Saturday, October 25, 2014

The House of Mourning

"A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says, "She is gone." Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all; she is just as large as when I saw her. The diminished size, and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, "She is gone," there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout, "There she comes!" and that is dying."

- Bishop Brent



"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart." - Ecclesiastes 7:2 

I am wont to tease and gripe in a coffee creamer sort of way about the fact that nobody dies in the movies anymore- coffee creamer, because I'm half-and-half; part of me is just having fun teasing friends who like the happy endings, but part of me truly does believe that we as a culture are missing something.  I think what we're missing is the opportunity to visit the house of mourning.

In today's culture, we are invited to hop on a bubble-wrapped train that promises to protect us from the thorns of reality.  Yet I fear that when we are insulated from the thorns we are also blinded to the roses.

Obey God, Work Hard, Have Fun

Over the past few days I've been reading the book of Ecclesiastes.  I think it's my favorite book of The Bible (if one can have such a thing).  It seems that the message of the Preacher is something like this:

Life is short.
God is good.
Obey God.
Work hard.
Go have fun.

Don't spend too much time philosophizing; don't confine yourself within the walls of a library and re-live others' lives when you could be out there getting sweaty and bloody and dirty and building and being built and teaching and being taught and touching and being touched and loving and being loved; go do real things and enjoy the doing, and do it all from the sweet security of faith in a Perfect Providence and obedience to His perfect Law.

Yet this whole discussion is predicated on the recurring exclamation- vanity of vanities!  The rising and setting of the sun of our lives adds no weight to the rising and setting of the sun that lit them; no extra tear falls from the writhing clouds to join the rivulets cried by those left behind.  Life marches on; the universe keeps spinning; babies are born and old men die and the auroras still paint the sky; snow falls and melts into the flowers of spring which fade into the colors of autumn and then the snow falls again; falling stars keep falling yet the void never feels their loss; the ants never cease to march, the waterfalls continue their endless cascade, and we feed the worms with our flesh and return to the dust from which we were sculpted.

Death and Taxes

A worldview that is cut off from Christ is a worldview that is cut off from hope.  (1 Cor. 15:32)

For the unbeliever, death only has sting.  The godless may still present and desire the beauty of a noble death, because the Character of God that is woven into the universe- and their hearts- tells them that it's a beautiful thing, and in their hearts, they know and feel that a selfless death is the highest form of love. (Rom. 1, John 15:13)

But that is small consolation for someone who also sees death as the last page in their story.  An epitaph celebrating their goodness matters little if they are no longer alive to read it.

For the Christian, it is another matter entirely.  Death is the key that removes the chains of flesh and sin and frees us to run into the presence of our Savior. (Philippians 1:23)

For the Christian, a good death is not just a tragically noble, vapid conclusion to a meaningless saga.

Without Christ, bittersweet goodbyes end on the bitter. In Christ, they end on the sweet.

So when a Christian deals with death in his art, it should not be in a fatalistic, existentialistic, hopeless, empty way; we can't act like death is a dreaded inevitability, like taxes; we can't treat death as something to be avoided at all costs, like doing the dishes.

On the other hand, we may not handle death flippantly; life is precious, and therefore death is also precious. (Psalm 116:15)

But why not just ignore death altogether?  Why not live as if there is no last page, no double-bar line, no end credits?

Because the thorn is part of the rose.  The period is part of the sentence.  And if we spend our sentence denying the period, we miss the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the period- and to make the most of our sentence.

We can watch the grand finale in awe and giggle and chorus "ooh!" and "aah!" and point and whisper and let the falling embers reflect brightly in our eyes and the eyes of the children on our lap, who are only just learning not to be afraid of the distant rumble- or we can see in the grand finale only the finale, and spend those last thrilling moments wishing it weren't over; wishing that we could have the grand without the finale, when God has build a world in which they dance inseparably.

I think weddings and funerals are two of the most beautiful, inspiring events ever.  They paint exclamation points- one white and one black, but both clear and beautiful in their own way- on the brevity of life.  It all goes so fast.

