A Sound Explanation

"For we walk by faith, not by sight." –2 Corinthians 5:7

I deeply respect the blind, but I pity the deaf.

If it’s one thing that writers tend to do more than anyone, it’s analyze themselves, almost to a fault. As for myself, I’ve noticed recently that I tend to rely more on my hearing than I do sight. Why it took me so long to discover, I have no idea, but this would not only explain why I love books and music more than anything, but it also explains a lot of my oddball quirks as well.

I love having things left to my imagination, which is probably why I also love listening to radio plays with my girlfriend. After reading a book, I would sooner never watch its adaptation for fear of tainting it.

So much of the magic of what I hear and perceive is contained in the fact that it’s all mine. Certainly, someone had to write the words and perform music and dialogue, but when it comes to visuals, no one can tell me what I can and cannot visualize. When I am explicitly told what I must feel and how I must interpret, I am immediately offended. Ready-made visuals go a long way in providing a canned reaction. Don’t believe me? Watch your favorite television show and notice the subtle visual cues that arouse reactions in your mind. Would you have the same reactions if you were blind?

I doubt it.

I prefer to ingest motion pictures and news programs with my eyes shut or averted, much to my guests’ chagrin. Am I really missing half the fun, or am I allowing myself the luxury of a completely uninhibited experience?

In real life, when I listen to a stranger with discernment, very rarely do I ever look at him or her in the face (although they THINK I do). Their mannerisms and facial expressions tell me what they WANT me to think, but I am more interested in what they are actually telling me. The slickest salesmen operate on wanting you to focus on what you want to hear rather than what they are actually saying. How many times have we been burned or "ripped off" by nice-looking, well-educated people? How many con-men throughout history have we elected into public office on charm and good looks alone? You’d think we would have learned by now.

I can remember the voice and countless details about a person, but names are not important. Unless given a good reason to remember, I have trouble matching a name to a face because both are lables. Lables mean nothing to me because they are pretenses. Prejudices. A nugget that sways an opinion before it ever begins to germinate. "Who are you?" I ask. All other questions are moot.

I fell in love with classical music and Jazz when I realized that I could listen to a single piece over and over and never hear the same thing twice. I fell in love with the beach when I let the noisy sounds of the ocean and the seagulls carry me to a happier place and a deeper sleep. I fell in love with the library when I walked inside and heard nothing at all except for the voices of writers past. I fell in love with writing when I discovered my inner voice. I fell in love with marching band when I realized that learning the routine was less like drilling and more like dancing.

I fell in love with my girlfriend when I realized that her voice was beautiful and I could listen to her forever, and I fell in love with God when I first heard him speak to me as His child.

Our eyes lie to us all the time. They flatter us and show us what we want to see. They skew the world into an egocentric vision that tells us that our ends justify any means necessary. An over-reliance on sight makes us less self-aware and more self-entitled. Why do people appear to be bright until they speak? Why do things look so appealing until the voice of reason kicks in?

Lies. All lies.

No, our ears aren’t always reliable, either, but they speak the only truth they know. They don’t always tell us what we want to hear or flatter us, but they can be a true telescope to the world if we let them whereas the eyes are merely a kaleidascope that numbs our other senses. None of what I see is real, but (almost) everything I hear reveals the true heart of man.

When a person is stricken blind, it is said that sound and touch is heightened to compensate for the lack of sight. If this is true, what happens when we learn to depend on sight for too long? Do our listening skills atrophy? Do we forget the sensation of touch or the ecstasy of taste? Heaven forbid.

When I was in middle school, I suffered from a sinus infection so intense that the blood vessels in my ears swelled and I was rendered partially deaf for a week. I felt like a mole in the sunlight. I was a nervous wreck and no one could understand why. I couldn’t understand either, until now.

Though I still retained sight, I could not truly see.

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Two Horses, One Rider

A little known fact. Lowering someone’s expectations and preparing their mind for the worst-case scenario is a sin. Yes, a sin. Know why? Because it’s simply another form of worry and care, which Jesus says to cast on Him. And what is worry and care except exalting the word of a man over the word of God?

“Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matt, 8:26)

“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19)

“…verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.” (Matt. 17:20)

Now, obviously, this doesn’t mean that we just sit around idly and wait for a miracle to show up. God wants us to be always in action. He wants us constantly moving forward and investing wisely the things he’s given us as evidenced in the parable of the talents. “Thou good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over few things, so I will make you ruler over many things.” (paraphrase, mine)

If one prays for rain and a good crop, one should expect to prepare the fields for rain and a good crop with the abilities He’s endued you with. Thus, if you pray for healing, you should prepare your body for healing with the knowledge He’s given you. Nowhere does the Bible say that “God helps those that help themselves,” but God DOES expect us to back up our faith with action. Notice that Lazarus, the man raised from the dead, had to meet Jesus halfway as Jesus was reaching toward him. Jesus is a gentleman. He will never force Himself on us. He gives us a choice.

And what a choice it is.

On one hand, we can trust the things we can see. These are the things that we are told from birth that we can trust because there are scientific laws governing them all. Sadness is a big part of life because we are disappointed when the expectations of the laws governing said concepts don’t quite match up with the facts presented. “Why am I still sick when the church prayed for me?” “Why do the good stay poor and the evil prosper?” “Why did my grandfather die? He was a good man!” On the surface, the solution is simple. Lower one’s expectations and one will never be disappointed.

On the other hand, we can trust the words of Jesus. He said that He is the only way to the Father. He said that He has the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and He’s giving them to us. He said that if we have faith and don’t doubt, we can move mountains. He said that the things of this world are only temporal and that the real things are invisible, given substance by the faith we put into them.

Let’s face it, we have so many sick and suffering people in this world who are trying to keep their feet in both ponds. However, these choices are not two ponds. They are two horses going in two different directions. So many people are pulled apart as a result of the dependence on one and the fascination with the other, and want to blame God as a result.

God is not the problem.

God is not an instant feel-good pill from the pharmacy. He is not someone you just “try”. You have to fully immerse yourself in Him. You have to believe everything He says and reject everything that falls contrary to Him. He stands constantly with His arm outreached, but at some point, you have to reach back and meet Him halfway. He is almighty, but we must still give him permission to operate in our lives.

Have you ever tried to help a child who has asked for help with his homework, then discovered that the whole time you’re trying to help, he’s not paying a bit of attention and would rather doodle muscle cars in the margins instead of get a good grade? “Look, do you want my help or not!?” you want to scream. Sometimes, I wonder if God asks us that very same question.

“I can’t help the facts.” we say, but we CAN, however, choose to accept or reject them. “When I go in for my MRI,” we say at church, “the doctors are not going to find anything, because Jesus said I’m healed!” When we fall back into the comforting rut of our daily routine, however, we say, “But this is my back-up plan for if God fails.” If… God… fails…!? What kind of rubbish is this? God NEVER fails! Ladies and gentlemen, we have just given our enemy territory without knowing it and put it under the banner of “being realistic”.

People! Fellow Christians! My brothers and sisters in Christ!:

This is unacceptable! We are at war! We need to brandish our weapons and keep them sharp! “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;)” (2 Cor. 10:3-4) The book of Proverbs states that “death and life are in the power of the tongue”, and Jesus himself says that we shall be held accountable for every idle word we say.

Why?

Because there is a spiritual world beyond ours in which the forces of good and evil are fighting over us. Yes, us. It sounds like something out of a summer movie blockbuster, but I can assure you that it’s all true. God loved little ol’ us so much, that He took our rightful punishment upon himself and declared all-out spiritual warfare on the forces of darkness to get us back to where we rightfully belong. How do we fit into the picture? Every word we speak in faith to one side or the other alters the fabric of reality itself and changes the landscape of the battlefield. How can we expect to win a war if we’re continuously giving territory to the enemy?

Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I had mustard-seed faith that I would be healed and nothing would be found. However, the doctors DID find something. They told me that I had to be put on a medication that was known to cause heart failure. They told me that I had to take an injection every week that would kill my immune system, upset my intestines and possibly damage my kidneys. I was told that there was no more hope for me and that my last stop was an injection that burned like fire, killed my immune system, and weakened my bones. I listened to them all and heeded their advice, accepting treatment after treatment that was worse than the disease. I believed God, but I believed the world more. “Maybe God doesn’t want to heal me…” I would tremble as I cried myself to sleep. I was being pulled apart, physically, mentally and spiritually.

