Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kingdom Centeredness

There is an essay taking shape in my head. Today I thought I might set out to start writing it. Well, it seems someone else beat me to it, at least partially. So, instead of re-inventing the wheel I invite you to click on over and read this excellent piece on Kingdom Centeredness.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let's Rock

How about it, are you ready to rock?

Ready for some more?

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

...The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Of U2 and Dandelion Seeds

I've been listening to U2 the last few days. I popped in The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree and as always I find myself carried away by the shimmering wash of The Edge's guitars, the surging heartbeat of Clayton and Mullen, and the passionate wails and whispers of Bono.

I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
that hold me inside

I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

My wife and I were watching one of their concerts on TV and we both agreed that U2 just might be the greatest Rock and Roll band ever. They certainly have had incredible staying power and seem to reach across a multitude of boundaries. So what is it, we wondered, that is different about them? What is it that causes them to stand, after so many years, head and shoulders above the rest? We concluded that with U2 you find something that transcends the genre of Rock and Roll.

Rock has always reveled in an unflinching and uncompromising dance with the realities of life. Rock musicians have always seemed to live in an honest relationship with the apparent demands of the world. Their unwillingness to turn their backs on the siren's song have led to the long parade of those who epitomized the "live hard, die young" lifestyle. For after all, if this life is all there is, who has better captured the essence of life than the rock star? Who has been more honest and more true then those strutting little gods who, wielding their instrument as a weapon, demand that no desire will go unfulfilled and that no experience will go untried.

And so we come to U2 and we discover something so similar but yet completely different. With U2 we find despair but also hope, doubt but an enduring faith, longing and desire for something so much more than the gratification of the flesh, an honest attempt to deal with social injustice and, at every turning, the discovery of grace and redemption. When Bono wrings every drop of emotion from his soul he gives it as a gift to the crowd. His baring of the soul is not that of the vampire, feeding on the adulation of the masses. His is rather the dance of a wild prophet who cannot keep silent, crying in the wilderness for the ear of God and the salvation of His people.

I'd like you to read something now. It doesn't have anything to do with U2 or with Rock and Roll, but yet it has everything to do with the essence of what I, at least, see and hear in them. It has everything to do with the hope that is within me and within everyone who has tried to make sense out of this tragic, mysterious, beautiful life.

Please read Dandelion Seeds and cry awhile with me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Promise of Light

There's a whisper on the wind.
A word, spoken in long ages past
Still echoes down the pathways of time.

There's a face behind the mask.
An image, formed from the ancient stone
Still haunts the deep places of the mind.

There's a story in the heart.
A tale, woven in the golden branch
Still speaks by the fire at night.

There's a song among the stars.
A tune, drawn from the minstrels harp
Still hints at the promise of light.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Out of the depths

Past blog entries have attempted to express my feelings of freedom and joy at finally being out from under the weight of oppression and depression that had characterized my entire life. Maybe a lot of people can't relate to the incredible feeling of having a weight lifted off one's shoulders. I have heard stories all my life of people being set free by Christ but could never understand what it meant. I was always jealous of those people which would usually lead to cynicism. "Oh sure you're free, just wait until the shoe drops and then we'll see how free you really are."

Well, for me it's been about 6 months since this journey of freedom began. I'm not saying that I never screw up, but I can declare with confidence that I now know what it means to be free and can proclaim in the words of the Jesus: "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed".

Several years ago when I was probably at the lowest point of my life, a time when my life was almost completely out of control, I wrote the lyrics to a song. These are the words of a tortured soul, the words of someone who has come almost completely under the control of darkness, who is attempting to fill with depravity that emptiness that can only be filled by the bread of life.

I don't share these words to depress anyone, or even to evoke pity, I think these words were really a cry out of the depths, a cry of hopelessness, fear and rage; the cry of a creature of the night compelled to slowly devour itself and others in order to satisfy the hunger within.

verse 1:

It's the blood child, it's the blood
don't you see it, don't you know

It flows through your body
like wine or like fire
and it won't ever leave you alone

You can cry all you like
for the peace of the night
but the truth is a scream or a moan

It's the night love, it's the night
can't you feel it, can't you see

Its whispers seduce you
with words soft and warm
but it won't ever let you be free

You can run to the light
crave its withering might
in the end it is just you and me


In the end it is just you and me
two souls stranded so far from home

Wandering hopelessly, helplessly
tired and alone
in the end it is just you and me

In the end it is just you and me
feeding hungers that mock and consume

seeking solace in pleasures that
fade all too soon
in the end it is just you and me

verse 2:

It's the pain child, it's the pain
don't you see it, don't you know

His strength is your master
he bends your free will
and you dance like a clown in his show

You can struggle and fight
to be free from his might
but in dreaming your feet are too slow

It's the rage love, it's the rage
can't you feel it, can't you see

It pulsates within you
a sensual flame
that strains in your chest for release

You can bring them all down
make them kiss the cold ground
in the end it is just you and me

repeat chorus:

Now the words of the Psalmist make so much sense to me.
Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD;

Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, LORD, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.

I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:1-6

Friday, August 29, 2008

Of Logs, Specks and Duty

With election season upon us I think what I have been listening to lately is very appropriate. No, don't worry, I'm not getting involved in politics again. Far from it actually. What I've been listening to and thinking about is actually prompting me to be even less interested in politics than I have been recently (which lately has been very little).

The call rings out across the land: "Christians everywhere unite. Let's win this country back for God". My response a few months ago would probably have been one of passionate agreement with that sentiment. Yeah, lets go, lets mobilize the troops and get out there and vote in people who will return this country to its "City on a Hill" status like it was in the "good old days".

