Slow Down. Listen. Say no.

Learnin' to Love the Sound of Silence

time-warpTeach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (NIV)

In the 90th Psalm Moses revealed a keen awareness of our need for wisdom in living out the span of days allotted by the Lord. One unexpected result of learning to “number our days” is that we gain a working knowledge of the difference between the qualitative and quantitative value of time.

Wedged between the rather Muggleish Psalm 90 and Psalm 91 you will find Psalm 90 3/8 (think, Harry’s Platform 9 ¾), and in it a lyrical fragment from the 60’s.

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.
– Simon & Garfunkle, Feelin’ Groovy

Time can be measured as a metronome sequence of events (chronos), or as an opportunity (kairos). Moses has chronos in mind when he tells us to “number our days.”

Here’s what we need to do: 1) slow down; 2) listen; 3) learn to say no. Some practical benefits: 1. We will live longer. 2. We will be happier. 3. We will discover that we actually do better work! 4. Suddenly those closest to us will come into focus. Once the fog of distraction clears it’s like, “really, where have you all been?!”

The instrument of instruction during my slowing-down periods has been music. Music can keep us from the peril of missed opportunities. That’s what Paul is warning us to guard against.

Another “Paul”— modern day secular prophet and lyricist Paul Simon—captures the essence of the missed opportunity in his lament, “Slip Slidin’ Away:”

I know a father
He had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done

He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

It’s hard to stay sensitive to opportunities when the world, the flesh, and our enemy are screaming in our ears. The resulting cacophony dulls us to the beauty of silence where we can attune our hearts to the still small voice of God. C. S. Lewis understood that part of Satan’s strategy is simply to fill our lives with distracting noise:

We will make the whole universe a noise in the end….
The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.
But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, #22

It doesn’t matter how much time you invest in living your life if you squander the days you’ve been given on junk.

So, it all comes down to choices.
We choose to count, to remind ourselves of the brevity of our lives a la Moses.
We choose to redeem the time a la Paul.

Slow. Down.

You may be surprised that you emerge from that intentional pause in which you kicked down a few cobble stones feelin’ — you know.

Swayed by Tahitian Waters

Yet another lesson in maintaining balance

Tahiti & Bora Bora

Yep, the Lord called me to a ministry in Tahiti! Took me about 1/2 second to accept Chuck Swindoll’s gracious invitation to join him on a four-masted sailing ship that would cruise the islands. I would be performing Bible characters along the way.

One of them was Jonah, a new character for me. Old Jonah wasn’t called to paradise. He was called to go to Assyrian Nineveh. About as far from paradise as you’re going to get. And he did NOT want to go. In fact he headed the other way, only to be stopped by the Lord while on board a ship.

But who wouldn’t want to go to the South Pacific? When you think of Tahiti you may well conjure coral reefs ringing black sand beaches with shallow lagoons filled with iridescent rainbow fish and near-transparent eels with coal black button eyes. You may be able to feel the feathery touch of balmy breezes that carry just a whisper of coolness. You can almost smell the fragrance of a thousand tropical flowers. And that’s just the way it is. Tahiti is as close as you’re going to come to paradise.

On the island.

What you may not be aware of is that there’s a lot of what is ironically called the Pacific Ocean between the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia where we find Tahiti. There isn’t much that’s pacific, or peaceful, about some of those waters. The technical name for the dramatic movement of a ship caught in rough swells is called “sway.” So there I was, reciting the lines of God’s reluctant prophet, Jonah who found himself in the gut of an enormous fish—wondering if I might be in for the same fate. And I wasn’t even running from the Lord!

You should have seen me as I was performing Jonah—trying to maintain my balance and remember my lines as the ship was swaying back and forth—praying I wouldn’t tip over. I looked out the portholes on the starboard side and all I saw was gray sky. Five seconds later we tilted back and out the port side all I could see was water crashing against the thick glass. Thanks to a heavy stool they pushed out onto the stage for me I managed to avoid stumbling into the laps of the seasick seafarers to starboard or the green-gilled patrons to port!

The Lord graciously sustained me, though many passengers (including my sweetheart, Lauren) got seasick and stayed that way for more than 10 hours—all through the rest of the night. I should say “nights” because this was the first of two!

