Saturday, January 31, 2004

everybody loves the Lord these days

My favorite Nintendo game is BanjoKazooie. Ok, its really Donkeycart racing (MarioKart) but Banjo is a close second. A few years ago when that came out, Jack and I practically morphed cells with the game controller. In the sequel game, there is a 2 player, split screen game in which you seek to destroy your opponent. The game takes place in a castle and you and opponent of course can see one another’s players, but not in your own half of the screen. So you can see where he’s going, but you don’t know where he is. The excitement builds as you get closer together and finally both players appear on both screens as you enter the same room.
These past couple weeks I’ve had a similar feeling while following the race to presidential candidacy – on the radio. I rarely turn on the t.v., but I really enjoy NPR’s “All Things Considered”. So here I am, camped out in the South – evidently a pretty special place. I guess the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary are important because they’re first, but it seems the Candidates just go up there and get exposure. “Hey, I’m a nice guy, vote for me.” But according to the news, people down here actually care about specific things. So the candidates come down and take a more biblical approach. They try to be all things to all people. Want a definition of ignorant cultural bias? "I want to be the candidate for the guy in the pickup truck with the confederate flag." You think that will win the South?
So here I am watching on the split screen. I can see what they’re doing, but can’t really tell where they are out there in that “other” world. They don’t know I can see them, or at least they don’t think it matters, since I have no context in which to put them. But I’m listening in. I hear what they say to “them” to gain their favor. I hear them try to explain what they meant when they said something that meant absolutely nothing to them and turned out to be something that mattered to a large group of people about whom they know nothing. As the campaign goes on, I sense they are getting closer. Then it happens. Super Tuesday approaches and just in time. The same national radio broadcasts are now taking place from just a mile away from where I’m sitting in traffic on the ride home from work. They are on my screen now and they know it. Now they’re aware that I matter. So they’ve got to be who I want them to be.
“Everybody loves the Lord these days.” That is the sound bite that starts the segment. The first segment of the program is from Charleston. Every candidate has visited a single AME church whose pastor muses at the spiritual fervor of this election’s candidates. (They’re also all headed to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School class) The second segment is from just down the road here in Columbia. It’s a wing joint where Kerry and crew just spent a fortune on Buffalo wings and over $400 dollars on liquor in a much deserved break from the fast paced campaign. The restaurant owner was ecstatic. Pump the hands of the finger licker wings consumer, spread the buzz among the small business owner. Drink your weight in spirits on the way home from addressing the spiritual at the AME church.
Please just tell me who you are. Don’t feed me conflicting stories and let me guess at whether there is chance that either one has anything to do with you. I have an idea. I’ll vote for who seems to be the best candidate for PRESIDENT. I’ll hang with my real FRIENDS. I’ll try to be the HUSBAND and FATHER to my family and we’ll continue to let GOD be GOD. I sure don’t need a candidate to tell me how he can be all those things.
Besides that, Mr. Candidate, there is something else you don't know about the South. The Super Bowl is tomorrow and the Panthers are playing. Hope you're a Carolina fan.


Friday, January 30, 2004

you know who you are

I’m sitting here practicing Sketches for Friends again, so I thought I’d take a break and make a list of my ten favorite friends. This is really difficult to do because so many people are so kind to me and have done so much for me. Truth is, probably even if I didn’t make a list, you’d still know who you are and how much you mean to me. But just to give you a stroke, and to let you know I don’t take you for granted, and to encourage your continued friendship, I thought I’d list you here.
If you’re not included, please don’t take it personally. Honestly, the list might be a bit different if I did it tomorrow, or even yesterday. If you think you’ve been omitted unfairly, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Maybe you can just try harder next time. So here goes the list.

Rod’s top ten most favorite friends (names have been changed to protect the innocent) in no particular order:

10. Marvin
9. Jerry
8. Betty
7. Ahmet
6. Sheniqua
5. Karl
4. Oranjello
3. Sergei
2. Ulig
1. Marty

brought to you by the letter "C"


Thursday, January 29, 2004

functional harmony

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. In tonal music, that western European style with which (in various levels of complexity) we are all most familiar, every chord has a function. Sometimes I like to refer to the style as functional harmony. The music uses a collection of pitches to produce melody and harmony that refer strongly to a single pitch within the collection. This pitch (and the chord built upon it, the tonic, is essentially “home base” and any melodic or harmonic departure from it creates a tension, or longing in the listener to hear it again.
The basis of the entire western music tradition is created with only seven chords. Of them, of course the tonic (I) is most important. But, of equal importance, is the Dominant (V) chord, built on the fifth scale degree; the path that leads to the goal. This chord functions to “point” to the tonic. The listener, even if he doesn’t realize it, upon hearing the dominant, desires the tonic. All of western music tradition with its constant tension and repose, hinges upon this relationship. Dominant points to tonic. All other chords in the collection serve a “pre-dominant” function. The freedom of using these chords in various ways gives provision for creativity and innovation in a style with such a small palette of sonorities. But in whatever ways they are assembled, they, together, also serve a single function – to point to the dominant. We begin the music with an aural relationship to tonic. We move away from tonic and explore harmonic paths with the pre-dominant chords, but eventually they lead us to the dominant which creates an intense need for repose, or finality that can only be achieved with the tonic.
The interesting paradox is that if tonic is approached by a pre-dominant chord, no finality is accomplished because the ear has not been made to desire it. Its not been called to need the repose. All successful music in the style goes through the process of moving toward dominant so that it can point directly to the tonic.

brought to you by MUS3310


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

how did I get here?

