2012-06-18 21.53.35-2
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I live in parallel worlds, which is why I make my home in the city. I am revisiting this earlier post in order to lay the foundations and expand on my thinking regarding the city. Join me as we explore God’s plans and purposes within the city.


The city is a place of trouble, transformation, and triumph. It is the battleground between the purposes of God and the pride of humanity. Within the city, we can discover the story of redemption, and gain insight into God’s purposes as His glory radiates throughout the earth.

“… The earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.”

~ Augustine, City of God

A HOLY PLACE

In ancient cities, the inner (core) city was a holy place, a sacred space that contained the city’s key places of worship, principle governing functions, and boroughs filled with the city’s elite citizenry. The core city was the seat of authority, and life radiated out of its boundaries throughout the outer city, which served as the seat of trade, and into the surrounding countryside.

It was the same way for much of the history of cities in the United States. However, in recent decades, for many individuals, the term “inner city” has come to mean a place of desolation. A place where crime, poverty, and despair reign. A place where the infrastructure is crumbling, where death reigns supreme, where hope is gone. That’s the nature of the city in history. Human corruption takes hold, power triumphs over personhood, life begins to wane, and for many a holy place becomes a hellish place.

WHERE LIFE BEGINS TO FLOW

But in God’s purposes, the city is meant to be a sacred space where life begins to flow for the benefit of all citizens. The city is the place where hope is born, culture encouraged, community developed, as God’s people, citizens of an invisible city “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, ESV), serve the visible city empowered by invisible vision. These individuals believe that:

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

~ Hebrews 11:1

In the 1950’s and 1960’s many Christian congregations were guilty of a short-sighted rejection of this vision, as they fled the cities, for life in suburbia; embracing homogeneity instead of diversity,  self-development instead of community development, and security instead of service.

COMFORT OVER COMMITMENT

The trauma of our cities had become too uncomfortable, and rather than providing hope within the city, like many Americans, Christians sought to build utopia outside the city. Grand suburbs were built, the infrastructure to support them was developed, the pursuit of the “good” life was encouraged, and increasingly Americans felt spiritually empty.

These Christians embraced comfort over commitment, turning aside from God’s plans for the city. Fortunately, not all of God’s children left the city, and as they worked to maintain life in the city, to pray for the peace of the city, to provide avenues of hope within the ruins of lost dreams, God began to speak to the hearts of others. They began to return to the city, they began to fight for the city, they began hoping for the redemption of the city. They decided to once again make their home in the city. And, others began to follow, began to work to rebuild the city, began to see the plans and purposes of God within the city.

Not all are called to the city, but the city is called to God. Might you be one of those individuals, called to take up the challenge to fight for the city? If so, I challenge you to answer the call, to join me in the city, to make a commitment for the good of the community, to help rebuild the walls that are broken down.

 

 

 

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I’m writing a book! My goal is to have a first draft completed by this time next year. For the past couple of years, I have been doing some study on what it means to embody the Christian life, because that is how we experience and engage those around us, and now I have started to put these thoughts together. I’m exploring this idea by looking at three aspects of the Christian’s physical life described in Scripture:

  1. First, life in the flesh: Every day each Christian must live out the reality of their faith through the physical body. This is how we engage with the world around us, and now as believers we are required to live our lives through the experience of the Cross.
  2. Second, life in the Spirit: We are commanded to cultivate life in the Spirit as part of an interconnected body known as the Church. We must allow the life of Jesus Christ to knit us together, as individually and corporately we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  3. Third, life in our culture: We are called to engage our culture; to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world. We are ambassadors on Christ’s behalf. What does that mean for us as we interact with those around us?

What follows is an excerpt from a chapter I have tentatively titled Living by Faith. Pray for me as I progress through this journey.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

~ Galatians 2:20, ESV

What does it mean to live in this human body as a follower of Jesus Christ?

First, there is a very real implication that death is required. This death will appear to us to be gut-wrenching, horrifying and costly. Death must come first if there is going to be a life of faith. This is one of the premier mysteries of living by faith. Christ’s death applied to our lives creates the interconnectedness that makes up His body the Church. “I have been crucified with Christ… It is no longer I who live. There is a unity found in the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that knits all true believers together, regardless of race, gender, creed, or social status.

