Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Current" music that Howls!

"Get me out of here!"
Jordan Gatesmith, to Augsburg College Admissions.

I figured that since my last post was fairly touchy and serious, I should do the reverse for this one. So I figured that I would turn any readers of this blog onto my new favorite band. (Sorry, but probably not all that many observations on the religious scene in this one, folks.)

I say favorite for a couple of reasons. For starters I am extremely biased towards the music in my State, Minnesota. Minnesota has produced the likes of Bob Dylan, Husker Du, The Replacements, The Time, Prince, The Jayhawks, Atmosphere, Brother Ali...and such towering giants as The Trashmen and Whoopee John. (Who doesn't dig a little polka now & then?)

I used to go to a lot of concerts. (Never as many as I would have liked to, but...) I've been to a fair share at legendary 1st Avenue (Which Prince made even more famous in Purple Rain.), and a couple at it's red-headed step child of a venue, the Seventh Street Entry. One of my favorite musical memories was seeing Paul Simon at the Target Center and then running across the street to see the Trash Can Sinatras at the Entry. I also have a memory of two drunk chicks getting into a really nasty cat-fight right in front of me while I was attempting to watch Cheap Trick at 1st Avenue. (Ah yes, found memories indeed.)

BTW: If you read this and have your own good story from some mayhem & insanity you saw at a show, do me a favor and tell me about it in the blog response area. I love a good story. Just keep in PG rated.

My favorite place to watch a show at 1st Ave. was leaning on the stairs that led up to the second level on the left side of the main floor. If you ever remember seeing a man with his arms folded, staring keenly and straight ahead at the stage, with no interest what so ever in the happenings of everyone else around him, that would have been me.

I haven't been there in ages. Something tells me that if I did go at some future point, young people would come up to ask me if I was there to pick up my grandkids, loan them some money...or even possibly buy them beer. Either that, or they would inform the bouncers that some homeless guy was lost and wandering around the venue. (Neither sounds particularly appealing at this point.)

In fact, I rarely go to concerts anymore due to the obscene price of tickets, and the even more obscene molesting you receive from the likes of Ticket Master and it's ludicrously named "Convenient Charges." If you have never had the joy of experiencing a convenient charge before, simply imagine going to the proctologist for an exam and discovering that his new favorite utensil was a large, metallic mellon with spikes...that had been left in the icebox over night. So, no, I do not go to many concerts anymore.

Never the less, I still loves me some tunes!

So there is a rather new band on the local scene. It would also appear that they hit the lottery. The name of the band is Howler, and to my limited knowledge, they have barely been around for a year.

<--- You have to admit, that is a great title for a CD. And it was released less than two weeks ago.

I think it was the week of New Years, and I was listening to what is arguably the best radio station in the country, 89.3 The Current. They had on a bunch of the local critics from the music scene discussing, what else, music. They all seemed to concur that Minnesota music appeared to be undergoing a new golden age.

I have no opinion on that other than that I think it's great if true. For a State of only 5 million folks, and only one large metro area, we certainly pump out some cool stuff. It would be great to see us get more national attention. (See, I'm biased.)

They kept bringing up this band that hit it big over the summer called Howler. So I start googling around and found a couple of videos. I thought these songs were great. When the CD came out I bought it on Itunes. Now the songs are stuck in my head like a painful, yet beautiful & harmonious, sliver.

And this would be the very first song I heard/saw...

You just have to love a song that has the opening lines of; "I wouldn't have it any other way. You're bodies fine, but your mind is not OK."

This next one would be the second song I heard/saw. And before you listen to it, I want you to picture a 70 year old woman in a passenger seat yodeling along to the open sounds of the chorus. (Come on, close your eyes and picture an old bat doing this.) That would be my mother yesterday in my car as we drove home from lunch.

There is just something about a Beach Boy's style croon to a driving beat, with a shot of the Grain Belt Beer sign over the Hennepin Ave. bridge that I must be a sucker for.

Anyway, the main guy behind this group is a college kid named Jordan Gatesmith. (One of the local critics referred to him as "Cute." But if you are 19/20, decide. I DO wish I had his hair,. though) He's been popping around on the scene through High School. He wrote some tunes and picked a bunch of other guys from the scene to help him out. I'm not exactly sure how, but I guess they started to go viral over in the U.K. this past summer. Rough Trade Records liked what they heard. The next thing you know, they have a 4 CD contract.

So this morning I stumbled across a video interview that he must have done VERY recently. I think it's from Holland. I like the interview, but not for obvious reasons. It's not the flashiest...which is good to me. Jordan seems very self-effacing, which is also good in an upcoming star. He also comes off as extremely optimistic and a bit naive...which I actually like.

When you are only 19 and the world of popular music has opened it's doors and given you a big bear hug, you should come off as a little overwhelmed. At the same time, I am hoping that none of this goes to any of their heads...nor any of the other excesses that can come straight at a group of guys that age. (My Dad's inoculation and/or cure for this would be copious amounts of snow shoveling and cleaning all the fish in the live well. That will keep you sweaty, smelly and grounded!)

A word of warning. Jordan likes to cuss...quite a bit. Just so ya know.

Does that kid have any idea how big an ocean he is now swimming in? Probably not. But wouldn't you just love to take his place for a week or two? I would.


See, nothing all that thought provoking or deep in this post. I don't have to offer my sage advice or perfectly grounded, unbiased & wise observations on the heavy stuff all the time, do I? I just love music, and this stuff is pretty darn good.



P.S. As an added bonus, I shall include alternative versions that the boys did in the Current's studios recently. For more on this station that has obviously been blessed by the very hand of the Almighty, simply click on the following link. (Ooooh, I DID get a religious reference in.)

Once again, I give you Howler...

Once again, picture a 70 year yodeling along...

Jeeeeeez, those guys still have acne! I feel very old indeed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

An Anniversary.

