Monday, June 30, 2008


A brief break from work and dash to the far coast, I sit with my elbow hanging over the isle on my fourth flight in less the 24 hours. This is the very meaning of illogical, a hundred and fifty people in a fiberglass tube hurtling forty thousand feet through the air at five hundred miles an hour. The physics is bewildering yet I am more likely to die behind the wheel of my Honda. Windows have been elusive this trip and I’ve hardly seen the ground. All the mountains of California and Colorado pass below without so much as a hello.

It was an exciting trip though. I had the chance to play guitar for an artist I greatly admire for her wisdom and sincerity. Her father has always told her that when she opens her mouth, she allow the spirit to fill it, boldly proclaiming the works of the Lord in song. This is a charge she carries out with humility, and I was blessed to be involved.

We went to Saddleback, a massive church in Orange county best known for its mega-best selling pastor. The event was a conference for worship leaders from as far away as Japan, a time for the potentially stretched and exhausted to be filled. I know that feeling too well, and it is a privilege to be a part of something like this.

I don’t play a lot of gigs these days, and I look forward to them when they come. This particular gig was a great opportunity to work with someone new and I was unusually nervous. That’s not to say I don’t get the usual pre-show jitters, but this was different. The band had been told we needed to be perfect, and while I pursue perfection in my playing, I have never been told up front that it had to be. With every day that passed and every listen through the songs, I grew increasingly nervous and a stone formed in my belly, ever expanding and growing heavy.

In Luke 14, Jesus has dinner with a group of Pharisees and teachers in the home of a prominent leader. While there, he shares a parable about a wedding feast, telling those in attendance that it is better to not sit in a place of honor, for if someone more distinguished than you were to come along, you might be asked to move. Such an occurrence would be humiliating. Jesus teaches, rather, to sit at the end of the table, in a place of humility, so that the master might invite you to move to a seat of honor. The proud humiliated and the humble exalted, I have long feared being the proud.

A day or two ago I was reading my way through Psalms and came to number 23. It is one of those pieces of scripture that makes you stop for a moment, like how your eyes might stop on a book you’ve read in the middle of a shelf filled with others you haven’t. David writes so romantically about his God and shepherd, and I am struck by how simple and elegant this poem is. In the last verse, David speaks of a table, possibly a banquet table, prepared for a feast “in the presence of his enemies.” David is basically saying that while the shepherd guards and protects him, God also seeks to bless and honor David while humiliating the proud and wicked. I would imagine David’s seat at this table would be quite close to the master’s.

Having read both passages near each other, I was struck by the parallel of the two tables. The scriptures, like any great work of literature, do not repeat imagery thoughtlessly and in the face of this coming gig, I began to pray that I come humbly to the table God has prepared for me. I know in faith that God will honor the humble pursuit of the gifts He’s given and I dwelled on this idea for a while. But what of my enemies? The nerves, questions, and worry over the coming gig made it quite clear who the enemy was.

Much of my life has been spent fighting myself. The petty insecurities, the self-imposed confusion, silent and public fears, it has all been there at some point. Brennan Manning, in one of his books, refers to, “The Impostor”, the false-self capable of taking over our lives. Eventually the impostor will remove all memory of the true self, most people never being aware they have made this transformation. I have lived as the impostor, and in these times, I feel like I still do. All the while, the true self, the man God has already created me to be, sits bound in captivity and out of thoughts. As I read the words of David, I know full well that these fears and insecurities are my enemy.

The morning of the gig, I sat on my hotel bed with the window open and the cool Californian breeze blowing through. I turned to the next Psalm, number 24, and realized it was the source scripture, almost word for word, for a song we were going to perform later in the day. I paused for a moment and considered the timing, the fact that I had started in Genesis close to 8 months ago and that every day I did or did not read my Bible led me to reading this particular section on this particular day. Encouragement overwhelmed me and I felt no nerves for the rest of the day. Aside from my in-ears breaking on the first song, the gig went great. For all my anxiety, it felt like I’d played that gig a hundred times before. My table had been prepared, indeed.

Today I consider the impostor. So many of David’s songs and poems speak of these ever relentless foes bent on his destruction, and I wonder how many were flesh and how many were spirit. The battle of my life has certainly been my spirit and the forces inside me that seek to undo me. I know this is dramatic, but I am amazed (not in the good way) that I am 25 years old and still struggle with fear and insecurity. My identity gradually aligns with the insecurity and before I know it, I am lost in it. I could never count the number of times I’ve performed in front of an audience, or the occasions in which I’ve opened myself up to another person, yet so often it feels like the first time I’ve done it. It is an amazing path I have traveled, and as I sit on the plane, flying high over the midwest, I know there is a long way to go, yet I am reminded still of the good shepherd. The impostor and I have more battles to fight, but God is faithful and his work has already been done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy...

