Absolutely Positively Definitely Maybe

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“That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (Romans 8:18-21, The Message).

Such a great moment in the movie. I’ve actually owned Definitely, Maybe for a while and just now got around to watching it (one of the few perks of being without a job).

I love that line because it reminds me so much of God and the Story He is writing. And I do so love stories, especially when they’re well-told and have happy endings.

I know that ultimately God’s Story is about God, as it should be, but one of the very happy side effects is you and me finding redemption and freedom and abundant life. Because of God’s Story, you and I have a Story that we get to share. Because of God’s Story, we know that our Story will always have a happy ending because God has written it already. I read the last page of the book and I know that it’s good.

It’s hard to remember that when the Story seems headed for tragedy or when the current chapter seems like it will never end and circumstances will never change or get better. It’s hard to see that happy ending when you’re wondering how you’ll pay the bills or make your struggling marriage work or find that job that makes you come alive.

As I’ve learned in reading books, you don’t put down the book when the characters run into hard times. You keep going with the hope that those struggles will lead to something better. As Corrie Ten Boom says, you don’t jump off the train when it goes through a dark tunnel. You trust the Engineer to get you through.

I don’t want to be that guy who says things like, “Hold on, it will get better” or “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” When you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or discouragement, bumper sticker quotes don’t really do the trick.

You need to know that God is still faithful to His promises. You need to know that the same Jesus who conquered death and the grave can conquer your circumstances. You need to know that He will finish what He started in you because He said He would.

That’s a happy ending.

 

The Silver Chair

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So now I’m reading The Silver Chair. That means I only have one more Narnia book after this. Also, I believe there will be a movie hitting theaters in the next year or two based on this book (although I’m a bit skeptical as to how faithful the filmmakers will be to the original source material).

I do love this book.

I love how Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole escape from their dreary clouded school day into bright and sunny Narnia. Well, technically they start out in Aslan’s country, but it’s in the same world.

I also love that ol’ Puddleglum, the Marsh-wiggle. He’s the pessimist of all pessimists, but he’s the one who keeps the other two grounded and who comes through grandly in the climactic scene (which I won’t divulge for those who haven’t read these books yet).

I especially love how the book’s theme is that you can make a royal mess at the start– to the point that it seems like you’ll never get back on track– and still at the end find a way to succeed. After all, it’s not how you start that matters, but how you finish.

More accurately in my experience, it’s not how many times you’ve screwed up or how big a fiasco you’ve made of your life up to this point, but how God can transform even that into good. Or better yet into something marvelous.

It’s funny how the evil scheme was to get one of the main characters, who had been bewitched, to steal what was already rightfully his. It’s funnier still how Satan did the same to Jesus, offering Him the world if He would only worship the prince of lies. Jesus knew that the world and everything in it was already His. Furthermore, He knew that all this world was not Satan’s to give in the first place.

Temptation is often the devil trying to get us to go after something good, but in the wrong way at the wrong time, like having premarital sex or having an affair instead of enjoying intimacy with the one God made especially for you. He offers what is not really his to give and what God alone can truly give, but often in a way that is different and much better than we would have chosen.

So I give the book 5 stars. Out of 5.

PS There is a BBC film version that is quite faithful to the book but looks as though it had a special effects budget of about $8. It’s good in a campy sort of way.

Revisiting My Own Past

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Recently, I discovered an old favorite band of mine that I hadn’t thought about in a while. You’ve most likely never heard of the band, since they were a late 70’s jazz fusion band. You most likely have heard of their drummer, an English chap who goes by the name of Phil Collins.

Anyway, back in the day I owned a cassette compilation of some of their most well-known compositions. I’m fairly certain I picked it up in the discount section at either The Sound Shop or Camelot Music in the Hickory Ridge Mall, probably just before heading to the food court for some pizza from Sbarro’s.

A few weeks back at McKay’s Used Books (and everything else you can think of), I had enough trade credit for four of their CDs among some of my other noteworthy finds.

It’s interesting how much more I appreciate their ridiculous musicianship than I did way back when. Of course, back then I really dug groups like Wham! and Club Nouveau. Don’t hold that against me. My musical tastes have definitely matured a lot since those days.

Also, I’ve been reminiscing about a great series of books I used to read as a wee younger lad. I believe they were called Choose Your Own Adventure. In them, you would read for a few pages before being presented with a list of choices, a la if you enter the dark and scary hallway, turn to page 94, but if you elect to stay in the kitchen and make yourself a PB&J, turn to page 108. I loved those books.

So my next quest is to find at least one of those books. I’m checking out the usual places– the library castoff section, Goodwill, McKay’s, and amazon.com, but so far no luck.

