Friday, November 20, 2009

Songs of Thanksgiving and the Sounds of Rejoicing

I will not have access to this journal during the week of Thanksgiving, let alone the actual day, so I thought I would go ahead and speak on it now.

Few are so lucky to be seeing the world in these economic times, let alone from their own student money.
Few have the resources to pay for college and have some money leftover for which they can decide their own purposes.
Few have the chance to get a university education.
Few can afford to eat a sumptuous dinner this Thursday night.
Few can even put a meal on the table for their families.
Few have parents who love them enough to hold the reins on them until they have been trained up to live successful lives.
Few have homes with air conditioning and heating for whatever may come, as well as walls that withstand the storms outside.
Few can call one bed their own, let alone one in two places.
Few can browse the grocery store and pick up tea and ice cream.
Few can spend their spare time reading novels and gazing at the sky.
Few can call a person in their town for coffee and connection.

May I see the many others in the world every time I point up high and claim that I lack anything, for I lack nothing.

May I pay forward what has been given to me although I have nothing within me deserving of the blessings I have.

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." -- Luke 6:38

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy the world around you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Qu'est-ce que je pense?

You know there's something wrong with you when you look for a reason to be anxious in the very best things in life.

See, I'm flying to France this Saturday, and I am really, really, super stoked about it. I've wanted to go to Paris for years. The landmarks, the food, the art, the people... good grief, I am overwhelmed! My bank account wants to shoot me in the face for this little jaunt abroad, but that doesn't really matter to me. I keep thinking that you have to take these chances when you're still young enough to have the freedom to do so at a moment's notice.

Or several months'. Puh-tay-to, poh-tah-to.

Anyways, today I have really been mulling over how soon this all is, and getting even more jittery and thrilled. But little weird thoughts have continued to pop into my head, like bubbles. Once they float on up there they disappear with hardly a trace.

I've never been to a country that does not speak English before. (At least, unless provoked, and I hear that's something to avoid as much as possible.) I hope people are nice to me. I know I'm an American and that there are stereotypes about the way I'm going to be treated by French people, but if I bat my eyelashes I should be okay, right?

Oh, and I hadn't thought about airline safety and whatnot. I know that the odds are very slim, but that's what I thought before during the bomb threat at USF when I was completely unaware that a SWAT team was actually targeting our bus, haha. I do hope that everything will go smoothly at the airport and such. Will we get everywhere in a timely and safe manner?

Gosh, there's going to be so much to eat and try all over the place. I don't want to overindulge and gain 10 pounds of butter, garlic, and pastries into my already skinny jeans. We're walking all over the place, but how am I going to be able to keep up with eating right?

Listen to me! This is the most ridiculous thing I've heard in my life. My roommate actually backpacked across Europe this summer and lived to tell the tale, and she stayed in hostels and took trains everywhere, and boiled potatoes outside in plastic bags for food. If anyone had grounds to be worried about jack, it should be someone like her.

Not a frou-frou like me, staying in a hotel by the Eiffel Tower, for crying out loud.

It's weird, but I feel like this is training for the future for me. Every time one of these really stupid fears or concerns runs across my mind, I can almost audibly hear the Lord going: "You have to give every anxiety to me. Every one. Even ones that you dismiss as ridiculous right off the bat. Those belong to me. They will belong to me even when they are perfectly legitimate, likely fears. Those are mine, too. Cast them on me."

All of this encouragement going towards a hopeful missionary to Asia next summer seems rather apt. I can't even imagine the freaking out that could potentially occur next May.

From a week in a Western European country to six on the chopstick-wielding side of the globe, I am in His hands, and my fears are no longer mine to bear.

Au revoir! :)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Warning: Stream of Consciousness at Work

I act like I have it all together.

Let's look at the facts. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't party. I don't sleep around. I don't steal. I don't kill. I don't do drugs.

Well, we can scratch those things off the proverbial list of things that darned teenagers do nowadays that I don't care to try.

Most of the time, we treat these kinds of things as if they are the only kinds of things that can ruin a life. These are the exact little vices, little pitfalls in the grounds, that you need to step around diligently. If you can avoid these, you are in good shape.

For the longest time, I would have agreed. Life is about avoiding bad things, and bad things are very clear and obvious. There is a very solid line that you do not cross. If you can stay on the good side of the divide, congratulations -- you're a bonafide good person, and if you also care to add the Christian label to it, then you are truly born-again. Put a Jesus fish sticker on the back of your car and call it a day.

Scripture doesn't really lend much to the idea that our existence is defined by negatives, though -- don't do this, avoid that. Commands that begin with "thou shalt not." These kinds of instructions appear throughout the bible, yeah, but maybe that's just because it's the first way God can get through to us with what His real intentions are. It's the baby food put in a blender before we grow the teeth to chew on real nourishment, true wisdom.

If a girl like me can obey these rules and still feel want for anything, then there has got to be some next step up from the ten commandments. And that's a sign that it's high time to start seeking the positive instructions we are given in plenty. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Plenty of us, especially my fellow pastors' children, have sung this and read this and said this. It's probably one of the easiest to recite in a sing-song voice and the hardest to live in a gut-honest way.

