The Cellar

We find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week; a time in which Christians all around the world are reflecting on the events leading up to Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection.  Throughout Lent, I’ve been reading Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, and while it may be a bit late for this year, I heartily recommend that you consider it for your next go around at Lent.

The readings have been what I expected.  Thoughtful, varied, rich, and nurturing.  In an attempt to help prepare our hearts for Easter, I thought I would share some recent comments pertaining particularly to the Passion.  Morton T. Kelsey writes:

“Each of us has underneath our ordinary personality, which we show to the public, a cellar in which we hide the refuse and rubbish which we would rather not see ourselves or let others see.  And below that is a deeper hold in which there are dragons and demons, a truly hellish place, full of violence and hatred and viciousness.  Sometimes these lower levels break out, and it is to this lowest level of humans that public executions appeal.

In the cross this level of our being has thrust itself up out of its deepest underground cellar so that we humans may see what is in all of us and take heed.  The cross is crucial because it shows what possibilities for evil lie hidden in human beings.  It is the connection of human evil in one time and place.  Whenever we look upon the cross, which was simply a more fiendish kind of gibbet, we see what humankind can do, has done, and still does to some human beings.  It can make us face the worst in ourselves and in others, that part of us which can sanction a cross or go watch a crucifixion.  The cross is the symbol, alive and vivid, of the evil that is in us, of evil itself.”

There’s more, of course, but you get the idea.  I don’t know how Lent has been for you, but certainly for me it has been an opportunity to shed a little light into my own cellar.  And as you might expect, what I find down there is not pretty.

Four for Friday (Returning)

If you found yourself away this week, these four might help you get back.

Jonsi – Go Do

Local Natives – Wide Eyes

The Middle East – The Darkest Side

Damien Jurado – Arkansas

Cover-to-Cover – Week 12

Greg Laswell – Off I Go

If you are tearing through the Bible in a year, it is possible that the story of Ruth (and Naomi…  and Boaz) might have barely registered on your radar.  All four chapters are easily read in one sitting.  And while God doesn’t “appear” to factor much into the story, I stand by the assertion that God is in fact the main character of the Bible…  all of it.

So this simple story of tragedy, loyalty, hope, and redemption mirrors God’s much larger story that serves as the backdrop for Ruth.  And given that these same themes are found in this larger story, the story of Ruth can be seen in a sense as a microcosm of the human situation.

The key to understanding that this story as the unfolding of of God’s grand purposes in the world, and not just a story of things working out for some specific individuals, is the genealogy at the end.

18 This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Perez was the father of Hezron,

19 Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,

20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,

21 Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,

22 Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.

Ruth 4:18-22

David, the king of Israel, is the grandson of Boaz and Ruth.  And if we follow the line of descendants long enough…  well, you likely know where all this is going.

And in the sort of irony that is typical for God, the unfolding of His story hinges on a person who is the least likely (at least, by Jewish accounts) to be at the center of his cosmic plans – a woman.  And not only a woman, but a foreign woman.  Right in the middle of a story that will take us straight through David, Solomon, on up through Jesus and beyond, we have Ruth.  God takes her very “simple” story and redeems it for the sake of all humanity.

Starting to sound at all familiar?

Four for (Spring Break) Friday

No matter what you are doing for Spring Break (mountains? beach? around the house?), these four should help you get your groove on.

Two Door Cinema Club – What You Know

Broken Bells – The Ghost Inside

Frightened Rabbit – Nothing Like You

Kyte – Like She Said

Cover-to-Cover – Week 11

The XX – Intro (live)

We’ve been in the book of Judges this week, and I doubt I’ll be any more help than your average Study Bible.  But who knows?

The book of Judges seems to be one long slide into greater and greater depravity.  The book opens with the frequently repeated observation that they were unable to drive out completely the other nations.  This is meant to be a not so subtle clue that they are setting themselves up for idolatry later on.  And sure enough, we only get so far as chapter two before they initiate a pattern of idol worship that will be the refrain of Judges.

Yet, the one characteristics of God that gets most clearly highlighted in the midst of all this is his long-suffering.  His willingness to forgive and forgive and forgive.  Even as the nation continues on its gradual decline.

The decline begins with the people.  They chase after other gods, only to be handed over to foreign powers.  Then God raises up a judge to deliver.  At first the judges seem like noble enough heroes.  Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah.  Even Gideon, at first.  Then things begin to take a turn.  Gideon is wildly successful, and somewhere along the line, something got twisted just a bit.  It became more about him than about God.  And he began to draw attention to himself.

While the moral bankruptcy of the people is seen throughout, eventually we see the faults of the leaders more and more.  Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson.  And if the point isn’t clear enough, how about these gems: The Levite (so shameful we don’t even get his name) and his concubine that dies being raped to death in Gibeah.  The civil war that ensues.  The genius plan hatched to get wives for the Benjamites.  All pretty sordid stuff.

In those days there was no king in Israel;
everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 21:25

McLaren Revisited – 1

Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land

A few months ago, I shared my take on Brian McLaren.  Since then, his latest book, A New Kind of Christianity, dropped like a bomb on the evangelical landscape.  I don’t choose the word “bomb” to be dramatic.  Cause you know, being dramatic has never really been my long suit.  But I think the word fits, and if you stick around, I may actually get around to explaining why.

