Category Archives: spirituality

My Guts; His glory: living an authentic life that is pleasing to God

In “Guts and Glory: Profiles in Courage from TV and Film”, I highlighted the motivations of two fictional characters which propelled them to take risks and pursue their passions, goals and dreams.

My foundation for such a quest seems out of place in this modern world. The chasing of personal goals is subsumed in a greater ambition: pleasing God. This means in practice I must listen to Him. The first thing I learned as a kid was that the Jesus portrayed in the Bible was not a fictional character, but the one true God.

In this day and age, when even prayer is mocked in the public domain, I fear that listening to God’s voice and making decisions on this basis might require courage of the kind these TV and film personalities displayed.  Like them,  I may have to risk being humiliated to actually seek answers from Him and do what He says.

Perhaps my trepidation is an exercise in overthinking. Ours is a time when people do what is right in their own eyes anyhow, so I may be worrying in vain about how people see me when I go against their grain. On the other hand, everything seems to be permissible today EXCEPT being a follower of Jesus, so I may indeed have a cause for concern.

What I have come to partially understand is the nature of how God  works in His dealings with humans. When He speaks, He is not a dictator. From what I grasp of Him, He is rarely loud nor does he yell. God’s voice is one that is of a kind that mainly whispers.

Furthermore, when he desires to accomplish His work through me, He does so through a man he created in His image, one He made with a certain distinctiveness.  God has no intention of violating my uniqueness. Indeed, he wants to form me from within and honor and set apart my motives, thoughts, plans and ideas in such a way that I am a real and authentic person

Despite the buzz I hear from others, I realize in my mind that opposition to the pursuit of this genuine “me” should not even be an issue with secular folks ? Historically, going after our human originality has been totally valid. For instance, the 16th century William Shakespeare called it being true to yourself.

The rub in modern society may be that I am chasing the honest “me” on the basis of what may seem like an  ethereal relationship with and obedience to a Supreme Being it knows little about. Our modern world doesn’t seem to have much use for the God portrayed in the Bible. Of the the billions of people inhabiting this planet, it is my perception that a relatively small percentage search out the truths found in this book.

The words from His Scriptures have been my foundation for living for a long time. They speak to my purpose in this world and how that is to play out for me as an individual personality. In fact, I began following Jesus in high school BECAUSE I discovered that my true purpose was found in Him.

American pastor and teacher J. Vernon McGee cites the following text from the Bible to support his teaching that God desires to work through His people so that they are normal and natural and not some automatons:
Stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your inner being but is patterned after this age; but change your outward expression to one that comes from within and is representative of your inner being, by the renewing of your mind, resulting in your putting to the test what is the will of God, the good and well- pleasing and complete will, and having found that it meets specifications, place your approval upon it. (Romans 12:2 Wuest Expanded Translation).

In some fashion, I believe this passage says that God’s will must suit ME! The Bible actually tells me to approve His specs for me. Working with God to shape my life is not life having an autocrat for a boss.

Shakespeare likened humans to actors playing a part on the stage of this world. The director gives the players the script and they’re to recite it. McGee disagrees with the learned bard.

“This is not true of the believer,” he said. “He must be genuine because (God the) Holy Spirit is working from within.”

McGee indicates that I would actually be working at cross purposes with God and my own personhood if I do not remain true to myself.

“The minute you and I assume a pose, to be something we are not, it will be impossible to determine the will of God for our lives,” he said. “The will of God becomes good and fits the will of the believer exactly.”

Knowing how to ascertain and implement the plan of God for my life has not been easy over the course of my life. I have been confused at times and in retrospect, made mistakes.

This could be because I have acted like a participant in a game who tries to win without knowing much about the rules or how to play. As an avid board gamer in my youth, I know it’s important to understand the instructions.

Pleasing centers around two words that sound strange in this culture of independence..

One of these terms is ‘worship’. I was created for a relationship with Jesus, one that involves devoting myself wholly to Him. The term ‘worship’ should not astound us. After all ,we “worship” girlfriends, boyfriends and rock stars. Why not “worship”Jesus.

Another word that is bizarre for us but is crucial in following Jesus is the term ‘surrender’. Pastor Rick Warren in his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” reveals that surrendering to Jesus is at the heart of the worship of Him.

