Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Ephod Love Song (but actually 1061)

As I’m reading through Exodus again I’m having lot of new questions. Moses is on the mountain with God and all the people are waiting down at the bottom. God’s giving Moses the tablets. He’ going into incredible detail about the Tent of Meeting and everything. I’m sitting here asking myself questions like, “why does God want fresh bread on the table? He’s not going to eat it.” (Of course I get the greater significance of the bread, from it saving David’s life to John 6:35. But still…if I’m Moses? “Fresh bread? Uh, Sure…”) Also, the recipe for anointing oil looks fantastic, but it also says unauthorized use of the oil well get you expelled or “cut off.” But I really want to try it! I’m a Baptist and subscribe to Priesthood of the Believer, does that count as “authorized?”

Yesterday I read about the Vestments—the priestly garb. I’m struck over and over at how much detail is going into this outfit. (Alternating pomegranates and bells on the robe. The bells I get, but what’s with the pomegranates? God likes pomegranates that much? Should I?) I’m struck by how many times God names Aaron as the wearer of these garments. God even spends a paragraph talking about the type of underwear he wants Aaron to wear, and calls this one permanent. Don’t go into the presence of God without underwear on.

Then we get to the consecration. Aaron’s got all these beautiful, insanely intricate ceremonial pieces on—the breast piece, the ephod, the robe, the turban, the tunic, even the underwear. And then,

“…take some of the blood that is on the Altar, mix it with some of the anointing oil, and splash it on Aaron and his clothes and on his sons and their clothes so that Aaron and his clothes and his sons and his sons' clothes will be made holy.”

So Aaron puts all the stuff on, only to have it spattered in blood. I’ve read this hundreds of times before and thought nothing about it, because it’s our (Christians) history. It’s part of our upbringing. We’ve heard these stories since we were little kids. We’re immune to them. BUT AARON IS WEARING POSSIBLY THE MOST EXPENSIVE GARMENTS IN HISTORY AND HAVING RAM BLOOD INTENTIONALLY SPATTERED ON THEM.

Then he’s supposed to hold, in his hands, the fat from the ram, the fat tail, the fat that covers the innards, the long lobe of the liver, the two kidneys and the fat on them, and the right thigh and wave them at God. While dressed in the blood-spattered priestly garments.

I get it. I’ve already said I get the greater significance, the law serving as a neon Expo marker highlighting our sin and need for Jesus. But still…HE’S HOLDING RAM ORGANS AND WAVING THEM AT GOD.

I don’t know how I feel about this.

So it’s “Aaron this, Aaron that.” Wave-offerings, peace-offerings, whole-burnt-offerings. Over and over God names Aaron and his role. I’ve never thought that much about Aaron. He’s kind of supporting cast member in my head. Like the characters that worked the desk in “ER.” They were in every episode, but there was never an episode about them.

But here he is, front and center in God’s plan for atonement, worship and consecration. He’s mentioned by name thirty-one times in Exodus 28-29. God has PLANS for this cat. I’m going round and round in my head, with the minutae and the blood and the organ waving. Really wondering about all the detail and all the gore. Questioning. I mean, there’s A LOT of blood in these pages.

And then this morning I turn the page.

While God is going into such intricate detail about what he wants Aaron to wear, Aaron is casting a calf out of gold to worship. At the moment God is laying out the process of sacrificial atonement, Aaron’s presiding over a pagan worship orgy.

Like I said, Aaron’s always been a day-player in my head—a spear carrier. As such I’ve never ascribed him much in the way of sinner or saint. He’s just been kind of vanilla. But after this?

The passage is written as if God suddenly discovers this and Moses has to talk him out of incinerating the lot, but I don’t for one second believe God wasn’t keenly aware of what was happening in the valley while he’s law-giving with Moses. At the bedrock of my belief in God is the tenet that God is acutely aware of everything going on, everywhere. God is acutely aware of what Aaron’s up to, even as God is setting him up with the superfly outfit and laying down the rules for his (Aaron’s) priesthood.

Suddenly the details of the vestments become a love sonnet. God is gushing about what he wants his beloved to wear. He can’t help Himself. And since He’s God and omni-everything, He can get pretty detailed. Even while at that very moment, He knows his beloved is betraying him. The blood and the organs no longer seem horrific. God no longer appears a callous bloodthirsty tyrant. It is necessary to atone for what Aaron and the Israelites have done. I’m pretty sure God hates it—is as revolted by it as I am, but it’s the only way He can still interact with His beloved. I think it might also be the only way that Aaron et al will grasp the gravity of what they have done. Being spattered with blood to bring home the depth of their sin. I imagine Aaron, shame-faced, maybe scared out of his mind, covered in blood and holding this offal, trembling. God is across from him, weeping at what his beloved has to go through to be in His (God's) presence. I’m heartbroken for God over the way his beloved has cheated on Him, even as I’m keenly aware that I’m the cheating beloved, that I’m Aaron.

