub is that Sampras hit errors on about 1 out 4 shots. I'm sure you see the problem.
Roger Federer is one of my favorite players. Last year he tied John McEnroe's high-water mark of losing at Roland Garros in the final. He did well, but he ran into a defensive genius named Rafael Nadal.
Federer understands that his game must adapt to the red clay. He must be more patient. He must hit deeper. And when he goes for winners, he must not go for broke. He has succeeded masterfully on clay for two years now. He has reached the finals of several clay tournaments, and continued to set his course forward to being known as the GOAT - the Greatest Of All Time.
One thing, one insurmountable obstacle has barred his course. Rafael Nadal has stymied Federer to a degree hard to describe. Going into Sunday's match Nadal led their series of head-to-head matches by a score of 7-3. That's amazing. Against all of the top 10 players in the world, Federer holds a 70-12 record. Nadal accounts for 7 of those 12 defeats.
But it gets more amazing. Of the 6 times Federer has met Nadal on clay, he has won exactly 0. Not that Federer's alone, Nadal has been beaten by no one on clay in 81 straight matches, but to be so owned on one surface is a hard thing for the world's #1 tennis player to swallow.
But swallow he did. When Federer encounters Nadal on clay, his level of play plummets. Nadal has cracked Federer's confidence to the point that he no longer can even play at his own regular level, much less at the stratospheric level it would take to actually win. Nadal has cracked Federer's confidence to the point that his level play for the last 3 months has dropped until he is actually vulnerable to anyone. In Rome, Federer lost to the #76 or so in the world.
This past Sunday, none of that changed. In Hamburg, on the slowest of red clay, Federer went out and stunk the joint up. He lost the first set 2-6, in a flurry of errors and poor serving. Those of us who had gotten up early after a hard night of stressing out about things we cannot control felt the pain. Federer was not striking the ball, but pushing it. That's a bad thing. Soon it was 1-1 in the second set, and Federer was down 15-40 on his own serve. That's more than bad.
It was a moment of highest danger. Lose that game, and what little was left of Federer's wilting courage would leave the building and we would watch Nadal roll him like a cheap cigarette.
Instead Federer found his A game. He won the next two sets 6-2, 6-0. Yes, that was a bagel in the last set. We all saw Federer suddenly hitting like himself, and completely dominating the entire match. It was as magical a moment as tennis will ever know. The cowed lion was suddenly unleashed on the raging bull and tore him up. Federer faced the voices in his head, and turned them into a cheering section. He overcame himself.
It was also a bit of an ambush. Nadal could not have been prepared for THAT Federer to show up all the sudden like that. The look of the match was that Nadal was far too exhausted to deal with the surprise appearance of a Roger Federer with fire in his belly. Nadal rolled over, and gave the match up with hardly a whimper.
Which brings us to France.
The table is set for the greatest French Open of all time.
+ Should Nadal win, he will be the first 3-peat winner since the great Bjorn Borg.
+ Should Federer win, he will have a career grand slam and probably go down in most people's books as the GOAT. He will also be the first man to simultaneously hold all 4 slam titles in years. He will also have the first 2 titles in hand to win a calendar grand slam. Should he pull that off, even Rocket Rod Laver, the last man to do so, will stand in awe.
+ They both have to beat 6 of the world's best tennis players to even get to the final.
+ If it happens, Nadal won't be ambushed again. He now knows exactly what Federer will do to win, and he now knows that Federer *can*.
+ Federer won't come limping in with this tail between his legs, either. Now that he knows what it feels like to beat Nadal on clay, he'll be hungry for more.
Should you tune in to a little tennis over the next two weeks, know that you might be watching the most significant tennis tournament of all time - whatever that's worth.
I don't believe that God needs to "break" us to make us useful. But I also believe that God intends to allow the worst things in life to happen to us, and then not necessarily to deliver us from them. Given those two contradictions, then what do I do with the 150 songs of God's deliverance David, Solomon and others gave us in the Psalms? In them broken men cry out to God for deliverance - presumably expecting something to happen. :-)
And God did it for them!
And yet my few little decades here say He doesn't usually deliver us.
The Psalms, and indeed the whole scripture, testify to God's perfect record of delivering.
And yet none of us is in circumstances that one would just exactly call, "prosperous."
