A Holy Discontent

Contentment.

I look for her among the ruins of this fading city, but she is not there. In the dreams of days to come and the memories of times past; but in those old books she will not be found. In the childhood fairytales I weave from my imagination – fairytales of love, and prosperity, and happily-ever-after – but there she eludes me.

Surely she is our goal, step by step up this mountain, the pinnacle for our existence and striving, to dwell under the roof of Contentment? Yet I cannot find her here, wherever I search or in whatever I do on this Earth.

Not in the metropolitan monuments of our making, nor in the forests of our romances. Neither in the caves of gold carved in our attics, nor the plunders of our long-fought wars.

Contentment, found in this world, fled to the winds in ages past. Upon the pilgrimage to find her here, in the flesh, I found nothing. This was all – simply clutching at the breeze in some vain hope of catching her passing. To look for Contentment found in things here is a hopeless attempt at crystalising the air that rushes past.

Our romances, who promise shelter from discontent, when becoming our sole desire always produce fresh tragedies to haunt our sickening hearts. Financial gain, though promising a life of security and pleasured bliss, will leave the hungry heart starving for more, gain upon gain but losing all. For every shekel you lay hold of, there are a million more that the mind will want and the heart will never get; for every love in paradise, a fallen god that can never truly give you all.

Contentment, as she has come to be known, is this: the promise of something more that can never be acquired; the pinnacle of a mountain that can never be climbed. Our schools, our politicians; they tell us one thing, one thing above all: work, strive, toil; only then will you be contented, searching for bliss that cannot be found.

The great tragedy of seeking Contentment is that she always leaves us discontent.

But there is another way.

Contentment comes to those who take hold of what they have, and see that it cannot satisfy, not in itself. For what can be gained from having the whole world, yet at a loss to all in it? When you have food on the table and shelter over your head, what more can be said than that you are a great deal more privileged than the crying billions in our backyard global neighbourhood?

I believe that true contentment doesn’t come to those who work their whole lives to gain everything and lose it all. It comes to those, who, in taking arms with what they have, learn to love with all they’ve got, all they’ve been given. You can gain the world, and lose love itself; you can lose all you’ve got, yet, in loving, have everything you need. Contentment.

True contentment is found in that place of vulnerability, in love. And true love, friend, will always produce something like discontent.

But this is not a bad discontent. No, rather, this is a holy discontent. A wholesome longing. Finding contentment with the little you’ve been given, and, in looking out, longing to use it for good, for love, not gain. In seeing the orphan, to provide a home; to the beggar, shelter; to the thief, forgiveness. To the unloved, love; to the poor, a friend.

You have in your hands the materials for Contentment, and she wants to make a home in your heart. And when you let her in, she will produce in you something new. A holy discontent. A commission to draw up arms in a good fight.

To gain the world is to lose everything. To gain Contentment, is to hold loosely what little you have, but find all you need. A place where love is found in a dark dying world, and a light that can defeat it. And we, friends and family, can take up these burning brands and make the bleeding darkness a little less dark.

A Lego Paradise

“And you could have it all , my empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.” Johnny Cash

In years gone by, I would wile away the hours among toy bricks, inventing from my imagination buildings, cities and civilisations to preside over. Days could pass as I worked on my own little towns, designing each detail just how I wanted, legislating as the ruler and president over my own fictitious reality. This was my childhood joy, to build for myself civilisation, but more than that; civilisation over which I had total control. Scenarios that I played out from my mind in those toy villages were scenarios that I had supreme command over; toy soldiers predestined to run at my will.

Lego always was the perfect medium from which to play deity.

Isn’t this a condition common to us all?

For we are young, and in our young years we have many victories ahead of us, and we are free. We want our own slice of heaven, and we want it on our own terms. We work, we play, and one day, maybe, we’ll take a bite out of this salvation we’ve been pressing on for. Paradise, to our modern minds, is our own vision of happiness, of pleasure, of goodness.