He explains that when a believer in Jesus comprehends the true meaning of “surrender”, they can be in a place to relinquish the fear, pride and confusion that can sometimes accompany following Him. In defining “surrender, Warren writes  that the term does not mean “passive resignation, fatalism, or an excuse for laziness.”

Warren notes:

“It may mean the exact opposite: sacrificing your life or suffering in order to change what needs to be changed. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats.”

The people who I wrote about last time were definitely not cowards or doormats. But stories I watched said nothing about the roots of the courage they revealed in pursuing their hopes  and dreams. They only spoke of what those passions were. But they at least exemplified a brave pursuit of their fulfillment.

What I have learned from these fictional folks is that I need to determine what my current passions and hopes are. What should follow is to take what I learn to God with open arms and let Him help me live them out in a way that pleases Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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America has made a deal with the devil. Perhaps it’s not too late.

There is some thought that we are in the midst of a civil war in America. If we are, it’s not like the first one that occurred over a century and a half ago.

In 1861 there was a clear geographical demarcation in the War Between the States: the northern states were on one side and the southern states were on the other. There were some border states with mixed loyalties that officially stayed in the Union.

The nature of the war is different now. The conflict is between masses of individuals spread throughout the country in blue {“liberal”) states and  red “”conservative”” ones. A few are purple, meaning they could go either way during an election.

I  suppose there COULD be a geographical split, but I doubt any states that secede would join a confederation.  These states most likely would blue ones located on different coasts.

There are some similarities between the 19th century contest and our own. Both wars concerned political, ideological and cultural differences.  But the mixing of those who hold disparate views is so great now that it would be virtually impossible to have organized hostilities involving armies.

What is very different today is the spiritual nature of the struggle. Back in the 1860s Americans generally accepted that Christianity was the prevailing faith. Both folks in the north and their counterparts in the south accepted that our country was “Christian”.

This didn’t mean that everyone was a believer. It just meant that our national values leaned heavily on Biblical teaching and many Americans sought to live their lives by them. It was also generally agreed that violating Christian instruction regarding social mores was anathema.

This way of thinking is obviously not the case in the second decade of the 21st century. The Christian faith is still prevalent, but not as much as in the past. Furthermore, since the 1960s the nation has descended into what can best be termed a post-Christian era. In fact, we are probably way beyond such a period.

The end result is that every man does what is right in his own eyes.  This could very well mean that Americans wittingly or unwittingly are making a deal with the polar opposite of Jesus, i.e. the evil being known as Satan, or the devil.

Oh, the accord with the angel of darkness may not be cut in stone in the human’s mind, but it is still an understanding. This compromise is similar in kind to my sports rooting.

Since none of my team’s win, I generally cheer from the negative. I pull for my teams’ rivals to lose.

Some unbelievers behave in the same fashion. They see Christianity as a losing proposition for them. They may not be that enthused about or even believe in the devil, but they get involved with his dark devices anyway by default. The resulting values and actions are not exactly “Christian” in tone.

Other people who are not followers of Jesus are in a worse fix. They have fallen hook, line and sinker into the abyss with Satan. They are making a clear and conscious choice to ignore and disobey God and walk with the devil.

This predicament can be detected in the America of today by observing the onslaught of lying in the media.Politicians and other leaders lie to our faces on TV, radio and the Internet. In addition, the purveyors of news are not only willing accomplices, but avid participants in the deception.

The source of this systemic falsehood is made known in the Scriptures. Satan has many names, but one of his monikers in the Bible is “The Father of Lies.” He’s the king prevaricator.

Such a decline as we see now  was perhaps possible in the 19th century, but not probable. Americans still had not thrown caution to the wind. Truth still mattered. Evil was at bay.

Soldiers

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS FROM NORTH AND SOUTH AT A REUNION. A COMMON SET OF SPIRITUAL VALUES MADE RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE.

Because of our current beguiling, I was amazed to see the Christian faith of the time depicted on my television last night. Unfortunately, the show was one made almost 60 years ago, not recently.

One of my favorite Netflix pastimes is to watch old episodes of the science fiction/fantasy series “The Twilight Zone.” The one I saw last night involved a Confederate soldier who stumbles upon a bizarre scene in a Virginia town.

