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March 2008

A Bright Week

180px-St_Isaacs_cathedral_royal_doors For Orthodox churches, Easter Monday, the day after Easter, is known as Bright Monday. In fact, the whole week is treated as one continuous day, with every day being prefaced by the word “Bright.” As a member of the Reformed church, where worship is shorn of much in the way of imagery or symbol, it’s times like this that I feel somewhat short changed. There ought to be a name for the days after Easter. There ought to be an extended celebration of the Resurrection, remembrance of the new life that we have with Christ, not just a continuation of business as usual. In this regard, the Orthodox worship is rich with symbolism that reminds us what has happened as a result of Christ being raised from the dead.

There’s that word “bright,” for example. The word itself connotes a week characterized by gladness or happiness, a stark contrast to the sober tenor of Lent and Good Friday. And then Orthodox services during the week are distinctly different. Everything in the services is sung joyfully rather than read. Normal fasting rules are suspended. All week the doors on the iconostasis, a wall of icons and religious paintings separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church, are kept open, the only time that occurs during the year, a visible reminder of the open tomb.

I need such visible reminders of what has transpired. Christ died and rose again, in the flesh, with a body, and thus there is the promise that we will do so as well. I need a week of brightness to cement that miracle in my memory so that I will never forget the hope I have. Something universe-shattering has happened. Christ became flesh and blood so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death. . . and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14-15).That’s you and me. Then too there’s the “bright” promise of a recreated world where sin is banished and we live eternally with Christ in non-decaying bodies. That’s plenty to consider this bright week.

Perhaps a week of such brightness may be a partial antidote to my dalliance with the trivial, from my addiction to this world and dependence on earthly circumstances, from my failure to live existentially in the light of the cross and in the shadow of the Second Coming. The tomb is open. The body is not there. The Lord has risen. And so too shall we.

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small

labri The Scripture teaches that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God.  There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people. . . . Those who think of themselves as little people in little places, if committed to Christ and living under His Lordship in the whole of life, may, by God's grace, change the flow of our generation.

(Francis Schaeffer, No Little People)

You can mount whatever critique you will of Francis and Edith Schaeffer --- whether dismantling his apologetics or noting their human foibles ---  but it is unlikely that you would find anyone who would argue that they were anything but compassionate and loving toward the least regarded of human beings, that they treated everyone the same.  Even one of their harshest and most strident critics, their son, Frank Schaeffer, is forced to note their sacrificial love for other people, their compassionate and generous spirit.  Frank tells of how his parents were late for a function with many dignitaries because Edith spent time in the Washington, D.C. hotel with the chambermaid, and this was not unusual for either of them, as whoever God placed in their path they regarded as the image of God to them.  For this reason (and others) they were habitually late, giving preference to divine over human appointments.

I never met Francis Schaeffer, as he died in 1984, but I did meet Edith at a L'Abri Conference in Rochester, Minnesota in December 1992.  I asked her to autograph a copy of L'Abri for me.  In characteristic style she took the whole front endflap of the book for an autograph, drawing a picture of the Alps, trees, birds, and flowers, garnishing it a florid signature.  More than that, she had regard for me, talked to me, made me feel as if no one else was there while she asked about my visit and my family at home.  I felt like a little person at this conference, not able to articulate anything about faith and life as well as the many others there, but after I met her I realized it didn't really matter.  I was no longer little.  There are no little people.

In meeting several L'Abri Workers and Members (those significantly involved with the Schaeffers, meaning they actually lived and worked in their home), it's apparent that this compassionate love and generous regard for others has been passed on by their teaching and example.  I have been fed, housed, and given generous amounts of priceless time by strangers who, when they speak of the Schaeffers, obviously owe them a debt of love, have been forever changed by their example.  I have never felt diminished by their presence, nor have they seemed anything but humble.  Note that I didn't say they were perfect.  To the contrary, their imperfections --- whether Francis's short-temper or moodiness or Edith's high-octane perfectionist tendency --- were on display and a matter of confession.  All the dirty laundry, such as it was, was known, much as if they had strung a clothesline across the lawn of Chalet le Meleze with it flapping in the wind.

