Thursday, February 2, 2012
Longsuffering isn’t glamorous. Think of all the movies you’ve ever seen about some epic hero. Most of them will go into some detail about how the hero got to be so good at what he did, however this is always brief. A few scenes of training, and that’s about it. We like action and movement. We like to hear about Paul’s missionary work. We like to hear about how Luther pounded his theses to a door. We like to hear George Whitefield’s great sermons. But don’t pay attention to the years where Paul is off the map serving and learning. Or Luther’s may years of study. Or the hundreds of sermons Whitefield preached that were forgettable as he was forming his gift.
What about families? How many stories of faithful husbands and fathers do you read about in the annales of Christian history? What about the pastors or priests that faithfully served their congregations for decades?
One of the best books I’ve read lately is Eugene Peterson’s memoir “The Pastor”. It’s his reflection on a life as a pastor. It’s well written and nothing crazy happens. There are no revolutions. He doesn’t take down the Catholic Church. No one gets their ass capped. Peterson simply brings to light the beauty of how God works in life, the beauty of faithfulness.
Most days I don’t want a life like this. I look at historical figures or celebrity pastors or celebrated professors and thinkers and I want that. I want to stumble into greatness. I have a hard time with faithfulness. In fact I hate it most of the time. I’d rather read about “greatness” than work hard. We want the story that proclaims us rather than the minor role that supports Christ.
Which is really too bad. This attempt at usurping the role of King doesn’t do us or the King any good at all. We want more than we can contain. We strive for things we can’t do. And even if we can, we find that they are empty. This is tragically the start of our story as a created people. All these stories should inspire us to do great things for others, but mostly I find in myself that I want to do them for my own sake. That robs the beauty from the story. Think about William Wallace. What if after all he did (we have to pretend he wasn’t executed) he became a tyrant over Scotland? He wouldn’t be loved; he’d be remembered as just another power-seeking dictator. I’m fairly certain that at our best we’re like Frodo. We want to do good, but when it comes down to it, we don’t want that. At least not when the temptation is staring us in the face (thinking specifically how he refuses to destroy the ring towards the end of the Return of the King, sorry for nerding out).
Our only hope can be resigning ourselves to worship; to response. I often wonder how many of the great heroes of the faith were actually trying to be Savior, rather than respond to the Savior. All I can say is that we’re in desperate need of grace, and once we realized the vastness of this grace we are free to respond with small acts of worship to a great King. This is longsuffering. This is what all those men and women, who lived now untold lives of gospel response, believe.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I’m not sure if it is a more recent shift or an ongoing problem in the church, but since I’ve been young I’ve seen the presence of these two extremes in those who follow Christ, to either view yourself as self-righteous or to be self-deprecating about your state.
The self-righteous Christian seems to think that they are fine, holy, blameless, etc. And this is totally true for everyone who has been called into relationship with Christ, but this is only true, at least in any kind of absolute sense, because Christ is standing in our place. I grew up in the church. Starting at the age of 15 I was in an accountability group with some of my best friends to this day, and we were rock stars (at least we thought we were). We took the call to holiness and striving to be above reproach very seriously. This was a good thing, and this group of men has been one of the most formative things in my life. But it became about holiness, not the One who is holy. It wasn’t all bad, but in my own heart I became very proud. I remember thinking that I had gotten most of, it not all, major sin out of my life. I felt I had earned something and was entitled because of my acts of righteousness, after all, I read the bible every day for several years, which must have (in my mind) undone all the sins I had committed. The issue here is that I did not trust G-d nearly as much as I trusted in my own works. I viewed those works as making me worthy and good. This is a heretical view. It’s funny to look back and think about how good I thought I was when I was believing lies about who G-d is, who I am, and my disbelief was never stronger than in those moments of self reliance.
Yet this view is so widely accepted in the church. We want to be good, and that desire is in no way bad, in fact if knowing Christ doesn’t compel you to holiness, then something huge has been missed, but if that ever becomes the main thing, then you’ve denied the savior by viewing yourself as the savior. This is birthed out of a place of pride and fear. Those two sins are always paired. Trust is birthed out of a place of faith, which comes from knowing G-d and seeing his irresistible goodness.