This Rebel scout found Union frozen in place in the streets of the place. They appeared as if they were people in a still photo, some in the middle of an action.

The Confederate, a man named Sergeant Paradine, at first thought the men were asleep. But he soon tossed that idea. He couldn’t wake them up, even though he shouted in their faces.

As he walked Paradine came upon an old man named Teague who claimed to have cast a spell on the Union soldiers. He showed the Confederate his book of witchcraft.

When Paradine didn’t believe him,the warlock froze him in place, too. However, the sorcerer left him with the ability to comprehend what was happening around him.

After releasing Paradine from the effects of the incantation, the old man told the sergeant that he could cast a spell on the entire Union army, but he wouldn’t because he knew he was to die that day. He gave the book to Paradine so the Confederate could do so himself.

Before reporting back to his commanding officer, Paradine froze some Union defenders in place on a ridge in the region. The state of these soldiers was confirmed by the attacking Confederate officer when the rebels were all together that night.

Paradine

PARADINE

What ensued was a debate over whether or not Paradine should go on and paralyze the entire US Army. He hesitated at first because while he was with Teague the sergeant felt the use of the book was unclean. The warlock also confirmed that the person conducting the witchcraft was in league with the devil. All this made Paradine uneasy.

At first Paradine’s commanding officer resisted the casting of spells, also. “It’s of the devil,” he said.

But Paradine regrouped and tried to convince his superior to let him use the book of witchcraft. “I don’t know much about Satan, he said, “but this cause of ours is dying right in front of our eyes.”

The officer then concurred and told Paradine to read from the book. However, when he did so he came across a passage that made him stop dead in his tracks.

“He calls upon us to revoke the name of God,” said Paradine. Despite exhortations from the others the sergeant couldn’t go on.

“What do we call em? Damn Yankees, don’t we, lieutenant?,” said Paradine. “If I read aloud from the book it is the Confederacy that will be damned.

“It’s the book or it’s the end,” he went on. “Then let it be the end. If it must come, let it come.

“If this cause is to be buried let it be put in hallowed ground. Let it be put in hallowed ground.”

The book of witchcraft was immediately burned in the campfire.

Would that men and women in America take the same stance against Satan instead of colaboring with him. The only way that will happen if we see the error of our ways as Paradine did. If we do, then perhaps we will have a spiritual revival in our nation.

Even if a large segment of our populace continues to make a deal with the devil, the people of God can still take a stand. They can actively oppose Satan’s playbook. This courageous activity may not save our country, but such a stance will at least please God and make our burial ground noble in His eyes.

In the long run of eternity, this is more important. Siding with Satan is never right.

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Americans should quit dreaming and change the way they think

I was raised in the South. When I was a kid there were still remnants of the War Between the States around. (We southerners preferred that moniker for the American Civil War.)

I recall for example a couple of bumper stickers I saw as a youth. One said “Hell no, I ain’t forgettin’.” Another exhorted, “Save your Confederate money. The South rise again.”

The Confederate battle flag, known as the “Stars and Bars” was prevalent in my area. Vestiges of Jim Crow still lingered.

As an adult I became a Civil War buff. Living in Virginia I could tour numerous battlefields where Union and Rebel soldiers laid down their lives.

I enjoyed going to reenactments, where people dressed up in the blue and grey. There were even “civilians” who took part in the living histories. They came costumed as sutlers, camp followers and even ministers of the Gospel.

In the 90s I worked for a small college in South Carolina. In their main parlor the most prominent painting was of Confederate general Robert. E. Lee.

Fast forward about 20  years. General Lee is now a controversial figure. A statue of him in Charlottesville was this summer the catalyst for a confrontation in the streets between white supremacists and so-called anti-fascists.

This week the general’s descendant, Rev. Robert Wright Lee, denounced his own great uncle.  He told the press that he felt shame at General Lee’s role in the Confederacy.

There is now an outcry from some to do away with any and all memorials to American heroes who owned slaves. The most prominent Founders now being maligned include George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slaveholders.

In his will Washington freed his slaves. Jefferson did not.

Yet, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He even included in one of the early drafts a condemnation of slavery.

