Beautiful Feet

I have some good news and some bad news – which do you want to hear first? If truth be told, you have no interest in hearing the bad news at all . . . because no news is better than bad news. But when offered the pairing of the good with the bad, as if it were a riddle to solve. We either brace for the impact of the bad news, hoping that the good news will be able to pull us back onto our feet, afterwards – or we want to front load the good news, hoping it will be enough to shield us against the wallop the bad, invariably delivers. And this, on many levels, is how we usually experience life – hoping to fend off the relentlessness of the bad with the impermanence of the good.

It is the innate pessimism of the fall – to hope for the best, but to always expect the worst . . . as if this were our default setting. The non-theist describes this as our survival instinct, convinced that we are basically at odds with our own existence, a meaningless and indifferent existence, intent on undoing us at every turn. But this is antithetical to the confession of the Christian faith, which believes that darkness is overcome by light – like a seed buried in the ground makes its way through the soil into the light. And it’s a perilous journey that can’t be avoided.

Moses stands barefoot before a burning bush and hears some good news and some bad news. The good news – after four hundred years of enslavement, God is finally going to set his people free. The bad news – Moses has to go before Pharaoh and tell him to let his people go. Having lived in the palace, Moses knows full-well how impossible this task will be – but here is the unmistakable presence of God, telling him to go and deliver a message he knows will be rejected. In this way, the good news of Israel’s redemption will need to be carried passed the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh, and through the ten plagues, before this exodus can finally occur.

Isaiah 52:7 declares “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” And Paul is riffing on this passage in Romans 10:14-17 when describing those who are sent with the gospel – the good news of God’s Kingdom come, the coming kingdom Jesus was declaring everywhere he went . . . a good news message that took him to the cross, through the tomb, until on resurrection morning we might know the full meaning of how this good news changes everything.

So when I read of the women in Luke 7:38 who cried at the feet of Jesus, wiping away her tears with her hair – I begin to realize just how beautiful are those feet. When I considered the distance that Jesus came and the perilous path he endured culminating in the cross – to bring us the good news of the gospel . . . that he would actually be the very embodiment of that good news – I am completely undone. So that now, whatever bad news comes my way – I have more than enough good news to overcome it . . . and so do you.

So let us go to Jesus . . .

The Sisyphus Stone

When I was a kid there was a Peggy Lee song that played on the radio called “Is That All There Is?” It was a rather nihilistic lament about how life was nothing more than a relentless string of disappointments making life utterly meaningless – which makes you wonder how such a depressing song could have possibly enjoyed popularity. I suppose what gave it relatability was the way it concluded that hedonistic self-indulgence was the only remedy for dulling the pain of such disillusionment . . . even though that didn’t really seem to lift the dark cynicism of its primary question: Is that all there is?

To be sure, even life at its best can be a bit of a grind — add to this the ever opening trap doors of personal difficulties and tragedies, and the general milieu of disenfranchisement inevitably at work within every social structure . . . you can begin to feel the weight of the world shifting onto your shoulders. And if then, God forbid, you should begin to ponder your own mortality, or the prospect of how our sun may unexpectedly go nova – it’s no longer just the weight of the burden you feel, but the pointlessness of it all, draining from you any sense of hope. Makes me wonder how an atheist makes it through their day without succumbing to the temptation of Peggy Lee’s epicurean song.

This is the avalanche of despair the non-theist attempts to hold off with the self-involved sophistry of their existential ontology – believing that if we’ll only pretend there’s somehow a purpose to be found in arduously rolling our Sisyphus stone up an impossibly steep incline, we can manufacture our own meaning ex nihilo. Never mind, that every morning the stone is back at the bottom again. And it never occurs to them, if survival of the species is ultimately pointless — “if that’s all there is” . . . then why bother?

But the godless aren’t the only ones willing to pointlessly roll that stone. I’m reminded of how Cardinal Bernadine described the state of modern Christendom as living lives of “functional atheism” – Christians professing belief in God, but living as if he doesn’t actually exist. In this way, they create their own stone of self-importance to roll — a meaning and purpose made in their own image. This is what comes from the contrived notion that the sacred and secular can somehow be parsed into two separate lives, believing that the meaning and significance of life can have more than one source.

The fact that we are contingent upon God is an immovable ontological truth – but not in some general way we can simply push off into vague abstraction, rather, it permeates every atom of the universe, at every moment of existence. So the idea that we can simply invent our own meaning and purpose out of thin air is the very lie Adam and Eve fell for in the garden. The truth is, life only has one purpose, one for which all other purposes are meant to be subservient. And according to Colossians 1:16, 17 – it is Christ “. . . all things were created through him and for him” It is this preeminence of Christ that breathes purpose into all that we are – a meaning and significance, that no amount of pointless stone rolling could ever hope to equal . . . so just let that stone roll away.