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."
Psalm 139:13

"We call upon Southern Baptist to work for legislation that will allow for the possibility of Abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of sever fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental and physical health of the mother."
The Southern Baptist Convention, (Meeting in St. Louis, MO. 1971)

"Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart..."
Jer. 1:5

"I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from it's mother that it became an individual person."
W.A. Criswell (Former President of the Southern Baptist Convention expressing satisfaction at the 1973 Roe V. Wade decision.)

Today is the anniversary of the fateful Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America. It was left up to the individual States to work out the details, and it's been a mess ever since. Even back then, Christians were confused on this issue, and bible verses being taken out of context didn't help the matter.

This post is not an attempt to belittle either side, or to find humor in any of this situation. It is, however, an attempt to call on the need for civility on this issue AND, if nothing else, to call on Believers involved in the Pro-Life movement to recognize that there is a lot more complexity and nuance on this issue than many would lead you to believe. Also, if we want to make any progress on this issue, we had better come to terms with just how complex it truly is, and not simply allow ourselves be lead by the nose by politicians & pastors who gain notoriety & power out of doing so.

For the record, my sympathies lie with the Pro-Life camp. (But they are also the ones I will take to task the most.) Abortion is a dirty business. All of the people I know, both male & female, who have been involved in an abortion have their scars. They are not always physical, but they are there. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There is nothing easy or simple about an abortion. The people who have been involved in them need compassion, love and grace...not condemnation or self-righteous judgment. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Here is the dilemma: The majority of Americans do not like abortion. The majority of Americans think that they are wrong for a variety of reasons. However, the majority of Americans, even those who dislike abortion, do not wish to see it criminalized. (I won't even bother to put up any links to that statistic. You can easily find it where ever you look.)

And this is where I find myself. I don't like it. But I don't want it criminalized. So what do I do?

Some UNcomfortable Thoughts:

#1. Why criminalizing abortion doesn't work: Let us say that tomorrow the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, and all abortions were made illegal...would that solve the problem? Would there now by no more abortions in America? (Before you read on, think about that question for a moment. Think about the ramifications.)

Well, the answer would be a solid "NO!" No, abortion would not end. Instead, two things would happen. 1) People from the Middle-Class on up would give a huge economic boost to the Canadian & Mexican medical industry, because that is where they would head. People too poor to afford a trip out of the country would quickly find unsafe back-alleys.

In fact, the World Health Organization just released some facts a few days ago that show that restricting abortions actually has the negative side affect of causing MORE abortions in countries where these restriction occur. This study is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but it gets the point across that criminalizing something like this simply doesn't work.

2) If abortion was now illegal, what you would sadly, sadly see would be a bunch of self-righteous "Christians" waddling into their churches next Sunday, patting themselves on their backs and feeling very happy that they could now ignore this problem. They would then be happy to condemn any teen girl who made a big mistake with the words "Congratulations, you're going to be a mother...and stop mooching on welfare!" In the mean time, they could conveniently ignore the fact that abortions were still happening.

Be honest with yourself. You know full well that something along these lines would happen.

#2. Abortion will NEVER be outlawed: This is the great hope and lie that has been fostered for ages now by people drooling for power. Politicians on the Left play to their base when they scare people with the idea of Roe V. Wade being overturned. Politicians on the Right do the exact same thing in reverse. Some of them might actually believe it. However, the vast majority know that neither will ever occur. Not after almost 40 years of it being legal. They also know that harping on this is a cheap & easy way to get votes by playing to their base. In the mean time, no real progress is made to finding a solution that might actually work.

#3. When does "Life" begin: The easy, and I mean easy as in "Simplistic," answer is to say that life begins at conception. Let's face it. It's not a dog or a cat that is now growing inside that woman. For catholics and some others I've talked to, that egg that has now been fertilized has all the same rights as any other fully developed human walking around. However, there are some problems with this...

Not to long ago, Mississippi attempted to get Personhood defined as beginning at conception. This is a very Conservative State with a Republican governor. The citizens of the State were asked to vote on the matter, and it all went down in flames. Why? Because for once, people took a few moments to soberly reflect on what that would entail.

It's easy to "Say" that this 3 week old fetus is a human, but...

Does a pregnant woman now buy two tickets when she goes to the movies? What about when she gets on a bus or a plane? What if you see a pregnant woman smoking or drinking (A really & truly horrible idea if you are pregnant.), do you call child protective services? What if a pregnant woman is skiing, jogging, etc. Is that child endangerment? If that 3 week old fetus is now considered a full human, as that attempted law implied, then she would have to buy a second ticket, and you might have to call the police if she has a beer. Even conservative Republican Gov. Hayley Barbour saw the problems with this and turned against the Mississippi proposal in the end. This is indeed a very complicated issue.

From my own perspective, if you really believe that a month old fetus is indeed a human in every respect that matters, then I would say that you should, indeed, buy two tickets. Either live what you believe or stop saying such trite things, because it's obvious that you do not truly believe it.

To further complicate this issue, let's think about the fertilization of eggs in medical labs. The normal procedure is to remove and fertilize numerous eggs. Only some of them will be put back in in the hopes of a successful pregnancy. According to many, those fertilized eggs that remain and are now frozen until and IF they are ever needed again, are now little souls in a dish. In many cases, those eggs are never used again. Does this mean that those are really & truly human beings frozen in state until Christ returns?

I'm very serious about that question. These are the types of things that people do not wish to consider because it leaves us with more questions than answers. This is also why we need to eschew easy answers & simplistic platitudes that are merely politically/"Religiously" correct and popular, and instead sit down to have a mature discussion.

#4. When Pro-Life is really Pro-Birth: To my mind, caring only about a pregnancy only shows that you care about "Life" up to a certain point. My biggest criticism of my fellow Believers on this issue is that they no longer seem to care about a baby after it comes out of the womb. If you really want to earn the label "Pro-Life" then it seems to me that you had better care about the whole life of that kid.

