On Net Neutrality

With all the hubbub around the recent Court opinion on Net Neutrality, I thought I’d way in with my two cents. It’s important to point out that I am in no way a lawyer, nor do I have expansive experience in legal analysis. The following thoughts are simply my reflections and understandings from reading the Opinion. Take them as you well.

 

Did the court kill Net Neutrality?

No.

 

What, yes they did!!

No, what they did was vacate 2 provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, specifically the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination provisions, which prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling content on their networks. All, while leaving the disclosure rules intact.

 

Dude, I think you’re full of it, that sounds like killing to me.

Yup, that seems to be the prevailing opinion (see what I did there), but in reality, the court didn’t really comment on the content of the rule, only the FCC’s statutory authority to implement said rule. The issue of neutrality is very much alive.

 

Hmm, explain.

I’ll do my best. But first, a little history. In 1996 the Telecommunications Act (Pub. L. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 ) was passed which broke telecommunications providers (telcos) into 2 classes, those who provided basic services (such as phone lines), from those who provide more enhanced information services (such as America Online, when that was a thing (sorry Tim Armstrong)). Then, in 2000 the FCC classified all cable broadband providers as ‘single, integrated information service’ providers, which was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court (National Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. 967 (2005)).

 

So what?

So, the last time this issue came up, it was in 2008 for Comcast blocking peer-to-peer networking apps (for a refresher on the gems people were torrenting in 2008). The court held that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate the network practices of Comcast, since it had classified them as ‘enhanced providers’ (600 F.3d (2008)). So, the FCC, instead of changing the rules and reclassifying Comcast and its ilk as ‘basic providers’ they instead opted to issue the Open Internet Order (25 F.C.C.R. 17905) which Verizon challenged.

 

Still not clear, maybe you’re not so good at this.

Probably not, but still, I press on. The FCC’s argument is based on a simple assertion: We (the FCC) have the duty (and regulatory authority) to promote internet access nationwide. We take the stand that an open internet is critical to said access, and thus we have the authority to enforce a certain minimum standard that all ISPs must provide, because we have the authorization to regulate telcos as ‘common carriers’ and thus enforce minimum standards.

 

Verizon’s response: I thought we weren’t telcos.

 

FCC: ….

 

What’s a common carrier?

The term “common carrier” or “carrier” means any person engaged as a common carrier for hire, in interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio or interstate or foreign radio transmission of energy, except where reference is made to common carriers not subject to this chapter; but a person engaged in radio broadcasting shall not, insofar as such person is so engaged, be deemed a common carrier.

– 47 U.S.C. § 153(11) 

 

Basically, it’s phone companies. The courts have consistently (FCC v. Midwest Video Corp., 440 U.S. 689; Cellco, 700 F.3d (2012)) upheld that cable (video cable) and mobile data providers are not subject to common carrier rules (for a variety of reasons). And remember, the FCC took the stance that ISPs were distinctly different from traditional ‘basic service’ providers.

 

I feel like you’re building towards something. I don’t like being strung along.

You’re right, here’s the kicker. The court ruled that the FCC, by forcing the ISPs to provide service indiscriminately (e.g. to any weirdo with a WordPress blog) then they are in fact forcing them into ‘common carriage’ status.

And that, faithful readers, is the primary reason why the court vacated the Open Internet provisions. Not because they were bad per se, but because they overstepped the statutory authority granted to the FCC.

 

Cool story bro, so what happens now?

Well, Verizon has already stated that would be exploring pray-for-priority arrangements, if it wasn’t for the Open Internet restrictions (Oral Arg. Tr. 31), so that could happen. Comcast, due to its merger with NBC,  is prohibited from any such action until 2016. AT&T has stated that they will continue to abide by the Open Internet rules, for now.

 

So is the FCC going to be relegated to the dustbin of federal agencies?

No. At least, not until they allow cellphones in flight.

 

Will Verizon stop providing internet to rural areas? Because I’m so over having only EDGE at my grandma’s house, it makes holidays akin to Dante’s 2nd circle.

What do you think?

 

No….?

Correct. The Court reaffirmed section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which is what governs broadband rollout and other such matters (47 U.S.C. § 1302(a). Section 706(b)). To be clear, it was never overtly challenged, but the court still reiterated that the FCC has a property role in the internet in general. In fact, a primary argument by Verizon is that infrastructure is expensive, and they need more capital in order to continue expanding and improving their services.

 

Do you actually believe that?

No, but it’s now in oral testimony, so somebody should hold them to that.

 

Did the Court simply roll over and let Verizon walk all over them?

Nope, in fact, they were pretty unconvinced by the majority of their arguments (see most of Part II), so I think in future cases telcos will have their work cut out for them.

 

What if I like my Net Neutrality? Can I keep it?

If you like your Net Neutrality, you can keep your Net Neutrality. Sort of. The FCC laid out a couple of options.

 

  1. The FCC could reclassify ISPs as ‘basic providers’ and thus be subject to ‘common carrier’ regulation. [Actually, I’m a little shaky on this, it seems that this is possible, but the ruling in Midwest II seems to make things tricky. It seems the Court is suggesting that ISPs could be considered common carriers with respect to third-party content providers. I would love some clarification on this.]. Nevertheless, the Court remanded the case back to the FCC, so the ball’s in their court (Part IV, 63).
  2. Congress could pass a law that places ISPs directly under common carrier rules, after all, they didn’t write a statute that prohibits them from doing so (Part III, 53).

 

Ugh, I hate Congress!

You and 86% of your peers.

 

What else can we do, while Congress is debating how much bathroom tile to embargo from Iran?

A few thoughts.

