Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter

The darkness is oppressive today-
heavy black clouds hang thick in the sky.
Its tarry rain falls to earth,
pummels my windshield,
dashes about as spray kicked up on car heels...
My vision turns misty, like a dream.
I focus on the lights ahead.
I want to scream at the darkness,
wrench the sun from it's grip...
I want to tear into it's billowy flesh
& free the sky to breathe again.
I grasp the wheel with both hands
to keep myself in line.
Its hard to see & I feel strange...
This drive is taking forever
& I just want to sleep...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Secret Agent G.O.D.

Today in church, the pastor uttered a simple sentence- "Light & darkness don't mix".

I was strangely reminded of Psalm 18: 9-12 which reads:
He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath his feet. Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew, soaring on the wings of the wind. He shrouded himself in darkness, veiling his approach with dark rain clouds. Thick clouds shielded the brightness around him and rained down hail and burning coals.

I was also reminded of 1 John 1:5 that says:
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all.

Psalm 18, penned by David, was written as a praise for God's deliverance from "all his enemies & Saul's pursuit". David was on the run, a wanted man... He wrote: "The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path". (vs 4-5) However, he later wrote that God "reached down from heaven & rescued me, He drew me out of the deep waters." (vs 16) David's outlook changed drastically throughout the rest of the chapter as he spoke the praise of his Rescuer...

I think of God exacting justice on David's enemies kung fu style... He stealthily infiltrates the enemy compound, knocks one of the guards out & clothes himself with the uniform of the enemy. He slips past everyone else undetected & finds David. Imagine how that might feel- having the enemy approach you in your cell... You'd probably be expecting torture of some kind, certainly not deliverance. And then think of how ecstatic you would be when you realized it was God in that enemy uniform, it was God, shrouded in darkness... It was God, come to save you, come to set you free.

God was in the midst of David's storm. He shrouded Himself with darkness, came against David's enemies & rescued him, inspiring these words: "The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness". (vs 28) I see the story of redemption being played out here. God's own Son, Jesus, clothed Himself in the shroud of darkness we know as skin & bones... He became one of us... that He might rescue us...

Indeed, "Light & darkness don't mix" but, "the Lord my God lights up my darkness..." Its Secret Agent G.O.D. to the rescue.

Eye of the Needle

Moving can be quite the hassle- hunting for a new place to call home, hauling one's life away to a new avenue or boulevard or street... But is it my life I'm hauling or is it something else? "Things" prove troublesome for me... When I think about the things I exist with & the things that help me exist, I realize there's a great disparity... There are few things I actually "need"... everything else is just filler.

So what exactly am I hauling with me? Do I need a barrister full of books I read years ago or perhaps may never read? Bric-a-brac, media, papers... They accumulate here & there, just waiting for a glance... But what I need to exist day to day isn't found in my barrister, on my desk or in my media corner... All that I actually need, I essentially carry.

Yes, I have everything I need... & more. Food fills the cupboards & fridge.... Furniture lines the walls that are covered with serene visions of nature & maps of antiquity... My closets are filled with boxes left unopened from past moves... And as I set out to pack up the stuff that's since settled around me, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. How much do I really need to take with me? How much do I really need to feel "at home"? I have grandiose visions of simplicity- of taking only what I need... but even that won't fit through the eye of the needle... Will stuff or lack make a difference? Is it my life I'm hauling or is it something else? And why is it so damned hard to let go if it?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hard Hats Required

wrecking ball of necessity- crash the shell of stability
destroying beams & rafters, breaking down the walls
what is a wall or window but a thin membrane stretched across the drum
brokeness produces rhythm- timbres interrupted

orchestration of destruction- precise in probabilities
safety at a distance is better left maintained
what is strength or clarity but a thin disguise- steadfast till
brokeness produces danger- complacency deferred

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Incensed

Reduced to ashes
little by little,
I give, intangible.
The proof is in the smoke
& mirrors reflect
the exhaustion of my resource.
The slow glow
of knowing
hangs thick in the room.
I am fuel.
Consumed,
gaining strength
little by little
even as I crumble into dust.
Climbing into the air
heavy laden, like a shroud
cast off,
my prayer unfurls,
blazing trails up to Your throne...
_______________________________________________

May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2

Thursday, November 26, 2009

thanksgiving day charade

i spent thanksgiving in the dark
wondering how i lost my spark

i had some coffee & some pie
i ate alone, i don't know why
all i could do was sit & sigh
my spark is gone & so am i

candles offer but a glimmer
of light & hope growing dimmer

the melted wax will overcome
the flamey wick will then succumb
to the weight of darkness' rule of thumb
without a spark this life is numb

soundly assailed without & within,
i wrapped myself with layers thin
i had more coffee & more pie
my spark is gone & so am i

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ramp Signal

Like most people these days, I take the freeway to work. The ramp signals are usually on & there's a line up of cars waiting to infuse themselves into the flow of traffic. As we slowly crept up to the line yesterday, I noticed a panhandler standing on the small strip of earth that separated the ramp from the freeway. This is a common sight anymore, so his presence didn't really phase me. There was an old Ford 350 in front of me who's driver looked to be a burly, bald headed guy. He inched up to the line, rolled down his window & stuck his hand out to entice the panhandler. I could see he had something in his hand, but as soon as the panhandler hobbled up to the window, the driver snatched his hand back & sped off. He was laughing, thinking himself pretty swift. I wanted to speed up behind him & somehow exact revenge, but I had my job to go to, so... anyway.

In case you're wondering, I didn't offer the panhandler my spare change when my turn came. I don't give handouts as a general rule. I don't know his situation- whether he was faking it or whether he was truly homeless or just down on his luck... but the way the man in the truck treated him really bothered me. It was completely uncalled for & undignified, for both parties involved.

Its hard to believe we still measure the worth of a person by what they're wearing or how they smell or what they do. It seems like grade school stuff. Isn't a person worth something just because they're made in God's Image? This world still doesn't think so... and that's just sad.

Freeway ramps & busy corners are never a good place to stand & advertise your trouble. But people do it every day... some are genuine, some aren't. Some drivers care, some don't. If you choose to care, you'll hold up the traffic behind you. And other times, there's no traffic... no panhandler... & its just you & the Light.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Word is the Word

If you've ever read the first few chapters of Genesis, you know about the story of creation. But look closely & you'll find that the account in chapter 1 doesn't match up chronologically with the account in chapter 2.

Chapter 1
Day one- light & darkness
Day two- sky
Day three- land, sea, sprouting vegetation
Day four- sun, moon & stars
Day five- fish & birds
Day six- animals & man (Adam)
Day seven- God rests

In chapter 2, man appears before vegetation sprouts up. So I got to thinking- maybe God just planted seeds on the third day & they had to grow into trees & plants & shrubbery- food for the animals & Adam & Eve.
Chapter 2 also tells us God planted a garden in Eden... but only after He had created Adam. And in the garden, Adam is presented with all sorts of living creatures, which remember, according to chapter 1, were created on the 6th day, preceding him. But Chapter 2 implies God formed them from the ground there in that moment and paraded them past Adam so he could name them & maybe find a friend (And you thought E-Harmony was a new idea.) But no suitable match could be found, so God put Adam to sleep, took a rib, and made Eve. Yet according to chapter 1, Eve had been made with Adam at the same time... "Male & female He created them." Ge. 1:27.

There's a basic argument that you can't take the Bible literally. And for stories such as this which seem a little far fetched, I'm inclined to agree. But that doesn't mean the story isn't valid.

I got to thinking about that scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16 that starts out by saying "All Scripture is God-breathed"... Some versions say "All Scripture is inspired or given by inspiration". Taken literally in its entirety, you create a petri dish for all kinds of fanaticism. Because God spoke it, it's Holy & by golly, it must be taken literally, to the hilt. I believe the bible is a mixture of literal & figurative, surely inspired by God, but not necessarily spoken or translated word for word.