Well then. Back online. We've been without power since yesterday evening. Just came back. Its a weird feeling to sit inside your house in the dark wearing long-johns and jeans, thermal undershirt, turtle neck, flannel hoodie and fleece. When Will started crying, I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "there are people all over the world right now who would feel warm and dry in our house with us right now." I bit my tongue. Will's sensitvity to the reality of that would break his heart with guilt for complaining. But it sure started me thinking. I don't know why I've been blessed with what I've been given while others are cold and hungry and alone. Honestly, I don't know how to feel about it. Sometimes I think its a trade off for the blessing of simple trust and dependence and the ability to see deeper things without the clutter of convenience. The sky was ten miles deeper tonight with nary a light for miles. Pleiades practically jumped off the canopy at me.
But how could I know? There must an arrogance in even the slightest notion that someone with less than I could consider it a blessing. No, there's an arrogance in not realizing this. Is it both? Is it neither? Why am I growing more comfortable as the thermometer beside my desk reflects the fact that the furnace is back in commission, while someone else is bundling tighter against the falling temps of night?
In a moment, I'll walk downstairs in my beautiful house and climb into my warm bed with my beautiful wife; and I'll ask myself...


Monday, January 26, 2004


ice.jpgSo we're iced in (or so they think in South Carolina). Actually, you can't get down the steps off the front porch. Nor can you walk safely up the driveway. Schools are all closed. Church is closed. It tried to snow for 2 minutes earlier, but it started raining again. Just hits the trees and freezes. When the wind blows, the whole back yard sounds like a plastic wind chime. I'm sitting here practicing a piece called "Sketches for Friends" and (obviously) trying to figure out how to be a better friend. This is the scene out the window.


why do I love thee? nuance, part 4.1

I think I’ve got a clearer grasp on what I’m trying to say here. Though its not easy, comparatively, it is easier to let Jesus love someone through me than to learn to love them myself.
Imagine me attempting to love someone to belief. (Already, I’ve used the kind of language that I’m questioning, argh.) It seems to me that there are three possible ways to see the scenario. All have to do with what appears to my friend to be important to me. Does the recipient of my love see its motivation in my caring for him, or in my dutiful obedience to God, despite whether I actually care for him myself, or my fear of the consequences of not doing as I’m told by a God in whom he does not yet believe? To the believer, these subtleties don’t seem to make a difference, but to the unbeliever, they mean whether or not his ears stay open and whether his heart ever opens.
These are manifest in real life by statements such as, “they just want to make everyone like themselves,” or, “they won’t get to heaven unless they bring people with them.” “God will punish me for not believing in him and God will punish them for not convincing me to believe.” If you take a look at “” it is hard to decide whether to be more shocked at the jabs from non-believers, or the responses from Christians.
I think, in terms of evangelism, here is where Dave's authenticity and vulnerability come in in a legitimate way. We are the one that is there with them at the moment. If they don’t feel authenticity in us, there is no way that they’ll find Jesus authentic.
Is there a difference between a burden that grows from our love for someone, and a love that grows from a burden? Seems if we love someone, our burden for his need of Jesus will be greater. If our relationship is born solely through our attempt at evangelism, we try to take on a burden that Jesus has for them, but we don’t understand.
Ok, so I don't have a clearer grasp, but I'm going to keep trying until I do. So I don’t know, I’m just trying to get sift through verbiage and theology and call and figure out how to more purely be what I’m called to be. Sure could use your continued help.


how do I love thee? nuance, part 4

Yesterday, while I was eating lunch, I could hear two guys next to me conversing over their bratwurst and sauerkraut. The conversation mostly consisted of church talk – what they’re doing, who’s coming – with some talk about what others’ churches are doing and who’s going. Thoughts went through my head as I eavesdropped. At first I was thinking about the fact that church is so often the topic. God, discipleship, spirituality, theology, faith, are so often mislaid because church is the task at hand. Why are we always talking about church? I’m not ripping on these guys. I’m sitting there having a similar conversation. Its just that there is where the thoughts started.
Take spirituality out of it for a minute. Can’t two Christians talk about a ballgame, concert, CD, movie, book? Can’t two people become friends and discover that they are both Christians and that they both like church? Now this is going to sound like heresy, but I’m pretty sure what I mean is not heresy. Can’t we be friends who care about each other apart from our commonality in Christ? Or am I not allowed to be friends with someone except for the sake of Christ? For whose sake does God love? Is it for His sake, or just He just love?
I’m just wondering because it seems that this prereq. is what gets in the way of a lot of long-term salvation inducing, unconditional friendships. I’m pretty sure that to be the Jesus-follower that Jesus wants me to be, I’ve got to love unbelievers regardless of whether they become believers. Jesus does. So might the hurdle blocking the way of deeper friendships among Christians be that we don’t feel that our friendship could exist outside of Christ. If one of us weren’t a believer, would we still love each other? Or are you just obeying Jesus by loving me? Can we not be friends and then rejoice that we both know Christ? What if I suddenly decide I’m going to take an amillenial position? If you have a problem with this, it’s no wonder we have a problem being true friends with unbelievers. Please tell me if I’m stepping over the line here, but is the only legitimate reason to love someone that Jesus loves them?
It is impossible for me to love someone that Jesus doesn’t love, they don’t exist. But is it possible to love someone not because Jesus does, but just because I do? If I want to show the love of Jesus, then I have to love like Jesus loves. Not just because someone else loves you, because I love you. Seems that then I’m behaving like Christ because I have learned from Him, been influenced by Him, not just because I’m following orders. Is there a place in the path of discipleship where obedience is no longer an issue? Where we behave like Christ because we’ve learned to behave from Him. When my children are grown, and they behave according to what I have taught them, is that an act of obedience or simply being as they have learned to be?
I could be way off here, but I’m not trying to make Jesus less important. I’m trying to make Him more important. The slate is yours. Help me out.