So far, I’m batting .500, which for me is a win.

 

 

 

All is Grace

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“This book is by the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not . . . the dim-eyed who showed the path to others but kept losing his way . . . the disciple whose cheese slid off his cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese ‘n’ crackers’ . . .”

But, this book is for the gentle ones . . . who’ve been mourning most of their lives, yet they hang on to shall be comforted . . . the younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again . . . because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself . . . [and] dare to whisper the ragamuffin’s rumor—all is grace. (All is Grace, 27)

Have you ever had a book that you’ve been wanting and waiting to read for a long time? I’m finally getting around to reading a book like that. It’s called All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, my blog derives its name from a Brennan Manning book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, for which he is most famous. But I can vouch for all his other books, which are equally grace-drenched and read-worthy.

All is grace. I love that idea. Everything that’s ever happened to me– the good, the bad, the ugly– is all grace because it has either reaffirmed what I knew about the goodness of God or driven me into a deeper dependence on that same God who works all things together for good. Because of that grace, nothing is ever lost or wasted or useless or in vain. Absolutely nothing.

I believe now that the life of faith works in reverse from the ordinary life. As babies, we’re born totally dependent on others and grow more and more into an independence of being able to stand on our own two feet. In the spiritual life, we start out as independent strangers from God and grow into a complete and total dependence on God.

As of this writing, I’m on page 100. I’ll probably be posting more about this book as I get farther into it, so remember you have been warned.

 

When Helping Hurts: My Take So Far

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My church life group recently started a new study on the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. So far, I give it two enthusiastic thumbs way up.

The premise of the book is that poverty around the world can be traced back to four broken relationships: relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. The book then goes on to say that where most people go wrong is to treat poverty solely as a lack of resources with the solution being to give money, food, etc., and treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying ailment.

One of the most convicting parts for me was reading about how in this American middle-class mentality there is an almost subliminal “health and wealth gospel” belief that God rewards faith with prosperity, therefore these people are poor because they are sinful, much like the disciples questioning Jesus about the man born blind and how it must have been either him or his parents who sinned for him to be like that.

There is a sense sometimes where Americans have an implicit “god-complex” about serving the poor, as if I am condescending to serve the poor out of my benevolence from my lofty spiritual position, like the Pharisee who praised God that he was not like those other sinners. Sometimes, I personally need to be more like the tax collector who acknowledged his own sin and deep need for God.

The reality is that both those in need and those in position to meet that need are equally broken, just in different ways. One may have a better coping mechanisms for hiding his brokenness than the other, but they are both equally flawed and both need Jesus.

For me, the biggest revelation is that poverty brings about a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and the solution is to help people see their innate worth as those created, redeemed and loved by God as those who with God’s help don’t have to remain trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

I suppose at the end of the day, we are all poor in one sense or another. Jesus says that it is blessed to be poor in spirit, realizing that we have nothing in ourselves to offer God but ourselves, for to those belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.

Trust me. The book words all this far better than I have. I recommend it to anyone who has a heart for the poor or the least of these.

PS Here’s a link if you want to buy the book. The cover is different than mine, but the content is the same. I’d go so far as to say this is a must-read for any individuals or organizations who want to work toward alleviating poverty in the most effective manner.

http://www.amazon.com/When-Helping-Hurts-Alleviate-Yourself/dp/0802409989/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1424978877&sr=1-1&keywords=when+helping+hurts

 

Your January Report from Yours Truly (Borrowed from TCM)

I always love when they have the monthly updates from TCM about new DVD releases, as well as biographies about the classic movie stars and information about upcoming classic movie festivals.

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so here’s my own January report:

I recently read a fantastic book by Mark Batterson (In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,  Wild Goose Chase, The Circle Maker) called The Grave Robber. It looks seven miracles of Jesus from the Gospel of John from the viewpoint that the God who did those miracles back then is the same God who is just as capable of producing miracles in this day and age. It definitely came at a time when I needed a spark of renewal and revitalization in my own faith, so I give it two thumbs way up.

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Also, I’ve been listening to some old Bob Dylan. By that I mean his first eight studio albums, remastered and released in mono. I love the way he has with words, even if I don’t always understand completely what he’s singing about. Plus, I’m sure my two uncles are smiling down from heaven at this musical selection.

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In keeping with the 60’s theme, I went to the library and checked out an old movie adapted from a Neil Simon play, Barefoot in the Park. It features Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, both looking radiant and very young in this film. It’s a comedy that manages to be funny and intelligently witty at the same time, a rare feat for Hollywood.

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I think that wraps up my report for January. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep you updated on my latest book, movie, and music finds that will probably not be new (or possibly even new to you) but they will be new to me.