Purpose and meaning are either transcendently sourced
. . . or they don’t exist at all!

Let It Be

There has long been an academic debate, in regards to human behavior, between “nature” and “nurture”. The question is – are we really inextricably predisposed to follow the genetic script of our DNA, or are we just environmentally conditioned to act out of psychological muscle memory reflex response? Or perhaps, some amalgam of the two? But doesn’t such a question presuppose a determinist answer – that somehow, either your immutable genetics, or your immutable past, has already predetermined your path? Seems to me like the debate has conspicuously over looked the step that explains where volition fits in.

When I read the Bible cover to cover I can see the providential hand of God indisputably working his sovereign will – but on every single page of it, I find the absolute significance of human choice on full display, as being crucial to how history unfolds. And when I attempt to simultaneously hold these two truths in my mind I experience the innate tension between the two. I can’t bring myself to believe in a fatalistic world that imagines life as nothing more than a cosmic simulation, as if all of our choices were merely cosmetic. But neither can I imagine a world where all of my choices have preeminent value – as that also strikes me as an untenable form of fatalism.

Is this not what it means to live contingently within the mystery of believing in a God who speaks us into existence? Desperate to reconcile the tension we feel between the two, we are tempted to resolve this dilemma with what are arguably reductive theological solutions – solutions intent on giving us the illusion of control over things beyond our comprehension. This invariably leads us to assume human volition to be irredeemably corrupted, while unavoidably being our inescapable responsibility – so we know we need to make the choices . . . even if we don’t really trust the choices we make.

Having grown wiser as I’ve grown older, I’ve developed an appreciation for the sublime elegance of the simple routines of a disciplined life. It has been a refinement of my choice making, a narrowing of my focus to the things that most matter . . . and this is where I’ve learned to make the will of God my deepest desire. So when I read about this teenage girl who intuitively reaches the same conclusion in Luke 1: 26-38, I take notice of her gracious resolve to “let it be”, and marvel at how beautifully divine providence is able to gently entreat our involvement in what God is doing . . . and then I’m humbled in realizing that the natural home for my will is found in God.

Mary’s willingness to play her part in our redemption serves as a bookend to the confession of Jesus “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42) – so that it would be obvious to us, that throughout the life of Christ, doing his Father’s will was ever before him . . . and that he chose every step of that path to the cross. So now, let it be that our hearts may also treasure up all these things that Mary pondered (Luke 2:19) in her willingness to bring Jesus into this world — this gift beyond all measure.

Christmas begins as a conversation between an angel and a teenage girl . . .

How Much More?

Order out of chaos is the primal impulse of the human psyche – like an undeniable subtext, constantly at work in our daily interpretation, measuring in real-time our experience of meaning and purpose. This is why when we experience unexpected circumstances recklessly pulling us downstream from our normal life, our eyes instinctively look for a safe shore — a place we might step out of the troubled waters and walk on solid ground again. And if those circumstances are grave enough, cratering like a dark hole of despair in the middle of your life — that unspoken subtext becomes the primary text of your thoughts . . . as you now begin to wonder out loud — how much more of this will you have to endure?

So when we hear David cry out “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”(Psalm 13:1) – we can hear our own weary voice, and know well that feeling of the gathering dark beginning to fill our hearts . . . and that winter’s fog of isolation and loneliness that refuses to lift. In moments like these, meaning and purpose seem to be hanging by a thread – so we wait in silence, waiting in desperate faith, believing that the presence of God will break through the fog of our doubt and pain . . . and lead us back into the light of his steadfast love.

In this way, our longing to have our lives renewed and restored is actually a longing for the presence of God. Because when the inevitable chaos of the world crashes into our life, we intuitively know that it is God who brings order to our world, so we call out to him to be reassured that he has not left us. This is such a primal reflex that even the atheist finds himself calling out for God when he’s desperate enough, when the hope of rescue is fleeting. So for the Christian, how much more does our hope reside in God’s presence?

How much more, indeed! If we as imperfect parents can give our children loving provision, then how much more will our heavenly Father provide? (Luke 11:11-13) And if even the birds are feed by the hand of God, and the lilies of the field are dressed in grand splendor, how much more does our Father know our every need? (Luke 12:24-28) How much more valuable are we to Him? (Matthew 12:12) Are these not the practical expressions of love, indicative of a God who holds chaos at bay? So we place our hope in God for all things are held together . . . in His presence.

This is why it is the very heartbeat expectation of Advent to cry out “O, come Emmanuel” – compelled to beseech God to come and be with us. Because it’s the Incarnation that is the very culmination of our primal desire to have God’s presence make all things right again. For we worship a God who hears our cry, and knows our every need. A God who chooses to enter into this life so that he might abolish the power of death. How much more could we ask of God, than he give us his only begotten son?

