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.