Yet, 15 years ago historian Stephen E.  Ambrose published a piece for the Smithsonian that was highly critical of Jefferson. He wrote:

Jefferson knew slavery was wrong and that he was wrong in profiting from the institution, but apparently could see no way to relinquish it in his lifetime.

Ambrose didn’t stop at these unflattering comments. He was even more condemning:

Jefferson owned slaves. He did not believe that all were created equal. He was a racist, incapable of rising above the thought of his time and place, and willing to profit from slave labor.

When I have thought of the Founding Fathers who owned slaves, and of the southerners who fought in the Civil War, I have tended to excuse them. “They were men of their time,” I think. “Everybody thought like they did.”

Ambrose did not excuse Jefferson . He saw him as a hypocrite who espoused equality for all, but did not express it in his own behavior. Ambrose said:

Few of us entirely escape our times and places. Thomas Jefferson did not achieve greatness in his personal life. He had a slave as mistress. He lied about it.

As a man with southern roots, and someone who considers Virginia his native soil, I find Ambrose’s comments deeply troubling. I also recoil at attacks on men like Robert E. Lee,  a revered son of Virginia. It is as if he is attacking my own personal world view.

However, I have now come to the conclusion that Ambrose is correct.  While I still consider Jefferson and Lee great public figures, I cannot excuse their racism.

How could these bigger-than-life figures have been so wrong? I think it might have something to do with our human natures.

The Bible portrays us all as sinners, i.e. people who are in rebellion against God. It describes us as people with corrupt natures who do corruption.

Yet, the Scriptures also call on us to master our sin. For whatever reason, men like Jefferson and Lee did not master theirs when it came to racism and bigotry.

Ambrose wrote that Jefferson had a “great mind and a limited character.” I think this was probably true of a lot of mythological characters in American history.

It is also true of many of us in modern life. I am not an intellectual by any means, but I do like to think and analyze. Unfortunately I tend to “overthink.”  This leads me to indecisiveness.

Like Jefferson I muse and write on subjects, but take little action in my own personal life.  I have recently thought that this is due to a lack of faith in God and His Word, the Bible.

I have for  most of my life agreed with the truth that Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins and rose again from the dead to reign over me. I have also espoused intellectual assent to the truths of Scripture.

The reality though is that my life does not reflect these beliefs.  I have not done what the Bible has told me to do.

I have a myriad of excuses for this neglect, but the crux of the issue is that I have preferred doing things my way, perhaps out of convenience, or perhaps out of lust of the eyes, lust of the  flesh or pride of life.

I have determined of late though that God means  what He says. The Scriptures say “do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows that He will also reap.” In many ways I have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Why is it no man confesses his vices? It is because he has not yet laid them aside. It is a waking man only who can tell his dreams.”

J. Vernon McGee, a popular pastor and radio personality from the last half of the 20th century said of Seneca’s quote, “A man in sin is like a person still dreaming.

He alone (Jesus) can give comfort and understanding to the afflicted as well as extend mercy and grace.”

I have now after a lifetime awoke from my dream and seen my sins. The dream is to me more of a nightmare.

I should have obeyed God and His Word and listened to the men and women over my lifetime who taught me the way to live.

There’s still time for me, though. Thankfully, I have taken a first step.

The Bible says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

I have begun to change the way I think. I am trying these days to think about how I can please God.

That in itself pleases Him. McGee said, “God in interested in what we think when we lie upon our pillows.”

Changing the way we think would be a good start for a lot of Americans today. But first, we have to wake up from our dreaming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Justice Warriors are hampered by intellectual dishonesty

“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling would open his show with the following:

You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the Twilight Zone.

As I recently wrote, all the signs currently point to the world entering the Twilight Zone. What I  mean is that it is really difficult to determine whether a lot of people are living in reality or fiction.

For example, when I turn on my computer and choose to watch the news instead of entertain myself with science fiction, I see protesters explaining to a reporter why they are out in the street. What comes out of their mouths are best termed conspiracy theories, devoid of logic and truth.

The media aids and abets this warped thinking with its twisted reports. Their reports are seductive, for they pose as news.

Further, news organizations are in charge of what we see and hear on our devices. We may not be getting the most important news.

