Archive for September 1st, 2010

This morning, I read an interesting article posted by Andrew Peterson on his personal blog, “Money, Part 1: Not the Root of All Evil“.  It was something that really hit home, and kept coming back to mind as I was at an all-day conference at my work:

Years ago I played several shows with a few members of the Kid Brothers of St. Frank. Remember them? It was the unofficial pseudo-Catholic order started by Rich Mullins in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, and included a few younger musicians like Eric Hauck, Michael Aukofer, Mitch McVicker, and Keith Bordeaux (who wasn’t a musician, but who was on the verge of moving to Arizona to serve however he could before Rich died). I was as big a Rich Mullins fan as you could imagine, so in the years after his death I was honored and a little frightened to find myself occasionally doing shows with those guys.

The day I got the advance for my first record deal we threw a party at our little house in Watertown, Tennessee (a 1000 square foot farmhouse we rented for $500 per month), and I splurged on the following: one cheap propane grill, some ground beef, and one Nintendo 64 game system. We used the grill to make burgers for our friends (several of whom were Kid Brothers) and the Nintendo to play the James Bond shooter Goldeneye until sunrise. All told, I spent $200. I remember one of the guys pulling me aside and gently questioning my materialism. I was flummoxed and a little defensive. Was I being materialistic by purchasing a $100 video game? Was I being materialistic to have bought a cheap grill to cook the food? (Food they were happily eating, I thought to myself.) These guys, back when they were official members of the unofficial order, had taken vows of poverty and chastity. I hadn’t. And besides, for the first several years we lived in Nashville (even after the record deal) we were living well below the poverty line. I stood there by the new grill thinking, “I haven’t taken a vow, but I’m living it, by golly.” It wasn’t a big deal, though. I shrugged it off and partied on. It was a good day, and the fun we got out of that James Bond video game was worth every penny. I love those guys and the mighty honor they paid me by letting me do shows with them. [emphasis mine]

This stung a little bit, with my own feelings, for a few reasons.  At the end of my freshman year in college, Rich Mullins was on campus and I had dinner with him and a couple of other guys, during which he mentioned that he was always looking for guys with desire and/or talent to travel with him on the road (this was during the pre-Kid Brothers, amorphous thought stages of his, I recollect).   That night, I almost decided to leave school and travel with Rich, but in the end I was too scared to leave, and thought that my talents in math and chemistry were probably greater than those in music.  Had things gone differently, I might have been a Kid Brother, and y’all wouldn’t know me and/or Zan.

Later, after Rich’s death, I became involved in the ministry he most loved and cared for during his life, teaching art and music to kids on the Rez.  Whenever I returned from a week of camp, every $7 lunch seemed like guilt-inducing extravagance.  At the same time, I was blessed with a job that allowed me to care for my family and support several missions, including The Legacy.

Peterson writes:

Around this time I read an excellent book by Richard Foster called The Freedom of Simplicity, and I had my answer. What I envied about the Bolivians wasn’t poverty. It was simplicity. They didn’t choose it. It’s a necessary result of living in poverty, the silver lining on a dark cloud. That’s why people come back from Africa with that infectious gladness–not, of course, because of the terrible smell or the sickness or the injustice–it’s the simplicity. It’s a life uncluttered by television and power bills and traffic jams–a life enriched by the intense joy of interacting with other souls at a profoundly deep level, which is what we were meant for. What we miss when we come back from mission trips and church camps and spiritual retreats is life at its simplest.

American culture is one extreme (a land of plenty at the cost of simplicity) and the Third World is the other (poverty with the gift of simplicity). Each has its blessings and its curses. This point of this isn’t to get to the bottom of which of these extremes is better, but to propose a better way. A Christ-centered life of intimate fellowship unharried by either sickness and starvation or the chaos of a capitalistic rat race might be a good picture of the order of the day in the New Jerusalem. We don’t want to thrust electronics and trinkets and McDonald’s fries on Elba’s family any more than they’d want to thrust their dirt floors and malnutrition on us. What I wish for Elba is clean streets and sturdy houses, good food and warm clothes: hope. What I wish for us is walks in the woods, good friends, a tight community with a loving church at its heart: peace.

