A meditation on Isaiah 5

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Something I threw together last week. “Finishing the Song” is the title:

“I have decided to plant a garden on that hill,” the Gardener said one Spring afternoon.

“That hill?” his son asked.

“That hill,” the Gardener answered.

“Why?”

“Because that’s the hill I chose.”

“It is fertile and eager for life,” the counselor said. “The rocks can be removed. The soil can be turned.”

“You’d know,” the son replied. “What about our enemies?”

“We will build a watchtower,” the counselor replied. “All will be welcomed if they seek peace. Those who don’t will be rejected.”

“Why a garden at all?”

“I am King, my son, but I am more. I want to have the world see me through the life I bring. I want people on the road to see my garden. Take in the beauty. Taste the fresh fruit. Drink the wine. I want them to see who I am before they see me.”

“You have already planted a garden.”

“Yes! But that is within the walls now. No one can see that garden anymore. They can’t taste that fruit. Not yet. They will. But not yet. Now, I want to have a garden outside the walls. A garden of life which points to life.”

So they got to work, masters at what they do, eager to step down from their heights and get their hands dirty. Rocks were taken away. Paths were cleared. Choice seeds were found and planted with care. Vines were tended. Small saplings grew to strong trees. Flowers began to bloom. The garden flourished. It was beautiful and the bounty of what it offered in fruit and vegetables was vast. Vintners came and tasted the wine.

“It is magnificent,” they said. “We must share with those back home.”

Messengers were sent to the Gardener King. They brought gifts and praise and honor, declaring his work to be beyond measure.

The Gardener smiled. His son smiled. The counselor smiled.

Those who were hired to tend the garden smiled but not as much as before. They became discontent. The garden was not interesting enough anymore. They heard of different flowers and different trees and different ways of tending the soil. One fellow came along and told them tales of a garden he saw years before.

“There was this tree,” he said. “The fruit of which… wow, amazing. Really opened your mind. Too bad the Gardener won’t let you plant that here. It was something else.”

Those in the garden asked more; about how to find this tree, how to care for it, what it was like, if it could be planted again.

“Well, there are ways,” the man replied. “Of course, you can’t ask the Gardener King. There are others who can help. You need to ask them. They will show you beauty and tastes you can’t even begin to imagine.”

The servants began asking around and taking the advice of any who would offer it. It didn’t take long for their efforts to be noticed.

The counselor came by one day and plucked a fig off a tree, then spit it out after taking a bite.

“Terrible! I must mention this to the Gardener.”

The Gardener knew something had been going wrong, but took special notice now. He saw the flowers were dull and hardly any bees were around. The trees looked brown and the branches drooped. The grapes on the vines were small, shriveled. He tripped over some rocks, rocks that weren’t there before, stumbling into the dirt. He put his nose next to the soil and sniffed. Something was wrong. The soil was poisoned.

“What more could I have done?” he asked, tears streaming down his face. “I had a beautiful garden, with choice grapes and gorgeous flowers. Now look. What have you made of it? The soil is ruined. Nothing will grow.”

His anger began to rise.

“I will tear down the trees. I will break down the hedges. The watchtower will be abandoned. This hill will become a wasteland!”

The servants scattered. The Gardener and his counselor went back to the castle where they met the son..

“The garden is ruined,” the counselor said.

“Can anything be done?” the son asked.

“Yes,” the Gardener said. “But not now. The soil must recover. Then it must be replanted. New, healthy plants grafted onto the old to bring new life. It can be done. But the servants can’t be trusted to do it. Who can I trust? Who can bring life?”

“I will go,” the son replied. “I will replant your garden.”

a note

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I like the occasional foreign movie. They are usually delightfully different than American films. I don’t mind subtitles all that much.

I also like to have the occasional television show or movie on in the background during late afternoon and evening when I tend to do my least thought intensive computer work. I’m generally staring at my computer, with only an occasional glance left at the television. But, I follow the plot and it distracts my mind.

That all being the case I am realizing that foreign language movies do not make for good background movies. Yojimbo is on. I don’t understand Japanese. I’m working on some web design tasks staring at the computer. Thus I can’t read the subtitles.

Yet, I don’t change the channel. I wonder if there is something zen about that.

