You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Rereading a book that contains so much wit and wisdom like GK Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” is a return to the feet of a great teacher. In it, he talks about the contradictory remarks non- believers use to try to discredit Christianity. One example noted is that it produces weak people fixated on a fantasy land and that it is also a fierce religion that is responsible for all the world’s major wars. For more, see the chapter titled, “The Paradoxes Of Christianity.”

Basically, those opposed to Christianity (they’re generally in favor of their view of J) are trying to have it both ways, in order that we see that Christianity is wrong and/or false in all ways at all times. Of course that’s not true in any way at any time. J’s life and death gives us purpose in all things and at all times and behind that purpose is a will and intent.

As I’m prone to digress, or rather, deviate into another thought, I’m thinking now about having it both ways in my life. I want to be blessed, but I don’t want to change anything in my own life. Not that God’s blessings are directly linked to our good deeds because obviously they’re not. But I want them to be. If I “overcome evil with good,” as Paul the Apostle writes in his epistle to the Romans, then surely I deserve a reward, or maybe a spiritual pat-on-the-back, so to speak, whatever that looks/feels like. I do tend to get caught up in the works producing rewards mindset, especially when I feel like lifeis kicking the crap out me.

Of course, it’s not about my having it both ways, deserving or receiving rewards, overcoming evil, or even receiving an unexpected blessing. It’s about the hardest thing of all, for me anyway, it’s about waking up in the morning and thanking J for the day and feeling grateful for it even or especially because I don’t feel grateful for it. I imagine J says to me on those days what Robin said to Batman in my favorite Batman reboot, “Batman Forever,” “You have a real gratitude problem.” And if I’m honest, I have to respond, “you’re right, sir.”

   I’m going to allow myself one last digression or deviation in an attempt to sort this out. How can I have it both ways in my life? I can choose to continue my fight to overcome the evil that surrounds me, and I can thumb my nose at life/evil/Satan when I’m getting beat up and respond “sorry, dude, I’m going to keep saying I’m grateful until I feel it.” Living to fight another day isn’t about survival but winning a battle I thought I had lost. I’m here aren’t I? I’ve survived to write about the experience, and I’m grateful for that.

Wonder

High and higher that is what you are to me, Lord, God, and Savior. Not aloof but a lifeline. The sun shines, the warm winds blow and joy sits beside me for a little while.

Let go. Large words like analyzation destroy the moment. The lion roaring waits in anger to devour the moment. Peace comes in like a flood but behind it waits sharpened fangs and claws. So much hate stalks the world we live in. Joy brings rest but hate does not rest for fear it will be forgotten. Perhaps that’s what the dragon fears most from Man and God, the words “depart from me, I never knew you.”

Now I think I know why praise of the one who started it all releases Joy and her sisters Faith, Hope, and Grace from their silent prisons. Adventure. “Run don’t walk/ climb don’t lie down,”

I feel my spirit cry out to flesh and bones silently wanting more than TV and late night snacks can offer. Live. Live in the moment. The oasis inside the swirling battles between Joy and the dragon. No wonder it, no wait, wonder at it all. Wonder at the honor and attention each soul deserves. And wonder at the joy and fury the words “holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty” command from both the willing and the unwilling.”

 

I’m Still Here

“I need a personal God, well no actually, I need God to be more personal, well no actually, I need God to feel more personal than he has lately.”

I just bought a tee shirt from a line of shirts that feature crosses in various forms mixed in creatively with other images. You wouldn’t necessarily know they were “Christian shirts” if not for the one word sideways on the shirts. The word on this particular shirt is “redemption.” One word, the right word, can carry a lot of power. Especially if that word is on your mind or if J wants that word to be on your mind.

I haven’t thought much about redemption lately. I get the word. J’s blood spilled on the cross redeemed and continues to redeem us. I get that, and I’m grateful for it. I would much rather be mentioned in the Book of Life than be in a hand basket wondering where I’m heading. But that’s not what I’m hearing today. Whether I realized it or not, I’ve been looking for redemption. Surely my run of luck, or lack thereof, is due to bad karma or more accurately sin in my life. OK, I’ll just say it, I’ve had a hard time not feeling like I’m being punished. I have been looking for redemption, and an end to my run of trials or at a least break from them, or even a hint that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train.

