Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Excitement Abounds

Thirteen reasons why:

1. There's a 6th grade girl in our youth group who knows all the words to "Rawhide." I've never been more proud.

2. I've discovered the abundant riches of the public library...the cd racks. I've gotten to listen to The Clash, Joseph Arthur, John Davis, Copeland, Emery, Dylan, Grandaddy and 4th Avenue Jones...free of charge. I just can't keep them. Three weeks at a time, but I can handle it. Please pray for the discipline I need to remain ethical amidst temptations to steal this music and make grown men (read: Lars Ulrich) cry.

3. I finished reading Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor. I was confused at the end, because for some odd reason I was expecting a weird M. Night plot twist at the end. Nope. Just a story. It was funny, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and an overall good read. I never thought I'd spend so much time trying to figure out the difference between the Church Without Christ and the Church of Christ Without Christ, and what it has to do with jesus (lowercase intentional). Intrigued?

4. Brennan Manning is still kicking my butt. You read that I am the Poser, though I so often hate the Poser. Well, I hate Pharisees even more, and I'm one of them, too. Lame.

5. I'm finally going to read Everyday Apocalypse by David Dark. I talked to him, heard him speak a few times, and even sang 'Fake Plastic Trees' with favorite guys to jam with (Nate, Nate, Marcus and Mike...I miss you guys) to introduce one of his lectures, but never read the book. Another point for the public library.

6. George Mason. Need I say more? It almost makes up for the Big Ten wipeout. Wait...no it doesn't. But I do love 11 seeds, and I love even more that Seth Myers said on selection Sunday that George Mason shouldn't even be in the tourney...eat it, Myers!

7. As excited as I am about George Mason, I like LSU even more. They are explosive and absolutely enthralling to watch. Tyrus Thomas, a freshman, are you kidding me?

8. The possibility of a LSU - George Mason championship game.

9. Baseball season begins next week. Brace yourself for lots of rejoicing and mourning over the Cubbies in the next few months.

10. I'm gonna be a daddy. Whoa.

11. My wife is totally awesome.

12. Oh yeah, we're leaving for a cruise on Sunday. Beautiful scenery, little to worry about, all you can eat food all the time. As long as they can pick up the National Championship game in the middle of the ocean, it couldn't be more perfect.

13. Jesus loves me, this I know.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Anathallo "Floating World"

Ever since I received this cd in the mail a few weeks ago, I've been wanting to write about it. I didn't even have to listen to it to want to write about it, because the packaging alone merits comment. It is quite impressive, as the outer sleeve is a rather intricate stencil, wrapped around a book of colorful pages containing the lyrics and the story behind the lyrics (oh yeah, and the cd).

And the story is quite curious. It seems that Anathallo has written an album around this mythology, of which I do not know the source. Anyway, I won't recap all the details, but a gentle hearted couple rescues a fortune-bearing white dog from a stream, and their angry neighbor steals the dog to try to claim a similar fortune. However, the dog only yields ugly things for the angry neighbor, and in a rage he kills the dog, and burns his body. The ashes scatter over the ground, and the next day a great wind comes and the ashes begin to bring life to the barren ground. The gentle-hearted man grabs a pocket full of ashes and climbs as high as he can into a tree. He throws the ashes down, and they turn to snow. The snow turns to water, and the water turns the barren ground to green. Flowers bud and the earth continues to come out of hibernation. The greedy neighbor tries to duplicate the miracle, and instead brings destruction--the floating world.

The album tells this story and more. It is beautiful from beginning to end, and I certainly cannot put my fingers on all the layers of depth, either musically or lyrically. But I can recognize a great album when I hear one. Anathallo is inventive in its use of standard rock instruments while incorporating brass and auxiliary percussion such as claps, stomps, chains, and marching drums. The rhythmic changes are inventive, yet they do not alienate the listener by being overly complex. The melodies are unpredictable, yet accessible. At every listen, I've discovered something new. This is the album I've been waiting for. I guess I always thought it would come from Iceland or the UK or somewhere exotic like that...but never underestimate the might of Michigan. Thanks, Anathallo.

