Saturday, February 28, 2009


In Proverbs, Wisdom (personified) speaks: "I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence. I possess knowledge and discretion" (8:12). Reading this surprised me because typically speakers at church emphasize the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. In fact, just 2 nights ago I heard a talk saying that wisdom is not knowledge (in particular, that the wisdom of God is Christ--I Cor. 1:24--which I thought was profound), in keeping with I Cor. 1:8: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." From repeated exposure to this dichotomy, and from my own failure to integrate aspects of my life/thinking, I had ended up believing that knowledge and wisdom are completely unrelated.

But as this verse shows, wisdom actually encompasses knowledge. Far from being divorced from each other, wisdom and knowledge are closely tied. This connection can be seen in v. 9, 10; 9:10, 13; 3:19-20, where knowledge is repeatedly used as a synonym for wisdom. When I thought about this, it made sense. Wisdom has to do with knowing God's will, knowing how people work, knowing God's character, knowing how past situations turned out, knowing what facts are relevant and then knowing those facts, etc. Without knowledge of God and man, it's difficult if not impossible to be wise in any useful sense. More generally speaking, if I am seeking God in everything, then I should be finding connections to Him in every random thing I learn. To restate that in a less religiously oriented fashion, ideas and knowledge in academic or abstract areas do connect and apply to daily life, if I take the time to actually think about the concepts.

But the other half of Proverbs 8:12 is that wisdom possesses discretion. I suppose prudence or good judgment would be synonyms for discretion. This trait, more than knowledge, is what I associate with "wisdom." Discretion and knowledge are paired in this verse, and that juxtaposition tempered my new thoughts about wisdom. Gaining knowledge adds to wisdom, but only when that knowledge translates into discretion. Unexamined and unapplied knowledge does nothing but clutter the mind. But knowledge is really God's creation and gift as much as wisdom is, and I have been wrong to think of pursuing knowledge as something I do out of my own personality or out of duty or just for fun.

Friday, February 27, 2009


I have a lot of trouble telling people when I'm having problems, or feeling burdened. (It's especially hard to confront a person who is causing me to feel troubled.) I don't want to burden them with my own concerns. It feels like a selfish imposition.

But ultimately when my friends do find out that I've been unhappy or upset or whatever, their response is never, ever "Thanks for being a good friend by keeping that to yourself and not messing up my life." It's always "Why didn't you tell me before??"

Why didn't I tell them before? Because I was afraid to show them where I really was. Because I was afraid to impose. Because I was too proud to be really known. Because I was too selfish to be a true friend by being my true self, which is inherently vulnerable. Because I didn't trust them to be real friends by loving me even when I'm not in a good place, even when I've made bad decisions, even when I'm receiving from them instead of giving to them. Because I was too proud to admit I needed help. Because I scorned their ability to help me. Because I didn't believe in community.

To pretend I have it all together is to choose the death of loneliness, of having my heart shut up so that it withers and hardens until (as C.S. Lewis says) it is no longer a heart. It may not be breakable in that state, but it is no longer mendable either.

Free Will vs. Determinism

[Mostly just writing this here so I don't lose track of the thought. But I'd love comments.]

According to Christianity, God is sovereign, i.e., controls all things. He is omniscient and has an all-encompassing plan which is guaranteed to come to pass. Thus, everything has been predetermined--or, to use the theological-sounding term, preordained.

Meanwhile, Christianity also claims that humans have free will (at the very least in the sense that they deserve to be held accountable for their actions, i.e., the choices a person makes over the course of their finite life here determine their eternal fate). Their choices are real, and they matter. Humans are agents. However, God's control of everything has to also include control of the fate/choices of each of these supposed free agents. How do we resolve this paradox?

A pertinent idea is that because God created the universe, He exists outside of it (though of course another central idea in Christianity is that He interacts with the universe and intervenes in its events). Humans, meanwhile, exist and act within the system of the universe. So when we speak of human actions, we are talking on a different level than when we speak of God's actions. The frame of reference is different.

From these premises, here is one way to consider human free will and divine sovereignty compatible: We can say that from outside the system (i.e., on the level of God's actions), everything within the system is deterministic because God set up the system, has a plan, and cannot be thwarted. With respect to God's will, everything within the universe is fixed. But at the same time, we can say that from inside the system (i.e., on the level of human actions), humans are agents, and their choices count as free because their choices are free within the universe--free if you don't look outside the system to God's plan. When they make choices, they don't know at the time which way God has predetermined things will go.

In sum, this interpretation says that subjectively, or relatively, we have free will. But absolutely, when we compare ourselves to God, we don't really.

(Note: A major source of confusion is that God operates on many levels. I only distinguished here between within the universe and outside the universe, but I'm sure there are many more levels at which God exists, since He is incomprehensibly and indescribably great.)

