Monthly Archives: December 2011

Stargazing

“E pur si muove. [And yet, it moves.]” –Galileo Galilei [disputed]

Is the concept of Christianity really only a series of rules and customs that we follow only to give some sort of meaning to our otherwise dull and dreary lives? The outside world seems to think so, and after so many years of being beaten down, many Christians adopt this mindset as well.

However, I prefer to look at it this way.

Being a Christian and delving into the Word of God is like stargazing. At first, You happen to glance up every now and then. All you see are small, white dots in blackness, and what is a few dots compared to the gleam of street lights, big-screen televisions and movie screens? Stars are so ordinary. You see them every day.

But one day, you find yourself alone, someplace where the flicker of modern technology can’t reach your eyes. Someplace where there are no more distractions, and reality hits you like a bolt of lightning. East, South, West and North, you can see nothing beyond the scope of your arm’s reach, and all you can do is look up. Your eyes have become accustomed to the darkness, and what was only a handful of white dots has now become hundreds, maybe even thousands. The black sky reveals the blueish streak of clouds and the heavens have exploded in light. Off in the distance, the full-moon has revealed its glow and you can see each and every crater marking its surface.

Then, everything is put into perspective.

Each and every one of those small, white dots is a sun just like ours. Each sun possibly has its own set of planets and moons. You can only see a fraction of the stars in the sky, and there are likely billions more stars out there. Out of all the planets and all the suns, God cares about us, a tiny speck in the universe. Even though mankind constantly spits in His face and openly mocks Him, He wants His creation saved and returned to Him. He wanted us saved so badly, that He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sakes.

But why would He do this for us? We have nothing to offer Him. We’re nothing. Lower than dirt. Who would want to save us when we can barely see anything good in ourselves?

Apparently, He does.

As you take it all in, slowing down your hectic life for the first time in decades, you realize that this magnificent display was created for you, but you were too blinded and stressed out to see it. Upon going back home, you realize that televisions, movie screens street lights, computers and cell phones seem so dull now because you’ve witnessed true brilliance.

Every Christmas Eve, when I can get away from the holiday hustle and bustle, I look to the starry winter sky and remember the gift we were given over two thousand years ago. Whenever the world seems to be closing in on me, I read the Word of God and stargaze. Suddenly, everything seems so towering and myself so small, but I know that I am counted among His beloved, and at the same time, I am mightier in Him.

Whenever you feel alone in the world, take time to look and truly observe the world around you. The Creator’s fingerprints are everywhere if only we take the time to see them.
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Free Short Story: "The Forfeit"

This is a small sample of my work. It’s a story I wrote a few months ago in a single day after an inspiring church service. Now, I give it to my readers as a Christmas gift. I hope it blesses you to read it as much as it blessed me to write it.
 
Clyde Benson played like a professional at his first high school chess tournament. There was a four-year paid scholarship to the college of his choice at stake and he trained for an entire year just to have a shot at it. For the last few months, he ate, slept and breathed chess statistics and tactics, forsaking all other responsibilities for the scholarship. After winning the first three rounds, reporters were quick to name him the favorite to win the tournament, and with good reason, too. He played flawlessly, penetrating every defense and blocking every attack with precision never seen before at the high school level. There was no mistake. His performance had to be perfect to get this far, and for a while, it was, but the months of sleepless practicing were beginning to take their toll on the poor, overworked Clyde.

Clyde worked his way up the tournament ladder, and eventually rose to the final round, ready to face the last challenger standing between him and the scholarship. But he was as exhausted as he was excited. He had pushed aside all rest, friends and pleasure to train for this moment. He did it all by himself, and even in this moment of triumph, he was all alone. This time, he said to himself, he would take no chances. He would expose his opponent’s flaws one by one and finish him off with a humiliating final blow with his queen. It should take no more than about fifteen to twenty moves, he thought, and would really wow the audience when he took home the first prize in style. Secretly, though, Clyde was quickly losing steam and all he wanted was the whole affair over and done with.

The gymnasium, cleared and decorated for the final event, was a confusion of noise, though no one voice could be easily isolated. Still, it remained quiet enough to insure a small window of time to think and reflect. “I can do this.”, Clyde said to himself repeatedly as if he didn’t really believe it but thought that reciting these words might force something to happen regardless. He approached the table containing the chessboard, pieces and timer. The familiar sight put him momentarily at ease. Soon, he felt a surge of adrenaline flow through him, and he was ready to take on the world single-handedly. But as soon as he saw his opponent, all confidence completely drained from his disposition.