 

  • It seems to me that this is an incredibly fertile ground for some good-old-fashioned anti-trust litigation, especially once Comcast gets into the game. Since many of the ISPs are moving into the content production realm, I could see some seriously angry third-parties camping out in front of the FTC’s office.
  • Going along with that, just because a corporation is allowed to engage in contract negotiation and variable pricing (like most businesses), doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want (like most businesses). They still have to abide by fair practice laws, and now with the eyes of the world upon them (or at least, all the eyes that can be spared from the latest Vine stream), it should only be a matter of time before something happens. Remember, see something, say something.
  • We as consumers do have some abilities to influence markets. While it’s true most people only have 1-2 options for internet access, that doesn’t mean that all forms of civic action are simply out the window (remember the Comcast data caps?). If the ISPs do start charging places like Netflix more and more money, it’s likely so they can drive people to their alternative service offerings. Services that people don’t have to accept, or embrace.
  • I find the assertion that ISPs will limit access to news sources a bit incredible, that seems like a huge violation of Freedom of the Press, and the courts have shown a pretty substantial reluctance towards doing anything that would impede their ability to disseminate information. So, while most blogs (including this one) would hardly count as news, there’s still a pretty good argument for Comcast not doing this.
  • Can we do a Kickstarter ISP?

 

Ok, but I still think ISPs should be required to carry all types of content.

You’re probably right, here’s a good piece by my friend Nick DeBoer talking about it in more detail, along with an incredibly convoluted opening metaphor.

It really comes down to a simple question. What is the Internet? Is it a public utility (like power, water, etc)? Is it a public good (like food, or healthcare)? Or is it a commercial business (like YouTube, or Best Buy)? How you answer that question is largely going to determine whether the Court’s decision angers your, or relieves you.

 

What do you think?

I haven’t decided yet. I think there are very strong arguments for a concept of the Open Internet, I’m a strong believer in freedom of information, and I think the Internet is a tremendous tool for justice and equal rights. That being said, there are substantial commercial interests involved, and I think the public utility arguments are both 1) not quite applicable to the dynamics of internet economics, and 2) not a great model for us to follow in general (do we really want our internet to look like our power grid?); however, when you phrase the argument around a freedom of speech issue, and when you basically apply a status-quo (as opposed to a highly regulated model) to the current system, the arguments get much stronger in favor of openness. That being said, I really don’t think this does a whole lot (either way) to address the root issue of ISP cost and quality. We still have a long way to go before things get measurably ‘good’.

 

Well, this wasn’t a total waste of my time, is there anything else I should know?

Yes, I would like point out that the court did use the example of a ‘video of a cat’ (Part I, 6) in their opinion, a strong point in their favor as actually ‘getting the internet’. Also, they took the time to point out that even federal agencies are entitled to a little pride (Part II (A), 20).

 

That’s funny, where can I read that?

Here

 

Whoa! That’s like 80 pages!

Yup, gotta love Administration Law.

 

Forget that, I’m going to go troll Buzzfeed.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

 

Sermon: Not as the world gives

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to deliver the weekly homily at Emmanuel Anglican Church during our celebration of the Advent week of ‘peace’.

 

The sermon was based on a blog post I wrote last year that looked at the distinctions between hope Christ presented himself, and is presented in scripture, versus some of the heroic myths of the ancient world and our larger understanding of government and human existence. For this past week I took that core and oriented it around the idea of peace in a world in conflict. Specifically, looking at how Christ may in fact be the one true hope for peace in our world, in that his arrival represents a fundamental restructuring of human relationships and a true understanding of governance and authority.

 

In listening to the audio the first thing that struck me was ‘man, do I talk fast’. As one of my friends so elegantly put it. ‘You need to reign in the tongue racehorses that pull your mental chariot’. So, apologies for the extremely rapid pace of the dialogue. I’m working on that.

 

You can get the audio here and the slides are available here (which you may want to follow along with, as there’s a bit of artwork involved).

 

Take a listen, and let me know what you think.

 

 

 

Compile SAGA for Mac OS X

Update:

The good folks over at OsGeo have worked their magic and turned all the installation steps into magic. So, to get a nice shiny SAGA install, all one needs to do is this:

brew tap osgeo/osgeo4mac

brew install saga-gis --with-app --with python

I’ll leave the rest of the post up for posterity (or if you really like doing things the hard way), but it should’ve be necessary.

For people who like doing things the hard way:

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a bunch of work with different geospatial packages, including SAGA which is tremendously powerful, albeit incredibly difficult to compile from source. Which isn’t really a big deal as most Linux repos have fairly up-to-date versions, but as my primary machine is Macbook Air, I’d like to be able to run natively and as of right now, there are no prebuilt packages.

There’s a pretty good set of compile instructions already available on Sourceforge, but they’re based around installing prebuilt OS packages and/or compiling stuff on your own, which can be tricky and is hard to keep updated. By now you’re thinking, why not just use Homebrew? What a great idea, if you’re not already a Homebrewer, you should be. It’ll make all the ladies love you, and all your kids will be 6 feet tall and look like David Hasselhoff. Unfortunately, the version that ships with Homebrew is good ol’ 1.6, which is only slightly more modern then the version Moses used to teach the Israelites. So, to the source we go, and with a few modifications we may just have some success.

Note: These instructions assume that you have a working version of Homebrew, as well as the various packages  (automake, libtool, subversion, etc) and know-how necessary to compile generic software.


1. Install XQuartz

The first packge you’ll need is XQuartz, which you’ll need to download and install yourself just like a normal OS X package. No magic here.

2. Install Basic SAGA Dependencies

The first few deps can be installed in one fell swoop:

 brew install boost jasper libharu 

3. Build GDAL

The default GDAL recipe installs an up-to-date and fairly complete version of GDAL, but it’s missing KML support, which is a big deal for what I do, but  unfortunately GDAL requires libkml 1.3 and Homebrew only uses 1.2, so we need to build from SVN.

 svn checkout http://libkml.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/ libkml-read-only 

As of now, you’ll need to touchup some of the configure files before compiling:

  • Edit configure.ac and remove the reference to ‘-Werror’
  • Also in configure.ac, replace ‘AM_CONFIG_HEADER’ with ‘AC_CONFIG_HEADER’

Now, build it:

./autogen.sh

CXXFLAGS="-O3 -pipe -march=core2 -msse4.2 -msse4.1 -mno-avx" ./configure --prefix=/usr/local/Cellar/libkml/1.3

make

make install

brew link libkml

NOTE: Depending on how old your Mac is, you may have to remove the SSE optimizations from CXXFLAGS, the reason we’re not using ‘-march=native’ is that it throws an error in GCC 4.2, and no, libkml does not compile correctly using clang. I tried.

