Why I Write

I want to share a little about why I write and why I choose to be open about my life, thoughts, feelings and even actions.
 
I don’t write to gush emotionally on social media to curry complements or comfort (though I am never one to reject a thoughtful and kind word). I do so, to model characteristics that I think humanize a profession that is pastoral but too often not very, personal.
 
I am a writer and writers, write.
 
The process of writing and reading is where I most often find the comfort of God. It’s a process of prayer, really. In most things I face or deal with I find that I can’t fully move through them without processing them in prose or poetry and prayer almost always dances in and out, before or after the writing experience.
 
I was an artist and a poet before I was ever a pastor.
 
I love pastoring, but not more than being an artist. I don’t see them to be contradictory to one another and I am grateful how my life and the work of the Lord has intertwined in such a way to include all the gifts I love. To be in a work life that involves words both ancient and modern, to investigate parables, fables and myths, to be a teller of stories, to live and love tragedies, to be rooted in a faith that places poetry and song at the center of its worship, and to contemplate people and powers that are larger than life is a tantalizing calling indeed! To live a pastoral life in and among the cataclysms and celebrations of human life produces an artist with more material than one knows how to process.
 
I also think leaders need to be vulnerable, humble and as transparent as they can be on certain levels. There’s way too many knights in shining armor that project an attitude of being above the common challenges, temptations and struggles of all the other mouth breathers. I have struggled over the years with the overabundance of people who want to be everyone’s ‘teacher’ but there’s a dearth of those willing to be ‘fathers’.
 
1 Corinthians 4:15 “For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you.”
 
Father’s don’t just pass on what they know, they give their lives to those they love. Paul said this in 1 Thessalonians 2:8,11-12: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well…For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
 
I find that the medium of writing facilitates this in some ways, sure it’s hard to truly control how people read it or receive what you say, but it’s an attempt that I find is worth the risks.
 
Well..I do on most days.
 
So thanks for reading, and thank you to those who comment, and a really big thank you to those who engage, ask questions, dialogue and even those who debate. You make it all far more richer and meaningful, and…you give me more things to write about. 😉
 
Painting: ‘Saints Peter and Paul’ by Daniele Crespi, 17th Century

Death and the Grief of Broken Families

I lost a cousin this week, his death was the result of shadows too dark.

Death is a spectre that hides in youth but haunts us as one ages. One’s natural eyes may be dimming as the dusk colors of life can be seen on the horizon, but death can no longer camouflage himself to the the inner eye of truth.

Death has always been here, lurking, taking…but the Sun eclipses the Moon in one’s earlier seasons of life. In these modern times, we have forgotten that we are not immortal. Death surprises us, and we are left feeling we have to explain grief and mourning like it’s a questionable headache that could be assuaged by aspirin or a walk in the fresh air.

I sit here today, not worshipping, but wondering why we allow life to pass by so fast and so often fail to attend to the things that matter most? In the end, we will most agonize over who isn’t by our side or who could of been.

One of the disruptions of divorce that hardly seems to get any voice these days, is the way extended family ties are severed. The axe wound to the soul of it all, can set a relational divide that widens and widens until time has made the chasm seem uncrossable.

We end up not only separated from one another in our immediate home, but the impact of the marital ending sends all of our family relationships out of the previous stable and familiar orbit. Everything is out of place and the results can be lifelong.

If one has wise and healthy people around, there may be a chance to salvage the fabric of family. But usually, it tears into a confusing mess of mismatched, awkward and confusing attachments.

There is no one to really blame, we all fumble forward trying to figure out how to survive, but once we have, we look back or around us, and realize there are important people…missing. Death is like a splash of cold water to the face of this reality.

This small section from an ancient book of rage and warfare, captures these complexities and sorrows. I offer it up like a penitent’s burnt offering, in ashes, dust and tears.

‘The Grief of Achilles over Patroclus’ -The Iliad, Book XVIII

“Nestor came up to him and told his sad tale, weeping bitterly the while. “Alas,” he cried, “son of noble Peleus, I bring you bad tidings, would indeed that they were untrue. Patroclus has fallen…

A dark cloud of grief fell upon Achilles as he listened. He filled both hands with dust from off the ground, and poured it over his head, disfiguring his comely face, and letting the refuse settle over his shirt so fair and new. He flung himself down all huge and hugely at full length, and tore his hair with his hands. The bondswomen whom Achilles and Patroclus had taken captive screamed aloud for grief, beating their breasts, and with their limbs failing them for sorrow. Antilochus bent over him the while, weeping and holding both his hands as he lay groaning for he feared that he might plunge a knife into his own throat. Then Achilles gave a loud cry and his mother heard him as she was sitting in the depths of the sea…

Then said Achilles in his great grief, “I would die here and now, in that I could not save my comrade. He has fallen far from home, and in his hour of need my hand was not there to help him.”

I am deeply sorry Willie, I wish I could of, or…would of, been there for you.

But now…there is only…grief.

(Art: Jeffrey Jones)

Should Catholics leave the RCC because of the Sex Scandals?

I watched Bishop Barron’s call to not leave the Catholic Church but stay and fight (https://youtu.be/-ani_hnN8Fs) in the latest Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.
 
I admire Barron’s cool and reasoned approach in most of his engagements and I think he’s one of the RCC best evangelists. But I just wished he’d take on the real prophet mantle as displayed in the OT or the NT. Where’s the “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12).
 