His opponent’s voice sounded out of place as he spoke to an adult, possibly his trainer, who walked him to the table. He assumed him to be a foreign exchange student from a country that exported as many chess players as China exported tea. Though he was as tall as Clyde, he was slimmer and paler. His complexion contrasted well with his menacingly black hair. His jeans were just as black as well as his fitting polo shirt. His eyes were difficult to read for his long, shaggy hair that covered his bespectacled eyes. Not that this mattered, because he wore a wide- brimmed fedora that cast an obscuring shadow over half his face. Immediately, this mysterious, foreign chess master struck fear into Clyde, and he did his best to hide it, but the boy in black easily sensed his apprehension. He lifted the brim of his fedora and flashed a cruel grin to Clyde that seemed to predict an imminent defeat.

The crowd hushed to a dull murmur, and then silence. The final match was ready to commence. Clyde and the boy in black met on opposite ends of the table. The proctor prompted them to shake hands. Clyde felt the eerily cold hand of the boy in black and this only added to the sheer terror. They took their seats and the boy in black lifted a knight from the first rank and slammed it onto the third with a loud “clack” that permeated every nook and cranny of the gymnasium. Then, he hit the timer and folded his arms. The first move was made and the game had begun.

The first few moves spelled disaster for Clyde’s battle plan. each move the boy in black made was bold and fearless. With each move, Clyde questioned his own and decided, rather than going straight for the kill, he would play it safe. Very simply, he would clear spaces for his rook and bishop to slowly cripple the enemy defenses. This plan was soon dashed, however, as he made an amateurish mistake. His white knight and bishop were caught in a black rook’s fork. Stealthily, he moved the knight out of danger only to find his bishop still in check without retribution. The plan hinged so greatly on this one piece, and now it was going to be shattered to pieces.

He hoped that the boy in black wouldn’t notice, but the more he dwelt on it, the more he shifted and fidgeted in his seat. Then, the boy in black placed a finger on his rook and he knew he had Clyde’s full, undivided attention. The boy searched the board and after finding the opening for attack, captured Clyde’s beloved bishop. The crowd gasped. “Stupid!” his eyes screamed, and all the boy in black could do was chuckle and grin.

Clyde spent the next several moves making up for the carelessness of his opening gambit. He would not make that mistake again, he thought, repeatedly, but the more he thought about it, the more he saw himself as inferior to the boy in black. Obviously, he was dealing with a world- class player and he knew that to beat him, he must play harder and smarter. However, even then, the echo of “I’m inferior,” “I’m weak,” “I’m no match for him,” and “I’m stupid.” permeated every thought that crossed his mind, and each move he made cost him yet another valuable piece. Sweat poured from his face, as he spent the majority of the endgame with his head cradled in his hands, back hunched over and, eyes glazed and bloodshot. The boy in black remained cool and serene. It drove him crazy.

Finally, the boy in black held a force of four pawns, one of which was about to be promoted, one rook, no knights and two bishops. Clyde had nothing but a rook, a knight, and two pawns. Any other player could take these insurmountable odds and pull victory out of nowhere, he thought, but not him. One mistake after another chipped away at his ego until he saw himself as nothing more than a worm who crawled here by sheer luck alone. The boy in black had him cornered, and there was nothing he could do about it. But wait! There was a small opening he could possibly use. He could move his king and push his pawn forward and take a chance of promotion. There were other riskier options, but considering who he was playing, this seemed to be the safest. Clyde pushed his king to the left and appeared to be rather proud of himself at this moment until the boy in black pushed his pawn to the eight rank and swapped it for a queen.

“Checkmate!” he sneered with a smile. Clyde fell prey to the boy’s wiles once again.

Hands were shaken, pictures were taken, and the boy in black walked away with the scholarship that was originally promised to Clyde for all of his hard work. As the building cleared and everyone scattered to the parking lot to go back to their normal lives, Clyde still had one piece of unfinished business to attend to. He ran to the side parking lot where the school’s charter buses were parked. There, he saw the boy in black strolling casually to one of them.

