If You Can’t See the Ocean You’re Swimming In, Open Your Eyes.

In the player above, skip ahead to track 3, “Buzzing of a Bee,” and give it a listen. Below is an early version of the lyrics of this song, courtesy of Circle of Hope in Philly and their partners, including the spoken word artist, Blew Kind. Here’s what they say about it:

CONFESSION
We are being honest about our mistakes, limits, and the brokenness of our world. Blew Kind wrote this spoken word piece preparing for the event in Fall of 2014 called “Peacemaking in an Era of Drone Warfare” put on by the Philadelphia Interfaith Network Against Drone Warfare, of which we are a contributing member along with The Brandywine Peace Community, Mennonite Central Committee (East Coast), Red Letter Christians, The Alternative Seminary, and American Friends Service Committee. The military plans on building and opening a US Drone War Command Center in Horsham, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. We first performed this piece at the coalition event with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and a viewing of the short documentary “Wounds of Waziristan” and then at a monthly peace vigil outside the Air Guard Station, the future home of the command center. Try to listen as she connects violence and white supremacy to drone warfare and calls into question its morality and our need to root ourselves in Jesus to fight against their propagation.

lyrics

Here are most of the lyrics, in a slightly earlier form

In search of men. Ages 18-48
That may resemble a “militant”
Why are you here?
I thought it was to help
Join the fight against ISIS, against terrorism
Whom are pushing people into exile for refusal to be
Their faith.

The creativity to be a refuge & fighter of the “free world”
As you say,
Is lacking and only gravitates towards
Maintaining the status of Violence.
There are 40,000 people hiding
in the mountains for their lives.

How dare you impose your system of violence
When our leaders insist you to stop, stating
“The use of drones is not only a
continual violation of our territorial integrity
but also detrimental to our resolve & efforts
at eliminating terrorism in our country”
Another states,
“These drones are illegal, in humane
violate the UN Charter of Human Rights
And constitutes as a War Crime. “
And all you can do is
“disagree”
from the mouths of pride & disillusioned power
contending “that the attacks
do not violate international law

(people in the audience start Buzzing..)
We call them “Bangadan”..buzzing of a bee
The hover
All day. Louder at night.
No war declared but you bomb my people…
I hold my babies tight
And hope we will see tomorrow together..
I hear the wailing of a monther, my neighbor
Lost their baby before their eyes.
All dust. No warning.
Wailing all day. Louder at night.
Tears find their home on my cheek.
Praying for my children, these precious souls
That birthed from my womb..
(stop buzzing..)

Will there ever be peace?
Will this madness never end?
The anxiety, the fear, the nightmares

Bzzzz…

“No identities needed, Vaguries around strike targets”
common English reports state.
2500 of my people
have been blown to die
from these buzzing drones
that have no face.
To stand on a mountain
Pointing guns & lazers
Bizzz Bzz..
Grinning, “you…weak one will fear me”
You.. hide when you hear me”
Because Fear to this
American militarized self seeking puppet
Is the fuel that
Cycles poverty
Cycles barbarism against those
Of the brown skin.
Old news, are you familiar?
Oh right, the American educational system and media neglect to educate
The truth of this madness, disgust, thick,
Stains of this lands forefathers, big business owners…
Or as Ida B Wells states in the 19th century,
“They belong to the race which holds Negro life cheap, which owns the telegraph wires, newspapers, and all other communication with the outside world. They write the reports which justify lynching by painting the Negro as black as possible, and those reports are accepted by the press associations and the world without question or investigation. The sheriffs, police, and state officials stand by and see the work done well in the broad day light.”
Oh! Ida B Wells. You had somethin goin on..
After 9/11 Fear has pushed the people
To accept ridiculous laws of control
Power in the hands of the government
Dictating Who is suspicious
Whose rights get torn away,
Private prisons of torture,
Radicalization of violence
All for the “Fight of Terror”

precise and affective.”
First:
Who are you to be a judge of international law/ethics/morals?
Rooted in a history of barbarism, greed, debt enslaving countries
Of families
Lynching stilling alive on your “God given blood stained soil”
Second:
If you are as affective as stated.
Why for every 1 “suspected” militant
10 innocent mothers, daughters, fathers, sons are killed
Deciding morality and viability of these
Destructive tactics using statistics is empty and corrupt
When human lives are your quantitative data
Or, lets use a more detached phrase of
“causalities”

These cycles of violence.
A “necessary evil”
Sewed into the deepest muck of
Racism this land of laws has ever known.
System based on fear.
Fear of the unknown
Un-colonized
Un-English
Un-White
So How ‘bout we adjust our view of what profit could actually mean.
What if maintaining the status of profit is actually
Maintaining the braid of families, children, culture, and hope.
Profit driven by a chain of hands
Linking in the presence of injustice.
Rooted in Jesus.

If you ask what the people want of Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia
They sing that of the same note.
“No more killing of our people
No more funerals of our mothers, daughters, fathers, sons..”
Hear our wail
All day. Louder at night.
May our voice be heard
And the bows of the wicked broken.
Her our wail
Mother Justice of the great deep
Father Refuge in the shadow of your wings..
Hear our wail..
And hope
we will see tomorrow together..

Bzzzz…. Bzzz…
We call them Bangadan
Buzzing of a bee

All for the “Fight of Terror”
“If everything is Terrorism,
nothing is terrorism,”
states former FBI Special Agent
“[the watchlist system] is revving out of control”

Now is the time to rid ourselves of this old foundation,
The leaders of this country
As the “Defenders of the Free World”
As the leaders of Greed, Racism, Profit, and Civilization.
Now is the time to
Adapt a new foundation
Rooted in those of the Resistors, the Martyrs
Who voice forgiveness, compassion, peace
Who voice the cry of the needy
The cry of the oppressed
How can we be a part of the solution before
Tension escalates to wildness and blood?
Yes, Peace isn’t profitable
…especially in a country governed
by the big business of weaponry.
However, an old saying goes
“There is future for the men & women of peace
& their children will be blessed
But the future of the wicked will be cut off”

credits

from Finding Home, released December 4, 2015

No Rival

I’ve been spending my lunch break lately in Luther Seminary‘s (my alma mater) Chapel of the Cross, where this challenging-and-inspiring-all-at-once piece of art can be found.

Jesus’ rail thin body still hangs from a cross in Minneapolis, a discomfiting sight that begs a lot of questions. Among them are: Did this really happen? Are we capable of such violence? As I wrestle with these questions, I’m reminded of my privilege. Far too many around the world know such violence all too well, and all too often Jesus seems far away from them. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to write. I start posts, and don’t finish them, or scrap them and start over. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say; the torrent of observations, reflections, and new learning continues much as it has, especially over the past year or so, and I clearly have no deficit of words to offer in response to all that I’m learning. Nonetheless, I find it difficult to produce the volume of writing that I had been for a while. I think some of this has to do with the time, energy, and effort involved in putting into place all that we’ve been learning. In short order over the past few months we’ve moved, the kids have started new schools, I’ve started a new job, we switched banks, and more recently, we gave away the newest of our two vehicles and I’ve begun biking to work. Here’s “my” bike parked at work:

This bike was a gift from a fellow member of Mill City Church whose health prevents him from using it any more. Having it allows me to bike to work, and freed us up to give away the vehicle mentioned above. So I’m doing this all wrong if I’m not using my time spent on it every day to pray both for the person who gave me the bike and the family we gave the car to.

Meanwhile, truth be told, I’m tired.

I think some of my struggle to write also has to do with just what I’m learning, I suppose. The way that we’ve been talking about what God is teaching us and calling us to is to say that we feel called to “get small,” to give up some of our wealth, position, privilege, and power so that we can experience the generosity that God wants for us both as givers and receivers. We experience it as givers when we lean into God’s economy and give freely to those who ask for anything from us, remembering that everything belongs to God and nothing is truly ours, that God asks that we acknowledge our dependence on Him by asking for what we need for today and no more. When we do this, what once we would hold on to for tomorrow or in case of a rainy day or so that we can retire, etc., now becomes a blessing we’ve been made stewards of for the sake of others, making us conduits of God’s provision. Likewise, the “smaller” we get- the more money, privilege, and power we give away- the more ready we are to grapple with our own need and the more likely it is that we will be open to receiving through others God’s provision and blessing for us.

As I keep saying, we wasted two full decades as adults hoping God would see fit to give us a little more, to bless us with enough money to pay down our debt so that we could be more generous and faithful. Living within our means was thus to be achieved by hoping God would increase our means. When we did get a raise or a new job with more pay, our selfishness grew right with it, and still we found ourselves struggling to keep up as the debt kept growing. We’d go through cycles of  being a little more restrained and paying the debt down, only to find some circumstance or situation that provided a convenient excuse to revert to our more selfish ways, and thus the debt would accumulate anew. Sure, some of those situations involved outbursts of generosity on our part, but they were always the exception to the rule, and they usually gave us fodder for trying to bargain or negotiate with God, believing that our hospitality or generosity had somehow “earned” us the right to expect more from God.

Why is it different this time around? Maybe it won’t be, I will admit. The lure of Mammon is strong. It’s tempting to want to fall in line and be a good consumer. All I can say is that there is a depth to both our learning this time and our willingness to do the hard work of following Jesus instead of Mammon. Our minds have been renewed, and thus we are being transformed. Things we thought we really needed (smartphones, two cars, more than 1200 feet of living space, etc.) we’re learning that we don’t, and we’ve given them away. Forgoing those things, coupled with forsaking our retirement plans and savings accounts- which we came to see as “treasure stored up on earth” instead of in heaven- has opened our eyes anew to just how much God already has blessed us, just how much he’s been trusting us with all along. No longer willing to hoard God’s goodness, in probably less than four months we’ve wiped out much of our personal and consumer debt, and expect to have much of the rest of it eliminated in less than a year. All this capacity being created in our budget will very soon mean that we can give a large percentage of our income away, and/or have the capacity to work less so that we can give a large percentage of our time and energy away.

