6:12am 10/18/15

I started blogging in early high school mainly because I loved to write, and I especially loved it when others read it because it gave me a sense of connectedness between my innermost feelings and those around me. It was a very real form of catharsis for me. I would talk about faith related topics that interested my young mind like Heaven and salvation and occasionally school and loneliness. A year or so went by and my inspiration to write these blog posts shifted to a coping mechanism for my chronic insomnia that I suddenly developed. Seven years later, and after taking a hiatus from blogging to protect my privacy as I looked for jobs, I’m back again with that same intention—to cope with my insomnia because it’s really all I have left.

Now that I’m 23, my insomnia comes and goes without any noticeable pattern and when it happens it’s real bad, like tonight. I wonder if I’ll sleep at all or if I’ll just stop my alarm a few seconds before it’s set to sound and get up out of bed. It’s a terrifying thought because not only will I be missing a whole night’s rest, I’ll be missing the rest of the day because of how physically, mentally, and spiritually fatigued I will be. And there’s really no way of controlling any of that. Well, if anything, I’ve learned to teach myself to hope at least a little tiny bit on those days through praying or crying or taking a walk or simply telling myself, “Today you’re going to hope in the midst of your anguish because that’s the person you’re choosing to be.”

I wish there was something I could do to make this all stop. About an hour ago I took a warm shower with the three candles I light in the bathroom and as I was soaking in the dim light I decided to talk to God, which I really haven’t done for almost a year now for reasons I can get into later and this is what I said, “God, I’ve given up on asking for your help because you never do on these nights, but I want you to know that I’m so fucking tired of this, and I’m so utterly hopeless that all I can do is just keep asking you for help. I have to believe that you’re the kind of God that can handle that sort of thing. I have to believe that cursing at you and laying all my lament on your table can be held by you. I really do hope you hear me and you just miraculously put me to sleep tonight, but at the same time I have serious ethical issues with a God who sometimes intervenes when we ask for it.”

I thought, “Well, that didn’t help,” as my prayer in the sleepless shower turned to yet another theological debate within my own mind. But if God was really as powerful and loving and all-knowing as I’d heard Jesus describe, then I thought that prayer was just as good as any.

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Here Again

It’s 2:13am Friday morning and I’m having insomnia. I don’t suffer from insomnia like I did in high school. I sleep more nights than I don’t now, but every once in a while a little change in my daily routine throws me off and that little bit of anxiety is enough to keep me up for hours. In the morning I have a doctor’s appointment and then a full day planned of recording and farewell gatherings to send me off to California. I guess it’s all a bit stressful for an unhealthy introvert.

I’m far from having the health and fitness levels that I really do hope to achieve one day. I’ve decided that the only way to respond to the injustice of my years of insomnia and all the shit that it’s put me through is to start doing everything in my power to get healthy and strong until I no longer experience nights like these, until insomnia is just a memory that I can say I’ve overcome. I want to be alive again, full of energy, and full of self-confidence. But, the reality is that I’m still far from it and it still hurts.

My depression has been deep within me and stirring great waves of fear and doubt. There are days when I feel like a stranger even to myself. I’ve never known depression like this before. You become afraid of other people, afraid of their opinions of you, afraid of seeing things in them that you long for. And of course you’re so sad it actually does begin to hurt. But ironically, I sense that this is a time for new beginnings, and I’m choosing to respond to that premonition with open arms.

I leave in a week for Davis. The truth is that I’m terrified. My body is not ready. I won’t sleep and I’ll be tired and lonely and doubtful that moving for an internship was the right decision. And I will surely continue to suffer with the health issues that I’ve been struggling with this summer, but I do believe that it will soon pass and I will be a better person on the other side.

I’m packing some art supplies to make sure that I have a healthy avenue to channel my feelings. A few canvases, some pens and markers, my guitars, my new journal, and some recording equipment will travel with me along with my bike, which is also an art supply, I suppose. I really want to live simply. I want to have a room with empty walls, so that I will be forced to make my own art. I predict that it will be very therapeutic for me, especially when times are hard, to frame finished products and hang them around me. Kind of symbolic of the work in progress that I am.

