Spaghetti Reading (part 1)

I have a couple of tendencies the seem to keep me from reading a book in a reasonable amount of time. I love reading because of what I get out of it. Unfortunately, however, because of various circumstances I tend to have at least two or three books going at a time. These are in addition to a daily devotional book and almost daily bible reading that I do. My point is that progress with any one text, with the exception of the daily devotional, is always less than steady and seldom more than slow. That being said, I did actually finish a book today. So, I felt this would be a good time to document some of the most worthwhile reading that I’ve done lately.

Over the past few years I’ve read four different books by Brennan Manning. These are in addition to Devotions For Ragamuffins which I read on a daily basis. I learned about Manning after finding a reference to him on the Myspace page of former dc Talk member Kevin Max. After reading a bit about the background of Manning on his Myspace page I decided to give him a shot and checked The Ragamuffin Gospel out of the local library. The book was the first tremor in the landslide of change that has churned inside of me over the past few years. I went on to read Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, The Importance of Being Foolish, and I recently started The Wisdom Of Tenderness. Now in his 70’s, Manning’s personal, humble portrayal of his own alcoholism and life lessons immediately appealed to me, a skilled sinner, much more than any suit behind a pulpit. Manning masterfully blends down-to-earth honesty with humility in an effort to communicate the truth about God’s grace. Grace was just an overused religious buzz word to me until I read the writing of Brennan Manning. Through Manning’s writing and speaking (I attended a retreat where he spoke in Savannah, GA in February 2007) I’ve learned to accept God’s love for me by realizing that it is not dependent upon me. All men have sinned and fallen short and nobody has any hope for salvation, but, by the grace of God. We can not earn it and nobody can take it from us if we confess our faults and realize our need for him and accept that His grace is sufficient. Of course, salvation and grace don’t carry much weight with somebody if they think that they’re doing fine on their own. But, because I knew and still know that I am a flaw-laden man, I’ve been able to realize the magnificent gift that is His unconditional love.

My interest in Brennan Manning led me to a Christian bookstore one morning where I asked if they had any of his books. While they didn’t have any, the salesperson showed me a book with the foreword written by Manning: Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing To Heaven – His Life And Legacy by James Bryan Smith.

I owned one Rich Mullins CD when I was in high school. A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band was an odd CD for me to own because most of the others in my collection had a much more adolescent spin. Mullins, on the other hand, represented a more mature, sophisticated, and less flashy Christianity compared to other Christian music that I listened to at the time (e.g., Michael W. Smith, DC Talk, Newsboys). The music that he and his Ragamuffin Band presented on that album had a unique, and beautifully folk aesthetic quality to it that was juxtaposed brilliantly with his profound, yet down to earth, lyrics. The Manning-Mullins connection exists because of the manner in which Manning’s message of grace touched Rich Mullins. A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band (the term Ragamuffin is drawn directly from Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. Songs like “Hold Me Jesus” convey a real and honest humility from the perspective of someone who truly understood our role in relation to God, our Abba.

Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing To Heaven – His Life And Legacy provided a sketch of the life of Rich Mullins sprinkled with insights, thoughts, and commentaries excerpted from interviews with Mullins and articles that Mullins wrote while he was alive (he passed away in a car accident in 1997). The life of Rich Mullins and the manner that he chose to live his daily life made his life such an interesting and inspiring story that a Rich Mullins biography can’t help but to be a worthwhile read. But what is most memorable to me are not the many accounts of things that happened in his daily life, but, how he interpreted such events and how he reacted to them. The life of Rich Mullins is a story of a dirt-in-the-fingernails life led by someone who sincerely sought God and turned his back on the glory and acclaim that was available to him as one of Christian music’s most influential and talented artists.

“Hold Me Jesus” by Rich Mullins

Spaghetti Reading To Be Featured Soon:

The Beautiful Mess, by Rick McKinley

Unfinished Work, by Kevin Max

Save Me From Myself, by Brian “Head” Welch

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

Life Defined

My daughter said this evening, while I pretended to be a genie granting her three wishes, that she wished God would make her an angel. My reaction was that I’m not sure how God would do that, but, that it sounded nice…or something like that.

Later, while mopping the kitchen floor in anticipation of her fifth birthday party tomorrow, it hit me: the common explanation for how people become angels. That thought quickly transitioned into a sudden awareness of how fragile we all are as humans. The chain-reaction momentum quickly picked up as shivers of panic started to infiltrate my psyche and, for a moment, I pondered to the thought of losing her, like so many other parents, due to diverse and unfortunate circumstances.

