Black, White and God

“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

So just try harder?

Black is black and white is white. Good and evil. Sure, you have the “anti-hero” and “necessary evils” and moral shades of gray that color the plots of books and movies and life. Things can get so screwed-down (as in tightened) and also screwed-up that you are hard-pressed to know which way is which. But Jesus is speaking in the above verse of a standard of living that, while he calls it our own (“except your righteousness…”), must be received from God in order for it to mean anything. Because I can’t muster the righteousness required to enter the “Kingdom of Heaven” on my own.

“Jesus answered and said unto him,” (He’s talking to Nicodemus), “Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man (or woman) be born again, [they] cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

So after we receive Jesus–believing that His death and resurrection paid for our sins–then comes the hard and practical work of overhauling our insides and with His help, attuning our minds to a way of thinking that’s in line with Him. Because outer morality essentially means nothing when the person exhibiting it has a mind to do their own thing in spite of the way they behave. They’re fooling everyone but God.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) This is God speaking. It’s the kind of proclamation that’s intended to get us to give up. Not to give up on believing in God and that He’s more real than we, no. It’s the kind of proclamation that is intended to get us to cease striving on our own to reach the standard of holiness that ends in simply erasing our fears about death and hell. Jesus did that already. And with His resurrection the gift of eternal life and also life “more abundantly” (John 10:10) is ours for the asking. “Please” and “thank-You” work wonders with God. He’s standing by to give it to you.

How many shades of gray?

“Non-conformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of the social animal.” Aldo Leopold, from his book The Sand County Almanac.

I’d have to agree with him but only up to a certain point. Because self-actualization without God is, in my opinion, impossible. It’s more than simple non-conformity. When we choose to want to “be ourselves” and yet the motive to do so stems from our disdain for society-at-large, we aren’t vaulting from the highest point available to us. “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud He knoweth afar off.” (Psalm 139:6) God is the one who made me. Yes, I have inklings of dreams and desires. Things I’d like to do and see done. But unless I align myself with God and His overarching will, I will never become the fullest version of myself. When my parents divorced I went through and came out of a serious “dark night of the (my) soul”. One of the phrases that was borne out of that period was “I’m not who I thought I was”. I became someone with reference to God. Now, that’s not to say that I never act in accordance with the black or even with an old self-righteousness (white). Far from it. I’m still human. The thing that tells though is both the active realization that God loves me (something that I could never grasp on my own–where would I look for that?) plus a non-chalant, almost cavalier, confidence that took the place of caring about whether or not I sinned. God’s love is so much greater than our sin, than our righteousness, than black, than white.

“And His raiment became shining, exceeding white (Luke’s Gospel calls it “glistering”–9:29) as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.” (Mark 9:3)

Peter, James and John got a glimpse of who Jesus really was (and is) when on the mount of transfiguration. Jesus is calling people to a higher standard of holiness. It isn’t “holier than thou”, it’s “I don’t even care about how holy I am, I care about Jesus”. It’s His holiness, His whiteness. And His spectrum.

“The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.” (Psalm 138:8)

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

Justifying the Means

“And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.” (Luke 7:40)

Saying what we mean

Sometimes things come out of our mouths that we had no intention of speaking. Have you ever done that? You think before you speak, sure. But then when you actually do, the words don’t quite mesh with the thoughts behind them and you feel your point is lost. Or at least not communicated precisely as it should have been. It was on the tip of your tongue! And yet the person to whom you were speaking doesn’t fully realize the point you were trying to make. They don’t know this though and hopefully it’s nothing that can’t be remedied with a little verbal revision. But there are times in our life—and conversations in which we interlocute—that only give us one chance to get it right. Here’s a good guideline:

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)

People are complex. More often than not, we just interact with them at arm’s length. If, somehow we are graced with a deeper friendship than that of the cursory kind, it behooves us to say exactly what we mean to say, colored, spiced, seasoned, as Paul so deftly put it, with salt. Now, granted, Paul might have been referring to the winsome proselytization of those who weren’t Christian, but there’s no one on this earth we know everything about. Ourselves included. This makes things interesting. Interesting in spite of the inherent opportunities to both offend or build up those with whom we interact. Believer or non. And when life boils down to irreducible complexity, without the oil of the Holy Spirit to smooth interactions, we very well may miss out on opportunities to say what we mean. Who knows? Maybe those thoughts swirling around in your head and heart, the ones to which you were struggling to attach the correct words, were from God? Say what you mean, just make sure you run it by God first. He’ll help you say the right thing. “…Master, say on.”