Good old days eh? Hmm, when exactly were the good old days? Maybe a year or two in the 1950's? Umm, no, we still had segregation then. Maybe back in the 1700's or 1800's? Umm, wrong again, we were wiping out Native Americans and enslaving Africans back then.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't turned into some America hating Communist. For all its faults, past and present, the United States has always gotten a lot of things right and has always seemed willing to learn from its mistakes (albeit very slowly and very painfully).

But, let me get to what I think is the most important point here. And that is the question of what relationship the Christian Church should have to politics and political power. Well, the simple answer is: "NO RELATIONSHIP AT ALL!" Now that I've got your attention let me explain. The Christian Church is the body of Christ. Its job is to represent Christ to those around it. Jesus never once attempted to compel behavioral changes or morality through any type of force, physical or political.

Jesus lived in an empire that was every bit as immoral, sinful and hedonistic as ours could ever hope to be; He lived in a part of the empire that was rife with political dissent and dreams of throwing off the rule of the Romans. But yet he never advocated the use of power to change behavior or got involved in politics for any reason, even "good" reasons.

So on to what I've been listening to and the point of the title of this post. I've been listening to a sermon series by Gregory Boyd (senior pastor of the Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul MN) from back in 2004 (another pretty highly charged political time). The series is entitled "A Myth, a Cross and a Sword" and resulted in a book called The Myth of a Christian Nation. I've been listening to and reading Greg's stuff on some other subjects and have found it to be life changing. When I discovered his take on politics mirrored the feelings I've been having lately it was a bonus. In this series Greg Boyd lays out, far better than I could, a compelling take on the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdoms of the World. Capped off by a call to pay more attention to the logs in our own eyes than the specks in the eyes of others, and to remember that our duties, especially to those outside the Church, are those of healing, help and honor, rather than condemnation and compulsion.

Check out the sermon series here: The Cross and the Sword.

If you are daunted by the task of listening to them all try starting with this one, I think it is a good summary of the whole: Is the Church the Guardian of Social Morality?

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Wife the Servant/Warrior

I realized last night during several conversations with my wife that she was perhaps the most important tool God has used (and is using) in my healing and coming back to life. I've always known that her tenacity and strength were astounding, but I guess it's only been lately that I've realized just how important she has been in this process. My wife provided a refuge, a place of safety and security in a tangible way, that I had never known before. We know, once we are well enough to grasp it, that God is our refuge and our strong tower, but oh how important it is to have that represented to us by someone in our lives that matters.

Safety and security are things that I never experienced in my life before now. My life has been one of uncertainty and fear, always waiting for the hammer to fall, for someone to leave, for some disaster to strike. I've never been able to trust in God because I never had his trustworthiness and fidelity modeled by the important people in my life. Someone who grows up without a father would have a hard time relating to God as a father, in the same way someone who goes through life never knowing what it is to trust will have a hard time having faith and trust in God. That has been my experience for nearly as long as I can remember, a complete block when it comes to trust and faith in God. I have been consumed with worry, doubt and fear my entire life, which has resulted in anger and even hatred towards God as I blamed him for all of the horror that I saw around me and all the abandonment and betrayal that I felt from the experiences in life.

My wife told me from day one, really without knowing the original source of her promises, that she would never leave me or forsake me. Then she proceeded to live and demonstrate that promise through the ensuing years of rough emotional upheaval on my part. My reaction to the prospect of getting married was a full blown anxiety attack that lasted almost a year, followed by depression and related medical issues that lasted for several years. Only recently has the healing started taking place to the point where I am no longer a dead man walking. Only recently have I been able to pray to God, to trust in God, to worship God, to hear from God, to read his word, to actually understand and grasp the astounding love of God that led him to embark on the perilous and risky endeavor of winning and wooing his lover and bride (that's me, that's us) back to himself.

It was actually a perilous and risky endeavor for God from the very beginning. To bring into existence created beings (Angels, humans, etc.) that were free to follow their own paths, to choose whether or not they trusted or loved their creator. Free to turn on him and plunge the universe into unspeakable horror and danger if that was their choice - which they did. And then, as if that wasn't enough, God chose to prove his goodness and his love to the very beings that had turned their back on him. Instead of smashing his rebellious creation into non-existence and starting over, or forcing their devotion with the iron fist of a dictator, he chose to pursue his errant and adulterous bride all the way to the gates of hell and beyond and rescue her from the very jaws of death. And to do this, Jesus came in the body of an unglorified man and defeated death, and the lord of death (Satan), by inserting himself, as it were, between us and the executioner (Satan) and taking the death blow meant for us.

I can grasp and understand this, really for the first time, because I've had someone do this kind of thing for me in the physical realm. My wife took on a perilous and risky endeavor when she chose to bind herself to me in marriage and pledged to never leave or forsake me. It was a very risky thing to do. She would endure emotional pain and sacrifice and hardship because of it. She could have suffered betrayal and the loss of everything. But she counted the cost and chose to pay the price no matter how high it turned out to be, all for the sake of love. She pursued me to the gates of the hell I was in and beyond. And, as a willing servant/warrior for God, she brought me out of that darkness and into the light. What a spectacular demonstration of God's love, to give sacrificially for someone else. By doing so my wife acted as the hands and feet of God and brought me to life so that I can in turn bring others to life. They in turn can do the same for others. The healing will spread like ripples in a pond as the kingdom of God continues to rescue those being stolen, killed and destroyed by the thief (Satan).

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. --John 10:10

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. --Romans 5:8

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. --John 15:13

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Here's to Rabbit Holes

A few months ago the faint, pink hues of dawn began to appear in the skies of my consciousness. I began to be aware of the unfamiliar, but very welcome, sensations of life. Around this time I wrote my brother an email. I'm not sure I was aware at the time I wrote it of the germination taking place within my heart. In that email I shared with my brother a waking dream, perhaps a vision, that I'd had. In the dream...
I was wounded and crawling across a battlefield. There were dead and dying everywhere, the blood and gore was sickening, and all seemed lost. I crawled on and on dragging myself through the filth, hardly able to breathe, nearly paralyzed by dread and fear. Every second that passed I expected to be my last, with every movement I expected to feel the death blow as the enemy, in the full brutality of his obvious victory, claimed me as another victim. Then, from somewhere, came an impulse: "Look Up". I did.

