An Unsettling Realization: Ideas, Identity, Inclusion

I discovered something unsettling about myself recently.

I enjoy thinking about why I think things. How’s that for an odd second sentence?

As I grow older, I’m trying to hold more of my ideas about the world more loosely and not attach them to my identity too much. It’s difficult though. It seems like I constantly catch myself closing to information or ways of approaching something because I’ve attached my identity to an idea.

Some ideas I’ve come to clutch more tightly. They’re dear to me. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to hold all of my ideas loosely so I don’t dig in my heels the instant l feel something pulling in another direction .

All that to say, unfortunately, when I change my thinking on one particular thing, it’s far too easy to begin forming my identity with those who may have introduced me to that way of thinking. It’s easy to be sharp in one area of thinking and sloppy in several others, because I’m excited about a new thought or theory (because it’s new, it has interesting implications, and it’s shiny.)

This might sound stupid, but I get embarrassed when I find out that I was wrong about something. Even saying it sounds silly–as if reality cares about what I think about it, as if me thinking the right or wrong thing about something makes me any better or worse than anyone else. I realize that thinking correctly is preferable to incorrectly because it sometimes affects how we react to situations, but that’s not always what it’s about for me. Sometimes it’s just a bunch of silly pride.

So when I change my mind, the next step is to distance myself from the person I was when I thought incorrectly about it. Sometimes that includes saying things that clearly separate me from those silly people I left back there, which is stupid, but I do it anyway. Too often, those with the ideas I just left become the new target. I’ve found the truth now so if everyone will follow me, thank you, I’ll show them where I found it, or suffer my scorn. (I try not to let it go that far too often, but that’s what’s behind it.)


Moving on in the vein of ideas, I recently heard one that made a lot of sense of what I’m describing in myself, and what I’ve seen in a hundred internet brawls discussions. Brain science allows us to make some sense of this. There’s a small part of your brain called the thalamus that’s located above your spinal column. For the sake of brevity, and the point of this post, I’ll oversimplify: it’s responsible for your sense of self: who you understand yourself to be. It’s how we make sense of who we are in relation to everything else.

That’s pretty cool, but there’s one problem.

All the data you take in passes through the thalamus, this part of the brain that tells you who you are. In other words, all ideas are filtered through your identity. If ideas conflict with your identity, chances are, you’ll shed the idea (even if it’s correct); you’ll resist it, until you find a way to fit it into your identity, or until you find a new identity that includes that idea.

Have you ever recoiled at an idea when you first heard it, and later wondered how in the world you could have questioned it at all? Me too. That’s your handy thalamus at work, telling you “Safe idea. Unsafe idea!”


“The more you see the less you know

The less you find out as you go

I knew much more then

Than I do now.”

-U2

Here’s what I’m saying with all this.

The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know. It’s kind of surprising, but that’s how it’s turned out. When I was younger, I heard older people say things like that and now I know what they’re talking about.

There’s just a lot of stuff we don’t know–way more than we have any idea. Right now there are things we don’t know we don’t know. All of us are wrong about a lot of things, and there’s a very good chance that’s just fine. The world went on just like before when I was wrong about other things, and it will continue to do so even though I’m wrong about things now.

I could go on about this stuff for a really long time, but I’d like to be able to crawl back out of this rabbit hole before it’s too late for all of us.

As much as possible, I want us to remember in all our interactions, how our identities and ideas are linked–how close around the corner our biases toward certainty are lurking.

I want to continue to slowly kill this natural-born habit of fusing unbreakable bonds between my identity and the ideas I currently hold.

I want to be as gracious with people as I want them to be with me.

I want to work on being willing to accept truth even from unsavory sources; even when my identity tells me I should be prejudiced toward it.

I want to remember that if things were as clear-cut on an issue as I’d sometimes like to make them, chances are we’d probably have cracked the code by now and wouldn’t be having the conversation.

I want to engage in patient discussions of discovery, rather than trying to punch people with knockout arguments.

I want to do better at having conversations where there’s room for everyone to say their piece, not just people who tow the Ryan Party line.

That’s what I hope is reality for me when I’m older and wiser than I am now. Hopefully, if I aim for it long enough, and live long enough, I’ll get near it someday. If enough of us want that, maybe we can help each other.

Paintings, Sunsets, and Starry Nights: some thoughts on logic, moments, and reality

“Imagination does not breed insanity… reason [does…]

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea;

reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. 

To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain.

The poet desires only exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. 

The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens.

It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

GK Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

 

I love taking ideas apart. I love analyzing. 

Sometimes though, when I spend too much time in that part of my brain I begin feeling messed up and anxious inside. 

Because I find it so intriguing, I’ve occasionally spent days taking apart my own perspectives, and wow… As healthy as it is to reevaluate the way you see the world, getting stuck there for days on end without a break is bad for your soul. I know because I’ve been there.

It makes me a irritable and a bit crazy.

You can really get lost in your own head when you heavily critique your own ways of understanding everything.

There’s nothing wrong with science and logic; they help us make sense of the observable.

But logic doesn’t equal reality,

nor can it sum up or contain the scope of my or anyone’s experience of reality. 

