Saturday, November 3, 2012

Those Glourious Summits

I have been thinking about legacies.
Now when I say "legacy" I mean what defines a person once they're gone; a "legacy" as what a person is known by future generations for. 
I have been reading "In the Shadow of Denali" by mountaineer/photographer/adventurer Jonathan Waterman. 
In his book, Jon Waterman explores several different accounts of people's encounters with North America's highest peak, 20,320 ft. Mt. McKinley (a.k.a. "Denali" native Athabaskan meaning "the High One"). He explores stories of triumph, controversy, and misfortune that transpire on or in the (symbolic) shadow of Alaska's Denali.
Denali (20,320') aka Mt. McKinley
All in all, "In the Shadow of Denali" is an interesting read, but walking away from the book, one story stuck with me; this particular story has to do with a young and ambitious climber by the name of John Mallon Waterman (not the author JON Waterman). Johnny grew up in Connecticut, as a young child he was fascinated with leaning about the Civil War, but by the time Johnny Waterman graduated high-school he had fallen in love with climbing. His entire world, friends, family, and ambition were wrapped up in climbing and mountaineering.
Johnny climbed worldwide in places like Turkey, Greece, the Alps, etc. In the process, completing many climbs up world-famous routes. However, by the time he graduated he had also lost a great many friends in the mountains including his closest climbing partner.
The demise of the near-entirety of his social circle in addition to his parents going through a turbulent divorce rattled the young climber. He began whittling the large number of his expeditions to solo adventures. The more friends he lost, (including his brother Bill), the more he bent his will, energy, and focus to the mountains. After the pain of so much death and estrangement with his divorced parents, Johnny engaged in many solo forays, including a vastly difficult and technical ascent of the South Spur of Alaska's 14,700' Mount Hunter which took him 145 days to finish (completely alone for the duration). This feat has been immortalized today as one of those legendary ascents by a legendary figure.
Mt. Hunter's oft-traveled West Ridge
After years of numerous mountaineering accomplishments, bizarre friendships, years estranged from his father and stepmother, Waterman began to degrade further. He eventually became obsessed with accomplishing winter solo ascent of Denali. After a few weeks of being thwarted in the ascent of his intended route, something broke in Waterman. One day he left a letter in his tent and struck-out for an unclimbed ridge on Denali. This particular ridge was dubbed as "a suicide run" by Reinhold Messner (perhaps the world's best and most innovative climber of all time). It was clear to Johnny Waterman's father, Guy Waterman, that his son had set off not intending to come back. He left his supplies, and set out on a difficult route none could truly conquer. A heavy past and declining career proved too much for the young climber to bear, leaving Johnny without hope or reason to continue.
The Author, JON Waterman happened to be friends with Guy Waterman, JOHNNY Waterman's estranged father. Some sixteen years after the disappearance of Johnny, Jon set out into the Vermont woods to visit the hermit like abode of Guy Waterman and his second wife:
    "During a recent visit – I lost the path to the Waterman's rural property. I thought about Johnny a lot that day. I thought that few people indeed can afford to commit themselves irrevocably to their dreams, and I admired him deeply for that. Like Icarus, Johnny had cut off all the moorings to his loved ones and flew into the alluring white heat of the sun.
    I didn't find Guy until twilight, tending his garden a hundred yards off, under the light of a lantern. When I shouted 'Hello!' he ran towards me clutching the lantern, with ecstasy and surprise shining with childlike joy on his face. When his saffron light finally fell on my face, he was plainly crestfallen, even though it had been years since he had seen me.
    The next morning, Guy paused in front of a woodpile. He looked into my eyes; he tried to smile. Then he apologized about the way he had greeted me the night before. He explained that once in a while he will greet an unidentified visitor out in the dark and think that maybe for just a scant moment that maybe, just maybe, one of his sons has finally come home."
- Jonathan Waterman, 'Lone Wolf (the Other John Waterman),' from "In the Shadow of 
 I suppose what strikes me the most is that at the end of all of Johnny Waterman's feats of skill, endurance, and suffering, his life seemed to amount to naught. He had no one to celebrate with, his friends perished in pursuit of those glourious summits, and He, himself, lost his life, having given up.
Sure, Johnny had left a Legacy. He is remembered. Jon Krakauer, a famous mountaineer, and author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, recounts Johnny Waterman's feats of endurance as well as his profound loneliness and ability to cut all familial ties to achieve something great. Based on these similar characteristics, Krakauer even likens Johnny Waterman to Christopher McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild. Krakauer held Waterman's 145 day solo of Mount Hunter as one of the most prolific feats of Alaskan mountaineering.
Yet despite this great feat, and stunning career, all John had left at his end was his accomplishment. In the cold shadow of loneliness, those accomplishments paled in fear, as they were poor insulation from the frozen teeth of despair. In the wake of Johnny's ultimate journey, Johnny's father, (his only surviving family), was a wistful man who wanted no more than his son to come home.