Emerging Church Ecclesiology

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Got into a brief conversation recently about Emerging Church ecclesiology. As that was a major topic of interest for me for a number of years it seems a little surprising I haven’t really written out my thoughts more specifically. Of course, this may have to do with the fact that once out of seminary there is a surprising lack of people coming up to me wanting to discuss the intricacies of postmodern ecclesiology. But, since I wrote out my basic thoughts in an email, and a longer work elsewhere, I thought I might as well note it here. This being my spot for noting things and whatnot.

Basically, for the past 1500 years ecclesiology has primarily been top down. The Bishops constitute the Church, and from their authority derives the status of the congregation. This is clearly and explicitly true for Catholic and Orthodox churches. However, in Protestant churches which may more formally dismiss the idea of apostolic succession there is still this attitude. A church is constituted by the faithful preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Every church high and low would basically affirm this in essence. Even the most virulently anti-Catholic fundamentalist church has the idea it is primarily formed for the preaching of the Word, and is under the authority of the Pastor called for that authority.

With apostolic succession the authority derives from the transmission of Christ to Peter to his successors to those bishops the successors appoint. In Protestant churches, the authority derives from Scripture, the Word, and thus from this representation of the Gospel is the authority.

Although entirely more complicated than discussed here, I would suggest this could be called a Christological Ecclesiology. The ecclesiology derives from Christ, and by necessity of this process contains within itself the authority of Christ to be passed downwards into the congregation. Thus the massive emphasis on leaders, with whatever titles each movement wants to give them. This can be supported in a lot of ways, not least through the Body metaphor of Paul. So thoroughly is Christological Ecclesiology assumed that there’s no room whatsoever for conversation on this topic.

The Church is what it is, and while other theologies can be played around with, it stays static in its basic representation.

The Emerging Church, however, when it is functioning healthy and consistently is a bottom up ecclesiology. This is where I differ from Frost and Hirsch, who emphasize a leader focused model still — and this is also why I mention “healthy and consistent” in my description, as one of the key churches Frost and Hirsch highlight folded a few years back, as do many Emerging churches.

A bottom up ecclesiology, rather than deriving from Christ authority to pass into the congregation and spread to the community, instead as a gathered community (and only as a community gathered in equality) is constituted to reflect Christ upwards and outwards. Christ is seen as the gathered community worships, works, celebrates, and otherwise use their gifts in a holistic manner. Rather than authority constituting the church, the authority of the Church, and with it its functional leadership, is constituted only by those who are participants. Those who join together form the field of Christ’s Body, and those who join add in both practical and mystical ways to this authority, which resonates then outwards into the world in certain patterns depending on the specifics of the participants. The leadership is by nature then functional not constitutive, thus can never have the degree of power or authority which derives from a Christ representing position.

This is how I see the functioning of the Emerging Church, and I would call it a Pneumatological ecclesiology. Here the very essence of the Church is not moved from Christ downwards into finding aspects of the Spirit in each person, but instead begins with the indwelling of each particular Christian and moves upwards and outwards through the Spirit into creating a bond of unity and diversity that recreates the image of Christ in the gathered Body.

The Quakers, though not specifically noted, share a similar dynamic. George Fox, in his journals, can be characterized by his rather extreme emphasis on the power of the Spirit in and for each person. This is why, I think, there is much affinity to be found between these movements.

While this does reflect also some of the thought of current theologians, the emerging church leaders, taking more of an instinctive rather than intentional move, have tapped into this same drive. They have felt more willing to see how it works out in practice, feeling free to let their essential theology be the guide rather than forcing a model of church no matter other considerations.

I think this better matches both Scripture and theology in a number of ways, though it is so entirely undermining of all present power structures and models (as one would expect from the Holy Spirit) it would be fought against so hard as to have some even rank it a heresy, even by those who would normally seem avant garde.

This is how I understand the Emerging Church movement, at least. Though, as I seem to be the only one thinking this way I might be wrong.

best self

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The more I delve into Christian spirituality the more hopeful I become. This might surprise anyone who has been around me recently, as hope is not likely on the list of characteristics they would submit if asked.

But, that’s part of the reality of much Christian hope. It’s not the sort of hope like, “I hope My Name is Earl is new this week.” A quick check on the Yahoo television listing says that it is, and thus that hope is quite easily given a boost.

