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Dreaming

August 28, 2008 Leave a comment

My mind wanders.

I remember it quietly wandering off during the sing-song rhythm of the speaker’s voice. And that was last Sunday. As a child, my imagination moved so easily between dreaming that my teacher’s and parent’s might say, “Come on Dougie, keep up with us.”

One day while walking with my family at a shopping center, I soon began to drift and dream. My body kept moving as my eyes followed the legs in front of me moving back and forth, back and forth. A few steps into Gimbels and I realized that I was following the wrong set of legs.

After a short panic, my parents arrived in the store and found me. They had walked into another store, but I was drifting off elsewhere and just kept following whoever was walking in front of me.

As I drifted, I was dreaming in “what ifs.” What if I could walk through that glass? What if I could climb up in the church’s rafters and fly from beam to beam? My imagination would ask a question and soon my reason was working alongside my imagination to construct whatever dreamy world I created.

The human imagination can ask all sorts of fantastic questions, and the human reason can build a logical though self-contained world from that question. Lewis Carroll asked, “What if you could walk through a mirror, and enter into another world?” Then he wrote “Through the Looking Glass” to answer that question.

Both “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are imaginative worlds that Lewis Carroll created with the richness of his imaginations and the precision of his logic. You see, these fantasy worlds were not illogical. They were perfectly logical. In fact, Lewis Carroll was not primarily a children’s author, but a logician.

He applied his logical mind to building these imaginative worlds. Each chapter in “Through the Looking Glass” is a move on a chess board. And yet, the story is not physically real.

This is both the gift and the danger of the mind. Reason working alongside imagination can answer all sorts of questions, but the answer may or may not be true. In addition to my dreamy magical worlds of walking through walls and flying in the rafters, I asked other questions like “What if I am kidnapped?” “What if there’s a ghost in the basement?” Or “What if my parents are raptured and I am left behind?”

The same imagination that brought such delight also filled me with terror. Because once my imagination set the question in motion, I began looking for clues as to why that might be true. A sound in the basement and a flash of light suddenly grows into a terrifying goblin living beneath us.

The gift of reasonable minds and active imaginations have helped us discover news worlds, land on the moon, write amazing literature, and find cures to diseases. But the same gift can also lead to terror and fear and evil worlds like terrorism and fascism and racism. Left unchecked, the mind will draw from its rich resources to churn out perfectly reasonable answers. But these reasonable answers may be wrong and even be disastrous upon my power to think

Our minds may ask questions like “What if there is no God?” “Or what if God is evil?” If I start with the idea that God is absent, a mere phantom, then my mind and imagination will work outward from the supposition to find reasonable assurance that I am right. While we all may face doubts at times, if we continually apply our skills of reason and imagination to doubt, then we will end up where we start–in doubt. The starting point of reason makes all the difference.

C.S. Lewis once suggested that a man who doesn’t believe in miracles will not be convinced of miracles because he sees one. His mind will build a case as to why he didn’t see a miracle at all. So while the mind is an amazing gift for processing, imagining and rationalizing, it fails in the initial act of discovery.

The human relationship with God is built on trusting God’s faithfulness in both the seen and the unseen. In one sense, this relationship is similar to human relationships that require trust as a fundamental starting point. Think of a husband and wife.Trust allows them freedom to rest in their shared love without the need for constant reaffirmation.

In this trusting relationship, the presence of the beloved brings a sense of peace and joy. While dramatic gestures of love may reaffirm presence, there are many steady, quiet affirmations through little actions. A shared conversation. A quiet walk.

Presence for me is often found in the gentle touching of one foot brushing up against the other’s foot during a night of sleep. This quiet assurance brings peace and a reminder that my love is there. A trust in the covenant faithfulness of my spouse allows me to rest in her presence and away from her presence. But that trust can be damaged. If the imagination begins to ask, “What if my spouse is unfaithful?” The mind can easily begin to question every action, every word.

This leads to fear of the unseen. For as soon as the spouse is not present the imagination begins reeling. Where are they headed? What are they doing? The mind requires constant reassurance of the spouse’s faithfulness. This is why we guard the trust our spouse puts in us. Once lost it so difficult to regain.

