Faith and Grit

Dreams are a dime a dozen, and talents are scattered far and wide. So what makes some people have success, and others fail? I’ve got two answers, and they’re not contradictory. Sounds promising, huh?

The first answer is grit– discipline, push, endurance, the refusal to give up, the ability to work and work hard and never stop. Victory comes from wanting it bad enough to do what it takes to gain the prize. Talent means nothing if you refuse to invest it. Remember the parable. Dreams means nothing if you aren’t willing to sacrifice to make them a reality. You don’t become a hero by waking up one day and slaying a giant, you have to spend your days herding sheep and driving off bears and lions.

But here’s the other half, the secret: success is a gift of God. He gave David a Goliath to kill because the young shepherd had already dealt well with the obstacles God had given him. No matter how hard you strive, it’s God that gives you somewhere to go. If he wants you to succeed, he’ll get you there.

So does that mean we can just chill and let him do what he does? Of course not. What he does is give us wild animals, and our job is to fight them off. When we prove ourselves faithful with that, he’ll give us bigger tasks.

What I’m saying isn’t very original, but it’s worth knowing. First, be faithful in the circumstances God gives you. Second, have faith that he’ll get you where you need to go.

On that note, I’m going to go try to pass Greek. Because that is one big, hulking bear. God bless.

Draft One.

Today I sat down in the school library, read a book for theology, took an online test, and shifted my backpack over to a desk near an outlet. There I pulled out my laptop and started to work. Within in five minutes, I realized something. I was done. That was it.

For fifteen minutes I spliced each of the separate chapter files together into draft file. 41,427 words, 99 pages of 11-point Calibri. One complete draft.

Now, I’ve got months to go in terms of editing, and sending it to buddies to edit, and re-editing before I try to get this puppy published. But I’ve got a draft to work with. A glorious draft of lost children in another world putting a king back on his throne. A glorious draft that I am looking forward to cutting, amending, adding onto, tweaking, and tinkering with. In short, complete butchery. Death before resurrection. Good Friday before Easter.

But right now, I’m all Christmas.

Random Sketches on a Sunday Afternoon

This morning, walking back from church, I stopped briefly on a hill to watch birds on the wind. The hills were stretching away, folding and unfolding until they disappeared over the horizon. They are something like golden this time of year, and the sky was a pale blue. In between the gilded land and powdered sky were hawks floating in the breeze. I’ve seen wind toss trees to the ground, send cars across multiple lanes, and topple steeples. These hawks were not disturbed in the least by the moving air. It was strong where they were. They rose up and dove down, drifting about on thermals and cross-breezes, not going anywhere in particular. They were just riding the wind, enjoying the view.

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The Palouse hills, though they rise and fall, keep a steady height. It’s like the rumpled sheets on a bed, always curling up only to fall down to the mattress and no further. They’re bounded at the top, too, so you can stand on the top of one and watch the rest ripple off into the distance. But in one place, that is not true.

Wawawai is a sudden downward slope, a passage deep into a valley. The hills surge above, like giants looming. The sun sits above them, gleaming down until the fire touches the river, and the little lake that squats beside it. The water’s surface shines like shook foil, as Hopkins once said. It’s like a second sun, trapping you within a cage of golden beams and walls of grass and earth. It’s a pleasant captivity.

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Everyone should sing. It’s a fact. Not all of us have great voices, and not all of us have voices that can sing everything. But all of us should find something to sing, and sing it passably well. Singing is part of being in a community: sharing joy and words of wisdom or worship in a glorious medium.

*         *         *

Every American child should familiarize himself with the history and culture of the British Isles. There is nothing so exciting and so commonplace, so tightly knit and so separate and diverse as that community of nations. An understanding of those islands and the nations that call them home fills with the world with a richness and wonder that stretches back for millenia, providing a hint of the wisdom our American youthfulness has not achieved. And, as one who loves Scottish freedom, it makes a man twice the nationalist and the twice the skeptic than if he had been raised on our history alone.

*         *         *

The sun is falling low now, a jewel set in sapphire and gold, a seal on the passing day. It’s been glorious. Friends and new freshmen, long car rides, shy dogs, and watermelon, all of them interwoven with music to our Lord and for him. As the day winds down and the next week rises up like a battlefield to be traversed, the Sabbath is bidding a fond farewell. It will come again, and we will sing again, and it will go again, and we will fight again, and at the end of weeks, the end of days, there will be another Sabbath. And that one will last forever.

Into the West

I was raised in green country. Miles of woods in every direction, and grassy pastures where the wood ends. My home is the land of azaleas, and my childhood involved plucking massive amounts of honeysuckle and scarring my face on Mom’s rose bushes. Everywhere I looked, there was plant life. We lived in a land where gardening did not mean convincing the right plants to grow, it meant cutting the wrong ones back. I’m still not sure I didn’t live in the Garden of Eden.

