I hope everyone had a great Christmas! I've been working a whole lot, and I've been sick so the blogging hasn't been happening.
Speaking of sick and Christmas, that's what I was. I had the best Advent season I've ever had, but then Christmas Day, I'm pretty sure the only reason I woke up was because I would have otherwise suffocated due to inability to breath. I stumbled out of bed at 6am to take cold medicine and slept for another 3 1/2 hours, woke up, saw everyone else was still (sick) asleep, opened my door, and stayed in bed for another couple of hours. I managed to function enough for a Christmas lunch and presents, but more or less napped/read the rest of the day. So glad Christmas is about Jesus and not everything else because the everything else was not so thrilling this year.
And now speaking of not so thrilling, this was the first time in 19 years that I wasn't with my sister for Christmas. I'm seeing her tomorrow, but it's still sad. I remember Christmases when I was little that seem like they happened in an alternate universe, or to someone else, because the circumstances then were so different from now. Even last year, when things got weird, I had Jess to play parcheesi with me. Not everyone who reads this will know what I mean, but that's ok.
I was reflecting yesterday on what I could learn, and this is what I came up with:
The commercialization of Christmas provokes jealousy and longing. When I was younger, it was about gifts. Now, I would give anything for everyone to be together again. It's easy for me to believe that the grass is greener on the other side. At the same time, I know what Christmas is really about - the Word putting on flesh to dwell among us, knowing from birth that He would be forsaken. Jesus came to die, and to raise our dead hearts to life. That has to be enough for me, because it's the only thing I'll ever have for sure...I miss what used to be...Somehow, I have to believe this makes the truth of this season even sweeter. Christ knew He was stepping into our mess, a broken world, and He came anyway. God, You knew before You made us that this would be required, but You poured out the blood of Your Son voluntarily. Even as the people You love hurt You and each other, You care for us all most tenderly.
Sorry if that was too depressing for the still Christmas after Christmas crowd.
I've been really into this song lately. Maybe that will help lift the mood.
I get a dinner break while I'm working; it's 45 minutes. It doesn't take me nearly that long to eat, and I fill the time with reading the Bible. As I said before, I like to get a verse to hold on to the rest of the night.
Tonight, I was staring at the empty chair across the table from me, and I sat wondering what it would be like if Jesus were sitting right there. Since the Lord is near to all who call on Him, I had a conversation (in my head: I didn't want everyone around me to think I was nuts!) with Christ the way I would with any dining companion. It was so beautiful -best date ever!
Sometimes I start to worry about the fact that I don't have a concrete thesis topic yet or really solid leads on a job/interviews. I'm putting work in, but it feels like nothing's happening, and it's hard not to be anxious about all this.
There's a Wolof proverb that says, "Invoke God, but plow your fields". It means to trust God, but also to walk in faith, keep making moves.
There's also Philippians 4:6-7 and Matthew 6:25-34.
I know I don't need to be anxious, and that everything will turn out fine if I keep going, but sometimes I still am. Life, I guess.
I think the hardest part is not comparing myself to other people. I look at friends who are going to interviews or even landing jobs or being accepted to graduate school or getting married and/or finishing or researching very specific theses, and I feel like I'm so far behind.
I think that people waste far too much time and energy in comparisons, and place far too much value on them. Further, I remember my psychology teacher in high school's poignant illustration of how we always compare up instead of down. He knew one of his students ice skated, so he asked, "Leah, how are you at ice skating?"She said, "I'm ok I guess". Our teacher then said, "Well, are you better than Kyle?" Leah said, "He doesn't skate" He said, "Well then you're better than him. Are you better than Kelly?" Leah said, "Yeah, she skates socially once in awhile". He went on with just about everyone else in this class before going on to say, "We have established that you are the best ice skater in this room. When you supposed that you were ok, who were you comparing yourself to?" Leah said, "There are a lot of people better than I am". Our teacher then said, "And there are even more who aren't".
Similarly, someone told my parents at my first national gymnastics meet that the ratios of competitive gymnastics broke down to something like this:
1,000,000 girls in the US take some form of recreational (non competitive) gymnastics each year
Only 100,000 of those will ever compete in levels 1-6 (a compulsory progression in which each level has a set of routines that every girl performs)
10,000 make it to optional levels 7-9 (the next set of levels in which each level has requirements, but gymnastics are free to make up their own routines and choose their own music).