The answer I propose is not original. In fact, it's a repetition for me to say it here, but I will repeat myself, because it is a necessary tie-off to this series. One can never end with the false assertion that God does not deliver, even if from one narrow perspective it's completely true.
What's interesting about my answer is that it has completely gone out of style in our age of tight theologies. Those of you with a theological background will cringe when I give it, but I will stand by it fiercely nonetheless, because it is true.
My answer is that we can spiritualize the Psalms to understand God's way of delivering us from our enemies. The psalmists all had enemies. We have three enemies: 1) our own flesh, 2) the flesh of those around us, and 3) the devil. When we read how God deals with the enemies of His people, we learn how He deals with our three spiritual enemies, even though the Psalms are written about the psalmists' physical enemies.
Sometimes God delivers us from oppression. Sometimes He delivers us within it. He always delivers us - the question is how.
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
The people were captives on account of their own failure to obey God, but they were God's children, and they were miserable.
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
And they had every right and responsibility to be miserable. To sing joyfully of their God and their home at this moment, at the request of those who enslaved them would have been evil.
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
And the psalmist says directly that it would be a sin to rejoice. Jerusalem is his highest joy, and without Jerusalem he can only be cast down. If, in a moment of weakness, he forgets his pain at being separated from God, he prays that he might forget how to sing entirely.
7 Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
"Tear it down," they cried,
"tear it down to its foundations!"
8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy are those who repay you
according to what you have done to us.
But the psalmist reminds God of His perfect hatred for those who imprisoned His children.
9 Happy are those who seize your infants
and dash them against the rocks.
And finally, the money line. This has been the sentiment burning in the psalmist's heart all along. This horrible sentiment is not a scriptural oddity, or a one-off tossed into the psalm at the end to finish some kind of rhyme scheme. This is the prayer God put into the heart of His servant. This is the feeling of anger welling naturally up within the heart of one yearning to be free to praise and worship the one God of the world. Everything else was the justification, the provocation. This is the message.
This is the word of comfort for someone made to live apart from his Lord.
Note that I do not take away from the literal meaning of the Psalm. It does mean with the psalmist meant for it to mean. But, it is also a window into something more.
Reread the psalm as an allegory. Think about Romans 7, and see Babylon as my chief religious sin - pride. The armies of Babylon are the many impulses of the flesh within me that feed that sin, and that lust after it, imprisoning me within my own pride. The children of God are the weak impulses in me to praise the law of God and to live to His glory.
The backstory of the allegorical psalm is that I grew more and more proud of my Christian gifts, so God pulled the protective influence of His Spirit from me. He left me to defend myself against the flesh and pride warring against His law within me - and I lost.
Now, the impulses of my pride expect me to be happy in God again. I remember how happy I once was, and my pride chides me to be happy again. But I throw down my harmonica. I will not sing.
Jerusalem is the place where I depend upon God. Egypt is the place where I trust to the world for security and pleasure. Babylon is the place where I'm proud that I can earn my own salvation. But Jerusalem is the place where God chooses to come to me, and to meet me. Jerusalem is where I humbly quiet myself and enter into His temple - into His rest. God's Hand weighs heavily on me now, and I will not pretend that all is well. I want to get back to Jerusalem, and cannot get there yet. It is the time to wear black, and go in mourning. If I should forget that I wait on God to deliver me from my sin, may I forget how to sing entirely.
In pride I lusted to raise myself up above others, and thereby to tear down to the foundations of what little humility God had granted me. In pride, I was glad the day the Spirit left off restraining me from trying to get my brothers and sisters to listen to everything I said. I remember how awful my sin was, and I long to see my own pride thrown down.
Happy day when the Lord mortifies my flesh. Happy the day when he bashes the brains out of the little prideful impulses that would otherwise one day drag me back into that captivity.
May the Lord forgive us who spiritualize. :-)
Sometimes, when we are sick and grow weak, the enemies grow strong within us. Sometimes the voices of our flesh shout down the voice of Wisdom within us. It is then that we pray.
Pray the double prayer.
Pray with all your heart that the sickness be healed. Pray that your strength return. Pray against whatever the calamity is in your life, and in the lives of all the saints.
