Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life. It should provide us with a language that allows us to praise the God of resurrection while lamenting the suffering and agony that is our lot in a world alienated from its creator, and it should thereby sharpen our longing for the only answer to the one great challenge we must all face sooner or later. Only those who accept that they are going to die can begin to look with any hope to the resurrection.
Pascal observed the problem in seventeenth-century France when he saw the obsession with entertainment as the offspring of the fallen human desire to be distracted from any thought of mortality. “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room,” he said. And: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”
Today , entertainment has apparently become many people’s primary purpose of existence. I doubt that it would surprise Pascal that the world has increased the size, scope, and comprehensiveness of distraction. It would not puzzle him that death has been reduced to little more than a comic-book cartoon in countless action movies or into a mere momentary setback in soap operas and sitcoms. Indeed, he would not find it perplexing that the bleak spiritual violence of mortality leaves no lasting mark on the bereaved in the surreal yet seductive world of popular entertainment.
But he might well be taken aback that the churches have so enthusiastically endorsed this project of distraction and diversion. This is what much of modern worship amounts to: distraction and diversion. Praise bands and songs of triumph seem designed in form and content to distract worshipers from life’s more difficult realities.
Yet tragedy is a vital part of entertainment.
Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.
The psalms as the staple of Christian worship, with their elements of lament, confusion, and the intrusion of death into life, have been too often replaced not by songs that capture the same sensibilities—as the many great hymns of the past did so well—but by those that assert triumph over death while never really giving death its due…
A church with a less realistic view of life than one can find in a movie theater? For some, that might be an amusing, even entertaining, thought; for me, it is a tragedy.
-Carl R. Trueman
Professor of Church History
Westminster Theological Seminary.
In the madness of our modern age
INFUSE & IGNITE
life in a world that seems bent on the meaningless.
Bind me to truth - to You
VISION & KNOWLEDGE
undoing and unmaking
Bind myself to meaning to purpose and substance
ENDEAVOR & BREAKING
my heart on the border of breaking.
Broken by condition by choice.
Let me see truth ( the gospel)
The intersections in our world.
May I no longer fear the days where I break my silence
Bind my heart to endeavor
to the reckless choice to pursue what I have dared to.
Bind me to substance
Bind me to life in radical action
To face the deep brokeness
WORLD & LAW
Shine joy into darkness - Your truth and your Whispers
Bind me to live in this age and in this time
FIND & SHOW
Meaning in a world without it.
Broken by condition by choice.
Show me Your Wisdom
Let the King reign.
Let the Spirit come .
Let your word dwell among us
May it be foremost
Bind me to substance
Bind me to life in radical action
On my heart and mind
INSPIRE & MOTIVATE
May I not walk in this sorrow.
Grant me peace and joy - May I know them
SPEAK & HEAL
The voice of God to the age of Kings.
Thread the eyes of the needles.
FOCUSED & UNCOMFORTABLE
Sing a better song to this world."
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.
There is a single word that resounds throughout the bible. It is the word “remember” ( 2 Thess 2:15).
I stumble upon it everytime I find myself in the Word.
I would imagine it is written into that collection of 66 books ,the liturgy, the theology, and the sacraments to point to the fact we forget often - get distracted much…
We forget of our God working in us, around us, through us, (Roman 11:36) and in our world’s history…that events are there for reasons and are to be reflected upon. That there is a logic and purpose to the linearity of events and people’s placements in specific timelines…and there is a great need to remember and to cling to the word…our hope in these things.
There is a single word that resounds in this city. It is a latin word “excelsior” .
