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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Waiting game

It's Advent, the time when the historical church celebrates waiting and that most hard won of all virtues: patience.  Waiting?  Who needs to wait in this modern era?  I have two day or even same day shipping!  Patience went out of vogue with dial-up!  Get with the times lady, sheesh!  Yeah, me too.  I didn't say I enjoyed it, but that doesn't negate its value or importance, I don't want to work out or eat right either or obey traffic laws...you get the idea.  But we still have to wait, whether we would or not, for there are some things, even in this modern world, that cannot be hurried.  This article reminded me of just that, and not only that everyone must wait for something, but that the waiting is actually a gift, yes, you read that right.  As an adoptive parent, I've spent many Christmases waiting and waiting and waiting, only to have that place in your heart empty again this year, so this season is strangely one I really appreciate, for it reminds me I am not alone in my waiting and others spent centuries waiting for something far more important than my little family disappointment yet many never saw it realized.

I was recently on the hunt for an Advent Calendar and found things like the beer/wine advent calendar so you can drink your way to Christmas or the dog advent calendar so Fido can celebrate the season likewise, because dogs really love Christmas I guess.  There were plenty of specimens with a Santa or other modern seasonal variation counting down excitedly to Christmas with a treat or book or stuffed toy or other little present, but I found none that were real Advent Calendars counting down to Christmas that actually had anything to do with Advent!  Now excitement over the season is fun and counting down to Christmas is a grand tradition, but it isn't Advent so I'm not sure why they still call all these modern secular versions 'Advent Calendars.'  Rather, go listen to a really good version of 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' and just let the mystery, the yearning, the hope, the sorrow enter your soul.  Get rid of the phone, the TV, turn off the lights except for a few candles, and just imagine what it must have been like.  Then put on Handel's 'Messiah' (not just the greatest hits, but the entire work) and listen to the words of the prophets echo down through the ages set to wonderful music.  That's Advent: this almost painful expectation, yearning, hope, unfilled but promised, coming but when?

We sit down and read the Christmas story every year, little thinking of all the anticipation, disappointment, and buildup that led to the cutesy little manger scene we all adore.  Since man was cast out of the Garden, it was promised that One would come to restore all that had been lost.  Through all the dark and turbulent years of exile and war, the nation of Israel was promised a Savior. But the prophets were silent, the temple in ruins, the nation a slave state, and the people scattered across the globe, where was the promised Light amidst so much darkness and turmoil.  And then He came, when least expected, in a way quite unlooked for, so much so that many did not believe it.  But then He left, and we wait still, we long still, we yearn for justice and peace and joy.  But the world is a mess and seems messier every day.  Could this truly be 'the consolation of Israel?'  Where is that promised age when all things will be set aright and tears shall be no more?  We wait, for He has promised to return.  So at Advent we look back to the yearning, the longing, the hope of His first coming and look forward, feeling much the same, for His second.

So countdown to Christmas in whatever manner excites your fancy, but do not forget the true reason behind the season or the countdown thereto.  If you're tired of the garish decorations and soulless music, you yearn for a simpler and more meaningful Christmas, hearken back to the very roots of the season, discover what Advent truly means, and it will make the whole season far more delightful.  Forget the ugly sweater party, crack open Isaiah, and Remember!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Sophomoric Genius

I was a Sophomore thrice over: highschool, college, and grad school, so I've had the delightful experience of 'foolish wisdom' enough to at least minor, if not major in it.  You know, when you have just enough education to feel like you know it all but not enough experience to know you don't; know anybody who lives their life like that?  Anywho, apparently I'm developing a taste for the 'juvenilia' of my favorite authors.  If anybody has a copybook penned by C.S. Lewis during his boarding school days or perhaps G.K. Chesterton's grammar school joke book, please let me know.  Jane Austen's 'Love and Friendship' has already captured my fancy and lately I've discovered 'The Inheritance' by Louisa May Alcott of 'Little Women' fame.  I saw the DVD at the local thrift store and did a bit of quick interweb research to learn more about it.

