Friday, April 30, 2010

An Immense Announcement Demanding Attention

This one, unlike the last one, is not about me, but about a friend. Stephen Carradini is one of the best writers with whom I am personally acquainted. I have known him for three and a half years, and have had the opportunity as a friend and mentor in that time to watch him grow in his knowledge of God. I have watched him grow from a self-assured boy into a humbler man, seen him deepen in his faith, and heard him say at least a dozen times, "This is the worst day of my entire life. Seriously."

Two nights ago, he went public with his newest art project: Gospelized. The project is an experiment in finding an artistic and unique way to comment on the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ's atoning work in history. You should read it. Stephen is not only doctrinally solid; he has a vision of God-honoring artistic excellence that matches my own and the talent to execute it well.

From his About page:

Short: Gospelized is an ongoing art project about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stories, essays, poems, pictures, drawings, songs and more will grace these pages daily in an honest exploration of what the gospel means to an artist.

Long: I am distressed by the lack of Christians making good art.

You should read the rest of the "long" description... and then you should read some of the essays, poems, and songs he has posted. You should add him to your RSS feed reader, have his posts delivered to your inbox, or check his site every day. I say that not because he is my friend (or at least: not merely because he is my friend) but because he is endeavoring to do what is all-too rare in our Christian circles: make good art. Rarer yet, he is succeeding. You will enjoy his art, and you will come away understanding God and the gospel better.

What are you waiting for? Go read Gospelized!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Planting Seeds Under Fluorescent Lights

I am running data—for the fourth time—bored out of my mind. Stare at the screen; wait for the numbers to reach 100; check the results—and repeat. This is not what I dreamt of doing with my life. It still isn't. Somewhere beyond the gray skies and fluorescent suns of this box that is my current vocation is a life of purpose and meaning. Or perhaps it is in that box: finding little ways to knock metaphorical windows in a building that has only one of the physical variety. Maybe purpose is not something that awaits discovery; maybe it is found instead in devotion to excellence and doing work well, wherever we are. Maybe dream jobs are as mythical as their name implies. Maybe I would still have days of boredom and frustration were I doing exactly what I think would bring me fulfillment.

God has made us uniquely, called us peculiarly, and shaped us strangely (so to speak). The deep-seated discontent that sometimes rustles under a bed of fall leaves, sometimes threatens to shake our walls down entirely, is a good thing. We would accomplish little, and strive for nothing, if we were always content to simply drift along with the ocean of humanity surrounding us. As a definition for our days, however, discontent fails quite pathetically. What it begins it has not the power to finish. Fires burn on oxygen and wood, not a continuous supply of sparks. If we are to meaningful lives, we will have to find purposes that are deeper and truer than a persistent unhappiness. Sojourners we may be, but we are in this land until the days of our journey are finished.

God is enough, I remind myself. He satisfies like nothing else: not work, not friendship, not food, not sunsets, not sex, not music, not marriage, not anything under the sun. This gray box can rot, or it can flourish. Perhaps my purpose, for now, is simply to nudge it toward greenery in human form. Black text on a white terminal window: the process advances to 23%.

God is enough.

Spring green leaves in...

Spring green leaves in
horizontal light of
just-past sunrise

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Up Late, and Theologically Thinking unThematically

It's been a long time since I've been this unable to sleep. Plenty of reasons why, and none of them matter at this particular moment. Suffice it to say that the soporific effects of an antihistamine sound terribly attractive at the moment. Or rather, that attractive as it sounds, I cannot conscience thus abusing a drug.

Two thoughts that crossed my mind on the way to work today, which I promptly committed to memory and then e-mailed to myself after getting to my desk:

  1. God has deeply blessed the church with the variety of teachers he has supplied it. I plan to tackle this topic from a different angle in a few weeks on Pillar, but for now, I simply note that I am encouraged by the variety of preachers who are presently reaching a wide audience. When men as diverse in preaching style as John Piper (in all his glorious bombast) and David Platt (in all his mellow Southern charm) are serving the people of God fruitfully, the diversity of his gifting is made clear. It is very good that we have such diverse teachers: the intensity and argumentative nature of Piper's preaching stirs my soul, but frustrates others. Platt's gentle exposition encourages many tender-hearted men and women, while I frankly struggle to concentrate (though I am blessed when I succeed). The same picture is (or should be!) true in the local church: the diversity of gifts and the diversity of expressions thereof edify the body far more than a monolithic similarity ever could.
  2. "I just realized this great spiritual truth! (Behold my insight in all its greatness!)" And the man discipling me looked on and smiled; I did not realize for another year how often he had said just what I had "discovered" for myself. All of us have done this, I think. Discipleship, as Stephen Carradini commented to me yesterday, is often the amusing experience of watching someone discover—as though entirely out of thin air—truths that you have been steadfastly repeating for the previous two years. We are slow to learn, and slower yet to understand that we learn slowly and usually from others' wisdom.

