27 June 2012

Being There...

Let no thought come to my heart,
Let no ruffle come to my spirit,
  that is hurtful to my poor body this night,
  nor ill for my soul at the hour of my death-

but may You Yourself, O God of life,
be at my breast, be at my back,
You to me as a star, You to me a guide,
from my life's beginning to my life's closing.
  • A Celtic prayer (partial)

15 March 2012

Thoughts on Low Light

I have read and contemplated much about the reason for Lent: I think Donne's poem puts it most succinctly. There are periods where we must strip off the wallpaper which garnishes our lives and get down to some serious internal housecleaning. In this poem (which is only partial), Donne reflects on the loss of his land and the gain he anticipates from departing all that ties him--and on what he anticipates to gain by going out of sight.

A Hymne to Christ, at the Authors last going into Germany (partial)

I sacrifice this land unto thee,
And all whom I loved there, and who loved me;
When I have put our seas twixt them and me,
Put thou thy sea betwixt my sins and thee.
As the trees sap doth seek the root below
In winter, in my winter now I go,
Where none but thee, the Eternal root
Of true Love I may know.

Seale then this bill of my Divorce to All,
On whom those fainter beams of love did fall;
Marry those loves, which in youth scattered be
On Fame, Wit, Hopes (false mistresses) to Thee.

Churches are best for Prayer, that have least light:
to see God only, I go out of sight:
And to escape stormy days,
I choose An Everlasting night.

from A Hymne to Christ, at the Authors last going into Germany (partial) by John Donne

27 February 2012

Barren Clay by Michelangelo

My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
OF good and pious works thou art the seed,
That quickens only where thou sayest it may:
Unless though show to use thine own true way
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti (yes, he wrote poetry, too)
    (translated by William Wordsworth)

23 February 2012

More Things Are Wrought By Prayer

There are those scoffers and diminishers of prayer. A scoffer would say it doesn't work, and a diminisher tells you, "all I can do is pray" (betraying a very wrong view of prayer!).  Good true prayer "works"-- the scoffers have no studies to tell them that it does - or does not (which is what they claim they want); diminishers don't seem to realize that prayer is 1) the best and first thing to do for the person 2) gives light/guidance for action.
Lacking prayer, what are we doing but "nourishing a blind life within the brain..."?

"More Things Are Wrought By Prayer"

More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.
Wherefore let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
Both for themselves and those who call them friend.
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
—by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

22 February 2012

His Hands, His Heart

We speak much about the hands of Jesus Christ at the time of his crucifixion, but I would also like to think about His Hands as we begin the Lenten season. The hands of God are sacrificial loving hands because He is both sacrificial and loving towards us. The poem below uses a phrase taken from Psalm 31, verse 15. If you read the psalm, you might recognize how many times it is quoted in the gospels.

My Times Are In Thy Hand

“My times are in thy hand”;
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul, I leave
Entirely to thy care.

“My times are in thy hand”;
Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

“My times are in thy hand,”
Jesus, the crucified!
The hand my cruel sins had pierced
Is now my guard and guide.

“My times are in thy hand”;
I’ll always trust in thee;
And, after death, at thy right hand
I shall forever be.
  • by William F. Lloyd
Psalm 31 (complete)
In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.
Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.
For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me.
Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.
Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.
I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;
And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.
For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.
I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.
I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.
But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.
My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.
Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake.
Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.
Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!
Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.
For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.
O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