O Come, O Come . . .

Let Them Tell Their Story

It used to be that the maxim of enlightened tolerance was “live and let live” – but not only has this simply stated adage fallen into disuse, the current purveyors of tolerance in our culture are now offended by its lack of conviction to woke conformity. And before you hurt your brain trying to noodle the pretzel logic of this cognitive dissonance, you would do well to remember that this new defining of tolerance isn’t intended to promote actual tolerance – it’s meant to silence and intimidate into compliance the newly identified intolerant . . . all those who refuse to get in line. So how exactly did we get here?

Humans have actually never been good at disagreement, we just keep inventing new ways for controlling the narrative, so that our side of the argument comes off looking virtuous . . . especially, if we’re the ones making the weaker argument. In this way, how the debate is framed can place your opponent on their heels right out of the gate – having to explain why they lack the moral integrity to do the right thing . . . and agree with you. Of course, this is neither intellectually honest, nor is it a good faith approach – but this is what comes of placing more value on winning . . . over a sincere desire to know what is true.

I tend to love a good debate the way a cat loves a bird. When I was a kid I played a lot of chess, and got pretty good at thinking, at least three moves ahead. I used to read the books and learned most of the gambits. So not only was I well prepared, I was nimble enough of mind to execute a pretty good game. So when I enter a debate on social media, I usually know how to press the advantage by identifying the rhetorical gambits and articulating my position with erudition and flamboyance, keeping my interlocutor off balance. But what’s the point? Usually the poor soul I’m engaging ends up feeling run over . . . and I failed to hear the story of the person behind the argument . . . and I am a lesser man for it.

Disagreement doesn’t need a decisive victory, it needs a sympathetic ear. Ontologically speaking, what is true will always win out, regardless of our self-involved desire to prove we know the truth. Certainly, we should bear witness to the truth, speaking it unflinchingly in the midst of a culture determined to manufacture its own version of the truth – but our distinctive is that we temper it with love (Ephesians 4:15). In this regard, the deeper truths of our faith are expressed – for what we really bear witness to is the reconciliation of God, our being reconciled to him . . . so that we might be reconciled to one another.

Modernity has misled us, causing us to believe that it is our disembodied ideas that matter most, until we are tempted to foist the certainty of our convictions on one another, as if in an academic vacuum. And it is profoundly dehumanizing to place the preeminence of our opinions over the dignity of the person we’re engaging – may God forgive us. Remember they are an image bearer of God, so entreat them on this point of commonality and let them tell their story, there will be time enough for disagreement. Let the love of God that pursued you, be the love that they find in you. Be the peacemaker (Matthew 5:9) in a world bent on violently imposing its will – because in one way or another, we are all refugees, seeking peace . . . so may the peace that is God’s presence be on your face . . . and on your lips.

. . . and may we all learn to seek the peace of God.

Weaponized Morality

Within the modern framing of the world, morality is understood as a human construct – a construct that is held in a perpetuated tension between pragmatism and sentimentality. And within this existential tension, a constant state of interpretation is taking place, following the transient curve of cultural ethos. So in short – morality is whatever we say it is, and can be shaped into whatever we need it to be at any given moment . . . as long as an existentially pronounced ideal is driving the perception of necessity, moving the needle of our collective moral compass. So is it any wonder that such an amorphous understanding of morality would inevitably become weaponized?

The principle is simple – in the absence of a morality held as immutably transcendent, a vacuum is created, where invariably, competing moral narratives struggle for supremacy. It’s a struggle of imposed wills, often driven by unlikely faith beliefs – as the faith of the irreligious can be just as devout as that of the religious . . . and can be just as perversely unyielding. Which is why the smug sanctimony found in secular dogma can feel as dispassionately cruel and oppressive as any religious order is capable of exhibiting.

This is why Nietzsche was so convinced that morality was an essential battlefield in the struggle of imposed wills. But Nietzsche recognized that first there would have to be a new ontological premise at the heart of this new moral narrative – so he declared God was dead. Notice, he didn’t declare God never existed, which was something he clearly believed, but rather — that the God we all thought was alive, was now dead. This is because he wasn’t really making an academic point about God’s existence, he was making a practical point about necessity. He was convinced that modern man no longer needed his teleological convictions found in the moral transcendence of God. Believing that modern man could now untether himself from such contrived moral constraints . . . if he only had the will to do so.

So this is where we find ourselves, having crossed the post-Christian cultural tipping point, where our transcendent appreciation of morality is being dragged off to the edge of town, to be thrown on the trash heap, with all of the other deconstructed socially unacceptable artifacts. Because they have already crossed the Rubicon with bridges burning behind them –so that now, like the Caesar before them, they have chosen to march on their own people, intent on displacing the old order of moral presuppositions with the bloodless pragmatism of the new order. Canceling one culture, so that a new culture can take its place. All hail the new order . . . or else.