3. Install wxWidgets

If you’ve perused the previously mentioned compile notes, you’re probably wondering why we didn’t just install wxWidgets along with everything else. The reason is, the provided recipe doesn’t have the correct compile flags and misses some of the x86_64 features. Which throws errors during the SAGA comple. The simple fix is to edit the recipe:

 brew edit wxwidgets 

And paste the following lines into the ‘args’ vector right before “–disable-debug”:

"--enable-shared",

"--enable-monolithic",

"--enable-macosx_arch=x86_64",

"--with-macosx-sdk=/Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/Platforms/MacOSX.Platform/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX#{MacOS.version}.sdk",

Boom, now just

 brew install wxwidgets 

and you’re off.

If you want to put the recipe back the way it belongs, just check it back out from git:

cd /usr/local/Library/Formulas

get checkout wxmac.rb


3. Build SAGA

Now you’re finally ready to build SAGA itself. First, you’ll need to grab it from subversion

 svn co svn.code.sf.net/p/saga-gis/code-0/trunk/saga-gis saga-gis 

By default, the Makefiles reference some libraries that either don’t exist, or are named differently on OS X, so you’ll need to touchup the Makefiles.

  • Edit src/saga_core/saga_odbc/Makefile.am and change “-lodbc” to “-liodbc” (without the quotes).
  • Edit src/saga_core/saga_gui/Makefile.am and delete “aui,base,” and “propgrid,” from the first AM_LDFLAGS line.

Now, build the config files.

 autoreconf -i 

With all the various config flags and options, it’s easiest to build a script to put it all together.

vim my-saga-config.sh

and add the following lines:

FEATURES="--enable-debug --disable-openmp --prefix=/usr/local/Cellar/saga-core/2.1.0 --exec-prefix=/usr/local/Cellar/saga-core/2.1.0"

CXX="/usr/bin/clang"

CXXFLAGS="-O3 -march=native"

DEFINES="-D_FILE_OFFSET_BITS=64 -DWXUSINGDLL -D__WXMAC__ -D__WXOSX__ -D__WXOSX_COCOA__"

GDAL_H="-I/usr/local/include"

PROJ_H="-I/usr/local/include"

GDAL_SRCH="-L/usr/local/lib"

PROJ_SRCH="-L/usr/local/lib"

LINK_MISC="-arch x86_64 -mmacosx-version-min=10.7 -isysroot /Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/Platforms/MacOSX.platform/Developer/SDKs/MacOSX10.7.sdk -lstdc++"

./configure $FEATURES CXXFLAGS="$CXXFLAGS" CXX="$CXX" CPPFLAGS="$DEFINES $GDAL_H $PROJ_H" LDFLAGS="$GDAL_SRCH $PROJ_SRCH $LINK_MISC"

This will link to the appropriate libraries, use the correct SDK, and install the files in the correct location, super fancy right? The last step before building is to add a missing header from the proj library, while it’s not included in the homebrew build, we can extract it from the downloaded tarball:

tar -zxvf /Library/Caches/Homebrew/proj-4.8.0.tar.gz ./proj-4.8.0/src/projects.h

mv /proj-4.8.0/src/projects.h {SAGA_DIR}/src/modules_projection/pj_proj4/pj_proj4/projects.h

rm -rf proj-4.8.0/

Now, make like the wind:

chmod +x my-saga-conf.sh

./my-saga-conf.sh

make

make install

brew link saga

Once that finishes you should have a working install, but since this is a fancy Apple computer, you’re probably wanting a nice Application bundle. Lucky for you, there’s a script for that.

wget http://web.fastermac.net/~MacPgmr/SAGA/create_saga_app.sh

wget http://web.fastermac.net/~MacPgmr/SAGA/saga_gui.icns

chmod +x create_saga_app.sh

./create_saga_app.sh /usr/local/bin/saga_gui SAGA

ln -s {SAGA_DIR}/SAGA.app /Applications/SAGA.app

And that ladies and gentlemen, is how we do that. You now have a slick, up to date , and working copy of SAGA on your lovely OS X installation. There’s one minor caveat, if you’re like me and had grand visions of using RSAGA to run spatial statistics, you’ll find that it only supports SAGA versions up to 2.0.8; which don’t compile on the latest version of Xcode as they no longer support the Carbon SDK. If you really need R integration, you’re stuck with a Linux or Windows (gasp) VM.

FINAL NOTE: These directions worked for me and should work across platforms, and yes, there are probably better and more efficient ways to do this, but my motto is ‘when in doubt, add another compile flag’.

Go forth and be spatial!

Three Minute Thesis

This quarter I’m taking a Teaching Methods class, which requires me to give a series of different presentations as well as teach an undergraduate level class (just one though, no need to torture the kids more then is absolutely necessary). This past week we had to present our dissertation research (or proposed research) to the rest of our classmates in under three minutes, or in my case, under 3:32. That’s not really an easy task, especially when at this point my research is pretty much all encompassing. As in, encompassing all of science, but I gave it my best shot.

 

In case you were wondering what it is I do all day, this should answer some questions.

 

 

Note: That breathing sound is not me sucking in a huge amount of oxygen, it’s the compressor on the audio channel. Just thought I should clear that up.

 

Book Review: Where the Conflict Really Lies

I don’t normally write book reviews, for a time I gave it a shot, but it turned out to be incredibly tedious for both the writer and the reader; however, over the past 4 months I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a faculty/graduate student luncheon here at UW discussing Dr. Alvin Plantinga’s new book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism and I thought it deserved a bit of discussion here.

