Galileo and the Reckoning

Musically speaking, I grew up in the 1990’s. Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls, the Cranberries…these were all my favorites. There was no better anthem for high school and college life than the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine”:

I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind

Got my paper and I was free

Or who didn’t love Natalie Merchant’s “Jealousy” in the wake of a bad breakup?

Does she talk

The way I do

Is her voice reminding you

Of the promises

The little white lies too

The music was bitter and cynical, and I relished it being that way. It was the tone of that whole generation.

Occasionally when I’m cleaning the house, in need of a shot of energy, I’ll turn on a Pandora channel with these artists on it. I find amusement in seeing if, while I’m scrubbing the bathroom sink, I can still sing Dolores O’Riordan’s entire descant at the end of “Dreams” without taking a single breath. I sound terrible, and the echo in the room only magnifies the horror, but I’m having fun and the bathroom is getting clean.

My children and husband quietly roll their eyes.

The other day The Indigo Girls’ song “Galileo” came on. If you’re not familiar with the song, it wrestles with the idea of reincarnation. The writer despairs that she will never “get it right,” and wonders if she’s doomed to repeat the same mistakes in lifetime after lifetime.

How long till my soul gets it right?

Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?

I call on the resting soul of Galileo

King of night vision, King of insight

In the writer’s mind, Galileo was the only person who ever got it right — he found the truth and was twice accused of heresy for it. He died under house arrest, and now his soul is at rest.

Until her friend brought up the idea of reincarnation, the writer thought her mistakes were only to blame on her childhood. But now, she says, she might need to look back further: “And now I’m serving time for mistakes/made by another in another lifetime.” Faced with this dark reality, the only hope is that, as a result of her failures, at least we’ll avoid a nuclear holocaust:

If we wait for the time till all souls get it right

Then at least, I know there’ll be no nuclear annihilation

In my lifetime

At the end of the song, the first line of the chorus repeats again and again: “how long? how long?”

As “Galileo” played in my house the other day, I heard my youngest son quietly filling in a background vocal at the end: “How long until the reckoning…”

He was repeating the closing strains of Andrew Peterson’s song “The Reckoning.” This song has become “mandatory thunderstorm listening” in our home, as Andrew witnesses a storm and calls to mind how the Lord promises to return and set all things right.

Immediately I was struck with the difference in worldview here.

How long until this curtain is lifted?

How long is this the song that we sing?

How long until the reckoning?

…I know you hear the cries of every soul tonight

You see the teardrops as they roll tonight

Down the faces of saints

Who grow weary and faint in your fields

And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight

But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight

I believe You will come

Your justice be done, but how long?

hourglass-4-1312475-1599x2132Behold in stark relief the difference the Gospel makes: hope. Christians long for the end. We look forward to it, because we know the outcome doesn’t depend on us “getting it right.” Christ has gotten it right for us. Though the idea of a holy God returning to earth and exacting justice on evil might inspire fear, ultimately we are at peace because our lives are hidden in Christ.

Hope is at odds with cynicism. We cannot carry both at the same time — they repel one another. We must put one down. Lately I’m realizing how much I’ve been carrying cynicism around. It’s a security blanket for those of us who’ve been disappointed. If we don’t “get our hopes up,” we won’t be let down.

This ugly, dirty security blanket of cynicism prevents me from looking people in the eye. I am afraid of them. I am afraid of getting hurt again. Being lied and gossiped about again. Being misunderstood again. I am more like the cynical believer in reincarnation than I am the hopeful Christian.

Because I am fortunate in my friends, every once in awhile, a fellow Christian breathes new life into me with words of hope.

They then addressed themselves to the water; and entering, CHRISTIAN began to sink. And crying out to his good friend, HOPEFUL, he said, “I sink in deep waters, the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me.”

Then said the other, “Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good.”

…Then I saw in my dream that CHRISTIAN was as in a muse awhile, to whom also HOPEFUL added this word, “Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole “; and with that CHRISTIAN brake out with a loud voice, “Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee'”.

-from “The Last Difficulties,” The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan

Oh, how I want to be Hopeful — to sink into the bottom of difficulties and see the good approaching! To bear the burden and not faint; to release the cynicism and speak hope to a fellow Christian, as so many have for me; to remind them of the Reckoning, when all things will be made new.

Come Lord Jesus! How long, O Lord?