– NK

Baccalaureate Homily

At SPU there’s a baccalaureate service the night before commencement for all the graduating seniors and their friends and family.  Along with a very intentional liturgy of songs, scripture readings, and prayer that’s constructed months in advance, it’s tradition for the Baccalaureate Committee to select two graduating seniors to give reflections on their college experience and relate it to the theme of the service.  The theme of this year’s service was ‘renewal’ and I was deeply honored to be chosen as one of the student reflection speakers.  What follows is the transcript of my speech.  Mind you, I had to speak in front of about 1500 people!  A major milestone in my life. 

 

Seattle Pacific University Baccalaureate Homily

June 13, 2014

Nolan Kurtz

Well hello.  My name’s Nolan Kurtz.  For the last four years I’ve been studying Christian theology here at SPU and I’m finally done!  I chose to major in Christian theology after being pre-med for one whole day.  Theology is one of those fields of study that makes your friends and family and probably your dentist ask you why in the world you picked theology instead of science or business.  For our purposes tonight I’m not going to directly answer that question, but I am going to give a brief reflection of my time here at Seattle Pacific and how I feel God has shaped me through it all.

I don’t know about all of you, but looking back I’d say SPU has caused me to confront a great deal of my weaknesses and insecurities, and that’s something I’m truly thankful for.

I remember coming to SPU and wanting nothing more than to make friends.  In high school and middle school I didn’t find many lasting friendships and really longed for Christian friends. Freshman year here, I found just that and it was wonderful.  The only downside is that I was having DTR’s all the time. You know how it is. Or maybe you don’t, and you’re one of the lucky ones.

Then sophomore year I joined group staff as the drummer.  group is the Wednesday night worship service that meets in Upper Gwinn.  I was the shy guy behind the drums that had dreadlocks covering his face.  I was so afraid to be in front of other people.  I remember getting so nervous to even read a small Bible passage in front of the congregation.  I was even the last one to share my life story on staff because I was so afraid to share my story with other people.  But that community was such a blessing for me because it forced me outside of my comfort zone and something profound starting happening to me that year.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was beginning to enter into a new phase of my faith.  I began to question my own theology and Christian faith a lot, which is ironically what motivated me to apply for the coordinator position on group staff the following year.

Junior year I became the group coordinator, and that experience has formed my character perhaps more than anything else in my entire life thus far.  That year was tough.  Maybe you can identify a year of college that was harder than the rest.  For me, junior year was definitely the hardest. If you know me personally, then you know that chronic insomnia is a big part of my story. Junior year my insomnia crept back into my life and I struggled off and on with really severe fatigue,  which caused doubts in my faith, and deep depression.  I lived in the tension of being this ministry leader and often feeling bereft of hope.  I was unsure of how I could lead this staff of twelve people and lead worship each week if I had all of these questions of faith and pain and depression that I was going through.  Bob Zurinsky, the group advisor, told me something I will never forget.  He explained simply that being a ministry leader doesn’t mean having it all together.  Life is a journey.  Your entire life will be a journey.  And the important thing is to be true to yourself and seek God in the midst of it all.

Being Christian doesn’t mean we have all the answers, and I thank SPU for teaching me that.  This insight empowered me to be group coordinator a second year as a senior, and I’m so thankful I did that. My faith has grown tremendously and I don’t define myself so much by my fears anymore.

So often the faith response is that we know why everything happens, even why very bad things happen to good people.  But being Christian forces us to be honest with the uncertainty of things.  We can’t prove that the Christian story is the right version of the story of the world and we shouldn’t try to.  In fact, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through my time here at SPU is that, as Christians, we actually embrace the struggles and the ambiguities of life because we are grounded not by knowing the truth about everything, but by our hope that God is in the process of renewing us and will one day establish the kingdom of God on earth.

No matter where life ends up taking you once you leave here, no matter what job you end up taking or what state you end up living in, your vocation in the world will always be the same.  Your role is to live into that kingdom of restoration and redemption and complete love here and now as best as you can as if your destiny is already your present reality. And that’s who we are as the church, as the People of God. We are a people living for the redemption of our world and we believe in our reconciliation with one another with all of our hearts.

It’s my prayer that as we graduate from this institution we go out into the world as both a people honestly aware of the brokenness of our world, the injustices and sin all around us, and also as a people secured in the hope of God’s victory over it all.  Are we prepared to give our hope to the world, even though the world may often give us reason to feel hopeless?

Thank you.

