Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church -

I am short of words today, however I spent the wee hours of the night last night reconnecting with the great Emily Dickinson, so I will yield my blog to her this evening.  I asked her to give us a poem touching on the idea of finding God's message outside of the 'religious' realm:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church - 
I keep it, staying at Home - 
With a Bobolink for a Chorister - 
And an Orchard, for a Dome -

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice - 
I, just wear my Wings - 
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, 
Our little Sexton - sings. 

God preaches, a noted Clergyman -
And the sermon is never long, 
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last - 
I'm going, all along.

Miss Dickinson never fails to say the right thing.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


There are very few people who will truly love the whole version of ourselves.  Who, once they see some of the rawer forms of our negative traits, will embrace us all the more.  I would dare say that the vast majority of us cannot even love ourselves with that kind of all-encompassing completeness.  I see the darker sides of myself and respond with self-judgment, self-loathing, self-contempt, and shame.

And yet all of us have those darker sides.  At our core, our personalities include positive and negative, and the same person in different contexts can demonstrate both compassion and apathy, humility and arrogance, patience and anger.  I pretty much just described myself.

That's where God comes in, and, of course, the brilliant Alanis Morissette giving us His truth.  If you're unfamiliar with Alanis, I'll tell you she's up there with the Psalms as one of my favorite sources of God's truth.  This song is a great example why:
[If you're listening with children nearby, the 2nd version removes the one instance of the word a**hole.  If there aren't kids around, use the 1st one - let's be honest and call ourselves what we are sometimes.]

Go back through those lyrics and see where you find yourself being described: withholding? wise? brave? mistrusting? blame-shifting? gorgeous?  Depending on the day, I can be each one of those descriptions, though I do a better job hiding some of them than others.

Our God is one who, despite our best efforts to hide it, see all of us.  He chooses to love us when we are at our most awful and our most divine, with an unconditional love beyond what we can even offer to ourselves, much less those around us.
"You see everything, you see every part"  You have searched me, LORD, and You know me ... You perceive my thoughts from afar ... You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You, LORD, know it completely.  -Psalm 139  
"There's not anything to which you can't relate"  We do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are ... -Hebrews 4
"And you're still here"  ... neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God ... -Romans 8
And this section preaches the most truth to me:
"What I resist persists and speaks louder than I know.  What I resist, you love, no matter how low or high I go"  Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me ... will hold me fast. -Psalm 139
How often do I fight losing battles against my own negative traits, resisting with all my might, yet unable to suppress them?  But God meets us where we are regardless.  We can't sink too low for Him, no matter what, and we certainly will never be too high for Him to reach.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom: Ben Franklin

Indulge me in a bit of biblical talk for a moment; my inner nerd is about to come out.  [I apologize in advance for using Wikipedia as a reference below - it's late and it's easy to locate, but I judge myself for linking there.]

One of my favorite things that happens in the Bible is when Paul (a follower of God) speaks to the important men of Athens, who seem to enjoy a good discussion of ideas, at Areopagus, which was essentially the city council.  During his speech he calls attention to things he's observed as a visitor in their city - a statue to 'the unknown god' (Agnostos Theos) where they worship a god they know exists but do not know specifically, and quotes from their own poets about being children of something divine - and he points out that they're already attuned to the truth that Paul is just putting words to.  An early God Remix at Areopagus - their own popular culture revealing God's truth.

In our culture, we often much more readily accept the wisdom of regular authors and our modern day poets than we do when the same wisdom comes from the Bible.  I'm not sure if it matters to God where we read His message, if we're able to acknowledge that it's His.

Every Wednesday I'll post a quote along with an equivalent biblical counterpart.  I will do my very best to vet the quotes used, as there are a lot of mis-credited quotations floating around the internet these days.  Happy Wednesday, everyone!

"Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one makes you but even with him; forgiving it sets you above him." - Ben Franklin

Never avenge yourselves ... do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you ... If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Luke 6 

Monday, January 6, 2014


No, I'm not talking about the animated movie, I'm talking about the actual world around me.  My part of the country is headed into a couple days of sub-zero temperatures, the likes of which, I hear, haven't been experienced in 20 years.  Supposedly the kids and I will be able to blow bubbles outside and watch them freeze mid-air, if only we can keep our eyelids from growing icicles before we get the bubble bottle open ...

Katie Kline, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Yeah, we're pretty much hunkered down over here, bundled in sweats with blankets and heaters standing ready, only getting a blast of icy wind during our dog's reluctant trips out to pee.  I truly cannot imagine the difficulty of being homeless during times like this, and it's an unforgiving accusation against our culture that there are people cowering next to steam grates simply trying to survive.

If I'm being honest, however, there is a part of me that loves extreme weather and natural events.  Obviously I hate when they become 'disasters' - people losing lives and homes and livelihoods.  There seems to always be a cost of human life when extreme weather strikes, and that is never something I relish.  But on a different level, there is something peaceful to me about humanity being stopped in our tracks for a time by powers beyond our control.  To see an entire street without lights, or a city in slow motion, is in a way refreshing.

