Friday, September 30, 2011

This one is easy




"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right whatever is pure, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is admirable - if anything is EXCELLENT or PRAISEWORTHY- think about such things." Phil. 4:8

"All truth is God's truth." Os Guinness

I have to yank those two biblical passages out of context a bit in a minute to make my point. I generally despise it when anyone takes a passage out of it's context, but bear with my, OK?


This is an easy post for me. I know that the last few have been a bit on the downer-side, shall we say. But not so with this one. I realize that I can often sound a bit morose when I'm struggling with my darkness...which I am still dealing with, but I wanted this one to be a bit more chipper. (Plus, a friend at work complained that I hadn't put anything up for a while.) So...

Music. I like music. Anyone who reads this blog will notice that I try to fit an appropriate video in to a post to help illustrate it. Also, anyone who knows me knows what significance various songs and artists can hold on me. Anyway, I figured that I would do a post about some songs that hold these significances and explain a bit as to why this is so.



First, I have to step back in time just a little bit:
So I'm a High School kid of no importance. I didn't go to parties, get drunk or do drugs. That just wasn't my thing. I DID and still do have a massive dose of curiosity. That could have easily lead me into the exploration of drugs if I had hung out with the wrong folks...which I almost did.

Thankfully, I had a decent youth group at church. It was there that I had a friend named Danny. Danny was a long-haired, rock n' roller who played a "Flying V" guitar. I think a lot of people thought he was into drugs because of his look, but he wasn't. In fact, I'm not certain if he has ever even had a beer.

Anyway, Danny had the biggest record collection (Yes, RECORDS!) I had ever seen. I had liked music before this, but Danny turned me on to a whole new world. This, in turn, kept me away from the enticement of chemicals...so I owe him big. (Glad there weren't raves around when I was a kid. I like techno, and almost certainly would have tried extacy.)



Among the many, many, many bands and musicians that Danny turned me onto was a fellow named Neil Young. Mr. Young has long since been my favorite. He has a weird voice, and resembles a hippy-logger of sorts. But for some reason, the way he played that guitar of his just nailed me. I have seen him in concert more times than I can count, and I have yet to see any other musician fall into "The Zone" as effortlessly & consistently as he does.

"The Zone" can be described as the moment where a musician loses himself in the song and virtually becomes "One" with the instrument and music. If you have ever seen it, you know exactly what I'm talking about, and it's not easily forgotten.

For some odd reason, this song always makes me think about God...weird, I know. The chorus, "You are like a hurricane. There's calm in your eyes," always speaks to me of how I view YHWH. Maybe that's strange to hear for some people, but that really is how I feel when I hear this song. So without further ado...

BTW: Stick with the song till the end. The 2nd guitar solo begins about two thirds of the way through. Do yourself a favor and stick around until Neil whips his tie behind his neck and you WILL see him going into the zone & the crowd reacting. You will get to see EXACTLY what I mean.

(Honestly, I DO look at the creation story to explain all of this.)



I quoted James at the beginning to illustrate my thought that all good & beautiful things come from God...including music. As such, I fully believe that God can use anything he wishes to connect to people...including a secular artist. That doesn't mean that everything a secular artist creates is God-honoring. But then, neither is a good deal of the crap that gets put out by "Christian" artists. (Boy, have I got a few stories to back that up.)


So, with that I'll push the envelope a little further. The Rolling Stones...yes them. While I wouldn't exactly play "Brown Sugar" in church any time soon, (Especially if you know what the song is really about.) if I tweeked the lyrics just slightly, I could easily sing this next one in church. You may frown all you want, but every time I hear this song I think of seeking the shelter of YHWH. That may sound weird, but I doubt very much that I am alone.

The fact of the matter is that YHWH is the only shelter I have. Even on my worst days I know that deep in my bones. Often, I seek his shelter so desperately that I cry out in pain because I don't feel his presence as deeply as I want to. Ultimately, he is IT...there is no other. And I want him to give me shelter because I feel the storm pounding me. (I can't say that I like this broken, sinful world very much.)




Now, lest you think all I ever listen to is evil, secular tunes, you would be mistaken. About a year ago, I was turned on to a guy named Derek Webb. I heard him with some other artists who were touring with the author, Donald Miller. By his own admission, you won't often hear too many Derek Webb songs on your local "Christian" station. He is very raw in his lyrics, and rarely pulls a punch. (Dude even cusses in some of his songs) I do believe that there is not only a place for a guy like Webb, I feel he is absolutely necessary in the kingdom.

Anyway, this song has become a bit of the theme song for me. Derek essentially calls himself a whore in his relationship with Jesus. He runs from the only one who can truly love him for other lesser idols and gods. I find myself identifying rather deeply with the message in this song.

