Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Literary Irony

The Thoughts You Save May Be Your Own

G.K. Chesterton scribbled his inspirations down on linen napkins, shirt cuffs (his, we hope) and tablecloths. Lindsay would kill me if I went this far; and, anyway, my aesthetic sensibilities rebel at the thought of prolific ink stains.

However, I have been known to scribble incoherently concise (to others) notes on paper napkins, junk mail, and discarded academic forms. One benefit of this system is that the battered scraps of paper lying around eventually provoke me into developing them electronically. Then I can trash the originals, which are usually coffee-stained, smudged and liberally covered with ink-sketches by the time of their translation.

Arguably, the proper place for inspiration-transcription is a journal, but you can jot down kernels of thought in a nicely-bound journal and lose them forever. You close the notebook, put it on the shelf, and it takes an effort of will and a good memory to open it again and retrace your steps. The notebook just looks so right, so comfortable, sitting there on the shelf. It reclines in its corner; I lean back in my chair; the mental landscape is unobtrusively smooth and muted. A nap seems fitting.

Yes, the journal can definitely wait, but what’s this?—these ugly sheets of paper littering my desk!—these must be dealt with.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

All Days Are Not Created Equal

Yesterday I walked outside into a crisp, blue-eyed morning. The air could have been bottled and sold as “End of August.” The downtown traffic sensed the transition away from summer torpor, moving more briskly. I drove cheerfully to work.

Within an hour, my shoes were soaked through with the excessive dew and I’d been forced to peg an attacking dog with a rotten walnut.

After these incidents, though, the day remained good—and it may actually have been enhanced by the added flavor.

Some days are simply made better than others.

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Blog Scuffles

If variety is the spice of life, then controversy is the spice of blogging. Sometimes I feel that I write far too agreeably. You like to think that your arguments do, in fact, hit upon valid points of opposition. It can be disconcerting to sketch the skeleton of an entire argument, but end up without a single bone of contention. This blog enjoys the occasional scuffle, but often it seems there is no one around to wrestle with.

Within the last 24 hours, I’ve had the satisfaction of raising ire (finally) with my Fun with Evolution post. The polemical “dr zen” challenged my main premises, throwing in doses of sneer ("I shred the whole post at my blog. You might enjoy it, if you can understand it") and caricature ("I...leave you in your small room, the light shut out by a cloth of ignorance...") into the bargain, which were a pleasant surprise, since the post had in fact predicted such responses. Moreover, his remarks have had a rejuvenating effect. They took me back. Not only do I feel stimulated, I feel younger.

In fact, I'm about to run off down the hall, looking for my locker so I can play kickball with the other kids.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

White Flag of Freedom

On an intuitive level, most of us probably realize that to be powerfully influenced by someone or something besides oneself is a road to freedom. We edge toward obligation, toward voluntary submission of one kind or another, and we hope that it will change us. Often it does. We commit ourselves to someone, and learn to defy apathy. We demolish boredom with patriotism. We find a cause and lose our insecurity.

All too often, though, such homage is merely a swap. We fall in love and find ourselves not so lonely. Then we begin drinking to escape the demands of relationship. Next, we obsess over our work, and learn we can dry up our drunkenness. Then we become weekend warriors in order to defy the tyranny of our jobs.

All told, many of us spend most of our lives looking for a better ruler to free us from the last one. This easily devolves into serial “life changes,” each dehabilitating in its own way, each making a case for jaded. Finally, we may conclude with the philosopher that “The lives of the best of us are spent in choosing between evils” (Junius).

But what if there was a trump card, a master Master to defeat and order all the rest?—a kind of bright star we could venerate whose gravity would overcome all other poles?

In pursuit of such a master, an object of loyalty that could really free us—consider the following line of reason:

  1. The world was made.*
  2. We are part of it.
  3. Therefore, we must relate to a Maker:
  4. Loyalty, commitment, devotion, or
  5. Disinterest, rejection, defiance.
  6. “a” is a subjection leading to freedom.
  7. “b” is a freedom leading to slavery.
  8. Will your freedom be shallow or deep?

On God’s earth, the attribute, "God’s man" is the highest position of freedom. To be at odds with life’s designer is to be out of alignment with your home, your fellow creatures, and yourself.

But to accurately picture divine subjection, an additional element must be added:

The Maker is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good—as demonstrated by the fact that he does not coerce his creatures into loyalty. He extends an offer of love…and waits. His mastery is not that of a despot or a corporate exec, not even that of a coach. His authority is clothed in the concern of a father; a father who knows that subjection to his supremacy will set a child free.

We wave a white flag to Christ, and find that we are safe from all cheap bondage, safe for all the best joys; as God-servants, we get free run of the earth.

* Point 1, “The world was made,” is a premise that many will challenge. An alternate explanation is proposed:
  1. The world is accident.
  2. We are part of it.
But what next? Freedom does not arise in this equation. Opt for a godless world, and you have chosen a meaningless one:
3. Conclude what you wish; it’s mere guess. Do what you want; it won’t last. Be who you choose; you have no staying power. All subsequent conclusions are mere rhetoric, mere conjecture, mere noise. Meaning is a word, and just that. Freedom does not, and never can, emerge out of chaos.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Tell-tale Heart

An Alarming Route to Christ

A question worth asking is how people come to God. Once they know him, even a little, the problem is simplified. You may feel far away from Christ, but at least you're armed with prior experience. As George MacDonald writes, in his archaic English:

Remember the things thou hast seen. Truly thou knowest not those things, but thou knowest what they have seemed, what they have meant to thee! Remember also the things thou shalt yet see.
As long as reflections of God remain within our thoughts, within our memories, the path toward him will not grow too faint. But suppose it has. Suppose the path has faded; or suppose it has yet to be blazed. What then? What impulse is there to push us on toward God—a god whom we do not see, and do not seem to remember?