There is a mindset upon mountaineers and outdoors people. This mindset is one of disdain for the civilized world, and it's a mood that treats the Climb as a transcendent experience. The Climb becomes what one lives for, works to pay for, and trains to be better at.
When I first began immersing myself in the world of mountains, I wholeheartedly adopted this mindset. I (at least attempted) adopted the new persona, for no other reason than my desire to identify with my own newfound world. 
I was fully content to go on my merry way, the surly mountaineer whose sole solace was the hills.
I began my biggest trip in the summer of 2011. I set out with my ethics professor, Terry, and his daughter, Allison on the John Muir Trail. The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a 211 mile trail through the Sierra Nevada mountains. The trail begins in the exquisite Yosemite Valley, up through Tuolomne Meadows, south through Yosemite National Park, John Muir Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Devil's Post-pile National Monument, Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, following the very spine of the range to the Mount Whitney, at 14,505 ft, the highest peak in the continental United States. 
My trip on the John Muir Trail remains one of the best experiences of my life due to the intense challenge and scintillating victories I experienced along its length. One of these victories was a lesson I learned on an unexpected (and very lonely) detour.
I was around day 14 of 18 into my trip. Unfortunately, my two companions had to tap out earlier in the trip because of an untimely sickness, and I had been hiking with people I had met on the trail. We had hiked through two days of rain and climbed two of major passes on our way south to Whitney. We had just topped out Mather Pass, below which there was a basin leading to 14,058 foot Split Mountain that I had wanted to summit as a side trip, plus I would be able to get cell reception from Split's summit. Therefore, I parted ways with members of my impromptu trail-family below the Pass and struck out across a glacial bowl toward Split's twin summits.
Crossing the bowl marked the first time that I was majorly alone. Even in the mountains along seldom-traveled trails there is a chance you will see someone. I was moving cross-country in the Sierra. The loneliness and homesickness that I was able to bury in the midst of fellowship and tedium reared its head. I questioned my motives for pursuing a side-summit. I began to worry about the possibility of something happening to me. I lambasted myself for my decision to try to climb this summit as I gained a saddle below Split Mountain and saw the very broad and very steep talus field leading to Split's north summit. Exhausted and despondent I began to ask myself why I was doing this. I wanted to keep going. I needed to keep going. Something would not let me stop. Between the loneliness, exertion, and vastness of the task before me I was torn and burnt out.
I did what any reasonable person would do: I sat down and I cried, the weight of stress and difficulty unseen came pouring out.
I realized my decision to try this summit was one originally based out of desire to conquer, or to adopt further the anti-social mountain man persona. I needed to live up to that which I said I would do. I needed to become a certain person.
But why?
I then realized that the reason I needed this accomplishment was due to the fact that I needed to appear a certain way to people. That my seemingly selfish and self-centered pursuit was orchestrated because I loved who it made me become. I was someone better who was better for other people, adored by other people, and inspire other people to greater things. There was a deep part of myself that wanted to be different than other so that I would have value in their eyes, and just as deeply, I needed to affect people.
I needed to matter.
Now the mountaineering was more selfish than not, but I realized then that people are inextricable from their social context. Greatness comes not from the brilliance of an individual alone, but a light which shines brighter in some places than others. I also realized that light is not meant to shine, simply for shining's sake, but to shed light in others darkness.
Thinking about this, I wonder about Johnny Waterman. He was a product of tragic and difficult circumstance, but in the end I ask "What did his legacy amount to?" What legacy and feat is so great that it will always be remembered and never be duplicated? Time is long and our memories are short. Will time and generations reaching into far millennia really remember the deeds of today? Will they remember one lonely individual toiling up a long and snow-crenellated mountain ridge?
I ask, "What did Guy Waterman, Johnny's father remember?" In the end he just wanted his son.
In this, I identified with Johnny Waterman's tragic tale. Where the people in his life vanished from and disappointed him; he turned to carve his name with stone in the pages of time. I realized the greatest legacy is not a name attached to a deed that is remembered all the days. The greatest legacy is the people we have contact with in the every-day. Those people we pray with and people we play with. Those people we bless and those people we curse. Our legacy is the families we leave behind to do their own deeds. What renown outlives a bloodline that endures the generations? What deed outlives an incarnate legacy that may forget a name, but everyday lives out the choices of his or her forebears?
Now, I think pushing ones limits and pursuing goals is a good and healthy thing. Yet there are too many stories of passionate souls given over to the love of sport and danger. There are too many stories of people who have died in pursuit of legacies wrought of folly and misguided zeal. Now I suppose there is truly some benefit to being great, but I fear becoming like those willing to sacrifice relationships or even one's own life.
What goal, pursued in the name of vibrant life, is worth attaining even if that very life is lost in the process?
Rather in the midst of Johnny Waterman's journey, and reflecting on my own, I think that I will decide to choose a long life. I think it to be sad irony to cut ties from my family and friends, set on consuming myself within the heat of the sun. To seek brief, and brilliant greatness that will be a speck totally lost in the overwhelming light of the sun. Rather I will live on in the light of day, flying high only when it is to lead others to a place where they can better see the grandiose world beneath.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Want To Go Home

John 15:1-5:
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

I suppose that I feel like the relapsed Prodigal Son (for the 1,767th time, this year that is). I have a great father, yet I’ve squandered my inheritance only to find myself spiritually bankrupt, alone, and fearful in a far-off city.

Lately, I have felt fearful and distant. I began with a wealth of life and spirit from God, yet out of my fear of being worthless, unlovely, and undesirable I began turning my gifts into a means of getting approval. Instead of doing ministry with Christ as the end, and affirmation and approval as a happy perk. Somewhere along the way, there was a disconnect and I had reversed the two.

Now I have been finding that my world has been coming undone at every criticism aimed at me. I have become unspeakably upset every time one of my actions has resulted in a decrease of someone’s opinion. I fear outliving bright and vibrant life, being left alone; being left useless, ugly, and detestable to the world.

I fear being unwanted, worthless.

Yet in the midst of my fear and confusion, God gives me this scripture, in John 15, to dwell on. This scripture sticks out to me. Christ demands that I “Abide in him,” that “I can do nothing apart from him.”

I have been learning this last point the hard way. “I can do nothing apart from him.” I have been learning that the more I abuse God’s gifts to fuel my voracious appetite for love and approval, the more I realize I do so to quench my fears, and I also realize that those fears are absolutely insatiable outside of God. Ironically so, I feel these fears growing all the more and I feel myself put even more distance between my Savior and I. The more I try to fix my problem the wrong way, the more unlovely and worthless I feel, and I thwart the mission of the Kingdom of God through my life.

“I can do nothing apart from him.”

I am beginning to realize that my trying to fix myself has been a weak and misguided attempt to make the pain go away. It’s as if I have been bleeding to death, yet all I’ve managed to do is take painkillers, but painkillers don’t stop the bleeding, killing my pain is treating the core problem.