21 February 2012

Leaping Forward By Going Backwards

I was reading an article that said we are in the midst of a sea change (hmmm…that’s been our continual state, hasn’t it?). The article suggested that that our current woes stem in the West stem from three causes: the “disestablishment” of legal authority in the 18th century, the subsequent disestablishment of civic authority in the 19th century, followed by the disestablishment of cultural authority in the 20th century. While this presents an interesting socio-political framework for thinking about systems, cultures and mores, it’s a sociological perspective, a filter. Perspectives are ways to look at things, but that’s it.
The cause of our woes is that from our origins, we’ve had sin problem at the root. We are off-track when we begin to think we can effectively treat our socio-political problems simply because we’ve identified them: identifying them is good but don’t confuse that with the rectifying the problem. Too we often we simply treat our toothache but not our rotten tooth so the pain always returns and never leaves us. I do believe while we can make progress (or change), but we mustn’t forget that we cannot fix the big root problem: our teeth are slowly rotting. Still, I agree with CS Lewis that progress can be accomplished, yet only if we start at the right end. Lewis stated that any progress required a stable core, and for that we need the Permanent–for the permanent is the root from which change takes place. Lewis asserted that with the changing demands of culture on morality and ethics, it is only an unchanging system of thoughts and values that can accommodate the continual increase in knowledge:
“A great Christian statesman [politician],considering the morality of a measure which will affect millions of lives, and which involves economic, geographical and political considerations of the utmost complexity, is in a different position from a boy first learning that one must not cheat or tell lies, or hurt innocent people.
But only in so far as that first knowledge of the great moral platitudes survives unimpaired in the statesman will his deliberation be moral at all.
[But] if that goes, then there has been no progress, but only mere change.
…change is not progress unless the core remains unchanged. A small oak grows into a big oak: if it become a beech [tree] that would not be growth, but mere change.”
It’s not possible to make effective change unless we know what to change—and we cannot know that until we understand what is intrinsically critical, necessary, and permanent to our existence prior enacting a change.
More simply put, without goal you can’t know where you should go; without a budget, you don’t know how much you can spend before going broke.
Just imagine the vagaries of the weather from one week to the next, or one year to the next—its affect on crops, roads, and even your attitude. But then, imagine that you awaken one day and to find that all that is critically necessary to life, (the permanent), let’s say, the sun and the moon, are obliterated. At this moment the day’s weather would be your least concern—you’d find yourself in a science-fiction horror film!
“…there is a great difference between counting apples and arriving at the mathematical formulae of modern physics. But the multiplication table is used in both and does not grow out of date.” Lewis elaborated:
“The possibility of progress demands that there should be an unchanging element. New bottles for new wine, by all means, but not new palates, throats and stomachs, for that would not be for us, ‘’wine” at all. …we find this sort of unchanging element in the simple rules of mathematics. I would add to these the primary principles of morality. And I would also add the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
To put it in more technical language, the positive historical statements made by Christianity have the power, elsewhere found chiefly in formal principles, of receiving without intrinsic change, the increasing complexity of meaning which increasing knowledge puts into them.”
The truth and the necessity about Christ’s coming, the truth and necessity of His sacrifice, our redemption, and His transformative work in his disciples in so many people throughout millennia and cultures supports Lewis’ assertion in practice.
And, no, the world hasn’t progressed by accident, evolution, or government. When it has “progressed,” it has been because of the long, mostly laborious efforts of people who’ve grasped the big, permanent truths. Love chains us and binds us to seek improvement for our families and for others. GK Chesterton asserted: “Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”
I have found no more biblical, no more permanent Christian “system” than the Creed. The Creed is only so because it is a comprehensive succinct expression of biblical truth of God, His work past, present and future, both in the world and in me. Stamped throughout out the Creed are expressions not simply of historical fact or theological assertions, but of supernatural and sacrificial love. It is out of the “permanent and fundamental principles” of faith that our lives can grow and bend as the seasons, times, cultures and environments. I can grow and change without losing my original God-ordained purpose, placement and end.
If you’re not familiar with a Christian creed, such as the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, here it is. And for readers unfamiliar with the biblical handprints all over the creed, I have placed some recommended scriptures after it. (The Apostles Creed is shorter, than the Nicene Creed).

