Exploring where life and story meet!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

To number our days...

As a kid watching the six hour version of 'Pride and Prejudice,' I used to think it very tedious, when were they going to get to the good part?  Why must we linger on forever waiting for the fate of the Bennett girls to be decided?  Not that I viewed my childhood much differently, when are we going to get to 'the good part?'  Then it was on to college and I couldn't wait for graduation, grad school, career…'the good part.'  Then you get old and realize you aren't going to be young again, that all that impatience was rather uncalled for, because now you will spend all your fading days longing for your youth, or at least that is the modern fad amongst Westerners.  We are never happy with what we have but always anxious for that to come or pining for that which is lost.  This is a delightfully horrid scheme to steal our joy and it is quite effective with the modern mind, this permanent state of discontent.

There is nothing wrong with being excited about what is to come, but if it costs us our joy in the present, it becomes that old fashioned sin of covetousness: envy, jealousy, discontent which force us to dwell in bitterness and misery all our days when we should be enjoying our youth or college days or whatever is currently before us.  We cannot alter the past nor hurry the future, rather we can only decide how to live Today and therein we must be content or forever be discontent, having found the limits of our mortality.  Will we sit by the wall of our finitude and sulk, or make what we can of the time we are granted?  Are we determined to be unhappy until we are parents, get married, have a certain car, own a house, graduate from college…whatever it is?  But that will not make us happy, it may be exciting for a week or a day, but the shiny newness will soon wear away and we will be stuck pining for something else, never satisfied and life will soon pass us by.  Rather we must decide to find joy Today, rather than waiting for some distant 'what if' and should that 'what if' come, we'll be all the happier on that day.

There is a story in the book of Acts that ends with the intriguing phrase: 'and he went his way rejoicing.'  The fellow involved had just had his erstwhile companion literally spirited away and was left all to himself along a dusty stretch of road; he was all excited about what he had just heard, literally knew next to nothing about it, and his only source of information was suddenly gone, but instead of sulking or getting angry or annoyed or wondering when next he could learn more of this matter, he picked himself up and 'went his way rejoicing,' trusting the answers would come, but for the moment so excited about life and his part in it that he had no time to worry about the details.  I want to live like that!

As an exercise in 'practicing Joy,' I have decided to live life as an expectant mother.  I missed out on such an idea with our first adoption, so busy with work, stress, life, etc. that I had no time to for happy anticipation, let alone enjoying the wait (who enjoys waiting?), besides, what if it never happens? What if it never happens?  I still have the joy of my anticipation (or the stress and dismay of thinking the day would never come), regardless of the outcome.  I am a bit jealous of pregnant women who know the approximate day and likely the sex/number of her child(ren) and can tell a stranger on the street without too much trouble, it is a bit more complicated with adoption.  Your child could come tomorrow or five years from next Thursday or never; it could all fall apart at the last minute, you never know, but rather than dreading what may or may not happen, this time around I will wait with hope and joy, rather than doubt and fear, and if it never happens, at least I have not wasted the intervening days.  Life is too short to live ever in the shadow of dread and fear and discontent.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The not so new family

'And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.'  (Matthew 19:3-11 ESV)

I always found this conversation between Jesus, the Pharisees, and his disciples rather interesting and the disciples' reaction a little humorous.  We moderns like to think we've cornered the market on 'progressive thinking' and 'human liberation,' namely in restructuring traditional social norms to suit our own needs, but as this passage testifies, such thinking has been in vogue for at least the last 2000 years, and as implied by reference to Moses and the Pharisaical law, it has been far longer than that, probably since the very beginning, since human nature has not changed, only our technology.  We think we know better than God and therefore feel free to do things exactly opposite to that which He intended and thus must endure the consequences.  Ever since the only rule was 'don't eat that particular fruit,' we've somehow managed to screw it up and our lives and all creation with it.  And we keep on making the same mistakes, like headstrong toddlers that just don't understand why their parents are so 'mean.'

