Listening To

I have been on a new and old music kick recently. I wanted to feature a few of the artists and albums I have been listening to.

  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake (1876) [London Symphony Orchestra]
  • Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971)
  • Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)
  • Nas – Illmatic (1994)
  • Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill (1995)
  • Ms. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
  • Kirk Franklin – The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin (2002)
  • Stephen Day – Undergrad Romance and the Moses and Me (2016)
  • The Band CAMINO – tryhard (EP) (2019)
  • Bon Iver – i,i (2019)
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True Freedom

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Gustave Dore, Newgate Prison Exercise Yard

As I read through Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, I have been reading a book about his fiction. The satanic character in Blood Meridian assumes himself a sovereign of the earth. He thinks that anything that exists without his knowledge exists without his consent. So, he seeks to destroy those things which prove a mystery to him. He destroys mystery as an action of absolute freedom. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be true freedom. On the contrary, this character (The Judge) seems to be acting from slavery. He is a slave to himself—he is acting from the constraint that he must be in control. He restricted, not free. Matthew Potts, the writer of this book on McCarthy’s novels, says it well:

[… F]reedom must be understood as something other than absolute sovereignty, as something other than complete lack of need or obligation […] Freedom does not exclude dependency or mutuality.[1]

Freedom for us is not absolute sovereignty—it is dependence on the One who is absolutely sovereign. Freedom for us is not the lack of need or obligation—it is the acknowledgment of our need of God and the love of His commandments. Freedom for us does not exclude dependency or mutuality—it requires our dependence on God and our communion with Him and others.

[1]Matthew L. Potts, Cormac McCarthy and the Signs of Sacrament: Literature, Theology, and the Moral of Stories (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 58.

Crying Out to God

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Disclaimer: if you get affected by violent content, do not read this. I am referencing a novel that possess graphic content.


I have been rereading Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 bleak Western, Blood Meridian. The novel follows the wanderings of “the kid” as he gets involved in scalp trading in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. This is a bleak and violent novel, but I think there is so much within it that points us to Christ (despite the author’s own atheistic beliefs). In this paragraph I’m sharing, the kid and another wanderer pace the desert after a group of Camanches descended upon them in violent horror. Sproule, the other wanderer, has a wound that is infected, and in the night, a bat comes to drink his blood.

“The kid was up and had seized a rock but the bat sprang away and vanished in the dark. Sproule was clawing at his neck and he was gibbering histerically and when he saw the kid standing there looking down at him he held out to him his bloodied hands as if in accusation and then clapped them to his ears and cried out what it seemed he himself would not hear, a howl of such outrage as to stitch a caesura in the pulsebeat of the world.”[1]

After the bat springs off of Sproule’s wounded arm, Sproul cries out in outrage in the attempt to stitch. You might not know what a caesura is. A caesura refers to a sort of break or gap of something. Sproul, with his cry, wants to stitch together some sort of crack in the world. Essentially, McCarthy shows this cry of Sproul’s to be an attempt to stitch together this broken and evil reality. Our cries of pain are attempts to call out the evil and unjust so that Goodness and Justice might come and reign. Even more, our cries of prayer are such calls to God to make this world coherent and beautiful. Our cries of pain only have power when they are acts of prayer to the One True God, who can stitch this fissure we feel in the world.

[1]Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 69.

Pray Because You Can

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In a poem by A. E. Stallings, “Song for the Women Poets,” the poet talks about Orpheus and Eurydice. In speaking to all women poets, Stallings begins the poem with this:

Sing, sing, because you can.[1]

While this poem has no direct reference or relation to prayer, or Christianity for that matter, I do think this gives us insight into prayer, even if that was not the intent of the poem. Stallings tells the women poets to sing because they can. These women have the ability and freedom to write poetry—so she calls them to sing! Just as these women can sing, all Christians have the ability and freedom to pray to God. By the work of Christ in His life, death, and resurrection, we have direct access to God. Christ’s work on the cross ripped the curtain of the Temple in two. We no longer need high priests to go before God for us; we have The High Priest who already went before God for us that we might be in God’s presence now and forever! Christ tells you, like Stallings tells women poets, pray, pray, because you can!

If you do not wish to listen to me, listen to the Word of God, to the author of Hebrews:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.[2]

[1]A.E. Stallings, “Song for the Women Poets,” Hapax (Evanston: TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2006), 76.

[2]Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

Paul’s Epistle to Titus

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Fantasia Barrino, American Idol Season 3 Winner

As I’ve been reading Paul’s epistle to Titus, I’ve been contemplating humankind’s interaction with salvation. Sinful man is saved by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. However, it is easy for us to believe that penance is needed for us to be made right with God. If we cheat on an essay, having our friend write the last two paragraphs, we will pray for an extra thirty minutes after church on Sunday. Praying for extra time on the Sabbath is not a bad thing. However, it might show a sign of idolatry. Are we praying so that God might be willing to save us? Or are we praying because God has already saved us? Jesus Christ saves us from our sin not because we are holy, but so that we may be holy.

Paul puts it this way in chapter 2 of Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (2:11-14 ESV)

And he says in chapter 3:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. (3:4-8)

We do not strive towards holiness so that we might be saved. We strive towards holiness becausewe are saved. My campus minister used an image, which might have come from somewhere else, in order to describe this gospel truth. On the American television competition, American Idol, we see a group of individual vocalists compete for the title of “American Idol.” Every time a singer performs, they are singing for another week on American Idol. They perform that they might not get kicked off the show. The only exception to this rule is when someone wins the title of “American Idol.” At that point, they sing, but not for a spot for the next week’s show. They do not sing for victory, they sing from victory. They do not sing so that they might win, they sing because they have won. In the same way, we do not obey God so that we might be saved, we obey because we have been saved. Our salvation in Jesus Christ leads us to obedience. If we were to seek salvation through our obedience, we would fail in the attempt. Our efforts at justifying ourselves lead to failure. Praise God that he saves His people so that they might live in obedience to Him and His glorious law, rather than the other way around (that they obey Him and His law for salvation).

Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

When starting this reading of Galatians, I decided to change my practice of reading for the RUF study program. This may or may not change after this, but I wanted to spend more time sitting with the Scripture I was reading. So, instead of reading Galatians a chapter at a time and praying (which would take me six nights), I read this letter “section” by “section,” practicing lectio divina for these readings and times of prayer. This took me much longer but helped me spend time communing with God as I read His Word.

Like other New Testament letters, Galatians begins with a greeting and ends with a benediction—the middle consisting of the main themes and arguments, including sections of commands. This letter seems to care for defining the gospel, separating out from these “other gospels” being preached in and near Galatia. The way Paul does this in the epistle to the Galatians is by outlining justification, faith, and adoption.

Paul reminds his readers that one is not “justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). For, if we were justified by the law, then no one would be saved. We receive the Spirit not by the works of the law, but by “hearing with faith” (3:2). Humans are not perfected by the flesh but saved by grace through faith. The one who trusts the law with his justification is cursed. The Law says, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them” (Deuteronomy 27:26). None of us can keep the whole law. All of humanity, every individual and every facet of human life is corrupted by sin. So, if justification comes by the law, we are doomed to death. Praise God that we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ who makes us right with God! Nothing else, no one else, will or can make us right with God.

Not only has Jesus made us right with God, but also, he has made us sons of God. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are brought into the family of God. We, “like Isaac, are children of promise,” children of the Covenant (Galatians 4:28; cf. Genesis 12:1-3). Not only are we sons of God, but we are heirs with Christ: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (3:29). In Christ, we are God’s, and God is ours. And more than this! What is Christ’s is ours: his righteousness and his glory!

As I was writing this and reflecting on Galatians, my mind immediately went to a song I know by indie rock band Cold War Kids. The name of the song is “Mine is Yours.” After reading and writing about Galatians, looking at the lyrics became extremely illuminating to me, especially one stanza:

All my stones become your pearls
All of my trials are your treasures
All my debt you inherit
All of my clumsy lines will shine

This made me consider that not only does Christ give us all that he has and deserves, but he takes all that we have and makes that beautiful. He takes our stones and makes them pearls. He takes our trials and makes them treasures. He takes our debt for us on the cross. He takes my clumsy lines and makes the shine.[1]

[1]I will add two postscripts to this last reference. First, I am taking these lines out of the song in order to illuminate the truth of the gospel. Cold War Kids did not have this meaning as their intention when writing these lyrics, as far as I know. Second, I only make this claim from these lyrics, knowing that that the story of Scripture and specific passages I have not referenced support what I have stated. Finally, I know that, like all analogies, this reference will break down somehow. Nevertheless, I thought this song allowed me to contemplate the love of Christ.