This is what morality viewed as a power struggle invariably produces. Everything becomes a calculation, attempting to maintain the illusion that drives the perception of necessity that holds sway over the culture. And because such an authority must be absolute, forgiveness and redemption have no place in this new world . . . and the disenfranchised will either live in silent conformity or be socially reprogrammed. But you gotta hand it to Nietzsche, he was right after all – this is exactly what a godless morality looks like . . . even if it looks like a ring of hell that not even Dante could have imagined.

The Intimacy of Music (4 of 4)

It must have been sometime in the mid-1960s when my oldest brother Gary brought home a Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar, from our grandmother’s house, long abandoned by my uncle – setting into motion a chain of events that would forever change the trajectory of the lives of my two older brothers and myself. Because not only did my brother Gary take to making music almost immediately, but my brother Jeff wasn’t too far behind him, in taking to it as well. Which was all a bit intimidating for me at first, but eventually I discovered my own path at music making. Until finally, all three of us had become accomplished singer/songwriters, performing and recording music.

For me the allure of music was almost irresistible. The idea that in a three or four minute, minimally sketched out bit of poetic storytelling, brought to life with a finely honed melody, would create a response so evocative and moving — was just mystifying to me. So I wasn’t simply interested in mastering a musical instrument – I wanted to learn to create the same kind of enchantment I had experienced, embedded in those songs that seemed capable of transporting my heart and mind, so effortlessly. Because it struck me that mastering such an artistic process would be akin to opening up a door into another dimension.

Even without lyrics, the transcendent quality of music, has the ability that all other forms of art have in reminding me that there’s far more to existence than what can be found at face value. So I am drawn like a magnet to the source of such beauty for it is this very longing of the soul that gives music its uniquely intimate quality. Consider this — music is such an anthropological constant, every culture, sub-culture, and individual can hear a song that speaks to them, as if it were written to them, making it both a shared and a personal experience, simultaneously. It’s as if music were being drawn from a deeper ontological well – a well that we all drink from . . . and in so doing, we remember something essential about ourselves.

No doubt you have a favorite song, or recording artist, or composer – music that you connect with in an almost indescribable way. I see you out there driving down the road, passionately singing along, or maybe just going about your daily business, with ear buds in, taping out the rhythm – but that’s okay, that’s me too. Music allows us to experience something about ourselves, unlike anything else – because it’s able to circumvent our usual cognitive filters, so that we might know things in ways our intellect is incapable of explaining.

So as we enter into the house of God, seeking to have our hearts and minds recalibrated in our corporate confession that Jesus is Lord – we lift our voices in songs of praise with voices from around the world, adding our voice to the voices that have come long before us, declaring the glory of God. Because Ephesians 5:19-21 seems to suggest that these are the songs that bind us together – that as Jesus becomes our overwhelming focus, we might see on one another’s face, the joy of the Lord. So I sing — “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”” (Psalm 122:1), and “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 96:1) . . . won’t you join me?

Praise God from who all blessings flow . . .

The Intimacy of Food (3 of 4)

I recently watched a little girl unscrew an Oreo cookie, and then scrape the cream center off with her teeth, and I was immediately transported to my youth. But I never was much of a fan of eating Oreos this way as a kid, even though it was the common practice of my peers. I’d much rather bite down on the cookie and cream together, quickly followed by a swallow of milk. But then I was reminded of the first time I had cookies and cream ice cream – it was before you could buy it in the store. My wife, before she was my wife, cut crumbled up Oreos into vanilla ice cream . . . and it was simply delightful. Which then made me think of my daughter Callie’s Oreo truffles – light and rich temptations that are best appreciated . . . with a glass of milk.

It’s funny how a single food item can have so many layers of memory associated with it – unspecific moments with people in forgotten places of our past, somehow imprinted with a peculiar intimacy . . . of shared experiences with food and drink. But I guess it’s really not that surprising, as there is an unavoidable intimacy with something you intentionally put into your mouth knowing full well that on a molecular level it will alter the chemistry of your body. Which may explain why intuitively we are drawn to experience eating and drinking in the company of others.

My wife and I decided early on in our marriage that dinner would be a family sit down event. So that seven kids later, gathering around the same table, the youngest in the same wooden high chair that the oldest once occupied – the ethos of our family would have a daily touchstone, of thanking God for what we were given . . . and thanking my wife for her loving labors in the kitchen. And after all of this time, the comfort food shared around that table has become almost sacramental to my children, who now have grown up to establish homes and traditions of their own – where my wife’s recipes have become a legacy to what it means to be at home.

