Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Wind and the Sun

Do you remember Aesop's fable of the sun and the wind? The sun and the wind wanted a traveler to take off his cloak. The wind blew with all his might, but the traveler only wrapped the cloak tighter around himself. Then the sun came out and shone until the traveler removed his cloak and sat down to rest in the shade.
Kindness affects more persuasion than bluster. Even when we shine and the traveler keeps his cloak on, we must continue our kind ways and not be triggered into frustrated responses. It takes time for a person to warm up enough to take off their coat and stay awhile.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Five Thankful Things


1) The way the earth tilts, and us knowing about it. We can look at the autumn sky and think, "The sun is so different now than in summer, and that is because our part of the world is tilted away from it." I love thinking about stuff like that.
2) How we can see inside our own bodies with x-rays and ultrasounds and MRIs. A few years back one of my kids broke her elbow. Looking at the x-ray, I felt overwhelmed at the beautiful perfection of her bones (except in that one place, of course). Isn't it amazing that we are put together so exquisitely? Just think if we were put together in random ways. Now, that would be weird.
3) Number patterns. For instance, the way that 9x2=18 and 1+8=9 and 1 is one less than 2... 9x3=27 and 2+7=9 and 2 is one less than 3... that pattern keeps going through the 9 times table all the way to 9 (9x9= 81, 8+1=9, and 8 is one less than 9). Or the Fibonacci sequence, found throughout nature, in which the next number is found by adding together the previous two numbers in the sequence-- nature as a gorgeous afghan of numbers knotted together, woven through, and laced with color. Isn't the world wonderful?
4) How much there is to know. No matter how deep we go, there is something else to learn. Knowledge (like Shrek) is an onion. ;) In ancient times someone thought there must be molecules. Eventually, we discovered them. But that wasn't the end of the subject, because atoms. And after we found atoms, we learned to split them. What next? We are making strides in neuroscience, correcting errors in understanding the human brain, but also discovering the vast unknown that is the world of thought. And what about nutrition? Twenty years ago, although we understood that veggies are good for you, we knew nothing of micronutrients. More and more, I agree with Charles Kingsley-- man is simply playing with colored shells on the edge of a vast sea of knowledge. We will never know it all.
5) The Creator. I am amazed at the one who formed this world. He put it together and knows all about how it works. He knows the hidden health of breastmilk. He knows beyond a doubt what causes cancer. He knows of the worlds hidden in and out of our universe, what lies beyond life here on earth. And He is good. What if He had not been good? Whether our lives are good or bad, we do not understand Him. But He understands us, and he has created things for us we know nothing of. When the kids were smaller, we read a story about a little dragonfly grub that lived in a pond. His friends and relatives thought the pond was all there was to life. But the little dragonfly baby longed for more, to see the world that shone through the murky water above. He drove his friends distracted with his questions, research and speculations. Then one day he swam to the surface and opened himself to the upper world. They never saw him again in the water. He unfurled his wings and flew into the sky. Lovely. I say with Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Spring Awakening

Warning. Two things. First, I do not recommend Spring Awakening as a healthy entertainment option. Secondly, this is a rated R post. I don't normally post stuff like this, but as my kids get older, we deal with rated R subjects, and it just seems important that I put this here. Maybe I am being foolish. I may attract unsavory attention. But if kids are talking about this stuff, we should talk about it, too, lend some maturity to the conversation. End warning.

I watched Spring Awakening yesterday. It is an adaptation of a play that was written and performed in Germany in 1890 about repression and hiding and adolescent kids confused about their budding sexuality. I'm dismayed at the amount of vulgarity in it. Obviously, a play about sexuality is going to have some things deemed vulgar, but there is a tasteful way to do it, and I didn't feel like this musical got there. It reminded me of skits we would do in high school and college, but with a lot more cussing and innuendo and outright pantomime of things I'd rather not see another person do.

