Chain of Love

I turned thirty yesterday. My uncle Steve would have turned fifty.

As a child I shared a birthday with Uncle Steve. Our parties always had two cakes. A little one for me and a big one for him. It was great. Steve was my mother's brother and only sibling. He taught school and was a really amazing guy. He would take me on outings with women I think he was trying to impress. I remember one time we went to Dunn's Falls with Sissy Jones and his little car broke down. We hitch-hiked to the horror of the more cautious adults in my life. It was a little boy's paradise - a hero uncle, a beautiful woman, and adventure.

Uncle Steve got leukemia (did I spell the d---- word correctly?) and died when I was in elementary school. My first experience of loss. God - couldn't it have been a fish or even a puppy. My next birthday and every one since has had only one cake. A lot of us still notice.

Uncle Steve wanted the chorus O How He Loves You and Me sung at his funeral. Maybe it was because of Kurt Kaiser's line, "O how He loves you and me; He gave His life, what more could He give?" He wanted everyone there to know his God of love. The love he reflected during his short but well-lived life.

I have a photograph on my fridge. It is a picture of me sitting in a hugh pile of construction paper rings. These rings were sold for a dime at Meridian High School twenty some years ago and the funds raised went to help Uncle Steve with medical expenses. It was called The Chain of Love. Students carried it from the High School to my grandmother's house because Uncle Steve was spending his last days there. The photo is a living sermon for me. As one of Truman Capote's characters said, "Love is a chain." I was loved before I entered this world by a great cloud of witnesses. Uncle Steve is now among them. Molly Katherine will hear their stories and know the strength of the chain of love. Our son to born will wear the name Steven. He will know the love of the chain as well.

God Bless.

Gautreaux and the Gospel

I love the short stories of Tim Gautreaux. His collection, Welding with Children, is increadible. One of the stories is about a minister who went to a writing conference to see if he had the talent to become a "real" writer. He found out that most people go to writing conferences to get drunk and sleep with writers. He was an exception. Here is a conversation between the minister and one of his instructors -

"Why do you want to write, anyway?"
He stared over at a child sticking his fingers into the Jell-O of the salad bar. "I want to find out if I can do it well, if it's what I do best."
She wiped her mouth and looked at him. "And then what?"
"Then it'll be as though I have a good voice. I guess I should sing."
"A sense of duty to your talent," she mused, looking up at a dusty vinyl plant hanging from the ceiling. "My old preacher used to talk about that."
Brad took a drink of iced tea and looked away. "Yeah?"
"He said that those who could do good work but wouldn't created a vacuum in the world that would be filled by those who could do bad things and would."

The story ends with the minister creating just such a vacuum. He created it completely without effort. I think that most of the terror we inflict in the world is effortless. As I think about turning 30 tomorrow and about the new year I am resolved no longer to linger. I guess I should sing. How about you?

Strengthen the Things That Remain or The Gift of a Short Illness

I once had a Boy Scout leader that worked at a wood processing mill outside of Meridian, MS. One thursday night he took a bunch of us on a field trip to the place. I can still remember one part of it vividly. The mill had a machine the size of Northwest Jr. High School's gym. It was a long tube-like thing with iron teeth on the inside. We watched the workers drop huge pine logs and roll them with impressive violence. We looked with delight as the big tumbler spit out skinned pine. The logs were gritty, naked, and more useful than before. I feel like one of those logs.

We went to New Orleans last weekend for a wedding and came home with the nastiest stomach bug I have ever known. It hit like a train on Sunday. For the last few days we have been rolling in the tumbler. I'm feeling better today and will be leading an Advent Vespers service later tonight. I'm back but the time apart was not all bad. Our unplanned two-day sabbatical from the "real" world has given me the chance to focus clearly on the things that matter most. I feel raw and gritty and more useful. Chalk it up to the odd ways of God.

#1 - Happy Birthday Molly Katherine

On second thought...

I'll still do most of my posting at Broken Steeple. It will be given to culture, the gospel, and Christian spirituality. Bricks and Sabers will be reserved for denominational and other intramural concerns.

Bricks and Sabers

I've just started a new blog so that I can post in BETA. I may yet swith from Blogger. Until that time I'll post @ Bricks and Sabers. The title comes from the story of Nehemiah's construction project in the OT. The men worked with bricks in one hand and a saber in the other. Those gritty construction workers must have been something. I look up to them and hope to place a few bricks on the wall during my lifetime. It may take a dagger to get it done.

Slash and Saint Paul

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfuits - we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved... The Apostle Paul

Curt Cloninger (not to be confused with the Christian one-man-show) wrote and essay in Paste titled, "How a bunch of long-haired, strung - out guys in leather pants taught me about humanhind's struggle to make sense of existence in a meaning-starved corner of the postmodern here-and-now or: a 2.305-word essay on "sweet child o' mine". I couldn't help but read it. I didn't know it would dovetail with my reading of Romans 8.

Cloninger wrote a serious essay on the philosophical importance of Guns N' Roses' classic rock song. He asserts that Slash's guitar playing is a form of human longing for the Real beyond our eyes. The crashing of modern optimism (embodied in the song's beginning) gives way to a cry for something/someone more. If you remember the song then you will remember Axl asking, "Where do we go now?" while Slash grinds away on the the ax.

Cloinger believes that Slash's guitar playing is a type of creational groaning. The same type Paul writes about in Romans 8. He further states:

"Slash's solo is our voice - 2,000 years after a resurrection we never witnessed, facing a future that seems more or less insoluble. We're not deluded into believing we can return to the idealized modernism of the '50s. And still were not willing to throw in the towel and succumb to nihilistic despair. We still hope beyond hope. We groan. We struggle. And we cry out - not defiantly into the void and not to some man-diluted, manufactured god who can't satisfy. We cry out to the God we hope is actually there."

If Cloninger speaks truly (I believe he does), where do we, as followers of Jesus, go now in reaching our communities with the hope that saved us?

God's Hard Edge

My friend Don called my attendtion to Johnny Cash's new release, God's Gonna Cut You Down. I love just about everything Cash has ever done. His music is amazing and most of the time his gonzo theology is on target. He did not miss with this one. The song deals with the lively truth that we all stand responsible before the Son of Man. We won't always be able to run unfettered away from God's holy will.

As I watched the video online I thought of a story recorded in I Kings 13. The young prophet disobeyed God and became dinner for God's lion. God cut him down. We spend our lives ignoring this hard edge of God. We domesticate the Lion of Judah in an effort to worship a neutered Garfield. Maybe we should heed the call of Orthodox writer Frederica Matthews-Green, We must stop thinking of God as infinitely indulgent. We must begin to grapple with the scary and exhilarating truth that he is infinitely holy, and that he wants the same for us.

What do you think?
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