Salty Air

The air is lighter, takes on a friendlier quality here. 

The ocean peaks over the low-rising building roofs, sending it’s stream of healing sea air

There is salt in the air particles; but the air feels cleaner, purer, ALIVE.

The sun beats down, but instead of pounding the earth below, it’s a more gentle pat on the shoulder.

This place feels like home. It’ll be home for good, even as the years continue to fade away, deeper into history.

San Clemente will always be home.

"Silence": And Questions of Faith and Suffering

Note: This post will feature light spoilers.

“Silence,” the latest effort from Martin Scorsese is, first and foremost, a masterpiece. The filmmaker’s incredible skill for mining dramatic character moments is in full display here, as the story follows the story of two Jesuit priests on a mission to Japan. Their job isn’t primarily to share the gospel, but to find and retrieve their mentor, Father Ferreira, who they hear has apostatized from the faith. The film follows the harrowing journey of the two, Father Rodriguez and Gruppe, who find themselves amongst Japanese villagers who follow Christ in secret. 

They worship at night, quietly, to avoid drawing the attention of the Japanese inquisitors, who ruthlessly hunt down Christians and brutally torture and murder them for their faith. Those who were willing to deny their faith in Jesus were compelled to step on a bronze image of the Christ, and to spit on crosses as an act of rejection. This is a fairly common occurence, until the arrival of the priests, whose presence draws the extra attention of the inquisitors. These Christian hunters eventually capture the priests, and punish the villagers mercilessly in front of them. They offered to spare the lives of these Japanese believers, only if the priests apostatize, and deny their Christ. The film depicts in graphic detail the emotional and spiritual struggle that these priests go through. It is a sobering story of the cost of faith, and the suffering that may come from persecution. There is one scene in this film that left me sobbing openly, the powerful images on the screen hitting very, very close to home for me, as a Christian.

Without delving too much more deeply into the plot, however, I wanted to point out some key questions the film asks. At what point should you deny your faith to save your followers/others? Will denying Christ by word not matter, if your heart still believes? Can one be forgiven if he denies Christ?

———

In attempting to answer this, I admit to needing so much grace to be able to live this out in my own life. I also need to give the assist to John Piper for this answer, and the double assist to my friend Luke, for sending me this article. Piper addresses the question of “if [you deny Jesus] to save our life, even though we don’t mean it, is it punishable?” He cites Matthew 10 here:

“Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)

Jesus seems to make it very clear, here. When this situation plays out on film, Scorcese’s use of internal monologue and dialogue really emphasizes what a difficult question this is to answer. Essentially, the Father Rodriguez resists the call to deny Christ; this denial, however, directly correlates with the torture of his fellow Christians, right before his very eyes. They ask, would you not make the sacrifice, and deny your Jesus, to save the lives of your fellow Christians?

What does one do then?

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

No, it would appear that not even your own flesh and blood is more worthy than Jesus. To deny him may somehow save your earthly life, but would lead an even more fearful spiritual death.

———

In the film, there is a villager who denies Christ to save his life, only to repent and ask for forgiveness. But we see in the film that this initial decision to deny Christ follows him for the rest of his days, a never-ending specter that continues to haunt him.

I would propose that a denying of Christ is symptomatic of a heart that is proud. An overwhelming desire to live on, for family, for friends, to accomplish more in the world while alive, is to deny God his mysterious power. It is a self-facing decision: I am too important to die for Christ; I’m too important for my family to lose me. 

Conversely, a life devoted to Christ fully may say this instead: I am not essential; only God can fully take care of my family, can do his work in spite of me and without me.

“Silence” invites viewers to sit closely to the idea of denying one’s faith. It is an utterly uncomfortable experience, by design. It delivers emotional gravitas to the decisions that the characters make. We are left feeling cathartic joy and sheer despondence all at once, as we witness the characters making their choices. I think that Christians who watch this film will not come away from the experience unchanged. I think that “Silence” is one of the most important films about Christianity and faith in a long, long time.

Some (Good) Things That Changed in 2016

Below are a collection of random thoughts at 2:30 in the morning, on a sleepless night, on the eve of 2017. Below are a few things that changed for me in 2016, assembled in no order in particular.

  • I took a few social media breaks. In the past, it would be a weekend without Facebook here and there, but I’d remain logged in on Twitter, my favorite platform of choice. This year, I abandoned even Twitter for a spell. And you know what? It was quite nice.
  • Movies weren’t so good this year, but there were a few really good ones mixed in there. Jackie maybe will stick with me the most this year, emotionally. Rogue One was the most profoundly disappointing. The rest were just bad… some of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time. (That’s right, I’m looking right into your cold, heartless eyes, Suicide Squad)
  • I became a grad school student. At this time a year ago, that was not on my radar at any stretch. 
  • I became a church staff member. At this time a year ago, that was not on my radar at any stretch. 
  • In fact, it was an abandoned dream… a dream I thought had been trampled by circumstance and trial. But God had much better, far more appropriate plans for my life. As always.
  • 2016 was actually a really good year for me. I am very grateful.
  • I became less interested in having the latest and greatest in tech, but instead, focused on the tech that works best for me.
  • I can’t remember the last time a new record charged me and ignited my heart. Music hasn’t been so good these days, and that bums me out.
  • Filmed a short with my friends yesterday. After a molasses-like week of staring idly at a screen, that was great.
  • It's A Wonderful Life. I watched it twice this Christmas season, and wept and wept both times. Because of this scene. You know, the one:

"I want to live again. Please God. Let me live again."