All of this represents our effort to live as participants in God’s economy rather than capitalism or any other system this world can dream up. In God’s economy there is always enough. The hand that guides God’s economy is visible, not invisible, and it has nail marks in it. God’s economy is one of giving and sharing, of blessing and being blessed. In God’s economy we give to those who ask from us so that we might be children of our Father in heaven, because whatever we have to give was already given to us in the first place by our good, good father, and it was meant for the blessing of all. Thus, if we have two coats and our neighbor has none, we are called to give him (at least) one along with our apology for hoarding God’s provision that was meant for him. If we are so rich that we can poison our bodies with carbonated, caffeinated water while our neighbors around the world die because they lack access to clean water, or sometimes water at all, then we are most faithful when we skip the soda aisle and make a donation (at the very least) to a water relief agency.

Astoundingly, this is but one of the two big revelations over the past few months that we will likely spend the rest of our lives trying to respond to. In the first, we were broken to realize that we were wholehearted consumer capitalists but lousy lovers of God and neighbor. After all, the love of money really is the root of all evil, for the first part of the Great Commandment is to “love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” I can’t love God with my whole heart if part of it can’t stop thinking about my Amazon cart. And I can’t love my neighbor very well either if I won’t think about the modern-day enslaved persons that made the cheap clothes I got from Wal-Mart, or if I can’t come up with resources to bless my hungry and thirsty neighbor around the world while I throw away nearly half the food I buy, in part because I eat out three times a week.

The other big revelation that we’ll be trying to respond to probably for the rest of our lives is simply that Jesus really is the Prince of Peace. He really meant that we shouldn’t kill one another, and that we should turn the other cheek when confronted with violence. He really meant that we have not been given a spirit of fear and that nothing, not even death, can separate us from his love. And if it’s true that we not only shouldn’t commit adultery but shouldn’t lust after one another, isn’t it even more so that we not only shouldn’t kill one another but shouldn’t entertain ourselves with killing every time we watch TV, go to a movie, or play a video game? Isn’t it true then that we likewise shouldn’t participate in violence vicariously with our tax and gas dollars as our Mammon-loving economy and warmongering country trudges along, raining death from the sky around the world in the name of “freedom-“ to buy cheap gas?

If in the end capitalism is just another “–ism” Jesus wants to save us from, and violence is a way of life that was put to death with Jesus on the cross, then the way of Jesus insofar as it passes through the good ol’ U.S. of A. is a hard way, indeed. Some well-meaning would-be Jesus followers have the sense to wonder why they aren’t persecuted if Scripture promised they would be, and I was among them for most of my life, but no longer. If I and my family continue to lean in a direction that runs counter to the greedy (read: capitalistic), violent ways of our culture, I trust that our persecution, in one way or another, will come. Kirsten has been reluctant to explain to a member of her family of origin that we gave away a newer car we’re still paying $17,000+ for, while I wonder if I’m getting funny looks for showing up to work on a bicycle (full disclosure here: I’m not showing up drenched in sweat, but I may not smell like I’m fresh from the shower either). These obviously aren’t “persecutions,” though. What if we take the next step, however, and become war tax resisters? What if, as we plan to, we start joining with a few others to build up a mutual generosity fund out of which we’ll give away hundreds of dollars a month to those we meet around us who are in need? What if we start talking openly about our budget and finances, revealing how much we make and how we spend it, and asking others to hold us accountable to our ideals and perhaps risk such vulnerability themselves? What if the Spirit inspires us to ever more creatively subvert an economic system that keeps creating more “have-nots” than “haves?” What if we refuse to pledge allegiance to anyone or anything but Jesus and his kingdom?

A line from Hillsong’s recent song “What A Beautiful Name” keeps playing in my head and heart: “You have no rival; you have no equal. Now and forever, God, you reign.” Here’s the requisite video:

I listened to this song repeatedly in the car today (my first time driving all week!) and every time through I heard a new allusion to- or direct quote from- Scripture. I should probably write a separate post breaking all that down (scratch that- Hillsong already did; you can find it here). But right now I want to focus on the line I quoted above: “You have no rival; you have no equal. Now and forever, God, you reign.” What does it mean to declare that Someone is without rival, without equal? Every time I hear that line I think of the two pretenders who keep vying- often violently- for the throne that only Jesus can or will occupy- Mammom, and “Uncle Sam.” Singing those words- declaring that Jesus has no rival, no equal, that now and forever he reigns- has to mean something. Remarkably, I know folks who can sing those words on Sunday and then can remove their cap and place their hand over their heart to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag on Monday.

 

I simply can’t anymore.

 

If God reigns without rival in this land that European settlers violently seized from its original inhabitants while decimating their population, then we descendants of those European settlers have much to repent of and many amends to make, and it all starts by forsaking all others and living as if God is our only true King, as if Jesus really does have no rival.

If God reigns without rival in this land that European settlers built the world’s most powerful economy in, then we descendants of those European settlers must recognize that that economy was only possible through violence- because of slavery and its aftereffects-  and again we have much to repent of and many amends to make, and we must start by forsaking all others and living as if God is our only true King, as if Jesus really does have no rival.

Living in such a way doesn’t mean attending every protest, though some protest attendance will probably be required. It doesn’t mean everyone has to quit their job, though some very well may. I did, and I can imagine it being hard to continue working for some employers when your only true King continually calls you to participate in an economy that will not only decimate your corporation’s bottom line, but even worse, may very well make it irrelevant. Likewise, I can see it being hard to continue working for some employers when your only true King continually calls you to give up violence forever because it was put to death on the cross with Jesus.

Living as if Jesus has no rival means that while all the external things out there- in the world- are in dire need of attention and there are many urgent causes to be taken up, even so the most profound change that has to occur is in our own minds, hearts, and souls. If we really do work at loving God with all of our mind, heart, soul, and strength- forsaking all others- then we begin to see with new eyes. We begin to be transformed. Things that weren’t possible before suddenly are. And none of it’s because we’ve successfully organized around all those urgent causes; none of it’s because we’ve finally achieved the social progress we were hoping for. It’s because to whatever extent Jesus has no rival, to whatever extent we forsake Mammon and violent “Uncle Sam” so that we can follow “that preacher of peace,” to just that extent we will find that we really can love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.

I think of the anti-religious vitriol of the “new Atheists” and all the popular backlash in our culture against so-called “Christians” who are too busy pursuing secular political power to notice the neighbors they’re harming along the way. What if instead of trying so desperately hard to pass or repeal Obamacare or establish or reform “Entitlements,” what if the people for whom Jesus has no rival instead devoted all their energy to loving and serving those around them, to giving to those who would ask of them, to being people who practice a ministry of presence with profound sincerity, effort, and steadfastness? Wouldn’t people know we were really Christians then, because of our love?

Still, I remain tempted to want to be great. I like to be able to tell a splashy story about that big thing I did. I’m far too easily seduced by the proverbial search for significance. I keep hoping someone will discover my blog and offer me a book deal, or a pulpit to supply, or a writing gig. Yet that’s just the opposite of where Jesus is leading me these days. Jesus isn’t calling me to get big; he’s challenging me to get small. Jesus isn’t calling me to lead workshops and study groups; he’s calling me to love him like he has no rival, and not just to like my neighbor, but to really love them.

The great Henri Nouwen said it best:

“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them.  It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence.  Still, it is not as simple as it seems.  My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets.  It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress.  But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but you truly love them.”

Amen.

God is With Us if We Are With Them, Especially When Your New Neighbor is Drunk and Lost

(Arguably the best part of this clip begins at the 4:47 mark; so skip ahead if you’re short on time.)

My new neighbor was drunk on a warm Sunday afternoon. It was just weeks after we moved into the Beltrami neighborhood of NE Minneapolis. Kirsten was gone loving and serving her mom in Coon Rapids; so the boys and I walked the few blocks from our new home down to the corner store (we have a neighborhood corner store!) to buy cheap candy (’cause that’s what you do at a corner store) and then we started walking about a block in the other direction toward the park. There were lots of people out on this bright, warm, late spring afternoon, including more than a few whizzing by on bikes (our home is located along one of Minneapolis’ many urban bike routes).

For some reason, she picked Sam and Nathan and I. She was maybe just out of her teens, though I doubt it. She was young, and looked younger. More than that, she was, as I said, drunk (I could smell it), and scared, and alone.

She came up to me and said she couldn’t find her way home. She didn’t know where she lived. No doubt the alcohol had something to do with it, but she had also apparently just moved into the neighborhood herself. We weren’t much help as she asked for directions, but she also wasn’t even sure of her own new address. We committed to help her, however. She said she had a phone that was dead that if she could just charge would enable her to look up her address. I suggested walking back to the corner store and asking if they would let her plug her phone in for a minute (she said she had her charger with her). Kirsten, the boys, and I had been in the corner store enough since moving in that we knew the folks who run the corner store “are really nice,” and indeed the guy who was working agreed to let her plug her phone in (I never caught my drunk neighbor’s name; things were a little awkward). She plugged it in, but that was useless as the screen was so cracked you couldn’t see anything on the screen. She had asked me to look up her address (somehow) on my phone, but I don’t have a smartphone any more, and so could not.