My personal heroes of the faith have long been the ones that screw up the most. Peter, of course. Jonah is a favorite. And now Aaron is added to this group. Another of God’s personally chosen that has betrayed Him. I’m in good company.

And then I’m in the Upper Room. Jesus is breaking the bread. He’s pouring the wine. The next day he offers the Atonement. I’m propelled to a whole new level of gratitude for His heroic act of salvation. I don’t constantly have to dress up in an elaborate outfit and be splashed with blood to atone for betraying God.

The law has (once again) highlighted my need for Jesus.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Creative Doldrums Pt.3 (but actually 631)

I’ve seen “The Prince of Egypt” at least five hundred times. When Jacob was two it was his favorite movie. He’d ask constantly, “Moses? Moses?” I like this movie a lot, I think they got a lot of things right. It’s a spiritual marker for me, but I was always dissatisfied with the ending. For me the most defining moment of faith for the Israelites was not getting out of Egypt, it was what they did when they once they got out.

A few years back before I worked for the ‘Way I bid on a rather large set contract and got it. We had just moved back to Nashville and were staying with Shannon’s parents. Not only did we not have a place to live, not only did I not have to place to build these twenty-six sets, I didn’t have the tools, materials, anything really. I was talking to my dad about it and he told me that he and his coworkers had a phrase they would use whenever they landed a huge project they didn’t think they would get. “The dog has caught the car…now what?”

In a magnificent cataclysm of salty spray the Red Sea crashes closed on the Egyptians. Boom. The end. No more Egyptians. The Israelites are free. Free! There’s a big party—lots of singing, probably a big barbecue. And then the next day or week (if it was a really good barbecue) Moses wakes up and rolls out of his sleeping bag, looks East and sees a big fat bunch of nothing.

I resonate with the Israelites in the desert. Every day these people wake up, step out of their tents, shake the sand out of their sandals and go collect Manna. As they’re picking up the daily portion (and no more because it rots! Learned that one the hard way, they did) they look up to see if the Pillar of Cloud is moving. To see if they’re packing up the kids and tents and loading the donkey and hitting the road. It’s not terribly exciting, but neither is getting up and making a smoothie and driving 45 minutes to 1 Lifeway Plaza for a day of Pipe & Drape inventory. They spend the day walking in sand. They pull over for lunch and eat manna sandwiches sitting in the sand. When the day’s over, they unload the donkey, pitch the tent, grill some quail, maybe take in an evening campfire song, and then go to sleep in the sand. On the good days they don’t grumble about this monotonous existence. According to Moses, there weren’t many good days.

When there’s ridiculous plagues and a sea that splits in half, faith isn’t hard to come by. God seems pretty big and powerful and when you get down to it--inspiring. No, you don’t have to look far for inspiration in those moments. It’s when you’ve lost track of how many days in a row you’ve eaten quail-on-manna (or had a salad for lunch), when the next dune looks like the last (writing 11 years of camp drama), when there’s sand in FREAKING EVERYTHING that faith takes work. Only the right kind of inspiration could sustain you through those times and give you the spark to keep going. Sugar rushes and caffeine highs don’t get you through the desert.

Hang on. (He goes back and reads what he’s written).

…At some point I turned a corner and started talking about faith instead of creativity…

Wow, there’s just all kinds of stuff popping around in my head now…

We’ll have to pick it up here later, kids.


I've got 7 or 8 different strands that spun out of this. I'm just trying to make sense of them. Once I do, you'll have it.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Creative Doldrums Pt. 2 (but actually 1199)

This is a story about ennui and inspiration. About hard work, about creating, about believing. About hope and it’s fundamental link to real passion and creativity.

About a year ago I developed my own belief of what I hope heaven is. Till then I’d been existing off of other people’s definitions and visions—a mashup of gold streets and big choirs and angels with a lot of wings and bad CCM. Didn’t sound terribly exciting, I mean, I think the angels will be cool, but gold’s not my favorite precious metal, and CCM…well…

Beneath that I knew heaven was better. Better. Had to be. I understood the people trying to describe heaven were reduced to metaphor and simile—how do you describe the indescribable? I knew that, knew they were doing the best they could, but at the end of the day it fell short, and that no matter how they described it with their finite minds and imperfect imaginations, heaven was better.

