Saturday, January 23, 2010

Past Musings Vol 3: The Hatred Love Demands

The past days have brought increased feedback on the blog, which I love by the way. This is called the market on purpose and I desire your ideas, even correction. Several times since "Is God in a Blues Riff" one of my past writings has come up on conversation. It was origionaly posted on January 12, 2008, and I think it is perhaps still the one that most affected myself, so I humbly re-present it to you here for your thoughts.

The Hatred Love Demands

One of the joys of being a musician is the benefit of sharing in the joys of special and important days in the lives of friends and family. This Saturday I had the distinct honor of performing for the wedding of an old family friend. Weddings are always interesting for me to observe. As a person who looks forward to officiating them in my future, I often ponder what the makeup of a wedding ceremony should be. As I look into the crowd I often wonder if the people in attendance truly grasp the immensity of what they are about to see taking place. At some weddings I wonder if the people on the stage realize the immensity of what is taking place. As an attendee at a wedding you stand to witness one of the few actions of mankind, that was ordained by God, and the only one Christ uses to describe his church. The comparisons of the God-Church and Husband-Wife relationship in the bible are pervasive and poignant. God has given us a window into his mind in marriage, that is hardly rivaled in any other of our daily observations.

The parallels are as I've said pervasive and therefore far too massive to approach, however as I sat among the crowd today, one hit me especially. In what is traditionally called the declaration of intent, the minister offers a kind of pre-vow to the couple, after which the true “wedding ceremony” can begin. While the terminology is archaic the recitation is probably quite familiar to you. Here is an excerpt, “to have and to hold, forsaking all others till death do you part”. Now the last part, of this the last line of the declaration, is perhaps the best known in wedding liturgy. “Till death do us part” has served as the tagline for more than 11 films, as well as 3 television series, as well as being mentioned in countless songs and printed on millions of wedding trinkets. Indeed in this day and age wherein 1 million marriages fail every year, till death do us part is an important consideration. However it is the clause before this that struck me today. “forsaking all others”

Should it not strike us as odd that such a line should be included. A wedding day is hardly a day of forsaking. In fact we go to a great deal of expense and planing to gather our nearest friends and relatives. Perhaps for the more discerning the reason is obvious in retrospect, but for the average American Joe writing a description of marriage, forsaking probably wouldn't be the first thing to come to mind. We think of marriage, and correctly, as the joining of lives. In fact in the last ten years it has come into vogue to modify the unity candle tradition, to leave both individual lights aflame, to give representation to each members individuality. While I'm sure in the correct context this change could be made without ruining the truth behind the tradition, it shows evidence of a greater misunderstanding; especially if we are to use marriage as a picture of God.

The traditional wedding liturgy wasn't written arbitrarily. In fact it would surprise many people to know that it wasn't written by people who would have necessarily been the most directly involved in weddings. Most of our traditional wedding liturgy is taken from “The Book of Common Prayer”, it was written by church leaders, many of them theologians, to insure that priests, rectors, and pastors (all names for essentially the same thing in different denominations) used careful words to describe this union; the truth about which is so desperately important to God. Make no mistake, the words “forsaking all others” are not arbitrary, and serve to give us a look deep into the truth about marriage, and thus the heart of God.

To forsake is to give up both title to, and influence from the thing being forsaken. It is to say that any cords of duty, friendship, emotion, or commitment, are void in light of this new vow. The implications are huge. This vow places the marital relationship on a plain in which no other earthly relationship may encroach. Many marriages in our generation would be saved if more people took the time to defend the borders of that plain. That means that as a married person, steps have to be taken to make sure other relationships do no grow to close. In our free emotion society, logical barriers in relationship seem quite archaic, but than again, we are a generation that has more failing relationships than any other in the measured history of such things. The words of Solomon at the end of Proverbs 4 to “guard your heart” go mostly unheeded.

I've stated, I realize without much evidence in this note, that God has given marriage as a window into his economy of life. What then does this simple line teach us about Gods economy? Is there in Love intrinsically some sort of hate? Christ thought so,

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes even his own life- he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Tough words for the new follower. In a way, like this wedding vow, it is understood that love includes a forsaking of other affections. It is at this point, that if we are truly honest, we will cry out at God. Why should we have to forsake other things to follow him. Is he not the God who gives all good things. Why would he give and take away. Isn't that just like the mischievous child who tantalizes the cat with the toy he knows he will never truly give. The more “pious” among us will have the answer of Job, that “the lord gives and takes away” and basically he's big enough that we can't talk back. This is desperately true, but its not the whole story.