I stumble upon it every day on my commute as I look up to the sky and see the buildings rise…
I would imagine it is written into the fabric of our city, the hopes, and dreams to point to the fact that within the heart of man is the desire to move “ever upward” …just like that tower at the beginning of time ( Gen 11:4)…
Move on past, who we were, the success or failures of yesterday, finding out what’s within, and writing a new future…
These two words lie in conflict with one another… “excelsior” and “remember”
We forget… in our pursuit of the present moment the “excelsior” that we only have a vague understanding of our eventual future if we stay this course. Choosing to work in every moment, forgetting the importance to be still -forgetting the heart and the history of man - of ourselves. Forgetting to Remember…
In that pursuit we see the rise and fall of man. We see sin…and the clever devil. We see the numbing of great pain through the vices and many distractions crafted throughout our ages and we can hear the sound of sorrow - the sound of it wailing throughout the loudness of this place. It’s sorrow pervasive for those with any perspective or sober-mindedness.
For someone who is young and still forming thoughts on how to live in this tension- I find myself in the in-between - between the words still in training -The weekend my remembrance - my sabbath…away from the intensity of working and finding within myself “uncommon boldness and unbounded nerve”…coming to the end of tmy week with nothing left to give…feeling on the borderlines of myself most days. The weekdays my excelsior…a very fast paced exciting thing but with a propensity to spiral out of control.
-not that these tensions and these feelings and emotions are new. I have felt the weight of them many times over the course of my short quarter of a life.
But no one told me the weight of the tension the culmination of the beginning of the rest of my life would bring with it such a need for a savior , such a need for the “remember” and rewrite much of a lifetime’s understanding on Him. Finding Him truer more relevant than ever known before.
And in that great struggle you realize the fragility of oneself the fragility of the world He holds together and the resistance forming..the sorrow and tension and battle growing, the desire to be found in prayer growing - and you wonder where is the sound of the wind and where is it going? (John 3:8)
There are battles waged in the mind and heart, motivation, and heart-felt yearning to discover hope. The practical and actual needs of a very needy place, and practical questions about where to even begin?
And I find myself at a loss for words…in so many moments…but slowly finding them in the people and community He has placed around me…a testimony to togetherness forming even if the excelsior must be kept at bay in this “remembering” - this carving and this shaping - this etching and this writing upon the hearts and minds of those who have seen this city know the Lord.
The Father formed this world round His heart
To orbit around the sun and the glowing light of magma beneath.
Roots radiating in a perfect circle round the heart of the earth - His Son who lay beneath
Great darkness set in, and the storm and clouds and the damp despair came.
And to the earth He returned- joining the roots , His flesh and body preserved new in that cave.
Amongst the best attempts of the stones hewn by men. He waited as the world waited…in faith.
And the earth bellowed its hollow melodies - refusing to cave in under the weight of its sorrows, storms, and griefs.
And it remained - supported by the glowing light of He who remained underneath.
His hands aged in praise by His work all those years to set things anew.
His sore frame, spread lifeless - left alone
Echoes in the deep of the Father’s first words growing louder. “let there be light.”
- in whisper and authority into the hollowness - “let there be life after death and darkness”…
I remember over and over my father speaking these words that have stuck in my memory for a while now. “true christianity is lived out in the world” I believe I would speak to his particular perspective and represent it accurately by simply stating that what he saw and sees in the world is a largely cultural christianity and the resulting implication being that practice and study are increasingly separate from one another and it is no easy feat to live out a proper and true christianity in our modern world, balancing that which is required of men - to fight against the culture, our particular form of american christianity largely disconnected between what we do and what we speak as christians.
As I reflect on this piece of wisdom, the year of career, and to a larger extent my life It has truly only been in the first real year of growing up and holding all the things that make one truly fully an adult ( married, career, etc.), out of the years of study into the years of practice, that I have discovered this truth for myself. Discovered the difficulty of living it out : this true and proper christianity in the world.
In lament, I have found myself to be in part what my father observed, that is disconnected between what I’ve studied and come to know that I should be living out and the practice of living it out when it comes to my career and the many multifaceted aspects that need to be balanced in that which is the fully adult life.