The idea of being "God breathed" takes me back to the garden. Regardless what day man was created, he was nothing without the breath of God. Ge 2:7- God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of Life into the man's nostrils & he became a living person.
I'm reminded of another example in Ezekiel 37 where God took the prophet Ezekiel out to a field of bones & told him to speak them. Ezekiel did as he was told & the bones came together. Muscles & flesh formed over them, "but they still had no breath in them". Then the Lord told Ezekiel to "speak to the Breath", to breathe into the bodies so they would live. Breath entered them & they stood up as a mighty army. This of course was a vision, but the gist is, no breath, no life. For a more modern day application, what about CPR? You have a body that's essentially dead, so you pump the heart & put your breath into their lungs... If the Word of God is "breathed" into a dead body, it comes to life.

But (and here's a shocker) the words of the bible are just ink on a page. The gold edged paper, red letters or genuine calfskin leather doesn't make it holy... doesn't make it life giving... It doesn't matter what translation you have, there isn't one that's any more "holy" than another. Studying it, praying it, speaking it & practicing it are helpful, yes. The last part of 2 Timothy 3:16 says scripture "... is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." Yet Jesus said Himself "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life". John 5:39-40

The bible testifies about Jesus, points to Him, bears witness of Him, but it's not the bible that gives us life. "In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God & the Word was God (John 1:1)". We call the bible the "Word of God", but its Jesus Who is the Word... He is the inspiration of & fulfillment of Scripture. His is the spiritual breath that gives life to the corporeal body we call bible...

Remember our petri dish, brimming with fanaticism? We can cultivate a form of life by diligently searching our scriptures for literal application or we can step out of the lab & have life- literally.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Falling Out Of Formation

Weakness. Is it wrong to admit to shame? To cowardice? Is it wrong to admit an iota of uncertainty or at worst, unbelief? Is it wrong to attempt to own up to one's shortcomings as a Christian, as a human? Why is it that people in the Christian community tend to shrink back in horror from the sin of their own, even as their own sin remains hidden, unchecked? Why is it some of us go to such great lengths to hide our weakness?

Paul spoke of boasting in his weakness so the power of Christ would rest on him. The Lord even said to him "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Not that we ought to strive to remain weak or seek to manipulate the power of God, but clearly, its the depth of our weakness that affords Christ's perfecting work in us... We are told to be holy as He is holy. We are told to be slaves to the Spirit of God & not slaves to sin... And yet, even though the curse of sin has been broken for those of us who call ourselves Christians, there is still sin in us... & sin still moves through us like the air we breathe.

What's our goal? To not sin or to see Christ's power being perfected in us daily? Sometimes I feel as though I'm so much less of a Christian for my obvious faults. I seem to chastise myself over my weaknesses regularly... I've had those happy go lucky doe eyed Christians reprimand me countless times for being too hard on myself, for lacking "joy" as an outward evidence of my salvation... I've been accused of being so self focused that I forget about all that God has done for me & all the things I still have to do for God. But I can't see the value in "faking it" just to keep up with the flock. I'm weak & falling out of formation...

When I see other Christians "falling" yet still challenging themselves, I'm strangely encouraged- more so than when I see them "joyful & triumphant". I get to see Christ being perfected in them- I get to see the process. I find comfort in knowing I'm not the only one with gimpy wings... And maybe somewhere down the road, the process of Christ's power being perfected in me will provide encouragement for another.

So I will boast all the more about my weakness, that Christ's power might rest on me, that Christ's power might be perfected in me...

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Curse Of Wolferella (a.k.a. It Is Finished!.... Again!)

Today I finished my 6 month read thru of the Bible 17 days ahead of schedule. Since I decided to skip around this time, I ended with the books of Revelation & Acts. While I feel an obvious sense of accomplishment, I harbor a sense of disappointment as well. What's changed in my life since I began this round of reading? How am I more like Christ, or perhaps, less like Him? What's been revealed to me about God through His word? About myself? About this world I live in & my purpose here?

I'm admittedly rather sullen. Is change possible? Possibly. Is transformation a goal I can attain? If faced with an angry mob who wanted to kill me b/c of what I believed, would I cave or would I speak boldly like Paul? Some of you who know me might find humour in that statement, as most know I'm not very bold about anything (except perhaps my own obstinacy). And yet, its really quite a sad thing to know about a person; to admit to one's self.

In Revelation 21:8, God is speaking- listing off the kinds of people that will be left out of the heavenly city (the very place from which I claim to have my own citizenship). At the top of this list are the cowardly... not the fearful, but the cowardly. There's a difference. The cowardly run away from the battle b/c of fear. The fearful run TO the battle in spite of fear. Out of all that I read this morning, this verse hit me square.

I admit I've been a coward concerning most things in my life, watching from a distance... If someone spots me on the periphery, I can sort of blend in... at least until the moon waxes full or the clock strikes midnight. Then the curse of my shame, like the wild hair of a wolfman, emerges from my sleeves... my obstinate pride puffs up & tears at the jewels around my neck. It rips the gauzy gown from my back, until a seething beast emerges & devours the footmen nearby. TODAY the Word has once again caught me unawares, & the truth has been revealed.
_______________________________

Hebrews 3:12-14 NIV
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called TODAY, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

Thoughts On Migration

So a new season is upon us. The distinct autumnal scent of wet, decaying leaves & wood fires permeates the crisp, misty air. In the last few days, I've noticed the familiar sounds & formations of geese overhead... These birds will go south for the winter & return in the spring, like clockwork.

I was returning from the hospital when I saw them flying en mass over the wide stretches of farmland that border the interstate. I had dropped my friend off to be with her family... Her grandma, recovering from routine surgery, had quite suddenly taken a turn for the worst. The doctors were able to stabilize her & she remains under constant supervision, but the prognosis isn't good.

As I was driving home, I got to thinking about life & death- how these are a kind of "migration" for us... Like geese, we often instinctively follow the same patterns, fly in the same formations with others who are part of our lives.... We use each other to conserve energy so we can make it to our destination. We come, we go, until one day, we grow weak & fall out of formation. Yet even death is a kind of migration- from this world to the next. Its not really far off from any of us. Its in this departure that we realize the hope of our final destination, our homecoming... our rest.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bread

Jesus is the Bread of Life-
His body the bread; His blood, the wine.

Am I eating bread at this moment in my faith?
Or do I settle for a kernel of wheat here & there?
Am I content to consume dry flour?
Am I chewing on raw dough, hoping for sustenance?

...Is the oven even on?

Am I drinking wine at this moment in my faith?
Or am I gnawing on a grape from the vineyard?
Am I content to consume a glass of grape juice?
Am I imbibing cheap, boxed wine, hoping to slake my thirst?

Jesus is the Bread of Life-
His body the bread; His blood, the wine.
But bread is not instantly bread... its made up of many different ingredients, brought together & baked, over time, in the fire.

So too, wine is not instantly wine... It begins as a seed, a vine, a grape, & continues through a fermentation process. Fermentation takes place over time, in the darkness.

The making of bread & wine takes time.

Am I eating bread?
Am I drinking wine?
Is Christ's Life being formed in me
or am I merely sampling the ingredients?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Its Got Wheels...

God seems to speak to me through insignificant things... I think...

I work in a warehouse where part of my day is spent filling orders. The other day, I was out in the racks with my cart loaded, moving along at a steady pace. I rounded the corner & saw a garbage bin in the middle of the aisle, down a ways from where I was. I 'heard' the words, thought them, whatever- "That obstacle is right where you need to be". And of course, the next location the computer sent me to was directly behind the garbage bin. I moved it, got the product & moved on. Simple.

If I hadn't moved it, I'd be stuck. See, even if I "skipped the slot", backtracked & went another way to get around it, I would still have to complete the order. I would be sent back to that same location in the end, which means even more backtracking, as well as lost time & energy. The bin had to be moved. It had wheels. All it needed was a push.

It'd be pretty dumb to throw up my hands & backtrack. Yet that's what I seem to do most times when I encounter an obstacle in my "spiritual walk"... and eventually, I end up at the same place, wasting time & maybe becoming an obstacle myself.

