Archive for the ‘Guest Snides’ Category

Somewhere Is Better Than Anywhere

August 5th, 2010

matt JensonI have known Matt Jenson, I think, since my junior high school days.  We grew up in the same town, we went to the same schools, we played in marching band together and went to church together.  He is a great guy, who I always enjoy hearing his contemplations and wonderings.  He is an avid reader, and unlreated, has a deadly hook shot on the basketball court.  Matt is an accomplished author, as well as a college professor of Theology.  Matt is many things, including, my friend.

Anywhere But the Suburbs
by Matt Jenson

There are occasional days when I heartily affirm with Randy Newman: ‘I love LA!’ More often, I hate it.

On Tuesday morning I flew back to Los Angeles, with its cars and concrete, its hurry and hustle and hassle. I had been in the Southeast for two weeks – with good friends in Nashville and Washington, DC, and a long, meandering drive in-between. When I opened my car door late on the night I arrived in Tennessee, I was taken aback by the sounds of crickets and frogs, instead of the trains from back in suburban Orange County. Everything in Tennessee was green. I rode a lawn mower for two hours just to cut my friend’s grass. He had that much grass.

It was even better as I wandered through the small towns of Kentucky and North Carolina. I’ve been reading Wendell Berry for a while, and like most of his readers, I want to live in Port William, Kentucky. Short of that, it seemed a nice idea to drive to unincorporated Henry County, to the town of Port Royal, on which Berry bases Port William. At dusk, I was driving along the river (‘Watch out for the deer’, they told me), basking in the warm light of the end of the day as it shone on abandoned barns and run-down farmhouses. Why can’t I live here?

I’ve begun to realize that I am reading Wendell Berry poorly. To me, his novels have been an escape – a thoughtful, literary escape, of course, a respectable one. Nostalgia for agrarian society is all the rage among us academic types. I am coming to realize, though, that Port William isn’t the romantic utopia that serves as my intellectual equivalent of comfort food. It is a home for a ‘membership’ (Berry’s word) who have to struggle to receive it in gratitude as their home. Port William is to its members as LA is to me.

This is how Port William’s own Hannah Coulter put it near the end of her life:

‘Most people now are looking for “a better place,” which means that a lot of them will end up in a worse one. I think this is what Nathan learned from his time in the army and the war. He saw a lot of places, and he came home. I think he gave up the idea that there is a better place somewhere else. There is no “better place” than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got, and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven.

‘I think of Art Rowanberry, another one who went to the war and came home and never willingly left again, and I quote him to myself: “Something better! Everybody’s talking about something better. The important thing is to feel good and be proud of what you got, don’t matter if it ain’t nothing but a log pen.”’

Suburban Orange County is a lot more than a log pen; but if I’m honest, the one thing needful, the feeling good and being proud of what I’ve got in this home is one of the more difficult aspects of my life. My impulse is to change, and in this I find I am of a piece with the membership of Orange County. We don’t like something, so we change it, abandon it, throw it away – because the whole point is that we are supposed to be happy.

But what if the whole point is that we are supposed to be holy? (Gary Thomas makes this argument about marriage.) And what if being happy were bound up with being holy? Funny. I’ve been a Christian for thirty years, and I am still convinced that dissatisfaction is only ever to be lamented, that is a problem immediately and at all costs to be solved. The dissatisfying suburbs become thus a place for me to flee, nothing better than a log pen. What if the loving Father wanted to conform me to the image of his Son, to make my holy, by teaching me to love the suburbs?

Dave and Lisa Everitt have referred to Cambodia, where they are missionaries, as Paradise for as long as I can remember. I’ve been there. It’s beautiful in parts, but also filled with the poverty and pain flowing from the atrocities of its recent history. I’ll never forget Dave’s story of enjoying a swimming hole only to realize it was one of a string of perfectly round holes, courtesy of a flurry of bombs.

I don’t think it’d ever occur to me to call Phnom Penh ‘Paradise’. But to Dave and Lisa, it is just that. Not because they’re blind to the difficulty of living far from their loved ones and home culture, or because they have romanticized this corner of the developing world.

No, it is Paradise because it is what they have been given by God.

I suspect, too, that it is Paradise in faith and hope that what they have received from God cannot but be a paradise. And, I suspect that it has become a paradise over the years of loving, sustained attention they have given to it, as they have come to know and be known by the membership of Cambodia.

The difference is that my friends in Cambodia, and those in Port William, know themselves as bound to a place and, in muddled and inconstant ways, seek to live within the limits of where they have been given. Me, I keep thinking of greener grass – of anywhere but the suburbs. On this point, I think I am wrong. I disagree with myself. I repent. Flannery O’Connor was right: ‘Somewhere is better than anywhere.’

Yet Inwardly We Are Being Renewed

March 13th, 2009

Josh Weir is a friend that I can rely on to surprise me, to encourage me, to care for me, and to be real with me.  I am eternally blessed by my friendship with Josh.  He makes me laugh, he makes me ponder.  He challenges me to look at things from a different angle.  I met Josh back in college and since then we have shared many different life experiences, ups and downs.  Josh will drop everything to come to a concert, vegas, a padres game with me.  He is supportive and enlightening.  I count Josh as close, dear friend, a man after my own heart.  I am grateful for his presence in my life.