Recovering the Liturgical Intentionality of the Church

In many aspects Christian worship has become something very different than what it was in the early Church. In ancient Israel, worship was a way of perceiving the world, not just a way to feel good on a rainy afternoon. It was not an escape from the world, but a way of imagining the world, giving the worshipers eyes to see. We see this in Chronicles with the careful attention to detail within the temple of the LORD. King David establishes a profound sense of holy space, holy time, and holy personnel that permeates the temple in such a way that causes the reader to take notice and ask, “What’s the importance of Christian liturgical practice?” Chronicles teaches us of the importance of Christian liturgical practice for forming habits, rhythms, and rituals for the worshipping community that develops a cultivated conscience and love of holiness within its individuals.

Religion and liturgy are deeply embedded in Scripture. In fact, they are so deeply rooted in the biblical text that Christians often glance over it. A closer look at a text like Chronicles shows that the goal and task of a Christian institution is formation rather than (in)formation. Towards the end of his life, king David tells his son Solomon how he would like the temple of the LORD to function as a liturgical institution. He insists on having committed people at work in the temple at all times. David has the Levites of at least thirty years old counted and then makes a detailed ordering of who will work in the temple saying, “Of these, twenty-four thousand are to be in charge of the work of the temple of the LORD and six thousand are to be officials and judges. Four thousand are to be gatekeepers and four thousand are to praise the LORD with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose” (1 Ch. 23:4-5). In other words, there’s going to be constant work being done at the temple. Broadly speaking, this is often referred to as “perpetual liturgy.”

James KA Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College and author of Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies), picks up this fascinating idea from Augustine, which simply says that human beings are primarily affectional creatures, rather than intellectual beings. Simply said, “We are what we love.” This gets straight to the point of what the Chronicler is getting at with the attention to detail with regards to the temple of the LORD. David finds much importance in developing a holy institution that is dedicated to the formation of disciples who think critically and carefully about the world in which they participate in out of a cultivated love for God and God’s plan for the world.

In Chronicles, David’s emphasis for the temple is on the actual temple practices, which suggest a kind of liturgical habit, a liturgical lifestyle. He goes on to explain what sort of role the Levites, the musicians, the treasurers and other officials have in the temple. In this way, the Chronicler is portraying David’s desire to establish an ideal community that won’t make the mistakes of the past. This is the basis for the new community post-exile. And at the core, this community is one that takes liturgical practice seriously. Before he passes the task of building the temple over to his son Solomon, David says, “LORD, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided” (1 Ch. 29:18-19). David wants nothing more than his son to carry out his vision for the establishment of a temple that enacts the will of God in its worship and helps to re-narrate Israel’s identity as the People of God. And this re-narration is towards the overarching Christian story, tracing the universal trajectory of creation towards its complete eschatological restoration, and locating the mission of the Church directly in the middle of that story as the people who live in the hope and vocation of redemption here and now.

Following in his father’s footsteps, King Solomon, as depicted by the Chronicler, is one who takes the nature of the temple very seriously. He values the grandeur, splendor, and beauty of God so much that he insists on emphasizing that in the very architecture of the temple. “The temple I build must be large and magnificent” (2 Ch. 2:9). He urges us to see that church worship is not a time to disregard liturgical competency. We learn how to relate to the world on a subconscious level through the liturgy of our worship services. Our vision of “the good life,” our vision of the Kingdom of God that we are pressing toward, isn’t something we’re born with. It’s a horizon of our reality, a set of affections that is built in us over the course of our lives. How we present a holy space that directs our attention to the heavenly is very important and requires every aspect of our imagination and attention to detail.

Today, the Protestant Church is somewhat allergic to the idea of habit because of its fascination with spontaneous worship. But we have to get over our reservations for repetition. We think repetition – engaging in habitual practice – is bad in the Church, but as Chronicles teaches us, we are liturgical ritualistic creatures and our desires are built. A clear issue today is that the form of the North American Church is neutral and the content is central. Churches are centered around sermons that are often constructed around three points, which begin with “cute” and what follows is a worship service that is disjointed because the lyrics of the songs are communicating ideas that often contradict one another as well as the sermon and the overall structure of the service. The reality is that we are not merely brains on a stick! We are highly influenced by the form! We’re not pre-programmed to love a particular thing; we learn to love. And how we learn what to love doesn’t come primarily from textbooks and sermons, but from the mundane habitual practices of our lives.  I think if we know why we’re doing what we’re doing as Christians, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, then our habits can have global implications. We will have a particular story and message that we identify in, and one that we can articulate to other people not merely through forced evangelical words that teach us and the community that our particular Christian vocation is to “save” everyone around us, but through the very manner in which we live our lives as a testament to our hope that this world is not yet as it surely will be.

