Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Advent Haiku 25: Christmas Day

This will be the final haiku in the series. Thank you to everyone who has taken this journey with me. I wish you all a happy Christmas filled with blessings of all kinds.

Sing out Maker's praise
He has come to save us all.
Christ is born today!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Haiku 23: The Prince of Peace

Here is the last of my four haikus on Isaiah 9:6.

Born amid squalor
In a world still rent by war
Comes the Prince of Peace

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

I grew up in Connecticut and went to Michigan for Christmas most years. For those of you who aren't from America, those are both in the northern part of the country, and they get very cold, which means I'm used to white Christmases. In contrast, it pretty much never snows in Taiwan, except on some very tall mountains. It rains a lot, though, especially in the winter. As such, I think a certain classic Christmas song needs new words for people on this subtropical island to sing:

Wet Christmas
I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the raindrops glisten
And children listen
To hear scooters on the road
I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas
With every Christmas card I get
So be merry, but don't forget
Your umbrella or you will be wet

Advent Haiku 22: The Fourth Candle

The fourth candle on an advent wreath is lit today, forming a complete circle on a standard wreath.

May this ring of light
Soon enfold our troubled world
Bringing it true peace

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Haiku 21: Preparation

Today's haiku takes a break from the story to focus on our lives. Advent is a busy time for many of us, and I think it's important to take time to stop and remember Christ's presence with us.

In the rush of life
Bells are ringing through the din
Listen for your Lord

Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Haiku 20: The Shepherds (II)

Based on Luke 2:8-20.

Shepherds rose and went
To the newborn Lamb of God,
Their true Good Shepherd

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Haiku 19: The Angels

My interpretation of the angels' song in Luke 2:14.

Glory be to God,
Who comes, bringing peace to you
Who receive His grace.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Haiku 17: To Bethlehem

We return to Joseph's perspective. Reference: Luke 2:1-5

Take my pregnant wife
All the way to Bethlehem?
Man, I hate taxes!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Haiku 16: Everlasting Father

A third haiku on Isaiah 9:6.

Source of all that is
The everlasting father
Born of a young girl

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Haiku 15: The Third Candle

Through the night I sing
As I see the light approach
Three flames leap for joy

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Haiku 14: Waiting

Advent is a season in which sorrow mixes with joy. We feel the pain of a fallen world, which makes hope all the sweeter.

Mourning, we will wait
For the day when hope fulfilled
Chases tears away

Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent Haiku 13: Elizabeth

Confession time: I've always had a special place in my heart for Elizabeth because she shares my name. And since I've included haikus for her son and her husband, I think she should get one, too. This one is based on Luke 1:39-45.

She rejoices as
Son she never thought she'd see
Sees their savior come

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Haiku 12: Joseph

Joseph's response to the announcement of Jesus' coming birth:

This baby's not mine.
What's that? He's the son of God?
I guess I'll keep him.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent Haiku 11: Mary

Today's haiku is also about the annunciation of Jesus' coming birth, but it focuses on Mary's response.

Let God's will be done.
This is such an honor, but
What will I tell Mom?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent Haiku 10: Gabriel

The Christmas story proper begins with the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she was pregnant and would have a son.

Greetings, favored one!
Your Messiah's coming soon.
He will call you Mom.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent Haiku 9: Mighty God

Today I am going back to Isaiah 9:6 for a second haiku based on that verse.

Mighty God of hosts
Master of the universe
This helpless infant

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Haiku 7: The Second Coming

As we remember the first coming of Christ, Advent is also a time when we look forward to His return.

Come, Emanuel,
Set Your throne upon the Earth,
Come to us again.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Advent Haiku(s) 6: St. Nicholas

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas, and since he has such a big role in standard Christmas celebrations, I thought it would be nice to write about him.

The real Santa Claus
Brings a gift better than toys -
The gospel of Christ

I also came up with a "bonus haiku," but it requires a little historical background. During the Council of Nicea, at one point St. Nicholas lost his temper and punched Arius, who was arguing that Jesus was not really God.

