The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Seeing Beauty, Speaking Beautifully (Part Two)





Have you taken the opportunity to practice seeing beauty and speaking beautifully? As I was reading Song of Solomon this morning, a few thoughts came to mind. Here is a rough draft. I am not a poet but I do want to better see beauty and speak beautifully. 

Ink to paper, he is writing today.
Searching his mind, for thoughts to convey.
A gentle distraction, he lifts his eyes.
Fragrance in the air, a pleasant surprise.

He hears a noise, a room away.
Graceful steps, they seem to say;
"Come and see, visit this place."
He follows perfume, he sees her face.

Simply stunning, such delight;
A sweet aroma, a lovely sight.
Ink to paper, he is writing today.
His mind is now filled with thoughts to convey.



Friday, June 27, 2014

Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully

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Do you struggle, amidst the burdens and challenges of your life, to see beauty and to speak beautifully? John Piper's sixth offering in The Swans are not Silent series will help you. In this book Piper looks at the poetic effort of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C.S. Lewis.  Piper writes: “This is a book about the interrelationship between seeing beauty and saying it beautifully—and the impact that the effort has on our lives” (p. 12).

Put this book on your summer reading list, you will not be disappointed.

This post is not a book review. I can cut through the chase by telling you that it is fantastic (as are all of the books in this series). I simply want you to think about Piper's book title and and ask yourself the question: "How can I see beauty more clearly and speak more beautifully?"

Here are a few suggestions to get you started. 

Read:
Read good books from various genres. The authors that Piper chose are very different in background, personality, and writing style. Herbert communicates the beauty that he sees, via poetry. Whitfield was a preacher vivid in his descriptions and in his presentation. Lewis helps his readers to see pictures. He writes: "All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures."

Take a Second Look.
So many images pass before our eyes each day. Most of them are just a blur. Train yourself to focus in on some of the good images. Take a second look at your child at play, your wife at work, your cat sleeping lazily under a tree, and the the way your boss arranges his desk. What do you see? Can you find a story and a vocabulary to communicate the beauty around you?

Pause before Speaking/Writing.
Think of older writers who had to dip their quill in an ink-well numerous times over the course of writing a single letter. That kind of writing required pauses between sentences (or individual words in some cases). Tony Reinke, describing C.S. Lewis using a dip pen, writes,"The dip pen created the quiet space Lewis needed to speak and edit and sharpen and shape his next four or five words"( Jack's Typewriter). When speaking to someone, take a breath, look them in the eye, think for a second, and then speak. Such a practice can help you to "sharpen and shape" your next words.

Journal.
I teach and write a fair amount on the subject of marriage. I find a lot of help in the Old Testament book, Song of Solomon. I am journaling my way again through that wonderful, descriptive, and language-expanding book. My present practice is to write at the top of each day's page, "Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully." I take a few verses and look for the beauty and how the various characters in the Song express things beautifully. Regardless of whether you follow my plan, journaling can help you to think more clearly and communicate more beautifully. For example, sometimes all that I need to say to my wife is, "You look stunning." At other times it is better to say, "Oh, most beautiful among women." Song of Solomon helps me to think in more creative ways.

Piper gives the theological foundation for seeing and expressing beauty. He wonderfully illustrates the theology of beauty by considering George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C.S. Lewis.

I always enjoy hearing from you. Let me know what you think.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Welcome Josiah!

Josiah: "What's Up?"


We have been welcoming babies to our family for a long time. I should say that we have been welcoming girl babies. Yesterday, we welcomed a boy.

We have not needed to step up our home child-safety-system with the girls. I hear that may change now that we will have a young man in the house.

I probably should mention that the new baby boy actually belongs to my son-in-law Adrian, my daughter Rachel, and their daughter (his sister) Susannah. I am merely the elderly granddaddy. You know the old guy who wears funny clothes and who gets to break the family rules when no one is watching.

I tried to sell Adrian and Rachel on the idea that they should loan Josiah to me for, at least six years. After all, Charles Spurgeon's grandparents raised little Charles for that long, and look how he turned out. They are not buying into the WWSD philosophy.
The Rinks: Adrian, Rachel, Susannah, and Josiah

Enough of that.

Today at the Dancing Puritan, I want to officially welcome Josiah Ray Rink to the family. Josiah "popped out" (as two-year-old Aunt Abigail would say) at a manly 8 pounds and 7 ounces. At that size he will soon be ready for some grass mowing duties. YES!!!

I can't begin to tell you how excited I am for Adrian, Rachel, and Susannah. I am also delighted for his extended family here and in Minnesota. I am excited for me. Finally there is someone else nearby to help me remove the spiders and to join me in utter bewilderment at the girls crying over something like a bad hair day. Little boys often have bad hair days. And old grandpas never really get the hair thing just right.

I am thankful to our Lord for hearing our prayers for Rachel and Josiah's safe delivery day (and for many other answered prayers).

Sometimes folks will say something like, "I wouldn't want to bring children into this bad old world." A person with a God-centered worldview sees great opportunity with the birth of a child. A child, by God's saving grace, can be a straight arrow. They are to be shaped, sharpened, and launched into the world towards the target of God's glory.