I had asked her who she lived with, if it was her parents, given how young she looked. She said they hate her, and she did not live with them. Maybe that’s where she moved from. Even so, given the situation, she borrowed my flip phone to call her dad, whom she spoke with, along with her mom. There was arguing and cursing, but someone agreed to text her new address to my phone, which they did, and we agreed to walk her there. It was a block away. We got to her new place, and with obvious relief but not a word to us, she disappeared around back.

Did I help her, I wonder? No doubt she left a bad situation with her parents, but did she leave it for a worse one? And what responsibility do I have now? I don’t know her name, but I know where she lives, and I have access to her parents, I suppose. Would she even remember what happened if we saw her again? Perhaps I assume too much to think I even have some responsibility to “help.” What help could I offer? Obviously she might be a little better off if her life wasn’t such that she found herself drunk and lost a block from her new home in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. I can pray for her, to be sure. And perhaps as I and my family run, bike, and take walks in our new neighborhood we can be sure to go her way, just on the off-chance we might run into her again. This, I suppose, is part of the “art of neighboring.” It’s the next sermon series among the people of Mill City Church, and is based on the book of the same name. I’m praying it’s as useful as its promise portends.

I notice as I reflect and write about this experience that there’s something gratifying about it for me, and that troubles me. I wish that young woman hadn’t been drunk and lost, and therefore I wish I hadn’t had the opportunity to help her. I did, though, and I won’t deny that it brought a sense of confirmation that we were on the right path, the path my family and I have been on of late, as we try to follow Jesus more closely by getting “small” and hopefully getting just a little closer to being “under” vis-a-vis the powers that be rather than “over,” which is the position that our heritage and skin tone typically puts us in. I know this: while the ‘burb we came from likely has more than its fair share of drunk neighbors, there was something different about this experience in the city. I’ve written before, for example, about how much more densely populated our current neighborhood is compared to our old one. Thus, the streetscape here is simply much more conducive to precipitating the kind of interaction I write about above; whereas in our old suburban neighborhood the potential for such interaction is greatly diminished, if for no other reason than “white flight” motivated city planning.

My lack of altruism notwithstanding, I am glad that I was there to help her- however much “help” it really was- rather than someone else with less conflicted and more nefarious motives. And besides, if solidarity with the “least of these-” or in the case of this country- the “lesser of these” really does require proximity, as I keep learning it does, I’m glad to be just a little closer to the kind of folks Jesus spent most of his time with. That’s obviously a big part of why we made this move to NE Mpls. So here’s what we’re focusing on this summer:

Our Summer 2017 Family Focus: Trying to Go “Deep” as we “Get Small….”

If you can’t make it out very well, it says:

Phew! We’ve been learning about following Jesus, “that preacher of peace,” from “under,” not “over,” as we try to get “small.” Now it’s time to dig in and consolidate those gains. Let’s go deep and make these lessons ones that are learned and lived every day.

Learn: -Finish peacemaking books (I’ve read the first two of these: A Farewell to Mars, Free of Charge, The Politics of Jesus, & Nonviolent Action)  and complete the Mammon to Manna video series.

Pray: “God, you gave up your power and became small so that you could be close to the ‘least of these,’ our brothers and sisters. Help us to do the same so that we can meet you among them, and in ourselves as we become more like ‘them.’ Help us to decrease, so that you might increase. Amen.”

Do/Act: -Serve in the kitchen at Hope Ave. with our missional community and perfect “the art of neighboring.” Institute car sharing/biking to work.

Summer Family Memory Verse: “…Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” -John 3:29b-30. Background: Some thought John the Baptist was “the Christ.” John alluded to the Church being the bride of Christ and said he was a “friend of the bridegroom” who took joy at hearing the bridegroom’s voice. He then said the above, saying he (John) must get small so that Jesus could take center stage. We rich “white” people, denizens of the “American” empire, are trying to do the same.

Meanwhile we keep learning just how not only political, but economic, the way of Jesus is as we try ever more fully to live as citizens of God’s kingdom rather than the “little kingdoms of this world” and participants in God’s economy rather than unmitigated consumer (late) capitalism. Thus we’re dreaming up ways to share resources and looking for partners to join us, and we’re hopeful that God the giver is positioning us just where we need to be so that we can more fully live into our calling to be givers too. For my just passed 42nd birthday, I was glad to be able to give clean water to 1 person in Africa for life via Team World Vision, for whom I am- Lord willing- running the Twin Cities Marathon (more on that later). I tried to resist wanting any other presents in the form of material goods, but Kirsten and I did pick up a few very cheap secondhand books to continue our learning, which I’m excited about. They are:

We still have a lot to learn via The Powers That Be, Jesus and the Disinherited, God of the Oppressed, and “Say to This Mountain.”

If you’re reading this, whether near or far, might you consider joining our bit of rabble-rousing “foolishness?” We’re cashing in retirement plans to pay off debt and so to be sure not to “store up treasure on earth.” We’re giving stuff away and looking for neighbors to share cars and lives with as we try to take care of God’s good earth and limit the extent to which we live as consumers rather than Jesus-followers. We’re re-imagining savings accounts as generosity funds and conjuring up folks to be generous to. I know there must be others like us out there. After all, my old acquaintance Glenn, whom I know from youth and would call a friend in Jesus, posted this on FB tonight:

Screenshot 2017-06-12 at 11.22.08 PM
Occasionally something good comes from Facebook.

 

God is on the side of the oppressed, indeed. So often we want God to be with us in what we do, and He may well be, as Bono helpfully reminds at the end of the clip that starts this post. But whatever we believe, again as Bono says, we can be sure that:

God is with the vulnerable and the poor. God is in the slums and the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us, if we are with them.

Amen.

 

Rich Mullins Sings About the Secular Politics of Our Day

Hit play on the video above and give Rich a listen as he sings prophetically about the days we live in. All the words below are his, from his classic song While the Nations Rage, which draws from Psalm 2. Some of the pictures below show the church rising up in Jesus’ name to love and serve those around them. Some of them, sadly, juxtapose Rich’s words (“the church of God she will not bend her knees…”) with an image of the church doing just the opposite. I’ll let Rich take it from here…

 

"Why do the nations rage?  Why do they plot and scheme?"
“Why do the nations rage? 
Why do they plot and scheme?”

 

"Their bullets can't stop the prayers we pray  In the name of the Prince of Peace "
“Their bullets can’t stop the prayers we pray 
In the name of the Prince of Peace “

“We walk in faith and remember long ago
How they killed Him and then how on the third day He arose
Well, things may look bad
And things may look grim
But all these things must pass except the things that are of Him”

"Where are the nails that pierced His hands?  Well the nails have turned to rust  But behold the Man  He is risen  And He reigns  In the hearts of the children  Rising up in His name..."
“Where are the nails that pierced His hands? 
Well the nails have turned to rust 
But behold the Man 
He is risen 
And He reigns 
In the hearts of the children 
Rising up in His name…”

 

"Where are the thorns that drew His blood?  Well, the thorns have turned to dust  But not so the love  He has given  No, it remains  In the hearts of the children  Who will love while the nations rage"
“Where are the thorns that drew His blood? 
Well, the thorns have turned to dust 
But not so the love 
He has given 
No, it remains 
In the hearts of the children 
Who will love while the nations rage”

 

"The Lord in Heaven laughs  He knows what is to come  While all the chiefs of state plan their big attacks  Against His anointed One"
“The Lord in Heaven laughs 
He knows what is to come 
While all the chiefs of state plan their big attacks 
Against His anointed One”

 

"The Church of God she will not bend her knees"
“The Church of God she will not bend her knees

 

 

"To the gods of this world though they promise her peace"
“To the gods of this world though they promise her peace”

 

 

"She stands her ground  Stands firm on the Rock  Watch their walls tumble down when she lives out His love"
“She stands her ground 
Stands firm on the Rock 
Watch their walls tumble down when she lives out His love”

 

 

"Where are the nails that pierced His hands?  Well the nails have turned to rust  But not so the Man  He is risen  And He reigns  In the hearts of the children  Rising up in His name"
“Where are the nails that pierced His hands? 
Well the nails have turned to rust 
But not so the Man 
He is risen 
And He reigns 
In the hearts of the children 
Rising up in His name

 

 

"Where are the thorns that drew His blood?  Well, the thorns have turned to dust  But behold the love  He has given  It remains  In the hearts of the children  Who will love while the nations rage  While the nations rage"
“Where are the thorns that drew His blood? 
Well, the thorns have turned to dust 
But behold the love 
He has given 
It remains 
In the hearts of the children 
Who will love while the nations rage 
While the nations rage”

“Well, where are the nails that pierced His hands?
Well the nails have turned to rust
But behold the Man
He is risen
And He reigns
In the hearts of the children
Rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood?
Well, the thorns have turned to dust
But not so the love
He has given
Oh, it remains
In the hearts of the children
Who will love”

 

"...while the nations rage..."
“…while the nations rage…”

 

Following Signposts Pointing Into a Fog, Because the Jordan is Waiting

The Jordan River in Palestine (ht here)
The Jordan River in Palestine (picture courtesy of this site)

My typically 30 minute commute into work took 90 minutes today. I spent the first part of it listening to MPR as the pledge drive winds down toward its conclusion tomorrow. I tuned in to hear a little about the weather and traffic since there was just enough snow overnight to make for a rough drive this morning. I also wanted to hear just a little about Trump’s speech last night, which I did. As time, and my commute, wore on, I decided to redeem both by listening to a podcast. I had downloaded some speeches, talks, and interviews given by a hero of mine, N.T. Wright. This was a 30 minute or so interview he gave several years back in which he discussed a number of topics, including creation care, which was how the conversation started. It’s interesting that the questioner began by posing a question that went something like this (this is a very rough paraphrase): “since the gospel is mostly about (individual) people getting saved, what links then can we make between this and how we care for creation?” Tom (Wright, as he seems to prefer to be called), immediately gave a corrective, that again in a very rough paraphrase went something like this: “The gospel is about the kingdom of God. While this has to do with (individual) people being ‘saved,’ those people are connected to others…” in a complex web of relationships that extend not to just to other people but to the places they occupy and the very earth itself. Wright asserts that a “theology of place” has been lost in Western Christianity and is only just now being recovered. This echoes so much of what I’ve been reading of late from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and others, who reminds us that the gospel is very particular (but not strictly individualistic). The good news of and about Jesus is a story about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their physical and spiritual descendants. It’s good news for Israel first, and then by extension it’s good news for the rest of us too, for Israel was “blessed to be a blessing,” (and so are we).

