Clad in Peace I will Sing the Songs

Creation cries. It is a full throated, snotty nose cry. It is a deep groaning cry. Nature longs to be free from its decay, death and entropy. The Apostle Paul wrote that, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22) awaiting its redemption, its restoration and its being made whole. 

When we talk of our hopes for peace, we most often mean the cessation of war and reconciliation between rivals. Sometimes we describe a hope for inner peace‚ÄĒfreedom from anxious thoughts that plague our heart. If we are really spiritual and/or evangelical we might speak of the possibility of  peace with God‚ÄĒforgiveness of sins and our personal salvation.

But Creation cries too, and hopes for shalom. It groans under our violence and dominance. Our weapons of war scar the Earth’s crust. Our pragmatic utilitarianism and economic shortsightedness damage the planet, as we deplete her resources. Creation cries and longs. Anyone with ears, listen!

Maya Angelou helps me to hear. Famous for her memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and her Civil Rights activism, her poetry is a hopeful shout against human oppression. In, The Rock Cries Out Today, she gives voice to the rock, the river and the tree‚ÄĒwitnesses to the long history of human violence and victims of our un-shalom:

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.
The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.
The river sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.
Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.
Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name,
You Pawnee, Apache and Seneca,
You Cherokee Nation, who rested with me,
Then forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of other seekers–
Desperate for gain, starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot…
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.
I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours–your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

The rock cries out to us, we who have crouched too long in bruising darkness and spelled words armed for slaughter. The river sings to us. We hear her song from behind our walls. She invites us to rest by the river banks and give up our armed struggles for profits which slash her shore. Come, she sings, and study war no more:

Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.

The river exhorts us to listen to the singing river and wise rock. The Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew, the African and Native American, the Sioux,
the Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek, the Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, the Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, the privileged, the homeless, the teacher hear and yearn for the peace the river and rock have seen. The first and last of every tree, the tree with deep roots, that will not be moved invites us to plant ourselves with her, there by the river, and  to dream. 

The rock, the river,  the tree invite us to life our face toward the coming dawn:

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.


‚ĚČ

Creation cries its plaintive cry, bearing the scars of our battles and our preference for profits over prophets. Isaiah long ago had warned us what our lack of shalom was doing to the earth:

The earth dries up and withers,
    the world languishes and withers;
    the heavens languish together with the earth.
5The earth lies polluted
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.

Isa. 24:4-5

We can’t go back. Eden is lost to us. It disappeared in a cloud of exhaust. All our winters are nuclear. Wildfires ravage our forests. The Earth quakes. There is war and rumors of yet more war.

What would it take for us to lay down our cynicism and the bloody sear on our brow, and hear the wise rock, the river song and the tree that will not be moved? When will creation’s cry be heard? When will it be renewed?

Revealing the Hidden Things: a book review

Christian films, books and TV preachers give their take on the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Speculation about end times is a Christian cottage industry with theories bandied about on things like the identity of the beast, the rapture, the role of Israel, or the nature of the judgments poured out on the earth. Revelation is written in highly metaphorical language, so there are tons of speculations. Other Christians read through Revelation once or twice but unsure of what to do with it, so they ignore it.  In The Heart of Revelation,  J.Scott Duvall offers a third way of of reading revelation. He attends to the vision of hope in the book without devolving into personal speculation about what we may or may not suffer.

TheHeartOfRevelation_hires+spine.inddAfter a brief introduction discussing the cultural context, Duvall explores the book’s message through the lens of ten themes: God, Worship, the People of God, the Holy Spirit, our enemies, our mission, Jesus Christ, judgment, new creation, and perseverance. By attending to Revelation thematically, Duvall provides a overview of the book rather than a detailed walk through the text (elsewhere he has published a commentary on revelation in the ‘Teach the Text Commentary Series).

In his introduction Duvall¬†offers these guidelines for understanding the book: (1) attend to the meaning of the book to its original hearers in Asia Minor, (2) ¬†Be aware of the symbolic nature of its language and (3) a focus on the main theological message of each vision (9-10). ¬†The result is a historical-literary sensitive reading which doesn’t get caught up in theorizing about locust in smoke or Russia’s role in Armageddon (Sorry Hal). This isn’t to say that what Duvall says isn’t compatible with various¬†eschatological options. He allows for the book’s future orientation without speculating about the minutia. His focus remains on the major themes through out the book and I think that mild Preterists, Millennialists and Dispensationalists can all read this book profitably.

