Who will I be this year?

Had a birthday last week.

Inspired by this post (the blogger had a birthday about the same time as me), I’m also asking the question. Who will I be this year?

Someone who’s courageous to overcome fears and doubt and insecurities to reach for my dreams — whether it’s going on long-term missions, or finishing my novels, or making art again, or trying something new.

Someone who’s not afraid of hard work and risk and failure, who when I fall down will then get up again. And again, and again.

Someone who’s not too proud or self-conscious to laugh at myself, to make a fool of myself, to look like the ignorant dunce — if it means being humble and learning from others.

Someone who is ever more generous, who is willing to pour out my life to serve others… because it’s not about what I can give, but what Christ wants to give through me. He is the infinite source of life and capability.

“No” is a word that comes easily to my tongue, it’s a reflexive response to anyone making a request of me. I want to be someone who says Yes more than No. Yes to spontaneous adventures. Yes to an opportunity to be a blessing. Yes to risk and faith. Yes to something new and wonderful. Yes to joy.

Conversations on persecution with a Chinese Christian.

Apropos of reading this article – recording this to remember.

A few weeks ago I was at a conference held by my church. There, I met a Chinese woman, about my age who also attends my church. I don’t quite remember her name, it unfortunately went in one ear and then out again, so let’s call her “Summer”.

Summer is from Zhejiang province, and had moved here to study a master degree in law. She has full barrister qualifications in China, but was interested in studying in our country to broaden her skillset.

She attends my English-speaking, very multicultural church instead of a Mandarin-speaking, mainland-Chinese church, because she finds the latter too staid. Something about Chinese nationals being conservative and restrained, especially ones who came to the faith while abroad. She prefers the exuberance and unrestrained expressiveness of our church.

I was astonished when she told me that she grew up a Christian in a Christian family. Most Chinese Christians I’ve met were converts in adulthood, so it was unique to meet someone who’s been a believer since childhood. While living in Beijing, she attended an underground/unregistered church. That church has since been shut down by the Chinese government, but she wasn’t in the country when that happened.

We had a conversation about the underground churches, how they compared to the Three-self churches, and persecution from the Chinese government. Summer’s description of a raid was surprisingly prosaic: police walking into a meeting and watching from the back of the room, taking photographs of each person, having a word with the pastors. A raid doesn’t necessarily end in arrests, but it is designed to intimidate both congregation and clergy. There may be consequences the next time, and what’s more, the government has facial recognition software. Now they know your face and name.

I didn’t get to ask Summer about how underground churches and their members elude governmental scrutiny. I did ask her how she felt about attending an unregistered church, when the threat of raids and arrest looms over every meeting. She said that living fully for Jesus Christ and his Gospel were more important than personal wellbeing. The pastor of her church refused to register as a Three-self church because he couldn’t let the truth of the Gospel be censored by governmental bodies and he would preach Christ without restraint.

We both agreed that the power of God is equally at work in Three-self churches as unregistered churches — the Spirit of God will not be restrained — but as far as Summer was concerned, she finds fuller and deeper expression of faith in the underground church, and persecution is the lesser price to pay compared to the fullness of living out her faith.

But she was also thankful to now live here in a country where freedom of religion is upheld, and she wouldn’t be persecuted for attending church. This privilege is something to be cherished, she said.

This is the first time I’ve spoken at length to a Chinese Christian who attended an underground church. It was an honour to meet Summer. I admire her openness in discussing the realities of faith under persecution, and I want to learn more. I haven’t seen her since that day we spoke, but will look out for her.

IndieWeb thoughts (2): A postscript, a prayer.

Now that I’ve had some IndieWeb thoughts, what do I do about them?

It’s just revealed to me the state of my own heart and being. I’ve been too inward-looking for too long, and the Internet (indeed, the IndieWeb) exacerbates my conceit.

The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more I pray “help” prayers. I remember scorning those kinds of prayers as a youth. Am I so needy? Do I need to lean on an external support? Why do I speak with such abasement to the Lord Jesus Christ? But the years have taught me humility and the magnitude of my own weaknesses.

