"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

4 Awesome Things I’m Reading Right Now

Posted in Day-To-Day, Good Causes, Preemptive Love Coalition, Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Thursday, January 3, 2013

These days, my clipboard is uncharacteristically free of to-do lists. I’ve barely left my neighborhood in weeks. I’m sedentary and stressless. It’s a great time to read. 

Aside from a couple video projects and Preemptive Love’s year-end fundraising campaign, I’ve had a good bit of free time to catch up on all my books, RSS feeds, and bookmarked articles. And—thanks to Instapaper—my ‘to-read’ list is quite a doozy.

Here are 4 of my favorite things from the list and why I’d recommend them:

#1) BLOG: Coppyblogger—the king of writing blogs; if you have any interest in improving your writing, I’d highly recommend this site. I subscribed last year and have used them more as a referential source for whenever I have questions about a particular genre of writing. But they cover it all: Social Media, marketing, blogging—even letter-writing. Their Copywriting 101 guide is a great place to start, but it’s really all quality (though I didn’t love their newsletter). And most of it is free. If I’ve managed to get anyone’s attention with my writing over the past couple of years, it’s probably because of these guys. Go check ’em out.

#2) BOOK: The Kingdom of God Is Within You—written by Leo Tolstoy, the book heavily emphasizes nonviolent resistance and Christ’s teachings on the Sermon on the Mount. Like Kierkegaard, Tolstoy is disgusted by the blended church-state entities of his day, and he is more than willing to sink his teeth into them—particularly when it comes to their acquiescence to violence and war (his book was banned in his home country of Russia and was first published in Germany).

Tolstoy is relentless in this simple belief: a Christian cannot follow and support both God’s new governance according to the Sermon on the Mount and a government that perpetuates violence. For me, this generates questions over the difference between ‘submitting’ to a government and ‘supporting’ it, how do we read Romans 13 in relation to the Sermon on the Mount, etc. Very interesting stuff.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

“A virtue cannot be practiced in all circumstances without self-sacrifice, privation, suffering, and in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who esteems life more than fulfilling the will of God is already dead to the only true life.”

“Having withdrawn from human protection, what can sustain us but that faith which overcomes the world?”

#3) EBOOK: DSLR Cinematography Guide—the video capabilities of DSLRs went from nothing to holy-crap in about 2 years. I’ve made a few little short videos with these magical machines, and I’m quite impressed. Still photography is fun, but if you’re willing to put in the work, a short video is a phenomenal way to tell a story. So I’m hoping this Ebook will provide a little growth spurt for me as I create videos for PLC’s Remedy Missions. Stay tuned for more videos in 2013.

#4) VIDEO: Neighborhoods—OK, so this isn’t technically ‘reading,’ but this short is really beautiful. It’s simple, it’s low-budget, and it’s worth a couple minutes of your day—I’ve watched it more times than I can count!

 

So those are my top 4 picks right now. What about you? Comment below with recommendations of your own and help me replenish my ‘to-read’ list—I could especially use some good fiction recommendations!

LOST

Posted in Day-To-Day by matt on Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cayla and I watched the last few episodes of the award-winning TV series, LOST, a couple nights ago, and I think it merits a response.

We were in Bangkok when the finale aired, so it took a considerable amount of rudeness to keep friends and family from spoiling it. I even resorted to the juvenile fingers-in-ears-while-making-noise-thing a couple times. But thankfully nothing was spoiled, and we made it all the way to the end as clueless as when we started the series.

I know this is a little belated, but I’m joining the countless bloggers by posting my reactions to LOST.

**WARNING: There are spoilers ahead. If you’ve seen it or don’t care, read on.

(1) LOST isn’t consumable. The show’s plot was an ever-widening series of concentric circles with the plot-progression going something like this: there are castaways on an island (simple enough), there are Others on the island along with the mysterious Dharma Initiative (hmmmm), there’s a power struggle between the current and former leader of the Others (well, OK…), and, finally, the dualist mythology of the island is revealed to be a metaphorical stand-off between two brothers – good and evil (say WHAT?!). And I’m not even sure if that accurately describes the last ‘concentric circle.’

Now, this progression wasn’t as ‘consumable’ as most people prefer. Or a better way to say it might be that the show wasn’t something you just watched casually and then walked away from. It’s not as light ‘n fluffy as Friends (which, admittedly, I also liked) or as neatly gift-wrapped as Family Matters (also a great show!), which leads me to my next reaction.

