Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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Rheanna Downey

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You probably do not know about Rheanna Downey, a San Diego area singer/song-writer. Let me briefly introduce you. A few years ago, probably 2008 or 2009, when I was running a music venue/coffee house, I booked Rheanna Downey to perform. She is an independent folk/rock/pop singer with a crystal clear voice that gives a feeling of warmth in the lower register. Her guitar work is skillful and precise. Her songwriting is intelligent and well-crafted. There are Christian themes in her music but the music is probably more at home in a coffee house, house concert or other music venue then in a church worship service. She writes honestly and candidly about life and her struggles, though indeed from a Christian perspective. This is the kind of music that we need: it plants gospel seeds in a mainstream context and does that with artistic integrity, with the joy of the music front and center.

Rheanna has an album on iTunes: “Pull the Moon” (2011). I downloaded it a while ago and just recently got around to listening to it intensively. I wish I had done this earlier. Who knows? I might have been a slightly happier person if I had. She also has a web site: http://www.RheannaDowney.com. She is on Facebook and MySpace. If you are intrigued, I would suggest that you check out Rheanna Downey, and if you like it, download her album, and if you book artists for a music venue, especially in Southern California, consider booking Rheanna for a concert.

This post was powered by “Pull the Moon” (2011) by Rheanna Downey.

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An Amazing Place

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I’m thinking about water today. Somehow thinking about it is comforting in the midst of California Summer heat. I’ve lived most of my life in Cali and still I avoid heat whenever I can.

I have been to the place pictured above, more precisely to the area at the top of the picture, well actually it’s hidden in the fog. This place is Mount Walaleale on the island of Kuai in the Hawaiian Islands. When I was there sometime in the ’90s, this was known as the wettest place in the world. The name means “rippling water” in Hawaiian and receives an average of 452 inches (!) of rain a year. The record of 683 inches was recorded in 1982. Rain comes down there about 360 days per year. I think there is always at least a mist, and there was when I was there. Mount Walaleale has a peak of 5,148 ft. which features a mushy swamp surrounded by lush, green vegetation and many streams and waterfalls. The area is a favorite of film makers with such films as “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “Tropic Thunder” (2008) being partly filmed there.

Kuai has diverse weather and topography.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Kokee State Park, Kauai Island, HI There are areas that look like the Grand Canyon, areas that are what one would expect on a tropical island and an arid area with almost no precipitation. Chickens roam the island from coastal beaches to well up in the mountains. It is believed that the first Polynesian settlers brought with them chickens, pigs, dogs and rats which developed into distinctive Kuai species. The native chicken is called the ‘moa’. Some of them are interbred with common chickens. But the moa is inedible. Chefs say that if one boils a lava rock in one pot and boils a moa in another pot, when your rock is ready to eat, your moa will be ready to eat. In other words, the moa is hard as a rock. But it is adorned colorfully and is a pleasure to watch.

This post was powered by “Rip Open The Skies” (2006) and “Resuscitate” (2012) both by Remedy Drive and “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” (2012) by The Welcome Wagon.


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Chance of Awesome Today: Extreme

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It’s another big day for Jack Lewis, the Bible Study Dog  (BSD), and me because today will feature the Thursday Night Bible Study in our home. Jack and I look forward to this for different reasons.

Another feature today is massive amounts of tunage which Jack and I are listening to all day. Now we are nodding our heads to “Fading West”, the new album by Swtchfoot. We might also listen to something from The Violet Burning or Jesus Culture. By the way, I coined that word “tunage”, meaning tunes, music when I was running a music venue/coffee house a few years ago. I based the word on “signage”, as in, “Dude, our band needs more signage!” So, typically, my ad copy would include something like: “There will be copious amounts of food and massive amounts of tunage.” I am always coming up with words, phrases or themes. Some of them I hear or see people using 6 months or a year later. It’s like I’m tuned in to something that is just ‘in the air’. But sometimes I would print cards with one of my ideas illustrated to give away at shows. For instance: “The devil gets no space on my hard drive!” (more about that later). But “tunage” has not caught on, so that one is still mine. Oh, unless you want it?

