After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christian Consiousness

   Christian consciousness begins in the painful realization that what we have assumed was the truth is in fact a lie….
   The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data.  But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They tell us about our bodies without telling us that their temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave Himself for us.
Eugene H. Peterson, from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

     My youngest son (now 28 and soon to be a father) is a gifted artist. So it is with great fun we bring out his Christmas angel every year. He made it in Sunday School when he was three. We call it the Stephen King angel.
     A Blessed Christmas to you all.
     --W. S.

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Advent Prayer

Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations
for Christmas.
We who have so much to do,
seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things
look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways
long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy,
seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people,
walking in darkness,
yet seeking light.
To you we say,
Come Lord Jesus...
Henri Nouwen

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What is it?

(click photo to enlarge)

You will never guess (and I mean that—my guess was that it was a detail of some ancient tapestry) so I will tell you: It is a photograph of the surface of Mars, taken by a satellite 178 miles above the surface. The photo covers an area about half a kilometer (.3 miles) across. It has not been altered. Read more at the Top Ten Astronomy Photos of 2009.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

C. S. Lewis on Christ as Myth

You ask me my religious views: you know, I think, that I believe in no religion. There is no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man's own invention--Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn't understand--thunder, pestilence, snakes, etc: what more natural  than to suppose that these were animated by evil spirits trying to torture him. These he kept off by cringing to them, singing songs and making sacrifices, etc. Gradually from being mere nature-spirits these supposed being(s) were elevated into more elaborate ideas, such as old gods; and when man became more refined he pretended  that these spirits were good as well as powerful.
   Thus religion, that is to say mythology, grew up. Often, too, great men were regarded as gods after their death--such as Heracles or Odin: thus after the death of a Hebrew philosopher Yeshua (whose name we have corrupted into Jesus) he became regarded as a god, a cult sprang up, which was afterwards connected with the ancient Hebrew Jahweh-worship, and so Christianity came into being--one mythology among many, but the one we happened to have been brought up in...
--C. S. Lewis, on October 12, 1916 age 17.

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's myth where the others are men's myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call "real things". Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a "description" of God (that no finite man could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The "doctrines" we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that wh[ich] God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach the other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly almost certain that it happened...
--C. S. Lewis, on October 18, 1931, age 32, around the time of his conversion to Christianity.

Both quotes are from Letters of C. S. Lewis edited by Walter Hooper and W. H. Lewis

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Is my end near?

  Recently, I met with a dietician to discuss a diet plan that would help me shed some unwanted (and dangerous) pounds. In the questionnaire there was this question: "Why do you want to become healthier?" Of course, the list is long—to spend time with future grandchildren, to finish my novel, to go as far as I can down the road hand-in-hand with my wife.
   But I was feeling a bit frisky that day, so I replied, "I want to live long enough for Al Gore to become nothing more than the butt of a joke." The reply got a laugh and a nod from the dietician. I have nothing personally against Al Gore, but everything against him philosophically. I think he is disingenuous, a demagogue and a coward.
  Then Vice President Gore appeared on The Tonight Show and, in the course of his usual sermon, let loose this whopper:

   Actually, the core of the earth is somewhere in the neighborhood of  9000 degrees Fahrenheit. He only missed it by "millions of degrees." This is not atypical of Al Gore's message, and the only thing that makes him appear wise is that he won't debate anyone. Smart move.
   But here is my concern: Al Gore is becoming the butt of jokes. So, should I be sure my will and medical directive are up-to-date?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The faith of last resort

Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than fullness and need, sovereignty and humility, righteousness and penitence, limitless power and a cry for help?
C. S. Lewis, in The Four Loves