But pray, too, that God scatter the enemies in your flesh. Pray, too, that God put to death - mortify - the sin and death that reign in your mortal body, and that He release your spirit to praise. Pray that He return your heart to Jerusalem. Pray that your love might answer boldly to His, and triumph over the sin that so easily besets us.
He always delivers. His kingdom comes every time we pray the double prayer. Sometimes His kingdom comes in glorious deliverance from circumstance, and sometimes it comes in glorious love seeing us through circumstance. Either way, it is to His glory, and for the good of His kingdom.
He always delivers.
21 May, 2007
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
I believe that I have come to understand something about God and about life. Or maybe I haven't.
Psychologists several decades ago discovered that if you tormented an animal long enough, it would not try to escape even when the opportunity arose. Maybe I'm just cowering in a corner, calling pain bearable because trying one more time to escape seems more frightening.
But, I think that I have discovered that God usually does not want to heal our pain.
In the verse above, Jesus explains why a certain man was blinded from birth. He was blinded/blind/allowed to be blind so that the works of God could be demonstrated by the Messiah. God allowed this man to spend decades blind for the sake of His kingdom. Someone, somewhere prayed, "Thy kingdom come," and this man was born blind. Jesus was the kingdom of God on earth, and the Father had decreed that His kingdom would be declared, so Jesus healed this man.
By this miracle some amazing truths about the essence of God were demonstrated to everyone who saw it, heard about, read about it, or even just heard sermons about it. By this miracle the kingdom was advanced on earth, and God's purpose was made yet more certain. God's character of kindness was revealed, and Jesus' power was certified.
What's more, every miracle ever performed was done with this same purpose in mind. No miracle is of private edification. God moves to advance His kingdom.
Now, though, the kingdom is different than it was 2,000 years ago.
In the first days of a tree's life, it shoots upward as a tender green sprout. Within a month, though, it begins to form bark and grow strong. When Jesus walked on earth, the church was still a seed beneath the ground, and it needed to burst out in a fit of miracles. When Jesus rose from the tomb, the sprout breached the ground and tasted its first real air. In that tender first generation, the miracles continued. But one day, just like the tree sprout grows bark, the church began to live more on love than miracles.
Miracles are fast, but love works slowly - very slowly. That's OK. Miracles burst forth, but love never fails.
Today, when I meet a man blind from birth, I will assume that he is blind for exactly the same reason as that man Jesus saw 2,000 years ago. The man is blind that the works of God should be made manifest in him. But today, the works of God are works of love, slow, patient, unfailing love. I don't believe that God's kingdom answers that man with sight any more, but now with adoption.
The upshot is that I doubt that the pains God has allowed into my life were brought merely so that He could remove them.
I think God has something better planned for me than a miracle. And I think if I drive myself crazy trying to find that miracle, trying to save my life, I will lose my life. But if I decide to lose my life to pain, it just may be that I will find a love in Him worth dying for.
I have seen miracles and heard of miracles that are clear markers of God breaking into time. I will pray for miracles for myself and others. I will ask for healing and deliverance wherever they are wanted. But maybe I won't despair if it turns out that the works God has planned for my situation are greater than any miracle.
19 May, 2007
I was once in a movement that emphasized "brokenness." Now, I'm sure there are groups that live this doctrine harmlessly, but I was in one that lived it brutally. They actually worked on breaking anyone who looked like he might have a drip of ambition for serving the Lord. And in their spare time from that, they homed in on anyone who showed warmth. They called it the "cross working in our lives." I'm sure I could describe it more colorfully and more accurately, both.
I was talking yesterday with a brother whom I met once a decade ago, and who had spent time under the same teaching. It was a very refreshing conversation, and I'm glad it happened. Somewhere toward the end, though, brokeness came up and I waxed eloquent against it. I want to capture some of the things that were rolling around in my head during that chat, because it was once so key to me. And now it's not.
That kind of change should be noted.
The classic example of brokenness, in my background, was King David. The Lord had Samuel annoint David to be king of Israel as a mere boy, then allowed this new king to be put through years of misfortune and missed opportunities. There are so many high points in David's youth. He killed Goliath, and ended up being surrounded by singing groupies. Then there's the high of being the one who kept King Saul sane during the dark days. He won a wife through martial skill, and led the armies of Israel to greater victories than Saul. The people under Saul were text messaging David's number in to Israelite Idol night after night, and he was da' bomb. No one wanted to see David voted off the island.
