Friday, July 29, 2005
I'm going out of town this evening. I shall be away for seven days, tramping around Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia looking at battle fields, rivers, mountains, art museums and baseball games. It should be a splendid time, but I will sorely miss Tuscaloosa.
I am leaving the computer at home, but hopefully I can find time to blog a little on the road. In the meantime, here's some reading material:Here's a nice post on fads in Christianity.The best history professor in the world.My favorite band.My other favorite band.The best religious magazine I know.
A great magazine of Southern culture.
To live and die, indeed.I'm going to visit here.
One day. At Thanksgiving.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Let me make one quick addendum to my earlier comments about the One
campaign. I am thankful that there are Christian aid groups working with One, and I know that the campaign is attempting to do a great deal of humanitarian work. I think that idea is on the right track, but I just can't support any calls for "first-world" nations to relieve debt without also working to develop stable democracies and market economies. Otherwise, we've not solved any problems and we've likely made them worse.
So that's that. I'm getting ready to go out of town for a few days, but I'll be back with a longer post on that soon.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
I'm pretty sure that I no longer believe in the death penalty, and here's a great article explaining why
I can call sin for what it is, in my own life first and then perhaps humbly somewhere else. But I cannot deal out death as though it were the same as grounding a teenager and telling a four year-old to stand in timeout. That sort of judgement is not mine to give. "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
A couple of weeks ago, Al Mohler posted this commentary
on the One
He refers to an article by Christian ethicist Ben Mitchell, wherein Mitchell does something a lot of people seem unwilling to do; evaluate the economic realities of third world poverty. Mohler's piece is primarily a rehashing of Mitchell's argument, save for this closing line: "failure to identify the true causes of Third World poverty and thus advocate useful real solutions–like the ONE Campaign–is not just misguided, it is actually harmful. The wider public knows this to be true." Not to assume the worst about others, but if One doesn't get support (and that's hardly the case), it's not that the public has beter ideas. It's that the public doesn't care. And I'm pretty convinced of that, too. The average Joe on the street and perhaps even on the church pew, while acknowledging that their lives are busy, just doesn't care what goes in another part of the world, so long as they're safe and sound. Sound harsh? Did anyone care about women's rights in Afghanistan prior to 9/11?
I truly believe that the celebrities lending their support to One have their hearts in the right place. I believe Bono cares deeply for the people of Africa, as does Brad Pitt, Chris Martin, Tom Hanks, et al. Yet I also believe that there means of implementing change are flawed. Seriously flawed. The central tenet of the One campaign is the concept of debt relief. It's a concept that has been attempted for years, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, some people seem incapable of acknowledging that it just doesn't work. Just as there are laws of chemistry, physics and biology, there are also some basic economic laws. If there's a giant list of things that work, debt relief ain't on there.
It seems more and more Christians are developing an open, demonstrable concern for third-world poverty. This is a good thing. I share these sentiments and I'm heartened to see others make overtures towards caring for the suffering overseas. My faith in Christ compels me to care for the fatherless and the widow. Yet I am also called to do everything to the glory of God, a phrase that the Church has long understood to mean a call to excellence. Christ has not called us to mediocrity, whether in the arts or the sciences or our daily work. And when we're talking about alleviating the suffering of millions of people and accomplishing that task with billions of other people's dollars, then the burden to do the right thing is that much greater. The issue of poverty in the third-world goes beyond wanting to help. That's a prerequisite to "doing the right thing." To do the right thing, we must move beyond the idea that our concern even matters. If our concern is misdirected, or we feel that doing something, anything
, is better than doing nothing, then we've deluded ourselves and harmed the people we sought to help.
Debt relief and education won't help a soul if the government that has been relieved of its debt doesn't stop borrowing money. It won't help if the governments are still corrupt, still cheating taxpayers, still refusing to allow a free press, private property, or freedom of religion. It won't help if there are no decent roads so that farmers can get to market or so that sick children can get to medicine. It won't change a thing as long as rape and prostitution run rampant. Debt relief won't help the suffering people of Zimbabwe when their government - unelected, I should add - has a systematic policy of forcing white farmers off their own land. Nothing will change in the Sudan so long as the Bashir government practices genocide. Nothing will change in South Africa so long as the government there regards AIDS as "an African problem," thereby suggesting that the rest of the world step off. We can't help Nigeria or Algeria or Libya so long as those countries are run by brutally oppressive Islamic regimes that harbor terrorists, treat women as second-class citizens and treat their dogs better than they treat homosexuals or adulterers. We can't help a country that refuses to allow some level of capitalism, wherein a man can ply his trade and farm his land without worrying about being killed on the way to the market. The One campaign might offer a temporary solution, but there is no long term hope for Africa without government reform that brings an end to widespread corruption, a change to a free market, free speech, free religion and democratic elections.