But, how do I get fixed? How do I let Christ work in me?

Perhaps the most profound portion of John 15 is the portion that is the most repetitive. It also reveals itself to be the most needed portion of this Scripture, and it is, in fact, the only command that Christ gives in this passage: 

“Abide in me.”

The phrase “abide” is peculiar and it paints a profound portrait. It means “live in,” or “indwell.” This is a concept made even more important in light of the time of Christ. One would abide in their home. Your home was the locus of your existence, the center. Home was where your day was began by going out from, where your day ended in coming back to, or your day was spent maintaining. Your home was where the people you loved dwelt. It was a safe place a haven of rest. Home was a reassurance. You knew that you would be okay because you were at home, or could return home.

Your home was the center of your universe. Even with the metaphor of a vine, a branch abides in the vine as the branch’s source, as the branch is supported by the vine and the branch was a conduit of fruitfulness by means of the vine.

Your home was your default.

You abide in your home.

In the Greek, this command is in the Present-Tense, and Active-Voice. Present meaning this indwelling is an ongoing effort. Active indicates that it is an active effort on the behalf of Jesus followers.

Jesus commands me to Abide in him. Therefore, Christ is my source, my days should begin by going out from Christ. My days should end in coming back to Christ and my days should be spent maintaining my relationship with Christ. It is an active effort and it never ends. Christ is my Home. Christ is the goal of my striving. Christ is my every-day. Christ is my all. Christ is my universe.

I can do nothing apart from Christ, I must abide in Christ.

“God help me fall more in love with as I make you the center of my universe. I am so afraid of being left alone and being worthless, yet I have forgotten that your Son died for me, and if the Son of God saw fit to die for me, that means that I must be worth something. I have forgotten that you are my source. I cannot fix myself. I cannot fix my fears. I need you. Forgive for pushing you out of the picture for so long, and forgive me for perverting a beautiful and good thing into a selfish and empty attempt for self glorification.”

“Help me be okay with people despising me, for your Son was perfect and he was reviled.”

“Help me realize that even if my world falls apart and the Wicked fiddle on the brink of Armageddon, that in Christ, I will be okay.”

Friday, August 17, 2012


I desperately need to publish my thoughts, not out of any societal need for my thoughts, but for my own sanity. Yet, I find that words, though powerful, no mere speech can express the breadth of turmoil and wonder going on in my head and my heart. The thinness of a written account seems bitterly profane to any persons thought. Words, when given in truth  signify realities, allowing someone to possibly understand a reality never experienced prior. Yet reality seems so rich that words are a pitiful offering.

I apologize for the exalted langauge, but I can't bring myself to try and be concise, nor colloquial.

I cant but help feeling a little exalted when letting myself get lost a beautiful melody, or emotionally captured in the rapture of song. I have been losing the galaxies of my thought in the midst of a pitiful attempt to comprehend the cosmological gyre I behold in the night sky. I am finding my mind and thought carried by every breeze of reality and experience no matter how sweet, or how bitter.

I have almost been hedonistic in my thought of late, but I have been experiencing a peculiar dosage of reality. I find myself in the sweet pain of rejection and the present rapture of happiness, I find myself in both good and bad circumstance praising some (un)known higher power. I have recently been most miserable when I feel that I no longer have some hope. Hope is some thing that I can take solace in knowing will come, or in something I know will be accomplished in light of present misery, apathy, or even hapless happiness.

I have realized that hope has given me security in my times of joy, and has given me a brilliant doorway out of crushing darkness. We all hope in things. Some hope in stuff, some merely hope they will be happy. Some hope in sex, drugs, money... All hope for love, acceptance, affirmation.

Personally, I hope in beauty, that in appreciating beauty and helping others see beauty, that I, in-turn, will become beautiful, and people will want me and appreciate and need me as I want, appreciate and need beauty.

Yet I have been asking myself lately, why do I hope in what I hope in? Why do all people need to hope?

It seems to me that this hope is in many ways a hope in something greater than the individual and greater even than the corporate. Hope is something that we must deposit in something greater than our enemies, greater than our hurts, greater than our darkness, and even greater than our own weakness.

I hope that it is no secret that I believe in God. Yet, I have seriosuly been evaluating why I believe in God. The more I study, the more I realize that the debate is not closed on the existence of God. I would daresay that it will never be closed (unless there is a God who reveals themself some day).

I have been finding that there is always room and reason to believe for one and against one (I suppose that it comes down to why people believe what they believe [i.e. why you want or need to believe in something]).

A walk with God is not easy.
A walk with God surrounded by people who don't believe and assume there is no God is tough.

I have been going back and forth with this for months now.Yet the one thing that keeps me believing, the one thing that keeps me going is that people are very small.

In terms of egregious over-simplification, we are either a greatly treasured creation of a deity, or hopelessly small in a universe of titanic power and flux. Anyway that one may look at it humans are tiny, yet we try to reduce such a dynamic universe and categorize human lives and experience with such crispness, precision, and presumption that no matter how true or beneficial scientific observation or religious pontification may be, it would be arrogant for humanity to say that we can fully master and or understand this great story of what is. We can hardly understand such small phenomena as human consciousness, felt needs, and (you guessed it) our need to hope.

In the midst of our smallness, I see at least one reason why we have such a need for something larger. I suppose part of the reason that I hope in God is that I need to hope in soemthing greater than myself and greater than all. What is greater than my circumstance than the creator of what is? If I am going to believe in somethign bigger than me, I going to believe in the biggest one of all, plus, He wont let me go, He keeps giving reasons to believe.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Name of God

I am absolutely blown away by the Old Testament. Well, I am blown away AGAIN. It seems to happen a lot.

I think that it is interesting that we call God, 'God.' It seems that the term 'God' is so general. In the Hebrew he is referred to as elohim (ĕ·lō·hīm) which is a general word meaning 'god' (sometimes the God of the bible and sometimes referring to plural 'gods'). But in Exodus 3, God gives his fledgling people a name to call him by (the relatively well-known Moses-and-the-burning-bush passage).

