Lost poetry

I’m in a place now where all I can do is sit and try to decide what is important. I can’t let myself get trapped into a cycle of self-maintenance like I see so many do. What is meaningful? To what is it worth devoting the limited amount of time I have in this one life I have? Some things that are not meaningful are becoming abundantly clear. Now that I’m on a sabbatical of sorts from campus ministry, the house I used to barely see is now nicer than ever, and will probably improve all the more through the summer, especially with preparing to have a wife live in it. But there’s a tiny part of me that wouldn’t have minded seeing it all blow away in a tornado tonight. It’s all mammon, really. My wonderful future wife today suggested a trip in which we live out of her car for a while and depend on God and others. I think it’s a great idea. Will we do it? We’ll see. I hope she consistently tests my innate desire for security.

_________

I took Jinny to a wonderfully eccentric local restaurant called The Mont in Norman two weekends ago. All Normanites know it well. It’s a place where I always relive a peaceful nostalgia when I’m there. Inside, built into the old hardwood-paneled walls, are shelves loaded with all kinds of dusty old books. In college, every now and again my friends and I would pack into one of the tables next to a bookshelf, start pulling them off the wall one by one, write random lines of poetry on random pages, and then stick them back into a random spot in the sea of books. I’m sure those witty lines of silliness are still shoved away on those walls. Will they ever be discovered? Can the authors even uncover their lost pieces of word art if they tried? Unlikely. But that doesn’t change the lasting brilliance or significance of moments of genius like “Ode to Sloop.”

That’s where we create meaning. I don’t want to ever lose that.

Advertisements

The story a photo does not tell

This is a photo from my old Alameda church directory when I was a student at OU. This is Mark and Melinda Evans, both in their mid-twenties, and their first child, a newborn. There is so much a photo tells – a thousand words, so to speak – but there is also so much a photo does not say. There are things we want a photo like this to tell: a story of a beautiful family, a wonderful high school sweethearts love story that will continue into old age as they build a fairytale life together. A story of a happy growing family serving the Lord together and quietly enjoying life. Perhaps there will be some adventures, some excitement, some interesting stories to remember along the way. There are one or two more children who grow up happy and strong and start families of their own. This is a photo that we assume foreshadows the kind of life and experience that in some deep place, all of us want.

But there is only so much a photo can tell. It is, in fact, very limited. If you transport yourself to circa 2001, when this moment in time was captured, you would have no idea what story would end up transpiring. You would have no idea that the picture now, nine years later, would be one of a single father who has tragically lost that beautiful wife to the ravages of cancer – at the age of 31. A father who now has to find his way in life with his now three children, releasing notes pinned to balloons to float to heaven – their only way to communicate with mommy they will have barely known. Sadly, we know that the picture does not now tell the same fairytale story it once seemed to.

And even if you snapped a picture of Mark and children at their best in this new moment of time (late 2007), it still would not indicate to you what would happen next. It would give you no idea that Mark would release Melinda to God in his heart and fall in love again – to a beautiful, vivacious young woman named Leslie who would become his new wife. You would not know that this new woman would courageously take on her new role as mother to his children. But you would be happy to learn this, and delighted that this new relationship would become not just a family with a new mom, but a growing one – Leslie is pregnant with twins!

Now, a new picture, right? Finally, after a dark time of loss, all has been righted – it is now a beautiful picture that has finally brought Mark and his children a new direction – one filled with hope and happiness. A new picture that indicates, finally, a happily ever after. But stop – aren’t we doing what we did before? What is it that we so fervently want to read into these new events? I want to know that this picture says that Mark and family will now have what they deserve.

But what you still do not know is what actually lies ahead – a sudden complication in the pregnancy. A hospital stay that results in labor at the wrong time. Delivery of two small babies unable to survive their own birth. More pain and tragedy! Two dead children to mourn. Now what could be worse? A lot – a blockage forms in Leslie’s heart, her blood stops pumping, and her brain loses oxygen for 17 minutes. Irreparable brain damage and permanent coma. A week and a half later, Leslie’s life is finished at age 28. Mark is now a single father again – two loves of his life, dead. Two small children who did not even receive a day of life, dead. What that happy, beautiful photo from 2001 does not tell us is the impending story of unimaginable pain and loss that would be delivered to Mark.

