All Other Ground . . .

In Juvenal’s 1st century critique of culture, the Roman poet suggests that one need only offer the people bread and circuses to keep them appeased – observing that a people so superficial and banal need only be feed and entertained . . . and they will easily be controlled. Nineteen centuries later, you might be tempted to think this may have been true of a largely uninformed uneducated ancient culture, but not us – until it occurs to you that we live in the age of information, awash in opportunities to be informed and educated . . . yet, our culture appears to be no less superficial or banal.

Does this not dispel the modern presupposition that a more educated culture inevitably becomes a better culture? Such a premise presupposes that any culture can be reeducated to have a more evolved understanding and engagement of the world – regardless of the native foundational ethos of that culture. Which is to say, the preexisting sub-structure of the culture would somehow be inconsequential to what gets built on top of it. No doubt, you can already see where the flaw is in this premise.

When you start out believing that the human race is not much more than highly processing thinking things, requiring only a bit of reprograming and a reboot – is it any wonder that you would end up placing so much faith in the power of our cognitive formation? But what if cognition played a much smaller role in what it meant for us to be human? What do you imagine such a foundational shift in self-perception, would look like? Remember, one must always know what constitutes the foundation, before they can ever hope to build anything of lasting value upon it.

QuicksandIn Luke 6:46-49 Jesus starts off by basically asking “You’re calling me Lord, but then you act as if I’m not Lord?” then Jesus, the carpenter, uses a building metaphor to make his ontological point. Here’s the point: We can’t ever hope to understand the words of Jesus — unless we are willing to make knowing Jesus our foundational desire . . . these two things are inseparable. For the words of Jesus parsed as if they were theoretical propositions intended for our intellectual evaluation – is a house that will not stand! Jesus is Lord! If this is not your ontological cornerstone – then not only will you fail to understand his words, but will also fail to understand the true significance of your own existence.

Ultimately, we are creatures of desire, who by design, are meant to desire God above all else. This is the very sub-structure of reality . . . and everything else is a fiction of our own vain imaginations. All other desires are meant to be calibrated by this preeminent desire – that in knowing God we might know the fullness of life, a deeper immersion into what it means to be alive.  But in the absence of this preeminent desire – every other desire rushes into that void, becoming reckless desire, endlessly seeking to be sated . . . which is what makes all other ground the sinking sand of banality.


Thought this was a nice rendition of this old hymn . . .

The Art of Living with Yourself (3 of 3)

My dad once said to me “most people don’t know how to be comfortable in their own company” – at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate just how insightful this observation was. But now, given the ubiquity of smart phone zombies, lost within the back lit glow of their latest distraction, making them presently absent – his words seem to ring true. His point was that most people aren’t really practiced at living with their own thoughts for any length of time, relying instead, on external stimuli to keep them pre-occupied . . . to keep the resident disquiet of their minds at bay.

Perhaps you’re more familiar with this the other way around – someone being described as “comfortable in their own skin”. A sort of psychological assessment of well-being, identifying an apparent absence of inner conflict. Or maybe you’ve heard someone described as “knowing their own mind” – which is an apt description for someone who’s measured confidence is derived from their thoughtful discernment. So where do you see yourself on this continuum? How would others readily describe your default demeanor?

When we cultivate a humble and grateful heart, peace of mind invariably follows. To know such contentment is a virtue – but an elusive and ephemeral virtue, it would seem. But in the same way the virtue of patience requires that we slow things down so we can form a more measured and thoughtful perspective – contentment requires we widen our perspective, so as to place ourselves within a more discerning context. Which only begs the question — What exactly is it about us that tends to speed up and narrow our perspective?

As it happens, these are two prominent characteristics of addictive behavior. But in order to fully appreciate this, one must understand that addiction occurs on a continuum — both by degree and type. So the definition of addiction isn’t simply confined to the socially unacceptable behaviors, which often leap to our minds – but must also be applied to every misplaced desire that we allow to preoccupy our hearts. For whatever we’ve allowed to preoccupy the desires of our heart, invariably becomes the very thing that defines us. This is why any desire we place in competition with our desire for God, inevitably devolves into an obsession that can never be satisfied . . . in other words, an addiction.

girl-looking-out-a-window-by-Krista-Campbell-Photography-300x200So it really isn’t surprising that on some level, to varying degrees, we are all unsettled – given there exists a subtext of simmering addiction, attempting to define us . . . but in all actuality, it is attempting to redefine us. Because the core seduction of such addictions, is the notion that you are capable of defining yourself, on your own terms – by pursuing your addiction. And this notion will always and forever be at odds with the way that God has already defined you.