He’s appealing to the prophets but the people have no real power of voice. The Catholic faithful can write letters all they want to their Bishops and the Vatican. Catholic laity can post all the videos of disappointment or anger they want but in a system that doesn’t even give Bishops power to police their own, I have little faith in that approach.
 
There’s a rally cry rising among the ‘stay and fight’ crowd that echoes Peter’s words” “To whom would we go?“(Jn 6:68). As a pastor, I can understand such a call, especially in a culture that so easily divorces one another relationally and jumps to another person, church, job or group without much contemplation, concern or conviction. I too appeal to people to “Lead don’t Leave” in numerous situations I see folks struggling with in their day to day lives. Too many people ‘give up or give in’ because they won’t fight, persevere or persist. Life takes courage and real meaningful change takes a willingness to suffer for the future one knows is good, beautiful and true.
 
But in this case, the problem with that appeal, in many of cases and there will be much more uncovered in the days ahead, it’s a call for the abused to submit to the abusers.
 
By saying that you say to the domestic violence experiencing wife that she should stay put. You say to the son of a drunk that he should submit to the familia terror. You say to the daughter whose being molested, that she should believe her father, uncle or sibling’s words. This approach binds the conscience of the abused and locks them into a prison of guilt, shame and fear. They can’t leave because then ‘THEY’ are now the bad or evil people for leaving. This is a very, very, bad ethical or religious power labyrinth with no exit in my opinion and experience.
 
I hesitate to engage with my sincere Roman Catholic friends too much on all this, because, I don’t want to be viewed as someone who is pulling for an exit, or seeking to turn them against the RCC.
 
But I don’t support the exclusivity of any Christian religious group that says they are it and anyone outside of their group is 2nd class.
 
I don’t support any group that won’t purge predatory or practicing homosexuality from its leadership or prosecute sexual predators.
 
I pray for all my RCC friends, I dialogue and debate because I love you but I do think the RCC is in need of a serious counter-counter reformation and I pray this is the beginning for the sake of all the Church, the witness of the truth and the glory of God.

St. Catherine, St. Francis & Reform in the Roman Catholic Church

Once a Waldensian challenged St. Francis of Assisi on his unshakeable reverence for priests, by pointing out the local pastor who was living in sin. “Must we believe in his teaching and respect the sacraments he performs?

In response, Francis went to the priest’s home and knelt before him saying,

I don’t know whether these hands are stained as the other man says they are. But I do know that even if they are, that in no way lessens the power and effectiveness of the sacraments of God…That is why I kiss these hands out of respect for what they perform and out of respect for Him who gave His authority to them.

The Bible has never been shy about the revealing the sins of God’s leaders in the Old or New Testaments. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), Humans sin and need a Savior. The reality of sin, it’s deceptions, dangers and ultimate resulting death is a constant warning throughout scripture. We are all guilty and there’s no casting stones of judgment, but what are we to do with those among us who sin grievously against others, especially children? What do we do when the behavior of spiritual leaders in authority betray the very words of God? How do the faithful not lose faith in God, when His Church and Ministers that represent Him, falter, fail or prey on the very ones they are called to care for?

What do leaders do in such times? How do we navigate a culture that is growing more and more disillusioned, dismissive, resistant or even rebellious to any type of authority? What do we do when our religious communities are increasingly made up of broken people who have been used and abused or have learned abusive behaviors themselves? How can we survive in this stormy relational climate where there’s so much interpersonal betrayal, slander, gossip, offense, rejection, judgment, divorce and skepticism of each other?

The Bible warns of these challenges, especially when it comes to leaders:

Ezekiel 8:12-13: “Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? He said also to me, “You will see still greater abominations that they commit.”

Acts 20:29-31: “I know that after I’ve gone, dangerous wolves will sneak in among you, savaging the flock. Some of you here today will begin twisting the truth, enticing disciples to go your way, to follow you. You must be on guard, and you must remember my way of life among you. For three years, I have kept on, persistently warning everyone, day and night, with tears.”

Romans 16:17-18: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, I’d like to give one final word of caution: Watch out for those who cause divisions and offenses among you. When they antagonize you by speaking of things that are contrary to the teachings that you’ve received, don’t be caught in their snare! For people like this are not truly serving the Lord, our Messiah, but are being driven by their own desires for a following. Utilizing their smooth words and well-rehearsed blessings, they seek to deceive the hearts of innocent ones.”

Paul’s writings are evidence that sometimes such dangerous and destructive people, who have been compelled to change and won’t, need to be sometimes named.

1 Timothy 1:18-20: “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

2 Timothy 2:16-18: “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”

2 Timothy 4:9-10: “Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica…”

I have been wrestling with these issues on two fronts lately. One has been seeking to understand, mourn and respond to the latest uncovering of sexual abuse and cover up in the Roman Catholic Church. The other is dealing with people in my pastoral circle who have issues with me or the church. It’s a struggle to figure out how how to respond to people, how to protect and defend innocents or the truth of some matter in a manner that is loving and authentic and yet, firm. All Christians, especially leaders, have to maintain a balance of personal and public accountability.

Acts 20:28: “Keep watch, then, over yourselves, and over God’s Church, in which the Holy Spirit has made you bishop’s; you are to be the shepherds of that flock which he won for himself at the price of his own blood.”

As part of my work to be prayerful and purposeful in my understanding of the issues, I have been reading some examples of reformers of the past in Church history. Since the family tree of the faithful extends back past the 15th century of the Protestant Reformation, I’ve been reading Catholic reformers. One has been St. Catherine of Siena who lived and wrote in the 13th century. One of her works called ‘The Dialogue’ contains some enlightening, challenging and assuredly controversial material to the average Evangelical.