To be fair to the mob, we are full of false beliefs and memories. As I was writing this an article popped up in my Twitter feed from the Wall Street Journal which discusses research about individual self awareness.

“Most of us are not as self aware as we think we are,” writes author Elizabeth Bernstein.

Reporting on the research of psychologist Tasha Eurich, Bernstein notes:

When it comes to self-knowledge, she says there are three types of people: those who have it, those who underestimate how much they have (she calls them “underraters”) and those who overestimate how much they have (“overraters”). Underraters beat themselves up unnecessarily. Overraters believe they do everything well.

Some of us think that we have wonderful memories, also. I personally think mine is flawed, but I do have a close childhood friend who I believe has an exquisite ability to fill in the blanks for me on my lost memories. However, he may not be as astute as I think he is.

In a 2013 piece, The Atlantic asked “How Many of Your Memories are Fake?” Erica Hayasaki reported that even people with something called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory sometimes have their remembrances wrong.

One of the reasons for these mistakes in memory is that that our minds are subject to manipulation.

Simone Weil, one of the great philosophers of the first half of the 20th century, wrote that imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life. Unfortunately, she herself was evidence of this.

During World War II Weil contracted tuberculosis while in England.  She was there hoping to be sent to France to work for the Resistance. As a show of support for the French, she only ate what she “believed” the French person under German occupation would feed on. She died.

The coroner’s report said:  “the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed”.

Despite this sad end,  Simone Weil is credited with seeking for truth during her short life.

 

A great student and thinker, she had a higher degree in philosophy. Weil also studied several religions.  In 1935 she was drawn to the Christian faith.  She wrote in her “Spiritual Autobiography” that her concept of life was Christian.

In the same work, Weil described Jesus as the truth. She also had a high regard for the Bible. Weil wrote:

Christ made promises to the Church, but none of these promises has the force of the expression “Thy Father who seeth in secret.” The word of God is the secret word. He who has not heard this word, even if he adheres to all the dogmas taught by the Church, has no contact with truth.

Weil chose to live out her faith outside of the traditional church. She believed that Christianity was “catholic (i.e., universal) by right but not in fact.”

“So  many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence,” she wrote.

Weil was not only an intellectual and devoted person of faith, but she was also politically active. Like a lot of young people, she was a political leftist. At the age of 10 she decided she was a Bolshevik.

Weil supported Communist movements in Europe. She wrote articles debating both capitalism and socialism. Although she was a terrible soldier, Weil tried to fight for the republicans during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

 

If she were alive today, Weil would grasp the attraction of modern groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter to today’s youth. She chose to try to reach the revolutionaries of her day and with truth outside of the Church.

Social enthusiasms have such power today, they raise people so effectively to the supreme degree of heroism in suffering and death, that I think it is as well that a few sheep should remain outside the fold in order to bear witness that the love of Christ is essentially something different.

Would that our latter day young social justice warriors, so full of a desire to change the world, add the zeal for truth possessed by Simone Weil to their repertoire. They could do it if they wished.

Weil wrote:

After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment.

I can only hope and pray for this kind of effort toward intellectual honesty today. It is severely lacking.

 

 

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Writing as therapy and spiritual healing

I’ve always loved writing. It is probably what I do best and I enjoy it.

Talking about it, teaching it, and doing it has always been fun for me. This summer It has become something more. Writing has become therapy and a source of guidance for me.

I owe a lot of that to the work of Julia Cameron, whose book “The Right to Write” has been accompanying me to Starbucks for weeks.  It contains over 40 small chapters of teaching and exercises.

Cameron begins each chapter with an “invitation”, in which she describes her own personal experiences related to writing and life. Then she provides what she calls an “initiation tool” to use to apply her thoughts.

Three of Cameron’s ideas have been of particular help to me. One has been her effort to convince her readers that writing is not some great task reserved for only the elite and talented.  This teaching literally has given me the right to write.  Because of this I have felt unchained in terms of getting thoughts on paper.

Once she freed me from my intellectual prison, Cameron gave me a couple of practical devices to unleash my own ruminations. Her Morning Pages (sometimes “mourning pages) are three pages of handwritten writing first thing before the day starts. This is “stream of consciousness” writing. Night Notes are the posing of questions right before bed for up to ten minutes.

