Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Meditation XXX -- Bread of Life (3)

"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."

So often when we ask about the "will of God" we are trying to find out what God wants us to do. Should we pursue a certain ministry? Who should we marry? How shall I deal with unbelieving co-workers? I know I have often reasoned that if God knows and cares about every hair on my head, then certainly even the smallest things should be put to the test of what He desires, assuming that even my failing hair is part of His greater plan.

Yet Jesus here does not subject us to such mental tyranny. I am not saying that we should not pray for God's direction, or that we should not wish to be part of God's work on the earth. But Jesus makes simple what we overcomplicate: Believe in Him.

Though I learned a lot in school about how food works to create energy, I do not think about the process most of the time when I eat. There are times when I do need to consider how nutrition works, so that I keep my body in good health. And I have realized over the years that my physical health is not just about how I feel, and that it effects many other people. But most of the time, I trust that when I eat, food will be converted into energy for me to get through to the next day.

Jesus, the Bread of Life, tells us to merely believe. Perhaps, in light of what I have already written, the word "merely" seems to be poorly chosen. Belief is often hard work. But is it harder than the mental gymnastics required to convince oneself that the center of the universe is in one's own brain?

It is not enough to turn our faces to Jesus. We can see Him and say, "Yes, He is a smart cookie, a wise fellow. He said some pretty bright things that sometimes apply to our lives." We must trust, when earthly reason fails us. And fail us it must.

We eventually are brought low, so low that eternity is something we cannot see, even with 20/20 vision. That is only one of the times we must look on the Son and know we will be raised.

Ever bright Jesus, guide us to right reasoning, that whether in action or stillness, we follow Your star. Amen.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Meditation XXIX -- Bread Of Life (2)

"This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

When I became a Christian, I never would have imagined that belief would be work. It seemed so easy, so natural. And I suspect that for most Christians, belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, is quite natural, like turning one's head to look at the face of one whose voice has been speaking from the side.

But belief in Jesus is more than this. Imagine that the voice to our side is loving relative, perhaps a grandmother. My grandmother was one of the smartest people I knew. I was interested in what she said even when I become an all-knowing teen or an "I've-got-my-own-ways" young adult. When she spoke, I listened, partly because I loved her, but so often because she was so wise. She rarely gave me advice, yet spoke to me candidly, not only from her heart, but often from my own. How she did that, I don't know.

I rarely had the opportunity to disobey her, probably because I don't remember her telling me what to do. I treasured not only her words, but what I was to her.

Human wisdom, however, we can take or leave. Even the wise things Jesus told us we have ignored and not found ourselves in grave danger (or so we think). But Jesus, if He is to be believed, is not just a wise person, and not just a person who loves us even more than our grandmothers did.

Jesus requires action. No, He demands it. And that action is to know when other "realities" hit us that He is the Bread of Life. That He is the sustenance we need for eternal life. And not just life in some shiny gold Heaven, but LIFE instead of the death of separation from God.

See friends, our attention, like our faces, can be turned in many directions, to many different seeming realities. The runner believes that despite the pounding of his feet and knees on the earth, despite the more pleasurable activities of sitting in front of a ball game with a lap full of chips, despite the insistence of others that fitness can be accomplished many other ways, that the hard miles put in today will not only pay off tomorrow, but make each present moment better.

Faith in Jesus makes no sense to the world. To many (even some in the church), that faith is merely a step from one place to another. From one reality to another, like stepping through a wall to a new world. But faith isn't a step. It is a walk.

Lord Jesus, you offer always to feed us with Yourself. Help us to stay turned to You, and to walk always in Your Love. Amen.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Meditation XXVIII -- Bread Of Life (1)

"Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you."
As I write this, I am housesitting for my brother and his wife, a kind of working vacation for me. I've been told that we can eat whatever is here, and there is plenty. And I love to eat. I really do, and my brother's home is well stocked. There is a great deal that might be called indulgences, and plenty that is "good for you." But for me, all food is good. I often say, "I haven't met a cheeseburger I didn't like."

