Today We Talked About Stories

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Today we talked about stories. “No literature is truly profound,” you said, “that does not gaze upon death and wrestle with it.”

You come from a culture that looks away, hiding behind white garments and doctors’ hushed tones. When you asked after your friend’s mother-in-law, she said they were observing her 100th birthday. I remember, with a flash of humor, that you nearly sent her well wishes before you realized the woman was cold in the grave. There is no soft synonym for death in our mother tongue—she’s gone, passed away, no longer with us—so we say nothing at all. We cover it in silence and dirt, by the millions.

I grew up in a culture that sugarcoats, inventing euphemisms as if an exchange of words can temper our ruthless fate. We listen to a society spin convenient yarns: In our youth, Death is incentive to chase happiness, because You Only Live Once. In our contemplation, Death is dangerous to dwell on long, turning thinkers into maniacs. In polite company, Death has no place in conversation, drowned in teacups and gossip. At a funeral, Death is a sure entrance to A Better Place, affirmed by the man at the pulpit. All of us who are living are also dying, and we convince ourselves it is not so bad.

You read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Hugo and Dickens. Like Greek philosophers of old, the best minds press on the vein of the deepest questions, cut into human nature until it bleeds. But in the end, they also must look away, or sink into despair, or treat it too lightly.

“No literature can bear the weight of death,” you said, “without a right theology of God.”

Martin Luther said, “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.” Thank you for teaching me the True Story, that by God’s grace, I may do both well.

Today we talked about truth. “Every religion is man trying to reach God, or some higher spiritual plane, or some better sense of self,” you said. “But the truth is, we cannot reach God. God reached down to us, in Christ.”

You sent me off to the halls of higher education, a hailstorm of evolutionary theory and existential philosophy, without batting an eye. Maybe it was nothing compared to your college experience—complete with high quality communist movies from North Korea and Russia. But now I know why you were not afraid. The truth is not something fragile, that needs iron bars to protect it from the world. No, the truth is something fierce, that tears down strongholds of lies. That shakes the pillars of the Earth and stirs our blood. That says, with Paul, we are most to be pitied if Christ did not rise from the dead. That dares you to find it false.

Your heroes are not the celebrities, the entrepreneurs, the Nobel Prize winners. Yours are the ones who fought to know truth and fought to defend it, who pursued the glory of God despite the displeasure of men, who counted all things as loss for the sake of knowing Christ.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” You will not settle for less than that either. When a Man comes into our world and says He is God, who can take that lightly? Thank you for teaching me never to trivialize truth, that it is a hard and holy thing, and that it can set the sinner free.

Today we talked about everything and nothing. “So every year,” you said, “they will make another movie about this fake universe and fake characters and people will pay to watch it? Zhen me wu liao.”

How boring, you said in Chinese, and we laughed. It’s difficult to capture the full-orbed meaning in English—boring, silly, tasteless—and harder to describe why it’s gold coming from you—candid and genuinely perplexed, but not cruel or condescending.

“Of course,” I said staunchly, but I don’t fight back. I gave up long ago trying to convince you why Star Wars was not just for idiots, and sometimes I need your honest irreverence to see the absurdity of our lives.

Our times are in desperate need of people like you. Hence I suggested, with varying degrees of sincerity, that you should record a podcast, host a talk show, or write an autobiography. You laughed at me and said I would be the only listener, follower, or reader—and you continued quietly with your life.

I doubt it, but you made me think. How many mothers do their thankless duties with an audience of one?

Today a strong, independent woman comes with a particular characterization: a feminist empowered to break the chains to societal expectation, religion, institution, and men. To be whatever she wants, to define her own destiny. In pursuit of freedom, we have shackled womanhood to a religion of self-worship. In a march for equality, we have defied divinity to count nothing sacred but the Self: my way, my truth, my life. I wonder, what makes freedom and equality so worth fighting for, if they are nothing but man-made ideals?

Yet if they are divine, we all sit under the judgment of the Creator, and the Maker of its morality.

In a world spinning wild, you show me strength: to forsake what is wrong and hold to what is true. You show me freedom: to think little of self, so I might know a Savior. You show me womanhood: to be gentle but not timid, to have a simple faith but a probing mind, to fear God and not man.