1,000 will compete at the highest numbered level, 10.
Of these, 100 will qualify as elite. Elites are the ones who are eligible to make the national team and compete with people like Gabby Douglas.
The number who makes the national team can vary, but this year there were 15.
5 of these girls will make the US Olympic team
2 will be eligible to compete in the Olympic all-around finals, if they qualify at all, because there is no guarantee.
And only 1 of the 24 competitors from around the world will stand on top of the podium.
It is good to remember that you are not the best, but you are not the worst either. Two years ago, I wrote about what I learned from coming in last at the NCAA Midwest Regional cross country race. I was the worst that day, but I was better than so many Americans who couldn't even run one mile, much less over three.
So it is ever important not to worry about everyone else and what they are doing. You can only control your own thoughts, so as long as you keep plugging along, you have no reason to be upset.
Before work, and on a break, I try to find a Bible verse that I can take hold of and repeat to myself as I do mindless work, or am dealing with a frustrating customer. Today was particularly slow; I spent three hours doing little besides buttoning and zipping coats. I have had some wonderful prayer times at this job - praying for anyone and anything that comes to mind.
Today, the verse I clung to was
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant! Psalm 135:3 I came home to a snowy yard, and stew that my mother had made. We turned on the news to be flooded with Sandy Hook coverage. Is anyone else finding it challenging to watch? I can't listen to a parent, a student, even a community member without tearing up. The newscaster just said this may be the greatest tragedy on American soil since 9/11. I was just barely ten years old that day when we watched the towers fall, and although I knew it was bad, I could not possibly understand the magnitude or repercussions that were still to come. Now, however, I understand very well. I spent all summer coaching little girls not unlike many of the victims - girls who loved Dora and pink and butterflies and pretty leotards. Girls who still walked on tip toe just for fun and had mom doing their hair and gave me endless hugs. Girls who could be gone in an instant, just for being dropped off at school one day. I just can't imagine what Newton is going through. Newton is the second worst school shooting in history; Virginia Tech is first. Some are saying Sandy Hook is arguably worse, because of the age of so many of the victims. Many ethicists would say they are correct. There is an argument that the tenet of killing that makes it wrong is loss of future. A child of six has a greater loss of future than a student of eighteen. Of course, both are tragic. And somehow, even as I weep for this community, that verse is in my head, because God is still good. I recall Aaron Keyes' song, "Sovereign Over Us". In it, Keyes sings, "Even what the enemy means for evil/You turn it for our good/You turn it for our good and for Your glory/Even in the valley You are faithful/You're working for our good/You're working for our good and for Your glory". At the end of the day, all I have is the fact that the Lord is good, and His goodness is everlasting and unchanging. That's where my trust needs to be.
I'm just over 150 pages into my 800 page bioethics book, and the more I read, the more I think about the nature of ethics itself. Many of the writers argue that a practice is or is not ethically acceptable. I can't help but think, "says you" whenever I read that. Based on our views and values, each of us has a different ideas as to what is morally and ethically permitted.
From a secular standpoint, can there really be one definitive ethical standard? Example: it is quite easy to say that murder is wrong and have a lot of support for that statement, especially in light of all the recent shootings. Let's say that someone had the opportunity to kill the Sandy Hook shooter before he killed himself, or more innocents. Is that murder still wrong? Or are you now wrong if you have that opportunity and don't do it? Or what about this one: I read an article saying that both abortion and infanticide are ethically sound. At what point does a person cease to be an infant and become a small child? Is it wrong to kill at 2 years old but not 1 and 11/12ths? Is it wrong to kill at 9 weeks but not 8? Does a child have more value once it can talk? Or is walking the standard?
In both of these scenarios, someone has to decide that one person has more value than another, and may in fact reach a decision that murder is the right ethical choice. Therefore, it is no longer universally accepted that murder is wrong.
This is why I find ethics incredibly challenging; it is all intensely subjective and arguing is often fruitless, because it is nearly impossible to just change someone's worldview in an instant.
Anyone on facebook saw thoughts, prayers and condolences sent out, along with debates and defenses on gun control and the second amendment. There have been so many shootings this year, that tragedy is unfortunately becoming a norm. Two of them were in my state, which doesn't make them any more tragic, it just brings everything closer to home.
Today, I believe, was an even more tremendous wake up call. Perhaps we see a reasoning (even if we find it repugnant) behind going into a crowded movie theater - a lot of people on whom to play the villain, or even, as sick as it is, a Sikh temple - religious persecution; but when someone walks into a kindergarten classroom, this is where we lose any ounce of reason we might otherwise have been able to find.
The timing of this shooting - the 14th day of Advent - is what has struck me. Here we are, in the midst of a season of preparation for the celebration of our Savior's coming, and this happens, the kind of thing that causes people to ask where God is in all of this. Will Christmas be sweeter this year in the wake of Sandy Hook? Are you now more prepared to receive Christ with joy? God is sovereign, but there is still more to be said.
Earlier today, I read this meditation on that famous, two-word Bible verse from John's Gospel, Jesus wept. Lazarus was dead, and Jesus wept. But, as the author of that post points out, Jesus already knew He was going to raise Lazarus to life. Jesus already knew everything would be fine, and that He would have the ultimate victory. But despite knowing the joy to come, He still wept for the tragedy of the present moment.
This is akin to Christ knowing He Himself would be raised, and yet, He cried out to His Father on the cross, "why have You forsaken Me?" Jesus knew what was happening as He hung on that cross. He knew that He would be raised, and that He would be the ultimate conqueror over death. He would live to see His name made great among the nations, and would ultimately return to establish His Kingdom. And still, Christ was able to understand our desperation. How fortunate we are to serve a Lord who is both sovereign yet still sympathizes with us.
As we are at home weeping today, and in the days to come, for parents who will never hug their children again, for children who will never see friends, siblings, teachers, and parents again, for a community that will be moving towards a slow path to recovery and security, for a nation that has suffered and will attempt to work towards a better solution, and for a world lost in its sin, may we take comfort in the fact that Jesus wept.
I am LOVING the Desiring God Advent book. It was a free pdf of daily Advent readings by John Piper. What's not to love about that?
Today (day 11) featured Matthew 2:10-11, and was on the offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
"What do they (the gifts) mean? How are they worship? The gifts are intensifiers of desire for Christ himself in much the same way that fasting is. When you give a gift to Christ like this, it's a way of saying, 'The joy that I pursue is not the hope of getting rich with things from you. I have not come to you for your things, but for yourself. And this desire I now intensify and demonstrate by giving up things, in the hope of enjoying you more, not things. By giving to you what you do not need, and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, 'You are my treasure, not these things.''"
And now it's time for another carol
What child is this who laid to restOn Mary's lap is sleeping?Whom angels greet with anthems sweetWhile shepherds watch are keeping? So bring him incense, gold and myrrhCome, peasant, king to own himThe King of kings salvation bringsLet loving hearts enthrone him This, this is Christ the KingWhom shepherds guard and angels singHaste, haste to bring him laudThe babe, the son of Mary Oh, raise, raise a song on highHis Mother sings her lullabyJoy, oh, joy for Christ is bornThe Babe, the Son of Mary This, this is Christ the KingWhom shepherds guard and angels singHaste, haste to bring him laudThe babe, the son of Mary What child is this who laid to restOn Mary's lap, on Mary's lap he is sleeping? This, this is Christ the KingWhom shepherds guard and angels singHaste, haste to bring him laudThe babe, the son of Mary Babe, the son of MaryThe son of Mary
What I would tell myself as a halfway graduated high schooler four years ago:
This is you, four years in the future. You have no idea where you're going to be next fall and it's starting to freak you out. You just quit gymnastics and you are tired of high school. Your last year of track will be a bummer; you will cry, but you will also survive the nasty AP schedule you set up for yourself (though, if you decided not to take one of your exams, that would be fine too). You attend a college you absolutely love, and haven't even heard of yet. Isn't that amazing? It is a perfect fit. This year alone, you finally got to go to Africa, moved 5 times, lived with almost a half dozen amazing families in some capacity, and traveled through 12 states. In the past four years, you have learned to stop being afraid of saying/doing/liking the wrong things. Now you wear clothes you really like and aren't ashamed of the music you listen to. You still do nerdy things like read all your books before the semester even starts, but you're proud of that now, and for some bizarre reason people think you're funny. You are also still slated to be your best friend's maid of honor, despite the fact that you haven't seen each other in a year. You have an amazing gospel-centered church home, and you have grown tremendously in your walk with God. You are now the kind of girl who dances by herself in public, be it on an airplane, a bus, or a run. You are embarrassed by this fact as you read it, but you will embrace it in your future. Although you have few close friends now, you hit the jackpot in college. You have the craziest, most incredible friends in the entire world - oh yes, did I mention you're a runner now? A cross country runner. Talk about crazy. People like you, but you still like to spend your weekend evenings reading or playing guitar. Yup, you play guitar, too. I don't think I would be able to list all the things you do now that you didn't before, because you have learned and grown so much. You became the person you wanted to be and it was a million times easier than you ever imagined. You stopped trying and just were. It will take you the next four years to realize all this, but you are pretty cool, and you have incredible people cheering for you. It's all worth it.
My friend Xadi sent this article to me, and there's a picture I don't want to throw out there for all my readers on it, so I'm not going to post the link, but it is probably my favorite thing I've read on veils in a long long time:
In a society surrounded by Western images of the sexualized female, the veil allows for a post-modern alternative, a post-face society.
If we are truly to believe that the veil symbolizes submission to men, what are we to believe Western clothing symbolizes?
My claim is that contrary to Western conceptions of “third world women,” the veil is a motif of liberation for some, a barrier between the female and exploitation. Away from the pressure of the media's ideals of perfection, the veiled woman overcomes her own body, can create her own ideals of beauty, and is respected as more than a physical entity. This is not to say that the veiled woman has a suppressed sexuality, but that this sexuality is funneled towards her marriage – in the home.
Is it so hard to believe that Muslim women consider dressing scantily in public a repressive choice, and covering up a liberating experience? “If you've got it, flaunt it.” WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN? -Sylvia Lucas, “ Unveiling of the Veil.”
My favorite part of this article is how it talks about sexuality not being suppressed, but being funneled towards marriage. What is unsaid, is that marriage is the proper context for sexuality to be expressed. And not just for women, for men too. The commentary offered in this piece goes so far beyond the veil into the realms of how overt sex and sensuality have become mainstream in our culture.
For Muslim women, modesty is expressed in veiling. In the US, it's expressed by not wearing tight, low-cut, short clothing and by keeping your shirt on (men. well, maybe it is necessary to include women in this one). For people who reject standards of modesty, they both carry the connotation of "suppressing sexuality". But what this article is on to, is that it is actually liberating. Sexuality in marriage is awesome; it's supposed to be private - between a husband and wife. But it gets tarnished when dragged out into the open, which is exactly what mainstream popular culture has done.
I love this times a million. A blog post will never capture my true excitement. Thanks again, suma xarit.
In the spring, I will be taking biomedical ethics, a philosophy course cross-listed as religious studies. I have never taken a philosophy class before...unless you count some of my crazy French classes (there are two that could be contested as 'philosophy).
In honor of this fact, I am reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics. Although most of his arguments will not stand in class, I wanted to get his perspective on things. As an ethicist, I find him fascinating. He fiercely resisted the Nazi party and involvement in the church, and was even part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. Talk about an understanding of good/evil. If you have a chance to get rid of evil, but must break the law (murder, both illegal in the world and a sin) in order to do so, are you perpetuating the evil? Is bad ever good?
I am not very far yet, but it is reminding me of Rick Joyner's There Were Two Trees in the Garden, especially in describing shame and conscience, and what happened at the fall. I've been finding the fall more and more fascinating lately. I'd always understood that it was a separation of man from God, it began sin and death, it led to shame and man's hiding from God, but I'd never quite grasped what it meant to acquire the knowledge of good and evil. Don't we need to know evil to know good?
Maybe, but maybe not. If God told Adam and Eve that the one tree should be avoided, and all the rest were good, that should have been enough. God said, This here is good, this is not. They didn't need to know evil to continue to live. They didn't need to be able to make that distinction.