The things we watch and read (but especially the things we watch) have a big influence on our thinking. Even if we are intelligent enough to recognize themes and detach from the emotion of the story, we are still changed by what we see. I feel a shift in myself after watching that show, and I don't like it. The shift is more anger at tradition and time-honored norms. The norms that were challenged in that show were bad norms. I challenge those norms myself. But the cussing really bothered me. Cussing is violent.

Cussing isn't just words. Cuss words are words that contain violence in them. They are ugly names for things that can be used for violence.

Violence is not okay with me.

I suppose anger and aggression aren't objectively bad. I've been told that, and I can see how it needs to be true. But they feel objectively bad to me. 

That's not completely accurate. Not all anger/aggression is objectively bad. It has to be done a certain way. It has to be done with an eye toward improving the situation, and with respect to all involved. And it is better if the person is angry about something that displeases God, rather than just having their feelings hurt because they were slighted.

Does Spring Awakening meet all those criteria? Were these kids wanting to improve the situation? Yes, they were. They were immature and didn't know how, but over and over in the show, they express how they want to make a better world.  

Did they respect everyone involved? No, they did not. They held authority in contempt. I think that is where they got it wrong, but they were very young and didn't know what they were doing.  In Downton Abbey, there is a good contrast of this. A young socialist chauffeur marries into a wealthy family, and the family, although they have some oppressive/repressive values, receives him after some struggle. He is strident, angry, full of ugly words for the establishment, like the kids in Spring Awakening, and the Granthams roll their eyes and hate having to deal with him, but eventually love prevails and he sees that they are not bad, and that they are willing to change, although not to the extent he wishes.  He develops respect for them where he had none before.

This is important. Respect is earned. The only adult in Spring Awakening worthy of respect in my opinion is Melchior's mother.

But does that mean we cuss and froth and fight if the people we disagree with are not worthy of respect? I say no, and I believe Maria from West Side Story and the families in Romeo and Juliet agree with me.

In a situation where children are struggling, and every adult is disrespecting them and refusing to listen or be honest about what is happening (even Melchior's mother did this because of her misplaced confidence that other adults would see reason), kids will develop inappropriate and immature coping strategies. What else are they to do? The people who are supposed to teach them are violently opposing them. They must do the best they can with what they have, and it often comes out as wild defense.

When we know better, we do better, but these kids never had a chance to learn.

In West Side Story, it is two gangs of kids fighting, but Sondheim makes it clear they are fighting because of prejudice from their respective cultures.  In Romeo and Juliet, it is the same. Then you have the two beautiful children who are too good for this world and fall in love and want to find a new place, a new world where there is no hatred.

They are right. They are truly the pure ones. For all the talk of purity in our culture, purity of heart is rare.  But here you go. Here are two pure souls.

We all dream of a place like that, and often the world destroys our dreams before we get there.  We want to fight. But there is a better way. Hate increases hate. Hate can only be stopped by love. Over and over we see this in the best stories. Think of the love in Harry Potter. He struggles so hard to learn this, and eventually, when he is ready to give up everything, he is given it all. This is the paradox of love. It is taught in the Bible.  It is taught on the cross. It is taught in the Chronicles of Narnia. In Lord of the Rings. These are the best stories, because they go beyond hatred to the transforming power of love.

Shakespeare's plays are earthy, and Sondheim was known for pushing the envelope. I *really* don't like Spring Awakening because of the violent words, but I wonder. It seems accurate to me that children repressed and pushed beyond the limit would erupt into violence, violent words against the authorities, violent words and actions toward themeselves each other. The beating, the rape, the killing.

