Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Cufflinks and Hidden Pulses

It seems as though the protestant American church has long held art in a precarious position of acceptable-but-deadly. 'Christian' radio plays music that sounds like most of the writers read the same small book and wrote songs using those words. 'Christian' videos are put together to spread the gospel like it was propaganda. The message is thinly veiled under a layer of "we believe that if you don't think like us, you're wrong." So-called 'art' is spread over 'Christian' media like dirty oil on water. Beauty is long-forgotten by mainstream producers of things labeled Christian. Aside from the fact that labelling a thing as Christian is absurd according to Scripture - "heaven and earth shall pass away" - many believe that wearing salvation on your sleeve is effective witnessing. I am unapologetic about the fact that this is somewhat akin to those 'leftist radicals' and 'tree-hugging hippies' - as some are so fond of labelling others - parading around a courthouse that hangs the Ten Commandments. Aside from that issue, one must admit that such action is merely the bull elephant trumpeting to the herd. Everyone wants their voice heard, and the louder you shout, the better.

But whatever happened to silence - that long-lost sister who speaks louder than all the rage of Madison Avenue, all the dazzle of Hollywood? She flies whisperingly in the face of Cufflink Christianity. She remembers dinner with Zachaeus. She remembers writing in the sand and a prostitutes alabaster bottle on the once-carpenter's feet. She likes looking and drinking and smelling and touching. She is as mute as Little Franny in her love. "Your local Christian Hit Source" doesn't think she's worth the effort very often. They'd rather perpetuate a cycle of yellow journalism. Music should be inspirational - and that means happy. But happiness and happenstance are old bedfellows - they write each other often, and even as often, we refuse to read the letters. All told, such damage is done by the neglect of beauty that is hidden - beauty that is quiet - beauty that suffers. In Jerusalem on Friday, Summer dies to Autumn, and the maple casts her colored children down, and we whose names are on white stones sing hymns of harvest. Suffering, imperfection, death, emptiness - these are beautiful because they are human. We have hope of a world where they do not exist because of a Savior who knew that they did. We should not neglect those who deal with the flesh and blood of a life that is flesh and blood. Art should be a medium to begin to grasp the mind of those who make it, and thus, the Mind that made the mind. Don't fly your colors too high just now, we have yet to take hold of the hem of his robe. If we parade our perfections through art and refuse entry to the drunkards of this world, we will ourselves become drunk on our pride. Remember mortality.

I learned to laugh through my tears - Karen Berquist

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I want to be stranded on an island with a man who hates all that he knows of Jesus, and refuses all interaction with the church as he sees it. I don't particularly want this because I am a sucker for a good outdoor experience (although I am). I want to know a person. I want to know at a deeper level the truth of unity in difference.

I hear from two of my dearest friends things that hurt deeply. Statements of errant Scripture, belief in the uselessness of much in the current church. I am sure that my communication is flawed, so I will not say much about this beyond what I have said (I'm sure I'll hear Hell from then anyways, hopefully with Heaven hidden not-too-deep underneath). I do want desperately to speak in a moment of passion before it is gone.

I will always remember a man named Dave from New Orleans. I met him on Bourbon Street. He told me that the middle of the Bible was Psalm 118. The chapter before it is the shortest in the bible. The chapter after it is the longest. He told me that there were near the same number of chapters before and behind it (595 and 593, respectively). Dave was homeless, slightly drunk. Travelling around with his friend (or wife, I'm not sure). I think her name was Nancy. But she was the purest expression of joy I've ever seen. I wish I could describe it so you could understand. Joy literally poured from her like a life-giving water. I could only understand once I was willing to accept it. She danced to music that I played even though I didn't know how to play it. She kissed my on the cheek because I gave her my necklace (a trinket of no value in my mind). She was ever grateful. Dave was ever loving. They were the most beautiful people I have ever seen, dirty, drunk, and ragged - and so beautiful.

Needless to say it was a humbling experience being schooled by Dave in the Bible. I am grateful for it. I say this to say that such was one of my experiences in finding grace in dark places, but that is what God's grace is for. Violently earned, freely given, it is medicine to the sick. In the light of such things, I find debates about Scripture to be, as for a great deal of them, moot. Those of us who are given to embracing thought that is counter to the 'system' are in danger of contradicting ourselves in our desire to slake an incessant thirst for contradiction. We have an unhealthy interest in quarrels and laws (though they might be of a different kind, they are still laws). I know that every time I drink in the Bible, I am brought closer to Love. I know that there are songs and stories and movies that do the same thing, but we must balance all against Scripture. I will not be brought to addressing whether Scripture is fallible or not. I don't know. I was not there when it was written. God was. I am not there when others read it. God is. I do know that I am fallible, and God uses me. Jesus body was as human as mine. It was beaten to a tattered mound of flesh. And God used it. The divine fingerprint is making riches of rags. By our Love will we be known, not by our ability to rage against the other parts of the Body, which we call a 'system' in order to delude ourselves into the ability to hate without conviction of sin.

