Monday, March 29, 2010

“And We Are”

Well, since I mentioned the song in my last post, I figured I might as well post it, too. It's not as full sounding as on the CD (because of the compression), but I hope you dig it nonetheless. It's from our (Van Gogh's) album, Gravity. Enjoy!

[Ahem...It's even better in HD at YouTube. Click HERE.]

The Beginning of Sorrows, addendum...(Of Family, Friends, and Silver Linings)

Looking through my files, in an attempt to weed out and organize, I discovered that I'd posted a piece that was missing something important. (I often find myself working on several potential posts at the same time – and it's not unusual for me to have more than one version of some of those as well. So on rare occasions something unintentionally gets left out, because it was in a different version than the one I posted. Patty suspects I'm ADD.)

As we've gone through the trials and tribulations of the last two years, one of the most amazing things has been how – just when we think we might lose the van (yeah, they've threatened that), or that we've fallen too far behind on bills to ever catch up – a family member or friend will unexpectedly help us in some way that is too perfectly timed to be coincidence (especially when it's happened more than once). Heck, one time the help was even delayed (according to the benefactor), but the delay caused the timing to be perfect! Providence? I daresay.

Needless to say, if it weren't for the various and sundry kinds of support from family and friends, we would not have been able to get though the hardships we've endured. So we're ever grateful to God (my grumpiness and funks notwithstanding), and we're ever grateful to those who heeded the Spirit's nudging when it came. We are humbled and blessed to have people in our lives who love us so much (which was never in doubt, but it still amazes). As a line from the Van Gogh song, “And We Are”, says:

"We are blessed beyond reasons that God only knows."

And we are.
Yes, we are.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Killed Jesus

I killed Jesus – but he wouldn't stay dead. Then he forgave me, said I could be born again into his family (as his Father's child), and spend eternity with him and all the other losers he saves. I told him I didn't deserve such a glorious gift after all the things I'd done. And he just smiled and said, "Yeah, I know."

Such mercy and grace was so overwhelming that it killed me – but Jesus wouldn't let me stay dead. I am still shaken by the touch of such undeserved love. I stagger and babble like a drunken fool who thinks he's dancing and praising God – and the Holy Spirit keeps encouraging the foolishness, and telling God that I am.

The sheer devastatingly Divine JOY of it all can make me weep with delight. He is alive, and I tremble at the prospect of meeting him face-to-face. Some things are so good they're scary. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a loving God – a terrible good. I am humbled and hushed, and hopeful that he'll have me ready when the time comes. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Beginning of Sorrows, epilogue[?]...(So Confusing, and So Very Clear)

I'd been in a very dark funk recently. All the crap that keeps hitting us, and having few to no real options, had combined to piss me off in an intense an awesomely unpleasant way. At some point, enough is way more than enough – and yet, here comes another shovel full. Life: it's out to kill you.

And, unfortunately, most of the “advice” people offer is either useless or infuriating. I suppose most mean well (at least I hope they do), but good grief! Platitudes, cliches, and band-aid scriptures just don't cut it. Most people are plenty old enough to know better, but what can you do? I mean, even if I were the kind of idiot that grabs a sniper rifle and heads to the nearest clock tower, what are the odds of finding a clock tower that is wheelchair accessible? And then there's the whole issue of not being able to lift the rifle (assuming I did find such a clock tower)... See? I can't even do the things I wouldn't! It's maddening!!

But I digress...

So I've been listening to a lot of music, lately. Obscure music. Out-of-print-for-decades-and-never-to-even-come-close-to-being-in-print-again music. Most of it old folkish Jesus Music. Music that has been like a healing balm to my soul. Music that moves me deeply. And, as is so often the case, music that I can't really share with anyone, because I can't think of anyone I know who'd dig this stuff. And as I thought about that, it really bummed me. And then it dawned on me that that is pretty much how it's always been. I've often been into stuff that no one I knew was really that into. And while it would be cool to have somebody to talk about this stuff with, it's just not likely to happen. (See? Yet another frustration.)

The cool thing, however, is that it's reconnected me with my inner retard – the oddball that's never felt like he's quite fit in anywhere. And, for better or worse, that seems to be the me that I'm most comfortable as. I'm not cool. I'm not especially bright. My lack of self-confidence would kill any motivational expert unfortunate enough to get caught in the gravitational pull of the black hole that is my lack of self-confidence. But I'm okay with my retardation, because that's when I'm most aware of just how absurd most of what too often passes for a meaningful existence in this world is. It's also the place where it's most obvious how much I need what Jesus offers. Jesus said he came for the sick and the broken, and didn't seem to spend a lot of time trying to win over those who thought they already had it all.

Anyway, I found comfort in the songs of these obscure albums. God using music I'd never heard of (that was often recorded halfway around the world, by people who will never have a clue about how powerfully their music was used), to touch and bring healing to someone 30 to 40+ years after the albums were released. Such is the coolness of the Internet. And such is the glorious mercy of the Lord.