But oh me, please let's not go down that path.  Please let's not. There really is a better way, a better place. We are not in that situation. We have enough love and knowledge and liberty to build a better place. Let's not pretend we are trapped.  We aren't in bondage, even with all the crap we must deal with nowadays, we still have liberty to build an oasis of love and respect. We can make better choices and sidestep the hateful repressive people who tempt us to violence. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Hope in Struggle

I moved to San Francisco in my early twenties because I was depressed and struggling at college in Long Beach. I remember thinking that moving to such an aesthetically beautiful place had to be good for depression. And I loved all the beauty there. I took long walks and enjoyed the architecture and flower stands and parks and the beach and museums and opera and all the beautiful things. But not really. I don't know how to explain it, but I could tell it was beautiful and I appreciated it, but I didn't really enjoy it.  It was like eating sand that looked like wedding cake.

I wrote about that when I wrote about depression and suicidal ideation. It was a truly sad and scary time because I lost my assurance of God's existence. I wondered if this was just going to be my experience for the rest of my life, and I had scary thoughts like, “I don't think I can handle feeling this way for decades, let alone years.”

Eventually, I came out of it, when I married and moved to a different state, and just experienced a much happier life. I remember really experiencing day-to-day things as beautiful, not as tasting like sand.  I kept that appreciation for years.  Experiencing things as beautiful has always been a vital part of daily worship to me.

Apparently, my ability to sink deeply into the experience of beauty was again lost at some point in the last decade, I'm not sure exactly when, and I'm starting to get it back now.  I've been pretty depressed for a long time, and I'm coming out of it.

Today I was sitting in my room waiting for my phone to connect to the charger and I reached out and propped the bedroom door open.  For some reason, that physical movement caused a moment of mindfulness and memory of that time when Bradley and I were first married and even simple things like our little apartment produced so much in-the-moment joy and thankfulness.  I touched the door and really looked at it, and then looked through the bedroom doorway at the flowers on the table, and the curtains and the sun coming in the windows, and my table and chairs that I love so much and they are beautiful pieces of furniture. And I realized I was having a much deeper experience of their beauty than I have had in a really long time, years even. There are things in that part of the house that were put there recently by people who love me and are concerned about my mental/emotional state (and who can blame them) like the birthday banner we kept up after the surprise party... and for the first time I deeply appreciated the beauty of them.

It made me realize I've been in a very bad state for a very long time. I'm sad I didn't realize it until now, when I'm coming out of it, but that is probably a protection. I did see my depression in my twenties and almost lost to it.  This time, I didn't realize the world was in black and white until recently. Maybe it is because I was raising little ones and shepherding young people into the world. Parents sacrifice a lot for their children. (This is nowhere more poignantly epitomized than in the movie, Life is Beautiful. Highly recommended, but bring loved ones and tissues.)

I am glad to see colors again, to really rejoice again in the morning, in the sunrise and the birds. I'm starting to sing again. I'm delving deeper into piano. I'm writing again after a long period of nothing.

God has never left me in all this. The greatest thing of all is that this time I knew it. I felt His love and kindness and sense of being right there beside me the entire time. The fact that I never lost the sense of His presence and care is a true blessing. I know it because I've lost that assurance before and it is hell on earth. It's pretty much unavoidable to go through darkness in this life, but to go through it absolutely knowing He is right there with you, the real Him, not some God you hear others speak about, is the greatest gift.

I hope things continue getting brighter, but I don't fear the dark times as long as I can feel Him beside me. This is my hope for everyone who struggles. I think a lot of us are in a crisis of sorrow and anger, even those of us who know the Lord. I don't know how to fix it, but I pray to the One who does.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Telling Stories

Jane Eyre is the story of a young orphan who maintains her principles and honor in the midst of sustained hardship and even abuse.

 Jane is a child. She lives with her aunt and her cousins, a scapegoat for their capricious natures. She is passionate and brutally honest. Their dying father and husband asked them to love her, his little orphaned niece, as he has loved her, but they refuse. She is too strange and challenges their view of themselves. She is taunted, assaulted, imprisoned, and terrorized; falsely accused, and eventually sent away to a charity school.

