Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beauty (or Bear Swamp, Unique Pines, Devilish Playgrounds, and the Glory of a God Who is Beautiful & Does Beautiful Things)

I had a most startling experience today. Not startling in the way that meeting the misfortunate Mr. Wayne last Thursday was startling. And not startling in the same way that it was startling to wake up both Friday and Saturday mornings coughing up blood. It was a different sort of startling.

I must write this post in a somewhat different manner than is typical for me. I suppose it will be somewhat conversational, or maybe stream of consciousness. I am not sure. I just think I ought to write. Usually I would prefer to first gather all my thoughts into an organized and systematic outline. But I am not doing that now. This is not my preferred method of writing, but it seems best considering my situation. I am afraid that if I were to try to organize my thoughts about my experience today I might lose some of them. I am afraid that if I wait until I have processed it all in an effort to make the most sense of it, I might whittle away at the raw materials of the experience and end up creating an image made in my own likeness. An image that would be, now doubt, an idol of sorts - something worthless and not worth any time.

So, this afternoon I was on the way to the doctor. Going to the doctor has become a rather common thing for me. Most of my life I have preferred to avoid the doctor. However, in 2004 that changed. Doctors have become a more regular part of existence. They seem to be the chosen means by which the sustainer of all things sustains me.

Since November I have come to view the doctors as an even more necessary part of my life and my visits have become more frequent.

I had an appointment that was for this past Tuesday that I rescheduled for this Thursday. Well today, Wednesday, I accidentally scheduled an interview for the very time that my doctor’s appointment was scheduled on for Thursday. So, I called the doctor’s office at 2 this afternoon to see if they would take me today. They always work me in whenever I ask them to, I suppose that is the benefit of being a familiar face to them (or at least a familiar chart).

I set out to make the drive that I so often make. But this drive is what was primarily so startling. It is a drive that I have made many times before. I used to love the drive. It really is through some beautiful countrysides.

However, the drive has recently become 45 minutes for me to vent my frustration. That is because for the past few months, I almost exclusively make the drive to go to the doctor.

As I sit there riding along my mind tends to question the goodness of the One who is good. I can question, and become bitter, at the one that knit me together in my mother’s womb. He knit me without an important part of my genes. And, as a result, I must go to the doctor, and they must take my blood, and they must read it, and they must give me medicine to keep it from killing me.

Somewhere, in a few places even, He says, “Life is in the blood.” The maddening irony is that, in my blood, there is also a good bit of death as well.

It can be hard to not think about these things as I make my way from Littleton down Bowers through Bear Swamp onto Hwy 48 through Rheasville and Beaverdam Swamp onto I-95 until 64 E takes me to the doctor.

It can also be hard to not think about the way that my blood has shattered a dream or two of mine. It is hard to not think about the way it rattled my sense of divine purpose and destiny as I lay on the CWR dock looking at the stars while feeling very small that summer of 2004.

I cannot deny that I love working where I am now. And I do realize that I would not be here were it not for the difficult things that I have had to face up to this point, but there is still this haunting fear in the back of my mind. A fear that my broken body might one day take down the sense of purpose that I have here in this ministry too. It has already disabled me from service to His Kingdom abroad, perhaps it will still yet disable me for service here in Littleton.

I know that such thoughts do not come from the Lord. But it would seem that my broken body does. The thoughts do not come from the Lord, but they do come right about the time that I pass that church with the red bricks and the two towers nestled between the even more towering oaks.

I suppose I have spent a lot of time thinking about some rather terrible and ugly things on my drive to the doctor.

But that didn’t quite happen today.

The drive today was more like a dream. Like a dream so pleasant that I quite nearly feared it. At times it almost had a nightmarish quality to it. That was what was so startling. Or perhaps it is the other way around. Maybe it had such a startling quality that it almost seemed like a nightmare.

I kept having the sensation that I was lost. Repeatedly. Though I was not conscious of having made any unusual turns, I felt as though I kept ending up in places that I had never been.

I kept seeing things that I had never seen before. Things that were so strikingly remarkable that it seemed impossible that I could have ever passed them by without having noticed them.

And then there was also the eerie sensation that I was seeing the old things again in a way that I never had before.

Everything was so surprising.

Everything was so beautiful.