Today also features protein for lunch. In various ways Jack has communicated that he prefers the high-protein diet that his ancestors ate on the African savannah. When we first rescued Jack, I would use the BSD for a spoken word piece that I did first at the church, and then other places, on St. Peter’s vision of ‘unclean’ animals coming down from the sky in a sheet, with a voice saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15, ESV), showing that God was inviting all people to hear the Good News of God’s love, grace and acceptance in Jesus and to come together as his Church. Of course Jack’s memory verse was Acts 10:13, ESV: “Rise, kill and eat.” Jack’s application: 1) the prey won’t come to you; you must go and get it; 2) one must kill the prey or it will run away; and 3) eating is the point. The 10 minute routine was meant to be used in mainstream (not necessarily Christian) venues. While I told stories about Jack, I would quickly plant the seed of divine invitation and acceptance.

However, the post you are reading was almost not written. I was wrestling with about 3 or 4 possible posts and rejecting each one for various reasons. One of my reasons is one you might recognize. Have you ever found a sparkling and true thought that you think would be helpful to share, and yet, it’s not the whole truth or it’s only true as far as it goes or it’s open to misapplication? But you don’t want to qualify it so much that it loses it’s punch, the possibility that it might be for someone a sudden insight that would break her loose or help him move forward. Let’s take as an example that Jesus is Lord of all of life, every part of my life.

The central confession of the early Christian Church was that “Jesus is Lord!” We think of the comprehensive authority that Jesus claims when we hear him saying words like, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6, ESV) A few more: Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Leader/King) in John 10 and the Bread of Life in John 6. One could go on and on because really a Christian is someone for whom Jesus is everything. Here is a striking and true word with a punch from Abraham Kuyper, Dutch theologian, Prime Minister, journalist and much else, of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'” Jesus claims everything in our lives. He is not like a president that one might negotiate one’s degree of obedience or his ownership of every area of one’s life. That’s what Lord and Sovereign mean. But you may have heard the saying: “He is Lord of all or not Lord at all.” That is so true! One cannot hold some part of your life away from Jesus or negotiate with him about your obedience and still call him, “Lord”. And yet, is this really the whole truth about Jesus’ authority in our lives? Does he usually just say, “Jump!”, and we are to only say, “How high?” Doesn’t the Bible show God and Jesus receiving human questions without ‘upbraiding’? God makes his desires our desires over time as we come to be shaped by his character through prayer and Scripture (see the post, “What We Are”). God gives us the dignity of being truly (but unnecessary) agents, working with him. And couldn’t I sincerely declare that Jesus is my Lord, and yet having a limited understanding of some parts of my life, over time grow into a more profound submission to his authority as I attain more self-knowledge? Was Jesus not my Lord until I grew enough? I’ll answer that for you: he was my Lord and now I understand better what that means.

Now, I often say that Jesus cannot be Lord over areas of life that one doesn’t have some growing understanding of. One should make some effort, before God, to understand art, music, film, economics, politics, science and more. This seems obviously true to me. I have an intelligent and capable friend who says she is not interested in politics and that she never votes. My first instinct is to quip that Pericles said something like “Just that you’re not interested in politics, doesn’t mean politics is not interested in you.” I even have this saying imposed on a picture of Nazi soldiers inspecting prisoners that I thought about using in this post, but then I thought I don’t want to do that to my blog. I suppose that art work is meant to remind us that Hitler first was elected and came to power through a democratic political process and later begin to rule gradually by diktats, deceitful maneuvers and thuggery. This should at least be something vaguely familiar from our experience.

However, I settled on the thought that Jesus cannot be Lord over areas of our lives that we make no effort to think about before him. And like I wrote, this seems obvious to me. St. Paul reminds us that Christians are promised the mind of Christ for their lives in this world. We are instructed: “Do not be conformed to this world, don’t let the world press you into its mold, from the outside in. But be transformed, from the inside out, by the renewal of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2, based on the Phillips paraphrase, The Message, ESV and my own translation of two Gk. verbs) Extending this theme of active thinking about life before God, St. Paul wrote: “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4c-5, NRSV) To have our minds renewed from the inside out and to take every thought captive to obey Christ involves not only study of the Bible but also study of the thoughts to be taken captive and the ways that the world tries to press us into its mold. I envision many Christians studying art, music, philosophy, politics or technology.

Have I created a true saying that is only true as far as it goes? I’m afraid that I have. Christians have different gifts, callings and temperaments. Maybe we should say that we are not all called to study of culture and creation as our primary calling, and those that are, not in the same way at different times in our lives. And yet I feel that most Christians are to make some effort to understand some areas of culture so that they may bring these aspects of their lives as offerings to Christ and also may think well for the extension of God’s kingdom and even out-think the world.