Prayer may seem foreign. Piety may appear a relic. But there is still an upward avenue left to us. It hinges on the fact that there’s a subject on which we may speak with authority—ourselves. When God seems a pathless destination, we should remind ourselves of who we are; or, perhaps more aptly, of who we are not. Something like this:
There was once a person whom I wished I was, and thought I was becoming. I could see him in my mind’s eye; on rare days, I could even see myself moving closer, shade by shade, to that young hero. :: This morning, I still remember him, but only as the man I’m not—and wish I were. This I can’t deny: whatever I’ve become, it’s something else; something duller; something less.

Sharp jolts of self-reality can have a brightening effect on the spiritual landscape. I look in the mirror, and God’s absence stares me in the face. Suddenly, I feel the desperate impulse gathering in me to search for him again: I'm not who Christ made me to be.

I may have obscured God’s face, but I can see the reflection of his “withdrawal” in my own. My soul is becoming a self-caricature, and it frightens me enough to get me on my feet.

With the adrenalin of alarm pricking me, I jump toward God—and discover he is waiting.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Blue Sky in a Smoky Life

I’ve read the book twice in the past week, and I’m gearing up to read it twice more, if I can stand the abrasion. Ecclesiastes rubs across the mind like steel wool, and leaves one feeling alive—if very small and slightly bloodied.

Solomon’s acerbic wit is like a shiny glove on a sinewy fist; his unsparing intellect catches your eye—just before it bludgeons you. By the time you see what he’s saying, it’s too late to jump back. He melds depth of thought with economy of language, and then rams it through your chest:

All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up. The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again. Everything's boring, utterly boring—no one can find any meaning in it. Boring to the eye, boring to the ear. (Ecclesiastes 1:7-8, The Message)

The king doesn’t stop with life’s monotony, though. He also sounds the depths of human ignorance, the futility of the search for wisdom, and God’s ultimate inscrutability. To sum it all up, he says that life is—in a word—smoke.

I can hear the crashing as popular illusions collapse around me.

But at the same time, I know this is good. Saying that we “should read Ecclesiastes with a grain of salt” fails to do justice to the book, which is squarely within the biblical canon. In a literal sense, Solomon’s list of vanities holds true, and ought to be hung on the walls of swank apartments everywhere. We all need to have our pretensions razed to the ground so that real life can break the surface. Before joy can arrive, we need to come to terms with the bitter.

Ecclesiastes doesn’t detail the sweet, much less the paradoxical joys found even in monotony—but undeniably, the book clears the air. Read it slowly (even once), read it seriously, and you won’t take yourself so seriously that you miss the obvious. Ironically, the first step toward breathing in a smoky life is to perceive the smoke.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Evolution Echo Effect

Lindsay pointed out that a recent edition of WORLD Magazine featured an article by founder Joel Belz that made a couple of the same points I did in my Fun With Evolution post. Despite the verbal density of my piece (of which I repent), I’m apparently not too far off track.

I’m just impressed that Mr. Belz (whom I’ve actually met) was able to unearth my post and incorporate it so seamlessly into his own musings—bending the space-time continuum, no less, in order to retroactively adjust his own editorial (dated August 20).

For a thoughtful read on the current debate, check out Mr. Belz’s Unhappy Warriors, and be alert for the overlapping thoughts, which may (sigh) cast additional light on my less lucid post.

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Dying Toward Life

I squeezed in the last several chapters of this book just as the new semester ground its gears and wheezed into shaky motion.


Lilith - George MacDonald, A-

This fantasy suffers from convoluted “action” sequences and dialogue muddied by excessive gusto (!!!), but the rare sense of paradox, which is MacDonald’s trademark, shines through. Some might find Lilith excessively morbid, but in reality this is the last charge one should level at the book. Undeniably, “death” is the central theme; but in MacDonald’s universe, death is life. Lilith attempts to probe the opaque mysteries of eternal life, defiant evil, genuine personhood, and beauty—and thanks to MacDonald’s humility, coupled with an imagination which few can match—it succeeds. One puts the volume down with a healthily unsettled mind. Those searching for the author’s masterwork, however, will want to read Phantastes.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fall Stack

Well, it’s that time of year again. In the preliminary assessment, this semester’s reading assignments compare favorably—if that’s the right word—with the Spring Stack.

I am, in fact, happily inclined toward my classes this Fall, although the page count has me a little nervous. For one class in particular, six-hundred-some required pages (Theology 1) seems on the high side. But that’s what higher education is about, apparently—paying someone to force you to read what you know you ought to, want to, but otherwise wouldn’t. Professors are in the business of time-acquisition and redirection.

Theology 1 and the History of Christianity, I hope, will prove to be favorites. Church Growth holds promise because my professor is, ironically, a staunch anti-CG man, bent on presenting both sides of the movement. As for the last class, Pastoral Care and Counseling, I can only hope that in the end, it transcends the dubious promise of its pink central text.

I can’t say I’ve ever owned a pink book before, but it’s not as if I’ll be wearing it. Just the same, one feels some guilt by association. If Understanding People doesn’t prove to be a classic, it will find itself flung upon the mercies of faster than you can say “sap.”

As to the other volumes in the stack, several have the potential to stake out permanent bench space in my mental education building, and may even vie for frequent playing time (Providence and Prayer, Grudem’s Systematic Theology). Like the Jayhawk newbies, this fall’s recruiting class has its quirks, but decidedly holds promise.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Fun with Evolution

Indisputably, in the realm of biology, evolution is the “establishment”—and the fact that it isn’t available for target practice ought to make us all suspicious. I object to evolution at a number of levels, and find myself unsure of where to aim first, but this point seems as good a place as any.

In a culture as cynical and doubt-ridden as postmodern America, when a societal mainstay goes unchallenged there must be a catch, a caveat. Caveat being: Evolution is a crutch for far too many worldviews to go down without a fight.

And, understandably, the fight is rigged. The increasing vociferousness of Darwinists these days argue the theory’s untouchable status. If you suggest that evolution might be off the mark, wonder aloud if it’s really science, you’ll be favored with an ugly stare and called religious bigot. This is a fairly convenient arrangement for dyed-in-the-wool evolvers, but ultimately it’s a trick that boomerangs on its owners. People start asking questions.