And lastly, as a Christian, it would be foolish of me to think that any serious change can come to Africa without a change of heart. I'm not above supporting non-religious aid groups. I have before and will likely continue to do so. But I must acknowledge that there is no peace and no truth outside of the cross of Christ. As much as I pray that Africa and other poverty-stricken regions of the world can find relief, I must acknolwedge that true relief is found only in Christ. I must also acknowledge that my intentions mean nothing if my plans don't work. A fisherman can want with all his heart to catch a fish, but if he is not fishing correctly, his longing is in vain. Likewise we must acknowledge that Christ's command to care for the less fortunate must mean more than tossing money at the problem and thinking that true change can come from the government and not from the heart. To pretend otherwise is extremely dangerous.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
I'll write a longer post later, but here's a few links that I think you might enjoy.
This is a fun blog by a homeschooling ex-hippie mother
Here's a series of pictures of great bungalow homes
I'm going to Baltimore next week, and I hope I can eat at this restaurant
. Hint hint.
Some of the prints are a little...weird...but most of this is really, really cool
. I wonder if any of it is for sale?
Sunday, July 24, 2005
This post by Russell Moore
is heavy, heavy stuff. I'm glad I can read this while I'm young.
We were talking yesterday about the means by which Christianity appeals to our human nature in two forms: wander and structure. Of course people follow other faiths because they fulfill some aspect of one of those needs, but no other faith completes both our desires the way that Christ does. Islam, for example, is a belief system that provides a great deal of behavioral and societal structure. It's something we all need and, on some level, want. We need a certain degree of structure in our lives and certainly Muslims have that. Of course the obvious critique of Islam is that it is an overreach; it's legalism of the highest order and perhaps even a bit degrading in that it never acknowledges some level of human autonomy and it certainly never suggests that God cares for us in specific, tangible ways.
On the flipside, new age faiths - Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, et al - make a powerful appeal to that side of our nature that is fascinated and awed by the spiritual and mysterious. Of course as believers we acknowledge that the Eastern faiths are ultimately misguided in their approach; there are no objectives. Christianity does, however, maintain a level of - to use a modern phrase - spirituality that is often neglected. I can know God through the person of Jesus Christ. I can know a lot about God through studying the Scriptures, but as Job tells us, there are some things I just can't grasp. That is a mystery. I want to avoid mysticism in the perjorative sense of the word, but I love the fact that part of my faith is not something that I can fully and wholly comprehend on this side of eternity. Yet I also remain thankful that my faith is tangible in many respects; that my Creator has established order. I'm glad that God's law has been stamped on my heart and even nonbelievers have some awareness of natural law. This faith is no accident. Our Creator knows us and offers to us everything we need on a very personal, spiritual level.
Jumbled thoughts, I know, but I like talking about this. I think I'll keep fleshing it out. I'll also get around to talking about the sadness of the Christian life, that subtle tinge of loneliness that all believers face as we long for Heaven.
Friday, July 22, 2005
Judge John Roberts has been nominated to be the next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He seems like a decent, honorable man. He's likely to get smeared, though, so this should be pretty irritating to watch. At any rate, his wife is known for her anti-abortion activism. She's active with Feminists for Life
. Check out the website; it's a great organization.
I love to drive around and sing. When doing so, my usual preferred genre of music in country in one form or another; folk, bluegrass or modern stuff like Ryan Adams. A few weeks ago I talked about how I saw him at City Stages in Birmingham. He's a great performer, but the guy was absolutely hammered. Knowing some of his other habits, I'm frankly not surprised that he didn't have a little nosebleed, either. That said there are times on his new record, Cold Roses
, where my jaw just drops over how good the music is. I'll find myself staring at the stereo wondering from where the magic comes. It's just that good. It's no Heartbreaker
, mind you, but it's pretty darn close. Of course Adams is known for his ego and self-indulgence, but when he is focused, he is a phenomenal artist.
Here's a list of a few other artists that blow my mind everytime I listen:
- Tom Waits is probably the best songwriter in America. He can write in any genre he chooses, whether a Tin Pan Alley ballad or a beatnik ramble. Waits' illlustrates the seedy underbelly of the big city in a way that is touching and tragic. His love songs echo with romanticism but never superficiality.
