Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Meditation II -- Wisdom

Be not wise in your own eyes;
  fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
  and refreshment to your bones.

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
  and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
  and her profit better than gold.

I haven't silver or gold or wisdom; thus I am poor indeed. Circumstances befall me, hurts beyond my control. But where am I likely to turn to solve such painful puzzles (which fall on the good and the bad)? To God, who authors the universe and brings peace to the confused? No. Most often, I trust my own feeble and failing brain, my own devices and schemes.

But where is wisdom, and must it always kick me when I'm down? Does it hurt so much because I am stubborn or because there are plenty to play the part of Job's friends, ready to tell me what I should have done after the fact?

I am not righteous, though I desire righteousness. I am not holy, though pursing holiness is my only true peace. I am not wise. I am not wise.

We are stupid and foolish without You, O Lord. Help us to turn away from evil. Help us to recognize it and turn away. Heal us completely: flesh, bones, mind, and heart.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inmost being,
  and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

How can I, born and living in iniquity, be taught wisdom in my heart, where so much darkness lives? Lord, we are always dark until Your Light shines in us. I must open myself for God's light, allow it to burn the dark gunk, the dross away, and trust my Teacher. I cannot rely on merely saying true words, but allow the transformation of my being.

He shall come to the place in the heart that no one knows. I do not even know this heart. But Christ knows it. It is the place where my true being resides and what my outer core is subject to. For wisdom is not in smart or right words, but in practice.

Practice. This means we do not always get it right. But we keep trying, going back to our teacher as many times as necessary until our thick skulls are penetrated by the Holy Light.

Bookmarks -- Uncle Melvin

Just re‑read a favorite story by Daniel Pinkawater called Uncle Melvin. I say it is a story, but there really is no narrative. The book is a sketch of a mental patient told through the eyes of a child. For me, it is beautiful and heartbreaking.

I know that many who are mentally ill are not as docile or lively or as interesting as Melvin is. But here is a tender portrait of a gentle man with "theories" who talks to birds and wears a bowler hat to keep his ideas in until he's through with them.

Pinkwater's book tells us as much about Melvin's family as it does Melvin. Melvin is allowed to help the family care for the child, and is given space to work the garden or fix things in the basement. The boy's father his son. "I have never thought of Melvin as crazy. In many ways he is the least crazy person I know. He has his ideas ‑‑ that's all."

Pinkwater's illustrations are full of color and don't overwhelm the story. The pictures hint at being impressionistic, but are never fuzzy where details are needed.

For me, this is a sweet story. Yes, a story in that it tells a great deal about readers, building into our imaginations, and leaving us to fill in what is needed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hunger: A Meditation

So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.

After railing against the unfaithful Israelites -- and by extension all of us who have been unfaithful to God, we are told this. God lets them off easy and also puts tough burdens on them (us). These are not so much rules and impossible formulas to salvation or righteousness. "Hold fast," God says. That is all. Cling like the dependent children we are. But can we allow ourselves such child-like holding?

And to what are we to hold fast to? Love and justice. Oh how easy and how hard! "God is love and God is just," we may well believe (though that faith waxes and wanes). Can we trust His love? Can we wait for His justice? We are commanded "and wait continually for your God."

and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
We are not to live for ourselves, but for Him who died for all. But my self is all I can control, all I can trust to appreciate my sacrifices. Who said anything about being appreciated? We do not need appreciation or acknowledgement or anything but the Love of God, which has already been and is continually given to us.

Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.

Oh how I worry, Lord! About my car, my house, my family. About food (despite my gross obesity!). And labor is not only for the money to by food and keep safe and well that we need to live. Work itself is good for my soul and mind and body.

But all these things pass away. They die.

How many hungers I have, O Lord! How I wish for them to die, satiated by your living bread!