There are very few obstacles we humans haven't learned to circumvent when it comes to pursuing our own goals, timelines, and priorities.  And yet an extreme act of weather halts us.  Universities close, business meetings are canceled, and all we can do is wait for something that refuses to be hurried along by our inconvenienced lives.  Our technology can not (yet) eliminate blinding fog, or tame 100 mph winds, or stop blizzard snow from falling, and for a few moments we are no longer in control of the pace of our lives.

I do love that.  I love the unavoidable reminder that all the things we think are so important on a daily basis are specks in something grandiose.  I love the realization I get that the scale of my personal perspective is minuscule - an entire house looks like it's built out of Lincoln Logs when it's four feet deep in water or pressed against a twenty foot snow drift.  It's intimidating.  It's awe-inspiring.  It's something to respect because the level of power is so exceedingly beyond our comprehension.  It's suddenly clear that this world is not our own, and God's truth comes to life:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. - Psalm 19

Friday, January 3, 2014

Brave & Say

This wasn't the direction I planned to go with my second post, but my three year old has been singing the song "Brave" by Sara Bareilles over and over (and over, and over, and over ...) for several days straight, and I just can't escape it.  So I've decided to embrace.

I mentioned previously that the way in which a work of art holds value to an individual may not be the same as how it originally held value to the artist.  Similarly, the same work of art can be valued on a number of different planes simultaneously - when listening to a song in the context of a breakup, you hear it one way, in the context of the birth of a child, you hear it differently, and all the while you may still be able to hear the social message it was originally written to express.

It's important not to take away from the intended message of this particular song.  The obvious messages are significant, and absolutely in line with biblical truth in their own right.  Leaving those in place, I think it's possible to shift our ears to a spiritual filter and hear another layer too.  What if, as you listen, the lyrics are heard as God's words to you about your relationship with Him?  Try it:

When is the last time you really prayed?  I mean the kind of prayer where your heart pours out everything, baring your thoughts good and bad to a God who's only desire is to know you, to see all the parts of who you are?  I know I'm not alone in feeling trapped underneath the things I won't say to Him, living in a metaphorical dark cave of solitude that I've made through my own silence, especially when it comes to what I'm honestly thinking of God Himself.  Yet I hear Him in these lyrics calling me out - "Let the words fall out, stop holding them in, say what you want to say so I can move towards you in love.  There's nothing you can say that I can't handle - I want to see all of you."

Being a 30-something, I personally can't think of Sara Bareilles' lyrics without hearing John Mayer's "Say" in my head, and actually, that song continues this theme of God pressing us to speak to Him openly, vulnerably, without reservation:

Maybe today's the day to take the battles we're fighting in our heads and hash them out with God boldly, honestly, without fear.
"Even if your hands are shaking and your faith is broken ... say what you need to say."

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Livin' On The Edge

I believe in God's truth. It's written all over the world around us, the situations we find ourselves in, the art created by people from every culture and walk of life ... Sure, God's message is in the Bible. But the same message is present as we rock out in our cars, study nature, skim through facebook posts, and watch reality t.v.; it's just edited and mixed to a different beat.

God's truth is true whether we hear it from the book of Hebrews, Alanis Morissette, a 19th century poet, or a rap version of the Aussie National Anthem. I've been lucky enough to find it in all of those, and God is creative enough to keep spinning His original material into fresh genres until we see Him and His truth in every direction.

This blog, inspired in part by the vision gained collaborating with the New Connections Band and in part by the like-hearted postings over at A Rock and Roll Devotional, aims to share a glimpse of God in places we may not be used to finding Him.  Here I'll share videos, music, poetry, prose, photos, a comic strip ... there is no boundary but that in some way a kernel of spiritual insight might be found.

So where to start with a new blog and a new year?  Those who have worked with me musically know I have to kick things off with a little Aerosmith.

If you might be offended by partial nudity or cross-dressing, or might miss the content of the lyrics because of the distraction of imagery, use this first video:
For those with a bit more edge in their soul, or for whom imagery might give more depth to the content of the lyrics, use this second video:

To me ... I must emphasize this point - all art is open to interpretation by the viewer, which is why it's such a perfect medium through which God can speak to an individual.  The artist's intention may not be where the value of a particular work lies for me personally - the value is where my heart and soul are touched and moved, and oftentimes that place is far from the starting point of the artists themselves ... To me, this song beautifully tells the tale of humanity.  A broken world, priorities far from God's, something feeling not quite right but at the same time so easy to find ourselves tangled up in it.  A struggle without, but also within, as we can't help but fall.  Every lyric of this song, and I encourage you to read them all, speaks a Biblical truth.
"there's something wrong with the world today"  ...the creation was subjected to futility ...creation itself [is in] bondage to corruption ...the whole creation has been groaning together ...  Romans 8 
"something's wrong with our eyes"   All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes ... there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.  -Proverbs 16
"I can't help myself at all"   I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. ... I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  -Romans 7
"if you can judge a wise man by the color of his skin ..."   There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female [interesting connection to the end of the second video], for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  -Galatians 3
My personal favorite is the refrain about Chicken Little, which I think can be taken into our hearts in a number of ways, so I'll let that one simmer on its own.

So what do we do with all this?  We take it in, we turn on the radio, and we listen for something between the lines that speaks to our spirit.  Happy New Year, here's to God's voice in the form of Steven Tyler!

Where do you find God mixed into the world around you?  Send me your thoughts, songs, etc. and I'll work them into a post.