Memory Lane . . .

Today, while helping my parents clean their garage, I stumbled upon an old box of art.  Upon closer inspection I soon realized it was actually an old box of my art–lovingly preserved by my dear mother for the sake of posterity.  I thought it would be fun to share an assortment of these sketches, paintings, and pastels produced when I was in high school.  So, welcome to memory lane . . . it’s kind of like being forced to watch home videos only much easier to escape.  Feel free to click the ‘x’ in the upper right-hand corner if you fear nostalgia.


Still Life

Pastel Still Life Drawing

Pencil Sketch

Pencil Sketch

Acrylic Still Life

Acrylic Still Life

Yet Another Pastel Still Life

Yet Another Pastel Still Life

Ink Drawing

Ink Drawing

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A Simple Love Song

Years ago I came up with a catchy tune but could never put words to it. One day I met a girl, the most beautiful girl I had ever encountered. When she smiled her eyes glowed and my heart stopped. Only minutes after meeting her I was completely in love. She was not only beautiful but the most kind, intelligent, and sincere woman I had ever met. Two weeks passed, and to my great dismay, it was time for her to get on a plane and return to England. We embraced and shared out first kiss; I didn’t want to let her go. My heart was broken, because I knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I picked up my guitar and began to play the catchy tune I had written; but, unlike before, words began to pour out of my heart. This is a simple love song written by a twenty year old boy hopelessly in love. After all these years, it still speaks to how I feel about my darling wife . . .

The Teacher

Here’s another sneak peak of The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean Aspiring Author.  You can find the first two installments here and here.  Please keep in mind that this is only the first draft.


 

The Teacher

Growing up in a devout Christian family I heard the stories of the great biblical heroes numerous times and could recite most of them by heart.  It wasn’t until I was twelve, however, that I dedicated time to personally studying Sacred Scripture.  Naturally, I was immediately drawn to the more exotic, and often overlooked, books; the “black sheep” of the canon.  The first to grab my attention was Ecclesiastes, in which, to my great dismay, I read the following passage for the first time:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

 Generations come and generations go,

but the earth remains forever.

 The sun rises and the sun sets,

and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south

and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,

yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

there they return again.

All things are wearisome,

more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,

nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say,

“Look! This is something new”?

It was here already, long ago;

it was here before our time.

No one remembers the former generations,

and even those yet to come

will not be remembered

by those who follow them.

I had never read anything so dismal, despairing, and disturbing in my life.  Don’t get me wrong, it was not as if this passage introduced me to concepts entirely foreign to my experience.  To the contrary, I found the words of the Teacher disturbing precisely because they resonated with intuitions buried in the far reaches of my soul.  They conjured impressions of reality I had held since my childhood but never wanted to face.  They rekindled the sense of dread and futility engendered by the swamp; feelings which seemed incongruent with the cheerful Christian worldview so tenderly nurtured by my parents.

“I don’t understand this,” I thought, “Perhaps it’ll make more sense as I continue reading . . .” I pressed on through several more chapters hoping for better results but to no avail.  In fact, things got worse:    “Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals,” proclaims the Teacher, “the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”  This was the last straw!  I slammed my bible shut and stormed downstairs to my father who sat unawares in the den.  “What’s his problem?” I exclaimed in frustration, “why is this even in the Bible?”

Somewhat taken aback by my outburst, my father responded: “Josh . . . what are you talking about?”  Realizing he hadn’t the faintest clue what I was ranting  about, I took a deep breath and proceeded to voice my dissatisfaction with the Teacher.  He listened patiently for several minutes and when, at last, I finished my diatribe he asked, “Have you finished reading it?”  Sheepishly I responded, “Well . . . no.”  “Read the whole thing,” he said, “then you’ll understand.”

This was not the answer I was looking for.  Begrudgingly I walked back upstairs, picked up my Bible, and pressed forward.  After reading the book all the way through . . . I still didn’t understand.  The Teacher left too many questions unanswered.  The resolution at the end, to “fear God and obey His commandments,” offered no consolation.  I needed things to be black and white—clear and simple.  The Teacher’s ideas were too discordant; too nebulous; too real.  I wasn’t prepared to accept an existence devoid of meaning—yet, this is the world presented by the Teacher; a cold, fleeting, impersonal, purposeless, unjust, world, full of uncertainty.

