Friday, November 23, 2007

Part 2: Gray Walls

Note: the following is a first person historical fiction, not my own inner thoughts.


Every surface is gray. Walls. Ceiling. Floor. Today, even the sky through the small window is a murky shade somewhere closer to black than white. Not a hint of color to relieve the monotony. If my vision were worse, I might not even be able to tell where one begins, where another ends. Thank God for my good vision, my good health.

Though I wish - I wish that I had vision beyond these walls, to see and understand. Because however strong my eyes may be, my heart remains shrouded in darkness. Hopelessness. I sing. I pray. I beat myself. I cry out to God. And still I have no hope. How could I? I, a sinner, a wretch, a vile man who is an affront to the Creator who made me. And why has He made me like this, unable to be holy, unable to be right, unable to stand before Him? No, I cower - like a whipped dog, an oft-beaten cur that knows only the well-deserved wrath of its owner.

For I am God's slave. He owns me. He saved me, that night, in the blackness. The terror of it - it still comes pressing in. The sheer, overwhelming terror of my depravity. The shrieks of condemnation tearing at my mind. Lightning searing both body and soul. I dream about that moment - often. If you can call them dreams: they are nightmares, really, an agony of the mind that I wish I could forget when I awake, but which remains ever with me, vivid: that God saved my life. I wonder why I did not die. Why did He give me any longer to live? I deserve nothing.

I wonder if hell will be something like that moment of fiery pain, but stretched out into eternity. I wonder if somehow, perhaps, I will merit enough to spend only a century in purgatory, if I will somehow do enough good for God, conduct a deep enough ablution of my heart to earn the absolution of my soul. I feel - I fear - that I will not: that I will spend an eternity cursed to burn in hell. Because I know myself enough to know that I deserve nothing else than that. Hell.

And if the torments of my own mind were not enough... other torments there are as well. Tormentors that will not leave me be. Tormentors that claw at my consciousness, at my understanding, that whisper soothing doubts in my mind that I know to be lies but which are oh so terribly seductive. They call out that I am a fool for abandoning my brightly glimmering future, that there is no God, no judgment, no torment of everlasting fire - and they hurl insult at my wounds, flaming darts at my soul's weakest points, jabbing blows against my vulnerabilities: calling out my every failure, every weakness, every faltering step.

And there is nothing I can do. I know this. I have done all that I know, all that my brothers have spoken of and recommended, all that the holy father has commended to me for ablutions. I have fasted; I have wept; I have beaten myself. None of it avails.

I want to please God. I do not know how. Because my heart is black, and He is perfect light. He is holy; I am depraved. He is righteous; I am wicked. He is good; I am bad. There is no gray here. There is the black stain on my soul and the pure white glory of God, and no bridge I see between the two.

I would in an instant trade my perfect spotless glimpses of this world for a right understanding of the spiritual one. I would give up my ability to discern between these shades of gray if I could thusly grasp - truly and firmly - the distinctions, the delineations, the degradations of the spiritual realm. If I could but for a moment understand why God so angrily torments us - those He created, and for whom He has left no escape - then I would readily trade a life of seeing clear the tepid hues of the world I now inhabit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Part 1: The Storm

Note: the following is a first person historical fiction, not my own inner thoughts.


Flash. Again. Flickering. White black white black white black. And then, a deep shaking that pounds through ground and body alike.

I can't see. Between me and the next step is a sheet - alternating invisible and particulate streams of light - that would blind me even were my eyes able to adjust between the sky-searing blasts of brilliance. The sheet has drenched me, left me shaking, shuddering, unable to halt the furious clattering of molars as my body contorts against the frigidity surrounding it.

I am alone, in the dark, with the terror.

And behind me, it comes. Accusing. Screaming. Penetrating my mind with jabs that I cannot counter, that leave me dreading the future far more than this terrible darkness. Declaring my utter finitude and inability to save myself from this storm, much less the one to come. Always present, that declaration of my guilt, my iniquity.

The flashes are closer now, striking faster. I can see the gray sheet as though under a candle flickering in the night.

Searing pain. Whiteness. Agony. Blackness.

I come to slowly, shaking with the cold, extremities numb but trembling.

I should be dead. I lived? I came through that?


My mind whirling. How? Why? What purpose?

The world is no longer drowning. I, however, can find no sure grip, nothing to hold, and so am sinking under the weight of my mind.

I do not understand.

For I could as readily ask those questions of every moment as this one. Perhaps less spectacularly so. But no less truly: for those questions remain unanswered in my existence. Save for the pale and heartless litany: "Me. Me. Me." My own strength. My own reasons. My own desires. No other answers.

