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John the Prophet

June 28, 2008 Leave a comment

Mayer, that is. And prophetic in that many things on his last album just seem, well, true. Or at least true for me. I posted here already about one of the songs. I could just as truly have written some of the lyrics. And by written I mean they would have been just as honest though perhaps not as eloquent. A smattering:

On religion, in reference to my previous post:

belief is a beautiful armor
and makes for the heaviest sword
like punching underwater
you never can hit who you’re trying for

we’re never gonna win the world
we’re never gonna stop the war
we’re never gonna beat this
if belief is what we’re fighting for

On integrity:

Gravity
Wants to bring me down
I’ve never known what makes this man
With all the love that this heart can stand
Dream of ways to throw it all away

Oh gravity, stay the hell away from me
And gravity has taken better men than me
How can that be?

Just keep me where the light is

On loss:

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
the giving up is the hardest part

On persistence and the journey:

How did they find me here?
What do they want from me?
All of this vultures hiding right outside my door
I hear them whispering
They’re trying to ride it out
Cause they’ve never gone this long without a kill before

Down to the wire
I wanted water but I walk through the fire
If this is what it takes to take me even higher
And I’ll come through like I do
When the world keeps testing me, testing me, testing me

And then the one I’m feeling today:

You know, it’s nothing new
Bad news never had good timing
But, then your circle of friends
Will defend the silver lining

Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No, it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good

I know it’s good

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The New Holy Wars

June 27, 2008 1 comment

I can say what I will about the high profile aspects of Christianity that condemn, lobby, argue, assert, belittle, and otherwise fight against the world of humans outside the subcultural time capsule of Christian religiosity. I can disapprove, disagree, or disavow. I can amend my list of disclaimers to my faith which sometimes seems much longer than the content itself. But in the end in my own way I am fighting too. Resisting, dodging, distancing, keeping watch for the line before judging. So how’s one who calls himself a Christian in the basic sense of the word, a follower of Christ, not to become entangled by the holy war against the atheists, secular humanists, pagans, and otherwise “not us”-es in the arena populated by those who by their words and actions belittle, demean and otherwise redefine the term Christian into a sociopolitical platform, a free get-out-of-jail/reality appelation, a self-created cultural caste from which everyone else is…down there?

And why is a question like this even necessary?

You could say love is the answer, the antithesis to war, that ignoring the fight and acting and responding through compassion rather than compatriotism disempowers the vitriolic arguments. But you can’t ignore the mess the fight has made, the carnage of the modern Crusades of words and culture that everyone exposed to it, Christian or not, has to at some point reckon with. And living a life of love towards others is made that much more complicated by having to navigate the morass of unlove.

I like these people’s thoughts on the matter:

A letter, written to a friend living in poverty, composed surprisingly enough for a sermon competition (“10 sermons you’d never hear in church”), and which perhaps not so surprisingly was awarded first place.

A tribute by a former pastor to George Carlin, which incidentally prompted a deluge of objections and flaming responses from the Christian camp, and his subsequent response.

Reflections by a current pastor and former atheist on a recent Christian radio interview.

The title of the latter seems to define the gap well: Do battle with the world around us? Or engage it? A question I imagine will endure.

One Fine Mess

June 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Lately there’s this knot in my stomach, more than a knot lately, more like the stunted heart of a tree sitting on my intestines and turning the food I eat to acid. Or a spaghetti monster, though not flying, which started as a few strands and has multiplied and expanded to become a seething mess of inextricable cords in my belly. It’s stress, I know, it’s been growing steadily over months and probably years. It’s less deniable or escapable lately and it’s affecting me physically. I can go a day without eating much and not think much of it – sometimes not even enjoy what I do eat. Pleasure is harder to feel, physical pleasure more elusive. I remember feeling this in college for a time, something similar. And I remember more the release from it, the coming out on the other side that made it all feel better, and continued to get better still. I want that again.

I know why it’s there, the circumstances that carried me to this point. Most of those circumstances have passed now, not as a gallstone but as someone on the street whom you’ve been trying to overtake and who turns out to be someone else. And you may think the settling of the great unsettled questions of four years would produce that same release, the space to breathe again and get on with living. But instead it’s brought the stress to a head, uncovered the gaping holes, undistracted me from what’s really always been there. The grain of sand at the center of this antipearl, or grains probably, are the unanswered prayers of three years, the residue of the monuments of utter hope and expansive vision eroded bit by bit by the years of futility and disappointment to a faint layer of silt on a rock. Unless a seed dies, so they say, but I throw around words I hardly understand. Dying hurts, if that’s what it is. And if it’s living, then the greatest dreams of the men of centuries are delusions and the hope I have left is my capacity for imagination.

