Light on Board

Last Christmas In Chicago my wife and I chanced upon something luminous. A sign above a ramp in Grant Park said, “Free art this way.” Walking up we found ourselves on the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago in the presence of a singular art piece called “Lunar” by Spencer Finch. A fit of curiosity overcame me, then a smile, and luminosity abounded.

 

As an artist Finch follows light as a primary subject.  The science behind his work is pretty cool: check it out here. But it was his simple vision that thrilled me: build a vessel to ascend to the moon, capture moonlight, and return it to Earth for us to see and maybe even see by.  Check it out—light on board.  Awesome!  Even cooler when it’s dark.

Being a student of the Bible and connoisseur of fine-food in Chicago, that afternoon over lunch my “Lunar” encounter brought to mind the Gospels in the Christian New Testament, which I believe call to memory and perception the original small step for a man and giant leap for humankind.  The moon doesn’t actually shine, right?  It merely reflects the light of the Sun.  And can you actually capture light?  Is that possible?  Isn’t all light fresh light?  Like that, a Gospel is not God; a gospel is a vessel trying to capture the light of God and return it to Earth for us to see, and maybe see by, especially when it’s dark.  Check out the Gospels—light on board. Awesome!

The Gospel says God sent light into the world and the darkness did not overcome it, that Jesus is the light of the world and even at this great distance when we look at Jesus we see God shining forth, luminous and radiant. Because of Easter Christ’s light is always fresh; and that’s good news right now, especially at times like this when the moon is down and night seems long and very dark.

I’ll leave you with a favorite Celtic Christian prayer.

 

O Christ you are a bright flame before me

You are a guiding star above me

You are the light and love

I see in others’ eyes

Keep me O Christ

In a love that is tender

Keep me O Christ

In a love that is true

Keep me O Christ

In a love that is strong

Tonight, tomorrow and always

 

Blessings to you, that you may walk in light.

david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin.  for more about faith church, go here.

God Speaks on Cap Metro

Monday morning, not so comfortable in the middle seat at the very back of a #3 bus on my way to work in South Austin, iPod in my ears listening to a Pray-As-You-Go podcast, one of my favorite daily prayer practices.

I wasn’t really quite awake when I got on, so I just kind of sat there, staring ahead, bouncing along, partly seeing, partly listening.  But then the podcast scripture reading began, this day from the New Testament letter of James.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.  (James 1.22-25 from The Message)

As those words registered I slowly began to see, waking up to the divinity of just what is this present moment.  The whole human race riding on the bus with me: the stooped elderly housemaid on her way to work… the banker heading downtown in a lovely new suit… maybe 20 college students off to U.T. and A.C.C…. an exhausted and not quite sober man slumped against a window… the elderly gentleman who gave up his seat for an expectant mother standing in the aisle.  Also on that jam-packed morning bus were the two men, one my age, one in his 20’s, both sitting on their respective inside seats, defying anyone to try and take the seat next to them by the window.  Far up front I could hear the garbled ranting of a woman loudly cursing someone on a cell phone.  We were all there, the human family in all our goodness and all our suffering, self-inflicted, other-inflicted, hearts longing “stop requested.”

That scripture really pulled my chain.  I’ve heard the Biblical words about loving your neighbor all my life.  I bet most everyone on that bus had heard it, too.  And yet, how often does it go right out the other ear?  I think I’m a Christian.  I want to love my neighbor.  But two minutes later I’ve forgotten who I am.  O, to catch the revealed counsel of God.  O, to find delight and affirmation in acting on those three weighty words—love your neighbor.

I like to say, because I think it’s true, faith is verb.  Love your neighbor sometimes must mean more than thinking kind thoughts about them.  I also know loving my neighbor is hard, especially when the bus is crowded and hot and some of my fellow passengers haven’t bathed in awhile, when the seat is hard and the trip is long, when that annoying man would rather someone stand lurching and clinging for balance than share his bench, and especially, dear God, when people are shouting into a cell phone cursing someone for being inconsiderate and un-loving.

We’re all on the same big bus and loving each other is hard, don’t you think?  All I know to do is look in the mirror and pray to God, a God who loves me just as I am, who knows it’s hard, who knows I fall short, but still wants me to grow in grace and love toward everybody on the bus.  How about you?  What helps you to love?

A fellow passenger and friend on bus #3,

david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin

for more about faith church, click here.

Blues Lotus Gospel

The Blues. What do you think of?  Sadness. Depression. That great river of sound flowing up from the Mississippi Delta to Memphis to Chicago, on and on.  I have a great love for blues music; but some friends mock me a little on that—”oh, the blues, you mean like: I’m tore down… lost my job… going down slow… born under a bad sign… hellhound on my trail… the thrill is gone… my baby left me… nobody loves me… high water everywhere… dark was the night, cold was the ground… cry, cry, cry.”  Two things.  First, those reflect real human experiences. Most people feel these things; too many of us experience them. I’ve known the blues; you?   Second, blues music at its root expresses real blue feelings; but it wasn’t meant to leave us there. Ultimately, the blues lifts us out of the muck and mire of life. As the spiritual masters say, we must descend in order to ascend. That’s why I sing the blues.

It’s like the lotus flower (Nymphaea caerulea). Rooted in mud at the bottom of a pond or swamp, the lotus rises up out of the mud and the muck, spreading its leaves on the surface of the water, it’s bloom emerging above it all, pristine, beautiful.  It’s no wonder the Buddha is often depicted seated on a lotus. To paraphrase the Buddha, we all experience blues; and we can all find a breath greater than the muck and mire of life.

In the Judeo-Christian songbook we hear the blues in the Psalms.  Most of the songs-poems-prayers in the Book of Psalms are “laments.”  Blues songs if ever there was. Human pain, suffering, struggle, hard times, bad luck, injustice–it’s all there. Their honesty is striking. And, if we listen, we hear the turning point as well, the faith that God hears our cries, knows our needs, and comes to raise us up.  Read Jonah 2 for a class example.

And, who had more reason to sing the blues than Jesus of Nazareth. He took all the brokenness of the human world upon himself.  He descended in order to ascend.  He died and rose again. Good Friday, the brutal death of Jesus, is the New Testament’s most powerful blues expression; but God does not leave him or us there. Easter is God’s answer.  I could name a thousand songs that express the rising, the gospel (Good News) God offers to all who know the blues.  For one gospel taste listen to Patty Griffin’s recording of “Move Up.”  Move on up, above and beyond the muck and the mire of life.  This is my prayer for you.

Just another bluesman on the banks of the river,

David Gilliam

Pastor, Faith United Methodist Church, Austin

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