Saying what we don’t realize is demeaning

“But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:37, emphasis mine)

Excuse me? Jesus is referring here to interaction with anyone and everyone. But look at this in light of speaking to those we love. Paul lists “foolish talking” and “jesting” as things that are “not convenient” (Ephesians 5:3) when living out the Christian life. There’s a time and a place for silliness. But acting that way when a situation calls for a graver directness will end in offending and potentially alienating our audience and possibly marring our testimony. When you earn someone’s trust, it’s of utmost value and importance. Solomon says this: “As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?” I was just joking! Not beyond a certain point you weren’t, I’m sorry to say.

Saying what we know is mean

“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:34-35, emphasis mine)

So watch what you say. The few words we say (as compared to the thoughts we think) represent—and also belie—entire philosophies and vast constructs of interlocking opinions that would look quite odd if seen in all their glory. While some people’s hearts and minds are like well-oiled machines that work flawlessly, others’ are like the Cloaca in New York, essentially a giant cesspool/sewer/waterway that’s been layered upon for years with the refuse of the city. Jesus says that the words we speak flow from our heart. Best to heed His words and say nothing until we have something nice to say.

“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) May the same be said for us.

“…for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost”. (Mark 13:11)

In the Beginning

“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of Heaven and Earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:24-25)

This is Paul speaking in Athens to the crowd. Standing on Mars’ hill, he prefaces his declaration by telling them that he sees them as “too superstitious” (verse 22). And as Stevie Wonder put it so, so well, “superstition ain’t the way.”

Why God? Why the God of Judeo-Christianity? Funny thing, maybe Christians should begin referring to themselves as “Judeo-Christians”? Help round out the idea of where our faith came from. The “God” of deism seems to have faded into nothingness. Science, having pulled apart the mysteries of the universe (only to have their appetites whetted for more), renders an argument for a “Christian” nation (i.e. America) superfluous. I wonder though. Where did this idea of “God” come from? A God who’s cited as “their Creator”, having endowed us with “certain unalienable rights”? Point to the fact that Darwin hadn’t been born yet to bless us with his Theory of Natural Selection and you can understand, maybe a little, how America’s founding fathers might have in their thinking, the idea of a benevolent-if-distracted deity, responsible for, not only humanity, but also the ways and means of honest and fair government. And I’m talking about America because I’m an American. I see the influence of numerous religions where I live. Locally, we have both Buddhist shrines and temples and one mosque (to my knowledge). Various New Age and Masonic buildings dot the landscape as well. But as America is a melting pot as diverse as its population, one is hard-pressed to back up their assertions for a Christian nation with unassailable fact or tenable reasoning. I say all of that (as I had gotten into a bit of a side-eddy) to say that looking at the natural only or something as relatively young as America to prove the existence of “God” ends in falling short of its goal. And why would one even want to do that? Why are you reading this?

People are smart. There seems to be this construct in the mind that works flawlessly and instantly. Say, “God” and not only will the broad cultural opinion immediately crop up (colored, of course, by “God’s” representatives’ ambassadorial representation) but even more undergirding than that, their own opinions as to who god, or, God, is or is not. “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.” (Acts 23:8) And Jesus clashed with and ultimately silenced both.

“All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and He to whom the Son will reveal Him.” (Luke 10:22)

I believe that when one believes that God is real they have no choice but to create him in their own image—that is, until He truly reveals Himself to them. “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.” (Psalm 50:21, emphasis mine) It’s the natural order of things. Psychologically, it’s called projection. Everyone does it, myself included. We have a need, and we subconciously take that need and project it onto someone who we think will fill it. I wouldn’t recommend it. And beyond a certain point—humanly speaking—it can really get you into trouble. All that aside though, what God seems to be saying through Asaph the psalmist here (because earlier on in the first few verses of that psalm, it was just Asaph speaking) is that God, Himself, is going to show you who He actually is.