Or, it’s not even like, “I hope she likes me”. Though that sort of hope has a much more potent reality behind it and in the lifting up or the crushing down can mimic in all sorts of ways the deeper spiritual emotions. Which is why some folks bounce around in romance so often, of course. The hope of another’s validation and commitment is so much more palpable than coming to terms with God, who never rejects but doesn’t often seem quite as close on a Friday night. Because we are all made in the image of God, romance has hints of the divine running all through it. It tastes of that ideal community which we all, in our deepest selves, yearn for. To be sure, those that find it, even if for a season, make it appear perfection and salvation especially for those not so predestined.

But it’s a taste. And it is a taste that oftentimes requires our becoming another sort of person in order to achieve. We will sacrifice great swaths of who we are in order to meet the checklists of a judging world to find ourselves in positions of acceptability.

The hope of Christian spirituality is something different, which is why there’s so much angst involved. If you think there is no angst involved than you are not delving into Christian spirituality, as everyone who is anyone has said there not only is but also more than you ever expect. Christian spirituality has as its goal the reality of becoming. This seems quite Buddhist, I suppose, and maybe there is here a slight sharing of paths. But the object is different in each, as is the ultimate reality and most everything else.

The Christian is not about becoming a repressed automaton. The Christian is not about dividing up into teams of followers or leaders. The Christian is not about becoming a nameless, faceless servant at the bidding of divine representatives in order to make enough heaven tokens so as to pay Peter at the gate.

The goal of Christian spirituality is to live life as a dance, a dance with wind and water and fire. It is to live fluidly in this life, even in challenges especially in joys, always discovering new steps and moving not to set pattern, but improvising with the music in learned ways. The goal of the Christian is not to lose self to the authority of a secret club but instead to become our best selves.

What does that mean? This is at the heart of the spiritual gifts, and at the heart of the Spirit’s work in restoration. When we are called by God we are not called into loss but into gain, not only gain of God’s satisfaction but gain of realizing who we truly are, who we have been made to be. This is the joy of the spiritual life as we encounter ourselves fully for the first time, and the intrepid sorts are willing to wade not only through the joy that is becoming but also the darkness that sticks like tar to the inner self.

The best self involves washing off this tar, sometimes with a hose, sometimes with tweezers. It also involves discovery of that which is representative of who we are in this world. In the Church this is our constant, daily, active, and promoted use of our particular spiritual gifts, which is a phrase made into much more than it really is. Do what God created you to do, Paul is saying. He made you in a certain way, so do those things and let other people do the sorts of things that He made them for. Empowered by the Spirit our very essence in action points back to the Spirit, thus to Christ, thus to the Father.

Our best self isn’t limited to Church, however. Thank Goodness. Our best self is also discovered in the daily grind of life, in our vocations, in our relationships, in our loves and hates and habits.

It involves letting go that which the world suggests is our best selves and discovering for ourselves the whispers of the Spirit.

In college I wanted to become a lawyer. I likely would have been a good lawyer. Only that path didn’t move forward for a lot of reasons, a lot of which had to do with my prayers that it move forward. I would have been a good lawyer, most likely, but I would not in becoming a lawyer become my best self, that path seems to have insisted on seminary rather than law school — though it might be quite the opposite for someone else.

Best self is that quality of personal achievement in which we are fully doing that which most exemplifies our particular gifts and lessons and experiences, maximizing our contributions to others and to ourselves. While the non-spiritual seek to do that which maximizes income, or power, or ego, the one who seeks Christian spirituality seeks something deeper and broader and fuller. Such a person seeks not to resonate to the world in this moment but to resonate to the world for eternity, tapping into the fullness of God’s work so as to participate in the manner of God’s ordination. Tapping into that brings a person from existing to becoming, and in so doing is a discovery of profound importance.

Where should we be that we are fully who we are? That is the dance. That is where the music is leading us. That requires, all too often, tearing and confusion and frustration and alienation and isolation as we break free from the constraints of a temporal world and begin to see according to the Spirit’s rhythms and listen to the Spirit’s melody and discover the eternal reality of which faith in us opens up.