Oh yeah. By the way. I think God is in the business of restoration. Been thinking about Ezekiel 37. The dry bones came to life because God willed it, and he invited Ezekiel to call it into being in prophecy. I’ve seen him revive my own dry bones, and I’m thinking he’s got that in store for a lot of people in 2017.

He restored my heart in 2014, he extricated cancerous cells from my spiritual body in 2015, and he gave me a good hard kick in the pants in 2016. What will he do next?

Some Stream-of-Thought Thoughts

50 people dead. I don’t care much anymore as to what kind of people group victims of senseless murders are a part of. I care that they are human beings just like me. I care that they once cried, were once daughters and sons, and once tasted great food and smiled with quiet delight, all incandescent lights of life that lived in this crazy world. But they’re gone.

I don’t want to politicize or pontificate. It all feels so hopelessly foolish. I can only pray for a world that, as it stands now, feels so far away from help; too far gone for healing. But I can pray to a God who loves each and every precious soul. I pray for God to ease their family’s pain and to spur good people to act. I pray for wisdom, to guide in what to do, because I simply feel numb and frozen by painful sorrow.

Lord, how long? How long must we sing our broken songs of broken hope?

Unspoken

Sometimes, a smile says a lot.

I'm sitting in a Starbucks unwinding from a busy work day, reading my book, working towards my goal of reading about two books a month (Still on track). Across the way, a student (judging by his ball cap, he's from Cal State Fullerton) is studying away. It's a very typical, quiet weeknight in the buck of stars.

At some point though, we both look up and make eye contact. I smile and nod. He smiles and nods in return, an unspoken connection. I feel that I am saying, "Yeah, me too!" in a silent show of solidarity. He seems to say, "Good luck, man!" in reply. We don't know each other. We may never see each other again, but I find that it's kind of cool that for this hour or so, we are very much the same. We like coffee and we're getting some work done.

Good luck to you, man. Wish me luck, too.

Rough

I suppose we all go through certain stretches of time when no amount of rest or coffee could keep us from feeling like the world is descending into a quagmire of weariness. The past couple weeks have been my personal quagmire. I was not certain what it was until Angela told me that it was probably my introverted nature needing real rest.

It's all true. There have been a lot of social outings I've participated in during the past couple weeks; all great, but all energy consuming. Compound that on top of being a high school teacher and staffer, and I have realized how desperately I need to put on some film soundtracks, read, study, and write. 

 

Glad I get to do that right now, before the craziness of the work week resumes in... hm, about 16 hours or so.

When you can't regroup...

Do you ever just feel the overwhelming desire to regroup? Life has dealt you a heavy blow. You’re throwing in the towel. You’re about ready to give the day up and start over tomorrow.

Except, the days bleed together into an endless milieu of… Life. Life is the great equalizer, in step with Time, the great enforcer. You feel the need to withdraw… to take some time. But Life flows on and on, until you realize existence feels a lot like survival.

Those days happen. Perhaps they exist to remind us that we are still alive. Because, I suppose, death is when we come to end of our struggles. But while we still draw breath, we’ll keep taking blows. But we can pick that towel up, wipe the sweaty brine off our faces, and punch back. We can indeed start again, tomorrow.

Never An Easy Road

It’s never an easy road.
There will always be that heavy load;
The one that keeps us locked in place, 
making us long for more space

Poems are hard
For emotions that are charred
And yet, we try to write
because its like our birthright.

-----

We may have the best jobs in the world, but there will always be something that makes things difficult. We may have the most amazing family in the world, but everyone is fighting and biting, clawing to keep up with the crazy pace of life.

I remember a quote that has no origin:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

It’s almost as old as the golden rule (probably), and yet, I think it is as refreshing and revolutionary today as ever. Before we give in to the temptation to rant about someone at work or church, some teammate or family member, let’s make a pact to try to remember this.

Thankful.

Thankful today for work, for family, and for a reality that is still much better than dreams. Had a few terrible dreams last night and I was never more happy to wake up than I was this morning. I don’t know; sometimes, stopping to look up at the leaves above your head and the several shades of gray swathing across the sky brings you to perspective.

Perspective that life is hard, life is crazy, humanity can be so very horrible sometimes… but that we have hope that reaches beyond the skies. I want to be hopeful. I think it’s how we survive and eventually thrive. Hope in a God who’s not interested in punishing us but in helping us and saving us.