Then God allowed everything to go pear-shaped.
Instead of praise, David heard the hiss of a razor sharp spear launched at him by a man who stood head and shoulders above all Israel. He hid in a field while his dear friend Jonathon ascertained whether it was safe for him to show his face, and it wasn't. He was hunted by all Israel, while his groupies morphed into harpies singing their disdain for him and willingly turning him over to Saul's informers any chance they had. He hid out in caves and was tempted to kill the Lord's own annointed king. He feigned madness at one point, and probably was not sure what was acting and what was just letting the wild things out that had been screaming in his mind night after night.
The proposal I reject is that it was these times that shattered David for God's use. God allowed these things to break him, and to make him into a king after His own heart. It was during these times that David wrote most of the Psalms attributed to him, and during these times that he learned to praise God by faith, instead of by sight. David entered his first cave a young nobleman of God, and exited his last one a broken servant of God.
It's a pretty story. And it's got a lot of truth to it. A lot.
But it narrowly misses the point.
A little lady named Bathsheeba shows something about David that this brokenness fable overlooks. He was not broken by all those sufferings. Oh, it's not the adultery or the murder to which I refer, but to the 9+ months David schemed to finally get Bathsheeba under his roof. During all that time, he never felt repentance. He kept "fixing" things, and "pulling things off", and working subtle plans until she and their son were in his stable.
David was a great man, and one whom I hope to emulate in some little way, but if he was broken, brokenness doesn't mean much. David was delivered by God through the furnace of untold sufferings, and was changed in many ways and all for the better. He might have even believed he was broken. But when he looked back over his years of rising to the call of God, he could say he had been upright in all his ways. He had suffered, but he had done so in righteousness, and he had waited on God at all times.
I have known such men, and they are the hardest, saddest, most to be pitied men on earth.
David profited from his exile experiences. David was transformed by them, and God did refine his character through them. But he was not what Watchman Nee would call broken. I say this is because such a thing does not exist.
Nee proposed that the servant of God must be broken to serve well. He illustrated his point with a communion wafer. He would break the wafer in half, and then press it back together again. Once put back together, it looked whole and entirely as good as new, but at the slightest touch it would fall back apart again. He said the man of God must be like this toward his God. His will must be broken such that at the slightest whisper from his Lord, he would collapse into the Lord's will.
Nee was an amazing man, but he was wrong on this one.
I cannot find any evidence in my current addled state that this brokenness is a scriptural term, nor that it is a scriptural concept.
In place of brokenness, I would like to offer two qualities:
Gentleness: David was softened by his early trials, not broken. Had he been broken, he would have been of no use to God nor man, but God preserved him. Upon rising to the throne, David was a man who could be moved with the trials of others, because he had endured hardship of his own. His heart was furrowed with pain, and could easily find compassion for those whom the Lord placed in his path.
Humility: Had David been inhuman, he would have been humble from birth, but he learned humility just like the rest of us. He learned from the times he succeeded and he knew it was God Who was working through him. He learned from the times he succeeded, and his success was far less than it should have been. But mostly, David was humbled by his many failures. He learned from them that he was only a man, and that he needed to wait on the Lord. He learned not to trust in himself. He learned that he could steal a poor man's only ewe lamb and serve it to a stranger without remorse. And that only the Spirit could move repentance in his heart.
As a young man, I was told that David's usefulness to God ended with Bathsheeba. He never conquered mightily for the Lord again after that sin, and that is a powerful observation. I have often wondered over the years when my Bathsheeba moment would come, or whether it already has. I don't know. But as I look back at David, I wonder if maybe he grew more useful to the invisible kingdom, to the glory of God Himself, after he fell and rose again.
I would not be surprised to learn that David wrote his most arresting psalms after the death of that son by Bathsheeba.
It's no accident that God entrusted David with another baby, Solomon, only after he rose up again from his repentance. It was only to a humble man and a gentle one that God dared trust the child who would build His house. Apart from the labors of gentleness and humility the great works of the kingdom go unworked, but brokenness is an empty cloud that brings no rain.
May the Lord soften the hearts of his sheep.
