Monday, August 17, 2009

All Good Things Come to an End: Goodbye Summer

I'm very very pumped about school starting up. I don't think I've ever been more excited for Fall, but of course I'm pretty freaked out that the summer will be over for me in a few days. Worship team arrives on Friday. We drive up north on Saturday. Rehearsals are all next week.

So, here is my Zen-like lesson from this summer: in order to have a good summer, you cannot want to have a good summer. After having two weird summers here, I decided last Spring that I wasn't going to think of this as a 'summer vacation' in the same idyllic sense that I have wanted it to be in the past. In the last few summers I found myself panicking as I saw June then July then August all pass by. I kept wondering if I was using my time well. If everything was happening according to expectation. So, I've worked most of the summer. In fact, I've been much more disciplined with a daily routine this summer than I have ever been in my whole entire life. I've even been exercising pretty regularly. A good day for me has been:

waking around or before 7am, time to read, write, mediate.
work on the two classes I've been taking this summer
11am exercise, shower, more reading writing
reading until a late dinner with Susanna around 7pm
Read something with her, watch a movie/TV show
to bed by 11pm at the latest

So, yeah, it has been a summer of reading and writing. Lots of Augustine, Teresa of Avila (see below for a sermon excerpt where I reference Teresa), and the history of hymnody. These were my two final courses to finish my master's at Regent. I have a comprehensive paper to write next summer, but for the most part, I'm finished! Kinda exciting and kinda sad. I'll have been slowly hacking away at this for eight years when I turning that final project next summer. It is a delight to learn. I'm very thankful for the gift. I'm considering a DMin as my next step as a way to keep me accountable to reading and writing. We'll see.

I did write two songs for the hymnody course. I'm nervously excited to show them to the worship team and see what they think. Susanna gave me some great help. She pushes me so well. Her ideas are right 9 out of 10 times. And that is a pretty good rate. Trustworthy indeed.

I called Brian Bergman today to ask him about this keyboard I'm buying for the school. It really stirred me up to talk to him even for just a few minutes. My week in Oklahoma City in June was really special. I miss so many good people so much. There is a definite cost to being here in Holland. I've been reading Rowan Williams on Christian suffering. The Apostle Paul often mentioned how much he missed various friends in distant cities. He was always so faithful to send encourage people to greet each other with a holy kiss. For some reason I've been created to love and hold onto love for people in a deep way that does cause me pain now when I'm so far away. Rowan Williams draws out how friendship was a consitent theme for Augustine. For those of you who care, it is an interesting theme for Augustine because he has been put to task recently by the late Colin Gunton for having a trinitarian paradigm that was so horizontally oriented that it perhaps does not theologically account for our horizontal relationship--meaning that Gunto believes that Augustine didn't thoroughly draw out the theological model for friendship in a way that the Eastern fathers did.

I bring this up because friendship is such a powerful gift. I want to understand it in light of who God is and how he created it rather than how we might want to have friendship. I want to grow in an understanding of a God-designed friendship rather than a human design. A tricky puzzle that will take some time. I have a few friends who think Gunton's reading of Augustine is completely out to lunch. I need to read it all again to come to my own conclusions.


A few recommendations:

Sunset Rubdown Dragonslayer I'm a sucker for anything that Spencer Krug does ever since we saw him in Wolf Parade last summer. His live intensity is thrilling. I'm holding onto my excitment of loving a band exponentially more after see them live. I've had the opposite happen too many times. This record will either be a love or hate it for most people...but if you want to try out something really eclectic, this record has lots to discover.

The Field Yesterday and Today This is mind boggling electronica, well it is mind boggling if you like something created more for the sake of it's textures and layers. This is a headphones album if there ever was one.

The Besnard Lakes eponymous Again, this is another record you might need to really spend some time with. It starts and ends with a sound that is so blatantly invoking Pet Sounds that it has to be an intentional decision. But the core of the record is very different. I love records most that give me many different kinds of sounds in different ways. If you read through my music reviews, you'll see that I'm almost more interested in the soundscape of records than I am in the traditional song structure.

Fourtet Pause This an older record. Found it used at Zulu. Like what I said above about soundscape...I listen for that stuff in records because of projects like Fourtet and Boards of Canada. I don't think that Fourtet has put anything out that I don't want to own. Joyfully creative in a very detailed, particular way. Beats, noises, acoustic guitars and kids voices chanting about mosquitos (that is the song that drives Susanna mad).


Joel Limpic (to the left here) joined me for a the classes at Regent. He'd asked around about the best rosteries. A place called 49th Parallel has now redefined 'coffee' for me. No more dark roast. No more Starbucks ever. No more burnt roasts. I'm not exaggerating when I say that after drinking that coffee for over two weeks, I returned to Michigan deeply concerned that I would not be able to complete the summer as a happy man. I've started buying my beans from JPs instead of Lemonjellos because JPs gets their beans from Michigan roasters daily and weekly. They've got all their bean in huge jars along one wall and I can go through them all, lids open, smelling away. The 49th Parallel Guatemalan bean I'd had in Vancouver made me a believer in light roast. The smell is insanely lovely. The beans at JPs aren't 49th P, but they are better than I'd expected.

I had the opportunity to preach a few weeks ago at our little bilingual Crossroads Chapel. It was a very helpful opportunity for me. I need to teach and share what I'm learning. I need to see if what I'm growing in can bear fruit for others. I've excerpted an un-edited section from that sermon here below. I didn't read the sermon verbatim, but having the text in front of me helped me stay on track. I decided to preach the lectionary, so I went with the Gospel passage from John 6 as my text.