And now, with that cheery note...




And now for something a bit more mainstream...

I like the Newsboys. During my last year at the school where I taught, I would go into the office when everyone else had left for lunch and listen to these three songs of theirs over and over again with only one tiny desk lamp on. I worked with some tough kids and an administrator who had the air of a cowardly Judas about him, (Not the most supportive fellow.) so it was my way of keeping my sanity. I think you can probably figure out why these hold significance for me.

I apologize in advance that this first one has no decent video for it. Such is life...










Back to the secular stuff for a moment...

I heard this song a few weeks ago, and it made me cry in the car. It's how I feel about the people who make up the church that I attend, Living Waters. Listen to the song, there is no video. You'll get my point.



Someday...someday, I hope that I do actually fall in love. (Been in "Like" a few times, but that's not exactly the same thing.) If that ever happens, this will be my song for her. I heard it many years ago, from a one hit wonder band. If I play it for her, she'll "Get it."




Most days, I really would like to get out of here. I pray that God's kingdom will get here ASAP. Things will be much better under new management. So, this is a song I heard a while back that blew me away, because it really sums up my feelings on this subject.

Phil Wickham Live at Skull Church from fresh life church on Vimeo.

That really will be a beautiful day when he and his kingdom are here in full, and Eden is restored.



There are some folks out there who chafe at the idea that God would dare use a "Secular" song to get his voice across. They seem to forget that Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress" was originally a german beer hall song. If God choses to connect to a person through a piece of music, art, a tree...well that's his business. As my friend like to point out, "He is a God who wastes nothing."

I also like something I heard from Rich Mullins once. Alluding to the story in the O.T. in which God spoke through a donkey, "God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and God's been speaking through them ever since."



Obviously, there are a lot more tunes out there that I dig. I chose these because they really are very near & dear to me. If you have any that hold weight for you, tell me about them. I really would like to know.


Finally, since I began with Neil Young, I'll go out with him too.

I saw him at the Minnesota State Fair many eons ago with his country band, "The International Harvesters." They played THIS song. This version doesn't exactly copy what I saw at the Fair, but at least it's the same band.



I recall that Neil so lost himself in the song that his hat came flying off. When he was finished, the crowd didn't even cheer for about 10 seconds. They were just in awe at what they had seen. Then they went crazy.

Neil then announced that the next song would be "For all the mothers out there." He jumped into "Heart of Gold." I looked around the crowd of assorted hippies, bikers and such. Tears were flowing from their eyes. Now THAT'S Rock & Roll!

It was also a good & perfect gift that was
lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

Peace

Joe














P.S. If you are interested, here is another version of the first tune I put up. In this case, it is Neil with his back up band, Cray Horse. (Really should see them before they kick the bucket.) It's taken from the Jim Jarmush film, "Year of the Horse," and is two different concerts spliced together. You certainly get the idea of what one of their shows is like...and yes, in part of the film, Neil is stoned to the bejezuz. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor? (Honestly, it's a testament to his talent that he can play like that when he is full of so much geef.)




Monday, September 19, 2011

Would you please just be quite and listen to the silence?



"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until this disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High..." Psalm 57...

And I'll stop there, because I simply am NOT feeling the rest of that Psalm. But I will go with two other passages that have been in my head as of late.

"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice," Hosea 6:6

"And what does YHWH require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8


I also have two other quotes. These are from secular artists, but they will help illustrate the point I will try and make.

"Give me release, witness me.
I am outside.
Give me peace.
Heaven holds a sense of wonder,
and I wanted to believe that I'd get caught up
when the rage in me subsides."
From the song "Silence," by Sarah McLachlan

"When you're depressed,
happy songs don't make you feel better.
Sad songs make you happy."
That's a very bad paraphrase of something Rikki Lee Jones once said.



I don't know why for sure, but since mid July I have been feeling really, really low. There have been a few bright spots along the way, but the fact of the matter is that it really hasn't gotten much better. Mostly, it has just gotten darker by the day.

I could theorize as to why I am feeling this way. Lack of the type of career that I would really like to be in. That ever-present chemical imbalance in my brain. The change in the season almost certainly has an impact. There is plenty of other stuff too, I'm sure. Probably the worst of all is that I really haven't felt a consistent presence of God. In fact, I'm pretty sure that this is the main reason for my funk.

He isn't talking to me, that's for sure. And I don't feel him near at all. And I hate that feeling more than words could ever possibly express. At best, it feels like he is simply spying on me from a distance to see how I'll react to the next round of pain, and then stand silently as I do something stupid again...and again.

I hate, hate and hate this feeling of his absence, but I don't think I'll bother to hash anything else out of it. Not much point, other than to give more people more ammunition to look down their noses at me...and/or worry.