In the book of Leviticus we find the dietary laws of Israel, which were intended to distinguish them as a people set apart to God – in this way, what they would eat and not eat, became a sign of allegiance, a sign of their belonging to the one true God. And their high holy days were not merely ceremonies and rituals, but celebrations and feasts, intended to coalesce God’s people in reconciliation to God, and with one another. And when we consider the sacredness of the custom of hospitality to the stranger and the sojourner – the sharing of a meal takes on even a greater dimension of grace transmitted in a most personal of ways possible.

And on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he broke the bread and poured the wine – inviting his disciples to eat and drink, and by doing so they were receiving his body and blood, to be changed by the experience. Now, I won’t bother with debating whether you take this as metaphor or literally – either way, the invitation of the table, is to be changed by the experience. For the Bread of Life is the giver of life. In this way, Jesus is essential, not merely as a eschatological proposition, or as some sort of a social/ religious explanation – rather, he is ontologically essential, in the same way that food and drink are essential . . . which is why when I approach the communion table, I whisper “This is your body and blood – change me now from the inside out, and sustain my life with your presence” For this an intimacy to which Christ entreats us all to come.

“Break this bread . . . sip this wine . . .”

The Intimacy of Language (2 of 4)

At some point we all get wise to the innate naiveté of the childish adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It occurs somewhere between the crude goofiness of grade school name calling, and the exquisite cruelty of passive aggressive disparagement, capable of marginalizing its victim without even a trace of evidence that a slight was intended. You learned that the bruises left by sticks and stones eventually heal – but the battered psyche shamed beneath the merciless tyranny of abusive words often becomes a dark hole that can take a life time to climb out of . . . especially if those words were spoken by someone close to you.

Even the words of a stranger can alter the course of your day. A kind and encouraging word lifting your gaze and lightening your load . . . or a discouraging and belittling word, like gravity holding sway – keeps you pinned down . . . and in your place. And the closer to home those words get, the more impactful they become. This is because language conveys far more than idle propositions meant for cognitive consumption, as it is able to speak to the heart as well as the mind. In this way, language has an inextricable intimacy, capable of disarming the pretense of the conscious mind — in order to speak directly to the subconscious.

This is part of the seduction of poetry and literature, and every other form of narrative, carefully choosing words so as to pull you in closer — until you’ve become so invested in what is being said it subconsciously becomes a part of your own narrative. This is because language is essential to our epistemology (how we know what we know) – both cognitively and pre-cognitively. This is how nomenclature is accepted, how cultural idioms take shape, and how our understanding of everything is contextualized.

In many ways language stitches together the very fabric of our context – sustaining each of our relationships in real time. Like when I stand in the kitchen, with a swaying embrace, I whisper “I love you” into my wife’s ear. Or when I invite my grandkids, arriving or departing, to “come give your Gramcracker a smooch and a squinch”. And why over the years, I’ve cultivated a specific and unique rapport with each one of my children, speaking a language that follows the inescapable dynamic of each one of them becoming an adult. These are the words we speak to one another, rehearsing aloud our longing and love, our hope and fear – gifting an essential aspect of who we are in uniquely packaged ways to everyone in our life. How could this not be intimate?

So when I read John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Not only does it reverberate with the nascent beauty of Genesis 1:1, it seems to reveal Jesus as the very Word that spoke creation into being – especially when you consider verses 2-4 “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Therefore, Jesus is the sacred word by which all things were made and are held together – so is it any wonder that communication would be so essential to how every relationship is held together? And is it any wonder that the confession that “Jesus is Lord” is so profoundly ontological, or that we were created to hear his voice? So may this be your prayer – “O, God that speaks the universe into existence, call my name so that I might declare your glory, and let your word penetrate deeply into my heart.

. . . remember, Jesus speaks your native tongue

The Intimacy of Time (1 of 4)

The economic axiom “time is money” is often misunderstood as meaning that the value of money is equal to the value of time – when in fact, it is more correctly understood as meaning that money only has value because of the time value it represents. Money has no innate value – hay bales of hundred dollar bills on a desert island, that can’t be spent, are nothing more than kindling! Conversely, time is the value measurement of the common wage, which in turn, confers value on the good or services provided. And given enough time, a common object, if well preserved, can command a pretty penny from an avid collector.

So needless to say, time is a precious commodity, regardless of what shape it takes. You spend your entire life spending this currency, exchanging one moment for the next — sometimes carelessly, sometimes with grave intent . . . but always in unrecoverable amounts. And as someone who has already spent the larger sum of what I’ve been given – what remains takes on even greater value to me. But in a very real sense, I invested all of those years in the wisdom that only experience can afford – an investment I am currently drawing dividends from now.