But it is not our death that should horrify us, nor the cost to us that should be the determining factor for new life. Rather, we should tremble at the horrifying death paid by the One who should not die, and we should be humiliated by the infinite price He paid at Calvary. A price that is incalculable to our human comprehension. This cost should cause us to recognize our helplessness and hopelessness in the battle against sin. Without crucifixion applied through faith, there is impossibility of resurrection, and therefore no chance for new life. The life of faith we are called to requires a new creation, and the old order of things must pass away.

Second, there must come the recognition that my life is no longer my own. The life I am now called to live by faith is a new life, not only born forth through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, but lived in the shadow of the Cross under His command and through His finished work. It is the very life of Christ lived in me, shaping the life I now live through an infinite grace that I am unable to comprehend or attain. The idea that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the very richness of Heaven, should descend to the earth to offer me His life via the Way of the Cross should cause me to echo the word of the Apostle Paul, “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31, ESV).

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Christians, whatever our cause, whatever we fight against (and we must fight against many things), it is good to remember the primary focus of our battle:

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

~ Ephesians 6:12, NLT

In the realm of earthly politics and power, we will never win the battles using those weapons alone. These weapons belong to the world system.

The majority of people we may be fighting against are not our enemies. They are not beyond God’s redemptive power. Consider the Apostle Paul, once himself an enemy of the Church, yet later a defender of the faith who penned much of the New Testament, including the words above found in Ephesians.

We are fighting a battle for the hearts of men and women in our generation, not a battle for power in this world. And although the world may believe they are winning, and that they have full control, our God rules and reigns! He has full control, He has already won, and He alone will display that victory in the end!

Medieval books
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90 Church: Inside America’s Notorious First Narcotics Squad
by Dean Unkefer

2 Stars **

90 Church: The True Story of the Narcotics Squad from Hell

The publisher’s disclaimer set the stage for some of my skepticism as i read through Unkefer’s book: “These memoirs are based on the author’s best recollections of events in his life…the author has stated to the publisher that the contents of this book are true.”

While I have no doubt that the team at 90 Church operated with an ideology of the ends justifying the means, I have serious doubts that the author was an innocent among the crazies. Unkefer sets himself up throughout the book as a naive dupe, who just goes with the flow and becomes corrupted in his endeavor to fight for “truth, justice, and the American way.” He seems intent on justifying the evil he discovers in his own heart, pinning the blame on many of the individuals that surround him. However, it is important to remember that he was an active participant in many of these events.

At other times, the scenes he describes seem far too dramatic, even for a such a lawless force. I found myself moving from thinking that these events were somewhat unbelievable, to believing that many were embellished for the sake of the memoir. Terrifying and dramatic as I’m sure Unkefer’s experiences were, some of his recollections border on the ridiculous and I find them unbelievable. I never doubted his experience overall, nor that there were some almost unbelievable events that dramatically impacted Unkefer. However, some of his recollections seemed more imaginative than others.

Then, there are times when Unkefer seems to leave out too many details. It’s at these points that I’m sure there is a story here, probably a very dramatic one, but that Unkefer has sanitized them to protect the parties involved, and perhaps to downplay his level of participation in these events. Because of Unkefer’s heavy sanitizing, at points it’s difficult to follow his timeline, and I was often frustrated by the choppiness of the memoirs flow.

Perhaps Unkefer’s tale really is true, and my perceptions are wrong. Perhaps the sense of disconnect I experienced is exactly what Unkefer himself experienced. I sure hope not. While I have no doubt that the work of many undercover law enforcers walks a fine line along the path of criminality, and at times even crosses it; I would be sadly disappointed to discover that the events inside 90 Church were not embellished but merely downplayed. Because justice is never justice when evil prevails on both sides of the law.

I have read law enforcement memoirs that describe more effectively the moral challenges many law enforcers face, and that I believe express the details much more honestly. They are no less dramatic, almost unbelievable, but never over the top. Ultimately, I found Unkefer’s tale to be too exaggerated and unbelievable.

