Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Swing

I was about to begin with, “remember when we were kids and loved to swing at the playground?”  Then I remembered that some haven’t grown up yet and the swing has as much attraction now as it did when we were six. Anyway, remember when we loved to swing? That thick black plastic strip could heat up to nuclear temperatures in summer, but that didn’t stop us, did it? Ok, the heat made us think twice about the slide, but not the swing. The swing seat could be flipped over and it would not burn our bottoms so bad. We could tolerate hot swing seats on our butts, but not that summer sun-baked slide. Young Elementary School teachers would run and scream for us to avoid the slide—but we were too small to question the wisdom of the slide in the first place. How many years of sliding did it take until slides became shorter and made of plastic that gets no cooler in the summer sun? And then they put those bumps and ridges in to slow the descent, causing our little ones to burn their buns on the way down?

Anyway, remember when we loved to swing? We would grab the chain, one in either hand, give a little kick down in the rut carved out by other swingers and start pumping our legs, leaning backward and forward, up and down, higher and higher. Sure was fun then, or now, depending on whatever keeps a kiddie state of mind in some . . .  kids.
When it comes to writing, I feel as if I am on a swing and the ride is not as pleasant as the one in the playground when we were six. When I free write, the creative side of my brain kicks in and the words flow; but, if there is a mistake, the other side of my brain kicks in and makes the correction. This causes the technical side to swing over, even override the creative side. I swing back and forth between creative flow and the technical.

The fact that I write this on a computer makes the ride worse. As much as I enjoy writing on the computer, I also enjoy writing in notebooks but the reason I don’t write in notebooks is that I like a final product. And my handwriting is atrocious. I don’t like drafts. I should like them, but I don’t. Drafts are maps, showing “you are here and this is where you need to go.” A final draft means “arrival” but the journey has only begun. Computers tempt the transporter effect.

Writing on the computer wreaks havoc on the creative side because of the auto editor, for one. Sure I drop a typing error and backspace or misspell a word and have to correct it but I try not to correct to keep the flow going (I am free writing this now), keeping the creative tap open. I try to kill my inner editor, but by inner editor like a zombie awakened by the auto editor eats at my brain, a zombie that wants to swing. Words are underlined with red squiggles because the programs dictionary does not recognize the word, not because the word is misspelled. These optical clues send a distress call to my inner zombie editor, causing it to moan and reach out for correction. Green squiggle lines under phrases show me the sentences the computer program does not like. “Fix this”. Too bad.
When I am finished, I might go back and edit what I’ve written and will probably make a few changes. Perhaps by the time you read this, I will have edited and you will never know what was corrected or changed. That is what happens when the creative flow is shut off and the other side of the brain kicks in. I can no longer be creative when thinking technically. The ride is over.

Starting with a warm up of free writing gets the flow going and is not to be shut off until creativity is exhausted. Unlike the swing we can’t jump on the seat and just sit there. Who were friends with kids who just sat on the swing? “Get off and let me ride!” we screamed. Nor can we can’t say we are swinging when we kick out and remain suspended in mid air. Sure, it would be downright weird if that were to happen and might draw a crowd, but physics will not allow it.
I concede: the fun of swinging is the ride back and forth. Perhaps when my writing get stronger, I will enjoy the ride a little more between creativity and the technical but right now, switching back and forth is too much like work to have much fun. That zombie kid needs to go away. He’s creepy.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Beginning of the Gospel

Like a string of firecrackers on the Fourth of July, the Gospel of Mark strings together very a concise and very explosive account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel opens with quite a pop: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

When Mark was inspired to write this gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ had already been crucified, resurrected and ascended back into heaven. Reading through the book of Acts one is able to grasp what the world was like as the news of Jesus and His followers spread. Today there are many ideas about who Jesus is and what He did and the same was true in the ancient world. Mark wants his readers to know unmistakably who Jesus is, and this is what he means by “the beginning of the gospel.”
The way  “gospel” is used today is not the same as in the ancient world. Presently, we underscore the trustworthiness of a testimony as “the gospel truth.” We describe the integrity of a friend as “gospel.” Mark borrows a familiar word from the culture to say something new. The cultural understanding referred to good news about the Roman emperor, particularly the savior god of the imperial cult. They would refer to “the gospel of Caesar.” Mark introduces a new meaning, “the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” The good news just got better because of the person of the gospel!