For the first time in a long time I looked up and saw what I would have seen at any point had it occurred to me to look up instead of focusing on the horror and the filth on the ground beneath me. There He was, the Warrior King straight out of Revelation, sword and all, with his battle host surrounding him in the full splendor of inevitable victory. The battle wasn't lost. The enemy wasn't winning after all.

I looked across the wide expanse of the field of battle and there were so many wounded... crawling... heads down... completely unaware of the victory over their heads. I looked down and my gaze was caught by the putrid panoply spread beneath me. The bright hope of morning was dimmed into the dismal gray of coming night. The Warrior King faded quickly into a memory of light, a faint image at the margins of thought. I was wounded and crawling across a battlefield.

Look up you damn fool. LOOK UP!
That was the story of my life. Crawling, defeated, sidelined, wounded, doomed to repeat the same mistakes and follow the same road day after changeless day, year after senseless year.

Writing that email to my brother marked a turning point. I wonder how he would like being compared to Morpheus from the Matrix? I believe it was God's great pleasure to use my brother in just that way. To offer me a choice and an opportunity to unplug from the dream state of false existence and be reborn into that otherworld, that real world, that dangerous but free Kingdom of God where I can be trained to infiltrate the darkness and wake more sleepers to life.

I have followed the white rabbit. I have chosen the red pill. I've stuck my hand in the mirror. The doors of perception are being cleansed, everything is beginning to appear as it is: infinite (to paraphrase William Blake).

Monday, August 4, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn 1918 - 2008

The world has lost a great light. Thankfully this light was a writer and his words are still with us. Here is a tiny sample.

To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.


No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward.

Harvard Address - June 1978

Monday, July 28, 2008

Made-up Things

Hither if I have come through earth and air,
Through fire and water--I am not of them;

Born in the darkness, what fair-flashing gem
Would to the earth go back and nestle there?
Not of this world, this world my life doth hem;
What if I weary, then, and look to the door,
Because my unknown life is swelling at the core?
(George MacDonald, "The Diary of an Old Soul")
I must confess something rather embarrassing: not too many weeks ago I had fallen under the spell of the village atheists. I was reading their writings, and listening to their debates, all with the intention of proving to myself how silly they really were, and how superior my Christian worldview was from the standpoint of logic and reason.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the ivory tower, I discovered to my horror that they were making sense. Taken purely from the standpoint of logic and reason they make some powerful and convincing points. Sure, the Christian apologists who debate them make very powerful and convincing points as well, but the atheists have a trick up their sleeve which, to me anyway, trumps the apologists and wins the debates. You see the atheists get to play both sides of the table while the apologists only get to play one.

The atheists use arguments from reason and logic, but their trump cards are the arguments from emotion. The atheists seem to share a level of anger and hatred towards God that borders on the psychotic. They level charges against God with all the fury of a lover scorned and all the hurt of an abandoned child. And it is here that I ate the apple. For I too have long struggled with anger towards God for all of his seeming injustice in allowing the pain and heartache of this world to continue unabated.

The natural result of this anger seems, almost universally, to be a planting of the seeds of doubt. We try so hard to force the universe into something manageable or predictable. We take refuge behind the study of science. We try to find shelter beneath the comforting gaze of the goddess of reason. We deny the basic truth that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, or we abandon all pretense and wallow in the muck and the mire.

And here, after years of struggling with faith, after wasting so much time trying to make God fit into the mold I had created and the box I had formed, I came to the end. And at the end I discovered the beginning. A light was shining in the darkness but I had not understood it. Not understood it that is until I was stabbed through the heart by the truth of the story and the reality of the myth. As I lay there in a stupor, under the spell of the village atheist, drunk with the maddening wine, I remembered...Before the silver cord was severed, or the golden bowl was broken; before the pitcher was shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well. (Ecclesiastes 12:6)... I remembered.

I remembered the Creator because I remembered His creation. I remembered the numberless stars scattered like a symphony of light across the heavens. I remembered the sundering sea with its eternal invitation to pass beyond the edge of the world. I remembered the ancient forest and the lord of ageless wisdom that resides within some hidden realm. I remembered that I was fearfully and wonderfully made... in the secret place. That I was woven together in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139:14,15)

I remembered my true home; a home I had never seen, but a home whose story was written on my heart. A story, a myth if you will, about a King and his Son. A story about a princess looking and longing for her white knight. A story of loss and betrayal, and of rescue beyond the gates of hope. And the story rings true. The myth that is written deep into every fiber of creation, that awakens a longing so exquisite as to be almost painful, resonates with a verity that goes beyond the realm of thought and word and finds its anchor in the very bedrock of the universe.

Yes, the pain is real. Yes, the sadness is real. Yes, the tears are real. Yes, the horror and disease and loss is real. But in what story are they not? And in what tale that stirs the heart do the heroes not live happily ever after?

The Lord of the story, the great Prince of the myth, came and knelt at my side as I lay bespelled and touched my face. He healed my heart and spoke my name. And at the sound of that voice I awoke and I remembered, and remembering I turned my back on the shadow and turned my face towards the glorious light. In the words of a great traveler who went before me on this road: "Here I stand, I can do no other".
All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things -- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. (C.S. Lewis, "The Silver Chair")

Friday, July 18, 2008

Exit Stage Left

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (William Shakespeare, "Macbeth")
I have recently decided to stop being a player (actor) and walk with God. Well, you say, I thought you'd been a Christian all your life. Yes, I suppose that is true, but I have recently begun to discover that although I may have given lip service (and even some guilt induced public service) to being a Christian, actually walking with God is something else entirely. I can't take a whole lot of credit for this new insight, God has been amazing in the way He's shaken up my life and shown me a spiritual dimension that I had heard of but never experienced.