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

God in the equation

    I am a person who has problems believing, and yet, in spite of them, perhaps because of them, I do believe. I think the right to doubt is one of the most important rights given to human beings. But I believe in God. In fact I never stopped believing in God—that's why I had the problem, the crisis of faith. If I had stopped believing, then I would have been much more at peace. It would've been okay to be disappointed in human beings. what else could you expect from a human being who is the object of seduction and all kinds of ambition, right? It is easier if God doesn't enter the equation. The moment you start to believe in God, then how can you accept the world? Do you then accept God's absence? Do you accept God's silence? God—why doesn't he tried to make people better, make them lead better lives and be kinder to each other? Why doesn't he do it? A few times he gave up. But the floods were not a punishment for sins against God but for crimes against each other. what are they doing to themselves? God thought. So he brought the floods. And it didn't help. I cannot understand two aspects of human nature: indifference and nastiness. I cannot understand. At my age, I should be able to understand. But I cannot. I do not understand. Indifference and nastiness on every level, on petty levels and on high levels.
Elie Wiesel, Author, Holocaust Survivor, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, quoted in The God Factor, by Cathleen Falsani.

Monday, December 07, 2009

On Book Critics

"George looked forward to writing his book, and even, dream upon dream, publishing his book. But he was insecure about the reading of his book, especially by critics and reviewers. Most of them, at least towards Southern writers, seem consciousless sadists, who enjoy stabbing and shooting naked people, yet are never brought to justice because no one actually bleeds or dies."

—from a work-in-progress. W. S.

Photo from wombatunderground1 via Flickr

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Holding contradictions in tension

"The Bible itself is absolutely teaming with contradictions. But the problem with Christianity—one of the many problems with Christianity—is that the contradictions don't seem to bother the Christians. They pick and choose and say under certain circumstances, 'Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek; love thine enemies.'" But then on a different day, with different motives they will quote the Old Testament, 'An eye for an eye,and a tooth for a tooth.' The problem is not with the contradictions themselves. I don't think the Bible is any less valuable because it's full of contradictions. The problem is Christians choose one or the other. And you have to choose both. You have to hold both of those ideas in your head at the same time."
—Author Tom Robbins, quoted in The God Factor, by Cathleen Falsani.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Afraid of strength?

   Perhaps I'm stronger than I think.
   Perhaps I am even afraid of my strength, and turn it against myself, thus making myself weak. Making myself secure. Making myself guilty. 
   Perhaps I am most afraid of the strength of God in me. Perhaps I would rather be guilty and weak in myself, than strong in Him I cannot understand.
Thomas Merton, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Monday, November 30, 2009

Growing old in God

It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terribly difficult to sustain the interests. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate.  Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In art and culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty it goes on the garbage heap. There's a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
Eugene H. Peterson, from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sin—concealed, or revealed?

Those of whom God demands the most perfect hope* must look closely at their sins. This is to say that they must let God shine His lamp suddenly upon the darkest corners of their souls—not that they themselves must search out what they do not understand. Too much searching conceals the thing we really ought to find. Nor is it certain that we have any urgent obligation to find sin in ourselves. How much sin is kept hidden by God Himself, in His mercy? After which He hides it from Himself!
—Thomas Merton, from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

*I'm not sure, but I believe Merton was referring here to those called to monastic service. He was a Trappist monk.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

For you

   Dear friends, let us look into the ocean through which Christ waded for us. He was without any comforts of God on the cross. No feeling that God loved him, no feeling that God pitied him, no feeling that God supported him. 
    God was his sun before, now that sun had become all darkness. Not a smile from His Father, not a kind look, not a kind word. 
   Nobody ever loved God and got this from God and yet loved anyway. Nobody ever loved people and got this from people and yet followed through. He went to hell for people. He was without a God as if he had no God. All that God had been to him was taken from him now. He had the feeling on the cross of being condemned. 
   He must have heard the judge say, ‘Depart from me, Ye cursed. You who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.’ That’s what he heard. 
   He felt that God said the same to him. Ahh, this is the hell which Christ suffered. Dear friends, I feel like a little child, casting a stone into some deep ravine in the mountainside, listening to hear it fall but listening in vain. It’s too deep. The longest line cannot fathom it. The ocean of Christ’s sufferings is unfathomable. He was forsaken and in the place of sinners. 
   If you grasp Christ as your surety and mediator, you will never be forsaken. From the broken bread and the poured out wine, do you not hear the cry arise, ‘My God, my God why hast Thou forsaken me!’ 
   And do you not hear the answer, ‘For you!’ For you.
Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Scottish Presbyterian minister (1813-1843)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Lockmaker

