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. 

August 14, 2011

The Ghost of Thesis Past

The problem with pursuing a master’s degree in a field that you’re interested in but not dedicated to is that you can make it through most of the program with relatively few hitches, but then, when it comes time to write your master’s thesis, you find that you just don’t even care anymore what you should write about.

Well, ok, maybe that’s not entirely true.  Maybe I exaggerate slightly.  Maybe I’m lying outright simply because I want your sympathy.  I’ll let you decide.  :)

See, for those of you unfamiliar with my seminary saga, this isn’t my first attempt at a thesis experience.  A couple years ago, before my hiatus from extracurricular academia, I was at the same thesis research stage that I’m at now. 

Better, in fact, because I had a topic that I was excited about.  I was going to dig deep into Hell and Christus Victor and descensus ad inferos (vs. descensus ad inferna), and it was going to be this remarkable, ground-breaking study that would find its parallels with such works as Piers Plowman and Dante’s Inferno and, last but by no means least, Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell. 

Oh, I’m not kidding: from the moment I began my seminary study, I knew where I was heading.  I knew what my thesis was going to be centered around, and even though a master’s in Biblical Literature/Judaic-Christian Studies wasn’t exactly a master’s in Medieval Literature, it was going to be good.  It was going to connect.  It was going to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal in my academic present.  I couldn’t wait.

And then life…happened.

And then there was no room in my mind for pondering the mysteries of the Resurrection—or, more precisely, what came before it.  It was too much.  I broke.

And the topic broke along with me.

Time heals many wounds—a fact for which I remain increasingly grateful.  But just as Tolkien’s Frodo would never fully heal from the wound bestowed by a Morgul blade, my thesis topic also seems destined to only exist in its transformed, more wraith-like state.  It doesn’t work anymore.   It doesn’t look the same to me.  I think about it, and I get overwhelmed, and it’s like the ghost of a couple years ago comes back and causes me lose focus.

And it’s easy to come up with excuses not to be focused.  I have responsibilities, a department to keep on track.  People who need me…people who need things from me.  Constant emails.  Demands everywhere, and none of them joyfully academic in nature.

But regardless of any of that, tomorrow, I’ll head into that class as a student, and the associate dean over my college will ask me to share what it is that I think I’ll be researching for my thesis.  And I don’t have a clue how to answer that question—at all.

Part of me wants to play the game some people play when they want an answer from God and aren’t willing to wait for it.  They pull out their Bible, let it fall open to a random page, close their eyes, point blindly to a spot of the page, and voila!  There is the answer (whether it makes sense or not!).

Would it be so bad to select a thesis topic that way?  Close my eyes and point?  Or the modern technologically savvy equivalent: Google “the Bible” and click on “I’m Feeling Lucky”?

[Speaking of lying outright so as to get sympathy, which of course you’re still wondering about, I’ve been re-watching LOST, and I find Ben Linus to be increasingly fascinating, because he does that very same thing.  He’s constantly working a story to his angle, but of course, since none of us are inside his head, we never really know when he’s telling the truth and when he’s lying, except when something comes to light later, but then not everything does, and I realize this is a terribly constructed run-on sentence quite off-topic from the rest of this post, but it’s so frustrating to realize that there are things he says that we’re never going to be able to verify—so do you just base everything you believe off the hope that what he says is true, or do you approach it all as a skeptic and never really believe anything?]

I went off topic, but in a sense, I didn’t.  If you follow, I’m impressed.

I guess the bottom line here is that I feel a bit lost myself when it comes to this thesis stuff.   And…I don’t know.   I guess I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that I jumped sideways and that the stuff that’s real already happened.

But I’m pretty sure that motif only works in television.