There was no conspiracy to cover up the sins of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, just a conspiracy of love and regard, of learned compassion, to let "love cover a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8).  To the extent Frank Schaeffer speaks truthfully of his parents, he speaks of things those who knew them were apparently well aware of.  They were Christ-like sinners, their lives a practical demonstration of the love and mercy shown them by God.  They spent most of their lives in small churches or in a small village.  Their ministry had little money, no grand buildings, and little material possessions.  And most of the world (and likely more than half of the evangelical world) do not even know they existed.

The more I look at the Schaeffers' lives, the more I listen to others talk about them, and even the more I reflect on the cynicism of their own son, the more regard I have for them.  I see their Christ-like example wherever I go.  I heard it tonight, watching the recently released movie, "Horton Hears a Who," in Suess's "A person's a person, no matter how small."  I don't idolize them.  They were just two people living in a little place barely a village, called Huemoz, with lives steeped in the mundane tasks we all have --- the dishes, the meals, the plumbing, and more --- and their time in the limelight a flash in the pan for most.  But they were not little, not in a little place or doing little things.  And by God's grace neither am I.

Do You Know This Man? (What Nicholas Giaconia Gave Us)

Nicholas Giaconia In these days of MySpace, Facebook, blogs, and an internet that is ubiquitous, it's a rare thing to find that an artist has managed to stay below the radar.  But apparently Nicholas Giaconia has managed to do that.  Nick is a talented singer-songwriter who released an interesting folk-pop record called Center of the Earth in the CCM environment in 1994 --- 14 years ago and what seems like a century in the music world.  Some things don't change much: There are still some greedy corporate types, artists on the make, and some form of payola (no matter how subtle).  However, since Nick's record, the music scene has been transformed more than once.  Whatever brief mainstream attention folk music had in the early Nineties, it quickly vanished, and all the folk music types went back to scrubbing for change.   But Nick Giaconia deserved a better break than he had.

This is fine record with ballads, blues songs, folk melodies, and a tongue-in-cheek defense of Amy Grant --- who was, at the time, under a microscope because she filmed a video with a man who was not her husband, sang songs that weren't filled with biblical references, and dressed like a woman who lived in the Nineties, leaving many to speculate that she had "sold out" or lost her faith.  It all seems silly now, but that's the way it was then, and Nick captured it, singing "she's sold out to the public/ money's all she hopes to find/ she doesn't sing for You no more/ I know because I can read her mind/ She's all strung out on drugs/ In fact I hear she worships Satan now/ Well everybody's judging Amy/ and you can clearly see/ that she has lost her thirst" and so on from there, a fun song and yet one full of truth.

There are some familiar names here, like Derri Daugherty (of The Choir) singing background vocals.  And some interesting sounds, like the steel-hooded national guitar played by Chris Carero.  Lyrically, it ranges from a couple songs that spring form biblical narratives, like "Woman at the Well," to worship, "Psalm," to other songs of psyche and soul, like the title cut, "Center of the Earth," which is no doubt a metaphor for the interior life and experience of the writer, as he beckons us to come along: "I took my journey to the center of the earth/ sent back black and white postcards to people up above/ the weather is nice here, no snow no rain/ but I haven't seen sunshine in days/ it looks like that's how it's gonna stay/ at the center of the earth."  The rest of the song becomes surreal, like something Larry Norman might have written, with Nick introducing all the people he's met at the center of the earth, like Elvis or Jimmy Hoffa, concluding that "you don't know me you don't know my blues/ till you've walked to the center of the earth/ in my blue suede shoes."  All in all, he is reminiscent of Bruce Cockburn --- always a tough sell in the Christian marketplace.

So how did Nick Giaconia's record see the light of day?  David Bunker, one of the principals in REX Records, a CCM label devoted in the late Eighties and early Nineties to Christian heavy metal (like Deitophobia) formed an imprint around singer-songwriters, figuring the time was ripe.  A lot of very good music was released on the imprint, Storyville Records, including Jan Krist, Australian Steve Grace, the UK duo Phil and John, Mo Leverett, Charlotte Madeleine, Eden Burning, and The Crossing.  But the label tanked.  The CCM market wasn't having it.  My own Silent Planet Records was born out of that frustration, though we focused on the mainstream market with better success for a time, until that market changed as well.