There's a "garbage bin" of discouragement sitting right where I need to be. Apparently, it has wheels also... & all it needs is a push.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Confession

People are like fences... Some are rotted, soiled... loose. Some are pristine & rooted firmly. Some are attached to gates that open for me... and some gates never open. But all along my path, there they are- connected to each other.

Sometimes I enjoy hearing the clickity clack of a stick as I drag it along a fence... I can feel the rhythm moving up my hand, resonating through me. When I stop, it stops. Once, I looked back in the moonlight & saw a line scratched in the surface, following me all the way. I dropped the stick, put my hands in my pockets & moved along, nonchalant. No one would know...

This is my path. I'm the only one who walks it... the fence line hems me in, keeps me out, until I find a gate. Some gates open for me... Some gates never open.

________________________________________________________
1 John 2:9-10a

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light...

1 John 4:20-21

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Readthru: Still Going...

41 days to go. 166 chapters left. 71 in the OT, 95 in the NT. At roughly 4 chapters a day, I'll have successfully made my goal of reading the Bible in 6 months. I'm already looking forward to getting back to the stories of Genesis- perhaps because they're full of hope- of a new creation, of freedom from slavery, of a new land, a new nation... I've been reading the prophetic books semi-consecutively & have had my fill of want & woe. Thankfully, the NT offers a much needed reprieve.

As I near the end, I find myself losing focus- pushing just a bit harder to finish. Its been a struggle to hang back & take in what I'm reading, to apply it. It seems at times, the temporal goal becomes my master... Oddly, the more I read, the less I seem to know... the more wise I seek to become, the more foolish I feel. The more I desire to be strong, the weaker I appear... And yet, I seem to be growing a little stronger in spite of my weakness, a tad wiser in the wake of foolishness, even a bit more hungry in spite of my abundance...

Monday, October 5, 2009

possession

i am a ghost, caught in the rift between living & dying.
i wander about in the same places,
reliving the same patterns
over & over.
o to be free!

perhaps, if for only a moment, i can do & move & be through another...
can i change the cycle?
redeem the time?
instead of despair & destruction, i just might find hope & restoration.

if i can possess an idea or thing,
it cannot change the past...
neither can i find a present hope in the soul of one dearly loved.
i suspect that even if i were to possess the christ himself
as my very own,
he would inevitably fail to retain his
"christness".
it would still be me,
moving & doing & being...
caught in the rift between living & dying...
wandering about in the same places,
reliving the same patterns
over & over.
o to be free!

am i thusly doomed to wander this earth,
all but shattered inside?
there's a sound- faint... can you hear it?
no, those aren't my chains...
those are the sharp, petrified bits of me
crashing together...

would that christ might instead possess me-
not me in him, but him in me...
would that he fill me like a balm & come to dwell,
not only for a moment,
but forever onward...
to move & do & be...
that i would be possessed as such,
so as to fade away-
the soul of me,
identity...
finally set free...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Love Thy Neighbour

So here is where the rubber meets the road. Its coming up on 1am. My neighbor on one side has been kickin' it to his music for the last 3 hours- it's the same insidious song, over & over & over, full of crazy bass licks & drum solos. His life is all about music & its a rare day indeed when he neglects to fire up his amp. In one respect, I can appreciate his dedication. On the other hand, there's still such a thing as common courtesy in this world (isn't there?!). Playing one's music so loud that it resonates through my furniture after midnight is NOT cool.

Then there's my other neighbor- an older lady who turns her tv up so loud I can usually tell which show shes watching. Lately she's decided safety is top priority & has recommissioned her usually dark porch light for service. She put a nice, bright fluorescent bulb in the other night & keeps it on all night long. Same said light is less than 2 feet from my living room window & lights up my entire apt! How incredibly thoughtful!

Did I mention I haven't slept well for weeks & at the time of my writing, I'm 24 hours deprived now? I have a nasty headache, my back hurts & I'm grumpy as all get out. I could go knock on my neighbour's doors, sure, but why? This has been their routine for as long as I've lived here. I usually don't go to bed till 2 or 3am anyway. Not a big deal normally. Its just tonight, I feel especially sensitive about it all.

I thought of being passive aggressive (my weapon of choice). Perhaps I should crank up some music of my own... or loudly rearrange all my furniture & wall hangings... I could turn my tv way up or keep my porch light on all night too... But that's not at all a Christlike response. Not even close. He might choose to confront them & ask them politely to keep it down... But you know, I think He would take it step further- He might even get Himself invited in to listen to music with him or watch tv with her... He might show them even more love than they deserve cuz that's what He does.
To be honest, it kind of pisses me off. I don't want to love my neighbours tonight. I want to make them suffer like I am. And why am I suffering, really? Is it b/c their actions are annoying me? Well, yes, there's that, but I have some responsibility in the matter too. It goes beyond asserting my own rights. This must be one of those pop quizzes... faith on the fly. Will this night really matter in the grand scheme of life? Probably not. But how I respond to it does. Will I be like Christ or like the spoiled brat who expected his "just reward"? Afterall, he was the one who missed out on the celebration of his brother's returning. Can this night- even if it means sacrificing my own comfort & "rightness"- be an opportunity for me to learn Christlikeness, love & mercy?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Three In Me

Tension lets the light in... shines down through the waiting.
Heaven's digging in now-
darkness is abating- licked up like a flame...
No more cutting out now! The altar of shame is a ruin....

I am a survivor, surveying all I see...
foraging for fodder to satisfy my need.
Obvious obliging gets me just so far.
In the end, I end up wounded.
Seems freedom takes more doing than I've ever done...
That's always been my cue to run.

I am two in one
one within, one among the faces.
You are three in one, one in me.
I'm following the traces...
I am two steps in, one step away...
& my days keep ticking off like a metronome...

Tender loving mercy like a hardy vine
clinging with its tendrils, keeping me in line...
Seven times I tried to run & seven I was fixed.
I was made to bear this burden.

All my senses steeped in sorrow
make me stronger on the morrow.
I'm fortunate to break & crumble,
fortunate to bleed...
It only means I'm closer to being free.

I am two in one
one within, one among the faces.
You are three in one, one in me.
I'm following the traces...
I am two steps in, one step away...
& my days keep ticking off like a metronome...

Monday, September 21, 2009

creativity as a byproduct of darkness

blindness. stumbling. sadness. fear. crisis. these are words easily equated with darkness, physical or otherwise. but what of renewal? birth? creativity? when i think of these things, i think perhaps of a sunrise or the beginning of something joyfully anticipated, new & inspiring... these words aren't often spoken in the same sentence as darkness. darkness implies despair or danger... its a time of interminable waiting. yet the sun seems to emerge miraculously from the dark horizon of earth each morning. a baby is conceived & forms in the darkness of it's mother's belly... its alive within & comes forth as such into a world of opportunity.

why should darkness always be negative? darkness, like a metal detector, seems to know where the hidden things are... they can be harmful things or maybe, they just might have the potential to be valuable. darkness has it's many secrets indeed.

i find my greatest times of creativity have come during or just after a period of darkness. it assists me in feeling my humanity- those bits of me that are so easy to shelve... eventually they bend under the weight & crash... i can sit there for hours or days, sometimes weeks or months, attempting to piece things together. some things can't be salvaged & are inevitably cast off. some things must wait for a better day, better resources. perhaps this is a project not tackled in the solitude of my 'closed-loop' thoughts. maybe this is something better talked out with a friend or worked out with a life change of some sort. crisis breeds some measure of darkness, despair, waiting. and then- just when i feel there isn't a solid piece left in me- eureka! there is the renewal, the birth, the creativity. light follows not suddenly, but as a gradual thing. it rises up from that dark horizon within & eventually floods me with sanity & hope.

no matter how many times i experience it, i still fear the darkness. i sometimes think i won't make it up off my knees this time... but i do. its a matter of holding on, having hope that it will reveal something worth keeping, something worth using. its not an easy thing, darkness as a muse, a catalyst... but its been invaluable to me regarding creativity.

