Thanks for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
It's my pleasure. Sassiest blog name ever.
So your collection of poetry Well Met: Poems of Companionship is going to be released in soon. What has the writing, collecting, and refining process been like?
Hodge-podgy on all three counts. Some of these poems are nearly fifteen years old. I usually write the poems in one quick burst, even the long rhythmic ones. Then they sit in a journal or a folder online and over the months and years suffer iterations and endure tweakings when I encounter them again. Sometimes a conversation or a story on social media will remind me of something I scribbled, and I'll go back and mess with it. I have an entire bookshelf of journals, the majority of them handmade by my wife. The journals are mostly full of notes for my blog or Bible studies and whatnot, but much of it is verse. Some verse just rises to the surface enough times to stand out and really be worked over.
What have you been up to while you have been writing these poems?
Buying a house. Making babies and raising babies. Squeezing the wife. Opening and closing a bookstore. Coaching basketball. Teaching English. Vlogging. Going to Brazil as a missionary. Currently trying to decide whether to retire from rugby.
How did you begin writing poetry? And is there any advice that you would give to your new poet self now that you are a middle aged poet? (You are middle aged, right?)
My mother was always throwing books at me. I was immersed in the Lord of the Rings from a tender age. I was always struck by Aragorn's love for and facility with verse. I started writing poetry when I was eleven or twelve. I'm not sure what started it, but I know I was a language-loving kid who led an isolated life. Even today C. S. Lewis' descriptions of alone time and books in Surprised By Joy enters the iron in my soul. Many kids in such circumstances begin to write prose in such circumstances. I wrote bad and youthful poetry. When I was eighteen I wrote a poem I am still fond of, playing off of the title of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, playing off of merci and mercy. All my mother had to say was that merci didn't mean mercy in French. I know, mom. I know.
Now that I am nearly forty, I would advise the new poet self to dedicate himself a little more to verse, since he enjoys it so much. But really, that's the advice I'd give my younger self about everything I like; it wouldn't be just about poetry. I'm afraid one of my worse vices is to be casual about the things I love. I am so deeply a dabbler it embarrasses me.
Besides being a poet, you also have a youtube channel and a video blog. How do the two creative processes differ and how are they the same?
They are similar in that I conceive of an idea and often spend much of the creative process away from paper, usually because of work. So I turn them over a few times in my head and organize them off-paper. I often arrive at camera or paper knowing exactly how I want it to go. Anyone who has sat down in front of a camera or attempted to write a poem knows it usually doesn't turn out as planned, but I've become accustomed enough to this process that the end result is usually pretty faithful to that first day's or week's mullings.
I often rant in my videos. I haven't ranted in verse for at least ten years.
Both my YouTube channels are very interactive, with lots of audience participation. That only happens with my poetry if I perform it at public events, which is only once every year or two. I'd like to write more poetry for performance, because that immediate interaction is energizing and inspiring. We no longer associate show and showmanship with poetry, but I think we ought to. Bring it back. It's salutary, y'all. Most salutary.
When you are looking for inspiration, where do you look? Do you begin with words, ideas, or things?
In the following order and that most firmly, I begin with words, then ideas, then things. I am almost never inspired to write by a scene or situation, and a notion will occasionally strike me, but an odd word choice or turn of phrase will send me scurrying for my notebook.
Are there poets or artists that you find consistently inspiring?
The poet who most inspires me, to whom I return almost weekly, is Gerard Manley Hopkins. I lack the imagination to picture a Tolkien devotee who wouldn't delight in Hopkins. He's so hugely Anglo-Saxon, and yet so pastorally English. For that reason alone he should resonate with all Christians, since our lives are quiet and modest yet epically significant and cosmic. Next up are Eliot, Milton, and C. S. Lewis. Especially Lewis. I discovered most of my favorite poets as a teen, but Lewis was the one who most influenced me as an adult. His dominion of English seems so complete, but he uses it so modestly, even when the scale of his poems is large.
While you write, do you listen to music for inspiration?
Not when I write poetry. I reserve music for prose. The motivating factor in my music selection is lyric, which would interfere with poesy.
If you could craft people’s response, would you prefer that people reply, react, or retaliate to Well Met? Why?
I would prefer that they reply. Preferably in verse.
Social media, and especially my YouTube channel, have made me value conversation. Obviously much that is said on social media is more haranguey in nature (I have a rule pro per that I do not read comments of more than a few lines), but I do like a nice chat. Just as my favorite way to do poetry is to perform it, my favorite times on YouTube are with live videos. I would not mind simple reactions, I would be flattered by retaliation, but I would be pleased by replies.
And may I pause here to say that if we all learn to appreciate short forms of poetry we might recover the art of the remark, the mastery of which is necessary to rescue the lost art of simply commenting on something.
What is the most significant lesson that you learned while writing poetry?
That it is easier to be funny than earnest. And that I love and admire earnestness.
I hope readers find my funny poetry funny, since I suppose that to be the easier stuff. If one of the poems tries to amuse you and fails, maybe just close the book and put it aside, preferably in a place of quiet dignity.
Where can we pick up a copy of Well Met?
Any other projects forthcoming? Anything else that you are working on?
I co-wrote a little e-book called Christian Pipe Smoking. That had a good bit of success, and my co-author has been bugging me for a while to work on a second edition. I should probably get around to that.
I'm some ways into anew book, a Christian's practical guide to the enjoyment of things. One of the things to be enjoyed is poetry.
Thanks so much for joining us here at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
One time a cashier at our local co-op gave me the total amount of my purchase. She said something like, “Seven dollars and fifty-three cents.” Well, that’s the kind of opportunity I can’t turn down. So I brandished my debit card and said, “Perfect—that’s the exact amount in my bank account.”
