Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blue Like Jazz

So I'll admit, I did not expect to like this book. My mind associated it with books like Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and The Shack by William Young. I thought it was a postmodern creed full of spiritualist gobblygook and that totally abandoned the gospel. Yet, after having one too many conversations with people that included me saying "well, from what I've heard, the book says...", I decided that enough was enough. It was time for me to suck it up and actually read the book. And the verdict? Well...

First, let's start with the good stuff. Donald Miller is a great writer. The book (which is merely a collection of essays loosely connected by Miller's personal journey through his faith) was absorbing from beginning to end. I really felt like I knew Miller by the end, and I appreciated his many insights into life, human nature, and religion. There were moments when he would wax eloquent that would literally take my breath away.

He also makes many great points. For a book by a guy who doesn't like fundamentalism, he spent a lot of time showing the truth behind many fundamentalist doctrines like human depravity and God's sovereignty. In fact, the book was surprisingly orthodox to me. He also made some valid criticisms of the modern church, especially the lack of humility and the legalism present in many orthodox churches. There were definitely times when I felt like he was blowing a problem out of proportion, or like I wanted to quibble with his focus, but these were mostly minor points.

That is, until his last two chapters. Suddenly he started talking about how to love yourself. And although I think I know what he was trying to say, what really got me was this paragraph right at the end:

All great characters in stories are the ones who give their lives to something bigger than themselves. And in all of the stories I don't find anyone more noble than Jesus. He gave his life for me, in obedience to His Father. I truly love Him for it...I think the difference in my life came when I realized, after reading those Gospels, that Jesus didn't just love me out of principle; He didn't just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused Him to love me. (page 238)

Like I said, I think I know what he means by this. However, I think this was the great problem I had with this book: it's all about what Miller thinks, how he feels, how something doesn't feel right, how something feels wrong, etc. And when he's right, he's right. But he never backs anything up with Scripture, so sometimes he misses the mark, and he's okay with that. So long as it feels right to him, it's okay if it's not quite what Scripture says. His Christianity, although it has many orthodox parts, is ultimately a very "spiritualistic" thing, and he makes this point many times, that he doesn't think that doctrine can really be defined or that it's really that important anyways, and that Christianity is all about being in love with Christ.

Now don't hear what I'm not saying. We should be in love with Christ, but the way to get there is not through seeking experiences, it's through studying his Word. And like I said, that's what's glaringly absent from this book: God's Word. I can also predict that many are going to say "you have to remember his target audience, Sam. Look at his subtitle: 'Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality.' The Bible is religious, so he doesn't use it." And that's just my problem. The Bible is the very foundation of everything we believe. I can understand why he wouldn't start with it in a "I'm going to thump this Bible over your head until you agree with me" sort of way, but at some point he should have started coming back to it, and he never did. The closest he got was reading the gospels to find the real Jesus, the one who loves him for something inside of him (which completely contradicts Scripture, by the way. The whole point is that he loves us despite what's inside of us).

So that's my problem with the book. He bases his entire religion on feelings, and in the process manages to pervert certain crucial Christian ideas. This is not to say that this is a bad book; on the contrary, I would actually recommend it highly to friends with some level of spiritual maturity, because I think he has some very helpful insights. But, I would not give it to a non-Christian or a new Christian, because I think it could actually be dangerous. A little wrong doctrine at the start can lead to some major problems down the road.

Final verdict: a pleasure to read, but misguided in several crucial areas.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Wonders of Pop Psychobabble

WARNING: The following post contains elements of Freudian psychobabble related to some of your favorite Pixar films, and could offend/ruin your Pixar-watching experience forever.

So I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the library reading an article in the Journal of Modern Film and Television entitled "Post-Princess Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar." The article discusses the emasculation of men in recent Pixar films, specifically highlighting Toy Story, Cars, and The Incredibles, and how they move from "alpha male" characteristics of domination and aggressiveness to embracing more of their feminine sides.

