Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Geneva Convention

As we reflect on the Incarnation, it is also helpful to see humans who lived lives that reveal a God's unfailing love. Today I stumbled across an article on the man who started the Red Cross and wrote the first Geneva Convention. Herny Dunant was driven by an intense Christian vision and lived his life caring for the needy. This article is an inspiring read.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Spirit of Christmas

Every year cartoons and movies retell the same story: the story of a child or an adult who has lost the wonder of Christmas, “the Christmas spirit.” Every year the tale of innocence and experience is retold through the lens of Santa Claus and a heart that needs only believe.

Christmas is the time when we hope, we wish, we dream it might all really be true. Of course, we know better. And yet deep within us there is a longing for that place called the North Pole. The sophisticated refuse to waste their thoughts or time with such pointless dreaming, ah but the child in all of us longs for the dream to come true.

In our Christmas stories, we express the truths our imagination knows to be true, even when our intellect says otherwise. I believe that our stories embody our deepest beliefs: the beliefs that are fundamental to our whole understanding of the world.

Some parents hoping to protect their children give them presents but refuse to give them the stories of Christmas. But maybe stories are more important than an endless supply of boxed toys that will soon be discarded. Long after the specific toys are forgotten, the stories will be remembered. The stories shape us: they shape the boundaries of our imagination; they shape our understanding of the world—both seen and unseen.

And what do our Christmas stories tell us? What we believe really matters. The magic of Christmas is veiled to the unbeliever. For them it is only commerce—buying and exchanging of presents. But for those who believe, we know the Christmas present reminds us that the greatest treasures cannot be purchased: they can only be received as gifts. The believer offers milk and cookies in gratitude.

After we sit in the glow of our twinkling Christmas trees inside, we might notice the glorious glow of our trees outside: and for that matter our grass and our bushes may look a little brighter. The world around is not as dull and dreary as we had come to believe, but is really an explosive symphony of light.

When we see the Santa strolling through the mall, we are reminded of goodness and kindness and unending benevolence just north of all we can see or hear. We are not alone. And who knows how often we entertain angels unaware?

In the swirl of Santas, and snowmen, and songs of sleigh rides, we discover something else—a lean to, a broke down barn, a rustic shelter. Inside this stable lies a baby that bears the hopes of all the ages.

Once again, the manger is an embarrassment to the sophisticated. How could the God of the ages come to earth as a poor child? Yet this tragically beautiful tale captures the imagination: a virgin with child, a cold winter night, no place in the inn, a miracle birth, shepherds and angels and wise men. And in the center of the story: the hope of hopes lying helpless on the hay.

This is the myth of myths, the story of all stories. The story of the God who comes to earth as man—not to betray the world, not to oppress or destroy but to love in weakness; to embrace the downtrodden; love the unlovely; heal the broken heart; preach freedom to the captives; to bear the weight of every pain, every fear, every sin; to overcome evil with goodness; and to overcome death with life forevermore.

We fear the story is too good to be true. Because ultimately we fear good stories cannot be true. We’ve seen too much pain, too much loss, too much needless suffering. We’ve lost our innocence to the dark reality of this cruel world. In the midst of this dark world, a light still shines.

Dare we believe? Dare we become childlike again? Dare we believe that our stories were pointing to something real? Dare we believe in someone who created us for a life beyond all we ever could hope or imagine?

This Christmas we might truly discover the Spirit of Christmas. Or rather, he might waken us to the wonder of a love that we have longed for all our lives.

“O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”


The countdown has begun. All across the Western world, children are counting the days. Santa will be here soon.

Okay, I realize Santa doesn’t seem too spiritual. In fact, some folks go so far as to say that teaching children about Santa is dangerous. When they find out there is no Santa, they might quit believing in God. Actually, when children cease to be children they will quit believing they need God. Jesus says, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).

Children have the capacity to appreciate the wonder and magic of myth. They may not understand why the snow falls in winter, but they delight in it as a gift from heaven. The whole world is touched with wonder. There are friendly trees and mean trees. Digging a hole in the back yard may take them to China. Fairies play in the backyard—just out of sight. Children see something adults have grown to old and blind to see. G.K. Chesterton says, “It may be that (God) has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father us younger than we.”

Children are still young in spirit. They realize this world is miraculous. The spiritual world in entwined with the physical. Their minds may not understand the subtleties of doctrines and theology but their hearts recognize the reality of spiritual light and spiritual darkness.

When it comes to Christmas, they understand something so close to the human heart that adults seem to overlook it. Christmas Eve is just as spectacular as Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is when the Mystery draws near. Paul Jones says:
“As a child I could understand this, for no Christmas Day could ever match the mystery of anticipation called Christmas Eve. All of the major Christian festivals are woven in and out of Vigils—the prior evening in which one awaits in foretaste. Especially significant are the mystery of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and the rapture of Easter Vigil, which begins and ends in the speckled darkness of early morning. It is in anticipation, at the outer edge of yearning, deeply in time, that Mystery births us.” (A Season in the Desert, 72).

We live so close to the Mystery of God that sometimes we overlook it. In seasons like Advent, we remind ourselves of the deep inner childlike, yearning we have to draw near to the Mystery of God. He is above and beyond all we can know; yet we long to draw near Him. We live in Anticipation.


“What was that?”
“Did you hear that?”
“I think, I think
He’s out there.”

Christmas eve. The magic is almost here.
My heart is throbbing, my
mind is racing.

Tonight’s the night. Michelle says that she saw him last year.
“What was that?”

Looking down over the railing, I crane my neck to no avail.
A flickering of colors rains across the hall.

Trembling, I climb onto the top step. My body
aches to keep climbing down the stairs.

But my mind is terrified.
“What if I spoil the magic?”

Endless seconds
crawl before me. And then,

Michelle taps my shoulder and wakes me from a long winter’s sleep. It’s time!

Our world is different. Just hours ago, he was here!
Here in this very house!

adf – 12/19/01

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Meeting

The young imagination can grasp the impossible. So believing in Santa is easy. When I was a child, the world was full of wonder. Everything was magical. Colors, sounds, shapes, and even smells fascinated me. In fact, I think I liked some toys because of the way they smelled. I remember one store smelled like incense (this was the 60s). That smell always made the store seem a bit mysterious. Some people’s home smelled like children were not aloud to play there. I used to play at one friend’s house who was Italian. As his mom cooked, their house smelled like families were important.

The childlike imagination is rich in associations and wonder and faith. Yet as we grow, we often loose that wonder of simple things. Soon we fail to notice the wonder around us as we plan tomorrow’s schedule or review today’s events. Scientifiic laws explain away the fancies of childhood (like why birds fly and we don’t). We see the grass as green due to light and pigmentation. The sun dissappears from view because of the rotation of the earth.

Faith in God can restore the childlike appreciation of the world. Faith doesn’t seek to do away with scientific laws, but rather, it suggests that beneath those laws is a will. The will of a Supreme, loving Creator. So we may explain the details of green, but faith says that ultimately the grass is green because a divine will wanted it green. There is an active will of a loving Creator behind every man-made explanation. God wills the Sun to shine and it does. God willed for you to exist and you do.

When we see the world through this lens, we realize the absolute wonder that we even exist. God desired you to be here this day. And somehow, in the mystery of His great love, He gave us the freedom to gaze in wonder at His creation or to ignore Him altogether.

