27 April 2015

Another Himalaya-inspired poem

Note: The thing about Nepal is, it's an unconquered kingdom.  The more I read about the peoples of the Himalayas, the more I'm taken with them. 

And, as for the earthquake, my prayers are for a people I have never met and a place I have never been.

A kingdom never conquered;

a people never tamed: 
let these mysteries like ghostlings
never fade away;
how can the unrivaled mountain crown
be hidden for days long past;
ancient and forever,
like leopards of the snow
ever present, rarely seen;
feared, warriors revered,
a bulwark against empires,
their warriors painted for strife;
their people bound by a thousand ghosts
and spirits of the other-realm,
conquered in soul,
unfettered in flesh;
who are you, ancient people,
your stories untold?

12 April 2015

The Human Puzzle

This was the second guest post of mine over at The Author's Chair. 

One of my favorite scenes is of a powerful lord who defies every cultural convention to save a slave, and in so doing declaring that a few hundred slaves are of equal value to one of their world’s priceless treasures.

Another involves a man who believes himself abandoned: imprisoned, mocked, tormented, and doomed to be made sport of until he dies, only to, in the end, when he’s had every possible thread of hope torn from him, realizes his master is standing right there, and he’s in the middle of being rescued and never knew it. Suddenly his pain and humiliation are forgotten.

A third is between a king and his best friend and counsel who’ve had a disagreement. The king refuses to listen to this man who crowned him and readies to set off on a trip that will kill him. As he boards his ship, his friend calls out and asks if he’s being left behind, to which the king melts and calls him onto the ship. (I cannot give you the names of the books; sorry. I don’t do spoilers. )

The best stories leave me an emotional wreck for weeks. They seep into the bone and consume from within. Those scenes cannot be explained; they can only be experienced. These scenes are magnificent because they hit all of the notes. My friend Ted calls them “watershed scenes” because they are the culmination of all the themes, emotional and relational points, and plot direction.  Everything prior rises up and converges upon them, and everything concealed is made plain.

Two things, specifically, seem to make this work: the complexities of the characters and the underpinnings of the story’s structure itself – and by that I mean more than just the collection of scenes, which is a bit like saying the collection of notes makes the scene. No, it’s more than that: the arrangement –  the length of time each note plays, what instruments play – makes the difference. A modernized version of “Amazing Grace” sounds much, much different than the earliest ones; and so it is with Story.

Similarly, simple, one-dimensional characters do have their place, but most of the time it’s the complicated ones who really attach themselves to the reader’ soul.  I was fascinated, for instance, at the contrast between Paris and Achilles in The Iliad. Achilles, as I said before, is known for his rage. But rage rarely exists by itself, and the whole point is that his rage stems from  his shunning, betrayal, and public humiliation.

Moreover, there’s plenty in the text to indicate he and Briseis really did come to love each other. (The woman throws herself on Patroclus’ body and laments his death, and then goes so far as to thank the man for making sure she wound up with Achilles. This is not a simple relationship, nor a simple man and woman.) By the end, it’s grief, not rage, that drives Achilles. Paris, on the other hand, for all of his supposed lovesick-puppy behavior, is short-tempered and violent to the point of unleashing it on anyone, including the people he supposedly loves.  In the end, Achilles holds his temper in check, not Paris. So Paris cannot be described as simply a lovesick princeling and Achilles cannot be described as simply a man with nothing but rage in his heart.

They aren’t the only ones. I’m reading Wheel of Time, in which I have realized a character who drove me insane for two and a half books can suddenly change my mind. Wheel of Time is interesting: The men and women don’t understand each other; the main characters don’t understand each other; and you may or may not ever get the other’s perspective. Everything about men and women appears to be broken so that they’re unable to work together as one unstoppable unit – and so I wonder, in book five, what book fourteen will bring.  I keep wondering, too, if the very fault people accuse the books of is the very thing that made it brilliant. Robert Jordan wasn’t perfect, but he nailed unredeemed human nature.