And I know what it is like to be hungry. Not hungry like the homeless or like starving children in third world countries. But I've done without, for a variety of reasons. I have let myself be cranky when I have food, but not what I really want and no money to buy what I crave. And thinking about the homeless and the starving children often chastises me, but sometimes it just makes me feel stupid.

We need food, I want to tell Jesus. We die without it.

But we die, really die, without the Bread of Life.

So I must put this directive from Our Lord into context. Jesus had recently fed five thousand people from a small amount of food (maybe enough to feed one family). Then some of them go looking for him and realize that he is not there and he didn't leave with his disciples. So the crowd Jesus is now talking to have taken the time and effort to find him, and they have been at least partial witnesses to two miracles (though how much of those miracles they saw is not at all clear).

And Jesus says to them, "You came only because I filled your bellies." Well, yes. Isn't it human nature to go where the food is? Without food, we die. 
But Jesus isn't so much admonishing, but correcting them. And correction is not about being "wrong," but wrong-minded. Of course food is necessary. These people aren't lazy blights on society that are not willing to work in order to provide their sustenance. But where else can they eat and hear His teaching? The problem is they are still focused on their bodies and neglecting the spiritual aspect of life that is the center of The Lord's message.

He says, "You need to be fed. I am the food."

Just as the body can be tricked into thinking that a craving is a need, so our spirits can be tricked into thinking there is nourishment outside of Christ. There is some value to some things that are not directly from Jesus. But it is like the difference between canned peaches and the fresh fruit from the tree. And too often, we just want peach flavored gum.

Lord of all creation, source of all life, help us to recognize our craving for You. Remind us to taste and see that You are good. Amen in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Easy Rawlins, Nazis, and the Summer of Love

Cinnamon Kiss: A NovelCinnamon Kiss: A Novel by Walter Mosley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cinnamon Kiss is the tenth book in Mosley's exciting Easy Rawlins series. Like the others, the novel is filled with interesting characters (other than the world weary protagonist and his dangerous friend Mouse), deft plot twists, and a bit of philosophy.

In 1966 Los Angeles, Easy, trying to raise money to save his adopted daughter, has to choose between helping Mouse pull off the heist of an armored car or taking a case from a man who isn't forthcoming about what and who are involved. The more Rawlins looks into the case, and the woman called Cinnamon, the more he feels he must get to the bottom of everything for more reasons than money.

The novel is fast paced, even when Easy is spending time thinking, and there is plenty to interest any reader. There is a generous amount of sex, betrayal, a heartless killer, hippies and even Nazis!

My main concern about Cinnamon Kiss is that Mosley, a skillful writer of well-crafted tales, spends too much time in the telling mode concerning "how it was in those days" for African Americans. One or two sentences are fine, but Mosley could easily have allowed the details of his story to provide that information instead stating it over and over. Had he done so, I think the impact of this important message would have been much greater.

This problem isn't likely to bother everyone, however. The book, as with so many of Mosley's, provides readers a necessary, but neglected history. I also love watching the fascinating mind of Easy Rawlins at work here. Fans of the series should enjoy Cinnamon Kiss. Those who have not been introduced to Walter Mosley (where have you been?) should also find good reading in this part of the saga.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

I want to be a fan of this book

not a fan. Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesusnot a fan. Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I generally hesitate to write about books on spiritual matters for a number of reasons. I won't outline them all here, but suffice it to say that I don't pretend to have expertise in theology and don't have the desire to argue with those who know even less and wish to engage me in their futile battles. As Timothy wisely instructed, "Have nothing to do with foolish controversies; you know that they breed quarrels." And too many people love quarrels.

But this book has struck a couple of nerves in me, so against my better judgment, I'm offering a few thoughts.

