Saturday, January 30, 2010
I can like Saint Augustine trace my desire from the womb to the typing of these words. When I was but a babe was I not contingent on the good will of a mother emptying her store of milk for me? Was I not helpless in her arms? How much more was I helpless in the provision of the life-giving nourishment in my mother’s bosom? In retrospect I see my dependence on my mother but never have I acknowledged my utter frailty at the hand of the sustainer of all things. The very air I breathed upon first being born was no accident. If the Lord is God Almighty then it was He, in his good mercy, that chose to sustain the atmosphere around me in order to provide me with my first breath. How ungrateful was my response. I simply cried and moaned for more to be given when life itself was just graced upon my feeble lungs. Had I been conscious of my need I would have fought my way from the doctor’s arms and worshiped the provision of God Almighty. Yet, I was an ungrateful servant wanting more from the creator when, by living for a moment, I could have been content to die. Yet grace overcame.
The Almighty God in His infinite wisdom and mercy chose to spare me the death my rebellion deserved in order to lead to his throne consciously. He has chosen to bless me with every good thing while I mock him by pretending that I have somehow earned more. “But preacher you knew not what you did as a child.” Neither do I know now what I do. The Sovereign King, from a nail-pierced-cross, cried for His father to forgive grown men for their actions because of their ignorance. What hope did I have of understanding as a child? Yet great is His mercy! I, like the soldier piercing His side, have been cried over “Father forgive him, He knows not what he does.” Throughout my childhood I was at war with the loving and gracious provider of all good things without passing a second thought to the life support machine attached to my soul. I was a dead man walking through life pretending not to notice the cancer in my soul and the weakness of my desire. Every time I hit my mother I was convinced she deserved it. Every time I cursed their names I was convinced more should be done for me. Every time I slept with a roof over my head, food on my plate, and a guard at the door I resented those who had “more than I.” How great is my pride!
Behind the veil of ingratitude to my parents and all those loving enough to provide for us, was a universal sin of ingratitude for the actual provider of all-good. Every breath I took was an affront to my lungs for I used them to sin against the oxygen giver. Every strike I landed on someone who cared for me I sinned against my hand that was given to hold. For every complaint I lodged in my mind I brought my mind into my mire by turning it away from the miracle of provision at the hand of the very God Almighty. The walls of my childhood are scarred with marks from the nails of anxiety crying out for what I now know is eternity. Indeed, eternity resides in the heart of man for to what else can I attribute my desire for more? I simply did not know what more was. I longed for romance when I wanted joy. I longed for food and drink when I wanted a holy satisfaction. I longed for a high only achievable by holy joy. It is not that my desires were too strong but in the spirit of C.S. Lewis they were misplaced and too weak.
From my infancy through my childhood I spit in the face of my provider, expecting something more because there was more to have. Worldly satisfaction only leads to a holy discontent for wherever desires are met they are found to be insufficient. They do not satisfy because only the source will quench such a thirst. A dribble in a stream will not satiate like its parent waterfall. There can a man not only drink, but wash and swim. The only peace treaty with God Almighty is not to simply acknowledge your desire for the only thing that satisfies ,but to journey to the spring with contempt for the mud pies you once called meals. Until we realize the blissful ecstasy of a romance with God Almighty enough to leave everything else behind, we will continue to scratch the walls of our hearts trying to break free of worldly desire. Our desires are ingratuitous treasons of the worst kind, but He is patient and merciful, offering the drink of holy joy if we could only come to the river. Oh Lord Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and all that is good, show us what it means to desire you! Or else we will continue to desire trash as our feast. Lead our sinful hearts to Jesus’ heart, who faced with a disobedient decision to live, chose obedience to death which resulted in naught but life. Oh that we might see! Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer we remain content in rebellion unless you change our hearts to desire the holy. Breath in us Holy Spirit that we may love what is holy, cherish what is pure, fight for what is just, and despise what is evil. We want to desire not to live in the shit, but die if it results in our truly living. Forgive us our sin for Jesus’ sake and overcome our weakness, despite our wants where necessary, to covet holy joy only found in your heart. If you leave us to ourselves we will fail so come quickly Holy Spirit.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Robert Frost, in his poem Revelation, says “we make ourselves a place apart behind light words that tease and float, but oh the agitated heart till someone really finds us out.” Why is this? If we live our lives behind masks we are safe from the shame of our past, right? That’s the key. All of our presents and futures we feel are inhibited by our past.
