Friday, December 23, 2011

Shepherds

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

There was glory on the hillside, that they knew—
But the light has faded—can this be the place?
Go inside, one says, and cough a little—
They are only shepherds, and only a few.

Outside the wind sways the bowed brush low
Murmering deference—blessing—prayer.
It swirls the loose hay on the rough stone floor
And lifts the ruff of a placid cow.

Oh chill air, tingle with this child’s strong cry—
Oh stars, burn clearer in greeting Him
Whom the universe thrilled to, time ago
When first it sang its created song!

At dawn, the plowman will creak from his bed—
Stretching as always in the cold half-light.
And his wife will turn her hair up in a knot
And pin it wearily, so she can make bread.

And the innman, who counted his money and smiled
Last night will count it again today
And fasten the bag with a satisfied shake—
Only shepherds gaze at the newborn child.

Slowly the light of the new day grows
Warming the mouth of that place, where, tired,
The mother sits and rocks her son
And thinks a little, and knows what she knows.

And leaving, one shepherd lags from the rest
Inhuman voices still ring in his ears
His unseeing eyes bright from within—
From the daystar light that still burns in his chest. 

©2003 Deborah King

Read more poetry here.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My New Heros

So the title of this post probably made you think it was about something serious. Um, no. I'm not in a serious mood right now. I'm in a "write about my secret guilty pleasure (henceforth no longer secret)" mood. Ahem.

I sometimes get asked the question: "So, how many years were you in college, exactly?" To which I respond glibly: "mumble mumble." "I'm sorry, what was that?" "Er, I said 'fourteen.'" "Fourteen?!!" Yes. You heard right. I am utterly insane. It was either school or the mental institution.

While I was doing my fourteen years of time, I was made to read all manner of books. I read books which discussed chiaroscuro and Caravaggio and Ionic columns. I read books designed to explain French conditionals and Greek declensions and Hebrew roots. I read books elucidating hamartiology and gnosticism and amillennialism. I read books about linguistics (with titles like ‘Ergativity’ and ‘The Syntax-Semantics Interface’) that made my eyes cross. I read scholarly articles coming out my ears. And then I wrote a book full of jargon that only about three people in the world can understand. And finally I got kind of tired of books that featured words like antipassive and antinomianism and antidisestablishmentarianism. (Okay, so I don't know if I ever actually read any books with that word in it.)

When the last word was written and my professors' John Hancocks were safely on the dissertation paperwork, I packed my scholarly tomes in cardboard boxes galore and lugged the forty or fifty library books littering my living room back to the library. I moved halfway across the country and promptly got a library card.

I can't be certain, but I think the first thing I checked out was "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." It was November, and I blew through the rest of the series by Christmas. A host of other fun books followed, none of whose authors even toyed with the idea of using the word ontological.

So now you know my guilty little secret. I am a children’s fiction addict.

Although I don’t limit myself to one genre, I especially like fantasy fiction. So I was very excited to run across an author that, in my opinion, is one of the cleverest, cleanest, and all-around most enjoyable to read that I’ve found in years. This guy makes me actually tempted to write him fan mail, which is saying something.

The author I’m talking about is Rick Riordan. (Some of you have heard me rave.) His first children’s series is called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and includes five books, each better than the last. The basic premise is that the Greek gods (you know, Ares, Zeus, Aphrodite) are still populating the world with demi-god hero children. The gods themselves turn out to be rather deadbeat parents, but their kids are full of vim and vigor, taking on monsters and quests with admirable pluck.

Having finished his first five, Riordan apparently thought the Roman gods deserved a fair shake. I’ve just completed The Lost Hero, the first in a new series of books that introduces fresh characters and brings in old ones as well, some the children of Greek gods, others children of Roman gods. Basic plot summary: Jason, Piper, and Leo team up to rescue the goddess Hera/Juno, who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious sleep-walking woman. The catch? They have only a few days to find her—oh, and simultaneously rescue Piper’s (human) father, who’s being held captive by giants.

What’s so great about  Riordan’s books? A lot of things. For one, his characters are just super likable. Second, the plots are tightly woven sequences of events that characterize good writing at its finest. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is left hanging. Every subplot moves the story along toward the resolution of the overarching question. On top of this, the books are educational. (Groan.)  No, no—wait! In a fun way. I promise. Riordan, a former history teacher, retells the Greek and Roman myths in a manner sometimes frankly hilarious. Take the following passage, in which Jason and his friends encounter the legendary King Midas.