It is Peter stepping off the boat. It is also Peter stepping into the Temple and preaching Jesus. And Peter stepping to Rome to find his own death. It is Peter preaching in the streets, and Peter embracing the fullness of God’s promises that have no boundary of life and death. It is the Peter whose name we know because in following Jesus he became himself most fully. We don’t know the names of those who found Jesus’ teachings too difficult and so walked away, likely back into lives much more explicable. The rich, young ruler kept his riches, and didn’t become the writer of 1st and 2nd Antioch, which might have followed the book of Hebrews.

In discovering our best self through the Spirit we wade through the utter angst so as to push it aside and leave behind that grinding, aching, angst that so many endure throughout their lives and justify by pointing to the supposed security of their existence. This is, of course, why they are not content in all circumstances, because it is an artifice that can easily be destroyed by illness, or rumors of illness, or disaster, or supposed conspiracy.

This is why I have hope, even now in the middle of a particularly deep muddle. The present road may be long. It may be full of shadows and long stretches with not a taste of even brackish water, but it is a road to discovery, and in casting off that which points otherwise I have in mind the discovery of the Spirit, which is the discovery of my own best self in not only worship and eternal destination, but more powerfully the discovery of my becoming in whole the person Christ called. The road may be bumpy now. It may be lonely. But, there is peace ahead. There is a river of living water. There is hope that is so utterly grounded that it seems palpable even without seeing. There also I will finally meet myself, and meet others who have traveled this road, where we can become, and do, and help those who struggle for the same.

redeeming temptations

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The whole topic of temptations and sin and sins is fraught with danger. It’s a lot like rooting around an electrical system, one in which the power can’t be turned off. So, a person is likely as not to get a major shock. There certainly are things that can be done, safety gloves, helmets with big plastic visors, jumpsuits made of sythentic space fabrics with complicated danger logos pasted all over it.

Still, the danger comes, mostly because with sin, it come from inside out as much as outside in.

Analysis of sin, then, almost defies any attempt to really go deeper.

Then there are the spiritual realms, if that’s something you admit. Even if you don’t they are still there, just have to talk about them in a different sort of way. Attack the root of the problems and the source of the problems gets crabby.

Just like with war really.

The expectation then is there will be danger in such a topic as sanctification. So what to do? Temptations will never go away, and chances are there will be more than a few stumbles and bruises and damaged egos in any attempt. John Wesley noted that after his strangely warming Aldersgate Experience in which he was finally assured his sins were forgiven and which launched a ministry that shakes the world still he was afflicted with more temptations and felt beaten more times than any other time in his life.

There can be, I think, three reactions to sin once on the road to divine restoration. The first is to cave, give in, sin boldly. This, of course, won’t help because it’s like walking down the mountain in an attempt to get to the peak. But, it is quite a relief to just let loose and feel the neuro-chemical reward of doing so. The second is to fight the temptation in the moment, not sinning but not going any farther than the legality. This involves avoiding sin because sin is bad and bad sin shouldn’t be done. Each temptation is avoided in each moment. Each symptom is addressed as it happens. The root causes aren’t explored because there’s no reason to open that door.

This may result in being the worst choice because in not addressing the core causes, the force of the temptations come out even if not in obviously sinful ways. By letting the fires burn beneath the surface, by never dissipating the passions, these then push their way out, often in destructive and confusing ways. This is the foundation of so much religious angst, in which people think that because they are following the list of rules they are fine. Indeed, this can cause the worst sorts of sins because in thinking they are fine they begin to justify their outrageous evils, calling it god when God has nothing to do with it. They confuse hell fire with Spirit fire, and lose entire generations in the process.

The third way is to acknowledge the temptation and seek to root it out. This rooting out has even less to do with the second way than the first, oddly enough. We can stumble and discover the roots, even as we plead, again, for grace and forgiveness. Ignoring the root causes, however, leaves us little more than legalistic drones, unthinking, unanalyzing, inflexible to life and its many calls upon us. But, ideally, there is a mix of the two, involving the fighting against the temptation but in the fighting analyzing the approach, the tactics, the style, all the things that come against us or from within us that manifest in all too often illogical or silly ways.

This is the best because it involves opening oneself up to analysis, involving the Spirit in conversation and seeking in the midst of being flayed to see what makes a body tick. When we are opened up under temptation or distress we can see ourselves for who we are and at that moment we can take higher and quicker steps towards God.

