The Lion in my House

Author: mike

A Good Student

Much effort is put forth in Evangelical homes and churches instructing today’s youngsters to be tomorrow’s leaders.  We do our very best to inculcate them with the right doses of…

Much effort is put forth in Evangelical homes and churches instructing today’s youngsters to be tomorrow’s leaders.  We do our very best to inculcate them with the right doses of charisma and self-esteem and all that je ne sais quoi jam packed into the leaves in the leadership section of your local bookstore.

It’s not really limited to the youngsters, though.  Men’s “studies,” women’s “studies,” group “studies,” marriage “studies,” family “studies”: all packed with instructions on leadership. It leaves one with the impression that “leading people to Jesus” is pretty complex stuff.  What, then, do we make of it when Jesus tells us that He, Himself, is not a leader, but a follower?  Him to whom “all authority in Heaven and Earth” was given (Matt. 28:18), also tells us that he “…is not able to do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing…” (John 5:19)

That doesn’t sound like the kind of leadership we teach, but that’s not what’s on my heart today.

We have an all together different type of problem when it comes to being students. Perhaps we do not explicitly teach counter-intuitives the way we do with the type of “leadership” exhibited in Jesus, though I’m rather certain we aren’t guilt-free in this regard, too.  But, mores than the explicit is the implicit teaching we give about being a student.

Most well-intentioned Christians think they’re good students, if they give it any thought at all.  We tend to think it’s our default position; that since birth we’ve been taught, therefore we must have gotten good at learning.

Most of us consider our preacher to be our primary instructor, and we give him more or less 30 minutes per week to tell us a bit about the most important truths ever pondered in the hearts or heads of any creature ever made since the beginning of time.  But we’d prefer he take a lot of that 30 minutes and pepper it with some personal stories, too, because we’d like to know him a little better.  And hopefully it’s funny, so we stay engaged, of course.

But, I submit to you that there is no entitlement to an education because of the very thing described above: without your own investment, you will learn nothing and thus, cannot be a student.

Being a student requires that you:

  • Prioritize study
  • Show up
  • Exercise Self-discipline

Studying scripture demands of us a medieval thing that doesn’t get much press these days, though the words are perhaps always ringing in our ears.  Scriptural study requires “university.”  That is not to say that studying scripture requires us to go to seminary, though it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you can swing it.

No, it requires “university” in the ways the Medievals thought which formed the word as we use it today.

“University” means “the whole” of the thing.  A study of scripture means we take it in its parts, but we do not ignore the whole.  We do not limit ourselves to that most common and sickly question when left alone, “What does this mean to me?”

The study that starts and ends with the questions, “What does this mean to me?” is no study of the text at all, but a study of one’s self.  And that is useful, but its use is limited. After all, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, and he was probably right.

The text meant something to the author when he wrote it.  What it meant to the author has been revealed by history and Spirit to have been and to be true and “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, [and] for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16)

The text meant something to the reader who originally read it.  The cultural context, the political context, the personal context: they all meant something and informed the author and his text. Study then, nearly 2000 years removed from these contexts, compels the extra work.   While yet “the Word of God is living and active” and is surely meaningful to me today within my own (strikingly similar) cultural, political, and personal contexts, I’d ask you to seriously consider two important things.

First, consider that “there is nothing new under the sun.”  We moderns have the sick fantasy that we’ve invented heresy, cruelty, and sinfulness.  Or, at least we’ve dug ourselves deeper into new depths of depravity. The truth is more revealing and draws us closer to the real Gospel: we’re a part of a long human misadventure that, since our father Adam, has been marked by self-indulgence and sinfulness.

Second, that is our community.  We belong to a community of the redeemed from the beginning of history.  That great Cloud of witnesses is not made up of übermensch; the ones that never sinned and somehow deserved it.  Salvation is truly personal, but the body of Christ is a community of the eternally saved. To know that first community is to know our own, and that has tremendous value.

“University” means something opposite of what we normally associate with it today.  The word even betrays it, if you’re attuned to that sort of thing.

A study of scripture means that our studious intent is for a single – uni – focus: we are in pursuit of Truth.  We are not pursuing merely “more questions,” or some sort of therapeutic effort alone.  We may yet find more questions and we may yet find therapy in scripture, but we find them in our relentless pursuit of the Truth; a Truth revealed by God to His people first in Eden, through the prophets, and in these final days, in our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  “Uni” means One, and “vers” means “to turn around” and thus it is around this one thing – Truth – that our effort revolves.

Today’s Universities are perhaps best known for their relentless pursuit of “diversity” (of a sort).  But whereas “Uni” means one, “di” means more than one, and that is not our intent.

We seek the One.  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord,” and it is in this great confession that we find, through our study, that we find a great diversity of mankind brought to the bosom of the Lord Himself.

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March for Our Lives

Time will tell if the March for Our Lives will have lasting impact, either on society at large or on the students who participated. I hope it will. I hope…

Time will tell if the March for Our Lives will have lasting impact, either on society at large or on the students who participated. I hope it will. I hope that impact will be positive. I hope we can all learn something from it.