Although I originally started reading the article because I was interested in what they would say about Pixar and wanted to see how they defended their thesis, I was soon drawn into the article, my reading only broken by helpless fits of mirth at the sheer absurdity of many of their claims. The first bit that really made me start laughing was this:

“Emasculated” is not too strong a term for what happens to these male protagonists; the decline of the alpha-male model is gender coded in all the films. For his community service punishment, Lightning is chained to the giant, snorting, tar-spitting “Bessie” and ordered to repair the damage he has wrought. His own “horsepower” (as Sally cheerfully points out) is used against him when literally put in the service of a nominally feminized figure valued for more “feminine” orientation of service to the community. If being under the thumb of this humongous “woman” is not emasculating enough, Mater, who sees such subordination to Bessie as a potentially pleasurable thing, saying “I’d give my left two lug nuts for something like that.”

Seriously? Bessie is a symbol of being put under the thumb of a woman? Only women serve the community? Mater thinks such subordination would be "pleasurable"? But this is only the beginning. Only a few paragraphs later comes this gem:

From the beginning power is constructed in terms conspicuously gender-coded, at least for adult viewers: as they watch the incoming birthday presents, the toys agonize at their sheer size, the longest and most phallic-shaped one striking true fear (and admiration?) into the hearts of the spectators. When Buzz threatens Woody, one toy explains to another that he has "laser envy."

Wait, why does everything come down to phallic symbols? Oh, that's right, this is Freud talking (or maybe Jung). And things only get better (or worse):

The “mistress” tempting Mr. Incredible away from his wife and family is not Mirage at all but Buddy, the boy he jilted in the opening scenes of the film (whose last name, Pine, further conveys the unrequited nature of their relationship). Privileging his alpha-male emotional isolation, but adored by his wannabe sidekick, Mr. Incredible vehemently protects his desire to “work alone.” After spending the next years nursing his rejection and refining his arsenal, Buddy eventually retaliates against Mr. Incredible for rebuffing his advances. (bold added)

Now this is just getting ridiculous. Were the authors never kids themselves? Did they never idolize someone for their own sake, and not in a warped homosexual way? But this next section, right here, is the pinnacle of the ridiculousness. Read closely, because there's a lot of psycho-jargon in this bit, but it's worth the time you take to read:

Sedgwick further describes the ways in which the homosocial bond is negotiated through a triangulation of desire; that is, the intimacy emerging “between men” is constructed through an overt and shared desire for a feminized object. Unlike homosocial relationships between women—that is, “the continuum between ‘women loving women’ and ‘women promoting the interests of women’”—male homosocial identity is necessarily homophobic in patriarchal systems, which are structurally homophobic. This means the same-sex relationship demands social opportunities for a man to insist on, or prove, his heterosexuality. Citing Rene Girard’s Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, Sedgwick argues that “in any erotic rivalry, the bond that links the two rivals is as intense and potent as the bond that links either of the rivals to the beloved”; women are ultimately symbolically exchangeable “for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men.”

This triangulation of male desire can be seen in…Toy Story particularly, where the homosocial relationship obviously shares a desire for a feminized third. Buzz and Woody compete first, momentarily, for the affection of Bo Peep, who is surprisingly sexualized for a children’s movie….More importantly, they battle for the affection of Andy—a male child alternately depicted as maternal (it is his responsibility to get his baby sister out of her crib) and in need of male protection (Woody exhorts Buzz to “take care of Andy for me!”).

Did you catch that? Not only is Andy apparently a female archetype, and the primary purpose of women in a patriarchal society is to allow men to show their non-homosexuality by pursuing heterosexual relationships. Wow. . .

The article does make the valid point that the men in all of these Pixar films go from being domineering alpha-males to more gracious leaders, more appreciative of their families and friends, and much less arrogant. But unfortunately they put all this in terms of their "emasculation" and "acceptance of [their] more traditionally 'feminine' aspects," when in reality this is an embrace of biblical masculinity. No one said that just because alpha males exist, that's the definition of masculinity. In reality, that's the perversion.

But of course, it's not worth thinking too hard about this article, which has far too much nonsense in it to be taken seriously. Just enjoy it for what it is: a microcosm of modern feminist Freudian psychobabble.