I noted with a sense of hilarity how the crooked shadow of the straight telephone pole looked on the earthen rows of a recently plowed field.

I marveled at the uniformity of the pine fields as they strained upward in tight rows. But maybe they were not all that uniform after all. As I looked closer, and I feel that I did because the whole drive was experienced in slow motion, I saw that all of the trees were unique. And I was sorry that I thought they were so uniform and simple. And I was saddened by the lack of time to stop and note the many ways in which each tree was different from the others.

As I approached Bear Swamp I thought it looked like a place that you would never want to let people go to. It seemed too beautiful to be touched. As I looked at it out my window as I passed through it, I thought again that it is not a place that you would want people to go to. But this time I thought that to be more the case because it looked like one of the scary places that you hear about in good children’s stories. It looked like a playground for devils.

I thought I had made a wrong turn for certain when I saw that chimney standing by itself. The house had long collapsed into a heap of rubble but the chimney alone remained. It seemed to me to be an excellent picture of both man’s strength and his frailty.

I saw the tall, dead grass that was bent over by the wind. And I thought it marvelous that the grass would make such a graceful bow. But then I wondered if the top of the grass was really bent over or if the middle of it was simply reaching upwards.

I saw a field whose sole purpose seemed to be to direct one’s attention to the Bradford Pear in the middle of it.

I stopped at an intersection that would have seemed more familiar to me had I been able to take my attention off of the vine-covered pole. Those vines were all over that pole. How could I have not seen it before? I wonder why vines would want to climb so high.

Beaverdam Swamp – that’s a swamp where some kids could play. It looks like it was made for boys and adventures. I’m not sure what it was about it, but it looked like a place for boys to be heroes and fight dragons and save princesses and beat bad guys.

Everything seemed more alive and more beautiful. I suppose all these things have been there all along, but I had not yet seen them.

So much beauty and delight and magic in that drive. So much to be startled by. And all the more startling was how often I have let it go unnoticed.

I have so often missed it for the darkness and pain of my own mind as it questions its Maker.

The philosophers of old wrote of three transcendentals: the good, the true, and the beautiful. They said that if anything was good that it must then also be true and beautiful. If anything was true, then it must also be good and beautiful. And finally, if anything was beautiful, then it had to be also good and true.

I believe that all three things, the good and the true and the beautiful are found in, and flow from, our God.

I believe He is good and the good.

I believe He is true and the true.

I believe He is beautiful and the beautiful.

But, there are moments when I doubt. I find that I often echo the prayer of an ancient brother who cried: “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Today, when I wanted to question that He is good and that He is true, I found that His Spirit would not let me question that He is beautiful. His beauty is evident even in the fallen and broken world that He created.

It makes me sad that we cannot enjoy every piece of the beauty that is in this world at this time. I could live my same life up to this point a hundred times over and never fully take in all the beauty that I have seen.

Yet I have hope. Maybe that is part of the glory of an eternity in the New Creation. A New Creation would be a most terrible tease if we did not have an eternity to enjoy it. I think in glory I will forever be able to pass by that particular oak once more. I will be able to look on with hilarity at the crooked shadow cast across the rows of dirt for as long as I like. There will be no reason to not take the time to marvel at every particular curve of the vine as it climbs upward. I can listen again and again to the chirping of the birds and their sweet serenade that, in a world without beauty, is senseless, but in a world with beauty, is perfect.

I got to the doctor refreshed but also overwhelmed. That may not make sense, but it is how I felt. I checked in and took a seat. In an effort to take my mind off of what had happened, not because it was bad but because I do not fully understand it, I opened my book to the page where I had left off. For whatever reason, I had left that particular chapter of my book, The Man Who Was Thursday, unfinished. So I located the last paragraph I had read and resumed the story.

This is what I read:

“He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around him, in the grass under his feet; he felt the love of life in all living things. He could almost fancy that he heard the grass growing; he could almost fancy that even as he stood fresh flowers were springing up and breaking into blossom in the meadow – flowers blood-red and burning gold and blue, fulfilling the whole pageant of spring.”

Life is good because He is good. Life is true because He is true.

Life is beautiful because He is beautiful.

Among other things, I was reminded of that today.