One of the ways God has reached out to me is through a couple of sermons I've listened to over the last few weeks. One sermon was in a church that we attended out of the blue (a cool story in and of itself) and the other was on the radio. Now I've been listening to sermons on the radio and in churches practically my entire life, but I've heard more from God in the last month than I've probably heard in the 40 some odd years leading up to this point. This reflects poorly on me not God. He's been chasing me down the entire time, I've just been actively (and inactively) resisting Him the entire time.

Both sermons just got right up in my face and exploded, exposing me for the fraud and poser that I was. They were tailor made for me. God showed me that I have been acting, playing a role, strutting and fretting my hour upon the stage. I was given the script as soon as I could begin to comprehend language. I was given the costume as soon as I got out of baby clothes. I learned how the person I was to portray should walk and talk, what he should and shouldn't eat, what he should and shouldn't drink. I learned how to apply the makeup, and where my mark was on the stage. I even learned how to work with the props.

Just imagine me, for instance, walking into church. Someone approaches me and our eyes meet. We both know our parts so well. Hands are extended and clasped. Those special smiles form the faces into works of saintly art. And the lines are spoken.

"Good morning brother, it's good to see you, how are you doing?"

"Well hello my friend, I'm doing great. God is good isn't he? He's really blessed me this week."

"That's great to hear. Yes, God certainly is good."

Now that's a steaming load of poo and we both know it, but we've learned our lines well and we speak them with highly practiced sincerity. Never mind that our lives might actually be spiraling ever downwards into hopelessness, that we might be about ready to lose control and crash in a fiery spectacle. No, we're good little players, surely it would be wrong to admit that God is about as real to us as the painting on the wall, and seems about as strong as the felt Bible characters in the kid's classrooms.

I suppose two of the main things I learned was that when portraying a Christian you had to "share your faith" and do "good deeds". Oh the guilt that was induced in me by those seemingly simple concepts. I was already painfully shy and was never gifted with the healthy self image that so many others around me seemed to possess. The thought of approaching people I didn't even know and "sharing my faith", or of putting myself out there to do "good deeds", was simply terrifying to me. But, I had to do it. If I didn't it must mean I wasn't really a Christian. It must mean I didn't have enough faith.

And fear would win so often. And every time fear won, my self-image got worse. Every time fear won my guilt would increase. As the guilt increased it became immobilizing and suffocating. A vicious cycle of promises to do good deeds and share my faith, followed by predictable failures to really be the "strong" Christian that I knew I wanted to be. Still I played the role, I put on my mask and kept trying to go to church and pretend that I was something, when I knew that what I really was was a miserable failure, and certainly an incredible disappointment to God. If those saintly characters who seemed to have it all together knew what I really was like they'd certainly be appalled. Why was it so easy for them?

And so we come to the present day. We come to a time in my life where I had grown so tired of pretending, so weary of the cycle of falling away and coming back. So ready to just sit down and quit. Here, at the ending of all things, I am finally so exhausted that I am able to hear the voice of God. And what is it that He tells me? What is the amazing revelation from the Almighty? Well, amazingly enough, they are thoughts, words and ideas that have been right in front of me my whole life. They are even written down in the Bible.
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.'

But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' And they began to have a wonderful time. (Luke 15:17-24)

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)
OK, so what's the big revelation here you might ask. Anyone who's been in church for any length of time has heard or read these verses. Yes, that is true, I have certainly read these verses many times in my life. But now something is different. God is showing me something I have never understood before. God is the actor, and by actor here I don't mean someone who is pretending, I am referring to another meaning for the word. God is the the one who takes action. Whether I am tired and desperate and making my miserable way in an effort to find God, or whether I'm just going through life doing my job, God comes to me. He does it, not me.

And notice what Jesus says when he calls my name: "Come, follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men". Do you see it yet? He doesn't say: "Go, do good deeds and share your faith, in order to prove that I've made the right choice in calling your name". He doesn't say "Go take a bath. Sober up and get right before I'll give you a hug and a kiss and some new clothes".

So there it is, so simple, but yet the sense of freedom is so exhilarating. It's not about doing stuff, playing a role, pretending to be something you're not. It's just about following Jesus. Listening to him. Talking to him. Spending time with him. The other stuff, the good deeds and sharing your faith stuff? That will take care of itself. That's the promise of Jesus. "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men".

Do you feel like a fisher of men? No? Well, I don't either yet, but that's OK. It's not up to me to become a fisherman, or even to "act" like one, Jesus will make me one. Do you feel worthy to wear those nice clothes over your smelly skin and that ring on your dirty finger? No? I don't either, but it sure feels nice. And I've got a sneaking suspicion that the longer we wear these things the cleaner we're going to become underneath them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Have you?

Do you know about the highlands of the north, how their mystery and beauty enchant? How they weave a spell on the heart of a man, how they hold him and won’t let him go?

Have you seen how the trees crouch low, huddling close to the refuge of earth? Maybe they’re trying to stay hidden from the embittered wrath of winter, or maybe they’re already so close to the skies that they don’t feel the need to strain and grasp for the airy heights like their cousins down away in the lowlands.

Have you smelled the sweet pungency of pitch and of earth mixed with the gentle incense of flowers and grass? Has it washed over and through you on the wafting and waves of an ocean of pure azure sky? Have you savored the rumors of distant high meadows or a wildwood in a valley long hid? Has the scent lured and beckoned you further and higher to its fount at the birthplace of dawn?

