Friday, March 29, 2013

Driving Home in My 2001 Corolla

       I opened the driver's side door of my dark blue Corolla and ducked inside, shutting it once I was settled. I had just finished dropping my girlfriend, Abi, off at her close friend's house for the evening. As I pulled down the long gravel driveway, or rather down and then up a sloping hill on the other side, my mind drifted. I thought of how odd it is that a mind can be assured of its love for someone at a specific moment in which no distinct feeling seems to spark such an assurance... 
Awhile after turning left out of the driveway, I came to a sudden bend and instinctively activated my left blinker as I rounded the corner. I do that at times without even thinking when the road curves sharply. Abi often breaks into laughter when I do so. Well, more like a spontaneous giggle-squeak of sorts. For some reason it is cute. 
So, naturally, I thought of her. As I reached to grab my phone out of a little plastic nook in-between my emergency brake and my seat, it occurred to me that texting and driving was not the smartest plan. Having halted at a stop sign, I texted her after checking to make sure no other cars were in sight. 
As I merged onto county highway 350 I passed a graveyard. It perplexed me at first, because there seemed to be lights hovering several feet off the ground. Passing closer, I saw that the glow was actually from illuminated crosses, perched atop various gravestones. My first response was to think of each of the souls represented, all of which, at least to my knowledge, I couldn't have known. If the first response was slightly melodramatic, my second response made up for it with its practicality as I mused on the assumedly exorbitant electric bill such a cemetery must incur. 
I passed a little bridge and noticed a growth of something like prairie grass, swaying distinctly and yet communally as the unseen wind moved each individual stalk. The darkness was somehow exciting, as if there was a new mystery or adventure just beyond my sight which would be revealed if I only searched for it. 
My reward for these abstruser musings however was far from exciting or adventurous, consisting of a sudden realization that I had passed Hogan Hill and a resulting u-turn in the Day/Night gas station parking lot. A blonde, who for some reason I assumed was supposed to be working the desk inside, stood outside under the overhang, talking with some man or other who had wondered by. They didn't seem to notice me as I passed. 
As I finally made the correct turn onto Hogan Hill, my tires contacted some sand and grated against the pavement. I use "grated" loosely, for at the time I couldn't think of a comparable noise with which to describe it. I felt my tiredness setting in. I noticed a row of trees on the left. Most of them divided into two separate branches four or five feet up and stretched toward the sky in a somewhat straight configuration. But near the end, the right side of one of the branches was different, it had grown sideways before it turned upwards, like an arm bent at the elbow.
There was a road on the left, "Days Way," I decided it would flow better if it was called "Days Ways," but soon rejected that conclusion because it was only one road and therefore "ways" would not make sense logically. Then, I wondered what would happen if the sign were taken literally and whoever lived there only used the road during the day. It would certainly be inconvenient. After this reflection, I chastised myself for being ridiculous. 
I drove down into a little valley. As I climbed the other side, the road seemed to stop just in front of my headlights and instead of continuing straight in a horizontal direction rose perpendicular, as if it was a road to heaven traversing perilously up a previously undsicovered flat side of earth. But of course, this was not actually the case and I continued on, aware that the phantom road to heaven might very well indicate I was tireder than I thought. 
I turned right onto highway 48, noting the red, digital letters of the firestation sign scrolling the date across the screen. I passed a gravel driveway with a house number printed on a green sign, 19953. I had never payed attention to that sign before. 
As I neared home I heard my phone buzzing and sensed the interior of the car lighten a little as my screen glowed, indicating a text. I turned into the driveway and parked behind the Jeep. The text was from Abi. I decided it was nice to begin and end my drive with a text from her. 
    I stepped out of the car. My mind mused on the fact that I very rarely notice little details around me, especially in light of the business and flow of life. But tonight, driving home from Heidi's in my little 2001 dark blue Corolla, I did...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is God enough?

    My mind is always busy with various thoughts, possibilities, and future plans(generally all kinds of potential future plans, dependent on all sorts of odd contingencies). Lately, one of the things that I have been thinking about is my relationship with God and others, as it relates to the idea of dependency. I'm sure everyone has heard the saying, "God is the only thing/relationship you need." Obviously, this is true, right? Well, lately I have been questioning that premise, not so much in the sense of whether it is true or false, but whether it is a fairly framed question.
    You may have already branded me as a heretic for even considering the possibility that the believer's relationship with God in this life might not be enough to be completely fulfilled. That's fine, however, I have been feeling lately that this question has much more to do with a right understanding of design rather than a lack of trust, although I suppose I could be deluding myself. Let me give a little background...

    For awhile now, I have noticed that my awareness and level of fulfillment in my relationship with God is seemingly very closely connected with my relationship and intimacy with other believers. For many years, I felt there was something wrong with this. Now don't misunderstand me , there have certainly been times in my life where I have been unhealthily dependent on others for fulfillment(I still struggle with this being a very relational person). But, this connection between community, fellowship, and relationship, both on a spiritual and physical level, has led me to ask, "Is a relationship with God alone enough to fulfill the believer in this life?"

    My tentative conclusion is this, a relationship with God alone is generally not enough for me to be fulfilled in this life. Okay, some of you are probably tearing your clothes and desperately looking for some ashes right about now. I understand...But I have come to this conclusion not because I doubt God's ability to fulfill me, ( in fact, the most fulfilling moments in my life have been the times I have undoubtedly and overwhelmingly been in His presence in humility and brokenness)but rather because I think he DESIGNED me(and humans in general) to need and relate to others.

    First, I want to clarify. I only think that horizontal relationships can be fulfilling when we have our vertical relationship right. Also, I think there are certain situations(such as being imprisoned and isolated for faith, etc...) where a believer may only have God to rely on, being separated from other believers. With that being said, everything I read in Scripture points to God designing man to be fulfilled through other individuals as well as Himself. Even before the fall, when Adam still enjoyed unbroken communion with God, God concluded that it "wasn't good for man to be alone." Wait, man wasn't alone right? Adam had unbroken fellowship with God! Yet, God apparently didn't make man to be fulfilled ONLY through that vertical relationship, at least while on earth.

    The reason this is important to discuss, is because I think sometimes believers feel guilty experiencing fulfilling relationships with others when their quiet time is struggling/stagnant. I am speaking from personal experience on this one and I still struggle with it at times. Why do I feel that fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers have to be separately categorized? As I have been reading in the Word, especially the New Testament, it seems clear that in one sense fulfillment through others is experiencing God.  God reveals himself to believers through the fellowship of other believers. That fulfillment that we receive through deep spiritual conversation and connecting on a heart level with others is a gift and manifestation of God! This is why we are commanded to love our brothers and sisters in the faith, our enemies, and everyone else, because that love(given and enabled by God) is God revealing himself, both to them and us. This is why we are called in Hebrews 3:13 to "encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

     Now, several cautions. Fellowship with other believers is not a substitute for time spent alone with God. Many times, there are things God wants to teach me I have only heard when I am "meditating in my heart, on my bed, in silence." Many times I have had significant conversations with others, only to realize I substituted it for my time alone with God, which isn't productive or healthy. Also, my love and allegiance to others should never be greater than my love for God (Matthew 10:37). Oddly enough, although I have never figured out why, when I am truly valuing God above all else, it actually makes me more productive and loving in my other relationships. Lastly, it is impossible to be fulfilled without God. Although I think in certain situations God chooses to meet the relational needs in me that he designed others to meet, people are never able to meet the area of need that God has placed in my heart for Him.

     This is an analogy that helps me. God is like a prism. When light passes through the prism, all the ranges of colors are seen and understood in their rightful places. And as humans, we are designed to see the range of colors, red, orange, blue, violet, etc...Let's say the color red is representative of a romantic relationship/spouse and blue is representative of other important friend relationships. For the believer, red should be representative of one area of life and fulfillment. Yet, many times, it is possible to get so focused on red that one starts trying to find blue in red. But, that's impossible. So then, red becomes kinda dull and boring. It isn't meeting all of the needs that it seemingly should. Why? Because the expectation placed on red is much more than it could ever possibly meet. Red can't be blue, any more than it can be orange or violet. It can only be red. But, when viewed through the prism, it is possible to see the worth and place of all of the other colors. THEN, Red fits and acts as a certain part of the picture, one that can now be seen for the vibrant, beautiful, and lovely part that it is. And now being able to see red's rightful place, green, blue, and orange fit and make sense. I have explained this better before, but that's the general idea.

    If I had a little more time, I could probably better illustrate my position. But, Shakespeare is calling. I guess the point of this whole thing for me, is that God has been revealing to me that I don't need to feel guilty about wanting close relationships with others, and feeling somewhat less than human in the times when I am not experiencing those to any measurable degree. I have talked with friends who struggle with this same issue. But, the more I have prayed and studied it, the more I feel there is a subtlety false dichotomy that Christians sometimes force their thoughts about fulfillment and dependency into. Can God be enough? Of course! But I feel the better question is, Did he make us to be fulfilled and encouraged solely through relationship with Him? At this point, I don't think so...Loving God AND loving others as well as allowing God and others to love me, that is the Kingdom.

P.S. Any thoughts? Feel free to correct and council if you feel I am woefully off track or missing some important point. :-)



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thank You...

This evening as I was doing my devos, I found myself distracted and unfocused. In an attempt to quiet and refocus my heart and mind, I began writing a genuinely random and completely haphazard thank you list to God. I share this simply because I have a blessed life and want to give praise to my Father. Plus, the psalmist seemed to follow a similar literary pattern, so I figured I was in good company(transcribed straight from my journal, follow my thought pattern if you can)...

1. Thank You for Your abundant faithfulness and lovingkindess
2. Thank You for the aesthetic sensitivity You have awakened in my heart
3. Thank You for the joy you have revealed to me
4. Thank You for Your peace
5. Thank You for health and strength
6. Thank You for family and friends
7. Thank You for accountability and assurance
8. Thank You for abundant provision
9. Thank You for Your love
10. Thank You for Your forgiveness
11. Thank You for Your power to live in holiness
12. Thank You for Your protection
13. Thank You for Your wisdom
14. Thank You for my access to Your steadfast Spirit
15. Thank You for growth, humility, and perspective
16. Thank You for Your guidance
17. Thank You for Your promises
18. Thank You for Your body(the church)
19. Thank You for Your patience
20. Thank You for Your favor
21. Thank You for Your hope
22. Thank You for Your purpose
23. Thank You for Your transcendence
24. Thank You for Your immutability
25. Thank You for beauty
26. Thank You for coffee
27. Thank You for the changing of the seasons
28. Thank You for water
29. Thank You for thunderstorms
30. Thank You for spring/summer breezes
31. Thank You for music
32. Thank You for harmony
33. Thank You for gifts, talents, and abilities
34. Thank You for trust
35. Thank You for vision
36. Thank You for empathy
37. Thank You for good food
38. Thank You for soft beds, warm showers, and heat
39. Thank You for fishing
40. Thank You for inspiration
41. Thank You for diversity
42. Thank You for freedom
43. Thank You for emotions
44. Thank You for knowledge
45. Thank you for stories
46. Thank You for snow
47. Thank You for rest
48. Thank You for Fridays
49. Thank You for White Chocolate Caramel Mocha Blended Lattes
50. Thank You for people who are especially skilled at making White Chocolate Caramel Mocha Blended    Lattes
51. Thank You for the ability to learn
52. Thank You for animals
53. Thank You for people much smarter than me
54. Thank You for shared responsibility
55. Thank You for miracles
56. Thank You for the little things
57. Thank You for healthy competition
58. Thank You for excercise
59. Thank You for life
60. Thank You for the cross
61. Thank You for the ressurection
62. Thank You for milk
63. Thank You for hobbies
64. Thank You for caring for me

Friday, March 2, 2012

Imago Dei, Beauty, Art, and Christianity

Christopher Morley, American novelist and poet, declared that "In every man's heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty." This semester I am taking an art appreciation class, which has led me to think extensively about the nature of art, beauty, form, etc...and consequently, the intersection of all of those things with my faith. Generally when I think of old Gothic cathedrals, stained glass, church art, etc...I think excess; I think of those that could have used the food, clothes, and shelter all of that money could have provided. Do not misunderstand me, I still think of those things and they still bother me. However, I have also begun to realize the importance of beauty and imagery in the Christian life. Although still qualifying and re-considering, I have tentatively concluded that contemporary Christian culture(specifically evangelical, considering that is my background) could benefit from a renewed sense of the importance of beauty, aesthetics, and imagery...

The concept of "beauty" is something many have discussed and attempted to define since the beginning of recorded history. However, there is something in beauty that simply defies any kind of categorical definition. Interestingly, there is still a surprising amount of consensus concerning what is "beautiful." As a follower of Christ, I think beauty could be very generally thought of as "a manifestation, whether in creation or conceptualization, of some aspect related to the goodness and perfection of the person and character of God." There is something transcendent in beauty, something that takes us outside of ourselves.Whether it is a beautiful spring sunrise, someone sacrificing something for another, or the smile of someone you love, beauty affects our lives and pushes us to consider things outside of our own sphere of self.

One specific quotation from C.S. Lewis related to this topic has been on my mind. He concluded at the end of one of his sermon's by telling the audience, "You have never met a mere mortal." Every human is made in the image of God, Imago Dei. That image is a beautiful thing. God is a God of beauty(as generally defined above). One of the portions of scripture I really appreciate in the Old Testament is Exodus 25-31. The artfulness, care, creativity, and beauty with which the Ark of the Covenant and Tabernacle are crafted is astounding. Moses received those plans, down to the minutest detail, from the very mouth of God. Not only that, but God had already gifted several individuals(Oholiab and Bezalel) to complete His creation.

Yet, just like everything else, art, beauty, and image can be abused. A chapter later, the Israelites are using those same abilities to construct a golden calf,  an idols that mocks the true beauty of God as opposed to extolling and exemplifying it. I think the possibility of this abuse is what has so distanced contemporary Christian culture from  art, and the creative community in general(although this is slowly beginning to change). In addition, associations with high church and icon worship have made many evangelicals wary of incorporating art and imagery into church architecture,decoration, and even their own personal lifestyles(although some of this is certainly related to the cost and necessity also). This distance is understandable and I think in some ways justified.

However, what if we Christians started incorporating beauty(in the holistic sense), art(as an idea of representing God's character and creation), and imagery(appropriately of course)back into our lifestyle and vocabulary? See, even now I am qualifying...Oh well...What if some of our Christian artists donated some of their works to their church bodies? What if paintings of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection once again adorned our churches? What if our houses had frescoes on the walls? Would that be so bad? Would it be  at all helpful to serve as a reminder of the beauty of our Creator in its many forms, or would it simply be costly, time consuming and routine? Were the soaring arches, flying buttresses, and intricate artwork of Gothic cathedrals ridiculous excess, or was there something in them that captures the transcendence and glory of God in a way our churches fail to do?

I certainly do not claim to have answers and I am not advocating spending millions of dollars to build a gothic cathedral. But, I do feel that after having interacted with these questions, my life must include more creativity, beauty, and art. What might this look like on a practical level? For one, I want to paint a wall in my future home with blackboard paint, so that the whole family can write down prayer requests, quotations, verses, funny sayings of the day, etc...I mean come on, what kid doesn't like the idea of writing on a wall(not to mention adults)? Also, what about a pottery wheel? Couldn't you make some of your own plates, bowls, etc(might try this with one of my art buddies here shortly at school)?Being a plasterer, I also love the idea of doing something with Frescoes in various rooms. This would obviously be more complicated because it is more permanent and has implications for guests, hospitality, permanence etc...not to mention the fact it is a fairly laborious process. But, if nothing else, the idea fascinates me. There are so many possibilities... But anyway, I've rambled on long enough, what are your thoughts/ideas???