She didn’t like this response at all. She did not look at me or say anything to me for the rest of the transaction. I don’t know how, but my idiotic attempt at a joke really destroyed her day. As soon as I saw her disappointment in me, I knew that my failure had been generative.Read More
Thanks for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
And thank you for such a delightfully named blog. It's always been one of my favorite names.
So your novel Strays is available for pre-order. What's it about? What inspired the story?
It's about a boy named Rodney who has to spend the summer at his weird uncle's and gets caught up in a demonic invasion. The major influence is The Screwtape Letters, which is a book that never goes more than a couple of years without being pulled off my shelf. The other point of inspiration is Martin Luther, particularly his dealings with Satan. His legendary abuse of the devil has always tickled me. His hymn A Mighty Fortress is also a touchstone and I use its lyrics as chapter titles.
I love the title. Is it too much of a spoiler to ask what the name is about?
There are several characters to whom the title could apply and that's part of the fun of the novel. Rodney has to determine who is trustworthy and even examine his own loyalties. Strays was an idea I'd had for years, which grew from a fairy tale I'd invented for my sons called Little Lost Demon. When that story was scaled into a full length novel a title change was necessary, especially since I find it very difficult to write without a satisfying title. Plus I was in need of a third act twist and Strays fit that need perfectly.
How long was the whole writing process of Strays? Were there any discouragements that you had to overcome as you were writing the book?
There were innumerable setbacks, the first being that I don't have the ability to drop into a novel an hour here and there and write fruitfully. For me to write, at least in novel form, I need a stretch of days uncluttered by my day job. As a teacher I have a couple of months off, so after holding down a summer job for a number of years I finally decided to use the time to write. I began the first draft in the summer of 2012. Halfway through I realized that I had numerous plot problems so I shelved it until Christmas break. I ruminated on the problems and workshopped my solutions so that over the two week break I was able to rewrite and rework what I'd written. Then during the next summer I "finished" it. Put this way it doesn't sound so bad, but trust me when I reached the end of the first summer and realized that I had half a broken novel it wasn't the happiest of times. I'm also keeping an account of lost wages and holding it against the novel too. It's my tiny act of revenge for all the suffering I went through.
When you are looking for character inspiration, where do you look? Are there people in your life that are secretly also characters in your fiction?
I do find that it's easier to write a character when I have a visual, but I haven't done that yet. I usually just take bits of people, someone's walk, another's laugh, and weave them into who I have in mind. For example, Rodney's uncle is bristly bearded and full of chuckles, something that was helpfully crystallized by a couple of jolly bearded fellows I know. I do the same thing when I read to my boys. I'm much more consistent with the voices if I can tie them to an actor or (more commonly) a Muppet. When reading Harry Potter I used John Malkovich for Snape and a raspy Scooter for Ron Weasley.
Are there writers or books that Strays is interacting with or inspired by?
As I said above, The Screwtape Letters was the chief inspiration. I love the world CS Lewis created. It's quite a sinister little book, but his depiction of the demons as petty, cruel and more than a little self-defeating is powerfully insightful. And the fun I had creating demon names was the most fun I've had during any project ever. I have a folder full of demon names that I didn't use and more came well after I was finished writing. Here's just a small sample of unused names: Scumwidget, Bilklog, Fog-jibbet, Ooze-rug, I could go on.
While you write, do you listen to music for inspiration?
During the writing of Strays I sang Luther's A Mighty Fortress at least once a month in our chapel service. Each time was an opportunity to rehearse the story. Outside of that I try to match the music to the mood. Explosions in the Sky is my go to band, I know the catalogue well enough to find something to suit the scene I'm writing.
How do you hope people will respond to Strays?
If my readers move on to (or return to) The Screwtape Letters I will be a satisfied author.
What is the most significant lesson that you learned while writing your novel?
The first lesson was that I need to finish the outline. Strays was derailed by a pretty basic story point that I hadn't thought through. The other lesson that I'm still learning is to not be overly concerned about the first draft. Finishing something is far harder than rewriting something and no amount of rewriting before it's finished will save you from having to rewrite it later. I've gone through the book no less than seven times since I finished that first draft.
Where can we pick up a copy of Strays?
Any other projects forthcoming? Anything else that you re working on?
My second novel, Hush-Hush, should come out next year. The short pitch for that one is Invisible Friends Meets Bodysnatchers.
Currently I'm at work on several other projects. So far my imagination has outstripped my ability to put it all down on paper, but I'm excited to work through the idea file. The goal is to be able to write throughout the year. Hopefully I'll be able to write more than one novel every two years.
Thanks so much for joining us here at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
Follow Remy Wilkins on Twitter @remywilkins.
Get yourself a copy of Strays HERE.
Brute power/ Is not superior/ To a flower – May Sarton
There is very little that can undo a dandelion.
Though you pick it, pluck it, pound it, or poison it
it pops up again when you’re not looking.
It roars its mockery at all you do,
letting you (and all your neighbors) know that they will live still,
and live long, when you are still long gone.
When I am dead, buried to fertilize the dirt,
they will grow up smiling around my tombstone.
(Maybe I’ll be buried at sea?)
Because all I have is the power of brute force.
Because all I give to this flower is death.
It has resurrection.
Fists of Fluff is a Samurai reframing of the Tortoise and the Hare. It has been years since the Tortoise and Hare raced. And though that experience defined their young lives and they have both since grown and studied to become Samurai warriors. But when Coyotes attack the village, Hare discovers that, though his fists are fast, they are too soft to defeat the coyotes and bring justice to his village. But the tortoise has another lesson for the Hare.