As you watch the excitement of children this season, may the excitement and wonder of faith come to life within your own heart.

The Meeting

“Oh , look Mom!
I think it’s him.
Can we stop? Please, please. Can we stop?”

Standing in line,
My wet hands hands are jumbled in anticipation.

This is the “real” one.
At least I’m pretty sure.
Just look at his stomach.
That’s no pillow.
And that beard, it’s real too.
Not some cotton on elastic.

Oh, great.
I’m next.
My heart is pounding.
I’ve never, …

Met the “real” one.

Quick, review my list:
a scrumpled notebook paper with pencil markings.
I hope he can read it.
Let’ see. Cross out number 3 and 7.
Can’t sound too greedy.
Put a star by 1 and 5. These are the most important.

It’s my turn!
He’s so big.
Giant hands gently swoop me into his lap.
Look at those boots. Yep, those are real.
Boy, he looks old. I bet he’s over a 1,000 years old.

“Uh, uh thanks.
Yes, I want a, a”

deep breath.

“A train set that lights up and whistles.
Oh, yes. I promise I would be careful.
Oh wait!
Here’s my list.
You can, uh
Bring me, uh
Anything you want.
Thank you Santa.”

Wow! I finally met him.
Boy he sure smelled good.

by alan douglas floyd


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Wish Lists

One of my favorite memories of Christmas festivities is the making of wish lists. Several department stores sent out a “wish list” toy catalog each year, but none surpassed the Sears catalog. I spent hours pouring over the pictures and descriptions. I bent the corner of pages with potential “wish list” items for future review. Then I would visualize playing with those particular toys. The toys in my dreams were more fun than anything I ever could receive for Christmas.

There is a profound lesson here. In the wish list, the child uses the imagination to cultivate a sense of longing. This longing may start with a specific toy or any specific thing or even a specific person or a specific place. But our imagination presents a perfect or ideal image of the thing we desire—and the actual reality can never meet our expectations. And we experience disappointment.

One year, I saw a little record player recorder that supposedly could cut records. In other words, I could make my own recordings. This delightful toy bordered on the miraculous, and I dreamed of creating my own albums much to the amazement of friends and family all around. This toy topped this list. It was too good to be true. And it probably was, but I’ll never know because I never got this gift.

One thing a child must learn early is that there is no direct correlation between the wish list and the gifts received on Christmas morning. Inevitably, as delight and wonder envelope children everywhere, disappointment still lurks in the background. Nothing can ever really live up to our expectations or imaginations. And though some adults this year, like every year, will scold their children for selfishness, they too suffer from disappointments in other adults, in relationships, in job situations, in family matters and more. Disappointment is a very real and important part of longing.

I believe our idealized longing, is ultimately reaching out for a city not made by hands: a place and time that truly is just out of reach. Some might say that this type of longing is really a longing for the womb: a place where we were connected, completely safe and satisfied. In fact, some suggest that our delight with the sound of rushing waters from oceans to rivers to creeks is because the earliest sounds we knew in the womb were in liquid.

I believe the longing is not necessarily a looking back but a yearning forward. It is the hope, the longing, the yearning for the possibility that one day the happily ever after really will come true. Our best fairy tales end in a place just beyond the reach of real life. Nobody really experiences happily ever after in the here and now. They can’t. No one and nothing can meet our expectations.

We cannot even meet our own expectations. We vow to follow a new diet or a new exercise plan. We vow to be kind, to be more loving, to live selflessly. But we fall and fail. We cannot live up to our own standards, and if think we do, I assure someone else can look into our life and point out how we fail to meet their standards. Everyone falls short. Thus disappointment is inevitable.

The Hebrew prophets experienced disappointments as well. They watched a people, a nation move from reliance on God to political maneuvering and intrigue: and in the process. becoming a captive people. But many of them continue to cultivate a longing for a time when this kingdom of God would be realized in fullness. They describe this kingdom in ways that are still hard for us to imagine. The world is in perfect harmony: natural enemies are at peace. Political foes embrace; weapons of destructions are transformed into tools for nurturing and healing—even the lion lays down with the lamb.

Their lasting and profound vision of world harmony continues to reverberate throughout our world. Though far from perfect, the United Nations was created with this vision in mind and a quote from Isaiah still adorns the front of the offices in New York. But our flawed attempts fall short of Isaiah’s full vision. He describes a world only God can restore.

And this is the hope of Jews and Christians alike. We strain forward to a world of absolute perfect harmony. While past histories shape us, we are actually energized by the future. We long for God’s kingdom fully realized. Every week, Christians every where will pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…” They are praying for nothing short of absolute and perfect harmony in the heavens and on the earth.

Instead of relegating these dreams to a Never Never Land of childhood fantasy, this Christmas we might began to dream of an Ever Ever Land. We might get out those wish lists and dream of a world perfected in love and grace. Where commerce is not based on who can take advantage of who, but all our exchanges are based on blessing and love.

While our earthly dreams are subject to fail and disappoint, the prophets revealed that we could never out dream the kingdom. Inevitably it will exceed all hopes and expectations. It is better than anything we could have ever hoped. This dream of God’s perfectly realized love drives us forward and gives us energy to live out of that kingdom now. Thus Jesus says that the world would know his disciples by their love one for another.

As we live with a vision and a longing of the kingdom, we trust in God’s faithfulness to reveal this kingdom and relate on the basis of an abundance of His love. We don’t have to scrape and steal and oppress others to get ahead. For our confidence is not the shifting sands of the present moment but in a coming kingdom that cannot fail. Thus we are free to love and lay down our lives for those around us. In fact, we are free to be seen as fools for the sake Christ. Fools because we have abandoned the way of a world that suggests that if I don’t look out for myself, others will take advantage of me. Fools because we choose to return love for hate, peace for war, kindness for anger and healing for hurting.

This Christmas may we begin to live out our wish lists and live what we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Christmas is Coming

About this time, children of all ages have begun to feel an anguish burning in the pit of their stomach. Each night more Christmas trees light up family rooms. Each day mantles and hearths blossom with Pine garland, Poinsettias and empty stockings. In the midst of these transformations, children begin discovering the anguished longing of winter butterflies awaiting Santa. I remember them well and in some strange way I still feel them.

When I was a boy, it was about this time that I would begin checking the paper every day, which posted a small box counting down the days until Christmas. Every day I counted and recounted the days. Every night I turned and twisted in bed impatiently hoping for Christmas.

If we pay attention, our childish festivities might open our eyes to the mystery and wonder of our world. As our homes and hearts prepare for the coming of Christmas, we unconsciously acknowledge that Christmas comes to us.

While we know it’s coming, it still comes as a shock. It comes suddenly, like the birth of a child in the middle of the night. It comes like a twister turning our world around and upside down. It comes like a dream too good to be true. No matter how it comes, it comes.

Now it would be an odd Christmas, if upon awaking we went to the neighbor’s house and searched their stockings for surprises from Santa. It would be odder still if we flew to London and entered the house at 48 Doughty Street, searching under their tree for our Christmas gifts.

We don’t go to Christmas, it comes to us. Our particular home and our particular hearth becomes the threshold to all the mystery and magic of Christmas. We don’t have to search for it across the street or the globe for that matter. The magic comes to us.

