On Ash Wednesday, my friend posted this on Facebook: What will you be fasting and resisting temptation from? Immediately I commented: Negativity.

I think I was supposed to say chocolate.

It seems that the custom is to give up something desired — something that would be a sacrifice to be without. The sacrificed thing is not necessarily something horrible. After all, 40 days later we can pick it up again, right?

What’s Lent?

My brand of Christianity doesn’t observe the liturgical year except for Easter and Christmas, so I don’t know much about it. I looked up “lent” in the dictionary and found that it’s “past and past participle of lend”. Then I realized I needed to capitalize the L and saw that it’s “the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness”.

Now I understand why people give up Lindt truffles or something else that would be hard to go without; it’s meant to mirror the sacrifice and subsequent suffering of Jesus. Sadly, this is nowhere near a comparison; it not only belittles but distorts what Jesus did in the wilderness.

The Temptation in the Wilderness • Briton Rivière
COL; (c) City of London Corporation; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Jesus went without food for forty days (Matthew 4:1-11). His purpose wasn’t penitence (He had no need to repent). His purpose wasn’t to suffer. It wasn’t to appreciate what He had. It wasn’t to use meal time for prayer instead. Though I’m sure He suffered, gained appreciation, and prayed constantly, those were not His goals. His purpose was to descend to a point of weakness that made Him realize His complete dependence on His Father.

When the devil came to mess with Jesus, he tempted Him to rely on Himself rather than the Father. The devil knew that this was the key. Only when Jesus passed this test could He go forward with His mission: to put on record a sinless human life and to absorb the consequence of sin.

Why did I say that?

I don’t feel obligated to observe Lent. It’s not in the Bible. It’s not a family or personal tradition. But any opportunity to contemplate what Jesus did for me — and to respond — seems worthwhile.

Negativity. Why did I say that? Why was that the reflex answer to my friend’s question?

I know where it came from. I’ve had a growing intolerance for negativity. It’s everywhere. I can’t control it in others, but I can commit to inviting God to remove it from my system.

Instead of making a sacrifice and consequently suffering, I’m inviting God to make me more like Him. After all, that’s why Jesus gave His life: so that Imago Dei (God’s loving character) can be restored in me (Genesis 1:27). Part of that lifelong process is to eliminate negativity from my life. (I find that the best way to do that is to embrace an eternal perspective.)

I might not be observing Lent in a customary way, but it’s how my heart responds when I think about what Jesus did for me. I urge you — during Lent or any time — to let your mind contemplate Jesus and then let your heart respond to Him, and I’d love to know what that looks like for you.

⇒ How do you do Lent? What would you give up if you observed Lent? I invite you to leave a comment below.

“All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.”

“All the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died.“

“All the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years, and he died.“

“All the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died.“

“All the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years, and he died.“

“All the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died.“

“All the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more because God took him.“

“All the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.“

“All the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years, and he died.“

What’s So Special about Enoch?

These verses are from Genesis 5. While it’s easy to get distracted by the whopping lifespans of these guys, I hope you notice something else. One of these things is not like the others — and it’s not just the bold type. It doesn’t say that Enoch died; it says that God took him.

Hebrews 11:5 sheds some light on what happened: “By faith Enoch was taken to heaven so that he would not see death.”

Out of all of these people, only Enoch went to heaven at the end of his life on earth. Enoch’s case was clearly an exception, not the rule.

What’s the Point?

The point is this: Many people — and most Christians believe that people go to heaven when they die. This belief is not supported by scripture. Instead, it came into mainstream Christian theology by way of philosophy.

Particularly, it is the notion of the immortal soul that was popularized by Plato. This philosophy purports that a disembodied soul originates in heaven, comes down to earth to inhabit a body for a time, and eventually escapes from the body and returns to heaven.

It is important to know where our beliefs come from and what the Bible actually says. This isn’t the only passage that tells us about death and heaven. Read the Bible from beginning to end, and you will see a clear, consistent, coherent message.

Wondering why the Bible should be trusted?

Good News

Those eight men who died might go to heaven and receive eternal life at some point in the future. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and He offers Himself to everyone. What can we look forward to?

“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

I hope you do find comfort in these words. The Lord knows we need it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas in the comments below. Also, if you don’t already subscribe, I invite you to stay connected and stay tuned for more stuff ‘n’ things where theology, science, and philosophy intersect.

“How do you know that Jesus is God?”