This is also why the Psalmist writes again and again and again about trusting the Lord instead trusting the arm of the flesh. As our trust grows more and more in my reason and the reasonableness of the world around me, the power of “what ifs” can begin to plague me. Like a jealous spouse, I begin discovering clues everywhere that reinforce the absence of God.

This dark hole of doubting chokes and smothers the joy of the soul. We need signs and constant reassurance that God is there. “Why can’t He just appear and take away my doubts?” But he is inviting me to trust in His covenant faithfulness—both seen and unseen.

And like a foot poking across the bed, His Word pokes across the space between heaven and earth. Again and again and again, He quietly calms my souls in the gentle intimacy of His Word. The Psalmist reminds me of how prone I am to trust in the unfaithfulness of my own mind—which can easily create fictions upon fictions.

Thus I am reminded to trust in something, someone outside myself. Ultimately, this trust is a gift. When I trust in the Word and trust in the Lord of the Word, I come to realize that I have been given a precious gift. I can use that gift to dream like a newlywed uses the gift of their new love to dream. They imagine a life together. They dream of children and home and a life of new possibilities. I can approach the Word as a dream. And wrap my open mind around the words and stories contained within.

I can learn to dream fantastic dreams like the prophet Ezekiel. This strange man ended up in exile in Babylon. Everything he saw around him suggested that the God of Israel was defeated by the gods of Babylon. In the midst of a crushing empire that dominated other nations by power and oppression, Ezekiel trusts the Lord. Thus his “what ifs” wrap around the faithfulness of God.

With an imagination immersed the commandments of the Lord, the covenant of the Lord, and the promises of the Lord, He begins to dream. And in the land of exile, he dreams of returning home and rebuilding the temple. He dreams of a stream flowing from that temple that will bring healing to all nations. His dream rooted in relational trust gave energy and hope to the exiled Jews. They joined in his dreams. And eventually, his dreams led them home.

That was over 2,000 years ago. The great and mighty Babylonian gods have long faded from sight. But the dreams of Ezekiel still inspire. In his dreams, we hear the God of Israel still speaking, encouraging, and challenging us.

So I’m kinda glad my mind wanders. By God’s grace, I want to let it wander in the garden of His Word. I want to dream even more dreams and not simply dreams of flying through the rafters and walking through glass. But dreams of justice and peace and kindness and love.

By God’s grace may the stories and songs of Scripture come alive in our imagination. And may we dream the dreams of God.

Categories: faith, meditation Tags: , , , ,

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

August 27, 2008 Leave a comment

While I’m working on business KPIs and online marketing, I listen to the Grateful Dead belt out Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

I feel a bit foolish as tears fill my eyes and a deep ache fills my heart because something, someone “calls for me.”I don’t always understand what makes me cry so easily. One minute I in the midst of promotions and products and schedules, and the next moment, I’ve slipped over into a thin place.

This joyful pain seems out of place in the cold light of fluorescent rows, staring down on endless cubicles of people pounding out metrics on laptop machines. And yet, the voice still calls.

Beneath our engines of enterprise and above our monuments of marketing, the still small voice is wooing, drawing and stirring us to love. Maybe the match I strike does not burn up this material world around me. Maybe instead I leave the cold, relation-less sterility of business behind, and remember once again that I am a lover and called to love and embody love in the midst of every place–whether lush green valley or a cynderblock room of cubicles.

Categories: love, Music Tags: , ,

David and Goliath, St. George and the Garden of Eden

August 25, 2008 1 comment

When Goliath challenges Israel, King Saul and the people shrink back in fear (1 Samuel 17:11). Saul’s fear betrays his loss of true authority. He stands head and shoulders above all Israelites, yet he cannot protect his people from the giants in the land.

Goliath stands before Israel clad in “scales of armor.” Peter Leithart emphasize the allusion between Goliath’s scales and the serpent in the garden. Goliath threatens Israel, the beloved, just as the serpent threatened Eve in the garden.