Good St. Nicholas
Comes to bring nice children gifts
And smack heretics

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent Haiku 5: Zechariah

Speaking of John the Baptist, here's a haiku (almost) about his father Zechariah. For reference, see Luke 1:5-25.

My wife have a son?
Angel, you must be confused.
That's impossi -

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Haiku 4: John the Baptist

John the Baptist appears in all four Gospel accounts, which makes me think he is more important than we give him credit for. For the first week of advent, I'm focusing on prophecy, and since John is the last prophet before the Messiah, I wanted to give him a place.

Born of old woman,
Old Covenant's last prophet
Makes way for the New.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Haiku 3: Wonderful Counselor

This is the first of four haikus based on Isaiah 9:6. One of them is going to go up each week.

Word of God made flesh
Our Wonderful Counselor
Truth that walks and speaks

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Haiku 2: The First Prophecy

Today's haiku focuses on the first promise of the Messiah, found in Genesis 3:14-15.

First sin, first promise:
Woman's seed, though wounded, will
Squash that serpent flat.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent Haiku 1: The First Candle

Today marks the beginning of advent, the season of preparation for Christmas. During this season, I plan to post one haiku a day.

Darkness cloaks the earth
But the promise flickers on
One candle of hope

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lost in Light: A Tribute to My Grandmother

Three years ago today, my grandmother Adele Sunshine passed away. She was an amazing woman. There are many people more qualified than I who could tell you about all she did. I know that she taught special education in inner city schools, had six children with an incredible number of advanced degrees between them, traveled the world, collected jigsaw puzzles and cared for a magnificent 3-story Victorian house until she was well into her 80s. Unfortunately, she moved to Tennessee just as I was becoming old enough to appreciate what an incredible person she was, and I visited her only once every year or two after that point. I love her so much, and I wish I had known her better.

Anyway, I wrote this poem around the time of her death but only now have worked up the courage to share it.

Lost in Light

I watch the embers of your heart
that glistened, glowed all these long years
grow dim.  I see the creeping night
and feel the swelling weight of tears.

I see resplendent fireworks
that flashed against a velvet sky
fade into brittle golden dust,
doomed to disintegrate and die.

I see an end to all I knew of you,
love’s promised heights unreached,
a book slammed shut before the end,
then burned to ash, no more to teach.

Your path winds upward into mist
that veils your destination’s peak,
as from my eyes you quickly fade,
too distant now to see or speak.

My eyes must close to see the truth
that though the path you tread is steep,
you now can soar on borrowed wings
to Him who made the lame to leap.

A star dissolving in the dawn,
you fade away from earthly sight,
but eyes of faith can look beyond,

to see you laughing, lost in light.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Meditation on Isaiah 35

One night when I was in the depths of depression, I was getting ready for bed. Out of force of habit, I sat down to read a psalm. But in my tiredness, I missed Psalms and ended up reading through all of Isaiah 35 before I noticed my “mistake.”

Here’s what I read:
1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
2 it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

I believe that God directed me to the “wrong” passage that day because this was exactly what my hurting soul needed. I needed to read this promise of renewal for the deserts – the empty, lonely, broken places of the world – because my heart felt like a desert. I needed to hear that no matter how hopeless I felt, I wasn’t really without hope because God had promised to make things right.

Verse 10 in particular stood out to me with its promise that “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” I believe the complete fulfillment of these verses will come when Christ returns. But until then, God’s promise that better things are coming can give us hope and comfort.

But is that all our faith offers? Is it merely a piece of positive thinking or an “opiate of the masses”? Not according to Isaiah.

Verses 5 and 6 speak of healing for the blind, the deaf, the lame and the mute. Just as God gives us emotional comfort, He offers healing. We see that in the pages of the Bible, and I believe that God continues to work miracles today. Yet once again we will need to wait until Christ returns for all disease to completely disappear.

OK, so Christianity offers emotional and physical healing – for us. But is it just a personal thing that only touches its followers? Again, the answer is “no.”