We want our own slice of heaven, and we want it on our own terms.

And we look to the sky and laugh at God, or the Deity, or the Being, or whatever else our forefathers believed, in the face. For what good did the laws of old do for them? Any laws that a Judge above gives are surely put there as a stumbling block. They won’t help us on our journey to our heaven. They will simply hold us back. So you turn your back on God, take matters into your own hands. Building out of the Lego bricks the empire of your paradise.

In years time, your goals will finally have manifested themselves as fruit. The work will have paid off, and you’ll be eating out of your slice of heaven. The perfect family, a perfect wife and two beautiful kids in the medium-sized home of your dreams. A nice little carving of the stock market. Friends with people at the top.

And the beautiful thing? You made that empire, and you didn’t need to follow anyone else’s rules to get there.

And you could have it all , my empire of dirt.

But to what purpose? You’ve reached heaven, you’ve built the empire, perhaps somewhere in your middle-age. You have it all. But empires decay, hard fought victories always lose their sweetness. Bullies will always vandalise your Lego houses. Being god over your little paradise always comes with a high price. For gods made in Earth’s time are forgotten in eternity.

Tragic, is it not? That that slice of heaven, which you control, will always fall stale. My empire of dirt.

Playing god will always let you down, it will always make you hurt. I truly believe man was not made to be god, for to be god places so much power in a flesh that withers so quickly. The fruits of paradise look like squalor when the price paid is so high.

This isn’t  a game, that if you play right, you’ll get the goods. Whatever law you follow, whatever rules in the game you obey, it isn’t going to give to you paradise in its entirety. Whether one plays the game of pleasure or one legalistically obeys all the moral laws, their slice of heaven will never satisfy. So what? Surely this life cannot be gratuitous?

Grace. I believe man was not made to depend on himself as god, but on another. Another who dwells in the eternal. The prize of eternity founded on grace, freely given. Those who obey the moral laws as an end won’t inherit it, because that puts salvation in their hands. Eternity, for those who want it, is dependant on another.

Grace is the unattractive option, because the emphasis of our salvation, of our paradise, of Heaven, is no longer in our hands. We cannot be gods and hope to get eternity. For the fading glories of the world’s prizes are the counterfeit reward for playing god. Eternity is so unattractive for the modern mind because freely given grace is not in our hands, and we can’t be god. It takes humility.

But isn’t it so much better? When you make yourself god, all you get is an empire of dirt, and it will leave you hurt. We try to make it so complicated, that we somehow need to build and work and strive to get paradise. Humility, for me, takes that out of our hands.

Man was not made to be god. Man was made for grace, a beautiful exchange with a Saviour. A Saviour who loves infinitely, desires not our works, but simply His people.

Humility, then, will never let you down, and will never leave you hurt. It will leave you in the Arms of Grace, for all who will accept Him.

 

A Kingdom Called Melody

If your life consisted of one song to sing, what would it be? If it were but one word in a great play, how would you say it? If it were a single note in a great melody, how would you play it?

If your life consisted of naught else but this, how would you sing?

Imagine your whole life was spent confined to just one room; you, alone, but for a lone piano to furnish the space, as well as a few sparse instructional manuals. You have no purpose, then, but to play, to learn, to master. One single commitment as you can see nothing beyond the confines of this small existence.

Then, after the passing of the years, you are released. You know nothing but black and white keys, octave by octave of your only friend, know no voice but the hammer against strings to produce something of a symphony. Upon release, you are given one commissioning.

To play. To play before the peoples, your song, your life’s song.

And you play. Would you play only a half-hearted mustering, some lacklustre attempt at your life’s only pursuit? Or would you play some melodious sonnet, something beautiful, something to be remembered throughout eternal ages?

Friends, brothers and sisters, you have been given one song. One word in a play in its writing. One note in a celestial orchestra.  One word can shake mountains; one song can move nations; one note can break the darkness.