“Hey!” Clyde called. “Hey, you! You in black! Excuse me!” The boy turned around and the two met each other halfway. “That was amazing!” said Clyde. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“It was nothing,” muttered the boy, “really.”

“Nothing?” said Clyde. “Don’t be so modest! What’s your secret? How long have you been practicing? Five years? Ten?”

“Two weeks.” said the boy, with a heavy accent.

“Wha–?” Clyde was dumbfounded.

“I’m not really that good.” said the boy in black. “In fact, I’m the worst chess player at my school. I intimidate my opponents into telegraphing their weaknesses and I capitalize on them. They’re all so weak-minded. They tell me everything I need to know. Then, I’m able to tear them down until they’re a shaking, sniveling mess. But,” he added. “they’re a mess from their own doing.”

“B-b-but when you played m-me.” Clyde stammered. “I thought–“

“You?” the boy interrupted. “You were great! You could’ve beat me easily if you had just exposed my flaws and went for the kill with your queen.” Clyde slapped an open palm against his face. “Too bad none of you know a good thing when you have it.”

Clyde Benson stared into space, completely speechless. There went the boy in black, walking away with his prized paid scholarship to the school of his choice, and here was Clyde with nothing left to show for his suffering but the thoughts of what could have been.

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Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year

“I never really did Christmas before. Christmas Day? I mean – what’s that? What’s it all about? I was always flying on Christmas Day.” –Monica Seles

Perhaps I am only naive, but I’ve never quite understood why people who celebrate Christmas bear arms whenever people say “Happy Holidays”, or why people who don’t celebrate it for religious or personal reasons cry foul when they are told to have a “Merry Christmas” anyway. From my experience, people don’t act this way over holidays like Thanksgiving or Independence Day. When an American tells a European to have a “Happy Thanksgiving”, the response is simply “Oh… well, Thanksgiving isn’t really a holiday over here, but hey, thanks for the sentiment.” But when a Wal-Mart cashier tells a customer to have “Happy Holidays”, the customer is ready to bash his head in with an umbrella.

Why!? It’s nothing more than an argument over semantics! We might as well wage civil war over the usage of prepositions at the ends of sentences. Actually, I’d like to see the propaganda posters for THAT.

When I was in school, the word “Holidays” for me didn’t merely mean Christmas or December. It referred to everything from October 1st to January 2nd. That included the County Fair, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, New Year’s Eve, and even obscure holidays like Chocolate Day, National Poetry Day and Beethoven’s (and Jane Austen’s) birthday. When people said “Happy Holidays” to me, it simply meant “Have a happy three months full of fun, excitement and vacation days.”, to which I would reply, “You bet!”

But, of course, I’m in the habit of saying “Merry Christmas’ as well, typically before Christmas vacation, or better yet, before the day itself. Certainly I don’t say this to impose my views upon anyone else. All I mean to say is, “Whatever you happen to be doing this week of the twenty-fifth, I hope it’s merry nonetheless.” and that’s all the phrase really means if one thinks about it long enough. I could just as easily say “Merry Tuesday”, and certainly no one would take offense for that. For instance, I am morally opposed to Halloween, but whenever someone innocently slips and tells me to have a happy one, I take it to mean “Whatever you’re doing October 31st, make it happy.”, to which I shrug and reply, “Sure.”.

Now, keep in mind that I am a Christian and I love the idea of Christmas. I just feel that it has been sorely misrepresented in today’s culture and by its own community. God tells us to “[g]o ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15), but it’s difficult to do that when we’re ready to rip each other apart over insistent terminology. When a sinner comes to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior, He takes him as he is, but we treat Christmas as some sort of exclusive club with our own code, our own secret handshakes and our own inexplicable, unshakable customs. No, we don’t want to compromise our faith, but the Christmas holiday was never built on faith to begin with. It was built on converting pagans to Christianity through compromise. What’s the point of “keeping CHRIST in CHRISTmas” if we don’t invite Him in from the outset?

When we spit venom over the usage of “Happy Holidays”, “Seasons Greetings”, or even the “X-Mas” shorthand, are we showing Christ through us, or are we simply showing our own pet peeves and determination? There is nothing wrong with good intentions, but it will all be “…wood, hay and stubble,” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13) if it doesn’t glorify the Lord.

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