In this we can also turn the temptations around, making use of them rather than them making comical use of us. We can take our own brutal feelings and discover their source, and in that discovery become the sorts of people who overcome the root causes, and can speak to others in the deeper ways of reality.

I note this now as precisely an example of this. All weekend I’ve been feeling really angry. That anger is directed inwards, in tempting me towards depression, and outwards in what could easily be bursts of frustration at inconsequential causes. This is a sort of anger that doesn’t have a primary cause, and a type of anger I rarely feel. The times that come to mind go back to my last couple years in college.

I note this now, and have noted other things, because I want to take stock of my self. I want to see what is spoken in this moment. Rather than give in, I analyze, putting myself in the lab, as both subject and scientist. In this I may not feel victorious, but I will make it serve a useful end.

I feel the anger deep within and look around my life, wondering what has built up, and what I can do. I assess both practical causes in various events or non-events and I also assess the spirituality of the moment. I am sensitive to spiritual things, sometimes a whole lot more than I would like to endure.

I was bad at this earlier today but I remind myself now that I need to fight to recover prayer, even if a few words. I need to see those claws that grab hold of my being and let go that which they grip. I see myself quite starkly in the fire misted fury and realize how much more work there is ahead of me in pursuits of God’s depths. The consolation being that the Spirit is not apart from this but alongside, urging me forward, picking me up when I collapse, whispering words of help, helping me to redeem the temptations. All because it is not in the absence of temptation that maturity is gained but in the overcoming of them. Those without temptations are those deemed without worth in the greater struggle.

So, I feel, and I fight, and I ponder, and I seek to hear amidst the ravaging clamor the words of peace. And I wait. I watch. I try to turn to look upwards, taking this moment of stark clarity to look down and identify where the anchors are attached. I do this so that even if I cannot address them with strength now, I can when I am whole again. I do this so that next time there will be less of a storm, and then less, until the tempest becomes a breeze, and the peace of the Spirit fills my deepest being.

the genie’s wish

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It’s a cool, breezy Saturday. A day for the mind to wander a little bit. Random rather than particular ways.

I got to thinking about genies. You know the kind who live in those persian lamps or in bottle’s of 1960s astronauts. That’s a pretty rotten deal they have when you think about it. They have their little space into which they shrink and retreat to on occasion, are on the beck and call of whoever owns the lamp, and expected to respond with some measure of authority when called forth, pleased to serve, eager to help, happy to oblige. I would guess they get used to it after a while.

In our selfish consideration we think about how great it would be to own a genie lamp, so we could get our wishes, vanquish our enemies, get a new car, and fancy clothes. Today, though, I got to thinking about that genie.

Who answers when he calls? I would bet that sort of thing gets discouraging. Having to be there for the call, but never able to make a call himself. Giving a wish, but never getting one.

A curious life really. I think if I ever find a lamp I’d first off ask what the genie wants. It’d be the least I could do.

the paths before us

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The stages of the Christian life aren’t very well explored. We like to make a big deal out of the transition from unsaved to saved but don’t ever really parse what comes after that, and by not parsing what comes after there’s a lot of confusion among those who venture down the path past the gates of Grace into the deeper realms of the Spirit. This means we’re all sort of left to self-discovery, walking blind, trying to follow the path we can’t really see, hoping to hear other voices along the way and avoid getting torn up by the thorns that line the road. Though, we avoid the thorns because of our already bloodied legs and a desire to run rather than walk or stumble.

The pull of the Spirit before us brings us to discover Christ, and in discovering Christ our eyes are opened to mysteries and newfound peace and tastes of heavenly fruit. Sometimes this is coupled with physical blessings, more often it is accompanied by being thrust down newly opened paths. Much like going to a recruiter some are thrown into quicker routes of activity, seeing the results of their faith sooner, others are picked from among the ranks to train more, endure hardship, find light only after darkness, and experience the depths of hell so as to best understand the heights of heaven. These latter God places on a different path, with a heavy hand pushing and prodding and provoking and preventing. The blessings expected of faith that others see, such people do not see, and often aren’t even allowed the blessings that even those outside of the faith are given as normal parts of life. Such people are plucked like brands from the fire, given gifts and then given inner drives which don’t allow them to settle. God sends grace, but also allows evil spirits to never let one rest or be content in just any circumstance, whether in career, or in spirituality, or in relationships. We are drawn by light and whipped by darkness, ever coming to terms with the Divine “Yes!” and the Divine “No!”