It’s a question of identity – are you what you say you are, or are you what God says you are? You’d think this was a no brainer – but that doesn’t make the conflict any less real. So when I read John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” — I get the distinct impression that Jesus knew we would be tempted to seek a peace of mind that wasn’t the peace he was offering. Which is why he leaves with us the Holy Spirit (verse 26), to remind us of our true identity. Because when we embrace our true identity, we are at peace with God . . . and ourselves.


Remember . . . you are who he says you are

The Art of Playing the Fool (2 of 3)

It is our natural instinct to place ourselves in the most favorable light possible, believing that first impressions, like fingerprints, need to be left with discretion . . . as each can come back at some point to haunt us. So to varying degrees, we take care to present ourselves as the persona we imagine best approximates the way we want to be seen. We know it’s not the whole truth – but it’s often the only truth we’re willing to tell . . . because who could possibly accept us if the whole truth about us were ever known?

We hide in plain sight. It makes no difference whether you’re the buttoned up type blending in with the work-a-day world of normal behavior, or the tatted up bohemian non-conformist conspicuously wearing your contempt for normalcy – chances are, you’re still incognito . . . while the real you stays tucked in behind your carefully maintained veneer, lest anyone look too closely. In this way, shame is a lingering vestige of the fall, constantly reminding us that vulnerability comes at a cost.

Now, here’s a little glimpse into how my mind works – when I read 1st Corinthians 1:27 “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . . .” – I often associate it with Zacchaeus up a tree for a better look at Jesus (Luke 19:1-5). I do this, not because I think Zacchaeus was particularly foolish, rather it’s because, for that brief moment, Zacchaeus forgot his shame and allowed himself to appear foolish . . . so that in his foolishness, conventional wisdom might be shamed. We would do well to remember, it was the name of Zacchaeus that Jesus speaks, for his willingness to risk a little foolishness, in the midst of this nameless crowd.

out-on-a-limb-feb-2019More often than not it is desperation that causes us to shamelessly play the fool. And if you look careful enough, you’ll discover that the Gospels are full of desperate characters, looking for their moment with Jesus. I wrote about this type of desperation, a few years back — Being Desperate. But do we really have to wait until we feel desperate before playing the fool? What is desperation after all, but an awareness of a need that has reached crisis proportions, allowing us to remove all of the social filters that hide our natural response to need?

But isn’t being in crisis just the realization that our need has become so great and unmanageable that it requires a different response? So what if we began with a different response – conceding our great need upfront? Is it not the confession of our Christian faith that apart from the ever pursuing love and mercies of God that we would be totally lost without hope . . . or are we so foolish as to believe that we’re beyond that now?

Following Jesus can’t be done while still posturing and pretending you’ve got it all worked out – because the way of Jesus is a humble path . . . which is why the humble of heart are never afraid of seeming foolish. So if you ever find yourself up a tree, acting conspicuously vulnerable and foolish, chances are you’ve got the best vantage point for seeing what God has next for you.


“I surrender to the mountains
I surrender to the sea
I surrender to the one who calls my name
I surrender to my lover and to my enemy
I surrender to the face that holds no shame”

 

The Art of Speaking Your Mind (1 of 3)

They tell us that there is a significant disparity in the amount of words spoken by the average man and average woman, on a daily bases. But in the same way that all statistical curiosities are basically a Rorschach test, we are left to our own imaginations to interpret what the meaning of this disparity might be. For me, words indiscriminately measured by volume, seems a rather hollow index for reaching any kind of meaningful conclusion. It would seem, the content of what’s actually being said would be a far more relevant concern — regardless of how pithy or voluminous the conveyance.

I’m a person known for speaking my mind – a description often used both in disparagement and celebration of my personality. But over the years I’d like to think I’ve acquired a modicum of discretion and discernment – learning to choose the right moment and words, to best fit the situation . . . even though I still require a considerable amount of remedial discipline in this regard. But in truth, all of us are learning how to fine tune the social filter of our communications — because learning when to speak, and what to speak (or not speak), is an art form that takes a lifetime to master.

Having long been a songwriter, I’ve been asked about my songwriting process, by those interested in composing their own songs. I tell them that long before composition there needs to be cultivation – a cultivation of the heart and mind. Because the only thing we will ever reap from the uncultivated field of our vain imaginations, are the weeds and thistles of an undisciplined perspective. Therefore it’s a false assumption, to believe that inspiration could somehow occur in a vacuum, apart from a preexisting context of perspective.

imagesSo I ask — “What are you meditating on? What preoccupies your heart and mind?” Because whatever preoccupies us most, invariably becomes our meditation, cultivating our perspective . . . and whatever grows in that field becomes the content of our words and deeds. But you don’t have to be a songwriter to realize that our words don’t just pop into our heads – rather they grow out of the ground we’ve been cultivating all along. This is likely why Jesus in Luke 6:45 tells us – “. . . for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – reminding us that our words have been taking shape in us . . . long before they ever cross our lips.