I grew up in the 90's (yes, I am that old) and divorce was an accepted part of the culture; my own family of origin was quite eager to undertake this social experiment and I can't say the results were good ones, especially for the children.  I had no concept of what a happy marriage was, I assumed it was just another living arrangement and as good as any other (or so my health textbooks and self-esteem classes assured me and as this enlightened woman certainly proclaims).  I was an idiot.  And when I finally got married and started a family, I found out how utterly wrong our current understanding of marriage and family is and how much hurt, grief, and hidden pain yet writhed unknown in my own heart and soul.  Watching my own son and his father, interacting with my husband, has proved to me time and again that God's plans are the best.  Kids need a mom and a dad, yes they can survive with only one parent or step-parents or joint custody or two mommies or being raised by their grandparents or living with their mother's fifth boyfriend who is not their father, but they do not thrive, as the studies show again and again.

But it is insensitive, nay hateful, to say such things for we might make the parents feel bad!  Yet the children must suffer in silence so that their parents may pretend that everything is okay?  This is stupid and downright harmful to the kids involved.  They should be allowed to mourn, to grieve, to know it is okay to hurt and ask questions.  If all this nonsense about all families being equal is true, why am I still grieving over something that happened 20 years ago?  Yes, there are tragic and unavoidable circumstances in this life, and it is not to this that I am speaking, rather it is to those that willingly divorce rather that sticking it out during a rough stretch or those that never bother to marry at all.  Our kids are suffering and they don't know why and we won't talk about it because it is awkward.  They are the ones that must bear the consequences for our stupid and selfish decisions, they should at least have the right to deal with their feelings and pain rather than pretending that everything is okay when we know full well it is not.  There is no easy fix to the mess that is modern society, especially for our hurting little ones, but pretending everything is okay only makes it worse.  Life will never be ideal in this messy, broken world we inherited but pretending brokenness is perfection can only lead to more pain and suffering, rather let us deal with the reality that we are broken, messed up, and far from perfect, thus may the healing begin.  Let us deal with these feelings rather than bury them under a wan, fake smile and then pass this mess on to another unwitting generation.

We've had two recent deaths in our community, one a young husband and father, the other a dear older woman with great grandchildren.  As I sat through the family services and funerals, all I could do was wonder at the people that came forward to say what these people meant to their lives and grieve that I would forever miss out on that for my own part, but perhaps it is not too late for my own children.  I am alone, I will not be able to stand up at either of my parent's funerals to say what a wonderful influence they were on my life and on the lives of my children and their children after them, rather I must sit quietly and refrain from speaking of how their selfish actions broke my childish heart and forever left me adrift in an indifferent world, but for the grace of God, I would still be alone and miserable and not know why, but at last I can grieve and begin to heal and see that the 'sins of the fathers' do not pass on to the third and fourth generation.  I can break the cycle and pass on to my children and grandchildren a legacy of love and joy, rather than sorrow and shame.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Life at a distance?

This quote has been on my mind of late:

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.” C.S. Lewis The Four Loves.

It defined my life for many years and I did not even know it.  Lately I've felt Someone chipping away at the tomb in which my heart lies, and it is not a pleasant process, but I would not trade one tear for the oblivious, uncaring life I once knew.  For at last I am alive, if a broken shattered mess, I have a heart at last.  How many of us live in such a state, nay rather merely exist: drifting from one day to another, oblivious of the pain, sorrow, and hurt experienced by our fellow men, caring only about our clothes or music or food or latest social media status and thinking ourselves happy?  It is a strange thing, Joy, it can be found amid the dust and ashes of sorrow but never in the fickle, oblivious world that is modern culture.  For to have joy, one must know love and to know love, one must risk sorrow.  Our society hates pain of any kind be it emotional, spiritual, or physical, and finding ways to avoid or ameliorate it has become our national past time, hence the growth of vapid entertainment, prescription drug use, and uncommitted relationships.  But in hiding from pain, we also hide from life.

Life is messy and painful and to be fully lived we must embrace both, else we are just passive observers watching someone else's existence on TV though it is our own.  We all want to be happy but no one wants to risk getting hurt, but then we wonder why we can't be happy.  You can't have joy without the risk of sorrow, at least not on this mortal earth.  We need to get out hands dirty, risk getting our hearts stepped on, and actually live, otherwise what is the point?  Go find joy!