The largely partisan responses to the whole affair leave me disappointingly cynical, however, about the chances for something meaningful to come of it. Yet, the students involved seem to be coming from a place I can understand and even empathize with.

By now you’ve probably seen the sentiment rolling through Facebook. I’m not sure if it’s originally attributable to Ron Paul, former Congressman from Texas’ 22nd district and presidential candidate, but he’s as good as any to have shared it (which he did on his Facebook page):

“As some Americans curiously march for the government *to take away* their rights, the 2nd Amendment is still crystal clear.”

There are other versions of it making the rotation and, I suppose on its face, it has some wisdom.

Unfortunately, it’s also an easy cudgel to whack some politically motivated teenagers with and, as long as their politics are contrary to the whackers, any tool will do.

But what if we, as Christians, look a little closer? What if we are, instead of looking for an opportunity to do some whacking, instead look for an opportunity to connect with these motivated teens looking for some safety and someone or something to trust?

Because here’s the rub: for those of us who claim to be *slaves* of Christ, how ridiculous of us is it to scoff at the sentiment that giving up our rights is in fact a way to find true freedom and abundance?

Aren’t we slaves to the One who said, in His darkest hour, “Not my will, but your will be done?”

The sentiment that giving up freedom is part of the path to God is exactly what the Law teaches. And Christ came to fulfill that law, after all.

The students are expressing a sensation that God has implanted in all of us.

The struggle is real (to borrow from this generation): we aren’t trustworthy. We are poor wielders of power. We kill, as they have seen (perhaps better than many of us judging them), when given the freedom to choose it.

So why give ourselves freedom?

Because we must be free to know our faults; and freer still to trust him who is without fault. For He is doing a good work in us, and even further set before us good works of our own.

I’d give up my free will in a second if I could give it to the Father. But even the Son couldn’t do that. We were designed to submit, not give up our ability to defy.

So the question is: will I submit to men (or a government of them) or to a trustworthy God who works all things for the good of those who love Him?

So we shouldn’t be surprised that our children, in suffering, seek to give up freedom for safety. We all do. We claim the wisdom that we’ve found the only trustworthy One to whom we wield our wills, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.

Instead of taking on this trite partisan attitude of dismissiveness and, if you’ll excuse me, total bullshit, empathize.

Then show them to whom we ought to look for the rest we all seek.  Show them that men disappoint, but God does not.  Show them that you know it in your belly because you’ve submitted to Him and you’ve seen it.  Don’t show them that you don’t know what submission is, or that you think salvation is in the same Government you argue your guns protect you from.  Show them you’re not a raging bloody idiot.

We ought to know this on this side of a Friday made Good by the struggle of will to submit.

If all you have is a pithy one-liner, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ll choose more government of men than the God you sometimes talk about but rarely represent.

You’re showing them, instead, that you aren’t safe, either. You’re just part of the same old status quo. You’re a dirty picture of a Gospel that you don’t deserve, but you’re willing to take it and unwilling to get off your high horse and show it.

I hope the teens that marched for their lives learn that more government is often an obstacle to the trustworthy God that they really need.

I hope the rest of us get our heads out of our rears and start recognizing that no impediment and no obstacle is enough to stop our God from doing His Good work, but he expects more from those of us who call ourselves His *slaves* than this kind of Σκύβαλον.

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This is Christmas

“By indirections find directions out.” Polonius Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1 “Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies” Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth,…

“By indirections find directions out.”
Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies”
Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”

This runs counter to contemporary thinking. We think that if we can dissect a thing and see it under a microscope, to wrestle it into submission, then we will find out its truth. But, it depends on the nature of the thing we are trying to understand.

Sometimes the best thing is to “stand under” a thing in order to understand it, rather than to stand over it and dominate it.

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise”

William Blake, “Eternity”

In the modern Evangelical mind, we have forgotten (at great loss to the sharing of the Gospel) an important skill: artistry.

It is revealed most starkly in our horrible books and films. It is revealed painfully in the trite, boring, off-putting drivel on the shelves of the “Christian Living” sections of our bookstores.

We bemoan the commercialism of the age and yet commercialize ourselves to death. Except our products, by comparison, are shoddy and uninspiring. They are the most basic, the simplest and least stimulating, saccharine, textbook material.

The world, so we reason, has turned from the Cross to Science, and we have thus repositioned ourselves to “fight fire with fire.” In so many cases, our own scientists are brought to the battle with well-reasoned, clinical, antiseptic, logical retorts. We should instead learn to fight fire with water. After all, no one believes our scientists anyway.

Or, if that were not bad enough, we give, as an alternative to our dull Science books, these schmaltzy, sorghum devotional books that smear the cracks like peanut butter for the soul. Meanwhile, we get fat, and happy.

There is no sense of the numinous. There is no adventure.

The Bible so many pretend to love is full of treason and betrayal and war and death and blessed salvation. Our art is full of melodrama and perfect endings.

