Exploring where life and story meet!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Wisdom in Silence

I've been reading the book of Job lately and I can only scratch my head in wonder at the marvelous timelessness of its message.  We moderns pride ourselves on our scientific and technological advances, but the human heart hasn't changed all that much since the dawn of time.  With all of our so-called wisdom, I still find that these ancient books are still relevant today.  Ecclesiastes explores the meaning of life.  The Psalms records despair, hope, joy, triumph, faith, anger and most of the feelings peculiar to a human soul.  Proverbs has more wisdom than most can acquire in a lifetime.  Song of Songs explores romantic love.  But in my present season of life, I find that I relate best to Job.

Job's struggle to reconcile suffering with a good and loving God is something to which most people can relate.  His friends' complete inability to comprehend his predicament, and their insulting assumption that some secret sin is the root of all his present evils and that everything would suddenly be all right if only he'd admit it, is a frustration many a grieving heart has known all too well.  Not that our nearest and dearest, well meaning though they be, necessarily accuse us of secret sins but rather the things people say (or don't) when we are struck by some grievous tragedy can drive you to distraction.  At the end of the book, God appears and chews out Job's arrogant friends, telling them they haven't a clue what they are talking about, and as Job formerly stated, 'it would be wisdom for you to remain silent.'

We don't have all the answers, the pain is not going to go away just by thinking it should, there is not necessarily a reason for things, it isn't necessarily 'better' this way…you know all the platitudes and one-liners people say at funerals, when you are having health issues or lose your job or…whatever.  Job's friends sat with him in silence for a whole week, it was only when they opened their mouths that they got into trouble and made their friend's misery worse.  Mortals donning the cloak of omniscience is a great way to inflict more pain on those you intend to help and make yourself look foolish in the process.  Yes, you probably mean well, but often, if you don't have all the answers, and in a tragedy you don't, just let the person know you are there for them.  Don't get philosophical and muse on meaning or what good might come of it or why it's better like that, just let them grieve as they must.  Time is the only thing that will ease their grief and perhaps answer the what ifs.

Job does however give us this comfort: despite what happens to us, despite how others make us feel, God sees our suffering, He has suffered Himself, He knows what it is to hurt, to ache, to be tired, to die, to be alone, to be human.  And He has promised that in the End, everything will be better than Okay.  That doesn't mean whatever went wrong will suddenly be right or that bad things won't happen, but rather we are not alone, we are not misunderstood, He has seen the end and knows all through which we must muddle.  Suffering and sorrow are a part of our broken world, but we need not suffer alone.  Job cried out for a Redeemer in the midst of his grief, and some thousands of years later, He came.    And when He comes again, the story will finally make sense and all the tragedy and grief with which this world is fraught will not even be a memory.  So amid your tears and pain, hold fast to that thought, no matter how dark the night, we have been promised Joy in the morning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The blogger awakens: a review of the movie everyone on the planet has finally seen.

I can finally review the new Star Wars movie, and yes, I am officially the last person on the planet to see it so I can include spoilers, not that anyone actually reads this blog, but you've been warned!  Three weeks ago I read an article that stated 'as there are only 3 people who have not yet see this movie…'  I was thrilled to be mentioned in an article!  I live somewhere between Jakku and Hoth so it takes a bit for movies to make it to the local one screen cineplex, but it still costs less than a direct flight to either (unlike the big city theaters) so it is worth the wait to go.  Overall, this was a strange experience for me, it may be the first movie in history that I emerged from without knowing my own mind on whether I liked it or not.  It wasn't like the Hobbit (any of them) from which I emerged in shock, scandalized and disappointed, but rather it felt much like deja vu.

Now I am a geek through and through, except I don't know elvish or klingon, but then my latin and spanish are also rather dismal; languages just aren't my thing.  I have been known to skip class to go to a premiere and even dress up for a showing.  I've even read the books (yes, there are a plethora of Star Wars books, though most of them are now non-canonical).  So it was a little weird sitting in the theater for the 7th Star Wars installment and feeling like I was in an alternate universe where things were familiar yet utterly strange.  It was a similar feeling when they hit the reset button on Star Trek.  I was completely lost as to the socio-political situation in the galaxy since the battle of Endor.  They blew up a planet, I think it might have been the Republic capital but I'm not sure, they spent more time on the masked man's temper tantrums than they did on that minor detail.  I'll need to watch it about 6 more times with the subtitles on to make sure I get all the dialogue before I understand, if it is even comprehensible.

From what I can discern, there is a recognized galactic government but for some reason Leia's off running a new rebellion type outfit while there's also an empire in exile run by Gollum who has learned english but he only makes appearances as a giant hologram.  The villain from Star Trek: Nemesis (my least favorite Star Trek movie), along with far too much of the plot, makes a reappearance as Han and Leia's estranged and murderous son, who is into Emo, throws temper tantrums, and is a Darth Vader wanna be, complete with shrine at which he bows in worship on occasion.  He's probably the worst villain (not in a good way) I've ever seen in a fictional presentation, though he does bear a striking resemblance to his teenage grandfather in the prequels (we won't mention those again) with his whiny, self-centered attitude.  I actually miss Chancellor Palpatine and the elder Darth Vader; Darth Maul was pretty cool until he spoke.  I won't even mention how ridiculous it is to have a light saber with mini lasers in place of the traditional (not for a light saber) guard.