Who Reads Chronicles Anymore?

I’m currently taking a class on first and second Chronicles, which, if you’ve ever been so surprised to hear about in your church or whatever, are largely made up of genealogies.  However, I’m not that interested in dissecting the theological significance of the genealogies, like at all.  But, as we’ve been learning in class, interesting theological issues are actually being raised in Chronicles, and I want to write a little bit about it because, for one, it’s fascinating to me, especially being someone who hasn’t studied the Old Testament nearly as much as the New Testament, and secondly, it’s helping me formulate some ideas that I’ve already been thinking about lately regarding the discernment of God’s will.

We’ve been discovering how the characters in Chronicles are being portrayed as types, as typological individuals who are characteristic of certain kinds of people who act definitively in specific ways.  A prime example of this is the manner in which Saul is depicted as all bad, and David as all good.  We learned in class that in Samuel Saul cannot be reduced to a one-dimensional character, but in Chronicles he is.  Saul’s negative typological portrayal paves the way for David to be raised up as the righteous ruler in Chronicles.  There are a lot of theological implications for the way the Chronicler depicts the characters in Chronicles and how it broadens our understanding of the will of God when compared to other biblical texts.

Let’s compare the stories of Saul and David as depicted by the Chronicler and begin to extract its theological density.  At the end of chapter nine we get the genealogy of Saul, which ends up essentially being the only gratifying information we get about Saul.  Directly following his genealogy, the Chronicler tells the story of Saul taking his own life.  The Philistines were fighting against Israel, but their primary target at that time was Saul.  The fighting grew worse and at last the Philistines wounded Saul.  Terrified that he might die by the Philistines, the “uncircumcised fellows”, he urges his armor-bearer to kill him, but he’s too afraid to do so.  Saul then takes his own sword and kills himself.  The story concludes with verses thirteen and fourteen saying, “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD: he did not keep the word of the LORD, and he even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD.  So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse” (10:13-14).  It is clear in Chronicles that David was supposed to be king all along.  In class we learned that this isn’t the reality in Samuel.  However, the Chronicler claims that God killed Saul for the purpose of turning the kingdom over to David.  In chapter eleven, the Israelites affirm this.

In verse nine the Chronicler says, “And David became more and more powerful, because the LORD Almighty was with him” (11:9).  It’s clear that in Chronicles, David is raised up as the faithful ruler that God is blessing.  This is directly contrasted with Saul and his death because of his unfaithfulness to the LORD.  In chapter eleven, “all” language is the technical language that the Chronicler utilizes.  In the first verse the Chronicler says, “All Israel came together to David at Hebron and said, ‘We are your own flesh and blood’” (11:1).  This is also covenant language.  The way the people of Israel calls themselves David’s flesh and blood is their way of making a covenant with David.  The people of Israel firmly believe that David is the king that will rule over them as God desires.

What’s so interesting is the way in which the Chronicler depicts David as the just ruler that God destined as Israel’s king because this just isn’t the case in Samuel.  Even in chapter six we see the Chronicler favoring David.  “These are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the LORD after the ark came to rest there.  They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem” (6:31-32).  David is liturgically correct and the Chronicler values David for this reason.  It’s my contention that the Chronicler’s unique way of depicting Saul and David as typological characters is actually very enlightening for the way the Church ought to discern the will of God.

We don’t get much insight into the minds of the characters in Chronicles.  This is fairly common in all of scripture.  As the Chronicler is narrating characters like Saul and David, the Chronicler is portraying them so typologically that they’re almost caricatures.  So what we end up with in Chronicles is a story of God’s elect people that removes all puzzlement and ambiguity that is found in Samuel.  The Chronicler is saying that among God’s People Israel there is fixity, order, and lack of ambiguity.  It’s curious because in the Church we don’t like suspense, intrigue, and drama like books like Samuel present to us, but the Church as a whole reads Samuel and Kings much more than Chronicles.  The contradicting reality is that the Church acts much more like the world of Chronicles.  The way we view things in the Church largely reflects the Chronicles worldview in that our opinions on moral issues, such as same-sex marriage, climate change, and immigration are fixed and often times one-sided as if we know for sure what God’s will is.  Or certain churches are absolutely sure that God has appointed individuals for their specific ministries.  The Church as a whole is sure of many things.