A complex character can drive you crazy and make you terrified they’re going to die – or, worse, turn their back on everything they’ve considered virtuous until now, shun the very core of who they are. One writer took a character I loved in book one and drove him all the way to the edge of the moral and ethical cliff to see if he’d jump off. The entirety of the second book asks what his bitter need for vindication is going to do, and we know if he takes it, it’ll destroy him – from that point he would become a hateful, despised character, and I’m not sure there would be any going back. Nope, I’m not going to tell you what he chooses.

That was the brilliance of the writer, though: in a small-scale story of the tormented underdog, we’d be rooting for the character to take matters into his own hand, unmask his villain for what he is, and have his revenge. But no. We’re given the bigger picture, which says that  this man is so narrow-sighted and ignorant that what might be a celebrated act is, in truth, juvenile and bitter treachery. He’s broken, and he’s hurt, so to a point we can accept it, but the longer the story goes, the more the reader dreads his fall and realizes it really might be over.

Just by way of a teaser, Bryan did something similar to Phoenix, those of you who haven’t read. I’m not saying what, though. Page one made me love him; a little later made me worry; even later made my heart sick.

So, what do you think? What characters did you fall in love with? Which made you angry, excited, and grief-stricken all in one book? Which ones can’t be boiled down to one word?

19 March 2015

The Human Art

I was given the privilege of posting on The Author's Chair. You can join the discussion HERE.

Once upon a time, the Master and Commander of all that exists, Supreme Emperor of the Cosmos grew a person out of the ground, breathed his own life’s breath into him, named him, and gave him an identity that made sense only inasmuch he knew his maker. This magnificent Person put some of himself in these creatures he called humans: a mind, a heart, a soul, creative ability, the capacity to have relationships, emotions, intelligence, and a thousand other things. Our need to work comes from a need to imitate the creative prowess of our Father; the need for food, water, and shelter reminds us that, ultimately, we live by every word from the mouth of the Ancient Holy One. There are eight billion people alive at this moment, and at least that many before us, and no two of us are or have been alike. Now that is a level of prowess – of plots and peoples and places – not even the grand-masters of epics could attain. And this great, glorious Father of All had it in his mind to “put eternity in our hearts” and invites us to find him and know him to the very depths of his soul.

He’s made us so terribly complex and simple all at the same time, and there’s a beauty to humanity that is surpassed only by his God who is inexpressibly glorious and wishes us for himself. And even in our fallen state, we manage to retain some sense of a faded glory, some incessant longing for what we know is lost but cannot necessarily articulate. I read a book the other day in which the author stated that what distinguishes us from animals, apart from language, is our need to be recognized as human, to retain our dignity. I think in some ways this is that longing in action: It’s God who makes us human, but humanity has fallen. Our dignity, our glory, cannot come from fellow humans, despite our attempts to make it so, but from our true identity and position as imago dei – the image of God.

In my endeavor to become a better writer a few years ago, I made a decision to study outside my own paradigm. This meant a study of non-Christian-themed stories, both written and filmed, and during that time I made two (of several) discoveries: First, most non-Christian stories are humanistic in nature, meaning that humanity is the center and pinnacle of all things. Second, my favorites celebrate humanity. These writers were unafraid to explore what is the vast color palette of humankind we as writers must convey as writers. Ultimately, I had to shift my thinking in terms of what qualified as depicting “real, gritty, and edgy” fiction. It had nothing to do with diluting good and evil, or idolizing humanity, or seeing how much a writer can get away with. It had the far superior motive of exploring – and exposing – human nature. Mankind, at his zenith, at the peak of his glory, is still so far from enough. And that’s the great tragedy and beauty that unfolds.

The truth is, a person with a good motive can still do something wrong, and an evil person could have had a decent motive. They might not even be fully aware of their driving motivators. We writers don’t excuse these things, but we do put them on display for the world to see, for the world to know that this is what happens when we try to make ourselves gods. We aren’t God; we’re very human, and humanity at its absolute best cannot compare with the inexpressible greatness of the Most High.

The first time I really considered this, I think, was when my friend introduced me to anime, and, by the finale of the third one, I realized its beauty lay in its themes of brotherhood, human nature, and redemption. The good shows blended the natural and supernatural worlds and either question human ethics or feature vastly complicated social and political dynamics. There’s one where the world is so terribly bleak that even the one ray of hope struggles against despair. In another, some characters try to redeem themselves from their past crimes while the ones who survived their crimes either forgive or seek revenge.