- Patty Griffin has yet to do me wrong. Her music is unbelievably sad at points, entirely hopeful at others. "Rain" is such a powerful piece of music. So is "Forgiveness" and "Mother of God."
- Townes Van Zandt was the best songwriter in the world in his heyday. His songs are soaked in existentialism, though, and it's not surprising that his own life was mired in such tragedy.
- Van Morrison manages to pretty much summarize everything I would ever want to say in music, but I suppose one day I'll try anyway.
This is a loose list and this post is really not going anywhere right now. I just thought I would talk about music for a minute. I can talk about jazz later and believe me I will, because I think that jazz is the quientessential music of the American city and the existentialism of the modern world; our movement and rhythym and our smog and smoke and steam. It conjures up the loneliness of an empty street or the sheer pleasure of a crowded restaurant full of close friends. Country is different in all its forms as it meanders up mountains, down coasts and over dusty plains and open roads. I love the wail of a fiddle and the whining of a steel guitar, a lonely man looking for work and singing about a woman he's left behind in Alabama. Most of my favorite songwriters have some roots in this music, certainly the ones above do. They capture an essence of American life perhaps better than anyone else I've encountered.
Lastly concerning jazz, I'm trying to understand the changes in jazz from swing to bebop. What's the significance of the changes from chords to scales and all this business about modal jazz? I can hear the differences, but not knowing much about music, I have a hard time grasping it. In the same sense that I think Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey - bless them both - are straining at gnats when they gripe about DeBussy and Ornette Coleman engaging in deconstructionism. It makes no sense to me. Let's argue philosophy if we must (and we should, frankly), but when Pearcey writes that rock music is pretty much bad because John Lennon was once a deconstructionist art student, I get bored in a hurry. I'm not making common cause with deconstructionism, mind you. I think Foucault and Derrida and Sartre were dangerous ideologues who have done a great deal of harm to our world, but it's apples and oranges, and if we want a good example of why their thinking is wrong, let's talk about the Khmer Rouge mowing down two million peasants, and leave the Beatles to someone else.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
I'm sure that in another day or two I'll be able to write something of length and substance, but in the meantime, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite things: books.
Right now I'm reading a handful of books. I'm only reading one piece of fiction; Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro. What a masterful novel. Ishiguro's storytelling capability is superb, and while the book is by no means preachy, the author raises some very important questions about the use of genetics and medical ethics. I really can't recommend this book enough. I'm going to try to finish reading it this weekend. Mainly because I really like it, but also because it's already three days late to the library. In addition to Jurassic Park
, this may be one of the most important novels to deal with the issue of genetic manipulation.
In the area of nonfiction, I'm almost finished with The Cost of Discipleship
. Bonhoffer has been good for me as he reminds me of the need for community and the willingness to follow Christ at all costs. Perhaps this explains my growing boredom concerning politics? Maybe. At any rate, I'm reminded in this work that my true treasure is in Christ, that I don't need a lot of worldly possessions and that any call to believe in Jesus is ultimately a call to follow Him. The other book I'm reading, and this one is also late to the library, is Death on a Friday Afternoon
by Father Richard John Neuhaus. As a non-Catholic, I obviously disagree with some of Neuhaus' arguments concerning Mary and a few of his anecdotes on mercy. Having said that, when he's on, Neuhaus is on
. I'm sure I'll say more about this later, but his understanding of our inability to understand and know ourselves outside the confines of a knowledge of our Creator (and truly, thus, our Savior) is unparalleled. The prose is elegant and sweeping, and, whether I agree or not (and my disagreements are not minor, mind you), this is a marvelous book.
I'm also going out of town in another week or so. I'm taking three books with me, which will (hopefully) be enough to sustain me. The choices are Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel
, C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce
and Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away
. Other books that I'm perusing on ocassion are Notes From a Small Island
by Bill Bryson, Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind
and Miles Gone By
by the great William F. Buckley, Jr.
And of course I'm reading The Chronicles of Narnia
. What fun books. I can't wait to share them with some wide-eyed young 'uns one day.
I have also learned to play dominoes recently. Thank goodness there was no money in it, because I am not
A watched pot never boils, says Mom, so instead of idling away in the kitchen, I'm here at the computer listening to a really great jazz album
I just ate a salad; spinach and another dark leaf, grape tomatoes, slice almonds and organic balsamic vingarette. It was delicious. I'm fixing pasta in a minute, to eat with sauteed portobello slices and an alredo sauce that I've seasoned with black pepper and lemon juice. It's not perfect, but it does the trick. Perhaps it's fitting that since I talk about food a lot, my most annoying (and I do mean annoying) health issue is this nasty devil called acid reflux.
