Knock, Knock

I’ve always been fascinated with the song “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” for some reason. Come to find out, the chords to this song just sort of keep the music hanging in the air. This may be one of the most important reasons why this song has been revered by so many (more soon). Eric Clapton, Guns N’ Roses, and countless others have covered this song over the years. I happen to prefer the GNR version. Those gun click sounds put you into the scene yourself.

 

Bob Dylan wrote this song in 1973 for the soundtrack of the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. It’s used in the scene where Sheriff Baker is literally dying of gun shot wounds. According to the #1 top rated anonymous interpreter on LyricInterpretations.com, “The song simply deals with the concept of blindfolded thinking and the conflict within oneself when the person’s conscience rises to make him realize the true meaning of his deeds.” Talk about being conflicted by the reality that you’ve used guns your whole life but have just been shot by a gun and will die soon!

[Insert why this song is so memorable] So music is all about building tension and then providing resolve to that tension. This song however never fully resolves. The chords of the verses and chorus are called by musicians an “acceptable resolve.” What that means is that it feels sort of like the tension in the song has been resolved but just barely. It means that the feeling of tension just hangs around. This is completely artistic genius on Bob Dylan’s part. It subconsciously links with the reality that Sheriff Baker currently faces in the song and movie – perhaps relieved that he’ll die soon by now, yet holding onto the tension always there on the back-burner of his mind and now more than ever at the fore of his consciousness – while he’s used guns in his profession, he’s so conflicted by the effects of a gun on his life that he no longer sees ANY use for them now.

Consider also a new reality surfacing in Sheriff Baker’s life: What would life without guns and fighting with criminals look like? I could be facing life now instead of death. How could I have been so blind to think that using guns on gun users would work? Oh, the tension is so real now: I’ve been pointing the gun at myself this entire time.

[Now, here’s what fascinates me even more] On a mountainside long ago, before guns even existed, Jesus taught his disciples to pray when they have tension in their lives, going on in the background or boldly and currently in your face. Furthermore, he teaches them that even when there’s still tension, and perhaps even when God doesn’t answer your prayers or open doors in your life when you knock, knock, knock away, you can trust that God wants nothing but good for you.

Sheriff Baker probably sensed this when he began Knocking on Heaven’s Door, realizing that there’s a reality much bigger than he’s seen up till now.

I preaching on Jesus’ teaching of this Sunday. It comes from the Gospel of Matthew, found in chapter 7, specifically verses 7-11.

Ask, Seek, Knock! This is what Jesus taught his disciples and is still teaching them today. The way he says it though is lost in most Greek-to-English translations of Bibles. Essentially, Jesus is saying here “Go on! ask.” & “Go on! seek.” & “Go on! knock.” Do you read the intensity and encouragement here? It’s as though Jesus is saying, “You’ve got tension in your life right now, I know and God knows and possibly everyone else knows. Go on! and pray about it. God desires to resolve that tension.” (more on the importance of knocking at the end)

Jesus continues to help this sink in. Bread and fish were essentially the Galilean diet to the folks Jesus was teaching to then and even there on that mountainside off the Sea of Galilee. Making the most easily understood comparison, Jesus is saying this: “Your parents growing up knew you needed food, especially when you asked. How much more does God knows what you need now!?”

So, Go on! asking, seeking, knocking.

By the way, there were stones that looked like bread and snakes with scales that looked like fish if you were to prepare it right back then. Jesus is basically saying here: Parents aren’t cruel enough to trick or mock you; they will give you what you really need and not look for an opportunity to make you the butt of their joke. (Sadly, there are some parents and people out there that ARE like this.) They care for and truly love you, and God does even more so. Trust that.”

You may be facing tension in your life with work, kids, broken family relationships, scars still fresh from abuse, and so much more. Here’s what Jesus wants you to know: you can trust God’s goodness in helping you resolve the mess of your life. All you have to do is pray. Oh yeah, and God already knows what you need better than anyone else and even yourself. Aren’t you tired of living with the pain? Pray for God to give you what you need, for God knows what you need like a loving parent.