Our next steps are not known to us. God has tried from the beginning of time to help us realize this. Even Jesus himself said there were things about the future that he was not privy to (Matt. 24:36). Yet we keep assuming the future and begging God to know his plan. There are times when I believe that the last thing God wants to do for us is reveal his plan. What would you do today if God told you “I’m going to make you endure the death of two wives and two children”? Mary could barely even handle being told that she would be the mother of the new heir of God’s kingdom. Zechariah definitely couldn’t swallow a similar message about his own child. I hope it’s not too depressing, but God’s presence in our lives does not always amount to the wonderful “blessings” that we want it to be. It is the presence of power; it is the presence of wisdom. It is the presence of the God that, as one of the great human sufferers said, gives and takes away (Job 1:21). He does so in a way that he knows is right, whether it feels that way to us or not. God’s wisdom is not our own, and I believe that is exactly why it is not for us to cast our eyes into tomorrow. We may not like what we see.

Why did Melinda and Leslie have to die? Why did Mark have to suffer the deaths of two wives and two children? I wish someone had solid answers for that. I’m not going to try to create nice-sounding ones. But thankfully I know that even though we don’t know about the rest of today or tomorrow, we know the end. We know that we are the subjects of a power that is greater than us, and we do well to submit to it, because its promises are perfect. We know that though this power may pull us through the darkest valleys and the worst tortures for a period of time, it has promised to go with us. Indeed, God sent himself through death itself. So we know that, even at what for many of us would be one of the most unimaginably darkest and most tragic places in life, God is willing something perfect. It’s not for us to ask why, because we probably wouldn’t understand anyway. It’s for us to say “I need help.” It’s what we should be saying anyway, because truthfully it’s our only hope of any kind of security.

When we look at pictures of ourselves with our family and friends, let us thank God for the blessings of yesterday and today, but know, deep in our hearts, that none of that is guaranteed for tomorrow. And in God’s world, that’s okay.

Please continue to pray for Mark. The funeral for Leslie and the two babies, Marisa and Mac, is Tuesday, October 11.


Being as one

Tonight was one of the most poignant Cats for Christ Encounters of this year so far. It really wasn’t designed to be, but you never know what is going to happen. As has become somewhat of a custom, we started with a discussion segment that tonight was more of a poll of issues. It turns out that there is a mostly even spread of stances on very divisive issues like abortion, gay marriage, school prayer, creation/evolution, political parties, and other hot button topics. This wasn’t entirely surprising. But it does prove that we’ve got a collection of students who represent all kinds of backgrounds, opinions, and stances.

Our culture right now is vividly teaching us about almost violent division. The Us vs. Them gulf in religion, politics, social standings, worldviews, and culture is setting people against people in wildly irrational displays of arrogance and ignorance. In many instances it is no longer ideas that are debated but entire personalities and groups that are vilified as evil because they do not hold to a particular side of the issue du jour.

Havard Townsend and Morris Crisler stood before us tonight. A decorated veteran and an ardent pacifist stood before us tonight. A right wing conservative and an almost communist-leaning liberal stood before us tonight. A born-and-raised Christian and a former atheist stood before us tonight. A fiscal tightwad and a free-wheeling spendthrift stood before us tonight. A passionate patriot and a would-be draft-dodger stood before us tonight. A blue-collar workaholic and a highly educated adventurer stood before us tonight. A small town country boy and a big-city slicker stood before us tonight.

harvard-morris2

Harvard and Morris atop Uncompahgre Peak in Colorado in 1990

Incredibly, two best friends stood before us tonight. Two friends who have shared an incredibly intimate spiritual relationship for more than thirty years. Two men who have shared one of the deepest relationships under God that I have ever seen. Two men who, according to much of the world around us, should have no association with each other. Yet, these two “enemies” respect, trust, and admire the other so much that when their kids were young, each one wrote into their will that the other would raise their children for the other should something happen to them and their spouses.