And I’ve learned that not only is time an irreplaceable invaluable resource and an irreducible incubator of wisdom – but it is also a profoundly intimate gift we give to one another. Whether it’s a leisurely shared conversation between good friends, hours spent engaging children or grandchildren, or a weekend get-a-away taken with your spouse – time spent with others creating memories has a particular type of intimacy that lingers with you long after the events of such shared experiences have passed . . . because these are the moments we treasure most.

Now, when you consider how Jesus, God incarnate, chose to enter time and space, experiencing the visceral existence of humanity, moment by moment for more than three decades, in order that we might be redeemed and reconciled – I can’t think of a more intimate way that he could have done it. And when you consider that the Gospels only accounts for a few weeks of actually recorded events, and that the ministry of Jesus with his disciples was three years – most of the time he invested in them likely had the mundane day-to-day rhythms of just hanging out . . . like friends do. This too strikes me as having a wonderfully sweet and priceless intimacy.

The presence of God transcends every dimension (including the fourth), for all things exist in Him. It is this very omnipresence in times of sorrow and struggle where we find comfort, or in times of thanksgiving and praise we experience Him with us. And this is how we know that there is great power in just being present, because it is a gift of immeasurable worth . . . a gift we are capable of giving to one another. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” ~ Matthew 18:20. Sounds to me like an invitation to show up and spend a little time with each other . . . and let Jesus make that time worth your while.

. . . and remember — we live our lives one moment at a time.

Like A Child

So far, I have eight grandchildren – each one to me, a treasure and a caution and a wonder. They are my little bears and I am their Gramcracker, and within this motif each one has been given their own little bear name. Emily, the first of my grandchildren, was named the Pooka Bear in anticipation of the mischief she would undoubtedly get up to. And Julian, the youngest, is named the Goose Bear because of the honking noise he made in the weeks after he was born. So yes, having grandchildren certainly has its charms, affording me a slower unencumbered pace for enjoying the delights of the childish perspective – something of which my parenting years only seemed to be able to catch a glimpse.

Innocence is the likeliest word that comes to mind when thinking of little children. No doubt, this is because we think of them as a blank slate of experience, unburdened and unspoiled by the weightier issues and concerns, we as adults must shoulder . . . and in some cases, shelter them from. But in fact, children under five are in a perpetual state of contextualizing their surroundings, every experience expanding their frame of reference, every sensation shifting their paradigm – clearly they haven’t yet developed the inevitable filters that have already narrowed our perspective as adults.

If you’ve ever listened to a four year old explaining something they’ve recently discovered, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. They are fully invested and present in their storytelling, each detail animated as if they were reliving their experience right before your eyes. For it is a world of wonder they live in, where the possibilities seem endless for them. So as I’m being pulled into their orbit, listening intently for the unbridled joy of expectation in their voice, I begin to suspend my disbelief, and I begin to remember, if only briefly, that every moment can be unwrapped like an unexpected gift . . . and I begin to see the world through their eyes.

So this is how I come to Mark 10:13-16 where the disciples foolishly have assumed that Jesus couldn’t possibly want to waste time on little children – but Jesus isn’t having it. Jesus takes them in his arms, blessing them – explaining such as these belong to the Kingdom of God. But this isn’t a Hallmark moment of sentimentality, celebrating the innocence of children – rather Jesus is saying that these children understand the Kingdom of God in ways that we have long forgotten. For the Kingdom of God is found in the suspended disbelief of a child-like nascent expectation of a God who gathers us into his arms.

I guess you could say that my little bears help me to remember that I am a child of God, capable of experiencing an uninhibited access to my Father’s attention. And that he wants me to tell him where it hurts — so he and kiss it. He longs to hear me explain my deepest desires, and he holds me even tighter when I begin to tell him of the things that frighten me most. Because in his presence it’s okay if I don’t know everything – actually, it’s better if I don’t pretend that I do. This is what I want my little bears to know – that the most important things in life are best understood by children, and that being a child of God really will make their possibilities endless.

This is a song lamenting the loss of our childhood wonder and innocence
written by my brother Garrison and performed by me.

Identity Crisis

Perhaps you’ve heard it said – “You do you, and I’ll do me.” On one level it rings true because it underscores our primal need to discover our own uniqueness as individuals. But on another level we all have an abiding expectation that we should all be able to “do us” . . . and discover an understanding of ourselves as a unified whole. So I guess the question is – is there a sweet spot of compromised identity between the two to be found? Or are these simply irreconcilable identities, existing in a perpetual state of contention.

Epistemologically speaking, nothing can actually be known apart from a given context – and even language itself requires an interplay of context in order to take shape and make meaningful communication even possible. Therefore, it could be reasonably argued — to whatever degree we are able to nail down our own identity, is the same degree we become contextualized to our own existence. In this regard, our identity is more than just a mercurial self-referencing appraisal – our identity is meant to be a touchstone, anchoring us back to the very moment all things were spoken into existence.

