Exploring where life and story meet!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Abraham was asked to give up his son, the boy of promise of whom an entire nation was supposed to come.  God gave up 'His son, His only son' that an entire world might have life.  Jesus said those who have given up houses, land, siblings, parents, or children for His sake would receive a hundredfold in recompense.  The entire Old Testament is centered around the Temple and its rituals of sacrifice.  Everywhere within scripture it is hinted at, demonstrated, or said to be the cost of walking in 'the Way.' We are told to count the cost before beginning the journey, to neither look back nor take our hand from the plow, not to look back with longing like Lot's wife, but to step boldly ahead, though we cannot see beyond the next turning of the road.  We understand the concept of positive sacrifice: being willing to give up what we have, even our very lives, but what of a negative sacrifice?  Can I give up what I don't have but what I deeply long for or desire?

Can you let go of the job you want, to go, like Abraham, to a strange land and do there some work you had never imagined?  Can you reconcile yourself to the fact that you may never marry or if you do, perhaps the children you've always wanted will never come?  Can you live without 'the house,' 'the car,' or the 'degree' or whatever it is you think you need but suddenly realize is incompatible with what God is asking you to do for Him?  Can you put your dreams on the altar ride beside your physical possessions?

It is a hard thing, perhaps an impossible thing, for we are dreamers and hopers, and to say that all we hope for must be laid on the altar opens us up to something like despair, for is it not the death of all hope?  But perhaps, like Abraham, we will receive back our sacrifice with joy, or perhaps not, but it is not despair, for it is not the death of all dreams, but rather the end of your dreams and the beginning of His.  We are made in His image, so we dream, but whereas our dreams are only dreams, His are Real!  We lay down our dross and take up His gold, what could be more wonderful than that?  But have we the courage to do it?  Can you be content to say, 'not my will but Thine be done?'

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A reproach among men?

'After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:24-25 (ESV))'

I came across these verses the other day in the narrative of the birth of John the Baptist and though I might have read them a hundred times, I never really stopped to consider their meaning.  They are of little significance in the annals of Christian theology, but as they are recorded in scripture, they are not without some value or meaning, thus I can mull over them at my leisure and perhaps write a thesis upon this brief passage when the chance presents itself.  The back story is that the parents of John the Baptist are rather old when an angel tells Zechariah that his elderly, barren wife will soon have a son.  This is the only glimpse we get of that miraculous conception and the expectant mother's reaction to it.  This isn't a new theme in scripture, but it is one of the few places we actually see how the lady takes the news.  And her response is rather puzzling to modern sensibilities.  Instead of getting immediately on social media (whatever the historical equivalent) and bragging about it to all and sundry, she literally withdraws from the public eye and keeps the news to herself until there is absolutely no hope of hiding it from the world at large.

Does she want to, like her cousin Mary, 'ponder all these things in her heart?'  Has she suffered enough under the bitter tongues and insinuating comments of her neighbors and relatives for her barrenness (quite a scandal in those days) that she is reluctant to bear their scorn and doubt until it is quite obvious that she isn't making it all up just to get attention?  Does she hardly believe it herself and wants to be sure?  Does she want to spend time alone praising God for His grace?  Does she want to settle her own thoughts, surprise, shock, and joy before dealing with the world's reaction?  I think it is some combination of all of these, especially the first two, which speak eloquently to her character, for how many of us would be out bemoaning our barrenness on social media or bragging in triumph the moment we saw that pink line on the pregnancy test (I'm intentionally putting her situation in a modern context)?

She was quiet, reserved, obviously thankful, humble, and I think overjoyed, but it was not a joy she could share just yet with just anybody.  I even get the sense that she gets quite a kick out of mystifying her neighbors, later in the passage, when the baby is born and they are discussing what to call him, she insists on John and everybody complains that nobody in their family is named that, where on earth did she come up with that?  How amusing to watch the neighbors struggling not only with the miraculous conception but then to not know for five months and then name the child something so utterly ridiculous (in their thinking)!  How hilarious to her own dear heart to think of their previous reproaches of herself and the utter astonishment with which they must accept her coming announcement and eat their cruel words!  Most of the commentary writers are men and they deal well with all the lofty issues of scripture and theology, but in this instance, I think it quite necessary to be a woman and have a woman's heart and insight, and perhaps even one with her own struggles with infertility, to truly understand Elizabeth's reaction.  And the more I ponder it, the more amused I become and the more gustily I can say, 'you go girl!'

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Of mice and men

'Mansfield Park' is probably one of Jane Austen's least popular novels, and its heroine Fanny Price, probably her most bemoaned leading lady.  Everyone loves Elizabeth's wit and vivacity, Emma's misguided determination, Eleanor's sense and practicality, the long-suffering ever faithful heroine of 'Persuasion' (I can't remember her name at the moment), and we can even laugh at the gullibility of that bit of fluff that stars in 'Northanger Abbey,' but what is to be commended in the terrified, shrinking heroine of 'Mansfield Park,' at least in this day and age of the independent, strong woman?  Elizabeth is certainly my favorite, but strangely, I rather like the unassuming Miss Price and find the whole tale a peculiarly timely commentary on our own day and age, especially its supposedly enlightened morals, but then human foibles and follies haven't changed much in the last ten thousand years, so why should a mere 200 make a difference?

