Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bread and Whispers

At mid-life many of us find ourselves tempted to despair. Half our lives gone, more than half our strength spent. The work in which we have invested still bears but little fruit. The bright goals to which we press look farther away than ever. People disappoint. The young pastors who lead our churches have milk for the babes, but nothing for the mature except work. Both the generations before and after us need more and more from us. We are disappointed in ourselves.

Forget "mounting up like eagles". Forget "running and not being weary". We can barely "walk and not faint". Our refrain becomes, "vanity, vanity! All is vanity!" But though the saints grow weary and experience spiritual depressions, it is not to characterize us, nor to be a permanent condition.

Elijah at mid-life utterly defeated 850 prophets of Baal (I Kings 18), discredited their power before assembled Israel and encouraged Israel to execute God's judgement on them so that none escaped alive. Queen Jezebel issued a death warrant against Elijah in retaliation. And Elijah, that mighty one, slunk off to the wilderness, asking to die (I Kings 19:4).

But God revived him. With bread from heaven. And a "still, small voice" in the midst of a raging storm, an earthquake and a fire.

All of these are figures of God's Word.
Several of the prophets eat the scroll containing God's Word in their visions.
"I AM the bread of Life." (Jn 6:35)

Storm and earthquake
"The voice of the Lord is powerful...The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars....The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness...." (Ps 29)

"I will make my words in thy mouth a fire..." (Jer. 5:14)

But if you read the account in I Kings, you'll notice that for exhausted, depressed Elijah, God was not in the storm or the earthquake or the fire. The Word of God was to him nourishment and gentleness.

Are you exhausted? Depressed? Despairing even? Open your Bible.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Thorns & Thistles

Thorns and thistles in the original Curse on sin (Gen 3:17 -24) are a symbolic reminder of the things that choke out fruit in our lives. The things that wound instead of nourish. Wicked men are pictured as thorns (Judges 2:1 -3). Men whose fruit is pain.

Lent begins on Wednesday, a time when many Christians prepare to celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death, by reflecting on our own sins which pierced Him. We have been the thorns in His crown. But it is not a time of mere remorse. It is time to weed.

The fasting aspect of Lent is designed not merely to allow us to beat our breasts over our failings, wounding our sinful habits. It is intended to provide a power-surge that will allow us to root them out altogether. Lent is when we can collectively get serious about killing off the sins that hold us back.

Our homeschool day begins with a worship time and Bible discussion. On Ash Wednesday (or as soon thereafter as possible), we prune our rosebushes and bring in bouquets of thorns. As we decorate the house with these sharp reminders of our sin, we ask God what chokes our growth, what starves our fruit. And we ask Him to show us what He would be pleased to help us to root out now. And then we ask each other to help us to discipline ourselves to mortify those things - not to offend or wound them, but to cut them off entirely.

On Good Friday, we hold a bonfire. As we lay the thorns to the flame, we remember that God's firey wrath was poured out on Christ to consume our sins. And we rely in faith on Christ's finished work for assurance that we need never be choked by those sins again.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

College Tour to Yesterday

Little did we think, when we boarded the plane, that we would be time-traveling. But New St Andrews College is as much from another time as it is from Idaho.

There, the classes have Latin names: Traditio Occidentalis, Disputatio... The students actually read the great books that Western thinkers have been mining (without exhausting the vein) for centuries. They think the thoughts of the great thinkers after them ("This is not a class about what I think of Plato. It is not a class about what you think of Plato. It is a class about what Plato thought.").

Everyone breaks for tea in the Junior Common Room between morning seminars on Mondays and Tuesdays. And at least once a week, the professors must appear in full academic regalia before the assembled college. Students, too, don robes for this dress occasion - except for the lowly freshmen, who must first earn them.

The families and churches that orbit the College remember that building community takes time. Time to work together. Time to dance together. Time to dine together and to linger over the jokes and coffee afterwards. They remember that community can't be built solely between the pew and the door at a once-a-week worship service.