darkness renders monotony powerless for me, anesthetizes it so i can move past... monotony is a sentry of sorts, guarding me, keeping me "safe" from the unknown... its a harsh taskmaster, forcing me to labor for the ordinary, to "make a living" while slowly squeezing the very "life" out of me. but darkness i've learned (while not a friend), is a sure necessity if i am to live out my days with any sort of purpose. it reminds me i'm alive, reminds me i can feel. i can "do" differently, "be" different because of the darkness that sets my senses ablaze, always making way for something new.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

courage & cowardice

a lot of people fear dying. i admittedly fear living. the thought occurred to me the other day that i just might have to live out all my days & grow old on this earth... that's one of the most frightening things i've come to realize about life...
but i have too much courage to give up. i sort of envy people who can give in to their sadness & surrender their lives to it- not that i think its the right thing to do, but in the temporal, they've gained their relief. they no longer have to wake to struggle, wake to their loneliness, wake to their innumerable thoughts, wake to their inane yet seemingly insurmountable obligations. in the long term, on the eternal side of things (& this is sorely disputed) they've committed an act of murder- "self murder" & have doomed themselves to damnation. but what if the person is a christian? what if they're so broken & worn down that they just give up? will God receive that one into heaven with the others who had just an iota of courage to live?
i have too much courage to find out for myself... something drives me to keep pressing on- even if i have to shove my dark bits aside to function day to day. part of me hates it, wonders why i can't just deal... wonders why i can't just give up like some. another part of me knows elusion is necessary for sanity, survival, for keeping the peace between me & the outside world. this too, is temporal & a relief not easily gained or experienced in full.
courage has become my enemy, lifting its sword & jabbing me at every turn... when i go to find refuge in the darkness, there is courage. when i go to find refuge in despair, there it is again. always courage. always with the sword... it seems i've gained more wounds from courage than cowardice. i admittedly fear living. yet i have too much courage not to live... i am a contradiction living in skin... bound to this earth, bound to sin. i am bound to darkness, yet bound to recover. i am bound to hope in Him...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

9/10/74

today is my birthday. its not particularly special to me. i woke up alone & made my own coffee just like any other day. i do however, carry with me the memories of birthdays past...

for whatever reason, i don't recall ever having a cake for my birthday. so one year, i decided i was gonna make my own & invite people over. i'd also never had an actual birthday "party" & was very excited at the prospect of having one. when my mom figured out what i was planning, she was furious. my one friend who came for "the party" was sent home & i got the third degree. i don't remember what was so wrong about wanting a party...
birthdays & holidays seemed to erupt in rage with peculiar regularity. they've become a sort of Veteran's Day for me. i wonder what i would be like if there was no yelling... if i had had a party, a cake, friends to celebrate with? sure, my mom & grandfather (& even my dad at times) would bring cards & presents & say "happy birthday" & "you're a year older now! How do you feel?" but that didn't necessarily convey to me that my life was anything special. a birthday, a holiday, these were obligations, not celebrations. its just the way we did things... and for the life of me, i can't figure out why. would i have been a different person if someone had gone all out & celebrated me so many years ago?

as i've gotten older & gained more friends, i've since had cakes & parties for my birthday, but the damage is done. i remember only the yelling... being most expectant of that than what i put on my wish list. birthdays & holidays are "just another day" to me- obligations to be tackled or avoided or downplayed if possible. i really do think this way- but there's something in me that knows that kind of thinking is bunk.

today, i think it would have been nice to wake up to a husband who offered me coffee & a massage, who would take me out to breakfast, who would celebrate my "special day" with me. last year, my best friend & i went camping for 5 days on a little known lake in the middle of nowhere. that was special to me. this year, we'll be celebrating my birthday on the coast. today however, is thursday & i have to go to work. this year, my birthday brings with it the realization that i'm 35 & alone. i'm 35 & only getting older. my wrist brace is cumbersome as i type. my back & shoulders ache as i lean into the couch. some phantom pain surges in my gut. i'm tired from a restless night. my birthday makes me feel like i'm one inch closer to the edge of darkness. this is a horrible way to think of it. and even though the yelling has ceased, i've come to expect (& expectation is much different than hope, mind you) a heaviness, a foreboding negativity that accentuates my worth (or lack thereof) in the universe. now that its grown up & gotten stronger, my hope pushes back against those awful expectations, but they're still very strong... difficult to budge...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Conversation on Security

T: "if/ when i achieve something, i cannot stop there- i must move or i
will grow stagnant, i will atrophy... i must constantly move, like a
nomad. i must crest one hill & then another & on & on.... in my search
for security, am i focused on the wrong thing? security is something
fixed & sure, isn't it? i'm beginning to think not. security is
movement. progression, growth."


K: hmmm, heady topic. there are two themes here, movement and security.
movement is necessary for growth - for everyone.
security is defined differently - by everyone. but we all need it and seek it.
for you - achievement is not the end, no. you are wired to never sit still it seems, not be happy with just existing. (unlike me) you do have to keep moving or you feel like you've died and you act like you want to die. :) but i'm just talking about physical movement, body movement.
i don't know what your idea of security is, besides taking care of
yourself - food, clothing, shelter. taking care of one's self is not a
stagnant business, i do know that. security is different things to different people - to me it's more stable and boundaried (not stagnant by any means) than it is to you. but we're both right.


T: i so want to be satisfied with achievement, dust off my hands &
have that be that! i was thinking about my music or my writing or even
my menial job at work- how i've accomplished such & such, & to others
its a big deal. to me, it means nothing b/c i am not producing new &
better things- there is no movement. my achievements are ok, but they
feel worthless if they aren't "presently productive". when i am
moving, i feel alive... yes.
security is knowing i'll be taken care of- my bills will be paid, i
have a place to live, eat, etc. i can sort of create that for myself.
but that is only one facet of security for me- there is another facet
that 's beyond my reach it seems... one i can't seem to touch, but
search for, empty without it... maybe its a security that says all my
doubts will be calmed, all my fears negated, all my talents &
abilities put to use. all my loneliness gone. maybe its a security i
have no control over- one that relies on a sense of community to
achieve. security to know i am human & its ok to fail in my quest...
its ok not to know all the answers... security that says there is
something more beyond this point...

K: i know what you mean about wanting to be satisfied with achievement. i
feel the same way. once it's done, i feel empty and like i have to
start something new to be proud of myself. it's hard to truly
celebrate accomplishment (i think). i guess that means we need to always have something to work on. plan (vaguely) to have another project after the current one is finished, which of course means giving definition to whatever you're working on, so you can pin down when it's "done".
we all need that security that we can't get for ourselves. it's the security that comes from trust (in others and in god). develop that,(trust) and you will be on your way. :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Doodles


Doodling helps me concentrate. I'm a progressive doodler... I don't know what the object on the page will become. It may begin as a line, or a form. The line or form may disappear completely into the greater mass of pen strokes. Often, the doodle has no meaning. But sometimes, there is a subtle message staring back at me when I lift my pen from the page.

I drew this while listening to a sermon on God's love. This is the message that came with it:

"I have broken through & set to flame your stock... I will give you a new pasture without fences... you offered it to Me when you offered yourself as My servant. Remember."

I looked at the details of the picture again. There is a barbed wire fence, broken. There's a hammer sitting there, as if it had been used to nail the wire to the wood post... & there is a figure, stoking a fire. The burning isn't pleasant. It irritates the eyes, the lungs... It mars the light of day & the landscape for miles... but a day or two of of burning can apparently mean the difference between a healthier crop & a poor one the following year.

Yet the words "stock" & "pasture" are used, indicating the field isn't for harvesting, but for grazing. The figure in the doodle isn't burning the field, Hes burning the "stock"; annihilating whatever it is I've been tending. He promises to give me a new pasture, without fences... and perhaps that means new stock to tend... too numerous to be retained within a fence... Or maybe it means nothing at all. After all, it IS just a doodle, isn't it?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Found

When I pretend to close my eyes
& deny the way I feel about it
I offer up a smile just to keep the peace;
but all the while inside,
the smoke & ashes, they keep falling
closing in on me,
threatening to bury me alive...

