Exploring where life and story meet!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lonely places

The time between the Prophet Malachi and the Birth of Christ is referred to as the 'intertestamental period.'  Israel was waiting for their Messiah and yet for 400 years there was no word from God.  Sometimes I feel like the week between Christmas and New Year is like that (at least it seems like 400 years).  Everyone is suffering a post-holiday hangover, it is still the old year, work and school schedules are interrupted with the extended holiday season, the weather is usually ugly, life as we knew it is done yet the new has not yet come.  Down right depressing for the modern soul, yet it would be a perfect time to reflect upon the old year, to rest from the hectic holiday joy, and to contemplate what is to come.         The ancients called it meditation, this practice of reflecting on ourselves, on the world around us, on God.  Even Jesus sought out lonely places to pray and He is God!  How much more, in this era of technology and never ceasing interaction do we need time to sit quietly and reflect?  I know it feels like you are coming off a drug high this week, but perhaps it is time to 'be still and know,' to count your many blessings, repent of those forgotten sins, dig deep into the Word, reflect on your relationship (or lack thereof) with God, consider what this new year might bring.  Seek out that 'lonely place' and listen for 'the still, small voice.'

Monday, December 23, 2013

Impaired frustration

I really want to be frustrated right now, but I can't.  If you look at the big picture, at all the blessings in life, at the rest of life that is functioning really well, it is harder to be frustrated.  Then when you consider the season (no, not the pink lighted hippopotamus next door) but rather ponder the mystery of the God who was 'made flesh and dwelt among us' and then look up the road to Easter, it really makes whatever is bugging you seem really insignificant.  What is health insurance compared to my immortal soul?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV).

These are some of my favorite verses in scripture, strange that I so rarely am able to apply them to life!  The 'peace of God that surpasses all understanding?'  Sounds nice, I should rely on it more!  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On epic adventures of the yuletide sort

We watched a movie the other night (exciting right), as is our tradition this time of year.  It is not exactly considered a holiday classic yet, on par with Rudolph and Charlie Brown, but we enjoy it, but it reminds me of taking things for granted.  We've all probably heard the Christmas story (perhaps read by Linus in the aforementioned Charlie Brown Christmas) at some point in our lives and many can probably say it by heart, but it was interesting watching The Nativity Story again, which is a live action film done in 2006.  They do an excellent job portraying all the things you do not think about when you think of a baby in a manger and a bunch of animals gathered around in adoration.  Particularly Mary's struggle with her role in the whole thing.  First she has angels speaking to her, then she's pregnant in a culture that may kill you for such a thing, then her fiance wants to dump her, and can you imagine what her friends and family think?  After things are straightened out with Joseph, now she gets to make a long journey while eight months pregnant, only to give birth in a stable and end up with the local ruler sending his henchmen to kill you and your kid.  Sounds like an epic if I ever heard of one.  The movie does well depicting the human drama, but what it and we often fail to appreciate is the divine drama.

Can you imagine the richest man in the world agreeing to give up everything and live as the poorest, most despised man on the planet and then willingly suffer a brutal death for another person's crimes?  Now pretend you invented the universe and get to do the same, but on a level completely unimaginable to the likes of us mere mortals.  'God with us,' is the name.  Now there is an epic!  Merry Christmas!

The search for Faerie

I found Faerie the other day, the long sought realm of the fairies or perhaps simply it is the lost innocence and wonder of youth.  My grandmother had a wonderfully illustrated book of nursery rhymes that I remember as a child and I wanted to find the book on my last visit.  We sought high and low, hither and yon but to no avail.  I was rather disappointed but life goes on and I forgot about it until the other day at a thrift store I came across the same book but a different edition.  I bought it for the mere pittance they asked for it and went home a happy creature, strange how little true joy costs!  So now I have lived again that wonderful book and shared it with my own family.  My husband thinks I am a little silly, but that is okay, mortals do not tend to understand these things at time.  Look for Eric Kincaid's 'Book of Nursery Rhymes' if you want to explore this wondrous world for yourself.  The illustrations are wonderful, even to a jaded adult.

Tolkien fans rejoice

Dear Tolkien enthusiasts, rejoice for the season is upon us: yes the new movie is out.  I have yet to see it, but here is a good overview.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A confession...

Like most people, I have a love hate relationship with technology.  I love being able to type quickly, neatly, and efficiently as my handwriting is horrible and my hands get very sore after only a few words.  This gives me a real appreciation for those who had to write manuscripts by candlelight with a quill pen, ouch!  But then when something goes wrong it takes eight times as long to fix the problem as doing it the old fashioned way.  I remember life before the internet yet am young enough to have grown up with a little technology thus am not afraid of it.  I still prefer the now prehistoric windows 95, but do not miss the electric typewriter on which I filled out my college applications.  Those mini keypads for various portable devices drive me crazy and we will not even mention what texting and spell check have done to the literary skills of modern generations.

I remember using a mac in college for a computer art class, back in the Cambrian period I think, and thinking my scientific calculator was a tad smarter, of course those were back in the zip drive days, but the things froze constantly and it was like speaking a foreign language to one semi-fluent on a windows PC, but times and macs have apparently changed.  I have not met a windows laptop I have liked for ten years or so, and recently I have been having dubious flirtations with an apple PC and I am afraid I may be a convert.  I just published a few more stories in ebook format and it was much smoother on the mac than my last attempt with windows.  I wonder what Gutenberg would say if he were told about the advent of ebooks?  I suppose whatever the language or the format, the written word has inspired generations and will continue to do so regardless of changes in either.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Proof in the pudding or the particles?

Everyday magic!  Here's a good article about taking nothing for granted, not even subatomic particles.  It is a wonder we can get through the day at all, we should just sit there and gasp in awe at all the wondrous things He has done.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

After which we seek

Being a nomad of late has given me time to reflect on that which most of the world takes for granted at any given moment yet is one of those things most vital to human flourishing, namely that mysterious thing we call home.  If we are lucky, we are born into one.  If we are truly blessed, we enjoy this phenomenon all of our lives, but whatever the current status of our abode, it is a thing we yearn for and desire above all other things our entire lives.  I do not speak of a house or any other particular sort of dwelling place but rather a place where our hearts are at peace and one can often find companionship, love, and joy.  We all have some place we sleep and go about the rudiments of living, with or without some sort of family, roommates, or friends, but this may not actually be home.  Home is that place where the strife and clamor of the outside world ceases, where peace and love dwell.  Many of us have little known such bliss, yet we long ceaselessly for it.  It is the place where all true stories begin and end and thus, so does this story called life.  Before God made man, he made a garden to settle him in and it was this place above all others that the Enemy most despises and wishes to destroy.  So it was in the Beginning and so it will be until we find that ultimate home where one story ends and another is about to begin.