Science fiction, fantasy, classical writings, and horror seem to have also capitalized on this. Godlike humans with supernatural powers are, at their core, flawed humans who still need help outside themselves, from Achilles to Rand al’Thor, the Radiants, and a Reaper named Phoenix. Achilles is an emotional man, grief-stricken over Briseis and Patroclus and his fellow, dying Greeks, enraged at Agamemnon and Hector, but kind to an old war-chief who loses face in a public event. Phoenix is typically torn between following the law or following his moral compass. Each of the Radiants has a tragic past and a fatally flawed present. They cannot save themselves, any of them, much less anyone else. And not one of them can be reduced to a label. Redemption arcs never complete; heroes are deconstructed; protagonists called godlike might really be more accurately called demonic; the one called cruel and savage may actually display the most compassion.

The older I’ve gotten, and the better student of the written craft I’ve tried to become, the more I’ve come to understand that I cannot claim to love God if I do not claim his people. Moreover, I cannot claim devotion to the Creator of humanity while despising the humans he made or distorting their image. The imago dei is, no doubt, in need of regeneration, but it is nonetheless imago dei. And the God whose image they were made of is an eternity ahead of us in reclaiming what was lost – indeed, Colossians says he has reconciled the world. But I am convinced, more than ever, that all of this brings us to being unafraid to write humanity as it is: beautiful, tragic, and redeemable.

13 March 2015

Thirteen Months: The Word of God

Thirteen Months
A year and a month later, here we are again. I'm going to try a different tactic, so we'll see how it goes. It may be I need to move to a new blog; if that happens, well, I'll post the new URL here.

So much to say.  I have posts on novels, classics, history books, philosophy, research on the Himalayas, and a dozen other things.  So many subjects to write on, so little time. What's a writer to do?

Well, I'll be brief, for now.

Communicating the Word of God
I grew up predominantly in a SBC tradition with a hearty side dish of Presbyterian.  I love the way this book my mom read ages ago, back when I was in jr. high, put it: Baptists tend to be really good at learning and teaching the word, but tend to forget the Holy Spirit. By contrast, the book suggested that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement tended to be great at heeding the Spirit but not at knowing the Bible itself (don't flog me; I am not saying one is better than the other; the whole point of the statement was to say that each denomination is strong on one point but weak on another, the majority of the time. That's all it means.).  I'm a denominational mutt, in the end, but I walked across the high school graduation platform with two things:

  • The word of God is a living sword. It is precious and of great value. And it is a high honor, a privilege, to speak the words of God and teach people to understand them.
  • Everything you say or do must edify, encourage, or exhort the body of Christ. If it does not help the body, it is useless at best and harmful at worst. A single word brings life or death to the hearer.
There's obviously more, but they aren't on subject.  The point is, early on I knew, if not fully understood, the weight of daring teach the word of God (which is...honestly why I was terrified of ever becoming  a teacher).

So I find myself torn between a deep grief and a white-hot anger toward carelessness. Hey, I understand not everyone has a degree in English. I don't expect everybody to be like me. But I do expect personal excellence. For too long there's been this idea that grammar and spelling and decent essay-writing don't matter outside of English class, and that seems to have crippled a whole generation who is otherwise very intelligent and has plenty to say. 

Here's my plea: Anyone who wishes to be a pastor, teacher, missionary, small group leader, or anyone else who intends to communicate the most excellent word of God, please, please, please understand that the ability to compose a coherent - I did not say perfect - blog post, or article, or email, or essay, or note to your second grader is imperative. Please, please, don't be sloppy or careless, or decide it doesn't matter. The absolute last thing you want is for someone to not take you seriously, or be unable to read it and understand it, or to completely misinterpret it, because you didn't take the time to get it right. Everything unto the Lord, right? I just think Jesus liked to build tables right. So, in the same way, we should build our communiques right. 