Goodreads.com reviewers declared it to be sentimental and romantic drivel penned by our Lady of little ladies at the ripe old age of 17.  How much stuff written by any 17 year old female is anything but sentimental and romantic with probably a great deal of drivel as well?  Especially with a lady with so large a heart and great an affection as Ms. Alcott?  Certainly Miss Austen's snarky wit made great fun of such goings on in the aforementioned work, but Ms. Alcott is not world famous for satirical wit, but rather for her gentle and greathearted heroines.  To be honest, I did not read the book, I bought the DVD for a buck and went in knowing sort of what to expect (both from the source material and the production company, more on that later).  In was wonderfully sentimental and romantic and drivel of the first order, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The acting was worthy of a Star Wars movie, the plot predictable, and you either liked or despised the characters immensely as they were about as complex as any character in a Star Wars movie too.  And George Lucas was a grown man when he wrote Star Wars so Louisa May is doing just fine by that standard!

My in-laws keep buying us movies from this horrid production company that prides itself on 'clean' movies, and while I appreciate the lack of filthy language, vulgar jokes, graphic violence, and explicit content, just because something is 'clean' doesn't mean it is a quality story, be it book or movie.  Sort of like food labels that tell you what isn't in a product, I don't really care what it does not contain, what's in it?  I'm sure it was a low budget production with unknown actors so I didn't expect a BBC costume drama, that being said, it is a very pretty movie with a good sound track and lovable characters, if a bit awkward.  Mr. Hamilton reminded me of the grandfather in the 'Princess Bride' for some reason, I liked him immensely!

I'm certainly not going to let my husband watch this movie (he's murder on well done Jane Austen films!) but I think I may watch it again sometime.  Just know going in you're in for a bit of fluff, but it is a fun peek into a world that all too soon vanished beneath the smoke and confusion of war, technology, modernism, and financial turmoil, leaving us heirs to a far more jaded, cynical, and lonely world.  The ideals are timeless (if currently considered quaint) and we get a rare peek into the formative mind of a great authoress, which in itself is well worth the effort.  I also wonder how many of we sophomoric moderns would even rate 'Little Women' as sentimental, romantic drivel?  Perhaps it is we who have changed, and not for the better, right along with the world: our innocence lost and our outlook cynical, so much so that we can little fathom a far simpler, slower-paced world, in which the study of personal character, that of all our acquaintance and especially ourselves, was not only possible but a lifetime occupation a la Jane Austen.  Perhaps Ms. Alcott is not so sentimental as we would brand her, perhaps it is we who are not 'sentimental' enough, to yearn for honor and integrity and kindness and gentleness in ourselves and all those close to us.  And in that, this touching little story does not fail, not in the least!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Lost Discipline?

I just ran across this article extolling what might be one of the lost disciplines, you know, one of those torturous routines we enforce upon ourselves to better some trait, habit, or characteristic: diet, exercise, classical literature...no, I do not believe professional sports of any stripe are an acceptable form of discipline unless you happen to be playing one and fantasy football does not count!  In the Christian tradition, the ones I can easily list are prayer, Bible study,  and fasting, I'm sure there are others, but I had not considered 'celebration,' as an option (apparently tailgating is a discipline, who knew!).  But I think the author has a very good point: our culture certainly takes itself too seriously at times, as can our faith.  A little break now and again from the sobriety, angst, and severe focus on 'success' might be just the thing, not only for each of us as individuals but as a society as a whole.  Think what might happen to the 24/7 news stations if they implemented this strategy; I know many (myself included) have given up even watching because it is just too depressing.  For there are good things in the world, as well as bad, but we never hear of them and that's a pity indeed.  So for once, eat, drink, and be merry and godspeed!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Home for the Holidays

I'm so excited to be stuck at home for the holidays this year, it's almost like we're a legitimate family or something.  The extended family on both sides lives at least a state, if not two, away so we inevitably put well over a thousand miles on the car every holiday season making the obligatory pilgrimage, what with owning the only grandkid on either side.  Last year we got stranded an extra three days at my in-laws due to a blizzard over Thanksgiving and then they got snowed in here at Christmas.  We also have a new baby, which makes long distance driving even more complicated, that and we can't possibly fit anything else in the car and how do you tell grandma she can't give your child a hand carved life size mahogany rocking horse for Christmas just because there isn't room in the trunk?  Maybe we'll just leave daddy behind...I jokingly threatened that after the first Christmas with our son after he got so much stuff that there was hardly room for us but now it is more true than ever!

