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Saturday, December 28, 2013

In Defense of the Liberal Arts

"Literature is more important than math and science, because while math and science can tell us 'what' and maybe a little bit of 'how', literature tells us 'why'."

This quotation from a teaching mentor of mine (who quickly went on to express a balanced need for both the sciences and the arts) explains my dogged determination to read every scrap of good literature on the planet.  An ambitious goal to be sure.  But one that has enslaved me in glorious, bibliophilic chains from the time Mrs. Livengood gave me a foundation in phonics almost 18 years ago.

I have always wondered "why."  I was the three-year-old that kept asking "why."  I was the little kid who got into everything because I needed to know "why."  And I became the internally-conflicted adult who still loves research and paper writing because I want to know "why."

Why do we suffer?
Why do we seek happiness?
Why do we crave beauty?
Why do people fall in love?
Why do we exist?

As Orson Scott Card memorably says of Bean in Ender's Shadow, "The universe was full of locked doors, and he had to get his hands on every key."
The arts are the essential keys to unlock the doors of the sciences.  The sciences give us data, but they cannot give us interpretation of the data.  They cannot give us meaning.  And we must have meaning. It is mapped into our DNA and programmed into us from creation.
Science can only observe.
We suffer.  We seek happiness.  We crave beauty.  We fall in love.  We exist.
Yes. That's obvious.  But WHY?

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law had me over for a movie and some tea.  It's an old tradition of ours from before she was dating my brother and was known to my family only as my best friend.  This time, we finished the BBC version of Dickens' Edwin Drood, and we took advantage of Netflix to look for something new. We stumbled upon a documentary about stress and decided to see what it was all about.  I was enlightened...

Apparently, humans have little caps on the ends of their DNA strands that hold the strands together.  Over time, severe stress erodes these caps and causes the strands to fray.  It sounds painful, but mostly it is a silent degeneration with long term affects.  What is incredible about this phenomenon is that we have an enzyme in our bodies that heals the cap when it starts to dissolve.  How does that enzyme go into high gear and start healing?  When we interact with people, show compassion, and understand others.  Human interaction (...stories...) brings healing.  It is absolutely necessary to life.

The liberal arts are formal training in that sort of humanness.  Humans might be able to eke out an existence on the sparkling crumbs of the sciences.  But whenever we have tried that, we always end up starving for something more.

I'm just a recent college graduate.  I don't have a full picture of the world.  But from what I can tell, my culture isn't doing such a good job with promoting human thriving.
STEM schools are on the rise.  And I hear a lot of complaints from parents of high school students about how English teachers don't relate literature to life.  Many of them don't seem to see the point of a class that obviously won't help kids get high paying jobs.  As one mother recently asked me, "Why should my son read a book that has nothing to do with him?" It's a valid question.  One that should be answered every day in the latent atmosphere of the classroom by the teacher's passion for critical thinking.  One that reveals a lack of time spent in good literature that gets us outside of ourselves.

Literature (and the arts as a whole) is the very stuff of life. Its essence should be scrambling off the pages of the works and into the hearts of school aged readers everywhere.  Teachers should know this! Actually, the hard thing is keeping literature from connecting to absolutely everything.  It should not be a struggle to apply it somewhere (unless you're teaching sub-par literature...).  Because literature is where we stop the theorizing and test the ideas.  It's where we learn that there's a world out there that's something beyond a scrap of information or a number.  It's when "a population of 7 billion" becomes Fitzgerald's "the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired."  It breathes life into our sterile laboratories and gives us something real.  It is, in the words of the brilliant Tennessee Williams, what gives you "the truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

Science and math may seem more practical than literature, but that's only because we are so utilitarian. When you rip science and math out of the context of the metanarrative, you end up with nihilism, atheism, purposelessness.  Which explains a lot about my generation and our search for meaning outside of a screen.

God gave us the arts as a bridge from facts to Truth.  We must not allow the sciences to be their tyrants. Rather we should allow them to inform each other without suppressing one because of our allegiance to function.  

I will say it until my students send me their grandchildren to teach.  Until I can't hold a whiteboard marker with my arthritic hands.  Until I can't see the letters of Hopkins' "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," and I have to ask someone to read to me the opening words of Island of the World and the last lines of The Great Gatsby so I can hear the music and feel the chill of those painfully beautiful words.

Participation in the liberal arts is a sign of human thriving.

We need them.  Our students need them.  Our children need them.
So do something productive today.
Watch a play.  Paint a landscape.  Read a book.
Enjoy the bridge.   

Friday, December 6, 2013

No Good Thing

Better that I love post innocence
than that love alone be pure.
tried sincerity is sweeter
tested love is sure
I would writhe in aimless reckoning
and long for nameless good
yet you teach right definitions
in letters formed by blood
that all things in You are Heaven
and apart from You are Hell
these apparent desolations
sent that I might know You well
prove the paradox of written grace
to glimpse your joyful frown
grant me freedom to embrace
"that He may raise, the Lord throws down."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Letter to My Students

You can ignore the song they’re singing for you-
that flashy, loud (so they think passionate) lament,
a flimsy screen for chaos and despair
assuring that, "You can be everything you want,"
for they assume your wants they can assign. 
Your secret is to want more than they offer
to long for everything they do not love
never be enslaved to the apparent, 
learn to distinguish fame from music
(choose the music)
to drink your coffee black and without shame. 
Direct your thoughts instead to
ancient stories, long dead men
and wrap your mind in something not
that thing they urge you to do something with
to make, find, grasp, cling to, express it
This self obsession they have labeled Virtue,
but hawks the culture of the cannibal
so cleverly mislabeled and then marketed as Life.
They have never read. They do not know you must
unmake yourself, let go
push away from all you think you want
stop searching anymore.
Embrace the One
Who by His death to self, gives Life to all. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Redeeming Ender

“ A brother is to help you.”

At least according to Ruth Krauss’s brilliant, timeless children’s book A Hole is to Dig
(Go buy it.  Every household needs a copy, now more than ever.)

A brother is also to fill the gaps in your library. 

I might be the resident English degree-holder.  But I am far from having it all figured out when it comes to literature.  And this past week was another reminder of that. 

Aaron read Ender’s Game almost 10 years ago when he was in 8th grade.  Back when I was still lazing around in never-meant-to-be dreams of medical school.    He read it and loved it for all the right reasons and never told me about it because I had a misplaced distaste for science fiction. 

That was then.  This is now. 

I have everything good in the world to say about Ender.  Goodness…start anywhere…the unlikely hero whose character development is both sublime and believable, the setting which lacks and therefore makes the reader long for familiarity, the plot that unfolds to support Ender even while destroying him…
But here I focus on the one that makes me thrill.  The reason I found my face glued to the pages of this little paperback late into the night. 

The major question of the book is “why?”  (I won’t put spoilers here…)

And the answer is “Love.” 

The narrative pushes the question until the answer is so obvious the reader is almost certain to miss it in the chaos of the final chapters.  Ender is love-motivated.  It is what makes him different far beyond his intellect and leadership qualities.  Different from his brother and from the other soldiers at the battle school.  

From the fire of that answer rises a new, deeper question then.

Ender loves.  So what will it cost him?  

I would argue that this is why we read a lot of fiction.  We know, more or less, the outcome of many stories.  It won’t take too much to figure out who deserves justice and that it will all come out right in the end no matter the odds.  But it’s those very odds that heighten the value of the story.  Yes.  It will all come out right in the end.  But what will it cost?

This is also the story of the Bible.  The true story of God’s love for humans. 

Adam and Eve were put into this perfect world to be the keepers and to bear the Image of the Holy God.  But their sin ushered in death.  Still evident today are the obvious glimpses of brokenness with beauty shining through.  Hidden by the evil.  But still there.  Because everything is ruined, but God has a plan for making it all good again, in spite of the rebellion of his Image Bearers. 

