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

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.