I can’t change the situation-
what am I supposed to do about it?
How can I rise above
& “be the better man”?
Emotions are precarious-
How is it I’m so invested-
saving up my discontent
for a rainy day?

Because the anger within me
won’t yield the righteous life that God desires...
Putting patience before pride
can quench the burning embers,
but that's so much easier said
than done...

Every day I see injustice,
every day I see the arrogant thriving.
I can’t help but wonder
why I have to bear the burden of their selfishness?
Why must I be the one
to keep the standard?

But I am not the only one-
all have fallen short
& that means me!
I can’t escape the blame-
I am just as guilty
of trampling on the justice
I am seeking....


Romans 3:22-24
Romans 12:21
Hebrews 12:14-15
James 1:19-20

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Lion & the Mustard Seed

I took my lunch break an hour late. The previous 6 hours had been nothing but trouble & I anticipated nothing but chaos upon my return. As I shut the door to my truck, I let out a big sigh & apologized profusely to God for my attitude & colourful language... No one knew I was angry- little things had been building all day & I chose to put my head down & barrel through, muttering piss & gall in private intervals. I was feeling a little crazy inside. I knew I couldn't go back in & finish the night unless I had a change of heart. So I asked God what to do.

I pulled out my Bible & decided to play a game of Roulette. I opened randomly to Zephaniah 3. Oh! Zephaniah 3! Everyone knows the famous verse from Zephaniah 3! Verse 17 says "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save..." But thats not the verse I read. My eyes fell instead on 3:2. "She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God..." This verse is talking about Jerusalem. And for that moment, it spoke about me as well. I could identify with being disobedient to God, refusing His correction... All through the night, I "heard" His still, small voice reminding me to guard my heart. I knew there were trials in store for this week. I made a meager effort toward patient prayer, but in the end, piss & gall. I wanted to be justified in my frustration. I failed to put my trust in Him, to draw near, & thats when the trouble began. I recognized myself in Zephaniah 3:2 immediately...

I continued reading & came to vs 5. "The Lord within her is righteous; He does no wrong. Morning by morning He dispenses His justice, & every new day He does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame." I felt ashamed about my crappy attitude... & this scripture brought me hope. I realized again (for the umpteenth time) that hard as I may try, I can't do anything apart from Christ... It's Christ in me who is righteous- He is my Vine, my Bread, my Blood. He is my conduit of Life & all things good & right & true. In Him I live & move & have my being (Acts 17:28). Without Him, I'm powerless.

I neglected the warning not to be anxious about anything. I didn't prayerfully "petition God with thanksgiving" (Phil. 4:6-7)... If I had, surely the peace of God would have guarded my heart & mind! I should have remembered to be "self controlled & alert" because my "enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pe. 5:8). I could hear him padding through the warehouse... I felt his hungry breath on my neck. I thought if I ignored him, he would become disinterested & go away... but he took an arm, a foot... and left me limping back to God.

Hebrews 12:7, 11 says "Endure hardship as discipline... God is treating you as sons. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it". 1 Pe. 5:10 says "...the God of all grace, Who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you & make you strong, firm & steadfast." Indeed.

I went back to finish my work day. The frustration seemed to melt off & I found myself whiling away the next 2 hours in relative peace... The Lord within me was back in His rightful place on the throne of my heart. Granted, this was a small lesson learned in comparison to most... but even the mustard seed grows up to be a tree with branches for the birds to perch in.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Jury Duty & You

I was recently called to jury duty. It was my first time. I had visions of the moment Mr. Von Trapp received his letter to report to Berlin (Sound of Music)... I thought of the Jews in concentration camps being herded to their deaths... Of course, a day of jury duty probably wasn't going to end so tragically. Still, I'd heard about the boredom of waiting, the potential for multiple days of trial if I was actually seated... I hopped the train & we ambled downtown.

Coffee in hand & a half hour to go, I wandered aimlessly for a bit & then made my way to the courthouse. Security checkpoint. Marble hallway & stairs. People everywhere. Signs everywhere. "Jurors to the Left". I entered another hallway lined with chairs & people & waited. Within minutes, the jury coordinators opened the doors & let us in. We exchanged our summons for juror badges & took our respective seats. It was a huge room... I imagine by a rough count, they could have packed 300 of us in there. There was a podium front & center & a judge came to talk to us for a bit, commending us for answering our call to duty, for playing an important role in the justice system. We watched a short introductory film & then we waited. 2 hours in, the first group was called. My heart beat each time, wondering if I would hear my name uttered.... 4 hours later, indeed, I was shuffled out of the room & commissioned to traverse 4 flights of stairs with 17 other potential jurors.

A couple Sheriff's deputies were on hand in full regalia as they opened the doors to the courtroom. The court assistant seated us & then came the judge. "All rise"! He wasn't an imposing man, just your average looking joe. But his black robe, his position required special honor. So we stood. And we sat when he told us to sit. So what? Well, if you've never been in this kind of environment, it can be surreal. Most of us didn't know what was going to happen next (despite the fact that we paid such close attention to that introductory video). We were told to raise our right hands & affirm an oath of truth. Done. I felt strangely like I'd just sold my soul. We listened as the judge read the charges & then we were told to answer a series of 9 questions. All of us had to answer- name, occupation, hobbies, etc. Since it was a case involving minors, the lawyers honed in on people who were parents or worked with kids or had friends in law enforcement...

The questions were monotonous, even ridiculous & self-explanatory at times. I felt like getting up & saying "It's obvious you're leaning a certain way here, so if you don't need me, I'm gonna step out..." But I didn't. I couldn't. I stayed in my seat not out of reverence necessarily, but out of fear. Getting up & walking out wasn't acceptable. I was there till the judge said I was free to go. If I was picked for the jury, I would be in it till the trial was over. Otherwise, I could be held in contempt, fined or even jailed... Thoughts flew through my mind of revolt, of making a scene, of testing the system to see what would happen. What if I showed utter disregard for my time there? I'd be taken into custody in short order. At least at this point, though I was technically in a form of custody, I was still free. So I sat quietly, watching the minutes tick by ever so slowly... Finally, after 2 & a half hours, they picked their jury & let the rest of us go.

My point is, I realized I don't have much contact with tangible authority- especially authority with black robes & guns. My present authority is usually my boss at work or the cop I pass on the other side of the street. The rules of the road, the walk sign, the unseen, common sense morality are my authorities in day to day life. But there's another Authority over them all, & those authorities only exist because He has established them. He, of course, being God. And I wonder, if earthly authority causes me to consider my actions & obey without question, what of God's authority? Do I respond to Him in like manor? Or do I think I'm free to disregard protocol b/c Jesus is the Mediator between us? I believe we ought to know God as our Father. I believe we ought to consider ourselves His adopted children. But I also believe perhaps we've forgotten about His authority over us, & the reverence & holiness we ought to show Him in light of that...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Laying the Foundation

Today my readthru takes me through Deuteronomy & Romans.
I noticed that all throughout Romans are footnotes with Old Testament references. Paul actually quoted the OT quite a bit. How can we fully grasp what he was talking about unless we know the context from which he quoted? So I went back & read those references in Genesis, Isaiah, Psalms, 1 Kings. Suddenly the words of Romans shook off their dust & came alive.

Jesus routinely used OT references, as did the writers of the gospels & epistles... We can read the NT without the foundation of the OT, but its kind of like building a house on sand. Without a foundation, we'll sink & crumble in the long run. The Old Testament is more than stories, law & prophecy... its more than doom, gloom & the history of a nation. Its the very foundation of our faith, & Jesus is the Cornerstone...

