Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chasing Rainbows After Dark

"Why are there so many songs about rainbows
"And what's on the other side?
"Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
"And rainbows have nothing to hide.
"So we've been told and some choose to believe it.
"I know they're wrong, wait and see.
"Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
"The lovers, the dreamers and me."
"Somewhere over the rainbow
"Way up high,
"There's a land that I heard of
"Once in a lullaby."

We are a people fascinated with rainbows. To Kermit the Frog they were an inspiration. To Dorothy Gale they represented the gateway to a better life. But, scientifically, they are nothing more than the result of rain splitting white sunlight into its many colors--a natural prism.

I realize now that I have thought about rainbows quite frequently lately. They seem to be everywhere, in the songs that populate my playlist, in the passages we are reading at Bible study, and even in the sky, something very rare and precious for a native Southern Californian. It was not until earlier this month that I saw both ends of a rainbow for the first time. What an experience that was, to see it stretched from one end of the sky to the other in all of its radiant splendor, like a triumphal arch.

What is a rainbow really? It is so much more than an inspiration or the wish for something more. It is not merely the result of a prism, though even if it were no more, it would still be beautiful.

Genesis 9:13-16 says, "I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."

It is a symbol of promise. God judged mankind once by rain and flood. He wrought destruction and death, the terror of which was matched only by the horror of man's sin, but He promised that He would never do so again. And in promising He set His bow, a weapon of war, in the sky as if on a shelf, never to be taken down again. Thousands of years later that promise still stands. We await a judgment by fire, but the days of judgment by water are over.

And what of my title? If I were to ask you to find a rainbow after dark, I would be sending you on a fool's errand. You could search all night long, and even if every atmospheric condition were perfect, there would be no rainbow without sunlight.

Yet, in spite of this, I was reminded of something while reading the story of Noah one morning. It was not raining at the time. There was no rainbow outside. There certainly hadn't been one all night. Did that mean that God's promise was invalid or could be called into question? As the Apostle Paul was so fond of saying, may it never be! It struck me that there is always raining somewhere on this earth, so there is always a rainbow somewhere. When God set His bow in the sky, He did so permanently, even if we cannot see it.  

And it strikes me now, that every rainbow has only ever shone after dark. Think about it. Why did God institute the rainbow? He had just destroyed the entire earth with a flood, because of man's sin. The world was a dark and heartless place. When Adam and Eve lived undefiled in the Garden, there was no need to promise to never again to destroy the earth. There was no need to destroy the earth in the first place. But sin entered in, man fell and even after the flood, the world was just as dark a place as it had been beforehand. Mere verses after the promise of the rainbow, Noah gets drunk and Ham is cursed for ridiculing him. Man constructs the tower of Babel in direct defiance to God, idolatry, slavery, homosexuality and all sorts of wickedness flourishes, and the flood becomes a faint memory, distorted by every culture.

It is the same today. We live in a dark world, where even God's symbol of promise is claimed by the LGBT movement as their own. Where men would rather chase Leprechauns and their pots of gold than seek God. Still, the bow stays in the sky, where God left it so many thousands of years ago. He will not bring judgment on our world, not yet. Nor will He bring judgment on us, who deserve it just as much as anyone else. God promised never to destroy the earth by water again, because He was not finished with humanity. It is this truth we run hard after in a dark world. There was an even greater promise yet to be fulfilled. The seed of the woman had yet to come.

Now, He has come. We have only just celebrated His birth. In a few months we will celebrate His death and resurrection. Some day in the future we will celebrate His return, when He will come not with a bow but with a sword, and not only with a sword but also with open arms to welcome His own. For this reason we eagerly wait. For this reason we chase rainbows after dark. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

To the Library Cast-off

Tonight I am going to break my own rules and post something without including a quote. Throughout the few months of this blog's existence, we've heard from all sorts of people: Michel de Montaigne, Annie Dillard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All quite different, with different experiences, different occupations, even from centuries far apart, and different perspectives on life. Most of the quotes I have shared I discovered completely by accident, some on Google (which I'll admit is cheating), others by simply reading. Each book is like a treasure map, but with "x"s dotting every corner, gold nuggets strewn along the way.

Books not only take the reader on a journey, but each has also been on a journey itself. The kind of history an old book carries with it is something that the e-reader, as popular as it is, will never be able to offer. This is why I love shopping at the local library. You will never buy a new book there, but each one tells two stories: its author's and its own. I will never know who Hugh J. McKully was, but I do know he owned my 1912 copy of Ben-Hur before I did. I have never met George and Jackie, but I know they gave a copy of Bartlett's Famous Quotations to their friends Bob and Alice on March 12, 1971, with this quote circled: "What though youth gave love and roses, age still leaves us friends and wine" -Thomas Moore.

The old book isn't always pleasing to look at; it might require great care to keep it intact. Even still, don't throw it away; it may have something to tell you...

To the Library Cast-off

The rusty color of the spine
By a thousand eyes perused.
A thousand fingers traced each line,
Their prints a thousand clues.

Where were you when these bricks were laid?
Perhaps an author's whim?
The newest game at which he played
When success seemed very slim?