Beneath the magic of Santa and songs and presents and play, Christmas holds a far greater mystery: the mystery of the God become man; the mystery of the child who holds the worlds in his hands. the mystery of the crying babe who comes to comfort the pains of this aching world.

Christmas hosts an absurdly wonder-filled mystery: the mystery that in the baby Jesus, God appears as a particular person at a particular place in particular time. In this wondrous act, he forever reminds us of the value of each particular place and each particular time.

It may be that we wait for the coming of Christmas because we are really waiting for the coming the Son: who will come and make all things new. It may be that as we decorate our mantles and hang stockings by our hearths we are highlighting the wonder infused in the place where we live.

Instead of longing to find that magic place beyond our world: whether across the street, across the globe or across the cosmos, we might come to discover the treasure of the place where we live. Our home and our hearth still glow with glory. Our job and our relationships, our bodies and our minds are not simply accidents or happenstances but gifts from the Creator.

Every breath is a gift from the Creator of all things. And in every breath He comes to us with mercy and grace. And with every breath we have the power to lift unceasing thanks for this wonder-filled life.

As we await for the coming Christmas, may we behold him who came, who comes today, and who will come again.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Romanian Reflections

A Romanian friend, Oana, just introduced a new blog Wannabat. Hopefully she'll be posting some pix from her native land soon.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

John the Baptist

His life was devoted to one purpose—prepare the way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist had lived an ascetic life of absolute devotion to God. His burning passion was to see the Anointed One. In one sense, his life brought into focus the intense waiting of all ages for the Coming One: The new David that Isaiah proclaimed would usher in the kingdom of God and restore the world to an Edenic state of innocence.

When Jesus final appears, John the Baptist humbly yields the stage to Him acknowledging Jesus as the “Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.” John takes his leave with a warning announcing that Jesus would “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

In the lonely dungeon, John the Baptist hears reports that the one he proclaimed as Messiah, goes to the parties, does not fast, and surrounds himself with questionable people. He sends words to Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"

Jesus may have loved John the Baptist more than anyone on the earth. He saw John as one of the greatest prophets to ever live. And yet, even John could not see the fullness of the kingdom. Jesus alludes to Isaiah and other testimonies from the Old Testament to describes His call, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Mtt 11:5; Is 35:5-6).

The kingdom of God has come but in a way, that not even John the Baptist had anticipated. And Jesus says, “(B)lessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (Mtt 11:6). The Messiah comes to the weary, to the waiting, to those lost and struggling in the darkness. The Messiah comes with the kingdom of God bringing joy to the sad, comfort to the mourners, hope to the hopeless, and humiliation to the proud.

The Messiah will come again. Though He tarries, we wait. We anticipate His coming by walking in the reality of His kingdom now. But we also grow weary, and sometimes even doubtful. One of the greatest trials we face in this life is the challenge of time, of waiting. We must wait upon the Lord. Our redemption is near and yet not quite near enough.

Like the children of the Exodus, we are crossing a desert. We are heading home to the presence of the Lord. Yet, the desert saps our energy, our strength, and even our faith. As we wait, we need the grace of God to “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees” (IS 35:3). Our fearful hearts need to hear, "Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you" (Is 35:4).

Like John the Baptist, there are times when we may question and wonder, “Are you the coming one or should we look for another?” But He is faithful.
The same power that can cause a desert to blossom (Is 35:1) is at work in our hearts. The grace of God can bring new life and new hope to our weary souls. As we long for home, as we look for the coming of the Son, we also rest in His grace. His can lead by a way we do not know into a place we have never imagined.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

In Question

My friend started a blog today. I encourage you to visit In Question. His posts should be provocative and give you ideas to wrestle with.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Christmas Carols

I've been perusing The Penguin Book of Carols by Ian Bradley this season. Some people will remember Ian from his book Celtic Christian Communities, which I highly recommend.

Anyway, he provides short stories on the background on a variety of Christmas hymns. And he reminds us that new carols are still being written. As an example, Bradley offers a little gem from contemporary hymnist Timothy Dudley-Smith. Here is a carol that Smith origninally wrote for a Christmas card in the late 70s. I enjoyed and hopefully you will to.

A Song Was Heard At Christmas

A song was heard at Christmas
To wake the midnight sky:
A saviour's birth, and peace on earth,
And praise to God on high.
The angels sang at Christmas
With all the hosts above,
And still we sing the newborn King
His glory and his love.

A star was seen at Christmas,
A herald and a sign,
That men might know the way to go
To find the child divine.
The wise men watched at Christmas
In some far eastern land,
And still the wise in starry skies
Discern their Maker's hand.

A tree was grown at Christmas,
A sapling green and young:
No tinsel bright with candlelight
Upon its branches hung.
But he who came at Christmas
Our sins and sorrow bore,
And still we name his tree of shame
Our life forevermore.

A child was born at Christmas
When Christmas first began:
The Lord of all a baby small,
The Son of God made man.
For love is ours at Christmas,
And life and light restored,
And so we praise through endless days
The Saviour, Christ the Lord.

Free Films

Amazon has been showing short films all throughout the season. So far four have been posted and one more is coming. These are actually pretty good and I recommend. The Amazon Theater hosts all these films.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Just looking around this beautiful world of wonder reminds us that something is not quite right. Even though the gentle strains of the setting sun envelope my yard and trees in a soothing glow, I know something is not quite right. While I eat at my pleasure, many people starve. While I relax by watching Christmas films of love, joy, and peace on earth, many people hide out from fear of war. The world aches with broken hearts, wounded souls, violent oppression and a dark nothingness that chokes out all hope.

During Advent, these disonant chords keep us from attaching a simple sentamentality to our Christmas celebrations. Hope and joy coexist with pain and suffering. The freedom of the human will plagues this planet with countless evils. And yet, the Christian vision believes and hopes and moves toward the possibility of new age when the king will return and restore all things through his boundless grace.

Advent stirs the hope that evil does not conquor but love triumphs. Several years ago, I penned the following in hopes of this appearing, this "parousia" of the conquoring king.


Rushing Spirit agitates the deep,
Earth awakes from restless sleep.
Blazing sky erupts in praise
Darkness fades in endless day.
He is coming.

Shepherds stand in holy fright,
Heaven erupts with peace-filled light.
Kings and crowns come tumbling down
Infant reigns on stable ground.
He is coming.

Wolf and sheep asleep on hay,
Viper and the infant play.
Nations stream up Zion’s mount,
Wisdom flows from timeless fount.
He is coming.

Advent Resources

Here are a few sites that provide helpful advent resources:
Anglicans Online
Lift Up Your Hearts

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Advent Calendar

This week we are meditating on the sudden, hopeful return of Christ. I’ve chosen a short poem that captures this sense of suddenness. This poem is written by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let us remember to pray for him and all our brothers and sisters in Anglican Communion.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like the frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams

Monday, November 29, 2004


Over 2000 years ago, Isaiah sang a song of peace to a people with war in their hearts. He looked into the holy city of Jerusalem and saw a people corrupted with violent words and violent ways. Yet he envisioned a time when all nations would draw from the wellsprings of peace in Jerusalem. Listen…his song still echoes across our land.

“It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Isaiah 2:2-4

We begin the Advent journey with Isaiah’s song on our lips. We yearn for peace and even cry out for peace but we live in a world bent on war.

