Monday, December 9, 2013

Thoughts from Hafiz

~~
If God
Invited you to a party
And said,

'Everyone
In the ballroom tonight
Will be my special
Guest...'

How would you then treat them
When you
Arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And I know
There is no one in this world

Who
Is not upon
His Jeweled Dance
Floor 


~~

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear. 

~~

Poetry of Hafiz
(Khwāja Shamsu d-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī)
 ~~

Enter quietly into another man's devotion,
slip off your shoes by the door
and feel the rich mandala of the rug upon the floor.
Penitence and prayer, a rich mass well-sung,
the sweetest incense on a golden altar smolders,
triptych panels, or tracks behind the boulders.
Enter and observe, the care, the dedication,
rites and secrets, set man's heart aflame,
and dare not ask, but wonder, what god's name?
To whom are morning matins rising up,
to whom is offered blood in wooden cup?


Is it to God, Jehovah, YHWH, Lord,
who in the form of Christ came to the earth,
and suffered, died, was buried, and arose,
that men who trust in Him may be restored?

Is it to Christ, the Kyrios, King of Kings,
who has revealed his will and asks his own
why do they call him Lord and not obey
but opens hearts, revealing secret things?

If not to God the Father, Son, and Spirit,
what god do men around the earth seek out?
What goodness can their craft and words deserve,
who do not seek the kingdom in His merit?


The beauty that is wrought to no good end
is beauty still, and cannot be denied,
but castles in the sand stand for so long
until erased to nothing by the tide.

Thank God for thought and beauty strewn about
this world, which otherwise would be so spare,
but flee to Christ, not man's inventions,
let that beauty point him out.
~~
    Who has believed what he has heard from us?
        And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
    For he grew up before him like a young plant,
        and like a root out of dry ground;
    he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
        and no beauty that we should desire him.
    He was despised and rejected by men;
        a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
    and as one from whom men hide their faces
        he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
    Surely he has borne our griefs
        and carried our sorrows;
    yet we esteemed him stricken,
        smitten by God, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions;
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
    upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
        and with his wounds we are healed.
    All we like sheep have gone astray;
        we have turned—every one—to his own way;
    and the LORD has laid on him
        the iniquity of us all.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gray

A barrel-arch of clouds hangs
in the desert,
supporting the crushing weight
of the clear blue sky above
on columns of fine rain
(though small,
they are many).
Above the gray,
above the blue,
beyond the black,
hang stars
huge, hurtling through space,
whirling worlds in their wake,
on some of which hang clouds,
cathedrals of methane,
catacombs of sulfur,
drizzles of nitrogen chilling distant dust;
is there anywhere else
so fine as here?
Green, blue, brown, and gray,
a palette fit for a king,
the King of Kings,
in fact.

     When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
        the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
    what is man that you are mindful of him,
        and the son of man that you care for him?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Time Well Spent

From the window
of my office
I can see
beyond the haze
the mountains
and the days
spent there
on roads
in trucks
through water
and mud
and ice.
We two
and others
friends, family,
food, and fuel,
time spent,
a dent,
good trucks
and bad
exploring God's good earth,
feeling it from time to time
under wheels,
frame rails,
and sometimes
my back and elbows
as I raced
to repair
and carry on.
And you,
a queen
serene,
braided hair
beside me,
my friend,
my accomplice and admirer,
now my wife.
No better times
could I ask
than what we had,
have,
and will have,
because our God
conforms us,
reforms us,
hammers out our dents
and tightens our loose screws
as we continue to explore,
on different back roads,
still together,
His good plan
for us
and ours.

Over the hills,
around the bends,
His road is rough,
until it ends.

    A voice cries:
    “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
        make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    Every valley shall be lifted up,
        and every mountain and hill be made low;
    the uneven ground shall become level,
        and the rough places a plain.
    And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
        and all flesh shall see it together,
        for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hearth and Home Studies

As you, the astute reader of this blog, may know, my family is working on an adoption.  It has been a long process, longer than we expected, because of several factors which included the birth of our second son last month.  We are in the waiting-on-the-Feds phase of the game, which is boring.  But it means we are past the waiting-on-the-state phase, which is important.  It means we have an approved home study.

What does that mean?  It declares that the State of A# has found us fit and suitable parents for adoptive children(s) conforming to certain age and special-needs guidelines (in our case, up to two children with up to severe special needs, unsure on the age range - the Mrs. would know that).  In sporting terms, we have a license with a bag limit.

The process to obtain the home study was not bad (in our state, at least, and for international adoption - foster placement is much more rigorous).  The Mrs. and I went to several interviews, alone and together, had a home visit, filled out some questionnaires, and got state approval within a few months (of submission - the agency did not have a fire under them).  The total cost of this process is in the low thousands, maybe $3k?  It's written down in the binder at home. 

Think of that.  About $3k to be permitted to adopt a child (within bounds).  The license lasts for 18 months and is renewable. As long as we have an open slot, we are ready to go.

Now, preparation for the unknown can take myriad forms.  I ate my last MRE last week before teaching my night class, so I guess I'll starve when the US food chain collapses.  That's a low-likelihood event.  I sold off my battle rifle some time ago, as it was not really practical and it was deucedly expensive to shoot, so I guess when the Commies come marching up the road I'll be less prepared than I could be.  Also, a low-probability scenario.

But we can adopt a child if we come across one who needs a home.  This is a real situation involving real humans, made in the image of God, who have real, immediate needs.  If you think you won't come across such children, it is likely that you have only avoided them.  They are everywhere.  Ask anyone with exposure to the foster community, to birth-mom adoptions, international adoptions, anyone who knows the name "Reece's Rainbow", they will spill their guts about how many, many children there are who each need a loving family.  This is not contributing to malaria research, where you make incremental donations to an ambiguous goal.  This is not even Gospel Rescue Mission-style, where your $27 buys 57 meals.  These are good things, indeed, but here, with adoption, your love and your family buys back a life.  Not just a physical life, continued existence, but a LIFE.  Breakfasts together.  Taking care of sickness.  Playing outside.  Birthdays becoming joyful (not dreadful - ask sometime what "aging-out" means).  Taking walks.  Seeing the wind ruffle hair and turn cheeks pink.  A LIFE

You, by a small investment of time and money, can equip your family to save A LIFE.  Not remotely.  Not far away.  But very near.  Within your home, you can, by the grace of God and the patience that comes by the Holy Spirit, slowly rebuild a life.  Clean, polish, and repair the extra-broken image of God in a child.  They will be sinners.  You still are, too.  They probably do not know Jesus (ask sometime about one that did - it's a glorious story).  But they need to.  If you do, shouldn't they hear it from you?  In your home?  On your lap at bedtime?  Reading about Jesus is my favorite thing to do with my son.  It will be harder to do it with our daughter (since she won't understand English at first, or perhaps ever very much), but Jesus can understand her.  Can we do less than bring her to Christ, pray for and with her, and (as with any child) trust God to work in her heart in His ways?

If your family loves Jesus, you are qualified to adopt.  If the money seems like an obstacle, remember that adoption is laying down your life for another, so try starting by laying down some pleasures to free up some cash.  If that's been done, and if your church loves Jesus, it's a good bet they will help you with the money. 

Go get a home study.  Be ready to save a life.  If you set your heart to God's service, He will set you to work.  Be prepared.

PS- This post is motivated by a broken heart over kids who are about to become too old to adopt.  This does not mean they go get a job someplace.  It means "adult mental institution" which means "cage of despair and degradation".  God forbid that any go there, especially girls. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Premature Critical Judgment

I am reading Mortimer J. Adler's How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education.  I have not finished it, which is why my judgment is premature.  That said, I do not believe it is inaccurate.


This book was released in 1940, the original preface was written in 1939, and Adler had presumably been at work cogitating and writing for some time before that.  The book must therefore be located in the historical context of the rise of fascism and the decline of free thought that accompanied the moral and intellectual abdications resulting from the War to end all Wars.  These abdications will be taken up below, along with a brief discussion of the historical parallels, and a call to action will be presented, all colored by own (I hope) thoughtfully pro-American yet redemptive-historical Christian perspective.

If you wish for a synopsis of this post: Read this book, and get an early edition (prior to the Adler/Van Doren revisions of the early seventies). 