The only way to usher in that Kingdom is to walk in the way of Jesus. To love well, to push back the fall, to let the Spirit lead. Now, the beauty of it is that each of us carries a peculiar gift to light the darkness. Rich Mullins, God bless him, was single. That meant he could give most of his money away and hitchhike barefoot. It meant he could up and move to Arizona to live with Native Americans and he didn’t have to ask a soul. The Wind blew, and he floated on it. He wrote about his long, lonely, love-struck journey with Christ, and we, the Saints, were edified.

But what about the rest of us? As much as I’d like to be as cool as Rich, I can’t. I got married at nineteen, so as long as I’ve been writing songs I’ve had a family to care for. That means I want a roof over their heads, and shoes on their feet (sorry, Rich and Eric), and beauty and safety and health. In my walk with Christ I have found that at times my footprints align with my heroes’ and other times they don’t, no matter how hard I try. Most of the time, their shoes are just too big for me to fill.

This I understand, and I feel the twinges of guilt/longing/discomfort when I make comparisons of my life with those of others – when, in reality, I need to have peace and seek simplicity and provide for my family in a land of plenty, while still seeking to improve the basic conditions of those in less fortunate circumstances, without taking from them the benefits of their own culture – which are different than mine.

He concludes:

The point: being poor is not the only way to radically follow Christ. Some people are called to it. I have long felt a tension between all that I learned from the Kid Brothers and Rich Mullins about identifying with the poor and the weak, versus my holy responsibility to tend to my family’s spiritual and physical needs. Had Rich ever married, I’m certain his wife would have appreciated a nice dress every now and then, or a bouquet of flowers, or a decent kitchen, and she probably would have lovingly insisted that he not give all his money away, especially after she bore his children and needed to buy diapers, and school supplies, and shoes for goodness sake. And the other thing is, Rich Mullins had hit songs that are still making money. He gave a lot of his money away, but he also had a constant stream of it flowing in. Lots of it. And I’m sure the ministries he supported with the surplus were grateful that he channeled it to them for Kingdom work.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. The Bible doesn’t say that. Here’s the verse: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10) We’re called to keep watch so that we don’t fall in love with money. To be sure, wealth is a heavy burden and isn’t for everyone, just as poverty is a burden and isn’t for everyone. The people of the church are varied in strengths and weaknesses. Money itself isn’t evil. In fact, money can be a great tool for Kingdom work. It’s easy to tout ideals about how wrong it is to be wealthy until you’re on the receiving end of someone’s generosity.

Thanks, Andrew! (Now – get back to writing the sequel to North! Or Be Eaten, my daughters and I are eagerly awaiting…)

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I have been waking up early for the last two weeks. I’m not sure why. I’m content to stay up late and sleep late too; not much of a morning kind of guy. So it is indeed strange that all of a sudden I have been waking up at 6:45 AM and jumping out of my bed as if there were springs on my back and Wyle E Coyote had just pressed a remote control button activating a mechanism that releases the tension and sends me bounding into the day with reckless abandon.

Or at least that’s me waking up in the morning, for a week or two.

I share that short introductory remark about my sleeping and waking habits so that I can tell you this extra time has benefited me greatly. I have been using this time to read (and write, a little). I’ve been reading a lot. Today one of my books reminded me how amazing is this world and how wonderful is all that the eyes can see. I’m sitting behind a window, staring at a fake farm in a fake world, and right outside the window I am trapped behind is a spectacular, wonderful, grace filled world of trees and birds and spiders and flowers and grass and gravel and sunlight and paint and concrete and butterflies and squirrels  and the neighbors’ annoying feline.

About a month or so ago I moved my study desk out of my bedroom, to the downstairs, and in front of a window. I had grown weary of staring at the wall in my bedroom. Here I sit with my books surrounding me, my laptop beckoning me, my dogs crowding me, and the world open before me. There is a tree—one of my favorite trees: a Japanese Maple. It is a spectacular tree and I marvel at its grace and beauty. Have you ever seen one, ever beheld their breathtaking beauty and elegance? It is like arms reaching upward, palms upturned in worship, asking God for rain or light or a touch. It is balanced and perfect. It is a wonder to behold.