As I’ve lamented this fact and been rather stuck in a season of sorrow lately stuck on myself : believing lies about my inadequacies and failures and wondered what to do with it I’ve chosen to not curl up in my little introverted bubble as is the typical response for me and instead although imperfectly I’ve begun the long process of sharing with my wife and the men in my life who inevitably will as time continues on will become those who hold me accountable to the demands of scripture to living out christianity in the world for the good and joy of the world, these realizations and truths.
By there grace and my newfound sober-mindedness, and some realizations I should have come to a long time ago, I’ve come to realize that christianity is lived out in community, in a family that is full of grace and I need them more than I would admit- and I can’t do this alone because like it or not I’m living out christianity in the world in practice no longer in study -and its no small feat. I’m on mission even if I hate the word missionary and I need to walk alongside others to get it right. Which is inevitably what this all boils down to - mission and gospel centered community -what I am doing here in NYC.
As I’ve settled into this fact and my failures to balance all that is required of me and seeking to get over my prideful self in this adult life and truly reflecting on what the word says what this world needs in terms of mission and balance I’ve come to realize that what I believe and what I live out in regards to mission I also can’t do alone , because I’m doing it also poorly. BUT as I reflect its good to be here - because it points to the gospel, to Jesus, as it has never really been before , at least I’ve never seen it lived out in growing up in a cultural christianity and it sheds light into this rather uncharted and these unprecedented things we attempt.
In that sober perspective of oneself and the mission I can see my motivations more clearly, more soberly: knowing that they need to be more in keeping repentance that leads to change and seeing that if I am not doing something it is because I do not want to be doing it- I am called for joy into better things the only way to get there is by letting the spirit speak through those who he has empowered, his sons and daughters.
As I see that, I see that it points to the fact I can’t do it alone and I don’t want to be doing it alone, I find myself discovering that if I am not in the scriptures it is because I can’t handle what it says, because I think somehow I can bare the weight of its truth alone when I see it for what it is - a sword- BUT I can’t - it’s together we can share these weighty commands, weighty burdens share these loads. I find myself discovering that if I am not on my knees in prayer it is because I do not like the position and posture because it reminds me I can’t do this alone. I don’t like brushing up against my inadequacies, inabilities, fears etc. BUT if I truly let those things speak as they are meant to it means someone else has to step into the clean man’s mess and point to a savior who has already come and the truth that I’ve ignored the most wonderful thing ever done for me alongside the weight of it the powerful words confessions of love declarations of never being alone again, spoken into this very lonely world.
I am discovering if I am in sin in thoughts and patterns of life that are off it is because the center is off Jesus. To live in this city means that I’m not living comfortably and I’m not living on my own strength, not living alone- but brushing up where purity and sin collide. Discovering that its worth every ounce, effort and honesty to find yourself not capable and reread the gospels in a different light - feel the love of Christ as it truly is reaching into the mess and bringing forth art and beauty out of what has been destroyed and poisoned. And there in lies the beauty of it. The purpose of it.
It has been such that with each progression of life if I soberly reflect, Practice is different than study and we are all in this process together. I suck at the living out of practice perfectly BUT there is grace and power in the family and in this world- to be a true follower of Christ and to balance also the demands of a career that requires all of yourself, I have found I have not the will and effort to be what I want to be what I know I should be alone. BUT I choose to not doubt the father’s love lavished on me and His desire to do so in this place - this great and very challenging city in which I have brushed up against the borders of myself and brushed up against my sinfulness more than I’ve ever known. And I choose to dare to believe that our great God can do the impossible here in me and in this place and infuse this place with His love and His grace and the knowledge, practice, and the change already underway.
The sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson. The sins of Kalamazoo are a convict gray, a dishwater drab. And the people who sin the sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson. They run to drabs and grays—and some of them sing they shall be washed whiter than snow—and some: We should worry. Yes, Kalamazoo is a spot on the map
Saturday night is the big night. Listen with your ears on a Saturday night in Kalamazoo And say to yourself: I hear America, I hear, what do I hear? Main street there runs through the middle of the townAnd there is a dirty postoffice
And a dirty city hallAnd a dirty railroad stationAnd the United States flag cries, cries the Stars and Stripes to the four winds on Lincoln’s birthday and the Fourth of July. Kalamazoo kisses a hand to something far off. Kalamazoo calls to a long horizon, to a shivering silver angel, to a creeping mystic what-is-it.
