Tag Archives: Dark Ages

The Mystery of Real Strength

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

I have a tat on my left bicep. It is a reference to King David’s song of repentance, written after he’d been caught committing adultery, conspiracy, and murder (along with a host of other mistakes). The reference is on my the left arm because throughout the ages the left has metaphorically been used in reference to foolishness, oddity, and wrong doing (Wendy and I are both left-handed, btw). It has an illuminated “P” inspired by the Book of Kells in honor of the monks of Ireland who kept God’s Word alive on the edges of the known world while the institutional church and ecclesiastical powers in Rome and France led the western world into the dark ages. It is on my bicep to remind me of exactly what the ancient prophet Isaiah called out in today’s chapter:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength

For a good, long time on my life journey I followed the path I find most of the world follows. I hid my shortcomings beneath a well crafted public veneer of purity and self-righteousness. Like a successful political candidate I obfuscated, excused, ignored, and covered up. I refused to acknowledge my selfish motives, wanton appetites, and foolish choices. Like David, I woke up one day to find myself at a place on life’s road I swore I would never be. I had wandered so far.

My experience taught me hard and painful lessons in humility. Trouble is a powerful tutor, and I quietly began to understand what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

The mystery of the spiritual paradox began to lay hold of me. In repentance is strength. Spiritual power is birthed through grace amidst the shattered pieces of my life and the tragic evidence of my own frail humanity. I struck out in a new direction, understanding that repentance, not self-righteousness, was the way of strength.

I put a tat on my left bicep to remind me, every day for the rest of my journey, what I have learned, and what I am continually learning.

Last night on the way home from rehearsal I was scanning through the music on my iPhone and stumbled upon an unlikely song I didn’t really know I had. It’s essentially a negro spiritual sung by the old Irish rocker Tom Jones. Talk about a paradox. I listened to it multiple times on the way home. Seems now like a bit of synchronicity in light of my thoughts this morning. I may find myself in a place of trouble, but God uses that trouble “for to make me human, to make me whole.”

Here are the words:

When I close my eyes, so I would not see,
My Lord did trouble me.
When I let things stand that should not be,
My Lord did trouble me. 

Did trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With a ring of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

When I slept too long and I slept too deep,
Put a worrisome vision into my sleep.
When I held myself away and apart,
And the tears of my brother didn’t move my heart. 

Did trouble me,
With a word and a sign,
With a ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

And of this I’m sure, of this I know:
My Lord will trouble me.
Whatever I do, wherever I go,
My Lord will trouble me. 

In the whisper of the wind, in the rhythm of a song
My Lord will trouble me.
To keep me on the path where I belong,
My Lord will trouble me. 

Will trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With the ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Will trouble me,
Will stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

To make me human, to make me whole.

I’ll Worry About Tomorrow, Tomorrow

hedgingWhat has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

There has been a lot of talk of late regarding the level of instability in the world. Just last Sunday our pastor, for the first time in his life, publicly declared that he personally believes that some things will continue to get worse and worse and that Jesus will return in the next 30-40 years.

This prompted some good conversations between Wendy and me over breakfast this week as we poured over the latest bad news from around the globe in the Wall Street Journal. I have heard predictions like the one our pastor made many times over the years by people I have considered both wise and intelligent as well as by those whom I’d consider to be fools. Jesus himself said that no one knows the day and the hour and that it will come suddenly “like a thief in the night.” I long ago gave up caring about this prediction or that prediction. I consider that, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes my say, “chasing after the wind.” My only responsibility with regard to Jesus return, according to Jesus own teaching, is to be ready for it to happen. That, I am.

As for things being more violent and unstable in the world, I’m not sure I agree. Things are relatively unstable right now, and we’re all feeling it, but as a student of history I can think of several periods of world history that were both incredibly violent and incredibly volatile.  I believe that if you lived in Europe during the Inquisition you’d find life both violent and volatile because of what the Church was doing. The Middle Ages were extremely unstable and life was extremely violent (they didn’t call them the “Dark Ages” for nothing), and coincidentally, Jesus followers of that day were equally convinced, based on how bad things were, that Jesus’ return was imminent. I think our current generation has already forgotten how unstable and violent the world was during the World Wars of the previous century.

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Some things have changed and there are some things that are unprecedented in human history. Population, for one. There are more people experiencing these things than ever before. Technology and communication are also giving this generation experiences that no generation before has had. I believe that our perception and emotional reaction to world events is greater today because we have instant access to photos and video of every horrific international incident being pushed into the palm of our hands 24/7/365. I believe that our culture is experiencing unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety because technology and media is bombarding our eyes and brains with images and first hand reports of every tragedy around the globe. It’s bound to have an effect.

This morning I am pondering the Teacher’s ancient words in light of living in circumstances that he couldn’t even fathom when he wrote them nearly three thousand years ago. Some things don’t change. There are some things that we as humans repeat over and over and over again like a squirrel in a wheel. Other things change greatly. Predicting the future is a risky proposition and getting overly anxious about tomorrow is something that even Jesus to us not to do:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So, I’m focused on today and walking the path laid right in front of me. Today I will live and love to the best of my ability right here in the place I am in and the place God has me. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.