Perhaps this is why we find so many on social media rehearsing out loud, their own fears, while exacting judgement and condemnation on others – they’re only reciting what they have written on their hearts. And maybe that’s why some folks remain silent, held speechless by a shame that binds them. But I say — let your voice be sure, not in the self-assured confidence of hubris, but rather in the humble acknowledgement that God is remaking you daily, conforming you to the image of Christ. To meditate on His word, to seek His Kingdom – making these, the very content of your words . . . and by all means – use as many words as you’d like.


. . . and sometimes our meditation requires no words at all.

Modus Operandi

One of the great myths of our day is the belief that education is the key to a better future. It’s not just that the words education and better are existentially assumed concepts, or that this is an epistemologically flattened out and reductive explanation of how the human mind works, that makes the mythology of this belief so predictably ill-conceived – but it is in how the implied subtext, openly suggests that if everyone would simply get there mind’s right – we’d all be better off . . . never mind that what defines having one’s mind right is a question left wide open to interpretation.

Such an approach views us as nothing more than programmable hardware, awaiting an operating system upgrade – because undoubtedly, bad data has somehow corrupted our current OS . . . making the more culturally acceptable good data uninstall-able. It is an idea solely predicated on the formula — when you control data input, you control functional output . . . as if human volition were a simple matter of overwriting a bit of errant code. But is this really the modus operandi of the human heart and mind?

I have a friend who is fond of pointing out that it only takes two documents to find out what somebody really believes – a check book and a calendar. People will tell you with impassioned detail what means the most to them – but just as often, where they put their time and money, will tell you a completely different story. But how can this be, if what we say and what we do, emerges from the same mind? Or is this just the cognitive dissonance of self-deception convincing us that the erratic nature of our actions will somehow catch up to the good intentions of our right thinking . . . eventually?

cover_image.jpg.640x360_q85_cropIt is the fatal flaw of modernity to believe that placing mind over emotion will ever result in anything, other than a self-affirming conclusion – as if the wrangling of the human will into submission were an academic puzzle to be solved. But our hearts and minds, by design, are meant to work in concert. Passion in tandem with imagination are what drives the desire of the will. We were meant to have an inspired and creative mind that would act upon the impulse of what is beautiful and true. So it is no surprise that God would make his appeal to us, not in an impressive assemblage of incontrovertible facts . . . but rather, in the irresistible narrative of redemptive sacrifice.

So when I read Psalm 19, David’s beautiful opus declaring how overwhelming, is the knowledge of God, its beauty bursting at the seams of human description – I am filled with the desire to join in with David’s beseeching of God to “let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord” (Psalm 19:14). Because I want to have my will so profoundly altered, to have my heart and mind so preoccupied with God’s will, that my actions will become almost involuntarily in step with his will. Is this not the preeminent function (modus operandi) of our Christian faith?


Maybe we should have all been poets . . .

Literally True

I attended a Christian college that had as one of its cornerstone values – a clear presentation of the gospel. It always made me wonder if there was a Christian college somewhere out there that held the expressed value of an obfuscated presentation of the gospel . . . as if clarity weren’t already a baseline value when communicating. Theological particularities, notwithstanding – everyone always assumes they’re speaking clearly. But consider for a moment that one of the leading causes for divorce is the lack of communication – two people with every intention of sharing a life together, who still can’t seem to find a way to communicate with one another. No doubt, each one would have thought they were making themselves clear.

If you’ve ever heard someone say that “it’s literally raining cats and dogs out there!” – you likely didn’t jump up out of your chair and run to a window to witness this wild  spectacle of household pets dropping from the sky. You probably took their use of the word literal as just a measure of emphasis, given that it was paired with such a conspicuous metaphor . . . and not as a measure of factual events. So ironically, even the word literal is subject to an idiomatic interpretation – that in fact, an interpretation is all any of us can offer one another, based on our own frame of reference . . . because our understanding of everything can only ever be an interpretation.

The atheist believes that a materialist understanding of the universe is the only literal interpretation that can explain reality, as we all experience it. Therefore, any explanation that involves a metaphysical (spiritual beliefs) framing of the universe, is denounced as less than literal, and is thereby less than credible. But such a forensic empiricism is simply an interpretation that relies on the belief that everything that exists can be measured – which only begs the question: Exactly how did they come to that conclusion . . . when such a conclusion can’t be deduced empirically? In truth, their conclusion is nothing more than a self-affirming circular argument – intent on arriving at a predetermined result.

grammar-literallyIn this way, we are all tempted to assume that the context within which we make our own interpretations of reality, is the clearest understanding of reality – and becomes the very substance of all of the things we choose to believe are true . . . as if all that is literally true could be so subjectively determined. So all too often, I fear Christians end up sharing the very same lack of humility that atheists do in entertaining things too wonderful for them to comprehend, by reducing them into explainable self-affirming conclusions that end up having no real interest in what might be actually true.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Jesus concludes with this statement “ . . . For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) The Pharisee was convince that his interpretation of what God was looking for was indisputable, while all the tax-collector knew for sure was that he was in great need of God’s mercy. So we would all do well to recognize that the only literal interpretation we require — is the one where we confess our own need for God’s grace and loving mercy . . . may that be your true confession today.