It is a stroke of good fortune that I had but recently read (aloud to my wife) Lewis' Abolition of Man, lectures delivered in 1943 at King's College, Newcastle.  Lewis explicitly takes up the moral issues that parallel the intellectual issues approached by Adler, and presents a strong case that these issues are inextricably bound together in the life of man and men at large; Adler presents a similar but muted case, and proceeds to limit his argument to the intellectual arena.  Perhaps some of my readers will be uncomfortable with Lewis' argument for natural law, either because of its grounds or its conclusions, so I will pause to present a brief defense of his method and outcome.

Lewis may be attacked by some as an evidentialist in his apologetic - presenting proofs for God as though one could be logically triangulated into the necessity of the admission that there is a God.  The evidentialist apologist can, in fact, tree his quarry, but there will always be two options - God or Nothing.  Besides this, no Christian possessed of an ounce of orthodoxy will argue that anyone may be converted by argument.  The Holy Spirit changes hearts.  Arguments, both moral and intellectual, may serve to highlight inconsistencies in a person's views, and even to demonstrate consistency within the views of the Christian, but I believe my earlier metaphor of a treed quarry is apt.  Lewis (and Adler at last) got caught by the Hound of Heaven.  Nietzsche jumped to his doom.  Lewis' method in Abolition is also carefully bounded to exclude the charge of arguing an unprovable.  He demonstrates an unprovable, the natural law, across culture and history, and concludes that any attempt to "prove" natural law posits an observer outside that law - and the process of "getting outside" must destroy any possibility of a valid conclusion.  Either right and wrong are objectively meaningful, or nothing at all can be. 

The conclusion thus reached - the existence of a natural law which is generally acknowledged to proscribe such things as murder, theft, adultery, arson, etc. - is objectionable to an entirely different group for an entirely different reason.  A subset of Christians make an effort to deny the existence of natural law - law that is written on the hearts of all men, at all times, everywhere - because it seems to them to limit the clear need for God's explicit revelation of Himself.  It seems to me that this group is essentially overreacting to a hyper-Thomist ethic, which attempts what Lewis will not - to prove the unprovable ultimate good.  Just because many thinkers have abused man's reason, seeking to take it farther than it can go, or stifling it in its cradle, does not justify an abdication.  Guarding the bridge of man's natural reason ought not to involve blowing it up.  Thus far for Lewis.  Let us return to Adler, by way of an illustration.

The US Senate recently chose to degrade the power of the filibuster - requiring a simple majority to overrule a filibuster-er instead of a 60-vote supermajority.  Why is this relevant to our discussion? 

Many lamentations have been raised about the partisan polarisation of our nation.  The left gets lefter, the right gets righter, the moderates get sniped from the fringes, and less and less gets done, woe, woe, woe.

May I venture the suggestion that the current generation in politics (the baby-boomers, with a sprinkling of the rising Gen-X) can neither read nor write?  This is the generation that suffered the worst whipsaws and excesses of progressive experimental education in the 1960s and 1970s, the generation that saw (and supported) the abolition of the oppressive WASP-y Eurocentric education received by their forebears, the generation that didn't trust anyone over 30 (much less Cicero and Aristotle). 

It is too great a charge to accuse this generation of destroying reading.  That had been completed by their fathers, the Woodrow Wilson-era progressives, the scions of the Great War, the men who presided over a nation astounded at war, committed to peace at any price, the first American utopians to hold high office (and W.J. Bryan falls squarely in this circle).  These men were demagogues with good motives.  They were benevolent propagandists, and they begat propagandists.  The danger is always that the succeeding generation, unmoored from the anchors that held their fathers' consciences and afloat on the currents of the moment, will act on their own whims and mistake the vicissitudes of their fevered brains for ideas.  This is the final danger Lewis warns about, and it is this monster that Adler is combating.

But how to tame the demons let out of the box?  Adler proposes the same way they have always been tamed: discipline in your own mind and true education.  True education that looks back, mining the books of the great men to bring them alive for us now; true education that seeks to direct the enterprise of discovery in a carefully-hewn channel, lest it spill forth and drown us in old novelties; true education that seeks to cultivate ordinate virtues in the minds of men (and here I borrow from Lewis, but amenably) that they may discern good and evil, gauge the weighty and the ephemeral, and make just judgments wisely worded.

How may we do this?

Ad fontes!  Back to the greats, back to the Greeks, the Romans, the Church Fathers, the Reformers, the great Britons, and so on.  Adler even proposes raising the level of general education without the schools involved so that an enlightened population might be so bold as to explode the defunct pseudo-educational enterprise that passes for schooling (written in 1940, mind you). 

I am not a utopian, nor am I a light-and-glory American-zionist.  I do, however, think that a well-educated, thoughtful, and thus well-ordered and governed nation is the natural fruit of a nation filled substantially with Men with Chests - with men who accept the natural law (and many of whom may accept God's revelation in Jesus Christ as well), and who do not seek to overcome it, depart from it, or subvert it, but accept it as the Tao in which all right-thinking men must walk.  Such a nation seeks to truly educate - to train up the minds of the young to walk well in the Tao, to love the beautiful, seek out the true, honor the good, and the best do.  This nation will have a range of opinion - the Tao is not as narrow as the wicket gate - but these opinions will be argued in the true sense of the word.  They will be publicly disputed based on honest interpretations of natural facts, human nature, and the wisdom of particular actions with particular consequences. 

It might serve as a useful reminder here to note that the American constitutional convention was not a unanimous love-fest, but a long, arduous, painful and powerful debate about what was wisest.  The framers and signers were careful men who had studied men, and had well-formed and well-articulated opinions about the nature and behavior of men.

Only educated men may make educated arguments.  Fools rage and laugh.  Adler, Lewis, and I, would strongly prefer you not to be a fool.  I'm working on it myself.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but you might also take a look at How to Read a Book.  Free minds - the product of disciplined training, able to act on what is necessary in the manner demanded by the moment - make free men. 

Only Free Men may ably defend the freedoms of themselves and others.  This ability is increasingly demanded by assaults on liberty within and without our nation.  Let us rise to the occasion, lifted on the backs of the giants who wrote before us.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Speech

And God said "Let there be light." And there was light.

First-formed command, demand,
that dark ignite and light must be,
no choice but to obey
that voice which shakes the cedars
and in His temple, all cry

GLORY.

So speech of God must be,
commanding what He will,
and in the diktat granting the command.
So speech of our sweet Savior
likewise did what it would do,
all true,
"I will, be cleansed", and
"Go your way", not least of all, to Lazarus,
"COME OUT",
the words of God prove true, just so
the Word of God,
whose name no less than Faithful and True,
(and from His mouth a sword, the Word as well).
Give ear!  The good news, gospel, all is true,
as true as Him who spoke it!

    For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
        and do not return there but water the earth,
    making it bring forth and sprout,
        giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
    so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
        it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
        and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.


   The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
        because he has anointed me
        to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
        and recovering of sight to the blind,
        to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
    And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

office hours, looking up

I am thankful to work in a really nice building.

On Beauty

God is glorious.  That is to say, He is (among many other things) beautiful.  We give due praise and gratitude when we laud and thank Him for the beauty He is and the beauty He has put around us.  Understanding God through an applied study of Him in His word and works (theology properly-so-called) is an exploration of beauty.  This, I think, is what the Eastern church took and ran (too far) with, towards apotheosis and the beatific vision.  But they had a point - to know God is to delight in Him, in a way of which is difficult to express the requisite depth, breadth, and timelessness.

That is more-or-less why I write.  The bulk of my correspondence to you, the internet, is centered on either the beauty of God found in His Word or in His world.  In a few instances I have posted theological arguments.  These are a necessary part of being a thoughtful and careful Christian, and they are (I hope) derived from God's revelation of Himself in his Word and world, but the attitude in which I have such arguments is perhaps best encapsulated in dialogue:

Friend: X is the only possibly valid position on this issue!
Me: That's not how I read it, look at these texts here, here, and here.  I think I hold to a consistent and valid position, even if it differs from yours.
Friend: But you are wrong!  Can't you see how you are wrong?  I can see how you are wrong.
Me: I think you're missing the point.  Shouldn't a right understanding of this issue (whether yours or mine) lead us to thank God and delight in Him, resting in Christ?
Friend: But you are wrong!  I can't be happy when you are wrong!