We lack imagination. And this, while it sucks the saturation from our art into dull monotones, belies a deeper, more sinister problem.

In our endeavors to stand up our well-reasoned scientific apologists against the reasoners of the world, we have bought into a sorrowful lie: that reason and imagination are solo endeavors, running parallel paths that never meet and serve wholly separate functions.

Apologetics is usually defined as “a reasoned defense.” The scripture which is at the heart of apologetics speaks directly to this, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭HCSB‬‬)

But reason can only operate if it is first supplied with materials to reason about. It is imagination’s task to supply those materials. Therefore, apologetics is foundationally an imaginative task. The same natural organ that feeds us something simple, like a purple unicorn, also gives us something complex, like empathy or the mechanism which forms letters on the page and binds the pages into books (which a few of us has ever seen, but we imagine how it works). Or what, when the indicator light on your car flashes on and off and on and off, it must mean. A faulty electrical connection? A signal that a turn is coming? Imagination feeds our reasoning brains and provides meaning to the flashing light and the moral dilemma.

And so, if imagination is the organ of meaning (and meaninglessness), then we can reason truth or falsehood. Before something can be true, it must mean. And that is the work of imagination. Meaning is the antecedent condition of truth and falsehood, and imagination supplies the raw materials for reason.

And woe, we have ignored the imagination. We have allowed it to atrophy because of a lack of faith.

We persevere to preserve the Gospel. But it doesn’t need us, except to the extent that God chooses to use us. And when we fail, the rocks will cry out. We ready ourselves for war, but hand over the most effective tool. We have given up on imagination.

God is full of meaning beyond our grasp and we cannot fit into our cold prose exactly what He means. We lack the imagination.

Christianity is meant to be understood as a story – a true, historical, personal, fantastic story – and not merely cold doctrine. In order to “save” Christianity, we start with cold doctrine and try to squeeze out a story. That’s not at all how this works!

We are so afraid of being misunderstood or espousing something doctrinally incorrect that we sap our stories of the nonsensical, and thus the reality.

After all, the real story of Christ’s birth is fantastic and unexplainable and that is what makes it real. We have no sense of the presence of the transcendent (yes, that is a paradox) and thus we are either too mired in the vulgar or too distant in the logical.

The miracle of Christ is that the logos intersected with the vulgar. Find that in our modern Christian art!

“I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”

William Wordsworth, “The World is Too Much with Us”

Did you ever consider that we have made the Gospel boring? Have we analyein – analyzed – and loosened it into mere doctrine?

For sure, we underscore that doctrine with a kind of popular subculture full of pithy mockeries of the real world. We are isolationist; we hide in the bright shadows of this subculture and pretend it is fun. It is pleasant, but it isn’t fun.

Many a sermon has rigored against “religion” in favor of relationship. But what is relationship without religion? Without the central figure of Christ to religare – to re-ligature – and tie us back together? We have done much loosening. We need to be sewn back together tightly with the thread of ages.

And what of the imagination of the pagan world that captures our attentions and hearts? What do we make of it?

How many atheists howl at the pagan roots of Christmas? Of Easter? How many pagan gods die and resurrect?

How many Christians, having coldly analyzed the Logos, sleep in fear that it is yet another myth? Merely an amalgam of the myths that went before and now, at the fulcrum of history, cast into a golden calf for ages hence?

They lack imagination.

What a surprise it may come to atheists and believers that the atheist is more practical than he believed, and the Christian more imaginative. After all, the atheist purports to not believe in a supreme objective moral standard which exists outside of us, yet he acts much as if there is. And the Christian is often charged with lacking the imagination to see that his beliefs are the practical result of his parentage, yet it is his imagination that has developed his reason for faith.

The apostle Paul shows us what to make of these fractured lights of pagan mythology and sets the record straight. He gives us the freedom from the dubious place of “protecting the Gospel” and also from the fear of loosing bad doctrine.

In paganism, God expresses himself in an unfocused way through man’s imagination. It was God’s direct expression of Himself in His true myth that brought meaning to man’s dim visions.

When Epimenides wrote of Zeus, he saw through a mirror darkly:

“They fashioned a tomb for thee [O Zeus], O holy and high one-
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.”

And dear Paul, breathing new life into this worn old myth of men, imagined a God who might once have been misunderstood by pagan prophets, but now could be known:

“He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭17:27-28‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

And, of Zeus, Aratus wrote:

“From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last.”

Does this scare you? Does it shake the foundations of your well-reasoned faith?

It shouldn’t. It should, instead, teach you how to tell the world how God, in the fullness of time, revealed the truth, once just a whisper, now on the lips of the Heavenly Host, bathed in glory.

That Tantalusian fruit, strained to touch, has been revealed.

That is Christmas.

That is Christmas.

That is now.

“…Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:17-18‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

All light. Even the fractured light. It all points to God’s revealed truth in Christ.

This is the power of imagination. It is not as cold and heartless as the doctrine that it bears. God loves us in the fullness and richness of stories, and it was that child’s birth that flipped the world on its head and gave us a God in a child, who would, like the old stories, die and rise again.