I'm not quite sure where it comes from. I've not eaten meat in almost a month, and it's still there. I can go three days with no coffee and it's still there. I can go without dairy for a few days and, yep, I still have a burning in my chest. Why? I suppose it's a lot of things; stress, genetics, eating too quickly, the thought of another mediocre Alabama football season. I'm bad about eating too quickly. Maybe I get nervous? That's possible, but I find it hard to eat at home alone, when I am most definitely not nervous. (Can anyone be nervous with Art Blakey on the stereo? I doubt it very much)
I'm not sure of the solution but I know I do feel better with lots of water and fresh salads and pasta, food cooked the way God meant for it to be. I know I feel much better when I stay away from fast food and processed junk that isn't healthy, wholesome or even tasty. So that's part of the solution, but as for the other part, I might need to start searching for a good doctor. And some Rolaids.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
John Piper's new book is out in September.
I can't wait.
I know it's been quiet around here, but I promise new stuff is coming very soon.
Friday, July 15, 2005
George F. Will has been one of my favorite writers for nearly a decade. His work - intellectual but accessible - has been instrumental in confirming my conservative beliefs in the strength of local communities, respect for human life and small, but efficient government. Will does not idly take up a cause, so I find it encouraging that in a recent Newsweek
column he took up the issuee of animal cruelty.
Based upon a recent column
author Matthew Scully, Will clearly restates Scully's initial query: why are we appalled at cruelty towards our pets but not towards billions and billions of livestock?
It's a reasonable question, even if one is a steak-chomping dog lover. The thinking continues in this post at Mere Comments
. The theme in all of these pieces, particularly Will's, is this: what will you do with this knowledge that God's creatures have been abused, tortured, manipulated and barbarized at the altar of convenience and greed? I heard someone say once that it's difficult to turn away from this. I concur, and I've got three weeks of a meat-free diet to back that up. I know three weeks isn't a long time by any stretch, but I can't turn away. I may one day (soon, perhaps) develop a meat-consuming diet that is, by and large, free of the cruelty that takes place in factory farms. I draw a moral distinction between free-range beef and chicken and that of stockyards and factories, and it is indeed possible that may diet may eventually reflect that fact.
I said before, and I will reiterate. There are other concerns in the world; the defense of the unborn and the elderly, the fight against terrorism, the need to work against povery and discontent in the third world. As a Christian, my highest calling is the glory of God and I hope that through missions His name is made great throughout the world. Yet we are called to do what we can, as we can. And I can make small but noticeable changes in my own life, as a testimony to the justice that my faith establishes. God granted man dominion, to be sure, but we are not granted license to manipulate, to slash and burn, to rule however we please. Our faith calls us to something higher, and when faced with the bleak and sickening alternative, there is no turning back.
Here are two other good articles on animal cruelty, both written by conservatives: one by John Derbyshire
, the other by sitcom writer Warren Bell
(I should mention that one reason I keep posting links to pieces by conservatives is simply to dispell the myth that conservatives don't care about such things. Some don't, to be sure, but a lot of us do, and we find these beliefs to be a natural outgrowth of traditional conservative thought, which was itself born out of the Christian ethic that developed over the last two millenia. That's for a whole other post, however, so I'll hush now)
I just walked into my apartment and turned on the television to see Jack Nicklaus walking off the 18th hole at St. Andrews after shooting a birdie. I follow the major tournaments but I'm not a golf connoisseur, and I still got partly choked up. Sheesh.
To speak on something completely unrelated, I'm halfway through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
. I can't fully speak on the book yet, but I've noticed something of a theme in Lewis' tale. Here it is: When all four of the children first reach Narnia, Edmund is against Aslan. He is fearful, bitter and, indeed, angry. Why? He has a direct encounter with evil. The other children are excited about the thought of meeting Aslan. Their hearts are warmed by the very mention of his name.
I think C.S. Lewis is herein suggesting that though we come to God through Christ alone, we approach Him through two different means. One on hand, some of us might be driven to the Cross by guilt, anger or even shame. We know we have done some grave wrong, and we long to have that wrong made right. We know that we have some deep-seated resentment or bitterness, and we search for someone who will relieve us of such weight. Like Edmund (and Paul!), we are kicking against the goads. On the other hand, we are sometimes like Peter, Susan and Lucy. We come to the Cross out of a sense of wonder and amazement that the great King who made the whole world would love each of us as individuals. We are awed by the love and the mercy of the Cross.