As most of us do, however, I set these troubling thoughts aside and retreated back into the world of fantasy.  I played video games, read Star War’s novels, and watched endless hours of T.V.  But, one can only drown the nihilism out for so long . . .

 An Encounter With Death

The one thing we can be absolutely sure of in this life is that everything living will die.  Death surrounds us–it haunts us every second of every day–relentlessly pursuing us into the grave.  At the very moment of our conception we begin our slow decent into dissolution and, in spite of all our efforts, there is nothing we can do to stop this from taking place.  We have tried and shall continue to try—but to no avail.  There is no escape from our temporality; from our profound limitedness.

Nevertheless, to dwell upon our finitude and impermanence – which death so robustly exemplifies – leads us quickly into the abyss of despair.  And, despair, true despair, is incredibly unpopular in the West. This is one of the reasons we desensitize ourselves, by means of video games, movies, and other such contrivances, from the reality of death.  We do this by transforming it into entertainment; by inoculating ourselves from the absurdity and pointlessness it engenders.  We, as a society, are enamored by the mere “shadow” of death – to borrow from Plato’s famous analogy of the cave – which seems less frightening and, at times, even pleasurable.  We dare not turn our gaze and face the reality which would be too much to bear.  Our obsession with the mere idea of death allows us to transform it into something enjoyable or thrilling (e.g., Mortal Combat) or even sexually arousing (e.g.,Twilight).  Hence, as a matter of profound irony, death has become the ideal distraction from death.  That is, until the real thing is unwillingly thrust upon us.

I entertained mere phantasms of death until it slowly took my friend Travis . . .

The Swamp . . .

Here’s another “sneak peak” of the autobiographical piece, The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author, I’m working on.  Last week I posted the forward which can be read here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Please keep in mind this is only the first draft.


The Swamp

My earliest memories are of the swamp.  Viewed through the lens of a child the swamp is at once magical and terrifying; filled with beauty, wonder, darkness and terror.  In this way, swamps are a microcosm of the universe.  For our cosmos is both majestic and frightful—awe inspiring and unnerving.  The swamp is beautiful in its own way, full of unexpected pleasures, yet, also leaves one with a sense of dread.  Like the rest of existence, it is a paradox; an unlikely combination of darkness and light.  It is in this setting, surrounded by thick mud, honeysuckle, toadstools, crawfish holes, sugar cane fields, snakes and alligators, that I formed my first coherent impressions of reality.

I remember hunting for pecans in the back yard, digging elaborate tunnels in the mud for baby frogs to navigate, and watching doodle bugs roll up into defensive positions at the touch of a finger.  I can still taste the cream soda my mother purchased from the convenience store at the entrance of our neighborhood on hot summer days.  I also remember countless fishing trips with my father:  “Before you put your hands in the water,” he used to remind me, “Check for snakes.  When you see a long streak in the water it is most likely a water moccasin . . . so, don’t put your hands in.”  Instructions I was all too happy to follow.

One of our greatest adventures occurred the day we stumbled upon an eleven foot alligator.  I’ll forever remember its terrible presence.  It floated near the surface of the water, perfectly still, its lifeless eyes staring uncaringly at our boat. I could see its massive form beneath the haze of the muddy water and was aghast when I noticed several jagged teeth protruding from the sides of its gigantic mouth.  Naturally, my father paddled us right along side the creature.  “Keep quite son, don’t make a sound,” he said as he slowly picked up his fishing rod.

I watched in horror as he carefully lowered the tip of the rod above the monsters hideous head.  Sweat ran down my face as my mind raced with images of the creature suddenly jumping out of the water and chomping my father’s arm off!  After a moment of hesitation, he gently tapped the top of the alligators head with the rod.  In a split second the motionless behemoth disappeared in a gigantic splash; diving with surprising speed and agility.  The shockwaves from the creature’s sudden departure gently rocked the tiny boat.  I sat gripping the edge of my seat as my heart pounded with excitement.  My father looked back and our eyes locked—we could read each others mind: “Mom must never be told about this.”