I did love the new trio of characters, but the kids hardly got to know one another.  Has the pilot even met the girl?  And what's with killing off Han Solo and immediately filling his pilot's chair with the girl, as if he's just been outsourced?  But then she also needs to be Luke too, and there's certainly a bit of Leia too: she's the whole gang wrapped into one!  I really like the new Yoda (that cat lady) and Chewbacca is always fun.  Why does every Star Trek or Star Wars movie need a planet destroying weapon, especially when it was almost a subplot here?  Luke's off filming Castaway II so we don't see much of him and why are we ending the movie exactly where we left off in The Empire Strikes Back?  I am ecstatic that the quirky humor, snarky comments, camaraderie, and great one liners of the original trilogy are back, but this film still manages to take itself too seriously at times, which was the greatest failing of the prequels, that and the stiff acting, which is only a problem with a few characters here (mostly among the Empire Wanna-bes, but that's how they are supposed to be so no problem there).  I love that smuggler dude with the Scottish accent (see, I knew there had to be a Scotland in the galaxy far far away), he should have been the villain, not that guy from Nemesis.

I'll decide whether I like it after I've seen it a few times and figure out what is actually happening, perhaps the sequels will improve matters as well, but at least I was not disappointed (except with the villains).  How can you have an awesome series without great villains?  But then we just got spoiled with the original Vader.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Trusting an end you cannot see

Faith has been called a crutch for the weak, a coping mechanism for those not strong enough to deal with reality by those that have no idea what it is they are talking about, as if the believer is just someone who ignores the cruelties and sorrows of this present age, blithely saying it is not so, it cannot be so because they 'believe,' and pretending life is all sunshine and roses somehow makes it so.  That isn't faith, it is either ignorance or an intentional perversion of reality bordering on neurosis.

Today I sit here, feeling as if I'm between the proverbial rock and a hard place: one an abusive past that erased any sense of family or childish innocence, and the other the inability to produce a family of my own, at least in a traditional sense.  Worse, there are no comforters, no people in whom I can confide, that would understand without making senseless and often painful remarks because I suffer from two of the last social taboos.  'Mothers do not abuse their children, what are you smoking?'  'And infertility is no big deal, and even if it were, no one wants to hear about it, it might make them uncomfortable.'

So I sit here with my faith amidst my pain wondering where all that sunshine and those roses promised by the scoffers might be.  My faith doesn't tell me that we'll be adopting anytime soon or ever.  My faith doesn't say my emotional state will ever be normal and healthy, whatever that is.  It doesn't bring back my lost childhood; it won't mend a shattered family; it won't fill the empty crib.  So what is the use?  Why hang on?  What does it do?

It tells me there is sense beyond the illogicities of this present age, justice beyond all injustice, peace beyond all chaos, hope beyond despair, that light defeats the darkness, that there is purpose and meaning in this world, that there is joy beyond all the tears, rest beyond all the toil, that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I go not alone, and that though I sit and cry, neither is my sorrow unseen.  There are no easy answers, there are no simple explanations, but whatever betide, therein can I rest secure.  All of my todays might not be happy or blessed, there will come fog and rain and snow, but Tomorrow will be far better than okay.  Even amidst the disappointment and sorrow, healing will come, comfort is there, even be it more slowly than or in ways that I had not anticipated.  That is faith.  It is not simple.  It is not easy.  Nor is it for the faint of heart, for it is not a thing that is idle or passive, rather daily we are told to 'take up our cross and follow Me,' to intentionally pick up the implement of our own death and torture and walk a road whose end we do not know, but we do so in knowing the End is but the Beginning of things too marvelous for mortal minds to even begin to ponder.

G.K. Chesterton once said, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."  It is a complete surrender of all I think I am, all I think I want to be, but in losing what I think I want, I gain and become everything I should be, which is a better thing by far, and certainly very different than simply donning a pair of rose-tinted blinders.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Songs ancient and modern

There are innumerable gods littering the cultural landscape of the world's various people groups, cluttering up their mythologies, and adorning their crumbled architecture.  There have been countless prophets, cult leaders, and men who have either proclaimed the words of their god or even dared declare themselves a god.  But of all these men and gods, none have been both, save one.  And this One did not live as a King among men, drawing thronging crowds to both adore him and dreading his every whim, but rather: 'Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.'  Only to die a gruesome death a week later at the hands of those he had come to save.  And that was the end of the story, or so they all thought.  But the Prophet Isaiah spoke of these things many long years before His coming.  He would be rejected by men, He would be crushed and destroyed, but through His suffering, the sins and sorrows of many would be relieved, nor would the grave hold Him long, for He would rise triumphant:

"He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors."
~Isaiah 53~

It is the mystery of this suffering God that intrigues me, for of all the gods that have ever been contrived, of all the great men that have ever lived, none have willingly departed from the paths of glory, riches, and fame, to live ignominiously among the poorest of men only to die gruesomely on their behalf.  Modern men declare there is no god, for theirs must give them what they want, exactly when they want it, to allow no strife or suffering or evil to trespass upon their person or property or he is no true god.  But such were the thoughts of ancient men as well as modern (see the commentary of Job's friends in the book of the same name, who vehemently declare that the innocent do not suffer therefore Job cannot be innocent).  But such a simple manifestation of God does not work in our complex and broken world, rather it is only a thin veil concealing a deeper truth, a weak excuse so that men need not worship Him, but would rather be his own god.  So the serpent spoke long ago, 'ye can be gods.'  And so we are and behold the world of our own creation.

But there is an answer, it is not simple, a mortal mind can hardly wrap itself around such a glorious truth.  And when my heart is heavy, when grief sits beside me and will not depart, there is One to whom I can turn, One who understands, who bore far worse Himself.  For I bear the sins and griefs of one person, He bore the iniquity of us all.  I love the words of a modern prophet, as comforting and strange as those of Isaiah's ancient words:

"How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts no pow’r no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom."
~'How Deep the Father's Love for Us,'~
~Stuart Townend~