Between the distance, the weather, and the kids, I'm not as gungho about road trips as I used to be when it was just me and a backpack.  That and we are an actual, legitimate family unit that can celebrate in our own right, though this is a hard truth for the grandparents to comprehend.  We'll make the trip, just next summer when snow isn't quite so likely (there's always a chance).  But this year we just don't have the vacation time either after the adoption and everything, and maybe once the extended family figures out it isn't the end of the world and sort of gets into the habit, maybe we can make it an annual tradition without drama, guilt, and recrimination.  I'm more than happy to host so if you really want to see the kids this Christmas, I'm afraid you'll have to make the trip yourself.  What surprises me is how insistent certain of 'the fam' is that it isn't Christmas without the kids home, but the kids are home, at our house with our kids!  The first Christmas consisted of a teenage girl, her newborn baby, the stepdad, and a bunch of shaggy sheepherders without even a decent roof over their heads, let alone a Christmas tree of 5 course dinner, so I think wherever you are, whoever you are with, it can still be Christmas, even if things aren't ideal.

I never had family tradition, joy, or love growing up, so I'm really excited to actually start having our own with our family, for so many years it's been dictated by what the in-laws or great grandma has always done, and since we can never reach those now mythic standards, we're all stressed out, miserable, and disappointed and Christmas is 'not what it used to be,' not that it ever was, we just color it that way in dearest memory.  I guess I really shouldn't complain about the grumblings of disgruntled relatives over this, Mary might have been killed if Joseph decided to press the issue of who the father was.  That's one thing I love about the movie 'The Nativity Story:' they show what it might really have been like, it isn't just a pretty manger scene, it was dirty, hard, cold, scary, and lonely.  I suppose that's why all my favorite seasonal songs are full of minor chords (major chords are happy, triumphant sounding; the minor chords are a little sad and mysterious).

Christmas is full of Joy, but there is an inescapable sense of mystery, awe, wonder, and a pinch of sorrow in the mix as well.  It isn't just 'Jingle all the way,' there's this deep longing, a yearning as old as the world, satisfied at last:

"Long lay the world in sin and error pining. 
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. 
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, 
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! 
O night divine, the night when Christ was born; 
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine! 
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!"

So whether you're 'stuck at home,' hunkered down in a foxhole, working the night shift in the ER, lost in some jungle, or celebrating with family and friends, remember, it isn't who you are with, what you do, or where you are that makes this season so wonderful.  It's none of our doing at all, so even if the gravy is lumpy or the dog eats the turkey or Aunt Edna voted for him, Rejoice, for we have truly received 'glad tidings of great joy!'  And for all people too, even Aunt Edna!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Answer is always C, right?

The weather, the phase of the moon, our parents, our race/gender/religion/socioeconomic situation/relationship status, our education or lack thereof, a down turn in the economy, that guy at work, our genetics, bad luck, our weight or metabolism or health...there are a million reasons, or rather excuses, why we are the way we are: unhappy, unsettled, uncomfortable, restless, dissatisfied with life in general and ourselves in particular.  But we think life will be better when we fix the problem: lose the weight or get a new job, or get counseling for things beyond fixing, like our childhood, but it never lasts, not for long anyway.  We're like the kid before Christmas who has his heart set on X, life will be so wonderful when he has X, but two weeks after Christmas, X is gathering dust in a corner and life is probably the same, if not a little more drab since X failed to fix it.

It isn't a new diet or boyfriend, it isn't travel to exotic places or adopting a dog; all that is wonderful for its own reasons but none of it will fix your life.  As a culture, we are obsessed with finding the problem or placing the blame outside ourselves, certain that Something must certainly be the problem, if not This then maybe That.  But nothing helps, we're still left feeling like a square peg in a round hole; like a jigsaw puzzle missing the last piece.  It is the root cause of most of the evils in society and the world at large: someone decides to do something drastic to fill that gap and thousands suffer as a result.  But those at the top are just as empty as those of us at the bottom of the heap.  Power, fame, riches don't fill that hole any more than anything else.