13 May, 2007
08 May, 2007
I have to quote these rules from KB's site.
- Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
- People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
- At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
- Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
Then I have to tell you that I'm going to break them religiously. Sorry, I'm barely socially confident enough to post 8 random facts about myself, much less ask others to do so. Count that as a bonus fact. :-)
Food: I love food. I know of nothing I won't eat, though I don't like sweet potatoes much, and could live without eating fish again. Basically, if it's food and it's front of me, it won't be either for long.
Family: Not one member of my family lives within 6 hours of any other member past the age of majority. We are not a social lot. On my father's side, they were all migrant workers and on my mother's side - well, my great grandma divorced and took two children from New York to Los Angeles before that kind of thing was cool.
Exercise: Aerobics bore me stiff in all their incarnations. So, I do mostly bodyweight stuff supplemented with an elastic band. I do one where I put my right foot on a desk and my left elbow on the floor, and raise and lower my body, for example. I found out that my right knee was still weak moving laterally, so I am forcing it to start contributing again. I think it may cure my need for the ACL brace 10 years after my surgery.
Profession: When I decided to join the army as a mechanic I said, "It's worth it, because at least they cannot make me a clerk." You guessed it. 6 months as a tool-room clerk, 1 1/4 years as the battalion maintenance management clerk, 6 months as the motor sergeant's clerk and 1 1/2 years as a sergeant - a glorified clerk. Now, I'm in charge of making programmers act like clerks. Things are better now, since I'm beginning to finally give up all hope.
Obsession: I have dedications and obsessions. I was obsessed with Formula One racing for 10 years. I hardly ever missed a race, and knew all the gossip. One day - literally, one day - I decided I was done, and I have not seen a single race since. No obsession is safe with me. I could drop tennis tomorrow, and never look back. You don't believe me, but believe me. My dedications are all rock-solid, though. It's unusual.
Faith: Hmmm. Random? All the rest were pretty easy, but this one is so serious-ish. OK. It was really, Really, REALLY hard to grow up as a fundamentalist charismatic who experienced no miracles. I wouldn't count it as a miracle unless I was sure God had done it, and I never was. Looking back, I'm sure I was right. He didn't do anything miraculous in "that" way in my life. I've spent decades trying to remember that this doesn't prove I'm inferior. I may be inferior, but this doesn't prove it. I mean, I never even spoke in tongues, and after 10 years surrounded by those who never didn't one begins to doubt one's faith. I made up for it on the fundamentalist ultra-legalism side, though, so I had that going for me. ;-)
Ailments: All self-inflicted. I have cut my eyebrow wide open with my own tennis racket - then did the same thing 2 months later. When I started back with tennis just after the divorce, I injured my abdominals. Next year, I injured my shoulder. Year after, I injured my elbow. Last year I injured my wrist. This year, I seem to be working on injuring my off-shoulder. Trying to generate rotational inertia against which to lever, I am throwing my left arm backwards so violently that I am in danger of an RSI injury there. I know, most of you would stop doing that. I will not. I will, instead, spend extra time lifting weights to condition the shoulder against the strain and go on hitting my brutal forehand at anyone who will return it.
Games: I am in search of the ultimate 15 minute game, one that allows brilliant insight but punishes oversights mercilessly. Timed chess works great, but it's so hard to find anyone who doesn't play way above or below me. I can play "Minefield" on a Windows computer for a half-hour, and never even notice the time went by. It's a great game but solitaire games are, shall we say, unsatisfying.
I hope you're still awake. :-)
06 May, 2007
Gaia is a woman.
Jesus is not a woman.
Therefore it's only natural that Christians are raping the earth with their right-wing republican agenda of feeding big business, and repressing anyone who seeks everyone's good, instead of just that of male protestants.
The fate of humanity rests in the filia of little algea trying to revive the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone, forests trying to scrub the air of carbon dioxide, and the minds of humans seeking a way back to balance with nature. Any of countless disasters could give Gaia an opportunity to start over again, without the blight of humanity. This is a sad, sad story, because Gaia made us a fine home, and then evolved us perfectly to fit within it. We are tailor-bred to enjoy green grass, blue skies and red dirt (I'm from Northern California, where all the dirt is red - the rest of you can just imagine), but in our greed we have consumed far more of her bounty than we have returned, so we are in danger of losing it all - for every species on our planet.
