October 27, 2017

On Mindset and the Woman at the Airport

A few years ago, I was waiting in an airport that was small enough that you kind of had to sit near your gate because there was nothing better to do.

It was evening, and flights were delayed, and emotions were high.

And there was this couple, maybe in their upper-20s or lower-30s, with a toddler.  I don't even remember what set them off, but they started fighting, and the fight turned very loud and very public, very quickly. 

The woman said something about an online course she was taking, and the man just tore into her, verbally berating her, telling her how stupid she was, how she had no business being in college, how she was just going to fail at that like she had failed at everything else in her life.

And she started crying.  And no one did anything.  Including me.  I still regret that.

Why am I talking about this?  There's this course that I've been revising, an online learning strategies type of course, and one of the key elements I've been weaving into the content is related to mindset, which I believe is critical to academic (and life!) achievement.  In all honesty, I've been working on the course long enough that I utterly loathe looking at it right now.  I don't want to finish it, even though I'm down to just the final tweaks.  I keep putting it off.  Most days, I just...can't.

But then I think about that woman at the airport.  The one who was trying to better herself.  The one who had an abusive, negative, self-defeating voice literally screaming in her ear in a public place, repeatedly telling her that she was dumb and incapable and a failure.  The negative voices in her world must have been so loud--I can't even imagine.

I think of her, and and I think of other very real and very scary stories I've heard from some students in our program, then I think: we have to change this.  Maybe we can't change the people around them, but we can help them change the way they view the world.  We can help them find voices in their world (and in their heads) that are supportive and positive and believe in the seemingly impossible.

If there is one takeaway that I want these students to walk away with, I want them to believe that change is possible.  They don't have to be whatever message everyone has always spoken over them.  They don't have to be helpless.  They don't have to be stuck in the same circumstances without hope. 

You can change your mindset, and you can change your world.  With God's help.  I believe that with all of my heart.

October 09, 2017

Racing to Beat the Devil

There's a strange sense of clarity that comes while you're running.  Sometimes, anyway.  It's like the world stops--the clock doesn't, thank God--but everything inside your head turns simultaneously fuzzy and focused.

Some days, it leads to profound thoughts.  Other days, you find you're racing to beat the devil.

At least, that's what Stephen King would call it, I think.
Silver flew and Stuttering Bill Denbrough flew with him; their gantry-like shadow fled behind them.  They raced down Up-Mile Hill together; the playing cards roared.  Bill's feet found the pedals again and he began to pump, wanting to go even faster, wanting to reach some hypothetical speed--not of sound but of memory--and crash through the pain barrier.
He raced on, bent over his handlebars; he raced to beat the devil.  (Stephen King, IT, 233)
Today was one of those days for me.  So many things.  An amalgamation of thoughts, worries, dreams, and desires.  I like to joke sometimes that normal people wouldn't last a day inside my head.  It's like the dream world in the movie Inception--sure, the possibilities are endless, but watch out, buddy, because it will turn on you, and it will eat you alive.

Normal people, of course, don't have years of practice with living inside my head.  I do.  And most days, I hold the villains at bay.  But every now and then, I find myself racing to beat the devil.  Harder and harder and faster and faster because as long as I'm running, it all gets pushed away.  And it needs to be pushed away.

Problem is, at some point you have to stop running.
He was going uphill again now, speed bleeding away.  Something--oh, call it desire, that was good enough, wasn't it?--was bleeding away with it.  All the thoughts and memories were catching up--hi, Bill, gee, we almost lost sight of you for a while there, but here we are--rejoining him, climbing up his shirt and jumping into his ear and whooshing into his brain like little kids going down a slide.  He could feel them settling into their accustomed places, their feverish bodies jostling each other.  Gosh!  Wow!  Here we are inside Bill's head again!  Let's think about George!  Okay!  Who wants to start?
You think too much, Bill.
No--that wasn't the problem.  The problem was he imagined too much."  (Stephen King, IT,  235)

September 19, 2017

Leveling Up

It's getting close--my birthday.  I'm not telling you the exact day because you're the Internet and you're not allowed to know.  Even though--let's be realistic--you and your hive-mind probably already know.

But I bring up the topic of birthdays because I'm trying to remember a birthday in the past few years in which I wasn't completely stressed out and panicky, almost beyond reason (though I hid it well).  Not because of getting older (I'm a fan of birthdays--I consider them occasions in which I level-up on life), but because of the relationship I was in.

I was terrified that somewhere in the packages, there would be a ring.  A ring that I didn't want.  Completely and utterly terrified.

It seems so easy to say that now.  Strange.

Before him, days like my birthday were filled with longing.  If only I had a man, if only I had a man, if only....

I don't feel that now.  It's been replaced by this strange clarity that I'm choosing to define as "freedom." 

I don't have to get married if I don't want to.

I don't have to spend the rest of my life barefoot and pregnant if I don't want to.

I don't have to stop working or doing other things that are important to me just to make someone else happy.

I have seemingly endless opportunities to choose what to do with the rest of my life.  

Life is good.  I'm ready to level up once more.

June 20, 2017


A million years ago, otherwise known as 1995 or thereabouts, I was listening to Michael W. Smith's "Lead Me Home" album in the back of my parents' minivan as we drove home from a family vacation.  Maybe I was drowning out my parents' fighting--they fought a lot when trapped together in a car for lengthy periods--or maybe all had gone silent and music was what remained.  The specifics elude me now.

But what I do remember is riding into the dusky twilight and hearing "Trilogy" for the first time.  I think it changed me.

At some point, I picked up the piano music and it became part of my regular non-piano-lesson repertoire.  It's not fancy, musically, but it has some lovely moments, and it catches the breath of my soul literally every time I hear it, sing it, or even just play it.

Tonight, I found it again.  And after playing through it a few times, I find myself caught once more.

I.  The Other Side of Me

The part I have never understood.  The love part.  There's such an inherent intimacy in these words. 

If I were the ocean / You would be the shore / And one without the other one / Would be needing something more / We are the shadow and the light / Always love me / And never leave me now / Now you are the other side of me.

I think about my recently ended relationship and I wonder: would it, could it ever have been what this song describes?  Probably not.  Not if I'm truthful with myself.  But maybe it could have.  If...this.  If...that. many things that are not and will not be.

But of one thing I am certain: I have literally no conception of this type of relationship.  Every now and then, I'll encounter couples who have been married for a long time and not only still like each other but seem genuinely happy and in love.  It's the strangest thing.  It just doesn't compute.  It's like I'm in a museum, staring at them through a thick glass wall, and there they are: this model of something I can't even wrap my mind around.  There is no logic to explain it. 

II.  Breathe in Me

If ever there is a song for the dark night of the soul, this is the one. 

I used to be / So sensitive / To the light that leads / To where you are / Now I've acquired / These callouses / With the darkness of / A cold and jaded heart / So breathe in me / I need you now / I've never felt so dead within.

Now this, I understand.  The dark places, the calloused and hardened heart, the feeling that these bones are dead and the only hope is the ruach, the breath of life (הִנֵּה אֲנִי מֵבִיא בָכֶם רוּחַ וִחְיִיתֶם) (Ezek. 37:5b).

And yet it's never when I'm in the darkest places that this song finds me.  It's when I have hope once more.  It's when I remember Whose life and breath I need in me.  And suddenly, I want to play it over and over and over and over because maybe it reminds me that there is light on the other side of darkness and there is hope on the other side of what once seemed dead.

So breathe in me.  I need You now.

III. Angels Unaware

Maybe there's a light in my soul
Maybe it flickers like a neon sign outside an abandoned hotel.

And so hope flickers.  And light returns.

Maybe there are things you just can't know
But can you say there are no mysteries
In that house you choose to dwell?

And perhaps also with hope and light and breath come a reminder that we are not islands unto ourselves.  That no matter what dark night we have traveled through, there are others.  Those who need us to step beyond our own struggles and lack of faith and help them.  But do it unto the least of these. 

Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware.

June 08, 2017

Demonstrate Your Power

Some days, mortality creeps up on you.

Someone I know suffered a major medical trauma recently, and I learned about it today.  He and I aren’t all that close, but we work for the same university, and I have fond memories of singing with him on a church worship team a number of years back.  Really nice guy.  He’s a year or two younger than me—has a wife and young kids—and suddenly he’s in the hospital on a ventilator. 

It makes you think. 

How much of this life are we promised?  Not much—nothing?  And what is it that we do with the hours and the days that we are given?  Does it matter?  Do we make it matter?