I grew up in an emotionally vacant home, at least of all the good emotions; we had plenty of anger, shame, fear, and frustration.  I've been trying to change that in my own family, but somehow managed to collide head on with my in-laws.  They are extremely decent and nice people, but as a mother and daughter-in-law, they always seem to rub me the wrong way.  I think I've finally figured out why.  They both had rather wretched childhoods as well, leaving them scarred emotionally, and now that they are grandparents, they are trying to somehow 'fix' those scars by living vicariously through my kids.  And being thus scarred myself, I've let them pretty much walk all over me only to resent it bitterly later.  It's pretty much the same thing in the wider world, though the root cause of the injury varies from person to person, we are all trying to get whole and healthy through our relationships (or protect ourselves from further injury by social isolation), be it friends, lovers, kids, grandkids, employers or employees, we're all a bunch of burn victims trying to piece ourselves back together in the ICU with nary a physician in sight.  This isn't to say we don't have good and honest intentions, we do, but we are so broken and hurting, and this yearning to be happy and whole is so strong and subtle a part of our nature that we do it quite unwittingly; it is very much a part of what we currently call the human experience.

Some people want to medicate or educate or breed it out of humanity, others think the whole race is too flawed and the only answer is annihilation.  To some, science or technology must surely find an answer be it artificial intelligence or genetic manipulation.  Some embrace their base nature and the evolutionist's creed, eager to be the strongest and thrive amidst their depravity.  But nothing will fill that gap or sooth the unsettled soul, for there is no 'balm in Gilead,' or at least not on this mortal earth, or perhaps I should say wasn't, for the Great Physician has come and we no longer need to sew up our own wounds.  But we are unwise children, too wise in our own eyes to see that we are wounded, let alone in need of a doctor; we continue to look to X to make us happy, and if that doesn't work, there is always Y...but the Answer transcends the whole alphabet, a single letter won't suffice, we need the Alpha and Omega and everything in between, nothing less will satisfy.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Looking for ET in all the wrong places?

The last time I watched 'ET' was in Spanish class in high school, and all I can remember was that epic line, "ET telephono a mi casa."  'Green Eggs and Ham' didn't translate the best either.  ET might have actually been better in Spanish, but in whatever language, I really never liked it.  But it could be worse, my husband was a substitute German teacher once and got to watch the first 45 minutes of 'Finding Nemo' in German seven times in one day, ugh!  But this post isn't about linguistic translation or even pop culture icons, but rather modern culture's obsession with finding non-terrestrial life somewhere, somehow, somewhen, especially a sapient variety.  But it isn't just aliens, we've gone through werewolves, ghosts, robots, vampires, and are currently weathering a zombie phase: anything to find we are not alone, that there is more to reality than the span of our heart beats.

But we aren't alone.  And our modern search for the extraterrestrial is a little ridiculous when you consider our planet was actually invaded two millennia ago, and not just by visitors from another planet or even another galaxy, but by Someone from outside our own reality.  Yeah, wrap your mind around that one for a minute.  It's like me physically trying to cram myself into one of my own books: ain't going to happen!  But He managed to do it.  But we're still watching the stars, hoping someone is out there, somewhere, when all we need do is realize that He's already come, we aren't alone any longer, at least if we don't want to be.  There are all sorts of conspiracy theories about the government covering up all traces of alien visitations, but this is the original and still the most controversial.  And no, I am not giving any credence to the theories that say various visions or miracles in the Bible were actually alien phenomena such as Ezekiel's 'wheels within wheels.'  I speak only of the advent of deity within mortal flesh, the Word made Flesh that dwelt among us.

I am currently reading through the Gospel of John, and it is very intuiging to see some of the language he uses and the word pictures he paints, emphasizing this point; this from the same pen that wrote Revelation, now there's a vision!