But this time it’s true.

Unlike the old gods of men, He came to serve and to teach us to serve; to be last, and to teach us to be last; to be humble, even to be misunderstood. And yet, as frail and weak and misunderstood is the Written Word of God, so was the Living Word of God, and still He cannot be conquered.

This is Christmas.

This is Christmas.

This is Christmas.

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Part 3: Behold, Celaeno

She glanced at the cage closest to her own, and suddenly felt the breath in her body turning to cold iron. There sat on an oaken perch a creature with…

She glanced at the cage closest to her own, and suddenly felt the breath in her body turning to cold iron. There sat on an oaken perch a creature with the body of a great bronze bird and a hag’s face, clenched and deadly as the talons with which she gripped the wood. She had the shaggy round ears of a bear; but down her scaly shoulders, mingling with the bright knives of her plumage, there fell hair the color of moonlight, thick and youthful around the hating human face. She glittered, but to look at her was to feel the light going out of the sky. Catching sight of the unicorn, she made a queer sound like a hiss and a chuckle together.

The unicorn said quietly, “This one is real. This is the harpy Celaeno.”

The unicorn began to walk toward the harpy’s cage. Schmendrick the Magician, tiny and pale, kept opening and closing his mouth at her, and she knew what he was shrieking, though she could not hear him. “She will kill you, she will kill you! Run, you fool, while she’s still a prisoner! She will kill you if you set her free!” But the unicorn walked on, following the light of her horn, until she stood before Celaeno, the Dark One.

For an instant the icy wings hung silent in the air, like clouds, and the harpy’s old yellow eyes sank into the unicorn’s heart and drew her close. “I will kill you if you set me free,” the eyes said. “Set me free.”

The unicorn lowered her head until her horn touched the lock of the harpy’s cage. The door did not swing open, and the iron bars did not thaw into starlight. But the harpy lifted her wings, and the four sides of the cage fell slowly away and down, like the petals of some great flower waking at night. And out of the wreckage the harpy bloomed, terrible and free, screaming, her hair swinging like a sword. The moon withered and fled.

The unicorn heard herself cry out, not in terror but in wonder, “Oh, you are like me!” She reared joyously to meet the harpy’s stoop, and her horn leaped up into the wicked wind. The harpy struck once, missed, and swung away, her wings clanging and her breath warm and stinking. She burned overhead, and the unicorn saw herself reflected on the harpy’s bronze breast and felt the monster shining from her own body. So they circled one another like a double star, and under the shrunken sky there was nothing real but the two of them. The harpy laughed with delight, and her eyes turned the color of honey. The unicorn knew that she was going to strike again.

The harpy folded her wings and fell like a star — not at the unicorn, but beyond her, passing so close that a single feather drew blood from the unicorn’s shoulder; bright claws reaching for the heart of Mommy Fortuna, who was stretching out her own sharp hands as though to welcome the harpy home. “Not alone!” the witch howled triumphantly at both of them. “You never could have freed yourselves alone! I held you!” Then the harpy reached her, and she broke like a dead stick and fell. The harpy crouched on her body, hiding it from sight, and the bronze wings turned red.

The unicorn turned away. Close by, she heard a child’s voice telling her that she must run, she must run. It was the magician. His eyes were huge and empty, and his face — always too young — was collapsing into childhood as the unicorn looked at him. “No,” she said. “Come with me.”

The harpy made a thick, happy sound that melted the magician’s knees. But the unicorn said again, “Come with me,” and together they walked away from the Midnight Carnival. The moon was gone, but to the magician’s eyes the unicorn was the moon, cold and white and very old, lighting his way to safety, or to madness. He followed her, never once looking back, even when he heard the desperate scrambling and skidding of heavy feet, the boom of bronze wings, and Rukh’s interrupted scream.

“He ran,” the unicorn said. “You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention.” Her voice was gentle, and without pity. “Never run,” she said. “Walk slowly, and pretend to be thinking of something else. Sing a song, say a poem, do your tricks, but walk slowly and she may not follow. Walk very slowly, magician.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

. . .

Such is evil. It seeks to kill and destroy (Romans 6:23).

Here, Celaeno reveals the strange contradiction of our souls: “I will kill you if you set me free,” yet, “Set me free.”

Why are we compelled to free within ourselves the very thing things that will seek our destruction? Why does sin nature, even on this side of the cross and on this side of baptism and on this side of the indwelling of the Spirit of God, yet insidiously persist?

I have prayed many times that I, the ego that has been so destructive and selfish and weak (Matthew 26:41) will die. I have asked that the Lord crucify my ego Himself, or at least that He would bless me by taking me captive and locking that wicked part of me in a cage of His design.

But, alas, He came to bring freedom and not captivity (John 8:36). And what is freedom if not the freedom to do with our sin nature what we choose?

Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, argues that freedom is the manner in which intellectual beings seek goodness and, if ever there was a source of the good, the true, and the beautiful, it is found in Christ.

So why then am I so confused?