Then, I had enough.

One day, all the symptoms stopped and I took this opportunity to jettison all my chemical burdens. For nearly a year, now, I’ve been free of injections, toxic medications and the fear of four-year-olds with the sniffles. However, in the past few weeks, it would appear as if the disease has relapsed, and in a few days, I must report to a doctor.

This time, however, I will stand my ground. Regardless of what the results say (and they WILL be clean), I will place the Word of God over the word of the doctor and say, “But MY God says I’m healed.” Then, every decision I make from then on will be made in Christ-like faith.

 

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Truth Behind the Mask

“God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.  Take which you please – you can never have both.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you ever took a few steps back and wondered aloud why people are so content to wander around in the dark when the truth is staring them in the face?

Why is truth a much more difficult concept to accept than the lies that pervade it? Why do people fight and seek to destroy the seekers of truth when they are lost as can be? Why strike the face of the potential deliverer?

I’ve turned this question over and over in my mind, and I’m now able to fully admit it. It bothers me. It stirs me in an area I can’t pinpoint and in a way I can’t explain. There is an answer, but no simple solution except to keep spreading truth and shaking the dust from my sandals. I don’t claim to be better than anyone, but I believe, like my peers, that I know the truth and only wish for people to live the same kind of blissful existence that I do. I’ve studied, searched and prayed through this issue, but still have no definite answer. I have, however, learned a few things along the way.

First of all, the acceptance of lies over truth can be summed up in one word. “Convenience.” Don’t believe me? Look at the multi-millions of Twinkies, Cokes, instant ramen and TV dinners sold just over the past year alone. Look at prescription drug, cigarette and alcahol sales. There’s a reason why these products, though loaded with calories, fat, additives and cancer-causing agents, are still so insanely popular.

They’re convenient.

Sure, there are healthier and more beneficial alternatives to the things that we take for granted every day, but they take work. We have to become gardeners, chefs and nutritionists. We have to study. We have to think. We have to read. Heaven forbid.

Fast food and prepackaged processed snacks give us an instant sweet taste and full stomach. Alcahol, cigarettes and drugs give us an instant feeling of euphoria, peace and wellness. But for how long? And for what price? People don’t care. All they care about is the here and now.

True wisdom must overcome the same hurdle to be heard. Why listen to the voice of truth? The voice of truth says that I must reach for something, to listen, to learn. The voice of truth says that I must work. Why should I listen to the voice of truth when the voice of lies tells me that I can have it now with no effort required on my part. It tells me that it’s all there at my fingertips. This, of course, is all a lie, because that voice leads us into toxic codependency, but codependency is still far more appealing to the common man than truth.

Take mass media for example. Have you ever noticed that when being asked if you’re a reader, you take it as an innocent question? Well, some people read and others don’t. Some like newspapers, others like novels, some like biographies. You shrug it off. “Sure”, or “Nah” you say, dismissively. But when asked the same question about television, you stare agape at that person as if he had just descended from Mars to find out about your unique culture. “Of course I am!” you cry. “What kind of silly question is that?”

Why is it such a silly question? Because like fast food and prepackaged junk, television is so simple and so instant that it is taken for granted as ubiquitous, whether it really is or not. Unlike books that require the reader to make inferences for himself or even radio that requires the listener to assemble the pictures in his mind, television is instantaneous. Simply click a button on the remote and receive an instant overload of information. Is that information true? Is it reliable? Who cares? It’s cheap, it’s convenient and it’s instant.

Think about how much we rely on television commercials and sound bites to receive our information. Think about how much of it we recall on a daily basis. You can’t tell me for an instant that we’re not actively learning from it. How much of our culture is dependent on television and cinema? How much of our modern history naturally coincides with the broadcast schedules of popular shows and spots?

When did watching grown-ups act like children on national television become the “adult” thing to do while reading and radio drama became childish? Why did the internet transform from a place to share vital information to a place to play silly games and watch mindless videos? Why are we so intent on asserting our independence by joining the ranks of the world? Why do we insist on accepting convenient lies over timeless truth?