Adam failed his test in the garden, allowing the serpent to attack Eve and not coming to her defense. The image is repeated again her. King Saul, like Adam, is helpless before the threat.

David appears as God’s chosen King. He stands before the serpent and kills it in the name of the Lord. Then what does he do? He cuts off the head. The wicked authority is overthrown, which sends the wicked army into chaos.

As I think about that story and look at the St. George and the dragon icon on my desk, I realize that the St. George story is simply a retelling of the Garden of Eden story yet again. George fights the wicked dragon that threatens the city and rescues the maiden from the dragon’s grasp.

These stories paint a picture of what the true king does. The king and the land are one. He does not act for his own glory, his own power, his own pleasure. He lays down his life to defend the bride, the beloved, from the dragon.

Jesus fulfills this Adamic commission completely, thus He is the true King, the true Adam, the true Messiah. He fights the dragon, lays down his life, and crushes the head of the serpent with His heal. This act of total love does not fail. The Father vindicates the Son on the day of Resurrection by the power of the Spirit.

This pattern of the king laying down his life for the beloved gives us a model of true authority–be it in the home, the business, the church or even the government. Unfortunately, most of us are used to seeing Sauls rule the land. These Sauls are not true shepherds, thus they plunder the beloved.

Think of the CEOs that get rich while their company (and the people in the company) suffer and bleed. These men are not true leaders, but hirelings. Jesus says to the faithful servants, “You were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.”

Part of this faithfulness includes the willingness to lay down our lives, our reputations, our livelihood for those we lead. Whether it is a father with his family, a manager with her employees, a pastor with his church
or whatever the position of authority.

True authority is revealed in the boldness of David to lay down his life on behalf of the beloved. May the Spirit of Christ raise us up and reveal his true kingly rule and authority in and through us.

Meditation as Song

August 22, 2008 1 comment

I’ve been chanting the Psalms in the mornings, and it occurred to me today that singing is meditation. In the past I’ve thought of music and chanting as a means to focus the mind on a singular idea. So music was a way to meditation. But I considered the actual meditation pure thought.

Now I realize that the Psalmist is not stripping the outer world away to think in a purely rationalized or abstracted level. Rather singing is meditation. Just as eating the bread and drinking the wine is remembering the Lord’s death.

While thinking draws on a rationality, true meditation is so much more. It brings together imagination, rationality, the physical body and emotions. Meditation is training me to be a whole/wise person (a home sapien) and not simply a homo logicus.

Law and Love and Grace Part 3

August 15, 2008 1 comment

Overcoming Evil with Good

God created a world of glory and wonder. He created a man and woman in the center of this world and taught them the rules of this world that governed how they relate to God, to one another and to all creation. While their violation seems almost innocent to us, it is a tragic violation the breaks the laws of relating to God, to other people and to all creation.

The first few chapters of Genesis records the impact of such a violation. Broken relationship leads to self-preservation to jealousy and eventually to murder, which leads to destructive civilizations and eventually to a world of chaos.

Into this world of evil God sends a flood to wash away almost everything. While the flood is judgment, it is also a gift of restoration where evil and chaos infiltrated almost everything and everyone on the planet.

Genesis reveals the end result of the kingdoms of this world. The football teams, glee clubs, restaurants, businesses, cities and families are kingdoms infected with sin and evil. This is not a light innocuous infection. Without intervention, it leads to chaos, destruction, death and disaster. Given time and space, sin and evil continue unraveling, corrupting, and destroying everything.

This is hard for us to grasp because we see the seed of sin. The beginning looks minor. A stolen fruit. An angry thought. A little self pity. But left unchecked, the seed keeps growing. Death keeps overtaking the person. Tolkien captures this corrupting aspect of evil in Lord of the Rings with Gollum. He starts out as a Hobbit, but over time evil corrupts and corrupts and corrupts him eventually into a monster.

Even more disturbing is the recent image of the Joker in the movie, The Dark Knight. We see evil given full reign. Total chaos. The Joker acts for the sake of destruction and chaos. No desire for revenge or greed or power, but absolute chaos and destruction.

