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Gran Torino Redeeming the American Icon

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment

dirty_harryClint Eastwood, like John Wayne, embodied the American icon. From the mysterious cowboys to the gun-toting Dirty Harry, many of his characters embodied traits that Americans readily identify: loners, anti-establishment, rebels, smart, pragmatic and intentional or unintentional redeemers of the downcast. In his recent, Gran Torino, Eastwood plays yet another loner, Walt Kowalski.

At the beginning of the film, his wife just died and he obviously has no relation with his children. Mr. Kowalski, as he prefers to be called, relates better to his dog than to other humans. He lives in a neighborhood that has gradually become home to a predominant minority Hmong population. His unflinching expletives and racial comments seem funny because they are so over the top, much like a Don Rickles performance.

Early in the film Kowalski gets caught up in a conflict with a gang that is harassing his neighbor. And in strange twist of events, this supposed racist becomes a savior for the Hmong family. Up to this point, Eastwood is playing the icon exactly according to the American mythic narrative.

We as a nation would just as soon keep to ourselves. We get in wars only when forced. We don’t want to be a part of some big global cooperative. We’d prefer to go it alone. And yet, we dream that we are really the world’s savior. Whether our mythic values are truly lived or not, Americans consistently reflect variations in our icons.

But then something odd happens. Kowalski is changed by the Hmong family. A Hmong shaman speaks the same words of wisdom that Kowalski’s priest has been trying to teach him. On multiple levels the family enters his life and begins to soften his heart and teach him how to life. Since he knows a lot more about dying.

Spoiler alert: As Walt softens, he can finally enter into relationship with other people including his priest. He is becoming more human. As he begins to live, he offers something Dirty Harry was incapable of offering. He loves. In his love, he is willing to die for the relationship, so that the Hmong family can really be helped instead of a temporary fix through an act of violence and vengeance.

In one act of sacrifice, Walt becomes father to the Hmong boy, judge to the gang, healer to the Hmong family and possibly even a prophet to his own family. Eastwood connects with the American icon but then challenges us to enter into relationship and to learn that sacrifice may open doors that power and violence cannot.

As I dream of what America could be, I am going to keep thinking about Walt Kowalski and the power of modeling the cross, laying down my life on behalf of those I love. And if I follow the rhythm of the gospel, this means loving my enemies as well as my friends.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (and the end of all things)

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment
Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

Resurrection of Christ by Matthias Grunewald

In order to begin thinking about John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ and the end of all things, it might be helpful to think about the revelation of Jesus Christ throughout the whole Bible. Here are a few highlights just to get the mind (and heart) ruminating upon the revelation.

After Adam forfeits his rule by obeying the serpent, God promises his seed will arise to crush the serpent’s head. Paul teaches us that Jesus in the second Adam (who does in fact crush the serpent’s head).

Moses gives the Law to Israel, but realizes they will falter and disobey. He proclaims another Lawgiver will come. The people will hear and obey Him. Jesus comes as that Lawgiver and Law fulfiller. He gives His Spirit to the people and now the Law is written on the hearts of God’s people, so they will obey the law of love.

Joshua goes to battle on behalf of Israel. As he leads the armies of Israel, he meets the “Captain of the Lord’s Army” who will truly battle the enemies of God by harrowing hell and rescuing the captives. Jesus is the supreme warrior and commander of angel armies who defeats evil, so that the weak and oppressed may rest in the goodness of God’s love.

Israel lives through 400 years of judges. These judges can only offer a provisional peace and victory to Israel. But one day the true judge of Israel will come. When Jesus comes, the day of the Lord arrives. He is the judge who will separate the sheep and the goats. He is the judge who will exalt the humble and humiliate the exalted.

Israel lives through an age of kings. Some rule with wisdom and many rule foolishly. David is a king after God’s own heart and is promised that one day a king will come from the house of David who will defeat all Israel’s enemies, bring peace the the land and restore worship in the land. Jesus, the Messiah, is that king. He is born to the house of David and defeats the enemies of God, restores the land (the whole earth) and makes a way for the people of God to worship in spirit and in truth. He is the king before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess: Jesus is Lord.

