Rich Mullins, Twenty Years Alive

Today marks twenty years since Rich Mullins’ death. I still remember reading the news in a computer lab in the basement of Klein Hall at Messiah College. My friend David (who I would later marry) emailed me with the story. It took my breath.
 
From the opening notes of “The World As Best As I Can Remember It,” his music taught me that Christian worship and music could be better than what was being promoted on the radio. And when “A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band” came out, I found a top-ten lifetime album. Those of you who know him as the guy who wrote “Awesome God” — you don’t know his best music. It’s worth looking into.
I’m so grateful I got to see him play once. He performed in the chapel at Gordon College and I drove home from college for the weekend to attend the concert. A local duo named Harrod and Funck opened for him — I was a fan of theirs, too. I’m pretty sure the poster from that night is still up in my attic.
At the end of his concerts, Rich always had the audience stand and sing the doxology unaccompanied.  While the crowd was singing in harmony with eyes closed, he would slip off the stage. He wanted to be absent when the applause started.
In his song “Elijah,” Rich wrote
But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah 
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire 
And when I look back on the stars 
Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park 
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye
The weekend that Rich passed away, David happened to be headed to Manhattan. He said he was going to light a candle in Central Park for Rich. When Rich said goodbye, it broke our hearts a little. But we knew it didn’t break his heart.
Rich+Mullins

The Life-Giving Home: March

IMG_20140531_072443Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.

The Life-Giving Home: March

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.  -John Muir

Idealism, at heart, is about hope. And so is seeing beauty. P. 84, The Life-Giving Home

This chapter of The Life-Giving Home is an excellent primer on a spiritual understanding of pursuing beauty. Sarah Clarkson unfolds for us a gentle theology on pursuing beauty in a Christian’s life and home life. For me, the chapter was a great reminder on why we as human beings crave order, peace, and beauty. We were created for life in a garden; the Fall broke this existence dramatically.  As Tolkien puts it, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”

Beauty also points forward to the day when creation will be redeemed and fully restored by the return of the Lord Jesus. As Sarah says:

To cultivate beauty is to act in keeping with my faith in God’s goodness rather than my doubt. It means to fight tooth and nail, day by day, to keep alive my faith in a love that transforms the ordinary and, in that transformation, offers a glimpse of a one-day, ultimate redemption. (p. 83)

Now, if you’re like me, you read a chapter like this and immediately want to set about reinventing your life and that of your family from cellar to attic. Clear it out! Reorganize! make everything beautiful immediately! Quick! I’ve been doing this all wrong!

Not so fast, Sarah cautions us:

…beauty in home life — beauty on the level of the kitchen table, the child’s bedroom, the back porch — is something at which we often stumble. What we miss in these surface things is an understanding of beauty not as veneer we apply to the surface of our lives or an ideal only to be attained by the extraordinary, but as the tangible, daily outgrowth of the spiritual values  we hold most deeply. We miss, in other words, the reality of incarnation, the truth that God created the physical world to house and express the spiritual. (p.81-82)

Yes — the physical world should reflect the beauty of the spiritual. But that looks different for each family, each season, each person. It doesn’t mean we live in a museum. It means we value truth and genuineness over a false veneer of meaningless, flashy, fleeting ideas of what is attractive.

As I revisit what this looks like for our life here, I’ve found it helpful to think on another book I’m reading, Andy Crouch’s Culture Making. In his chapter entitled “The Horizons of the Possible,” Crouch supplies the reader with five questions for evaluating any cultural artifact and how it fits into the broader cultural context. Whether we are thinking on the interstate highway system, lasers, cornbread, smartphones, or Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the culture and cultural artifacts that exist within our home life, we can ask the following questions:

  1. What does this assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does this assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does this make possible?
  4. What does this make impossible (or very difficult)?
  5. What new forms of culture are formed in response to this?

The first two questions are especially helpful to me when I think on time spent, habits, routines, art, music, and other factors in our everyday existence in our home. This doesn’t mean every piece of music in our home expresses the Gospel from beginning to end. In fact, it means that my husband points to a Peter Gabriel album as a better expression of the despair and brokenness of the Fall than most Christian music. Why? Because it expresses the truth of divorce and despair in all its ugliness. It fits into question #1 quite well — and even #2. At the same time, we don’t wish to stay there. Reminders in music of the hope of redemption, Christ’s return, and the current beauty that surrounds us even in Earth’s fallenness — these also feed the soul.

How do you think about culture in your home and how it expresses (1) where and who we are and (2) what we hope for? I’ve loved this reminder from Sarah Clarkson to continue to press on in my pursuit of beauty here at home — not a Pinterest-perfect existence, but living in the spiritual, physical realities that Christ has made true here and now, and in the time to come.

 

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple yearslghfeb now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart. You can read all the posts here.

