My Pulpit is an Operating Table.

Praying for people after sermons like Sunday’s is brutal.

I confess, I’m not a safe and predictable preacher, I go there…I don’t try to sensationalize or traumatize, but I don’t try to sanitize.

I think the reality of people’s sin and sufferings demands a gospel that touches their horror with hope and healing.

The pulpit is my operating table. It’s raw, rough, bloody and sometime involves life and death procedures.

I’m in the work of saving lives not just inspiring and giving good advise.

I’m in a chaotic and desperate emergency room…not a calm and quiet doctor’s office.

I’m a medic on the frontlines, arms deep in violence and gore trying to do work among skull shattering bullets, the ear deafening roar of the enemies opposition, and the heart breaking sobs to mama and pleas to the God over all this savage hell.

When did the churches of Jesus stop becoming places where men with devils shriek and wail and hemorrhaging women grab on to the Savior for dear life?

If I told you the confessions from the altar you’d weep and beat your chest in repentance from ever settling for pious and predictable sanctuaries.

Chesterton on Dickens: The 3 Notes of Christmas

GK Chesterton, one of Christendom’s most gifted writers, explores three ‘notes of Christmas’ in his essay: ‘Christmas Boods” in it he reflects on ‘A Christmas Caroll’ by famed author Charles Dickens. In this essay, he highlights three qualities of the story that particularly rings true to the gospel carol that gets played out in Dicken’s tale.
 
1. The first quality is what may be called the dramatic quality.
 
The happiness is not a state; it is a crisis.
All the old customs surrounding the celebration of the birth of Christ are made by human instinct so as to insist and re-insist upon this crucial quality. Everything is so arranged that the whole household may feel, if possible, as a household does when a child is actually being born in it. The thing is a vigil and a vigil with a definite limit. People sit up at night until they hear the bells ring. Or they try to sleep at night in order to see their presents the next morning. Everywhere there is a limitation, a restraint; at one moment the door is shut, at the moment after it is opened. The hour has come or it has not come; the parcels are undone or they are not undone; there is no evolution of Christmas presents. This sharp and theatrical quality in pleasure, which human instinct and the mother wit of the world has wisely put into the popular celebrations of Christmas, is also a quality which is essential in such romantic literature as Dickens wrote. In romantic literature, the hero and heroine must indeed be happy, but they must also be unexpectedly happy. This is the first connecting link between literature and the old religious feast; this is the first connecting link between Dickens and Christmas.
 
2. The Second Note is that Christmas occurs in the winter.
 
The second element to be found in all such festivity and all such romance is the element which is represented as well as it could be represented by the mere fact that Christmas occurs in the winter.
It is the element not merely of contrast, but actually of antagonism. It preserves everything that was best in the merely primitive or pagan view of such ceremonies or such banquets. If we are carousing, at least we are warriors carousing. We hang above us, as it were, the shields and battle-axes with which we must do battle with the giants of the snow and hail.
 
All comfort must be based on discomfort. Man chooses when he wishes to be most joyful the very moment when the whole material universe is most sad. It is this contradiction and mystical defiance which gives a quality of manliness and reality to the old winter feasts which is not characteristic of the sunny felicities of the Earthly Paradise. And this curious element has been carried out even in all the trivial jokes and tasks that have always surrounded such occasions as these. The object of the jovial customs was not to make everything artificially easy: on the contrary, it was rather to make everything artificially difficult.
 
Idealism is not only expressed by shooting an arrow at the stars; the fundamental principle of idealism is also expressed by putting a leg of mutton at the top of a greasy pole. There is in all such observances a quality which can be called only the quality of divine obstruction. For instance, in the game of snapdragon (that admirable occupation), the conception is that raisins taste much nicer if they are brands saved from the burning.
 
About all Christmas things, there is something a little nobler, if only nobler in form and theory, than mere comfort; even holly is prickly. It is not hard to see the connection of this kind of historic instinct with a romantic writer like Dickens. The healthy novelist must always play snapdragon with his principal characters; he must always be snatching the hero and heroine like raisins out of the fire.
 
3. The third great Christmas Note is the element of the grotesque.
 
The grotesque is the natural expression of joy; and all the Utopias and new Edens of the poets fail to give a real impression of enjoyment, very largely because they leave out the grotesque. A man in most modern Utopias cannot really be happy; he is too dignified. A man in Morris’s Earthly Paradise cannot really be enjoying himself; he is too decorative. When real human beings have real delights they tend to express them entirely in grotesques — I might almost say entirely in goblins. On Christmas Eve one may talk about ghosts so long as they are turnip ghosts. But one would not be allowed (I hope, in any decent family) to talk on Christmas Eve about astral bodies. The boar’s head of old Yule-time was as grotesque as the donkey’s head of Bottom the Weaver. But there is only one set of goblins quite wild enough to express the wild goodwill of Christmas. Those goblins are the characters of Dickens.
 