Isn’t it amazing?  We know, for certain, the end of the story.  It is written down for us.  Though there are some details that we don’t understand fully, we know the basic outline of what’s going to go on.  King Jesus gets His inheritance.  The world returns to its submitted place under the rightful Ruler.  Peace and justice will reign again.  Everything returned to Edenic beauty and harmony.  In other words, everything comes out right in the end.  Evil vanquished.  Good restored.     

The question to answer then is what is the cost

I wish I had you here with a Bible and a red pen.  We could go through together and mark the countless places where the first part of the Bible foretells what the cost would be.  Genesis 3:15.  The serpent will be crushed and darkness will be obliterated by light!  But the One who comes to do it will have a bruised heel.   The Promised One will come and suffer and “by His wounds we are healed.” (Is.53)  Then we could read the gospel accounts of the cross.  The blood.  The betrayal.  The horror.  God turns His back on His own Son.  The punishment for sin is death.  And Jesus accepts it.  In place of every sinner.  The curtain of the temple is torn from top to bottom.  It is finished!  Then turn to Paul’s writings.  Peter and John, too.  They look back at what it was.  They have a new understanding of love.  “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  1 John 4:10.  And they also give their lives out of love for “Him who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”

This is what it cost Him.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Changed Attitude, Static Aptitude

There is more than just
one way of seeing things.
Have not all the classics taught
me this?
If it were not so,
the library would lack all
but one book
in its ancient stacks.
And yet for all my wonder of it
despair is still singular
to my numbered hours with these sums.
I love the mystery,
would delve in if I knew the way
but well I know
the tyranny of
worlds inside the arc.
I can respect it.
Can break my pencil over it
and all the fragments of the wood
will fall in angles
with a measure,
and there will be a rule
for finding the circumference
of my tears.
To cry out in frustration
requires complication
of my vocal chords
to vibrate at a pitch-
which means the air must meet
with a surface area
to move a muscle deep
inside my throat.
But it will not escape.
I will squirm,
how many times before I solve the problem right?
My head throbs with attempts to still
the wild mind that will submit
to nothing stable.
And so math
with all its magic
remains a mystery to me
and I am free,
while yet imprisoned
in sweet ambiguity.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Beauty That Demands a Verdict

They speak in calculations
surrounding space with suffocating distance
but it is dead data
detached from all this life
and standing statuesque
imposing by suggestion
bare facts to be
our necessary end.
They quantify our bodies
make statistics of our loves
as if the graphs will satisfy
a thirst for purpose.
we allow it
we watch the watercolors drip
and slip from canvas to the floor
our work dissolves and colors mix
to shades of sterile silver.
But it is ours-
we made these things
when irises were blooming
before Sparta conquered Athens
the extravagant frivolity of goodness
filled our veins and
shot through every limb.
We thrived on loaves
which could not be counted
and what began as
just a few small fish
Back then the sparkle of a snowflake
spoke theology, ontology
before the scientific spear
had severed all connections
We were whole in such uncharted ways
as can no ledger now express.
The residue remains like gold dust
falling on the laboratory floor
which they will sweep away
as it interferes with progress
but that too is ours
the remnant of the beauty
that demands a verdict.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

9 Years of Septembers

2004- Dad's cancer is discovered just in time and the surgery saves his life.  My entire concept of God as "He owes me for my good behavior" is destroyed.

2005- After a year of wrestling with Him, my eyes are opened to the truth of the Gospel!  Made alive in Christ!  Love motivated is a vastly different way to live.

2006- Working at Chicfila and going to school at the same time gives me new, humbling opportunities to share Christ and trust Him with every day.

2007- Starting out my senior year excited to cherish every minute...but still ready to be done.  

2008-  As a freshman at Northland, God puts me on a ministry team teaching English to Hmong kids. I love it so much that I begin to wonder if I've been ignoring some obvious options.  For the first time, I doubt whether my plans are also God's plans.  

2009- Now an English Ed major, I've started to wonder what in the world God is doing.  But I've also started enjoying it a ton!  Plans for study abroad take shape.  Life is good. 

2010- Junior year...I'm rooming with this crazy, red-head.  We become kind of like sisters.  We laugh and cry and make cinnamon apples.  I didn't know that God would use all of this later in some big ways.

2011- Super sick! I'm packing to go home and figure out if I can get rid of Lyme disease.   

2012- Return visit to Brazil to encourage the Frays and get some closure after we lost Lydia.  God's gentle love is evident as He teaches me to cling to Him and accept sorrow.  

2013- Finally done with college.  Excited about whatever God has next!  Loving Him more every day.  More and more thankful for His grace!  

Monday, September 23, 2013


In the helpless aching that followed my reading of this story, this poem came to me.  Her name means "Raindrop."

If you must mention it
then speak of rain.
Collect it as an "issue" and be done
Avoid the frigid sting of one
"the pang of the particular"
and let them pool in puddles at your feet,
then walk around them
don't let mud touch your toes
(it happens every day
what can you do?)
The Raindrop after all to you
is nameless, faceless
"...that child bride in Yemen..."
Let it rain.
Put up your black umbrella and move on
It's much too late
for tears
to save Rawan.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Towel

Growing up is weird.  That's not just my opinion either.  I've surveyed a few friends who are also engaging in this activity, and the results are unanimous. As with any experience after which you find that your staunchly-held ideas are really complete misconceptions, growing up is a humbling and difficult endeavor that I think doesn't actually stop.  It has peaks and plateaus, but it doesn't ever end until you die.
Of course, I've been growing up for a long time now.  I should be really good at it.  But I'm not.  I just graduated from college, and I'm now looking for jobs and pinching pennies and trying to figure out this strange thing called "life." It's overwhelming.  Exhilarating.  Nerve wracking.  And God is good.
Maybe this season is harder for some of us than it is for others.  Though the economy isn't doing all that great, there are still some people who step right out of college into a job that supports them enough to move away and set up on their own.  My mom works with dozens of these types in the engineering world.  And I say, good for them.  They worked hard to get marketable degrees from prestigious schools and now they can pay their school debt off quickly.
Then there's me.  I have a nationally-accredited English Education degree from a tiny Bible college in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  Don't get me wrong.  I got an amazing education.  I was pushed to think critically.  The student-teacher ratio was incredibly low. And I actually formed close relationships with many of my teachers so that I was personally mentored in my field by more than one expert on more than one occasion.  I had to work hard for my good grades.  It was no joke.  I'm not ashamed of my school or of my degree.

But since graduation, I've found that it does have some limitations.  There are some jobs that won't even consider me because my resume includes a Bible college degree.  There are lots of grad programs that won't accept me because of accreditation issues.  And for those reasons (to say nothing of some recent controversy within the evangelical circle), some people have asked whether I regret my decision to go to Northland.
To those who ask, I have a hard time explaining my "No."  I guess it doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface.  Why am I so thankful for a degree that seems to delay (I do not say prevent) grad school or state teaching certifications?

Because Northland gave me something that I couldn't get anywhere else.

Northland gave me a towel.

When I arrived on campus in the fall of 2008, I had one goal in mind.  It was a self-ambitious plan that had everything to do with my glory.  That's why I was only going to "do my time" with a year at Bible college and then transfer somewhere and go into medicine. Thankfully, God's grace is bigger than my selfishness.  I ended up staying.  I met people who challenged the way I viewed God.  I sat in classes where teachers reminded me constantly to make the gospel my life-orientation.  My heart was watered with the Word and refreshed with fellowship on a daily basis. I made friends that are still pushing me to Christ-likeness.  That's what made my experience different.  (Though, I admit that God could have done that anywhere, I think it is important to recognize that it was essential to my sanctification.  Or else He wouldn't have allowed it.)

