Joy

So, I haven’t written in this thing for a while. First it was because I was too busy, then it was because of school, and now it’s because of lack of habit. It’s easy for one to forget how much they like writing when they don’t do it for a long time. But, last year around this time I wrote a blog post about my birthday, and one of my friends, Jess, told me that I should write another one for this year. I thought that was a grand idea.

What’s this about then you ask? Ha, well at first I was asking the same question. What to write about? The ultimate problem for writers everywhere. Just ask my friend Marryl. She’s committed to writing a blog post every Wednesday (like the champ she is), and sometimes she doesn’t know what to write. In those times, she resorts to having her friends take her phone and do their worst. I on the other hand, live about an hour away from many of my close friends, so I was stuck with doing this myself. But I figured it out. What I’m going to be talking about today is joy.

I had a lovely birthday this year. I invited a few of my friends who live far away to come hang out with me. We took the subway from Islington Station to Eaton’s Centre, had some late lunch, and then went off to Toronto Island to explore all that they had to offer. Lots of cool stuff apparently! There’s the obvious attraction of Centre Island of course, but there’s so much more. There are bicycles to rent, beaches to frequent (including a nudist beach for the more bold/shameless of us), and plenty of parks and greenery to enjoy, all whilst a quick ferry ride away from the urban jungle of Toronto. It was awesome. We took the train back and had a lovely dinner at Moxies, where my friends Rhiannon, Clarice and I shared the most heavenly brownie I have ever experienced. The white chocolate brownie.

Praise the Lord. It was so good. I came back home absolutely exhausted. But absolutely joyful.

But what is joy? What makes one joyful? I think joyful has a profound difference from happiness. My experience and my learning has taught me that joy is something deeper than happiness; that happiness is a fleeting sort of emotion while joy is stronger and holds for longer. Like I try to do in most things, I look to the Word of God for insight. There’s a single verse that comes to mind first, which I checked and saw is from Nehemiah 8:10. The verse goes like this:

“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’”

Nehemiah 8 sees Ezra and Nehemiah reading the words of the law to the people of Israel. As they read, the people of Israel wept. Ezra and Nehemiah quieted the people by saying that the joy of the Lord is their strength. The people went away from that place ready to give to those who had little, and to eat and to drink. They also went away from there rejoicing. They received the joy of the Lord.

I want to focus on the last part here, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” All that does is beg another question: what’s the joy of the Lord? What is it about the Lord that gives me strength? The answer is deceptively simple if we think about it: what has the Lord given us that should give us joy? To make it easier, what is the ultimate gift he has given us? The answer: the cross, or in other words, grace.

Grace means a gift of something that we don’t deserve. As a Christian I believe that humanity is inherently broken. We go to war. We hurt people. We destroy our earth. We despise those who are different than us. We try to fix it, but history tells us we’re just a broken record. I find it so amusing how everyone these days thinks that we’re so enlightened. That we’ve learnt enough from our past enough to fix everything. You can see this especially in a university context. The reality is, every generation before us thought the exact same thing, and every generation fails, in one way or another. We’re so full of ourselves sometimes. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stop trying to fix the problems of this world (heck, I’m an International Development student for goodness sake), but it does mean that we can’t change what we are, broken. What we fix will eventually be broken again. By broken human beings. As I believe it, we are sinful, and we need grace. We need so much of it. But sometimes it’s hard to see.

It’s easy to be blinded to our own deficiencies. After all, we live in a society of self-sufficiency and individuality. We sometimes gloss over our deficiencies, saying that we’re fine this way. We frame our faults in a way that makes them seem praiseworthy, if anything to cover up for our own insecurities. We’re insecure because we don’t want to confront that there’s something wrong with us. I didn’t think I needed grace for a long time. Ask most people: I’m about as self-sufficient as it gets. I’ve been able to do everything by myself for most of life, and do it well. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve really understood how much I need a Saviour. I was faced with the gravity of my brokenness, my failure, and my sin. That’s when I realized how much I didn’t deserve.

So, you guys are probably wondering how this figures into joy. So far I sound pretty doom and gloom right? But that’s the point. Sin is a criminal offence against the holiest of victims. Someone has to pay the price. That’s what justice is. Grace means that someone else has paid that price. Christ gave me a pardon, and now I’m walking free. And that is the greatest joy of all.

