O’ Radiant Light

An Independence Day reflection on true freedom:

I have been shackled, by the tyranny of sin,
both outward behaviors, and thoughts within.
A slave to my passions, which demanded my soul,
I said “yes” to them; death took its toll.
I felt utterly hopeless, as though choice were a fiction,
The accuser ever whispering, curse and malediction.
But one came along, O’ radiant Light,
his love pierced the darkness, shining so bright.
He silenced the devil and unlocked my chains
released from my prison, no penalty remains.
He looked in my eyes, with love on his face,
“I saved you not by your works, but by my grace.
Now I invite you to come, walk along with me
and never forget, my blood set you free.”

Are you grateful?

I awoke at four. My internal timekeeper has recently decided the day begins then, even when I have the day off. After a shower, coffee, and some time with Jesus, I looked at my schedule for the day. I smiled at the words “Jason Off.” My only other responsibility for the day was to transport my dear brother and sister-in-law to the Ice Age Trail. They were beginning a three day, 26 mile hike.

At about 8:30, Derrick called and we agreed to meet in Cornell, a small town northeast of Eau Claire. They would leave their vehicle sit and I would transport them to New Auburn where they would begin their eastward journey. As the oldest sibling, I could not resist parenting them once more. “The heat index is going to be 110 degrees. Are you sure?” “Yes,” came the confident reply.

We loaded their gear into my non-air-conditioned F250 and caught up some. We talked about tattoos as they celebrated my recent acquisition, and we talked about kids, and art, and bed-making. I explained that research demonstrates that unmade beds are healthier, because they are not incubators for cooties. Bridget wasn’t buying it.

We also talked of gratitude, a virtue many of us fail to practice regularly. It is easy to devolve into a rhythm of complaint. Our lives become minor chord progressions that never seem to resolve. Negativity becomes what it hates. Thoughts continually focused upon what is bad give way to depression.

Yet, there is so much for which we can be grateful if we are willing to open our eyes. As I drove the country road north into Cornell, fields mostly of green surrounded me. I passed by one field still dressed in brown and I wondered whether the farmer chose to leave it fallow for the year. At full sprint, a well-muscle coyote darted in front of my truck. It seemed on mission, though I saw no roadrunner.

When I dropped Derrick and Bridget off at the trail head, we stood in a grassy field. There were purple flowers, and white, but the orange ones stood out. Only a single plant, flaming brightly like a campfire in the midst of a large clearing. I hugged them goodbye and began the trip home.

Along the way, I saw a thrift store and yard sale sharing the same parking lot. I had already driven past when it captured my attention, so I reversed course. Selling out of the back of an old trailer was an even older gentleman. His kindness was palpable. He frequents estate sales, but he only likes the ones that are handled by the family. I learned that when companies run them, they are too expensive. Although several tables held treasures untold, only one item captured my attention: a nondescript 12-string guitar. Its only marking was a small green tag, which read

-38-

I looked again to be sure. I hadn’t mistaken the price. Together with its brand new soft-sided case, I didn’t even hesitate. The man had never seen a guitar with twelve strings and he wondered if I played. I told him, “Yes. A bit, but not as well as my son.” I had no desire to barter, but he said to me, “how ’bout an even 35?” I smiled and handed him three crisp bills, eager to share my find with my family. IMG_1856

As I drove the 30 minutes home, I was reminded of God’s goodness. He is everywhere present–in the generosity of an octogenarian, in a blossom’s flame, in the speed of a coyote, and in the embrace of a brother.

If we were willing to pay attention and stay present to the moment, we could fill a notebook each day with the things for which we are grateful.

How about you? What are you grateful for today?

Jagged Rocks

The world is crumbling,
we all know it.
As we walk our daily paths
we feel the rocks press in to the soles of our feet.
The rubble reminds us
of culture’s dis-integration.

We pause…
peering down at the sharp-edged remnants
a thought enters our minds
“I can do something about this.”

We bend and choose a rock
a particularly jagged one,
take aim,
and throw it at our enemy.

