Sunday, December 16, 2007
Dan Fogelberg said, "My grandfather gave me my first guitar, an old acoustic with palm trees and dancing girls painted on it." He's also quoted as saying, "My dad was vehemently opposed to electric guitars. He did not look on that kind of music as legitimate in any way." But luckily he ignored his father's distaste for electric guitars, having said,"Strats are my favorite electric guitars, and I've got quite a collection."
I remember seeing Dan Fogelberg in concert once. I went with Erin, Bill and Jenene. Bill used to visit my college dorm room with his guitar. He was a much better guitar player than I ever was, but we used to have a lot of fun playing together.
I sang or played Dan Fogelberg's "Longer Than" at more weddings than I can remember.
Check out the youtube video of Dan Fogelberg playing "The Leader of the band."
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Luther expressed this thesis in his famous paradox, A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all subject to all. Through the grace of God alone and not by any work of righteousness of our part, we come into the glorious liberty of the gospel. We are all lords and kings, and priests, as Luther put it. We are set free from the law of sin and death. But this freedom is not for our sake alone, it is also a freedom to serve others. Until we are righteous we cannot really do righteous deeds, no matter how hard we try. Luther said, "Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works. Evil works don't make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works." Lets illustrate this matter in a simple way. A poor artist may paint many pictures, but he will not paint any good pictures. An inferior contractor may build many homes, but he will not construct any good homes.
The person who is still bound to sin and enslaved to others is not free to truly love his neighbor. A moments reflection on our part confirms the truth of Luther's insight. If we are still in bondage to sin our serving will flow out of that center. We will not have the single eye that gives light to all we do. Pride and fear and manipulation will control our actions. We will not be free to serve our neighbor in simplicity if we are still in bondage to others serving will flow out of that center. We will be controlled by a desire to impress them or receive their help. Without gospel liberty we will forever measure who we are by the yardstick of others. We will not be free to serve our neighbor in simplicity. But once the grace of God has broken into our lives we are free. When we are free from the control of our neighbor, we are able to obey God. And as we obey God with a single heart we are given a new power and desire to serve our neighbor from whom we are now free. We have become servants of our neighbors and yet lords of all. We know simplicity of life. Luther concludes, "A Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian."
(Excerpt from Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity)
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
I find you, Lord, in all things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life,
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.
The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world:
groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Born in Prague, Austria
This poem is from The Book of Hours 1905. Rilke is said to have written these poems and a book of thirteen connected short stories called, Tales of God “out of his experience of Russia and Nietzsche and Lou.” Rilke was greatly influenced by “Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, who had given a name to the yearning place that the young poet had already hollowed out in himself: the death of God. And Nietzsche had defined the task of art: God-making.” Lou Andreas-Salome was the woman who Nietzsche had fallen in love with and had proposed to at age eighteen. The story has it that her refusal led to Nietzsche’s derangement. At age thirty-four she took Rilke for a lover and had accompanied him to Russia on two trips. She later became an associate of Sigmund Freud. The poems are written through the persona of a Russian monk. Rilke later worked as a secretary in Paris for the sculptor Rodin.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Black birds slice their evening patterns—
long curves in the sky. Everything
is drawing down into shade.
But the dark, which is at first so simple
is not simple. Away from the farmhouse
with slits of yellow, the monochrome
develops like a print in the chemical bath.
The unbroken velvet swims
with complications so subtle that
seeing and hearing must take their time
to know. The shadow purples,
the dusk intricate with crickets. The sky
infested with pricks of light.
My whole body an ear, an eye.
Monday, September 3, 2007
"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.... A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Every year, with the coming of spring, my wife and I are faced with the perennial task of yard maintenance. This work consists of clearing fallen branches and pinecones from beneath our Monterey Pines, trimming the lawns, and the assiduous weed control. Pulling the intruders from the soil by hand, or hacking down the first assault with my “weed-whacker” is a job I have learned to enjoy. Of course, the power tool is effective on the higher weeds, but the new growth quickly reclaims our one acre property, in spite of the new bark we put down to bring the land to submission. The insidious growth of weeds in our vegetable and flowerbeds, grass and rose garden is difficult to stay ahead of in an earth safe way.
Poets and prophets have used flowers and weeds as metaphor in their sayings. They often ponder the difference between the two. Clearly, some analogies have reference to people, as does Jesus’ parable of “the wheat and the tares.” Jesus often uses weeds as instructive metaphors in many of his teachings. In the parable of the sower, he spoke about the “good seed” being “choked by the weeds” (Matthew 13:7). I recently read a contemporary story of "the wheat and the tares” in which “an enemy did this” (Matthew 13:28). Apparently, a disgruntled worker introduced the jimson weed to North America by scattering the seeds in the fields of a farmer who had fired him from his job.