The whole point of this passage is that the physical world will be healed. Verses 1, 2, 6 and 7 speak of desert being turned into lush, fertile land. In a sense, this is undoing the effects that sin had on all of nature. Part of God’s curse after the first sin was that the land would be unfruitful, producing thorns and thistles instead of good crops. But here we see the curse undone. Even the harshest, least hospitable lands are transformed into lush valleys. The whole earth becomes a fruitful, safe and holy place.

How does all this happen? The passage doesn’t explicitly say, but verse 8 points to the answer. It refers to the “Way of Holiness” in which the redeemed walk. Verse 10 indicates that it leads back to Jerusalem, the city of God. In the Bible, Jerusalem is seen as the place of God’s presence, and we know from the New Testament that the way back into God’s presence is Jesus. He is the One through whom our hearts, our bodies and all of creation will be healed. When we believe and obey Him, we walk in the way of holiness.

We all face moments when we feel dry and empty. We sometimes fall and wander away from the way of holiness. But we must “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” That means picking ourselves up when we fall, but it also means building others up when they are weak. We must remember, as it says in verse 4, that God will come and save us. We can be strong and work to restore the things that are broken in human lives and the outside world only when we place our hope in the One who has the power to accomplish this seemingly impossible mission.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mongolia Report

This past June, my parents and I went on a mission trip to Mongolia. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to see and participate in God’s amazing work in that country.

We spent most of our time in Khenti, a province in northeastern Mongolia. It consisted mostly of grasslands full of wildflowers. Distant mountains on the horizon marked the end of miles and miles of sky. This beautiful country is very sparsely populated (about 3 million people in 1,565,000 square kilometers). Most of its people are nomadic herders who live in gers (also called yurts/蒙古包). Each county has a central town (though by Taiwanese or American standards theyre really villages) with stores, gas stations, etc. Some people build wooden houses in these centers; others pitch their gers in the town, often in a relative’s back yard.  Others live in the countryside and only visit the county center to buy necessities like food and gas. Outside the central part of the country there is no running water, and all roads are made of dirt.

In Mongolia, my parents and I worked with an organization called V.E.T. Net. Based in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, V.E.T. Net was started by a group of Christian veterinarians to help provide veterinary training. Veterinarians are vital for a society so centered on herding. Yet veterinary training isn’t very good; some veterinary school graduates have never even worked on an animal. V.E.T. Net provides training and high-quality medicines to help these veterinarians serve their communities. Since it is a Christian organization, it uses this to open doors for the Gospel.

V.E.T. Net’s mission expanded over time to include other kinds of teaching. One program called Claim a County sends pairs of teachers throughout Mongolia. They run summer schools for the herders’ children, teaching English and Biblical principles. Some children only get to attend school in the summer because in the winter their families live too far from the county center. The English lessons attract many children from grades 1 to 12, and night classes for adults often begin, too. All the teachers are Christians, and frequently, the love they show to the communities lead to churches being planted. The program is very well-received. Some county leaders even beg the teachers to stay beyond the three-year limit.
My parents and I traveled to several of the counties involved in the Claim a County program. We traveled with my father’s friend Morris (an American who has done many short mission trips to Mongolia), a Mongolian driver named Jagaa, and the president of V.E.T. Net, Ganzo, who translated for us. First we visited a few areas where the program was over to encourage believers. My father led devotions for both our team and local people every day, except for one day when I led devotions. Morris, a businessman, led workshops about budgeting and personal finance. We also spent time talking to the locals with Ganzo’s help and listening to their stories.

We spent three days at the first county center and then moved to a second. But next day we heard some terrible news. A van carrying some teachers who planned to meet us had rolled over. We rushed toward the next county center, where my parents, Morris and I were supposed to wait while Ganzo and Jagaa went to help the accident victims. A local Christian leader went with us. Eventually, we reached a point where the road was so flooded that we could not pass, so we turned to find another route. But then our van sank into the mud. After a lot of pushing and gathering wood and stone to put under the tires, we realized we couldn’t get it out. My parents and I got in the local Christian leader’s car with Ganzo and drove toward the next town center looking for a truck to pull our van out. We finally found a ger with a truck outside, only to discover that the truck was out of gas. We agreed to buy gas at the next county center, bring it back and pay to use the truck. My parents and I were dropped off at a dormitory where we would be staying.