. . . as if it could simply be read in plain letters.

 

For God’s Sake

I consider myself an above average sports fan, having a well-developed appreciation for the athleticism, strategy, and emotional arch of the game. But what I’m not a fan of are all the pre and post-game interviews with players and coaches. It’s not just the predictable banality of their remarks that bothers me, rather it’s the excessive hyperbole with which such remarks engage – that tends to get up under my skin.

We’re gonna leave it all on the field and give it one hundred and ten percent” It’s not merely the fact that such a statement is a mathematical absurdity that catches my attention – rather, like most overstatements it ends up being ironically reductive. So instead of being an exhortation to give more than all you are, it makes simply giving all that you are just another form of rhetorical hype and bravado – said more for effect . . . than actual meaning.

So when we come to the ShemaHear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might . . .” ~ (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5) The modern mind struggles to place this admonition into a correct perspective, tempted to respond out of sentimentality or spiritualized unction – as if the Shema were merely a challenge to up your percentage of love effort.

An observant Jewish friend of mine recently explained to me that the first line of the Shema isn’t actually intended to underscore God’s monotheism, as much as it is an ontological declaration about God – that in God, all things exist . . . for God is the very state of being, itself. Therefore, there’s an intended symmetry to be understood between the all that we are admonished to love God with . . . and the way that all things exist in God. In this way, loving God is understood as a confession about the true nature of existence . . . that there is no us apart from God.

shutterstock_328480373_682St Bernard of Clairvaux believed that what the Shema places in stark relief is the tension between our default inclination to love God within a quid pro quo expectation of personal advantage — with our need to love God, for God’s sake. Therefore we are to desire God, and God alone – and not simply above all other things . . . but within all things. That every desire we have might be emptied out of its own ambition, and offered in oblation to the God who is One!

So when Jesus reiterates the Shema, in answering the question “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” He adds “ . . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40) – he wasn’t really adding something new to the Shema, as much as he was better explaining how all the Law and the Prophets is hinged on our understanding of God as One. Therefore, because loving God is all encompassing, it should be understood as all-consuming — allowing us to love one another as an essential expression of how we love God . . . (1 John 2: 9-11).


O my Jesus, I love thee . . .

Low & Slow

We don’t mean to be impatient, but we are nonetheless. We know we’re not at our best when impatient, yet it still seems to sneak up on us like a slow boil until we find ourselves disproportionately simmering over — usually over some minor inconvenience. And when this occurs with enough frequency, we ironically become impatient with our own impatience . . . because impatience has become our default reaction to everything. So exactly, what does such a reoccurring impatience reveal about us?

From the best I can tell, impatience is a symptom of both heart and mind. It is what occurs when your external circumstances have been allowed to burglarize your internal sense of well-being. So in this way, impatience is like leaving the door of your sub-conscious wide open — inviting all of the unfiltered events of your daily life to lay siege to your peace of mind . . . until setting off a chain reaction of involuntary responses, of which you can only feel like a helpless bystander.

The truth be told, having peace of mind is a simple matter of time management – if you haven’t made room in your life for it . . . it likely won’t be there. Perhaps you think of peace of mind as an indulgence, of which you couldn’t possibly be expected to allocate time, given the demands on your life . . . as if somehow your life choices were beyond your control. Now, maybe it’s just my artistic sensibility, but I’m drawn by nature to a more contemplative disposition – one that creates for me a sanctuary in the midst of the noise and frenetic pace of my life. But the trick for me isn’t about carving out specific blocks of time, as it is more about a choice I make to view every moment as sacred.

Screen-shot-2011-09-04-at-10.49.09-PMIntuitively, you already know that if you spend a moment to take in the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset — you’ll end up with an abiding sense of peace and well-being . . . feeling your load lighten, if only briefly. Actually, there are moments just like that one, all through out your day, all along the way to be savored — moments that remind you of far deeper and truer things about yourself, than the clutter and clatter of your busyness, could ever hope to explain. This is because every moment is sacred, every moment contributing to the whole — like all of the ingredients in a tasty stew simmering together on a back burner slow cooking. You can’t hurry it along, because low and slow is what makes it exactly what it is . . . and being at peace works in the very same way.