Sunday, January 25, 2004

nothing in common?

Remember when you had friends with whom all you had in common was that you were friends? I guess back then we went to school where football and basketball players, geeks, band people, chess club members, Christians, and golfers all attended. When I life guarded during the summers, several of us would hang around after the pool closed and swim awhile and then think about going out to do something. We’d climb out of the pool, onto the deck by the diving boards and lay there looking up and toss out ideas of things to do. Naw, that doesn’t sound fun to me, how about…. Naw, I’m not in the mood for that. The conversation would then veer for awhile and come back to, “well whatta ya wanna do?” This cycle could go on ad infinitum. We’d end up just hanging out and talking. Here were guys who never would have hooked up had we not been working together. We couldn’t find anything to do because we had “nothing in common”. Except each other. By the end of the summer we were tight. When we got together, it was to be together. It was never that we wanted to do something and needed someone with whom to do it.
These days all divisions, groups, committees, task forces, Sunday school classes, and think tanks, are manipulated to contain like peoples. Reformed students, humanities professors, businessmen, young marrieds, with/without children, singles, single again, meat eaters, wife beaters, long hairs, no hairs.
Now I know that ministry is more effective among people with similar current experiences. People will be more comfortable among people with whom they can relate. But when we zero in on our circumstantial, temporary needs, does this make it harder to see the common need among all? Do we imply that our special group needs God to be relevant to our situation in a different way than He is relevant to another group’s situation?
We all need God for the same reasons regardless of who we are, our age, whether we’re married, man, or woman.
So I’m not trying to be radical here and say that we should do away with specifically targeted ministries like seniors, singles, college, young marrieds. But I wonder if we wouldn’t have a huge community benefit by seeking more interaction with people who’ve been categorized differently than ourselves? Maybe my current situation doesn’t make me so special after all. Maybe I can be ministered to and minister to someone who’s been married 57 years and has had no children. While we’re seeking to grow to outrageous proportions, it will become increasingly necessary to plug into smaller portions with whom we can feel community. Why not cross-pollinate? Why not allow my small circle be representative of the diversity of the larger God-seeking community?


Saturday, January 24, 2004

short stop

Ok, I guess I was just kidding yesterday. Today I found a Brooks Robinson autograph baseball. Maybe if I put a bug in the right ear, that would be worth having a birthday for. It would go on my file cabinet with my autographed photograph ("to Mr. Lewis") and my assortment of '70s vintage BR cards.
Of course this just shows my age and widens the gap, huh? The students walk in and say, "who in the world is THAT?"
I'll just say, "none of your business, greenhorn."


Friday, January 23, 2004

nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill

I cap off four decades in less than three weeks. Mom turned 60 this week. Think back to high school. When that period passes again I’ll be the age she is now. Ouch. She’s not old. But I won’t weather like she has. I’ll be ancient.
I’ve always been fascinated with our perception of time – the way we stamp it with imaginary bookmarks like the pulse in a piece of music. The thing about time is that time isn’t really real (James Taylor). Music just flows. But we feel it pulsing with life so we put our foot down with the pulse. We stride along and pretty soon we perceive that it’s passing. Each beat brings us closer to the end of the measure, each measure toward the end of the song. On the day after my birthday, I’ll be but one day older than the day before. But the number has changed. We perceive a year in a single day. We flowed through the seasons without notice, and then, boom, the counter clicks and we’re older.
I’ve noticed the unbearable slowness of time in my children, each year an unfathomable portion of their fresh existence. I’ve vowed to experience their frustrating temporal crawl to anticipated events. I’ve learned a little to share their prolonged excitement at approaching birthdays, to empathize with the wait and experience the lengthening of the measure. But even when it passes more slowly, it still passes. Like sands in the hour glass…
I live in a paradox of sorts in my work environment. Change is constant. Each semester my schedule changes. Each year, students leave and new students arrive. There is an ebb and flow that feels good. But time is marked in 16 week increments. Got to persevere to the next break. What kind of person looks forward to the passage of time? Teachers. The hectic semester flies by and another year has passed. I think my greatest fear is not getting old. I feel fine. My wife gets more beautiful every year. The fear is in seeming old to these students who become a part of my life for four years. The change that I am most afraid of is losing the ability to step into their lives as the chronological distance between us is lengthened. Many of my friends can’t see why the big deal about getting older. We’re all getting older. Our spouses are getting older. Our colleagues are getting older. Our children are getting older. But my students never get older. When I’m 60, they will still be 20. Every year I’ll have less of a clue who they are, what they need, what they’re going through.
I didn’t realize this was going to happen, so it didn’t occur to me to save up for a red sports car. I can’t afford to trade my Honda up to a Harley. What’s a fella to do?