For example: Where are the knock-out demonstrations of Darwinist supremacy? Shouldn’t they be paraded through the public eye in light of recent challenges from the (bigoted, narrow-minded, moronic) Intelligent Design movement? Where are the big guns?

In reality, the stock responses to I.D. are sneers and caricature. As the late Steven Jay Gould wrote, re: the Kansas Board of Education controversy: "They still call it Kansas, but I don’t think we’re in the real world anymore…Why get excited over this latest episode in the long, sad history of American anti-intellectualism?"

And, as if sensing my need for a current example, the people over at Wickipedia have helpfully provided this entry—a phenomenon at which both sides may laugh over, but hardly for the same reasons. If I were an honest Darwinist, this would make me a little queasy; if I’m arguing from a position of strength, why am I shooting rubber band bullets instead of flexing intellectual muscle?

When juvenile rhetoric passes as “defense” for a “scientific” movement, cultural weather-watchers may wonder if the ship is going down. In reality, the reasons for sinking have been present for awhile...

Biological evolution fails as a science because it relies, ironically, on ex nihilo realities. In the beginning, says the Darwinist, was a morass of unstable chemicals suspended in a volatile soup. But wait!—last time I checked, carbon had no self-generative properties! “Oh, you silly,” says the patient biology teacher, “That problem is explained because we evolutionists posit a Big Bang.”

Ooh. Well, that explains that.

As I write this, I feel slightly embarrassed, as if I’m picking on the fat kid or engaged in voyeurism, looking in on someone’s childhood fantasy.

“Mother!” said Tommy, from inside his crayons and construction paper, “Mother, the world began with a Big Bang!” Tommy’s mother smiled, patted him on the head, and returned to her knitting.

A Big Bang. At it’s most rudimentary level, evolution is simple, dogged materialism: Could a god have created the world? No, definitely not. Could a Big Bang have done it? Well, of course. This bias, favoring the seen over the unseen, is inexplicable and laughable, as well as the modern trend. To say it’s “objective” or “scientific” is pure charade.

But evolution has other problems. Foremost on my list is the way we learn of this pristine and mythic reality—via human minds. If evolutionary theory is true, and we’ve gradually gathered ourselves piecemeal from the rubbage heap of cosmic accident and brutal chance, then the human mind is the last place we could hope to learn of it. A patch-made mind is hardly safe in the kitchen, much less for pronouncing life's origins. To assert otherwise is to say, in effect, “Thanks to the efforts of these fools, we have arrived at the foolproof system.”

In other words, the answer impinges upon itself. While depending on the viability of scientific brains, evolution debunks the reliability of the human mind—leaving majority vote as the only truth-arbitrator. Pure democracy, especially among trend-conscious scientists, is a chancy road to reason. In this sense, Darwin was at his most appealing when he was the only Darwinist, and still had the chance of being a mad genius (thus transcending his genus).

But my diatribe goes on. (And note that I have yet to scratch the surface of the argument from Intelligent Design, a system that is sophisticated, cogent—and viciously maligned at every opportunity.)

I’m puzzled by the perplexing lack of sincerity shown by evolutionists everywhere, who evidently don’t consider their discovery suitable for passionate implementation. Consider: A true revolutionary begins by complaining about the fly in his soup, and ends by confronting the world because her people have no soup. But so few Darwinists get past the fly.

They shrug off the chains of damning morality—and then content themselves with snug materialism and occasional consensual sex. Such efforts are half-hearted. Where are the hordes of pragmatic dictators, flaunting our ethics and mores at will? Where are the megalomaniac playboys, assembling harems by brute force and parading them down the city streets? Such efforts in the direction of self-interest, while utterly justifiable, are bafflingly covert when they do occur. Where are the books? The Case for Rape? Pillage for a Better You? And where are the apologists who will champion such behavior, and stir up hedonists and sadists and racists and atheists for the betterment of our race?

Numerous parishioners are evolutionist-revolutionists to the extent that they can live irresponsibly and pursue self-deification. Few, however, make the nihilistic connections screaming to be made.

This is all very perplexing, but ultimately, because the evolutionist’s demands are too modest, we must question their legitimacy. It’s like claiming one holds the Pope for ransom, and then demanding a mere two million for his return. The situation begins to look like a farce, and one suspects that evolution is merely a prop, an expedient apologia for the more self-centered impulses of our race. It’s all too convenient.

To sum up: Evolution is an easy target because of it’s ludicrous backstory, the insincere demands made by its adherents, and its childishly insecure efforts at self-defense (“Intelligent design? Ha! No one believes that.”)

Other comments could be made, say, about the tinkering with timelines that evolutionists have found so addictive. Every few years we learn that the earth is a few thousand millennia older than we previously knew, the idea apparently being that infinite tedium makes infinite complexity more tenable. However, these comments have been in numerous other places, and by numerous other people more qualified scientifically.

I’ll close my harangue with a word on Intelligent Design, which is not inherently Christian, and which is, incidentally, a carefully-developed theory. ID deals with the same ex nihilo dilemma that evolution attempts to blur, but with a notable difference: ID confronts the issue in the open.


Resources, widely available, but generally unmentioned:

Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution – Michael J. Behe
Evolution: A Theory in Crisis – Michael Denton
Darwin on Trial - Philip E. Johnson
Icons of Evolution: Science of Myth? – Jonathan Wells
The Design Revolution – William A. Dembski
Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design – Thomas Woodward

As well, numerous articles are available; try a keyword search for “Intelligent Design” on the ATLA database, or similar engines featuring scholarly journals.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Soul Authenticity

We all know we ought to “keep it real.” In many circles it’s the in thing, the holy groove, the inaudible rhythm to which we’re all supposedly jivin’. Most of us have made speeches about it: the beauty of transparency, the need for openness, how cool it is to be up-front. And while it’s hard to disagree with the diagnosis, the question is how to get there. Or get toward there, since (and this we know by heart) we “never really arrive.” How to get en route toward authenticity?