Psalm 46:10 admonishes us to “Be still, and know that I am God . . .” Notice that the first thing is, we are to be still – because the knowing of God, is not discovered as one more competing voice in your life. God is found in the whisper – not in the ruckus (1 Kings 19:11,12) . . . so we must quiet our hearts and minds to hear him. So come sit awhile, and watch that sun go down — until you’re sitting in the dark . . . God just might have something he wants to whisper in your ear.


Then out of the stillness — let this be your prayer . . .

Dream Of A World Like That

P.T. Barnum said “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Of recent years I’ve come to appreciate his meaning as being far more axiomatic than cynically disparaging. I don’t take his point as offering a critique of the baseline intellect of the general population, as much as him offering a rather astute observation about the human condition – namely, that we all live with some measure of discontent, making us all susceptible to accepting various impermanent remedies, without question.

This is the very psychological vulnerability that the conman, grifter, flimflam artist seeks to exploit – either by playing on our fears, or by enticing our desires . . . all the while, feigning a sincere interest in our well-being. So what are we to do? Are we to distrust anyone taking an interest in our well-being? Are we to assume we’re just too smart to be taken in by someone who has been perfecting their skills at preying on our specific emotional vulnerabilities? Or are we to address our discontent at its source, and reduce our vulnerability?

So when I hear, what are normally reasonable people, debating politics – all I can hear is “My flimflam politician is far more credible than your conman politician”. No doubt, on some level such people have already accepted the dubious premise that it’s possible for a politician to offer us the best political solution, which only has our best interest and well-being in mind. But you don’t have to listen for very long to any political speech to have your fears played upon, and your desires enticed, all under the rubric of your best interest as being their driving concern. This is why I look elsewhere for a remedy for my discontent.

Ever since our exile from Eden, we’ve experienced a persistent longing to live in a world made right – to finally reconcile what is, with what ought to be. So whatever your definition for contentment, it likely includes some expectation of how things ought to be. But intuitively, there will always be the nagging realization that true contentment will require more than a cosmetically favorable altering of our present circumstance . . . because true contentment isn’t really wired to our circumstances – it’s wired to our heart’s desire.

aurora houseColossians 3:2 says – “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth”. Most misinterpret this verse in at least two ways. They either take it as saying we should focus on some future destination, instead of where we are now – or they entertain a form of Gnosticism, creating a hard dichotomy between spirit and flesh. But I take this verse as working more like a compass, correctly orienting me on the path of my life. Because the verse before (vs 1) invites me to seek Christ where he is . . . and what he is already doing.

It is the confession of my faith that Christ is the redeemer of all things. So this is how the world is made new – it is also how my personal world is made new. So if you are to dream dreams, let your dreams be consumed with imagining his kingdom come, his will being done – not just in the world around you . . . but in your heart, as well. And this will give a fresh meaning to the adage “be the change you seek in the world


This is a song I wrote a few decades ago during an election year . . .
and recently recorded at my daughter Jessica’s house.

All This Reckless Hope (4 of 4)

There are few things as uniquely insufferable as an election year. There is no escaping the media, social media, or workplace chatter – as politics becomes ubiquitous. Those who are marginally political, begin to feel obligated to participate. Those who are generally predisposed to politics, begin to feel the need to up their game a bit. And for those who view their entire life through the prism of politics, this is the high holy season. Because it’s that special day we observe every couple of years between Halloween and Thanksgiving – you know the one, where we all allow political rhetoric to play on our fears . . . and then we’re all so very thankful when it’s over.

Now, maybe it’s because I’m old enough to have been to this circus a few times – but the whole thing always feels like an old rerun of an ill-conceived TV drama that should’ve never aired in the first place. Tediously predictable as it invariably leaves you with the distinct impression that you’ve likely lost a few brain cells in the experience. It would all just be a sad little sock-puppet theater filled with cartoon-like characters, babbling nonsense and stomping around making demagogic gestures — if everyone didn’t have such a deadly serious expectation that somehow the whole future of the world were hanging in the balance of what we choose . . . so this time — we better get this right!

At the center of this great kerfuffle are the partisan voices entreating us with the impossible promises of how their agenda will unquestionably lead us into a brighter future, while decrying their opponent’s agenda as leading us into a shadowy dystopia. Leaving us to assume that the only question we have left to ask ourselves is whether or not we want hope or despair. This is how the calculated hope of modern man makes its appeal . . . amidst the vitriolic bravado of political rhetoric, igniting our passions right up to the threshold of violence.

shutterstock_418624180-1000x480-e1565801623898I’m suspicious that we’re allowing ourselves to be too easily swept up by the half-truth machinations of political drama because we’d much rather have a calculated hope, than a hope that hides itself in mystery — as such a hope would most certainly be far too reckless and imprudent. In truth, what we really want, is to know what’s going to happen from beginning to end, so that we can plan our lives accordingly. Because we’re not really interested in having to read about the long arduous struggle of not knowing, found in the book of Job – we just want to read chapter one and then skip down to chapter forty two, and know that everything worked out.