On a side note: I realize that this post may not make sense to anyone but me. If that is the case, it is most certainly due to my inability to communicate clearly or even think clearly about the experience. I also anticipate that someone might read it and say “Ahh, Luke has too much time on his hands.” While it is possible that one might think that, I hope it is evident that I write because I actually believe that I, no we, currently have too little time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Chesterton Quote

"It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Jesus was a virgin. His Bride wasn’t. He loved us anyway."

If you were to ask me the top three theologians that have shaped the way I think about the world, Russell Moore's name would come up pretty quick. I miss sitting under his teaching. I still try to listen to one of his sermons about once a week and I love to read his blog and various articles. He has had a huge impact on my Christian walk.

He occasionally does posts on ethical questions. This one about a person's sexual past really struck me. It would seem that it has stirred some controversy, but I thought it was great. Check it out.

One of my favorite lines: "Jesus was a virgin. His Bride wasn’t. He loved us anyway."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two things of little importance

When you can feel the sun-warmed mud between your toes as you run it is a good reminder that we serve a God worth worshiping. He's a God that made the sun, and warmness, and mud, and the ability to feel it all with a sense of delight.

Today, I tracked the coyote that has been visiting my house. I would have caught him too. Had I only known a little something about coyote-tracking.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick (or I Can Wear Green for That Guy)

The story of St. Patrick of Ireland is an incredible one. In short, Patrick, as a young Roman man of noble birth, was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken into slavery. As a slave, he labored for years with little to eat, mud for a bed, and no freedom. During this time, however, he grew in his walk with Christ.

Eventually he escaped and crossed about 200 miles of land through hostile territory to make it to a harbor where he managed to get on a ship that would carry him back to Britain. After being reunited with his parents, he soon realized that the Irish people had no one that was willing to share the Gospel with them. Many of his peers considered the Irish sub-human and did not believe that they could even understand the Gospel.

Against his parents’ urging, Patrick decided to return to the pagan Ireland to give them the Gospel. He spent the rest of his days there faithfully proclaiming the message of salvation. His life was often threatened by pillaging kings and angry Druids. In the end though, he effectively established many thriving churches on the island.

His story is one of faith and courage. Below is a prayer that, according to legend, was written by Patrick and prayed each morning. A few parts of it can sound kind of odd, but they make a lot of sense in the context of his life. Also, this prayer is often referred to as the “Breastplate of Patrick.” Man, they had some cool names for things back in the day… Here it is:

I rise today

with a mighty power, calling on the Trinity,

with a belief in the threeness

with a faith in the oneness

of the creator of creation.

I rise today

with the power of Christ’s birth and baptism,

with the power of his crucifixion and burial,

with the power of his resurrection and ascension,

with the power of his return for the final judgment.

I rise today

with the power of the love of the cherubim,

in obedience of angels,

in service of archangels,

in hope of the resurrection and reward,

in the prayers of the patriarchs,

in the foretelling of the prophets,

in the preaching of the apostles,

in the faith of the confessors,

in the innocence of the holy virgins,

in the deeds of righteous men.

I rise today

with the strength of the sky

with the light of the sun,

with the splendor of the moon,

with the brilliance of fire,

with the blaze of lightning,

with the swiftness of wind,

with the depth of the ocean,

with the firmness of the earth,

and the strength of rock.

I rise today

with the power of God to guide me,

with the strength of God to raise me,

with the wisdom of God to lead me,

with the vision of God to see for me,

with the ears of God to hear for me,

with the words of God to speak for me,

with the hand of God to protect me,

with the path of God before me,

with the shield of God to guard me,

with the friendship of God to keep me safe from

the contriving of demons

the temptations of sin

the inclinations of my nature,

and everyone who wishes me harm,

far and near,

alone and in the crowd.

I summon today all those powers to protect me

against every cruel force which may attack my body and soul,

against the incantations of false prophets,

against the evil laws of unbelievers,

against the false laws of the heretics,

against the subtle temptations of idolatry,

against the magic of women, blacksmiths, and Druids,

against every knowledge which corrupts body and soul.

Christ protect me today

from poison and burning,

from drowning and wounding,

so that I might gain an abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ below me, Christ above me,

Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me,

Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I stand,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye which sees me,

Christ in every ear which hears me.