And the whole story is written in Haiku.
I sincerely hope that you will consider backing my kickstarter campaign. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1348970559/fists-of-fluff-a-samurai-retelling-of-the-tortoise?ref=creator_nav
Excited to have a new Arts, Music, and Poetry Column in the Blogazine with my friends over at CrossPolitic.
Here are a few of my articles:
Some of my thoughts on the new Netflix documentary The Evolution of Hip-Hop. Packaging the Tribe.
One of the best tracks off of The Roots new album has an excellent insight on what a strip joint is actually selling. When the People Cheer: Strip Clubs and Black Thought's Poetic Insight.
Why are stories like Guardians of the Galaxy important? And why are there so many of them lately? I take a shot at where Plato, Maximus the Confessor, Chaucer, and Rocket the Raccoon come together in Is Our Galaxy Worth Guarding? (A Sort-Of-Not-Really Movie Review).
Check out my newest book, Waiting Through Winter. It is a Children's book about animals preparing for winter. Illustrated by the uber-talented and illustrious Jessica Linn Evans in beautiful ink and watercolor.
First off, thanks for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk. Congratulations on your new album The Nature of Us. It is seriously high quality stuff.
Thanks for having me. . .Read More
Every once in a while you hit a movie that is just plain beautiful. I mean, real life beautiful. The story is wonderful, the characters and acting are wonderful, and it moves you to want to do what you were made to do. Chef (written, produced, directed by and starring Jon Favreau) is the story of a successful chef that loves cooking because of the art and the human connection. Because of his selfishness he has lost the artistic vision that he once had. And he has lost sight of everything that is important to him. His visionless existence has dehumanized him. He is divorced, he is becoming a shlump of a father who makes promises that he doesn’t keep, and he is making passionless food.
Quick warning, Chef is rated R for language. And it goes over the top to earn that R rating. There is a bit of vulgarity and sensuality, but the rating is really about the triple digit use of the F-bomb. Consider yourself warned. With that out of the way, Chef is an excellent story, superbly told.
One of the great aspects of the storytelling in Chef is that, though when the story begins he is not a very good guy, Carl Caspar (Jon Favreau) is a guy that you root for, because you can tell that he once was a great guy. His best friend works for him and would do anything for him. His son wants to be with him. Even his ex-wife still likes him and wants him to succeed. It is obvious from the beginning that he is a good guy who has lost his way. Everyone is on his side but his boss and, seemingly, himself. He has traded in a calling for a job. He has traded in his desire to touch and connect with people with the hospitality of lovingly prepared food.
Because food is mystical. Food is magical. Food is mysterious. When you carefully and enthusiastically feed people something that you love, you are giving them a part of yourself. Food is art that can become a point of contact, a point of fellowship and communion between two humanities. Food is a deep and abiding mystery. It is not reducible to the scientifically observable. A bottle of wine and a homemade meal shared with joy and laughter is one of the places where we are at our most human.
Caspar is a chef that has experienced that, and with his friends and family, but he has lost it in the restaurant where he is the head chef. And when he gets a bad review and his confrontation of the reviewer and subsequent mental breakdown in his restaurant accidentally ends up a viral video he finds himself jobless.
And this is where the movie gets amazing. Because Carl Caspar’s problems begin to come to light. He has been blaming the reviewer and the restaurant owner and his own misunderstanding of twitter and anyone but himself. But the real problem that his food has quit connecting with people is that he has been a terrible father and a terrible husband. Because he was unable to connect with the people closest to him he has lost his ability to bless people through food.
And that is where the story kicks into radness squared mode. Because Carl is given a food truck and he begins to get a vision of returning to his first love of Cuban food. And his son jumps into help. But when his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) refuses to clean something, Carl responds terribly. And the lights come on and he repents to his son. And In his repentance knew life is born between him and his son. The simple confession and acknowledgment of the obvious reality of his sin to his son opens the way of wisdom. The mystery of the way of success for Carl as a human being begins to unravel in front of him. It was hidden to him all of this time. We could see it, but the scales did not fall off his eyes until he humbles himself before his own son. And as he begins to open himself to his son and win his son to his side, and as he begins to truly treat his own son as his son, passing his knowledge of the mysticality of food onto his son the world opens back up to him.
He rediscovers what food is and what it can do, he reconnects with the world again, by teaching his son how to love people in the meticulous care of the food that you are putting onto their plate and the wisdom that is hidden in his son, in this case his knowledge about social media, is all added to his efforts because his son begins to work with him. And his lack of knowledge about social media is exactly what revealed his clownish foolishness to the world. So the only way for him to succeed in the world was to win his son to him. He finally makes it when he is too busy enjoying his son and passing on the things that he loves to worry about making it.
And the music is startlingly marvelous. Marvin Gaye, New Orleans marching band style: straight flippin’ amazing! (Can I write that? I’m not sure. But it is, so I will). Seeing the truck crew singing and cooking and cleaning together was one of the best scenes in the movie. The way that they become a little traveling community taking joy in the work of serving people by feeding them was magnificent. One of those touching moments that reminds you that you are glad to be alive and a human being, because being a human that is loving and enjoying and blessing other human beings is a first-rate thing.
And that is what Chef is about. A man with a gift for food that has forgotten how to care about the people around him and therefore has lost his soul. Any soul centered on itself shrivels. But when Carl remembers to love and serve and bless the people around him, when he remembers to consider others as more important than himself, he rediscovers the joy of his humanity.