But enough of that.  You should hear Nick Giaconia.  You should celebrate the fact that something authentic and well-crafted and not slickly produced made it out in that time, a record that for the few Christians listening was like a breath of fresh air.  Let Nick be symbolic of all that great music that got overlooked.  Listen to just one song from Nick, "Better To Have Loved," here:    And then go buy a used copy of this long out of print record, now selling for the shameful price of as low as $.56 right here.  That's what happens to good music sometimes.

If you know how to get in touch with Nick, let me know.  I'd like to thank him for a good record and remind him that what he did back then still means something now, that he's not forgotten.  Good music endures.

The Bent World: A Review of "The Used World," by Haven Kimmel

used Why I often end up reading books about women, most assuredly marketed to women, I don't know.  Perhaps it is the fact that I grew up with sisters, or maybe I appreciate the better-articulated emotional life of women (men are reticent to emote).  Whatever it is, I picked up Durham, North Carolina author Haven Kimmel's This Used World because it had the look of an emotionally complex tale, something on the order of Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of BeesI was right.  With some cautionary notes, and a few criticisms, this is a fine book.

The story revolves around the lives of three women in small-town Jonah, Indiana.  Hazel, who appears to be the oldest, is the eccentric (yet not elderly) proprietor of The Used World, an antiques shop.  Her two employees are Claudia, an unusually tall and strapping androgynous looking woman, and Rebekah, a petite (and younger) woman recovering from  some kind of extremely harsh Pentecostal background from which she is shunned by her own father and other church members because of her relationship with a man outside of the community.  Their stories become intertwined with one another and the past, as well as babies, dogs, and cats (not necessarily in that order) in a well-written story with rich dialogue and some surprising conclusions I won't give away.  Throughout the story, their complex relationships are wrapped in further complexity by periodic flashbacks to the past, to Hazel's relationship with a childhood friend Finny and her adequate but emotionally distant parents; to Claudia's mother, Ludie; and to Rebekah's life with her cousins and church family.  And that's for starters.   In the end, there is an emotional tension that builds, underlain by faith (of a feel-good kind, I'm afraid), and, in the end, by hope.

However, two criticisms can be levied.  First, the many flashbacks with different characters and times all become quite confusing,  breaking up the plot line.  It's a bit much for one who simply wants an enjoyable read.  Second, while we have a strong sense of place we never quite know enough about these characters.  We do not know their ages.  They seem to exist in a time of their own.  I could have identified better with them if I could have rooted them in space and time.  Finally, a word of caution:  the storyline deals with the topics of abortion and lesbianism, the latter of which caught me completely unawares.  However, I wouldn't say it promotes either or is excessive or gratuitous in its portrayal of either.  It's just that the subject matter is mature.  Interestingly, whether Kimmel intended it or not, she confirmed that homosexual tendencies are deeply rooted in broken relationships between children and the parent of the opposite sex.  These women had poor relationships or non-relationships with (you guessed it) men because they had poor relationships with their own fathers.  And yet rather than just label them, we come to see them as simply broken human beings desperate for love.

I recommend the book for a mature reader, one not squeamish about the subject matter and willing to put a little more concentration into a complex (and sometimes) confusing story.  It confirms what we know:  it's a bent world but not one without hope.

When I Dreamed I Was Lost

Opening the door, an
Innuit woman, drawn &
sullen, looks me over.

Warmth, smoke, and
searching eyes meet
mine, questioning, perhaps

curious how a mainlander
is here, a place just a
smudge on rock and water

barely noticed.  I am lost.
Throwing down my bags I
drop in a chair and a woman at the bar

meets my eyes, draws me
in, begins to take down
my meager defenses.  Only I

know her, recognize the
eyes, wince at the
world-gone-wrong kept there.

Van Morrison's on the radio,
singing "I can hear her heartbeat
from a thousand miles away,"

away. Huddled here, another
lost soul,  I mouth the words to
my empty glass ---

please "make me righteous
make me whole," give me that
"crazy love."  I'm lost.

