Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sprouting Up In My Heart

Over the last few years, the word “resurrection” has taken on new meaning for me.  To be sure, the concept of the resurrection has always been happy… but vague.  In the past, thoughts of the resurrection brought to mind non-specific images of the paintings you might see in a church or during an evangelistic series – beautiful but distant; full of people I don’t know.

When I think of the resurrection now, I don’t see these paintings anymore.  I see the faces of those I have known and loved, who have been laid to rest in the ground.  I see specific people, specific faces beaming with joy in the light of the Second Coming.  I see Marissa, a seven-year old girl I met maybe once or twice while visiting my brother-in-law and sister’s school. 

But the last time I went to visit, Marissa’s absence was decidedly pronounced.  I was there the week after her funeral.  Her desk was still there, with a bouquet of flowers on top – not to replace her, but to remind us of what can never be replaced.  There were piles of letters from friends and strangers offering comfort and encouragement, but you could still feel the weight of the shadow of death hanging in the air.  In the back of the classroom, the students’ prayer requests were taped to the wall… heartbreaking requests for God to “help us with our sadness.”

And there was sadness. Much sadness.  I found tears in my eyes often.  The sorrow was only outweighed by one thing: love.  Not just love for Marissa, but her love for each of them.  Her love lingered still.  It was a seed planted in each of their hearts, still growing despite her absence. 

I flipped through a scrapbook filled with index cards the students had written on, describing their favorite memories of Marissa.  So many heartwarming stories about this girl who, like the morning mist, had only graced this world for a moment.  More than one student said Marissa was a best friend.  But it was not primarily her close friends that cut me to the core.  I began to notice a pattern appearing: student after student mentioned how Marissa had played with them – a high compliment in the world of elementary school.  Several students mentioned how she had played with them when no one else would or how she talked to students that no one else wanted to hang out with.  And I thought, “They will know we are Christians by our love…” 

Her love was not selective, but pervasive.  Offered to all out of the overflow of her own heart, out of her relationship with Jesus.  This was not just the concept of love; it was real love that really mattered and made a difference to those who experienced it. I suspect that the seeds she planted will not cease to grow.  And I found that I, too, had a seed sprouting up in my heart.  The simplicity and depth of her short life has forever convinced me of one thing: a legacy does not require many years, but instead much love.

I can’t wait to meet her when she wakes up on that resurrection morning.  I can’t wait for her to see how the love she left behind has grown and spread beyond anything she could imagine.  In her death, she has added to the life waiting to burst forth on that great day. 

With every passing year, every passing person, the weight of death becomes fuller.  The pressure grows, like a spring being slowly compressed.  Only the resurrection will release the tension.  The earth groans, too.  It trembles like a chrysalis: full, ready.  Soon we will meet in the air.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.


Since I began writing this, my great-grandmother, Tai Tai, has also fallen asleep in Jesus.  She was 96 years old, but I find that even so, her legacy is also one built not upon years, but upon love.  Her beautiful face is now also among those that come to mind when I picture the resurrection.

It seems like there have been a lot of deaths lately, though I guess death has been abundant for quite a while now.  I think of my Grandpa Vanderlaan and my Aunt Teresa.  But I also think of those I don’t know.  I think of the boy from Collegedale Academy.  I think of the multitudes across the face of this earth who are laid to rest in the ground every day.  The earth truly groans.  And so I say it again: even so, come Lord Jesus.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Blue Like Jazz (movie review)

I have found it very difficult to write a review of Blue Like Jazz.  It is, as has been said, not another Christian movie.  And so I have found it hard to evaluate based on previously constructed film categories.  But here we go…

I love that it lacks the cheesiness and preachiness of typical Christian movies.  I love that the story is messy and real, that it avoids the cliché, everything-is-wrapped-up-nice-and-clean progression and ending.    I love that it is well-directed and well-acted.  I even love the fact that it made me squirm in my seat a number of times (There is a fair amount of foul language used, as well as some pretty crude conversations.  While these did bother me, I wondered if maybe that was the point, and maybe really being “in the world” and not simply “not of it” looks more like this than my own life does… shame on me).

The story is compelling, funny, and profound.  It is not a perfect movie, but I think most of my complaints come from wishing there was more.  A couple of the transitions in the story, especially near the end, felt a little rushed.  I also wanted a couple characters to be developed a little more.  But these are overall good problems; wishing the movie would have been stretched out a little more is definitely better than wishing it would be over already.

