The Cuban dictator’s ashes are being carried around the beautiful island country that he ruled with terror and deprivation since he ousted Batista (another dictator) in 1959. I remember as a fifth grader, my classmate telling me that her father, an officer in the US Army, was hopeful that the new revolutionaries would make Cuba paradise on earth—but he got suspicious of their intentions when seeing evidences of their Godlessness.
Recently I watched three historical movies, and though I realize that fiction permeates the stories we read or watch, have to admit that history moves my present, giving both hope and confirming some despair at prospects of future grief. Over the past year, several of God’s servants whom we knew and loved were “promoted” to heaven, and their families and churches still feel pain, though they know the Lord and trust in Him. Recently a beloved pastor-teacher who taught me and Lau since the beginning of our ministry, Dr. Russell Shedd, died.
Also recently, I heard a person I love express hope in the midst of a hopeless situation in which I can do nothing but pray for her, and remembered the many times in the history of the world, in the history of God`s people, and in my personal history, in which God intervened in direct answer to prayer. A sovereign God always knows what is, what was and what shall be—YWEH is the I AM from beginning to end, even if without a beginning and in ever in eternity. Both in historical past and more recently, we have witnessed God’s presence in midst of trials. One must return to the Word of God whenever always and recently perturb our present time. Jeremiah had his fill of persecution, suffering and affliction. He said:
My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is,
So I say, “My endurance has perished;
So has my hope from the Lord.
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!”
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
BUT this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end,
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, says my soul,
Therefore I will hope in Him.”
God is sovereign in time and eternity, but whether in recent or distant past, or soon or someday future, we have opportunities to do, for our own good, and the good of our fellow human, what is required of us: fear and love God, walk in His way s, serve him with all our heart and soul, keep His commandments and statutes (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). That is why, over the ages, heroes rise. I was thinking of two women heroes, one a prophetess-judge, the other a foreign princess married to a heathen despot king. Both dared change history even if it killed them. Read the narrative of the situation after Deborah had been judging
under her palm tree for
twenty years: Israel
Then the people of
Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he
had 900 chariots of iron ad he oppressed the people of cruelly
for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that
time… “Up! For this is the day which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand.
Does not the Lord go out before you?”(Judges 4:14) Israel
When Mordecai informed his niece of the political situation in
he challenged her to act: Persia
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? ... “if I perish, I perish.”
The beloved story of Purim follows, where a beautiful woman, immersed and guided by the prayers of her people, dares enter the king`s quarters and puts herself at his mercy. The God of history had placed her in a strategic place at a strategic time, and she was willing to change the situation even if it killed her. It was for such a time as that!
We are spectators in this wonderful, wicked, willful world, but we live in it, we breathe here and are part of what we watch, what we hear, what we see. There are many things in which our hands are tied and we are merely weak witnesses. But if there is something we can do to change situations where we are, none of us is immune, none can say, “there is nothing I can do!”
What is required of us, God`s servants? Only “that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). To a Great and faithful God, we are small and our abilities are few and weak. Where have you been recently? Where are you now? Where will you be ten years from now? Francis Schaeffer reminded us that there are no little people. The Koheleth wrote: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)—for the Christian, it is not a question of “no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol”, but “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. So: “Arise and be doing, the Lord shall be with ye!” We are in this world for times such as this!
|Paul Gauguin, Where are we from?... 1897, Boston Museun of Arts|
Thinking of friends of all ages and walks of life, many creeds and stages of belief and unbelief, people I have met or enjoy from afar through books and writings, songs, sermons and speeches on almost everything this planet has to offer. Many of my facebook friends are ministers and missionaries from all corners of the earth, while others are professionals in every walk of life: musicians and composers and poets, medical doctors and dentists, accountants, teachers and lawyers, social workers, civil servants and physical therapists, athletes, computer nerds and psychologists. My good friends are often just plain moms—multi-tasked wives and mothers who do everything under the sun to ensure their family’s well-being. As for where, I have friends in Africa,
and Cambodia, Japan, Jakarta and
India, Israel and Australia,
Korea, the USA and Brazil
and Hungary, and German.
