My father passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 98. Even though he had been living in the nursing home for the past three years, I always brought him home for the holidays. Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Fourth of July, my father would sit at the head of our table. And, always, he would lead us in prayer and sing us a song or two.
My father’s singing idols were Tennessee Ernie Ford and George Beverly Shea. Although his voice was weaker and weaker as he aged, when he switched to his singing mode, from somewhere deep within this clear, deep, resonant voice would boom out a song in perfect pitch.
And so, this year, more than any other, I am thankful for my father. His absence has made me realize how much I came to depend on hearing that voice raised in song. “Don’t you want to thank someone?” is a more than just a question. It is a song written and sung by Andrew Peterson. The last song on his newest release, “Light for the lost boy”, this song brought tears to my eyes just a few weeks before my father’s death.
I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall
Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall
Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this
Those are just a few words from this incredible song. I did not grow up in Illinois, but the corn grew tall in my father’s garden here in Louisiana and one dark day atop the tall tree I realized the world was broken and no longer the glowing, innocent thing I had lived in for my first ten years. It was atop that tree, above the vampires that lurked in the dark shadows and the werewolves with glowing yellow eyes that waited for me in the blackberry bushes and the myriad monsters of my imagination that my fear of the worlds I had only until then imagined became the beasts of approaching adulthood. Just as real. Just as dangerous. Just as deadly.
I write about vampires and werewolves and creatures in the dark because we live in a broken, fallen world. We try desperately to understand it and to dissect it and to equate it and to reduce it to laws and axioms that fit neatly into a science textbook. Equations we can control. With them we hope to tame the beasts but to no avail. Rather, it takes imagination.
During a midnight walk, J. R. R. Tolkien told C. S. Lewis that his atheism was no more than a lack of imagination. Here are some other words from this incredible song:
Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets’ lips
But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this
‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun
Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning
Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on
And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up
‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?
I am so thankful for the power of my imagination to open up the doorways of my heart and mind to the REALITY of God! I am so thankful my silent companion standing in the gap between my soul and the monsters of my brokenness is real and loving and forgiving and the author and finisher of this universe. I am so thankful for the times of failure and faithlessness and doubt so that I could search those shadows again and find Him waiting there right where I left Him. I am so thankful my father showed me the love of God! I am thankful for each and every reader that has trusted me to fill a book with words that are more than echoes of futility. Rather, they are words that lead slowly but inexorably to the Word, the Logos, the One who became flesh. And, for that, I am thankful.
Look around you in the aftermath of this hectic and busy season of empty thanks and muted praise and awkward family gatherings and frantic hours of shopping. Stop and look into the shadows. There may be beasts among us, and I am sure there are. But, there is a quiet, abiding companion following, following and watching over us. My father sang of this companion in his powerful voice. He sang of a Father that is greater than any earthly father could ever be. A Father who sits at our table; who sings the story of our lives into being; who longs to love us and redeem us and hold us in his arms. Think on this with an imagination that is a poor reflection of the image of God and you will find in your heart and in your soul the need to thank Someone!
What brought you to Hutchmoot?
What do you do?
Two questions every attendee asks at Hutchmoot, even if you know the face and can’t quite remember the name and the details associated with that name. And, this year, there were 86 more of us to meet than before.
My son, Sean, tried to succinctly convey his job. By the third day, he had it down to a finely tuned summary. You see, while completing his masters degree in media studies, he became an intern at Texas Impact. In Austin, this organization is a political action advocate for inter-faith issues. They monitor issues coming before the Texas legislature (meets every other year) and then posts those issues pertinent to faith based living on their website. They follow various religious traditions and their efforts to change culture through their influence on local government. Maybe. I think I got that right. Bottom line is that Sean works on the website and social media and video editing and video capture and is now the main tech guy for Texas Impact. I have watched him grow and mature as he has dealt with the unhealthy interface between politics and religion. And, it is very unhealthy.
Coming to Hutchmoot, Sean had a couple of goals. Spend time with his Dad (woohoo!) and to see what God had to say to him. You see, Sean is an excellent writer and storyteller and is insanely creative. But, he doesn’t write books or stories. He writes notes and composes his thoughts into the most incredible conversations I have ever had with ANYONE. Sometimes, I wished had recorded one of our conversations and had it transposed so I could remember all the cool stuff he said. Yeah, my Sean is one cool dude and I am so proud of him.
But, Sean is not without his struggles. He and his wife, Jennifer, are struggling with some personal issues related to his church in Austin. I can’t go into details. These issues are substantial and deep and very, very important to them. But, God spoke to Sean in so many ways at Hutchmoot. And, he heard something totally different from what God said to me. Imagine that? I think this is the singular most important thing to understand about Hutchmoot. It is not only where we come to meet other Hutchmootians in one of the grandest and coolest koinonias in the universe. It is also where we come to meet with God. God speaks in the midst of this incredible gathering — uniquely and individually to each one of us. And, he spoke to Sean in ways only Sean can share with you.
