Posts Tagged ‘Paul

13
Aug
20

A New World? Or a New Heart?

Bob DylanThe answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

If I had a hammer…

To everything, turn, turn, turn…

Abraham, Martin, and John…

We’ve got to get out of this place…

WAR! [UH! GRUNT!] What is it good for? (Absolutely NOTHIN’!)

In terms of musical themes, the decade of the 60s will be best remembered as the decade of the social protest song.

Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, The Byrds, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other well-known (and lesser known) musicians of that era attempted to bend spears into plowshares in the white-hot smelter of music.

Personally, I remember feeling just a little bit subversive as I sat by the campfire in the summer of 1967 singing, “How many years must some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?” Those lyrics made me think about the poverty and unrest in our country’s inner cities.

Even though we imagined we were creating something utterly new and revolutionary back then, the idea of expressing a political point of view through music goes back centuries. In 1801, for example, Richard Allen, a former slave and a Methodist minister, published a hymnal titled, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns. Those familiar with Methodist history will recognize Allen’s name as the founder of the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church.

According to the book, Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, most of the songs in Allen’s Collection dealt with his frustration about the level of racial discrimination he experienced from white Methodists.

The two essential elements of a song – melody and meaning – are a potent combination. A series of musical notes, skillfully combined, has the power to reach deep into our subterranean human chambers. When paired with words that convey a timely, haunting, moving, or unsettling message, a great song can’t help but create an almost transcendent spiritual moment for the listener.

But even if we concede that songs have the ability to produce a soul-stirring, spiritual experience, is that the same thing as hearing The Gospel?

We remember that the word gospel comes from the Old English godspel, roughly translated as “good news.” We also recall that when Christians today talk about the Good News (capital “G”, capital “N”), we are most likely talking about the good news that Jesus – in his resurrection from the dead following a painful and humiliating death – forever broke the power of sin and death over humanity and freed all of us from those ancient curses.

Good News indeed! Hallelujah!

But that message is probably a qualitatively different message than the one you hear when you hear Pete Seeger sing, Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

Based on interviews I have heard, I know that the goal of the gifted individuals who write social protest songs is CHANGE. They seek to stir the hearts and move the arms and legs of their audience. They want to convey a message so irresistible that you and I won’t be able to help ourselves… we will drop what we are doing and get to work, actively building a New Social Order based on justice for all, equality, and compassion.

Their aim is a New World.

The aim of the Gospel, by contrast, is a New Heart, and then through it, a New World.

Today, we look around and see AT LEAST as much need for a new world as those protestors saw in the 1960s. Racism, poverty, runaway greed, random violence, environmental crises, political distrust, addiction, and sexual depravity seem to be at all-time highs.

But the question we need to wrestle with today is: Which comes first…

… the new heart?

… or the new world?

 

Abundant blessings;

09
Jul
20

Puzzle People

Jigsaw puzzleAs you can see from the photo immediately to the right, Joan and I have almost completed this 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. All that remains are fitting the last pieces of the pale blue sky together.

This puzzle was very much a quarantine-inspired undertaking.

“Good job!” You might be tempted to say. “Way to go!”

You would, however, immediately withdraw your lavish words of praise when I confess to you it has taken us nearly 90 days to get to this point.

We began the project with great enthusiasm, dumping the box out onto our dining room table, grouping all of the similarly colored pieces together, bringing over snacks and drinks, taking turns studying, fussing, fiddling, and painstakingly fitting pieces together.

After a couple of sessions each, the wind of motivation suddenly left our sails. The puzzle just sat there for days… fragmented… silently judging us.

About a month ago, as we both sat staring dejectedly at the scattered pile of pieces, Joan and I looked at one another and said, “I guess we’re just not puzzle people.”

Puzzle people (and God bless you if you are one) must possess great powers of concentration. They must be infinitely patient. They must be able to visualize patterns and connections in their mind’s eye. They must have a finely-honed appreciation for solitude… or else possess the ability to work well with others.

Puzzle people are able to play the long game and do not set their sights on immediate gratification.

As I sat down and began listing out all of these traits, I found myself muttering, “How awesome would it be to be a Puzzle Person. Too bad I’m not wired that way at all.”

But then I stopped and looked again. I noticed that in spite of these serious impairments in my God-given proclivities, I was less than 30 pieces away from finishing this puzzle. The bliss of hearing that soft “CLICK” as I drop the final piece into place is just hours away.

“Is that amazing or what?” I whispered. “How did that happen?”

And then I remembered that sometimes God sneaks up behind us and surprises us with a totally unexpected result in a situation we thought we had completely figured out.

(Hang on here… I am not claiming divine intervention was at work in our puzzle progress. I am beginning to piece together a spiritual analogy of sorts. Hang in with me for a minute…)

Throughout the pages of scripture, we find countless examples of God deputizing people who believed they were hopelessly ill-equipped to do necessary deed. There are scenes of denial and protest and, “Sorry God, you’ve got the wrong guy/gal. Go pick someone else.” Following by that hopelessly inadequate person suddenly stepping up and delivering the goods.

There is Moses, for example.

And Gideon.

And Deborah.

And Ruth.

And Esther.

And David (later, KING David).

And Ezekiel.

And Peter.

And Saul (later, Paul)

And on and on, ad infinitum.

I don’t believe these stories are meant to teach us that sometimes God swoops in and supernaturally imbues hapless schlubs with magical new powers. Although I am sure that does happen sometimes.

What if the point of these stories is more to show us how God intervenes and opens our eyes to abilities we already have, yet which we have somehow submerged under layers of doubt and despair?