Jerusalem is still a city consumed in war. In fact, it has known more violent conflict than virtually any other city in history. And yet, Isaiah’s song still echoes: “neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Looking past the pain of the present, Isaiah envisions the end. He sees Jerusalem as a city of peace—bringing peace to all nations of the earth. He sees a world of perfect harmony.

Not to be confused with an endless state of tranquility where nothing happens, harmony is a realm of endless variety and stunning diversity, and yet, like a masterpiece from Mozart, it brings complexity and depth of structure into a stunning resolution. Perfect harmony.

The Lord appears as a judge, a mediator, and an arbitrator. His wise judgments settle the grievances of all offended parties. In fact, the nations are so transformed by his intervention that they willingly transform their tools of destruction into tools of renewal.

Advent begins in hope by contemplating a hopeful end to all things. If we have no hope for peace, how can we ever work toward peace? How can we ever live toward peace? Without hope, we will consciously or unconsciously perpetuate the cycle of violence that engulfs our world.

The nations will never know peace as long as the people have war in their hearts. Many of those who scream for peace the loudest do it with a heart of rage. Each of us carry weapons of war—hurtful thoughts, hurtful words, hurtful actions. We hurl our invectives at those who oppose us, offend us, betray us, and oppress us.

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

Yet, if we truly embrace the Advent vision of the consummation of all things in the perfect justice and equity of God’s grace, then we might draw energy from that vision of peace even now. We might actually begin to live as peaceful people.

The Advent hope promises that the one great Arbitrator will ultimately settle all grievances. With this hope in mind, we can take our weapons of war and turn them into harvesting tools of healing thoughts, healing words and healing actions. We anticipate peace by helping the oppressed, loving the hurting and embracing our enemies.

During the mystery of Advent, may each of us personally enter into the season of renewal with a heart and life that echoes the peaceful dreams of Isaiah.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Personal vs Public Music

I've never liked walking into an office and seeing everyone plugged into their own personal headphones. Seems so cut off and individualized. I'd rather the music blair through the department--even if we don't like everything that's playing. Jeremy has some interesting comments on this topic at e-community.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Earth Cycles - Advent

As the seasons change, we change. The relationship of the sun to the earth impacts our weather and in turn impacts our lives. When temperatures drop, we change our clothes, our activities, our homes and even our attitudes. One way we acknowledge these changes is through our culture rituals.

When humans lived more agrarian lifestyles, the impact of these changes were more dramatic. Rituals and activities emerged, acknowledging changing seasons. Various rituals were enacted to help assure the best outcome during the coming season. In the ancient Mesopotamian culture, the onset of winter was a sign of creation coming undone, unraveling. The people engaged in various rituals to help stave off the chaos and keep them safe until another year. So at their root, many of these ancient rituals were ultimately about power and the challenge of impacting natural or divine power for the best outcome.

Jews and Christians have also marked the changing seasons with various holy days. Yet in some ways, the nature and character of Judeo-Christian festivals are different. At their root, each of these holy days are commemorative. While ritualized behavior may be part of the event, it is less about power and more about memory. The Jewish festivals memorialize the actions of their God on behalf of his people.

Thus the festival is not for God but for the people. It is to remind the people that there is a Creator who is benevolent, full of mercy and lovingkindness. It is a time to remember that God has not forsaken his people or this earth and that ultimately he will restore all things.

Following in the steps of her forefathers, the early Christians enacted festivals of memory. Their festivals all centered on the life and action of Jesus Christ. From birth to death to resurrection to future return, the Christians celebrated and celebrate Jesus through actions designed to reinforce our common memory.

And yet there is an odd juxtaposition of Christian celebrations and natural events. In December, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere grows colder and natural things appear to die. This is the time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Thus eternal and unquenchable life is celebrated in the midst of death. When death seems to dominate our landscape, we are reminded of life.

In the Spring, when the earth awakens from a winter nap, everything appears to come alive. It is then that Christians celebrate the death of Jesus. When everything appears beautiful and like paradise, we remember death—Jesus’ death and our own. We are mortal creatures who are dying. This memory helps put every day in proper perspective.

Of course, at this time we also celebrate the resurrection of Christ and coming of His Spirit at Pentecost. In spite of our own mortality, we are reminded of a hope that is not bound by the limitations of this earth.

The hope within the Jewish and Christian memory is that the God who has acted will ultimately act to reveal His kingdom on this earth. While humanity appears to act in incurably evil ways, we have hope that evil will eventually be eliminated and the goodness of God will forever prevail.

While some may use this hope to complacently await an escape from their problems on earth, the Judeo-Christian tradition has found that this hope gives us energy to act for good in the present moment. We resist all evil. We resist oppression of humans as well as destruction of this creation. And we believe that our actions are not futile.

Throughout our combined history, our people have held this hope that while our efforts may appear miniscule and doomed to fail, good will ultimately prevail because God’s lovingkindess will ultimately triumph.

As the days of November fade, we prepare to celebrate the Christian season of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany.

In the midst wars throughout the world, in the midst of scandals rocking the United Nations, in the midst of divisions across our political landscape, we pause and look upward with hope. In the midst of human striving, we remember. We wait. We watch for the coming of the Lord.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Roman Holiday

Kelly and I just finished watching Roman Holiday. This magical film takes the dream of being queen for a day in reverse: briefly allowing a princess to escape her responsilbities for an experience in the real world. The film raises some interesting questions about responsibility vs. self fulfillment. While our culture often encourages us to follow our dreams, maybe sometimes we are challenged to lay aside those dreams and choose something higher than self satisfaction.

FOUND Magazine

FOUND Magazine offers a fascinating glimpse of the things we throw away.

Phillis Wheatley

I recently discovered a fascinating early African American poet: Phillis Wheatley. She has an interesting history: captured and enslaved at a young age. In spite of her conditions, Wheatley rose above learning to read and write and eventually receiving her freedom.


Ed Rosen recomended 9Marks. Interesting site. Excellent articles and interviews from a Reformed perspective.

Bible Reading Plans - Read the Bible in a Year

I was looking for some ideas for reading the Bible. Found an interesting resource today. Bible Reading Plans offers several possiblities.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Listening to the other

Thomas Friedman is a columnist of the NY Times and I find his articles thoughful and worth reading. Today he responded to the election of GW Bush by characterizing pro-Bush voters as follows:

It seemed as if people were not voting on his performance. It seemed as if they were voting for what team they were on.

This was not an election. This was station identification. I'd bet anything that if the election ballots hadn't had the names Bush and Kerry on them but simply asked instead, "Do you watch Fox TV or read The New York Times?" the Electoral College would have broken the exact same way.

This disappointed and I wrote him and told him so. I don't know if he'll ever read my note, so I thought I might just post here:

Mr. Friedman,

Your columns regularly offer thoughtful commentary on trade, politics and other issues impacting this nation and world. In fact, your time away from the "Times" this summer was like a long walk in across a dry wilderness.

Even your endorsement of G H Bush was thoughtful and made important points that should play a role in our public conversation. In spite of this, I was somewhat disappointed with your column today.

Your tendency to objectify all those who voted for GW is a denial of the uniqueness of personhood. While quantified research may give some slight indicators as to the reasons why people voted en masse for Bush to assume a simplistic notion like you represented is simply bad science and poor reasoning. You caricature Bush voters and then claim they represent a different America then the one you defend.