“If I found a key on the road, and discovered it fit, and opened, a particular lock in my house, I’d assume that most likely the key was made by the lockmaker.
And if I find a set of teachings set out in pre-modern oriental society that has proven itself with such universal validity, that has fascinated and satisfied millions of people in every century, including the best minds in history and the simplest hearts, that it has made itself at home in virtually every culture, inspired masterpieces of beauty in every field of art, continues to grow rapidly and spread and assert itself in lands a century ago where the name of Jesus Christ was not even heard.
Such teachings that obviously fits the locks of every human soul, in so many times and so many places, are they likely to be the work of a deceiver or a fool? In fact, it is more likely that they were designed, by the heartmaker.”
—G. K. Chesterton

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jack, Aldous and Jack

Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. — John F. Kennedy*  

There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self. — Aldous Huxley  

Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. — C. S. Lewis*  

Kennedy, Huxley and Lewis all died on the same day, November 22, 1963. This interesting factoid prompted a great book by Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley.  Kreeft says in the foreword: 
"It would be part of “The Great Conversation” that has been going on for millennia. For these three men represented the three most influential philosophies of life in our human history: ancient Western theism (Lewis), modern Western humanism (Kennedy) and ancient Eastern pantheism (Huxley).
These three men also represented the three most influential versions of Christianity in our present culture: traditional, mainline or orthodox
Christianity (what Lewis called “mere Christianity”), modernist or humanistic Christianity (Kennedy), and Orientalized or mystical Christianity (Huxley)."

*Both Kennedy and Lewis were called Jack by family and friends.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 19, 1972

The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful. ---  
Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory. — Milan Kundera, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel

Thank you, dearest Cheryl, for those three words spoken 37 years ago. I love you, too. --Wayne 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

All truth is God's truth

"All truth is God's truth. It doesn't matter who's saying it or where it's coming from; if it's true, it's from God. Even if it's from Fargo."

Cathleen Falsani, author of The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Love like God, or love of God?

Perhaps the most quoted New Testament writer of all is not Paul, but the Apostle John. There are two reasons for this: John 3:16 and First John 4:8.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16
"The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:8
   The former verse is, of course, a great promise to believers and unbelievers alike. The latter is a promise, too, that we will know the true spiritual state of our hearts by our actions towards others.
   Unfortunately, many (mostly those outside the faith) want to make the second verse mean something it does not. They want it to mean that "If we love, we know God." But it doesn't. If we love, we are perhaps most like God, but we do not neccessarily know Him. I may sit down and play "Yesterday" on the guitar, but I do not know Paul McCartney.
   John speaks about love a lot. Severty-nine times it is used in his writings. It is obvious that he thinks love is a paramount virtue, and evidence of a true spiritual faith. One would think the writer John would be a perfect text for those who say "the essence of spirituality is love."
   But John also says something else. In the same letter in which he wrote "God is love," he writes this:
"By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist*, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now is already in the world." 1 John 4: 2-3
Yikes! Suddenly we find that loving one another is not enough. We actually need to confess that Jesus is God, sent from God. Here's where the "God is love" crowd drops back. But in doing so, don't they really negate the love part, too? I mean, if John is dead-set on this Jesus stuff, can we trust him on the love stuff?
   Many Americans, Christian or not, simply choose to ignore the Jesus stuff. A Pew Research Center survey in 2007 found that in all major religions (including evangelical Christianity), a majority felt there were many roads to eternal life. Even our president unashamedly supports this view.  But John doesn't. And neither does the rest of the Bible.
   John sums it up this way:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:7-19)
Yes, God is love. And Jesus is the evidence. The only evidence.
W. S
*John uses the term antichrist here in a generic sense, as someone who is anti-Christ, not as some prophetic future ruler.

