Thursday, June 25, 2009

the astronomist

It is blasphemously cold tonight, but that does not concern her.

She slips out of the window, planting her bare feet in the blanket of snow of the overhang. The thin green flannel afghan is all that shields her frailty from the intrusion of the wind.

The crescent moon hung low in the sky, the better half of it shrouded by the shadow cast by the earth. She glances up, knows the metaphor painted in the night sky is reflected in earthly caution, in contrivance. She knew someone once who only allowed certain bits of brilliance to be reflected in his words and actions toward her. The meaning, the motive was always shrouded.

Whether this was perception or reality, she did not know. At least with the rotating, spinning, revolving bodies in the universe, there were discernable laws of gravity and energy governing their motion. Calculation and observation could always be counted upon to unveil some kind of understanding or new theory.

Paradoxes and paranormal. Seems to reflect the dual, contradictory nature of quantum physics.

The moon, however shrouded and mysterious, still seemed familiar and true when compared to the infinitely burgeoning universe.

She swings the telescope to focus on two distant points of light. One burns brightly, hard and bright and blue. A brilliant star in its prime. The latest observation and mathematical calculations conclude the star is barely 5 million years old. It has been burning, emanating energy, pulsating and releasing light and heat into the cold and dark of space. Nearby planets and moons find themselves gravitating, settling in toward it, compelled and seduced by its youth and brilliance.

But again, this does not concern her.

Lingering in its shadow, the star is dying, a nebula unfolding and collapsing and surrendering to the chaos and order, dictated by physics and time. As the light and dust swirls together, she imagines a lone astronaut soaring through its tendrils, ephemeral and gentle. His ship brazenly floats past the point of no return, seduced and thrilled by thoughts of death, and of immortality. He is fascinated, obsessed, slightly suicidal, but mostly passionate. He is searching for life, for the power to master his destiny and his love.

The terror of exploring the universe shrinks in comparison to pushing on through the mystery of another human being.

She shivers, draws the blanket closer around her, thinks she should go inside.

But she remains outside for a few more moments, luminous, lonely and wholly captured by the myth unfolding above and within her.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

the orchard

She stood among the dirt and leaves, sweat dripping from her brow. The garden and the trees and flowers shimmered around her, shivering in the wind with delight. The fragrance of the orchard rose up lazily, playfully up into the air.

Round and round the plot of land, swirled a high stone wall, breached only by a swinging, ivy-grown gate.

A few had dared to enter, even fewer had been welcome, but she always took immense pleasure in showing stray visitors the intricacies and complexity of the orchard in its design and intention. Spontaneity and improvisation burst forth, evidenced by certain random flourishes wrought by a steady, distracted hand. Both erratic and impeccably structured, chaos found its soulmate in beauty. Blossoms and fruit of all colors dotted the canopies and limbs and boughs of gnarled, twisted trees, sunning marvelously in the brilliance of daylight.

She never turned anyone away who might chance to knock on that gate, although most would never make it past the first winding row of arbors. These casual connossieurs marvel at the fruit, some even bold enough to pluck a fat, juicy apple from the boughs and admire the sheen and polish they saw from afar, though seemingly up close. And soon, the momentary admiration, genuine and deliberate, would be forgotten in an instant.

Others strolled beneath the leaves and scent and sun, wishing to take their time. These moments, she adored, eagerly inviting them to sample additional flavors. The soil was well tended, the condition of the trees scrupulously cultivated, and the color, quality and freshness of fruit meticulously monitored. Sometimes, she would give up contrivance, surrendering with a laugh that echoed like a tinkling bell, and the leaves all rustled in sighing agreement.

Even a few imps managed to scale the gate, tumbling down in a clumsy, haphazard, uncontainable frenzy, surprising, annoying, though eventually delighting her.

One or two chose to breathe deeply, lying beneath the branches, staring up at the midsummer sky, smelling the earth and vapors released so cavalierly, idealistically into the atmosphere, the pungent and sweet aroma drifting into the breeze, mixing and blending with floating dandelion seeds, then merely drowned away by summer rainstorm or whisked off into oblivion by a sudden wind.

