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February 2007

Why I Like Cheerwine (or What About Henry?) (Part Nine)

Cheerwine_8It was about 20 minutes later when J.D. rolled into the driveway with the red convertible, front wheels raised off the ground as it were begging God for mercy. Bringing it to a stop, J.D. jumped down from the cab, walked around the wrecker, and flipped the lever letting the car slowly return to earth. He spat on the ground and shook he head. Brigette knew that couldn't be good.

In a few minutes he had the vehicle unhitched and, along with Squirt's help, pushed it the remaining few feet into the single bay of the garage. Then J.D. turned and walked slowly over to Brigette, head down, chewing a toothpick as he went.

"It's gonna take awhile. Needs a new transmission."

How long is awhile?," said Brigette.

"Three, four, maybe five days."

"Now what am I supposed to do?" Brigette just glared at him. She thought I'm stuck in this hick town with very little money, and no way out. "Damn."

"Don't get mad at me, lady. I can't help it. . . . So you want me to work on it?"

"Of course I do. What else can I do?" Brigette stood up and looked down Main Street. You have a motel here?

"Well, not a proper motel, but Thelma Burgaw rents some rooms. You can try her."

"How do I find her?"

"You see that building that says "God's Holy Tabernacle Church of the Second Coming."

"The what?"

"The church right there."

"That's a church?"

"People say so. I haven't been. You go right at that corner, and at the end of the block her house'll be on the right. You can't miss it. There's a sign that says "Thelma's Boarding House." Thelma's a good cook, and she's cheap."

"Thanks." Brigette walked over to the car, reached into the back seat, and retrieved her red shoes from where they landed from her throw. Then she popped the trunk, pulled her suitcase out, and, straightening her shirt began walking toward the street, rolling he suitcase behind her.

"Hey. . . you want a ride over there?"

"No, I'll walk. Just fix the car, OK?"

J.D. just waved her off. He sat down on the single step of the entrance to the office of the station, and lit a cigarette, taking slow draws of it and exhaling even slower.

[I'm continuing a story I began some time last Fall. You can read the entire story, to date, here.]

The Indignities of Old Age

In the Nursing Home

Old_man_carShe is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed's dry.

Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.

(Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise)

It goes without saying that old age brings its indiginities --- life is circumscribed, fenced in, and drawing down. And so I can identify with what Jane Kenyon is feeling, the hope that God will not tarry much longer but come and take his child home.

I have a friend whose father is nearing 100, and yet he is more the horse that considers himself still viral, bucking at the fence, running this way and that (figuratively), with all kind of machinations. Unhappy. Difficult. But really, he just does not know what to do with himself in this small corral where nothing that once seemed good, from food to air and water, tastes of life anymore.

When I watch my own mother, in the early stages of Alzheimers, I see her own narrowing pasture. One who loved to read can no longer concentrate on a book. She cannot drive. She is depressed at some level most of the time. She still enjoys food, so she eats, and I cannot blame her for that when her enjoyments are so limited.

When we reach old age and physically or mentally cannot do much of what we once did, what is God's will for us? How is the remaining time redeemed? Do we stand at the fence and wait for the Master to come? Is that all?

I know that deep inside my mother, or my friend's father, and anyone else of old age is still a person made in God's image, that deep inside the person is still there, only the body will no longer cooperate. These aged persons have a lot of time to think. They can spend it well, in thankfulness, or in regret. Visit your local nursing home and you'll see quite a disparity in how people redeem the time. Some are of sweet spirit, some hateful; it seems that little eccentricities that were always there are accentuated in the aged.

We can ask them to pray. They have a lot of time to pray. We younger folks seem to have none. Our calendars are full; there's, practically empty. If we hadn't so minimized the role of prayer during life, perhaps they would see their task now, when they could easily pray all day for the needs of others, as extremely important and view the time they have as a blessed opportunity.

Can we just ask them to pray? Maybe, just maybe, they will stop their running, forget the smallish corral, and realize they have no boundaries with prayer, that their prayers make it to the throne room of God just like everyone else's. When it comes to prayer. they can drive like anyone else, only they can enjoy the ride more.



Door_2When he left, he didn't bother to leave a note.
He left everything behind, just a few
belongings that were only amusements anyway.

Still, we look for him when we go out, on
corners, by the roadside, in all the usual haunts,
with prayers too, because, after all, God cares

for the sparrow, so why not him? I wonder what
home means to such as him, if a warm bed and
full belly are all that drew him to us, if he is

really so different than any other male.
Last time he left he sojourned for two weeks,
returning battered and weak, dragging his bruised

body home. I don't know why.
Perhaps he is with his other family, enjoying their
affection, as I have heard of that before.

He wasn't always nice, you know. He had a
temper, was unpredictable too. Yet, he will be
missed, the house somehow empty without a


Dumbing-Down the Soul: A Review of Winter, A Spiritual Biography of the Season

WinterMost books that are collections of writers, particularly those from different philosophical and religious backgrounds, can suffer a bit from their inclusiveness and diversity of styles, and Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, is no exception. Edited by Calvin College literature professors Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch, who are presumably of Christian persuasion, this book collects essay, story, and poetry around five broad themes relating loosely to the coldest of seasons (that is, if you live in a part of the world that experiences winter): Winter As a Time of Sorrow and Barrenness, Winter As a Time to Be Scoured, and a Time to Succor the Scoured, Winter As a Time to Shore Ourselves Up, Winter As a Time of Purity and Praise, and Winter As a Time of Delight and Play. As forecast by the themes, the writings run the gamut emotionally, from Jane Kenyon's poetry written in the deep of a winter of body and soul to Annie Dillard's playful recollection of throwing snowballs at cars from her delightful memoir, An American Childhood. Mostly, though, I felt a decidedly melancholy timbre to the experience as a whole. Perhaps being from the South, where the winters are not so cold, long, or dark, I don't really experience Winter as quite as dark and dreary as do these editors.

There are some beautiful selections here. I value the book for, if nothing else, re-introducing me to the poetry of Jane Kenyon. The images of a Winter morning from her "This Morning" are wonderful ("The cats doze near the stove./ They lift their heads/ as the plow goes down the road,/ making the house/ tremble as it passes.") There are evocative nature essays from Rachel Carson ("Under the Sea-Wind: A Naturalist's Picture of Ocean Life"), Annie Dillard ("Pilgrim At Tinker Creek"), Pete Fromm ("Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter Alone In the Wilderness"), and, of course, Thoreau's "Walden." To grasp the diversity here, consider the inclusion of Sufi mystical poet Sultan Bahu, Korean poet Yun Sondo, or Sanskrit poet Vidyakara --- none of whom I likely would ever have read but for the introduction here.

I would, however, have appreciated more essays with the wit and humor of Patricia Hampl's "A Romantic Education," another memoir of growing up in a cold place (here Minnesota) with a sense of humor about it, as in this excerpt: "My father pointed with derision at the cars with Iowa license plates, hauling boats on trailers behind them, as we passed them on Highway 200 going north. 'Will you look at that,' he said. 'Those Iowa people have to lug that boat all the way up here.' My brother and I looked at the dummies in the Iowa car as we passed. 'They're crazy to get to the water, they'll even fish in the middle of the day,' he said, as if the Iowa Bedouins were so water mad that a school of walleye could toy with them in the noon heat, while my father cooly appeared at dawn and twilight to make the easy Minnesota-saavy kill. He pointed out to us, over and over, the folly of the Iowans and their pathetic pursuit of standing water." One has to be able to laugh at Winter as well as stoically endure it.