This means that you had better be equally concerned that this baby grows up in an environment as clean as it can be. He better have access to a school that is properly funded, and some decent health insurance. You had better be concerned that there is a decent economic environment for his parent or parents to work in so as to provide a good living for that kid, and so that poverty is avoided. In fact, you had better be savagely concerned about poverty.

Do not even try to tell me that it is only the government's, societies', or an individual's business to make sure all the babies are born, but then it it is not their "Role" to care after that. Be consistent in your concern or shut up! If you do not care about the WHOLE life of the person, you are not, nor ever will, be "Pro-Life." You are merely "Pro-Birth," and to say otherwise is hypocrisy.


I think I'll cut it short here. This is a very difficult and sensitive subject. I am disturbed more often than not by what I see on this issue. I see more yelling and screaming AT each other than I do people actually talking TO and discussing WITH others. That is no way to find a solution.

Near as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of people would like to see abortion stop...even those who favor complete legalization. It would seem to me that they only way any of us could work towards nearing this common goal is to find common ground in ways to prevent the desire for an abortion in the first place...and doing so is no easy task.

I dunno. If I had the ultimate answers to fix this, then I would be God...and I'm pretty sure that I am not. I'm sorry if I hurt any readers feelings. That was not my goal. I am hoping that people of good will, Believers and non-believers, on all sides of this issue will begin a dialogue that might actually make some progress. (Unfortunately, I know human nature.) A guy can hope, can't he?



Friday, January 20, 2012

The Gospel according to Etta

Jamesetta Hawkins: a.k.a. Etta Jame, Miss Peaches, the Matriarch of R & B. (1938-2012)

Last Sunday, Pastor Scott challenged all of us to try reading a chapter from the book of Proverbs each day. So this afternoon before work I was perusing through chapter 3. I've been using "The Message" bible version recently, and so far I thoroughly enjoy the earthy quality that this translation has to it.

Any-hoo, so I'm driving to work with one of my favorite stations on, and they announced that the Rhythm & Blues singer, Etta James had just passed away. I can't say that I was a huge fan, nor did I know a great deal about her. I will confess that I have always had a weakness for her song, "At last," for some reason that I think goes back to first hearing it in a cartoon or spoof. But that was about the extent of my knowledge.

In tribute to Etta, the station played a song by her that I was unfamiliar with. I liked it immediately. However, what really hooked me after about 30 seconds was that the lyrics matched extremely well with a portion of Proverbs that I had read only 30 minutes prior.


Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don't try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen to God's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he's the one who will keep you on track.
Don't assume you know it all.
Run to God! Run from Evil.
Prov. 3:3-9

And now for the lyrics...

"Trust in me in all you do.
Have the faith I have in you.
Love will see us through, if only you trust in me.
Why don't you, you trust in me?
Come to me when things go wrong.
Cling to me, Daddy, and I'll be strong.
We can get along, we can get along, if only you trust in me"

And now for Etta...

It's funny to me, because both of them really do express all that YHWH is asking us for; Trust. I've heard people criticize christianity because you have to recognize that you are a sinner, and should repent of that. Some will say that this means you have to go around thinking that you are a bad, bad, naughty person, and therefor this promotes low self-esteem and what have you. However, to my mind it is more of an embrace of reality.

I am far from perfect. Somedays, I am in a galaxy far, far away from perfect. ("Oh Lawdy! Preach it now!") But that really isn't where it begins or ends for me on this thought, that is merely one portion of it all. When I think about trusting God, it is more of a recognition that I really do not have much in the way of answers to a good many things, but that he DOES. So, if I am often clueless, but he knows what's what...why shouldn't I and place my trust in YHWH? Again, to me it is simply an embrace of reality, albeit one my sinful natures hates to acknowledge. Still...

So, should I write a doctoral thesis in theology based on this musical coincidence? Probably not. Still, I did find it a helpful tonic to have in my head right before work.

Hey, some people find biblical significance in visual arts. I find quite a bit of it in music. (Now if only Neil Young would do a version of that song.)

Who says that the God of the bible doesn't have a sense of humor? (Wait. Don't answer that. I probably wouldn't care about their opinion anyway.)

Nighty night.


P.S. And now a little something for those who are with their "Special Someone" this evening. (In my case, that would be my dog.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's worth it.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
Heb. 11:1 & 2

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
James 1:2 & 3

The people served YHWH throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things YHWH had done for Israel.
Judges 2:7

Why does someone going into the military have to go through boot camp? It's so that the person that they are can be torn away and replaced by someone new...someone who can fight and survive in a very hostile environment.

We had our men's bible study last night. We were studying through Chapter 7 of "The Story," and it's the section where Joshua is going to bring Israel into the promised land and conquer it. The entire lot of us found ourselves giggling over the various sections where the Israelites promised to be faithful to Joshua and to God. In particular, there was one section where the people uttered the phrase; "Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you."

This caused a couple of us to laugh quite a bit, because the Israelites had been anything BUT faithful. In fact, one common characteristic of the people Moses brought out of Egypt is that is that they knew instinctively how to squeal like pre-teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert at the first glimpse of any hardship.

But then we stopped and talked about this. THESE people that were saying this to Joshua were NOT the same people that Moses brought out of Egypt. At best, this group of folks had been kids and young adults. Their parents had been the ones to fuss non-stop. These folks were different. Why?

Boot camp.

Something about living in the wilderness, being truly dependent upon God for 40 years did a number on this group. They still struggled with sin. They had the same law that Moses had given their parents. But they had much more than that. They had experienced God first hand.

It is soooooooo easy & tempting to reduce the God of the bible to a theological formula, something that can be grasped and "Understood" by our finite, little minds. I've come to see that this way of seeing God is pretty comforting in the immediate sense, but doesn't hold much water when things get tough. It's even worse when simplistic platitudes are offered. Worse still when some Health & Wealth moron yanks the bible out of context and says it's all your fault because you lack faith.