The point at which I aim is that theology is a love affair.  We delight in God, we read His letters carefully, poring over them, seeking to learn more about Him, what He has done, what He will do, how He loves us, and how He has always loved us.  We long to know Him better, and He promises us we will. 

It is not about winning arguments.  It is about rightly loving God.  This love to God must manifest in love to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in love to our neighbor (e.g.- everybody).  1 John leaves us no choice. 

Lest I be accused of liberalism or whatnot, make no mistake that the beauty of God manifests in His holiness as well as His love.  I like woodworking, but am no expert.  My father was a fine craftsman, and could make (mostly within his field of carpentry) beautiful things of wood.  If you have ever experienced the agony of knowing how a thing should be but lacking the ability to make it so, you may have some idea of how perfect holy beauty contains the law. 

We are not beautiful by nature - we have within us, as men, a corrupted image of beauty.  Imagine if the Sistene Chapel ceiling were blotched and mottled by pervasive mildew.  You can tell that it was once beautiful, it was meant to be beautiful, but now it is ruined.  Not obliterated, mind you, but ruined.  Joseph's  coat was not beautiful after it was bloodied and torn, but it was recognizable as his.  Only the God who fashioned in us His image can restore it to beauty through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  We are redeemed to be beautiful, as mirrors of Christ, in whom the fulness of Godhead was pleased to dwell.  We are redeemed to tell of this beauty, though it is terrifying to the sinner who is convicted of his own ugliness.  We are put in the church to adorn Christ, as a bride adorns herself that she may adorn her husband. 

Thus, no matter the arguments or discussions we have in our exploration of revelation, we must never ignore our highest calling - to be God's own people, for glory and for beauty. 

Succulents

We have
out front
a bulging barrel brimful of aloe;
they once were not so bountiful,
but sprinklers, compost, and time
conspired to burst the bonds of the planter,
now dripping, dangling down
aloe all around,
and this without much work.

We have
inside
two boys beautiful and brash,
where once we had but one;
love and long labor
brought about a baby brother,
sleeping, supping, smiling,
lounging on laps,
demanding careful cultivation.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ars Moriendi

The church in America does not much care for death.  I don't care for death, either, it's an offense to God's image in man, it has no place in the New Heaven and New Earth, and it is the last enemy to be overcome.  But that's not quite what I was getting at.

The American church likes people to be happy, healthy, and feeling good, and death is rather a downer.  It's not what the kids want to hear.  It won't get people in the doors.  It's certainly not in keeping with the style of if-you-want-it-then-God-wants-it-for-you "preaching" that is so very popular nowadays.  It does not lead to high self-esteem.

By contrast, the church used to take death and dying rather seriously (but then, the church used to take a lot of things rather seriously).  The Roman Catholics have a sacrament about death.  Luther (among many others) contributed to the Ars Moriendi, the literature on the art of dying, in his 1519 Sermon on Preparing to Die  (I am indebted to Austra Reinis for her work Reforming the Art of Dying).  Glossing the substantial differences in how the Romanists and Protestants sought to prepare their flocks to face death, we may conclude that this task was not taken lightly, much less avoided, by Christendom for a great deal of her history.  Even into the 19th and 20th centuries, it was popularly understood that "prepare to meet your Maker" was an exhortation with meaning, which could be meaningfully undertaken (viz "The Wreck of the Deutschland" etc.).

This topic recommended itself to me just yesterday, when I got a promotional email about a mother-daughter harp duo who gives concerts interspersed with anecdotes the mother has collected about people on their deathbeds and how they get "glimpses of heaven" or some such.  As a reformed presbyterian, this seemed a little beatific-vision-y for my taste, but it reminded me that some people do still contemplate the ars moriendi

To flip a Schaeferism, how shall we then die?

We are not Stoics.  Death is not the inevitable result of life, to be taken with apatheia, and we do not go gently into that good night (which is not good, anyway). 

We are not mystics.  Death is not the gate to an unknown plane of existence in which the human can explore, reign, oppress, or otherwise carry on being some kind of translated free agent.

We are not pagans.  Death comes to man as to the beast, says the preacher, but by golly we take it a good deal more seriously than they.

On this blog we are not even Roman Catholics.  Death comes once, and then the judgment.  The dead are beyond the reach of the living as king David well expressed the matter.

No, death is the last enemy.  It is bitter.  It is hard.  It is the wages of sin. It severs, sometimes cruelly, the living from those who go down to the pit.

But it is conquered for the Christian in Christ.  He drained it dry, and if we rest in His work, there is confidence.  Not a confidence in ourselves, our life's work, our legacy, no confidence that death is illusory or an existential cessation.  A confidence in Jesus Christ, the living one who has died, a confidence in our God who promises that he will spread a feast on his mountain and will himself swallow up death forever (Isa. 25 - go read it).  The Christian faces death as a soldier confident in victory.  Perhaps I die today, O death, but at the end of days, you will die and I will live.  We cannot break the fangs of death, but Christ has sucked the venom for us, and will at length fully and finally slay Leviathan the fleeing serpent, the murder from the beginning, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning nor tears, for the former things will have passed away.

So let us face death.  It may be profitably contemplated, a la ars moriendi, insofar as it is also a meditation on the work of Christ.  Sermons about death must be sermons about Christ (just as sermons about sin, marriage, work, or assurance all must be sermons about Christ).  To live in the shadow of the cross is to live in the shadow of death.  But let it not be our own death that preoccupies us, but the death and resurrection of our great savior, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lo Ammi

And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’

Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God,
the Lord is one,
the Lord is singular,
he who alone only does wondrous things,
who caused light to shine forth out of darkness,
who spoke dry bones to life,
who saw us,
His people (not by right-
but by His choice
from faraway forever out of time),
He saw us
and spoke
us
to life.
He spoke
us
into
His family,
declared us His own,
and did not leave us
wallowing
in the laying room of the world,
the bottle of our sickening sins
cruelly propped into our mouth
(for who would care if we drown?
no tear would be shed,
perhaps a box ticked -
that is all).
He saw us
and spoke
life
everlasting,
His shout
shaking the pillars
of our Soviet-era-orphanage hell,
His Word
never returning void
(and who are these children?
Behold! I and the children God has given me!).
Lengthen your cords, O Heaven!
strengthen your stakes, New Jerusalem!
He ascends on high,
leading a host of captives,
and giving gifts to men
(and the little children,
whom He has always loved).

Not-my-people
is loved.

Not-loved
is now His people.


See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Salvation belongs to our God, and in His name we set up our banners.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Every good and perfect gift...

The God who formed you,
Wondrously wrought you,
Knit you and laid out your days
(each and every one
when as yet there were none -
well, three, anyway),
This God whose ways are perfect,
May He call you,
Cleanse you,
Redeem you for Himself,
That you give back what you are given,
Yourself,
To Christ (your other
elder brother - so we pray),
And live for
and love Him
all your days.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Song to the Creator

Sing high songs,
sweetly sung,
tune tongues to tell
how God our Father
spoke out the singing stars,
a joyful chorus,
jubilation at the dawn;
right praise rightly sung
to the Father of Lights!

Generous God is,
pouring out His glory,
light into the night
a call, all creatures great and small,
- shine like Him!

Show back borrowed beams,
sing back the stars' songs,
give back granted glory
to God, First-Father all-filling forever!

Waiting

We are waiting
for baby;
like looking
intently
at that last
little
bit
of
honey on the spoon,
knowing it will
(eventually)
drop down delicious dollop
on the piping-hot biscuit
(but not
quite
yet).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Song to Autumn in the Desert

You come dressed in different clothes
than your sisters further north.
You do not wear the leaves
so deciduously pretty,
in the fashionable fall.
You flirt at us with sunbeams,
later-rising,
cooler mornings;
as with most of the desert
we sense your heat and coolness,
you radiant thing.
The doves fly higher, later,
and the white-wings travel south,
(I don't know why -
what could be lovlier
than being here
in the desert
with you?).

To the Moon - Part 3

Crawford's head swam as he walked up to Cheryl at her desk and asked for a first-day packet.  She had two aces up and one long string of cards going, but she had locked up her four of clubs and frowned as she glanced up.

"Oh, rats, a spade...  I suppose you'll want your things now, and we'll find you a desk, too."  She brightened back to her cheerily secretarial demeanor.  "Come this way!"  She flounced out of her chair and over to a small door, opened it, and gestured for Crawford to follow.  He did.