The friends whose activity strike the chords of my heart more than any other
(despite the strong second place of musicians and poets) are those who, like
me, are translators, writers, France editors
and other communicators involved in producing in printed form the results of
their life and thoughts. Time and again, they make me think through the
questions in the title of this blog: Where are we from? Who are we? Where are
All human existence, all culture, all dreams, all reason for being is questioned in this painting which represents various scenes of how life goes on, from birth and childhood to death. Writing in 1901 about that dreary time Gauguin said, “I wanted to die, and with that state of mind, I painted it in one single stroke. I hurried to sign it and took a formidable dose of arsenic that was probably too much; terrible suffering, but no death came upon me...”
I had never been attracted to Paul Gauguin. Previous impressionists like Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Renoir gave me an imprint of beauty in little and great things, but Gauguin’s paintings, especially after he abandoned his family and moved to Tahiti to “find himself” and live close to nature, free from the bonds of the present and discover his own truth” were not the kind I would chose for delight. For all his brilliance, Gauguin was a fool who, after he heard of the death of his daughter, declared: “There is no God” (Psalm 14.1). Gauguin was everywhere, in
His questions are certainly good ones. Our origin and roots mark, influence, denote and give meaning to the next answer: What are we? What and who we are in one sense are in our DNA, while where we were and where we are now are constantly changing. We are who we are (made in the image of One who declared “I am who I am”) but we are not yet what we will be in the future. A naturalistic answer is no real answer, however, because it remains materialistic and allows no space for transcendence.
In a more positive vein, the Brazilian Christian poet, Gioia Junior wrote:
Where am I? I don’t know,
Nor do I know from whence I come
Where will I later be is a mystery,
— But I know that he lives!
If I know that he lives—my Savior and my King
— I know that with him I have been
and will forever remain.
If there is a reason to motivate my faith,
This its heart and soul:
My Redeemer lives
And so will I live with him!
Gioia certainly was thinking of another poet surrounded by naysayers who lived in the
lost all sons and daughters, all his wealth and well-being, he declared: “Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21). God asked Satan “From where have you come?” to which he answered, “From going to and fro on the earth”. After the inimical dialogue of friends who blame him for the evil he has suffered, Job exclaims:
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives
And at the last he will stand upon the earth,
And after my skin has been destroyed
Yet in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:23-27)
When we experienced a life-threatening accident in the beginning of our ministry in the city of Jaú, I thought I had lost my husband forever and needed to answer my three young children’s doubts as to why their father was killed, hope dawned when my unconscious husband murmured the words to the song Gioia Jr penned and Decio Lauretti put to music: “Onde estou?... O meu Redentor vive, e eu também viverei”.
A living Redeemer who gives purpose and meaning is the central theme of the Gospel, the good news inaugurated by Jesus Christ and preached by his disciples and apostles after his death and resurrection, through the ages, until now, and will be proclaimed until his return. A prisoner writes with flaming pen, in prayer “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). As I translate a book about the Basics for Christians and write my own thoughts in lesser words and works, I am impacted by D.A. Carson’s vision of our faith. His questions provoke me to thinking hard about reason and motivation for being, for living, for writing, for doing any and everything under the sun:
What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turn you on?... abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more... I am not suggesting that we not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?
This is not a subtle plea for a denuded gospel, a merely privatized gospel, a gospel without social ramifications. We wisely reread the accounts of the Evangelical Awakening in
England and he
Great Awakening in ,
and the extraordinary ministries of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, the
Wesley brothers and others. Soundly converted men and women saw that life must
be lived under God and in a manner pleasing to him. But virtually without exception
there men and women put the gospel first... they reveled in it, preached it,
cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel
centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. Not to
see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the
What motivates me? Where do I come from? Where am I now? Where am I going? My original questions from a naturalist pagan who rejected the wealth of Christianity find answers especially in the iron pen of the apostle Paul, who said that “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…(Phil 1.21) and concludes: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own…forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”(Phil 3.12-14).