My newest book is a collection of poetry entitled "No One Doubts a Belly Laugh," and it is out today. Couple of comments from reviewers that have rolled in so far.
"Jason Farley's poetry serves up center-cut, double-thick slices of verbal bacon, sizzled in a hot cast iron pan: it crackles and pops with all the depth and flavor of life."
Joe Carlson, author of 'The Lay of Creation' and 'The Whirlwind Bides His Time.'
"As someone who reads poetry on the hunt for great lines, I welcome this collection from Jason Farley. There are some great lines here. The poems are good too."
Douglas Wilson, author of 'Beowulf: A New Verse Translation' and 'Untune the Sky.'
I am not naturally a kind person. I am tempted constantly and consistently to cynicism. In fact, when I walked myself through the doors of a church, I had spent the previous night watching Saturday Night Live and listening to the eminently misanthropic joke punk band The Dead Milkmen. One of my favorite songs was ‘If You Love Someone Set Them on Fire.’ And that was pretty much my take on kindness when I first showed up at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Spokane.
But God, who is rich in mercy, has led me like a rail-riding hobo in pursuit of kindness. I was suspicious of any kindness, convinced that there always had to be a self-serving agenda. But God has been patient with me because, quite frankly, he is kind.
And, for me, this has probably been the most surprising thing about God. I did not expect it. I was not looking for a kind God. It had never occurred to me that kindness was particularly important. It never seemed like the something that would be attached to divinity.
I was convinced that the truth about life, God, and the world would be like medicine. It would taste bad but be good for you. And any sweetness was, at best, an illusion, and at worst a downright lie.
But I kept running up against the fact that, in the history of God’s people, the lovingkindness of God has been the defining feature of our story. I found myself to have been grafted into a history wherein God was surprisingly kind. At least it was surprising to me. This book is me coming to terms with God’s kindness, what it means to follow a kind God, and what it means to be in pursuit of kindness.
From the Preface to 'In Pursuit of Kindness. To read more, check out the book HERE.
The historic Church has sought to place memorials of Jesus everywhere. This is a right desire (Deut. 6:5-9) and the calendar did not escape the zeal to memorialize. But because what we are looking to memorialize is a whole story, the memorial feasts of the church calendar have themselves formed into a story.
Advent celebrates the longing that God built into the world before Christ. It leads to the celebration of the fulfillment of the longing of the Jews as we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus with the twelve days of Christmas. Though God has drawn near throughout our history, God’s people had always been barred from the inner life of God. But the Son of God became a man and opened up direct fellowship with God. In his flesh he became the door to that life.
God has always been the savior, but by taking on a body in order to dwell among us, Jesus became savior in a new way. He brought a salvation that was deeper, broader, higher, and longer in every way. So much so that all the salvations that God had wrought in the past turned out to have been shadows of what Jesus came to do in the flesh.
Epiphany is the first day after Christmas and is the celebration of the coming of the wise men to worship Jesus. As the first Gentiles come to worship Jesus, in them we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of the longing, not just of the Jews but of all off the peoples and nations of the world. Just as the gospel went first to the descendants of Abraham, and then to the Gentiles, we move from Christmas to Epiphany, but that is just the first act.
Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday together make up the next holiday, the cycle of Easter. The word “Easter” is Anglo Saxon for spring equinox. Easter was calculated using the equinox, and the term for the equinox (Oestra), according to the church historian Bede, gave its name to the Feast of the Resurrection. (Incidentally, the nation of Austria is also named after the spring equinox.)
We used to worship a goddess that was said to be the power behind the equinox, but she has been forgotten. And the heavens, which shout the praises of God, have come to be recognized and understood for what they have actually been saying all along. The word ‘Easter’ has been cleansed as the gospel has triumphed. Easter is now the festival day in which we celebrate the fact that winter is not just overcome every year; the winter of the world was overcome when the true spring began. When the Son of God burst forth from the grave as he was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit of God, the winter of the world was wrecked.
Adam and Eve cast the world into winter with our sin, but God soon began giving hints that the winter would be broken. T.S. Elliot, in his poem ‘Little Gidding,’ calls these hints, “midwinter spring”, where a day with winter on each side is bright with the hint of a coming spring.
When the short day is brightest with frost and fire . . . stirs the dumb spirit, not with wind, but with pentecostal fire.
All throughout the Old Testament there are midwinter spring days, where spring itself does not come, but God makes it clear that the spring is coming. Resurrection is coming. History itself will have a spring equinox, when history turns from winter to spring.
This is why we call feast of the resurrection Easter. This is why we named it after Spring. The true meaning of Spring, the actual reason that God set up the cycle of the equinoxes and seasons, is that God is a God who brings life from death. So everything in spring is a legitimate symbol to be used in our celebration of the resurrection. Be it eggs, rabbits, flowers, dressing the children in new outfits, or seeing the ladies in beautiful spring clothes, it is all a wonderful and legitimate way of celebrating the resurrection. Because when Jesus came back from the dead the world's winter was broken and the spring came.
Jesus' resurrection is the turning point in history that then leads to the revolution of the ascension. Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). Ascension Thursday is the day that the church has traditionally set aside to celebrate that installation of Jesus. At the ascension, Jesus was anointed as King of kings and Lord of lords. Then he took the throne at the right hand of God the Father.
It was a revolution because every authority in the pre-Ascension world was unseated by the work of Jesus. "And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col 2:15). After the resurrection all authority on heaven and on earth was given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18). When Jesus "was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19), the revolution was accomplished, complete, and finished as Jesus was installed as the ruler of all.