What made my degree different was an emphasis on the reason I was alive in the first place.  I knew and was reminded often that I was not getting a degree so that I could go make a lot of money and be successful in a material sense.  This piece of paper that I now have on my bookshelf in my room to prove that I finished my studies does not qualify me to be something.  I was studying because by studying I was going to be equipped to serve. To make myself nothing.  To be ready to die to myself.  To make a name for Jesus.  And though you don't necessarily need a degree to learn that, I know that it was part of what God had for me.  I was also reminded often that no matter what happened, I could trust Him to provide for me as I followed Him.  Even if it didn't look like it was going to make sense.  Even if I didn't get the highest paying job.
The first time I ever witnessed a graduation ceremony at Northland was at the end of my freshman year.  At that time, I was still in the maelstrom of wrestling with God.  Trying to let go of my dreams in exchange for His. Learning that my life is all about worshiping Him and not about achieving my goals.  I remember watching the graduates cross the platform to get their diplomas, and then they were handed a towel. Embroidered on the fabric were the words, "Be Great, Serve," which is a quotation from Matthew 20 where Jesus short circuits the prideful ambition of the disciples by explaining to them the radically different values of the kingdom of God:

"Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave- Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  Jesus then demonstrates this lifestyle during the Last Supper when the God of All removes his outer garment and washes the feet of humans.

Last May, I received a towel with the same words on it. It is a visible reminder of why I got an education.  I am not in the world to be served and make a name for myself, but to serve and to give my life to reconcile people to God.    
The kind of thinking that would make me regret a degree from Northland is the kind of thinking that is contrary to the Word of God. There's nothing wrong with accreditation.  There's nothing wrong with material success.  I wish I had both of those things from time to time, and God can use those things.  He puts many Christians in positions where they have degrees and success to glorify Him.  But I know that when God looks at what He is doing in me and what He wants to do in me, He doesn't see my degree as an asset or a liability.  He doesn't bemoan the limitations or applaud the benefits.  He rejoices at the work of Christ, and He is strong in my weaknesses.  He is a God who loves to do the impossible. From an eternal perspective (and that's the only one that really matters), the gospel in me is worth far more than a marketable resume.

Former Northland Chancellor Doc. O. once said, "Degrees make you hireable, but brokenness makes you useable."  Those words have stuck with me along with these verses from Psalm 33:

"The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the people of no effect.  The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations."

God will do what He will do no matter my perceived strengths and weaknesses.  His plans are much greater than my job search and my educational background. It might take me a little longer to find a job.  I might have to go back to school.
But I don't regret my Northland degree.
Because it was there that God decimated me and handed me a towel.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Seascapes and Scanzons: A Link with Lewis

Some people don't like the ocean.  This has always been difficult for me to understand since it has been a part of my DNA since I was born.  My mom had me under an umbrella at the beach when I was only 8 weeks old. I can't remember a time when the smell of cedar and sand and saltwater didn't make my hands tingle with excitement and something as substantial as joy.  

There are times when I sit down and try to explain this affinity in writing.  What is it about this collection of water molecules that stirs me?  Why do I dream about it and long to be near it?  It's not even safe.  Waves give the illusion of predictability, but in reality we know more about the depths of space than we do about the ocean. Every time a human being sticks a toe in ocean water, it's a triumph of faith over reason. That alone is something to consider.

I thought of Lewis's poetry while I was at the beach this past week.  This was our first family vacation in six years.  The togetherness was delightfully palpable.  I finally ousted my brother in Scrabble one night, breaking his championship status.  We paddle surfed on the sound and watched the sunset and ate charcoal-grilled dinners.  Mom and I noted the colors of the sea grass and the thousand shades of green and blue inherent to sky and sea and shrubbery.  We walked barefoot on scalding sand and laughed when our freckles appeared after a day in the sun. I spent ridiculous amounts of time just watching foamy ocean punish the shore, and I flew an ill-fated kite with a picture of a butterfly on it.  A kite which no longer exists as any recognizable object.  (The wind was rather strong that day...) And I was especially thrilled to engage in an activity that my brothers and I have enjoyed since we were little...running from the top of the dunes and throwing myself recklessly into the water to feel the powerful currents blast over my head.  Seconds of deceptive peace before the next wave.  Again and again.  Contented exhaustion always follows.

With all this flagrant life surging around me, maybe it seems strange that a Lewis poem about death kept running through my head.  Not death, exactly, but humanness and the "pang of the particular."  This was the sense I knew the entire week.  It's a tangled little thought wrapped up in my recent musings on Beauty and Image bearing and the character of God and the mundane extravagance He has infused into this hopefully dying planet.  I can't let go of the paradox of it.

Scanzons by C. S. Lewis
Passing to-day by a cottage, I shed tears
When I remembered how once I had dwelled there
With my mortal friends who are dead. Years
Little had healed the wound that was laid bare.

Out, little spear that stabs, I, fool, believed
I had outgrown the local, unique sting,
I had transmuted away (I was deceived)
Into love universal the lov'd thing.

But Thou, Lord, surely knewest Thine own plan
When the angelic indifferences with no bar
Universally loved but Thou gav'st man
The tether and pang of the particular.

Which, like a chemic drop, infinitesimal,
Plashed into pure water, changing the whole,
Embodies and embitters and turns all
Spirit's sweet water to astringent soul.

That we, though small, may quiver with fire's same
Substantial form as Thou — not reflect merely,
As lunar angel, back to thee, cold flame.
Gods we are, Thou hast said: and we pay dearly.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Another Truth About Math

He takes his classwork very seriously.  He's not the easily distracted student who pauses every once in a while to wiggle his pencil and watch it "turn into" rubber like the other 7th graders.  He doesn't talk to the boy next to him (the one wiggling his pencil to make it look like rubber..) and he doesn't sneak reading Calvin and Hobbes under his desk.  Nathan is focused.  In a way that some internal thinkers aren't.  And he expresses it in a way that internal thinkers never would, with his hands waving and his face knotting into expressions of intense concentration.
I had spent much of the hour watching him crash boldly into the dense math worksheet left by the real teacher.  For me the morning had been a lot of passing out of papers and writing of homework on the board and then monitoring students to make sure that they worked diligently while I sat at the desk mulling over the irony that I, of all people, was substitute teaching for a math teacher.  "Substitute teaching"...a phrase which here means "handing out worksheets and holding back the flood gate of questions until the real teacher returned."  The hardest question I had had to answer that morning was "May I please use the restroom?" One that I used all my authority to answer confidently, "Yes.  You may."  Having experienced the suffering of being denied bathroom privileges in many high school classes, I happen to be very merciful about letting kids go.  My students somehow figured this out early on.
Nathan was not one of them.  He was not eager to leave to escape work, though I'm sure if I'd offered him the chance he might have taken it.  I did not know if math was his favorite subject or not, though I would guess not since it was determination and not delight that flashed in his face as he attacked each problem.  He was on a quest.  Each number was a small beast to be destroyed by a shining pencil lead.

I smiled with understanding the first few times he accidentally spoke his thoughts aloud in distinct whispers.
"1...minus...7?  No...that's did...arg..?"   It reminded me of my own incomprehensible babbling, sounds I also make when I am contorting my brain to figure out an equation.  His struggle resonated deeply with me.
I tried not to stare as his hands danced in front of his face drawing invisible numbers on an imaginary chalkboard for his eyes alone. When he failed to find an answer that fit the problem, his hands covered his eyes, and he emitted a small groan as he sank back in his chair.  The rest of the class must be used to this type of thinking from Nathan, because they did not complain and hardly seemed to notice.

These meaningful antics continued for about 20 minutes. Every so often I could hear his verbal explanation of an entire problem in erratic half thoughts and rerouted attempts to solve.  The occasional victorious grunt or frustrated moan.  Then another set of numbers written in the air.  My intent observations deteriorated to the random disinterested glance as the class period wore on.  I would check to make sure that no one was distracted by his habits, then return to my own fervent writing.  I had my own thinking to do.  My own problems to figure out.
At last with about 10 minutes left to finish the work, Nathan buried his face in his palms and let his fingers grasp his white-blond hair. The desperate words, his first whole sentence in many minutes, he articulated with clarity and raw emotion.

"This doesn't make sense!!!!"

It was not a cry for help.  He did not look at me imploringly in hopes that I would offer assistance.  He may not have even realized I was still in the room. The statement was one of realization and fact.  And it brought my own thoughts into clear focus.  Nathan could have been reading over my shoulder.

Moments before, I had been very busy scrawling my thoughts in a sketch book and trying to lace them all together.  They looked something like this...Grad school...then more school?  PhD?  Linguistics?  Journalism?  Well, Lord, what I do with that random desire?  This weird talent?  A passion for art that I can't create?  A longing to help women in particular understand how theology impacts them?  An interesting, but seemingly useless, habit of writing poetry that nobody cares about?  Move?  Stay here?  Hope for a sign?  Pound the pavement for a full time job? Work fast food?  Get more education?  Professional development....  

I was, again, trying to fuse the frayed edges of my post-undergrad life into some kind of reasonable whole.These normal considerations easily spiral for me into an obsessive practice that I like to call "figuring things out."  That's the phrase I use when I really mean, "I'm not trusting God." And my heart was, once again, trembling with the realization.
"This doesn't make sense!!!"
Nathan continued to crunch numbers.
But my heart was seared with truth.

The world of math has a ridiculous phenomenon called an "irrational number."  These are numbers that have no end.  Like Pi.  It's 3.14159....and it goes on forever.  It can't be simplified or finished.  But it's real.
The world of life has a phenomenon called "irrational events."  They are questions that have no obvious answers.  They can't be simplified or finished.  But they are real.

Solomon talks about them in Ecclesiastes. Things that happen, unfulfilled desires, random messiness of existence...vanity, vanity, all is vanity... all strung together in what we've been promised is a "beautiful tapestry of God's plan."  But from where I stand it looks like a bag of yarn all twisted together in crazy colors and knots.  Grab one string to try to untangle it and the knot gets worse.  What do I do?  Well, I can  press my eyes in to my palms and pull my hair and yell, "This doesn't make sense."  But I think He wants me to trust Him instead of "figuring things out."

He knows the end and the beginning and everything in between.  He has numbered all my days and written them in His book.  And His goal is not to make me a teacher or a writer or a linguist.  His goal is to make me more like Jesus, and He has promised that He WILL do it.  I can't speed up the process or try to "make sense of it."  The fact is, most of it isn't going to make sense.  He's much too complex for me to understand.  
It is mine to rest in Him.
The Creator of Irrational Numbers.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Perhaps Blue

I am obliged to join the torch eaters
who breathe the fire
back into the art
and train the dragons
to tear out
the lifeless, empty hearts
devour and replace them
to feel and know again
what's true.
"And what color shall we bind it in...
your book of poetry?"
Perhaps blue.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Uncertainty gnaws like cancer
Playing limbo with the questions 
While I stumble through the colored squares
like the Sorry game piece
bumped back to the beginning
more often than moved on.
I know about waiting rooms with magazines 
small stuff living while
the big dreams fester-
I am young.
And God is changing me.

There are lonely moments when
the friendships feel scattered 
like dead leaves crushed 
under light up tennis shoes and
caught up on autumn wind 
to multiplied adventures 
while I'm still here-  
A fragment of color stuck
To rain soaked concrete.  

But I am conflicted.
I want safe danger
I want protected risks
I want stable fluctuations
Spontaneous schedules
Responsible rebellion
Experienced youth
I want sound and silence.
I want the ice to freeze within the fire.   
To fill my lungs past capacity before I exhale. 
I want both gnats and galaxies to devour me whole.
I want it all-
And then I want more
My world cannot exist. 

There are star clusters in the night sky.
Indistinct sparkles glowing mysteries.  
I want to know them like I know my own handwriting.  
But I am just a human pounding 
on the ceiling limitations
banging my forehead 
on the darkness of the dome
feeling the pressure of mutual exclusivity.  
To know about the things I do not know about is maddening
I am drawing drops of water from a dry well
I am speaking my soliloquy to an empty room-
But I am young and
laced with Eden's longings.

Only God is God.
This is the message of 

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Apprehension isn't a bad thing.  When it comes to Broadway musicals (and the perspectives of circles of Christianity), there can be a lot of hype and a lot of controversy.  Probably none has created more of both than Wicked. I love a good Broadway creation.  But this one was on the fringe for me because I didn't get the story yet, which left me on the outside of a lot of excited groups of friends whenever the topic came up. That was kind of fun this week when I was able to enter the Boston Opera House with a clean slate having only heard two or three of the songs and knowing almost nothing else.  Here's my little take on it, just because writing is the best way for me to process it and a few friends have asked me what I thought.  

The Boston set/cast/theatrics were all amazing.  Super well done.   
The music was awesome.  'Nuff said.  
The's the part people squabble over.  Well, I'm just gonna say it.  I didn't have a problem with it.  It was spot on most of the time.  I've heard people say that it blurs the lines between good and evil, but I actually believe the story does an incredible job of revealing what is ACTUALLY good and ACTUALLY evil.  It gets under the surface and deals with Truth.  If you want to know a story that blurs the lines, read "A Series of Unfortunate Events." But don't go see Wicked, because it's really clear.    
One of the most fascinating aspects of it is that "perception is reality" concept.  I know, it can be dangerous. But this story does a great job, as I said.  There was real justice, and that was refreshing.  There are a lot of interesting comments about history and how we come to believe things (worthy of entire articles of their own).  There was probably some political undertones too.  

Bottom line: Loved it.  Would definitely go see it again if I could.  Will probably listen to the music and sing along loudly while pretending I know how to dance.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Daily Cliff

Now that I'm 23
It's possible I finally see
What would have been of benefit at 12.
That I should Live.
Not the shallow breathing
of those peasants
serving good Telemachus
in neat, unrumpled togas
But the reckless passion of the
traveler, his father
Yet a living that demands no ship,
no far off shores.
Rather risks
little death leaps
off the daily cliff
Coming to the edge
where the sign says
Risks like forgetting
                letting go
         and letting beauty grow
         wild without answering the questions
Like picking up
        the little silver pen
        I found on the roller coaster
        and jotting down the thoughts
        even if I know
        they never will be read
Like slowing down
        sharp edges
        soft centers
        and all the range of fire and ice between
Then being honest all about it
without the need to analyze
                          or apologize
Like listening to the music
and not just to the words

Beautiful Shallows

I spent all summer
in those underwater caves
plunging depths I did not know existed.
The sparkling suffocation
of the truth
seeped through my veins
and lungs and filled the space
behind my eyes
until all I felt was heaviness
strange suspended life or death
gasping up for air and treading water
never more than seconds I allowed
before descending once again to drown
myself in all the salty glory.
Exhaustion and desire
poured together formed one lust
for beauty, goodness, truth,
An ocean vast, and wide, and deep
I have to learn to swim.
Somehow in this desperate dive
I missed the ghostly octopus
his wicked writhing nearer to the shore
and skittering sand crabs
indistinct and perfect
leaving magic patterns in the sand
and tiny purple sea shells
that get lost in my pockets
but are big enough
to change the world.
I lost my balance under water
and forgot how thrilling
to be captivated by
beautiful shallows. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chamber 3: The Nautilus on the Inevitable End

There is something in our
anxious desperation
greater than and equal to
the scrambling of the rabbit from the dogs
to dig for an excuse;
the rabbit's way of life is
seeking reasons for the death
the age that qualifies her
the conditions that she met
associated with that gaping hole.
Avoidance means escape.
But youth-
And innocents,
with all the questions
cannot, for some reason, be
entrusted to the Sovereign
who gives,
to take away for His just mysteries,
Lest we too should feel
exposure of delusion
She dies.  And we think rightly so. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Truth About Math

Many tears in the history of my life have been shed over math.
It started with a change in curriculum when I was in fourth grade. I never recovered.  Beginning with the torture of "speed drills" and continuing until I took the final exam of my final college math class ever, math homework was almost always soaked (literally) with the salt of sweat and tears.  My very kind high school math teacher will remember me forever simply because of the exorbitant number of phone calls she received at unwholesome hours of night because I could not figure out parabolas, long division, and the theorems of geometry.  She's a wonderful lady who usually said something like, "How long have you been working on it, honey?  Three hours?  Okay.  Why don't you put it away and go to sleep? We'll look at it together tomorrow."
She was remarkable.  But that didn't change my passionate dislike for everything related to numbers.  I'm serious.  Finances, didn't matter.  The only numbers I could appreciate were those printed neatly in the corners of book pages so that I could remember where I stopped when I'd had the misfortune of needing to put down whatever it was I'd been reading.
I've spent at least the past five years of my life making an unconscious list of why language is so much more awesome than math will ever be and how God invented math as punishment for rebellious teenagers.
All of it covered in pride.  "I don't like doing things that don't come easily.  It makes me look bad."
And fear.  "I'm never going to understand...ever!"
And defeat.  "I have worked so hard and continued to fail...what's the point?"
So today was a bit of a shock.  And obvious evidence that God uses the very unexpected to prove His faithfulness.
I go to math tutoring.  Believe me, it's not out of joy and excitement that I do it.  It's necessity.  After graduating from college with no plan, I had to spend some time praying and seeking counsel about the future, I have decided to pursue grad work in Linguistics.  The problem is that I have to take the GRE.  And this grad-school entrance exam requires what seems to me like extensive knowledge of algebra, geometry, and problem solving.  All of a sudden, the ghosts of my past rose up to haunt me.  Studying on my own got me nowhere and the only results were the frustrated yells heard throughout the house, "I want to study language! WHY are they testing me on my ability to solve for x????  'X' is a letter, not a number!"
Needless to say, mom wasn't unwise when she sent me to tutoring.
My math tutor is another one of those fantastic people who loves math.  Jenny likes art for its math and math for its art.  She likes her clothing selections for the math of it.  She even picked her shower curtain because it has cocentric circles on it.  Weird.
I've done pages and pages of homework with just a little bit of progress.  She encourages and explains again and again.  She is patient.  I'm still making 40% on my practice tests.  I still cry sometimes.  I still have to force myself to take a deep breath and press on into the numeric forests of darkness.
Today was my fifth session.
As we wrapped up my final questions, Jenny mentioned the Bible study going on at her church on Tuesday nights.  Our conversation turned to things spiritual.  Which is providential.
Things have been rough in my walk recently.
"I've really been struggling with faith recently, Jenny.  For some reason I have no trouble trusting God with big things like hopping over to a foreign country all by myself.  But when it comes to real deal paying my bills, and putting gas in my car, and even that my car is 21 years old and not gonna last forever...when it comes to those little things, I don't even always pray about them.  Somehow, I'm convinced that God doesn't care or doesn't notice.  I know what the Bible says about His concern for me as His child and that He is going to take care of me.  But I don't believe that for some reason.  I use my literary brain to find a way to excuse myself from the applications.  I limit the applications to the intended reader and leave myself out of the circle of His grace.  And so naturally, I worry. A lot."
Jenny smiled.
"You need to know the God of math."
I didn't smile.  I don't associate God with math.  Math is a result of the fall somehow.
Jenny saw my skeptical grin."No really.  Look."  She wrote some numbers on the board.
"How many numbers are there?"
"Well, they keep going forever.."
"Right.  They are infinite.  So we know that man couldn't have created numbers because man is finite and can only create finite things.  Only an infinite God could have created infinite numbers."
I let the words forge a path in a new region of my mind.
"Huh...right.  Never thought of that..."
"So God is infinitely big...and concerned about the big things."
"Yep.  I know that."
"But look at this, Emily."  She wrote the number "1" on the board and then the number "0" a foot or two away.  "How many numbers are between 0 and 1?  Name just one for starters."
My face was blank for a moment.  Then I realized where she was going with the question.
"Good, yes.  What's smaller than 0.5 and bigger than 0?"
"Right.  And half of that is 0.125 and half of that...."  Her hand scrawled indefinite marks on the board.
"...Emily, the numbers between 0 and 1 are infinite.  God is not just infinitely big.  He is infinitely detailed.  He set up the number system to reflect this. This is the the kind of God who deals with bills and gas money and old cars."
I am weak in faith.
Tears welled up in my eyes for a moment.
There was a holy hush in the room.
Chalk dust fell to the carpet.  My keys jingled from their clip.
Jenny blinked and tipped her head.
"You know, Jenny, I kind of like math."

As I drove home, I didn't see trees and roads and people.  I saw algorithms.  Geometrical shapes. Reciprocals.  I saw grid lines on everything.  Formulas floating in the air over stoplights.  The world is a new place today somehow.  The same God who created language, created numbers.  It's another language. Another way of seeing the universe.  Another window into the mind of God.
Today I learned something that I could have, but did not, learn from literature.
Today I took God out of the little box where I'd tried to contain Him.
There will still be days when I sprinkle my linear equations with tears.
There will still be moments when I want to break my pencil and walk away.
But for some reason, I think it'll be different after this.
I get it now.  Math is all about God.
A loving God who cares about little tiny details like the number of hairs on my head and the price of gas in Hampton, Virginia.  The same God who writes poems and invented laughter.
I don't know.  Math isn't all that bad.   

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: Revolution in World Missions

The landscape of missions-related books is littered with ideas ranging from odd to faddish.  Contrastly, Yohannan's work infuses the conversation with passion and experience.  I'm still personally thinking through a lot of what he says, but his main point is well made.  Believers in the West need to reconsider the way we do things when it comes to sending missionaries.  And we need to be willing to sacrifice for the gospel.  Yohannan offers a reasonable, workable solution to the problem of Western missions deputation costs by redirecting funds to indigenous missionaries, and he levels well-aimed, yet humble critique at the worldliness of the Western church.  As I said, I'm still thinking through his approach, but from what I can tell he is biblical.  He emphasizes the Word and prayer, and it seems that those who train under his ministry reproduce disciples that reproduce.  If you're interested in missions at all, this book is important because it discusses a very relevant topic that all gospel-spreading churches need to be aware of in the organization of their missions philosophies.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Road

A good book doesn't distract you from life, it takes you deeper into life.  A good book makes you love goodness, beauty, and truth.  It expands you as a person.  It makes you understand and love other people better.  That's the best I can do for a definition, because most of it is inexpressible.  And that is The Road.  It is a good book.  By definition.  And unspeakably so.

Since I'm not one whose interests gravitate toward post-apocalyptic literature, I almost didn't read it.  And I admit that it was the comments of a few friends who had read it and another song by Andrew Peterson that pushed me over the edge, which is an appropriate analogy for the book itself.  McCarthy takes his readers to the edge of existence, and he doesn't bring them back.  I hate it.  I hated it from the third page.  I wanted it to stop.  With every page, I felt my spirit writhing with the need to finish.  Stopping, of course, was out of the question.  It was completion that I longed for.  Resolution after the mercilessly slow slogging through the swamp of desperate depravity.  And of course, there was none to be had.  I also expected that.  It's an extreme adult version of Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

It is essential to the story that the boy is conceived in the living world and born into the dead one.  Everything is dying.  It would be inappropriate to say that "the boy lives with his father..."  Rather, they are dying together as they travel pointlessly, hopelessly toward the southern ocean of the world.  In the chilling account of their journey and their gruesome adventures, something of goodness is woven through it.  The atheists are somehow satisfied, because the goodness remains unnamed, but it cannot be anything other than God Himself.  Love is immortal, you learn.  Though you cannot say what it is anchored in.  Even so, latent anger pulses through every line.  The unasked question of the entire work is "why?" and an accusing finger points heavenward as they pass their moments always dragging themselves slowly toward certain ends, but uncertain means.  And it doesn't end well.  It cannot.  Like the dying world around them, there is no hope.  But it isn't necessarily a bad thing to lose hope.  As long as you find something in yourself to live for.  Some fire to carry. These are not the lies. It is the last paragraph that holds the lie.  The lie that the world will not be remade.  Cannot.

It is a truthful work.  Incomplete with a severe, visceral quality to its themes.  Read it because, as I told Janice, it is like surgery.  Gross and painful in the process, but life saving in the results.  The Road will teach you what to treasure.  Even though danger lies in its assumptions.

There is are mysteries.  There are darknesses.  Losses.  Storms that can't be weathered.  And at the end of it all there is the fire.  The fire that destroyed everything.  And the fire that keeps you alive.  And the fire must be carried.  And you are left longing for the Light.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Having read The Kite Runner a couple years ago, I expected Hosseini's second book to be just as searing.  What I was not prepared to face was how intensely A Thousand Splendid Suns would magnify my sense of justice and my passion to protect oppressed women of society.  Hosseini's descriptions of Afghan women, their strength, beauty, intelligence and endurance, provide a backdrop of depth humanzing the story for the American reader.  The faces behind the burq'as take definite, provocative forms under the strokes of the author's pen.  The fast-paced unraveling of the plot quickly drew me in so that I started the book one Friday afternoon and finished it the very next day after a 10-hour book binge.  I could not put it down.  Aside from a few stylistic melodramas, which I think were not unwarranted given the topic, the book's value is its immediacy in recent history.  Women today are facing these things in a very real and hostile world not so far away. Most importantly, this book set forth one of the most powerful expressions of sacrificial love that I have ever seen.  As a reader, I will treasure the truth of Laila and Miriam for a long time to come.  As a woman in Christ, I will seek to help other women live out their potential as the crown and glory of creation.
Cheers to Hosseini.  He created a work that moves his audience.  It makes me want to name my daughter Miriam someday.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Grace of Fiction: Why We Should Demand Windows

It could be that I am just more attuned to the problem because I was an English Education major.  But it seems to me that in spite of the plethora of excellent arguments, good education, and even good examples of the topic the misconceptions are just as deeply rooted as they have always been.  In the past month, I have found myself in more than one conversation with Christians who believe fiction to be a waste of time.

Granted, there is a lot that falls under the category and there is plenty of it that isn't worth consideration.  Just like any art, there are the fakes and sub-par crafters.  We don't need to broad brush whole library shelves on the demerits of the fringe.  But what Christians tend to do is not to look at each work of fiction individually and determine whether it is worth their time.  They tend to dichotomize all writing in to two categories: Fiction and Non-Fiction.  Almost everything of the former is deemed a waste and nearly everything of the latter is thought noble and good (as long as it avoids most objectionable elements and then allows them only in small quantities.  The excuse for these is that "it's a true story.")  Somehow the life of Winston Churchill is more righteous than To Kill a Mockingbird.   

I understand that the misconceptions arise from good intentions.  The argument is that we have only one life and only one chance to make it count for Christ. Yes!  I agree.  But does it necessarily follow that we should avoid fiction then?  The counterargument to my view almost always drags in Philippians "whatsoever things are true...think on these things."  But even this assumes that the meaning of "true" is something along the lines of "that which exists or existed."  A narrow definition at best.  Additionally, Christians often obsess over the obvious didactic qualities of a book, and we fail to consider worthy anything that doesn't draw a clear lesson. We expect, indeed we feel guilty if we cannot find, the moral of the story to be laid out in flannel-graph clarity.  In doing so we miss the value and maturity of latent theology present in every piece of literature which requires critical thinking and wrestling with hard questions to discover and evaluate.    

The Bible never says "Thou shalt not read fiction."  Neither does it say "Thou shalt."  It is inspired, infallable Truth about the gospel.  Redemption.  And it does give us guidelines for wise use of our time and prudent watch over our hearts and minds to protect our purity.  I must assert that we do ourselves a disservice on both counts when we fail to know something of good fiction.  One of the best ways to guard our hearts and protect our purity is by the constant practice of handling the ideas and concepts of good fiction.  I am convinced that he means for us to use fiction (both the reading and writing of it) as a means of grace.    

Many writers have done better justice to the argument in favor than I will attempt to do here.  I simply want to bring out an often-overlooked point.  C.S.Lewis said the following in his book An Experiment in Criticism: 

"...we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. And even when we build disinterested fantasies, they are saturated with, and limited by, our own psychology. To acquiesce in this particularity on the sensuous level—in other words, not to discount perspective—would be lunacy. We should then believe that the railway line really grew narrower as it receded into the distance. But we want to escape the illusions of perspective on higher levels too. We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. We are not content to be Leibnitzian monads. We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is “I have got out.” Or from another point of view, “I have got in”; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside...Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic, or merely piquant. Literature gives the entree to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom realize the enormous extension of our being that we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense, but he inhabits a tiny word. In it, we should be suffocated. My own eyes are not enough for me. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or bee.In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."
We are to be people able to obey Romans 12:15.  "Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Mourn with those who mourn."  To a person who has known deep suffering, nothing is more gracious than when another is able to connect on that level.  "But," you might argue, "how can I who have never known the loss of a loved one...?" Has the agony of death not yet touched you?  You need to read more.  The ability of a person to relate to others in a meaningful way is magnified astronomically through good literature.  Ministry is relationships and relationships grow through shared experience.  Through the vicarious experience of pain through literature, you may begin (I do not say perfectly) to experience the thoughts and feelings of those around you and bless them with your kindness instead of your indifference.

Readers are empathizers.  And for all the talk of "respecting the narratives of all people" we are very bad at actually empathizing.  We draw wrong parallels and offensive conclusions when we take our tiny-world perspectives and say to someone who truly suffers, "Oh, I totally understand where you are coming from!" The empathizer may not say a word.  The empathizer knows that there are some sorrows too deep for words.  He will not try to project his imposed experience on it.
I will never forget when my dad first learned that he had colon cancer, and my family began working through the magnitude of our questions and what it would mean if we lost him.  In what was intended to be an encouraging phone call, a well-meaning friend starkly reminded me, "You know, if God wants your dad to have cancer, then it's a good thing."
But tactless.  Even harsh.
Especially when spoken to a confused, hurting 14-year-old whose unregenerate definition of "good" most definitely did not include cancer.  
In simplified terms, the regular experience of good literature trains us to think outside of ourselves and reminds us that there is more than one, blunt way to express truth.  It destroys the selfish tendency to assume that our perspective is the only right one or the most complete one or that simple answers solve huge problems. By reading, I know that I don't know everything, that the world is infinitely more complex than I first imagined.  That I can't glibly tell a suffering friend that everything will be fine and take lightly the weight and importance of the pain being experienced.  (See this wonderful article on tragic worship for more on the importance of pain...  

The invitation to read and know humans better thereby is also an invitation to higher joys.  We have all seen a friend rejoicing over something with such intensity that we wished we could share it to the same degree. Reading brings these heights into the mind and is essential to articulating something past, "I'm glad for you..."

By constantly handling the metaphysical until it is (in the words of Harper Lee) "the air you breathe," you learn, and you enlarge yourself, and you know grace more.  You're able to extend understanding where before you might have judged or dismissed.  And beyond come into contact with something greater than yourself.  Something beyond flannel-graph literature.

Might it be the reality of God in unexpected places?  

It is not the only argument.  It is just the one that I think is most downplayed by those who (possibly?) do not want to take the time and discipline to enjoy a good book every once in a while.

Maybe we should pray for the humility to demand a few more windows.  

Chamber 2: The Nautilus on the Complexity of Love

Never do desire and revulsion
sweetly mingle more
than in the elements of bread and wine.
I would not crush you in the symbol
yet must with desperate longing to be the one consumed
I want
I do not want
your death
Against the grain of what I can believe
it must be so
all thought and feeling
even being
you have overwhelmed
in New Covenant forged in your blood
so by exquisite tang of
sorrow and delight
you give this rest.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review: The Yearling

The third installment in these scraggly, underfed book reviews for the summer...

Last year, Alex and Carley introduced me to Andrew Peterson's breathtaking new album, Light for the Lost Boy.  Having only recently begun to appreciate the poetry of this fantastic artist, I was thrilled with the new CD and reveled in the depth of songs like Carry the Fire and Don't You Want to Thank Someone. However, I had a few complaints.  One of them was the Ballad of Jody Baxter.  Gasp, dear reader, at my ignorance.  I found the song disjointed and frustrating.  Who was this Jody lady and why was she running down to the creek to go fishing and what does a deer, a storm, and a garden have anything to do with it?  I dismissed the song as the poetic ramblings of a desperate, yet beloved, artist.  I extended mercy knowing that I myself have written things before that meant little to anyone else.  Whenever I listened to the CD, I skipped the song and enjoyed the rest that I could understand.  Oh, I was casting aside a rare jewel with the recklessness of a monkey!  

On the way to church one Sunday, Alex played the CD and did not skip the Ballad.  My groans were instantaneous.  "Ugh!  This is the worst song on this whole album!  It makes no sense."  This is not the first time I have spoken with complete stupidity to my dear friends.  Alex was surprised that I didn't like it, knowing my love of literature. He patiently queried, "Did you know that he wrote the song because he was inspired by a book?"  Instant regret filled me that I had degraded something sprung from the revered ground of written text.  "Oh...?"  Alex could not remember the name of the book.  My own research returned the title: The Yearling. And the realization that Jody was a young boy.  (blush...)

I admit, with further shame, my adamant skepticism.  Andrew Peterson, my favorite modern poet, was inspired to write a song because of a book about a deer?  Seriously?  Baby animals are cute... I say that knowing that it groups me with the stereotype of women nationwide.  But whole books about baby animals and in particular a baby deer that doesn't even show up in the book until 100 pages in?  
Still, Andrew Peterson had liked it.  Loved it even.  Enough to write a blog post about it with his own tears to end it.  Tears?  Yes.   

The book rambles.  It frustrates.  It survives.  And I loved it.  I loved the hunting and the figuring and the living that goes on.  It's pages drip with life.  And death.  I love the opulence of its descriptions and the drawings of the rooted earth.  The orientation of the entire book is not Jody, or even a person at all.  It is nature.  Everything is seasons and colors and elements.  Always everyone in relationship to nature.  

Honestly, I had no idea that I had a place in my heart for such a book.  Rugged living isn't my go-to literature.  But something of its themes rushed fresh air into musty corners of my heart.  The rigors and delights of youth in the wild and the distinction between immaturity and innocence slice through the deceptively wandering plot.   

In Jody's words, the book left me, "Torn with hate for all death and pity for all aloneness."  And I add the ache of Tennyson's words.  "Though much is taken, much abides."  Jody grows up.  The yearling dies.  
And in Peterson's words, "It was good, good, good. But now it's gone.  And there's a little boy who's lost out in the woods always looking for the fawn."    

Read it.  Relish it.  And return to the woods.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: A Separate Peace

Three days ago, when I finished this book, I was about to open up my laptop and start writing about it.  But I couldn't.  It hit too deep.  Something would have been very wrong about spewing words as representations too soon after impact.  I needed to heal first.  
I have to admit that the character development in this book is pristine.  I think I fell in love with Phineas several times.  I'll probably retain a lingering literary crush on him for a very long while.  What a human!  Without spoiling the book for those who haven't read it, here's my quick assessment. 
The technique of starting with a vivid, nostalgic narration really draws the reader into the rest of the book.  I needed to know about the stairs and the tree!  It's a beautiful way to create dramatic question, but it also makes fort a gut-wrenching read.  Not because it splatters violence and crudity on every page, but because it's real, raw, and unresolved.  The realism here punctures something in the human spirit, destroying something that we long for, leaving us groping in the darkness for that something that was lost.  John Knowles nails it with word choice every time.  He's not verbose or irritating, and his precision is a mark of his conceptual genius in creating emotions and characters.  
Definitely not for the faint of heart, but it's worth reading for all the truth and aching beauty.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book Review: Rebecca by Du Maurier

About four years ago, I was sitting in a desk waiting for class to begin when somebody brought up the topic of books we were reading (Not surprising...English majors tend to talk about that sort of thing...).  One of my classmates had just finished the book Rebecca by Du Maurier.  While she gushed over the incredible plot, character, and style, I was taking in the dimensions of the work on her desk. The cover was worn, the pages were musty, and the title was boldly stamped on the front in black text.  Everything about my classmate's description shrouded the book in mystery.  I have been haunted for the past several years by the title.  Nothing revealed, everything implied.  Just Rebecca.  It was just last week that I finally got around to reading it.  I kept expecting a ghost to appear on every page, and the crisis, climax, and ending were, for me, completely unexpected.  I found myself in the protagonist more often than I want to admit, which took me on an emotional roller coaster as I had to shift loyalties halfway through the book.  It feels like a British version of Gatsby, but it's more meaningful in many ways because the consequences are greater.  
In short:  Riveting.  Artful.  Brilliant.  Dark.  Disturbing.  Unresolved.  The best of modern classics.  I recommend it to anyone who wants a page turner and a break from the fluff of so called "summer reading."   

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chamber 1: The Nautilus on the Complexity of Loneliness

I restlessly examine
these beads scattered
colors varied shapes diverse and dazzling
gathered from my travels.
Times I take them out
trying anxiously to organize;
but there is no hope- here lies
chaotic, collected
beauty, but from it can create nothing cohesive
so I string instead together
bead by bead
eclectic fragments
stranded soon to snap
tumbling on the table
falling to the floor.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Distillation by Andrew Peterson

Lost this on the internet and just rediscovered it.   I'm posting it here for the benefit of my very few readers and so that I never EVER lose it again.  :)

It’s hard to choose,
Among all that is
And all that is not,
One small thing
To make much of:
One cell,
One star,
One wind,
One wound,
One old broken truck,
One undeniable infatuation
With one untouchable soul;
To pen a span of words
With myriad meanings,
Arranged just so, in order
That they might mean
That one single thing
Which can mean
A million things–
Depending on
The reader,
And the hour
He or she reads it,
And the angle of light,
And the heart’s condition,
And the temperature of the air,
And the presence
(Or absence)
Of demons
Or angels,
Or impersonal,
And the song that played
In the bakery and mingled
Perfectly with the aroma and
Aerated the anger, just enough
That the poem might seed the soul
With a fleeting, sacred silence–
Just enough to plant the secret
God is telling–the one thing
We’re all dying to discover–
Even if we have to find it
In a poem.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Memorable Quotations

Sorting through accumulated papers is never a fun job.  But it has to be done at the end of every semester, and today I finished the foot and a half high stack with laughter because I found a notebook full of funny things my daycare kids said.  I'm posting these for the humor and so that I can toss the papers. All of these actually came out of the mouths of kids under the age of five. Enjoy!

"I accidentally need a hug."

"I am scared of girls talking to other girls."  

"Don't kill that bug!  He is a helpful creature on this earth!  He is very brave!"

"What do you think I am, a platypus???"

"Only that I want is my toothbrush teeth." 

"I'm telling you that I don't have a bookbag and it's real!"

"Stephen just blowed his voice at me!"

"You aren't married?  Then just have a party and dance with all the boys and then pick the one you like best!"

"Grownups don't have mommies."

"Doesn't it tickle when you put straws in your nose?"

"My dad's name has a 'k' in it too!  His name is Alfred!"

"I guess nobody wants to see my armpits, because that's rude."

"I want to be a teacher one day so I can write names on the board."

"I just love pandas...I can't help it!"

"A million take away a thousand equals be quiet."

"All lost dogs are brown."

"Old is when you get crumbles on your scratches and you walk slow and you can't talk anymore.  You're just dead."  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Inundation: Thoughts from Huxley and Mueller

It started as a trickle
this innovation
as we discovered application
of god-like intellect. 
So we built our Babel
and the rain came down
drop by drop
the hole we were digging
(The City we were building)
filled up with
the judgment of God
our own inventions,
and we couldn't get enough until,
covered by strange and familiar 
water falling from the sky
we were forced to scream
to be heard beneath the flood.
Constant Communication 
is essential to
(they tell us)
the creation of 
programs and initiatives for 
Thirst Slaking and Water Education. 
While all that was real
every cell of our skin
begins to 
fall apart.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Questions of Identity: The Candle

There is something
to be said for Fire
gnawing at the wax,
the dissipation of the self
to melt into the Light.
Such has always been
the way of things
as Torches pass the Flame
to the end of all the ages.

While we wonder if we are to be
the last to bear the Light
we are only given now
to wait
and burn.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Summons: Upon Graduation

Coming to an end of times
"A chapter ends, a new begun," is said, 
I wonder why, then
I feel so cold inside myself, and
fold myself inside myself
where desecrated places
charred by fires of my passions
ignited and extinguished
in the wasteland of the soul
where youth grew and wasted graces.

We are young yet.
Our words are wise to us
among ourselves
we split the coinage of our times
and half our classics prove passe.
We hoped to devote our dreams
to all that indestructs
knowing that in youth we speak
what in years we may regret
it cannot be helped
we are convinced
"that which we are, we are"
and "what will be, will be"
it is a risk, of course, that will unfold. 

Woman, Know Your Place

Language fascinates me.  I love nuances and connotations and colors and tones in words.  That concrete things can be made conceptual through letters and metaphors just delights the poetry in our intellects.  And English is great for this.  English is alive and thriving, so meanings change as culture morphs over time.  Of course, there is gain and loss in this.  Sometimes words lose their meanings altogether.  Instead of gaining texture and layer, some words become pale and lifeless.  It didn't take long for the word "awesome" to lose almost all its weight.  But even this is not devastating.  There are a lot of adjectives that can replace "awesome" and words will be invented that will work even better.  There is something more dangerous than losing a word.  That is misapplying it.  Because instead of the word taking on a new meaning, it begins to change other things to fit it, even if those things do not fit.  If the color "red" still means red, but I go around applying the word "red" to everything from fuchsia to peach, I've begun to change the way I look at things.  I've lost distinctions.  And this is dangerous.  

This is what's happening with the word "feminist"  in conservative Christianity.  

The word feminist has always referred to (and still currently refers to) a person who rejects traditional gender role distinctions.  Feminists typically find identity in education and careers.  They live to match or top men in every possible area.  They try to prove that they are at least equal to men in every way and better than men in most ways.  That is a feminist. "Woman, know your place.  You belong in the workforce.  You belong at the top."  

Of course, feminism was a reaction to patriarchal ism.  Feminism reacted to the "Woman, go make me a sandwich while I stay here in the man cave" mentality that has prevailed in many cultures since the Fall.  In patriarchal ism  women are slaves of men.  The purpose of the woman is to marry and bear children and obey the man's every whim.  "Woman, know your place. Your place is not to be educated or to find a job you enjoy.  Your place is in the kitchen and the nursery."  And feminism rejected this because they felt, rightfully, dissatisfied with this ancient idea.  

But then conservative Christianity reacted against feminism.   Shocked by the arrogance of the women who dared to leave home and family to pursue a career, one branch of Christianity (think Jack Hyles) began to yell about women submitting and the need for mothers and wives, not secretaries and feminine CEO's.  So this branch of Christianity kept their daughters in dresses and discouraged them from going to college.  They taught them to cook and clean and sew.  "Woman, know your place.  You are to complete a man.  You are a 'helpmeet.'  You are meant to be a wife and mother."  

What is the place of the woman?  If we agree with feminism, then a woman who stays home with her children is wasting her life by not reaching her full potential.  If we agree with some parts of Christianity, then a woman who has a job is in sin by failing to "look well to the ways of her household."  What does God have to say about this?  

The Bible does not ever say that the place of the woman is the home. 
The Bible does not ever say that women in general need to submit to men in general. 
The Bible does not ever say that a woman can't hold a job outside the home.  
The Bible DOES say that a woman is the perfect completer to man. Man apparently needs help. 
The Bible DOES say that a woman submits to her husband specifically. He is to love her by sacrificing for her and serving her in a Philippians 2 Christlike way so that this submission is not a burden for her. 
The Bible DOES say that a woman is to care for her family, if she has one. Though she doesn't have to have one to be accepted by God. 

The woman's place is not the kitchen or the classroom.  It is not next to her husband or at his feet.  It is not over the Church or under a man. 
A woman's place is in Christ.  

If we understood this, we wouldn't apply the label "feminist" so quickly.  A woman "in Christ" may be gifted in many areas.  She may be single or married.  She may have a job or have less than a high school diploma.  And she can still fulfill her calling in Christ.  She may love cooking and she may love parsing Greek words.  She might be able to have an intelligent conversation about theology.  She might want to write a novel.  

But we don't seem to be upset by a woman who stays at home and doesn't get an education, do we?  We seem to think it fine if she doesn't want to expand her intellect.  We think she's more spiritual if she "just wants to be a wife and mother."  We love those type.  They are easy to categorize.  "Not feminist."  

It's the other girls we don't know what to make of.  They are the ones who think for themselves.  They want to do something other than have a family, though they are also open to that idea if God would bring a man into their lives.  They don't want to be better than men, in fact, they don't think of life in terms of a contest at all.  They just know that in the gospel, they are equal with men (yes, equal...see Paul's writings in the New Testament) and have a responsibility to do something with the gospel to which they were called.  They also know that there are different functions of the two genders.  They don't want to be men.  But they want to be completely woman for the glory of God; this means that they cannot exclude cultivating their minds for His glory.  They want to serve the church with their other gifts and talents.  They are okay being single.  What do we do with them?  We don't know what to call them, so we use the only other term available to us.  "Feminist."  

Let me clarify a few things.  

Being intelligent doesn't make a woman a feminist.  
Being opinionated doesn't make a woman a feminist.  
Being educated doesn't make a woman a feminist.
Even if you are those three things and single, you're STILL not a feminist.  
If you are all those things and HAPPY about it, you're still not a feminist.  

Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7, that singleness is a gift of God.  If a single woman wants to serve the Church by pursuing an education, then she should be supported and encouraged.  If God gave her a desire to stay single, then let her!  

It is a question of identity.  If a woman finds her identity in education, she will be unsatisfied   But if she finds her identity in marriage and homemaking, she will be equally unsatisfied. 
Because a woman was meant to find her satisfaction in Christ, just as men were meant to find their satisfaction in Christ.   

Is marriage and motherhood a high and holy calling?  YES!  
Is singleness as a woman a high and holy calling?  YES!  

Woman, know your place.  
At the foot of the cross.
In Christ.  
Secure in the gospel.
Now go live like it's true.  
You're free to be single or married.  It doesn't matter.  You can serve God and fulfill your purpose either way. You're free to discern whether He wants you to go to college or not.  You're free to read and write and paint and draw.  You can be a childcare provider or a nuclear physicist.  Just do it for the glory of God in the grace of Christ.  And don't worry. You're not a feminist.