O Lord, help me. Help me to get off the Internet, overcome its inward-turning, self-focused, centripetal pull. Give me Christ’s heart for people, his outward focused love that looked not to itself, indeed scorned itself, but always to the other. Help me to see beyond myself and my own, and to be humble and teachable.

Glimpses of glory.

Church has been holding prayer/revival nights. We came, some several hundreds of us, with hands raised to hail Christ our Lord and hearts open to receive him.

The teenagers were there, from middle school kids to high school youths, hands open, faces raised with passion. I thought: young lions, full of zeal. God, make them brilliant lights of hope and victory in a dark world.

The band played. I watched the young black African bassist with his groove and virtuoso fingers and flashing white grin, the young Chinese drummer whose hands and feet moved to conjure magic. Young lions, probably not even twenty yet, pouring their talent into a purpose greater than themselves, into worship.

Our pastor honoured the seniors in the congregation, asking those aged seventy and over to come forward to receive prayer and blessing. They came, the elders. Some were frail but they came from their seats to the edge of the stage. Some I know had been in this church for most of their lives, and are still here, still vibrant. We honoured their wisdom, their endurance, their faithfulness to the house.

At the end of one evening, I saw D. and R. in the parking lot. D., pastor out west, Latino, big in physique and heart, asked, “Vega, friend! you gonna make a pilgrimage out west to see us again?” R., white Anglo and fellow soldier, just smiled in his quiet way and hugged me. They got into the car and left, back out west, to the frontiers.

Soon, friends, I’ll make the pilgrimage.

Currently thinking. My personal difficulties with the narratives of lack and disability prevalent in social/online discourse. But I can’t be judgmental because I have those narratives in my life too. Tension between the now/not-yet paradox of faith — Christ Jesus has come to give us abundant life now, but there are some things that won’t be restored/healed/delivered until Christ comes in glory.

How then to live in this paradox? What is the difference between an acknowledgment of limitations that produces freedom and grace, and a resignation that surrenders spiritual territory to evil principalities and powers? How do the current social discourses on disability feed into either? Where am I speaking and living with a paradigm of lack and inability, and why? What kind of fruit am I producing when I feed that paradigm, and how is the confession of my thoughts and speech shaping my own life? Am I aligning with what Christ says about me?

Wonderful, continued.

The Holy Spirit breathed a question into my mind this morning.

“How much do you want God’s presence? –Wait. Let’s rephrase that. Do you want God’s presence above all else?

And the answer that comes from my life is: No, I don’t. I don’t want it that much.

“Why not?”

If I take a certain tack, the question is easy to answer. But that’s the wrong tack to the wrong answer.

So I answered: I have forgotten the great story of my life.

I have gone to the lesser stories that delight for the moment. All those stories eventually end, and I’m left with that dissatisfaction and hunger for something greater. But the Great Story that God the Author is writing will never end. And my story is woven into it. Yes, God is writing my story and he is writing it perfectly.

How could I lose my delight in the Great Story, unless I had forgotten it? How could my life take on this grey cast, if I had not started thinking that the Great Story is not for me?

Spirit of God, remind me again of my story that you are writing. Truly, in the humdrum busy of life, I gradually forgot and forgot, until it became a faraway echo. Bring me back to wonder — how wonderful you are, and how wonderful is my life because you are the Author and you write a perfect Story.

“Remember not the former things,
     nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
     now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
     and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honour me,
     the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
     rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
     the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.
—Isaiah 43:18-21

Wonderful

And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honour you?” And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”

So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching…

—Judges 13:17-19

In the humdrum busy of my life, I’d forgotten that God is wonderful. No matter if the rest of my life sometimes has a grey cast over it, no matter that I am dissatisfied for reasons I can’t even begin to articulate. Hasn’t God already done a wondrous thing by being part of my life?