Mercy:
Mercy is a rare commodity. Oddly enough, I often find a great deal more mercy being offered by Non-Believers than I do from those who call themselves "Christians." (I'm probably pretty guilty on this count, too.)

One of the books that has had the greatest influence on me is "Un-Christian." http://www.unchristian.com/ (Buy it. Read it. Take it to heart.) Among the six areas that the book spells out that people outside the church accuse American Christians of being is that we are Hypocritical, Judgmental & Sheltered. (Which my own experience has taught me is very, very true, more often than not.) I would really like them to add UN-Merciful to that list. The church in America is really bad...really, really, really bad at showing mercy to people.

Don't believe me? Try looking at the current political candidates and their stump speeches. They drip a lot of Jesus-sauce on their platforms, but I don't see much evidence of mercy. (I DID see a lot of the glorification of death, though, at the TEA Party debate that was on about a week ago.) But I'll stop there, because this post is rather personal, and not about politics.



Like I said, I've been feeling incredibly down for a long time now. And the simple fact is that I have been shown very little mercy by anyone who has noticed this about me.

I'll tell you what I have been shown during this period, though. I've been told lies. I've been offered unsolicited advice ad nauseum. I've been condemned. And just last evening, I was told by numerous people that I am a bad, bad, naughty "Christian." (Actually, I get that a lot...always by other "Christians.")


In all of this, I have learned a few things.

#1. The first thing that I have learned is that...other than mercy being in very short supply...most people who tell you that they want to help, and thus will listen to you, don't really mean it. Maybe initially they want to "Listen," but the truth is that if that is the case, then they don't really want to ultimately "Hear" you.

What they really want is to offer you some handy phrases to perk you up. Then they would like to go and offer advice that you didn't ask for. Then, at least in my case, they will round it all off with some sort of insistence on an action plan that will fix everything...despite the fact that they promised ahead of time that they were not going to do that very thing.

Is it just me,
or do you lose any interest in talking to people like that
after a couple of rounds of this scenario?

And then they are puzzled as to why you don't want to talk to them about anything of significance. Hmmm...

Maybe they actually are trying to be well-meaning. But the fact of the matter is that this doesn't help at ALL. Truthfully, it only makes things worse.


Perhaps this is just my experience, and so this is only my theory, but when it comes to most of what passes for christianity in America and it's ability to actually listen to some one in severe pain... (Turn up the volume on your computer before you click the video.)



The truth really does hurt. And the truth is that when someone is in pain, they say uncomfortable things that make the hearer itch all over. Christians in America don't like that very much. It forces us to go deep into our psyches and actually be real. This should never be encouraged.

TANGENT! Let me throw this out there:
Let's say that you are out mowing the lawn. You accidently slip and get a toe sliced off. (Actually happened to a guy I know.) Naturally, you will probably scream so loud that the next county will hear you. Odds are, some of the screams coming out of your mouth with be rather profane.

Now, when the neighbors come running over...and then the paramedics, would any of them in their right mind look at you in severe pain and say something along the following lines; "Now listen Mr., that naughty language has simply got to stop! We're not doing a thing until you cut that out, buster!" OR, would anyone rushing to your aid expect you to say something along the following lines; "Owie, owie! Mommy, this bad boo-boo stings!" (You'll find this works better if you read those lines out loud with a nasally & effeminate voice.)

Anyone who would say that to the guy who just got his toe lopped off would be considered a heartless prick for saying such a thing. Yet we do it all the time to people in severe emotional pain.


Shocking as it might be to hear this, but I cuss. I don't do it flippantly, but I do do it to make an extreme point when I don't believe other words will work. I try to do it around people I trust, and not just in everyday conversation. (Yeah, I blow it there, too.) But when I am in pain, be it physical or emotional, I can let them fly. (Feel free to condemn me for this for what ever reasons you think are suitable for your own personal subconscious needs.) The point I am trying to make is this...
Pain is PAIN!

I actually lost a friendship over this once. I never trusted the guy from that point on. I might lose a few more friends. That's probably for the best...


Anyway, what I need from someone when I am hurting is an ear that will actually listen, and/or a shoulder to cry on. And that means that if you care about me, then you will just let me vent. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but that's the way it is. Whatever you do, please do not put boundaries around my pain for the sake of your own issues. I would try do the same for you.

Either be an actual friend to me when I am in need, or stop pretending. I can always talk to you around the water cooler or at family reunions. There, we can speak of the weather, sports, and the newest fashion trends...and all other manner of items that are of such consequence & weight. While having a conversation like this, I promise not to say anything that will ruffle your delicate feathers, or force you to actually think or display empathy. But at the same time, do us both a favor and don't lie and say you care.