Where we don’t hear the whispers and wander down darkened paths we are forcibly pulled aside and pointed right, all to the point where it almost seems there are no choices in life. We go where God allows us to go. While others can explore the range of roads, we find roadblocks all around, with the Divine “Yes!” being that which works out, and finds full agreement within and without. This leaves us with all the kinds of “No!” we hear, with our immaturity at first making our lives like a constant contest of bumper cars, crashing here and crashing there, finding the path only by running into things. Maturity is the discernment of hearing the no and reacting to it before we hit, the bumper cars become a spiritual sonar. Like bats we do not see but we respond to what we know, hearing not looking in the darkness to forge the paths that provide life and sustenance and fullness and peace while avoiding the dangers that bring death and suffering and misery. We react to what we can’t see, reacting differently than those who can see, the Spirit being our eyes and our guide.

To discern the whispers and to hear the path takes sometimes brutal lessons and reforming of our expectations, our desires, our senses, our loves and most of the deeper parts of us.

Jesus calls. We think we see the light. But we don’t recognize the light for what it is. At first Jesus holds us by the hand. Then he lets go, with expectations. We are to walk his way, think his way, embrace the way. Only in the process of our inner reformation all our hopes become conflicted and we are left again with stark choices to follow or not to follow, choices that appear every day and just about every moment. As we embrace these choices we hear the Spirit and begin to find fluidity in our walk.

One way of embracing these choices is to leap fully into the river of the Spirit, deciding to make life most fully dependent on the Spirit’s salvation. This way offers many less choices, but it also flirts more with despair, as the Spirit doesn’t move any quicker or open more doors except the ones that were always to open. This is the monastic path, and whether permanent or temporary, it forces the person to look upwards and find the Life in the midst of the darkness, learning perseverance and patience and thanksgiving.

I wait for the Spirit, and while I do occasionally have curious opportunities I can pursue, the weight of the Spirit has continued to work to help understand the profound differences between the Spirit’s “no!” and the Spirit’s “Yes!”. I don’t flirt with the former any more, and have even recently made choices that reflect this, because there is such a stark difference between peace and not peace. I am a buoy floating on the ocean. I become untethered to my source, and I endure the full force of the tempest.

I step away from the Spirit and suddenly I feel the knives. I feel the torture. I feel the utter and devastating pain. I feel every slice, every cut, every tearing and searing and breaking. So I avoid that which says “No!” because it may not change my state of life and death but it absolutely changes my sense of peace or no peace. With the Spirit I watch, and observe, and even analyze, taking notes on their methods for future reference.

Last night I was thinking about this and the curious stages of development, and the disciples came to mind. We read Peter and the others, in Acts or their letters, and see the profound faith, and fluidity of their spiritual walk. But there’s that curious passage from John 6, which follows the disciples hearing a teaching they don’t know how to accept, and which caused many to walk away:

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life ; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life . 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

“Does this offend you?” That’s the question before us. Are we willing to let go our selves and throw ourselves into the Spirit, even if this means letting go those promises of a supposed happy life, a life married, and children, and career success, and financial security. Are we willing to endure the gap between our stepping away from this world and the discovery of the Spirit’s deeper blessings?

We don’t say, “Hooray!” for Christ in our life’s blessings as first. We find ourselves stuck between there and here. Unable to go back, blind to the future. If we embrace Christ we don’t see instant light, instead we say, “Where else will we go, You have the words of eternal life.” And in saying this our faith becomes real and the opportunities, sometimes ludicrous opportunities of the Spirit for future profound blessings begins to open up.

I think of Paul. Who also had a great “Yes!” in his life. His “Yes!” came after the most stark “No!” imaginable. He was blinded and thrown off his horse. He was given a “Yes!” that was in entire contrast to everything he had previously assumed or expected, turned around and shown that his “No!” was Christ’s “Yes!”. This took a bit of work, but the results in him and around him still resonate to our day. We’re not given that same stark choice, and remain blinded as we stumble about, but the message is so often the same. We have been given time to find the maturity Paul found in an instant. But, so often we are told by Christ before us, “It hurts you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14).