And try not to let it ruin Pixar for you, too.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Odds and Ends Continued

Some of you who have been reading for a while probably remember my Odds and Ends posts where I would link to funny or interesting articles that I read throughout the week. Those posts were time-consuming to create, and so when time got tight, they were the first thing to go. I do have a semi-replacement, though, that I thought I would let you guys know about:

Sam's Shared Items on Google Reader

Even if you don't use Google Reader (and come on, why don't you?), you can still view everything that I share via Reader on this page. I typically share one or two articles a day, so this is a good way to see a lot of good articles. Check it out!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Story of a Film...and Its Critics

So a movie comes out that becomes an instant hit. It's not an especially well-made film, but it has a couple of things going for it: exciting action sequences, a charismatic lead, and (most importantly) a killer MacGuffin, a filmmaking term for "an object or goal that kicks the film into the third act" (Jim Windolf, "Keys to the Kingdom"). The film instantly achieves a certain classic status. Two popular sequels are released, which combine the same ingredients together into cinematic gold.

However, over the course of the next few decades, the movies become idealized in the American mind. People who had originally been drawn in by the key ingredients begin to see the trilogy of films as something more, as truly great works of art. They raise their children watching them, who, with the innocence of childhood, enjoy the action and the funny lines and the MacGuffin and exalt it possibly higher in their imagination. It achieves true legendary status, unassailable with traditional cinematic critical objections such as believability or good acting.

Then come rumors that one more film is to be made. People are shocked that anyone would even consider adding to perfection, but are curious to see what will happen. And so a fourth film comes out, and is met with...hatred. People despise it. "It fails to live up to the originals," they claim. "It's completely unbelievable. It's stupid. And the MacGuffin makes no sense." Yet the very things they complain about are drawn directly from the first three films. The action is no less absurd, the MacGuffin no more outlandish, the plot no more unrealistic than the first three. But the difference is that the first three are accepted on their own terms, whereas the fourth is being compared to the legendary, inviolable images which most people held in their minds of the originals.

The films, of course, are the Indiana Jones films. The actor, Harrison Ford, mostly carries all four films by himself, only helped by the outrageous action scenes (come on people, is the journey into the "inner sanctum" of the grail any less outlandish than surviving a nuclear blast?) and the supernatural MacGuffins: i.e. the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and El Dorado. People claim that the the fourth film is much worse than the original three (or at least, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, since Temple of Doom gets a bad rep from just about everyone). But they fail to see that, in terms of MacGuffins, the angel of God coming out of the Ark is no less outlandish than El Dorado having been built by space aliens. The only difference is that Raiders was accepted on its own terms for what it was, and then elevated to unassailable mythical status, whereas Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has been compared to that mythical symbol and then despised for the very things that made people love Raiders in the first place.

This may just be a rant, but I hate to see people put down a film like Crystal Skull for such irrational reasons as a hatred of something new that dares to try and live up to something old. When people try to make a film more than it actually is, the film fails miserably. The Indiana Jones films were never meant to be more than a combination of the best elements of 1930's B-action flicks, and they succeeded in that. The new one, since it had been pushed up 20 years into the 1950's, decided to combine that original feel with the best elements of 1950's B-sci-fi flicks, and despite its success at doing so, people hated it for that.

If people could somehow take the original films off the pedestal where they have placed them and compare them rationally to the fourth film, I think they would see that Crystal Skull follows in the Indiana Jones tradition very well. No, it's not a great film, but then, neither were any of the original trilogy. What the films do is capture that little child inside us who wants to be out saving the world, kicking butt, taking names, and finding out what really happened to the Ark, the Grail, and the City of Gold.

So instead of criticizing, sit back and enjoy The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It has everything you loved about the originals, if only viewed from the right perspective.

EDIT: Well, it turns out that George Lucas has already said it, and better than I did: "The fans are all upset. They’re always going to be upset. ‘Why did he do it like this? And why didn’t he do it like this?’ They write their own movie, and then, if you don’t do their movie, they get upset about it. So you just have to stand by for the bricks and the custard pies, because they’re going to come flying your way." ("Keys to the Kingdom")

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Holdfast

A poem sent to me by my brother. A slightly different take on the "hold fast", but I like it. What do you think?