Who can untangle this mess? I am a futile team building game, a tangled mesh of crossed arms and clasped hands with no one’s eyes open and everyone stepping over each other into more knots. Every bit I can manage to pull away and regard with some clarity only connects inextricably to every other bit, all seething around a nebulous core which I think has something to do with God. Or not.

I used the word hope earlier, and some days I’m surprised it’s still there. Job’s wife counseled him to curse God and die. No one has said that to me so far, but no one has provided any answers either. Perhaps once I approach my fortieth chapter the skies will open for me too. At least I don’t have a chorus of counselors advising me to swap my suffering for a generous portion of guilt and self-loathing. Not that those don’t come into play here. Guilt feeds it. When I take myself out of the game somehow, when I saunter off the field and look for the gate to the bleachers, I feel it. When I cross a line, I feel it, it feeds the mass, and confession usually only gets me back to zero sum. But it helps, no doubt. As if you could unfeed the Blob to a certain point. But thereafter it gets no smaller.

I was talking about hope though. It’s insensible that hope is still present in this. Is it the last throes of dying optimism? I guess we’ll see. But it’s there, strung along throughout the unfolding days, greater in measure when I apply it to someone else, transformative even, but for me a whisper in the back of my mind, a floor above the no man’s land of the heart. Something without which I would quite easily have become a different person by now.

Gravity / has taken better men than me / how can that be? / just keep me where the light is

God Bless My SUV

June 21, 2008 Leave a comment

Our marathon of visitations (in the physical sense, not the supernatural, though that would make for a much more interesting post) is coming to an end. Tomorrow we leave for home again, after a weekend away after a week hosting a friend after a weekend hosting a bunch of family after a week of hosting other family, after a weekend of moving in after a week and a half of painting. And this week we don’t have any visitors, or anywhere to go but where we want to. Our time is our own again, to use in the evenings and weekends as we’d like to. And there was a great sigh of relief from everyone in our household, down to the lately-neglected fish.

I read lately about a movement that originated in Maryland where a local activist has begun organized prayers at gas stations in the area, to ask God to lower gas prices. It caught on quickly and has gathered international attention. It seems well-intentioned enough, with the claim being to turn to God in our problems and ask Him to intervene when the situation seems to be overwhelming. And in the realm of public Christianity in America it’s better than much of what’s out there, being a public display of personal faith through group prayer rather than, say, street preachers, Christian politicians, televangelists, webevangelists, or outspoken revivalists.

I know, it’s not hard to beat the bar most of those guys set. But I’m reaching here for something positive to say about this movement to offset what I really think about it all, so perhaps it might not end up sounding like a rant. Because really, if you’re going to pick something to pray publicly about…gas prices? This is what is most important to put in public effort towards? The object of prayer here I suppose more or less undercuts any positive aspect I could dig up on the idea anyway.

Michael Spenser, my blogging hero of late, makes the point more eloquently that I think I can manage right now:

So somewhere a homeless man or a family struggling to put food on the table will see a group of middle class suburban Christians gathered around a gas pump, praying that God will have mercy and get things back to where we can all go about our business. I don’t have to spend much time asking if Jesus would join such a prayer meeting.

Perhaps rising gas prices isn’t something God is concerned about. Perhaps instead it’s something He’s orchestrated if you will, to invite a more sober reckoning of what our priorities are. The Old Testament is full of stories of prophets delivering messages to Israel to give up worshiping at the altars of other gods and return to devotion to the one God. I can’t avoid the symbolism here where rising oil prices have driven Christians to pray at gas pumps.

There’s more I think to this parallel than I have the brain power to delve into at this hour, but the lines are open. I even had a snappy ending in my head just now, but when I reached back for it it had already fizzled. Must go to sleep now.