Ganzo and the local Christian leader got the truck, pulled the van out and went to get the other van. Meanwhile, we received a call from one of the teachers who had been in the accident. She was only a bit bruised, but the other teacher had injured her arm. The driver had seemed fine at first, but it turned out he had a concussion, and at this point its effects were just becoming plain. But no one at the dormitory knew enough English to explain this to us. All we were told was, “The driver … his body is very bad.”

Praise God, our team was able to pick them up and bring them to the hospital (really a clinic) in the center where we were staying. The next day Jagaa drove them back to Ulaanbaatar to get medical treatment. Now, they are all safe and recovering.

The county where we ended up was in its first year of Claim a County. We worked with two wonderful teachers, Mogi and Nara. I spent lots of time with Mogi, the English teacher. Her “textbook English” was excellent, but since she didn’t have much contact with native speakers, she had some trouble with pronunciation. So she had me teach the students all the new vocabulary, read passages out loud and generally help in the class. The children were very enthusiastic and eager to ask us questions about ourselves. They were divided into two classes: grades 1-6 and grades 7-12. Eventually, Mogi divided the younger class in half because of the age difference and the class’s size. It had over 40 students. I really enjoyed getting to know Mogi. She was a very kind young woman who clearly cared about her students and wanted to be the best teacher she could be. My parents and Morris visited Nara’s character education class and said she was also an excellent teacher.

After four days at that county center, Jagaa returned, so we moved on to one more county center. We couldn’t sit in on classes there, but we brought the teachers some supplies. We spent the night in a ger and then got up early to make our way across the bumpy dirt roads back to Ulaanbaatar.

I was continually amazed at the faith, generosity and hospitality of the Christians I met in Mongolia. The country is mostly Tibetan Buddhist, and Christians are an extreme minority, so they experience a lot of pressure from neighbors and relatives. But they have a truly inspiring love for God and for each other. The work I did in Mongolia was only a small contribution to God’s mission there, but it is a contribution I was honored to make.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Christian Worldview and Martial Arts

Once when I was in college, I was hanging out with a group of guys from our Christian fellowship group. The conversation turned to MMA, and one of them asked if anyone in the group knew martial arts. After a moment of hesitation, I said, “I have a black belt in kung fu.” One of them burst out laughing. It seemed ridiculous that a sweet, quiet girl like me would do kung fu.

But I wasn’t joking. My black belt came from the kids’ program at my kung fu school, but my school was run by a teacher trained in Taiwan who had very high standards for his students – even young ones. It took me about seven years of consistent hard work to gain the black belt. I’m really out of practice now, but it was a fun experience, and I can still do all the basic techniques and some of the forms.

That’s why I was so interested in a blog post by Warren Fox, another American Christian martial artist living in Taipei. Fox described how he began learning to fight as a child. He, unlike me, learned martial arts for self-defense; he was an African American growing up in a town full of KKK supporters. The post, which I highly recommend, also talks about some more general issues related to the origin and morality of martial arts.

As I see it, martial arts raise two potential problems for Christians. The first is that they’re designed for violence. If one is a pacifist, I see how this would make them unacceptable. But most Christians I know aren’t. And those who aren’t opposed to force in principle shouldn’t reject martial arts for this reason. My martial arts instructor told us clearly that we should only use the techniques we learned if someone physically attacked us. Even then, we were urged to run away, or do just enough damage to allow ourselves to escape. (Self-defense note: if you stomp on the top of an attacker’s foot, where the shoelaces would be, you can usually break a few bones, which will prevent them from chasing you.) Kung fu was not for showing off or picking fights. It was a powerful tool that must be used wisely.

The other potential problem is that eastern martial arts developed in a culture with an unbiblical worldview. That in itself doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t use them. The same can be said of tea, paper and fireworks. The basics of martial arts consist of punches, kicks, blocks and stances – purely physical actions. But at higher levels, the techniques begin merging with Buddhist or Taoist philosophy (depending on the style). They begin blending with what Fox calls “ritual” – chants and techniques meant to tap into energy, either within your body or from a source outside yourself. These, I believe, can be spiritually dangerous and even demonic. But those are distinct from the techniques themselves, and it is possible to study and learn the techniques without delving into this dangerous territory.

Fox came to the conclusion that the ritualistic aspects of martial arts are a corruption of a good thing God gave us. I would argue that using it for unnecessary violence is the same.

But if God did create martial arts, then it must have real benefits. The obvious benefits of martial arts are self-defense and defense of others. When I studied kung fu, I did it because it was a form of exercise that I actually enjoyed and was reasonably good at. I have miserable hand-eye coordination, so any sport involving a ball was extremely difficult for me. Kung fu required different skills, and it wasn’t competitive. My goal was to compete only against myself, to do deeper, stronger stances and crisper, more accurate techniques than I did the previous class.

Kung fu also taught me discipline – the willingness to practice and even endure pain for my own improvement. And it helped me begin to feel more confident in myself. It even helped my body image – my legs may have been large and lumpy, but at least I knew they could throw a mean roundhouse kick.

These are all blessings, and they should lead us to praise the God from whom all blessings flow. The God who created our bodies, who knows every joint, muscle, ligament and tendon, who describes Himself as a mighty warrior and the leader of an army of angels, reveals his glory even through martial arts.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Sun in the Night

Those who like me grew up going to church are aware that Christians like to draw a distinction between joy and happiness. The idea is that happiness is based on circumstances, but joy is not. We like to quote 1Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

And that’s all well and good, but for someone who struggles with depression, it can be confusing. The Bible says we should be joyful in all circumstances. Depression is a circumstance. Therefore we should be joyful when we’re depressed. What?

This seems impossible, so I started examining each step of the argument. I don’t want to deny the truth of Scripture (by saying we don’t have to be joyful always). Arguing that depression is a sin (not a “circumstance”) also doesn’t make sense to me (for reasons I can explain if people are interested). So, paradoxical as it sounds, there must be a way to find joy in depression.

I’ve come to a tentative solution: joy in the midst of depression looks less like happiness and more like hope. I think the details are better explained in poetry than in prose.

The Sun in the Night
Joy is the sun that fills my world with light,
That paints the flowers with their rainbow hue,
That crowns the dancing waves with diamonds bright
And shimmers out from every drop of dew.

But sorrow strikes – I spin into the dark.
Night rises up to steal the sunlight’s throne.
A hungry void devours every spark.
Night hisses, “Light is dead. You are alone.”

Yet though the sun is hidden from my gaze,
It does not for that reason cease to be.
I see it in the moon’s reflected rays
And grasp at hope’s unfelt reality.

Joy’s gravity holds me within my way,
Saves me from slipping out into despair.
It guards me till I spin back into day
And dawn paints roses in the morning air.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Two Poems on Suffering

It's been a rough month. My last post touched on a news item that hit close to home, but there has been a lot of other bad news since then. We've had bombings in Boston (which also hit close to home, since I went to school there) an explosion in Texas, and earthquake in Sichuan, China, continued civil war in Syria, and a collapsed building in Bangladesh, not to mention countless other tragedies, many of which probably didn't get reported. All this bad news has caused me to think a lot about how messed up the world is. These are my best attempts at expressing my thoughts so far.

Waiting for Hope
We wait within this world of pain
Where sunlit days explode in fire
Directed by some dark desire
The shrapnel falls like April rain

We wait within this world of fear
With trembling rocks beneath our feet
Our shelters crumble in the street
And with them falls all we hold dear

We wait within these feeble frames
Where battles rage in every cell
The parts against the whole rebel
Or fall to famine, flood or flame

We wait – but if we raise our eyes
To look beyond our dying sun
In heaven sits the Living One
Upon whose wings from death we rise

We wait, and through the night we sing
Undimmed, the hidden stars still shine
Hate will give way to love divine
As ice dissolves in certain spring

And the second poem:
Prayer of Suffering
O God who hears our every plea,
When darkness blocks the sunlight’s beams
When bomb blasts shatter tranquil air
And cheers and laughter turn to screams,
We cling to hope that you are there.

O God of glory, fiercely just,
The cosmos rests within Your hand,
O master of each hurricane,
Although we do not understand,
We beg You for the grace to trust.

O Christ who bore our every grief,
Absorbed death’s fullest agony
When grief and pain impale our hearts
Back to Your spear-torn side we flee,
Your blood is balm for our relief.

O Christ who overthrew the grave
Within Your triumph we find peace,
We thirst for Your returning day
When You will cause all war to cease
And Your tormented people save.

O Spirit who grants every grace,
Infuse our hearts with mercy’s power,
To break the bonds of fear and pain
And even in this evil hour
With selfless love the night to face.

O Holy Spirit, living flame,
Send out Your glory’s radiant beams
To pierce the heart of evil’s throne,
Defeating dark, demonic schemes
And bringing honor to Your name.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To My Fallen Comrade

Hearing the tragic news about the death of Matthew Warren, Rick Warren’s son, stirred up deep feelings in me. I realized that we had much in common – so much so that but for God’s mercy his story could have been mine. We were fairly close in age, both Christians raised in Christian homes with parents who do some kind of ministry (my father has even worked with Rick Warren on a project), and we both struggled with mental illness for years. But I pulled out of it (more or less), while Matthew never did. This is a terrible time for the Warren family, and although I know nothing I say can heal this grief, I am offering my prayers to the One who can. I dedicate this poem to Matthew Warren and hope it will bring some kind of catharsis and/or comfort to those who are grieving.

To My Fallen Comrade
It was a weary, lonely fight we fought
Standing side by side, yet miles and miles apart
Upon the blackened landscape of our thoughts.

With all our strength we strove each morning,
Wrestling our weary bodies from the beds
Where we had fought, bled, wept
For sleep that fled.

With every breath we breathed we choked
Upon the black and burning smoke that cloaked
Our every move, obscuring sight,
With darkness deafening our ears
To words of hope.

We struggled through the days, weeks, months and years,
Begging our Lord for peace that did not come,
Striking at shadows, never knowing
Where to swing to smite the beast
That battered, bruised and broke our hearts until they hurt to beat
And every breath burned.

How did I escape that battelefield
To find this sweet oasis where the air
Is clear and light can fill my eyes?
But you, my brother both in faith and battle blood,
Are fallen, and my heart is filled with tears.

I long to tear into that demon in the dark
That stole you from this world
With so much joy untasted,
With so much good undone,
But there is nothing I can do.

So rest, my brother, in the sleep that once fled
Until the day when agony and death will lie dead
And we will dance where once the darkness reigned
And weep no more.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mount Moriah

My Bible study has been reading Genesis, and last week we studied chapter 22, in which God called Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Like any good father, Abraham loved his son deeply, and Isaac was also the promised son through whom God had promised Abraham an enduring legacy. That legacy would include the Messiah, which is why I refer to Isaac as the “child of hope.” However, the first two couplets could also refer to another “child of hope” whom I mention more explicitly at the end of this sonnet.

Mount Moriah
Would God demand as idols did of old
Youth’s priceless blood poured out in sacrifice?
The child of hope by heavenly voice foretold
Cut off from Earth by ceremony’s slice?
His servant flinched but faltered not in fear.
He rose beside pale light of trembling dawn
While stillness masked his sorrow’s silent tear,
Perplexed but trusting hope’s child would live on.
His trembling hand held up the awful knife.
Beneath its blade his bound beloved lay.
But then a word, a trade of life for life,
The boy was saved; grace shone in bright display,
An echo of far greater grace God gave
When His beloved Son He did not save.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Song

Echoing out of the expanse of eternity is a song.
It flows in flawless three-part harmony from one Singer’s voice, vast and vibrant.
Its chords resound with such magnificence that the universe springs into being solely for the purpose of resonating with it.
Its harmony rings out in the treble tweeting of birds, the staccato rhythm of rain, the baritone bellow of the elephant, the tender lullaby of a mother.