Back to politics: 1) politics is not everything; 2) as Andrew Breitbart used to say, “culture is upstream from politics”, that is, change the culture and the change will last longer and politics will began to change (politics swims in culture and is bounded by it); 3) even Christians called to work in politics will subvert their own side somewhat as they treat politics as relative to God’s kingdom; and 4) politics, like everything created, may become an idol (see my post, “What We Are”).

This post was powered by “Fading West” (2014) by Switchfoot.


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Veto Override

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In C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel, “The Great Divorce”, a group of ghostly inhabitants of Hell are given a “bus” trip away from the grey city, where they are left alone with their selfishness, to the out-skirts of Heaven. Each day-tripper is given a mentor to help them give up their old selves and whatever sins or perverse desires are keeping them out of Heaven and God’s melt-your-face-off joyous presence. Most of the trippers are unwilling to let go of that which they are asked to give up, and so, head back at the end of the day to a miserable but familiar existence in the grey city.

The protagonist, and Lewis’ mentor, George MacDonald, is given these words to speak, as part of a longer discussion: “Was joy created to live under that threat? Always defenseless to those who would rather be miserable than have their self-will be crossed? Can you really have thought that love and joy would always be at the mercy of frowns and sighs? The demand of the loveless; that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe; that til they consent to be happy – on their own terms – no one else shall taste joy; that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to VETO HEAVEN?” Isn’t this the attitude that many people have: if you are joyful, but I am miserable, than you are cold and heartless? And isn’t this the rationale of those who refuse to come into God’s loving presence: they “…would rather be miserable than have their self-will be crossed?”

All good and truth and beauty come from God’s hand. “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17, NRSV) Let’s add in here the quote of Lewis above, to the effect that there is no happiness or peace available to us apart from God, because these qualities are not just substances that can be dropped into our lives, but they are contingent on us being shaped to reality, including the reality of God. And further, we only know peace and happiness in a right relationship to the Trinity, to other persons and to other creatures. What brass to demand of God “Let me be happy – as I define it – without you!” Notice then that Hell is asking, demanding really, one of two impossible states of affairs. They want to be happy without God. Impossible!, all good gifts come from God. Or…their demand would permit sin and misery into the New Creation. Impossible!, God has made strong promises to his people: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
‘See, I am making all things new.'” (Rev. 21:3-5a, NRSV)

There are also some atheists or agnostics who strike a noble pose because of some atrocity that has happened to someone else. Think here of the character of Ivan in “The Brothers Karamatsov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Nonetheless, not only do they ask for impossibilities, but they demand an injustice toward the redeemed. And are they really concerned so much for someone else or are they merely rationalizing their own refusal to receive what God would give?

By the way, this post is powered by “Ep” (2008) by United Pursuit. I plan to expand these reflections tomorrow evening in my talk before the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society.


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Reflections About My Father

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Today is Father’s Day. I had a wonderful father: Bill Bright (Oct.19, 1921 – July 19, 2003). Along with his wife and my mother, Vonette Bright, he founded and led Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru). I want to say some things about my dad. This is not a balanced memoir, just some things that I want to say. Many people, possibly most, will want to uphold other parts of my dad’s life and character.

One characteristic way that Dad and I spent time together was editing his articles, messages or book chapters. This was a ‘twofer’ for him: he could spend time with me and continue to work. Dad would hand me pages from what he was working on and tell me to write in the margins, circle or underline, or even cross words out. Mostly, I was trying to come up with the most accurate and culturally resonate way of speaking. It became an incorrigible habit for me to this day. I am almost constantly coining phrases, looking for more daring images, turning ideas on their heads and smashing disparate themes together. I especially try to find images or phrases that carry a logic within them such that they will slowly burn within people and prepare the way for acknowledging the truth of the gospel of God’s kingdom. We call this planting seeds: the seeds have life within themselves which we hope will bear fruit later.

The Dad that I love, is the Dad of his book “Revolution Now” (oops!, now the IRS will target me) and the committed band of cadres, infiltrating every part of culture for Christ. He is the one who could recite a long passage from famed Scottish preacher John Stewart and memorized passages of Scripture with his family. I recall memorizing Ephesians, 1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 28:18-20, John 15, parts of John 14-17, some verses from Proverbs and other passages.

