'Tis of Thee

Unless you were born here, you must pass a citizenship test to become a citizen of the United States of America. You become naturalized by memorizing rules, regulations, and history. However you become a more natural American when you realize a hot dog can be both something you eat, or a show off on the ball field. It’s knowing the idiosyncratic nuances of the language, customs and cultural norms that help immigrants feel at home in their adopted country, and unfortunately it is ignorance of the customs and cultures they bring with them that lead to prejudicial persecution.

As heirs in Christ we are ambassadors to the world around us. In it, not of it. Citizens of Heaven if you will, but unless we know the language, the customs, and culture of heaven we will feel out of place in both worlds. The goal is not to try and force this world to match our expectations, but to live such heavenly lives that Christ’s proclamation, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” become a tangible reality for the folks we live with, work with, relax with, or come to meet as if by chance.

We don’t have to pass a test on chapter and verse to earn this new status. We are born-again into relationship with The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by faith. We trust that He will never leave us, or forsake us, or to bring it a little closer to home, deport us, or ban us entry into His Grace. Love God, love your neighbor. Done deal. If love were our natural composition we wouldn’t need a commandment, or supernatural power to sustain it, but we do and we do.

We go and do likewise. We feed the hungry, we visit the sick and imprisoned, we give shelter, comfort, clothing, and fellowship. We are Good Samaritans before we are Good Americans, and we look to the day when they both mean the same thing.

Love Is In The Air We Breathe

 

Somehow becoming a climate crisis denier has become the social and political equivalent of defending God’s sovereign power. The world He asks us not to be of isn’t the earth, the natural vulnerable planet we are to steward, but the corrupt world of men’s lust for power. Trying to excuse, or ignore, the consequences of our environmental choices because we believe God could fix it all in a snap is lazy theology. Be ye transformed, by the renewal of your energy, is a gospel all of creation is groaning to hear.

 

Wisdom applied to our household trash, our consumption habits, and our modes of transportation would be a welcome change of scenery. Just by changing a letter, greed becomes green. What responsible personal choices might we make today, and tomorrow, to insure future todays and tomorrows for our grandkids and their grandkids?

 

There is nothing sacred about poluting our air and water. To do so for the profit of a few at the expense of the many is oppression. Our faith is built upon doing for the least of these and the least we can do is save a little breathing space for future use. The Tree of Life is any oxygen producing plant converting the CO2 gas in the air from a poison to a positive. I’d love to see a church youth group planting real live oaks, in righteousness, in the hood.

 

Picking up trash at the beach, giving carpool rides to shut-ins, pulling a neighbor’s weeds, by hand, to eliminate the use of carcinogetic herbicide are all community service projects waiting for the armies of the Lord to volunteer. Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo, a syndicated comic strip of yesteryear quipped, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It is true the battle is the Lord’s, but like the Marines, He is looking for good personnel.

 

The song says they will know we are Christians by our love. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they knew us by our carbon footprint as well ?

New Listing

A young friend of mine's best friend from high school died a few days ago from an apparent overdose. It wasn't an accident. Suicide. Young twenties. Relationship difficulties complicated his early re-hab progress. The enemy came but to lie, steal, and destroy. Jesus came that we may have life more abundantly, but as the poet John Donne says, "Any man's death diminishes"... us all.

My friend cried while telling me how horrible he felt not being able to watch his friend use heroin and now wondering what, if anything, he might have done to help the young man get sober. The second guessing afterthought is an all too common pain. I held him and told him to feel everything and raise his kids. I doubt there is a modern family among us that doesn't have some version of this story line cutting to the bone. Addiction is not fiction, but it is not the truth of who we are meant to be.

I'm clean twenty plus years, lots of people are, and more and more of us need to be. When I was using I couldn't imagine a day without getting loaded. What fun would that be? How could I feel special, unique, clever, connected, etc unless I was high?  I went to meetings. I met people who knew my insides better than I did. I put the drugs down and began a process of not putting people down to make myself feel taller. It is a practice we could all use more of, especially where we might intersect the fragile.