[What’s up with Knocking?] There’s an expression the Jews have about prayer. They call it “Knocking on the Doors of Mercy.” I’ll take it one further: you can knock on the doors of God’s heart knowing, that like a caring Father, God wants nothing but good for you. In the services I’m preaching in, the response will be for people to come up and literally knock on a door as an expression that they want God to answer their prayers, relieve their life tensions, and give them good gifts.

I’d encourage you to do the same. Find a door in your house and make it your prayer door. Talk with God as you approach it, pray standing there as you knock. May God give to you what you need as you ask, seek, and knock, knock, knock on heaven’s door, hey, hey, hey, hey, yeah (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Until next time, live on!

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You Know Boscoyos

Growing up in southern Louisiana, I’ve always been fascinated with cypress knees, which are a part of the bald cypress tree. The Cajun French call them boscoyos, and the TV show Swamp People once pointed this out. If you’ve never seen boscoyos, here you go:

I took these pictures recently walking in a lake. Yes, you read correctly; I was walking in a lake that has been drained in the Lakewood subdivision of North Little Rock, AR where I live.

Even though many have wondered what boscoyos are for implicitly, botanist Francois André Michaux, in 1819, explicitly said, “No cause can be assigned for their existence.”

Nearly two hundred years later, no one, especially in the field of science, has yet discovered the specific purpose of boscoyos. Some think they help anchor the tree, others propose they slow floodwaters, some that they oxygenate the roots, and finally others that they catch drifting sediment. However, the research proves not one of these, although sediment has been found within the “underwater cave” portion of the cypress knee, as more easily seen below.

Hopefully this is enough background info for you to begin to understand why I wanted to write a poem about boscoyos as well as for you to better understand the term and poem below. Here’s two more puzzle pieces that continue to amaze me: Charles Darwin referred to the origin of boscoyos as an “abominable mystery.” Hurricane strength winds aren’t enough to knock down cypress trees! Ok, last alluring addition: boscoyos are classified in the redwood family. BOOM!

Boscoyos

Here boscoyo
There boscoyo
Why they shoot up
Well, no one knows

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Behind the Anger

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been counseling some couples for their marriage to be that I’ve been thinking about anger and forgiveness. To be more specific, I’ve been pondering what’s going on behind the anger within us and within others.

Anger within us is tricky. Sometimes we know we’re angry, but we don’t know why. It takes time to discover why we’re really mad. I read somewhere once that we get angry because our needs are not being met. In relation to others making us mad, this makes complete sense. However, I’d like to point out that when others make us angry, it’s not always just them.

Sometimes we get angry with others’ behavior or attitudes because we, on the flip side, know that we have done the exact same behavior as them and we’ve had the very same attitudes toward others as they are having toward us. I think that a certain amount of our anger needs to be directed inward, recognizing that we’re also upset with seeing ourselves in others.

Another dynamic of anger is when it relates to people being mad at us. Because anger takes time to understand, I suggest we all step back and ask the question: Where is this anger coming from? Also, who specifically are we or they angry with? I know, I know; it’s not easy to “step back” when we’re in the midst of anger. Fair enough.

But check it, not always is someone’s anger toward us what its all about. What I mean is this: sometimes people are actually mad at someone or something other than us; we just so happen to be the person that catches the brunt of their wrath. This doesn’t make it right, but it can help us know how we can work through anger popping up in a relationship and how to move forward.

  1.  Tweet: The best thing we can do when angry (us or someone else) is to communicate. I guarantee we’ll respond well when someone else cares to find out our side of things or when we ask the other to explain more so that we can better understand them. If anger does legitimately happen when needs aren’t being met, talking about those needs is a great first step.
  2. Tweet: The best counter-action to someone being angry is forgiveness. Recognizing that I’m angry and just blew up on someone is a good thing; what’s even better is being able to forgive myself and learn from the blow up. We as people will get angry; it’s a part of being human. However, when we’re angry, our humanity is determined by whether or not we’re learning from our behavior and attitudes toward others. If it’s the other person that’s mad, we may need to forgive them first (for our own good and growth) in order to begin communicating with them about their anger (for their own good and growth).