And I’ve lived long enough in this broken world to Long for Heaven, to have that deep tug from the center of your chest toward that place where suffering and conflict cease. There have been stretches in which I’ve said, “Lord, now’s not so bad…” But still then, even with a Biblical and seminalogical knowledge of heaven, even knowing it was better than anything I’d heard, even with the angels with the wings and the eyeballs, I still had reservations about it’s awesomeness.

But about a year ago I was driving to Ridgecrest by myself late one night, and I was listening to Peter Gabriel’s “Growing Up Live” concert. Towards the end of the concert he does “Solsbury Hill” and they’re on this giant circular stage in the middle of an arena and the stage is actually a revolve—it spins on a motor. Mr. Gabriel jumps on a very English bike and proceeds to peddle around the stage while the rest of the band skips merrily along. All the while singing:

“Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
Just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home."

In that car in the dark by myself on the way to Ridgecrest. I’m singing at the top of my lungs and I’ve never had a truer epiphany. At the end of my days Jesus will show up on a very English bike singing Peter Gabriel songs. And I’ll skip merrily along into heaven. I don’t know. Maybe he’ll have a bike for me too. We’ll sing and skip and cackle like mad men and ride very English bikes and joy will burst from our pores.

Except it will be Better.

I hadn’t thought of this in a while, mainly because I’ve been living in the Creative Doldrums. Actually I’ve been in the Doldrums so long it had soured into what can only be described as ennui.

ennui (änˈwē)


a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. (occupation meaning a way of spending time, not a job)

The color had slowly seeped out of my world. Nothing excited me and I began to see only the negative. I would fret about stuff I had no control over. But mostly I would trudge through each day hoping that no one would notice the stuff I was creating had no spark. I was a colorblind man painting by numbers with colors that had no names.

There were occasional bursts of color, mostly from my kids, or I’d get a temporary jolt from a new song or TV show. I consumed vast quantities of media, looking for that elusive inspiration. I’d get a jumpstart from some cleverly written dialogue only to suck all the marrow out of it and I’d be sustained for an afternoon or a day. But inevitably I’d be picking up the colors with no names, painting on numbers with no meaning.

I lost track of time.

Not to say I’d forgotten about Jesus or Relationship. I’ve been reading my Bible regularly, applying the Peterson method as I go: reading slowly, imaginatively, relationally. I read passages I’ve read dozens, even hundreds of times and still came away with new questions. Not really finding answers to them or my struggle with inspiration. I guess you could say my colorblindness seeped into my relationship. I couldn’t see the color in what I was reading. I couldn’t see the beauty, the hope.

Inspiration is a funny thing when you go looking for it. It’s like those floating microscopic things in your eyes. You can see them, but if you try to look at them they float away. So you go stumbling around on this constant search for inspiration, focused on your periphery, hoping the thing you’ve glimpsed that might be inspiration will stay still long enough for you to sidle up next to it. You’re afraid to look directly at it, to look it in the eye for fear that it’s not what you thought it was, that it might not be real, or rather that it is, but by turning your full attention to it you’ll jinx it or ruin the magic. You’ll cause it to float away.

This is how I felt with Don Miller’s new book. Everybody I know that’s read it has gushed about its awesomeness. It’s bad juju for something if everyone around you praises it. It can’t possibly live up to the hype. But I’d already bought my tickets to hear Mr. Miller talk about this book and I didn’t want to be the J-hole that shows up without having done his homework. I’d painted myself into a corner, but still haven’t even bought the book and now the date is only two weeks away. So I did the only thing I could: I crept through the bowels of the ‘Way to the secret entrance of the bookstore and plunked my employee discount card on the counter to get my copy. I took a deep breath and looked it in the eye.

Shannon and I got up at 3:30 Friday morning to get our kids farmed out before we caught a 7:00 flight to Maryland for marriage event we were performing at. I was planning to start it on the plane. But I was also planning on doing a bunch of other stuff, just in case…you know…just in case it floated away when I looked it in the eye.

Inspiration is a funny thing when you go looking for it. When you have great hope for something to be awesome and inspire you and you’ve finally sidled up next to it and worked up the courage to look it in the eye…sometimes it doesn’t float away. Sometimes it looks right back. Sometimes it smiles. Sometimes it winks and grabs your hand and whispers, “let’s go, we’ve got work to do.”