“Because the Bible says so.”

Don’t you just hate that? Surely, you can’t blame someone for coming back with, “And why should I believe the Bible?” Excellent question.

If your beliefs are based on scripture, a built-in premise for each of your beliefs is that the scripture is true. Is that a sound premise in your case? I urge you to examine the evidence for and against the validity of the scripture that your beliefs are based on.

“Because the Bible says so” isn’t good enough unless you’ve provided a basis for its trustworthiness. I encourage you to read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and other books by people who have examined the evidence about the Bible. For now, here is a quick list of reasons to trust it:

  1. The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses.
  2. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue.
  3. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message.
  4. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-Bible times.
  5. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings.
  6. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

I understand that not everyone will find this evidence compelling. But, here’s the thing. Alongside nature, the Bible is the best evidence we have about God. If God is real, He must be the most important and relevant reality in existence; therefore, the truth about God is worth pursuing. I encourage you to dig further. There is much more to be found, and it is a most worthy pursuit.

Which of the six reasons is the most compelling to you? The least compelling? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly.

Frolic and play the Eskimo way.

Have a cup of cheer.

Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet.

Dream by the fire.

Face unafraid the plans that you’ve made.

Let your heart be light.

Pray for peace.

Fall on your knees, and hear the angels’ voices.

We’ve all done it. We’ve inspired a facepalm with a thinking malfunction. But there are ways to minimize facepalms (and worse). Follow these tips to keep your brain out of autopilot, and you’ll see improvement in every area of life. Because thinking is kinda important.

THINKING TIP 1

Make the effort. Arguably, the number one reason why people skip the thinking step is because they don’t want to take the time to slow down and deliberately think … before speaking, before acting, before solving a problem, before making a decision.

Don’t let your brain be a couch potato. Making the effort now will save you from grief later. If you stop to think, you might decide not to buy that velvet painting of Dennis Rodman because you realize that you wouldn’t have money left over for a Maui vacation.

“Our minds are lazier than our bodies.”
— François de La Rochefoucauld —

THINKING TIP 2

Check your biases. Is your prejudice against clowns the reason why you blame them every time you can’t find your keys? There’s a possibility that you left them in the pocket of your seersucker jacket. Also, just because you love Betty White — I will break this to you gently — it doesn’t mean that she’s right about absolutely everything.

“A great many people think they are thinking
when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
— William James —

THINKING TIP 3

Remember your paradigms. If you’re a middle-aged neo-Druid male from Bavaria, realize that you see the world through that lens and that other people don’t. Try to think outside of your box. You’ll better understand the issues, others, and yourself.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
— Anais Nin —

THINKING TIP 4

Realize what you’re doing instead of thinking, and make the switch. Here are a few common substitutes for thinking:

  • Reactions • Snapping turtles are capable of these. You’re not a snapping turtle.
  • Emotions • Emotions are swell, but they should be chaperoned by thoughts, and vice versa.
  • Assumptions • Fill in the blanks with facts, not assumptions. If facts are not available, consider probabilities and possibilities, but be cautious about drawing conclusions. This is especially important when it’s about people.

“Assumptions are unopened windows that foolish birds fly into,
and their broken bodies are evidence gathered too late.”
— Bryan Davis —

THINKING TIP 5

Develop the skill of accurately identifying a statement as a fact, an error, a thesis, a belief, or an opinion. You’ll get way off course if you think that fortune cookies are Chinese or that the Bible teaches eternal suffering in hell. You’ll be frustrated if you demand proof for matters of faith. You’ll be considered obnoxious if you assert that your opinion about the Norwegian curling team’s trousers is correct.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to
entertain a thought without accepting it.”
— Aristotle —

Each time you practice one of these thinking skills, it’s easier to do it the next time, and it eventually becomes natural. You’ll increasingly see how thinking and thoughtfulness can help keep you out of trouble, increase your influence, maximize your success, and make more people like you. I kid you not, because thinking affects absolutely everything.

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”
— Marcus Aurelius —

When it was announced that President Trump had COVID-19, some people responded with glee. Some even hoped that he would die.

In my last post, I wrote about people on Facebook responding to tragic news stories by clicking on the laugh reaction emoji under the headline. Many people were laughing that a marriage is over, that relationships are strained, that a man is struggling with addiction, that people are sick, and that people are dying. Laughing.

When it comes to the pleasure and ill-wishes regarding President Trump’s illness, some people offer what they consider to be justification for their attitudes:

  • Trump deserves it because he didn’t take COVID-19 seriously and take necessary precautions.
  • Trump deserves it because his policies cause other people to suffer and die.

Let’s give them the complete benefit of the doubt and assume that their “justifications” are valid. Would it then be appropriate for them to take pleasure in Trump’s illness and even hope that he dies?

To answer that question, let me offer a contrast.

“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord God.”
Ezekiel 18:32

The death of anyone? Even a person who causes his own death because of his recklessness? Even a person who is responsible for the deaths of others? Are you telling me that God didn’t smile — even a little bit — when Hitler died?

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why will you die?”
Ezekiel 33:11

Not only does God find no pleasure in death, He pleads with us to choose life instead. This is in particular reference to the second death. The first death is the end of a lifetime on earth. The second death is a future event — after resurrection — that we typically refer to as hell (see Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8).

The second death is a natural consequence for those who choose to disconnect from the source of life. The second death is for those who rebel against God — against goodness, light, and life. Do they deserve death? Would their death be justified? When all is revealed, I believe that we will find the answer to be yes. Still, God will have no pleasure.

That is the spirit that we desperately need. We each need a heart that sorrows when others are hurting, a heart that seeks to bless rather than curse, a heart so full of love that there is no room for hate. We need the heart of God.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Matthew 5:43-44

I just browsed through the stories in my Facebook News feed. I found something in common with these headlines:

Pastor Who Told Congregation They Didn’t Have to Wear Masks Hospitalized in ICU with COVID-19

Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton Are Feeling “Stretched to Their Limit”

The worst coronavirus outbreaks are happening in these 15 cities

911 call from Falwell house reveals ex-Liberty president was drinking, fell down, lost ‘a lot of blood’ after resigning

Christina and Ant Anstead Split After Less Than 2 Years of Marriage

U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Near 200,000

Can you think of what they have in common? Since this is a blog, and we don’t have an efficient way to play a guessing game, I’ll just tell you. In reaction to each of these stories, people laughed.

Precisely, what they did was click on the laugh reaction emoji under the headline. I can understand shock, sadness, and even anger for some of these stories. But, laughter? A marriage is over, relationships are strained, a man is struggling with addiction and gets hurt, people are sick, and people are dying.

Perhaps even worse than these tragedies in the news is the cruelty in the hearts of people who make light — and even fun — of other people’s suffering. We need healed relationships and healed bodies. Most of all, though, we need healed hearts. We need the Spirit of love. The good news? It’s possible:

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26

Not long ago, #InsteadOfThoughtsAndPrayers was trending on Twitter. I’d like to offer an alternative: #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers. Sure, it would max out my tweet character limit, but it would send a message.

With all the suffering and tragedy in the world, thoughts and prayers are indeed not enough, so I get why many people are frustrated by the sentiment. Thoughts and prayers are not enough, but they’re still good.

#1 • We can think and pray immediately.

We don’t even have to get out of bed to think and pray. The very second we learn of a tragedy, we can turn our mind toward those who are suffering and we can call on God to do His thing. Caveat: If the tragedy is a fire breaking out in your neighbor’s house, think and pray after you call 911 and while you hightail it over there to help as you can. I’m not suggesting that you should be a psycho.

#2 • Thinking and praying are the best way to start.

As a thinking advocate, I argue that we always must start there. The better the quality of our thoughts, the better the quality of our words and actions that follow. If we merely react out of emotion or guilt or good intentions, we probably won’t maximize our helpfulness.

As someone who constantly benefits from prayer, I highly recommend it in all situations. Tragedies are bigger than we are, and I find it incredibly comforting to have God as a companion to get through them. If God and prayer aren’t your thing, that’s okay; but please be respectful of those who find strength and hope in them.

A new trend

What do you think of #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers? Shall we get this thing trending?

When I read the first pages of the Bible, I notice that the word “good” comes up frequently. The first use of the word “good” in the Bible is in Genesis 1:4, when “God saw that the light was good.” The word is used seven times in Genesis 1, culminating in this: “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”

The first use of the word “evil” in the Bible is in Genesis 2:9: “The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” It is used a second time in Genesis 2:15-17: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’”

Here we see the introduction of the twin dichotomies of good and evil and life and death, which is a theme repeated throughout the Bible. Notice that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven and hell is not present here, nor is it present anywhere in the Bible as a dichotomy related to eternal destiny.

Eve and Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil once they believed that God could not be trusted. The human knowledge of evil began when the first humans chose not to trust God. (Similarly, the universe’s knowledge of evil began when Lucifer chose not to trust God. See Isaiah 14:12-14.)

The knowledge of good and evil has been growing since its inception. Someday, when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, the question of whether God can be trusted will be settled for all time. Can God be trusted? Just how good is good? Just how evil is evil? These are the questions that will be answered when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature.

At that time, eternal destinies can be realized. The life-and-death dichotomy that was established in the garden of Eden will come to fruition. Those who choose to trust God will receive eternal life, and those who choose not to trust God will receive eternal death.

  • God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
  • He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

I mentioned that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven-and-hell as eternal destiny is not found in the Bible. Notice, too, that the classical philosophical idea of eternal suffering cannot be concluded upon consideration of all of the Bible passages regarding the final destruction of those who do not trust God. Ashes do not suffer (see Ezekiel 28:18, Malachi 4:1-3, 2 Peter 2:6, and Revelation 20:9,15). Good news!

Suffering is a result of evil. Once the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, it stands to reason that no one will choose evil again. That will be the end of evil, which will mean the end of suffering. More good news!

There was a time when there was only good. Then evil entered the picture. But evil is a companion of good for a limited time only. One of these days, if we choose to trust God, our knowledge of evil will be only a memory. We will spend eternity steeped in a fully-mature knowledge of good. That is the best news.

Let’s say that you have a brother named Clive, and people claim that he’s perfect. I mean, he has never done anything wrong. You would know better, right? You know for a fact that he cheated on his sixth grade history exam as well as his first girlfriend, and he is a jerk on Twitter.

Clive’s friends start talking about him being faultless, and they implore people to hang on his every word and trust him completely. You would speak up, right? You would caution people and let them know that Clive is not the infallible saint they think he is. He’s a good guy, sure — but let’s not get all culty, okay?

This was similar to the situation that James was in. People claimed that his brother Jesus was sinless. James did not believe all of the claims about Jesus — he was not on board with this “Messiah” thing — but he couldn’t dispute this claim. James knew that Jesus was, in fact, without sin. That’s why James (an unbeliever in general) never spoke up and said, “You’re wrong. At least twice, he lied to Mom about why he came home late. He beat up the neighbor, and — although he denies it — I know that he stole my butterfly collection. It took me six years to build that collection, and he never admitted it!”

Fast forward several years. Jesus had died and risen from the dead. The movement of Christ was gaining momentum. The Jewish leaders came to James for help in shutting it down. According to Hegesippus:

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said: “We entreat thee, restrain the people: for they have gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. … Persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions concerning Jesus. … Take thy stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot thou mayest be clearly seen, and thy words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the passover, all the tribes have congregated hither, and some of the Gentiles also.” To the scribes’ and Pharisees’ dismay, James boldly testified that “Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven”. The scribes and pharisees then said to themselves, “We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him.” Accordingly, the scribes and Pharisees … threw down the just man… [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall. And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.*

In his younger days, James did not buy into the claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Something changed between that time and this moment of amazing confidence. Likely, it was the moment when James saw Jesus alive after He was dead. Understandably, that tipped the scale for many people.

In his unbelieving days, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus was sinless. If that claim had been false, James likely would have blown the whistle. After the resurrection, James was in a position to know whether or not Jesus died and rose again. He was there. He knew the truth. If it had been false, he would have stayed an unbeliever. If it had been false, he would not have stood up and confidently declared that Jesus was the Christ. He probably would have stood up and said, “Y’all have this all wrong!”

James wasn’t a blind believer in Jesus. He wasn’t an in-the-bag follower, just because He was his brother or a nice guy. James believed only when he was presented with compelling evidence. He knew for a fact that Jesus was dead and then alive, just as He said would happen.

I don’t share James’s experience, but his experience translates into compelling evidence for me. Jesus rising from the dead and being the Christ is the explanation of the evidence that makes the most sense to me. If Jesus had been a less-than-perfect liar or lunatic, James would have known that, and he probably would have nipped that cult right in the bud. Instead, he used his last breath to pray for those who were killing him for his now-unshakable faith in his brother.