Illustration: Helping Hands by Nadeem Chughtai


Friday, November 13, 2009

Washing away pride

To be put on a pedestal puts you in a false position. And you can be placed on a pedestal so fast it makes your head spin. So the first thing I do when I come home is put on my green chest-waders and go stand in the river. The lowest place you can stand is in a river bottom, and rivers drown saints and reprobates without preference. So I get to the lowest point, and stand there until I forget myself, and let the dirt of admiration or too much attention wash away.
-- David James Duncan, quoted in Conversations With American Writers: The Doubt, the Faith, the In-Between  by Dale Brown.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"A novel is a symphony"

The best novels are not autobiography. They're more analogous to work of art like a symphony, or a thick collection of poems, or a group of twenty-five or thirty paintings. Nobody expects a symphony to be anything but what it is: an imaginative work made of rhythm and tones. A novel is much closer to that than people realize. It is strange to me when people want me to be the protagonist of my books, want the events and the novel to be true in a physical, literal way. This approach misses the point. A novel is a symphony. The author is the composer and the reader is the conductor. And the imagination --- of both the composer and the conductor --- is the symphony orchestra.
-- David James Duncan*, quoted in  Conversations With American Writers: The Doubt, the Faith, the In-Between by Dale Brown.

*Duncan is the author of many books, including The River Why and Brothers K.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Mending Wall

 Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."
—"The Mending Wall," by Robert Frost

Freedom does not like walls.
That is why, on November 9, 1989, twenty years ago,
the Berlin Wall came down.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

What is the purpose of this misery?

"What is the meaning of it, Watson?" says Holmes solemnly. "What is the object of this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what purpose? That is humanity's great problem to which reason so far has no answer." Arthur Conan Doyle, in The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.

What refuge then when a man feels himself powerless in the grip of some unseen and inevitable power, and knows not whether it be chance, or necessity, or a devouring fiend?  There is but one escape, one chink  through which we may see light, one rock on which our feet may find standing-place, even in the abyss.  And that is the belief, intuitive, inspired, due neither to reasoning nor to study, that God is there also; the belief that these seemingly fantastic and incoherent miseries have in His mind a spiritual coherence and purpose, though we see it not.
Charles Kingsley, in Two Years Ago Volume I

Friday, November 06, 2009

So you want to be a writer?

so you want to be a writer?

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

Charles Bukowski, in sifting through the madness for the word, the line, the way: New Poems

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Better than that

Have you ever seen someone behaving badly? A man cheating on his wife. A worker stealing from her boss. A parent publicly embarrassing a child. A doctor who drinks a bit too much. And the thought comes almost to your lips: "I am better than that."
You have just lied to yourself. For in the final analysis, there is always some part of every man and woman just as callous, craven, brutish and weak as the most egregious examples of humanity. We may be better about that, but we are not better than that.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Writing on a computer

“There is something about seeing your words on a screen before you that makes you send the word with a better bite, sighted in closer to the target. I know a computer can’t make a writer but I think it makes a writer better. Simplicity in writing and simplicity in getting it down, hot and real.” He continues, “When this computer is in the shop and I go back to the electric, it’s like trying to break rock with a hammer. Of course, the essence of writing is there but you have to wait on it, it doesn’t leap from the gut as quickly, you begin to trail your thoughts — your thoughts are ahead of your fingers which are trying to catch up. It causes a block of sorts indeed.” — Charles Bukowski, quoted by Jed Birmingham at RealityStudio.

The quote is from a 1992 interview (Bukowski died in 1994), but still rings true for writers seventeen years later. W.S.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hide and Seek

Over time, I have learned two things about my religious quest: First of all, that it is God who is seeking me, and who has myriad ways of finding me. Second, that my most substantial changes, in terms of religious conversion come through other people. Even when I become convinced that God is absent from my life, others have a way of suddenly revealing God's presence.
    —Kathleen Norris, in Amazing Grace, a Vocabulary of Faith

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Christopher Hitchens on Sincere Faith

Christopher Hitchens is a renowned author, journalist and atheist apologist. He is currently featured in the documentary Collision, a record of a series of cross-country debates with Pastor Douglas Wilson, senior fellow at New St. Andrews College. Just as all evangelicals are not nosy hypocrites, not all atheists are grouchy critics. In an article in Slate, it will be surprising to some what Hitchens finds praiseworthy of his debate partner:   

"Wilson isn't one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just 'metaphors.' He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn't waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he 'allows' it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Story

My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually."
—Frederick Buechner, in Telling Secrets

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Theology or truth?