Nicene Creed::
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Deuteronomy 6:4, II Peter 1:17, Matthew 6:9 Job 4:17, 35:10, Isaiah 17:7, 54:5, Genesis1:1 Psalms 104:5, Jeremiah 51:15, Psalms 89:11-12, Amos 4:13, Revelation 3:5, Colossians 1:16, Ephesians 4:5,Romans 1:7, 5:1, I Corinthians 1:2, 6:11, II Corinthians. 1:2, 8:9, Galatians1:3, 6:14, Ephesians 1:2, 3:11, Philippians 1:2, 3:20, Colossians 1:3, 2:6, I Thessalonians 1:1, 5:9, II Thessalonians 1:1, 2:14, I Timothy 6:3, 14, I Timothy 1:2, Philemon 1:3, 25, Hebrews 13:20, James 1:1, 2:1, I Peter 1:3,3:15, II Peter 1:8, 14, Jude 17, 21, Revelation 22:20-21, John 1:18, Matthew3:17, John 3:16, Hebrews 1:5, John 1:1, Colossians 1:17, 1 John 1:1, Hebrews1:5, Micah 5:2, John 1:18, 17:5, John 10:30, John 14:9, I Corinthians 8:6,Colossians 1:16, Matthew 20:28, John 10:10 b, Matthew 1:21, Luke 19:10, Romans10:6, Ephesians 4:10, Colossians 2:9, Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:34-35, John 1:14,Matthew 20:19, John 19:18, Romans 5:6, 8, II Corinthians 13:4, Romans 5:8, I Corinthians. 5:15, Matthew 27:2, 26, I Timothy 6:13, I Peter 2:21, Hebrews 2:10, Mark 15:46, I Corinthians 15:4, Matthew 27:63, Matthew 28:1, I Corinthians 15:4, Mark 16:6,II Timothy 2:8, Psalms 16:10, Luke 24:25-27, I Corinthians 15:4, Luke 24:51,Acts 1:9, Mark 16:19, Acts 1:11, Psalms110:1, Ephesians 1: 20, Matthew 26:64, Hebrews 1:3, John 14:3, I Thessalonians4:16, Matthew 16:27, 24:30, 25:31, 26:64, Mark 8:38, Colossians 3:4, Matthew25:3146,Acts 10:42, 1 Peter 4:5, John 18:36, II Timothy 4:1, 18, Luke 1:33,Revelation 11:15, Psalms 145:13, Matthew 28:19, Acts 13:2, II Corinthians 3:17,John 6:63, Romans 7:6, 8:2, II Corinthians 3:6, John 14:16-17, John 15:26,Romans 8:9, Galatians 4:6, Luke 4:8, John 4:24, John 4:24, I Timothy 1:17, I Peter 1:10-11, II Peter 1:21, I Corinthians10:16-17, 12:12-13, Ephesians 3:16-17, 5:27, I Peter 2:9, I Corinthians 1:2,Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14, Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:24, Hebrews12:23, I Peter 2:9, John 3:5, Romans 6:3, Ephesians 4:5, I Peter 3:21, Titus3:5, I Thessalonians 4:16, I Corinthians 15:12-13, 16, 52 and I Corinthians15:54-57, and Revelation 22:5

14 February 2012

The Relentless Pursuing God

You might be down in the mouth, bummed, empty, or simply lonely.  In that case, you likely haven't got a sense that God's got a care about you. Yet God is, and always has been passionate about you. Everything, your entire world, whether it is what you wish it to be or not, is designed to get your attention on Him...in particular His love for you:

After Parting
Oh I have sown my love so wide
That he will find it everywhere;
It will awake him in the night,
It will enfold him in the air.
I set my shadow in his sight
And I have winged it with desire,
That it may be a cloud by day
And in the night a shaft of fire.
  • by Sara Teasdale
And, from the Bible:
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength...

from Isaiah 40, partial, ESV

09 February 2012

His Power & Love, My Love & Trust=One Place Everywhere

The Temper

How should I praise thee, Lord! how should my rhymes
Gladly engrave thy love in steel,
If what my soul doth feel sometimes,
My soul might ever feel!

Although there were some forty heavens, or more,
Sometimes I peer above them all;
Sometimes I hardly reach a score,
Sometimes to hell I fall.

O rack me not to such a vast extent;
Those distances belong to thee:
The world’s too little for thy tent,
A grave too big for me.

Wilt thou meet arms with man, that thou dost stretch
A crumb of dust from heav’n to hell?
Will great God measure with a wretch?
Shall he thy stature spell?
O let me, when thy roof my soul hath hid,
O let me roost and nestle there:
Then of a sinner thou art rid,
And I, of hope and fear.

Yet take thy way; for sure thy way is best:
Stretch or contract me, thy poor debtor:
This is but tuning of my breast,
To make the music better.

Whether I fly with angels, fall with dust,
Thy hands made both, and I am there:
Thy power and love, my love and trust
Make one place ev’ry where.
  • by George Herbert

07 February 2012


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
- by Emily Dickinson

05 February 2012

It's Good To Be Preoccupied... About...