Perhaps one reason I love The Lord of the Rings so much is that it is a book/movie ultimately about home.  Certainly our heroes set out on a journey, but they set out to, ‘save the Shire,’ as Frodo puts it in the movie and the prequel is rightly titled, at least in part, ‘There and Back Again.’  The world can be a cold, cruel, and lonely place, but a light left on at night for the errant wanderer’s return can drive away the chilliest claws of loneliness.  We think power or money or fame will make us happy, give us contentment, but really only home can do that.  A place of family, friends, warmth, music, light, joy, food, fun, contentment, and peace.  Yet we can never find home if we seek only our good, our own selfish ends.  Home requires love, commitment, and sacrifice on the part of all for the good of everyone.  It is the same God asks of each of us and in Him we find our true home, no matter how cold the winds of the world blow.  So it was with a little baby, He who made the Universe in fact, on a cold night, born in a stable somewhere with only a couple of young peasants and a few scruffy shepherds for company, yet there was home.  Home in a cattle stall as the old hymn goes.  So too can we find Home, wherever and whenever we are, if only in our hearts.  For where the peace of God dwells, there are His people at Home.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

The land that Tolkien saw?

I am moving to Middle Earth, to the province of Rohan to be precise, or at least to a land of similar vistas. My natural environment until now was more like the Shire: a lovely mix of meadows and trees, tended fields and little woodlands, with here and there a winding brook or small pond. But this new landscape can only be described as epic. I now understand the term, ‘big sky.’ Though trees are few, I do not miss them much for the land itself has much character and speaks volumes that my own small country could never imagine; much like the babbling of children compared to the works of Shakespeare. The landscape is the same, but each whim of sun, cloud, rain, mist, and snow gives it an ever-changing though still seemingly eternal presence. I do not know if certain races are genetically predisposed to prefer one sort of landscape over another, but something seems to tingle in my bones, that this stark beauty is truly home, something left over from ancestors who eked a living in the Scottish Highlands or trod the Connemara region of Ireland: places of rocky heights, rugged vegetation, extreme and erratic weather, and a sky that seems more real than the lands beneath it. It is a place where an adventure might happen, a place Tolkien spent eight pages describing and only scratched the surface. I do not think I could survive in the unending and unvarying cornlands of Illinois and Iowa, but this place has character, a beauty you can feel, a beauty sometimes grim and harsh, but so are all mortal tales.

I wonder at the emotions this stark beauty inspires. It is a place where one dares not be an atheist. For the world is so large and one is so small, that it is here one truly realizes their insignificance in the universe and how utterly pointless is everything without a greater Purpose. For the unchanging hills have seen many a mortal sorrow in their day and never do they care what passes upon their ancient sod, but the One who wrought the hills cares about even the sparrows that flit among the grasses and this brings much comfort to a quivering heart, overwrought with all the horrible wonder about it. But a heart without such hope must soon be overcome and perhaps driven to madness by all the vast and rugged country in which they find themselves. Perhaps one can glimpse eternity in such a place, for the hills have stood since the beginning of time and so has the ever-changing sky looked down upon them and so shall it remain as long as time persists. But in all the smallness and sorrow that has passed upon the face of the world, one can still look up ‘unto the hills from whence comest my strength,’ and be at peace that there is One who has, ‘overcome the world.’ Here there is sorrow, roughness, and harshness, but so too is there beauty and wonder, hope and joy, at least for those who know where to look, or rather to Whom. Some would call it a ‘howling wilderness,’ but even there, one cannot escape the Presence of Him who made all, rather you can feel it more intensely where the hustle and bustle of civilization is not and all that is was wrought by hands not mortal.

Obscure hymns and reflections on Love

‘In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But his mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a wise man, I would do my part;

Yet what can I give him: give my heart.’
"In the Bleak Midwinter"

Winter has arrived, which of course in my sentimental mind summons lyrics such as this for Christmas will soon be upon us, but there is another force at work right now that also recalls these now obscure lyrics. I am learning day by day, often a slow and poor student, that man was made for one purpose and that to love and be loved. The whole of modern culture, at least in the West, seems to say that this is not so, that love of self and self alone is the ultimate Good, yet we strive towards this goal with all our being and come away cold and empty. I have often wondered at the antipathy towards Christmas by some in American culture when there is very little such angst over Easter (the more important Christian holiday) or any other day of celebration or reflection. Could it be, that of all the holidays, this one that invokes the spirit of generosity, blessing, and togetherness (that is, love) even in the most unbelieving of hearts, inspires even with its least reminder unspeakable bitterness and anger in certain souls afflicted with either great hurt or that think themselves so far above such frivolousness yet in their deepest hearts truly yearn for such peace and hate the very thought of such perceived weakness that they rebel against it with all their being? I do not know, but I think it similar to the hurt a childless woman, who desperately wanting children, feels upon hearing that a friend or relative is expecting or upon sight of a happy new mother. It is a time for rejoicing yet she feels such pain at her own loss that her feelings are sometimes quite the opposite of what they should be. But this is not the subject of these ramblings (if subject there be), but rather just one example of a possible symptom of this strange epidemic that afflicts every beating heart.

Since nearly the beginning, man has been rebellious and seeking after his own affairs, rather than the purpose for which he was made. It was this self-love that got him kicked out of paradise and it has only been downhill from there. We hear much of the ‘self-made man’ and the ‘independent woman,’ and other such nonsense in the modern West, but none of us are an island and we all are very much dependent on one another and if we are willing to admit it, the Providence of God, for there is not a breath we take that is not of His bidding. What I love about this little hymn is that it expresses God’s love to erring humanity, even in the depths of our darkest and bitterest night, which a dismal night in winter portrays beautifully. He steps out of Heaven into our miserable world of suffering and death and bids us enter His glorious Kingdom. Here is the King of Heaven, a babe in a cattle stall adored by the poorest of peasant girls! And who says the fairy tales are not true? This is God’s gift of eternal love which many reject, yet there are mortal loves as well which we would also deny for many perceive love of almost every sort as sheer weakness.

The only exception is a sort of romantic love which our society has idealized and worships, yet never achieves for it cannot be in our fallen world, worse this ideal shipwrecks many relationships when we realize the beloved is not perfect and the answer to all our happiness. I speak rather of the Love that Paul immortalized with, "love is patient, love is kind…" That is, love that seeks the best for the beloved rather than that which is easy, painless, efficient, or self-serving. This is the love we must have for each and every person, which is an impossible thought to comprehend, but it is the Love of Christ and how He bids us to live and which can only be accomplished through Him. Yet even in our closest relationships we have much difficulty practicing this precept. Our entire culture is against us. Such was the home I grew up in. Feelings of any kind were considered a weakness. There were no words of encouragement, only criticism for nothing was ever good enough. Pain and fear must be overcome by sheer strength of will, and it can be done if one is strong enough. The result was an abyss of incredible pain, self-doubt and hatred, and difficulty attaching emotionally to others, all covered over with a shiny and thin veneer of seeming happiness and emotional stability. I was a mess and did not know it. My family did not go to church, but saw that I was deposited at the door every Sunday, mostly to get me out of the way for a time as well as to feel that they had done their social duty of giving me a religious education.