Life and death is in the power of the tongue. Telling someone you love them helps them believe it. Of course actions speak louder than words, but words are the bullets and bandages in the battle of the mind. Tell someone you love them today. Tell yourself. Tell me.

 Jesus loves you, I love you, and the list goes on and on and on from there. Make sure you add a few more names, could be the best thing you do today and tomorrow. 

 

The Print of Peace

            
            

        
    
        
                
        


  

        Being productive. It’s a common enough expression. I’m sure some Zen cats have taken it apart to stress, or would it be un-stress, the being part. Production gets the reputation, the practice behind it gets repeated, rarely completed, and competes with everything for it’s very existence.
 
I sometimes produce writing. I’m not very disciplined. I have two deadlines a month that I’ve honored almost without fail for a little over five years. I’ve written and published a book. I’m developing a webpage to catalogue over one hundred poems and essays, so yes I sometimes produce writing.
 
I mention this because it has only been a week or so since I realized I have something to say.
 
I play a saxophone for fun. I’m not in a band, haven’t had a lesson in way too long, but because I had a good foundation a few decades ago, and because I listen to music and have musical friends that support me, I can make a musical statement that makes sense in a simple tune. It is satisfying to do so, a reward for studious effort, an homage to who and what I’ve listened to, it is part of who I am, that being thing has a musical inclusion clause.
 
It is not required that I choose between being or producing as a writer or a musician. In fact I’m working on a book about the Holy Ghost as Muse called, The Sound of Spirit, as a way to satisfy the urge to weave these two expressive modes into a more unified life fabric. My recent epiphany revealed that not practicing my music shows up in my playing, and my spirit, as a malaise, a discomfort, that is only alleviated by getting the horn out of the case and into my mouth.
 
Curiously I had no such corresponding nag on my psyche for writing. I get inspirations here and there, and take pains to get something written, but it never occurred to me to practice my writing. I take writing for granted, so much so that I once had a dream that Saint Peter met me at the Pearly Gates and whomped me over the head with a bar from the gate because I didn’t take the gift of storytelling seriously. The dream was so real I checked for bruises when I woke up.
 
And then out of the blue, that may or may not be the color of the Holy Ghost’s eyes, I wrote something the other day because I had something to say, even though I was days away from having a deadline. I published it on my webpage and just like that, with a few keystrokes, and my copy and paste skills intact, I entered the real world. I became awake in a dream I’ve had since I was a child learning how to hold a pencil.
 
I hadn’t always wanted to become a writer as I intrinsically knew I am one, but I didn’t value the position as much as I would if I were able to play a jazz chorus and nail the 12 bar turn around. Because it was natural to me I lessened the supernatural value of the gift until I saw I was grieving the Holy Spirit by not realizing the gift was hand made, especially for me, and wrapped in layers and layers of treasurable paper that I would never tire of exploring.
 
My time in the world is more connectable when I type something out for public contemplation. Journaling, in my case, is a complete waste of time as my penmanship would likely get me accused of writing in tongues. God, in His wisdom and mercy, has got me tech savvy enough to sit up in my bed and write on my tablet. No small feat, maybe not parting of the Red Sea, or walking on water, but it raises the eyebrows, and hopes, of those who know me as a two fingered letter selector.


I am an equipped saint, ready to quip, and quicken. The writer inside of me is writing to the reader, or writer, inside of you because God, Our Father, wants us to be better acquainted. Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and a great Editor. He justly changed my deadlines, into lifelines.

Ink Blot

Ink on skin. Tattoo. Proof at one time a person had too much time and too much money. Art values aside, the painful, and addicting injection of pigment into the epidermis is meant to be a statement. It is an elaborate ritual, even if all you’re paying for is a satirical bar code across the back of your neck.