In this Herman cartoon by Jim Unger, there are two men on a desert island, they have been marooned for a long time. The man sitting under the lone palm tree is fretting, and says to the other man, "In two days I'll owe $3,000 on a library book I haven't even read!"
There's an old New Yorker cartoon where a woman and a man and their child are walking down the street. The woman is holding the hand of a child who has a saucepan (a cook pot) upside down on his head. Passerbys are staring back at the child, gawking. The woman has a scowl on her face as she says to her husband, and is obviously disgusted,"I know what they're thinking! They're thinking, 'What an old, banged up saucepan that is!'"
Both of these cartoons have a common theme--preoccupation with the wrong problem. Maybe your lifestyle isn't quite what you envision for yourself, so you chafe about that. Your so-called career never took off, and you stew. Or,you are "just a mom" and not using your college education--or never got an education--you're merely loving your children well. Or, you met and married the person who was to be the love of your life but the companionship is like, well, a bad prosthetic leg (good ones are great, I am told). Or you sleep on the floor on a mattress in a little room with people you hardly know because you're in another country--far from your home, far from the people you love. Or, you're in the military, and think about getting out, hoping for a better tomorrow--but wish that were TODAY. Or, maybe you had planned well but lost everything in the stock market, or in gambling, or perhaps your 401K is now a 201K.
Perhaps you live in a house which is either a fixer-upper but you're not a fixer-upper, so you feel helpless. Or you're are the owner of a house which can now be sold for half of what you bought it for 6 years ago.
Maybe you're going to lose your house--the house you raised your children in, and the house which holds such memories-good and bad. But it's the house you thought you'd live in for the rest of your life.
Maybe it's really bad--you just moved to a new city and don't know anyone, don't have a job, and are unsure of how long you can stay where you're staying tonight.
You're anxious about the future. You're a bit like the bird in this picture:
Many of these are justified concerns yet some of them are in the light of eternity, things that will pass. Our daily occupation is to work for a better tomorrow, to hold ourselves accountable to our Maker, but we're not to be preoccupied, to be worried all the time,  with the wrong things.
I will answer the unasked question which is begging for an answer: What should I be preoccupied with-or-what is justifiable preoccupation?
I think the answer we need to ask ourselves is always the same and is a variation of this: Am I drawing closer to God every day (today)? That, I think, was what Jesus was endeavoring to paint a picture of in Matthew 6 as well as many other places: Jesus says:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly
Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
"So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles
seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

04 February 2012

A Time For Love - Above and Below Me

"....when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine." - Ezekiel 16:8

"He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love." - Song of Solomon 2:4

After Communion

Why should I call Thee Lord, Who art my God?
  Why should I call Thee Friend, Who are my Love?
  Or King, Who art my very Spouse above?
Or call Thy sceptre on my heart Thy rod?
  Lo now Thy banner over me is love,
All heaven flies open to me at Thy nod:
For Thou hast lit Thy flame in me a clod,
  Made me a nest for dwelling of Thy Dove.
  What wilt Thou call me in our home above,
Who now hast called me friend? how will it be
   When Thou for good wine settest forth the best?
Now Thou dost bid me come and sup with Thee,
  Now Thou dost make me lean upon Thy breast:
How will it be with me in time of love?
- by Christina Rossetti

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom  and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” John 2:1-10

31 January 2012

Real Reality – Doubts, Posers and Agnosticism

“…a man may be haunted with doubts, and only grow thereby in faith. Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest.
(Doubts) are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet but have to be understood…Doubt must precede every deeper assurance; for uncertainties are what we see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed.”
– George MacDonald
There are religious believers who remind me of some a kind of “poser” for an advanced rock climbers but who are “top-roping” — trusting the ropes and their pals to make sure he’s hauled to the top in case of a slip up.  He’s cockily assured he’s always tethered, for him, checking his toe holds are of little importance.  In contrast, true “advanced” climbers are the ones who check, but climb, and climb higher.  And sometimes choose the wrong toe holds: There will be periods of hardship and crushing difficulties and sometimes the greatest saint will doubt.  After all, he is a human.  Ironically, doubt wears the disguise of piety in times of great personal success.
There is a great group below–the agnostics –who stand on the ground looking up at the climb. Perhaps they’d been tethered and top-roped for a while, but they’re just earthbound now. These doubters are the “Thomases.” (John 20:24-29) One would wish them all to be honest men, who ask only to put their fingers into His scarred hands, and thrust their hands into His sides.  Sometimes they seek a faith if only to quiet the gong of small gods and the clang of the corruptible, unresurrected creation.  Granted, a “Thomas” hasn’t yet figured it out and maybe he’s still seeking.  As long as he has the will (or is it the courage?) to admit that he has been unable to find anything durable but is still actively searching, he deserves and will receive an answer.  “Cookie-cutter” statements and pat answers don’t solve the doubter’s dilemma.  They are better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.  Whether an earthbound Thomas or an advanced climber, we all have our own tree to cut down:
In winter in the woods alone
Against the trees I go.
I mark a maple for my own
And lay the maple low.