In class we’ve been learning how Samuel is much more nuanced and textured, and in this way it’s more realistic than Chronicles.  Maybe what we need as the Church is to live between Chronicles and Samuel, to live in the nuance and the ambiguity, because if we don’t embrace the ambiguities of our lives and of the will of God as we know it now, then we are living in a dreamland.  When we talk about God’s will for us personally, ecclesially, or cosmologically, in light of the total biblical narrative, we face much more ambiguity than we’d like.  If we look at all of the biblical material, or even just Chronicles and Samuel, we face a lot of loose ends that are often uncomfortable for us.  This is why so many kids at my school often have crises of faith.  I know I did. The reality is we can’t be sure what God’s will is for us.

I recently got accepted as a worship intern at University Covenant Church in Davis, CA, which is super exciting for me.  This is a great example of how I’ve been making decisions lately.  Choosing to apply as a worship intern for this church in California, and secondly, accepting the position, weren’t decisions I made based on some mystical sense that God had appointed me for UCC or Davis, CA.  The reality is that I weighed the pros and cons, and made the decision to go for it because it felt like a good thing to do.  And I pray that God positively uses this experience to further form me as someone who loves myself, other people, and God more fully.  Simple as that.  I think one of the only things we do know about God’s will is that we love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves.  The rest is largely up for grabs, so to speak.  But we don’t like the “up for grabs” part of our faith.  Reading Chronicles has urged me to weigh the options of the decisions that I face in life for the end of making a decision.  Whatever I choose to do or wherever I choose to go is not necessarily the point; it’s that wherever I end up going I must strive to love God and love other people with all my might.  Then I will see how God uses me in that place.

Sleepless 4/16/14

Well, I’m randomly having insomnia on this quiet night. I will briefly write.

I’ve begun the last quarter of my senior year here at SPU. It’s bittersweet, to be honest. I often think back to the person I was when I first walked on to campus, through Tiffany Loop, and up and around Ashton Hall. I was hardly the same person as I am now. I was afraid of so many things, and although, ironically, this is still the same, it’s seems like the primary characteristic of mine that’s been flipped on its head.

I don’t define myself so much by my fear anymore and for that I am forever grateful. Class presentations, raising my hand in class once a year, making announcements on Wednesday nights to open the group worship services, going on long walks with women that hate me for leading them on, getting up in front of people and singing my own songs, dancing at local shows with strangers (I am also a stranger to myself in these moments), leading a team of ministry leaders, and countless other experiences have brought me to a place in my life where I’ve begun to name myself as just another human being trying to figure life out—no greater or less than anybody else in that respect.

There’s something quite freeing in identifying myself with other people. I do not subscribe to a sort of Christian theology that tells me exactly what to think and how to live. What I have is a little speck of knowledge of a story that is all-encompassing, all-reconciling, and all-powerful—enough to breathe life into dead places. I deeply believe that God created this universe and intended for all of creation to live in glory. I don’t know exactly what the afterlife will look like, but I believe that this will be a reality where all of our pain and suffering will be no more. Noticing other people and seeing myself in them helps connect me to the Christian story and the Christian hope that’s both eschatological and in the here and now.

I write this to remind myself what it is that I believe in because I have been struggling so much these days to hold on to hope. These are the nights where all the thoughts of my brain take a vacation and suddenly all I know is my own insignificance in spite of everything I’ve come to know about God. I continue to be my worst enemy. The real truth is that my own thoughts about myself tear me down inside, and sometimes I can sense myself falling away from the person God has created me to be.

But, interestingly enough, the Church is currently in the middle of celebrating Passover. It’s a Jewish holiday, which celebrates when God delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt from nearly 3,000 years of slavery. Thankfully, God has never stopped setting his people free. I hear about it all the time and I believe I’ve experienced it. But, I would be lying to you if I said, “Today I feel free,” because the reality is that I feel enslaved. I’m taking 19 credits worth of classes this quarter, struggling to stay afloat, trying so hard not to become jaded by all of these rigorous theology classes, and attempting to keep my health in check and my loneliness contained.