Okay. I'm glad this didn't come off as angry blogging; it's been on my mind far too often of late.  But today, remember this: God has graced us with his name and graced us with privilege of speaking and acting on his behalf.  How truly wonderful is that?

28 February 2014

Book Review: "Do Life Different" Devotional by Jill Hart

This is a little different for me, but I do book reviews on Radiant Lit and on Fiction Addict and was invited to be part of a book review blog tour. 

Do Life Different by Jill Hart
Reviewed by Kaci Hill
Radiant Lit Blog Tours
Genre: Devotional
Publisher: Choose Now Publishing
Pub Date: February 2, 2014

Synopsis from Amazon.com:  Work-at-home moms bear a unique set of burdens as they attempt to blend job and family commitments under one roof. Maintaining professionalism while wiping noses and convincing outsiders that flexibility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be can put even the most organized to the test. Amid all the other duties of life, the work-at-home mom often discovers that feeding her soul is the biggest challenge of them all. Work-at-home mom: take a deep breath and Do Life Different as you allow these devotions for work-at-home moms to fill the vacuum of your needy heart in the chaos of your busy world.

I don't quite fit the paradigm for this book, being neither a mom nor a wife, nor someone who has, in the past, reviewed non-fiction. I'm also terrible about finishing short daily devotionals, much less answering questions at the end. However,  I do work at home, so I thought to offer my own perspective for those of us who might be in similar but not identical circumstances.

My strategy was to read about five entries a day before work and during lulls.  Before reading, I worried a little that this devotional would be too specifically-directed at moms and wives, but this proved a groundless concern.  Rather, Ms. Hart offered a Scripture passage, theme, anecdote, word of encouragement, and insightful questions for fifty-two days. Only a few days in, I was already thinking I'd like to read this devotional again, only much slower. I found this devotional encouraging and insightful and look forward to a re-read.

Do Life Different is available to purchase from Amazon.com.

Note: I received this book as part of the Do Life Different blog tour from Radiant Lit. I received no compensation for this review and only received a copy of the book for review purposes.  Review copy provided by the publisher.

06 October 2013

Church Kid's Log: Bible Study & Encouragement

Sorry it's been forever. Life caught up, or I didn't feel I had anything to post, or something. I'm writing now because I've had several people ask me about Bible study techniques, and I figured I'd share a few. 

I do not have a "set" means of studying Scripture, or of interacting with the Spirit in general.  It's neither perfect nor exhaustive, but it is what it is. So, if anyone's just in want of some ideas:

Bible Study
I used to try to read straight through in canon order. Sometimes, I just randomly flip and read a book. Sometimes, I pick a short one and read it in one setting (do not try this with something like Isaiah unless you have all day).  But, after awhile, you can start feeling like you're running in circles. So, here's a few options:
  • Read by author.
  • Read in Hebrew Scripture order.
  • Read chronologically. Several Bibles I suggest are: Thomas Nelson's Chronological Study Bible (the notes are also available separate now), The Daily Chronological Bible, and the One Year Bible.  
  • Read by genre. (For those new to this, the books are arranged mostly by subject: Law (Gen-Deut), History (Judges-Esther, Acts), Wisdom (Job-Song of Solomon), the Major Prophets (the long prophetic books), the Minor Prophets (the short ones), The Gospels, the Epistles, and Revelation. )
  • Pick one book you're unfamiliar with and read it, repeatedly, until you're familiar with it.
  • Pick a theme or topic of Scripture and study every passage related to it. I suggest a little caution because you cannot simply look at the one verse. Context is important.
  • Cross-reference translations. Bible Gateway and YouVersion are great sources for this. 
  • I know a pastor who reads the same four chapters for a month at a time and goes straight through that way (for the NT; his OT method may differ). I have not tried it because I'm still going by author. But it's another option. 
  • Pick one of the many reading plans out there and stick to it. 
As you're reading, make notes and jot down any cross-references that come to mind. It's kind of amazing what turns up when you least expect it.  My personal goal is three chapters a day. If they're short, I might get four in. If they're long, I might only get one. If time constrains me, I might not make my three. I'm not bound to it, but I like to have it handy. For me, if I'm to really focus on something, it has to be long enough to force me to think about it, otherwise I'm done and moved on without really taking it in.  Also, if there are a lot of cross-references and I rabbit-trail, I might only get three or four verses.  That happens a lot in places where the epistle-writers are quoting prophets like madmen. 