 

If budget would allow, and I wasn’t so skinny as to make site selection difficult, I’d get another one today. The system I’ve employed for the last four tattoos, and a few subsequent cover-ups, is to select a Bible verse worthy of commemorating and meet with an artist to come up with an original, or at least provocative design. At some point in the planning session I’ll ask the artist if they have a Bible handy as I want to check my verse reference to make sure it’s accurate.

 

It used to surprise me that a tattoo parlor would have a Bible in house as a tool of the trade. But as I've never having been disappointed in my request I can confidently state that if you are ever in need of a scriptural pick me up you can count on the denizens of the flashing neon dragon.

My private agenda is having the parlor staff research my verse selection, even to the point of having them read it out loud to me .Satisfied that the chapter and verse are correct, and adequately matched to an elaborate, but affordable design, I casually ask the artist or staff if they had any premonition they’d be ministering the Gospel when they got out of bed that morning.

Since the inkster is now captive to my flesh I can proceed to share the Spirit that is laden in the scripture we are permanently affixing to that narrow band of space that defines my bicep. One word of caution here, if you’re considering using this method to spread the message, make sure your selected patch can support the space required. I had to abbreviate Matthew 10:38 to Matt. when I could have gone with either Mark 8:34 or Luke 9:23. Aesthetics count.

 

There is also an advantage to memorizing your selected verse so you won’t be embarrassed like I was when somebody asks you what is Isaiah 35:1. Thank God someone standing next to me at the picnic knew the verse, but how often can you count on that happening? We are to be living epistles, and technically that directive speaks more to the qualities of our character than the intricacies of our body art and jewelry, but hey, we’ve got to start somewhere, n'est ce pas?

One Nation Under

If it dehumanizes, it's propaganda. If it takes an isolated incident and makes a general statement, it's propaganda. If it aims to convince you that most people, if not everybody, feels or thinks like you, it's propaganda. If it aims to convince you that most people, if not everybody, that is not like you is against you, it's propaganda. If it offers outrage as solace, it's propaganda. If it insists isolation is a deeper connection, it's propaganda. If it keeps you on edge, instead of on your knees, it's propaganda.

1 John 4 encourages us to weigh things spiritually. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Amazingly enough John had this insight long before Facebook gave us a barrage of opposing viewpoints at the click of a mouse. Propaganda, according to Webster's, is the methodical spread of ideas or information to injure a movement, cause, nation, or a people group. It is maliciousness designed, and disguised, for profit. Would it surprise you to learn that much of the political baiting and back biting 'news clips' we are subject to on social media, whether cast as either conservative, or liberal, is propagated by the same source playing both ends against the middle? Misinformation is a sleight of hand trick masking the iron fist of crowd control in a velvet glove.

John says in verse 17 of chapter 4, "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgement; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. He who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God" and yet hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this command we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also."

Love is not a stage prop. It is serious, and delightful. It is rigorous. It comforts. It confounds our real enemy. Love gives identity by sharing dignity with all of us made in God's image. Love advances, when the temptation arises to retreat into our preferred political camp, the Gospel intervenes. Mark 9:47 "Whoever receives one of these little children in My Name, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives Him Who sent Me."

These little children, in God's eyes, are whomever we wish to ignore, denigrate, or despise. They could be Muslims, Methodists, Mexicans, or our fellow Americans. Despite all the rhetoric and rabble rousing, every person in our path is an opportunity to realize grace. If we truly wish to make America great, let's enlist the words of Jesus Who admonishes us to become servants of all. 

