Keeping Clean

This is a sermon I heard a little over a year ago.  It’s given by a man named Sy Rogers, and while he speaks a bit about his struggle with homosexuality,  what it speaks to in a larger sense is the title of the message:  Keeping Clean in a Dirty World.  Take a listen if you have a chance–it’s about 45 minutes long.

 

04%2029%2007%20PM%20Sy%20Rogers.mp3

 

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Better Questions

I’ve been thinking a lot about my older brother lately.  This is a man I have not had any sort of contact with since I was in my early 20’s.  He no longer lives in California, and in truth, does not associate with most of the family.  I don’t think this is really by design on his part, or on any of my sisters, but it is nonetheless how we are.  And to be honest, I don’t care if he lives in a chicken shack somewhere in Kansas–I just don’t want to see him, or really even know about him. 

So why am I thinking about him then?  Because it bothers me that I don’t care about him.  This is a person who is responsible for many of my literal and figurative scars, and many of my core woundings, and on the surface, that might even make sense–he doesn’t deserve to be cared for, right? 

I know in my heart that isn’t the truth, and I’m trying to find a way through those feelings.  I believe I’ve been through forgiveness for my brother, but I’m finding out that isn’t the same thing as love, though it is a part of it.  I don’t feel like I love Tim, and I can’t imagine right now that I ever possibly could.  How many times should I have to forgive him?  Seventy times seven, I know, I know. 

But how do I move on to love?  I want to.  It doesn’t feel right to have a vacuum in my heart when I think about a person.  And that’s exactly how it feels.  Forgiving is not forgetting, and I’d like more than anything to be able to forget and move on with things.  Should I forget?  Probably not.  Certainly not, even.  I know Jesus’ heart broke for me during the trying times, I know that in my own heart, and that truth has been part of my own healing journey with Him.  And I suppose I even know in the abstract that Jesus’ heart broke for Tim as well.

There’s a reason somewhere for the boy he was, and the man he became.  He has his own woundings, and scars, and all those things I have. We had the same parents and upbringing.  Yet he got it a little more hardcore from my parents than I did–all I got was apathy to my existence.  So what do I do? 

Obviously, I need to ask Jesus about it, and this is certainly something to bring up during therapy.  How does a man move from hate, to indifference, to forgiveness, to apathy, to love?

Do I simply try to remind myself that this person who so profoundly affected my life is also, like myself, someone Jesus died for?  I’m sure that’s part of it.  Is it OK not to love your brother?  It doesn’t feel like it.   How do I get healing for something that doesn’t really even feel like a wound most times?  Can a heart be soft in some places, and hard in others?  Have I really even forgiven?  Can I be forgiven myself?  Is there something within me that I need to ask Tim’s forgiveness for?  What does brotherly love even feel like?

So much to pray about, and talk to Jesus about.

….sigh…I have better questions, than I have answers…

Unchanging one

Last year was my first time at Spirit West Coast (SWC is a large music and culture festival for Christian bands and speakers–sort of like Ozzfest, but without most of the wordly trappings, like drugs, alcohol, and tattoo stands, not to mention the rampant occult…influences).  Early on in the afternoon, a guy came on that I’d never heard, or heard of before.  Todd Agnew.  His lead guitarist sat down in a chair and placed his guitar across his lap.

Great, I thought. Country.  He tore into his first song, Reached Down.  Not country at all–more like a fusion of electric blues and rock, and it woke up the crowd pretty quickly.  Todd’s just a normal looking guy–jeans, t-shirt, standing on the huge stage barefoot, with an acoustic guitar in his hands.  And he seemed very humble.  After that first song, he spoke for a minute, telling the crowd that he and his band had just come from the airport, and had not even had time for a sound check–they just came on and played that first song.  Then he stopped and prayed for several minutes.  I don’t remember exactly the words he used, but it moved me deeply, and after his set (which was incredible), I purchased a couple of his CDs at the merchandise table. 

Todd affected me like no Christian artist I’d ever heard.  It wasn’t just about lifting up your hands to heaven (though it was that, too).  He looks at God, and his relationship with Him, the way I try to (and don’t always succeed at doing).  He talks about the constancy and sureness of God’s love, in the way you don’t hear about it from a lot of Christian bands.  His pictures aren’t always pretty, but they’re always real.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of Christian music, or just a fan of really good blues-rock (or a fan of both), I suggest checking out Todd Agnew.  His first CD, Grace Like Rain,  had several hits.  The following song is from his follow-up, Reflection of Something, and I recommend that, too.  This is a good example of his lyrical style…

Unchanging One

I looked for love in every single situation
For something, someone
That would last a lifetime, a love that never dies
And I find

CHORUS

You know when I wake, when I rise, when I pray, when I curse You
And You love me the same
You know when I stumble and fall, and You’re there through it all
The only unchanging one

I looked for faith on the edge of my roof
No fear, daddy’s here
Still I struggle to trust You with the rest of my life
When I could just fly

CHORUS

You know when I wake, when I rise, when I pray, when I curse You
And You love me the same
You know when I stumble and fall, and You’re there through it all
The only unchanging one
I looked for God.

