Monday, April 28, 2014

Emmanuel: God With Us

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point -- and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. 
And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tale of A Dangerous Criminal

Once upon a time, TJ was a little kid. There was TJ, and there was me.
We were riding our bikes along the road because we were going to the park. As we were riding along, TJ got an idea.
The road we were riding on was straight and very boring. TJ thought it was too boring. TJ is very committed to safety. He thought that the road was so boring that drivers might fall asleep. So he decided to improve it.
First, we rode back home and he found a bunch of nails and we hammered them into the road to improve traction. They also worked like a rumble strip to wake people up and remind them that they were driving a car. 
Then he found a bunch of beams lying about at a nearby jobsite. He used those to make a sort of maze out of the road. The maze would keep things interesting for drivers, as they wove in and out of the beams.
Lastly, he picked a bunch of old couch upholstery out of the dump three blocks down and tied it over the road from tree to tree. It was to insulate the road from ice and also to keep snow from building up on the asphalt.
We felt very accomplished, and TJ was admiring his handiwork, when the first car came along.
It was going very fast. It was white, with writing on it that neither of us could read. After all, we were only about five or six. There were blue and white flashing lights all over it, like the driver wanted to pretend he was an ambulance.
That car completely ignored the maze. Maybe the driver was sleeping. (TJ said we should have put more things on the road.) The car smashed straight into the first beam. Then one of the tires popped on a nail, because it was going so fast.
The driver started getting out and he seemed very angry. He was wearing dark glasses, which TJ said proved he was a bad guy. TJ said he was probably driving so fast because he was running from the police. 
I wanted to stay and see the police catch him. I'd never seen a police. But TJ said the man was dangerous and we should go home.
We rode off as fast as we could.
The next time we drove by, our traction devices and maze and snow protector were all gone. TJ was a little disappointed. But he took pleasure in the thought that we had helped catch a dangerous criminal by stopping his flight from justice.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Puzzle

We’re born holding a box with a thousand pieces inside, all mixed up, and there’s only one way to make them fit together.

And we’re separated from the directions. We have to find them or figure the puzzle out for ourselves. 

I read once that to believe the wrong thing is to be closer to the truth than to believe that there is no such thing as the wrong thing. The man who adheres to his erroneous belief, insisting that it is the truth, at least believes that there is a truth.
If a man thinks the sky is red, as least he allows that the sky is a color. A man who says murder is right is still admitting the existence of right and wrong. To believe firmly that water is poisonous is to believe firmly that there is such a thing as poison. 
Some people find a set of false directions and they follow them, doggedly trying to make the pieces fit. They may try their whole lives, or give up in disgust. They may realize the futility of the attempt and go in search of the truth. Or they may manage to jury-rig the puzzle into something that makes more or less sense, although it is not the thing of perfect interlocking beauty that the puzzle maker intended. 
These men may never put the puzzle together. But they have one thing right. They know one part of the truth. 
They know that truth exists.

It is the agnostic who says the sky is not a color, that there is no right or wrong, and no such thing as poison or antidote, that is the furthest from solving the puzzle. He is denying the existence of the pieces, because he can’t figure out how to make them fit.

That’s why I think it makes more sense for someone to have a wrong belief than for someone to say that no beliefs are wrong because all beliefs are right. 
That’s like saying there is no puzzle. And if there’s nothing to put together, nothing to do and nowhere to go, what’s the point of life itself?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Matthew's Passion

“And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;”
Matthew 27:51

Once, when I was younger and more foolish, I read the book of Matthew and found it stiff. It seemed cold. 
I thought that the factual, logical progression of events was the work of someone so focused on accuracy and the fulfillment of the commands of the Law and prophecies of the Messiah that he had forgotten to put any life, any emotion, any of the God he was writing about, into his book. It was better than the book of Leviticus, but much less interesting than the book of Job, with its descriptions of dragons and dinosaurs, its tale of a man’s great agony and God’s awesome power. It was a better story than the confusing philosophies of Ecclesiastes, but less compelling than the epic beginnings related in Genesis. 

In short, I didn’t care very much for the book of Matthew.

I was wrong.

There is great power and surprising passion in the book of Matthew. 
Last night as I read the final chapters, it came alive to me like it never had before. The words were practical and the style was reserved, but through the terse and spare account I could feel the sorrow and the shame, the wonder and the glory. Every word he wrote held impact and emotion. Matthew never uses a decorative adjective, never wallows in feelings, but it is not because he was stoic and austere. The writing is understated, not because Matthew did not feel, but because he felt so much.
As I read I could feel how Matthew felt when the events he recorded happened. I could feel the sting when the chief priests mocked Jesus and the thieves crucified with him “cast the same in his teeth.” I could feel the shudder of uncanny fear when the veil hiding the Holy of Holies was torn from the top down and the graves of dead saints opened. I could feel the heartbreak and desperation of the women who would not leave the body of their dead Lord. And I could feel the clear, ringing triumph as the angel said, “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.”
There was passion in every little vivid detail Matthew recorded. The kiss that spelled betrayal, the girl in the palace porch, the crowing rooster. The field bought with the blood money, forever stained by the coins it was purchased with. The vinegar mixed with gall that Jesus refused to drink. The soldiers sitting down and watching as Jesus suffered on the cross. The specific hours of darkness when the sun refused to shine. The exact words of the cry from the cross, as God was forsaken by God. The circumstances of Jesus’s burial in a rich man’s tomb. The precautions taken by the Pharisees. The angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb and sat on it. Jesus, alive, speaking to the faithful women, setting a meeting-place for the disciples. The cover-up story spread by the religious leaders. The mission that Jesus gave the disciples on a mountain in Galilee.