This disappoints me. I would think someone like yourself, with the nuanced thinking that is clearly evident in your columns would recognize the complexity behind why people act or vote in specific ways.

I am amazed at how often people praise diversity until someone disagrees with them. Now more than ever, our public discourse needs a good dose of Martin Buber and his call for genuine dialogue.

If we might take the risk of turning and facing some of those with whom we seem to vehemently disagree, we might be profoundly challenged and changed. And we might be surprised that these are real, living human beings who embody far more than a few social or political ideas that offend us, and in the process discover the amazing depths of commonality between us.

Keep writing. I look forward to keep reading.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Election Fervor

Following the election has often been like sports to me. I like keeping up with the pundits, the bloggers, the polls, the strategies, and more. Even as I am fascinated by this game, I am concerned that we might take it a bit too seriously. The psalmist continually reminds us to trust in the Lord not in the strength of the horse or the arm of man.

We have such confidence in systems and structures that are mere illusions of power. Jacques Ellul studied the political history of France and wrote a book questioning political power called The Political Illusion. He suggests that as people begin trusting political power as their source of hope there is a tendency toward centralization of power which ultimately takes power away from the people.

Ellul refers to himself as a Christian Anarchist. In 1987, Vernard Eller developed Ellul's ideas in a book entitled Christian Anarchy. This book is published online in its entirety and is worth reading. I am still processing their ideas, and they challenge many basic assumptions of modern Evangelicals, but these are ideas worth wrestling with even if you may not fully agree.

Regardless of who you support or oppose in this upcoming election, I would argue that your future has virtually nothing to do with leader of this nation compared with the Creator of this world.

What is a Hero?

Last weekend I saw the movie Hero. Following the innovative storytelling techniques of Akira Kurosawa, Hero explores the multi-faceted mystery in the stories of this world. We think we understand so much, and we fall so short. In some ways, this film makes me think of the Eastern Orthodox notions of apophatic and cataphatic. The cataphatic is our attempt to make sense of God and the world around us. It is the way we categorize and label and explain. But the apophatic is direct encounter and it always shatters our cataphatic illusions. This film takes on our illusions of a Hero and forces us to question what is a Hero?

The Hero of Christianity is a big loser. Despised and rejected by everyone--even his closest friends. Are we willing to embrace the way of a hero or do we simply want to be perceived as heroes? And do we even really know who we are and what role we are playing in this world.

Beautiful film.

Luther's Throne

Seems they found the throne of Luther's contemplation. Turns out this may be the secret to Luther's profuond insights.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I've Never Been to Europe

I’ve never traveled across the mysterious wall of China, walked through the ancient streets of Poland, or even pilgrimaged to the home of my Celtic forefathers in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. I have not seen the land some call holy because it is ground that Jesus walked upon, or spent a silent retreat among the Orthodox monks in St. Anthony’s monastery, or even toured the stunning cathedrals of Europe. And I may never do any of these things.

Just because I’ve never traveled to these and other exotic places doesn’t mean that somehow my life has been incomplete. There is more mystery and wonder in the person at my side than all the wonders of this world combined. The question is, “Will I ever truly face that person and behold the wonder?” Or will I rush past them on my way to the next exciting destination, or the next big event, or the next educational degree?

Will I ever pause long enough to lift my wondering eyes in gratitude and praise for the glory that surrounds me, or will I simply continue striving to find the next place or thing or experience that will somehow make my life complete?

By soaking in the poetry and other writings of my Celtic fathers, I’ve come to see the value of place. As Bobi Jones says, “Come, breezes breath, that I may praise the places I have loved so dearly, a nook here and there…” I could learn more about the glory and wonder of my Creator by contemplating the little dogwood in my front yard than by traveling around the world.

The Celts were not against pilgrimage. In fact, they encouraged it! But they pointed out that you cannot go to Rome to find Jesus if you don’t bring him with you. And this is the fundamental mystery with which we strive.

We strive and struggle and search for things and experiences that will give our lives significance. But traveling the world or earning multiple degrees will not make the half-hearted man whole. I wonder how often our lack, our emptiness, or our longing for significance fuels our ministries, our studies, our pilgrimages, and even our relationships?

Jesus tells his friends, “Abide in me, rest in me, dwell in me.” He did not tell them to achieve this and that, build this and that, accomplish this and that and soon you’ll feel like your life means something. He reversed it: rest first; abide first. Realize that significance comes from outside yourself, from the unending lovingkindness of the Creator. His superabundant love gives us value and significance.

As I come to realize that place I am standing is holy, then I pause from my fruitless pursuit for importance. In this rest rooted in God’s grace, my actions are no longer motivated by taking (taking love, taking power, taking significance) but on giving. I can act in love—both when all eyes are upon and when no one notices me.

This frees me to be completely present in the moment—whether I’m mowing the lawn or exploring the Russian countryside.

Friday, October 01, 2004


All afternoon I've been smiling. Brian Wilson finally completed his legendary album, Smile. All afternoon I listened over and over and over. Delightful!

The music world has been waiting almost 40 years for this album. Wilson started it in the 60s, but eventually abandoned the project. For years he wouldn't even discuss it. But finally, this treasure has been completed and released. The story behind this long wait is worth reading.

Listening to the music stirred a range of emotions from laughter to tears. While I cannot fully explain the reasons for my response, I know that it brings to mind the hope and wonder of the 60s. I know some people think of the 60s as a time of rebellion and even consider a dark time when the cultural norms began to disintegrate. My sister and I have very different emotions.

We were young children in the 60s; she was born in 62 and I born in 64. The chaotic music, fashion, and energy of the 60s provided the background for our ealiest memories. The music of that era has a mythic quality for us, and I cannot help but hear with a sense of longing for innocence. So in some ways, my experience is completely reverse. I realize the darkness and light of that period cannot be confused with any true state of innocence, but it stirs something within me that longs for reality that is purer and truer than anything I've seen on this earth. I think all people sense this longing, but different things may trigger it. For me, one trigger is the jubilant harmonies of Brian Wilson.

"Smile" journeys across the mytho-poetic landscape of the American storyfrom the Pilgrims to the Wild West to the infamous Chicago fire to the beaches of southern California or Hawaii. What an wonder-filled journey!

Thanks Brian.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Everytime I revisit Augustine, I am amazed by the passion and beauty of his ideas. He is not a dry intellectual but a passionate lover. I've been reviewing some of his ideas on friendship for our upcoming Friendship Retreat. You might enjoy reflecting on some of these wonderful quotes from Augustine:

For any one who knows us may say of him and me, that in body only, and not in mind, we are two, so great is the union of heart, so firm the intimate friendship subsisting between us; though in merit we are not alike, for his is far above mine.

What is there to console us in this human society so full of errors and trials except the truth and mutual love of true and good friends.

It’s hard to laugh when you are by yourself.

The eyes of a friendship neither look down nor look up to a friend: they look at the friend.

He truly loves a friend who loves God in the friend, either because God is actually present in the friend or in order that God may be so present. This is true love. If we love another for another reason, we hate them more than we love them.

A person must be a friend of truth before they can be a friend of a human being.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

What Do I Know?