Daniel recieves a vision of the day when the Son of Adam would come to heaven. He gives us a view at the other end of the journey of Jesus' ascension. The Apostles saw him leave for heaven. Daniel is given a vision of Jesus arriving in heaven. "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan 7:13-14). In the ascension, the authority of mankind, the authority that was forfeited when Adam sinned, was restored to Mankind in the second Adam.
But that restoration does not just remain with Jesus. Ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God was poured out on the church and the final restoration of humanity in and through the church began. The Church is the body of Christ, and when the Spirit was poured on Jesus, as he was anointed the King of kings and the Perfect High Priest of the heavenly tabernacle, the Spirit flowed down his head, down his beard, and onto his body (Ps. 133). When Jesus is anointed King he gives gifts to his people (Eph. 4:8). But the first gift that he gave was himself in the gift of his Spirit. Hence the name ‘Spiritual’ Gifts (1 Cor. 12:1). And through these gifts, the restoration and perfecting of his people (that will continue into eternity) both begins and is guaranteed by the giving of the Spirit.
Next we come to Halloween and All Saints Day. Halloween was not, and has never been, a pagan holiday. The Christian calendar, because of the Hebrew influence, has always begun its celebration on what the Romans considered to be the day before. The first days went from evening to morning (see Gen. 1), but the Romans reckoned their days from midnight to midnight. Out of Hebrew habit, the feast day celebrations began the evening before the day of celebration. Because much of the calendrical reckoning was done with Roman calendars, it felt as if the celebrations were beginning a day early.
What this says about the different views of history is a fun question, but for now, what is important is that is how the party on the eve of a celebration came to find itself on the calendar as its own event with its own traditions and activities. The word 'Halloween' is the contraction of All Hallows' Eve. All Hallows' (or All Saint's) is the celebration of the work of God through the church. It is the day when we make the devil-crushing feet of the Body of Christ dance at the honor and the joy of serpent crushing (Rom. 16:20).
All Saints' is the final hurrah of the church calendar after which we return again to Advent. Longing remembered becomes longing fulfilled. And so we continue the celebration.
This longing also becomes a reminder that all of our longing and all of our love for God will find it's fulfillment in the return of Christ, the second advent. When Jesus comes again bringing the final resurrection of the body, followed by the judgment of Christ and an eternity of life with God for the just and eternal death for those outside of Christ, we find the ultimate fulfillment of all of history.
This is why there are no old world pagan holidays left on the calendar handed down to us from Christendom. There have been a handful of romantic poets and secularists that have wanted to keep the holidays while jettisoning Jesus, but they have had to make things up and grasp at straws. The pagan calendars have all been forgotten along with their gods. The closest that we get is May Day, but no one even remembers who Maia was, let alone how her day was celebrated in the past.
There are still a handful of names that have remained on the calendar from ancient pagan times. Each of the seven names of the days of the week are derived from the Roman and Norse names of the gods of the seven visible planets, (Sun's Day, Moon's Day, Tiu's Day, Woden's Day, Thor's Day, Freya's Day, Saturn's Day), but the way back to worship those gods, or to the worship of the hosts of heaven at all, has been forever blocked and dammed by the resurrection of Jesus.
Now the planets are in the right hand of Jesus (Rev. 1:16). The seven spirits represented by the seven candlesticks of the temple turned out to be but a shadow of the seven spirits of the seven planets as they danced in light and glory before the Holy of Holies built without hands (Rev. 1:4, 12-13; Heb. 9:1-3, 23-24). The principalities of the planets were created to lead us into the presence of God. Though in the new covenant that job has been taken over by the church (Eph. 3:10), there is no reason to object to the use of the names of these forgotten gods, if only to remember that they have been forgotten. Having been overshadowed by the brightness of the glory of a crucified and risen Christ, each day is a reminder that all time is in the hands of Jesus.
So as we seek to recover and reinvigorate the church calendar, we should remember that the calendar is not merely a reminder to engage in some extra religious activities. We are remembering what Christ has done and is doing in history. And the remembering causes us to celebrate. The church calendar is to remind us of the great works of God on our behalf, and to mark out the time of our lives according to what God has done in Christ. The primary purpose of the church calendar is to give a rhythm and vocabulary to our joy, freedom, and hope.
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word (Ps. 119:9).
Here we begin the second stanza of the longest psalm in the Book of Psalms. The first stanza of Psalm 119 was all about how God's commands are a description of a fruitful life. The law of God is a description of the life that God himself lives. Because we are made in the image of God, the life that we are intended to live is shaped like the life that God lives. The conclusion of is that the first blessing that we need is the blessing of God granting us obedience to his law. All others blessings are meaningless unless we can follow after God. And the blessings of a fruitful life come to us through the gift of obedience to the commandments of God.
But the psalmist also sees that there is a serious problem. He does not begin his obedience from neutral. He has sinned. He is starting from a deficit. All obedience that might come in the future is the obedience of a sinner. He has been following a different path than the path of life. He has not lived God’s life after him the way one made in the image of God should have. God has cut and laid a road and told us to follow it, but as sinners we all begin from the woods.
How then does a young man cleanse his way? How does one return to the way once you have gotten off of it. How does a sinner find forgiveness? But not just forgiveness. How does a sinner find his way back to living the life that he, as someone made in the image of God, is created to live.
The answer is to take hold of God’s Word. Open up your ears and listen to God speak. God’s word cleanses us. That is why Jesus can say, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3). God’s word created us, and with His word he recreates us. But God never does anything part way. He does not merely cleanse us from our past sins. He cleanses us of past sins and cleanses us for a future of fruitfulness.