Matthew’s writing is specific, precise, organized. It tells a story of certain power and undeniable truth. And it gives us a glimpse of the character of the publican from Israel who was called by Jesus with the simple words, “Follow me.”
This is how I see him: Accuracy was important to him. So were the traditions and laws of his ancestors. He was good with figures, responsible, trustworthy. He was not given to dramatic displays of emotion, he did not cry in public or dance in the street. He didn’t stand out. He is listed among the other disciples as just another name. He never put his foot in his mouth like Peter or earn nicknames like Thomas, James, and John. Matthew was steady and reliable. I can imagine him being one of the men sent to find the colt for Jesus to ride, one of the men who went into the city to find the man with the upper room for the Last Supper. But underneath that reserved and levelheaded exterior, Matthew was a man of deep feelings and strong convictions. He had reasons for his every belief, yet he did not hesitate to follow the command of God. He did not like to show his feelings to the world, but they are pulsing through every succinct statement and eloquent detail.

The book of Matthew is not stiff. It’s not cold. It’s full of life, emotion, and Emmanuel. God with us.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Time To Give Up

One project could easily consume my whole life.

I could re-edit, re-write and re-name one story forever. I would get tired, take breaks, come back and start all over. On and on and on. Over and over again.
I know, because I’ve done it.
And I keep telling myself that this is THE last time I’m going to edit the story currently known as MSR, but it keeps being a horrible lie because when I look at it again, there are SO many mistakes and imperfections and I just can’t leave it like that so I edit it…again.

This sounds like I’m a heroin addict or something. 
I’m not addicted to anything. Except maybe perfection.

Leonardo Da Vince is quoted as saying “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” I don’t know about other forms of art, but this definitely applies to me and my writing. 

I’ve realized over the last few months that I have to make a choice. I can keep editing and rewriting, on and on and on until it’s finally “perfect” and I’m ninety-three, and I die alone and unpublished. Maybe not alone. But having lived a dead-end life. And unpublished because I never finished anything to publish. I don’t like that plan.
Or, I can make this edit the last one and publish it whether it’s perfect or not.

And it won’t be perfect. But that’s OK. It’s my first novel. I’m going to grow up and get better and learn more, and my writing style will change. Maybe I’ll hate MSR someday. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that I move on and keep working. 

There is a time to stick to one thing. There is a time to try new things.
And there is a time to give up.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Plot Dissection

I recently got a book from the library called The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker. It’s about two inches thick, around 700 pages, and is a study of seven basic plot-lines that can be found in stories throughout history and across the world, and an examination of why humans tell stories. I’m really excited about it, if I ever manage to read through it before I run out of renewals.
I’m currently on Chapter 2 (but I read the Introduction And Historical Notes first) and I’ve already had the chance to apply something I’ve learned, which is extremely satisfying. The first plot the author takes apart is called the “Overcoming the Monster” story line, which has five distinct stages.

In the first stage, the hero first becomes aware of a threat, something evil, cruel and monstrous. He sets out to confront it, leading into the second stage.
In the second stage, the hero first comes in contact with the monster. Maybe there is a slight skirmish, which is successful. The hero seems invincible and danger still seems faraway.
By the third stage, the strength of the monster begins to be felt and people start getting worried. This is not going to be easy. Someone is going to get hurt. Maybe it’s impossible.
In the fourth stage, the task of overcoming the monster is clearly impossible. The hero has fallen into it’s clutches. All seems lost.
But the monster has a fatal flaw. Something, often something magical, or something seemingly small and insignificant, something unexpected, can bring it down. And it is this which saves the hero at the last moment. There is a dramatic reversal and the hero wins, often gaining fame, wealth and glory in the process.

Shortly after I read this chapter, my family and I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was very fun. I could see the five stages of the Overcoming The Monster storyline as the plot unfolded. 
They’re not blatantly obvious, because each story is different, but they’re there. 
I’m not going to go into it, because I don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t seen the movie. But maybe, if you like doing that sort of thing, you’ll enjoy finding the five stages for yourself.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Get Up Early, Stay Up Late...

I don’t go through my life comparing every marketing slogan I see to the Bible. For one thing, I don’t have a well-memorized verse for every conviction and belief I have.  I’m not saying my beliefs aren’t based on the Bible, because they are! I’m just saying that I can’t quote references for everything.

But once in a while something jumps out at me. Like this:

“Get up early. Stay up late. Change the world.”
Dutch Bros slogan.

“It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” 
Psalms 127:2

I’m not complaining my any means. I don’t expect to find truth on the lid of my coffee cup. Whether it says “Dig Life,” “Hello Bestie,” or “Dutch Luv,” it’s just a good way to make a lid fun.
I just thought it was interesting that while the world says to burn the candle at both ends, getting up early and staying up late to change the way the world is, God says, “Get your sleep.” Whether you’re a night owl or a early bird, whether you need ten hours or are just fine with six, sleep is a good thing. It’s a gift from God.
But not without moderation, of course, because there are a lot of verses that say “love not sleep” and “arise, thou sluggard” and things like that.