I rise today

with a mighty power, calling on the Trinity,

with a belief in the threeness,

with a faith in the oneness

of the creator of creation.

++This was translated by Philip Freeman, check out his book: St. Patrick of Ireland, you can borrow it from me sometime if you like...++

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Language (or Langue, or Sprache, or لغة, or språk...)

Language is difficult.

It has been a few years, but I have had multiple semesters of Spanish classes. If I had to carry a conversation in Spanish right now the conversation would contain a lot of counting.

I finished with A’s in my Greek classes. At one point I could recite the first three chapters of Romans to you in Greek. Give me two verses of Koine to translate today and I will go running to my books trying in vain to even remember the order of the alphabet.

Hebrew has been, and remains, my academic nemesis. I’ve taken the preliminary course twice and dropped the beginner’s course twice.

I tried to teach myself German once. I made some headway, but at this point all I can remember is that “fahrtwind” has something to do with tavel or buses. And that is because I couldn’t stop laughing as a 16 year old after reading the sign at the stinky bus stop in Hannover. Fahrtwind.

This week I have had the last track from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack stuck in my head. I try to sing it, but I end up sounding like this kid but not nearly as adorable. The song sounds real cool, but I don’t know the words. They say “jai ho” a lot. I’m not sure what that means, but I think that “ho” is the third person singular for “to be.” At one point of the song there is, I think, a little Spanish. I know I heard a “Salud” in there.

This post by my friend Rachel is quite funny: online-translation-of-cooking-instructions-for-my-black-beans.

Language is beautiful.

Words can move you. Move within you to stir up emotion. Move within you to make you think. Move within you to propel you into action.

It is not even necessary to know what the words mean. Words can be powerful and beautiful even if their referents are unknown. Add music and their power is increased. What is music after all? Sound. It is sound without a specific referent, but sound that still contains a certain power. Music can cut to your soul. If I ever meet someone that does not find pleasure in any sort of music, I will most certainly pity the person.

I have no idea what Feist is saying in her cover of “Tout Doucement.” But I love the sound of her voice as she sings the words “la vie c'est épatant.”

Have you ever heard a church service in Latin? Did the words strike you as holy? Did the foreign sounds strike you as something old and sacred?

People can imitate accents because there are certain things that characterize the sounds of a language. Perhaps the sounds of the language come off of the edge of the lips. Perhaps the sound comes more out of the bottom of the mouth. Or maybe the language is more in the throat.

Language, it is so beautiful.

In English, I have so many options. I do not have to just say “timber.” I can also say “lumber.” They are not exactly the same. They have the same referent, but they are different in their form. They each have a different sound and that is for a reason. Language is not simple or confined. It is rich with all sorts of delights to be found within it.

I can look at the sky and thank the Lord for the heavens. Or perhaps I might want to thank Him for the firmament. Or maybe the wide blue yonder. Or the atmosphere. Or up there. I do not have to just thank Him for the sky. But my brother beside me can thank Him for the “cielo.” And another looks to the himmel.

I like to hear words. To say words. And to look at words. They are a gift.

Language is a gift from God. It is something that points us to Him. Words are beautiful because the Word is beautiful.

The essence of a word is true because the One who is the Word is true.

But not everything about language is delightful. It is difficult to learn a foreign language. I have not met my Hebrew requirements for school yet. I have friends on the mission field who struggle daily with communicating the Gospel because of a struggle with language.

The story of the Tower of Babel found in Genesis 11 is an odd story. The people of the earth were attempting to build a city that would extend into the heavens. It is a lofty dream and ideal: a city so grand that it would be a part of the city of God. A city so glorious that its reach extended into the starry realm above. They had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar.

YHWH came down to see the city and He said, “Behold they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

This part of the story baffles me. I get the part about building the city that reaches into heaven. It sounds good. I even get the idea that man was trying to do something that is going to be accomplished in Christ. These people were trying to build a city. They did not have the understanding that the splendid vision of a unity between the city of man and the city of God is the result of Christ’s redeeming work. However, the city of man will not reach up into the heavens to touch God in His dwelling place. Rather, the city of God will come down and be joined together with a new earth and the people will say “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21:3). I get that this is all to happen in Revelation 21 and not in Genesis 11.