Following the “No!”, kicking against the goads, becomes increasingly painful, so we learn not to do it, even if we haven’t been yet shown what we should do.

We leap off the cliff into the cloud of unknowing, trusting, believing, hoping, praying that the desires and promises we have been given haven’t been entirely lost even as we increasingly let them go. Our versions hold us back. Our expectations pull us down. We lighten the load by letting go these things, not knowing if we will ever see them, or anything palpable again. Between “No!” and “Yes!” there are often great gaps, and mysteries which refuse to resolve. But we embrace these mysteries because that’s all we have. We look back and wonder about previous choices. With regret if we are low. With hope if our eyes are forward, knowing we let go for a reason and reasons more potent than we can even imagine.

The hard thing is that all too often we are left with the “No!” on our own, but to really take hold of the “Yes!” we require another or others or many to resonate the fulfilling work of the Spirit. We can dodge but we can’t commune unless there is agreement, and it is in this agreement with those who are likewise led by the Spirit knowingly or unknowingly that we see the positive work of Christ that washes away the lack and frustrations.

This leaves us with two ways of moving forward. We can move forward by dodging the “No!” and we move forward by embracing the all too rare “Yes!”.

I’ve bounced around “No!” for the most part thus far, finding “Yes!” in leading me to Wheaton where I discovered the depths and pull of the isolating Spirit. I found a “Yes!” when I decided against pursuing law as a career and decided to go to seminary. I have found a “Yes!” in certain directions but not in fulfillments. But, every “Yes!” remains unresolved still, as I wait for God’s timing and arrival. I leaped over the wall into the river and now have committed myself to each “Yes!” while learning how to better avoid each “No!”. But, for me, the curiosities come in that which are not fully “Yes!” yet have no taste of the “No!” about them. Ministry has this quality. I am open to it because there is no “No!”. Pursuing a vocation as a writer has this quality for me because while I feel the “Yes!” about writing, the details are left unresolved.

Embracing the mystery, for me, in all areas is an exploration, an exploration of hope and of risk. Not physical risk, but emotional and spiritual risk, as I seek to step directions without knowing why, or for what, or any expected results. I yearn but I learn to yearn without absolute expectation because at the root of all my yearning is to embrace the Spirit above all. I learn to hear, and watch, and wait, and discover the nuances of the Spirit’s guidance in pushing me peculiar directions. I do this because the hope of maturity isn’t simply about avoiding the bloody legs caused by thorns on each side of the path. It is because in embracing the peculiar work of the Spirit, by embracing that which is foolishness to the Greeks and a scandal to the Jews, I not only learn how to walk, but also how to run.

Then when I learn to run I begin to dance, and suddenly the rapture of the Spirit in life or in death, beaten and mangled or blessed and confirmed, is constant. I move to the rhythm of the Spirit and discover the fullness of God’s eternity even in this present, resonating this to others as they join in this dance. I become in full what I’ve only been in part.

I have to be careful because I’m not dancing yet. I am still learning, still wandering, still seeking without hearing fully. So, I wait. Like the disciples waited, praying for the Spirit to bring a “Yes!” but less and less willing to force any yes upon my life that is not ordained. This leaves me in somewhat isolation, except for notable even if mysterious, exceptions.

This all is the nature of the Spirit, however. Where else will I go?

Muslim fury at pope jihad comments

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Apparently the Pope said something Muslims are outraged about.

I’m not quite sure of the translation or the underlying message, but I think it’s a little akin to, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!

This may be, I think, one of the defining moments of Benedict’s tenure. Here he will show if he not only occupies the seat of Peter but also wears his mantle, which requires going down the narrow path veering neither to the right or the left.

A Song and a singer

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Among all my friends I’m likely the least musically active. It’s not that I don’t like music. I really do. I listen to musicmatch through most of the day, with quite a varied selection. Few things are as fun for me as getting out my sax and playing with quality musicians, something I haven’t done in a while and something I think I miss deep in my soul these days.

I think it has to do more with my lifestyle. I tend to buy a book more than a cd, and I’m not really in the loop of clubs or other places I would discover a new favorite. Plus, my interests tend not to drift into what would get a lot of radio play.