What is their commonality? What motivates them to connect through their radically different lives? One word: Jesus. The spirit infused in both of them through the presence of Jesus Christ in each of their lives has pushed them beyond boundaries that are otherwise solid. Their example is proof positive that the unity of the spirit is NOT a idealistic conception that is impossible in reality. Their example is proof positive that POWERFUL, LIFE-CHANGING unity can be found between those who otherwise disagree.

So the next time you draw the line on someone, or the next time you get the urge to trash another human being because they stand in a different line than you do, especially if they are a brother or sister under Christ, you would do well to remember what Jesus prayed for with all of his heart before he let his enemies kill him:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

This is not just a good idea, this is POSSIBLE. Thank you, Harvard and Morris, for showing us exactly what it looks like.


Brian McLaren’s Clarinet

I’m sitting in Radina’s right now, having almost cried over one paragraph in Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy that washed over me so powerfully that I have to make it known.

“When one plays the clarinet, one is not thinking about the pressure of the lower teeth against the lower lip, nor of the tightness of the lower lip against the reed, nor of the touch of the upper teeth to the mouthpiece, nor of the pressure of the fingers on the holes and keys, nor of the contraction of the hand and finger muscles, nor of the weight of the instrument borne by the right thumb and right elbow and right shoulder, nor of the tapping of the left foot to keep time, nor of the air pressure produced by the diaphragm on the lungs and in turn on the windpipe and in turn on the inner mouth and reed. Rather, through the unconscious absorption of the instrument into the body, through indwelling the instrument through one’s fingers and breath, one attends through it to the notes, to the tone filling the air and room outside one’s body, to the feeling of the musical phrase, to the passionate exuberance of the melody, to the free play of improvisation, to the rhythm and movement of the band, to the almost intangible but real response of the audience as it sways and smiles and maybe even dances. One focuses through the instrument to the music, and through the music to the audience. If one were to think consciously of all the intricate movements of muscles, tendons, bones…one would go nuts and be completely unable to play.”

The Holy Spirit is trying to play us in a concert before God. Do we experience the spirit’s music, or are we obsessed with having our fingers in the right positions?

I feel like writing one hundred more paragraphs interpreting this, but I will let it speak for itself. Besides, I need to keep reading…


I Kissed Dating Goodbye – Book Review

While hunting around for another document just now, I found a review of I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris that I wrote for an online magazine that I never sent for publication. This is a book that was very influential to me when I first read it, and I recommend it for anyone thinking about what God’s role is in their relationship life. Unfortunately, I always have to clarify that this book is not about promoting not dating, rather, God’s place in all aspects of relationship.

Review – I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Joshua Harris, Author
Review by Cary McCall

The Right Thing at the Wrong Time is the Wrong Thing

I sat on the kitchen counter in our student center at OU.

“What do I do?” I asked a spattering of older students who stood around me. These students, of course, were the two senior girls who had somehow officially declared their major to be Relationship Advice.

I was a new freshman and had enthusiastically rushed onto the college scene with guns blaring, ready to explore a new life and new people. However, I had declared my love to a girl from Kansas who was still in high school but starting to look at wedding dresses. We had given big portions of our hearts to each other, as well as our bodies. She was ready to take that commitment to the grave, but somehow I knew I was immature and needed the freedom to grow into this new university world and become the person that God wanted me to be. But to her, the prospect of a breakup seemed equal to divorce.

This relationship had just been a camp fling – how was it now a matter of emotional life and death?

It wasn’t until years later – when I was almost out of college – that I realized this relationship had gone the way of a vast majority “hook ups” in our culture: begin with fun and flair in mind, enjoy the “benefits” for a while, give away big portions of yourself that aren’t even yours, and then watch as it crashes in flames and pain.

Is there any way out of this cycle that is plaguing us and creating one fruitless relationship after another?

