What a rich, worthwhile weekend. Seventy-two hours of being immersed in stories, music and visual arts, all while surrounded by 100 of the nicest people you could ever meet. Discussions about writing stories, telling stories, writing songs and poetry filled the church, punctuated by regular bursts of laughter. After it was over, most of us left with the same uncontrollable urge: write. Grab what is bouncing around on the inside, and wrestle it onto a screen, hopefully better than before. The weekend was both a joy to receive and a call to action. I now join the happy throng in sharing what stood out from Hutchmoot 2011 for me:
It doesn’t matter what you write, or how. Just write. I miss writing on this blog. Over the past year, I’ve been working towards a BA in Business Management. It’s been fulfilling, but in the end, it’s nothing more than tent-making. In one sense, I’m writing more than ever, but it’s about subjects such as operations management and economics. My hope is that I can take the smidgen of discipline I’ve gained through my classes (i.e., “Sit down. It’s time to write.”) and transform that into a more disciplined personal writing schedule.
Journal more. Put the blackest parts in there. I picture a label on the front of my journal: “Not fit for human consumption.” It feels like I haven’t written anything outside of class for well over a year. Now that I look back, I have written plenty, just not for anyone but me and God. Out of my journal may come something of value, but after talking with Andrew P., I’ve come to value it more. Journalling (Is that a verb? Spell-check begs to differ.) is not a competition for more public forms of writing, but instead is merely part of the process.
Read more stories, but read better ones. Listening to the authors at Hutchmoot was like realizing that for the past few months, I’ve been living on cotton candy and popcorn.
Whatever I write, Jesus will peek out. / Jesus is waving from the arts more than I realize. Don’t worry about putting “a message” into what I write. As long as I am feeding my heart and my mind properly, God will be glorified from whatever words I string together. Similarly, thanks to Thomas McKenzie and Chris Wall for showing how Jesus is present in the arts, especially cinema, more than I dared believe.
God has provided “heart oxygen” for the journey. Find time to breathe. I’m halfway through an accelerated business degree. Often, it feels like all I have time to read involves organizational architecture and profitability formulas. I need to take a crowbar and open up my schedule for Chesterton, Wangerin, Berry and others.
It feels great when people are praying for me. Return the favor, pay it forward. Did anyone else feel like someone-maybe many people-was praying for us at Hutchmoot? My wife and I didn’t notice it until afterwards, when a sense of shelter, protection and peace that had been present was suddenly not there. Do that for someone else.
Listen to better music. There is a lot of what I’ve been listening to lately that, while not bad, hasn’t been terribly substantial. After a week away from the electronic/ambient stuff I have been playing while at work, I miss it less and less.
Other people are hungry for the same things I am. Everyone there was struck at how wonderful it was to find others who treasured beauty, wonder and mystery in this life. Take that sense of community and create your own group.
Eat better food. A group of us went to The Turnip Truck for lunch on Sunday. I have made fun of stores like that in the past, but I also have to admit that the meal was fantastic. Evie Coates created culinary works of art for us every day of the retreat. On the other side, a couple of days ago, for some reason I stopped by Cold Stone Creamery after lunch; I felt horrible for 24 hours afterwards.
Work out of passion, not out of fear. Our plane had not yet left Nashville airspace before I looked at everything I needed to accomplish for my class this week. The familiar urgency jumped back into my head and chest, so I started reading as fast as I could. I want to finish my degree, and I want to the knowledge from my classes, but the material isn’t my passion. Lately, my prime motivator has been fear of failure. This works for a short while, but it’s not a healthy long-term motivator.
As I wrote above, it’s merely tent-making, and very necessary. After being around a group of people who spend their time and energy on pursuits and crafts out of passion, I decided that someday I want to spend at least part of my time creating out of my own passion. I believe that in Heaven, that’s what we will all do. I want to get started here and now in preparation for eternity.
If you don’t like your material, you’re not done yet. There have been occasions when what I write or play makes me want to give up the craft. This is especially true when I see someone who has taken the time time to hone their skills, and is excellent at what they do. I picked up the message at Hutchmoot that the process of creation is more important than the output. If I go into a project assuming that the first creation is merely an exercise, or a first draft at best, it’s easier to surrender to the creation process itself, instead of focusing on the outcome.
There were more messages, but reading for my class beckons. *Sigh*…
I’ve been thinking about this post recently. Things are going very well for me at work. I’m changing positions, and moving to a new department. God has been faithful in His timing, and is letting me shine in His light.
Thank you, Heavenly Father. Your timing and Your ways are perfect. Please help me to be faithful.