You and I have a mission of proclamation—not as intellectually stimulating teachers of the Word nor as pastors, but as redeemed human beings who have a true story to tell—maybe like one beggar to another telling where you can find bread, maybe like a person who lived with questions and found them answered in a Person of full integrity and righteousness. Though we recognize the value of writing fiction as parables, we are totally committed to proclaiming truth in whatever genre or style we pen our thoughts. It must be the verifiable, experiential truth of the gospel, undefiled by the dross of false motivations and mixed conceptions (misconceptions), we denounce the lies people go after, and proclaim truth with life and vision. We are reminded (again by
I`ve been thinking about friends, what we learn from them, and how we communicate. It used to be that when friends or relatives lived far away, writing letters was important to keep friendship alive. Phones usually were not an option. To phone my boyfriend on Christmas 1965, we set a time when he went to the phone company and we talked for a minute before the static cut our conversation short. A couple of times after I was back in Brazil, we had friends who were ham radio operators make phone patch calls to my mom in the USA, but it was a major operation, and by the time contact was established, we did not know what to say. Since I was a young teen, I had a score of pen pals all over the world, as well as the habit of writing for birthdays and Christmas to my aunts and uncles.
I began to really write letters in the year and a half I was in the States and the love of my life was in Brazil. Writing love letters is an altogether different category, and we have never repeated the feat once we were together for life. Sometimes he wrote morning, noon and evening, and I followed suit. Love letters were life and breath to me and to him. He wrote poems. I became skilled at describing life around me and the dreams and aspirations we shared. We not only became familiarized with each dream and family story, we became legend, myth, plans and reality as we corresponded, putting brains and brawn, heart and soul, into what we wrote. I returned to Brazil in June, got engaged in August and married in December 1966. Some time after we married, Lau declared that we should burn our letters, lest our children or strangers find and read them. Reluctantly I joined him in putting fire them on fire—but not before hand-copying each of the hundred and sixty-so poems he had penned in our correspondence. I typed that collection of poems and had them bound in leather when we had been married about ten years. We no longer write love letters, though love is present and still growing strong—we have the presence of each other to spur, provoke, inspire, exasperate, and continually learn caring from each other. Sometimes he or I will still write lighthearted rhymes or more ponderous sonnets to each other, but we never phone to the other and rarely write notes. But Lau is the first reader of anything I write, whether about children and grandchildren or Christian life and life on this blemished planet or candid every day actions and reactions.
Back to communicating with friends and fellow-sojourners: I`ve assumed today`s facebook as a tool to keep in touch. Some two thousand or so between old friends from the past, some of their children and grandchildren, and fellow friends who are writers, poets, composers, dentists and designers, pastors and teachers and their wives, missionaries and non-religious activists, plain people complicated by incredible stories—all my facebook friends are real life samplings of diversity in unity. Some of my friends greet each day or evening with “Good morning (evening). Aren’t you going to say good morning to me?”, or publish pictures of beautiful flowers, children and pets, or fine porcelain teacups. I have to admit there isn’t time to reply or “like” each friendly greeting. Can’t play each game they propose to draw me into, or solve each puzzle people post—there’s simply no time to lose. Some friends make delicious doces and desserts; others post their churrascos and family gatherings, or the beautiful crafts they are making. There are people who post terrible pictures of people dying of cancer or beheaded by jihadists, with the saying: write amen if you believe God can heal them or save them all from ISIS. I pray for the suffering church worldwide, and pray for those I know are facing terrible illness and pain—but typing “amen” is not going to do anything for them. Some people are dying for a good argument, and post philosopher or Christian leader or politician’s declarations, expecting my feedback. Now, I admire great thinkers, love a good discussion, but try to limit myself to subjects that really have changed my life or the lives of people in our world. Do not want to get into arguments about Pentecostalism, Calvinism or Arminianism, (have friends who are serious about God in each and every one of those camps) or denominational differences, though I have firm beliefs and denials and adhere to basic Christian orthodoxy.