Far from any individual's theology being The Right One, in one sense all theologies are heresies. For theologies, like heresies, are major or minor distortions of the truth.

We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).

In other words, what you believe may be partly correct, but it is certainly not completely correct. The point? We must always be open to further insights that will give us fuller understanding of what God is all about.
   Let us get one thing straight: the One Thing. The one certainty against which all our theologies are guesswork. "This one thing I know," the apostle Paul wrote: Jesus, and how his crucifixion delivered us from sin, and how his resurrection assures us of eternal life.
   I believe these are unquestionable absolutes for all Christians, and perhaps the only absolutes. In the end, God's truth is not a theology but a person. Our faith is not about Jesus Christ, not based on Jesus Christ—it is Jesus Christ.
Tony Campolo, from Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-controlled Church Neutered the Gospel.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Click image to enlarge.

"Goodness," from Journey: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1999, by Kathleen Norris. Photo collage image by Wayne S.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Use it or lose it

I have forgotten how to write.
Not in the authorial sense (although I'll leave it to others to determine my ability there). No, I mean in the physical, the manual sense.
Being left-handed, I've always struggled with penmanship. My explanation is that we left-handers always had to write around the metal rings in the middle of our notebooks, requiring digital Jujitzu. I haven't written in cursive since middle school. Attending college in the early 70s, before personal computers, I usually turned in papers with reasonably neat printed characters. When the computer age arrived, I began typing with two fingers. I am now up to four, occasionally five.
In the interim, my handwriting has deteriorated even further. At some point along the line, I gave up lower-case letters. Lately I seem to have abandoned all forms of neatness, and my notes, or forms I fill out, look like the work of an architect on LSD—all caps, but so haphazard and irregular that sometimes even I cannot read them.
I have also found a way to even avoid typing. Many of my longer pieces I create using voice-recognition software. It works very well, once I trained it to recognize my Southern drawl. It does occasionally come up with a howler, like when it hears me say "call doctor" instead of "Golgotha."
It makes me wonder what's next to wither from disuse, at least as pertains to my craft. Will my mind end up as dull as a broken pencil? My vision is corrected, my hearing is fair to good if I concentrate. But what about that vision which sees concepts and truths? Or the hearing that hears beyond the sound? I pray I do not lose these. That is why I exercize them, with disciplines like this blog. As far as I can tell, I only have the occasional visitor (even my wife must be cajoled). So consider this my exercise. Like an overweight guy doing Tai Chi, it may not be pretty, but I believe it is good for me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All OK

Thumbs up from my granddaughter, Adeline Grace.
Letting us know she's on schedule for a mid-March debut.


Click photo to enlarge. Photo by Wayne S.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Gospel According to my iPod

I love music.

Way back when (and I mean way back, in the early 70s) I even played music, dragging my guitar and my own songs (as well as Cat Stevens's and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s) all around.

I like all kinds of music. I know, that sort of comment usually prompts a rolling of the eyes, and a suspicion that whoever is speaking really doesn’t know all that much about music. But my Ipod has over 14,500 songs, from over 5200 albums, representing over 3800 artists (from ABBA to Zappa, as I like to say), and I can tell you something about each one of them. I have songs in Latin, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Russian and Italian. as well as a lot of jazz and classical, which have no words. I think music is the soundtrack of life, and a world without music would be far less rich.

One of the nice things about portable music players is the ability to shuffle music. In shuffle mode, the player simply plays the songs in random order. For someone with a lot of music, this affords me the chance to hear tracks that I haven’t chosen lately. It’s always a treat to hear something that I haven’t heard in a while.

Occasionally, there is a sublime juxtaposition of two songs which, taken separately, might say one thing but, taken together, say something else altogether. Recently, I heard something like that.

Suzanne Vega, an English major turned pop storyteller, has many interesting songs to her credit, some bright and optimistic, but many dark and mysterious. One that falls in-between is the song Caramel, from her album Nine Objects of Desire.

The song is pretty straightforward. The singer is telling someone that, for reasons unknown, she must refuse a love relationship.

It won't do
to dream of caramel,
to think of cinnamon
and long for you.

