18 April 2017

How does a poem work?

How does a poem work? It works with the reader. The reader and the poem complement each other. Like a man and a woman, they complete each other. The poem hints, suggests, implies--while the reader takes the hint, fills the suggestion with her own real experience, turns an implication into an open emotion and brings to life what had only lurked on the invited page.

The poem invites the reader to uncover her own truth by telling her but a half truth, the other half of which is hers to find. That's the difficulty and the reward of poetry: it demands so much of the reader. It is not merely imparting information or knowledge. Rather, it wants the reader to fill its tiny frame with her self. But then it gives back to the reader that self, awakened and aware.

-Walt Wangerin Jr, Whole Prayer

17 April 2017

Poem: Rugged Theology

A beautiful script
     upon the page
     a calligrapher's delicate hand
The words themselves
     tell truth
     and love
     and goodness
The insight and the ink
     drawn together
     in flawless form
But it is just gallery beauty
     safely cordoned off
     from indelicate hands
     Look, but do not touch
     Admire, but do not use
     lest the paper become torn
     and the ink smudged
Then this priceless treasure
     becomes worthless
     crumpled, and cast aside

Too often, our theology is like that...
     good on paper but ultimately
     torn
          damaged
                discarded
     a fine vellum
     useless for anything
     except a showpiece
We need a rugged theology
     leather perhaps, but not parchment
     one that withstands
     the scuffles
     and bruises
     of a rough and tumble world
     each scar enhancing its beauty

Book Review: Martin Luther in his own words

Martin Luther was undoubtedly one of the most influential theologians in history. An exceptional communicator who was also committed to upholding God's word, he sought to expose the church's abuses. In combination with a restless people and the advent of the printing press, Luther's challenges started a fire that took the world by storm. When Protestantism traces its roots, Luther is undoubtedly a progenitor. In other words, it is not just Lutheranism that traces its roots to Luther, but Protestantism in general.

Despite his profound influence upon Western History generally and church history in particular, I suspect few casual readers have read him, which is unfortunate. Luther was a keen thinker and worth the effort to read. When I tell people that one of my must read books is Luther's Commentary on the Galatians, I am met with glazed eyes that ask, "why would anyone read a commentary for pleasure?"

Perhaps the greatest service that Kilcrease and Lutzer offer to the church in their new book Martin Luther in His Own Words (Baker, 2017) is a sampling of Luther. Those who are new to wine often benefit from attending a sampling; in the same way, those new to Luther also benefit from a sampling.

The authors give us 12 chapters under the heading of the five solas--sola fide, sola gratia, sola scriptura, solus christus, and soli deo gloria. For those unfamiliar with these Latin reformation terms, they mean this: faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, and to the glory of God alone. Under each heading, Kilcrease offers the reader 2 or 3 chapters pulled directly from Luther and offers them a helpful introduction. Sections from a number of Luther's works were included including: his commentary on Galatians, the larger catechism, and Bondage of the Will to name a few.

In an ideal world, this book will serve as an aperitif for more Luther. If this book stimulates the appetites of even 5% of its readers for his Galatians commentary, it will be an amazing success. Even if it doesn't, however, readers will come to know a man of profound biblical wisdom and insight.

I received a review copy of this book from the Baker Books Blogger program in exchange for a review. I was not required to provide a positive review and the impressions given here are my own.

14 April 2017

A Good Friday Prayer: The Precious Blood

Blessed Lord Jesus,
Before thy cross I kneel and see
     the heinousness of my sin,
     my iniquity that caused thee to be
     'made a curse',
     the evil that excites the severity
     of divine wrath.
Show me the enormity of my guilt by
     the crown of thorns,
     the pierced hands and feet,
     the bruised body,
     the dying cries.
Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God,
     its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.
Infinite must be the evil and guilt
     that demanded such a price.
Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper,
     born in my birth,
     alive in my life,
     strong in my character,
     dominating my faculties,
     following me as a shadow,
     intermingling with my every thought,
     my chain that holds me captive in the
     empire of my soul.
Sinner that I am, why should the sun give me light,
     the air supply breath,
     the earth bear my tread,
     its fruits nourish me,
     its creatures subserve my ends?
Yet thy compassions yearn over me,
     thy heart hastens to rescue me,
     thy love endured my curse,
     thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.
Let me walk humbly in the lowest depths
     of humiliation,
     bathed in thy blood,
     tender of conscience,
     triumphing gloriously as an heir of salvation.
-Valley of Vision

07 April 2017

Union with Christ

Miracle of miracles
     I am in Christ
wholly secure
    in Holy God's eyes.