 The school is a scene of more struggle and hardship, but also hope and love. The headmistress, Miss Temple, encourages her. She succeeds in studies and deportment. She makes a friend. Helen is ill. Helen is distractible. Helen is mistreated by one of the harsher teachers at the school, Miss Scatcherd. Jane is offended, impassioned, angry. She wants to tell off Miss Scatcherd, to throw things at her. Helen says that is not the way. Helen knows who she is outside of what happens to her. Helen's identity is Beloved. Miss Temple loves her, and so does Jane. This is what Helen embraces as her identity.

 One evening, Jane tells her friend about the abuse she endured at the hands of her family. Her telling is full of hatred and bitterness. Helen understands abuse. Helen understands hardship. But she also understands these are not a person's identity. These are things that happen. She gently chides Jane for the tone of her telling. Jane's identity is not to be, abused child, but something more.

 This puzzles Jane. Because she is thoughtful and admires Helen so much, she lets it sink into her soul.

 Jane's beloved Helen dies. The school is discovered to be a place of privation rather than of learning. The school board has believed a false thing about redemption, that it can be produced through manufactured struggle and punishment. Kinder leaders prevail. The school becomes what it should be, a place of opportunity. Jane grows to adulthood and eventually takes a position as governess in Mr. Rochester's home.

 Mr. Rochester is bitter, full of angry passion. Years earlier, betrayed by his family, he took on the identity of wounded soul. He seeks shelter in sensual pleasure, sniping remarks, and the demeaning of others. He will do as he has been done by. This is his world. But at heart, he is noble. He is not a scoundrel, and playing one is killing his soul.

 Enter Jane. Educated in magnanimity by two beautiful women at Lowood, skilled in accomplishments which illuminate her creative, independent, yet principled nature, she is a new creature. Mr. Rochester has never known anyone like her. He is fascinated. He asks for her story and she tells it. Her telling is balanced and unvarnished, with a nod to different perspectives. It is a thing that happened. She no longer identifies as an abused child. She is a woman, quick, talented, playful; fiercely independent, noble, strong.

 What happened in her childhood was terrible abuse. She was not to blame for it. It should never have happened, but it did. As she matures, informed by her loved ones, her story alters. She has now learned to understand others even when they do things she justly condemns. She has ceased to identify herself with her childhood experience. Her story has become more about what happened and less about how offended she is by it.

Mr. Rochester is puzzled, but because he is a thoughtful person and admires Jane so much, he lets her nature sink into his soul.

 Jane's healing and growth teaches Mr. Rochester to stop identifying himself as betrayed son and pursue his true identity. He is so far gone in his egotism that he has to lose Jane, lose his home, lose his strength, in order to realize his true identity. He loses his sight, but gains true vision. Stripped bare, he is finally able to embrace his life. He is redeemed to be who he truly is, a loving soul with the promise of magnanimity.

 “Reader, I married him.” Jane is a story of growth, of the strange paradox of becoming more real by discarding pride and ego. Jane, Mr. Rochester, Helen... they realize their true identities as they cease to identify with their stories of pain.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Resurrection

I read recently that forgiveness is a death, and the biggest forgiveness of all is Jesus's death on the cross. 

And I just want to say that before a person can forgive, that person has to grieve the loss of whatever it is-- a relationship, a dream, a position, a place. Maybe that is what the Man of Sorrows did here on earth with all his loving of us and healing of us and chastising of us, and with his praying in the Garden of Gethsemane when his friends couldn't even stay awake with him in his grief. They never understood his mission until after his resurrection, and they chastised people who did understand, for being wasteful and bothering the Master. The people closest to him for the most part were just like Job's miserable comforters. 

And I just want to say that grieving is a process and forgiveness is a process, and the greatest example of that process is Christ on the cross. He loved them, he shook his head, he kept dropping hints for those who had ears to hear, and, finally, he spread forth his hands, and he died. He also arose, and God will give us beauty for ashes if we wait long enough. He gave Job more than he had in the beginning, he gave Jesus ALL his people, and he will give us blessings, too. 