Now there seems to be a strong emergence of self-deprecating faith. You hear this pretty often if you run in church circles. It’s the idea that we’re all just sinners, and that’s how it always will be. Well, there’s an element of truth in that. We are so sinful that we can do nothing to save ourselves, nothing to improve our condition, nothing to be righteous, outside of Christ that is. But we have been called into Christ. If you are a true believer then we’re no longer just stuck. I have moments where I don’t believe things will ever change, that I’m just a sinner who will always go on sinning. However, if Christ has called me then I am (to plagiarize Paul) no longer a slave to sin. This view seems to be largely reactionary to self-righteous faith. We see how grossly that has failed, and then we say that we’re just sinner stuck in our sin. That’s easy because it doesn’t demand anything from us. There’s no expectation to live differently. Yet you’d be a fool to read the New Testament and think that this is the life Christ has called us into. We haven’t been saved just to live in sin, we’ve been freed from sin and called to live as Christ. I fully affirm that we will always sin and fail; yet we should always be growing in righteousness. This pace might be slow, it will look differently for everyone, but growing in love for Jesus should always produce obedience. A lot of people seem to believe that lie, and it’s a tragic one because it does rob us of the richness of what Jesus has done for us.
Now I sat under the teaching of Brad Harper, a professor at Multnomah, for about three years. If you’re a Multnomah kid, you know how he always talks about living in the tension; something that he seems to apply to a lot of areas of life and theology. I once sat down with Rick Mckinley, the lead pastor at Imago Dei Community in Portland, and we talked about a lot of things, but being in the middle was one of them. He used to be a part of this informal group made up of people seeming all across the board in Christian leadership who he described as fighting for the middle. (I won’t fully unpack the term middle or tension, but simply not giving into either extreme in most scenarios might be a good working definition). It’s interesting to look at Imago because it is in a ton of ways in the middle; very conservative, orthodox theology, but very bold, liberal faith that compels the church to serve the city, the least of these, to allow for doubt and disbelief. After a few years of sitting under the teaching of these two men (Harper and Rick), I really think that the middle way is often the right one. Not always, but largely. When it comes to viewing our own righteousness, it isn’t one extreme or the other, it’s much more in the center.
We cannot on our own ever be good enough to undone a single sin we’ve committed in rebellion towards G-d. If we are still wrapped up in sin, we can’t even choose to leave that life. But if we have been called by G-d, we are no longer “dead in our trespasses” but alive in Christ, and from this place we have freedom to respond with love and obedience. I simply do not want to buy into either extreme any more. Neither is in scripture, and neither is any place near to where we’ve been called.
I suppose the implication of this is that we are free. We can go on living in sin and rebellious, denying that we can actually obey. My hope for myself is that I will love G-d enough and trust him enough to actually respond with worship. True obedience should always come from a place of deep worship. I can tell you right now that neither trust nor love G-d enough to worship him fully, but I do think that the older I get the more I grow in these things. High school me (meaning the very self-righteous me) would be rather disappointed with where I am right now, I had hoped to be entirely sanctified by the age of 20. But I can say that I am now able to recognize the goodness of G-d far more than I could ten years ago, and I wouldn’t trade that for any undoing of sin. After all if we actually believe the dastardly claims of Christ, then this whole sin thing is done and over with. Sin was put to death a few millennia back, now it’s much more an issue about knowing G-d and responding to him in love. That's what the resurrection is all about, freeing us fully from our sin and giving us true life for the glory of G-d.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
I have no intentions of trying to explain exactly what my figured out life will look like, because I know how I’d like it to be, and maybe G-d will allow it to happen like that, but what is more interesting to me is trust. It keeps coming back to this for me. This past year has been all about it. I want so badly to control. I want to plot a course and have G-d join me in that. But I’ve been told that it doesn’t work like this. We are called to give up our lives and join him, because he already did the same for us. It sounds so simple, and perhaps our Sunday school teachers did us a grave disservice of telling us that it was simple, because this is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. I want so badly to hold on tightly to what I want, but G-d keeps gently telling me that I need to be open handed with everything I have, be it being in ministry, having a girlfriend, finishing college, whatever. This terrifies me to the core, and I think it’s because a huge part of me thinks my plans for myself will be better than G-d’s. As a stanch Calvinist (I say this mostly joking. Mostly.) I can tell you all about the sovereignty of G-d and the goodness of his plan, but in my heart, more often than not, I find myself feeling nervous to trust G-d. And it’s not that I don’t trust G-d, but I feel a great deal of fear in this. Which is absurd! I get that fully. I know G-d and can tell you how Christ has been faithful, but I am still afraid. It drives me crazy.