I commented to my Mom the other day saying; the Gravenstein orchard across the road was infested with mistletoe. She told me that Luther Burbank had imported European Mistletoe into California in the 1900s. I read somewhere that since that time, it has spread to 24 tree species, including the willow, alder, poplar, elm, mountain ash, crabapple, pear and the Gravenstein apple. In fact, one of Burbank’s experimental gardens is a five-minute walk from my house. I doubt Luther Burbank meant to cause harm, as the disgruntled worker seeking revenge did, but the plant has proven to be harmful to trees where the infestations are thick.
In consideration of the earth, people, flowers and weeds I agree with the poet, Luci Shaw when she says, “How drab our world would seem without fields and mountainsides carpeted with wildflowers in spring––multicolored lupines, Indian paintbrush, Texas bluebonnets, California poppies, trilliums, snowdrops and buttercups, bunchberries, forget-me-nots, edelweiss. All of them, and many others, grow spontaneously, filling the air with fragrance and color. And they’re all weeds, every one of them….”
In her book, “The Crime of Living Cautiously, Luci Shaw quotes from a Richard Wilbur poem, “Two voices in a Meadow,” In About a Milkweed Pod:
Anonymous as cherubs
Over the crib of God,
White seeds are floating
Out of my burst pod.
What power had I
Before I learned to yield?
Shatter me, great wind:
I shall possess the field.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
(Collected Poems: 1957-1982 by Wendell Berry)
So, friends, every day do something,
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing....
Love someone who does not deserve it....
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias...
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered the facts....
Sunday, April 1, 2007
In spite of the Evangelical emphasis on “personal evangelism,” “personal salvation,” and the need for a “personal relationship” with Jesus, much of the modern church experience has been depersonalized. In the face of the “God is dead” claims and the increasing secularization of culture, Evangelicals fearing that the authority of scripture and the influence of the church were quickly loosing ground, reduced Christianity to a “battle for the mind.”
Christian apologetics focused on the truth claims in scripture, believing that a logical appeal to those outside of faith was all that was necessary. Every thoughtful Christian had read Josh McDowell’s, Evidence that demands a Verdict, in an effort to honor the Apostle Peter’s admonition to “Always be prepared to give an answer…” The now infamous “Lord, lunatic or liar “ appeal was often delivered while ignoring the second part of Peter’s admonition, concerning, “gentleness and respect.”
The accusation that Evangelical Christians are more concerned about “thinking right, rather than living rightly” is evidenced in the many unchanged lives of believers. Ronald Sider’s question, “Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world?” should be obvious. We have to often insisted in presenting the truth claims about Christ, while giving spare attention to the call, “...in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”
The modern understanding of what it means to “believe” or have “faith” in something or someone has clouded the true meaning of what it is to be Christian. In scripture “believing” concerns more than a mere “mental assent” that something is true. As my Pastor, today quoted from the book of James, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that –– and shudder.” Meaning that saying you believe something is true is not enough. Believing cannot be separated from what we do.
From what we can know about the first century followers of Jesus, the description “Christian” was mostly recorded as a derogatory designation. The idea of a “personal relationship” with Jesus may have been implied, but was not referred to in the New Testament. “Confessing that “Jesus is Lord” or believing in the “Lordship of Christ" was the preferred requirement for followers of the Way. This was a political statement and cost many their lives.
The Gospel of Mark gives us three imperatives as an invitation into the Jesus way. “Repent,’ requires a decision to leave one way of life for another. It commands a change of mind or heart that results in a change of direction. The second imperative, ‘Believe,’ requires a personal, trusting, relational involvement in this comprehensive reordering of reality. And the third imperative, ‘Follow,’ gets us moving obediently in a way of life that is visible and audible in Jesus, a way of speaking and thinking, imagining and praying, that is congruent with the present, immediate (“at hand”) kingdom realities” (Peterson, 21-22).
Eugene Peterson points out that of all the “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John, one is most often quoted, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” He says it is also the “most frequently dismissed.” Although Evangelical Christians have been quick to affirm that Jesus is the truth, we have mostly set aside the fact that Jesus is the way. Without “Way” and “Truth” operating together we never realize Jesus “the Life.”
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me" (John 14-23-24).
Friday, March 30, 2007
It’s been a month or so since I read Tony Campolo's latest book, Letters to a Young Evangelical, but I have continued to consider my own experiences in evangelicalism. Compolo is certainly appropriate in the role of mentor; he is reasonably evenhanded in both the celebration of this heritage as well as its many pitfalls. But other writers have been less charitable when considering the anti-intellectualism associated with Evangelicals. In his cultural critique, Mark Noll, McManis Professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College argues, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."
