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Friday, August 26, 2005

iconography


speaking of her first rock concert, shandi said...
Melissa then approached the audience and offered her hand out to a few lucky fans. Rocksalot pushed her way to the stage. I was overcome with anticipation. Would she finally touch greatness; her Goddess? I screamed, "Go.. Go.. Go!!!" while jumping, waving my arms frantically. Time slowed as I viewed the moment.. the very moment.. like "The Creation of Adam" when one hand touched the other. It was beautiful; the very moment a dream came true, a moment that will live on in one fan's memory forever. That moment made me forget about my aching feet. Will I remember this night forever: Yes!

it reminded me of something i wrote a few years back...
***

eyes closed. hands raised. some dancing. some singing. a crowd of strangers coming together for the first time to sing along with songs about end-times and the second coming of the savior. there is a tremendous sense of unity and the longing for this moment to never end.

unfortunately, everything legitimate has its counterfeits and its spin-offs, and the event described above was not a stirring spiritual moment in one of our churches. it was a rock concert that i attended a few summers back by an oldies band called prism who united the crowd with a song called "armageddon." the song describes thousands who await the return of the king- elvis- having waited ever since he died. it was a sadly ironic moment for at least one face in the crowd. if music can break down the basic barriers between people and their own emotions, how much more eternally useful is it in the nail-scarred hands of Christ to touch the hardened heart, massaging it into something that is capable of hearing and responding to the gospel message itself.

*music tangent: i love going to shows. i love hearing the songs played the way people play when they are in the same room with thousands or hundreds or even tens of other people. i remember reading of the band 'ten years after' and guitarist alvin lee (who essentially stops the show with the hypnotic intensity of his performance of "i'm going home" featured in the film 'woodstock') who spent an entire career unhappy with their existing studio recordings because they simply failed to compare to the power of a live performance.

although it can be a bit socially awkward, my personal response to a strong aesthetic moment is to cry. people who know me are used to this, for they've seen me cry at movies, visual art exhibitions, plays, concerts, even sporting events. it's just one of those things. something that helps take the pressure away for me is to call this 'being moved.' (i am much more comfortable with being a culturally sensitive, deeply intuitive and emotional person moved by a powerful aesthetic stimulus than i am with being a blubbering idiot. a rose by any other name, however...)

seeing paul mccartney sing "hey jude" live did me in, as did seeing metallica perform "unforgiven." pink floyd's telling of syd barret's heartbreaking story using film during "shine on, you crazy diamond" got through, and the tea party's synthesis of their eastern-flavoured "save me" with the stones' "paint it black" messed me up. seeing p.o.d. do u2's "bullet the blue sky" gave me both tears and goose-bumps, but didn't come close to the power of bono's 'hallelujah' worship dance of emancipation amidst the enacted heroin addict's suffering of the needle chill in "running to stand still.".

at a neil young show about ten years ago, the mosh pit stopped dead to sing along with his song 'helpless.' i stood in the centre of the assembled crowd right in front of the stage marvelling at the spiritual quality of this moment. it was an acknowledgement of something, and standing there in the fetid air drenched in second-hand sweat, feeling a bit of a second-hand buzz, i wished i could somehow lead this spontaneous congregation in some kind of a prayer that might bring hope for the helpless.

i suppose my tangentary point within a point is this: you can experience deep spiritual and emotional connections almost anywhere if you are looking for them. all those people who preached that rock and roll (whatever that is) was 'of the devil' were simply not looking deeply enough into its human heart, complete with its God-shaped void.

so anyway, the vehicles for sharing the gospel are many. be it through music, the spoken word, or a conspicuously selfless life of servitude and integrity, how blessed we are, called to be openly public witnesses... and yet how cursed we are for exactly the same reason. if a curse is simply the effort of the snake to usurp God's power and authority through an infinite number of deceptions and hoodwinks, then cursed are we who carry God's message to the people, for we are an easy target standing upon his holy hill for all to see.

our daily witness is certainly something that we, as followers of Christ, need to prepare seriously for. eternity hangs in the balance. do we read God's word? do we spend time in prayer, talking to 'Our Father?'

"could you men not keep watch with me for one hour? ... watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. the spirit is willing but the body is weak..." (Matt 26: 41-2)

so what is it that makes a basic spiritual discipline like prayer so difficult to carry out over the long haul? it seems as though this question even perplexed Christ at gethsemane. the disciples had been given many opportunities to see the power of prayer in action, yet in the garden they slept.

i believe that the difficulty we have with the basics takes us back to another garden- eden. humankind bought into the lie that we would be "like Gods" after biting into that which was forbidden. it was not the fruit, but the breaking of God's heart that put us where we are. what we really wanted was to be in control; masters of our own individual and collective destinies. from that moment on we erected walls of sin using our free will as mortar to hold the bricks in place, and we effectively alienated ourselves from God- safe and alone in our own vanity. having done this, we made it very clear that we did not want to be disturbed for we were perfectly happy to exist this way.