Think of the most horrid crimes and evils that plague our world, and you see the fruit of the works of man. No matter how creative, how industrious, how disciplined and even how religious humans are, given time, sin will blossom into horrid evils that destroy our worlds and destroy our souls. In one sense, hell is the unchecked, unstopped, uninterrupted place and time for evil to completely corrupt, completely destroy, and completely ruin.

So the question is, “How do we confront evil?” Whether a person believes in God or not, they still face the challenge of evil all around them. Every day the newspaper brings fresh evidence of evil and corruption. Scandals and abuses are not limited to one political party, one religious or non-religious group, one social class.

Look over the headlines from one year of news and you’ll find images of slavery, physical and sexual abuses, murder, stealing, and more in people from all sectors of society. From church group leaders to politicians to outspoken liberal and conservative commentators, we see evil and corruption abound. Just this year a wealthy couple from Rhode Island were indicted for slavery.

Somehow we are shocked by such heinous stories. Somehow we wonder, “what caused this?” “How could they be so bad?” Some of the best educated have given in to dark actions as much as the poorest and least educated. This should somehow be a clue that evil is not “out there” but “in here.” If we but think about our own imaginations, we may realize all of us are capable of unthinkable evil.

The Bible is not prudish but honest about this evil. While we like to debate the origins of evil, the Bible spends little time answering our metaphysical questions. Instead, it reveals God responding to evil.

The Bible reveals a world crying out for the sons of God to vanquish evil and restore the earth. With that context, we can see the law as God’s response to that cry. The law revealed to Moses is but the beginning of God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham.

The gracious gift of blessing the whole earth through Abraham’s seed is the great and wondrous blessing of recreating a world corrupted by sin and evil. Instead of flooding it again, God works through Abraham’s seed to overcome evil with good. The kingdoms of this world are coming under subjection to our God.

The law is given to the children of Israel as God redeems them from Egypt. In His love and grace, He chooses a specific family at a specific time in history to freshly reveal His kingdom, His rule, His order. Within the seed of Abraham, the seed of the law is planted and it will grow to reach all nations.

Paul reveals that the particularities of the law in relation to the Jewish people were just for a season. As John Frame explains, those particularities of a specific family, a specific priesthood, , a specific temple, and  a specific piece of land would flourish through Jesus into a  new nation of Jew and Gentile, a priesthood of all believers, a temple made of believers, a kingdom stretching outward to every tribe and nation around the world.

Through Jesus the law comes into fullness by the power of the Spirit. While the tablets of stone were glorious, the law written on the heart by the Spirit is even more glorious. For now, we are all through Jesus growing up into the image of our God.

Think back of the image of a family. Through Jesus we are becoming human. We are learning to walk, to talk, to eat, to live for the glory of God. The law is revealed in and through us by the Word and Spirit. As children of God, we are immersed into the kingdom of God.

We are immersed into the rule of God. In and among the people of God, we see the Spirit outworking the law in His people. Just as the child grows and learns and develops in relationship, we grow and learn and are shaped in relationship with God and God’s people.

With this in mind, think of Moses’ command to the people about studying the law:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)

If we apply Moses’ command to the picture of a child learning and practicing to walk and to talk and to eat, we begin to understand that the law is shaped and formed in a family relationship. As children of God, we are learning in relationship. We are learning by practicing. We are playing at being human.

We don’t go to school to become human. We become human (in Christ’s image), by the grace of God working through us as we learn His word and act on His word. In other words, we are learning by living in the midst of decaying kingdoms all around us.

Outwardly, the kingdoms of this world are wasting away. But He is renewing us inwardly. He teaches us. We are growing in grace and truth. We are learning through failure, through suffering, through conflict and even through success.

A parent does not give a child a rule for how to respond to every particular situation in life. Rather, the child learns from the parent how to think and act and move within a framework. The Spirit of God is teaching His framework through which we think and act and move.