This particularity, I think, is meant to root us both in a people, in a community, but also again to a nearly forgotten extent in a place, for, as Wright reminds in that podcast, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” and creation itself “groans” anticipating its own redemption along with the people of God. So place, and the earth itself, matters. These are reasons to care about creation, for starters, but this only takes us so far. He speaks of eschatology, and as I listened I was reminded of something else Wilson-Hartgrove wrote in The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith that I read recently: “More than anything else, eschatology teaches us to see that the end of our story has interrupted us in the middle” (italics added). I can think of no better way to get at the idea that we live “between the times,” when the kingdom of God is “already” upon us, but “not yet” fully realized. As Wright spoke of eschatology in the podcast, he said something else that I found very helpful. He said: “All our language about God’s future is a set of signposts pointing into a fog.” He added that while the truth the signposts point to may indeed be very true, we just don’t see it very well yet, and, by implication, even our best and most well thought out language just can’t speak of it very well yet. We have clues, to be sure, but we should tread lightly and give equally good thought, I would add, to what such language is for. It may have been in that podcast or perhaps I’m conflating various things I’ve heard or read from Wright, but at some point he mentions the eschatological language regarding the sun “turning red” and the moon “being darkened” and says that this “is not a primitive weather forecast.” Rather, this is an effort to invest what may be very “real” concrete events with their theological significance. The overall thrust of Wright’s point in the podcast and elsewhere is that God doesn’t come from heaven to earth to take us back there. Instead, again in a very real sense God comes from heaven to earth to join the two.

Thus, to those who read Scripture and interpret some of its language to mean that “it’s all gonna burn” before the “new heaven” and the “new earth” are brought about- which they therefore take to mean that we don’t have to worry about what happens to the earth in the meantime- to those folks I think Wright would suggest they’ve seriously misread Scripture and therefore missed the point. While there is “fiery” eschatological language, I think Wright would say it’s more in keeping with the rest of what we find in Scripture to think of this is a “refiners fire” that burns away the dross to reveal what was already there, but hidden. Thus, again in a very real sense it is this earth to which Jesus will return and which will be revealed to be “new” at his coming, just as a “new” heaven is brought to this earth when Jesus returns, all of which means that, just as always, in him “all things” really do “hold together.” So then what we do to this earth matters, for eternity even. I, for one, find this to be very good news indeed.

I finished the podcast and was still sitting in traffic; so I listened to a little Rich Mullins. I’ve written before about why he remains important to me, why I keep talking about him. I listened to a couple of my favorite songs that he sings before “Elijah” came on shortly before I arrived at work. In that post I just linked to I talk about this song, but some of what I said bears repeating. First, here’s Rich himself again singing it:

 

The song is so incredibly poignant not only because it so clearly foreshadows Mullins’ own death, including the way in which he died, but because of the way it so clearly exemplifies what a (not devil, but) God-may-care attitude looks like. Various definitions of “devil-may-care” describe such an attitude as “carefree” or even “reckless,” and the faith Rich sings about in this song I think could be characterized as both carefree and reckless. Here are the lyrics again:

The Jordan is waiting for me to cross through

My heart is aging I can tell

So Lord, I’m begging

For one last favor from You

Here’s my heart take it where You will

This life has shown me how we’re mended

And how we’re torn

How it’s okay to be lonely as long as you’re free

Sometimes my ground was stony

And sometimes covered up with thorns

And only You could make it what it had to be

And now that it’s done

Well, if they dressed me like a pauper

Or if they dined me like a prince

If they lay me with my fathers

Or if my ashes scatter on the wind

I don’t care

CHORUS:

But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah

With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire

And when I look back on the stars

Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park

And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye

There’s people been friendly

But they’d never be your friends

Sometimes this has bent me to the ground

Now that this is all ending

I want to hear some music once again

‘Cause it’s the finest thing I have ever found

But the Jordan is waiting

Though I ain’t never seen the other side

They say you can’t take in

The things you have here

So on the road to salvation

I stick out my thumb and He gives me a ride

And His music is already falling on my ears

There’s people been talking

They say they’re worried about my soul

Well, I’m here to tell you I’ll keep rocking

‘Til I’m sure it’s my time to roll

And when I do

CHORUS(2x)

 

I think this is a song for all times, but it’s especially a song for this time for myself and my family. In the video above of Rich performing the song, after questioning why anyone would listen to “contemporary Christian” music, he describes the song as being about one of his “weirdo heroes of the Bible,” Elijah:

The prophet Elijah (picture courtesy of this site)
The prophet Elijah (picture courtesy of this site)

The song touches on themes from Elijah’s life, but also certainly does so in regard to themes from Rich’s own life too, even in ways that Rich himself couldn’t have known, like when he says he wants to “go out” like Elijah “when he leaves” (dies), which he certainly did, having died in a fiery car crash. More than that, though, I think this song represents Rich at his vulnerable, truth-telling best. The song begins with Rich singing that “The Jordan is waiting for me to cross through.” He’s referring of course to the Jordan River.

The Jordan River is an image rich with symbolism in Scripture and in Christian thought. It often symbolizes the boundary between life and death, between salvation and destruction, perhaps even between this life and the next. This site alludes to some of this in describing the very real role the Jordan has played in Israel’s history, including in the life of Rich’s “weird hero,” Elijah:

– The Israelites feared the people of Canaan. As punishment for their lack of faith, God did not allow any Israelite over twenty years old to enter the Promised Land, including Moses. The Israelites wandered for forty years, and despite begging God to allow him to enter, Moses only viewed the Promised Land from a distance. (Deuteronomy 1:21-32; 3:23-28; 34:1-4.)

– Elijah warned King Ahab of Israel that there would be a drought in the land because of Israel’s evil deeds. After Elijah gave his prophecy, God told him to cross to the east side of the Jordan and hide from the king. The river became a barrier of protection for Elijah. (1 Kings 16:29-33; 17:1-6.)

– Absalom, David’s rebellious son and the leader of Israel’s army, schemed to kill King David and everyone who was loyal to him. David was forewarned and crossed the Jordan with his people during the night. The river became a barrier of protection for David and his people. (2 Samuel 17:15-22.)

– Before being taken up to heaven, Elijah struck the Jordan River water with his cloak. The water parted so that he and Elisha could cross. After Elijah ascended, Elisha again parted the waters with Elijah’s cloak so he could return to Israel. (2 Kings 2:1-2, 5-15.)

 

What that site just quoted only alludes to is that after Moses died, the people did cross the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. Wikipedia discusses this and further details that the Jordan is the scene of several miracles in Scripture:

In biblical history, the Jordan appears as the scene of several miracles, the first taking place when the Jordan, near Jericho, was crossed by the Israelites under Joshua (Joshua 3:15–17). Later the two tribes and the half tribe that settled east of the Jordan built a large altar on its banks as “a witness” between them and the other tribes (Joshua 22:10, 22:26, et seq.). The Jordan was crossed by Elijah and Elisha on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8, 2:14). God thrived through Elisha performing two other miracles at the Jordan: God healed Naaman by having him bathe in its waters, and he made the axe head of one of the “children of the prophets” float, by throwing a piece of wood into the water (2 Kings 5:14; 6:6).

 

Wikipedia further describes the Jordan’s significance in the “New Testament:”

The New Testament states that John the Baptist baptised unto repentance[10] in the Jordan (Matthew 3:56; Mark1:5; Luke 3:3; John1:28). These acts of Baptism are also reported as having taken place at Bethabara (John 1:28).

Jesus came to be baptised by him there (Matthew 3:13; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21, 4:1). The Jordan is also where John the Baptist bore record of Jesus as the Son of God and Lamb of God (John 1:29–36).

The prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Messiah which names the Jordan (Isaiah 9:1–2) is also reported in Matthew 4:15.

The New Testament speaks several times about Jesus crossing the Jordan during his ministry (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1), and of believers crossing the Jordan to come hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases (Matthew 4:25; Mark 3:7–8). When his enemies sought to capture him, Jesus took refuge at Jordan in the place John had first baptised (John 10:39–40).