#2. The other thing I learned during this time is what an impact music has on me. I've always figured that to one extent to another. However, the power that music seems to have is that the notes of a song can capture my thoughts & feelings in ways that words simply cannot.

Saturday I was having a truly awful day. My mood was a very dark gray, and so was the weather. So I was out for a drive and had the radio on to what I believe is one of the most creative stations in the country. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/services/the_current/ They had just announced the death of a famous person who was a friend of the station. In turn, they began to play a lot of sad music. Each and every song fit my mood to a "T." It actually made me cheer up a little bit. (Rikki Lee Jones appears to be correct on this point. When you're down, sad songs seem to cheer you up.)

One song in particular really hit me. It was a song called "The Last Living Rose" by P.J. Harvey. I wasn't even sure what the song was about, but the mood and groove of the song really got to me.


If you bothered to listen to it, you may have noticed that the song begins with the words, "God Damn Europeans." For some reason, that just hit me & fit me at that moment, on that drive, on that day. (Frankly, it didn't sound any different to me than what I heard most Americans saying about Europeans during the Bush years...including "Christians.")

I made a terrible mistake by going home and posting that on my FaceBook page, with those lyrics. What a storm that caused! Sunday rolls around, and by the time I got home from another miserable day, I had a bunch of comments via FB & e-mail condemning me for writing the phrase "God Damn."

You know what I didn't get?

I didn't get one single person asking me "Why."...not ONE!!! "Why did you put that song up, Joe? Is everything OK? That's some strong language. Is there something going on?" I didn't even get a "Wow, that was a cool mini-film. But the mood was pretty dark. You need to talk?" I got plenty of snap judgments and condemnation. No mercy offered, though. Nope, no mercy.


For the record, I don't really want God to damn most Europeans. I find Europeans to be cute and cuddly, and they make great techno music. (Not sure about the French though. They only go through one bar of soap a year, apparently.) However, I do ask God to damn other stuff all of the time; such as poverty, greed, indifference...and Pharisees. I shall continue to ask God to damn those things...especially the latter.


In particular, one "Friend" told me in no uncertain terms that essentially I was a terrible "Witness" for writing such filth. (You want un-godly filth, go listen to Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry give their Presidential platform.)

Well, for the record, I do NOT witness. Nor do I want to go out and be one. What passes for being a "Witness for Christ" in this country usually consists of handing out tracts to strangers, engaging in heated arguments, brow beating and bible bashing others. So no, I do not want to be a witness. But I would, however, kinda like to be open and honest with everyone. This should never be encouraged.

I see no reason what so ever to go out and force your self to BE a witness. If that is what you have to go out and DO, then it is something that you are NOT on any normal, given day. It has been my experience that people may not always see eye to eye with you, but they will respect and appreciate you a whole lot more if you are just you...warts and all. Why should a total stranger give a crap about some tract I would force into their hand? I would rather be genuine and have a relationship with another person so that they can see both my good and ugly side...and thereby see what Jesus might be doing in my life at that moment. Even if this is not always pretty, it is at least honest. This should never be encouraged.


#3. In these past few months of my time of darkness, where God seems to be refusing to speak to me, and withholds his presence at the same time, I ask myself why all of this is happening. I don't have an answer. My guess is that it is another one of his tests that is supposed to build character and teach me something. (Something about loneliness & isolation, I'm thinking.)

One thing that has become clear to me, is that I really don't like most people who call themselves "Christians"...again. I tend to hang out with more non-believers on a day to day basis thanks to work. I tend to find them more interesting than most American "Christians" I have known & know. I also find them to be more genuine, AND most of them...not all, but most of them, tend to extend more mercy to me on a daily basis. (I have all sorts of theories as to why that might be.)

In this time I have also learned that there are only about 2-3 people that I can actually talk to that they will be there for me...warts and all. (Sorry, no names.) They will listen to me and actually Hear. Sometimes they will just "Be" there with me...even when I am silent. Because at this point, I am rather "Talked Out." So I just want someone to stand there with me in this silence and keep the pie-hole shut.

Yeah. I have learned that only 2-3 people will show me that kind of mercy when I need it at my worst.

Like I said at the beginning, Mercy is a commodity in short supply.




I'm in chapter 9 of "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne. This chapter, "Jesus is for Losers," begins with a story by Shane.

"A few years back, I was talking with a homeless guy in an alley downtown, and he started sharing with me about God. He was familiar with the Bible but kept talking about "the Christians" in the third person. A little confused, I finally asked him, "Are you not a Christian?" "Oh no," he said. "I am far too messed up." I asked him what he thought a Christian is, and he said, "Someone who's got their stuff together and has things figured out." I confessed that I must not be a Christian either and that I wasn't sure I had ever met one, and we laughed."

