Dear 21st Century

Nietzsche said, “God is dead.”
So you build castles in the sand,
play god in this godforsaken land,
and create a hollow eternity
within the shackles of mortality.

Darling, eternity reaches
beyond light and earth,
and the infinite has
neither end nor birth.

Hawking said, “It’s a fairy story.”
Heaven’s a poor man’s wish
and a rich man’s myth.
So feast, dance, drink your gin,
‘cause tomorrow, Death will win.

Darling, shades of gray
prove the black and white,
altars may seem antiquated
but Truth transcends time.

Shakespeare said, “Love is blind.”
It’s just sweet words and lies,
all good things have to die.
So chase the dream, chase the girl
everyone wants to gain the world.

Darling, the life we live
will echo in forever,
and you’ll find your heart
where you find your treasure.

Our Hearts Are Restless

How I wish the heavens would thunder for you. But I wait, as the world spins on and years peel away, for God to melt the heart of stone. I can wait a lifetime; God knows I will not see a better day than that one, when the Light, slowly bleeding in now, tears across your skies like a scorched gold sunrise. Yet I live between the teeth of fear and hope. Fear that sovereign goodness and justice will cross my poor, imperfect love for you. Though I have no standing before Righteousness, no counsel to give Wisdom, no sorrow that outdoes the hell of the cross and divine desertion, I fear His glorious design will shatter me. But I hope. Hope that His Kingdom will storm into yours and raise the blood-colored Gospel flag. Hope is a small, fragile thing but we are black holes without it. When will you tear this veil, O God? As long as He gives me breath, I will plead before His gates. Like the Psalmists of old, I will hammer the halls of heaven with every appeal my weak heart can muster. Then I will sit, and wait upon the Lord. And pray. That God may splinter the shadows before your eyes. That His words—I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life—which have prodded against the steel ramparts of your mind for so long may charge through spirit and soul with holy conviction.

We are dust, yet eternity presses on our hearts. We are feeble, yet our stories glisten with splendor. They say there is no meaning, or we cannot know it, or the pervasiveness of evil denies it—but why, why, why do our very bones tremble at grace and our blood thrum for glory?

Surely, surely, there is a God whose love is better than life.

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” – Augustine

The Circus

They juggle ideology and guns like grim-faced jokers at a circus. Believe or die. Money can’t buy men like that, with murder strapped to their chest and convictions running red. So you’ll fight fire with fire till the whole world burns. Like slaves squabbling backstage for land and life. Like dust grasping for immortality. But eternity has no birth. Truth is a Word, and He says I AM.  Cast your knives and walk the wire, but He’s written the last act. Truth is a Word, and He became flesh. It is finished. He bled,

to cut the cord of death.

100 words. 

40,000 feet High: Countdown to Landing

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for lists. I was on a particularly long flight last week, and some of my musings in the air just happened to fit with the Weekly Writing Challenge. Thoughts?

5. Mortality

The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million, but mortality thunders a little louder when you’re hurtling over the Pacific. It’s in the sloshing water glass beside me, rattling in the teeth of air turbulence. It’s in the engine roaring, the constant hum of a tin can tearing through the clouds. Perhaps the odds are for us, but I remember again my frailty.

4. Sovereignty

Martin Luther said, “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.” This is peace: knowing He holds life and death, same as the stars bound up in the heavens.

3. Scars

Far from shore, in the quiet space between heartbeats, old scars resurface. Between dusk and sunrise, dead dreams and ghosts whisper, tauntingly.

2. Grace

Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead.

1. Home

Where I’m from? Where my family is? Where I live? There are outposts, places of belonging, scattered across the globe. But Home—

Well, I’m not there yet.

 

The Other Half of Eternity

We gather here, a faithful few, against winter’s bluster and the Devil’s sure wrath. The musty scent of old library books lifts off the shelves and percolates the room. When the clock strikes and a golden haze of light cuts through the frosted windows we bow our heads and fumble for words and wisdom. We are small minds, grasping at the rough-worn edges of Infinity. Outside, the world is tilting and plunging into hell, but we are looking for the other half of eternity. To whom shall we go? We ask, like Peter. You have the words of eternal life.

100 words. I like drabbles. They’re short and sweet and force you to cut bad adjectives. Thoughts?

Technology: Our Slave or Tyrant?

technology, future

Wearable technology is slowly but surely becoming the next Big Thing. We’ve got smart watches now, and smart clothes are making their debut, so we’ll probably all be buying smart underwear in a year or so. What a time to be alive. But it doesn’t end there – many predict that after wearables, implantables will follow. Technologies that will live inside of you. I was reading this article, which should give you a fascinating, or terrifying, view of the potential future tech landscape.

I studied Computer Science, but when it comes to technology, I’m less interested in banging out code than considering some of the more abstract issues the rapidly advancing field raises. Philosophy, morality, humanity – how does technology mold and shape our understanding of people and society? However fascinating technology gets, it doesn’t beat the startling intricacies of human nature. No surprise: God’s creations are infinitely better.

In literature, technology inspires all sorts of stories and bizarre futuristic worlds. It very well may be part of the reason dystopia has seen such a resurgence, in addition to the foolproof, mass market ploy of incorporating The Love Triangle. But the very best technology-inspired stories (I don’t want to slap on the science fiction label, because they don’t necessarily have to be) ask the hard questions. How do we hold security and freedom in proper tension when we have the ability to know and control too much through 360 cameras and chip implants? What, at the very raw core of our being, makes us human, when there are clones and emotionally intelligent robots walking the streets? And perhaps at the center of it all:

Is technology our slave or tyrant?

If you dig deeper, the question is really about the condition of our souls. Technology is a neutral thing, and it can be used for good or evil, just like nuclear energy or money. From a biblical perspective, it ought to be our slave. Our vocation as human beings is to subdue the earth and everything in it, and technology is a means to do that: to help us water the fields, keep the lights on, erect buildings, increase efficiency. It can absolutely be used and stewarded well (something I’m interested in exploring in my career, Lord willing). Yes, technology is improving the convenience and comfort of many aspects of life. I don’t need to leave the house for groceries? And here we were just thinking what a brilliant concept the supermarket was! 

But from the Fall and the corruption of the human heart, it will inevitably be abused. For every good use of tech, there will be unspeakably terrible ones. The issue is not that technology makes us better or worse, but that it exposes us, perhaps in new ways. How we approach it and how we use it reveals and magnifies our brokenness. These are 2 things we cannot halt: the advance of technology, and the decay of morality. It makes for some very good storytelling, yet some very sobering realities. Is technology our slave or tyrant?

I’m afraid many people think it’s our salvation.

Maranatha.

 

Thoughts? I have plans to write something of a follow-up to this on the interplay between technology and characters in literature. Stay tuned!

[image cred]

Candlelight Gasps

In the darkness, eternities flicker,
flaring, fading, in candlelight gasps,
until You breathed our dust to life
and bent infinity into the cords of time.

In the silence, every clock thunders,
the taunt of mortality’s countdown,
breaking our marriage to earthly things
and making alike the beggars and kings.

In the judgment, empty treasures burn
before the face of a holy blaze,
so teach us, o God, to number our days
for all that’s worthless will be swept away.

A brief meditation on Psalm 90. 

Stories for Our Souls

stories, paris, france, inspiration

We live in a world of extreme sensory overload and nonstop schedules. Did you scroll through this post and decide it was too long of a read? I hope not, because it isn’t that long. Or maybe you just read the bolded, numbered items. Thanks for making my point – I hope you stay and read this now.

With social media, video games and TV shows on top of our life responsibilities, I think many of us lose sight of the value of good, old-fashioned reading. Remember books? Those things with paper and ink and grand stories? I encounter a lot of people who say, “I don’t have time to read.” But yes, you do! How much time do you spend on Facebook, or playing computer games? I’m not saying that those are bad things, or that you should assume a monkish lifestyle in a cave with only a library for company (as much as I love books, I’d die too). But there is time. If you make it a priority.

I have 4 simple reasons why I think we need to dust off our bookshelves and reclaim the art of reading. These aren’t coming from a highbrow literary scholar or a cynic scoffing at a generation of digital junkies. Yours truly is just an ordinary reader who finds a spark of magic beneath well-told tales and wants to share.

  1. It gets us inside other people’s heads

Well, that sounds creepy. But I mean it. Reading is one of the best mediums for getting inside people’s heads. Even when the story and characters are fictional, the thoughts and emotions reflect a piece of the author’s own mind. Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” A good author pours himself into his writing.

There is something thrilling and challenging in gaining access to such a full spectrum of intimate thought. It broadens our perspective. Growing up, my worldview was largely shaped by my family, friends and teachers – the people around me who spoke into my life. And it was shaped by books. We are not God, and we do not create ex nihilo, or out of nothing, in matter or in ideas. We are taught, molded by others, and even geniuses stand on the shoulders of giants. Books opened up my eyes to a richer and wider range of thoughts from people of vastly different cultures, eras and lifestyles. It challenges us too. What is in the mind of an adulterer? A murderer? A man single-mindedly bent on vengeance? As a Christian, I want to read with discernment and avoid garbage. But I don’t think we should shy away from the gritty realities of our fallen world. If nothing else, you will understand more deeply the depravity of man, and you may be forced to examine yourself as well, because we all have the capacity to fall far and hard, if not for the grace of God.

  1. It cultivates compassion

I was as selfish a child as they come and I had little tolerance for the shortcomings of others (I’m still working on this). Literature taught me to love flawed people, because all good characters are flawed. Of course, I don’t give all the credit to books – there was the selfless example of my parents, good friends and mentors I was blessed with, and above all, the grace of God. But I will say books taught me a great deal about loving the unlovable. Partly because I got into their heads and saw they weren’t all that unlovable once you understood them (few people are villains just for villainy’s sake) and partly because they held up a mirror to my own heart.

  1. It inspires us

Do you remember how Sam carried Frodo up Mount Doom when he just couldn’t make it himself? When we close a great book, we are awed that the world is still going on the way it was before when everything has changed. Simply because we have this new story living inside of us. Stories inspire us – not just to nod, assent that it was good, and move on – but they inspire us to action. We won’t all get to save our friend’s life behind enemy lines and run a blade through the monsters, but there are little things that make a difference. Be faithful where you are. Reach out a hand when you see a need. And you never know, greatness may be thrust upon you one day.

Sam was just a gardener before he was a hero.

  1. It teaches us about the Gospel

All good stories, though fictional, are echoes and dim reflections of the one Great Story. They are imperfect, because they are written by imperfect people, but they echo the themes of sacrificial love, the brokenness of sin, redemption, the ultimate triumph of good. I love reading quality fantasy. The worlds and people may not exist, but fantasy often echoes the truest themes loudest of all. It magnifies the things of the human heart that our daily lives minimize – the battle to do what is right, the value of loyalty and friendship – to an epic and grand scale. Like C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, it shows us a clearer picture of who humans really are: eternal souls that will either be glorified or damned.

Stories make me shun existentialist philosophies. They show me there is more to live for than man-made ideals and that our hearts are pressed with purpose and a desire for nobler things. We are stamped with the image of divinity, created for eternity, drawn to redemption, made for glory.

So tolle lege! Take up and read.

Born of Idealism and Iniquity

The Hunger Games. Divergent. The Giver. The Maze Runner.

…and on.

Dystopian worlds are seeing a revival in literature—particularly in YA fiction—and film. Many of the books, packaged as boxed sets and hardcovers, make for a veritable weightlifting session at Costco. And the trailers are endless. Even a minute-long propaganda reel from President Snow of Hunger Games fame is eaten up by the masses. The teaser trailer has more views on YouTube than the State of the Union address – you know, the real speech from the real flesh-and-blood president of the country.

Why are we so enamored with dystopia? Do we see some hauntingly real reflection of our own nature and society in those destructive worlds?

In some way or other, each dystopia is a desperate grasp for utopia that goes terribly wrong. The totalitarian regime seeks to quash crime. The criminalization of emotion seeks to put conflict to death by repressing man’s hot-blooded passions. The theme of control dominates dystopian worlds because without it, the entire system topples. But its constant presence also implies this idea: that we think it is necessary. The perpetrators of dystopian societies are not scheming: what can I do to build the most awful, poisonous world ever? No, they are thinking of how they can maintain order, stability and achieve perfection. How they can achieve utopia. Their single-minded obsession may twist them into monsters, but that was not their intent. There is the underlying implication that there must be control, because without it, humanity will destroy itself.

So why doesn’t it work? 

It seems pretty apparent. They might suppress the crime, rebellion, and chaos for a while, but they simultaneously suppress some untamable, deeply human things: free-spiritedness and the wild spectrum of human sentiment. But our freedom comes with the capacity for good and evil, which only begs the question – where is the perfect balance between control and freedom?

Well, there’s no such thing because it’s the wrong question. It is the wrong question because there is no regime, no measured balance, which will make any utopia a reality. The fundamental problem does not lie in an unbalanced system, but in the corruption of the human heart. We are sinners, fallen from glory, incapable of moral perfection. The unbalanced system is simply a symptom of the disease. Dystopia is the child born of idealism and iniquity; it is the collision of utopia’s seduction with man’s sinfulness.

Let’s circle back to the dystopian fad today. There are certainly creative ideas, novel twists, and memorable characters that are breathing new life into the genre. Action, adventure, romance, and intrigue wrap themselves neatly into the fabric of emerging dystopian plots. But I think there is something more than that that draws us. An inexplicable part of our souls longs after utopia, perfection and harmony, but it runs up against the beast of human nature. It collapses, defenseless, in the face of our inability to overcome selfishness and injustice. Dystopia captures that tension, failure, and vicious cycle. We keep trying to beat human nature with human structures and it’s a losing game. On our own, we will only perpetrate the cycle, never break it.

It is a bleak picture. But I didn’t write this to depress you. I wrote this because I realized dystopia gets something so right about human nature, and in that, it stops just short of pointing to the ultimate answer. We cannot break the cycle; it takes an outside force to do that. Changing the system will never save us; we need to change our hearts. Enter the Gospel.

Sinners cannot create perfection; sinners require redemption.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Cor. 5:17-21

I’d love to hear what you think. Since we aren’t living in a dystopia yet (unless we’re in the Matrix), you can share your opinion and you probably won’t be carted off to prison for it.

But I make no promises.