The prophets call Israel back to the Law and the Covenant. They appears as voices in the wilderness (often literally), proclaiming judgment on the enemies of God, calling for repentance, and offering a vision of the kingdom of God that extends to all nations. The greatest prophet of all, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water, but another prophet is coming after him who will baptize with fire. Jesus is the prophet of God who baptizes His people in the fire of the Holy Spirit and sets these blazing bushes loose to bring the good news of the kingdom to every tribe and nation.

These are highlights and there are many more rhythms that final consummation in Jesus Christ. Before we can tackle the John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ, we must come to realize the whole Bible has been a revelation of Jesus Christ, and John’s writings are written within this movement that is always finding fulfillment in the gracious, gentle and every loving ruler of time and space. All persons and all things find their consummation in Jesus. Thus, the end of all things is not the non-existence but the fulfillment of all things in Jesus.

Categories: Bible, faith, Jesus, meditation

The Psalmist Remembers Deuteronomy

January 21, 2009 1 comment

There are a whole series of Psalms (such as 37, 73) that write within a memory of God’s faithfulness to His people. Right before Israel enter the land, Moses delivers a series of sermons (Deuteronomy) that remember God’s faithful deliverance from Egypt, protection across the wilderness, and promises concerning the land they are about to possess. These sermons are deliver against the backdrop of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness.

As a part of His faithfulness, YHWH gives His people the Law. The Law will train them to rule. The Law will teach them how to live and prosper in the land they possess. There are a series of blessings associated with the Law, which is rooted in YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. These blessings include (but are not limited to) life, possession of the land, blessing upon progeny, wisdom and understanding (power to rule), prosperity in health, family and culture.

When Psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness, he is aware of a disparity between the promise and the reality. Everywhere he looks, he sees covenant violators who despise YHWH’s Law and live as a law unto themselves. Yet, these people seem to enjoy covenant blessings, while those who remain faithful seem to suffer.

The Psalmist becomes a formal voice of remembering on behalf of the people. He reminds himself and them of God’s faithfulness in spite of appearances. Appearances are deceiving. Momentary exaltation may be followed by lasting humiliation. The people of God do not react in the moment but live and act for the long haul. Their vision must reach beyond their own life to the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Memory of the past and vision of the future, give YHWH’s people energy to act in the now. The people of God will be vindicated. They will truly possess the land. The blessings of God will not be withheld. Instead of looking around each corner for the promise, they train themselves to rest in YHWH’s faithful promise.

What is difficult for them and us is learning to rest in God’s faithfulness, realizing that His blessings will be revealed in proper time and across generations. We participate in the blessings in relationship with the family of God who precedes us and proceeds from us. Hebrews 11:39-40 argues that we need one another to be complete (across time). Romans 12 , 1 Corinthians 12 and other passages argue that we  suffer and rejoice together as one people (across space). So the fulness of blessing cannot be born alone but must be born in relation with the family of God.

And ultimately, I would suggest, the fullness of blessing must be enjoyed in relation with all creation (cosmos). This is the vision of harmony Paul’s envisions in Ephesians 1:9-10. The Psalmist’s call to remember and rest leads to repentance. Not repentance rooted in terror. But a fresh turning to God’s way, God’s call, God’s plan that is rooted in the rest that comes from God’s faithfulness.

Deuteronomy 4:1 – Law and Grace

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Israel stands at the edge of the Promised Land. Soon Moses will leave them and Joshua will take charge as they cross the Jordan and take possession of the land. On the eve of this historic conquest, Moses delivers a sermon on God’s faithfulness in the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

He has been calling to mind their journey after receiving the Law at Mt. Horeb and journeying toward the Promised Land. While their parents didn’t trust YHWH’s command (and died in the wilderness), the children have been brought back to the place of promise with the same command to go in and possess the land.

As Moses recounts God’s victories on behalf of His people, He reminds them of the foundation of their commission: observance of the Law.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Each word in this verse opens in summary a vision of how Moses and Israel understood their calling under the Law. As I reflect on these words, I hear insight into how Christian may understand our calling in light of the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ.

Now – In light of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His promises, let us trust and obey His words. As I meditate on that transition word, “Now,” I can’t help but hearing Paul’s word, “Now.”