Perhaps because the evil is a thing so like me that I often can’t tell the difference. This must be why we “fix our eyes on Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and why we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). It is the kind of process by which God seems to be shaping us not into people who merely follow rules, but into the kind of people whose worst sins point others to Jesus.

And so, we — I — walk slowly, sing songs, say poems, do tricks, and as we are going, we teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

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Part Two: Belief and the Spider

Rukh was standing before a cage that contained nothing but a small brown spider weaving a modest web across the bars. “Arachne of Lydia,” he told the crowd. “Guaranteed the…

Rukh was standing before a cage that contained nothing but a small brown spider weaving a modest web across the bars. “Arachne of Lydia,” he told the crowd. “Guaranteed the greatest weaver in the world — her fate’s the proof of it. She had the bad luck to defeat the goddess Athena in a weaving contest. Athena was a sore loser, and Arachne is now a spider, creating only for Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival, by special arrangement. Warp of snow and woof of flame, never any two of the same.”

Strut on the loom of iron bars, the web was very simple and almost colorless, except for an occasional rainbow shiver when the spider scuttled out on it to put a thread right. But it drew the onlookers’ eyes as well — back and forth and steadily deeper, until they seemed to be looking down into great rifts in the world, black fissures that widened remorselessly and yet would not fall into pieces as long as Arachn’s web held the world together. The Unicorn shook herself free with a sigh, and saw the real web again. It was very simple, and almost colorless.

“It isn’t like the others,” she said.

“No,” Schmendrick agreed grudgingly. “But, there’s no credit due to Mommy Fortuna for that. You see, the spider believes. She sees those cat’s-cradles herself and thinks them her own work. Belief makes all the difference to magic like Mommy Fortuna’s. Why, if that troop of willing withdrew their wonder, there’d be nothing left of all her witchery but the sound of a spider weeping. And no one would hear it.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

. . .

So much for the promises of this world. So much investment in the world’s guarantees to result in nothing; empty vanity. But the power seems to be in our belief in them, and this isn’t so far removed from Christ’s promises to believers:

“For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Close enough to promote lies and obfuscate truth. False horns are made of such as this.

But here is the work of faith, and a question for believers and nonbelievers:

If faith has the power to produce a false horn on Unicorns and white mares alike, which is better?

[The crowd] wondered at Arachne’s new web, which was like a fisherman’s net with the dripping moon in it. Each of them took it for a real web, but only the spider believed that it held the real moon.

So much for the love of the crowd. Even if it were the real moon in poor Arachne’s web, hanging tenuously by her silken thread but pulling waves from the tides, would the crowd know any better?

I suppose it depends upon your crowd. For whom does the weaver weave?

Perhaps a danger of the false horn is in its reflection and the cage that comes with it.

Only the spider paid no mind when the Unicorn called softly to her through the open door. Arachne was busy with a web which looked to her as though the Milky Way had begun to fall like snow. The Unicorn whispered, “Weaver, freedom is better, freedom is better,” but the spider fled unhearing up and down her iron loom. She never stopped for a moment, even when the Unicorn cried, “It’s really very attractive, Arachne, but it’s not art.” The new web drifted down the bars like snow.

Have you invested in a false horn? Are you ready to give it up? Are you able?

So they fled across the night together, step by step, the tall man in black and the horned white beast. The magician crept as close to the Unicorn’s light as he dared, for beyond it moved hungry shadows, the shadows of the sounds that the harpy made as she destroyed the little there was to destroy of the Midnight Carnival. But another sound followed them long after these had faded, followed them into morning on a strange road — the tiny, dry sound of a spider weeping.

When the break is made and freedom opens its maw, will you give up on the work you’ve invested in the false horn? Will you leave it behind for something better?

That is the work of faith. The kind that moves mountains.

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Part One: A False Horn on a Real Unicorn

“Spells of seeming,” the unicorn said. “She cannot make things.” “Nor truly change them,” added the magician. “Her shabby skill lies in disguise. And even that knack would be beyond…

“Spells of seeming,” the unicorn said. “She cannot make things.”

“Nor truly change them,” added the magician. “Her shabby skill lies in disguise. And even that knack would be beyond her, if it weren’t for the eagerness of those gulls, those marks, to believe whatever comes easiest. She can’t turn cream into butter, but she can give a lion the semblance of a manticore to eyes that want to see a manticore there—eyes that would take a real manticore for a lion, a dragon for a lizard, and the Midgard Serpent for an earth quake. And a unicorn for a white mare.”

Schmendrick the Magician drew himself up several inches taller than the unicorn would have thought possible. “Fear nothing,” he began grandly. “For all my air of mystery, I have a feeling heart.” But he was interrupted by the approach of Rukh and his followers, grown quieter than the grubby gang who had giggled at the false manticore. The magician fled, calling back softly, “Don’t be afraid, Schmendrick is with you! Do nothing till you hear from me!” His voice drifted to the unicorn, so faint and lonely that she was not sure whether she actually heard it or only felt it brush against her.
It was growing dark. The crowd stood in front of her cage, peering in at her with a strange shyness. Rukh said, “The Unicorn,” and stepped aside.