The essential belief here is the value of Gods love, over whatever is being forsaken. As that married couple says that all other friendships pale in comparison to their relationship of vow. I cannot convince you of God's worth, I can only say that if you seek him truly its awesome depth will become more than apparent. The problem, especially for those of us who already believe in God's amazing worth, is the forsaking of all else. Once in my life I thought I had done just that. You may be thinking the same right now as you read this. I know what I thought. I knew I could be poor for God, give of my earthly possessions. I knew I could be uprooted for God, with a willingness to go to the ends of the earth. I even gave God my hopes and dreams, most of them as you'll see, as he changed my course through time. I thought that nothing would usurp my love for God. That was till God decided to take someone I loved.

I had somehow built into my mind that God would somehow never ask for my relationships. You see somehow I thought those were spiritually off limits of his dividing knife of dedication. These relationships were gifts from him were they not? He would never take those? The truth of this marriage vow, is that love without forsaking others, is not really true passionate love. Certainly we can love multiple people at once. We can even show a type of general good will to the world at large. But there is a love, that God reserves for himself, to be reflected in the love of marriage that is unlike any other. And essential to its make up is a holy hatred.

What I had failed to realize, is that our relationships actually pose the largest risk to our spiritual life. What is love? That question is large and complicated. What do I love? Now that question is simple. When something wonderful or inversely horrible happens in your life who do you think first to call? This is probably the person you love most. In a larger spiritual sense, when life gives you trouble, where do you go for comfort? If you're still not sure of the love-idols in your life answer this. “everything would just be ok if________” If you have an answer, chances are you have an Idol.

To love God means that we turn to him as our first source of comfort. If we call anyone, or anything, before him we are not showing true love. Like a marriage vow for spritual life, we have made a commitment to forsake all other forms of comfort. God is the God of all comfort, but unless we realise that any other comfort we see comes from him, its like falling in love with a valentines card, and ignoring the valentine. Is it any surprise, that for our own good, God sometimes has to surgically remove these other forms of comfort in order for us to see his heart. It is when we doubt all else that we truly have the capacity for faith. It is in comfort that faith and love meet. The man who gives up all for the maker of all will find that he has lost nothing.

Forsaking all others, for death shall not part us.


Friday, January 22, 2010

It's All About the Marketing

I'm saddend that much of the bad theology that has grown in the church is not a product of solid open theological argument, but rather of winsome terminology, soft selling, and happy marketing.

I've decided perhaps its time to fight fire with fire. So how is this for an idea.

"Vicarious Penal Substitutionary Atonement- It's the Bee's Knees"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is God in a Blues Riff?

I spent tonight at a bar... I don't get drunk. Actually I've never tasted alcohol. Not that I'm too good for it, just never seemed that cool to me. And I don't like bars. I hate the smell of smoke, I hate the noise, admittedly I had until tonight, for the most part hated the people. I hated the attitude. I hated the impulse to get drunk. I hated the way people use alcohol as a way to cover their discomfort in their own skin. I hated the way they fish for love, when their inhibitions have been dropped. And I loath watching them leave to consummate their temporal and unholy unions. I hated them, and I avoided them so I wouldn't have to show any one that hated them.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't that I went around town standing on a soap box outside of bars, screaming hell and damnation. I went to a secular college and spent a lot of time around these very same people in classes. Most of them probably never knew of my disdain. Knowing what I know now, I hope they never saw it. I see the photos on facebook. I don't post on them declaring their errant ways. I have people I count as friends among these people, but I avoided that part of their lives at all cost, and when those times came up, I had to work hard not to show my disappointment. You might be thinking “Jamin you're not a half bad guy. Hate the sin Love the sinner, that's what God does right? You seem to be pretty ok” That at least is what I told myself, till tonight.

In truth I now believe that my heart was far from God in these matters. Instead I think my heart was very similar to a certain pharisee Christ spoke of in Luke 18.

10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

I was like him because I spoke like him, nearly exactly like him. I said things to myself, even things out loud to certain people. Things like “you know I'm so blessed that I wasn't brought up like that. God has been so gracious that I don't struggle with that kind of debauchery”. These are nice words, spiritual words, in my case junk words.

We may be tempted to minimize the offense, cite my penitence in other areas of life perhaps, but Christ words are hauntingly harsh. To invert – That man went home unjustified. To think when I use those words, bear that attitude, God won't forgive my sin. That thought should be spiritually terrifying.