The picture he paints is of a loving God who is the true center and source of life, a worshipping community drawn from every tongue, tribe and nation, a Holy Spirit who is living and active among us, an oppressor who is defeated by the cross and enemies we will overcome as we take up our cross and suffer. We also see our calling to be faithful witnesses to Jesus, the coming judgment against sin which takes seriously God’s holiness and ¬†our human freedom, a new heaven and new earth where God will dwell with his people, ¬†and the challenge and promise for those who persevere until the end.

If Revelation mystifies you and you want a book that helps you see the meaning and purpose of the book, this is a great place to start. Each chapter ends with a list of key texts, a reading plan and community group questions for exploring Revelation in a small group setting (or personal study).  I give this book four stars.

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

Drawing On Creation, Getting Drawn In: a book review

I confess that I am a better buyer of books on creativity than I am a reader of them. My shelf is loaded with books on the creative process, on writing, on drawing and painting, on making beautiful things. I tend to see these books and dream. I rescue interesting books from bargain tables and bring them home with best intentions. Often I puruse the introduction and the first several pages. Invariably, these books collect dust on my shelf. Often I wish to get back to a book, but time and busyness keep me from my goals.

Drawn In: A Creative Process For Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers by Troy Bronsink

Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers was a book that I read cover to cover. I found more here than interesting exercises to explore (though yes, there are some). Troy Bronsink lays out a theological foundation for the creative process which can be applied to whatever medium we work in. Hence the insights of this book are applicable to both artists and activists. Bronsink seeks to ‘sketch¬†out¬†the correlations between “the creative life and the life of faith by tracing how God creatively draws all things into one vision of a new creation (2)” Artists and activists in their own way¬†participate in¬†‘new creation.’ So does every follower of Jesus.¬† Bronsink has plenty of personal examples of each. He is an artist (and musician), an activist, and of all things a Presbyterian pastor.

While Bronsink writes as a Christian and with an explicitly Christian, theological vision of the arts, his method is broad enough to accomodate artists and creatives from other faith perspectives. This book is evangelistic in the best sense–it gives a Christian vision of creativity and the arts without manipulating and demeaning the creative vision of those outside the fold. Anyone interested in Creativity or¬†art will find much in¬†this book which is instructive and helpful.

Bronsink develops his vision of creativity in two parts. Part one looks at God’s relationship with creation while part two examines our relationship with creation.¬† There is a self conscious patterning here. Bronsink believes that as artists (and activists) create, they are ‘imaging God’ and participating in God’s New-Creation. God’s creation of the world recorded in Genesis provides the basis¬† for¬†his vision of the creative process.¬† Bronsink proposes a cycle of six waves (which reflect God’s role in the creation account):

  • Dreaming– God dreamed our future into existence, likewise our creative projects all begin with dreaming, meditating and brainstorming.
  • Hovering– The Spirit of God hovered over the chaos before the creation.¬† Our own creative process includes a period of incubation where we wait patiently for our dreams to bear fruit.
  • Risking–God created the heavens and the earth and¬†we must risk creating if our¬†artistic vision¬†is to become reality.
  • Listening–God listened to his creation and heard its voice. We too must listen and hear from the stuff and material we are creating. This step is dialogical. Creator and creation listen to one another through the creative process.
  • Reintegration–God (re)integrated everything with the rest of creation.¬† Our own creating as ‘God’s comissioned artists’ involves are sharing generously our ‘art’ with the world: no strings attached.
  • Resting– As God rested at the end of His creation so we too must end creating and surrender our creation to its fate.

These six waves are repeated twice in the book. The opening chapter in section one presents God’s creation and the “Lost Arts” of creativity. The final chapter, “Make Your Life a Monastery,” presents our human appropriation of the process. Between these two¬† poles, Bronsik reflects on¬†the medium of God’s work, materiality, space, time, working with others, our senses, how work relates to our vision and how we are ‘drawn in’¬† to participating in God’s creation.

I appreciate the richness of the theological reflection that went into this book as Bronsink reflects on the creative process.  He was a student of Anna Carter Florence (preaching), Darrell Guder (Missiology) and Walter Brueggemann (Old Testament). The stamp of each is evident in his theological vision, but he is unique in the manner that he appropriated their insights.

Bronsink is a good companion in the creative process. I liked this book a lot. I have yet to complete the thirty two creative exercises included in the book but they offer a chance to cement the lessons in these pages. I give this book five stars: ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review