One of the things that captured my attention was that before all the discussions about the subject of how to deal with ungodly leaders, was passages about being a person of prayer. The posture of all who seek to be engaged in any aspect of reform, should be motivated by the love of God for his people, including sinful leaders. A person of prayer talks to God about people, way before they talk to people about God. People of prayer know that all change must first begin in our own hearts and lives.

St. Catherine of Siena: The Dialogue

“I remember that You said, that, on account of the endurance and tears, the grief, and sweat and prayers of Your servants, You would reform the holy Church, and comfort her with good and holy pastors.”

“Oh! best beloved and dearest daughter, I will fulfill your desire in this request, in order that, on your side, you may not sin through ignorance or negligence; for a fault of yours would be more serious and worthy of graver reproof now than before, because you have learnt more of My truth; wherefore apply yourself attentively to pray for all rational creatures, for the mystical body of the holy Church, and for those friends whom I have given you, whom you love with particular love, and be careful not to be negligent in giving them the benefit of your prayers, and the example of your life, and the teaching of your words, reproving vice and encouraging virtue according to your power.”

Below are selections from ‘The Dialogue’ that deal specifically with the topics I added at each heading. I have done the hard work of extracting sections that I think particularly speak to the issues unfolding in the media and also address the over all subjects. I offer them not because I agree with all the conclusions, but because I want to show that the Church has been wrestling with reform since the beginning. The Protestant reformers had a phrase they used to express that the work of reform never ends as long as people are involved. ‘Ecclesia semper reformanda est’ (Latin for “the church must always be reformed” I think we are in such a moment in Church history again.

 

Regarding Ungodly Ministers:

“And I would that you know that, more darkness and division have come into the world amongst seculars and religious and the clergy and pastors of the holy Church, through the lack of the light of justice, and the advent of the darkness of injustice, than from any other causes.”

“Neither the civil law, nor the divine law, can be kept in any degree without holy justice, because he who is not corrected, and does not correct others, becomes like a limb which putrefies, and corrupts the whole body, because the bad physician, when it had already begun to corrupt, placed ointment immediately upon it, without having first burnt the wound. So, were the prelate, or any other lord having subjects, on seeing one putrefying from the corruption of mortal sin, to apply to him the ointment of soft words of encouragement alone, without reproof, he would never cure him, but the putrefaction would rather spread to the other members, who, with him, form one body under the same pastor.

But they act not so today, but, in cases of evil doing, they even pretend not to see. And do you know why? The root of self-love is alive in them, wherefore they bear perverted and servile fear. Because they fear to lose their position or their temporal goods, or their prelacy, they do not correct, but act like blind ones, in that they see not the real way by which their position is to be kept.

But, thinking to preserve their position with injustice, they do not reprove the faults of those under them; and they are deluded by their own sensitive self-love, or by their desire for lordship and prelacy, and they correct not the faults they should correct in others, because the same or greater ones are their own. They feel themselves comprehended in the guilt, and they therefore lose all ardor and security, and, fettered by servile fear, they make believe not to see. And, moreover, if they do see they do not correct, but allow themselves to be bound over with flattering words and with many presents, and they themselves find the excuse for the guilty ones not to be punished. In such as these are fulfilled the words spoken by My Truth, saying: ‘These are blind and leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch.’

 

Regarding Godly Ministers:

My sweet ministers, of whom I spoke to you, who have the properties and condition of the sun, did not, and do not (if there be any now) act so. And they are truly suns, as I have told you, because in them is no darkness of sin, or of ignorance, because they follow the doctrine of My Truth. They are not tepid, because they burn in the furnace of My love, and because they are despisers of the grandeurs, positions, and delights of the world. They fear not to correct, for he who does not desire lordship or prelacy will not fear to lose it, and will reprove manfully, and he whose conscience does not reprove him of guilt, does not fear.

They(ministers) are like precious stones, and as such do they stand in My presence, because I have received their labor and poverty and the light which they shed with the odor of virtues in the mystic body of the holy Church. And in the life eternal I have placed them in the greatest dignity, and they receive blessing and glory in My sight, because they gave the example of an honorable and holy life, and with light administered the Light of the Body and Blood of My only-begotten Son, and all the Sacraments.

“Oh! My beloved ones, they made themselves subjects, being prelates, they made themselves servants, being lords, they made themselves infirm, being whole, and without infirmity and the leprosy of mortal sin, being strong they made themselves weak, with the foolish and simple they showed themselves simple, and with the small insignificant. And so with love they knew how to be all things to all men, and to give to each one his nourishment. What caused them to do thus? The hunger and desire for My honor and the salvation of souls which they had conceived in Me. They ran to feed on it at the table of the holy Cross, not fleeing from or refusing any labor, but with zeal for souls and for the good of the holy Church and the spread of the faith, they put themselves in the midst of the thorns of tribulation, and exposed themselves to every peril with true patience, offering incense odoriferous with anxious desires, and humble and continual prayers. With tears and sweat they anointed the wounds of their neighbor, that is the wounds of the guilt of mortal sin, which latter were perfectly cured, the ointment so made, being received in humility.”