There is some speculation as to the actual Indo-European root of the word ‘god’, so says my Indo-European dictionary. Two roots that sound similar—almost identical—vye for that title. But if you rewind back five-thousand years to the inception of the language you speak today (English being a branch of Germanic, along with many other languages as diverse as Old Norse and Yiddish) something as simple as a schwa (the neutral vowel sound, the upside-down ‘e’ in your dictionary) can make all the difference in the world. By the way, the shchwa is of Hebrew origin (shewa) and refers to a barely uttered phoneme (sound) where no vowels are present. It has to do with the underlying principle behind the tetragrammaton (YHWH) that, to this day, no one knows how to pronounce. The two Indo-European roots vying for ‘god’s’ etymology are “gheu(ə)-“. And “gheu-“. The former (“gheu(ə)-“) means “to invoke”. As in that which we can do to bring about God’s blessing and provision and presence. The latter (“gheu-“) means “to pour out”. Which is something that God is doing all the time. Notice in Paul’s statement to the Athenians, who were still steeped in Pagan, pantheistic myth: “[God] giveth to all…” Approaching God on your own terms will never meet the qualifications for restored relationship. If you come bearing gifts but refuse to receive what He’s already provided for you, i.e. Jesus, then we will end in being deceived and missing Him altogether. Because, as Paul also said to those in Athens, God doesn’t need anything. “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” (Psalm 50:12)

The only time God needs us, is when we are humble and thankful, much like little children. “Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” (Mark 10:15) Jesus isn’t saying that we needed to accept Him when we were kids or else. He’s simply saying that we need to lay down our preconceived (adult) notions as to how the world and the universe works and accept God on His terms.

The point at which all interaction with God hinges is belief. Belief is all that you can really give to God, in humility. Oh, He doesn’t need it in the sense that, were He dependent on your belief for His existence and upon not receiving it would vaporize. But in order for you to see Him, you need to will to believe that He is who He says He is. The Bible is a good place to start. And when you come upon Jesus, who, it says, is “the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3), we see more fully, who we are with reference to God.

“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63)

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (John 20:21-22)

Is it “gheu(ə)-“? Or gheu-“? Who knows. But it does sound like so much baby talk to me. And, well, out of the mouth of babes…

Shades of Ghrei

Some say gray is “light black”. Others say it’s “dark white”. I say that gray is not the skin-color you want when you’re born.

Because apparently, that’s the (non) color I was when I came out of my mother’s womb. Of course, I was there. I don’t remember it though. My dad would tell me this story growing up. Living in a suburb of Dallas, I came into the world in 1983. My mother, exhausted from the parturition, looks down and asks him “how is he?” To which he responds, (belying his horror at my lack of “human” coloring) “Oh, he’s fine.” Knowing full well that, without a miracle, I wouldn’t make it. He follows me into the neonatal unit and after I was hooked up to the various and essential equipment, very inauspiciously lays his hand on my leg and says, “be healed in Jesus’ name”. Or something to that effect. The doctors decide then, to take me into Dallas, to a larger hospital, one with a pediatric facility better equipped to help me. On the way there, my mom’s pediatrician sat next to my dad in the car, politely informing him of the benefits of insurance, its necessity, etc. My dad felt like punching him, praying to God that he’d shut up. After arriving and settling in, my dad decides to call the church they were attending, needing prayer. The line was busy. No big deal. He hung up with a heavy heart. Moments passed and he called again. This time, God spoke to his heart and said “I’ve healed your son.” He hung up with his heart at peace. Shortly thereafter, a young doctor emerged from the double-doors of the neonatal unit. She says: “we don’t understand it. You’re son’s out of the woods.” And the rest is history. I find it interesting, without reading too much into it, how my dad would touch my thigh and God would heal me. And when God touched Jacob’s thigh, it crippled him for life. That’s kind of a gray area for me.

“Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

As an aside, in the comic “Ultimate Iron Man”, Tony Stark, the main character, is born screaming. It’s because he’s hyper-sensitive and has neural-tissue (gray-matter) growing throughout his entire body. His father, Howard, comes into the room and rubs a strange blue liquid all over baby Tony which instantly calms him down. One of the things he does as the story progresses, aside from eventually becoming Iron Man, of course, is learn to shut out the ever-present pain that comes with being so smart. Science-fiction, you so crazy. I know an older couple, very sweet. Apparently, he was born blue and she, with her fiery red hair, was severely jaundiced (yellow). A full spectrum!

I live in the Northwest. It rains, maybe more often than it should, but I don’t mind. When the sky grows overcast and gunmetal gray, anymore, instead of pining for the sun, I feel a welcome insulation. Like a giant comforter has been thrown over the sky. The rain is a welcome side-effect.

“Ghrei-“, however, is the Indo-European root for “Christ”. It essentially means “to rub”. The same root gives rise to “cream” and “grime”. And while the Indo-European root for “Christ” is different than “gray” (“gh(e)r”- “to shine”), I do find a parallel in the two. See, Jesus is the one who healed me (the “Great Physician”), the one who suffered on my behalf so that I even could receive something as impossible as a full healing at birth (the first pediatrician didn’t know if I’d live, if I did, I’d be a “vegetable”). There’s much debate over why God heals some and not others. I look at those who have terminal illnesses and recurring side-effects from illnesses past and I have nothing but love and compassion. Some want it, others are fine without it. And there have been times in my life where I would have preferred that God would have taken me then. “The spirit of a man can sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14) Any contention or clashing over the subject of supernatural healing should be neither here, nor there. I find this to be a strong point of tension amidst the body of Christ and a source of derision from those who aren’t Christian.

I met a man one day who—after I’d told him this story, ending with the caveat I was supposed to die when I was born—told me: “If you were supposed to die, you’d have died.” So, I guess it’s either black or white… The thing is, healing (internal/external) has been made possible by Jesus. Ask Him for it and don’t doubt. You’ll be put through the paces, but your faith will be rewarded.

“But when Jesus heard that, He said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. (Matthew 9:13)

“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis mine)

Noxiam Sarcire

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39a, emphasis mine)

By the way, in case you ever need it, the word for “turning to the right” is: dextrorotatory. You might have to shell out five bucks to use it though.

Jesus must be referring to the Roman law of noxiam sarcire. Latin for “paying for the damages”, literally. And as Jerusalem had been annexed by the Roman government, you can understand how He’d preface that passage with “ye have heard”. The law went something like this: whenever someone was wronged and suffered damages, either to property or person, the father of the offender was able to make restitution to the offended party by literally giving up his son to them to do with him what they would. When Jesus says “I say unto you that ye resist not evil”, it’s like Jesus is reiterating Moses’ declaration from Exodus, chapter 14 (verse 14): “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” One of the many reasons that Jesus was silent before his accusers.

To be sure, there’s a fine line between knowing when to stand up for what’s rightfully yours—yours either through common decency or legally—and letting people walk on you, take advantage of you and generally treat you as they (mis)treated Jesus. Just know though, that in everything we’re confronted with in suffering, God gave up His Son to them and theirs in order to take the punishment in its entirety. The difference is that Jesus never did anything wrong—we were the offenders toward God, and many times, toward other people.

“He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all…” (Romans 8:32a)

Apparently, one-in-three people the world over identify themselves as Christian. The sheer statistical weight would seem to indicate that the world should be in a whole lot better shape than it is—provided the Christians were doing their job in service to the Lord, whatever that job may be. Factor in the issue of suffering and persecution, and things even out to a degree. See, in some ways, it’s not about our success only in appealing to the non-believer. If you see someone who is successful, whether they’ve encountered setbacks or not, they end in being an inspiration to that end only. But when unbelievers see you suffer and then remain joyful and rejoicing? That’s when the Holy Spirit can really get to the hard and impossible (without Him) work of convicting their hearts.

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi resisted British colonialism in India. His famous statement “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” pays a slight homage to Jesus. India gained its independence from England (who annexed it in much the same way as Rome did Jerusalem) in 1949, a year after Gandhi’s passing. While he respected and sought in many ways to follow Jesus’ teachings, there is much debate over whether or not he was Christian and it’s not anyone’s place to speculate. In response to a missionary’s probing question, Gandhi also said: “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ, it’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.” While wayward and/or arrogant Christians are not enough to warrant an unbeliever’s rejection of the God that they supposedly represent, they’re not doing Jesus any favors either. This is why Jesus said to submit to suffering—to “turn the other cheek”. Lay down any notion of self-justification and self-reciprocation. God says He’ll defend you. He proved it by sending His Son to die in our stead.