A landmark occasion was all over the news today as the state of California began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. It was a “victory for humanity” in those approximate words according to the mayor of San Francisco, and the media was a flutter with stories of long-expectant couples eagerly awaiting this day. The centerpiece of the spot on NPR this morning focused on a lesbian couple in their 80’s who have been together for over 50 years. They were the first couple to be wed under the new law, and their frail voices expressed relief. Family surrounded them and they celebrated.

No piece of controversial reporting would be complete without a trip to the other side, however, and the news team soon found their way to the protesters gathered around city hall. One man was introduced as a “born again Christian”, that all too immediate “I’m with Pat Robertson” tag, and he quickly explained that he believed God would bring destruction upon this country for the things that are happening. NPR is my primary news source, and their bias was quite obvious this morning. The voice of the Christian majority, preaching condemnation and destruction.

I once wrote the question a while back, and you can dig for it if you want to, “can you legislate morality?” This is not a blog about gay marriage, I’m not going there, but this is a matter of politics. You see, the man on NPR this morning, with his picket sign and sharp words, was lobbying the political process to uphold his Christian morals. We as Christians in America do this all the time, seeking protection from the imminent cultural implosion taking place around us. Protect us from criticism, protect us from liberalism, save our babies, and keep our teenagers virgins. We place God on our side and vote from our pews; we grow complacent. How little we understand the plight of the millions of Christians operating the world over, not only without government protection but under open persecution of the very institution designed to protect them. It is not the government’s job to protect our morals, but it is our job to uphold our own.

The conservative right is not the only side to do this. I am a member of a generation alienated by the church and bitter because of it. The church as we knew it has become an enemy and so many young Christians have made the swing to the left in the name grace and justice. The gospel of Christ is transformed into a liberal political agenda as we lobby the government to take up the fight against poverty, homelessness, hunger, health, and global justice. I am guilty of this liberal swing and I, along with so many others, have turned to my government to do the dirty work I find so daunting. These are good things, Biblical things, issues close to the heart of Christ, but they are not the government’s job.

I had breakfast with a friend this morning, and we talked about the Declaration of Independence. He is a seminary student, quite smart, and he explained that close examination of this document does not point to a nation founded on Christian principles but rather deistic, almost universalist beliefs. Further study of the founding fathers would also indicate that many, such as Thomas Jefferson himself, followed in this universalist mindset, though I had long believed our founders to be devoted Christ followers. Our government protects the right to practice religion, but it does not protect the rights of one over any others. We Christians in America have long lived like it has. It shows in the way we have sheltered ourselves in our churches, and called upon our leaders to look after us. As the world burns around us, we roast marshmallows.

I think it is a dangerous thing for the government to legislate religious morality, though it is essential it legislate fundamental morals. Human life is valuable and murder is a crime. I am also of the opinion that abortion and the death penalty are no different. Basic human life, period. But what about a day like today? As I listened to the piece, it was obvious the elderly women being interviewed loved each other, but in my heart of hearts I believe their relationship to be sinful. What do I do with this?

This afternoon the same news service reported that over 25 million people are currently living as refugees under the protection of the United Nations. Floods rock the Chinese provence devastated by a massive earthquake only a month ago, and the rains are not suspected to subside for another ten days. Hundreds of thousands are dead and displaced by a massive cyclone in the nation of Myanmar, and their wicked government works to tie the hands of global relief organizations desperate to help the victims. Even on our own soil, nearly 90% of the counties in Iowa have been declared disaster areas as flood waters continue to rise. What do I do with this?

The honest answer is that I do not know. Would Jesus hold a picket sign on the streets of San Francisco? I doubt it, but I am certain he would oppose gay marriage. In spite of this, I am also certain he would have friends in the gay community, and he would be very good at loving them. Would Jesus have petitioned the government to feed the poor around him or provide social services to the homeless, prostitutes, and drug addicts? Probably not. Jesus showed little patience or interest in the function of government, but instead he dwelled with the vagabonds, loved and transformed them, even though the religious people around called him a “drunkard”.

To the Pharisees, it was Israel versus the world and like them we point our fingers and walk our picket lines. But to Jesus, we were all children of God with no more of this "us and them" garbage. He lovingly urged others to sin no more, and to take up the cause of the poor and the widow.