Miracle of miracles
     Christ is in me
giving me strength
     to become who I can be.

Miracle of miracles
     union with Christ
an oft unknown doctrine
     essential for life. 

04 April 2017

The essence of prayer

Ten million prayers
hover and fly
begging attention
and so I try

to focus my thoughts
to talk with my Lord
but they bounce so fast
it seems I get bored

with each thought that enters
seeking my prayer
they clamor for notice
and then they are

gone in a flash
replaced by another
I reached out to grasp it
but then wonder whether

something more urgent
seeks prayerful release
I chase that thought too
but God whispers "Peace

be still from your frenzy
relax in my presence
time spent with me
that is prayer's essence.

22 March 2017

Disney and corrupted masculine intimacy

I have been thinking a lot about masculinity recently. In preparing a message for this Sunday on sexuality and gender, I have been wrestling to understand what the Bible says. I want to convey biblical truth to our church in plain terms. Thinking about masculinity is a natural extension of a teaching on gender.

The recent Disney release of a live action Beauty and the Beast has also brought masculinity to the forefront of my mind. Ed Vitagliano of the American Family Association wrote an article on March 13 entitled "Protect your children from Disney's gay agenda!", complete with exclamation point to drive home the seriousness of the message. Many Christians will undoubtedly boycott this movie on the warning of Vitiagliano and others with the same message. That choice is each person and each parents prerogative.

I, for one, don't know if Disney was promoting a "gay agenda" with Beauty and the Beast. There are indications that it may have been intended and, if I turn my head and squint my eyes, I can see that. (I will leave it to the pundits, who perceive it's necessity, to wrestle with that question). But as I came away from the movie yesterday (which I loved), I found myself wrestling with another question regarding masculinity. My question was not, "is Disney promoting the 'gay agenda'?", but "what ever became of nonsexual masculine intimacy?"

In today's American culture, men equate physical touch with sexuality. Any suggestion of intimate physical touch--in other words anything except a punch on the shoulder or a high five--suggests sexual desire. To hug another man, face to face, for more than a second, raises questions about motive and repressed homoerotic desire.

American masculinity often eschews deep relationship with women and especially with men. Emotions, apart from anger, are to be quickly suppressed or denied. Men are to be virile, and sexually interested, noticing, and perhaps commenting upon or even having sex with, as many women as possible. Men are supposed to seek power and control. Women and other men are to be used, not loved. In other words, American culture, and too often the American church, wants us to be more like the brutish Gaston from Disney's original Beauty and the Beast than like the sensitive Lafou from the 2017 version.

American men are loners.

But they feel so alone.

Beginning at an early age, boys receive the message that to be masculine is to be tough. Physical touch between fathers and sons all but disappears as they age, if it was ever there to begin with. The judges on the playground court convict boys as gay and sentence them to social isolation if they act contrary to the unwritten rules for masculine touch. Fighting is okay; hugging is not. Confusion ensues and the potential effects are legion.

This macho masculinity is a more recent phenomenon, I believe driven in some ways by a media culture that promotes a strong, even pathologic, male independence that eschews all need for affection and especially physical touch. It hasn't always been that way. Even in the Bible, we see evidences of physical intimacy between men that would make many of us modern men squirm.

  • When Jacob sees his brother Esau, whom he has not seen for a long time, he runs to him, falls on his neck, and kisses him as they both weep. (Genesis 33) 
  • As Paul left the Ephesians and would not see them again, they wept and embraced and kissed him. (Acts 20)
  • Though he didn't need to, Jesus often touched the people he healed.
  • In the New Testament, believers greeted one another with a kiss. 
  • On his last night before the crucifixion, Jesus had an intimate dinner with his disciples that involved not only foot washing, but John leaning back into Jesus at the table. (John 13) 
I don't fully know what recovering biblical masculine intimacy looks like. I do know that one of the most healing moments in my life involved an intimate and extended hug from a man. So in closing, I offer a few thoughts:
  • American men and boys need to be seen, valued, and yes, even touched. 
  • Explore your own assumptions about touch. As you read through this essay, what stirs in you? Are you questioning my agenda, or perhaps my sexuality? 
  • If you don't know where to start, dads you can begin by hugging your sons (and your daughters). Many adults never knew loving touch from their parents growing up. 
  • Don't equate touch with sex. They are not the same thing. 
  • Men, seek intimate relationships with a few other men. 
  • Consider reading this article that a male friend of mine posted: The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men's Lives is a Killer
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.--Luke 5:13

06 March 2017

Dark is a disguiser of truth

In both my prayer book (Valley of Vision) and my Psalm reading this morning, the theme of light and dark showed up. Whenever I see the same theme in multiple sources in close proximity, and I notice it, I wonder what God wants me to see.