We have trouble with the positive commands.

1 Corinthians 6 really fleshes this out for us: "'Everything is permissible for me' -- but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible for me' -- but I will not be mastered by anything." I choose to step away from land mines in my life, but the paths I can take from there are up to me. But not all of them are the path towards all light, all goodness, all beauty, all justice, all majesty, all glory, all things I could possibly desire and hope for. I am no slave to anything that lies at the end of any other path, be it acceptance, pleasure, accomplishment, relaxation, power, because they are all in the shadows cast by the light on a hill, and only one path gets there.

It doesn't make sense to just meander around aimlessly while simply abstaining from things that are obviously bad.

It's time to start chasing what is obviously good.

"Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her body? For it is said, 'the two will become one flesh.'" I am not messing with the giant sins that I've learned about both at church and from the elementary school D.A.R.E. officers alike. I'm not a person that does anything to put me in Mercy House. But there's no denying that I have lied here and there, cheated once in a while, thought cruel thoughts, and desired evil things before self-righteously telling myself that I am too good to go get them. I have dabbled in sin. If I've done it once, I am united with it. We are one flesh.

"But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit." My steps, be they directly towards the things that make middle-class white private school Protestant kids scrunch up their noses -- drugs, booze, sex, violence, theft, felonies -- or be they merely around this world in whatever direction, they are still around this world. If I lift my eyes, though, there is that light on a hill, that ultimate satisfaction.

It's not of this world. It's high, high above it.

It's time to start chasing at what's obviously good.

Don't just live by what is permissible, what gets me by without major criticism or rehabilitation. Don't just seek to make life better by avoiding huge regrets. Don't scrape by. Don't stand on the other side of that dividing line -- run from the line. Run as fast in the other direction towards Christ as possible. There is no other path but the one that leads to the top of the hill where my soul will at last find the eternal, perfect things that I thought I could find by wandering around below.

What it takes is the surrender, one by one, of the my "nominal" idols, the "little" things that master me. I can't just stand close to the line of an eating disorder and not move, or the line of deep depression, or the line of pathologically lying and gossiping about others to cover my own faults. I am still below sea level when I loathe the calories I consume or think a discouraging thought about one other person.

Every step away from the "permissible" things is a leap towards living unified with my Savior.

I don't know how I can write any of this not to sound so frantic and disorderly. I just yearn so much to flee far from all that smells like the pain of this world and cling to the fresh robes of the Lord.

All I know is that the first step is already known to us: do not. Do not be afraid.

Prepare to take on the heart of one who is ready for real nourishment: be. Be courageous.

For the Lord God will be with you wherever you go.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All You Need Is Love

Whew. Can I just tell you how exhausting it is to work endlessly for three straight days on research papers?

If you're interested in my advice, write deadlines down at the beginning of the semester rather than 2 weeks before they occur.

In any case, here I am again, turning to the internet in between working on assignments. I finished a paper on Islamist violence in North Africa, made it up to the fifth page of a paper on the evolution of 19th century Russian poetry, and just now finished watching the film "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears" for -- shockingly -- yet another paper. Far more papers than any sane person should be expected to write. (Don't expect to see me in grad school any time soon.) I am up to my eyeballs in books, formats, facts, citations, and all the glorious things you can imagine accompanying the ages-old proof of knowledge: the paper.

It's a comforting place, the internet. If I click the little Facebook link on my Safari toolbar -- let's face it, I click that one the most -- then I can usually find someone to chat with when I'm lonely or bored. I can play a mindless game like Tetris for a few minutes or fortnights. I can catch up on some light reading, be it from gems like "People of Wal-Mart" (THE BEST) or "Texts from Last Night" (SECOND BEST). Peruse some old Youtube favorites. Maybe even I can just click, click, click until I don't know what I'm looking at anymore. If you can't detect my certainty that this is a major waste of time, I hope you understand that I'm aware of how dumb this whole surfing pastime is.

However, the whole aforementioned "talking to friends" thing is not always bad. I might abuse their willingness to chat to avoid inevitable tasks awaiting me, but I'm a pretty big proponent of staying social. I find myself getting something out of even the most seemingly shallow little conversations. This little moment was with someone that I'm not super close to, but we talk from time to time; I met him at a minor school function a while back. It went something like this, names changed because I'm a wimp:

Me: What have you been up to these days?
Jethro: Not a whole lot. I did some homework, got coffee with Laquisha Chucker (so what if I get carried away with pseudonyms?), and just sort of chilled out.
Me: Oh, I see Laquisha around sometimes! She's so sweet.
Jethro: Oh yeah. She's great. I love her. <3

I don't think I'm especially sentimental, especially compared to most girls, but my icy little rock of a heart warmed up just a couple of degrees. It's really not often that I hear guys talk about their female friends like that, because we don't want to go pinning romantic feelings on poor Jethro that may not (or may!) be there.

It made me wonder if my guy friends would talk about me that way. And it kind of made me hope that someone really would express to someone else, barely an acquaintance, that they loved me.

Surely it is no mystery to most people that love is one of the most universally desired things in this world, if not the #1 thing that everyone is looking for. I don't doubt at all that we were designed with a thirst to be accepted, understood, admired, and cared for without necessarily anything in return. Friends, family, and lovers tend to bring the most satisfaction in our quest to be loved.

I've also happened to notice that these three things are potentially the closest earthly examples of a relationship with God that we will experience before we see His face. This is a very preliminary theory that I literally just thought of a few seconds ago, but think about it:

1. Friends: you can tell good friends just about anything. You enjoy spending time with them, whether you plan a whole day out to be together or if you are just laying around not doing anything in particular. (Ephesians 6:18: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.")
2. Family: you are a member of a family, bound by blood, and you are not meant to be broken from them. You have guardians who look out for your best interest and train you up throughout your life to be the best person possible. They see the best and worst in you and love you regardless, even when it seems like there's no good reason for them to. (Ephesians 1:5: "He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ.")
3. Lovers: you are attracted to one another, and in the eyes of your lover, you are entrancing. He/she often bends over backwards to see you happy. Together you both make a promise to love one another intimately and selflessly. (Revelation 19:7: "For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.")

We long for the qualities found in all kinds of relationships, but I can't be the only one who has noticed that all of them seem to be found in a romantic love. A spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend is supposed to be your best friend and a member of your family -- and then some. Big surprise, then, that this kind of love gets so much attention in popular culture and throughout history. The songs on the radio about friends and family are way outnumbered by ones about that other love. The happiest endings in movies are when two lovers can finally be together, despite all the obstacles that got in their way.

I constantly think about what it must be like to have that other person. It must be nice knowing that if you crawled out of bed wearing your schlumpiest PJs and glasses, eyes red and half-open, retainer in your mouth, that that one person would not scream and flee at the sight of you. (I may be the only person who looks like that in the morning, but that's beside the point.) Even looking like that, only capable of moaning to communicate, that person would look at you and nothing would change.

"Oh yeah. She's great. I love her."

How reassuring, then, that God does feel that way about each and every one of us. If anyone can see the most horrible, disgusting, embarrassing parts of us, it's Him, and yet He pursues us in love and desires to lead us on to bigger and better things than we can imagine on our own. I've talked about all this before plenty of times. I still fall prey to feeling like an unlovable person from time to time, and it bears repeating in my own mind, but that fact about Him never changes.

Yet imagine in a human relationship if one person was constantly loving the other. He leaves her little notes on her desk and car, buys flowers for no reason, compliments her on different things every day, hugs and kisses every time they are together, and all kinds of thoughtful things that show just how nuts he is about her. But if someone were to ask her about him, she would just say, "Oh yeah, that's him," and say nothing else, nothing about how awesome he is, how loving he is. She doesn't even really tell him to his face that she loves him, too.

How long do you think that would last?

God will never waver in His love for us, no matter how we treat Him. Does that mean that He doesn't want us to respond by loving Him back? No way. Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

For all that He does for us, is that really all that much for Him to ask?

So that if other people bring Him up, we would say, "Oh yes. He is wonderful. I love Him"?

Maybe if I really passionately loved God the way that I want to and ought to, I would be spending less time hanging out online and spending time with the only one who has come down so low just to call me His own.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lara Records

This will be a brief entry, because it's more like an announcement than a fully fledged journal session. At least, it's a reminder to myself. I don't know that anyone really reads anything I write besides myself!

Anyway, I was inspired tonight. I was listening to Ofra Haza (who you desperately need to listen to if you haven't before), and her beautiful song "Im Nin'alu" came on. I was curious as to what the lyrics meant. Here they are:

If there be no mercy left in the world,
The doors of heaven will never be barred.
The Creator reigns supreme, and is higher
than the angels
All, in His spirit, will rise

By His nearness, His life-giving breath
flows through them.
And they glory in His name
From the moment of genesis,
His creations grow,
Captivating and more beautiful.

The wheel in his circle thunders
Acclaiming His Holy name
Clothed in the glory of His radiance,
The six-winged cherubs surround Him,
Whirling in His honor
And with their free wings s
weetly sing,
Together, in unison

Pretty sweet, right?

The actual song is in Hebrew, by the way. It's a gorgeous language. If you don't know me well, you might not be aware that I am obsessed with world music. I love different musical traditions and how unique they are to each part of the globe. As you may also have deduced from my previous writing, I also get super excited about different people celebrating the gospel, especially all over the world. Go down and look at what I have to say about Brother Yun if you missed it.

All that combines together into a weird idea: I would love to write songs.
I'd love to write them in other languages.
I'd love to write them in languages that aren't usually used in worship songs.
The thoughts kept coming.
What languages would those be?

Using Wikipedia, I came up with quite a few. And out of nowhere, I charged myself with a project.

By next Christmas, I want to have written an album's worth of songs in languages from places around the world, the main languages of the world. Do I speak any of them? Just a little Spanish and French. Do I know their styles well enough to emulate them on me and my little acoustic guitar? Definitely not.

But it's a challenge I'm willing to take on.

Here's the checklist:

1. Mandarin Chinese
2. English
3. Spanish
4. Hindi
5. Arabic
6. Russian
7. French
8. Portuguese

Can it be done? Stay tuned.