Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A few thoughts from Resolved

Worshiping God corporately in a large body of fellow believers is always a bitter-sweet experience for me. At one end of the spectrum, I'm with believers who I personally know, and I have the privilege of joining my voice with theirs. I have the added blessing of joining my voice with numerous brothers and sisters whom I don't know personally, but with whom I share a bond through Christ. At Resolved--the weekend-long conference I just returned from--there was the added dimension of singing hymns (in a new musical "dressing") that had been penned by Christians before me, so there was the sense of adding my voice to a that of a body of believers that spanned time and space.

At the other end however, its hard not to think of those that are, at the time, absent from me. I think of people with whom I've sung these songs before, of other such sessions where I was with different people. I am separated from some of these friends because of distance--they live in other countries, in other parts of the States, were busy that weekend so could not attend the conference with me--some I already know to be with our Lord. This separation hurts--sometimes to the point of it being physical--and it is then that a longing for heaven sets in that can be painful. For while I know that this setting--worshiping God together with a large number of believers--is a taste of heaven, I am very aware that is it NOT heaven. A distance still remains, between me and the people I love who are not there, and by the fact that I am still walking in faith and not seeing my God with sight. It is in heaven where I will not be plagued by imminent good-byes that will put distance between me and others as I fellowship and enjoy the time I have with them presently. Usually at this time, hymns that speak of death are sweet. I've had friends and acquaintances who find such hymns morbid, or unhealthy and disquieting, but it is at points like these where they offer hope. I'm reminded that this time, too, will pass, and the passing only hastens the time when heaven will be reality, and distance will no longer be an issue--between me, other believers, and our God.

With these thoughts coursing through my mind on Friday night before Rick Holland got up to speak, it was appropriate that his sermon was on God's transcendence and imminence, and how the two are held equally yet create a tension in how we deal with God. If He's so far, yet so near, how do we relate to such a Being? One of the verses he drew from was Jeremiah 23:24, "Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD." This is a verse that I have struggled with in the past, in that, it has brought me both comfort and frustration. I came across it when my family was in the process of moving back to the States in late 2000. At one point, I knew that what I left behind was in God's care, and no one I loved was outside of His grip. I could trust them to His hand. At the same time, He would be there in the States, and was in fact preparing already for my family's "re-entry." However, there were days where, overcome by not understanding what was going on around me, or able to deal with feelings of grief inside me, it was hard to comprehend God's sovereignty in the situation and in my life. I in fact succumbed to many of these feelings, and threw God's love, goodness and sovereignty "out the window" for several years. It was then that I think I was more frustrated by the knowledge that I couldn't hide from God when I wanted to, and knew that He was ever near when I wanted Him to be far away.

I thought Rick Holland's assessment of the book of Job as a book that struggles with the tension between God's imminence and transcendence was a succinct one. My pastor in Roanoke did a series on the book of Job, which I benefited from a lot--through it, I came to better understand why I went through the phases of depression that I did, and how God's grace is still at work in those times--and Rick's summary added to that knowledge. How am I, a being bound by physical space and time, finite, to relate to a God who is infinite, an not bound in the ways I am?

Rick's final point was one that I need to ponder more: it is through Jesus Christ, the mystery of the divine incarnation, that I commune and relate to, God. The book of Hebrews has been one I have returned to again and again, because it is there that I have found the picture of Jesus as divine mediator, both man and God, to be very vivid. This book was reference throughout the conference, but Rick's chosen verse was 1 Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God,and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus..." It was a great introduction to the focus of the rest of the conference, as well as a reminder that God hasn't forgotten the questions and issues with which I still struggle.

Friday, June 18, 2010

TTD#4: relaxing!

"Relaxing" in this case means "being productive when I want to be." I've been busy stuffing support envelopes for the fall (more on that later), reading ISV orientation materials, and trying to decide on a textbook to use for the world music class I'll be teaching in August, but, in between all this, I've been watching a lot of movies. Most of them have been Star Wars. Some have been better, or as bad, as I remembered them, but the most fun I've had in re-watching these has been reliving all the memories they've brought back.

I have a brief memory of seeing scenes from the original Star Wars movie ("A New Hope") when my family lived in Thomaston (so this would have been before age 7): I just remember that Darth Vader was out to get Princes Leia, which was just upsetting. When my family came back to the States on our first home assignment, I watched the original series with my brother, Robert, and Aunt Nancy over three nights at my Grandma Bliss's house. Then, we got the bright idea to do a marathon, staying up ALL NIGHT to watch these three back-to-back. For a ten-year-old and a seven-year-old, this was quite an adventure. I remember that we ordered Papa John's Hawaiian pizza, and had M&M's and Dr. Pepper as snacks to eat during the movie. However, I fell asleep just minutes into "Return of the Jedi," (it was about 1 AM by then).