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Wrinkle in the Writing

I had the recent opportunity to spend thirteen hours in the car by myself driving across lands inhabited solely by wind so I checked a few audio books out from the library to spare my sanity.  I only made it halfway through The Hobbit before getting so annoyed, bored, and distracted that I had to switch it out (for some reason I can't ever fall in love with that particular book), but Pride and Prejudice got me through half of my trip quite enjoyably.  This left only A Wrinkle in Time to complete the journey, a work I had been forever intending to read but had never quite gotten around to.  It was a rather strange experience.  I knew little of the work and less of the author before I dove in, but it is not a book I can say I either loathed or loved, for there were parts that both delighted and annoyed me.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 'geekier' aspects relating to traversing time and space, physics, and all that.  The three odd ladies were a hoot.  Some of the writing was quite picturesque, beautiful, and even haunting at times.  It is always fun to be challenged to think in a completely different perspective (how do you describe sight to a race that cannot see?).  It was wonderful to see a loving family dynamic for once (why does every fairy tale revolve around orphans and outcasts?), especially in an age when fathers are disposable.

I know this is a series, so perhaps the lack of character development, the sudden, unfulfilling ending, and all the dangling questions about this particular universe are rectified in the latter books so I will not dwell thereupon.  The strangest thing was that I felt I had read it before, but the first exposure had been far better.  It minded me very much of the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis.  While the idea of children traveling about the cosmos might be more relatable than a middle-aged English professor of philology, in all other aspects, I must say I prefer Lewis to L'Engle.  Her 'dark planet' was very much what Lewis describes as the ultimate goal of the N.I.C.E. in That Hideous Strength.  Which begs the question: why is the triumph of evil ultimately viewed as resulting in an immense bureaucracy by so many?  I can't help but agree, but it is fascinating!

The thing that really bugged me was her undeveloped theology.  I am happy reading a book without underlying religious overtones, but if you put them in, you had best know what you are talking about or it destroys the whole thing.  I had to come home and look up her particular religious views and discovered she was a universalist, which pretty much explains why her theology was driving me batty: she doesn't have one!  Now both George McDonald and C.S. Lewis are universalists to a certain degree and I won't argue that here, but both, particularly Lewis, also cling to a well-developed Christian theology, even if they don't quite agree that 'the lost' are eternally lost.  They don't lump Jesus in with Leonardo Da Vinci and Buddha.  The difference is that L'Engle seems to be of the universalist school that says anything and everything is true and good and lovely (and therefore nothing is) while McDonald and Lewis at least assert the authority of the scriptures and leave the sorting out of the fate of the 'lost' to a greater authority rather than saying that anything and everything can and must be true.

I can't get past the incongruity of such sentiments, for it completely destroys the credibility upon which the story is based.  She continually quotes scripture, even from the gospel of John (a light shines in the darkness…) but in the same paragraph goes on to equate Jesus with any 'do-gooder' in earth's history even when He proclaims to be the 'way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by Me,' in the same gospel.  God is mentioned many times, but where is He?  Scripture is quoted, but so is Shakespeare, Cervantes, etc. and God seems to be just as present as The Bard: not at all.  If you are going to be boldly asserting scripture, I would hope you would also assume it to the The Truth it proclaims itself to be rather than a truth.  Deem it a lie if you will, but do not insult our intelligence by treating it as something it is not.  Citing Lewis once more: if Jesus did not tell the truth of Himself then He is either a monster or a madman; He cannot simply be a 'good man,' (see Mere Christianity).  Either He is God or the worst sort of liar or a deluded fool.  This incongruity ruined the whole book for me.

It is something like this quote from Pride and Prejudice: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”  This is often used by bibliophiles in support of their own interests, but if taken in context, one would realize it is a facetious statement made by Caroline Bingley solely in hopes of gaining Mr. Darcy's attention, for she is in truth no great reader or lover of literature but knows he is.  It is the same with the view of the Scriptures that says, 'if I like a particular sentence or passage, I need not consider what it says as a whole,' which makes God out to be a liar and the perpetrator out to be a fool.  Accept it at face value or abandon it fully, do not cut and paste to your own liking!

Had the author left out the inanities of universalism, I believe I would have enjoyed the book far more, but as the foundations upon which its asserted truth were based were very shaky, the work as a whole collapsed for me.  I will not be finishing the series nor can I recommend it to others, rather read The Space Trilogy and you will be far more satisfied.