“We’re here because we’re here,” is the song of Kalamazoo. “We don’t know where we’re going but we’re on our way,” are the words. There are hound dogs of bronze on the public square, hound dogs looking far beyond the public square. Sweethearts there in KalamazooGo to the general delivery window of the postoffice
And speak their names and ask for lettersAnd ask again, “Are you sure there is nothing for me?I wish you’d look again—there must be a letter for me.” And sweethearts go to the city hallAnd tell their names and say,“We want a license.”
And they go to an installment house and buy a bed on time and a clockAnd the children grow up asking each other, “What can we do to kill time?”They grow up and go to the railroad station and buy tickets for Texas, Pennsylvania, Alaska.“Kalamazoo is all right,” they say. “But I want to see the world.”And when they have looked the world over they come back saying it is all like Kalamazoo.
The trains come in from the east and hoot for the crossings,And buzz away to the peach country and Chicago to the westOr they come from the west and shoot on to the Battle Creek breakfast bazaarsAnd the speedbug heavens of Detroit. “I hear America, I hear, what do I hear?”
Said a loafer lagging along on the sidewalks of Kalamazoo,Lagging along and asking questions, reading signs. Oh yes, there is a town named Kalamazoo,A spot on the map where the trains hesitate.I saw the sign of a five and ten cent store there
And the Standard Oil Company and the International HarvesterAnd a graveyard and a ball groundsAnd a short order counter where a man can get a stack of wheatsAnd a pool hall where a rounder leered confidential like and said:“Lookin’ for a quiet game?”
The loafer lagged along and asked,“Do you make guitars here?Do you make boxes the singing wood winds ask to sleep in?Do you rig up strings the singing wood winds sift over and sing low?”The answer: “We manufacture musical instruments here.”
Here I saw churches with steeples like hatpins,Undertaking rooms with sample coffins in the show windowAnd signs everywhere satisfaction is guaranteed,Shooting galleries where men kill imitation pigeons,And there were doctors for the sick,
And lawyers for people waiting in jail,And a dog catcher and a superintendent of streets,And telephones, water-works, trolley cars,And newspapers with a splatter of telegrams from sister cities of Kalamazoo the round world over. And the loafer lagging along said:
And an old, old mother will lay a green moss cover on my bonesAnd a green moss cover on the stones of your postoffice and city hall. Best of allI have loved your kiddies playing run-sheep-runAnd cutting their initials on the ball ground fence.
I have loved the white dawn frost of early winter silverAnd purple over your railroad tracks and lumber yards. The wishing heart of you I loved, Kalamazoo. I sang bye-lo, bye-lo to your dreams.I sang bye-lo to your hopes and songs.
Smoke and Steel c. 1922
People Who Must
28. The Sins of Kalamazoo
Yesterday I woke before the sun to see the magenta skyline.
Nothing but the roman arches to shield my restless mind.
Another day to build a city another day to seek and find.
You never know quite what to expect here
never know how much energy it will take to completely throw out fear
When you walk out that door and enter the public square.
From Skyscraper heights
To Subways below
From Summer so hot
To winter’s full of snow
From the bow in the hands of a cellist on a busy platform amidst the whooshing train
Masterfully bellowing that magic and wonder - inspiration in the tunnels away from the concert halls - choosing no fame.
To the weary soul on a chilly night
A man with no window, no fire, no light.
THIS IS THE ORIGINAL CITY OF FIRE AND ICE
From Summer so hot
To winter’s full of snow
From Skyscraper heights
To Subways below
From rivers that form these small island’s frames
To the Islands formed in fire he gathered and gave names
Sit in the green field stare across the expanse of water and write what you see -
Silent humbled and hushed under the shade of the hundred year old willow trees.