I admit, sometimes its drudgery to read through the lists of names, possessions, rituals & cryptic prophesies found in the OT... but I'm beginning to see that everything is in there for a reason, though it may not be so obvious at the time... May God grant us grace, that we might take the time to persevere in the reading & application in light of Christ's sacrifice & purpose for us.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Whorls & Wings

This morning, I took a walk in a nature preserve. The land around me was full of life, erupting with colour & the rich scents of spring, but I couldn't seem to wrench my eyes from the sky.

As ominous thunder clouds grew in the distance, the lighter clouds above seemed wisped into intricate patterns- striations resembling the stripes of a zebra or partial whorls of a fingerprint... It was as if God had shaken up the milky froth of vapor, poured it onto the canvas of sky & let the wind do the rest. Yet I knew this was no accident, no random act displayed without intention. Surely, no human brush stroke could imitate what I saw today. This was art. This was the Artist at work.

I kept thinking how "The heavens declare the glory of God!", its an exclamation echoed multiple times in various ways throughout the Psalms... Today, those words got their wings & broke free... & they took me right along with them. Look up if you get the chance, because "the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day, they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard." Psalm 19:1-3 NIV

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Loosening The Strings


Last week, I loosened my guitar strings. I haven't been playing much & don't expect that I'll be playing anytime soon. Its not that I lack motivation... The creative "spark" just isn't there.

As I was sitting in church today, I got to thinking about the act of loosening the strings- what that means. In a musician's world, its a way to keep the guitar from warping. It takes the strain off the neck.

When one loosens something, it typically signifies a release. Loosening the shoelaces releases the foot from the shoe. Loosening a wrapped cord allows it to extend to it's full length. Loosening the screws on a bookshelf allows it to be taken apart. Loosening the vice relieves pressure on the object caught in it's grip. Loosening the shackles of a prisoner can help free them from captivity. Can you see a theme emerging?

Once the strings are loosened, other parts of the guitar become more accessible. The nut, the bridge, the tuning pegs... These things are under pressure when the guitar is in tune. They help create the sound. If any of these are in disrepair, chances are the guitar won't stay in tune or produce the best tone. The loosening of the strings is necessary to get things fixed. While the strings are only part of the whole, the whole part relies on the strings to produce what it was intended for. Loosening the strings is an act of maintenance & preservation... Its only temporary, but necessary.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Closets

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also " Mt 6:21

The closet in my childhood bedroom was big- big enough to fit my bed into. So I did. At one point, I even hauled my desk & my tiny black & white tv in there as well. While I didn't always hang out in my closet, it was certainly a refuge, my room within a room.

My mother's bedroom closet was mysterious... always locked. Eventually, I discovered her closet held the family safebox, her nice clothes, my baby stuff, & the Christmas presents, among other things.

My grandfather lived in an old 2 story house that held vestiges from 30 years of marriage. There were 4 closets full of old clothes, old contraptions, old everything. Every time I was there, I looked forward to the hunt.

What do all these closets have in common? My impulse answer is "treasure". Whether it be the treasure of refuge, the treasure of mystery or the treasure of heritage... The things I treasured as a child could be found in those closets.

I've come to realize those things I used to treasure weren't actually mine to begin with. That doesn't change the fact that to me, they were indeed treasured & to some extent, still are.

My mom rented the apt I grew up in, so the closet of refuge wasn't really mine... Did I treasure refuge or the illusion of refuge? Her closet was full of things precious to her, yet the history it contained wasn't mine to claim either... The treasure for me was the mystery, not necessarily what it held inside. My grandfather's closets were full of things that were important to him, but the heritage associated with those things wasn't mine. Still, somehow, the mystery, the heritage, the illusion of refuge became a part of me.

As an adult, I've sought out my own hiding place for my treasures- those things that have become a part of me, along with my stories, thoughts & talents, my "life props" & experiences... I've crammed them all into my closet & locked the door tight. What's inside is a mystery to most, except to me. You see, I've known where my real treasure has been all this time... & I think I just realized where my heart has been as well...

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also " Mt 6:21

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ratty

I pulled my ratty old Bible out of a box the other day... Its dated May 18, 1990. My mother gave it to me 19 years ago- a burgundy bonded leather NIV Student Edition. She had my name lettered in gold on the front. The pages are littered with graffiti, as I used to be an underliner, highlighter, writer of margin notes & such. These days, I hopscotch through many different versions & prefer to keep my pages clean to keep "distraction" to a minimum.

When I hold this book in my hands, its gold edged pages now dull & yellowing, I can recall the places its been... In the pew pockets of the church I was "saved" in, in the churches I visited... It lay under the folding chairs at the youth camp where I once worked, it was perched on rocks, on fallen trees, carried in my backpack, on buses, on planes, across town, across the country. I memorized swatches of scripture from it when I was still in Christian School. I wrote my first songs from it's Psalms. By the Words inside, I prayed, I cried, I rejoiced. The pages are stained with tears, with coffee, with all manner of ink smears & other random blemishes. The cover is torn & tattered now, but the binding remains surprisingly strong. And isn't that the way it goes with our faith sometimes?

As I begin another readthru, I begin again with my ratty old Bible... Its been with me a good many years, has traveled a good many places. The last 19 years have brought countless changes, but the Words are still the same, just as Jesus remains the same yesterday, today & forever.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Readthru: It Is Finished!

After 8 months & 18 days, I finally finished my 4 month readthru of the Bible. I suppose my goal was a tad ambitious, though I don't doubt its possible for some. Today, I begin again in Genesis 1.

Back in September when I purposed to take on this endeavor, I decided that once I finished, I would just keep going. I don't have a lofty goal of reading the Bible multiple times in a year. If I somehow manage that, well bully for me. But my desire is to be in the depths of a readthru, right up to my dying day. Why? Well, I'll never have to dust my Bible again...
Seriously though, I want to keep myself in the Word. So many times in my Christian walk, I've picked up the Bible & felt frustrated... What should I read?! I used to play "Bible Roulette", flipping open to any random page... I usually found myself in the books of the prophets where they were proclaiming judgement & woe. And here I was looking for some encouragement! More often than not, the Bible would go back on my shelf & collect dust till church on Sunday.

I want to know the Word... and not just "know" it", but live it, breathe it, speak it. Without the Word, all is darkness... hopeless. It changes me when I let it... & it draws me closer to God's own heart. There was a time I used to think the Bible was overwhelming... kind of boring... just a bunch of stories & rules & guidelines. But its so much more than that. And you wouldn't know it unless you started reading through...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Glower Power

Often times, I feel as though I live in a cavern of sorts... curtains drawn, windows closed... Its a necessity in the cold weather months (which, in Oregon, is anywhere from 6-8 months out of the year). But our sun has come back to us finally, bringing with it calm breezes & warmer temperatures. I get up earlier in the morning to enjoy it before I have to go to work in the afternoon... I open the windows & draw back the curtains before I even think about taking my first sip of coffee ( & that's saying something!). I crave the light. I crave the cool, fresh dewy air... I crave the morning sounds- of stillness, of birds chattering, of the chapel bells down the street keeping increments of time... Even the hum of the interstate or the distant squeal of the light rail seems comely. When I'm able to open my home to light & air, I'm transformed. No longer do I lumber about like a weary, glowering hermit, putting things off for another day... I keep on top of my cleaning & organization, I've started eating better, exercising a little more, attending to pursuits I'd put off... Its as if I've truly emerged from a kind of hibernation. I suppose its nothing new- especially here in the NW- but the observation is particularly striking this morning.

I've always been sort of a private person... closed off... inside lurks that weary, lumbering hermit, just waiting for the light. I have to open the curtains to experience the fullness of that light. I need to open the windows to get that fresh air circulating... and when I do, my senses come alive. The downside is that people can see in. We've all done it- glanced into people's houses... Its hard to avoid when their curtains are wide open. And so in opening my living space to view, I want it to be presentable... clean.