There was a good lesson here. There are going to be rough seas ahead.

I thought of another boat scene. The Lord Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and go ahead of him to the other side of the lake. Unlike Jonah, they were in the midst of obeying God when they encountered a life-threatening storm (Mark 8:33). Tumbling waves—even if they were going where He told them to go.

The same holds true for us today.

The good news is that He is with us. Always (Matthew 28:20). In the fish. On the boat. He is with us wherever we go.

Even between the islands of paradise, where the water can get rough.

Tahiti Bound!

Satisfying a Hunger for Real Beauty

Tahitian Women on the Beach - Paul Gauguin

Tahitian Women on Beach – Paul Gauguin

Tomorrow, Lauren and I will fly to Tahiti via LAX.  We are going with Dr. Chuck Swindoll and the Insight for Living bunch. We will be traveling on a beautiful 4-master, beginning in Papeete and then sailing northwest to Bora Bora. We have never been to Tahiti or anywhere close to the other paradise islands in French Polynesian Archipelago.

Tahiti exerts a romantic tug for a lot of folks. Part of the reason for the exotic allure grows out of our familiarity with the great artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and his bold renderings of raven-haired Tahitian women.

In 1891 Gauguin left France  behind (along with what Gauguin believed to be its repressive conventions) and moved to Tahiti, where he lived with native islanders far outside the capital, Papeete.

Gauguin’s striking use of color and symbolism in his Tahitian paintings set him apart from his French contemporaries by an aesthetic distance equal to the physical distance that separated Papeete from Paris. Some of his major works include La Orana Maria (1891), Tahitian women on Beach, (1891), The Seed of the Areoi (1892), Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897), and Two Tahitian Women (1899).

I have seen many of his masterpieces hanging in major museums around the world: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. You can find some of his other works in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The geographical distribution of his work is impressive.

Some folks consider it a shame that not a single original Gauguin painting remains in French Polynesia. The Gauguin Museum on the main island of Tahiti, displays only reproductions of his work.

I don’t share that sentiment. Why restrict Gauguin’s work to his adopted home? It’s out there as it should be, available to a foreign population, the vast majority of which would never have had the opportunity to view his masterworks in person were they kept in Tahiti.

Still, for all its glory, Gauguin’s vision of Tahiti is self indulgent. Theosophism and native Polynesian religions limited the great Gauguin to a selfish and egotistical exploration of all that Tahiti could provide with its natural beauty and its exotic sensuality. Many of Gauguin’s masterworks reflect exquisitely his allegiance to the carnal appetites of the god he beheld in the mirror.

Having seen and appreciated many of Gauguin’s paintings, I look forward to experiencing the real Tahiti, up close and unfiltered by another artist’s point of view. I want to draw my own conclusions. To interpret the beauty of the islands from my own perspective. As Christians we enjoy a an increased capacity for distinguishing the beauty of creation from the beatific Creator of nature. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to celebrate the infinite beauty of the Divine Artist even more than His masterworks of creation.

While we will enjoy the beauty of the islands, our allegiance and our deepest appreciation are to the One who, by the power of His Word, called all things into being—including Tahiti.

A Farewell Letter to Garrison Keillor

A Native Son Comes Home to Lake Wobegon - where "sort of the truth" is truth enough

Garrison Keillor

Dear Garrison,

I heard you are retiring today, and I had to write. I started listening to you by accident sometime back in the late 80’s. A buddy of mine named Jim Hoover had told me about this storyteller on National Public Radio. His name was Garrison Keillor, Jim said, and he loved to talk about his hometown of Lake Wobegon tucked away somewhere in central Minnesota.

I was traveling back from a preaching assignment as I recall, and I stumbled upon your show, A Prairie Home Companion, on our local NPR station. You were just launching into your weekly story with the now famous line, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town.”

The first thing I noticed was your voice! I don’t think I’ve ever heard, to this day, a more relaxed delivery. I mean, mister, you could talk the tension out of a twelve-string. On my maiden voyage with the program I had no knowledge of Lake Wobegon. The story that day was about the death of Buddy Holly in February, 1959. You and the members of your High School band, The Pharaohs of Rhythm, had traveled the roughly 3 1/2 hours down to Clear Lake, Iowa to pay your respects at the crash site. You guys saw the wrecked plane out in the field where it crashed, and piled out of the car to stand along a fence row for a better look.