 

Concerning Sinning Ministrers:

“I have shown you, dearest daughter, a sample of the excellence of good priests (for what I have shown you is only a sample of what that excellence really is), and I have told you of the dignity in which I have placed them, having elected them for My ministers, on account of which dignity and authority I do not wish them to be punished by the hand of seculars on account of any personal defect, for those who punish them offend Me miserably. But I wish seculars to hold them in due reverence, not for their own sakes, as I have said, but for Mine, by reason of the authority which I have given them. Wherefore this reverence should never diminish in the case of priests whose virtue grows weak, any more than in the case of those virtuous ones of whose goodness I have spoken to you; for all alike have been appointed ministers of the Sun — that is of the Body and Blood of My Son, and of the other Sacraments.

You should love them therefore by reason of the virtue and dignity of the Sacrament, and by reason of that very virtue and dignity you should hate the defects of those who live miserably in sin, but not on that account appoint yourselves their judges, which I forbid, because they are My Christs, and you ought to love and reverence the authority which I have given them.

You know well that if a filthy and badly dressed person brought you a great treasure from which you obtained life, you would not hate the bearer, however ragged and filthy he might be, through love of the treasure and of the lord who sent it to you. His state would indeed displease you, and you would be anxious through love of his master that he should be cleansed from his foulness and properly clothed. This, then, is your duty according to the demands of charity, and thus I wish you to act with regard to such badly ordered priests, who themselves filthy and clothed in garments ragged with vice through their separation from My love, bring you great Treasures — that is to say, the Sacraments of the holy Church — from which you obtain the life of grace, receiving them worthily (in spite of the great defects there may be in them) through love of Me, the Eternal God, who send them to you, and through love of that life of grace which you receive from the great treasure, by which they administer to you the whole of God and the whole of Man, that is to say, the Body and Blood of My Son united to My Divine nature.

Their sins indeed should displease you, and you should hate them, and strive with love and holy prayer to re-clothe them, washing away their foulness with your tears — that is to say, that you should offer them before Me with tears and great desire, that I may re-clothe them in My goodness, with the garment of charity. Know well that I wish to do them grace, if only they will dispose themselves to receive it, and you to pray for it; for it is not according to My will that they should administer to you the Sun being themselves in darkness, not that they should be stripped of the garment of virtue, foully living in dishonor; on the contrary I have given them to you, and appointed them to be earthly angels and suns, as I have said. It not being My will that they should be in this state, you should pray for them, and not judge them, leaving their judgment to Me. And I, moved by your prayers, will do them mercy if they will only receive it, but if they do not correct their life, their dignity will be the cause of their ruin. For if they do not accept the breadth of My mercy, I, the Supreme Judge, shall terribly condemn them at their last extremity, and they will be sent to the eternal fire.”

 

If you made it all the way through these passages, I commend you. I imagine you are wrestling with some of her conclusions and supposed directions from the Lord. I am chewing on these words, praying and listening. There are things that I think are true and others that I think can be Biblically challenged, by both the example of Jesus and his witness and the Apostle’s writings. But there’s a posture of spirit present in her writings that gives me pause. These are serious times and the people who have been abused and those who have abused others, deserve prayerful, well thought out, courageous words that will help and heal. I am doing my best to be helpful in the hour in which I live and minister. Part of me wants to pull everything down into a heap of rubble but I also know there are true and good people and priests caught up in all this horror. Reform must not just be reactionary, but responsible, just and merciful. We should make sure all criminals are convicted, all liars and culpable powers held accountable and expelled. There should be significant change in the structures that allow predators to hide, but I want to see the Church purified not burned down. Not sure if that is possible with such corruption, all I know is that:

Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” -Jesus (Matthew 15:12-14)

What are you thoughts?

Prince Caspian, Bacchus and Christ: Why Turning Water to Wine Matters

“I wouldn’t have felt very safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.”
“I should think not,” said Lucy.
-Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis
 
In the end of C.S. Lewis’s book ‘Prince Caspian’, there is a war between the usurper King Miraz and the Telmarines for control and kingship of Narnia. The Telmarines presence in Narnia has led to the talking beasts to retreat to the woods and lose their ability to communicate with man. Narnia is forgetting Alsan. To win the war against the Telmarines, Aslan, Lucy and Susan travel to awaken the ancient god Bacchus his old mentor Silenus, come to the aid of Asla’s plan to defeat the Telmarines.
 
In the book there’s a particularly insightful look at believing and following God when others can’t or won’t believe. This connection with Euripide’s The Bacchae is particularly fascinating to me. Here’s a great article that explores that connection:
 
This kind of retelling, allusion or inclusion of old Greek/Roman tales, gods or images is what often got C.S. Lewis in hot water with some religious types. But it’s just the type of thinking, believing and writing that resonates with me. There are those who see the dark side of the moon in the crescent and those who see the reverse. I am one of the later moon gazers.
 
Christ is still turning water to wine.
 
Such an act, captures the dangerous freedom of life under the rule and reign of Christ. Freedom is dangerous, self-control is not a guarantee, cultivating moderation can appear less religious to the advocate and demands of abstinence. But Christ did not come to destroy the pleasures, no, He came to defeat their place of primacy. He came to save and reorder life, for the glory of God, the joy of man and the celebration of all that is good, true and beautiful.
 
The abundant life, the ‘rich and satisfying’ life…is a life lived with Aslan, apart from Him, it falls to disorder, chaos and calamity.
 
Myth speaks to the human experience in ways that stories only can. In my opinion the telling and retelling of stories is going to be a more effective way of engaging truth as our culture moves farther and farther away from modernism. We must have the ability to find the shared roots of human experience and to speak to those realities in a manner that comes around from behind and allows those we are communicating with to think and ponder without the defenses of familiarity and prejudice firmly in place. Kierkegaard called this “wounding from behind”. Lewis discussed this approach in his biographical reflections:
 
C.S. Lewis:
Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself … I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant’. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened. (letter to Arthur Greeves, Oct 18th, 1931; Collected Letters, 976-977).
 
I am sure if most Christians wrote the gospel of John, they wouldn’t of picked turning water to almost a 100 bottles of wine, to be Jesus’s first miracle. I am sure to the first century Jew, Greek or Roman, it may have been scandalous too, in light of the worship of Bacchus and his troupe of female Maenads with all their drunken raving.
 
But the Jewish prophets had foretold that a Messiah was coming and his signs would include rivers of wine:
 
Amos 9:13-15
“The days are coming days the Lord, when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. “They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.”
 
Joel 3:18
“And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim.”
 
For Christians, the new wine of God has been poured out.
 
“Whoever is in God’s grace is continually intoxicated with the sweetness of His love, for this intoxication, is so strong and potent that it drives away the thirst for worldly things.” -Divine Grace, Ripa’s ‘Iconologia’
 
This sacred revelation, intoxication and ecstasy is the fullness of all that the myths and the gods were but shadows of, the reality of experience is found in Christ. C.S. Lewis captures this conclusion in his baptism of Bacchus.
 
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe,
Mr Tumnus tells Lucy:
“…about summer when the woods were green and old Silenus on his fat donkey would come to visit them, and sometimes Bacchus himself, and then the streams would run with wine instead of water and the whole forest would give itself up to jollification for weeks on end.”
 
Prince Caspian, The Lion Roars
“The girls watched them out of sight, standing close beside Aslan. The light was changing. Low down in the east, Aravir, the morning star of Narnia, gleamed like a little moon. Aslan, who seemed larger than before, lifted his head, shook his mane and roared. The sound, deep and throbbing at first like an organ beginning on a low note, rose and became louder, and then far louder again, till the earth and air were shaking with it.
 
The crowd and the dance round Aslan (for it had become a dance once more) grew so thick and rapid that Lucy was confused. She never saw where certain other people came from who were soon capering about among the trees. One was a youth, dressed only in a fawn-skin, with vine-leaves wreathed in his curly hair. His face would have been almost too pretty for a boy’s, if it had not looked so extremely wild. You felt, as Edmund said when he saw him a few days later, “There’s a chap who might do anything—absolutely anything.” He seemed to have a great many names—Bromios, Bassareus, and the Ram were three of them. There were a lot of girls with him, as wild as he. There was even, unexpectedly, someone on a donkey. And everybody was laughing: and everybody was shouting out, “Euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi.”
 
“Is it a Romp, Aslan?” cried the youth. And apparently it was. But nearly everyone seemed to have a different idea as to what they were playing. It may have been Tig, but Lucy never discovered who was It. It was rather like Blind Man’s Buff, only everyone behaved as if they were blindfolded. It was not unlike Hunt the Slipper, but the slipper was never found. What made it more complicated was that the man on the donkey, who was old and enormously fat, began calling out at once, “Refreshments! Time for refreshments,” and falling off his donkey and being bundled on to it again by the others, while the donkey was under the impression that the whole thing was a circus, and tried to give a display of walking on its hind legs. And all the time there were more and more vine leaves everywhere. And soon not only leaves but vines. They were climbing up everything. They were running up the legs of the tree people and circling round their necks. Lucy put up her hands to push back her hair and found she was pushing back vine branches. The donkey was a mass of them. His tail was completely entangled and something dark was nodding between his ears. Lucy looked again and saw it was a bunch of grapes. After that it was mostly grapes—overhead and underfoot and all around.
 
“Refreshments! Refreshments,” roared the old man. Everyone began eating, and whatever hothouses your people may have, you have never tasted such grapes. Really good grapes, firm and tight on the outside, but bursting into cool sweetness when you put them into your mouth, were one of the things the girls had never had quite enough of before. Here, there were more than anyone could possibly want, and no table-manners at all. One saw sticky and stained fingers everywhere, and, though mouths were full, the laughter never ceased nor the yodelling cries of Euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi-oi, till all of a sudden everyone felt at the same moment that the game (whatever it was), and the feast, ought to be over, and everyone flopped down breathless on the ground and turned their faces to Aslan to hear what he would say next…”
 
“…At that moment the sun was just rising and Lucy remembered something and whispered to Susan,
“I say, Su, I know who they are.”
“Who?”
“The boy with the wild face is Bacchus and the old one on the donkey is Silenus. Don’t you remember Mr Tumnus telling us about them long ago?”
“Yes, of course. But I say, Lu——”
“What?”
“I wouldn’t have felt very safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.”
“I should think not,” said Lucy.
 
So, in closing, I ask you, what I am sure Lewis would of asked as well, “Have you come to the table and partaken of the Divine Feast? It’s a dangerous call, but still Aslan calls you to drink your fill.

Learning to be astonished

I have been trying to put into words what I was feeling after encountering this Moose outside our house. I have heard plenty of stories about the dangers of these large animals and how they can pummel and prance you into a pancake if they were so inclined, and supposedly, they often are. Yet, I had no fear when I walked up to the area where he was trying to hide, it was all excitement.

Now, if you know the adult Blauers, you know we are not all that excitable, it takes quite a bit to provoke us to glee, well, near impossible really. We can laugh, joke, and enjoy many things, but it takes a fairly large injection of wonderment to move us to say we are excited. But standing there I was more than excited, I was caught up in a full blown, it’s Christmas morning, presents under the tree, rush of childlike giddiness. I was astonished!