I THREATNED to observe the strict decree
Of my deare God with all my power and might :
But I was told by one, it could not be ;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.

Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his :
We must confesse, that nothing is our own.
Then I confesse that he my succour is :

But to have nought is ours, not to confesse
That we have nought. I stood amaz’d at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend expresse,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

--George Herbert

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The God of Science

I must have been born a few centuries too late. Anyone who has a casual relationship with me know at least two things about me. 1) I am a Christian and I try to glorify God with all parts of my being. 2) I love science. Many Christians I know, when they learn that I have an undying fascination with science, give a look of shock, disgust, or even horror. And many of the scientists I know at school, when they learn that I am a Christian respond with an equally tactful five seconds of reverent (read as "awkward") silence. This may be just my experience, but it seems that there is some distance between these two camps. There was a time in the not too distant past when science was a field that was studied in tandem with theology, when most scientists could be found in Church or in monasteries performing their experiments along side of their religious duties. Even as late as the nineteenth century, monks, clergy, and theologians couldn’t get enough of science.

Now the Christian attitude toward science treats it as a thing of boredom or as irrelevant to our lives. There are even cries varying in volume, intensity, and intelligence coming from Christian circles against science decrying it as the spawn of the devil and as packaged lies. Had I lived two hundred years ago and then somehow traveled to the present to hear this cry, I’m sure I would have been shocked and distressed to hear such notions. What has gone wrong that Christians hate science as they hate heresy? How did such a masterpiece bore those who study it? How is it irrelevant to those who live by it? How is such a medium of truth denounced as a bundle of lies?

God formed human nature to be naturally inquisitive. He made all humans to be scientists of some sort who enjoy figuring out how exactly the world works. We’ve all asked questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “ Why does the moon change shape?” or “Do fish ever sleep?” Curiosity about the world is part of human nature, and we who know the Creator of the world should have a special love for understanding how His creation works.

Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out.”

I suspect that Christians today don’t realize that there is a kingly opportunity before them that was not available to a common person a hundred years ago. We have the opportunity to hunt for the treasures hidden within the labyrinthine halls and corridors of science. We have the unique opportunity to behold the Creator’s masterpiece in great detail. We have the opportunity to lose ourselves in the deep, majestic craft of our Creator.

When viewing a magnificent painting, viewers sometimes stand at different distances to enhance their perception of the painting. Sometimes closer to see more details. Sometimes farther away to better grasp the totality of the work. Creation is God’s masterpiece that you can neither stand too close nor too far from. You can observe this work as closely as you want but you can never reach the extent of the finest details. You can stand as far away as you want, but you can never truly grasp just how vast creation is.

Take the field of biology for example. No scientist can learn and truly understand the principles of biology and be unamazed. Regardless of what the scientist believes about the origins of life, the fact that life exists is miraculous! The intricate molecular patterns, the perfect reproduction of 3 billion genetic subunits, the mind-blowing engineering, are too conspicuously amazing for a good scientist or good Christian to not stand in awe.

Lest we become infatuated with ourselves in the wondrous study of life, God gave us the much bigger and equally mind-blowing science of astronomy. While we sit on earth and study the wonders of life, our planet revolves around a star that is 1.3 million times bigger than the earth. Meanwhile, our sun is still a very young and small star comparatively and is only one of billions in a galaxy that is only average size. Exactly how many galaxies there are is unknown. However, if the whole known universe was my front yard, the whole earth, the whole solar system, indeed, our whole galaxy would be smaller than a grain of pollen.

How can anyone be unimpressed by this? How someone fail to blow their mind when they try to comprehend such wonders? This universe is so small that you could spend your life learning about a microbe a billionth the size of a grain of sand. Yet it’s so big that even the best astrophysicists with the best equipment have been unable to venture a guess about its size. How could we not love how immense and complex our big-little universe is?

