“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

Failure, Wonder, and the Joy of Being Beloved

This evening I failed. I set out to accomplish something by the end of the evening and I didn’t get it done. I was planning to have a productive evening working on my music stuff and it just didn’t go well.

And here, I feel I should throw myself down the gauntlet so I have no choice, but to follow through. I’m working on a small solo project of my own: an EP of several songs I’ve written that are inspired by Kansas while our band takes a short recording hiatus, because, frankly, it’s summer, and summer is the time to be busy.

I felt like I should use the time off to sharpen my skills and this seemed like a good option.

To say it’s a lot of hard work is an understatement. It’s mentally, emotionally, and even physically draining. But I love it. Most of the time.

Things just went badly this evening.

I made a list of things I was going to get done.

I worked hard.

I played the parts again, and again, trying to perfect them.

I got frustrated.

I calmed myself, and told myself it was okay.

It wasn’t okay.

I repeated the process.

After several hours of standing and eventually, sitting, in front of a mic with my guitar, it became clear I wasn’t going to be productive anymore that evening. It was a discouraging revelation. Tangible progress was what I wanted this evening. Tangible progress–not a forlorn little clump of soundbites on my my computer screen that I probably wouldn’t be able to use.

My girlfriend, Rebecca, texted me and asked me how it was going.

I told her how it was going.

She was very encouraging and told me some things I wanted to hear and a few more things I needed to hear.

Feeling a bit better, I surrendered and put my things away, turning my studio back into a bedroom.
I trudged up the stairs, feeling pretty defeated, walked to the front door to see what it was like outside. I opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

What greeted me was a fabulous Kansas sunset.

Pink and orange were the dominant colors this evening. The sun, a lazy orange halo of fire, was at that magical moment when it’s just starting to slip away. That time where it sinks so quickly, you can almost see it moving. That moment that if you’re not paying attention for a bit, you miss it.

The instant I walked out, I knew this was what I needed. Not perfectly recorded tracks. Not a list of crossed off items to make me feel proud and self important.

I just stood there for a while, taking it in, then walked across the porch to the edge, and I slowly realized what had happened to me this evening.

I’d truly lost the joy during the earlier part of this evening. Lost the wonder. In pursuit of perfection, I forgot why I like to play music: because I love it; because it’s fun.

I pulled out my phone to take a picture. To chronicle the sunset’s splendor. It was out of room for pictures. So what.

When my phone had no room for pictures, it didn’t build on the frustration of the rest of the evening. I didn’t delete things to make room so I could show everyone what an awesome sunset I got to see.

I let go. I released. I didn’t care. I felt God saying, “Just enjoy it.” So I did.

It was then that my soul gave a sigh of relief. I sat down on the edge of the porch with my feet in the soft grass, and I stared at the colors as they played with each other.

I felt the weight of an evening of frustrations dissipate as I was reminded that we humans were never made strictly to perform. We were never made to just carry out tasks, mindless of the wonderful world around us.

We were made to feel the love of the Creator, and to let the beauty and wonder of that love spill into the things around us: our work, our people, our art.

And living in wonder is not the byproduct of a certain occupation, a certain locale, (or even a certain level of perfection). It’s when we’ve allowed ourselves to see the wonder of life as it is, not, as we wish it were.

This doesn’t mean we don’t hope for anything better. But when we hope for something better at the expense of the things we already have, it’s not hope anymore. It’s discontentment.

This also doesn’t mean I don’t hope for better, more productive times of working on music. What it does mean, however, is that this evening was not an evening wasted.

Not by a long shot.

The Father’s Arms

The Father’s Arms

It’s the one place where I feel comfortably helpless.

It’s where I admire His strength, and revel in the mystery of His goodness.

It’s the place where my problems are still big, but His grace is sufficient.

It’s where I reside in peace that supersedes circumstances and bursts comprehension.

It’s where I receive forgiveness.

It’s where I drink grace.

It’s where I belong.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Andrew Peterson live for the first time. Even before the time I began writing my own songs, he was a writing hero to me. Jason Gray was there as well on what was known as The Storytellers Tour–and with good reason.

We spent the evening listening to their stories and music, and being filled full, and overflowing with the beautiful and profound, whether spoken or sung. Both men are incredibly vibrant and this vibrance can’t help but spill out in their songs and stories. But the purpose of this introduction is not so much to give a concert review, but to give you a preface to the man’s work I’ll be allowing you to sample.

Andrew Peterson: what to say properly without saying what’s been said before? The depths of life, of philosophy, of pain, of hope, of theology, that this man can plumb in a four or five minute song never cease to amaze me. He rarely uses filler content to finish out a song. Never succumbs to the simple, pat answer. He speaks eloquently about the mystery, but allows the mystery to remain. Everything syllable seems to be there for a good reason. Every word serves a purpose in the story he’s telling.

Like his smooth, unassuming, folk-type voice or not, you’d be hard pressed to refute the eloquence, the beauty, the reality of the words he sings. I was driving to town a while ago and was planning to listen a little Paper Route. I really was.

But I decided to finish a song I started earlier, from his new album Light for the Lost Boy. I finished that one and the next song began. I couldn’t stop because the mystery of the music pulled me in. A beautiful song of perseverance and hope. I skipped one and landed on the album closer: Don’t You Want To Thank Someone.

For some reason I don’t believe I’d ever heard it before. The title was simple enough. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting that much… I assumed a nice, simple closer. It started out well enough: a slow wash of soft synth and percussive echoing guitar that was more than a bit reminiscent of The Joshua Tree era U2.

The part I wasn’t prepared for was an epic nearly 10 minute song filled with beautiful poetry and imagery. This songso marvelously explores the tension between faith and doubt, beauty and pain, sin and redemption, it’s hard to fathom it all. I spent most of the song with goosebumps and at some spots had to fight back a few tears as I drove.

More of my own words really won’t do justice to this piece of art. I have nothing more to say about it but to offer you his poetry and a link to the song. Wait until you can pay attention to it, maybe put on a pair of headphones, enjoy, and reflect.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from the prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
I am eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallalujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/andrew-peterson/don-t-you-want-to-thank-someone-lyrics/#0IPLos46SF1C7p8X.99

Art Giveaway

We interrupt our not-so-regularly scheduled blogging to bring you a special offer. This post really contains none of my musings, but is instead a bit of promotion for a friend. Rebecca Yoder has kindly offered to give this beautiful original painting to anyone who will help share the word and give it a good home. You also have a chance to win this fine piece of work if you follow the instructions. Click here http://beccayoderart.com/new-site-new-giveaway/ for more information. Just know that if you win it (which would mean that I wouldn’t) I will be very disappointed in you. Now go, with the knowledge that our friendship may be in jeopardy if you win it.