This book is a helpful introduction to the work of many writers and valuable for that reason alone. It does not do well, however, in focusing our attention on its five broad themes relating to Winter --- a concept which is conceptually interesting but difficult to execute with the broad variety of perspectives and styles represented here. The short introductions to the themes and writings provided by the editors are, in effect, dumbed-down, as they have to speak to factors common among many different religious perspectives. Better would be a book from an unabashedly Christian, Jewish, or other religious perspective, enabling the editors to speak more deeply of a particular selection's relationship to one's deepest convictions about the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty --- in Winter.

Many of these authors should be read. But this book itself need not be read. Save the money and buy a book of poetry by Jane Kenyon or Annie Dillard's An American Childhood. Read the Psalms. Discover Kathleen Norris' Dakota. Take a walk in the cold outdoors. Curl up with a book and a cat at the fire. Whether Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, good writing is good for all seasons.

Amazing Grace: A Reaction

Ag_webbanner_150x69Kudos to Walden Media for their role in bringing the story of William Wilberforce to the screen with excellence. I was able, courtesy of our local newspaper, to see a preview of the movie tonight, before its general release tomorrow. It was excellent --- well acted, accurate as any movie can be, and inspiring without any preachiness.

My test of a good movie with Christian themes is to consider whether a nonChristian would think it well done even though they may not embrace some of the beliefs. Amazing Grace passes that test. The obvious message of the film is the equality of men, as Wilberforce fought his fight for the abolition of slavery. But deeper messages abound --- perseverance in the face of seeming hopelessness, patience (incremental change, if need be, rather than the violence of revolution), adherence to God's call upon your life (even when it's very difficult and unrewarding), and, of course, faith.

Early in his lfe Wilberforce came to faith. On that coming, he felt that he should go into ministry, that that call and the call of politics were mutually exclusive. He stands as a great example of the now apparant fact that one can serve God in politics as well as in a number of legitimate vocations.

Albery Finny excellently played the part of John Newton, the slave trader turned pastor and friend of Wilberforce's who penned "Amazing Grace." He uttered the famous line " I may not remember many things, but I do remember two: that I am a great sinner and God is a great Savior." He is convincing in his role, as are all the actors.

These are the kind of excellent films that we should support. And here's the important thing: the box office receipts of the premeire weekend of a film are the most important, as they can make or break a film. So? Go see this film this weekend. Take your family (kids 12 and up). Make it a success. Not because it's a film by Christians, but because it's an excellently made film that happens to also resonate with Christian themes. Bottom line: it's a great story.

To see a more detailed review, go here. And to read about the philosophy behind Walden Media, read this.

Screwtape, Bridge to Terabithia & Vox

Last Sunday I had the privilege of particpating in an installation service for our senior pastor, Andy. I gave a charge to the congregation rooted in a "new" Screwtape letter. I've used the technique in such a charge before, but wrote a new letter for use here. I think I'll retire this technique, much as I love it, for another four to five years.

I saw the new Bridge to Terabithia movie with my wife and 12-year old daughter Monday. I thought it excellently done. It tells of the relationship between two 12-year old kids, a girl and a boy, both on the outside at school, and shows loving if imperfect families. There are a lot of good things to talk about here --- the nature of God, what is true friendship, dealing with grief (there is a tragedy in the film), dealing with bullies, and sibling relations --- and many good moral qualities conveyed, such as loving your enemies, kindness to younger siblings, loyalty, the value of the imagination, and so on. A word of caution: the fact that it has a real tragedy and a not warm and fuzzy ending may be a bit too much for some kids. My daugther did not like its ending, but she was not deeply affected by it either. My son, who is 15, would have hated it. He dislikes sad films and books and is very emotional. Read a review here. Katherine Peterson, the author, is a Christian, and went to my wife's junior high school (and dealt with a bully there), Wiley Junior High, in Winston-Salem, NC. There's a good interview with Peperson and other cast members here, but be forewarned, it is a spoiler. Paterson's website has some good background.

I've tapped into the blog for Seattle church Mars Hill Church, a very contemporary church. I like the print magazine they publish, Vox, and some of their innovations.

Take to the Highway

HighwayPop music is literally replete with highway songs, probably because musicians spend so much time on the road. And even the ones that don't actually say the word "highway" are often about life on the road. The Eagles sang "standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. . ." ("Take It Easy") and I wanted to go to Winslow and see what it looked like, even though I could not drive at the time and had not yet been west of the Mississippi. America's singing "Ventura Highway" and I wanted to know what that road was like, what it felt like to be on the open road, somewhere exotic (I thought) like Los Angeles, seeing new things and just driving, driving, driving. I suspect these early Seventies era songs really come to me now because of the intensity of longing and desire I had for wheels then, the sense that I was about to break free into a completely different level of existence once I had keys, car, and gas.

I purchased a car when I was barely 15 1/2, secured a learner's permit, and began to drive --- with my parents, that is. It wasn't an ordinary car. It was a 1972 Chevrolet Camaro, a very fast car for a kid who just graduated from a bike. However, I had already been sufficiently scared to death to be cured of any need for speed. My friend John secured his license a bit earlier than me. One night we were out in his mother's car and he decided to take the car through a four-way intersection that had a nice bump in it at 90 mph to see if the wheels would leave the ground. I think they did. All my fantasies of speed ended right there. I left such fantasies to the harmless world of music and drove my car like an old man. I took no risks.

And yet, the highway beckoned. At that time when you turned 16 and had a driver's permit, you could drive with any licensed driver. So, on midnight of the day of my 16th birthday, John and I climbed into my Camaro, backed it out of the driveway, and hit the road. We took a circular route through six counties, driving over 250 miles that night. What adventure! The names of the towns rolled by --- Madison, Reidville, Mebane, Siler City, Liberty, and so on, each name seemingly exotic and never before experienced. I felt free, grown up, excited, almost as if I could do anything. It was pure adolescent glee, for awhile at least.

Even now, though, that sense of wanderlust inhabits me. I dream over maps and plan for excursions. I think I love thinking about leaving home more than actually leaving home, and indeed one of the joys of leaving home is the thinking about coming home to the familiar. I'm restless. I want to go. I want to come home. The highway isn't fulfilling enough. Home is not quite all I want either. What a quandry!

And yet, what a God-ordained place in which to be --- content, but restless, having much, but wanting more.

The highway metaphor is, I was glad to learn, found in Scripture as well. In Isaiah 35: 8-10, the prophet presents a picture of God's chosen ones, the redeemed, returning to a restored Zion, a picture that spoke to the Israelites of a restoration to their land and to Jerusalem and also speaks of a coming Kingdom. "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those that walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."

It's not just Isaiah. Jeremiah implores God's people to "[s]et up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take" (Jer. 31:20). Matthew tells us that "narrow [is] the road that leads to life" (Mt. 7:14).