And still, at the center of my desire, in the pit of my stomach, at every turn in my walk, and every room I enter, I’m hoping that I meet someone who changes my life completely and listens to my thoughts, and cries with me when I hurt, and laughs with me about the little things, and dances with me in the kitchen, and comes over even when there’s nothing but silence and a room for remembering our minuscule attempts to be more like Jesus that day.

You are everything to me and that’s probably unhealthy, but the reality is that you are my hope. You are my courage and my ability to wake up after nights like these. You are my reflection that looks back on me and reminds me of what I’m defined by. You are not my bones. You are not my imperfections. You are everything that I am not, everything that I’m quite possibly not ready for, but I already feel in love with you. I’ve exhausted my ontological language for the existential experience of missing someone I’ve never met. But if there is one thing I am certain of, it’s this: You are already here and maybe you are God.

28 January 2014 / 4:17am / Awake

I’m awake and I’m not entirely sure why. I think I might be having an allergic reaction to this.

I’m very allergic to peaches, as I found out while watching Batman in a movie theater with my family a summer not too long ago. My throat swelled up and I had a great deal of trouble trying to breathe. I thought maybe this drink had peaches in it, but it doesn’t. Maybe it’s the apple. There are apples in this. Wait, it’s got to be. I’m allergic to apple peals… Gosh, could it be that simple? Any way, tonight I have a similar sensation to when I had those peaches before Batman except not as bad, but perhaps equally as frustrating.

I finally gave up on sleep at around 3, threw on my fleece, put on my shoes (pants already on) and went on a walk through the neighborhoods in Madison Park. This place is so magically peaceful at night. Nobody is awake except for that mysterious man walking towards his car, which has been running for at least 5 min. Where is he going? What is he thinking? He doesn’t see me staring at him, does he? I don’t really care. I’m just so damn exhausted. For God’s sake, let me sleep.

(sigh)

I turn left and continue on walking.

At a point in my wandering I realize just how tired I am and so I sit on the curb and rest my head on my knees. In this moment I feel somewhat homeless and so deeply alone. I wonder just how bizarre my night is in comparison to my friends’ nights and how they are most likely sound asleep dreaming things they’ll probably forget in the morning. I am still conscious and living in a broken universe. I am still dying. But all of a sudden I catch a deep breath and I immediately praise God because “oh, what a gift,” I realize, “to be alive.” But then I become very honest in the exhale and think, “But what a frustrating, painful, and lonely gift…” I stand back up, breathe deeply once more and say to myself, “Yet I still believe God is good.”

I walked back to the clinic, locked the door behind me, turned out the lights, and annoyingly listened as the man above me took his very early morning shower. But as usual, somewhere deep down in a dusty corner of my being, I was content to have experienced these hours because I still believed that I’d be telling someone I love all about it one day.

A Year Gone By

This year I began my senior year at Seattle Pacific University. I’m majoring in theology with a double emphasis in Christian mission and theological studies and have grown quite passionate about better understanding the Christian story. This has fueled my desire to be the coordinator of the weekly campus-wide worship service called group for my second yearI absolutely love it and it has undoubtedly developed my sense of vocation more than anything else has during my four years here.

Aside from that I’ve managed to remain committed to my band Darkpine. We got the incredible opportunity to record our first album with renowned producer Scott Colburn, whom I randomly met one afternoon while grocery shopping. Since then we’ve been playing shows in the city here and there and have had a lot of fun with that. I have not found the inspiration to draw lately, but I intend to pursue that art soon enough if not before I graduate. And I obviously have taken somewhat of a break from blogging, but I have taken to writing in my private journal a bit more, which has been good for me. Journaling has taught me that there’s admittedly a bit of ambiguity concerning my immediate future after graduation, but that’s never really bothered me. I have always had a good deal of faith concerning my future and where my life is headed, and I’m really thankful for that. I think there’s something beautiful about never fully knowing where we’re headed – it’s the essential mystery of being human. But I hope I’m becoming more and more grounded not by where I am but where I’m headed.

This year split me in two—one towards victory and the other towards defeat. This has, in many ways, been the greatest year of my life. I absolutely love my school and feel so privileged to be studying theology at a university that seeks to transform lives. I’m so lucky to be at a place in my spirit that allows me to fully step into the ministry side of SPU. I am reaching for truth only after realizing how little of it I have acquired. Freshman year was when I was really made aware of my naiveté towards the Christian faith and out of that awareness I have been seeking to figure God out ever since.

