Category Archives: Literature

Why I Don’t Open My Umbrella on a Rainy Day

An Explanation in Free Verse

(To Be Taken Seriously)

I inhale the rain

As it races down,

Straight and determined.

 

I have an umbrella,

But why?

Am I so vain

That I must raise

An artificial shield

Of man-made fibers

Between me

And the open sky?

 

With one blow

The wind could tear

My façade of decorum,

Turning my feeble vanity

Inside-out.

 

Are appearances so very important

That I must shelter myself

From that which heals

Just because

It makes me cold,

For a while?

 

It takes courage to be natural,

Unafraid.

There is more to being exposed

To the open face

Of Truth bathing you

Than a child

Who just likes to get wet –

 

A child who doesn’t care

What other people think –

 

Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Goodness

Goodness

Let my words be sweet sounds

And my thoughts pure.

I would be content,

For You, Oh Lord, are in me

And there is no place in my soul

That You do not long to possess.

You restore to me

Desire for Light

And the hope of Beauty.

I see horrors of great darkness

And I long to be like You,

Seeing death as life fulfilled,

The attainment of the eternal.

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Approval

Yes, I’ve been off the blog for a while.  In my defense, I’ve been writing a dissertation, which finally looks to be going somewhere.

I came across an interesting quote last night as I was doing some research.  Months ago, while writing about Edmund Spenser, I found an allusion to Mary Magdalene in The Faerie Queene that nobody seems to have written about before, and I’ve been trying to figure out what Mary Magdalene is doing in this particular place in the narrative. So, I did what one usually should do when a Protestant from this historical period does something unusual with Scripture.  I checked the Geneva Bible.

The Geneva Bible (1560) was the most popular English translation of its day.  Even after the KJV was published (1611), people continued to use the Geneva Bible, partly for the marginal notes that explained the text and added cross-references.  In a sense, the Geneva Bible was a study Bible, and it was used for personal and family devotions.

John 20 is the only place in the gospels where we read about Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb – the one where she laments that someone has taken her Lord, and she doesn’t know where to find him. When she realizes that she is speaking to a risen and living Jesus, she immediately grabs hold of Him, only to have Jesus tell her that she must not hold onto Him, as He has not yet ascended to His Father.  The Geneva Bible adds this note:  “Because she was too much addicted to the corporal presence, Christ teacheth her to lift up her mind by faith into heaven, where only after His ascension he remaineth, & where we sit with Him at the right hand of the Father.”

I have to say, this set off some fireworks in my brain.  We often think about our salvation in terms of Christ dying for us, and rightly so, since there is no forgiveness of sins without the atoning sacrifice (Heb. 9:22).  But my research into Reformation teaching has shown me a different emphasis.  Luther and Calvin frequently spoke of the sufficiency or righteousness of Christ.  His sacrifice is important as the way that this righteousness is transferred to us.  When I stand before God, I will be saved, not just because Jesus died, but because His death has given me a righteousness without which God cannot find me acceptable.

For this reason, just as I remember the cross and empty tomb, it is equally important that I think of heaven when I think of Christ.  He occupies the place of ultimate approval — at the right hand of God.  Those who are “in Christ,” those who share the rewards of His suffering, also occupy this place of approval as Christ represents us and intercedes for us to His Father.  For this reason, Jesus says to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn. 20:17, ESV).  To call Him our God and Father is a privilege that Christ gives us through His own good standing, the approval that God gives Christ is extended over you and me as a holy covering.

For this reason, Paul states, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34, ESV).  I think believers cannot hear this enough.  We constantly reproach ourselves (usually with good reason), and our adversary, Satan, is always the accuser of the brethren.  But Christ does not accuse us.  He is as gracious to us as He was to the adulterous women when He sent her accusers packing and refused to lift so much as a pebble Himself.  He stands between us and judgment, then His Spirit gives us the power to go and sin no more.

I wonder, when we confess our sins to God (as indeed we must), how would it change our prayers if we were not trying to earn approval or acceptance?  Christ has won approval for us.  Rather, we must seek God’s grace to mend the broken places in us, and the power and the filling of the Spirit to transform our deepest longings and ambitions.  It is for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).

 

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Sine Qua Non

Sine Qua Non

Love is not exhausted

Though pushed to the edge,

Worn to a frazzle,

And tired beyond measure.

Love does not abandon the hopeless.

Love and Pain are one flesh

And sweet are the offspring:

Patience, Mercy,

Truth, Endurance,

Forgiveness.

Joy is strength,

But Love bears all things.

Faith is the evidence,

But Love believes all things.

Love is the mother of Hope.

Love is the abiding place of every virtue,

And no darkness escapes it

For Love is God.

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A Landscape for the Soul

My meditations lately have been on themes in the book of Ecclesiastes.  It occurred to me this morning that the central idea of Ecclesiastes is a familiar one to the culture in which we live – a journey away from the safe and ordinary in order to find some meaning and purpose for life.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I understand that Eat, Pray, Love took up this theme. So did Under the Tuscan Sun, and the idea of running away to an older, more beautiful and transforming culture is central to the novels of Henry James.

