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Archive for May, 2008

Romans 8 blog

…on behalf of some hurting people, for whom my heart is very heavy today. I do not have many or very good words or even much confidence in praying the words-I-don’t-have. But I have groaned to God for you throughout this day.

“And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.”

I do not know if that is a comfort for you. It is both comforting and hard for me. To trust without denying the questions is not an easy thing, but the questions for me end up forming the shape of my trust. And the groans, for me, find more or less confident expression, coming as they do out of the trust.

(verse selections from Romans 8 )

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…You called him an old dead English guy, and he certainly is that. But he’s not just difficult language, and he’s not just elaborate plots that could never really happen. He doesn’t live in my brain. He’s not a man of ideas. He’s a man of feelings. I love him because when I am sad or lonely, or feeling brave or scared, I can always find a character or a play that will talk to me about what I’m feeling, that will help me do a better job with my place in this world.”

(from Set Me Free, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, p. 190-191)

Shakespeare doesn’t do that for me. But Langston Hughes does. And the United Methodist Hymnal. And some really good fiction authors. And the book of Job. And Isaiah. And Jeremiah. And Psalms.

Once again, I wonder, if I didn’t have books, if I didn’t live in a world full of literature, where would a visual learner introvert like me find the words I need to connect me to other people, to give expression to the things I feel deep inside of me? Where could I learn and hear things at a pace where my brain can process them without all the other overwhelming social things that interfere with oral learning?

Do I just feel this way because I grew up in a literature-driven culture? Or would I still be the same way–but a little bit lost and a little more out of it and not knowing exactly what it was I was missing–if there were not so many books available for me? Or maybe none at all.

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Contentment, Part 2

What is contentment NOT?

Well, going back to my previous post and the quote about the rains beginning in Botswana, it would obviously not be contentment if I lived in a place like Botswana and spent significant parts of every day, most months of the year, ranting and raving about the dryness.

To live in dryness, and cope with it only by cursing the dryness, is not contentment.

But neither is it contentment to live in a dry place and refuse to let my heart dream of water and soar at the thought of it. Killing my longings so I don’t long so desperately for them–so I don’t feel my thirst–is not contentment. It’s denial.

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I’ve been thinking about this topic lately. Last night I was reading the latest in my favorite series of books, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series. The book is called The Miracle at Speedy Motors. What is it that I like so much about this series? Well, it is set in Botswana, and having lived in southeastern Africa, I enjoy the memories that are stirred up. Botswana is different in many ways from where I lived in Africa, but not so different in other ways.

But I also like the books, because they are just so all around pleasant. One reviewer said this about them:

Utterly enchanting…It is impossible to come away from an Alexander McCall Smith ‘mystery novel’ without a smile on the lips and warm fuzzies in the heart.”

Happy sigh. What more could I ask for in a story? Happy memories. A smile on my lips. Warm fuzzies in my heart.

Well, none of that has to do with contentment, exactly, except that I’m perfectly content with a good book in my possession. (A good book I hadn’t even been expecting. I went to the library totally unaware there had been a new release in the series and was delightfully caught off guard to discover this one while browsing a display.) And really being content with a good book in hand is nothing to write home about–I’m content because everything is going my way 🙂 Somehow that misses the point, doesn’t it?

But, I have been thinking a lot about contentment lately, and I have a couple of posts, I think, rumbling around inside of my head. While the words for them are still forming, though, I wanted to share this paragraph from my new book, which felt very similar to some of what I’m thinking about with contentment. If the connection doesn’t make sense yet, don’t strain your brain–it’s me, not you! My feelings often make me connect things that might not be very connected. Hopefully, though, I’ll find the words to explain the connection in the days to come. Until then, I leave you with this selection that I found beautifully fitting with my recent thoughts:

Mma Ramotswe turned the van and they had just started back when the first drops of rain began to fall. First there was that smell, that smell of rain, so unlike anything else, but immediately recognisable and enough to make the heart of a dry person soar; for that, thought Mma Ramotswe, is what we Batswana are: dry people, people who can live with dust and dryness but whose hearts dream of rain and water.” (p. 76)

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To make words sing
Is a wonderful thing–
Because in a song
Words last so long.

(“To Make Words Sing” by Langston Hughes)

Music has been one of God’s great provisions for helping me survive when I am weak and hurting.