All this to say I don’t make a lot of comments on music, but that’s just one of those things.

So, when I do find something new it stands out.

Last night I was watching the television show Bones, which up to this point had been an interesting show, no highs or lows. I like to keep two or three shows during the week that I pay attention to, finding the shows I like tend to fall off schedules before too long. So, I got to watching this show and found it took a new step up in last nights episode. It was moving and insightful and quite, quite good. There are people who know people working for this show. But maybe that’s not it. Towards the end when there was a wrapping up of the various insights a song began to play, a song that in my mind perfected the episode.

I loved her voice. There is a deep, haunting quality, reminding of Dido, only more settled. But they didn’t credit the song, so I hunted it down today.

Susan Enan. No album out yet, surprisingly, but apparently one in the works.

A Taste of Heaven

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A little thing I wrote last week, posted for your enjoyment:

After finding my finances to be rather, well, less interesting than I would like them, and too interesting to my creditors I decided I’d wander west a ways to see what all the fuss was about. I had a horse, a few bags, and lots of advice from folks who hoard good ideas without ever getting around to using any themselves.

They asked where I was going and I said, “West” and left it at that mostly because that’s all I had so far. Well, in fact I had a couple of ideas in mind, even if not a destination. One was to take a ride on one of the Mississippi paddle wheel steamboats my cousin Henry Ladro kept going on and on about.

“Like riding a smoking castle,” he’d say, any chance he’d get. I never quite got what was so appealing about a castle that’s smoking, but anyhow it did bite me somewhere deep so I made that part of my plans.

I don’t remember much from the first part of the trip except dust and sweat. I rode in dust and worked up a sweat, seeing nothing new and making me wonder why people ever left home. By the time I got to the fine town of Hannibal, Missouri I was ready to put the dust behind me.

A selection of boats were in port, so I went to the agent and said, “Give me a ticket for one man and a horse to St. Louis on the finest boat you’ve got.” He smiled and sold me a ticket for The Empyrean Tincture.

When I got myself halfway settled, long after the ship was hustling downriver, I wandered up to the pilot house. I wanted to know what kind of man manages a beast such as this.

The pilot was an older man, with a long white beard and a crisp white uniform. He shook my hand and welcomed me aboard, inviting me to stick around after I expressed my sincere appreciation for the fine shape of his vessel and his skill in handling her.

“Now some of the other captains, they’ll tell you they own this river,” the pilot said to me. “I would never say that, not for a second. Sure, I may borrow it for a little while. I might even take advantage of it. But own it? No, sir, I respectfully decline the honor and refuse the responsibility.”

“I suppose,” I said, “they are expressing their mastery of the depths and dangers, saying this river isn’t going to catch me unawares.”

“That’s what they’re saying, and I could say the same thing as them, maybe better at that, sir. But, we’d all be plumb fools for the saying of it, and no one has ever accused Captain William Sampson Beveridge of being a fool, not while sober leastways. I know every turn, every twist, every rock, every shallow, every current, every dog, trader and ne’er-do-well on this river, and I’m nothing compared to the mighty Miss herself. No, she lets me borrow her a little bit. As long as I stay in her good graces she’s kind. But she’s been at her work for a long while before me, and she’ll be at it a long while after ol’ Captain Beveridge is forgotten.”

“Such is life, I suppose,” I said.

“Well there’s life and then there’s life, and I’m telling you this here is a living river. She goes where she will and how she will. Folks say this is the Mississippi and likely a hundred years from now they’ll call it the same. Only it’s not the same. I remember when I was young and followed twists that are now straight, and how I ate good meals in fine river towns which are now 20 miles in the country. No, this river goes where it will, biding its time but never satisfied. A good pilot never stops watching and never stops learning and keeps his wits about him from the time he’s old enough to strap on his boots to the time the undertaker takes them off. No, sir. If you hear a pilot say he owns this river, you decline his services and swim the rest of the way. For your health and safety, sir. Now then, pardon me. Here we are.”

We arrived in St. Louis. Here I disembarked, after offering my compliments to the captain and his crew. Not long after I was back in the dust, though with a little better notion to keep my wits about me, at least until I reached the other side. Of the country that is.