Just my two cents:

What we need as a society is something that works. The church has touted the life, the truth and the way for centuries, and through the Bible, they have the authority to tout it with all their might. Though there have been standout exceptions, it has generally instead perverted God’s own words. It has offered people nothing but meaningless ritual and tradition. It has offered harsh words for people who have questioned the works of the Almighthy in their own lives. To be frank, it has offered nothing that people can’t already have in the “real world” with less effort.

Does truth need to be more convenient? I should say not, or else it wouldn’t be unfiltered truth anymore. No. Those that speak the truth must realize that they are not speaking for an elite club to the masses. They are speaking for the free to the imprisoned. People understandably don’t wish to exchange one prison for another.

Jesus said “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” In other words, “Take my truth to heart because it only has two rules (live by faith and walk in love) and no condemnation (divine forgiveness).”

Sometimes I wonder why people choose to accept lies over the Truth when the Truth is so much clearer. Then I think that if we remove our worldly masks when we speak the truth, perhaps they wouldn’t. I have been given a mission. We all have. I am removing my mask now, possibly destroying it for good, so that people might see the whole Truth shine through me.

Because after all, there are no masks in eternity.

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At War With the Computer

“Even though worker capacity and motivation are destroyed when leaders choose power over productivity, it appears that bosses would rather be in control than have the organization work well.”
–Margaret J. Wheatley

Whether you like it or not, computers and the internet today are penetrating every facet of life imaginable. Nearly every store or establishment uses computers to track sales and profits. Medical records are kept online. Shipping is handled via online tracking. Weather bureaus track storms and patterns against online archives.

And every day, computers are becoming more sophisticated and more like the space-age we pictured in the fifties. We are truly becoming a “push-button” society. With computers handling such complex tasks, I should be thrilled to have a computer in my home to make writing and working easier, right?
Unfortunately, no.

As a writer, I have grown utterly sick of the humming beasts taking up copious amounts of desk space with the omnipresent Internet watching my every move. When computers were more “limited”, they were far more useful to me. I could quickly discover the “notepads” and “Microsoft Words” of the system and immediately get to work. If there was a probem, I could fix it in a flash and resume without missing a beat. There were very little distractions beyond a handful of games and activities, and online speeds and web standards of the time made it impossible much less unappealing to while away precious hours on time-wasting sites.

What bothers me the most about all of this is that technology should be working for us, but in fact, we are the ones slaving away for technology. Don’t believe me? How much longer does your old computer have before it no longer supports the software you need to be productive? For how much are tech corporations holding your devices captive? The worst of it is that the people who have purchasing power are not asking these questions. Instead, they pay through the nose for their brand-new toys and the rest of us are forced to comply.

Am I the only person that finds this whole scenario insane?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for technological improvement as much as the next guy, but there comes a time when we must beg the question: “Is this really improvement, or just a distraction? Are we really getting more, or are we perpetuating a vicious cycle of sameness?” And the thing is: this is all coming from a computer affecionado. Yeah. When I was younger, I loved computers. At one point, I wanted a job where I could do nothing but work on computers. That was heaven for me.

Now, it’s quite the opposite…

As a result, I’ve made strides in stripping down my technology and doing more with less. Instead of waiting in line and clamoring for the latest and greatest that Silicon Valley has to offer, I’ve made a regular hobby of making computing powerhouses out of machines that most people would consider garbage, nowadays. To do that, I’ve had to rifle through decades of computer history and go back to my roots.

For instance, to type this article, I’m using a text-based Linux program called “Wordgrinder”. It runs neatly on my thirteen-year-old PC by typing a command at the terminal prompt and displaying a simple ASCII interface. (any of you kids remember ASCII?) No, it’s not bursting with useless options, oozing with flashy eye-catching charm, or supported by every Fortune 500 company in existance, but it fits me like a glove. I am a writer, and I crave simple writing programs that stay out of my way and let me work.