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8, 10)

In Tents

The Rechabites were told by their patriarch Jonadab to dwell “in tents” (Jeremiah 35:10). However, all of the strictures and paces they were put through having chosen not to partake of all of conveniences of (then) modern-life guaranteed their right-standing before God. At least one person it says:

“And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.” (Jeremiah 35:18-19, emphasis mine) In other words, God, speaking through Jeremiah, guaranteed that there’d be always be someone from that tribe whose heart was before Him.

So in order to become “intense”, does that mean you have to dwell “in tents”? I don’t think so. But the Indo-European root of both is the same.

Boiling Down

A thing’s essence is what you’re looking for. Because from there, provided you have the vision to see it through to completion, every step after will be not only in the right direction, but just as purposeful as the seed,  from which it all came.

“And Nathan said to the king (David), Go, do all that is in thine heart; for the Lord is with thee.” (2 Samuel 7:3)

I find that intensity simply is. It can swing both ways. Either into an all-consuming compassion whose impetus is the bright and white-hot love that God gives you (Mother Teresa points to God having smiled at her as the driving force of her ministry to the poorest of the poor). Or, into a vehement rage that is nothing if not detrimental and destructive. There are a-thousand variables in between and innumerable shades of gray—even within the individual. But the intensity’s the thing. It’s there, like a singularity, waiting to explode and take on a life of its own. How will you direct it?

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

Jesus. “Meek” and “lowly in heart”. The same Jesus who fashioned his own instrument of scourging in order to drive the tax-collectors and ware-sellers from their kiosks within the temple (John 2:15) is the same Jesus who was Himself scourged before He was nailed to the cross.

“And they shall mock Him, and scourge Him, and shall kill Him: and the third day He shall rise again.” (Mark 10:34)

Look at a sword. Something that, to this day, with all the advancement in battlefield technology, still symbolizes war. It has a double-edge. And even then, you can still choose to pick it up—or not. The same Jesus who told His disciples to “take nothing for their journey” (Mark 6:8) later—after reminding them of those words—told them to go well equipped (Luke 22:36-38): “And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And He said unto them, It is enough.” Two swords? That’s intense.

“Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath…” (John 18:11)

We are all like great mixtures of various ingredients. God is stirring us around and around in circles and we are slowly congealing, coalescing into that which He’d have us be. Into that which He wanted us to be when He first thought of us (heart? mind?). And remember, God “has His way in the whirlwind.” (Nahum 1:3) Speaking of the heart, surely you’ve heard of arteriosclerosis? Don’t worry. It’s a disease where the artery walls develop plaque to where blood flow is constricted. It’s not good, certainly not. Obversely, when a person’s blood pressure’s too high, under certain circumstances, the heart will actually pump with a force that causes the arteries to expand, ultimately causing the heart to weaken and fail. And that’s not good either. So pace yourself. Don’t let your intensity get the best of you. It’s there for a reason and for a season.

Boiling Over

…”for the things concerning me have an end.” (Luke 22:37) Jesus came for a reason. For thirty-three short years He showed us how to live in and among all of the various influences vying for our attention and intensity. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. And don’t be afraid to “assert yourself in a confident manner”, to quote Calvin—if the time and place call for it: “Be ye angry, and sin not:” (Ephesians 4:26) Keep stirring and allow God to pour you out. That’s what we’re here for. To bless. To help and heal. To anger and enrage and…calm. To affect:

“But it is a good thing to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.” (Galatians 4:18)

“And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies; That the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth in curtains.” (2 Samuel 7:1-2) In tents.

Four-Word Progress part 8: Time Signatures

One. Two. Three. Four.