Anyhow…

Real Life Character Arcs

Everyone loves a good character arc. The success of many movies, books, comics, TV shows, and plays is predicated on the ability of the writers to create characters with great arcs. The Hero’s Journey provides a very solid template for this, but I won’t go into that too deeply here. But do we allow for this type of character development in real life?

We often assume that our stuck-up friend will always be that “stuck-up friend.” Our thoughts are filled with: “Oh her? She’s so fake. I could see right through her niceness.” “Yeah, that guy is so dramatic. He’s always embellishing his stories to make him seem cooler than he actually is.” The list could go on, and on, and on.

These types of characters populate not just our regular lives, but are present in TV and movies and everything else. In movies, our character experience growth and progress. But do we ever stop to think that likewise, our friends and family members are growing and progressing as well? Maybe so.

I resolve to grow in patience this year, for those around me and for myself as well. I resolve to celebrate great stories in life, and to perceive people as in a state of transit; we are all on journeys. No matter where people are in those journeys, let’s celebrate that our arcs are still being told; our stories are playing out in real life!

Sick

Being sick is a humbling experience. Nothing like a good old flu/cold/cough/sore throat/all-of-the-above to knock you down a few pegs. Starting a year off sick is admittedly not how anyone would want to start off a year. Resolutions are planned, ideas are still bright possibilities, and the creeping feeling of invincibility clutches at our heart strings?

Right?

Eh, yeah. Maybe not all of us feel this way, but I certainly did! When the clock struck midnight, signaling the advent of January 1, 2016, I was filled with optimism. There was nobody who was going to hunt me down and stop me from my goals! that lasted all of one day. January 2nd, I woke up with a sore throat, and today, I got hit by that awesome full-body soreness that pretty much renders you rather useless.

The point is, I think getting sick is a pretty decent equalizer when we start to feel like we’ve got it all taken care of. I had to rely on friends, prayers, and a whole lot of Vitamin C to get through today’s many activities. Without those, I would’ve been reduced to a sniveling ball of self-pity and tissues.

Thanks to all who helped out; lean on your friends and family! They’ve got your back. 

Well, either this page is starting to shake or my eyes are starting to freak out. Later.

Change.

Change. It is quick, and often relentless. 2015 involved one of the biggest changes of my adult life. I left the only church I’d ever known, ready strike off on a new path.

So little of this decision involved prior knowledge or even intuition. Instead, it felt silly. It felt like God was gently saying, “It’s time.” So away I went. I said one of the most grueling goodbyes I’ve ever said to some of the people I love the most: Hilly and Jonathan. They nurtured me through my youth and young adulthood with so much grace. They weren’t surrogate parents (I have two of the most loving parents a person could have), but they helped center me in my spiritual journey and had guided me through some low valleys in my life. I am forever grateful for their love and tutelage.

Saying goodbye to my old church meant saying goodbye to them and to my ministries… 

Change.

——

A couple weeks ago, I found myself onstage at my new church. Being part of the worship team at Vineyard of Harvest, on Christmas Sunday, was the utmost honor.

Not even a year ago, I was saying goodbye. Now, I’ve been welcomed into a new community and it’s been world-changing in my life. Not only have I a great group of new friends and a new community to be a part of, I’ve been able to do church life with my best friend: Angela.

She is my rock, the most solid person I could possibly lean on this side of Heaven. We reached our one-year mark in 2015.

Change.

——-

2013 - early 2014 marked some of the darkest times of my life. It was a period in which it seemed that ever door was closed. I experienced deep rejection and slander. I cried through it, questioned myself and everything I knew, and poured my soul onto the ground through it all. Thankfully though, I had some good friends who knew me well enough to punch me in the gut and help me get through it. 

One friend of mine simply reminded me to not be lame and to get up and not let the painful opinions of others get the best of me. Another friend of mine pointed me to the book of Job, my namesake. In this story, Job’s house literally collapses on top of his family. He loses everything. He cries. He questions. He pours his soul out. Then God tells him to literally grow a pair and be a man. He is afflicted with enormous amounts of pain, but He refuses to ever curse God and die.

Then…

Change.

We read that everything eventually gets restored to him, twice over. He refuses to curse God and die, and his faithfulness is justified. 

2014-2015 feels like my own restoration period. Doors to redemption have reopened, and in them are found hope and life. I have found my ministry calling begin to slowly be restored in a meaningful way. I have found new callings, as I pursue a potential teaching career. Change is crazy, and it brings discomfort and a boat load of uncertainty. But here, at the end of 2015, I am thankful for life with God and family. I am thankful for redemption. I am thankful that though life changes, God never does.

Change. It is quick and often relentless. But it always brings us home.

Music and the Mysticism of it All

Asian music carries a certain air of mystery and mysticism to it. In my honest opinion, Eastern nations have a steep spiritual history and music has always been a prime means of conveying a certain mood. 
While listening to Sungha Jung play this Korean Traditional, I get whisked into a state of contemplation. It's a modern-ish arrangement, but the spirituality of the melody is haunting all the same.