God came walking through the garden to find this messy little gothic castle erected in his beautiful paradise, and he proceeded to knock on its door to no avail. after all, we were so bound and determined to remain rebellious and in control that we, except for a few spiritual heroes of old, collectively ignored the call of God for millennia. even after God's own son came to show us how to reconnect and commune with the father, we remained aloof, too self-conscious to even try to look through the window of his Word to see his face.

the true hope, however, is that that which has been used to keep us apart from almighty God, can be used to draw us closer to him. the one thing that the evil one cannot pervert is the freedom to choose our direction. he can entice us with many poor choices along the way, but he cannot actually touch our freedom to dismiss them. this is an inalienable right of being human- next to the gift of his son, God's greatest gift to us.

the baby of bethlehem became the Christ of the cross. in the garden he chose obedience to the Father and through this we have been redeemed for his glory. every day we are called to choose Jesus. every day we are called to choose faithfulness. every day we are called to choose a life that proclaims his good news to anyone who might be watching, because we never know who is trying to find their way back to God by looking through the icon ('window into heaven') of us.

***
note: for anyone who's been paying attention and is wondering, it's not that i don't have anything to say about my recent trip to sri lanka, it's that i still have too much to say. eventually i will be able to write about it.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

funny


funny how God works sometimes...

when i enroled in bible school during the fall of '83, i thought that i was basically signing on for a year of camp- that and the hope of meeting other musicians withwhom i would launch my big recording career. not exactly the best reasons to go, but whatever.

i remember telling my girlfriend at the time to quit fretting because it's not like i was going off to find a wife or something.

we never kissed again.

in fact, i was basically dead wrong on all counts. funny how God works sometimes.

yet, after a year and a half of it with limited academic success i realized that, although i had met a beautiful girl and fallen in love, i was not going to be a preacher or a missionary or a youth pastor and so any further time there would be wasted. i enroled in university in the faculty of education and got on with life. married in 85 and graduated in 88... been married and teaching ever since.

funny how God works sometimes.

about five years ago, God said 'okay, you've had your fun- now let's try this again.' i found myself once again taking classes and asking myself 'if God were to call you here, could you move here?' on holidays. mrs jollybeggar was thinking the same things at the same time.

this and that happened and today i sit in my office at the church, reflecting upon having just finished doing the youth pastor thing at a camp, and suffering a bit of anxiety on the eve of a missionary trip to sri lanka. the only real bummer on this one is that mrs jollybeggar won't be able to accompany me on this trip. however, i know that there will be others...

funny how God works sometimes.

(i say all this to say that i won't be posting anything until the end of august. shalom)

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Monday, August 08, 2005

empty chair faith



a dear friend of mine recently received the thrilling news that she no longer has cancer in her brain, and is also no longer required to continue with her chemotherapy.

her hair has begun to come in again and her spirit and her mind are ready to roll. however (although in an entirely unrelated but nonetheless literal context) 'the spirit is willing but the body is weak.' (mark 14.38b)

yet, even now there is something powerful and inspiring about a person who has received, through the grace of God, life anew. everything looks different: indeed, everything is a promise, whispering rumours of God's glory to come. although my friend is still restricted to a wheelchair, all she can think about is how great it will be to run again...

"i can't wait until i can actually run again- when that happens i don't think i'll ever stop."

isaiah 40.31 is a promise to us all, but my friend is taking God at his Word. from her wheelchair, she dreams of running marathons.

of what do you dream?

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Friday, August 05, 2005

mentorship a la michelangelo



Pensive Johnny said...
(Michelangelo) used the grain to enable him to put the tension in David's pose. He is then asked how he carved David. His answer is priceless: "I took away the extra bits."

anyway yeah, the 'divine M' buonarrati was an inspiration to anyone who puts their mentoring hand to the realization of others' potential. his technique has been described as 'liberating the figure from the marble' as if there was a thing of beauty trapped within a solid slab of rock that only he could see.

although scripture uses the potter's hand/ clay pot analogy a lot to explore how God shapes lives into implements of God, i really like the scultor analogy, simply because of its violence. it is not that i find a picture of God hammering away at my life particularly endearing... it is more that i really warm to the idea of a God that desperately bashes away at all of the stuff that encases the me that only he can see- as if he is on a rescue mission to dig me out of my own rubble before i run out of air.

images of 9-11 and suicide bombings come to mind for me here, except that in this picture of life, i am one of the terrorists and one who has love greater than any of my human sociopolitical, religious or revolutionary agendas is digging me out of the building that i have just destroyed on top of myself.

***remember two things:
1) the chisel never touched the body of david- it knocked all that was NOT the body of david away.
2) MB's david has been held for centuries as the ultimate realization of the male form... body builders (before the steroid-enhanced pro-wrestlers of today) pursued the muscular mass/definition and balance of david as the measure by which they judged their own progress...

i find it interesting that the focus of the david's celebration has always been upon the aspects of the male form that could actually be developed simply through discipline... there has never been much talk about whether or not his 'naughty bits' (pythonesque term) were magnificent or average or laughable or whatever...

"God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.