The all-night Star Wars marathon became a tradition that Aunt Nancy, Robert and I kept every time my family would return to the States (which was every two-or-three years). I was finally able to stay up all night during our second home assignment (when I was 13). During this time "home," the new "Episode 1" came out in theatres (1999). My family went and saw it twice. Robert and I were enthralled by it, my parents decided to watch it again just to double-check that it was really that bad. When Episodes II and III came out in subsequent years, my family went to theatres to see them, but by that time, we were all in agreement that other than the droids, there was no character development or real personality in the other characters, the script was cliche or stereotypical, and the acting just sucked. Nevertheless, we continued to do the occasional Star Wars marathon when we visited my aunt, and began adding the new episodes as they came out on DVD. We have yet to actually do a six-episode marathon however.

Re-watching these films (and downing M&M's while doing so), I have laughed at their cheesiness (this includes the original trilogy), enjoyed the richness of the visual provided and the cinematography, and continued to roll my eyes at some of the sucky acting. Nevertheless, the human emotions portrayed are ones that we deal with everyday: who doesn't struggle with anger or hate, make split-second reckless decisions, or blunder through the intricacies and complications of emotional attachments? After my family came out of the theatre from watching "Episode II" for the first time, we all had the same conclusion: Anakin Skywalker needed Christ! (that opinion was even stronger after seeing "Episode III"). I also remember thinking afterwards about my own tendencies to sin, try to save or fix myself, and become defeated by my own nature in the endeavor. At that point, I was glad that I lived in a universe where a savior existed, and who was, and is, completely able to do what I could not--defeat and eradicate my sin! Watching these films again has brought back these contemplations--which are good things to think about.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

TTD#3: exercise!

Two of my colleagues did manage to train for, run (and finish!) the LA marathon last March, but, I haven't been as diligent in moving my body. My exercise only consisted of walking to and from my parked car, carting books back and forth from the library and music grad office, and occasionally going up the hill behind the library to the grad division to sign papers or get someone's signature. Knowing that this was not exactly the healthiest thing, Catherine (a fellow grad student at UCR as well as a friend from church) and I have made it a point to hike Mt, Rubidoux, a good size "bump" on the edge of Riverside, at least three times a week. We have two motivations for this: to get exercise and to get out of bed in the morning (instead of sleeping in till 10AM, since we don't have solid work/school schedules anymore). So, she's been coming over to my place to pick me up at 6:30AM, and we've been up and down the mountain by 7:45AM, and home by 8AM, ready to be productive the rest of our day. So far, its worked really well (if any of you are in the R'side area and would like to join us, just let us know; we'd be happy to have more company)!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TTD#2: fellowship!

Don't get me wrong--I learned and grew a lot during this past academic year. But, graduate school has a tendency to consume your life, which meant that it was very difficult for me to keep in touch with people who I wasn't seeing in a school or work setting everyday! I was also doing a lot of performances, teaching, and participating in conferences, so I ended up not being able to attend care group or Friday night Bible study for most of the winter and spring quarters, just because I was double-booked too many times. Emailing or calling friends in other places, much less traveling to see ones that are as near as Ventura, just didn't happen.

So, since school has been out, I've begun to spend more time with peeps. So far, its meant lunch out to a newly discovered Indian/Pakistani restaurant (that makes three of these places on Blaine Street alone!), two coffee dates with various girlfriends, a movie night at my place, and long phone conversations with friends in other parts of the country!

I returned a call I received from Lauren, one of my roommates from college, early on Tuesday morning. Lauren and I try to stay in touch, but this usually means a phone conversation every six to eight months. Talking to her is always encouraging. She's always been very frank with me about challenges she's had in life, and the ways that God is using them to mature her relationship with Him, with other people, and as a person. Right now, she's engaged to be married to a wonderful man this coming July, and as she told me about their courtship, it was neat to see how God was putting together certain "puzzle pieces" in her life. I don't know her fiance, but from what I knew of her heart, desires, and things she's been through in the past, it was neat to see how God has prepared her for this relationship. Hearing about other people's spiritual walks always makes me examine my own, and look again to see how much God has blessed me. But talking to Lauren, as well as certain other close friends of mine, often reveals where I might be putting God in a box, so to speak. I've come to appreciate both kinds of "spiritual sharpening."

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TTD#1: cleaning!

One of the first questions people have asked me, when I tell them I'm now DONE with my MA, is "what are you going to do with all your free time now?" Well, right now, I'm cleaning. I returned 50+ books to the library yesterday (Thomas had one suitcase, I had another), pitched a whooole bunch of paper that I no longer needed and organized all those annotated articles into their respective 3-ring binders. The binders are now stored in wine boxes--they're good and sturdy, great for storing books and notebooks. My room, and the one next to mine that I took over, are now dusted, vacuumed, and mopped as well. I still have a few random items left to find a home for...