I’m reading C.S. Lewis’ classic work The Screwtape Letters for a class I’m taking. The premise of the book is that Screwtape is a seasoned demon, who is writing letters to his nephew, a new demon who is working on his first person to tempt. You only see the letters from Screwtape as he offers advice. It’s a great read, but what’s been sticking out to me most lately is this excerpt:
“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Now, I would not say my plight is this bad by any means, but I love that. So maybe it’s okay, tho not ideal, to feel fear, when trust is more about obedience than emotion. I hope that I am a man who obeys G-d even when every trace seems to have vanished. Now fear is by no means good, we are commanded to not be afraid, and I hope that Christ is working that out of my heart, because I don’t think I can control feeling fear or not, but I can certainly obey.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
I was talking to Momma Nagel Wednesday night, and their house feels most like home. Bryn and Chaz’s houses are up there, but I haven’t know Chaz as long as I have Jared, and I don’t really hang out at Bryn’s now that he doesn’t live there. Some concept of “home” disappeared after my parents split up, and now that the house we all lived in is gone, so is the sense of home. At least as a single house being home. Now home seems to exist in relationship more than anything, which has been the reality of things all along, it was just two things that seemed to be the same. Places are important, but only because of the relationships that exist there. Places seem to serve more as symbols than anything else, as if by having a house means “this is where our family exists in relationship together.”
Right now I’m in Las Vegas, in a kitchen in a house I’ll never live in. There are seven people here, four of which I didn’t know four years ago. Yet this place, in a way, feels like home. There’s no one who know me like my mom and brother do. It’s funny how little I can see some people but remain so close to them. A friend from guys group told me this same thing a few months ago before he left for India, we may rarely see one another, but there are some thing’s that are deeper than proximity in relationship.
This Christmas has been kind of insane on a lot of levels, just how much I’ve traveled, how many friends I’ve gotten to see, the lack of sleep, and holy crap the amazing dinner my mom is working on a few feet away from me right now! It’s strange that within ten days, I’ve seen most everyone I’ve been close to in the past ten years. The only people really missing were the Josiahs, and obviously Jared, but as sad I am to have missed them, I’m excited for what they’re all doing now, from being overseas, to being in engaged, to being in the presence of Christ, there is something very beautiful and hopeful about how G-d is working. And I think that’s what I keep coming back to with being in Salt Lake. I felt clearly called there, and have not for a moment doubted that I should be there, I mean, I enjoy it a lot, it’s just the weight of home and those relationships that are hard for me to leave, but how rad it is that Christ doesn’t just let us be stagnant but challenges and pushes us. There’s always some suffering and struggle, but this is a key part of growth. I feel very blessed to be able to grow like this. Recently G-d has led me to a strange place where I want something, and maybe that will happen, maybe it won’t happen like I want it to, but either way, this things feels like a huge maturing process, and I feel very loved to be taken care of and fathered by G-d in this way. I suppose it all comes around to trust. With home, with our hopes and desires, with anything really. It would be easy for me to hang onto home, and miss out on what G-d is doing in Salt Lake, and how he wants to work there, and the blessing it is to be able to join him in this, but I’d so much rather suffer some light and momentary pain and push through that to be able to experience him and his redemptive work.