I am the kind of person who, when a song moves me, likes to listen to it over and over. Words put to music last. They stick with me. They stir up feelings, and since my memory is an emotional one, I can recall the truths easier when a song stores the words in a feeling place in my brain.

Sometimes songs are sermons to me, when my brain is in such a fog from exhaustion or pain that I can’t make sense of the other kind of sermons.

Sometimes songs express the prayers of my heart when I can’t form my own words.

Sometimes songs put shape to the gratitude and praises that are in my heart but are hard to see, fallen as they are between the cracks of my pain or tiredness.

With songs and hymns and spiritual songs, I am given the gift of words when I don’t have my own.

It is hard to remember truth when I’m in pain. But when I listen to words of truth set to music, over and over again, not just the words, but the truth and the feelings that go with the words seep down into the hurting places and really minister to me. And I don’t forget those kinds of words.

When a friend speaks truth to me in my pain, I might bristle, but when truth comes to me in song, I find that my bristles sort of deflate (oops, there I go mixing metaphors again).

I’ve included this quote recently on another post, but it fits here as well:

i hear many people telling me they leave church ‘uplifted,’ but few tell me they leave challenged (to live as Christ asks of them). i try to program music that does both. (comment from Scott Gray on metacatholic’s post, “Muting the Psalms”)

Spiritual music encourages me, challenges me, changes my perspective, stirs my heart, adds feeling to the truths I know. and gives expression to what I feel about and towards God.

Do you have words, which you are especially glad to be able to sing, because the song makes the words last so long?

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Another semantic pondering.

What do you see as the difference between these two words: disillusionment and disappointment?

Have you experienced more of one or the other?

Which do you think is harder to get over and why?

Do you prefer experiencing one to the other (not that we have much choice in life, do we? But, hypothetically, if you were given a choice, would you or could you have a preference?)

How do you walk through them differently?

How do these affect your relationships differently–interpersonal relationships as well as your relationship with God?

In relationship to God, have you struggled with either disappointment or disillusionment? With one more than the other?

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Weird Worship

I’ve been tagged by David Ker of Lingamish (and seven or so other blogs) with the “Weird Worship Meme”. According to the MBTI, I’m an ISFJ, so usually I like to stick to the rules. But, with this one I followed Gentle Wisdom’s route and just let my mind go down its own path with the topic. Instead of five weird songs, I’ve come up with some categories of Praise and Worship music that strike me as odd, and given at least one song that is representative of that category.

And yes, I know. I should feel guilty for poking fun at music that sets out to praise God, however imperfectly it arrives at that goal. I do (feel guilty, that is. SJs are good at that 🙂 ) . Even with the niggling guilt feelings, I stand by everything I write below. When I think about worship music from this perspective, this rant is what I come up with.

But, I want to add the disclaimers here at the beginning (1) this isn’t the only perspective I think about worship music from and (2) I know that being weird or falling short does NOT mean that God can’t redeem or ever use something. I’m not saying that. Okay? So, don’t start throwing tomatoes at me yet!

If I thought anything I said below meant that God could never use a particular song, well, that would just be too discouraging. Because I’m weird and I fall short, and I still hold out hope that He is at work in and through me. Still, it feels good to let loose a good rant once in a while, and this one will do for today.

1. The Holy Spirit Made Me Do It/I can’t Help Myself

“Almighty” I actually like this song a lot, but one line recently struck me as rather odd. “The earth has no voice, and I have no choice, but to magnify God unashamed.”

It’s not that I think the song or the line is unequivocally weird. It’s just that it pushes a button for something I’m wrestling with as I think about Calvinism and charismatic theology: Do I have any say in this? Am I free to praise God how I want? Or is it all preprogrammed, and I can just check my brain and personality in at the door?

I have no doubt I’m making a mountain out of a molehill with this category of lyrics. It’s probably a rant I’ll visit again in the future, not because I have answers, but because I still have a lot of questions about it.

2. I’m Been Moved (But was it the Holy Spirit or a cool chord progression?)

“Alle” (by Chris Tomlin and Ross King). I was just rereading the lyrics and there’s nothing really worth getting my knickers in a knot about. But this song annoys me on an emotional level. Whenever it was sung at the church I attended, I always felt stirred at one place in the incessant repetition of “Alle, Alleluia.” I felt moved. But, when I’d back up and think about it (is that allowed during worship 🙂 ), I knew it wasn’t the lyrics. It was a specific chord progression that resonated with some deep feeling place in me.