I'm not laughing.

And this is the picture that the church in America has painted for itself...
for those both inside and outside the body.


I don't really want to be a witness to anyone, because I don't really want people to become a "Christian." I would, however, like them to follow Jesus. More and more, I see that there is a significant difference.

Being a "Christian" seems to be rather easy to me. There are all sorts of lists of "Don'ts" that you can follow that will make it easy. Christians in America have been taught to be very, very religious. We have been taught that it is important to wear our Sunday Best to church. A part of this wardrobe is a very large mask to put over our face. That way, you can pretend that you have it all together & figured out...and then judge, condemn and show no mercy to those who don't. (Particularly to those inside the church.)


According to Jesus, I am Salt & Light in a rotten world. I don't feel like that most days. At best, I am probably a light that gets too close to your eyes, and salt that stings a sore in your mouth.

Trying to follow Jesus is hard. I have a very weak faith. I can explain a lot about the God of the Bible and believe in him in an objective sort of way. However, feeling him in a subjective sort of way is really difficult for me. Not to mention the fact that I am a walking mess who is a loose cannon, with a very big and stupid mouth. I guess that means that I am not a "Christian." At least not according to what I see around me.

I'm OK with that. Like I said, I really do not want other people to become a "Christian" either. But I DO want to follow Jesus into his kingdom. And I would like others, especially "Christians" to do the same. Like I also said, I think there is a big difference.

I'm sure that I'll trip and stumble the whole way there. But maybe someone somewhere along the way will show me a little mercy. I'd really appreciate that, thank you very much.



Joe


P.S. I know that this post will probably be a downer to most who read this. At least I'm honest, though. This should never be encouraged...it bothers people too much.

As I said in point #2, music hits me pretty heavily. It can express emotions & thoughts that words cannot. So, I'll leave you with a song I like. I was surprised when I found this video, because it illustrates something very dear and deep to me. If...if you can put away your neo-fundamentalist lense for a moment, and simply go with this, then you might just understand my point.

If...if Jesus can be portrayed as the woman in this video...then I am that man who is tied to her wrist. She is running as fast as she can over dangerous terrain, eventually jumping off a cliff. I am that man. I am trying to keep up. I am being pulled, dragged, and stumbling the entire way...and I am scared out of my mind.

I AM that man. (Hey, at least the beat is perky.)



"Give me release, witness me.
I am outside.
Give me peace.
Heaven holds a sense of wonder,
and I wanted to believe that I'd get caught up
when the rage in me subsides."

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12th, 2011.



I will post what was the line from the headline that I found this photo under: "Until surgeons replaced a shattered piece of his skull with a permanent metal plate, Tim Ngo of Vadnais Heights, Minn., had to wear a plastic helmet to protect his brain. About 320,000 U.S. soldiers have suffered brain injuries in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new study estimates."

320, 000 thousand?!?!?!?...from MY country, a country that actually believes it is a "Christian" country...and yet we are still the only industrialized democracy that does not provide some type of universal health care for all of our people. (How embarrassing is that?)


Yesterday was a rather painful anniversary, so I've been thinking more than a little bit about peace these last few days.


I've been reading & listening to a lot of memorial testimonies about what happened ten years ago. As was the case with the Kennedy assassination and the attempt on President Reagan, everyone seems to remember where they were when they heard the news. I certainly do.

Yet, after all these years have passed, I now question much of our response to this tragedy. I really do!

I'm not a pacifist. Sometimes it is necessary to draw blood to defend innocent people. But just because something might be a necessity does not make it a righteous thing.

But now I find myself questioning my thoughts on the first part of that last statement. I really do!



If the first four blessings in the beatitudes are for the powerless conditions that we find ourselves stuck in because of being a fallen human. The next four are actual ways that Jesus insists we act upon and live in to, once we have tasted his grace. And I find it interesting that it begins and ends with "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

"Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Matt. 5:7-10




I while back I was listening to a podcast from Imago Dei Community. Here is what Rick McKinley had to say well over a year ago while preaching through the sermon on the mount;

"Jesus taught, "Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called sons of God." He doesn't say "Peace Lover." He says "Peace Maker." Someone who actively invests themselves in making peace. And every time you hear Jesus talk about peace, the Hebrew understanding of peace is the word "Shalom." And it was the state of being in the garden when all things were in harmony. God and creation. God and humanity. Humanity with itself. All those relationships, humanity with creation. And there was wholeness.

You could sort of visualize that as a complete circle, a perfect sphere with us in the middle. And the distance between all the different relationships had equity to them. So we had harmony with God, harmony with each other, and harmony with creation. But the world as it is in this place is bent. It's this twisted, egg shaped thing. And it's not whole, it's broken.