Gaia perfected the earth for us without our help, and she can fix all the damage we've done, if we learn to understand her ways. We are neither the first nor the worst environmental disaster to happen under her watchful care, and everything we've done is natural after a fashion. We made this mess by indulging our ancient evolutionary instincts, so if we can just retrain those instincts to match our new mental capabilities, we can advance the destiny of our race. We can learn to care for the entire planet, not just ourselves, and we restore this place to the pristine garden it was for the last few million years.
That's Gaia's stand.
Can Christ do as good a job as Gaia of saving the earth?
It is here that Christians begin to stumble a little. Here, some good Christians begin to have a real problem answering for Christ.
One group shouts, "Yes! Christ will melt the elements of this planet, and make a new heaven and earth, and we will live forever in heaven." These like the Earth, but don't feel very responsible for it.
Another group pledges, "Yes! Christ put us here within this earth, and it is our responsibility to fit into the rhythm of life." These believe restoring this Earth for Christ is almost as high a calling as preaching the gospel.
Yet another group intones, "No. All of creation groans until it can be put out of its misery. Sin has destroyed this creation, and now it is just waiting for the day it hits the dustbin." These hate the Earth for what it has become, and eagerly await the chance to yank it off life-support.
And Gaians just snicker, because the debate is being held in Gaia's house, framed in her language.
The Gaian frames the debate in Christian terms, because he is so open minded he can accommodate the Christians' narrow perspectives, but that reframing is an illusion. The words become Christian, but the foundation of the debate is as pagan as ever it was. The Gaian will refer to humans as created, and the world as cared for by its designer, and the ecosphere as a divine plan, but in the end the critical points are the same. The Earth is our home, and man is a part of nature.
But the debate is not being held in Gaia's house. Gaia is squatting in the King's house, and she will learn how large a mistake that is. God did not give this planet to anyone. He left it in the care of His children, and they lost it to their enemy. Satan tempted Jesus, offering Him ownership of this planet, but what offered was only his by theft - not by gift or wage. On that day, the King allowed Himself to be taunted, but the King is returning and soon He will rip what is His from the hands of His enemies.
This place was given to God's children, and it was called into existence for us to make something of it. It is in our nature to create, and to perfect, and to protect. Gaia would have us fit meekly into the ecosystem alongside all the animals, but that is not our place. The Earth and all its living systems are gifts to us and responsibilities. We are not to sink into the grass beside the animals, but to lift them to the heights of honor along with us. The lowest mutt carries himself with high dignity when he knows he is serving a higher purpose, and we are charged to give him that.
Man can elevate the entire earth.
We were created for this.
A meadow is beautiful, but a garden is a glory to God, man and plant together.
Gaia tells half-truths. Yes, the greed of man has raped the earth, but her answer to our sin is wrong. Gaia would have us lost in the web of life, indistinguishable from the world around us. She would have us camoflage the image of God, and lose our humanity into the zoo around us. She would have us dedicate our lives to transforming civilization into the image of nature.
Christ would have us rest.
Christ saved the world. That is in the past tense. It waits to be revealed what the sons of God will be, and what the earth will be, but it waits to be revealed. It is already there. The new earth is waiting, already bought and paid for by its King.
Everything we do in this age is a testimony to the work He has already finished. So, yes, we work and we work hard, but we work in the calm assurance that the work is already done. We wait here for the miracle of revelation that Christ will unveil at His coming. We wait with our hands on the plow, and we work toward His revealed goal, but we have a Hope. And we, in turn, are Earth's highest hope.
Yes, Save the Earth. But save Christ's Earth, and save it by saving men who will learn to love the things that Christ loves. We are called to make this house a home, and in Christ's finished work our work will bear fruit.
05 May, 2007
The song is from the movie, "She's Having a Baby." It's one of the best movies ever. It came out in the first year or two of my marriage, and it was so poignant at the time it will always be one of my favorites. I don't know whether it is a good movie or not, but the song moved me again today - hard. It's sung beautifully by a woman, but it's a father's story.
