Poetry

I remember hearing once that poetry exists to express the inexpressible. There is so much in life that is beyond the meager grasp of imperfect language that the only way we can begin to start to think about communicating the true depth of our experiences is through art.

There is an Australian comedy band called Tripod that put out a dvd ode to Dungeons and Dragons called Tripod vs. The Dragon. It’s fun and quirky and very PG-13. It’s also extremely had to describe. It’s this stage play musical comedy shadow puppet lovesong thing that is absolutely brilliant. There’s one part in particular, though, in which there is only one way to describe moment: things just got real. Full disclosure, I’m an absolute sucker for a woman who can sing as well as she can. The woman, whose real name is Elana Stone, is playing the dragon and trying to express to the boys what she is and that if they continue on their quest she’s going to have to kill them, which she doesn’t want to do. I keep wanting to say that i’m going to put aside that this is art for a minute, but that would be putting aside the exact reason that I’m using it. It’s expressing the thing that would be flaccid if put in any other way. Which is more powerful, “I’m a dragon and I want you to heed my warning on continuing this quest,” or this:

I was made in darkest night,
Of chalky ash and children’s fright,
I do not think you know what you behold.
I was made of aching hurt,
Of fairy tales and bloody dirt,
I hope you do exactly as you’re told.

I get shivers every time I hear her sing that. The reason I do is because it speaks a deep resounding truth in a way that simple statements can not. Now, this is just a fun song about a dorky game but I think it’s a fantastic example and a stepping stone to the the more profound. What about songs and poems that are about real life and specifically about God?

Now, to side step for a second, I know that I’ve been lumping music and poetry together and I’m sure that there are those who are purists out there that would want me to keep them separated because they don’t view them as the same thing, but to me they are. The best songs I’ve heard are poems set to music, and the music itself expresses the point even further than the beautifully crafted words could ever do on their own.

I was listening to a song like that today (I told you I’m a sucker for a woman who can sing). The song haven been written for Chronicles of Narnia and knowing that Imogen Heap is, or at least was at one point, a Christian, I think that it’s a fair assumption that “Can’t Take It In” has christian meaning to it and that we can explore it from that angle.

So, the song comes at the end of the movie when the kids have come back from Narnia, which is an imperfect metaphor for heaven, and when Lucy is looking to go back through the wardrobe to it. The only way I can describe how the song speaks to me is to say that it itself is an expression of how imperfectly we can express heaven, the kingdom of God, and the love of Christ. It is perfect in it’s simplicity:

Can’t close my eyes
I’m wide awake
Every hair on my body
Has got a thing for this place
Oh, empty my heart
I’ve got to make room for this feeling
It’s so much bigger than me

[Chorus:]
It couldn’t be anymore beautiful
I can’t take it in

Weightless in love…unraveling
For all that’s to come
And all that’s ever been
We’re back to the board
With every shade under the sun
Let’s make it a good one

It’s the thing psalms are made of. “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” Everything in me, my body, soul, and every fiber of me being cries for the Lord. Even the hairs on my body cry out to be a part of this, because it’s so much bigger than I am.

And the music, oh the music. With the instrumentals and her voice, it’s like a glimpse of what sitting in the presence of God is like. And while I admire Imogen Heap for her talent, I do not mean that in a way to build her up, but to glorify what God does to my soul through her music. The music is ethereal and encompassing, soft and embracing, powerful in it’s gentleness. Have you ever heard a harmony that brought you to your knees?

I’ve come to realize that most of the music I like, and I like a wide variety of kinds, has a few common traits. It resonates. It wraps me up in a blanket of sound. It’s harmonic. It is beautiful in a way that touches me deep within my being. It makes be want to weep with joy that there is something so beautiful in this world that humans have made because how much more beautiful is being in the presence of God with songs that are able to express themselves in the purest of ways?

So, I’ve said all of that to say this: God, life, and the world we live in are all so big and complex and beautiful and inexpressible that we need art. We need music and poetry and paintings and sepia toned Instagram photos and love letters and harmonies and tears of joy that say more than any words ever could to even begin to express the bigness and the complexity of it all and what it all could mean.

