May 23, 2008

A Bard of the Order of Fili

The bard was “a tribal poet-singer skilled in composing and reciting verses on heroes and their deeds.” [1] With further study, particularly regarding various encyclopedias’ discourses on Irish bard tradition, one discovers that there were perhaps different classes of such poets. The class of filid (old Irish singular: “fili”), a term under some scrutiny as to its true meaning, is commonly applied to those poets, sometimes viewed as philosophers or counselors, generally associated with the early Christian Church in Ireland. A bard, especially exemplified by Stephen Lawhead’s character depiction of Myrddin Emrys (i.e. Merlin), is essentially an artistic leader, and it is with such an idea that I closely identify.

I am an artist, and I would generally expand this concept by classifying myself as one who follows the approach of Romanticism. Romanticism is “an artistic and intellectual movement originating in Europe in the late 18th century and characterized by a heightened interest in nature, emphasis on the individual's expression of emotion and imagination, departure from the attitudes and forms of classicism, and rebellion against established social rules and conventions.” [2]

I hope to not merely express myself, or even to stand out from society to some degree, as many artists seem to do, but rather to be a servant leader of society as I pursue Truth through the artistic lens. My writing has been heavily inspired by the fictional works of J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the most renowned Romantic-styled high fantasy writers; but I have also been significantly influenced by the works of Chaim Potok, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy in their insightful and brilliant exploration of the human psyche and condition. These writers have offered me, however great or small, some deeper understanding of how to write and significantly reach the world. It is about sacrifice, and not self-indulgence. I, therefore, write not only to entertain with creative storytelling, but to also deeply explore the various facets of humanity and the world, to offer thoughts and questions to recipients, and hopefully be an open vessel through which they can journey toward Truth. I do not believe that people, aside from Jesus Christ, will live to see the journey to its end (i.e. find all the answers); but I do have faith that the journey will be fruitful and full of rich life and memory. This is my purpose as an artist, whether with my writing, my drawing, my photography, or my music—to offer some aspects of my journey toward Truth, with all its joy and pain along the way, to those gracious enough to receive my work.

Though I am ever critical of my own work, plagued by a tendency toward perfectionism; I am drawn to my art for its humble return to nature and to the heart of people. All the art forms I pursue are essentially united together, like threads of a intricate tapestry. Being out in nature, and attempting to capture the wondrous beauty of light, color, and space with a camera, as well as being amidst the diversity of humanity, inspires me to attempt to recreate such revelations with the written word if possible. I embrace the challenges such tasks require. My fictional writing and drawing complement each other in that often one will inspire the other (i.e. a character or location drawing will find its way into the story, or the opposite). My music serves as an expansion of my poetic inclination, yet attempts to exceed the written word by stirring certain heart chords that only music can hope to reach. I am drawn to my art because it strives to be free from the prison of cliché, especially religious, and to find new forms of expressing timeless Truth. This is part of my service to humanity—to draw recipients away from life’s often stressful distractions back to the True meaning of life. I work to lead people to a community of expression, to vocation, and to Love that are exemplified by the life of Jesus in The Gospel. That is my hope and the purpose for which I strive. To God be the glory. AMEN.

[1] Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition.
[2] American Heritage Dictionary.

May 21, 2008


Romans 14 (NIV; emphasis added)
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters (1). . . . for God accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand (3b-4). . . . For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the LORD; and if we die, we die to the LORD. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the LORD. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the LORD of both the dead and the living (7-9). . . . It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the LORD Jesus, I am fully convinced that [nothing (see translation note)] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. LET US THEREFORE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE AND TO MUTUAL EDIFICATION (11-19). . . . So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (22-23).

Romans 15 (NIV; emphasis added)
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (1-2). . . . For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ. ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, THEN, AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU, IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD (4-7).”

What is Paul really writing about in this passage?

Now, I must submit that I am no Biblical scholar; I am an artist and historian. I have, however, read the entire Scriptures a number of times (I do not mean to boast, but simply to demonstrate some credibility), and heard from those who teach about them, thus overall seeking to be ever learning toward an understanding of Truth. In other words, it is by faith, and by discernment through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that I continue to seek True understanding of the Gospel, and I believe that is most Believers’ general approach or limitation.

I writing not to break down every idea to its smallest point, but rather to try and present the fundamental principle Paul is hoping to instill in his readers in Rome.

Therefore, I believe that Paul’s purpose in the aforementioned passage is predominantly to respond internal division (“disputable matters”) already arising amidst the growing Christian [and Judeo-Christian] Church. How quickly a body unified in one Truth and hope (the Gospel, or “Good News”, of Jesus Christ) loses sight of what is really important, what originally drew it together. Church division is no new reality, a point demonstrating the nature of the Spiritual War in which we all as Believers fight (for the Enemy’s primary purpose is to divide that which Christ has united). Amidst that spiritual war, the Enemy arguably most often stirs up the root of human nature (i.e. the world/sin) that is self-absorbed pride.