It was a small church, did not grow much during my time there, had no fancy programs or world class preaching, but they had something I did not understand, something I wanted, thus did I continue to go even after my family ceased to see it as necessary. Looking back, some of these people were not the most intelligent people of my acquaintance, but they were the most sincere. They loved me, a nameless child amongst many. They accepted and encouraged me, they did not overlook me in the busyness of life. They introduced me to the God who inspires such countercultural behavior. That was my first taste and I wanted more, but had no idea of how to go about it. Thankfully God is not idle in such matters and provided what was needed to feed a starving soul. The years passed and it took a very long time to chip away at the emotional armor warding the deep parts of my heart, but eventually a breech was made, but the invasion did not begin until this completely unlooked for and undesired man walked into my life. I was still cold towards others and the world in general, thinking I had to look out for myself, trusting no one for it could only mean more pain. I did not have time for worthless guys who would only take advantage of me nor did I think myself good enough for a real relationship; I was incapable of being loved. I was content with my small vision of God but thankfully He was not content therein. In waltzed a man who turned my entire view of life on its head and began my reeducation in the affairs of God and men and the ways of the heart.

I was going to be a career woman and that would be enough, though I had watched others pursue this track and come away empty and bitter after years of hard work and dedication; it was not enough though they had given everything they possessed to their careers. Okay, fine, I can maybe handle a husband and still be a career woman, or so I thought. A few years passed and God continued to gnaw away at my emotional baggage until I felt pretty well healed and quite wise in the ways of the world. Then He had to throw motherhood into the mix, which woke other dragons that now had to be wrestled into submission. Finally, I am perfect and fully wise! A paragon of modern womanhood: a precisely balanced mix of work and family…but not so fast! What do you mean I have no job and am moving halfway across the country!?! I am now to be trapped at home with a small child while my husband earns a living? What is the he 1950’s? But with submission comes contentment, joy, and peace. I never dreamed of having anything but a career, never thought of finding love and acceptance and purpose from my fellow humans, but thankfully I continue to be very wrong! Thus continues my education in the ways and means of love. What it is to give and also to receive it. I must let go of my preconceptions, of the things I think I want and desire and need, and rather take that which I truly need and therein find peace.

This is a weird adventure, one I never thought to have, but whatever comes of my strange wanderings, they can never compare to those of that Heavenly Adventurer who strayed into mortal lands and rescued a perishing people. I will never save the world from itself, but perhaps there is one small, quivering soul, lonely and rejected that I can touch in some small way, like those quirky church ladies of my own youth. Why is it our hearts fight against that which we need most? Why do we demand, like sleep deprived toddlers, that our way is the only way? But thankfully God is patient and kind above all else, and leads us like the clueless sheep we are, deeper into His love and grace, as much as we are willing. Each person’s journey is different, but His purpose for each life is the same: to teach us to Love Him and one another. We can, like Paul, kick against the goads, or we can, also like Paul, submit to the call that is ever there and go submissively but boldly in the direction that is wisest and best, though certainly not the easiest or the most approved by those about us. My family thought I was nuts to marry the man I did, to become a mother even with a promising career, and now to leave my career behind to pursue God’s calling on my husband’s life (and my own). But the world thought the same of Noah and of Christ, what would have come of us all if they had said, ‘no?’ I do not understand it, I cannot see very far ahead, but I have learned that it is wisest and the least painful to willingly go whither I am led. I still do not know much about love, but that is the whole point of this journey called life and I will follow its strange and twisting path where so ever it winds, knowing that an even better story begins at its end. Finally admitting that I am but a clueless sheep and fully dependent for life and well-being upon an all-wise Shepherd.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The poetry of real life

I wrote recently on the loss of important things in our lives, now I must write on the advent of things unexpected and the Providence of God.  The longer I live and the more experience I have, the more I see and understand that life is not a random floundering about between conception and death, but rather a vivid story with an Author who knows the details of his tale down to the number of hairs on each character's head and can track the movements of every subatomic particle in creation.  I cannot imagine reading such a tome, I have a hard enough time with Tolkien's profuse description of scenery, but I am happy to live my part of it day by day and see what new adventure awaits therein.  The universe and our individual lives are not some cosmic accident wending their way towards oblivion, but are a finely wrought, dynamic work of art with plan and purpose, direction and meaning.  Just as we cannot see the end of the story in the third sentence or judge the full concerto in the overture, so we cannot always know what comes next in our lives or even our world, but we can trust Him who takes the pains to make each snowflake unique and apply a name to every star.  Sorrow, fear, and grief are all too common and to be expected in this fallen world of ours, but there is an end to the story, the true Happily Ever After, and sense in the chaos of daily life.  Just because we cannot see it Today does not mean it is not there, we are simply in the middle of a chapter or at the beginning of the song.

I wrote of my own career coming to an abrupt end, but now I find that it means a new beginning, a different adventure for our family.  One chapter closes, another begins.  What feels a grievous loss, an ending without meaning, is simply the next step in whatever plot is unfolding in our lives.  There is a sunrise beyond the nightfall, a spring after winter, meanwhile we have a 'song in the night' until 'joy comes with the morning."

The book of Psalms always puzzled me as a child, why were all these complaints and cries of sorrow and anger written and preserved in scripture?  As an adult who has survived a few 'trials and tribulations' of my own now, I understand and love this book that once bored and confused me as a child.  This book is perhaps the most human of all the books found in scripture.  Angry with God or circumstance?  Happy beyond belief?  Sorrowful and repentant?  Miserable and despairing?  Hopeless and lost?  Thoughtful and quiet?  Grateful?  Have I got a psalm for you!  No other book so perfectly captures the full range of human experience and emotion and our relation to God therein.  Whether you want praise or complaints or comfort, it is there.  Even Christ sought solace from the cross in its words, the very words that foretold His fate.  Man may not understand God, but God certainly understands man, in fact walked in his very shoes and filled an ancient book of poetry with the deepest cries of his soul.

Friday, November 8, 2013

concerning lesser gods

Idolatry is dead, that line in the Ten Commandments does not apply to modern life, who bows down to images of wood and stone?  That form of idolatry is certainly dead in the modern world, but the heart of man must worship something so the ancient prohibitions are as needed today as when Moses carried them down the mountain.

No other gods?  That should be easy!  What has come of Molech and Zeus after all?  But gods need bear no formal name nor have any priest but one fanatic heart.  What are your gods?  Money, chocolate, football, your kids, social media, the TV?  Anything that takes our time and interest and zeal away from God has the potential to be a modern idol.  All of these things can be very good, but we must be cautious that they do not become our Ultimate Good, the reason we live and breath and have our being,  God has given us many wonderful things to enjoy and do whilst we abide on this mortal earth, but our utmost devotion belongs to Him alone.

Sometimes it takes losing something to realize how important we have made it.  I wonder if this is not a reason fasting is considered an important, though oft overlooked, Christian discipline.  It is not just food, but almost anything that we enjoy (perhaps too much) or that takes up too much of our time from which we might abstain for a time that we might thereby grow closer to God.  This was undoubtedly easier before smart phones.  We have not had TV in the house for many years and I do not miss it.  It is amazing how much more time there is for conversation, reading, and games and yet we seem to miss nothing by not having the TV on.  What started as an economical decision (highly spiritual!), has become a way of life, but this is not what inspired these somber reflections.

