Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Modern-Day Martyr

I arrived back in Virginia from Germany Friday evening and went straight to a hotel, because the movers had come to pack up our belongings for our move to Annapolis. (See my previous blog post about my new job.) Saturday morning, I woke up jet lagged around 4:30 am and headed to the IHOP, one of the few restaurants open at that hour. While sipping my coffee I perused the Washington Post. One tiny news report caught my attention. The headline read: “N. Korea Accused of Executing a Christian.” (You can read a longer version from the previous day’s Post here.)

The story was about a woman, Ri Hyon Ok, “a Christian woman accused of distributing the Bible, which is banned in communist North Korea.” Ok, “a 33-year-old mother of three,” was executed after being accused of spying for South Korea and the United States. (While it’s almost impossible to verify the truth of such reports coming out of communist North Korea, I’m going to assume that Ok was indeed killed for Bible distribution, not espionage.)

I’ve been thinking about Mrs. Ok since Saturday. It would have been easy for her to rationalize a different approach to her faith. There’s no scriptural mandate to distribute Bibles. She had a family to think about. And didn’t Paul say something about all authority being given by God? Who was she to disobey her God-appointed rulers? But Ok did not rationalize away her Christian duty. Instead she did what most of us would be too cowardly to do. She put her faith into action, despite the danger. The Bible for which she died sheds light on her situation. Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:10).

When the Apostle Paul was in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), he had a peculiar vision one night: “There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). When he got to Macedonia, however, he didn’t find a man; he found a godly woman named Lydia (v. 14). Through Lydia God established a beachhead for the Gospel in Europe. Pray he will do the same in North Korea through the faithful witness of Ri Hyon Ok.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flyleaf Verse

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his servants.

O LORD, I am your servant. (Ps. 116:15-16)

The first verse above is written in the flyleaf of my Bible. It’s there to comfort those who mourn. To help them see that death is not the tragedy we make it out to be, especially for those of us who believe.  In its crudest form the subtext goes something like this: “Why are you so overwhelmed with grief just because someone you love died? The Bible says death is a good thing, so cheer up!” Yikes.

I got quite a shock this morning when I read the verse in context. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his servants,” so far so good. Then the next verse: “O LORD, I am your servant.” Bam! I was taken aback. It’s not talking about someone else’s death. It’s talking about my own!

In any case, the psalmist is talking about his own death, not another’s. Apparently he was weighed down with grief to the point of despair. In verses 8 and 9, the psalmist says God delivered him from death and expresses his determination to live, even to do the things he promised to do (14). Then he declares a new understanding about his own death, now no longer imminent. Death is not something to be dreaded, at least not from God’s perspective. It’s “precious”—like picking up a child after the first day of school, or, better still, like a child who was lost being found.

When I think of my own death, I usually regret mistakes I’ve made or worry about things I won’t have accomplished. It’s not bad to take stock of our lives and to be aware of the consequences of our actions. However, it shouldn’t get in the way of living.

I’m adding to the flyleaf of my Bible, “O LORD, I am your servant.” And this: “P.S.: Don’t  forget to live!”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Finding God

Where do you find God? No, it’s not a trick question. For many people a house of worship is where they find God—in community with other believers gathered for that purpose. That’s a wonderful place. But what about those in between times, when God’s people are scattered? Maybe, like me, you worship at home with your family. But what about when you’re far from home and community?

I’m currently in Germany, chipping away at my dissertation. (The cathedral of Mainz, pictured above, is what I see framed in my window.) Here I have no faith community, no family, no place where I feel at home. So what then?

Thomas Merton, a modern mystic, has some advice:

If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of God’s life, that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest. For it is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain. It is God’s love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God that feeds me also by hunger and fasting. It is the love of God that sends the winter days when I am cold and sick, and the hot summer when I labor and my clothes are full of sweat: but it is God who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood. (Spiritual Illuminations)

May you find God today wherever you are, whether in church, at home, or far everything familiar. 

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Movie Tip

Chick flicks are a guilty pleasure of mine. My wife, on the other hand, prefers action-adventure. Go figure. I used to like war movies, especially classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Dirty Dozen, Paths of Glory, and The Cruel Sea. Since my own personal war experience I don’t enjoy those movies as much. I prefer love stories. Some of my favorite Romantic movies (“chick flick” is derogatory, I’m told) are Casablanca, Sabrina (both versions), Cyrano (the one with Gerard Depardieu), An Affair to Remember, and My Fair Lady. (I draw the line at Jane Austin films; they lower the testosterone level too much.)

Now I’m adding another movie to my favorites list: Crossing Delancey (1988), which I just discovered. It’s a modern love story about an uptown girl who is set up with a downtown guy by her typical Jewish grandmother and an annoying matchmaker. It’s sort of a cross between The African Queen and Fiddler on the Roof. Imagine, an engaging romance without a single sex scene. If you’re looking for a good movie to rent or download, try this one. Mazal tov

Friday, July 3, 2009


Wednesday was “I-Day,” Induction Day, at the U.S. Naval Academy, the day new midshipmen are sworn in and begin their training. It was my first day at USNA too, although my experience was low key and less stressful. The word that best captures the uniqueness of incoming class of plebes is “diversity.” It’s the most racially diverse incoming class in the Academy’s 164-year history.

However, not everyone is thrilled. One English Professor has raised concerns about the “dumbing down” of the school and, by extension, Navy’s Officer Corps as a result of the new diversity push. (Read the Washington Post article here.) He wants the admissions process to be colorblind. Academy officials insist it is. While I too am concerned about fairness, I’m not sure colorblindness is always a good thing. There's a particularly dangerous and insidious form of colorblindness—not a colorblindness that regards all as having equal worth but one that refuses to see the unique challenges experienced by racial minorities and the benefits diversity brings to a liberal, well-rounded education.

Personally, I’m excited to begin teaching at time when the U.S. Naval Academy is more diverse than ever.