Having grown up in conservative evangelicalism, I can remember being cautioned about trusting information from disciplines like psychology, anthropology and history for that matter. I think there was a fear that using information from other disciplines would lead people in error concerning the Scriptures and their faith. Certainly there is some truth in this, because Science has often postulated ideas that were in seeming conflict with the Christian worldview. But the “God said it, I believe it” literalist approach to the Bible that fails so often to consider grammatical forms, meanings of language or the contextual relevancy of Scripture points to what Noll and others would call the “disaster of fundamentalism.” Any effort to harmonize special revelation with general revelation from other fields of study is often viewed as giving into the world or secularism.
Many Evangelical Christians are overly uncomfortable with ambiguity. The tendency for many people is to reduce faith in God into something simple, formulaic, managed, safe. It's unfortunate, but often the need for safety in religion leads to dogmatic fanaticism. Evangelicals have spent a great amount of energy to determine how everything is going to turn out. The numerous end of world predictions and theories of Jesus' imminent return, the rapture (a term not found in scripture) and other eschatological confusion: postmillennialism, premillennialism, amillennialism and for those of us who just couldn't buy into any of this, panmillennialism (It will all pan out in the end!). The goal for some has been to figure out God and totally understand him, but as many thinking Christians have come to realize, "The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up. And if we made him up, then we are in control" (Bell, 25).
"The way of Jesus cannot be imposed or mapped — it requires an active participation in following Jesus as he leads us through sometimes strange and unfamiliar terrritory, in circumstances that become clear only in the hesitations and questionings, in the pauses and reflections where we engage in prayerful conversation with one another and with him" (Peterson, 18).
Sunday, March 11, 2007
A few years ago, “life strategist” and TV personality Phillip C. McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, wrote a book entitled Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out. Although I’m not an avid fan of the self-help genre, I paused while flipping through channels to listen to him plug his book on Oprah. Like Robert Clinton, Dr. Phil enthusiastically explained the importance of recognizing some of the key external factors that have shaped everyone’s life. He encouraged people to trace ten defining moments, seven critical choices, and five pivotal people that influenced who they are today. Although I never read Dr. Phil’s book, I have been thinking about some of the pivotal people in my life.
When I worked on the Clinton/McGraw analysis of my life for the course I was taking, I realized that one of the patterns that can be observed is that there are constants that characterize most people’s lives. Some of these constants can be identified as those people who have nurtured and encouraged you all of your life, Most often these are family members, but having grown-up in a military family we were often stationed far from grandparents and cousins. For this reason many military families end up “adopting” other people into their own families. Many of these “family members” play a provisional role, but some become more influential than “blood relatives”. Keeping in touch with these “extended family” has been one of those life lessons. Foundational to the health of any person are the people who care and love you. Those are most often the people whom we have shared life experiences.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
For a number of weeks before this, when we would go to the gym my wife would borrow my iPod while we exercised on the treadmills. It was at the gym I decided to get my wife an iPod of her own. Two years before, one of my employees had strongly urged that they should give me a 30GB Color iPod for my college graduation present. I knew that she probably wouldn’t be as excited about receiving an iPod as I had been, but thought it would be a fine gift anyway. At least she wouldn’t have to borrow mine.
We were trying to be more modest in our purchases that year and I had been cautioned not to spend a lot of money. I went to Costco in hopes of finding an iPod that would be affordable. Although I had every intention in buying an iPod, it was difficult to decide which one I should get. My quandary was that I had a 30GB iPod and that wasn’t enough media storage space for me. This expectation made purchasing the iPod shuffle out of the question, and the 30GB or 80GB iPods were just too expensive. This left me with the choice of the iPod nano with the capacity of 1000 or more songs, six different colors, and storage space of 2GB, 4GB or 8GB. I narrowed it down to a choice between the 2GB and 4GB models because the price of $249.00 for the 8GB iPod was the same list price of the 30GB iPod with 2.5-inch color video display. After some determined deliberation I left the store without my wife’s big gift. I was plagued with the feeling that 2GB was priced reasonable but would not be enough memory, and that the cost difference between the 4GB iPod and the 30GB video iPod were so close that I felt it made the 4GB iPod a bad choice.
A week later I was a bit disgusted with myself, not having purchased the gift yet. My indecisiveness had got the best of me and made me feel kind of silly for not making my mind up there and then to go back to the store and make the purchase. After all, what was the big deal! I expressed my disgust to a friend who in turn suggested that we look on craigslist to find an iPod that someone may be selling for a better price. In minutes we had found a 4GB iPod nano that was unopened in its original package for a little less than what it would cost to purchase a 2GB iPod at Costco. I made my mind up and after contacting the selling party I jumped in my car and drove to Mill Valley on one of the stormiest days of the year.