Thursday, January 22, 2004

a list of words

c'est la vie
mein freunde


Wednesday, January 21, 2004

sonnet to a saint

Of beauty, there is none to rival thee
In depth of heart and soul and glowing face
Compassion, care and love doth flow so free
Exemplary of unaffected grace
In loving arms, soft breast, a warm embrace
A strength that holds at bay a childish fear
A persevering prayer that teaches faith
A faith that teaches prayer to persevere
A melody that soars o’er sixty years
From humble heart, eternal song hath sprung
Intermingled grief and joyful tears
A truer tale no one has ever sung
Resounding praise in softer whispers heard
A living story told without a word

© 2004 rodlewis


Tuesday, January 20, 2004

the integrity of integrity, nuance, part 3

Honesty and integrity – two words that go hand in hand. They are often spoken just like they are found in that sentence. If you think long and hard about them, there are just nuances that separate them. They are so close in my mind that I assign the phrase as just another redundant Christianese thoughtless word pair. Honesty and integrity. Mercy and grace. Fellowship and community. Awesome and wonderful. Always and forever.
Lately though, I’ve been seeing a modeled difference in the meanings of these two words. I think I would define integrity differently than honesty. To me, integrity implies adherence to high moral or ethical standards. I guess if the words need to apply to the same scenario, then honesty would be the willingness to admit failure to adhere to these standards. But a serious lowering of the bar occurs when integrity is defined as the ability to admit the failure, rather than the standard that was breached.
When the word integrity is used in this way, one needn’t have any at all. All one needs is honesty. Do as you please, but always admit what you’ve done. Now the difference between these two words is much greater.
There is a serious moral danger in coming to the place in which one has a peace because they’ve got nothing to hide, but they’ve got nothing to hide because nothing causes them shame. A simple act of confession erases conscience. Sure God forgives the sins we confess when we repent, but if we confuse sin with a sin, what are we confessing? Will a confession of each act while we willingly live in sin get us any closer to holiness?
I think the problem boils down to a confusion of confession and repentance. Confession is the honesty part; repentance, the return of integrity by ceasing to do that which was confessed, and begin again to adhere to the standards that were broken.
Hold integrity up for what it is. Its something we want. If we are convinced that all we need to do to have it is admit our lack of it, then there is no goal, no standard, nothing to strive for. We develop an honest immorality and pat our selves on the back for it.


Monday, January 19, 2004

in the name of love

Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
and recognize that there are ties between us, all men and women
living on the earth, ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood


In honor of Dr. King, I've just recorded this sound file and uploaded it if anyone is interested. The link is directly to the mp3. The file is 1.6mb. Hope you enjoy.


Sunday, January 18, 2004

the food court

Last night I dreamt that I worked at a food court. It was a huge one with many different kinds of quick cuisine. Most of us worked there because we could eat for free. Cajun, Chinese, Tex-Mex, Japanese, Italian. But some of us had ventured so far out into the mall giving out samples, that the folks at the counters didn’t even remember that we worked there anymore. Way down at the end of the hallway, next to Parisian, we could barely speak the language as we tried to hand out these tiny tastes. Scuse me, prease… samper?


Saturday, January 17, 2004

explain :: defend :: recant :: apologize?

Why can’t I voice saudade with a gentle spirit like Dave does?
So I feel like I’ve got to clear up some possible misunderstandings from yesterday’s post. First of all, I was responding to C'hrises post and pondering its manifestation within my own environment. My lament was with US – Christians in general – not seminary or Bible College, or theologians’ approach to teaching, etc. My observation was that we depend on others to develop our theology for us, yes even at seminary and bible college.
My reference to “theology” as a history course was not meant to reference theology 101 or 801, but our generic approach to the study of God.
My quip about the missed quiet time for the sake of hermeneutics was meant to depict compartmentalization on our part that causes us to miss that Bible Study and God Time and the Study of Theology are not mutually exclusive. They should never get in the way of one another.
I just want to be one of those who live like I know God. I want to own my theology and my faith. I want to figure out how this is done and somehow bring my students along. My music is a metaphor for this pursuit. Ironic that I teach theory.


Friday, January 16, 2004


Chris's blog brings up a very important issue.
I teach a music theory sequence of 4 semesters. I’ve always tried to teach theory in a way that allowed the students to see that it was directly related to the practice of making music. Sadly, most texts and teachers use terms like “rules” and “conventions”. Most college students are at the height of their desire to break rules and abandon conventions and therefore have a hard time trying to understand concepts that go against their very nature. I’ve been fairly successful in teaching the same material, but with the approach that we are just learning to observe the way something is put together, and then learn to use those materials to construct something of our own. We observe what has worked in the past, and begin to use these things in fresh, innovative ways. Those who are willing cease to study music as theory and begin to practice it as the means of creating and expressing. But many just get upset that my exams can’t be taken on scantron sheets. They get upset that some questions don’t have a right and wrong answer. They get upset that this kind of music is not “bad” and this kind of music is not “good”.

Coincidentally, this all takes place in the context of a Bible College/ Seminary where theology often seems to be a history course. This must not be peculiar to our little community. We teach (or the students learn) “rules” and “conventions” and “traditions”. We study others’ commentary, we memorize for scantron tests, we regurgitate theology that others have been martyred for. But too often its not living. We learn about God, we don’t think about God, or get to know God. Are you Roccoco or Baroque? Arminian or Reformed? I’ve codified what Bach did, if you do that, you’ll be successful. Here is what Calvin taught, if you believe that you’ll be successful.
A red box, a blue box, which box do you want? Tell me teacher, which box do I want? Which box did you choose? Which box did Wesley choose? Which box did John Piper choose?
(Don’t worry that I’m jabbing here. We are discussing these very issues in faculty meetings.)
I didn’t have time to for a quiet meditation today, I had to study for the Theology exam and hermeneutics kept me up all night.
Yes, these are all extremely important parts of the whole. How do we end up not understanding that they all work together to introduce us to God? How do we begin to learn that the point is not to learn what the teacher teaches us, but to use it get to know God?
I don’t believe that most Theologians are historians who simply study what great men of God thought. The theory of bible study. I believe they are great thinkers and God seekers who wish to help us learn to be God thinkers and seekers as well. How do we learn to grow our own faith rather than regurgitating some else’s? How can I be a part of teaching my students to be a generation who really come to know God in their own hearts rather than the theory of God that they’ve memorized?