But the hope we find in God defies every calculation of man – because it isn’t our story being told. . . it’s His. We are the breath of God, made in his image – this is our part in his story from beginning to end. Love entered time and space and took on flesh, and even though we chose to crucify it, Jesus trampled down death by death, so that we might have life everlasting. Yes, this is his story, that he invites you to embrace as your story, a story of which you can never control the outcome. It is a reckless hope, to be sure – but it sure beats pretending that the calculated promises of duplicitous politicians could ever lead us to anything but another iteration of Babylon.


. . . so ring them bells!

All This Boundless Grace (3 of 4)

If social media is to be believed (a rather large if), then your life isn’t quite as cool and happening as everyone else’s – and even though you know it’s an illusion, you can’t help but feel like it’s true on some level. Because long before social media even existed, you likely had a nagging sense that your life wasn’t measuring up. Such distortive comparisons can create shame out of thin air – tempting you to believe that your value could actually be determined by such impermanent things. So yes, it’s an illusion . . . and yet we can’t seem to resist.

But there is a greater illusion that goes largely undetected. It’s an illusion that best exemplifies an atheist’s modes operandi – it is the fallacious notion that somehow it is up to us to give our own lives meaning. If we’ll just be clever enough to make all of the right choices, acquire all of the right knowledge, and own all of the right stuff – with a little luck, we’ll be able to coast across that finish line with a modicum of satisfaction. This is the type of reductive expectation fostered by an ontology incapable of assuming anything else from a pitilessly indifferent universe.

But the Christian faith subscribes to a very different ontology – believing that our existence is purposeful. A purpose that isn’t contingent upon our ability to figure it out. For the Christian believes we are all invited to join God in what he is already doing – but we don’t bring purpose or significance to what God is doing because we’ve joined in, but rather, in the joining in, our lives are given purpose and significance. Is this not the meaning of Romans 8:28? “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

2.21-scaled-1752x960My wife Doreen and I have raised seven children to adulthood on a meager income, in a humble home — to the amazement of most of our friends. And while there was a measure of good stewardship on our part in managing what we were given – it remains a mystery, even to us, how we were able to do it. But what was more than evident to us, was the abiding grace of God manifesting itself in our lives, even in the midst of our most difficult times. God was faithfully working his redemptive purposes with the unexpected grace of his abiding presences – reminding us that his grace is not merely sufficient . . . but is in fact overwhelming!

It is nearly incomprehensible for us to consider the claims of Matthew 10:29-31 – to consider that if God can care for a simple sparrow, how much more are we to him? But even as you draw your next breath reading this sentence, it will likely not occur to you that even that breath is a grace of God. That, in fact, every moment of life is held aloft by the grace of God, is indeed a breath taking thought. All this boundless grace, ever present, going largely undetected. This is the profound reality existing just beneath the surface of all the illusions we’re tempted to entertain – inviting us to lay aside our own foolish agenda . . . and come know what it means to live in God’s kingdom, daily.


. . . and it makes me want to say “Thank you, Lord!”

All This Careless Beauty (2 of 4)

There is no available parking where I work — so annually, I pay a few hundred dollars for the privilege of parking a half a mile away, where I catch a shuttle. Most mornings I arrive at dawn and take my place among my fellow commuters . . . and wait. And every morning the sun paints the eastern sky ablaze with colors dancing in the atmosphere. Colors that splash onto all of the clouds, making them appear as if they were Kabuki caricatures – some of them menacing, some of them playful.  And some mornings the moon decides to hang about a little longer, I suppose, just to see how the other half lives — or perhaps, like a parent quietly watching to see what its mischievous child might be getting up to.

There’s a field just across the street, and some mornings it’s covered in a low hanging fog, floating softly in the half-dark as if held there by some enchantment. Then of course, there is the ambient glow of street lights, whispering up into the trees along the roadside, where I imagine all of the squirrels are just waking up, sleepily waiting in their kitchens for the kettle to boil. And then there is the ever present sound of car tires against the pavement — hissing their incessant complaints about the uneven roads and ill-timed traffic lights. All of this happening all around us – meanwhile my shuttle-stop companions remain held hypnotized by their smart phone screens. All this careless beauty – and no one to notice . . . well, almost no one.

Life offers us a relentless string of moments, each one precious and rare, imbued with their own beauty and significance. So either we attune ourselves to this persistently present wavelength of reality, or we allow the myopia of our own impermanent circumstances to steal from us the most humanizing details of our existence. We lose our ability to be grateful, when we lose our sense of wonder – as these two are inextricably connected. For where there is no gratitude, an inconsolable discontent begins to move in and make itself at home – measuring every moment in terms of disappointment and regret.

mountains_solitude_house_124060_1280x720Now, this is not about juxtaposing pessimism with optimism, as if it were merely a trick of cognitive perception — for gratitude is a disposition of the heart. It’s an almost involuntary response to the deeper truth – that life is a gift. But it is a gift that often goes unrecognized, given the curated way we live our lives, preoccupied and distracted – until something dramatically interrupts us, dispelling all of the illusions we carefully maintain.