Why It [Hutchmoot] Matters

To sum up my most recent weekend and why it’s important to me, I’m just going to show you some pictures and let Sara Groves sing. These are not polished, beautiful pictures by any stretch, but if I waited for that I’d never post this. So here is my raw experience.

(press play and scroll down)

IMG_20151010_183453841

IMG_20151010_191454617Sit with me and tell me once again
Of the story that’s been told us
Of the power that will hold us

IMG_20151008_163853412Of the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters
IMG_20151009_132619737_HDRIMG_20151009_164533877
Speak to me until I understand
Why our thinking and creating

IMG_20151009_092302447_HDRWhy our efforts of narrating

IMG_20151008_203620004
About the beauty, of the beauty
And why it matters
IMG_20151009_151801664_HDRIMG_20151009_113003439_HDR
Like the statue in the park
Of this war torn town

IMG_20151011_201817447IMG_20151011_111554815And its protest of the darkness
And the chaos all around
With its beauty, how it matters
How it matters

IMG_20151011_074637695IMG_20151010_181541315
Show me the love that never fails
The compassion and attention
Midst confusion and dissension

IMG_20151010_175958439Like small ramparts for the soul
How it matters
IMG_20151009_201506866
Like a single cup of water
How it matters

IMG_20151013_130204236_HDR

An Advent Narrative

Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent NarrativeJust as I did last year, I am reading through Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative every morning of Advent.

(Before you say, “OH NO HERE SHE GOES WITH THE ANDREW PETERSON PITCH AGAIN,” let me say, No, I am not pitching AP’s album again — although if I did, I would be completely justified in doing so. )

(To be completely on the up and up, though, this book contains some lyrics from the album and it shares the artwork.)

Ramsey’s Advent devotional begins with Creation and proceeds carefully through the Fall, Israel’s history, and the coming of Christ. If we as Christians grasp Redemption history well, we can grasp the Incarnation that much better. We ought to be people of this Story.

It’s what we like to call the “True Tall Tale.”

This year, Russ is managing a facebook group where he posts a Scripture passage, reflections, and questions from each day’s chapter. It’s not too late to join in and lend some ancient and strong significance to your Advent.

“The Lord God took this struggling man out beneath the desert sky at night, pulled back the blanket of self-doubt smothering Abram, and revealed a canopy of glimmering stars too numerous to count.”

-from chapter 4, “Number the Stars of Heaven”

What Susan Said

Last night David and I were sitting in the dark living room, exhausted, talking about our day, and I mentioned that I’d seen the set list for The Local Show’s Rich Mullins birthday tribute show.

setlist

We talked through some of the songs and realized that some were unfamiliar to him. He didn’t have the album that they were on…so many years ago.

It was then that I had the unique experience of introducing my husband to a twenty-plus-year-old “new” song, one that I wore out on my cassette of Rich’s The World As Best As I Can Remember It, Volume 2.

But I remember what Susan said
How love is found in the things we’ve given up
More than in the things that we have kept

And he said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that song, and I’m hooked.”

I wonder what Rich would be writing now if he was still here.

(This seems like a good time to put in a plug for one of my favorites, Andrew, who is releasing a greatest hits album. There are some new songs on there, too.)

Dragons Can Be Beaten

Our community is grieving here in Charlotte. This week we are saying goodbye to a 13 year old boy who was close to all of my boys. His loss was unexpected and quite sudden. His parents are some of our best friends.

I am grateful that the community is coming together to mourn and speaking truth to one another. I’m also grateful for music that tells the truth.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say in coming days, but for now, this should do:

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales

If you are able to give to support our precious friends, please go here.

Heard at Hutchmoot: Learning to See

Heard at Hutchmoot: A Series on Words From Our Weekend in Nashville

One of the sessions I attended at Hutchmoot was so overcrowded that they had to move it outside under the white tent on the church lawn.  David and I were a little late, so we found a seat towards the back. This would turn out to be a mistake. We should have pushed up to the front amongst the seat-savers.

The morning was still damp, but the first heat of the day was beginning to crawl over the grounds. A neighbor was out mowing his lawn, droning back and forth across the compacted dirt, weeds, and grass that made up the yard. The church air conditioner cast forth its pompous song, unyielding to the speakers, the crowd, or anyone who might try to hear anything nearby.

The session was led by Andrew Peterson and Jonathan Rogers, and was called “Writing Close to the Earth.” The topic was broad, but it focused mainly on creating in the midst of Earth.

