Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

“Switchfoot is a surfing term… To switch your feet means to take a new stance facing the opposite direction. It’s about change and movement, a different way of approaching life and music.” – Jon Foreman (September 25, 2000)

Just shy of a decade ago, I had fallen in love with a girl who I hoped would one day become my wife. She however was less than sure about our relationship’s long term chances. So, in pursuit, this Southern California boy was visiting New England for the first time, approaching life and love and God from an unfamiliar stance.

One hot summer day in July 2003, Jaime and I took the train into New York City. It was my first trip to the Big Apple and in our travels we came across the now defunct Virgin Records Megastore in Times Square. Jaime’s younger siblings Robert and Cassidy had recently introduced us to a San Diego-based rock group called Switchfoot via shareware mp3 downloads and I remember pledging my musical allegiance upon hearing lead singer and guitarist Jon Foreman quote Pooh Bear as he lamented, “Tut, tut, it looks like rain”. Back in that era reigned by Napster, we were even willing to buy actual albums from this unappreciable band if only we could hunt down their CDs. After coming up empty in Connecticut, we figured if we could find these guys anywhere the Virgin Megastore was a good bet. Sure enough, there was one copy each of “Learning to Breathe” and their just released “The Beautiful Letdown” in stock. With $30 between us, Jaime and I had enough to secure the discs, but in the days before ubiquitous iPod use, the question was who would own which album?

I suggested this be our first official joint purchase as a couple. Jaime was not as committed to this idea and quickly countered, “What if we break up?” Hoping I would eventually be able to win her heart I replied that if we broke up, she would keep both albums. This settled the issue and as a memento I kept that receipt in my wallet for years until the ink faded right off of it. We rode the Metro North back home that afternoon poring over the liner notes of the albums and meditating on the lyrics.

Easy living, not much like your name
Easy dying, you look just about the same
Won’t you please take me off your list
Easy living please come on and let me down

The next summer, being “young and dumb” but willing to commit to God, each other and a life of the road less traveled we were married. We have been riding life switchfoot ever since, trying to embrace the change and movement that comes with living outside of your comfort zone. This choice has undeniably created in us a better story, though in all good stories something important must be at stake. Ours has been no exception, requiring forging ahead through hardship and the unknown.

It has not been easy to merge the lives of a West Coast introvert and an East Coast extrovert. It was not easy to be married at 21 while trying to finish college and make a new life in Montana, a place we had never even visited before picking up the keys to our first apartment. It was even harder to leave that first home together in Big Sky Country along with some of the best friends we’ll ever have in order to head back east. It certainly has not been easy to have three small children just three and a half years apart in an area of the country where raising children before all your ducks are in a row is socially frowned upon. It has not been easy to make it on one income, while trying to pay back loans for two college degrees, in order to allow Jaime to stay at home and intentionally mold our children. I certainly have not always enjoyed the transition from worrying only about myself to carrying a social work caseload between 12-18 families or adolescents involved in the foster care system who rely on me daily to help solve their problems in the face of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse etc. It is not currently easy to live in an experimental communal household, sharing everyday living space with a total of 12 people leaving little, if anything, that is solely one’s own possession. No, nothing has been easy. Instead, it has been beautiful. It has been worth it.

Last month marked the eighth anniversary of being married to the love of my life. In these years that have seen us start a new life and family together, Switchfoot has consistently supplied our soundtrack. Jon Foreman’s voice alternately dancing around and belting out the Gospel has become almost familial and the band’s own maturation over the past decade has seemingly mirrored our own journey and developing theology. Serious fans since that first joint purchase, Switchfoot gradually built up their status to favorite band as our common refrains have grown from “In the economy of mercy I am a poor and begging man” to “Do you love me enough to let me go? Every seed dies before it grows.”

While “The Beautiful Letdown” is an all-time favorite album and “Hello Hurricane” has become my constant companion on business trips down south, it was really Jon Foreman’s solo effort in releasing four seasonally themed EPs in 2007-2008 that set him apart in a class of his own. Acoustic throughout all 24 tracks, Jon artfully and intensely sings prayers to God and pointed criticisms of ourselves that are spot on. Some of the songs are so profound they had us wondering where this guy has learned about God and how we might be able to do the same. But while his recordings have great depth we found only shallow pools of information about Mr. Foreman’s own background. Thus, a pipe dream was constructed. Jaime and I wondered if it would be possible to someday ask him ourselves where he gets his theology?