The lyrics are here: http://www.songmeanings.net/lyric.php?lid=53196
The young man, if you'll recall, was having a hard time figuring out whether being tied to a woman who could cook him gruper for dinner was really what he wanted for a lifetime. Toward the end of the movie, when she actually is having the baby, she experiences complications that threaten hers and the baby's life. While the young man sits out in the waiting room, dealing what he may be about to lose, this song plays in the background.
Choosing this song for the background of this video was inspired.
The video highlights a series of mostly famous quotes, starting with the granddaddy of them all, "Woman, you are the devil's gateway," launched by Tertullian. There are thoughts that ripple through societies and cultures, and that have tremendous power because they are silent. You can only see them if you look for them. Europe once believed that faerie folk were behind everything they didn't understand. It kept them from developing science for centuries. Breaking that misconception took centuries, and advances came in fits and starts.
The church is learning that women are profitable to the church in every area and by every gift, but the progress is coming by fits and starts. The quotes in this video are appalling, and very few people would agree with them in this context, but the underlying matrix of thought that allowed them in the first place must still be replaced - thought by thought. We need each other in every way.
I love a few women, and knowing that the things this video records have been said to them breaks my heart. Knowing that the true selves of these people, upon whom I have depended, are impugned in these ways weighs so heavily on my heart.
We love you, sisters.
02 May, 2007
He agrees with me about too many things. :-)
Seriously, as I am reading him, I keep being blown away by little things I didn't think I'd ever read a theologian saying. He is dead on the money, so far as I am concerned. He is who I'd like to imagine I could have grown up to be.
The one thing I have not figured out is why so few people appreciate me as a theologian. ;-)
Anyway, I'm in the middle of my 4th and 5th of his books. I cannot finish either of them, because I'm enjoying them both too much. One of them is an 800 page monster, and not a great introduction. The other, though .... ah, the other.
Simply Christian is NT Wright's highly persuasive explanation of why Christianity makes sense. Everyone is fond of pointing out that this is Wright's Mere Christianity, and as much as I'd love to top that statement, it's straight up accurate. If you liked Mere Christianity, Simply Christian should wind straight into your heart.
Wright looks at the world we all see, and finds 4 core wonders to it:
He then follows these four threads through a discussion of Israel, the Messiah Who came from Israel and God, and the church.
Along the way, he avoids minefield after minefield while still throwing sweet, sweet bombs. Let me offer just one example. I don't believe there is a single line in this book that agrees or disagrees with "the rapture" as has been popularized recently, but he make countless comments that implicitly reject it. I all but drooled on myself when I heard him start talking about the kingdom of God. The whispers of Wright's thought on the end times smuggled into this book are enough to justify the price.
[None of you should probably have noticed that I have never spoken of the end
times on this blog. Now that I point it out, you should be wondering whether
that's an oversight. It's not even close to an oversight. I have been waiting until
the right moment, and I'm pretty sure it is nearing. In fact, getting to that
subject is one of the things that brought me back after my month haiatus. First,
I will give you another example. Wright is an Anglican. That is to say that his church lives and breathes liturgy. Liturgy has no part in my life. There is nothing I do that is remotely structured or stable, except my three meals a day, and even they are only liturgical for convenience' sake. I love it when something makes me stay up past my bedtime. I hate liturgically knowing that on 15 Oct I will worship God for His amazing works in Numbers 23:12 - just like I did last year. (Don't look for that - it's pulled out of the air.) I will spend 5 hours putting together a 1/2 hour lesson and be tickled when the class goes so far afield it never happens.
I didn't even have to wrinkle my nose when Wright talked about worship.
I REALLY didn't think that would EVER happen. Oh, he said a couple things I think were bogus and self-serving, but even I have to grudgingly admit that I would profit from listening to those things. An Anglican impressed me on the subject of worship. I'm still amazed.
In all honesty, I have not quite finished the book yet, but only because I'm too busy in his other book. I'm reading Simply Christian at work and my lunch breaks are all higgley-piggley these days. I just could not wait any longer to tell everyone about it.
What do I think of the book? At $26 a pop, I bought 5 extra copies two weeks ago, and will give away the fourth on Sunday and the fifth probably before that. (Kirk doesn't know it yet, but he NEEDS this book.) If you want to know why Christianity makes good old fashioned common sense, or know someone who needs to know, then this is the best.