I have known for a time that my job was on shaky ground and now it is gone.  I little realized how much time, effort, and importance I had put into my career until my permanent vacation!  I felt as if someone had died, there was a huge hole in my life...idols...hmmm...interesting.  It is strange how we cannot see clearly until we have come through something and look back from a distance and only then do we understand.  I suppose that is why God is so persistent in his demands that we look to and trust Him alone for strength and guidance, for He is the only One that knows all ends.  I knew where my career was going, or thought I did, but now I have no idea what comes next, but He does.  It was not an intentional or even a welcome 'fast' but it was probably needed.  Where to next?  I had better ask the One who knows the way!  At least now I can catch up on my soap operas.

Friday, November 1, 2013


Here's another good article on the importance of stories to life.  It sure is easy blogging when someone else keeps writing the articles!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Disturbed Sense and Sensibilities

I still think I was born in the wrong century, at least from a literary sense.  I immensely enjoy Jane Austen, and other such works, but I fear most modern readers really don't 'get' them.  They might enjoy the witty Pride and Prejudice and yet miss the heart of such literature.  Just look at all the 'sequels' that focus almost solely on various forms of carnal pleasure when such is obviously missing from the originals.  I just watched a version of Mansfield Park that really disturbed me.  They completely missed Fanny's upstanding moral character, downplayed the flaws in one of the main characters, implied a bit of girl on girl intimacy, and otherwise completely missed the point of the book.  Who puts a sex scene in Jane Austen?  The poor woman should be turning over in her grave so much she must be dizzy.  According to modern taste, apparently a lack of sex makes for a dull movie/read.  It would be better to have Austen unread than misread.  A pity she is not alive in our day and age, it would be interesting to read what she might have to say on the subject. 

The other problem with Jane et. al. for modern readers, besides for lack of sleaze, is a near complete lack of a traditional moral understanding.  A century ago, it was obvious what was right and wrong, but in this day and age, it depends who you ask.  The most recent Pride and Prejudice rendition featuring Keira Knightley made very little sense if you were not familiar with the story and the mores of the day.  Lydia's 'infamous elopement' seems like just another girl moving in with her boyfriend, what's the big deal?  Why is everyone freaking out about it?  Some were probably wondering why we didn't see them naked.

There are certainly affairs, misdeeds, and the like mentioned in the Austonian cannon, but it is mentioned, the deed itself is not covered in-depth, which sadly, many modern readers would expect.  Maybe there is a good reason why all my favorite authors have been dead for fifty years or more.  They knew the art of story and did not need insipid bedroom scenes to obfuscate their lack of skill.  Or maybe we as a culture have descended to a point where nothing else interests us or we think nothing else does.  But this means we have all the joy before us of learning to really appreciate the intricacies of a good story!  And then, perhaps if a love of good literature can be reignited in our musty, cramped souls, perhaps we will hunger after modern works equally good, thus starting a literary reawakening.  Or maybe we'll just turn on the TV and indulge our banal sensibilities.  In the age of Twitter, who has time for Jane Austen?   

Lost? Just ask the Lion!

It seems that the biggest lesson in life that God is trying to teach us is that we can trust Him, and if I am anything like the so-called average person, then humanity is in trouble in this particular class.  Of course we cannot trust Him to work things out as we want them, but rather in the manner which is best for us and all those affected by a particular circumstance, which usually means spiritual growth rather than striking it rich.  We can be rather peevish on this subject, thinking God does not answer prayers when He answers them in a way we had not anticipated, much like the hungry toddler who wants candy and mommy gives him something healthy.  Thus, we must learn to trust that His ideas are better than our own and that He intends a better outcome, even if we cannot at the moment fathom why things turned out as they did.

There have been many instances in my life where I thought I would do things a certain way, well aware that I should be doing it a different way, and after much vain straining and striving, finally I would give in and say, 'fine, have it your way,' and inevitably it works out beautifully.  Weird.  I have found it can be much less painful to do it His way first.  Just ask Jonah.  Or if you prefer, recall the scene in Prince Caspian where Lucy thinks she saw Aslan and knows she should take a certain path and no one believes her and they end up going on a long, pointless journey when they might have easily solved their navigational errors by believing Lucy in the first place. 

My life is either upside down or backwards at the moment, I suppose it depends on the angle, but I am okay with that.  There are moments when I feel a great sense of loss, actually grieve for what was, or wonder in trepidation at what will come next, but overall, I know, whatever happens, I do not need to panic or worry.  This sounds trite, I know, but after several lessons that may or may not have involved a sound, metaphorical thwack (is not that a lovely word?) to the head, I think I am finally starting to understand that whole 'be still and know' thing.  Definitely not perfect, but sort of (almost, hopefully) making progress, now about that whole patience thing... 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Out of Ur

My husband has been getting tired of me commenting that I feel much like Abraham, displaced from home and going forth into the great unknown that is the wide world, but knowing that there is a plan and purpose in it all, so I might as well blog about it.  Job, home, family, church, even my health insurance, are all up in the air at the moment.  I feel like a recent college graduate, looking on the broad horizon of the future that lies before me and not quite sure what to do with it.  Sometimes I wish God answered e-mail, it would make life much more straightforward, but I am finding that it is in the wandering that we often grow and learn and are fitted for whatever comes next.  I want a horizon to look towards, a goal to aim for, but sometimes all I am allowed is a glimpse of a curving road in the fog and with this I must be content, content in knowing that there is a 'plan and a purpose to everything under heaven.'   To 'be still and know that I am God.'  To know that 'even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for You are with me.'  I don't know the future but neither did Joseph or David or Abraham or Mary, but they trusted God in all their strange and scary circumstances and He led them faithfully through paths they could not even imagine when first they set out.  I think then that I should be able to handle a minor interruption in my life as a career woman, but part of me is still anxious and uneasy, desperate to know the future as any child wondering what the packages beneath the tree actually hold in the weeks before Christmas.  What a great chance to exercise that wondrous virtue known as patience.  What is a little mortal discomfort when it is used to train up a soul for eternity!  Let me see, how does this 'being still' thing work...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Of Nightingales and Theology

I enjoyed the Importance of Being Earnest, but had not read much else by Oscar Wilde, save one of his fairy tales called 'The Happy Prince'.  It was a nice little tale, but slipped out of living memory until I read an article dealing with another tale in the collection called 'The Nightingale and the Rose'.  The hints of the tale in the article intrigued me, so of course I had to go read the whole story and now I will likely read the whole collection, happily supplied at Project Gutenberg.  As I know little of the author, save he has a great wit, I thought to review G. K. Chesterton's take on the man.

The lyrical quality of the story minds me much of the Song of Songs in its descriptions of Love and the underlying theme of ultimate and sacrificial love that surpasses even the power of death are certainly at the heart of Christianity.  From what little I know of Wilde, I had a hard time seeing him as a believer, but as Chesterton states, "he had, in his own strange way, a much deeper and more spiritual nature than they. Queerly enough, it was the very multitude of his falsities that prevented him from being entirely false. Like a many-coloured humming top, he was at once a bewilderment and a balance. He was so fond of being many-sided that among his sides he even admitted the right side. He loved so much to multiply his souls that he had among them one soul at least that was saved. He desired all beautiful things – even God."

It is a lovely little story, most of all in its portrayal of Love and how it is so often missed or misunderstood by we oft abstracted mortals.  One can pour out one's heart's blood for some beautiful cause and the whole world will overlook or laugh at your sacrifice.  It is an excellent reminder of He who did that very thing for each of us, and that He does not miss our own meager attempts to fulfill such Love, no matter what the world thinks of our efforts.

Though in keeping with Wilde's many sided philosophy, he does throw in this little bit at the last:
"What a silly thing Love is,” said the Student as he walked away.  “It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true.  In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.”

I am not sure how one can study Metaphysics, at least the Christian variant, and misunderstand love, but oh, well...

Here is a little snippet to tempt you, it is not a long or difficult read, but certainly is not lacking in beauty: "The white Moon heard it, and she forgot the dawn, and lingered on in the sky.  The red rose heard it, and it trembled all over with ecstasy, and opened its petals to the cold morning air.  Echo bore it to her purple cavern in the hills, and woke the sleeping shepherds from their dreams.  It floated through the reeds of the river, and they carried its message to the sea." 'The Nightingale and the Rose,' Oscar Wilde.

Update: the rest of these stories seem to be well worth reading too!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The end of an epic

Well, I have finally finished Middlemarch and I am not sure what to think.  It was not so much a book as an epic, something you can't exactly sit down and write a brief review of.  It was an interesting enough story to make me slog through all eighty some chapters, but it will never be one of my favorite books.  It had some interesting insight into various human foibles, social institutions, and long forgotten English political upheavals but nothing you can really sum up in very few words; I am sure many have written a doctoral thesis on some minor content thereof.  So if you are an Anglo-bibliophile, I would recommend it, but to the vast majority of modern humanity, it shall sadly only act as a cure for insomnia.  This is probably a sad commentary on our modern attention span and waning interests in things considered classical. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

If I had ever learned...

The title of this selection is based on a statement made by Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, as this venerable matron is instructing others on the finer points of music, of which she is avowedly a connoisseur though she has never bothered to learn much about it, but certainly has much natural taste and is thus qualified in her critique of others.  This is an amusing scene in the book, but strangely not an uncommon one in our modern society where, thanks to Google, etc., everyone is a natural expert on just about anything and everything.  We have replaced logic, reason, and rational thought with the search engine and social trending (if my 'friends' like it, it must be good).  Like the esteemed Lady, there is very little depth to our so-called knowledge yet we are too vain to admit, even to ourselves, how little we actually know about said topic.

This especially occurred to me the other day whilst standing in line to fill a prescription and the eight elderly people ahead of me each had 57 different medications, half of which were prescribed to control the side effects of some other medication.  There seems to be a pill for everything, yet in truth we know so little about the human body and its microscopic workings that putting so many different substances into our body at once without knowing their interactions with each other and with each unique individuals body makes me nervous.  Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, saving countless lives and extending nearly all others, yet we approach it with the attitude of 'my doctor can fix anything' rather than with the fear and trembling which should accompany all such activity which involves the life and well-being of a human soul.  I begin to see why God demands the same treatment of Himself.

We should not be in terror of God, yet we should approach Him with all the respect and awe that our rather miniscule and precarious mortal state demands when in the presence of the One who wrought us.  Yet we stand like the Pharisee in the temple (Luke 18), congratulating ourselves on how wonderful we are because we are not as bad as some other people when we should be like the tax collector, humble and honest, and therefore forgiven and justified before God.  Pride goes back to the Garden when the serpent asked, 'did God really say?'  God has really said, we should really listen and obey, if we want to have any standing whatsoever in the Kingdom of Heaven!  Then maybe we can turn our eyes to the practice of medicine or advising others on the quality of their musical ability, but only after we have correctly assessed our own skills and knowledge in a certain area and actually discover that we have something meaningful to say..  Just because you can 'google' tuberculosis, does not mean you are qualified either to treat or diagnose it.  Even more so are we unqualified to contradict what God has spoken.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

But it's a musical!

This is a topic of great import that I have completely forgotten to write on for some time but have finally remembered whilst luckily in front of a computer with a moment to spare (a rare and dangerous combination).  As the faithful and unfortunate readers of this blog well know (if any of you there are), I am quite fond of Les Miserables in all its formats, most especially the musical, which was so recently released as a major motion picture.  My main complaint with the cinematic presentation of the stage musical was that nearly every line was sung (often badly) when they could have easily had a little dialogue instead of the inane singing of a few random lines like, "we must leave now," or "we should do such and such."  It was a minor sin, but rather annoying.  And it struck me that another tremendous theatrical production had addressed this very topic.  That great hero of many an animated tale, Larry the Cucumber, found himself in just such straits in the much lauded classic Lyle the Kindly Viking.  If I have completely confounded you, dear reader, please forgive me, for I assume that every classicist must be well versed in all things Veggie Tales, but if you are unfamiliar with this charming vegetative production, it may well be worth your time and energy to explore further.  But let us just say, it involves singing vegetables (and no few fruits) reenacting many a classic story and is thus a very healthy experience.  Anywho, Larry has this strange propensity to sing every single line and when called upon it by his friendly tomato companion, the cucumber sings out, "but it's a musical."  To which is replied, "but that doesn't mean you have to sing every line."  Obviously the makers of Les Mis are not as well versed in the classics as one would think!

Judge not lest ye miss a good book

I have avoided Northanger Abbey thinking it something it was not, and having read what I would of Austen's other works, have finally decided to peruse this before undeservedly despised volume and have come away very happy with this change of heart as it is now my favorite work in the cannon barring only Pride and Prejudice, which is not to be displaced from its place at the peak of my preference.  I am not sure I will ever read Persuasion and have only made it through a third of Emma, otherwise I have devoured the rest of Jane Austen's works and come to a much better understanding of this esteemed lady and her writings.  There is a wit and vivacity there that is easily glossed over by an overeager reader who just wants to get to the end of the story and misses all its merits thereby.  One cannot speed read either Austen or Shakespeare but must savor each morsel to come to a full appreciation of its contents.  Which is why I shall never finish Emma, as it would take the rest of my natural life to finish a volume so extensive and Persuasion, I am afraid would truly put me to sleep, if the movie is at all faithful to the book!

As for the original topic of my current nonsensical essay, it is a rather charming and comparatively quick read.  I am no fan of Gothic novels and have until now avoided it thinking it of the same genre, little realizing it to be a satire of such dismal works, not a member of their clan.  I love how Austen builds up anticipation as to the plight or anticipated plight of our heroine and then laughs at us when we realize there is no surreal suspense or horror in the story, only the flights of fancy of a young and ill-read imagination of the main character and the reader's own expectations, which are still quite real over a century after it was written.  She explains how unlikely a heroine is our heroine as she is not an orphan of unknown lineage, comes from a rather happy and comfortable family, and whose mother has not yet died in childbirth.  Overall, I really enjoyed it, though with the shortcomings of all satirical fiction, I wish there were more depth of character and a tad more plot, but such is the genre! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Can it be Jane Austen?

In my self-declared quest of conquering the Austenian epistles, I discovered a work called Lady Susan which rather surprised me!  The heroine or shall I say anti-heroine is a widowed woman in her middle thirties who takes pleasure solely in discomfiting others.  This is no timid Fanny, lively Elizabeth, sensible Eleanor, or gentle Jane, this is a woman altogether unknown in all things Austen.  Perhaps Jane Austen is not the author, perhaps it is something of the ilk of the 'did Shakespeare write Shakespeare controversy.'  But no, the style, the wit, the wording is all Austen's.  Strangely, though I abhor the sentiments of the leading character, she may be one of the best written of all Austen's leading ladies!  It is a quick and interesting foray into a different part of the Austen universe, not entirely devoid of the charm which her other novels evoke.  Whatever else it may be, it proves again that Jane Austen can understand human emotion, thought, and behavior and put it on paper far better than most with advanced degrees in psychology!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A form of parasitism?

I once took a pathology test that asked after 2 diseases that cause fatty liver in cats.  I could only remember diabetes and pregnancy as causes of the condition so put down the latter with a footnote that it could be considered by some as a form of parasitism.  The professor was not impressed and I lost the point and received nothing for creativity, and to make it worse, the correct answer was 'idiopathic' which is the scientific word for 'we haven't a clue.'  Ah, well!  Such is the mixed joy and torture of academia. 

Of course I was writing in jest at the time hoping to salvage a few points, new life should always be considered a blessing and a miracle, not some type of bane, disorder, or disease.  Though in recent decades it seems to be more and more of a 'life choice' rather than something that happens to most people, it has become a hobby or a past time enjoyed by those that relish such things but ignored by the rest of us; something like watching football or having a dog or skiing.  Modern pharmacology has given us a flexibility to enjoy the sexual act with very little risk of the usual consequences that have followed in its wake since time immemorial.  We get to choose when and if we have children, a choice which was never before as easily and widely available in recorded history.  We don't need to expose unwanted infants on hillsides as the Romans used to do or even go to the extreme of having a medically induced abortion, we need only take a pill and the risk of conceiving becomes nearly zero.  We can sleep with whomever we choose whenever we choose and need fear no diapers.

I saw an article in a major magazine perhaps a month back extolling the 'child free' lifestyle.  After reading it, my heart was near to breaking.  All the people they interviewed focused on the 'me' and the 'us' and the 'now.'  It was the most self-centered piece of writing I had ever read!  There was no thought of anything but the convenience of their own meager lives and wishes, no thought of other people or even their own futures.  All they cared about was today, tomorrow, and the day after that.  This is not to say that every person must be a parent or should or can have children or that there are not worthy causes beyond childbearing and rearing, but it is strange to see something that was considered normal only 30 years ago has now become something of a fad or even an extravagance in the eyes of some.

There are many societal, cultural, and individual things to consider when deciding to take the responsibility for another life, yet it has been done by most individuals throughout history so should not be too intimidating in its newness.  What is perhaps new is our society's determined individualism.  There is no higher good than the self and anything that detracts from the self is not good thus children must certainly be an evil or at least an inconvenience.  This is a miserable view to have of children, not to mention of life.  The world is only as big as you make it.  We can turn inward and have a very small world indeed (this I think is a foretaste of hell) or we can look outward, love others beyond the self and find a world incomprehensibly wonderful (which must be a glimpse of Heaven).  These are our choices, and it is not only our children that suffer but everyone and every thing when selfishness comes out the victor.  Look what happened to all of humanity and the entire creation when man decided that God did not really say he would die if he disobeyed, oops!

Another disturbing trend besides indifference or hostility towards 'the breeders' in the sphere of procreation is actually its opposite.  Of those that choose to have children, some are turning them into idols.  Especially those that want children but for one reason or another cannot have them, are very susceptible to the worship of children (or the want thereof).  Idolatry is not an acceptable form of parenting.  It is certainly not good for either you or your children.  Children should be neither neglected nor worshipped, but it seems we fall all too easily into one camp or the other.  Another side effect of family break down is we have few or no fit examples of how to parent both healthily and sanely.  We either want nothing to do with kids or have nothing but our kids, heaven help us in either extreme.

Besides for the obvious chaos that no children or overly spoiled children wreak upon a society, so too does it contribute to our own smallness of mind and soul.  I have learned that God uses both marriage and children to better shape us for the Kingdom and to force us to become the people that He intends us to be.  Starting a family is a wonderful crucible to shape character, perseverance, charity, patience, and ever kind of virtue.  What is more demanding of love, attention, and care and less immediately rewarding than a cranky toddler or colicky infant?  In caring for these dear little ones we are forced to do something for an 'other' without the balm of friendship or immediate gratitude or remuneration that we can expect in our more adult relationships and even to some extent with our pets.  There are certainly moments of wonder, joy, and bliss in the raising of such but these remembrances are far from living memory during a sleepless night or an hours long tantrum. 

By closing our hearts and lives to children, we are losing perhaps the greater part of what it means to be human, at least as God intended.  We can replace much of this loss by serving others selflessly in other ways, but simply having good friends will never fill the gap nor will treating your dog like a furry child.  Without the sacrifice we also miss the blessing.  So too do we lose out when our children become the object of our worship.  As dear as they are, they did not create you, did not die for you, did not make the stars or even one snowflake, and will never be able to fill the void in your soul which can be filled by no man, only God.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Escaping the meta-narrative?

I've always thought life is a story, and apparently I am not the only one.  Apparently even the atheists feel this overwhelming need for 'something more.'    Check out this interesting little blurb: http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/23303

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The least magical place on earth?

We returned to civilization last week to spend a little time with family and friends.  I have a friend who lives in a very suburban neighborhood with a rather odd situation.  One side of her house looks out on a street that is all beige houses with six square feet of immaculate lawn and stubby trees.  The other side looks over vast green hills covered in fields and a mysterious little wood.  I much enjoy the latter view than the former, but short of falling off the edge of her backyard, cannot thus explore the green view but must go forth into the wilds of suburbia to find adventure.  I was up early and had another long car ride that day so thought a little exercise might be good.  It was an odd scene, perhaps one never witnessed by these urban refugees, for it seemed either the hicks or the fairies had invaded, and we are not sure which.

The morning was hazy and barely begun yet promising to be another sweltering day.  Even the suburban wastes look lovely in that early golden light.  They were alone (except for the man mowing his immaculate lawn at a rather strange hour).  Two figures could be seen, one taller and one quite short and neither wearing shoes.  Were they human or fey?  In that witching hour of dawn it was hard to say.  The small one, perhaps a sort of pixie, seemed the one in charge, running hither and thither with the taller in resigned pursuit as a weary slave of its small master.  The dwarvish one darted back and forth, defying all the proper rules of suburban society and walking on other men's grass.  Did I mention they were unshod?  But as the day broadened, they vanished back into their fairy realm, unseen save by the man with the lawn mower.