But here I am forced against the wall, leaned up against the edge of the parapet and forced to stare into the abyss beneath me, to truly comprehend the dizzying ebony fall beneath my feet should they but slip a little.

I swallow.

I know why I am alive.

The reason is not mere reason. It is a Person who is Reason. I have run from Him. He will not let me go. He has chased me even here.

But does He truly demand this of me? A promising career? A perfect bright future?

And condemnation sears again, for what have I to offer Him? Me? This puny wretch of a being, tormented by despicable thoughts and tortuous conniving? Nothing!

And how could He ever accept me? What hope have I of salvation?

Like flashes of torment in the dark the searing truth hammers again and again into my brain: that there is no hope for me, despicable man that I am. The storm is gone, but the terror has not passed.

No matter.

I know why I am alive.

I will go. He has saved my life, so I will give it to do with as He wills.

Darkness, only, now. The lightning is gone with the rain, and I am left alone in the cold, in the mist, in the impenetrable shadow of occluded night.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


It has been a challenging but very good week. Challenging academically, challenging emotionally, challenging spiritually, challenging relationally - and good in every one of those areas. God is moving, as always, and at the moment I can actually see a little bit of how His hand is moving.

It is enough - more than enough, really. Faith is, after all, the essence of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen... and faith and trust are deeply intermingled. I can and will trust Him regardless of whether I can see.

I'm praying a lot. More than I ever have in my life. It's not enough. God is continuing to call me deeper, to a greater faithfulness to serve that way. I have so much to grow in.

I am not going to be home for Thanksgiving. I will probably be with a friend here in the OKC area. (Previous plans fell through.) I miss my family like crazy - more than I have at any point in my college career. I wish I could be there for one who's hurting right now, wish I could simply be there with the rest... For the first time, I am really struggling with being so far away, being so removed and so unable to help or to contribute to the family. It is not that I have not felt these things to any extent before, but I feel them deeply, strongly, passionately for the first time since coming to college. I wish I were there.

I miss FFI folk... many are at a reunion right now, and I am glad for them. I wish I were with them. They are a family, too, of another sort.

I have a great deal of work yet to do this semester; not least among that load is the composition for a wedding.

Another pair of friends got engaged tonight. I am incredibly glad for them. (If you read this, congratulations!)

I am lonely, in so many ways, right now. And yet, I am very contented. Funny, how the two can stand together so easily, not opposed at all. I trust God with where I am right now, and that diminishes the desire for deeper companionship not in the least.






Trepidation. Even fear.




All mixing together in a single churning mass.

Different from before. Not for the same reasons - and for exactly the same reasons. I look back a year, and things were so different. I was so different. I hardly recognize myself. I look back two years, much less three, and I do not know the man I see in my past. Praise God.

A year ago, I asked out the first girl I'd asked out since coming to college. She said no. I'm glad - not because I think ill of her at all, but because of all God taught me through that. 52 weeks to the day. Looking back, I shake my head in awe of all that the Spirit has done in me in the time since, and even all He did in the weeks immediately following. The whole last year is like that; that instance is but one memorable example (and neither the strongest nor the worst).

Many of my friends are dating or engaged. Others have recently broken up. For some, there is perhaps a relationship on the horizon. For others, there are neither prospects nor overwhelming desire. For some, there are broken hearts and frustration. For all of us, there is a need to trust God with where we are.

God has blessed me richly in every way. I am learning to thank Him for that instead of dwelling on what I do not have in a particular instant. We have been given much.

I have a busy day tomorrow. I have church in the morning, lunch with an old friend from high school in the early afternoon, several hours of composition (I'm hoping to get about two minutes of music written) in the later afternoon, final dress rehearsals in the early evening, dinner, and then a Student Composers' Recital. I'm terribly excited about all of the above, most particularly the lattermost. Few things are so rewarding as hearing one's own compositions performed. And I have many friends coming, for which I'm incredibly grateful.

All that to say, God is good, though my mind is a tumbled mess at the moment. I bid you all a good night. May Christ rule in your hearts forever!

- Chris

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We were warriors, once

We were warriors, once. Princes on valiant steeds, soldiers marching forth to war, cavalry dashing to the rescue, martial masters with a noble call. Gallant knights and heroic princesses joining hands to save the day, evil defeating at every turn. Kingdoms lost and won, desperate battles and life-threatening escapades, fantastical romances. Sometimes we died and were resurrected by the power of love. Sometimes we simply died, casualties of the war against enemies, against sickness, against whatever foe confronted us in that dire hour.

We were children, then.

