Fear and Fascination


August meant the loss of summertime’s ethereal haze. The barren landscape of RVs on the crest of Silver Strand State Beach was laid on a backdrop of breathtaking blue. In defiance of fleeting summer days, my brothers and I spent those days with salt water hitting our mouths and waves crashing on our heads, tugging our hair with the tide toward shore. The ocean remained unchanging, though the tide ever rolled in and retreated, in the early, squinty mornings of that endless summer to the cloudless nights where the star-dusted sky flowed through the horizon and into moonlit waves.

My idealism reached an all time high during that euphoric season. I was bound only by the limit of my imagination and as a result, I was limitless. One such limit to test, as it turned out, was the boating buoy a mile offshore. If I conquered that estranged red sphere, I theorized, I could conquer the looming months of high school ahead.

My brother and I ate lunch on the scorching white sand before kayaking out to the buoy. I was filled with a well-prepared turkey sandwich and confident exhilaration. My revel in the endlessness of that saltwater afternoon was merely a brief love affair I knew would come to an end all too soon. I could paddle out to that buoy, I thought. I could paddle out and around and away, off into open sea, to romantically perish at the hands (or teeth) of a shark.

God has a sense of humor. I am sure of it.

We were a mile offshore, just having circled the altogether unimpressive boating buoy. The up-and-down rhythm of the tide was lulling, and if our parched throats hadn’t driven us to paddle back, we might have been allured to explore further. The buoy certainly didn’t mind the company – he rarely had visitors. The beach stretched out far into the distance in front of us. We began to travel back.

When I saw the fin, I thought it was a dolphin. I saw and I thought and I idealized, as only I can do. My lens of crystalline serenity was shattered by my brother informing me that this was, in fact, a brown fin, not grey. Slightly miffed at the skewed reality that intruded on my romanticism, it took a moment to register that this fin was zigzagging directly toward the bow of our sturdy sea vessel, which was beginning to look a lot more like an endangered inflatable kayak. We froze. The fin slipped underwater right before reaching the front of the kayak. My arm muscles strained to keep the oar perfectly still across my lap and for an agonizing moment, all I could hear was the labored breathing of my brother and the gentle lapping of the water against the boat.

And then she was right there.

She passed under the kayak, and it was just my luck that she reappeared not two feet from my trembling hands. Just barely below me, and as large, if not larger than our ten-foot kayak, she was close enough to touch. I watched in breathless awe as she passed. Her monstrous back was speckled with a vividly unique design, and her jagged tail lazily propelled her out into the open sea behind us. While I was terrified out of my mind, I also envied her. In the midst of my fear, I felt fascination and a desire to share in her freedom, to glide through the vast ocean, unhindered by worries and cares.

That August and every August since, I envy the shark.

Plastic Love and Perseverance

Love is not just a gear in the machine of American consumerism.

What a shocker, I know.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, passing cynics can often be overheard lamenting the fact that they have no one on whom to lavish gifts, as if that was the epitome of expressing love. 

Commercialized love is as artificial as the objects bought to express it. Plastic love forges plastic souls. Humanity is lost in the pursuit of materialistic expressions of a feeling––it doesn’t stem from profits earned or yearly obligations met.

The last time I checked, you do not need chocolate, wine, and roses that wither about as quickly as most relationships in order to prove love.

It’s not like those gifts should be frowned on. The danger occurs when love between couples, friends, and family members is reduced to an annual gift-a-thon in which each person loses sight of the daily sacrifices and tenacity that true love requires.

Love isn’t a flittery, fragile emotion based purely on circumstances, attraction, and what you can get from another person. It is a gritty, perseverant laying aside of self-interests to serve others. 

The Creator of the universe fully embodied this in sending His Son, and the frailty of human love is nothing compared to the strength of His. He is the one who enables the journey of earthly love to flourish and reach ultimate fulfillment in Him, which is an ideal that cannot be confined to an over-commercialized holiday.

Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below or by contacting me. Sign up for my email community here to receive new posts first. 

A Quest for Lost Authenticity

IMG_1490 Authenticity. It might as well be an ancient myth.

We’ve exchanged empathy for superficiality and unflinching transparency for plastic masks hiding our deepest fears, hopes, and aspirations. Human relationships have never been so bereft of meaning.

Superficiality. It’s weakness. It allows us to hide our imperfections from others, never to be challenged, never to change, never to grow.

Society’s aversion to the truth has seeped into our relationships. We are afraid to face one another with pure candor, so we play the depthless game of intermittent small talk and call it friendship.

What did we expect? We’re flawed beings. The resulting alienation is inevitable. But not unbeatable.

A cynical thought pervades: “If superficiality permeates all relationships, what’s the point of pursuing the myth of authenticity with another person?”