In a way, you DO lack faith. You lack faith in the REAL God of scripture. A God who was not meant to be reduced and easily understood. This God was meant to be experienced. And a mutually experienced episode of trial, difficulty, testing, whatever, produces a relationship that cannot be defined or explained in mere words.

I've been going through a frustrating, yet beautiful season for some time now. Money is tight. Job & career options are scarce. While none of that has dissipated or eased, God has been revealing stuff to me over these past months as to how he has been faithful. I can't say that this had made things much easier. But I can say that they have made things quite a bit more bearable.

What I learned last night was how much I am not alone in this. The body I attend is called Living Waters. As church bodies go, were not all that large. But I have found that the people there really do have big hearts, and they want those hearts full of Jesus. They also, for the most part, all seem to be going through a lot of trials at the moment. So we talked about this last night.

Most of us have begun thinking and dreaming about trying to find some land to make a permanent home for us. None of us want to build a "Church." We ARE the church. We would just like a base where we can come together and then move out and be the gospel to the local community and society. (BTW: If you are one who believes that the body of Christ has to be about either the "Social Gospel" or purely the "Salvation Gospel", instead of being about the WHOLE Gospel to the whole person, who might get a bit itchy hanging out with us.) Anyway, the thing we desire the most is that whatever we end up doing will actually be God's doing, and not just wishful thinking and willful imposing.

My own take is that the "Sin of Presumption" is a huge problem in the American church. I hear people talk about knowing God's will all the time. Generally, I am left with the impression that this was merely their breakfast burrito speaking.

So last night we began to wonder if all of the various trials that members are wrestling with is sort of a large group participation in God's refining process. Is God allowing all sorts of difficulties to hit us as individuals, and as a group, so as to teach a greater dependence and reliance upon him? Can we, should we, have "Faith" in these circumstances?

Is it worth it?

Faith is hard. It is. Those who tell you otherwise are either very shallow, or merely lying to get your money. Being sure of what you do not see is not the most logical attitude to have.

Is it worth it?

I knew a guy who was a type of commando in the Air Force back in the first Gulf War. He told me about one of the tortures/training things he had to go through. Suffice it to say, it involved walking across the bottom width of an Olympic sized swimming pool with weights and a rope tied to you. (The rope was for when you would pass out...which everyone did repeatedly.)

Was it worth it?

Well, by the time my friend was done with his training, his lung capacity was such that he could run around the mountains like a goat, where as you & I would would most likely cry for our mommies.

Was it worth it for Israel?

40 years in the wilderness had produced a people who knew their God. They made their mistakes, to be sure. However, they KNEW their God. They knew how faithful he was, and what he was capable of. Head knowledge is no substitute for actual experience, and that generation had it in spades.

Is it worth it for Living Waters?

One of the worst things to happen to a church body is to be successful. (A certain irony in that.) Seriously, it is so easy to think that your church growth, or some successful ministry is because God is/was on your side. (If Joshua 5:13 & 14 is to be believed, the only side God is on is his own.) It's easy to become prideful. It's also easy for a church body to become a church fortress. When they really want to give Jesus a black eye, "Churches" can become social clubs and cults of personality.

I get the sneaking suspicion, and I am not the only one to feel it, that God is working to help us avoid these dangers. The temptations will still be there. However, if as a body we not only suffer together, but persevere together...bearing each other along the way, we may find it a bit easier to avoid these temptations.

The biggest hurdle will be how to pass this along to the next generation. The generation of Israelites that succeeded Joshua and the elders were a disaster. But I think it's worth the risk.

Is it worth it for me?

I'm a messy person at the best of times. I went years before I was finally diagnosed with a type of depression. It does not define me by any stretch, but it does inform me. So I have the joys of dealing with external and internal issues. Some of my issues I have done to myself. Some of my issues have been life, society, and the world "doing unto me." Now, throw in the frustrations of the job & career stuff. YAY!!!!!!

But I have to honestly say that struggling with all of it really is worth it to me. God has closed many doors for me. At this point, he is kind of the only option I have left. I'll be the first to admit that it does not make everything easy, or less confusing and frustrating. But I also have to admit how much better my circumstances are than so many, many other people in this world. I should never stop giving thanks for that. All of the stuff that comes my way, both good and bad, should cause me to lean into God. All of it.

In the end, it is worth it to me if I get to experience the God of scripture. He is not the safest being to hang out with. He snuck up on Jacob in the dark and had a wrestling match with him, after all. But I want that. (Watch me eat those words at a later date.) I want to experience him so that my faith is made stronger, and deeper than words can explain. I want IT!

Is it worth it?

Yeah, it is.
It's difficult. It's scary.
In fact, quite often it's nerve-wracking.
But in the end, what else really matters?
It's worth it.

Sorry, this one was just way too easy. :)



Monday, January 16, 2012

Trust Fund Kings

When you enter the land that YHWH, your God, is giving you and take it over and settle down, and then say, "I'm going to get me a king, a king like all the other nations around me," make sure you get a king that YHWH, your God, chooses...And make sure he doesn't build up a war machine, amassing horses and chariots. He must not send people back to Egypt to get more horses, because God told you, "You must never go back there again!" And make sure he doesn't build up a harem, collecting wives who will divert him from the straight & narrow. And make sure he doesn't pile up silver and gold.

This is what must be done: When he sits down on the throne of his kingdom, the first thing he must do is to make a copy of this revelation (The Law) on a scroll, copied under the supervision of the Levitical priests. That scroll is to remain at his side at all times.
Duet. 17:14-19 (The Message Bible)

So this past Sunday, Scott was preaching in chapter 13 of "The Story." It was an overview of the life of Solomon. There never seems to be enough time in any given sermon to cover all the ground that can be unearthed in various passages, and plenty certainly were in these passages.

Thankfully, Scott has ME! Since it's my day off, I can take the time to dig into the stuff that I thought was really thought provoking and see what I can find.