It won't do
to stir a deep desire,
to fan a hidden fire
that can never burn true.

I like how the reason for her decision is never revealed. What is it? Race? Religion? Age? Most likely, most people’s thought goes to adultery—either she, the other person or both are married to someone else.

But whatever the story, she has made a decision, although the song’s tone seems to give the listener reason to believe her resolve is perhaps not exactly rock-solid. Nevertheless, she has made a good choice—for now at least—although it was obviously a hard one.

I like Suzanne Vega’s voice. I like the song, too, so it was a treat to hear it. No less a treat was the next song in the shuffle. Lari White is the daughter of a rock-and-roll guitarist and the granddaughter of a Primitive Baptist preacher (which curiously, allowed no musical instruments in church) and she draws deeply upon both men with her gutsy, gospel-choir powered version of There is Power in the Blood from the soundtrack of the movie The Apostle. You know the words:

Would you be free
from the burden of sin?
There's power in the blood,
power in the blood;
Would you o'er evil
a victory win?
There's wonderful
power in the blood.

It occurred to me the proximity of these two songs was providential. Every day, we make choices. Some are easy. Some, like the one described by Ms. Vega, are harder. Some seem impossible. It is then that followers of Christ have something extra. The power of the blood. Simply put, it is a power, a gift given of God and within us, that lifts us higher than we can go on our own, and allows us to do, or do without. And to discover that a hard choice can be more than loss, but gain.

It's grace. It's growing. It's being saved all over again every day (not positionally, but practically). And it's part of the real, warty you in this real, rocky world. Grace is not needed in a sinless world.

Here are performances of the two songs. I would encourage you, if you like them, to buy the studio versions.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Take up your cross

"My children, when you were little, we used sometimes to go for walks in our pine woods. In the open fields, you would run along by yourselves. But you used instinctively to give me your hands as we entered those woods, where it was darker, lonelier, and in the stillness our voices sounded loud and frightening. In this book I am again giving you my hands. I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha—the place of skulls. This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise. 

"Your Father."

-- Whittaker Chambers, in the foreword to Witness, written in the form of a letter to his children.

Yes, this passage seems anything but joyous. But it prefaces a book that was anything but joyous—Chambers's tale of leaving the Communist Party in the late 1930s and taking his family into hiding. Then, at great personal sacrifice, he testified against his former co-conspirators (most notably Alger Hiss) and was shunned and reviled by many for suspicion of lying, although declassified Russian documents in the 1990s vindicated him, albeit three decades after his death.
While he fully understood the hardness of the world and the difficulty in doing right, and carried around those scars, he was sure of his salvation and grateful to God. In the same foreword, he says this:

"I do not know any way to explain why God's grace touches a man who seems unworthy of it. But neither do I know any other way to explain how a man like myself—tarnished by life, unprepossessing, not brave—could prevail so far against the powers of the world arrayed almost solidly against him, to destroy him and defeat his truth. In this sense, I am an involuntary witness to God's grace and to the fortifying power of faith."


Thursday, October 15, 2009

A picture a day... for eighteen years

  It is a simple, unadorned website. On a black background, a list of years, spanning 1979 to 1997, runs down the left side of the page. Click on one of the years, and you will see a Polaroid photo taken every day of that year (beginning March 31, 1979). Most of them are presumably pictures of friends. Most are unremarkable to the casual viewer. Yet it is most remarkable the dedication with which the photographer took to his task. Rarely there will be a photograph of just a slip of paper with the date. This was not because the photographer didn't take a picture. It was because the archivist could not locate the picture for that day, presumably in a pile of daily photographs.
  Yes, I said archivist. The pictures abruptly stop on October 25, 1997. In fact, the last few pictures were probably taken by friends. They show a man in a hospital room, dying. Eighteen days earlier, a photo seems to show him getting married. But he had been sick for some time. He had lost his hair to chemotherapy, but then his hair grew back, perhaps signalling that he had abandoned the chemo.
  Who was the photographer? The website is called "Jamie Livingston's Photo of the Day." But that only gives us a name, not a person. We are left to wonder.
  And I am left in wonder.
--W. S.