How someone views us in a moment then is contingent on where we’ve been. If they don’t see then they don’t know. If they don’t know we do not have to worry about being denied. After all is not this at the heart of life. We interact with others because we want them as a part of our lives whether it is strangers on a bus or two lovers melting into one. However, we have this preconceived notion that if others find these secrets out then they will leave us. Insecurity and security are both why we lie: Insecurity for fear of abandonment and security because we have faith that our lies will save us the pain. How then shall we live?
When someone is honest with another person, a rarity in our world, the other person is left with two options: a) become abashed and confirm the fears outlined above or b) love. Complete understanding, if it is even possible, has only one logical conclusion – love. No one, when he understands why someone has done this or that, can hate for it is there that he empathizes. Therefore, it is naught but our own pride that keeps us lying. True humanity, true communion, knows no fear for it finds its completion in love. Without fear we stand naked to our neighbor; with honesty we trust them not to laugh.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
Well maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who'd OUT DREW YA
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen in the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
-A Verse From Jeff Buckley, "Hallelujah"
Freedom has a scent
Like the top of a new born baby's head
The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I've seen enough I'm not giving up
On a miracle drug
Of science and the human heart
There is no limit
There is no failure here sweetheart
Just when you quit...
I am you and you are mine
Love makes no sense of space
And time...will disappear
Love and logic keep us clear
Reason is on our side, love...
The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I've had enough of romantic love
I'd give it up, yeah, I'd give it up
For a miracle, a miracle drug, a miracle drug
God I need your help tonight
Beneath the noise
Below the din
I hear your voice
In science and in medicine
"I was a stranger
You took me in"
-U2, "Miracle Drug"
Love is not a jubilant feeling: It is not ecstasy. The romantic ecstasy of being in the arms of another is just that – ecstasy. However, if love were limited to such things I, nor no man, has ever loved. Ecstasy, while milk and honey to two young lovers, cannot hold the bond of love. Love is bearing to the edge of doom. It is carrying the weight of another’s burden so they do not have to. It is realizing that if your legs were taken from you love would be a crutch to stand on. Love is not triumphant: it is not romantic. Love is a raw unadulterated commitment to another’s well being even at the cost of your dignity, comfort, or dreams. Love is finding solace in the mire for you are not alone. Indeed, love costs something. It is a breeze that carries up the soul to contentment in the midst of the blazing heat of pain. While we long for love to sound like Shakespeare melting from the lips of a kiss, we must realize that it is actually the tears shed for a life lived in selfishness and the hope of redemption. True love is the conviction that if all were lost for the sake of another, the bliss of holy joy would satisfy. Someone once told me that love is prevalence. Romantic ecstasy longs to bring two people together: love keeps them there. Love endures: If this be error and upon me proved I never writ nor no man ever loved.
Monday, January 11, 2010
I recently took a trip to the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga Tennessee. I had always been apprehensive about visiting the place because my peers had always painted the proprietors of the restaurant as a “cult.” As a Christian and someone who wants to love those around and appreciate their belief for their belief I was curious. Minutes after stepping foot in the establishment I discovered that the place had a very “hippy feel.” Since I am inclined toward the message of peace and love I was curious. I picked up their informational newspapers expecting to find something strange or eccentric to compliment the décor. However, this is not what I have found out, from the literature at least.
They call themselves the 12 Tribes of Israel: a separatist Christian group that lives a strictly communal life. My first question was obviously “is this really a cult?” Having read their newspapers I cannot disagree more. The community is based on the principle of unequivocal love and respect – sound familiar? However, many communities can make this claim. What the others cannot claim is to profess Jesus Christ come in the flesh (1 John 4:1-2). They have a motto that there can be no community without blood and there can be no blood without community- thereby acknowledging Jesus' work. This group takes very seriously the call of Jesus to forsake the world and follow him. The pamphlet quotes Jesus when he says that he came to bring mother from daughter etc. For the 12 Tribes this is no “spiritual” call: it is a commitment to literally leave the world behind and follow “the Master’s” way.
