Yeats Confuses Me

I think it’s true that as a people, we have come to an unprecedented time of opportunity. What we could accomplish because of the advances in so many things seems to be near limitless. Yet in many ways, it also seems we are devolving in a way. And today I was thinking of that old Yeats poem, The Second Coming, written just after WWI. I think it is also surprisingly timely today. But it’s also quite confusing. No one ever said Yeats was the arbiter of truth or clarity about life, but his work does–at least in my instance–make a brother think.

Yeats

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

the ceremony of innocence is drowned;

the best lack all convention, while the worst

are full of passionate intensity…

This poem says much about war, and the chaos it brings. In many ways now, we as a people are at war. “Anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

And I think about who the enemy is in this war. Many these days would say it was the President. Yet if one follows in and believes scripture, and in the sovereignty of Jesus, we must also consider what scripture says about the state of things. I don’t know that this president, or any president, is named.

From Ephesians 2: 1-3–

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Like the rest of mankind. To me that suggests none of us are blameless, whether donkey or elephant, progressive or conservative.

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.

If it feels good, do it. If it’s right to you, how can it  be wrong? Must all things hold to the same order?

What about the ceremony of innocence being drowned? I don’t know about there being a ceremony of innocence. In other words, a ceremony or graduation which at the culmination declares us innocent. Why would we need a declaration of innocence? Aren’t we innocent until proven guilty?

Sure, in a court of law. Except that is not what this is. It’s a world where to many, life has no sanctity, no matter the color of skin, or the tenets one holds to. No matter the age, or gestational status of a person.

In the immortal words of the poet and prophet Ice T, on the latest Body Count album, “no lives matter.”

And I think that’s where we are today. Culture and many beliefs would dictate that life is not significant. To some it seems like climbing to some height and raining bullets onto a group of people–or into a group of people–is the thing to do to ensure that your life means something in the end, even if what it means is that you’ve taken life as part of your own life, and ensuring that you are noted, and a part of history.

No lives matter.

Except they really do. I believe that. Even with the turmoil my life has occasionally been, I believe it. Even with the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), I believe it. Even with the pontifications of William Butler Yeats (things fall apart, the centre cannot hold) I believe it.

I believe it because of Psalm 22, and the depiction of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53.

I believe it because of the 40 or so words of the apostle Paul to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20, ESV

Consider also Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Yet with all that, murder is still murder. And each of our lives matter. We can make something of them. We can matter, too, even if it is only to God. So, yes, Mr. Yeats. Things do fall apart. But I disagree with you on whether or not the center can hold.

I say it can, if we make Christ the center. If we hold life as sacred–created by God, to be taken by God. Not by a madman or madmen, to whom a human life is nothing. That person has their fame now, their infamy.

And an empty eternity to think about it.

 

 

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Look Behind You

My iPod is on shuffle and I was just getting started on my day’s work when I stopped for just a second to listen and take a breath. I wanted to think about blessings, and see how that would affect the course of my day. Yesterday was pretty good.

I woke up and I took a breath, and then another. Each followed in succession–a chain of little blessings.

I stared at the bright numbers on my bedside alarm and felt my wife’s warm hand on my shoulder. Across the hall, my six year-old had the CD from his VBS playing in his room. Something about his God being so big and so mighty.

Word.

After service, I had the privilege to pray with someone who I didn’t know before but am glad to now. Later, after church, my older boy told me he wanted to start tithing.

When I stood at the front of the stage, I made brief eye contact with my counterpart on the other side and then someone came up to him as well. So great for people to come forward in boldness of faith and humility of spirit. God is always faithful.

My wife and I are a little sore from tearing out carpet and throwing stuff around at the new building, but being able to do that is a blessing, too. I really hope that we have the opportunity to help the people of Yuma and elsewhere to see God with eyes opened anew to possibility.

I’m fortunate to have a job that keeps us fed and housed–many do not.

I have the opportunity to give, but I’m not very good at it in my own right, and pray I will do better–both locally and globally.

The funny thing about blessings is that when they come, we don’t always see them. Sometimes, they are clothed in struggle, or obscured by the world.

Nevertheless, with each person coming into our life in some way–any way–also comes opportunity to show Jesus to someone. They are not obstacles to our ends, but opportunities for ministry. That’s how Jesus looked at them–shouldn’t we as well?

Blessings so often come through hard work, even toil. Shouldn’t we be grateful? After all, Jesus was not afraid to get his hands dirty. Sometimes bloody.

We look at our lives and the world and we want things to change, and change yesterday, so to speak.

They aren’t going to.

Sometimes we aren’t delivered from circumstances–perhaps even most of the time. Yet God is faithful to bring us through them. That’s a blessing, too.

