Do You Give Yourself to This Program?

“When we’re finished with you, you will no longer be David Webb…”


I don’t know how familiar you are with the “Big Men” of American folklore. The cast contains the likes of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, etc. Reality drifts in to myth, and things get larger than life: Johnny Appleseed planted ALL the apple trees in America, Paul Bunyan dug the Great Lakes to hold enough maple syrup for himself and all his lumberjacks, or John Henry wielded two twenty pound hammers and so on.

The songs say that John Henry was dedicated to working on the railroad. He went up to the captain, and basically volunteered to do well, anything (“I can hoist a jack, I can lay a track // I can pick and shovel too”). He was not a slacker. He knew his limits, but he really gave himself to a job well done, to the point of saying:
“Oh a man ain’t nothin’ but a man // ‘Fore I let your steam drill beat me down // I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.”


In my favorite action film of all time, the hero has a very unpleasant recollection of the moment of his recruitment to the Black Ops organization that entangles him. In the brief flashbacks we see him being “trained” (read: tortured) in various ways – verbal abuse, mindgames, even something that amounts to drowning. Over and over they ask him if he is still all in – Will he “give himself to the program“?

At the time, he thought he did. Bourne didn’t sell out for the right thing and ultimately he decided that was not who he was or what he wanted to be. He un-gave himself to the program. He decided it wasn’t worth trading his identity for that of an assassin.

What about John Henry? Where did his dedication put him? Tragically, the songs say that though he beat the steamdrill he “laid down his hammer and he died”. He wanted so badly to prove that a man can do a job better than a machine, and nothing would get the best of him on the job. And he sold out to the point of death for that.

Was it clever? Consider, in the workers versions of the song they sing “The hammer killed John Henry // but it won’t kill me.”

So when I think about how to prioritize my time, and what things I really want to be dedicated to, I always come back to this: is it worth my life? I’m not so sure proving your railroad superiority is. Neither is being an assassin. Don’t give yourselves to that program!

So what about you? What are the “programs” in your life? Is it work, like it was for John Henry? Is what other people say about you, like it was for Bourne? Some hobby, or relationship?


So one of my other favorite guys is Steven, you know from Acts 6. Basically he’s hangin out, and doin stuff, and the apostles come pick him to “serve tables”. Seriously. Not the most glamorous, right?

But Steven doesn’t see it like that. He’s not really a bells and whistles kind of guy anyway, and he knew Whose servant he was. He took the “ministry of the table” so that the other dudes can take care of the “ministry of the word,” and the Word of God could go out. He was a man of good repute. And he was full – not of himself, but of the Spirit, and of wisdom, faith, grace, (and power!) who surely “kept hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” He wasn’t a slacker. He was all in. Cashed out. He was quite obedient and he knew his scriptures.

You can see this when he gives his speech before the Sanhedrin. Just before they kill him.

Was he sold out for waiting tables? No, man. The food service industry isn’t super fun, even today, and definitely isn’t worthy dying for. No. He gave himself to something much bigger.

He sold out for the “Ruler and Redeemer, the Righteous One”. The bringer of his redemption, the one who would say “Well done, My good and faithful servant, enter My rest.” Clearly, Steven “served well [and] gain[ed] an excellent standing and great assurance in [his] faith in Christ Jesus.”


And that’s an identity and calling worth selling out for.

Posted in Books, Film, Media, Theology | Leave a comment

Glorious Now, Behold Him Arise!

Ghost likes to give me a really hard time over the fact that I like to sing Christmas carols, well, any time of year. For example today I was listening to We Three Kings, (Birch Tree Project‘s version). But ultimately, the really good carols aren’t just about Christmas. Let me explain.

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where Ox and Ass are feeding?

Around Christmas we watched the Nativity Story at church. While not entirely historically accurate, it was a beautiful and poignant film.

One part that really stuck with me from the film was a bit with the Magi.

See, early on in the film, only one of the Magi, Melchior, is convinced they need to make the trip to Bethlehem. He finally convinces a second, Balthazar, to accompany him, but the third, Gaspar, flat out refuses.

Eventually he relents, and catches up with them in the desert, saying “You forgot the map.” He complains along the way:

    Melchior:How many days have you come with us on this journey?
    Gaspar: One hundred and four.
    Melchior: And how many days have you complained about it?
    Gaspar: One hundred and five.
    [Melchior looks at him confused]
    Gaspar: … I am counting tomorrow.

Anyway, when they get to the Christ-child, the first two Magi present their gifts with pomp and flouish:
“Gold, for the King of Kings”
“Frankincense, for the Priest of all priests”

But Gaspar. Gaspar gets choked up. He looks startled, as though he didn’t bring a gift for this party, this party for the High Holy King of Kings, God veiled in flesh.

In fact, he’s very near to tears as he offers his gift: “A gift of Myrrh… to honor Thy sacrifice…”

So many Christmas carols have great theology, and great poetry. Many are quote long, and nowadays we often omit verses. For example, I was listening to “We three Kings”

They sang both of these verses:

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising, amen raising,
Worship to God on high.

But instead of singing the verse about the third gift they spend a verse going “mmmhmmmm mmmmm”. Why did they skip the verse?

That last verse is this:
Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Why do we skip the Myrrh? One blogger calls this verse “grim”. And it is. If we talk about “grim” things, then like Balthazar, we’re at the wrong party. At least we feel like it. So maybe they skipped it because Christmastime is the hap-happiest season of all! Culturally, Christmas is about “sweet baby Jesus“, who of course “no crying makes”. It’s about remembering uh, stuff. And presents and ribbon. And celebrating FaMiLY!!

Ahem. No.

Why lies He in such mean estate? Why bring the Magi the gift of myrrh?

As Gaspar so aptly puts it: “Thy sacrifice”.

You see, the celebration of Christmas is about the Incarnation. God coming down, giving up His rightful place in the riches of heaven to be veiled in the flesh. And yes, that gives us great cause to celebrate! God became one of us, that He might take our place. Hence: Christmas.

But the Incarnation is not stand alone. Instead it builds up to the passion, death and resurrection of the Incarnate One. In his essay On Fairy Stories, Tolkien says that the Incarnation is the “eucatastrophe of Man’s history”, and the “Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation”. Ultimately Christmas is not about Christmas. Christmas is about Easter!

This is why the myrrh. This is why the grim carols say “Nails, spears shall pierce Him through, the cross be bore for me for you” or “Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.” Behold, the very Lamb of God, the Light of the World, slain and buried.

This is our LORD, our Suffering Savior, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the World. He’s our Man of Sorrows, and one familiar with suffering. I am reminded of in the Magician’s Nephew, when Aslan says to Digory “My son, my son, I know. Grief is great.”* He knows our deepest agonies, He took our sins and sorrows // and made them His very own // He bore the burden to Calvary // and suffered and died alone.”

The very God of Very God, great Deity and King of Kings humbled Himself to the point of death, and became the sacrifice that saved us. This is why we sing of the myrrh, the grimness, the death.

But that’s not all. The song doesn’t end there: “Glorious now, behold Him arise, King and God and Sacrifice…!!”

Behold, He has risen indeed.

Draft begun 20 Dec 2012, completed 19 March 2013

*The Slaughter of the Innocents was mentioned in the film, and seems to be an active topic of late, as in this blog post, or this poem.

Posted in Chi-Town, The City, Theology | Leave a comment

Flowers in the Road Cones

Right now my beloved Twin Cities church is heading out for their fourth annual retreat. They sent out myriad updates about the snowy conditions, and many cautions to drive carefully, much as they had to do two years ago.

Two years ago today I was at the south east corner of Davis and Sherman, walking with my mom to Argo Tea, to meet her friend Diane. My mom was in the area mainly to visit her sister, but she wanted to see some friends too. At least, that was the plan.


Two years ago today it was a Monday. The Wednesday previously my Mom had emailed me saying she was coming to Chicago the next day. Short notice. But, I told her I was already planning on being out of town, and it would be easy enough to come down for the weekend.

I came down on Friday night, must have arrived Saturday morning. We stayed in the Best Western on Sherman. My mom had already been there a couple days. She’d already been over to visit my brother, who was sharing a house with a bunch of guys, guys I was all friends with.

I distinctly remember when I got to the hotel, my mom said “Have you had a chance to see your friend [Ghost] yet?”

I hadn’t.

Two years ago I was in Evanston, because I had come out to be with my mom who was visiting her sister who was sick with cancer, and after we saw my aunt, I went to visit my brother because he lived in town, and the guys were having a game night. I liked to play games, and was friends with the guys.

Two years ago the one guy that I liked had tape over his glasses, not because there was something wrong with his glasses, but because there was something wrong with his eyes.

Two years ago today I was in Evanston, because I had come out to be with my mom who was visiting her sister who was dying of cancer, and I went to my brother’s place because the guys were having a game night.

At the hotel my mom had asked “Have you had a chance to see your friend Tom yet?” because she had, and she knew that he had tape over his glasses because there was something wrong with his eyes because he had had surgery for a brain tumor.


Two years ago I had just come out to Evanston for the weekend. I had come out to be with my mom who was visiting her sister who was dying of cancer, and I had visited my brother’s place because the guys were having a game night, and the one guy I liked had tape over his glasses not because they were broken but because he had cancer.

Two years ago just today I was in Evanston but I couldn’t get back to St Paul because they had had a big snow storm in the Twin Cities, and the Megabus was not running anymore that weekend.

So my mom and I were going to meet her friend Diane at Argo Tea. We were at the south east corner of Davis and Sherman, walking west.

My phone rang. It was my pastor from the Twin Cities. Strange, I thought as I picked it up.

He said “Have you heard about the earthquake in Christchurch?”

Have you… what?

Posted in Chi-Town, Christchurch, St Paul, St Paul Vagabond, The City, Travel | Leave a comment

The Rings: “Remember when you were slaves in Egypt”

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My aunt tells me we come from a long line of preachers. I’m not sure quite how far back that line goes, but I do know that my grandma is a preacher up in the Upper Peninsula.

A while back we were up there for her birthday, and we stayed to hear her preach. Her sermon, I’m sure, had many points, but the main one I remember was a call to remember. In the Law there are many commands. I’m sure you know the litany of laws: “Do not steal”, “don’t eat such and such”, “avoid this and that”, and so on. Yet multiple times these commands are given with a reason: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.”
Remember. Remember.


We were at a wedding recently where the officiant said something to this effect “As a circle has no beginning and no end, so this ring will symbolize your unending love for one another.” Let me straighten this out. I dearly love my husband. But I am not married to him forever – simply ’til death do us part.

The circular band is not a symbol of our eternal love for one another, for all flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, the wind blows and they are gone, remembered no more.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him. As eternal and endless as a circle, so is Christ’s undying love for us.


I remember the day my Ghost-man got down on one knee in front of me. He picked a fabulous ring: subtle and non-ostentatious, white gold, with three stones. So when we went to pick wedding bands it was natural for us to seek something in the same vein.

We went back and forth debating metals. He really liked the idea of titanium rings. I wanted platinum, or at least a stripe of it, because reasons. I reasoned that it was important that we remember what God had done for us, and platinum would help me remember. Ghost was mighty uncomfortable at first. I made the analogy to the Israelites remembering when they were slaves in Egypt. Remembering where we have come from helps us remember God’s goodness.

So we looked and looked at rings. Titanium ones, platinum ones, ones with platinum stripes. What we discovered of course, is that platinum is very expensive, and that most people don’t deal in platinum or titanium, and certainly not both in the same ring.

He warmed up to the idea of a ring with a stripe, and I was convinced away from platinum. After much scouring of EVERYRINGPLACEEVAR!!!, we finally discovered the Titanium Knights. This husband and wife team had more than enough rings for us to drool over. We didn’t have to search for striped rings, and instead could jump right to deciding which finish and which stripe style we liked best. We were ready to order the rings before we even had a venue secured!

So even though the pinstripes on our rings are not platinum they still serve as a reminder of what this mighty God of ours, who brought us out of our own Egypts that we might serve Him in freedom, has done. Stripes remind us of what He bore for our salvation. May we never forget His goodness to us.

Posted in Fashion, Media, Theology, Wedding | Leave a comment

Social Change

So about four if not five years or six ago, when I was in undergrad, one guy – let’s call him Ace – who’s very dynamic and charismatic, and I respect a lot, told us this epic history of Western Civilization, walking us through wave of social change after wave of social change. His conclusion was that we were long overdue for a social revolution. At the time I felt the same way. If there had been some kind of major grassroots social movement I totally would have wanted to join. I echoed Trollyherdsman’s sentiments: “I want to direct my grass-roots effort and my youthful anger in the right direction.” But no such thing just was happening in my corner of the world. In fact, I distinctly remember that the one “protest” we did see on campus was actually staged because people were filming for a project.

So now, fast forward. I’ve graduated, I’ve moved away from Chi-town and back, I’ve gotten married, and I’m gainfully employed. It’s kind of like I’m a responsible adult or something. -.-

Needless to say, I’m a little bit impressed and a little bit bummed that such a movement is happening, now in this time, now that I have little interest in boarding that train anymore.

We’re experiencing a social movement, and I missed it!!

Posted in Chi-Town, Media | 2 Comments

Long-forgotten Gold

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day
To claim our long-forgotten gold

–JRRT

Stay home, little hobbit. There is no gold in the mountains. Stay home

And then something Tookish in me woke…

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Biblical Pairings

I had a small group leader once who declared that for any individual he could find a beer that that person would like. He was quite the beer connoisseur. People our group also loved chocolate, and cheese, and so on, and we always talked about having a tasting, a pairing event with these delicacies.

These would be tasty.

Here is something that makes me cringe.

One of the great debates of our time has been by one side called the “marriage equality movement”. Often, people in this debate wrestle with and or use the Bible. “It did condone” “it didn’t condone” “God is love, how can love be wrong?”

Do not, and I repeat DO NOT claim these pairings, as Daniel Helminiak seems to do: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master. Or have you forgotten, when making your “bibilically based” argument for homosexuality that oh wait, Ruth was so attracted to Boaz that she pretty much proposed to him? And if you had forgotten that, perhaps you have not forgotten the way that book concludes? “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son… Boaz was the father of Obed, and Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of Kind David.”

And of King David, did he not father Solomon the wise? And was he not so inflamed with lust for Bathsheba that he had her husband killed that he might take her as his wife, to the point that it is memorialized in song to this day?

Do not make those pairings.

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