I don't think that Lewis is arguing that we are without sin. Not by any means. I think he is simply discussing one of two things. First, he may just be acknowledging the two paradigms of the Christian life. At times in our life we are drawn to our Lord by the weight of sin and shame. At other times we come to Him out of a sense of joy and wonder, wholly amazed by His beauty and grace. The second possible argument that Lewis is establishing is simply the motive of our coming to the Cross. Of course we come to Christ by His grace alone, yet we are human and I believe that the Lord makes appeals to our personality. Some of us have life experiences that would send us to the Cross with a greater sense of our frailty, others come to it by simply seeing a glimpse of the Savior's majesty and there finding something worth chasing and pursuing with all our might.
Just some thoughts on Narnia and the King. Hope you like it.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
I can't wait for this book
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
""Oh, yes! Tell us about Aslan!" said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling - like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them."
- The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe
Yes, tell us about the great King and how He loves His creation. How He cares for it, nurtures it, defends it. How He gives of Himself that His children might be at peace with Him. Yes, tell us how we are loved, protected, saved. Tell us how the mighty lion roars to bring healing to our brokenness. Yes, tell us a thousand times over.
I remember reading about Matthew Scully's book Dominion
not too long after it came out. (see this interview at National Review
) At the time I was already interested in organic farming and I knew the health benefits of avoiding fast food and other less-than-savory aspects of our consumerist culture. I started buying health food when I could, and I now spend a fair amount of time and money at the health food store not far from my apartment.
A month or so ago I gave a close friend a copy of Dominion
as a birthday present. I recently ordered a copy for myself; it is now making its way to my mailbox. Scully is a vegetarian and while not an orthodox Christian, he makes a plea for Christian mercy upon animals. His premise is simple: God created the earth, He has given man the responsibility to care for it and that care must exhibit some level of compassion for all living things. Priorities must be granted, of course, and Scully acknowledges that compassion for the unborn and elderly takes a greater precedence over compassion for the cow and the chicken. His challenge extends beyond human care, however, in detailing the great abuses to which we subject animals, all in the name of comfort and convenience. A starving family of sharecroppers needed to kill a deer, but no American needs a Happy Meal full of chicken nuggets.
I would not argue that vegetarianism is a moral imperative. Scripture is quite clear that it is not. Yet I would argue that our current culture of greed and impatience has drawn our focus away from the mercy and respect that we should grant to the earth. I am not sure what diet changes I will make in my own life. I have been without meat for a little while now (and I do mean little
), but I look around me and I am disturbed. God's creatures - less than human, but His creation nonetheless - has been abused, mistreated, genetically manipulated and commodified as though it were ours to commodify. I have no principled moral opposition to the consumption of meat, but I look around our world of fast food, barbecue and super-sized value meals and I know, as sure as I know it is a sin to lie, to lust and to steal, that we are doing something very, very wrong.
I realize these thoughts are jumbled. Grant me time to read, to think, to pray further and I hope that I can coalesce these ideas into something stronger. It is in no way my intention to be preachy, legalistic or judgmental on the matter of animals rights, and I know there are far graver concerns (terrorism, poverty, disease, etc). I still refuse to believe that this is an area wherein we can be indifferent, to think that our own comfort and convenience can justify the abuse of our Lord's creation.
Here's some randomness. A close friend said she wants to be Patty Griffin. I think I want to be Van Morrison. I was stretching the other day. (Why? Because I can't touch my toes and that's something I should be able to do) I have since pulled a muscle. Ouch. There was a farmer's market in Tuscaloosa this morning. Wish I could have made it. I am tired. Do our bodies ever just call it a day? Not permanently, I mean, but just for a while, do they just come to a halt? I had a good sleep last night, but why am I yawning? Traffic is up on this site, and that makes me happy. I hope people like what I write, because, frankly, I'm not sure that I do.
Monday, July 11, 2005
When I was seventeen I knew everything. Really, I did. My sad little faith had seen it all. I knew the apex of the Christian life, and I knew the very bottom. I was a pro at the whole thing. I was sorrowfully wrong, of course, but then again, I was seventeen. I wasn't going to hear otherwise.