Imagination came easily to us in our youth. It was no difficulty to believe that we were those people. That our adventures were not real meant nothing: it was no hindrance to us, no stumbling block to our joyous embrace of imagined destiny. Our minds, loosed of the bonds of the mundane, were free to conjure whatever world, whatever adventure, whatever fate we desired. We could as readily be Jedi as cowboys, princes as paupers, soldiers as fathers, futuristic explorers as ancient heroes. That we were in the back yard of a house or on bicycles in the street or anywhere ordinary meant nothing: in our minds, we were wherever and whenever our imaginations had taken us.

We are children no more. No longer do we soar through the sky on airplanes consisting of cardboard boxes and paint; no longer do we slay dragons with sticks or destroy enemy spaceships with lasers made of broom handles; no longer do we wed royalty in elaborate ceremonies that change the course of nations.

Those things are not real, and what is real overwhelms that which is not. We can no longer dissociate ourselves so thoroughly from reality: it ever crashes in against our consciousness. Should we attempt to imagine again in the way that we did as a child, it would fail: for we would be continually reminding ourselves of the ridiculousness of our actions, confronting ourselves with the absurdity of our imaginings, and condemning ourselves with the impossibility of that which we imagine.

Yet I sometimes wonder if perhaps we saw more truly in those moments of imagination that we do now in our mature understandings and penetrating analyses. I wonder if Christ did not call us to childlike faith for precisely this reason: that children believe without regard to possibility. As adults, we do not. We see the world in terms of what is possible with the variables at hand. We assume a closed system. Our imaginations no longer excel the real: we are trapped in the comprehensible and that which can be viewed. We have no conviction of that which is unseen.

We no longer conceive of the world as one of possibilities and open windows, but as one of impossibilities and closed doors. We think not of what can be, but of what cannot. We understand our limitations, but our understanding is limited for it converges to those limitations, forgetting that God is not limited. When the sum of our comprehension is of what cannot be, when our imagination is constrained to what is possible, it has ceased to be imagination and has become simply hyptothesization.

And faith can never be born of hypothesis: for it confesses a priori its reliance on a Being unbounded by the constraints of our reality and existence. We confess with our mouths that God can do anything, but we often believe otherwise, for we no longer imagine His doing the impossible.

We need a childlike faith: one that is supremely confident in what God will do because it knows no bounds of what God can do.

We do not have that kind of faith anymore -

but we were warriors, once.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Working for beauty

I want to write something beautiful. I'm not sure it's going to happen. Sometimes I feel that way about music, too. And sometimes it just comes out, almost effortless, glorious. Sometimes it is just work - and lots of it. What the difference is, I don't always know. It's not preparation, mental or spiritual: it simply is. Sometimes things are just work. Perhaps that is simply life: that while it has its own beauty, it is often a beauty that is muddled and obscured by the drudgery of accomplishing it.

Writing is hard work. So is composing. Both are completely different from the sorts of hard work I spend most of my time on in the world of physics. Physics drives the mind forward logically, in coherent progressions that, while beautiful in their orderliness, are concrete and the results tangible: a right answer, or a wrong one. The satisfaction is in having successfully derived a solution that is accurate and complete and correct, and in having done so with the power of one's own mind.

Writing and composing are both far more abstract than physics in practice. I wonder at times, though, if we have not abstracted them both more and less than we ought in our conception of them.

More, in the sense that while there are many differences between them and physics, there is something much the same, as well: that our end desire is to accomplish something that is truly right, not merely neutral. The definition of "right" varies somewhat, of course: but here we are thrusting at truths equally profound (and sometimes far more so) than those at which we probe in the world of hard science. For this physical world is not the sum total of existence; nor is the equation the final result of the examination of the heart. We strive in writing and composing to touch the heart, and to do so in true way, not merely any way.

Humanity is not reducible - and we should not expect it to be. For God is not reducible, and man, however fallen, remains a reflection of the very nature of God: imago Dei. It is in this sense that we make writing and composition less abstract than they deserve: for they are, in their truest form, stretching to describe the indescribable, to evoke in the mind of the reader or listener the faintest hints of the majesty and splendor that are divinity: divinity from which we are sundered by our own decisions: a gap far too terrible and wide ever to be bridged by the mere stretching of human ambition. And here, again, we return to the notion that writing and composition are more concrete than physics: for they are striving to illuminate a reality that is more real than the laws of physics. The very nature of reality.

What is real?

The existentialist has answered "myself" and the nihilist "nothing;" the postmodern embraces both and all: "whatever" his ultimate declamation, no less suicidal than the nihilist, but a suicide that is prolonged and stretched across the surface of a pallid existence.