Aside on the Old Testament: Exodus 20-Deuteronomy has a lot of legalese with some harrowing narrative in between. A few suggestions:
  • Write down anything that smites of foreshadowing. It probably is.
  • Flip ahead a little and decide how to break up the sections in ways that won't bog you down too much. Remember, there's narrative interspersed and if you break it down right you won't be in too many challenging chapters for too long. It's a little easier to break this up if you're using a chronological Bible.  The Daily Chronological condenses the Law chapters together so that there's no repetition, if you're really overwhelmed. I find that helpful.
  • Do a little research on the Jewish feasts. There's plenty of internet material by Jews and Christians alike; it won't take long. 
  • Remember that Jesus and the scribes agreed that "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" (Deuteronomy 6) and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) sum up the entire law. Take your time and note down how the moral and legal sections expand on "the royal law." 
  • Cross-reference places in the New Testament where either/or Jesus and the apostles expanded on what fasts, vows, Sabbath, and the Law in general were for. Yes, this takes some time. 
  • Consider and take notes on *why* God commanded things. 
  • Regarding the lists of names and numbers: Consider the significance of what's going on, with regards to numbers (which tribe was the biggest; look at the extravagance of their gifts to the tabernacle; look at the amount of detail God went into); and consider the importance of the people in the lists (mark any names you recognize and where they're from; an example would be Lot's children).  I don't do that every time, but it does provide some interesting results. 

Extra-Biblical Resources
I lovingly refer to any Bible study book, guide, or workbook that isn't the actual text of Scripture as spiritual junk food. It's very easy to rely on these instead of studying Scripture themselves, but they can often expand on something or point out something you missed. They are supplemental. 

A few ideas: 
  • Use a dictionary. Even if it's just a Merriam-Webster, you'll suddenly see a more full meaning behind a word like "hallowed" or "glorify." 
  • Look up the era people lived in, the culture they lived in, and the significance of  certain people groups. These people lived in a specific time and place. Look up Assyria and Babylon, for instance. Read up on Xerxes and realize who Esther was married to.

I had a friend teach that you should do your Bible reading and any study or workbook you're going through separately. That isn't always possible, I don't think, but I value the wisdom in its practice.    If I'm splitting it up, it's usually because I'm doing my own thing plus a group study. As I said, I have no strict way of doing things. Different strategies I've incorporated are:
  • Doing a  workbook study that follows one book of the Bible 
  • Doing a topical
  • Reading a Christian book (say, Francis Chan or something) chapter, listening to worship music, or catching up on a teaching podcast before beginning my Bible reading
  • journaling
  • going on a walk or sitting/standing/lying down, possibly listening to an audio Bible or music, for prayer or meditation
  • praying in the dark
  • reading Scripture aloud in a reader's theater fashion
  • dancing (badly) to music
  • singing
  • sitting in silence
  • drawing (badly)
  • reading Psalms or several passages (keep a go-to list) that reflect where I feel at the moment until my mind focuses enough to pray
  • Paraphrase a section of Scripture
  • Write a passage as if you were praying it (if you're not sure, start with something easy like a place where Paul writes his prayer or Jesus prays for the disciples); an example might be rewriting the section of the Sermon on the Mount about anxiety if you're feeling anxious