As a Christian, a scholar, and a man with very deep scars from the world and its evil, I resonated with this message. Christ does call us to leave all behind and become a new creation. Now the 12 Tribes ,specifically, may have eccentricities and practices that we are uncomfortable with, but we cannot overlook is their zeal for our Lord. If their practices result in resurrected-Jesus glorifying love and community, what right have we to call them anything but brothers. But my qualm is not with calling anyone anything except us calling ourselves Christians.
What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the message of the one true God making the world right through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Jesus said this would be fulfilled when we are one (John 17). He even went so far to say that our oneness in love is the way to show the on looking world the love of this universal redeeming God. Every Christian reading this, who is not splitting hairs over definitions, will agree with this assertion, however, do we, myself included, actually love this way? Nope. Oh how we’ve fucked that one up! Jesus’ Christianity is radical and should indeed cause the on looking world to question. Sometimes it even calls his disciples to question. Did we think he was kidding when he said sell all you have and give it to the poor? Is he understanding when we don’t love one another as we love ourselves? Does he overlook our human weakness to desire sex, money, and hedonism? By no means! He dealt with it on the cross. I am the chief of sinners in these matters and so I do not pass judgment on any of you, my family. However, I do call you to recognize the meaning of the word family.
Within a family bound by love there is no fear, anxiety, judgment, deceit, greed, hate, malice, or slander. Conversely there is openness, rest, acceptance, truth, giving, love, peace, and edification. Who among us would dare claim any of the latter and deny the former? Politics and philosophy aside, as much as it is possible, how many Iraqis would Jesus kill for freedom and democracy? Zero. How many people could he look on with contempt? Zero. How far would he go to make it in this world? If we are honest about the Jesus of the Bible and stop trying to create him in our image we, as a Church, splintered and cold, would repent and pray as one: Baptists and Presbyterians, Catholics and Protestants, American and Iraqi, Chinese and Indian, boy and girl, man and woman. We would not fear judgment but hope for revival. True love casts out fear but we hide, not behind our religiosity, but our hypocrisy. We call ourselves Christians but as a community look nothing like Christ. We are as separated and incomplete as a broken lamp while the light lay on the floor. We don’t care to pick up the pieces and pray for a miracle because we are convinced that we are honoring Jesus with our pathetic attempts at piety.
If we are to follow the Christ we must leave the world behind forsake our “lives” in order to live. There is no room in Jesus for fractures- only bonds. And until we are ready to admit our sin there is no room for grace. If this offends you – good. A wise man once said that if it is not offensive it is not the Gospel. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. So brothers and sisters in the words of Derek Webb:
who's your brother, who's your sister
you just walked passed him
i think you missed her
as we're all migrating to the place where our father lives
'cause we married in to a family of immigrants
my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom
there are two great lies that I’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him
but nothing unifies like a common enemy
and we’ve got one, sure as hell
but he may be living in your house
he may be raising up your kids
he may be sleeping with your wife
oh no, he may not look like you think
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I used to try to think about what art was. Was it a painting? A way of life? It took a stone cold night listening to good music and feeling newness that I realized that to understand art I would have to think from the outside. Be something else: something completely different because here I experience in retrospect. I’ve always been told that hindsight is 20/20. I feel it ethical therefore and exemplary of the good for you to give me a chance to prove that I am what I think that I am before you start coming to conclusions.
What am I? L’Art c’est moi. Not really. The art of my tattoo is that it is completely untrue. By labeling myself as something universal I admit my own insignificance. However, my conscious is astute enough that by having the ability to view myself in relation to the divine I thereby prove my existence. Discovering life is really the closest experience we have to what we are looking for in Art. A sunrise or starry night is brilliantly and infinitely more beautiful than the Mona Lisa, Guernica, The Last Judgment, and Lavender Mist combined.
The human being, when he is presented with an experience complete with observer, object, and reaction he is gaining that which he sought from Art. Love is art; kisses are art; ecstasy is art; but also suffering, loss, and tears. You think I sound a bit Taoist eh? No, I do not accept evil; I simply acknowledge it. By curtsying, I size up my opponent, measure the distance to his heart, and wait. The human experience can be lived under the guise we call Art but the rabbit hole is very deep. Do you really want to ponder the unanswerable, see with alien eyes, and feel every minute? If you follow be prepared: long is the road to a life well lived. Even more so it’s a damn shoddy one. But if you can get out of the car, slow down, and look around you might be pleasantly surprised. Follow me: I’m late.