They sing together at the merest excuse - at least as much as Pentecostalists. But this isn't your typical radio-dial praise chorus fest. They sing fugues, chorales in four-part harmony, Geneva jigs, jazz riffs and Psalms in Gregorian chant. This, too, takes time. Often Sunday evening ends with a Psalm-sing including two congregations, in which folks practice singing the challenging music in their psalter hymnals.

Academics were interesting at New St. Andrews, but the most distinctive study offered there is the opportunity to see an old-fashioned community creatively gathered and maintained. Students don't just see it. They are folded into it. About time, too.

A Hungry Worshipper Q & A 2

Pastor Smith sent this lovely excerpt from "Worship: A Royal Waste of Time" by . I thought you'd all enjoy it.

Also check out From Silence to Song, by Peter Liethart. This is an exegesis of 1 & 2 Samuel detailing how worship changed in Israel under David's leadership, and suggesting a framework for planning and evaluating our own changes in worship.

So, A Royal Waste of Time:

What is contemporary music? Do we mean choruses from Taize, pop songs, or
the esoteric music of Krzysztof Penderecki?

The value of their
metaphor of conducting a symphony is that it emphasizes the following aspects.

Unity. Even though a symphonic piece often has three or four
differing movements (usually one or two relatively faster segments and one or
two slower ones), these parts relate to each other. The same is true of any kind
of art; the elements of painting, similarly, must work together – with enough
variety for interest but not enough to make the piece incoherent. Even so the
components of worship must be congruent with each other.
Movements. A
symphonic piece varies widely in mood or tone or tempo between the individual
segments or portions of the piece. Similarly, the timbre of confession and
absolution is vastly different from the spirit in the hymns of praise.
Progression. There is a flow as the symphony progresses to its climax and
ending. So worship finds its high points in the Gospel reading and the Lord’s
Supper, but the liturgy that surrounds them makes a progression from the
entrance into worship to the dismissal into ministry.
The musical score.
There are specific notes to be played. So worship has a theme, usually generated
by the texts assigned for the day or chosen by the pastor. There are numerous
possibilities for the score – thousands of symphonies to choose from, a wide
range of texts. However, the performers must be faithful to the musical score,
even as pastors must be true to the text. (Obviously the analogy can’t be
stretched too far here because a musical score demands note accuracy far beyond
the requirements of worship. Perhaps we can avoid this problem by seeing the
composer of the score as the Church, with its arranger being a particular
congregation’s worship committee)
Diversity. Different symphonies require
vastly different instrumentation. Even so, worship calls for a variety of
musical sounds to display the rich splendor of God.
Numerous styles.
Symphonic music encompasses a wide diversity of sounds and flavors from al eras
and areas – from spare to lush harmonies, from romantic poignancy to marching
brassiness, from jazz to Latin or African rhythms, from European to Asian
melodies. Even so the music of the Church entails gifts from all people of God
throughout time and space.
Relationships. The conductor’s highest loyalty is
to the spirit of the music (for wich the written score and the composer are
valuable guides) – just as the worship leader’s superior authority is God (to
whom the community and the Scriptures are reliable escorts). Other relationships
are also essential in order for the symphony to be played well. A conductor
works together closely with the instrumentalists, just as the pastor and
musician in worship work with each other as team mates, and both work with the
worship committee to plan and carry out the best worship they can craft for the
sake of the particular congregation they serve.
Authority. The conductor
exercises the authority that is necessary for the performance – otherwise each
musician could go his or her own way – and the conductor is chosen for that
position because of his or her understanding of the composers, their music, and
how that music should be interpreted. Similarly, the pastor and musician are
mentors to the rest of the congregation in the art of worship, and out of their
expertise they exercise the authority of choosing and leading the elements of

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Back Soon

I will be away from my computer for nearly a week. I am checking out a college with my eldest daughter. No doubt there will be stories....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Share the Love Awards

Need some reading recommendations? One Woman's World is hosting the Share the Love Blog Awards. Mother-Lode has been nominated in the "Most Thought-Provoking" category. Check out the competition and cast your vote by Feb 20!