How hard it is to work for what we cannot see, for what we know -- even with faith as tiny as mine -- what is the better part. Often we cannot tell the difference between hunger and craving. And I wonder why I try to put myself in charge of such knowledge. Even at this age, I need a Father who can guide me to understand the difference and teach me in a place deeper than my mind and stronger than my body.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Music Notes -- Light the Night & Jazz Praise

As a young man, I ran across these two albums in a phase of life when I wanted to listen to anything recorded by and for Christians. Some time ago they were re-released as a single disc set. I ran across them recently through Slacker Radio, and was pleasantly surprised. While perhaps a little too slick and too close to smooth jazz (what I call safe jazz), for many, I think these projects still hold up as well as anything put together by Spiro Gyra or the Yellowjackets.

The projects were recorded under the names of John Mehler and Kenneth Nash, first rate musicians in their own right. However, it took the talents of a number of then barely known players, like John Patitucci (bass) and Wayne Brasil (guitar), to pull it off.

When I first came across these albums, I was new to Christian music, and so a number of the songs were unfamiliar to me. I got to know them through recordings like these even before I learned the tunes had words. This is the power not only of the terrific playing, warm production, masterful arrangements and electric improvisations, but of the music itself. Thus, even for the non-believing listener, I think hearing these seventeen songs can be an edifying experience. For an "older" believer like me, this is quite rewarding.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Is this a witness?

Recently a Facebook friend not only complained about the slowness of some people, but deleted my response that for a few of us slow people there isn’t much worth rushing for. I don’t know what was offensive about my remark, but what made the incident even more interesting to me is that this person kept the post that made fun of the “abnormally obese” people who, I presume, are also slow, and horribly inconvenient.

Normally the posts of this first person are cheery, and encouraging. I don’t know the person really well – we met through a mutual acquaintance. But I believe the person is a Christian, and that most of the time, the heart is in the right place.

And who am I to complain about complaining? After all, I use my Facebook and my blog to multiply my whining to a world mostly uninterested. People can go back and look at my status updates and tweets and see that I am not always charitable or Christ-like in what I write, and those who have to endure me in person know that I do not always edify with my words. So who am I to talk?

Well, I’ll tell you. I’m a person who doesn’t understand how a Christian can delete a post, that is not an attack or criticism, but can keep the post of someone who vilifies the overweight. Can’t help but take that personally, since I’m the one whose input was deleted and also one of many who are, in no uncertain terms, fat.

A lot of talk these days seems to be about the idea that “words hurt.” But it is like some sort of abstract concept that a bunch of people come up with to protect their feelings, and avoid actual concern over (let alone interaction with) what Jesus called “the least of these.” Okay, maybe I’m taking that phrase out of context, but didn’t Jesus say that what we did not only for, but to, “them” we did to Him?

Here’s the thing: I’ll get over this. No one is perfect, and I would like to believe that the two people involved have no personal ill feelings for me or want to hurt others. I suspect most of us would be mortified if we knew the real results of some of our supposedly “harmless” acts. But will the next person “get over it”? Will the next person they carelessly harm or ignore, someone God is foolish enough to love as much as them, will that be the one who is a believer with problems bigger than a minor inconvenience, something that takes longer to write about than to adjust to? Will the next person be someone on the cusp of faith, who only needs an encouraging word or a deleted response to push them to a critical decision about Christ? About life in general?

I hope I remember all this when I find myself in the same position. (And sure as God is God, I will!) Because it really isn’t about our feelings. It is about who and what we represent. And if what we are about isn’t bigger than ourselves, then not much really matters.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Bookmarks – Saint With a Gun

Some months ago, my friend Glenn decided to retire and not take home all of the books he had in his office. And I’m glad he picked this one for me. The book is old in the sense that it covers the private eye subset of the mystery genre only to its publication in 1974. However, what William Ruehlman has to say here speaks to not only to books and movies in the United States, but to our culture of violence and our emphasis on retribution and “justice.” And in that sense, little has changed.
The book may seem a bit scholarly to some, but it really is a good read, even for those not inclined toward the academic. I wish Ruehlman had included a bit more in the way of counterargument, but he knows his subject well, and his point seems reasonable despite this little problem.
It does seems that this book is sometimes hard to find. But I suspect for most people, it is well worth the search.