The Intimacy of Music

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”

An Explainable World (2 of 3)

It has long been the underlying mission of modernity to seek to unpack an explainable world that the rest of us can understand – attempting to incrementally demystify the unknown into manageable bits of information that we can leverage against the future with an unwavering hope that somehow science would be able to offer us a sufficient enough purpose to pursue that future . . . before we all lose heart. But post-modernism has already chosen to opt out, having already packed its bags, choosing to end this epistemological charade – having gone off in search of some self-affirming pronounced reality it is willing to embrace . . . one made in its own image.

This is the bipolar malaise our culture finds itself in – torn between the hard facts of empiricism and the cognitive dissonance of existential desire . . . ever tugging at the fabric of reality, ever hoping to smooth out the impossible wrinkles of its own discontent and fear. For there are few things that are quite as unsettling as an existence that can’t be explained. But because our questions about the meaning of our own existence seldom escapes the vague abstraction of our conscious minds – we are left to ask them within the subtext of all the things we do that give our lives any sense of purpose.

It is a secular confession to believe that life has meaning – even if they can’t quite put their finger on exactly why . . . making it a faith confession, of sorts. And it is the confession of my Christian faith to believe that life finds all of its meaning in God . . . even though we can’t explain exactly how it works. For only by faith am I willing to be humble enough to realize that explanations are almost always self-serving – tempting me to trust my own understanding of the world to guide my path.

And here’s the crux of the problem – we want an explainable world so we can place our faith in our own understanding. No doubt, this is why Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” – knowing full well that placing faith in our own understanding, is in fact, in direct competition with our faith in God. Which is likely why verse 6 completes the thought “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” – because humble submission is the way of Christ.

Here’s the thing — we crave the certainty that we imagine an explainable world would offer us . . . a world we can predict, if not control. But the certainty that God offers us is found in his immutable character, requiring us to pursue him above all else, that we might know him in his fullness (Ephesians 3:19) – a fullness that “surpasses knowledge”, a fullness that can only be experienced in the love of Christ. In the light of such love all other knowledge seems foolish, because all other explanations of the world become empty and lifeless, when compared to the love of God found in Christ.

. . . and remember — it’s a great big world.

An Explainable You (1 of 3)

Traveling at the speed of life, we don’t actually know what we think we know, it would be more accurate to say that we are in a constant state of interpretation – constantly reframing our point of reference, in subconscious ways, making micro adjustments. And because we exist within so many layers of context, each insisting upon preeminence – we invariably create a short-hand for triaging our response to each unfolding circumstance. This is all done intuitively, instinctively, pre-cognitively – we are far more complex beings than we could ever hope to completely comprehend . . . but that doesn’t keep us from wanting to imagine a far more explainable version of ourselves.

This is why we are tempted to over-simplify our understanding of reality, vainly anticipating it should conform to our expectations – desperate to reconcile the world we presuppose with the one that actually exists. And all this would merely be an academic distraction if it weren’t so profoundly primal to our self-perception. Yet we leave it in abstraction — allowing the transience of circumstance and the unfiltered narratives of others to contextualize us. For when we allow the explanation of who we are to become ambiguous – invariably, alternative explanations rush into that vacuum.

Now, all of this might seem a bit like a trip down a rabbit hole, until it occurs to you that our culture has already assigned to you a social demographic profile that it expects you to live up to – it’s a readymade explanation of who you’re supposed to be. Such a bloodless explanation is built entirely upon the cultural sub-groups of which you are a member. It’s a calculation meant to subvert any notion of who you are as an individual. Therefore, your only significance is as a constituent member of a group, and who you are as a person has been made largely inconsequential. And that’s just the ditch on one side of the road.

The ditch on the other side of the road is the specious belief that you can be whatever you want to be – that you can somehow simply pronounce your significance into existence. Such a self-affirming solipsism assumes an empty canvas without any preexisting context, and that all relational interactions you experience only have value as you are being served by them. Within this self-involved narrative of your own importance, you’re subconsciously tempted to imagine yourself as self–existing . . . even though only God can be self-existing.

These are the distorted explanations of you that a fallen world offers – either you are to be subjugated by the anonymity of tribal group-think, or you are to be beguiled by the self-delusion of believing that your significance in this world can be conjured up as an act of will. But there is a simpler explanation of you that normally takes a lifetime to unpack – you are the beloved of God! And if you can begin to wrap your head around this foundational reality – then not only will you begin to develop a truer perspective of yourself, you will also begin to recognize the role you play in the life of other’s . . . a role to which God is calling you. So not only is it a practical and workable explanation of you – it’s a fundamental explanation of everything else.

. . . so we place our faith in the one who is able to redeem all things.