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

This is one passage that caught my eye, but there are many others, especially the first chapter and the passages in chapter 17 where He prays to the Father about His disciples, implying that His followers too are also somehow separated from the world they once knew.  We must still abide within the world, but we are no longer of it, for ours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  So for all those longing to leave behind this troubled and broken humanity, whether you want to join the giant blue cat people from that one movie, run off to become a Jedi, get bit by a radioactive spider, or fall in love with a vampire, this yearning isn't weird or restricted to geek culture: it's innate within our very souls.  We were made to be something more and certainly not to be alone.  And the great news is we aren't.  We just need to know where to look, or perhaps rather to Whom. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Set in the hearts of men

Lately I've run across several comments or articles on social media written by adoptees or adoptive parents about a common theme: the adopted person's search for wholeness in their biological roots.  There was the article about adopted Korean children going back to Korea and finding they had no place in that society.  There were cries of many an angst ridden teen who felt the key to their identity and future lies in their genetic past.  What I find interesting about this yearning, this longing, this feeling that things are not right, that I don't fit in or belong here, is that it isn't just an adoption issue.  What these uneasy young people are missing is the fact that everyone feels that way, not just children with non-biological parents.  I'm not saying that adopted children don't have a unique set of circumstances to deal with, but rather this anguished cry of the longing heart isn't peculiar to the adoption community but wrings the heart of every single human soul.

Look at the popular films of our age.  In 'Dances with Wolves' and 'The Last Samurai' we find this longing is fulfilled only by forsaking the modern culture into which one was born and embracing a different, seemingly more enlightened or peace-loving culture.  In 'Avatar' we discover that it is not even a particular culture that is the problem but rather humanity as a whole, thus the only way to find our place is to abandon not only our culture but our species as well.  It is the same for the adopted child: if I am unhappy in my current circumstances, I must find fulfillment in my biological roots, only to discover that their genetic parents are just as ordinary and unfulfilling as their adoptive parents, both being merely human.  Others, especially young women, look to romance to fulfill them, only to find a love interest or spouse isn't the key for that particular lock.  It may be career, success, family, fortune, fame, or a million other good and worthy pursuits that we look to to make us whole, to complete and fulfill us, to give us meaning and purpose, but nothing satisfies.  After the initial excitement wears off, we yet find that unquenchable longing still there and our hearts more bitter and jaded than ever, until we give up in despair and become so cynical and toxic that life is miserable indeed, not only for ourselves but for all those around us.

If nothing in the physical world can satisfy, if there is an answer, it must lie in the metaphysical, philosophical, or spiritual realm.  Apparently new age spirituality/the occult is gaining popularity again as people desperate for that answer begin turning over old stones that our modern scientific age has long scoffed at, but when the modern scientists repeatedly tell us that we're all one big cosmic accident and nothing matters, it is no surprise our meaning hungry souls begin to look elsewhere for more satisfying answers.  The problem with 'spirituality' is that it is as ill-defined and vacuous as the concept of 'truth' in our post-modern-life is whatever you want it to be age.  Sure, you can have your 'spirituality' like your favorite coffee or burger: exactly the way you want it, but that just makes it another shallow consumer good that is ingested and leaves us hungry and unfulfilled a few hours later; it doesn't give answers to life's greatest questions or fill the longing depths of our soul.  Sort of like going to a rock concert and feeling connected and exhilarated for a few hours, only to get in the car, tired and overstimulated, for a long, lonely drive home or being the one left alone to clean up after the party/wedding/graduation.

So what is the answer, if it isn't in science or relationships or success or foggy spirituality?  Is there an answer?  Why would there be this longing if it didn't have a fulfillment?  Hunger or thirst would be rather odd sensations if we had neither food nor drink to fulfill them or a biological need to have them fulfilled.  It is a spiritual thirst, a metaphysical identity crisis that afflicts each and every one of us.  We may mistake it for a need for more money, a better house, a nicer car, or the latest tech or the longing for a relationship or a job or whatever, but deep down it is 'deep crying out to deep,' the very deeps of our soul crying out to the deepest things in and beyond creation.  There is a Living Water to quench this divine thirst, One who promises to give rest to the weary, and a very Father to the orphan.  We are all of us orphans, we are all searching for our true Parent, in this we are all adoptees, longing for our true Home.  And there is One to whom we can each cry, 'Abba, Father!'