Friday, November 23, 2012

Turkea Dae

For the title of this post, I'm channeling the age-old tradition from my [horrendous] middle school days where the Tuesday before Thanksgiving everyone would don ridiculous outfits and bask in the glory of the forthcoming relief from school work. I myself never attended (I was always being whisked away to go out of town), but seeing the words still brings a reminiscent smirk to my lips. (Middle school was just awkward, okay?)

Since it is Thanksgiving (or it was), it's only appropriate that I give thanks for the little things that have crossed my mind over the last few days and weeks that, quite simply, just make me happy:

family and friends ~ seesters ~ much-needed afternoon naps ~ snoozing cats ~ old letters ~ laughter ~ a time to just  be ~ the glossy pages of new magazines ~ stories ~ podcasts ~ learning ~ books (old, new, used, and loved) ~ poppies ~ bookstores ~ the smell of coffee ~ a comfy bed ~ not having to set an alarm in the morning ~ hot showers ~ rain ~ thunderstorms ~ sunshine ~ clouds ~ mountains ~ snow ~ skiing ~ photography ~ good food ~ libraries ~ writing ~ LLYC ~ dancing ~ wind chimes ~ new school supplies ~ good dreams ~ vivid dreams (good or bad) ~ antiques ~ thrift stores ~ cozy sweaters ~ breaks from school ~ my violin ~ classical music ~ bluegrass ~ friends (old and new) ~ funny curses (Egads! Blast!) ~ new words ~ Mumford and Sons 

There's so much more, of course, but these are the ones that came to mind.

Old letters: nostalgia 
Beet juice & Josie
Turkey feathers and flowers: a typical centerpiece at our household
Mmm... canned cranberry sauce
Sweet potato casserole: a family recipe & tradition

Happy holidays and safe travels, friends!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Pull of Power

In light of the elections yesterday, I ask you, dear reader, to consider what the leaders of our country face every day: the struggles they confront and the difficulties they face. No matter which political party you identify with, whether you are excited about the possibilities of the next four years or are considering moving to Canada, I beg you to pause for a moment and remember what really matters, both in this life and the next. 

This is sermon I wrote about a year and a half ago for my church's youth Sunday (first, don't let that dissuade you if you don't believe), and I think its themes are still relevant, especially in light of the last few months' events. I hope my point is clear. But mostly, I hope we can all re-learn (because we seem to have lost this ability in the last few years) to respect each other, no matter our political stances or beliefs, whether we agree or disagree.


Think about the word and all of its burdensome implications just for a moment. Let its syllables roll through your mind; let it fill your very being, uninhibitedly, for just a moment. You can feel it in your veins, can’t you? That slow, tingling feeling that begins in the tips of your fingers, then tickles its way up your arms, works its way into your veins, fuels your adrenaline, and slowly, persistently, and surely ensnares your heart. So many people get a rush from this feeling, as history so blatantly reflects, and it still continues to blow my mind that such a feeling has dominated countless, irreversible actions and altered the lives of so many people, and will continue to do so until the Messiah returns.
Power’s prominence is evident in the passage of the apostle John, when Jesus is sentenced to the ultimate suffering, the ultimate humiliation, what I consider to be one of the greatest acts of cruelty, one that is still too great to wrap my mind around: crucifixion. Pilate confronts the high priests, saying:

“Here is this man!”

As soon as the chief priests saw him, they shouted, “Crucify, crucify!” 

(Can’t you see them, anger blurring their eyes, sun-tanned fists hurled in the air, longing to bring their supposed “justice?”)

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I have no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
Their Messiah has come; their deliverer, their Savior, come to die so that they might live an eternal life, and they claim that this amazing man must die because of their Law? One might be flabbergasted now, reading these hateful words, but in reality, is their fear and anger incomprehensible? How many of us could honestly tell ourselves that, in that moment, we would have done anything but betray the Son of God, not condemn him, but show Him the love that he persistently shows us? I know I wouldn’t have, and there is no point lying to myself about it: I can be a coward. Ironically, the one thing in this world that makes me truly cowardly is not fear, anxiety, of anything of that nature. It is power. Once it’s obtained, often worked for, it seems impossible to let it go.

Four summers ago, I was blessed enough to be provided the opportunity to travel all the way to South Africa to go hunting with my wonderful father. We were planning to hunt, and I was there to employ my love of photography to capture every aspect of the trip. At the second location we visited, after a little bit of persuasion, it was my turn to hunt. My animal of choice was a kudu: an animal that my dad would jokingly say later I chose because of the sheer largesse of its magnificent horns.

Once our professional hunter selected the poor beast for me to shoot, the pursuit began. Looking back on it all, the whole situation seems rather absurd: me quietly leaping from the side of the car, whispered, urgent instructions by my high-strung professional hunter, crawling through dirt into a ditch, and a flat three seconds maximum to align the cross hairs and make my mark. The shot was unlike anything I had ever heard. Oh, I’ve been hunting several times, so the sound is really not new to me, but the fact that something literally exploded because of my delicate “squeeze” of a touch nearly knocked me off of my feet. The kick of the gun didn’t hurt for that part, either.