The room they entered was wide, but constructed radially, like a small Quonset hut.  It had no windows in the walls, but on the far end Crawford could see two round black portals flanking the exit door.  Stuffed into the low corners where the roof became the wall and met the floor were crates, most labeled with surnames, some with blank white index cards.  On one of these Cheryl wrote "CRAWFORD" with a thick marker.  She tugged it out and looked at Crawford.  When he didn't notice, she huffed loudly.

"Sorry."  Crawford picked it up as Cheryl smiled saccharine at him.  They walked to the door at the other end of the room, and Cheryl prattled on about keeping track of his things and never forgetting to put his crate away where it belonged and of course to keep the pressure suit handy and the rebreather, too, and the nearest exits were a long way away and the alarm sounded just like a fire engine but they hadn't had it go off for a few months and the doors were all like this one with the inswing on the high pressure side and they wouldn't open all the way so the outrushing air was supposed to shut them if a breach happened and you never propped the door and then they walked out of the Quonset room.

Crawford was shown to an office without windows, which was just as well as he would have spent all his time staring out of them.  He supposed it was a corner office, but that seemed less a mark of distinction here than on earth.  His ceiling sloped down on two axes, maxing a sort of inverse-double-barrel-arch which would have made the Romans jealous.  He had a small desk, a sleek computer, and several potted plants.

"Free air," said Cheryl when she saw his puzzled glance at them.  "Oh, and now that the elevator is in, you can probably even go home tonight!"  With this pronouncement she spun on her heel and tripped back to her office on her too-high heels.

The desk was bare, except for the computer.  No drawers, no features.  The computer also appeared to be molded into the top of the desk.  When Crawford pulled the chair out, it slid on a track.  He surmised that these precautions were all in the event of sudden loss of pressure.  He noted ruefully that his door swung in towards his office.  He prayed against meteorites.

The first message in his inbox was a welcome from Delvins.  The second was a task from Delvins.  The third was from Cheryl; there were bagels in the breakroom.  Back to Delvins, asking how far he had come on his task.  Crawford sighed.  He was inclined to doubt if Delvins had done him a favor.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Song to the Trinity

Our good-great-gracious God
rings round this wide world
with bluest sky and blackest night,
hangs the spheres
here, there, anywhere,
flung by His hand and governed by His law.

This God, thrice-holy Trinity,
never erring, neither sparing the Son,
nor stinting in the Spirit,
He who leads us to and reads us of the Son,
feeds the heart at ebb,
and flows deeply, richly goes with us,

to light roads narrow dark and weary,
in thickest night points always
to the Son.

Our sovereign-savior, sin-slayer, Jesus Christ,
once walked this fertile earth,
his birth the knell for hell and Satan's host,
once more He comes,
with justice in Hand,
sharp sword, the word,
his legs as burnished bronze will touch this world
(the smoke chokes but cannot cloak the wicked),
and Ho! His cry, hand to the sky, Wait No More!
The Day has come, all's set and sorted out,
the sky rolled up, seas flee,
valleys lift, a rift far as Azal.


City-building Son,
metes and measures out our place palatial,
golden Zion, square and fair,
high her gates and high her walls,
long the tables, trenchers, high her halls,
full-up of feasting, strong songs shouted to and by
our battle-bruised-and-never-broken King,
tears begone! the flagons round again,
once more adore and praise the Lord,
cast down all crowns but His,
once more adore and praise the Lord!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Autumn Days

Crisp clean morning air,
Slanted sunbeams rising late,
Autumn has arrived.

Quiet evenings,
Cooling once the sun has set,
Talking on the porch.

Speaking of the good,
Making mention of the hard,
Seeing stars appear.

The first October
without the warm kindnesses
of my dear father.

The first November
with one fewer place setting
around the table.

The first December
with a quieter Christmas
and a colder wind.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Web

We are all of us enmeshed,
entangled, intertwined,
tied to life by a thousand threads
thick and thin,
placed by God in this web
of family, friends, even foes.
Is it a trap?
A spider's spinning,
set to suck you dry?
Is it a net?
Slung confidently
beneath the high-wire of life,
reminding you that
if you fall,
you may yet get up again?
The answer (to you)
depends, hinges, hangs upon your view
of Him who at the center
spun the web
and touches every thread.
This God (whose ways are perfect)
made you you,
and those about you all themselves,
who spread out the constellation of the stars
and just as surely guards
and wards
your way.
Will you rest
in His hands?
Or fight
and cut the strings
that hold you safe,
and fall?
(into what? I do not
want to know -
neither do you)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

As Those Who Have No Hope...


It is not so that we grieve,
despair begone from Christian heart!
We sorrow, still, at sin
and the cold touch of death,
still watching Adam's sons,
allowed to snatch them,
one by one,
but death will be disgorged,
on that day
of twilight morn and noon,
when Christ the victor rides
and slays the dragon.


The sea gives up its dead,
the bloated belly of the grave is slit,
and all men shall come forth
to stand,
and parted at the hand
of God,
of Christ on his
great white throne,
they leftward moan
and rightward shout in triumph.

On, now, up to new Jerusalem!
City of peace,
at last made whole,
made perfect, cubely shaped
and polished gleaming bright
no night
shall dim the eye
no tear
near there and death?
Where is death?
Drained, like the sea
empty,
no more a terror,
man's error, sin in Adam,
now is done,
made right by Christ,
who braved the cross,
the loss
of fellowship more sweet
than we imagine
or can tell.

So fasting mourners come and feast,
the table now is laid, the debt is paid,
and Christ calls out to come,

without money,
without price,
with fear of naught but God,
find rest
and blessed
are they
who mourn, for
they shall be comforted.

Monday, September 30, 2013

23 September

This life is loosely woven,
between the threads
we see eternity now and then,
and God shines through purely,
cleanly,
and this life suddenly becomes obvious,
conspicuous,
even ostentatious.
How dare we to live?

Tomorrow is a hope,
not a guarantee,
and not,
certainly,
a toy
to be held on to and clutched
in a greedy hand;
then it will smart
when it is torn away.
How dare we to presume?

Death crouches in the way,
looking for all the world
like it will spring,
and rend us in pieces with none to deliver.

Do you know why it crouches so?
The hand of Christ is on its neck,
twisting ever so slightly,
and Death grimaces in pain,
knowing
its days, too, are numbered,
counted off by the same Lord
who came to the end
of the tally
for my father.

The fear of the Lord is clean.   
How dare we to live otherwise?

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
        be acceptable in your sight,
        O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."

Friday, September 20, 2013

To the Moon - Part 2

He was entirely disappointed to see the elevator open onto a reception area, complete with potted plants, a dish of candy, and a pleasantly-average-looking young lady seated behind a desk.  The sign on her counter identified her as Cheryl.  She looked up and smiled at him as he stepped out of the elevator, rather rumpled, and stuffing his papers back into his bag. 

"Can I help you, sir?" she asked sweetly.

"Maybe, yes.  What floor is this?"

"Floor, sir?  I'm not sure what you mean.  Do you have an appointment?"

"No, well, yes, but not here, I think.  What floor of the building are we on?"

"It's just one level, sir; do you have an appointment?  What's your name?  I can look you up on the schedule."   She blithely opened an appointment book and tapped her pencil in it.

"Crawford, thank you, but I don't think I have my appointment here.  It's on the fourth floor."

"Well, since we only have the one, you'll probably be late!" she giggled.  "I don't see you in here, but the director is available now, if you'd like to step in and see him."

He was entirely puzzled by this turn of events, but following the mantra of an old physics professor "confidence before competence, if you know what I mean", he simply smiled and said "That would be great, thank you, Cheryl."

She bustled out of her seat and over to a heavy mahogany door and knocked twice.  "Come in" boomed a deep, leonine voice.

"Oh good, he'll see you know, sir!  Have a great day!" She bustled back to her desk, and as Crawford walked to the door he saw her pick up a deck of  cards and resume a hand of solitaire.  He pushed the heavy door open, revealing a spacious office, paneled in dark wood, with large, arching windows on the far wall.  Behind a deep desk that had been shaped from a cut round belonging to some giant tree, complete with bark encased under the finish, sat a man in a well-pressed suit, writing furiously with a fountain pen.  He looked up, and his gray eyes clouded.