It’s a strange, and honestly terrifying thing, that G-d keeps teaching me lessons, then expects me to use them. Right before Jared died he taught me about suffering, right before I moved to Salt Lake he taught me about remember his faithfulness, and now he’s teaching me about trust. I might have this or that plan for my future, but at the end of the day, all I can do is be faithful and trust that G-d is good. The hope is that I have eyes to see how G-d has been at work, and is at work, and join him in that.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
1) The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
This is the best record of 2010. The only thing that comes close (and it comes pretty damn close) is Sufjan. Every track is amazing. It is in fact a perfect record (I have a strong belief in the perfect record, it’s tough criteria, but this makes the cut). It’s a bit more mellow than what they’ve done before, but as a record it holds itself together so well. I’m not sure a day has come out since it was release that I haven’t listened to it all the way through. There’s a great deal of weight to be felt on this album, but it’s not a depressing record by any means. It’s the least dark work they’ve done, and it wonderfully speaks the growing up in the suburbs, a theme that is also present on their first album, Funeral. If you don’t have this record, leave right now to get it, because this will be one that will be held in high regard for a long time.
2) Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
When I first heard this album, I didn’t get it. And I knew I was missing what Sufjan, who much like Jesus, can do no wrong, so I kept listening. I started to enjoy it, but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Then Sufjan came to town. It was the best show I’ve ever seen, and not to brag, but I’ve seen a ton of damn good shows. It blew my mind all over my face. After that, the album made sense. It might be better than Suburbs, it’s can’t say for sure, it’s much more complex than anything Sufjan has done before, and he’s never been better. It’s by far his best record as a whole. Perhaps not his best songs, but as an album, nothing beat it. This record is so weird. Sufjan doesn’t follow normal song structure, he’s moved into composing now rather than being a banjo wielding singer/song writer (which he was terrific at). The closing track, Impossible Soul, is one of the best musical journey’s I’ve heard. Also a perfect record.
3) Wolf Parade – Expo 86
I wanted this to be my album of the year, I really did, however, there’s a lot of amazing work coming out this year, so the bronze medal isn’t too bad. This album is profound, dark, strange. At any give time, there’s a good chance I have either Cloud Shadow on the Mountain, What did my Lover Say, or Cave-o-sapien stuck in my head. Few song writers complement one another as well as Krug and Boeckner, and their strange blend makes for a wonderful record. One is more orthodox and the other more experimental, and their side projects shows this clearly, but they are much better together than apart. They balance each other very well. (Sad news I read about yesterday is that they’re going on indefinite hiatus, this might be their last record as Wolf Parade, and it’s certainly a fine note to go out on)
4) Menomena – Mines
This Portland band keeps getting better. They’ve obviously matured quite a bit (much like Wolf Parade and Arcade Fire) it’s their third record, and they’ve become better at what they do. I liked this record from the start, but seeing them perform it live made it make total sense. They’re very talented songwriters, and they do it in a way few can. Being a three piece, they all contribute. I was surprise how much Danny (the drummer) sings on the album. All their voices and styles blend so well, the final product is a mix of the three which is dark, playful, and has a lot of depth to it.
5) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Every indie kid these days likes Kanye, that’s no secret, and he sure must know it because Bon Iver is on this record in several spots. But Kanye is a musical genius. Perhaps a bad celebrity (as he said himself via twitter), but his music is great. This album is him at his best, he moves and provokes emotion. Just listening to him makes you arrogant, he’s that able to convey what he’s thinking and feeling through song. Best tracks are “All of the Lights”, “So Appalled”, and “Lost in the World/Who Will Survive in America”. After 808’s and heartbreaks, I wasn’t expecting too much from this record. I liked that album, but it certainly didn’t live up to Graduation, but this blows everything he’s done out of the water. If you don’t like Kanye, this is certainly an album worth reconsidering him over. This might very well be a perfect record. Time will tell. I just don’t like the genre as much as indie.
6) The National – High Violet
Fan-freaking-tastic. The National have a way of bringing so much emotion with so little emotion. This album is smooth and calm, but so much is brewing below the surface. It deals with some similar themes of The Suburbs, but takes a different approach. After the great success of their last record, Boxer, I was a little worried I wouldn’t like this album much, but it really is terrific. There’s a lot going on here so you can listen to it many times and keep finding new things, complex, but not in an overwhelming way.
7) The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
I love acoustic music. My some of my favorite recording are live shows of Neutral Milk Hotel, Bob Dylan, Elliott Smith, etc. that is just the singer and a guitar. There is this sort of energy present on The Wild Hunt. It’s both upbeat and fun, and slow and deep. His voice is bizarre, but enticing. The guitar playing on this always gets me, I could (and have) listen to this all day.