The same thing with songs like “Just As I Am” which have been used so many times with one emotive purpose in mind so that eventually all you have to do is hear the first few notes of the song, to have the feeling, “Hmmm, is there something I should be feeling guilty about?” Not that conscience searching is a bad thing. But musically manipulated conscience probing?

3. See, Our Church Sings (or Our Radio Station Plays) Hymns

There’s only one contestant for this one. Top of the charts. All the time. If your church or radio station only plays one hymn, this is sure to be it. I used to like this hymn. I still do sometimes. It’s a fine enough hymn as far as hymns go. But not as the final, all that’s left representative of the whole “Hymnbook Our Church Used to Have”

I’m talking about “How Great Thou Art”. I’m weary of it as the Hymn Ambassador. If you’ve moved on from hymns, fine. But, if you really need to insert a token “old hymn” could you maybe try a different one once in a while?

4. I’m a Little Slow to Catch On. Do You Think You Could Say it Just One More Time (And Then A Few More Times, Just For Good Measure?)

“I am a Friend of God” and “Days of Elijah”

There’s nothing really wrong, I suppose, with having a truth like “I am a friend of God” or “There’s no God like Jehovah” drilled incessantly into ones mind. I mean, I’ll listen to the same song for days in a row. But still. The same line. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over…

5. If We Put “Praise the Lord” In There, We Can Sing the Most Ridiculous Words to the Glory of God.

Yes, I know we should do everything to the glory of God. But, that should mean we could just sing “The Hokey Pokey” to the glory of God. We don’t need to Christianize that type of action song (I’m thinking “Father Abraham”) and tack onto the end , “So….! let’s! just! praise! the! Lord!” so that we can feel like our our kids can be silly and spiritual at the same time.

6. Too Good to Be True Songs.

The one that pops to mind first is a chorus we sang when I was a teenager, called, It’s Amazing What Praising Can Do.” Part of it went, “I don’t worry when things go wrong–Jesus fills my heart with a song.” I used to change the words and sing, “I don’t HAVE TO worry when things go wrong.” Because it’s going to be a long, long time until I DON’T worry when things go wrong.

7. That’s Preposterous.

“The Happy Song” I’m sorry, but no amount of happiness is ever going to make me feel like I could dance a thousand miles. (Unless, of course, the Holy Spirit makes me do it, but then I’m back to concern #1–when the Holy Spirit takes over, does He make me into somebody else’s personality? Do I have to praise Him like an extravert just because I get filled with the Holy Spirit?)

8. Let’s Keep Everybody Happy, So We’ll Sing a Classic Hymn with Old Words and We’ll Set It To New Music (and then nobody will like it, but we can make everybody feel guilty when they complain.)

David Ker has already written about all the riffs on Amazing Grace, and the possibility that such imitation is the highest form of flattery. But, there’s also the possibility that this kind of thing is just rather pointless.

Personally, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with the original chorus of “And Can it Be”. Sure, it has some high notes that are hard to sing. But it didn’t really get easier when Hillsong or Newsboys (or whoever) plopped it in the middle of their song, “Amazing Love” All it did was leave me more musically confused (I realize, of course, that that could say more about me than about the song itself).

9. Let the Cellphones (Or American Idols) Cry Out

When I was looking for the lyrics to “Amazing Love” (see # 8), I found them on a website offering me that song as a ringtone. Come on. I know we people can obviously fall short in HOW we praise. And I’m feeling a little guilty for making fun of how short we sometimes fall. But are we really being so silent that our cell phones need to start crying out?

Maybe I could have saved this point for its own post, “How Many Places and Ways Can We Annoy Our Neighbor with Praise and Worship Music and Get Away With It Because We’re Witnessing, and So We Should Expect People To Be Offended–it’s all part of suffering for Jesus”

As far as American Idol, I don’t watch it, and I’m not saying God can’t speak through anybody anywhere, but I get a little queasy thinking about all the excitement that was stirred up by the “Shout to the Lord” finale. Samunally (I’m not going to try to guess where to divide that name up) has an interesting post and particularly a comment, which gets pretty close to my own concerns about the whole matter. Here’s one part of the quote:

Actually, it has little to do with music – worship is a movement of the heart and music is often the “vehicle” for that deepening of intimacy. Therefore, it belongs solely to those who desire deep relationship with God, not for those who are weighing the “merits” of Christianity.