The living takes it to heart.

"Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last." 
- C.T. Studd

And when we live with this perspective, so many things that would cloud our vision begin to melt away, and suddenly sunsets are brighter and little babies are more adorable and hummingbirds are more amazing and history is more exciting and current events make us want to cheer instead of tremble.  God is telling His story, and it's a beautiful one, and if we could just get lost in it for a while we would come back changed.

Of course, I'd prefer to stay lost in it.  To sit up the whole night of my life, unable to put the book down. 

When we're in God's story, things get so much simpler. 

Obey God.
Work hard.
Have fun.

There's joy there.  There's meaning there.  When we are walking in God's world, when we are a note on His score, then there is a reason for life- and for death; then we need not fear, but only obey; our duty becomes deliciously simple: do what God wants us to do, and then watch what happens.  So our life becomes the most productive it could be, for it is poured out onto the track that God sets before us and says "run," and it also becomes the most beautiful and joyous and peaceful, because now we have a reason to rejoice in the sweat and the sunshine and the tired legs and the cool breeze and the pain and the joy that follows when we do so.  And when we see the finish line ahead, we might just run a little harder.

“Cowards live for the sake of living, but for heroes, life is a weapon."
- N.D. Wilson

Nobody Dies These Days

Have you noticed that, as a general rule in American movies, nobody ever dies?  We'll bring computer-generated skyscrapers tumbling down on a city full of people, our hero will produce widespread mayhem as he leads the police on a merry chase through the city streets, and so on, but nobody important ever actually dies- or, if it's a Marvel movie, they die and come back to life.

So... what's wrong with that?

God as the Master Storyteller wrote a story that has sweet fragrance and tender velvet petals- and thorns.  Lots of thorns.

One day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  One day, the story will be brought to glorious fulfillment, the good guys will win, death will die, and there will be forever a sunrise.

But here, now, God has given us sunsets.

And the man who learns to see the beauty in the sunset, because he loves the One who painted it- who learns to admire the ruggedness and the sharpness of the thorns, because he trusts the One who sharpened them- who embraces all of the life he's been given, and thanks the Giver, and drinks it to its dregs- who runs until he can run no more, and cries until he has no tears left, and then laughs, until he collects more tears so he can cry again, and then cries them out so he can laugh again- how would that man live?  How would he die?  What would be the look on his face in the moments before he crosses the finish line?

It is said that every runner has two great fears- that he will not finish the race, and that he will finish the race knowing that he could have done more.

I pray that God will give me the strength, the vision, the drive to run this race of life so exuberantly, so passionately for His Kingdom, drunk on His goodness, lost in the thrill of His novel, the story of His symphony, that I will come to the end of it all and be breathless on my deathbed, not from weakness, but from excitement, not for want of air, but for fulness of days, and that my eyes will still shine like those of a little boy going on an adventure, and my children will see in me a man who, even as he says "goodbye," says also "turn the page!"

Friday, October 10, 2014

On Dismembered Spiders


Malachi (3): "Praise The LORD, I won't get out of bed."
Sophia (7): "If Eve hadn't sinned, would we all be perfect?"
It's so amazing watching these kids grow up. Praise God for His mercy and working in their lives. They are such a joy. Oh God, forgive me for the times I see in them an obstacle rather than an opportunity, a problem rather than something precious... I don't want to miss those chances to tell bedtime stories, to hear tall tales about the now-dismembered spider that used to dwell on our front porch, to hold hands, to wrestle and tease, to try- and fail- to answer questions as old as time asked by minds just now given the chance to comprehend the world, to try to hear through the traffic jam of thoughts and words and ideas which inevitably bottlenecks at a mouth that hasn't had enough practice keeping up with its mind- it goes so fast. Oh to enjoy it while it is mine.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Womb of the Dawn – First Taste

Here’s a taste from the upcoming album “The Womb of The Dawn.” This is a rough Behind-the-Scenes preview; the orchestration is very nearly complete, but the vocals are a practice track Faith sent to me which I threw into the orchestration with hardly any time given to mixing and mastering; waiting for the official studio recording sessions- early November, God willing- in a room and on a microphone that will do better justice to her voice before I sink time into perfecting the mix. Still, this is enough to get me very excited! Any and all sharing and general hubbub-raising is much appreciated and, more importantly, please keep this project in your prayers.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Last Goodbye


Seeing photos from a family who has been spending time at the WWII memorial honoring the "twilight men," in the words of Mrs. Beall Phillips, and hearing news of the death of a dear friend's grandmother, and watching another precious family go through the loss of their joy-beam of a mother to cancer- it's overwhelming. Life is so short. We are so small. It all goes so fast, and we are swept along, pitiful and helpless. We are a breath, a blade of grass, a raindrop whirling, racing, tumbling to earth in the midst of a cosmic hurricane. Yet God has given us in His great mercy the opportunity to be a part of His eternal Kingdom; to touch eternity; to tell stories; to have children; to fill the unforgiving minute with a life orchestrated by a forgiving God; to *run.* And through the death of Jesus Christ and His triumphant resurrection all this sorrow and this pain and this death that is the necessary counterpart of life in this fallen world- all these goodbyes have lost their finality, and have been washed from hopeless darkness into a bittersweet and overwhelming light. Where is your sting, O Death? Where is your victory, O Grave? You were a terrifying emptiness looming over the end of life which races towards us, melting centuries into years into days into epitaphs- now you are a liberator.
O God, give us eyes to see the beauty in the sadness, to be gripped by the power of Your story, bubbling over with childish exuberance, anxious to see what the next page holds; give us hearts so overwhelmed by Your overwhelming Glory that we cannot but shout Your praises from the valleys and the mountaintops alike.
"And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
Oh praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God!
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod!
Oh praise Him, oh praise Him,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"
So as I pray for my friends who are saying their last goodbyes, I think about that phrase. "Last goodbye." It's true. Death is the last goodbye. Because after that goodbye, there's one more hello coming, and there are no more goodbyes after that.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

He For She - thoughts on Emma Watson's UN speech


Wow. Very, very interesting.
I certainly appreciate her call for... less... anti-man-ness from the feministic culture. Her approach is winsome; her demeanor is calm and genuine. Her emphasis on the devaluing of fatherhood is HUGE, very appropriate, and about as relevant as possible.
But the whole speech convolutes and combines so many issues that it's hard to know exactly what we're talking about. I wish someone would give some specific examples of the gender oppression that we're talking about, because it would be easier to... talk about.
See, I *am* a HeForShe. I'm just the kind of He that likes to open doors for She and give up my seat on the lifeboat for She and take a bullet for She. And while Emma has done a very good job addressing some things (correctly or incorrectly) from an ideological standpoint, I am left wondering... what is this supposed to look like, practically?
Should SpecialOps start accepting female applicants? Should I or should I not believe in chivalry? How about all-male sports groups like the NFL? What exactly is supposed to happen here? Can I play in the WNBA? And is the fact that I would have a better (which doesn't mean good) chance of succeeding there than in the NBA something that needs to be... somehow... modified? Is offering to carry a heavy item for a woman gentlemanly or insulting? Am I participating in the oppression of womankind by giving a lady my parachute?!?!?!?
The simple fact is that men and women are equal in value.
The other simple fact is that men and women are not equal in a zillion other ways- not in the sense of better or worse, but in the sense of different. Men are stronger. Women are better at having babies. Kids go to Dad for math help and to Mom for a bandage and a kiss.
Interestingly enough, in the pursuit of gender equality, we are actually devaluing both sexes. The girls who don't want to "look muscley"- is that a bad thing? Are they wrong, or less of a woman- er, person? Is it a bad thing that men don't express themselves like women? Are the men who don't generally like to cry in public any less truly themselves? Or is it possible that their ability to control their emotions is *part* of who they are?
Of course, and most importantly, Scripture makes distinctions between the roles of men and women, e.g. Nehemiah 4:14.
Emma's speech assumes that there really are no significant differences between men and women- in capability, in calling, in anything!- and and I am not sure that that actually leads to valuing men and women more at all.
The big round of applause on the applause for "rights over my own body," which means "rights over someone else's body in my womb," must be noted.
As far as the whole pay-differences thing goes, and setting aside for a moment the discussion on gender roles when it comes to careers, that's an issue that is best left to the free market, and not to political campaigns.
So, I appreciate the invitation very much. But what exactly am I being invited to?

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Call to War

Please note that in this post I am speaking in general terms about events like 9/11, but I do not at all wish to detract from the very important duty held by every American to remember the brave and courageous individuals who chose honor over life on that day, and on many days like it, throughout our nation's history.  Their legacy should be treasured and honored by every one of us.
_________________

What exactly is it that we remember on September 11th?  What is it that we constantly remind ourselves and one another to "Never Forget"?


On September 11th, this year, I received a soundtrack I had ordered; the music from the film United 93.  On the back of the case, the dedication is begun thus: "This music is a prayer for peace..."

And I am left to ask- a prayer to whom?

I love America.  But in times like these, it is worth asking- what is America?

I love America like Maximus loved the dream that was Rome.

America represents so many wonderful and precious things, and for years has been the bastion of Christian civilization- a city on a hill sending the darkness into terrified retreat before the light of freedom, truth, and law, all of which stem from the Holy Word of God.  And I love those things.  I am, by God's grace, ready to die for those things.  And I love the dream that was America.  And I am ready to die for that dream.

But America is not what she used to be.  Shackled by oppressive government, muzzled by political correctness, and, worst of all, gradually succumbing to a cancer of the soul, America is dying the long, painful death of a nation whose sturdy foundations are slowly crumbling beneath the deteriorating shambles on top.

And all the patriotism in the world, all the bumper-stickers and troop-supporting and #neverforget- they are powerless to change that fact.  Electing Romney instead of Obama might stick some bungee cords on the burning wreckage, but in the long term it is all coming down anyway.

So when days like 9/11 come up, and the cries to remember and the cheers for the American spirit and all the happy hoopla and empty jingoism of today's great American facade explode across social media, I find myself at a loss for words.

The true patriot, it has been said, will not say "my country, right or wrong."  He will say "my country- when right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be made right."

Real patriots are honest, not blind.  So let's be honest.

- Islam (and it's not radical Islam; it's true Islam) is on the rise, flexing its tyrannical muscles and slashing and burning and beheading as it marches over lands protected by Crusaders and forsaken by their children.

- The entire political structure of our nation has hit a point of self-perpetuating implosion.  The economy still has some foundational pieces left, creaking and groaning under the weight of tyranny, and weakening from within because of the rot of moral decay; it is only a matter of time before Atlas shrugs.

- Christendom as a whole- Western civilization, the beacon and anchor of the prosperous world- is committing a convenient suicide, slaughtering millions of their own children and "controlling" the rest from ever entering the world.  We may say with pride that no enemy is necessary; we have found a way to dwindle ourselves into nothing on our own.  If Islam weren't such a bloodthirsty religion, they could wait a few years and rule the world anyway, given the drastic multiplication of their families and the rapid subtraction of ours.

Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ has largely forsaken His Word, throwing the Lion of Scripture into the cage of dispensationalism, retreating from the head of the culture to pass out Gospel tracts among those at the tail.

Judgment starts in the house of God (1 Pet. 4:17), and when we look at the nation we, the Church, have built for ourselves, or rather destroyed for ourselves, this truth should make us tremble.  For "culture is religion externalized," and the culture of America is American Christendom externalized.

To return to my newly acquired CD, the "prayer for peace" is representative of the broader state of "good-ol-boy" religious America.  We're a big fan of "God," though we're generally pretty good about being ambiguous as to his identity, and we hope "God" blesses America, and we send both prayers and good feelings and thoughts to our neighbor in need, and our politicians are good church-going folk, and we are all happily happy in our politically correct mess of religious pottage.

Oh yeah, and we pray for peace.