Good night!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Veritas, Os Guiness, and Good Speaking [sic]

Tonight, I had the pleasure of sitting down at OU's first Veritas Forum, hosted by a number of collaborating campus ministries and local churches. The speaker was Os Guiness—probably the single most eloquent and cogent speaker I have ever heard in person. Undoubtedly, the British accent helped his speech sound "cool" to our American ears, but the fact is, he spoke without pause for nearly an hour, without notes, in the most concise, coherent way I have ever heard.

Speaking well—rhetoric—is a lost art, sad to say. Perhaps some of us will learn it from our elders and resurrect it. Memorizing quotes and a detailed outline, and then speaking with words that carry power and persuade by being well-chosen is hard work, but well worth the cost.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Guiness' presentation was the way he very carefully addressed himself to an audience used to thinking in postmodern terms, without endorsing the terms of postmodernity. He spoke in a language that my generation would clearly understand, without for a moment compromising on the essentials of the truth. This, too, is an art largely lost to us—and I wonder if its loss is not for many of the same reasons as the loss of rhetoric?

We no longer know how to speak well because we no longer know how to think well. We know longer know how to communicate well because we no longer know how to think about others well. This, of course, has ever been a rare art—but it will only grow rarer as we cease to see its worth.

Travesty!—Losing Thoughts Because I Didn't Write Them Down

I need to start writing down ideas that would make for good blog posts—either here or at Pillar on the Rock—when they pop into my head. I remember having at least three good ideas for blog posts today, two of them perfect for Pillar. Alas, I did not write them down, and now I sit here scratching my head, wondering what I should write about.

On that note, to all my readers: how would you go about remembering the blogging ideas that pop into your head when driving on a crowded highway? Writing it down, obviously, is out of the question. Help me out here: this is when I get (and lose) a solid third or more of my blog ideas throughout the day!

Friday, April 23, 2010

"The Importance of Not Studying Theology"

The Gospel Coalition regularly posts a journal of evangelical theology called Themelios. In this issue, Carl Trueman writes a helpful corrective to the tendency to become overly absorbed by theological study for its own sake:

But this is not the whole story. One of the great problems with the study of theology is how quickly it can become the study of theology, rather than the study of theology, that becomes the point. We are all no doubt familiar with the secular mindset which repudiates any notion of certainty in thought; and one of the reasons for this, I suspect, is that intellectual inquiry is rather like trying to get a date with the attractive girl across the road with whom you have secretly fallen in love: the thrill comes more from the chase and the sense of anticipation than it does from actually finding the answer or eliciting agreement to go to the movies.

This plays out in theology in two ways. First and most obvious, there is a basic question of motivation which needs to be addressed right at the start of theological endeavor: am I doing this purely and simply for personal satisfaction? Has the study of theology become so central to my identity that the whole of my being is focused on it and seeks to derive things from it in a way which is simply unhealthy and distorts both its purpose and the person who I am? That is something with which all theologians will, I suspect, wrestle until the day they die, being part and parcel of who we are as fallen creatures; but there are also things we can do which ease the situation.

The whole thing is well worth your time, especially if you're someone who spends any amount of time studying theology.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eyes open to hope

I love the little moments when God stuns me with an old realization again. I hate how my profession can become no more than words as life's sameness exacts its daily toll from my hands. It is as though I have a bank of passion, which is filled in quiet little ways—conversations with friends that remind me that I am not alone, a morning watching the sun come up behind thick clouds, long deep meditations on the word of God—and drained by nearly every circumstance I face in my days. Not because they are bad, per se, but because they bear so little resemblance to the world that I desire to see.

The weather outside all day has been beautiful. Gray skies have let rain seep down at intervals, soaking the earth in fresh moisture without the tumult that inevitably leads to floods around here. But were this weather to remain, day after day after day, it would soon take a very heavy toll on my spirits. I grew up in one of the sunniest places in the whole United States—with mountains and high blue skies with pillared white clouds. Too many days of rain depresses me, not because I dislike rain (quite the contrary) but because there is an unchangingness to it.

So it is with life. I struggle, not so much with the truly hard things, but with the ordinary things that simply continue on. Passion is sapped so easily by the ordinary toils of each day, while it remains strong and sometimes is even fueled by adversity. Few things, in my admittedly brief experience, so quickly sap the human soul of its vitality as feeling that one is trapped in a meaningless existence, doomed to drag one's limbs forward day after day toward nothing.

Thankfully, God perennially reminds us that it is not nothing toward which we are striving. We are not without hope, even when the skies of our lives remain overcast for years—because we live in the light from his grace having appeared, looking forward to the time when his glory will appear. We have promises that we can rely on, knowing that God does not lie.