The Encouragement Factor
I'm adding this because my friend and I did a Bible study together last year and one question was "Name three ways you can give a hurting person to stay connected to God."   I made a list of things I'd either myself done or suggested to someone who was discouraged to do. They were:
  • Pray uninhibited. Seriously. God created the cosmos with a single thought and sustains the world with his own power. He can handle the tantrums and irreverent thoughts. And the plus side of being friends with the All-sovereign, All-knowing is that he both already knows and can actually do something about it.
  • Keep a list of encouraging passages. Have that list of five to ten sections of Scripture that never fail to stir your soul and keep them handy.  
  • Make a playlist of songs that reflect your emotional state. Either sing with it or sit quietly and take them to heart, and let those become your prayer.
  • Use your form of art or personal outlet to convey what's going on inside your heart. Get it out. Get it all out and throw it at the throne of grace.
  • Read and listen to Scripture aloud. The internet has left no excuse. 
  • Run away and pray. Get alone and turn your hiding place into the throne room.
  • Talk to someone you trust and who will remind you of the truth. 
Anyway, like I said, it's neither exhaustive nor formulaic.  Not trying to dictate, just figured there might be someone else out there in need of advice.  My parting rule of thumb: 
  1. Don't be afraid of any part of Scripture. Most people get stuck in Leviticus; I get stuck in the Wisdom literature because it's poetry.  If there's a place you struggle with, then don't be afraid to grab a study guide or have a friend go through it with you. But don't skip it because you're afraid of it, and don't let anyone scare you.
  2. Don't feel bound to any one means of doing something, nor feel like you "must" do your workbook even though you really feel pressed to read John 17, or worry because your workbook took you to Isaiah 64 and you wound up, somehow, in II Samuel.  Believe me, the enemy is not telling you to read your Bible. Sometimes the Spirit alters the curriculum. 
  3. Strategize. Figure out how much time you have when, and work with what you've got. During my teenage years I read my Bible at night before bed. Period.  In college, that changed to "whenever I have a nice block of time to do it." After college, it's mostly mornings. For awhile, I had broken down three times a day for different focuses and usually got to two of them (mostly, workbook in the morning, some short devotional reading midday, and Bible reading either after school or at night before bed. Lately I'm a morning girl. Set a timer if you have time constrictions.
  4. Remember to ask the Spirit to unveil Scripture for you. This tends to be the obvious and I'm not always the best at remembering to do this one first myself, but it's the most important. He is our teacher. 

13 May 2012

Writecraft: Frankenstein's Creature

A little poem about the frustrated writer cycle:

The sun sped high, in the sky
and rained golden down on me--
I basked within her depths
and knew the thrill of glee.

Dawn brought epiphany
and showed me new ways--
My fingers are too slow,
no matter how quickly do I go.

The Day flew past me,
quickening my heart--
and I, desperate for more,
dabbled in the rain
refeshing soul and mind.

Hunger. Life. Beauty.  Splendor.
All these I did impart--
I bled my soul on the page
and shaped me a monster lovely.

Warmly orange came the rays
and deep purple shone so bold
on my little Creature,
so lovely, so gold.

Went to dinner, I did,
on a full belly I gathered bits
and knit together blood and bone,
sinew and tissue,
Hair and nail.

I loved it, then, and for dessert feasted I
on the thrill that I've laid hands
on life-giving and soul-making.

Reveled, did I, as sundown approached,
and my Creature came to life,
better than I could have known.
I watched him,let him wander, out into the fields,
till down the road he disappeared
and my heart then grew hollow.

The night took hold.

The bell tolls, and moonrise comes--
Look at this creature I've made!
He rises fully fashioned,
crying in the night;
he's unwoven and misshapen
due to my mis-craft.

Oh Lord my God, I am cold.
The knife is in his rotten hand.

He spots me, and drives me toward,
and I wonder, at this little thing I've  made--
Will this monster I've created
chase me to my doom?

By midnight I loathe him;
by one I've dug a grave;
two, three, and four, the great bell tolls
and all the while he's chasing me;
I'm running, no escape--

My Lord and God what is this thing
that my two hands have made?

The monster roars,
crushing earth beneath his feet
as we run along--
Keep me one step ahead,
and never let me behind
for this monster will slay me
with the two hands for him I made.

His great paw snatched my throat
and he drags me to the ground--
what happened next I can't say
but I turned on my creature
and my creature I laid hold.

He did not move,
but neither could I.
We lay fallen in the tomb
fashioned for my creation.

A thick pink dawn arrives--
neither do we move.

By birdsong I wonder
who will find this thing I've buried.
The six am sounds;
'nevermore!" I cry;
Morning light streams again
and breath re-entered my lungs.
Surely I live, somehow, some way--
We rise, staggering, coughing, from the floor.