May you be floored by the beauty of art in a way that makes your soul cry out that you have just seen a glimpse of the truth and may you relish in the beauty of the flawed expression that it is.

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Miracle Boy

ImageI want to tell you about my son Ronan.

Ronan was born Christmas Eve, 2009. My wife, Sarah, had been having a very rough time with the pregnancy for various reasons and we decided to induce labor. The day that was available happened to be the 23rd of December. When Ronan was born, one of the nurses noticed that his breathing was odd and that his chest was sunken in. The nurse said the most oxymoronic thing I’ve ever heard, “Dad, (parents of patents are referred to as their parental designation in children’s hospitals, which I find particularly annoying) there’s nothing to worry about but we need to get the crash cart.” Oh good. I’d hate to hear the name of the thing you get when there is something wrong.

So, Ronan had a punctured lung.

Ronan was taken to the NICU, a hole was made in his chest to let the air that had gone into his chest cavity to be released, and he was put on a ventilator to get him the oxygen his injured lung couldn’t provide.

While he was in the NICU, three other problems arose. Ronan had a line put in to provide nutrients since he couldn’t eat and he developed a blood clot in his aorta. He also had an episode of supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT, which is a medical way of saying some of his heart doodads were flimflammed which caused him to have a sped up heart rhythm (which is my way of saying I don’t remember exactly what causes SVT but I do know it is extremely high cardiac rhythm).

Because of these two things, tests were done on him and it was discovered that he was missing his Inferior Vena Cava. This, for those who don’t know, is the vein that brings deoxygenated blood back to the heart from the lower extremities. Instead of this, he has a bunch of smaller veins that do the same job, but because he doesn’t have the larger vein, some of the problems with this can come from clots that can form from surgery or dehydration. After almost a month in the NICU, Ronan was finally able to come home.

At first, Ronan had to have shots that thinned his blood to ward off clots, and he was also on a beta blocker to prevent another episode of SVT. His cardiologist eventually took him off the beta blocker and told us that his heart was fine and that the single episode of SVT was probably just a newborn thing. He was also taken off the shots when his hematologist felt that he wasn’t in danger of getting a clot.

Recently, Ronan has had to have surgery. It wasn’t caught until later and there were issues with insurance, but he finally got in. Ronan had Hip Dysplasia, which is when the ball of the hip is not formed in the socket, and for Ronan, the top of the femur was rotated and the hip was misformed, which added to the problem.

So, to say that Ronan has been through a lot in his three and a half years is an understatement, but I want to talk about how God was working through all of it.

The first thing I want to say is that with modern science and medicine, I think we overlook God working within these. How miraculous is it when we can go to a person who is sick and would have died less than a century ago and say, here, take these handful of pills over two weeks and you’ll be fine. That cancer, we’re going to zap you with radiation, and you’ll live. Life will suck for a while with hair loss and nausea, but when it’s over, you’ll live. Your lungs have all but turned to dust from a disease, so here’s a new set that Hank isn’t using anymore.

I’m both joking around and oversimplifying a bit, but seriously. When’s the last time you’ve just sat and thought about how much modern medicine has done for us? C.S. Lewis writes, “Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature,” and that, “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.”

So what is the poem?

When River was still in utero, we talked to one Sarah’s doctors about Ronan’s birth, and he told us with utter confidence that there was no real reason for Ronan to have had a punctured lung, and that it probably just happened from a hard labor. If Ronan’s lung had not been punctured, he never would have spent time in the NICU, and thus would never have either had the clot, had the SVT noticed, or thus found the missing Inferior Vena Cava. Had none of this been found, we still would have had to have put Ronan trough surgery, but he would not have gotten blood thinners again to prevent clots from blocking the way back to his heart.

The inexplicable puncturing of Ronan’s lung set off a chain of events that, at the time, were horrible things to live through both for him and us, but that in the end may have saved his life. I think this is what we talk about when a bad thing happens and we say things like, “there’s a reason for everything,” or, “God has a plan, even if we can’t see it.” I hate cliches, but sometimes they’re so true.