By our Love shall we be known. By our refusal to abandone our own flesh and blood of humanity. Our patches make us like Dave and Nancy. We are dirty and drunk and beautiful.

Monday, March 21, 2005


I sit and amass my anger in a silo of my own steel making. I hate walking away after a fight. Don't let the sun set, I'd keep it skyward if I could. All the armour in this warring world cannot suspend the blows of my own pride on those I love with all endearment. Those closest are within reach of my self-swallowing. I wish I felt cold, I wish I could release to it and freeze my bare chest with the fog of a confused late-March day. Nothing protects from the fire that spreads like a cancer. Nobody is winning, everyone is dying - with as much cause as an illegitemate child in a brothel. She sleeps for now, but tomorrow is another possibility hanging like a guillotine six feet from her neck. She waits for that second when she hears the sound and knows.

I can't stand fighting, almost as much as I can't stand being wrong. To my cursing, one seems to always outweigh the other. I feel like a young oak fighting autumn to hold on to creeds long-brown on the branch. They shiver and shake in the mighty wielding of winter. There is no cure but dying - and except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. The days of aloneness freeze in a moment of present that falls with the weight of a bad unexpectancy. The force could stop a speeding chariot, coming for to carry me home.

Must a day well spent end in death and questions? I struggle to sing out my lama sabachthani, when my circumstances scream homo sapiens, and I don't think there's really a cure sometimes, this side of my final tracks. She's still beautiful - always will be, never will stop. These tears I'm drinking get sweeter when there's less of me and more of Him. The days are here and move again, He still sees her like He always did - I'm glad He keeps that picture for me to see on humble occasion.

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Shorter Road to India

It began as a comment - a casual mentioning over the telephone. Seemingly harmless words until they are pieced together and uttered in the presence of the right person: Caedmon's Call is playing in Raleigh........

WHAT?! This band that I have made it my life's quest to own every cd they've released? This group that I knew since before most folks at Carson-Newman had seen a B-3 Hammond? This band that never, and I mean never plays at Knoxville (since the Bijou show 3001 years ago)? Caedmon's Call? (Is my geek-dom visible enough yet?)

So Andy told me they were playing in Raleigh the day that our Spring Break began. Plans were laid with craftiness. Wiper fluid was purchased. Chicken salad sandwiches were packed. No smoking signs were turned on. We began a long and strenuous quest out from the Shire, over hill and dale for Raleigh, North Carolina. And I can't even begin to describe to you the beauty of the journey, but I'm gonna try.......

11:00am - Leaving Jefferson City, the trek started with a short coast to I-40 over 92. Thus begun, we turned our faces towards the lately risen sun to faces the impending Appalachian Mountains. As we traced the path towards the Eastern Seaboard, their snow-bound peaks grew around us, blocking out the sun, even at it's almost-noon perch high above us. Appalachia smiled knowingly down from it's winter's-end porch front, and we marvelled at the Hand of God on his Canvas, and quietly wondered how we ourselves were paint-strokes. With MapQuest as our illustrious guide, we breathed past Asheville and my old stomping grounds of Lenoir, and the foothills and the rolling Piedmont opened up before us like a letter from a newfound friend. The long home stretch beckoned, and we fell gracefully into the arms of our destination.

5:30pm - After the miracle of Cheerwine and gas station sandwiches brought Andy and I into Raleigh, our strength returned when Providence Baptist Church came in our sights. I pulled the weary car into the parking lot. We had two hours until the concert began, so we piled out and retrieved our tickets at will call, happy as larks to be the first to arrive. We crossed the street to Burger King (only to borrow the facilities) and returned shortly to join the only two folks in front of us.

7:30pm - Andrew Peterson walks out on stage and announces that he is not from India. So begins the 2005 Spring Tour of Share the Well. It was good to see him again, even though it had only been a couple weeks. No family or Ben Shive with him this time, but we'll forgive him ;) . He played some favorites and even another song from the upcoming album (it's going to be about heaven, I can't wait to hear it). Then Cliff walked out and began to tell us as best he could the story of the Dalits and why Caedmon's was on this mission of Love. I can't convey to you in words what was in his story and his plea, go to the concerts or buy the album, it's the best way I know for you to understand the plight of the Dalit people.

Caedmon's came out and, together, we all spent an hour and a half dancing, smiling, crying, laughing, and celebrating the fact that our God is a God of the rich and the poor, of the sick and the well, of the upper-caste and the down-trodden - and that He is Love.

Andy and I left afterwards and went to Sean and Dana's house. It was great to see my friends again and to hear their stories and their ideas. I was eager to ask questions about discerning the will of God. We woke up the next morning and said goodbye to Dana, since she left early for a morning to herself. Sean and his boys at cinnamon rolls with us and we spent the morning playing and singing. Andy, Sean, and I took turns playing Elijah's little FirstAct guitar with five strings on it, and I drummed on a basketball - and we sang songs of the Glory of God there in that tiny living room.