So, who is Jesus? Who is the person of this gospel? Mark explains Him with short, explosive statements. He is a person of time and space and the whole world has been reeling since He came. Even the enemies of Jesus can’t discount that Jesus was an actual historical person and not a mythological daydream. His is a human story. I met a very old man who surprised me with his understanding of Jesus, describing him as “the power of God Himself,” an impersonal idea that makes energy. This is why he wore a cross, to direct the Jesus energy around himself. This is the reason Mark writes concerning Jesus. He is a real person.
He is called “Christ.” This is not his last name. His mother and father were not “Mr. and Mrs. Christ.” The word comes from the Greek, “Xristos,” meaning, “anointed one,” implying God’s selection for kingship. This is borrowed from the Hebrew, “Messiah.” While Caesar may be the king of the known world at the time of Mark’s writing, what would be the implication concerning Jesus to the original audience? Do you have the right concept of Jesus? Mark wants to make certain we have the right understanding concerning Jesus.

Jesus is called “Son of God.” A question heard often is “how can Jesus be God’s son?” The ancient world understood what the present does not. “Son of God” is the Messiah’s title and does not refer to “father” and “offspring.” The term means that God stepped into time and space in this person and this is the subject of the gospel, the person of whom Mark will write.
The truth of the good news, is centered on the historical person of Jesus who reigns as king and Savior, God Himself.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Death Comes Unexpectedly?

In the middle of life it happens that death comes and measures a man. The visit is forgotten and life continues. But the suit is made, quietly.” (Thomas Transtromer, Swedish Poet)

Many of us remember that scene of Karl Malden acting as Reverend Ford in the 1960 movie "Polyanna," preaching an abridgement of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

This powerful message reminds us of the suddenness with which death comes, and Transtromer reminds us that death has already sized us up.

"The Universe does not know we are here," Harlan Ellison says. It just grinds on and on and on and we are in the midst of the machinery--just don’t get caught in the mechanism. The Universe is not a personality; but, as Ellison echoes Twain in another assumption: something is wrong with the Universe! What is wrong is death. Did God make a screwed up machine? Is God a monster? If so, then why is the Universe still idolized? Death was not part of God’s design but a consequence of a decision made in response to The Creator (Ellison and others admit there is a Creator, they just doesn’t like it when He speaks). Now, death is here sizing us up and quietly making what is coming to each and every one of us.

Strange how we say death is sudden or unexpected when each person knows their day is coming. We say it is unexpected because we would rather not face death. One-time events like this are difficult to comprehend; yet, our life began with a one-time event and we have no difficulty (in a manner of speaking). Since birth, life has become fixed around culture and tradition and idea and relationships and practice and doctrine and survival, which ultimately leads to THAT end, at the end. How can we not see it coming?

There are proper and improper ways of viewing death. Every proper way, no matter what culture dictates, acknowledges its presence. John Donne reminds us when we lay down to rest or sleep we foreshadow what is coming, the day approaching when we will lay down and not rise up again. Donne also reminds us death is not to be feared, so death has no reason to be proud for a day is coming when death itself will die. That in itself is a marvelous truth and should be a release.

Death was not included in the design of the Universe, so within the Universe death too, will come and go. Death will become history, a memory not mourned but celebrated as a defeated foe.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Quick Look Back

I should like to imagine for a moment what I would be if I were not busy being what I am at this moment. This is not the place I intended to be in many respects (geographically, professionally, spiritually, emotionally, etc.) and though I am able to accept where I am at present, and knowing how I got here, I can say “this” was not my intention; but is better than I imagined.

Don’t get me wrong. I like where I am now and there are not many opportunities in the world today that make such a place possible. I like the quiet, but I also like helping people and I like being busy. I like academics and reading and study. I get to do all this and many combinations of all of the above; but, this was not my plan.

Long ago, way back in the back, back, back part of my mind was an inkling of a writer in me. While I enjoy the exercise, I daresay I am far from being a writer (the saying is that one is not a writer until he or she is told one is a writer). I suppose I would pound or scratch my fingers to nubs. Maybe someday. Tomorrow perhaps. My dream growing up was to be a musician, an orchestral conductor.

I was in love with music once. Deep passionate love. Once upon a time, I lived music. I closed my eyes at night and watched as musical notation floated in negative through the dark. My personal "Fantasia." I sat in a quiet room and sensed orchestral strains and rhythmic refrains echoing through the silence. My right thumb was flattened from holding the cello bow and the tips of my fingers creased and calloused from the strings.

