Easter Reflections--A Letter to Dave

Yesterday we celebrated the rolling away of the stone. We sang songs about the empty tomb, how the enemy was defeated. Rob sawed on a fiddle and we danced jigs—“All Hail the Power of Jesus Name!” I thought about the last time I heard Dave sing that song. He must have believed what he sang that Sunday because a few days later he took his faith on the road, found himself proclaiming Gospel to another tribe and tongue. I missed Dave yesterday. He worked out faith with his hands, did it quietly. Dave wasn’t prone to boasting, but he could have. He could run the neck of a guitar clean, could hear overtones like a Doberman Pincer. Once he found Jesus in a Neil Young song, which might have been more than even Neil Young had hoped for.

Dave moved to the Spirit in a way that was rare but he wouldn’t tell you too much about it. You just had to watch.

After our Easter edition of Sunday-Go-To-Meet’n, I stood in the parking lot with light rain dripping down my jacket. I thought about Mary and John, how they were perplexed by the empty tomb. I tried to put myself in their sandals, the emptiness of it all. But while I was playing that thought out, I circled back to Dave and his family, people who have leveraged their lives for the sake of the empty tomb.  Sinners, sure.  But saints, mostly.

Dear Dave,

I hope that your Easter was redeemed, that you caught the full-on glory of Jesus rising like the sun over the mountains. I hope that you embraced his resurrection as you sped through town on your moped, hope that you drowned out the “weeeeeeeeeer” of the motor as you brought forth the royal diadem at the top of your lungs. I heard that your wife did that recently.

When you walked into your shop yesterday morning did you look at scrap wood, remember that even the remnants were redeemed by the work of our carpenter brother? Did you then remember the young strum-brothers in Arkansas?

Some of us remembered you well yesterday, Dave. And when we did, we danced a 6/8 jig to resurrection.

Holy Week Reflection - Were You There?

Be not far from me, for trouble is near;For there is none to help. Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls ofBashanhave encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, As a raving and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.

For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. Psalm 22:12-14, 16

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Good, Good Friday. Peace in your reflection today.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ninyTdjNjJc]

What Obscenity and Grace Have in Common

“So in the same way at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was diligently seeking, but the elect obtained it. The rest were hardened….”

Romans 11:5-7

Grace. What is this stuff? The hymnist says that it will “pardon and cleanse, within.” Ann says that “all’s grace.” Mike says, “I can’t define it, but I have an evolving theology of my need for it.”

When I was twelve, my overstuffed Baptist church had a visiting preacher named Dr. Richard Land. He was a scholar, a real theologian with letters behind his last name. He was complex, a sesquipedalian skilled in the ways of circumlocution. One Sunday Ryan Carter actually made a functioning origami decoder ring out of the Lottie Moon envelopes in hope of cracking the “Land Code.” It didn’t work.

For all his verbosity, Dr. Land surprised us one Sunday when he offered this definition of Grace--God’s Riches as Christ Expense. It was simple. It stuck. But at thirty-three, I’m wondering if perhaps it was too simple.

I expound. If grace relates to the riches of God, then aren’t all creatures benefactors? After all, God’s riches encompass every facet of nature, every splendor of the morning. It is only by God’s rich blessing that we live, that the birds sing, that the fabric of earth holds together. Did it take Christ’s expense to bring about the richness that God gives to all creation? It seems to me that both those who trust in Christ’s expense and those who do not share equally in some of the riches of God. Thus, God’s riches cannot be the sole subject of grace unless we open ourselves up to the idea that grace is, in fact, unlimited and given to all.

These are human gyrations, I know. But the deconstruction of the Land Doctrine of Grace leaves me stranded (and perhaps teetering on a universalist brink). The deconstruction sounds nothing like the grace of the biblical text (See Romans 11). So, what is grace?

In 1964 the United States Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a particular film could be censored as “hard-core pornography” under the First Amendment. To make the determination, the Court was required to formulate the threshold definition of pornography. Penning perhaps the most quoted concurring opinion in Supreme Court history, Justice Potter Stewart wrote,

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

See Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964).

Maybe in formulating a working definition for grace, I’m left with little more than Justice Stewart’s definition of obscenity. I know what it is, though only in practice. I know what it’s not. I know that grace is undeserved, that it is a product of God’s choosing (see Romans). I know, like Mike, that I have an ever-evolving theology of my need for it. I know, like Ann, that all’s grace. Ultimately I know that grace, much like obscenity, is known most explicitly when it is seen.

And with all the humility I can muster today I’ll ask to catch one obscene glimpse of it.