But humanity in its vanity chooses not to sing along.
In our insanity we demand the right to compose solos for ourselves, rather than letting our voices meld into the overpowering orchestra.
We plug our ears with distractions – toys, wealth, pleasure, fame, flattery
We bang on everything we can touch, hoping to drown out the song, striking wildly at others and ourselves.
We create a cacophony so we don’t have to listen, then loudly conclude that since we can’t hear the Song, it must be a myth manufactured to silence our voices.
Its vaulting melodies are replaced with the grinding of machinery, inane chatter, whispers of gossip, voices raised in quarreling, the crack of whips, the thumping of soldiers’ steps, the sobbing of frightened children silenced by a gunshot.

Yet the song plays on.
The Singer’s voice will not be silenced, though it may sound soft and slow, sadden by our suffering.
The chords continue, constantly calling us to stop.
To listen.
To rejoin the chorus.
The song longs to seep into our tone-deaf souls, giving us new ears, hearts and voices.
The music will not stop until all discord resolves in radiant harmony.
For the Singer is also a Composer, and He planned a flawless finale before the first note was sung.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Call to Adventure

The word “adventure” can evoke a wide variety of feelings – excitement, nostalgia, longing, fear. It ties together stories told across geography, era and culture. The word itself is enough to make children’s eyes sparkle, to inspire them to create imaginary worlds and picture themselves as the heroes. Adults don’t always react so enthusiastically, though. Maybe the monotony of everyday life has stifled the longing for adventure, or maybe years of bitter experience have taught us that anything out of the ordinary is dangerous. We may begin to think of adventures as, to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, “nasty, unpleasant things that make you late for breakfast.”

But I think the longing for adventure is still there, buried in our hearts. It’s why we race to see movies like The Avengers, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. In one scene in The Hobbit, Bilbo goes running after Gandalf and the dwarves exclaiming, “I’m going on an adventure!” His reaction makes sense because we share the source of Bilbo’s excitement – a longing to do something heroic.

This desire is strong and real, but even in movies, it’s not all that drives heroes. Often heroes reluctantly agree to take a stand when great evil threatens their home or loved ones.

This may seem distant from our everyday experience – we don’t often encounter mad scientists or evil wizards bent on world domination. But the world is still full of evil, and as I learned last month it does threaten the things closest to us.

Last month, the approach of Christmas stirred up fond memories and longing for my home. In my homesickness, I was tempted to think of my home as an idyllic location like the Shire where we can live safely, far from stress, danger and evil. The Newtown massacre sent me into a tailspin of mourning, in part because it made me realize that senseless, radical evil isn’t distant – it can ravage even my home state.

Evil is all around us, but we can still fight it. We must fight with all the power we have, whether great or small, in every circumstance we find ourselves in. That means saying no to the evil that would engulf our own souls, and it also means reaching out and bringing what light we can into the darkness. 

For me, that meant passing a card around the office and sending it to Sandy Hook Elementary School. It means writing posts like this that I hope will be helpful and encouraging. It means looking for opportunities to help others and make their lives a little brighter. Every time we choose to do good instead of evil, to bless instead of cursing, to love or to forgive, we strike a blow against the darkness. And by engaging in the battle against evil, we can find the adventure our hearts crave.

Light, truth and goodness will win in the end, but until then, we have an opportunity to engage in this epic battle. By taking a stand against evil, we not only help others, but we also give ourselves the opportunity to become the heroes we were meant to be.

I’d like to close with a quote from Winston Churchill, a man far more articulate than me, who faced evil far more dangerous and powerful than I do.

Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.