footsteps in the dark

Several years ago, I was laying in bed, trying to fall asleep. It was late, almost morning, when I heard it.

Well, I think I heard it. What sounded like a footstep in my room. My door was barely closed, and with my back turned to the noise, I imagined all sorts of scenarios as to what caused the noise. Or what was possibly standing over my bed, behind me.

I was probably reading a little too much Stephen King at the time, but I wrote this the next day. It’s Halloween, so I figured I’d share it.

Happy Halloween Reformation Day!

who is it i hear

inside my closed door?

soft fall of a step

on carpeted floor.

ever so closer,

what does It search for?

gladly i know not,

but know in my core,

the It in my room

has been here before.

tonight it has come

at quarter past four

and stands by my bed,

a creature of lore,

some hairy monster

or hunchbacked igor.

my back turned, i feel

cold eyes as they bore,

willing me to turn,

but still i ignore

and with bated breath

silently implore:

“go away! i wish

you’d come back no more!”

is the It still there?

 

               could you

               would you

               open the door

               a little bit more?

 

the walking dead

When I was in high school, I told my grandmother that I wanted to be an archaeologist. While everyone around me was telling me that medicine was the right path for me (I’m Indian, it’s the default assumed profession), I was convinced that I would be happy and content digging in the dirt. My grandmother then laughed and asked me why I was so interested in looking for dinosaur bones. When I told her that was paleontology and not archaeology, clearly two different disciplines, she laughed again. Harder.

Needless to say, I am currently not an archaeologist.

For as long as I can remember, the earth and stuff from history buried in the earth have always intrigued me. Geology, paleontology, and archaeology were the stuff that fascinated me as a kid. And Power Rangers, but that’s a different story. I wanted to be a mix of Ross from Friends, who by the way, was a paleontologist, and Indiana Jones. Well, maybe not, but I was very interested in what the ground had to offer for me discover, particularly when it came to ancient cultures and civilizations.

No ancient civilization wooed me as compellingly as ancient Egypt. Egypt, with her dual kingdoms and audacious building projects, themselves little more than monumental grave markers. Historians claim that the Great Sphinx, the Great Pyramid and the other pyramids in the Giza Necropolis were already built and standing for over a millenium before the exodus of the Israelites from the biblical account even happened. Egypt with her pyramids and pharaohs and pantheon of deities. Egypt with her mummies.

Archaeologists have found many of these mummified corpses, housed in elaborate coffins that were then placed in stone sarcophagi. The body of the deceased would be embalmed and wrapped in linens, with its vital organs removed and preserved, and then placed into a carved wooden coffin, which in turn would be placed into the rectangular sarcophagus. The idea was that the spirit of the deceased would return into its body, and so to help the returning spirit distinguish its body, the faces of the pharaohs were carved and painted onto the lids of the sarcophagi.

What strikes me is how bright and vivid these ornate coffins are. Many of them are very stylized and intricate, gilded and painted with deep, rich colors and have been attempted to look lively and life-like. Some of the coffins of the royalty were overlaid with, or even made with gold and silver. And despite how beautiful the outside of the coffin is, just one peek under the lid reveals the grave truth (no pun intended… okay, maybe): what lies within is dead, decaying and decomposing. You will never pop the hood and find life.

That description is pretty accurate when it comes to humanity. We spend so much effort and money and time trying to ensure that we look a certain way, maintain a certain image and have everything in order. We paint ourselves with education, money, and fame, trying convince everyone that what’s on the outside is who we really are. We live to satisfy this image that we bear. And all the while, inside we’re dead. We’re life-less corpses walking around in magnificent human bodies.

This is exactly how the apostle Paul describes us in the New Testament: dead apart from Christ. Not that we’re physically dead (although sin will certainly lead to that) but that spiritually, what lies within our earth-suit lacks a pulse. There seems to be no purpose or goodness to life, and we live knowing that there is more, just unsure of what it is.

But God.

The risen Christ is a testament to Jesus’ power over death. God makes us alive with Christ in His resurrection, reaching into our dead hearts and replacing them with living, beating, thriving hearts. Our spirits can rejoice because in Christ, life has purpose and reason and meaning. We are no longer selfish beings looking to extend our legacies far beyond our lives, which is what the Egyptians had attempted to do with their mummies and building projects. No, we live in Christ as proclaimers of the love of God in this life and heirs of His promise in the hereafter.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:1-7

In Christ, we are no longer zombies or walking coffins. In Jesus, we do not live in mindless wandering, attempting to appear as if we’re alive. We are alive and our identity is found in Jesus. The image we project is not an idealized self-portrait, but we display and proclaim Christ in our lives. We live to make His name great. Christian, live in this identity.

Two thousand years ago, a body lay in a tomb, wrapped in ceremonial burial linens. This body didn’t stay in the linens, though. Jesus the Christ rose from grave and gives us a promise that if we are in Him, death will not be our final resting place either.

trickers and treats

I never went trick-or-treating as a kid. My parents were convinced that it was the Devil’s own day and the sure-fire sign that Jesus was coming back soon. When I was young, my mom would tell me there were demons running around the neighborhood, going door to door. I would nervously peek out the blinds because I wanted to see these demons who were terrorizing my neighborhood. I saw Elmo from Sesame Street.

My folks would turn off the front light when the kids came out in their costumes so that hopefully they wouldn’t ring our doorbell. And even if they did, we wouldn’t open, even though the trick-or-treaters (and their parents) could probably hear our TV and smell the scents of curry as my mom cooked. We may or may not have been egged once. Or several times.

This year, I decided I would buy the candy myself and hand it out to all the costumed kids that came by. I bought 6 jumbo bags of chocolate candy, turned our porch light on, and sat by with a book, waiting to happily dish the candy out. After 45 minutes, I had my first trick-or-treater!

