Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Friday, June 14, 2019

Strength to Serve

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. - John 13:3-5 (NKJV)
Service can be difficult because it can be uncomfortable. Comfort means doing what I want to do when and where I want to do it. Service is uncomfortable because I have to do what others need when and where they need it.

In the story above, Jesus is able to do what others would see as uncomfortable or even demeaning. How? I believe he can serve radically because he understands the identity and purpose of himself, God, and others. With that knowledge, he has the strength to put his personal comfort aside and serve.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

La Esperantisto

I learned about the Esperanto language while channel surfing my way into a cable tv biography of William Shatner. The Shat starred in a 1960's horror movie with all of its dialogue in Esperanto, which none of the cast spoke. Kind of weird, but it was the 1960s. The idea of a an artificial language was pretty interesting to me, so I held on to it, always meaning to learn more. That was a decade ago. Thanks to Duolingo, I'm now a couple months in to learning Esperanto!

As far languages go, Esperanto is pretty new - only 130 years old. It's what's called a constructed language (aren't they all), meaning it was artificially devised instead of organically evolved.
Esperanto Flag!

If you know Spanish or Latin, you might recognize Esperanto as a cognate to the Spanish esperar, or "to hope". That gives you a clue as to why the language was created - it's named for people who hope. Wikipedia says the language was formed "to foster peace and international understanding." The founder grew up in area sharply divided by language and culture, and he wanted more for the people of the world. He was interested in unity. (This was only a few years prior to The Great War.)

My understanding is that the language's founder wanted Esperanto movement to be just about the language itself and nothing more, but going to bat for peace international understanding is itself a movement So much so that the Nazis and the Soviet Union saw esperantoj (Esperanto speakers) as threats. Tyrants don't like free thought or unity.

I mentioned earlier that I'm learning Esperanto on Duolingo, the popular and free language app. It's a popular language, and a quick internet search will find subreddits, message boards, Instagram accounts, and other examples of people embracing the language.

Whether or not it ever becomes pervasive, I love the idea that millions of people around the world take the time to learn Esperanto based on hope and unity. Maybe it sounds silly, but it's my kind of silly. My kind of people.

Pacon!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Bold as Lions: Living in the Face of Death

Thanatophobia is fear of death, or death anxiety. It’s an unhealthy fixation on the idea that we will all die. I had never heard of it until a few years ago, when I was diagnosed with it. The problem wasn’t that I was thinking about death (Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us we learn more in a cemetery than in a party), the problem was where my thinking on the subject took me.

If we all die, my thinking went, then this is all pointless. What matters? What is the worth of getting up in the morning? Why did God make me to exist in the first place? Why am I here? Thinking like that makes it hard to get out of bed. The best you can do is exist in a kind of wasteland. Existing isn’t the same as Living. How do I know? Because I’ve done both.

Last year, in a deep depression, I wrote to God about my experience in the wasteland in a poem (super emo I know I know). Some excerpts: “the stomach sours / and the throat chokes...shocking cloying of entropy / irradiated dust...Ash bodies / Unborn bodies / Inside out bodies...I study this old map and squint / The topography remains inscrutable / I don’t see you on here / I don’t see you anywhere / Are we winning?”

I asked God to tell me if I’d feel like this forever, so at least I could make peace with that fact. If not, I asked Him to show me how to know something else. He didn’t say anything out loud to me, or boom an answer into my brain. He did speak, though, over several months.

He spoke through a supportive wife willing to pay what it took to get me into counseling. She would work extra hours, she said. We would figure it out. He spoke through elders at church ready to drop everything to meet with me and listen. He spoke through doctors able to diagnose and prescribe. He spoke in a community center garden. A wasteland, of sorts.

I wrote that poem in our community center’s garden. I walk it regularly, keeping an eye on the various fish in the pond, the bees, the native plants and flowers and trees. I was making my daily rounds in winter when I wrote it - it was cold and rainy and everything that had been vibrant weeks before in the garden was dead. Except that it wasn’t. That’s when He spoke. I knew the garden enough to know that just because something wasn’t flowering at the moment didn’t mean that it was barren or over. It would be back. I knew what the garden looked like on other days. When spring came I was the first person to see the bees buzzing around the arbor, flying around the first blooms. I remember thinking Oh, this is what salvation is. This is what regeneration is. This is what Life is.

The Good News isn’t that bad times don’t ever come, or that we’re always safe. Evil happens, and death is real. We all know that. We see it around us. We see chaos, entropy, alienation, the damage caused by the illusion of Other-ness. The Good News is that Life overcomes Death. And it isn’t just One Day in the future that it happens. It happens all the time, in the past-present-future. In other words, knowing that Life wins changes everything, all the time.

It’s like this: On the show Game of Thrones, there’s a “water dancer” (an expert fencer) called Syrio. He teaches his students this: “What do we say to the god of Death? ‘Not today.’” That’s the Gospel in a nutshell. Syrio’s lesson isn’t that we won’t die - we will, certainly. We will all fall. His lesson is that in the face of Death, we choose to Live. That in itself is a victory. In the wasteland, the knowledge of Death chokes the life and joy out of the present. It renders life hopeless. It’s an early and ongoing death.

When we know Life, we say to the god of Death “Not today,” every day. We battle as soldiers, claiming ground for Life. Even on the day of our death, we say it to Death’s face. Even when awful things happen. We say “Not today,” by living with hope, by doing good, by loving, by celebrating, by having the audacity to take root and blossom and flourish. Proverbs 28 says, “The righteous are as bold as lions.” It’s that. We are never cowed. Not by Death, not by anything.

While it has been hard, I am glad I’ve focused on death for so long, because it’s helped me understand Life so much more deeply. Maybe that’s the point of my deployments to the wasteland. I know both Death and Life. I know to say to Death, “Not today,” every day.

I know that Life is beautiful.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

2018 Favorites

Favorite Books of 2018

Just for Fun

Lara Jean trilogy by Jenny Han - A fun coming of age story about three sisters.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell - Rom-com set in 1999 with realistic characters.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - An introverted fan-fiction writer heads off to freshman year of college.

Literature

The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Best book about fatherhood I've read. Read it out loud - it's poetry.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami - Moody, mysterious, foreboding.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey - Space opera at the highest level.

The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski - I was immediately sucked into the magic and political intrigue of this brutal fantasy world.

Spiritual

The Rule by St. Benedict - Some say the order of St Benedict is the oldest ongoing organization in the West (outside of the church). You can see why in this timeless classic of school for beginners.

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr - Cut through the noise of the enneagram fad and learn how to utilize the ancient tool to grow as a person.

How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community by Judith Valente - The author is a workaholic journalist and broadcaster. Her background lets her clearly translate the wisdom of Benedict for the 21st century.



Best New (To Me) Band of 2018
Larkin Poe. The future of blues and Southern music. Ten years of performing has really paid off for the Lovell sisters. They're complete pros in writing, playing, and performing, and a joy to watch. Even though I'm a lifelong guitar player, I kind of thought guitar was dead. Larkin Poe and Gary Clark Jr. convinced me otherwise this year.