“The Incarnation was, in its deepest sense, a restoration of what God originally intended for humankind. And that includes a physical place of belonging.” – Sarah, Ch. 2

February’s chapter, as you might have anticipated, is all about love; it is subtitled “A Culture of Love.” Sally explores the ways in which we’ve been loved by God, then opens up ways that her family has celebrated one another, whether it be birthday traditions or weekly times of “girl time” and “men’s night out.”

Love is indeed a choice, an obedience, a service and a sacrifice, an initiation. But love is also the most powerful source of joy. And it is the means through which God would have us extend His hands, His words, His redemption to our world, within the walls of our homes.

The thing that struck me about this chapter the most is the multitude of ways in which these little manners and ways paved the way for listening to one another. At the heart of every tradition or intentional act, there was a heart of service for communicating that the person was seen and known.

Last week I read a quote from David Augsburger, “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” It struck me as so true! We are all so busy being efficient that we forego being fruitful in one another’s lives. Can we sit down and listen to our children? Can we pay attention to their little stumbles and joys? Can we recognize a friend’s triumph or discouragement?

I came away from this chapter with encouragement to stop and see people, whether they be my own children or a friend, neighbor, or stranger. Sally closes with an encouragement to entrust these interactions to the Lord:

And because He is the One who invented love in the first place, who surrounds us with love every day of our lives and inhabits every truly loving relationship, I can trust Him to transform all my efforts into the stuff of eternity.

 

Friends, Stories, and Songs

A few months ago, my husband and I attended a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Rogers on the topic of CS Lewis and creativity in Christian community. Instead of lecturing on the finer points of the nature of creativity in church life, or outlining Five Points for Pursuing a More Creative Life, Dr. Rogers began by telling us a story.

He wanted to talk about his friend who had just passed away a few weeks before. You might recognize his friend, Ben Ellis, from a viral video from last year. When Mr. Ellis was in his last days on earth, students from the high school where he taught for years, made a special trip to his house and sang to him. (Mutual friend Russ Ramsey tells more about Mr. Ellis here.)

What Jonathan wanted us to know about his friend Ben was that he was a man who pursued friends as his creative pursuit. He knew all the students, as well as their siblings, by name. He had a reputation for making students late for class because he would ask them — and really want to know — about their worlds. He was creative in the ways he thought about people and encouraging them. He made everyone who knew him feel seen and known.

Pursuing friends and Christian community as a creative pursuit — what an idea! How can we as Christians be about developing this culture? Since we are all made to be sub-creators, in the image of God, the ultimate Creator, we can order our worlds and create priorities within the freedom God has afforded us.

Pursuing people in this manner is an area where I could stand to grow. It requires effort and paying attention. Mr. Ben Ellis remembered everyone’s names, attaining for himself a reputation of thoughtfulness that was earned with hard mental labor. I’ll never forget the first day of class with one of my education professors. She took a picture of each of us. She had them printed and flipped through them each morning, praying for us by name. We all knew we were on her heart while she sipped her morning coffee.

There’s one character from recent pop culture that comes to my mind when we discuss attentive friendship:  Leslie Knope, the unquenchable optimist from Parks and Recreation. galentines-day-card-1Is there any other character you can think of who is a more considerate friend? It becomes a joke on a regular basis, because not one of her friends, nor her husband, can possibly keep up with her. She knows everything about everybody — and instead of using it for ill, she capitalizes on it for doing good to those people. She knows Ron Swanson’s ideal birthday would be a quiet evening (with steak, a cigar, and “Bridge on the River Kwai”) instead of a giant surprise party. Beyond birthdays, Leslie gives each of her female friends a personalized gift on her invented holiday “Galentine’s Day” — “an event for celebrating lady friends!”

Most often creativity is spoken about in terms of visual art, song, and the written word. But culture is created wherever humans make their lives together. Our homes, marriages, friendships, and family relationships are an area where gratitude, creativity, and joy in one another can be on display. We can’t all be Leslie Knope –though I have a few friends who would rival her! — but we can all grow in creatively embracing and loving the people in our circles.

The Life-Giving Home: January

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-Giving Home has been on my radar for a couple years now. I decided it was time for a deep-dive read and blog series about it. I hope to read and journal (here on my blog) about each chapter as I go. The book is divided up by months in its chapter structure, which lends itself to a blog series rather nicely. I hope that regardless of your life stage and situation, you can glean something from the wisdom on the importance of home to a human heart.

“The Incarnation was, in its deepest sense, a restoration of what God originally intended for humankind. And that includes a physical place of belonging.” – Sarah, Ch. 2

January: Creating a Framework for Home

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – Lucy Maud Montgomery

This month’s chapter is largely and about rhythms and routines. Routines shield us from chaos. They help us make our intended priorities our actual priorities. But routines take planning and careful execution. Once established, routines can become a welcome friend — little rituals that ingrain order, peace, and joy in our hearts.