When I hit the road, when I drool over maps with their red and blue and black lines, their names of towns and cities, the landmarks, and the hints of topography, I suspect the restlessness is really symptomatic of the fact that I'm still longing for the place where I can really rest, a place where I am really Home and yet a place where there is something new around every turn. I can hear that longing when Gram Parsons sang "Hickory Wind," stuck in a hotel room, on the road, longing for the pines and oaks and hickory trees of South Carolina, longing for home: "In South Carolina there are many tall pines/ I remember the oak tree that we used to climb/ But now when I'm lonesome, I always pretend/ That I'm getting the feel of hickory wind."

The Way of Holiness? I've got the wheels dead ahead, my map laid out before me, my wife beside me, my kids in the back seat. And John, I've got it wide open. I want to see if maybe, just maybe, the wheels will leave the ground this time. It's a fearsome thing to be here. Next stop: Gladness and joy. We're laughing all the way, and in the corner of my eye, in the rear view mirror, the dim lights of Sorrow and Sighing are fading, fading. And not one single "wicked fool" to be found on this road.

I can't wait to get there. I'm going Home.

More on Jane Kenyon

Notes from the Other Side

I divested myself of despair
and fear when I came here.

Now there is no more catching
one's own eye in the mirror,

there are no bad books, no plastic,
no insurance premiums, and of course

no illness. Contrition
does not exist, nor gnashing

of teeth. No one howls as the first
clod of earth hits the casket.

The poor we no longer have with us.
Our calm hearts strike only the hour,

and God, as promised, proves
to be mercy clothed in light.

Jane Kenyon

Is she talking of heaven here? I hope so. I've been swimming in a few of Jane Kenyon's melancholy poems, and I needed one on a more hopeful note. This one too is hopeful:


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Jane Kenyon

I found this quote from Kenyon where she summarizes what being a poet is to her:

"The poet’s job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it; to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important and yet so difficult to name. The poet’s job is to find a name for everything; to be a fearless finder of the names of things; to be an advocate for the beauty of language, the subtleties of language. I think it’s very serious stuff, art; it’s not just decoration. The other job the poet has is to console in the face of the inevitable disintegration of loss and death, all of the tough things we have to face as humans. We have the consolation of beauty, of one soul extending to another soul and saying, 'I’ve been there too.'”

There is a summary of an interview by John Timmerman with Kenyon for Mars Hill Journal here.

Kenyon's poetry is rich with images, yet very accessible. I think people struggling with depression or illness would find a empathetic soul in her, as she so often dealt with depression and then, of course, with cancer.

For me, I just love her "luminous particular:" that ability to see what transcendant truth was behind the ordinary.

Lord, When Did We See You?

AloneApple Dropping into Deep Early Snow

A jay settled on a branch, making it sway.
The one shriveled fruit that remained
gave way to the deepening drift below.
I happened to see it the moment it fell.
Dusk is eager and comes early. A car
creeps over the hill. Still in the dark I try
to tell if I am numbered with the damned,
who cry, ouraged, Lord, when did we see you?

(Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise)

To say that poet jane Kenyon suffered from depression is insufficient to convey the sense of her despair. Her own poems help you to feel what she must have felt, that sense of loss of hope, of spiritual barrenness. This poem uses some images from Winter, from nature, as metaphors for that loss --- the last shriveled apple lost, sunken under the weight of snow, just as last hope suffocated by the weight of sorrow. The eagerness of dusk, the sense that the world is darkening and is almost dark. The wondering if God is there or, if He is, if He has abandoned you.

These are not plesant things to read, and yet they are at times not unlike some portions of the Psalms. At this moment I'm thinking of Psalm 102, where the Psalmist says "[m]y heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof" (Ps. 102: 4-7). Like the Psalmist, Kenyon could look to God's promises, but that did not make the despair go away. She could not simply shake it off. Rather, like the Psalmist, she had to wait for God to come. And He did.

The Luminous Particular: The Poetry of Jane Kenyon

HousewithsnowThis Morning

The barn bears the weight
of the first heavy snow
without complaint.

White breath of cows
rises in the tire-up, a man
wearing a frayed winter jacket
reaches for his milking stool
in the dark.

The cows have gone into the ground,
and the man,
his wife beside him now.

A nuthatch drops
to the ground, feeding
on sunflower seed and bits of bread
I scattered on the snow.

The cats doze near the stove.
They lift their heads
as the plow goes down the road,
making the house
tremble as it passes.

(Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise)

I love accessible poetry, and the late Jane Kenyon's spare poems, rich in images of the particulars of everyday life and yet simple and direct, typify all that I like about poetry. Yes, all, because Kenyon ultimately connected to the Universal behind all those (as her husband Donald Hall called them) "luminous particulars" of her poetry as she came to faith in God.

Kenyon died in 1995 at the age of 48 of leukemia after many years of writing poems rooted in the particulars of life on and around her New Hampshire farm. She had two great struggles in life: the lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which gave her over to bouts of depression, and then to cancer, which ultimately took her life. And yet she lived well. She noticed things. Her poems have the effect of drawing the reader in where you ultimately make the poem your own. For example, in "This Morning," I can feel what it must have been like there on that New Hampshire farm, and then I am transported to my childhood room, waking up and "hearing" the snow outside, just knowing that the quiet means it has fallen, listening for the sounds of my parents, for the smell of coffee and eggs, joyful at the prospect of another school cancellation and an impromptu holiday. The images are different, the setting suburbia and not a New England farm, but the poem has worked its magic on me. Kenyon has done her job. She has made me remember and feel something rich.

On of her own favorite poems was the following, called "Let Evening Come."

Let the light of late afternoon shine through the chinks in the barn
moving up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take of chaffing as a woman takes up her needles and her yarn.
Let evening come.
Let dew collect in the hoe abandoned in long grass.
Let the stars appear and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down.
Let the shed go black inside.
Let evening come.
To the bottle in a ditch,
to the scoop in the oats,
to the air in the lung,
let evening come.
Let it come as it will and don’t be afraid.
God does not leave us comfortless.
So, let evening come.

God does not leave us comfortless. I encourage you to read Jane Kenyon. You'll find the true, the good, and the beautiful among her words.

Faith and Quantum Theory

Ricklondon_einstein_optI am thankful for a physicist like Stephen Barr, who can write about a subject as strange and mysterious as quantum physics and still be understood by a layman. In his "Faith and Quantum Theory," from this March First Things, he summarizes the essence of this branch of physics, updates us on the continuing difficulties with the theory, and ponders its meaning for Christian faith -- for how we view the universe around us. I was enlightened, and while I need go no farther in the esoteric world of quantum physics, I'm glad to know what all the fuss is about.

I knew of the basic puzzle of quantum physics --- something called wave-particle duality --- but I did not realize all its implcations. If you don't know, this duality is the paradoxical conclusion that light acts as both particle and wave. That this conclusion was disturbing to Einstein is comforting, as my much lesser mind really cannot grasp its implcations, but at least I know that something is mighty wierd about it, like saying 2+2=4 and 2+2=5 are both true equations. Barr cites Feynman, who called this duality "the only real mystery in science," noting that we "cannot make the mystery go away by explaining how it works."

