Dealing with Death

How does a man remain so resilient in the face of death? I met him at the church I’ve been attending recently, and since I met him his mother has been battling cancer. She died a week ago Wednesday, on Ash Wednesday. He was back in church this week, and seemed to be doing surprisingly well, all things considered. He somehow looked fragile. He looked visibly shaken, and you could hear his voice wavering, but he was there. He looked like he could break down crying at any moment. This from a smiling Native American man in his thirties or forties who’s usually leading the church in songs with his guitar.

Him and a friend sang a song of thanksgiving today. It was a Native American song, and the lyrics were something along the lines of, “thank you God.” Hard to believe that a man could thank God after something like this. After the message he lead the circle (or “congregation,” for you conventional types) in a few songs about life and God breathing life into us. He talked about watching his mother breath her last breath, and knowing that she was now with her Maker.

The last time I saw Jim he handed me two cocoa seeds. This was a few weeks before his mother passed away. I can’t remember all of what he said, he always puts it so poetically, but he was marveling at how life is wrapped up in a such a tiny seed. The seeds still sit on my desk.

How can a man deal with such heartache? Jesus Christ. That’s the only answer I can possibly come up with, and I’m sure that Jim would agree with me.

Talking to a Brick Wall

Ever feel like you’re talking to a brick wall? I talk about my day, and they don’t seem to care. I talk about how I feel, and they just ignore me. Maybe they didn’t hear me. Hello? I ask a question and they don’t answer. So I ask again, and they don’t answer. I ask a third time and no answer. Why am I being ignored? You’re not supposed to be a brick wall. When someone puts their heart on the line, at the least you acknowledge it. You don’t ignore it. I can only hope I’m not being heard, because I just don’t understand. Have I done something wrong? Or is this just the way things are going? I certainly hope not, because my heart is growing bitter, building its own brick wall. And that’s the last thing I want to do. Ever feel like you’re talking to a brick wall? It hurts.

The Imagination of Children

“I used to believe in things when I was a kid.” – Homer Simpson

Why is it that as we grow older we quickly lose our ability to believe in things. Our imaginations shrivel up and die, we no longer feel justified in believing something a little bit different. Little kids believe in all sorts of crazy stuff, and they don’t feel ashamed. Yet as we grow older we feel the need to assimilate and be just like everyone else. It’s kind of silly really. Is it just because kids have less at stake? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Sacrifice of the Hmong People

In one of my classes we’ve been reading a book about a Hmong family (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman) and their clash with American culture through the illness of their daughter. Even though it’s one of those obnoxious books you have to read for a class, it’s been rather eye opening. We have to do a service learning project with some Hmong people in the Twin Cities, so there are actually practical applications to this. What amazes me the most is how little people know about the Hmong. For example, I’m typing this in Word 97, and the spell checker doesn’t recognize “Hmong” as a word.

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How Do We Treat One Another?

You know what, I don’t have anything to say today. So I’m going to let someone else speak:

“The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith. How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to the interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car.

“We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death. We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no ‘others.'” (A Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, page 140)

Soul of Letters

I have a boat in the western ocean, / I have a dream in the Irish sea. / I have found that I will never have anything until I have nothing of me.

I have light in the darkness, / I have a notion of eternity. / I have a friend his name is Jesus. / Oh I have life and I’m free. / And I’m comin’ around oh Lord, Lord I’m comin’ around. / Oh I’m coming around Lord I’m comin’ around.

(portions of a song by Ben Kyle called “Soul of Letters”)

[listen closer… look deeper… squint…]

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Ben Kyle and Luke Jacobs on Mission Control

My radio show, Mission Control, returned to the air tonight. Ah, it feels good to be on again. Tonight Bethel Students Ben Kyle and Luke Jacobs came on and played a three song acoustic set. It sounded really good. Ben’s Irish and not only has a really cool accent, but a great singing voice. I guess I could describe it as raspy and airy. But I don’t claim to be a good music critic, so take that for what it’s worth. It just sounds different, and I like it.

With a beat up and chipped guitar the musician plays his heart. I’ve got to hand it to them, they’re a very brave breed. I can write something and stand a million miles from my work. The musician (speaking of the live performance of course) has nothing between him and the hostile audience but a microphone stand. That takes guts. It’s also performance based, which doesn’t give you much chance for editing, one of the writer’s best friends.

While introducing one of his songs Ben made a comment that I thought kind of captured the essence of music. He said that he didn’t like to explain songs too much because you’re supposed to catch the meaning of the song by listening to the song. It sounds so simple, but so often we want to hear what the songwriter thinks, and we don’t just listen to the song and see what it means for us. That’s the beauty of music. It doesn’t need an explanation. The music puts meaning to the words and encourages you to feel the emotions that the words are expressing. That’s what makes music such a powerful instrument. (no pun intended)

Isn’t Grace Amazing?

“I’ve been washed in the blood/I’ve been cleansed by the Lamb/Tryin’, Tryin’, Tryin’ to be better than I am.” (“Let It Go” by The Felluz)

Isn’t grace amazing? It’s too bad we sing ‘Amazing Grace’ so often we don’t know what it means anymore. I don’t think I ever really understood what grace meant until I took a Christian Theology course here at Bethel. I always thought grace was just when someone was really nice to you. It’s kind of like doing something gracefully. It can also be an old woman’s name or a prayer. But grace means so much more than that.

You see, when we sin something needs to be done about it. God had mercy on us, and he sent his Son to pay for our sin. But he can’t just pardon our sin and let us go on our way. God has a better way. He has mercy on us and forgives us of our sin, and then he gives us grace, the ability not to screw up again. It doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect. It just means we have the ability to avoid sin.

“Amazing grace/how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me.”

When No One is Watching

What secret lies transpire in the hidden rooms of your heart? What do you do behind closed doors, in empty rooms, when no one is watching? Who do you hate? What kind of a wretched person are you when no one is around to watch you be good? What can you get away with? If no one will ever know, is everything all right? But someone is watching and knows every secret action, word, and thought. You thought you were all alone, but someone was watching, shedding a silent tear for your misgivings.

Americans are Dumb

Okay, you know what? Americans are dumb. Not only does our country stick its nose in other people’s business, but we’re just dumb. This whole Kosovo thing… okay, if you guys don’t agree on peace, we’re gonna bomb the crap out of you. What kind of deal is that!? And then there’s Turkey, beating up on Kurds in northern Iraq. We don’t care what they’re doing. But be it Kosovo or Iraq or somebody else, we come in and kick some butt. We’re the United States of America, we can do whatever the heck we want. Just look at our president.

And another thing, why are we so dumb? What’s the American Dream? Get a job and settle down with a family. Why is that all we do? We go to school, we get a job, we get married somewhere in there, we have a family, we do the same thing for a million years, and at some point we get shoved in an old folk’s home. What a life. Why don’t we do anything different. Why don’t we do anything bizarre. A friend of mine is thinking about joining the Peace Corps. That’s radical. That’s different. That’s a cool experience. It sure beats settling down that much earlier and doing nothing. You know what, the American Dream isn’t all that exciting. It’s rather selfish. And yet it’s our ideal. What kind of a country is this? It’s like a country made up of a bunch of five year old brats. Except they’d be more exciting.