This chapter helped me ask good questions as I looked down the corridor of 2017. I was able to steal away for a few hours to a coffee shop and do some hard work in this area. (A special word of thanks to my husband for making time for this amidst his busy work schedule!) I began with what Sally calls “decluttering your heart” — a careful evaluation of the need for confession, spiritual weakness, or guilt.

Then, after a time of prayer, I moved on to working through goals for the year, in different areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. This portion included answering questions like:

  • What exercise/health goals do I have for this year? What measurable steps can I take to achieve them?
  • Are there improvements I can make to any relationships? Family? Friends?
  • What spiritual disciplines do I want to work on this year? How will I go about it? What books do I want to read for spiritual improvement and accountability this year? What Bible verses would be helpful for me to memorize and meditate on in this season of my life?

Now, real talk for a second — my number one weakness in this exercise is that I want to do ALL THE THINGS! AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! The key to these questions is understanding the season you’re in, being patient with yourself, and setting realistic goals.

For me, this looked like the following (not a complete list):

  • I have some lofty running goals this year. I need to put my running schedule on my google calendar, because when that’s done, I plan better around it and actually do it.
  • I would like to schedule a one-on-one with each of my kids each month. These dates also need to go on the calendar.
  • I made a list of the books I’d like to read this year. I am never at a shortage for things I’d like to read, but I tried to be intentional about which ones would serve my season of parenting, my discipling relationships and my current struggles.
  • I ordered a Bible study book to use in my current morning quiet time, since I did Bible-in-a-Year last year and I try to alternate overview with in-depth study.

Then I moved on to working on goals for fun. We are a family that likes to go places! Here are some of the ideas I came up with for cultivating fun and rhythms of rest and enjoyment in our family:

  • My two youngest have begged for a return to teatime once a week. I put it on the calendar. (You should notice by now that my google calendar runs my life!)
  • I tweaked our approach to evening reading time with Dad so that it’s more restful and less squeezed.
  • I put a date on the calendar each month for us to do “city schooling.” The kids love to do school in other places, and I do too. A change in atmosphere is so refreshing! Plus I find that we get more done out of the house.
  • I wrote down all the trips we want to/need to take this year, when they were scheduled, and any approximate costs we would incur for them. (there were a lot of them this year!)

I also took some time considering and praying through where each of my kids is. Are there bad habits we need to address? Lessons they’d like to take this year? Milestones approaching? I made a little list for each child with a few action items on each.

Since I’m trying to blog more regularly, I also made a list of topics I’ve been mulling over but haven’t gotten to yet.

All of this sounds dreadfully boring and not very “homey” at all, doesn’t it? But it nails down some structure for human flourishing. It sets goals for soul-feeding. Our kitchen chalkboard currently bears one of my favorite quotes for this time of year, from Annie Dillard:

20170114_161146

That’s what we want — to catch these days and bend them to our wills. We want to redeem the time and use it well (Eph. 5:16).

I want to emphasize that your structure will look different from mine. Life stages, employment, ages of children, and priorities dictate how we spend our time and honor the Lord with it. Sally even says at one point that there were many times that the schedule flew out the window due to sickness, adding a baby, moving, job changes, etc. But an underlying structure gave their family a rhythm to return to.

Next month’s chapter, February is on “A Culture of Love: Growing Lifelong Relationships.”

 

What Will Happen the Sunday After Election Day?

Election day is coming. We’ve turned the corner into the homestretch. Here in North Carolina, a battleground state, the ads have reached fever pitch on radio and TV. Every day brings more mailers to my mailbox. The finish line is nearimg_20150615_172711133_hdr_picmonkeyed

Will you vote that day? I hope you will. I hope you will say a quiet prayer for wisdom and guidance, and enter your appointed polling place to cast a vote if your conscience allows.

At the end of that day, when the signs are put down, the projections are made and fulfilled (or not), the electoral college goes back into remission for four years, and the transfer of power begins, what will happen at your church?

I have a few guesses as to what will happen at mine. Naturally, all these suggestions fall under the category of “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” Perhaps the Lord will return before Election Day 2016. But if not, you might find us that week just like any other Sunday.

 

We will pray for our leaders.

Each Sunday when my pastor steps behind the pulpit for his pastoral prayer, he prays for our leaders. Nearly every time, he prays for the President. On occasion he also lifts up the Charlotte city police, school board members, city councillors, the mayor, or our senators and representatives.

When we pray for the President, we don’t feel the need to express whether or not we agree with the President. It doesn’t matter. We plead with the Lord to make him wise. This wisdom would benefit all people in our nation — Christian and not — as well as those around the world. So we pray for him, in obedience to I Timothy 2:1-4.