This young psalmist wants the way that he lives cleansed. Remember, the psalmist wanted his way directed after God’s laws (Ps. 119:5) because God’s laws were a description of God’s own way of living (119:3). And the Word of God will direct and transform and cleanse us back into the way of living that imitates the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
That is why Jesus continues from cleansing by the word to fruitfulness by the word. “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:3–5).
Living in the way of God is something that begins with the cleansing of the Word of God, and continues with the ongoing cleansing of our living with the Word of God.
And Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. So the Psalmist, by taking heed of the Word of God was, like Abraham, justified by faith (Gen. 15:6). And then walked by faith, trusting in the same word in which he found his justification. In the Word of promise, he saw Jesus. Jesus’ cleansing death was promised, and the way of life was laid out in the law. The life that Jesus would come and live to perfect fulfillment (Matt. 5:17) because God has always and eternally been living it.
We begin by faith in Jesus, revealed to us in God’s Word, by the Spirit of God, and we continue by faith in Jesus, revealed to us in God’s Word, by the Spirit of God. How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed unto God’s Word.
Margaret Sanger started the back-alley abortion clinic which grew into the largest and most profitable non-profit organization in the world. She has been hailed as a great social reformer, a liberator, and a hero. She lives in the minds of many as one of the great saints of secularism. But the problem is, she was a white supremacist who wanted to use the power of the state to legally cleanse the land of non-whites.
In 1932, Sanger outlined and published her “Plan for peace,” that called for forced sterilization, legislated segregation, and concentration camps for all “dysgenic stocks.” Her close friend and adviser, Ernst Rudin, who served as Hitler’s director of genetic sterilization in Germany, was published, and praised by Sanger in the Planned Parenthood magazine.
Sanger’s ideology was not like Hitler’s. Her ideology was Hitler's. What is odd is that Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini have all been defamed and disavowed by every corner of society. Whether it is for their bad science, dangerous ideals, or for being instrumental in the deaths of millions, they are villains of history. Yet Margaret Sanger's work has continued under an identical ideology without opposition. People are not running out to resurrect the name of Hitler. Yet every year people try and re-paint Sanger as someone special and humane, someone with noble intentions.
“But what about all the good Planned Parenthood does? I see that Sanger and her company, Planned Parenthood, were white supremacists who wanted to kill minorities, but Planned Parenthood also offers cancer screenings. Not everything they do is bad.” True, Planned Parenthood does offer more than just abortions. Besides the racially motivated killing of babies they do offer certain other services. Some of them are even helpful. But the same can be said for Hitler’s Germany. They never just killed Jews. They had social programs. They had music, art, patriotism. The Nazis were refined. But refinement built on a foundation of human sacrifice is still barbaric.
Because people have been willing to overlook Margaret Sanger’s ideology, her white supremacist vision for the world is succeeding before our very eyes. Her allies of World War II were defamed by the details of Auschwitz. Yet her organization has been able to target and destroy 30% of the African American population. She has succeeded where Hitler failed.
To this day Margaret Sanger’s vision lives on in the institution that is living her legacy. With governmental and social support, eugenics by abortion continues to press forward in America and throughout the world. May the church stand up to defend the fatherless and defenseless in our land. Margaret Sanger and her institution have proved themselves enemies of the unprotected minorities that are my neighbor, and therefore are my enemies as well.
There is a misunderstanding going around about what the church teaches about heterosexual love that I feel the need to correct. It seems that everyone discussing the difference between homosexual marriage and heterosexual marriage presumes and expects that homosexual marriage has to be given up to follow Jesus but heterosexual marriage does not have to be given up. That you can walk through the doors of the church in a heterosexual marriage and Jesus and will just leave it alone.
"Oh, your marriage is one man and one woman? You don't have to give that up to follow Jesus."
But that is just not the case.
If you're going to follow Jesus then you have to be ready and willing to give up anything and everything.
Jesus puts it this way, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Anything you insist on holding back, anything you put a death grip on, anything you refuse to give up will go rotten. Anybody that you claim for yourself, about whom you tell Jesus he has no claim because they are yours, you will destroy.
Following Jesus is not a turn away from a lover or spouse just for the homosexual. Every person that turns to Christ must turn away from their spouse. Jesus is no traditional values conservative. He says quite plainly that he came to bring a sword specifically for the family.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 10:34-39).
Heterosexuals do not get off the hook. A heterosexual infatuation with your spouse that you will not set aside in order to follow Jesus will disqualify you just as much as any homosexual infatuation that you will not set aside. It is not just gay spouses that must be given up to follow Jesus. Every spouse must be handed in. No spouse can be held back. Every spousal loyalty must be surrendered to follow Christ. Every love must be set down. Every desire must be abandoned to follow Jesus.
To follow Jesus is to lay down everything. To be willing to exchange all that you have and all that you are for Jesus. To give up your life. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for Jesus sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39).
To be willing to be marginalized, misunderstood, disreputable, threatened, to be willing to take the road the Jesus walked, no matter the cost. To sell everything if that is what it takes. That is the call of discipleship.
So there is not a special call to homosexuals to give up their chosen lifestyle. There is one call to all people to give up everything. It does not matter if what you have in your hands is good or bad. You cannot carry your cross when your hands are full.
And so if this call seems too much, then go somewhere else. Follow anyone but Jesus.
I would if I could.
Jesus messes up everything. He continually appeals to his people to lay down their lives and follow him. He calls persistently to let go of your all your own desires and follow him.
But for those that are following him, once you have seen and tasted the words of life, everything else is sawdust in your mouth. Once you have glimpsed the risen Jesus, everything else is ruined for you. He is truth, goodness, beauty. He is love and in him is real hope.
So I could go somewhere else, but where could I go?