You, heeding nature’s call, went over into some nearby trees to relieve yourself. You looked out through the trees and saw something sticking out of the snow—it was the neck of Buddy Holly’s guitar! To your credit, you resisted the temptation to snatch it, and rejoined your own buddies who were deep into conversation with some teenage girls who had come out to see what was to be seen. You and the Pharaohs of Rhythm played Buddy Holly music all the way back to Lake Wobegon—and I was hooked! What a story!

I retold the story to Lauren as soon as I got home. The next day I went into work and told Jim that Lauren and I had decided that we were going to visit Lake Wobegon that next summer. No matter what it took, I was going to find it and go into the Sidetrack Tap for a coke. Jim smiled, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Reg, it isn’t real. It’s all make-believe.”

I’m a storyteller, Garrison. I know a make-believe story when I hear it. I respect Jim Hoover. He’s a good man. But I think he got this one wrong. I read an interview with you in National Geographic. In it you said, “People want stories to be true.” I’ve decided that yours are. They don’t have to be factual to be real.

The best stories—and yours are among the very best—are true in ways that stretch beyond the particulars of latitude and longitude. I find your stories in my own small town of Oakville, Texas. Your stories are in the small towns that populate our collective nostalgia, where all the women are strong, all the men are good lookin’, and all the children are above average. Thanks for a great ride, Garrison! And by the way, I’m loving your new collection of poetry, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound. Thanks for signing it with “All the best!”

I wish you the same.

P.S. Be looking for us. Lauren and I will be coming for a visit there in Lake Wobegon one of these days— pretty sure we’ll pass through Mayberry along the way.

For Evan on Father’s Day, 2016

My Pop and the Time we Talked

Reg's first Buck

Evan, you didn’t get to know your great grandpa—my Pop—but he was a great man in my eyes.  Pop taught me, among many things, to hunt. There wasn’t a lot of talk about anything. He was a man of spare words, so in that regard (and in many others) we were pretty different. We didn’t talk about life, or football, or why I was deathly afraid to kiss my first girlfriend, LU. With Pop it was all about what was going on right then and there. In this case, the hunt—how to stalk, how to track a wounded buck until you found him, how not to let noisy thorn bushes scrape your jeans. How to walk ten slow steps, pause and look. And wait. And then to hunt until you got back to the truck, because if you stopped before you opened the truck door, that’s when a big one would jump and run.

Falling asleep—though it was 5:30 a.m. and still dark as a javelina den at midnight—was strictly forbidden and besides that, it was unprofessional. By the way, the rules changed a little over the years. When Pop was about my age now, we would take naps on the shady bank of the Nueces. Most things, including all sports and any curricular or extra curricular activities were to be approached in the same all-or-nothing, do-the-very-best-you-can professional attitude. But winning wasn’t everything to Pop by a long shot. In fact, doing your best while losing showed more character than an effortless victory. Pop didn’t talk it. He lived it, day-to-day.

But there was this one time, Evan, when Pop and I talked on a hunt. This poem is about my Pop and me, but it’s for you. Because what my Pop held in his hand on that hunt, I hold in mine. I held it for your mom. I held it for my boys, your Tio Niko and Giaccomo. And I hold it for you for the all the days ahead.

Love,

PoP!

“Things to Come”
You sat with me while hunting deer
Beneath the big oak tree
You cupped a secret in your palm
And wouldn’t let me see
“You know what I have here?” you asked
“A bug? An arrowhead?”
You looked again and smiled a bit
And “nope” was all you said.
“I don’t know, Pop. Can I see now?’
You held the secret near
You nodded at the whisperings
I wanted so to hear.
“I hold you in my hand, my son,
I hold your dreams unbound.”
Then with a wink, you showed to me
The secret small and round
“Now here’s a forest in my palm
A thousand trees I hold
Ten thousand promises to keep
And stories yet untold.”
“This mighty oak at riverside
Began smaller than you
But God has blessed and God has grown
This oak as He will you.”
Now if you want to grow up tall
And straight and strong and grand
Remember that you started small
In God our Father’s hand.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Sayers and Mr. Yeats!