I’m in awe of the Christian hope. It’s so immense and I wish all of my friends and all of their friends could see it. Let me take two sentences to tell you two things that I have learned and fascinate me more than most things these days. The final end of the spiritual way is that we humans should also become part of this Trinitarian coinherence or perichoresis, being wholly taken up into the circle of love that exists within God. And the ultimate Christian hope joins up with and becomes one with the hope that ought to energize our work for God’s kingdom in the present world. (Okay, I’m done.) I’ve grown absolutely passionate about these things even twice as much than just a year ago. Being an undergraduate theology student as well as being mentored by the assistant director of University Ministries for the past two years has humbled me in profound ways, ways that have set fire to a burning desire to listen closely for the voice of God’s spirit in my life and pursue the unknown. This is victory and freedom sets my eyes on the future with anticipation and excitement because I trust that God will be there to meet me as he already has, which is what I find is nurturing me in the present moment more and more.

But within my posture towards the freedom of faith there is a part of me that feels a deep sense of hopelessness and emptiness in who I am and who I can never be. Insecurities I’ve always had have been brought to the surface like never before. There have been days this year that I’ve looked in the mirror in the morning and ran straight back to my room too scared to leave. I ask, “How can there be such darkness inside of me when a part of me is so close to taking flight and stepping into a fuller version of myself?”

One of my professors last quarter spoke of a verse (Romans 4:18) that began as my mantra of hope this school year, but there are lies within me that have crept up and kept me from tasting God’s truth—walls of the sea surround me and cover me in doubt. The sea creatures yell at me and tell me that I can never be good enough for the dreams that are buried in my heart. Tears begin to run from my eyes and become the very world I am caught in. I forget how to swim and days go by where I feel like I’m drowning in my own sorrow. Human nature, I feel, shares the same vicissitudes of nature—rain or shine, calm or storm and it’s as if I have changed as summer becomes winter and sometimes it’s unbearable and I feel unable to ever be a minister.

Pain is so real for me this year. Physical pain. Physical issues with my health and my body. Emotional pain. Mental pain. It’s all there. This will be the year that I was once two—one hand reaching for my destiny and the other hiding in the darkness of shame and pain and defeat. But if I’m honest I have a deep conviction that this is a necessary step in my journey, that the only way to step into the fullness of who I am, to learn how to become human in the way God designed me to be, and to enter in to this story that is far bigger than me is to deal with my insecurities head on. I know that, but it doesn’t mean it’s any easier knowing that. I have never felt this amount of pain before and the hardest part is that it’s so personal. It makes me hide, but I wasn’t made for hiding. None of us were. You either. It’s beautiful—God’s purpose of raising us all to life both now and in the future, but it’s sure scary for some of us to get there and to face our brokenness. But what seems like death is usually God’s way of bringing new life and that’s what I pray will become of my struggles.

And so at the edge of this year I find myself looking out over the creational waters of mystery and wisdom to see that there is little in my life that I am certain of aside from the sure feeling of being exactly where God wants me to be in my position as a ministry leader. God has breathed life into areas of my vocation that I didn’t even know existed—areas of leadership, of service, of education, of ministry, and of other people, all of which, three years ago, I would have ran away from. And that’s exactly what God does to us. God surprises us. This year, God surprised me and I can’t even begin to imagine where God will lead me in the next year, but there’s lots of hope in knowing God’s history, which is all about redemptive resurrection and always will be now and forever for me and for you and for them whenever we all finally grow eyes that see it and whenever we at last accept it because it’s what the whole world is waiting for.

And so I pray…

“God, do you see my eyes? Do you hear my words? ‘Abba, I belong to you.’ Even in uncertainty and depression and hopelessness, I belong to you. You use our brokenness to display your wholeness and to remind us of your ultimate plan for us, that we are held and entirely secure in your redemptive plan. May the love and truth of that reality and that future for all of creation give me the strength to open up my hands and relinquish to you what, in truth, has always been yours. And Lord, call me out from underneath and if I must travel through the underworld to reach my other hand covered in light, then may it be if for only a moment to catch your thawing breath. In the name of Jesus and for his sake, Amen.”

Peace to you and thanks for reading, whoever you are.

NK