The wave-particle dulaity led to something called the Uncertainty Principle, which basically implies that even if one had all the information there is to be had about a physical system, its future behavior could not be predicted exactly, only probabalistically. The standard interpretation of quantum theory says that for these probabilities to have any meaning at all there must be a definite outcome, and only when a person looks at the physical system and comes to a conclusion is there a definite outcome. Thus, the implication here is that we do not live in a strictly deterministic universe (where, say, whether you fell today is the result of whether someone raised their hand 1000 years ago) but one with free will, where the human, the mind, is something different than the rest of reality (even if it too is in basic ways a physical system). Is this the case, or do we simply not know all the hidden factors that might resolve the dilemma? No one realy knows, and no new breakthrough has been made in over 40 years that would put us any closer to knowing how to resolve the paradox.

What I took from all this is, first, an awe at the complex fabric of Creation. We know things about reality. In fact, sometimes we think we know a lot. But the more we know the more it seems that all the basic mysteries at the core of reality are not resolvable. For example, most of space is made of of something unknown to us. Consider just that: Over 95% of the universe is made of an unknown substance. And that's for starters.

Second, the dilemma of the wave-particle duality seems analogous to the dilemmas (if you want to call them that) of very core doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the dual nature of Christ. Jesus is fully human, and yet fully divine. We can describe the duality and profess its truth, and yet we cannot begin to explain it. Nor can we explain the Trinity, the eternality of God, or the Incarnation. Sometimes, attempts to "explain" such mysteries only violate the basic doctrine as given, much as attempts to explain wave-particle theory may end up violating the basic truth that there is a duality. I'm reminded of the modalists, who attempted to explain the one-in-three nature of the Trinity by postulating one God with three faces, a violation of the doctrine in that it negates the three separate persons of the Trinity, leavning us with simply, one God.

That's not to say that we don't grow in our understanding of physics or of God, or that some paradoxes may ultimately be resolved, but I don't think that this will happen in regard to either the dual nature of Christ or the wave-particle duality. There is an answer. It's just that our finite minds cannot hold it. That in itself is reassuring: we don't have all the answers.

Jesus In My Image: Rickie Lee Jones and The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard

RickieIn these days of individualistic, self-prescribed spiritual experience, you can have Jesus any way you like him, pulling from Scripture what you like of him or fashioning him into a rebel, an iconoclast, a poor smuck, or a misunderstood anti-hero. You can literally mold and shape him as you will. That's basically what's going on in Ricke Lee Jones' new release, The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard --- an extremely interesting foray by Jones into the world of Jesus (well, and Elvis too).

It begins with Peter Astamoff and Lee Cantalon, two visual artist/poets living meagerly in Culver City, California, just getting by. The guys dream up a spoken word project (you know how well those sell!) called The Words. Only the boys don't collectively have the funds to record it. Enter a friend, Marc, who allows them to use his studio on (where else but) Exposition Boulevard, and the guys go to work. They want it to sound pretty, but not too pretty, "broken " in fact, and definitely all about "longing." (How many artists make longing the sin qua non of their work?). The guys record sounds around the LA area, have long conversations with a homeless man (their collaborator) and then decide to ask Rickie Lee Jones over to read some lines for them. Rickie begins to read, says "I can't do this," and then begins to improvise by singing the words. Waala! Art is born. Brilliant moment after moment follow. Spiritual bliss. She's channeling Van Morrison's mystical Astral Weeks. And in the end the boys meet their goal they say, " to distance the words of Jesus from a traditional or religious enclosure." I'll say. (Read more of that story here.)

I don't want to like this, but the thing is, I do. Mostly that is. I agree Jesus needs to be rescued from the religionists. If the authors of these lyrics had stuck to the words of scripture, that would have been a rescue --- a rescue from the purely human Jesus of the liberal church, from the Jesus that sounds like a card-carrying liberal democrat (as well as a Republican), the Jesus of tolerance for tolerance sake (read the scripture and you can see that Jesus was not too tolerant of some people.) The problem is that here is another attempt to recast Jesus in our own image, tailor him to our political sensibilities, use him for our purposes, even if its just spiritual experience. So I applaud the effort, but lament the end.

That being said, I find this music interesting, a mostly melodic acoustic rock vibe with some experimental detours (some of which are like fingernails on a chalkboard). Rickie has an interesting, soulful voice, and the use of repetition (just like Van Morrison) is effective and emotional. "Gethsemane" captures the agony of Jesus in the Garden, contemplating death, his friends sleeping. It's effective in conveying the deep emotion of that night. "Falling Up" is a rocking number about I don't know what if not the call that Jesus had on people, His effect. "Lamp of the Body" is a plea to avoid darkness and have pure motives. "Where I Like It Best" ask "how do you pray in a world like this?" The song is an urging toward sincere prayer, not the prayers "of the people on TV who close their eys and say Let Us Pray." And then there we are ridng around Heaven in "Elvis' Cadillac" with "Janis Joplin working at the bar."

Well, it's quite a ride, but in the end, I'm not near as bothered by this as I thought I'd be. Maybe Jesus needed rescuing. I just don't know if Rickie is the one to do it. But I bought the record. I like it.

The Irrepressible Self

SameWe were not really the Midwest, my father explained; that would be Iowa or Nebraska, Kansas --- hopeless places. We were the Upper Midwest, as the weaterman said, elevating us above the dreary mean. My father pointed with derision at the cars with Iowa license plates, hauling boats on trailers behind them, as we passed them on Highway 200 going north. "Will you look at that," he said, "Those Iowa people have to lug that boat all the way up here." My brother and I looked at the dummies in the Iowa car as we passed. "They're crazy to get to the water, they"ll even fish in the middle of the day," he said, as if the Iowa Bedouins were so water mad that a school of walleye could toy with them in the noon heat, while my father cooly appeared at dawn and twilight to make the easy Minnesota-savvy kill. He pointed out to us, over and over, the folly of the Iowans and their pathetic pursuit of standing water.

(Patricia Hampl, from A Romantic Education)

While we often lament the homogenization of culture, how a certain sameness permeates our country no matter where we go, I think the drive toward inviduality is irrepressible. Take Patricia Hampl's humorous memory of growing up in Minnesota, for example. Is it any doubt that Minnesotans are way, way different from Iowans, even if they look and act the same to us in the South? It's as if someone referred to "Carolina" as if South and North Carolina are one and the same place. No way. No matter how much the same things are, people and groups, states and cities and towns, even neighborhoods, find ways to differentiate themselves. I think it's creational, and I think it's something we can celebrate in a time when pop culture is so omnipresent, when the same big-box stores and chain restaurants are around every corner. And while there is an ugly side of it that we need avoid, we should rejoice in the good. (Like any good gift of God, this diversity and tendency toward differentiation can be divisive and ugly and perverted.)