What if it is the case that each of those “unlikely biblical heroes” (and each of us, too) already had those remarkable faculties FROM DAY ONE and just needed a godly “nudge” to believe in and USE them?

Imagine that!

 

Gee… maybe I AM a puzzle person after all!

12
Jun
20

I Can’t Know

Grieving peopleBy my not-totally-rigorous estimate, I have officiated at close to 100 funerals during my career as a pastor. This total was boosted significantly by one memorable week in 2014 when there were three.

Every one of these formal church services was preceded by many hours sitting with and consoling grieving family members. In some of those situations, I was also privileged to spend time with the person as they slowly died.

I was taught this in seminary, but also learned by direct experience that there are things you say and things you DON’T say to people when someone close to them dies. And right at the very top of that “DON’T” list is the phrase, “I know exactly what you are going through.

Because you don’t.

Because you can’t.

Even if your father died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies and you are talking to the son of a person whose father just died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies, you still don’t KNOW what they are going through.

One journey of pain is utterly unlike any other journey of pain. Every journey of pain is unique and unrepeatable.

And yet, even though you stand entirely outside that person’s experience, there is still a “compassionate ally” role for you to fulfill in that journey.

First, you need to discover the role. Then you need to fulfill it.

In the wake of the horrific lynching (let’s call it what it was) of the black man named George Floyd by a group of white Minneapolis, MN police officers, a lot of pain has been brought to the surface. In most cases what we are seeing is a pain that had been bottled up for centuries that is finally exploding.

This crime provided a moment that has led to some long-overdue, national soul-searching.

In an eerie parallel of the scenes surrounding the death of a loved one, some folks are responding to the pain by releasing their own pent-up pain. Some are responding by trying to deny, dismiss, or rationalize the expressions of pain they’re witnessing. Still others are struggling to find a way to respond… knowing that this particular pain is not part of their lived experience, yet also aware that they dare not turn their backs on it.

Number me as a member of that last group.

I want to come alongside those who are now in pain. I want to minister to them. I want to do something more redemptive and more effective than clucking my tongue and saying, “Ain’t it a shame.” I want to figure out a way to somehow engage in the struggle without making the mistake of saying, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Because I don’t.

Because I can’t.

Because I’m white.

In his letter to the church folk in Galatia, Paul told them they were called to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

And as much a fan as I am of most of his work, I have to confess I am having a hard time getting with Paul on this one. The burden of systemic racism and oppression is not one I will ever be equipped to carry.

And yet somehow, despite my shortcomings, I know there has to be a “compassionate ally” role for me to play in this struggle.

Continuing to shine a light on it might be one option. Refusing to allow our national angst to be swallowed up by the next news cycle might help keep the dialogue going and the solutions flowing.

Educating myself about the depth and nature and duration of the pain might be another.

Standing up visibly with those who are hurting the most might be another ally role I can play.

Supporting the cause financially is certainly another.

What else?

 

I’d love to know what you think…

17
Mar
20

Before and After

Mustang restorationIt was over 20 years ago, but it was a period that still holds the title of “Absolute Worst Time of My Life.”

It was the time when my marriage of 23 years crashed and burned… one hundred percent due to my own immaturity and misanthropy.

It was the time when my struggling advertising and public relations business foundered and then finally ground to a halt.

It was the time when I seemed to be competing with myself to see if the next bad choice could somehow be worse than the last one.

It was the time when I succeeded in not only alienating my then wife, but also both of my sons.

It was a time when I was unable to see any hope or a way out and did not see how it was possible to sink any lower in terms of energy, self-esteem, or faith.

It was the time when I let go any shred of pretense of self-sufficiency, dropped to my knees in anguish, and cried out to God in utter despair.

It was also the time – I now see in retrospect – that my rebirth and redemption began in earnest.

The Bible tells us again and again that God has the desire and the power to redeem… anyone and any situation. Psalm 130:7 says, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

114 other verses spread across the Old and New Testaments repeat the same theme.

And yes, I believe this truth because I grant God’s Word supreme authority in my life. As we trace through the narrative of God’s activity in the world, we come across the theme of redemption over and over and over again… from the redemption of Noah and his family from the flood, to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt, to the redemption of the zealot Saul following the death of Jesus, and many others.

Heck, you might even start to believe that communicating the theme of REDEMPTION was one of the main reasons the Bible was written in the first place!

But I also believe in God’s power to redeem because I have experienced it! God redeemed my miserable husk of a life and used it for (I hope) something higher and better than chasing the next sensual gratification.

From my first-hand experience, I have learned that redemption doesn’t mean, “The bad chapter never happened.” Instead, it is God’s assurance that when we lean completely on God, abandoning our own claims to wisdom and nimble adaptability, God gazes on us with loving eyes and says, “I will take this wreckage and create something beautiful and life-giving from it.”

Sort of like the guy who pulled the old, burned-out Mustang off the scrap heap and restored it to better-than-mint condition.

I do not know where the current situation with the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 is going to lead us. Our country seems to be taking dramatic steps to keep us from gathering in large crowds and spreading the disease at exponential rates. I mean, you know things are bad when major league sports franchises close down indefinitely.

Hopefully, these measures will keep us from overtaxing our healthcare systems, leading to tough decisions about who receives care, and who doesn’t.

As hopeful as I am though, I still fear things might get a lot worse before they show signs of getting better.

But wherever we end up three months… six months… or a year from now, I know one thing with absolute certainty. I know that God will continue to be in the redemption business.

I also know that God will – when we put our full trust in him – take the wreckage that is left behind and make something beautiful out of it.

Always has.

Always will.




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