I briefly want to give a little background on what happens before Exodus 3. In Exodus 3, an angel of God manifests as a burning bush to call Moses to deliver the Hebrews from oppression in Egypt.

Now, Moses was originally born a Hebrew slave in Egypt. The Hebrews were suffering in their slavery, working themselves to the bone every day under the sun. The reason they are slaves in Egypt, is because the Hebrews were multiplying in great numbers while living in Egypt, and the Egyptians saw this and were afraid of the Hebrews getting too strong. So the Egyptians had put them to work and even resorted to killing newborn Hebrew males so they would cease growing in number (Ex. 1:9-22).

Yet it says that God heard the cries of the Hebrews in their misery and suffering; and he remembered the promises he made to the Hebrews forefathers; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) and he remembered the covenant (a very binding and personal contract/promise) he made with them (Ex. 2:23-25).

Now this where Moses comes in, he was born a Hebrew in slavery during the time when Pharaoh was killing off the Hebrew infant boys, and his mother sent him down a river to save his life and his basket came up near the Pharaoh's palace. Here Pharaoh's daughter found the baby Moses and had compassion on lil' Moses.

Long-story short, Moses was allowed to stay in the Egyptian palace and be raised as a member of the Egyptian royal family. Yet one day when he was grown up he went out one day and say an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of Moses own people. Overcome with rage, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body. The next day he tried to break up a fight between two Hebrews and in their frustration they snapped at Moses revealing that they knew he had killed an Egyptian. Moses was afraid so he ran away and eventually came to Midian were, after an interesting recourse with some sheep, camels, a well, and rude herders; he fell in with Jethro of Midian, and he even got married to one of Jethro's daughters, Zipporah.

Now that we know what Moses has been through, In Exodus 3 He is out tending Jethro's flocks when he sees the burning bush, now, of course like any man would, he see's something on fire and he goes closer to it than he should. The only thing is that this time it's different. It turns out that the bush is God, "the god of Abraham, of Isaac, and the god of Jacob" (Ex. 3:6). In this theophany (an earthly manifestation of God) God calls to Moses to go to Egypt and vie for the Hebrews by Gods power and deliver the Hebrews from their oppressive captivity.

In the midst of this, Moses asks God:
13 Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'" 15 God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. – Ex. 3:13-15 ESV

What amazes me here is the name God gives himself. In verse 14 God says (transliterated Hebrew) "'eh'yeh 'eṣ'er 'eh'yeh" (ĕh-yĕh ĕṣh-ĕr ĕh-yĕh) which this translates "I am who I am." Based on the Hebrew here, this phrase is better translated "I will be who I will be." Then he says "Tell them the I AM /I WILL BE has sent you" again we have "'eh'yeh," then in verse 15 we see God restating his name he gives the name "The LORD" which isn't actually translated "lord" but the proper name of God given throughout the Old Testament which German scholars translate as "Jehovah" (transliterated: yehwah) but more recent scholarship is revealed to be better translated "Yahweh".

Now I know this is a little tedious and technical, but bear with me. What is interesting is the play on words, God gives the extensive description of "I will be who I will be" first, and then the shortened "I will be," and then "Yahweh" ["the LORD"]. But when you look at the transliterated forms (transliteration is changing from the Hebrew letters to English letters) we have "'eh'yeh 'eṣ'er 'eh'yeh" then "'eh'yeh," and then "yehwah." What we see here is classic Hebrew word-play. I know this sounds weird but read those three phrases aloud and hear the similarities.

The name of god is Yahweh (I have heard it defined as "self-existent" or "self-propagating one") and he will be who he will be.

In our culture I think that we miss a lot of valuable understanding regarding names. "Jesus" means 'Yahweh is salvation;' he is also called "Immanuel" which means 'god is with us.' In the Ancient Near East (the stretch of land between modern-day Egypt and Iran) names defined who one was and was who they were. Now, we view people as human beings (an individual in a body) and this person is named to identify them from other people. This person is defined by what they are and not what they do. Now a name doesn't mean that much.

In the time of Moses you were the sum of what you did, how you functioned and your name is part of who you were. This is called embodiment.

Just an example of the difference in thought: I want to ask you "What is 'kindness.'" Most people would define kindness as courtesy, sharing, etc. A Hebrew would point out a person they knew to be kind as an example "Good Guy Greg is kindness." This person embodied kindness. This person lived kindly.

Who people were in Moses time was what their name was, their history, who they had been in the past; and when Yahweh gets involved, who they will become.

Now it is time to do a little Theology (theology simply means "words about God" [theo – "god," –logy "words"]). What can we learn from Yahweh's name? When we look at "I will be what I will be" it shows:
  1. His ability to do (God has the power to be what he will be)
  2. His ability to decide (God can make the choice to be what he will be)
  3. His self-existence (This is tricky: Because God has the power to be, and decides to be, he himself is)
  4. His holiness (Since he didn't need anyone to make him, there is no other like him)
  5. His sovereignty (Because God has total power, and the ability to decide he makes and he can decide what to do and what should be)
Simply put, it is that Yahweh is powerful and can do what he wants.
Yet there is something more. The entire reason for Yahweh going to Moses is because he saw the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob suffering. He is sending Moses because he remembered his promises.

Actually, we must first realize that Yahweh giving the "I will be" phrase to Moses is not the first time Yahweh gives his 'name.' In fact, he does several times before. He gives them the name "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

Do you remember what we learned before?

A name was the summation of who somebody was, is, and will be. So in this sense Yahweh is showing himself to be the "I will be" that he names himself to be.

