the glory of radiance – hidden and revealed

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light.” from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, p. 280

It is raining today, so describing Creation as a poor gray ember seems fitting. The rain brings the clouds into the streets and muddles the footsteps of the city. Robinson’s character John Ames preached the words above in a Pentecost sermon and remembers them in a letter to his son. He follows the quote by reflecting on his words,

“But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.”

In the middle of spitting and dreary rain it is hard to be hopeful. It is hard to see beyond the poor gray ember or believe it is capable of burning something bright. The way we slide into the gray and adjust to the dullness makes hope a very courageous endeavor. To believe God waits to blow radiance from gray embers is a crazy notion, a grace given to courageous eyes.

We do not believe hope into being true, but instead believe our eyes into seeing that hope is truth.

As Ames reflected on his pentecost words, he qualified his statement by saying God has given us grace to see the radiance that always shines. There is beauty in the mystery of glory hidden and beauty in the mystery of glory revealed. And the radiance always looks like the glory of God.

There is a radiance that always shines and God gives grace for us to open our eyes.

wise words about Christmas

When thoughts ring true years after they are spoken, they deserve a listen. I found this story via A Blog of Hope.

“Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” by C.S. Lewis

And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they callExmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

 

is the anchor deeper?

It’s hard for me to imagine someone who welcomes death and darkness like I welcome light and love – someone who longs to be in utter, distant loneliness forever. There are such people and Cormac McCarthy introduced me to one such person last night in his screenplay, “The Sunset Limited,” an HBO film.

The entire film takes place in a cramped apartment where two men take ahold of the other’s worldview by the collar and give it a thorough shaking. Their lives could not read more opposite, but their human-ness keeps them in a wordy banter between death and life.

Several times it felt like the wind got knocked clean out my lungs, so direct was the attack on the anchor to which my soul is bound. After Black (played by Samuel L. Jackson) rescued him from a suicide attempt, White (played by Tommy Lee Jones) refuses to give up hope on one thing: giving up. He plans to end his life and finally find peace in the nothingness – the void, dark, solitary space beyond. Everything he valued in life as a respected professor revealed itself as an illusion and in his ‘enlightened’ state the only logical response was suicide.

The despair was palpable as White spoke – like death’s bony hand had already strangled the life out of him, twisting up his insides. When his eyes attempt to betray the death in his soul, his words pound harder the nails on his vacant coffin. Emptiness.

Black (Jackson) is a man of conviction and a self-proclaimed ‘outlaw’ when it comes to faith. He lives in a rough tenement, surrounded by junkies and crackheads, and claims to not have a single thought apart from his Bible knowledge. He lives simply, available and eager to be used by God in the lives of broken people. And White (Jones) would have nothing to do with his charity.

With the striking boldness of a man who has seen death battle in front of him all his life, Black debates the meaning of life with White (and on several occasions requests an everyman paraphrase). Though we are pulled this way and that, the end of the film closes without resolution. We suppose that White left the same man who walked into the shabby room, a pending suicide statistic. We suppose that, though Black is shaken, he remains faithful to the God who took him down to the train tracks the night before.

The irresolute ending feels like a rope unraveled. Brilliant dialogues pull the pieces apart across 91 minutes. In a last, desperate effort to reach White, Black responds to the man’s hope for the cold darkness of suicide,

“Maybe you could just keep that in reserve. Maybe just take a shot at startin over. I dont mean start again. Everybody’s done that. Over means over. It means you walk away. I mean, if everthing you are and everthing you have and everthing you have done has brought you at last to the bottom of a whiskey bottle or bought you a one way ticket on the Sunset Limited then you cant give me the first reason on God’s earth for salvagin none of it. Cause they aint no reason. And I’m goin to tell you that if you can bring yourself to shut the door on all of that it will be cold and it will be lonely and they’ll be a mean wind blowin. And them is all good signs. You dont say nothin. You just turn up your collar and keep walkin.”
― Cormac McCarthyThe Sunset Limited

Black suggests that if White’s life has brought him to make such a terminal decision as suicide, then he’s come to the end of himself. If there is nothing to salvage (nothing except death itself holds meaning), what could be lost in starting over but that which could be gained by starting over?