The God-Haunted Poems of Franz Wright: A Review of "God's Silence"

Honest, haunting, human --- all might describe Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Franz Wright's poetry.  Wright's latest collection, God's Silence, features just short of 100 poems, from one line on an otherwise white page to a longish poem covering four pages, exploring death, nonspecific hardship or trauma, or other loss buoyed, if you will, only by God or, more accurately, God's silence, and yet God nonetheless and with constancy.

Many of Wright's poems may confound by their obtuseness, by their lack of particularity.  Seldom do we know the context of his loss, and the cryptic nature of his lines often leaves us hanging.  Take this one, for example, called "Petition":

at the foot of the universe

I ask

wright from this body
in confusion

and pain (a condition

Which You
may recall)

Clothed now in light
clothed in abyss, at the prow
of the desert
into everywhereness ---

have mercy

Mercy on us all.

This is obviously a prayer to God, a psalm the poet cries out, and yet we know not why, know not what pain inflicts him.  It is not ineffective, as we might supply our own pain, our own particulars for the petition, and yet would it not be better to root this in particulars, making it more accessible?

When there is a specific event, his poems become immediately more accessible. For example, in "On the Death of a Cat," I find myself smiling sadly (inside at least), understanding exactly what he is talking about, sharing a moment with him:

In life, death
was nothing
to you

willing to wager
my soul that it
simply never occurred

to your nightmareless
mind, while sleep
was everything

(see it raised
to an infinite
power and perfection) --- no death

in you then, so now
how even less. Dear stealth
of innocence

licked polished
to an evil
luster, little

milk fang, whiskered
friend ---


But this is the exception.  At least half of these poems lack context and particulars, providing a feeling but no framework to hang it on, nothing to quite identify with.  Cryptic fragments, mostly.  But who am I to criticize?  The man won a Pulitzer!

In the end, Wright wants not only to communicate his humanity --- difficulties he has been through and might share with us --- but wants to offer hope.  The last poem, called "I Am Listening," holds out that hope:

I could not get out of bed
for sixteen years a day.
I could not
rouse myself to take a bath. How
resubmerge this broken
body in the waters of electrocution ---
how return, redescend
to find a book
or wash its bruised clothes
the basement stairs
to the site of its hanging, a failure
even at that?

Delivered, I'm still stung by my abandonment
of those unmeetable
ones who still live there
in Hell.

Tell me.

Could I be allowed
with them
a quiet word?

                    And what
might that word be?

There must be a way: how
assure them, remind them
they too come from the light at the beginning of time.

Proved faithless, still I wait.

Critic Denis Johnson has said, of the poems of Franz Wright, "They're like tiny jewels shaped by blunt, ruined fingers--miraculous gifts."  Sometimes they are jewels.  Sometimes they are just blunt.  But always they are haunting pleas to a God who is really not so silent, to a God who is there.  Silence can be deafening.

Enjoy the Early Easter: It's Your Last One

9274701299 While I haven't verified this information, I consider the source trustworthy, so I'm passing it along:

As you may know, Easter is always the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox (which is March 20). This dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar that Hebrew people used to identify Passover, which is why it moves around on our Roman calendar.  
Based on the above, Easter can actually be one day earlier (March 22), but that is rare.
This year is the earliest Easter that any of us will ever see in our life time.  And only the oldest among us have ever seen it this early (you have to be 95 years old or more).  And none of us have ever, or will ever, see it a day earlier!

The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now).  The last time it was this early was 1913. The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now). The last time it was on March 22 was 1818. 

Bottom line: No one alive today has or will ever see it any earlier than this year!

I suppose some people sit around thinking about such trivia.  I simply wanted to know why this Easter did not match up with my children's Spring Break!

On the Edge of Memory: A Short Conversation

"She's not too pretty.  And she's so old."

"Mama, how old is old?  You're 80."

"I'm talking about feeble, so ditsy you don't even know your own mother.  That's what I mean.  I'm not old like Velma is, Jeanine.  I know who my mother is.  I know who you are.  Old is like. . . like him."  She pointed to her husband, rocked back in the recliner watching football, oblivious to our conversation.