Back to the bar. I braved the bar for a blues concert. I love blues by the way. Funk, Jazz, Big band. Hated the book “blue like Jazz” but that was just because of the “Bunny” illustrations and it's cult status. Where was I? Blues.

I love the blues. It has a certain personality element. It's a music that is almost always enjoyed in more intimate settings than stadiums, it comes with an understanding that you clap when you want, cheer when you like it, groove when you feel it, and move with it. Almost anyone can learn to play it to some degree. It's simple, elemental, pardon the pun of a word. Groovy.
So I braved the crowds and smoke to watch Hamilton Loomis. The man is an amazing guitarist in his own right. If you're a blues fan he's well worth a look. So I went out to enjoy the concert, and got mostly what I expected, good music, bad people.

As I sat and listened I started letting myself go, enjoying the music. I sang, I moved, I smiled, I laughed, and then I looked. As I glanced around I observed something I had not expected in the slightest. I was surrounded by people who were much more similar than I expected. These people I had conditioned myself to despise were for that moment, my compatriots. We were sharing an experience, sharing our joys, sharing our laughter. As I gazed around the room, that before had been an annoyingly smoky haze, I started to see eyes, faces, persons with souls. The obnoxious man with too many cigarettes, became a person who's stress I pitied. The woman who's clothing had made me speak questionably of her moral, became a creation of God, a master piece of my father, searching desperately for his loving arms. The bartender, who before had been the parishioner of this lowest of congregations, became a tender if errant friend to the regulars. These were people, not ideas, and in that moment they deified my simplistic classifications.

Perhaps this is part of Gods common grace. “Common grace” is the name theologians have given to the truth of God's benevolence toward sinners. This is not “saving grace”, meaning there is still a matter of Justice to be resolved by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but never the less God's posture is one of good will, even towards those from whom his justice with demand account. This is most easily seen in Matthew 5.

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

God sees fit to give common grace to even those who live as his enemies. What is common grace? Common grace is a good cup of coffee, common grace is rain on our crops, common grace is a faithful pet, common grace is a stupid pun, common grace is a fragrant flower, common grace is an inside joke, common grace is a great blues concert. Common grace is God so loving the world, even those who reject his son.

As I looked around the room I began to see God's grace in every face, on every life. These people were enjoying life, laughing, living. Each one had been given one more day. One more day, one more breath, that is common grace.

Am I saying that God is right with each one I saw, or that this was evidence of their passage to heaven? No, many if not most are living in open rebellion toward him. I solidly believe that Christ and his particular saving grace, offered freely to all, is the only way to reconciliation with God. However as I looked around I realized something profound about God.

I believe the world is in open rebellion towards God. In our sins we aren't victims, we are disgusting guerilla warriors against a loving God. We propagate our own sins, we are thieves, adulterers, and rebellious miscreants, who are a shame to the very imago dei we bear, making us the worst of the fallen. Our desecration of God's image on our own beings, in a way makes us more disgusting than the devil himself, who has no ability to commit such an offense. Yet...

Yet in light of this, God still chooses to give us Joy, life, love, coffee, rain storms, sunsets, friendships, and blues concerts. God so loved. His common grace would itself be unavoidably large were it not overshadowed by the immensity of his offer of saving grace.
It is not sufficient for me to say that God loves those people. He is actively loving them, even as they ignore and reject them. He is infusing their lives with joy, even as they twist and maim it. Such was I before he found me.

If God loves them so actively, persistently, and tangibly, how can I do any other. How can I degrade them to illustration, and archetype. They are people, souls brought into existence by the hand of God and sustained by his very hand. May God deal with us ever so severely if we see them as any less.

C. S. Lewis said “you will never meet a mere mortal” everyone is an eternal soul, the question is, in which kingdom? This evidences of common grace, should drive us to be the light of the world, bringing them the message of saving grace. God has confirmed their eligibility by his common favor.

What does this mean for our lives ahead. Well each of us should press forward in prayer, council, and wisdom. Going into the world is tough, and dangerous, but it must be done. I am not recommending or approving of any course of action, but I think perhaps, I may just spend some more time this year in a bar.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

He's In My Head

I got a letter from my student loan lender the other day. In it was information that made me realise I am much more poor than I thought I was. While I was stewing on this the most random thought popped into my head. I was compelled to put a figure on how much time I spend laughing in a day. After considering my family, my roomates, my friends, and my co-workers, I am forced to admit, on any given day I spend about 60% of my waking hours laughing.

I quit valuing my money in that moment.

I started thinking about and thanking God for the "random", fun, and happy thoughts the Holy Spirit plants in his children, and had to well.... Laugh.