One of my favorite bands when I started college was Caedmon's Call. Here was a band of twenty-somethings, about the age I'm at now, writing about the triumphs and tragedies, all in the context of the redemptive love of Christ. I thought it was wonderful then, and still do. But now it makes sense. I had sinned at seventeen, but I wasn't, at least in any tangible human terms, a colossal screw up. Consequently I wasn't fully comprehending the confession in song like "Shifting Sand
"Sometimes I believe all the lies
So I can do the things I should despise
And everyday I am swayed
By whatever is on my mind
I hear it all depends on my faith
So I'm feeling precarious
The only problem I have with these mysteries
Is they're so mysterious
And like a consumer I've been thinking
If I could just get a bit more
More than my fifteen minutes of faith
Then I'd be secure
My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace"
And so it goes from there.
I thought that made sense when I was just out of high school, still living at home, dating the popular girl and completely devoid of any serious care or concern. Looking back now, knowing how far I've come and how far I've yet to journey, those words resonate so clearly. When I was younger I would have never dreamed I would find myself where I am today. I certainly would have never planned out the road that brought me here. It would seem so foreign, and in a way it still does. I think that's how God uses art to guide us in a sense. I was talking to a friend the other night and we both mentioned how - as teengagers - we would have never, ever imagined that our lives would have taken the turns they have. That we would have wandered from our faith in thought, if not outright deed. That in spite of our foolishness and our wayward hearts that our faithful Lord would leave all to find us again. That our Father would wait at the gate for the prodigals to return.
But He did, and He is still waiting. Such mercy causes me to sing with new hope and joy at the promise of restoration in this life and the next.
Hurricane Dennis was, at least to my neck of the woods, a paper tiger. Thank goodness. I'd prefer to not have rampant power outages and flooding. Either way, our spontaneous hurricane party was a rousing success.
I don't understand sovereignty. I don't know why certain things happen or why a random assortment of broken people find themselves in a circle at one a.m., but I know that it's not our doing. I find it extremely comforting to know that I am part of something bigger than myself. I was thinking out loud last night, wondering if we ever reach a point in our life when the epiphanies stop. Heaven forbid. This constant sense of renewal and awareness and even healing of our own scars is no accident. If it weren't for my complete inability to shut up, I'd say it leaves me speechless.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
There's a hurricane coming. I'm thankful I'm three hours from the coast, but Tuscaloosa is close enough to be affected by whatever is on its way. I've been told be on guard for falling trees, downed powerlines and Lord knows what else. I've got a flashlight and a few candles, and I hope that if things get rough around here, I'll be with friends.
The thing about a hurricane is that, while it can move in any direction, it's certain. It might hit Biloxi or Mobile or Pensecola or any lovely beach town in between. It might go astray and strike New Orleans or Panama City. But almost as surely as I'm sitting here, that storm will strike land tomorrow evening. Someone will die. Someone will lose their home. Someone's life will be turned completely upside down, and they will be left wondering why. I don't have a lot of answers to that sort of thing. I've read a lot but I just don't know much about theodicy. I'm trying to correct that but if a friend lost her home in a hurricane, I could only pray for wisdom as I sought to comfort.
But that's like a lot of life, isn't it? I know certain things in my life will surely happen. At some point I will be finished with school, I'll be finished with apartment life, I'll probably even have a family. Those things are on the horizon, but they're not here. And yet they'll come. It's no comfort to know that Hurricane Dennis is heading this way, but it is comfort to know that my future is not in my hands. That's good, because I mess things up. God doesn't, though. Sometimes I get in a certain mood and find a song that fits me perfectly. I found my Caedmon's Call records the other day. Remember "Table for Two?" Derek Webb wrote it, and if you've heard it you know what it's about. I take comfort in lines like this:
"Well this day's been crazy
But everything's happened on schedule,
from the rain and the cold
To the drink that I spilled on my shirt.
'Cause You knew how You'd save me
before I fell dead in the garden,
And You knew this day
long before You made me out of dirt
And You know the plans that You have for me
And You can't plan the end and not plan the means..."
Friday, July 08, 2005
I've been listening to the new Sufjan Stevens record a lot lately. He's got this amazing ability to pinpoint the Truth without being overly preachy. The album is titled Illinois
, with all the songs about, well, the state of Illinois. The one song that has packed the most punch thus far is a subtlely beautiful tune about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid
That stings, and it stings deep. But it's true, is it not? When our Lord hung upon the cross, it was as much for my own white lies and quick glances at the waitress as it was for the sick murders committed by Gacy. It's a sobering thought. The Lord of all creation died for every angry word just as surely as he died for genocide. What a scandal. It's almost too much to believe, but I'm so grateful that, by grace, it's not. And I think, though it's difficult, that the more we understand our own depravity, the greater we can comprehend the joy of grace and forgiveness.
What a thrill.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."
- St. Augustine
"But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn't convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature."