Note: This review has also been posted on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1345115718?book_show_action=false

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Just a short walk from my home is the Hackley Public Library. A gem in the heart of Muskegon that I try to visit weekly, and one of the best small libraries in the state of Michigan. I always find interesting reading on Hackley’s shelves. Here are five books I’ve picked off the shelves during the month of July:

90 Church: Inside America’s Notorious First Narcotics Squad by Dean Unkefer

90 Church: The True Story of the Narcotics Squad from Hell

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrow

The Truth According to Us: A Novel

Getting to Yes with Yourself by William Ur

Getting to Yes with Yourself: (and Other Worthy Opponents)

The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew B. Crawford

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams

Medieval books
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Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger

3 Stars ***

I’m not a fan of ghosts. Although I believe in an afterlife, I don’t believe in ghosts. I believe that death brings destination, and there aren’t spirits roaming the planet trying to figure out the afterlife. However, people are often haunted by their memories of the deceased. Things we wish had been said, moments we failed to share, things we left unresolved, and these torments can be as real and visceral as an actual haunting. It’s never a good thing when death leaves things undone, and even worse when a ghost comes into the picture.

Thus, the backdrop is set for the story of twenty-something twins Julia and Valentina Poole. It all starts when an unexpected letter from London arrives at their home in the Chicago suburbs. Their mother’s estranged twin Elspeth has died and left everything to them, including her wealth and her London flat near Highgate Cemetery where luminaries such as Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, and Karl Marx are buried. In order to receive it all there are only two stipulations: the girls must live in the flat for one year before they sell it, and their parents Jack and Edie, must not enter the flat for any reason.

The girls accept the terms of Elspeth’s will, move to London, and quickly develop relationships with the residents of their building, all of them haunted. There is Robert, a scholar of Highgate Cemetery, and love of Elspeth, haunted by his memory of her; Martin, a brilliant creator of crosswords suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder; Martin’s wife Marijke, tormented by memories of the man that Martin once was; and Elspeth who is haunted by the memories of the life she might have had, as her specter roams her flat in loneliness, until she slowly comes to the attention of Robert, Julia and Valentina.

I am a big fan of Niffenegger’s well-received first novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. Surprisingly, her second work was more enjoyable for me than her first. Surprisingly, because previous reviews have rated Her Fearful Symmetry  as a much worse novel: more incoherent, choppy, and sophomoric. I actually found that it took less effort to read Her Fearful Symmetry than it did The Time Traveler’s Wife. Like her premier novel, which left many questions unanswered for me, Niffenegger’s second work presented a fresh perspective of the traditional story form, and like her previous work added a few twists at the end. I suspect that many were disappointed because they didn’t enjoy the surprises she had in store, the journey didn’t go quite as they expected, and she failed to develop some of the richness present in The Time Traveler’s Wife. In addition, I think the novel suffered from poor editorial support, which would have helped Niffenegger develop a richer, more robust tale.

Like many, I wish that Niffenegger spent more time developing the final chapters. They seemed to be a bit more sketchy than the beginning of the book, which was fairly well-developed (although it too had some moments that were irrelevant to the tale). It appeared as if Niffenegger rushed to finish her story, forcing it along, without taking time to develop things a bit more fully for the reader. Perhaps the tale was much clearer in her mind, or she was simply pressured by page limits and deadlines. The result is that she failed to successfully communicate her main point, which is that there are times in our lives when we are all haunted. There were moments near the tale’s end when the story bordered on the ridiculous. However, because I could sense some of her intentions, I was able to overlook these weaknesses. It appears others weren’t.

For me, the biggest disappointment was Niffenegger’s failure to focus more attention on a few of the story’s silent characters. The city of London, Highgate Cemetery, as well as Martin’s flat. While there was some history and detail provided, Niffenegger seemed more interested in focusing on her human characters and less on their environment. This was a tragic oversight, which in my opinion prevented her from developing the richness of character that she was seeking. Often, a character’s environment reveals much more about the individual, while creating a rich tapestry that helps move the story along.