At four o’clock I shoulder ax,
And in the afterglow
I link a line of shadowy tracks
Across the tinted snow.
I see for Nature no defeat
In one tree’s overthrow
Or for myself in my retreat
For yet another blow

In Winter In The Woods – by Robert Frost

30 January 2012

Attitude Sickness

It’s been said that ideas have consequences—I would add that attitudes do, too. One of my great uncles was a Communist as a young man. I suppose, the theory sounded paper-good. Family lore has it that when he was sent overseas, he changed his mind about the Communism’s positive contribution–and changed his attitude towards it.
  Little is more unsettling than a disengaged, disinterested atheist: the ones with a “Whatever…” attitude. It’s unsettling because it’s a dead attitude: there’s no freshness, no curiosity, no vibrancy.  A few days ago, my husband was leaving the office and met someone for the first time.  This employee was departing at the same time to go on a jog. It turned out that he was the final person to talk to the employee alive– she was struck and killed in the evening traffic.  I do not know the spiritual state of the employee.  I only know the death was unexpected and sudden—but that is our continual status as humans.
   A person’s beliefs about the world is a conglomeration of who he is and who he has become-never an accurate reflection of the world. If his belief about God is that He is not there and does not care, I have to wonder who taught him this. God will never will trifle with your affections—that is, He takes your feelings seriously—probably more seriously than you do. And He, of all, is faithful to you.
   Some atheists have told me, “I can’t pray so I don’t.” and “I don’t know what to believe about God.” If you want love, then you must pray. All you need is to be willing to try—God coaches you through it all. And you can’t pray wrongly— not when you pray with your entire heart.
“That prayer has great power which a person makes with all his might…
It draws down the great God into the little heart;
it drives the hungry soul up into the fullness of God;
it brings together two lovers, God and the soul, in a wondrous place
where they speak much of love.” (Mechthild of Magheburg)
  As for “what to believe about God” problem, I suggest you ask yourself what Christ says about Him and what is important to Him—and look in the Bible for that information. God will provide the rest—but don’t expect a PhD in God-o-logy, for spiritual growth can (and should) go on your entire life—however long that is. The only hard question is: are you willing?

24 January 2012

Christian Women Are Aborting Their Daughter's...

Many Roman Catholic and Christian woman are guilty of abortion. That’s right. Abortion.
They have been aborting some of the brightest intellects and some of the greatest artists, writers, musicians, some of the finest teachers, preachers and pray-ers.  On the other hand, Christian women are excellent consumers.  I have found the best handwringers in Christian circles.  We're great accusers, get high scores in "circling the wagons" when necessary.  But I have been sickened by what I call the princess-syndrome: this is where we guard young girls from exercising their minds in difficult situations (do we expect their prince to spring to their side?).  Still, there are times we encourage their intellectual growth--but only to a point--once they're grown they seem to have no more need for their brain: just exchange recipes, sweet deals, and travel/mission experiences. Singing and playing piano or organ is a thumbs-up.