It was a 17 year old in a hoodie.

I complimented her… costume, and let her have 2 pieces of candy. The next visitor came 20 minutes later. Two hours and 1 trick-or-treater later, I realized I had a lot of candy to get rid of. By the fourth child, a 3-year old in an astronaut costume, I was eagerly urging him to take all he wanted, coaxing him to take more and more. His mother stepped forward, grabbed his hand, curtly said “Thank you,” and walked off. I heard her hiss to him, “Don’t you touch any of that candy!” I guess something about an overly-eager, frantic-eyed, bearded brown man urging her toddler to take more of his candy unsettled her.

I literally had 6 people come by the entire night. And I still have enough candy to give Venezuela a cavity.

Halloween has always struck me as a bit peculiar. We teach kids their entire childhood to be themselves and no one else, witches are bad, and don’t ever take candy from strangers. And in one night, all those rules go out the window.

For one night, we can be someone else. We spend our lives creating the character we want people to perceive when they see us — we create an identity — and then we play the role, mask and all. We project an image and strive to ensure that the image is maintained because it wouldn’t do for people to know who we truly are. I’ve often pondered that life sometimes feels like a show you’re putting on, and every day you choose the mask you want to wear. But on Halloween, we have the opportunity to ditch the everyday mask and be someone totally different and unconventional. We can break societal expectations and appear sinister, holy, provocative, silly, ambitious, sensual, sacrilegious and everything else we can’t be the other 364 days of the year. The sorority president on the Dean’s List can be a scantily-clad Playboy bunny, the nerdy Electrical Engineer can be a very un-Twilight-esque vampire, and the  worship leader who is a Biology/Religious Studies major  can be a compelling Jack Sparrow pirate. We take off our everyday costume and slip on the thrilling costume of the temporary escape.

For one night, we can be someone else. And for one night, we can get away with it.

“which mask will you wear today
how about the one with the pretty smile
to you it’s just another day
in a life you haven’t lived in quite awhile”   – Lifehouse, “Just Another Name”

Few people see us as we really are: broken, messy, and maybe slightly crazy.We call it vulnerability, taking off the surface mask and letting your truer, weaker self be known. It’s not something that our culture or society applaud because we’re taught to not show weaknesses or flaws. Survival of the strongest, right? We can hide behind the mask and no one has to see how ugly, scarred or scared we are.

But maybe we were made to be known. Maybe that’s where true community happens and friendships are forged. Maybe being vulnerable and honest about our brokenness, our struggles, and our fears can lead to healing, strength, and victory. Maybe we don’t have to be perfect. Maybe we don’t have to be alone.

It’s something I’ve learned over the years. I’ve been blessed to have friends who have seen me at my best and very worst, who have encouraged me, rebuked me, laughed with me, laughed at me, and prayed with me. People who point me back to Christ. People who remind me that in my weakness, Jesus Christ is shown to be strong.

In Scripture, we are reminded of the reality of a new identity in Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. (Gal. 2:20) Indeed, Paul tells us that if we are in Christ, we have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) so that we who are broken, sinful and shameful now wear the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Sure we were broken, but now the Holy Spirit of God lives in us! We who are new creations don’t have to live behind the masks we create, but can live as children of the Most High God, citizens of an eternal Kingdom, co-heirs with Christ. Now that’s a provocative identity!

We’ve ditched this year’s Halloween costumes. Now Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are on the horizon, and family get-togethers, friendship reunions, and holiday meals claim spots in our calendars. Maybe it’s time to ditch the costumes we wear the other days of the year. Maybe we can be honest about who we really are to those we care about. Maybe we can live in our identity in Christ.

collecting memories

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved things pertaining to history and geology.

Okay, go ahead. Cue the jokes, comments, snide remarks.

Seriously though. Rocks. Dinosaur fossils. Ancient civilizations.

In First Grade, I had a really impressive rock collection. But a lot of young boys did back then. Rocks were what Pokemon cards were for my brother’s generation.

No? Nobody?

Okay, maybe I chose the wrong metaphor. But rocks were way cool.

I even studied the different kinds of rocks! You had your three main categories: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. I knew how they were formed, where you could find them, how to distinguish them…

Maybe I’m just making a case for why I was/am a geek.

I took the bus home from school, and the bus stop was about a block away from where we lived. My dad tells me that he would stand by the window and watch me as I made the 3 minute walk back to our apartment.

Well… It took 3 minutes for everyone else. I dragged it out to 30 minutes. He said I would just idly walk, peering at the sky and the things around me, stopping every other step to kneel down and grab a rock/stone off the ground. I’d curiously examine it, turning it over, mulling over it. If I liked it, I would proceed to put it in my backpack. If I didn’t, I would put it back down, and move on to the next one. Apparently I did this with leaves too… But that’s just silly, right?

My backpack was heavy with rocks, which settled at the bottom of the bag. When I got home, I would put them out on my shelf, on display for all the world to see. Usually, “all the world” was just me. But I was amazed at rocks! At the process they went through. At their age. Their seeming commonality, and yet uniqueness. How God brought all these things to be.

Whatever happened to collecting things??? I know other kids had their baseball and basketball cards. My cousin Debbie had stickers. I even had old and foreign coins.

We weren’t just glued to the latest video game. Cell phones were just things Zack Morris had.

Maybe we are in a totally different era. My sister laughs when I tell her about my love of rocks. Maybe legitimately so. But maybe staring at a screen is all we have time for. Staring at a screen like the one I’m staring at as I type this. But surely there are things in our lives that are not just technology-driven.

Maybe I’m just a nerd.

Do you remember those days? Break off the chains of circuitry every now and then. Pick up a hobby.

Pick up a rock.

What did you/do you collect?