So, how does this connect back to my birthday, and feeling joyful? Well, people have told me that I’m unusually optimistic and happy, and, dare I say it, joyful. I thought about this for a second. I realized that hasn’t always been the case. You should have seen me in Grade 11. I felt crushed by the world around me; I felt like I was being constantly hit with all sorts of hits that I didn’t deserve. I was depressed and wallowing in self pity. I didn’t look at what I had already as a blessing, but instead looked at it as a given. I thought I deserved more. But over the past few years, I’ve learnt that all I have is a gift. True joy I’ve realized, isn’t in being happy or having things work out the way you want. Joy is realizing that you don’t deserve anything, but seeing that you get something anyways.

Joy is realizing that every gift comes from above. Gifts aren’t earnings. Gifts are things you don’t necessarily deserve. I deserve nothing, but I have so much. I have a loving family (especially a super attractive younger brother #bae).

I have amazing friends. I have enough resources to get what I need (not always what I want). I keep discovering new talents. I have the ability to do the things I love, like playing sports. I have a body that works remarkably well. I see all the things I have and all I can see now are blessings that I don’t deserve. As I enter this 21st year of life, I want to make sure I don’t lose that. It’s a blessing in and of itself that I know this. But it’s easy to forget. We human beings are so fickle and easily forgetful. But for now, I know that my God is great. I know that my God loves me. And that’s what allows me to live with joy.

Photo creds to Marryl Smith.

 

Here Comes Kobe!

Here Comes Kobe!

I wrote a post a while ago about Kobe called Tapeinos, which you can see here: http://nateandtheworld.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/tapeinos/

An article from Sports Illustrated recently came out describing Kobe’s ride back to the NBA. If you like the NBA, hard-working people, and tenacious desire to win, read this article. This man embodies all three :)

Wonder

It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level … I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.

- G.K. Chesterton

A couple of weeks ago it was my birthday. The big 2-0. So long teen years, with your angst, your pimples, your petty problems, hello a new world of opportunity. The twenties, if you think about it, are probably some of the best years of your life. You’re young, you’re youthful, and you’re untethered. You aren’t shackled by school, and if you are, it’s of your own choosing. You aren’t shackled by parental restrictions, you’re an adult now, you can do whatever you want to do. Also, you have very little to worry about besides yourself, unless you’ve already tied the knot or are engaged in a serious relationship. Lastly, you’ve more or less figured out who you are. You’re confident in and of yourself, and you feel, perhaps unhealthily, fearless of what the future holds.  For me, the twenties represent one word: freedom. All signs point to it being a good decade.

However, the twenties for me has established another sign of my future: blazing cynicism. I’m in university, with its self-righteous academics. I see the church at large, with some self-righteous theologians (as opposed to theologians who know their righteousness only comes from the Lord). They are all right in your face, their faults glaring before you. You’re also hit with a barrage of media, with its thousand different voices. These voices sometimes whisper to you through the words of a song, or scream at in you in an angry article. Hate, love, sorrow, bitterness, joy are everywhere, and they’re made easier to see with the easy access of the internet. Sometimes I think the most attractive thing about “being online” is that you get to experience an emotional roller coaster every time you go on. Instead of relating feelings to each other, we dump it online for others to see, either for pity, for argument, or because we are achingly lonely. This is what draws to me to the uneducated Youtube comments, to the blogs, to the impassioned Facebook posts of news atrocities. The emotion behind them is real, and it’s fascinating. However, seeing so much of it everyday leaves a person numb, like a finger that has lost all feeling because of a relentless chill. What I’m left with is a constant sort of apathy, which is a frightening thing. Apathy is one thing I have never had a problem with, but I’m talking less about apathy towards other people and their troubles, and more about apathy towards the magical, to the wondrous.

I remember the first day I saw the Lord of the Rings. The first PG-13 movie I ever watched was Spiderman (good old Tobey Maguire, in case you forget how incredibly attractive Tobey is when crying, just look at the picture below):

Then again, nobody is really a cute crier.