"I do not believe I have had the pleasure," boomed that deep, rich voice.  The man half rose and extended a meaty hand that engulfed Crawford's and shook it vigorously.

"Crawford, sir, Michael Crawford, of the Fundamental Research division.  I work out at the Palo Alto facility, mostly."

"Crawford, eh!  I've read you, sir, and I'm very glad you stopped by.  I am Delvins, John Delvins, head of the Lunar group.  I was expecting to see the digest of your report today, but you were good enough to come in person.  You've found us out, you have!" Delvins sat back in the brass-studded leather swivel chair and chuckled, interleaving his fingers and shaking his head.

"Found you out, sir?"  Crawford looked sideways at the man behind the desk, then looked straight at the windows behind the man, then stopped breathing.  Out the window, a gray-white plain stretched away into the distance, until a cliff edge shot up abruptly, only to give way to an immensity of blackness rising up above the horizon.  Crawford gulped air a few times, and forced his eyes back to meet the twinkling ones locked on him from behind the cut tree desk.

"Yes, you found us out, you scamp.  Your albedo measurements were too good, and they caught us fiddling with our window shades and radiators.  Of course you did not know that, and your work would have been deliberately dismissed as noisy data, and you would have been frustrated and gotten on with your life, but here you are and now you know!  Now, tell me how you got here."  Delvins pierced him with a glance that was as quizzical as it was accusative, and drummed a tattoo with his giant fingers on the giant tree.

Crawford blinked a few times, and could only fumble out "I took the elevator, sir."

Delvins furrowed his brow and pushed a white button in a perforated brass plate, "Cheryl, is the elevator running?"

A moment, a crackle, then "Yes, sir, it seems so.  The door just opened when I pushed the button."

"Hmm, well that's new.  They ought not to have started service without telling me.  Crawford, they gave you a key?"

"No, sir," stammered Crawford, "I just pushed the button labeled 'MOON', and it went."

"We have a button labeled 'MOON'? This is too much.  Truly?"

"Well, they had taped over the label, but I peeked."

Delvins began to laugh, shaking the chair, the room, the very moon itself.  "You rascal! And those lazy maintenance men!"  Delvins continued his tectonic mirth for some time, before settling down and wiping his eyes with a starched white handkerchief with a golden-stitched JD in the corner.  "Well, Crawford, you work for me now.  Congratulations."

Crawford found himself entirely without confidence or competence, and could only shake the proffered hand and mumble a thank-you.  He was entranced by the window, by the arid stark moonscape made so simple when framed by potted plants, by the star field that was just visible around the edges of the black and sunlight sky, and by the confounded familiarity which this man Delvins had with it all.  Crawford had studied the moon since boyhood, joining astronomy clubs, buying and upgrading his telescopes, taking a degree in astrophysics with honors, working for the CPI for six years, and this man Delvins officed on the moon.  It was almost too much.

"Crawford, go talk to Cheryl about your first-day packet and get an office set up.  I'll want you up to speed soon, but you have a good background, and I don't doubt that you will be a fine addition to my department.  And..."  Here his voice dropped and he leaned over the desk, wagging a menacing finger at Crawford's chest  "up here, do not push any buttons unless you know what they do!"  He chuckled as he sat back down and turned his attention back to his writing, scribbling away on cream-colored paper like a man possessed.  Crawford turned and slowly walked out of the office, casting a lingering glance out those tall windows and into space.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

To the Moon - Part 1

Cold concrete gave way to the bright steel of the elevator as he stepped over the threshold and into the box.  Thankfully, it played no music.  His appointment was on the fourth floor, at two o'clock.  His watch read quarter to two.  He had time, and he had never visited this facility before.  The panel of smooth, round buttons lay before him invitingly, there were many, many levels to the Center for Planetary Innovation; some were labeled ominously and had no button; "Disjunction Level" in particular intrigued him, but alas, no button.  Impatiently, the doors slid closed.

Towards the top of the panel he saw a button with a taped-over label.  The tape read "NO SERVICE", but he worked the edge loose with his thumbnail and, to his delight, saw graven in the simple sans-serif elevator font the word "MOON".  He pushed it.  The little circle around it lit up blue, and he smiled.

Nothing happened.

He rocked up on his toes to see if he could sense any appreciable acceleration, but he could not.  Gravity felt normal.  He sighed, looking again at his watch.  He had ten minutes now, so he ought to just report in on the fourth floor and make his presentation.  It was not a very good presentation, merely a summary of his research activities over the past month, wherein he had found little of note concerning time-dependent albedo variations in the Mare Tranquillitatis.  They were small, they were aperiodic, and the best he could say was that they might have to do with unexpected absorption and emission bands of particles entrained in the solar wind; this was as much as to say he had no idea.  He pressed the button for the fourth floor.

Curiously, it blinked red, then went out.  The button labeled "MOON" remained highlighted in blue.  He blinked, and rocked on his toes again.  Nothing much. He checked his watch, and tried the door-open button.  Still nothing.

He was caught quite off-guard, then, when he slammed into the ceiling of the elevator five minutes later.  He was less surprised, though still rattled, when he thudded back to the floor of the elevator, his bag splattering him with paper and pencils, and his lunch quite crushed by its brief stint as a shock absorber for his laptop.  With a cheerful ding, the floor indicator said MOON and the door slid open.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Flock

Little wooly sheep,
straggle north by the thousand,
shadow hills below.

Ragged-edged, drifting,
shapes caressed by quiet wind,
troves of rain and cool.

Scattered blue-sky flock,
fading in the distant east,
who will lead you home?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Imago Dei

Burgers sizzled, potatoes were chopped into fries in one fell swoop, and the general din of In-n-Out Burger simmered all around us.  My son stood up on the bench next to me, flirting with an older lady through the glass half-panel; my wife and I chatted over our burgers and fries, pausing to share with Junior or take sips of icewater.  Seated across from my son's target and her husband were two young men, of college age, both wearing very nice watches and with well-groomed hair.  They had been there when we arrived, deep in conversation; they would be there when we left, deep in conversation; the nice older lady would cast a bittersweet, lingering glance at my son and pregnant wife as we walked out the door.  What can never be...


"Mom, Dad, I'm gay" is probably a sentence that keeps many Christian parents awake at night.  What do you do?  What do you say?  What did you do wrong?  How could you have missed the signs?  This isn't OK.  Is it OK?  What will this do to our relationship?  How do you separate sin and sinner in your affections and actions?

I am not much of a counselor, so I make no approach to the wrenching practical questions posed above.  I do, however, think a lot about these sorts of things, and Rosaria Butterfield's book got me thinking more.  The session of my church apparently thinks I am fit for youth ministry, and as we work to get a college group organized, I have no doubt that this topic will come up.  It is on the mind of our nation now as never before, and it is high time that the church began an honest, thorough, and Biblical discussion of homosexuality and related questions.

Long before Oscar Wilde blithely dubbed it "the love that dare not speak its name", homosexuality was taboo in the West (I simply lack knowledge of the East, so this omission is in no wise an inference).  The Greeks were pretty open about that sort of thing, the Romans less so, and so from the Christianization of Europe to the twentieth century, these things were buried deep and sealed.

The problem with sin, like a vampire, is that it will not stay buried (actually, an interesting literary excursus would be to analyze vampires as a mythical incarnation of sin itself, never-dying, slowly destroying, attractive, powerful, but hateful and vile - anyway - ).  And you never know where it will pop up.

How do you react to a homosexual?  Is it a Kafka-esque revulsion at the sight of someone you know now become an aesthetic abomination?  Is it a reactive denunciation of the evils of homosexuality?  Or do you stop, take a breath, acknowledge first that all are sinners falling short of the glory of God and second that this person in front of you is made in His glorious image?

What was the sin of Sodom?  Yes, they sought to violate Lot's guests (and Gibeah of Saul is guilty of the same crime), but in God's revelation to Ezekiel, in 16:49, Sodom and her sister cities are indicted for pride, excess of ease, and neglect of the poor - pride being the root of all these branches.

Consider now the scene, where a son sits before his father and says "I really struggle with pride, I - I think I'm proud". 

Seems almost trite, no?  Dad might slap him on the back and say "Well, son, we all struggle with that, and the important thing is just to keep on; I'm proud of you, boy".  Pride is so easy to confess, because it is so ubiquitous.  Nobody gasps or opens their eyes to stare if you ask God to help you with pride during group prayer. 