"He's 79, Mama, younger than you."

"Well, if he's so all-fired young he oughta get outa that chair and do something.  Don't you think?

I didn't answer.  It wouldn't make any difference anyway.

"What day is it, Jeanine?"

"Wednesday, Mama."

"Don't I have my Bible study group today?"

"No, that's Tuesday, Mama.  You went yesterday."

"I don't think so.  I don't remember going yesterday."

"I took you, Mama."

"Oh, yeah.  I guess so.  They took my license away, you know.  I don't understand why they did that."

"You had an accident, Mama."

"I don't remember any accident.  I never had a speeding ticket in my life.  I just don't understand it.  I can't drive and yet half the fools out on the road drive worse than I ever did.  That's not right. . . Get my reading glasses, will you Jeanine?"  She picked up the TV Guide. "What day is it Jeanine?"

"Wednesday, Mama."

"Be quiet and turn the TV to Channel 6.  Magnum PI is on.  I like Magnum PI.  One of the only decent things on TV.  Don't worry --- he's asleep.  Look at him over there, drooling on himself.  He'll never miss the game."

We watched TV for awhile, the volume deafening, my mother mouthing the words of Magnum, leaning forward in her chair at rapt attention, slumping back only when the commercial came on.

She shook her head.  "That Velma, she's gettin' old and feeble, you know.  Probably even forgot who her Mama is."

"I know Mama, I know.  It happens."

The Perspicuity of a Good Poem

eliot I confess that when it comes to poetry I am a beer-drinker and not a wine-sipper.  Not that I partake of either drink: beer makes me sick, and good wine is wasted on me because I have not been schooled in its pleasures.  But I like my poetry accessible --- artful, thoughtful, and yet written in language I can understand.  Like beer, my poetry is that of the common man.

In this regard, the fine wine of T.S. Eliot's poetry fails me or, rather, I fail it  For example, it's well nigh impossible to understand the literary allusions his The Four Quartets makes without a serious grounding in literature and language.  I haven't the background nor patience.  And yet I cannot deny the sound of his work, like the cry of meaningless that comes through The Hollow Men: "This is the way the world ends/ This is the way the world ends/ This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper."  We just fade away, he seems to be saying.

William Edgar, a Fellow of The Trinity Forum, offers a helpful analysis of Elliot's poetry in an article in TTF's online journal, Provocations, entitled "Shoring Up the Fragments: Thoughts on T.S. Eliot's Poetry."  Edgar actually knows what the poet means.  I don't, and yet I love to ponder such lines, and listen to such sounds, as one may find in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: "Let us go then, you and I,/ Where the evening is spread out against the sky/ Like a patient etherized upon a table . . ."  I have no idea what that means (and neither did his critic, C.S. Lewis, profess to), but I love the sound of it.  I even love the sound of the title.  Who wouldn't want to meet a guy named J.Alfred Prufrock, to find out what he looks like, how he thinks?

Quite beyond the content of poetry (which is not to be ignored), I know the sound of the words speaks to the soul, resonates with something God has placed in us.  Edgar says it this way: 

Poetry is about crafting words. It is not data, but lyrical, imaginative verbal invention. Unlike other art forms, even creative prose, poetry addresses the soul at its very source, at the place where language intermingles with deepest consciousness, with God’s own image.

And again:

Poetry, like music, is a performance, not just a message. At times it resembles prayer. Poetry, as John Ciardi puts it, is “the natural language of man’s most exalted thoughts.” To accomplish that, “the essence of a poem is that one thing in it requires another . . . The poem, that is, is forever generating its own context. Like a piece of music, it exists as self-entering, self-generating, self-complicating, self resolving form.”

In fact, Edgar compares Eliot's poetry (and, by extension, all good poetry) to a symphony:

At first, his many quotations and references seem almost distracting. Then after reading and rereading the text, and reciting it out loud, we begin to hear, as it were, the work as a whole. If one takes the trouble to decode the references and translate the quotes, then the many parts begin to cohere. Like the great symphony, non-musicians can enjoy it and perhaps hum the melodies. The learned music scholar will hear all the nuances, the different instruments, the cross-references, the historic roots, and the whole will be all the more meaningful.