Celebrating the Gift of Creativity in Two Very Different Artists

The following blog was to be submitted yesterday, June 13, but a lightning storm interrupted the posting.

Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers

The great Symbolist poet William Butler Yeats (b. June 13, 1865) was 28 years old to the day when Dorothy Sayers (b. June 13, 1893) was born at the Head Master’s House, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Though they both discovered their talents for writing at a young age, the their lives stood in stark contrast to one another.

Sayers, the daughter of  a chaplain of Christ Church and headmaster of the Choir School, won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford. There she studied modern languages and medieval literature, finishing with first-class honors in 1915. Since women were denied degrees in 1915, she had to wait until 1920 when she became one of the first women to receive her MA from Oxford. In one of her most influential theological books, The Mind of the Maker, she explored the analogy between a human creator and the doctrine of the Trinity (more tri-theism in Sayers than orthodox Trinitarianism) in creation. Her human “trinity” consists of the Idea, the Energy (= the materialization of the idea into concrete/written form), and the Power (the reception/reading of the form by the audience).

Her good friend, C. S. Lewis said he read her excellent radio play, The Man Born to be King, every Easter, though he claimed never to have developed a taste for her more famous detective, Lord Peter Wimsey and his adventures. She died 17 December, 1957. Her her ashes are buried beneath the tower of St. Anne’s Church, London, where she had been a churchwarden for many years.

W, B, Yeats

W, B, Yeats

Yeats, on the other hand was no scholar. He attended art school briefly to appease his father, also an artist. While there he decided to become a poet. He moved to London in 1886, where he joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group. He maintained his fascination with the occult for the rest of his life, often addressing spiritual ideas in his brilliant poetry. Women, as well, held him in thrall. He had many affairs and more than one mistress. He died in France in 1939, having founded the National Irish Theater in Dublin (now the Abbey), and having won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.

Two exquisitely talented writers who shared much more than a birthday. Together they shared the gift of a creative spirit to which they gave a habitable form in their poems and novels and plays.

The defining difference between the two lies in their spiritual allegiances – she, to the Christ of Scripture; he, to an esoteric system of philosophy that reflected Hindu Theosophical beliefs and the occult – a system communicated to him through spirits (he called them “Instructors”) whom he had summoned while experimenting with automatic writing.

Can we enjoy the work of an non-Christian genius like Yeats as we can the works of the Christian Sayers? Of course. Just as we can appreciate the truth and goodness and beauty of the ring trilogy by an anti-Semite like Wagner, or Symphony #6 in D-Minor by Tchaikovsky, who struggled with homosexuality.

We can recognize and celebrate the truth, beauty, and goodness evident in these flawed men and women because these qualities emanate from the God we worship Who is the source of all that is true, and beautiful, and good. And Who graciously condescends to reveal Himself through flawed people.

Like us.

Silence

Expanding our Understanding of God's Love, or An Invitation to Apostasy

Silence

The following review is about twice as long as one of my regular posts. The importance of Endo’s work and the message it conveys require this more thorough treatment.

Silence, the most famous of the historical novels by Shusaku Endo, has been making waves since its original publication in 1966. A number of adaptations have surfaced, including the 1971 film Chinmoku, an opera by the same title, and a film by Martin Scorsese, titled Silence, and slated for release in November, 2016.

Story Summary

The story traces the slow painful descent of its central character, a Portuguese Jesuit priest named Sebastian Rodrigues, into the despair of suffering for the sake of Christ in 17th century Japan without the consolation of His voice, or a sense of His presence. Rodrigues and his fellow priest, Fr. Frncisco Garrpe have been sent to Japan to investigate the reported apostasy of a Jesuit priest named Ferreira, who has been serving there for more than thirty years.

Rodrigues and Garrpe are captured by Inoue, the magistrate of Chikugo. Inoue is an ancient samurai who delights in torturing Christians to pressure them to apostatize. The two missionaries are forced to watch Japanese believers being drowned, or hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled to death for their faith. Rodrigues’s idealized faith is shaken: Where is God in the midst of their intense suffering? Why does He refuse to speak? Where is the glory in such suffering?