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Hope is fulfillment deferred
A foray of the will
Tides that flow and ebb
A thought from the past bringing a smile

Hope is a child's voice
Asking questions, confident of answers
untamed, tumbling hair
Eyes so bright

Hope is admitting your wrong
Proving your humanity
Thoughts that burn

Hope is a Man
A body pierced
Blood and water mixed
A divine remedy

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Space In-between

The space in-between, where dreams are spun but never realized where fantasies are conceived but inevitably die

Pictures of life that are different somehow, better, brighter, more beautiful, and fake

Dangerous are the creations of this in-between, just real enough to tease, but never true enough to taste

Sweetness indescribable and seeming of no end , but bitter bite of winter when trod under by experience

Somewhere in-between what is and what could be, people you think you know but not really

Carbon copy shells, that smile, wave, laugh, love, and lie

Stuck in-between prophecy and lunacy, the ideal of joy and the cruelty of fate

Life and death are bed-fellows, feasting tables laden in the middle of barren fields strewn with bones

In-between decision and action, such an easy place to be

Yet endlessly frustrating, ultimately debilitating

In-between emotions that ebb and flow with fury

Impossible to stem, here creating, here destroying

In-between good and evil, imagination and asphyxiation

Born to dream, but destined to fall short

All have encountered in-between, some perpetually, some only on occasion

Once visited, truth is clearer, but it is in some small way, wished incoherently false

A friend, G.K. Chesterton, works of literature, and life..Part 2

The Body
      First, to clarify, the term "body" references the bulk of a work of literature and  is not an allusion to the how many odd pounds of flesh, muscle, and bone that happen to house the human soul. In short, I speak of written text and not human anatomy.

     There are many functions for the body of a work of literature. One of those main functions is character development and nuance. Generally, many of the main characters are introduced in the first several chapters, although this is certainly not always the case. It would be theoretically possible to read only the first several chapters and the conclusion of a work and get a very general sense of what happened in-between. However, the end result would be a disturbing lack of satisfaction and a fundamentally shallow understanding. The body of any text is there for a reason, to better inform the reader and allow he or she to develop a relationship with the characters and story-line. Each part of the body is crafted to guide the reader into a better understanding of each character's feelings, personality, and experience, as well as the overall theme. When the conclusion of any work is reached, it is as if the reader has taken a journey with each character and emerged better and more aware of human experience as a result.

     The body of our lives is very similar to the body of a text. It is where we find ourselves, develop relationships with others, and learn about what purpose and meaning really entail. Major and minor characters pass through our lives, some merely remembered for one solitary conversation, others for years of investment and shared tears. Yet, all somehow significant in their influence.
    There are peaks and valleys, highs and lows. But, just as in literature, it seems the deepest understanding stems from the times of suffering and heartbreak. Such times are what make us able to relate to the other characters that enter our lives, humanity understood through similar experience.
     A good literary work is infused with artistic unity that leaves no fact insignificant. The author crafts and forms each section to cry testimony to his overarching purpose. The Author of Life crafted His story in the very same way. Every individual witnesses the glory and purpose of the Author through all He has created. This can be seen just as equally in a full and crimson sunrise or a beautiful and chaotic gale.
      Yet, the difference, is that in the story of life individuals are given the choice to follow the Author's plan or to reject it. If indeed there is an Author of Life, it would only make sense to reason that entity would have a purpose for such a creation and that those involved in His story would find their ultimate calling and fulfillment when they are in right relationship with the author.

At some point, I will continue with a post on endings in literature and life. But, there may be some random interspersing of other material between that time and this. Or there may not be.