Opening up one's heart to another seems to create this desire as well... I want to be presentable, organized, "put together". But more often than not, I shut the windows of my heart... I close the curtains... I grow dull in the stagnant air & hunker down with a sense of shame. What if you see the dust? What will you derive about me from my decorating tastes? What if you see how I truly live? Sometimes being a glowering hermit seems safer... easier. There's less responsibility. But today I can attest that life is so much more full with the windows open...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hooky

Its Sunday & I'm not in church. I'm enjoying a quiet morning home with a cup of coffee. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky & a cool breeze breathes life into my curtains... The birds are singing... The neighbors are beginning to stir... It's just me, my Bible & my God. In some Christian communities, this would be grounds for scorn. In my defense, I'm actually sick today.

Still, its no secret that I don't much like "church" in the traditional sense. Whatever our chosen denomination, most of us sit in a building every Sunday, sing a few songs, listen to a sermon & maybe even offer brief synopses of our week to one or two people. I can't help but think this isn't exactly what Christ had in mind... Not that these things are bad, but to me, they seem lifeless... almost a waste of time. I said "almost". Back to that in a minute.

Its my opinion that the "act" of church has lost its meaning... Church has somehow become a noun rather than a verb... It doesn't seem to define anything but a building, a Sunday ritual, a spiritual body of morbidly obese, structure bound souls (think "What's Eating Gilbert Grape"). We get stuck in our own Christian world, feasting on all things spiritual... constantly craving more. Some of us don't exercise our faith... so we grow weary... we get fat. We make resolutions for tomorrow & drop off to sleep, only to repeat the cycle.

The pastor of my congregation routinely tells us to "Go be the church" & I've had the fortune of actually seeing that concept at work. In this respect, "church" comes to life & challenges me to better things... In this respect, church is not a waste of time. And so I have to ask myself this morning what I think I already know: am I "being" the church or am I content to hide away in my own Christian "world", feasting on spiritual things... constantly craving more, but neglecting to actually exercise my faith? Have I grown weary? Have I grown fat & imprisoned myself by shirking my responsibilities? Because I'm responsible to exercise my faith... & when I do, not only will I stay healthy, but perhaps someone else will find within the "church" new life & incentive to exercise their faith as well... Instead of perpetuating a cycle of reclusion, it just might bust the doors off their hinges...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Peace Like A River

Beth Moore: "God's Word does not say we'll have peace like a pond."

Funny, b/c when I think of peace, I instantly think "quiet", "stillness"... etc. You know, kind of like a pond. How in the world do I miss peace... "like a river"? I'm not expecting a river... I'm not expecting anything, really, except maybe the cessation of whatever crazy thing is going on... That seems like peace to me.

Whenever I go camping, I like to be by water- preferably a river. I find there's something comforting about the "white noise" & the consistency with which the water crashes over rocks & around fallen trees, into depths & shallows alike. God's peace is like this as well... It moves, it has a source, it has an outlet. There's a constant flow... unlike a quiet, stagnant pond. While my initial perception tells me peace is more like a pond, my spirit is instinctively drawn to the river's edge...

How does one find a river? If you can't see it, you stop, you listen... you move toward the sound. Are we listening for the river? Are we moving toward it? Are we closer to it than we were yesterday or a week ago? I want peace like a river... this pond has been pleasant, but its time to move on.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Improv Theater

The world outside is a theater of sorts... Houses, cars & nature are all but sets... People scurry about, getting into costume, putting on makeup, trying to remember their marks. There's no audience, its just a rehearsal. The stage is lit & there's a lot of activity going on, but there's nothing actually happening yet.

I received an invitation to meet someone here... but I can't seem to find Him... Should I stand on the stage & call out into the darkened seats? Will some mysterious, disembodied voice answer back? What's the point of this production? And why am I here? Am I supposed to perform or something? What do I have to offer? And how do I know my part if I don't have a script?

So I ask around. This is an improv theater, for an audience of One & the millions who have passed this way before. Its an audience full of witnesses, seen & unseen. I'm told the production is based on a book- a memoir, a biography- a rendering of humanity, failure, salvation. I've read it a couple times. Good stuff. God, of course, is the Author & Director... I recognize the name. He's the One Who sent the invite. His Son delivered it, said it was important. So here I am, out on this stage... invited to sink my life into this... to invest my time, my energy, my heart into this... to live my life as part of this production, all to bring the Author some glory. Its a sobering prospect...

I check the address again. This is the right place... And its no rehearsal I've stumbled upon... Its showtime. Cast party to follow.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Read Thru: A Brief Thought on Mark 12:13-17

Jesus: "Show Me a Roman coin...
Whose picture & title are stamped on it?"

Pharisees: "Caesar's."

Jesus: "Well then, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar & give to God what belongs to God."

I don't think Jesus was talking about what we think He was talking about... Not completely anyway. I've always seen it as a conversation about money... taxes & tithing, something like that. But I couldn't get away from that last thing He said, "Give to God what belongs to God"... What belongs to God? Perhaps the better question would be Who's image & title are stamped on me? If I'm made in His image (Gen 9:6b)... am I giving God what's His?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Read Thru: Mark

This week, I find myself in the gospel of Mark. I was reading through chapters 6-8 where Jesus feeds 5,000 people, walks on water, heals some folks & then feeds another 4,000. Pretty exciting stuff, right? Admittedly, not so much. At the moment, it reads like a fairy tale...

So what's my problem? This is Jesus we're talking about- JESUS! The Alpha & the Omega, the First & the Last, the Beginning & the End, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Bright Morning Star, the Hope of Nations... etc... But they're just words to me at the moment, much like the narratives in the gospels. How do I find the Living Christ within the cold pages of my Bible? He's the reason I'm alive. But is He the reason I live?

Its pretty clear the disciples didn't quite get it either, despite all they witnessed... It took time. And maybe that's what I need too... And maybe I'm focusing on the wrong thing altogether. When He fed the 5,000, sure, it was a miracle, but what about the other details? Mark tells us John the Baptist had just been killed. Surely Jesus had some feelings about that... His disciples had just returned from being out & about ministering. He wanted to be alone with them & rest, but the crowds kept coming. They didn't even have time to eat. 6:34 says He saw them & "had compassion on them...", so He started teaching. When it got late, instead of sending them away, He fed them with a few loaves & fish. He performed a "miracle". But in my eyes, I think the greater miracle was the fact that He didn't loose His cool with all those people crowding around, following, needy... He had a lot on His plate already with John's death & the return of His disciples... The greater miracle was that He laid aside His own needs, His own agenda for these people b/c He had compassion on them. That's Who He was... That's Who He is. He's the reason I'm alive...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Read Thru... Haggai

Weighing in at just 2 chapters, Haggai gives us a snapshot from the books of Ezra, Nehemiah & Zechariah.

The exiles from Babylon had returned to Jerusalem & were living in swanky houses while the Temple lay in ruins. They had started to rebuild the Temple once before, but the enemy threatened them on a regular basis. Progress came to a standstill. Given the circumstances, it probably wasn't the best time to rebuild the Temple afterall... Surely God would understand. In the meantime, they planted much but harvested little. They ate, but weren't satisfied. Drank, but were still thirsty. They had clothes but couldn’t keep warm. They worked, & for what? They never seemed to have enough.

"Look what's happening to you!". It's a phrase repeated twice in 1:5-7 & again in 2:15. Their problem wasn't the enemy, it wasn't the meager harvest or even the resulting poverty. The problem was that they walked by the rubble of the Temple every day & made excuses for not doing the work. “You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because My House lies in ruins... while all of you are busy building your own fine houses....” (Haggai 1:9)

They got the hint & “began to obey the message from the Lord”. (1:12) They began to rebuild the Temple once more. He encouraged them, reminding them “I am with you!” (1:13) “Be strong! Get to work! ...My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.” (2:4-5) Egypt was a long time ago... What's Egypt got to do with anything? Had they had forgotten their heritage? Had they had forgotten Who their God was?

They finished the foundation of the Temple within a couple months. God reminded them again to "Look at what was happening to you before you began to lay the foundation..." Zec. 8:10 gives some insight by explaining "Before the work on the Temple began, there were no jobs & no money to hire people or animals. No traveler was safe from the enemy, for there were enemies on all sides...."