Yet as marvelous as the universe of science is it would be dull if it were not so beautiful. The terrifyingly powerful phenomenon of nuclear fusion which powers the stars is not just some scientific process: it is the beautiful warm glow of the sun that brings glory to the day time and it is the speckled brilliance that makes the night sky so vast. Intricately woven carbon chains are not simply patterns of molecules: they are the colors of a soft, smooth petal swathed around the aromatic center of a rose. Such wonders could be nothing but the work of a master architect, biologist, engineer, and artist.

Truly, creation is a masterpiece and it is the joy of Christians to worship the Master. Therefore, let us delve as deeply as we can into these mysteries, while humbly admitting that they are mysteries, so that we might see the beauty of creation and worship the Author of this beautiful creation, indeed the Author of beauty itself, by marveling at His work.

Genesis 1:31a “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Introducing Pedro

So since I came to school last year, this blog has slipped pretty low on my priority list...building relationships and getting good grades is a lot more important. Before I left for school this year, however, I was talking to my good friend Peter Wilson (who came up with the name for this blog and was almost a founding member), and he mentioned that he had ideas for several posts that he wanted to write but that didn't really fit with the purpose of his own blog, The Tangent. Since I haven't really been using this blog too much, I thought I'd let him post a few times to keep things lively over here (for all three of you who actually still check back occasionally).

To introduce you to Pedro, I'd like to say this: I can think of few friends with whom I have had as many deep, thoughtful, God-glorifying conversations. Even though he moved away last year, every time we run into each other we invariably end up discussing something controversial. I remember fondly long conversations about the nature of movie adaptations, the immaculate conception, Harry Potter, and whether or not Frederick is the best city in the country (answer: it's not). So if I had to choose anyone to come here and post on this blog, it would be Pedro. He is a deep thinker (much deeper than me), and although we disagree on many things (usually artistic), he thinks through everything and does his best to make his life conform to a Christ-centered worldview. (Of course, I've forbidden him to do movie reviews...that's my realm.)

So welcome to HoldFast, Pedro! I look forward to seeing what you have to say.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


This is a slightly hodge-podge post, but one thing ties it together: I learned all three of these things yesterday, in very different ways.

1) This is something I've been in the process of learning for the last year, but yesterday I had an epiphany that allowed me to state it succinctly. This is I think one of the most important things I've learned in college so far.

When you're having a theological discussion with the goal of converting the other person to your side, you'll never convert the person. You'll merely cause tension and discord. However, when you move past the need to win an argument, it frees you to have real, fulfilling theological discussions, and only in those real discussions, when you're talking as friends and not as opponents, will you ever be able to convince someone of the truth of your own views. To state this succinctly:

You'll never win a theological argument until you aren't seeking to win a theological argument.

2) I tried out for chamber choir this weekend, but I didn't get in. I was disappointed, but I had been preparing myself for it and it did not shock me. I had left it in God's hands, I felt that my audition was good, and it was up to God. However, what I wasn't expecting was to be approached only a few hours after I found out that I was not in chamber choir to be asked to join an acappella quartet with three of my friends who are amazingly musically talented. If I had made chamber choir, I would have been forced to turn them down because of the demands on my schedule, but with my schedule freed up, I was able to accept something that I had been desiring for a long time. What lesson did I learn from this?

God often denies us one thing so he can give us something else.

This is something I have to keep learning, and it's always good to see a fresh example.

3) A bunch of guys in our dorm are watching through Band of Brothers this weekend (taking advantage of Labor Day), and we watched Part 3 last night. This particular episode contains what is probably my favorite moment from the entire series:

Pvt. Blithe is scared of fighting, and every time he finds himself in a combat situation he freezes up or hides. Easy Company is ambushed near the end of the episode and ends up in foxholes along a hedge, watching the Germans holed up in another hedge a few hundred yards away. Blithe is petrified, and he ends up in a conversation with Lt. Spears. Blithe confesses to Spears that when he landed on D-Day, he hid in a ditch instead of trying to find his unit to fight.

Spears: You know why you hid in that ditch, Blithe?
Blithe: 'Cause I was scared.
Spears: We're all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there's still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier's supposed to function.