 

What’s clear is that throughout Israel’s history and that of Jesus and his disciples, the Jordan very much did indeed mark this boundary between life and death, between salvation/rescue and devastation, between following God’s call and not doing so. It’s a powerful symbol.  So again Rich sings:

 

The Jordan is waiting for me to cross through

My heart is aging I can tell

So Lord, I’m begging

For one last favor from You

Here’s my heart take it where You will

 

In these words I hear Rich saying that whatever troubles and cares have led him to this point, he’s now ready to cross that boundary that the Jordan represents. Perhaps he’s saying that he’s ready to follow Jesus whatever that may mean, whatever it may cost him, wherever Jesus might lead. Rich says that his “heart is aging,” and I can relate. I’ve seen so much and been through so much in my 40+ years that I have a very real sense that my time is short. I too am ready to follow Jesus perhaps in a way that I never have, to wherever he might lead. I’ve written about this of late as I’ve described our efforts to get “small,” to listen to and learn from and engage with those on the margins of society because that’s who the Bible was written by and to, because Jesus commands us to let those on the margins come to him and says that we must be like them to see his kingdom, and because when we draw near to them, we draw near to Jesus himself. With a few notable exceptions, I’ve largely failed to do this in my life, but no longer. My heart is aging, and I don’t have time to mess around any more. So I’m willing to offer it to Jesus and invite him to take it where he will.

 

 Rich continues in the song:

 

This life has shown me how we’re mended

And how we’re torn

How it’s okay to be lonely as long as you’re free

Sometimes my ground was stony

And sometimes covered up with thorns

And only You could make it what it had to be

And now that it’s done

Well, if they dressed me like a pauper

Or if they dined me like a prince

If they lay me with my fathers

Or if my ashes scatter on the wind

I don’t care

 

Rich, I think, is again probably writing a little about his own life while engaging with Elijah’s story, and maybe writing a little about my own life too. We’re mended and torn because life can be hard. Brokenness abounds. When he says his “ground was stony and sometimes covered up with thorns,” he’s hinting at the parable Jesus told of the sower in Matthew 13:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 

Later, Jesus explained the parable to his disciples:

 

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

 

So the “stony” or “covered up with thorns” ground Rich spoke of alludes to a heart ready to hear the good news, but which lacks depth or in which the good news is crowded out by the cares of this world. Rich sings that while this may have been true, “only you can make it what it had to be.” Kirsten and I had new friends over the other night, and we were talking about the new ways we’re learning to follow Jesus, all the ways we’re working to get “small” by simplifying our life and building capacity in our hearts, minds, and budget for what God is calling us to. I alluded to my life to this point and said that for whatever reason I just don’t think I was ready yet. Despite everything I’ve been through and all the hard lessons already allegedly learned, somehow I just wasn’t ready to follow Jesus like I’m trying to now, recklessly, with a carefree heart. Even the readiness I’m experiencing now is by no virtue of my own. Only Jesus could make my heart “what it had to be” too.  

 

Rich speaks of this, of this reckless, carefree faith, when he says that “if they dressed me like a pauper, if they dined me like a prince, if they lay with my fathers, if my ashes scatter on the wind I don’t care…” In Philippians 4 Paul says that he has:

 

…learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

 

Rich seems to be hinting at this. As a would-be “Christian music” star, Rich had access to fabulous wealth, but wrote into all his music contracts that he would receive whatever the average U.S. salary was for that year and the rest that he earned would be donated to charity. In part I suspect because he realized that even this act of generosity, given that the U.S. is the richest country in the history of the world, did not suffice to make him “small” enough (to use the language I’ve been using for myself and my family). So at some point Rich gave it all up and moved to a Native American reservation. I wrote about this again in my last post about Rich. My point now is that I too hope to move ever closer to a place of solidarity with those who are not the beneficiaries of all this fabulous wealth our country enjoys, and I hope to learn to be content “whether well fed,” as I obviously am now, “or hungry,” as so many will experience as they go to sleep tonight.  

 

After going through the chorus the first time Rich sings on:

 

There’s people been friendly

But they’d never be your friends

Sometimes this has bent me to the ground

Now that this is all ending

I want to hear some music once again

‘Cause it’s the finest thing I have ever found

 

I can relate to this too. I’ve known a lot of “friendly” people in my life who turned out not to be friends, certainly not a friend “who sticketh closer than a brother.” I’ve known more than my fair share, I’m sure, of broken, fractured relationships, and sometimes the ending of those relationships- or what felt like the ending at the time- has more than once “bent me to the ground.” Still, when I look back at them, usually I realize that I can probably place the blame for the lion’s share of what went wrong in those relationships at my own feet. I am the worst of sinners, and my own worst enemy. In any case, I sense in this that Rich feels the freedom to move on from his own brokenness and broken relationships in order to focus on what matters most. For Rich, music is both an end in itself and a means to end. God clearly gave him a gift for it, and he used it as best he could. All the while, Rich seems to recognize that he’s caught up in a song that is larger than his contribution to it. He sings on:

 

But the Jordan is waiting

Though I ain’t never seen the other side

They say you can’t take in

The things you have here

So on the road to salvation

I stick out my thumb and He gives me a ride

And His music is already falling on my ears

 

The Jordan, this boundary between death and life, between salvation/rescue and destruction, beckons on. He says he’s “never seen the other side,” but knows “you can’t take in the things you have here.” “You can’t take it with you when you die” is a truism rooted in Scripture, and has been a major theme in our life of late. We literally have been “storing up for ourselves treasure on earth, where thieves break in and steal and moth and rust destroy.” So as a family we’ve been redoubling our efforts to “store up treasure in heaven” instead, for we well know that “where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.” Abandoning the ways of Empire and getting as “small” as we can despite our education and privilege is hard, subversive work. It’s reckless work too, perhaps something akin to hitchhiking along the road to salvation, along the way with Jesus, as Rich sings above. When we get moving along the way, we begin to hear “his music” as we too get caught up in a song that is larger than what we contribute to it.

 

“Elijah” builds to an end with this final bit before the chorus again:

 

There’s people been talking

They say they’re worried about my soul

Well, I’m here to tell you I’ll keep rocking

‘Til I’m sure it’s my time to roll

And when I do

…when I leave I want to go out like Elijah

With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire

And when I look back on the stars

Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park

And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye

 

Rich says “people have been talking,” that they’re “worried about his soul.” His unorthodox approach to a life in the “Christian” spotlight and his unwillingness to spend the decades amassing millions while churning out the cliched feel-good musical tropes that his record label may have liked sometimes landed Rich in “trouble.” His move to the Native American reservation only magnified these “concerns,” I’m sure. If you read my last couple of posts, I echoed Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in speaking of Mark 10 and the stories of Jesus and the little children and then Jesus and the “rich young ruler.” In that passage Jesus says that “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” I spoke in my last post about how somehow I had always interpreted those verses individualistically, such that if I gave up something for Jesus I would always get something bigger and better in the end, even if only in a “spiritual” sense. I wrote then of my shock to suddenly realize that this too was directed at the community. Hence if Kirsten and I gave up a house to come to MN in part to serve her mother, this passage isn’t suggesting we’ll get a bigger, better house out of the deal. Rather, it’s telling us that we may not need to buy a house again, that as members of God’s family we have access to all the houses wherever our brothers and sisters in Christ can be found.

 

This is a dramatic reversal, I would argue, of the individualistic, consumer-driven “American dream.” As people struggling to better follow God’s dream for the world, we’re working to consume less, not more. We’re working to get small, not big. We’re working to give away power and privilege, not amass it. This flies in the face of the logic of the (U.S.) Empire, and I have no doubt that while our pursuit of God’s dream will bring us “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields” where we had none before, they will also bring persecutions. If so, we are in good company with all the saints and Jesus himself. Thus, Rich can conclude by saying that when he “leaves,” “it won’t break his heart to say goodbye.” His heart is aging, after all. Mine is too.

 

Thus it was that upon hearing “Elijah” just after hearing N.T. Wright talk about how what we do in the here-and-now matters in eternity because when Jesus returns it will be to join heaven and earth and reveal the new creation that is already present, even though we can “not yet” see it clearly,  I soon found myself weeping again in the car, the tears streaming down my face as I pulled in to work. Today is Ash Wednesday. Throughout history Christians have started the season of Lent in preparation for Easter with the imposition of ashes in the form of a cross on the forehead and the words from Scripture, “(Remember that) your are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is a time of often solemn reflection on our own mortality, which is a way to find our place, literally to locate ourselves in God’s story. He is the creator; we are the creation. It’s a time to make space in our lives, often by forgoing some pleasure or even some necessity, like food, so that there is room for God to make himself known in a new way.

 

Remembering that we are dust and that we will return to it and looking forward with great anticipation to Easter, to our remembrance of the inauguration not of a new U.S. President but of the King of the Universe as he conquers death and defeats the powers that would keep us separated from God and one another, we are helped to see again how the end of our story interrupts us in the middle. We are helped to see how every act in this age has eternal repercussions. On the Rich Mullins Songs album that I began listening to after N.T. Wright’s podcast and on which “Elijah” is one of the songs, the one after “Elijah” is “Calling Out Your Name.” This is another all time favorite of mine by Rich, as it so clearly evokes the mystery and wonder of creation and you can almost feel Rich’s respect and reverence for the earth and especially its indigenous people here in the U.S. This amazing song speaks of being “wild with the hope” that “this thirst will not last long and it will soon drown in a song not sung in vain.”

 

Wouldn’t you like to be “wild” with hope? I would. I sure hope to be. The imagery of thirst drowning in a song not sung in vain is very moving. In the story of the “woman at the well” Jesus tells the woman that “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Those who drink the “living water” Jesus offers find their thirst quenched once and for all. In fact, they find within themselves a “spring of water” that “wells up” to eternal life. This sounds a lot like a thirst that “drowns” in a “song not sung in vain.” Rich found himself caught up in a song that was larger than his part in it, and so are we. We who “drink” the living water Jesus offers can be wild with hope that our thirst will drown in a “sing not sung in vain.” It’s not in vain because despite the extent to which it seems that the peaceable kingdom of God is not yet fully realized, it is nonetheless true that the end of our story (which our language for is only like a set of signposts pointing into a fog) has interrupted us right in the middle of the story. Our actions today echo into eternity. They matter because we have clues about where this story is headed, how this song ends. It’s a love story, and always has been. Though we were made from dust and will return to it, we were made in and for love, and will return to that too. We’re already on our way, some of us more knowingly and willingly than others.