I have many fond memories of the swamp but all of them are tinged with a sense of dread; and anyone who has taken time to reflect upon nature will share this feeling.  The same world that shocks us with its complexity and beauty is also cold, heartless, and destructive.  The same tranquil bayou, with its flowers and lily pads and calming aura, will, given the chance, destroy you.  The alligator, a truly marvelous and intriguing creature, will rip you in half without giving it a second thought (or a first, if you consider the size of its brain).  Most of us experience this feeling of dread, which comes from pondering nature, at an early age.  At some point we look at the world and see underneath its brilliant and mysterious exterior; recognizing something sinister is at work.  If only for a fleeting moment, we become acutely aware of the harshness of reality and of our fragility and this makes us apprehensive.

Through Dark Lands: A Young Man’s Encounter With Homelessness

In the past four years I’ve had the special privilege of working with homeless men, women, and children in different cities across the United States. Through the course of my ministry to the homeless I’ve experienced both tragedy and redemption. I’ve seen lives destroyed by sin and lives beautifully restored by Christ. I’ve both doubted and questioned my faith and drawn closer to God than ever before. I’ve had my own life threatened and seen other lives destroyed. Since I’m taking a break from writing my book, I thought it would be nice to share some of these experiences with you . . .

Let me forewarn you, however, that many (in fact most) of these stories are extremely disturbing and quite graphic. They involve drug use, prostitution, bad language, child abuse, mental illness, demon possession and a host of gross injustices. Although I will not be using any of the real names of people I’ve worked with or mention the places in which the events took place, I shall be very honest in my description of these events. In doing this I believe I’m following the example of the authors of the Bible who made it a point not to hold back any of the unpleasant details.

I will also seek to be honest about my own spiritual development during this time. I know that I have sinned and made bad choices during my dealings with the homeless. I do not wish to portray myself as a saint nor the homeless as wild savage heathen. In truth, there have been times in which the homeless have ministered to me more than I’ve ministered to them. My desire is to show how destructive sin can be and to demonstrate just how much we all need the Truth instantiated in the man Jesus Christ. I pray that these stories bless you and strengthen your resolve to stand against evil and injustice wherever you may be.

The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author: Part 4

So, I’ve reached a very interesting and exciting stage in the development of the book.  At this point in the story, the protagonist has started his ascent up the mountain to the cave of solitude overlooking mankind.  Just when he’s about to start climbing, however, he makes a quick stop in a small village at the foot of the mountain.  In this village he encounters the “Four Horsemen” who are proselytizing the common man – attempting to convert him to atheism.  After listening to the Horsemen’s diatribe for a couple of minutes the character is once again visited by the ghost of Nietzsche who immediately begins to ridicule the godless knights.  The Horsemen, of course, are the so called New Atheists: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  I can scarcely think of a better way to critique the New Atheists than pitting one of the most famous (and arguably well known) atheists in modern history against them . . . but, all of this will have to wait for now.

While I’m obviously anxious to get started writing this portion of the book, in the coming months I’ll have to step back and take a short break.  Please don’t get depressed—it’s for a good cause!  I’m excited to announce that I will be publishing an essay on the topic of divine love and the nature of existence through a small publishing house which goes by the name of Shadowfire Books.  The essay will be written in the form of a prayer and is part of a collaborative effort featuring several other new authors.  Thus, for the next couple of months all of my attention will be directed towards this essay—which I must have turned in by October 31st.  I’ll release more information about this project as time gets closer for its release.  Until then, you can expect to see more of my articles published on the Christian Watershed and the occasional post on this blog.

The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author: Part 3

I recently started writing my first book entitled: How I Killed Nietzsche and Became the New Übermensch.  These are the chronicles of my journey through this intense project . . .

Part 3: The most difficult aspect of creating this story has been weaving Nietzsche’s own writing into the dialogue.  Although the book is a work of fiction–a unique blending of horror, fantasy, and memoir to be exact–it is far more than an entertaining story.  At the core of this troubling tale are some of the deepest philosophical and theological challenges of our time.  In order to capture these issues with precision and authenticity I’m utilizing word for word quotations from Nietzsche’s writings.  Thus, about ninety percent of the dialogue you read in this book will be Nietzsche’s actual words.  The reason I’m weaving his philosophical discourse into a fictional story is because I believe these issues run deeper than the intellect.  On the contrary, I believe they involve the entire person.  Nietzsche spoke of this in his notes, and I find myself in full agreement with him.  He states: “I speak only of things I experienced and do not offer only events in the head.  One must want to experience the great problems with one’s body and one’s soul.  I have at all times written my writings with my whole heart and soul:  I do not know what purely intellectual problems are.”  The intellectual wrestlings of my generation are far more than ideas in the head; but matters of the heart and soul.  In this book I hope to capture the intensity and seriousness of these issues without sacrificing the subtly of philosophical discourse.