From what I can tell as a civilian, this is the best description of a soldier's mindset. Only when you aren't worried about dying can you function as a soldier, and the only way not to worry about dying is to be already dead. In broader terms, you can only function when you give yourself up to God and accept that whatever happens will happen, and you can't control it at all. This is something I've used several times to counsel my friends, and I've found it such a helpful reminder of the necessity of relying on God.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Hold fast to what?

Recently I’ve been thinking about the name of this blog (and this is not because I've been posting on it, as I'm sure those few of you who still check this blog out will be eager to remind me, just because I've been thinking about the phrase "hold fast"). Just to give you some background, the name was not my idea. In fact, I wanted to use the name conTrast with the middle T as a cross, to emphasize that we as Christians need to contrast with the world. But, as some of you may remember, this blog was originally started as a team blog, and the other guys (Josh and Peter--Peter never actually joined the blog but helped with the brainstorming) wanted the name HoldFast. I didn’t think it was that huge of a deal, so I went with them, and then the blog ended up being all mine after a few months. Slightly ironic, I suppose.

But as I’ve been reading my Bible since then, I’ve been amazed at how often the phrase “hold fast” appears in the Bible (by my count, about 25) and what significance it appears to carry. Today in my quiet time I decided to do a word study and see what I could find out. I compiled all the verses I could find (using ESV’s search function online) and actually went and looked at the Greek for the New Testament occurrences (the Greek would be a lot more useful if I’d taken any Greek, but Latin helps). And after all that reflection, I am so glad that HoldFast is the name of this blog, and I think you’ll see why.

My first question was, what is this word that continues to be translated “hold fast”? After going through the Greek, I found a few different words used, all of which seem to be compounds of the same word, echo, which means “to have, hold, possess.” But the different compounds carry different connotations: krateo means “to have power, to be master of, to get possession of”; katecho means “to hold back, detain, restrain, hinder, keep secret, get possession of”; and epecho means “to have or hold upon, give attention to, observe, attend to.” Basically, the verbs used imply an active grabbing onto, an attempt at possession. I like the translation “hold fast” because it gives the image of clinging for dear life.

The next question is, what are we supposed to hold fast to? I compiled this list from the different verses that I found:

your wife (Gen. 2:24)
the Lord your God (Deut 10:20, 11:22, 13:4, 30:20; Ps. 91:14)
integrity (Job 2:3)
righteousness (Job 27:6)
Wisdom (Prov. 3:18)
the words of your father (Prov. 4:4)
keeping the Sabbath and keeping your hand from doing evil (Is. 56:2)
love and justice (Hos. 12:6)
the Word of God (Luke 8:15)
that which is good (Rom 12:9, 1 Thess. 5:21)
the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2)
the word of life (Phil 2:16)
the Head who nourishes you (Col. 2:19)
our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Heb. 3:6)
our confession (Heb. 4:14)
the hope set before us (Heb. 6:18)
the confession of our hope (Heb. 10:23)
the name of Christ (Rev. 2:13)
what you have (Rev. 2:25, 3:11)

There are a lot of things here, but you’ll notice that what most of these have in common is the idea of holding onto the things that God finds valuable. In the Old Testament, these are primarily different virtues, like integrity, righteousness, love, and justice. But the most common one is holding fast to the Lord himself. Especially in Deuteronomy, this is extremely important. In Proverbs we are to hold onto wisdom, which is in essence a part of God.

In the New Testament it gets more refined. We are to hold onto God, his word, and our hope as Christians. But I think the defining passage is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve… Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

We are to hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ! The reason I like this passage is that it goes beyond the other passages in a sense. Most of the other passages tell us to hold onto our confession and our hope, but this passage sets that confession and hope before us in clear detail. Our confession is that Christ died for our sins and rose on the third day. Our hope is that God’s grace reaches out to us, sinners that we are, and works through us to accomplish his grace, and his grace will not be in vain. That is the confession of the hope that we are to hold fast to. And what an amazing confession! What a strength-giving hope! The writer of Hebrews fleshes this out for us:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Note that once again, he first meditates on the gospel, that we are free to enter the presence of God through the blood of Jesus, and then reminds us that we don’t need to be afraid any more of God’s wrath! We are saved, now and forevermore! What a precious truth this is for us. So let us as Christian hold fast to the confession of our hope at all times, for it is the strength to get us through the day.