Today is a freezing, rainy late winter day in early March. The birds of summer are still on vacation and contemplation appears more relevant than revelation. No pat answers this late afternoon just something to think about. Redemption. I need to feel it more than explain it. Maybe the second most important word right now is “focus.”

Focus on redemption rather than wondering why I need to feel redeemed, which isn’t accurate anyway in the very possible sense that what I’m really looking for is to be justified as much as feeling the “punishment” will end, and my being restored, whatever that means.

*****

Now, I’m feeling a little selfish. I’ve been wallowing in self pity and that really gets one nowhere. What does the word “redemption” look like right now and what is it trying to tell me? The Christian life is not only a journey but a war. Self pity is a sort of self emasculation that doesn’t do me any good. “It doesn’t matter how hard you can hit. What matters is how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. (paraphrase from the movie Rocky Balboa).” Pressing forward when there isn’t a clear reason to do so at all is what I need to do everyday. That will be a victory in and of itself.

 

 

Accomplish. . . What?

The old farmer smiled and then laughed loudly, throwing his hands up in the air almost as if he were praising something.                                                                                                           “Of course, of course,” he laughed again. “To think, to search, to know!” Again, I involuntarily stepped back.                                                                                                                    “Know what?”, I asked. I was afraid now. I got the feeling that something was going to be asked of me. Something I might not be able to accomplish.

 

The protagonist in this story, The Journey Into Know, has recently been released from a nightmare and is “out for a walk” on the countryside enjoying the day, for the first time in a long while, just for itself. His encounter with the old farmer and the journey he’s about to embark on fills him with fear. And maybe just a little bit of annoyance. Times of refreshment in the Spirit are rare and don’t last very long, so we want them to last as long as possible.

But back to the first part, I know as a child of God, I have something to accomplish. Some days, I’m sure of what that is, other days, I wonder (and worry) if I don’t. Still more, if I don’t miss out on the opportunity will I be strong or wise enough to do what I’ve been called to do by the One (J) who took great care to not only save me but give me that task or purpose? That “journey to know” is a journey that at times scares me and other times thrills and honors me.

I’ve had some rough years lately, having my job taken away from me and losing my house just to name a few things. Since then, I’ve come to live by this maxim, “I’ve got to walk the path I’m on.” I’ve referred to that path as one through the thick of an imposing wilderness a lot lately. It feels the same on most days, though the nuances of challenges and fears keep it interesting, for lack of a better way of putting it. I do know that somewhere down this path, I will know what this journey is supposed to teach me, and that “purpose” I struggle to find will be along that path as well. So, I continue to walk at the least knowing that something bigger than me is waiting for me to reach that destination or moment. In my moments of clarity, I remember that this will all make sense at the end of the journey.

 

 

 

Nature’s Jubilee

“Past Labor Day into Oktoberfest Fest, past All Hallow’s Eve into All Saint’s Day, the frivolity of harvest gives way to the coming hibernation of Mother Earth. It’s the time of my late year New Year’s resolution: that is, to put on the brakes long enough to watch the annual parade of colors processional, the fanfare celebrating a time of Jubilee about to come to a land worn from growing, feeding, and sustaining the lives of its inhabitants.

The Spirit walks along the park, too, singing a quiet lullaby: “rest now my little ones and close your eyes. I will guard you while you sleep. Though you die now for a time, I’ll wake you in the spring with the tears I weep.’”

Fall is sneaking up on me again. There is a certain joy in watching the changing of the colors of nature, a changing of the guard if you will. It slows down the pace of my day for a few moments, and I’m able to forget that life is passing by much too fast for me. But usually, I miss it and feel the disappointment of losing out on the opportunity to enjoy the experience, the slowing down of the rush and crush of life.

