Friday, June 15, 2007

A Fearless Finder of Words...

I really loved this quote.
"The poet's job is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in such a beautiful way that people cannot live without it, to put into words those feelings we all have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name. The poet's job is to find a name for everything: to be a fearless finder of the names of things: to be an advocate for the beauty of language, the subtleties of language."

-- Jane Kenyon, poet, A Hundred White Daffodils (Greywolf Publishing)

I think that to some degree, all Christians are called to be poets - fearlessly finding words about Jesus that deeply impact those who hear them. Walter Brueggemann, who I met with on sabbatical, constantly stresses that the only words that can really convey God are poetic words. God cannot be reduced to principles and propositions...the only words that do Him justice are poetry.

Kenyon's quote and Brueggemann's ideas inspired me to write this...
One Day...

Humor the begging poet
Gathering his word scraps,
Envisioning a feast.

For one day
When your cup of reason breaks
You may find yourself hungry
Longing for his table.

Words about God should touch us deeply and change us. What an honor and responsibility to share those types of words with the world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ever been misunderstood?

Here's another poem I've written.

"What you tried to say"

A word is just a bucket
That you fill with what you mean
An unusual transaction
Not as simple as it seems

For when you pass that bucket
To another on the way
They drink up what they think you mean
From what you tried to say

Further thoughts that may get me in trouble...

Wow, my blog entry (and the discussion that has ensued...both online, via email, and in person) sure has stirred my thinking. My nephew Matt (who is articulate, intelligent, and one of the few people I would support in a run for the President of the US) took some time to write about the history of "The Pledge." It was very educational. He writes,
"Your conflict over pledging allegiance to the flag is not really a new phenomenon. The Jehovah's Witness' have always said that such an action conflicts with their faith. They claim that it creates a graven image and cite the book of Exodus. There was a lot of hoopla about this in the 1940's and the Supreme Court of the US handed down several opinions regarding the rights of Americans not to salute the American flag or say the pledge.

Initially the Court held that Jehovah's Witnesses should be required to salute the flag or pledge to the flag (Gobitis decision), but it later overturned this ruling in West Va Board of Education v. Barnette. In these decisions the Court came to in the end, I think, the right decision. First, it held that people do not have to recite the pledge, but second that the purpose of the pledge was never to supersede any religious commitments. This decision was furthered a couple of years later when the words "under God" were added into the pledge. I think the reasoning of why these words were added is also worth considering in describing the purpose and scope of the pledge of allegiance.

The story goes that President Eisenhower was initially opposed to the phrase "under God" being added to the pledge until he had a conversation with a pastor about the issue. The pastor told him that in the current pledge nothing differentiated us from the Soviets or any other pagan nation. He basically voiced the same concerns that you had, that we're pledging allegiance to a nation and not to our sovereign God whose provision has sustained our nation, an admittedly legitimate concern. This one conversation changed Eisenhower's perspective, and several weeks later (on Flag Day ironically enough) he signed into law this important change to the pledge of allegiance. I think that the words that Ike spoke on that day are significant as well. He said that:

'From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. '

He also later wrote that:

'These words ["under God"] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.'

Eisenhower even labeled the pledge as a "public prayer." I go through all of this to show that the pledge of allegiance was not intended to be an open profession of allegiance to only the United States of America or to the actions of its government. It was never purposed to show unwavering support for the whims of men and women in America's government, like the current war in Iraq. That's never been and should not be the purpose of it. If it was, I would not pledge allegiance to it. A perspective such as this ignores the rich history of our country and this simple pledge. This voluntary pledge recognizes that our nation exists because of God and under God. It says that we have the freedom we enjoy and take for granted because of God. It acknowledges our nation's reliance on God. And most importantly, it recognizes God's provision for our nation and asks for His continued care. The history of the pledge is to me amazing.

I agree that the meaning of the pledge has been lost by many in the move to be politically correct. Most people have forgotten the true history of our pledge completely. But the pledge is what you make it to be. I think the Gobitis Court said it best when it wrote that "there is no doubt that, in connection with the pledges, the flag salute is a form of utterance...(but) a person gets from a symbol the meaning he puts into it." Thus, I personally have no problem saluting my flag for the simple reason that the salute reaffirms that my nation is itself "under God." Thus my religious commitments are not superseded by this statement, but are instead strongly confirmed. When I say my pledge to my country, I am expressing not only my love for my country, but I'm also acknowledging that the freedom that I so enjoy comes only through my Saviour's grace and love. The history of this pledge is so telling."