During the forty-five minute drive through torrential rainfall I began to question whether I had made the right decision. Eventually I did find the sellers home but not without getting lost on the winding roads up to their residence. I knocked on the door seeing the man I had spoken with on the phone, through a front widow working at a desk. I was welcomed in out of the rain and we made our transaction in his entree way. I tried to make small talk by asking him what he did for a living. He told me that he was a corporate business consultant. Looking at his home and artwork on the walls I imagined that he was very good at what he did. He asked me if I was buying the iPod for myself or for a Christmas gift. I told him that it was for my wife but I had a 30GB iPod myself. The man told me that he had got the iPod nano as a promotion gift when he bought a laptop for his daughter. After telling me that he had the 30GB iPod too, he paused for a moment and said, “The iPod has changed my life!”
On my drive home and since then I have been thinking about what this guy said. I realized that the reason I had gone to such lengths to purchase my wife an iPod was because my iPod had altered my life too. I know this may sound to some (those who don’t own an iPod) that I am a bit shallow or at the very least I have been swayed by consumerist exploitation, but the fact is that I do life differently since I was given the gift of an iPod. Proof of this is simple. Why else would I be taking it everywhere I go? Where else would I find so much of my growing music collection at my fingertips? How else would my treasured collection of hundreds of cds end up in my garage? How would I have listened to so many audio books, lectures and sermons? How could I be reading Soren Kierkegaard’s, Fear and Trembling while listening to insights and commentary given in lectures at UC Berkeley by renown philosopher Hubert Dreyfus? I could provide more examples and come up with the same conclusion. Why else would I have written this protracted post? “The iPod has changed my life!”
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Lecture by Eugene H. Peterson at Calvin College
(Reads the introduction to his book, see my April 2006 post)
Eugene H. Peterson, now retired, was for many years James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also served as founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. In addition to his widely acclaimed paraphrase of the New Testament, "The Message," he has written many other books. His most recent book is entitled, "Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places", a conversation in spiritual theology.
Listen to this lecture (Requires RealPlayer)
Friday, January 12, 2007
Walter Wink’s book reflects an “open view” of God’s ongoing role with humankind and creation. Believing that the “classical view” of God’s providence over the affairs of humankind does not explain the problem of evil in individuals, nations, institutions and other areas of social reality. Wink believes that the Powers are inherently fixed into God’s system, whose human face is Jesus, but that God has self-limited himself (herself) by giving us freewill. The author affirms the importance of the Apostle Paul’s words about Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15-17).
Wink believes power relationships between people, systems, institutions and structures are necessary and created for good; however he acknowledges that their authority or purposes can be perverted through the wrong choices of people. Ultimately, he says that we should resist the inducement to demonize those who do evil, believing that all Powers are salvageable or redeemable. He is particularly concerned about the invisible aspects of our institutions. “The Powers That Be are not then simply people and their institutions, as I had first thought; they also include the spirituality at the core of those institutions and structures” (4). Wink maintains that the Gospel must extend beyond individual liberation to the transformation of the Powers in our societies, enabling them to do good rather than evil, helping them recover and live out their unique calling from God.
The conversation shifted from thoughts about self-replicating systemic evil, national, and corporate violence to a discussion about individual evil. How do we learn to practice nonviolence in a culture that believes the myth of redemptive violence? My colleague said that his Buddhist teacher stressed the importance of guarding our words and thoughts, because our words always precede our actions. This reminded me of the now “bumper sticker” wisdom of postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida, “There is nothing outside the text.” This also relates to my understanding of the Buddhist teaching, “Life is illusion.” Without the text we would not know how to experience our world.
Philosopher James K.A. Smith says, “When Derrida claims that there is nothing outside the text, he means there is no reality that is not always already interpreted through the lens of language…Texts that require interpretation are not things that are inserted between me and the world; rather, the world is a kind of text requiring interpretation” (39).
All this makes the description of Christ as the “Logos” in the prologue to the Gospel of John more exciting, remembering that the Word is always previous. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-5).
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Last year I read a book by Ted Dekker. In the book the author says that often it is new believers that are the most passionate about their faith but from the day of their confession they begin slipping into “the slumber of Christianity.” Many find that they have lost their passion and are only going through the motions. Somehow we lose our sense of gratitude, joy, and wonder.
This was one of those times for my friend, but I could not wait to tell him how my life had changed since I had reconnected to faith in Jesus. Leo Tolstoy marveled at how faith and conversion turns a person around when he said, “Everything that was on my right side is now on my left.” This is where I found myself. I was filled with joy and experiencing wonder in the anticipation of what God was doing. I had been awakened from sleep. I was like a new convert trying to express the inexpressible.
Eugene Peterson says, “It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.”