The more I think about this, the less sure I feel that this is a theologically sound interpretation. If our free will is really relative, how can we say that it is free in the first place? What if we try to resolve the paradox by saying that God has the power to control our every choice, but doesn't actually use it? But then again, given the premise God's plan is ineffable, undeniable, irrefutable, invincible, etc., all things ultimately have a predetermined outcome, so our free choices, even if they exist on an absolute level somehow, can't change the final course of events, in which case they can't have been absolutely free anyway...



"Loneliness is not the enemy, here, however. When we are lonely, it is a signal that we are alive. God created us with the drive to connect and be attached to himself and others. It is a good thing, because loneliness ultimately leads us to relationships, and that is where God wants all of us. We are all members of one body (Ephesians 4:25)." --Cloud & Townsend (emphasis mine)

--and "as members of one body you were called to peace" (Colossians 3:15). The cure to loneliness is not one person, but a community, membership in Christ's body, which is ruled and united by peace. But while loneliness plagues us, it is comforting to consider that loneliness is a sign of life. A person whose heart was completely closed off wouldn't even be capable of feeling lonely. To have pain is to be capable of feeling, to be alive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"God be merciful to me"

Gracious God, my hope renew
Make my spirit right and true
Cast me not away from Thee,
Let Thy Spirit dwell in me
Thy salvation's joy impart
Steadfast make my willing heart
--The Psalter (based on Ps. 51)

I do need my hope renewed. Even though I haven't experienced anything drastically hope-destroying lately, life is full of minor disappointments and tragedies. People are struggling. Their hearts cry out. "Why does every guy look right past me?" "How can God send people to hell when their actions and choices were conditioned by their environment and genetics?!" "How can God's message to us be a story full of violence and even rape?" "When will I not be alone?" "How can I save my daughter?" "What's wrong with me?"

I try to be a good friend, to give the right advice, to offer a comforting hug, to keep people in my prayers, to provide answers. But most of these questions don't seem to have answers--or if they do, I don't know them--or if I do, I can't put them in words--or if I can, there is another question behind that one. Point is, I can't fix things. The brokenness is a temptation to despair.

Temptations are to be resisted, and virtue happens partly by an act of will. I choose to hope.

But that choice faces the same problem as all the others. I can't fix myself, either. The things I believe are not always the things I feel. I don't know them with my heart. Ultimately, the ability to hope is not within my control. Gracious God, my hope renew. I cannot renew it myself.

Last Year's Geese

I watched the geese today, by the road where we chased them. They are the same geese, I think. They waddle the same, bob their heads the same, kink and unkink their necks the same. They wander across the road, blocking traffic as they quarrel amongst themselves about what angle to travel at, and how close together to walk. They have the same black necks, the same splash of white across the cheeks. Their backs are the same color, the soft brown-grey of winter leaves. They peck at each other, querulously, then tear at the dull grass.

I remember: stalking them from either side; your stealthy movements, my stifled amusement; the eruption of feathers, the clatter of wings; the rush and wind and noise of the disrupted flock, taking off into the forest, into the sky. I remember: your arms around me, blackness in your eyes; an unreadable smile; the flurry of your words, flapping everywhere and swirling like fallen feathers. I did not expect to remember you this long.

The geese are the same, and the weather is the same. (Sun and wind and chill: February.) But you are not here, thank goodness, and I am not the same, either.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Solitude and Society

I have no trouble keeping friendships and church commitments and schoolwork at a high priority. If someone needs to talk to me, I always choose to be there for them. If I have an assignment for class, I get it done. I don't skip church to get homework done. These are things I care about, and I balance them against each other decently. But I am realizing that I don't balance them well against my need for solitude and silence, for reflection and writing time.

How do I tell someone I don't have time to talk to them because I need to write a poem, not for class but just. . . for myself? How do I tell someone I don't want to eat lunch with them because I just want to be alone? Actively choosing solitude over companionship is not socially acceptable.

The study of linguistic politeness uses the concepts of positive and negative face to analyze social interactions. Face is a person's public image. Positive face wants are the desires for approval, connection, acceptance, admiration--in short, connection. Negative face wants are desires for autonomy and independence: just to be left alone. We all have both sorts of face wants. But my desire for negative face (identity-preserving distance) is stronger than my innate desire for positive face (identity-shaping connection). Meanwhile, society says to prioritize positive face, and disregard my own negative face. Thus, I cannot preserve my negative face to the degree I need without severely damaging the positive face of whoever invited me to spend time with them.

But I need to learn how to choose solitude even when it means actively rejecting company. Surely there is a way to choose solitude without being rude. God help me. I don't know how to deal with people.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Coincidence? I think not! (not)

"Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap. He who sows of the flesh, will of the flesh reap destruction. But he who sows of the Spirit will of the Spirit reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7)

That verse keeps appearing in my life, in books, in the Verse of the Day (at least 5 times now!), in my favorite movie, ... I would like to know what the point is. Some Christians say there is no such thing as coincidence--but what would motivate putting this verse all over the place? If there's something I'm supposed to learn from it, well, the repetition doesn't seem to be doing much.

If you have amazing insights about this, please pass them on.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Orange Peel

I peel a lot of oranges. Two friends asked me to peel their oranges for them today, saying I do it better than they do. It's simple, really: Dig the thumbnail into the thick skin (releasing a spray of orange-scent), through the orange outer layer into the spongy yellow-white interior, but stop at the fruit flesh itself. Don't pierce the membrane, but push the thumb along, splitting the peel ahead of it.

I push my thumb in a spiral, so the peel drops away in one long S-shape. It falls onto the table, coyly curved, twisted and scented and brightly colored. Oranges smell like summer afternoons, when the hot sun heats the sidewalk and the air hums with squiggling heat waves; like curling up in the sun (cat-like); like skipping across the lawn, barefoot; like a sudden smile.

The peel anoints my hands with citrus oil. My fingers turn old and weathered with a coating of wax and orange-residue, but the backs of my hands glow with juice and oil. Pieces of the peel cling under my fingernails. My hands will smell like summer for hours.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


In the crowded room, I shrink into myself. I sit with my knees up, feet on the edge of the chair. I hide in a book, sometimes. Other times, I pretend I'm not overwhelmed by the hundreds of conversations, the thousands of thoughts flying around, the millions of permutations of words and gestures. I pretend it's not too loud, that I don't mind the population density, and I sit down and talk to someone. I talk to several people. "Hey! How are you? How was your week? What's going on in your life?" To each one, I ask the same questions. . . to each, give slightly different answers. . . I'd rather not add to the noise and commotion. Listening is better.

I walk home under the stars, and the cold doesn't bother me because I wrap myself in wordlessness, listening to the wind. It moves, yes, but with grace and purpose, not chatter.

But at home, in the stillness of my room, I want to talk to someone. Who? To you, maybe. To my family, to someone who knows me through and through. So is it really solitude I seek, or is it safety? I don't know. I only know that the wind is enough.

Monday, February 16, 2009


This is mostly a post just to say that I have a good reason for not posting much this past week, i.e., that I have been very sick. So it doesn't count as breaking my resolution.

Unrelatedly, here is something I have been wondering about: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." (Matt. 13:33) Given that this immediately follows the parable of the mustard seed, I'm pretty sure the point is that the kingdom of heaven grows and spreads--that it starts small but expands to permeate everything. One might say that the kingdom of heaven (salvation) is contagious.

But that seems to imply that the kingdom of heaven will encompass most people, contrary to the sequence that immediately follows Luke's rendition of the mustard and yeast parables: "'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many will try to enter and not be able to.'" (Luke 13:23-24) What's the deal? Are those juxtaposed so that we balance the breadth and the narrowness in our minds? Or is the message some completely other thing?

Also, why does Matthew frame the mustard seed and yeast with the parable of the weeds and its explanation? They don't seem to go together, and I wouldn't have guessed that the mustard/yeast were of greater importance, especially considering how briefly they are described.

Apologies for the incoherence here. I have other things on my mind, mainly sleep.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I dreamed that I came out of my garage into the backyard. The lawn was far greener than usual, and my dog (who has been dead almost 2 years) came and greeted me in the eerie quiet. He carried my key ring in his mouth, and I took it from him. He followed me to the sliding glass door, which I unlocked--but as I was about to open it, I looked through the glass and saw that my father's body was collapsed on the floor by his desk. I knew at once that he had been murdered!

A moment later, my mother appeared from around the corner. Instead of screaming or calling the police, she started cleaning the scene up. Before she could see me, I scurried away, terrified because she had murdered my father.

I didn't go very far, though. I stood on the green, green lawn with my golden dog beside me, trying to call 911. Then the monstrous dream-mother found me, and attacked. My call to the police had reached only a voicemail (which I know from experience, as well as common sense, not to be the way 911 works). As dream-mother tried to murder me, too, I told the phone: "I'm reporting a murder. Someone is killing me! I'm at 3149 Page Street." The recorded voice said, "Thank you, that will be all."

The sky was very blue above me as I lay pinned on the grass. My attacker had grown to gigantic proportions. The sun was very bright also, but did not cast shadows. . .

I don't remember how the dream ended. But I dreamed several more just as strange. I hope this fever breaks soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interesting Book Review

Too sick to find energy to write something. But someone else wrote about how Calvinist theology created a doctrine of the social contract. You can read about it here.