Again (before you start throwing tomatoes at me), I know God can speak through anyone anywhere (even a cell phone), so I’m not full fledged saying it was an unredeemably awful thing for “Shout to the Lord” to be sung and heard in that venue. I think something can “miss the point” and God still use it. But that doesn’t change, in my mind, that it misses the point. Cellphones and American Idols crying out praise seem to me to miss the point.

Okay. I’m done with the rant. Start throwing tomatoes if you must. It was fun, while it lasted, and now I think I’ll go back to my mode of listening and worshiping with music that I know falls short, before I even start. When I think about it that way, I can still strive and long for beauty and “quality” (however relative that can be) and theological perfection of lyrics, but be glad for every reminder in every imperfect song that God doesn’t demand that we “have it all together” or “get it all right” in order to praise Him.

Here are the rules of the meme as it arrived to me: “Please give us five examples of Weird Worship and tag five more people to do the same.” Regardless of what you think about evolution with regards to the origin of the species, memes are notorious at evolving as they go. I look forward to seeing how this one continues to take shape.

And so, I tag (a pressureless tag, with no obligation 🙂 ):

1. JoyJourney. One of my very best friends has just started her own blog. She likes to tell me I think too much, in real life, on my blog, wherever. In any case, as a pastor’s daughter and a pastor’s wife and with one of her first posts being “The Confused Church”, I’m sure she can make me laugh at how weird worship songs can sometimes get.

2. Beyond Words. Because I know she thinks about what she sings. And I’ve appreciated how she’s made me think more about what I sing, too.

3. Codepoke. Because anybody who can help me sort out my thinking about Calvinism and Arminianism with an analogy to quantum physics is certain to have some interesting ideas about what constitutes weird worship.

4. J.K. Gayle. Because I’ve always wanted to know what Aristotle would say about Weird Worship (whether or not I’ll actually understand it).

5. Scott Gray. (a) Because he’s been quite quiet recently and (b) Because he said this almost a year ago, and I’d love to hear more from him on the topic:

if we should feel good, or comforted, or validated in our ’self-esteem,’ then the song is popular. i think this is one of the drives behind ‘praise and worship’ music.
litugical music (or anything else liturgical), is both affirming, and challenging. when the ‘challenge’ aspect has been removed or diluted, we are only given the ‘affirmation’ portion. i hear many people telling me they leave church ‘uplifted,’ but few tell me they leave challenged (to live as Christ asks of them). i try to program music that does both.

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…my second language.

Praise Jesus sigh blog

(more…)

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Well, that may not be the point of the poem I read today, but when I read it, and my brain did its thing of connecting the feeling I got when I read it with any similar feelings, I ended up with a hodgepodge in my head with these three things overlapping, and the word “forgiveness” holding them all together:

Matthew 18:21,22 (Peter and Jesus)
I Corinthians 13 (Paul)
“Addition” (Langston Hughes)

Addition

7 x 7 + love =
An amount
Infinitely above:
7 x 7 – love.

(from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, p. 229)

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That phrase has been in my mind and heart all week, since reading a book review with a similar title. I don’t even remember the name of the book being reviewed, but that picture–of a hope dressed in mourning–has given expression to the tension I find myself living in.

A hope that does not leave space for the reality of sorrow and grief is not a hope I can handle right now. That kind of hope would be a pasted on drug, an escape like alcohol, but a whole lot less honest.

No, if I’m to have hope, it is going to have to be a hope that can handle the realities of desperate, inexplicable and crushing pain in a fallen and broken world. That can handle my own suffering and exhaustion. That doesn’t crumble or stand at a distance, afraid to get its hand’s sullied or its nature lessened by the dirty and very real realities of my sorrow and anguish.

I will not drink myself into oblivion, because it feels like that would be compounding my brokenness. But neither will I hope my way into a fantasy–a fantastic delusion–that things are better than they are.

I need a hope–the God of all Hope, really–that can exist right here in my own misery and pain and questions. And not just my own suffering. Suffering beyond description at every level of humanity. Hope that doesn’t flinch or isn’t afraid that this suffering, this one thing, might be the thing that undoes hope. That unmasks it. Hope that isn’t proven false by any tragedy.

I need a hope that can cry out from the pit like Jeremiah, not at all confident I’m going to make it out, alive.

A hope that can weep, “I’m undone” with Isaiah.