- Flannery O'Connor
Reckon that's why we don't find too many atheists in the South.
We've talked a lot about the South lately and even a little about atheism. Somehow by God's providence the South, for all its many faults over the centuries, is a land soaked in the Gospel. There is no escaping it in literature or in music, for those of us who believe are constantly drawn to the Cross. Those who don't are still cast in its shadow.
I sat around this weekend with some new friends and few old ones, singing Southern folk songs. It brought a smile to my face to share in the tradition of a steady faith, those dixie saints who came before us in the faith and in the land. They survived through hard times of war and depression with, as one song says, the Good Shepherd leading the way.
The whole thing reminds me of my grandfather. My mother's father has been dead since 1990; I was nine when PawPaw died. He worked in a U.S. Steel plant for three decades. He was from the country and, like a lot of men from his time, he could be a bit cantankerous. But he was always gentle with his grandchildren, and full of folksy wisdom. His family was from the last foothills of the Appalachians in East Alabama, but I can trace our family all the way back to England. Even though he spent most of his life with my grandmother just outside of Birmingham, he raised cows and chickens. He was a fine craftsman, making all sort of things out of wood. I had a bow and arrow once, and I can still find a couple of slingshots if I look hard enough. There's a table and chairs in my parents' basement. Pawpaw wasn't perfect, but in his own way he proudly embodied the working class South. Somewhere in my short time with him, he ingrained in me a love of my Southern heritage. So much so that now I'm prone to walk around humming or even singing a line or two from an old mountain song that was likely sung while young men cleared fields and trudged off down into the coal mines. When a friend asks, "what are you humming, Matt," it's always good to know that the song comes from Pawpaw's repetoire.
It has only dawned on me in the last few months, but I miss my grandaddy. I know he was proud of me and would still be. I'm thankful for his witness; the prayers before dinner, the Bible on the lampstand, church on Sundays and prayer meetin' on Wednesdays. I just wish we could sit on the porch and sing "Angel Band" one last time, now that I know all the words.
Ah well. We'll do that soon enough, in a place where there is no forgetting the words and the band of which we sing is standing with us.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
Psalm 18:19 (ESV)
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
I left work after lunch today, sick with something. I don't know what. I'm pretty sure I just ate something that didn't sit well with me. I came home and was in bed before two p.m. I didn't wake up until five-thirty, and if I were to crawl back into bed, I imagine that I would sleep until morning. Sometimes our bodies just say "Enough!" and slow down. It feels good to rest, to find comfort on a warm bed and sleep away a tired body. It's a simple thing, really, but a necessary one.
Simplicity reverberates with me lately. Reading Bonhoeffer my mind understands the idea of the simple life, a detachment from the cares of the world rooted in the willingness to forsake all and follow Christ. My mind grasps it but what of my heart? I have a nice apartment. I have a closet full of clothes and movies and records. Do I need these things? Have I placed more importance on such trivial things than is necessary?
It would be easy to think that this desire for seperation is something passing. That, unlike Hopkins' nun, it is not a permanent thing, only a phase of life that will be remembered with sighs and chuckles in a decade. I pray it is not so. The joy of walking away is too strong, too palpable to resist. I truly want simplicity in my life. I don't want that house in the suburbs. I don't want the BMW anymore. I really don't even care about the clothes or the jetset and the runways. I don't stand in criticism of those who have those things. I just want a life without attachment to the things that call me away from the Cross, that distract me from the call of One who knows better than I what is needed in my life. If I were only supplied with a family, a garden and a few close friends, that should be enough. The rest is hassle, unneeded and unwanted. There is noise and muddled confusion in the unncessary things. Let me shake it off and strive for something higher.
But it seems so foreign. A year or two ago, even as recent as six months, I wanted all those things I say I do not care about. Is this the work of God? Can I truly live this way, no longer consumed with petty desires of status, recognition and vanity? My own faith is so reluctant to suggest this is more than a phase but I hear the Call of something better. I can rest in that. Like Bono once sang, "I will follow." Yes, I surely will.
Two weeks ago I had a grandiose plan for my Independence Day weekend. I was going to visit numerous friends in a few cities. I was going to spend a night or two with my parents. I was going to spend a lot of money (for me, anyway) on food and books and random things that I don't really need. Somewhere it all fell apart. But sovereignty makes a living out of surprise, and I found myself in a remote piece of east Alabama, a beautiful place I shared with beautiful people.