What do l like to write? Basically, what I like to read. Words that touch the soul and stimulate the mind, goading to action. To sum it up, I want to translate into understandable, applicable language, in whatever language we are using, what Jay Richards said about C. S. Lewis:
Lewis was the consummate translator. This is an academic achievement every bit as impressive and lasting as any other. Translation of academic subjects into laymen’s terms is akin to hand-copying Van Gogh’s Starry Night with a much more limited palette of colors than the great Dutch artist used for the original. The original required artistic genius. But a good copy using a limited palette requires genius as well… He once observed: “Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test.” Many academics, in contrast, disdain the task of translation. They seem to pride themselves on grinding our turgid academic prose that is accessible to few and enjoyable to none… Lewis never settled for such a provincial academic career. On the contrary, he made his own academic life difficult by writing children`s books and Christian apologetics. Most Lewis scholars suspect that this is the one reason he never advanced beyond the title of lecturer during all his years at Oxford University. It was only late in life that Cambridge University had the good sense to hire him and give him a professional title befitting his academic stature… We must distinguish the elite populist from the dabblers or “second hand peddlers of ideas”… who have a disproportionate but mostly undeserved influence on culture. Such pundits offer their opinions on everything from film criticism and science to economics and politics; but their commentary is often superficial because they haven’t first learned those subjects. Rather than translating, they merely opine.
Guess communication via social media has that same superficiality of “second-hand peddlers of ideas”. I hope to get to the sources, and share where living water and bread of life are found for anyone who is really hungry and thirsty. So I read and write on facebook—as a translator of unsearchable riches in everyday language!
A few years ago my daughter gave me a T shirt that says “May your life be as awesome as you pretend it is on facebook”. It is one of my favorite everyday shirts because it’s black (doesn’t show dirt very much), the knit is tight and well-made, and I enjoy teasing people about their relationship—and mine—to the social media. I don’t mind being the recipient of other punny, wearable shirts.
More than shirts, I like to observe people’s postings. In spite of terrible grammar in both Portuguese and English, in spite of pathetic or pithy statements to which I can agree or disagree, there’s a lot to learn about people on facebook. My facebook friends are of all stripes and colors, and they communicate accordingly. Some use facebook to share family news and achievements, as a sort of cybernetic brag book. The grandmas and grandpas post their grandchildren’s antics and pictures, smart takes and cute sayings. Besides grandmas, young mothers are notorious for doing the same, I love learning about those adorable kids and how they relate to their pets, siblings, people at church and potty training.
Other friends of mine are childless, but have awesome pets that are pampered to death, with pics of the poor beasts wearing frufrus and double ribboned pony tails in lieu of ears: the smartest animals in the world, and the “mommies”and “daddies” of canine, feline and anyline animals act as if their loved ones won hors concours all the best dog shows in America, North or South.
Some of my facefriends are so needy they post “Will you please say ‘hi” to me, pleeease!|” and if I don´t take the time to type “Hi, So and So, you are my friend. How´s the weather today?” they are offended if I breeze through their inanities without “li
what they wrote--they take it as a personal offense.
Then there are those who post photos of beheaded and crucified Christians in
or cancer patients with horrendous tumors or deformities, and the instruction:
“Say amen if you feel sorry for them, or believe God can heal them, or
whatever”. I confess that though I believe in prayer and pray for many situ
ations of which I am aware through facebook, I am loath to write “amen” or
share horror stories.
Yes, sometimes I share tales of persecution of Christians or lopsided politics or even of friend in need of prayer, but I do not share things lightly.
When I started with facebook, I figured it would be an effective instrument for communicating the gospel, giving updates and news about our publications in a non-commercial, non-threatening way, and so I added almost every pastor or missionary friend I knew of—these would be my feedback for our books. But many of the pastors I added see facebook as a fighting ring in which to point out their particular doctrines and why their faith is better than So-and-So´s. Never imagined there would be so much name-calling and “cutting off” friendships in those who lead the body of Christ!
I was delighted to re-discover old friends and some of these speak my language and feel as I feel. Friends from thirty years ago surfaced and renewed sharing. A few who were best friends are no longer “best”, but we do get along fine and I´m always learning from them. Though changed, the friendship still stands.
I have an old friend who shares the “flower of the day” each day, but doesn´t tell e much about what she thinks or does, except as a clinician. Another sends “a kiss of light” to me in everything I say, and still another copies and pastes every thing her friends have shared that day, without discerning whether the sentiment is true or false. If I fail to comment on some of those posts, she get offended.
A dear person writes mini-sermons on well-known Bible verses and shares good songs, but never reveals what is really going on with her life. The descriptions could go on to each of the almost three thousand “friends” I´ve accumulated or renewed in the three or four years I´ve had internet.
