Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lenten 40: in the mist... comes grace

there was a grim silence this morning as i woke. the early morning mist and fog provided a backdrop of mystery. but when i stepped out of the back door and wandered into the dampness, it became eerily calm. the birds were full in song, perched high above in the tree tops, but there song did not match the environment. there was yet to be a showing of the sun, and by the looks of it, there would not be a showing today, at least not this morning. perhaps later.

i walked out into the gray. the farther i would walk, the more my appearance could, potentially, bleed into one with the grayish hues coming down, surrounding me in the midst of the rain. saturated land under foot... moist air above... it was soothing.

and now i reside inside the dryness of this brick building, with plush amenities all around. yet i feel drawn to go back out to the mist. it was in many ways refreshing.

in my current stillness, a collage of music plays softly. a collection of instrumental songs that play like a movie soundtrack, more like a real-life soundtrack. my mind is making pictures. a story is playing out in my mind. it's a story of silence and solitude... of desperation and depression. of coming hope. of grace defined.

on one side is a fast forward reflection of the joyous times, of the good times... the times we all love to remember. on the other side plays slow-motion recaptured moments of disgrace.

the moving pictures are at war. which will win out?

a calm, steady drum beat begins to mount. in my minds eye, out of the mist; out of the gray, comes a shadowy figure. he stands tall, has broad shoulders and walks with confidence. i am burdened. he sees the war within me. with all exposed, poured out as if to be examined by a scientist, he comes closer. he takes my right hand and claims the baggage that i was once holding. the bags are filled with my moments of shame and dishonor... and my moments of despair: temptations given over to sin, my piercing tongue, the loss of a friend, the death of my father... all there, disheveled, disorderly inside of my suitcase.

no words are spoken. but he looks at me. deeply. as if to look directly into my very own soul. i shy away for a second, but his hand lifts my chin. forced eye contact. awkward... that is until i saw his eyes. they were so warm. how did i miss this? he takes it all, the baggage, my baggage, and all of it's contents, and throws it over his shoulder. unexpectedly, i felt no shame.

a sigh of relief. the mist becomes cooler on my face.

he then takes my left hand... and he is opened up to a world of joy. a smile lurks from behind his shadowy self. the happy times, filled with rejoicing and gladness light up his darkened face. he shares in the memories of true happiness with me, just me. again, without saying a word it is as though he fully understands each and every joyful moment, captured in time and space within the confines of my beautiful mind. he takes his hands and lifts them high... lifting up all of the good things found within me. High and lifted up. shining in the light of his glory. the light pierces through the gray mist of the morning. his face now lit up and exposed, i saw a smile... never have i seen such a genuine smile. he then speaks his first words: "we... give... thanks!"

and with that, he lowered his hands, put his hands on my face and softly gave me an assured look of hope and with it grace fell upon me. i felt it. like a warm blanket that covered all of me. the tingling from head to tow remained as he turned and waved. slowly, he heaved my heavy bags on to his shoulders and walked out until there was no line on the horizon. the light followed him, but the mist and gray remained behind.

i felt relief. i felt free.

in my mind i heard the soft melody of a piano playing music filled with raw emotion. and i was reminded of the verse of scripture that says "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." [1]

through joy and pain... sunshine and rain... God walks with us. are we aware? do we see and hear? taste and touch?

my mind has now returned to my present reality. i am now compelled to leave the safety of this brick-laden building. ready to head back out into the mist, so that i can experience once more the wonderful, matchless grace of God. raining down upon me.

never forget. never forget.

[1] Acts 17:27

[inspired by the following songs:
Naked Snow - Decoder Ring
Please, Let's Try Again - Linford Detweiler
Failing Eyes - Jeff Johnson
Opus 36 - Dustin O'Halloran
Tuolumne - Eddie Vedder
Iguazu - Gustavo Santaolalla
Coloring Shoes - Explosions In The Sky
Residential Love Song - K.C. Accidental
Mark Jamming - Explosions In The Sky
Treefingers - Radiohead
Matador - Daniel Lanois
Scattered Black and Whites - Elbow
I Am So Much More Me That You Are Perfectly You - Eluvium
Glacial - Hammock
Garrison - Film School
Loosing Games - Explosions In The Sky
Half Time - Mogwai

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lenten 40: abandoned places

[photo by Samantha Duggan]

there's an old, abandoned hospital just on the edge of town. every time i drive past it, i am fascinated. emptiness with scattered things left behind, i imagine, fills the building. it was once a tuberculosis hospital. people were quarantined there. trapped. forgotten. over time, the building deteriorated and was left to occupy space in the midst of a peaceful countryside.

