Monday, February 29, 2016

The Key to Kingship

               We read in the early chapters of 1 Samuel of Israel’s desire for a king.  One of the reasons they wanted a king was so that they could be like all the surrounding peoples.  It seems that even nations can suffer from “peer pressure”.  There were in fact many benefits to having a king.  We read in the latter chapters of the book of Judges that one of the negatives of not having a central authority amongst the 12 tribes was that everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  At least with a king, even a less than stellar one, the people of Israel could avoid spiraling out of control into complete anarchy.  The key to kingship was that the people and the king were to remember that ultimately, YHWH was their only sovereign.

               There is a lesson for us to learn from Israel’s initial demands for kingship.  As the people of God in the 21st century, the church needs to be reminded that Jesus Christ is our one and only sovereign.  Just as Jesus’ ministry and kingdom building in the gospels was unexpected and counter-intuitive in the light of 1st century messianic expectations, so should the church be sure that whatever decisions it makes are rooted and grounded in solid Biblical instruction and well thought out theology over and against the prevailing winds of an overly consumerist society.  Everyone else may be doing it, but that doesn’t make it good for us.  And since, as Jeremiah 17 reminds us, the heart is deceitful above all else, we’re probably better served to be guided by a spiritually disciplined mind, rather than merely our immediate emotional impulses.  As Jesus himself said, “Wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” - Shay

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Last One of My Kind

There are certain people that we just seem to relate to more than others.  It varies from person to person, but we've all probably met people that we just seem to "click" with.  Sometimes a writer, poet, musician, or other artist speaks to us in ways that feel like we know this person.  Every now and then, we are blessed with the opportunity to actually meet the person and have a conversation or two. 

For 15 years I've been a huge fan of the Scottish indie rock band, Idlewild.  I especially like the lead singer's voice, and even more what he communicates through his lyrics.  In addition to being a musical artist, Roddy Woomble is an avid hill walker, literary aficionado, foodie, and arts and culture lover.  And not only does he sing rock music, he also creates folky, singer/songwriter kind of music with another band.  Back in 2013, I had the chance to catch a couple of Roddy's folk gigs on the Scottish isles of Mull and Iona.  This gave me the chance to chat with Roddy and get to know him a little on a personal level.  Interestingly, I shared a plane ride back to Ireland with the former Idlewild bassist and occasional Roddy collaborator, Gavin Fox, who only lived a few miles from my old home in Dublin.  Gavin joined me and some friends for a card game at my place one Saturday evening and arranged for me and some others to catch one of his new band's gigs at the famous Dublin venue, Whelan's.  I stayed in touch with Gavin after that, and though I wouldn't describe our relationship as a friendship, he is a friendly acquaintance. 

One of the things I like about Roddy's lyrics are that he takes on a prophetic role, by observing and commenting on society from the margins.  There's much in our modern world to love, but there's also much to question.  The lyrics from Roddy's song, The Last One of my Kind especially resonate.

No you don’t read books,
You just use them to block out the view.
But we don’t own ourselves
If our wishes don’t come true.
So you write like you can,
To show that you don’t need to.
Cause don’t expect to read this like ordinary news.
And did the life run out of money,
Or did the money run out of life?
You know knowledge can be bought
With the change left over
From the books you didn’t buy…

And in an election year, I love Roddy's words from the Idlewild tune, Nothing I Can Do About It.

You can make sure the bookshelves are alphabetical, poetical, not political...and there's nothing that I can do about it...

Which artists do you resonate with and why?  To quote another hero of mine, "Dream of the world you want to live in...dream out loud!", Bono.  - Shay


Monday, February 22, 2016

No Man is an Island

We live in an age of individualism and at times, isolation.  American culture has promoted the importance of individual freedom and liberty, sometimes, at the expense of what might be good for the greater society as a whole.  We also find it admirable for people to pull themselves up from whatever depths they may be in by their own strength and self-reliance.  Certainly we all have to take individual responsibility for the choices that we make, but our modern form of individualism probably takes things too far.              
The poet John Donne wrote that “No man is an island.”  His point was that we have a shared existence; we are all a part of a shared humanity.  The idea of a self-made man is a myth.  No one has ever achieved anything without the support and assistance of numerous others.  We were made for others and life is best lived in the context of a loving and supportive community. 
The story of Ruth is a good example on the importance of a communally based society.  Ruth was unwilling to allow her mother-in-law to suffer in isolation, so she accompanied her back to her native land.  Thankfully, the Mosaic Law had provisions in place for people such as Naomi (poor) and Ruth (both an alien and poor) to be able to share in the bounty of others.  “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 19:9-10).  Through the generosity of Boaz, Ruth and Naomi not only survived, but thrived.  This led to the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, the great-grandparents of King David. 