Serious theology, preaching, and serious talk is frowned upon; if you are serious about prayer and "deeper work within" -- well, those are akin to "extra credit" and not a norm for every able-minded Christian. The most common excuse is our lack of time--then spend 2 hours watching a feel-good movie that makes us feel-good about our own mediocrity. We do have the time-we're just copping out. Hard words? Perhaps. True words? Yes, I am certain that the only thing we are to be baby-like in is in regard to evil (doing evil).
I will admit I was in denial about the Barbie-like attitude towards life Christian women were encouraged to live in. But once the fog cleared from my brain, I stopped attending women's conferences and buying women's books at Christian book stores. Dumbing down a book or sermon might have broad appeal, but is it necessary? Doubly insulting is that both the writing and the content are dumbed down.
Some of you don't believe me: well, here is a sample of something for “Christian women:”
"One of my favorite foods on earth is fresh, hot, homemade apple muffins. I make them occasionally when I have time and enjoy one with a fresh brewed pot of coffee. I take the muffin, the coffee, and the newspaper, and sit on my patio (sometimes with the neighborhood cats) relishing the beginning of a new day. All my senses are pleased. Complete satisfaction. " - Luci Swindoll,
I Married Adventure
If this were merely the beginning of a great book I wouldn't include it, but it's not. I would never recommend it for a Christian--or nonChristian, it's like a chat with a nice, but slightly shallow friend (I am sure Ms Swindoll's a lovely person). But my point remains: we do harm to ourselves by publishing, buying and recommending books. What's the harm? Christian books of this type don't sharpen my mind, they flatten it. I still have a spirit of inquiry, I desire discussion and exchange with the author. Our interests ought to be piqued not squelched nor distracted.
How does this connect with practical theology? Many Christian women go through the motions of missions, social justice, and fellowship. But, is it missing something: that is, do we do it with
understanding? Have we read, reflected, and grasped our piece in the global setting, historical landscape of time, and the Spiritual Body of Christ?
Or, do we roll along, struggling, to be nice, hoping to please our neighbor most of the time now, and God in the end when our "good works" balance out our bad? If so, we don't understand what it is to be a Christian.
I believe in, but also like the weightiness and succinctness of The Apostles Creed--and it ends this way: "I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. In our life the Holy Spirit at work now, and our life is in His Kingdom here and now; the church is universal--and let me skip to the point--what do you think you will be doing in your resurrected body? Eating fresh, hot muffins on your front porch?
Our Christian calling is for progress: for ourselves, each other and the world: Christ's redemption in this world does not end in me: no, it begins. And each thing I do (or chose not to do), hidden or open, in private or in public, here and now, counts in eternity. Jesus said, "Go make disciples...," not mere converts.  Be a disciple, let's do more--and demand more--from our Christian authors, screen writers and artists of all sorts.
On The Image of God:
"Those things which are said of God and other things are predicated neither univocally nor equivocally, but analogically... Accordingly, since we arrive at the knowledge of God from other things, the reality of the names predicated of God and other things is first in God according to His mode, but the meaning of the name is in Him afterwards. Wherefore He is said to be named from His effects."
- Thomas Aquinas,
Summa contra Gentiles

19 January 2012

Poor, Ugly, Stupid People Might Be Happier Than You

Poor, Ugly, Stupid People Might Be Happier Than You

Some drums need to be beaten over and over: gratefulness or thankfulness is one of those.
Regret-driven, or envious people are never truly satisfied nor happy; but grateful people are. 
You’ve probably heard people say, “We were poor when I was a child but I was happy” as if it’s a paradox.
But it’s not a contradiction: One of the things we can remember to learn from children is that they take and give love (eagerly) where they find it—and material things mean little to them.  Shakespeare recognized the misery of ignoring your own “wealth” when comparing yourself to others in this sonnet. I have placed a paraphrase below it.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

       By William Shakespeare

Sonnet 29  (by William Shakespeare, paraphrased)
When left alone by both fortune and people’s favor
Then, Lonely Me gets depressed and cries—

And ask God, “Why not me?” or “Why!?”
as I look at myself, at my condition and at my luck.
I wish to be like those with a bright and certain future--
Or ravishing good looks, or with all those great friends.

I’m envious of other’s abilities, and jealous of their lifestyle.
Yet what I truly love in my life, I am most oblivious of.
When I’m in this spot, I hate myself.