A sunset, or a the night sky bursting with stars for example:

We could break the components of both down until we arrive at subatomic particles, and be awed by their intricacies.

But even if we got to the point where we understood everything about both of them and published them in a scientific journal, we still would not have encompassed the whole of either of them.

It’s still just a bunch of words and paper. It still doesn’t have the same effect on us. 

After reading all that, what we really want to do is go outside and look at the real thing– to absorb the light and the colors with our senses and feel the cooling evening air against the surface of our skin. 

Words by nature are binary (they cause us to choose one shade at expense of a slightly different one). They’re so helpful for the specifics of daily life, but they’re great strength also limits them tremendously.

Think of one of your most beautiful or sacred moments. In all the time you’ve spent on earth, there are probably a few moments when time stood still, or when the normal lines between reality and imagination blurred, or when the curtain was pulled tight in front of you and you could dimly see what felt like another dimension.

Now try to put words to it. Frustrating, right?

Of course it is.

Do you know why our transcendent moments are hard to recount? Our brains actually have to reconstruct, limit, and condense these experiences, as they move from the place in our brain they reside, to the language part so we’re able to try talking about these experiences and even then we manage to find some words for them we speak in abstract terms or use metaphor/simile. 

“It hurt like fire, but also felt like a father’s warm embrace…” The specifics are lost on us because words don’t do it justice.

Logic is only one limited lens through which we can look at reality, but if I spend all my time looking at it through that one, I cease to be able to fully experience the fulleness, theessence of life: both the beautiful and the ugly.

Here’s my concern:

I often analyze at the expense of experiencing the moment. While others have lost themselves in it,  I’m sitting there tearing it apart deciding what I like and don’t like about it, and how I would present my opinion about it to someone who might disagree with me. And worse, sometimes I even say these things out loud and spoil it for others. 

It’s a ridiculous approach to something as amazing as life. There are people who live, suspending their own two cent analysis, just unabashedly enjoying the realness of existence… then I come along.

And I have the audacity to scornfully observe to myself, that they’re not thinking about their existence properly–that they’d be so much more enlightened if they’d think about it like I do. But in that moment, I’ve turned into a mere spectator. 

How, in any meaningful sense of the word do I have a better grasp on living well, simply because (rather than actually living and loving life, or whatever else it is we approach this way) I’ve torn it apart and have carefully worded opinions on it?

It’s like buying a gorgeous painting and hanging it on the wall, but right in the middle of it I’ve fastened a piece of paper telling everyone what I like about it and what I think it’s worth.

Who cares?

It’s distracting first of all, cheapening, second, and third, it’s hindering  others from seeing and feeling it for themselves.

It turns out the moment needs my analysis and price tag about as much as the painting does.

It doesn’t need it.

What the Spirit is telling me through the moment is not audible if I’m pillaging the good people, the healthy dialogue, the stunning sunset, the uncomfortable situation, the hard work for something to prop up the things I’m already telling myself. 

There’s a time and a season for everything. Reflection and analysis are not bad; they’re just not everything. There’s time for that afterward, in the stillness and quiet.

It’s a bit late for a New Years resolution, but this year I’d like to do better at not analyzing the life out of everything–to be conscious of turning off the logical, analytical part of my mind before my soul starts suffering. 

If you’re breathing, if I’m breathing, it’s never to late to begin living life for all it’s worth.

 

“How you see anything is how you see everything.
How you do this moment is how you do every moment. 
If right now (I hope it’s not true)…
you’re trying to prove how I’m wrong, why I’m wrong,
and you’re marshaling your arguments to disprove [what] I’m saying,
…I just want to warn you of this:
that if you’re doing this right now with me,
I am willing to bet that you do this with your wife,
your husband,
with your children,
with your neighborhood,
with your church,
in your politics
–that’s the way you do the moment.
You tear it apart; you critique it.
That’s your way of defending yourself from truth,
from anything that might lead you outside your comfort zone.”
-Richard Rohr

 

God & Country: Love Letters from the Empire

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…

Unless the fear mongers and politicians tell you, ‘Be afraid; your enemies will kill you.’

Then, fearing for your life, pledge your allegiance to the beast over the Lamb,

collude with the empire,

support its military endeavors unquestioningly,

honor those whom the empire tells you to honor,

hate those the empire tells you to hate.

*                 *                 *                    *                  *                    *

Do what you must to preserve your temporal life,

no matter the body count,

no matter the innocent blood,

no matter if it costs your very soul.

Preserve the illusion of dual allegiance,

that ultimately,

you may be children,

not of your Heavenly Father,

But of the empire

Crucifying,

(Shooting, bombing…) your enemies

in the name of God…

just like 2000 years ago,

rather than taking up your cross,

Dying

for your enemies

like God in Christ did.

*               *               *               *               *

Ignore the contradictions if you can,

burry your head in the red white and blue sand

that our illusory promise of self preservation

may serve the best interests of a superpower nation.

“Under God” we’ll say,

whatever on earth means…

But apparently it’s good enough for you religious types to play on our team

Christian Nation?

Glorious empire on land seized from Native Americans, built on the broken, bleeding backs of African Americans…

(don’t trip over the bodies as we make another pass on our Star Spangled parade)

Certainly,

if it makes you feel better; give it that label if you wish.