Let me tell two stories about my Dad for now. We were on a family vacation in Hawaii and he and I were floating in the water off Waikiki beach. Dad had a perforated ear drum and was not to get his head wet, so he was floating in a plastic tube. Dad was witnessing to the good news of God’s love to a man we met out in the water. This was so characteristic of him; compassion for people drove him to let few opportunities to introduce people to Jesus to pass by. However Dad’s tube sprung a leak so that he scrunched up the plastic around the leak in order to slow the loss of air. He wanted to continue to give a witness to Jesus for as long as he could. Needless to say, I watched with alarm as air continued to escape and Dad floated lower in the water.

My Dad was culturally conservative about some things. Cru’s music groups would push the envelope, so to speak, and Dad and others would pull them back to conservative earth. You know from some of my other posts that I was a rocker and still am. One day my Dad and I were talking widely about culture. I told him that many people today carry a musical sound track in their heads which makes a particular narrative or worldview plausible or implausible to them. Also, music carries a powerful emotional punch. Whoever creates the most intriguing, evocative, excellent and memorable music wins the music wars and potentially the hearts and minds of many people. Dad could have the music he liked and was comfortable with or he could “win”, I said. Dad thought only for a moment, and then said, “I would rather win”. At least at that moment, as God is my witness, that was his choice! But surely for him that would have been an insight hard to keep in view in the face of music that was disturbing to him and his generation.

The longer I live, the more I see in Dad that was so right. So many of my values, preferences and ways of living I ‘caught’ from my Dad. We still don’t agree on everything, unless of course, he has now seen the truth in heaven (ha, ha).

In January 2003, I visited my parents in Orlando, FL. for about two weeks. My Dad was very ill by then but very active and alert. Occasionally, he would get out of bed and dress for dinner. As usual, I was helping to edit a book and a couple of articles for him. I served communion to my parents every night. When people would call or visit my dad, he would always say, “I’m rejoicing!” On April 1st, I became ill and bed-ridden in California. Dad phoned me every day. Two men separated by a continent talking with so much in common until about 3 days before Dad graduated to the Church Triumphant on July 19, 2003. I think about his amazing qualities and commitments almost every day.


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True Freedom

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Freedom is the theme of this post. I have been thinking about freedom because I will probably have surgery on my foot in July and then be non-weight-bearing for six weeks. I know about the loss of control and freedom that comes with this process. In June 2013, I broke my leg, and after surgery, I was to be non-weight-bearing for about six weeks which turned into four months. All of that time, someone gave me sink bathes, changed my bandages, prepared my meals and took care of other intimate needs. I also spent about three or four weeks in a rehab hospital, then had physical therapy at home and finally did out-patient therapy for a few months.

I will make a few observations about freedom and then inquire about whether we can live in freedom even when our circumstances constrain us. Americans have been known as those who value liberty and freedom, especially from the federal government. As we approach July 4th, Independence Day, many of us will be thinking about the blessings of our freedom and the ways that freedom is threatened today. Freedom is often thought of as freedom from interference and constraint and the right to do what we want if that does not injure someone else. This might be called negative freedom, libertarian freedom or freedom from. Indeed, these are among the definitions given for both freedom and liberty in Webster’s Dictionary.

However, I would like to also hold up what might be called positive freedom or freedom to. There are many meaningful actions that require preparation. I am not free to play the piano well unless I take lessons. I am not free to surf without practice. You can add to the long list. Also, various character traits typically require certain practices and experiences. The human relationships that I might enjoy are not available to me if I am shallow because I have not experienced enough adversity to develop character traits like perseverance, courage and faithfulness.

Can we live in joyful freedom even when we face outward constraints? Followers of Jesus can. Jesus said, “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36, NRSV) Jesus is referring to serving God with a slave’s attitude, like the Pharisees, versus serving the Father as a child of God, as family. But there are other kinds of slavery. There is slavery to idols, which are anything that takes the place of the living God in our lives, or just surrendering to what our cultures say is just “the way things are” (the “elemental spirits” or “rudiments”, Gal. 4:9). There is that issue of idols again.297795725_8e9978c91a
St. Paul speaks to the Galatians about freedom from idols: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?” (Gal. 4:8-9, NRSV) The inner freedom of a child of God can slip away when we try to earn God’s favor through rule keeping (we already have his favor) or when some ideology or person or thing takes the place of God in our lives. I am thinking of that chorus that I heard Jesus Culture perform a couple of years ago, “Break Every Chain”: “There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain…” I may appear to be tied down, but I’m dancing in my heart!

The precious gift of true inner freedom must not be compromised. St. Paul again: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, NRSV) The Psalmist is thankful to God: “You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.” (Ps. 18:36, NRSV) I am going to live like someone left the gate open!