But ever since we found ourselves outside of Eden heading east, we’ve been experiencing a restless alienation, not only within our relationship to God, but also within ourselves . . . and with everyone else. So now we perpetually invent new identities, new explanations for who we are, each one a dumpster fire of self-referencing calamity . . . and these distorted identities have become ubiquitous within our prevailing culture. They are embedded in the curated obsessions of our consumerist impulse and sexual desire, slavishly pursuing all that our longing eye can behold. Or they’re on full display in the manufactured virtue of our religious and political posturing, feeding the self-righteous sanctimony with which we pass judgment on all those with whom we disagree. Is it any wonder these broken identities make us feel so hollow?

Out of the burning bush God speaks to Moses, declaring himself — I AM (Exodus 3:14), identifying himself as the ultimate reference point for all that exists. And we find this ontological claim being echoed in the words of Jesus I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6). So in the same way that nothing exists apart from Yahweh (The Father), there is no way, truth, or life apart from Jesus (The Son) – because the identity of Yahweh can’t actually be understood apart from Jesus. In this regard Jesus makes plain for us the very essence of God.

So here’s what you should meditate on – we were never meant to have an identity apart from God . . . apart from Jesus. Therefore every identity we invent for ourselves is a fiction, contrived completely out of our desperate desire to declare our self-existence, apart from God . Which is Paul’s point in Philippians 3:8, 9 – everything is rubbish when compared with being found in Christ. And our being found in Christ inescapably defines our existence, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, individually members, one of another.” ~ Romans 12:5. Therefore, being found in Christ, whether as individuals, or in community – our identity is unshakably sure.

. . . this is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

Long Buried Stones

There’s a song in the wildwood – that sets my heart free
It’s a gentle persuader – that whispers to me
As it hauls in the ropes – of my turbulent past
And it quiets my storms – till my sea is like glass

I have lived with this longing – till it hollowed me out
And I’ve followed desire – till it filled me with doubt
So in silence I wait – for the solace of night 
Till it translates me whole – in the presence of light

Sure, it’s a vagabond’s dream – to be set adrift
And a poet’s refrain – to repair what is left
But the simple inflection – of hope found in a grin
Can unravel the thread – of what’s been hidden within

So now pour me out broken – into shards of light
And winnow and cut me – and reshape my life
Then remove my hard places – like long buried stones
Find me misfit forgotten – and then lead me home

A Theory of Everything

Quantum mechanics and classical physics have long been in search of a unifying theory of everything – hoping to discover the thread that ties the forces of the microscopic with the forces that govern the astronomic. String Theory is the predominant model being explored currently — and even though it hasn’t actually yielded any real evidence yet, it has offered up a fascinating field of scientific investigation. Makes me wonder what a unified theory of me would look like? What thread could I pull through all the disparate parts of me that always seems to get lost in the cognitive white noise of my own self-serving explanation of who I am?

On some level we all experience a fragmentation of identity – everything from our conflicted inner most person, keeping all the secrets of our unspoken words, to our contrived convivial small talking persona we offer to strangers . . . and every version of ourselves in between. But to be aware of yourself as splintered doesn’t mean you have a psychological disorder – it’s just an honest confession that our lives can be pulled in so many directions, we can begin to feel scattered and frayed . . . as if who we really are, is somehow being lost in translation.

Now this might not even be something that has ever hit your radar – because most people experience their lives so sped up, tracking at such a dizzying pace, that they seldom get a chance to take personal inventory or self-reflect . . . so they haven’t a clue just how absently present they come off to others. So often we ration out, and partition off, our availability – because we’ve convinced ourselves that there are only so many slices of us to go around. And this is just one of many ways our lives seem to get away from us . . . parceled out a piece at a time.

Intuitively we know there should be some kind of harmony, some measure of balance at work subduing the cacophony of life into a symphonic whole — a belief that arises from the notion that life has purpose, meaning, and a cohesive design. In other words, an ontological theory of everything – all things held together, not by some dispassionate force of nature, but rather as an elegant ballet, choreographed as an invitation to join in the dance . . . and we spend our whole lives learning to step in time with the whole of creation.

It is the confession of my faith that Jesus is the thread that pulls the whole thing together. He is the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8). “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” ~ Colossians 1:15-17. So when Paul says “. . . to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21) he’s actually declaring a profound ontological truth. So in the disarray and confusion of my life, it is Jesus who brings meaning and significance to my life – where chaos seeks to bind me, the preeminence of Christ is perpetually setting me free.

“. . . still there is a place in your heart for me.”