Luke 7:36-50 tells us about a sinful women, who unabashedly enters the home of a Pharisee in order to lavish upon Jesus adoration and gratitude – recognizing him for who he really is. She had been forgiven much . . . and she knew it. In contrast, the Pharisee assumed himself to be above the need of such forgiveness — so to him, Jesus was just another teacher . . . just another interesting distraction. While this women could clearly see this moment for the life altering experience it was — all the Pharisee could see was an unscripted interruption and a scandalous display.

But here’s the thing — we will never see the full beauty of who Jesus is, without a grateful heart. So every day is a choice we make to either see the wonder in the world God has created for us – or miss it entirely, seeing only the monotony of the world we’ve created for ourselves.  But what if you lived in a world where you were constantly being invited to discover all of the many ways Jesus was revealing himself to you . . . could there be anything better?


“. . . some kind of ecstasy got a hold of me.”

All This Scandalous Love (1 of 4)

When I was a child, I heard the story of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) as a cautionary tale of self-destruction and self-delusion. A story about a person who had wandered away from the presence of God simply by allowing all of the impermanent things of this life to displace God. Like Esau trading away his birthright to his brother for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). It was a life of reckless dissipation, burning hot and fast like a grease fire – until it burned itself out . . . and thankfully, the father was there, willing enough to pick up the pieces at the end.

As a younger man, having acquired a nuanced appreciation for theological detail, I discovered the cautionary tale of the older brother embedded within the telling of The Prodigal Son. I observed that it was possible to wander away from the presence of God without actually leaving home — to do all that the father required without ever giving the father another thought. That you could simply follow the arch of your own ambition, seeking the same impermanent rewards your prodigal brother had been chasing after . . . just in a more socially acceptable way. But even then, the father would be patiently waiting for your return.

Now that I’m much older, I tend to grow impatient when I hear a preacher teaching on The Prodigal Son – I just want them to hurry up and get to the part where the father can see his son from afar off and goes running out to throw his arms around him, welcoming him home . . . because this is the whole point of the story. No matter the sin, of which each brother represents, the father’s love is always at the ready, patient and eager. It is a shamelessly pursuant love, finding its beloved wherever they are lost.

prodigalson“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. This is the Father’s love – self-emptying and sacrificially redemptive. This is why Jesus tells this parable – to remind us that the Father’s love is relentless . . . and will pay whatever cost.

All this scandalous love, poured out so unconstrained, knowing no shame, openly declaring itself for all the world to hear. Jesus enters the world as the ultimate expression of love — God with us, joining us in our struggle, saving us from the ravages of death. The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are events that can, no doubt, be appreciated as profoundly theological, in the same way that I ruminated over the role of each brother in the parable. But the real crescendo here is best experienced in realizing that this is the Father gathering you into his arms — so that you would know that you are loved . . . regardless of what the rest of your story might be.


. . . and with a love like that, all that’s left to do is get onboard.

The Modern Project

To listen to some folks talk about post-modernism, you’d think it was a cultural conspiracy somehow conceived in a vacuum outside of historical context. As if it were a political or religious heresy that just spontaneously sprung up out of the ground one day, baptizing everyone in the existential waters of relativism. Until involuntarily, we all began to deconstruct the modern paradigm, in a defiant denunciation of modernity. When in fact, the inextricable truth of the matter is, that post-modernism was always going to be the inevitable consummation of the modern project.

It is a prevailing modern myth to believe that everything can be explained, given enough time — and that such explanations will propel humanity forward into some, yet to be realized, self-evolved future. Therefore it only follows, that within such a mythology that the explanation of a thing would be elevated in significance above the it’s actual existence – convinced that the explanation is the real essence of it. So is it any wonder how this would produce the type of reckless nominalism we find embedded in the post-modern ethos? An ethos that pits competing explanations against one another, as if all we had to do now was pick the one that best suits our preferred presupposed expectations.

This is precisely what one would expect from a non-theistic framing of a material universe – a universe subdued by the rational consensus of human reason. But when I found this same paradigm at work within Christian theology attempting to explain the ineffable mysteries of God, by subtly promoting the idea that the explanation of God is concomitant with the reality of God, I was taken aback . . . and began to rethink how I approached my faith beliefs. This first occurred, for me, about 15 years ago . . .