We might even speak of the perspicuity of poetry, its clarity in some essence for the simple-minded, the uneducated (like me), its ability to offer something to the unschooled as well as the scholar.  In fact, if a poem can't do that, it's elitist and not much good for culture as a whole.  I may not understand the multi-layered meanings of The Waste Land, but reading it over and over again, aloud, I feel its essence in my soul, dimly hear the music of a symphony though I'm more attuned to mere rock and roll.  The analogy is inferior, but it's like the perspicuity of the Gospel: clear enough to lead even the dim-witted to Christ, and yet full of unfathomable riches for the Edgars of this world; clear enough to offer me something of its meaning, to evoke feeling, and yet richly layered enough to offer much more than that to the learned reader.

It's enough to make me take to drink --- your best wine, please.

Why We Know It Was Winter

untitled While the authenticity of Scripture is attested to in many ways, one of the more ubiquitous and remarkable qualities it has for me is its particularity, its deep rootedness in space and time and in its mediation through human agency. By the later I mean that God did not simply dictate the words of Scripture to a scribe who faithfully wrote them down, but used human authors --- with their own particular personalities and in their own social and historical context --- to write what God intended (actually, superintended) to reveal of Himself. I don’t know if mediated is quite the right word. Patrick Henry Reardon uses the word fermented, meaning that each author of Scripture is like a fermenting agent bringing a distinctive flavor and consistency to Scripture, binding it to a real person. It is so easy to forget this self-evident fact about the nature of Scripture, reducing it to abstractions, and yet when particular time- and space-bound phrases leap off the page at you, you’re brought up short: these are real people in a real place at a real time. I laugh. Of course that’s what I believe, but that nefarious Purveyor of Abstractions (Satan) majors in high-sounding religious maxims, knowing that divorced from the really real, abstractions are more malleable and dispensable. They are not tied down.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday I was reading the Gospel of John, the most abstract of the Gospel accounts. In John 10: 1-18 Jesus introduced two rich metaphors, referring to himself as both the “shepherd” and “door” (or “gate”) and to believers as “sheep.” But beyond these visual images, things that are real and help tie down the analogies Jesus is drawing, the whole passage is sandwiched between the healing of a man born blind (a real man, in a real place, a man who grew testy under examination by the Pharisees, saying “I told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” And then, tongue in cheek, saying “Do you want to become his disciples?”) And then immediately after this discourse, verse 22 picks up with “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter.” Not summer, but winter. As far as I can tell there is no reason for the existence of the phrase “It was winter” other than to tie us to space and time. This Book is so good about that.

If you think this so self-evident that there is no reason to speak of it, I appeal to Francis Schaeffer, missionary to Europe, founder of L’Abri. Picture him in a hayloft next to his home in the Alps in 1955, Chalet Bijou, pacing back and forth, the wood boards creaking under his feet, the hay swishing, cow bells clanging from the fields nearby, re-examining the very basis for his faith and concluding, ultimately, that the truth of Scripture was the only thing that made sense of reality. When he later preaches on what he learned, and then writes it down in True Spirituality, over and over and over he makes the point that Scripture is rooted in space and time. He did it, of course, to counter liberal theology, an emasculated view of God which used all the same words like incarnation and resurrection but had long sense ripped the words out of the reality of space and time --- planting, as Schaeffer said, “one foot firmly in the air.” And yet it’s not just an argument against liberalism. It’s personal. You have the sense that the knickered, bearded man is simply in wonder at a story that is really real, that really happened --- in a particular place, at a particular time. It was winter (in Jerusalem). A sassy former blind man now cast out of the synagogue has taken up with Jesus, the man who put mud (real mud) on his eyes and spit on him and now he sees.

Forgive me for waxing on about such self-evident matters. I feel like pastor Tim Keller who, when lying ill unto death in the hospital, reading a book on the evidence for the resurrection, realized that it was real. There was a body. It bled and died. It went missing. It popped up again. The dead come alive. Of course he always believed that Jesus died and rose again, but at that moment, he really believed, he was astonished that this thing had really happened in space and time.