So until next time, watch TCM and keep me posted on what you are reading, listening to, and watching these days.

 

 

 

Revisiting the Shire

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I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings. I’ve actually lost count of how many times I’ve read this book (side note: there are not three books, but one book in three parts).

It’s like going back to a familiar vacation spot. I get to revisit places like Bag End, where Bilbo Baggins lives, and The Shire. I can go back to the Prancing Pony or even climb Weathertop again. I wish there really was a Rivendell or Lothlorien to visit for an extended period of time.

If you don’t know what any of these places are, I recommend reading Lord of the Rings. Start with The Hobbit. If you’re feeling really brave, pick up The Silmarillion.

I have so many books on my to-read list that I’ll have to live to be 200 to get them all read. And I keep adding more books to that list. I read one and buy three, which even according to my own math skills doesn’t add up. So why do I keep reading the same books over and over?

Because some are just that good. I get my Narnia fix and go back to Middle Earth to check out those wacky hobbits because those books stir up feelings and desires in me that make me want to be a better person.

Plus, every time I read them, I pick up something new that I’ve missed before. Plus, I get the thrill of anticipating what I know is about to happen next.

They do make pills for this.

If you re-read certain books every year, I’d like to know. It would be nice knowing I’m not the only one who does this.

Plus, I can add even MORE books to my to-read list. Yay.

PS I’ve seen the movies and it helps me visualize the characters and places in the book. Just thought I’d thrown that one in for free.

I like the movies, but I much prefer the books. You can’t really do justice to this book unless you make ridiculously long movies that almost no one would go see. Plus, who would they get to play the part of Tom Bombadil?

Choices

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“It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices” (Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).

Yes, I know. I just quote from a Harry Potter movie. Egads.

I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies and I liked every one of them. I especially liked the magic as metaphor theme. I think that these books aren’t really about magic as much as they are about growing up, discovering who you are, and learning what truly matters. But that is a topic for another blog on another day.

I do think that it’s not our abilities but what we do with them that ultimately matters in the end. I’ve seen people with loads of natural ability bested by people not nearly as talented but far more determined. Especially in the arena of sports.

One of the most famous choices is the one Joshua made early in the history of the nation of Israel. He basically said that while the others were free to worship whatever gods they wanted that he and his family would choose to serve Yahweh and Yahweh alone. No other.

That same choice is offered to me. Daily. And daily I must choose whether I will serve Jesus or something else, which usually ends up being my own selfish desires. Sometimes I actually choose right, but more often than I’d like I choose wrong. I choose me.

Also, I think we choose whether or not we’ll give up on those who let us down or give them second chances. We choose who we let into our inner struggles and who we shut out. We choose role-playing versus authenticity and honesty.

But ultimately, it’s about who to serve. As the famous theologian Bob Dylan said, you gotta serve somebody. So who will you choose?

Friends, Frothy Monkey, and Franklin

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A lady I work with remarked that the only good cats were dead ones. Obviously, she’s not a fan of cats. Lord, forgive them for they know not what they’re missin’.

I had another great night in downtown Franklin. I had a spectacular roast beef and provolone sandwich at my very favorite place to eat on Earth, which as you should know by now is McCreary’s Irish Pub. Seeing as I chose to eat at the optimal senior citizen dining time of 4:30 pm, I got prime seating on the patio on a picturesque Autumn afternoon.

Later, I ran into one of my favorite friends who always makes my heart happy when I see her and never fails to encourage me and make me smile. She and her dad were headed over to Sweet CeCe’s for some fro-yo (that is frozen yogurt for the novices out there). I recommended the pumpkin pie flavor, which is exceedingly delightful.

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I had a sweet potato pie latte at Frothy Monkey and sat on the patio while I sipped my little cup of heaven and reveled in just how very blessed I am. If I counted all my blessings, I’d easily surpass the 1,500 I came up with in my Things I Love series. I’d lose count before I ran out of blessings.

I got treated to an organ concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Well, it was more like the organ dude practicing and me showing up at the right time. I prayed a bit, sat still and silent for a bit, and just tried to be in the moment. A girl sat directly across from me, deep in prayer. I still don’t know who she was or what burdens she carried, but I did my best to intercede for her and agree with her in prayer for whatever she was asking from God. It felt like genuine New Testament Church.

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I had ol’ Hank Williams (Sr., not Jr.) providing the soundtrack to my ride home. With the windows down and the volume cranked up. It was magical.

Now I’m sitting here typing this on my iPad while my cat reposes in my lap. To many people’s great and lasting disappointment, she’s not dead. Only very sleepy. Probably dreaming of tuna again.