Hanging from the gorgeous Japanese Maple tree that God has so graciously permitted me to borrow for a while is a small red hummingbird feeder. My wife graciously created some yummy sugar water for the tiny birds and after about two weeks of hanging there silently, the hummingbirds finally discovered it. Now they make regular rounds visiting my feeder and, I presume, several other feeders in the area. I am amazed at their uncanny ability to hover (scientific explanations of how they do this hasn’t ruined my wonder of their doing so). I sit behind my window and watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hole to hole filling up on the succulent liquid. They are so perfectly designed, so wonderfully majestic, so majestically beautiful. I could sit and watch them all day.

I have two other trees in my front yard. They are tall trees. (The hummingbird has just returned. Now she’s gone.) The squirrels like to play in the trees. One day I went out and sat on the sidewalk. A squirrel walked right up to me and if I had had a peanut or a salad I suppose I could have fed it from my hand. It showed no fear of me. Although they can be annoying (David Crowder has written and spoken of how annoying squirrels can be) I love to watch them play in the trees. You can’t tell me they are not playing as they jump from branch to branch without a care in the world that they might plummet to their death. They frolic and play with abandon, throwing all caution to the wind and putting more faith in their furry tails than I put in my two feet. They are marvelous.

On the screen in front of me, the one that divides inside from outside when I have the window sash raised there lives a small jumping spider. I suppose it has a proper name, but I do not know what it is or care to look it up right now. I just call her Ma’am and I am very polite to her. She’s small and there’s glass between us, but I take no chances. I do not provoke her by tapping the glass or anything silly like that. I just sit and watch, amazed at how stealthily she glides across the screen looking for prey. I wonder if she prays?  I wonder if this glorious creature ever has thoughts about God? It is precisely that thought that prevents me from killing insects or animals of any kind. What if I squashed her under my thumb while she was praying to God? She is spectacular.

Every now and again I am also treated to a visit from a Cardinal. His glorious red feathers are all afire as he sits in the Japanese Maple or dares to hop over the white railing on my front porch. I love to watch him as he sits and looks at the ceiling of my porch. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why he would brave such a close encounter with my house when it is so clear that humans live here. Then one day I watched as he batted his wings, lifted off, and plucked a spider or another bug off the ceiling of the porch. He braved the encounter because he was hungry and found on my porch a wonderful restaurant, a smorgasbord of delectable delights. Look at the birds of the air…look at the birds on your front porch.

I could tell you about more. There’s also a Blue Jay that sits in the Japanese Maple cracking open seeds he gathered from the feeders we have out back of the house. I could talk to you about the Monarch Butterfly that just lighted upon the flowers surrounding the tall tree in my front yard. (I’d love to tell you about the two boys from across the street, the ones who are tormenting the neighborhood cat with their water guns.) There is the new grass that my wife planted that is the most perfect green I have ever seen, and delicate. There are the massive orb spiders that also live on the porch and scare me to pieces. There are the moths. The flies. The battalions of ‘Canadian Soldiers’ dead in spider webs. The Mosquitoes. The Ants. There’s more than I have time to tell you about this morning. But here’s the thing: I see all of this by looking out one small window, from one perspective, inside my house. I see all these creatures at least once a week, and most of them once per day. They are always there. And there is more: I haven’t even lifted rocks, dug a hole, or looked closely at the bark on the trees.

I am amazed at these things. Truly, utterly amazed that all of this is right outside my window. I am even more amazed that all of them, every single one will eat today. They will have enough and they will be here when I awake tomorrow and sit in this chair.

I marvel at God’s creativity and provision. I marvel that he allows me stewardship over some of this. I marvel that he is faithful in and caring (there’s a lot more too that I’m sure God also cares about as Jonah learned). I marvel that there is so much beauty around us and just two eyes to see. (I also marvel at how delicious olives are, even at 9:15 AM.) I marvel at the sunlight streaming down to touch the earth, that it still has strength and has not grown tired after traveling 93 million miles. I’m tired after five minutes. I marvel at the delicious, juicy sweetness of the Red Delicious apple I am consuming bit by bite.

I am amazed at God’s graciousness and grace. I marvel at his power. I marvel that his power is also love. I marvel that I am loved by him even though I am all too familiar with myself. I am amazed and I will continue to be amazed that this God of Japanese Maples and Humming Birds loves me. Right here, right now, the Holy King of Israel loves me.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

The hummingbird just came back for a third visit. This time, he sat for a while and enjoyed the drink before flying off again. I am still amazed.

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