But if by chance, I think of you, then my heart
is like a lark rising up at dawn’s daylight
from darkest earth, singing hymns at heaven’s gate;
For your sweet love, remembered such, wealth brings—
And then I wouldn’t change my life with kings.
(for another paraphrase you may view it at: http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/29.html

12 January 2012

What To Do With Power in An Open Universe

"The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers." - GK Chesterton
Any number of beliefs on destiny, including materialism, are by nature centripetal in this respect: that they move towards a collapsing center. Buddhism, all will be extinguished; Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism, for all the gods, has a great destiny in the extinguishment of nirvana, a blowing out. Atheism and agnosticism is materialism dressed in fine words: the endpoint of these is the grave.
Christianity moves centrifugally; outwards, expanding and extending. It's not God's way to extinguish His good works: He will to bring them to blossom--eventually--in a great symphony of blooms.   At the center of Christianity is the Son of Man and the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is the Fixed Point for all. And though God is limitless, yet He became a Son, demonstrating that He can do two opposite things at once: He can give men power to love Him without forcing Him to love Him. This becomes our starting point (and the engine, if you will) of loving all good things He has created.
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." - John 1:12-13
It is only the strong who can give the power to the weaker. In this circumstance, that of being a Christian, God shifted the responsibility for power to us (He has that authority).   At this moment, this evening, night, this afternoon: though all-powerful and all-knowing, He stooped (figuratively) to give us the dignity of apparent causality in "real time." and He said, "No, it is your choice. If you wish to be my child, I want you to desire it." (Little do we realize that desire to love becomes our greatest human asset.)
I like to freely interpret the verse, "Those who received him, He rushed over and crushed them to Him in the embrace of a loving parent; not because of who they were, or what they had done for him, but because He had been longing for this moment."
And once you're His, the world, the universe starts to open up: you're imbued with a special sense for beauty, your sensitivities are heightened, your desire is finely tuned in to detect wonders, large and small. You begin to see the great plain of the world as waiting to be reworked--reworked to reflect His goodness, justice, mercy, and beauty.
"...whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him." (JB Phillips New Testament of Romans 8:18-25)

09 January 2012

Working For Change

I’ve been married for 35 years. When I was about 7 years into my marital life I read a helpful bit of advice which caused me to turn things around and to work more on myself. Dale Carnegie wrote that a woman wrote him “For years I have been wishing I had a new husband, then one day I realized perhaps he needed a new wife.”
When it comes to any kind of attitude change, it needs to happen in the will–and that is a hard place for most of us to go.
“Everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy Change is not optional: it is necessary for the preservation of ourselves, or loved ones, our descendents. We cannot fall asleep at the switch, for there are no guarantees in the history of mankind–except without vigilance and work, we’re certain to end up in a society which is uncivil, immoral, corrupt and chaotic. None of us can “opt out” of our roles. When we were born, we were born into being members of a society: there is no absentee life, we are continually making things better or worse.
“…in sociologically and psychologically oriented age (we) have all kinds of explanations for the moral problems of man. But according to the Bible, it is not moral declension that causes doctrinal declension; it is just the opposite.” – Francis Schaeffer

07 January 2012

An Alchemy Beyond A Recipe

Images, fragrances, flavors–they all have the power to attract or to repulse. The picture here is an original piece of stitched artwork done by a Catskill artist who was doing a theme on doors–I often imagine prayer as a kind of doorway. PR men used to wrangle with the difficulties of television because it could not be Smell-O-Vision: that is, they couldn’t bring the fragrances of meals into our homes.
An old friend of mine was a successful professional photographer in New York City. She told me a trade secret. She could not photograph real food and make it look tasty. To capture the savoriness of the real food, she had to employ props (fake food). I was surprised that anything as appetizing as a gourmet meal or garden-fresh produce had to be faked.  But the failure was not in the food, but transmission of its essence by camera.  After I learned this fact, one day I was sitting in the mental misty flats of wondering what was wrong with me for getting bored when people would talk about prayer.  I realized that I was trying to draw a straight line between praying and garbled discussions of prayer. In doing so, my mistake to link my boredom of the discussion of prayer to me praying and the natural result: guilt. I reclaimed my life by realizing prayer wasn’t boring–but discussing it was.
Since then, I carry no guilt about being bored in conversations or sermons on prayer: I have drawn a clear line between description and experience. (Instruction on prayer is necessary, but that’s a different topic, altogether.)  That the stellar effects of praying are not easily transmitted doesn’t spoil my joy of prayer. The effects, the fragrance-memories, can linger in the heart for decades as a kind of retro fixed point. I’d like to believe that God gives us personal memories of prayer to sustain and re-attract us.  I am sure one of God’s chief desires for me is to learn that He loves me in excess of my love for anyone or anything else. Paul says as much in his prayer for the Ephesians:
“to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.” (Ephesians 3). Notice Paul doesn’t write about prayer, nor merely say, “You should love God.” He prays for them to comprehend God’s love, at least as much as (I am sure) he himself had experienced God's love.
Images can give us a more concrete understanding of what I am trying to say about prayer.  For this, I like how George Herbert’s poem captures a kind of slideshow in words about the effects of prayer. (Charity Johnson)
Prayer (1)
Prayer the Church’s banquet, angel’s age,
  God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
  The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower,
  Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
  The six days world-transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
  Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
  Heaven in ordinary, man well-drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
  Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
  The land of spices; something understood.
by George Herbert