Dark, it seems to me, is a disguiser of truth. In it, one cannot see things as they actually are, so we make assumptions. But assumptions based upon what? Fears, for one. Evil whispers in the dark; sometimes it shouts.

"It doesn't matter what you do. God doesn't care."

"God doesn't really love you."

"If you were a true Christian, life would be easier."

"If you really believed in God, you wouldn't sin so much."

But listen...don't live in the dark. Choose to live in the light. Light is a revealer of truth, of goodness, of beauty. Only in the light can we see texture and color and shape. We begin to see things as they actually are.

God is light. In Him, we not only see Light Himself, but we are able to see all things illumined by Him.

Send out Your light and Your truth,
let them lead me. 
-Psalm 43:3

26 February 2017

He's chosen for us the hard road

God has chosen for us
the hard road.
Bumpy and uneven,
steep and dark.
Parts washed out by life's difficulty.

As we walk
bodies litter the ditches.
People broken
and bleeding
and alone.

We ask,
"Why this hard road, Lord?
Why not the easy way,
Bright and level,
...and uncomplicated?"

"Because, my children,
I too am on this path.
My heart is for the broken
and alone.
If you seek me,
you will find me here, in the darkness.

"The kingdom path is not around
but through suffering.
So grab a lamp
and bring light
to the dark path.

09 February 2017

Unaware of the Wellsprings of Life

I am currently reading an anthology of George MacDonald entitled Discovering the Character of God. For those who are unfamiliar with MacDonald, CS Lewis counted him among his greatest influences. I read this page this morning, a passage from his fictional The Curate's Awakening, and I was deeply struck.

The morning which had given birth to the stormy afternoon had been a fine one, and the curate had gone out for a long walk. Not that he was a great walker, his strolls were leisurely and comprised of many stops. He was not in bad health and was not lazy. Yet he had little impulse for much activity of any sort. The springs in his well of life did not seem to flow quite fast enough.

He sauntered through Osterfield Park and down the descent to the river. There he seated himself upon a large stone on the bank. He knew that he was there and that he answered to "Thomas Wingfold;" but why he was there, and why he was not called to something else, he did not know. On each side of the stream rose a steeply sloping bank. on which grew many fern brushes, now half-withered. The sunlight upon them this November morning seemed as cold as the wind that blew about their golden and green fronds. 

Thomas felt rather cold, but the cold was the sort that comes from the look rather than the feel of things. With his stick he kept knocking pebbles into the water and listlessly watching them splash. The wind blew, the sun shone, the water ran, the ferns waved, the clouds went drifting over his head--but he never looked up or took any notice of the doings of Mother Nature busy with her housework. 

His life had not been particularly interesting. He had known from the first that he was intended for the church, and had not objected but accepted it as his destiny. Yet he had taken no great interest in the matter. 

The church was to him an ancient institution of approved respectability. He had entered her service, and in return for the narrow shelter, humble fare, and not quite shabby garments she allotted him, he would perform her observances. 

Thomas did not philosophize much about life, nor his position in it. Instead, he took everything with an unemotional kind of acceptance and laid no claim to courage or devotion. He had a certain dull prejudice in favor of not telling a lie, and yet was completely uninstructed in the things that constitute practical honesty. He liked reading the prayers in church, for he had a somewhat musical voice. He visited the sick--with some repugnance, it is true, but without delay--and spoke to them such religious commonplaces as occurred to him.

He did not read much, browsing over his newspaper at breakfast with polite curiosity sufficient to season the loneliness of his slice of fried bacon, taking more interest in some of the naval intelligence than in anything else. Indeed, it would have been difficult to say in what he did take much interest. 

Could he in all honesty have said he believed there was a God? Or was this not all he really knew--that there was a Church of England which paid him for reading public prayers to a God in whom the congregation was assumed to believe? 

It was not a question Wingfold had yet considered.