From August 9

This summer I read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. In these personal reflections she really is hard on herself, even calls herself the “chief of all sinners,” the “most wicked of God’s servants.” Yet, she has no major struggle with what we would today consider taboo sin, no drunkenness, fornication, no addiction to secret sin. But still, she does see her life long struggle with prayer as a kind of secret sin.

When considering the first twenty years as a nun, she considers herself a liar and a deceiver. She had the outward appearance of religiosity. She performed all that was required of her as a nun. She was praised by her superiors. Her confessors affirmed her prayer life and spiritual fervor, yet she confesses that she was running from God the whole time. It was one thing for her to go through the motions, to recite prayers and Scriptures, but she was not answering the invitation of Christ to let prayer become a part of the interior of her life. Those twenty years the door had been open to her to walk in the light, to walk in the Spirit, but yet she continued to live through her own strength.

Now why do we avoid prayer? Why would any of us ignore the opportunity to commune with the Creator of all the known universe? What is it that keeps us from eating eternal bread and drinking everlasting water? The answer that this passage in John chapter six gives us is that we can’t draw near to God because we are too busy grumbling.

The first part of this chapter six is the telling of the well-known story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with a little lunch of fishes and loaves. He’s been performing these kinds of signs and wonders and the crowds following him are getting bigger and bigger. Jesus is so exhausted from all his ministering, his teaching and serving that he leaves the disciples to get some time by himself then we walks across the water to catch up with the disciples as they are heading across the Sea of Galilee. In the morning it appears that the crowds have gotten into boats to chase after Jesus across the lake.

Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, while an interesting meditation in itself, sets up his teaching on what real bread and what real life is. This chapter six can only be understood in reference to the journey of Israel in Exodus. Here we have very similar circumstances. In both the Exodus story and in this story here in John, we have a large group of people wandering in search of help. Both groups are hungry and both groups are grumbling. What are they grumbling about? Mainly they are grumbling because they don’t like the way that God is feeding them. In the Exodus account God had promised to be Israel’s savior and deliverer. But where do they find themselves? Not in the comparatively safe, predictable circumstance of slavery to the Egyptians, but wandering around in the desert. They cry out,

"If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." Ex 16

In response God sends down this strange food that they will have to go out and gather every morning and every evening. It couldn’t be stored because it would rot quickly, stink and fill with maggots. The food is so strange that when they look at and say, "manna" or “what is it?” But God had provided. And yet right after the manna fell from heaven, Israel continued to grumble and quarrel with Moses about water.

In John chapter six this multitude is grumbling and Jesus responds to them,

"I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."

But the source of their grumbling was that Jesus was talking about a spiritual reality while they were talking about a physical reality. And who was this Jesus any way? Who does he think he is calling himself the bread of life? Isn’t he just the son of Mary and Joseph, those people down the street we know? How can he say he has come down from heaven? While these crowds of people wanted to receive food from Jesus and to be healed by him, they grumbled because they didn’t believe who Jesus said he was. They didn’t believe that he is the “Way the Truth and the Life,” the “eternal manna,” the final bread of life.

So, again, my confession is this: while I have claimed to be serving Jesus, have called myself a Christian, like St. Teresa I have too long ignored the practice of eating my daily bread. I have been just like this multitude that was following Jesus. I’ve wanted his provision but I haven’t wanted him. That is my confession. I’ve wanted him to lead and guide me, but practically and daily I haven’t believed that he is my food and drink. I have not allow him to satisfy my wandering heart.

E.M. Bounds Power Through Prayer “So we come to one of the crying evils of these times, maybe of all times -- little or no praying. Of these two evils, perhaps little praying is worse than no praying. Little praying is a kind of make-believe, a salvo for the conscience, a farce and a delusion.”

The invitation to a life of prayer has kept offering itself to me all these years. My testimony continues to be this: I’ve been responding to this invitation in a new way for several months now. It has become a kind of wakening from sleep. It is nothing dramatic. And it is hard. Here is the strange thing about prayer. We think that it is communion with God and we assume from the outside that since God is love and God is generous, that our relation to him should be something of paradise, something warm and cushy and light. Then we turn to prayer and it seems odd and strange like the manna: we have to go out and gather it. And so we develop a kind of resentment and we give ourselves over to grumbling.

Now here is a very important matter that I have to address before I finish this testimony: we do not pray in order to earn God’s love. Nothing we can do will earn his affection or attention. Jesus is very clear about this when he says,

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.'[d] Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”

The story of Christianity is that God made himself known through his son Jesus. Through Jesus we have access to the Father. Yet when we pray we are not in control of how God responds to us. It truly is the daily work of gathering our bread. Prayer is not a kind of ritualism that we perform in order to conjure up God. We do not earn a week’s worth of gold stars for being faithful to daily prayer. Instead we use prayer to eat and drink eternal food and eternal drink just as deliberately as we would regularly feed our own bodies. My sense of being awakened is then a kind of realization, a daily participation in my spiritual being. It is a re-engagement in a life with God that I have tasted but have often forgotten.

He is that thing that we desire but have forgotten. He is the item that we have tucked into the back of the drawer of our memory. We sweep him under the rug or we stash him away in the attic or in the garage. We can’t come to him just when our stomach are hungry and when our bodies are failing. We come to him when our spirits are failing and we remember that he is the bread of life. He is the drink that if we drink we will never thirst again.

Here, I'll finish with a favorite picture from our time with my parents out in La Push on the Olympic Peninsula.