Have you heard the silence that beckons you to enter in and listen, to discover that it’s not so silent after all? There’s a bird over there, and a creek in the meadow, there’s a rustling that recedes in the grass. There’s a gust as it whispers to the crag in its passing, and sighs to the tree tops before it moves on.

Have you felt the chill breeze off the glacier on your face while the heat of the sun warms your back? Have your feet ached with a mixture of pleasure and pain as you plunged them deeply into a frigid stream of startling clarity, newborn that very day from its icy womb on the side of the mountain? Have your hands felt the nuances of time immemorial on the cheeks of the ancient rocks, or the gnarled strength of a branch that spent much of its life grappling with the backbreaking weight of snow and the ferocious gales of winter?

Have you tasted the nectar of beauty distilled, and aged over eons of time? Have you savored the essence of illimitable joy from the wilds of this unbridled land? Have you stopped in your tracks and remembered an echo of time-splintered light, a hope, a longing, and a yearning desire. This taste, this taste so painful in its sublimity, is but a dilution of the true draught, this sound but a faint echo of the true laugh and this ineffable beauty is but a pale shadow of the true home.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A New Direction

Heretofore, my usage of the term "common ground" has been primarily political in nature. That is now changing. Politics has begun to seem like "Groundhog Day" to me. The same characters, the same arguments, the same name-calling, the same empty promises, on and on ad nauseam. Therefore, I am choosing to leave politics to those with the stomach for it and change the focus, not only of my musings, but of my entire life, to things of transcendent and eternal importance.

I will still vote, and I will still try to stay somewhat informed, but I have realized that focusing so much time and attention on politics has been harmful to me in many ways. It has served to take a lot of my time, attention, and energy away from the things that matter (God, family, relationships) and waste it on an arena that is inherently contentious, negative and (it usually seems) beyond hope.

Hope, now there's something that matters. I hope for and desire so much more than my life has consisted of until now. I'm beginning to realize that the enemy of my soul has conspired to make me content with substitutes. For so many years, and in so many different ways, I have wasted countless hours pursuing things that don't really matter. Things, to coin a phrase, that "rust and decay". My life has been one of desperate searching and grasping for meaning and belonging, but time after time I have stopped short of the true objects of my quest and settled for cheap imitations.

By the grace and power of God, the Father of all that is Holy, the maker of Heaven and Earth, I choose life. Life as it was meant to be lived. Life in pursuit of beauty and joy. Life in the arms of God, not in the embrace of some enervating simulacrum, fleeing from the hound of heaven.

My brother, may his crest never fall, recently reminded me that the glory of God is man fully alive. What chance do I have of being alive? What chance is there that the desires of my heart will be met? Is there a chance in Hell of tasting Heaven? What can make me whole again? That's right, you know the next line: "Nothing but the blood of Jesus".

Friday, May 16, 2008

Some thoughts on marriage

Recent events have led me to reflect on the institution of marriage. What is marriage? What is its purpose? What does it have to offer society? What is it about marriage that causes a lot of people to want it even as they reject its historical meaning and seek to turn it into something unrecognizable? As luck would have it, while I was thinking about this, I happened across an excerpt from a newly published book by the recently deceased Elizabeth Fox-Genovese entitled Marriage: The dream that refuses to die. I've lifted some quotes from the excerpt that really hit me. I highly recommend reading the entire excerpt here.

"More sadly yet, too many children understand that they were never the primary purpose of a marriage that was intended to further the happiness of adults. Many adults do nothing to correct this perception, and their preoccupation with their own happiness — whatever it may cost others — echoes the theme of obsessive love that dates back to Tristan and Isolde."

"And it does not help that the women’s movement, in its campaign to free women from primary responsibility for children, has effectively demoted the care for children to work fit only for servants."

"We have indulged ourselves with a culture that puts the individual — “me, me, me” — first at the expense of all competing obligations. Under these conditions, binding ties dissolve into matters of personal choice that may change without warning or concern for the consequences to others."

"Beyond the pages of fiction, and not always within them, things did not automatically end so well, and in real life, they took a high toll on children."

"Yet only the obtuse can fail to recognize that the diverse members of our society cannot possibly all have what they want at the same time, and in many cases not even sequentially."

Monday, May 12, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

I'm in the process of carefully reading this manifesto. I dislike the word manifesto, with its historical/political connotations, but I suppose the title will do a good job of capturing peoples attention.

Unless I find something really objectionable I plan to sign it. So far I like the things it has to say and the way it says them.

Highly recommended reading. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Combating the warmongers

A well known musician, one with outspoken political views, recently made the following statement in relation to the war in Iraq.
One would hope we'd have made more progress than we have combating the warmongers.
If you think about it this statement could have been made by someone like Toby Keith or by someone like Roger Waters. Two artists with radically different views on the war in Iraq and on the war against the Jihadists in general.

In fact this statement was made by one of those two people. How you interpret the statement and who you think made it speaks volumes.

By the way, I positively adore Roger Waters music, am going to his concert in a couple days, and fully expect to love it completely. I don't even plan to take offense when he disses my country and my president.


Fact 1: Senator Obama's old pastor, Reverend Wright, made a variety of controversial statements in his recent press club speech. This fact is easy to prove since the entire contents of the speech are readily available and have been aired, re-aired, and discussed incessantly.

Fact 2: Senator Obama, at his press conference on Tuesday, denounced and distanced himself from his former pastor. His desire was clearly to show that he did not support, believe in, or share the thoughts, attitudes and opinions of his former pastor. This fact is also easy to prove for the same reasons as fact 1.

Fact 3: The statements and sentiments of Reverend Wright that Obama specifically took issue with, and tried to distance himself from, are statements and sentiments that Reverend Wright has made repeatedly over the last several decades. This fact is also very easy to prove since these are the very statements and sentiments that have been aired and re-aired so many times since this whole controversy began.

