Tuesday, November 29, 2005

yes virginia, there is a santa

did i say 'santa?' sorry, i meant satan.
an easy mistake for any poor typist.

i've been thinking a fair bit about natas lately (that's backward-masking, for those who didn't grow up in the 70's spinning records backwards in order to hear all the evil messages that the devil had put there!)... not really brooding or anything. just thinking. in our outpost there has been a fair bit of spiritual warfare, so to speak, of late; and just as mark heard said in a song twenty-some years ago 'in the eye of the storm the friends of God suffer no permanent harm...' i've been thinking about battle, victory, defeat and, yes, permanent harm.

on november 11, my sons and i watched pearl harbour. there had, of course, been much talk in school about global conflict leading up to remembrance day, many poppies had transformed many coats from mere insulation into uniforms for peace. and so, in keeping with the season, we popped in a war flick.

(by the way, i know that there are many history buffs and film critics who hate this particular war-flick, calling it the greatest piece of quasi-historical love-story schlock ever produced, but hopefully this doesn't eclipse the spiritual truth that i was led towards as i watched...)

what always captures my imagination is the curious enigma of the japanesse kamikaze pilot- the original twentieth century terrorist. there is one fateful scene where a suicide squad of aerial warriors poses for a significant photograph before getting into their zeros... posing for posterity alone, knowing that none of them will ever see the picture.

as i consider the whole notion of evil personified, and the related notion that this personal evil has an unholy agenda: to rob almighty God of everything towhich he is entitled simply because 'he is'... (psalm 29.1-2 gives us some direction there) i find myself thinking about suicide-bomber pilots. it is not part of the suicide bomber's mission to win the war- but the suicide bomber's mission can be part of winning the war. the evil brillance of terrorism is its utter selflessness- once again satan takes something beautiful like laying down one's life for his friends and does some spin in the name of 'honour.' the entire wing of zero pilots in the picture is doomed from the beginning, yet there is victory in their eyes... why?

the pilots know that any damage, any pain, any disruption of the natural flow of freedom in the western world is victory... perhaps not decisive victory, but victory nonetheless. i think that this is a picture of the diabolical mind of hell.

satan is a created being, not a demigod, we all know that, but in his vanity he has lifted himself to a place where he presumes to be God's adversary- in fact, satan is our adversary, for we who bear the name of Jesus upon our lips and the blood of Jesus upon our lives are constant reminders that he is fighting a war that he has already lost. yet knowing that the victory is the Lord's, he keeps on. same question: why?

because any glory stolen by whatever means necessary is glory that God won't get. it is as simple as that. it is my belief that satan and his staff already know that they will enter into every battle beaten. being that the outcome of the battle (and, in fact, the whole war) is a foregone conclusion, all hell breaks lose in order to take from God whatever it can on the way down. it's not that satan thinks he can 'win'... it is simply that he wants to prevent God from getting it all. i remember when sadaam hussein set fire the oilwells in kuwait. it was reminiscent of an old don henley song called them and us which represented 80's coldwar, all or nothing thinking: "if we can't have the ball, there won't be any winner this time." when you have nothing to lose, anything you take seems like victory.

this is most evident in the areas of personal pain and tragedy.

(NOTE: i feel like i'm repeating myself here with the following story, but i have just gone through my posts and i can't find it anywhere... i did NOT check all the comment boxes, though... sorry in advance)

two years ago i lost two brothers-in-law in three months to separate car accidents; one in a 'mysterious' collision with a semi and one (along with his new wife of five months) to a drunk driver.

in that time my wife's dad mentioned many times that he felt like job... and continued to white knuckle his faith through the pain.

in that time i also heard a lot of bad theology from well-intentioned people about God's part in personal pain:

God has a plan for our lives and clearly his plan for [brother-in-law and his wife] was that it was their time..."

pardon? if this is the way God does things then i find myself wondering which of my relatives are next in this systematic wiping out of a family. i just can't buy that.

but, others counter, God is the author of all things.

defaulting to God being the 'author of all things' is placing him directly responsible for all manner of calamity, lawlessness, exploitation and human pain. satan would love for us to see God in this way because the natural outcome of this view is a theological fallacy... believing God is someone that he isn't.

in a world that seemed to be crumbling around me, the only thing that remained changeless was who God was- in fact, his face became clearer. after going through stages of mourning etc a truth came through to me... God chooses to redeem the lost; to make all things new; to be glorified even in times of our greatest pain because he is God and this means justice and love, not random infliction. he can bring peace and power and freedom in anything this world can throw at us if i turn to him for it.