The apostle Paul also wrote about the importance of community in 1 Cor 12:25-26, “…the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”  Who has made an impact on your life?  Who needs you to make an impact on theirs?  How might the body of Christ become a tighter knit community?  And how might the Christian community make a bigger impact on society as a whole, especially as more and more individuals tend to live their lives in isolation? - Shay  

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Word Made Flesh

From the very beginning, our God has been an incarnational God.  We see this most clearly in the Word becoming flesh and moving into our neighborhood, but even before (and after) this, God has been (and continues to be) and incarnational God.  God chooses to work through flawed, broken, short-sighted, selfish, sinful human beings.  He’s been a God who has worked through the ebbs and flows of human history.  He didn’t wait for us to get good enough to work through us, he has worked through us in spite of our imperfections. 

               When we come to the book of Judges, this is very apparent.  Even the most well-known, heroic judges, like Sampson, had less than stellar characters and lived morally ambiguous lives.  But God was at work anyway. 

               Because God chooses to work with pieces of work like you and me, it means that history and reality are full of tension, paradox, and even contradiction.  Faith isn’t about having all of the black and white answers fully mapped out, but trusting God with our entire selves, even when we can’t clearly read the map.  We walk by faith and not by sight.  But like history, God’s work in us is going somewhere.  History doesn’t repeat itself – in other words, it doesn’t travel in a circle, but in a line that has a destination and goal.  God works with us as we are, but he doesn’t intend to leave us that way.  As Romans 8 tells us, our final destiny is complete conformity to the image of his Son, the Word made flesh! - Shay

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thinking about Thinking

We've been back in the States for over 7 months now.  The time has gone by fast, but in some ways, it seems like it's been ages since I woke up in Dublin.  And yet, from another angle, the sights, sounds, smells, and memories are as fresh as yesterday.  Time and our experience of it is quite paradoxical.  Have you ever gone on a vacation that zipped by, but when you arrived back home, it seemed as if you'd been gone for a really long time?  This is called the vacation paradox.  The more we pack into a given time frame, typically the faster it seems to go by.  But when we look back on it, we tend to "keep" more of the memories.  Therefore, from another perspective, it seems like a lot of time has elapsed.

However, when we're bored and not much is going on, the time seems to pass more slowly.  But because not many eventful things have occurred in a given time frame, we have fewer memories.  The fewer the memories we take with us, the more we shrink the time in our minds.  Therefore, it may seem as if not much time has elapsed when we look back in hindsight.

Of course, the older we get, the faster times seems to pass in general.  One year in the life of someone my age is about 2.5% of one's lifetime.  But one year in the life of a 6 year old is nearly 17% of their entire life.  So while I've spent about 13% my life in Ireland, Ashlyn's spent around 83% of hers there.  And yet, when she's older, she'll have far fewer memories of our time in Ireland than me and the memories she will have will be far less clear due to her age while living in Ireland.  She'll probably have a few memories that in reality have been completely shaped by the stories she'll hear us tell her.  She will think that they are her own memories, but in fact they'll simply be things that she'll have heard us talk about.  Scientists have discovered that many of our memories are formed exactly in this way.  And even the memories that we legitimately form ourselves are altered in just the slightest way every time we bring them to mind.  That's one of the reasons two people can witness the exact same thing and come up with widely different perspectives on a given event.

These kinds of rambling ideas are the product of reading pop psychology books and thinking about thinking.  I don't know if you find these kinds of things interesting, but I do.  Here's another interesting thing to ponder.  Why is there something and not nothing? - Shay      

Monday, February 1, 2016

Wandering in the Wilderness

               Wandering in the wilderness and journeying to the Promised Land is a major theme in the Biblical story.  It wasn’t just the people who were freed at the Exodus for whom this applied.  Throughout the narrative of God and his people, the theme of being on a journey is prominent.  Those who were exiled in the 6th century BC longed for their native land.  And even those who returned, never quite felt like they had truly made it home and so looked forward to a new exodus through a messianic deliverer.

               Followers of Christ still long for our new home, our true home in the renewed heavens and the renewed earth.  In the meantime, we’re left in limbo – content to be here, but longing for something more.  The essence of this feeling is captured in a little known poem called A Little Bit of Longing.  “And on this earth, this globe, this round ball, spinning round and round.  We’re not just travelling round in circles; we’re headed for higher ground.  A renewed city, a renewed country, renewed heavens, and a renewed earth – From the shell of the old creation, a transformed creation will come to birth.  Though I hope for that bright future – new roots, new soil, and a new home.  I’m left in limbo at the moment, content to be here, yet longing still to roam.  So living here and living now – living – and yet never quite belonging.  This cross-cultured existence will always leave me with a little bit of longing.” - Shay