There’s so much more I can say on forgiveness, but perhaps I’ll just write another post soon. Forgiveness is a subject and way of life I’m very much into and seek to grow in constantly. I’m still a work in progress, and perhaps so are you, but that’s ok. What thoughts would you add to this discussion on anger and forgiveness?

Until next time, LIVE on!

Thunderstorm Winking

I’ve always enjoyed watching storms roll in. My love for this pastime grew in college, as I had a particular roommate we lovingly referred to as Dirty Steve or Steve Dave that enjoyed sitting together on our porch to smell, hear, sense, and fully take in incoming storms.

Since I currently don’t have an adequate porch on the side of the house that storms blow in on, I recently moved my rocking chair to the front area of our house, which has the perfect windows to observe outside movements. It was then, encountering the storm come in, that I had the idea to write a poem that captures, only in part to be sure, my experiences with thunderstorms.

Below, you will find my poem “Thunderstorm Winking,” but first, acclimate yourself with this GIF in order access deep emotions associated with how you encounter storms moving into your life.

Great shot of a thunderstorm cloud in the sky

Photo by Kathryn

 

“Thunderstorm Winking”

THE catalyst
Of stormy bliss
Comes not in mist
Nor subtle droplets

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Clinch River Blues

Recently, I’ve begun writing poetry. I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but that’s not the point. I used to hate poetry, because I didn’t understand it. All that changed when I had a breakthrough realization this year: Poetry is Music’s Cousin!

I have always loved music. I sang in the choir growing up, I was in a cover band (of sorts) in college that did open mic nights, and I wrote a song once with my very talented classic guitar playing friend, Tony. Music for me is a way to express emotions, life, experiences, and hope. Poetry is very similar.

In January, I went on a sermon planning retreat with two of my closest friends, Matt and Matt. We stayed at a house on the Clinch River in Andersonville, TN. I decided to take a stab at writing my first poem, as I reflected on the reality that both Blues music and being near a river put you in a mood. I wanted to capture those feelings.

Poem Background: The Powell River and Clinch River meet, eventually running into the Tennessee River. The last stanza of the poem points this out. Check out the top right of the picture below to see. Not only does Blues and the nature of rivers “swing,” but the shape (geographically) of the Tennessee River swings baby!

Also, I wrote this last stanza with the classic Blues AAB pattern in mind. Quick Lesson: a lyrical phrase is repeated, then followed up by a response phrase that contrasts or sums up the entire idea. “St. Luis Blues” Example:

I hate to see the eve-nin’ sun go down

I hate to see the eve-nin’ sun go down

It makes me think I’m on my last go-round

I essentially did the same thing for my poem. Even though the 3rd line is a repeat to the 1st and 2nd, it is a response in idea: Clinch is meeting Powell, Powell is seeing Clinch, then the entire Tennessee River (including Clinch and Powell as drain off rivers of the Tennessee River) swings. I hope this makes sense. Please let me know what you think of my 1st poem.

Clinch River Blues

River like the Blues

Puts me in a mood

Feeling that good ole’ ancient groove

Slow goes the small swirls

Faint twists, surface twirls

All roll down mighty fine like pearls

Roll left, now swing right

Thump bass, drums in flight

Steady guitar all through the night

Keep on rolling River Clinch; get to your meetin’

Keep on rolling River Powell; what’s that you seein’

Keep on rolling Tennessee; you’ve got me swingin’

Za bop a do zay way de bop, yeah…

 

Who Knew?

I’m currently visiting a big city other than Little Rock.  And, once again I’m fascinated by the people I have encountered in one day.  There really is no way of telling what is going on in someone else’s life… until you get to talking with them.

After I got 5 hours worth of work done, since I AM on a sermon planning retreat, I decided to vacate the trendy new coffee shop to search for some grub (4 hours after the normal lunch hour; can you tell I lost track of time!?).  First off, parking was a waking nightmare: 1-ways, traffic, & only paid parking.  Nevertheless, I had arrived.  As soon as I paid the meter, a gentleman walked up to me and asked if he could ask me a question.