Monday, February 9, 2009


things don't work out the way i intend. broken world, broken girl. i am physically sick today, and now i remember that spiritually we are all sick too. i'm sorry that a cold--a sore throat and a stuffy nose and a headache and joint pain--can be a metaphor for the cold soul. i'm sorry i didn't see farther and clearer. i'm sorry there are multiple people this note could be meant for, even though i'm writing it for just one.

but i am not the One who makes everything glorious, and we have a great Physician. and: "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

the Lord bless you and keep you. the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and make your paths straight.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


"I'm your Other Mother, dear." There she stands, the same motherly figure as on the other side of the door and the tunnel--same beige sweater, same sensible black pants, same sweep of black hair, same slim shoulders and same huge hips. But she stares, smiling, and her eyes are the difference that shakes the world to pieces. Her gaze makes everything shiver. Those eyes: shiny, yes, but flat and black and far too round, and pierced with four little round holes each, and sewn on with an X of black thread. Eyes? No, they are buttons. They button this world together--this tidy, neatly hemmed, nicely matching, color coordinated world. Without those buttons, it all falls apart, every last stitch.

The black button eyes gleam in the cheery kitchen. It's warm, inside, but on the other side of the glass, it's night, with a full moon, button-round, and pinprick stars. On the other side of the night is the back side of the garment, where all the threads dangle and crisscross, and the knots grow like lumpy roots.

And beyond the backside, the inside, lie the scattered snippets of discarded thread, and broken needles, and buttons with no match, and little piles of sawdust. And beyond that?

Only cobwebs.

[Confused? Go watch the movie Coraline! or read the book. Or both, if you have 4 spare hours.]

Edward Scissorhands

Edward, pale-faced boy, who are you trying to be? Your black hair sprouts outward like an untrimmed bush, and each finger is a blade. Clicking and creaking, your sharp fingers fly across the bushes, and the women's hair, and the dogs' coats, and never miss. But you slice your own face. Why? How many years have you had to become an expert at cutting, clipping, chopping, ageless one? And still you do not know how to keep yourself from slicing. Your own blood seeps out, red slashes on your white face. The girl's blood pools in her palm. You do some things so very well, yes. You do them so well that you cannot stop doing them--but then, knowing when not to do something is key to doing it well.

So maybe you don't even cut well, because you cannot stop yourself, no matter how much you would like to. Then you would be like everyone else. You, extraordinary, aspire to nothing less than unattainable normality. Your scissorhands can do what others' flesh-fingers cannot, and in turn, human hands can do things scissorhands cannot. There is a balance, isn't there?

But no. The hand is an invitation, a bridge, a door. Hands hold, stroke softly, touch tenderly. But you, Edward, have no palms to receive a gift, and no fists to give a blow. Your scissorhands can neither open nor close. Instead, they are always bristling. They stab, not punch. They slice through skin, instead of trailing along its surface. No matter how you reach out, your hands cannot connect.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Brief Thoughts on What Matters

"It does not depend, therefore, on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." (Romans 9:16)

I have a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea of mercy, and worse, the truth that I depend on it, really. Mercy conflicts with my sense of agency and responsibility. Don't I have to do it myself? do it right?

But the answer is, simply: No. All I have to do is believe ("This is the work of God, to believe in the one he sent"), and God's mercy takes care of the rest. Believing is work, yes, and real belief does translate into action. But the thing everything else hinges on, balances on, turns on, dangles from: depends on: is mercy.

Mercy is the sun and the soil and the water, and I am the plant, just growing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Yesterday it was 50 degrees. And now:

Snow everywhere, turning the world black and white. The ground sparkles like sugar, scattered diamonds, splinters of glass. The black paths slice through the white, and we glide along them, watching the water crystals fly on the night air.

Time Travel

In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells' Time Traveler character claims that when we recall a moment vividly, we travel back to that time (in "spirit", perhaps). My quarrel, though, is that, in remembering, I don't actually revisit the moment itself, or even my own experience of that moment, but rather my retrospective interpretation of my experience. A year or a month later, looking back, I always simplify and classify my experience and emotions. Nuances are difficult to remember. Ambivalence, ambiguity, half-hearted and unsuccessful attempts to make things go a different way: these don't stick in my memory. They fade out, too delicate to be caught and held, like the photographed rainbow that vanishes into the pale sky on paper.

But when I read my journal, I see the things that ran through my mind as I was still processing, still reeling from whatever happened, still sorting out whether it was good or bad. My journal is a record of events before hindsight imposed a paradigm on them. It's still my interpretation, yes, but it's the interpretation from that very day, a day that I can't re-live but that I can re-imagine. It's a snapshot that retains all its colors, even if it's only one view of the scene.

When I want to travel back, I still try to go in the vehicle of memory, and I see through the haze of my judgment. But when I open my journal and it falls to an earlier page, I fall, too. I fall into a record of my mind, into a moment I had left behind. I find it not as I recalled it, but as it was, with more shading and texture than I could sketch it with now. Fortunately, it's easy to climb back out. Turning pages, I come to a blank one: and I record this moment, too.