LISTEN TO THIS AND TAKE HEED
these are the words I say
These are the words that will take your breath away.
There is beauty here , plant deeper roots and uncover whats there.
I would suggest that modern technology and entertainment have done great damage to young people’s sense of vision and purpose–especially among young men. I’m not anti-technology. But never before in the history of the world has triviality and mind-numbing shallowness been so tantalizingly seductive and so pervasively omnipresent. Never before has it been so easy to check out of real life and live in the realm of the hypertrivial.
Perhaps most destructive to young men is the fact that video games and movies can give us a mental and emotional rush that makes us feel as if we’ve really participated in something grand when in reality we’ve been passive onlookers. We’ve done nothing, and yet the drama of the story intoxicates our minds and emotions and tricks us into feeling that we have been part of something important. We watch a dramatic movie in which good triumphs over evil, and our hearts are stirred; we’ve experienced the emotions of accomplishment and victory, of triumph and achievement, but we ourselves have done absolutely nothing."
It’s hard to find the words that seem to fit just right. I don’t know if you find the same trouble in trying to convey something. I find myself often in a great struggle to write perfect words here and in the many other places I reduce my conveying to such a form. What I find in the remains of my unresolved and unrealized pinings are many words unposted unspoken and kept within and unpenned by ink - ungiven to others because they miss the mark. If I am honest with myself I find a sense of lack in this, a great dissatisfaction in the difficulty, something off balance, this sense of hesitancy in part in every post prose and pen.
And thus, The perspective of years of attempts and the perfectionist which still persists find themselves at war within myself over this - the simple tenant that the imperfect can do any good, can speak at all. The pride within myself shown clearly in the battle in part in every post prose and pen.
If I have been afforded anything from the showcase of my imperfect words throughout the years it is perspective- the in vain longing struggle and striving - that should have set me at ease long ago - that is, that I’ll always miss the mark in part and in every attempt there will always be better ways to do and convey meaning - and thus in my finite nature all I need to posses is the conscience of a best effort- the hard worked through words.
Only years subjected to war in this discipline of writing have left me with the appreciation for it and has led me to consider and has me now convinced that this is only a half truth- I should not be set at ease even if it is elementarily logical -I hold something still tainted- both perspective and perfection has truth in it but the only thing they point to is another point within themselves : something greater.
When I’m honest, I’ll tell you that my best effort does not set me at ease for the simple fact that any freedom to be other than what is required by a perfect God points to the state of man and his condition as a sinner. The striving and struggling in that exchange in the relationship of God and man only serves and humbles a man. It does not give authority to man but only points to the beginning perspective and the only logical outcome known by truth compels and frees the man to a form of ease of honesty - a closer brush with perfection - with the Spirit.
As I’ve come to understand this perspective in much credit via the gospel via Jesus and his words viewed through lenses of history and culture; What I see clearly is the requirement that a man give everything and be willing to fully participate in the sanctification of his soul. Great discipline, long suffering in sanctification and subjection to the Spirit and prayer.
I understand in so many aspects that there is so much lacking and the lacking was not what I was made for and it should not set me at ease. I should be not so easily eased. And there is much more to take ground on.
As I’ve tried to unpack this for myself through an extended month or so of time devoted to reflection I’ve come to the simple fact that I am only scratching at the surface of truth and so many other things. Soberly I am in many ways hindering the willing participation of myself in the gospel, and letting that truth and perspective change me for the ease of my soul and the freedom found in enlistment to the school of the Spirit. The willing participation of a soul in sanctification.
Somehow along the way of this past year I’ve disillusioned myself into believing I’ve arrived and stopped for whatever reason.
In reflection, I was not always like this as it was easier when I was a younger man to be in that process : less career, less realities and cares of the world etc - I used to simply spell out events in summary in endless pen and ink, I subjected myself to discipline in word in prayer in writing etc, but I’ve somehow forgotten that it was those actions that birthed something else entirely more in line with truth impacting heart felt meaning and understanding than simply just recount. I was able to see the words between the lines the poetry in the meaning be fueled into by something other than myself. It is thus that the words became like a road to understanding and excellence and becoming what I was never and knew I could not be. Discipline birthed Spirit.