I will be so bold as to predict that on the Sunday after election day, we will pray for the president-elect. Even after this racism-laced, fury-filled nightmare of an election year. Even with the despicable things we’ve learned or speculated about each candidate. This prayer will be a simple act of obedience, a plea for God’s intervention and help for our country.

 

We will call each other “brother and sister.”

Regardless of the person who is next to take the Oath of Office, we Christians will still be one in Christ. Our status as members of one another cannot change, as it is sealed for us in Christ:

Romans 12:4-5 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

I expect as I walk through the doors early that Sunday, one of our staff members will call out “Hey, Sis,” as he always does — in spite of the fact that I am almost old enough to be his mother; in spite of the fact that I am a different race than he is. We are brother and sister in Jesus. The election cannot change this truth.

Indeed, as Christianity ceases to be the majority in America, these ties of spiritual family ought to become more precious and more solid as other ties may pass away. This election cycle focused some attention on the difference between cultural Christianity and…well, not-just-cultural Christianity. How will this difference continue to sharpen in the coming years, as America becomes more diverse? Our love and attachment to one another in the Body of Christ should become more sweet as it becomes more rare.

 

We will partake of the Word and the sacraments.

Whether you call them sacraments or ordinances, the remembrances we partake of on the Lord’s day help us proclaim Him until He comes. The Lord Jesus left these ordinances behind as a tangible help for us and the world.

Will you see a baptism on the Sunday after Election Day? Will you partake of the elements at the Lord’s Table? Be encouraged — these occasions were meant for your edification and joy! They are sure signs that our citizenship rests in Heaven. Let your tastebuds, your eyes, your ears remind you — America will pass from the Earth one day. God’s kingdom is forever.

Then when your pastor ascends to his place behind the pulpit, be grateful. We live in a land where we are free to hear God’s word without fear of imprisonment. This is our true “feeding time” as sheep of God’s pasture. On the Sunday after Election Day, I will look down my pew at my children. Some of them will be paying rapt attention with their Bibles open in their laps. One will be head down, brow furrowed, taking notes and doodling. A couple will be wiggling or yawning. But all of them — mostly oblivious to it — will be partaking of a feast that Christians around the world long to have. God’s Word, clearly and publicly proclaimed. Encouragement offered. Gospel preached. Glory!

 

So what will happen at your church on the Sunday after Election Day? I suspect that many of these same things will take place. If so, Christian, you have reason to rejoice. Yes, be sober in the face of our changing times. And then be more determined to lock arms with those Christians over centuries past who celebrated Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, expectantly awaiting the Kingdom come.

 

The Candles at Turl Street Kitchen

Evening comes on quickly in Oxford in November. The dark creeps in around 4 in the afternoon.

When David and I closed out our afternoons there, we sought out a little respite in a place pointed out to us by our friend Sarah: Turl Street Kitchen. Turl Street is one of the cross streets that runs between Broad Street and the High Street. It is rather narrow and always full of bicycle riders.

The restaurant was tucked in on the right side of the road as we left Broad Street and Blackwells’ bookstore. It was the kind of place you’d imagine in Oxford: small-paned windows, rough wooden pub tables, and a staircase that marched up the middle of the building. In the back was the coffee bar: a lighter space with a few high-top tables scattered about.

As dusk came on, we sought out those most modern of necessities: electrical outlets and free wi-fi. My eagerness to guide us around the town with an online walking tour, along with my incessant picture-taking, had mercilessly killed my phone. While “going dark” in Oxford was a tempting proposition, responsibilities back home (by the names of our five children) demanded that we keep the communication lines open. So we ordered two lattes and a slice of cake, and slumped down with our bags at a corner table by an outlet.

We took out a map, as tourists are inclined to do, and discussed our next day’s plans. As we chatted, a server walked about with a lighter and lit the white thick pillar candles on each table. There were no candle holders; not even a plate underneath them. The candles sat down unapologetically on each wooden table, where the burn marks remembered them. There was no fuss about anything.

Despite the small effort, the room took an enchanted glow because of those candles. The little bit of effort taken turned the space into a cozy residence, perfect for thinking noble thoughts and having profound conversation.

When I returned home from the UK, one of the first errands I took included a stop for white pillar candles. I wanted to recapture that moment and make it exist in my own home. Forget the fact that I didn’t have ancient walls, magical libraries, boys’ choirs, or Evensong…I could have the white candles from Turl Street Kitchen.

What is it about us that thinks we can recapture an atmosphere? What makes an atmosphere “just so” in a fashion that can, realistically, never be recaptured? The air and the mood, in that place have taken up residence in my heart.

What is a place that you have ingrained in your heart? What made it that way?

I want my home to be a place that is ingrained in my children’s hearts. Realistically, this is unavoidable. It will be part of them. I pray that those positive pieces — the tray with our initial, the smell of bread, and yes, the white pillar candles on the Oxford tea towel on the table — will stick with them more than the weak, broken pieces.