The beauty of any teaching is that you can make it your own. I have tried to stick to Julia’s dictums despite my weaknesses. I am not a morning person and find it difficult to get going. I have found others struggle with this exercise for the same reason.

As a result, I find I don’t get these pages done every day, or that I do them later on in the morning. This would probably be fine with Cameron.  She says that Morning Pages are “not high art” and that “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages.”

This morning I struggled to get through three pages. I found myself drawing regular and irregular shapes on the lines in my composition books just to get through. Even this strategy was helpful because it reminded me that one of the best ways to get something done well is to think outside of the box.

With Night Notes the writer is supposed to sleep on the questions and allow the subconscious to provide answers. Because I actually forgot this feature I have been answering the questions as I pose them before sleeping. Again, I have come upon some beneficial ideas although I “broke the rules.”

What I have found is that these tools have helped me to clear the deck in my mind. A lot of the baggage is done away with. One effect of this is my thinking becomes more focused. Another is that my emotions are stabilized because I have vented them on the page.

Cameron has offered to me in organized form the wisdom of the greats. For example, Bob Dylan uses similar thinking and methods as hers to get his ideas down. He was asked by interviewer Paul Zollo how he got thoughts out of his mind. He replied,

Well, first of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. And you have to be able to sort them out, if you want to be a songwriter, if you want to be a good song singer. You must get rid of all that baggage. You ought to be able to sort out those thoughts, because they don’t mean anything, they’re just pulling you around, too. It’s important to get rid of all them thoughts.”

When the mind is clean of garbage and issues come into clearer focus by getting them onto the page, movement can be made. Dylan says once the baggage is gotten rid of, “then you can do something from some kind of surveillance of the situation. You have some kind of place where you can see but it can’t affect you. Where you can bring something to the matter, besides just take, take, take, take, take.”

Getting rid of the mud of the mind allows God to enter into our thinking. In my post about Dylan’s divine inspiration, I noted how his lyrics were influenced by the divine. I also explained that Cameron makes no bones about the benefits of listening to spiritual sources as we write.

While her writings about this are more eclectic in terms of who or what to access than I personally would prefer, I have gained by not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Applying her axioms in the context of my own beliefs about God and truth have been quite profitable.

As a Christian I seek to learn what God wants of me through reading the Bible and through prayer. Thus, I try to ask questions of Him, tell Him my own desires, and listen for His answer.

Further, I use my own God-given brain combined with what seems to be God’s leading to make decisions.  Before you claim that this is all “pie in the sky bye and bye”, I must explain how I believe the process works.

I see God’s leading as working more like a GPS device than a road map.  20th century pastor J. Vernon McGee said that God does not hand out road maps. In fact, he decried false piety in which people claimed to have a direct pipeline to the Almighty.

I recently listened  to a sermon by McGee about the story Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, from whose line Jesus would come, and how she decided to support herself and her mother-in-law Naomi when they were poor. Ruth decided to glean grain from local fields. Gleaning was a practice allowed in Israel in ancient times as a means to support the needy.

One day she came to two fields from which to glean grain. One was owned by Boaz, who was a distant relative of Naomi. Ruth had come to Israel with her when her husband, Naomi’s son, died. She did this as a step of faith and out of a willingness to follow the God of Naomi’s people.

McGee said that Ruth did not have a vision or a dream from God. He explained that she reasoned on the spot to go into the field of Boaz based on the situation before her. One thing led to another and she married Boaz, and thus became a distant grandmother of Jesus.

“God’s leading-yes,” said McGee. “But He’s leading a heart that’s willing to be led, and going step by step by faith.” Ruth was such a person.

Thus, the writing tools taught by Cameron and used by expert artists such as Bob Dylan have helped me to seek God and His leading as Ruth did.  As I write I believe He leads me step-by-step to great truths and informs decisions that have to be made.

What I have learned has given me great peace. It has also produced spiritual healing. I can live one day at a time, trusting God to communicate with me, not necessarily in spectacular ways, but through normal means of grace like the Bible and prayer, and though practical tasks such as writing, a practice I love anyway.

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The Divine Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has always been a bit of an enigma.