(2) LOST is messy. The writers allegedly wanted the show to have a more real-life feel, so they intentionally made it a little messy. This must also be why they put a death-dealing smoke monster in the story; doesn’t everyone deal with that in real life?

Regardless, they succeeded at leaving loose ends in the story, and they definitely left us hanging. But I appreciate that they crafted it in a way that forced the audience to think for themselves. You had to be OK having to think about – and sometimes never get – all the answers.

In fact, Jack, the hero of the story (or at least one of the heroes), actually starts out being called a “man of science.” He only believes what’s right in front of him. He has trust issues, and he has this compulsive, controlling urge to fix everything. But the transformation from that to a man of faith who ends up saving the island (and maybe the world?) is pretty radical. His science evolves into faith. It reminds me of a Kierkegaard quote (are you surprised?):

Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.

Now, I might be wrong, but I think the writers practiced what they preached. Life’s rarely neat and tidy with all the answers, and they didn’t present it that way. Jack had to “let go” and just trust that things would work out. It was his “highest passion.” Likewise, viewers had to relax and enjoy the ride while trusting that, in the end, the story would work out.

Of course, having faith in a TV show and having faith in something worthwhile (like Jesus!) are very different things, but you get my drift.

(3) LOST is beautiful. There’s nothing quite like a well-told story, and, to me, LOST was that times 10. The cinematography, the themes (redemption!), the music, the character arcs, the references to philosophy and religion – I loved it all!

The consistent onslaught of goosebumps and clogged tear ducts made the show’s confusing plot-line seem like no big deal. I was too mesmerized by the quality of the show to worry about everything fitting together.

So I guess t his is my ultimate ‘reaction’ to the series: BRAVO.

Because I’ve never seen a show quite like that, and I sincerely doubt I ever well.

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“Fear and Trembling” in Review

Posted in Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Thursday, June 5, 2008

I recently finished a little book entitled Fear and Trembling and – as you roll your eyes – I’d like to take a second of your time to explain what Kierkegaard does to make me like him so much. But for those of you who’ve read him you know it’s more fitting to clarify what he doesn’t do rather than what he does. He doesn’t provide neatly packaged answers, he doesn’t simplify at the expense of clarity, he doesn’t attempt to postulate his own (or add to anyone else’s) version of ‘the system’, and he doesn’t avoid tension of any kind – theological, philosophical, logical, etc.

The dude’s intellectually fearless.

The Scriptures contain a lot of things that just don’t make perfect sense, but, rather than attempting to force them to make complete sense, he says we should simply believe and obey them – even when they’re a little painful. He believes the Bible enough that he’s unwilling to turn its stories into pop-up books with bright colors and put it on display in Mardel. For him, a person must approach the Bible as either absolute garbage or as the Truth of God – but it’s scary regardless.

As Ben would say, the Bible may not be as family-friendly as we’ve made it out to be.

Now, Kierkegaard isn’t infallible and I definitely have trouble fully agreeing with (and understanding!) a lot of what he says, but I love that he doesn’t try to reconcile all the classic theological problems. This brings me back to Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard uses the story of Abraham on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22) to answer the question, “What is faith?” He argues that Abraham’s intention to sacrifice of Isaac on Moriah is either murder, obedience (faith), or both, but we can’t pretend like the story’s tension isn’t important for us. Right standing with God through faith is pretty central to the Bible’s message, and Abraham is usually considered the father of all that.

Or do you think that the outcome of the story is what justified Abraham before God?

Abraham was reckoned righteous because he rode for three days, tied his son onto a pile of sticks, and raised the knife without hesitation – not because God spared Isaac.

But we breathe a sigh of relief and excitedly retell the story. I mean, it has such a happy ending! And no, I’m not cynical I’m frustrated! It’s difficult for me to grasp the horror of Exodus 33 because I put so much emphasis on the ending. I don’t try to understand the anguish Abraham must have felt during his trip into the mountains, how deplorable it would seem to watch an old man tie his son with the intention of bleeding him out and then burning the remains, and I especially don’t try to understand why God would command it.

I mainly just focus on the conclusion.