Wherever you are in the process, be comforted-- blessings in good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, will he give us.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Anxiety and Jesus

There is this amazing set of devotions in Reflections for Ragamuffins that speaks directly to the way Jesus dealt with anxiety and fear while he lived here. It feels strangely heretical to think of him as resisting fear and anxiety. But he was tempted in the desert with power, security, and sensation. The garden of Gethsemane demonstrated his resistance to anxiety and fear, and the strong hold he kept on his identity as Son-Servant-Beloved of his Father in the face of agonizing temptation.

I write that off, Lord forgive me. I write that off. He is God. How can he understand temptation the way a mere mortal does? But the writer of Hebrews says he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.

(Interesting that it says he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities and not just that he understands them. He feels them. He sits inside them with us. He doesn't stand outside and say, “Wow, that's bad. You should... At least... Band-aid?” He absorbs them, he lives them with us. He lives with us in our messy, chaotic stuff that is bigger than some people's stuff and smaller than other people's stuff. He sits in there with us and GETS it. He's the ultimate empathizer.)

And Hebrews says the reason he knows our desert and garden temptations is because he had his own. He was tempted just as we are, yet without sin. When I get to this part, I always think, “Okay, yes. But He was God. That's different.”

Hebrews says it's not different. I can't fathom it, but somehow he is 100% human as well as 100% God. He did have temptations. He could have given in. But he didn't.

(That is amazing when you think of the enormity of his mission and the smallness of his physical goods and obscurity of his person. What poor, obscure, plain person wouldn't have jumped at the chance to have all worldly power, especially when his mission was to save humanity from itself and from the powers of evil in the world? Boromir demonstrated the seduction of this temptation when he succumbed to it in LoTR.)

It took gargantuan trust in the Father to stay true to his identity and not fall into the trap of worldly power, sensation, security. He identified with God and the topsy-turvy plan they made before the world began, and stayed with the downtrodden and discouraged-- the anxious and fearful people. He stayed true to his Self and his mission here on earth.

He spoke such gentle words to Martha, who was troubled about many things. He endorsed Mary's unusual, even counter-cultural choice to sit at his feet and soak in the supernatural comfort of his spirit and word-- even if that meant less physical ease for himself and others in the house. He allowed virtue and energy to go from himself to others in need. He depleted himself. In his humanity, he took intervals to refresh himself. He needed those intervals because he was 100% human.

100% human and 100% God. Is there a mathematical formula to explain this? That Jesus is all human, completely all human, suffered as a human being here on Earth (He suffered on the cross more than any other human being) and yet is all God, 100% God, fully God.

He gave up His divinity and took on flesh and blood. He could not have saved us without that component. I don't know why. Why did it have to be that way, Lord? Why couldn't You have just demanded Death give up its hold on us? There is some formula here. You followed some mysterious equation-- C.S. Lewis called it magic from before the dawn of time. There is some set of rules that needs be satisfied in order for us to righteously live with him in complete fellowship, and we are terrible at obedience. We couldn't do it. Jesus fulfilled it when he came as a man, lived as a man in the messy, beautiful, chaotic, ugly, fallen world, resisted so many agonizing temptations-- HE KEPT THE RULES when we wouldn't and couldn't-- and finally gave his life in the ultimate sacrifice of Self for those who did not deserve it.


Oh Lord. Oh Lord. What a Savior. How did he do that? And how can I dismiss his humanity because of his divinity? The Bible states clearly that he was tempted in all points just as we are. Somehow he experienced full humanity, including the anxiety and fear that comes with not knowing whether things will be okay, although he was at the same time God and knew the end from the beginning. How in the world did that work? I don't know. I trust it is true, but if I get an opportunity to ask him some things in Heaven, I hope I remember to ask him that question.