Jim Eliot, echoing the words of Jesus and Ecclesiastes, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Thank you for teaching me to have eternal eyes, that I might hold these fleeting things loosely, that I might have Christ.

Today we talked about stories. Sometimes you laugh at the ones I read, and I snooze at the ones on your shelf.

Today we talked about truth. We have God-shaped souls, though we are small people, anchored by gravity to a small world, hung on a spiraling, galactic canvas of creation.

Today we talked about everything and nothing. We sit in a quiet corner of the globe, eating breakfast and watching the rain. On the scales of eternity, our lives are but a flicker, and a moment lapses into memory with each breath. But I thank God, that in the time and space he carved around us, He made you my mother.

Summer Thunder

I woke up last night to the skies rumbling—like horsemen storming through the heavens, white light lancing through the thunderclouds. Curtains of water unleashed on our dry and thirsty streets. They fell in ceaseless waves, like mercy and mourning.

Do you ache for the broken beauty? The splendor of creation, diminished in our minds and narrowed to the small confines of our festivities, troubles and traffic jams.

We spin in the familiar orbit of our daily routines, insignificant creatures on a blue orb soaring through space. Stars wink out of the universe, their violent gaseous flames extinguished, and our lives continue untouched. Galaxies bend and spiral into a black unknown and we linger on, blissfully unaware. What is man, that You are mindful of him?

But when the thunder rolls, I am cut with heavenly hunger.

We spin, a world made for heaven but flying straight towards hell. We stand at once in rebellion and in shame, with one hand thrown into a fist against the skies and another chained to the collar of corruption. People cry out in a hailstorm of contradictions. Truth is a joke and life is cheap. But still we fight so hard—stirring words and bloody bodies—but for what?

We hate hypocrites yet find them in the mirror. I will preach the full and unmatchable value of life, of the equal worth in yours and mine. But when the waters rise, I’ll know, painfully and clearly, how empty pretty words are if I can’t trade my mortality for yours.

How much we need someone who sees us all the way to the core, in a wreck of frailty and failure, and loves us even in agony.

Do you ache for glory undimmed? Think hard and search deeply and tell me. Because I don’t believe you’re an existentialist. You don’t want to watch the world burn. You want to be on the right side of history with your trumpet of justice and kindness, these noble things that have no meaning in a world that exploded from nothing for no purpose. Simply to spin and spin and spin and die.

Like a diamond in the rough, lies only spring from pale imitations of truth. And it is there—the truth and the glory—gleaming beneath the dirt and grime. A crimson flower, blooming in the ashes of ravaged land. Creation groans, but not without the silver edge of hope on the horizon.

I listen to the rainfall and the roar. The mercy and the mourning. Our little corner of our small world trembles quietly.

But one day the skies will rend wide open for Heaven and Earth to collide. You will fling off the dark covers and creation will shrug off its old burdens. Shadows flee. Beauty unbroken. Glory undimmed.

Have we seen Light, until we see that day?

 

A Hard and Holy Thing

I know, I’ve been MIA for much of the month. The term March Madness is a very apt descriptor, and I’m not talking about sports. I haven’t found too much time to write, but I did put this little piece together for Rachel’s March chatterbox challenge. Please excuse any rough edges; this was written on a series of cramped flights and no brain capacity for editing.

This vignette actually follows on a Beauty and the Beast re-telling novella I wrote last year. I’m planning to offer a copy to any and all interested parties. More details to come on that. Until then, enjoy.

chatterbox: superstition

“So Lady Jiang, what etiquette must I maintain to prevent a galactic catastrophe?”

His tone, mocking and light, shook Maia out of her reverie. She pulled her gaze away from the foaming shoreline reluctantly and found his dark eyes. They gleamed with a rim of mischief, a foreign characteristic for his usually grim expression.

She scowled. “Don’t murder anyone before the wedding.”

“I’ve hardly ever been accused of that crime.”

A smirk teased at the corner of his mouth, and Maia could tell it contained equal parts jocularity and cynicism. Dark humor tinged his statement and they silently shared a moment of painful understanding before a chorus of laughter from the beach snapped the solemnity. Maia sucked in a deep breath, the smell of sea salt and tropics assaulting her senses.

“I’m sorry, Aiden.” She bumped her hand tentatively against his in the sand. “Baba always said I tell terrible jokes.”

His fingers snaked around hers. “Nah, you have a sound wit. Just poor timing.”

She laughed and cringed at the same time. “I do, don’t I? Everything is still awfully fresh. Stars, this is why I could never be a politician.”

“I have no idea why I asked you for counsel on etiquette.”

Maia thrust her elbow towards him but he caught her arm in a firm grip. They fell into a playful tussle and wet sand caked their limbs. After a few moments, Aiden locked his hands around her wrists and gave a slight shake of his head.

“I’d rather not see us on the news later.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You already know Maris Stella so well.” Sarcasm bled through her words, but she released her hold on him. Stellan news crews were banned from the Jiang’s private beach, but they were also notorious for acquiring intrusive footage.

They lapsed into silence for a while, allowing the roar and spray of ocean water to fill the stillness.

“Actually,” Maia began slowly, “Stellan wedding tradition is wrought with ancient beliefs, mostly inherited from Old China. It’s considered bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.” Her glance skated sideways toward Aiden. “Some insist on me wearing a particular veil from olden days to protect the royal family from any sort of curse.”

His expression indicated sufficient distaste. “Strange, how a culture can’t shake its superstitions, even decades after the technology era.”

“I don’t think it’s that odd. Science can never decipher everything, and I doubt most people truly want it to. There’s a beauty in the mystery. These myths are not only embedded in culture, but in the human psyche.”

Aiden cocked his head to the side and examined her. “A princess, soldier, bibliophile, and philosopher?”

The old, private joke echoed with warm familiarity. “And you have such impeccable timing,” she mumbled, a note of complaint creeping into her voice. “Who would have guessed—Aidan Hound, a jesting man?”

He offered an almost roguish smile in return. “And what is your opinion on these irrationalities?”

“You’re just concerned I’ll wear that horrendous veil,” she grumbled, before a more thoughtful expression overtook her. “I don’t believe in the superstitions, because they’re marked with human design—too flawed, too predictable. Truth must come from a source beyond us. I think—I think truth should shock us because we would not imagine it ourselves. And yet, it would strike our souls and sensibilities with its utter veracity.”

A pregnant silence fell over them, punctuated only by the distant cry of sea birds. Maia felt her face flush from her short speech and Aiden’s gaze drifted off to the gold-scorched horizon.

“Your conviction should no longer surprise me,” he murmured softly, “and yet it does.”

She smiled tentatively, still unused to the sudden, vulnerable moments that would spring up unannounced between them.

“What do you think?”

“Terra is much the opposite of Maris Stella, though ironically, our world is behind yours in science. But Terrans largely believe technology like it’s a god. Superstitions are a relic of the past.” He paused, catching her hazel eyes. “Yet, like you, I don’t run with the popular opinions of my people. When you talk of truth—truth that speaks to human life and the universe—it must be a hard and holy thing.”

“I remember you once said truth was malleable.” Maia could not help but challenge him as the memory arose.

The corner of his mouth turned up. “As a politician, truth lends itself to creativity. As a person, I cannot afford that same mentality.” He glanced at her. “Besides, I was teasing you then.”

“I missed that subtext.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea how you could.”

The edge of her mouth tipped up into a half-smile. “Then, do you think truth is knowable?”

Aidan released a quiet groan, and as if in agreement, hi stomach growled. “Yes,” he affirmed, a tired spark in his eye, “but only after dinner.”

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.

Vanity’s Shroud

What a strange old world,
where I’ve got one heart
but a thousand faces,
I’ve got a hundred friends
but one ticket to Vegas.

What a sad old world,
where we wear smiles
and our words are sweet,
but all we do, all we do
is love and leave.

It’s the American Dream
and it keeps beckoning,
but what will it cost me?
‘Cause my Mama said:
don’t chase what’s empty,
and my Daddy said:
honey, no dream is free.

What a cruel old world,
where we all die
and even though we know,
we still buy our drinks
and sell our souls.

If I have a son one day,
I’ll always tell him
just one more time:
if you chase anything,
chase the truth
in a world of lies.

It’s the American Dream
and it keeps beckoning,
but what will it cost me?
‘Cause my Mama said:
don’t chase what’s empty,
and my Daddy said:
honey, no dream is free.

 

Featured in Germ Magazine December 2015.