“A person who…does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” Martin Luther

Wow. That’s a little harsh, wouldn’t you say? Music as a creation of God? Did you ever think about that? People the world over march to their own beat and appreciate their own music. How did music originate? If you can’t assent to the age-old adage of “God created it”, alright. Luther says that you don’t deserve to be called a human being and that you should essentially only hear animals. Fair enough. I vote to give him a pass, I mean, maybe his quote was taken out of context? Funny thing is, scientific materialists point to the natural songs of birds and animals as giving rise to time signatures, musical structure and the overall creation of music. Because if it didn’t come from God, it had to come from somewhere. Writing differs in some ways from music because the musician “discovers” a scaffolding, an architecture as it were, waiting for her to build her song within (like a nest?). And I hate to use a builder’s parlance when I’m clearly referring to music which speaks—communicates—on a deeper level than words. But, as with anything beautiful, there is an order.

Vocals

“I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.” (Psalm 104:33)

Singing is one of the most cathartic things you can do. Maybe that’s why those who might be a little on the shy side (like me!) only do it in the shower or the car with the windows up? Because we’re perfectly fine with the sound of our voice. We don’t care (or realize, for that matter) that we’re off key. We might be tone-deaf but we sound just as good as whomever it is we’re listening to. Provided they’re singing louder, of course. It’s when we get together and harmonize that the flaws come out and realign and end up sounding absolutely wonderful. A diapason, as it were.

Real quick: have you ever been driving and seen birds at different places on telephone wires and wondered if you were to notate their position on a musical staff, what it’d sound like? God knows. And He’d get them to sing it for you if you wanted.

Guitar

“Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.” (Psalm 33:4, emphasis mine)

If you are musically inclined, go for it. Maybe now it doesn’t hold the white-hot effervescence it did when you first discovered it as a kid, but I would wholeheartedly recommend taking some time during your busy life to develop the gift of music. I see creative gifts as one of the few things that we had when we got here that we’ll be able to take with us when we go, developed or not. We’ll have all eternity to continue to develop our gifts for service and worship to God, but the more exercised they are when we get there, the more fun it’ll be for those listening. Paul says “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” (1 Timothy 6:7) But again, if our gifts (whatever they may be) are a part of us, does that mean we’ll be able to still compose/write/draw when we get to Heaven? I believe so.

Bass

Bass is interesting. Without it, I think life would be a lot harder and more jarring. It’s kind of like a halfway point between the drums—with their rigid time-keeping—and the flamboyance of the lead guitar. It’s my jam—electric bass, that is. One of my life-goals is to learn to play. I suppose my main (adult) inspiration would be Geddy Lee (Victor Wooten is equally awesome in my book) of Rush. The man’s bass lines and melodies are amazing, a wonder to behold. When I discovered Rush, I felt a certain closure with reference to my musical aspirations—I knew what I wanted to do, musically speaking. Having received a simple acoustic guitar for my twelfth birthday and well on my way to teaching myself to play, I lost interest for whatever reason. I guess I never felt a heart-connection. I feel it with the bass.  Creatively, I would consider myself a writer first and foremost but intend to learn someday. And until then? I’ll just air-bass vicariously through him (but he’d definitely be the one doing it louder).

Drums

Backbeat is essential. Have you ever listened to a song that doesn’t follow musical structure (Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place”)? Certainly not for me, I can tell you that. We have a heartbeat, after all and without it, we’d be dead on the floor. Look for it. Listen for God’s beat for your life. Because even if God didn’t create music (He did), He created you. He has a one-of-a-kind playlist for you to follow where you’ll feel right at home in His composition. The peace that follows from stepping in time to God’s leading can be found no other way, not even from music.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalm 32:8)

P.S. I know all this refers to rock. While it’s my favorite genre, it isn’t for everyone. Part of what makes music the thing it is, is its subjectivity. To each their own. Also: my favorite song of ever is “Limelight” by—who else?—Rush.

Rock on.

An Aperitif for the Hereafter

“For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the Kingdom of God come.” (Luke 22:18)

Something before the meal perhaps?

Wine is amazing. Even if you haven’t yet acquired a taste for it, it’s hard not to respect “the fruit of the vine”. It’s beautiful to see how the vine snakes its way back through (potentially) miles of earth to its water source and from there to the fuzzy leaves and opaque globes yielding something that is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Why did Jesus say what He did during the Last Supper? Maybe it’s because Heaven offers something better than wine. Obviously. But look at the sommelier, the wine lover. Those who enjoy wine and have a taste for its subtle intricacies and distinctions are in Heaven already. So Jesus ends on a high note by saying that He’s waiting for Heaven to enjoy something that (provided you’re older than twenty-one) we get to enjoy here and now. Why would He postpone His enjoyment along these lines while letting us have all the fun?

“Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” (Proverbs 31:6-7)

Jesus took no wine before He died, refusing even the “vinegar…mingled with gall” (Matthew 27:34) during His crucifixion. He kept His word. He was essentially offered a “sour wine” (Strong’s) with an herbal painkiller mixed in. He, however, elected to suffer through every last moment of His life–for us. Let’s in turn rewind about three years back to the marriage feast in Cana.

I find it interesting that the first recorded miracle of Jesus involves wine. The “marriage in Cana of Galilee” where Mary somehow knows Jesus is able to do something special with the water. Namely (*whispering*) turn it into wine. Nobody saw that coming. “They have no wine” she tells her son (John 2:3). You had to know that she knew Him as no human ever did. And at thirty years old, He seems to answer her back with what look like harsh words colored by an inside recognition that they shared between one another. “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” Yet notice how Jesus relents mere moments after refusing. Only thing I can surmise is that His Father superseded His refusal to obey His mother. The wine that Jesus made in those moments tasted better than what the master of ceremonies expected. He calls the groom and asks why a better, more expensive-tasting wine would be served toward the end of the meal. A fitting analogy for when we grow tired with the dregs of life. All Jesus needs is something as abundant as water, and He can make each sip of our life better than the last.

Winemaking, or viticulture is a complex art and science. Much like humans, the grapevine takes in its surroundings–the water, heat, light, shade, even propinquitous flavors–and throughout many generations, turns them into the perfect glass. Something that Jesus did instantly at His mother’s (and Father’s) behest. The intense love of Jesus is enough to take us from water, to wine.

“And wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15)

Wine has the power to render our inhibitions and fears ineffective. To make us into who we are without the added baggage of an overbearing social sensitivity. “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” Says Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23) Physiologically, something in our neural pathways opens up and relaxes and we’re able to move freely through the crowded room. Guard down, hopes high. Coffee can’t do it. Water can’t either. But wine on the other hand has this unique quality. Seen this way, I suppose Jesus wouldn’t need any wine to help Him feel at ease any more: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) Something that definitely applies to Jesus–to us too. The more we cultivate our inner relationship with the Holy Spirit, the more we’re able to not only overcome our own fears and insecurities with a power that is stable and always on, but we can, and should, do the same for others.

Salut!

Touched

A rhetorical question: How did a word that (to my mind) means that a person is blessed by your gift (of time, attention, love, etc.) come to mean that you’re crazy? Because that’s what some people think when you give them a gift. Sad but true. “Touched” in the head.

“Wherefore doth living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lamentations 3:39, emphasis mine) “Life” being the essential and default—let alone greatest—gift.

Starting from the bottom up, we all have the gift of life. Yes, we have our ideas and ideals, ways of thinking and opinions about how things should be, but how many of us base our expectations in gratitude for what we already possess? And where does this attitude come from of constantly wanting more of what we want? And right now! There are times where I pray and expect something from God, only to receive an answer in some other realm of life. And I get all bent out of shape. I question motives, I become bitter and disbelieving and all the complexes that I thought had been laid to rest come bubbling up to the surface! Yay! Now they can be dealt with! Because anytime you’d think someone crazy for wanting to bless you, it really means you have issues with God.

Because He’s where all blessing comes from. Gifts, all.

“Then touched He their eyes, saying, According unto your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.” (Matthew 9:29-30) This command of Jesus has always made me wonder. Why would he tell them not to share the miracle? Many reasons, I’d surmise. Firstly, when God gives you something—when He touches you—it’s meant for you, first. The analogy of “casting ones pearls before swine” comes to mind. Secondly, we all have this blind spot where we think that other people feel and think the way we do. Oh, we’d readily admit that on the surface, they think differently. But I’m referring to deep undercurrents of thought/feeling/emotion/worldview (essentially weltanschauung—same thing) that are radically different, if not diametrically opposed to yours. Granted, there are only so many ingredients in the box and we—with whatever fraction of our gray matter we actually use—only deal with the tips of other people’s icebergs, but realize: strangers can be so radically different from you that it’s scary. Why not tell someone that you just received your sight? Because they’re blind, too. Sometimes we should just keep things to ourselves. But there are other times where we run the risk of being seen as evil for doing the very thing that God said was the good. It’s a matter of motive. From here to there.

“Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righterousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:16)

And this is where Christianity is radically different from every other worldview: Christians (theoretically, because of Jesus) are willing to give up their last breath as a gift to someone in need—should the Holy Spirit move on them to do so. A spirit of selflessness unlike any other. Granted, most life situations don’t and won’t turn out that way or that starkly but some people will most definitely think you crazy for being willing to give up your life (time, money, food, attention) to better theirs. When someone is dehydrated after, say, an extended trek through the desert, they’ll need more than water to restore their health. If they’ve been dehydrated beyond a certain point, they’ll need alkali salts or some other source of electrolytes. Otherwise they’ll just throw up what water they do take in. It’s like the inverse of drinking salt-water. Neither way are they going to be satisfied.

In closing, I would like to make honorable mention of Nebuchadnezzar. Oh, God touched him all right—brought him down a peg. In Daniel, chapter 4, he undergoes a transformation from proud, splendiferous, magisterial ruler—to certifiably insane. He came back to his senses when he glorified God for who He was and is (verse 37): “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of Heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”

Maybe that’s how the other, negative connotation arose?

Held Back (Chapter and Verse part 4)

“When the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”” Virginia Woolf

They have loved reading.

And Jesus, of course.

Books are an integral part of life. Whether you’ve been swept away with the current tide of e-readers threatening to render good, old-fashioned books obsolete—or you like your good old-fashioned books just the way they are, there’s no better place to get what you need to substantiate your calling before God than to read books. Read, read, read. Beyond knowing Jesus as a person and walking with Him, one of the strongest pieces of advice I would give anyone is to find whatever it is they’re interested in and read all they can about it. Become the expert on that particular subject. Who knows? Maybe that’s where God wants to use you? Do you like ukeleles? Read on. How about the work of Le Corbusier, the architect who created the Brutalist style of architecture? Y’know, his nom de guerre is a play on “raven” in French? I think that’s pretty cool. What do you love to do? Who do you want to be? The dreams you have that drive you on are like magnets pulling you toward the fully-realized formation of God’s dreams for you. No, none of this “law of attraction” stuff that’s bereft of the living presence of God. And no more wondering what it is you’re meant to do. Get to know Jesus. Then you and He will go out and go do it. Start in the library or bookstore and go from there. I feel that the child-like curiousity that propels us to continue learning about our particular trade or discipline is so important to maintain and keep pure. Without it, we become hard, controlling and bitter. We miss the true liberty of the Holy Spirit and consequently (potentially) miss out on the grand overarching calling over our life.

And here’s another side to it: “Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.” (Amos 5:18)

When we neglect to develop the gifts that God has placed within us, we end up desiring the end. I believe this. In other words, we wish Jesus would either hurry up and come back, or we get bored and wistfully daydream of Heaven to the neglect of “the duty that lies nearest” to quote Oswald Chambers. I really feel for the person who never completed high school or never went to college upon completing high school (nothing wrong with that)—and regrets it. The ones who feel they’ve wasted what time they were given and live in a state of constant regret. Whenever I hear the phrase “I wish I’d gotten an education”, I feel it’s a misnomer. A person’s education should be ever-expanding and always continuing. What they’re saying is that they regret having stopped learning. And sadly, many people who finish school, finish learning—if they ever started in the first place. Be careful.

And here’s yet another side. Notice this from the book of Acts (17:21): “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.”

There’s danger in “ever learning, and never [being] able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) When we neglect to take the time to talk to and love and get to know Jesus, we end in missing Him and replacing the fellowship with a bunch of knowledge that won’t get us anywhere or with anyone.

So! Let your curiousity take you to places in God that you’ve only ever dreamed about.

“Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book.” (Job 19:23)

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)