Monday, November 3, 2008

The Margins

Some thoughts after class and a few other things that have been swirling around in my head.

Hebrews 11: 13-16 “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, or people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them."

I have found myself to be a man on the margins, a member of a small minority taken from a large majority, on a sojourn in a foreign land. I am an Asian man, a minority in the United States, only 4.2% according to the latest census. Yet, considering the whole world, Asian people are in the majority, they are the largest growing group. India and China alone make up almost 1/3 of the world’s population. I am a member of a small minority, taken from a large majority, on a sojourn in a foreign land. While I was living in Salt Lake City, UT, I was in the minority as a Christian. The majority of people in Salt Lake are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Yet, considering the United States as a whole, Christians are in the majority (at least for now). I am a member of a small minority, taken from a large majority, on a sojourn in a foreign land.

Because of this I find great comfort in the affirmation that our God chooses the least and the lost, the outcast, the marginalized and the outsider. God chose a small nation, beaten down by many, the slave and servant and vassal state of a rotating who’s who of nations – Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome – to be the purveyors of glory and salvation and the word of God. God chose to come as a Jewish man from the backwards town of Nazareth (“what good could ever come from there?” Philip asks). God chose fishermen and tax collectors and sinners and lepers as friends and disciples. Christianity, lest we forget, was once the minority. Christianity, lest we forget, was once persecuted because it was not tied to any national identity, because it was a kingdom not of this world.

In fact, I believe that this has been one of Christianity's core problems. Once Christianity became THE state religion, the majority, the world power, things went utterly wrong with it. The Inquisition, the Crusades, Slavery – absolute power corrupting absolutely. The Church is not free from corruption. As much as this may sound un-American (come on, McCarthy) I can't wait for the day when Christianity is no longer the dominant religion in America. It scares me how Christians like James Dobson and his group Focus on the Family can put out letters like this.

Although the writer of this letter insists that Christians should not hope for persecution or for these things to happen, I say: BRING IT ON. I want to remember what it was like to be a child of a God of outcasts, members of a kingdom not of this world, sojourners looking for a better home.

So that is why, for me, the lyrics of a modern-day prophet hit so hard and so true:

A King and a Kingdom
Derek Webb
Appears on: Mockingbird

Who’s your brother, who’s your sister
You just walked past him, I think you missed her
As we’re all migrating to a place where our Father lives
‘Cause we married into a family of immigrants

So my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a man

My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood

It’s to a King and a Kingdom

There are two great lies that I’ve heard

The day you eat of the fruit of that tree you will not surely die
And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle class Republican
And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like him

How can we realize that we are part of a family of immigrants, part of Abraham’s family who left home, part of the Israelites who traversed the desert, part of all of those wanderers who never saw the things that they had been promised? How can we reclaim our identity as a wandering people, as sojourners in a foreign land, children of a God who is the God of the outcast, co-heirs of a kingdom not of this world?

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Odd thing, my last post lists the day I began to write it, not the day it was posted.  I wonder if I can change that.  Anyway, faithful reader, I hope that you will also notice that I added a little "widget" to my "about this blog" section.  It's a calculator of a program that I'm working through right now called National Novel Writing Month, or nanowrimo for short.  Basically, it involves writing as much as you can in the month of November, hopefully enough for a 50,ooo word (175 page) novel.  The writing is straight from the hip, no editing, just writing, writing, writing.  I am doing this with the intent to break my habit of over-editing as I write, and to help me to discipline myself to writing more.  As you can see, on day one I did not accomplish much, but I am going to keep trying, going to keep writing.  So, you can follow my progress!

If you want to learn more about nanowrimo, just go to

Thanks again, faithful reader!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Poetry Series: Part 1 of 11 - The Collector

Greetings faithful reader.  I apologize for my long absence, time has not been my friend (see the poem below)!  Also, I started this post almost two weeks ago, and only finished it now.  I have three posts 3/4 composed, waiting to be finished and published.  So, finally, here's one.  Hopefully the other ones will be posted soon.  

I hope that you are well.  I'd like to move back in this blog to some thoughts on writing.  In fact, I'd like to present a miniature series of poems.

I'm taking a class right now entitled Writing as Faith Practice.  One of our requirements is to write three pieces, two of which can be academic papers, and one of which must be creative.  Or, we could simply write three creative pieces (which is the option I chose).  I started out this bold endeavor in my favorite realm: the short story.  Unfortunately, after a few weeks of writing nothing solid was coming on a story.  So I decided to try my hand at poetry.  What came out was a series of eleven acrostic poems, using favorites quotes from the Bible as the spine of each poem.  The poems are named after either the writer of the quote, the person speaking the quote, or the person about whom the quote was written.  I'll present each of them here, in the order that I wrote them, and then discuss the writing process below.  I hope you enjoy.

The Collector

Even eternity used to seem small,
Tucked in my heart like a toddler in my arms,
Eyelids drooping, breath running slow,
Resting its rosy cheek in the crook of my chest.
Now I wonder if my fear of the unknown is lack of love,
If infinity is rendered harmless when you hug it like a child.
Time marches like a two-year-old trying to run,
Yielding to the gravity of my mind.

I used to gasp when it fell down hard;
Now I know it's more resilient than I am to its changing.

The truth of the matter is I don't understand
How it works; I stand in wonder of it, winded by its
Embrace as it rushes to hug me 'round my hips.

Helpless, I watch it grow, coming slowly to understand that
Eventually I'll have to let it go.  I'm
An unwilling parent of an unruly child,
Remembering the good old days when it used to
Take my hand as we walked together and
Squeeze it tight.

Or maybe I'm the child, the prodigal son of
Father Time, running from home with my inheritance.

Maybe eternity waits with a fatted calf, arms outstretched to
Embrace me.  And maybe, instead of holding it tight, I
Need to rest in its arms and let it rock me to sleep.

Now, this acrostic comes from one of my favorite lines in the book of Ecclesiastes: "I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  he has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." - Eccl. 3:10-11  This passage, by the way, comes right after the long litany made famous by the Byrds: "A time to be born; a time to die..." etc.  If you've never heard the song before:

The reason I love this passage is that it says, yes, there is a time for all of these things, for even death and war, but that these things, too, will pass away and that everything will be made beautiful in its time.  God has, therefore, set eternity in our hearts, has given us a hope beyond ourselves, beyond our understanding.  Derek Webb put this whole passage into song much better than I think I ever could in poem:

This Too Shall Be Made Right
Derek Webb

Appears on: The Ringing Bell


people love you the most for the things you hate
and hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
people judge you on a curve
and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
this too shall be made right

children cannot learn when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells
whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
this too shall be made right

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
we say we’re just trying to stay alive
but it looks so much more like a way to die
this too shall be made right

there’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives
a time for hunger and genocide
this too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who i choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder it’s suicide
this too shall be made right

Also whistling around in my head while I wrote this poem was a quote from one of my favorite old-timey theologians: St. Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." from Augustine's Confessions.

The idea of comparing time to a child came to me through the idea of having something tucked into our hearts, even something like eternity.  How can something that large fit into something so small?  A mystery.  And a welcome one.

Blessings to you, dear faithful reader.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hi everyone.  I just wanted to get out on the front page a conversation started by my latest blog post.  I think it's a good one to have.  My friend Laurie posted a wonderful, balancing response to my post yesterday and I again responded to her.  Be safe, everyone, and watch the debate tonight!  May we live in love and not fear.

Marc, I respect your well-thought out, researched post, just as I respect your political position. I agree that fear and hate are terrible, divisive forces, but I don't agree that either candidate is trying to drive wedges of fear and hate into America. I consider the questions regarding Senator Obama's past associations valid, just as I consider questions regarding McCain's pas associations valid. We are so influenced by those around us; we should be able to ask about those influences.

What I can't fathom is how the supporters of both candidates can let their fervor turn so ugly. The recent McCain rally was well-covered, and we're both familiar with that, but I found this article that identifies some ugly, sad and scary behaviors of Senator Obama's supporters:

Townhall Article, Obama Supporter's Rage

No politician, no president, can change this. Other than just being good and decent people ourselves, how do we and our friends change this?

My Response:


Thank you for adding some levity and balance to the post. Those actions by Obama's supporters were NOT well covered and I hadn't found anything about them. So again, thank you.

I think I see a different fault in this situation in both men. I would like to make a slight nuance of a difference between what you perceived me saying about John McCain and what i would really like to say, and then to make a comment about the difference between this and the fault that I see Obama having. I think that I didn't clearly state what I see McCain doing wrong. I honestly don't think that he's trying to put a wedge in, or trying to divide people and spread hate. I think he's a much better man than that. I do think, however, that in trying to win this political election, he has done some things, I believe, without as much foresight as they needed, that have stoked the fires of hate that were already there. People already questioned Obama's patriotism, people already wondered whether Obama was Muslim, people wondered about whether or not Obama was born in the United States, people wondered whether or not they should fear him. By using this specific line of attack, which might have an arguably viable point about Obama's judgment, McCain, I hope unwittingly, added fire to these flames. If you watch the add on McCain's website about Ayers and Obama, it calls Obama dangerous, and constantly has pictures of him next to someone that they call a terrorist. That word-picture association sends a strong, subliminal message that, perhaps, Obama could be a terrorist, especially when coupled with Sarah Palin's remarks that Obama was "palling around with terrorists," and McCain's remarks that Obama had started his campaign in the living room of a terrorist. It also makes the subtle assumption that Barack Obama approves of these terrorist actions, and, in fact, this is what McCain's question of "judgment" is asking. This would make Obama seem like a person who would want to bomb the Pentagon, making him seem like a terrorist. Again, I don't think that this was McCain's intent, and I hope that it wasn't, but what I worry about is the foresight that was lacking in approving and condoning the use of those images and specific rhetoric to attack Obama. It also makes me worry about McCain, who, as an honorable man, once said that he would rather lose the election than lose the Iraq war. But now, he's pulling out all the stops to win the election (as anyone extremely desirous to win would). This, however, I think has led to some missteps that are potentially harmful and stoke the fire of hatred.
Obama, on the other hand, obviously hasn't reined in these supporters of his who are doing these horrible things. Now, people are hard to control, and people on all sides of the political spectrum get crazy over their politics. So I do not fully fault either candidate for the action of their constituents. Obama should definitely react and try to calm down his supporters. However, as far as I can tell (and I tried to read as many speeches of both men and watch as many ads as possible), Obama's rhetoric has not added kindling to the misguided actions of his supporters. He has not implied anything about Sarah Palin's stance on abortion. He has not linked Palin or McCain to anyone that should be stoned for any action. While, again, I think Obama should be more proactive about making sure that things like this don't happen and that he should apologize for what his supporters have done, Obama's rhetoric has not supported their actions. McCain's rhetoric was not thought through enough for it not to support hateful actions.
Regardless, both men have said very partisan things. Both men have bashed the other's political party. Both men have told untruths about each other. And I think this is where we come in. Not only can we lead decent lives, but we can also spread the word about the truths of the campaign. I highlighted McCain's arguments against Barack Obama because I saw them as potentially dangerous and they were the thing, obviously, that was being covered in the news and that i had the most access to. But we can tell the truth about both Candidates. We can talk about how both are good men. We can look at the way they deal with issues and with other people as a way of discerning between them. We can spread love as opposed to hate. I regret that possibly my previous post was construed as saying something overly negative about McCain. I didn't not mean it to be that way. I do believe that he is a good, noble man at heart, and that's what is so sad to me, that his campaign has come to the point where his rhetoric could be misconstrued rather easily as supporting hateful things. So. All that to say, thank you for your post, again, and for adding to the conversation.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

To Disobey One's Conscience Is Neither Just Nor Safe.

I'd like to talk about the following videos and articles.  If you want the post that follows to make full and complete sense, please watch them and read them before you read the rest of the post.

I'm sorry.  I'm sure that's a lot to digest.  I know it was a lot for me.  I've been haunted by these things for the past two days.  It's been hard for me to continue with homework, hard for me to work with all of this weighing on my mind.

I've resisted stating my opinions on this political race for a long time.  Here and there, I've scattered seeds of how it might relate to fear and love and how we ought to act.  But my conscience calls me to do more.  And, as Martin Luther (the monk-turned reformer) once said:  "To disobey one's conscience is neither just nor safe.  God help me.  Amen."

I am afraid.  I will tell you that truth right now.  I am afraid of our fear.  Fear can do horrible things, can cause horrible things.  And fear leading to hatred is even worse.  As Martin Luther King Jr. once said:
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity.  Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity.  It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.  Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.
-Strength to Love, 1963

What I read in these articles, what I see in these videos, is fear turned to hate.  I readily admit that many of the writers and videographers of these pieces are probably biased.  I readily admit that I might be biased.  But I cannot ignore the plain fact that the people in these articles and videos, yelling "terrorist," and "kill him," and "commie @3$*$#@" and a whole host of other things have been scared into hate.

It is the unfortunate nature of elections to divide us.  But when that division turns to hate, people get hurt.  I'm worried.

As a biracial child, the uncle of two beautiful quadri-racial boys (I think I just coined that term; their father is African American and Central American, their mother Chinese and Dutch) I am struggling against an overwhelming fear.

I cannot, in good conscience, support John McCain because of his lack of good judgment, and the rhetoric of his campaign.  Let me clarify that I am not starry-eyed over Barack Obama either.  He has made many mistakes, and told many half-lies and untruths and has said many partisan things.  But the tenor of his arguments and the driving force that I see in his campaign is one of hope and not anger, calm and not strife, unifying and not dividing.  Over the last few weeks, however, I have become more and more convinced that John McCain, a good man, a strong man, an honorable man, has been corrupted by his own campaign.  As much as he has a right to say that he has been a maverick (and he has truly reached across the aisles and bucked the system), I think that he is no longer.  The nasty politics of Washington have tainted him.  More than this, I think that he lacks foresight.

I question his judgment because of what has happened recently in his campaign.  Could he not have foreseen that relating Obama to a Terrorist, questioning if we know who Obama is, playing down his patriotism and calling him "that one," during the debate could lead to hate?  Could he not have foreseen that using a William Ayers line of attack on a presidential candidate who is mistakenly called a muslim and whose name is often linked to a known terrorist, simply by the changing of one letter, would lead to people wondering if Obama is a terrorist, fearing him, hating him, calling for his death?  Could he not have foreseen, or at least controlled the rhetoric of the people who surround him, who pray that God would protect God's honor by defeating Obama, who tangentially relate Obama to "bad guys," who "pal around with terrorists," who send smear after smear against Obama, who incite crowds by linking Obama to Osama with bombing the Pentagon?  McCain, in his ads, has called on the American people to question the judgment of his opponent.  It has only caused me to question McCain's.

And even though I applaud McCain for trying to tone down the rhetoric, it obviously hasn't worked, and he still, a day later, uses the same tactics.  His running mate uses the same tactics.  Other people in his party use the same tactics.  And McCain has the audacity to mention that he doesn't want to tone down his constituents' ferocity, just ask them for more respect?  It's the ferocity that scares me.

I worry for Obama and his family, and my family.  In a world where racism still lives, where some jump at any chance to condemn and fear and hate and kill, I fear.  I do not think that everyone is acting in fear.  I do not believe that most people would kill out of hate.  But it only takes a few people with a desire to kill to cause incomprehensible damage in this world.

For those of you reading this blog who are questioning who Barack Obama is, whether he is related to terrorists, whether he was actually born in the United States, whether he is secretly trying to ruin the U.S., I've collected some facts for you.  If you've received a chain e-mail linking Obama to any number of questionable people and questionable things, I've covered that for you too.  Here are a few links:

All of these links are to, a wonderful website that has a whole host of articles that (as impartially as possible) seek to debunk lies about both candidates.  Believe me, there are a lot of things that Barack Obama has said that are misleading or downright false, and calls him out on them.  As far as I can tell, this website (recommended by many magazines and websites, both liberal and conservative and everything in between) is trying to get to the real truth behind the half-truths and political meanderings.  

I'm not asking you to vote for Barack Obama.  This post is not a political endorsement of any kind.  Please, follow the issues, find out what qualities you respect in a leader, make sure you really know what's going on and then vote for the candidate in whom you believe.  But I am calling you to search out your own heart, to look at the rhetoric that you have been listening to, to re-read the e-mails you've probably been sent.  I'm asking you to consider what those e-mails do to you, whether they make you angry and afraid.  I'm asking you to try to conquer your fear, as I am trying, with love.  I'm asking you to make an effort, every day, to learn the truth, and more importantly, to spread the truth.  I'm asking you to stop others when they spew forth hate, about either candidate.  I'm asking you to start standing up for those who have been oppressed.  I'm asking you to put a stop to the downward moral and ethical spiral that seems to be taking over our nation and our world.  It stops with us.  It stops now.  Here I stand; I can do no other; I cannot and will not recant.  God Help me, Amen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Change in Tactics (or Is That Strategies?)

During my Writing as Faith Practice course this morning I had a revelation, of sorts.  Really, it was an ongoing realization that began last week with a meeting with my Field Education Mentor (a pastor who is guiding me through the experience of working a 9 month internship at a church).  I realized that I really, truly am afraid of being misinterpreted.  I utterly despise being unclear, or being seen as unclear, or having my words twisted.  This is something, I think, that many people fear.  It is tied, I believe, to my fear of failure, and, even further back, to a desire for acceptance.  I want to be accepted, and feel that I will be shunned if I fail (even though I know this is not true, it is still a fugue roiling round in the back of my mind).  A part of failing is failing to communicate.  Another is being perceived to be something else, something that I don't want to be, and being perceived as a failure through that.

Let's be concrete.  Say that I write on this blog an analysis of a particular work of literature, perhaps THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.  In doing so, I write something that misrepresents my view of Dostoyevsky and his writings.  People then comment on the blog about my misrepresentation.  I realize that what I wrote was not true to what I desired to evoke.  I feel failure.

Now, this is a small failure, certainly, but one of the things that I fear.  I, perhaps too readily, depend upon public opinion for validation of the things I do.  I know this about myself, and have known it for some time.  Oddly enough, one of the things I have been battling is this feeling that I am less passionate about things because I have not let myself take risks, and have tried to block out other's opinions of myself.  By not being as emotionally available as I could be, I feel that I have, to some extent, blocked off my passions.  This has worried me.  I am caught between acknowledging what people say about me, hearing their true concerns and then viewing my life from an objective, healthy point of view, and putting up defense walls and trying to be everything to everybody.

Let me put it this way: I want to try to hear what others say and to look at my life through their eyes, yet I want what they say about me to be good (or at least neutral).  So, while I am more open to others (in some respects, as in listening to them), I am actually also less open to them ( as in not revealing my true, full self to them).  And I feel that this has also affected the way I view and interact with God.  I am open to God, to new words, to new directives, to a new hope, but I am not open with God.  Perhaps that difference in preposition is truly what I am talking about, being open to, but not open with.  This leaves me with a numbed sense of passion, and, in some respects, has led to the difficult discernment problem in which I find myself.

Now, in my class this morning we discussed the necessity of good writers to be vulnerable, to dive in, both to reading other great writers, and to dialoguing with those writers, and to being misinterpreted by their readers.  A good writer must both be open to and open with.  I am a self-conscious over-editor.  Every sentence I write I immediately analyze for accuracy (I just did it then, I added a word to make the sentence make more sense).  This means that when I finish writing (if I get into writing at all) I often end with something less personal, less emotional, more filtered.  I am constantly worried about what others will think of my writing, whether or not it is good enough for others to read.

This blog is an attempt to force me to simply put writing out there and to allow it to be responded to (AH!  dangling preposition.  I tried to think of a way to fix this sentence, but couldn't since I'm headed to class in 10 minutes.  Wait...."to simply put writing out there and to allow others to respond to it."   Still not the most concise or most-well-written sentence.  Sigh.  I included this as a snippet of what goes on in my mind as I write).  Meanwhile, I initiated early on in this blogging a policy (or tactic, or strategy...first presidential debate anyone?) of comment moderation.  This ties to my fear of being misunderstood or misrepresented.  So, I have taken the small, but for me, bold step of removing comment moderation.  I can still delete comments (I believe) but now your comments should appear right away, without any screening from me.

One small step for Marc...

Thanks for reading, O Faithful Reader!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

In Which I Confess My Utter Lack of Sense

My wife and I have spent the last hour and a half trying to figure out how to change text from the internet into a printable book format.  Here's the story:

So, I have to read Anselm of Canterbury's Cur Deus Homo - Why God Became Human - for my Systematic Theology Class.  Although I am very adept at reading blogs and news articles online, I hate reading works of theology online.  Go figure.  Our professor decided to save us money by having us read the text on the internet.  I was grateful for the saving of money, but dreading reading nearly 100 pages of a dense, theological text off of a bright computer screen.  This afternoon, while steeling myself to spend hours staring at a screen, I hit upon the idea of turning the text into a book.  After all, the text was in an online, printable format, and the copyright information said that it could be printed and used for educational purposes, just not for sale.  Perfect!  So, I went to our campus's nearby computer lab and downloaded the text into Microsoft Word.  Now, I could have just printed it as it was, but I'm also a stickler for durability, portability, readability and paper-saving.  So, I spent an hour and a half formatting the text into "book format," which, conveniently, Microsoft Office for Windows XP on the school computers/printers has readily available.  Anyway, I ended up printing the text on 55 pieces of paper, front and back, two "pages" per side, meaning that it looked like the pages of a regular paperback book.  Then I took it to Staples, where my wife was working this afternoon, had her cut the pages in half and then put them together with a card stock cover and spiral-binding.  All for only $2.50.  Not bad.

Now, there are a few other things that I would like to read/turn into books, such as old public domain hymn texts online, christian classics online, etc.  All in the public domain, no copyright.  I decided I wanted to work at home and try to format it all on my Mac.  No dice.  The Mac did not have the pleasant "book format" option.  So, I tried to emulate it with formatting.  No Dice.  And that was how I spent the last hour and a half.  Sigh.  All of that time when I should have been reading the book that I so nicely formatted and had bound this afternoon.  Welcome to my nonsensical life.

Other than that, life is good.  I'm busy and a little sleepy now, but I'm good.  Sigh.  Cur Deus Homo here I come!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Quick Life Update

Hello for the final time tonight, faithful reader.  Please read the two posts below, which complete my review of Jenny Jump State Forest and pose a few interesting (at least interesting to me) questions about fear.

As for my life, I am busier than a beaver or an ant before winter.  Over the last few weeks I have been preparing for the fall academic semester, hanging out with my wife and trying to relax as much as possible (to no avail).  Now I am in the thick of academia, about to plunge even further in its murky depths.  I am taking several fantastic classes this semester: Systematic Theology, Preaching, Writing as Faith Practice and Greek Translation.  I am also starting a unit of Field Education, working at a local Church in Trenton, NJ.  Needless to say, I am both eager and cautious about what lies ahead of me.  I hope, and fear, that I will be stretched this semester, in ways that I have never been.  I also hope that this will be a time of discernment for me, a time of questioning and finding answers, even if those answers lead to more questions.  

More than anything, I want to find joy and passion.  I want to know that I am at least getting out of the woods, even if I am not yet on the right path.  I want to know whether the light I see ahead is the daylight I so desire, or a train I should avoid.  I want to know if I am running away, or running toward, if I am escaping from or finally heading home.  Many of you know that I am caught in my thoughts between believing that I am called to parish ministry (being an ordained pastor) or academia (being a professor, or teach of some kind), or perhaps a third option (God only knows... literally).  Since I was in seventh grade, I have believed that I was called by God to do something.  For almost nine years I thought that that something was being a minister of the word and sacrament.  In fact, I never gave a second thought that this was my path.  

One day, during a class that aimed to view the pastor as a person, a class that focused on knowing oneself, the thought hit my like a train: what if I am not called to be a pastor?  I had been told this many times before, of course, that there were many callings, many vocations, many ways to live for God.  But I had never asked this question of myself.  I had been having a growing discomfort and apathy over the pastoral role, specifically the pastor as counselor and the pastor as administrator.  Slowly, I had begun to resent the fact that pastors nowadays, at least in the Presbyterian Church, are looked upon as administrators, counselors, healers, preachers, teachers, parents, prophets and a myriad of other things.  This seemed to me to contradict directly 1 Corinthians 12: 

"27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret?"

If not all are apostles and teachers and prophets and healers and interpreters and administrators, why are pastors supposed to be?  Why are we not calling more and more on our congregations to take up the gifts God has given them?  Why are we not, more and more, de-emphasizing the position of pastor, instead of lifting it higher and expecting pastors to be gods?  Pastors are simply members of the church, chosen, for a time, to lead, or to exhort, to comfort.  But this is the job of all.  And pastors are simply congregants who feel that God has given them something to say, a vision for the church.  They are no greater than and are not more gifted than the people in their congregations.

Compounding all of this was the fact that I had become more and more attracted to the idea of teaching.  I have always thought of myself as a teacher, and all through my life I have held in tension three future occupations: writer, professor, pastor.  I have focused much of my life on pastor, thinking that it was the "God-ordained" ministry, the only one that could be viewed as a true "calling," (and isn't this what many of us think?).  Yet I remember thinking often how wonderful it would be to teach, to see the light of understanding glow in students eyes, to impart knowledge, to learn from my students, to question with them.

As soon as I was struck by this thought, the thought that I did not have to be a pastor, I felt both great fear and a great release.  I was afraid for what I would tell my family and my wife's family, who had known me for years, and had heard me say many times that I was confident that I was going to be a pastor.  I was afraid to tell my friends, some of whom were depending on me, who were going to be pastors with me, who had asked me (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not) to officiate their weddings when I was finally ordained.  I was afraid of the fact that it might mean seven more years of schooling, seven more years of being poor.  I was afraid and ashamed that I had for so long talked to my wife about only being here for three years, and she had put some of her dreams on hold to come here to support me.  I was afraid that I was straying from the path.  And yet, simultaneously, a great burden that I hadn't known was there lifted off of my shoulders.  I carried it still, supported high and pulling slightly on my armpits, until I finally broke the news to my wife.  She sat in silence for a while, questioning, and then said what she has always said to me: "I will support you and love you wherever you go."  The straps on my burden broke.  I felt free, and yet still fearful.  Hard times and hard questions have followed, but God's love and the love of my wife have continued to sustain me.

I still do not know if I have simply shrugged off the cross I was meant to bear ("take up your cross and follow me," said Jesus) or if I escaped from my own preconceived notions of ministry and the call God has for me.  I don't know if I have left the path, or ventured toward it.  So this year is a time of discernment.  I'm still taking all of the necessary classes to be ordained (although I am no longer engaged in the long, tedious, expensive Presbyterian process of ordination).  I am still working in a church for a field education experience, about to do all the things that I have no passion for, to see if my passion is actually just tempered by fear and needs to be overcome by love.  

I apologize for that not-so-brief update.  It just poured out of me.  Thank you for reading, if you have read this far.  I am sure I'm not the only one searching for a meaning and a purpose.  Grace and Peace to you, faithful reader.

Communing with Nature 5: Jenny Jump Musings

Well, here we are, finally, the end of my Jenny Jump posts.  It is hard to pull exact thoughts from an event that occurred three weeks ago, but I remember generalities and certain images flash through my mind.

Fear.  I wrote briefly about this in the last two posts, but I would like to elaborate on it here.  I freely admit that I was deeply afraid at moments on this trip.  Black bears are not normally a problem in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountain ranges of Utah (at least not that I can remember).  So, though I have been camping before, I've never had to think about bears.  Our first night in Jenny Jump, I lay awake for several hours after Sarah had finally gone to sleep, jumping at every noise, wondering if we'd left any meat residue on anything outside, pondering whether or not woven plastic and fiber-glass poles were enough to keep out a four-hundred pound bear.  Rest eventually came by way of shear exhaustion and the uncomfortable realization that if we were attacked by a bear, at least we were together and it was our time to go.  As I lay thinking the second night, my mind went to our distant ancestors, cave-dwellers, roaming nomads, sheepherders.  How could they have done it?  They must have either just been used to the fear, or must have had a higher tolerance for frayed nerves.  No wonder everything was turned into some type of deity.  No wonder so many of the first stories involved animals as characters.  Anthropomorphizing something frightening and strange, by its very definition, means to make something more human, more acceptable, more like us.  And communal stories of tricksters and lovers and the comedy of tragedy turn the frightening night into something known, something contained, something that can be passed on from parent to child, a secret.  When we can name something, we have power over it, we can classify it, make it more manageable.  

Now we live in a time when the mystery of the animal and the danger of the night have shifted.  We constantly assert our dominance over all of nature.  We have declawed our nightmares.  Yet we still cling to our old tactic of naming things, categorizing them, telling stories.  But now we tell these stories about each other, turn each other into archetypes.  Fear of animals has become fear of each other -- or perhaps the fear was there all along, but now that we have conquered one, the other has moved forward in our minds.  Tribalism has existed for millennia, of course, and prejudice right along with it.  Still, we are now fighting against our very "nature," that engrained habit that tells us labeling something makes it more safe and more close, even if it also creates an artificial distance between souls.  

I will not comment here on the candidates in our current political race, neither the one for whom I would vote, nor the one for whom I would not.  But I will write that I have heard many pundits and political know-it-alls questioning the role of racism and sexism in our decision-making. With a woman and an african-american both running, they assume, race and sex will have a huge part to play in this election.  During a special on CNN hosted by Roland Martin, one commentator even ventured to assert that more people vote on feeling and on who is most like them than on the issues.  What bothers me most about this is that it is, itself, a classification, a labeling, a naming.  The "american public" will most likely vote thusly because of their collective trending toward being like this or like that.  I ask, can we not conquer our nature?  Can we not bridge the distance cultivated by our need to name?  Whether you are against Sarah Palin because she is a woman, John McCain and Joe Biden because they are old, or Barack Obama because he is an African-american, can we not do better?  Or are we doomed, for now, to stay bound to our old ways and the fear that informs them?  Because it is fear, as far as I can see, that is the true determiner in this election.  Fear of war, fear of loss, fear of poverty, fear of the other.  I find it ironic that we are engaged in a "War on Terror."  Are we truly fighting our fear?  Or are we fighting the things of which we are afraid?  The title of this blog is "There is no fear in love."  The wider context of this quote is: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment." (1 John 4:18)  The true test of our times is whether or not we can overcome our fear with love.  At least that's my take on it.  Please leave comments, faithful readers, and thank you for staying with me.

Communing with Nature 4: Jenny Jump Beauty

Dear faithful readers, I can only apologize for my absence with excuses: the beginning of the school year, my duties as a deacon, and general laziness.  I am sincerely sorry for my absence.  Of course, maybe some of you are simply bored of this whole Jenny Jump review and are waiting for me to return to something more substantial.  Well, have no worries, I will.  In fact, I will try to post two quick final Jenny Jump posts and then finally post a third, general update of my life.  So, with all of that written, prepare yourself, dear reader, for a virtual (ha, because we're on the internet) glut of posts.

First of all, let's think about the beauty of Jenny Jump.  If you've never been camping, I really cannot adequately describe to you the musky, cloying smell of decaying leaves and the freshness of the air.  I cannot match the glory of a bright blue sky, the color of a baby's eyes, clear as sight will allow.  I cannot even broach the subject of a midnight sky with a few whispy clouds and the comforting sight of familiar constellations far from home.  Camping brings me to my roots, makes me wonder how afraid our tent-dwelling ancestors must have been, surrounded by the bark of wild animals and the twinkling sounds of insects.  Every motion teasing their nerves.  How insulated we are in our cities full of human noise.  I feel more awake and alive when I'm camping.  I feel more aware.

And the art of camping itself, well, how can I describe to you the success of a fire made only with a few pieces of newspaper, a match and some dry wood?  How can I tell you how satisfying it is to sleep in a tent erected with your own hands and sweat (even though Eddie Bauer helped with the design)?  How, if you've never been camping, can I possibly manage to evoke the weary pride that comes from hiking for five or six hours, the refreshing feeling of slick sweat pouring from your pores, the knowledge that you have worked and you have achieved something as you stand at the cliff edge on the summit of a mountain, surveying the terrain before you?

All of that to say that my deepest wish for you, dear reader, is that you know this joy, you know this pride, you know this radical experience (radical meaning "going to the root").  My heart aches for you to go camping for yourself if you never have.  Meanwhile, these brief descriptions, I hope, encourage you to go.  And now these brief descriptions will be supplemented by pictures.

The eponymous fire, built with my own hands.  It was a quick fire, meant to burn out before we went to sleep.

Just one of the spectacular views from our many hikes.

A Jenny Jump Sunset.  Wild bats were flying around in the gathering dusk.  I tried to capture them with the camera, but they were fluttering too fast.

I love pictures of paths.  Maybe it's my current preoccupation with a search for a vocation, but I think I've always been fascinated by a good path picture.  Not to say that this is a particularly good path picture, but something about the dappled light on the brown dirt and the golden sun striking the green undergrowth caught my eye.

And finally, the satisfaction of a successful hike.  And a beautiful woman by my side.

Stay tuned for the final Jenny Jump update and then a life update.  Thanks for sticking with me, faithful reader.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Communing with Nature 3: Jenny Jump State Forest Review

Well, here it is, finally, the review of Jenny Jump State Forest.  First, a couple of preliminaries.  I made a decision right when I created this blog that I would moderate the comments.  This means that, before I post the comments, I will review them.  So, if you comment on a blog post your comment might not appear right away because I make sure that i read them through before posting them.  This is simply because I want to make sure that some random person doesn't post something offensive in the comments.  This does not mean that I won't post something if someone doesn't agree with me, but only that I won't post something if it's from someone I don't know and I feel that it will be incredibly offensive to someone I do know.  Also, I would love to respond to every comment on every blog post, and that was my initial intent, but I don't think that it is a realistic goal.  I wish that it was.  I may comment back now and then, but, please don't take offense if I don't comment on something that you write.  Please know that I do read all of the comments (obviously, since I moderate them all) and that I thank you so much for writing.

Now, on to Jenny Jump.  The first thing I have to say is that a state forest like Jenny Jump proves that New Jersey does, in part, deserve the name of the "Garden State."  Obviously, large cities like Trenton and Newark and the mess and smoke and urban sprawl that naturally come with large cities dominate the rather slim state of New Jersey.  But there are plenty of beautiful spots here, and Jenny Jump is one of them.

From hilltop vistas to beautiful hiking trails, Jenny Jump is a sight for sore eyes.  Here are a few pictures for proof.

A view from the Ghost Lake trail.

A view from the Summit trail.

Another view from the Summit trail.

A view of the Summit trail.

The campsites themselves are quite nice.  There are both roadside and walk-in campsites.  Roadside ones are a few feet off of the road.  Walk-in sites are either 25 yards or 75 yards from the road that runs through the forest.  Sarah and I chose a 25 yard walk-in site, and it was perfect.  Each site has a fire pit, a bear-pole to hang trash/food (although they highly recommend putting trash and food in your car trunk for safety) a picnic table and plenty of cleared space for tents.  The State Forest also has eight "cabins" which are log-structures with an outdoor fire pit and picnic table, an indoor wood-burning stove and four bunk beds.  And the Forest has two group sites, one for about 20-25 people, the other for about 40-60.  All of the campsites are close to restrooms that are cleaned regularly (and thoroughly) for those who really don't like to use leaves for toilet paper and to dig a pit in the ground.  The staff at Jenny Jump was extremely nice and very helpful (even staying a few minutes late so that we could finish registering and giving us advice on where to get cheap firewood).  Here are a few pictures of our campsite:

The picnic table and our tent and camp chairs.  Notice that you cannot even see our car.  The path goes down directly from behind our camp chairs.

Me, starting a fire at our fire pit.  You can see its proximity to the tent and picnic table.

Sarah and I were in Jenny Jump during the week at the end of the summer, after labor day, so our time there was pretty quiet.  But, as far as we can tell, Jenny Jump is not very well known in New Jersey (we had difficulty finding reviews and websites about it, and many of those reviews mentioned how quiet it was).  Nevertheless, for us it was very quiet and we had a very relaxing time.  None of the hikes were more than two miles, and, while several of them had a few challenging spots and some steep inclines, they were generally accessible and very fun.  There are a few campsites and I think one trail that are disability accessible.  

A few drawbacks: the forest is close to a few major highways (including I-80), and traffic noise is heard amongst the many forest noises of squirrels and owls.  There are black bears in the area, so you have to be very careful with food and other things.  This fact especially left me a little jumpy and cautious, as we rarely had to concern ourselves with bears in Utah, and so I hadn't dealt with them before.  But the office does provide information and hints on bears, and if you follow their advice you should have a great time.  Also, ticks.  There are ticks in New Jersey forests, and in Jenny Jump.  Some of them carry Lyme Disease and other ailments.  So, another thing that you have to watch out for.  Wear long pants, use bug spray.  Again, the office has hints.  Of course, I couldn't sleep well the first night after reading the guides on bears and ticks, but the fear faded soon (ish).  Finally, the Ghost Lake is not as pretty as it looks in pictures.  It's not bad, but it's not very big and it actually is not open for fishing right now.  The hiking trail there was beautiful in its own right, but I was underwhelmed by the lake.  Still, we came at the end of summer, and perhaps it was more beautiful early on.  Here are a few pictures.  Judge for yourself:

This is pretty much the extent of the lake.  It was full of lily pads and weeds and you could tell why it was called Ghost Lake.  It seemed haunted.

There were a few beautiful lilies in the lake.  We also saw a few wild turkeys, but we couldn't get a picture of them.  By the way, did you know that Male Turkeys can fly up to 50 mph and grow a "beard?"

Overall, the trip was wonderful and relaxing and I would recommend the Jenny Jump State Forest to anyone interested in camping in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area.  Tomorrow: Beauty in Jenny Jump.  Thanks, as usual, for reading.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Communing with Nature 2: Jenny Jump Review

Greetings faithful reader!

I apologize for not updating over the last few days.  Obviously, Sarah and I were camping for the first three days of the week, and I've been recuperating and watching the Republican National Convention for the last two.  So, now I'm back and ready to be posting.  I think I'm going to do a short series, perhaps three separate posts, on our camping trip.  It was so amazing and so many great things went on, that I don't want to overwhelm you with a huge, long, unreadable post.  So, I'll start off with a review of Jenny Jump State Forest, continue onto a discussion of beauty and all that we saw at Jenny Jump, and finish with thoughts and experiences that came from our trip. Part 1 - a review of Jenny Jump State Forest will be appearing either tomorrow (Sunday, September 7) or Monday, and then each following day I'll post about the other two topics.

So, thank you again, faithful reader, and I'll leave you with a teaser of our adventures.

Sarah and I sitting outside of our tent.

A home away from home, complete with uno cards, a word puzzle book, and, if you look closely, my guitar.

At the end of our adventures.  Both of us look a little sleepy, and I'm pretty greasy from two days without a shower, but I'd say we're a pretty handsome couple.  (Side note, isn't it interesting that the word couple, which is essentially gender neutral, is often paired with the word handsome, which is often connotative of a masculine trait?)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Communing With Nature

For all of you faithful readers, a quick update:

This past weekend my parents came up to visit us.  It was a whirlwind trip, driving twelve hours on Saturday, spending Saturday night and Sunday with us, and then leaving for a return drive of twelve hours at six o'clock this morning.  Though the visit was brief, the time was precious.  We played yahtzee, ate well, talked quite a bit, and just spent time together.  (for those keeping count of such things, my mother won both yahtzee games).

As I type, Sarah is cleaning out our cooler.  We are preparing to go to Northern New Jersey for what we hope will be a relaxing two-day camping excursion.  Our camping site of choice is a place called Jenny's Jump (I'll type the story of the place later, but as a teaser, I'll say that the area includes quite a few places with the names of Ghost and Dead).  It's supposed to be a very quiet, restful area, with a few camping sites, a nice hiking trail, and good weather this week.

I'm typing quickly, as I need to pack, but I will give you a full update when we return on Wednesday, including a review of the campsite, pictures and any thoughts that come to me while we are communing with nature.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Apocalypse

My wife and I were watching the news today.  It came time for the news anchor to recap world news and I slowly had the growing feeling that we are nearing the apocalypse.  A hurricane in the Gulf, thousands drowning in India, a plane crashing in Las Vegas, two planes almost colliding, a freak accident of hot metal lighting a brush fire in Boise, Idaho and destroying twenty homes.  And those are simply the ones that the producers of a cable news station decided to present.  

Of course, I have often wondered if the world is really getting worse, or if we are simply more informed about how bad it is.  Are we truly falling apart, or are we simply more aware of how much we are falling apart?  And what are we to do?  Can we do anything?

Actually, the word "apocalypse," which, due to a rather provocative movie and common parlance, has come to connote the end of the world, actually means an unveiling or uncovering.  It comes from the greek apokalupto, which is a compound verb from apo (adv. off, away; back/prep. from, away from; from above; far from; asunder from; since; immediately after; on the part of; by means of, because of, with; after) and kalupto (to cover or envelop).  This is why the final book of the Bible (Revelation) is, in Greek, the Apocalypse of John.  It is the thing that was uncovered or revealed to John.

So I ask, what does the state of the world reveal to us about ourselves?  With Russia putting pressure on Georgia, the Middle East ever in turmoil, injustices across the world, and random occurrences, like an oxygen tank exploding on a plane without any warning, how are we responding?  And what does our response say about us?  I know that I am the least person to take on world problems.  Sometimes the overwhelming press of our media-saturated age leaves me breathless and apathetic.  It all seems so big.  Where do I even start?  What does this reveal about me?  Is the toll of disaster simply an outcome of the fact that there are more and more of us here on this earth to kill?  If a hurricane wipes through a village of eight, only eight people, or maybe even less, will die.  If it wipes through a city of millions, thousands will die.    Were things simpler once upon a time?  If feel that the answer is no (I think of the many, many accounts in almost all of the religions of the world about some major type of flood and things like the plague).  Yet, we live in fear.

One of Barack Obama's claims about John McCain is that he is playing on our fear in order to win.  I understand that claim, and it does irk me that our fears can cause us to sometimes make poor choices, but I wonder if we don't have a lot to fear.  What is the balance of fear and hope?  When does too much hope simply become foolishness?  Is there ever a point where being afraid is a more true act of faith than having hope?  I, as usual, have no answers, though some part of me says that hope is certainly stronger than fear and, as my blog title attests, there is no fear in love.  What do you think, reader?  I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hair Cut and G Strings

After posting so many philosophical thoughts, I figured that you the reader deserved something more lighthearted.  Firstly, I finally went to get my hair cut.  I told the woman cutting my hair to leave less than half an inch on the sides and about an inch on the top.  She understood me properly about the sides, but only cut off an inch on the top.  I didn't have the heart or the will-power to correct her and decided that it would probably be good for me to have a new hairstyle anyway.  Unfortunately, when I got home I couldn't decide how to style my long-on-top, short-on-the-sides hair.  Thus, this afternoon, having no Greek homework and trying to amuse myself while my wife completed a free-lance graphic design project, I experimented with several different hairdos.  So, without any further ado...The many faces of Marc Hong.*

I like to call this one the faux-hawk.  Or the unicorn.

This is the plain, ordinary part to one-side style.

This is the "I could kill you with my pinky" style.  My music teachers always said I was a tenor, but I could swear that I'm a "Soprano."

This isn't really a style.  It's just to show you how long the hair on top is as opposed to the sides.

On another note, I broke a guitar string today, after having strung my guitar a mere two weeks ago.  And of course, the string I broke was, you guessed it, the G-string.  It's the only string I've ever broken.  Which means that every time I break a string I can say to my wife: "Hey honey, I just broke my G-string."  To which she simply responds by rolling her eyes.+

*A note to all wives or future wives: this is what happens when your husband has too much time on his hands.  You have been warned.
+I thank God every day that my wife is a patient woman.

The End of the Beginning of the End of the Beginning

Life is strange.  Every moment is both an ending and a beginning, a completion and a new unfolding, a death and a rebirth.  Yet, physically and perhaps mentally, I will never again be able to begin my life.  That's an odd and uncomfortable thought.  Unless amnesia suddenly strikes me or I regress to a fetus somehow, I will never be able to begin my life over.  Remnants of deeds and feelings and experiences will always be with me, as will the ramifications of my choices.  

I think that the Bible is notable for its crazy, realistic characters, if for nothing else.  The Gospel According to John especially has struck me over the past year for the boldness and curiousness of its inhabitants.  One of them, an anonymous disciple of Jesus, seems to speak for me right now.  Jesus has just said that people who eat his flesh and blood will live forever and that people have no life in them if they do not eat his flesh and drink his blood.  John records that "On hearing it, many of his disciples said: 'This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?'" (John 6:60, New International Version).  I concur.  These are hard teachings.  Who can accept them? How can I accept the sadness of never beginning again?  Can hope be something that reaches into the past as well as the future?  Can I hope for my past?  I've made so many mistakes in my life that sometimes I am daunted by them and afraid to try new things.  

Elsewhere in John, a Pharisee named Nicodemus approaches Jesus seeking truth.   He compliments Jesus on his teaching and assures him that he believes that Jesus has God.  And Jesus, of course, says "Thank you, you are dressed quite nicely today.  That robe is nicely tailored with plenty of tassels."  Wait.  No.  Jesus answers as cryptically as he possibly can:

"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (or "born from above," or "born again from above"  -- the Greek is ambiguous)."  (3:3)

Nicodemus is, naturally, confused.  "How can a man be born when he is old?  Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born?" (3:4)

Amen to that, brother Nic!  That's scientifically impossible (at least at present).  Jesus answers: "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit....The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (3:5-8)

This passage comforts me.  My body can never be reborn and the damage from years of sprained ankles, drinking pop (or soda) and eating carbs can never be erased.  My mind cannot just be wiped clean of my memories.  But my spirit is another matter all together.  My spirit, my soul, is the deepest part of me.  And it is the part of me that has the truest second chance.  It is the part of me that can be truly transformed.  I may not be able to change my bad back or my acid reflux, I may not be able to erase the memories of my failures and defeats, but the spirit within me that reacts to these failures and weaknesses can be changed.  There is a mystery inside my very bones, something that no one can understand.  No one knows where it comes from or to where it goes.  It has no beginning or end.  Or, in another way, it has an infinite number of beginnings and endings.  Within it is the end of the beginning of the end of the beginning.  In my spirit I do not have to worry that all of my beginnings are gone.  