The Jordan has been waiting for my family and I in new ways recently. We’ve known ourselves to be crossing a boundary, moving from an old way of life into a new one. The more stuff we give away, the more we can extricate ourselves from our participation in the systems of the powers that be, the less we participate in the domination system that seeks to marginalize and control and disadvantage all of us in the end, the more we experience a spring of water welling up in us to eternal life. My heart may be aging, but it’s also wild with hope as I’m learning to follow Jesus in a new, carefree, even reckless way. Thanks be to God.

Striving No More, Part 3, or My Encounter with a Ragamuffin

mullins2

This is part 3 in a 5 part series. You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here. As I spent a good part of today writing about Keith Green, I was constantly aware that I couldn’t speak of his outsize influence on my spiritual formation without mentioning the impact of Rich Mullins too. Then I remembered that I already had, two years ago. Rich and Keith are like two sides of the same coin. Rich lived a little longer than Keith did, but Rich died suddenly and tragically in a crash just like Keith, in Rich’s case before his 42nd birthday (which means he was about as old as I am now). Like Keith, Rich was a talented musician. Wikipedia notes:

Mullins had a distinctive talent both as a performer and a songwriter. His compositions showed distinction in two ways: unusual and sometimes striking instrumentation, and complex lyrics that usually employed elaborate metaphors. Mullins did most of his composing and performing on piano and acoustic guitar, but he also had a prodigious talent for obscure instruments. He displayed arguably virtuoso skills on the hammered and lap dulcimers (in “Calling out Your Name” and “Creed”) and the Irish tin whistle (in “Boy Like Me/Man Like You” and “The Color Green”).

And like Keith, Rich had an enormous impact on the “Christian” music scene while simultaneously having a sometimes contentious relationship with the industry. While Keith stopped charging for his music or concerts or gave away a tape for every tape purchased, Rich set it up so that “the profits from his tours and the sale of each album were entrusted to his church, which divided it up, paid Mullins the average salary in the U.S. for that year, and gave the rest to charity.[28] Mullins was also a major supporter of Compassion International[29] and Compassion USA.[30]” He was quoted as saying:

Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted…[6][31]

Thus, like Keith, Rich knew that God has a special concern for the poor, for folks on the margins, that if you wanted to find Jesus, it was among them that you should look. So, he did. In 1995 he up and moved to a Navajo reservation, where he lived until his death two years later. Wikipedia mentions that…

He was asked if he made the move because God had called him to proselytize and convert the Native Americans. To this Mullins responded: “No. I think I just got tired of a White, Evangelical, Middle Class perspective on God, and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos. I’m teaching music.”[27]

Rich was so influenced by another of my heroes of the faith, St. Francis of Assisi, that he wrote a musical about him, “The Canticle of the Plains.” He also was influenced by another hero of mine, Brennan Manning, whose seminal work The Ragamuffin Gospel so moved him that he thereafter assembled The Ragamuffin Band. I encountered Rich and really began to immerse myself in his music a little later than was the case with Keith, but like Keith, Rich has also had an outsize influence on my formation as someone who wants to follow Jesus. Thus, it was my great honor to hear Rich in concert when he came to Gordon College, I think when I was a freshman. I sat in the back, by myself, and remember being moved to worship. I was amazed to be doing so as the concert ended, and the entire crowd was singing with Rich, though Rich had stopped singing for the final little bit. When I opened my eyes and looked up, Rich was just…gone. He hadn’t gone backstage to wait for everyone to clamor for an encore, though clamor they did. It was more that he had done what he set out to do. He came to help us connect with Jesus. When we did, his work done, he quietly left. Like Keith, Rich’s music has a way of engaging me at a much deeper level than mere intellectualism alone could afford, and I am the better for it. Rich’s music, like Keith’s, often breaks my heart and brings me to tears, but it’s usually there that, gratefully, I meet Jesus.

I think Rich would be the first to say that he’s no hero. Like Keith, he was very genuine, and like Keith, struggled with demons of his own. Unlike Keith, as far as I know, one of Rich’s struggles was alcoholism. It’s something he had in common with Brennan Manning. This review of the movie that was made not too long ago about him, which I would recommend, mentions that:

For a guy who refuses to wear shoes and doesn’t look like he showers on a regular basis, he’s often met with curious stares during Sunday morning services. Not surprisingly, Mullin’s life only gets more complicated when Nashville comes calling. Never fully comfortable as a go-to songwriter for Amy Grant or a celebrated CCM artist later on when “Awesome God” winds up being his breakout hit, Rich’s life fails to follow a predictable course. But Rich finds a mentor in the late Brennan Manning and discovers his true passion in ministering to Native American youth. Mullins’s life may have remained far from perfect, but his story has incredible resonance and redemptive value.

Indeed, it does. Here’s one of my favorite of Rich’s songs:

 

Here’s another one:

 

 

This is one that gets to me much like Keith’s “When I Hear the Praises Start:”

 

Finally, like Keith, Rich was prophetic in his willingness to speak truth to power, especially “Christian” power, but he was likely also quite prophetic about his own death, as I wrote about in my last post about Rich. Remembering that in Scripture Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, and that Rich died in something like a fiery car crash, here he is singing “Elijah,” with the lyrics copied below:

The Jordan is waiting for me to cross through
My heart is aging I can tell
So Lord, I’m begging
For one last favor from You
Here’s my heart take it where You will

This life has shown me how we’re mended
And how we’re torn
How it’s okay to be lonely as long as you’re free
Sometimes my ground was stoney
And sometimes covered up with thorns
And only You could make it what it had to be
And now that it’s done
Well, if they dressed me like a pauper
Or if they dined me like a prince
If they lay me with my fathers
Or if my ashes scatter on the wind
I don’t care

CHORUS:
But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye

There’s people been friendly
But they’d never be your friends
Sometimes this has bent me to the ground
Now that this is all ending
I want to hear some music once again
‘Cause it’s the finest thing I have ever found

But the Jordan is waiting
Though I ain’t never seen the other side
They say you can’t take in
The things you have here
So on the road to salvation
I stick out my thumb and He gives me a ride
And His music is already falling on my ears

There’s people been talking
They say they’re worried about my soul
Well, I’m here to tell you I’ll keep rocking
‘Til I’m sure it’s my time to roll
And when I do

CHORUS(2x)

I don’t think it broke Rich’s heart to say goodbye, but I sure am grateful that God keeps using him to break mine.

Striving No More, Part 2, or “Prophets Don’t Grow Up From Little Boys,” or “Do They?”

Keithgreen

This is part 2 in a 5 part series. You can read part 1 here.

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[g] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. – Luke 4:14-30

This will be part 2 in a 3 part series. That means, among other things, that like part 1 in this series, this post started out differently, but along the way I realized that the overall story I’m telling- about how we hope to connect with a local faith community and the many reasons why including the road that brought us to this point- couldn’t fully be told without yet a little more background. So now I want to talk about Keith Green. That’s him, above, if you hadn’t guessed. If you don’t know anything about him, click the link in his name for his Wikipedia page. I highly encourage taking a little time to learn something about him. I’ll have something to say here about him, of course. If you want even more background on his life from the official bio on the website of the ministry he and his wife, Melody, started, go here.

Keith didn’t live very long. He died before his 29th birthday. He was a musical prodigy, having learned to play guitar and piano as a very young child, and was writing his own music by the age of 6. By the age of 11 he had written 40 original songs and signed a five year recording contract. As his Wikipedia entry says:

By the time Green was twelve, he had written ten more songs, and Time magazine ran a short piece about Green in an article about aspiring young rock-‘n’-roll singers, referring to him as Decca Records’ “prepubescent dreamboat”.[6] However, after national attention envisioned by Decca Records failed to materialize for Green, Donny Osmond captured the attention of pre-teens and teenagers, eclipsing Green’s newfound stardom, and he was quickly forgotten by the public.[7]

Keith was a spiritual “seeker,” and after experimenting with “drugs, eastern mysticism” and “free love,” Keith, who had a Jewish heritage which his family “hid from him” according to the bio on his ministry’s site, discovered Jesus. He had grown up reading the New Testament, but again according to that bio when he learned about his Jewish heritage suddenly something “clicked” for him that hadn’t before, and it’s said that he “proudly told the world, ‘I’m a Jewish Christian’.” He and Melody had been married shortly beforehand, and “As soon as Keith opened his heart to Jesus, he and Melody opened their home. Anyone with a need, or who wanted to kick drugs, or get off the street, was welcome.  Of course, they always heard plenty about Jesus at what fondly became known as ‘The Greenhouse’.” Wikipedia adds:

The Greens continued to invite guests into their home.[11] They eventually ran out of space and, purchasing the home next door to their own and renting an additional five in the same neighborhood, they provided an environment of Christian teaching for a group of young adults, the majority of whom were of college age. Much to the consternation of neighbors, there came to be 75 people living in the Green’s homes and traipsing down the suburban streets—including recovering drug addicts and prostitutes, bikers, the homeless, and many single pregnant girls needing shelter and safety. Some were referred to the Greens by other ministries and shelters, but most just crossed their path during their normal life at home and on the road. In 1977 the Greens personal outreach became a non-profit ministry they called Last Days Ministries.[12]

So this newbie Jesus follower and newlywed, no less, immediately took the unquestionably good part of the “good news” that is the “Gospel” to heart and began living it out in ways that most would be Jesus followers do not. I come back to the passage from Luke 4 that this post begins with often, and for good reason. As always, it’s notable that Jesus inaugurated his ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah and declaring “good news to the poor,” “freedom for…prisoners,” recovery of sight for the blind,” and freedom for the oppressed and then stating that this scripture was fulfilled in the hearing of his listeners. Many people debate many things about Jesus including the most central of his claims and especially the claims made about him, but to my mind it’s inarguable that good news for the poor, et al, is just that- good. I believe that folks who want to follow Jesus do so most closely when they focus more on living their life and conducting their ministry the way Jesus began his, and less on all the other stuff that inexorably leads to division, partisanship, and the like. That certainly was a tremendous part of what Keith focused on, and I could end his story here having told a remarkable tale of a remarkable man.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Keith and Melody not only loved and served folks on the margins of society, but Keith did so while continuing to write and record music at a prolific pace. His ministry page bio says:

Not only did Keith’s life take a radical turn, but by then he was a highly skilled  musician and songwriter,  and so all of his songs changed too. His quest for stardom had ended.  And now his songs reflected the absolute thrill of finding Jesus and seeing his own life radically changed. Keith’s spiritual intensity not only took him beyond most people’s comfort zones, but it constantly drove him even beyond his own places of content.

