Writing lessons from two Dan’s

In the early days of the 80’s, Dan Fogelberg released a song titled Same Old Lang Syne. It was a straightforward “story” song, along the lines of Taxi or You’re So Vain. (No, there haven’t been any decent story songs in the last 30 years and yes, I’m an old fogie. Now get off my lawn.)

The song told the story of the singer running into a former flame in the grocery store on Christmas Eve. It is a bittersweet reunion, as they sit in their car and reminisce (they “couldn’t find an open bar”), and think about what was and realize that it is still “was” and will never be “is”. The last line is one of the most memorable, bittersweet lines in American music.

As I turned to make my way back home, the snow … turned into rain.

The symbolism is unmistakable, but more than that, those last five words evoke a mood, paint a picture in our minds that is so clear, so descriptive, we might as well have been there. You can see this played out on the Web, as you read story after story of people who heard the song and immediately thought of a lost love of their own.

Five words, and we have the complete visual in our head. That is masterful writing, as evocative as a John le Carré sentence that communicates more about the subject than any three pages from another author. If it weren’t for “the reckless raging fury they call the love of God”, it would be my favorite line ever. (I have no higher praise than putting something in second place to Rich.)

I thought of that song this morning as I was reading another Dan. Dan-i-el is a popular book for children’s Sunday School classes, because it has some great, kid-friendly, stories in its first half. However, no one reads the last half of Daniel, or admits to it, because it is, to say the least, confusing. (Search “Daniel” and “seventy weeks” sometime, it’s very entertaining.)

In Daniel 10, Daniel has been praying intently for the nation of Israel, and as a result is visited by the archangel Gabriel. As almost always happens in Scripture when an angel shows up, everyone is petrified, so much so that Daniel’s companions run for cover. Of himself, Daniel says, “No strength was left in me.” And then he says this (from the ESV footnote).

My splendor was changed to ruin.

What a wonderful phrase. By this time, Daniel has been the servant to four kings (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus) and two kingdoms (Babylon and Media-Persia). He has been the third highest person in the kingdom. He has, to use Rich’s words again, “seen the best that ever was.” This Dan knew splendor. But in the face of a mere messenger of God, all of that splendor faded to nothing.

This is what Isaiah meant when he said, “all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (do a word study on that “filthy” — it’s a lot filthier than you think). The best we have is worthless when we stand before God. Whatever we think we have or are in ourselves is exactly nada in God’s economy.

I am too often impressed by my “splendor,” too self-satisfied with what I’ve done, where I’ve been, how I’ve contributed. It only takes a second before God, if I’m really before God and not just going through the motions, for all of it to turn into the nothing it really is. And that’s a good thing, because then I can reflect the splendor of Jesus, which is of course how it’s supposed to be all the time.

How long has it been since your splendor turned to ruin?

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