But first, some background:
First, Solomon's name essentially means "Peace...Shalom,". King David, his father, had been a military man from roughly the age of 14. (Not bad if you're a middle school kid trying to impress the girls.) However, YHWH even forbade David to build him a temple because of his bloodshed. David had copious amounts of children, but Solomon was the one chosen to succeed him. (In my opinion, David had not been a very good father. Solomon would not be much better.) In fact, God named Solomon Jedidiah, which essentially means "Beloved by God."

I'm never sure how God's divine favor works with individuals. You can get into all of the predestination nuances you want, but I still end up confused. Suffice it to say that God chose Solomon over all the others for what ever reason.

Second, where as David had spent most of his life in the boot-camp of God, learning how to be dependent upon YHWH, Solomon was born into privilege. Solomon was a Trust Fund Baby. Solomon never had the type of trials that David went through. He essentially had it all handed to him. As unpleasant as they were for David at the time, those trials did give him an advantage that Solomon didn't have.

Also, unlike Saul, his predecessor, David knew how to admit his mistakes and seriously repent. In fact, what I found most interesting is that David was never above being tongue-lashed by the prophets. They could confront him publicly and and call him out. (Something unheard of in any other kingdom.) David had a keen comprehension of where he stood with respect to YHWH due to all of the time he spent experiencing him in hardship. As for his son? Not so much. And one thing to notice with Solomon is that he never seemed to have anyone holding him accountable for whatever reason. (I'm pretty sure that those two often go hand in hand in one way or the other.)


So I'm sitting with my friends in the service, and as Scott is preaching, my friend Tom leans over and asks me a question. He asks; "Do you think that Solomon would have followed YHWH at all if he hadn't been tasked with building the Temple?"

I thought that was a great question. Truth is, I really don't know. It is interesting to note that during the life of Solomon, he appears to be very faithful to God during the temple building process. Things appear to begin falling apart shortly after that. In fact, lets jump to that point in 1 Kings 9. At the beginning of the chapter, it says that Solomon had built the temple and his palace and "had achieved all he had desired to do." And that's when YHWH appears to him for a final major pep talk and warning.

And things begin to go very wrong from here...

At the beginning of this post, I put up the warnings for any future kings that God had given to Israel ages ago while they were still wandering in the wilderness. They had just come out of Egypt (i.e. SLAVERY) and God was warning them about returning to that land...even in a metaphorical way.

Now take a look at what happened to Solomon...

1. 9:15 = Solomon uses forced labor (A form of slavery) to build his projects.

2. 9:16 = Solomon makes an alliance and marries into Pharaoh's family.

3. 9:17-20 = Solomon builds up a military machine with chariots & horses.

4. 9:20 & 21 = Solomon enslaves foreigners.

Does any of that remind you of another Super Power in that neighborhood?

And now begins a sort of "Quiet before the storm" interlude of sorts. The Queen of Sheba comes to Jerusalem to pay Solomon a visit. After being wowed by his wisdom and splendor she makes some interesting remarks to Solomon. Her recorded final words to him are; "Praise be to YHWH your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of YHWH's eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness." (1 Kings 10:9) I am quite certain that the writers of these passages placed those words strategically because of what would happen next. You simply cannot maintain justice & righteousness when you are disobeying direct and clear commands for God.

People get more than a little buggy when they see those numbers. Pretty soon there are all sorts of conspiracy theories running wild. To my mind, suffice it to say that even as far back as the ancient Hebrews, those numbers have simply been a warning that something bad was about to happen.

"The weight of gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents..." (v.10:14) The writers could have chosen a different description, but they didn't. Why? Well, I'm guessing because from here on out Solomon begins to openly, glaringly and obviously break every command that God had given to any potential king well before the people even dreamt of having one.

You read the rest of the story from 1 Kings 10:14 through 11:13 and you will see that Solomon broke all of the commands from Deut. 17, and the result was EXACTLY what God had warned them about. In particular, I love the Message Bible's translation of 11:1, "King Solomon was obsessed with women." Sure enough, Solomon's sex drive lead him away from God and right off a cliff.

God had given those commands in Deuteronomy not only because he didn't want the people to actually hike back to Egypt and live there on the Nile, he didn't want them to become like them. Solomon enslaved people. He gathered up massively obscene amounts of wealth. He not only acquired horse and chariots (FROM Egypt) he also became an "Arms Dealer." He profited off of war!!! (Does that sound oddly familiar to any modern country we might know?) And after all of that, it is then and only then that the narrator records that Solomon fell into sexual hedonism. * (Again, does any of that sound oddly familiar to any modern country we might know?) Once the hedonism was achieved, Solomon was off messing around with other gods...and some of them were really sick even by today's standards.

God had put up those prohibitions to protect Israel from returning to Egypt.
YHWH did not want them to return to that type of slavery.
Solomon had not only returned Israel to Egypt.
Israel had BECOME Egypt.

So what was the result of all of this? Well, Solomon lost. He started well, but he finished pretty weak. God got so worked up that he told him he would break away most of the kingdom from his descendants. However, because God was moved out his love and promises to David he did allow the dynasty to keep a portion and survive.

YHWH is faithful because he IS.

Rehoboam, a.k.a. "You little, spoiled brat!":
At a very affluent school where I worked, there were a couple of kids there whose parents had bought them Hummers for their birthdays. Personally, I think you should be arrested for child endangerment for doing something like that. Those kids waved those cars around as if they were royalty. (They were certainly a royal "Something.")

I am not opposed to people having nice things, or to being wealthy. I wish everyone was. However, those parents did their children no favors by buying them such an ostentatious gift. Those kids had no true sense of ownership, only entitlement. They had put no blood, sweat or serious effort into acquiring those cars. As a result, there was a disconnect from reality to them.

And so it was with Solomon's son, Rehoboam. It's hard to say if little Reh-reh even knew his grandfather David. What he DID know was a life in a palace of magnificence, comfort and ease...and that his Dad had a hard time keeping his robe closed. (Why is it that David's family seemed to produce such poor Father-Figures?) Now try to imagine being a kid among all of that. What do you think is likely to happen?