The Son You Love,
We saw the new Robert Duvall movie, “Get Low”. I won’t call it a Christian movie per se. There is no scene of salvation. But, it is a good example of how we will isolate ourselves out of pride and shame. We want to lock ourselves into a prison, hoping that if we “do enough time,” someone will say that we’ve paid our debt.
The truth is that no punishment we mete out for ourselves is enough. The movie mentions that, but it doesn’t hit the audience over the head with a message. It provides enough framework to make the viewer think about their own sins, and hopefully will provide launching pads for discussion about God’s forgiveness with others.
I had a great 40th birthday yesterday. I wanted to return to the decade of my youth, so we had an 1980s-themed party. Deb let her creative juices flow, and made a Pac-Man cake with a game board that used cupcakes for dots. Many friends stopped by to wish me well, and I appreciate every one of them.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this birthday memorable (and fun).
I have a close friend named Joe Conrad. Some of you may read his blog Tripping and Stumbling After Jesus. If not, I highly recommend it. He and I have a similar schtick–taking everyday events and concepts, and showing how God has woven them into the spiritual. It’s not the most original method of exposition; a certain Jewish carpenter did the same thing, to great effect.
Joseph tends use humor more, and God bless him for that. Not too many writers will mix Christianity with Monty Python. Laughter is a gift from the Almighty, and I firmly believe that mixed in among the music, laughter will resound throughout the halls of Heaven.
Update: I forgot to include a link to Joe’s Blog. Please check him out at Tripping and Stumbling While Following Jesus.
Recently, Joe wrote a spot-on post about idolatry, especially in our culture. I found it convicting, but it also resonated with me because I’ve been mentally chewing over a parallel thought. A couple of days ago, While reading Psalm 135, a few verses stuck out to me:
15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.
16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but they cannot see;
17 they have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.
As human beings, we are hard-wired to worship something…anything. Even those who profess to not believe in any supernatural will speak with reverence about something. Typically it’s the cosmos or nature, because those things represent the grandest concepts that occur to those who won’t believe in an infinite God.
However…what if, as human beings, we are wired to not only worship, but also become like the object being worshipped? It’s not something that we can necessarily choose to have happen, but what if true worship–in word, thought and action–produces change in our lives, for the better? Or the worse?
The difference is the object of our adoration; that determines what changes will occur in our life. When my time is filled up with mindless entertainment, then my eyes and ears become dulled to seeing God at work, and hearing the Holy Spirit. There is always a competition for my attention, between God and this world. One opens expands my senses and discernment, other other numbs and dulls.
In latter part of verse 17 above, it says “nor is their breath in their mouths”. In Genesis, God didn’t just give breath to Adam, the way we would put an oxygen mask on someone. God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” This is a very personal picture. God wanted Adam to have a tiny sliver of life, and came close…intimately close, and bestowed it.
I have a video somewhere of me working on a lawnmower. My mower is propped up, and I’m taking the blade off. In the process, I’m getting a little frustrated, and end up using a hammer in the process. Before I realize it, Ian has brought over his plastic lawnmower toy, propped it up, and is whacking it with one of my tools. He sees what I do, and imitates it. Is it a coincidence that when people give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it looks like a kiss? I’m not trying to belittle saving someone’s life, but when we see that someone has no breath and needs it, we draw close and breath into them. In doing that, we are like children who are pretending to do what our Heavenly Father does.
There is only one God who longs to draw close and give us life, and is able to give life. And, more than anything, He deserves my worship.
I’ve got two topics for tonight:
1.) I recently read a story about a young girl in a ballet class. One day, she arrived at class to find that her instructor was in a corner of the studio, on her knees in deep, fervent prayer. The students worried that something was wrong. Perhaps a family tragedy had occurred. Later, they realized that their teacher was praying for inspiration; for the creativity to teach well, and communicate a message from God through their dance. She was also asking for favor, for the ability to create well.
I’ve been wrestling lately with a distinct lack of creativity. I used to have thoughts on a weekly, or even daily basis that I couldn’t wait to attack here. I loved wrestling with language, to draw out the truth that was shown to me, and to make it interesting. Or, at least interesting enough that I would want to read it. I loved the right mixture of verbosity to explain my points well, and terseness to keep the flow. I especially enjoyed thinking of interesting turns of phrase, hoping that a literary hook would catch someone’s interest enough to remember what I wrote.
Lately, things have been dry. Not so much a writer’s block, but more like a musician who has ran out of music on a printed page. I just haven’t had anything that I thought was worth saying.