In your mouth, there is some jewel of song that no other man can bring to this symphonic offering. Are you going to let your song be muffled? Sing out of key for earthly idols that are fading? Forget your one word in this  great play?

Turn your ears outward. Hear the world in disarrayed cacophony. Hear that crying. These sons and daughters who sing a song of wailing so mournful because they are confined to the worst orchestra devised in history. This is the orchestra called Desperation, conducted by Poverty and Injustice and Lies. Will you stand to let your song be quenched by her? Or will we rise in a dawn of song that breaks the Night upon her back?

Brother, sister, let us gather as one. We each have a song in our mouth, and the ability to sing it well or waste it. One chance, one short stint, one life. One song, one word, one note. When wailing disparity clouds the atmosphere, our song is defeated. But I hear joy coming, I hear the atmosphere changing.

I hear the sons and daughters of man rising with one song in their mouth, one song rising from the ashes and signalling the dawn. A song he and she will spend there lives singing, for there one small part in the act. I can start to hear the notes, even amidst the present distress. Notes called Mercy, Justice, Love.

Friend, will you join us in our song, a song to drown out Desperation? Will you sing out, and let the skies erupt with a new kingdom of melody? Will you spend yourself making our intent loud, that Injustice shall not reign?

We have one song, one word, one note. And but one life to sing it. So, will you stand on the edge of eternity, open your ears, and hear an atmosphere more tinted by love and joy than when you started?

Will you sing your song, and sing it loud?

All Of Me, Daddy

I don’t know why I never got it, why I thought you were a monster from up on high,

Judging me and watching and waiting, just for me to stumble.

Why did I believe those lies?

Those lies whispered in my ear,

When all those years I couldn’t cry “I love you, daddy,”

You cried over your child here below,

Cried just to see his face.

Cried for him just to turn once more, and step into your arms.

Goodness knows the pain You felt, or the clothes torn on my behalf,

To see me open Your door and step on through

Into the love story with you, with you.

All those years I lived a prodigal,

A reckless boy in a foreign land,

Missing my Father who loved me recklessly more.

I waited too long, too long in shame spent up,

But now I see You whole, all Your love.

As I give You all You want, all of me.

 

While I cried here below, 

I didn’t feel the tears You poured on me,

Just to see me smile at You, 

And smile at Your song.

And my deafness could not contain,

The depth of Your longing call,

As You contended for my heart.

You tore Your curtains on my behalf, You tore them right in half.

 

This is my belonging and my undoing,

As I look upon Your face,

For You are not angry for who I am,

Or spiteful for what I did.

All that time I was lost at sea,

All You wanted was all of me.

All You wanted was all of me.

 

I thought You loved them more,

The Saints from of old, or the pious man up in his room,

I thought I had to earn it, or pay away the debt,

I thought this was a fight of tooth and claw,

I believed the lies.

The lies of that red dragon.

Because all the while You wanted me.

You longed and You waited and yearned to see,

Me running up Your path, to embrace Your love.

All You wanted was all of me.

 

And this is my homecoming, I sit at Your table again,

And I look across at children I thought You loved more,

And now I know, You don’t pick favourites.

You love me for all I am, more than I could know. 

And You smile and You laugh with me,

You love me through, all of me.

And all this I missed along,

All of You loving all of me.

 

So many days in seasons gone by I would wallow in shame, unable to get rid of that image of a monster Father waiting for His intolerable kids to mess up so He could judge them. I knew He loved, loved so much, but deep down I couldn’t believe it. So I would mourn and cry in the caverns of my heart, unable to look in the eyes of my Father.

And all the while He cried, cried for my false expectations and the lies I believed about Him.

Every day, He longed with tears for me to come to Him, to see Him for the loving daddy He is and to laugh with Him again. So this summer has been an undoing of everything I held before, from the guilt and the shame before a judging God. The walls came down, and through the ashes I saw a loving daddy who ran through the dirt to take me home, to take me to His table.