Perhaps, you go back farther still,
From a manor house of old.
At home with both the ink and quill,
Your leaves once boasted gold.

The mother who read you while baking bread,
Thank her for leaving her mark.
Thank the child reading undercover in bed,
Who you kept from fearing the dark.

Thank the student with the busy pen,
Whose thoughts were left behind.
Thank the scores of conscientious men,
Whose traces I cannot find.

Some days you were a sorry sight,
Which only librarians saw.
They made your failing binding tight
And wrote a stricter law:

"Special collection, by special request."
"You may not take these home."
Nicely put, a chance to rest
For geriatric tomes.

But even this could never last,
When interest in you had grown cold.
A book will find that in time it has passed
From "history" to simply "too old."

That's how I found you, in the back of a shelf.
For sale, with the dust thick like frost.
I bought you and took you home for myself,
Worth so much more than you cost.

We'll sit by the fire, and you'll tell me today
What you've seen, all the people you've met.
Teach me my friend, and if I have my way
You'll not reach "The End" just yet.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Night of Broken Glass

"Christianity--and that is its greatest merit--has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Beserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame... The ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals... Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder... When you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world's history, then you will know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll."

Yesterday and today mark the 74th anniversary of Kristallnacht, known in English as the "Night of Broken Glass." It was 1938 and World War Two was still on the horizon, but anti-Semitism in Germany was strong, and November 9th and 10th would go down in infamy. The homes and businesses of Jewish people were smashed and raided, people were dragged from their homes and beaten, all while the authorities stood silently by. An act of organized horror that was only a foretaste of what was to come.

When German poet Heinrich Heine penned the above quote in 1834, he could not have known what would happen one hundred years hence. Still, his words ring out like an eerie premonition of someone who knew how to read the times.

The Holocaust has always affected me particularly because of my father's Jewish heritage. His grandmother had relatives in Poland who did not survive. So, when I wrote the following poem, it was in their memory, and in the memory of those who suffered on Kristallnacht. May we never forget.

The broken panes, like frightened eyes implore,
And strewn between debris and splintered glass,
The Torah scrolls lie smoldering on the floor.

Like rats, the soldiers from each corner pour,
And of the witnesses, a callous mass,
The broken panes, like frightened eyes, implore.

The rabbi's shall in shreds, which once he wore,
And shards of colored windows fill the grass,
While Torah scrolls lie smoldering on the floor.

They cringe to hear as axes hack the door,
And they who flee, the clubs and stones harass,
Like broken panes, whose frightened eyes implore.

The crumpled forms were cruelly beaten, or
Were slain alike; no notice paid to class,
Like Torah scrolls, laid smoldering on the floor.

Today, the screams and shatters ring no more,
And yet the memory will never pass,
How broken panes, like frightened eyes, implored,
And Torah scrolls lay smoldering on the floor.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Currently, I am in the process of finishing Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Besides giving a great picture of this incredible man's life, Metaxas has distilled Bonhoeffer's wisdom and is continually pulling out nuggets of truth. This one struck me because it is so true but so contrary to what modern culture believes about God (if they believe in a god at all). A feel-good gospel or post-modern spirituality says that God will meet us where we are, that He is what we want Him to be, that we will reach Him if we only try hard enough. That is simply not the case, as Bonhoeffer asserts:  

"If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible."

Our relationship with God does not start with us. It doesn't even end with us. It is all and only Him, on His terms, not ours. I was reminded of this again while studying Job with the other women in my church. Job is often used as an encouragement for those who are suffering, a picture of the fact that even if we don't understand the reason for our troubles, God has a plan. Job suffers, his friends come to comfort him and offer their human wisdom, which he rejects (mostly for good reason), and then after coming through the trial, Job is blessed far more than he ever had been before.

But we are missing something. Why did God take away all the Job had in the first place? It was to prove to Satan that Job was faithful, that he would never cease to bless God's name (Job 1:8-12). This is never explained to Job. God chastises him at the end for his presumption, for suggesting that his suffering was not deserved. Never once, though, does God explain what was going on in heaven at the time. He never recounts His conversations with Satan. There was no reason given except, "Trust me. I know better than you do. I made the world and I made you."

One of the ladies at our Bible study, in a moment of honesty said that if she had been Job and God had given her the reason for everything that happened, she is not sure she would have been okay with it. "Really God? You took away all my children, my possessions, and even my health just to prove something to the devil?" Just? God never does anything "just because." He does everything all and only for His own glory. What did Job's harrowing trial prove? That Satan essentially put his foot in his mouth. God, His glory, and His servants' devotion were completely vindicated. Our blessings, our losses, even salvation itself come to pass because they show that God is who He says He is. He is magnified as just, good, merciful, holy, sovereign, and so many other things that I can't even begin to list (or you'd be reading this post all night).

It doesn't matter what our question is. We can ask "why" about a million different things that happen to us, but the Answer is always the same.