Just replace King Jesus with Mr. President, settle for pointless culture wars, and trade real Kingdom politics,

Matthew 25

for bumper stickers in the shape of a fish.

*                 *                 *                   *                   *

We don’t care which side

Left or right,

of the aisle you sit on, but participation is the key to it all:

not representation,

indoctrination.

Just make sure your real treasure is found in

life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Your Teacher said ‘your heart will be there too’ and we’ve taken him seriously.

Apparently even more so than you do.

Just be sure that your passing interest in the politics of this so-called heavenly kingdom

(You make it sound so far away. Is it real?)

Doesn’t interfere with the politics of Caesar

and we can work together;

You with US.

This addictive, thrilling cocktail:

Called Christendom

We’ll mix it.

You drink it.

Repeat.

*                *                *                   *

It’s worked so well for us so far.

Don’t go taking Jesus’ words too seriously.

You can totally serve God

And mammon.

Look at you!

In the system, like a champ.

A patriot.

A godly patriot.

You’ve come so far.

Don’t spoil it now.

Your comfort, and security depend on it.

Don’t

Stir

The pot.

*                *                 *                  *                *

Nations rise

And fall.

They always have.

But we’re asking you to bet with us that this one will break the cycle.

Place your faith

Life

Wellbeing

Security

In the “last beast best hope of the world.”

You can even say ‘Jesus is Lord’ while you’re at it

a flag in one hand, a gun in the other.

The Kingdom comes through the death of a Jewish peasant?

Ha!

Please!

We know,

you know you really don’t believe that.

The kingdom comes by death, not of you,

but of others’

sisters, brothers, fathers, uncles, mothers…

When you thank God for your liberty

We know our guns, tanks, ships, and fighter jets

are the table where you really place your bets.

Keep your spirituality just that:

spiritual.

Don’t let it affect reality.

That could screw things up.

Royally.

Start a revolution.

Get you killed.

And you wouldn’t want that.

You know that’s why this Jesus guy was a threat.

One thing had to go.

The revolutionary or the status quo.

‘Better one man die

For a nation.’

That’s how we empires operate time and again.

Built on the system set up by Cain.

But forget about that.

Nothing to see here.

Only stacks of bodies,

Victims of the empire

Covered by monuments, flying flags, myths, and war anthems.

But don’t weary yourself with such troubling talk…

Turn on the news.

Listen to the talking heads.

They’ll tell you what you need to hear to exist safely,

Cause minimal damage.

Open the paper and absorb the satisfying propaganda.

‘We’re right, they’re wrong.’

‘A threat to national security.’

‘Protect our foreign interests.’

Set aside the church calendar.

Adopt the empire’s calendar;

Observe the national liturgies of consumerism and militarism.

Black Friday.

July 4th.

Memorial Day.

We’ve even redone the Christmas season for you.

You’ll fit right in.

You God people-

You make such good, loyal patriots with a bit of…

Shall we say…

healthy reconditioning.

We’ll make you a model citizen in no time.

Say it with us.

“God and country,

God and country,

Country and God

Country and…?

Country.”

 

Yours forever,

The Empire

Books influential to this piece:

“A Farewell to Mars,” Brian Zahnd
“Disarming Scripture,” Derek Flood

Issues and Labels or Faces and Stories?

I’m more than you know

I’m more than you see here

I’m more than you let me be

I’m more than you know

A body and a soul

You don’t see me but you will

I am not invisible.

There is no them

There is no them

There’s only us.

-U2, “Invisible”

I drove quite a distance yesterday, six hours total, to be precise. And I had plenty of time to think, and also to listen to music and podcasts. One podcast in particular, a Jonathan Martin sermon, really grabbed me because it was exactly what I’d been thinking about off and on, for a month or so. He helped tie up some of the loose ends for me.

I don’t remember precisely how he said it, but he talked about how God was teaching him to pull his head out of the sand, so he could see people with God’s eyes, enter into their pain, listen to the stories of their lives.

And here’s where the problem is for a lot of us. It’s extremely hard to do that, and still use the labels we’re so fond of. It’s almost impossible to do both. We love to talk about things in terms of “issues facing the church, or America today.” And I don’t think there’s much wrong with discussing “issues.”

But these issues affect people, real people, real image bearers, real lives.

It’s funny how soundbites and labels go hand in hand. The insane amounts of media we’re bombarded with, willingly or otherwise, day and night, has really changed how we think and talk about things. Even though these concise statements using lots of labels and statistics to talk about various issues comprise nice, neatly packaged bits of information to digest, unfortunately it doesn’t give us a very Godly view of the world.

What do I mean by Godly?

I think a Godly view of the world must include a lot of seeing the image of God in other people.

It really does. We humans have the ability to do hellish things when we manage to cloud our vision enough to forget about the image of God in others. I know the wickedness I imagine, sometimes. And let me tell you, when I’m thinking those things, the farthest thought from my mind is that this person is a precious creation of God’s, made to bear His image.

Statistics, news, soundbites, may have truth in them, but truth can’t be reduced to any of those things.

Truth goes much, much deeper.