05 January 2012

Learning How To Get Thrown

"EPIC FAIL!" "Loser!"
Passed over. Bounced. Tossed out on your ear.
It happens to all of us. Often it's a self-inflicted failure. What do you do then?
Quit? Pack up your toys and leave? Leave in a huff?
Leave in a taxi?
Beat yourself up?
Sometimes I am just not ready for some things, other times I have been unprepared, and then sometimes I just need to make a course adjustment.
More often though, I have to go back and do it again--and succeed. The only problem with that plan is that (for good reasons) I am adverse to failure, to hurt and to injury.
I have found that when I must surmount temptation, or when I am facing a mountain of a job, or a difficult task, it's best to come with a lightness in my soul. This short humorous poem by Henry Taylor sketches out our best attitude in these circumstances (a filly is a young female horse, my dear international readers).

Riding Lesson
I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly
in one hand and gestured
with the other, saying "Listen.
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and your mind in the middle."

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps, then left
the ground, I thought for good.
But she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you'd
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught his breath,
and said, "See that's the way
to do it. When you see
they're gonna throw you, get off."

"Riding Lesson," by Henry Taylor from An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards (University of Utah Press)

04 January 2012

Bearing Grudges Will Break Your Back-What To Do When You're Hurt

It is human to wish ill on certain people and our sense of justice doesn't need prodding to produce a desire for vengence, these illustrate:

September 1, 1939
I and the public know
What all school children learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. [lines 19-22] - by W.H. Auden

"Docimedes has lost two gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and eyes in the temple where she appoints." - A Roman curse, Bath, England.

"The law cannot forgive, for the law has not been wronged, only broken; only persons can be wronged. The law can pardon, but it can only pardon what it has the power to punish."  W.H. Auden, "The Prince's Dog" (p. 201)

It's normal, it's human, but, is vengeance the right way, the godly way, to respond to wrongdoing? "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?" asks Shakespeare in "The Merchant of Venice"

Jesus Christ, when instructing His followers how to pray, told them to include,
"Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us." (Matthew 6:12, New Living Translation). Another time Christ was instructing his followers::
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Matthew 5:43-48 (English Standard Version)
Certainly, genuine Christian tradition through the centuries has taught and modeled Christ as in this message and life:
"Through...prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God. Jesus does not promise that when we bless our enemies and do good to them they will not despitefully use and persecute us. They certainly will. But not even that can ...overcome us, so long as we pray for them...We are doing vicariously for them what they cannot do for themselves."- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, a founding member of the Confessing Church. Imprisoned, and then executed on April 9, 1945 in Nazi Germany.

Maybe you're not Christian, and maybe you don't care. But maybe it's the only thing to do?
It is a wonderful paradox of God: when injured person comes to God praying for his enemy, suddenly finds himself in the throne room together with God and in a sense he has become the person of greater power.  The wrong-doer no longer has real power over the person he has wronged. Retaliation, taking vengeance, has no up side to it.  It perpetuates the harm to all people involved, and are always unintended and unforeseen consequences to taking vengeance.   I know what you're thinking: it's too much to ask.  I agree. Christ's charge to his followers to pray and to forgive more often than not does require supernatural power--but then, God is in the business of supplying supernatural power, especially in these cases. It will require of you the strength to be humble.  If you think about it, as the victim of wrongdoing, wouldn't you rather have God figure out the justice and future justice of entire mess than to live out the rest of your days in perpetual conflict, unrest and anger?   Praying for your enemies is a powerful, character-changing act.
Do you dare? - Charity Johnson