The theist answers, "God," and the Christian answers, "the Trinity." A perfect, consummate being, self-sufficient, in perfect community: unity and diversity in unadulterated harmony, incomparable and incomprehensible yet ultimate and necessary: as Anselm might say: that which greater than Himself, nothing can be imagined.

So as we write, as we compose, as we stretch for beauty and find it fleeting, ever outside our grasp, ever abstract, it must always be with the remembrance that it is our very finitude in contrast with the infinite expanse of He who is truly real.

Beauty cannot be summarized. It cannot be pinned down. It cannot be reduced, understood in its entirety, categorized, or bottled for future use. It is. Because beauty is a part, one corner of that multifaceted gem, of the glory of God.

And so, like our faith, writing and composing, in their effort to set before the mind's eye a conception of the transcendent, are at times of necessity hard work. If it is so in our pursuit of holiness, in our pursuit of a true and deep knowledge of God, why ought we expect it to be otherwise in our attempts to reflect one aspect of His nature?

And in this sense, physics, writing, and music are all the same: for all are, ultimately, attempts to grasp at emanations from the Ultimate. Order. Transcendence. Beauty. All combining. Words without order are meaningless; notes without structure are cacophony: simply tones. Physical equations absent transcendence are, in their final form, a sum that yields only a crisis of meaninglessness.

When Bach signed his manuscripts soli Deo gloria ("to God alone be the glory"), he was signing works that were transcendent struggles, unmatched splendor born of sweat and perseverance. Sometimes true beauty is born not of inspiration but of dedication. There are moments of inspiration: but it is a dedication in the moments absent inspiration that allows those moments of unparalleled insight to flourish, to blossom, to grow beyond a mere flash of light into a beacon that illuminates a small measure of Truth to the mind's eye.

We, in our culture of instant gratification, have not remembered how rewards follow work; nor have we understood how the natural consequence of laziness is destruction. And in all of this, we have lost beauty: not because it is not there to be discovered or created, but because it is elusive, and discovering it, like discovering any of the other deep things of God, requires us to toil and strive.

But more, it requires us to let go our own straining, our own wisdom, our own understanding, and realize that we are fallen and blinded beings who could not have seen the sum in perfection, and certainly cannot now in this downcast state.

We must understand that writing, composing, and physics are all opportunities to worship; and we must revel in glorifying God no matter what we do. We must come to our knees and surrender our own thirst for recognition and accolades, choosing instead to surrender our every attempt to the all-consuming fire of the glory of God and the supremacy of Christ.

We must seek to make the Real become real in the understanding of those around us. And for that, we are insufficient. The Spirit of God, however, is more than sufficient: He is indeed the Light that illuminates the world. And when He is controlling us, then we are indeed servants of the secret fire, bearers of Truth: honored witnesses to Beauty.

- Chris

Monday, November 5, 2007


It's been a while since I've written, and I've many things I would like to say... but I am tired and probably should sleep instead. I've no idea, still, why I am so tired (the options the doctor gave are that I'm getting over mono, that I have a sleep disorder, or that I have some other random source of chronic fatigue). It doesn't matter, really: God is my joy, my strength, my peace... my song.

Interesting how far He's brought me in a year. Similar conditions and situations a year ago left me completely depressed. Now, I delight in His strength: Christ-strength instead of my own. So far I still have to go, but it is always a joy to see how far He has brought me. Glory to God!

May Christ fill your days with joy, peace, and the glory of His presence, so that whether you be happy or sad, you may be at rest in Him.

- Chris

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Accountability in discipleship

Some thoughts on accountability in discipleship and the standard to which we are held when discipling. (And these are just that, my thoughts, mostly pulled from a conversation with a friend.)

First and foremost, I think accountability in discipleship very much depends on the relationship in question. Different relationships have very different parameters: one might be simply for the sake of learning about a particular aspect of faith, whereas another might be a complete spiritual submission one person to another.

I don't know that either of those is inherently better than the other, but they do differ. In the former case there will (somewhat obviously) be less emphasis on accountability than in the latter, and I think correspondingly less responsibility. At the same time, I think that anytime we're in a position of spiritual authority, if we see issues and do not hold people accountable, we are in a place of responsibility. Tempering that is the realization that it is not our job to fix people, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit.

For me, in the discipleship relationships I have, I know there's a fine line that really varies from case to case as to where I bring up issues I see and where I don't. With one hypothetical guy, if I see an issue, I might bring it up, within a few weeks if there's some concern as to how I need to handle it. With another hypothetical guy, I might not bring it up at all if we're simply not in a place in our relationship where he's willing to hear from me at that deep and possibly painful area. In that case, my responsibility is to ask questions to get him thinking, and to comment on areas God has convicted me, and to spend a LOT of time praying for him.

(That, by the way, is where I think our gravest responsibility is in the context of discipleship: prayer. If we are not faithful to pray for those we are leading, how will we ever be able to effectively pour into their lives? How could we presume to try to bring accountability or correction to someone we're not faithfully praying for?)

One thing I think is important is to establish at the beginning of any relationship of that sort what the ground rules/expectations are. I let any of the guys I meet with know that I don't see the meetings as just a time to hang out - though we do that as well - but as a time focused on spiritual growth. But, I also invite them to tell me what their expectations are, and I really try to work with that. So, if they tell me they have a big need for accountability, that'll be a much bigger emphasis, whereas if they say, "I'm really just looking to read the word of God and study it together," that'll be the focus. There would still be accountability, but it'd be a lot less a focus.

There's also the standard accountability relationship, where the whole point of the relationship is simply to stand beside each other, of course, and in that case all the emphasis would be there.

So far as I understand, the place where we are really accountable before God is where we lead people astray, or where we do not speak a warning when we have been clearly instructed to do so. That's a really fine line, in a lot of ways: what does "clearly instructed to do so" mean for us? We obviously don't have God speaking directly in the same way Ezekiel did. I think the Ezekiel example, though somteims taken out of context, is worth paying attention to: if the watchman doesn't call a warning when the enemy is coming, people's blood is on his hands.

In practice, for me at least, that means that if I've been down a path and seen it cause pain and anguish - and particularly if I know it's a sinful path - I will say, "Hey, I've been there, please don't fall into the same sin trap I did; don't make that mistake."

Another relevant passage that comes to mind is Christ's warning to those who would cause a child to stumble (which is probably applicable not only to children in the ordinary sense but also to those in the spiritual sense). I'm also reminded of His comment that we will be judged for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:35-37), which, while not directly applicable, certainly speaks to the responsibility associated with our words. Last but definitely not least, there are numerous cautions to those in authority throughout the epistles to be careful in our handling of the word of truth - particularly in 2 Timothy and Titus. That doesn't directly speak to the issue at hand, but I nevertheless find it fairly relevant. Combined with the admonition that "Not many should presume to be teachers" because of the increased responsibility of that position (James 3:1-2). We will be judged more strictly. And we are explicitly commanded to deal with our brothers when they sin: see Luke 17:1-4 and Matthew 18:15-20.

All of that lays a foundation, but Scripture never explicitly says, "If you don't hold a person accountable for sins in their life, you will be held accountable for those sins." As such, we should be careful making sweeping statements of that variety. Of course, if we're in the position of teaching someone, we have a great responsibility for that person, because he or she (and God) has entrusted himself or herself to our care, and as such are somewhat relying on us.

The problem with following that argument too far is that, unlike in the Old Testament, each of us as believers has the Holy Spirit personally speaking conviction into our lives, and we are responsible ourselves for the way we respond to His correction: others' input is secondary to His direct work on our hearts.

The problem with not following that argument far enough is that it can really put us in the position of saying, "Well, it's not my responsibility to try to fix his/her sin," when very clearly that's part of the function of the body of Christ both corporately and on an individual level with one another. We are responsible for each other even as "regular" brothers and sisters in Christ; how much more so when discipling someone!

In my own relationships, I really distinguish not only between the relationships but also between the issues in a believer's life. I'm not responsible for every issue in the heart of a guy I'm discipling (that's crazy!). On the other hand, if I see a guy who is sleeping with his girlfriend, I had *better* say something - but I'm probably not going to be spending as much time worrying about relatively minor sins in his life at that point. If I'm dealing with a fairly mature believer who is largely doing well, but has niggling sin issues around the periphery, I'll be dealing with those more intensely. If I see a deep pride issue underlying those, I may address those issues and simply pray for his heart - or I may, after prayer, directly address the pride issue.

That's a long pseudo-answer on the topic of accountability in discipleship, and I don't know that it necessarily clarifies that much, seeing as it's something of a big, "Sort of!" I believe that we do have considerable responsibility toward each other, simply as brothers and sisters in Christ, and the more so in the case of discipleship relationships. We are held accountable when we are teaching for those under our authority. I think, however, we must be careful to judge whether another believer is or is not fulfilling their accountability responsibilities: that's really between them, God, and the person they're holding accountable. It's an issue we should teach on, to be sure, and one we should be mindful of - but not one we should let become an issue of contention. Ultimately, the responsibility is on each individual believer, because we have the Spirit speaking into our hearts. Any other culpability is secondary.

- Chris