Are not pride (in the negative sense: an inability or unwillingness to “seek first to understand and then to be understood”—Stephen Covey) and selfishness (concerned only with one’s own agenda, such as power status and influence) the roots of Church division? Now, I am referring to those “Christian traditions” that do, at their core, hold to the undisputable claims of the Gospel (i.e. Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and all that pertains to those signs—e.g. broadly, the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant church divisions). How has the Enemy successfully divided the Church so thoroughly, to the point that the term “Christian” is even almost useless, without further clarification or definition, and where historically “Christians” have committed atrocities, whether physically, socially, or emotionally (an all-expansive and complex history)? Much of early history was steeped in attempts at combining politics and religion (another discussion, however very much connected in various contexts); however, currently, it seems that social or emotional division is predominant.

Even while present divisions are rooted in political history, that to me is not enough to justify the continually growing disunity experienced in the Western Church (the global Church is a much larger complex religious, historical, and spiritually-influenced discussion).

I believe there are very few individuals who have objectively studied, understood, and explained the cause of such division through careful study of each major Christian worldview (as mentioned above). In all honesty, few have the time, resources, or desire to undertake such an expansive journey. So what can we do instead, in the face of such diversities of the Church?

I believe the answer is generally rather simple, and that Paul provides it, and I believe it was really Christ speaking through him.

LOVE: which offers grace, peace, and hope for those who choose to give and accept it. It’s about returning to the core of Christian orthodoxy, remembering what is truly important in this world: God the Father’s people and the community He desires for them in light of His Son and the work of the Holy Spirit. There is so much in the Bible that is unclear, subject to various interpretations, personal preferences, etc. Are they worth killing and dying physically, socially, and emotionally for? I do not think so, and I do not think the Apostles (including Paul) or Christ would have us die for the “grey areas” (i.e. “disputable matters”) either.

Below are some examples of divisive and seemingly judgment-spurning “grey areas” that I have witnessed or observed personally.

“Disputable Matters”
Orthodoxy (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant (with its myriad of sub-divisions); Lutheran, etc.)
“Trans-bloc Grouping” (e.g. Evangelical vs. Charismatic—Pentecostal)
Liturgy (e.g. praise and worship, use of the Spiritual Gifts, baptism, etc.)
Doctrines/Dogmas (e.g. free will/predestination, Heaven & Hell, Communion, etc.)
Biblical Translations (i.e., which one is the “best”—e.g. NIV, TNIV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NESV, NLT, The Message, etc.)

[NOTE: I may be inaccurately categorizing some of these topics, but hopefully the general idea is clear]

Is not God glorified by all of these at times, and at different places to different people? Naturally, each “category” has positive aspects and negative; because humanity is imperfect, our interpretations are imperfect (i.e. not always Christ-like by action and heart, giving God true glory—another discussion).

It’s about remembering that these “grey areas” are grey, that the world is superficially not black and white (i.e. fundamentally it is: one follows Christ fully or does not), however, and there the path grows cloudy over time. There are many issues in life that I am unsure about, though I do have a personal views about. But I try to live with an open heart and mind to hearing others’ personal views on such subjects as well. Such personal views have been established because of a number of factors (i.e. family, experience, discernment). Paul writes on this above, and makes everything a bit more complicated by not negating the fact that Christians often come to different Spirit-led conclusions regarding these “grey areas”. He seems to allude to the nature that the Spirit can be with either “party” (e.g. Calvinists and Armenians) in its influence.

This does not mean we are necessarily to agree with everyone—that differences are wrong. The problem arises when disagreements are demonstrated without humility and respect to the other “party”—when love is caste aside for prideful selfishness, thus resulting in broken community. Again, it is not about post-modernism, where “to each his own” is used as an escape from healthy discussion and debate; there must be, however, love in the process (in the above passage, Paul writes a lack of judgment). We are being of the world, and succumbing to the lies of Satan, when we overtly distance ourselves from those who hold different “surface” views from ourselves. We are not going to be friends with everyone, but we are to love them. People are different, but those differences must not divide us from being united in the ultimate Truth of Christ.

Again, we must try to see past the surface of such “disputable” differences, and to rather see the true heart (or soul, if you will) of each individual. It is human nature to stop at the surface of things, to place them in personally developed boxes, and to fail to really see the person how God see him or her, but through Christ we have been made new and can no longer act (or justify) as though we live in that state. We are to pursue Christ-likeness, writes Oswald Chambers, and I have not seen enough of that in the writings, words, and actions of the various Church sub-groups and members. I believe that before the Church can really make an offensive attack alongside the Triune God against the Enemy, we must become better allied in heart.

May 14, 2008

"Love is not against the law."

Derek Webb is an artist whom I greatly respect and admire. Not only does his “raw” music (i.e. his unique voice, direct acoustic guitar or banjo playing, and conventional tap piano playing) resonate with my life and tastes, but his lyrics are honest and forthright, speaking out against Christian clichés and passivity (i.e. marginalization or luk-warmness).