More questions than answers, tonight, I’m afraid.

So, somehow, I found myself at the piano, playing through old worship team lead sheets.  Chuckling at some of the songs and some of the memories.  Wondering how it was that I bootlegged so much of that music.  And I came across one song that seemed to stick—an old Vineyard song that I think I first heard in Toronto back in the heyday of their revival services:

Hear us Lord.
Hear us now.
Lord have mercy.
Hear our prayer.
Hear our cry for revival.
Release Your power.
Break our chains.
Set us free.
Let us feel Your joy again.
Set us free.
Lord, come heal us.
Arise, oh Lord.
Demonstrate Your power.

I’m not sure what other prayer to pray tonight but this one.

May 13, 2017

[Work in Progress]

The metaphorical dead weight went first
With tears and farewells not so fond

The last of you lingered longer
Literally a part of me
Not living
Not dead
Not growing
But not gone

Today, I made the final cut
And left the last year on the floor
In savage shreds
To be swept

And now these things remain:
The living
The new
And hope

November 20, 2011

On Thesis Present

(written last night)

I spent 10 hours in the library today.  I won't tell you it was dreadful, because you and I both know that I'm wired to enjoy research until my fingers start twitching from too much typing and my eyes flutter shut.  Give me books and journals (and coffee!) and I can be quite satisfied for a very long time.

Well, mostly.  Admittedly, it's not quite the same, working through biblical commentaries and articles, as it is to dive headfirst into real literature.  I kept stealing glances over at the rack where I knew the Mythlore and Seven journals lived.  Does anyone read them when it's not the semester in which the Inklings class is being taught?  Not nearly enough, judging by the lack of traffic in that part of the library.

I mean, Revelation is fun, too.  But the challenge I find in biblical studies is that the more you research something, the more it spins you in a circle until you are back to a principle that, on the surface, seems nothing at all like the topic at hand.  And if this were "just literature," you could make of it what you would and it might not really matter.  But it's not.

For example, if I had read Billy Budd and I had decided that Billy is not a Christ-figure, but rather, a moron (which does happen to be a position I hold), the end result would be that I think he is a moron, and that would be that.  You can agree with me or disagree with me, and perhaps we might even get into violent arguments about it, but at the end of the day, the only thing that would come of this is that I thought he was a moron and you did not.

Not so with Scripture.  With Scripture, you're not just reading for speculation and cerebral exercise--or even to be pointed toward epiphanies of truth (as Azar Nafisi would say).  Whatever you conclude is going to have to mean something when it comes to faith and practice.  (And everybody said: "Well, crap!")

Case in point: Revelation 17-18.  You exit the crazy angels-pouring-bowls-of-judgment-on-the-world scene of Revelation 16 and find yourself face to face with this fancy drunk chick sitting astride a scarlet beast alongside a river.  And you think it's all about Babylon.  Or Rome.  Or some wacko symbolism relating to the future eschatological age.  And maybe it is.  But...

It's also Isaiah 47.  It is so totally Isaiah 47 that it blows your mind when you first start examining the parallels.  The harlot representing Babylon, the imagery of rape and degradation, the arrogance that leads to destruction--all the while, a holy God longing to redeem His people.

And then you start digging deeper into Isaiah 47 and realize that maybe it's about Babylon on the surface, the sitz im leben, but really, what it's about is the Exodus.  It's like the song that they sang after Pharaoah's army was overwhelmed by the crashing-down-falling waters of the Red Sea.  Triumph and exultation.  A mockery of the enemy, even.  And although many circumstances have changed since the Exodus, the key issues remain the same from Exodus to Isaiah to Revelation, because the heart of the prophet and the heart of the apocalyptic visionary share their purpose in pointing people to a revelation not so much of what God will do but of who He is and how He desires to relate to His people. Which I kind of think is the point.

Tomorrow, I'll have to write up my thesis proposal, complete with all the Greek and Hebrew and limitations and delimitations and such.  The inner academic must be loosed.  It's going to be a while before I can talk about the subject as freely as I have here.  But this is what I find rolling around in me concerning the passages I've selected, and I want to capture these thoughts in this moment so that I can look back as I write this thing and remember the bigger picture.

He is the redeemer, the go-el.  Times and circumstances may change, but this does not.  We hope in the Resurrection because we still believe in a God who redeems His people.