Thursday, January 15, 2004


The moment I heard this song I thought of you Davidp. This rings of your knowledge and relationship as a God seeker. An effortless balance of awe, fear, reverence, trust, love, submission and friendship. Your namesake understood God in this way too. Observing this in you has been an inspiration for me. I thank you. The lyric is by Terry Scott Taylor.

Holy God break me
Holy Lord take me
Lay Your crushing hand,
Your mighty hand, on me gently

Do what you must and save me
I’m in the dust now raise me
Lord I believe, help my unbelief
Go gently


Wednesday, January 14, 2004

across the years, across the sea, His spirit hovers

I just spoke with my friend on the phone across 5 time zones and a big chunk of Pacific Ocean. Fresh back from a mission trip to the Philippines, you could feel the excitement sizzle the cell towers. Seems that she had visited many places where her parents had worked over 30 years ago. Everywhere she went there were people whose lives had been changed, whose courses had been altered through the work of her parents all those years ago. In a village where her mother had instituted a preschool, many of the alumni (now professionals) of her program had returned for a sort of surprise reunion to say thanks. After a service in which her father spoke, my friend had a 5 hour car ride back to where they were staying. Riding along was a man with whom she started talking. She asked him how he’d come to know Christ. He said that it was through her father who used to walk into the mountains and preach. People would walk hours to hear him bring the message. After several hours in the car, my friend asked him if they could take him home. He said no, there are no roads to my house. They dropped him off at night at a bus station. He would ride another 3 hours and then walk the last 3 hours into the mountains to his home. He had traveled 11 hours to hear the messenger that had brought him to Christ over 30 years earlier. What’s more, he now walks and preaches in the manner in which he was won. My friend met many interesting people in the Philippines, including a part of her parents that quiet, servant, humility had kept hidden all those years. In fact, they were surprised at the mark they had left.
I rejoice with them that God let them see the fruits of His work through them. I rejoice with my friend to have discovered a spiritual legacy that is so humble and effective.
I pray for the walking man that God would give him strong hobbit feet to continue his calling.
Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.


Tuesday, January 13, 2004

argh cont... nuance, part 2.1

Maybe Chris already participated in tossing an answer to my question, before it was asked.

it's not that labels like discipleship, spiritual growth, service, ministry, evangelism, etc." are bad labels in themselves (though they do compartmentalize what should be whole), it's just that Jesus seemed to measure life more in the round and less along a line.

If the Gospel is what makes me who I am, then it will manifest itself in every area of my life. The trick is not work so hard to make my heart obviously about what its supposed to be about, or to make my presentation perfectly fit the proven efficient communication format that has been prescribed in the evangelism literature. The trick is to allow the Gospel to shape everything about me so that it will be consistent when I make music, have conversation, ask and answer questions. It takes the whole of the scripture to begin to understand the Gospel. Shouldn’t it take the whole of our lives to represent it? I am not yet ready to try to create art that is compartmentalized as if I have to work so hard to include and clarify the Gospel in a specific instance. I am ready to work hard at allowing the Gospel to shape me so that I can’t be seen or heard without bearing witness. I want to go there.
Sure I can package a song that will meet the Christian lyric criteria and be tossed aside. Anybody could do that. Just model one that already exists. You don’t have to know or believe. But what about one that speaks from who you are? An effortless expression of Christ inside you. Religious people may not recognize Christ inside you unless you tell them He’s there. They didn’t recognize Him when He was walking around. He didn’t look like what they’d expected. We certainly expect Him to show up in peoples lives and expressions in perfectly prescribed criteria. My experience is that the people who don’t impose the criteria, still recognize Him.


Monday, January 12, 2004

christians, artists and art, argh, nuance, part 2

I had a realization today. One of my continual rants deals with art watered down so as to be understood too easily, or music not being made art because it is afraid to speak in a poetic way that requires thought, pondering, grappling. My biggest justification of this conviction has been the art in Jesus’ parables. Jesus usually veiled the message to cause listeners to deal with it - to discover the depth of what He was saying. We, on the other hand, come up with myriad cutesy ways to paraphrase it so that it just becomes cliché. Many unbelievers immediately recognize the spiel and reject it out of hand. Many Christians think they know the meaning, so they’ve essentially ceased to recognize the depth, or the profundity. Anyway, you know my rant. I’ve pecked that field clean.
Today, I think I got some insight into that thought pattern. Perhaps it’s not only laziness that causes folks to react negatively to veiled, riddled, artist expressions.
On Wednesday, I participated in a telephone conversation with Harold Best about his book, Unceasing Worship. I hadn’t read the book yet, so I wasn’t following all the references, but his points were clear. In this conversation, he stated that having been trained artistically, he had always felt that he should confuse people with his art, and then clear it up later. He said that he’d changed his mind about that now. It seems that he’d justified his conviction just as I have, by noticing that that’s how Jesus did it. But now he feels that approach tends to elevate art to the level of the gospel. Art is not the Gospel. Since Wednesday, I’ve been thinking this through. And I still can’t quite get my mind around it. No, art is not the gospel – but why can’t art contain the gospel. The meanings of Jesus’ parables were sometimes hard to understand if it was understood that they had a meaning. The story itself could have just been a story. It seems to me that since the story is just a vehicle, there is nothing wrong with fashioning our vehicle as artistically as Jesus did. The story contains the Gospel. Shouldn’t we elevate the Gospel to the level of the Gospel? Isn’t the Gospel that we are sharing the same Gospel that Jesus gave us to share? I don’t understand how my modeling Jesus’ methods to tell His story is an example of me elevating my art to the level of the Gospel.
My rant has a part two. If my “art” is only a package for the dissemination of the message that could be spoken more clearly and with less distraction, is that an example of avoiding elevating art? Or is it merely using the Gospel as an excuse to create art. If I can say it more effectively without music, why would I use music? Again, I know I’m dealing with nuances of motivation here. But there is a difference. There is a difference between studying scripture and being moved to sing about it, and looking to the scripture for something to sing about. Is your song the motivation or is the scripture? An artist is compelled to “speak”. He speaks of what is inside him. If he has the greatest message of all inside him, why should he package it in mediocrity?
Help me out here. I’m not claiming to have the final answer, I’m just trying to figure it out.