I think we need to make a huge effort to stop letting the news companies and the politicians control how we talk about stuff. It seems like we’ve just gotten so used to it, we barely think about how it’s affecting us. See, if we don’t actually make any effort to know any of the faces and stories behind these labels, if we only choose to look at them as a group of facts and statistics, we feel we can say pretty much anything we want about them, so long as it doesn’t sound too bad. We feel we can reduce them to a political statement. A theological statement. Some to like to call it “standing for truth.”

But what really is truth, if it’s not based in the Word made flesh? He’s the one who showed us what truth looks like, in person, walking around in skin and bones. He showed us what it was like to really see people.

The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus.

We’re not Christ, but we are called to be Christ’s bodily representation right now.

And really, we can’t see people with God’s eyes, when we’re conveniently reducing the gays, the illegal immigrants, the Arabs, the African Americans, the liberals, the conservatives, the fundamentalists, the liberal theologians, the Catholics, the evangelicals, the rich, the poor, the policemen, the felons, whoever we don’t like, into little chunks of news and statistic for us to slice up, discuss, and pretend they were never really people in the first place.

We might as well be honest; we all have our people we we’d rather not see as people.

Labels do make it easier to talk about people, but I have to wonder: what do these discussions really accomplish if it never goes beyond abstract, if we never see what they mean in the context of our local communities, or in our relationships with individuals? What I mean by that is, if our theories on these issues have no flesh on them or no faces to them, do we really think we can discuss them in an educated manner?

We feel safe keeping it in the theoretical, because it frees us to reach whatever conclusion feels safest and most comfortable to us, and our voices sound really wise bouncing back to us in the comfortable little vacuum we’ve made for ourselves to inhabit.

I’m not proposing existence without convictions. That would be absurd. But what does your conviction look like when it comes into contact with a living and breathing person, a priceless being whom Jesus died to save? Is it as black and white as you thought? Chances are, it’s not.

And this slaps me squarely in the face, because I love the sound of my own voice and the sound of my ideas. I like talking about things more than I like seeing what happens when I embody them outside of the comfortable home I’ve built for them. But ideas affect real people, and I can’t be naive enough to assume otherwise.

Like Becca says, when we enter into someone else’s story, we have to face our own brokenness. And we all hate that. It’s no fun to approach a person you see as being beneath you, and realizing they don’t fit inside the box you built–that ugliness in your own heart is no better than the ugliness in theirs.

It hurts. It’s humbling to realize we’re on par with those we despise. But only when we’re knocked to our knees by His grace and our unworthiness, only then and there, are we in the proper position to serve.

I think it’s pretty typical “fallen human” to not want to know the stories of the people we’d rather write off. Those people about whom we’d never say this, but in more subtle and “Christian” (Pharisaical) ways, act like grace isn’t for them.

We all like to feel superior to someone.

The reality is, if we try, it’s pretty hard to not see at least a little bit of God in those people, to see a little bit of ourselves in those people, to begin to see little sprouts of hope coming out of the ground in their lives, when we make friends with them.

One thing though: if you start making friends with the people you’re prone to dislike, it’s much harder to fit them into the neatly tied packages you’ve fashioned for them.

The generalizations stop working.

The labels and statistics start being replaced by faces and stories that don’t let you talk about issues the same way, because you think of the real people associated with them.

It’s certainly not the easiest way to approach life, but it is the Jesus way.

And here’s where it gets awkward, because those who know me well, know I really struggle hard to embody this. I think I’m getting better at it but the progress is so slow, that it’s really discouraging sometimes. I find it really hard to brush up against the types of people who don’t “fit” with me very naturally. More often than I care to admit, my actions push the people I’ve categorized as “them” away instead of inviting them to be a friend.

But that’s very much what Jesus was talking about when He said, that even “heathen” people usually treat those well who are easy to treat well. Is anything exceptional, or “earth as it is in heaven” going on, when I’m nice to people who are easy for me to get along with?

Hardly.

I guess I’m simply asking that all of us who name Jesus as King be extremely careful what we’re willing to say about issues concerning people we’ve never bothered to meet, let alone even tried to love.

Brian Zahnd aptly explains some of John’s best known words in the Bible like this:

“If we say, “I love God.” But we hate our brother, that is, the other, we are lying to [ourselves]…

…John says there’s a problem. You can’t see God. You only see God in the imago Dei; you only see God in the image bearer. You only see God in the other.

Because God whom you cannot see can become abstract, and what you end up doing is actually loving yourself, because you imagine God to be like youBut when you find out that the other, your neighbor, whether you call them friend or enemy, bears the image of God, and you can’t love them, now the cat’s out of the bag and the truth is on the table that you never did love God, you only did love yourself…

…the Biblical test case for love of God, in other words, is love of neighbor. And you think, ‘Okay. Alright.’

But the Biblical test case for love of neighbor is love of enemy.

We love God to the extent that we love [our enemy.]”

A few closing thoughts:

I don’t know exactly how to conclude this because some of this stuff isn’t particularly fun for me to think about– mostly because I know how much transformation needs to happen in me. I know the ugly thoughts and actions of which I’m capable.

Sometimes they stay inside and sometimes they come out–you know, those moments that make you wonder what God ever saw in you, that caused Him to pursue you, or any of us. He loves us. So mysteriously, lavishly, relentlessly.

I guess I have to conclude that it’s his nature. The fact that He is love.

I’m thankful for a patient and gracious King who doesn’t stoop to my ways of dealing with people–the One who continues to show me what love actually looks like in the flesh, the One who embodied perfect love and, asks us to the same, that we may be children, who are like our Father in Heaven.


Will you teach us how to love?
To see the things you see
Walk the road you walked
Feel the pain that you feel…

-Jars of Clay

“‘Til The Sun Does Shine”

I thought about it recently: it’s strange that I’ve done all kinda of promoting on various social media sites for our recently released album, but I’ve barely mentioned it on the blog. It’s getting close to a month now, that it’s been released and I thought I should mention it on here to those who would be interested and aren’t on Facebook or Twitter.

Writing and recording music sessions between working full time or going to school is not an easy thing. We had a lot of fun going through the process of writing, tweaking, tracking, revising, mixing, and mastering together, but in the end it really came down to a lot of hard work. It was fun work, but exhausting work. We’re really grateful that, after a year of battling four different schedules, and the album changing shape numerous times, it’s finally finished.

We’d also be grateful, if folk music is your thing, (and even if it’s not, maybe it can become your thing) that you’d head over to CDbaby, iTunes, or Amazon, listen to some samples, and consider buying it. In case it’s unclear what sort of content the album contains, the songs are all originals and a reflection of who we are and where we’ve been over the past year.

We’re really quite happy with how it turned out and we think you might enjoy it too. These songs mean a lot to us and we’ve been overwhelmed with people’s kindness so far in telling us how certain songs are significant to them and how they’ve connected with the music.

This album is our journey and we’d be truly grateful and honored if you’d join us in it.

Note: at the risk of telling you something you know, the text in blue contains links to the sites where our album is available.

Enough To Let Me Go

I’ve been thinking about some of this stuff a lot lately. It has a lot to do with
God and how He loves us and how we try to love Him and each other.

I think a lot of our unhealthy ways of relating to each other have a lot to do with our unhealthy ways of views of God and how those views inform how we relate to Him. We then relate to other people how we think God relates to us. At least it often works that way.

This was honestly going to be a post on Facebook but it got too long.

Fear and guilt really are poor motivators. I can sometimes use them to change behaviors, but crushing people’s spirits into the shape I want, makes both them and me less human. Even worse, I take on part of the enemy’s work: accusing.

As long as sin has been around most people have known there’s something wrong with them.

I know. I know it well.

But simply being aware of my depravity did nothing to change my heart. That awareness only increased my burden, as I tried and mostly failed to do what I was supposed to do.

It took a force much bigger than laws and guilt to change me: it took Love incarnate.

Yes. It took relentless, terrifying, scandalous, humble, servant, sacrificial, love to break and began to remake me.

God loved me before I loved Him and that’s what actually started conforming me to Christ’s image, not me knowing I was a bad person. I want to give that to people. Free love.

No stipulations.

Because love with stipulations isn’t love. It’s manipulation.

Love is instead, much more like breathing, as Jon Foreman, frontman of Switchfoot, and my songwriting hero, wrote in this song.

You breathe it in and let it go.
Every breath you take is not yours to own.
It’s not yours to hold.

Do you love me enough to let me go?

-switchfoot

If you suck in two lungs full of air and hold your breath for long enough, you’ll soon discover that while you may have taken a breath, it doesn’t mean you’re breathing. It’s only when you engage in the whole process of taking and releasing breaths that you actually get to experience the good that breathing does for you.

It’s the same way with love. You might receive love from those around you, but trying to hold all of it inside you doesn’t work. You either release it to others or you start losing your ability to receive the life that comes from breathing.

And furthermore, trying to love someone while attaching stipulations to it is a bit like trying to survive only on shallow breaths. It’s like lacking the faith to believe that if you completely release a breath, there won’t be more air for you to inhale.

You can sort of survive on it, and it kind of looks and feels like the real thing, and it might feel safer, but eventually you’ll notice it wearing you down. It’s just not healthy. And the people around you notice it, and feel ill at ease, hoping you’ll learn to breathe properly and get the oxygen you need.

Clearly “loving” people this way, has similar effects. It goes through some of the same motions, but the longer this “strings attached” love goes on, the clearer it becomes to everyone involved, that the relationship isn’t thriving. It’s taking short shallow breaths and showing some signs of life, but it’s far from thriving.

I think God knew all of this stuff when He made us and that’s why He gives us the choice to love Him. He doesn’t manipulate us to scare us, or play mind games with us to try to get us to love Him. He just loves us. For free.

He sent Jesus to show us that and put into motion a Kingdom where that and other beautiful things are the reality, instead of things like fear and control that the devil’s been suggesting to us for a long time now.

When we use those old tactics to “love” people and “make them behave,” people around us are sometimes duped into it thinking it’s tough love. More likely though, they shake their heads and leave, thinking that God’s people too, are in the same business as everyone else, and using the same old methods. “What’s different about them anyway?”

Yes indeed. What is, if we resort to that?

But when we love people with the love God showed us, we show others a new reality and a little taste of the perfection that will one day be when our King returns to set up His kingdom and make all things new.

I’m relieved and grateful that God’s been patient with me because I find it really hard to love like He does. I like to make sure my love isn’t being wasted on ungrateful jerks. But He keeps showing me that I’m no better than anyone else, and I think my heart is slowly becoming softer and more
like His.

I hope that’s a reality for all of because apparently that’s a big way God plans to establish His kingdom in the here and now:

through us channeling His love to others who are thirsty for something different.

Something that doesn’t add to an already heavy yoke of sin and guilt, but instead gives the abundant life it promises.

Something that works a lot like breathing.

Something called love.

New Song: First Listen – “This Tree”

This is really special time for the four of us in Saints Alive, and in a lot of ways it’s hard to believe we’re at this point. It’s taken a lot of time, energy, and patience, but we’ve also had a tremendous amount of fun, and we’re satisfying to say we’re quite happy with the result.

The date is rapidly approaching when the first copies of ‘Til The Sun Does Shine will be available. With that in mind, I’m very happy to announce that we’ve uploaded the first song off the album to YouTube, and you can now listen to it here.

It’s a fun and folky song written by Arlyn and it’s one of our favorites on the album, and also to play live. We hope you’ll enjoy it too. If you do, we’d be grateful if you’d share it and tell your friends about it.

“Love Your Enemies”

Yesterday my Twitter feed nearly exploded with nods and tributes to the passing of a hero and a peacemaker, whose legacy will far outlast his life.

I was thinking about it today and I had to wonder…

I’m curious if the world leaders lauding Nelson Mandela’s example in peacemaking and reconciliation with his enemies, thought of the fact that the same treatment of their own enemies might work similar wonders of healing and restoration to what happened in South Africa.

And believe it or not, the American empire, and her people who seem unusually fascinated by violence, would actually be included in those who could learn from his example.

Mandela showed us that even in government, Christ’s ways heal and restore.

I’m not claiming he did everything right, or that he was perfect, but I do say this: his kind hearted treatment of his enemies (the very people who imprisoned him for 27 years of his life, the people who were responsible for the death and mistreatment of his own people) when he became president, was Christlike and nothing short of heroic. He didn’t sweep their crimes under the rug, but rather than using it as his chance to finally get revenge, he went out of his way to help his enemies find restoration.

But to do that, he had to give up his rights: his right to even the score, to show his enemies how those terrible things felt to him.

But he didn’t.

It reminds me a lot of a Jewish carpenter who was killed by His enemies. The crazy thing was, after that, He rose from the dead.

Not many people ever have the chance to avenge their own death. It’s always someone else that does that for them. This man had that chance. Wow, did He ever! He could have done it in style–with vengeance that made all other vengeance look like toddlers scuffling over toys.

But possibly almost as strange as His resurrection, is this: rather than bringing in an army of angels, to help him torture and obliterate the people who hurt Him, He offered to forgive them! He gave up His right to revenge.

Two thousand years later, we still feel the aftershock of such love and forgiveness.

We feel it, because all of us bear an equal portion of the blame for His death in the first place.

Humanity would not exist if God would have taken revenge on all those who wronged Him.

And it’s all very surprising, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s His very nature. He tells us in Scripture that He IS love.

I think that’s why He asks those of us who have tasted His radical love and mercy to do the same to those who hurt us.

People sometimes throw around “peace and love” like it just feels good. And maybe that’s because the results of peace and love do feel good, but what brings it about doesn’t very often.

It doesn’t feel good at all to give up the right to revenge. It hurts. It feels like dying. But without death there is no resurrection.

And do we want resurrection. We just don’t like the death that has happens first. At least I don’t. I pretty much hate it.

I don’t see how people think nonviolence is an easy way or a cop out. There are few things inside fallen humans that surpass the desire to preserve our own lives and to fight for what is ours. To win this fight against yourself is one of the most difficult things a human can ever accomplish, and rarely can be, without the help of the One who first showed us that way.

The way of peace is not free.

It really does cost: it costs you power and might even cost your life, but I think it’s worth it: partially because I believe in what Jesus said and did. And partially because history has shown us again and again that He is right: the cost of violence is high. Much, much higher than the cost of peace.

Death is an inevitability for all of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or the way things should be. World views that condone and partake in the destruction of human life are not compatible with what the Prince of Peace taught and lived.

I feel like every day I have to learn new ways of giving up my rights. I’ll spend the rest of my life learning it. But I’ve found that when I do, the people around me seem like people again–people God loves.

The interesting thing is when I treat people like people, they act more like people. When I stop controlling them and trying to push them around, they are then free to be more like they’re supposed to be, and they usually end up treating me more like a person too.

They don’t always respond right. But I’m not called to bend them back into shape. I’m called to be faithful.

It’s certainly not easy following the Prince of Peace. But the longer I live, and the more I discover about Him, I’m convinced it’s the only way.

May God give us grace; grace enough to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use us spitefully and persecute us, that we may be children of our Father in Heaven…

Some notes:

First off: please don’t take that earlier paragraph as a cheap shot at Americans. It really isn’t. I am American so I’m writing about what I know. I guess I’ve heard far too often people revere the way of peace for other people in other places, but then when it comes to the US, it’s somehow different.

America is a nice place to live and I like it here. But I will, by God’s grace, never fight or kill other people for what I have here. Freedom is great, but not when it makes my neighbors in other land die or become less free.

I’d rather (at least I hope so) give up some nice things than have other people die and be treated unfairly so I can have more “blessings” and prosperity. God loves those people dearly, the same as He loves me. And believe it or not, He cares more about them and whether they are loved (especially by those who claim to be His children) than He cares about whether or not the US is a world power.

The US has done much good and would even be considered benevolent and generous compared to a lot of countries, but it has also harmed. And while God does have ways of redeeming even the dark parts of our history, that doesn’t make those things good.

I’m not anarchist or telling people to disrespect the government. Definitely not. I only point out that if you look at United States’ priorities and you look at what we know about God’s priorities, and you still think they’re pretty much the same thing, you should probably read Jesus’ sermons and look at His life more carefully.

There are a lot of people who think: “As goes the US so goes the Kingdom of God.” That’s just not true. God’s Kingdom was being built long before the Declaration of Independence was signed and it will continue forever, long after the US is gone. The advance and power of God’s Kingdom does not hinge on America’s power and dominance in the world. I know it feels that way sometimes, because we like what we have here, but let’s please not change what’s true just because we’d rather it was that way.

I don’t hate America. I just love the ” “Kingdom of the Heavens” more.

(That was much longer than I intended, but it didn’t really fit with rest of the post and I wanted to clarify a few things.)

Second: The comments on this post are only for those interested in wrestling through this issue and discussing it civilly with helpful dialogue. Any comments that don’t fit that description will be deleted. I’m frankly not interested in hours of debate on hypothetical situations, first because they aren’t helpful, and second because I DON’T know what I’d do in certain situations. I only pray that in the heat of all conflict I will hear the Spirit’s above all others and obey it. That’s really all I have to say on that front. Blessings.

-rj

A Thing That’s Been Keeping Me From the Blog

Over the last year and a half I’ve had the incredible privilege of playing music with some of my best friends. We’ve played a decent number of local gigs at a coffee shop, the farmers market and other local events.

Around a year ago we started working on a studio album comprised almost entirely of our original work. I’ll be honest. I didn’t completely know what we were getting into by committing to this.

We set up our own studio in the basement of Arlyn’s house in a place called the tomato room and started working last fall.

It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. We laugh a lot. Like crazy. The lunacy in the studio is, I guess, a way to have fun, but also a way of dealing with the work.

Ah yes, the work.

It’s mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically taxing work. It’s not for the faint of heart, to be sure. In addition to giving this work your best shot, you are also brought to face some of your biggest fears as an artist and you get to stare them in the face while you work.

They often show up in thought form: Do I have any idea what I’m doing here? Can we even do this? Do our songs matter to anyone besides us? How long until we see some progress? These guys are much higher caliber musicians than I am– what am I doing here with them?

As scary as those questions were and still are, facing them has changed me. Now I’m at the point where I’ve pushed past some of those fears and they aren’t speaking as loudly as they were.

Now it’s fine to me that there are things that Jared, Arlyn, and Andrew are better at, than I am. It’s not intimidating like it was. In fact it’s been incredibly beautiful to see what strengths different ones of us bring to help the process along.

I find it pretty neat that none of us are what you’d call the total package and that we need each other to make this thing work. I’ve learned so much from these guys. I’m a more complete artist, a more complete musician, and a more complete person.

This past weekend we made a hard push for the finish line, and were blessed to see some really good results. The end is finally in sight. It’s pretty hard to believe. We’ve got a little bit of tracking left to do, and we’ve started working on mixing.

I’ve added a little video we put together last night. It’s a bit of a summary of our weekend: arrangements, recording, plenty of laughing, and a couple footraces on lunch break.

You can see other updates (both serious and otherwise) on our Facebook page and on Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saints-Alive/338091499605300?ref=hl

https://twitter.com/SaintsAlive_

The Painting of Life

I’m learning more about painting and such from Rebecca than I ever have, or ever thought I would, in my life. We’ve been to a few art museums now, and the great thing about knowing as little as I do, is the several times we’ve been, it feels like I gain a lot of knowledge on the subject. So, yes. Though they be few, there are benefits of ignorance.

A couple months ago, Rebecca and I were visiting an art museum in the small town of Lindsborg. As we neared the end of the exhibits, on one wall was a giant painting that covered three different canvasses, all side by side. Each canvass was several feet across and at least as tall as we were. Up close, the colors were brilliant and we could see individual shapes and textures in great detail. We admired it up close for a little while, then stepped back closer to the middle of the room, and were a bit surprised by what we saw. It was a massively complex nighttime scene of a forest using both abstract and realism to depict little night creatures, along with bushes and trees.

It took a bit for me to grasp what sort of time and effort it probably took to simply imagine, let alone paint something like this. To get it right the artist would have had to spend a lot of time moving in close to add the detail and texture to each part, but stepping back (I would think) quite often to make sure it looked like it should from the distance at which you’d want to view the whole painting–a tremendous amount of thought and work, to say the least.

It’s been a while since we admiringly stood there in that little art gallery talking for quite some time about that painting and I’ve
thought about it numerous times since then. The more I’ve thought about it, and paintings in general, the more I realized that…

Up close, some of them look kind of random.

Up close, you can see what some of us would call imperfections.

And up close, sometimes, you can also see quite a lot of beauty that you’d miss from farther away.

To me, it actually feels like life a lot of the time.

The parallels really could go on for a longer time than I’d like to talk about all at once, or likely than you’d like to hear, but I had to think of it like this:

First, God in His grand painting of the narrative we see, beginning long ago, and being continued in the present, sees things in the zoomed out view. He sees where it began, and also where it’s ending. The interesting and beautiful thing about this particular painting is that, certain pieces of this painting aren’t static. But here’s something else:

They don’t just move.

They’re actually allowed to paint their own colors.

They’re even allowed to paint strokes that mess up the painting.

Amazingly, these living parts of the painting (by now I’m sure you’ve guessed that they are us, people) aren’t left to wonder about the painting, blindly waving their little paint brushes in frustration, randomly splattering colors around, and hoping they’re not messing things up. Even though the Master Artist has a far away view of the painting, there’s a portion of painting where He actually became a part of the painting just like those in it, and His spirit continues to guide the strokes of those who want Him and his colors to be the colors they paint in their little parts of the painting.

He doesn’t nearly always tell them precisely what to paint, and sometimes it’s really confusing, but if they listen to Him closely and spend more time knowing Him and His style of painting, their colors and strokes become surprisingly similar to His. But maybe it’s not so surprising after all, because He did originally paint these people to be small representations of Him, and in small ways, to create like He does.

Another strangely beautiful thing about the Master Painter, is that He can take the messed up, the trashy parts, the ugly, the bad color combinations, and make beautiful things from them. Redemption. Wow. Go figure. The more I think about this part, the more amazing and baffling and impossible it seems, and less like it could be completely real. But I know it is, because I’ve seen it.

And also, once again, if His people take cues from Him, they too can help make beauty and redemption of the bad colors, and the ignorant strokes. But to do that, they can’t just paint pretty things around themselves and ignore what’s wrong with the rest of the painting. To truly serve this work of art, they have to engage the dissonance around them, and work to help it blend with rest of the painting. And they don’t do this by merely flinging some bad colors of their own onto the canvass to help the stumbling painters feel better, but they, like the Artist who entered the painting, should follow His example by helping the painters around them know what it means to paint well.

Also, I think He’s allowing us, for the most part to only see the painting from close up. We can see a lot of what’s already been painted in the past, and occasionally, a few get small bits of the future. It’s merciful this way, I think. Most of us would have a hard time enjoying the beauty in the strokes right in front of us and engaging the ugly splatters around us if we’d see all that was coming to us in the parts we will paint, and in the parts that will be painted long after our portion is complete.

This is where I’ll stop, but I love to think of life this way. I think it’s really incredible to serve an infinite, all-knowing God, Who is also heartbreakingly loving, and wants to walk with us each step of our lives. He wants us to walk none of it alone, but He still lets us decide and doesn’t force Himself on any of us, even when we’re pretty intent on messing things up by lumbering about and painting our own world. And He still loves us and wants us to join Him through all of it.

Unbelievable.

But I’m pretty sure it’s true. Usually I’m sure. But sometimes my faith is puny. I sometimes don’t act like I believe it at all. And it takes some unpleasant blundering to remind me where I belong.

I’ve gradually been accepting this: every few years I’ll look back and wonder how I lived like I did, or viewed God like I did, or looked at the world like I did. I’m becoming more at peace with the idea though: that I can never remove myself completely enough from the part of life I’m in, to get a third person view of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say to myself and anyone who will listen is this: don’t be so focused on what’s coming or what you think is coming that you refuse to dip your brush into the colors that are put right in front of you, and you neglect the painters around you (both in what you can teach them and in what you can learn from them). Your portion of the painting is far too short to spend it waiting for better colors or worrying about what you’re going to do when you’re given new colors to use, and new painters to work beside.

Use what’s given to you and use it well. Put as much love, as much joy, as much peace, as much hope as the Master Painter gives you, into each stroke, and enjoy each one for what it is. That’s how He painted, and in little ways, He’ll teach you to paint like Him if you’re willing to learn.

Playlist:

“Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore” – The High Kings

“Gran Partita” – Mozart

“Daniel” – Joshua James

“Paranoia in B Major” – The Avett Brothers

“Concerto In C for 2 Trumpets” – Vivaldi

“The Holly & the Ivy – Wayfarer

“Ave Maria” – Chanticleer

“Politik” – Coldplay

“Sing It Out” – Switchfoot

“Let Your Love Be Strong” – Switchfoot

“Griselda” – Vivaldi

“Lesser Things” – Jars of Clay

“There Is No Rose” – Chanticleer & Robert H. Young

“From Finner” – Of Monsters and Men

“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” – Eric Whitacre

“The House of God Forever” – Jon Foreman

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” -The King’s Singers

“Cottonfield” -The Vespers