Again, this produces a disconnect from reality.

Solomon had brought Israel to great fame, progress, and prowess. His architectural achievements were astounding. But the price had been high. He had squeezed the land and the people, and all were tired of it.

When it was time for Rehoboam to ascend the throne, the people asked him for relief. The older generation counseled that it was now time to look to the needs of the people. Everything that needed doing had been done. But instead, Rehoboam listened to all of his buddies that had grown up in the same Trust Fund privilege that he had...including that same disconnect to reality.

You know the end result.

The irony in Rehoboam's story is that his name means "He will enlarge the people," even though the complete opposite happened.

Honestly, I think things would have been different if both Solomon & Reh-reh had been allowed to suffer in a boot-camp-like experience with God. What is it about humans that we need God when things are bad, but immediately seem to forget about him when things are good?Hardship seems to build character like nothing else. Why is that?

I dunno. These were just some observations that came to mind while I was sitting there on Sunday morning. Take it for what it's worth.

Sorry, this was the best I could do to find an appropriate song for this post. "Duchess" seemed like snotty enough title, SO. Still, the vocals are pretty cool.



* Footnote: A nation does not become truly freakishly immoral in one day. It is a process. In the fall into sexual immorality that Solomon experienced, there seems to be a pattern. To my mind, it is intentionally set out by the writers of this story. I see it echoed throughout Scripture...and in world history too.

All nations have their births. From there they begin to grow as a community, a shared identity. Eventually, they all face a crisis. Those that survive to be the stronger, soon seem to think it is their destiny to be the master of all around them. After a while, they look at the rest of the world with a dismissive arrogance. All the while, they seem to be ignoring the needs at home...especially for those on the margins.

Maybe it's just me, but I have noticed that when a people begin to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable, they soon seem to ignore people in general. After a while, people are no longer humans made in the image of God. They are just "Things." Once that is achieved, it is only a matter of time that these "Things" can be exploited for all sorts of wants and desires...including sexually.

We can complain all we want about the sexual immorality of Sodom & Gomorrah, but I can assure you that they didn't start out that way. If we are to believe the bible, take a look at Ez. 16:49 & 50. The desire to sexually abuse strangers was only the cherry on the icing on a cake that had been in the works for some time. Those cities began down that road to ruin by neglecting the most vulnerable, those at the margins...the "Least of These." The final step was complete sexual hedonism...and then death. If they had wanted to remedy that, they should have started at the roots, and not simply put a legislative band aid on some of the results.

I can't help but see certain hints of that in the choices Solomon made in his life. And I can't help but see some parallels in a particular country that I live in, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Separation of Nobody

"Name him Nobody. You've become nobodies to me, and I, YHWH, am a nobody to you."
Hosea 1:9

Yesterday and today were/are my days off. I woke to an extremely cold morning, and the day stayed overcast and dark gray through out. I also woke up to discover that the job I had been working & hoping for for a month now was no longer mine to be had.

OK Lord, I have been asking you to teach me how to trust you in all things. This is difficult for me because I do not go to a "Health & Wealth" church where they teach that you are a cosmic Santa, dispensing whatever we wish for. But I am still frustrated...

I've never, ever been a superstitious person, but I couldn't help but note that it was Friday the 13th.

"To experience the Crucifixion is to lose all the supports that would protect us from a direct confrontation with the world and with ourselves."
Peter Rollins

Almost every single morning when I wake up, I have to wrestle with some less than pleasant thoughts. I am a phony, a fake, a fraud...a fool. Those thoughts are always there, bubbling just below the surface. Always there. Always bubbling. Always.

I am little more than a foolish clown who acts the idiot for all of my "Friends" to see.

Many, many years ago while at Bethel Seminary, all of the students were given a battery of tests to figure out our strengths, weaknesses, personalities, etc. Most people know the term "Extrovert." Well, as luck would have it, I scored highest in the rare category of "Functional-Extrovert." In other words, I am only outgoing when there is a need for it. A rare category to fall into, indeed. An anomaly, a square peg, a loner...a freak. I prefer to be called "Nobody."

"When Israel was only a child, I loved him. I called out, "My son!" - called him out of Egypt.""
Hosea 11:1

So last night I got together with a friend. I see him only once or twice a year at best. He is an artist, and a very gifted one at that. He sees and picks up on things that I can't. I think he is brilliant in many ways I WISH I could ways I BEG to be. But sometimes, I am not sure if what he senses is real or imagined. But he always challenges me and makes me think.

He didn't mean to, but last night he awoke stuff in me that I don't like to be reminded of. Like I said, I doubt he meant to, but he hurt me by awaking these memories. I am certain that this was not his intention. However, it stung pretty bad. Maybe these memories are real, maybe they are imagined, maybe they are just my perception.

But it left me asking; "So, did anyone actually "Like" me all those years ago?" I was left with the impression that I guess not, after that conversation. (To be fair, it was nothing that I had not sensed for years now.) I was a funny guy who was viewed as an annoyance and best.

"From the very beginning, we humans have wanted to escape this world, to become like gods."
Peter Rollins

I have always felt like an outsider, an observer...NEVER a participant. In my quieter moments I never feel like I truly belong anywhere. It's as if my lot in life is to watch everything and everyone else, and simply take a mental record for some unforeseen reason. Other than that, I serve no purpose.

"Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that happen tomorrow? Nobody'll remember them either."
Ecc. 1:11

I often wonder if I am truly close to anyone. Do I truly have friends, or are they merely close associates? The "Friend" that I hung out with last night is very complicated, and so am I...and so is our history and relationship. Sometimes I wonder if we truly are friends, or if we are nothing more than steel that sharpens steel.

If I feel this alone at the best of times, do I really, truly have friends? Or is this just my perception? If so, does that mean I'm an even bigger freak than I already think that I am?