We rise, my creature and I--
my creature that I've made, this beautiful work
of my two hands offers me his own.
Grasping hands, we do crawl up,
Hand in hand we rise again,
out of the grave I meant for him,
the maw that took us both.

The sun glows high, in the sky
and rains golden down on me--
I bask within her depths
and know the thrill of glee.

22 April 2012

Poetry: Himalayan Theme Song

A little inspiration born from my trip through an atlas on the Himalayas.

I glory in your magnitude
and bask in your otherness;
let all the world be silent
while I listen to your voice. 

Calm, my soul, and yield to him
who built the mount called Everest
and carved the deepest gorge.

Arise, golden sun,
and bow low, silver moon,
for though the stars come out in droves
they kneel only before the One.

I raced toward the holy mountain;
I fled for days unending,
to the mountain whereupon the One
set his feet to the Eastern Gate.

There I fall, too weak to stand,
only able to bring forehead to ground;
and only then did I feel your hand--
there you gave me food and rest.

The magnificent one raised me up,
and told me not to fear;
he who set his face as stone to Jerusalem's gate
now does speak to me--and dwell within my soul.

Awake, O heavens; and rush forth, O seas;
he who bars the ocean gates
has plunged within the depths
and granted peace to beasts within.

Arise, O earth; take note, all-seeing sky,
turn red with sorrow and indigo with grief;
let the green of bitterness open wide
and pour out into the sea;
mighty ocean, devour all that rages against the king.

You are uncannily sovereign, and gloriously humble;
you are tenderly justice, and your mercy is severe;
your righteousness burns as devouring flames
and steadfast are you in all your ways.

Be still, my soul, though he who sees is here;
stay calm; don't tremble; don't rush out like a child;
Nevermind, like a child I bound, I leap across the heights
and drink deeply of the depths made for me.

09 February 2012

What's a Church Brat?

First Steps
Admittedly, there's part of me that enjoys the mystery of leaving this question unanswered.  I can guess the type of church brat, generally speaking, based on the responses to my ridiculous jokes, be they cynical or amiable. But I'm really tormenting some people, and others clearly have read things into my little pet-name that I never intended. So, in the interest of clarity, I'm diving in, I'm going deep... Oh, sorry.

A church brat is anyone who grew up in church or who's been  a believer long enough to acclimate. I view Christianity - worldwide, true blue Christianity - as one really, really big family that goes back to the Garden. (For the record, the OT saints were every bit as saved by grace through faith as the NT...and, in my mind, possibly more so.)  This means that I think of every one who has ever looked forward to God's salvation or looked back at the Cross as my brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and children. 

That said, I offer two caveats every time I post an Observations of a Church brat note:

First, if you're new to the family: Have no fear. Be patient during the acclimation phase. Far too soon you'll understand things you need to and things you wish you'd left alone. Don't ask me how long that is, I can't tell you. There's not a time requirement. If you understand *any* of the jokes or quirks, you are a church brat. If you don't, never fear. Just hang on tight. Okay, be afraid of some of us. 0=)  But you'll get it, eventually - once you've joined the family dinner table a few times. And, I hate to break it to you, but your kids, now that you're here, will be church brats from birth. You have been adopted by the Most High into the biggest, oldest family on this earth. And you can't take in thousands of years of family history overnight. 

Also, as a rule, my general note to newbies is to steer clear of anything that isn't a core family value for a bit. Stick to things like who God is, who man is, salvation, the Lord's Supper/Communion/Eucharist/insert witty term here, and baptism. Work on acclimating to your new life - complete with a new family and a new God.  Don't let anyone confuse or overwhelm you with peripheral arguments. Doctrine may well be important, but I'd rather you go slow and take time to get comfortable in this new skin. Don't worry about Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion or the rather forceful fights between Luther and Erasmus or why Church A isn't talking to Church B. I'd really rather you dive into the Word and fix your eyes on our great and glorious author and perfecter of our faith. 

