“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” -The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 2:10.

I am constantly and consistently amazed at God’s amazing sovereignty over us despite the random chaos of this present earth! We obstinate and disobedient children of free will; born with the stain of selfishness, pride and self preservation at all costs! We constantly and anxiously seek to go our own way; ripping the authority out of our gracious Father’s rightful hands to our own peril, to our own end! All of our bad choices leading to death and decay, and yet, out of the darkness He breaks through with the light of His revelation and restoration. How does He do it? How does He plan each moment so right to lead us to the place where we can learn to see and hear and be washed clean and made whole again? Why does He do it? What good does He possibly see in us to make such an effort to allow us to be a part of His plan for the salvation of those who would choose to be saved? Wouldn’t it be easier to just appear in the sky and flatten us all with terror and fear? Why does He insist on the mystery and the intimacy? His ways toward us are like the lover who woos His woman with quiet dignity and confidence, rather than the brute who clubs and rapes his way into his desires.

Why does He even bother to use us when we constantly deny Him? When we try so hard to elude Him and His righteousness? Even in our blatant rebellion, He can manipulate our evil for His good. We are like multitudes of buzzing bees collecting our honey addictions; we are an infestation of ants, always looking at the task at hand, yet never looking above to hear the beat of His heart. Are we that predictable that He can somehow allow us our free will, and yet still stay in mastery of the universe? As individual people, yes, of course keeping track is easy; I can certainly predict how my own children will react when they are put in various social and moral situations. I even have a few friends that I know so well, that I could give a good guess how they will respond in the trials of life, but to keep track of all of them at the same time and set the universe in motion to simply bless them? Even as a mighty throng of unending peoples marching through the fields of history, each with his own will, his own desires, He somehow guides the paths we walk down for our own benefit.

How infinite and immense His mind must be! To know us all, from the first to the last, all of us in the here and now, all at the same time, all so intimately. How deep and wide and inexplicable His heart must be to love us all so intimately! Did this Creator become His creation to know me better? How does such a mighty God, who knows the designs of nebulas light years away from this tiny blue planet in an insignificant part of the universe, know the deep dark fragile parts of my heart that need to be healed? What is it to Him, the hidden places of my soul and its cracked and broken wastelands? Why does He care for me when everyone around the world who are hurting worse than me are crying out to Him right now? How does He do it? How does He provide the right words out of random books at the right moment on an unpredictable snow day; simply to redirect me to my purpose? A soft gentle reminder; a word of encouragement simply speaking to me (to us!):

“You can do it. Walk on. The task is not too great for you if you follow My lead.”

Thank you, Jesus!

Peter L Richardson
1/28/09
(untitled)

IMMENSITY
OF YOUR CREATION
OVERWHELMS,
AND I FALL DOWN
DEAD.
INTENSITY
IN YOUR DETAIL
MINUTE
IN ALL OF YOUR
IMAGINATION.
INTIMACY
OF YOUR LOVE FOR ME
REVEALED,
AND I RISE UP
AGAIN.

Peter L Richardson
6/8/01

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Bruised Elbows

August 18, 2009

I remember riding in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon on the way down to our trailer at the beach. It was always late Friday night after my dad got off work, and it was such an uncomfortable ride. I’d be squashed between my brothers, always stuck in the middle of the back seat. After an hour of fighting and nudging, bickering increased to yelling, my dad would finally pull over and shout:

“If you brats don’t sit still, I’m gonna beat your asses so bad you’ll have to stand!”

But in his mission to get to the beach at a reasonable hour, he would never let us get out to use the bathroom, so I’d drift off to sleep praying that I’d be able to hold it in until we made it to the trailer.

On these trips, my parents always listened to AM Oldies Radio. It was perfect for my dad, because they played every Phillies game, and somehow the broadcast lasted the whole way down to the beach. He didn’t miss a beat. He got home from work around seven or eight, packed up us and our things by nine, caught the game on the car radio, and he was back to a warm bed by twelve, already thinking about the big fish we’ll catch “this time.”

I always considered my family pretty prosperous; a little house in the suburbs and even a trailer at the beach! We were rich. Imagine my surprise when I made it to high school and only then found out we were only middle class. My father and mother always seemed pretty satisfied with what they had; my father had been offered advancement in position within his job, but he never took it because he preferred physical work, and he didn‘t want to lose the little time he had at home. When we learned that I was probably the worst batter in little league, my dad seemed more intent on teaching me how to hit rather than slaving for advancement in his career to provide the “best” equipment that some of the other kids used. When we all learned how to drive, some of the kids I used to play ball with pulled into school with some pretty decent cars. They had freedom, and I wanted it. So I went to my father, and he took me to a place where I had to flip millions of burgers and wash millions of dishes to get my freedom. Many of the kids I knew wrecked their cars within six months, but I respected mine. I swore with every burger I flipped and every dish I washed that nothing would take my car away from me. I learned many lessons from hard work. I learned responsibility; I learned to respect myself and others, but most importantly, I learned that the idea of the word freedom is a paradox in itself.