Lamentations (yes, that weepy book of the Bible about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile of the Israelites) contains within its great sadness a great hope, upon which is based one of the most famous hymns of all time (and one of my mom's favorites).  Chapter 3 begins with a catalogue of the ways that the writer has been afflicted, including having his heart pierced with arrows and his teeth broken with gravel.  He laments his loss of peace and wails:

"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (3:19-23)

God's compassion is new every morning.  We are not consumed.  There is something that is new, newly born, brand-spankin'-right-out-of-the-box-still-in-its-protective-hermetically-sealed-cover-in-mint-condition new.  And we are not consumed.  Hallelu - jah!

Monday, August 25, 2008


Well, now that I have this blog and am trying to write as often as possible, I might as well explain about what I am going to attempt to write.  If you, my patient reader, wend your gaze toward the words in miniscule beneath my blog title you will find that this blog is made up of "thoughts on writing, faith, music, art and life."  I fancy myself an amateur philologist and linguist, so I will try to concretize my specific comprehension of the connotations of these words (I had to use the ten-cent words concretize and connotation simply to prove to myself that I could use them in a sentence).  So, without further ado, here follows my understanding of the meaning of the words "thoughts," "writing," "faith," "music," "art," and "life" -- at least within the arena of this blog.  Each post after this initial explanation will be tagged with at least one of the five topics so that you the reader will know what they are about to encounter.

They come out of both my head and heart.  Some thoughts will be logical, others emotional.  Many will be both.  Hopefully I have grown enough so that my gut-reactions are tempered by sober reflection, but then again it might be more fun for you the reader to pass your peepers over my un-distilled psyche.  Nevertheless, these "thoughts" are my opinions, my point of view.  They are not gospel truth and are not meant to be.  Hopefully once I get over the lack of sleep that plagued me last night these posts will also be less serious and more hilarious.  Not just for you the reader, but for me the writer.  I'm boring myself already.  Sort of.

Writing is anything involving the use of words on a page (or screen) to communicate.  That's a really broad category.  It could include plays, poetry, short fiction, novels, non-fiction, songs, essays and whole host of other things.  It will include both my own work and my thoughts on things that I have read or heard recently.  So, for instance, one day I might share a personal limerick:

One sunny day in old Princeton
A blogger wrote a rhyme for fun.
The form he picked
Was limerick.
The reader regrets having come.

Limericks are more difficult to write than they look.  I had to rely on slant rhyme just to get me through.  Sigh.  Anyway, on another day I might post about the book(s) I am currently reading (The Brothers Karamazov and a collection of Robert Frost poems at the moment).  One of the purposes of this blog is to teach me to write more often and to give me a forum in which to write.  I, unfortunately, join the majority of Americans who are now indoctrinated with instant gratification, and this blog format seems to be ideal for the quick response to something I've written.  I might occasionally post excerpts of things I've written recently or things on which I'm working.  Also, this blog itself is an experiment in writing and occasionally I will write about the process of blogging and/or the process of writing.

Always a thorny subject.  But the thorn supports a rose.  As a person of faith, and a person who believes that God has called them to live in faith I cannot speak or write about anything without it being encroached upon by my personal worldview.  I believe that no one can.  We all have a worldview.  Mine happens to center itself in Christianity and to be clothed in the "double love commandment" -- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  More simply put: love God; love others.  The title of this blog reflects this.  The posts that fall under this category will most likely deal with how exactly that simple commandment is lived out in real life.  They might also deal with issues of theology, or places where other topics (politics, ethics, economics, mathematics, science) intersect with living out love.  This obviously leaves open a wide space for me to write about anything (similar to the topic of life, but more on that in a bit).  Yet I will try to restrain myself to writing about topics not mentioned in the blog description from the viewpoint of one of the "major" five.  So, if I write about politics, I will write about how a specific musician (Derek Webb, for instance) writes and sings about politics and what I think of his interpretation.  Or I will discuss how faith and politics do or do not work together.  Obviously, this blog is heavily weighted toward the humanities as opposed to the sciences, but I do not think that this means that the two cannot be spoken about together, nor do I think that they never speak to each other.  More on that some day in the future.

This is similar to writing, except that I will focus on singers/songwriters/instrumentalists.  I will also talk about the music apart from the lyrics.  I will also sometimes link to my own music, as opposed to just posting the lyrics to a song.

Really here I probably mean beauty, but Art just sounded better in the blog description.  These posts will discuss where I see beauty in the world, whether it is the art of nature, or the art of a photographer or painter.  They will also focus on the craft of creation.  As you can already tell, many of the posts will be tagged both "writing" and "art," or "music" and "art."  But I felt the separation was necessary because I will occasionally write about music and how it interacts with politics, as I said before.  A post that is purely "art" will most likely be a completely joyful post because it will simply be about something beautiful.  Like otters.  Beautiful.

These posts will deal with my personal life, what's going on with me.  They will also deal with being alive.  Again, experiences of beauty might be wrapped up in an experience of being alive, but I wanted to express both the places where these topics cross and the extension of their outer boundaries.  So I chose to use both words.

I believe in inter-connectivity and cross-pollination.  These topics flow in and out of each other and their unique qualities also bind them together.  John Donne wrote that "no man is an island," (or "no person," for my inclusive-language-minded friends.)  I believe that.  And I believe that no thought, no topic is an island.  So above all, this blog will probably express the sincerity of my belief in our lack of aloneness.  We are all connected.  And that's something very exciting.

Thank you for sticking with me.  Let's get to some real posting.

First Post on a New Blog

Well, here's the first post on a new blog, a symptom of caffeine-induced insomnia.  I will try to blog as much as I can and to make this a place to both share my thoughts and listen to the thoughts of others.  Most of all, I will try to express my inmost self and to write for the simple pleasure of writing.

I think I'll begin this first post with a poem I once wrote about journal keeping.  Hopefully these thoughts will guide this blog.


Thirteen blank pages at the end of an old journal
Glare and turn their backs on me as I leaf through them.
The dates scrawled in the corners of entries 
Read more like history than chronology:
Moments scattered between the years of my life, 
Plucked from obscurity by a poor historian
Trying to get published so he can eat.
I wonder if they reflect an empty soul.

Who cares if I leave my life for posterity,
Record my every waking moment so that one day,
-- When I am dead and not famous --
Someone, somewhere can read my life
And pretend that I was the norm.
They will pore over every word,
Carefully plucking meaning from each sentence.
"Wow!  Look!" they will exclaim.  "This day he peed.
"How much he is like us.
"I feel a deep spiritual connection with him.
"Let us meditate on his surreal bathroom experience."

I am not defined by words on a page,
Or their absence.
If I am to write anything, it must mean something;
It must mean something to me.
Someone else might read it and be inspired,
But if I write for someone else alone, I silence a part of me.

So I will keep these pages blank,
Move on to the next journal.
And I will keep it just as infrequently as this one,
Not because I do not care,
But because I need to know I'm flawed.
It's humbling.