“So,” Jason said. “All this gold—”
The king’s eyes lit up. “Are you here for gold, my boy? Please, take a brochure!”
Jason looked at the brochures on the coffee table. The title said GOLD: Invest for Eternity. “Um, you sell gold?”
“No, no,” the king said. “I make it. In uncertain times like these, gold is the wisest investment, don’t you think? Governments fall. The dead rise. Giants attack Olympus. But gold retains its value!”
Leo frowned. “I’ve seen that commercial.”

Of course, most of us have heard of Midas. But since reading The Lost Hero, I can now tell you the Aeolus and Boreas were gods of the winds, Medea was the wife of Jason until he dumped her for someone else, and that when I order a venti latte at Starbucks, a particularly astute barista might think of storm spirits instead. For someone who likes trivia as much as I do, it’s a particularly satisfying combination.

Right now, I’m waiting with anticipation for the second book in the series (Son of Neptune) to come out. I’ve already got my hold in at the local library.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Crossroad Counselors

Mistakes can be costly. I've found that true through painful experience this year. In my role as graphic artist I make the initial decisions about what our publications will look like and say. Ideally, other, wiser eyes should catch my mistakes. But still, twice now, something seemingly insignificant has slipped past my eyes and the eyes of the other proofreaders and gotten printed. And then, too late, someone sees it. And hundreds of dollars of printed material are rendered unusable by one fatal word or image.

Not too long ago, I made a decision that seemed harmless at the time. Before I knew it, I found myself teetering on the brink of losing a friendship that I didn't want to lose. By God's grace, everything was resolved. But it left me shaken, like a person whose car swerved just that close to the edge of a deep, deep ravine.

As I look at my planner today, my never ending to-do list has written on it the word "forms." It means the forms for a short-term missionary assignment with Bibles International that I'm putting off filling out to write this blog; the forms that ask me to describe myself and why I am qualified to be a missionary, why I should be allowed this greatest privilege of being sent out by the church to the world, why anyone should invest their money and their prayer time in me. And the truth is, I don't know the answer. Because I know myself, and I'm pretty much a mess. Even at my best intentioned, I blow it. I speak when I should be silent, or I am silent when I should speak. I fail to love because I am afraid. I fail to give because I am seeking my own good. I hurt people because I'm focused on myself.

I could go on. I find the expectation of perfection a heavy load to bear. It's why I'm glad to know in the deepest part of my soul that Jesus bore it for me. When I fail, when I sin, I go to God and ask for His continued cleansing (1 John 1:7). Then I get up and go on, knowing I've put on Christ's righteousness like a garment that covers all my shame (Rom. 13:14; Phil. 3:9; Rev. 3:18).

In my ladies' Bible study, we're looking at the life of David. David was a man God had blessed and favored. He had placed him in a position of power and influence. Everything seemed good. Until David blew it (2 Sam. 11). He ignored the multitude of good things God had freely given him and reached out for the tantalizing forbidden thing. As Kay Arthur puts it in our study guide, David progressed through a sequence of crossroads. At each one, he had the opportunity to choose good or evil, right or wrong, God's way or his way. But in each case, he chose the seemingly easier path. It took a hard punishment--the death of his child--to bring him around (2 Sam. 12).

The temptations I face are different from David's. Still, I can identify with the crossroads mentality. Here I stand, at the brink of my life. My vision extends into the future only a few paces. I'm tempted to be shortsighted and pick the path that looks easiest, most enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I taught our teen girls a lesson about trusting God's standards. We memorized this verse together: "Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors" (Psalm 119:24). I don't know about the girls, but I know that verse was intended for me. I've made enough mistakes to know that the results can be devastating. I've sinned enough times to know that the momentary pleasure is never worth the grief that follows. I'm standing at the crossroads, afraid to step my toe over the line because I know the pain of failure, the regret that comes from past mistakes, the costliness of my sin. And this is the good that comes out of it: I toss all my own way of thinking out the window and cling to what God has to say like a lifeline. I take God seriously when He says,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
   and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
   and he will make straight your paths.
Prov. 3:5-6

Take a deep breath, Debbie. Be counseled by God's words. And step forward.