There is something about self-discovery that is piercing. I mean it hurts, but it is so good for us. I found myself away from this computer, the cell phone, the television. Instead there was an all-encompassing sense of belonging and peace among people that I did not know a week ago, but I know would welcome me to their home at a moment's notice. That is love in the truest sense of the word, as this agape can only come from people wholly devoted to the call of the risen Christ. I spent a lot of time singing and talking and laughing (and laughing some more) as I felt God peel away layer after layer of the uptight person that I have become. I found myself in touch with family roots that I had nearly forgotten. In all of this - and I realize I'm being terribly random at this point - I feel God pulling me into a place of awareness. I am becoming aware of Him, and thus more aware of myself.
Being known may very well be the most crucial thing we need in these times. Don Chaffer of Waterdeep wrote a powerful song about it. Download it here
(and read the lyrics); it's worth your seventy-five cents. My eyes were wide and my heart soared when I first read Aslan's words to the cabbie, "Son, I have known you long. Do you know me?" It's so easy to feel unknown, unloved. But God knows us! Could this be our greatest desire? To be known, to be understood and comprehended? We are all prodigal children - sons and daughters - far from home. In all our hearts is this powerful desire to be at home, and what an amazing thrill to know that our Father waits on the road for us to simply come home. Just as the cabbie knew something of Aslan, so too do we know something of the Lord; our Creator left His mark on us and calls us to find complete rest in Him. That leaves me utterly speechless. Well, maybe it doesn't, because I can produce a growing list of people who've heard me wax giddily about it.
I just love the story of the prodigal son. I imagine that some of the Jews who first heard the parable knew their Scriptures quite well. I wonder if it ever dawned on them that the prodigal's wealthy father owned the cattle on a thousand hills? That every beast in the woodland was his? The thoughtful Hebrew would have understood. I wonder if my joy at the awareness of this truth can really compare with theirs? Did God open anyone's eyes at that moment, and did we share that same connection at the awareness of the truth of the Gospel?
I am home now, in my apartment. But I am sun-burned, mosquito-bitten and not so clean-shaven. I am even mildly hungry. Learning to wholly trust God means - like a lot of gospel songs have suggested - to wade out into the water. This current is no accident; there is purpose even when we cannot yet see it. It makes me so anxious and jittery, but the promise of our Lord is one of safe-passage. He shall gaurd us and provide for us in this life. That is powerful comfort, worthy of the loudest Alleluia! my feeble faith can muster.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
In the morning I'm taking off for the wilderness. I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time with God, His creation, and His children.
A very happy Fourth to my humble readership. Enjoy this time with your friends and family, and please don't forget to remember the men and women who have - for over two hundred years - fought and died with valor to secure our liberty.
Friday, July 01, 2005
I was looking back on my post on individualism below and thinking about why individualism has seemingly run amuck. In a sense America is an individualistic society because we have, traditionally, relied first on ourselves, then our families, then our broader communities (churches included) to live our lives. In the scope of human history, this is individualism in that it never really involved the government. I also think we can look at individualism in the way we refer to one's tastes and values and appearances. On a certain level those are superficial things, but let's not kid ourselves and think that they don't matter. Sure, you can't judge a person by the fact that they choose Beethoven over Billie Holiday. But their decision to do so might very well be a reflection of some deeper belief or value.
There is still the broader problem of individualism in a society where it's alright to abandon your family to "find yourself." How tragic. I'm not going to sit around and point fingers at individuals, but I'd be wrong to pretend that this sort of thing isn't a problem and, at some fundamental level, a systemic issue. I think the crux of the problem is that people try to find themselves through all the wrong means. It's impossible to know the creation without knowing the Creator. We can't fully understand ourselves without knowing and making something of an attempt to know the One who made us.
It's just like art and literature. I can read Auden and think it's nice; the structure is good, the imagery is pretty. But if I know nothing of the subject matter or the time and place and mood in which the poem was constructed and I know nothing of the poet's life, then I can never fully appreciate it as a work of art.
In Death on a Friday Afternoon
, Fr. Neuhaus refers to the story of the prodigal son. He notes that some translations speak of how, after years of squalor and dissipation, the prodigal "comes to himself." Neuhaus notes that we come to ourselves, truly, only after an encounter with He who made us and defines us.
The rub is that the questions don't end when you know God, but somehow they're easier to handle. Someone else's mileage might vary, but I think it's easier to figure out who you are in the process of discovering who God is. And I don't make any pretensions about being able to fully comprehend our Lord. That's not going to happen. Still I find that there's a link between us and our Creator, and knowing One makes it a whole lot more fulfilling to know the other.