Take denominationalism. You are Baptist. I am Presbyterian. Or maybe you like liturgy and historic forms in worship. I like more spontaneous worship. You come to take notes, to learn, and to take away something relevant. I come to praise God, to experience. These things are driven by our personalities, the primary impulse we have when it comes to that organic thing called the Body of Christ and the corporate experience (oops, there's that word) of worship. Really, it's a beautiful thing to see this diversity, and yet we can use it as a divisive thing when pride comes in. Like people from Minnesota thinking the Iowans dumb, we may regard folks in another denomination as misguided or, worse, as heretical. It's not that the differences aren't important or that they need to be smoothed over in niceness, just that we are called to be humble and loving in discussing our differences.

Really, there is a tension here: One impulse we have is to be like one another, to identify with each other, and yet the competing impulse is to differentiate ourselves from each other. We are alike, and yet we are not the same. It makes life interesting.

So what am I really saying? Just this: That people in Iowa may really be stupid to live where they do, but what I want to know is what that says about people who live in Minnesota. (Minnesotans, let me hear from you!)

Facing the Giants

GiantsI do not often comment on films, as I am not a particularly astute critic of the medium. However, I was pleasantly surprised by an overdue viewing of Facing the Giants this past weekend. Though many friends had encouraged me to see this film, I declined, convinced that it would not be worth the watching. An indie production with a low-budget made by a church with a Christian message about football? Sad to say, all those were strikes against it for me. I don't care for football, nor do my kids (who initially refused to watch it). Low-budgets usually mean low-quality. A Christian film made by a church? That means hokey, corny, preachy, and definitely just preaching to the choir, right?

Almost all wrong. This is a surprisingly good film. True, it won't win any Academy Awards, but then the judges there wouldn't understand the film anyway. And yes, the plot is predictable and the acting not top-notch -- but wait a minute, none of these people are even trained actors! And yet they are very believeable. Finally, while there is a message in this film, the story wins out. After a half-hour forced viewing, my kids were hooked, as were we. Good stories always win out. And they do not have to be morally ambiguous, complicated, and be left painfully unresolved at the end to earn the status of "art."

The basic plot runs like this: In six years of coaching, Grant Taylor has never led his Shiloh (Christian School) Eagles to a winning season. Everything is going wrong for him. He and his wife Brooke face infertility, his team is losing, his car won't start, there's a putrid odor in the house (a dead rat), the stove won't work, and then he discovers that a group of fathers are secretly organizing to have him dismissed as head coach. After what seems like too, too long, he cries out to God in desperation. It's the beginning of charting a new purpose for his life, his team, and his school. Essentially we watch a spiritual revival occur in Grant, his football team, and the school as a result of his surrender to God.

The cynic in us cries out that it can't be so neat and nice. Things never turn out so well. Isn't this idealistic rubbish? But ask yourself this (I did): Are we so jaded that we can't simply be inspired by a film that encourages us to trust God and praise him, "whether we win or lose?" And doesn't God sometimes answer prayer with a resounding "Yes?" Sure He does. We simply live in a cynical time when such stories -- stories of miracles and happy endings -- are dismissed and mocked. I even hear that attitude of dismissal in some "scholarly" Christian reviews I read -- the critics too sophisticated to simply say they enjoyed a good story and seeing how God can work in the life of a people. In fact, isn't the problem that sometimes, deep down, we really don't believe the very true "fairy tale" of the Gospel, that wild vision of Heaven, is really true? Sure doubt comes to all of us at one time or the other, but persistent doubt tends to make one suspicious of any happy ending.

The movie led to some productive discussion in my family about what "giants" we face in our own lives. And we asked each other for prayer that we might stand up to those giants. That is another good result of such a film. No, we know it's not easy, and we know that sometimes God allows trials to go on and revival to tarry (someting implicit in the film, as they were a losing team for six years), but it's no crime to focus our attention on times that He does not tarry but answers prayer in miraculous ways.

The backstory to this film, some of which is explained in some extras with the DVD, is just as much a story. The film was produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Two brothers in the church, Alex and Steven Kendrick, expressed the desire to their pastor to produce Christian films. He and the church supported them, raised the money, and made the film. Now that right there is amzing enough. Only after it was completed did Provident Distribution pick it up. All the actors came from the church, the church school, or the community. Only five professionals were used, all technical people. And this is precisely what a church should do for artists -- support them! No, it's the way they should encourage the giftedness of every person. The church should support them and not put roadblocks in their way. These Baptists got it right.

I want these brothers to make more films like Facing the Giants. They will get better. They will master the craft. Let's support them. Don't rent the film, buy it here. And next time, when a film like this comes out, go see it on the opening weekend. That can make or break a film.

Now, back to my own giants. . .

Brooks Williams

BrooksBrooks Williams is a stunning blues-soaked, rhythmic, and soulful guitarist. His musical vision spans continents and genres – blues, slide, swingin’ jazz, fingerstyle – and manifests itself in a hybrid of funky chords, walking bass lines, and fiery leads. With influences as diverse as John Fahey, Michael Bloomfield, and Joseph Spence, it is pleasantly difficult to pin Williams down. He’s a guitarist, a songwriter, and an interpreter.

Brooks is, as I have discovered, a man in love with the guitar and all musical styles. I do not even remember how I came to know of Brooks, but I was immediately drawn not to just his guitar but to his songwriting, a style rich in metaphor and sprinkled with spiritual allusions and downright joy -- a joy which must bubble up from the person I later met, an artist with the most winsome of personalities and evenness of attitudes. He is a pleasure to listen to, talk with, or be taught by. I've often thought that the only thing that keeps him from songwriting fame is the pure impossibility of doing everything well: he loves the guitar so much it's near impossible to love songwriting with the same intensity.

Dead_sea_cafe_115Dead Sea Cafe - Brooks Williams

When I learned that all of Brooks' albums on Green Linnet Records had fallen out of print, I was determined to do my best to resurrect them. What I settled for was licensing select tracks, chosen by Brooks, and releasing them with some newly recorded versions for an album entitled Dead Sea Cafe. I love every song on this record, from the metaphoric "Seven Sisters" to the joyful and direct "We Will Dance Someday." The album is a testimony to the fact that Brooks is a superb songwriter as well as guitarist.

Download and listen to Brooks' "Wanderer's Song for a taste of what he is like here: Wanderer's Song"

Skiffle_bop_115Skiffle-Bop -- Brooks Williams

With Skiffle-Bop, Brooks showed once again that he could write songs as good or better than those in his Green Linnet catalog. Though Brooks signed with the respected indie label Signature Sounds for this release, Silent Planet was able to release it in the Christian market. I can't say that it was well-received, not because it wasn't good but simply because the Christian market by its nature requires songs with overt statements of Christian belief, and while Brooks has such beliefs he rarely wears them on his sleeve, preferring songs more subtle and mysterious. The cover photo, with what appear to be two dead or somulant dogs, probably did not help either. But I like it.

Listen to my favorite cut, "Love Came Down," here: "Love Came Down"

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Inside a Moment

"Inside a moment," Emily Dickinson wrote, "centuries of June." But then Dickinson had a lot of time on her hands, didn't she?

Not many of us have the kind of time that Dickinson had to simply focus on the moment we are in, with the tick tick tick of the clock and the e-mails filling our inboxes and the phone ringing and the to-do list that nags at us daily. How do we stop our movement? How do we slow down?