In 1992, I entered a graduate program in Communication Theory with confidence that my profound "insights" would be treasured by all within the sound of my golden voice. Two years later, I stumbled across the stage to receive my diploma, wondering how I even got into graduate school let alone got a Master's Degree. The number one thing I learned in graduate school is how little I know. Day after day, paper after paper, presentation after presentation, I grew ever more aware of my own deficiencies.

Over the last ten years, I've tried to hold this lesson close to my heart. No matter how much I read, no matter how I speak, no matter how much (or how little) I write, I still know next to nothing. In the mystery of this grand creation, I am truly overwhelmed in wonder.

Lately, I've been learning a new thing: how much other people do know. Regardless of how much or how little they have read or been trained, I am surrounded by people of stunning brilliance. When I can shut my mouth long enough to listen and really face the people around me, I am always amazed.

I have come to agree with G.K. Chesterton who warned against the dangers of elitism. He once suggested that "The purpose of compulsory education is to deprive the common man of his common sense." Chesterton staunchly defended the wisdom of common sense and the common person. But he did not pit the uneducated agains the educated either.

Chesterton says: "The common mind means the mind of all the artists and heroes; or else it would not be common. Plato had the common mind; Dante had the common mind. Commonness means the quality common to the saint and the sinner, to the philosopher and the fool; and it was this that Dickens grasped and developed. In everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears death, that likes sunlight: that thing enjoys Dickens. And everybody does not mean uneducated crowds; everybody means everybody."

While I may dislike the sentiment expressed on the bumper stick on the car in front of me, I must be careful not assume that the driver has nothing to teach me. All through the Bible, God often uses the enemies of Israel to reveal His wisdom. The next time I determine another person should be ignored because they have the wrong opinion, or because they are not educated enough, or because they are educated too much, I might instead pause, and turn, and face them in the moment.

I still may disagree but I will have paused and turned and faced a person created in the image of God, and this is a treasure and a wonder that I should never take for granted.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Waiting for God (not Godot)

Spent some time meditating on Psalm 130. The psalmist begins in utter despair, drowning in the chaotic waters of Sheol. He cries out in anguish and prays that God won’t count his sins against him. Then he speaks of waiting upon the Lord. Several times he repeats the phrase that he will wait for the Lord. As I read it, I thought this word “wait” resonates deep in me. So much of my life has been about waiting. About feeling sidelined. Forgotten by God. Wondering if He really has abandoned me. Or if I really have been following Him or simply wandering about in confusion.

I don’t know the whole intent of the psalmist but I do believe he uses a particular struggle and cry for God’s deliverance to connect him with an even deeper longing: an intense, anguished hunger for a redemption he knows only God can accomplish. Now this longing reaches beyond a particular situation to whole nation. He commends all of Israel to wait for the redemption of the Lord. And in all of Israel, we see the cry and longing of all creation. Thus Paul can say that all creation groans for the revealing of the sons of God.

In my own frustrations, in my own pains, in my own struggles, I realize that I can find a way to connect with the struggle and longing of all creation. And in that longing to cry as Jesus taught us to pray: "...Thy kingdom come, the will be done..."

Monday, September 20, 2004

Toronto FIlm Festival

If I had my druthers, I'd be spending the week in Canada at the Toronto Film Festival. Some interesting films and directors including the great Wim Wenders. NPR profiled several films on Morning Edition. Many of the films focus on post 9/11 America. And surprising they're not all rapid US haters. Looks like there will be some though-provoking presentations.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Joe Gould's Secret

Last weekend, Kelly and I watched Joe Gould's Secret. The film bares witness to a unique relationship between Joe Mitchell, a writer for the New Yorker and Joe Gould, a homeless, eccentric intellectual. Gould can be funny, fascinating, irritating, and even overpowering. He's a needy person who makes many people feel obligated to help him. As we watched, we realized that we have known several Joe Gould's in our life: needy people who pull everyone around them into the vortex of their problems.

How should I respond? I'm not always sure. So many times I've felt helpless in the face of their struggles. And yet, maybe I'm not supposed to solve anything at all but to simply witness the mystery and glory.

Joe Gould reminds me of the wonder revealed in each person. He also reminds me of my own eccentricities. Like Luther, I realize my own hopeless condition, my own depravity. My only hope is the mercy and grace of God. Realizing my own desperate need reminds me to show mercy and grace to the Joe Gould's of this world. And to bask in the wonder that surrounds me.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


PBS is running a documentary on what has come to be known as the "Black Woodstock." Fascinating. I was eight years old when this was filmed (1972). This film captures a vanished era. ALong the way, we experience the bittersweet paradoxes of hope and sadness, beauty and corruption ever present in the human condition. There is something about watching films and documentaries from this era, that fills me with a sense of longing. So many people were dreaming and hoping for a better world. I realize there were just as many problems then as now, but it stirs a longing deep in me, deeper than an era--rooted in Eden and looking toward the New Jerusalem.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Thin Places

We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
With hearts attending to skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first Drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like Sentinels upon the world’s frontier.
Thomas Merton

In the poetry and prayers from Celtic Christians, I’ve noticed two ideas that are often held in tension: the importance of place and the importance of exile or journey. Thus the same people could affirm on the one hand “the place you are standing is holy,” and on the other hand proclaim “we are searching for our place of resurrection.”

This tension appears on the film Nostalgia by Andrei Tarkovsky. A Russian poet wanders the countryside of Italy in search of inspiration. He is an exile longing for his homeland. Of course, the viewer is left wondering if is his homeland simply Russian soil or the place of his eternal longing.

This is the yearning of the human soul to come home. Our particular places give us stability and comfort and yet in our heart of hearts, we know there is a place more sure, more stable than “the shifting sands of Rome.”

We sense this because each of us, in our journey has stumbled across “thin places.” The Celts suggest that there are places where heaven and earth seem to collide and the eternal wall of separation seems to vanish. These transcendent encounters remind us that there is more to life than simply the material realm we can see, feel, smell, hear and touch.

Our forefathers of faith Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all stumble upon “thin places.” They each have encounters when the Creator penetrates the moment with a Voice from above. They respond to the call and journey forward in search of a city not made by hands.

Edward Sellner has suggested that these “thin places” actual remove the wall between the past, present and future. For a brief moment, our particular time and space is eclipsed by an awareness of relatedness that extends far past anything we could have imagined.

The Hebrew prophets sometimes captured this overlapping of past, present and future when they declare the works of God. Addressing the present moment, they may look forward to a perfected future by alluding to a glorious past. Edenic visions look forward to the summation of all things in Christ.

Bishop Seraphim Sigrist speaks of encountering a “thin place” in Semhoz at the home of the martyr Alexander Men. He wonders if a place rich in history makes it seem “thin.” But then he suggests the radical possibility that we create thin places. He says,
“So there is history at Semhoz, but I wonder if also Christian hospitality and lived faith, such as that which my friends experienced from the Men family, does not also render a place “thin?” If so of course, we may come upon (or dare we hope create?) thin place unsuspected by connoisseurs of sacred sites.”

Bishop Sigrist continues by connecting the deep mystery of Christian community with the mystery of thin places. Thus the Lord would say “for where two or three are gathered in my name there I am in the midst of them.”

In the mystery of His love and grace, God calls us forth into community, into a people, into a body. He forms us in relation with other people and together we become a family. Into this family of faith, he gives gifts. More gifts than we could ever contain in a list.

(G)ifts of son, and of joy and of a particular smile…the gift of courage and the gift of peace. The gift of vision of the unseen and the vision of what should be…the gift of tears and the gift of laughter. Fire and ecstasy are a gift and so is radiant calm. Tongues are a gift and so too is the language of science and analysis. The gifts of healing by prayer, the gifts of a faithful doctor.

The list is unlimited in variety and expression. Each gift is a treasure for the family—not for the individual to wrap up and hide away for themselves. He continues:

A gift is not something that we have on our own. Considered in ourselves we are all on the contrary limited and broken and fill of impossible contradictions even within ourselves—not to speak of with others. We have no wholeness individually or together, but we have the possibility to receive as a gift that which we could in no way establish in ourselves.

God who is rich in mercy, calls us forth to his family. And in this family, we who are wounded and hungry and hurt become a precious gift poured out on behalf of others. To think we might ever mature as Christians in isolation from one another is absurd. (This is a paradox for another day—we are called to solitude and community not isolation and groupthink).

In the body of Christ’s love, we give and receive, we rest and act, we love and are loved. It is in this family, this place of going and coming, this “thin place,” we step through the veil of time and space and enter the great feast of love centered in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—extending through the communion of Saints and ultimately shining into all of God’s great creation.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Blues

“The man on the moon
Said the earth was blue
But you don’t have to leave
To know that’s true.”

The Speed of Light, Julie Miller
I’ve been to planet earth, and I agree: the earth is blue. Beneath our carefree chatter, beneath our hand made monuments, beneath our tired, aching feet, the ground trembles with an ancient groan deeper than the deepest cave. If we pause long enough to listen, we will feel it shaking in the chasm of our soul. G.K. Chesterton once said, “He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.”

We may shout and sing and dance so loud that we can barely feel it, but the blue earth is still there. Trembling, groaning, longing. I guess that is why so much of our music is blues. Music is rhythm in time and this rhythm might just be the pulsing heart of the earth longing for redemption. Whether it’s country ballads, cool Jazz licks, old time Gospel, or classic Delta Blues, the angst is still there.

Somehow listening to blues soothes me. From the fierce intensity of Son House to the gruff yet poignant wailing of Blind Willie Johnson, the to grieving voice of Skip James, I find like spirits longing, aching for redemption. Someone said the blues is all about sex. And I would agree that many songs deal with broken relationships, but that is surface.

Beneath the surface of subjects from lost loves to dying wives to abandoned children, the blues gives voice to a pain that is deeper and older than we realize. The psalmist fully acknowledges this pain. Heman exclaims, “My soul is full of troubles and my life draws near to the grave” (Psalms 88:3). After pouring his soul out to God in prayer, he completes this lament, “Loved one and friend, You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness” (Psalms 88:18). The psalm ends without resolve as the psalmist stumbles away into the shadows.

From the tragic death of Abel to the bitter stoning of Stephen, the Bible is full of heartache and loss and desperate people in desperate situations. Suffering is never denied or ignored. I fear sometimes that our modern spirituality looks to God as an escape from suffering. Unfortunately this is a fundamental denial of who we are and where we are at.

We are on the blue planet. And all creation is groaning. Beneath that desperate cry of creation is another cry—the cry of the people of God, longing for redemption. Yet we do not know how to cry. So we sing the blues. Often we don’t even realize why we are singing the blues or why we are groaning within the recesses of our soul. Beneath the cry of creation, beneath the cry of the human soul, there is another cry—a groaning that cannot be uttered in human words—it is the cry of God. This cry, this groaning, this shuddering silence reaches all the way to Eden and the broken relationship between man and God.

This cry is a prayer for redemption. From the ancient echoes of Eden to the kingdom come, this Spirit-filled cry brings the fallen world into restoration with a Love than cannot be thwarted. And this Love really does make the world go round.

As Julie Miller sings in the Speed of Light:

“The only thing that doesn’t change
Makes everything else rearrange
is the speed of light,
the speed of light.
Your love for me
Must be
the speed of light.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Paul Hamm Takes Gold

Kelly and I just watched one of the most inspirational moments I've ever seen in sports. You probably already know, but Paul Hamm was favored to win a gold. Then he made a major mistake landing and was considered virtually out of the running for any medal. He maintained his composure and aced every other event, winning the all around gold for the first time in US Olympic history. Wow!

MSNBC says:
In one of the most amazing comebacks in Olympic history, Hamm performed the
two most spectacular routines of his career Wednesday to win the gold medal by
the closest margin ever in the event.

Interesting Conferences

The National Storytelling Festival will be in Jonesborough, Oct 1-3.

Beeson Divinity School has a cool festival, ChristFest 2004, on Ministry and the Arts coming Oct 18-20. Three great speakers: Eugene Peterson, Calvin Miller, and Frederica Mathewes-Green.

The annual Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference will host NT Wright and Richard Gaffin. Theyll be talking about the "New Perspective on Paul." In case you haven't heard, this is a hotly debated topic in Reformed Circles.

Reading List

Years ago I stepped into graduate school and stumbled into the library. Walking up and down the long aisles of books overwhelmed me. Sadly I realized that I would never have time to read all these books--at least on this earth. Unfortunately, then as now I enjoy ruminating far too much to rush through any book and would rather sip thoughts from one chapter over and over than finish reading the other chapters. Alas, I always feel behind in reading.

This week a few books have given me time to pause and reflect. Thomas Oden has provided some encouraging discussion in his book, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy. Even though I just mentioned ruminating over the text, this is really not that kind of book. But is does provide an interesting analysis of the resurgence of the Church Fathers and orthodox (little o) Christian teaching among Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and even mainline denominations.

When it comes to ruminating, one of my favorite writers is Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Combining profound theological insight with a gift for writing, he achieves the rare feat of beautiful theology. Von Balthasar's insights continaully challenge and inspire me to worship the Lord. The Grain of Wheat provides a glimpse into his amazing style through a series of aphorisms on various topics.

Here is a sampling:
"God wants for himself at the same time, everything and nothing. Everything, because he does not give his honor to anyone else; nothing, because he already has everything, and, lover that he is, he wants nothing for himself. This is why he demands that we seek him in all things and that nevertheless the whole tide of our thanksgiving to him be diverted through the world. Thus, the indissoluable unity of contemplation and action has its foundation in God himself."

Earlier in the summer, Aelred of Rivaulx confronted me with the nature of true Spiritual Friendship. This little treasure provided a wealth of ideas for our upcoming "Friendship Retreat "in October. Now I am readng The Mirror of Charity--a book which Aelred resisted writing but finally submitted to St. Bernard's command. One quote should capture the simple beauty of this classic: "What are you doing, O human soul, what are you doing? Why are you seized by so many? Whatever you seek in the many exists in the one."

That last quote is worth long ruminations: "Whatever you seek in the many exists in the one." There is a longing in the human soul that can only be satisfied by the endless life and love of God. On this earth, we will never find complete satisfaction because we are not in resting place of perfect love.

So we strive to find life in transient things that have no power to give life but can only point us to the Life. We expect friendships, lovers, jobs, accomplishments, nature and a host of other things to satisfy us. In the vast and wonderful world of particular things and particular people, we enjoy an endless variety of gifts from our Father in Heaven. But the many cannot provide what only emanates from the one. Life and life abundantly is found only in the love of God revealed by the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Update: Read a Von Balthasar quote that fits perfect with the above thought: "God is so wide that, within his spaciousness, even the longing for unfulfillable longing can soar freely."