When White responds with probably the most horrifying monologue of the entire film, we can almost taste the human depravity as it drips off his lips. Void. Cold. Death.

And the viewer must decide what or who is capable of arranging the unraveled strands into something meaningful. The viewer must battle with his own demons and despairs when everything is shaken free of its settled skin.

The viewer must decide if he is the anchor or if the anchor is deeper than his frail, human skin.

the destruction of dillydally

“Don’t dillydally, don’t load up on video clips and music, don’t trust the power of your community service programs, don’t rely on marketing. Preach not yourselves, or you will veil the gospel.

Preach what, then? The word. What word? The gospel word in the Bible word. Get your Bibles out and share the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is amazing the lengths some preachers will go in order not to preach the Bible! We labor week in and week out for years and years to craft the most dynamic, most exciting, most relevant, most creative messages, fitting in some Bible verses into the points we think are really important, and then we wonder why we’ve gotten loads of decisions but made no disciples.” (Jared C. Wilson, p. 193 in Gospel Wakefulness)

Wow.

What an altogether perfect word for what we’re doing in Christian circles these days: dillydally.

We eat up the facebook snippets, read the books, tweet the deets, post the newest viral explosion and search for songs with the most emotional moving typeface. No one is immune. We all seem to love knowing the good news. We love the controversies created by differing doctrines and debating the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. We love to throw down the name of the newest book or sermon or method of sharing the gospel to prove we’re keeping up with the Christian Joneses. I don’t know why we do it, but I do know that dillydally is an altogether perfect word for all the acrobatics we use to get around preaching the gospel.

Wilson quotes 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 (emphasis mine) before the excerpt above,

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

Paul writes about the way the gospel came to the people in Thessalonica – in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. I can’t speak to what kind of theatrics surrounded their speech, but it’s pretty clear that the gospel was explicitly shared with the people. Paul makes it sound like this is obvious – to preach the gospel in word – but we are not so sure these days (the shorter the Sunday sermon the better – seriously, what newcomer wants to listen to a stranger ramble on and on and on about blood and sacrifice and propitiation?).

But how can people believe the gospel unless they’ve heard the gospel? Explicitly, unashamedly preached with full conviction. The conviction piece is important because our role is not to convince another of the gospel’s merit, but to fan the flame of our own conviction that gospel is true. Wilson writes, “My brother, pastor, don’t worry about bringing the heat. Just be hot. Fan the flame in yourself to full conviction.” I like that: just be hot.

Yesterday, I was reading Gospel Wakefulness poolside and a man asked, “What are you reading? Like, what’s it about?”

A little sun-weary and caught off-guard, I fumbled before I found, “It’s a book about the gospel… about waking up to the reality of what Christ did on the cross for those who believe.”

“Oh, yeah, I believe that,” he said, “I used to be really bad, like drinking and smoking and s—, but it was f—– up. I mean, I was hospitalized and I been sober since I got out. They gave me these new meds and I’m like s— this is living. I mean, I can go out to the forest and be like, that’s a f—— tree. It’s like what I thought was normal was really screwed up. I mean, I feel like I’m finally awake after a life of hearing voices and s—. Like schizophrenia and all that s—. So, yeah I got out on Monday and it’s been f—– awesome.”

“Wow, that’s really crazy.” I didn’t really know where this was going, but I was stationary on a lounge chair and it seemed like as good a place as any to discuss what is/isn’t the gospel and how it relates to his hospitalization. “So, do you think it’s the medication or something spiritual that happened?”

“Oh, yeah, totally that medication. It’s crazy – the doctors had me on all kinds of s— growing up and I was f—– up bad, but I just thought it was normal. But, seriously, there’s no side effects to this drug I’m on. I sleep for 5 hours and I’m like gettin’ s— done before I go to work at 9 am!”

“Well, what this book is really talking about is the gospel (the good news) that we read about in the Bible. Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve for our sins so that we can be free. He took on all our messes on the cross and gave us relief and joy in this life and forever in eternity with Him–”

“Yeah, I believe that.”

At this point, I’m thinking 1) I should really brush up on my ‘how to share the gospel when caught off guard in a lounge chair’ skills and 2) does he really believe that?

“Yeah, it’s like everyone believes,” he went on, “You know, in a higher power. I mean, I believe Jesus is in all of us. Don’t you believe that?”