In the end, however, I was delighted to see some of the characters overcome the things that haunted them, while moving forward into the brightness of their life ahead. They were learning to experience the richness of the moment, enjoying the opportunities for living that surrounded them. Others remained haunted by the specters of their past, unable to shake the ghosts that remained, empty shells waiting for death to finally take them. Trapped in their own memories, torn by their own desires, they found life far more empty than anything that death could bring.

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An Apocalyptic Vision

Great stress is upon me,
As I pray, as I seek,
Comfort in the midst,
Of darkness growing deep.

Groaning swallows me,
My heart fills with pain,
While everyone in their blindness,
Rushes headlong towards the end.

Great lady of liberty,
Soon you will fall,
In the churning oceans of your pride,
A sign for all.

Yet they’ll celebrate, and challenge,
The wisdom of old,
Mocking truth as they stand,
On avenues of fool’s gold.

But I will choose,
To stand on the Way,
Of the rugged worn path,
Awaiting the Day,

Awaiting the Day.

Then lightening will split the sky,
And Truth reemerge whole,
While all earth will cry and quake,
As judgment unfolds.

Patience will have worn thin,
Evil will no longer reign,
And those who have challenged Him,
Will now bow at the name.

 

© John A Taylor, 2015

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“What is more basic than the need to be known? It is the entirety of intimacy, the elixir of love, this knowing.”

~ Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry

Gin-EngagementToday is my wedding anniversary. Thirty-one years of knowing her, and my relationship with Virginia is still a mystery to me. There is much more to discover as each year passes, as together we age. As our family has grown, daughters have left (and sometimes returned), grandchildren have been born, and the dynamics always continue to change. Year-by-year, we are forced to rediscover one another again, to renew our commitment to each other, to give still more love, and to learn to forgive even more quickly. Like the facets of a diamond placed on the finger, there is always a new glimmer of light, a new beauty to be seen, a new moment to explore.

Love is sweet, healthy, it brings healing. In the brokenness of this world, love is a gentle reminder that we always hope for something more. That regardless of circumstances, there is a brighter future just ahead. Yet, always mystery remains. For the Christian couple, love is sacramental. Through our union, Jesus Christ is doing something special, and like Christ and His Church, not all of it is visible. It remains a great mystery. In learning to love Virginia, I learn to love myself, and I learn to love Christ even more.

“He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:28b-32, ESV).

The years have been kind to us, our life has been good, God has blessed us in so many ways. Our hearts are filled with theGin-Me-Des-T richness of family, and together Virginia and I overflow with memories. We married young, and we started our family soon after. A few years into our married life, with two little girls we set off for Minnesota to attend North Central University. There, two little girls became four: Destini, Talitha, Hannah, and Mikaela. Each daughter a special blessing, each one bringing unique joy into our lives.

We faced some challenges along the way, and continue to, but through it all God has been faithful. Through the years, we have built priceless friendships, many that have stood the test of time, even as life’s circumstances have often kept these friendships distant. Yet, around the world we have the richness of relationships that continue to encourage and sustain us. Virginia and I have lived Gin-Smilinglonger together than we ever lived apart, and we are so intertwined that we are never far from one another’s thoughts.

Sometimes, we forget how precious we are to one another, but never for very long. We quickly remember how our life together brings out the best in each of us, is an encouragement to others, and a source of strength to our family. We have something special. Too often I am guilty of forgetting how special. Then, I look back at the moments collected over thirty-one years, and I am in awe. Amazed that God has enabled us to keep our promises to one another through the years, astounded that there is so much that I can’t explain about our relationship, encouraged because God is truly faithful, as I still explore the mystery found in these four words: “I love you, Virginia.” So, I settle into the comfort of a satisfied life, as I say with joy, “Happy Anniversary, My Love.” And the mystery is that someone so special could walk this journey with me.

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“When the culturally dominant pictures of God have come to be simplistic, it becomes hard to arouse much excitement about the news of divine incarnation . . .”

William C. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence

 

The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong