Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I Must Speak: Abortion

We live in a world full of injustice. And what can one voice do? I do not know, but I know this: one voice speaking can do more than ten thousand silent tongues.

We live in a world full of injustice. And there are so many causes worthy of attention: slavery, murder, rape, terrorism and persecution of so many different groups. I cannot speak about everything. And yet, I must speak on something first, or watch in silence as all continue. For too long, I have sat, holding (what I think are) the correct views, but saying nothing. Ideas that remain in my head do no one any good.

As anyone who is aware enough of current events to read my blog will know, three videos of Planned Parenthood officials have been released over the past few weeks. Some debate has occurred over whether the practices discussed in the videos are better described as “selling baby parts” or “donating tissue.” Frankly, the issue of whether the organs are being sold or donated (with the clinic receiving compensation) is beside the point. It’s a bit like arguing over whether a serial killer stole a victim’s wallet. The issue is where the organs are coming from in the first place. The “tissue” in question here is undeniably human tissue – human lungs, hearts and livers. They’re available to be sent to researchers because the humans to whom those organs belong were killed. Yes, the humans in question were not fully developed. But my friend’s 2-year-old son isn’t fully developed either, and his parents can’t just decide to “terminate” him, however many tantrums he might throw. I hope these videos will help people see abortion for what it is – the dismembering of a living, growing human being. Next to that, any ethical concerns about compensation for donating what is left over pale in comparison.

That’s really all I have to say. It’s nothing that hasn’t been said before many times, but maybe adding my voice to the chorus will help in some small way. At least it’s better than silence.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Isla Formosa (To the tune of "Hotel California")

One of my hobbies is rewriting song lyrics. It makes me laugh and helps me feel less stressed. This one is inspired by my time on Taiwan, which the Portuguese called "Isla Formosa." It's a very appropriate name, because it means "beautiful island."

Note: You'll probably enjoy this more if you have the lyrics to "Hotel California" in mind as you read. Part of the "game" is keeping the lyrics as close to the original as possible while changing the meaning enough to relate to the new topic.

Isla Formosa

On a dark city side street, humidity in my hair,
Warm smell of choudoufu,* rising up through the air,
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
Was growing hungry, so I wandered in
To the night market that night
There she stood at a snack stand; I heard the music’s beat,
And I was thinking to myself, “How do all these people fit in this street?”
Then she gave me a smile, and she showed me the way
There were voices everywhere I turned,
I thought I heard them say,

“Welcome to the Isla Formosa
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place) such a lovely place
We can make room on the Isla Formosa
Any time of year (Any time of year) You can find it here.”

Her mind is not very twisted. She’s got a scooter so small
She’s got a lot of Hello Kitty shirts and wears them all
Then we hike up the mountain, sweet summer sweat
Sometimes it is sunny; always I get wet
So I said at the tea stand, “Please bring me my tea,”
And he said, “I have run this tea stand here since 1993.”
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night, just to hear them say,

“Welcome to the Isla Formosa
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place) such a lovely place
Living it up on the Isla Formosa
Such a nice surprise (Such a nice surprise) Eat some mango ice.”

Flowers on the treetops, bubble tea on ice,
And she said, “You should try the food they sell here; it is very nice.”
And in my friends’ apartment we gathered for the feast
Grabbed it with our wooden sticks but we can’t eat all the meat
Last thing I remember I was headed for the plane
Back to the place I was before, where I had to be again
“Relax” said the people. “We are eager to receive
“You can fly back any time you like, but you won’t want to leave!”

* Chinese for stinky tofu. It is very appropriately named. Much like Formosa.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Treebeard Destroyed the Ring

This past semester, I listened to The Lord of the Rings in the car during my commutes to and from campus. Every time I read this book, something different about it stands out to me. This time, it was the question of which characters are the most important.

Note: The following explanation presumes that the reader has read the Lord of the Rings books, largely because it would take too long for me to summarize them. If you haven’t read them, GO! READ THEM NOW! The Internet will be here when you get back. (Not that I have strong feelings about this or anything.) If you’ve only seen the movies, you’ll probably understand this post, but I’d urge you to read the books anyway. They’re so much better.

Warning: This is a very geeky post, but it does have a point. Read at your own risk.

Who is The Lord of the Rings really about? Nine characters set out on the quest to destroy the ring, but only two actually make it to Mordor. Frodo is the one carrying the ring and thus the apparent hero of the story. But Frodo would never have made it without Sam, who keeps him focused, encourages him and dramatically rescues him when he gets captured by orcs. Sam is also one of only two characters in the history of Middle Earth who willingly give up the ring (the other being Bilbo). Go Sam! But if Frodo hadn’t gone on the quest, Sam wouldn’t have been there either, and even if he was, Gollum would have killed him during the first encounter. So both Frodo and Sam need to be present. But they don’t actually succeed in their mission. Gollum does, of all people. So maybe he’s the hero.

But the whole Frodo-Sam plotline only takes up half of the last two books, if that. Frodo and Sam would never have made it to Mount Doom if Aragorn hadn’t marched out to attack Mordor, drawing away all the orcs that were patrolling it. No one else could have pulled that off. It only worked because Sauron was worried about Aragorn, who was king of Gondor and who Sauron thought had the ring. And Sauron only thought that because Aragorn had used the palantir, which he wouldn’t have done if Pippin hadn’t (accidentally) revealed what it was by looking into it. And the whole let’s-send-our-entire-army-out-as-a-diversion plan was thought of by Gandalf. So Aragorn, Gandalf, and Pippin are the heroes.

But Aragorn couldn’t march against Mordor without an army. And if the battle of Pelennor Fields had been lost, or even gone on much longer, there wouldn’t have been enough surviving troops for him to go to war. As it was, he barely found enough soldiers. And the first part of the battle went very, very badly. So what turned it around? Eowyn’s killing of the Witch King, who was the general of Sauron’s army and also its most powerful member. He kept Mordor’s troops organized, along with doing massive damage to Gondor’s army by himself. If he had not been killed (which, remember, could only be done by a woman), Aragorn would have had no army and Frodo wouldn’t have made it to Mt. Doom. So Eowyn is the hero. But the witch king would have killed Eowyn instead if Merry hadn’t stabbed him at just the right moment. So Merry is the hero.

One additional point appears at the very end, when the triumphant heroes visit Isengard. There they learn that Treebeard and the ents had been patrolling the area around Isengard and had destroyed several bands of orcs that had gone after the armies of Rohan. If the ents hadn’t been there, the orcs would have attacked the company that included Eowyn and Merry. The riders of Rohan would probably have defeated the orcs, but the fighting would have slowed them down. If it wasn’t for Treebeard, Eowyn, Merry and company would have arrived too late to win the battle, or if they did make it in time, Gondor’s troops would have been decimated. Aragorn would not have had an army to march against Mordor, the orcs would have stayed in place, and Frodo would never have reached Mt. Doom. Thus, Treebeard is the reason the ring was destroyed, which makes him the real hero.

Why am I writing this? Some would say it’s because I’m a geek who thinks too much. And I would not dispute that. But there’s also an encouraging point in here for people like me who are idealistic and want our lives to change the world.

Great things are done, not by isolated individuals, but by groups working for a common purpose. And the varied strands of individual lives are woven together in ways we could never predict. The heroes are not just the ones who do spectacular things and gain the applause and admiration of the crowds. Heroes are those who do their part, even when they aren’t on the front lines. Our job is simply to fulfill our callings. The Author of history will see to the rest.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Rest

This poem was inspired by a walk on a warm summer day. I was feeling anxious and uncertain about my future, but the beauty of the world around me reminded me of the truth: I don’t need to change the world to be valuable. I am already covered and enfolded by God’s grace.

Rest

Wind breathes on the trees, and they whisper of grace
In the warmth of the sunlight I feel Your embrace
Gracious Lord of all peace, You are here in this place
And I rest in Your merciful hand

I come here with wounds from the world and its lies
That taught me your love and Your gifts to despise
And yet You have heard my ungrateful heart’s cries
And You healed me and taught me to stand

I stumbled before Your throne, weary and sore
Despite all my striving, still utterly poor
Yet you heard my request, and You gave me far more
Though I never could meet Your demand

You’ve saved me from sin, but how slowly I learn!
I grab at hot coals, though I know that they burn
Yet always You call me; I hear and return
And I cling to my God’s nail-pierced hand

Spirit, breathe on my soul, and infuse me with grace
May I cease from all striving and trust Your embrace
May I walk in Your presence till I see Your face

And I rest in the true promised land

Friday, May 29, 2015

See Him Rise Above the Heavens: an ascension hymn

 See Him rise above the heavens, He who once from heaven came
Taking back His rightful glory, served by angels’ hands of flame
Perfect image of the Father, radiant glory once sent down
Now the angels bow before Him; now He wears the victor’s crown.

See the Lamb who made atonement, for His sinful creatures died
Raised to life, and now to glory, seated at the Father’s side.
No more sacrifice is needed; your redemption is complete.
Cleansed by Him you now can boldly stand before your Father’s seat.

See Him when, in times of sorrow, hope is hidden from your eyes,
When the world erupts in bloodshed; when you drown in fears and lies.
Know that He who loved and saved you holds the cosmos in His hand.
He will overcome this darkness. He will give you grace to stand.

See Him now; await His coming once for all, all things to claim.
He will speak, and sin will shatter. All will bow before His name.
Heaven and earth made new in beauty with His holy ones will sing:
“Jesus, Lord of earth and heaven, we adore You, Savior, King.”

Inspired largely by Hebrews 1

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Darkness Before Easter Dawn

In the hours before dawn, the women rose, gathered their spices and went to anoint Jesus’body. He was their friend, their teacher, and in one case, their son. The one person who knew their hearts completely and loved them still. The person who had given them hope that God had seen the misery of His people and was going to help them. The person who had healed sickness and cast out demons and even raised the dead. But now he was the one who was dead.

They had watched him take every agonizing step up Golgotha. They had seen the pain on his face and seen those long nails sticking out of his wrists. They had stared, unable to tear their eyes away but wishing they could. They had wept and wondered why God would allow this injustice and why the best man they had ever known would have to suffer so, and why they would have to lose him.

But by Sunday morning, their tears were spent. They must have found some way to numb the sorrow, to block it up in the bottoms of their hearts and roll a stone over the entrance. They busied themselves with preparing to anoint the body and with worrying about the stone at the entrance to the tomb, because the alternative was just too painful.

We, too, feel pain that is the same in kind if not in degree. We lose those we love. We watch friends get hurt. We see the injustice of the world and mourn for victims of senseless violence. We feel hope, only to have it crushed. Some of us wonder if there is anything left to live for.

But power is at work in the hour before Easter dawn. Even as the women trudge along the dark, stony path to the tomb, angels descend, and the stone is rolled away. Air fills the lungs collapsed by crucifixion, the hands pierced by nails move, His eyes open, and the soul of the man who spoke and laughed and cried and loved returns to His body. He is risen.

And those three words breathe life into souls that were nearly destroyed by sorrow. The injustice is righted, the loss is restored, the pain is healed. Hope is not only rekindled, but it blazes forth as brightly as the sun that now rises above the eastern horizon. He is alive, not only in our hearts but in reality. And because He lives, we also will live.

It’s now the day after Easter. The songs are sung, the decorations are coming down, and the chocolate is, or soon will be, consumed. It’s Monday, and people are going back into the drudgery of work. Life presses in with its various problems: sick children, quarrels with loved ones, disasters on the news, and pain hidden in our hearts.

But the Resurrection is not just a story. It is a historical event in which the raw, physical reality of death was reversed. Jesus had – and still has – a body just like yours but now transformed. He experienced all the struggles of your life and more. But He has overcome all that evil, and someday, He will return to destroy evil forever.

Friends, Christ is risen today and every other day. Remember that next time you feel the darkness pressing in on you. Jesus is alive.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Kingship in 1 and 2 Samuel (part 3)

In my last post, I looked at some passages relating to the Israelites’ request for a king and Samuel’s response to it. These passages describe the Israelites’ request as a rejection of God as their king. But I argued that the problem was not kingship in itself; rather, the problem was that the Israelites expected the king, instead of God, to save them so that they could continue worshipping other gods.

Now I’d like to look at another passage that deals with the establishment of kingship. But instead of humans establishing it, God does. The passage, 2 Samuel 7, records God’s response to David after David offers to build the temple. God gives David some pretty extravagant promises. He says that He will establish David’s kingdom, that David’s son will build the temple and even that David’s son would have God as his father. The last point is easy for Christians to overlook because we’re used to addressing God as “Father,” but in ancient Israel, having God as their adoptive father gave kings a unique relationship with and status before God. Now, having a king is more than just OK; now the kings are tied to God more closely than almost anyone else in Israel (arguably even more than the priests, who are not called God’s sons).

One scholar I read summed up the view in this and other passages by saying, “The king is God.” But that completely oversteps what the text said. In fact, all these glorious promises come after God has refused to allow David to build the temple. In other nations, building a temple might be seen as doing the god a favor, but here the Lord is clear: David can’t do God any favors. In fact, God is the one doing David a favor by building up his dynasty. (There are some puns here making this point: both the temple and the dynasty are called a “house.”) It’s only after tearing down any illusions David may have had about helping God that God starts to build David up and give him the high status. Kings in Israel may have had high status, but they were far from divine.

But even if the king is not seen as divine, they’re still portrayed very positively, in contrast to the negative picture in 1 Samuel 8 and 12.

There’s something else to note here. Even before He gets to the promises for David’s line specifically, God makes some promises for Israel as a whole. Specifically, He says, “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.” (2 Samuel 7:10-11). Remember that kingship was established just after the period of the judges, and that as I argued last time, the Israelites were looking to be freed from foreign oppressors. Now God is offering them the freedom they crave. The problem was never the Israelites’ desire for peace and liberation; the problem was their looking for it through human systems and refusing to give up their idols.

David and his descendants are not replacements for God; rather their authority is completely dependent upon God’s. They also, in theory, will not be the kinds of kings who put up with idolatry. The building of the temple, which God also promises in this passage, demonstrates the king’s devotion to God and his role in leading the Israelites in proper worship of the one true God. Thus, they are the opposite of the type of king criticized in 1 Samuel.

David’s prayer in the second half of 2 Samuel 8 shows that he agrees with God’s assessment. He gives thanks and recognizes that God put him in his current position (v.18). He also affirms that there is only one true God: “Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears” (v. 22).

Of course, David’s descendants didn’t always keep this in mind. Some were proud and thought of themselves as above God’s law (See Uzziah’s actions in 2Chronicles 26:16-21). Others committed idolatry and led the Israelites to do the same. These promises found fulfillment to a limited extent during Israel’s history, but we are still awaiting their truest fulfilment when David’s greatest descendant, Jesus, returns to rule and bring perfect peace.


For now, let us note that the positions taken in these two passages in Samuel are not contradictory, despite the way they might appear in a superficial reading. They are coming at the same truth from two sides: A good king must be dependent upon God’s power and must seek to glorify the true God, not replace Him.