And yet, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. When asked the question, “What would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail, and money wasn’t an issue?”, my response remains the same as it has for a few years: I would love to be a writer. Blog, article, book…it doesn’t matter at this point. I love nothing more than seeing a glimpse of the Almighty, or life in His kingdom, and sharing that with others. I live for sharing God’s truth in creating ways.
If I’m going to be honest, it’s not that I’ve had a case of writer’s block. Truth be told, I’ve been lazy. If this is my passon, then I should be seeking my Lord’s favor and inspiration, like a artist hired by royalty to create. He supports me, and therefore my job is to create for Him. God wants to speak through me, in a way that He created me uniquely to accomplish. But, I suspect that he brought me to this point so that I would have to decide whether or not this is what I want to do, in my heart. Do I love writing enough to earnestly entreat Him for my next idea?
Let’s find out what happens.
2.) I thought about sharing this last weekend for Father’s Day, then talked myself out of it. But, because of reasons explained above, this is all I have, so this is what I present to you…
Last weekend was rough, emotionally speaking. It wasn’t my first Father’s Day without Ian, but that didn’t make it easy. I’m no longer a father, and I have no father or even father-in-law to focus on. In some ways, it feels like the entire country decides to hold a celebration, and didn’t bother to send me an invitation.
I was watching Peter Gabriel’s Growing Up concert on DVD (which is fantastic, by the way), and this song came on. I never bought Peter’s music when he was in his popular phase, so I’m always discovering his genius late. Anyway, he played the song Mercy Street. The beauty of the music struck me first (Tony Levin, the bass player, is nothing short of phenomenal). The chorus made me stop what I was doing, because I could hear God talking to me in the lyrics:
Dreaming of Mercy Street
Wear your inside out
Dreaming of Mercy
In your Daddy’s Arms again
Dreaming of Mercy Street
I swear they moved that sign
Looking for Mercy
In Your Daddy’s arms
I felt God saying that He saw the pain, frustration and grief, even if I couldn’t bear to look at it myself. He had a place for me to fall into His arms, with all the grace I needed. Even when I don’t feel like I want to be held, He’s there. When I finally decide that I need Him, but it feels like there is a huge distance between us, He’s actually waiting for me with more patience than I can imagine, or than I deserve. When I need His mercy, it’s there.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
- Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, John 19:19-22 (emphasis mine)
As always, the will of Rome was carried out. The local ruler of the backwater Hebrew nation considered this prophet that had the Jews in an uproar, and didn’t quite know what to do with him. In the end, Pilate just wanted to be rid of him. Pilate tried to pawn this Jesus of Nazareth onto Herod, but that hadn’t worked. He tried to talk some sense into the local religious leaders, but they were determined that the man they brought before him should be put to death. Bleeding, bruised and bearing the marks of abuse, this man Jesus was obviously no normal man, but he also did not deserve the sentence that the Jews demanded.
This puzzled Pilate all the more. It wasn’t even a week ago that these people were welcoming Jesus as their King. He heard the reports, that they were begging, crying for this Jesus to save them. Pilate knew that crowds had their own mind, and could be turned easily, but something else was at work here. Something deeper…bigger. Even his own wife warned him to distance himself from this young prophet because of her dreams.
In the end, Pilate acquiesced to the leaders and the crowd. Let them have their Barabbas; the criminal would probably be back in custody within a month, two at most. One man’s life for order in Jerusalem was an unthinkably small price to pay. Then, the Sanhedrin had the audacity to demand he change the sign above the Nazarene, demanding that it state that this Jesus only claimed to be their king.
But Pilate wanted the message to be unmistakable: here is your King, and this is what you did with Him.
* * *
The above scripture is from an NIV Bible with the verses arranged in chronological order. I’m still working my way through Genesis, and will have another post from that the next time the Spirit moves. I wanted to take a moment and write about something Easter-oriented. I was asked to read something for our Good Friday service, and this leaped out at me.
After reading the passage at the top, I couldn’t help wonder: If the world placed a sign above my head, what would it say? Would it read “This man followed Christ”, or “This man claimed to follow Christ.” The world knows the difference between the two.
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break,
When the levee breaks I’ll have no place to stay.
- “When the Levee Breaks”, by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie (with some help from Led Zeppelin)
20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
- Genesis 18:20-26
As I’ve been re-reading the Old Testament, it strikes me that I’m spending more and more time re-evaluating preconceptions and inaccurate lessons taught by others, and replacing it with what the Bible actually says.
For example, I’ve been taught that the reason why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was due to sexual immorality running rampant in the cities. That idea neatly separated me from them. I’m not like them, so I’m safe. I’ve had to re-evaluate that stance, based on a recent article about Richard Stearns’ new book, The Hole in Our Gospel. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s quickly moving to the top of my list.) In his book, Stearns quotes Ezekiel 16:49:
49 ” ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
The LORD goes on to say that Sodom did do detestable things before Him. However, such things are the outgrowth of a hardened heart, that has refused to listen to the Holy Spirit, and seek to live a Godly life. The immorality that they do is only the symptom of a deeper sickness that we all suffer from: a life lived for self, rather than a life lived for God.
In light of this, I read Genesis 18:16-33. Abraham is having a conversation with God, discussing the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is not debating whether God should or should not obliterate Sodom and Gomorrah; it’s understood that they are wicked places, and deserve it. What Abraham is wondering is, what would it take to stay God’s hand? He produces a series of hypothetical situations. If, out of the whole two cities (twin cities?), what if there were 50 people whom God counted as righteous. Would that be enough to escape God’s judgement?
Yes. They would be spared if God could find 50 righteous people.
Then, Abraham proceeds to talk God down, in some kind of bargaining session. 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? (The passage doesn’t explicitly state as much, but I do wonder if the conversation progressed further…7?…5?…1?)
What is it about the presence of righteous people that would stay God’s hand? It’s not that God is necessarily impressed with how good these people are. Ultimately, our only source of Godliness is God himself, through Jesus Christ. For those who have a relationship with Christ, then righteous actions should be the natural output. What does that look like?
36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
- Matthew 25:36-40
So, what does all this have to do with “When the Levee Breaks”? It’s about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. You can read about the effects at the last link, but suffice to say that hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. I’ve never been in a flood situation (by the grace of God), but the idea of people working to shore up levees to protect their homes bears a resemblance to the righteous people that God was looking for in Sodom and Gomorrah. God was looking for people who were bringing His hope and His mercy in a desperate situation. He was looking for those who were fair in their business practices, and merciful to others. They may have not realized it at the time, but they were the levee holding back God’s wrath.
I need to continually ask myself–what kind of levee am I? Am I living the kind of life that produces hope in a situation that is more desperate that I realize?
And, just because I can’t get the song out of my head, and I feel the need to share it…
One year ago today, my son went to be with his Maker.
It’s not the anniversary that I would have wanted to recognize, but recognize it we will. And celebrate. Tonight, we will have a house full of people, but more importantly, a house filled with laughter and singing.
I sometimes wondered how we would be able to make it through this last year. For some reason, God saw fit to keep us here, and His mercy has been ever-present. We celebrate that, and the fact that God is using Ian’s short life to bring hope to others. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our well project. We are getting veeeery close to our goal of having wells dug for three villages!
Everything sad continues to come untrue…
ep·i·logue: 1 : a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work
What if we never knew what happened to Job after God talked with him? What if, as far as we knew, Job spent the rest of his days as a poor, disease-ridden man, whose spouse encouraged him to “curse God and die”? What would be the take-away from that? Let’s come back to that.
In Job 42:7-9, Job is instructed to intercede for his friends. Evidently, Job has a right relationship with God at this point, to the point where he can present his requests to God without fear. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have sinned by lying about God, and need an intercessor. In Hebrews, Jesus is described as our high priest, intervening before God in our behalf. Could what Job does for his friends be a foreshadowing of how Jesus reconciles us to our Heavenly Father? Plus, the fact that God bothers to tell them to have Job pray for them shows that God desired to have a right relationship with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. These points are underscored in 1 Timothy 2:3-6:
3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.
* * *
When I started reading Job, I followed the advice of commentators and tried to put myself in his shoes. The key to this is to not know what’s going to happen. When discussing Job’s story, particularly the wretched things that happened to him, most people quickly follow up with “but God blessed him with twice as much afterward.”
But, what if God hadn’t?
I’ve always imagined it happening fairly quickly after Job’s encounter with God. It’s as if God came up to Job, put his arm around him and said “I know that was a crappy thing that happened to you. Here’s your stuff and your family back, and some more for your troubles.”
Except, it wasn’t that way. Job was penniless. His standing in the community was gone (see chapter 30, verses 1-15). He was left asking “what do I do now?”
It was at this point that his friends and family came around him:
11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver [a] and a gold ring.
Deb and I have experienced this firsthand. Throughout the past wretched 20 months, our family and friends surrounded us, provided for us and were God’s hand and feet. Complete strangers performed incredible acts of charity that still bring tears to our eyes. It wasn’t because of anything we had done to deserve this. God sometimes lavishes on those who are suffering through other people in a way that, no matter how often it happens, it astounds us. Here’s another example from classic cinema:
Next up: Back to Genesis, and the birth of a nation.