When I look backward and try to follow the path that brought me here today, what I see are jagged and sometimes halting steps. Yet they eventually pick up again. I see path lit by a chain of blessings, like little golden lights.

I will not try to minimize your toil, your suffering. How could I? I don’t know what it’s like to be you. Yet I will promise you this. There will come a point when you are able to stand and look backward. You will see how you got to were you are, and your path will make a lot more sense. It’s easier to see the blessings in your path by the light of your journey.

Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Look behind you and you’ll see where that happened.

Path

A Few Thoughts on Redemption

In the wake of this business in Manchester, I’ve been wondering something: is anyone beyond redemption? Should they desire it, of course.

If it were up to me, I’d say some people are. People who harm children, for one. I think about these youngsters in England, having hardly begun their lives. I think of these…terrorists, seeking them out with intent and purpose. I think of men like Jerry Sandusky (the Penn State “coach” and chicken hawk ) and others of his ilk. If it were up to me, people like that would have no possibility of redemption. Only justice.

The answer I found was not what I wanted to find. I wanted my position to be justified–I wanted to be right.

People who do evil things should be punished–period. And perhaps society and the law will punish them. Yet punitive punishment sometimes seems like it should be eternal. At least it does to me.

Thankfully, it isn’t up to me. Here’s what just a few scriptures say about redemption, and who can be redeemed:

Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the richness of his grace.”

Colossians 1:20-22, “And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

Romans 3:24-26, “And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

Those are just a few verses, and there are many more. The short version is that the answer to my question is “no one is beyond redemption, should they choose to be reconciled before God, with God, because of the blood of Christ.”

No one. That’s why he came, and did what he did. I may not like it, but that ability to redeem when most find it all but impossible to simply forgive…well, that’s what makes him God.

My inabilities and my shortcomings in that way are why I need him–why we all do. We can’t be God–only God can do that.

Redemption is possible for all people.

Do it Now

“25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:25-27 ESV

My Pastor is currently preaching through the book of John, from beginning to end. He hasn’t gotten to this section yet, but today I was reading ahead and a few things occurred to me at roughly the same time:

Jesus had just been crucified. His mother and those close to him had borne witness. They’d also seen the soldiers who’d done it rolling dice at his feet for possession of the tunic he’d been wearing because they didn’t want to tear it so each could have a piece. Did they recognize something about him, that they would want his bloodied clothing? Maybe, but it didn’t slow down their efforts.

Jesus looks down and sees his family (blood family and in Christ) looking at him and he realizes there are his brother (from another mother) and mother seeing him in his final moments.

His brother. His mother. And though it does not say so specifically, I think that the disciple Jesus loved and the mother of Jesus realized that sometimes family isn’t blood. Sometimes family is heart, and spirit, and love. The words of Jesus cause them to realize the truth of this.

The other thing I thought about was to realize some of the last thoughts of Jesus as a man–just prior to his death–were to think of his mother. To provide for her, because he knew his time on earth (at that time) was short.

He thought of his mother, while he hung on the cross.

I thought about my own mother, when she was dying. I don’t know what her last thoughts were, but the very last word I ever personally heard her say was to me, in reference to my presence in her hospital room. She’d asked, “where’s Tommy.” I told her I was there, and she said “good.”

So obviously, considering this weekend, I was thinking about my mother.  I wish I’d thought about her more–appreciated her more–when she was here for me to appreciate and to show love to.

It made me think that all of our time is short, and we shouldn’t waste any of it. I know I will one day have the chance to tell my mom what is in my heart, and what was in my heart at 18 (though hopefully not for a while!).

Please allow me to drop this little bit of wisdom.

Don’t wait to speak love and appreciation to your mothers. Do it now.

I only have a few pictures of my mother. I don’t remember much about when she wasn’t sick. But I think this pic shows what I want to say. Now I’m older than my mom was in the photo, and I’m younger in the picture than my son John is…
mom

The Weight

Sometimes, it’s hard to be cheerful. We see everyone around us acting happy, and we don’t much feel that way ourselves. It makes sense, actually, when you think about life and its inherent difficulties. Life can be really heavy sometimes. And the thing that makes it worse is that we feel moved to carry the whole thing alone. Or we get help, but it isn’t help that lasts. In other words, we put the weight down for a second, but we pick it right the heck back up again a few minutes later. Because, you know, it’s ours to carry.

two man

Where are we getting our help from? Metaphorically speaking, who is the other person? Because life, by its nature, can be a two person lift sometimes. Who helps you with the lift?