She heard hearts bounce, tears brewing, and breath going backward, but nobody said a word. By the sorrow and loss and sweetness in their faces she knew that they recognized her, and she accepted their hunger as their homage. She wondered what it must be like to grow old, and to cry.

The show was over. Alone in the moonlight, the old woman Mommy Fortuna glided from cage to cage, resettling locks and prodding her enchantments as a housewife squeezes melons in the market.
Mommy Fortuna turned toward the unicorn’s cage. “Well,” she said in her sweet, smoky voice. “I had you frightened for a little while, didn’t I?” SHe laughed with a sound like snakes hurrying through mud, and strolled closer.

“Whatever your friend the magician may say,” she went on, “I must have some small art after all. Do you really think those gogglers knew you for yourself without any help from me? No, I had to give you an aspect they could understand and a horn they could see. These days it takes a cheap carnival witch to make folk recognize a real unicorn. You’d do much better to stay with me and be false, for in this whole world only your enemy will know you when he sees you.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

So much of church history is this: to put a false horn on a real Unicorn. That is, to cheapen the majestic with some dimestore garnish.

For all the luster of Rome, our Lord didn’t arrive in a gilded chariot but a squalid feeding trough. Even his mother, for all her humility, was a vessel made glorious by carrying the Lord, but the priestly class decided in their human wisdom that she must be more and for the masses to see her and revere her, the Lord’s presentation wasn’t enough. She was given a crown of her own.

We do much the same in so-called Evangelical circles when we crown the Holy Spirit with fog machines and effects pedals and light shows. We work so hard to make the Word of God relevant to eyes that may never see the real horn, and I’m afraid we may be teaching them instead to fall in love with the false one.

If the time one day comes when we look at the head of Christ and see two crowns – one real and one false – I wonder what we will make of it.

Will we love the false horn more? WIll we commit ourselves to the appearance of Good, like Pharisees worshipping their feeble legalism and immune to the piercing blade of the Law once beneath it?

Our world is full of Mommy Fortunas, spinning their cheap carnival witchery to sell us gospels where there are none, and dunderheaded Rukhs carrying their water.

Do not mistake the false horn on a real Unicorn; the Horn of David does not need to be made beautiful to be true, rather the beauty is in its own absolute truth. And that is more than enough.

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“He is pleasant and affable during his normal phases, which make up the greater part of his time. One gets an impression, however, that ordinary life is not very full…

“He is pleasant and affable during his normal phases, which make up the greater part of his time. One gets an impression, however, that ordinary life is not very full or rich, that strange gods are ever calling him, and that the call is far dearer to his heart than anything else. He is, perhaps, like a man who through necessity has given himself over to foreign ways for most of his hours and who goes on fairly patiently but without spontaneity until the time when he can throw it all aside for a while and go wholeheartedly at what he finds really to his taste.”

Excerpt From “The Mask Of Sanity”
Dr. Hervey M. Cleckley

I have always wondered about the connective tissue between the things we believe and the things we do. How does it break down so often? How can it be strengthened? Nothing is more repulsive about my life than the hypocrisy I’ve sometimes displayed, and the hurt it has caused the people I love the most. There is some strange comfort in the company I keep in this when Paul writes, “For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate…For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.”

I am nearly 12 years past the point at which I was called to faith in Christ — both in His salvation and His lordship. That is the complete picture of Him; the deified picture of Jesus; not merely the moralism of Jesus of Nazareth, but the power and authority of Jesus the Messiah. Yet, I stumble.. readily. I stumble every day and wonder where it came from. And I wonder why He hasn’t taken this from me and made me a picture of the firstling fruit of His Spirit that dwells inside me, among the weeds. Where is His pruning? Where is His power?

I feel guilt. I feel shame. I feel fear.

I wish I could tell you that I don’t; that my ‘witness for Christ’ was one of total confidence and power, but it isn’t.

That isn’t to say that my faith is thin, or that it hangs by a thread. It isn’t so dull as that. The sterile, academic seeds that were planted in me when I was a boy might never have shown proof of His work in my life, but the thing that caused the switch to flip; the strange work of Him in me and my family that made Him real and not just a moral fairytale has revealed so much more about Him than I’d ever thought possible. It’s shown me a God, a Lord, and a friend. I’ve seen His work, and not merely wished about it.

Yet, there is still this strange gulf between what I believe and what I do.

“The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”

What will you make of me on the day I call to you, “Lord, Lord?” Will you know me? Will you remember me and welcome me home? Or will you castigate me and send me away, lost?

Though I wish to be worthy, I am not. Even the power to move mountains is lost on me, the faithless. The truth is, Lord, I need you now more than ever. I need you to carry me, because I cannot go where you want me to go.. not on my own.

All this time I’ve spent wanting to have you for my own; my own Lord, my own Savior, my own friend. But, I haven’t ever had you. You are too wild and free for the likes of me, an unexceptional sinner clawing in artfully at paradise.