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes sickness to force us to stop the running. I've had a taste of that before, and I had an encounter with that yesterday, as the quick onslaught of the flu caught me by surprise and put a halt to life as I usually know it. I could not even read. Nausea is very distracting. I could not even rest well, as I hurt no matter which way I turned. I could not even sleep well. I really could do nothing but lie there and think and think and think.

For a moment I thought "I have't been sick like this for years. Am I dying?" I'm serious. (Well, you know how men are.) When your body hurts, when you know the work is stacking up, when all the things you need to get done aren't getting done, it's easy to focus on you you you until you make life miserable for yourself and those around you. I've been there before. Yes, I did some of that.

But then I began to think of what I had in that moment. I looked around my room and began to be thankful for the home I had. I heard my children downstairs talking and was thankful for them. I remembered my parents, my sisters, my childhood friend, an encouraging word, my church family, my pastors, my cat, my books, and Bette Jean Ellis, the very large African-American nurse who nursed and prayed me to health when I was in the hospital once for six weeks with a life-threatening illness and gave me a book of God's Precious Promises with my name mispelled on the front and these words inside: "To Steven, I hope that you will enjoy this little book, to know that God is able to do all things, and that in all things He is in control. God has an even greater work for you. Listen for that small voice. Do his will not your own will. In Christ, Bette Jean Ellis, 10/14/93.

Well, it was just the flu, I know, from which I'm much better today, and I know you've all had it and maybe worse. But I'd have to say it was worth having if for no other reason than I remembered Bette Jean Ellis' words to me.

"Inside a moment, centuries of June." Make the most of the moment. Redeem the time.

Thinking Locally, Acting Locally?

TvIn a post entitled "My Village, My Problem," Catherine Claire wonders to what extent being well-informed about the world outside our local community is productive or even biblical. Her thinking on this is prompted by a letter written by C.S. Lewis, where he considers the same question and says, in part, this: "It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know)" (C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of Dec. 20, 1946). It's worth considering to what information we need to subject ourselves and to what end.

A year or so ago I read, rather belatedly, the late Neil Postman's critique of televison, particularly network news, entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. His point was that most televsion news was not to inform, but to entertain. We find it titillating. There is little to nothing we can do about what we see and yet we continue to watch, almost voyeuristically. Well, I found myself in agreement. I quit the news. Now when I see it I find it repulsive and annoying. The sensationalistic stories, the cult of personality, the jabbering heads, and the lack of any serious in depth coverage is terrible. Mostly, I do not watch.

Despite its drawbacks and editorial bias, I do read the local newspaper. There are useful articles with some depth at times (I'm not talking about USA Today, which is like TV), and there is local information that I may be able to do something with (like an article about good hikes in the area). I also read Time (which has more in depth coverage than TV news) and World Magazine (for a decidedly and admitted Christian perspective on the news. I do find some things I can pray for this way, and I am helped in an understanding and appreciation of my community and world.

I suppose what I object to is the immediacy of network news, or even internet news. It makes everything seem urgent or important. It may not be. And it certainly may not be something I need to worry about. You know, I can do very little about global warming, whatever its cause. But I can listen to a friend's problem, help a needy family, and pick up trash in the park near our home. That's thinking locally and acting locally.

The Dangers of Presentism

CrossWhen I look back at things I have written, I realize that I have a preoccupation (healthy, I think) with the themes of time, memory, and place. That's why it's pleasing when I discover someone who is thinking in a similar vein.

This happened today with Jill Carattini's "People With a Past," today's devotional from Ravi Zacharias Ministries. She points to the danger of presentism, a word coined by Richard Weaver to refer to the "cultural fixation with the current moment." Such a preoccupation with the present moment and its incident historical amnesia is a dangerous thing. If we forget yesterday we will be doomed to repeat yesterday's mistakes today. We have no context within which to root and test all the information we are bombarded with every day.

Even more shattering for me as a consequence of presentism would be the loss of connection to the past, a personal and cultural history that has shaped who I am. It is a past that can anchor me in the relentless cultural and personal drift that swirls around me. Recently I was trying to remember what it was like not to have a cell phone, a PDA, high-speed internet (for that matter, even a computer), and email. When I began work in my present position about 23 years ago, no attorney had a PC at his or her desk. Briefs were written or dictated. (If you have in mind a secretary perched on the edge of my desk, pen and steno pad in hand, hanging on my every word, scribbling shorthand -- think again. That was before my time!) There was no email. There was no internet (at least not for non-geeks). What in the world did you do with the time, some might say? Well, I recall a great deal more discussion, more collegiality, more lunches out with colleagues, and a generally slower pace existence. And yet it's difficult to put myself psychologically in that place today, to feel what it must have been like. The best approximation is the rare ocassion when there is a natural event, a hurricane, say, that knocks out power, creating a wealth of people time which would have otherwise have been filled with TV, internet, phone calls, and email. For a moment we are forced by circumstances to make do, and we rediscover a feeling we may have forgotten. We realize that things have changed significantly, and yet we don't remember.

All this to say that remembering the past is useful in the present: it may lead us to create and allow space in our lives for silence, conversation, and thoughtfulness. It may also help us not to let the present --- with all its currency --- be a tyrant over our lives. We don't have to heed the call of the present. I think sometimes we forget that.

As Carattini concludes, "For the Christian, history is all the more a sense of hallowed ground, for it is ground where God has walked and our faith is kept. We believe that history resides in the able hands of the one who made us to live within time. We believe that who we are today has everything to do with events we have not seen. And we live as a people called both to remember and to be ready, for we look to the author of the entire story, who was and is and is to come." Be wary of presentism, what C.S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery." Let the past inform the present and make it richer. Be critical of the "new," testing it to discern its value. As Scripture says, "Test everything. Hold on to the good" (1 Th 5:21).

Don't Know Much About Geography?

MapSam Cooke had it wrong. Despite what he says in his classic song, "Wonderful World," where among other subjects he submits to not know or care much about he says he "don't know much about geography," he really does. We all do. Unless we suffer some mental illness that divorces us from the objective world around us, we are keenly aware of our geography.

Babies begin their study of geography with their mother's and then father's faces. I remember my son and daughter seriously studying my face, trying to take it in, as if they were memorizing its every line. And really, if I think deeply enough, I can remember looking at my own parents' faces, remembering as a two-year old what they looked like. (I didn't know it then, but I think what they looked like was tired.)

When I was three my geography consisted of my yard -- the swings, the patio, the hill that dropped off in back, the fence that marked off my playground, my home. When I rode places in the car, I memorized the other places we went -- my grandmother's, the Mom 'n Pop grocery store at Pomona, the train tracks that crossed the wading creek, my father's appliance dealership with all the gleaming washers and dryers and absolutely huge stockroom with all its places to hide and play. Yet I could not connect these islands in my mind, had no perspective of where on earth I was.

Geography. We keep learning. Today the back yard, tomorrow the world. By six or seven I'm running over the entire neighborhood of Guilford Hills, a seamless country of backyards, end on end, and with a bike under me a superhighway around every corner. There are other kids, different than the ones on my block, other families. Up Fernwood, right on Graceland, right on Pembroke, and right on Surry. And then I do it again, fast down the hill, showing off, noting the location of that particular tree, that particular stream, that particular house. My block. My geography.