Meanwhile, nature dies again so it can be reborn in the spring. It becomes quiet even if its inhabitants don’t follow suit. And I think maybe that’s why I hate missing it happen. I desperately need that rest, so I can return again to the fray renewed and ready to resume the fight. I know the moment will come when the quiet born of a snow cloaked neighborhood below the expanse of the clear, evening sky will share with me a momentary joy. That is, until the reality of the bitter cold drives me inside to the safe haven of comforters and fireplaces.

A look back in the Old Testament reminds me that God ordered ancient Israel to celebrate a year of Jubilee every 50 years where, among other things, the land was to be given rest and slaves were to be set free. It could be said that God gives nature a few months of Jubilee every winter so that it can come back strong in the spring to do what it was created to do. It’s also why He commanded the Israelites to reserve a day of complete rest for themselves each weak.

I’m looking outside now at the trees that have not yet begun to lose this year’s clothing, though the fading has slightly begun to occur already, waiting for the chance to share in its Jubilee before the air becomes too cold, and I lose the chance to embrace the moment. If I am vigilant, I will remain atop the watchtower, ready and waiting to share with nature the joy of lying down for a much needed rest.

 

 

The Fog, The Breakthrough, And The Deeper Magic

These days, I barely have the time to think, pray, dream, relax, or anything else that makes my life feel meaningful. It’s times like these when life seems so repetitious and each new day looks like the previous one and tomorrow looks like today, looking like yesterday that a fog seems to envelop me. Forget the forest for the trees, I want to see more than just the few feet in front of me. I’ve gone through times like these before and J has always “released me” in what seemed like a miraculous moment. Of course, the above statement isn’t totally true, I know it’s a matter of finding time in the middle of the mental and spiritual oppression to seek out J, or more rather, see where he is in the fog. Because he is there.

Yes, there is a formula, so to speak: prayer, time in the Word, fellowship, and somehow remembering to “rejoice in the day that the Lord has made” even or especially when I don’t feel like I am able. But it isn’t magic. It isn’t just Satan that likes worn out, ineffective Christians, the world does, too. However, there is a weapon I’ve found, possibly part of what CS Lewis meant by the “deeper magic,” in the “Chronicles of Narnia” series of books, that has been given to me. J broke life down into two simple commands, the second of which he mentions several times, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

J’s command, when I apply it in my life, gives me less to time to wallow in my own frustrations and grief. It’s a hard weapon to pick up and wield when I can’t see very far in front of me, but when I fight back I ultimately feel better about myself. And that is sufficient for the day.

 

 

 

A Psalm Of May

Let the red, let the yellow, blue and green streams of hope promise lavender sunsets. I will walk along the river’s muddy shores hearing low whispers, “peace, peace, peace.” I will walk below jet gray skyscrapers that prick the passing elephant pastel clouds.

The word on the streets rushes, hushes rips, lifts, chills, thrills, bends, rends, sends the eyes upward! Back then forth. Streets then alleys then, gone. Fear, no euphoria. Half- known, unknown. The rush. The wonder. The whoosh of mid- May. Hints of re- birthing showers.

Word, inhaled that past moment, thrusts back through vocal chords exhales: joy. Timeless moment. Alone, not alone. Walking along with the thousand voice choir singing, pleading with unconscious thoughts.

The rocks cried out, “peace like blue between clouds.” Love bent beautiful as yellow sunflower petals, blue- green flowing blades spread across great plains toward that unpicked cherry which descends to ascend. To that end I walk. Not to the sunset but to the sunrise. Each song passed in, passed out.

 

 

Legacy

Funny how some bands or writers have a knack for saying something you’re thinking about or needing to hear. Stryper is a band that often fills that role for me. I just heard one of their new songs “Legacy” online. I wonder what mine would be if J took me home today? Legacy is one of those tricky words. Wanting to leave a legacy means wanting to leave a lasting impression on others. But doesn’t that mean wanting to feel more important than the next guy? It reminds of me of a question I like to think I made up but probably heard somewhere, “can a humble person know that he or she is humble?”