But I am baffled by the idea that nothing would be impossible for man were it not for the confusion of language. I mean, I can think of a lot of other things that seem to be keeping us from building a city that reaches to the heavens. Do we really have the money? Or the necessary knowledge to engineer such a thing? I don’t really even know where heaven is, much less how to build a city to it. I love looking at the Hubble images of space. I think the images are telling of the glory of God, but I have not noticed a celestial city out there.

I believe language is powerful, but it is difficult to see how a unified language would enable us to do things that I consider impossible.

And still yet, I am even further baffled by the story. Language came from God in the Garden of Eden. I suppose it is a part of being made in the image of God. He speaks, so we speak. The multiplicity of languages seems to be the result of His desire to confuse man in Genesis 11. And certainly, it is confusing. But I am baffled that even this act of confusing man and preventing him from making a terrible mistake contains so much beauty and grace. As maddening as they can be, a part of me loves the multiplicity of languages.

Move along in the story of redemption and you get to Pentecost. Pentecost is the day that the Spirit of Christ was poured out on the sons of God in a new and exciting way. Among a great many other things that happened on the day of Pentecost, the redemption of Christ is applied to the confusion of languages. But oh man! It is such a glorious redemption! It does not abolish the different languages. No, instead it abolishes the confusion! What a glorious surprise! It is so unexpected. The Lord did not reverse Genesis 11. He redeemed it.

“We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11).

Go further along in the story of redemption and it gets even better. When John sees visions of glory, he sees people of every tongue gathered around the throne of God. He sees a great many people.

People from all languages crying out with one voice saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Language is beautiful. For now, language is also difficult. But this will not always be the case. There is a coming day when we will experience the glories of language in its entirety. It is a day in which all languages, with all of their beauty and nuances, will be spoken and heard. It is the day of our Lord.

But that day is not yet. That day will come at the right moment. For now though, it is our responsibility to carry forward the message of the Word. It is a beautiful message of redemption. A message preached with words so beautiful that Isaiah, that prophet of old, once exclaimed that the beauty of the message found in those words would make even the feet of those who carry it beautiful (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15).

St. Patrick's Confession

I have just finished reading Confession by St. Patrick. It is a letter that outlines his life and what the Lord had done in and through him. Below are a few quotes that moved me:

"I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unsophisticated and unworthy among all the faithful of God."

"Because of this I cannot, I will not, be silent. I will tell of the great blessings God has granted to me and the grace he has shown to me in this land of slavery. Because this is the way we should behave toward God - when he has shown us why we were wrong and we have admitted our sins, we should praise him and proclaim his kindness to everyone in the world."

"I know if that [death] were to happen, I would gain my soul along with a new body on that day we will undoubtedly rise again like the sun in the morning - like the son Jesus Christ our redeemer. We will become like children of the living God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, so that by him, through him, and in him, we will be like kings."

"I have thought about writing this letter for a long time, but I kept putting it off until now. I have been afraid that people would laugh at the way I write... I am very ashamed and afraid to show just how awkward my writing is. I am not able to explain things in just a few words like those who can write briefly. My mind and my spirit cannot even work together so that my words say what I really feel inside."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Un-Christlike Christian Outrage...

Here is a link to a great post about misplaced Christian outrage.

It is by Russell Moore, a man that has had a profound impact on my life. Give it a quick look when you get the chance.

He has a number of other articles and resources at

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day to day pours out speech (or Have You Seen and Heard the Frozen Mud?)

It has been cold when I walk to work in the morning. A lot of the time I can catch a ride with one of my coworkers as they pass my place on their way to the office. But that doesn’t always happen.

When I leave my place in the morning I am always sure to walk to the patch of dirt behind my Jeep on my way to the office. Lately, that patch of dirt is actually mud when the temperature is above freezing. In the morning the mud is frozen.

The frozen mud makes the most beautiful crystals and designs. As the water freezes, it expands and pushes the dirt upward. The crystal formations are dotted with holes from stones that cannot keep up with the swelling mud around them.

Not only is the mud beautiful, but it also makes the most satisfying crunch when I step on it. From the moment I step out my door I get excited to step on the mud crystals as I close my eyes and listen to the sound of them under my feet. It’s fantastic.

“There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”