Does Your Life/Art [have] Matter?

“Christ said that His Kingdom – the world where He Himself reigns – is for children. He Himself said that if we don’t need a miracle we will most likely have little interest in Him. If we are able to get along joyfully in the grown-up world of supply, demand, survival, aggression, sensations, and consumerism, then we’d probably have too low to stoop and too much trimming to do to slip through that needle’s eye gateway to Him. If we aren’t sick, we don’t need a doctor. If we aren’t lost, we don’t need a leader. But, if we can admit a need, if we aren’t as all-together (as we sometimes secretly fear we’re not), if we can shed our thick-skinned self-reliance and peel off that thin veneer of satisfaction – then there is a place for us in His kingdom and a fairly fat chance that we can loosen our load and slip on through. If we can find that courage…or that honesty…if we can be needy, helpless, blessed as a child….Oh Lord, this is me calling – an adult in an adult world, needing to be a child again in a kingdom of children. O Lord – can You make me that? It will take a miracle.”

-Rich Mullins, The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of a Ragamuffin, Pp.92-93

I’m learning that life is just a seamless series of transitions and that the only way that I can find any clear direction is to look back and see my tracks from where I’ve already been. The notion of trying to look ahead and carry out some kind of plan of action for the future seems to break down when faced with the reality of how I actually live each day.

My reality, where the rubber meets the road, always turns out to be, in the words of Bono, “like a small child crossing an eight lane highway, on a voyage of discovery.”  The problem with this is that my head is always spinning, my attention is splintered and, while I’m trying to keep my fingers on everything, I end up not having a good grip on anything.

I have a great appreciation for creativity, art, and the importance of investigational or exploratory dialogue when it comes to learning about who we are as humans, the meaning of life, etc. Indeed, there is great satisfaction to be found in veiling the release of one’s frustrations and fears creatively under the veneer of a lyric, verse, or brush stroke. Song lyrics, poems, and visual works by various artists have played a significantly therapeutic role in sorting out the random potholes and more tragic highway accidents that I’ve witnessed or been a part of along this journey so far. But the realization that has settled on me today is that simple truth is sometimes the best thing there is.

I’m at a point in life where I carry enough of my own baggage without having to pay ten bucks to download an album that features the vented and hopeless baggage of somebody else. While it may just be a product of my own insecurities, my trust in others is usually thin. I fear for the future that my children will face. I find myself crumbling in frustration all too often as a result of bad decisions that I’ve made and I carry a significant load of anxiety with regard to my recognition that, as a parent, my decisions and the way that I live will have a big influence on my kids.

What I really need is a reminder that grace is here and that hope has a place here as well. I understand that struggling is normal and that, though we have God, we will still face challenges. I am thankful for the people in my life who sincerely and humbly share their daily struggles with me so that I can, at least, prayerfully support them and also find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone.

The words of folks like Brennan Manning, Rich Mullins, and Paul the Apostle carry a great deal of weight for me because of their life experiences and the ground-level view that they maintain or maintained during their time here. But, out of their struggles and mistakes, and out of those shared by friends and loved ones, hope and grace have blossomed.

As opposed to just trying to pull a fashionable and artistically painted veil over their walk, leaving a vacuum in their wake, I wish that there were more people who were willing to drop their veneers, admit their flaws, and sincerely share their struggles so that we can all make it across to the other side of this eight lane highway.

“I’ll Bet A Fiddle Of Gold Against Your Soul”

I recently read an old magazine column written by the late singer/songwriter Rich Mullins that used a fiddle as a metaphor for a man. He made the point that a fiddle is nothing more than an assemblage of materials with no power of its own to do anything but collect dust. He described the fact that a fiddle is hallow and the idea that, if a fiddle did have feelings, it would feel empty sitting in its case with nothing but stale air residing inside its wood enclosure.

On the other hand, when it is played by a skilled fiddler, a fiddle becomes a magical instrument that, on its own and without any other accompaniment, can be a source of music loud enough, melodic enough, and rhythmic enough to bring people to their feet and cause them to dance!

It is gray Sunday afternoons like this that my hope catches its breath with the thought that, though, I am like an empty, nondescript farmhouse, I still may someday be used by the Master Fiddler if He so desires.