Everyone else, buy the album here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

I've wanted to post this picture, but haven't...until now. This is Marcie and I on the evening we found out we were going to be parents: December 23rd, 2005. It's also the day that Marcie got me the Johnny Cash t-shirt you see me wearing in the picture. She's the best. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I must love the Poser (Posers, Fakers, and Wannabes: Part III)

When I minister to others, I think I am pretty gracious. I am generally able to approach situations with a level head, without judging. I try to listen as well as I can, and try to direct that person toward Christ in my counsel. I say this not to toot my own proverbial horn, but to point out (yet another) inherent contradiction in myself.

There it was, in bold print, jumping off the page:

“It’s time to call The Poser out of hiding, accept him, embrace him, and bring him to Jesus.”

Why is it that I have never looked at my own development in these terms? Whenever I talk about discipleship, I say that the most important part is to point that person to Jesus. Don’t pretend to have all the answers, but let God work in that person’s life. I’ve followed that advice to an extent, but I’ve never extended that invitation to myself. Manning quotes Carl Jung:

“What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness—that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then?”

Am I ‘the least of these brethren?’ (Matthew 25). Judging from what I have discovered lately, I think I am, at least in some sense of the term. Have I forgotten that Christ loves the Poser? I have no problem believing that Jesus loves others in spite of their sins, because I can say it and not have to own it. Each person must own that truth in their own life.

Perhaps if I truly believe that Christ loves me—all of me, Poser and all—then I should be able to love myself. I fear that self-love leads to pride, but is it not true that self-love is necessary to conquer pride?

Humility has many definitions, but at its core, it is seeing ourselves just as God sees us. Well, God loves me, so for me to be truly humble, I need to love me too. Humility requires that I love myself—exactly the way I am and too much to let me stay like this—and too much to let the Poser continue to rule my thoughts and actions.

I love the Poser.

A few weeks ago, those words would have looked crooked to me. Now they speak hope into my being. So do these:

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I have hated the Poser (Posers, Fakers, and Wannabes: Part II)

You can do the math.

I am the Poser + I have hated the Poser = I have hated Myself.

Manning brings out this statement from Anne Lamott, “The secret is that God loves us exactly the way we are and that he loves us too much to let us stay like this” (21). She’s right.

It would be silly or arrogant or worse of me to think that of all the people in history, my sin just happens to be the worst: so bad that God can’t even love me. But I’ve never had a problem believing that God loves me; my problem has been an inability to love myself. Frankly, the idea of self-love is a scary one. Self-love sounds a whole lot like pride to me, and we all know that pride is the most basic of all sins.

So I have dealt with the Poser in my life by pretty much hating myself. I have tried to spiritually beat that part of myself into submission over and over. I have thought on more than a few days that it would be better if my life just ended, and have taken as consolation the fact that there would be a lot of sad people there who would say that it was ‘such a tragedy,’ and that I ‘had so much potential.’ The Poser has taken over so much that I would actually see this as sufficient. After all, it was what the Poser worked for in life, right?

I made a serious theological error (along with plenty of other errors: moral, theological and otherwise). I thought that in order to get the Poser out of my life, I had to yell at it, discipline it, and force it out of my life. This was my error. I had misunderstood penitence and penance and tried to be my own God.

No matter how ugly he gets, I cannot hate the Poser.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I am the Poser (Posers, Fakers, and Wannabes: Part I)

Every time I have read a Brennan Manning book, it has impacted my life greatly. His writings have now been catalysts in three truly important seasons of spiritual growth in my life. The first, nearly eight years ago, was The Ragamuffin Gospel, and with it, beginning to understand the concept of grace for the first time. The second, about two years ago, was Ruthless Trust, and with that, the understanding that trust, not necessarily clarity, must always govern life’s decisions. Those are very short descriptions, but you get the idea. And I wonder why I don’t read more Brennan Manning.

Alas, here I am, challenged and brushed back again by Manning in Posers, Fakers and Wannabes (Unmasking the Real You). The book is a translation of the more familiar Abba’s Child for a youthful, ‘emerging’ audience. There is something about Manning’s utter honesty and transparency that I cannot help but connect with. He is not afraid to call a spade a spade, and when he calls them out in his own life, quite often I see those same spades in my own life. And not only are the ‘spades’ in my life called out, but at the very moment I recognize them, I already have solidarity with a Brother Brennan, who is struggling with the very same things.

The first truth that jumped out at me was this: I am the Poser. The Poser is the perfectionist, the one who comes up with lame excuses and makes life manageable for me when I fear that I cannot manage it anymore. Manning describes the voice within that told him to “invent a new self that everybody will admire but nobody will truly know” (29). I swear he stole these thoughts from my head and my life. As a child, I invented the Poser, just as Manning did.

My desire to be perfect took over. I broke down in tears when I lost the school spelling bee (which, of course, I should have won), I broke down in tears when my basketball coach yelled at me, I broke down in tears when I got in trouble with my parents, and I broke down in tears when I got a ‘B’ on my report card. The tears came whenever I became exposed. The tears were me when the Poser didn’t do his job right. The Poser was supposed to protect me from being exposed by showing everyone else I am better than them, and the Poser trembles at the mere thought of disappointing someone.

It continues today, perhaps even worse. The Poser wants you to read this post and comment about how brilliant or humble or honorably honest I am. The Poser doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning half the time because I will just disappoint myself and everyone else today. The Poser wants me to be the next famous pastor so that people will recognize my name, read my blog, buy my books, and look to me for profound insights about God, the church and the Bible. The Poser comes up with all my less-than-honest-and-oh-so-lame-excuses. The Poser thinks that I am being super-spiritual right now for being so transparent and honest. The Poser makes me live in fear that if I don’t keep up with the joneses, my greatest fear will come true: my face will not end up in Wikipedia next to the entry for ‘awesome: as sometimes manifest in human beings.’

I am the Poser. God help me.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

You were made from dust and to the dust you shall return…

Wednesday night I experienced my first Ash Wednesday from the perspective of a pastor. We did not have a formal service, but rather opened the church for an hour and a half and had written instructions to guide people through their time. Participants were guided through the significance of Ash Wednesday, asked to meditate on specific scriptures and asked to write out prayers of confession and thanksgiving. Near the end of their time, they would come to the front, take their piece of paper with their prayer/confession on it and light it on the Jesus candle. After they watched their prayer burn as a pleasing offering to the Lord, they received the ashes in the form of a cross on their forehead from either me or Pastor Tom. The service was beautiful.

And it was more beautiful being able to be up front the entire time, watching as person after person lit up their prayers and waited to receive the ashes. I felt closer to many of the members of the church than ever before. There was a sense of intimacy, mystery and awe in that place, and God was truly at work. It was powerful to hear and speak these words over and over, “You were made from dust and to the dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19b). Most often, we said a few words before and after, but always those words as we made the mark on people’s foreheads. It was a reminder of my own fallenness and depravity, as these words come from the text of the curse of Adam. I carry that curse with me today, just as Adam did so many years ago, and just as every person has who has lived between then and now.

Yet it seems impossible to sit with this curse for long, for we know that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a journey; a long and arduous journey that will culminate in the cross, empty tomb, and the life everlasting. I feel energized by the Holy Spirit as I enter the Lenten season. As the weeks wear on, I may begin to feel the struggle, as it grows closer to the end, the bittersweet celebration of Palm Sunday and the near despair of Good Friday. But God, raise me up and raise your church up in the celebration which trumps all other celebrations: Easter—Resurrection Sunday.