 

apologetics315.com

 

Starting out, I had really high hopes for this book. I had heard from many sources that it was one of, if not the best, apologetics books of the 21st Century. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. To begin with, it’s important to point out what this book is not; it’s not a book about the rationality or compatibility of Christianity with science. At its core, it’s a juxtaposition of theism with naturalism and pointing out key points of conflict and harmony. The central tenant is:

 

there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.

– pg. 3 (emphasis added)

 

A reader picking up this book and looking for a rigorous defense of Christianity will be sorely disappointed as the religion purported by the author is one quite different then modern day Christianity. What Plantinga describes is a religion that may in fact be merely the product of evolutionary development and have only enough value to provide comfort in times of distress, or give us social norms to cling to. The god of this book is one with only limited interaction with the world and who, once setting the world in motion, seems to have been content with letting things transpire as they will, baring some rare exceptions. While it’s true that many of the trappings of modern religion have developed out of tradition and without a firm link to scripture, there are many elements (such as God’s divine action, or universal moral law) that are not merely peripheral fillers but key to what many (including myself) would call Christianity, to simply wave them away seems at best disingenuous, and at worst deceptive.

 

Of course, I don’t want to imply that Dr. Plantinga has sold out his faith, or abandoned its central tenants, what he’s attempting to do is argue that the central concept of theism is a better fit with science then raw unguided naturalism, so while it may in fact be that religion is simply an evolutionary spandrel, that has little to do with his underlying premise. To the average reader though, this is a cold comfort. Most people don’t live in a world of rigid naturalism, or have the ability to take the base arguments for theism and extrapolate them to encompass ‘working’ religion. Instead, most people find themselves in the position of justifying the personal faith that they hold. A faith where God is not only present but continually acting in the world, a faith that is more then simply an archaic shield against uncertainty and fear but a hope for redemption and a moral law that all men are held accountable to. The end result is that by stripping religion down to its bare theistic elements Dr. Plantinga has been able to claim ‘superficial conflict’ but unfortunately in doing so has abandoned most readers to fend for themselves.

 

However; it’s not all bad news. The logical consistency displayed throughout the book is truly exceptional, Dr. Plantinga has an incredibly deep understanding of a myriad of religious, philosophical, and scientific topics. Not only that, but the book is incredibly well referenced with both books and scientific papers, a reader looking to delve deeper into any of the mentioned topics will have plenty of directions to choose from. Dr. Plantinga has taken exceptional care to ensure that each argument, premise, and counterpoint is well thought out and carefully explained, the result is a comprehensive book accessible to a wide variety of readers.

 

In conclusion, if you’re a potential looking for resources in explaining theism and the pitfalls of unguided naturalism, look no further then this book. If, on the other hand, you find yourself in the position of defending Christian faith and explaining reasons for why you believe what you do this is probably not the best book to consult.

Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t have a ton of great resources to recommend to readers.  A number of years ago I often referenced J.P Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City  as a go-to resource for philosophical points. John Polkinghorne has some great books such as Quantum Physics and Theology and Belief in God in an Age of Science which are similar to Plantinga’s book, but a little different. A lot of people that I know rave about Tim Keller’s The Reason for Godthough I haven’t read it and can’t speak to its content. Finally, Alister McGrath’s Glimpsing the Face of God is absolutely phenomenal, though quite different from the preceding resources.

 

If there are any books that you’ve found to be especially insightful for helpful, please leave a link in the comments.

 

He is Risen

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.[c]
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

 

– Zephaniah 3:14-20 (ESV)

 

 

Updates

Dear all,

 

I have not forgotten you, it’s simply the fact that it’s the end of the quarter and I’m pretty well swamped under with papers and such. Fear not, next week is my spring break and I have a few things I’ve been thinking about and I may spend some time elucidating them here. I’ve also been working on a few projects, some of which are pretty cool, so look forward to that.

 

In the mean time, here are a few things to keep you satiated.

 

1. This awesome video:

 

 

2. This cool paper (23354052)

 

3. This innovative idea

 

4. The new share buttons at the bottom of the posts, you can even send directly to your Kindle for later reading. What will they think of next?

 

5. This great song

 

 

6. This picture of a cat

 

ddmcdn.com

 

 

 

Until next time.

 

Bibliography

Let heaven come

Last night at my Discipleship Community (or DC if you’re in the know) we sang a song during worship with the bridge:

 

Let heaven come

 

Throughout the night I kept coming back to that line, let heaven come. What a terrifying, terrifying thought. Do we really want heaven to come down? Are we actually ready for that?

 

We like to think about God coming back. Riding down amongst the clouds, proving wrong all those annoying atheists once and for all. I told you! I told you he was real! Then we get to the sinners, oh boy, now they’re in for it. God’s gonna come in and show them a thing or two, John Cash was right all along! Maybe while he’s here we’ll get one of those super ‘Jesus highs’ you get from going to Christian conferences, only this one will last longer then 3 days. Boy, that’ll be awesome.

 

But that phrase means so much more then what we think it does.

 

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

– Matthew 6:10 (ESV)

 

 

Your will be done. Right there, everything changes direction. His will? Really? Is that how that works? I thought heaven coming down only meant something for those people outside the Christian club! Nope. Heaven is God’s territory, what he says goes, no negotiations, no pleadings. If we really want heaven on earth, then we have to realize that the end result will be us being in total submission to the will and desire of God, that’s what heaven’s like, are we alright with that?

 

For most of us, we really like to have our own way. We like religion, just not too much. We like obeying God, but only until we start to look like ‘those people’. We desire holiness, but our sin is pretty fun too, and as long as God hangs out up there in heaven we can get away with just enough sin and disobedience to have a little extra fun while we’re here in earth. I mean, come on, he couldn’t have meant all my sin, some if it’s not really that big of a deal, everyone does it, and some people do way worse. So I’m sure God would be fine, it’s like par for the course. Again, nope.

 

Really, it’s not even about sin, it’s about all those things you know God asked you to do, but you didn’t. It’s about all those times you feel those pangs in your heart to give something extra in the offering plate, sign up for the 3am prayer slot at Church, or invite that weird guy from accounting to lunch (they’re always from accounting). All those things you know you should be doing but find some sort of excuse not to. Now, imagine God is really here, heaven has actually come to earth, somehow those excuses don’t seem to cut it anymore.