Someone calls them “followers”, but I don´t dare think of my friends as my children, students or disciples! I´ve got a lot of following to do, and they have so much more to teach me! Yes, I want to post truthful, uplifting, thought-provo
but only as one beggar tells another beggar where to find good free food! In
some sense, whatever we do or say should be for God’s glory—but my postings are
not a means of evangelism or changing even the world around me.
That takes me to those friends who march to a different drum. I had one friend I loved, who was an extremely religious Roman Catholic and was offended by some other friends, Protestant and Reformed who wrote ma
king fun of her beliefs. If I find a person
ridiculing others for their beliefs, I end up considering eliminating them,
even if I partially agree with them, because I believe God’s love requires that
we love our neighbor as ourselves. I miss my Catholic friend who wanted to love
Jesus. Several others post sayings like “May Mary, Joseph and Jesus bless you” or
May Mother Earth bless you, and I do not comment. Appreciating that the Lord
Jesus does bless, and certain that
the mother of Jesus and his earthly father are in heaven, as one day I will be,
I don´t have to “set my friend straight”, but just appreciate her good wishes.
Things get more complex when a muslim prays that Allah bless, or my anti-religious
friend makes fun of some Bible verse I posted. When it comes to gender issues,
things get tougher still. As a Christian who believes the Bible, I do not agree
with same sex attraction, but have several people in the family who have
trouble with, or have embraced, their homossexuality. I love them and respect
them as persons—I decry their lifestyle, the same as I also don´t agree with
heterosexual fornication or adultery. Or robbing or cheating. As one sinner to
another, I have to say: God loves us, but does not love our twistedness. And he can transform us!
Okay, twistedness is a very strong word, and some people tell me they don´t want to be transformed. I don´t shove the Good News down anyone´s throat, but pray that they may be found by Jesus´ righteousness! God is the one who makes straight in the desert a highway for Himself. If it depended on my artistry, I couldn´t draw a straight line for the life of me!
Back to my T-shirt, the wish is “May your life be as awesome as you pretend on facebook”. My life is full of contentment, graced with unexpected blessings and truly at peace with God and with my self. But I wouldn´t say it´s awesome. Though by some estimates, we “deserve” to be treated royally, we—you, I, my dearest and best friends, as well as those I´d just as soon forget—are all quite common. Actually, my life is quite ordinary— even when I experience some extraordinary miracles, it is not spectacular or worthy of note, but by the grace and goodness of an awesome God. He is worthy of awe, the one who surprises me each day with faithfulness and love. And I cannot pretend otherwise! Because He is awesome, my commonness contributes to God’s glory and humankinds good! That is truly and extraordinary privilege, available to all who trust in Him!
There are many questions I´d love to ask my facebook friends about the gaps between when I last saw them and when we re-met on facebook. I´ve discovered they are beautiful and strong, remarkable and worthy men and women whom I admire.Some are the children of my old friends. Sure, I wish I could warn some about avoiding telling it all—they will get hurt in the end.
Admittedly, many people use the social media to pretend what they aren´t—photoshopping their portraits to perfection, copying other people’s good ideas and achievements. The idea is posting selfies, and sometimes our friends project sexy selves, intellectual provocations and super-heroic deeds. Or do that with their children, boyfriends, grandchildren, spouses, pets, or even great meals! Instead of intending well-being, they pretend what no-one really can deliver. I´d rather take a picture with my beloved in a garden, with wrinkles on my face and shadows all around, showing off that common reality of an eternal soul clothed in humanness.
When Jesus´s disciples saw the transfiguration, all they could think about was building a tabernacle to contain the glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Jesus immediately set their feet on the ground and invited them to deal with a desperate father and demonized son. That put the fear of the Lord back where it belonged!
For me, facebook is a privilege, but not a ministry. I can learn a lot through computer information, but my character must be formed by the Word of God which filters data that is shared. Many new friends were made through social media, but that cannot substitute real relationships. May my life be real, as I serve an awesome God and my fellow human beings in great and small ways, for each minute of my day, whether on my facebook mural or my fractured, re-made life.