Use your tools beautifully

In 1991, a man wielding a hammer beneath his jacket attacked Michelangelo’s David, one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world. In 1972, Michelangelo’s Pieta–in my opinion the most beautiful sculpture in existence–was also attacked and disfigured.

Michelangelo crafted the Pieta in the late 1400s and David in the early 1500s, wielding a hammer and chisels. In the case of David, he was faced with a giant block of marble that had stood rejected by other artists for 40 years. Yet in that shapeless piece of stone, he saw beauty. He released David. Removing rock and shaping limbs, he released the hero, revealing beauty.

Each of us are given daily choices. We can use the tools we have been given to highlight and reveal beauty, or we can use them to destroy. So much of what I see on social media is disintegrating and destructive. People seek to press their opinions without seeking to embody love. Yet divisiveness isn’t limited to social media. How we speak with our families can also prove destructive rather than encouraging and upbuilding. Our judgmental glances, looks, and words toward those who are different from us are destructive.

Each day, we are given choices to seek peace or conflict; to live beautifully or cruelly; to seek commonality or promote division.

What are you doing with your tools?

Lord, Thou has made Thyself to me
A living, bright reality,
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any earthly object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the closest earthly tie.

-Charlotte Elliott

Seeking Shalom

Yesterday, my oldest daughter and I had a daddy-daughter date. We got matching tattoos with the Hebrew word, shalom, a core theme in how I want to live my life. When I wrote Soil of the Divine last year, my intention was to try to explore the idea of shalom through poetry. In some cases, I believe I succeeded, but in others, I fell short.

Most people upon hearing the word shalom either have never been exposed to it before, or have heard it defined as “peace.” Traditionally, Bible scholars have interpreted it as peace as well. Peace is certainly a part of shalom, but it is incomplete. Doug Hershey makes the observation that “the common Western definition of peace is–the absence of conflict or war–but in Hebrew it means so much more.” In truth, shalom is not so much the absence of something, but presence.

One of my favorite quotes–in fact I shared it at the opening of my book–comes from Neal Plantiga’s excellent Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that employs joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

When God created the cosmos, it was the way it should be; it was true, good, and beautiful. More importantly, it was filled with the manifest presence of God, who is love. Yet when sin entered the world, this perfect state of affairs was marred. We have longed for it ever since.

As believers, I think we are not called principally to avoid conflict, but to seek shalom. We are called to a higher existence. We are called to be, as my friend Curt says, “outposts of goodness and beauty.” Every thought, every action that we engage in moves us toward an integrated state or a disintegrated one. We move toward wholeness, or away.

When we respond to others with disrespect, dismissiveness, or self-centeredness, we are acting in disintegrating ways. When we seek to listen, understand, know, and love–particularly those who are different–we are behaving in integrating ways. We are pursuing shalom.

Every person we meet is longing for completeness. As Christians, we know in whom completeness is found and God calls us to be ambassadors of shalom.

Strong Opposition

From my book, Soil of the Divine:

The Father stands
in strong opposition
to those who
abuse His children.

He sweeps the fatherless
into holy embrace.
He comforts the widow,
drying her tears.
He feeds the destitute,
setting a place at His table.
He heals the hurting,
binding their wounds.

But to those who judge unfairly,
He stands in opposition.
Justice for the downtrodden
requires justice too
for the oppressor.

Give justice to the weak and fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
-Psalm 82:3

Americanity

Welcome to the state
of Americanity,
nine parts patriotism
just one Christianity.

We justify the sins
of leaders in the land,
when they represent
our ole party? Grand.

We call for prayer in schools
and Merry Christmas in our stores,
but rage and spit our hatred
toward Muslims on our shores.

We tear children from their parents
destroy the family unit,
and quote St. Paul from Romans
all the while we’re doing it.

Immigrants aren’t welcome
unless they fit the master plan,
rich and learned? Sure come in.
The tired and weary we ban.

But Jesus said the opposite
he welcomed the distressed.
“Come to me all you weary,
and I will give you rest.”

Each life is a fresh canvas on which [God] uses lines and colors, shades and lights, textures and proportions that he has never used before.–Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses

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