Author: Dennis Snell
eight stanzas to utter a sound a voice? unspoken festering spoken truths loss and gain satin by tears years blotted yet love passion regret and hope no silence is unheard my heart yearns it craves again
The biggest prank is that Jesus rose again from the dead, at least that is one of my core convictions (his resurrection, not that it was a prank). The internet is full of Easter-related discussion; that’s good to talk about as the Jahresuhr (the year) turns ’round and we reflect on it and reset. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to visit church with a friend in a place far from my home – I guess that seems to be my new tradition on Easter.
“We have too many Christians who have Lent without Easter,” the pastor quoted (or something close to that, supposedly from the Pope). To those unaware the “season of Lent” is a time of fasting and reflection leading up to Easter, the day we celebrate that Jesus came back to life after being dead in a tomb for three days and thus sealing in the hope we place in him. “We are Easter people,” he continues, “and alleluia is our song.”
So I come into this church and reflect on God and his nature and pray out the liturgy with the congregation: “I reject evil…I renounce the sin in me…help me, O God, to be your servant of peace.” I reflect on the consistent ways I fail, the things I never grow through, the temptations to which I repeatedly return. And I know God sees me. I proclaim his goodness and say “God is great!” yet while I struggle inside to love the very creation he made in me. And here was this man, this divine man who came and empathized and conquered where I have fallen short and I realize that on this April 1 I am the fool. God knows the very thin line separating the innermost from the outside and he sees what lies behind it.
So as we direct ourselves to think on Ash Wednesday to consider that we are dust and so as we focus during Lent to refrain from worldly distractions then so do we celebrate on Easter that God saw our disgrace and he loved us anyway; he saw our repeated, infantile, willful, and horrifying failures and took us in anyway; he saw the fool in me and he lifted me up anyway.
In all my running to seek affection and to seek being wanted, when I’m tired, hungry, angry, or sick, in my trained misbehaviors, and when I’m foolish I can be reminded to celebrate, because the very God who conquered death – death in the body and death in the soul – didn’t flush me out with it. He saw strength hiding behind my weakness and beauty behind my tears, he saw victory charging through my retreat and he saw Jesus when he looked at me. God I reject evil and defeat, please lead me away from it.
My friend, I have seen many things, been on many adventures, suffered excruciating loss, faced my own malice and insufficiency, and from the best of times to the worst of time I can say that I am alive because someone saw the fool in me through it all and decided it was worth saving. There is no greater story in my life than that quintessential act of kindness. Today I celebrate the freedom I have from that fool because of that act. Today I celebrate that the things that I have messed up in this world have hope because of that act. Today I celebrate, and I hope you do too.
Crossing the line
Things look different from above. On a recent flight I captured four river crossings under exceptional lighting and skies. Three of those rivers form the boundaries between six different US states. Rivers form boundaries.
another year passed and i like to share interesting statistics and thoughts from the year so here they are in no specific order
over the past year i slept in or spent the night in forty different beds, five couches, four planes, three busses, twice in my car, one beach, and on the floor of one of the old Voice of America radio stations. that’s fifty six different places to spend the night for an average of more than one different locality per week.
although i was on the run most of the year several of my travel statistics are down from the past few years: i visited ten countries (including the US) and about forty places total but only flew around 60,000 miles. because of their loyalty program I flew almost exclusively with American Airlines; it’s nice to have a reward status with an airline.
my reading and writing metrics are off the charts even though i have only shared a smidgen of what i have written; there’s been an abundance of quiet alone time.
despite that, i went out of my way at least fifteen times in order to visit and spend time with dear friends of mine.
oh, and i got on two separate boats for the express purpose of eating.
one day i trashed a winter's supply of mason jar smore kits they didn't do anything wrong they were meant to give joy but my mom left them above the trash cans on trash day i take out the trash now they are irretrievably smores no mores
lessons from USAF brutalism
yesterday i spent a couple hours at the national museum of the air force in dayton ohio. military design and engineering is always a fascinating topic because of the varied constraints they deal with which are much less important for civilian designs.
websites are obese and getting heavier and there’s a fascinating trend which piques my interest called brutalism – inspired from brutalist architecture which itself was a response to more optimistic and opulent styles of previous designs.
in many ways the goals of brutalist web design follow those of military aviation – herein are scattered lessons i learned while touring the museum as they relate to software.
i close my eyes
because they cry from all over, Lord because they hurt and the world is breaking because they keep on taking it, Father because they ask, "how will we survive the night?" dear God, please let us close our eyes and open them again and find this no more dear Mighty One, please consider your people and give them breath before they drown because every day things get worse and because we are weak and saturated in grief because more is destroyed and lost and because there is no end in sight dear Savior, please save and calm the waters and give us hope that morning will come dear Refuge, please move our hearts and move our hands to the needy
what can we say, do, or think?