*From Book 5 of Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord

The image above is a depiction of souls burning in the flames of Purgatory as displayed on the facade of the Church of Ánimas (Capilla de Ánimas) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Source/License

“The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory. … We often want to pray for those we love who die. It’s actually fairly hard in certain Protestant services I’ve been at … where you don’t pray for the dead. My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love. That means that I’m one of those Protestants who thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory.”

This was said by Phillip S. Cary, an American philosopher who serves as a professor at Eastern University. I heard it in a course he teaches: The History of Christian Theology.

Purgatory is said to be a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are atoning for their sins before going to heaven.

Let me provide the context for the first sentence in the quote by Dr. Cary: “The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory.” Earlier in the lecture, Dr. Cary mentioned that Augustine of Hippo, in his autobigraphical narrative, asked readers to pray for his mother, who was dead. Dr. Cary believes that the doctrine of purgatory developed from this request. The reasoning goes like this: It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in hell, because it won’t do any good. It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in heaven, because they don’t need it. Therefore, there must be a third place where the soul of a dead person can be, where prayers could be beneficial.

The reasons for believing

Dr. Cary teaches that the doctrine of purgatory is not from the Bible but that it was developed during the Middle Ages, likely based on a personal request made by Augustine — a theologian of the fourth and fifth centuries. The doctrine of purgatory relies on the soul being eternal (or, at least, existing after death). Dr. Cary’s course contains a lecture about the state of the soul after death, and he makes it clear that the idea of an eternal soul is from Plato, not the Bible. He contends that the Bible teaches that, after death, the soul sleeps until resurrection. (I, too, find this in my own study of the Bible.) It is relevant here to note that Augustine was greatly influenced by Plato.

Despite all of this, Dr. Cary “thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory”. Why? His own words: “My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love.”

What was the reason that the medieval mainstream church created the doctrine of purgatory? According to Dr. Cary, it seems that they wanted to provide an explanation for Augustine’s request for prayers for his dead mother.

These are self-described Christian scholars and theologians. Their reason for believing (or wanting to believe) is not “because it is what the Bible teaches” or “because it is consistent with Bible teaching”. This particular belief is not in the Bible, nor is it consistent with Bible teaching about death or salvation. That does not seem to be a concern of these scholars and theologians.

The source of authority

I understand that not everyone shares my view of sola scriptura, that the Bible is the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice. I believe that because I believe this:

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors on three different continents over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-biblical times. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

In other words, I trust the Bible as sole authority because I believe there is strong evidence that supports it as the word of God.

The basis for belief

Many doctrines of the mainstream church come, not from the Bible, but from pagan philosophy or non-biblical, non-apostolic tradition. Do you know which ones? This post isn’t really about the specific doctrine of purgatory. It’s about ideas and where they come from. It’s about our reasons for believing. The doctrine of purgatory is just one example.

It is important that we know where ideas come from, especially the ideas we embrace or reject. It matters why we believe what we believe. We would be wise to base our beliefs — not on desires or hopes or an attempted explanation of one person’s notion — but on evidence. Only then can we build a thoughtful faith that is less likely to be shaken — and more likely to be true.

Sunlight becomes
momentary diamonds
on the water.

I love the challenge of haiku. Reading it and writing it. Haiku in English, that is. I’m as equipped to write authentic Japanese haiku as I am to write actuarial valuation reports. I don’t even know what I just said. Still, English haiku has its demands that make it a beautiful process and product.

SYLLABLES • That sensational syllabic structure that made haiku famous! Three lines of up to 17 syllables (typically 10 to 14). If this is the only demand you make on your haiku, you’re missing out.

SEASON • The kigo takes the poem to another level. A kigo is a season word. It’s meant to refer — subtly — to a season of the year. The majority of kigo are drawn from the natural world.

CUT • Ready for the next level of challenge and beauty and Japanese vocabulary? The third element of haiku is a cut (kire) — indicated by a real or a verbal punctuation mark — to compare two images or ideas implicitly. The essence of haiku is ‘cutting’ (kiru). Sometimes this is done by juxtaposing two images or ideas with a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them.

A handful of syllables. A subtle reference to season. A juxtaposition of images or ideas.

One of the many aspects of haiku that I love is that it’s simple. It doesn’t try to do and be everything. It typically captures a fleeting moment in time. Haiku shuns excess like a hermit shuns Walmart on Saturdays.

“The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.” (Matsuo Bashō)

I love haiku for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t tell; it shows. It doesn’t explain; it suggests. It doesn’t expose; it hints.

Almost endless blue
cut in two
by shifting white sails