Sunday, January 11, 2004

status quo? nuance, part 1

Well, I’m not sure how to lead the way here. But I’ll start back at your comment, and toss out some stream of consciousness and see what we can imagine midst the cyber wisps.
What are we talking about when we say, “the Christian Status Quo?”
Are we talking about spiritual complacency? Notre Dame iugis immaturitas? People-centered, self-help, application based, consumerism, insular subculture? Or METHODOLOGY? Well, I seem to have jumped the gun. I’ve already begun to evaluate rather than just ask what areas are we evaluating to determine the status quo.
I’ll try again: Are we evaluating effectiveness in discipleship, spiritual growth, service, ministry, evangelism, etc.? Or are we simply noting the boring way they are currently being done? Again, I realize the subtlety of these differences. But though the line may be thin, it seems inordinately deep. On the one hand, we can see ineffectiveness and conclude that methods aren’t working. Here, methodology needs to be evaluated. On the other hand, we can see methods that don’t appeal to us, and react to them without regard to their purpose or effectiveness. The latter runs the risk of resulting in fresh ineffective methods and procedures because the method becomes the purpose. Doing it differently is why we are doing it. This is empty. The procedure IS the objectivity. I think this is what Charles Swindol meant when he said, “tradition is the living faith of dead Christians and traditionalism is the dead faith of living Christians”.
I fear that because we seem most perplexed by the modern evangelical’s inability to separate methodology from theology, modernism from Christianity, that is one of the areas where we seem to focus our reaction. Therefore, we, in our fresh methodology can get hung up on our methodology just as those to whom we’ve reacted. We focus on how we are doing it differently than they are. We are pleased. Meanwhile, we have the same spiritual weaknesses, the same atrophied limbs of the body as was caused by the old ways.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Obviously (to us) the methods are drying up and are often based on shallow theology. How can we be different in how we understand it, rather than just how we do it? Can it be clear that how we do it, is based on our desire to know, understand and seek more deeply?
What the heck am I trying to say?


Friday, January 09, 2004

what's the question?

I hope gwillie doesn’t mind that I brought his comment up to the blog:

This is a giant irony, because a lifestyle without dangerous risks (including perpetually challenging the "Christian status quo")isn't likely to produce much Jesus-approval. Puke-warm.

Yes, I hope that irony is understood by all, because in the past, I’ve ranted a lot about Christians who spend all their time trying not to do the wrong thing. But obviously there is equal danger in a sense of security by striving to “be” a person that is worthy to be called a Christian. There is only one thing that makes us worthy to be called Christians, Jesus.
Another irony that I sense is that this is a sentiment that many younger pomo Christians are taking with them from the modern mindset. As I surf around many pomo blogs, I begin to wonder if this modern misunderstanding isn’t manifesting itself among postmodern Christians as well. At times, the only difference seems to be what behaviors and morals are giving the false sense of spiritual security.
I remember a discussion that popped up in class a couple years ago when I said something about an unbeliever being a good person. I was speaking of morality but several of my students ardently felt that this was impossible outside of Christ. This bothered me because it stood to reason that if a non-believer could not be moral, then if they knew the person I was talking about, they would consider him a believer.
Today on the highway, I followed a car with an Ichtus with a cross in it on the trunk. All around were bumper stickers, “Mean people suck”; a globe inside of which was written, “love your mother”; etc.; but what really got my attention was, “Trees are the answer.” My first old-fogy reaction was, “if trees are the answer, then why the cross in the middle of that fish?” I’m not stupid, I know what was meant, I understand stewardship, and I would have probably reacted just as sarcastically if he’d had a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus, is the answer.” What I want to know is, are trees the answer to my sin nature? Is Jesus the answer to environmental conservation? These sound like ridiculous questions. But is it really that much of stretch to worry that we’re getting that confused?


Thursday, January 08, 2004


Last night I was reading Real Live Preacher and thought about the possibility that many mainstream Christians don't have crises of faith because they (in themselves) don't believe anything anyway. It seems the number is growing for whom Christianity is a lifestyle, not a faith. The bottom line has changed. So many things that are fruit of knowing Christ become the definition of knowing Christ. Is your lifestyle a result of your faith, or is your confidence a result of your lifestyle? I think the subtle confusion of this is why people feel that Christians expect them to clean it all up before they are worthy to come to Christ. If we judge ourselves based on our behavior, surely we must judge non-believers based on theirs. So moral people come, and they can be so comfortable among other moral people that it doesn’t even occur to them that salvation requires more than morality.
I touched on this in my response to Colson’s article in Christianity Today . Colson cites the practice of abstinence and the opposition to abortion and gay marriage as evidence of the death of post modernism, in other words, a renewed belief in transcendent Truth.
Because cultural etiquette has traditionally held morals in check, society’s embrace of Judeo-Christian values, and family values is used as the measuring stick of spirituality. Not just spirituality, but Christianity.
When our spiritual confidence is based on our behavior and morals, yea, even cultural mores, rather than our faith and communion with Christ, it doesn’t take long for our understanding of Christianity to be based on doing what Christ would approve of rather than being aligned with and knowing Him.