I wonder if reading blog award nominees counts as an Olympic sport?

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Hungry Worshipper Q & A

I've received some interesting email on the worship music series. It has led to some good discussion.

Pastor Greg Smith writes:

Given that the Bible does not proscribe any particular
musical style (content yes, instrumentation no); how does contemporary style
music fit into the task of worship; if at all in what you've said. Knowing, as
well, that artists will always use contemporary forms to communicate timeless
messages… and in that experimentation some will be retained and other parts
lost. (I'm not sure there is a right answer… just some guiding thoughts…)

My response:

I agree that the Bible doesn't proscribe any particular musical style. However, different musical styles produce different effects in their hearers. I think that we Christians get into a lot of unneccesary disputes because we ask the wrong questions. The question isn't so much, "What musical styles are acceptable in worship?" but "What do we need to be doing in this part of the service, and what musical form/style will assist us to do it?"

If we think about it, just one musical style can't carry a worship service. What is it we need to do through the service?

Prepare a reverent, awe-filled heart (something contemplative, full of
longing & aspiriation)
Approach the Throne of Grace (something joyful, triumphant, full of anticipation)
Confess sin (something sorrowful)
Give thanks for forgiveness (again, something joyful)
Consider God's Word to us (something meaty that can carry a thoughtful, profound, simple or complex compliment to the message of the day)
Feast at the Lord's Table (something that turns our hearts & minds to grateful contemplation, morphing to rejoicing)

Go back into the world equipped and commissioned (purposeful, joyful triumph,
maybe martial even)

I would like to see believers laying off the musical mud-slinging and banding together, bringing our various skills and preferences under the guidance of the needs of worship. A lot of the ill-will I've seen has come from believers allowing either personal preferences or a desire to please a crowd outweigh the consideration of serving God in worship and assisting fallen men (including ourselves) to draw near to Him.

As a matter of practical consideration, perhaps a discipline of reflection as we prepare for worship would settle a lot of things. We could ask ourselves:
What attitude needs to be supported in this part of the service?
Is this piece the best support for this attitude that we have at our disposal?
Am I just satisfying my own preferences or playing to the crowd for approval?

One last thought. Musical tastes are acquired. Musical tastes can be trained. Worship is largely about changing & maturing those who participate in it. We should be looking for our music to assist this over time as well. We should begin to be able to enter fully into the delights of all kinds of music as we learn its truest use in worship.

Well, I'll get off my soapbox now. Anyone want to heave a squashy tomato in my direction?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dustbowl Comfort

Desperately, Maude watched the rare clouds, ripening with their dark heads of rain. Standing at the fence line of her Nebraska farm, she pleaded with God. The wraithlike sheets of moisture folded across her neighbor’s field. A few drops spattered her thirsty boots. And that was all.

It was a death sentence. They had scooped that death from their door with brooms and shovels through all the booming, strangling dust storms of the previous years. They had drowned it with sweat and tears. But now that rain had returned to Nebraska, there still was no relief for their place.

Today was the last hope. Tomorrow, Maude and Everett would leave behind her family’s legacy; the house where her children had been born; the farm Everett’s father had carved out of the wilderness of his exile from the Old Country and of the Great Plains; the community where Maude’s father had been the original pastor. The car was already crowded with its pitiful load. The furniture would have to be left behind. Everything that wasn’t essential to starting over was too much. Maude was nearly fifty, her youngest child of high school age.

The Claudsons removed to Wyoming’s Powell Valley, where a newly-built irrigation system would make a wasteland arable. They and their grown children had taken the government’s ridiculous offer of a Dustbowl homestead in a valley where the virgin sagebrush stood higher than a man’s head.

But the Claudsons became the heart of that community cobbled together from the dry bones of Dustbowl failures. They helped to establish one of the first churches in Powell. Their little tar-paper cottage was the site of sing-alongs, hunting parties, family reunions and Bible studies. And it boasted the luxury of one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the county.