So, what does this have to do with my title? Most of you are familiar to some extent with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and its inexplicable answer to "life, the universe, and everything": the number 42. When the super computer that came up with the number is asked what it means, it simply replies, "Once you do know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means." The point is, the answer never changes. The characters don't understand the answer or think it is ridiculous because they are asking the wrong questions.

The same applies to us. God is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. If it seems selfish of God to seek His own glory and to assert that He must be the center of everything, if we would rather He leave us alone than test our devotion through trials, then our focus is in the wrong place. We are asking God to meet us where we are comfortable, instead of where He insists on being found. We do not know the right question to ask. Rather than asking "why," wouldn't it be far better to ask "how"? "How, God, is this situation glorifying You? How can I work in these trials or blessings for Your kingdom?"

This is all easier said than done, I know. There are so many times I would rather be comfortable. Watching someone else go through a trial can be so "encouraging." It's never the same, though, when you're in the midst of one yourself. "God, why don't You just fix this?" too often is my prayer. Trusting God is not an easy thing, but understanding the difference between asking "why" and asking "how" is a step in the right direction.

And lest anyone accuse me of pulling a theological rabbit out of the hat that is Douglas' silly book, I will end with this verse, one of the best summaries of "life, the universe, and everything" that I know: "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Ship in a Bottle Gathers no Dust

I found today's quote by nineteenth century Presbyterian minister William Shedd while researching for a magazine article. It jumped off the screen at me. Why? Not because it is especially intellectual or even necessarily clever. It is simply true, and therefore profound.

"A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for."

A ship forever anchored will never have her sails ripped to shreds by contrary winds, will never have to watch her sailors throw precious cargo overboard in a desperate attempt to save their lives. She will never have to fear running aground on a reef, no ominous cracking sound as unseen rocks rip through the hull. If the Titanic had stayed in Southhampton harbor it never would have sunk.

Our lives are no different. It is certainly easier to hide in a closet (literally or figurately). If we say nothing, no one can tell us we are wrong. If we do nothing, no one can judge our actions. If we do not fight for our beliefs, they will never be challenged. If we do not love, we can never be rejected. If we never have any expectations, we will never be disappointed. But, what is the price for that security? The inactive man has no enemies, but he also doesn't have any friends. It goes both ways.

I have thought a lot about this in regards to my own life, particularly my writing. I don't have nearly as much life experience and education as some. I am not a Dickens or a Hemmingway or a Faulkner. Sometimes I wonder what I have to offer. What do I have to say that hasn't already been said by someone else? What do any of us have to offer, really? Only what God has given us, no more, no less.

Someone said to me the other day that if you have the opportunity to be an influence, you ought to be. It doesn't matter if someone else is a greater influence than you are or if someone tells you to sit down. It matters only that what you are doing is worthwhile, that it brings glory to God. I am reminded of the song "Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha:

"This is my quest, to follow that star
"No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
"To fight for the right, without question or pause
"To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause."

Are we willing to do what it takes for the right causes? "Hell" certainly isn't a safe harbor, but if the cause is heavenly...

All I'm trying to say is that a ship in a bottle is a prisoner. If we likewise value safety or false security more than anything, we are no better, except that the bottles are of our own making. We have forged our own anchors. A ship in a bottle gathers no dust, but it doesn't do anything else either.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

God Everywhere

Today's quote is taken from George MacDonald's novel The Curate's Awakening. (One which has some very honest and convicting insights about the Christian life and which I'd encourage you all to read.)

"If there be a God then is he God everywhere, and not a maggot can die any more than a Shakespeare be born without him. He is either enough, that is, all in all, or he is not at all."

I appreciated this expression of God's sovereignty in everything. There is no being more worthy of our trust. The quote inspired the following poem:

God Everywhere

I see raindrops tracing patterns,
Dust motes driven by windy whims.
Dirt collects and spilled milk splatters.
The cup of petty trouble brims.

Time has watched as kingdoms crumble.
Epochs end and tyrants fade.
‘Neath gun and gale the earth has rumbled,
Stripping bare what man has made.

The falling rain has felt His fingers
Each path is chosen and puddle known.
The dust that in the sunlight lingers
Is by God Almighty sown.

The rubble of forgotten splendor,
The bastions of our present might:
In mortar His decisions rendered.
Built or broken, He chooses right.

The head bent low in grave affliction,
The joyful man with upturned face:
To God no more a contradiction
Than sovereign justice, saving grace.

In pain and laughter, life and dying
Could it be You’re just as near?
Could it be there’s grace ‘midst sighing?
Could it be that dust is dear?

The eye that looks on kings and sparrows
And watches me is all the same.
When faced with peace or devil’s arrows.
Give God the credit, but not the blame.

For, if He couldn’t craft each flower,
Or tell each fortress, “Rise or fall.”
And If He couldn’t plan each hour,
Our God would not be God at all.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"And I am convinced..."