Pride is the root sin.  It is the meta-sin.  It is man (or devil) standing up to God's face and saying "I know better".  From "Has God really said...?" down to Sodom, to the Pharisees, to us today, the refrain of rebel mankind has been unanimous - and was penned well by Frank Sinatra - I did it my way

There's a kind of bamboo, called "runner bamboo", that I have read about.  Once it's deep down in the soil, it can't be eradicated.  It travels between yards, across streets, breaks pavement, and all because there's a root down there, growing in all manner of unexpected directions.  Such is pride to the pandemonium of man's external sins, and so it has been in all ages.  We happen to have a strong outbreak of one symptom in American culture right now, but it's just that - a symptom.  The disease is sin itself, above all, that pride which makes man exalt himself to the heavens.

So how to approach the challenge that homosexuality (or its variants across the LGBT rainbow - ironically, a symbol of God's patiently deferred judgment by fire...) poses? 

Start from the basics.  Are you God?  No.  You do not get to tell this person that they are going to hell.  You should tell them that God is holy, and they need forgiveness, but this is the happy flip side of Calvinism - you never know what sinner might be a future saint - only God does, so you get to show the love of Christ to everybody.  Next, are they made in God's image?  Yes.  Then, as James lambasts, you must not curse them or revile them, lest you be a hypocrite.  If they are made in the image of God, then they are dignified, thinking, responsible moral creatures.  They may be badly deluded by sin, but they remain Adam's seed, and are to be treated honorably as our kinfolk.  Finally, do you want their redemption?  I hope you do.  If so, present them with the full truth of the gospel as thought you really cared about their eternal souls - because you do! 

If you are using the Bible as a club, you are mishandling it.  If you give them law alone, you are withholding the gospel (which is not your right).  If you reason with them about sin and righteousness and judgment and Jesus, acting in patience and love, subordinating any personal aesthetic reactions you may have to the overriding demand of Jesus to preach the gospel to all tongues, tribes, and nations, then let God do the rest.  Either you have been an aroma of life unto life, we hope, or of death unto death, but let it be the gospel they react to, not you.

The caution comes from Ezekiel, too: Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride?  Let us never mock those who sin in ways that are particularly distasteful.  If we are pointing at another's sin, it is far too easy for other, craftier, sins to sneak up and nab us.  Let us be vigilant, loving, thoughtful, and above all, Christlike, as we seek to win all men to Christ.  He alone is powerful over all sin, having conquered it in his body on the cross.  He has made us, his people, salt and light.  Let us be savory, clear, and pure as we season and illuminate this world until our Savior comes again.

Felix

To touch the beautiful,
highlight the true,
strip naked the good,
that is what poems do.
Mendelssohn  knew.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Seamus Heaney is Dead

for Mrs. Beth Oder

Of all the eddies, rocks, and currents
which whirled my education
round and found or foundered
my desires, so much to thank
have I my English teachers for,
who stood athwart the door of
language, love, and laughing life
distilled into these tomes,
these homes of men and angels,
devils, too, which thrilled
my soul and put in motion
pendula of prose or poems
which trickle tick-tock out from time to time.

Among the throng of authors,
scribblers, playwrights, hacks,
and geniuses to whom the class
was ushered in their turn,
one man stood up,
feet wide and shoulders back,
collared us and hollered words of
ages past, of demons, heroes, deeds,
and fatal pride,
a wide embrace of
round sound,
rolling rumbles of the Saxon earth
beneath our feet,
so deep it might have been unnoticed,
but the fault lines of our language shift and shock,
a-tremble at the tread of Beowulf
and his awen,
Seamus Heaney,
who is dead.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

To Mr. Assad

"The nations raged,
but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth..."


Who are you, O man,
to lift a hand
against the God that made you,
or His stamp
imago dei
pressed upon the clay about you,
inscribed
in faces cold and ashen,
row on row
the old
the young
lie quiet.
Shuttered eyes
and plastic sheets
cry out like the blood of Abel,
and you,
destroyer of the light of life,
destroyer of your soul,
defacer of that image in yourself
more than in those at rest,
where will you go?

The drums and guns,
may rumble menace,
the mortars, bombs,
may all fall all about you
and you may
survive this day
and many other;
yet there is one
like to no other,
with twilight in the morning as at night,
a day of awful calm,
of power unsheathed and unopposed,
of recompense and justice undebated,
and when you stand,
O man,
before that great white throne,
where will you go?

Friday, August 9, 2013

(Still) Summer

It is August,
the dog days of summer
came
sniffed twice
turned around
and flopped on Phoenix
snuffling, shedding heat like hair
that sticks to everything
(don't wear black).

The rains,
God's blessed rains,
came,
and finding the desert inhospitable,
went
back to the Gulf,
to the Pacific,
to the beach
(where it's much nicer this time of year).

So here we are,
left to our own devices,
such as fans,
and A/C,
and popsicles,
and pools,
waiting it out
to see who flinches first
and who backs down
from our annual game of chicken
(summer).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Tug of the Tiber

I was talking with a friend about an interesting issue: thinking evangelicals, tired of shallow churches and hollow worship, wind their way to Rome.  Now, I know that 'data' is not the plural of 'anecdote', but we (and our circle of friends and acquaintances) had been seeing this trend for a few years, at least.  It's a challenge to the Reformed churches, because maybe a decade ago it seemed like they were the leading destination for mainline evangelicals seeking depth and solidity (such as myself).

First, a few thoughts on Rome.  She is doubtless a Christian church, affirming the same Trinue God, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, who died to redeem fallen sinners.  She is also (to me) a very wayward church, allowing (in the Lumen Gentium) quite a bit more than I am persuaded the Bible allows regarding sincerity being soteric, irrespective of a personal relationship with Jesus, and there are many other points of departure I could note, not least the council of Trent, the Mass, the canon, and the sacraments (the reasons for Protestants in the first place).  But boy oh boy has she got looks.

Celibate priests (except the ex-Anglicans, ahem), beautiful architecture, history, glory, incense, hushed prayers, art, charity, theology, and now an admirably humble pope who seems to want simply to do good in the world.  Above all, the claim to "true catholicity" by dint of her worldwide presence and (supposed) uninterrupted succession.

So when the music fades and all is stripped away, when the jokes from the plexi-pulpit have grated through the speakers, when the inch-deep self-esteem teaching is threadbare, where to go to worship God?

To the reformed churches?  Those quibbling denominational d-bags?  They are like bacteria, they just keep dividing.  Plus, they only care about head knowledge.

No, safety and substance are held out by Rome, along with the promise of absolution provided you trust the church to dispense it.

Hits the spot, no?

No less, the reformed arguments against Rome frequently have the ring of dismissiveness (pooh, Rome?  that old bag?), or else they argue historic issues on which Rome has sidestepped (Justification by faith alone! Luther got rehabilitated, OK?). 

What is needed in the reformed churches is a freshly reasoned, accurate, and above all charitable counterargument to the lure of Rome.  Your mom always knew that you would catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and especially when making a case to a potential Rome-ward bound person, attacks are not the answer.  Understand the criticisms and the draws, there are real problems in every church, including the reformed camp, and there are strengths in many places, too.

A specific concern: unity and historicity.  Rome's succession story is a-historical, to say the least.  Look up the investiture controversy and look at the early church.  Rome's touted unity is given the lie by competing factions within the church and by the existence of, among others, Copts, Eastern and Russian Orthordox, to say nothing of Protestantism (kicked out by Rome, but now accepted as "wayward brothers").

A general concern: the word of God.  Is God's word subject to the church, or vice-versa?  It troubles me that many of the American evangelicals who are migrating to Rome have probably not reckoned with their forfeiture of a very deeply held Protestant/American religious conviction: the right to interpret Scripture.  Clearly, the church (broadly speaking) has a history and system of interpretation that is useful, frequently correct, and not to be ignored, but on matters of dissension, may not a man prayerfully submit to the Word as he reads it?  Not in Rome.

A difficult charge: the reformed are not charitable.  Too often true, but that's not to say there's something wrong with reformed theology in general.  Properly understood theology works itself out in real life.  Really believe that only God knows who will be saved?  Then you will probably take every chance to share the gospel.  Who knows?  God may use you today.  Really think that true Christians are preserved and persevere to the end?  Then get persevering!  Really believe in the inerrancy of Scripture?  Then "why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I command?"  Here is a call to charity.  If you don't want people to think of your church as cold, then be warm yourself.  It's contagious.