In some ways it was quite humorous, moving up to about 15 feet from his “hiding spot” and seeing him peeking out through the trees and bushes. I wanted to laugh and say, “Found you!” like we were playing ‘hide n’ seek’. The average adult Moose stands 6 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh as much as 1,400 pounds and this guy was around that, and yet, there he was trying to be so stealthy.

For a moment, I was absolutely mesmerized, like that scene in Jurassic Park when paleontologist Alan Grant is in the Jeep and stops, fumbles off his glasses, as he sees the massive, tree chomping Brontosaurus for the first time.

It felt almost prehistoric, looking at that massive, glorious rack of velvet like horns. It’s such an utterly primal display of masculine magnificence to behold.

When the spell broke, I realized I had absolutely nothing between him and I to protect me if he decided I was a threat or nuisance, so I ran off to the house praying I could get my camera before he took off.

Luckily he decided to stay long enough for me to return as he cantered off to the eastside of our property. This section is my favorite part, because of it’s lush, open area that is perfect for gazing upon such a beast. He stopped, and kept looking at me below and LeeElla watching from up above him. Back and forth he would tilt his head, calmly allowing us to admire his kingly self, it was absolute, pure…wonder.

After he finally decided he had enough of us gawking, he strolled off to the upper woods and left us high fiving and chattering like chipmunks.

Such a moment, leaves you with a lot of thoughts, especially at my age, when your starting to get loose from the mid-life blindness to mesmerizing moments. There’s a space of time when the duties of life seem to work double time to eclipse the desires of life. It’s a fever that for me, started really breaking at the birth of my first grandchild.

Grandparenting is like finding Narnia again. The animals start talking once more, the trees move and gods dwell in the rivers again, and it seems like life gets re-enchanted.

Astonishment.

That’s the word that captures what I have been feeling over and over in this season of life.

Below is a poem, that captures exactly what I have been thinking and feeling. I hope these words hang over my moments more and more and that the joy and gratitude that’s been invading my prayers…becomes the tone of my soul.

MESSENGER by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.

The Wounded Man: Theoden and Denethor: “All men get wounded, not all men heal.”

Theoden, Lord of the Mark, king of Rohan and Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Two fathers, two leaders, both men who in the weight of war fall under it’s crushing burden.

Two men, estranged from son and nephew, men whose wounds were not of flesh but of mind and heart.

Men who needed other men to come to their aid, to confront, contend and conquer the voices, sufferings and fell moods that held them in their grasp.

Wounded men often wear crowns and sit on thrones. Wounded men have been struck by some great blow in their lives and they cease to grow.

Some men’s masculine journey stops at the wound. Others are like a tree impaled or caught with some immovable object, they begin to grow around it, within it and in spite of it, yet they grow warped and unnatural, due to the instrument of their wounding.

In the Lord of the Rings, both rulers needed Gandalf, one yielded to His offer for help and the other resisted it.

One lived by the hand of a friend and the other died by his own hand. Some version of salvation or suicide are often the only two paths out of the wound.

The Two Towers, ‘The The King of the Golden Hall’:

‘Now Théoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?’ said Gandalf. ‘Do you ask for help?’

He lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky.

‘Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you.

Will you hear them? They are not for all ears.

I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.’

Slowly Théoden left his chair. A faint light grew in the hall again. The woman hastened to the king’s side, taking his arm, and with faltering steps the old man came down from the dais and paced softly through the hall. Wormtongue remained lying on the floor. They came to the doors and Gandalf knocked.

‘Open!’ he cried. ‘The Lord of the Mark comes forth!’

How many men have languished in their wounding, unwilling to receive life giving words, unmoved, not willing to stand up and face the light.

They will not yield their chains to the power of the light. They sit on thrones, they sit as men, lords of their houses but dark men, prisoners of the past, powerless to prevail against the dark things that hold them in their grip.

They reject the counsel of the wise, the resit the charge to throw down their wicked staves, their crutches of weakness that they have relied upon for years. They will not repent of their excuses, their rebellions, their lusts.

They sit in private palaces nourished on “Twisted tales and Crooked Promptings”. Wormtongue has burrowed his lies into their minds, his poisonous tongue has castrated kings and made men into eunuchs.

To these men, wise wizards cry out: “Will you hearken?”

Every men must make a choice to move beyond his wounds. To bring them into the light of healing and wisdom.

All true warriors know that we do not hid our wounds, being wounded in battle is to be honored. We give medals and ribbons to those who have sacrificed, fought and fell. There is no shame of wounds among warriors.

Men who are wounded are treasured and measured among men who have yet bled for the cause.

Warriors would rather stand next to a man who has fallen and gotten back up then a man who has yet been tested by suffering. Scars speak of survival not weakness, they are the glory of a life lived on purpose.

Beware the warrior with soft and unmarred skin.

At the Break of Day and the Sundering of Souls

At the Break of Day,
and the Sundering of Souls
 
Father of flight and fight,
fashion these arrows,
to hit their mark,
swift, be their delivery,
true and steady, their aim.
 
Far and fierce, may they speed,
forceful, in impact,
deep, may they sink,
let them fly for fury,
for rescue, for glory
 
Hewn from the Victor’s victory,
formed, in passion’s furnace,
sharpened, in the oil of quickening,
unleashed, with breath of intent,
unto all ends, determined,
by the will of the Sovereign,
to the four corners, sent.
 
For the defeat of foes,
sting of conscience,
awakening of mind,
tipped, with conviction,
fletched, with healing,
Burning ever, with sacred flame.
 
Lamentations 3:12-13
He has drawn his bow and made me the target for his arrows. He shot his arrows deep into my heart.
 
-My pastoral prayer for the preaching of the word of God.

We need Heroes…and scars.

Power without love is reckless and abusive,

and love without power is sentimental and anemic.

Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice,

and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

I have been a man moved by MLK for years, his words and works, along with a few others like John M. Perkins, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and above all Jesus, have been at the root of much of my work with people on the margins. In this current political and cultural climate, as a white dude now in his late 40’s, it seems I have lost my place as a legitimate voice to even reference such true social justice luminaries.

In the past, if I mentioned these men and women were powerful forces of good that motivated my involvement in ministry and mission, it was seen as a good thing. The words and works that their examples and prophetic challenges propelled me to, have led me through decades of adventures on the margins. Because of these heroes, I have had challenging and meaningful moments of monumental impact on my mind, heart and soul.

A few of those were:

Sidewalk Sunday school in West Central in a sketchy little park with all kinds of beautiful, dirty, wild and lovable rugrats, speaking in Spokane County Jail on the men and women floors to pedophiles, brutes, beasts and villains who through Jesus’s eyes and heart became sources of compassion and love to me. Preaching at the old Victory Outreach in Hillyard for Alvin Moreno one of the generals of street gospel work in this area. Housing multiple families of refugees in my home with no language options and watching them become testimonies of character, courage and competency in this city.

Turning my home shower over to my filth caked, needle pushing, homeless by choice, friend in my neighborhood, giving water to a strung out, scabbed over, gangling meth addict on my porch , she was the first visitor to my home in East Central. Growing food in the hard and rocky dirt of East Central to try to improve the lives of families with access to too much junk food.

Spending hours in stacks of State, local and Obama Care paperwork in our community resource center trying to help refugees, immigrants and low income folks figure out that labyrinth. Befriending the physically and mentally handicapped which led to cleaning shit off my truck seats more than once from incontinence and fending off a neighbor I loved who was in a psychotic episode and tried to put a stone paver through my plate glass window. Enduring, confronting and working for peace among murderers, abusers and chemically driven thieves. Feeding and praying for healing with street kids under street overpasses on dark and rainy nights, holding communion services and foot washing outside a strip joint under neon glow. Holding the hands of young kids locked up with self harm cuts all over their arms while praying they don’t end up like the kid who chewed off part of the wall in the restraining room.

Preaching and ministering to drunks and thugs in ‘have to’ services and ‘get out for an hour’ for service time meetings, who really just want to argue or sit there and give me the bird while others wept from behind locked doors looking through small glass windows while pleading prayers of gratitude, joy and hope. You have not heard the voice of Jesus until you have heard a man cry out from behind a locked door down the hall somewhere begging to talk to you about Jesus. I have washed the toilets of prostitutes and wept before their redlight sexshop windows.

I have witnessed whites refuse service to blacks and asians rip off the wages of refugees and slumlords rule tenants like the mafia and the white poor live like feral animals off the dime of others. I have seen amazing generosity of city programs, non-profits and officials and seen the ugly underbelly of the politically driven ‘do-good’ game that is driven more by vote collecting than justice and mercy. I have watched pastors and leaders succumb to underhanded, power and people grabbing competition to build their own private and public kingdoms. I have watched flashy, prosperity gospel preachers milk the faithful for their own glory stage and glitter dreams while sincere, sold out gospel workers struggle to just get enough to care for the their own families and flocks. I have welcomed black ministers into my pulpit and been told I would not be welcome in theirs. I have walked in ‘race unity’ parades, heard speeches, promises and dedications and yet not see or hear from those folks until next years march.

I have seen so much glory, drama and trauma on the margins and all of those moments have direct connections to the lives and voices of people like Martin Luther King Jr. I wouldn’t trade any of them, they are the blows, breaks and bruises that have been remade by God into the grit, nerve and pluck in my stubborn, human-weakness prone, sinful but passionate, justice driven, phoenix like soul. I’ve tasted plenty of burned up ashes over the years, but still God’s grace gives me lift again and again.

But now, skin color is once again the reason many people can’t come together. Now we label someone as racist or promotes hate if they don’t follow the party line or bow and lick the boot of some self-promoted advocate, leader or justice warrior.

Words can wipe out decades of work, simply because your politics don’t line up with a certain voting color on some stupid tv screen, newspaper opinion piece or angry keyboard assassin. I have learned hard lessons that people use race, poverty, homelessness, immigration and a host of other justice issues for their own selfish agendas and pocketbooks. They can take the sufferings of others and build their organizations, reputation, bank accounts, voting block, churches or ego. It’s a reprehensible thing to squeeze the breath out of the down and out to propel your own sailboat forward but it happens too often in our communities.

We cannot build or rebuild anything that will last without each other. No ministry, business, non-profit, politician or political party can do it alone. You can’t rise in any meaningful way by pushing other people down. Oh sure you can do it, but you will lose your soul, your humanity and your own self respect in the process and ultimately you will stand before God and give an account for your ways. 

If love is going to truly prevail in the fight against evil, than we are going to have to start calling a spade a spade and repent of all the sin, stupidity and selfishness going on in the justice and mercy circles. 

Faith without works…is dead. Don’t be mislead by talkers, find the walkers and stay close to them, you can find them on the margins and with the poor, and you will know they are legit, if they know the people’s names they work to ‘save’. True heroes see people first above problems, politics, policies and programs. We need more than heroes, we need the evidence that their words have driven us not to wonder, worship or wealth but to…works. I pray we all can be motivated for the glory of God and the most good for the most people. 

I know this rant can be de-legitimized by my skin color by some, my failures by others and my politics by many, but in the end..I trust my hard fought scars will be my justification (Galatians 6:17). 

The Warrior Ethos and the Masculine Journey in the Lord of the Rings

What does it mean to be a man today?

“[Éomer] let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could come thither; for he thought to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark. So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day’s rising

I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.

To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking:

Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!

These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.” -The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 6, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

One of the most valuable gifts I received as I read the Lord of the Rings as a young man, was the introduction of characters, especially the men, who captured my imagination and admiration. At that time, I was being tossed around in emotionally devastating ways because of my parents divorce and subsequent events that took place. I was having my world dismantled and needed help, hope and healing and I found significant measures of that in Tolkien’s stories. All the meta-narratives in those pages spoke to me on multiple levels. I found light in dark places through the imprint of those adventures.

The power of that existential “I want to be like” idea took root deep in my adolescent psyche. My view of the world, men, women, home, land, virtue and evil was shaped by much of the truth that held the Hobbit’s fantasy world together.

It eventually even helped me embrace the gospel of Jesus. When I discovered the gospels, they resonated within my soul with the truth that had already found a welcomed home in my heart and mind. Tolkien’s works had prepared me in mortal and immortal matters that I had yet to fully understand. Tolkien’s worldview prepared the soil of my innerlife for the seed of God’s word and I came to hear the more full symphony of biblical truth in the songs I had came to know in pages The Lord of the Rings.

To me as a young reader, I learned that men mattered in the cataclysms of life. All kinds of men mattered, there was not just one type of guy in the books. I came to love all the distinctive differences of the races of men with all their particular strengths and weaknesses. Those differences mattered in the story and each man brought something unique and essential to the ‘fellowship’. I came to recognize that even the most unlikely of men, often are the great heroes in the story of life. Classic fantasy literature cultured me in the values of tolerance and diversity but without the insipid deconstructionism of the neo-progressive cultural agenda (read the definition at the end).

The debate in our culture about what’s real masculinity is taking on steam. There are those from certain political, ideological and even religious worldviews that desire to eliminate, redefine or at least minimize gender distinctives, roles and even scientific, biological realities. Here is a current example:

Redefining Masculine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6jz2Jma5-s

From one angle it appears to just be guys trying to help widen the masculine tent by pushing back on narrow definitions of masculinity. But it’s more than that, it’s a Trojan horse that seeks to remake culture in it’s own neo-progressive way. These are purposeful points of a political strategy to achieve a desired end and too many people fall for this social propaganda.

This agenda is being pressed on many fronts even though the cultural problems associated with young boys and men in matters of psychological and behavior development, education challenges, absentee fathering, domestic violence, suicide, and crime all shout to us that men need support, equipping and vision to face this confusing and contradictory world. Families are being deconstructed, redefined and patched together in ways that are leaving generations of men fatherless, without mentors, hopeless, unrighteous and dangerously isolated.

As men who care about other men and their psychological, physiological, relational and spiritual development we must help men answer these ancient and essential questions:

What does it mean to be good at being a man?”

“What does it mean to be a good man?”

One can succeed at one without the other, but in doing so, they will develop into a lopsided man, not a fully developed one. We all know of men who are traditionally considered ‘manly’ but are not good men or others who are not super macho or whatever and yet are good men. We must go beyond simple stereotypes and help men develop competence and character. They must develop the skills of being good at being a man and build the solid foundations of being a good man. Too many men are good guys but are not succeeding in life, they are nice, but not needed. Other men have solid masculine tactical skills (“Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor) but are failing in relationships, spiritual development, virtue and character. An effective, healthy, holistic approach to building men engages both edges of the masculine spear.

The warrior ethos in the Lord of the Rings is about cultivating virtuous masculinity. It helps develop men who can protect, provide and procreate with an ethical, moral and competent ideological, theological and sociological ethos. The toxic kind of masculinity being lamented today is often a caricature of the worst of masculinity, unmoored from it’s virtuous center.

Masculinity is not toxic, a misunderstanding of what being a good man is toxic and I would say men today don’t need to redefine masculinity but return to its core tactical, ethical, moral and religious convictions.

I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.“ -Faramir

 

Neo-Progressivism Definition“Beginning in the 1950s, a more radical form of liberalism emerged in the academy that sowed the seeds for the sexual revolution and multiculturalism. Neo-progressivism mobilized the New Left of the 1960s, transformed American politics, and continues to dominate the cultural and political conversation today. It combines what neo-progressives call personal politics (the idea that American citizens have a right to all forms of self-expression) and cultural politics (the idea that cultural groups are entitled to special status) together as the twin pillars of a new identity politics. As a result, citizens today have more, not less, freedom from government in the realm of sexual expression, and the American electorate has been fractured into various groups.”

“The new progressivism divides Americans into categories of race, class, and gender. It renews the specter of race conflict by rejecting the goal of civil rights, in which individuals achieve equality under the law; instead, the goal is political racial solidarity against what is viewed as an inherently racist American system.”https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/liberalism-radicalized-the-sexual-revolution-multiculturalism-and-the-rise?ac=1

Art: Frank Frazetta: http://frazettamuseum.com/product/LITHO-Atlantis.html