Like a lot of artists, he has “periods” where fans can identify certain emphases in his music and lyricism. For example, in the 60s he was thought of as a generational prophet. Then there was the “Christian” period of the late 70s and early 80s during which believers bought albums such as “Slow Train Coming.”

However, Ben Sisario of the New York Times has written of how Dylan resists study.

“Over the decades he has frustrated many an interviewer who wanted to penetrate his mind and method,” he says.

‘Dylan has never been at all revealing about those kinds of issues,’ the music critic and author Anthony DeCurtis said in an interview.

‘He has always been dismissive,’ Mr. DeCurtis said. ‘He has certainly said things that have minimized his lyrics in the attempt to fend off or downplay any attempt to see him as a prophet.’ So he’ll say, “Oh, I just wrote what came to my mind.”

Whatever kind of offhand thing you could say to try to deflate someone who is trying to inflate your lyrics with meaning.”

A 1991 interview with Paul Zollo further illustrates Dylan’s reluctance to be pigeonholed. He asked Zollo,”Songwriting? What do I know about Songwriting?” Though Dylan said this with laughter, the grain of truth, i.e., he is just your average Joe,  is there.

Despite his reticence to be acknowledged, Zollo points out one of the reasons Dylan is a landmark artist.  He says,“He broke all the rules of songwriting without abandoning the craft and care that holds songs together.”

I would admire Dylan without this desire for excellence with language.  But for this writer, an English teacher by trade, Dylan’s care for his use of the written word makes me revere him even more. Zollo compares the beauty of his poetry to Shakespeare, Byron, as well as modern greats.

Even though Dylan’s reference for his writings is hard to determine, Zollo’s piece hints at it.  He writes, “There’s an unmistakable elegance in Dylan’s words, an almost biblical beauty that has sustained in his songs throughout the years.”

The artist once known as Robert Zimmerman influenced the soul of other musicians in this regard. According to Zollo, John Lennon was inspired by the depth of Dylan’s music to write songs that concerned life and the soul and not just  “empty pop songs”.

Dylan’s approach to his vocation is not of the secular, lunch bucket, 9 to 5 variety. It has a more spiritual bent. He told Zollo that His songwriting has “never really been seriously a profession…It’s been more confessional than professional.”

Bishop Robert Barron, a Catholic prelate based in Los Angeles, is stronger in his assessment of the supernatural aspects of Dylan’s work.

“You have to read him as a spiritual poet,” says Barron. “You can read him politically. You can read him as a cultural commentator. All that is right, but I think ultimately the best way to read him is as a spiritual teacher.”

Barron notes that Dylan is like most artists in that they will be elusive in terms of explaining the meaning of their lyrics. “But I think you can see patterns in any great artist,” he says. “You see them clearly in Bob Dylan.”

“You know in the 80s he became explicitly biblical, explicitly Christian. But all throughout his career, from beginning to right now, the Bible has been the dominant influence.”

Dylan’s epoch song “Blowing in the Wind” exemplifies this effect of Scripture on his work. The hit tells the listener that the answers to our most abiding questions come only through the intervention of God, according to the bishop.

God’s influence on Bob Dylan is nothing new. Author Julia Cameron explains that channeling spiritual information has been a means of creating great works for hundreds of years. In her book “The Right to Write”, she quotes some other noted artists (past and present) who attribute their genius to God.

“Although we rarely talk about it in these terms, writing is a means of prayer,” she says. “It connects us to the invisible world. It gives us a gate or conduit for the other world to talk to us whether we call it the subconscious, the unconscious, the superconscious, the imagination or the Muse.”

While we may not seek to contact God as we write, as we actually engage in the process of putting ideas down we come into contact with the divine.

Cameron says, “Writing gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration.

“We are an open channel.”

One critic on the public forum Quora calls Cameron’s work “creepy”, presumably because of  her spiritual approach to writing.  In “The Right to Write” she addresses those who feel that her thoughts about inspiration are too “New Age” or “airy-fairy”.

“Channeling? Julia, that word is so…

“I know. I know and I do not care because the word is artistically accurate,” she responds.

The author as a channel of the thoughts of God has an impact on how we go about writing. It also has  some surprise consequences on the lives of those who are willing to accept this concept of divine inspiration at face value and apply it to their work.

I will explain these effects in a future post.

 

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