Arcadian poets and Arcadian painters have striven to express happiness by means of beautiful figures. Dickens understood that happiness is best expressed by ugly figures. In beauty, perhaps, there is something allied to sadness; certainly, there is something akin to joy in the grotesque, nay, in the uncouth. There is something mysteriously associated with happiness not only in the corpulence of Falstaff and the corpulence of Tony Weller, but even in the red nose of Bardolph or the red nose of Mr. Stiggins. A thing of beauty is an inspiration forever — a matter of meditation forever. It is rather a thing of ugliness that is strictly a joy forever.”
 
If you have an ear tuned to heaven’s gospel music, you can hear these notes that Chesterton and Dickens play in their great works of art. A Christmas Carol is a revelatory tale of a man forced to face who he is and who he needs to become. It includes the transformative power of an encounter with the world beyond and yet within our world.
 
It includes elements of miracle, mystery, and redemption wrapped up in the everyday happenings of friendships, coworkers, city people of various backgrounds and means, sad narratives, poor ones and striking examples of the grotesque, unkind and cold indifference.

I Still Believe in the Story within the Stories

The Biblical nativity story (Luke 2:1-20) is the rich and nourishing soil from which many of our cultural traditions have their roots. We are a people of the story, who’ve sought to Christianize our culture with salt and light. We believe that anything that is good, true and beautiful is at our disposal.

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

The story of Christ’s birth is packed full of the seeds that have burst out of people’s consciousness in a thousand narratives. The Nativity is a tale of two worlds touching in a marvelous and malevolent cacophony of characters, wonders, miracles, and mysteries.

Through the lens of this gospel story, one can see the truths being told in our Christmas traditions.

In the blessing of our children…we see the miracle and mystery of Mary’s obedience.

In our unexpected choices, left turns, and seeming dead ends…we know of Joseph’s conundrums.

In Rome’s demands…we understand our own displacements, debts, origins and dual citizenship restraints.

In our search for home and place…we understand the humble manger on the margins of society.  

In our songs…we echo the sounds of Heaven that were announced over Bethlehem’s sleeping city, unaware of the earth changing happenings over them.

In our work shifts, late nights and mundane happenings….we identify with the lowly shepherds.

In our world of sin and suffering….we understand Herod’s madness and murder.

In our gift giving…we share in the Magi’s joy.

In our welcome of the return of light to our land…we too embrace the coming age of light of life eternal.

In our feasting, merrymaking and decked out halls….we anticipate the Kingdom of tears wiped away, people reunited and joy unspeakable and full of glory.

In our stockings packed with treasures…we re-enact the overabundance of unmerited gifts of Divine grace lavished on all who anticipate His coming.

In our Characters of Christmas…we remember the Father who always sees us, whoever knows what our heart’s desires may be and visits us wherever we may find ourselves in different chapters of our life.  

These truths are the core convictions of our Christmas celebrations, they provide a meaningful Christian apologetic for practicing our treasured cultural traditions. Don’t let a Herod, Scrooge or the Grinch steal from your heart the wonder, mystery, and joy of Christmas, if you do, you might discover a lump of coal in your stocking this year!

A Defense of All Things Christmas

The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; 
they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; 
they will continue to do it; and someday suddenly wake up and discover why.
-Chesterton “On Christmas,” Generally Speaking

The Conundrum of American Christmas Lover

American Christians today are caught in some perplexing cultural transitions. On one hand, we are sliding into a more acute post-Christian era and on the other, we are still connected to practices and traditions that arose from our religious ancestors and yet have grown ignorant of the very roots of our past.

The secularists in our day mount a historical criticism game of checkers when they jump over the Christianization of our pagan Anglo-Saxon forefathers, appealing to the practices and beliefs of our pre-Christian past in order to invalidate or discredit our traditions.

Hyper-Christian fundamentalists seek to put an end to Christmas or at least its American forms, in the spirit of the early American Puritans, who made it illegal in order to try to sever protestant pietism from the ‘Christ-Mass’ of Catholicism and it’s customs of unbridled festive revelry.

The Winter Holiday lover who happens to convert to Christianity in adulthood will be surprised to discover they’ve been unintentional devil worshippers. Their cherished childhood remembrances of jolly old Saint Nick will be dashed on the rocks of religious realism that exposes Santa as a relettered version of the word Satan.