To conclude, it is silly to dismiss Rome, especially with such an engaging pontiff as the man who currently claims the Holy See.  Let us rather work to make the Biblical arguments upon which reformed theology is built, and offer them in a spirit of charity, trusting that by God's grace, those who seek substance will find it in the Word of God, and let's be there, too.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Schism and Hermeneutic

Note: Throughout, I assume that the reader is conversant with the Bible and has read through it, hopefully many times.  If any reader would care to have citations for any referenced passage, please ask in the comments.  This is a conscious decision to improve the flow of the writing, which is intended to be persuasive, not technical.

When do you leave a church? 

This is an extremely difficult question, as anyone who has done it can attest.  Is it when they kick you out?  When you are convinced that the damage is irreversible?  When you think you spot a trend?  When you get mad?

Raising the issue to the next level, when does a church leave a denomination?

I realize that this is a non-issue for many evangelical churches, which are commonly unaffiliated with any other part of the body of Christ.  I also maintain that denominations are the best answer to the problem of sin in the church, as we are to strive for unity and connection with our brothers and sisters where it is possible to do so in good conscience.  This is not an argument for denominations per se, though it is about church affiliation, so on we go.

Recently, a church in my denomination (OPC) chose to reject overtures of reconciliation from the presbytery (the regional church) and abandon our denomination, only to promptly affiliate with another (ERPC).  The details of the affair are not known to me, nor are they directly relevant to the larger discussion, so we will leave them here. 

Our denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, would be described by most Christians as conservative.  We have a very high view of Scripture, we hold to the Westminster standards, discipline is conducted according to the constitution of the church contained in the standards and the book of church order.  Individual churches are under the care of a session of elders, the regional churches meet quarterly, and the denomination meets annually.  Appeals of judicial matters may be made up the chain if a party is dissatisfied, and as a general rule things are done decently and in good order.

But that's not good enough for some. 

After some reading on the ERPC website, it seemed to me like there was little to differentiate them from the OPC; they claim the Westminster standards, maintain Biblical inerrancy, and (notionally) have a presbyterian form of government (they have six churches, FWIW).  A few points stick out, though, and I must assume these are the levers that pried churches out of the OPC and into the ERPC:

1) Reduced regional authority - this suggests to me that these churches were born out of judicial proceedings they did not like, but that is beside the point.  It's not the main issue of this discussion.

2) "Strict" adherence to the Westminster standards - this is their jab at what they see as wobbliness on the standards in the OPC.  I counter that the standards are secondary, and what they see as wobbly is a balancing act by the OPC of maintaining Scriptural primacy over the subordinate standards, which are nevertheless strongly asserted as a correct and well-formulated system of theology.  Parsing them like they are inspired is a hermeneutical error.  This gets at the main point, keep reading.

3) Six-day literal creation - The best for last, right?  Their website spends as many words on this as on justification by faith alone.  Here we go.

A cursory reading of the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2 leaves some questions open.  What's the deal with the second account?  Is it a zoom-in on a day?  If so, what day?  How come the voice of the narrative changed?  Why is a parallel literary structure apparent in the first account, but not so in the second?

These questions are about how to interpret Scripture.  They are hermeneutical.  They aim at eliciting from the passage (or similar passages) some clues as to how we should take all of it in, how it should fit with our understanding of the rest of revelation, and so on.  Clearly, differences on hermeneutics produce differences in doctrine and practice.  Major interpretive differences about baptism produce different churches, differences on justification produce different churches, and now, it seems, a difference on Genesis 1 & 2 produces a different church.

But what, exactly, is the difference?

The OPC has made clear that the hermeneutical difficulties inherent in early Genesis mean that some variety of views is acceptable within our church.  Many in the OPC are six-literal-day folks, but the denomination has stated that the framework hermeneutic (which is literary) adequately deals with the text while admitting the general revelation that creation bears of an old Earth, and even day-agers are welcome.  Why?  Is it because our standards are lax?  Quite the opposite, in fact: the church cannot speak where God has not spoken. 

If a passage is obscure, and remains so under diligent, careful, investigation, we lack the authority to mandate a meaning.  The church exercises respect for Scripture when she will not talk over it.  The secret things belong to the Lord, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children, that we may do the words of God.  The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. 

So can you build a denomination on this hermeneutic divide?  Probably.  Should you?  I rather think not. 

The topic at issue is not soteric - nobody argues (I hope) that you HAVE to have the right view on Genesis 1 to get into heaven.  It is not even a practical issue - what does it change in your worship or piety whether rock strata developed over millenia or were laid down in an instant by the hand of God?  The arguers on this topic will declare that it is an inerrancy of Scripture issue - but not all Scripture is literal history.  God did not actually use Moab as a chamber pot, nor cast a single shoe over Edom.  Prophecy is filled with accounts of visions that are presented as a matter-of-fact.  Let's not even get started on the Revelation to John.

I'm afraid that I am left with no other conclusion than that this argument is over the inerrancy of somebody's opinion.  About hermeneutical inerrancy.  Interpretive inerrancy.

Folks, God's word stands, no matter what we think of it.  The Word of God in the Old and New Testament, as recorded in the original languages, is without error.  We have no such guarantees of (or, I hope, trust in) our own wisdom in parsing that word.

Furthermore, arguing so bitterly about words (specifically "day") seems to be forbidden by Paul.  Violating clear teaching of Scripture for the sake of a view on an obscure part plainly breaks the widely accepted hermeneutical rule of work-from-easier-to-harder. 

It saddens me to see interpretation abused to the detriment of my church.  But so it goes, and so it will go, while Christ tarries.  In the meantime, let's work and pray for truth, unity, and love to prevail in the Body of Christ while we sit under the word of God together.

Friday, August 2, 2013

For my Wife

Who else is there
(I know not one)
with smiling eyes
when day is done?

Who else is there,
so patient, kind,
who knows my heart,
my soul, my mind?

Who else is there
to love our son,
to train him up
and see him run?

I know none else
like to my wife;
I want none else
to share my life.



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Grandpa's House

Rows of brick, each laid with care,
Post and lintel plumb and square,
A quiet garden, beds of roses,
Rhododendrons, pansies, posies,
Picture windows down to boats,
Closets full of games and coats,
A hug, a kiss, the warmest smile,
Canning jars in rank and file,
Cherries, pears, and apricots,
Applesauce in burbling pots,
Grandma's paintings on the walls,
Running cousins in the halls,
Tools and toys, the Buick, too,
The Chevy truck, so clean and blue,
The smell of oil on all the saws,
Grinder, chisels, lumber, laws,
"Hold it so, not thus, and squeeze",
Rod and rifle, fields and trees,
Christmas feasts with pies and cakes,
Pancake breakfasts, streams and lakes,
The house my Grandpa built was so,
He built it well, he did not know
how else to work, the only way
was do it well and square today.

The house is gone, or much the same,
My Grandpa's gone, and bricks and frame
are drained and loveless, cold and spare,
without the loving builder there.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Over-Under-Around-and-Through

This is a post about Jesus.

More specifically, it is a post about Jesus as the incarnate Word of God.

This is mystery, no doubt.  The locutionary Word of God that spoke all things into being (without which noting was made that was made) became a human creature Himself.  This is far off and very deep, but it is the plain declaration of John 1, Paul, and Christ Himself, who claimed to be one with the Father.

The question, then: what are we to do when we encounter the Word?

Due to the presence in my home of a small child (mea culpa), I find myself reading many "prepositional books".  You know, like the inimitable Bears in the Night, and Bear Hunt, or 22 Bears (there is a common theme here, though I can't quite put my claw on it).  These cheerful books contain characters depicting a variety of phrases, typically prepositional ("out the window, down the tree, over the wall, under the bridge, around the lake, between the rocks, through the woods, up Spook Hill..." - Bears in the Night by Stan & Jan Berenstain, and I guess it took two of them to write that...). 

When we come to the Word of God in the historical, factual, brutally real person of Jesus Christ, what do we do? 

Do we stand over Him and declare "textual inconsistencies and grammar make you implausible, so you're probably mythic or projectional, good bye, perhaps you can apply for an opening as a prophet down the hall..."?