Sometimes I think I know a little of how Job might have felt: I didn't get any real answers, but the questions don't seem quite as important now. I don't understand, and yet I am comforted. It is (as the title one of the aforementioned albums suggests), So Confusing, and So Very Clear. Sometimes we don't seem to get answers because we're not asking the right questions. Other times, it's because we've so convinced ourselves there's only one possible answer that we don't hear the truth if it's not the answer we want. And sometimes,...God is just silent (or, at least, he seems silent). But just when you're ready to give up on hearing him in the thunder-clap, burning bush, scripture – or wherever you think he might jump out from to surprise you with an epiphany – he speaks to you through the obscure songs of unknown artists who were humbly trying to express the hopes, doubts, JOYS, and fears that come to anyone who is attempting to follow Jesus through the crowded, noisy, marketplace-of-a-world we live in. It's sometimes like a whisper in a hurricane, and yet the whisper is heard. I don't understand, and yet I'm blessed. I still hurt, and yet I'm comforted. I don't really get it, but I'm thankful nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hey, somebody thinks I'm funny!

I know,... I was amazed, too!

I applied to be a Ninja4Christ – and the comments I left, describing my more than ample qualifications, got mentioned at the site host's blog (my description is the first one listed – and is, of course, the longest winded of the three).

And check out the rest of his blog (it's better than mine). Also, check out his other site (very funny stuff).

I'm flattered that he even noticed my resume. Now how do I break it to him that I wasn't joking?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Power Corrupts, part one: I Think Your Politics Are Stoopid

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." [Mark 10:42-45]

Maybe I'm just getting weak and shallow in my old age, but I've come to realize that the more attention I pay to politics, the less I seem to behave like a disciple of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit, which is supposed to be evident in the life of a Christian, just seems to shrivel up and die. I'm less patient, less compassionate, less loving, less likely to turn the other cheek (which isn't easy to begin with).

I've also noticed that such seems to be true of a lot of other people as well. And I hear all sorts of arguments for why the neglect of such things is excusable (if not acceptable) in light of the current direction and climate of American politics and culture (e.g., the situation we face is too grave and perilous, and the issues too important, to bother with such niceties). Yep,...when Jesus said to love your enemies, he didn't mean your political enemies. Those idiots on the other side are trying to destroy God's Kingdom...the New Jerusalem...*ahem*... America. If we don't stop them, who will?

More and more, I am appalled at how often political involvement seems to consume and corrode peoples' souls. I think a lot of people get involved intending to make some kind of positive difference. Unfortunately, by the time they go through the seemingly unavoidable gauntlet of partisan abuse, that must be endured to rise to any level of influence, they're so warped by the ordeal that they've forgotten whatever high-minded ideals they may have started out with.

Such corruption is troubling enough, in and of itself. But it troubles me even more when professed Christians succumb to such corrupting influences. And one doesn't have to be a mover & shaker to be affected.

I believe that any political system devised by humans will inevitably become corrupt and fail. And, looking at history, humanity's track record doesn't exactly inspire optimism about our chances of finding a political solution to the ills that beset our country and the world. That doesn't mean that some systems aren't better than others, or that it's wrong for Christians to get involved in trying to make things better. But when allegiance to a political party or ideology creates the kinds of angry divisions between believers that have become so commonplace that most don't even notice, then something is seriously messed up.

So I've finally stumbled upon a solution that's so simple I think even I can manage it.

I think your politics are stoopid.

That's it.

Republican? Stoopid. Democrat? Stoopid. Independent? Stoopid. Socialist? Libertarian? Anarchist?
Stoopid. Stoopid. Stoopid. ___________? Stoopid.

You may sincerely believe that if Jesus were here today he'd be a Conservative Republican – with all the rugged individualism and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps ethos that goes along with that – but you'd be hard pressed to square such thinking with Jesus' call for living sacrificially, and in humble dependance on him and each other.

You may sincerely believe that if Jesus were here today he'd be a Liberal Democrat – with all the take from the “haves” to give to the “have-nots”, and the-ends-justify-the-means ethos that goes along with that – but you'd be hard pressed to square forcibly taking from some to give to others with Jesus' call for loving your neighbor as yourself, and in humble dependance on him and each other.

The truth is that every political/economic ideology that attempts to appropriate Jesus for the cause ends up with some Frankenstein's monster of a Jesus. The Jesus of the New Testament is offensive to everyone at some point, so bits of him have to be lopped off. It's easy to claim affection for an amputated Jesus. But, in reality, he eventually managed to alienate just about everyone that claimed to believe in him. He taught a message that was so radical – and such a threat to those in power (both political and religious) – that it got him nailed to a cross. And the fact that he wouldn't stay dead put the powers of this world on notice that the rules of the game had changed completely. He said that following him would not endear us to the movers & shakers of this world, but would (more likely than not) do just the opposite. He never promised his followers a nice, safe, comfortable life (in fact, he seemed to promise just the opposite). But that Jesus doesn't always make us feel good about our ambitions, so we build ourselves a new Jesus (one created more in our own image).