So there is massive inequity in relationships. You can look at the Gulf and say that's a picture of inequity. We've created what we can't undo. We can make oil rigs and we can make cars, but we can't make the Gulf of Mexico. We can't make seas. So there is inequity in our relationship and our stewardship.

There is inequity when there is injustice through the world. So there are massive inequities when we think of the sex trade, when we think of human trafficking, when we think of absolute poverty in parts of the world, when we think of genocide, when we think that millions & millions of people don't have clean water. There is inequity everywhere.

The language that Jesus is using is that "If you signed up to be discipled by me, if you signed up to follow me, then I need you to know that we're gonna be jumping into the middle of these places. We're going to be jumping into the middle of injustice, and we're going to make peace."

And if you're paying attention at all, you know that that's not gonna go well. Because the need is so massive, and the workers are so few, and the governments are stacked against us. I mean, you look at the world's system and you think how in the world are we supposed to make peace happen?

This teaching of Jesus recognizes that persecution and injustice are a part of an evil world. And peacemaking is a means of our involvement in the human predicament. It's a human predicament of war-like conditions. And this assumes that we will take responsibility against all the odds, risking to make peace. And we make peace out of a place of powerlessness. And in doing so we demonstrate the conviction that in the end God's kingdom will prevail. That the people who work for peace, and make peace, are doing so NOT because tomorrow the entire world will be at peace. We would love that to happen.

But you persevere in peace making, and you do so because you believe that in the end it will prevail, the kingdom will prevail. It will be on earth as it is in heaven. That one day there will be no addiction, and no war, and no mourning, and no crying, and no tears, because God's kingdom will reign. So we live discipled by Jesus into radical peacemaking. Radical non-violent peacemaking. Which is a call for all of us."


I know what the arguments are against being a peacemaker. "Those idiots are just a bunch of left-wing hippies." And I understand that true peace will never prevail until Jesus' kingdom is here in full. So why bother? The best we can do is to keep the peace on the block where we live...and depending on where you live, that's not always an easy task.

Well, I would counter with the thought that there will also always be fornication, lying, stealing, cheating & addiction until the kingdom is here in full. Do we surrender to that too?


...................................................................

I have a friend named Jon. I can't find him any more. He disappeared off the radar late last Autumn. Jon was a soldier in Iraq during the worst of the insurgency. He was blown up twice by I.E.D.s. The photos I saw of his leg were not very pretty.

In the area where Jon's squad patrolled, was a family who were friendly to the Americans. They would warn his unit if they knew of trouble ahead. When Christmas rolled around, his unit decided to give that family some presents even though this family was Muslim. They didn't have much to give, per say, so it was little things like hairbrushes & such for the children.

His unit went to that family on Christmas, but no one answered the door of the house. Eventually, some soldiers broke in to see what was the matter. The entire family was dead. Shot in their heads by insurgents...including the youngest, a three year old girl. Jon told me that he sees that image in his mind all the time.

The last time we spoke, Jon told me that he lives in a cave. He goes home to his apartment after doing nothing all day, and just sits. He refuses medical help from the V.A. and others. He just sits in his cave.

The last I heard, Jon said he was going to Colorado. The last I heard...


.......................................................


Maybe we work for peace as a testimony to the truth of Jesus, the only one who can restore "Shalom" to a very ugly world. Maybe we work for peace because it costs a hell of a lot less than war, in both money & lives. Maybe we work for peace because we are tired of seeing broken bodies and minds in the lives of young men & women veterans. Maybe we work for peace because we want to be called "Sons & Daughters of God."

And maybe, just maybe, we work for peace because our king didn't give us another option, but told us that this is what we are to do if we really, truly and actually ARE his followers.



The motto of the Imago Dei Community is;
"Taking the whole gospel,
to the whole person,
to the whole world."

My own thought on that is that if the gospel is not ALL of the above, then it is NONE of the above.


I dunno. It's just a thought.


Peace.

Joe



P.S. Jon, if you ever read this, I would really like to speak with you again.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sitting in the Silence of God.



I sit in the silence of God.

I sit in his absence and emptiness. He does not speak to me. He does not make his presence felt.

I feel so hollow. I am the very void I fear falling into.

I sit in the silence of God.

Why wont you talk to me? Why wont you draw near? Why wont you hold me?

I sit in your silence.

Is there another prayer I need to say? Is there another confession I need to make to add to the thousands upon thousands that I have already uttered? What is the magic word you wish to hear?

I sit in your silence.

I am tired beyond tired. I admit without hesitation that I am guilty of every crime, including wanting to be you. I am not you. And I'll say it again...I am NOT YOU.