three hurricanes and another is coming in the wake.
a massive earthquake whose aftershock its own disaster.
three and a half million people in the dark with no power, water, or communication.
two mad men hurling insults at each other inching closer to nuclear war.
please pray with me for our world. in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us that wars and famine will increase before “the end” comes, a time when great distress will fall upon the earth before he reveals himself in glory and power and gathers his people. these things, though, are not the end themselves and are just “the beginning of the birth pains.” the beginning of the birth pains!
if we believe what is written in the Bible we need not be paralyzed, as God has been preparing us for these things and will lead us through them, but we should indeed grieve, because we are in the midst of great suffering and can do very little.
the same scripture says that the good news will be proclaimed as a testimony to all nations during these times. what good news could possibly pop up in the midst of all this junk?
i’m sitting here in Vancouver at the moment in tears as i read horror after horror in the news. i’m praying for relief. i’m praying that God have mercy on Mexico, on Puerto Rico, on Cuba, on Texas, on the North Koreans, on the US. i’m sitting here overwhelmed with a feeling of hopelessness, and yet… and yet i know there is hope. the good news? woven through all loss and all disaster and all miscommunication and all brokenness is a thread of hope i know is unshakable and unmoved by circumstance or plan. the God who established the foundations of this Earth can intervene and restore what is broken. this is not the end, not yet, and the Bible teaches us that it is never too late for God to save.
so please pray with me for healing on our planet. please pray with me for mercy. are you feeling moved like i am? please consider “being God’s hands” where they are needed right now and bringing tangible good news to the affected. large parts of Puerto Rico may be without power for months: they will lack clean water, warmth, lighting, means of cooking, means of transportation (even the gasoline network relies on electricity), means of communication, and hope. please consider donating to organizations which are gathering around these recent disasters to rebuild what was destroyed.
are you moved? are you an amateur radio operator or have communication backgrounds? are you mobile/remote/nomadic? are you wanting to share hope and good news to a hurting people? if so, please contact me; i’d like to talk with you.
last weekend i turned thirty-one. in dog years that’s about four for a medium dog – i’m about a medium person. in binary that’s just one shy of one hundred thousand and is special on account of the fact that it’s all ones:
11111 (other all-ones ages are 1, 3, 7, 15, and 63). during this past year i think i was in eighteen distinct places from malaysia to indianapolis to wichita falls, texas. it was either the most difficult or second-most-difficult year on record but i’m still here pressing forward.
what did i learn?
hope has long been the most relevant aspect of my faith and in this past year it has grown immeasurably more important. we live through one failure after another and we witness destruction and grief and hopelessness every day. we feel resentment and abandonment and imprisonment in different forms. how can we make sense of this? how can we not give up? it is for me only because Christ has overcome the evil and darkness in this world and only because the truth lies in a story of true redemption. the pain we know each day does not have to be a story of desperate souls swimming towards an abysmal nothing, but of God’s blessed enduring for a while until the promise is fulfilled.
in psalm 13 we see king david cry, “how long o lord; will you forget me forever; how long will you hide your face from me; how long must i take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” david dealt with hopeless matters both trivially personal and dramatically national, yet in his cry of recognizing the darkness within he finishes by declaring that his “heart shall rejoice” because he “trusted in [God’s] steadfast love.”
in 2 samuel 12 we have this story of david mourning, fasting, weeping, and praying for his dying son. when the son finally dies he stands back up and washes his face, ending his grief instead of starting it. confused, his company asks him to help them understand his behaviors: “while the child was still alive,” he said, “i fasted and wept…who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live.”
david held on, sometimes quite foolishly, to the hope he saw in God’s power to restore, deliver, and reconcile. he was surrounded by enemies but was also his own enemy on more than one occasion. he clung to a hope which was shrouded at times by his own anguish and doubts as we see when he cried out. our image of a “man after God’s own heart” is full of contradiction, selfishness, fear, and failure of will; it’s held together by a faithful recognition that God is good and God delivers those who call on him.
if you are reading this you are probably familiar with some of my own struggles and darkness but you may not be aware of just how many different factors have come together in the past year to grieve me and distract me from that hopeful promise. in 1 kings 19 we find elijah at a point where he had given up on hope and longed for the release of death. just then when he needed it most an angel touched him and led him on a retreat to hear God’s voice in a whisper. “the journey is too great for you” said the angel, and truly it was – it was necessary for him to understand how much this life depends on God’s will and not ours. inspired by this and other retreats in the scriptures i fled to the black forest in germany in order to drown out life’s noise and listen for God’s whisper.