Suggested Reading: The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of a Ragamuffin by Rich Mullins

Spaghetti Reading (part 1)

I have a couple of tendencies the seem to keep me from reading a book in a reasonable amount of time. I love reading because of what I get out of it. Unfortunately, however, because of various circumstances I tend to have at least two or three books going at a time. These are in addition to a daily devotional book and almost daily bible reading that I do. My point is that progress with any one text, with the exception of the daily devotional, is always less than steady and seldom more than slow. That being said, I did actually finish a book today. So, I felt this would be a good time to document some of the most worthwhile reading that I’ve done lately.

Over the past few years I’ve read four different books by Brennan Manning. These are in addition to Devotions For Ragamuffins which I read on a daily basis. I learned about Manning after finding a reference to him on the Myspace page of former dc Talk member Kevin Max. After reading a bit about the background of Manning on his Myspace page I decided to give him a shot and checked The Ragamuffin Gospel out of the local library. The book was the first tremor in the landslide of change that has churned inside of me over the past few years. I went on to read Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, The Importance of Being Foolish, and I recently started The Wisdom Of Tenderness. Now in his 70’s, Manning’s personal, humble portrayal of his own alcoholism and life lessons immediately appealed to me, a skilled sinner, much more than any suit behind a pulpit. Manning masterfully blends down-to-earth honesty with humility in an effort to communicate the truth about God’s grace. Grace was just an overused religious buzz word to me until I read the writing of Brennan Manning. Through Manning’s writing and speaking (I attended a retreat where he spoke in Savannah, GA in February 2007) I’ve learned to accept God’s love for me by realizing that it is not dependent upon me. All men have sinned and fallen short and nobody has any hope for salvation, but, by the grace of God. We can not earn it and nobody can take it from us if we confess our faults and realize our need for him and accept that His grace is sufficient. Of course, salvation and grace don’t carry much weight with somebody if they think that they’re doing fine on their own. But, because I knew and still know that I am a flaw-laden man, I’ve been able to realize the magnificent gift that is His unconditional love.

My interest in Brennan Manning led me to a Christian bookstore one morning where I asked if they had any of his books. While they didn’t have any, the salesperson showed me a book with the foreword written by Manning: Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing To Heaven – His Life And Legacy by James Bryan Smith.

I owned one Rich Mullins CD when I was in high school. A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band was an odd CD for me to own because most of the others in my collection had a much more adolescent spin. Mullins, on the other hand, represented a more mature, sophisticated, and less flashy Christianity compared to other Christian music that I listened to at the time (e.g., Michael W. Smith, DC Talk, Newsboys). The music that he and his Ragamuffin Band presented on that album had a unique, and beautifully folk aesthetic quality to it that was juxtaposed brilliantly with his profound, yet down to earth, lyrics. The Manning-Mullins connection exists because of the manner in which Manning’s message of grace touched Rich Mullins. A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band (the term Ragamuffin is drawn directly from Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. Songs like “Hold Me Jesus” convey a real and honest humility from the perspective of someone who truly understood our role in relation to God, our Abba.

Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing To Heaven – His Life And Legacy provided a sketch of the life of Rich Mullins sprinkled with insights, thoughts, and commentaries excerpted from interviews with Mullins and articles that Mullins wrote while he was alive (he passed away in a car accident in 1997). The life of Rich Mullins and the manner that he chose to live his daily life made his life such an interesting and inspiring story that a Rich Mullins biography can’t help but to be a worthwhile read. But what is most memorable to me are not the many accounts of things that happened in his daily life, but, how he interpreted such events and how he reacted to them. The life of Rich Mullins is a story of a dirt-in-the-fingernails life led by someone who sincerely sought God and turned his back on the glory and acclaim that was available to him as one of Christian music’s most influential and talented artists.

“Hold Me Jesus” by Rich Mullins

Spaghetti Reading To Be Featured Soon:

The Beautiful Mess, by Rick McKinley

Unfinished Work, by Kevin Max

Save Me From Myself, by Brian “Head” Welch

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

Lunatic Religion

Between the fact that I’m online a fair amount of time each day and the fact that I am a fifth grade teacher who has to do a lot of paperwork and planning, I spend a lot of time inside facing a computer. Doing so gives me the opportunity to see a lot of different images. Often, I come across a photo with a natural subject and find myself somewhat impressed by its beauty, regardless of the fact that I’m viewing a pixelated version of the real thing on a digital screen.

Fortunately, however, there are also times that I do get to be outside. It may be standing outside during car-rider duty viewing the rural scenery near the school where I work or accompanying students on the school nature trail to collect check for footprints at one of our tracking stations. Likewise, the necessities of lawn mowing and exercise also afford me opportunities to be outdoors.

Surely, not all of my moments outside are spent in rapt awe of the natural beauty that exists in nature, but, when comparing the beauty that I take in through a photo on a computer screen to an actual tree branch swaying in the wind on a breezy afternoon, there is no comparison. I am utterly convinced that no form or model devised by mankind will ever be able to fully replicate the beauty and splendor of witnessing, in person, the real, ecological and geological evidence of God in the natural world around us.

The same comparison, I believe, can be drawn between our life experiences as humans on earth and the hope that we have in life everafter. As an elementary science teacher with a very basic understanding of the scientifically-minded portholes through which we attempt to understand God’s creation, I honestly believe that the most advanced scientific theories only begin to scratch the surface of what is true about how this world came to be. No human mental construct will ever be able to fully comprehend or understand the magnitude of God. I’m not throwing out evolution or creation, but, conceding that it is an open-ended question that we may not fully understand until we are taught the truth by the one responsible for it all. If God did post all of the details of creation in Genesis, the earth itself wouldn’t be able to support the weight of the book.

Parallels, here too, can be drawn to our limited understanding of the dynamics that exist with regard to life, death, purpose, hope, and peace. From a logical and common cultural perspective, the idea that our whole justification comes from a God who became a helpless and homeless infant who would some day be executed, to the idea that, despite our vile selfishness as a species, we can live endlessly with that God, true Christianity is ludicrous! The creator of all life bent down and washed the feet of his followers, as a servant would, and instructed them then to do the same for each other. He actually wants us to kneel down in humble servitude and believe the promise that, if we accept His grace, we can live forever with him. From the perspective of your typical, independent, hard-working, pioneering American, this concept is absolutle lunacy!

As the late singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once said, “If you want a religion that makes sense, I suggest something other than Cristianity. But, if you want a religion that makes life, then, I think this is the one.”

My life doesn’t have definition and purpose because somebody was able to logically speculate the legitimacy of a scientific theory explaining how the earth came to be. My being, instead, has been infused with a faith in what I don’t and can’t fully comprehend. It is a faith that provides peace beyond understanding. My hope lies wrapped in a glorious life that even my imagination is too limited to contain.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

Eyes Have Not Seen

Are there mysteries we should know?
can I find them in a book?
will science give us answers
to the questions we make up?

Oh, Lord have mercy on my soul,
my way this faithless sight,
how my mind bends for your law
in a world of constant plight.

If we could but see it all
past these tangible things,
if we could but touch the open space
to see the horde of silent wings

And in the darkness hear a song
a song of ancient ages
and catch a glimpse of He who sat
in the middle of the angels.

Eyes have not seen,
nor ears have heard.

by Kevin Max

A Decade Has Passed: Remembering Rich Mullins

A great article highlighting some of what was great about Rich Mullins.

Christian Animal

Christianity is a strange animal. In one sense, the reality of God’s grace and the turn that he brought me to are as real as the chair that I’m sitting on. On the other hand, the line that separates sin from righteousness can become an idol that distorts faith to the point where I come unglued. The mystery that exists in how I can go from praying to fuming about an e-mail I received within the course of ten minutes completely befuddles me. Though, it is also interesting that within minutes of my realization of this personal contradiction, I came across this excerpt written by the late Rich Mullins:

“I would rather live on the verge of falling and let my security be in the all-sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some kind of pietistic illusion of moral excellence – not that I don’t want to be morally excellent, but my faith isn’t in the idea that I’m more moral than anybody else. My faith is in the idea that God and His love are greater than whatever sins any of us commit.” (Rich Mullins: His Life And Legacy – An Arrow Pointing To Heaven, Pp.156)