It gets bigger as you go doesn't it? My mother's face. My room. The back yard. The neighborhood. The city -- Tearing through the streets of my city at 3:00 AM on one ocassion, I was struck with the wonder of the journey, with my place in the world over and against any other place in the world. And then, somewhere in high school, I woke up to the rest of the world. And I keep waking up.

We don't live in abstractions. When I say home, or Mom, or favorite toy, or childhood room, or friend, you likely have a concrete image in mind or can easily summon one up. I do. These things (let's call them landmarks) tell us who we are and where we have come from. They root us in the world. When they are destroyed or modified, we feel less rooted. We have lost a landmark. It is less easy to navigate the emotional landscape of life. Something has been taken from us.

This loss of landscape is a daily loss. After reconstructing our house after a house fire, it's places have changed. It is not the same. I miss the door jamb with pencil marks noting my growing children. I miss familiar corners, the place where my daughter colored on the wall (and got in trouble), and eating in our kitchen. Something was gained, but something is lost too.

Change is ongoing. The fabric and landscape of my life is malleable. I'm longing for something permanent, fixed, and enduring. By God's grace, one day I'll have just that.

Holy Communion With Jim Morrison

Dream_1I never quite know what to make of dreams. They so often seem like nonsensical or fantastical composites of images from our lives or imaginings, and yet I'm reluctant to say they are meaningless. God made us to dream. I just don't know why. But it's at least worth asking what true or good thing can come of a dream.

I'm standing in my church around the communion table with several other men, all of whom seem familiar to me. A twenty-ish looking young guy is actually serving us communion. When I see him I immediatley know who he is. It's Jim Morrision, former lead singer of The Doors. I'm wondering how on earth I can be celebrating communion with Jim Morrision, a man known for a life style of excess, who died of a drug overdose. Then the scene changes. I'm the driver in a car with the same men pulling up to the front gate of Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. Beside me? Jim Morrison. Once again I'm wondering what we are doing and then how long we will spend in the brig when Morrison's drugs are discovered. Then I woke up, smiling.

I don't know what this means, if anything, but I do know that it prompts me to think that there will be some surprises for us in Heaven. Maybe Jim Morrrison made it, though his life demonstrated little fruit of it, as "one escaping through the flames" (1 Cor. 3:15). It's humbling to know that as I look around me in church, or in a crowded restaurant, that any judgment I make about the state of a person's soul is entirely provisional. In a real sense the Church --- those true believers, the ones only God knows --- is invisible to me. In the local church body, for example, there are times when we are called upon to make such provisional judgmemts about a person's spiritual walk. In determining whether to accept someone as a member, we seek to determine if they have a profession of Christian faith, to know as best we can that this person understands and accepts the Gospel. Despite our best efforts to divine their spiritual bent, we may and sometimes will get it wrong.

We get it wrong outside the church body as well. In the larger world around me, someone may believe and yet not be able to profess their belief as yet, not be able to vocalize what deep down they already believe. That is why some communions --- most Reformed denominations --- speak of the visible church and the invisible church, the prior being what appears to be the Church, the latter, what only God sees to be the true believers. One example rings true to me, even 15 years later (or more). A Polish woman gave a testimony of faith in our church. She was a member of Solidarity who escaped Communist Poland. In a refugee camp in Austria, she heard the Gospel for the first time and believed. What she said was that when she heard the Gospel story she knew that "this is what I have always believed." She knew something was broken about life and she knew that there had to be a Savior-King, though she could not articulate that.

"Smiles mixed with curses" says Bruce Cockburn, and yet there are "rumours of glory" out there in the world and in here in the church. When Jim Morrison sings "Riders on the Storm" I hear nothing but curses, as he says "into this house we're born/ into this world we're thrown/ like a dog without a bone/ and actor out of role." And yet there I am having communion with Jim Morrison. Could it be? I think maybe I better be humble about who's in and who's out. God only knows.

Body and Soul

One great hope I have, and one borne out by Scripture, is that my future destiny, after my earthly death, is embodiment in a recreated Heaven and Earth, not a disembodied state of pure spirit or some ghostly, quasi-physical existence. It's not really true, as REM's Michael Stipe sang, that "it's the end of the world as we know it." No, we'll still know it, still be very much physical, still one day be reunited with a recreated body.

Though I'm not much to look at, I can tell you I would miss having a body. I would miss a great many things like eating, for example, or hearing and speaking words, touching things, and all the very sensuality (rightly understood) of life. Think about touch for a moment -- the feel of water, earth, the head of your child, the warmth of the sun on skin, the sound of a great song like "Roundabout." I examine my hands and stare in the mirror and know that for better or worse this is uniquely me, and despite its current imperfection, I do not want to lose the physical nature of what is only me. Yes, I'd like to lose 20 pounds, muscle up, and retain all my hair, but I really do not want to be someone else. I want to be me.

The incarnation is a great affirmation by God that physical reality -- including our bodies -- matters. We are not just souls but body and soul, united together for eternity though temporarily separated at death. In other words, in a recreated earth I still get to be me, the me God intended me to be, shorn of imperfection and sin.

It's essential that we maintain this union of body and soul. As a friend once told me, when he comes to my funeral he wants to see a body. I think he wants to be reminded that I am body and soul and that he will see me -- the me that is physical -- again. I appreciated this sentiment though I hope such honor tarries for a while yet.

You might ask what all the fuss is over what we might call "embodiment." I like what Anthiny Esolen said about the body in a recent article in Touchstone: "It is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It was fashioned by the finger of God. It will be wedded to Christ. Even after the breath has departed, in its presence we should bow, for it is a holy place, the loveliest of all physical creatures, upon whose face is marked that godlike dominion granted to innocent Adam in the beginning."

Others have explored the meaning of embodiment far better than I can or will, but for me it comes home when I look to my mother who now, at 79, is less of what she was. She is suffering from Alzheimers. When she forgets who I am, will she still be there, or will it be just a body? No, she's absolutely there, though diminished physically. This is how Gilbert Meilander puts the question in another article in Touchstone: "When these patients -- some of them us, of course [those suffering from Alzheimers] -- no longer know or can tell us who they are, when every face they see or paper they pick up (even if for the hundredth time) is a strange and new experience, will we still retain the human wisdom -- the philosophical and theological resources -- to affirm that such a living human body is also and still a place of personal presence?" If we do not believe that the body is inseparably united with a soul, we might well view such diminished bodies as less than human, with souls that have departed. I hope not. Somewhere behind the forgetfulness, my mother, the person that is uniquely her, is there, and is valuable. In fact, when you think of it, the bodies we now have, valuable as they are, are much less human than what they were intended to be or will be in their resurrected state. God could have said "what a mess," or "how tragic," and put us out of our misery. That He did not is a testimony to His character, His love of His creation, and the value we have. Diminished though we be, he sees our soul and knows we are still here.

I'm glad to be me. I look forward to being more of all that is uniquely me one day. For now, I'll make do.

The Unsung Musicians

In the music industry, like many businesses, there are often unsung and even uncredited musicians that lie behind great success. In the 1960s, probably the most creative period in popular music in the United States and Great Britain, that was ceretainly the case. For example, how many people know that not a single Beach Boy played on their seminal album, Pet Sounds? Or that the Mamas and the Papas 1966 release, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears ("Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin'"), regarded as a pop classic, had narry a "Mama" nor a "Papa" in its rhythm section? The Monkees? Never played an instrument on their records. The Association's Insight Out ("Windy" and "Never My Love")? Voices only. That's how it so often went in the Sixties.

As a recent article in American Heritage Magazine points out, all of these albums were anchored by a group of Session musicians in Los Angeles --- Hal Blaine (shown here), Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye, and Jim Gordon, among others, collectively dubbed "The Wrecking Crew." Hal Blaine helped make 40 #1 hit records during his career. No one else can say that. That crashing drum solo at the end of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water?" Hal Blaine. (He also slammed tire chains on the floor during the song.) And studio execs made sure, though, that with most releases only the bands or artists themselves received credit.

I can't blame the studios. While these studio musicians were paid very well for their often six day a week work, on union scale, they were professionals. They could lay down a track much quicker than the artists often could, and were far more predicatble and had much less ego to worry about. Brian Wilson -- then producing at the age of 22 -- greatly appreciated their knowledge and flexibility. He could tell them what he wanted, and they could do it. Doubtless working with the Beach Boys themselves would have been far more troublesome.

It was only in the Seventies that record companies started signing artists who insisted on playing their own instruments under the slogan of "authenticity." What happened? More studio time, more cost, and more ego. I'm not sure this is better.

So, here's to the unsung musicians, the guys just doing their jobs in the background. Aren't those folks the kind who really do most of the work in the world? Not many of us get to be stars. Do many of us really want to be? As bassist Carol Keye said: "We were in the business of making stars. We didn't want to be stars ourselves." Would that we all had that much sense.

John Fischer

One great privilege I had at Silent Planet was working with veteran musician, author, and speaker John Fischer. John recorded some of the first "Christian" music, before there was any Contemporary Christian Music business. I sang his songs in Young Life, listened to his many records, and read over a dozen books he had written. His music and books are a challenge to think, as he shares his insights on biblical truth, art, philosophy, and popular culture. He has written regular columns for Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, Purpose-Driven Life, Relevant Magazine, and most recently, for He continues to bring a blend of speaking and music to college campuses and churches across the country.

When I heard that John's fine album, Wide Angle, released on the long defunct Urgent Records in 1992 was out of print, I was determined to do something about it. The record was, after all, produced by the legendary Mark Heard and anchored by stellar musicians like Buddy Miller, Tom Howard, David Miner, and David Raven, among others, with background vocals by Kate Miner and Julie Miller. I purchased the master recording and asked David Miner to produce three new tracks for the record, one of which was Mark Heard's own "Some Folks World," which we took for the new title of the record. We remastered the original tracks, secured dynamite new artwork, and reisuued the record with the bonus tracks as Some Folks World.

But enough. You need to hear it. Listen to the title track here (click twice):

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In Brian Wilson's Room (Or Making John Smile)

As some of you know, I'm a bit of a fan of Brian Wilson. (I'm also prone to understatement.) After all, I did co-produce a tribute album to the man called Making God Smile. As such, it gives me pleasure when I can turn someone else on to the continuing vitality of the man and his music. When I was in Los Angeles last Fall, I had the pleasure of taking friend, musician, and writer John Fischer to the show. Now, he's a fan. Read all about it in his article on Breakpoint here.

Judging Not By Covers

I recently inherited two boxes of approximately 75 books, old and mostly Christian books which my 84-year old stepfather managed to squirrel away from my almost 80-year old mother. My mother suffers from the early stages of dementia, or Alzheimers (we're not sure which), and sadly she is not reading much anymore. So he is cleaning out a bit of her library of books, books that meant a great deal to me when I was younger.

In the living room of my mother's modest home is a upholstered chair. It has a floral pattern to it, now fading, and I remember that as a young boy its curves fit me perfectly (not so, now.) I would curl up with a book in this chair and not be seen for hours. I read a lot of science-fiction. After all, I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club when I was eight. But lacking enough books, I also read books in her library. I remember a book about a mountain doctor, William Barclay's commentaries, World Book encyclopedias, and many, many Christian books by authors like William Wiersbe, Joyce Landorf, Elizabeth Eliot, and Billy Graham, among others. That's the thing about readers -- they will read anything available, even if it's not exactly what they would choose. At nine, Christian books by women weren't my first choice, but they were what we had. And they did me good.

Thus, opening the first of these boxes did bring back memories. There's the familiar smell of old paperback books which must have to do with age and dampness and ink and paper. It's the same everywhere. The covers are ragged in some cases, the pages browning. In some my mother has written her name in cursive -- the hand of a healthy woman in the middle of her life, with four children at home to care for -- and in others, nothing. In some there is underlining; others, blank page upon page, seemingly untouched. Like me, I wonder if some books were hoped for reads that she never got to.

Out of the 75 books I culled about ten that seemed to have some enduring value. In E.M. Bounds's classic, The Necessity of Prayer, I read of Bounds that "[a]s breathing is a physical reality to us so prayer was a reality for Bounds." That makes me want to read on, though perhaps my mother was too busy with childen to do so. In D.L. Moody's Prevailing Prayer,there is much underlining, and she even writes out the "Nine Elements Essential to True Prayer." She is learning and growing in her faith, and I smile thinking of how engaged with life she had to be at that point.

I picked up a book by Oswald Sanders entitled A Spiritual Clinic: Problems of Christian Discipleship, first published in 1958. Cost: 25 cents. I wondered if such discipleship problems were different in 1958 than they are almost half a century later. A review of the contents page confirms that there is nothing new under the sun, with chapters on suffering, despondency, prayer, determining God's will, and so on.

Two books by India missionary Amy Carmichael catch my attention. In Mimosa, she tells the story of a Hindu girl she watched come to faith and whose life she followed. First printed in 1925, the 1969 copy I held was the eighth edition. I conclude that eight editions probably makes it worth reading. In addition, Carmichael writes in simple yet beautifully descriptive prose. I suspect my children may enjoy this one. Another of Carmichael's books, Rose From Brier, also appears helpful -- "helpful thoughts for those who are ill," it says. As she had twenty years of illness, I suspect she knew what to say. I wonder if my mother read it during a time of illness?

Picking up Fritz Ridenhour's Tell It Like It Is, a faded and crinkled songsheet falls out, and I recognize that this is a book I bought while in college, and the songsheet is one from our Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship Chapter -- some of the first Christian songs other than hymns that I has sung. I wasn't going to bother with the book, with it's cartoonish cover and crew-cut topped Ridenhour on the back, and yet when I saw that the very first page was the poem "The Hound of Heaven," a classic poem of God's pursuit of His people, I decided to keep it.

The fact is, slickly packaged books may hide poor literature or bad theology, while old books with tattered covers and less than appealing typeface may contain gems of prose. Like my mother: At 80 she may be aging, forgetful, easily confused, and a bit fragile, and yet inside, deep down in her personal history, there are gems. I have to remember that. These books help.