They dammed up the creek that flowed through their Wyoming place and made a pond. Every winter in the dreariest stretches, they invited the whole church – and everyone else who cared to come – to skate on the frozen pond. Everett would make up a fire on its shore, and Maude would simmer over it an enormous kettle of her homely chili and apple cider to warm their guests inside and out.

Through the generations, our family has enjoyed Great Grandmother Maude’s chili. Even in the leanest times, we can find the ingredients for this simple dish. And in the darkest days, I make her Dustbowl Chili and remind myself that death is not the end. That my forbearers learned to laugh in the face of destruction. And so will I.

Comfort food indeed!

Dustbowl Chili

4 c. dried pinto beans
Sort & rinse the beans. Cover with water. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 1 hr. Drain.

6 - 12 oz. tomato paste
1 lg. onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 - 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef, browned
Add these ingredients to the beans. Cover the ingredients with water. Simmer until beans are tender (at least 3 hours). Add

1Tbsp. salt (if you add it earlier, it will prevent the beans from becoming tender)

If you are in a hurry, skip the soaking step. Put everything in a pressure pan and cook at 12 - 15 lbs pressure for about 15 minutes.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Defending Home

So Betty Friedan is dead. But her feminist legacy as set forth in her seminal work, the Feminine Mystique, lives on.

Betty Friedan encouraged women to realize that there is more to life than a spotless floor, but she did so by denigrating the institution that could really liberate women: the home. Friedan's view of home as the place where women are trapped into a vicious "passive dependency" (The Feminine Mystique, Chapter 12) inhabited by:

"American housewives – their emptiness, idleness, boredom, alcoholism, drug
addiction, disintegration to fat, disease, and despair after forty, when their
sexual function has been filled"
leaves women with the notion that no intelligent, interested or even sane woman could hope to find useful employment, let alone fulfillment as a wife or mother.

Christians have rightly resisted the masculinization of women, but oddly, many have done so by characterizing the home in many of the same terms as Friedan did. Consider Friedan's description of a woman's life at home:
"Housewives are mindless ... ; They are trapped in trivial domestic routine
and meaningless busywork within a community that does not challenge their
intelligence. Housework is peculiarly suited to the capabilities of
feeble-minded girls; it can hardly use the abilities of a woman of average or
normal human intelligence."

And consider this Christian description urging women to stay at home in order to avoid sin:
"We need to be aware that we may be in danger of becoming a busybody. Is our
house clean? Are our children properly cared for? Is the laundry done? Is our
husband happy? Is that dinner carefully prepared or is it thrown together in a
mad dash to get something on the table at the last minute? Maybe we can get our
most honest answer from our husbands or our children. Will they say, "Actually,
Mom, it seems like you're on the phone all the time." Or "Honey, I asked you to
make sure my laundry was finished. But it seems you were on the computer too
long today because I have no clean underwear....A busybody goes from house to
house "tattling." We can go from "house to house" in many ways these days! We
have the telephone, fax machine, grocery store, homeschooling groups,
playgroups, church, and the most dangerous - email!!!! "

The difference is that Friedan thought it was a bad thing, and these Christians think it is wonderful.

While we can respect the patriarchal-Christians for their desire to obey Scripture, we must not simply take their interpretations uncritically. We will hardly entice women back home if they think the most challenging thing there is making sure her husband has clean underwear. Or if they fear that the normal commerce of life is the siren-call of sin, and that learning will make them proud, lazy busy-bodies.

Women today need a new liberation - a liberation from the idea of home put forward both by the feminist movement and by uber-patriarchal Christians. Defending Home will become a new series here, exploring the flawed pre-suppositions of feminism and scouting out the real scope of home. Along the way, we'll meet some more Professional Mothers, women who understand that in fundamental ways, home is the truest hall of power, the sweetest call to service and the loveliest work of art.

What are you doing from home?

Monday, February 06, 2006

There is more

In the intellectual mileu of contemporary culture, there's a lot of homage paid to the eastern idea of contentment. Indifference as contentment. Numbness as serenity. Death in life.