 

Let heaven come, but maybe not just yet. 

 

The second thing about heaven coming around is that God will be here, for real. Really here, and historically, that’s been a big deal.

 

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

 

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

– Revelation 4:9-11 (ESV)

 

 

…“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

– Exodus 33:19-20 (ESV)

 

The presence of the Lord is unlike anything we can imagine, it is great and glorious, beautiful and mighty. When heaven does come to earth, the physical presence of the Lord will come with it, and it will be incredible. Don’t think for a second that you can enter the presence of the Lord and not be changed. Don’t pretend that all your righteousness, pretenses, and excuses won’t be stripped bare in front of Yahweh of Armies. The presence of the Lord is both glorious and terrifying. Glorious, that’s why people immediatly fall to worship. Terrifying, that’s why the arrival of angels, mere wisps compared to the living God, announce their arrival with fear not, because the fear is real. We don’t know how to handle such awesomeness, we’re only human.

 

Let heaven come

 

We should absolutely desire the coming of heaven, and desire for it to come soon, but my question is; are we really ready for it? Are we ready to surrender ourselves to the perfect will of God? Are we truly ready to stand in the presence of the King of Kings? Is that really what we want? If not, we have no business praying for it. This is not a joke, our worship means something, our prayers matter. If we don’t mean it, we shouldn’t sing it.

 

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

– Psalm 130:5-6 (ESV)

 

In my own life there are days when that is my prayer, days when I wait with anxious longing for the Lord to come in glory, to put things right, to restore the broken, to bind up the wounded. He has promised, let him not delay! I know that I have fallen short of the glory of God but still I know that his lovingkindness will be sufficient and I long to made right and to submit to his perfect will.

 

For, though I knew His love Who followéd,

Yet was I sore adread

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.

– The Hound of Heaven | Francis Thompson

 

Then there are the rest of my days (most of my days if I’m being honest) when I’m pretty content with the way things are. I know that I’m in friction with God’s will, I know that I cling to my sin, but I’m ok with that. To me, it’s not really a big deal. I may stand in worship and sing let heaven come, but I don’t mean it, in fact, I may even be praying against it. I’m not ready to move on, I’m not ready to grow, I’m not ready to lay down my will. Those are the days when my worship is a lie.

 

We bandy religious word and platitudes like they’re simply phrases with no inherent meaning or worth, but they’re not. There’s a deeper meaning both beautiful and terrible. When we enter into worship we need to ask ourselves, do I mean it? Is what I confess with my mouth really what I believe in my heart? If not, then we need to do some serious work to get ourselves right before we come before the presence of the Lord. But the good news is, the Lord is faithful, he has great mercy and compassion, he longs to be gracious to us and meets us in our weakness, he stoops down from on high to work in our hearts and minds, to be continually bringing us into perfection. In a way, it’s a little taste of something greater to come.

 

On earth as it is in heaven

Let heaven come to earth

As it is in heaven

Let heaven come

– Our Father (Let Heaven Come) | Marcus Meier

 

 

Let heaven come….

 

 

Book Review: Jesus Is ____

Before we get into the book review, it’s important to flesh out some of the history between myself and the author, Pastor Judah Smith. This historical explanation should help in providing some additional understandings as to my motivations and resulting conclusions, as well as make for interesting reading.  My ‘relationship’ with the author goes back several years and can easily be broken into 5 distinct time frames, and though we’ve never met in person, we’ve had our share of intersecting actions.

 

2003: My High School youth group heads north to Toronto, Canada to attend the Fresh Wind conference for the 2nd time. I am not in attendance as my Aunt has the nerve to schedule her wedding that same weekend. Upon reuniting with my friends they regale me with stories of this hilarious and super cool youth pastor from the far northern territory of Seattle. Over a summer mission trip to northern Canada (I’m detecting a theme) our endless hours in the van are filled with the many voices of Pastor Judah and I begin to feel like I was there hearing him in conference with all my peers. Our youth pastor has some interactions with Pastor Judah, flies out to see the mythical man, and meets Third Day instead, my friends consider the Generation Interns program, things are getting closer.

 

2008: The summer after my Freshman year in college a family vacation brings me to Seattle, my brother and I catch a bus to the U-District (though we didn’t really know that was a thing) to hear Pastor Judah (I call him PJ, we’re just that close) speak during one of their Wednesday night services. It was awesome, everything that I’d been dreaming of for all those years. I wanted to hang around after and meet the man behind the voice, but he spoke for what seemed like forever and we had to catch a bus, which we ended up chasing for 3 blocks down The Ave. Welcome to Seattle.

 

2009-2010: PJ makes some snarky comment about the midwest on Twitter, I call him on his crap, he starts following me.

 

2012: Grad school beckons and upon moving to Seattle I make the trip across the river for a Saturday night service, all the time thinking, perhaps tonights’ the night, perhaps tonight’s the night. Judah didn’t preach.

 

2013: PJ tweets an offer to join the Jesus Is ____ Street Team, since I’ve already pre-ordered the book I figure it would be nice to get an advance copy.

 

Now that I’ve firmly established the lightly stalkerish backstory, we can move on to the purpose of this post, a review of literature. This is a long post, it’s a bit wandery in places and would probably feel more at home in the Claremont Review of Books or The Public Discourse than on Amazon or Goodreads. It’s really more of my thoughts on the material, intersections I picked up on, and questions/suggestions I had after reading. Hopefully some bits and pieces of it will be helpful to some people, I’m not trying to rewrite the book or rephrase the author’s conclusions, merely using it as a stepping stone for additional contemplation and reflection.

 

DISCLAIMER: As I mentioned earlier, I was given a pre-release copy of the book in exchange for helping spread the word on the Tweet-machine and its ilk, and for writing a review. They did mention writing an ‘honest’ review (I think I have that in email form somewhere) and I’m assuming they’re not nearly as litigious as Tesla Motors so I feel pretty safe giving a truthful review of the book; however, if you feel my journalistic integrity may be affected by said goodies, well that’s ok.