There is, however, another motivation behind this work of philosophical fiction.  It is an unfortunate fact that many in my generation no longer think or reason through their beliefs but, rather, mindlessly absorb them through the media.  I call this phenomenon  intellectual osmosis.  It is largely due to slothfulness and impatience but also a symptom of our ever increasing addiction to irrational entertainment which preys upon our lower animal appetites.  As a result, young people are rarely interested in reading a work of non-fiction which forces them to think with subtly and precision.  It’s just not exciting enough.  With this work I hope to capture the readers imagination, thus lulling him into a false sense of security, whilst secretly engaging him in philosophical discourse.  It is my hope that once you start reading you will not want to stop, no matter how difficult the dialogue gets.  After all, a good book should occasionally cause minor fatigue to the brain.

The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author: Part 2

I recently started writing my first book entitled: How I Killed Nietzsche and Became the New Übermensch.  These are the chronicles of my journey through this intense project . .

Part 2:  In many ways I feel more like a method actor than an author right now:  obsessively gathering materials to create a psychological profile for my character, attempting, as much as possible, to step inside the identity of my new creation, and occasionally slipping into character at inappropriate times.  My goal: realism . . . no, authenticity.  I want the reader to have an authentic experience of somebody else’s experience–it is in this sense that my novel is a work in existential literature.  I want my readers to feel as if they are inside the narrator’s head as he wrestles with Nietzsche’s ghost.  To accomplish this I’ve drawn from a diverse range of sources to construct a psychological history for my protagonist.  A lot of the primary elements of his character are derived from close friends of mine, who have suffered terribly from hypocritical Christian parents and parishioners and who have wrestled with feelings of guilt, self-loathing, and doubt themselves.  Some of them are still wrestling.  Many of the unfortunate circumstances the protagonist, and narrator of the book, experienced in his childhood reflect, however dimly, some of my father’s experiences dealing with an abusive father growing up.  In all of this, however, I have tried to input as much from my own experiences and emotions as possible.  I have spent hours plumbing the depths of my soul; reflecting upon my own sins and doubts and have inserted these elements inside the book whenever possible.  The reason for this is, again, authenticity.  I know I will lose my readers if they find my lead character’s thoughts and inner angst unbelievable or if it comes off sounding trite.  The succes of my book hinges, almost entirely, upon how real my character is.  So . . . yeah, I’m a little bit nervous. I’ve written far more non-fiction than fiction and I’m worried that I wont be able to pull it off.  Nevertheless, I shall continue to write.  This project must be finished.

The Diary of a Despairing . . . I Mean, Aspiring Author: Day 1

Recently, I started writing my first book entitled: How I Killed Nietzsche and Became the New Übermensch.  These are the chronicles of my journey through this intense project . . .

Day 1:  Finally, after months of research, countless hours writing and rewriting the outline, and a healthy dose of daydreaming, I’ve actually started to bring this project to life.  At this point, I’ve nearly completed the first chapter and plan to share this with a couple of close friends to get some feedback.  The process of preparing for and writing this book has literally pushed me to the edge of insanity.  Namely, because I’ve had to crawl inside both the mind of a young man wallowing in despair and self-loathing and inside the terrifying mind of insanity itself: Nietzsche.  One night, after spending hours reading through Human, All Too Human, Twilight of the Idols, The Anti-Christ, and Will to Power, I began to feel light headed and dizzy.  It seemed as if the world around me was fading into the background and I began to feel numb inside.  Granted, this could have been because I was up way past my bedtime and had been reading for many hours.  But, I believe something more than mere fatigue was ailing me.  I had just spent hours of my life absorbing page after page of hateful, venomous, intellectual posturing and scornful destain.  In many ways I began to identify with the character of the young man I had been creating in my head.  One can only bear so much nihilism before he begins to cave in and lose the feeling of joy in life.  Eventually, I had to put the books down and step away.  I was feeling depressed and empty and I needed something to lift up my soul.  So, being the nerd that I am, I picked up a copy of Pope John Paul the Second’s master work: A Theology of the Body.  Slowly my sanity returned, as did my sense of feeling, and I soon drifted into a peaceful sleep.