26 October 2011

Impossible strength

I was on my way to a lecture, feeling overburdened by my thoughts - as I am apt to do - and listening to Gungor.  The song was "Please Be My Strength."  The chorus, in the first part of the song, is:

Please be my strength 
Please be my strength
'Cause I don't have anymore
I don't have anymore

Then, in the latter half, it changes:

I pray your glory shines
In this doubting heart of mine
And all would know that You

You are my strength
You are my strength
You and you alone
You keep bringing me back home

I've probably heard this song a hundred times (in truth - no exaggeration here) and loved it every time.  But for some reason, today, it stopped me - almost literally, on the sidewalk.

God is my strength.

The God who created the world in a breath, who redeemed it and defeated death, who is ultimately sovereign and victorious - HE is my strength.  In ME, small weak insignificant me, is that strength.

It's all over Scripture:

"The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" - Exodus 15:2

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." - Isaiah 41:10

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." - Ephesians 3:14-19

(ESV, boldening mine)

These are just 3 places among many - and I couldn't help but include the surrounding verses in the Ephesians 3 passage, because it so wonderfully explains the nature and purpose and power of God's strength in us.

Today I was tired and frustrated; I didn't understand the readings for my lectures and I'm having trouble getting to sleep at night.  I'm still not used to being alone, living in a city, living in a foreign country, feeling stranded.  I've been dwelling on all these things, instead of bowing before the Father, like Paul says in the above passage.  Instead of being rooted and grounded in love.  Instead of being filled with the fullness of God.

 I can be filled with the fullness of God???

C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imaging what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

I will never in this life comprehend the grace he has given me - he's given me all things! - or be able to properly express the depth of my gratitude.

Long-lost love

Gosh I miss piano so much.

This is how much I miss it:

Photo: Allmusicmaster.com Video: YouTube

22 October 2011

Dietrich brings it every time

At about 3:30 PM, it looked like all I was going to do with my day was play guitar in my room and chat with people on the internet.  So, in order to feel like less of a loser, I thought this would be an excellent time to start attempt #3 to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.  I usually make it halfway through the book before I get too distracted or too overwhelmed by the book's intensity, but I really, really want to make it all the way through.
So, here's an excerpt from the second full page of the first chapter:

"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.  Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."


Bonhoeffer brings the heat.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Simon and Shuster (1995), 45.

18 October 2011

The whole world is in Cardiff

One of the unexpected happy quirks of my new life in Cardiff has been an almost instantaneous deep saturation of International.
I imagined I'd be hobnobbing with the Brits here, and I've done a bit of that, but what I didn't expect is to be a part of a widespread and varied community of internationals.  Most of my human interaction, apart from cashiers and school administration, has been with other expats.  For instance:

My main professor/academic adviser is Australian
I have 4 Chinese housemates, 1 Hong Kongian (is that a word? I think she'd appreciate it), 1 Kenyan, and 1 Pakistani
One Saturday, I went to Ikea with 13 Hong Kongians
Another Saturday, I went to Llancaiach Fawr with about 20 Chinese, a Nigerian, a Bulgarian, a few Englishmen/women, and a Welshman
This week, I attended a Bible study with 2 Brits, a Slovakian, and a Chinese
On Fridays, I go to an "International Cafe" where I've met and hung out with people from France, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, China, Slovakia, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Britain

a typical Welsh field by Llancaiach Fawr
Parts of suddenly belonging to an international community were very accidental, such as with my housemates, or meeting so many postgraduate students from China and India (they're all getting MBAs).  But in general I've found myself gravitating to expats and expat-targeted activities.  I think this is because we're all in the same boat (something I wouldn't be able to say around them, because they might not get the idiom), or a similar one at least.  Perhaps also, when you've already been thrown upon a new culture - not that Britain is so different from America - you feel open and thirsty for more new culture.  Well heck, my traditions and cultural mores are already on their heads, so it's not too much of a stretch to delve deeper into the intricacies of human behavior and its variegation across the earth.  I love conversations that go, "We do it like this in my country; what do you do in yours?"  Somehow, being different brings you together.  You find yourself not only wondering why they do it That way in Their country, but why do we do This in Ours?  Suddenly, instead of just learning about someone else's world, you start to learn more about your own.
I often wonder what these expats I meet think of the USA and Americans.  People typically assume I'm British, because I look it, but it doesn't take long for the accent to kick in, and when they ask where I'm from the response usually goes one of two ways.  Either a slightly wide-eyed, ohh, the United States! or a knowing nod, yes of course, the United States.  Like it means something significant to be from the United States.  And then of course they ask me where in the States, but most people don't know where Georgia is.  So when they look confused I say, Do you know where Florida is?  "Oh yes, yes, Florida." "It's right north of there."  "Oh, okay!  So it is very warm and sunny there?"  ".....Sure."
Then, when I tell a Brit I'm from Atlanta, I might get - particularly from the older women - a little sigh, and then they'll say, "Oh, that's a lovely accent;" for any self-respecting Georgian pronounces Atlanta 'Adlanna,' while here they quite carefully say 'At-lahn-tah.'  It makes me wonder what an American accent sounds like.  To me, British accents sound proper, deliberate but in a hurry, and tall; rounded and tumbling if they're Welsh, angular if they're not.
I feel like I should not be considered an international or an expat, because the language here is my native language and I look the same and I come from a culture that functions basically the same.  But I am an expat, because I'm not from here (at least not in the last few hundred years, ancestry is a different story), and when I accidentally give the clerk the wrong coin or fumble with bagging my own groceries, I feel very obviously out of place.  And then, it is very nice to be able to have a cup of tea with a bunch of other expats and laugh about how idioms come out wrong in other languages.