“If You Have Ears”

12 08 2011

Together, this song and these actors tell a story. In case the lyrics are not all clear, I’ve written them below. Listen to the words. Take the images in. Which words speak most directly to you? Which images move you? Remember, this is a song for you.

“If You Have Ears”

This is a song for the masses
Whether elephants or asses,
For the poor and wealthy too
This is a song for the pious,
Whether saints or men of science,
This is a song for you

First the rich man, who breaks the backs of fathers,
ruins all their sons and daughters,
for your money and your clout.
Justice has you by the collar;
You can’t buy time with dollars,
and yours is running out.

Next the pharisee, enslaving all the orphans,
and selling your religion
for the widow’s soul.
But all those orphans have a Father,
and one day that widow’s Lover
Will take back what you stole. There comes a fire hotter than, than can endure any man. His love is a flame His love is a flame.

Be weary of musicians,
Men in my position,
who tell you what to think.
But also fear suspicion
that tells you not to listen
When a stranger tries to speak.

He who has ears, let him hear.
She who has ears, let her hear.
If you have ears, listen:

It doesn’t matter if you’re smart,
if you feel you got a good heart
or if people like you well.
It doesn’t matter what your church says,
’cause if you live a life that’s loveless,
You might already be in hell.

It doesn’t matter if you’re broke here, just a joke here,
If you’re shameful, if you gambled and you lost
It doesn’t matter if you’re dirty or you’re hurting
Or you’re hiding and it’s coming at a cost
It doesn’t matter if you fail or you think you’re not good enough,
Cause you can’t lose what you can’t earn and you, you can’t earn love.
No, you can’t earn love.

He takes the blame
(I blamed Him too)
But don’t be ashamed
(It’s what He wanted to do)
His grace is like rain
(When it rains it pours)
Do you know His Name?
(He knows yours)


How to burn your house down…

1 06 2011

I went camping last weekend, and it was cold when I decided to build a fire. Ever wondered why people say that…that you need to build a fire? Try starting a fire in the cold without lighter fluid, and you’ll understand.

You can’t light a log or a brick on fire with a match, but houses still burn down. How? Fires always start small…and then they build.

I isolate some dry leaves from the wind and add a flame. The fire almost dies, but I quickly add several twigs and some more leaves. Tiny embers smolder. I add straw, then slightly bigger sticks, and then make a tepee of logs over the flame. More twigs and leaves and bigger sticks until the logs finally catch. Then I let the wind in, and the fire roars.

As I stared into the flames, I knew I’d seen the likes of this someplace before. Lust is like this. Any kind of lust for any kind of thing. Isolation. A tiny spark. A harmless flame. A controllable fire. And then the house burns down. Here it is again in poetry:

– Flame –
Lust is a fire built upon straw
Till the forest is withered and the redwoods are raw.
Bricks may withstand the starting flame,
but there’s a ladder of leaves to every name.
So take not for granted the smallness of things
when a fury of heat the slightest spark brings
and melts even stone, the consummate lust
Sending ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Don’t take for granted the smallness of things.

Who Buys Your Coffee?

30 03 2011

The other day, I invited an atheist to coffee, and something strange happened the day before we were to meet.

I started day-dreaming about philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics and arguments I might use to convince him that my Christianity is truer than his atheism.

I’m not sure what made me stop. If there is a God, perhaps He was the One who reminded me that the college student I was meeting with was not just an atheist. He was a human being. He was not an argument to be deconstructed. He was a person — one of God’s image-bearers — to be treated with dignity.

So we met. We talked. I read some of the papers he had written, encouraged his study, and (when asked), I offered him insights into a Christian worldview. The whole thing was really civil and interesting. But in retrospect, there was one moment of our time together that stood out more than any other in our 2 hours of quality conversation:

I tried to buy his coffee, but he wouldn’t let me, even after I insisted.

Reflecting on our time together, I wondered if that one moment had provided more insight into his rejection of the gospel of grace than did all his carefully-articulated, philosophical arguments. It also reminded me why my attempts at clever arguments will never be enough to convince a man to accept grace.

If I’m honest with myself, I love to give charitably, but I hate to be charity or be thought of as charity. No one wants to be a beggar. But the gospel is clear:

It is by grace [or “undeserved favor”] you have been saved, through faith. This is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.

If I am loved by God, it’s not because I deserve it. It’s because He decided I am worth it. There is a difference.

So I asked my atheist friend why he didn’t let me buy his coffee, and our conversation continues with the gospel now coming into view. But regardless of what happens in our future times together, I must admit, I’m still gonna try to buy his coffee, and sooner or later, maybe I’ll actually get to do it.

Speaking of coffee, who buys yours?

The Mourning Dove

29 03 2011

The Ann Arbor skyline is best experienced from the top of the North Ashley parking structure. That is, if you’re a human. A dove would rather see it from the sky.

On one such visit to the roof, my buddy Tim and I were feasting on stories when we heard a strange noise coming from the glass-encased stairwell of the parking garage…like playing cards slapping against the spokes of an old Schwinn bicycle. But the sound was big, intermittent and echoing across seven stories of concrete. We investigated.

A dove had somehow gotten itself trapped within the stairwell. What was worse, all the outside world was visible through the glass and must have seemed so inviting and accessible. But it was not. The poor bird, in spurts of panic, fluttered and flailed itself against the transparent walls until it was utterly exhausted.

Then, and only then, was I able to approach. At my advance, it again attempted to escape. But it was too tired. By now it must have felt hopeless if birds can feel hopeless. I reached out my hands and wrapped them carefully around the dove’s fragile wings and body.

It was strange to see a free bird surrender.

I carried it out of the stairwell to a place where wind replaced the walls, and I opened my hands. It paused, spread its wings and made a beeline to the tip-top of the highest building in Ann Arbor. The view must have been better from up there because other doves were already there to greet it.

The whole thing was pretty cool, having the chance as a human to rule over the birds of the air in an honorable way. But I wondered afterwards who was helping who. I wondered at the ways I was wearing myself out trying to get what I want, save myself and set myself free. And I wondered if surrender wasn’t a thing to be avoided but embraced and celebrated. I wondered what it would be like to fly after having just despaired that flying would never again be possible. And last of all, I wondered what the view was like from the sky.

Maybe someday I’ll know.

– Living Mural –
Someplace sometime
a dove within the glass
made a sound of wings
tilling air stale with echoes.
Spilt blood against the pane,
across the sky-framed,
living mural; muted welcome;
wishing walls were wind;
willing wings will mend
in the hands of Another
the air will move again.

Red Balloons

13 11 2010

Is God a better Father than I am?

Stupid question, right? Of course God is a better Father than I am. He’s God, the Great Teacher of Wisdom and Truth. Consider the lesson He taught me recently.

I was sitting on my living-room floor when my 19 month-old son carried a book over and handed it to me. I took it; he turned and plopped down in my lap. I began to read to him, stopping from time to time to ask him didactic questions: “Where’s the balloon? Can you point to the red balloon?” You know, stuff like that to help him learn words, concepts, etc.

But I got distracted.

I just kept thinking about how I love when he sits in my lap. I enjoyed the smell of his hair and the warmth of his little frame. I kissed his head and smiled as he batted me away with his tiny hands. And that’s when it hit me. (Not his hands, the lesson)

In the course of life, I spend a lot of time asking God what I’m supposed to be learning. “What’s the lesson this time, God? Tell me so I can learn it and get on with my life.” But sitting with my son made me wonder if God is more interested in me and our relationship than He is in whether or not I’m keeping ahead of some imaginary, spiritual learning curve.

What if every lesson God could ever want to teach me begins and ends with the reality of His love for me?

Some may say there is much more to learn about healthy spirituality after we’ve grasped His love for us, but, to be honest, truly accepting that the God of the Universe unconditionally loves me seems to be the hardest lesson for me to grasp.

And I suppose if I could give my son some grand store of information or simply see him grow up secure in my love for him, I would rather him know my love…

…the red balloons can wait.

Slam Poetry: the tension between law and grace…

28 07 2010

Waste Management: How Love Turns Trash Into Treasure

19 07 2010

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, [Jesus] died for us.” Romans 5:8

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent [Jesus] into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…[and] since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:8-10a, 11

In the last few posts, I articulated a worldview that I will now attempt to summarize in a single sentence:

Because a personal sense of insecurity is the root of every evil choice, the only way to live a life that is truly good is to – by faith – live as people who are completely secure (i.e. unconditionally loved).

I also shared the good news with you: you are unconditionally loved. As God’s creation and as is eternally articulated through the passion and resurrection of Jesus, you are loved without exception or condition.

Practically speaking, your salvation lies in the acceptance of the above reality. Not because you must arbitrarily adhere to some religious doctrine in order to be saved. Rather, it stands to reason that only the secure person is truly free…free of guilt, fear and the desperate need to self-protect and self-promote…free to protect and promote others…free to accept and give love courageously and with integrity. And there is only one faith that announces a God who is, in very nature, Love and thus capable of driving out our fear and making us completely secure. That God is manifest in the person of Jesus, and He makes possible the eternal kind of life, the life worth living, the life that leads to greater harmony and connectedness, the good life. Such a life – based in true security – is only possible because of His grace.

Grace is the cornerstone of unconditional love.

Grace is undeserved favor. Without it, everything falls apart. Most religions articulate a reality governed by karma or something like it. You reap what you sow. No more and no less. If you do good, you receive good in return. If you do bad, you receive bad in return. There is truth to this, but if it is the final word on all reality, our only hope for salvation is our own capacity to maintain a “white-knuckle” goodness that will outweigh our mistakes and earn us a ticket to some etherial paradise. But grace, which is a concept unique to the Judeo-Christian God, interrupts the downward spiral of bad karma in this life and the next. Grace means that no mistake you’ll ever make is destructive enough to isolate you from the love of God. It also means that there is nothing you can do to earn His love.

Love is a gift, and gifts cannot be earned or lost.

Gifts may only be accepted or rejected, but the decision whether or not to give a gift lies squarely in the hands of the Giver. And He has made His decision. It will not be revoked. God – made manifest in the person of Jesus – loves us…unconditionally…without exception. And the key struggle of our lives – in every decision and on our last day – will be to accept or reject this truth.

Do you believe it?

To reject the true nature of our immense value and security in God’s eyes is to systematically invest in our own destruction. It means looking to other broken people, systems and habits to validate us. Enter fear, guilt, hiding and blaming. Enter addictions, isolation and death. The best way to waste your life is to insist on your own worthlessness.

Do you believe it?

To accept the true nature of our immense value and security in God’s eyes is to systematically invest not only in our own re-creation but also in the re-creation of all things. It means incarnating – amidst other broken people, systems and habits – the message of our God who is Love. Instead of taking from them, we give. Enter freedom, forgiveness, fearlessness and faith. Enter grace and the glory of reconciliation with ourselves, others and the God of the Universe.

You are not a waste…not to Him. He made you. You are His poem. You are His masterpiece.

Do you believe it?