Thursday, May 30, 2013

Journal Entry: On the Need to Travel

"This didn't cost $1500 to enjoy." ~ myself, referring to a 7-foot waterfall we'd just crossed downstream of.

For me, adventure can be found simply by going off the beaten path--or even on a beaten path, just as long as it's not a highway of foot-traffic. People follow natural lines of drift (credit goes to JWR for getting that phrase stuck in my head). If, as you're walking along a sidewalk with a crowd of hundreds, and you veer off to one direction and stop, perhaps to observe the crowd from the outside rather than being a part of it, congratulations, you're an eccentric. Doing something that not everybody else is doing is fundamentally weird to them. But the joy you get from being someone who thinks and makes decisions for himself is exhilarating. Ergo, I naturally choose unorthodox ways to get from one location to another, particularly if I have spare time. Maybe I'll walk down the side street instead of the main one? Maybe I'll drive through some back roads instead of following the interstate? Maybe I'll go through the forest, or up the hill, rather than following the trail around.

By making simple little decisions to rebuff the usual routine, or the expected route, in favor of charting new courses to keep things interesting, you give yourself the opportunity to discover things that the vast majority of other people miss out on. I don't much enjoy the idea of missing out on the 'special little things' in life. But many others are content with it. There is an excellent poem that expresses what I'm trying to say, with more finesse:

The Few
The easy roads are crowded
    And the level roads are jammed;
The pleasant little rivers
    With the drifting folks are crammed.
But off yonder where it's rocky,
    Where you get a better view,
You will find the ranks are thinning
    And the travelers are few.

Where the going's smooth and pleasant
    You will always find the throng,
For the many, more's the pity,
    Seem to like to drift along.
But the steeps that call for courage,
    And the task that's hard to do
In the end result in glory
    For the never-wavering few.

~ Edgar A. Guest

I'm one of those few, and I love it! Where I've been living this year, there's mostly houses and streets, but if you take the time to leave the pavement and climb a hill on the side of the road, you can find all sorts of exciting things. And the view can be spectacular.

A friend of mine and I decided to "walk-and-talk" earlier this week, and so we absconded to a nearby State Park and walked the foot-trails there. The first leg of our journey was paved with asphalt. Nevertheless, there were trees all around to shade us, and a river off to our right, and though there were other people enjoying the park, it was nice to get away from the city despite being just a few miles away. That's the part that continually fascinates me--that there are places of "contained wilderness" within well-developed areas that you can stumble upon suddenly, and it's like finding a buried treasure every time. 

I had an interesting thought, in the course of our conversation. My friend hasn't been out of this country (though they've traveled farther west than I have), and wants to take the opportunity to do so in the coming year or a few. I, on the other hand, don't have a particularly strong desire to 'see the world' before I 'settle down,' and I think it could be due in part to the fact that I've already traveled some in my day. I've been to Sweden and Crete, and road-tripped up to New York City and down to Cape Hatteras. Last year I also got to go on an airboat tour of a portion of the Everglades. These were all things I enjoyed but feel no particular need to do again. I'm also quite content to take road-trips in the States rather than pay exorbitant prices to fly to Europe. I'm a visual person, so the various travel documentaries on PBS, or for that matter nature documentaries, are enough to satisfy me when it comes to seeing the world. No, having traveled already, I know my heart is here, in the Mid-Atlantic. I can see the world from the comfort of my own home, without needing to feel the world by actually being there. 

But make no mistake, I have my sights set on a few places in America that I'd still like to go to. But not to visit. I want to live there. Maybe that's why I don't get too attached to places I've traveled, or could travel to. If I were to dwell too much on being somewhere I couldn't stay, that would make me sad. And having seen a lot of the world, in person or in vitro (in vitro means 'in glass,' i.e. through a lens), I think America's pretty great itself, in all honesty. Don't sell this country short, if you've lived here all your life. Maybe you just need to travel, so that 'absence from home will make the heart grow fonder.' :)

My friend needs to travel far. I don't. But we both share a love for exploration and adventure. I'm just content, for the time being, to find it where I may. I have more opportunity to have adventures close to home than far away. But in a sense, I think my friend is probably doing the same thing. They're reaching out to take the opportunities they have to travel to a few places in Europe. And if you have the opportunity to go somewhere you haven't been before, why not take it? That is, after all, the spirit of adventure. Whether you go somewhere near to home, or far.

~ Rak Chazak

PS I figured I would attach a song which lyrics fit in very nicely with what I was expressing about my own desire for adventure and how it's not so much about necessarily going to a certain place, but about having an adventure wherever you happen to be. 

World Traveler, by Andrew Peterson

Monday, May 27, 2013

Food Adventures

I'm not a picky eater, but I'm not adventurous. 

I find something I like to eat and then, being comfortable with it, will avoid straying too far from that if given the choice to try something strange off of a restaurant menu. The running joke in my family is that my most-ordered dish at sit-down restaurants has always been a cheeseburger. I just don't like having to commit to eating something before determining whether I like the taste of it or not. I'd hardly waste my own money experimenting with this, much less the money of whoever's treating me to dinner.

So my experiment at a Spanish(Hispanic? Mexican? I'm not entirely sure what the distinction is, when it comes to food) restaurant recently was somewhat out of the ordinary for me. I went with a friend of mine whose parents were treating us. I was nervous right from the get-go, because Mexican food, to my mind, is associated with "spicy," and I don't like spicy food. Not because of any problem with the taste, but simply because I really can't handle it. 

Let me explain. When I first came to college, one of the earliest meals I had in the dining hall included fries. They were served with Old Bay on them. I had never experienced this before. I used to dip my fries in ketchup as a kid, but when I grew older I graduated to only using salt. I'd never even tried Old Bay. I really wanted french fries, though. So I exposed myself to the new sensation, and boy was it spicy! I had to try to scrape some of it off the fries just to be able to handle it, despite having water to wash it down with. Some of you may say, "what? Old Bay isn't spicy." Let that impress upon you just how little I can tolerate seasonings of any sort. If Old Bay is spicy to me, imagine what "salsa caliente" is like. As a general rule, I fear anything Mediterranean, Oriental, Indian, Cajun, or Mexican. If I'm going to eat 'ethnic,' I'll go to an Italian restaurant and order myself a plate of spaghetti. You can't go wrong. :D
The appetizer was served immediately. Chips with guacamole and some sort of salsa. For those who don't know, avocado is the fruit, and guacamole is what you make out of it -- adding some pieces of tomato and maybe citrus etc. Much like salat is the leafy stuff and salad is the mix of veggies you get when you throw it all together (I learned that from the chef when I worked as a dishwasher some years back). I hadn't had avocado in a long time, but I figured I'd try it. It's a strange sensation if you're not used to it -- very creamy, whereas I'm used to vegetables being watery or crunchy -- but it was very good. Apparently the guacamole is the pride of the establishment we visited. 

Next up, we ordered the meals and I couldn't figure out what anything was by looking at the names. Pictures would have been VERY helpful! I ended up deciding on a Chimichanga (always thought that was "chimmy-chonga"), based on the description of the ingredients and the urging of my friend's brother. As it turns out, a chimichanga isn't all to different from a burrito. It's thinner, and just has meat inside (in this case, beef), but then the bread is fried, and it's served together with rice, refried beans (something else I'd never had--baked beans all the way, baby!--and it resembled baby food; the texture was the weird part, but the taste was familiar), and more guacamole to boot!

As it turned out, everything I had was delicious and now I know a "safe bet" to order if I ever find myself at a similar restaurant in the future. If you haven't tried Chimichangas, I recommend them to you heartily. Expand your palate! I did. And I'm glad for it.

PS (technically speaking, I think the style of food is "Tex-Mex." I probably would in fact fry my tongue if I tried authentic Mexican food)

~ Rak Chazak

The Unfairness Trap: BSA On A Collision Course

The BSA National Council held a secret ballot vote to decide if the organization would allow openly gay boys into the organization. 757 voted for, 475 voted against. 

Timeless Values?

Albert Mohler summarizes this succinctly (link at bottom):
In 2000, the B.S.A. prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court when the nation’s highest court ruled that the Boy Scouts had a constitutional right to exclude openly gay boys and leaders from the organization, so long as that exclusion is based in one of the organization’s core convictions — an “expressive message.” The B.S.A. won the case because that is exactly what they claimed. They argued that excluding openly homosexual boys and leaders from Scouting was necessary and required by the Scout Oath. [emphasis added]
In my previous article about the BSA policy change, I said this:
If the Boy Scouts of America lifts the ban on homosexuals, then it will be saying that its rules were not based on timeless values, but on arbitrary prejudice. Arbitrary prejudice can be arbitrarily abandoned. Timeless values cannot. If the BSA is built on values, then it cannot compromise those values. If the BSA compromises on homosexuality, it will be admitting that it does not stand on values but will give in to pressure. An interesting consequence is that the BSA will open itself up to lawsuits alleging wrongful discrimination, since lifting the ban would necessarily mean that the organization discriminated against homosexuals in the past without any reason to do so.
So now we know the answer to that. The BSA National Council has decided that its creeds are not timeless, but arbitrary. It is thereby implicitly admitting to wrongful discrimination against homosexuals for over two decades, since the policy was enacted. Let the litigation begin!

A Time to Tell

The BSA commissioned a video in the '80s which at the time I joined was required watching for all boys entering the program. This was called "A Time To Tell," and acted out 3 specific scenarios which were introduced through the context of a conversation between three friends after school. Its purpose was to educate the young boys (ages 10-12 when entering the program) to "Recognize, Resist and Report" sexual molestation. I think it might be worth introducing to the general public. It largely speaks for itself.


Now that the BSA has opened up its doors to homosexual youth, it's unfair to keep the doors shut to atheists any longer. It's actually ludicrous to allow the former and not the latter. Atheists can, at least in theory, be just as moral as any monotheist, with the only difference being their rejection of belief in a deity. Meanwhile, homosexuality is an evil in each of those religions, and so if those who break the law should be allowed in, by what standard do you aim to keep out those who do not break the law? Maybe one could suppose that even if "morally straight" has been abandoned, the BSA will still attempt to uphold "duty to God" as a point of the Scout Oath. This would exclude atheists, certainly. But isn't moral straightness part of one's duty to God? To purport that active homosexuals honor the God of any faith--Christianity, Judaism or Islam; even the Eastern religions (Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism) seem largely to oppose the notion that homosexual activity can coexist with religious piety -- to thus purport that homosexuals can honor the "duty to God" aspect of the Scout Oath is ludicrous, and therefore if they can be allowed into the program while rejecting this "timeless value," then so can atheists, by the same standard. We have thus utterly destroyed the Scout Oath. All that's left is this:

"Oh my honor, I will do my duty to my country, and to keep myself physically strong." 

Permit me to scoff derisively.

Prediction: the BSA will soon have to give in to further pressure and allow atheists to join. 

The question is, will atheist boys be allowed in first, or homosexual leaders? We could start a betting pool. Anyone interested? I'll stake my claim on homosexual adults. Any takers?

Further Reading

~ Rak Chazak

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Victory! Finals Have Been Defeated!

I haven't felt quite this strange in a long time. It's weird when you conclude a sequence of predefined challenges and now suddenly have to figure out what ladder you're going to climb next. It was a little bit less of a "huh..what now?" feeling after high school graduation, because I had already been accepted into college, so that was where I was going, no need to think about it. But now after graduation, I'm not immediately designated for going anywhere in particular. 

Let's put a positive spin on this.

Rather than to look at it as if I'm ambling around without a sense of direction or purpose, I choose to think of myself and my future as being omnidirectional. 'Omni' means "every," and so now that I have nowhere I have to go, and nothing I have to do (exception being to find a way to get money, and soon), I have a potentially unlimited pool of possibilities in front of me. It's as if all doors are open, and which ones close and which ones open after this will depend on the choices I make as I go from here. I'll only have one actual future, but at the moment I have multiple potential futures, and on some level, I have the freedom to choose which I prefer.

That's nice, but the irony is that I don't really know what I'd prefer. I mean, my long-term goals are as concrete as they could be -- move to a mountainous state, try homesteading, get married, etc etc, but my near-medium-term goals are an amorphous haze. My ability to make decisions about my future is hindered by my inability to predict the future. I don't know what will end up happening in the next few months, or year, and this obscures the future in my mind. It's very hard to make plans when your life isn't stable. And by unstable I simply mean that it's rapidly changing in a way I can't foresee. 

I'm going to have to take things day by day for the time being, and not by choice. My biggest motivation, then, to go looking for employment, is the privilege to plan ahead and determine my own future that that would give me. Because to this date, my life has been largely determined by a preset schedule. In early life, my parents raised me and taught me to speak; in my youth I simply went through primary and secondary public school like everyone else; and in my young adult life I've gone to college and wrapped up a degree. There hasn't been a lot of input from my end. My decisions have been similar to the whitewater rafter's decisions about which way to move laterally along a river. The river keeps pushing you downstream no matter what you do. Going upstream is not within your sphere of choice, nor is disembarking at key moments. But now my raft has come to a calm part of the river and I have a choice which bank to row towards. While I'm still in the raft, I can survey the shore and the horizon from a distance and make a commitment before I begin climbing, because when I'm on my way up, I might not be able to see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. To conclude my analogy, then, unfortunately for me, a fog hangs over the valley and I can't see what the terrain ahead or to the sides looks like. I'm going to have to make a blind decision. In this case, with the current pushing further ahead slowly but steadily, even indecision is blind.

There's the mountain I want to climb, but I can't see how I get there.
(Credit:Stephen Alvarez

Here's to all the other college graduates out there and my best wishes to you. It's my hope that you will make the best decisions, even if, like me, you can't see where you're walking. My desire is that we will look back in time and see where we've come from and cherish the trail as much as the summit.

~ Rak Chazak

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Spoken Word

2 Timothy 4:2 "Preach the word!"

John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. ... 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

"Spoken word" is a new phrase I recently came across, and to my knowledge it means poetry, which largely rhymes but isn't necessarily in a consistent verse format. How fitting, then, that the two men below are not only performing "spoken word," but are "speaking the Word," the Word of Life? (Philippians 2:16)

Enjoy some Spoken Word

The names of the performers are, respectively, Matt Papa and Propaganda.

I leave you with this until I'm finished my finals. :)

~ Rak Chazak

How Could Sexual Urges Be God-Given?

Culture tells us that there's two main ways to approach sex: as something shameful, or as just something people do. Yeah, there are some who have the idea that sex is something beautiful or romantic or special, but these are unilaterally presented as a minority and as being sheltered, naive and simply wrong. My suspicion is that those who have had sex very young because they saw it as something they 'had' to do, probably take the view that sex isn't special subsequent to having a less-than-wonderful first experience. Upon wondering "was that it?" they don't want to face up to that they did something wrong, so instead they blame the whole concept of sex itself. 

There's a better way.

I am one of those that Hollywood(movies) and New York(sitcoms) pretend don't exist: the romantic. The person who surely must be hopelessly naive if he thinks that sex can be something beautiful and exciting, not just prior to the first time, but every time from then on. But if I simply believed this about sex in general, I would be naive. Instead, my actual view, as with most of my personal beliefs, is very conditional. Depending on the situation, something can be very good or very bad.

Sex is a tool. Like any tool, it has the capacity to be used to create amazing things. But if used wrongly, it can cause horrific injury and even death. (I'm thinking of a circle saw as the metaphor, in case anyone's wondering :D ). If I approach a deadly tool thinking of it as an innocent toy that can only bring me pleasure, then it is inevitable that I will hurt myself, possibly severely, because I had no respect for the tool; I had not submitted my mind to the knowledge of how to use it properly. Sex, if used properly as it should, within a loving, committed-for-life, relationship between only one man and only one woman, then it can bring great blessings to the both of them -- even the greatest blessing of all, life. Sex, if used improperly, becomes an instrument of abuse and defilement, destroying the honor of both men and women and devastating the lives of single mothers and the offspring of men who were too cowardly to stand up and raise their families, as is the man's duty.

If there's a place for sex, then there's a place for sexual desires. And while the line between good desire and lust is nearly impossible for man to toe, and therefore should not be attempted, the fact that we have sexual urges is a divine message to us, telling us something very important about who we are and what our purpose is. 

Watch these two short videos. They'll explain the purpose of sexual desire from a Biblical perspective.

If you want more, here's a bit of further background from Josh Harris.

Taken together, these clips give great advice. The message is this: your sexual desires are not supposed to be an obstacle to you living a godly life. Instead, they are given to you as a motivation to get your life in order so that you can marry and fulfill those desires within the appropriate context. Imagine your desires as rain. It does no good if the rain falls in the ocean, but if it falls on fertile ground it can enable plants to grow -- it can create life. If you have sexual desires, you know you're not called to a life of singleness. Consequently, then, when you pour your energies into the appropriate pursuit, you will reap amazing rewards and be so much more fulfilled than you could possibly be if you had chosen a promiscuous lifestyle.

Just like Ecclesiastes says, "there is a time for every purpose under heaven." There is a time and a place to "glut" on your sexual lusts, as RW Glenn says in his clip above, and that time will come when you have laid the groundwork and entered into a lifelong covenantal marriage relationship. Don't sell your future spouse short by wasting your sexuality on other people, real or imaginary. Pour yourself into them. Enrich their life and yours will be enriched also.

~ Rak Chazak 

Real Feminism on Abortion

When I first began studying history in order to determine that (let's call it "fundamentalist Christianity") wasn't just a reactionary belief system started in the 1900s but that there has been a silver thread running through history where people have always been believing the orthodox truth, I was fascinated to discover things I'd never known before.

Just today, I learned something new. The following is adapted from a recent article from Creation Ministries International:

Modern Feminism (called 'second or third wave') promotes abortion as the pinnacle of women's rights and women's equality. This feminism has been in play since the '60s and '80s, respectively. But what about the original feminism? The feminism of the mid-1800s that championed women's suffrage (right to vote) and sought to criminalize domestic violence, among other things that very obviously were intended to protect women?

1. The Revolution, the newsletter of Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), described abortion as ‘child murder’, ‘infanticide’ and ‘foeticide’.

2. "Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth." ~ Victoria Woodhull (1838–1927), the first female US presidential candidate

3. Abortion is a ‘disgusting and degrading crime,' and

4. "When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." ~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), who organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY (1848)

5. The mother of the feminist movement, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) had earlier written, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, where she condemned those who would ‘either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born.

Early feminists were against abortion. Modern "feminism" isn't feminism. It's violence against women and degrading to both women and men.

If that rubs you the wrong way, try your hand at reading the article and see if you still disagree:

It makes me proud (and not of myself, but of the Truth, mind you) to know that what I believe is not only right, but it has been right and recognized as being right for all of recorded history, such that this truth has not only been with us all along, but it has been the pillar on which all of our civilization stands. Those who would deny the Truth (I speak of God) would seek to undermine our society and destroy the whole world if they could--willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly.

Choose a side. Do it wisely.

~ Rak Chazak

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Can't Get Enough

I doubt it will be the case, but I've wondered about whether heaven will be nothing more than an eternal worship service, with music and song and dance, just praising God forever. While I can't imagine what it would be like, I can understand how it could be. One of the fascinating things with reading the Bible and learning theology is that the more you read and listen, the more you want to. It becomes a source of energy. It is literally pleasing and satisfying to hear someone talk about the Gospel, or to talk about it yourself. It's impossible to hold it back. Like trying to stop a faucet with your hands, or for that matter a lightbulb, it just keeps overflowing; it just keeps shining through. You can't hold back the Gospel. You can't resist talking about it and you love to hear it again and again. It never gets old. 

I first got introduced to RW Glenn via the DVD "The Biggest Question," that I got from some people who were partnering with Wretched to get them handed out. Now I ran into a youtube video of him explaining the Gospel. I love hearing the slightly different ways that each theologian presents it. Consider the prior piece from John MacArthur that I posted a few weeks ago. What I really like about RW Glenn is his conversational style. Plus, he's a youngster by comparison to the older preachers and like me, uses exaggerated hand gestures while talking. :)

It's the same Gospel, but every presentation is nuanced based on the personality of the speaker. And sometimes the audience, which you've gotta take into consideration.

I love it. 

And because of this feeling of being drawn to hear it constantly, I think I can understand how heaven could be an eternal 'worship-party.' If it did turn out that standing and singing was 'all there is' to heaven, I can accept that and I would be content.

It's not that I'm satisfied with little. I'm satisfied with few things. God is only one "thing," and yet He is so important, He is everything. It's not hard to be satisfied with everything. I hope I've offered some perspective here tonight.

If you're not a Christian -- just watch the video. And if you're a Christian, definitely watch the video. 

~ Rak Chazak

Feeling Bad in A Good Way

I recently fell into some sin that I'd avoided for a while; the details aren't important, so I won't go into them. But the point to stress here is the disappointment over falling down when you had seen positive indications that you'd finally moved past it, for many months. 

I have to confess, I love the feeling of ending a bout with sin and walking away from it. Getting away from whatever it was, and taking some alone time to pray to God and get back to living for Him instead of running away -- it's such a relief. I wrote about this in an earlier blog post.

Most people feel bad after doing something they know is wrong. But there's two different ways to feel bad about something. As a general rule, you can either pity yourself or you can be filled with sorrow over how what you did affected the person you did it against. There are such things as "victimless crimes," where something you do doesn't necessarily hurt another person. But there's no such thing as a "victimless sin," because all sin is ultimately against God. So the appropriate response to your feelings of guilt after doing something wrong is to be anguished over hurting your relationship with your Heavenly Father. The wrong way to react is to run away from God in shame, refusing to deal with Him. The wrong way to react is to make it all about you. 

Think about it: "I should be better than this." Really? You should be better than you are? You must think highly of yourself. Stop and realize--this sort of thought is actually PRIDE at its core. You suppose that you have it in yourself to be good. That is why you fail to reconcile with God; you run from Him because in your mind you truly think you can fix your mistakes without His help. It's monumentally arrogant! When you no longer say to yourself, "that's not who I really am--that's not me," and instead admit that you are as rotten as the things you do, then you're ready to accept the fact that only God can help you get out of the hole you've dug for yourself. That's why when you've done something wrong, the right thing to do is not to run away from God, but to run toward Him. He's not our enemy. We're our own worst enemy. He's our friend. 

So as soon as you've admitted to yourself that you have sinned, run to God. Find Him in prayer and have the assurance of your salvation restored to you; thank Him for His forgiveness and ask for His help to strengthen you to avoid sin in the future.

That's what I did. And I was really excited when I found this video of R W Glenn saying essentially the same thing that I'd come to recognize on my own:

His illustration with Peter and Judas explains the difference between 'feeling bad in a good way,' and 'feeling bad in a bad way,' as I referenced in the title.

It seems counter-intuitive at first, but I hope you learn to make the habit of running back to God when you stumble into sin, instead of hiding in shame like Adam and Eve did. Forgiveness is a great thing, and it's freely given. You can't earn it, and thanks to God, we don't need to. 

~ Rak Chazak

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ode to An Outdoorsy Wife

This is original to me. Feel free to copy it but if you want to give attribution, use the title above and attribute it to Hakam Adam. I just felt a creative spark and wrote this this evening. I hope you enjoy it!

Come, let me read you a tale from the heart
And soon you will quite understand
How a person like me could consider it art
How the mind works inside of a man

Dusk, when the sun sinks below all the trees
Is my favorite time of the day
Why should it be that the sweet evening breeze
And the night sky incline me to say,

"God, I am thankful to be here this night
And I love what I see with my eyes. 
Please give me grace that I walk in the Light
And to not fail to strive for your prize." ?

Nature, I reckon, inclines me to worship
The One who created it all
One day, yet future, a songbird in courtship
My bride it shall also enthrall

For if we would ever be joined in one flesh
We can't be too different, you know
As husband and wife, our interests should mesh
And our differences help us to grow

No doubt, she'll be unlike myself in most ways
But I figure we both can agree
That a walk in the evening outside on most days
Will us both inspire genuinely

There's something quite soothing 'bout being outside
And it's something that I want to share
With a wonderful woman--my sister, my bride
I am anxious until I get there

For now, it's just me and my awesome Creator
Conversing on star-studded nights
The hills and the trees are a natural theater
The world is afire with lights

It is easy to see when the sun is up high
And the colors are vibrant and stark
But the light that I seek is a different design
It is one that will shine in the dark.

It is true that I'm never truly alone
My Savior is with me always
But until that day when He bids me come home
There's something inside me that says,

"Lord, let me grow and become a good man,
So that one day a woman will find
That our mutual love could be part of Your plan,
That I will be hers and she mine

Let her be someone who like me loves mountains
And let her also love You
Give me the strength to love like a fountain
Always outpouring anew."

I hope against hope that I'll find her one day
And that when I do, I don't miss her
So until I am ready, I still watch and pray
Until finally, I get to kiss her.

Artful, perhaps, is the mind of this writer
Full of God, nature, women and more
Against loneliness, romance is a fighter
But it's God who foreknows what's in store.

~ Rak Chazak

Be Careful What You Pray For

2 Chronicles 1:7-12

On that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask! What shall I give you?”

And Solomon said to God: “You have shown great mercy to David my father, and have made me king in his place. God, let Your promise to David my father be established, for You have made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude. Now give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people; for who can judge this great people of Yours?”

Then God said to Solomon: “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked riches or wealth or honor or the life of your enemies, nor have you asked long life—but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself, that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king—wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like.”
This inspired me when I was young. At some point in high school, I began making a habit of asking for wisdom, when I would stand out by the road on summer nights and pray as I walked with my head turned up toward the stars. I figured asking for wisdom was a worthwhile thing to do, even if I didn't necessarily know exactly what acquiring it would entail.

You can rarely tell immediately how God chooses to answer your prayers. But looking back on your life's path, years down the road, it is often evident. Now I can see clearly how God chose to answer my prayer for wisdom. And boy, was I unprepared for the result!

I encountered a personal crisis in the summer of 2009 when I read ahead in a philosophy book for a class I was taking. I became upset when I came to a question that I couldn't answer to my satisfaction. I put off thinking about it for a semester or so, but you can't avoid thinking about these things for long; it kills you. At best, you'll be perpetually bitter, at worst, you'll go nuts. The conclusion of the matter was that I spent countless hours researching theological topics on line in order to satisfy my need to know the answers. And now I have a much fuller understanding of these two verses, which constitute the "fine print" to any prayer you make asking for wisdom:

Proverbs 4:7 -- Seek wisdom, for wisdom is the principal thing. And whatever it takes, get understanding.
Ecclesiastes 1:18 -- In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.

I have a very personal knowledge of the truth of those two statements. They don't contradict. Wisdom is a good thing to get. The thing is, increasing wisdom is directly negatively proportional to your ability to be blissfully naive and ignorant. The more you know, the more there is to offend your sense of order, and what ought to be. One of the ironic and scary things I've noted, particularly with the help of Ken Ham and Todd Friel (who partially serve as watchdogs for compromise in the Christian Church), is that when you're ignorant, you don't know about false teachings and various evil things you should watch out for, which makes you more vulnerable. But when you know about them, you are less vulnerable because your knowledge is like a shield, protecting you from lies. It is a tragic thing that those most vulnerable to deceit are those who are least able to recognize it for what it is. And those who do recognize it do not need to fear so much for their own sake, but for others who remain susceptible. It's a fretful thing.

Another way in which I've found those statements to be true is that the truth about history is very uncomfortable. I've lived a very sheltered life by comparison to the rest of the world. America is quite literally an island, and has been isolated geographically from much of the barbarity in the rest of the world. Sadly, things seem to be changing. But those who are ignorant will be caught by surprise. Knowing about the dangers posed by enemy nations, false religions, foolish political philosophies and tyrannical governments give the educated person an endless source of things to be concerned about. Yet it is those who have the most to worry about that have less to be afraid of, because they will, by and large, be better prepared. I feel very sorry for those who are ignorant of the malevolent realities outside of their sphere of experience. But the truth is not hidden, and ultimately everybody has a choice to remain ignorant or to seek wisdom and knowledge. It's a shame that so many of us are content with so little.

There's much to think about, the more you learn. Getting wisdom and knowledge can lead to racing thoughts and vivid fears of the known, rather than the unknown, which keeps diminishing the more you learn. But in all your seeking after wisdom, remember the fundamental truth that the most basic of all knowledge is the recognition that God is the supreme authority whom we ought to obey and whom we can trust. Consider Proverbs 9:10 and Proverbs 1:7. They say that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge." The secret to having peace despite the increase in sorrow and grief that Ecclesiastes 1:18 describes, is to rest in God (Psalm 62:1-2).

As Ecclesiastes goes on to say, there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

In gaining wisdom, I've found that the Christian life is not marked by balance, but by rhythm. Some days are marked more by anguish over the world, some by haste to bring the Good News to them that are perishing, and some days are days of rest, when you consider the good things in life that God has given us and contemplate the bigger picture--that one day, all of these things which bring grief and sorrow will finally be done away with. I encourage you to persevere to the very end.

If you are not a Christian and would like to know peace in the midst of all the strife in the world today, I encourage you to consider this. I cannot make you convert, but I can point you to the only thing that can make us whole. Please read.

~ Rak Chazak

If Obama Had a Baby.... would look like the baby Gosnell murdered.

If you don't understand the reference, I'm mocking Obama's statement about Trayvon Martin, the black Florida youth who was shot by George Zimmerman, a hispanic man who made a 911 call about a suspicious character while serving in his capacity as the neighborhood watch, moments before. Obama personally inserted himself into the news by saying that 'if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon.' Not only is this utterly irrelevant, but it's distasteful for the President to try to sway public opinion in favor of Trayvon being a victim by making him seem more sympathetic, when the facts of the case are still not yet fully known to the public, since the trial isn't set to begin until next month. 

In a curious irony, Obama kept himself completely out of any media exposure with reference to the Kermit Gosnell trial, which arguably has much more relevance to the national interest. Why might he be so silent now, whereas before he had no qualms with making a murder accusation his personal business?

It could be that Gosnell, the now-convicted murderer, is black? It could be that the babies he aborted, and the babies he killed after they were already born, were likewise black? I believe Obama is racist. I think he decided to take Trayvon's side because he sympathized with him on the basis of skin color and some strange notion of fighting back against the "white oppressor," given that Zimmerman is a very "white-sounding" name. That George turned out to be a mixed man became a bit of an embarrassment for Obama, seeing as he thinks he's the savior of all hispanics as well. Obama's problem is that his identity-politics comes into conflict with his social agendas. He wants abortion to be fully free and legal at all costs, but he also wants to be seen as the guy all black people should vote for because he has their best interests at heart. So when a black murderer murders black babies in an abortion "clinic," that's embarrassing for Obama. 

Even more embarrassing is the fact that Obama voted four times, while he was a senator, to make the stuff that Gosnell did LEGAL. That's the bottom line why I think the President has avoided making public comments about the trial. The fact is that according to his voting record, Obama doesn't think that Gosnell should have been accused of murder, much less convicted. If he were to speak against Gosnell, he'd be called out on his hypocrisy. And if he said what he really thinks, he'd alienate his voter base by revealing himself to be very, very anti-poor, anti-minority, and anti-woman.

Here is a hub link that gives source information to prove that Obama voted against making it illegal to kill a baby born after a botched abortion over four times:

~ Rak Chazak

[edit: further ironic is the fact that during the trial, Obama held a speech at a Planned Parenthood conference, ending with the cringe-worthy statement, "Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you."]

Monday, May 13, 2013

This MeTV Stuff is Way Better than Modern Sit-Coms

A few years ago, the regional channel 45-2 began broadcasting vintage movies. The channel is called "This," and its catchphrase is "I love this," or "this is great," etc etc which is fun. Just recently, however, I noticed that channel 11-2, perhaps noticing the popularity of vintage television, decided to jump on the bandwagon, but from a different angle. Rather than show old movies, "Me" (catchphrase "watch me," etc) is airing antique classic television shows. I have to be honest: it's refreshing to watch.

I've hardly watched much of that channel at all, but when I have, it's been a breath of fresh air by comparison to modern sitcoms. It's as if the scenarios keep getting more and more ridiculous in what passes for entertainment today. What little I've seen of these shows:
Two and a Half Men
Two Broke Girls
Modern Family
Malcolm in the Middle
The Middle
Everybody Loves Raymond
The King of Queens
Rules of Engagement
How I Met Your Mother
Modern Family
Mike and Molly
gives me the prevailing impression that nothing in the script relates to me at all. I can get the jokes and stuff, but it's just so absurd. And while not all of the above attempt to be as depraved as possible, some do, and it makes you wonder why they go through the effort. It's as if shock value is the new standard by which to produce entertainment television. It seems as though producers determined to take the Jerry Springer show and turn it into a scripted drama.

Allow me to draw on a few episodal themes from the above selection which DO NOT APPEAR in older shows like the ones shown on MeTV, or even the Cosby Show, for cryin' out loud.

* a child younger than 5 cussing because she learned it from her parents
* a 30-something adolescent, upon seeing his personal assistant's Skype window open (the assistant was talking to his sister), tells the girl to take her top off, assuming that she was a privately employed "cam-girl" porn actress who engages in cyber sex for money. Worse: she then goes on a date with him.
* the leading man's wife leaves or threatens to leave him because of his incompetence
* one of the main characters urinates on herself in public
* the mother of one of the characters gives a man a heart attack, of which he dies, while having sex
* one of the characters new housemates has sex with the other's mother within hours of meeting her.
* it goes on and on and on

I'm supposed to laugh at this? The fact that this is being marketed toward my age group (mid-twenties, for example most of the "Friends"-esque sitcoms feature a group of 5-8 guys and girls in a city who get into shenanigans) really bothers me. Consequently, now that I have seen just one episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show and the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I want to see more. Allow me to give a synopsis:

In the Dick Van Dyke episode I watched, Dick and his wife go to a hotel somewhere for their anniversary. His wife goes to the bathroom to freshen up and Dick waits outside. The main plot device around which the episode revolved was that Mrs. Dyke got her toe stuck in the faucet of the bathtub while the door was locked. Wow, no gratuitous sexual references or cursing or scatological humor? Not one in the episode! 

In the Mary Tyler Moore episode I just saw yesterday, Mary's friend Rhonda's mother comes to visit and the latter wants to be friends with her daughter rather than just be her mother, since she doesn't like the relationship she has with her daughter. Too much knocking heads, basically. The episode concludes with Rhonda deciding that she wants her mother to be her mother again. The closest thing to a sexual reference is Mary telling Rhonda's mom that "I don't think people do that anymore," with reference to Parking (if you don't know what that means, ask someone who lived through the 60s and 70s, or better yet, just watch Grease); and later, when Rhonda comes home, she expresses her disdain over her date's behavior and Rhonda's mother goes out the door with a look of purpose to give him a stern talking-to.

By far, I enjoy these antique shows much more than what comes on tv nowadays. The stark differences between the shows of the 50s-70s and the sitcoms of the 90s and 00s goes to show you how rapidly a culture can change, and with it its appetite. Hopefully, if enough people tune in to This and Me, broadcasters will get the hint and increase the offering, so that our cultural entertainment can turn back just as quickly. Maybe I'll be able to watch t.v. again.

~ Rak Chazak

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Wretched Christian Song Lyrics, Revisited

After the first 2 minutes of this, I feel confident that I've parsed Todd Friel's criticism of 'Christian music' correctly:

A song is played, that's supposedly intended to encourage people with body image or 'self esteem' issues. Here are the lyrics:
You were walking on the moon, now you're feeling low || What they said wasn't true, you're beautiful || Sticks and stones break your bones, I know what you're feeling || Words like those won't steal your glow, you're one in a million
This, this is for all the girls, boys all over the world || Whatever you've been told, you're worth more than gold || So hold your head up high, it's your time to shine || From the inside out it shows, you're worth more than gold
It came out last year, was at the top of the Christian contemporary billboards for a while, and now is being re-released into the mainstream market. Not surprising at all, says Todd: there's nothing distinctly Christian about it.

This is the problem with most things put out from and marketed to the Church these days, be they sermons, 'self-help books,' conferences or music. There is an attempt to make people feel good about themselves, so praise is heaped on them, but this Mr.-Rogers-approach to solving problems doesn't accomplish the solution, because it is only ever the symptoms that are recognized, and not the underlying illness.

Body image issues and lack of self-confidence, and everything that is termed "self-esteem" by the school system, all stem from the same place that everything wrong with this world stems from -- sin. There's two ways this can be true: it can be a result of the original sin of Adam, which essentially broke the once-perfect Creation, resulting in what we know as The Fall, making all sorts of natural evil and chaos to be a normal occurrence in this world we live in. The other way is a direct result of someone's sin -- a mean word by someone, or guilt over the wrong things you yourself have done or thought, can make you feel bad about yourself. The world has its own solution to this: to stop feeling bad, a person must simply tell and be told enough nice things that the bad feelings are drowned out by good ones. But this doesn't deal with the problem at its root, and the potential for a recurrence is still there. God's solution to the problem of sin is not for it to be ignored, but for it to be destroyed--and for all who take His offer, they'll have forgiveness in the meantime. Being forgiven, as anyone who has experienced it can attest, is freeing. There is a very real sense of closure when you are forgiven of the totality of your sin, because the problem has now been dealt with, and anything you feel between now and the Resurrection is merely the aftershocks of the Fall, which no longer has the potential to hurt you eternally, only temporarily. 