Enter Person #1  Leonce informed me that he had a form of autism and needed help getting something to eat.  I said sure, and after deciding where we could go that’s close, we were off walking downtown.  I started asking him questions just to get to know him.  He seemed to constantly think of a bad situation that happened in his life and especially his wife’s life: she was raped and Leonce got a restraining order on the person that committed this horrible hurt and crime.

I started to pray for him and his wife.  I don’t know if Leonce spends most of his days asking people for help.  To me, it doesn’t matter.  What I know is that life for him is MUCH different than it is for me.  I was intrigued by a comment he made in the course of our conversation: “I’m not on drugs or anything.”  I find it interesting that he felt compelled to prove the legitimacy of his needing my help, however I think that’s probably more of a reflection on other people not seeing this person as someone not worth stopping to notice or helping out.

After I bought him a soda, some chips, and a pack of smokes, I wished him well, praying inside of me that God would heal him and his wife and continue to provide them with people who can care for them as they need and where they’re at in life.  My heart was filled with awe at how God had blessed me in order to bless Leonce’s life if only for a few minutes of his day.  Much later as I was walking to my car to leave downtown, I saw Leonce walking again.  I prayed for him again and thought, what DOES a day in his life look like?

Down the Street; Bar & Grill — Bite to Eat; Beer to Share — See People; More Aware

Enter Person #2 Tim was at the bar way before I was.  I think he may have been looking for someone to just talk with.  It could be though that I have a welcome sign with people saying, “I’ll listen!”  Another person I here encountered who lives life differently than me.  Tim had been divorced years back, moved from Wisconsin, and now owns his own window cleaning business.  Aside from work typically going from April to November, Tim became displaced from his home.

His ranch style home, cut in 2 for the other tenant of the 7 home street complex, had had pipes burst.  Thankfully none of his possessions were damaged, but he has to stay at a hotel all week for the work to be complete.  New pipes, water heater even, and carpet, all scheduled to be done by Friday.  Instead of sitting at the hotel, staring at the walls, Tim decided to enjoy the bar.  He told me some great stories about washing windows and customers he’s worked for.

Tim suspects that one recurring customer likes him, but he’s not wanting to ruin his business with this woman as well as the people she’s referring him to.  I think deep down Tim is looking for FRIENDS and perhaps even someone to LOVE him just for who he is.  After I tried the stout brew that he suggested, I paid my tab and skedaddled.  I told him I hope his place gets finished by Friday and that he gets the job he received a phone call for as we were talking.  I prayed for him to have friends and possibly more.  I was again heart-filled with God’s love for a stranger and grateful, truly, to be Tim’s friend for a few rounds at the bar.  What DOES life look like when you’re displaced and divorced?  I think I’m learning some.  He said he was going to go to the bar across the street afterwards since they have a lot of beers on tap.  I wonder if he was really inviting me to join him or if he has replaced friendship for good tasting beer.  I don’t know.

Enter Person #3 Clyde caught my eye from a bench as I strolled through the downtown of shops and eateries.  He had no problem saying he was homeless and that every little bit counts.  After I gave him a few bucks, I talked with him some, asking him how he came to be homeless.  He said he used to work at Dollywood till 1989, then did roofing work.  He feel and messed up his L-4 in his lower back.  He showed me how it twists from time to time, using his knuckles as a visual aid, and mentioned how his left leg will give out when that happens.  He told me the trick to straightening out his leg instead of just falling down.

As I talked more with him, I couldn’t help but to have compassion for him.  What DOES life after a serious back injury look like?  It was through my new acquaintance that I realized a life that is worth living, a life that is honest, a life that welcomes another stranger to experience their own life, the others’ life, and for a brief moment, to live our lives together.

There’s so much meaning that could be drawn from these encounters, for sure.  There’s also a lot of questioning that these encounters could lead to as well.  “You gave him money?”  “You bought him smokes?!”  “You drank with an alcoholic!?”