 

 

It's Your Turn


    

        I’m buying my bride of nearly twenty years a chess set for Valentine’s Day. (As it’s meant to be a surprise I hesitate to put it in writing here, but hey, who reads InspireAFire anyways?) One of her love languages is quality time spent together and, after many years of research, spending such time in front of the television is lowering our standards of quality.
Why chess? Well for starters the queen is the most powerful piece on the board, and the king the most vulnerable. Makes for an interesting marriage analogy right in line with Peter’s admonition in his first letter, chapter 3 verse 7, ” Husbands, live with your wife in understanding, give her honor as you are heirs together of grace, that your prayers may not be hindered.”
In order to play the game you must face your opponent. Too often treating our spouses like faceless hindrances to our personal agendas gets to be the default position behind the closed doors of our home, bedroom, or family room. Perhaps I should just speak for myself, but I don’t think I’m alone in confusing fear of the Mrs, with fear of the Lord, as a precursor to wisdom.
I will have to teach her the game, so a commitment to honest instructional communication is paramount. ( I have some track record here as she can well appraise the intricacies of baseball performance and strategy because of my quite vocal tutelage, and I , in turn, can follow a Boston Celtics game with an appreciation of history and skill because of how she schooled me in the tradition of the winningest team in the NBA.)
I will teach her how to play, how to win, and I am sure she will teach me how to teach. The game will reveal itself to us, as we reveal, or conceal our selves, again and again, to each other. It is no secret that I will use this opportunity to make a move on her, after all “Check Mate” is just another way of saying, “I do.”

The Sound of Spirit...an excerpt from my work in progress

Comradery and community often explore the ‘something larger than the sum of its parts’ phenomenon. This sense of hyper-connectivity may be an unspoken reason music, especially jazz and praise music, draw our attention away from ourselves into our selves. Naturally we are first pulled into the sound and pulse of the song, and then perhaps our focus may shift to the personalities and talents producing the music. Occasionally, our inner hearing begins to inquire as to the orchestrator of our very breath and heartbeat. The singer, ‘took our breath away’, the drummer matched, even exceeded the pounding in our chest until we say, ‘my heart stood still’.

 

The art of articulating the holy, of revealing, and reveling, in a raucous reverence is a combination of underlying and overlapping themes. The fascinating unity of Creator and creation is reflected in being able to identify a musician by his or her sound. We judge them by their fruit. Ripe, delicious, hanging on a tender branch in the dawn lit dew. A note comes out of the horn and the heart of the player transferring the conception, perception and resounding perspective to the recipient. The listener listens in.

 

The Lord, sometimes, gets credit for inspiring such interaction. The word inspire breaks down pretty well into ‘in spirit’. “A little bird told me” is a widely understood explanation for a sudden transfer of insight or information. A jazz enthusiast might cite Jimmy Heath, the greatest living encyclopedia of jazz culture, as being THE ‘Little Bird’ in question. A Christian devotee might source the Dove of Peace. Is it important to give it a name? Can we acknowledge that sometimes music causes, or should I say pauses us to hear something ringing in ourselves that originates in the literal aural pulse of the cosmos?

 

Jazz asks questions of the Creator by coaxing intimate solutions of the complex and spontaneous juxtapositions of shared, but very personal experiences. The player who draws attention to himself may have a technician’s prowess of his (sic) instrument, but he is missing the spirit of jazz. We call it playing music, but the interplay among musicians takes a lot of work. Beautiful music succeeds in disguising the strenuous reality of preparation, practice, rehearsal and painstaking precision that goes into being perceived as effortless expression.

 

Joshua Redman speaks of the serious joy and visceral potency of playing live with an engaged audience participating in slicing pieces of a mysteriously universal pie. He credits the honesty of the moment as being a lubricant to the engine of growth that encourages the player, and the audience, to deal with it night after night. As Van Morrison sings, “There’s no need for argument, there’s no argument at all.”

 

In the 1980’s Horace Silver made a move to create his own recording label to feature five albums of healing holistic music. His concern that being so forward with a spiritual basis for music might prove to be damaging to his ‘secular’ career proved to be accurate and so his project folded into obscurity. I would love to get my hands, and ears, on those recordings. Mr. Silver would be one composer I would trust to explore the qualities of the God who gives God given talents. The phraseology of the Black Gospel swinging church almost reduces the call and response of a hand clapping, side stepping choir to a cliché`d soundtrack, but the profundity and impact of even the simplest Negro spiritual is of such historical importance as to tip the scales, especially the blue ones, towards eternal consequence.