And it is like and in this similarity and in the many new beginnings of this past year that what I’ve seen over and over again this year is many similar to me: similar past, renewed vision, healthy perspective, defined by the culture and christian community instead of being truly who we were meant to be and simply being free to be who we need to be, who God needs us to be. The insecure, the tensioned filled men stuck between world and church, the horribly misplaced blame. Within me it is masked by the introvert nature, the crumudgen and bitter musician, the frustrated artist, but I feel all those aforementioned . Even as I write there is a great difficulty in letting words simply come speaking from the heart and speaking the will of who I was actually made to be, dreamed up to be by a holy and wonderfully loving God in heaven. My very nature is set against me alongside the world and many other things.
But if there is any encouragement, even if it be in some sort of pride, what I’ve seen surprisingly this year is that I’m not as insecure as others, not as hidden as others. I am not as completely as I am as I thought I am or was, that I’ve been given strength to be something other than I’ve been known to be and am being renewed in many ways but most importantly in my mind in my will in my heart. I have been pushed over and over again throughout the years to bring me to the point I am at. There is no mistake in that course and this is perspective. I have all I need because of the Spirit’s work and Jesus’s death and resurrection and the Father’s love.
There are limits of my heart, I know them all too well, but I know that in many respects the man I am without Christ the man I am with Him and in so many respects I am simply a son - His son - sharing the same DNA being infused into His likeness day by day and I must willingly subject myself to such in this new year even when life is out of control and tension filled, it is of the most important nature.
As I continue to infuse meaning into the life that i live and have been given and hold high the tenant that if something is said it should be said well and should be able to speak to the heart often. I find myself over and over again grateful for grace, grateful I can still be excellent and seek perfection in things but not feel the pressure that it is of my own doing.
There is a great paradox that I’ve come to know: the christian life is best spoken out when the spirit speaks and when one is broken to the point where words fail- the only time another language truly begins infused with meaning and the perfection of a radiant and holy God.
As I reflect on the year with this thought I come to the unlikely thought and a renewed understanding that this must be lived out in community more than I’ve ever imagined it to be, because it was not meant to be lived out alone- can’t be, not in the world we live in and the tensions at play in all of our lives, the city I inhabit with my wife and many other considerations and reasons yet to be had. This thing we strive to as those stuck between perfection and perspective is not easily come to - it has to be given in prayer, in communion with the father - in knowing there is a great need to be known and to be brother and sisters along side each other of the same heart will and Spirit.
2013 may you be a year lived out on our knees, most importantly on my knees, in communion with the Father His words and the church living breathing and working in the world for the Glory set before us who believe.
It is thus that the maddest and most interesting ages of history always emerge, when the “actors,” all kinds of actors, become the real masters. As this happens, another human type is disadvantaged more and more and finally made impossible; above all, the great “architects”: The strength to build becomes paralyzed; the courage to make plans that encompass the distant future is discouraged; those with a genius for organization become scarce: who would still dare to undertake projects that would require thousands of years for their completion? For what is dying out is the fundamental faith that would enable us to calculate, to promise, to anticipate the future in plans of such scope, and to sacrifice the future to them—namely, the faith that man has value and meaning only insofar as he is a stone in a great edifice; and to that end he must be solid first of all, a “stone”—and above all not an actor! /304/ To say it briefly (for a long time people will still keep silent about it): What will not be built any more henceforth, and cannot be built any more, is—a society in the old sense of that word; to build that, everything is lacking, above all the material. All of us are no longer material for a society; this is a truth for which the time has come. It is a matter of indifference to me that at present the most myopic, perhaps most honest, but at any rate noisiest human type that we have today, our good socialists, believe, hope, dream, and above all shout and write almost the opposite.
The Happy Science