Here’s what I do know:

  • God has blessed me to bless others.
  • I was given the opportunity to met 3 amazing strangers today!
  • If I didn’t experience the Kingdom of God today, I don’t know that I’d believe you saying otherwise.

Leonce has an amazing smile; Tim’s fun to laugh with; Clyde feels like family.

Life Come to Life

It’s often said that in order for us to have empathy for our fellow human, we need to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  Well, I did this and more recently, and found someone else’s life come to life for me.

shepherds-field

I took this picture recently as I traveled throughout Israel.  The place is called the Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem.  It is understood that this is where King David used to feed his father’s flock when he was growing up.

There’s a fascinating limestone cave further back from where I took the picture where it is believed the shepherds that the angel visited in Luke 2 hung out as they kept “watch over their flock by night.”  The ceiling of the cave was black from fires they would build inside to keep warm.  I faintly had a thought of Bigfoot presence in Israel, since limestone caves litter the land.  Nevertheless, there’s not adequate tree cover or food sources to accommodate Skookum, and I’m getting sidetracked here.

Ok.  David.  King David.  King of Israel.  His shoes are whose I placed myself in and was amazed.  Although, I think he may have worn sandals…  You get the point.  As I stood there looking down at the valley lush with grass for sheep to feed on and gazed upward toward the hills, I was amazed by the overall scene and couldn’t help but to attempt to see the world as David may have seen it when he stood there too.

Then I got to thinking about his life.  From shepherd boy, to wandering warrior, to King of Israel perched upon Mt. Zion in the King’s City, Jerusalem, David saw the vast landscape of the country as I got to see as well.  I trounced through valleys, hills, cliffs, and mountains, viewing sites that held history of battles, encounters with the living God, and day-to-day actual life of peoples who lived thousands of years before little ole’ me.

Next, my mind journeyed back to a Psalm I read as I waited in the airport in Dallas, Texas to come to Israel.  Baylor University puts out publication every month or so that  I’m subscribed to called Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics.  I read their most recent one in the airport entitled “Traveling Well.”  In it, I learned that there are Psalms called Pilgrim Songs, of which Psalm 121 stood out to me then and again as I stood in David’s sandals on the Shepherd’s Field.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills-

from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2

Although David may not have written this Psalm, and it is called a soldier’s psalm by some and a traveller’s psalm by others, I was transformed by the thought that this Psalm speaks of a reality, an experience, that may have consumed the consciousness of the Israelite people who lived in this land for centuries upon centuries.  Psalm 121:1 became a customary song to sing as pilgrims viewed the mountains of the holy city, Jerusalem, during the last night watch as they approached God’s temple to worship and make an offering.

But David.  David’s mind is where my mind was at that time and space I found myself in.  David must have looked to the hills as “a lion or a bear” (1 Samuel 17) came to devour a lamb from his flock when he was a boy, yet God saved him from their paws.  David saw hills upon hills as he spent his life fighting and driving out other peoples to possess the land that God was giving to Israel as an inheritance, yet God was his prized possession.  Lastly, David peered from Jerusalem the vast landscape of hills and mountains, which God allowed him to see and to serve as a burned image upon his heart, mind, and psyche that grew into an ever deepening trust in God’s work in and through David’s life, and not in David’s own accomplishments.

Being back in the “States,” I now wonder what can serve as a marker for God’s presence in my life.  Sadly, I thought perhaps “I lift my eyes up from my computer screen or electronic device…”  Notwithstanding, I have been transformed by allowing David’s life come to life for me.  I am encouraged to open my eyes to what God has done, is doing, and will do in my life as I live on the earth that God made as well as the heaven that is breaking into the earth as God’s reign is recognized and submitted to by me.

What about you?  What marker would you name as the thing that represents God’s presence and power to save or help you?  Are your eyes open to what God desires to show you of what He has created and is making new for your life and the life of others?  May our help come from the Lord as we acknowledge together we need help that is beyond our immediate local context and beyond ourselves.

Until next time, LIVE ON!