"They called me a liar. "Exaybachay!...he who talks loud saying nothing." They ridiculed me. My own people. And I was left to wander the earth alone. I am nobody."
Dead Man

I often wonder about the people I have known over the years. What did/do they think of me? What sort of impression did I make on them? More often then not, I get the feeling that I made a fool out of myself on a repeated basis, and that's all people remember about me. That is certainly the impression I get when these memories come back.

At best, it would seem, I was a clown. I couldn't stop putting my foot...both feet actually...deep into my mouth. I still do that. It is one of my greatest skills! As such, I am an object of ridicule. My memory tells me that I was to be pitied by my associates, but never truly befriended.

"Just as the resurrected Christ is said to have borne the scars of the Crucifixion, so our Resurrection life will continue to bear the marks of death we had to undergo."
Peter Rollins

I have always been an outsider. I am a "Third Wheel" in all my dealings and relationships.

"I am still your God, the God who saved you out of Egypt. I'm the only real God you've ever known. I'm the one and only God who delivers."
Hosea 13:4

I am told that I am very gifted and knowledgeable in certain areas. I am good with historical data and biblical information. I can translate complex and complicated theories and ideas into plain English. In other words, I am a wealth & fount of curious facts and pointless trivia.

Too bad I seem to be thwarted at every turn and completely unable to put any of this pointless trivia into practical use.

"Then I took a good look at everything I'd done, looked at all the sweat & hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing."
Ecc. 2.11

I have a memory that is very vivid and clear, and I have never been able to shake it loose so that it falls away. It is a scar deep in my soul, and seems to be a marker that defines who I am and how I see myself. It is of my "Friends" from associates.

It was a Tuesday in the winter of 1986/87. We had agreed to all meet for a movie up by our old college. Tuesday nights were "Discount" nights, so the theater was going to be crowded. I had to work my job 40 miles away. This made it difficult for me, with only a minimal amount of time to get to the theater to meet my friends. Also, I recall that it was snowing that night, which didn't help.

I drove as quickly as I could, through the snow, to meet my friends. By the time I got there, the place was packed and the lines were huge, and the movie was to start in about 5 minutes. I wasn't worried. My friends were there before me. My friends had all bought the tickets, so I was safe and wouldn't have to worry about the impossible lines.

I looked for my friends. When I found them, they were on the other side of the glass in the line headed into the movie. I knocked on the glass and waved to get their attention. My friends waved back. I called out to them to ask which one had reserved a ticket for me.

My friends all looked at each other and shrugged.

Knowing that I was to be driving 40 miles through the snow in barely enough time to get to a place that was going to be overflowing & busy, NONE of my friends had even bothered to think to reserve a ticket for me.

I doubt very much that a single one of them even comes close to remembering that day...but I do.

That's when you understand your "Value" as a living, breathing "Afterthought."

I gave them all the finger and left.

My "Friends."

"What is your name?"

"My name is nobody."

"Excuse me?"

"Exaybachay: He who talks loud, saying nothing. He who talks..."

"I thought you said your name was Nobody?"

"I prefer to be called Nobody."
Johnny Depp & Gary Farmer in "Dead Man."

I am sorry. I am sorry that I am a phony, a fake, a fraud, a fool, a afterthought.

I never meant to be a burden to anyone.

"The Incarnation tells us that if we want to be like God, then we must be courageous enough to fully and unreservedly embrace our humanity...The faith that is born in Resurrection does not enable us to escape these deeply troubling anxieties; it provides the power to face up to them."
Peter Rollins

Let's hope Peter is correct about that.

The sky is still gray, but not as dark gray as yesterday. It is a bitterly cold morning.

Ladies & gentlemen, my theme song for the entire decade of the 90s.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Friendly Dialogue

Paul then stood up in the meeting at Mars Hill and said: "Men of Athens! I see in every way that you are religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." Acts 17:22 & 23

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.
1 Cor. 3:6 & 7

"Chickity China, the Chinese chicken. Have a drum stick and your brains stops tickin'."
Barenaked Ladies

I inhaled a book the other day. Actually, to be fair I haven't totally finished it. But I did burn through most of it in about an hour. It's not that the book was tiny. It is over 140 pages. It's just that I found it so enjoyable and easy.

The book is "A Friendly Dialogue between an Atheist and a Christian," by Luis Palau and Zhao Qizheng. Essentially it is the transcripts of a public discussion they had a few years back. For those who don't know, Luis Palau is a Argentinian Evangelist now based primarily in the U.S. (The new Billy Graham in many respects) and Qizheng is a scientist and Chinese diplomat.

I won't bother going into detail about all that they spoke of, or the interesting cultural nuances that they touched on. Suffice it to say that the concepts of spirituality, Atheism & religion are very different in China as compared to those in the Western world. (I did find it all rather fascinating.) If you are curious for more information you can click here.

The main reason I enjoyed this book was that I found it so completely refreshing to hear two adults with different view points behave like adults, interact like adults, and speak WITH, instead of AT, each other like adults. It truly was a civil and respectful discussion to understand each other's perspectives from a position of mutual respect. I suppose the reason that hit me so hard is that this type of dialogue is simply not the norm these days. That is such a pity!

Far too often, what passes for "Evangelism" in the U.S. runs something along the following lines...

"Turn or burn" is such a helpful phrase, don't you think? Nothing makes a person say "Sign me up" faster than someone throwing that in your face. Who needs to sit down and actually get to know a person, their hopes & dreams...and their struggles, when you can just inform them of this truism?

Now, the fact of the matter is that I am convinced that Jesus is correct when he said that he is the only way to peace with God. I agree with Peter when he stated emphatically to the religious leaders of the day that salvation can be found in no other name than Jesus. (But I do not miss the irony that Peter had to point that out to the "Professional" religious establishment.) I am convinced that to reject Jesus is follow a path that leads to terrible sorrow. But how does one show and explain this to others?