A Quixotic Moment

It could be argued that the whole of human history has been a story of man doing what he thinks is right in his own eyes. Therefore there have always been competing visions for what justice should look like, giving rise to competing narratives of how justice is achieved. Each narrative voiced in the political rhetoric of its day, each offering its rationale for why it should be given power to impose its version of justice on the rest of us. So historically our experience of human justice has been characterized by subtle shades of violence and oppression – because invariably each narrative becomes fully realized as just another iteration of an imposed will, indicative of Babylon.

God’s justice is understood, first and foremost, ontologically before it can ever be understood sociologically. So one cannot have a meaningful conversation about what justice should look like until they have answered the question – what is it that gives human life value? Either it is a value assigned immutably sourced in the transcendence of God, or it is a value oscillating in the transience of cultural ethos. Therefore we do well as Christians to remember that it is our confession of imago dei that animates our Christian understanding of justice.

There are those who entertain narratives of justice that appear similarly motivated, but are in all actuality nothing more than repackaged political rhetoric, fueled by existentially pronounced morality. Such purveyors of manufactured justice imagine themselves as heroically rising to the challenge of some quixotic moment in history, where they can finally prove their worth . . . and justify their own existence. Some take to the streets, using violence if necessary, to prove their commitment – while others simply virtue signal their lockstep conformity to whatever the latest version of culturally coerced dogma might be.

So the contrast between the two couldn’t be any more evident. One view, believing that justice is a malleable human construct, one that must be regularly reinvented as a sociological mandate imposing conformity. Which is why it must intimidate all dissenting views into silent compliance – because the subtext of such a belief sees fear as the prime motivator of justice. But for those of us who hold imago dei as an ontological starting point for understanding the value of human life, the role of justice is intended to remind us of who we are — like gravity constantly reminding us of what planet we live on. Everything about God’s creation is purposeful, ever drawing us back to him, ever calling us to live our lives as bearers of his image.

So yes, as a Christian I have an unflinching commitment to what is just, but not as some grandiose proclamation about how others should live their lives – but rather as a meditation on what pleases God most (Micah 6:8). I seek to walk humbly with my God, by doing what is just, and by loving mercy. And I invite others to do likewise, so that they may live at peace with God . . . and one another. To imagine that justice could be sought any other way, is to misunderstand why you even exist . . . because justice can’t really be understood apart from the perspective of being made in God’s image.

Let us pray that God would illuminate the shadows . . .

A Thousand Stars Laughing

For those who have read C.S. Lewis’ classic: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — the temptation to touch the back wall of an old unfamiliar closet, like a flickering frame of subconscious hesitation, creates a moment’s pause of suspended disbelief. Meanwhile, quantum mechanics ardently entertains various theories of alternate and concomitant dimensions of existence, believing the fabric of reality vibrates like harmonic strings symphonically resonating the universe into being. So it would seem, whether fiction or physics, the notion that layers of reality somehow linger in unseen realms just beyond sight – seems to us, both unreal and hyper-real at the same time.

We have an intuition, likely buried somewhere in the back of that old closet, that knows that life is supposed to have a far greater bandwidth than how we’re currently experiencing it – as if we were merely floating above the deepest part of the ocean on a cloudy day . . . held motionless by the otherness of water, above and below. So in an over simplified frame of reference we tend to imagine that a dichotomy must exist between our normal experiences of life, and the fully formed, God spoken reality of creation . . . so invariably we end up pushing what goes unseen by us, into a vague abstraction.

Between the distortions of the gnostic and the nominalist, we’re given to a mercurial view of how flesh and bone is to be reconciled with ethereal spirit – feeling a resident dissonance, like the polarity of magnets repelling, keeping the two realms held apart. Undoubtedly, this is why we end up treating them as two separate worlds – an embodied world, practical and predictable; and a disembodied world where the mystery of all the grand themes are being played out undetected. But what would it be like to have a more integrated perspective?

In this way, faith becomes the garment we must don when stepping from the mundane into mystery, because it allows us to see the fully dimensional world of God’s creation . . . where all things are working together. For all things exist in God, so all things were intended to declare his glory — which is why all things are ultimately reconciled in him . . . removing the veil hiding his glory (2 Corinthians 3:16-18). So for those who have turned to God in faith, they have been set free to see his glory in all things. Therefore it is the splendor of God’s glory that animates our holy imagination, enabling us to see his hand at work in everything . . . even in the smallest of details.

So with his praise on our lips, we join in on the song that the entire universe is already vibrating with — on every dimension. It’s in the pirouette of leaves falling on an autumn wind. It traces along the lines of his signature woven into the detail of a blade of grass. It’s found in the squinting sunlight, dancing in the tops of trees swaying gracefully on a spring morning. And on a clear cold night, you can feel the star-flung sky pulling you up into heaven where a thousand stars are laughing with the joy of the Lord, delighting in his presences . . . inviting you to join them.