Ok, I admit, it is a rather ridiculous way of describing a quick morning foray outside with a small child, but for a minute there it almost seemed sort of magical, which is amazing, for I never thought one could find magic in a subdivision where everything is predictable, patterned, and the same, but I was happy to be wrong!  There is magic in the world (even in suburbia) if we only know how to look for it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A triumph of the human spirit?

We bought a movie on DVD.  In most households this would not be all that momentous of news, but around here, it is a rather rare phenomenon (I must absolutely love a movie and be willing to watch it 8 times a year before I will purchase it).  On the back it was proclaimed as a 'triumph of the human spirit.'  That tag line sounded strangely familiar and then I remembered where I had heard, I had watched The Prince of Egypt recently and the back of the box said exactly the same thing.  The current movie in question is the recent release of Les Miserables, though the settings and stories could not be any more different, the themes are strangely similar and got me to wondering what all this 'human spirit' triumphalism was all about.  The basic theme at the root of both movies is God's redemptive power at work in troubled human lives, not some strange triumph of the human spirit (whatever that is supposed to mean).

I think I have discovered the one topic in modern culture that is anathema to be enthused about.  These are wonderful movies telling classic stories and beautifully done, yet we are embarrassed to talk about it.  We will talk about our most intimate bedroom details quite unabashedly or make a horribly violent and vulgar movie and proclaim it boldly from the housetops, yet we must not speak too loudly about a beautiful movie that mentions God, instead we celebrate a triumph of the human spirit.  It was interesting watching the 'making of,' as well, it seems even some of the producers/cast didn't really understand the full meaning of what they had done.  They talked about how Les Mis was an example of how oppressed people could find freedom and justice and popped up pictures of confederate soldiers from the American Civil War, people holding occupy Wall Street signs, and lauded the French Revolution.  The movie was splendidly done but it seems some of the makers have missed the whole point!  The student rebellion is merely a backdrop for the drama unfolding between the main characters, it is not a commentary on social revolution and by the way, all the would be patriots were slaughtered, the people did not rise up and revolt but locked their doors and cowered inside, while the story went on and showed how individuals, by God's grace, can be freed from the oppression of sin, evil, and injustice.  Nations come and go, but individuals last forever.  God saves souls, not nations.

A similar misconception is seen in the 'making of' of the Narnia series and The Prince of Egypt, but the movies portray a wonderful Christian message despite the confusion of their makers.  I suppose this is the modern variant of the parables of Jesus, people heard but did not wish to understand so invented their own meanings for what was said.  They expected the Messiah to come a King triumphant and to justify the self-righteous by putting them in places of power, rather He came with mercy, grace, and healing, upsetting the proud and powerful of the day but endearing Him to the poor and downtrodden.  So too, does God still offer healing and grace, yet many, like Javert, would rather throw themselves from the parapets than accept this terrible mercy.

Mark 4:10-12 ESV: "And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The strange obsessions of modern life

Last night I read about a new craze that has me a tad concerned, it is not the subject itself that is disturbing but rather those who pursue it with all 'their heart and soul and mind.'  I was rather fond of it myself back in the Eighties, but then a little girl of six or eight is one who should be enamored of My Little Ponies, not guys old enough to have daughters of their own of that age.  What could drive the American supposedly adult male to dress up as their favorite animated equine and travel hundreds of miles to attend a convention for such aficionados?  It is nothing new of course, but it is a rather odd turn in the long history of idolatry.  The secular humanists can boast all they want that men are derived from slime but I argue that this trend arises not from the genes we inherited from our algal ancestors but from the basic programming hardwired into our souls.

Men were made to worship something, to enjoy community and connection with other people, to have meaning, purpose, and direction in their lives, to have a past and a future, and to live forever.  Why else would we put so much time and energy into so strange a habit?  These individuals may think themselves obsessed with a children's TV program, but they are actually looking for connection, for meaning, for relevance, and for purpose.  The Ponies are just an excuse for community and I have yet to meet a slime mold that would bother to dress up as anything, let alone an equid of any sort, yet these supposedly more evolved creatures do so with relish and enthusiasm!  We all hunger after love, belonging, meaning, and community and it is becoming ever more scarce in modern society, thus are we driven to find new and stranger excuses to gather and have conversation.

The family has dissolved into a 'lifestyle choice,' cutting us off from our past and what historically served as our greatest source of support and community even when the whole world turned against us.  We dare not introduce ourselves to our neighbors or grow too close to coworkers lest they think us weird or turn out to be so themselves.  Religion has become a quaint affectation of the rustic and inept, thus have we turned from any and all gods save the worship of self.  The greatest good has become what is best for me, yet we pursue our own happiness and find it fleeting and vain.  We are miserable, alone, and purposeless!  Our souls cry out for companionship, understanding, meaning, and comfort yet science tells us we are mere accidents in a purposeless world with our only goal to survive as long as possible and pass on our genes.  No wonder depression is at a record high and we gather for the weirdest and most banal reasons!

There is an answer, there is a liquor to slake our deepest thirst.  The urge still remains though we try to fill the void with innumerable misguided keys that do not fit the lock or deny that it is there at all.  The thirst is not the problem, it is a quite natural and intentional part of our being, but rather it is the liquids we imbibe to quench it.  The thirst is natural yet we convince ourselves that any liquid will do when it only makes things worse, like drinking sea water to quench our physical thirst.  C. S. Lewis once wrote, "we castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful," and this is just such a case.  We deny we have a soul, thus emasculating our sense of anything beyond this mortal sphere, and then cry out in misery when nothing can sooth our broken hearts.  We will do anything and everything to fill this void except that which will actually fill it yet strangely nothing seems to work.  Repainting the wall will not fix the faulty wiring, you must strip away everything and look to the wires, their connections and attachments, and fix that which is frayed or worn.  We try to put a nice coat of paint on a deteriorating house and wonder why the property value remains low.  We must look at the roots of the problem and fix it at the source.

We were made for a purpose and we are wired to desire certain things, yet in our own seeming wisdom we have wandered away from that which we need after that which we think we want only to find ourselves lonely, aimless, and miserable.  Gathering with others for any reason may help soothe our need for community but it will not fill that annoyingly persistent void in our souls.  We were made first for communion with God and then with our fellow men.  Only therein can we be content. 

An excellent judge of character?

I love a good story and when someone with the right touch can bring that story to life on the silver screen, it can be a thrilling experience but if the wrong hands get a hold of that material, it can be tragic.  I love Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and was thrilled when both Lord of the Rings and Narnia came to the local theatre, and overall the recent renditions of the films were very well done though I was disappointed with the new version of Prince Caspian.  Why am I bringing this up ten years after the release of Lord of the Rings?  I am rereading the actual book and am reminded of the poor depiction given to one of my favorite characters.  I remember when the movies came out that I was very much impressed save for one character: Faramir.  In the book he is a noble, considerate personage, but in the movie they make him very nearly an impulsive, rough villain who only renounces the ring and its bearer after a close call, whereas he dares not even look upon it in the book and treats the hobbits with as much grace and hospitality as one can in the wilderness adjacent to the enemy's territory.  Much the same happens in Prince Caspian where the whole movie focuses on the 'heroes' fighting amongst themselves like petty children, which is never a feature of the actual book.  There is certainly doubt and fear, but there is never jealousy and bitterness.