Fact 4: Senator Obama made the claim in his news conference that the thoughts, ideas and sentiments of Reverend Wright, as expressed in his speech before the press club, were somehow those of a different person than the Reverend Wright whom Obama until recently praised as his friend of 20 years, his pastor, his mentor, his adviser, the officiator at his marriage and the baptizer of his children. Again, all of this is unquestionably true and very easy to prove.

So, what can we deduce from an examination of these facts? What does the relationship between these two men, taken in conjunction with their most recent statements, tell us about the man who is asking us to vote him in as our next president? I'd say we have to conclude one of the following:

1. Senator Obama was deceived by Reverend Wright. Reverend Wright was somehow able to portray himself to Obama over the past 20 years as someone completely different than who he obviously is.
I think we can all agree that this is extremely unlikely given how intelligent the senator clearly is. There is simply no way Reverend Wright could pull this off. Besides that, Obama has been directly confronted about these issues going back quite a while now and would certainly have checked it out for himself. He would have discovered the deceit and denounced his pastor long before now if this were the case.

If, however, it is true that he was deceived and remained unaware of it for 20 years, that certainly disqualifies him from being president. Not only that, it disqualifies him from pretty much any position of public trust.
2. Senator Obama never actually listened in church, read the bulletins, or listened when they had private conversations. Somehow he managed to remain completely oblivious, over a period of 20 years, to the clear thoughts, ideas and sentiments of Reverend Wright.
If Senator Obama is so oblivious that he managed to miss all of this over 20 years, and even missed it over the last several months when the whole country was watching Reverend Wright on YouTube, then he is clearly not qualified to lead the local PTA, much less the country.
3. Senator Obama made a calculated decision over the years to associate himself with Reverend Wright and his church in order to reap the political benefits of doing so, which clearly helped him get started up the political ladder. He never actually shared the divisive thoughts, ideas and sentiments of the pastor or the church, but simply used their association for his own purposes and is now having to deal with the (somehow unexpected?) fallout from that as best he can.
Given what we know about the type of person who would go into politics, this option unfortunately seems more plausible than the first two. If this option is true then Senator Obama is simply another opportunistic, calculating, lying political hack. And, if that is true, then given the choice between two such politicians (Hillary and Barack) it seems quite clear that Hillary is the better choice. She is better at it, more experienced at it, and has the dubious fortune of being married to the best of the best. Lets face it, Bill could, and did, skate through scandals like this in his sleep.

For Senator Obama, getting caught in a deception (which this clearly is), is very damaging given who he is portraying himself to be. The Clintons have perfected the art to the point that when Bill stood before the entire nation and lied through his teeth (and was caught at it) we just kinda went "aww shucks, there's our guy".
4. Senator Obama shares, and has for many years, many of the thoughts, ideas and sentiments of Reverend Wright, but is smart enough to know that he would never stand a chance of being elected president if that became known.
Given some of the senators past statements and certain passages in his book, some of his other associations with people such as William Ayers, and given the content of various speeches by Mrs. Obama this option is also fairly plausible. Lets face it, Senator Obama's voting record puts him as far left as possible and the thoughts, sentiments and ideas espoused by Reverend Wright are fairly well in line with the far left.

There are a couple problems if this is the case. First, such a person could never be elected president (at least not yet) if this were known. Second, if this is the case then Senator Obama is guilty of cold, calculated, deceitful manipulation of the American public and his denouncement of his former pastor is nothing more than a lie. And, if Reverend Wright is not in on the whole deceit of the public (which doesn't seem to be the case now) then after being cast aside by Obama he can definitely make life pretty difficult by simply exposing Obama for what he actually is.

If it comes down to duel by oratory between Obama and Wright I think my money might be on Wright.

My personal opinion is that the truth lies somewhere between options 3 and 4. I don't think Senator Obama is stupid or gullible enough for options 1 or 2 to be the case. Unfortunately Barack Obama stood before us and claimed that the truth was option 1 or 2. So your are left with two choices.

1. Take Senator Obama's own word for it that he is so completely naive and oblivious that he somehow either missed all of this or was deceived.

2. Reach the conclusion that Obama is at best a calculating, opportunistic, deceitful political hack or at worst a dangerous, far left radical whose plans for this country are certainly not in line with the bulk of the population.

Either way you look at it you can't possibly vote for him. Frankly when you apply this whole exercise to Hillary Clinton you can't vote for her either. To the extent that the electorate wises up to this the party leaders had better be formulating a plan B as quickly as they possibly can or their chances for winning the White House are pretty much nil.

Now will the electorate wise up to this? Something tells me the media's complicated love-quadrangle with Obama, Wright and Clinton are going to wise the electorate up whether the electorate wants to be wised up or not.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

If I were an ideologue

If I were an ideologue or an opportunist, say along the lines of Al Gore, I'd be strongly tempted to take hold of stories like this one and start my own climate-change religion. There's money to be made in the prophet-of-doom racket, fame to be won, perhaps even a Nobel prize or an Oscar.

But I guess I'll decline the opportunity that is presenting itself and content myself with a few smug nods as the man-made global warming scam becomes harder and harder to prove and the true-believers become more zealous, fanatical and fundamentalist every day. I'll shake my head in sadness as their holy sacraments, such as CFL's and Ethanol, turn out to be poison and ashes rather than body and blood.

The engine of commerce is quite literally running out of gas. Hunger is on the rise as food is stolen from the mouths of children and sold to the distillery. The Church of Blessed Greenness came up like a harmless, furry little woodland creature, but has since grown fangs and embarked on its holy inquisition. Woe to you peoples of the earth, you were mesmerized by the oracles of Gaia, but the prophetic words have led you to the precipice of doom. Let the sleepers awaken, let them take up once again the free tools of their enterprise. This is a moment of destiny, choose well whom you will follow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How does your garden grow?