The next was Lord of the Rings, and I was super excited. I hadn’t read the books, but I was going anyways because my dad seemed super pumped about it, and I thought it would be awesome. I went into the theatre, and came out of it a changed 8 year old boy. I found myself a random stick (probably from outside) and immediately set about slaying orcs like a much more youthful and browner Aragorn son of Arathorn, complete with the sound effects and the cries of my falling enemies. I had never ever experienced a movie like that before, a movie that so captured my imagination that I had to live it out, every single day. Believe me, I did, ask my mother. I would also jump to the computer and write stories upon stories, of my brave adventures in some other realm, destroying my enemies with the help of my friends, a blade, and perhaps a little magic. In the end, after much trial and tribulation, the heroes inevitably won, all inspired by Lord of the Rings of course. However, for me the most amazing thing was the world of Middle-Earth. As I watched the movie, from the Shire to Rivendell, I was impressed. But once the fellowship reached the Mines of Moria, I was floored. I still remember seeing the massive hall of Moria, with pillars bigger than redwood trees supporting it. The goblins crawling out from the ceiling, the troll smashing through Balin’s tomb. Also, who could forget the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, complete with the great wizard’s transcendent line:

The sheer scale of the world of Middle-Earth inspired absolute, and unadulterated wonder within me. All I could do was sit back and say wow. Ever since then, I became a child of wonder, looking for things that awed me. In fact, the first thing that really hit me about the nature of God is his scale. He is so big, and so beyond my understanding that it hurt my head, and it was the first thing about God that really brought me to my knees. At first, it wasn’t his love, or his faithfulness, but rather his vastness that made me want to know him more. He inspires wonder in me like nothing else I could ever experience in this world.

Fast forward to now. I’ve seen countless movies, read countless books. What once made me sit back and say wow, I can sit back and say that I’ve seen better, mostly because of the reasons I listed above. Around the weekend of my birthday, I watched two movies, Monster’s University and Pacific Rim. Here’s the trailers for both, just in case you’ve forgotten or are unaware of what they’re about:

I watched Monster’s University, and watched as a cute little Mike Wazowski (voiced endearingly by the timeless Billy Crystal) dreamed of being the scariest monster he could be. I watched Pacific Rim, and let boyish excitement fill me as massive machines picked up cruise liners to wallop otherworldly leviathans in the ruins of a city. I haven’t enjoyed two movies like that it a long time. I was reminded of the creativity behind Monster’s University and Monsters Inc.; I mean, who would have ever thought of monsters needing children’s screams for energy to support their world? Genius. I was also reminded of wonder, as Pacific Rim showed me how a big, bad machine and monster movie should be. All of a sudden, I realized something something very important.

I’d forgotten how to wonder. I’d forgotten how to be in awe. Seeing these movies triggered that again for me, and its something I don’t want to lose again. As my twenties carry on, I don’t want to be stuck in the muck and mire of having seen it all before. Believe me, it’s so incredibly easy to not be impressed by the things around you. A generation like ours has seen it all before. In fact, its frustrating, because you know you want to be in awe, but you’re so numb to everything that you’re hit with that you simply can’t feel. It’s like you’ve come in from that cold winter’s day, furiously shaking your frozen digits to get feeling back into them, although they remain as unresponsive as before. The movies triggered that for me, but it doesn’t for everybody, and there lies the problem. How do we stay curious, how do we remain in awe?

I saw the quote from G.K. Chesterton today, and it echoed so much of what I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks. I posted it above, but I’ll post again right here:

It is from the valley that things look large; it is from the level that things look high; I am a child of the level … I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them, I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.

Wonder isn’t something that’s over the next horizon. It’s something that I discover when I decide to sit back and “let the marvels and adventures settle on me like flies.”  I’m reminded of the movie American Beauty, with its famous movie poster, which had the tagline, Look Closer. It’s about a middle class family in the suburbs, who from the outside seem normal. But once you look closer, you see levels of pain, sorrow and loneliness that couldn’t be seen by just looking at the surface. The people and the things around you are complex, and once you delve deeper into them, you find they are inexplicably beautiful.

I’m making it my goal throughout my twenties to no longer be satisfied with seeing everything and wishing for more. I don’t want to sit in my room at Conrad Grebel University College and wish I was somewhere more exotic. I don’t want to wish I was halfway around the world saving children from being trafficked into the sex trade. I want to sit back, and appreciate deeply all that I have around me. In the end, the wonders I search for aren’t distant peaks to be climbed, they’re sitting right under my nose. That’s how I want to live, by seeking out these wonders. Happy 20th year of life Nate Dawg.

Not entirely sure if it’s socially acceptable to refer to yourself as Nate Dawg, but I hope we can just let that one slide this one time.

 

Tapeinos

“But you, Achilles,
there’s not a man in the world more blest than you—
there never has been, never will be one.
Time was, when you were alive, we Argives
honored you as a god, and now down here, I see,
you lord it over the dead in all your power.
So grieve no more at dying, great Achilles.”

I reassured the ghost, but he broke out, protesting,
“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!
By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man—
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.”

- The Odyssey – Book 11 (11.547-558)

Thus spoke Odysseus to the ghost of Achilles, the greatest warrior of the Greeks, a champion of soldiers. He achieved much glory on earth, but in his death, his wishes were nothing more than to live again, even without glory, slaving away for another man. Anything other than death. The great Achilles was humbled. As a man on earth, Achilles had very little reason to be humble, or as the Greeks said it, tapeinos.

He had no weakness, save for one spot on his body, his heel. That same heel was the heel that his mother held him by as he was dipped into the River Styx in the underworld, as the Greek mythology goes. The river’s waters rendered his whole body safe from harm, save for the spot where his mother held on to him. As a result, Achilles was one of the greatest warriors Greece had ever seen, and was renowned for his prowess in battle, and for his seeming invincibility. No sword could cut him, no spear could pierce him. When he fought, everyone on his side knew that they would stand victorious, while his opponents shirked back in fear. Few knew of his one weakness. However, as the fates, or the gods, or luck would have it, that heel was the same heel that was skewered by an arrow, flying from the bow of Paris the Trojan. The arrow was poisoned, and even the great Achilles could not defeat it. Thus Achilles died, and it is from that story that we get the name for the Achilles tendon in our heels. Everyone has one, go on, feel it right now. It’s that long, tubular thing at the very back of your ankle. The Achilles, or calcaneal tendon, attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Without it, one cannot walk, or jump, or run. Your foot would hang useless below, unable to move to the bidding of their brain. The reason why I bore you will information about the Achilles tendon and its origins is because it establishes for me an interesting irony, based on recent events. Let me explain.

Gets buckets.

Scoring champion: 05-06, 06-07. 12 All-Defensive teams, 9 of them first team. 14 All-NBA teams, 10 of them first team. 15 time All-Star, and 4 time All-Star MVP, earning him the most NBA All-Star Game MVPs in league history. 2-time Olympic gold medalist. League MVP 2007-08. 5 championship rings. 4th all time on the NBA scoring list. More importantly: 1239 games played (regular season, not including long runs into the playoffs) and 45,390 minutes played. This is Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players to ever live, and one of the greatest competitors the world has ever seen. I didn’t know much about Kobe Bryant when I was younger. Not being much a sports fan, and seeing as no one in my family cares much either, he was off my radar for a very long time. When I started to get into basketball, I came to respect him greatly. My respect for him came from his insatiable desire to win, and with that, his impeccable work ethic and his on-court escapades that back it up. I have seen no player do the things that Kobe does on the basketball court. You can see his hard work in every juke step, in every hard dribble he takes in the paint against a hapless defender. You also see his brash confidence, his undeniable swagger. He knows he’s the best. And he’s not afraid to show it. As a Boston Celtics fan, most people would expect me to hate that, and to hate Kobe. But I can’t; he’s too good. You cannot hate greatness, and if you are, you’re being petty. More than all this, Kobe Bryant saw every injury as a minor annoyance. He broke his middle finger, he learned to shoot using the other fingers. His knees were falling apart, so he went to Germany, underwent an operation, and was good to go. The man shakes off injuries like they are nothing. You can tell, he always thought he was unstoppable. Indeed, by all accounts, he was.

Big jam.

Fast forward to the 2012-13 season. Kobe’s team, at the beginning of the season thought to be the new favourites for the championship with the additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, are floundering. Instead of fighting for the top seed in the playoffs, they are fighting to even make the playoffs after a horrid 17-25 start. However, number 24 was not about to let them go down without a fight. Against all odds, the Lakers climbed the ladder, their record a mediocre, but playoff qualifying 42-37. Their climb up the ladder was led by their 34 year old shooting guard, who gifted fans with some of his greatest performances of the season when it really mattered.

In New Orleans, down by at least 20 points, Kobe led his team to victory, reminding everyone why he is one of the greatest of all-time.

He continued his escapades against the Portland Trailblazers, wowing the fans in the Rose Garden again and again.

Again and again, I was reminded of how the man spits in Father Time’s face, with every jumper, every dunk, every dribble, he proved himself seemingly greater than the passing of the days as his 17th season continued on. On April 12, 2013, the Black Mamba and his team faced off against the Golden State Warriors, a division rival, and another obstacle that Kobe needed to get out of his way. The game was tight in the third quarter, with the Lakers down by 2. The ball came to Bryant, who was isolated against the rookie Harrison Barnes. Kobe spun to his left, heard a pop, and immediately fell to the court. Barnes was called for the foul, and Kobe lay wincing on the ground, feeling his left ankle. He said he had known exactly what it was when it happened, but he didn’t want to believe it. Amazingly, the worn and wearied player stayed in long enough to shoot his free throws, and then left the game. After the game, Kobe was interviewed. This Kobe was a marked change from the usual Kobe. The cool, calm, collected, and utterly cocky Kobe was gone. What we see is a broken man, who is suddenly unsure, unsure of the present, unsure of the future, and perhaps mostly importantly, unsure of himself. He had torn his achilles tendon, an injury that takes half a year to recover from, and no athlete who has suffered from the injury has come back the same.

So why did I tell you all this? Why talk about this Kobe Bryant and his torn tendon? I’ll tell you why: it’s because this man who was by all accounts a god, was broken. It fascinates me to no end that the injury that took Kobe Bryant out was an Achilles injury. The god was broken, the unkillable was brought low, just like Achilles. It made me think about human frailty. Even the greatest of all time (some would say), the man who treated sprained ankles like bugs to be squashed, whose cockiness was backed up by his domination of opponents, could still be brought low. No one is exempt from human frailty. Not even Kobe. He went on a rant on Facebook a few days after his injury, expressing his extreme frustration with the whole situation. He was angry, he was sad, he was broken, and most of all, humbled. There were no workouts to make him come back faster. No way to shake this off. The injury, at least momentarily, had beaten him.

I wish and pray for a swift recovery for Kobe Bryant, and hope to see him at full strength again. There are very few players I love to watch more than the Black Mamba. But he reminded me of an important thing, that no matter how high I get, no matter how successful I am, no matter how indestructible I seem, I’m not. I’m a frail human being, and all that I’ve been blessed with is from God alone, and nothing of my own merit. When I feel small, I will ask God for strength. But also, when I feel powerful, I will thank God that it is in his power, and not of mine alone, that I stand. So thank you Kobe, for reminding me of this, hope to see you on the court soon (not that you’ll read this or anything, but I thought it was a nice touch).

 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13 NKJV

With Great Power Comes Responsibility II

Haven’t posted on this blog in a while, but earlier this year I had posted about the responsibilities of athletes to use their power for the good of others (http://nateandtheworld.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility/). This includes giving an example of Christ for people to look to, and to ask about. This is a fantastic opportunity for athletes to share their faith, but it’s also a dangerous one. We’ve seen countless “Christians” like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber leave their faith in the background for the sake of record sales and acceptance. Real Christianity is not easy to stomach, and not easy to stay consistent with, and this is made especially more evident when we see the publicly scrutinized celebrities of our time proclaim that they are Christians and then do things that convict them of hypocrisy. This is not to say that we the general public are any better. It is an unbelievably difficult task that is given to celebrities to live as Christians in the public eye. Hypocrisy is something that every single Christian struggles with, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23. We are all imperfect, and all of us needs grace. However, not everyone is privy to seeing our dirty little secrets played on television and computer screens for the world to see. This makes the verse from Luke that I posted in the previous athlete post all the more important for the celebrities/athletes in our world today who profess the Christian faith.

48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48

This really just struck me as I read an article on Relevant Magazine (an unreal magazine by the way, everybody check it out), about 2012 being the year of the Out-Spoken Christian Athlete. So check it out! And read it! It details what these Christian athletes did, and how they acted (although Lecrae is not a professional athlete, he is also included in the list), in a way that honoured God. What we should do is pray for these athletes, and pray for these celebrities, that God gives them the grace and the strength to stay true to his Word, even amidst the good life that fame and fortune can bring. Just as I would pray for my own self.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/2012-year-outspoken-christian-athlete

Nate Dawg out.