I can tell you who it was for me. It was unhealthy friendships, and bad relationships. It was alcohol, or self-pity, or sometimes it was porn or a huge pile of junk food. These things allowed me to put down the weight, albeit briefly. It felt great for a minute or two, but then it was often worse than before. So off I would go, carrying my own weight and feeling bad about it–and feeling bad for myself.

Eventually, after many miles and many brief stops, I realized the problem was that I wanted to carry the weight myself, because that way I could feel like a martyr about it. I could remain life’s victim and I would never have to change anything about myself. The realization came eventually that the real problem was not life, and not the things that happened in it.

The problem was where I was turning for help. This was made clear to me through the intervention (and intercession) of several people who cared about me, and I realized this because they didn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear. They told me what I needed to hear. And it was tough, and I didn’t want to hear it, but it was what helped.

help

Maybe it’s like that for you. You’ve been feeling the weight, and it’s been like a ton of bricks on your heart. It’s hard to carry, and it feels like there’s no help to be had sometimes. Or if there is, that it doesn’t work very well.

Let me just ask you where you’re turning for help. Who’s the other person in your carry? I’ll tell you what worked for me back a few years ago, and now whenever the weight feels like lead bricks.

pray1

Prayer, man. You may scoff at that two word sentence. It might not feel real to you. It might not happen instantly, and Lord knows that’s what we want in an age when a 5 second download feels too long. Your prayers might feel like pebbles at God’s window.

They’re not.

Our prayers mold our hearts into something God can work with. They break up the old and crusty outside of our hearts and little by little the weight falls away.

It

      won’t

                 happen

                         overnight most of the time. Don’t expect it to.

Expect that you’re having a conversation with God. It might take a while before you get to “the thing.”

Until you realize where the weight comes from, really.

And then one day you realize you aren’t carrying it by yourself anymore. You realize you aren’t carrying it at all.

 cross

If It Takes All Night…

In the course of my adult life, I have dealt quite a bit with those who have suffered many different types of trauma. Typically, this was in the context of a semi-charismatic prayer group, and the trauma sufferers were men and women who had experienced it as a child. They had a different perspective and a lot of years between who they were when the incidents occurred and who they are now. In all cases, they had at least a relatively good support network and a working knowledge of who Jesus was, and how he did things.

I never expected–some ten years later–to be a foster parent on the way to becoming an adoptive parent of a very active young man who in his short lifetime had likely suffered much–certainly much more than most kids his age. My wife and I did twelve weeks of foster training, and it prepared us for some of the things we’ve encountered.

That doesn’t mean it is easy. But what it has done is to make us wholly dependent on God for wisdom, and comfort, and guidance. I believe it’s human nature to want to feel loved in return when you give love, or when you give anything of yourself. It doesn’t always happen. Luke 6 says this about who we should love: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

I have to remind myself there’s a good chance our boy has not had much experience in a loving home, with a loving family. He probably hasn’t had any experience with discipline out of love. Could be he doesn’t know how to be loved at all; how to accept that love is something he has now, in abundance.

He may have some rudimentary head knowledge of Jesus, but if it doesn’t come out of love, it won’t become heart knowledge at all. So what we have to do is show this young man Jesus in a practical way. We make Jesus real to him by showing he is real to us. We do not hide our imperfections and blemishes–rather, we reveal them in the way of edification.

We do not simply pray for, we also pray with him. We show him what a loving family looks like by loving. My wife and I demonstrate what a healthy and Godly marriage looks like.  We discipline because we care, rather than simply punish because we do not. We show affection, and we acknowledge our feelings and their feelings.

We also acknowledge our feelings and our fears and our doubts because they are real and they happen. We acknowledge them from the position of supplicant, because that is what we really all are in the first place. We can talk differences all day, but the truth is that at our cores we are also all the same. Like this young man newly added to our life and family, we are all broken in our own way. Yet we are also repaired in his way, and we need to share that it is a process, and it will take some time, hard as it is to endure.

Everyone knows the story of Moses, fleeing the forces of Pharoah, and parting the Red Sea so his people can escape, and finally be free. Yet do we know the whole story, as described in Exodus? Do we know that Moses, ever obedient to the Lord, was made to set up camp for his people, essentially giving time for Egypt to catch up? God convinces Egypt that the Israelites are lost and wandering: it doesn’t make sense to stop. But then Moses related a message from the Lord, “The Lord, will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14, ESV)

That victory did not come in an instant. And there was still the Red Sea before them, and Pharoah. Rather, the Lord told Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. The water would take care of the rest.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)

One of the great miracles related in the Old Testament–the parting of the Red Sea and the escape of the Israelites from bondage.

all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.”

It took all night.

Not that God couldn’t have done whatever he needed to in an instant, but he didn’t, because he had something for Israel to learn. For us to learn. For me to learn.

He is God. I am not. There is something to learn in all this going on right now. There is something we can take away, even now.

Loving and expecting returns isn’t really love. Loving because we’ve been loved is. Loving as a verb, loving with all our hearts, even when they seem to feel completely the opposite.

We sure don’t always act like we love Jesus.

I think that what we need to do is stretch our hands out over the Sea. It might take all night, but in the end we will cross.

And we will have all of our family, including our newest, with us.

Because he is God. We are not.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes

I heard noises coming from my kitchen this morning, or at least I thought I did. They were not the kind of noises from someone breaking in, or stealing, because I know my otherwise worthless dogs would have barked up a storm, and they were not making any noise at all. It was not my wife, because she was sleeping next to me. It seemed more like the sound of someone moving about and getting ready for their day—the sound of small dishes clinking together, a radio coming on softly. I looked at my bedside clock and it was 0330 exactly (shortly before I normally get up).

I got out of bed and wandered down the hall in my boxers, because why not? I immediately saw a light on in the kitchen, and when I came around the corner, my mother was there in a bathrobe, frying something in a skillet. She turned to look at me and said my name, “Tommy.”

I haven’t been Tommy in a number of years, but this morning I was. I started to respond, but then I realized my bladder was really full, and I rolled over and looked at my clock, and it was exactly 0330.

Although I realized it was a dream right away, it also occurred to me that I hadn’t seen my mother since 1987, and the last time she’d been in a morphine coma. She looked pretty good today, all things considered.

So I sat on the couch, and I read a little. I had a couple microwave pancakes. I was restless, and I couldn’t concentrate, so I pulled up an episode of Hawaii Five-0 on Netflix. Kono was lost at sea on a catamaran trip she began in honor of her mother. There were a lot of flashbacks with Kono and her mom, where the mom would relay this…homespun Hawaiian wisdom to her that helped her survive. “For crying out loud,” I thought. What on earth kind of morning was this going to be?

I guess I was supposed to think about my mother. Which I do almost every day, anyway. So that is what I’ve been doing.

I don’t have a lot of stories of mom passing along wisdom—I don’t remember her that well, honestly.

But I remember she loved old-school country music. In San Diego, the station was called KSON. I don’t know if it still is.

I know she liked to dance—I remember seeing her cut a rug with her brothers when I was very small. We have a couple home movies as well.

I remember rainy picnics on the kitchen floor. Sitting cross-legged on the floor and eating PB & J as my mom sang “rain, rain, go away.”

Other times she taught me this snippet of a George MacDonald poem called Baby. “Where did you come from, baby dear?”

To which my response was “out of everywhere into here.” My sister tells me she had this old book, and it came from there.

I do have one of her old books, though, and I really treasure it. It’s an old and falling-apart Living Bible, featuring marks she made with a fading felt-tip. It was given to her by my aunt Cathy back in 1979. I don’t know how much she read it then—I don’t remember seeing her with it until the months before her death.

There was one psalm she underlined in several places, and I just found that a couple of weeks ago. 31 years after she died. Amazing. And very comforting. Here is Psalm 116, which she underlined in purple, at some point before the end.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice  and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen,     I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me;     the terrors of the grave[a] overtook me.     I saw only trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord:     “Please, Lord, save me!” How kind the Lord is! How good he is!     So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith;     I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again,     for the Lord has been good to me. He has saved me from death,     my eyes from tears,     my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the Lord’s presence     as I live here on earth! 10 I believed in you, so I said,     “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” 11 In my anxiety I cried out to you,     “These people are all liars!” 12 What can I offer the Lord     for all he has done for me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation     and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. 14 I will keep my promises to the Lord     in the presence of all his people.

15 The Lord cares deeply     when his loved ones die. 16 O Lord, I am your servant;     yes, I am your servant, born into your household;     you have freed me from my chains. 17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving     and call on the name of the Lord. 18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord     in the presence of all his people— 19 in the house of the Lord  in the heart of Jerusalem.”

So today I will remember my mom all I can. I will thank the Lord for the time I did have—18 years. Not all good, but good enough. There were struggles, but there were also a great many blessings. I’m grateful for them. If anyone I know reads this, I’ll show you that old bible next time you’re at the house. It’s awesome.

I just remembered my mom used to talk to people on a CB radio my dad put in the kitchen. Her handle was “Ol’ Blue Eyes” to my dad.

That’s awesome, too.

Not trying to be sad, or make anyone tear up. Just remembering Ol’ Blue Eyes.

A good thing to do.