Fr. Ferreira, who had indeed apostatized, tells Rodrigues that he can end the suffering of the Christians who are being tortured by publicly trampling on a fumie, a carved image of Christ.

Spoiler Alert – I’m about to reveal the climactic moment in the book. Stop reading if you intend to read Silence and don’t want to know how things turn out.

Rodrigues has no trouble suffering for his own faith, but he is haunted by the prospect of causing others to suffer by refusing to apostatize. As he looks upon the fumie, his foot aching at the prospect of trampling the divine image, and with the moans of agony rising from the throats of Christians ringing in his ears, Christ speaks to him from the image:

“Trample. Trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

Rodrigues places his foot on the fumie, saving the Christians. Later, Rodrigues comes to know a deeper love of Christ than would have been possible apart from his apostasy.

Review

Endo’s Christ is, despite His silence through most of the book, no passive observer of suffering, but an active participant in the suffering of those who follow Him.

Endo addresses the significant question, “is apostasy ever justified, and if so, why?

Endo’s Christ explicitly commands Rodrigues to deny Him publicly. But His reason isn’t so that the other Christians might be saved through his apostatizing. His reason is that He came into the world to be trampled and so to share the pain of those who deny Him. There is a difference between the suffering Servant who endures suffering on behalf of the sheep, and a divine Masochist who seeks out suffering for the sake of sharing in the fellowship of pain, and yet remains silent and inaccessible to those suffering in His name. Endo alludes frequently to Judas in the character of Kichigiro, a cowardly, weak, and despicable man – but also a dark hero. Kichigiro is one without whom Rodrigues might never have come to know the deeper love of Christ.

The Gospel According to Judas (a late third century Gnostic text) depicts Judas as a misunderstood hero in the passion narrative. He betrays Christ because Christ commands him to. In Silence, Endo paves the way for the message in The Gospel According to Judas (Endo had no knowledge of it since Silence was written in 1966, while TGATG didn’t surface until the 70’s). He suggests through his protagonist, Rodrigues that, when the Lord Jesus says to Judas, “What you must do, do quickly,”  he tacitly endorses his betrayal. This view of Judas as hero agrees with message of The Gospel According to Judas. But if Judas was a hero in the biblical passion narrative, why then would Jesus say of him, “it would have been better if he had never been born” (Matt. 26:24)?

Endo suggests that our devotion to Christ is not only negotiable in the face of suffering (ours or our fellow Christians), but is morally ironic. Endo’s message seems to be, “rather than stand fast, I must deny Christ in order to allow Him to fulfill His ongoing mission of suffering in and through His followers.” But dare we, who claim to follow Him, ever, under any circumstance deny Him? No. We cannot apostatize in order to enter into a deeper appreciation of the Lord’s suffering with us. That’s a twisted and pseudo-spiritual logic that will alienate rather than endear us to the Lord (should I “remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not!” Romans 6:1, 2a). Hebrews 6:4-6 reminds me of the consequences of apostasy. Denying Him doesn’t lead to a deeper love of Him (apart from repentance; e.g. Peter).

The cock does crow following Rodrigues’s apostatizing, but this is a different rooster than we find in Mark 14:72 or any of the other gospels. In the gospels, the rooster crowing is a herald of Peter’s denial and shame, whereas in Silence, the cock crowing signifies the fulfillment of Rodrigues’s journey toward a deeper understanding of Christ and His love via the avenue of apostasy. Did Peter deny Christ? Yes. Did he repent and was he restored to fellowship? Yes. Did Rodrigues deny Christ? Yes. Did he repent and was he restored? I see remorse along the lines of the remorse Judas experienced, but I do not see repentance – only a justification for his denial. Ultimately, he concludes, his decision to deny Christ was a good decision. A necessary one.