Keith was prophetic in the way he lived his life, and this was reflected no less in his voice as an artist. Keith was not afraid to speak truth to power, and like Jesus, his most incisive truth-telling was reserved for the religious types who said one thing with their mouths and something else entirely with their lives. All the while, he worked to be truthful about his own life and struggles, all of which was reflected in his songwriting. It’s most evident, though, when you see him sing live. You can’t watch him sing without noticing how heartfelt his songs are, how genuine he is. Take this recording of “Asleep in the Light,” for example. This is one of my favorite songs of his, as it perfectly captures his understanding of Jesus’ heart for reaching “the lost” and marries it with Keith’s prophetic truth-telling as he calls out the church, those who are supposed to be living out the ministry Jesus inaugurated of good news for the poor and marginalized and indeed for us all, and challenges them to simply do better.

 

Keith was unapologetic in his zeal not simply for “evangelism” to use a church-y word, but even more so in his zeal for Jesus. As Circle of Hope reminds us, “life in Christ is one whole cloth.” So because Keith had been so transformed by God’s love for him he spent his all too brief life from that point forward sharing that love with others whether he was inviting prostitutes and those experiencing homelessness or addiction to come live in his house(s) or giving an “altar call” at a concert with thousands of people in attendance. His invitation to all he met to enter into right relationship with Jesus necessarily meant proclaiming the “good news” not only about their souls but also and especially about their lives in the here-and-now. This is especially clear in another of my favorites of his, “The Sheep and the Goats.” Some of the references in this and much of his music may be anachronistic and theologically unsophisticated, but again his words, music, and life are provocative, genuine, heartfelt, and powerful, as is evident:

Keith could have been a darling of the “Christian” music industry, but Keith doubled down on his challenging words for the church to hew more closely to the One they were supposed to be following by upsetting the “Christian” music industry’s business model, as Wikipedia notes:

In 1979, after negotiating a release from his contract with Sparrow, Green initiated a new policy of refusing to charge money for concerts or albums. Keith and Melody mortgaged their home to privately finance Green’s next album, So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt. The album, which featured a guest appearance by Bob Dylan, was offered through mail-order and at concerts for a price determined by the purchaser. By May 1982, Green had shipped out more than 200,000 units of his album – 61,000 for free. Subsequent albums included The Keith Green Collection (1981) and Songs for the Shepherd (1982).[15][16]

When his music was carried by Christian bookstores, a second cassette was included free of charge for every cassette purchased to give away to a friend to help spread the Gospel.

All of this begs the question, though, why am I spending all this time writing about Keith Green? Hopefully my deep respect and admiration for him is apparent, and I think his life deserves to be remembered. I suspect that a lot of folks today who want to follow Jesus may not know much about him or have little appreciation for his impact. Thus, his tale is worth telling in its own right, but this is also a deeply personal tale for me. I probably would have been one of those would be Jesus followers with little knowledge of or appreciation for Keith. He died, after all, in a plane crash- with two of his kids aboard and Melody at home with a toddler and another baby on the way- at the tender age of 28, when I was just seven years old. I have much older half-siblings, though, and though the church I grew up in probably would have struggled with the prophetic nature of Keith’s ministry and life (that is, the truth he had to tell the church about the way they were following Jesus- or not- would have been a painful truth, most likely, for the church of my youth), my siblings introduced me to him as a young kid, and I grew up spending hours upon hours listening to his music. It probably helped form my faith in such a way that when, as a sophomore at Gordon College, I heard the call to go spend a summer living and loving the marginalized in the inner city of Philly, I didn’t hesitate. I went for it. Sadly, perhaps, I’ve gone a long while in my adult life without connecting with Keith’s music, and therefore without connecting with God in the special way Keith’s music helps me to, but it remains a big part of me.

So yesterday I began listening to many of Keith’s songs again for the first time in a long time. It was like putting on an old, well-worn but favorite hoodie that fits just right, as only it could. I found I could sing every word to many of the songs I listened to, and  I also found that many of Keith’s songs I listened to made me cry. You see, I remain a would be Jesus follower in no small part because of the way my faith was formed at a young age as I listened to Keith’s music. This formation continued through my Kingdomworks (the precursor of Mission Year, which I provided a link to above) experience and beyond as I struggled with the legacy of my abusive upbringing in my “Christian” home, and one of his songs over the years has taken on special significance. Keith says it’s a song Jesus wrote for him, but I always hear it spoken directly to me, and I’m broken by it every time:

It’s the first line that gets me: “My son, my son, why are you striving?” The truth is, I spend much of my waking hours striving, always striving, always trying to do better, to do more, to work harder. “Resting in my faith” or in much of anything else is mostly a foreign concept. As Bill Mallonee put it, “I’ve been trying to negotiate peace with my own existence.” There’s more to be said, there, obviously, but my point now is that when I hear Jesus singing to me through Keith in this song, I’m invited to leave “Struggleville,” even if only temporarily, and be still, knowing that God is God, and I’m not, and this brings (momentary) peace. For this, I’m grateful.

I’m grateful too for the invitation not only to be in right relationship with God, God’s good world, and my neigbor- that is, to live into the good news that Jesus proclaims and Keith too- but also for the invitation to worship a God who’s worthy of it. Again as Circle of Hope reminds us, “without worship, we shrink.” I can follow a Jesus who brings good news for those on the margins, who keeps surprising us by showing up where we’d least expect him and with those we’d least expect him to be with. More than that, though, I can worship a God who not only calls me to be my best self but who is the One who made that self, the one that is the author and “finisher” of my faith and in whom the entire cosmos holds together. I’m often skeptical. I want “good” theology that can live with all the tensions that I have to live with in real life. I want to know that doubt need not be the enemy of faith, but can be its partner. But if my faith, and more importantly Jesus, can’t engage my whole self and help me to live life as a fully formed person, than I want little to do with it, or him. Keith’s music functions as a delivery system for Jesus straight into my heart, not entirely bypassing my brain but engaging me in a much deeper way than mere intellectualism can afford. This gives me space to worship, and I shrink no more.

I leave you with one last song by Keith. He wrote it for his parents, whom he desperately wanted to see living in right relationship with God. In it he references Jesus’ reception by his hometown crowd as he inaugurated his ministry in the passage at the top of this post. That crowd just couldn’t accept that the Jesus they knew as a boy would dare to speak so prophetically to them because, as Keith puts it, “prophets don’t grow up from little boys; do they?” Keith did, and some day maybe I will too.

Melancholy Musings Give Way to Love…Just Because…

So I had occasion to revisit my old journal today. I actively journaled for probably close to a decade, in the pre-blog era. My journaling was a fair bit different from my blogging, especially when I started in May of 1995, just before I turned 20, just before my Kingdomworks summer began. My journals were obviously and utterly private, just for me, but then again not really. For a long while they were prayer journals, just me talkin’ to God by putting pen to paper, trying to work stuff out. Obviously I could be honest in them in a way that I simply can’t when the writing ends by clicking “publish.” Still, I suppose each type of writing has value, though perhaps very different purposes. As I sit writing now, I’m listening to Vigilantes of Love, from the “V.O.L” album. This cd was a hallmark of the early Circle of Hope days, circa ’96-’98. As you can guess, then, right now my mind and heart are reaching back into the past, almost as if I’m looking for something. What, exactly, I wonder? Is it this?

70596290068

 

 

This?

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Am I trying to find inside me the person about whom someone once wrote:

“With your intensity and passion comes such an honest outcry for your Creator that you cause people around you to wonder. I often wonder what it feels like to be you. Each time I look at you that way I see King David- and it helps me understand you. You do not let yourself get away with anything and your honesty before God breaks your heart so often, but I do not worry. Because I believe you are a king. And I see you behave like a king. You make the hard decisions to set yourself apart. You love ’til it hurts; you hurt ’til you love. You stretch and grope for His hand when you’re in the dark.”

That same person, referencing our Kingdomworks summer, followed the above up with this:

“At present I desire to high-tail it back to where we belong. Back on the streets where our feet are always dirty and the tears sting. Back where each drop of sweat has a purpose and every smile is a slice of heaven.”

Back where we belong. Back where each drop of sweat has a purpose. The degree to which I’m still yearning to do such high-tailing is well nigh incalculable. Next summer will mark 20 years since I did Kingdomworks, and I’m still spending more time than I care to admit trying to recreate that experience. “I want to show you my allegiance, Lord. Yeah, I want to be a son of yours,” as Bill Mallonee and V.O.L. sang.

