In several days I will be flying back to Seattle. Christmas break will have ended, a month away from Seattle Pacific University will have passed, and I’ll have left behind another year. As I prepare for the new year, starting with Winter Quarter, I have been reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky. I began reading it more than a year ago “for fun,” if that expression actually describes the motivation that drove me to buy the book. But school led me away from Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha and into the world of ancient Greece. Before I stopped my attempt to blast through it, I made it approximately a third of the way through.
If you are familiar with The Brothers Karamazov, you might recall when the Elder Zosima relates the story of his life to Alyosha and others as he is reaching his life’s end. He begins with the story of his brother, who, an atheist, became sick and returned to God before dying while still a young man. In the last days of his life, he was consumed with a joy and love that confused his mother, visitors, and doctor, who mistook his fervor for madness. It was this passage that I read on the plane back to Seattle nearly a year ago.
At Quest today, Pastor Eugene asked, “Do people know who you are?” After this he asked why Christians are silent about their faith. While I don’t like shoving things down people’s throats, I guess I would like people to know what I believe.
Last week I turned in a paper for a class (shoutout to Keuss and muh UScholerz). The paper was about the history of my spiritual life—six pages, single spaced. The last page was my personal creed, or what I claim to believe. While it is probably missing a lot, it does say what I believe. Here it is, slightly revised:
I believe in one triune God: the Father/Creator, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
I believe that God became flesh and experienced human life, but remained completely divine.
I believe that Jesus defeated sin and death through resurrection after crucifixion.
I believe that there will be a day of judgment for each of us, but I also believe that on that day we will be astounded by the infinite grace and love of our Father.
I believe in hell, but I have no clue who ends up there or how they get there.
I believe in heaven, but I don’t understand how it is both present and yet to come.
I believe that Jesus can save those who don’t know him by name.
It is Day Two of a three-day weekend. On Friday night a friend and I bussed down to lower Queen Anne to watch Leonard Cohen play at the Key Arena. It was a fitting prelude to what has become the most sedentary few days of this year. Between paragraphs of All the Pretty Horses, I’ve stayed up late watching Doctor Who, played Halo 4 with my 3rd Hill brothers, absconded to a 24-hour breakfast joint, and listened to Christmas albums with friends while sharing the parts of our lives that need a Christmas the most. The skies begin to dim by at least 4:30 pm, making more than half of the day night. Veni, Domine Jesu.
After my friend and I exited the bus at our stop, picked up some Americanos at Caffe Zingaro, and browsed a wonderful used bookstore, we walked a couple blocks to the arena. A cloud of white hair had descended in front of it and was slowly being sucked in. My friend took a final drag of her cigarette and puffed out the smoke before we entered the cloud.
It wasn’t just old people. There were middle-aged people, a few other college students, and we even saw one young family with two kids that had to be under ten. After picking out our tour t-shirts—mine with a sketch of a very haggard looking Leonard, hers with a beautiful bird perched on a branch—we found our seats in the upper ring. Out came the man with his old school backing band, Sharon Robinson, and the Webb sisters. The speakers weren’t blasting like most concerts I’ve attended, and the audience was fairly dead (we clapped in time for one song and most people only sang along in the chorus of Hallelujah, when the sound technician kindly aimed the stage lights at us for a queue.) Continue reading
I lusted after my father’s Kindle since he bought it a year or two ago. Whenever I flew home or flew to school or did any sort of traveling in general, I entertained the exciting delusion that I could read five books by the time the trip was over. Whether it was a daylong plane ride or a weeklong road trip, I crammed my backpack with many unhappy books that know they’re nothing more than dead weight. But if I had a Kindle, I would’ve had room for other things in my backpack. Things like toothpaste.
I now have a Kindle. A Kindle Paperwhite. I pre-ordered it a month or so ago. The week after it arrived, I carried it with me everywhere, as you do with a new instrument of technology. But as my dad says, they’re only good for reading books. I felt rather silly opening the Kindle during dinner at the mess hall to realize there was no reason it should be there with me.
After the initial excitement wore down, I actually began to read on it. Nothing for school, because I already had the physical books—weird phrase—and they are better for quick referencing. Several texts found themselves sucked out of the proverbial cloud into my little friend. Poetry by Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and John Donne, the ESV Bible, some Nietzsche, Dickens, and sets of essays by David Hume, Mark Twain, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Those are just the freebies. I bought Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy, which was only three bucks, and just an hour ago the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of the Brother’s Karamazov. For a romantic like me, the possibilities are endless. I could be reading Nietzsche right now!
The college search is hard for many people. Some lucky duckers know what they want to do and where they want to do it, only apply to that place, get accepted and attend. Others, like myself, have a vague sense of what they’d like to study and maybe a lead on a school they could be interested in. I thought that I’d like to study one of the liberal arts and I applied to eleven or twelve schools. Halfway through application season (January or so), I switched my intended major to music.
Some of my Christian friends have a strong sense of God’s will for their lives. Whether they use the phrase or not, you can tell they know—or at least think they know—which school God wants them to attend, what career God has prepared for them, etc. “God has a plan for you, and that is so beautiful and exciting!” This sort of language, although well-intended and true, confused me during my college search, and still does. The idea of ‘God’s plan’ wasn’t very comforting either, because I thought that it meant I had a one in twelve chance at choosing the Right School, and a similar chance at choosing the Right Major. There was a lot at stake and I didn’t want to screw my life up.
All right, close your eyes. Raise your hand if you think that sounds ridiculous and a little melodramatic. I see many hands in the air, belonging to agnostics, atheists, and believers alike. Oops, I raised my hand, too. Ok, hands down, hands down.
I still don’t understand the concept of God’s will, although I’ve learned that it involves a lot more freedom than I had previously thought. But I couldn’t see that in my senior year of high school. The fear that I could permanently remove myself from the Right Trajectory of Life added to my depression and anxiety, and was the cause of a couple panic attacks. I didn’t speak to anyone about this because I felt alone. Who would listen? Continue reading