A New Attitude

Josh Harris thinks so. After enduring the age-old dating scene that took him from one girl to another in a world that worships self-gratification, he developed powerful convictions based on his relationship with God and the call to a Christian lifestyle. As a 21 year-old, he explained these decisions in his first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Over a million copies later, I Kissed Dating Goodbye has drawn international praise and is now published in thirteen languages. Others, however, remain skeptical of what some feel is an extreme message. Either way, I Kissed Dating Goodbye has played a key role in the relationship philosophies of thousands of young Christians, and has become a book that cannot be ignored.

Below the Surface

Harris, realizing the defenses that many will initiate at no more than the very title of his book, immediately works to dispel the preconceptions some may have of his message. The first is this: “Dating isn’t really the point.” He tells the reader that “[the] ultimate purpose is not to figure out if Christians should date, and if so, how.” Instead, the reader should examine “the aspects of your life that dating touches – the way you treat others, the way you prepare for your future mate, your personal purity – and attempt to bring these areas into line with God’s word.”

True to his word, Harris never makes a judgment call on dating itself but develops a careful, detailed spiritual analysis of the way our culture has taught us to form relationships. From this he makes a case for the Christian response.

A Radical Change

Based on his analysis of how the world goes about dating, Harris develops a list he calls “The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Dating.” Harris contends that many relationships, even among Christians, demonstrate these characteristics:

  • Dating leads to intimacy but not necessarily commitment.
  • Dating tends to skip the “friendship” stage of a relationship.
  • Dating often mistakes a physical relationship for love.
  • Dating often isolates a couple from other vital relationships.
  • Dating, in many cases, distracts young adults from their primary responsibility of preparing for the future.
  • Dating can cause discontentment with God’s gift of singleness.
  • Dating creates an artificial environment for evaluating another person’s character.

Avoiding these pitfalls, Harris states, takes a set of “new attitudes,” which he outlines in five philosophies:

  • Every relationship is an opportunity to model Christ’s love.
  • My unmarried years are a gift from God.
  • Intimacy is a reward of commitment – I don’t need to pursue a romantic relationship before I’m ready for marriage.
  • I cannot “own” someone outside of marriage.
  • I will avoid situations that could compromise the purity of my body or mind.

Harris makes it very clear that each one of these attitudes involves a radical shift of mindset and behavior for even the most ingrained Christian. But until each one of these attitudes can be accepted and mastered, dating remains a dangerous minefield controlled by a self-indulgent society. Thus, Harris recommends, as he has, to put dating on hold until God grows you to a point of being able to face dating with the spiritual maturity that God demands of it.

Assuming this decision, Harris then spends the rest of the book tackling what he considers to be the real issue: developing a full-bodied, passionate relationship with God. This, Harris claims, is what will turn singleness into a blessing and transform loneliness into contentment. This is what will eliminate the artificial “need” for romantic relationships.

Reaction

Josh Harris steps on a lot of toes with I Kissed Dating Goodbye. His gentle writing style, seasoned with poignant stories and dialogue, softens the fact that he is calling to the carpet a lot of self-indulgent Christians. His message, although critical of worldly thought patterns, is clearly written for those who say they follow Christ. But Harris shoots red hot spiritual flares into the air in a lot of religious circles that unconsciously promote a message of “date fast and marry early”; a message that Harris believes is informed by a relationship-dependent culture. To Harris, even traditionally noble ideas such as wanting to raise a family can, in the wrong mindset, be a mask for codependency that subtly keeps God from being the priority relationship. God must be first, and if dating has to go away until God can be there, then so be it.

Josh Harris’ message in I Kissed Dating Goodbye is strong and challenging. It forces a personal analysis at least, if not a total recommitment. Either way, Harris ruffles feathers with a book that is carrying a lion’s share of weight in the way young Christians are forming attitudes about dating, sex, and purity.


The Fog of War

I mentioned the movie The Fog of War a few posts back in reference to the death of Robert McNamara. I really believe this is an incredibly important movie. I just now found the trailer on YouTube:


I’m a Technology Prophet

In July 2006 I wrote this, which accurately predicted this.