But a standard profile for “realness” remains elusive. Some have taken the four-letter path toward sincerity, with the unswerving conviction that cussing gives them the street cred of Al Pacino. Others parade sordid details of their lives in front of strangers, or state, with jagged candor, that their day was really bad—and then proceed to illustrate. Despite the drama inherent to such brutal honesty, I find myself hesitant to call this “realness” and end the show.

The desire for honesty is genuine. We would all like to know that everyone around us has not forgotten they are human. At best, we simply want reassurance that we’re in this fight together. The middle-ground position, if you will, is a distaste for hypocrites. The worst case scenario is that we demand to know that everyone is similarly screwed up. But despite its potential for abuse, this desire to see rough edges is legitimate. So what next?

How can we assert our “realness?”

Maybe it’s just me, but the question seems loaded. Aside from the pitfalls of existentialism, asserting one’s authenticity seems a lot like “asserting one’s personality”—push too hard and what you’re producing is no longer the genuine article. If you work up a sweat to produce the big noise, some people, yourself included, may begin to suspect that it’s just theater. Who or what are you asserting? How do you know your honesty hinges on the right impulses?

Thing is, gritty realism can be as much a façade as plastic goody-goody-ness. I’ve listened to a variety of jaded diatribes that were pure drama, and wondered what was really happening under the “raw” veneer. The ready admissions of life’s cruddy-ness merely concealed, as dirt does, and did not reveal who he really was, or the immediacy of her struggle. The depths were awkwardly obscured with blasé “realness.”

I’ll admit to anyone that I’m fallible and prone to find the cracks in moral sidewalks; I’m equally willing to point out life’s bitter edges. But this is only honesty’s cheap side, a fraction of the big picture, because we are all this way. Your persona may be pure swagger, but you still get mad in traffic jams.

There’s a rarer side to realism—call it soul authenticity. It hinges on the fact that we have to be something or someone, before we can assert it. We’re not blank slates. Paradoxically, I have to have an identity before I can become it. In our postmodern culture, this may seem laughable, but it follows.

So how can I assert my “realness?”

Only by homing in on the AJ-shaped mold that already exists. Otherwise, I’m merely hazarding guesses. So where is this carbon copy? Somewhere very safe, in a place where only the honest may go. Consider, then, the living blueprint for authenticity: Jesus. I look at him and see my own DNA, and the implications explode our cultural clichés; the cult of gritty know-how goes up in flames around me.

The best honesty is being unabashed in my emulation of Christ, not unabashed in my laundering of screw-ups. The weight rests on my God-pursuit. Pursuit is by nature incomplete, and though it goes without saying, this ought to be emphasized now and then—but the stress still rests on my Christward trajectory, not my darker tangents.

After all, Christ transforms souls; freedom of heart means a changed life, and thus, “goodness,” severed from its namby-pamby stereotypes, means radical purity, dogged in its resolve. Real goodness is nothing if not authentic. As Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” This “one thing” is God’s will, and so Kierkegaard’s maxim could be translated, “I’m set on purity, and if anything gets in my way, God help me—I’ll knock it down.”

At my most honest, in a moment of vulnerability, I admit that I am frantically chasing Jesus. I’ve set out to become his little brother (Romans 8:29), and I’m not stopping. It’s no surprise that this heart-intent effects my relationships.

It generates a deliberate devotion to one’s friends—a refusal to pigeonhole and categorize, a decision to pray and work together—and genuine relationships are free to emerge. In other words, I jettison edgy “realness,” introduce a cultivated purity, and soul authenticity has a fighting chance. I lean on Christ’s example, grow into his holiness, and find myself free to be who I am.

This common endeavor, not shared flaws, are what sparks dynamic friendship. We’re all human, but the infinite variety of our vices fades in the single light of a common Friend. In the search for soul authenticity, emotive rawness is not a better substitute than plastic virtue. Sold in either form, sin fails as an adhesive.

At our most honest, we know that what we want is an audience of one who won’t pat our hands when we’re bad and offer us a cookie. We need a God who will call out ugliness where he finds it, grab our flaccid wrists, and say, “Get up, I’ve paved the way for something better!”

Authenticity is ultimately Christ, and how he’s relentlessly altering your life. In our headlong attempt to “keep it real,” we must not settle for anything less.

By means of concession, I suppose I could spit in your eye after I state this and say, “You down with that?” Whatever it takes to get the point across.

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Saturday, August 20, 2005 Dreams

Yesterday morning I woke up with the strange realization that I’d been dreaming about my blog. Specifically, the dream had to do with my successful implementation of a hack that allowed me to add tags to all my posts for seamless filing. Yeah, it was one of those fantasy-type dreams.

Turns out it was premonitory, though.

Very perceptive readers may have noticed a new line of script appearing at the bottom of recent posts. I reads: “Filed under...” As well, in the same line as the timestamp and comments, a small link has appeared. At the moment, the link is “[t],” but it has variously read “tag this” and “bookmark this.”

I’ve been experimenting.

It was shortly after my return from Colorado that I discovered that it’s possible to add categories (tags) to the blogger platform. It was in the days following that I discovered the hack required moderate HTML know-how. As the saying goes, I heard the toll of doom.

But as I write, I’m able to say (with reasonable confidence) that I have double-crossed fate again and BitterSweetLife is now fully tag-worthy.

What does this mean?

If you’re familiar with, you understand instantly the implications of my little code breakthrough. But, since most of my readers fall in the artistic/poetic, non-techie category, I’ll try and explain. is a system for compiling links. Think of it as a huge pile of all the links that anyone (and there are millions of users) has found remotely interesting. But this is not chaotic, because every link is sorted with various “tags” (i.e. “KUbasketball,” “C.S._Lewis,” “classic_literature,” “Death_Cab_for_Cutie”) for quick retrieval. So a link library, filled with pages that people have personally labeled and stashed away.