Idleman's book is dangerous for a few reasons. One of those is good. It's main message, that following Jesus is much more than putting a bumper sticker on a car or heading to church on Sunday is absolutely right, and if people who claim to be Christians actually followed Jesus, they and the world would be radically changed. That's the good news.

The book also sets up an either/or dichotomy that may not be healthy for many people either emotionally or spiritually. Idleman does not acknowledge that spiritual life is a journey, not a one time decision made, and once made makes one the exact same person as everyone else who has made that decision. Further, while there are a number of inspiring examples of how people have recognized the difference between being a fan and being a follower of Christ, much of the book implies that a true follower sees everything as Idleman does. He leaves no room for people in various stages of spiritual development or from different cultural backgrounds or with different modes of support for spiritual growth.

All that said, I do want to get back to the main message of the book: that following Jesus requires real commitment and that this commitment is what Jesus expects, not just lip service or a t-shirt. As I went through the book, despite my misgivings, I felt that this basic truth was not only solid, but what the world needs to hear. The world needs the real Gospel, not a watered-down, or politicized version of it. And the book, on the whole, encourages this. I felt I might be on the verge of a modern version of The Cost of Discipleship. (I was surprised that Bonhoffer's great book was never mentioned in not a fan.)

The book is well organized, and while it doesn't really offer a "how-to," it does give quite a few "reasons why." The chapter on the Holy Spirit was probably the most important part of this book. I wish the author had spent more time on this aspect of spiritual commitment. Nevertheless, I do recommend reading this book, even though one may want to keep a few grains of salt handy. It opened an important dialogue for me.

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Adams' Trios Two a Second Helping of Delight Pie

John Adams is not only an extraordinary bassist, making each tune he plays fuller and heavenly, but he is also a terrific bandleader. This release is the second he has produced featuring some of the trios he has played with in the past few years. Trios is one of my favorites among his recordings, but this project surpasses even that disc.

The first six tracks feature the piano, with Lee Tomboulian and JT Thomas on keyboard and drums for the opener "Love For Sale," and Brian Piper (piano) and Mike Drake (drums) on the next five tunes. I've been fans of Piper and Drake for some time, and they surely don't disappoint here. I strongly recommend getting the digital version of Trios Two because it contains sterling renditions of "Norwegian Wood" and "The Lady Is A Tramp" which cannot be found on the CD.

Mike Drake also plays on the next three tracks, which present Jason Bucklin on guitar. All three tunes are delicious, but my favorite slice of delight pie is the transcendent "Alice In Wonderland."

The late (and very missed) sax giant, Marchel Ivery, closes this set with Ed Soph taking the drum chair on "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Giant Steps." Ivory rides these tunes like the mad conductor of a runaway train. I'd ride anywhere with these three.

Trios Two is not just a "standards" album. These tunes may never get old, particularly for jazz fans, but John Adams and his crews keep these songs -- and the heart of this reviewer -- very young.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Still a lot unknown

Cloud of UnknowingCloud of Unknowing by Unknown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even the anonymous author of this book says that it should be read more than once, and that it isn't for everyone. I found myself often going between wonder and wandering of mind as I worked my way through.

I must confess that I did not read A Cloud of Unknowing correctly. First, I looked for something to enhance or encourage my prayer life. The book, I'm certain, can do this, but it seems to be about more. Second, I after reading a few chapters and getting used to the difficult Middle Ages vocabulary, I began to read a chapter at a time at bedtime. Instead I should have either read as much as I could straight through, highlighting significant passages, or read a chapter a day in the mornings, when my reading mind is at its best.

The message of this treatise seems to be that God is not completely knowable, but that with prayer and meditation (and God's grace), one can get closer to knowing what God, in His wisdom, will reveal. Then the author, a leader of some sort in spiritual formation, outlines how to work at penetrating this cloud between God and humanity, and provides wisdom about the dangers and trials and benefits in such an important journey of faith. I recognize my reading is an oversimplification that may not be accurate. So be it.

I will need to read this important book again. Perhaps I was not as ready for it as I thought I was.

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