That is a terrible way to say it.  Let me try some more and make it worse.

You know the phrase, “so heavenly-minded, he’s no earthly good”? As Christians we sometimes feel it necessary to lift our thoughts up above the earthly plane and relate on what we perceive as a more spiritual level.  We want to boil a story down and sum it up in a spiritually pithy little line.  We want a neatly-packaged lesson to apply.

However, this tendency causes us to miss the value in the everyday, “earthy” things.

(Like that lawn mower. And the church air conditioner, which is so loud that surely it should be cooling half of Nashville with its smug noise.)

Sometimes authors feel the need to sum up their meaning with a moral instead of letting the story speak.  Jonathan likened this tendency to that moment in “The A-team” when Mr. T would show up and tell kids to stay in school and not do drugs.

If you go on GoodReads, he said, you will find that most of the quotations people set aside to remember are those “abstractions” — the summary statements that make a moral assertion.  I am guilty of this habit. I have a Commonplace book where I keep quotes from things I’m reading.  My most treasured quote from Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River is “Exile is a country of shifting borders, hard to quit yet hard to endure, no matter your wide shoulders, no matter your toughened heart.”

(Enger’s book is not an example of over-moralizing, though. It’s a story first and thoroughly. )

The Christian community welcomes with open arms books and movies that preach at us didactically. Want a neat little moral tied up with a bow and a Bible verse? Look no further than the Christian fiction section. The suffering Amish heroine will both give her heart to Jesus as well as fall in love with the handsome, brooding Christian widower by the end of the book. The reader will come away with a happy feeling that everything will be happy in the end…or something like that.

If we are looking for an escape — an unrealistic one — we can look no further than those books.  Unfortunately life isn’t like that much of the time. Most of the time there are unfinished storylines with messy scenes of stumbling words and missed opportunities. At other times, there are flashes of beauty that can’t — and shouldn’t — be boiled down into a “moral of the story.”  What then?

As the session moved along, Andrew read to us excerpts from a Chesterton essay (“The Riddle of the Ivy”). One of the session attendees fought a valiant battle with the air conditioner and finally got it to sit still and listen for a minute. The neighbor completed his mowing, and the early autumn morning was quiet for a moment.

The speakers began fielding questions. Suddenly, a hawk, tail feathers vibrant in the sun,  descended from the sky and blazed into the trees behind them. A gasp erupted from the audience as we realized — that is what we miss when we over-moralize. Beauty that tells of a creator. Story that makes us see.

It takes focus, determination, and discipline to rise above the lawn mowers and air conditioners of the world and see the hawks. But oh, they are worth the effort.

Like Emily said, “…I don’t want my need for answers and connections to keep me from exploring story for the sake of the story and nothing more. Sometimes I write because I have something to say, and other times I write because I want to remember how to see.”

Heard at Hutchmoot: Solidarity of Mortality

Heard at Hutchmoot:  A Series on Words from our Weekend in Nashville

Friday evening at Hutchmoot, David and I sat down to dinner with the mysterious DKM.  If you meet the man in person, he does not seem all that mysterious, and he will even tell you his real name.  He also had a non-mysterious daughter with him, who was bright and funny in her own right.  We talked about his writing career, television shows, movies, and books.

DKM is the voice behind the Rabbit Room press book Subjects with Objects.  He teamed up with artist Jonathan Richter for the publication.  The book itself is hard to explain concisely; you should go read the interview or look at the samples in the Rabbit Room store — and then buy it.  I will only say that it is a great mind stretcher and conversation starter.

Without spoiling the entire book for you — because I think you should buy it, have I made that clear yet? — I will tell you that a concept it introduces is what DKM calls “the solidarity of mortality.”  The solidarity of mortality is that realization that every man, woman, and child on this earth will die at some point. As a result, we are all unified in that reality.

This indisputable truth should affect our interactions with other humans in some way.  It should cause us to look on with some sympathy people who might otherwise repulse us.  What if you knew that the person who is frustrating you today — yea, even that politician — would die tomorrow?  As DKM puts it, “We recognize something shared between us and we grieve for them, and then, in a mysterious juxtaposition, realize that we’re grieving for ourselves.”

you have never met a human soul

who didn’t feel the curse’s toll

who didn’t wish that death would die

– Andrew Peterson, “Day by Day”