Our modern 'do whatever you like, be whatever makes you happy' culture is personified to perfection by the Crawfords, a brother and sister of no common wit, vivacity, manners, personal beauty, and material possession that immediately attract the adoration and envy of those about them but whose guiding compass is solely their own thirst for attention and approval.  Fanny, embodying the mythologized prudishnesses of the Victorian Age and the Puritans combined, enters the scene as little more than a mouse, a shrinking shadow, a prim little wren hidden amongst the gaudy splendor of peacocks.  She is overlooked and underrated, by Austen's readers as well as by her fellow characters.  For all of her timidity she has a passionate heart, and though she says little, she is a very sensible creature indeed.  She is not vulgar or rude or loud, but rather quiet, gentle, considerate of others, and humble to the point of ignorance as to her own value.  As the whole world collapses around her, her quiet strength at last is revealed to others amidst the folly of their own mistakes while she feels more keenly for their own moral failure than they do for themselves.

'Mansfield Park,' is a lovely fable of what happens when the modern world abandons those things that truly make civilization civil, but it is also an interesting case study of the inner life and struggles of a sensitive child raised with emotional abuse, maltreatment, and neglect.  What would Fanny have been without the bullying and repression of Mrs. Norris?  I very much believe she could have been a character to rival Elizabeth Bennet, perhaps a livelier version of Jane?  Perhaps that is why nobody likes Fanny: they see her only as a quiet, timid thing with no color or personality or energy, save deep within the confines of her soul, wherein no one, sometimes not even herself, is aware of it?  But there is fire there, a glowing ember deep beneath the cold and soggy coals, a passionate heart that thinks itself nothing but wet ash.  Perhaps that is why I like Miss Price: her story is mine.  Of all the Austen heroines, her life is the harshest, the saddest, the most miserable, and in light of this, she is perhaps the strongest, the most surprising of the set, for she shines despite the ambient gloom that is her life.  When she has a chance to secure a fortune and social prominence, she declines, she who has nothing, who sometimes feels she is nothing, because she will not embrace the hedonistic siren song of her suitor though all about her think her mad, until he proves his spectacular want of character and sets their world afire, wherein Fanny's rather good sense is obvious to all.

Due to my own peculiar history and personality, I can very much sympathize with poor Fanny, but I suppose it is a very good thing that most of the world cannot, for I hope that means they have not lived as wretchedly themselves.  Of all Austen's tales, this one is probably the hardest for modern sensibilities to understand and therefore enjoy, for we have not the introspection or patience to care much for personal character in this day and age, which has produced far too many Crawfords and Wickhams and the havoc attendant thereunto, more's the pity!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I can't say it better!

I couldn't say it better, so I won't waste words.  This is what this blog is all about.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

On the stories we love and writing our own

Why do we love the stories (books/movies/TV shows/whatever) that we do?  I have read things that everybody else loves or thinks is the greatest book ever written and I just can't get into it, while there are books I love that nobody else has ever heard of or put down after the first five pages, and I have to admit, a few of my favorite books are written for very young children, and as I never read them as a child, it is not simply nostalgia on my part.  What is it that attracts our particular regard to a certain story?  Is it as the psalmist has it, 'deep crying out to deep?'  Is there something in a particular story that speaks to us but not to the world in general?  Is it because I have 'eyes to see and ears to hear' in a particular tale that others are lacking (and that I lack when it comes to their favorites)?  Is that why Jesus spoke in parables?

Good questions, all, and none easy to answer, except perhaps for myself, for I can know no other heart or mind so well.  I look at my favorites and see common themes: love, adventure, hope, struggle against some appalling evil, characters that grow and struggle and sometimes fail, a plot that keeps you guessing how it will end, a world as deep and beautiful and mysterious as our own, and eventually, a happy ending.  There is also a longing or search for home and oftentimes a courageous, gentle, faithful heroine.  Then I look at my own life, my own personality, and see that in those stories I find things I never had but always wanted or hope to attain or the traits I long for in a friend or sister.  Sometimes I wish I could befriend those fictional ladies, but alas, they exist only within the pages of their particular tome and I only know them as deeply as the author has revealed.

G.K. Chesterton once remarked that it is easier to love fictional characters than the real thing, and I believe he is right.  For we do not have to live with and interact with our fictional friends, but rather can put the book on the shelf when we tire of them.  But we live in a world filled with countless 'characters,' each with their own story, and we cannot just close the book when we tire of them but must learn to live peaceably with them, as they must with us.  Which makes me wonder what my own story will be like once it is fully writ, will my own novel be something I would wish to pick up and read again, as I reread my favorite books or will I look at it in disgust and throw it on the fire?  That's a humbling thought indeed!  Perhaps the world would be a far better place if we remembered we are each writing our own story and one day will have to review it: are we living so that it is a tale worth retelling?