soon, the Molly Stark Hospital will be torn down, that is if enough money can be secured, and what once was a place for the sick and the diseased will be replaced by a community park.

what is it about abandoned places that remain so intriguing? is it the untold or forgotten stories of each place? is it the mystery? the haunting feeling that comes when in the presence of such a place?

photographer Henk van Rensberge has a website full of his photographs of [abandoned-places]. a simple google search will bring you to many 'abandoned' images.

there is something to leaving everything behind with a reckless abandon, to do something greater. perhaps it's to follow one's dreams or to do what seems impossible. maybe it's putting aside the mistakes of the past and striving for a better way of living.

but leaving it all behind... no matter what 'it' is, is not easy. leaving behind childish behavior... leaving behind addiction... leaving behind abuse or anger or whatever it is that is holding us back is going to be painful. moving forward and pressing on is what we were designed to do, but the trap is always there... and sometimes we don't have the guts to leave.

this is just the place for faith in one who is greater than you or i.

the question then comes: "what are we abandoning ourselves to?" there is a better way out there for all to choose, if we so choose. it may mean abandoning things that we love (for all the wrong reasons) so that we may abandon ourselves to Jesus. the better way starts when we give up completely and stop trying to make it on our own. the better way begins when we are empty.

what will there be to show of us if we choose to walk alone? nothing more than a shell of an abandoned building with truths that have been long forgotten and stories that were never told.

may these abandoned places remind us of what doesn't have to be. may our stories of abandon be told with boldness.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lenten 40: the impossible gift

My son Micah turned 6 years old last week. Before his birthday, he made a wish list and stuck it to the refrigerator for all to see. On the list were the usual stuff that a boy would want: a new bike, Steelers stuff, matchbox cars, a magic set, a science kit, etc. At the bottom of the wish list he put "I want to fly." I asked him about it and he asked what he would need to get for his birthday that could help him fly.

Micah has many fascinations (computers, video cameras, technology, filling notebooks with made-up stories) so I just passed this off as just another one of those. Then last night, after he had been in bed for a while, he came to the top of the stairs and was weeping almost uncontrollably. We asked him what was wrong and he said that he had been praying to God for a 'really long time' that God would make him be able to fly and it hasn't happened yet. "Why didn't i get that for my birthday?" he cried out, sitting on the steps.

I tried to explain to him that that was an impossible gift. Humans can't fly on their own, only if in an airplane or spaceship.

Man did that get me thinking. He had such desire, such passion for something that to me seems impossible, but to him, seems very possible.

In my Lenten reading plan for the day I read about the cost of Salvation and the cost of discipleship. "Salvation is free but the cost of discipleship is enormous" (R. Job - A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God; pg. 135) Many of us have a hard time even getting to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus (and the cost that comes with it) because we can not get past the 'Salvation is free' part. We spend so much time and energy trying to earn favor, from mankind and from God that we miss the pure beauty of that which is free.

Salvation is an impossible gift; sometimes impossible (so it seems) to grasp. Why would such a sacrifice be made for me... at no cost? In the human mind, such a sacrifice so that all men might be free seems impossible. For those whom have yet to grab onto that lifeline, perhaps it is impossible. But with faith like a child, with faith like my son has that someday he will be able to fly, we can believe with our whole being.

Micah has often talked about his desire to be a Policeman when he grows up. I remember when I was that age wanting with all of my heart to be a fireman. Those childhood dreams are the fuel for a creative mind. As Jen and I explained to him last nite: God has a plan for him, policeman, writer, future president of Apple Computers (his idol is Steve Jobs... no joke) or as a friend of ours suggested: Astronaut. whatever it is, it is not impossible as long as he holds truth and belief close to his heart.

If we can grab on to our Salvation, found only in Christ - the possibilities are endless. But it is our higher calling then to embrace the cost of discipleship; to offer ourselves as fully as we can; to become the ears, eyes, voice and hands of Jesus Christ to a hurting and needy world and church.

As Rueben job so eloquently has written: "The Cost of Salvation? It is completely free and without cost. The cost of discipleship? Only our whole lives. Nothing more, nothing less."

Get in on the glory.