There And Back Again: Music And Silence

This post is part of The High Calling's community building project, there and Back Again (see below), and was inspired in part by Ann Kroeker's post, Slow-Down Fast: Music and Silence. _______________________________________

I drove into the heart of the Ouachita Mountains this evening.  The giants, those “great sleeping Adams,” stuck up out the Arkansas valley like junior Rockies.  They told me that God created them every bit as majestic, just not quite as craggy.  One time a geologist argued that the Ouchitas and Bostons are actually older than the Rockies, said that Father Time had weathered them more, made them more hunch-backed.  “Maybe,” I said.  “Or maybe they’re just more humble, more God fearing.”

This evening I drove in silence, inspired by a Hoosier to seek God in the stillness of an Arkansas highway.  There was this field outside of Y City; it’s greening up quite nicely this time of year.  A calf, only weeks old I guessed, leaped and turned circles around a young red bud tree.  I heard whispers of Malachi 4 so I eased up on the gas and coasted through the valley.  Freedom and mercy sneak up on you sometimes, but other times you have to slow down to catch them.

As I rounded the bend and turned out of the valley, I left all that nuance in my rear-view mirror.  I reached for my iPod, scrolled through some selections, found that hymn I was humming, and pressed play.

This is my Father’s World.

 I am glad for the roads that cut through it.

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This part post is part of Charity Singleton's community-building project for The High Calling, “There & Back Again.”

I went to TheHighCalling.org member Ann Kroeker's blog and read her post "Slow-Down Fast: Music And Silence," which inspired me to write something of my own.

Each Thursday, consider going “There and Back Again” yourself. It’s simple.

Here are Charity’s steps:

  1. Choose another High Calling Blogger to visit. It can be someone you have “met” before, or do what I do, and work your way through the “Member Posts” section of thehighcalling.com to meet someone new.
  2. Visit his blog, digesting the message until it becomes something that you can write about.
  3. Go back to your blog and write about it, being sure to link to the post that gave you the idea so that your readers can visit, too.
  4. Add the button to your blog so your readers know you are participating in “There and Back Again.”
  5. Go back to the Network blog and leave a comment so your new friend can feel the link love!
  6. Complete the journey by returning here, to Wide Open Spaces, and enter your link so that we all can benefit from the new High Calling connection you have made.

On Nature Groaning - Lenten Reflections

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the Lord, for He is coming For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness Psalm 96:12-13

When the earth threw its tectonic fit, the oceans rose to meet the works of our hands. Rising tides crushed ports, flowed through houses, breached the walls of our nuclear facilities. Radiation spilled into fields and retreated into the ocean, contaminated kelp, fish, and produce. In our hubris we believed that we could contain atom-fusing, but concrete and steel are no match for groans birthed in the depths of the ocean. God created the sea to be more powerful and less predictable than we would like.

There is another sea undulating in Northern Africa and the Middle East. This sea of humanity swells as if at high tide. Men in Syria shout for Allah and Freedom, stampede like the bulls in Spain. They pick up rocks and hurl them at the government. The rocks would cry out in praise if given the chance, but wild men have given the stones voices of violence instead. The goats and trees stand in the fields, see a coming war, know that they will be the casualties of it. One olive branch says to the other, “here we go again,” and they brace themselves for destruction at the hands of freedom fighters. The goats have stopped grazing and stand in the fields slack-jawed and innocent. Goats and trees always catch the residual shrapnel.

We were given stewardship of this world, I have read. But I think that in our conquests we have forgotten the value of the good earth around us. The effects of our avarice are apparent, even if accidental. Meltdowns contaminate nature. Wars rip craters into fertile soil and wipe out the wild herds that were created without the capacity for sin. Our lusts contaminate those things that were created to be perfect.

Our sin has consequences.

I am not an environmentalist, per se, but the Lenten Psalms have been thought-provoking. Why do the writers say that the fields will rejoice at Christ’s return? Why will the oceans roar and the sheep dance in the fields at his return? Perhaps the world pines for Christ’s salvation because we, in all of our depravity, have proven wholly incapable of stewarding that which was created holy. Maybe the earth groans as if in labor pains because our sin has impregnated it with the memory of Eden.

And if our sin is that apparent to nature, shouldn't it likewise be apparent to us?

This is a bit of a difficult topic. Some of you may assume that I am an environmentalist, a “give peace a chance” kind of fellah. But the truth is, the language of the Psalms seem terribly relevant in the world in which we live. So let me ask you, why do you think the psalmists personify nature? Why are we told that oceans will roar, rocks cry out, sheep dance? Does it seem more relevant today than ever before?  Am I over-nuancing this whole thing?

These are honest questions, no agenda necessary.

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Feel free to flesh this out a bit with me in the comments.  Even if you don't agree or think I'm missing something.  I'd love to sort some of this out.

**photo credit here.