Another intriguing point pops in at Genesis 3:6
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,she took of its fruitand ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her,and he ate. Depending on the emphasis you put on the bolded person, you get different interpretations: 1) the tree was desired to make one wise. In this case, "one" serves as an impersonal pronoun referring to the partaker of the tree's fruit. 2) the tree was desired to make one wise. In this case, "one" is a quantitative adjective used to describe the number of people the tree would make wise. Could it be that the knowledge of good and evil was meant for just one? One - you know, perhaps God, who created the knowledge of good and evil? Maybe the Hebrew text clears this all up, and I'm reading into things, but that second option is pretty crazy, right? It would make one (person) wise. This actually flows into patterns of iniquity from Isaiah 12:13-14 that I've written on before - You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ The Most High was the one who had the knowledge - and in taking the fruit, Eve showed she also wanted it, she wanted to be like the Most High and know what He knew. In any event, Bonhoeffer talks about man's relationship with God, his understanding with God, his understanding of self, his understanding and relationship with fellow man, and a hundred other things. I'm going to share some of my favorite bits so far. It is pretty thick, so it will take awhile to get through, but I recommend it. Highly.
"It is only in the unity of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself. He knows all things only in God, and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with this origin. In the knowledge of good and evil man does not undesrtand himself in the reality of the destiny appointed in his origin, but rahter in his own possibilities, his possibility of being good or evil"
"Originally man was made in the image of God, but now his likeness to God is a stolen one. As the image of God man draws his life entirely from his origin and has made himself his own creator and judge"
"[With the eating of the forbidden fruit], man now knows good and evil. This does not mean that he has acquired new knowledge in addition to what he knew before, but the knowledge of good and evil signifies the complete reveral of man's knowledge, which hitherto had been solely knowledge of od as his origin. In knowing good and evil he knows what nly the origin, God Himself, can know and ought to know. It is only with extreme reserve that even the Bible indicates to us that God is the One who knows of good and evil"
"Instead of knowing only the God who is good to him and instead of knowing all things in Him, he now knows himself as the origin of good and evi. Instead of accepting the choice and election of God, man himself desires to choose, to be the origin of the election"
"He has become like God, but against God. Herin lies the serpent's deceit. Man knows good and evil, but because he is not the origin, the good and evil that he knows are not the good and evil of God but good and evil against God. They are good and evil of man's own choosing, in opposition to the eternal election of God. In becoming like God man has become a god against God"
"Shame is man's ineffaceable recollection of his estrangement rom the oriin; it is grief for this estrangement, and the powerless longing to return to unity with the origin"
"Shame seeks a covering as a means of overcoming the disunion. But the covering implies the confirmation of the disunion that has occurred, and it cannot therefore make good the damage"
"Shame is overcome only in the shaming through the forgiveness of of sin, that is to say, through the restoration of fellowship with God and men...'Chris's blood and righteousness, that is my adornment and my fine raiment'"
"Conscience is farther from the origin than shame, it presupposes disunion with God and with man and makrs only the disunion with himself of the man wo is already disunited from the origin"
"...conscience is concerned not with man's relation to God and to other men but with man's relation to himself...a relation of man to himself, in detachment from his relation to God and to other men, can arise only through man's becoming like God in the disunion"
"Conscience pretends to be the voice of God and the standard for the relation to other man"
There is so much to be learned from Richard Wurmbrand's life and devotion. He said that even as prisoners were being beaten to death, they praised God, but they also prayed for those who tortured them. They forgave them, and they loved them deeply. When Richard was free, the Wurmbrands met the man who had murdered all of his wife's family. Upon meeting the murderer, Sabina hugged him, and offered him a meal. They loved their enemies so well, when they had no reason to. The Wurmbrands, and other Christians tortured under communism that he describes had such a deep understanding of what God's love for us looks like.
In any event, he tells this story while in prison, and I found it very poignant:
"Do you know Tolstoy's story of how he once explained his faith point by point to a rabbi: meekness, humility, patience...'We don't need the New Testament for these virtues; we too honor them, ' said the rabbi. Finally Tolstoy said, 'Jesus has taught us one thing that the Jewish religion does not. He tells us to love our enemies.' 'This we do not practice,' admitted the rabbi, 'but neither do you Christians'"
This a Xhosa phrase that I learned as a freshman in college. It clearly describes the collectivist philosophy that may seem foreign to many who have known only western thought.
In any event, talking to some of my friends has helped me realize who I am to them, what my role is in our social groups.
According to them, I am
- Unaffected by drama
- A good friend
People said that they feel good telling me about conflicts because I'm not going to tell anyone else, and I'm also not going to be affected by the knowledge I receive. I will continue to see the best in people, extend kindness, and offer a listening ear.
It can certainly be nice to know what other people think about you. Now if only I could translate this to getting a leg up on my career...