In case you've been living in an alternate reality somewhere and hadn't yet realized the magnitude of government ineptness, I offer up this (guaranteed to make your head explode) article as exhibit A.

In my opinion the government really should Farm This Out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

This time he didn't come back

I had this black leather briefcase kind of thing which was filled to bursting. There were books of arcane lore, pads of graph paper, character sheets worth at least a GP, a few lead miniatures and, my pride and joy, a multi-compartmented box filled with dice of various shapes.

Upon arrival I would carefully unpack my bag, setting everything out in its place for easy access. Appropriate record albums (yes, the big black disc things) would be ready to set the mood, and the requisite snacks and sodas were stocked and awaiting consumption.

The guys would begin to come in and take their places, bragging on past exploits and full of anticipation for the adventures that awaited. For awhile there was even a girl in the group, she played an Elven Ranger of course. Come to think of it, she might have just been a product of our wishful thinking.

Oh it was a joyous time. Life as an underweight, pimply faced, teenager didn't hold a lot of opportunity, but in the game anything was possible. Dragons were slain, fair maidens were rescued, treasures of unthinkable value were discovered and entire kingdoms rose and fell beneath the skill of our swords and the might of our magic.

But now the master of the dungeons has fallen and no scroll or incantation can bring him back. We owe him a lot and I hope he isn't forgotten. So this is my farewell: may your sword never rust, may your boots never wear out, and may the king welcome you to drink at his table.


Now go here for a word from a true master.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Goodwill from Angelina Jolie

I was incredibly pleased and surprised to read this editorial by Angelina Jolie in the Washington Post. It is surprisingly balanced, reasoned and thoughtful. I suspect her views on Bush and the war are similar to most of those coming out of Hollywood and the left, but she is able to move beyond ideological rhetoric and address the reality of the situation as it is today.

I've been bemoaning the fact that my recent postings haven't had much to do with "common ground". Thanks Angelina for being a credit to your Goodwill Ambassador role and giving me something like this to post about.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Am I a non-normie? Are you?

I ran across a very interesting site recently, it's called non-normie.com. I have to say that a lot of the information on the site makes a lot of sense. I also have to say that I may be a bit of a non-normie myself.

I'd really recommend that people head over there and take a look. I'm not going to say I agree with everything there, but since I have quite a lot of experience with the subject matter I have to say it makes a lot more sense than a lot of us are going to want to admit.

Oh, by the way, be prepared for a TON of political incorrectness. But, as you will find, that is rather necessary and probably quite refreshing.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Biting the Invisible Hand that Feeds You

Running around in the back of my mind for quite some time now has been a curious little thought. I take it out and play around with it every once in awhile, but have never given it the attention it deserves. In this post I intend to finally let it see the light of day and perhaps flesh it out a bit.

In college I had to take what I thought was an inordinate amount of economics classes. I did fine, got straight A's and all of that, but always found the whole "science" to be rather obvious. I think I referred to it as the "well duh" science. One of the people I learned about was a fellow by the name of Adam Smith. I'm sure most people who have taken a history or economics course have heard of Adam Smith and the free-market economy he espoused in his well known treatise The Wealth of Nations. I'm not really interested in regurgitating Adam Smith but what I am interested in doing is examining the rather strange road we seem to be headed down. A road that pays ardent lip service, at the least, to free-market economics but at the same time seems intent on (perhaps inadvertently) destroying its foundations.

At its most basic a free market is one where people offer up goods and services in exchange for as much money as they can get for them and people buy goods and services as cheaply as they are able. Things like quality modify the perceived value of the goods and services and over time competition serves to balance things out in an almost magical way. This magic was named the Invisible Hand by Adam Smith and the term Laissez-faire denotes the idea that the economy should just be allowed to act.

Here in the United States most people seem to accept the idea that we should have a free-market economy, and to a large degree I suppose we still do. But, the strange thing that has been happening for a number of decades now is that more and more money is being taken through taxation by the government without the government giving back something of equal value in exchange. Originally the idea was for the government to give back things like roads and schools and a military in exchange for the money it took. If this exchange were even close to being equal in value one could probably say that it fit, at least to some extent, into a free-market economy. The problem, of course, is that the government doesn't even attempt to give back anything of value anymore. Sure we have roads, schools and a military, but the government is doing a horrible job of producing those things in an efficient fashion and most of what it takes in doesn't even go to goods and services that have any value.

What the government is doing more and more over time is taking money through taxation and not giving back any goods and services at all. Instead it is giving that money to other people to spend on goods and services through all sorts of welfare, aid, grants etc. or is giving the money to producers of goods and services via subsidies without asking for anything back. The intentions behind all of this government largess are certainly good and noble for the most part but they have the unfortunate side affect of undermining the ability of the "magic" to balance and control the economy.

Lets contrast a free-market economy with socialism and communism. I will use the term socialism for the sake of convenience from now on, but the things I describe may technically be associated with only one or the other system. Socialism at its most basic is a system where the government controls the means of production. In a pure socialist system there would be no private ownership of property or of businesses. The government would instead own and control all property and all means of production. In other words, the government would own and control all the houses, land, hospitals, factories and schools and would, in essence, be the "employer" whom everyone would work for. In the Utopian vision of socialism everyone would work for the simple joy of working, thus providing the goods and services necessary for the functioning of a society. These goods and services wouldn't cost anything but would be freely available to everyone.

In reality, however, every attempt at pure socialism has failed due to the innate selfishness of mankind. Most people, discovering that they are no longer responsible to provide their own homes, food, clothing and so on, will understandably be tempted to sit around and enjoy themselves rather than working at some job simply for the joy of contributing to society. As such it is always necessary for the government to coerce people in various ways into performing the necessary tasks. Thus, in socialism, you find yourself working because you are forced to but without any tangible rewards for performing the work, or even more importantly for performing it well. Whereas in a free-market economy people are only paid if they work and can increase their pay by working harder and/or smarter. Thus a persons innate selfishness is a powerful component of the "magic".