Thus, I find more and more that my day to day tasks and chores must be approached eschatologically. When I live my life in sight of heaven, cognizant that the apparent meaninglessness of much of my time is, in fact, pointed toward the great end of knowing God (the very definition of eternal life), I recognize that even those tasks which are hardest to bear do in fact have worth and meaning. When I run the race not looking at the ground beneath my feet, changeless and even, but straining to see the goal that awaits me, I find that those changeless steps each has a purpose, however small. It is when I believe that the purpose of each step is itself that I falter and stumble. No runner finishes a race by thinking of how glorious his next stride will be—he thinks of the prize that awaits at the end for having run well.

So we run with eyes full of hope, and we learn to delight in long days of rain as well as bright days of sun—because we know that both are pointed not toward themselves but toward God our Savior's ultimate appearing to finish what he has begun. We can live lives that are unexciting, mundane, and meaningful. Indeed, that is what most of us are called to do—and we ought to be grateful for days that are unexciting and mundane just as we are for those that are thrilling. The fact that excitement makes it easier to give thanks simply means that it is more important to work at giving thanks when our lives are not exciting.

A little bird knocks

A little bird knocks
On my window seeking some
Respite from the rain

gentle morning

And the gray world slowly lightened
From occluded night through slate blues
Until a dome of dimm├ęd white
Blessed the world with gentle mourning

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two rants (sort of)

First, I was listening to Mercy Me the other day, and I generally enjoy their music. Not the most amazing thing in the world, but solid, and enjoyable when I want a break from sermons and classical music and soundtracks. (Occasionally, I do get in the mood for vocal music. Not often, but occasionally.) One of their tracks from Undone has an annoying innacurate statement in it, though: sung to God, "You are everything illogical, and that's okay." Well, beyond the fact that God being everything illogical would mean he would, among other things, be himself and not himself, etc.—I'm willing to grant poetic license some room to work with here—it's just a terrible line. God is not illogical.

Beyond comprehension? Absolutely. Not capable of being reduced to terms described by mere human reason? Certainly. Not merely logical? Without a doubt. But everything illogical? I know, it's not what they were trying to say (they were trying to get at his incomprehensibility and the greatness of all he has done, and how it defies human expectations or understanding)... but it is what they did say. And what we say means something, sometimes even the opposite of what we intend it to mean.

Anyone who has been in any kind of committed relationship—a deep friendship, a romance, you name it—understands that what we mean is not what the other person hears: what we say is. How we choose to phrase things is important. So, when dealing with songs, we should be careful in how we string words together, not merely saying things because they sound cool and sort of communicate what we are thinking or feeling. (That, as an aside, is part of what makes Jon Foreman so solid as a songwriter: every line clearly has some thought behind it, and it is not haphazard. The same can be said, in a totally different style, of Brooke Fraser. If you're not listening to at least one of them, you should be, so follow those links and get some good music.)

In part, this is frustrating because I am deeply committed to saying true things about God, and think that all of us ought to be far more careful in how we speak of him. That responsibility is only heightened when one has a large platform and an attentive audience—which Mercy Me certainly has had! It is also annoying because the song gets stuck in my head... and then I'm left with words ricocheting around in my brain that are not only theologically imprecise (which would already be sufficient to produce considerable annoyance) but deeply inaccurate. In other words, as egregious as their error was, it is made far worse that it was married to a sufficiently catchy tune and sufficiently well put-together background that it is a memorable inaccuracy.

Music is dangerous, people. Remember that. (But remember that dangerous can be synonymous with good. Think Aslan...)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Seventeen Magazine Stupidity

I have been busy working on a pair of monster posts going up at Pillar this week, so I haven't been writing as much. A nasty case of writer's block last week didn't help either. Despite my busyness, I felt the need to share one amazing part of my day, though.

I was standing in the line at Walmart, waiting to check out with groceries. The headline of Seventeen magazine (which is pure rot, as a side note) caught my eye: Finally!—the secret to getting ANY guy you want! Now, obviously, they're trying to sell a magazine, and headlines are the place for hyperbole in the art of sale. To some extent, no doubt, they're succeeding: they did, after all, catch my attention despite my best attempts to avoid looking anywhere near the garbage that is the checkout-line magazine-rack.

But really? The final secret, so that a girl can have any guy she wants? Just one short magazine article with some tips, and BAM!—she's a man magnet for whoever she sets her eyes on? Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Robert Downey, Jr., look out: a horde of high school girls are headed your way with head-turning, heart-stopping, ardor-inducing secrets. You may be mobbed by dozens at once, finally being so overwhelmed by falling madly in love with all of them at the same time that you soon pass out from the sheer emotional intensity of it all. High school football captains, attractive nerdy guys, and guitar-players should also be warned: any current relationships you are in are almost certainly doomed if another girl has set her eye on you. If your current girlfriend has read the magazine, too, you are certain to face an onslaught of conflicting, confusing, and calamitous thoughts and emotions as you are subjected to the whims of every woman who finds you passingly attractive.

The sheer inanity of it all astounds even me.