On a larger scale, the information-juggling potential of this “tagging” system is intruiging, and you may want to check out. For this blog, though, the repercussions are fairly straightforward.

  1. From here on out, each new post will be filed in one or more categories (“tagged”). As time allows, I’ll also go back and tag the archives.
  2. This will make BitterSweetLife uber-accessible; you’ll be able to pull up all posts pertaining to “Heaven” or “BitterSweetness” by clicking that tag. Effortlessly, you can read all my “Poetry” at once (not necessarily advised) or hit up “Lindsay” guest posts.
  3. Using the “tag this” or “[t]” link, you can tag and save posts to your own account (free).
  4. This blog is becoming fluidly navigable.

Here are a few more details.

How do I access BitterSweetLife’s tag categories?

Currently, the blog’s tags are available via the links below each post. Clicking one of these, i.e. “Heaven,” will take you to the blog’s dedicated page, where you can scan its topics. As I tag more posts, and develop the blog’s categories, I’ll add a list of all tags in the sidebar.

Can I search for tags I’m interested in?

At present, the way to do this is click any visible tag (under a post), which will take you to BitterSweetLife’s page. Once there, you can scan all the blog’s tag topics. However, I'll add a tag-list in the sidebar soon.

Does this matter if I don’t use

If you’re interested in pulling up multiple BitterSweetLife posts by topic, the answer is yes. However, signing up at will allow you to save posts to your personal account for later retrieval. It's free. And of course, you can add non-BSL links to your list, and start exploring the (very cool) possibilities of online bookmarking.

Enough for now; tech update complete.


However, I am curious how many of you are already using (I know of at least one intrepid tagger.) If you’re already in, leave a comment, would ya?

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Wooden Ocean

It is with a certain grim delight that I say that biological evolution is a dilapidated theory twined from chains of malformed preconceptions which rely, ultimately, on blind faith—or, if you prefer, dogged bias.*

Spiritual evolution, however, I can buy. The preconceptions required are drastically different; rather than defying entropy to arrive at a utopia, one looks back to a paradise that spiritual thermodynamics overruled. Spiritual evolution began in a garden with a backwards lurch, and after thousands of years, our souls have not improved.

I’m going the long way around to say that we are not what we once were.

In Colorado, as Lindsay and I drove from hike to hike, there was a brand of road sign, completely foreign to the Midwest, which gave me repeated satisfaction:

When I read these signs I felt like a fish, flopping on the brink of a wooded ocean. Or a bird about to launch itself into a green sky. At trailheads there was the sensation of pushing our way past pedestrian barriers and hurrying onto a more vital roadway. Certainly we were intended to live in creation in ways that we have never been able to retrieve.

One feels an urge to dive into the wilderness, immerse oneself—and a puzzling desire to infiltrate nature, to explore behind the scenes. Walking behind a waterfall is a cheap replacement for, say, walking behind the morning or plaiting trees and hills to form a forest.

I’m speaking fantastically, but I think there was a piece of us that loved to enter and mold nature in ways we can’t now—and in reality, we still want this.

What does one conclude from this? Certainly not that “technology is evil,” which would be a self-defeating argument for a blogger. At times, though, I suspect that technology is merely a substitute for the creation-acumen we actually crave.

* I won’t go into my full line of reasoning here, since it’s not actually the point of this post, but suffice to say that it’s likely different than you might assume. However, it is hard to be too critical of so-called “creationist bigots” when the materialist bigots work so hard to be worthy of the title. If anyone is interested, I’ll do what I can by way of explanation at a later date.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Back to the brief summer post idea.


Perhaps, I thought, while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke—a thought to fade and vanish like smoke without a trace—perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us. - Evelyn Waugh


In the same vein, it’s not so much the pretty girl whom catches your eye as Beautiful Woman—or perhaps more accurately, Beauty itself. Loving mountains, I find myself actually wishing for Glory. Likewise, I may pause and smile at the first crocuses in April, but what’s really getting me is Spring. Without ever really knowing it, I'm wishing for the day when the archetypes become tangible and we take our places among them.

Specificity is a mask for our deeper longings.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Woods to Come

A guest-post by Lindsay Vanderhorst


The Wood is a watchman,
Silent as a sentinel stand stone trees.
The wood is waiting.
In deafening silence the vigil is kept,
Lifted boughs stretch to the sunlight.
In still supplication they cry,
“How long ‘til our king comes?—
We crave release from our soil slavery!
How long ‘til our captor-earth is vanquished?”
For when the victor’s foot treads upon the dust
Greenness and flowering will burst forth,
Limbs will lift in a dance,
Hills and heather break forth and sing.
Come, long awaited captain and king.


This poem is a companion to the post below.

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Mountain Haunting

Mountains, these ones anyway, make me happy and alive and sad. I feel slightly drawn out and pulled away from myself. Maybe it’s the mist, mocking my 20/20 vision, maybe it’s my relative size as I inch up the side of the megalith—but I am strangely objective. I’m looking back at myself, the various smaller versions, each with his visions and aspirations.

Everything seems beautiful and painfully imperfect, and I include the mountains in that statement. Swirling clouds swallowed up my anticipated Long’s Peak vista all week. I was within miles of the haunting man-killer and never got off a snapshot. The unseen dwarfed me.

I feel time and wind winding by, and I almost wish I was a child again, but that’s beside the point. More related is this: I feel God nearby in the silent sentinels of trees and sky and, of course, mountains. Distant, hazy with ozone, green and blue, mist-covered, mysterious.

I want to meet God soon, and then I realize that I will, that 60-some years will be soon. I will live quickly. And then this perplexing amalgamation of wishes and nostalgia, aches and endorphins, faith and hope, will be resolved.

All will be seen, and all seen will be well—everything I wish, everything I touch, everything I become—all shiningly well.


The trees and rocks, heavens and mountains, are portentously silent. The sky changes constantly, pines sway and toss—it rained twice today—but nature strikes me as being dormant. They are all waiting.