No Pot-bellied Pigs For Me Today

June 15, 2008 1 comment

I was only slightly disappointed not to discover any Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs in my house when we returned this evening, a feeling that quickly dispersed when I discovered instead a new surround speaker system installed in our family room. Such a sneaky schemey wonderful wife (and friends) I have. I turned Enchanted up past 11 the first chance I got because, number one it was in the DVD player already and number two hey, it’s surround sound!

We watched the Red Sox roll over the Reds at Great American 9-0 this afternoon, another highlight of my highlight-filled Father’s Day. Four homers and lots of peanuts, cotton candy, ballpark franks and oh yeah, free tickets. What’s not to love? And as my father pointed out on the phone in the top of the 6th, a game like that at Fenway would have run us a few hundred bucks before we even entered the stadium. Crazy. On our drive home I asked the kids, “Who went to a baseball game today?”

“Me!”

“Who saw the Red Sox?”

“Me!”

“Who saw the Red Sox hit the ball?”

“Everyone!”

True enough. A Father’s Day for the books already and it’s only 6pm.

Todd Bentley and the Lakeland Revival

June 12, 2008 3 comments

It’s been a busy week at our household. The play set is only about halfway there, we have childproofing to do, toys to organize, ceiling fans to install, a computer and desk to set up, and this other little project called a garage to clean. Busy week.

I found this last week on one of Michael Spencer‘s blogs in regard to the much debated revivals in Lakeland, Florida. It’s an interesting commentary on Todd Bentley, the character at the center of the sensation. I’ve had an experience with Todd Bentley himself, which I mentioned in the comments.

We had Todd Bentley speak at an evening service at a church in Boston I was a part of 5 or 6 years ago and not only was it extraordinarily uncomfortable, it required a lot of decompressing and dialogue afterward among leaders and between leaders and those they led. In my observation he was flashy, loud and just plain over the top. Not much like Jesus at all. More like a despot of a dying country. A good friend of mine thought she’d swallow her judgments and go up to be “ministered to”. She came back feeling more manhandled than anything. “Shoved” was the word she used. Another disturbing aspect of his show was how he treated his father who was assisting him, barking orders and speaking of him like a lost puppy he had saved. Very discomforting.

I’ll be back with some more original posting when the sawdust clears.

You Gotta Love Network Marketing

June 5, 2008 1 comment

I’ve been offlining 15 or 20 tapes worth of interviews with participants in a network marketing company and besides being first annoyed, then a little creeped out, I’ve found a few quotes that standing alone just make me stop and say….excuse me? Granted I haven’t done my research (nor do I care to), so no knocks here to my readers who are avid fans of or participants in network marketing. But for instance:

“If you have to take out an equity loan, be there. It’s that important.” [in reference to a training meeting]

“I don’t even remember what the point of the talk was, but I remember just going full steam ahead.”

“Stop thinking and just do it.”

and the one that made me squirm:

“Between God and [this company] it’s going to happen.”

Are Christians more prone to participating in these sorts of groups? This company, and some others I’ve heard of, are supposedly “Christian-based” in some way. Many of the interviewees are slipping Christianese into their references to the company (“saved me”, “a blessing”, “got me out of bondage”, and so on). Maybe it’s just the way they talk anyway, or maybe somehow the company resembles Jesus for them. Or vice versa. I don’t know.

Again not a knock on these companies or those who participate. I have friends who are involved in one of these and are loving it – and it seems to be working well for them. I’ve just had an inordinate dose of back-to-back-to-back-to-infinity quotes (I’m up to 520 quotes and not quite halfway through) by participants which ultimately all sound the same. I’m recording it in a spreadsheet and most times I could type a few words and autofill what someone earlier already said if I wanted and I wouldn’t miss much content.

Ah, dear. back I go again. I suppose I may edit this as I go and add more exceptional quotes to my list.

[EDIT] This person is speaking entirely in Spanish, and with what little I know of western languages I can still pick out the buzzwords I’ve been hearing all week. Does the autofill function in Excel have a translation feature?

[EDIT] Here’s a very common one: “There’s no reason I can’t have what I want and this business can provide that for me.” Isn’t that just America for you.

[EDIT] and again: “I saw the light.”

[EDIT] FInally, a balanced viewpoint: “[This company] can’t fulfill your dreams but it’s certainly an avenue to do so.”

[EDIT] and an unfortunate one: “I’m doing this business because my husband’s vasectomy failed.” Ouch.