When Jesus was doing his public ministry, he established an interesting pattern as a model. Jesus developed these illusive things called "Relationships" with other people. Yes, there was a good deal of public preaching. I don't know if they had tracts and pamphlets back in that day, but if they did I'm sure the Disciples passed a few out. Still, nothing seemed to substitute for an old fashioned relationship. That way, others could see if the one trying to convince them was practicing what they preached.

I should add that it was never about being flawless and perfect. I think that perhaps the strongest evidence of the truth of Jesus is when one of his followers falls right on their face in that relationship, but then shows humility and repentance. That speaks volumes.

Back to the Book:
Both Palau and Qizheng sought to understand each other's worldview. They looked for common threads out of genuine good will and curiosity. As such, this book shows another method that demonstrates true humility and respect. This method is excellent and proper to follow in any circumstance, and oddly enough, was also modeled in Acts by Paul when he first went to Greece.

Paul heads on up to the Areopagus, where the various philosophers of the day hang out, and enters into a discussion with them. The exact translation of the Greek has been lost over time, but I believe it went something like this; And lo, didst Paul holdeth up a sign with the words "God bless I.E.D.s for dead American soldiers," written upon it. And sayeth he unto the crowd; "You stupid, pagan Greeks! What's wrong with you people? Can't you tell that your ideas are all idiotic? You are all going to burn in hell if you don't listen to, and do, exactly what I say! I'm right. You're wrong. End of discussion!

OK, not exactly.

If you read the entire portion in Acts 17:16-34, you will see Paul being very diplomatic and respectful to the city. Paul was very put off by all of the idols that he saw, but instead of bashing them he USED them to make a point. Paul finds common ground in the quest by the the Athenians to find & know truth. He acknowledges that they are curious, religious to a fault, and desired to be respectful to any and all gods. So Paul uses that desire for truth as a bridge to attempt to explain to them about the one, true God he knows. He is respectful of their culture, their religious & philosophical concepts, and speaks to them in a language they understand. (Both linguistically and logically.)

Now THAT'S how it's done, folks.

You really wont get very far by being a rude jerk to people. And such behavior is certainly beneath anyone who claims to follow Jesus. To put it another way, Galatians 5:11 says that the cross is an offense to people to begin with. If this is the case, then WE don't have to be.

When I see the Bryan Fischers and Todd Friels of the world berate, belittle, mock and put down well as other Believers, as is often the case, I learn one thing and one thing only about them and others who use these methods: They are merely trying to show what good, "Religious" people they are...and perhaps trying to justify/earn their salvation. It really & truly is all about them...nothing more, nothing less.

Never, ever forget this; YOU never "Save" ANYONE! And that was never your job to begin with. That is Jesus' job. YOU are salt & light, because Jesus declared you to be by his grace, NOT a witness. Just be who you are, where you are. Let God worry about picking up the shaker and sprinkling you onto others. God will use you to plant a seed. Then HE will be the one to cause it to grow.

My brain fogs over when I try to comprehend how God does what ever it is that he does with those seeds. So I've been learning more and more to not worry about it. I simply have to trust in my own feeble way that the Holy Spirit knows what he's doing with the salt, the light and the seeds. I have enough trouble being somewhat faithful as it is.

The thing is, proclaiming the Gospel is a wonderful privilege. But a part of that privilege is being allowed to swim in the culture of others and their lives. Learning about others and their perspectives teaches the Believer more about the infinite God of the Bible and the amazing beauty of the people, places and cultures he has allowed to flourish in his world. (And the weird, funky foods are pretty awesome, too.) So just be mindful of that beauty when speaking with anyone, let alone when you are trying to be a "Witness," that's all I'm saying.

It's just a thought



P.S. Back in 2008 I was fortunate enough to go to China a few months before the Olympics. I was able to visit Shanghai, Xian and Beijing. (Yes, the air pollution in Beijing is as bad as everyone says.) At any rate, other than being able to chew the air in the Capital, it was one of the best visits I have ever been on. I found the Chinese people to be absolutely wonderful, fun and fascinating. The juxtapositions between the amazingly modern buildings that were going up everywhere, right next to architecture that was centuries old, was fascinating. Also, I should mention the food...always an important component for me. The food was fantastic! I LOVE CHINA! (I really want to go back.)

So without further ado, some shots from my trip

#1. Shanghai

By far the most popular fast-food place in China. Good ol' KFC. I never got the chance to eat in one of their Pizza Huts, but I know that in most Asian cultures cheese is kind of an oddity.

#2. Nummy!

Our school group was treated to some of the best chow I've ever had. It's next to impossible to get good stuff like that here.

#3. "You Blockhead!"

Personally, I think I look good in clay

#4. Ethnic minorities and musical police.

<--- It's good to know that the Chinese tourist ministry caters to shape-shifters.

#5. Terracotta warriors & Tourists.

<--- That would be me, 6th from the right.

#6. Xian.

The old Imperial City. With walls so think and wide, you can drive cars around on them. Hence the need to drive busses and traffic through them.

#7. Lost in translation, Part 1.

Enough said.

#8. Lost in translation, part 2.

Even better!

#9. 4 Star Toilets.

Yes, they rate them over there. (Something we might wish to consider.) Trust me, you don't want to get near the ones rated 2 or less.

#10.Baby butt-crack

Should the need for a toilet be required, yet unavailable for your toddler, never fret. Just squat and expunge.

#11. Beijing.

The entire city of Beijing was replicated on a scale map. That was absolutely amazing.

#12. Kids will be kids.

Maybe it was because everyone had black hair, but Chinese teens and young adults always struck me as looking a little "Emo." But they sure are sweet people.

#13. The Great Staircase.

Holy Moly, I can't believe I climbed that whole thing without going into cardiac arrest. The wall is hard to truly imagine until you see it with your own eyes.

I miss China. I really, really do. Hopefully, some day I'll be able to go back.