I eye certain dusty stones, wondering what wild deeds they will accomplish when their king comes back. The clouds are wheeling watchfully. As for me, for now, I will live quickly.

…and he was the best fighter because his life was flying by and he could not be bothered to slow down for mere battles…

Some hope for a quick death. I hope for quick life (not a “short” one), after which mountains (or anything else) will not seem so painfully beautiful and brightly strange. I’ll no longer speculate about things which once seemed wondrous or of which I once envisioned—I’ll simply know. When truth surrounds you, the wondrous is underfoot and in hand, and you no longer need to puzzle out the years and ask your name.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey - Fant and Reddish, A

A Flash Review: Paydirt

A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey - Fant & Reddish, A

I was compelled by my Archaeology professor to read 300 pages in this book, which I did—putting my entire summer reading list on hold in order to do so. These conditions are hardly favorable to a balanced review. However, with the modicum* of fair-mindedness left in me, I admit this text is in a class of its own; it melds practical navigational help with a wealth of archaeological and historical detail.

The book is arranged in chapters pertaining to each city of note, i.e., Antioch, Bethany, Cana, etc. No locations are overlooked. And suffice to say, each chapter is so detail-rich that I digested only the historical and biblical overviews and speed-read the site specifics at about 5 seconds per page. (Don’t tell my professor.) Where the book ventures into theological/historical commentary, it sometimes lapses into liberalism, but the distraction is slight. This book restores a host of biblical sites to vivid life. Despite the coercive nature of my journey, Fant and Reddish’s Guide is the top contender in a crowded field.

* Nice word, eh? Maybe you wish you’d used it recently. If you were a member of the VRP you could use it—as often as you like—and without need for justification or fear of reprisal. Call it verbal freedom.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fitful Living

I wasn’t asleep at the wheel, but I was tired enough to have that awkward sensation of shaking myself out of impending sleep. This is what happens when you flee thunderstorms in Colorado, accidentally pass a rest area, and notice the next one is 79 miles ahead. And the clock reads 1:00 a.m.

Last night, things on the roadside took on strange configurations. At one point, a couple of reflective signs conspired with an overpass to look like a multicolored van pulling onto the highway. Weird.

More thought provoking, though, was the surreality of “waking” myself repeatedly without actually having been asleep. This reminded me of another kind of awakening, a little more rare. Do you ever have moments when the reality that you’re actually living out a life—this incontrovertible, self-affirming fact—simply shocks you?

Occasionally, to use an inadequate parallel, it’s as if I’ve been going through the motions of my life fairly unquestioningly, when, in an instant, my predicament strikes me as amazing and strange.

This is me, my life, and not a story. I’m living it out. What I do is real—heavy with implication. I'm making choices, I'm taking actions, I’m inserted in a world-sized arena...

It’s not so much the clichéd “wonder of life” that gets me as the simple, momentous fact of it. I’m me, here, now. This is all real. Trying to state it makes it seem ridiculous, but there it is. I’m somehow at odds with the terms of my existence, and I can’t say exactly why. I’m fully alive, but not fully at ease in my vitality.

Or maybe it’s my vitality that is uncomfortable—perhaps it’s a mere fledgling kind of life, given to coughing fits and childish fluctuation. This could explain why I sometimes stop and become bewildered when I try to look “at it”
—it's still growing up? Whatever the case, between “me” and “my life,” something does not exactly fit. Otherwise I wouldn’t have the outlandish sensation of seeing myself as a “real live character,” of now and then trying to peer under life’s edges.

I suspect that at last, a sure, strong setting for life will eclipse these intermittent moments of tingling soulishness. I will no longer be shaking myself awake with the strange sensation of actually living, Alive in my skin. Me, in this body, in this world, in my life, really... Existence won’t be so fitful.

I'll discover I’m much better at living when I no longer have to think about it.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Generous Orthodoxy - Brian McLaren, B-

A Flash Review: Ambiguously 'Generous'

A Generous Orthodoxy - Brian McLaren, B-

Self-proclaimed “provocative, mischievous and unclear” book succeeds on all counts. McLaren brings to the table a paradigm-breaking approach to the “Christian” institution, which he derides, while pursuing life as a follower of Christ. Positively, this approach is eye-opening, and attempts to rise above stupid infighting. Negatively, it is overly cynical and vital nuances of meaning are lost in “provocative” generalities. I.e., is McLaren a universalist? Does he believe in Hindu-Christians?

On a more general level, Does Brian McLaren have a spine? Though somewhat irritating, A Generous Orthodoxy still ought to be read, preferably after reading the original Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton), preferably while in a “generous” mood.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Sad News

For Some

Well, it’s happening again. Every so often Lindsay and get tired of the scenic wonders of Kansas City and head somewhere else for variety. Typically, the somewhere else involves mountains. We are creatures of habit, and this time is no different.

Goodbye Missouri, hello Rocky Mountain National Park. We’re swapping potholes for lodgepole pines, trading in the smog for fog in the valleys. We’re leaving tomorrow and arriving back on Sunday—hopefully refueled and with considerable new mileage on our hiking shoes. We’re so outta here.

Oh yeah, we’re bringing books, too—and writing material. And coffee. Everything necessary for enlightened camping.

Keep an eye on the blog until we get back.

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New Book Blog on the Block

I started Books Not Everyone Is Smart Enough To Read in a fit of blind optimism and only now, almost a year later, have I had the time to start whipping it into shape.

Check it out:

It’s not really as snobbish as it sounds, but in order to stay in vogue you may still need to join up. If you maintain on online reading list, your presence is especially desired.

Are you a Smart Reader?

The "Pressing Questions" in the sidebar will clue you in...

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Elusive Consonance

I’m ready for the day when everything matches up.

Words and chords, thoughts and prayers, intent and expression—all perfectly aligned.

A simple attempt to sing an unfamiliar song reveals our mismatched ends and means, our rough-edged methods of naming. We sing off-key, guess at the next note and miss, lapse into silence as the music plays, struggle to match heart to harmony.