CHORUS

You know when I wake, when I rise, when I pray, when I curse You
And You love me the same
You know when I stumble and fall, and You’re there through it all
The only unchanging one

You know my inmost being
You know my deepest scars
You know my darkest secrets
You know and You love and You love

Lorica

 

I’ve always been fascinated by worship music, even before I was a Christian.   I liked the contemporary style Christian music, too—there were several groups when I was growing up in the 80’s that weren’t too bad.  Well, Petra wasn’t too bad, or Barren Cross—but there were quite a few groups that were not very…well thought of. Stryper comes to mind. A great many people bought their records in droves, but most people outside of Christianity (and many within) condemned them for many things. Too hard. Too soft. Poor singing and playing. I thought they were ok, and no doubt they were successful, but…they took a lot of heat.    Where was I?  Oh, yeah.

 Worship music.

 It’s always impacted me, even when I didn’t understand it. I think maybe the first worship song I ever heard was toward the end of the movie The Color Purple, where Shug Avery is trying to lift Miss Celie’s spirits by singing to her at the neighborhood juke joint.  The scene cuts to her estranged father’s church, where the people worshipping hear the music start up at the juke (Shug’s father hasn’t spoken to her since her adolescence, when she began singing, and leading a…colorful life).  The choir huddles briefly and then begins singing God is Trying to Tell You Something.

     Shug hears the song begin, and the young soloist’s voice begin to soar, and she stops singing Miss Celie’s Blues.

“…can’t sleep and night, and you wonder why

     maybe God is trying to tell you something…”

    She closes her eyes for a moment and then begins to sing the hymn, softly at first, then with more and more power.  She leaves the juke, and begins the short walk to the church, with the juke patrons following in her wake.  She is resplendent in a yellow dress, and with her arms flung out, she walks into the church, her voice huge, powerful, feeling the words, feeling the power of the song, and getting it. 

     The young soloist steps back into the choir, recognizing that the moment is not about her; it’s about the two people before her: Pastor, and “fallen” woman, the prodigal daughter at last returned.

     Shug steps to her father, and he just looks at her for a long moment, then slowly takes her into his massive arms.  He has heard her, and finally gotten it himself.  He’s understood the most basic of truths about God; he will tell you something.  He will knock you off your high horse the moment you let him.  He will help you to forgive, and to repent.  And as Shug’s father, the fiery pastor, holds his beloved daughter, she whispers to him, “See Daddy, sinners have soul, too.”

 

     Darn! I got lost again.  Right, right. That was the first worship song I heard.  And it demonstrated to me—or allowed me to picture—the powerful changes that God can bring about in a person’s life.  That music can bring about in a person’s life.

     It’s impossible to count how many times I’ve been moved by the music since I’ve been at Canyon Viewand on the beach.  Ron is amazing, and we’re all so very lucky to have him, or any one of probably a dozen people on that worship team.  Of course, not every song will connect, but when they do, it’s truly like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.  There’ve been so many songs over the past three years, but I think the one that’s always really gotten to me the most—like God Is Trying To Tell You Something did for Shug’s father—is Be Thou My Vision.  And it isn’t just about being moved, though it is extremely moving.  Just look at some of the words:

 Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me save that thou art

Thou my best thought by day or by night

Waking or sleeping thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word

I ever with thee, thou with me, Lord

Thou my great Father, I thy true Son

Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

 

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise

Thou my inheritance now and always

Thou and thou only, first in my heart

High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

      The music is great, too—sometimes you’ll hear pipes, sometimes not—but always the same lilting melody.  Yet it’s the lyrics that get to me.  It’s just such a perfect, heartfelt expression of fealty and devotion.  It eloquently expresses the desires of probably every Christian heart:

“Thou my great Father, I thy true son

thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one…”

 

     So, like anyone in this enlightened day and age would do who wanted to know something about something he knew little about, I Googled it.  And I found out this:

    “Be Thou My Vision is a traditional Christian hymn (duh), which can be traced to Ireland but is now sung in English-Speaking churches around the world (kinda knew that part, too).

    The text (Rop tú mo baile) is often attributed to Dallan Forgaill in the 8th century; in any case, this text had been a part of Irish monastic tradition for centuries before the hymn itself was written. It is an example of a lorica, an incantation recited for protection. It was translated from Old Irish into English by Mary E. Byrne in “Eriú,” Journal of the School of Irish Learning, in 1905. The English text was first versified by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912.  ….Thus, the English translation of the hymn itself is fairly recent and the Elizabethan vocabulary and structure is somewhat an anachronism. Be Thou My Vision has become the quintessential Irish hymn in English-speaking churches and is often sung around St Patrick’s Day. Despite its traditional nature and the seemingly archaic quality of the text, Be Thou My Vision has become a popular song performed by many Contemporary Christian musicians, such as Rebecca St James and Ginny Owens.