Do you remember what I said before about embodiment? What Moses, an Iron Age Hebrew man, would be thinking of was the rich oral history of the Hebrews of all who Yahweh was to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He would remember all of the promises, the hurts, the triumph, and the amazing stories. Namely, he would remember God's promises to make a people out of Abraham. So when we are given the name "Yahweh," by Yahweh, he is reminding Moses (and Israel by extension) that he "will be" what he promised to be to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

So now, Yahweh is speaking to Moses to tell him to go to Egypt.

Moses is very much afraid of this. He is full of excuses, he is poor of speech, and after-all Moses ran away from Egypt after he murdered a man. In the very midst of this, Moses' fear and the daunting task ahead, Yahweh gives his name. "I will be who I will be," in this we can see the subtle promise; I will be who I have been to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I can hear it as Moses would have heard it, "I will be who I will be, I will be all that I have promised to your forefathers. After all, Moses, I have heard the cries of my people and I remembered my promises to them. And to you Moses I will be who you, my people, will need me to be. I will be for you, Moses, who you need me to be as you go before Pharaoh."
The great thing is that Yahweh proves this. He fulfills his promise to Moses by coming with sign of power before Pharaoh and his magicians (Ex. 7:1-13). He shows himself to be powerful before the Hebrews and and the Egyptians with the Seven Signs and Wonders (Ex. 7:14-12:42). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by rescuing the Hebrews out of Egypt and making them a people and gives them the Law to be the people they need to be (Ex. Chapters 19-24).

Yahweh also proves himself to be the great "I will be" to Abraham and us. In Genesis 12 Yahweh and Abraham make a promise (a covenant,) Yahweh promises to make Abraham a blessing to all peoples. He shows this in Jesus Christ, because we know that through Abraham and his faith in Yahweh and Yahweh's promise we can now be saved (Romans chapter 4). After all, for [Yahweh] so loved the world that he gave his only son that those who believe in him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Now as believers in Christ we can take comfort in knowing that Yahweh "will be who he will be" for us. He was able to be our salvation on the cross; he is able to help us in life now. He will certainly save us from death in the future.

He will be who we need him to be. It may not look like what we want his help to look like. After all, Yahweh gave his name to Moses when he did not want to go before Pharaoh. Yet Yahweh was more than enough for what Moses needed Yahweh to be.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Doubt = Bad?

I've begun to rethink my view of doubt in Christianity.

It seems to me that there is this mind among the church of "doubt is from the devil." I know and have known so many Christians who begin to have some form of doubt in their walk with Jesus and really begin to worry about it.

They should, after all, it is what has been taught to them.

The difficulty with this mindset is that it allows no room for question. If an inquisitive believer (or inquisitive atheist/agnostic) goes to their (a) pastor or spiritual mentor or role model with a question, one of two things will happen. Either there is an answer or there is not, and for the answers that are difficult or that can't be answered with a pithy saying or acronym are pushed off as the "mystery" of God.

However if this same inquisitive believer doesn't buy into that answer or still struggles with the answer given them they will often be told "just have faith" (positively), or "don't doubt God" (negatively).

I have known a good number of people who ran from the church, or ignored the church because they couldn't find any answers or couldn't get around a number of issues. I have also known believers who still believe, but do not grow in their knowledge and further beat themselves up for doubting in the first place.

Now this is not the always the case. I do see a number of churches and believers beginning to ask questions (and actually find answers).

The more I think and research I have begun to question why is doubt bad? As I look around I have tried to find some basis in the Bible (a good of a place as any to look for some reason why Christians do what they do). The key New Testament text I hear quoted is the Doubting-Thomas passage in John 20:24-29.

Now I am not sure if you have heard of it, but the term "Doubting-Thomas" is a negative phrase for someone who doesn't have enough faith. A bygone era would use the phrase for a person who questioned too much or voiced their concerns about issues they have with the church and with Christianity at large.

If you are not familiar with the passage I would encourage you to look it up and familiarize yourself with it.

To give a brief background, John 20 takes place after the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. At this point in time Christ had already revealed himself to a number of the people including some of his apostles. However, Thomas, one of Christ's twelve apostles, hears the news and is suspicious, he essentially says that he will believe this news the moment he can put his fingers in the holes in Christ's hands and his sides.

Surely enough a short time later Christ reveals himself to Thomas. Christ walks right up to Thomas and allows him to see his wounds and place his hands into his side saying, "Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas then exclaims "My Lord and my God!"
What I find interesting is that Christ does indeed exhort Thomas to believe (Jn. 20:27) but he never reprimands him. The first things that Christ did was to give him the evidence he needed to believe. Then Christ does indeed say "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (20:29). Jesus does indicate a higher nature of those who do not see and believe.

Certainly the better portion is faith, however Christ is not afraid of our doubt, he does not reprimand us for our questions!

What I find to be an odd marvel is that a person with such a reverence for God as to have faith in him, believe in scripture, but fear and tremble when they cannot answer. They cower when they cannot come up with a snappy retort. If we truly have faith in God (we TRULY believe it) wouldn't we believe that the Bible can stand up to scrutiny? Wouldn't we believe that there are indeed answers to our questions?

I genuinely believe in God, and I do think that faith is certainly the better road. However, it depends on what kind of faith you are talking about. Faith is not belief in something when there is no evidence, or belief when there is stark contradictory evidence against, I would argue in our case is that faith is belief in God in spite of doubt, hoping that God will move and carry us through, and that there will be answers. Belief in the truth when times are dark.

I actually take comfort in my doubt, though this may seem odd.

Being a very analytical person, I have lots of questions. However my history has been that there are answers, God has answers for all my questions.

They are not always what I thought they would be, they are not always what I like. Very many times I pour myself into finding the answers and in trying to understand them better, often times they cause me to take a very painful look inside myself, and often times I find even more questions. However, even in this, from past experience I have evidence to believe that God will still indeed have answers for me.

In Deuteronomy, Yahweh tells us to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. I find that often times, we as Christians like to love God with a select combination of two - three of the four parts listed above.

So I encourage you... think! Question! You will find answers if you know where to look and you will be able to live out I Peter 3:15 "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you."