I want to be a son, indeed. But I can’t. I’m not. Am I? It’s been 19 years since Kingdomworks, 16 years since mom died, and 3 years since dad finally claimed his rest. Have I learned nothing in all that time? Am I still the kid who had to parent his broken, abusive mom? The kid who got straight “A’s” and skipped two grades? The one who stuttered and got fat and was picked on all the time? That kid? Am I the high school grad who left all that behind and moved across the country and into another world in order to start a new life? The one who signed up for Kingdomworks in the first place? The one who committed to the love of his life and quit school to live with her parents and support her at the very school he had just left behind? The one who brought his new bride to Philly to get back on those streets again? Am I the husband and son who saw his mom and father-in-law die just a day apart, half a country, and again- a world- away? The one who later moved into seminary housing with my wife…and dad, who was trying to die again? The one who then moved my wife and father into his mother-in-law’s house, however briefly, to try to help her too? The same one who later invited her to live with us in the master bedroom in our first home? Am I the foster dad of two young, very troubled, African American boys (again, however briefly) and my own miracle son too? The dad who dropped it all when that miracle son was born and made it his full-time job to caregive at his bedside during his 4 month NICU stay? Am I the son who uprooted his family again to move to TX when Dad’s terminal diagnosis came through, asking a couple with meager resources to come and live in the house we left behind in OH and pay much-lower-than-it-should-have-been rent as we did so?

Did I stop being a son when my last parent died? Bill Mallonee and V.O.L. again have something to say:

when i’m broken see what happens
arms wide open see what happens
when i’m broken see what happens
see what happens to me…

What happens to me, indeed? Does Jesus shine in my brokenness? Is God’s strength made manifest in my weakness? Whatever I am, I know this: I am utterly, wholly, repeatedly, and irredeemably reckless….with love. As I’ve said from time to time, my policy is to “love first, and ask questions later.” That policy of course gets me into whole bucketloads of trouble, but I wouldn’t give back any of it. It’s far better than the alternative. Again, as Bill says:

hopeless is as hopeless does
i love you i love you well just because
that’s to say if i drown
let’s no go into that now
eyes on Him i am found
there’s a cross before the crown
hopeless is as hopeless does
i love you well just because
i love you well just because

I love you. Why? Well, just because…

…because I’ve been loved, because that’s how love works in God’s economy- the more you give, the more you have. Why does it matter? It’s true. By the grace of God, I love you….just because.

Hosanna

 

So some of my readers (assuming I have a few) may find the video above too “Christiany” and for some Christians it may be too “CCMy;” I know I certainly struggle with it in that way too. Still, this song has been playing on repeat in my head and, when I’m near a device, in my ears basically since I first came across it a few days ago. So press play and read on. I’ll listen to it as I write, and you can listen as you read. Maybe what I say below will make a little more sense to you that way. Circle of Hope taught me years ago that “without worship, we shrink,” and I’m convinced that’s true. It certainly is for me. Worship doesn’t come easy to me, though. My song, my own voice raised in such worship, has been hard to come by now for a long, long time. I think “real” worship, the kind in which your own heart is brave and raw and reaches out in response to the offer of God’s own brave, raw heart is by definition an act of intense vulnerability. It requires being present in your own skin enough to offer your own true self, minus all the pretense and perception managing we’re so busy with all the time. To be vulnerable like this obviously means taking a risk, and risk-taking for we walking wounded requires bravery, indeed. More than that, though, it requires faith, and I don’t mean the kind that answers questions like “Is the Bible true?” or “Do I believe what it says?” I mean more the kind that dares not to answer questions but to ask them, questions like:

  • “Are you true, Jesus?”
  • “Do you really love me, and if so, why?”
  • “Is your love enough, Jesus- is it big enough, bigger than my pain, and will it really win in the end?”

I know my problems are First World/white people’s problems. I am the 1%, after all, among the richest people to ever walk the face of the earth, regardless of how low my credit score is and how much debt I carry. Still, they’re my problems, and my pain is real pain, inflicted by an inadvertently cruel mother and a sometimes all too cruel (First) world. As well documented on this blog, I had been through so much before Kirsten and I ever met, and together we’ve been through so much more still. Sadly, some of my pain is self-inflicted as I struggle to escape the sins of my parents and my own anxious, depressed, and aspie (-like?) nature. All that said, though, for me to truly worship not just with my life but specifically in song requires me to acknowledge that I am not the center of my own universe, that God is God and I am not, that love and hope and joy and justice and peace and indeed all things are truly possible. It requires me to not just hope for those things but to live into them, even if just for a moment. So if you hear my voice raised in worship, you should know that it’s no joke- a curtain is being pulled back; God’s kingdom is upon us; I’m entering the future.

That’s so very hard to do, though- to live as a person from the future, for whom God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and love has come. It requires “eyes to see”  healing in the midst of pain, justice and peace in the middle of conflict and strife, and love in the midst of hate- or worse- indifference. Harder still, it requires eyes to see myself as I can only trust that God does- as a broken but healed and beloved child of God. I want to be beloved; don’t we all? But I rarely know myself in this way, and I think I know why. You see, Circle of Hope also taught me that the Church exists for those yet to become a part of it, or as God told Abraham, to whatever extent we are blessed, we are blessed to be a blessing. God’s love is so great that even a trinity couldn’t contain it, and it spilled over into God’s good earth and all of us. So surely it’s so great that I couldn’t contain it; which means that if I want to keep experiencing it, deep in my gut, I have to be a conduit of it. The more I give, the more I get. “Break my heart for what breaks yours” from the song above, indeed.

All of this brings me to tonight. Tonight, the Resistance gathered for worship, and Ben started a sermon series on Revelation. As I hoped, he reminded us that prophecy was less about telling the future than it is about telling the truth. He said that it rarely prescribes a fixed outcome that cannot be changed, but rather like Scrooge’s entreaty to the ghost of Christmas future, it describes only what may be (to the extent that it describes the future at all). It offers a choice. It pulls back the veil on the false empires of this world and reminds that we’re called to be citizens of God’s kingdom instead. It reminds us that God’s kingdom will come, in the end, but we’re offered a chance to experience that coming kingdom right here and now. “We all gotta serve somebody,” Dylan sang. Why not serve the One who served and loved us first, and is doing so even now? Why not serve each other? Why not break the cycle of violence and pain in the world with unexpected and undeserved grace? Why not forgive our worst enemy and destroy him by making him our friend? That’s the story we’re invited to be a part of. It’s the only one I want told about me, and it’s one I may yet be able to sing about.

 

I’m Losing Steam (or, my life in Pedro lyrics)

Those who know me know I love David Bazan/Pedro the Lion. Below are the lyrics for his song Foregone Conclusions, which I’ve been listening to and thinking about this morning:

I don’t wanna believe that all of the above is true.
But I could be persuaded if you were to give me proof.
So why don’t you come over Thursday, maybe we can talk it through.
As if some new information were possible to comprehend or introduce.

And after all, you and I are nothing more than foregone conclusions.

And you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord
to hear the voice of the Spirit, begging you to shut the fuck up.
You thought, it must be the devil, tryin to make you go astray.
And besides, it could not have been the Lord because you don’t believe he talks that way.

And after all, you and I are nothing more than foregone conclusions.

Too close to call, yet we’re still so tightly wound around our foregone conclusions.

Yeah we’re nothing more than foregone conclusions.

On the very same album, the next song is The Fleecing:

Deep green hills whose shoulders fade, into the gray tall wet grass.
Whose flesh makes fools of grazing sheep, whose fleecing makes a fool of me.

And who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble?
For every stupid struggle?
I don’t know.
I could buy you a drink.
I could tell you all about it.
I could tell you why I doubt it, and why I still believe.

But I can’t say it like I sing it.
And I can’t sing it like I think it.
And I can’t think it like I feel it.
And I don’t feel a thing.
Oh no – I don’t feel a thing.

And who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble?
For every stupid struggle?
I don’t know.
I could buy you a drink.
I could tell you all about it.
I could tell you why I doubt it, and why I still believe it.
And why I need it.
And what the pharisees don’t see.

And we’d have more drinks. We’d speak of so many things.
But I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.

Somehow these two songs, taken together, do a great job of encapsulating “where I am” right now, at least this morning. I’ve written somewhat frequently recently of my struggles with depression, anxiety, and the related weight gain, etc. I know that I do much, much better when I quit focusing on my struggles and instead pour my energy into loving and serving others, and certainly there is opportunity in my life for that. I know, too, how very blessed (comparatively) I am, and I yearn to never take those blessings for granted.

Nevertheless, still I struggle, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I could go on about this, but for now I think I’ll let David speak for me through one more song, his Secret of the Easy Yoke from Pedro’s debut album:

i could hear the church bells ringing
they pealed aloud your praise
the member’s faces were smiling
with their hands outstretched to shake
it’s true they did not move me
my heart was hard and tired
their perfect fire annoyed me
i could not find you anywhere
could someone please tell me the story
of sinners ransomed from the fall
i still have never seen you, and somedays
i don’t love you at all

the devoted were SELLING bracelets
to remind them why they came
some concrete motivation
when the abstract could not do the same
but if all that’s left is duty, i’m falling on my sword
at least then, i would not serve an unseen distant lord

could someone please tell me the story
of sinners ransomed from the fall
i still have never seen you, and somedays
i don’t love you at all
if this only a test
i hope that i’m passing, cuz i’m losing steam
but i still want to trust you

peace be still (x3)