“But why are you going backwards?” I’ve had people ask me. “Why are you giving up new and functional for old and clunky?” That’s just it. New technology just ISN’T functional for me, and I know it can’t be for everyone else, either. When I’m having to answer a simple issue about a typical operating system quirk and people stare at me blankly as if I’m Linus Torvalds delivering a keynote at CES, it tells me that people don’t understand what it is they’re using, either and that it’s not fully useful to them. When elderly women buy $1500 quad-core 16GB entertainment rigs for basic web browsing and e-mail because the local Best Buy employee tells her to, it tells me that our current one-size-fits-all system just doesn’t work no matter how much money our overpaid IT professionals throw at it. Whether it’s popular, accepted, or not, I need something that works for me, no matter how odd it seems to other people.

People look at my old 1Ghz single core Celeron PC with 172Mb of RAM and 20GB of storage and see me as a charity case. “Oh, poor guy.” they say. “So behind the times.” Then comes the insult to injury. “You need to buy a new computer.” they say, over and over. “You need a new computer.” “You need a faster computer!” “You need a computer that has Windows 7″ “You need a computer that can jump to the web with the push of a button.” “You need the latest updates so you can always be online!” Yes, I’ve had offers for people to buy me a brand-new PC box for free.

“Bah!” I say, slamming down my prune juice and swinging my cane in angry protest. “Git awf mah property with yer newfangled web whoosits and social whatnots!”

I flatly refuse it all. I despise the direction that the computer industry is headed, and would rather spend the time and energy creating something that works rather than supporting a system that not only doesn’t work but refuses to ever work merely to foster consumer dependence.

Our current model of technology progression is a sick one. It states that if you don’t have a computer that’s at least under two years old running Windows 7 or MacOSX Lion, it’s only because you are among the poorer class that can’t afford it. I beg to differ, because I’ve got over a thousand dollars in savings that says I can afford it any time I want. I choose not to, however, because I have better things to save up for than the consumer equivelant of buying a nuclear particle accelerator to crack peanuts.

I use nothing but open-source software because it’s safe, reliable and provides me with client-side solutions I need and trust to get my work done quickly and efficiently. I use low-powered console applications because it provides me with a tight, distraction-free environment to create without inhibitions. I depend on flash drives instead of cloud computing because I need access to my files at all times whether I’m connected to the internet or not. And most importantly, I used “underpowered” hardware to house it all because it’s all I need to be happy and productive.

Am I hopelessly out of touch and behind the times? Perhaps, but it works, and it works well. I couldn’t care any less if my computer can’t read a 2012 PowerPoint file or play the latest Call of Duty.

And perhaps if we all started telling technology what we need instead of technology dictating what we must have, we might all be a little more productive, a little less stressed, and yes, maybe a little happier.

In fact, I know we would.

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In Defense of Job

“And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” — Job 1:8

The Book of Job in the Old Testament has been the root of most misconceptions about God and Christianity in the church today and is one of the many reasons why it is not recommended as a first read.

I must admit that this book puzzled me for a long time. Though God restored Job’s property, family and health in the end, the entire episode seemed a bit out-of-character for the God we know for his love, compassion and long suffering. Why would God suddenly decide to let Satan beat up on Job just to prove a point? To an outsider, this may be unsettling, because God is supposed to protect us and provide for us. To Christians, God may seem two-faced, lending to the misuse of the verse, “The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) Maybe God just lets us go through stuff to build character, I thought. I held onto this thought for several years and began to believe it. It poisoned my faith and my relationship with God.

This Sunday, however, I was given a true answer.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” says Peter. This does not, however, mean that we must fear the devil.

Roaring lions in nature aren’t as all-powerful as their performance would suggest. First of all, the male is not typically the hunter of the pride. Second, big cats are built for short bursts of speed, not prolonged running. Anybody who owns a cat knows this. A cat will typically pick out the weakest, sickest and slowest animal in the group, separate it, and trick it into getting outmaneuvered.

I like to read the Book of Job like this:

“Where have you been?” asked God.

“I’ve been roaming the earth, looking for people to devour. Where else?” replied the devil.

“Oh yes,” God said. “Preying upon the weak-minded and frail. Typical.”

“What are you getting at?”

“I’m just saying. You wouldn’t last a minute against a REAL man. Take my servant Job for example. No matter what you do, you can’t break him. You’re gonna practically kill yourself trying.”

“Hey, now that’s not fair! You give him everything in the world he needs! I’ll bet without all his fancy material stuff and good health, he’ll be putty in my hands.”