The first time I remember heading west, I was disturbed by the lack of vegetation. The farther we drove, the less trees there were. Everything seemed so barren and lifeless. There was no green, only brown. It was eerie, like some sort of wasteland out of a book. I just couldn’t understand.

But like the characters in those stories, we kept going, because there was something on the other end. We are nature lovers, my family, so more often than not we were driving towards beauty. The Grand Canyon stretched on for miles, and cave after cave was plundered for memories by a sudden swarm of Henrys. We saw mountains and dusty plains, and Enchanted Rock rising bald and smooth above the world.

When we weren’t searching for the Chisos Mountains or another national park, we were headed to the cities. San Antonio captured my imagination like few cities before or since. Austin and I have a love-hate relationship. Amarillo made a good, though brief, impression. Waco and New Braunfels gave flavor to my understanding of Texas. Dallas and Fort Worth had quite the presence, and the shores of Galveston still hold a grey and sandy place in my heart.

All our trips west were adventures, and the strange, endless stretches of dry roads in shadeless country always led back to their beginning. After each departure into the wilds of the empty spaces or the wonders of the urban world, we would return to our own little garden city.

One day, that changed. I went farther west, beyond our borders, beyond the plains, and beyond the mountains. There, in the cold northwest, I stayed for months. Hills stretched on for an eternity, and the color of the world was wheat. If you walk at night in town, you can pretend there are enough trees, but they end at the city limits. In the Inland Northwest, trees belong in the mountains or the cities, and nowhere in between.

The thing about places is that they grow on you. They harbor you, give you a refuge when you need to rest. They host your friends and a million parties, dances, adventures, and conversations you will never forget. They are the setting for the stories that changed you from who you were to who you are. If you stay there long enough, they become part of who you are.

The Northwest is not home, though now holds a warm place in my heart. But it has changed something. When I look out into the endless skies, I don’t see bareness. Instead, I see a world cleared of distractions. It is a place where you are not caught in the little things, but see the whole landscape in one grand sweep. Sometimes you just need to walk towards the horizon and see it stretching out ahead of you.

The west used to be a foreign wasteland in my imagination. Now those trips are part of who I am. I can’t picture my life without a San Antone, or a world without a Big Bend. If there were no plains, something good would have been lost. Without deserts or stunted trees, gardens mean little. Dry distances are nothing to be feared. And now, when I think of home, I smile at the thought of crossing the endless, brown miles back into the green.

Free, Forgiven, and Adopted

A long time ago I heard a lecture by Francis Foucachon on how different cultures talk about sin and salvation. There are essentially three ways of doing this, all of which are found in the Bible. Understanding each of them individually gives us a better understanding of the whole picture. In expanding our understanding of these things, this also allows us to better to communicate the Gospel.

The first way of talking about sin is probably the most familiar in general American culture. In this paradigm, sin is about violating laws. You are guilty or innocent, having transgressed God’s rules, and are in need of a substitute to take the punishment for you. Since this is such an obvious and common way of talking about the Gospel in our culture, I won’t say anything more about it.

The second way is just as true, but not as commonly used around here. This is the language of fear and power. In this paradigm we are slaves to sin and the devil, and under the power of death. When Christ comes, he is the liberator. Instead of a substitute, he is talked about as the one who conquers evil, sets free the captives, and empowers his people. This is the story of the Harrowing of Hell and the inspiration for various movement towards freedom in newly Christianized cultures. Here most of all, Christ is conqueror.

The last sort of language that gets used is that of honor and shame. This was a little more complicated than the other two, or so it seems to me. It also is the one that fascinates me the most. To properly understand it, you can’t think of honor and shame as expressions of self-importance, but as one’s relationship to society. An honored man is one accepted, respected, and loved by society. A dishonored man is shunned and cast out. Sin is shameful, the sort of thing that causes God to disown us.

In an honor/shame paradigm, God our Father has become ashamed of us and disowned us for rebelling against him. But Christ has taken that shame on himself, been shunned in our place. At the same time, he lived righteously, endured every insult and injury given to him, and honored both God and the people he came to save. In taking on our shame, he became yet more honorable. And, crucially, he acted as our intermediary, being separated from the Father for our sake and asking the Father to accept us once more for his sake.

A lot more could be said about these, and I do want to do more delving, especially in that third category. But what’s necessary to realize is that all three are true, and they are more or less dependent on each other. You cannot be shamed unless you have violated some code, broken some law. You cannot be freed from the power of sin and death unless you are honored by the Free Man and accepted into his presence and that of our Father. You could not be under the power of the curse unless you had violated the law and become subject to the curse. You can’t have any of them without the other.

On the other hand, it makes perfect sense that some people and some cultures emphasize one aspect more than the others. We’re finite beings with a finite attention span and a finite amount of time in the day, so we pay attention to what we can. We also have unique stories and therefore things that draw us specifically. So long as we don’t lose sight of the truth of the other points, there is nothing wrong with emphasizing one over the others.

At any rate, there’s an interesting thought to think about. Peruse your Bible with this in mind. It’s fun.

Have a blessed weekend.