This Too Shall Pass…
by Josh Weir

“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing. God alone remains.”
– Therese of Lisieux

With so many things in flux in our world today, we are longing for something to find consistency in. We are looking for someone to believe in and restore hope in our lives. Oh, to find preservation. Oh, to find peace. Preservation of the heart which keeps our focus on that which truly sustains; a basis of reliance in the continuing experiences of life. Peace like a river washing over the rocks, around the trees and through the jungle. There are so many things which cloud our mind and distract us from peace. From a minuscule detail of a coffee stain on my tie, to the obsessive attention on the measurement of my waistline. From the refusal to let go and forgive a wrong action, to sensational pleasure seeking which isolates us and can compromise our integrity. We find a myriad of distractions from the peace of knowing the temporal in light of the eternal. In the eternal, our peace is secure. In the eternal, we are in the river of God’s grace as it carries us forward.

In the river of grace, our attention is drawn to the rocks and trees, the current, the rapids and whirlpools, and maybe even to a few snakes or alligators. Whatever we experience doesn’t change our existence in the river of grace which is taking us to God. Peace in the river is in knowing that he has created a place that the river is taking us to; a home and a reward at the end of the faithful journey. We may be in a dinghy or a yacht, or maybe we are hanging on to a piece of driftwood; the river is still taking us home. Knowing that the river is a manifestation of his grace (and that grace will carry us through) and knowing the peace of its perpetual flowing is the sustenance we have been given to continue, gives us hope for our preservation in our experience. As Paul encourages, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart.

Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” We have his grace to rely on as we focus on Him and his provision through the moment of distraction. In the experience of difficult times and trials, we can be encouraged by his promises and the hope we have in Him for a future.

As the distractions and complications pass in and out of our days, let us be encouraged by Him who knows ultimate temptation. The one who healed and preached, who was praised with palm branches and scorned with a crown of thorns at the bloody hour. The one who was raised to the seat of power, that every knee should bow, and every tongue confess his Lordship. He is the primary example that God rules and overrules in the lives of men and women. In love and mercy, judgment and righteousness – God rules in the lives of mankind. With injustice and corruption, with benevolence and reconciliation – God overrules in the lives of all humanity. Let nothing bring you fear. Are you happy? It will pass. Are you downtrodden? It will pass. Are you confused, ashamed, excited, or failing? It shall pass. Are you melancholy, calm, famished, accomplished, broken, or needy? It shall pass. Are you terrified, worried, restless, plentiful, conceited, or self-conscious? It shall pass. Are you wildly successful? This too shall pass. Are you struggling to make ends meet? Yes – all things are passing, but God alone remains. Remember that he has placed you in the river, that his grace may bring you to Him. Recall his promise to those whom he calls his own, “and if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever, and my eyes and my heart will be there perpetually.” He is consistent in fulfilling his promises. We can rest in that preservation and peace. The essence of his peace is that he is bringing us through all circumstances; we can only experience his carrying us through. He is ruling. He is overruling. He is keeping your head above water or allowing you to walk upon it. Cast your cares upon Him, for he cares for you. Praise Him in the moment of triumph. Speak aloud to the Father in your worry and doubt. Confess your distractions and concerns for the up and coming. Recognize his grace and power, and feel the peace flowing through your days in his eternal triumph over temporal experience. He alone remains. He is worthy of hope. He will preserve you. He will bring you peace.

Opening Chords

January 30th, 2009

Andrew Richards is one of my closest friends in the world. If I had to put him in a box (by the way, the phrase “inside/outside the box” has become the antithesis of what that phrase really means) I would call him a “thinker.” I have been blessed over and over by Andrew through his thoughts and his friendship. We established a mantra early on in our college life, but didn’t see it truly manifest itself till we spent 6 weeks gallivanting around Europe. Andrew currently resides with his wife wife and 2 and a half year old son in San Clemente. He spends his days learning, surfing, and mobilizing the church to join with God in His mission of reclaiming, redeeming and restoring (or something like that).

Opening Chords
by Andrew Richards

Have you had this happen: the opening measures of a new song come on and instantly you like it.  Why is that?  Is it a feeling, an emotion, just pure aesthetic appeal?  Or is it deeper – something your soul needs to hear at that moment… something that resonates with the tonality and rhythm of the song?  Is it all shaped and informed solely by preference?  Or is there something deeper and more universal in music?

Something Hans Christian Anderson has said pops into my mind quite often:

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

We seem to live in a culture of word worship.  It seems like we can’t handle silence.  Or maybe it’s because it requires too much work to read a person’s non-verbal communication and really connect with their experience, so we settle for their words.

Or more accurately, I settle for my understanding of their words.

How do you truly listen to music?  Who truly listens to music? How can we truly listen to each other if we don’t know how to listen to music?

What was the last song that made you cry?

This Week I'm Thinking About: Jonathan Wilt