Do we go around Him, and excuse ourselves but "we really appreciate the work others say you did (see above), and you're really nice (not like some of your followers - I've got a bumper sticker, see), but what I'm after here today is religion and spirituality and that's where I'm headed, so I beg your pardon - or rather, I suppose I don't have to..."?

Or do we sit under Him, and beg earnestly for even the crumbs which fall from the children's table, knowing that it is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness, and a day in His courts is better than a thousand outside?

Do we go through Him to the heavenly country, knowing that He is the door of the sheep, and all who come over the wall are crooks, and we would much rather be with Him, better still, in Him, and be quiet sheep (an intentionally offensive picture then as now) content to graze where the shepherd puts us?

Our poor fallen postmodern world would have you believe that you can pick your preposition.  Sit under a text or over it, who cares but that you are engaging it!  Go through the system or around the system, we just reward those who get results!  Make your own place in the world, fill it with voices you love, and dwell there forever, in your cocoon of identity, never ruffled by so much as a breath of wind, much less that guy on a horse with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth...  Turn up the music, maybe the rocks will fall on us.

But facts cannot be changed. You will be no-place else but under this Jesus.  No future does not go through Him.

But come now, when mercy may be found, not later, when justice alone has the field.  Today is the acceptable time, when you may look forward to His "Well done!", not the chilling command to "Depart, I never knew you".

We do not sit over the Word.  Let us sit under it, and approach God through Him.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Holy Sonnet 14


Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne (1572–1631)

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Book Review

I just finished Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (available here).

This book is dynamite.

This book is dynamite because the grace of Jesus Christ is powerful (like RDX?  Tsar Bomba? I'll abandon this analogy now if you don't mind).

This book is NOT trite.  If you want a story of "worldy bad-girl comes to Jesus and becomes normal", you may not like this book (but you should definitely read it).  If you want a story that is anything more or less than painful and bloody redemption through the cross of Christ, well, why would you want a story like that?

Unless you are hiding.

This book does not condone hiding. 

If you are hiding in your sin, beware that God will find you out, and for your sake I pray it is in this life and not the next.

"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done."  (Revelation 20:11-12 ESV)

If you are hiding in your church, beware that Jesus has harsher words for the bad good guys than he does for the plain-old-bad guys. 

"Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it." (Revelation 2:16-17 ESV)

"For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17 ESV)

"And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." (Matthew 11:23-24 ESV)

If you are hiding in your family (and for the record, I am and have been guilty of all three forms of hiding), beware that God does not call you to comfort, He calls you to obedience, submission, and the way of holiness.  We are guaranteed no ease until the final Sabbath rest.

'Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.' (Matthew 19:28-30 ESV)

This book will challenge you.  I am confident in saying that, because I think there is no Christian on earth who does not need further sanctification, and godly wisdom comes in part by hearing the godly tell of their redemption (see Ps. 107).  This book is timely, for though the author's academic career at Syracuse "peaked" in the late 1990s, she was so far out in the vanguard of LGBT-feminism that the mainstream is just now catching up. Thus, the issues that surrounded a few thousand avant-garde in her day have now enveloped our society.

This book is not about Rosaria, though.  This book is about Jesus.  She (and I, too) holds firmly to God's sovereignty in saving His people.  No true "conversion story" is about how I found/chose/sought Jesus.  That's never the story of God's people.  The summary story of God's people is found in Ezekiel 16.  It is a story of God's faithfulness, God's choosing his bride, God's making her beautiful, God's chastisement of her sins, and God's eternal covenant of grace - to love her.  To love her so boldly, so thoroughly, so (dare I say it) humbly, that He Himself promises to atone for her shameful sins.  Ezekiel must have been left on tenterhooks, wondering HOW, LORD?  As he later confesses, when asked if the dry bones can live, "Lord, you know."  But thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our lord and savior, that the bones are not left scattered, that the harlot is not left in her bloody skirts, that the sinner, me, you (I hope), Mrs. Butterfield, and all God's people, are not left to ourselves, but made Christ's.

But what does that mean?  We are not left to ourselves (which would be, in fact, the worst-thing-in-the-world, to borrow from Orwell, the thing for which Job foolishly asked and God graciously denied him).

Think that through.  We are not left to ourselves.  We are made Christ's.  What becomes of ourselves, then?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4 ESV)

Ourselves, as we knew them, are dead.  God's people are a new creation in Christ.  Our sinful nature, in which we once walked, is NOT redeemed.  It is put to death!  Our new nature in Christ is not a modification, an improvement, a healing of the old.  It is the glorious new life that Christ plants in us by His Spirit, and in so doing, kills the old sinful nature.  The two cannot coexist.  Mrs. Butterfield makes an excellent point, especially regarding sexual sin - sin cannot be redeemed - it must be punished by a just and holy God.  The serpent must be killed (not caged) for the garden to be safe.  But thanks be to God who has given us the victory in Christ Jesus!

In fine, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is an excellent book for Christians new to the faith, old in the faith, middle-aged in the faith, and everywhere in between.  It would be disingenuous to say "don't let your kids read it", because kids are already exposed to so much filth that an honest look at it would probably be helpful.  (And if you think you have successfully sheltered your children from the sins "out there" in the world - you are wrong.  I guarantee it.)  But read it yourself first, and exercise wisdom.  That's not the same as timidity.  If you recoil from it, or think "I couldn't share this stuff with my kids/spouse/dog, it's dangerous", take a long look at yourself.  What are you hiding (or hiding from)?  If Christians cannot deal with sins and sinners, who will? 

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

All of us need the gospel.  And Jesus is mighty to save.  If we believe this, will we not be bold in the strength of His might?  Shall we not always be ready to give a defense for the hope that lies within us (yet with gentleness and respect)?  We may never write anyone off.  The book of life is the Lamb's, and the gospel of peace is ours to proclaim.

Thank you, Mrs. Butterfield, for a challenging and excellent book.  May God bless you and your family.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

High is truth when it shines, higher when it speaks.
- Attr. Taliesin


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Summer Porch Poem

Sun
sinks,
snag a few drinks.
Sit,
sip,
see the doves flit.
Spot,
swat,
scratch the red dot.
Slow
simmered
sweet summer evening.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Getting Hot

Shingle-shimmer summer
sometimes oozes in;
-not this year-
he broke the door down,
drove weak-willed winter from the land,
and shoved softhearted spring aside
with no apology.

The too-tame tulips took a hit,
we salvaged what we could;
zipped them up
and gave them
an artificial Amsterdam
in the freezer for a while.

We hunker down here
grit our teeth
in anticipation of June, July,
and August, oh August,
where God draws a hot bath for the desert
and we are rewarded  for our patience
with sweet rain and
creosote blossoms (did you know? they do)

And afterwards,
September
comes
slowly
and
just
won't
leave.

And the vicissitudes of October
bait and switch the fall
for a bit more summer
until at last,
it cools,
in sweet November
we remember
why we love and live in
Arizona.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Papa

I have
a son
a one
who looks
like me
who loves
to run
and read
his books
and pokes
the dirt
who plays
with blocks
and swipes
my socks
and blows
his nose
on anything.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On A Sunset

Praise God, so plentiful in glory,
He sprays it, splashes, drips it down
on even earth and sky below,
swelling clouds vermillion pink
and sets these jumbled glowing stones
on pavement of sapphire,
as the heavens for clearness,
betrayed by the moon to be the common sky,
everywhere above us unnoticed,
but today, o ho, the seat of
God's effulgent glory
strewn eastward by the fleeing sun.

Praise God, so plentiful in glory,
He hoards it not in the highest heaven,
but as our benefactor bestows it on the earth;
His earth, our earth, vice-regents in His land,
made thus for what if not to
Praise God, so plentiful in glory.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Behold

The hyper-transcendentalist
will shut his eyes and shake his fist
"No ding-an-sich could e'er exist!"
The friendly hyper-immanent
will poke and prod and not relent
and scramble towards the firmament
Dear friends, desist and give your ear
For God is far, yet very near,
and will be known, as He makes clear.
The God that is will not conform
to imposed theory, imposed norm,
He is not moved by stress-and-storm.
The God that is himself has spoken
Uttered what cannot be broken
and this no mere relation-token.
The Word He speaks, it is his Son,
the promise made is life begun
His Word has our salvation won.
If you would know the face of God,
you curious, created clod,
behold the Son! behold your God!