Finally, we must address the why of Jesus’s suffering as portrayed by Endo in contrast to one of the key reasons for Jesus’s suffering offered in the gospels. Why did Christ endure the Cross? For the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Surely, this joy constitutes more than Jesus’s anticipation of perpetual suffering, even if that suffering is shared with those who follow Him through the dark valley. Endo’s idea of the suffering Christian’s relationship with the risen Christ reminds me of St. John of the Cross and his poem, Dark Night of the Soul. But where St. John stresses the joyful experience of being led along a mystic path of purgation (first of the senses and then of the spirit) to union with God, Endo envisions no such joy, but only the hard-won knowledge of a remote and inaccessible Christ suffering with His followers. And even that knowledge seems to be limited to the priests who deny Him at His invitation. The rest of the swarms of Christians who suffer in silence are left to perish without any awareness of His comforting presence.

Christians suffer persecution knowing that Christ is with us in our suffering, but we stand fast in our faith (2 Thessalonians 2:13-16) never denying the Lord since He said, “…whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my father in heaven,” (Matthew 10:33). Remain steadfast, fellow Christian, confident in His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

“Our God approaches and is not silent” (Psalm 50:3).

Memorial Day

Why Remember?

memorial-day-remember

Every time we call up a memory, we reinvent the past. That’s one reason eyewitness accounts are so unreliable. Nobody sees the same event in the same way, and every reconstructed memory of an event adds to, or detracts from, the way things really happened. So, every time we remember something, we recreate the event. The way we remember it happening is probably not the way it actually happened.

Memory is a faulty reconstruction of our mental experiences, susceptible to being influenced by our prior knowledge, beliefs, goals, mental state, emotions, and social context. Thus, what is retrieved from memory can be substantially different from what was initially encoded, and what was encoded can also differ from what really happened. –  | May 31, 2014 False Memories – A Faulty Reconstruction

So what good are memories if they are just a jumble of subjective data points, each one influenced by an array of environmental, psychological, neurological, and emotional factors? How can we, with confidence, agree on any of the features of our memories – even memories we share with others who were there?

Facts to the rescue – simple, undeniable facts that reinforce our memories, and buttress our recollections. When we recall an event, a place, a name, we often get a number of the details wrong, but I have documented proof that I lived at 1208 Avenue U. in Lubbock Texas in 1973 – even though the city fathers paved paradise and put up a parking lot many years ago.

Facts. Numbers. Unalterable.

Sometimes, though, facts get in the way of truth. US Navy Seal, Chris Kyle, apparently had been informed prior to the publication of his best-selling book, American Sniper, that he had gotten the facts wrong regarding the number of awards he had received while on active duty as “the most lethal sniper” in the history of the U.S. military. In the book Kyle takes credit for two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor; however, unnamed Navy officers claim that he received only – only – one Silver Star and three Bronze. That discrepancy shouldn’t obscure the greater truth that he served our country with distinction, placing himself in harm’s way to an extent that few soldiers had to face.

It’s true that Kyle didn’t die while serving (he was murdered as a civilian while helping a former Marine with PTSD), and so technically, he should be officially remembered on Veterans Day (when we remember the service of all U.S. military veterans) and not Memorial Day (when we remember our vets who died while serving). That’s a fact. But it’s also like a gnat on Audie Murphy’s helmet. Inconsequential, except to those who count gnats.

Despite those facts, and despite the unreliable nature of memory, we remain grateful for the undeniable sacrifice of Chris Kyle and so many who gave their lives in service to our country. Their deaths (over one million casualties  since the Revolutionary War) inspire us to keep their memory alive – imperfect as those memories may be – and to celebrate their sacrifice every Memorial Day.

(Almost) Unoffendable

Why Ephesians 4:26 Gets in the Way of an Otherwise Great Idea

unoffendable-book-mockup

A new friend recommended Unoffendable to me three weeks ago. I downloaded the Audible recording as soon as I got home. Approximately three days later I finished it. Then I did something I’ve never done before with any book, audible or hard copy, other than the Bible and Good Night Moon. I listened to it again. The whole thing. Most of it in one sitting.

The premise of the book is simple: there’s no place for anger in the life of the Christian. Despite our natural inclination to justify our “righteous anger,” despite our compulsion to cling to the indignation that satisfies our lust for vengeance, retribution for wrongs suffered unjustly – despite all that, Brant claims there is not one verse in the Bible, not one sophisticated and theologically nuanced argument that allows for us to hold onto anger.