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2b

Paul has been talking about the great reconciling power of God’s grace in the midst of our human weakness. Now he exhorts the Corinthians to live as God has called them and empowered them to live in holiness and separation from the idolatries in the world around us.

Through Scripture we see images of people living and walking outside the fullness of God’s power and grace. I think of Zacheus, living of the exorbitant overcharges he places upon the people. Jesus comes to dine with Him, and the “Now” happens.

In the “now,” Jesus calls. “Come out and lived in the freedom and fullness I have prepared for you.” This now, is the now of Spirit calling me forth into a new way, a new path, a new life. This now is the now that proceeds out from the “fullness of time.”

O Israel – Moses calls out to the elect named by God. While Jacob is named by his mother, God calls him Israel. He is a given a new name and raised into the status of royalty and promise by God’s grace and goodnness.

The sons of Israel or the children of Israel grow up as a blessed people who will fulfill the call upon Abraham to bring God’s blessing to the whole earth.

To hear the name Israel is to hear the blessing of God. In Jesus, this blessing is fulfilled. And now all who are in Christ Jesus, hear the blessed name of Israel, called out to be God’s blessing for the whole earth. Paul writes:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3-5

Listen – In the middle of His sermon, Moses says, “Listen.” Makes me think of the preacher who pauses and says, “Listen up people.” Or more directly, it makes me think of Jesus speaking to His disciples, “Truly, Truly I say to you.”

It is as though Jesus is saying, “Now you better make a note of this. I am getting ready to say something that is deep truth and I want to make sure you remember and heed it.

As Moses calls us to “listen,” we lean in for a word from the throne of God. We hear a word that defines out mission and action in this world.

Statutes and Judgments – The two corresponding Hebrew words are khuqqim and mishpatim. These two words appears again and again when Moses is preaching about the Law.

The first word, khuqqim, is related to the idea of inscribing or carving. While Moses dictated the whole Law for the people, he received the “10 Words” inscribed by God’s hand. The fact that these words are inscribed in stone seems to give them a significance that no other words in Scripture have—except one.

There is a glory surrounding the giving of the 10 Word. Such glory that Moses has to cover his face. When I hear verses about God setting our feet on the rock, I think there is a connection with this stone. To stand on the 10 Words is to stand on the unchanging words and commands of God.

In the New Testament, the glory of the stone inscribed with words is surpassed by an even greater glory: the heart that is inscribed with the Word. Jesus comes as a fulfillment of the stone for now the 10 Words are united in a single Word made flesh.

This word completes, fulfills and reveals the Law. Jesus leaves us with a promise that we will be united with Him by the Holy Spirit. Paul continues Jesus’ theme in Romans by writing about how we are united with Christ in death and resurrection. Then in 2 Corinthians, we read about the glory of the Law in stone is now surpassed by a glory of the Law in flesh: not simply Jesus’ flesh, but our flesh.

The Spirit is writing the Law in our hearts, and we are moving from “glory to glory.” Eventually, we will see the image face to face:

7 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18

The other Hebrew word used for the Law here is mishpatim. This word has to do with the ability to judge. James Jordan understands wisdom as the ability to judge between good and evil. We see Solomon practicing wisdom in judging between two prostitutes with similar stories. He speaks and by the power of his word, reveals the liar (thus judging between good and evil).

This power to judge is directly tied to ruling. If we cannot judge, we will be like the simpleton who cannot distinguish between the house of lady wisdom whose house leads to life (Proverbs 4, 8 and 9) and the foolish woman whose house leads to death (Proverbs 4, 5, and 7).

There is a path that leads to the house of lady wisdom and a path that leads to the house of the foolish woman (Proverbs 4:18-19). One leads into the full light of day and the other stumbles further and further into darkness.

We see Israel walking into the light of day from David to Solomon’s rule and stumbling into darkness from Solomon to Zedekiah’s rule (although some kings in between do walk in light, the overall movement of the nation is a descent into darkness).

As I begin to wrap around this idea of rule and wisdom and the path of wisdom vs. the path of foolishness, I can see references to the law throughout the Psalms and prophets and more. There are multiple a references to walking in the path, I will show you the way,” do not turn to the left or right, the road to righteousness, the path of holiness, standing on the rock, and so on. I would suggest all these references are rooted in observance to the Law (meditation upon and obedience to the commandments).