Tuesday, January 06, 2004

kinetic > frenetic > confess > express:

Here I go, pecking the same fields again. At some point, I’m bound to get very torqued that worshiping God has to be so painful.
So I’m sitting here working on Sunday’s worship and realize that some things I vowed never to let get in my way, are knocking at the door of mind. Tempos, intrumentation, style. As I’m working, I’m listening to Vineyard’s “i love your presence” . “All to Jesus I surrender” is so relaxed, slow and reflective. It actually sounds like a song of commitment that expresses something that has taken place in the heart and is being verbalized - or at least something that demands to be dealt with in the heart.
So I guess I should toss in here one of my beefs. Where have we gotten the idea that energy requires motion? Stored energy is of great power. Why have we come to believe that there is nothing worthwhile in a congregational song unless it makes us tap our feet and clap our hands? Of course there is nothing wrong with slow songs, we just need to play them fast. Often during rehearsal or sound checks, I have folks say/ask, you really didn’t mean to play that so slow did you? I sense that people feel that songs shouldn’t be about reflection. The lyric needn’t be about expression, we express our joy with our hands. Invariably, if I bow my head and leave a moment between songs, someone will point out between services that I need to figure out how to “close up that hole” in the sequence. I can say that hole is a part of the sequence, but they’ll say, “it shouldn’t be”. Gotta keep the energy up you know.
I wonder if the bottom line is that we really don’t have time in our busy lives to go to church and leave everything else and really enter a frame of heart that allows us to communion with God. We bring ourselves to show up there, but unless it is wall to wall activity and as fast paced as our lives, our minds will have time to go back to our lives and we’ll be distracted by the things that we wish we were taking care of while we’re “sacrificing” some time for God. It is indicative of the unengaged way we show up in the house of God.
Ok, the CD is still spinning, and now “When I survey” is playing. At this tempo, I think it will still be playing through supper. Is there a balance between the disengaged, get-it-overwith, approach, and the self-indulgent, slow-means-authentic, misunderstanding?
You see why I don’t want tempo to be one of those things that distract me?


Monday, January 05, 2004

The Jesus Concept

Musings on The Return of the King, part V

I know I am going way over board with my return of king musings. I’m really not a geek. Honest. I'm pretty sure this will be the last one. There's no lesson here, just stretching meanings and thinking things through.
I’ve been thinking about a lot of symbolism in the LoTR that I think gets lost because it isn’t a direct counterpart to the real story. There is a lot of conceptual symbolism. I think of different things each time I watch any of the movies or revisit parts of the book. I’ll give you one.
I feel a reference to Matthew 28 in Tolkien’s idea of the age of men. The building of the kingdom is established and turned over to men (people). I won’t beat a dead horse here, because the true story is so simple, but the concepts are scattered among different players in the fantasy. It seems that the elves represent the spiritual, or heaven, at least, immortality. Heretofore, they seem to have been in charge, so to speak. But the time has come for the age of men to be left to carry on the task that has been started. There was a great king in the past who squelched evil, but was unable to conquer it. His descendent is now the one who has overcome it. He marries an elf who has to renounce her immortality, and thus will die, so that man and the spiritual are once again united. The age of men will not be without a helper.


Sunday, January 04, 2004

the irony of the orange juice

Gimli's Fear, part 2.2

Things aren’t always what they seem. New Year's eve, the entire neighborhood was out in the cul-de-sac setting off fireworks and visiting. There was a table set up in the neighbor’s driveway, covered with munchies and beverages. Will, making himself at home, eventually visited the table to quench his thirst. He spied a pitcher of orange juice, poured himself a cup, and commenced to take a “swig”. It wasn’t just orange juice, he learned. Will became very somber the rest of the evening. I think he was surprised that I wasn’t upset with him. But he was upset and worried about what affect his inadvertent consumption might have on him both in the moment and in the future. I explained that his character couldn’t be marred by something that he did unintentionally.

Here is a risk that we have to take in order to be in the world but not of it. If we are willing to associate with people so that they might see that we’re associated with Jesus, we might get a little dirty sometimes. We have to learn to let God guard our hearts and desires and realize that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, because these things come from the heart. It seems to me that we can be defiled by speaking against those to whom we should be going more easily than we can be defiled by being around those same people.

How, then, do we avoid the appearance of evil? What about how things look to our Christian brothers and sisters? We usually hear that "appearance of evil" in this context. We certainly don't want to give the impression to them that we are sinning. But to avoid being around those who need to see the light of Jesus in us to appear clean to our own is not the answer. Somehow we've come to think that the world will see us as set apart if they don't see us. We think that we make a statement whenever we are conspicuously absent from an event at which they are present. But they can't see us not sinning unless they can see us. If we claim that greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world, why are we so sure that he that is in the world will nab us as soon as we step out? I'm not saying that we should go around making everyone think we're bad. But we've got to stop using it as an excuse for failing to follow Christ's example. In order for Jesus to be a light in the darkness, He had to go into the darkness. He was constantly being accused of evil by the religious people. But don't you think that the sinners with whom He associated noticed the difference in Him?

The next morning when Will told Allison about his swig, he made an interesting observation. “It’s ironic dad (yes, he understands irony), O’Doul’s looks like beer but is not alcoholic, but my swig looked like orange juice, but WAS alcoholic.” How do we discern what things appear bad but are harmless and what things appear harmless but will ruin us? How do we overcome our fear of situations that shouldn’t affect us but hamper our calling? How do we avoid being overcome by the things that don’t even raise an eyebrow, but will gnaw away at us unnoticeably until we are morally bereft?