Much like the old joke, “everyone serves as an example, even if it’s just a bad one.” We all leave our own legacies. “Nice guys finish last” but they are remembered with fondness and serve as examples to those who were affected by their kindness and compassion. They are the often nameless standard bearers we try to emulate in our own lives and pass on to others. Where I’m heading with this is back to J’s command to “love others as we love ourselves.” J always put (and puts) our needs before his. That’s one of the reasons the world remembers him even if just merely as a great man, though he was and is a great deal more than that and that is more important than the fawning skeptics realize.

Speaking of writers, CS Lewis is one who often whispers in my ear. I’m reminded of what he wrote near the end of his great essay, The Weight Of Glory, “everyone we meet we help send to heaven or help send to hell.” I know which side of this story I want to be on. No matter what life throws at me, and that’s been quite a bit these past seven years, I’m grateful that despite how I’m feeling moment to moment, day to day, the Holy Spirit still spurs in me the desire to love others like I love myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Of Boredom And Nightmares

Sometimes, rereading things I’ve already written, whether it is an essay, a blog, a lyric, a book, or a poem reminds me of something I haven’t thought about in awhile. It helps me to remember what I felt, especially on days like this when I’m not feeling anything in particular. So, here goes, time to pull out an old book, turn to a random page and see what comes of it.

“In my dreams continual, point unsung, I walked nameless streets lined with gray. In my dreams continual, never ending, streets lined with gray. For days on end, on end, the nameless streets. For days on end, the nameless streets. I walked the streets lined gray. Ever? No, never an end. Just the gray.”

I remember vividly what I was going for: trying to creatively describe the frustration of a journey that did not appear to have a destination. It helps to know, or at least feel like, you know where you’re heading.

Purpose. That’s a word that has haunted me my entire adult life. Making money isn’t enough. Being the “nice guy” isn’t enough. I want to feel like I’m making a real difference in people’s lives, whether it’s through my writings or my interactions with people on a daily basis. When I feel like that isn’t happening, well, the paragraph above is a pretty accurate description of how I’m feeling and no well meaning platitude or Bible verse emailed by a friend or family member is going to help.

The excerpt is early on in a chapter from a fantasy novella titled, “I Awoke From A Dream,” but probably should be called, “I Awoke From A Nightmare.” In this early chapter of The Journey Into Know, the protagonist is suddenly released from his prison by the wind, which allegorically speaking, represents the Holy Spirit. When the wind blows, good things happen to him and the created world in general. I need the Wind to blow through me and “blow out” the things that have covered my life like a dense fog, impairing my ability to see my journey clearly now as much as ever.

“Something like the wind pulled the veil covering my eyes and in that instant I watched the silky, gray cover vanish delicately from my sight. In two steps I stopped, stunned. I had been walking. For how long only creation knew. For me, it was all a nightmare walking. This new reality felt more real than the time I had lost, a time spent in oblivion.”

The wind will lead the man on a journey of personal discovery and purpose.

Amen, Lord, let it be so.

 

 

The Lord Is Out There Somewhere

A wolf howls loudly through the silent, mid- winter night while pangs of loneliness stir my soul to join him in his cries up to the foreboding sky. The Lord is out there somewhere in the dark of night, I know because I can feel the Spirit stir through leafless trees and matchless stars.

The Holy Ghost whispers and walks through the sleeping forest outside, a place my soul both longs and fears to go, beckoning it to come and reside and fight in the land where battle fronts call out for the hero in our hearts. Stir, I say to my blood run cold, the wolf won’t wait forever.

The Lord leads him on through the night, through barren hill tops and forest paths on to something more, the cause, the fight, the reason to hold its head up high again. The Lord, he resides somewhere in the night. Spirit, draw the cover from my soul turn it from fear to joy in promise leading from pit to well- spring to whole.

This became a song and can be found most digital outlets and on YouTube under Gregor Southard “Art Before Artist.”