Today's quote comes from 17th Century British essayist Joseph Addison:  
"As nothing is more laudable than an inquiry after truth, so nothing is more irrational than to pass away our whole lives without determining ourselves one way or other in those points which are of the last importance to us. There are indeed many things from which we may withhold our assent; but in cases by which we are to regulate our lives it is the greatest absurdity to be wavering and unsettled, without closing with that side which appears the most safe and the most probable. The first rule therefore which I shall lay down is this, that when by reading or discourse we find ourselves thoroughly convinced of the truth of any article, as of the reasonableness of our belief in it, we should never after suffer ourselves to call it into question. We may perhaps forget the arguments which occasioned our conviction, but we ought to remember the strength they had with us, and therefore still to retain the conviction which they once produced."

I will admit, it's a long quote, but I felt that I couldn't get across the full force of Addison's meaning without the whole paragraph. Thank you for bearing with me.

I thought it was fitting in light of the recent events in Colorado. In the face of tragedies such as the Aurora massacre or 9/11 it is easy for people to wonder at God's goondess, control, or even existence. At the same time, wondering does not mean that one does not believe God is good or in control. Even devout Christians doubt. The question is, what do we do with the doubt when it comes?

I first encountered the essay from which this quote is taken several years ago. I read it during a time when I was questioning my own faith, so it was a great comfort to me. Since then, I have often recalled the words and thought them very true and insightful. But, upon looking more closely at what Addison is actually saying, I've started to wonder. He says that once we have believed something and become convinced of it, we ought not call it into question. Is this an easy way out, a kind of complacency? Or is it the simple faith of a child?

I know that for the longest time I believed I was saved because of the prayer I prayed when I was nine. It was not the Person I was trusting in, but the fact that I had prayed a "sinner's prayer" at all. If I had followed Addison's advice and not troubled myself with doubts, I might never have realized that I needed to trust in the One who died for me, not my "ability" to pray to Him.

In a similar vein, what about the atheist who is convinced that there is no God? It would be fatally dangerous for him to never doubt his assumptions. So, I think that Addison's advice does not work across the board. It may bring peace of mind, but peace of mind matters very little when souls are at stake. He who is comfortable in his blindess is like someone who falls asleep in a train that is running off the tracks. The peace is only a facade.

On the other hand, this approach can be very helpful for the Christian. We ought not be caught off guard by every world event or clever argument. Strong faith isn't the absent of doubt, but trusting in God through the doubts. We must be like John Newton who in his old age said, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior." Or like Elizabeth Prentiss, who wrote in her novel Stepping Heavenward, "You cannot prove to yourself that you love God by examining your feelings toward Him. They are indefinite and they fluctuate. But just as far as you obey Him, just so far, depend upon it, you love Him."

And perhaps the best idea is to preach the gospel to ourselves, as John Piper would say, so that we may never forget the reason we are convinced of what we believe. Christ is the reason, not any fancy proofs or evidences. That is all we need. As Paul said so many years ago, "But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me" (2 Timothy 1:12).  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Could You Have Borne to Look?

What do you think of when you look at this picture? A beautiful piece of jewelry? Christianity? Jesus? Images of the cross are very popular, even in this post-Christian culture. Believers and unbelievers wear them, but when worn by a follower of Jesus Christ, they take on a special meaning. It is not just an adornment but a symbol of love and grace, of the price that we never could have paid. I think that cross-centered jewelry, such as this piece, is beautiful, an expression of the artist's skill and a representation of the most important moment in history. But, seeing this intracately woven gold pendant takes something away from what the cross really means. Consider this quote by Corrie ten Boom as she reflects on her time in a Nazi concentration camp:

He hung naked on the cross. I had not known--I had not thought... The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh--at the time itself, on that other Friday morning--there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now.

How often do we stop to consider what the cross really means, what it meant to Jesus who hung there for hours, what it meant to the disciples who watched the life ebb from the man that held all their hope? The cross was an instrument of torture, not unlike the concentration camp where Corrie ten Boom and her sister suffered. Death did not come in one fell swoop, but every day, every hour crawled a little closer. It was the same for Christ, first the abandonment, then the taunts, then the beating, and finally the cross itself. There was no relief.

We might be shocked or disgusted to find a religion that uses the guillotine or the electric chair as the symbol of their faith. Why are we offended? The guillotine is mercifully quick and the electric chair completely bloodless. Not so with the cross, but it has been shrouded in history and embellished by religion.

So I come to my title. If you had been there, could you have borne to look at what the Romans were doing? Could you have borne to watch them strip a man naked, nail Him to a rough plank of wood, and turn away while He suffocated. Furthermore, could you have stood to gaze at this swollen, bleeding man, all the while knowing that He was the Alpha and Omega, Creator of all the universe, and that He hung there because of the sins that you have committed. I know that I couldn't have borne it.

And even more, the horrific physical pain that Jesus suffered could only barely compare to the spiritual pain as He was separated from God and experienced the complete punishment for sins that were infinitely severe in a way that only an infinite Being could. The earth quaked as the Giver of Life staggered under the weight of sin and death. As His Son hung naked on the cross, God the Father rent His own garment, tearing the veil of the temple in two.

One line from the old spiritual "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" reads, "Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble." May we never forget with what we have been bought, and may we never cease to tremble--tremble with joy because even the horrors of the cross could not defeat the Son of God! 