The fact is we are all slaves to a system, no matter what it might be, and I’d rather be controlled by my wife’s embrace and my child’s smile, than by the size of our house and what kind of cars we own. The problem is that people are so worried about making a career for themselves and getting nice things they forget about their souls. They become shallow and selfish, raising shallow and selfish kids. Working for a better life becomes relevant only by the stacks of unused material objects stuffed away in their two car garages and walk-in bedroom closets. Too exhausted from their jobs, parents lose connection with their children, and everyone goes straight to their own rooms to play with their own toys in their own lives.

The rides to the beach with my family are the strongest memories of my childhood, and they consisted of bruised elbows, cramps, and a bladder that was ready to burst, but I love Oldies Bee-Bop now, and one sure way to get me to sleep is to play the sweet sound of Harry Kalas broadcasting a Phillies game with the faint roar of the crowd in the background. These rides represent to me the times my family truly were together, sometimes in misery, but we were a unit no matter what. That’s how I wish my family to be. I want to take my kids everywhere and show them what beauty is left in the world I’m handing down to them. I want to take them on adventures and listen to their dreams. Making a career for yourself is great, that’s not what I’m knocking. I am always in support of people using their talents in a job that they enjoy; everyone needs to eat, and Junior is going to have to go to college if he is to meet today’s standards, right? I just want to make sure that I’ve got enough time at the end of the day to love Junior and the wife, because I don’t think I could stand the pain of sleeping alone when there is someone sleeping right next to me. Not every night.

I almost pissed my pants sometimes because my dad was so stubborn, but the next day we were out bright and early fishing together.

Peter L Richardson
3/24/92
(this is something I wrote when I was 18 years old. I think the main point is still relevant today, and in my mind it’s become a tribute to my dad; hence, the following poem…)

 

“Green Chevy”

Riding in the back of his dark green Chevy.
Cold vinyl beige pressed against my cheek,
The seatbelt pressed hard against my bladder.
My brothers’ both asleep,
          or at least pretending to be.
Passing headlights create shadow-worlds
          orbiting the ceiling.
Another long day;
Exhausted from play or pain,
          or both.
But no matter,
          childhood lasts forever…

Soft rock pumps through the air,
          stirs up a memory,
The Living Legacy:
          My dad and his Chevrolet.

Peter L Richardson
6/13/00

Bottled Energy

August 8, 2009

Thou shalt not think that any male over the age of 30 that plays with a child that is not their own is a pedophile… Some people are just nice. –De Le Sac

 Besides the obvious reasons, pedophiles really piss me off. Particularly in that they ruin much more than the lives of the child victims and all the families involved, but they also contribute to the breakdown of local communities and even society as a whole. We have become so mistrustful of strangers that there is no longer any room for hospitality. Your average male adult cannot take delight in the pleasure of watching children at play without become suspect. God forbid if you actually interact with them! Parents will give you a queer and nervous look and politely usher the little ones off to some other place. And rightly so. I was the same way with my own kids when they were younger; because, it is just not worth the risk.

I remember when I was a child; male and female adults of all ages had the freedom to laugh at, and laugh with, me and my brothers. I admit that sometimes we were creeped out, but most of the time we recognized that they were just being nice, and we saw an adult that we needed to respect because that’s what our parents taught us to do. Instead of grabbing us by the arms and quickly (but politely) running away, my parents would show appreciation that someone was actually enjoying their kids and not being annoyed by them. They stayed close and would certainly watch over us, but instead of acting accusatory, they would often strike up a conversation with the stranger and, in so doing, make a new acquaintance. At times, these strangers would become trusted friends and neighbors. Either way, my parents took the time to find out if the strangers were trustworthy, or if they should be worried. The communities we existed in together got a little smaller and our society grew a little stronger because my parents didn’t run away in fear. At the very least, someone who was perhaps a little lonely received the opportunity to experience the joy of childhood again, if only for a few moments.