It’s tempting to want to escape to an uninhabited utopia to dwell in blissful solitude, but:

  • We are not called to be alone. Our purpose is fulfilled in pursuing significance outside ourselves, which prompts whole and unequivocal investment in others, expecting nothing in return.
  • We must empathize with the triumphs and failures of others, serve them, and daily choose to die to self. 
  • We must care. Deeply care about another person’s interests, hopes for the future, and fears. Deeply care, and they will blossom.

Investment in others can be risky, exhausting, and even heartbreaking. But if you truly take the time to unearth the multi-faceted complexities of another soul – willing to approach them with relentless honesty and Christlike love – it is vastly worth it.

Beautiful Eulogy's Instruments of Mercy Album Review

beautiful-eulogy-instruments-of-mercyBeautiful Eulogy, a Portland-based group composed of three hiphop artists, has far too rich of a sound to be mainstream. In their second album, Instruments of Mercy, that sound is exhibited, stretched to the limits, and ultimately shown to be resilient – as resilient as the message it conveys. maxresdefaultThe opener, "Cello from Portland," is organic and earthy, with an engaging beat reverberating throughout the rest of the songs. "Vital Lens" is an exquisite track, emphasizing the importance of a biblical worldview. Much like the rest of the album, it is a complex song that is lyrically dense but well worth a listen or two to catch the clever wordplay and heavy doctrinal truths.

"You Can Save Me" is a soulful soul-search accompanied by MARZ's chocolatey voice and a trip-hop beat. "If God is love, why does he allow the hatred/If he wiped out the wicked, the whole earth would be vacant.” "Symbols and Signs" observes shrewdly, "Don't you find it interesting/How most of the time your self-interpreting/Seems to coincide with what's deep inside your heart's desire/Seems rather convenient, doesn't it?"

Instruments of Mercy is mind-glowingly straightforward and powerful. It shows how believers, endowed with the power of God, are instruments of mercy. Their entire mission statement can be summed in lyrics from "Vital Lens": "We, the Beautiful Eulogy, attempt to communicate audibly and visually to help you hear and see the glory of God clearly." Experimental genre-blending through organic yet urban sounds has never sounded so sweet.

Lecrae's Church Clothes Album Review

lecrae-church-clothes540 Whether Christian or not, nearly all can agree that Lecrae Moore has talent, and a lot of it. The fact that he uses his gift to rep the Kingdom? That's just a bonus. Church Clothes was Lecrae's second album released in 2012, a mixtape hosted by DJ Don Cannon. Oftentimes, rappers release an onslaught of songs in a single year to generate as much revenue possible, and the music suffers. In Lecrae's case, quantity does not diminish quality. His penchant for the genre of rap hasn't wavered since his first album in 2004, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Church Clothes is unflinching in exposing the hypocrisy and self-righteousness in modern Christianity and just as open when it comes to soul-searching and confessing personal struggles, along with pleading with the listener to do the same.

81611.o"Church Clothes" is told through the eyes of a skeptic of Christianity, a masterfully crafted track with a luscious beat and solid lyrics – the best of the album. Lecrae cynically raps, "I walk in the church with a snapback/And they tellin' me that that’s a no-no/That’s backwards and I lack words for these actors called pastors." And later, "As long as the church keep wildin' out, I can justify all my foolish deeds...That might mean I'm worth more than money, cars, sex and pipe dreams/If God gonna take me as I am/I guess I already got on my church clothes."

Cotour's attempt at a contemplative chorus in "Cold World" sadly, falls short. Her vocals and Lecrae's rapping do not mesh well, in my opinion. "Welcome to H-town" opens with a Snoop Dogg-esque sleazy beat and Tedashii crooning accordingly. Lecrae jumps in to plead with his hometown, criticizing the rampant corruption present there and reflecting on his own struggle with sin. Speaking of Snoop Dogg, he receives a shoutout in "Rise," a nostalgic track throwing it back to when Lecrae and his friends were "...chilling in our tube socks/Dre taught us how to roll a 64/And Snoop Dogg taught us how to roll a sticky dro."

"Darkest Hour" challenges listeners with lyrics like, "If gangsters don't dance, why you tapping with the devil?" "Inspiration," despite decent lyrics, isn't a memorable track musically. Again, the one weakness in this record is the fact that it is a mixtape, and accordingly, there are several featured artists, some less equipped to work with Lecrae than others.

"Misconception," with a lineup of Humble Beast Records artists, dispels – well, popular misconceptions. Clever wordplay isimages-23 abundant, i.e., "Those who have been abused view leadership as illegitimate/so they don't think it's necessary to play by the rules or submit/They see authority as nothing more than a power-trip/they don't want to be plugged into it; they'd rather see that power stripped."

Church Clothes is an impressive display of Lecrae in his element, in spite of, certainly not because of, the wide range of artists he worked with for this mixtape. Lecrae is one of those rare artists who takes the "Christian music" cookie-cutter label and utterly decimates it. As a result, the listener is treated with a musical roller coaster ride, as enjoyable as it is thought-provoking.