See, I told you he was amazing. And while I really don't want to talk much more about the pledge (I won't discuss it here after this), I give you the following paragraph in order to clarify some of the questions raised from the last blog. I am begining to understand that for many, the pledge is what you make it, and that history has much to say to that. The danger for me comes in that for many others, it’s also what they make it to be. In any communication, meaning is determined to a great degree by those who hear the communication. When the rest of the world sees the church pledging allegiance to the flag of the US, we should probably not be surprised that they draw some unusual conclusions in regards to what Christianity entails. I think my jealousy for the use of words (See my blog entry on that issue) is one of the things that makes me uneasy with the pledge. Eisenhower realized, thanks to some counsel, that apart from the phrase “under God”, the pledge was no different than any other secular oath. My fear is that the balance of the pledge comes to shape what “under God” means. In a nutshell, I think that if the pledge is to be a prayer for our country, then I would prefer to pray it to God, not begin by affirming my allegiance to a flag that has a huge diversity of "meanings" to people around the world. It’s interesting that this issue rose to the top, as it was such a small part of the blog that I wrote.

READER ALERT - I am about to venture into what I call "thinking out loud"! These are statements and questions that are floating around in my head at this time. You may not agree with these ideas...but guess what? I may not either. This blog is a way of helping me sort them through. I'd love to hear your perspectives (Especially you Kimberly Clark people) so feel free to comment below. It will help me in the process to hear from you. Now...back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The blog surfaced out of my internal conflicts arising from living in the US again. I often feel like someone who has brought a non-Christian to church for the first time. As you sit with your guest you begin to see the rituals and the traditions from a whole new perspective. You may even wonder if some of the things we do in church actually make it harder for new comers to understand and discern why we are there. In a similar way, my time outside the US has challenged my thinking. Many of my Canadian non-Christian friends have a very warped view of Christianity largely because of what they see as the amalgamation of Christianity and government in the US. That makes me (in my discussions with them regarding Jesus) quick to define Christianity apart from being an American. To my dismay, I have realized anew that there is a growing effort in the US to link the two. From a Canadian perspective, a church endorsing (even implicitly) the killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians (some say hundreds of thousands) in order to maintain freedom (which is often equated to freedom to worship or economic prosperity), it seems that we are little different from the fundamentalists Muslims who will kill to advance their faith.

As I have written before (see here and here), I am very concerned about the use (and overuse) of words. I think that often we speak too quickly. We don’t understand the intricacies of meaning. We adopt words because we have assigned a meaning to them and we assume that others assign the same meaning. One word that I have come to wonder about lately is the word “freedom”. What does it mean? It is used repeatedly in America. We are fighting for freedom. We are free. We want others to be free. But what does that mean? Does it mean freedom of opportunity? Does it mean economic prosperity? Does it mean personal autonomy, or at least greater autonomy than would exist in other places?

And how does it relate to the Biblical use of the word? “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NIV) Is the freedom that the Bible speaks of related to the freedom that Americans mean when they say “Freedom isn’t free”? Are we commanded as believers to pursue freedom, and if so, what type of freedom should we pursue? If we are free, does that mean that we have been given this freedom as a blessing from God? What about others who aren’t free? Have they not been given the same blessing? Why not? Is our “freedom” a result of spiritual obedience? Have others been disobedient? The early church had no freedom like that of present day America, is that a significant fact?

I have concern that we have accepted the word "freedom" without critically thinking about what it means. Let me give you one of the implications of this that troubles me personally. If by freedom we mean some combination of opportunity and prosperity, does our freedom give believers a right to kill (or to support killing) in order to defend it?

How do we approach this issue of “our freedom” without wrestling with the words of Jesus, “…take up your cross…lay down your life…”? I think one of the major problems in working through these ideas is the difference between “Empire” and “The Kingdom of God”. (For a really good introduction to the tension between Kingdom and Empire you should listen to my brother Mike talk about it here.) I fully believe that an Empire should, at times, fight. I think the US was (to some degree) morally justified in entering Afghanistan. And I do greatly treasure the freedoms that I have in this "Empire" and count as EXTREMELY precious the lives that were given to allow my freedoms. The Kingdom of God, however, calls me to lay down my rights (and even my freedoms) so that the Kingdom may expand into the lives of others. I think it’s fair to say that the Kingdom has never been advanced by the Empire’s use of force. That’s why the church needs to be ever vigilant when it comes to endorsing the means of Empire. We have to work within the Empire, and we have to seek the good of the Empire. A example of this was the Jewish exile in Babylon. They were commanded to pray for and to seek the prosperity of Babylon. The challenge comes when the Empire agenda and the Kingdom agenda collide.