 

 


Unboxing

The first thing you’ll notice upon receiving this book, is the brightly colored cover, slightly reminiscent of a cross between The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family title slides, it’s really groovy. Next, you’ll wade through 4 pages of glowing reviews that hint at the fact that this may be the greatest book of our generation, if not the greatest, then possibly the penultimate in greatness. To me, it was a little off putting, I like Judah as much as the next guy, but the sheer number of superlatives is a little unsettling.

 

Once more through the breach, dear friends….

 

Jesus Is…. Is there a more loaded phrase in the English language? For centuries people have been struggling to understand who this Jesus character is, and why he matters in our day-to-day lives. In this book, the author, Judah Smith, works at a high level of abstraction. He avoids dry theology, he moves beyond the issues of the historical Jesus, or the geo-political underpinnings of a new world order and presents a Jesus personal, real, and immediate. The person of Jesus, not the idea of him, a Jesus for you and me, a Jesus for the real and now; and it’s funny, this Jesus kind of looks like somebody I’d want to hang out with.

 

Jesus Is Your Friend

Jesus is not your accuser. He’s not your prosecutor. He’s not your judge. He’s your friend and your rescuer.

– pg. 12

 

Let’s be honest, everyone knows that this Jesus guy is supposed to be super holy and righteous, and of course, a fundamental facet of our nature is that we not hence, disconnected from this holy son of God.Even though a passing glance at the bible renders this logical train of thought into the structural consistency of Swiss Cheese, it’s utterly pervasive through our culture. Why would a holy God suffer my sin and want to hang around with me? Judah’s answer: Because he loves you, and to him, you’re worth pursuing and loving.

 

 “I have loved you,” says the Lord.

– Malachi 1:2a (ESV)

 

In the first section we see Jesus doing all the things ‘good christians’ would never be caught dead doing, he’s hanging out with professional sinners, being in community with them, ministering to them, and most of all, refraining from condemning them. And that’s the message especially for those in the Church, if God himself doesn’t condemn people, where do we get off doing so? Where is it our place to condemn and marginalize and put up barriers that keep people from experiencing the transformative grace and love of Jesus Christ?

 

As Judah makes (partially) clear (we’ll get to that later), this is not to say that sin isn’t a big deal, that somehow we’re good enough on our own to win the affections of God. His point here is that sin is between us and God, and he alone can tall people to account for their choices and actions.

 

…in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his [Jesus] righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

– Romans 3:25-26 (ESV)

 

For now, God has chosen to look past our sin in order that we might be drawn into his perfect love and grace and from there, allow his glorious majesty to do a good work within in order to bring us to perfection.

 

…“go and sin no more.” That wasn’t a threat. It was a declaration of freedom. He wasn’t interested in condemning her past. He wanted to rescue her future.

– pg. 27

 

Jesus Is Grace

God offers us something that’s too good to be true— unearned, unmerited, total forgiveness—and we stand there, stiff and uncomfortable, waiting for the embrace to stop so we can get back to the business of earning our way into heaven.

We need to embrace grace. We need to learn how to hug back.

– pg. 36

 

We all screw up, we all have sinned and fallen short of the greatness we have been called into. For a humanistic world which operates off a utilitarian mindset of, you get what you earn and you are what you produce, failure can be a final state. Here’s the beauty of Jesus and the ‘salvation story’, it doesn’t work the same way.

 

Judah recounts, in his own special way, the story of the Prodigal Son, the story of redemption and forgiveness, the story of a father humiliating himself because he could not bear being separated from his son even a moment longer. That is the God we serve.

 

…He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.

– Judges 10:16 (NASB)

 

… it is a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even through we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.

– C. S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain (Ch. 6 ‘Human Pain)

 

And the beautiful thing is, it’s not by our own power that we come, God comes to us and meets us in our pain, filth, and sickness, because that’s just the kind of God he is.

 

We can take all our education, our information, our resources, and our giftings, and we can plan out how we are going to find God and convince him to take us in; but even with all our planning and plotting and preparation, the best we’ll ever get is still a “long way off.”

– pg. 44

 

Jesus Is The Point

That wasn’t God’s intent when he gave them the law—it was just human nature.
– pg. 88

 

Life looks grey sometimes (especially for those of us who live in Seattle), it’s full of pain, full of sadness, and that tedious boredom that always creeps in and ruins an otherwise good week. So what are we to do? The simple answer is that since the world came out of chaos and randomness, with no coherent vision or motivation, there really isn’t any inherent purpose and meaning to life, thus we make it what we want and do as we please. Unfortunately, we all know how that’s turned out so far.

 

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
Disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
And when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

– Steven Turner – Poems: Steve Turner

 

Yet, that answer doesn’t sit well with us humans, we believe, deep down in the bedrock of our souls, that we are meant for something. That we were created for a purpose. That all this pain and suffering is not merely the out workings of some cosmic equation, that there’s meaning somewhere, somehow. And we struggle to find that meaning, and our purpose by whatever means necessary. And yet, there is really only one way to find that purpose and meaning. In a personal, loving God, unchanging:

 

I believe in one God,

loved, desired by all creation,

sole, eternal,

who moves the turning Heavens,

Himself unmoved.

– Dante – The Divine Comedy § Paradiso

 

He is the word existing beyond time,
both source and final purpose,
bringing to wholeness all that is made.

– Eucharistic Prayer 5

 

Judah hammers this point home with the story of Solomon, he had everything, and still it wasn’t enough, there was nothing on earth he didn’t have access to, and still he found himself in the depths of dispair. Then here comes Christ, claiming to give us hope and a future, purpose and destiny. Not in an abstract theoretical way, but in a real, personal way, a way that hit us where we live and work, a way that punches through the drudgery and monotony  and says, I have made you, I have loved you, and I will use you for great things.

 

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

– Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

 

Jesus is the point of life.