These thoughts consume me as I look towards November, and I consider what is important. I have no wisdom compelling me to where to assign my voice at the polling station, and in this era of the shallow entertainment we call news media, the issues are as lost to me as all the toiletries I’ve left behind in hotel bathrooms over the years. Yet I am entirely certain of one thing - conservative or liberal, it is time we stop hiding behind our government, and quit counting on them to do the job Christ died for us to do. To trust our government to uphold our morals and be the hands and feet of Christ is to sell God and the power he has generously bestowed to us, his people, through his Spirit so very short.

May God dispel the fear that drives my complacency, and forgive my shallow faith, for my sin so graciously forgiven was just as worthy of destruction as that of those we so bitterly speak against. Gay, genocidal, infanticidal, adulterous, war mongering, greedy, and prideful - we are all born equals.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

his iron heart...

I carry a curse with words in that while I love to read, and enjoy a good conversation as much as the next guy, I am doomed to loose it, to forget it. My reading comprehension is pitiful, having to read and re-read passages in books just to remember them, and I cannot repeat anything heard without jumbling the words or forgetting it all together. Sarah can remember entire conversations, and lines from movies and shows she saw years ago. She is an ever patient reminder that I am a hopelessly visual person. For this reason, I am grateful for movies.

I just got home from seeing "Iron Man" and it was fantastic! A completely enjoyable and exciting movie, free of any cheesy lines (what was intended to be funny was actually funny), and the cast was terrific. Probably about the best "super hero" movie I have ever seen. The movie was good because the story had depth, a story about figuring out who you are, and living with the things you've done. It is a story of injustice and war. The most remarkable part of the story for me though, and forgive my ignorance all you fan boys, comes in the source of the hero's power. This may be fantasy, but bare with me for a minute.

Tony Stark is a brilliant scientist, engineer, and weapons designer who is captured by terrorists seeking to enlist his services. In his capture, he is sprayed with shrapnel, and a doctor, also in captivity, attaches an electro-magnet to his chest to keep the shrapnel from working its way into Stark's heart. Seeing the limitations of the attached car battery that feeds it, Stark finds a new way to power the magnet and sustain his life through a small, chest-mounted reactor of his own design. Instead of making weapons for the terrorists, Stark builds an iron suit, powered by this new invention and escapes. As Stark returns to society, he is touched by the delicacy of life and the terrible cost of war.

This is a story about what drives us, about what makes us strong in our weakness. In the unrealistic source of Iron Man's power we see the delicacy of the heart, that we are driven by more than pure mechanics and biology. For every bit as real the heart is, beating inside our chests, there is a metaphorical heart that for those who feel it, keeps the physical heart beating. We derive passion from it, endurance, motivation, and excitement. It feels pain, weathers turmoil, clinches in sadness, and moves with love.

I am often aware of my heart when I am anxious. It is as if a cord is pulling it deep into my chest. Anxiety rears its ugly head at the most inopportune times, when I hold a guitar, when I write these words, when I find myself on the verge of vulnerability. At my best I do not know this.

It works the other way too. Just the other night I was in my car during the last hours of daylight. The sky was electric blue like a tropical cocktail, blanketed with with thin strips of cloud colored and textured like ceiling insulation. The blue and pink were the only two colors in the sky, set in hard opposition. The voice on my radio repeated, "Your love is strong," and my heart expanded in my chest. Where anxiety makes my heart sink, joy could make it explode. This is the heart meant to endure. All the while the other heart, the finite heart, beats.

The point comes, as it does in all good hero stories, where the protagonist's strength fails and everything hangs on the brink. Iron Man is driven beyond his abilities, and his artificial heart begins to fail. Without spoiling anything, we are given a glimpse into the the true strength of Tony Stark's heart. It is a moment seldom found in a big summer blockbuster. I love a good movie because it inevitable gets my mind going. As I sit and consider the heart, I'm thinking $8.50 is a small price to pay.


Monday, June 02, 2008

sarah in cyber space!

I met a girl with hair like the autumn sun, and I wanted to know her better. Awkward flirting and coy conversation would follow, and come to find out she's terribly sweet, perceptive, and absolutely hilarious like no one I know. She's also my best friend. Lucky for you, she's starting a new blog!

Sarah is an extrovert, a great thinker, and a keen photographer. Her blog will be an extension of all these with an over-arching sense of deep spirituality. So check it out over on the right here! Her old blog is linked too, and while small in number, the posts are worth reading if you haven't.

It's good to have you back in the blog-o-sphere, Sarah! Been a long time coming...