This should not be taken, on my part, as an anti-intellectual dismissal of theology — as I have long had an appreciation for an honest and humble study of theology. My objection is to the modern academic mentality that often fosters an infatuation with God by proxy — that is to say, God as a scrutinized idea. As I take it to be an intellectualized breaking of the 2nd Commandment — the worship of the one true God . . . but only as he can be explained . . . as an idol of our own imagining.

modern-blue-background-with-neon-fingerprint_23-2148363163In the pre-modern framing of the Christian faith, the mystery of God is held as sacred — not as a puzzle to be solved. It is this sacred mystery that invites us to engage God in the vulnerability of our faith – and not in the vanity of our intellect. The communion of the saints, the body of Christ; the Kingdom of God, already in our midst, and yet to come; the indwelling Holy Spirit, conforming us to Christ’s image. These things are too wonderful – they are beyond me (Job 42:3), because “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” ~ Psalm 139:6.

So I find no comfort from what I think I know about God, as such cognition can only serve to affirm what I have already chosen to know about God. But there is a knowing of the ineffable and inscrutable God, who speaks universes into existence, that does interest me – it is the relational knowing of him, he is persistently inviting me to . . . that I might know his heart. It is found in the communion of the saints, and is present as I meditate on his word. It meets me as the sun rises, and as I whisper my prayers at night, falling asleep. And modernity has no instrument for measuring the beauty found in such intimacy.


. . . and it is this knowing intimacy that still animates my faith.

 

There Ought To Be A Law!

I was recently chatting it up with a self-described nihilist. But he didn’t really strike me as the type who had actually done any of the thoughtfully honest heavy lifting, usually associated with working through the philosophical implications of such a belief system. My take on him was that he was far more of the type, to maintain a meticulously coiffured beard for the woke crowd down at the local coffee shop, where he liked to pass himself off as the brooding intellectual who had bravely concluded that the meaninglessness of life was rationale enough for his hedonistic choices.

So in a dizzying display of cognitive dissonance, in the midst of our conversation, he was claiming to embrace a philosophy that thoroughly eviscerates moral significance, while simultaneously pounding the table with the certainty of moral sanctimony. No doubt, he imaged himself to be holding a uniquely nuanced opinion, when in fact, if you stripped his opinion of all of its self-possessed rhetoric, it was a rather pedestrian view, bent on self-justification.

When some people claim to believe in a “live and let live” world, it is very likely they are merely framing the argument for why they can’t be held morally accountable. But ironically, this doesn’t keep them from proclaiming “there ought to be a law!” in regards to the moral accountability they wish to impose on everyone else. The bottom line of such duplicity, is to denounce personally practiced religious morality as being too oppressive — while simultaneously promoting politically coerced limitations on behaviors they find unacceptable.

In Joshua 24:14-15, Joshua makes the case that it was ultimately up to the people to choose for themselves whom they would serve. They could live by the laws given to Moses and thereby serve God, or they could serve some other god and thereby live by whatever laws suited them. Joshua wasn’t saying that it doesn’t matter which path you take, rather, he was simply pointing out that we always choose the path of our heart’s desire, and what he and his household desired most — was God.  This is very different from the civil or statutory way we tend to think about law. Because to the modern mind, law is created out of a social/ cultural agreement we create in regards to behavior and obligation. So you don’t so much live by such a law, as you agree to comply with the prevailing culture’s expectations of how you should behave.

Law Concept Metal Letterpress Word in DrawerPsalm 1:1, 2 says “Blessed is the man . . . his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” – can you even imagine someone saying this about a civil or statutory law? A civil law is, more often than not, grudgingly complied with – this is because we don’t so much live by them, as we obey them. In contrast — what we meditate on, and take delight in, are the things that mean the most to us. So we willingly choose to live our lives in accordance with what we value most – those things that animate love and desire within us. And I think this is what the psalmist is talking about.

The gospels juxtapose for us the Pharisees, as the self-proclaimed keepers of the laws of Moses, with Jesus, as the self-described fulfillment of those laws (Matthew 5:17). Given such a context, it would be conspicuously reductive to interpret fulfillment here as meaning that Jesus was merely a perfect keeper of the law (better than the Pharisees). Rather, it would be better understood that Jesus fulfilled the law of God, as it was originally intended, as the psalmist describes it — restoring our ability to delight our heart’s in the presence of God . . . reconciling us to a relationship that had long been broken.

So let the nihilist, who can only imagine laws as having value, as a means of enforcing the contrived purposes of his imposed will — be the one obsessed with law keeping. Because for those of us who walk in the way of Christ — we know better. For it is the law of love that bids us come live our lives in God’s presence, that we might truly know His grace and mercy — so that we might do what pleases Him most. But not out of some empty obligation — No! Instead, we willingly choose to walk in a way that only love can inspire . . . so that we might freely choose to do, what only love can do.


Morality without God is just a book of wet matches