For grace is a collision on a prodigal road.

 

Rightless

Human right. 

A right which is believed to belong to every person.

Human rights, in contemporary usage, has become a rather fashionable term off our lips. Bandied about in the media, endowed in our minds by countless news stories, quick from our hearts in a fit of rage at the latest acts of tyranny to scream loud in our ears. Rights, or the lack thereof, are quick to consume the mind with anger at supposed wrongs; either that, or cynicism for the man too soon grown weary from the failure of their keeping.
Human rights, that little phrase that so easily provokes the man on the street and a nation to disgust. An emotive catchphrase that carries laurels of piety; as if, when spoken, we are indeed being very just and kind human beings, sympathizing with the oppressed we happen to share the world with.
Human rights, a couple of words. Just a few syllables, when uttered, that makes us seem really rather ethical. Quite proud of ourselves for being nice.
Human rights. Our great get out clause.
We put admirable confidence in this system of rights; we like to think, in our complete support of this beautiful law that gives every man, woman and child the equal, intrinsic entitlement to be the full person, that we are, ourselves, just. By it we have an excuse to say “boo” to the tyrant and “hurrah” to the saint. Human rights, the phrase, gives us ever so much confidence and safety from our ivory watchtowers to claim we are good, right and civilized human beings.
So we claim to love human rights. Then why don’t we live it?
We claim that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude. So, surely, every purchase we make is totally ethical? So, in our utter dedication to the human rights we adhere to, we are surely disgusted at fashions produced by economically enslaved girls in India? And we flee from high street retailers who source their cotton from Uzbeki citizens forced to reap the harvest for a despotic regime?
Then, we claim that everyone is entitled an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Of course, it is easy watching the screens and the images and the message to be moved to disgust or anger or sadness at poverty, the most degrading form of inequality, but to be moved to action? To shout out against the injustice casting shadows across our world? Maybe that is taking our hallowed human rights too far.
To subscribe to a nice list of justices and injustices is a pretty comfortable way to justify our goodness. But to really love those people we claim to protect? Now that, friend, is messy. Love, in its most radical form, is dangerous.
But is there any other way? Can you really say that you love simply by believing in the foundational goods a few rights offer?
“The inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Maybe, its time we stopped turning a blind eye. Maybe its time to take off our legally attached blinkers, written onto our hearts as an escape from actually acting upon the shameless injustice we see.
Perhaps its time we started living our human rights, not just saying them.
And that, my friend, is how the world changes. Your list of human rights shows me nothing. But when we start to live like every brother and sister we see actually has a right, not because of legislation but because we are family, that’s when the world revolves to a different beat.
For to immerse ourselves in dead legislation is nothing short of slavery. But reckless love? Now that is true freedom. That is the right every human is entitled to give and receive.

Moths

The nighttime sees a hundred moths drawn to a small pane of glass, a square jigsaw piece against an unassailable brick wall. This window permeates light, cast off into every recess from a hanging light on the inside of the building. It is to this light that the moths are drawn, craving to draw close to that glimmering goal. The nearness of this light seems so tangible, so near; yet, to the despair of the courting insects, it is a goal that cannot be attained.

For they cling to the glass that promises light and life, yet it fails to yield their desire to them. Through it they gaze upon their sole desire, yet one non-visible wall stands in their way. A window that cannot be shattered tantalizes those willing victims with a promise, yet it cannot be acquired for the chasm that lies between.

So I look upon these moths, in their season of craving, bouncing against that stubborn pane. Their fight to reach the light always ends in failure, for their pithy efforts cannot breach the cold wall between them.

And then I see us. I see you and I, running against the mournful glass walls that cannot be shattered. There is a light, and we reach for it with open hands, yet our fingers fall short against the smooth disappointment of our own transparent defenses.