And later, when we know the song, the enchantment of repetition proves an equal challenge. We face the peril of singing by rote; our expertise lulls us asleep; we hum in a cloud of recollected feeling.

Just the same, we persevere, trying with imperfect tools to mirror—recognize, acknowledge—God’s perfection.

Words fight with tunes, tunes with heart, and all with our comprehension. Can we apprehend the little signposts? Can the sung and spoken symbols reach our hearts?

They can, but only through a fight.

Consonance, when it arrives, will have a billion eager fans.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

To Obey or to Defy?

Counterintuitive Triumph

Defiance gets better press, but if you’re trying to change the world, obedience is smarter. It’s smarter because it’s easier; you can dig a canyon with spades and blasting powder, or you can channel a river through a gorge and watch the earth move. If you’re trying to redirect your life, defiance is spades and explosions but obedience is the river.

As we all know, change begins with one person (you)—and on the road to change it’s easier, ultimately, to obey Christ than to defy our ingrained vices. Of course, to obey Christ is to defy the world. But the issue is not one of mere semantics.

This is the idea behind verses like 1 Peter 1:14:

“Behave like obedient children. Don't let your lives be controlled by your desires, as they used to be” (The Bible).

Peter, the friend of Jesus (subsequently his theologian), urges the disciples to defeat their habitual sins in a counterintuitive way—by obeying their Father. In effect, Peter is saying “Defy your old controlling passions; do it by obeying.”

Alcoholics Anonymous has picked up on this principle, but few of us have. We’d prefer to simply try and heroically buck the evil status quo, but this is just a sexy path to burnout. Rather, to obey Christ is the key to change, and therefore to freedom. We look at Christ and this overt act of obedience achieves the indirect end of defiance. In terms of breaking away from besetting sins, obeying is the most insolent act conceivable. To obey is to defy.

Such obedience, this compliance with a stronger will, leads to freedom. I can go out on the town and resist, one by one, greed, lust, drunkenness, pride, the lure of bright lights and sordid appetites…or I can simply obey my Father (“Stay with me,” he says) and the battle ends there, under his motive force.

As Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36, The Bible). Living in Christ’s name is real freedom.

But obedience cannot be forced. That’s why most of us try assertive defiance first. I walk off on my own and pit my own desperate strength against each foe in turn—my “freedom” becomes a series of last-ditch fights with my habitual failures—which have become a pack of junkyard dogs.

There's a little wanna-be hero in us all. Thinking to assert our independence, we abandon one positive command—Stay with me—for a horde of negative injunctions, disconnected from the source of change. Don’t do that, you can’t go there, stay away from that, no, no!—we give the route of self-correction a spirited try. And the world applauds, even though we fail nine times out of ten.

All the while, God is waiting for us to obey the command that has already been spoken, and that would rescue us if we listened.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Slow Day

I've been fighting the effects of a sinus headache today, with the typical side-effects. One of these is the tinkering syndrome: Doing little things of questionable importance to keep myself occupied. When I catch some kind of nagging flu-cold bug, the inspiration required for more serious endeavors is usually lacking.

On that note, here are a few buttons from some Photoshop tinkering.

I know you all have been just dying
for some buttons, so feel free to steal 'em.

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Glowing Fragments

What do you get when heaven and earth collide?


Life often seems to me beautiful and incomplete. Mesmeric, but possessed with an air of absence. Lovely but broken.

G.K. Chesterton described the same thing when he said:

According to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the wreck of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.

Accordingly, the fragments of this shipwreck are everywhere.

Relationships, for example, perpetually delight and disappoint, and often at the same time. They somehow manage to be both less and more than we expect.

The glorified icon of “career” is the same way. No matter how sweet your job, the evidence remains plentiful that you were intended for “more than this.”

Why do the pieces of our lives, when looked at closely, reveal a host of chips and cracks? As if we live in a mosaic world.

The way I see it, heaven and earth went head to head once, to cause all this debris. Earth and the angels flew in similar orbits until Adam and Eve gave God that first and most fatal cold shoulder. Then the world lurched in its orbit and the collision was inevitableCRASH!mangled Eden. Heaven did not give way for rebel earth.

But there was another “accident,” this one divinely initiated, and this time when the earth jolted from impact, all the previously broken pieces begin to glow faintly. Christ walked in the door and heaven shook the world again, and made all the fragments luminescent
charged with light.

Christ’s entry was a harbinger that the whole incandescent puzzle would be sorted out, mended.

So what do you get when heaven and earth collide? Glowing fragments.
The fragments are neither complete nor tragic. They’re simply not fixed yet.

That will change.

In the meantime, sunset glows while glass cracks underfoot.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Short Story Slam

Yesterday Lindsay and I held our first apartment-wide Short Story Slam.

Drawing from the bookshelves located a strategic intervals throughout our downtown loft, we transported a number of chosen authors to a living room staging area and dug in.

The scheme was simple. After a preliminary “warm-up” period, during which we each read several stories of our choosing, we entered the Slam proper. Lindsay “assigned” me a story she had just read: I consumed “The Wild Plums” by Grace Stone Coates as she continued her independent explorations. Then we discussed.

Then it was my turn. I made Lindsay read Julio Cortazar’s “The Distances” while I forged ahead. And so it went: alternating assignments, which the other reader continued to accumulate new material, the sessions punctuated by brief discussion.

In a word, delicious.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Little More Death, A Little More Life

I’ve been thinking recently about aging. Undeniably it’s bittersweet, and even I can testify to that. You get older and you get wiser—but you also get more brittle and you lose hair. With age comes experience, but experience has a bitter edge. And while one may gain a greater love for beauty, one may also come to possess less of it. All things considered, most would agree: It seems better to be young.

Aging and death are mysterious entities, and we fight them at the deepest levels. They seem alien and out of place. We find ourselves asking why they exist at all.

But if we make this query, there’s another we must make as well. Why does eternal life exist? (If we scoff at the reality, we must at least admit the concept—people have been talking as if it’s real forever.) The two live side by side: this aging, “living death,” in Augustine’s words, and this incorrigible perfection, eternal life. Why does eternal life exist? Although the answer defies us, this is one of those cases where the truth, as near as we may come to it, is a prior question.