Saturday, January 14, 2012


This is two chapters from one of my incomplete suspense stories. Simply Entitled Uganda. Let me know if you'd like to hear more.

Chapter One

Northeastern Uganda, Africa
July 17th 1912
            M’bokay Sinhassad gazed ruefully at the jungle-carpeted Mount Masawa. He noted the fiery alpenglow play on the craggy slopes. He imagined the veiled forest teeming with life, the humid stifling air between the knotted trunks. Then the higher slopes of the mountain, the cactus-like Lobelia, surrounded by short bristly scrub. Masawa was a glourious mountain from peak to its own stony roots.

            Then of course, there was a darker side to Masawa, tales he had been told of floating spirits that shrieked in the night. These spirits searched the dark part of the mountain for creatures to devour, all in an attempt to sate an incorrigible bloodlust.

             The Giza ndugu…

            His father had told him and his younger brother Yemi it meant Darkness’s brother.

            The legend of the Giza ndugu stretched back many ages ago.
            The Legend had begun when a large tribe of Maasai settled on the southern slopes of the mountain, the grazing was good, and the predators were few.

            One day a great Maasai chieftain had come back from a lion hunt (he was known as a great protector of his tribe and of their prized cattle); he had run out of water and was injured on the savanna. The legends say he was sick from bad spirits. The Maasai elders met for an emergency council and it was decided that the sick chieftain was too valuable to their tribe, and their herd to risk losing.

            Desperate, the elders sent for a lone hermit, a shaman of great and malicious renown. The Shaman beseeched the spirits and in a vision he was told to send the chieftains brother and son to account for whatever trespass the chieftain had done to offend the spirits. It was the only way for the chieftain to be saved. They were to send the two to the dark-side of Mount Masawa, there they were to enter a cave, and within they would find filled with a special type of stone. The spirits directed that when boiled, the stones would dissolve, and the resulting liquid would heal their beloved chieftain.

            So the two warriors, Brother and Son, departed up the mountain around to the opposite side. They never came back. A week from their parting, the medicine man came into tend the ill chieftain he was gone. His hut torn to shreds and him and his wife missing, their hut filled with signs of a great struggle. His hut was in the middle of the village and no one had heard a sound the night before.

            It was said to the Shaman in a vision that the Brother and Son pressed too deep into the cave and awoke something deep within.

            The Giza ndugu.
            M’bokay began to tremble under the weight of the past, his reminiscing interrupted.

            “Calm yourself brother…” The memory of the young voice of M’bokay’s brother pulled him back, quenching those horrid and long-buried thoughts. Besides such were only stories.

            He remembered venturing up the slopes of Mount Masawa as a child with his younger brother. He remembered his young brother Miyemi, the way he puffed his chest out when he played, the way he would smile crookedly when he jumped around the rocks. He was his baby brother but M’bokay had always drawn strength from Yemis’ courage.

            He remembered those wonderful days.

            He began to think of his family.

            His Mother was born into a respectable family of the Basoga tribe; she was a jewel among many respectable suitors, her skin flawless, darker than the most opaque night. With her eyes a bright and flickering flame and her smile that could break even the most callous of warriors.

            She was the object of a bright future, possibly even that of the Inhebantu, the chief woman of all the Basoga people.

            However her bright star was snuffed out; the next year the white man came to their town of Jinja.

            Led by a strange man of Egypt, by the name of Speke, the white men came to find the headwaters of the Nile. When they came they were by and large bedraggled, sick, and few. Many had died on the arduous trek; and those who were there were either sick or missing some limb or lacking in some sensory aspect.

            The white men proved not to be as gentlemanly as they carried themselves they came with promises of riches and learning, but they lied to, and seduced many a proud young woman. In order to keep his daughter innocent M’bokay’s grandfather had sent his daughter north, and away from the trouble.

            On the way they stopped in a small Basoga village on the edge of Lake Kyoga. That’s when she met Zhibohndo Sinhassad. M’bokay’s mother fell for the tall, half-egyptian hunter.

            Their undoing came upon his mothers return to Jinja. Enraged to see her daughter three months pregnant, let alone hanging on the arm of a half-blood Basogan from a poor ancestry; he banished his daughter from his sight. All he did was host a small wedding and give them miniscule provisions. So they left broken, pregnant with M’bokay, with only one English rifle, a water pot, week’s supply of food, and a few articles of clothing.

            They had bounced around a few months from village to village, his father doing odd jobs until M’bokay was born six months after they were cast out of Jinja. He then procured enough wealth to buy 3 cattle, and begin to buy land to farm bananas, and cassava.

            Four years later his mother was pregnant again with Miyemi. Miyemi was born and then a year later drought hit and they were forced north to the foothills of Mount Masawa, where his father began a hunting service for the rich white men to hunt elephant, cape buffalo, and lion on Masawa and the surrounding savanna. Time passed, more and more whites came and went, a trading post was established around the Sinhassad homestead, sickness came and went, drought, rain, storms, winds, sun, moon, the good, and the bad all came and went. Both Yemi and M’bokay were learning their fathers’ skill.

            For once everything was good. M‘bokay was 16, Miyemi was 11, mother was well and their father was leading a cohort of very fat, very pale, and very rich Germans.

            However on the third day, after having not even seen hide or hair of any game, M’bokay’s father had seen fresh elephant tracks leading up the mountain to the upper forest on Masawa’s slopes. The Elephants were known to go into the caves on the Mountain, a place with high concentrations of salt which the elephants needed to live. However, the upper slopes of Masawa were dense forest and not easily navigable. Those who might venture up the mountain were kept at bay by the rumors and legend of the past.

            In an attempt to salvage future business Zhibohndo, Mbokay’s father, decided to press up the slope and take the elephant. Though it was later in the day they pressed on eager to find the elephant (it seemed from the tracks to be a lone bull) before nightfall and be done with the whole deal.