8) Typhoon – Hunger and Thirst
Maybe I’m biased here, I went to high school with a few of these guys. I saw them play when they were a four piece punk band. They’d play in the coffee shop I worked in. But this record is huge step forward for them. It’s amazing. Ryan Adams even likes it (he said something on his facebook about like the record). This band is huge. The only band I’ve seen with more people on stage at once playing is Sufjan, but that’s still a one man show. This record is a journey. The songs are simple, but they are also big. It’s somewhat dark, but it’s playful and fun too. This music moves you deeply.
9) Sleigh Bells – Treats
This album is the best thing to happen to noise all year. It’s huge. It hits. An amazing mix of punk guitar, and female hip-hop vocals, I can’t get enough. So much noise coming from two people. It came out of nowhere, the former guitars for Poison the Well and a school teacher make one of the most innovative albums of 2010? Not what I expected. M.I.A. liked this album enough to pick it up and now Sleigh Bells is on her label (she even samples a song on her record). Check this out.
10) The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
I hadn’t heard of theses guys till pitchfork posted a video of them playing with Springsteen. I grew up on old Springsteen. Theses guys, like the Boss, are from New Jersey, and they are just as American as him. This is one of the few records I’ve heard this year that can’t actually be described as being a rock ‘n’ roll record, and I love it. It’s fun, but also genuine. It makes me feel what it means to grow up in America, the good, the bad. It’s also catchy as hell.
Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People
This e.p., which is over an hour long (Sufjan says that an e.p. is not defined by length, but by concept) is Michigan/Illinois Sufjan meets BQE Sufjan, it’s big, it’s soft, it moves. As with Adz, he’s clearly operating as more of a composer than a pop song writer.
Vampire Weekend – Contra
This is a great album, it’s fun, upbeat, catch as hell. I love it, but not as much as their first album. Still one to grow on.
Beach House – Teen Dream
This record should have made it in my top ten, I apologize for that. It’s simply, chill, profound. Buy this record.
Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record.
I like this album, but I don’t love it. It lacks some of the spark of You Forgot It In People, and it lacks some of the force of their self-titled. That being said, it’s still a great album, solid song writing, good movement, and it avoids the long, drawn out wanderings of their other records (which is both a positive and a negative). The vocals here are some of their best work.
Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo
These kids have to be around 17. They look terribly young. Which is part of the fun of this album, it’s very youthful, but also deeper that I was at that age. The last track, Where’s Your Dirty Mind, might be my song of the year. It’s terribly sad, but to quote the Murder City Devils, “I never heard a sad song that I didn’t like,” these sorts of songs are often my favorite. This is a calm album, but has the sense of youthful angst without being whiny. This was one of my favorite albums of the year, until I saw them play at Kilby court in SLC, and that sort of killed it for me, which is always a bummer. Still some great tracks.
M.I.A. – Maya
Some great tracks here, and perhaps I haven’t listened to it enough, but it’s not as strong as Kala. It’s XXXO and Born Free are amazing tracks.
Jonsi – Go
This should be on the list, but I simply haven’t hear it enough.
Bad Books – s/t
This record is great. I just got it, and I love it. It’s basically Manchester Orchestra plus Kevin Divine, which is a great mix. Get this record.
Cotton Jones – Tall Hours in the Glowstream
Two folks from Paige France, it’s their second lp, great stuff, chill, deep, sad but without being emo in anyway. The more I listen to this, the more I like it.
Murder by Death – Good morning, Magpie
I’ve been a long time Murder by Death fan, and this is their softest and most folksy album to day. It has a very cowboy feel, but not in a country way. Very Johnny Cash.
Tim Kasher – The Game of Monogamy
Kasher is the front man for Cursive and the Good Life, and has written several of my all time favorite records. This album is certainly solid, and I recommend it. It’s his first “solo” venture (The Good Life’s Novena on a Nocturn might be fair to say is his first solo album), he does it well, but I do miss the days of Blackout and Domestica.
Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
The most overrated album of the year, some really great stuff, but it just doesn’t do it enough for me often enough to make the top ten. It strongly lacks in originality.