The newly converted will be forced to endure hours of anti-Christmas sermons, pages of anti-holiday pontifications in print and pious, icy yuletide polemics. The sensitive Christian conscience is forced to confess why they hold dear any of the supposed irrefutable proofs of the devilish roots of Christmas trees, candles, holiday hams and the nefarious practices of gift giving, eggnog drinking and heavens forbid anyone believes in talking snowmen, toy making elves or goblin-like Grinches in green!

The Triumph of Christ over Odin

We are a people with historical religious amnesia. We have forgotten that Christ’s gospel conquered Odin, Thor, and Freya and that all the practices of their religion were struck down, swallowed up, purged or reimagined in Christian witness and worship. We forget that the death of God’s Son put an end to the perpetual human sacrifice system. The Prince of Peace quenched the warrior’s raids that compelled them to try to earn their way into Valhalla through violence, battle, and blood.

Instead, we’ve been duped by persnickety, conscience-binding legalists that demand that all the saints should bow to the scruples and trifles of the churchmen overlords.

We have allowed the great achievements of the past martyrs and missionaries of Christ to be denigrated, dismissed and denounced without a rigorous and righteous rebuttal by men and women who understand that the shadows of truth have been visible among all people. God intends…“that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27).

Christ is the great Light of Heaven that has cast His glory across the ages of time in the minds and hearts of humanity no matter what religious attempts have been made to understand, worship and connect with the God or gods, whom the heart perceives are behind all that we see, hear and experience.

We are the heralds of the good news that brings Great Joy! Christians come to explain the truth, to reveal what has been fully revealed, to connect the dots and fill in the gaps. We are bridge builders who seek to help people come to God. We believe that He has been at work in a people or a person before we ever arrive. We are introducing the worshipper of the idol to their unknown god, to the One whom they have yet to come to know.

It is in this spirit that our ancestors sought to connect or retell the stories of people to the great story that makes sense of all others.

What Story Will You Tell?

A truth that the old ‘Boar’s Head Carol and Feasts’ spoke of:

Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high, 
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Who lists may in the mumming see 
Traces of ancient mystery.

This Christmas, I hope that you and your family will commit to discovering the Story within the stories. That you will experience the joy of the good news in all your merriment with family, friends and those you welcome around your table and heart.

I pray that you will be a people that can share the stories of the past and the present within the greatest story ever told. That your homes will be candles set in dark rooms, like cities of light on hills for all to see and stream towards in search of all that is true, good and beautiful.

May the Gospel story of Jesus inform, enchant and encompass all that you do for those you love and those who need to be loved in these desperate and lonely times. Let your lives be ones that witness to the saving joy of a Scrooge turned to a Saint and may the Star of the Son of David never cease shining over your welcoming, feasting, generous, song-filled and tale-telling…Christan homes.

G.K. Chesterton on Santa Claus:

“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child, I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . . What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”

In Defense of Neptune, Evangelistic Freedom & Beards

I heard this week that one of my sins in the public domain is my use of my blog banner photo of myself juxtaposed to a statue of Neptune.

Since that was a recent charge leveled at me about my heretical proclivities, I thought would explain.

Even though one of my other charges these days is that I am too friendly with the Papists, I know this will possibly add further wood to people’s personal inquisition fires by mentioning my fondness with Catholic Bishop Barron’s use of the Jewish Temple ‘Gentile Court’ as an example of how to engage the secular or seeking world in evangelisation. I see part of my pastoral writing and speaking life as an evangelist and apologist.

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” -2 Timothy 4:5

I try to create or enter a public space where people at various stages of interest or disdain of religious matters might engage with one another. I do my best to “…not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”(Acts 15:19). I do this by trying to declutter my evangelization methods of the typical evangelical religious culture’s stumbling blocks that related to “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Colossians 2:21) in welcome and witness in the culture. This can lead to me being “Too pagan for the fundies and too Jesusy for the pagans” but I do my best to work at finding that most engaging middle ground in hope of reaching some.

So in my evangelization effort in today’s postmodern world, I often use the platforms of public interest as springboards for discussing truth claims that I think matter. I “handle, taste and touch” cultural issues, interests and idols in order to proclaim the “unknown god’ many people are worshipping in sincere ignorance (Acts 17:22-23).

I take my thinking from some of the greatest minds the church has ever known, like Saint Augustine, who writes in “On Christian Doctrine” book two, pg 6o:

If those who are called philosophers, especially the Platonists, have said things which are indeed true and are well accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared; rather what they have said should be taken from them as from unjust possessors and converted to our use.”

This idea, which is fraught with dangers and opportunities is profoundly articulated best in Peter J. Leithart’s introduction to his book ‘Heroes of the City of Man’ which is titled ‘The Devil Has No Stories’, you could and should, read it here: https://docs.google.com/…/11BYzzWv_4FX60mqBf7uj6rXCxO…/edit…

In closing, I unashamedly admit that I believe:

“...All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

This means that everything is fair game, we are free to: “…examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

I know that such freedom scares many people and that there is a ‘defilement’ posture that many evangelicals hold in their minds about interacting with the world. I can understand that point of view, and I agree that we all face temptations and dangers in our work of witness.