11:00am - Andy and I began the long return journey. It seemed shorter this time because I had driven it before. At half-past Winston-Salem, we took a northward bearing to reach Boone and my childhood friend Katherine Malcolm, who is much the same as I remember her.

It was strange in a way, seeing Katherine. When you're a kid, you don't really wonder about what other people are thinking. As for myself, I think I sort of woke up one day and started realizing that what other people were feeling like might be important. I am currently in a battle with that fact and I'm not sure who's winning, as the soldiers and advocates keep exchanging causes every time I encounter people. But I suppose that's cause I think too much. Anyway, I re-met this girl I had known for a couple years back in elementary school, and she was a person now, and I was a person, and we were somewhat uncomfortably aware of each other. But all in all, it was certainly good to see her again and get to roam around Boone and App State and have an oasis in the middle of this pilgrimage. I loved seeing snow on the ground in piles and drifts more than anything, since our snow in Jefferson City is of the subspecies that inhabits only the air.

After seeing a great shoe store that sold Chuck Taylors, Roos, and PF Flyers (for crying out loud), and an even better antique store with an old Wurlitzer Organ downstairs (like the kind my Great Nannie has) and some beautiful old wooden kitchen hutches, we bid Katherine and her fiancee farewell and began the second and more interesting leg of the return trip.

5:00pm - Leaving Boone, we headed towards Elizabethton and Johnson City on a state highway that wove through the mountains in a mysterious dry serpentine way. It was getting late, but the views were still more than indescribable. I always marvel in my mind at cattle that graze on steep hills. You'd think the legs on one side would have to be shortened so they could stand up straight, but they manage. We drove until well after dark and I think being in the car all day made us a little loopy, but we pulled into Jefferson City at around 9:00 like cows coming home for supper. Andy packed up and went downtown, and I packed upstairs to Kat's apartment to hang out a while.

So, now I own a shirt from India, that I got in Raleigh, after driving from Jefferson City, to see a band from Nashville, that went to India. We've come full circle, and if you see me wearing it, you'll know the story.
Thanks for listening, this concludes our broadcast day.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


It's been snowing all day. For the most part, we here in Tennessee have thought it the usual mockery of our wishes for school, work, and general routines to be cancelled (since they never are in Knox County or at Carson Newman, so it seems). As for me, it wasn't completely what I usually think of as a good snow, since it's March, which to me, signifies sandals, jeans, and a t-shirt. This snow also didn't have that gentle quiet about it. That sound that muffles all other sounds and is like no other - the sound of snowflakes landing on ice-dusted spruces. The weather that keeps people quiet. The simple hiss of ten-thousand little worlds of ice collecting in piles - they seem to erase all that previously existed, as if the world was truly supposed to look like that - hushed and smilingly pensive.

I like weather that makes other people want to stay inside. It's like a cover charge - it keeps out the riff-raff. The sky and her falling children have so much personality, and it's a great deal more evident when the rain drips slowly off the front of my tweed cap. It's been difficult to find a quiet place today, and I hope to find one tomorrow in the mountains between Tennessee and Carolina. I would love to bundle up and just walk somewhere for a while, unaware of human existence.

Kat and I have a somewhat crude but funny expression that we use with each other. When one of us is tired of being around others because we've been around them all day, we say we're constipated with people, or with whoever that specific person may be. I really enjoy Kat's company, because - as she said so poignantly - I can be alone and be with her at the same time. I don't feel like I'm constantly trying to drain myself to be around her. I can't help but be grateful when I think of a Love that I will soon enough know fully. A Love that makes this old busted goblet run refreshingly over the rim. I long for that day, when I will see His face and be filled - that day when I will have enough - when snow will always fall and it will always be quiet and the sounds of trains will call from the distance and jazz will meander in from the next room. The air will smell of clean and cold.

I used to think that, since hell was supposed to be hot, heaven must be cold. It always made me wonder about that, since people don't want to spend eternity freezing their butts off. But I love cold weather, it does make me feel clean. I breath in the chill, and it rinses me off and wrings me out like nothing else. It's closer to enough than many things that I enjoy. We seem to thrive on longing though - that yearning for this alien thing called enough. That prime rib that I put in my mouth makes me close my eyes and slowly shake my head, letting it melt me like wax - but I shake my head because, even as I enjoy one bite, I long for the next. That breath of honeysuckle on the elusive late June wind - I drink it in, like a greedy liquor I fill myself with it, but I ever pine for the next breath of it. Nothing is enough in this world. We thrive on yearning, as we are made to do, and it's beyond me to truly imagine the feeling of really having enough. But the longing is sweet on this Earth, and Love is quiet and cool on my face. My flesh hungers to be destroyed by this Enough. The snow is quiet, and the sounds of trains are in the distance.