Enter Hannah Lavoie.

Our good friend Hannah not only is a ginormous fan of Jon Foreman she also has become quite adept at tracking him down, boasting three different meetings with the man. Hannah was also about to celebrate her 20th birthday and had come across some insider information that Jon Foreman was going to be playing a FREE solo concert in New York City on the evening of her special day, August 3rd. Hannah wanted to know if Jaime and I wanted to conspire with her a way to get to the concert and possibly meet Jon. While both excited, my amazing wife took one for the team deciding to stay back with the kids to ensure a solid bedtime routine before embarking the following day on a cross-country family plane trip to San Diego. Meanwhile, Hannah and I formulated plans to get into the City early enough on a Friday afternoon to ensure a first-come, first-serve seat in an old high school auditorium seating less than 600.

Jon Foreman was playing in tandem with a church event facilitated by a newer and impressive group calling themselves Movement NYC and the night had the energy of a youth rally. At 29, I must have ranked in the 90thpercentile of age making me “old” folk for the pilgrimage, but I could not think of a better way to help Hannah usher in her 20s. After a time of worship and a devotional thought from the pastor of the church, Jon and drummer Aaron Redfield finally came out with electricity buzzing through the humid air of the packed facility. Dozens of fans leapt from their seats to crowd the front of the stage and Hannah and I exchanged a glance and thought, “Why not?” We joined the hard core fans up front and laughed at Jon’s jokes, sang our hearts out to favorite tunes plus a few covers and snapped some photos. Jon opened the show with a new song called “First Light” which carries the same soulful acoustic sound that powered his EPs and appealed to my own fascination with the light-dark theme:

Jon opens the solo set with his new unreleased song “First Light”

When your heart is feeling is low
And the weight is on your shoulders
And the tears begin to flow
From the lies

Just remember what you know
Just remember what I told you
The seed you planted, love, will grow
Give it time

And you know it
But your heart has doubts
You believe it
But you want it now

The day is dawning
The day is dawning
It comes in morning
First light

Highlights of the show included Jon mid-song inviting a fan up to play bass on his guitar while breaking out his harmonica and listening to him discuss life and music in between songs. In his humility, Jon stated he writes songs about things he does not understand, namely God, death, politics and girls. He played for over an hour jamming with Aaron and then for an encore asked if it would be alright if he played two songs before launching into pieces he refers to as cousins, “Your Love is a Song” and “Your Love is Strong.”

At the conclusion of the set, strategy ensued about how best to locate Jon for a chance to ask him some questions and maybe get a picture with him. I looked to Hannah’s expertise in this matter, but we found ourselves in a dilemma as Hannah’s tried and true formula had been to wait by his tour bus after the show. In such a small venue and playing as a solo act, there was no tour bus to speak of and there were multiple exits from the building. We made small talk with one of the youth pastors of the Movement NYC church who after hearing we had traveled from Connecticut and that it was Hannah’s 20th birthday stated he couldn’t tell us where Jon would be exiting the building, but did offer that Mr. Foreman had arrived in a van parked just outside the exit closest to where we were standing.

Rather surprisingly it didn’t take long for the crowd to disburse and less than a half hour after the show there was only Hannah, myself and maybe a dozen others waiting around for a chance to meet Jon. Hannah thought aloud about what question she might ask Jon and wondered if he would recognize her, this being their fourth meeting and third in less than a year. As for me, my question had long been rehearsed.

Aaron Redfield, the drummer for Fiction Family (a collaborative effort between Jon Foreman and guitarist Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek) who accompanied Jon during the show was the first to emerge and very agreeable, telling us a little about his life in Pasadena and introducing us to his lovely fiancée. Following Aaron we had a chance to meet and talk with Jon’s childhood friend Todd Cooper who served not only as Switchfoot’s longtime guitar tech, but actually was the one who encouraged Jon to learn to play guitar.

Then Jon came into view and this was our chance. We scurried over to his vicinity and after awaiting a few questions and photo ops from others it was our turn. I couldn’t help but give the guy a hug while explaining that it was so good to see a fellow San Diegan on the East Coast; while he may have been slightly caught off guard he took it like a champ, or maybe a President, though I refrained from lifting him off the ground. I told him of that first joint purchase Jaime and I made nine years ago just around the corner and with sincerity he told me that it was an honor to be included in our lives this way.

Jon did recognize Hannah, this now being their fourth meeting, and remembered her as an admissions ambassador from Lipscomb University in Nashville. He told us the name Lipscomb always makes him want to speak with a lisp which he proceeded to demonstrate for us with a laugh.

I asked him about the comment he made earlier in the evening, the one about how he only writes about things he doesn’t understand. I told him I appreciated his self-deference, but also that he isn’t giving himself enough credit given that his lyrics prove otherwise and demonstrate being well-versed in the complexities of God, death, politics and girls. He smiled a knowing smile and then I asked him our question, “What informs your theology?”

“I read a lot,” he replied while beaming friendliness and continuing to project modesty.

Not wanting to let him off the hook that easy, I countered, “What do you read? Who do you read? I would like to read them too.”

He could tell I was being genuine, that this was not a flippant question. His countenance shifted somewhat, still affable but now with understanding eyes. He responded, “Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis, Pascal… people who are smarter than me.” Then again with self-depreciating humor he added, “Basically everyone.” The crowd chuckled and I could tell this may be all I would get from the man tonight, and I was content to let that be enough. Hannah and I asked for a picture with him to document the occasion, but as we readied for picture taking position and found someone to take the shot for us, another eager fan named Corey approached with a query.

Hannah leads the way to Jon Foreman after a free concert in NYC on her 20th birthday August 3, 2012

This young man in his early 20s stepped into the frame with his girlfriend and told Jon that he hoped she would soon be his fiancée, but that as a musician himself he wanted to know how to balance being a good husband with being a dedicated musician. “You’re married, right? How do you do it? How do you do marriage and music at the same time?” Thinking about my own wife and some of the dreams we share, the nature of this question resonated with me. In Corey’s voice was a plea for advice from someone further down the path, wanting to know if it is possible to be passionate about your work when the nature of that work will require being drawn away from your family at times.

Again with a smile Jon replied, “The best things in life are darn near impossible. Marriage, it’s darn near impossible. But it’s beautiful. It’s great. Music is darn near impossible. You just have to find a way.” Sounds like riding life switchfoot to me.

“What, then, is the difference between an admirer and an imitator? An imitator is or strives to be what he admires, and an admirer keeps himself personally detached, consciously or unconsciously does not discover that what is admired involves a claim upon him, to be or at least to strive to be what is admired.— Søren Kierkegaard (September 27, 1850) 

“Wait a minute Doc. Ah… are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?”

Exactly a quarter century ago, on October 26, 1985, Marty McFly traveled back in time thirty years in Back to the Future. The film and the concept of time travel captured my imagination as a kid and continue to fascinate me today.

Doc Brown shows us how the DeLorean works

While the Back to the Future trilogy is entertaining, I enjoyed most anything with a time twist or space time continuum plot line including the late 80’s TV sitcom Out Of This World (starring a girl named Evie who could stop time by touching the tips of her index fingers), the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day and various X-Men comic storylines. Heck, I even remember liking the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme movie Timecop. More recently, I appreciated both the “time turner” action in Harry Potter, the vastly underrated Meet the Robinsons and who doesn’t love Hiro Nakamura? But what is it about playing with time that is so enthralling?

Nearly a decade ago while attending Pepperdine University, I was introduced to Redemptive Cinema and the concept that anything worth watching is usually enjoyable due to some underlying theology supporting the plot and characters. So what might our interest in Back to the Future or the rest of the time related plots above teach us about the nature of God?

Donald Miller has written and spoken a great deal on the redemptive aspect of story and has also commented on the subject of God as He relates to time. The following is from a sermon Don gave at Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon in November 2004:

“God spoke light, and light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated the light from the dark. Okay, so here’s this nothingness. God creates something in the middle of the nothingness. And then the first thing he does with the something, is He puts light in it. Okay, let’s think about this… let’s just think about light. Light. What are the qualities of light? Light travels at the speed of light, we know that. Right? Okay, but that’s something else to think about though… light, because it travels at the speed of light, exists outside of time. So light is not affected by time. What I mean by that is that if a human being were to travel at the speed of light, time would no longer affect him. It’s just a physical law, it’s just a truth… Time because it has a relationship with speed, slows down the faster you go. If you go the speed of light, time will stop. So light is eternal… We know that light is not made up of matter and we know that no physicist on the planet understands light. They can’t explain it… all we know is the quality of light… here’s something you experience but don’t understand. And all the way throughout the text, like a genius, He calls Himself light.”

This excerpt nicely illustrates that in accepting God’s own description of Himself as Light, it follows we should have no issue with believing God exists outside of time as we know it; opening up a world of possibilities and explanations regarding Biblical texts.

For example, in Exodus 3:14-15, when asked to give His name, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.” There is a lot going on in this interaction, but for our purposes, the text appears to indicate an omnipresent God throughout time.

Author, Leslie Marmon Silko, was recently interviewed by Tom Ashbrook on the NPR show “On Point” (10/18/10) and stated, “Linear time itself is a fiction which I find tedious and simple minded.” When asked to comment further, she said, “Well, as best I can understand, what they’ve discovered at the subatomic level… past, present, and future are at that level, it becomes just present… past and future don’t really exist as we know it, what exists is right now… this present moment.”

Now, neither myself nor Ms. Silko are scientists, and this is not meant to be a scientific paper, but what she noted appears to fit with an omnipresent Creator who weaves Himself consistently through the fabric of the human narrative.

In fact, all four gospels are written in the present tense in the original Greek. According to the New American Standard Bible’s Principles of Translation notes, it was believed the “Greek authors frequently used the present tense for the sake of heightened vividness, thereby transporting their readers in imagination to the actual scene at the time of occurrence. However, the translators felt that it would be wise to change these historical presents to English past tenses.” What if, more than a stylistic language choice, the text itself is also attempting to point toward the ever present nature of God, as if Jesus didn’t just say things to his disciples, but that he perhaps literally continues to say them to us today (“and He says to him, Follow Me!” Matthew 9:9).

So God is present, which is comforting, but does he have a sense of past or future? Going back to the concept of God as light, we can know that God amazingly exists outside of time, while simultaneously He is present in all of it. This is where my mind is blown in an attempt to understand His greatness. A God who can see both the future and past while being fully present in this moment, means we have One who is capable of doing some incredible things on our behalf and we see often see this in answered prayers.

I suspect most Christians believe God will hear our prayers for the present moment and that on occasion He answers immediately, and that they also believe God hears and grants petitions in regard to the future. But for a God who exists outside of time, and is somehow still fully present in the past, is it improbable that we might be able to pray into the past and that He would still grant our requests? I don’t imagine God may alter the past significantly enough based on our prayer to change the course of human history, as timing is His business, but might it be possible to pray for deceased loved ones that God may give them an extra sense of peace during a moment of particular crisis during their life now expired life on earth? This doesn’t seem any less plausible to me than the idea of having visions of the future (and if you doubt that glimpses of the future can be given, please feel free to explain the phenomenon of déjà vu).

In the grand scope of the Biblical narrative, it appears God through Jesus and the Spirit is moving forward with the restoration and reconciliation of Shalom, or the way things were created to be interdependently “good”. Only now when humans again arrive in the Garden of Paradise, we will find ourselves matured and more beautiful for having grown through adversity and for being purchased back by Christ’s blood. So in one sense, we are all being restored and are headed back to where things began, but in another, Heaven will be an entirely new creation and a place we’ve never been. Seemingly time is moving backward and forward simultaneously.

Perhaps to address the longing some of us have to gain access to a time machine to right past wrongs or alter history, Timothy Keller notes that when Jesus returns it will be with such power that the “very material world and universe will be purged of all decay and brokenness. All will be healed and all might-have-beens will be.”

Keller then goes on to quote C.S. Lewis who wrote, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

A God who exists simultaneously outside of time and is present with us in each moment? A God who can answer prayers for the future and the past? A God who is working forward into the future to create a new reality and yet restore an original design? A God who will work backwards to turn agony into glory? Great Scott! That’s some heavy stuff, eh Marty?