Problem is, this world is a world at war.  Since the fall of man it has been the children of the woman against the children of the serpent.  Peace is a wonderful thing, but true peace will only happen after complete victory.  Until then, we need to keep the Crusader cross painted bright across our shields, our swords sharp, our arms strong- both physically and spiritually.  Spiritually, for offense, for the Gospel will conquer (Matthew 16:18); physically, for defense, for the godless will kill (Proverb 8:36).

Islam will not hesitate to behead me, or you, or our loved ones.  Humanism generally prefers something more sterile, like abortion, or gas chambers, or euthanasia.  Socialism is happy just to kill the society and leave everyone in it to scrape out whatever existence they can.

But they're all at war against Christ.

What is the solution?  Violence?

No!  Not at all.  Christians should be ready to take up physical arms and shed real blood in real battle if the time comes where they must do so in defense of the innocent.  But Christianity, unlike Islam or Marxism, was never to be propagated by the sword.  The solution is to fulfill the two primary missions of Christendom- the Dominion Mandate, and the Great Commission.  Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; go therefore and make disciples of all nations, and teach them to observe all- all- that Jesus has commanded.

We must have kids, and teach them.  We must love people.  Preach the Gospel.  Live the Gospel.  Grab a trowel and spread the Gospel thickly into every little crack and cranny of life.  Make disciples, not just converts.  Run for office, and make Scripture our platform.  Vote according to Biblical principle, not just conservative ideals.  Engage the culture.  Make the movies, write the music and the books, paint the pictures, tell the stories, take the helm for the Glory, by the Grace, and under the Word of Christ.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against the faithful Church of God.  So if the gates of hell are prevailing, then we need only look at ourselves.  How are we failing in our duty?

There are a few that come readily to my mind; a few gaping holes in the walls of Jerusalem that the reformer-Nehemiahs of today have the opportunity to repair.

- We are ashamed of God's Law, and we are afraid to bring The Bible into the political realm.  We have a cart-before-horse perception of the "separation of Church and State," and it has rendered the Church's influence on American politics largely impotent.

- This has left us, politically, advocating a spayed-and-neutered "conservatism" which tries to adhere to a form of Godliness while denying its power, which is God's Word; the result is just a cleaned-up humanism which, rather than warring against the advance of the realm of darkness, jumps into its sandbox in hopes of slowing its progress on the tower of Babel.

- We have a truncated view of the Gospel.  Instead of a multi-generational, dominion-taking, life-and-world-changing Message, we have reduced It to a matter of "praying a prayer," going to church on Sundays, and exchanging swear words for bywords.  We have made the Gospel into an invitation to a party instead of a call to war.

- Maybe that's the biggest thing.  I think we've lost sight of the antithesis.  We've so highly spiritualized Christianity that we struggle to see Its ramifications for the myriad speculations and lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God which swirl around us day-in and day-out.  Until we realize that we are in the war, we will continue to lose it.  The movies we watch, the food we eat, the jokes we tell, the very way that our children learn math- this is all part of the war, and we must learn to identify it as such and take it captive to the obedience of Christ.

The twin towers were a symbol, and their fall was also symbolic.  Prophetic, even.  That is America's future, unless we repent.

So when we remember the tragedy of September 11th, let us not remember it with the pride of a nation of overcomers looking back on another trial we have surmounted.  Let us remember, and shudder, knowing that, unless we repent and return to the ways and the Word of God, that was only the prelude to the nightmarish symphony that is the future of America.

___

P.S. There is hope.  Lots of hope.  God is doing amazing things in our country, and I'm excited to see His Hand moving and reforming and building the new even as the old collapses around it.  But hope is to be found in Christ, His Word, His Church, His War- not in conservatism or patriotism as an ideal apart from Him.  And that, in a nutshell, is the entire sum of what I'm saying with this post!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Coming Soon...


God willing, this will be coming out by the end of the year.  Your prayers are appreciated, for except The LORD build the house, I labor in vain!  Cover design and artwork by Matthew Sample II.