Speak to me. Hold me and make your presence felt deeper & stronger than any reality there is. If this is to be a relationship, then be here NOW! Do not walk away or keep yourself hidden from me. I am desperate for you.

I am sitting in your silence and I DO NOT like it.

Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and your ways are not my ways. I cannot fathom you, and I accept that. But I cannot fathom your silence, and that I DO NOT accept!

A relationship is a two way street. When I speak to my earthly father, he will speak back to me. He will touch me. I can BE in his presence. Why cannot I be in yours?

I sit in your silence.
A silence I do not accept.

What is this lesson, this test, that you have set me in? I see enough pain & death in this world every day. I see the ugliness of sin, and the hideous results it brings. Do I need to see even more? I know loneliness. Is there even a deeper understanding of it that you wish for me to know?

I sit in the silence of God.

Please do not test my faith. I have so little to begin with. I am weak and faithless in all my ways. I need you to give me faith. I need you to give me strength. I need you to save me from myself. I NEED YOU!

If your back is turned away from me, at least let me see your back. If you are hiding from me, at least let me see the place where you hide. If you will not speak to me, at least let me hear the sound of your breath.

I am so hungry and thirsty for you. If I cannot stand in your presence, at least let me sit near the steps of your house...even the foot path will do.

I sit in the silence of God...
and it hurts the ears of my heart to it's very core.



NO peace.

Joe

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Black Rider visits a grocery store.




"When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! It's rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a days wages, and three quarts of barely for a days wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine."
Rev. 6:5-6

The Message Bible has a slightly different translation on that last part that I think might shed some light on exactly what these verses are getting at. "...but all the oil and wine that you want."


So tonight, as I wait to feel sleepy, I want to give an opinion in the form of a semi-polite rant. Since it's an opinion, and rather late in the evening, I wont bother to look up the various facts & figures, with the links to them. You can look them up yourself if you wish. Most of what I write will be common enough knowledge.

But first, a song...


(Kind of an angry song. But I can identify with it a little bit)


For the past couple of years now, I've been towards the bottom of the economic food chain. I don't live in poverty by any stretch. However, I now understand, in ways that I could never have before, what it is like to worry constantly about paying every bill...and knowing that you have nothing to spare should some major car repair or house problem occur.

I don't exactly thank God that I am in this situation. But I AM thankful that I have a deeper understanding of what so many, many other people have to deal with on a more permanent basis. THAT, and having had the opportunity to work for half a school year in the poorest neighborhood in the Twin Cities, with the poorest people I have ever known, has been quite an eye-opener.


Let me throw out a fact that no one would dispute:
We have been in the worst recession since the 1930s for years now. Every economist says that it will end when the average person feels secure enough in their job/jobs to go out and spend some extra money. If I, you, they, us all feel like we have some extra cash in our pockets, we will go out to eat more often, buy an extra shirt, and maybe splurge on an extra pair of shoes that we don't really need but just looks really cool when we wear them. This in turn, will spur the economy out of recession and back to a healthy state. Agree??? Good.

The Logic of "Short-sighted Capitalism." (AKA: Idiots!):
I'll make this part personal, because this is based purely on MY experience in one single store...but something tells me that it is the norm.

I've written about this before, so I wont re-hash all of it. Suffice it to say that in an effort to save money, my company...and my Union big-wigs, signed a contract that completely screwed the workers. We gave up getting any raises for 3 years, no extra $1 an hour on Sundays, no over-time, but we now have the joy of being forced to take a 1 week UN-paid vacation. We also went on a semi-permanent hiring freeze. Best of all, our hours are STILL being cut.

I spent the last few times at work being short-handed...tonight too, but still being expected to do the work of twice the people available. I was told by the others in my department to simply stop caring if I want to survive mentally. This bothers me to no end, because I WANT to care. I WANT to do a good job. I generally like most people and WANT to be friendly to customers. But the truth is, I now understand what they were talking about. To get the job even half-way complete, you have to turn off your emotions and simply become a speedy robot.

What is the result of a work environment like that? What is the result of any given worker feeling that they are NOT secure in their job, and that they DO have to worry about spending any extra cash?

You get crappy customer service, and those workers aren't spending any extra money, because A) They don't have any extra money. B) They are too worried to spend it if they had any. SURPRISE!!!!! (Needless to say, crappy customer service also results in less customers.)

Plus: THE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO SUCK!!!!!!!!!!

Not to worry though, because here's the best part: The higher-ups, those who already are doing fairly well and are making these rules, they get rewarded for setting up a system where the most vulnerable are being screwed over. My store alone handed out $85,000 in bonuses this past year to people who cut hours, benefits and wages for those who could least afford it. There is no way in heaven or hell that they actually saved that much money by cutting our hours!!! (I mentioned this some time ago, but each store also spent $120,000 on a new camera system to spy on the employees. I wonder if they got that much by taking away our extra pay on Sundays?)