Let me be clear: not any music. Classical orchestral, from Renaissance through Baroque, though the “standard” composers are present as well (I loathe referring to them as “standard,” for the record). This music is alive.

The sun rises and rivers flow as Grieg and Smetana describe. Vivaldi announced the seasons. Beethoven captured the sound of the moon. Bach falls before the Majesty of God and no one weeps like Barber. Who is as humorous as Mozart? Wagner grasped dark and Handel displayed light! Holst, the music of the spheres.

Consider for a moment what it takes to produce these sounds: heart and soul. Think not of these as two separate entities but one. As we say we are “good and hungry” to describe the greatness of our hunger, so “heart and soul” means the whole person. It is one thing to view the dots on the page and reproduce what spilled from the brain pan of the composer. It is another to fill space with another perspective on viewing a thing.

Look at the instruments and how they are an extension of the person: strings, winds and percussion (in no particular order). These are the bones, sinew, flesh, breath and heartbeat of music. Even the piano (a percussion, not a stringed instrument) has a place, albeit, an odd one (in my own world, I would release Dr. Terwilliker from his dungeon once in a while; otherwise we would have no “Pines of Rome”).

My instrument is the cello. I should say “was,” but that’s another story for another time. One embraces the cello, against the heart. The person disappears into the instrument from which are drawn the depths and heights of all emotion and mood, breath and movement. The violin and viola rest under the chin and are part of the face, expressive. The bass turns even the smallest who mount into a giant.

Winds make their sound with life-giving air. Of the woodwinds, the oboe and bassoon are the most difficult on the head.

Percussion is the heart, and one can feel the pulse in every phrase. Blood moves with rhythm.

Take all these together and in their various parts construct a body that for the eye to enjoy must be showered, shaved, tuxedoed, dressed and coiffed. Otherwise, only a structure fills the stage. One does not appreciate a painting by viewing the staples and nails stretching and holding the canvas. This body will produce sound that requires imagination to interpret and understand.

Then there is the one who stand with his back to the crowd. He is God’s man on earth instructing the sun if but for a moment, gliding the swan, thundering over Black Mountain. He is the one who gives reason to weep, tickles into laughter, draws out wonder from the things we cannot see, hear, touch or taste.

This was where I was going.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where To Go From Here?

I’ve been in all these Southern United States and nearly forgot one trip to Wisconsin when a small child. Other than the sunflowers, I don’t remember much as I slept my way through three other states. I will never forget the sunflowers but could not say if they were in Iowa or Illinois. Regardless, I’ve never seen so many in my life. I disctinctly remember listening to Neil Diamond on the radio singing some song blue and Donna Fargo (or was it Tanya Tucker?) pop her foot in the whole USA.

I’ve made a couple of trips out of the states: the Grand Cayman islands (just as they were beginning the tourist boom about thirty years ago) and Africa.

Airport agencies today add so much quality to the overall travel experience, one find difficulty deciding where to go by plane. Getting fire-hosed by CNN or Fox News or Headline News at each gate makes my confidence soar while waiting for flights, catching up on the latest in terrorism. Thank you, Dallas, for not choosing the Big Brother d├ęcor; ; however, since your passengers are disinclined to be distracted by the looping headlines, simple communication with your passengers regarding small things like oh, I dunno, maybe flight delays--would be copacetic. I met one fellow in Dallas who after a short time had me convinced by his accent he was South African. Turns out he was English and lived in Texas so long he sounded Australian. He does a better South African, but what do I know? The short time we talked our flight had been delayed without the smallest interruption by so much as speaker static.

My list of travel options is clearly marked with a burn, the scorch of the Ponderosa marks the place where “trains” should be found. Trains are not on my list. Now, the “Cinders and Smoke” coal-fueled steam engine tour dragging tourists from Durango to Silverton is a worthy venture, but this is not quite travel. No, nothing compares to the Amtrack disaster of 1985. You won’t find this one in the headlines, but it was enough to make this globe-hopper reconsider the tracks as an option for travel. The overnighter to LA was agreeable (truthfully, the whole trip could have gone un-gone), but the overnighter back as exciting as an arrow in the knee (that’s right, I said it). Long story short: I spent the night in the baggage compartment with a throwing-up slimsey jackaroo visiting from Down Under. Oh, no! That’s not the bad part. The bad part was Coach and that’s all you need to know.

My wife grew up in bus station. Her father operated the Trailways bus depot in Gallup, New Mexico for more than 20 years. My dad sent me down to the Trailways station once to send a package (for some reason, the bus went where UPS could not—probably the standard desert distances as those found in New Mexico and Arizona put the address outside the UPS route). This was the first time I met my future father-in-law. Neither of us had the foresight that such a relationship was on our schedule at the time. My wife may not be bothered if the bus was travel option (I’m not going to volunteer it) though I am confident she may find another mode of transportation, should one be required.

This may sound strange, but I can’t think of a better place I would like to visit than “home.” I miss our town. Then we can go to Tristan Da Cahuna or the Polynesian Islands, ok sweetie?

Monday, January 23, 2012


"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. This doesn't happen much, though."  (J.D. Salinger, "The Catcher in the Rye)

I once read somewhere that writing a book is the closest a man will ever come to delivering a child. The source is correct. This particular contribution will not turn out to be a book of any size despite the amount of labor that goes into writing it. Nevertheless, it is still close enough to child delivery. Permit me for a moment to stain this page with the blood and water of this effort.

Composition is a fascinating exercise, allowing one to speak to a page for an audience of one or millions, for old times’ sake or for all time or for a waste of time. The reasons are myriad why one would write and while one may today say, “this is the reason I write,” he may find another reason tomorrow or none at all. Perhaps he may reflect and embarrassed, decide yesterday’s reason for writing was no reason at all. One can only imagine how he must view the child of his imagination. 

One reason for writing is finding voice. Many exercises exist to help one find a voice. I hope to find my own someday. Those with voice often speak just as they write and these writers are audible in their penned words: John Lithgow and Harlan Ellison write as they speak. Poe and Twain take a mere pinch of imagination, but they can be rendered. Can you discern Steinbeck, Dickens, Hemingway, and Melville as they speak? Then there are some whose voice cannot be heard (Patterson and Clancy come to mind) and the myriads who have simply lost theirs. 

Yet, look at all those children! Consider all those words, captured, frozen. Each one tell of its sculptor who, well their passions read, stamped on lifeless pages hands that mocked and hearts that fed.

Writing is one way to fulfill the design of The Creator with intention. He created with language, so we who are made in His image, are creative with language; but, writing is much more than simply arranging words on a page. Writing is communication (at the least) and expression (at the most). Here is the peak of creativity. My greatest personal and greatest challenge is to communicate in ways un-typical. I may be predictable, but here on the page, I cannot be. Why would I desire to write the same as everyone else? I don’t want to be read the same as everyone else—I would have no voice! Creativity is a unique contribution, as far as human effort is concerned and will allow.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Advance Warning

I am considering taking this blog on an adventure by redirecting the content that will be posted. Not certain how long I will be on this journey.

I will be working through some writing excercises, so if you read something that is less "devotional" or "spiritual," don't be alarmed. I do have a broader range of interests you know, so have a little fun with me. "Loosen up!" they tell me.
Should you desire to keep reading, I appreciate any and all feedback!

George Bernard Shaw on Children

"If you treat it [a child] as a little wild beast to be tamed, or as a pet to be played with, or even as a means to save you trouble and to make money for you (and these are our commonest ways), it may fight its way through in spite of you and save its soul alive; for all its instincts will resist you, and possibly be strengthened in the resistance; but if you begin with its own holiest aspirations, and suborn them for your own purposes, then there is hardly any limit to the mischief you may do. Swear at a child, throw your boots at it, send it flying from the room with a cuff or a kick; and the experience will be as instructive to the child as a difficulty with a short-tempered dog or a bull . . . .

There is a point at which every person with human nerves has to say to a child 'Stop that noise.' But suppose the child asks why! There are various answers in use. The simplest: 'Because it irritates me,' may fail; for it may strike the child as being rather amusing to irritate you; also the child, having comparatively no nerves, may be unable to conceive your meaning vividly enough. In any case it may want to make a noise more than to spare your feelings. You may therefore have to explain that the effect of the irritation will be that you will do something unpleasant if the noise continues. The something unpleasant may be only a look of suffering to rouse the child's affectionate sympathy (if it has any), or it may run to forcible expulsion from the room with plenty of unnecessary violence; but the principle is the same: there are no false pretences involved: the child learns in a straightforward way that it does not pay to be inconsiderate. Also, perhaps, that Mamma, who made the child learn the Sermon on the Mount, is not really a Christian."

(From: "A Treatise on Parents and Children")

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Game Plan, part 2

How wonderful to start the day with Dr. Hamilton’s devotional thoughts from Hebrews reminding us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. “There is nothing more certain than uncertainty,” he shared, reminding us that change will happen—like it or not.

If I were to compare my plans for my life and the current state of my life in terms of “wins” and “losses,” I recognize that my “losses” are really my “wins,” and vice versa. My plans, my “wins” included being a successful symphonic conductor and making enough money that I should not have to think about it. I also had no plans concerning friends or family and gave no thought to education (beyond that which was necessary). I lost all that. Instead, I am privileged to conduct souls to Christ and make so little money that I don’t have to worry about it. I have more friends than I ever dreamed and a HUGE family. I also have quite an education, both academically and experientially. All “wins.”
What Saul met Jesus on the Damascus road I imagine that at first, he was not thinking at all about himself. When he was blinded and left to sit and wait, it must have all come crashing down in his mind—all alone, in the quiet with his thoughts. Life as he knew it no longer existed. He got out of bed that morning with one thing on his mind: destroy Christ followers. By the end of the day, he was waiting for arrival of a Christ-follower of Damascus, who would come and begin ministering to his pain. He himself had been destroyed.

I thank God for my wife because she was the one who was there to listen to my dreams then watch those dreams become something else. She was there when God called and we started heading one direction, only to have our plans change. She has ministered to me after all my boasting and in my blindness. God used her in my healing process.
I am learning to be flexible, to be humble enough to be led. I like order and I like to have a plan, but I cannot order life. When interruptions happen, I panic because all my plans are thwarted and I lose direction. There can still be order and there can still be a plan, but it has to be given to me from He who never changes. When interruptions happen, I can then recognize it as His hand directing my steps, taking me the direction I should be going.

(Reflecting on Ch. 1, “What is your Game Plan: Finding God in the Midst of Frustrating Plans” in Tony Dungy’s book, “Quiet Strength Men’s Bible Study.”)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Game Plan, part 1

Funny how things start out, seeing now how things wind up. When I was a child I wanted (like most boys) to be a fireman, a policeman or a cowboy and all of life consisted of anticipating summer and Christmas. As a teen, I fell in love with literature and music, but the music bug bit harder and deeper. Summertime was filled with moonlit meanderings induced by the Bard but the deep weeping of Samuel Barber’s Adagio or the soul’s breath released from Bach’s pipe organ was life itself. My love for music was so deep that once I was punished by being grounded from music (I seriously do not remember what I did to receive such punishment) except for that required for school practice. I was devastated. That was most horrible six weeks of my entire life. Regardless, I was looking forward to spending the rest of my life standing on the podium before a full orchestra, pouring my life into those sections and drawing out music. I would conduct the sunrise. 

Life has not gone according to plan. Matter of fact, a series of significant events challenged my love for music as I discovered a new passion: reaching the lost for Christ. Actually, I get ahead of myself, but it was there. Actually, instead of seeing myself before an orchestra (with my back to the crowd), I was facing a congregation (with my back to the choir, as it were). I was going to pastor a church and to do that I needed the education. The family was packed and moved half-way across the country where we attended Bible College then Seminary. I was able to serve in various capacities in a few churches and the base of my experience broadened significantly. My wife and I prayed for “whoever” our congregation would be.
Now, it may be debated as to whether or not my life has gone according to plan. I can safely say that it has not gone according to MY plan. I may not be pastoring in the “traditional” way, but God is using me and my family to reach more people than would set foot inside a church. Not only that, but each of us have a musical talent and my love for music is growing once again . . .

Have a set a goal for my life? I did once or twice but just ‘tween you and me, such planning is a set-up for disappointment. I really can’t tell you where I will be in 5 years, 7 years, 10 years—and some people are upset when I can’t answer. If I set a goal like that, I am telling God what to do and make things harder on myself. I tried it a time or two and being stripped of my own plans hurts. I don’t like pain. My plans were only frustrated when I made plans. Permit me to rephrase that: things turned out much better than planned. Perhaps it’s good that I did not go the direction I intended for my life.
Have my plans been interrupted or thwarted? Without a doubt—and I am grateful, not bitter because (as already mentioned) life has turned out better than expected. “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established . . . The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:3,9) is advice to live by. “Commit” here means to take the load off my back and put in on the back of the one who is strong enough to carry. I can see how God directed our way to be where we are now and, while I expect changes in the future, I understand how I am best equipped for this current ministry.

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