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Welcome Wounds (Part Two)

"Oh, God of Dust and Rainbows,
"Help us to see
"That without the dust the rainbow
"Would not be."

I first read this poem by Langston Hughes when I was in 10th grade. It struck a chord with me then, and it still does today. Even a short poems like this takes a fair amount of work, to be able to capture a truth so poignant in such a small space on the page. On a scientific level, the poem is true. Rainbows are formed after a rain storm, while there is still water in the air. The sun hits each tiny raindrops, which splits the white light, splashing an array of colors onto the rain-washed sky. Here in California, rain is a rare treat and rainbows are rarer. We cannot have the colored light without the water. In the same way, we could have no rain without dust. Each raindrop forms when water vapor collects around a tiny particle. So, by logical extension, seemingly insignificant dust is essential to the grandeur of the rainbow.

On the surface, then, "Epigram" is a testimony to God's wisdom, how He orchestrates the intracacies of nature. Even dust, which we are constantly wiping away, has a purpose. Hughes understood this, and we would do well to understand the same: there are no extra parts in God's creation.

At the same time, there is a deeper meaning to the truth of this poem. Just as there are no extra parts in nature, there are no extra parts in our lives, nothing that happens that wasn't supposed to happen. I may be going out on a limb by saying that. I am no stranger to the Calvinsim/Arminianism debate, which argues whether God has sovereignty over every action or whether humans have the ability to chose their own fate and God only "allows" bad things to happen. Some say both are true, based on your perspective. My point is not to argue about the sovereignty of God. I am a Calvinist, so I will write from that perspective, a perspective that I think in no way endangers the goodness of God. 

As Philip Yancey so wisely said, "For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is--limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death--He had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair." (Where is God When is Hurts)

Think about it. If we never sinned, we would know intellectually that God was merciful, that it was an integral part of His character, but we would never know it experientially. It could never be as "real" to us as it is today. If I could borrow from another wise source... I don't listen to ZOEgirl very often, but I do appreciate their song "Unbroken," and the words of the chorus: "If I was unbroken, I'd never know/The beauty of hope, and how far grace will go." It is so simple, yet infinitely mind-boggling, pictured in nature, and beautiful. God uses bad for good over and over again, uses dust to produce rainbows, until that day when the rainbows can shine undefiled.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Welcome Wounds: Could Imperfections be Desirable? (Part One)

"In a perfect world..." It's such a common saying, one that most people never give any serious thought, a vehicle to express desires, hopes, wishes for humanity, dreams that will never come to pass. The harsh reality is that our world is not perfect, never has been (expect briefly), never will be. In fact, we are so used to an imperfect world that it is hard to imagine one without sickness, death, and sin. Those trials permeate our lives and even help to shape who we are. This is especially true in the life of a writer, and I think James Baldwin captures the idea perfectly (or imperfectly, as the case may be).
" is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important. So that any writer, looking back over even so short a span of time as I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way..."
We are who we are because of what we've been through. No soldier who comes back from war is the same person as when he left. Qualities such as perseverance, courage and integrity are praised all over the world, but what is perseverance without opposition, what is courage without fear, what is integrity without sin? The good in our lives is highlighted, made more apparent by the bad. Likewise the goodness and grace of God could not be so clearly shown if there were no sinners to save.
There is also the issue of becoming better able to write or better able to capture the world in a story after having been through personal distress. It is a hard issue to address, because no one wants to lose a family member, live through a war, or fall into alcoholism. Yet, there is the idea (whether real or embellished) that most successful writers were tortured souls or had some sort of handicap. John Milton was blind, Dickens had a troubled childhood, Hemmingway ended his own life, to name a few. And, their works have stood the test of the ages. People will never forget their names and remember them for their genius, not for their troubles. Then, the question remains: is it worth it? Is it worth it to suffer voluntarily or involuntarily to produce something great. Or, is the whole thing a myth in the first place? Does it take pain to produce greatness? I don't know. I haven't lived long enough to tell. What I do know is that we have a responsibility to obey God. If we make an impact for His name, it doesn't matter that we are not known by others. I can't believe it is right to intentionally endure suffering in the hopes of becoming a better artist, but trials will come. Sin is unavoidable, death and sickness common conditions. If God can bring anything good or worthy out of baseness, then all the praise goes to Him. If He can make us more aware of His grace and better able to serve Him, then we only have to marvel at a God who uses even that which opposes Him for His glory. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33) 

Join me again in the next few days for Part 2, to read more about our sin and God's grace.

(Credit goes to Jesse Negron and his Screenwriting II class at The Master's College for covering this topic in such depth.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Durable and Indurable Goods, or an Economy of Living

Two weeks ago I was a college student. Now, college is nothing more than a fond memory. I find myself stopping at odd times during the day wondering how it could possibly be over. One thing ends and another begins. I just went through commencement services, not termination services, after all. Soon enough family and work will take over the place left empty by school. Until then I'm trying to fill the void with those things I know I'll never have another chance to do.