That all sounds like brilliant way to make sure that the economy is stable, fair and healthy...don't you think? (That was sarcasm, in case you're not bright enough to figure it out.)



It's no secret that the American Middle-Class has been shrinking since the 1970s. The gap between the haves & have-nots grows wider every year. When the economy gets hurt, the people at the bottom feel it the most...and that bottom is getting bigger than one on a Mississippi girl at the local Crispy Cream.

Jump back to that quote from the Book of Revelation.
You see where I am going with this.
We at the bottom work all day for that quart of wheat.
Those a the top get all the oil & wine they want...and more.
(It's OK though, because they are the ones who create the crappy jobs on the bottom.)


Most of the world outside of Western borders is already in a situation like the one described in Rev. 6. A small minority of people control the vast majority of the wealth & power. The rest of the populace has to scrape by. Kinda looks like it's coming our way too...slowly but surely.

I have friends that love to throw out dirty words & phrases like "Class Warfare" and "Redistribution of Wealth," when we talk about inequity in our economy. They say that you can't take from the rich because they earned it fair and square...like Ken Lay, Bernie Madoff and Rush Limbaugh. Redistributing their money wont make anyone else rich anyway.


I have come to believe that such thoughts are a big pile of moist, steamy S@*T!!!


When you have hundreds of millions...actually many billions of dollars being handed out as bonuses to the people at the top, you really aren't helping anyone at all. The richest people are already rich. (I don't know the exact figures, but we all know that a small minority in the U.S. control the vast majority of wealth in this country. Personally, I think that is a very bad, and potentially dangerous, situation.)

Call me names if you wish, but it would seem a better idea...to me at least, that all of that money would do better in the hands of the workers near the bottom. Why? Because they would actually go out and spend it!!! This in turn, would spur the economy, help the company that they work for...and thus make the owners, C.E.Os., managers, and shareholders even wealthier...and probably result in an even bigger bonus. (Yeah, yeah, what do I know about economics?...other than the fact that the ways things are going right now doesn't seem to be working very well at the moment.)


I'm not knocking the free-enterprise system, or trumpeting socialism. But I am attacking greed and stupidity. If you are setting up a system where greed, bullying and very short-sightedness are rewarded, don't be surprised if the people at the bottom get a bit upset and do something foolish. When a person who just got their benefits cut pours sugar in the gas tank of the CEO who put that order through, it might not be legal, but it IS understandable.

When you have a group of people who are at the bottom, and others who feel that they may be headed that way too, you are creating a dangerous situation. I am beginning to understand how this frustration breeds resentment, and how that resentment can then lead to violence. Like I said, such an outburst might not be legal, but it is a bit understandable. (At least for me, now.)


Tonight, while on break, I read our corporate rag. It's put out monthly I believe. In it, the CEO of our company, and the owner or our franchise, reminded us to be good & diligent worker bees for our stores. Loyalty is important! Be a good little drone and smile, smile, smile.

I had the strangest urge to purchase a 5 lb. bag
of sugar and go for a drive to corporate headquarters.



Actually, now that I think about it, I would have a very hard time as a Believer, accepting a bonus knowing that I did something so low to the people on the bottom. To get a huge financial reward knowing that you cut people's jobs and/or livelihoods would make me feel very odd, indeed. Honestly, what must be going through that person's mind when & if they are sitting in church and they hear about "The least of these MY BROTHERS"? (It should come as no surprise that the two groups of people who respond most favorably to the Jesus film that Campus Crusade made back in the early 80s, are inmates, and CEOs and board members. Each are in a type of prison.)

I can only imagine what they will say when they stand before the king and he asks them why they treated the Image of God in such a manner, especially when they were the very ones who could have afforded to take a financial hit for a longer-term gain. Perhaps Jesus will ask them how they enjoyed their oil & wine, while making sure that those under them were working all day for that portion of wheat & barley.


But then again, maybe thoughts like that
never enter the minds of people who do these things
...and that's why they don't care.


"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Oddly enough, that very passage is mentioned in all three of the Synoptic Gospels," so it must be a big deal in the mind of Jesus.)



I happen to lean towards a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. I just think that the Scripture's evidence argues more forcefully for that position. I could obviously be wrong. Either way, it would appear to me that the hoof prints of that rider on a black horse are already among us...and his horse is leaving a substantial fecal mess all over the floor of my store. (Hey, I'm not gonna clean it up. I don't work in Maintenance.)

I dunno. I guess I'm just a bit frustrated this evening.

Peace

Joe.

P.S. If it helps to cheer you up, here's a song about riders on black horses.