It is moments like these that I realize how fortunate I am to have my wife and my children and that I become aware, more than ever, of the real and undeniable dynamic that exists between life and death: love. It is the foundation on which life is built. Denying love in the interest of self is denying life in the interest of death.

Tomorrow morning when she wakes up, we will cuddle in the big chair in the living room as usual. I will hold her close, wish her a happy birthday, and tell her that I love her.

Lunatic Religion

Between the fact that I’m online a fair amount of time each day and the fact that I am a fifth grade teacher who has to do a lot of paperwork and planning, I spend a lot of time inside facing a computer. Doing so gives me the opportunity to see a lot of different images. Often, I come across a photo with a natural subject and find myself somewhat impressed by its beauty, regardless of the fact that I’m viewing a pixelated version of the real thing on a digital screen.

Fortunately, however, there are also times that I do get to be outside. It may be standing outside during car-rider duty viewing the rural scenery near the school where I work or accompanying students on the school nature trail to collect check for footprints at one of our tracking stations. Likewise, the necessities of lawn mowing and exercise also afford me opportunities to be outdoors.

Surely, not all of my moments outside are spent in rapt awe of the natural beauty that exists in nature, but, when comparing the beauty that I take in through a photo on a computer screen to an actual tree branch swaying in the wind on a breezy afternoon, there is no comparison. I am utterly convinced that no form or model devised by mankind will ever be able to fully replicate the beauty and splendor of witnessing, in person, the real, ecological and geological evidence of God in the natural world around us.

The same comparison, I believe, can be drawn between our life experiences as humans on earth and the hope that we have in life everafter. As an elementary science teacher with a very basic understanding of the scientifically-minded portholes through which we attempt to understand God’s creation, I honestly believe that the most advanced scientific theories only begin to scratch the surface of what is true about how this world came to be. No human mental construct will ever be able to fully comprehend or understand the magnitude of God. I’m not throwing out evolution or creation, but, conceding that it is an open-ended question that we may not fully understand until we are taught the truth by the one responsible for it all. If God did post all of the details of creation in Genesis, the earth itself wouldn’t be able to support the weight of the book.

Parallels, here too, can be drawn to our limited understanding of the dynamics that exist with regard to life, death, purpose, hope, and peace. From a logical and common cultural perspective, the idea that our whole justification comes from a God who became a helpless and homeless infant who would some day be executed, to the idea that, despite our vile selfishness as a species, we can live endlessly with that God, true Christianity is ludicrous! The creator of all life bent down and washed the feet of his followers, as a servant would, and instructed them then to do the same for each other. He actually wants us to kneel down in humble servitude and believe the promise that, if we accept His grace, we can live forever with him. From the perspective of your typical, independent, hard-working, pioneering American, this concept is absolutle lunacy!

As the late singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once said, “If you want a religion that makes sense, I suggest something other than Cristianity. But, if you want a religion that makes life, then, I think this is the one.”

My life doesn’t have definition and purpose because somebody was able to logically speculate the legitimacy of a scientific theory explaining how the earth came to be. My being, instead, has been infused with a faith in what I don’t and can’t fully comprehend. It is a faith that provides peace beyond understanding. My hope lies wrapped in a glorious life that even my imagination is too limited to contain.


“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

Eyes Have Not Seen

Are there mysteries we should know?
can I find them in a book?
will science give us answers
to the questions we make up?

Oh, Lord have mercy on my soul,
my way this faithless sight,
how my mind bends for your law
in a world of constant plight.

If we could but see it all
past these tangible things,
if we could but touch the open space
to see the horde of silent wings

And in the darkness hear a song
a song of ancient ages
and catch a glimpse of He who sat
in the middle of the angels.

Eyes have not seen,
nor ears have heard.

by Kevin Max
from AT THE FOOT OF HEAVEN, 1994

Don’t Go To Church To Find God

God is not found in a church. The great I AM is too big for a building, a bureaucratic hierarchy, or a denominational stance.

Audible words are not necessary. God knows your heart whether you know it or not. Stop trying to look at others to find God.

We will never be satisfied if we hope to find meaning in a building. We will never find peace like a river by watching the walk of another person.

Instead, find it in your soul right now by taking off your masks and asking God for it. Grab the grace. It is unearned. It is free. It is available. Live in peace.

[originally posted in this blog in March 2007]