            M’bokay’s never returned and after another day of anxious waiting his mother rallied another tracker to help her find her husband and his clients, going up the mountain herself with the tracker, leaving M’bokay to watch Yemi.

            He begged his mother not to go, but his pleading only angered his mother. They set off in the dawn three days after his father was supposed to have returned.
That was the year it was lost, that was the year it all went away.

            M’bokay fought the overwhelming nausea that over took him, but the ever present knot ratcheted tighter and tighter deep in his chest.
            Calm yourself brother…”
            He turned his attention to the white man sitting on the rock beside him.
            Allan Whitehurst Kensington slid the bolt of his Mauser 98 back into the receiver; he then lifted the hefty weapon to the shooting position, gave the bolt an appraising slide, and then loaded the massive .500 Jeffries cartridge in and locked it into place. He reached over and loaded another two cartridges into a clip and fitted it into the underbelly of the weapon.

            This weapon could stop a charging elephant… but the goal was to stop an unsuspecting elephant.

            With a grunt and a complacent sigh he stood and slung the weapon over his sweaty khaki shirt.

            “Ready?” M’bokay said.

            The white man stood a square six feet; he was ruggedly handsome with a crop of light brown hair, with a dusting of gray along the side. He had a tapered jaw that ended in a profound cleft; His face was wizened by many hunts, and on this particular day accumulating in short stubble and premature crows’ feet. Topping off the typical portrait of the Great White Hunter, he spoke in a plummy English accent.
He took a swig of water from a canteen, looked around and said, “We’d better be going then, if we plan to come upon the bull before night fall.” He clipped the canteen to his belt and dusted off his knobby knees.

            “We will leave once Lhaako returns.” M’bokay replied. Lhaako was M’bokay’s’ best friend, he had gone ahead to cut for sign of the bull elephants trail.

            The Englishman’s’ normally demure countenance broke with a flash of annoyance at being forced to wait further.

            M’bokay hoped it would be soon, they had spent two long and hot days tracking the crafty pachyderm; the beast had eluded them until this morning. The hunting party had crested a ridge and caught a glimpse of the 5 ton mammal snacking on some local flora. They moved downwind quickly, cutting down the ridge. All seemed to be falling into place, but Lhaako’s attention failed as he stepped on a dry branch. At the sharp snapping they were spotted by the creature causing the bull to face the noise. However rather uncharacteristically for such a large and strong creature, it opted to flee.
            Kensington tried to take it down at almost a thousand meters, all he did was miscalculate the windage and put a fist size gash in the animals’ ear and the beast escaped.

            Lhaako came striding through the brush. He looked at his companion and his client. An almost imperceptible nod signified he had found the trail, however the glint in his eye bespoke that he had found the bull.

            The corners of Kensington’s mouth curled into the faintest smile. He re-shouldered his pack, un-slung his rifle, and he marched forward with new a resolve.

            The last two days of tracking the big elephant had taken its toll. But it was worth it now.

            M’bokay grinned to himself.
            The ruddy disk that was the sun was low over the western lowlands and the moon had risen partially in the east.

            The chill of nightfall began to set in. It was a rather cool night over the brushy foothills of Mount Masawa. The mountain rose in a casually, yet ominous fashion. The wind blew through the grass, and acacia, with a gentle susurrus that reminded Allan Kensington of a loving whisper. The kind of whisper that would be exchanged between two lovers. Whispers of God to man of a magnificent gift.

            That is what Kensington loved about nature and specifically the hunt. Here in the wild, the science, the discovery didn’t matter. Out here everything had to be taken at face value, the beauty was all that one could take away.
            Perhaps a trophy could be allowed from time to time.

            Kensington smiled to himself as he followed Lhaako; low and slow upslope, through the brush.

            A lull in the wind.
            The whispers faded. All he could hear now was bugs. In the stillness of the evening every insect, arachnid, fairy, nymph, incubus, and mystical creature arose from their diurnal slumber to molest the consciousness of all those who seek a comforting respite.

            Nonsense…They’re just legends. Kensington said to himself as he realized he had unconsciously been holding his breath. He had set up in M’bokay’s village two days before, when they were getting ready for the hunt. Needless to say, there were quite a few passionately supernatural villagers that weren’t shy in their gossip about the dark dangers upon Masawa.

            In fact, the locals feared the mountain so much Lhaako and M’bokay were the only Basoga that went anywhere near the mountain, let alone hunting in the area.

            The three hunters had gone almost a kilometer since their previous stop. The brush had noticeably grown into a forest, and all three had slowed down to a veritable creep, which wouldn’t be really bad if they weren’t stalking a three and a half meter tall, 5 ton animal through thorny acacia.

            The creep continued for 10 minutes, until a cautionary hand was raised by Lhaako, at which point they converged in a small clearing. “We must be careful now,” Lhaako whispered in heavily accented English.
            M’bokay turned to Kensington, “Are you ready?”
            Kensington gave a terse nod, his steel-grey eyes as indiscernible as ever.
            Lhaako spoke up, “We will circle to the south, about a third of a kilometer, and the winds are moving downhill at this time of day. The bull is watering right now, we must be quick.”

            “The bush is thick here. How will we know when we are coming upon the bull?” Kensington queried in his rich accent. “I don’t want to be blind sighted by an angry elephant.”

            Lhaako smiled, “You will know.”

            It typically was unwise to strike out after dark anywhere especially in Africa, Kensington would have protested, if he didn’t want that elephant so badly.

Chapter Two

Northeastern Uganda, Africa
July 17th 1912
Early Evening

            The bull stood beneath the broad canopy of a tree, idly masticating some ill fated foliage.

            The last twenty minutes of stalking had taken them into thick undergrowth that had eventually given way to a rockier landscape; they had converged on a sandy gorge surrounded by sandstone cliffs on three sides. The clearing was filled with tall green grass, pocked with glades of tropical trees, it was all cut through the center by a clear and babbling spring that stagnated at the very back of the gorge and disappeared into the rock. It was pretty enough, but…

            All of his sensory impulses screamed in agony.