As a side note for those of you less familiar with Derek Webb, he has more or less been with Caedmon’s Call (another favorite artist) since the band’s creation, returning to the band after an absence in their recent Overdressed album. He has recently recorded with his wife and fellow musician Sandra McCracken, some of whose writing has also been used by Caedmon’s Call, which as an EP is also fantastic. Most of his work, lately, has been in the form of “solo” albums (some main titles being She Must and Shall Go Free, I See Things Upside Down, Mockingbird, and recently The Ringing Bell).

It’s upon Webb’s insightful lyrics that I wish to reflect today. I will quote some of his songs, or part of songs, particularly from Mockingbird (the album that I’m most familiar with at this point, though all his albums that I’ve heard contain such meaningful and challenging writing), and then perhaps add a small thought or reflection between them. Overall, however, my desire is that his lyrics stand alone and can speak for themselves. They should cause one, whether you agree with them or not, to pause and reflect. . . .

I quoted part of the following quote to my high small group last night during a discussion on the film “Hotel Rwanda,” and generally the Rwandan genocide of 1994. I asked the students: What should we come away with from such a film? What can or should we do? I have no real solutions, but I do have responses to certain answers that others may give to these questions (a topic for another time and place). Regarding war and violence, however, especially in light of Jesus Christ, I believe Webb has some chilling statements against the common Christian American worldview . . .

“How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love? My enemies are men like me. I will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well. My enemies are men like me. Peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication. It’s like telling someone murder is wrong, and then showing them by way of execution . . . When justice is bought and sold just like weapons of war, the ones that always pay are the poorest of the poor . . . ‘Non-violence is the crucial moral and political question of our time—the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression’ (a recording of Martin Luther King Jr.).”
(Mockingbird, “My Enemies are Men like Me”)

“Poverty is so hard to see when it’s only on your TV and twenty miles across town. When we’re all living so good, that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood where he’s hungry and not feeling so good from going through our trash. He says, ‘more than just your cash and coin I want your time I want your voice; I want the things you just can’t give me.’ So what must we do, here in the West we want to follow you. We speak the language and we keep all the rules, even a few we made up. ‘Come on and follow me, but sell your house, sell your SUV, sell your stocks, sell your security and give it to the poor.’ What is this, he what’s the deal? I don’t sleep around and I don’t steal. ‘I want the things you just can’t give me.’”
(Mockingbird, “Rich Young Ruler”)

Further, regarding our perspectives on national politics, and foreign diplomacy, as Christians (I’ve heard it said that various Christians, whether individuals or groups, have responded negatively to Webb’s artistry—surely not everyone will agree, but I wonder if their response is in part due to the fact that they fit perfectly into what he’s saying) . . .

There are two great lies that I’ve heard: the day you eat of the fruit of that tree you will not surely die, and that Jesus Christ was a white middle-class republican, and if you want to be saved you have to learn to be like Him. My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood, but to a King and a Kingdom. But nothing unifies like a common enemy, but we have one sure as Hell—but he may be living in your house, he may be raising up your kids, he may be sleeping with your wife; oh no, he may not look like you think.”
(Mockingbird, “A King and a Kingdom”)

Ultimately, when thinking of our political views, etc. we should always remember The Gospel. What is the root of the Gospel, of Christ? Did not Jesus say that the greatest commandment is love? It is a simple concept on paper, naturally more difficult in practice, but is it truly so hard to apply to all domains of our lives?

Politics or love can make you blind or make you see, make you a slave or make you free, but only one does it all. And it’s giving up your life for the ones you hate the most; it’s giving them your gown when they’ve taken your clothes. . . . Love is not against the law. . . . Are we defending life when we just pick and choose lives acceptable to lose and which ones to defend? ‘Cause you cannot choose your friends, but you choose your enemies—and what if they were one, one and the same? Could you find a way to love them both the same to give them your name? Love is not against the law.”
(Mockingbird, “Love is Not Against the Law”)

This fundamental Truth is where I have seen and heard account of the Church falling short time and time again. We must return to the source of the Gospel, which is Christ, who is Love. Who do we ultimately turn to in the face of difficulties, in our own daily lives or regarding the problems of this world? Too often people seem to expect the governments to fix all their “surface” problems.

We’ll never have a savior on Capital Hill”
(The Ringing Bell, “A Savior on Capital Hill”)

Governments have a purpose and a responsibility, surely, and God is in some way over them (another topic), but perhaps we should shift our expectations, or more appropriately shift our hope (after all, God never promised an easy life; read the words of Jesus recorded by the Apostle John) to the LORD. Again, perhaps it can be simplified (though, again, is it so simple?) down to the Truth of Love (especially, in this case, the agape expression). “Love is not against the law” . . .

The Theology of "Extraterrestrialism"

A friend referred me to this simple quote from Relevant Magazine, which, in turn, comes from a brief account from the news. 

"A Vatican astronomer has stated in an interview that belief in aliens does not contradict belief in God. It is still a sin, however, for them to lay eggs in your stomach and burst out through your chest ..."
5/13/08 01:30

This quote makes me laugh all the more being that one of my favorite science fiction films is Ridley Scott's Alien (1979).