. . . and it’s all there — just past sight

Between “It Is” and “I Am” (6 of 6)

“Yes, very nice – but what does it mean?” This is the question the artist hears most often, in regards to their work — asked in a matter-of-fact way, as if getting to the bottom line were the whole point of creating art. Needless to say, it’s an awkward question for the artist to answer. Because if it were a question that could easily be answered – then what would be the point of creating the art? Is art supposed to be nothing more than a clever way of making obvious statements? If that’s it – then why bother? This is the problem with trying to explain the transcendent – every explanation of it reduces it . . . robbing it of the very quality that makes it transcendent.

It has long been the ambition of the modern era to search out an explainable answer for everything that exists, predicated on the assumption that whatever “it is” – it can be explained. It’s the belief that comprehension is merely a matter of a thorough examination of all of the working parts; all of the cause and effect dynamics; and all of the variant outcomes – because within the materialist framing of the universe nothing happens without a discernable explanation. All of this creates the illusion that our own understanding of things will lead us to a better outcome – as if all our choices were a simple matter of sifting through all the data for the best possible answer.

So now, imagine yourself as Moses standing barefoot talking to a flaming bush that never burns up, and out of that bush came the voice of God telling you to go back to Egypt, where you’re a fugitive, wanted for murder — so that you can tell the Pharaoh he’s got to set all of his Hebrew slaves free. Now, what part of this sounds to you even remotely explainable – other than as hallucination? Is it any wonder Moses had to take off his shoes? Clearly, he was no longer where he thought he was – he was in the presence of the transcendent . . . and now, his entire frame of reference has been shifted . . . never to be explained in the same way again.

I’m inclined to take this story of Moses (Exodus 3) as a template for how we encounter the transcendence of God. Because in a universe where we imagine ourselves the ultimate arbiters of “what is”, assuming that we have a sufficient understanding of existence – God declares himself “I AM”. . . and exposes just how inadequate our perception can be. For God is the only reality, because all things exist in him – therefore there isn’t an alternate reality of which we get to be the self-appointed curators . . . so there can be no claims of “it is” until we’ve reckoned with “I AM”.

In John 8:58 “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” In response the crowd begins to pick up stones, reacting to such blatant blasphemy – because by claiming such a thing, Jesus was clearly revealing himself as God . . . a transcendent epiphany, setting the captive free. For the true nature of who I am, as the beloved of Christ, is no longer confined by the shallow dimension of “it is”, rather I am released into the vast expanse of God’s endless love that constitutes the “I AM” of Jesus.

So perhaps, we need to learn to walk barefoot through this life we’re given . . .

Between Guilt and Shame (5 of 6)

Whether it’s that queasy unsettled sense of fear that resides in your subconscious mind that you might somehow be discovered as incapable of being the person, that everyone you know expects you to be, or it’s just in the general way that our culture is able to insinuate judgement of us whenever we lack acceptable levels of compliance to social norms – guilt and shame are busily at work, like emotional gremlins whispering the half-truths of our conflicted minds. This of course makes true vulnerability nearly impossible – because apparently we never know when guilt might show up like a crowbar and start prying open that box of shame we keep hidden away.

To the mind’s eye, there’s not even a flicker of daylight between guilt and shame – conceptually, we can’t help but imagine them as inseparably intertwined. But we do well, to consider them separately if we want to understand them better. Guilt is largely a moral/legal framing of behavior – all the things we do, consider doing, or leave undone, each action screened for malady and defect, each one scrutinized and held to account. But shame is far more complex – more than reductive forensics could ever hope to identify or sort out.

Our default impulse is to believe that it is our guilt that makes us feel shame, when in truth it is invariably our shame causing guilty behavior. Shame is native to the human psyche – it is the lingering taste in our mouth from eating of the bitter fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And now we can’t simply un-know our own shame – it resides in us, ever reminding us of the nakedness of our vulnerability . . . a knowing of ourselves set apart from God. In this way, every guilty thought points us back to our shame — the shame that’s innate to the distance we feel between us and God.

You know full well the naked truth of who you actually are, beneath the camouflage of your pretense and postured self-presentation . . . and you know God does too. And it is from this locked away truth deep within you where your shame allows guilt to constantly hold court with every expectation of finding a guilty verdict. And this is precisely how your shame becomes weaponized against you. We find it at the epicenter of every co-dependent relationship, and it is also infused into the manipulative language of religious, political, and consumerist communication . . . for this is how they prey on our ultimate weakness.

But guilt no longer has power over us when our shame has been freely and humbly confessed – because this is the nakedness of innocence (Genesis 2:25). We stand before God, not with the feeble garments of our own vain explanations, stitched together with the lies we tell ourselves – rather, we stand naked an unashamed in the mercies of God . . . where a robe and a ring await our arrival (Luke 15:22), and we celebrate being clothed in salvation within the robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

A long journey of faith is a testimony to the faithfulness of God.
This is a song I wrote many years ago, and recently recorded at my daughter’s house.