A hope that can tremble and challenge like Habakkuk and still say, with knees knocking in fear at what the hoped for deliverance from God is really going to mean, “Yet will I trust Him.”

I need a hope like David, shining through every angry cry, every brokenhearted sob–not sitting off to the side, waiting for me to “stop being depressed” and “get right thinking” before it will deign to step foot into my heart. But a hope that sits right there in the muck and mire.

I need the hope of Job that can cry out in mixed expressions of trust and accusation. That doesn’t mince words or feelings. But that lets me desperately trust (and entrust myself to) the God I’m crying out against.

I need Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. If He is really God with us, then I say, “Welcome to My World, Jesus.”

I can’t change my world. I can’t pretend it’s any better than it is. I can’t pretend I feel any better than I do. Welcome to my world, bringer of life, light and hope. It’s a mess. I’m a mess. Come in. Not a smiling joyful “come in,” but an answering-the-door-with-a-sob-escaping, “Come in”. Come in. Come in. Be here with me. Sit here with me in my pain and confusion and questions.

If God’s promises are true, the burden of proof is going to have to lie with Him. My life is too excruciatingly and honestly hard to paste on a hope that has to try to prove that God is faithful. To prove that God makes all the difference (“Can’t you tell? Look, I’m rejoicing in everything. See my smile?)

If God is really who He says, if He is Immanuel God With Us, then the “with us” has to happen here in the realities of our “with”.

I am too exhausted and worn to paste on hope. Life (mine, individually, but also big picture, the context of this world where I’m living my life) is too hard and too very, very real for me to conjure up a hope that can’t thrive, let alone exist, in the undeniable context of what is.

Hope says that what is, is not all there is. But for hope to be real hope, I think it has to start with how very desperately hard what is, is.

On my last post, I asked for people to share verses they’ve heard taken out of context. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe to be able to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I certainly didn’t expect to be gripped with a great sorrow and grief. With real mourning.

Each comment, each example left my heart hurting in deep ways. I felt stories behind those verses–real people, really hurting, from the cruelty of having Scripture launched at them in so many awful ways. And it left me feeling a bit crushed inside. I felt the pain of having the real hope in Scripture stripped of its mourning and left with empty promises and heavy burdens (because empty promises are, by nature, sure to fail, so we need formulas to make sure we’re doing everything right to get those promises. We distort the promises and then take on the burden of proof, desperate to figure out a way to prove that God’s Word is true and His faithfulness to our distorted expectations is real.)

I read the verses Phil, Enola and Codepoke shared, and my heart wept. Hope stripped of its mourning strips us as well, makes light of the injustice we suffer and makes a mockery not only of our pain, but also of God and His promises. I read those verses and cried two things (Cried as in cried out. Cried as in weeping):

(1) I’m so sorry (Phil), I’m so sorry (Enola), I’m so sorry (Codepoke)… I’m so sorry… As I’ve followed each of your blogs, I have caught glimpses of your stories and the things you have suffered. And, having heard those things before, my heart cries out with you now at the thought of your having to hear those verses used as weapons against you and tests of faith or obedience held over you. I’m so sorry.

and:

(2) God, I don’t want any hope except one which can bear the sorrows that were there before these verses were flippantly (and incessantly, I would guess) quoted. A hope which can stand in the context of sorrows compounded by having your words twisted and yanked around and then thrown like mud in the faces of these friends.

For all of my sorrow and weeping this week, I do have hope. Not fantasy hope, which fills my eyes with such glorious raptures that I no longer see my misery, no longer weep in pain or uncertainty about tomorrow. No. I have a hope that wears mourning. A hope that can handle the mourning. A hope that can handle sickness and abuse and loss without needing to cover it up with ridiculous platitudes or twisting of God’s words. A hope that proves itself both more rugged and more desperate than I could have imagined, because it doesn’t flinch in the face of my doubts and questions. A hope that shines brightly in that odd mixture of courageous obedience in the context of the cry, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?”

A hope that wears mourning. And so today, I sit crumpled in mourning, but radiant in hope, because Emmanuel, God with us, has brought that hope to me, a hope that can handle where I’m at. That can handle my mourning. And that kind of hope–which is neither overcome by the realities of suffering, nor runs away and waits till I have a handle on my pain–that is the kind of hope I’m overwhelmingly grateful for today.

Weeping. Mourning. Hoping.

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