Second, I realize growing up in church doesn't immediately make you a Christian. That just means we have family friends who understand the jokes. Or something. Don't overthink it. If you are a church brat who, for whatever reason, isn't part of the family, well, you're still welcome at the table. House rules apply. And even if you're just visiting, you're still welcome and house rules still apply. But here's the thing: trying to get in on the church brat jokes or understand why eight denominations don't get along is not that different from trying to understand inside family jokes or complicated family history and social dynamics. It's very difficult for those who do understand to explain, assuming they can even articulate it. You're more than welcome, but please understand that when it comes to idiosyncrasies in church you're more often than not walking in on a family discussion at best and fight at worst. The best possible thing for a guest to do when confronted with two members of the same family fighting with each other is to let it be. Observations of a Church Brat is written primarily with Christians in mind. That's not to be rude; it's just a family discussion, is all.

The Road Thrice Traveled
I never set out to be the harbinger of church brattiness, but here I am.  I suppose the entire thing started back in my Dekker moderating days, back when I was fighting a bout of frustration of the utterly ridiculous positions Christendom finds itself in. And, no, I'm not talking about theology, or flaws, or supposed runs of hypocrisy - I'm talking about real things that we do and think that are normal to us until someone points out how funny it is. 

Really, it started with Pick out the Sanctuary Carpet & Other Grievances, I think. That began my road of doom, where in a rare moment of satire I used an imaginary fight over carpet color to demonstrate how arbitrary most of our "in-house" arguments can be.  Not too long after that, I chose to begin the Observations of a Church Brat series primarily to understand my own faith. I had a lot of questions. I needed to nail down my own theology.  So I started talking: legalism & liberalism; hypocrisy & sin; prayer; devotion;  orthodoxy, unorthodoxy, and heresy. From there, it just spiraled. I discovered various kinds of church brats - labels which often overlap: renegades, rebels, & Pharisees; artsy types; and so on. Quirks, oddities, and tomfooleries of all kinds. From that point on, it's become almost a game of who can find the best church brat moment or symbol.

But the important part that I cannot stress emphatically enough is that I am not operating in a spirit of cynicism, all jaded, dechurched, and disillusioned. I am not taking potshots, nor am I demeaning Christians as a whole. That would be inaccurate, arrogant, and out of place.  To cut down my own family is to go against every teaching of Jesus and the Apostles (I am so glad that never became a band name).  To see flaws in the American Arm of Christendom and impose them globally and across time is to insult the saints who walked a bloody road ahead of me - those who now join a throng of onlookers watching us -  and those still alive who even now may well be taking their lives in their hands.  Even my church brat jokes have a limited use because they are primarily from the perspective of an American Protestant Church Brat living in the buckle of the Bible Belt. So *any* church brat observation I make is intended in a spirit of love,  camaraderie, and brotherhood. 

And if you suddenly broke out into song or a verse popped in your head just now...you are so unequivocally a church brat. 0=)

31 January 2012

Meditations: Traitor's Confession

The world, it shifts like sinking sand,
but you are the rock by which we stand.
You know our frailties and our sin
yet you still let us in.
Your arms they are open, oh so wide,
You're ever calling us to your side, even when our violations deep
threaten to end in burning heap.

And at your voice, I see what I've done,
you say my name - and there, you've won -
I collapse in bed with sorrow's tears;
We know this should take my years,
and my life should strip away in irons and decay.

But your heart is like a lion
wishing me to Zion -
If only I'd confessed,
my soul would be at rest.
But far worse than prison bars
are the everlasting scars
             there on your heart and hands.
Your eyes sear me with firebrands
because you cannot be bought;
and I know what ills I've wrought
seeking my own destiny, making you betrayed.
If only near you I had stayed
our hearts would've remained
            and the wounded would live again.

You are ever gracious, ever quick to save;
Your kindness I've mistreated for my own rave.
Your forgiveness overwhelms me;
I'm drowning in the sea
         of your tempestuous grace.
I cannot buy you, nor your heart manipulate -
Must I do nothing, while consigned to such a state? -
Your favor I yearn for;
Your heartbreak is more
           than I have words to say.
You said to wait for healing, so while I wait for day,
Under your wing , O lord of fate, I'll retreat
until the edges of broken skin do meet.