But I refuse to be accept a religiously superstitious posture that immobilizes engagement and produces a neurotic, apprehensive life. I choose to live my call dangerously, but purposefully, close to the fires of judgment:

“...you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.” (Jude 1:22-23)

As for the Blog Header picture, the reality of why I chose that pic is far more vain…I just liked the beard resemblance.

I stand accused, I am a…pogonophile.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

The edge of my Oblivion

You are my black hole,

the gravitational pull is excruciating,

my discovery is alarming,

a sinking realization

that I can not escape.

 

Love as fright,

love as all consuming blackness,
love, a bottomless pit,

unknown dark,

a teetering tipping

on the edge of my oblivion.

 

All within me scrambles back to no avail,

my heart like sand caving to the tide,

You have consumed me unawares,

and the roar of my powerlessness

is drowned in the crash

of your unattentive coming and going.

 

The heart of Monoceros

is a diminishing void

the unicorns lie,

that which you thought you caught,

has caught you,

impaled on the great horn

of union’s dilemma.

 

A lover’s horror,

Andromeda’s beauty,

my chains,

my demise,

is there a still a son of Zeus

able to break Poseidon’s chains?

 

11.26.18

I’m not ashamed to be a Pilgrim ancestor

Francis Cook, my ancestor, was one of the passengers on the Mayflower. My ancestor’s survival and heritage is directly linked to the wisdom, kindness, ingenuity, bravery and sovereign work of God among the blessings and sufferings of the Native Americans of the Wampanoag confederacy of tribes, particularly the Patuxet people. Thanks to Samoset, Tisquantum (Squanto) and Chief Massasoit, the early Pilgrims were able to survive at the Plymouth Colony and eventually thrive in the new world.

I have visited Leiden Holland, South Hampton, England and France, all countries connected to the unfolding story of God’s plan for my ancestors, the Mayflower and the early Pilgrim settlements. Even today, as I read over the particular distinctives of the religious faith of the Pilgrims, I see the odd way our lives seem to be shaped by those from which we have come (http://mayflowerhistory.com/religion).

I give God praise for his work of salvation, providence and blessings in my family line. I am not ashamed of my Christian faith, Protestant heritage and American citizenship. I do believe God is to be praised in spite of our historical and cultural sins as Americans. God is and always has been at work in this great land before any Scandinavian or Europeans even set foot here, but there were plans connected to His eternal purposes that included the intertwining of all our people in North America.

There are many fair and right judgments to be made about the history that unfolded but even in the failures and atrocities that took place, there were beautiful displays of the Kingdom of God at work in, among and through all his people.

One of the great blessings of the Pilgrim people coming to America is the gift of God’s written word which they gave to their friends among the Native people. The first Bible printed in America was translated and published in 1663 at Cambridge, Massachusetts into the Narragansett language of the First Nation people, by a missionary named John Eliot.(http://mayflowerhistory.com/wampanoag-language).

Today as I feast with our own family, I honor my Pilgrim heritage and the Native American people who made my life possible. Today when I sit at the banquet table, I remember the first table set in Plymouth. That table will forever be a testimony of what can be realized if people of faith and good will choose to practice charity, trust and friendship across cultural, religious and even political backgrounds.

To that end, I add my amen to Governor William Bradford’s Thanksgiving proclamation three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth.

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.

William Bradford
Ye Governor of Ye Colony

When Lightning Strikes

When Lightning Strikes

11/15/18

The cloven earth,

received the ungrounded fury of Zeus,

what was standing eternal,

now, struck from head to root,

the careless bolt,

has given Elysium

a hero it does not deserve.

Among the thunder of wailing,

the crash of crippled knees,

the tsunami of incoming tides,

all is drowned,

all is buried,

all is lost in weeping.

Our paradise is ravaged,

the boughs of delight, shaken,

all our fruit lay cleaved and smoldering,

and tremors lick our seared nerves

with threatening, tangible power.

The cool shade,

dissipated with thunderous flashbulbs,

blinding suddenness,

stumbling disorientation,

our Olympus has fallen.

A gouged line of demarcation,

jutting downward like a ghostly fingernail,

recklessly directed with a life-altering,

indiscriminate arch of finality.

The air is still charged,

pregnant with impermanence,

tingling terror,

our hairs standing to attention.

The specter of immanence,

stalks us, like a thief unawares,

and shock has awakened

the slumbering immortals

with the cold kiss of Persephone.