This framework is not simply ideas but is ideas rooted in relationship. As we meditate on God’s Word through study, prayer, and fellowship we grow in knowledge of the law. As we act upon the Word through speaking and acting, we grow in understanding.

This growth prepares us to rule. We rule in the various kingdoms. We rule in the bowling clubs, the businesses, the Boys and Girls Scouts, the local community, and in the churches. We speak and act upon the wisdom of God in the midst of kingdoms of this world.

Every day of our lives, we will be working out His kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. We are participating, but it is His Spirit that truly establishes the kingdom in and through us.

And His glory is being revealed. And the slaves are being set free. And the fatherless are being fathered. And it’s happening in offices, restaurants, car dealers, day care centers, car washes, prisons, coffee shops, and even churches. And the most-quoted Psalm in the New Testament is being fulfilled:

“The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
Psalm 110:1

Learning to Think

August 14, 2008 Leave a comment

This probably deserves more space, but I was talking with our group last night about the need to learn the habit of thinking. We live in times when we are bombarded with information, bits of data. From blogs like this to rss feeds to non-stop entertainment and 24 news cycles, we know lots and lots about little bits of stuff. But instead of helping us to think, this immersion into data seems to make everyone talk and act like robots that repeat the latest cliche.

We need time to pause and wait and think. A.W. Tozer once suggested that books should starting the thinking process but reading is not a replacement for thinking.

As I was reflecting on the story of King David, I thought about how his time as a shepherd gave him time to think. From the psalms he composed, it is clear that he spent time thinking, reflecting and contemplating upon the law, the creation around him, relationships and even statecraft. We talk about David the warrior and David the psalmist but I would also think of him as David the thinker.

Thinking is not about using large words that exclude most people and only allow specialists to enter a dialogue. Nor is it about forming other kinds of exclusive clubs that exalt one set of ideas or one group over another. It is the habit of regular reflection. The habit of using our imagination and reason together. And in the Bible, it is about training the mind and heart to focus on the Word, soak in the Word, reflect on the Word and reflect upon the world around me through the lens of the Word. And thinking is not simply silent ideas swirling in my head. It is speaking and singing thought.

The Psalms and poetry (as well as Eugen Rosenstock Huessy) have taught me about speech-thinking. The poet focuses upon the particular, the common, the thing right in front of him. As he reflects and speaks about the “thingyness” of the thing before him, his ideas explode outward, opening the particular thing into a vision of the universal.

Here is a poem by the Welsh poet Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). Imagine Bobi enjoying a warm home with his family. As he sits before the hearth and thinks about the heat circulating through the house, he sees the grace of God afresh. He redefines fire and heat and hearth for us as we live thorugh his eyes.

As I read this poem yet again, I pray for eyes to see the world around me, and the discipline to pause and think about all the great gifts that fill my world.

Hearth

Hell is fire; then there’s a fire that’s Heaven
In a grate amidst the children. We draw close around it
And listen to the beating of its orange wings
Against the breeze that’s gathered the invisible
Confidential cooking of the hearth.
The fire from the sky, it broke through the rain
And alighted like a bird upon the kitchen altar.
And the mother caught it like Noah’s dove
Between her two hands and offered it becomingly.

Which of us who listen to it can help but hear
The warm melody of the kettleful of family?
In bed, between mother and myself,
God is warm; and His place at the table’s filled.
He is the Musician we hear coming
From room to room in secret.
It is His music heats the house
Gurgling through feet and blood, to rise,
Smokeless, to our half drunk heads.

Only those who know the sunshine know the beauty
That breaks across the mat between door and cupboard.
It pierces to the marrow of all laughter patiently
Like a tune that lingers round the edges of the mind
Or a cat curling up. Our song’s purring, the love
That’s been composed so cunningly, that’s been performed
On the harpstrings of the family fires through Him.

by Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy)

Worth Thinking About

August 14, 2008 Leave a comment

In his reflections on Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, Jeffrey Hart cites an ERH quote worth thinking about, “Our choices project us forward in our own histories. We make judgments, we may be prudent, but we act on faith. We create actualities that did not exist before.”

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