Anyway, I got going on a review of sorts, but before too long, I realized that it was in violation of a personal blog rule…  if it can’t be read before a standard length song finishes playing, it’s too long.  So I’ve made the judicious decision of turning one post into three (or more).

It all began about a month ago when I realized the book was out.  But before I could even get my hands on it, there were reviews coming out left and right.  In general, I try to avoid any reviews of a book that I might end up reading so as not to be influenced one way or another before I’ve had a go at it.  In this case, it was especially difficult, but I was moderately successful in being able to steer clear of them.  However, the few bits I did read were less than positive.  I’ve come to expect that when it comes to McLaren.  People are rarely neutral in their opinion of him.

And yet, something about the negative feedback was different this time around.  The tone of the reviews was a bit more heated than the dispassionate critique more typically directed against him.  And so, rather than predisposing me towards a less than favorable bias ahead of time, the whirlpool of negativity produced the opposite effect.  Instead of joining the McLaren-bashing bandwagon, the comments galvanized my resolve to hear him out.  I’d read other books he’d written.  I’d even heard him speak.  Sure, I didn’t buy everything he was peddling, but it never sounded to me like “he hates God,” as one reviewer suggested.  Come on… lighten up.

to be continued… (I know.  You can hardly wait.  And just in case you are taking notes…  No drama.  No bandwagons.)

Four for a Cause

A band that I’ve grown fond of lately is The Welcome Wagon.  Rather than attempt to describe their music, I’ll let them speak for themselves.  From their bio page on Asthmatic Kitty (Sufjan Steven’s label):

The Welcome Wagon is a married couple, the Reverend Thomas Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique, who execute a genre of gospel music that is refreshingly plain. Their hymns are modest and melodic takes on a vast history of sacred song traditions, delivered with the simple desire to know their Maker—and to know each other—more intimately.

The reason I’m sharing the goodness that is Vito and Monique with you is that they have recently released a four-song EP entitled, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.

And while the songs are characteristically good, I’m passing along because…

Before the completion of their debut album Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, Vito and Monqiue learned of Freeset, a fair-trade business in India that helps women escape the sex trade in Kolkata. By providing women with the opportunity to start new lives, regain dignity in their communities, and begin a journey towards healing and wholeness, Freeset seeks to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation for these women once and for all.

So, The Welcome Wagon married these additional songs to their desire to help the brave women Freeset helps. The result is the EP Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to Freeset.
I’d normally let you enjoy the foursome free of charge, but that would defeat the purpose of this post… getting you to head on over to iTunes and part with four of your hard-earned dollars for some good music and a good cause.

Four (covers) for Friday

Four great covers to get your weekend going!

Phoenix – Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowland (Bob Dylan Cover)

Mumford & Sons – Cousins (Vampire Weekend Cover)

She & Him – Lotta Love (Neil Young Cover)

Peter Gabriel – Flume (Bon Iver Cover)

Cover-to-Cover – Week 10

Greg Laswell – Around the Bend

So a couple nights ago, I’m reading through some of the latter chapters of Joshua in which the land is being divided up among the Israelites.  As I’m wrapping up, I state the obvious to Alison, “Man, this stuff is boring.”  To which she mutters some words of general agreement.  Of course, my attitude towards this section of the Scriptures reveals more about me than it does about the text.  And as best as I can tell, there are at least three things about my approach to these passages that keeps me from being able to appreciate them as the words of God.

1)  Our need to see “me” in every passage.  I talked about this some in church a little bit ago, but we tend to approach the Bible like a self-absorbed conversation partner.  As long as the conversation is about me, my accomplishments, my hopes, my concerns, everything is good.  As soon as we start talking about something else, our mind wanders.  Things seem dull.  We are bored.   So all this talk about the Israelites sinking roots in the Promised Land begins to sound like the adults’ voices in a Peanuts cartoon largely because we fail to see what it has to do with me. But can you imagine a group of people who had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 YEARS finally having a place to call home?  Or a race that had had been slaves in another nation for centuries, finally liberated, and finally in a (promised) land in which they can sink roots?

2)  Our culture of mobility.  No question that modern advancements in transportation have increasingly made moving places something that can happen with little effort.  However, this ability to move with relative ease from one place to the other has also heightened a sense in which we are dis-placed.  Disconnected.  Severed from a connection to land and place, we simply can’t identify with more agrarian people who didn’t see land exclusively as a commodity, but as a gift.

3)  Our tendency to separate spiritual and physical.  This is clearly related to the previous issue, but it runs a bit deeper.  We have a hard time understanding why people would have gotten all worked up over a plot of land.  Why don’t these people know (as we do) that one’s spiritual life isn’t determined by where they are physically?  We worship God in spirit and in truth.  Right?  And yet, the biblical witness is clear.  The separation between physical and spiritual simply doesn’t exist.  There is no getting around the very earthy understanding that God’s people had at that time…  God’s presence and his blessing are organically linked to the land.  In fact, judging from the continued turf wars happening in the Middle East, not much has changed for some.

Maybe that helps.  Maybe it muddies the water even more.  Happy reading.

Four (and then some) for Friday

Last week, I missed an installment of Four for Friday.  So I hope to make up for it today by introducing you to The Morning Benders.  I don’t know a whole lot about them other than I like their music.

Here’s a video of them playing “Excuses” with a few friends.

Their album Big Echo will be released next week, but you can stream the whole thing until then right here.