A poem from a book I’m reading

To sit and look at light-filled leaves
May let us see, or seem to see,
Far backward as through clearer eyes
To what unsighted hope believes:
The blessed conviviality
That sang Creation’s seventh sunrise,

Time when the Maker’s radiant sight
Made radiant every thing He saw,
And every thing He saw was filled
With perfect joy and life and light.
His perfect pleasure was sole law;
No pleasure had become self-willed.

For all His creatures were His pleasures
And their whole pleasure was to be
What He made them; they sought no gain
Or growth beyond their proper measures,
Nor longed for change or novelty.
The only new thing could be pain.

(Berry, Wendell. ‘1979: III.’ Sabbaths. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press. 1987. p. 9.)

more

Two of the issues I struggle with are escapism and immoderation.

I’ve spent about twenty years applying both, liberally, to the realm of music. I’ve built my identity around my love of/knowledge of/involvement with/ownership of music.

Recently I had two dreams which I sensed were communications from Jesus, who I follow. The first suggested that I had abdicated control of my musical obsessions to oppressive spiritual elements, and I needed to be free from that oppression. The second suggested that I wrongly saw myself as ‘in control’ of my musical obsessions, and that I risked passing this oppression down to my children.

I prayed about this, and after consideration, I felt pretty certain that Jesus was asking me to lay down control of music. One aspect of this directive was to give up my cds, which embody my obsession. Another was to delete the iTunes library and stop intentionally listening to music. No headphones at work, no putting a cd on the stereo in the evening. Jesus reassured me that he knew how much I loved music, and that this was good, but that for the foreseeable future he would control when, what and how much I heard. When I hear music I love from now on, I’m to view it as a personal gift from God, an expression of his love for me. It’s been over 4 months since I listened to anything on purpose.

This has turned out to be both excruciating and fruitful for me. I’m completely reorienting myself to music. On the other side of this process, I feel like there’s a new identity for me, one that more closely resembles both who I really am and who Jesus is. I’m excited about that.

weak faith in a strong branch

“Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you?… It’s not the strength of your faith but the object [emphasis mine] of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.

“This means you don’t have to wait for all doubts and fears to go away to take hold of Christ.”

(Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. NY, Dutton, p.234)

The rich man who can afford bread but does not teach his child how to choose it over candy is not a good father

“Marathe’s chair squeaked slightly as his weight shifted. ‘Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country, always to shout Freedom! Freedom! as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it is not so simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do. It is this meaning only, this freedom from constraint and forced duress… But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?”

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. NY: Little, Brown and Co. 1996. p. 320.

he will come

Zena and I attended the Vineyard Great Lakes Regional Conference in Cincinnati last week, sans kids. Well, except for the baby. We both looked forward to it as R&R for our marraige, and because we have a long history with the Vineyard in Ohio and Michigan and we knew a number of our friends were going to be there too.

But I think I had unexamined reasons for looking forward to this conference, in addition to the above. I think I expected my God to get in touch with me again, to speak directly to me and renew my faith, because a) that’s what he’s done at other Vineyard conferences I’ve attended and b) the conference context provides a concentration of opportunities for the kind of prayer that can make a space for hearing God speak, and c) I desperately, desperately needed it. Desperately.

See, Vineyard as a movement is fiercely in the service of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” That is, my capital-C-Church believes that Jesus’s incarnation inaugurated the opening of the doors to God-as-King, and that all of the things you’d expect if a loving God were really in charge are accessible now: freedom from bondage, healing of sin and sickness, restoration, surprising insight, deliverance from oppression. Prison gates opening unexpectedly. Coins in fishes’ mouths. The dead, raised. And so we practice this — we pray for the sick to be healed, we listen for God to put a word in our ear, we count on freedom from bondage — because we are dedicated to the proposition that what we believe about reality should effect (that is, result in) reality.

But — and here’s the kicker — I’ve been seeing so little effect for a while. I don’t hear from God. I don’t see people healed when I pray. I’m profoundly discouraged. So I think I was looking for confirmation at the conference.

I received none (well, almost. I’ll get to that in a minute). In fact, the conference itself had the effect of distancing me a little from the Vineyard movement, while I was there, and my Church itself started to look a little overproduced. And the friends I looked forward to seeing? I found myself feeling profoundly isolated from them, like our relationships were trivial — like if I hadn’t been there it would have been no loss. And praying for the sick, listening for God’s voice? Three out of the four times I tried I felt distinctly condemned, as if I had spoken out of turn and prayed something powerless and inessential to the person who needed prayer (the fourth time, I didn’t feel that, but I didn’t sense any powerful comfirmation of the prayer, either). And then on the ride home Zena and I had a unique meltdown that resulted in a fight of epic proportions. And I have since been feeling depressed. Regularly in tears. Lethargic and without a lot of hope. Unable to worship. And beset by temptation.

(To be perfectly forthcoming, I did receive two prayers at the conference that I believe were from the Lord. A couple of men told me that they saw me walking through a severe darkness — what in Christianeze we call ‘spiritual warfare’ — and that I needed to come out the other side to step into what was a very evident spiritual calling on my life. And my friend Jeff prayed consolement over me, which made it possible for me to make it through the conference. But despair has a unique way of overwhelming communication from God.)

This morning, on my walk to the bus stop, I was listening to Waterdeep’s “He will come,” and I think the Holy Spirit used the chorus as a way of speaking to me. I wept bitterly on the sidewalk.

He will come. He will come
He will comfort all that’s hardened
Change the deserts into gardens
And we all will see His face.
He will come. He will come.
He will soften all the starkness
Break the chambers of our darkness
And we’ll all be overwhelmed

He will come. He will come
He’ll remove his flaming garment
Place it on the lowest harlot
And we all will see His face.
He will come. He will come
All you watchmen lift your voices
Then every boy and girl rejoices
when we’ll all be overwhelmed.

And then, on the sidewalk, I’m pretty sure God said to me that I am not to look to a conference to renew my faith or confirm God’s love for me, but that I need to look to Him to do that. I need to continue, even in my depression and despair, to put myself at risk of not seeing the effect of the Kingdom, so that I will be available to see the effect of the Kingdom. It’s the paradox of belief: you have to believe before you get proof. First the belief, then the proof. “For the word of the cross is to them that are perishing foolishness; but unto us which are being saved it is the power of God.”

Just want to let you know where I’m at, so when I deliver good news to you, you know that my authority comes from my obedience, not from my holiness.