Music that would encourage people with guilt or confidence issues would then necessarily point to Jesus Christ as the solution, and not settle for vain compliments. Here are some songs that I suggest as more Gospel-centered alternatives to the song from the podcast above. Each addresses feelings of guilt, inadequacy, hurt, etc from different angles. Each is more or less blatantly referential to Jesus.

Beloved -- Tenth Avenue North
Corinthians -- Apologetix
Dear Heart -- Sanctus Real (for personal guilt)
Faith to Be Strong -- Andrew Peterson
Love is Not A Fight -- Warren Barfield (for relationships)
Healing Begins -- Tenth Avenue North (for someone hurting; applicable to bullying victims or those feeling lots of peer pressure)
Before the Morning -- Josh Wilson (for having a big-picture perspective to suffering)
Fall Apart -- Josh Wilson (very similar to Blessings, by Laura Story in its "angle")
You Loved Me Anyway -- Sidewalk Prophets (lyrics come from the "angle" Todd was talking about in the podcast)
Who Am I -- Casting Crowns
I'm Not All Right -- Sanctus Real
Forgiven -- Sanctus Real (this song brings the closure I was talking about)

If you're struggling with body image issues, bullying, teasing, social ostracism, relationship difficulties, personal guilt over dirty secrets you have, etc, then please take a listen to any one of the songs above. I hope it'll give you both perspective and the appropriate encouragement.

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, May 9, 2013

PhD Pontification

They say that networking is the best way to get your foot in the door at a job. 

It turns out that human interaction is the best way to get anything done, as anyone who's put in the effort to make a phone call or go see someone in person surely knows--mail correspondence can be ignored, but face time warrants a response. And casual conversation is often a gold mine of information you wouldn't be able to find elsewhere easily, for the simple reason that each individual person prioritizes information according to the perceived value it has to other people they may be talking to.

While I was studying for an exam earlier, I had a conversation with a young woman who clearly "knows her stuff" when it comes to academics. She was taking an active role in teaching us the material. But beyond the course material, she knew some things about after-graduation options, which she passed on to me. She herself had only learned about this last semester. And that's what's so mindblowing about it.

Apparently grad school doesn't require you to pay to go -- they pay you.

It sounds suspicious, but it is indeed true, she insisted. The upsetting thing is the realization that despite several years of schooling, no one has ever yet told me this. I've had the impression that continuing school would mean going even further into debt, and that's intolerable, so I've been refusing that idea. But now I find out that you can skip a Master's program and go directly into a PhD program--provided you're accepted--and actually be paid. The actual setup is something like this: Tuition is 17,000 ish and they pay you maybe 30,000/yr so after tuition you're technically getting paid to do research. It's a net benefit for all involved because the university can pay you less than they would pay a full time faculty researcher. But you're getting experience, an advanced degree, and more money than before, on top of it all. For a guy like me, currently making $0/yr, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal. 

I'm late hearing about this, though. I don't think I'm out in time to apply for any such programs this year. Maybe I'll have an opportunity later on, and perhaps something even better comes along in the meantime. I'll have to play it by ear. But at least now I know of somewhere that I can start looking. I can't fully express my frustration that no professor, academic advisor, TA or career/internship advisor ever told me this. The person who told me didn't know until she was 25, going on 26. Something is wrong when you're completely left to fend for yourself in college. I understand that having to gain independence is a valuable lesson to learn, but if that's the plan, universities can't really take credit for producing its graduates. University didn't help us, we survived University.

How's that for perspective?

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Folly of Wisdom

I've learned a bit since beginning to comment on the online discussion forum at my university's web site.

When I began, I was thrilled to share what I had discovered about political, theological and scientific reality with everyone else in the online campus community. I love learning the truth and I seek it with all my might. SURELY, I thought to myself, surely everyone else must also want to know the truth, and be glad to hear it?


In retrospect, it was an extremely naive thing for me to suppose. In expecting others to be happy to hear the truth, I foolishly assumed that they would recognize it as truth upon hearing it. Furthermore, I've found that some people consciously resist the truth because they are unwilling to accept its implications for emotional reasons.

Strife ensued. I'm disappointed that so many people have sought to defame me in public and in secret, with vicious rumors, mostly false, all misleading. I was naive to not anticipate that people would go after me instead of wrestling with the truth I challenged them with. In retrospect, I imagine I am, after all, an easier target.

I find that this passage from Ecclesiastes 2 expresses my heart's cry:

13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly
As light excels darkness.14
The wise man’s eyes are in his head,
But the fool walks in darkness.
Yet I myself perceived
That the same event happens to them all.15
So I said in my heart,
“As it happens to the fool,
It also happens to me,
And why was I then more wise?”
Then I said in my heart,
“This also is vanity.”16
For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever,
Since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come.
And how does a wise man die?
As the fool!
17 Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.

This is likely to continue for as long as I remain in view. When I finally manage to pick up my feet and walk away, I won't do so announced. I will simply leave and let the chips fall where they may. I do not hate those who have spoken evil of me; I hate their deeds. I will refrain from judging and let God settle the account.

Psalm 28:4 May the Lord repay them according to their works.

I am at peace. God is in control. He will have the last word.

~ Rak Chazak