01 May, 2007
Gaians get up in the morning to make the world a better place than it was yesterday. As integral parts of the organism of earth, they want to contribute everything they can to the health of the planet. Among other things, that means improving themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. They want to see the world more truly for what it is, the people around them more clearly, and themselves more honestly. And they are willing to make necessary sacrifices for the greater good. They look on sacrifice as an investment, really. A Gaian might invest a little more for a hybrid car for the environment's sake, and might invest time in prayer to support the earth's spiritual balance.
Harm Never, Help Ever is one of their many mottos.
Gaia teaches her children to fight evil, foster good, and always help.
So, as I look at Gaia versus Christ, can Christ supply a stronger reason to live than this?
Let's compare Gaia's and Christ's messages to Joe, a depressed guy thinking about ending it all.
[Quick clarification: I'm personally familar with Joe's state from decades ago, but I'm not secretly talking about myself here.]
Joe is a part of the web of all life, and Gaia will remind him of this. Gaia needs Joe to be the best he can be, and she reminds Joe how fulfilling it is to contribute to the needs of the universe by contributing to the needs of his community.
Gaia relies on Joe to pull his weight in the complex web of life. And when Joe is too depressed to contribute to society, he is both failing her and consuming valuable resources. So, Gaia is going to marshall all the forces at her command to help Joe get better. She will send Joe better nutrition, more friends, caring counselors, and some poetry to help him feel understood. She will send books and helpers to feed his spirit, and to help him see that he was meant to be a spiritual being. She will work hard to help Joe take his place back in the dance of life.
The problem is that Joe is drowning in his depression. To get Joe back onto dry land, Gaia sends him lifeboats, but Joe takes a quick look at them and decides to drown. And why not? What is he really doing by being alive, anyway? What difference would his death make? What difference does his life make? Gaia could give his life purpose, but only when he was healthy enough to reach out and grab it.
Once Gaia is sure that Joe cannot be helped, she looks down on him and says, "Well, the gene pool won't miss him," and lets him die. Nature is like that. Gaia helps those who help themselves. Once you're past the point of helping yourself, Gaia cannot do anything for you.
But what does Christ say to Joe?
For starters, Christ stepped into Joe's world as a human, and suffered every temptation to which Joe has succumbed. He has the pain of each setback that is crushing Joe.
More than that, Christ suffered all those things intentionally, so that He could be there to comfort Joe when the time came. He willingly took on every burden so that He could carry Joe at just this moment.
But the amazing thing is that Christ did this because He knew Joe - from before Joe was conceived, Christ knew him - and He loved Joe. It's not that He loved everyone, or that He loved because it's His nature, but that He knew Joe and fell in love with Joe for being Joe. Everything Christ did, He did because Joe was that important to Him.
And there's something even more amazing than that. When Joe turns around and responds to Christ's love with love in return, he blesses the omnipotent Creator of the universe. Joe's love makes a difference to God. Joe can make a difference in the eternal, invisible realm.
Less amazing, but easier to appreciate, is that Joe can make the same difference right here on earth. When Joe loves Christ's brothers and sisters, he makes a difference in the eternal but visible realm!
To some, that might even seem like a sufficient reason to get up in the morning.
The ultimate contrast between Christ and Gaia comes when Joe cannot overcome his depression. Gaia has no use for the man who will not eventually provide something back to her body. Gaia is hungry, and she feeds on her own.
Christ is already satisfied. Rather than feeding on His body, Christ supplies it with everything it needs. When Joe is joined to Christ, he is born a new creature - a glorious man made new by Christ through the pouring of divine Life into Joe's spirit.
Codepoke is emotionally crippled, and if I thought my hope were in Gaia I would give up - right now. There is no hope down her road. My life, though, is in the hands of One Who loved me, and gave Himself for me. While I was in rebellion against Him, He bought me at the most extreme price. He could have given me wealth beyond my imagining, and delighted me at no cost to Himself. Instead, He healed me by His stripes.
Remember Gaia's true nature when you hear someone describe the beauty of tolerance, and the wonderful light and life-force that lives in each of us. Remember her vampire nature when they talk about how we are all interwoven and how we are connected to each other in a cosmic tapestry of life. Remember the imperative to evolve or die when they talk about how we are all growing toward a higher plane of existence.
And remember that Christ frees you from all of that.