Now on to the main point I am trying to make. More and more in this country we find the government being asked and expected to provide a way for everyone to have more or less equal access to all goods and services. You would think that the logical solution to this would be to move more and more towards socialism, and indeed that is a charge that is often levied by conservatives and libertarians in our country. What I have noticed, however, is that many times this isn't the path that is taken. Instead we have a situation where the government seems to act more like a benevolent grandparent. Instead of taking over and controlling various industries and service providers like it would in socialism it instead leaves them in private ownership but either gives the individual receiving aid the money to pay for the goods or services or pays for them on behalf of the individual.

Now, that seems like a pretty nice deal for the individual, but where did the benevolent grandparent get that money. It got the money by taking it from other individuals or by taking it from the providers of goods and services. Now if the government were providing the goods and services directly, as in socialism, at least you'd have some sort of consistent system set up. But when you ostensibly have a free-market economy but yet you have this powerful force stepping in and taking money without giving anything back and giving that money to other people, directly or indirectly, to pay for goods and services, you have a very strange amalgamation of capitalism and socialism. It is my contention that this amalgamation, as it continues to grow, will destroy the necessary underpinnings of our economy.

Let me illustrate my contention by examining two very real problems that have been created by this amalgamation: higher education and health care.

Public, K-12 education in this country is socialized, for all practical purposes, so the government actually is the provider and the employer. In this we at least have a consistent system, although the argument about quality suffering under socialism can easily be made in regards to public education. Higher education, however, is still a much more private enterprise. But, the government still is expected to provide assistance to all sorts of people who can't afford to pay the price for higher education. Instead of socializing the system the government simply offers money through various programs to those deemed worthy of receiving it. The unintended consequence of this is that the price of higher education invariably rises due to the unnatural influx of money into the system. This rise in prices is the natural result of a free-market, but since it isn't due to natural, free-market, causes it can't be regulated by the "magic" and the government has to increase the amount it puts into the system in order for people to be able to afford it. This, as you can see, turns into a an unnatural spiral of increasing costs which can only be fixed by either removing the unnatural influx of money or socializing higher education entirely.

The same thing is at work in our health care system as more and more people are being given money by the government to pay for their health care via Medicare, Medicaid, Chip, prescription drug benefits and other types of government aid. Again, as money is unnaturally inserted into the system, costs inevitably rise due to market forces and the "magic" is unable to regulate the system. When we look at all of the proposed fixes to the problem most simply involve the government handing out more money to help people pay for health care. As we have seen, this will only make the problem worse, and again the only solution is to remove the unnatural influx of money or completely socialize health care.

Let me emphasize the fact that socializing health care or higher education means that universities, hospitals, labs, pharmaceutical companies and even your neighborhood doctors office would all be owned and operated by the government.

Another unintended consequence of the government taking money through taxes and giving it to people to pay for goods and services is the impact it has on those from whom the money is taken. If you are an individual who can afford, perhaps barely, to provide for your own education and health care, the removal of more and more of your income through taxes has a multiplied effect. The immediate effect is that you have less money to spend on education and health care, not to mention everything else. The secondary effect is that when the government gives that money to someone else to pay for education or health care it results in the cost of those things further increasing. As you might imagine, the logical outcome of this is that more and more people will move from the ranks of those able to pay their own way to the ranks of those needing assistance. And also, as the costs increase, the threshold at which people become eligible for the aid rises which also adds more to the ranks of those receiving the aid. We are left with an almost comical scenario: on the one side are the ever increasing ranks of those who are receiving an ever increasing amount of aid, on the other side are the ever decreasing ranks of those who are paying ever higher amounts and who are also paying ever more in taxes since the ranks of those who can pay costs and taxes are decreasing and the costs and taxes are increasing because of the growing ranks of those who can't pay the costs and taxes and thus receive the ever increasing amounts of money to pay the ever increasing costs from the ever decreasing ranks of those who have to pay ever increasing costs and ever increasing taxes... well, you get the point.

It is inevitable that at some point everyone will be on the same side of the equation and the system will have collapsed. The unfortunate reality is that since this whole process has been underway for several generations and may go on for a few more, by the time the system is completely unsustainable there will already be so many people who have grown accustomed to having a benevolent grandparent (government) taking care of them that fully socializing the system will be the only solution deemed acceptable.

I believe that very few people in this country have any desire to live under a socialist system. I also believe that very few people, even those on the left and in government, really want to move us into pure socialism. Oh sure, there are a few radical types that want that, but by and large I think most people are horrified at the idea of living under socialist or communist rule. I think most people, even the supposed elites, just don't realize that socialism and capitalism are like oil and water, ultimately you have to pick one or the other. I think people, with the best of motivations, want a more equal and egalitarian society where you don't have the pitifully poor on the one hand and the ridiculously rich on the other.

People just don't realize that by taking the seemingly obvious road of providing government assistance and regulation of the monetary system through taxation that we are only making the problems we are trying to fix worse and ultimately will have to experience a very painful transition back to free-market capitalism or succumb completely to socialism. It is necessary, although difficult, to approach these types of problems by looking at real results instead of at good intentions.

In a later post I will discuss the interesting proposition, which I believe to be true, that a free people, largely unhindered by taxation, are better able, and more willing, to help those in need then any large, ponderous government could ever be. You only have to look at the amazing things done by churches, charities and even the super-rich philanthropists, to see the truth of this statement. Imagine how much more they could do if unhindered by a huge burden of taxation and regulation by a government that is horribly inefficient and whose very act of redistributing money ultimately destroys the entire economic system and magnifies the very problems it seeks to fix.