If I cannot possess you, then I want you to possess me. Whatever good work I’ve done, let it be yours and not mine. Whatever bad I’ve done, forgive me Lord for my foolish mistake — the prideful heart of a man desperately seeking something he cannot have, and should never want to keep.

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Manufacturing Culture

Here we find ourselves in ‘No Man’s Land.’ It is no longer an active battlefield. The war is over, but I am not sure if anyone ever really won or…

Here we find ourselves in ‘No Man’s Land.’ It is no longer an active battlefield. The war is over, but I am not sure if anyone ever really won or if It was all lost. And, perhaps it is because we are now a bit removed from much of the fighting (though there is still fighting, perhaps not for this war, however), but I’m not really convinced there ever was a war at all. We talked about it then as if it was a war, and we still refer to it as such, but I think we might have been wrong about that. We have been wrong about so much.

I’m referring to the “Culture War.” I’m not really sure how to characterize this War, but to frame it as its framers framed it.

The phrase, itself, is borrowed from the 19th century struggles of European empires against the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the formation of new constitutional and democratic nation states, preceding the first World War. Economist Iván Berend said of this Kulturkampf, the appropriation by the secular government to include the moralization of the governed away from the Church, “the struggle against the ancien régime, its remnants, or its restoration was necessarily a struggle against the church.”

In its more modern context, it isn’t much differently described, though it is subtly and insidiously and truly different in an important way. The so-called ‘Evangelicals’ are now often the warriors against the Social Progressives. The difference here is that these are purely political categories (much to my small-e-evangelical dismay).

Perhaps, then, if the modern ‘Culture Wars’ ever were a war to begin with, they were more of a civil war: insider factions of the same monolith fighting for fame, though all the time marching toward the same inevitable conclusion.

That left the rest of us much like sports fans who cheer on “our” victory and “our” team without ever setting foot on the field. “We” lost or “we” won, they say, when their greatest contribution to the victory was the uninterrupted stream of dollars at the merchandise counters.

Some of the best spectators helped turn us onto the ‘War.’

Kirkegaard in, “The Present Age.” And Spengler in, “The Decline of the West.” And G. K. Chesterton, who wrote almost 100 years ago that, “The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality. And the madness of tomorrow will come not from Moscow but from Manhattan.”

And Aldous Huxley in, “Brave New World.” And C. S. Lewis in, “The Abolition of Man.” And David Reisman in, “The Lonely Crowd.” And Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978 in his Harvard commencement address titled, “ A World Split Apart.”

But, it was the return of the Catholic empire under John Paul the Great who put the title to the Culture in which we live; the punch that stuck. He condemned the American “Culture of Death” in his 1995 papal encyclical.

But, Culture and even American Culture didn’t blink and the wheel of time ground on and, now, over 20 years on, we absolve ourselves and do that great American thing that, along with death, gilded the 20th century as “The American Century.”

We commoditized culture. It is no longer a sobering reflection of the huddled masses and their warts and spirit. Instead, it is something packaged and sold.

At my office, ‘culture’ dominates the executive discussion. It is a ‘thing’ to be marketed to the staff, as though it is not a reflection of us as people, but instead the fuel for our work output; the gasoline of productivity. It not only shapes our work, but our interactions with one another and somehow aligns with the expectations of our ownership.

“We have a culture of humility,” yet we “crush” our competition and seek to outpace our year over year earnings and we crow about our wins and extoll our operational excellence.

We are being sold that culture isn’t a product of us, but a product we consume. It even comes with packaging and buzzwords.

The same seems to be true of our national Culture.

It is peddled by talking heads that just won’t shut up and now, they have found new spectators to ‘fight’ in this ‘field of battle,’ while never setting foot on the ground, but still calling it “our” team and glowing over “our” wins and “our” losses. And yes, the merchandise tables are still flush with cash.

But here’s the sober truth:

America has the most just and most moral and most wise and most Biblical historical and constitutional foundation in the world. Yes. The same was true of ancient Israel. And America is one of the most religious countries in the world. Yes, just like ancient Israel. And the Church is big and rich and free in America. Yes, just like ancient Israel.

And if God still loves His church in America, he will soon make it small and poor and persecuted just as He did to ancient Israel—so that He can keep it alive by pruning it. If He loves us, He will cut the dead wood away. And we will bleed. And the blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the Church again and a second spring will come and new buds—but not without blood. It never happens without blood, without sacrifice, without suffering. Christ’s work, if it is really Christ’s work and not a comfortable counterfeit, never happens without the cross. Whatever happens without the cross may be good work, but it is not Christ’s work. For Christ’s work is bloody. Christ’s work is a blood transfusion. That is how salvation happens.

That is our Culture, and only because He invites us to be a part of it. Without his extended hand and the grace of His offering, we’re just spectators.

I’ll leave you with these words from an American cultural icon, who doesn’t get enough respect these days. He walked onto a battlefield once and gave his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address.” This speech isn’t that. This speech is the one he gave when the war was over; when the war was won. Just as ours has been, for us, by the bloody Son of God.