Josiah is born to godly parents where he will have every opportunity to hear the gospel (in family worship) and to join with the family of God in congregational worship. He will be "acquainted with the sacred writings." Those writings are sufficient to make Josiah "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).

We will be praying that indeed God will open Josiah's heart and bring him to saving faith. As his parents, grandparents, church family, and others seek to use the means (Scripture, prayer, and preaching) that God has chosen to bless, then we have every reason to be hopeful.

Little Josiah you will learn from King Josiah. He became King at age eight. By 15 he was seeking God. During his temple-remodeling project the Bible was found. Josiah read it. He feared for Israel since they had departed from God's Word. He started working for reform and stood strong against pagan nations (read more: 2 Kings 22:1 - 23; 2 Chronicles 34:1 - 35). Let King Josiah be a pointer to King Jesus!

I am honored that you also carry my middle name. I share it with my dad who left it in excellent condition when he died. I hope to do the same for you.

Josiah, welcome to my girl's world. And be nice to sweet Susannah. She was here first, so she will soon be marking out her territory. You will do fine, just move slowly. By the way, I find her quite delightful. I am sure that you will as well.

Today your eye-sight will be much better than yesterday when you "popped out." What will you think as you look around the room and see your mom Rachel, your grandmother Lori, your aunts: Hannah, Sarah, Mary, Lydia, and Abigail? Hopefully, while you are looking around, you will spot your dad (he is easy to see) and your old granddaddy. I imagine that you will figure, "If they made it with all of these girls, perhaps I can as well."

You will make it Josiah and learn to appreciate all of the beauty that surrounds you. And just to be safe, God has given you a grandpa and some uncles back in Minnesota who will come to your aid, just in case the girl's tears threaten to overflow the banks.

I love you little man. Lets do this together. Enjoy the perfume in the air; it will help cover the smell of your sweat.

Love,

Granddaddy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Spurgeon Died Today. I Am Fighting Back The Tears

Image from Spurgeon.org


Charles Haddon Spurgeon died today.

Actually he died on January 31, 1892 at 11:05 P.M. He was 57.

However, it seems as if  he died today.

I have just completed 1500 plus pages of the Autobiography of Spurgeon, which was put together by his wife Susannah and his secretary Joseph Harrald. The original work was in four volumes. Every word of the original is retained in the massive two volume set by Pilgrim Publications.

Charles Spurgeon was characterized in many ways. It was his son Thomas who first referred to him as the Prince of Preachers. He was that. Some have concluded that Spurgeon was the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul.  He was a roaring lion to be sure.

It is not at all uncommon for me to find one of my daughters weeping while they are holding a book. When I enquire about the reason for their tears, it is often that an important character, in whatever book that they are reading, has died. Too often I have made an insensitive comment. Today, I feel their pain.

I remember hearing a lecture on C-Span in 1997 by James I. Robertson, Jr.  He had just completed his book, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend. That excellent biography of Jackson is almost 1,000 pages. When he turned in his final edits to the publisher, Robertson said that it was hard to give Jackson up.

I had to give Spurgeon up today, but just for a little while.

I have read numerous biographies of Spurgeon but never the original 4-vol Autobiography. I must say, that I was not ready for him to die. However he will live again. I will pick up another biography and read of his birth, childhood, teenage years, ministry, and marriage. I will again visit the Crystal Palace on that evening when Charles slyly made his intentions known to Susannah by asking her: "Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?"

I will travel with him as he journeys from town-to-town and church-to-church, preaching the gospel that he so loved. I will be with him on his trips to Mentone where he sought rest and healing. I will join Charles and his family as they gather for family worship. I will listen intently, along with thousands of others, as he opens the Bible to preach.

And once again, in the books, Charles Haddon Spurgeon will die. And my lips will quiver.

His last written words were a letter that was sent to his church in London, the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He closed the letter with these words: "Love to all friends."

A few days earlier he told his secretary, "My work is done."

Spurgeon was a Christ-saturated man. At his funeral service, Dr. Archibald Brown said:
Champion of God, thy battle long and nobly fought is over! The sword, which clave to thine hand, has dropped at last; the palm branch takes its place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; the victor's wreath from the Great Commander's hand has already proved thy full reward.

Spurgeon died today. I find myself fighting back the tears.








Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Story in the Photograph: A Father's Day Reflection



In 1878 Thomas Spurgeon was asked to accompany his father Charles to Mentone, France (where Charles often sought rest, renewal, and recovery). Charles was suffering, as he often did, with gout. Thomas was reluctant to agree to the trip because he was facing various challenges of his own. However, Thomas did accompany his father and was very glad. He wrote:
As it happened, I had not been a week with him ere I could write, 'What a good father he is, to be sure!  I loved him much although away from him, and now my affection will increase by being with him.' So, indeed, it did. Three months at Mentone, under the varying experiences of earnest work and happy recreation, of growing health and sad relapse, of fair and stormy weather, gave an insight into his character such as I could not have gained in any other way. Many a time, since then, have the memories of that sojourn in the sunny South, with the dear man of God, been an inspiration to me.