Just a reminder, we do not simply go back to Deuteronomy 5 to meditate upon the Law. We have hear the same rhythms in Matthew 5 and other sermons by Jesus as well as the letters from Paul and others. These are not a bunch of regulations we post. Rather, we ruminate and reflect on them. We walk according to them. The Spirit teaches us them.

We enter into the heart of them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. In some ways, the New Testament is an extended reflection upon the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ and through His cross, and how it now is revealed in the midst of His people and in the midst of the world.

Live, and go in and possess the land – Moses ties the Law directly to the action of entering, possessing and living in the land. The Law is the wisdom that gives Israel boldness to enter the Land (because the covenant-making YHWH stands behind it with promises of a His faithfulness).

Observance of the Law is connected with Israel’s fear of God. As they walk in the fear of God, other nations fear them. For they bear the name and the power of YHWH (who makes mountains melt and by a single word causes the earth to melt).

Observance of the Law is essential for Israel to dwell in the fullness of God’s provision as they live in the land. In other places, Moses will predict that in prosperity, Israel will forget the source of blessing and quit observing the Law. This forgetfulness will cause God to forget them, thus allowing their enemies to overtake them.

Paul quite possibly gives us a poetic reinterpretation of this phrase by quoting a poet of his day. In his sermon to the idolatrous philosophers, Paul says “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, is the source of our courage and power and prosperity. We are blessed in Him and live in Him and live to glorify Him in all things.

LORD God of your fathers – Moses reminds the people that the source of the Law is not some oppressing dictator, but the covenant-making God who remembers His promises. LORD or YHWH is a covenant name for God, which connects with His faithfulness to the promise. The Creator God made a promise and cut a covenant with father Abraham. This covenant promise was renewed with Isaac and then again with Jacob. Now as the children of Israel look at how the Creator God did in fact remember his promises to the ancestors, they can call Him YHWH for he has demonstrated His covenant faithfulness again and again.

We are brought into this family of Abraham through the covenant faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus answer’s YHWH’s faithfulness to man by becoming the man who is completely faithful to YHWH. In Jesus, we enter into this circle of covenant faithful love. In Jesus, we enjoy the fruist and healing blessings associated with the covenant, and in Jesus we are transformed by the Spirit in the covenant faithful people, revealing the fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). This fruit reveals the fulfillment of the Law in us by the power of the Spirit.

Giving You – The land that Israel will soon possess does not come through their own efforts, their own righteousness or their own prowess. It comes as pure gift.

While they must possess and follow the prescribed ways of possessing each area, they are simply obeying the Father who is giving them the gift.

For those who think grace suddenly appears in the New Testament as opposed to the Law in the Old Testament, they should go back and reread the Old (especially Deuteronomy). As we read and reflect on the rhythm of the Law, we realize it is gift. It is grace.

It is grace stretching and reaching forward. To what? To the fulfillment. When Jesus comes, he fulfills the striving and longing of law. This law is incomplete until it is fully enfleshed by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Paul and the Law

January 19, 2009 2 comments

Some folks have requested that I write a few more posts about the “10 Commandments” or “10 Words.” I think once you begin to see the rhythm of the commands, you can see how a variety of images in the Scripture continue pointing back to these essential commands. As a quick reminder, when I talk about the 10 Commandments, I am in one sense referring to the whole of the Law.

I see two extreme responses to the Law based on Paul’s letters that I think are not helpful. There is a tendency to read Paul as rejecting the commandments. As a result, some people suggest that as people under grace the Law has passed away. Thus we disregard the Law. Other people decide that Paul is wrong and reject Paul instead. I’ve seen several strange websites that try to reduce or eliminate Paul’s inspired writings. Both of these extremes are problematic.

This is a problem because the commandments do not pass away. Jesus references them and says that He has come to fulfill the law. The commands are still present in the New Jerusalem and lawbreakers cannot enter the city.

So how do we deal with Paul’s references to the Law? Now I am not going to delve into a deeply technical response here. Rather, just consider the letters by Paul. In almost all the letters, Paul includes an ethical component where he gives guidelines for behavior. These guidelines offer direction in marriage, the community, the government and more.