Some days this idea looks like a good alternative to feeling the longing and disappointment that are part of living in a fallen world. You know the days I mean. The days of caring for a demented aging parent while the relatives, who should be helping, criticize. The days of training a child who refuses to seize on anything or who rejects God's ways. The days of loving someone God has irrevocably placed in your life whose needs and demands are never satisfied. The days of praying without seeing an answer.

Eastern deadness provides a way to endure with patience trials of this sort. "I can stand it because nothing matters." "I can stand it because everything is illusion." But it is just that - death. Escape from reality.

Christ on the cross refused the draft that would have numbed His sensibilities and lessened His pain. He refused to escape from reality. He endured because He had a larger sense of reality. This present suffering is not the last word. It's not the whole picture.

Christian contentment does not consist of going numb (we miss the joy as well as the sorrow). It does not consist of minimizing reality. It consists of affirming that there is more. There is a heaven and an eternity in which longings will be fulfilled and sufferings will not only make sense, but will bear fruit that could not be seen from here.

Christian contentment is a journey to a larger world. There is more....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ladies in Waiting

Visiting friends in the blogosphere, I came across Radical One's request for encouragement for her teen-aged daughters who are finding most of the young men in their circles too passive to initiate a relationship, and generally unpromising as future mates. They are feeling lonely and isolated. They are wondering if they should initiate things or???

I, too, have two teen-age daughters who have struggled in many of the same ways as yours have. They are no strangers to feeling isolated by their resolve to remain fully who they are and fully feminine. And there are several things that I think they would say have helped them.

1) Stay away from church youth groups that center on entertaining the young people and/or are full of teens couple-ing up and changing partners frequently. This just brings the romantic stuff to the fore before its time. None of these kids are ready for marriage. They are playing with fire. And it makes young people who are centered on preparation for real life look and feel so terribly isolated.

2) Seek to get acquainted with young men in the context of working on a project that your daughters are passionate about. Work normalizes a relationship. There is a common goal, something beyond merely looking into one another's eyes and sighing. Work gives both young people a glimpse into the ordinary exercise of their strengths and weaknesses. Work often involves families, which allows everyone concerned to see each other in their natural settings without the pressure of courtship or dating. Work gives everyone the freedom to complement and to enjoy one another without a romantic context.

3) Find friends both male and female who will strengthen your resolve to wait. Check out the wonderful teens who make up the community centered on the Rebelution website. http://www.therebelution.com/

4) Remember that there are worse things than being lonely. Namely, being surrounded by people who mock your resolve or encourage self-centered foolishness. And there are far worse things than being single. Namely, being married to a man who is uncomfortable with his masculinity or with your femininity.

5) Resist the temptation to view the time before marriage as primarily a time of waiting or of being warehoused. There are vitally important things that young women need to be doing while they have no pressing responsibilities to a husband and children. There is no waiting for life to begin. There are only ever-widening spheres of influence. This is a concentrated time of preparation and productivity.

What are your secrets to raising powerful, contented and feminine girls?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Exonerating the End of the Spear

Hurrah for our side! Randy Alcorn at Eternal Perspectives has done what someone with access to the folks at Every Tribe Entertainment should have done long ago. He has actually talked to the Christian brothers at ETE to ask for their perspective and rationale behind hiring Chad Allen for the major role in End of the Spear.

I could rehash it again, but you can read it from the original source. He has posted his
interview and an excellent commentary at Eternal Perspectives.

Suffice it to say that most of the reports that ETE knowingly hired a homosexual to play Nate and Steve Saint were echoes of the
Sharper Iron blog, which quoted what the homosexual magazine the Advocate said about the hiring. I had been part of spreading that story. I want to be part of setting it straight, as the author of Sharper Iron, Jason Janz, is currently working to do.

If you read my post, Falling on Our Own Spears, please be sure to read Randy's healing articles at Eternal Perspectives. And please pray for the families who have been hurt by the controversy.


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