He points out with clarity, humor, and a healthy dose of humility (his suggested alternative to anger) that our “natural response” is biblically unjustifiable and therefore inappropriate for that very reason – it’s “natural” – i.e., fleshly, or part of the old “natural” man that we are commanded in no uncertain terms to “put away” (Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 4:31).

I want to embrace this idea. It’s a sharply defined, all-or-nothing approach to anger that appeals to my all-or-nothing personality. And Brant is right about the effect of this anger–smushing discipline: the result of refusing to be offended leads to a more peaceful life and better sleep.

But here’s the problem: Ephesians 4:26. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger,” (NET). Brant doesn’t really unpack this verse very well. As Dr. Dan Wallace points out in the NET Bible notes on Ephesians 4:26, “Although several translations render the phrase ‘Be angry and do not sin’ as ‘If you are angry do not sin,’ such is unlikely on a grammatical, lexical, and historical lexical level,” (see his article on this verse in Criswell Theological Review, 3, 1989, 352-372). Bottom line – there is such a thing as righteous anger because the Bible wouldn’t command us to do something that is unrighteous.

Brant claims that anger should never be our motivation for doing what is right. But the Bible never claims that anger should be the motivation for doing the right thing. It simply says, “Be angry, and don’t sin.” The target of our anger (sin) is important. The duration of our anger (short) is important. Anger is a reaction to sin, not a motivation to correcting the sin.

Why react to sin in anger? Because in so doing we mirror God’s righteous displeasure with sin – which we then forgive, just as Jesus forgave, and as we are commanded to do as well. If I am offendable (as God is, by the way), that doesn’t mean that I wallow in a vindictive, get-even, spirit. I acknowledge the offense, I confront the offender, I forgive the offense and I move on.

Time to Rhyme

April is National Poetry Month!

poetry-spatter

Happy National Poetry Month! And what better month to celebrate, as Webster put it,

“Writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.

Bookish, yes. But true.

April’s a month festooned with  birthdays of some of the most glorious wordsmiths the world has ever known: Shakespeare (born and died on his birthday, April 23), Hans Christian Anderson (whose fairytales read like narrative poems, April 2), George Herbert (April 3), Maya Angelou (April 4), Algernon Charles Swinburne (April 5), the late, great  country poet-songwriter, Merle Haggard (April 6), William Wordsworth (April 7), E. Y.. “Yip” Harburg  (wrote “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” April 8), Charles-Pierre Baudelaire (April 9), Seamus Heaney (Whitbread winner for his translation of Beowulf, April 13), Walter De La Mare (April 25), Robert Penn Warren (first US Poet Laureate, April 24).

This isn’t simply a list of names. These are friends, some of whom were introduced to me by my father, Max Grant.  All of whom I have read time and again. Dad was a petroleum engineer with the heart of a  scrub brush poet. When he told us bedtime stories, you never knew if you were going to get a “made up” story, a chapter out of Will James, or one of the old cowboy poems that he loved so much. I was reared in a storytelling family in South Texas. Most of the poetry I heard and learned in those early days were story poems by the likes of Robert W. Service the poet laureate of the Yukon. Poems like The Cremation of Sam McGee:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
Bi the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales,
That would make your blood run cold;

Or, The Ballad of Salvation Bill:

‘Twas in the bleary middle of the hard-boiled Arctic night,
I was lonesome as a loon, so if you can,
Imagine my emotions of amazement and delight
When I bumped into that Missionary Man.

It wasn’t until I reached high school that I graduated to Shakespeare, Angelou, and scores of poets living outside the April calendar. And yet, despite the beauty, the elegance, and perfection of more complex forms, my first love was and will always be the narrative poems of my youth. I suppose, because they were as close to story as you could get. But more importantly, there’s the warm memory of my dad reading or reciting those great cowboy poems by the fire on a winter’s night, or camping under the big oak down on the river. I think it’s the relationship with my dad more than the poems themselves that made poetry special in my life.

 Why not choose one of the April poets from the list above and really read one of their poems aloud? It doesn’t have to be long. Then share it with someone you love.

Who knows? You may even come to experience a “specific emotional response!”

Happy reading!