            Kensington was 35 meters away from the groggy behemoth, his knees ached from crouching in the grass. The air was hot and muggy in the gorge, and was dense and buzzing with bloodthirsty mosquitoes. The smell was an overpowering potpourri, the air was redolent with the thick, hot, and bitter stench of urine combined with the moist smell of elephant dung.

            It was hell, but his military training had prepared him, he didn’t bat an eye.

            He slowly glanced 20 meters to his right and left, Lhaako and M’bokay had taken up positions up in trees so that if the elephant got wise to their presence or inadvertently tried to leave, they could take him down. For now he was crouched at the foot of an ancient baobab tree, Mauser shouldered, and in the only place a kill shot was even possible without first alerting the beast.

            Butterflies quarreled in his stomach and an electric crawl edged through his nerves. He took a few deep breaths, and flexed his shoulders. He again gauged the distance, (no wind flowed in the gorge), and he then compensated for the drop, and tightened the mental noose. The shot was almost ideal, broadside to the bull, at a 30-35 degree angle to the rear. This way the slug would not flatten against the creatures broad and strong ribs but rather pass through at least one lung and the heart. The massive blood-loss would drop the creature within seconds. The only quicker way was to try a difficult shot at the spine or base of the neck, (nearly impossible at anything less than point-blank distance with a weapon with such fierce recoil) or a head shot, however the possibility of the elephants thick skull stopping or deflecting the shot, especially at Kensington’s particular angle was too great.

            He leaned forward, slid his finger over the trigger and squeezed.

            The beast trumpeted in fear and thrashed in anger.
            The elephant was having a bad day; it was rudely awakened this morning by the whooping cackles of desperate hyenas. It had also seen something in the forest a few days prior wich it had not been able to frighten away. The creature it had never seen before but it made the elephant uneasy. Now, it was spotted by those queer little hairless, and tail-less humans and closed into a gorge and those humans were crawling around in the brush.
            So the elephant then began to make a run for it.
            A small blossom of smoke and light parted the brush, and the charging beast felt a sharp pain in its shoulder.
            Lhaako saw it all from his elevated perch, the English man aimed his rifle and fired just as the animal began to back away from the stream to flee, the lead slug slammed into the animals shoulder in and out trailing a 5 foot jet of pulp. The charging animal passed in between him and Kensington and the second shot was fired causing the animal to stumble, but it continued forward.

            He looked towards his clients’ position and he was already up, moving, and fiddling with his rifle. M’bokay was also on the move his rifle in hand. M’bokay gestured for Lhaako to come.
            Lhaako silently dismounted the tree and took up his weapon and began the pursuit.

            The chase had taken them back into the brush, and once again the acacia thorns all took pleasure in piercing his skin. To his left he heard another gunshot and glimpsed a bit of muzzle flash in the failing light. He pushed even further forward.
            ‘I’m getting way too old for this…’ Kensington thought to himself as he puffed through the bush.

            At 53, most men his age stuck to their smoking rooms and parlors.

            How unsporting.

            He side stepped a puddle and rounded out cropping of rock, a meadow opened up before his aching feet.

            No elephant.

            Most of his exposed skin was weeping blood from the thorns, and on top of that his shoulder throbbed sorely, and his unprotected ears rang piercingly from the two successive shots he had just fired.
He cursed under his breath as he ran his fingers through his graying hair. He turned about to see if he could find tracks and if he could find his guides. It would be difficult in the failing light. He reached for his flashlight on his belt. But before he even touched it a wall of jungle peeled outward as something large burst from the shady bower.

            Instinctively Kensington raised his rifle and fired. The figure gave a whooping shriek and fell to the ground.

            Heart beating in his ears he peered through the dark at what he had just shot. He slowly approached its prone form and nudged it with his barrel. Dead. A smell of excrement and the sickly-sweet decay of death enveloped the clearing. He had never seen anything like it in his time in Africa. He had been all over the continent and never before had he seen…

            Lhaako and M’bokay came into the clearing and stopped dead.

            M’bokay’s closed his mouth realizing and involuntary gawk had split his countenance.

            Lhaako dropped to his knees and pressed his head against the ground, his mouth mumbling indistinct words of prayer.

            “What on God’s earth is it?” Kensington asked, his eyes not leaving the fresh carcass.

            M’bokay’s thick brow knotted in fear and pain. “It is evil,” he choked through fear and disbelief. Rivulets of sweat flowing down the light creases of his weathered face made him seem one hundred years older. Lhaako’s deep chanting droned on as all three men stared at the horrible chimera that lay before them.

            M’bokay started. “It looks like a…”

            His observation was cut short by an outcry of screeching cackles. They arose all around, forlorn in the opaque folds of the jungle.

            “They’re all around us!” Kensington whispered, looking about and clutching his Mauser to his chest. “What are they? Hyena?”

            “No! Much worse! But it does not matter it is useless!” Lhaako said his face rising from the ground. “They are many.”

            “I’m sorry I if don’t agree with your decision to belly-up.” Kensington said as he reloaded and checked his rifle.

            Lhaako flew into a rage, he rose with inhuman speed and grabbed the white man by his collar and lifted him up. “Don’t you see, you arrogant ghost!” he yelled his voice shrill with fear, “the Ndugu have come! They have marked us for death because we have trespassed on their sacred land”

            With Lhaako’s rant spoken his grip loosened. Seeing as his rifle had been knocked from his grasp, Kensington took the opportunity and delivered a blow to Lhaako’s chest that caused him to stumble back and fall flat on his back.

            He lay on the fringe of the clearing, gasping for breath, his face and torso obscured by shadow and brush. M’bokay remained where he was, puffing with anger and fear, his rifle and complete attention trained on the surrounding forest.

            Kensington made a move towards his rifle when a cry rose up just behind Lhaako and his body was dragged from sight his shrieks splitting the warm and close atmosphere.