I won’t give you our whole conversation, but this guy was persistent, inquisitive, and interested. Granted, the situation was less than ideal – laying on sweaty plastic lounge chairs in bathing suits – but I suppose this is what it means to “always be prepared to give an answer.”

I asked him some hard questions, mentally thanking Tim Keller for all those chapters in Reason for God that wrestle with doubts. We bantered back and forth and I was careful to not blink an eye with all his cursing. I’ll confess I got kind of casual with my language, as we talked about who would populate heaven. He told me, “Well, I mean the good people. Like I believe we all put out vibes. I mean, if you’re a b—- you’re not going to be in heaven, but if you’re good you will.”

“But who determines who is good and who is a b—-? I mean I might think I’m good according to my standards, but someone else might think I’m a b—-… so who’s going to heaven?”

More than ever in that conversation I needed explicit words. I did not need games or videos or pictures. I needed to speak the good news of the gospel into the chaos of crowded beliefs Joseph had assembled. And even when I spelled it out in all it’s offensive glory, Joseph persisted with more questions and stories about his life.

I told Joseph about church on Sunday and he said he would come. He said it didn’t even matter how early because the medication has him up by 5 am.

I pray he does come and I pray my pastor preaches the gospel because I need it just as much as Joseph.

Because we are all on the verge of destruction by dillydally… the painful beat around the bush game of kind of the gospel. We are all in danger of believing and speaking and hearing a gospel that is less than Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished” and less than the glorious result of his work.

practice resurrection

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

.
.

Practice resurrection.

(snippets from Wendell Berry’s 1973 poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”from The Country of Marriage)

I’ve been meaning to read more of Wendell Berry and summer seems like a good time to “get around to it.” The vibrant green leaves and the smell of blooming peonies seem a fitting backdrop to his poetry. I map my runs to intentionally include the rowdy peony bushes on S. 3rd Street. I always “stretch” long enough to fill my lungs with peony air before putting my race face on again.

The smell of peony makes me sad for people who don’t lean over to breathe in their beauty.

And that’s why Wendell Berry’s advice to, “practice resurrection” is nestling nicely somewhere deep in my soul. We are so forgetful. We live like we don’t know we’re resurrected. We live like we’re not sure how this day will end. We live like Christ’s resurrection was too long ago to rearrange my daily toil. We live like all the wonder in the wind moving through the trees is something not everyone has the time to admire.

We live like we’ve forgotten how to practice resurrection.

We were dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead. Gone. Lost. Limp. Lifeless. Stuck. Trapped. Suffocated. Dead.

There’s no way to make that sound nice or easy. But if that were the end, I would have a hard time getting you to stop and smell the peonies.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

(Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)

But, God

What a beautiful interjection!
What an altogether unexpected and undeserved display of mercy!
What glorious gratitude is birthed when life displaces death!

This is our resurrection. We are made alive together with Christ. We are raised up from the grave to sit with Him, to search out the immeasurable riches of His grace, to seek all the beauty of His face reflected in the glory of creation. This is our resurrection.

Practice resurrection today, friends.
Practice resurrection and do not forget.
Practice resurrection because, in Christ, life has displaced death.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

to wait and to hope

It’s like finding the door to secret garden or discovering a hidden cave or tapping on the right rock in an Indiana Jones movie.

No matter how many times my pride tries to convince me otherwise, studying the Word never gets old. Sure, I have my seasons where the words look like black text on a white page and little more. But, go ahead and tell a child that there is no cave or secret garden or hidden passage while they are inside it and see what kind of response you get. Laughter seems most fitting. This is the joy of the Scripture – to be inside a mystery that never grows old.

As I was reading Psalm 130, I crawled inside this mystery and stared out in wonder. The urgency leaps from the misery and clings to the Lord’s forgiveness as the only hope against His righteous standard. My thoughts drifted toward Spanish again and the word, “esperar.” It means both “to wait” and “to hope” and, though I don’t know the original text, the interchange in verses 5-8 makes all kinds of sense.