    The tune the hymn is sung to is of Irish folk origin (from a song called Slane). It is named for a hill about ten miles from Tara hill in County Meath. It is on Slane hill, according to an account in the “Confessions of St. Patrick” that the Irish saint defied the command of the pagan king Loigaire by lighting the Pascal candle on Easter Eve. St. Patrick’s act was done in defiance of the king’s edict that no fire could be ignited before (emphasis added) the royal fire was lit by the king’s hand on Tara hill. The royal fire was kindled to celebrate the pagan Spring festival and symbolized the return of light and change of season following the darkness of winter.”

     So, St Patrick would have no other Gods before Jesus.  No small thing, considering the kind of things that would happen to people in those days if they defied kings, pagan or otherwise.  But other than that connection, the song has little to do with Slane Hill, or Irish mythology. 

     OK.  Patrick was a brave and Godly man.  But what about the guy that supposedly wrote Be Thou My Vision?

    “Saint Dallan Forgaill (Dallan Forchella; Dallan Forgaill; Dallan of Cluain Dallain; Eochaidh) was a Catholic Irish Poet. Dallan was born around 530 AD in Magh Slécht, County Cavan, Ireland, and studied so intensively that he literally became blind from writing poetry and studying. He was a first cousin of St. Mogue. Dallan was martyred in 598, when pirates broke into the island monastery of Inniskeel, Donegal, where he is buried, and was beheaded. It is also said that God reattached his head to his body after being martyred.”

    Interesting, indeed.  An Irishman, writer of obscure, Gaelic poetry, composes (or allegedly composes) a song that affects people all over the world hundreds of years later.  Shows you a thing or two about the power of God to change lives.  Also makes me think about John Newton, the Englishman (and former slave trader) who wrote Amazing Grace.  And I thought about St Patrick, the person who likely inspired Forgaill to write it through his lorica.  What’s a lorica?  Glad you asked.

    “In the Christian monastic tradition, a lorica is an incantation recited for protection. In addition to being recited by monks, loricas could also be found inscribed on the shields or armorial trappings of a knight, who might recite them before going into battle.

    Notable loricas include Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride, which in its English translation provides the text for the hymn Be Thou My Vision, and the Lorica of Saint Patrick”:

    So a lorica is something that monks would recite for protection from probably simply the world, from evil, from temptation.  And warriors would recite them before battles.  Even more interesting—brings to mind King David, singing psalms before battles (or after battles, for that matter).  But what, exactly, was the Lorica of St Patrick?

“I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

 

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

 

 

 

 

 

 


I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

Now look at the complete lyrics for Be Thou My Vision:
  

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me save that thou art

Thou my best thought by day or by night

Waking or sleeping thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word

I ever with thee, thou with me, Lord

Thou my great Father, I thy true Son

Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

 

Be thou my battle shield, sword for the fight

Be thou my dignity, thou my delight

Thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower

Raise thou me heavenward, O power of my power.

 

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise

Thou mine inheritance, now and always

Thou and thou only, first in my heart

High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

 

High King of heaven, after victory won

May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall

Still be my vision, O ruler of all.

 

     Let me just say that I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with expressing fealty and devotion to the Lord—we should.  And even if you only ever take Be Thou My Vision, or any other worship song or hymn we sing in that regard, it’s completely worthwhile and deserved.  But consider that all those songs, and this one in particular, are loricas, to some extent.  And while we are praising Him, and lifting our hands in worship, I think we should also be mindful that we are inscribing the words not just in our hearts, but on the insides of our shields, and we are reciting them before battle.

 

Be thou my battleshield, sword for the fight

Be thou my dignity, thou my delight

Thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower

Raise thou me heavenward, O power of my power

 

     I think we forget that sometimes.  And that’s a shame.  It brings to mind a scene in Return of the King, when Aragorn is trying to convince Theoden to commit the Rohirrim to aiding Gondor.  Theoden is loath to endanger his men, when he feels he was slighted by Gondor when Rohan needed aid.

     “I would not risk open war,” he says.

    “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not,” replies Aragorn.

 

     I know I talk about the whole warfare angle a lot, but really, is that a bad thing?  It’s just so easy to get caught up in the somewhat misguided New Testament ideal of Jesus that so many people have—the kindly man in the robe patting little kids on the head, and sharing water with Samaritan women.  Of course, Jesus was those things, and so much more.  But that wasn’t all he was.  Yes, he wept for us, and died for us, but he also fought for us—and continues to.  And that’s the thing: I think open war is upon us, whether we would risk it or not, and whether or not we admit it to ourselves or anyone else.  I think we need to be reciting loricas, and not just asking the Lord for a good day, though I am admittedly as guilty of that as anyone.  We need to put on the armor daily.  I need to put on the armor.…

 

can’t sleep at night, and you wonder why

maybe God is trying to tell you something…”