Charles would see his strength renewed though he continued to suffer affliction throughout the rest of his life.  Thomas would never forget his extended visit with his dear father.

The photograph above is of my dad and my daughter Lydia. Since his early forties, dad suffered from heart disease. Yet he continued working and loving. He seemed to be the one person who would always bounce back from near-death-experiences. The photograph is before he (and we) discovered that it would not be heart disease that would be the affliction, used by our Lord, to end my dad's earthly life, but cancer.

The photograph is one of my favorites. It is a revealing picture of his heart and life. His eyes, his arms, his hands, and even his clothing, all give important clues to his story.

Though his body was feeling the weight of suffering, the strength in his arms and hands is evident in the photograph. How often he would shake my hand and as his hand enveloped mine, with a playful squeeze, it felt as if my hand would be crushed to powder.

Dad's strength was not gained by working out in a gym. No, his God-given strength was gained by years of hard labor. His tanned skin was not the result of sunbathing but through thousands of hours laboring outside. He worked because, well, that is what real men do. They work, they provide, they labor long and hard, because they are entrusted with the responsibility of loving a wife and caring for children and often for extended family. For my dad work was a duty and a delight. His arms, hands, clothing (work clothes) and surroundings (garden in the background) all tell a story of strength under trial, hard work, and love freely given.

There is something else about his arms and hands. He used them to show affection. Notice his substantive embrace of Lydia.  He is holding her close and tight. Notice the look in her eyes, she feels his love. She feels secure. She is in the arms of strength and she overflows with the joy of being loved.

My dad's eyes uncover his pain and his love. Dad was easily moved to emotion over both happy and sad events. He was not ashamed to shed a tear or to express his love for family and friends. I think that the photograph captures his pain and his love. From my dad I learned the importance of  unconditional love. His eyes showed it. He taught me that real love must be expressed.

The photograph tells the story.

Like Thomas Spurgeon, there were times that I was busy and it was not convenient to accompany my dad. Also like Thomas Spurgeon there are lessons that I could not have gained any other way than by spending time with him. I needed to see his eyes, feel his embrace, and shake his hand. And now I need, with my own eyes, arms, and hands to practice his example by working hard, and loving others.

What story will your photographs tell?




Friday, June 13, 2014

Are Heaven and Hell Married or Divorced?


Last night my wife and I enjoyed Max McLean's theatrical production of the C.S. Lewis classic, The Great Divorce. We found the production to be fascinating and well done. 

Max McLean writes that The Great Divorce "is a response to William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell where the poet tried to imagine a point at which the difference between good and evil will somehow be resolved. That promoted Lewis to write of their final divorce." 

As part of the set were images of book and clock filled shelves. As the play ended, the clocks chimed in unison. I found myself staring at the clocks and I was struck by their message. The hour is coming and it is sooner that I can even imagine.

If you have read The Great Divorce then you are aware that things, even on the outskirts of heaven, are different than they are on earth. For example the grass is hard to walk on. It sticks the bare feet of those who are not solid. 

A recurring theme in the writings of C.S. Lewis is the difference between shadows and realities. When a mere Earthling looks at and walks on grass, he is really seeing and walking on shadow-grass (if you will). It is a picture and the grass is real but it is lacking ultimate reality. In The Great Divorce, even the periphery of heaven displays a reality that shocks one's system. The Earthling is accustomed to playing with shadows, temporal things. He has no capacity to walk on ultimate grass and smell ultimate fragrances in an ultimate way. Yes, the Christian, by faith, sees, tastes, touches, and embraces a reality beyond the shadow-reality and rejoices in God. However, he is not yet at full capacity to really walk, drink, smell, taste, and touch. Heaven is a place of ultimate reality.

Yes, there is more going on in The Great Divorce with the characters--some of which are solid (heavenly) and others, which are ghostly (hellish). However, the message of real grass, real, water, real apples, and real love is striking. Yes, what we have now, under the sun, is real-but it is not real in the ultimate sense. We are now able to touch our shadow things and we should touch and enjoy them. However, we cannot take shadows to heaven and we must not make them idols of the heart. As has been often said, even the good things of this life make for terrible gods.

Heaven is a place of expanded capacity for joy. Hell, as Lewis graphically displays, is a small place for small people where joy is absent and one's capacity for suffering is expanded.

O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather. Psalm 39:4-6 ESV

The Great Divorce was adapted for the stage by Max McLean and Brian Watkins. McLean is the Artistic Director for the Fellowship for Performing Arts. He is well known for narrating the Bible. He has also narrated Pilgrim's Progress, Here I Stand, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and other classic works. He has acted in many roles and he has won numerous awards. Though he does not act in The Great Divorce he does come to the stage for a discussion with the audience. I enjoyed his audience interaction very much.

The Great Divorce runs through Sunday at the Alliance Stage of the Woodruff Arts Center. To learn more visit: http://greatdivorceonstage.com/atlanta. For a national tour schedule visit GreatDivorceOnStage.com