Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fearing engaging art...

For the best several months, I feel as though I've been once again bitten by the writing bug. I used to write quite a bit when I was younger. You know, I was that gawkish boy who really didn't fit into any particular clique and found himself typing away at his parent's ancient typewriter at home (this was obviously before we had a computer in the house!). I wrote all sorts of stuff, junk mostly. Actually, most of it was just fiction stuff, random thoughts from a random juvenile mind. There were stories of war, of course, as well as a way too long ramble that resembled a sick mix of Beverly Hills 90210 (an old TV show for you young kids!) and Dawson's Creek. I also wrote some very sub-par poetry and such as well. Even though, especially looking back, so much of what I wrote was garbage, I seemed to get some respect for what I'd done, getting sent to a few writing workshops by well meaning teachers and such. One of those teachers told me something I've yet to forget. Basically, she said, "Andy, you have a God-given gift for writing. It's now up to you to decide what to do with it." I was flattered, but maybe not as much as I should have been. We're cocky when we're young.

Well, years have passed and the writing sort of fell by the wayside. It's tough to have time to write when you're worrying about school, girls, girls, um, girls. Plus, I was just young and trying to figure out my place in the world. So, essentially the only things I've really written in, say, the past ten years, are emails, journal entries, and for the past several months, these things. I'm a little intimidated to get back into the whole swing of things as far as it goes and also realize that it will take a lot of discipline as well.

But perhaps the most daunting thing holding me back is a nagging question at the back of my mind: "Will anybody want to read this? Will it be worth anything to anyone?" My reading in Thomas Merton's book, The Sign of Jonas, didn't help much last night. He writes:

"We who say we love God: why are we not as anxious to be perfect in our art as we pretend we want to be in our service of God? If we do not try to be perfect in what we write, perhaps it is because we are not writing for God after all. In any case it is depressing that those who serve God and love Him sometimes write so badly, when those who do not believe in Him take pains to write so well. I am not talking about grammar and syntax, but about having something to say and saying it in sentences that are not half dead. Saint Paul and Saint Ignatius Martyr did not bother about grammar but they certainly knew how to write."

Maybe I'll look at writing in the New Year, as a sort of resolution...

Friday, December 23, 2005

The trendy guy and my failure...

So this week I feel I've well, sort of been a failure. At least at my whole concept and idea of following the Benedictine way of hospitality. It became glaringly obvious to me yesterday as I was at work and asked, due to some staffing shortages for the day, to work on the sales floor. Now, I love people. Some of my best friends are, in fact, people. But, there's something about people and sales and whatever. Plus, let's be honest. We're all filled with pride and judgment at varying degrees and its hard to suppress some of it. So, I'm working the floor and into my section came a couple with a friend of theirs as well. They were all very nice and cool and whatever but... Well, this one guy, the friend, was just too cool. He had the whole look down. He had the trendy shaved head, the upside down horseshoe mustache/gottee with the soul patch, the cool green club jacket with the retro red shirt underneath. He even had the cool jeans with some stripes down the sides and some cut looking things at the bottom. And of course, cool shoes.

Now, all of this in and of itself is not a bad thing. He's entitled to be cool, trendy, chic, hip, or whatever term you like to use. But I guess it just got me to thinking about how obsessed we are with image, with ourselves, with how others perceive us to the point where we forget that the only person whose opinion we should really give a damn about is Jesus'. So, I laid down the judgment on this guy. Oh, not to his face. That would be too rude. No, in my head. So, here I confess. Please forgive me. I long to be hospitable, to truly receive others as Christ, even those who don't share my opinions, my thoughts, my dreams, or even my faith. I long to love them as I love Jesus. I guess the frustrating and humiliating aspect of it all is that when I look at it through that lens, I'm ashamed of how little it seems I really do love Jesus at times.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Thoughts on the "Christmas Controversy"

I was just sitting here with some time, ironically working on some Christmas gifts, and thought I'd jot down a few of my thoughts regarding the recent controversy over Christmas. If you'd paid any attention to the news, you're more than aware of what I speak, namely the idea that big retail outlets have opted more to say, "Happy Holidays", as opposed to the traditional, "Merry Christmas". Even a retail giant such as Wal-Mart has been lobbied against due to such a decision.

Now, I'm not a Scrooge or a relativistic, pluralistic, wishy-washy whatever. Rather, I'm a big fan of Christmas in almost all of it's incarnations. Our family celebrates Christmas first and foremost with the intent of honoring the birth of Christ, whom we acknowledge as our Lord and Savior. In the past couple of years, we've also added the observance of the liturgical celebration of Advent to our spiritual practice and have found that to be equally enriching. That being said, we also allow ourselves to partake of the more generic celebration of the holiday as we join in buying gifts for one another and our loved ones. This time of year is truly a joyous one for us.

I say all of that (and now that I read back over it, I'm really not sure where I was going there) to say this regarding my stance on the issue. One, yes, I agree that we ought to say, "Merry Christmas". I'm not particularly offended by someone proclaiming, "Happy Kwanzaa" or some other holiday to me and I'd just ask for similar support. Plus, let's be honest. Our modern incarnation of the holiday, meaning the roots that are inherent in it since the Christians appropriated the holiday from the pagans, are fairly clear. It's a celebration of the birth of Christ. But, that being as it may, I'd really like to see more Christians be more upset and moved to action at such things as, well, say, the AIDS crisis in Africa, the fact that nearly 80% of all deaths in developing countries is related to such a simple thing as bad water, or even the simple rate of homelessness and need in our own hometowns. My frustration comes at the fact that we try to stand our ground regarding points wherein we feel we're losing ground publicly but don't necessarily live out what that ground holds privately. It's time for us to not worry so much about labels and names (although for me and my house, we'll be greeting folks with a cheery merry Christmas!) and worry more about truly hearing the call and command of Christ and live it out incarnationally to all.

Just a thought...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Narnia thoughts and more...

So I went with a friend to see the Narnia movie today. The only problem is that I'm not sure how I feel about it. I enjoyed it sure, but I'm not sure if my joy was marred or hindered by all of the hype and discussion surrounding the movie to begin with. No one can deny that it was well done, well cast, and pretty well shot all over. I'm just not sure how I feel just yet. I think I need to take some time to process it in order to see if my hesitancy to really like it stems from overinundation of media hype or some other malady.

In other news, I'm just finding myself in a weird place right now. Much of my walk as of late has been very lonely, very austere in it's surroundings. I'm not entirely sure why. Some, I'm sure, would counsel me that the loneliness stems from my waywardness and that I need to return to church and stop my backsliding. I'm not sure that they'd be right. I feel more confident in this path than I ever have, and more certain of my faith in Christ. What I'm not sure of is how to live out some of these new ideas and thoughts. I'm not sure yet what it really means to live a simplified life. I'm not yet sure what it means to really see Jesus' commands as more than just suggestions. That's a scary, and a bit sad, statement but it's true. I wonder how many more of us, being honest, would acknowledge that we've seen Jesus' countercultural commands more like good ideas or noble suggestions as opposed to radical calls to a new way of life. What does it really mean to turn the other cheek, to not repay evil for evil? In this world, that means insanity, instant pain and suffering. I don't know...Just some ramblings...

Shifting politics..

A few years ago I would have most likely labeled myself, if asked, as a fairly conservative person politically. As a youth pastor in a Southern Baptist church and such, my leanings tended to be more toward those of the religious right and such. Before long though, a sense of unrest came to settle upon me and as my journey progressed and I began to think a bit more for myself, combined with reading the Scriptures with a fresh light, my views politically have begun to change.

For instance, at the beginning of the U.S - Iraq conflict, I was in favor of it. I felt as though Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator who needed to be ousted, whose people needed to experience freedom for themselves. I suppose, in some ways, maybe I still feel that but as to the methods the U.S. utilized in effort to justify an invasion, I have a problem. I have a problem with lying to the American public regarding weapons of mass destruction. I have a problem with placing honorable men and women's lives in danger in order to extend an Empire rather than truly free a people. I won't desecrate the good hearts of the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces and who are carrying out their respective duties. I will however contend with those who give those orders, who justify their actions.

That being said, now we have the revelation that President Bush has taken to authorizing spy methods on various citizens and sources. In doing this, he has also bypassed some of the previously mandated systems that maintain a check on this sort of action. Welcome, Big Brother. I am all for the health of our nation and for protecting our civil liberties. However, when the protection of said civil liberties comes at the violation of those very liberties, are we not treading in dangerous waters?

Just some thoughts. I'm not a particularly political person but this action has me a bit aroused.

Cool music link...

I ran across this link here yesterday on Marko's blog. It's three free Sufjan Stevens Christmas albums for download. Check it out:

Sufjan Christmas

Never really watch the show but...kinda fun...

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Saturday, December 17, 2005


Ryan and Holly just left, off to get an oil change and start back on the final long leg of their trip. It was really great having them in, getting to know them better, and just conversing about life and faith. There's always a subtle hesitancy inside oneself before a relationship is really begun that questions whether or not the two parties will actually mesh or not and, at least for our part, I think we did. For myself, it felt very liberating to be able to discuss and hear informed feedback regarding this step in my journey of faith and rediscovery of what it really means to be a follower of Christ. Additionally, it pulled me a little bit out of my box and into the realm of true hospitality, into a place of having to do something that before, perhaps, wouldn't have made as much sense as it does now. I'm thankful for the Sharp family, for their hospitality to us, for their kindness and love, and now, for their friendship.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Learning hospitality...

The Benedictine Orders of monastics have as a tenet of their lives the idea of hospitality. They essentially aspire to receive everyone who comes to them, who interacts with them in any way whatsoever, as Christ. This is quite a task and a subversive call to that by which most of us have honestly viewed our lives. Most of us, myself included, have unconsciously or even consciously conducted ourselves with more of an attitude that asks, "What can you do for me?" rather than, "What can I do for you?".

With that in mind, we're so blessed to have Ryan and Holly Sharp staying with us. I ran across Ryan's name several months ago (I'd met him a long time ago at a youth camp we'd taken our students to) and started reading up on his stuff. Seeming like kindred spirits and some people we'd love to meet and grow in friendship with, we were excited and pleased when they agreed to hang with us for a few days during this very cool pilgrimmage that they're on. I've got to be honest. Given the previous weekend's sense of loneliness its really nice to have some people in to (a) simply love on and befriend, and (b) to talk about such matters of Church, Christ, and life together in a way that is open and honest rather than jaded and defensive.

Weary and worn...but getting better...

It's been a long week. Last weekend actually, I felt myself taking a few steps into that place that St. John of the Cross called the "dark night of the soul". Just as I mused over some different things, this journey I'm on, and it's uncertainty, I felt a bit engulfed by loneliness. It truly can be a lonely task following Christ. I know that there are those who might suggest to me that my exodus from the traditional church has aided that concept and to some degree I'd agree with them. But there's something more to my dissonance. It's more than some schoolboy's frustration with the authority of the principal. Rather, I'm following what I see in the Scriptures, what I see is real and true. And that leaning is taking me somewhere that is uncertain, and a bit scary. Even though others walk alongside me, it's still a dark place to enter into.

Along this seeking and searching, I've found that Jesus seems to be showing me more of who I really am. That is not a comfortable experience. Every step closer to Him, being bathed in that majesty, that glorious Light, exposes my wrinkles, my scars, my faults and failures. I've never quite realized my selfishness, my pride, my lust like this before now. On some levels, it makes me want to give up, to just say the hell with it. On the other side though, is this insistence within me that continues to call to me, reminding me that I'm the beloved of Christ, because of His very own sacrifice. I'm reminded that the Father holds me in His hand and He will never let me go, that He loves me more than I can ever imagine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Some Advent wisdom...

I've been reading a couple of devotionals during this Advent season and the words of Henri Nouwen speak powerfully today:

"One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power - political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power - even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are. The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all...With this rationalization, crusades took place; inquistitions were organized; Indians were enslaved; positions of great influence were desired. Every time we see a major crisis in the history of the Church...we always see that a major cause of rupture is the power exercised by those who claim to be followers of the poor and powerless Jesus.What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life." - excerpted from "Advent and Christmas Wisdom From Henri J.M. Nouwen" (Liguori Publications)

That is some seriously powerful stuff. May I struggle at the hard task of love, in the power of Christ, today, and always. May His love overflow my heart and may suffering seem sweet in the light of His glory, may pain seem soothing in the radiance of His presence, and may loss seem gain in the knowledge of His holiness.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bad Santa...

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about story. I've always been intrigued by the idea of story and find myself coming back to it time and time again. Recently, my friend, Ryan, was the one who got the juices flowing again and then in our Enigma gathering we got to talking about the power of it once again.

So last night I was watching the movie, Bad Santa, not necessarily a movie I'll say I recommend, but that certainly had it's highlights, albeit punctuated by more profanity than I can say I've heard in maybe my entire life. As I was watching this, the idea of story popped into my head again. Halfway through, I really didn't have much hope for the title character, Willie, portrayed wonderfully by Billy Bob Thornton. My wife started watching it at this point, and as I laughed, a bit ashamedly, I just said, "This is sooo bad!" But, the movie continued and I saw what I'd been seeing everywhere. This was a story of redemption, of someone who rose above their self-loathing and destruction, to seek the good of another. Willie was not a good man. In fact, Willie was, well, an ass. But something happened within Willie that helped him to see that his life was more than bottles of whiskey and quick rolls in the hay. Willie's life meant something to the little boy, Thurman, and Willie clung to that, and allowed it to bring him to redemption.

It's just interesting to me that wherever you look, people are looking for redemption, even in Bad Santa.

The Cloister Walk...

I've been reading this book called, The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris, a Protestant poet who found herself drawn to the monastic vision. Here are a couple of cool excerpts:

"To make the poem of our faith, we must learn not to settle for a false certitude but to embrace ambiguity and mystery. Our goal will be to recover our original freedom, our childlike (but never childish) wisdom. It will be difficult to lose our adult self-consciousness (here the discipline of writing can help us), difficult not to confuse our worship with self-expression. (All too often the call for "creativity" in worship simply leads to bad art.)"


"Imagination and reason, those vital elements of human intelligence, are adept at dismantling our delusions. Both bring us up against our true abilities and our limitations. But we've gotten ourselves into a curious mess in the modern world. We've grown afraid of the imagination (except as a misguided notion of a "creativity" granted to a few) and yet are less and less capable of valuing rationality as another resource of our humanity, of our religious humanity. We end up with a curious spectrum of popular religions, a rigid fundamentalism at one end, and New Age otherworldliness, manifested in "angel channeling workshops," on the other. And even religious institutions - I'll speak here of the Christian churches, because they are what I know - often manifest themselves as anything but Christ's humble body on earth. What gets lost in all of this is any viable sense of the sacred that gives both imagination and reason and room to play."

Good stuff...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Looking at stained glass...

I changed the route I drive to work some months ago. I was just getting a little tired of the familiar sights I saw along the way, not to mention the traffic. So, on a day of exploration and hoping that I knew what I was doing, I forged ahead and found another way to go. It's actually maybe just a bit faster and it's just not as out of the way. A good move, I've found.

Well, along that new route, there is a church that I've driven past just about every day. It's an old, at least it looks old, Catholic church called St. Martha's. It's kind of what I would define as a Spanish-style church, red-orange tile roof, crosses upon the high pillars and peaks. It really is lovely. But what has intrigued me for so long is the row of large, tall stained glass windows that look out over the road. I've often sat at the traffic light there, looking along those windows. It's odd though, because the church must be dark when I'm driving by and you really can't see the picture. What you can see are lines and subtle images that give the impression that there's something more there, but what it is, you really can't tell. Some days I'm able to make out an image of the Blessed Mother, another of Christ Himself, and others, well, it just looks like my son's connect-the-dot books.

Seeing this window like this reminds me of what the Apostle Paul talked about when he said we look through a glass and see "darkly", or that we really can't see all that's going on or happening. I know I feel like that much of the time. So many times, it seems like nothing really makes sense or that there's any way we'll really be able to figure out or live this life out we're called to. I mean, come on, I'm a twenty-nine year old college student. Let's talk about needing to figure some things out. But it plays itself out in other areas too. Areas of sin and weakness pervade our hearts and lives many times because we can't see the illuminated picture. Or, perhaps a better way of stating it is that we're not willing to believe that the picture will be as beautiful when it's lit up as we see in our mind.

Not long ago, I worked late at work due to getting behind during the day and found myself driving home back along my "new" path. The sun had taken it's rest and night had fallen. My eyes were blurry with fatigue from the day and Johnny Cash sang in his deep baritone on the CD player, his voice strangely calming as he sang through the lyrics of "Folsom Prison Blues". Then, I pulled to a stop at a familiar traffic light. Turning to my left, I saw, for the first time, the windows of St. Martha's Catholic Church, illuminated, in all their glory. The wonderful hues of color, as only stained glass work can contain, called out to me and their transcendant beauty spoke of something greater, greater than me, you, my work, or anything else. The light changed color and I was forced to leave this wonderful vision.

In the days since, I've tried to remember that vision, to remember that what we see is not always what is there. I want to remember that in the darkness of life, when things seem to make sense one way but God is calling us another, that we can trust that His picture will be greater than we can ever imagine. I've failed in this calling, in bringing this picture back to mind in times of tempation and doubt already, but I have confidence in my Christ's forgiveness and longsuffering with me. We will make me into such a beautiful work.