I’m providing below the verses that I found that mention the phrase “hold fast.” I know that, because this is a translation, some of the actual Greek words appear in other places than how it’s translated in the ESV, but I think this gives an accurate feel of the phrase, if not exhaustive.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24

You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. –Deut. 10:20

For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourselves. –Deut 11:22-23

You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. –Deut 13:4

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. –Deut 30:19-20

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” –Job 2:3

I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. –Job 27:6

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. –Psalm 91:14

[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed. –Prov 3:18

When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” –Prov. 4:3-9

Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” –Isaiah 56:1-2

So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God. –Hos. 12:6

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. –Luke 8:15

Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. –Rom. 12:9

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. –1 Cor. 15:1-11

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. –Phil. 2:14-16

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. –Col. 2:18-19

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. –1 Thess. 5:20-22

For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. –Heb. 3:3-6

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. –Heb. 4:14-16

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. –Heb. 6:17-18

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. –Heb. 10:19-23

I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. –Rev. 2:13

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. –Rev. 2:24-27

Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. –Rev. 3:10-12

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


So when I got back to school, I decided to enter a creative writing contest sponsored by the English Department...and I decided to use "Ascent", the poem I posted in December. However, I knew that the poem in that form did not merit any kind of award, so I enlisted some good friends who also happen to be amazingly talented English majors to help me make it better. After an afternoon of hard work, I submitted the poem. As an afterthought, I also submitted the poem to the Towerlight, the Hillsdale literary journal which is published every semester with poems and short stories written by the student body.

I got an email a week or two later saying that my poem had not won the award, but I was okay with that, as entering the contest was kind of a whim anyways. However, right before I left for spring break, I got another email from the Towerlight saying that my poem had been selected for inclusion in this semester's journal! This makes me incredibly excited, so I thought I'd repost the poem here in its edited, much-improved form. Enjoy!


Rolling down the great imposing plain of asphalt,
the airplane picks up speed, the wheels leave the ground,
I feel pressed into my seat—not crushed,
more as if my father’s firm hand holds me back.
The endless patchwork of farmland,
interrupted by a tiny outgrowth of spires—is that Detroit?
It seems so small from up here—
melds into the deep indigo of the lake.
The ascent continues—the body trembles slightly—
Below a vast wasteland of glaciers
disappears into a pale haze at the horizon—
or are those clouds? It’s hard to be sure,
up here in this endless expanse of space,
as the immutable world transforms.
The sky rises above the haze, the same azure blue
as the lake below—which way is up?
The glaciers have become a second patchwork of farmland,
this time smothered in a thick blanket of snow.
Another plane passes in the distance
leaving a bright plume of vapor behind it, like a comet—
it’s hard to believe there are people on that almost invisible speck,
on their way to some unknown destination—
maybe back to Detroit
we’re going home in opposite directions.
We’ve been swallowed by a cloudbank—the world is white
like a blizzard, except I can still see the wing.
Even now a faint hint of blue is visible
if I look close enough.
I think the plane is turning—
Blue lake below, blue sky above—or is it the other way around?
This cursed cloudbank skews the world.
Out of the cloud now, the white is at the level of my eyes,
a great plain of snow as far as the eye can see.
I could be anywhere in the world right now—
I’ve always wanted to visit Paris.
We’ve descended, sandwiched between two clouds,
with the blue peeking out from both sides—
even gravity deceives up here.
The stomach drops, rapid descent, that way must be down.
We’re still descending, but the stomach has adjusted—
funny how it does that—I can’t even tell we’re dropping anymore.
I remember something about that in physics—inertia, was it?
Changes in momentum, constant acceleration…
but I choose not to think about it. School’s out, and I’m going home,
gazing at this volatile world outside my window.