God is the author of all GOOD things. there is the key theological difference. satan has twisted and perverted God's story in order to rob God of the glory that is God's and God's alone by filling our heads with all sorts of bad pictures of who God is.

we must be careful to remember who ultimately ushered suffering into this life- humankind with its need to control and 'be like God' as we read in genesis3. and who talked us into it? not satan, he simply asked the right questions. we talked ourselves into oblivion.

and God, in his love, allowed us to make decisions that would destroy us, severing the relationship between ourselves and the giver of life and all goodness.

awful things happen, not as a surprise to God but as a tragic reminder to God of our willful rebellion and its causal outcomes. the spiritual and the physical were united until we rent them apart in our quest for dominion. having chosen in his omnipotence to abide by our will, God watches us venture down the dark 'alleyways of strife' instead of walking with us through his garden.

miracles come about when God choses to interrupt the natural cycles and laws that he has set in place to govern and perpetually maintain the physical cosmos. he does, however, perform a lot of miracles that we, in our 'empirical wisdom' turn our backs to and explain away as coincidence rather than co-incidence. this does not, however, keep God from pouring his goodness into a world peopled by spiritual insurgents- it simply robs him of the glory in direct opposition to the words of that old hymn

'so give him the glory, great things he hath done...'

yes, virginia, there is a satan- but let's let him and his crue burn to the sound of God's people singing this hymn. time to steal God's glory back.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

the art of miracles?

"modern people have an almost aesthetic dislike of miracles. admitting that God can, they doubt if he would..." (c.s. lewis)

recently, a friend asked me about this quote. i had used it to reinforce a talk about miracles and faith. as i read c.s. lewis' words again, it seemed to me that the only word seeming a bit odd in its usage was 'aesthetic.'

typically we use this word to describe that je ne sais quoi of art that causes us to feel something in response to something someone has created. aesthetics is defined by somebody named webster...

(let's face it, all webster dictionaries are not equal; it is a misnomer much like saying you are taking a ride on a ski-doo when you are really riding a 'snowmobile' and then stemming the resulting post-nasal tide with a kleenex when what you are really using is a 'tissue'. apparently anyone can publish a webster's dictionary... at least that's what i was taught during my stint at university- but that's a whole nother blog)

... as 'the philosophy of beauty and the fine arts.'

okay, so what c.s. lewis appears to be saying, then, is that a modern person's emotional response to the idea of miracles is comparable to that person's emotional response to certain arts expressions... particularly (in my view) the ones that they don't understand. their personal philosophy of beauty or art (or, in their personal theology of miracles, possibility or truth) informs this response and the response informs the art/miracle to some degree- rendering the art/miracle as either valid or ridiculous in the world being conceptually framed by the assimilation of these personal experiences.

recently there was a very simple post on icarus' blog... it had three components: a picture, a price and a pronouncement. the picture? an abstract expressionist piece (above) by mark rothko. the price? $22.4 million u.s. the pronouncement? 'disgusting.' (later, another piece and another price was also added. however, the pronouncement remained unchanged...)

when prompted (or provoked- sometimes it's a thin line) further as to what was disgusting about it, a great discussion opened up once again on icarus' blog, this time concerning

'what has the right to be called art anyway?'

totally fun to read. the fact that everyone in the discussion seemed to feel so strongly about something that is often seen as merely ornamental rather than essential underscores the importance of arts expressions in our world- if for no other reason than to unify people in nonsupport of something that is a direct result of something that they are so vehemently in support of... freedom of expression.

about ten years ago when a comparable mark rothko painting was bought by the canadian national gallery for $1.75m (a huge price at the time but about 1/10 of its value now, for the economists in the crowd) much of the canadian public was outraged, yet the story was relegated to two opinion columns and a cartoon on page 16 in our local paper. one of the opinion columns was quite funny as the writer, ron petrie, explored the idea of selling some of his yard sale junk as art nouveau...

"(for sale) one souvenir snow orb, a water-filled bubble that depicts a wintry street scene in banff whenever you shake it up or down. only we don't call it a snow orb. heavens no. for the purpose of government appraisal, it's a kinetic exploration of the interaction between the human spirit and the natural environment, embracing not only the apparent dichotomy between the two essential elements, but also a surreal sense of their inseparability...

(now for the punchline- jb)

the orb is priced at 50 cents. the gobbledegook is an additional $1.9 million."

often the modern art question, and modern artists in general are seen by realists as simply a really good example of the swindling tailors in 'the emperor's new clothes.'

for anyone who likes delving into the dark side of this topic (that is, the alternative to slam-dancing on the work of pollock, kline, rothko, newman and other abstract expressionists) i would recommend reading 'bluebeard' by kurt vonnegut. it's good ironic fun.

but what of miracles?

well, it appears to me that c.s. lewis might be suggesting that people struggle with the same emotionally-loaded resistence to the idea that things happen in our world which they cannot comprehend as they do with the ever-enigmatic, ever-controversial subject of modern art.

perhaps God's greatest miracles have much in common with some of our modern artist's strongest challenges to our perspective. when we are ready to default to dismissal, perhaps that is the moment requiring the greatest faith which will lead to the greatest growth in ourselves as spiritually experienced people. considering possibilities rather than impossibilities requires a commitment to exploring new things rather than simply concluding that the sum total of one's own experience to date is all that there is to existence.

furthermore, it may very well be that our inability to comprehend the truth about miracles has more to do with the willingness of our hearts to consider this possible truth than it does with the actual event in question.

is the painting above simply a bunch of no-talent blobs and smears done on a huge canvas by a lunatic or a charlatan, or is it an open window into another world?

who can say?