In contrast, God reminded them to “Think about this day... when the foundation was finally laid. Think carefully. I’m giving you a promise... from this day on, I will bless you.” (2:18-19) The promise, the blessing came when they got their priorities straight & obeyed, in spite of their circumstances... The blessing came when they remembered just Who their God was...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fire Distinguisher

I caught the much hyped U2 concert on GMA this morning. 145 million albums, 22 grammys... the list of laurels goes on & on. People went crazy even before they took the stage. Bono appeared with his signature style... instructing the crowd to raise their hands, make the peace sign, to sway & shout... The folks at the venue & people watching on jumbotrons across the city participated without hesitation...

I couldn’t help but think of mega church worship sessions or the well sponsored Christian conferences that attract throngs of... “worshippers”(?). They have their headlining performers, their fans, their special effects, their products... There’s no denying there’s something about being in an arena with thousands of people that incites a sense of euphoria... a sense of connectedness with something greater than ourselves...

I wondered, what's the difference between a U2 concert & one of those “worship” sessions? What or who do the "worshippers" come to see or hear or feel? Its no secret that some of us have come to expect the same things from our worship times that we’d get at a show... Good, loud music, lots of excitement, audience participation... maybe even some special effects with lighting & video. We want a t-shirt to prove that we’ve been there or an autographed CD to prove we stood face to face with so & so. Give us some paraphanalia, a sense of ownership in an enterprise that’s bigger than ourselves... we’ll support it as long as it sounds good, feels good, looks good to us.

But when the music fades & the throngs go home, when the t-shirts get ratty & the bracelets rot off, what then? Who will thrill us when the empty stage fails to entice us? Where is our focus? Will the expectations we’ve grown comfortable with prove to be obstacles to the Spirit & Truth God desires?

Faith as small as a mustard seed can apparently move a mountain. A single lost coin, one lost sheep, is cause for rejoicing in the eyes of God... He finds worth in the simple things... but do we? Does worship have to be a production in order for us to enter in? Do we “worship” just to receive sensory blessings? If a seed of faith, our last coin, or the wool on our sheepish backs is enough for God, is it enough for us?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Read Thru... The Saga Continues


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oh No, Mr. Bill!


I was watching “Religulous” yesterday.

Bill's questions are valid indeed... scintillating examples of the attitude so many people hold of religion. I kept thinking why are there folks out there who felt threatened by this movie? Why do folks feel threatened when someone questions God, or the faith one has in Him?

Are we so concerned about defending & protecting God? Or ourselves?

Are we threatened b/c others might find out what even some of us aren’t aware of- that we might not truly know our Saviour or what we believe? I mean, what if we allowed ourselves to ask the same hard questions of our own faith (corporately, personally)? Would we perhaps find ourselves lacking? Would we perhaps find ourselves at odds with the truth we stake our lives on?

What if we challenged ourselves to really think about what we’re saying instead of regurgitating what we’ve heard or read? The answers people gave in the movie were unsurprisingly textbook. Oftentimes I admit, I can spout scripture & ideals with nary a thought... Oftentimes, they are mere words, without tethers to my heart... I dare not be so brash as to negate the validity of the faith of those featured in the movie, but I was certainly challenged to question the validity of my own...

Who of us might rise up & say its nonsense to suggest that we don’t know our own Saviour? Who might stand up & say that to ask questions of our faith, of God, of the things we’ve been taught from our youth... is a sinful act of doubt? Those folks scare me a little, to be honest... so consumed with their own sense of security & righteousness that they can’t- or won't- even consider the danger lurking nearby... so sure that they are standing firm... unaware they could in fact be in for a “fall” at any moment. (1 Co. 10:12)

Aren’t these the very questions we need to be paying attention to- questions we need to be asking ourselves? Why do we make excuses to avoid them? To negate them? Questioning ourselves might teach us how to better live in truth... How to better answer our critics... How to better answer to our God.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Absence


In Matthew 6:22-3, Jesus says " Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!" The same words are found again in Luke 11:34-5 & end with a warning: "Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness”.

Light & dark have changed shifts since the beginning of time. As a modern society, we give little thought to it. When darkness falls, we transition seamlessly, relying on artificial light to guide us- headlights on our cars, lamps in our homes or the illuminated displays on our electronic devices... they all help us continue with life as usual, well into the wee hours of the night. We’ve learned how to live in the darkness with relative ease.

But what would life be like without the light to guide us? Would danger run rampant? Would we be in our homes by nightfall to stay safe? Would we be getting ready for bed as the sun set? We would surely no longer work at night or go out to entertain ourselves, except, perhaps, by the light of the moon... Light enables us to do more, longer. It allows us to lead richer, fuller lives... in doors, out of doors. We become essentially... invincible to the darkness if there is light available to us. Without light, the night is long... time seems to stop. One can only gauge it by watching the slow-footed movement of the stars across the sky. We could probably learn to acclimate...

In fact, perhaps some of us already have...
Could it be possible that the light we think we have in us is actually... darkness?
And how would we know?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Honesty

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Simplicity


Today at church, I heard the congregation sing. It was a rare treat. So often, the voices are drowned out by the din of instruments & amplified sound... But when the music faded, their voices rose to fill the void. It was spectacular.

I believe that instruments can be useful tools to lead people into worship. But there are also times when they can become a distraction that effectively conquers that very purpose. Instruments- the music they produce- tend to make us feel comfortable. But the music sometimes becomes our safety in a worship setting. We're able to hide in the sound, in the din...

When all goes still... we are suddenly confronted with ourselves... with each other... with God. When all goes still, Intimacy extends it's hands to us, reaches out to embrace us. Some of us however, retreat because we fear it outright. There is a very real communion that can occur in these times... Communion with Who we perceive our God to be... Communion with who we perceive ourselves to be in relation to God, the rest of the congregation & even the world around us... We often find something, touch something in the quiet that we aren't able to access otherwise...

Do we worship worship? Or do we worship our God? Are we willing to take the hands of Intimacy & allow it to lead us beyond the safety of our din? Or are we comfortable with things "as is"?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Read Thru... Watching & Waiting


Earlier this week, I was reading in Isaiah 36 about when the King of Assyria threatened Hezekiah, King of Judah... The Assyrians had already conquered the "fortified towns of Judah" & Jerusalem was next. What the King of Assyria said to Hezekiah was much like what I've been hearing from the enemy lately- "What are you trusting in that makes you so confident?" "Do you think that mere words are strategy & power for war?" "Don't let your God deceive you with promises..."

The "enemy" is outside my walls shouting crap at me... trying to reason with me to take his bribe b/c the hope of God's promise & provision seems bleak... What was King Hezekiah's response? He tore His clothes in despair. He sought counsel from Isaiah & went to the Temple of the Lord. When the enemy's messenger returned some time later with a letter, Hezekiah took it, laid it out & prayed. It was there, before God, that Hezekiah acknowledged the threat of the enemy & appealed to God's mercy. In all that time, he hadn't spoken a word to the enemy & instructed his people to follow suit. In all that time, the people waited... no doubt seized with fear.

The result? Isaiah sent word to Hezekiah that (in short) the King of Assyria was dead meat & his armies wouldn't even step foot in Jerusalem. How? Why? Because Hezekiah prayed (Is. 37:21-22) & God already had plans for Assyria (Is.33). And just like Isaiah said, the Assyrians turned back & King of Assyria was later murdered (Is. 37:36-38).

Its true that the enemy has conquered the masses... He's made promises & provided in ways that seem to rival God's own promise & provision... Still, I strain to hear only one voice amidst all the shouting going on outside my walls- I strain to hear that voice behind me saying "This is the way, walk in it"... (Is. 30:21) I'll take the threat of the enemy to God in prayer, knowing He will hear; knowing that His plan of deliverance is already in motion... This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says, even to me: "Only in returning to Me & resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness & confidence is your strength..." (Is. 30:15) So I step back from the wall & wait... My soul waits for the Lord like watchmen wait for morning (Ps. 130:6)... Like the watchmen of Judah's walls waited...