– pg. 113

 

Jesus Is Happy

Desiring happiness, peace, and joy is not wrong. But how we pursue them is important.

– pg. 119

 

Jesus is, Happy. Yes he is. As I was reading this section I kept thinking about one of my favorite quotes from G.K Chesterton regarding the nature of Jesus:

 

I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

– G.K Chesterton – Orthodoxy

 

Something too great for us to understand, the mirth and joy of Christ. People do indeed have this idea that following Christ involves giving up all of the good things in life and perhaps even moving into a monastery somewhere and subsisting on solely bread and water. To those people I say, even monasteries brew beer.

 

…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

– John 10:10 (ESV)

 

When The Lord created the earth he called it good (טוב) (tôwb) meaning, among many other things, delicious, desirable, agreeable. God made the earth, and he liked it, he liked it very much. The world is good, and we’re not exempt from enjoying it. Christianity is not a droll, boring faith for those who are pathologically averse to pleasure; it is not a dead orthodoxy inspiring a sort of abstraction from reality. It is a real, vibrant, enjoyable life chasing after the one who makes it all worthwhile. We are in the world, and we experience the world in real ways.

 

 The gospel is not bad news. It’s not threatening news. It’s not hellfire-and-brimstone news. It’s good news. Great news. Over-the-moon news. You cannot separate joy from the gospel. Joy is built into the very definition of the gospel. They are literally the same word.

– pg. 122

 

Jesus Is Here

He loved you when you hated him, and he loves you now.

– pg. 156

 

We do not serve an absent God, we do not serve a divine entity who showed up for the opening credits, then jetted off to his next fixer-up project.

 

With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them beings and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing thus utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy, and confidence.

– The Catechism of the Catholic Church – The Profession of Faith § 301

 

Our God is not dead, we have not killed him with our unbelief, we do not summon him with rigid patterns of observation, or risk his selfish wrath when we act contrary to his will. Nor do we follow a God who has no idea what on earth we’re going through.

 

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.

– Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)

 

Our God is both fully God and fully Man. He is, Homoousiosof same substance with the Father and yet, still fully man. He knows us, he loves us, he is there for us, and he pursues us.

 

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat….

– Francis Thompson – The Hound of Heaven

 

Jesus brings life out of death. He brings hope out of sorrow. He turns our mourning into joy. Jesus is there for us when we need him most—whether we know it or not and whether we appreciate it or not.

Jesus will never leave us. He will never abandon us. He will never give up on us.

Jesus is always here.

– pg. 163

 

Jesus Is Alive

Jesus gives us a new way to be human.

– pg. 191

 

For centuries man has been searching for the solution to all man’s ills. And they’ve developed a good many theories and promises, and yet, here we are still in the midst of suffering, still facing pain, still tainted with sin.

 

The end to man’s ills is not found in man, but in something else. We cannot unmake ourselves, we cannot reconstitute into something better, something cleaner, something less rotten, it’s not possible. That’s where God comes in, he comes to bring us new life, a new birth, something that is fundamentally different from what we have, and in that, we find true freedom and redemption.

 

A few years ago, I was reading Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams and in one chapter they discussed the different between Spanish and English theory of economics, for the Spanish there existed a finite amount of wealth in the world, for the English wealth could be generated by continual process improvement. From one system you have empire and conquest, from the other you have commerce and industry. Everyday we strive to ‘get ahead’, to be better then others, to ‘get what’s mine.’ We’re all Spanish at heart.

 

…man strives for glory, lest no glory be had.

– H. Richard Niebuhr – ‘The Responsible Self’ (Ch. 5)

 

Then in comes God, and he changes everything. He promises to get rid of our old selves and fill us with his perfect self. He promises to take all that striving, and redeem us from it. To get ride of the reason why we struggle in the first place.

 

all the pain that you have known
all the violence in your soul
all the wrong things you have done
I will take from you when I come
all mistakes made in distress
all your unhappiness
I will take away with my kiss
I will give you tenderness

– The Opiate Mass – This is to Mother You

 

Not only has he come to redeem our future, but to cleanse us of our past. As the afore mentioned Neibuhr noticed, we respond to people primarily based on how we’ve interacted with them in the past, which is to say, our sin always goes with us. It’s forever tainting the way to look at people, and the way they respond to us. That’s why Christ’s sacrifice is so important, he took all our sin upon us, all our past mistakes and failures and did away with them.

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

 

A new creation, one without the stains of old, one without the primal strivings for success and power, something washed in the blood of the perfect sacrifice. We are not chained to what we’ve done, we’re empowered to fully embrace our future.

 

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

– John 8:36 (ESV)

 

Jesus gave me a new way to be human. At the core of my being, I am holy, righteous, godly, compassionate, generous, loving, and sensitive. I have a new nature, and it mirrors the God who created me.

– pg. 196

 

Concluding Remarks

Overall, I thought this was an excellent book, Judah has a fresh, light writing style that moves quickly through topics and refrains from getting bogged down, or overly wordy (something the author of this post cannot claim). That being said, there were a few things I was a little less thrilled with.

 

The question I kept coming back to was, who is this book for? The author would probably claim: for everyone. While that response works great if you’re inventing the internet, it works less well when writing a book. In my humple opinion there are 3 basic intended audiences; people outside the Church and curious about this Jesus guy, people familiar with God, but probably burned by the Church at some point, and long time believers who probably have a less then stellar track record when it comes to withholding judgement (I count myself in the latter). Based on those three groups I think the author did a pretty good job with his content optimization for the first two groups. The material is fresh (though not particularly novel or groundbreaking), the language is up to date, and the topics hit home right where people live and feel. If you’re wondering if the Church is more then laws and rules, this book is for you. If you’re feeling dry and empty trying to achieve happiness on your own, this book is for you. That being said, for long time Christians it’s a more difficult sell. While it’s true we should be continually revisiting the simple truths of the bible, the fact is, the book stops short. While it preaches compassion and mercy, it gives few answers on how to do so. At what points does looking past sin become, not considering it sin at all? Where do we draw the line between being in the world, and being of the world? Is there even a line at all? Perhaps these are simple questions that other readers won’t be bothered by, but they matter to me. I struggle to find the balance between justice and mercy, to live my life in a way that calls people to a higher standard of morality and holiness and that meets them where they are and loves them; because in all honesty, I’m not any better. I was looking for some answers, I was hoping for some Godly guidance, and largely came up empty handed, which was disappointing, but not wholly unexpected, it’s probably just beyond the scope of the book.

 

The second issue I had was with largely with this phrase:

 

God reveals himself in Jesus.

– pg. 110

 

Let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with this because it’s not true, because it absolutely is, but I have an aversion to this type of thinking, that Jesus is our image of God (especially with the implication that’s the only way we see God)  because I think a lot of people have a really bad image of Jesus. To many Jesus is really more akin to the foil of Jesus that John P. Meier describes:

 

A tweedy poetaster who spent his time spinning out parables and Japanese koans, a literary aesthete who toyed with 1st century deconstructionism, or a bland Jesus who simply told people to look at the lilies of the field….

– John P. Meier

 

He’s more a good teacher and less a divine being. Which is completely false, Jesus the very nature of God, he is ‘God with skin on’, and we need to clear that this is a two way street, it’s not the love of Jesus and the divinity of God as two separate but intersecting spheres, it’s both, together, triune and single. This is a subtlety that escapes many people and has lead to some pretty wacky theology, and we here in the United States have done a pretty spectacular job of creating our own Christ. Stephen Prothero, in discussing this ‘American revolution’ writes:

 

The third stage in this revolution fulfilled the promis of Jefferson’s vision for Jesus, liberating him from Christianity itself… It came to fruition in the midst of the post-1965 immigration boom, as Hindus and Buddhists boldly adopted Jesus as one of their own, unbinding him (at least for their purposes) from the Christian tradition… Americans of all religious persuassians (and none) felt free to embrace whichever Jesus fulfilled their wishes.

– Stephen Prothero – American Jesus (Introduction)

 

Perhaps this is simply myself reading with a sensitivity born out of the culture I’m living in, and I in no way want to accuse Pastor Judah of having a faulty theological basis, but at times it seems as if this book’s Jesus would just simply take an ‘anything goes’ stance with regards to our sin; while the author attempts to claim this isn’t an indictment of morality or law, I don’t think he makes the case very well and I fear the undertones may be lost on our post-modern culture.

 

Those notes aside, I enjoyed my time reading the book, there were parts where I was in awe (again) over the mercy and grace of God, struck anew by the compassion of Christ, and convicted over the ways I’ve treated people in the past with regards to their choices and lifestyles. It was, overall an encouraging book that I would definitely recommend for people to read. If you’re looking to better understand Jesus, or to come to grasp with grace and mercy, or simply wanting to be reminded of the infinite mercies of our creator, this book is for you.

 

 

In concluding, I had a few notes that I wanted to share:

  • Pg. 5. – Zacchaues definitely had some swagger, though I’m not sure it if was hip-hop swagger, or Godfather swagger. Personally, I picture him in a tracksuit, rocking the gold bling with an un-godly amount of chest hair spilling from his open shirt; thought that’s probably more of a stylistic choice.
  • Pg. 44 – Great imagery, reminds me of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.
  • Pg. 88 – I am convinced that Saint John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, is actually 5:30 in the morning.
  • Pg. 118 – I would like to add some additional proverbs:
    • The Right Reverend Leo Tolstoy: Happy Families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (I thought we needed some culture up in here).
    • Brother Nicholas Robison: Sometimes families cause you to miss out on incredible sermons presented at youth conferences in Canada.
    • Based on the Collected Watchings of the Throne by Saints Kayne of West, and Jay a’ Z, we know that families at times, make you get an education, and let you cook crack in the kitchen. Literally, life and death.

 

So those are my thoughts, thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments, suggestions, condemnations, indignations, and in a perfect world, warm baked cookies mailed to my apartment, but I’ll settle for simpler things.

 

JesusIsBook

 

Lent

Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a time of surrender and self-reflection. A time to purposefully create space to allow for the Lord to speak to us and to deepen our relationship with him.

 

Over the past few years I’ve taken the approach of instead of giving something up directly (like coffee, or TV, or sinning), I’ve added something to my schedule, usually in the form of spending more time in the word and reading religious writings. It’s truly been an incredible process and I look forward to it every year. It’s amazing what God can do when we work every day to spend time reflecting on him and on his truths.

 

In the past some of the books I’ve read have included such masterpieces as:

 

All of those come highly recommended and have been absolutely foundational in my faith and life. This year, I’ll be focusing on a single book, and I probably still won’t finish it:

 

tower.com

 

You’ve probably noticed this pop up from time to time in the ‘Currently Reading’ tab as I’ve been working through it (extremely slowly) for the past few years (Thanks Bob Harvey for burdening me with this!). It’s a monumental book and the summation of 40 years of Dr. Kass’ class on Genesis. Each chapter is mind blowing and challenging, continually refining my perspective of purpose, knowledge, sin, etc. Though Dr. Kass himself isn’t a Christian, more of a theist, there’s still a ton to be gathered from not only his reflections, but those of his sources, and the insights of his many students.

 

My current process is reading for 40 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of journaling and praying; journaling is a really new thing for me, and something I’m quite terrible at, but hopefully getting better. A number of years ago while I was in undergrad, my Pastor’s mother-in-law (Grandma Hickman) talked about leaving a legacy for her children and grandchildren in the form of 60 some years worth of journal entries and crafted prayers; that really struck me, leaving a written account of dialogues with God, maybe that’s something worth doing.

 

I know I probably won’t do a great job with keeping my Lenten commitment but that’s what grace is for! I’m praying that the Lord will assist me in keeping my routine and being faithful to what he’s teaching me, I’m praying for answers, and new questions. For guidance, and peace.

 

My the Lord bless you also in this coming holy season with new insights, new revelations, new mercies, and new joy.