This shot echoed unlike anything I have ever experienced in my young adult life. It sizzled like a firecracker, only to be outdone by the shouts of glee erupting from both the professional hunter and my dad. Unnoticed by either of them, however, was not a look of shock as they might have assumed at the time, but instead an ironic triumphant feeling mingling with the bitter aftertaste of horror. The horror was not strictly caused by what I had just done: hunting does not bother me. Instead, my first, intense feeling was that tingling of the senses, ensnaring of my heart: power. Horror only came later because I realized that I actually liked this raw force, this passion and overwhelming intensity that flowed through my veins.

I had no idea what I could do with it, but hours later the reasons why men and women cling to power more than any of their worldly possessions suddenly became crystal-clear. Power is invigorating, plain and simple. It’s addictive. Its consequences are nowhere near as simple as that. It is, no doubt, what consumed the minds of the high priests when Pilate was showing Jesus to them, and they screamed, “Crucify, crucify!” The Messiah they had been hoping for, dreaming of, had finally arrived, and they got a man riding humbly in to the city on the back of a donkey, when they wanted and thought they needed a valiant man, conquering their battles and obliterating those who had wronged the Jewish people. I’m sure that disappointment was unbearable, but then when they realized that everything, every part of their being was to go to God, there was no way they could relinquish their hold on that, as well. It ultimately meant giving their power to God.

It is the ultimate surrender. Surrender: another word with negative connotations, of course, often implies weakness and failure, just as the Jews might have seen when their Savior was not a belligerent conqueror. I can empathize with their hesitance about giving up their power: it means losing control, surrendering everything to one being, which is no easy task. The rewards, however, are incomparable to the superficial rewards given by the world. This feeling of surrender is unfound joy, better than any tingling in the fingertips or rush of adrenaline: it’s pure, unadulterated, and completely indescribable. Speaking from blessed experience, this feeling is all consuming, more invigorating than anything ever imagined. It truly is a light unto my soul, a lamp unto my feet. It may seem strange, but this joy makes glow with a radiance that can only come from the knowledge that I dedicate my life to a loving, caring, and amazing God. Think about surrender for just one moment. Surrender yourself to God, and let the joy guide you closer to Him. Feel it in your veins, helping your heart beat with purpose and peace. Let it consume you. If you remember anything from this, remember this one word, and let it bring you comfort instead of fear: surrender.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Love, Revised

"When we look through the eyes of Jesus, we see new things in people. In the murderers, we see our own hatred. In the addicts, we see our own addictions. In the saints, we catch glimpses of our own holiness. We can see our own brokenness, our own violence, our own ability to destroy, and we can see our own sacredness, our own capacity to love and forgive. When we realize that we are both wretched and beautiful, we are freed up to see others the same way."
--Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution


No, I'm not talking about the sappy, cloying, saccharine kind of love that drips from the lyrics of countless sonnets, poems, and songs throughout the ages. I'm talking about the kind of love that bleeds. The kind of love that sacrifices. The kind of love that weeps, the kind that bears so much compassion that it causes one to see other people for who they truly are. This is the kind of love that Jesus talks about throughout the gospels, reminding the apostles that "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).

Our world has split into this disgusting notion of us vs. them. This notion inhibits us from truly loving our neighbor, from really loving them for all that they are: human beings full of flaws and imperfections that blend beautifully to reflect the image of God. It's so sad how often we forget that our neighbor (not just physically--even our neighbors across the sea, even the people we perceive as our enemies) bears the image of God, just as we do, just as Adam and Eve did, just as our soldiers do, just as the person who wronged us does, just as the homeless man or woman who is huddled, invisible on the concrete does. How often we, myself included, all forget that. 

What if we, as human beings, as Christians, as citizens of humanity, actually started to see our neighbors as someone to really, deeply, and compassionately love with every fiber of our beings, no matter what it looks like or how difficult it is? As Jamie Torkowski so aptly said: "Our job is to love people. When it hurts. When it's uncool and embarrassing. Our job is to stand together, to carry the burdens of one another and to meet each other in our questions."

This, I feel, is what is at the heart of Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution. He touches on numerous other--and very significant--topics, but this, I feel, is the most important. It's rare that a book really makes me stop and reexamine my life and what I value. In all actuality, with all of the books I've read in my short lifetime, I don't think any book has ever really done that. Claiborne has made me uncomfortable and made me aware of my actions and my decisions. He has made me aware that all of my decisions bear consequences, whether it affects me directly or someone else indirectly. Furthermore, I am reminded that the moment I decided to be a Christian, I promised my life and existence to someone, something else. 

There are so many things I could reflect on (and need to reflect on) after reading The Irresistible Revolution, but the thought process could potentially fill its own book. (Narrowing down this post to a few hundred words has been a challenge--I have numerous pages of notes, thoughts, and quotes scribbled all over the place.) I encourage, no, implore you, dear reader, to read this amazing book. No, you might not agree with everything he says, but it will challenge you and your faith in ways you could never imagine. (Well, I at least never imagined.) These few words barely scratch the surface on my thoughts and reactions to Shane's words, but I encourage you to read it for yourself and make what you will of it. (Isn't the freedom of reading beautiful?)

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
--Psalm 139:13-14

After reading, I had so many ideas, thoughts, and reactions I wanted to share with the blogosphere, but it immediately became apparent that it would turn into a collection of essays in and of itself, so if you have any questions, are curious, or disagree with me (as it is entirely possible, and I welcome it), feel free to e-mail me, comment, or whatever your heart desires.