But, there is one last event on Friday I must mention. There were many smaller moments through the lunch and afternoon. One encounter was with a former employee of one of my current publishers who confirmed what an incredible team is now in place compared to a few years back. Again, I can’t go into details but it was another “chance” encounter that God led me to in order to reassure me that my updated book on depression should take front and center attention RIGHT NOW!
Friday night. Sean and I followed the new iOS6 map app on my iPhone 4Gs and it worked perfectly, thank you very much! We pulled onto Lipscomb University campus and I was stunned. I did not know this place existed. As we walked across the campus from the parking garage I felt the cool wind on my face and there was God again, speaking, whispering in his quiet manner, surrounding both of us with His undeniable Presence. I wanted to go back to college again! I wanted to start afresh, anew at this campus filled with soaring red brick edifices and bustling, smiling students and a fresh appreciation of the importance of LEARNING in such a God centered environment.
We went into the auditorium to await this night’s debut of Andrew Peterson’s “Light for the Lost Boy” concert. As Sean and I waited we continued a conversation about a mutual acquaintance who had lost his faith. I don’t mean had doubts. I’m talking about moving from Theism to Atheism. How did this happen? How could someone who has been a professed Christ follower for most of their life walk away from God?
Folks, it is a simple and short journey from our doubts to forgetting the One who created us. How quickly we forget our blessings! How quickly we turn our backs on God! I know. It happened to me. I will talk about my crisis of faith in a future post. But, my heart was so burdened for our friend. What could either of us say? What could we do to convince him how wrong he was for just tossing away his faith in God? Now, I am an apologist. I’ve studied Christian apologetics now for 14 years. Apologetics was an answer to my crisis and it has given me a rock solid faith. Or has it? Hadn’t I just gone into a dark depression over this book deal? How quickly had I forgotten God? Pretty darn quick!
My point is that providing logical arguments and sound evidence is not the answer to those who leave our faith. The leaving is one of questions and doubts that are deeply imbedded in our quest for Eden. It is born of utter deep pain. While at a book signing for my first book, “The 13th Demon” at a book store in Austin, Texas a middle age woman asked if the book was appropriate for her teenager grandson. “He’s lost his faith. He is now an atheist. What can I do?” Now, my internal apologist wanted to take over but instead I sensed the pain. I asked her what her grandson’s life was like. What was his relationship to his father like? What came out was a sorrowful story of a broken relationship. You see, we look at God many times through the lens of our parents. We stack them up against God and when they let us down, we transfer that disappointment to God. As with this woman’s grandson, I feared the loss of faith with our friend was at the expense of a very important broken relationship. More on this later when I post about Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales.
If you have not listened to Andrew Peterson’s new album, you have missed out on one of the truly great works of music and lyrics in the past ten years. Yes, it is that incredible. You must listen while reading the lyrics until they are firmly seared into your mind. Andrew kicked off the concert introducing Caleb, the band composed of two of Steven Curtis Chapman’s sons (He was in the audience about two rows behind us). Then, he came back from a break and began the concert. If you have ever had the joy of sitting through “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas concert you are well aware of Andrew’s ability to carry a concept from start to finish. Where BTLOG takes us from Genesis to the Resurrection, “Light for the Lost Boy” carries us from birth to death; from innocence to disappointment; from lostness to grace; from the Big Question Mark to the Big Exclamation Mark. As the songs unfolded before us, I wept, I smiled, I hugged my son, I laughed, and I exulted in the utter sheer joy of being in God’s presence.
For, Andrew encapsulated my entire journey of faith in those songs. My lostness in the woods wandering but sensing a hidden companion. As a child, I wandered the pasture and woods of our 62 acres listening to the stillness, the quiet, the thunder. I remember one startling moment after my dog, Rusty died when at the age of 10 I climbed the “tall tree” in our front yard higher and higher struggling through the branches, tearing my skin, bumping my head until I reached the giddy top of the tree swaying and dancing in the evening breeze and I wedged myself into those small top branches and gazed out over a sea of trembling, weaving green tree tops stirred by the hand of God and I felt Him there, felt His presence wrapping me up in love and understanding and saying, “My son, I feel your loss; I know what it is like; you lost a pet; I lost a Son.” I was there in that tree in that moment in that concert and God stirred within me the memory of His presence. It was shortly after that incident in my life that I surrendered all to Christ. There were many journeys to the top of the “Tall Tree” in later years. Many moments with God at the top of my world before my innocence and trust in this world died and I realized it is irrevocably broken and bruised. No Eden. No Garden. Just this — living on the edge of Theism and Atheism.
And, hearing those songs, some of which were written by Andrew for his children was especially wonderful for me to hear with my son sitting beside. He has always chided me for a statement I made in his early years, “Son, you’ve never lived until you’ve climbed a tree” something he has never done. After the concert in that wonderful walk across Lipscomb campus I shared with him the story of the tall tree. And, I saw dawning within his mind a new understanding of his father. “Dad, you have lots of stories. You need to write them down.”