Jesus said that if anyone wanted to be his disciple they should deny their self, take up their cross daily and follow him. But when was the last time you heard of any seriously involved politico actually doing anything remotely like that? It usually comes down to the old, “Well, sure I'm a Christian – but we have to fight fire with fire, if we're going to get this country headed in the right direction. The other side must be defeated by whatever means necessary. The stakes are too high to blah blah blah....our children's future...blah blah...vast blah blah conspiracy...blah...war on blah...blah.....bleh....” zzzzzzzzz...

Another troubling thing is how cynical Christians become who get really committed to some political ideology. I think cynicism is a coward's refuge, so it was very disturbing to feel it taking root in my own mind. Of course, cynics rarely admit there's anything wrong with such a mindset. Or they attempt to excuse it with the old, “You're damn right I'm a cynic – I've seen too much!” But the truth is, they really haven't seen enough. Cynicism seems, too often, to be the result of a constricted view of the world – it's what happens when the soul doesn't get enough fresh air and exercise.

Christians aren't to be myopic about the world. The bible claims that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – and even encourages a healthy skepticism – so we have no excuse for being surprised by how bad people can be. But, unlike most cynics, neither can we sit looking down our noses at how stupid other people are. We are those other people. I don't know about you, but I am often astounded by the stupidity of the dude living in my mirror.

Jesus said that anyone who wants to lead should serve sacrificially. He said that following him would bring his followers into conflict with the way the rest of the world operates (even in America). But what most politicians call service doesn't look like anything I could picture Jesus or the early Christians doing. When politicians talk about the sacrifices they make while in office, it often sounds about as convincing as when celebrities complain about how rough it is being rich & famous. And far too many politicians seem to leave office much wealthier than they went in (funny how that works).

Again, I'm more concerned about the corruption of professed Christians – we're supposed to be living by a different set of priorities (as citizen's of another kingdom). Political power, financial gain, and all the perks and prestige that go along with being a mover & shaker are things that followers of Christ are to be wary of. Power really does corrupt, but it seems like too many Christians think themselves immune.

The Old Testament offers some powerful lessons in just how easily power corrupts. Every system of governance that Israel tried eventually failed, and no amount of prosperity ever seemed to be enough. But in the New Testament, Jesus came to set the world on its head and give it a spin. He was a big disappointment to those looking for a political/military Messiah. Instead, he initiated the most subversive revolution this world has ever seen. He called the powerless to follow him (the outcasts, downtrodden, drunks, whores, crooks, tax collectors, children), while seeming almost indifferent to the powerful and elite. He said it's easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. So why, then, do so many Christians today seem to think of their wealth and power as Gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is our hubris that delusional – or is it, perhaps, just a pathetic excuse to sample forbidden fruits, thinking feigned ignorance or false magnanimity will fool God into thinking our intentions are good?

Jesus said the world would know his followers by their love for each other. But sometimes that love seems to be disguised as political porno (we've gotta screw them before they screw us). Theological and doctrinal disagreements can get ugly enough – but nothing can compare to a good, old-fashioned, politically partisan free-for-all. Grace, Mercy, and Love-for-one's-enemies are usually the first casualties of such conflicts (and are even looked upon by many as weaknesses). Good humor is rarely to be found (unless it is a “Kick Me” sign, stuck to an opponent's back with a knife). Turning the other cheek is only done when speaking out of the other side of one's mouth. We let the concerns of the world overwhelm our faith in the One who has overcome the world. We've decided that Jesus' way just doesn't get things done fast enough (and with nearly the degree of punishment our “enemies” deserve).

When more attention is paid to the words of pundits than the words of prophets; when Christians are more interested in political elections than God's elect; when Ron Paul gets Christians more excited than the Apostle Paul; when military casualties are confused with Christian martyrdom; when revolution is preferred to revival; when American patriotism becomes synonymous with Christian discipleship; when we can't tell the difference between the sin and the sinner; when a Christian can say, with a straight face, “Give me liberty, or give me death”; when the least-of-these are reduced to some-of-those; when protest replaces prayer; when canvassing replaces witnessing, then something has gone terribly wrong. And I think it's evidence that we no longer believe God is really on the job.

Jesus said we can't serve God and the things of this world. Maybe some people think they can pull it off (and maybe they can), but I'm not one of them. I found it necessary to give one or the other priority in my heart and mind, and it seems to have made a big difference in how I relate to those with whom I disagree strongly on various issues – not to mention improving my attitude in general. And (much to my surprise) it's been easier than I expected. So...

I think your politics are stoopid. I just can't take them that seriously.

Oh,...and in case anyone's wondering:

I think my politics are stoopid, too!