Embrace the 'impossible'. For nothing is impossible with God. [Luke 1:37]

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

U2 - No Line On the Horizon (thoughts expressed after my first few listens)

U2 - No Line on the Horizon

below are my initial thoughts after my first few listens of the new U2 release that i pre-ordered from iTunes and downloaded today.
Please note, these thoughts could easily change after repeated listens...
No Line on the Horizon - a nice, new sound to a brand new record... what else could one ask for? There is tension in the vocals, it seems. Repeated listens made this opening track more enjoyable. There are many layers here, compliments of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, I’m sure. There are elements of this song and others on this album that remind me of mid-90’s recordings, Pop & Zooropa. Not sure why. I think some of the sound & instrumental elements of this song and Magnificent reminded me of Lady With the Spinning Head, but with a different lyrical tone to the lyrics. Really, though, U2 dared to make a record that was not really like anything they have recorded in a while. The complex layers are enjoyable.

Magnificent - This might be the best song on this album. I could imagine this song being the song of the summer... It has enough of a pop feel in it, matched with a driving hook of a chorus “Only love can heal such a scar.” Powerful lyrics! The final minute and 30 seconds are magnificent. Edge seems free. That is a beautiful thing to hear.

Moment of Surrender - A soulful slow jam or sorts with nice use of what appears to be a Hammond B3 or some sort of keyboard. I like the pacing of the song and the soulful lyrics. i do not like, what becomes a recurring theme on this album: the many vocals on the chorus. Producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno are providing backing vocals with Edge. Not a fan. Maybe it’s because i’m not used to that sound coming from U2 - Bono leading and Edge backing is what i’d prefer. This will be a fun one to play live, i am sure. I can see the potential for an improvised guitar solo - which is not customary to any U2 show, but Edge is certainly capable of pulling it off.

Unknown Caller - Musically, i like the slow build. 1 min. 50 seconds until the first verse is a nice change from the traditional U2. Again, no fan of the group vocals on the chorus. “Restart and reboot yourself... Force quit and move to trash”? Possibly the cheesiest lyrics ever written by a band that commands higher expectations. Enjoyable instrumentation at the end. There seems to be a lot of freedom in this song.

I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight - At first i wasn’t keen on the title. The first words “She’s a rainbow and she loves the peaceful life” sort of drag you in and hook you right from the start, though. I’ve already said this, but this song also has nice pacing to it... a nice, natural, fresh flow of sorts.

Get On Your Boots - Ever since this single was released over a month ago, I was not a huge fan. First off I didn’t like it as a lead single... certainly not up to Vertigo’s standards or even Beautiful Day, for that matter. U2’s success in the 2000’s has been strongly based on their lead singles. I will admit that the song has grown on me and hearing it in it’s placement on the album (track 6) seems to fit. Does anybody else find that the verses seem to resemble The Escape Club’s ‘Wild Wild West’ from the late 80’s? One thing enjoyable from this song is that it is one of many songs on this album that showcase Adam Clayton’s bass playing ability. Well deserved.

Stand Up Comedy - Not real excited about this title either. I like the guitar effects late in the song. I have to admit that this song loosely reminds me of a contemporary christian pop song. i swear i’ve heard a song or two like this at one of those christian summer music festivals.

Fez - Being Born - Very unique and strong opening, all the way into the first verse of Being Born. The drumming of Larry Mullen Jr. was is highlighted on this song - nice cadence & rhythm. The solid underlying instrumentation makes this song great. Terry Lawless plays keys on this song, too. i wonder if the band will include other musicians when they go on tour?

White as Snow - This is a beautiful song with beautiful, heartfelt lyrics. Kind of sounds like a christmas song... ‘O come o come Emanuel’ anyone? did i mention how great the lyrics are on this one? This song has a new sound to it and for that i am grateful. A testament to the fact that U2 did not want to recreate former albums... probably why they abandoned some of the songs from the Rick Rueben sessions. Something new and fresh was needed. Something new and fresh has been given.

Breathe - A song that adds to the strong 2nd half of this new record. I particularly enjoyed the pacing of Bono’s lyrics on this track. I should write more, but i got caught up in the song. I guess that is a good thing.

Cedars of Lebanon - Bono paints a picture of a lyrical story that danced around in my head. Easily the most contemplative song ever written or recorded by U2. This song appears to be the guts of a man in the midst of war, away from home for too long. Maybe it’s a metaphor of the inner battles man faces in the midst of hard-fought trials. Maybe it’s a crying out to God, asking “Where are you?” ... saying “reveal yourself to me... i beg of you.” It’s a chilling song that ends the album on a high note, forcing the listener into the middle of a web of contemplation.