That eternal light that I so wholeheartedly crave I fall short of reaching, for it dangles in an intangible glass jar, or behind a hidden window. I see, I want, and in animal desire I reach. Yet the pane holds me back, a pane of crystal that cannot be shattered.

So why, when we try so very hard, can the light not be found? Why do our moth hearts never find what they crave?

I then see upon the impenetrable window the watermark of man’s making. The glass pane is the product of the human heart. The transparency is artificial. And who operates this factory producing such obstacles for us seekers?

Shame. Deceit. Guilt.

And this is our condition. The light cannot be grasped because of the invisible walls the heart builds that our limbs will always fail to knock against. We see the hope of eternity, yet we hide ourselves from it under a veil of shame, of deceit, of guilt. The light is so close, but those walls so unbreakable, that we bow down our heads and walk away.

I am but a moth, therefore. I crave for one eternal salvation, one unending hope, and one unflickering light. But between me and them stands one seemingly impossible wall built from my own inept judgments, from the heart-built ruins of falling short, of failing.

Can we but despair?

The Father from which that beautiful light is cast sees this and offers a substitute. He sees that the chasm of glass is far too great for human fists to shatter, so He gives Himself to us that it might be broken. He casts wide His arms and shatters the very gates of Hell that the wall might be broken and that the light might be reached by the moths.

The window that leaves my heart despairing can be triumphed, then. A wall of my own making can be brought to ruin by accepting, simply, love in its greatest form. A love that shatters the inhibition of moths to the dust brings them up to life as sons and daughters.

There is one solution to our condition then. To ignore the lies that the heart produces and hides in the form of shame and deceit and guilt, for that brings only despair, and accept that you are loved in Truth.

This Truth is simple: you are loved not because of what you do or have failed to do, but because you were made to be loved for who you are.

So do away with the ancient glass wall, and run to the light with love in your heart.

Roadside Gods

Upon this fair Isle sat in a golden sea there is weeping in the streets. Every high street houses a citadel full of golden trinkets, and each man and women is a priest and priestess serving at the altar. We bring our golden offerings to the table and in exchange the gods that look us across the foot wide gap of a vanishing heaven gratify us for our sacrifice.

Day by day we spend the heart over and over again. Handing over our stored up wealth like contraband to sacrifice for our gods’ returns, we get for our commitment the pleasure and unity we so crave.

Every street has a temple. We walk the threshold day by day, and we are a priesthood living in a metropolis of our own making. Offering to fanciful gods of the air, we can contain Religion in something easy for us to handle, something tangible, something consumable. This is not a Religion worshiping the transcendent or invisible; rather, it is worship of the consumable.

This city, then, is full of hungry believers devouring there Religion. The Religion of that handed across the counter, that which is in fashion, the vogue and vague.

Meanwhile the streets house the outcasts, the mean streets that play back alley to the great cathedrals of this civilization. Those who cannot afford the luxury of their brother’s borrowed worship, or their sister’s fond sacrifice to the gods above.

The skies borrow the favor of the gods to clothe the many children who flock to the temples, feeding from the homeless and the wretch.

These are counterfeit gods.

They come to worship before these deities because they speak of Worth and Beauty. But how can this be when they, themselves, are doomed to the dust? Worth and Beauty must, therefore, be found elsewhere.

Eternally.

The children of this earth grow discontent when the golden temple days of the former gods pass away. They look to a lasting kingdom, not the kingdom inherited from their forefathers. And they look for a saviour.

What the world can never give, what appetite can never cease to be satisfied, what can never be fulfilled, is found in one eternal Father alone. Breathing the world He loves into existence, and from it He now calls the discontent, the broken, the sinner, calling them home.

So we, who cannot satisfy ourselves on the passing desires of this worlds little gods, look up. We look to a place we can call home.

And to us that Father dispenses Justice and Righteousness, that the children He so loved may run forth into the day. So we run on, and with us we take the hope that this world, the great and the least, the broken, the beggar and the thief, may know life.