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Monday, November 07, 2005

culturally sanctified (set apart)

in an interesting post about diabolical lies and passive spiritual agreement, ezekiel said...
"Be advised: I may sound arrogant in my comments. I am not trying to talk down to anyone, I am only saying the truth that I have learned from the Bible..."

here's something that i think about a fair bit: we 'christians' come from a culture that is different from that of those whom we seek to reach with the gospel. gospel truth as found in the bible makes perfect sense to those of us who have grown up with it as the central part of our world view. it makes as much sense to our hearts as basic english does to our minds- we don't have to translate anything because we literally think in this language already.

not so for the 'non-believer' (i kinda have a tough time with that label... actually with most labels- but that's probably a whole nother blog) in most cases, our achristian friends have really strongly held reasons for their non-belief. sometimes these are based on bad personal examples of christianity, other times they are based on heart-breaking experiences while still other times they are simply the tragic result of that time of spiritual tension when one's faith ceases to be the faith of his or her parents and becomes his or her own.

whatever the case, we must be culturally sensitive, and recognize that our defaults are not necessarily held by others. to tell someone who has abandoned faith in God that God reportedly says something in the bible (a book that those who believe in him have written together about him over thousands of years) and that's why this person should believe it and change his or her entire world view is probably not going to get very far in the realization of the evangelist's goal.

the reality is that human beings are more likely to listen to other human beings, provided they have the opportunity to get to know these others well enough to listen to them. yep, it's a circle. and it can happen. acts2 tells of the day when everyone heard in 'his own language.' because language is so cultural, i find this passage full of hopeful challenge.

the discourse that takes place between us and those with whom we desire to share a life-changing message of God's love and grace is how God speaks. he intends to use the words and the lives of everyone who believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ because there is probably MORE of a chance of folks believing it if the message comes face to face through someone they know than from someone in whom they do not believe.

"...I don't intend for anyone to believe anything because I say it, but believe it because God says it."

in a lot of cases, people will ONLY believe things because we say them- not because the God they have already turned from or perhaps have never acknowledged as being real in the first place does. our life testifies to the truth of which we speak, as does our love.

could the fatal flaw for believers be that we are too sanctified culturally to be of any real spiritual use?

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Friday, November 04, 2005

built for relation, not simply recognition

Icarus created a really interesting post (http://icarusgoodman.blogspot.com/2005/10/got-church.html ) about how church, although in his view flawed foundationally, still provides something legitimately in an area where the rest of our culture falls short: meaningful connectedness- totally worth reading and thinking about. he made a couple of assertions, however, that i did feel prompted to respond to. once again, the basic intellectual physics of one person's wheels turning acts as a magnetic catalyst for those of another.

"It's the sitting in church that provides the real lessons though..."

although this is a nice little idea, it is a bit skimpy in the whole experiencial faith and relationship realm. i mean, i should probably be a big proponent of the 'sitting in church' notion, being one of the preachers. however, this idea is no more accurate than saying that the real lessons in school come from sitting in class.

(drat! i've just busted myself again because i am also a school-teacher! no matter- i will stand here anyway. moving right along...)

"Half of what the church does has little if anything to do with God. So why do church going folk do it? Why do they attend just to sing some songs or go on a hay ride?"

healthy relationships are the brainchild of almighty God. he created many things which he called 'good' but only one which he referred to as 'very good'... humankind, of course. this was, in my view, because he had been at work creating many someTHINGs in order to eventually have the stage ready for the creation of someONEs. at last, in us, he had someone he could enjoy a relationship with, could fellowship with, could laugh with. we were created with the capacity to not only recognize but to relate- this may be what the whole 'image of God' phrase implies. the ability to enter into relationships within the context of free-will... relationships with both God and other human beings.

it is for this reason (and probably a million others) that people go to church. it is not about the sitting or the standing or the singing or the sobbing...it is in the coming together of people- an agreed-upon connection that bears not only physical and social but spiritual colour- that people draw great strength and direction from at church.

however, i do agree with icarus that, with regard to our other outstanding outposts of community involvement, education and humanitarian engagement, the functional (as opposed to dysfunctional-that's a whole nother blog) gathered fellowship of believers, whether we come together to celebrate the God who created us all in a corporate worship experience, or play hockey together to celebrate good health and fresh air, is a connection that is strengthened by its spiritual foundation.

all things that are truly good have everything to do with the author of that goodness. they are celebrations of who God is as evidenced in all of creation.

postscript: likewise, i suppose, all things that have fallen from being truly good are indicative of how long satan's leash has been allowed to be... for the timebeing.

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