Some of my favorite memories from The Master's College come from all the writing classes I took with the Communication Department Chair Dr. Jack Simons. His sarcasm, honest criticism of my writing, and heartfelt encouragement that I never give up were an invaluable mix. At the end of every year, Dr. Simons gives each of his graduates a parting gift, books and a certificate. I received Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard and A Shropshire Lad and Other Poems by A.E. Housman. Housman has been a favorite poet of mine for a couple years now, especially his poem "Reveille," which I encourage you to read in full sometime. The last stanza goes liket this:

Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad: when the journey's over
There'll be time enough to sleep.

How many times have I read that verse and clasped the book to my chest in rapture? That sounds too much like a line lifted from Anne of Green Gables. I won't go on. But, you'll have to admit that Housman was a genius. Grant me that much.

I don't know if Housman was a Christian. In fact, I know very little about his personal life, but I think that poem has a lot to say for the Christian college graduate, or anyone walking by faith. We have so very little time on this earth. Breath truly is a ware that will not keep. Every moment there is the chance that it will expire. I was surprised to see how quickly my three years of college went by, and I know the rest of my life will pass just as quickly. I certainly can't spend my days idly if I'll only have 80 years (at most) on this earth. I have do to something that matters. For me, that means using my writing to spread God's truth and encourage His church. It will most likely mean something very different for you but just as important. We must lay up treasures in heaven that will not expire. Our treasures on earth are like our breath, here only for a moment. Even my writing, though it may last after I am dead, will not last forever. Lives that were changed will last, and they must be the measure of the journey.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A (Belated) April Fool's Day Riddle

I meant to post yesterday, but alas, homework took me prisoner. I am back now, wishing you a bright April morning. This was to be an April Fool's Day post, but since April Fool's Day is over, I hope you all still have your sense of humor. I present to you a riddle from G.K. Chesterton. Guess (if you don't already know) what the poem is about. Don't Google it. Once you've guessed, then read my comments below to see if you were right.

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
Of all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth
Of anciet crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce out and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

If you guessed correctly, then you'd realize that this is more a Palm Sunday post than an April Fool's Day post. What I have above is G.K. Chesterton's "The Donkey," a poem I have long appreciated for its clever perspective on Christ's triumphal entry. Obviously, the shouts about the donkey's ears and palms before his feet were not for him, but he is important for what he symbolizes and what he prove about Jesus.

First, the donkey is a symbol of peace. Christ came into Jerusalem, not as a conquering King, but as the One who would make peace between God and man. So many people misunderstood this, which is why the triumphant crowd on Sunday became the vicious crowd on the following Friday. This is also why James and John had asked Jesus if they might sit at His right and left hand in the kingdom. They had an earthly kingdom in mind. This was not Christ's mission at all, something the disciples could not understand until after the resurrection. The idea of peace between man and his Creator is so basic, and yet so mind-boggling. Adam and Eve enjoyed peace with God until they sinned. Jesus sought to restore man to his ideal and first purpose, to serve God and Him alone. This is could not happen while man remained in sin. So, peace had to come through the most heinous act of violence in human history. God Himself died. Those who trust in that sacrifice are now at peace, not just a feeling of peace, but a legal peace. There is no longer any animosity, nothing owed, because the price has been paid.

Second, the donkey fulfills the prophecy abou the Messiah in Zechariah 9:9, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (NASB). Israel knew that their King was coming to them mounted on this symbol of peace. They recognized that at the triumphal entry. It was the rest of the story that they missed. May we not repeat the mistake.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Importance of Being Practiced

How often do you think about death? It is one of those things that no one likes to think about and everyone must face. For ages, people have tried to cheat it, out run it, avoid it, but no one can. Out of the billions of people that have lived on this world, only two that we know of have every left this life without dying--Enoch and Elijah. I think that we fear death because it is unknown. For those who do not believe in God it is the end of everything. For those who are Christians and have confidence that they will be taken to heaven, death is still the end of everything they have ever known and a translation into an existence that they cannot even imagine. Whatever your opinion of death, it defines a person. It draws the last stroke in the outline of your life, and encounters with it often cause you to examine yourself. How many people have been changed by near death experiences? So, death is very important, whether we like to think about it or not, which brings me to today's quote. From Michel de Montaigne, 16th Century essayist:

"But for dying, which is the greatest task we have to perform, practice cannot help us."

In his estimation, death is not just something that happens to us, it is something we do. We are active participants in our own death, and therefore have some responsibility. Is Montaigne right in saying that we cannot practice for our death? Death is something we only have the opportunity to do once (except in the case of someone like Lazarus). While we can't rehearse for death, we can certainly prepare for it, and I think that is almost as helpful. Death must not be a morbid obssession, but if we never give it a passing thought, it will take us by surprise. None of us knows how long we have. We can make some informed predictions, but it's like predicting the weather. Our lives are contingent on so many factors that no one can measure every one accurately all the time.

How does someone prepare for something they do not understand? First, you have to realize that death is just a passage, from one kind of existence to another. Know where you are going after that passage. Christ died on the cross as more than just an example of sacrifice or as the picture of perfect humanity. He died because all of mankind was running headlong into hell, unable to save themselves, unable to make themselves righteous. We all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). Christ, through His death and resurrection, and by our faith in what He did, restores that righteousness, so that we can have fellowship with God. For this we were created. All those who have trusted Christ are going to heaven when they die--guaranteed. That is the first preparation.

Second, we ought to live as if each moment is our last on earth. If you knew that you only had a day to live, what would you do? How would you treat your family? How would you relate to God? This is a risky way to live, because all but one of our moments won't be our last on earth. But isn't it more risky to never do anything with your life because you felt you had all the time in the world?

In the end I think Montaigne's basic assumption is wrong. We can practice for dying by living.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Necessity's Children (Part Two)

Earlier this week, I brought up a quote from essayist Annie Dillard on necessity from "Living Like Weasels":

"The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at last ignobly in its talons."

The first half of the quote observes that we automatically hate necessity. I discussed the truth of this in Part One, which you can read below. The second half of the quote seems less obvious to me. Dillard claims that though we try all our lives to escape what is necessary, we ultimately cannot. In her estimation, we are slaves, essentially, victims of a sharp-eyed predator. But, before we can determine whether it is possible to escape necessity, or even whether it is something worth escaping, we have to define what it is.

There are as many opinions about what people need to do as there are people do what is necessary. On one end of the spectrum is a legalistic system like orthodox Judaism or Islam, where it is deemed necessary to govern everything that people eat and wear. Others believe that even their own life is not necessary if they choose to do away with it. Too, there is a distinction between what people need to do and what they ought to do. From purely earthly perspective, I need to eat and I ought to help the poor. From a biblical perspective, though, necessity and duty should be the same. Christians know that all mankind was created with a purpose. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy him forever." It is necessary, then, that we glorify God. It is also necessary that we enjoy Him. We have been created for this, which is an amazing testimony to the grace of God. He wants us to find joy in Him. Joy is not just a byproduct or a fringe benefit, but something that is built into us. Sadly, because of the fall, most people do not do what is necessary. They neither honor God nor enjoy Him. People die every day having done what was necessary to keep themselves alive physically, but not what was necessary for spiritual life. In this sense they escaped what Dillard calls necessity's "talons," but not for anything better.

Without Christ we are fugitives, but we are not victims. We flee from our first and best purpose, blind and independent. For those who continue in this course, what happens is necessary, because it is just, but it is an awful tragedy. We would rather everyone embrace necessity now than find out what it is afterward. Still, in this sense, Dillard's quote rings very true. Those who have escaped necessity in life cannot escape it in death or at the end of the age. As Philippians 2:10-11 says, "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."      

Monday, March 19, 2012


Hi everyone. You might notice that the blog looks a little different now. Some people were commenting that the font and color scheme made the posts hard to read. I hope this is better. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Necessity's Children (Part One)

A well-known proverb tells us that "necessity is the mother of invention." There surely is some truth to that. Necessity has resulted in breakthroughs as useful as electic light and as controversial as the atomic bomb. Children's songs have turned on the idea. Those who grew up on Schoolhouse Rock are familiar with "Mother Necessity." But what about necessity's other children? Invention is not an only child. It's brother and sisters do not make great splashes on the pages of world history or win Nobel Prizes for inventors and scientists, but they don't sit idly by and twiddle their thumbs either. They silently influence our everday lives, whether we realize it or not. Consider this quote from Annie Dillard's essay "Living Like Weasels":

"The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons."

We need not get hung up on the fact that she is comparing herself to a weasel. In this context it could be any animal. Man is the only creature on earth that does not live by necessity and instinct. We have the freedom to choose to spend money on a movie though we know that we will need it for gas at the end of the week. We are able to fast, though our stomachs tell us to eat. We will even spend evenings watching meaningless television instead of doing the work that hangs over our heads. It may be work that we enjoy. It may cost us dearly to not do the work, but we would raher avoid it. Why? Dillard addresses this. She tells us that we instinctively hate necessity. The person who said "familiarity breeds contempt" should also have said "necessity breeds contempt." It is so true. This is necessity's second child.

Dillard's quote is insightful, but only half complete. We are told that we hate necessity and that we cannot escape it in the end, but we do not learn why. What makes us unlike the weasel? Why do we avoid things simply because we have to do them? Dillard was familiar with Christian teaching, but she was not one herself. Did she know that the Bible has an answer for her unasked question? I believe that contempt for necessity is two halves of a coin. Part of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. First of all, we are people of choice, because God is a God of choice. He did not have to create the world. He did so, because it was His good pleasure to make something beautiful, to express His nature in creativity. We are made in God's image, and so we love to do things that are expressions of ourselves, not merely because we have to.

At the same time, we are fallen beings, instinctively rebelling against anything that is godly. This is primarily why we hate necessity. We are commanded to follow God; this is something we need to do to fulfill our purpose in life. But, we would rather have our own way. As Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost said, it is "better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven." We would rather be independent, even if it means our own demise, than have anyone dictate our actions.

Necessity need not breed contempt. Freedom to follow God and do it joyfully is found in Christ, as we thank Him for enduring the punishment for sins on our behalf. We regain a little taste of what Adam and Eve had in the garden, when necessity and choice were one and the same.

Come back soon! My next post will discuss whether or not we can ultimately escape necessity, as Dillard claims.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Shamrock for Your Thoughts?

"An Englishman thinks seated; a Frenchman, standing; an American, pacing; an Irishman, afterward."
Something from Austin O'Malley for a St. Patrick's Day smile. I don't have much time tonight, but I want to mention something that happened the other day. I repeated this quote to my mom, thinking she'd laugh. She didn't, and instead looked at me quizzically. She asked me what it meant, what it said about the English, French, and Americans and their nature/culture. I didn't have much of an answer. She probed deeper, and I fumbled through a response. "Allison," she said, "did you even think about this quote before you said it?" I had to answer no. "Then you must be Irish," she said.

I certainly am, and proud of it.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about this quote, though. What do you think it says about the English, French, and Americans? Why do they think seated, standing, or pacing?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Christian and His Liberty

What is it to be an American? Living the dream? Freedom of speech and religion? The ability to choose leaders? Our rights are so often something we take for granted. I know I do. Even as Christians we are caught up in the battle for our "American rights." We defend the right to pray in school, invoking the 1st Amendment. We fight to be able to preach in public squares or share the gospel without hindrance. These are good things, but the fight for what is right must not devolve into the fight for our "rights;" we must not lose sight of the fact that in God's eyes we have no rights. This brings me to today's quote:

"The Ten Commandments is the Christian's Bill of Rights. They protect everyone but yourself."

Rick Holland was at Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA) at the time, and I heard him say this during a sermon several years ago. Isn't it interesting? The Christian is supposed to live life as if everyone else in the world has rights except themselves. If we are to truly follow Paul's words and "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3), then living without personal rights is the logical conclusion. In a perfect world, this would work beautifully, but in our fallen world it is almost counterintuitive. We are to deny our own rights while everyone else has been commanded to affirm them. We are to affirm everyone else's rights while they have all been commanded to deny them.

I'll admit that this is so much easier said than done. We have to look out for other's interests, and at the same time not expect that anyone will return the favor. I fail at this every day. I would rather life be fair, or at least my version of fair. I would rather have my way. But, even God isn't fair. He is gracious and saves scores of sinners from the hell that they deserve. No one on this earth deserves grace or selflessness, but if the perfect God can be merciful, then He is not being unreasonable by asking us to tell the truth, even to those who have lied to us, or to refrain from coveting, even toward those who have yearned for our possessions. This is what it means to live up to our Bill of Rights.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Reality and Relativism

I think I'll start this blog with a quote I heard just today. Albert Mohler came and spoke in chapel at The Master's College this morning. He said that he saw it as a new challenge, preaching to a room full of students ready to leave for Spring break. ;) What followed was an excellent sermon out of John 6, when Jesus tells the multitude that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. Out of all of it, one thing he said stood out to me:

"The secular world thinks 'truth' is just a compliment you can pay to an idea."

Isn't that so true, but I had never thought of it that way. In a postmodern world, truth is not a separate entity. It does not stand apart, and it is not immutable. It is as fluid as culture, as the mood we wake up with on a given day. How does one live in a world like that? Honestly. How hopeless would it be to never know if there is a God, to never be sure of what you believe? In a relative universe, no one is ever wrong, but those who believe it pay a high price for that "security." If you are never wrong, then you can never be right, either.

In reality no one lives like that. Even a Postmodernist doesn't wake up in the morning and wonder if they will step out of bed and hit the ceiling instead of the floor. They trust that gravity will still keep them glued to their carpet, inside their slippers, like it has every morning before. No one fears that they will suddenly become allergic to oxygen. Everything will go on as it has gone on, and people will continue to trust the basic laws of the universe. We are wired that way. Relativistic thinking, though it has invaded top universities, is anti-intellectual. It's dearest belief is self-defeating. If all truth is relative, then isn't that statement (that all truth is relative) relative also? In the end we are left running in circles through a morass after something that never existed in the first place. "Truth" is not a compliment you can pay to an idea. As Jesus said, "Your [God's] word is truth" (John 17:17). The world will groan and crumble away; this is the only foundation we have to hold on to.

Beginning the Journey

What is the purpose of this blog? I'm sitting here, staring at the screen, asking myself that question. I came up with the idea while looking through the notebook that I always keep with me. It's full of scattered quotations and thoughts--clever things that people have said, interesting situations, what I would like to remember. There really is a lot to be said for keeping a quote book, especially when you're young. One of my professors is fond of saying that an undergrad doesn't have an original thought in them. In two months I won't be an undergad anymore, but I hope to never stop learning, gathering quotes and thoughts and bits of wisdom from those who've gone before, who know so much more about this fascinating world than I do.

That is the purpose of this blog: from my quote book to yours. Here, I will share thoughts and sayings that have struck me or affected my life. Some will make you laugh or think or wonder. Sometimes I'll talk about them, sometimes I won't. What I most hope is that you'll find this journey as enjoyable as I have.