This puts believers in a very difficult position, especially ones who are called to play a leadership role in the Empire (like my nephew). I’m not sure how all that plays out and I guess I’m excited to watch him walk that journey…so I can learn (His passion for politics is only surpassed by his passion for Jesus).

I will admit that I’m glad that’s not my calling. At the same time, however, I am very thankful that it is his.

P.S. If you don't like my lack of concrete answers in this post please reread the disclaimer that I make in the upper right hand corner of my blog...

"I fully realize that I've not succeeded at answering all your questions. Indeed I feel that I've not answered any of them completely. The answers I have found only work to raise a whole new set of questions which only lead to more questions - some of which we weren't even aware were problems in the first place. To sum up -- in some ways I feel that we are as confused as ever, but I do believe that we are confused on a higher level and about more important things." (Unknown)

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Triple Header...

Okay, some of you may find this a little unusual, but we went to church 3 times yesterday. It was awesome. Our first service was at what has been our home church here - Shades Mountain Independent. We are part of an amazing Sunday School Class and the kids just love their classes too. It's so nice to hear them chattering after class about how much they learned and how much they enjoyed it. For the Worship Service the Sr. Pastor was away. The Worship/Music Pastor preached. He always does an amazing job by bringing together a choir, orchestra, and soloists in a worshipful way, but who would have known he's an awesome preacher too. His name is Kevin Moore and the sermon is really worth should show up here eventually. He used a great example of showing mercy...see the video clip here.

After church we grabbed lunch and did some shopping, and then made our way to Red Mountain Church for the 4:00 pm service. We heard about this church due to its music. For some samples go here. They only sing old hymns (like 1800's old) but have set them all to very contemporary music. They are also very liturgical, which provides for a clear focus during worship. We loved it as well.

From there we headed back to Shades Mtn. for the evening prayer service. An amazing day. All this week the kids are either volunteering or participating at Day Camp/Vacation Bible School at Shades Mtn. While we're happy to call GBC home, there are some awesome churches in Birmingham!!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Love this bumpersticker...

If you don't know who Lucy Pevensie should find out!

Immerse Me in Your Story, God.

Update (6/11/07)- My wife wants me to add that I wrote this...and since she's so pretty I will comply. Hope you like it...(Jeff)

Immerse me in your story God.
From tempting fruit and serpent’s lies.
To Abraham with knife held high
And heart that longs to die.

Fill me with the joy he knew
When ram was laid upon the stone
Isaac journeyed with Him home
To Sarah’s laughing smile

Immerse me in your story God
Shepherd boy ascends to throne
Giant killer, five smooth stones
Your power through the weak

How beautiful the twist of plot
From lustful king to heart like yours
Broken vessel from which you pour
Yourself – in poet’s prayers

Immerse me in your story God
The prophets ate your book and said
Words to those who wished them dead
Who often got their wish

In death they told your story well
What others didn’t want to see
A prophet saw with clarity
My hope - To have their eyes

Can these bones live?
You know, O Lord, they can.

Your WORD has come, and story told
A story quiet, story free
Life from death, sweet irony
Renewing all who hear

Far more than words on page, in air
They aren’t just heard, they shape
Add to me as well as take
Like breath to dead bones giv’n

A story told with joyful pain.
Describing who I am to be, undoing, captivating me
The me my dark eyes can’t yet see
The me you’re telling me to be

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Not just's suicide.

Anyone who writes can appreciate the beauty of a well turned phrase. There is something powerful about the way words are put together. Recently I've been listening to a song by Derek Webb (we saw him live here). It's called "This too shall be made right." There is a strong prophetic edge to this song. It cuts to the core of the way we live our lives and yet pulls back the curtain on hope...this too shall be made right. That's why we long for the Kingdom. Here's the lyric...the music and his voice add to the effect. It's worth buying the song from Itunes...

people love you the most for the things you hate
and hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
people judge you on a curve and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
this too shall be made right

children cannot learn when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber and children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
this too shall be made right

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
we say we’re just trying to stay alive but it looks so much more like a way to die
this too shall be made right

there’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives a time for hunger and genocide
this too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who i choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life and that’s not just murder it’s suicide
this too shall be made right