Giving up everything, letting go of it all, or even resisting to the point of death becomes a small price to pay for the treasure of knowing Christ Jesus.
So yes, following Jesus involves giving up everything. And yes, laying down our sexual desires is part of what everyone has to lay down. But if you keep it all and don't have Jesus, you still end up with nothing. And to give up everything and find Jesus, the treasure hidden in a field (Matt. 13:44) you find that you have given up nothing of value compared to what you have gained.
To follow Jesus is to let go of everything, even giving our bodies to be burned or killed if it is called for. To resist to the point of death, setting aside our very life as nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus is what it means to be a follower, a disciple, a student, a convert to Jesus Christ. To give up lordship over ourselves and to submit to Jesus is the call of discipleship.
Thus the Martyrs of the church have always been set up as an example even when there is no persecution. To follow Jesus is to consider our life expendable in His cause, trusting that in the resurrection of all things that all will be well and that all manner of things will be well. To see even the shedding of our blood as of little consequence compared to the joy of hearing, “Well done,” from the mouth of Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
So when a homosexual says that giving up homosexuality is like giving up themselves, I don't try and convince them that it isn't. I say, "Yep. And that is the call of Christ. To let go of self so you can cling to Jesus."
It is a hard calling. It is a hard word. But it is the call that Jesus extends to everyone.
Jesus is a fountain of the water of life and everything else is just a cup with a hole in it. It might give you a drink for a moment, but it will end up empty, and you will just end up thirstier. So we are all called to follow Jesus to the point of shedding our blood in his service. And in the end, when Jesus raises the dead and puts all things right, it will all be worth it.
Everyone is called by Jesus to let go of everything that they believe defines them and have their life completely reoriented around Jesus. That is what it is to be a disciple. That is what it is to follow Jesus. No matter who you are or where you come from.
But to give up the whole world to gain Jesus is to give up nothing of value compared to what you have gained.
“Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” (Psalm 33:3).
From Plato’s Republic Book 4
Then to sum up: This is the point to which, above all, the attention of our rulers should be directed, --that music and gymnastic be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made. They must do their utmost to maintain them intact. And when any one says that mankind most regard
The newest song which the singers have, they will be afraid that he may be praising, not new songs, but a new kind of song; and this ought not to be praised, or conceived to be the meaning of the poet; for any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited. So Damon tells me, and I can quite believe him;-he says that when modes of music change, of the State always change with them.
Yes, said Adeimantus; and you may add my suffrage to Damon's and your own.
Then, I said, our guardians must lay the foundations of their fortress in music?
Yes, he said; the lawlessness of which you speak too easily steals in.
(Plato’s Republic, Book 4 p. 312)
Plato sees that there is something fundamental and formative about music for a people. He must not allow any new musical fad to come in and take root. New musical modes, new songs, and musical experimentation are dangerous.
And the truth is, many Christians, when they start talking music, jump in with Plato and say, "Yeah! Stick with what is old and traditional. New music gets on my nerves."
But let’s look a little deeper at what Plato means. In The Republic, Plato is arguing about what would make the very best society, what would produce most functional government, and what would lead to the happiest cities. And Book 4, (where our quote is found) is about how to create the kind of citizens that will live in this ideal society.
What will allowing a new kind of music threaten? Socrates has just finished explaining 1) the importance of taking the extra money that the rich have and giving it to the poor. 2) That a good citizen will understand that wife swapping amongst friends is good for the city. (Speaking of wives, he says "Friends have all things in common.") And 3) the police force of the city should be assigning and enforcing whatever labors they see most fit for each person. Taking the strongest at a young age away from their parents in order to be brainwashed into mindless enforcers of the cities bureaucratic educational codes.
He says, if we only allow for certain kinds of music, making sure to never allow for any musical innovation, then we will be able to produce these "well conducted and virtuous citizens" (p. 313).
In fact, he goes so far as to say that such well-educated citizens, so long as the government is paying close attention, will surely breed these good quality citizens. Quality livestock can be produced with careful oversight by the owner and quality citizens can be produced with careful oversight by the state.
Such well bred and managed citizens will even be self-policing. They will produce for themselves an army of bureaucrats that will in turn produce an ever more complex set of rules for themselves. This is why Plato says we have to fill up the city with only thumping and cheerful music.
And there is a very real sense where Plato is right. Music is a powerful, foundational human endeavor that speaks right down to our identity. Music speaks to us in a deeply connective way. As Boethius wrote, “Music is a part of us, and either ennobles or degrades our behavior” (De Institutione Musica).
So when Plato wants to control people, he says, NO NEW MUSIC.
But God who is rich in mercy makes every one of Plato’s nightmares come true. Because when God began converting the Gentiles, he didn't put together a revolutionary political platform on how they were going to make it into the upper courts of the Empire (though they did end up there). He didn’t give them a strategic plan for a military coop. He started a musical war.
He gave us a New Song to sing.
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16).
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms (James 5:13).
When God comes to us, he calls us into the choir of the new song. In his commentary on the Psalms, speaking of Psalm 40:3, St. Augustine said: "He put a new song into my mouth. What new song? A hymn to our God. Possibly you were accustomed to sing hymns to other gods, old hymns; it was the old person who sang them, not the new person. Let the new person come to birth and sing a new song; let the renewed person love what has made him or her new. What is more ancient than God, who exists before all things, with no end and no beginning? Yet when you come back to him he is new for you. When you went away from him you grew old....”
By giving us a new heart and a new song to sing, he is laying the foundation of the city that is coming down from heaven to cover the whole earth. One of the great signs of the coming victory of the kingdom of God over all the nations of the earth is that they are a musical people, who always have a new song.
Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (Psalm 33:3).
He has put a new song in my mouth— Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3).
Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. (Psalm 96:1–3).
Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. The Lord has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98:1–3).
I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, The One who gives salvation to kings, Who delivers David His servant From the deadly sword (Psalm 144:9–10).
Sing to the Lord a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth, You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, You coastlands and you inhabitants of them! (Isaiah 42:10).
Music is foundational in the city of God. But the city of God is not static and stationary like Plato’s vision. The city of God, the New Jerusalem, is expanding and spreading and filling the earth with fruitfulness and blessings. So the church is always singing new songs. And the old songs of the church are always becoming new again to the people of the world as they are brought into the church.
So as the world comes to the Lord, it is important that we protect and enjoy our musical heritage. Because these new songs, and the ones that are being written now, and the ones that will be written in the future, are the inheritance of the whole world.
I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly (Ps. 119:8).
When this verse is taken apart from the rest of this section of the psalm, a misunderstanding can occur. It looks like what the psalmist is saying is that when we keep God’s law, then God does not forsake us. It looks as if there is a perseverance that is based on our works. As if God does not forsake us because we obey him.
But we have seen in the first seven verses of this psalm that it actually functions exactly the other way around. The Psalmist has made it clear that the first blessing that he is after is the blessing of following God’s law. We do not obey God just to receive blessings. The obedience itself is the first blessing.
When he writes, “Oh forsake me not utterly” he is crying out to God saying that he desires, above all things, to be faithful to God’s commands. He wants to obey the Lord. And he knows that he cannot do that unless the Lord’s blessing rests on him. Remember, he has given this description of the blessed person. This is what a person looks like when they are under the blessing of God. They are undefiled and they walk in the way of the Lord (v. 1). The blessed person keeps God’s testimonies and seeks the Lord with his whole heart (v. 2). The blessed person avoids iniquity and follows God in the way that he lives (v. 3). God’s blessing is obedience shaped. God’s way into greater blessings is to bless us with a desire to do what is right.
God’s way of filling our life with fruit is giving us the blessing of obeying him, and as we produce fruit, God blesses us with more seeds to plant and tend. Then the next harvest is bigger, more seed to plant and cultivate and water comes with the harvest.
In our microwave culture of wanting everything now, of always choosing the easy route now, we are wasting our seed. And when we waste our seed we are choosing to not have fruit later. As we put off getting married, put off having kids, put off starting a career, and put off investing their time and energy into the hard things in our youth, we are choosing fleeting experiences now over abundant fruit later, and that means that the fruit will not be there later.
If we are not plowing and planting by obeying God’s word now, then we are not going to have the blessings later to be able and plow and plant in the next phase of our life.
So when the psalmist says, I will obey, do not forsake me, because of the verses leading up to this verse, we know that he is saying is that he does not want to be forsaken to disobedience. He knows that he needs the Lord’s grace to hold him in obedience.
But God does not only pick us up from where we should have been. He picks us up where we are, so begin your obedience from where you are, and then say thank you for the blessing of desiring to obey.
I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments (Ps. 119:7).
As I prepare to teach ancient Greek history this year, I have been reminded yet again that God is at work in history, undoing the curse of death with his justice and mercy. The Greeks were a people under Adam, under the rule of death. And even though they polished their chains to a beautiful shine, they like all of the ancient world, were a cursed and condemned people. And so neither their culture, nor their power structures survived the judgments of God in history.
The Psalmist tells us that learning the righteous judgments of God will change us. When we learn the law, so that is seeps into our whole heart, soul, mind, and body, then our response will be to praise the Lord. In God's righteous law he shows right and wrong.
One of the central ways that morality comes to us in the Bible is through God’s judgments and actions. As he tells us how to make judgments in the law, as he gives us history in which he makes judgments. He gives us proverbs and prophets in order to explain and enact his judgments. God has not just told us what righteousness is. He has shown us He has shown us what true justice is. He has shown us what it is to do right.
The psalmist says that the more we understand God's justice and righteous judgments the more praiseworthy God will seem. He brings low the wicked and lifts his people up. He humbles the proud that set themselves up. He lifts up the humble and the righteous. And the more we understand, the more laudable God becomes in our eyes.
The Spirit of God has always been active in the world. He has given us the Word of God, as a description of the way that God is making all things right in the world by his judgments. He has enacted the salvation of God, teaching Noah to build the ark, and bringing animals two by two. Calling Abraham out of Ur. Speaking to Moses out of the burning bush. Parting the waters of the red sea. Bringing water from the rock. Knocking down the walls of Jericho. All of the way through history, the Spirit has been enacting the judgments of God. And we are given the scriptures so that we can understand and imitate God's righteous judgments.
And when we see God judging and saving all throughout history, if we have learned what we should be learning, our response is to praise God and turn from sin. It is no use trying to praise God without an upright heart. God's judgments are righteous. We will also learn that God's justice, God's righteous judgments, are beautiful. We will find ourselves drawn to worship. The more we know the scriptures, the more we will see our God as praiseworthy.
Just think about the revelation of God in Jesus. What an amazing story. How beautiful are the feet of him who brings the good news. When God is revealed to us in Christ, it is such a shocking and wonderful thing that the sheer beauty of God's holiness causes us to praise the Lord. God judged sin once and for all to be evil and worthy of death by dying on the cross. But he judged life to be stronger than death, love to be stronger than evil, and grace to be stronger than sin, once and for all, by raising Jesus from the dead.
The more you come to understand God's word and his righteous judgments, the more you will seek to praise Him with uprightness of heart.