So to think that Paul is saying there are no correct behaviors is absurd. He continually writes about how to behave and even offers strict penalties for the man whose sinful sexual activity is being condoned in the church. It is unquestionable that Paul has expectations about how we act and treat one another.

At the same time, He offers a theology of justification and sanctification rooted in the cross of Christ. Paul realizes that the sacrificial system in Judaism was pointing toward a fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The action of God in the cross ripples out in many directions across space and time.

The cross fulfills and/or transforms the sacrificial system, which ripples out in ways that transforms the application of the Law. The rituals have no power outside of Christ Jesus (either before or after the cross). Paul is very clear that once the cross fulfills the Law, circumcision is fulfilled in the heart. And that one could be circumcised in the flesh while not really being circumcised if their heart remains unchanged.

Who better to write on the Law that a Pharisee of Pharisees? When creating and calling Paul from the womb, YHWH raises up the greatest of Pharisees. Just as John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, Paul becomes the greatest interpreter of the Law, because by God’s grace He realizes and reveals that Jesus Christ is the heart of the Law. And once Jesus is revealed, the Law cannot be understood or interpreted outside of Jesus.

If we can begin to grasp this, then we can begin to see that Paul is not at odds with the Law but he is at odds with a legal system that is rooted in human behavior outside of God’s redeeming action. The legal customs offer no redemption and no power. To practice outside the light of Christ is to waste your time with dead rituals. In Christ, the relational laws do not change but the way ritual laws (from Sabbath to circumcision) do change.

This doesn’t mean we ignore them. We must wrestle with the text. We must listen to the Spirit of the text. As the Lord gives wisdom, we begin to understand how Sabbath, circumcision, unclean and clean laws, and so on are expressed in the community of faith. James Jordan has wrestled deeply with these questions and has certainly been helpful for me as I think about what some people call the “ceremonial law.”

With that little intro about the heart of the Law (Jesus) and the constancy of the Law, I will proceed to write a few posts on how I see references to the Law showing up all through the Psalms and other passages in Scripture.

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: , , , ,

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)

Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

Sabbath Trust

April 12, 2008 Leave a comment

Not a word failed of any good things which the LORD has spoken
to the house of Israel. All came to pass.
Joshua 21:45

God completes His work in six days and rests on the seventh. He commands his people to enter sabbath rest/remembrance. Yet, we do not complete our work in six days. Sabbath rest for God’s people might be understood as the trust in YHWH’s Word. He gives His Word to His people, and none of His words fail. This passage in Joshua stands a reminder to the people that “all came to pass.”

We cannot sabbath if we cannot trust in the faithfulness of His Word. The writer of Hebrews realizes this when he reminds God’s people that “we who do believe enter that rest.”

As we grow to trust on the faithfulness of God’s word, we can rest and rejoice in the goodness of our God.

Prayers of the Fathers

April 11, 2008 1 comment

Most of my great insights that come after hours of study and meditation, turn out to be new articulations of wisdom I learned from living with my parents. Day after day, week after week, year after year, they patterned their faith. I learned about the riches of the gospel from the mundane atmosphere of every day living with parents who were trying to live out their faith.

In the early 90s, I began studying the Celtic Christians, hoping to mine new wisdom for living today. This study led to a series of Celtic retreats, which were really excuses for me to study and read more about them. While preparing for one retreat, I was overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude that shines out in their poems and prayers. This insight changed my prayer habits, and I found myself praying more slowly and more thankfully.

Prayers over meals shifted from some kind of magic rite to gain God’s blessing to a fresh opportunity to offer thanksgiving for God for His overwhelming goodness. I had discovered the riches of thanksgiving to God.

But then one day as I listened to my dad prayer, I noticed a long litany of thanksgivings. Everything you could imagine: good health, our house, our nation, our family, and the thanksgivings continued to rise. As I listened, I realized that this was the way he always prayed.

My new discovery in prayer emerged while I was studying the Celts, but now I realize this was simply an awakening to a pattern deeply ingrained in my consciousness. Now I realize that the pattern of my father’s continual stream of thanksgiving shaped me long before I was aware of it.

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