I have to wonder what it is that makes travel seem like the cure for a weary spirit.  During our small group Bible study last week, the ladies present discussed the places they had always wanted to see –  Italy, Paris, England, Australia.  Good choices all. The thing is, we weren’t necessarily talking about travel.  We were talking about the things we always wanted to do “when we grew up.”  It turns out that what we always wanted to do was escape the ordinary, to have adventures and to see something great and lovely.

There is something in us that is convinced, like the psalmist, that green pastures could restore our souls.  That a timeless and beautiful landscape could feed our souls.  That some indefinable thing long buried inside us might burst into bloom if only we were in an environment where we could nurture it.  That we could be creative and brilliant and articulate and satisfied if only we could find the right place to grow into ourselves.  Something within us knows that we were made to be pilgrims and sojourners in the land.

Of course, we have a citizenship in heaven.  Of course, we wait for the New Jerusalem that God is constructing for us.

But this heavenly citizenship is not just something for a future time.  We hold it here on earth, where we are strangers and aliens in a culture that is familiar, but not friendly.  We enjoy that citizenship at every church fellowship and communion, when we open a new worship CD, or the latest book by a Christian author.  We broaden our experience of it when we reach back in time to the works of great Christians who have lived and ministered and written and composed long before we were born.  We hear it in Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.  We sing it in the hymn stanzas of Isaac Watts and Fanny Crosby.  We read it in Paradise Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, and The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life.  We experience it in the autobiography of St. Augustine and the celebrations of the life of St. Patrick.  We see it in most of the art and architecture that has been produced by Western Civilization for the last two thousand years – much of it sponsored by the Church and inspired by Scripture.  We ponder it in the thoughtful writings of apologists like Tertullian, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel.  We marvel at the revelation of God in creation through the work of God-fearing scientists like Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, and Francis Collins.

If we are longing for some experience of culture, it is at our fingertips.  We have only to reach out for it to know that we are citizens of a mighty and beautiful City of God, that we are the inheritors of a long, creative and timeless tradition built over centuries by the people of God.  Generation after generation, the Church has been cultivating a landscape for the soul upon which we can feed our minds and hearts from the truth of God’s Word.

So, here is my recommendation for the day.  Go find a book by a Christian on a topic that interests you.  Like to read about people?  Try Augustine’s Confessions or C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy or one of the hundreds of Christian biographies that are available.  Interested in science?  Read The Fingerprints of God by Francis Collins.  Need some new music?  Classical can be an acquired taste, and I don’t know of any better way to acquire it than with a CD of The Messiah and a KJV Bible to follow along with the libretto.  Like to travel?  Try a magazine about archeology and see what they are digging up that confirms God’s Word.  There is an exciting debate going on over new discoveries in Jerusalem and other places in the Holy Land that may or may not date to the time of David and Solomon.  Go to pbs.org and watch the Secrets of the Dead episode on King Solomon’s mines.  Are you into fairy tales?  Last time I checked, the Johnson City Public Library had some of George MacDonald’s fairy tales.  Like fiction and need encouragement?  Try Hinds’ Feet on High Places or In His Steps.  Like to goof off online?  Look up some images of famous cathedrals and churches and marvel at the architectural monuments that have been built to God’s glory.  And, yes, find some pictures of stained glass windows.  And you don’t have to buy any of it.  If it’s not online, the public library probably has it.

Take your new discovery, get yourself a cappuccino, and open up a new landscape.  If you want to feel really cultured, pick up some pasta and olive oil at the grocery store and try a new recipe.  You can get that online too.

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For Today

Abba

Lord of my soul,

I call You “Father”

But which insults You more –

To be or not to be –

I do not know.

 

Since you desire to be,

Father of Me,

Reclaimer of the refuse of my life,

So I will speak.

I feel Your hands on mine,

Prying open my clenched fists,

Hushing the throbbing silence,

Holding me inexorably

From the inevitability of my humanness.

 

I do not know what You are,

But Who,

And that is sufficient,

For You know all of me.

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Brutus is an Honorable Man

Today is the Ides of March.

For those of you who have never had to study Latin (lucky you), the Ides of March was a holiday the Romans celebrated on March 15.  It was a festival in honor of Mars, the Roman god of war, and it is still famous because, in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.

The title above is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the only play by Shakespeare that I liked when I was in high school.  (I’m afraid my opinion of Romeo and Juliet was rather low. What idiots!)   In the play, Brutus is forced to choose between his loyalty to and affection for Caesar, and what he believes is in the best interest of Rome.  The Romans of Brutus’ day, like modern Americans, had rejected monarchy.  The upper class of Rome, those who could be Senators, hated and feared the idea of rule by one man.  The possibility that Caesar might have enough political and popular support to become that one man meant that he had to die.  So, Brutus and his fellow conspirators waylaid Caesar in the Curia (Senate house) and stabbed him to death.  They succeeded in killing Caesar, but they failed to stop political change.  Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, became emperor instead.