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

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“Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” James 4:14 Everything…

“Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” James 4:14

Everything seems ok right now, the bottom of the sky hasn’t fallen out. But I know that when it comes, it’s gonna get ugly.

Life is sometimes trudging, sometimes swimming, sometimes floating between islands of terror and tragedy.

Hurricanes and snipers. The slow starvation of the dispossessed. Broken hearts. Broken spirits. Broken marriages. Runaways and strays and day after day filled with small failures.

Yet, in it and somehow through it, He works. How do I know? It’s not as simple as, “I have faith,” though in my best times, I do. It isn’t as seemingly trite as, “the Bible tells me so,” but that is true (and it isn’t as trite as it might seem). It isn’t as easily dismissible as, “my parents or my preacher said it is true,” though they have and I trust them. It isn’t just wishful thinking, either, but it is a wish I share with Him when I remember to pray.

In part, it is in the fingers stuffed in bullet holes. It’s strangers being human shields. It’s in the Kingdom come, glimmering in soft words, and justice. But, it is also in the blessing of pain that pulls me and shapes me to be the key to the keyhole that opens one of many doors to many rooms in many mansions.

But, it is more than that. It is the other side of a door we’re al afraid to open. It is the tightness of His grip on time and space that tugs it like taffy and transcends the mire, pulls me from brokenness, and seals my own cracks with His glory.

In the end, I know He works, because the unseen God is with me. He somehow blesses all this mess with His own presence, and it can be felt and enjoyed.

And because, without knowing a thing about tomorrow, we have today, together.

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American Gospel

This ain’t no American Gospel. It isn’t secured by the troops, represented by the flag, or born on the 4th of July. It isn’t written into the 1st amendment, or…

This ain’t no American Gospel.

It isn’t secured by the troops, represented by the flag, or born on the 4th of July.

It isn’t written into the 1st amendment, or protected by the 2nd. It wasn’t emancipated by the 13th.

It isn’t negotiated on the floor of the House of the People, voted on by the electorate, or implemented by the Executive. It isn’t adjudicated by the Courts, and it doesn’t have a Party.

It doesn’t guarantee the right to remain silent, but One is appointed to speak for us, because we can’t afford to on our own. It isn’t the boys in blue. It isn’t the #resistance. It isn’t the Tea Party. It isn’t the revolution and it isn’t the establishment.

This ain’t no American Gospel. It didn’t land on Plymouth Rock or take Attica. It didn’t speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and it doesn’t take a knee at the games. The life it gives is the one that matters.

It didn’t come home in body cavities from Vietnam and it isn’t sold on the streets of South Central, funding illegal wars in South America and extorting families, stealing husbands and fathers. It isn’t decimating middle America, destroying bodies and families for a quick hit. It doesn’t have a Czar, and a budget and black money.

It doesn’t have a SuperPAC. It doesn’t lobby for influence and trade soul for soul and mammon for mammon. It doesn’t lie and cheat and steal and corrupt and corrode. It doesn’t care who gets elected or which bills get passed. It isn’t pork-barrel spending.

It isn’t technological innovation. It isn’t the next big thing or the next bubble to burst. It isn’t a new app or a new show to binge. It isn’t bread and circuses. This ain’t no American Gospel.

It isn’t amber waves of grain or the hard work and rugged hands pulling tight on boot straps about to snap under the pressure. It isn’t traditional values or the nuclear family. It isn’t progressivism and it isn’t gender identity studies. It isn’t conservatism and tax cuts. It isn’t just for the poor and it isn’t just for the wealthy. It isn’t about the middle class and the Silent Majority.

It isn’t in drone strikes or Nuclear Treaties or Climate Change action. It isn’t on a major network. It isn’t in grandma’s apple pie and they don’t serve it at McDonald’s.

No, this ain’t no American Gospel.

Because now there ain’t no Jew nor Greek, no White nor Black, no Rich nor Poor, no Native nor Immigrant, no Straight nor Gay, no Slave nor Free.

There is Christ, and there are those apart from Christ.

His Gospel puts the lost before the found. It puts the last before the first. It doesn’t need to be respected, protected, or elected to save. His Gospel stands and it cannot be shaken.

His Gospel is a blood transfusion. His Gospel is flesh and blood; spit upon and dragged through the dirt and killed and it showed that neither blood, nor dirt, nor spit, nor death could hold it down. Neither can politics. Neither can elected officials. Neither can constitutional amendments, Planned Parenthood, tax cuts for the rich, election fraud, Presidents, twitter feeds, football players, Tea Partiers, #resisters, college professors, conceal and carriers, or any other nonsense America can throw at it.

His Gospel frees us from the demands of all that nonsense. It gives us truth. It gives us Him, and the price He already paid. His Gospel doesn’t need you to be right. It doesn’t need you to be Left. It doesn’t need your Facebook wall, and it doesn’t need your protest signs.

His Gospel gives you Him.

This ain’t no American Gospel.

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