what is the conclusion? put frankly the cure for hopelessness is gratitude and perseverance. what God has promised he will deliver and the greatest gifts of all he has already delivered: he has not abandoned me but rather has chosen me; he has not neglected me but despite my choices he has guarded me and blessed me; he has not turned away from me but was patiently waiting for me to return to him. in those times when i too beckoned, “how long oh Lord,” he was allowing the suspense in my heart to build until the day i started to recognize the revelation, that two thousand years ago he heard us and answered and that, dear friend, makes all the difference.
so the greatest gift of all is a kind of trump card. do we then deny all of our struggles or bury our longings? by no means! it took me too long to start to understand how i can be inwardly glad and thankful for life yet while things remain broken and dim. the paradox is that joy and sorrow are bound to intermingle until the fulfillment of the promise. the peace of God does not mute the pain and hopes and struggles of a wandering sojourner like myself. the gift does not depend on my worthiness but rests on God’s mercy and grace.
various people have made it clear they think my hope is foolish and think it will hold me back as long as i hold on to it. this in itself has been discouraging. we cannot give up our hope in God’s salvation because he has demonstrated the biggest reconciliation possible; he has conquered death and sin in us and offered us a new path forward in him. i chose to move on in hope not because i have reason to believe that what i want will eventually come to pass, but because i know that against all odds God may choose to intervene and heal what has been broken. without hope i find no reason.
when i retreated into the mountains of the black forest the first time and was preparing to propose i was inwardly torn by a recognition of my own failures and tendencies into the darkness: am i doomed from birth? am i destined to fail? should i just give up now? well, the answers were probably “yes” to those, except for hope. it was the hope and knowledge of repentance which gave me the confidence to start the most precious relationship i’ve ever known. i know i will fail, but i know that deep inside my heart i long for the goodness which God offers and i know that through that contrition and desire he could mend even the most broken circumstances. with faith there is always an unexpected and better way of healing and gladness for all.
what now? well i clearly failed my wife whom i deeply love and i don’t know if restoration shall ever come. i’ve shied away from my calling to love and show compassion for the needy among us. i’ve let fear overpower my innermost desires. i don’t know what to do. but, i hope. i pray for restoration and i pray for healing and i pray for God to make things right.
we must be foolishly hopeful if we want to overcome the darkness around us. this is the whisper i have been hearing from God for as long as i can remember and this is what he reminded me in this past year. do your best, persevere, and rely on hope because the journey is too big for you. strength does not come by jumping away from one difficulty to another but in learning to stand firm when things are bleak and finding that the struggle is worth it.
what shall i do next? what’s in store for thirty-one?
well, let’s see. i want to continue to learn what it means to be a faithful and godly husband and continue to address my own personal issues. i think also that it’s time to settle down for a bit and get involved. being away from friends and being away from a church has been really hard for me. it was harder than i anticipated in 2014 when i moved to germany and became largely isolated. it continues to be difficult while moving around the world as a nomad. my happiest time was back in new whiteland with mandi when i was active at church and helping at the food bank and supporting the refugee community in indianapolis.
darkness continues to sweep over our country and the outlook seems helpless. i’m convicted that it’s time to stand up for the victims of fabricated narratives supporting fear over love. i want to continue to pray for the unlikely healing and reconciliation of our nation before we do something so heinous that it tarnishes our identity for generations to come, causing terrible pain and suffering along the way. hope requires humility and that means continual prayer for even the perpetrators of these injustices. we are broken not because there are a few people orchestrating evil but because inside each and every one of us is a selfish desire which can grow to cause great evil, because we collectively have chosen personal comfort over justice and equity.
life is a daily struggle and and it’s not easy for me to foster gratitude. like the thorns in matthew 13, my own depression and issues choke out the good which i am designed to accomplish. i think thirty-one should be “be ye grateful” as a reminder to orient my mind towards the giver of so much good, to the one who may yet be planning on restoring that what seems irretrievably broken and lost.
for all you thirty-aughts out there i hope you will have a year more successful than i did.
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offeringfor the LORD your God?
sorry i killed your cat
the other day when carrying it
your cat dug its claws into me
i overreacted and sadly triggered
the defenestration of paws
when a cat is afraid
out go their hooks
and they reach for anything
stable so they don’t fall
and now i’m sorry I took this
act of aggression
for more than it was a
cry for help
you can’t get mad
at a scaredy cat
while being one yourself
i will buy you a puppy
photo credit belongs to Evan Sharboneau on Flickr