Now this never gets old. This is an incarnated revelation, truth that is bound up with particulars, truth with body and texture. That’s the reason we know it was winter.

Wide Angle Radio (Episode Six): Phil's Jagged Heart

WideAngle3On the cover of Phil Madeira's Off Kilter recording, there is a picture of Phil standing in his home studio, the floor positively littered with instruments --- drums, various electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and much more.  It's a vivid reminder of the immense talent that Phil possesses.  In addition to his ubiquitous session work on the Hammond B3 Organ, a signature sound for him, he plays virtually everything else.  Oh, he also writes great songs and sings and produces!  It was a privilege for me to spend a few years with Phil on Silent Planet Records and to bring his Three Horse Shoes record to national distribution. (You can still buy Three Horse Shoes here.)

Life has been hard at times for Phil, and that shows in one of the songs featured on this edition of Wide Angle Radio, "Jagged Heart."  Listen:

madeiraperfsw Not like I had a plan
Not like I saw the goal
You got to whittle down to nothing
Before you'll ever be made whole

I've been carving
Stripping off the bark
Rounding off the edges
Of this jagged heart

When I listen to Phil's music, I always get the sense that he is very much a man under construction, a ragamuffin --- just like all of us.  Listening to him in the interview is like sitting by an old friend and finding something in common.  So, enjoy the music on this month's Wide Angle Radio, and meet Phil, right here.  (Oh, and while you're on the Wide Angle page, check out the new recorded introduction I've added!)

Gnarly Christians

CIMG0437_edited Well I feel
like I have to feel
something good all the time.
With most of life I cannot deal
but a good feeling I can feel
even though it may not be real.
And if a person, place or thing
can deliver
I will quiver with delight.
But will it last me all my life
or just be one more lonely night?

The lust, the flesh
the eyes
and the pride of life
drain the life
right out of me

("The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes & the Pride of Life," Mike Roe & The 77s)

In my backyard there is a red maple tree that is probably about the same age as me.  It is not aged, yet anyway, but it has stature.  It has been here long enough to garner respect.  In other words, it is mature.  It looks much diminished now, gray and leafless, nothing like the brilliant fiery scarlet of its leaf display in the Fall, and yet at its crown there is promise --- reddish flower clusters appear among the still-leafless twigs.

From a distance, the tree has a dignified look --- upright, well-apportioned, and crowned with that red burgeoning promise.  Lay down underneath it, though, and look up through its branches, and you understand that life has not been all easy for the maple.  The trunk that appeared so straight from a distance is gnarled and bent, as if it had been assaulted by something periodically before righting itself.  Some branches, twigless, are broken off; others, bend downward as if sad.  However, many branches thrive, dividing into more and more branches and twigs, thrusting upwards.  The best is at the very top, the crown, with its red flowered display basking in the sun.  That fruitful display rests on the foundation of many years of growth through drought, ice storms, and hurricanes.

The maple is a good metaphor for my sanctification --- the huge lifelong project that I am for God.  The broken or downturned branches represent poor decisions, wasted ventures, and misplaced priorities ---- all fruitless, all dead ends for me.  Paul tells us not to love the world, that "the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does comes not from the Father but from the world" (1 Jn. 2:16).  I suspect all these non-starters are the product of such unrequited lust, of loving the world. 

The gnarly trunk represents the various circumstances that have assaulted me in life, difficult things unexpected or self-inflicted, and yet the upright trunk persuades me of the benefits of being well-rooted, of persevering, or reaching for God.  I'm thankful we're both still standing.  Paul says "[w]e are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

It's so easy to be distracted, so easy to love the world.  TV commercials, magazines, catalogs, and internet ads all tell me that there is something else I need, something that will make me "quiver with delight." Popular culture is is riven with things calculated to induce lust --- for people, places, or things.

The red maple in my yard reminds me to keep a Godward focus, to live in the world but draw my life from God, to be singleminded.  It's a symbol of what it is to abide in Him.  I may be gnarly on close inspection, but I'm still standing.