So, the point… Miracles happen, and they happen every day. Sometimes they happen slowly and over three and a half years, but they happen.

May you connect the dots, and may you hear the poem that our father is writing in our lives. 

What Postmodernity Means to Me

If I’m going to continue with this blog, I think that I should start at the foundation of what I’m doing. During my time at Nyack College; which was a great, whopping, one semester; I had a professor, Jacob Rosenberg, who profoundly influenced my walk with Christ. The class I took with him was Christian Foundations, and it was a class that examined the basic tenants of Christianity. During the classes, he kept reiterating an idea that can be summed up like this:

“One of the main reasons young Christians fall away from faith is because they have taken everything they learned from their grandmother’s knee at face value. This is not to devalue your grandmother’s word, but to challenge your blind acceptance of Christianity as it has been presented to you so far. Some of the things, when you challenge them and wrestle with them, will hold firm, and others will crumble like a pile of ashes. Don’t be afraid to let go of the things that don’t hold true when passed through the test, because it’s the only way you’ll grow as a Christian.”

I grew up Roman Catholic, so when I was told that I could question, in a healthy way, what I had been told, It blew my mind. Professor Rosenberg is the son of a Messianic Jewish Rabbi and he explained to me once that in the Jewish mindset, the point of the book of proverbs isn’t to accept them at face value, but to engage in discussion and debate with others to better understand the meanings. Whether you were right in your interpretation didn’t matter.

To me, this is the essence of Postmodern Christianity. Postmodern philosophy, by the way, is something completely different. So, if you know anything about it, push it out of your mind.

My friend Bill thought of it this way: Imagine if Christianity was a beautiful table crafted by Jesus himself, with wondrous designs and an impeccably smooth surface. Over the years, we, in an attempt to clean up the table, have applied a thin layer of wax to protect the wood. Every year a paper thin layer of was added, until now, 2000 years later, we have a table that is covered in wax that is so thick, we cannot see the wood anymore. It is our job to remove the wax in order to restore the original beauty of the table.

I think the apostle Thomas gets a bad reputation. The other apostles see Jesus, but Thomas, not being there, does not believe them when they see him next and recount their experience. Doubting Thomas, we call him, and it’s always with a little bit of contempt. “How could he doubt the others saw Jesus,” we say. I think, though, that Thomas had it right. Jesus warned of others who would come as false prophets, and some who claim to be the messiah. Thomas wasn’t being skeptical, he was attempting to protect himself against these false messiahs by choosing to not believe until he saw for himself. In John 20, Jesus appears to all the apostles when they are gathered and tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Jesus prompts Thomas to test! He doesn’t say to stop doubting and then he will give proof, he says to Thomas, “Touch my hands. Feel the holes? And here, my side. Remember the spear? No, I didn’t feel that one. Good, my friend. Now you have the proof you needed, and now you can stop doubting and believe that I have risen.”

These ideas, wrestling with and testing what we have accepted as Christianity so far, and putting ourselves into the mindset, language, and culture of the ancients, is the crux of Postmodern Christianity.

May we wrestle endlessly with our God and his Bible, so that we may break our hips to gain better understanding of his will and desires. May we look into the past in order to guide our future. And may we ever keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ.

Memorials

In Genesis 28, Jacob has a dream in which a stairway to heaven (insert Led Zeppelin joke) is before him with angels ascending and descending and God is above it proclaiming that he is the Lord and that he is the God of Abraham and Issac. God promises Jacob that He will give to his descendants the land Jacob is laying on, that his descendants will be like the dust and spread to the north, south, east, and west, and that the whole earth will be blessed through them. Jacob then wakes up and realizes that God had been in that place, so in the morning he takes the stone he rested his head on, stands it up, and pours oil over it.

When the nation of Israel crosses the river Jordan in Joshua 4, God commands that Joshua should choose one person from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to take a stone from the riverbed and to set them up where they camped so that whenever their descendants asked their parents about the stones, they would say that it is because the Lord had dried up the river Jordan and the nation of Israel crossed over.

For the most part, each of the Christian and Jewish holidays are in remembrance something, Christmas and Easter celebrate the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Passover commemorate when the Jewish people were liberated from being slaves in Egypt and when God passed over the the firstborn of the Israelites when He killed all the firstborn males in Egypt. Sukkot commemorates the years spent in the desert on the way to the promised land. Shavuot commemorates when God giving the Torah to the Israelites.

It is good that we remember our past. It is good that we know where we come from. What separates ordinary days and places from each other are these traditions and holidays. It is no secret that I am a pacifist (mostly… but that’s another post) so holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day make me uneasy. What I would like so say about it is that we sometimes gloss over the meanings of our holidays.

Cookouts are great and in ancient times feasts were a form of worship, especially on days of remembrance. So, as you eat on this Monday, remember that Memorial Day originated as a day to remember the fallen from the American Civil War, and later on to remember all of those who died in the service of the US Armed Forces.

Living in Community

I’ve touched on before about how Christians can sometimes see church as the point of being a Christian. As long as we go to church, we’re okay. We’re not like so and so who doesn’t even go to church. I don’t say this to come down on church or to dissuade people from going to church as it’s thought of in the traditional sense. I think that going to praise and worship in community and hear a sermon is a vital part of being a Christian, but it is not the only part of being a Christian.

Christianity is like a gem, faceted and beautiful, but each part; community, works, church proper, evangelism, etc.; these are each only one facet, and when we only focus on one, then we miss out on the whole picture.

Because modern Christianity focuses so heavily on the act of going to church, I think it misses out on the community aspect of Christianity. Paul writes a lot about fellowship and edification. Romans 12:10,13 says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality,” and in Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what lead to peace and to mutual edification.”

There are many other verses as well. 1 Cor. 1:9, 2 Cor. 6:14, Gal. 2:9, & 1 John 1:3 all talk about fellowship, both with each other and with Jesus Christ. We need connection with each other and with Jesus Christ. As for edification, Matthew 16:18, 1 Cor. 14:26, 2 Cor. 10:8 &13:10, & Ephesians 4:12-16 all talk about the building up of each other.

So, why the emphasis on fellowship? Because we are communal creatures. Our connection with Jesus Christ and each other matters. I know that if I am left alone to my own devices, I would probably end up holing myself up just playing video games and eating junk food and wondering what was wrong with me when I ended up depressed. I remember when I was growing up, I didn’t have many friends, but that was my own fault. I had such low self-esteem that I thought that no one wanted to hang out with me, so I did just what I described before, and on top of that, I didn’t learn any social skills. It was bad. I would make the most inappropriate jokes and say the strangest things. When I became friends with Matt and Bill, they came up beside me and lovingly beat the social skills into me.

I think community in Christ can be for similar reasons. We are called into community (fellowship) with Jesus, and each others, so that we can learn from the Holy Spirit and our community with each others keeps us in check so that we do not fall into idolatry, worshiping false gods such as the world, money, food, Apple products, fast cars, and expensive jewelry. Community is there to challenge us and to lift us up. Community comes together to sing hymns of praise, instruct, teach, and helps each other along the path that we walk.

Community is like a mirror that shows us who we are. If you didn’t have a mirror, you wouldn’t know if your hair was out of place, or if you still had that spinach in your teeth. In the same way, community shows us where we are going astray, either in good or bad ways. Community challenges us to come to Jesus with our sins, it encourages us to pursue our gifts, natural and spiritual, it comforts us when the world starts falling in, and it helps feed and care for us when we are unable to.

Acts 4:32-37 epitomizes this. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

Community is not communism, by the way. Communism is a social structure in which the collection and redistribution of wealth is mandated, but in community, it is done in love and in the desire to share and ensure that those who are in real need are taken care of.

Now it’s your turn. What does community mean to you? How did you experience community in your church? How did your church perhaps lack in community? How has that community been expressed outside of weekly church service?

May we come to fellowship with the Lord that he may bring us closer to him and to each other in love, that we may challenge each other and build each other up, to speak into each others lives in such a way that we grow closer in Christ.