I suppose I should not complain overmuch as the movies are actually fairly true to the books, but some of these characters become very nearly friends and it pains me to see them misconstrued before an audience that likely will never read the books and thus never know the characters behind those on the screen.  I suppose the same can be said for each of us, for others cannot read the book of our hearts and the people they see for brief moments each day may be nothing like the character that truly dwells within, thus we should be slow to judge others based on external features.  At least there is One who can read and know our hearts and love us for who we truly are rather than for what others take us to be!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On books and the world's ability to contain them

"Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." John 21:25 (ESV)

I have always loved this little snippet from the tail end of John's gospel, but a rather sacrilegious thought occurred to me as I read it anew this morning...what if this bit of scripture were applied to e-books?  We are in the midst of a phenomenon, previously any one wanting to get published must survive the passage of the gatekeepers of the major publishing companies which is a miraculous feat worthy of an epic poem in commemoration, but now anyone with a word processor and an Internet connection can get their book in print!  There are literally millions of new books virtually published each year and the number grows exponentially by the day.  Perhaps we have entered a day that the apostle never dreamed though I am sure he would be appalled that though we have the technology, the content is not as he would envision it.  He would see all the words and deeds of Jesus recorded yet we have a blinding plethora of topics and writing styles, so much so that one hardly knows where to begin in their search for 'a good read.'

There are pros and cons to this phenomenon as with all that happens under the sun.  Any aspiring author can now realize the dream of having their words in print but this also brings a torrent of poorly edited or written manuscripts to the public for consumption and they may well choke on the first bite and fear taking another. It also makes it much harder to find a good book amidst all the clutter of mediocre and poor books.  Though it also makes it possible to find a great author who otherwise might never have been published.  It is a brave new world in literature and if wise, bibliophiles may well grow drunk on this flood of literary potential, but ware lest we become sick from imbibing too many poor works.  But we can always take comfort in the fact that a book that has survived for hundreds (or even thousands) of years is likely well worth consuming.  John need never fear that his own words will be washed away in the flood of recent literary innovation for, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." Isaiah 40:8 (ESV).  The e-book universe may well be a tower of Babel, but at least there is still sense found in the classics if ever you weary of the Dionysian festival of modern and e-literature.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On believing in unicorns

There are the people who believe in unicorns and then there is everybody else.  I feel very sorry for the latter, for they have no hope, nothing to search for, no reason to 'be.'  There are no rainbows, fairies, or magic in their dull, grey world that goes on straight and unswerving to the drab horizon.  It is much like a modern novel in which all sense of plot, adventure, character, and virtue have died.  Of course I do not mean that one must literally believe in unicorns, but rather that one has dreams, hopes, an imagination, a sense of wonder and anticipation about the world about us, a certainty that anything might happen in this 'ordinary' world we take so much for granted.  This is the zest of living today and forever.  It is seeing a sunrise and wondering what miracles might happen today, what beauty lies in the hours to come, rather than ignoring the glaring rays as we gulp down our morning coffee and rush out the door to sit in traffic only to sit endlessly at a windowless desk and return home to sit in front of a loud and vulgar entertainment device before going to bed and starting all over on the morrow.  How can we be content to merely survive and plod on day in and day out, simply putting in our required time in this meaningless drudgery called life when deep down we long, 'to take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea?"

Our whole culture seems intent on stifling this native joy in living.  We have pills of every variety guaranteed to numb or cure any malady.  We have diversions galore to render our dreams pointless.  We have countless virtual friends to replace those demanding real ones.  If your 'real' life is drab, invent a whole new existence in the technosphere!  Don't like the spouse and kids?  Dump them and start all over...no problem, no guilt!  Feeling old?  We have a supplement or surgery for that!  It is all about how others perceive us and how we want to perceive ourselves rather than being what and who we really are.  All these diversions and quick fixes cannot cure purification of the soul, which is the real malady afflicting every member of the human race.

We have this idea that our bodies should live forever when it is in fact our souls that go on when our frail flesh gives out.  We do everything in our power to feel young, beautiful, popular, rich, powerful or whatever our mortal desires might be but we cannot fight against the inevitable march of time and decay.  We cannot find joy in the temporal but only in those things that last forever.  We must learn to cultivate and beautify our souls, to sow gardens that will bear fruit in a timeless morning.  We can ever be young at heart, to have young and beautiful souls rather than trying to patch up a slowly decaying body that must one day inevitably die.

Wanting to live forever is implanted in our souls (Ecclesiastes 3:11), it is as natural as breathing.  Wanting to live forever as a teenage super model is absolutely ridiculous.  God wants us to grow, to mature, to gain wisdom, and live justly with charity and kindness and patience.  These are the things that last forever, not fame, fortune, or power.  These are beauties that will never fade with age but grow more wondrous within time and beyond it.  But first we must remember that we have souls and that we do not merely exist as an accident of space and time.  We have a future, a purpose, a hope, a joy that knows no bounds, but we need to abandon all those worthless things the world deems of value but which block out access to true joy.  We need to start believing in unicorns again.  We need to live as if this life is not all there is.  Little children know the secret as does He who calls them to Himself.  As He calls each of us.  But will we listen or continue the dreadful plod. 

Luke 9:23-25 (ESV): And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Monday, August 5, 2013

On the edge of ruin with friendly books

"You do no know your danger, Théoden," interrupted Gandalf.  "These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and the remoter cousins to the ninth degree, if you encourage them with undue patience." J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers.

I was rereading a favorite story the other day and ran across this amusing little interlude.  The amusement comes because everyone has an aunt or a neighbor or a landlady or a coworker that answers to this description.  I discover such a one almost daily whenever I have to talk with someone on the phone at work.  It should only take a few minutes to get to the gist of the problem but it seems the life history and family tree and assorted personal crises must first be told (in triplicate) before we can get to the real question which is almost always completely unrelated to the ten minutes of autobiography I have just had to endure. 

I think that is why certain books feel more like old friends than a collection of words on paper, a good author is someone who can take the unfamiliar and exotic and make it seem like a chat over the backyard fence (do people still do that or has the text message destroyed this age old gossip method?).  I like certain works within the sci-fi/fantasy genre but am repelled by others and I think this 'familiarity' has a lot to do with it.  Just as I dread sitting down and watching certain movies or chatting with certain people, so too do I dislike books that don't at once make me feel 'at home' and 'involved.'  If a book is distant or arrogant or indifferent, just like people, it drives me away and ne'er the twain shall meet.  Draw me in, involve me, make me feel that I have known this book (or person) all my life, and I am yours!  Never trust a haughty book.  Only old friends and friendly books need linger long beside my hearth.