O LORD, bring me to a position of wonder in you. I will still say, you are wonderful and therefore my life is amazing.

Being the hero of my story.

Tigana is a story of a people reclaiming their inheritance. Guy Gavriel Kay has ensorcelled me with his mighty tale. But more on the book later.

Apropos of Kay’s novel and Doug Wilson’s exegesis on Psalm 2 (disparate sources, but that’s how my mind works)—

In the last few years I’ve found myself drawn more and more strongly to the heroic, the mythic, the legendary. In stories, music, and imagery, they are all clarion calls to my heart and stir up a longing for the ineffable. For something wondrous I can see, that stands just beyond me and beckons me to come. In the midst of life that sometimes feels like an endless ploughing of the earth, seeing nothing but the dirt in front of me — the legends cry: Look up!

Look up at the sky, look up to the far mountains. There is more beyond this life! And even greater: there is more to what you are doing now, even if it is just earth and fallow dirt before your eyes. Don’t you see that you are in the Promised Land, and because you ploughed your ground with faithfulness, it shall one day cover the whole world?

I’ve just begun reading the tale called the Love of Christ; but I’ve been in this other book for at least a couple years already: the tale of God the Master Storyteller.

Psalm 2:7-8—
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.

Why are such fantasy novels so powerful and moving? Tigana, Riddle-Master, The Lord of the Rings… the heart of these stories are of Alessan, Morgon and Aragorn discovering their true natures, and reclaiming their inheritances and lordship. So it is with us: so we read those stories, and long for what we have lost.

Mighty though those tales are, they are only shadows of the reality. Even more glorious is the story that God first told in his Son, and is now telling in his Church, in individual lives. Don’t we all want to be heroes of our own stories? And so shall we be. But who is telling the story?

The heroes in the story never know where they are going or how it will turn out in the end.

It may suffice for fantasy novels, but in the story of life all authors fall short, including myself, for we know not the end or how to get there. But God is the Master Storyteller, he knows the beginning from the end for he wrote it first in Jesus, and he knows how to get there — and tell an amazing yarn in the meantime. And just like his own story, our lives will end in glory, perfection, and full inheritance.

Even as the heroes journey through the dark, fraught, perilous times, we the readers know how it will end. People of God, whose lives are still being written by the Master Storyteller: can we possibly look at our own stories and see the same ending?

Ever since I had this revelation, I’ve had more and more peace, gratitude and wonder in my heart, that overcomes fear and anxiety about the future, the unknown. Life is wonderful! In the great deeds and small details, God is telling a good story in me. And when the days just seem like I’m staring at and ploughing the ground before me, I can still raise my eyes to the mountains and look to the sky, and that yearning in my heart tells me that there is more to be written yet.

One touch.

I’ve been learning a lot in faith lately.

One revelation that has been unfolding for the last couple months has been the love of Christ. The fierce, fiery, unrelenting, violently passionate, wholly possessive, willingly and joyously sacrificial, love of Christ for the Church his bride. This is no mere human love; this truly is divine love.

It is not a common revelation amongst Christians, even in most churches. Because it is not a comfortable revelation. It’s easy and relatively safe to contemplate a benevolent love, even a Fatherly love, for a measure of distance can be maintained. It is terrifying to imagine the passionate love of a lover for his dearly beloved. Because it renders your vulnerable, it strips you naked, it exposes everything in you. Who can face such intimacy without fear?

In this world of flagrant bodily exposure, the heart has never been more shielded. Small wonder that we shy away from the burning love of Christ. It turns the world upside down.

Oh, why remain in shallows of vapid love and meaningless sexual gestures? The deep is terrifying. The deep is exhilarating. Once you taste from the deep, nothing else will satisfy.

To go deep, you have to drown.

Jesus, for a moment you touched me that white-hot love, and I am irreparably scarred. That one draught will sustain me for forty days and forty nights; that one touch is enough to set my heart longing for your courts and your glory.

You said, I will fill your cup to overflowing. So Lord, pour it out.