If nothing else, is this not what the world needs? To remember the joy of childhood? We live in such an adult central and increasingly sexualized society that, unfortunately, many parents seem to be pushing their children to grow old way too soon. I say “old,” not “up;” growing “up” implies maturity. When you force a kid to enter adulthood too soon, genuine maturity is usually much harder for that child to achieve. Tweens look and act more like teens by the clothes their parents buy them or movies they are exposed to, and teens believe they have the freedom to experiment sexually because they don’t fully understand the consequences and simply aren’t mature enough to grasp the emotional and physical responsibilities of sex. Some parents work so many hours to maintain a higher standard of living that their kids are forced to take care of themselves and consequently they get raised by MTV and Nickelodeon, a winning combination for sure. When I say we need to become more youthful, America’s obsession with the fountain of youth is not what I’m talking about here. I don’t mean we need more plastic surgery, and when a man starts to get pudgy and a little thin he shouldn’t trade his wife in for one of his daughter’s friends to make himself feel a little better. What I’m talking about is recapturing the spirit and innocence of youth. The ability to forgive pretty quickly so you can still have a friend to play with. The ability to look at the world with wonder and amazement. To feel the glory of bugs, butterflies and puppies. To not be afraid of dirt and rain. To be able to sit and, at a the same time, go to a place where we are defeating dragons and conquering kingdoms. To put our fingers in paint and feel the colors as we create new and wonderful masterpieces that we know will get a place of honor on the refrigerator. To not be afraid of strangers; at least when they are the same size as you…

There is a great beauty in the innocence and joy of children, and that innocence needs to be protected, but when we cover up our kids too tightly, we don’t allow their beauty to shine out and affect the world we all exist in together. Similarly, when we give them too much freedom too soon, we do expose them to more subtle dangers. Watching children play and enjoy life, and taking the time to get down on their level and interact with them, brings life and energy to any adult who dares to do so. We often say, “I wish I could bottle their energy!” Well, we don’t really need to. We can drink from the constant flow of their streams of creativity and imagination just by spending time with them. And by spending more time with children, we can begin to lead them into a healthy adulthood when the time is right. A child’s joy and wonder is contagious when we are able to appreciate it. We regain the ability to see the world through their eyes. It becomes magical again. Can we not agree that the adult world needs a little more magic and a lot more faith?

Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:2-5 (New International Version)

Peter L Richardson
7/24/09 (after watching planes take off at the airport with kids…)

 

“unexpected wonder”

A dark crowded room.
     Stories in lights against the wall.
We laugh together for the first time in a while.
Stepping out into the warmth of the night
     He talks of stories from the past
          and he asks about the future…
Before I can respond
     The night sky explodes
          in energy, joy,
               and laughter:
There is a symphony of color
     Above our heads;
          rainbow explosions
          sailing bright
          against the darkness.
     Playful fairies
          appear and disappear
          making thunder as
          they move in and out
          of our world.
Awestruck by this unexpected wonder,
     I perceive my child in colorful glows:
          face alive,
               mouth agasp,
     The magic dancing in his eyes…

For the moment I feel it also,
     And I believe in it again,
          myself.

Peter L Richardson
5/26/04 (leaving the movie theatre with my boys, and finding a surprise fireworks show just over the parking lot)

“I have such a craving for the music of heaven.”   Frances Ridley Havergal

I absolutely love to sing. In the shower. In my car with or without the radio. While I’m working with any loud equipment, like a lawnmower, that deceptively makes me think no one can hear me; I just belt it out. I am convinced that deep in my heart of hearts there is a maestro directing the rhythms and melodies of my moods and the tempo of my life. Unfortunately, to the dismay of my children, he has not found his way up to my lungs and vocal chords, and what comes out is something less than music. It’s okay, though; doesn’t the Psalmist tell us to “make a joyful noise”? And that is where the heart of song is for me: in worship. I love to read the word, I love to speculate, theologize and philosophize about how God’s amazing creation all works, but when I just want to be with my Savior, when I just want to know or be know by the God of the Universe, I sing to Him. There is no better way to connect with my God than worship. For when we lift up our voice to Him, he sings with us and right back to us; it is the equivalency of a mother singing a lullaby to her baby boy and a father dancing with his little girl. It is intimacy.

Even though Jesus just loves to hear the joy of his people in their praise to him, despite how pleasant it may or may not be to the human ear, I am absolutely convinced that our God just plain loves music in general. Think about it. It is all over his creation. First, just consider the human existence. Everyone who’s ever or never been in love has a song of longing in their hearts. The difference is whether it is full of lamentation or full of sappiness. Humans add music to everything they do. If we’re working out or getting pumped up for a fight, we want Rage Against the Machine or Linkin Park. If we’re trying to convince someone we love them or just get into their pants, we want Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding. If we think we’re going to change the world with our next fad movement, we want Bob Dylan or Counting Crows. If we just want to chill at the beach or a barbeque, we take Dave Matthews or the Alman Brothers along with us. You get the point. This passion for song is in every country and every culture in the world. The melodies and the instruments might change, but humans have an inner need to express themselves through song. You can take this all the way back to the beginning. Cain’s grandson, Jubal, “was the father of all who play the harp and flute” (Gen. 4:19). Were we not made in the image of God? God loves and delights in music!

Just listen. Turn off your i-pod, the television, close up your laptop. Try to find genuine silence. It doesn’t exist. God has music playing all around us. Listen deeply to the rhythm and melody of the universe. Turn off your air conditioner and open your windows early in the morning. You will find the birds performing a symphony for our God, or are they doing it for us on His behalf? Listen to the gentle melody of the wind flowing through the leaves, feel the rhythm of the rain falling on your body, hide from the thunderous crescendo of a lightning storm! Float along to the sound of a bubbling brook, or fiercely try to master the violent rhythm and roar of the rapids. Travel to the ocean and play in the rhythmic pounding of the waves. Even the great whales underneath the deep sing out their songs! I love the movie August Rush. In it the main character, an orphaned child, finds music in everything. Whether he is in a quiet field, or a busy city block, he takes what those of us on a lower plane of existence would consider noise, and in his mind he hears and creates an amazing symphony of sound. I think God is like that. He has a designed and composed rhythm and melody of the universe constantly at play all the time. And it is deeper than you might think.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). Music is another facet of nature that speaks to mankind of the existence of God. The Apostle Paul spends a great deal of time in the beginning of his letter to the Romans explaining that even those who never had a chance to be taught about God, should still have a basic understanding of his existence just through the glory of his creation. In addition to how perfectly seasons work together to produce crops for us, or the majesty of mountain views, flower petals, and sunsets, God has knit music into his creation at the deepest levels, just as he has knit it into the human heart. Music is another way for us to connect with him and be secure in our existence with him in eternity. And now, in my opinion, science is proving this to be more true than ever.

I don’t know how God created or designed the universe in the beginning. I wasn’t there. Genesis testifies that he simply spoke it into existence. What that looked like, or how it worked at the sub-atomic particle level, we will never know, unless He chooses to reveal it to us in the coming age. According to scientists who put their faith in the Big Bang Theory, the big bang apparently caused cosmic microwaves of background radiation that flow around us and through space to this day as the universe continues to expand. These cosmic waves all vibrate at different frequencies. Think about what sound is. In layman’s terms, it is just the vibration of matter creating noise through waves that travel through the air into our ears. Now, these cosmic waves vibrate at too low a frequency for us to hear, but they are all making different notes and different sounds at the same time. Brian Greene, a physicist from Columbia University, calls these waves flowing together “cosmic harmonies.” Turns out, even black holes have different frequencies, one has been measured as a Bb! Also, consider ideas being generated in the study of Quantum Physics. According to String Theory, all particles at the sub-atomic level are connected together by “strings.” These strings that run between the particles that make up all matter in the universe all vibrate. How does a guitar string make a note? You pluck it, and it vibrates. How does a violin string make a note? You run the bow over it, and it vibrates. All these particles that go beyond even the molecular level create notes that create music. We just can’t hear it with our human ears. Greene states, “If string theory is correct, at the heart of matter is music.”

Think about it. Let it sink in. From the grandest cosmic level to the tiniest particles that we are aware of, everything in the universe is making music. The Lord is such an amazing and creative being, that when he designed our universe, he not only made it work to provide for our carnal bodies, not only made it beautiful to behold, but he has made a symphony of sound that is constantly making music simply to please him (and perhaps the angels!). How amazing, and why not? Think about the intricate beauty of a flower petal up close, or how when the sun hit’s a certain landscape just right, or the shape and color of sunsets from different perspectives. Now think about how there are places in the world that no human being has ever been present at these moments, yet the beauty was still displayed. Why? To praise and glorify God. Simply for his pleasure at the work of his hands. Why wouldn’t God create music that we simply can’t hear, at least in this present age, for his own good pleasure? We do it. Does every song that was written get recorded and go out to the masses? How many musicians have spontaneously composed the most beautiful sounds as they bare their souls through their instruments, but they kept the moment to themselves? God, our Creator, is the ultimate scientist, the ultimate artist, and the ultimate musician. The Universe is his symphony that declares his glory. Will you listen for it? Better yet, will you join in? “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy!” (Psalm 98:7-8). When Jesus said that if we keep quiet and do not praise him “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40), who would ever have guessed that he was speaking literally?

 

Greene, Brian. Interview: The Music Instinct: Science & Song. Written and directed by, Elena Mannes. Ed. Donna Marino. Mannes Productions Inc. 2008.

 

Peter L Richardson

July 15, 2009