Brutus was an honorable man because, given a hard moral choice, he chose what was in the best interest of his people.  You and I face a similar choice everyday because there is a little caesar in all of us. (No, not the pizza guy!)  I mean the ego I have that continually puffs itself up and wants the praise and esteem of others.  It would happily be queen of all it surveys.  The problem is that monarchy is bondage.  Yes, even if I’m the monarch (or think I am).  The minute that Crown of Self-Centeredness alights on my pointed little head, I have become enslaved to me.  And, believe me, I know myself too well to like the sound of that.  Enslaved to my need to please; enslaved to my bad habits; enslaved to my unfulfilled desires and ambitions; enslaved to bad memories that I can’t resist brooding over. Yes, being the Queen of Me sounds like no end of fun.

We can say with rejoicing that God has given us an alternative:  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5, ESV)

Does that sound like a bloody revolution to you?  Me, too.  At least, though, we are guaranteed more success than Brutus.  It’s not going to kill us to stick a pin in our stuck-up egos.  And when we take on our own strongholds (sinful habits), we have a potent Ally who means to see that the war is won.  According to 1 Corinthians 15, we have victory through Christ who promises to resurrect our sinful bodies and give us glorious bodies like His own.

In the meantime, I’d like to taste some liberty.

 

 

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Good Friday

This evening, for my dissertation, I am revising my reading of John Donne’s, “Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward.”  Donne describes traveling in one direction, when he really longs to be going in another.  His meditation is on the east as the location of Christ’s passion (in Jerusalem) and the direction of the rising sun (a symbol of the resurrection).  As he imagines himself present at the crucifixion, the poet is troubled by the thought of God experiencing a human death.  God told Moses, “No man can see my face and live.”  Does it do something to us then to see the face of God in Christ?  He writes,

Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see,

That spectacle of too much weight for me.

Who sees God’s face, that is self life, must die;

What a death were it then to see God die?

It made his own lieutenant Nature shrink,

It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.  (15-19)

The last line is a reference to the earthquake and the eclipse that happened on the day of the crucifixion.  Donne is saying that even Nature itself broke under the strain of seeing God suffer.  Is it possible, then, that the poet can have such an encounter with Christ and not be changed by it?

To be honest, this poem has given me some difficulty.  When I first read the poem (the whole thing is 42 lines long), I thought that Donne was struggling with the idea of a free salvation.  He seems to want God to punish him or make him a better person, so that he can earn his salvation.  I think after reading more Donne, that this is not quite right.  It’s sanctification, or holiness, that he is looking for, but that does not make the last lines any less comfortable:

O think me worth thine anger, punish me,

Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,

Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,

That thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face. (39-42)

One of my sources suggests that Donne is thinking of Heb. 12 – Those whom the Lord loves, He chastens and rebukes.  Certainly, that is possible, and it would explain how undergoing punishment might make Donne feel more secure, but I still think he has it wrong.  Christians are no longer children of wrath (see Ephesians 2:1-5), and Hebrews makes it clear that God is not to be compared with human fathers who punish arbitrarily or out of anger.  Rather, God disciplines us according to His own infallible knowledge of what will bring about good for us.

What I think Donne has right is the emphasis on being changed by “seeing” Christ.  God sends to each of us those moments or experiences when something about the character of God is suddenly clear to us, something we never knew or understood about him before.  Those moments are important to our own journey of holiness because we can only imitate what see.  When I learn something new about the character of the Savior, I am one step closer to being like Him, if only I will take what I have learned and apply it to how I live.

So what about you?  Was there a time when you learned something about God that changed everything for you?  What was it?

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A Meditation on the Trinity

I find it hard to understand

That You, self-contained, self-defining,

The I AM of every now,

Should define Yourself by loving,

Three-Personed God.

I measure my strength

By how many people I don’t need.

You measure Your sufficiency

In how many need You.

 

 

And what is beyond my telling

Is that You would reward those who desire You,

As if longing were a thing to be treasured,

As if to be yearned for was a gift without price.

And we who thirst for loveliness

Know not whether each passing thrill,

Or ache, is vanity or holiness

Or only vexation of spirit –

Only that You, Oh Lord, behold our desiring.

(9-11-2010)

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A Prayer

For those readers from my Wed. night class, the post I promised you last week is right below this one.  You can still comment and read comments.  The discussion is still open.  In the meantime, this is something I wrote last October.

A Prayer

(After Reading Hamacher’s “95 Theses of Philology”)

What mystery and beauty appear when You speak,

Divine Utterance, holy mystery,

Out of language You constructed the cosmos,

Material from the immaterial,

The insubstantial from the substantial,

And made of us, You and I, one sentence

Expressing the character of God.

I, a noun, subject and object,

You, the verb (I=AM),

In Whom things live and move and have their being.

Stars and comets, planets and nebulae –

So many adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.

Every water drop and winged insect an articulation

Of the divine imagination sparking

Within the eyes and minds of we who behold.

And in our longing for the reality of You,

We speak and love and know and dream,

And find our words broken, fragments only

Of a shattered mirror,

Seeking to make them whole in the all of You,

Stumbling to the knowledge that Truth is God.

(10/8/10)

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