1,2 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3,4 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
5,6 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
7,8 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
(Psalm 130 ESV)

Our waiting is hoping and our hoping is waiting. And it all rests on the Lord – the waiting and the hoping – not on our willpower to do it. The Psalmist makes certain we understand the intensity of his waiting. I’m sure watchmen assume the highest form of vigilance, filled with the gravest kind of hope. Twice the Psalmist says his soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. How closely a watchman must hope for the dawn to break the darkness, for the sun to shed its light on the sky. Even more than a person whose purpose it is to wait and hope – he waits even more than him. What great expectation!

What a rush of beauty, to wait and hope in the One who offers steadfast love and plentiful redemption! Redeemed, restored, renewed… and we find these things in abundance!

Fo what else could we hope, my friends?
For what else should we wait?

go ahead, dive in to the mystery and

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

as if they were madmen and fools

Tim Challies, by way of his blog, introduced me to some of Richard Sibbes‘ writing. Here is an excerpt that I can’t seem to shake (keep in mind this language is circa 1600).

It has been an old imputation to charge distraction upon men of the greatest wisdom and sobriety. John the Baptist was accused of having a devil, and Christ to be beside Himself and the Apostles to be full of new wine, and Paul to be mad. The reason is because as religion is a mystical and spiritual thing, so the tenets of it seem paradoxes to carnal men; as first, that a Christian is the only freeman, and other men are slaves; that he is the only rich man, though never so poor in the world; that he is the only beautiful man, though outwardly never so deformed; that he is the only happy man in the midst of all his miseries. Now these things though true seem strange to natural men, and therefore when they see men earnest against sin, or making conscience of sin, they wonder at this commotion for trifles. But these men go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all; those that are below them are profane, and those that are above them are indiscreet. By fanciful affections, they create idols, and then cry down spiritual things as folly. They have principles of their own, to love themselves and to love others only for themselves, and to hold on the strongest side and by no means expose themselves to danger.

But when men begin to be religious, they deny all their own aims, and that makes their course seem madness to the world, and therefore they labor to breed an ill opinion of them, as if they were madmen and fools.

These words breathe the paradox that drives people crazy – that we [Christians] are freemen, though we seem slaves; that we are rich, though we seem poor; that we are beautiful, though we appear deformed; that we are happy, though we live in misery.

Why can the world not understand this divine reconciling? Because they “go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all” and “have principles of their own,” all this mystical business seems inconsequential and silly. Their standard leaves no room for “others first” and “sacrifice,” unless it might benefit in the end.

“But when…”

Aren’t these great words?

With all the world charting their course in the same selfish direction, a boat changing direction will get the attention of the entire fleet. Sibbes uses “religious men” here in the same way we might use “true believer” or “follower of Jesus Christ” to designate the different standard a Christian uses to measure his life. Everything he/she was pursuing previous (and the value of those things) shifts immediately and joyfully to an object that makes no sense to the world. To set a course for an unseen destination with immaterial results sounds like bad business and poor planning.

It sounds like madness.

 We should not be surprised when the world misunderstands our obsession with eternity or our talk of the “Kingdom coming” or our less-than-five-figure aspirations. We should not be surprised, even, if the world manipulates our words to sound crazy and our gatherings to look strange.

We are the skin, living in these paradoxes every day. We deny our own aims and ask Christ to reveal His standard, that we might set our course to run against traffic [or completely solo] toward Him. We set our course and it looks like foolishness.

Our neighbors have dreamed up a reason why we are so generous, our co-workers have decided our cheer is fake, our boss is sure we are working hard just for the promotion, our estranged brother still doesn’t believe we want to see him just “because.”

The world may say our course is madness – that our aims our full of folly – but our reward is not won from the world. As we fix our eyes on Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith, He will give us the same joy he possessed as He endured the cross.

What madness Christ must have possessed to have his face set so squarely toward Jerusalem? What foolishness must have surrounded Him as he humbly entered the city on a donkey? What absolute insanity he must have endured while claiming Himself King while on the cross?

Though the world count us as madmen and fools, God allows another miracle as He transforms our hearts to serve even those who consider us crazy. Christ asked the Father to “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” in the midst of His misery. At the height of His public shame, His love and compassion for those who considered him crazy only grew.

May our hearts swell with love for those who consider us as madmen and fools.

May we
let LOVE fly like cRaZy
when it makes no sense at all to the world,
because it makes perfect sense in light of the Cross.