I am almost certain that someday I will write more about this.  Blue Like Jazz is a movie that starts discussions… important discussions about faith, doubt, Christianity in a secular culture, forgiveness, and so much more.  Make no mistake about it: Blue Like Jazz is bizarre, slightly offensive, and completely fascinating.  I would expect nothing less from the Steve Taylor and Donald Miller duo. 

Do yourself a favor and go see it.  Your toes will most certainly be stepped on… and I believe you will walk better because of it.

Find out where it is playing near you here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

myself or someone like me

I want to shed this life like snake skin, to find an escape from a story that is no longer my own, to climb from this cocoon, this grave, and breathe the air like nothing is holding me down.

This shell has grown too small for my aching limbs. I want to stretch beyond the confinement of this cage, to be born and reborn, to feel what it’s like to run, and fall, and rise again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This Blog Contains a Lot of Cursing

(So I was watching a vlog at about whether or not God unfairly cursed Eve over Adam after they sinned, and about half way through a light bulb exploded in my head.  Shrapnel everywhere. Any similarities between this blog and that vlog are entirely uncoincidental.  I blame him... and the Holy Spirit.)


The curses that God speaks of after Adam and Eve fall are fascinating to me.  I think Lucio explained them well.  John Eldredge has also been very influential in my understanding of that whole scene in Genesis 3.  My sister, Beth-Anne, has also given me some insight, especially regarding how the curse effects Eve.  This scene is key to human history, which means it is key to the God-human relationship.  And something new (at least to me) hit me about that tonight.

There is a lot of cursing in the Bible.  “Cursed is anyone who makes an idol. … Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother. … Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road. …Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from a foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”  Cursed… cursed… cursed.

Back to Genesis and the first curse.  Greatly simplified: everything that would have been painless and pleasurable has now, because of sin, become full of pain.  And so God lays out the consequences of our disconnection from Him.  We cut ourselves off from life and death followed.  The curse.

So this is when it hit me.  See, lately I’ve been trying to read/hear/see everything through one filter: God is love.  If God truly is love, then everything (and I mean everything!) He does is part of that love.  So as I was listening to Lucio, I was trying to figure out where the love was in the curses.  To be sure, we brought it on ourselves and fully deserved our suffering.  And normally that would be fair enough.  But love, true love, is bigger than simple cause-and-effect justice.  And at first glance, the pronouncement of the curse(s) seems pretty dim. And so I wondered: where is the love in the curses?

This verse flashed into my mind: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).  Jesus became the curse.  He took the curse fully upon Himself.

To me, this was an expansion beyond my typical understanding of Jesus dying for my sins and the sins of the whole world.  The idea that He became the curse for us implies that He died, not just with all our sins on Him, but with all the pain and anguish that came with them… and not only that, but all the suffering we experience (that all humans everywhere have ever experienced) as a natural result of our disconnection from God.  The labor pains and unfulfilled desires, the thorns and painful toil.  All of it, every anguish that came as a result of the first sin, it all rested upon Jesus from Gethsemane to Golgatha.  The curse given in Eden, and every curse since then, weighed upon His soul.

Furthermore, check this out. Back in Genesis, the curse is bracketed by two important statements:
  • Prefacing the curse upon the humans is the curse upon the serpent, which concludes with the promise of a redeemer: “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” 
  • And following the curse is the first living (dying?) metaphor: “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The first animal is sacrificed by God himself… Jesus gives us the first picture of Himself as redeemer.

The curse is sandwiched between promises that the curse will one day be undone! In fact, in a way, the curse itself is also a promise of a redeemer to undo the curse!

When all of this converged (and exploded) in my mind, it entirely changed the way I see the pronouncement of the curses to Adam and Eve (not to mention all the rest of the curses and punishments pronounced by God throughout the rest of the Scripture).  Every curse that Jesus describes to them is a curse that He will one day take upon Himself.  Every pain that He pronounces is a pain that He will suffer in order to rescue us from ourselves.  More than passing a sentence upon them/us, He is passing a sentence upon Himself.  This is the price He is promising to pay to redeem us.

The pronouncement of the curses is not God saying “This is how much you’ve disappointed Me and this is how you’ll pay for your sin” but rather, “This is how much I love you.  This is how I am going to pay for your sin. This is how far I am willing to go to bring you back to Me.”