“Oh you think so, do you?” God said, folding his arms. “Tell you what. Have at him and see what happens to you.”

“You’re on.” sneered the devil.

Remember, though, that God didn’t leave Job unarmed. After all, what would material goods, family and good health do against a spiritual adversary? Sure, they may add encouragement, but zero multiplied by anything is still zero. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”

Satan only took carnal things away from Job, but his spiritual weapons were still intact.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) When Jesus fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil, He was not unarmed. He used the sword of the spirit, not to argue with, but to physically cut the devil. Every syllable of the Word of God spoken was so painful to the devil that he actually retreated. No, Job didn’t possess a born again spirit, but he had something that so many Christians today forget. He had the favor of God and the knowledge that God is always good. Armed with that knowledge, he steeled himself and fired back with a volley of spiritual bullets. God knew what he was doing the entire time.

God wasn’t letting Satan have his way with Job, he was unleashing Job on Satan whether Job knew it or not!

God didn’t forsake Job and God will never forsake you. I don’t know what you may be dealing with at this moment, but God means nothing but good for you. If you are under his protection and He allows an adversary to challenge you, He has already given you the weapons to defeat it and the armor to defend yourself. I don’t care what you feel, what you see, or what you hear. God loves you and God will be with you. Always.

“Hey! Hey Satan!” called God after He restored Job’s health, property and family.

“Ughhh.” the devil groaned. He was covered in bruises and recoiling in pain.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” said God.

“So?”

“So, maybe you’ll think twice before messing with my people again. Oh, and you know what? I’m going to win them back, not just a chosen few, but ALL of them, and I’m going to endue them with so much knowledge and power that you’ll WISH you were only dealing with Job again.”

The devil suddenly turned white. Imagine. Millions of warriors a thousand-fold more powerful than Job armed with stronger swords and truer arrows. “You can’t do that!” he screamed in horror. “He’s only made of dirt!”

“It’s already been done.” beamed God as he watched Job continue his life in happiness. “Long before mankind was ever brought from the dust and breathed the breath of life. You’d better enjoy your short reign on earth, Satan, because your days are numbered.”

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Impressive…

“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.  From each of them goes out its own voice… and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.” –Gilbert Highet

I find nineteenth century impressionism utterly fascinating. Perhaps it’s the life of the artists, the subjects or even the stirring up of the traditional art world during its heyday. Mostly, though, I believe it’s the composition that moves me.

Think about it.

Look closely at a Monet, a Cezanne or a Van Gogh. All you can see, for the most part, are individual brush strokes, appearing as if paint has been haphazardly splattered across the canvas with all caution thrown to the wind. “What is this garbage!?” you’d be justified in asking. “A kindergartner with finger-paints could do better than this!” Then, you take a few steps back. With each step, you begin to notice an odd pattern emerging, and by the time the whole canvas is in focus, you realize that each individual brush stroke has come together to create something truly beautiful and moving.

However, though you can see the entire canvas, you can never truly unsee the individual brush strokes. Most likely, you’ve gained an appreciation for the artist’s labor and realize the effort it takes to make a recent creation seem as if it’s been here for eternity.

I, for instance, applied it to my own craft of writing.

“What do you find most important when you read a book?” someone once asked me. “Do you look at the plot first, or the story, figuring out how everything lines up, or do you come up with a setting and populate it with characters?” There are so many opening moves in a written composition, that beginners (myself included) often find it daunting and challenging just to stare at an empty page. However, I surprised the inquisitive person by offering my own method.

“I look for unity of design, first of all,” I replied. “You must begin by having something to say. This is your theme. Your thesis. Then, you must create characters to support or argue your thesis. After that, your story writes itself. The challenge is to follow through and never lose focus.”

“But where must the focus be?” that someone asked.

“Characters.” I replied. “It’s all about the characters.”

Characters are to a writer like brush strokes are to a painter. These streaks on the canvas are the result of different brushes dipped in different hues of different consistencies. Though it is perfectly acceptible to blend them seamlessly into a clockwork world, they are far more fascinating when they are constantly juxtaposed and arguing, much like painter’s strokes are more fascinating when they’re bold and fearless. Must they always argue against each other? No, but they must always argue with or against the theme. Who do they represent? Where is their position? For what do they stand? This must be made apparent from the outset to see the brush stroke for what it is.