Life Boats and Fire Escapes

The world is a dangerous place, even though most days it doesn’t even occur to us – the terror and the beauty of this world coexists, all the same. There are dragons at the edges of our map, reminding us that certainty has its limits, and that what is unknown to us cannot be tamed by a carefully calculated life – for we all get caught in the jagged teeth of circumstance regardless of the plans we make. So we hedge our bets, we gird our loins, and we keep one eye over our shoulder . . . just in case. We want to believe that the glass is half full – but it is the empty half of the glass that most haunts us.

Modern man might mock the ancient world for hiding behind its mythology and ritual, but in truth, he has come no closer to subduing his own fears and anxieties, despite his talisman of technology and the soothsaying of his scientific conjecture. Because in the end, modern man has only created the illusion of certainty within the self-affirming vacuum of his own rationality. So trust me when I tell you, reality remains unimpressed with our vain explanations of how the world is supposed to work.

I suppose this is why survival pragmatism is the holy grail of the non-theist paradigm – because it’s the only force in the universe they can pretend has purpose . . . worshipping survival for survival’s sake. And because survival is paramount, we’ve been taught to entrust our vaunted experts to regularly inform us of when impending doom is on the horizon. Because no matter how contrived or speculative the news, we’re inclined to believe it – we’d much rather see the boogieman of calamity coming at us, than to have him blindside us, unaware . . . we’d much rather trust in the predictable certainty of our fears, than place faith in a hope that we can’t control.

If we imagine a world without God, the pragmatism of survival is the most logical conclusion, given the fragile predicament of our vulnerable existence – because the predicament is real. So for those of us who believe in God the impulse to identify the safest exits out, very often becomes the predominate feature of our theology. For some it becomes an obsession, because if the whole thing is going down in flames – you better know where the life boats and fire escapes are. For such people, the predicament of a dangerous world has become so preoccupying, they can hardly recognize the beauty also present in each moment . . . because all they can see is a world moving, like a car crash running in slow motion towards its inevitable destruction and demise.

But when I think of Jesus, I don’t see him as a meal ticket, free ride out of town before the whole thing blows – because I don’t view my own survival as the centerpiece of my theology. Survival has no meaning, in and of itself – so making it to the next level holds no enticement for me . . . without Jesus. Rather, I am seduced by the beauty of the narrative of a God who sees me in my predicament and chooses to love me, entreating me to come and be with him. Therefore the terror and the beauty of this world are essential to how I’ve come to understand the narrative of the life God has given me. So as for that glass half full – I think I’ll just drink it dry and trust that God will refill it.

. . . and when I go — it’ll be love carrying me home.

An Explainable Afterlife (3 of 3)

Unconsciously we all entertain the theory that our own perception of reality, is reality itself – convinced that the only reliable point of reference is our own experiential understanding of the world. But because circumstances are ever shifting beneath our feet, we stay in a perpetual state of reframing our perspective, so as to interpret each event within our already presupposed expectation of meaning and significance. And this is the self-affirming bubble within which both the scientific and the religious person exists — each confident in the conviction of their dogma, each offering their explanation of what is . . . as well as, what is to come.

But before you congratulate yourself for not having been taken in by the overstated conjecture of popularized scientific claims, or fundamentalist notions of religious dogma – you might want to take a moment and consider the hubris that hides beneath your own assumptions and explanations. Because the uncomfortable truth of the matter is, we all pretend to know far more than we actually know – so invariably, we rehearse aloud our theories and interpretations of the world with one another, as if we were speaking indisputable facts.

When discussing philosophy with an atheist, you’ll find that they’re very eager to establish early on how they’re the one being rational – ironically, without offering a single rational argument for what makes their opinion rational . . . completely unaware rationality requires a criteria for contextualizing their opinion. But it isn’t that they can offer incontrovertible evidence that God doesn’t exist, because such evidence doesn’t actually exist — no, what they really want you to know, that even within their ignorance as to whether God actually exists or not, they’re pretty sure they’re the ones best qualified to answer the question . . . a rather self-serving perspective.

You’d think there would be far more humility when addressing questions so profoundly beyond our ability to prove — but that would under estimate human hubris. So when I hear Christians debating over what the afterlife looks like, whether it will be the judgements of heaven or hell, or the expectation of universal salvation – I get the sneaking suspicion that each believes they’re the ones making the most rational argument . . . each convinced their method for understanding the question – is unquestionably sure. And I find such unbridled theological certainty, only a little less insufferable than listening to the wild eschatological machinations of someone with charts and graphs explaining the end of the world.

My point isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t have opinions about heaven and hell, or what happens at the end of time – my point is that we shouldn’t be so preoccupied with such unknowable things, that we don’t live presently in the admonitions of our faith. I so much more prefer the simplicity of Paul’s words “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:2. We should never lose track of the centrality of The Cross – for whatever certainty we find in our Christian faith, it is not found in the vanity of our speculations, it solely relies on the finished work of Christ on the cross.

“. . . toward that hilltop where the road forever becomes one with the sky”