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Uphold Me

Uphold my steps in Your paths,
That my footsteps may not slip.
Psalms 17:5 (NKJV)

Sometimes the speed at which life goes roaring by makes me feel as though I am riding a bike down a steep hill through a narrow path between the dense trees. I am holding on for dear life. In times like these, I come to the psalms to breathe and to breathe deeply.

In the midst of life’s challenges, David offers up a prayer of hope in God’s unfailing grace. He has recounted to God his commitment to live pleasing before God and keep far from the paths of the destroyer. Yet even as he lists his “disciplines” before God, David offers a prayer:

Uphold my steps in Your paths,
That my footsteps may not slip.

Some would suggest that it doesn’t make sense for David to change his tone from proclaiming his commitment to God to asking God for help, so they translate this passage, “My steps have held to your paths, my feet have not slipped.” But it makes perfect sense to me that in the midst of seeking to serve the Lord, David would acknowledge his own desperate need for grace and cry out for help.

This makes me think of the promise in Jude: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy…(vs 24). As much as I value the disciplines, and as much as I believe we commit our lives to living faithfully to God, I realize I am a complete failure.

The blur of life soon overtakes all my “self improvement programs.” After years of following Christ, I still feel weak. In fact, weaker. Identifying with the villains of Scripture like Cain and Judas comes much more easily now than before. In seeking to take hold that for which Christ took hold of me, I come more and more to realize the darkness within my own soul. Like St. Symeon of old, I can confess that “I am a murderer, I am the villain, I am the most corrupt of all.”

And so like David, my only hope, my only refuge is the Lord. I cry out, “Uphold my steps in your paths, that my footsteps may not slip.” As I stumble down this hill called life, I realize that God is in fact, holding me upward into glory.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Breakfast for the Birds

Panera has gone to the birds. Literally. After unsuccessfully scouring the cabinets for a box of Cheerios, I stopped by Panera Bread on the way to work. A bagel dripping with Sesame Seeds is my idea of a delicious morning snack.

With an air conditioning working overtme, I feared the real possiblity of my seat freezing to the seat, so I chose a serene setting outdoors on their "cafe style" tables. Contemplating the mingling flavors of cream cheese, sesame and bagel, I quitely relaxed in the gentle morning sun.

Two eyes interupted my meal. A small bird stood beside my chair and like a hungry puppy it seemed to beg for food. Two eyes looked up at my food and then down at the ground. After a few minutes of this non-stop solicitation, I gave in and dropped a piece of bagel on the ground. Instantly it pierced the bread. Suddenly another bird appeared. More bagel dropping. And another bird. And another. Soon a host of birds covered the ground surrounding my table and I felt like Saint Francis feeding his little flock.

I couldn't help but laugh at the surrounding birds. A spontaneous party was erupting all around me. Makes me think of the Celtic saints and the many stories of their intimate relationship with animals. The Garden of Eden story reminds us that humans are created as caretakers of all creation. May we learn to rejoice in the world around us, thanking God for this glorious, mysterious world of wonder and caring for it with the love and gentlessness revealed in the Celtic tales of saints and creation.

Trip to Edisto

Just got back from Edisto Island. Kept a beach blog while I was there. I plan to start updating this more regularly.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Audrey's first look at beach. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


We join groups for various reasons: to achieve a common purpose; for social outlets; nothing better to do. Once a part of a group, we define a part of ourselves in relation to that group. We may think about the ways the group is similar to our own beliefs and hopes or we may think about the ways the group differs from our own understanding of self. So in one way or another we may project identity into that group.

I have sometimes been reluctant to reveal my political affiliations or group affiliations because I preferred the person present to speak to me and not to their perceptions of any particular group. As soon as I say I'm a Democrat or I'm a Republican, the person present may attach certain filters to their perception of me. The only problem is that their understanding of the value and/or issues related to that particular group may differ vastly from the values/issues I attach to the group.

I find this also in religious circles. By indicating that I am a Christian, someone else may immediately attribute certain ideas to me that may not having anything to do with my identification as a Christian.

labels by provide some very limited indicators to other peopple about our interests or self-understanding, but they also almost always tend to distort.

As I watched the DNC convention last night, I thought about another way in which labels can potentially distort our personhood. When I accept a label, such as a political designation. Then I may make decisions based on the decisions of that group rather than my own true convictions. By joining the group, I may surround my decision-making capacity and choose instead to focus on arguments that make it easier for me to accept the ideas of the group at large. Whether it is the DNC, the GOP or some other group, I always risk exhanging my personal identification with an affiliation of affinity. In one sense, it easier. Most people are uncomfortable with ambiguity and would prefer to take a stand somewhere, anywhere: "You just tell me where."

As we are learning to become persons, that is fully relational beings, we must find ways to hold the tension of particularity (a particular personal identity) and commonality or generality (the ability to be in relation with other particular persons). This is not so easy and our ever increasing stridency in the public arena highlights it.

Yet there is always hope. This is where a label with explanation might help. When I say I am a Christian, I am affirming the classic creeds (The Apostles Creed and The Nicene Creed). While these creeds are filled with ideas, one primary idea that is upheld by classic creedal Christianity is that ultimate reality is relational. Or that God is Triune. And yet there is one essence. There is one God or one essence and yet there are three persons. Thus particularity and unity are held in perfect harmony. So if I accept the label of Christianity, I am affirming a belief that the heart of this world is personal and relational: thus I do see hope for the possibility of relationship between persons.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Martin Buber

In the midst of this political frenzy, in the midst of our tribal arguments, we need someone to who can teach us to face one another and truly listen. If there ever was a day for the wisdom of Martin Buber it is now.

I've got this idea I've been toying with. Modernism developed certain meta-structures, which in turn helped reinforce it or bring cultural continuity. These meta-structures functioned like gatekeepers. They were the primary way information and ideas flowed into culture. The university would be a modernist meta-structure. The media is as well. Journalism as we know is a child of modernism and a servant of modernism.

But in the event of the collapse of modernism, these structures did not simply disappear. They still exist and while some even proclaim the death of modernism, they still function and were built on modernist principles. So they cannot easily adapt to this changing milieu.

Now there is a big debate is media liberal or conservative when the real answer is --it's a modernist dinosaur. It never fully anticipated Drudge and the blog revolution, which challenges everything and no longer accepts the illusion of objectivity. Every story is always reflected through a particular lens. The post-modernist is always deconstructing reality trying to show the narratives and biases inherent in the structure.

So like good post-modernists, we deconstruct the modernist media: one group suggests it is liberal; another analyzing the same info concludes it is conservative or at least slanting away from liberalism.

In one sense, post-modernism could be the loss of this meta-structures--thus the world devolves (every so gradually or not) into tribalism. I think the blogs reveal our tribal tendencies. The question is: Can these tribes find a way to get along? Or do we descend into tribal war? I think it is far bigger than conservative vs liberal.

Each tribe tends to redefine language and symbols, thus cross-tribe communication is not always easy.

These are a few ideas I've been considering. I think this is another reason why relationship (and diversity) is so important. Also, this is why I think Buber's ideas on the narrow ridge and dialogue are more important now than even when he wrote them.