The reader begins the book at an inch’s distance from the “canvas”. All he sees is a group of people haphazardly grouped together with no common purpose in mind. The further he digs into the book, however, the further away he stands from the canvas and the brush strokes begin to merge into something tangible. Toward the end, the entire canvas is in focus and the reader can see each characterization, each brush stroke, for what it is: one vital part of a beautiful word image. What is that image? Ultimately, it is up to the writer, and if you are a writer, it is up to you.

(No pressure, no pressure.)

Often, I wonder if that’s what God means for us. Often, we only see chaos and bold, fearless, haphazard brush strokes because we are only an inch away from the canvas. “I can live my life better than God can,” we boldly claim, not seeing the whole canvas. The more we learn, though, and the more we strive to become closer to Him, the further back he pulls us, and we see that everything, even the ruddy, mud-colored splatters, work together to create a beautiful work of art. What does it mean? We must pursue the Master Artist to find out.

Perhaps this is why I feel most worshipful and at peace when I put a pen to paper and glide the ink across the page. The more I hear the familiar scratch of pen on paper, the closer I feel to Jesus, because I know that slowly but surely, I am becoming more like Him every day.

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Trees, Tumbleweeds and Swamps

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” –Ecclesiastes 3:1

Can someone be a Christian and also set in their ways and unwilling to change? In all honesty, yes, I believe it’s very possible. In fact, people do just that every day. However, the question is: should they? The question of its sinfulness is endlessly debated, but no Christian can contest that it’s very counter-productive.

God is all about change.

The Bible is filled with examples of people being uprooted from their homes and thrown into unfamiliar scenarios. Various references are made to changing seasons and time periods. Matthew 24:35 says “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

One of the worst things a Christian can do is become comfortable. Once this happens, he begins to believe that all things depend on his own intuition, senses and abilities. He develops a bloated sense of entitlement and an artificial series of needs he did not previously have. God is slowly removed from the picture and thus so is his spiritual calling.

This is when the proverbial snow globe is turned upside-down and given a good shake.

When all a Christian has to grasp is his own ways, habits and routines, what happens when they are all suddenly gone or they can no longer be something on which to depend? This is a true test of character and faith.

In writing, this is why we put our characters through situations of sudden change. The easiest way to tell the most about a character in the shortest amount of time is to put him through great adversity, and the greatest adversity a character can endure is that of questioning everything he knows and believes. Even Joseph in the book of Genesis was put through such a test, and it spoke volumes of his character and reliance on God. Why is that? Ask the builders of the Tower of Babel.

After the Great Flood, the people were told to scatter, but instead, they built a rallying point in direct defiance of God’s commandment. Even now, it is hardwired in our nature to settle in, get comfortable, and serve ourselves, and as humans who have no natural predators, we can do it with relative ease Just look around you. We’re making it easier all the time. Why? Because this is how the natural man defines peace.

Joyce Meyer once provided an interesting example. Two painters were asked to paint a picture of peace. One painter produced the image of a sunset on a calm seashore, while the other produced a picture of a bird’s nest on a tree set against a raging, noisy waterfall in the background. “Which one was correct?” she asked.

The first painting depicts peace as presented by the natural man, whereas the second painting depicts God’s peace. Peace is not the lack of adversity, but the steadfastness amidst it.

Can someone be a Christian and consider themselves set in their ways and unwilling to change? I don’t understand why anyone would want to. I used to be very risk-averse in my youth until I drew closer to God and realized that to fully reap His blessings, I had to follow Him wherever He would lead. This meant that if I had to uproot all my habits and comforts of home to perform His will, then so be it. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we become as reckless and wandering as tumbleweeds. It just means that though we enjoy things, we must not become so attached to them that we can’t move when God gives us the command. This doesn’t just apply to the rapture and material treasures. It applies to everyday living and our habits and attitudes.

“No, God. I don’t want the deed to a gold mine. I’m too busy clinging to my lump of coal!” Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Listen to yourself speak. Whenever we refuse to change when the time comes, we are saying just that.

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