I would never send my child into a dangerous social situation alone. It is important that I be there to help him. Jesus does not send us into the world alone. He is there with us. His Holy Spirit is there to fill us and allow us to impact our world while guarding us against it. Jesus, Himself, prayed for us, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one… As You sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”


Saturday, January 03, 2004

intentional and accompanied

Musings on The Return of The King, part 2.1

A bit more about the Paths of the Dead…
The animals are restless and antsy , Gimli, of all people, balks at going underground. But that is about the extent of the fear and apprehension portrayed in the movie. In the book, Gimli is terrified. He is so afraid that he thinks if he can’t escape immediately, he will turn and run back into the shadows that are the source of all his fears. Reading the book, I conjured the image of the Cowardly Lion turning and bolting down the corridor and diving out the window. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. We as Christians often become so frightened of the world that it breaks us and we become the very thing that frightens us.
The irony in the story is that Gimli was there with the company to summon those of whom he was afraid to follow Aragorn. While in their midst, he was terrified of them. They were following Aragorn, and so as long as Gimli stayed with Aragorn, he was safe. Gimli had to remember why he came. If he had lost focus, and turned and run, he would have been destroyed because the dead were devoted to Aragorn. Only by association with him was the whole company kept safe.
If we go into the shadows with the king, for his purposes, he will keep us. If we go alone, or become so afraid that we forget our assignment, we will be swallowed.


Friday, January 02, 2004

transparent struggle

Musings on The Return of the King, part IV

In the movie, Frodo’s struggle once inside Mordor, is nothing compared to the book. In the book, he quickly wastes away and becomes ill, weak, emaciated. His burden is greater and greater until it is almost unbearable. Inside Mount Doom, his character falters in the book just as in the movie, but it is more disappointing in the movie because he had struggled less up to that point. We are left to realize that there are multiple conflicts at work here and that the ring would have won over Frodo had it not already won over Gollum. It was Gollum’s greed that saved Frodo from the same fate. It seems that in the end, Frodo wasn’t strong enough to complete his task. This shouldn’t be surprising as we are forewarned way back in the first book when Gandalf tells us that even Gollum may have something yet to do. I wish that the movie had portrayed Frodo’s struggle more strongly.
No doubt there is plenty to contemplate about Frodo’s refusal to destroy the ring, but what I’m left to contemplate is why it bothered me in the movie but not in the book. Having understood the struggle that Frodo was enduring in the book, I was not surprised at his failure. I was compassionate and glad that Gollum was there. Frodo’s struggle was hidden in the movie, or at least not successfully shown. I was surprised that he stumbled and let down.
I am struck at the realization of our need for strength, encouragement and support of those around us, and at the necessity that we be real, transparent, and authentic. Why are we so blown away when one of our own stumbles, especially a conspicuous Christian leader or celebrity? We are not willing to be human with one another. We are not willing to share our struggles, to be held accountable. So many major tumbles could be prevented by our receiving help back at the stubbed toe. We hide and do not address our weaknesses and we appear to be strong. But our hidden weaknesses overtake us and we are left to fall with no one to catch us, because no one sees it coming. We damage the cause because we are exposed as the opposite of what we’ve preached rather than as one who knows of what he speaks because, he too struggles and is dependent on grace. Authenticity and transparency breed trust and kill hypocrisy. A life is modeled that is inviting to other strugglers because God’s grace is made evident and attainable.


Thursday, January 01, 2004

the fellowship remains

Musings on The Return of the King, part III

I was struck by the idea that once separated, Frodo and Sam had no knowledge of the timing of events and deeds that needed to take place in order for them to complete their task. The rest of the fellowship follow leads on faith, but are never sure what or why. Even Gandalf seems to have direction only step by step.

It is enjoyable and encouraging to be living outside of time during the movie, and to be able to see what things are occurring around middle earth that all play together for a common good. During most of the movie, the fellowship is scattered by various events. Sam and Frodo are together, Merry and Pippen get separated; Pippen is aligned with Denethor and Merry with Théoden , Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are separated from Gandalf and eventually from the Rohirrim because they are to counter the attack from the river. Théoden is not even aware of that threat. Frodo can not cross the plain to Mount Doom without Aragorn’s diversion. Aragorn can’t survive the diversion unless Frodo reaches Mount Doom. Neither know of how they are dependent on one another. We are so informed that we forget by the end that Frodo hasn’t known that Gandalf is not dead.
There is no way that everything could have fallen into place had the fellowship remained physically together. Even though separated and seemingly chaotic all moves are guided, and at the end Gandalf pronounces the end of the fellowship as he and Frodo leave middle earth. The implication is that the fellowship remained as they were all separately united for a common goal, and each role was necessary for the accomplished task.

We often desire to be with someone to participate or help them with something in which we truly believe, or to share a particular burden. So often, our place is elsewhere and we resolve to be uninvolved despite our desires. But in real life, we can’t live outside of time. Usually we have no idea how the events in our own lives are directly related to events elsewhere that we don’t even know about. We wonder and worry and pray. We hope that our prayers will strengthen our friends in our absence. Do we ever consider how their prayers are affecting our lives and our lives in turn are affecting theirs? Not just prayers, but the results of those prayers on both sides of the equation. I can think of several specific ways that I can influence things right here that can have a direct effect on the ministry of specific friends that are far away. I can also think of specific ways that they can directly influence my ministry here. I don’t need to spell these things out, but I’m greatly encouraged by this little revelation. I am given more specific direction, strengthened resolve to pray and to act. I can be a vehicle for kingdom work to be accomplished, both here and abroad.
How’s it going Texas?