But for you, she swings the gate open wide, wider than any other soul that has dared to venture through this beautiful, chaotic, unmeasurable mess of an orchard.

Yet your eyes see only locks, bolts, daggers and angelic swords of fire barring the way. She has reacted before, and called down fiery angels in the past, but they never obey her whim anyway. The gate has served its purpose she designated at its creation.

I passed by there earlier this week, quite puzzled and strangely moved to find the gate torn down.

Perhaps one day, the earth beneath this not-so-secret orchard may one day find its path, beaten and beautiful with the footprints of those beyond her own choosing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

hope is cynicism's antithesis.

Since Jeanne and I have been in Sydney, we've had numerous opportunities to attend Hillsong Church. I have listened to Hillsong music and worship CDs and DVDs since at least middle school, and my appreciation for their music was renewed in the past few years thanks to Hillsong United. I'm grateful for not only experience the atmosphere of worship at this church, but also meeting people and joining the community here, which has been so pivotal to our transition to life in Sydney.

A few weeks ago, Jeanne and I attended a prayer event at Hillsong Church. The entire Hills Campus was packed out, filled with thousands of people who simply came to pray and worship together. As usual, the music and worship was incredible, energetic and passionate, as I've come to accept as norm from this church, as they are known all over the world as a church that worships God with passion and excellence.

Coming from Status at Discovery Church, my experience at Hillsong often seems worlds apart. This prayer event event made me contemplate the differences I've noticed in all the different Christian churches and organizations I've been a part of over the years. On the bus ride home in the evening rain, I pulled out my trusty moleskine notebook and began to jot down all the observations I've made about these organizations and my experiences within them: Status, Hillsong, the Restoration Movement, Campus Crusade for Christ, Desire Street Ministries, Reformed churches. As I began to write and brainstorm, rather than emphasize all of the weaknesses and flaws which I have often been so quick to point out and pick apart, I began to recognize how important each of these strengths were. And each group has them.

Here is a sampling:

As I began to write these lists, I became aware of the differences. I love how the Christian Church/Restoration movement is so passionate about learning Scripture. I appreciate Campus Crusade's emphasis on training people for evangelism. I am grateful for Status for allowing me to be part of a community that is open-minded and filled with creative, intellectual types. I love the tradition, liturgy and intellectual challenge that Reformed theology has taught me. I value how Desire Street Ministries/Rebirth International have taught me how social justice and care for the poor are not merely peripheral issues to the kingdom of God. And I love how passionate and emotional and honest people are about faith here at Hillsong, and how this church has had a global influence.

I also began to realize how many of the strengths also become weaknesses when pushed to the extreme. I realize how an emphasis solely on doctrine can become legalistic. How cultural relevance and open-mindedness can often foster jadedness, cynicism and doubt. How an emphasis on the blessings of God can turn into prosperity gospel. How evangelism alone can neglect a life of true discipleship and social justice. How an emphasis strictly on social justice and care for the poor can replace rather than be the manifestation of truth. I recognize all of the potential pitfalls and actual flaws.

But I'm at the point where I am weary of criticizing and constantly evaluating what I think is lacking in churches, and I am more or less concerned with my own attitude. I am extremely humbled by my own inability to proclaim truth, to be joyful, to be emotionally honest about God and am slowly realizing that I am in a place where I want to learn from the community here at Hillsong. For all of these potential pitfalls and actual flaws, I'm just grateful for the community that is so welcoming, emotionally honest and incredibly fixed on simply proclaiming truth, living it out, and serving.

I am weary of exclusivity and doubt and legalism and permissiveness and fear and pride and everything in between that I see being lived out in churches and communities. But I am far more concerned at this point with my own heart, attitude and place within this marred, beautiful, flawed mess known as the Church. I want to be open to hope, to actually proclaiming truth, to serving and simply being sensitive and obedient to the Spirit in the day-to-day.

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a]have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:1-5