And this is what I learned from Fear and Trembling: I’m numb to the terrifying reality of faith. God commands crazy things from us, but I’ve slipped into thinking that life is just about going to heaven and enjoying things till you get there. But I don’t wanna focus on the ending at the expense of the beginning and middle

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Kierkegaard and the Nature of Faith…I Think

Posted in Philosophical, Stuff I'm Reading, Theological by matt on Saturday, April 26, 2008

I’ll admit, anytime I hear someone say “God told me” I get a little skeptical. I mean technically God has “told” people a lot of things – at least according to them. He told some people to fly airplanes into buildings, others to get this or that job in this or that city, a few to drink the kool-aid, some to marry a guy or break up with a girl, He told some which school they should go to or which classes they should take, and He told One to die on a cross.

Don’t get me wrong I believe God desires to communicate with us, but I refuse to believe everyone is hearing what they say they’re hearing. I don’t think God tells people to fly planes into buildings…but I also wouldn’t think God wants people to murder their children, and we all know the story of Abraham on Moriah…

Faith is a scary thing. It’s a scary thing because it can’t be completely proven or completely denied, it has to be worked out in fear and trembling.

Most of us have heard the story so many times we’re deadened to it, but try to be there: you’re following Abraham into Moriah, up the mountain, and – hidden from view – looking on in horror as he raises the knife to kill his kid. From a moral standpoint this is horrible right? Yet this is sung about at VBS and remembered by many as an act of incredible faith. My point is that faith isn’t as simple as intellectually assenting to a specific set of values or to some ethical framework. Faith is often irrational, maybe even always irrational.

Just to clear up that previous statement, I don’t believe the men who flew planes into buildings were faithless, but I also don’t believe their faith was from God or in God. But I do think God calls us to do weird things. Things that are in opposition to governing authorities, the Law of Moses, and, like Abraham, even in opposition to a promise He had previously made. Otherwise we’re just following the system, right? That’s no relationship! In part, Abraham’s faith was great because he had no system to follow, he only had God’s personal promises to trust. Abraham was great because he believed anything God told him – even the crazy stuff. Referring to Abraham in Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard says it much better:

“No! No one shall be forgotten who was great in this world; but everyone was great in his own way, and everyone in proportion to the greatness of what he loved. For he who loved himself became great in himself, and he who loved others became great through his devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all. They shall all be remembered, but everyone became great in proportion to his expectancy. One became great through expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became greater than all.”

These are just a few thoughts I’ve had while reading this book. Kierkegaard believed God calls His followers to a higher law than just the moral law (Teleological Suspension of the Ethical). Sometimes, in order to test, preserve, and strengthen our faith, God commands us to do something that seems contradictory.

So, if this is true and we can’t always determine faith by morality, how can we know ‘true faith’ from ‘false faith’? How do we know whether or not someone is right when they say “God told me”?

I obviously need to keep reading, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My Blog’s Title

Posted in Theological by matt on Monday, March 3, 2008

I just realized that I haven’t even given an explanation for the quote at the top of this site. Well, being the diligent student worker that I am, I was browsing the inter-web for more info on Søren Kierkegaard (my current man-crush) and I tripped across this little quote. Some other girl has a Blogspot site with this same quote, but I decided I would just bite the bullet and be a copy-cat. I went on to read a few other interesting quotes, but this one stuck with me over the next few weeks and I even ended up scrapping the former small group plans and using it at the last minute.

For me, this quotes’ initial richness of meaning was found in the sheer fact that Kierkegaard said it, but I quickly became more interested in the truth behind it than the person saying it. Here S.K. is using an allusion to the fig leaves in Genesis 3 to thank Christ for covering our shame. The text is as follows:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'” Genesis 3.6-10

Here is the idea that, after rebellion, the inclination is to cover ourselves and hide our shame. I find it particularly ironic that the first thing to condemn Adam and Eve was not God, but their own conscience. Their recognition of guilt the loss of innocence led them to dress like the lost boys and hide from God. God didn’t immediately materialize and backhand them both across the face, He came seeking fellowship with them. But they were condemned by their own shame.

So human history progresses with this simple pattern: God provides boundaries, we break them, and someone (or some animal) must absorb the pain and punishment – someones gotta pay. God finally steps in and finishes it by absorbing everything and offering a covering that not only removes shame and guilt, but provides us with the best robe He’s got and welcomes us into a blissful inheritance.

May we praise Him who has covered us completely! He is worthy of our every endeavor as we walk fully clothed and live to show others how they, too, can be clothed.