Question: Why does eternal life exist?
Answer: Why does aging exist?

The problem, aging, precedes the miracle, eternal life; and if we knew what preceded the problem, we would comprehend the whole relationship perfectly. Instead, we can only hazard guesses.

Heaven is ageless, but I suspect agelessness there will be young—because death is an anomaly, and we all know this fact instinctively. In heaven, we’ll find the wisdom “of age” seated in the energy and beauty “of youth.” And what is more, we’ll look “like ourselves.” Puzzling.

In the end, we can age gracefully because of a graceful God who’s taken the sting out of death. In Christ, we know that each new wrinkle, each inch coming off the vertical,* will be one more cause for joy later on. When aging is permanently revoked, and instantaneous renewal sets in, we’ll laugh death in the face. If we’re wise, we’ll start laughing now.

In this sense, aging can be defined: In Christ, a little more death today is a little more life forever. There’s nothing age can do that heaven won’t renew with advantages.

Not so if we idolize transient beauty. In a wry reversal, Hollywood’s beauticians are really her morticians. If our hopes are for this life only, aging deserves all the horror we can muster.

* As in a basketball game. But you should really know that.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Happy Misery

Light from a Hidden Sun

In a way, what strikes you about Saint Peter’s words to a bunch of exiled disciples is something he doesn’t even say. Something glaring in its absence.

He writes about their bright future—a future dramatically altered because of Christ—and then notes, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6, The Bible).

Celebrating in the middle of unfounded suffering has always been a Christian trademark. At the time Peter wrote, his friend Stephen had already been stoned to death, “his face like an angel” (Acts 6:15). Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown in jail—where they commenced to sing rousing praise songs. Later (Acts 26:29), Paul would display an unquenchable sense of humor en route to his execution in Rome. Peter himself would prove irrepressible at the moment of his death. These, and other episodes, quickly set the standard of “happy Christian misery.”

This being the case, Peter might have been expected to try and guard the paradigm. Keep it safe, this treasured legacy. We almost expect him to nudge these exiled friends down the proper path: Hey guys! Psssst. Little tip for ya. We have this tradition, uh…when you’re getting shot down right and left, treated like dirt, physically attacked…um, SMILE. Just so you know. A little thing we do…

Instead, Peter merely remarks that the tradition is still going strong. “In this you rejoice,” he observes. Rejoicing is the obvious fact, “various trials” the extenuating condition. These exploited refugees are living out a strangely bright reality.

In a way, I’m mystified. It’s as G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”

I guess most of us are at least a little pagan. As for me, I own this “gigantic secret,” comprehend it partially anyhow, but I’ve called upon the services of the “small publicity” department too. Clearly, there is a paradoxical way in which undeserved suffering changes from something to be sworn at to something in which we sing. Why? Here is the clincher.

Ridiculous, unfounded trials—encountered for the sake of Christ—are a sign of favor. Peter and Paul, both eventual martyrs, were clear on this point. God uses “various trials” as a way of testing his people—“testing” them in the old-fashioned way (as opposed to the modern way, which is perpetrated by students upon their teachers). God’s testing proves us, shows us what we’re made of, nudges us, shoves us, spurs us, burns us—until the spiritual gold at our cores begins to gleam through. We may not realize that the gold is there, but God knows, because he buried it.

To distil it in one strange fact: Affliction for Christ is grace. God mercifully doesn’t take suffering away until we have been adequately changed by it. We are given a point of decision, a crucible to form our faith, a moment to say a vital Yes to Christ. And on top of that, another factor is in play. Call it Glory.

After his initial observation, Peter’s next breath adds luster to the believers’ strange situation: “…you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).

"Tested genuineness” is one thing. “Praise and glory and honor” is something else, something directly related but different. If proven character is indeed its own reward, this glory is pure gratis. Somehow, Christ is awarding it to us apropos our “testedness.”

As I see it, this is a kind of divine double-bonus. The most unfair ridicule or abuse I could conceivably experience would, in Christ’s economy, have a purifying effect inside me; and all the while AJ the human was being refined and enhanced, I would be accumulating glory.

Suffering for Jesus may hurt, but it makes us bigger and better—makes us the kind of creatures who can live in the vivid, heavy world of heaven, able to breathe the rarest air anyone ever can. And all the while we grow in this way, glory is accruing. Christ’s favor is piling up, and we’re growing strong enough to bear its weight. Happy misery.

At this point, we ought to pause and catalogue our paradoxes so that none of them escape.
  1. In 1 Peter: The disciples instinctively celebrated in their pain.
  2. This fact was obvious to onlookers.
  3. Suffering, while undeniably present, got a low billing.
  4. After all, it could only “improve” the believers.
  5. And glory was on the table.
  6. They could “win” it; we can too.
  7. Christ will award glory to us.
  8. Christ will praise us.
Happy misery.

It seems almost impossible—from the startling surface fact to the mind-bending conclusion. Somehow, Jesus commending us will point up the invincible power of his glory all the more. He will praise us, and we’ll reflect the power of his own person back. Perhaps the impossibility of this theme, top to bottom, has helped to keep it, in pagan minds (and therefore many of ours)—a “gigantic secret.”

What is left to say?

As Peter summarized, “Though you have not seen [Christ], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

The “glorified joy” is what I’m after, the kind that lasts. Delight kindled by close proximity to the source of all glory. Joy infused by Christ’s light, which catches us in its beams, radiating outward, rays in the true sense, repercussions extending infinitely. Glory for now and later.

We cannot say what its final end will be, for in fact there will be no final end, only progressive stages of a story. In the end, perhaps all we can really say is that the story is Christ’s—and therefore worth any price to get into.

In view of this story, happy misery hums with logic. Suffering casts flimsy shadows, and one sees why the dying disciples smiled. They had a hidden sun in view.

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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife