Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We're all orphans

Here's an excellent article about adoption, love, and the Trinity, it's a good read for anyone who has ever been human!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Of corn, lobsters, and the end of the world

Has anybody else been disappointed that the looming apocalypse has not yet materialized?  Between Y2K, Bird Flu, SARS, acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer, two headed frogs, global warming, and a hundred other scenarios, I would have thought the world would have imploded, exploded, or otherwise gloriously disintegrated by this point.  I'm getting a little tired of apathetic doomsday scenarios, if you are going to say the world is going to end for whatever reason, it would be nice if you were actually right.  Two fairy tales come to mind: Chicken Little (who thought the sky was actually falling) and the Boy Who Cried Wolf (and got eaten when a real wolf showed up).  The Emperor's New Clothes wouldn't be out of place here either, but where's the kid to holler that the Emperor is naked?  All we have is scientists and activists and alarmists nodding gravely and pointing fingers about who is to blame, with no one saying that the last 374 predictions have all come to naught, why should we believe the latest one?

My favorite example involves whales.  Exhibit A is Star Trek IV (yes, that cheesy '80's movie).  Exhibit B is two trips on an east coast whale watching cruise roughly 10 years apart.  So we have 1987, 2007, and 2017 represented along with Humpback Whales, what could be better?  In the movie (my favorite) aliens from the future are inadvertently destroying the planet because the extinct whales won't return their calls and Kirk and crew must go back to 1987 and bring back a whale to 'tell the probe what to go do with itself.'  My two whale watches both involved an onboard naturalist (a college intern majoring in some -ology) who on the first trip assured us that midwestern crop farmers were responsible for the despicable shape of the oceans, while on the trip a decade later it was actually lobster fishermen who were responsible for most cetacean-type woes.  At least Star Trek blamed it on some actual whalers.  So there you have it, three theories on why the whales, and probably everything else is going to die; personally I prefer the Star Trek version, at least the movie had plenty of funny parts.  These modern doom and gloom prognosticators have no sense of humor whatsoever.

It was also a little annoying to be spoken to like a small, clueless child by someone in their sophomore year of college.  I simply asked after the birds they were likely to see on such an outing (being an avid birder and a landlubber) and was told that yesterday they had seen a Manx Shearwater feeding near the whales and it was beautiful (all in a tone that implied that obviously I could in no way appreciate such aesthetics and couldn't tell an albatross from an ostrich) but on this trip there really wasn't much to see save an occasional Wilson's Storm-petrel so I'd best go sit in the galley and drink overpriced cocoa.  But I was pretty sure I had seen something but had to wait to discover what until I got home and could download my pictures and there it was, a Great Shearwater; she was wrong about the birds, maybe, just maybe the lobster theory was flawed as well.  But then sophomore means, 'foolish wisdom' and I remember from my own sophomore days that I really felt like I knew everything, but a year later I suddenly began to realize how much I didn't know.  I was just as confident in my ignorance as she was, but thankfully life has taught me a few (painful) lessons since.  Just like this gal is so sure of the evils of lobster fishing and the behavior of pelagic birds, so too are 'the experts' who tell us the world is going to blow up or wither away in the next decade or two in some creative way or another.

That is not news, we all know the world is going to end; no matter who you are or where you are from, we all know that things cannot last forever as we know them.  All stories end, everyone dies, and so too will the tale of the universe one day come to an end.  It's fine to develop theories and prepare, if you can, for doomsday or try and save some species from extinction, what isn't good is telling everyone that you are certain sure everything will end tomorrow or a decade from now via this means and then it doesn't happen and then you do it again and again with some other trigger or cause now the greatest threat to existence we have ever seen.  Today it's lobsters, tomorrow it's corn, next week it will be singing off key...world without end (that's irony!).

Forget about the means for a bit and focus on the end.  What will you do on the world's last night?  Be it the end of the world or the end of your own life?  That's a far more important question.  For the whale lady, everything will just go down into darkness, the forgetfulness of death and the great infinite nothingness.  But there are other theories.  This isn't a new question, the disciples were pestering Jesus about it 2000 years ago and I'm sure people were pondering it long before that.  The question is, is the End really the End of Everything, or is it just the curtain falling on the first act of some far grander tale?  Personally, I think the whale lady's theory is just depressing and saps life of all its purpose and interest, but if this flawed reality is just the warm up for something far better, no wonder we're anxious to know how it ends and what comes after!  We spend so much time predicting and arguing about the means but no one seems to care what happens at the End, which is really a far more important question.  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Worse than broken dreams

The greatest perceived heartache in American culture is dreams that are never fulfilled, some personal goal or vision that is never realized, but I would posit that it is actually when those dreams are fulfilled and still happiness is not found, rather after a momentary thrill of triumph, we are already looking ahead to the next dream or goal guaranteed to bring joy unending in its wake.  The truth is, if we are not happy and content without X, we'll never be happy and content with it.  We've waited nearly 3 years to welcome another child into our home, and after the near miraculous arrival of our daughter, life is still much the same as it ever was.  While she brought joy unthinkable into our lives, the stress and disappointments that were there before the baby are still there afterwards.  There's a study somewhere determining who is happier: amputees or lottery winners.  Amazingly it is the amputees, in general they were able to adapt to this new normal and get on with life whereas many of the newly minted wealthy completely destroyed their financial stability and lifestyle with their sudden windfall, leaving them poorer and more discontent afterwards.

It appears to be all about attitude rather than what we do or don't have or what does or doesn't happen to us.  If you are content and happy with little, so too will you probably be with more, and if you are discontent now, having all your dreams come true isn't likely to make you any happier in the long run.  My heart aches for all the young people waiting for the job, the person, the situation, that will make life worth living, who realize only too late, that we need to be living in the moment, rather than waiting for life to start at some point in the idealized future.  Enjoy school for its own sake rather than pining for the day when you can actually start your career, only to realize that three months in you'll be yearning for the next big raise, promotion, or a better job.  Each new blessing or life phase also brings along with it its own attendant stresses, disappointments, responsibilities, and frustrations, a thing we so easily forget when longing after it, we forget that we must also live with it.

I've seen a picture of horses, divided by a fence, each in its own pasture, but preferring to graze under the fence in the other horse's paddock!  Look at the fads and trends that so often take the world by storm, a certain toy or food or movie or whatever suddenly becomes insanely popular and everyone MUST have it, paying obscene amounts of money for it only to find that it isn't worth anything in a month or two.  We all desire what we have not got, especially if someone else has it and we don't.  But what we are yearning for isn't what we think.

We all yearn, we all long, it is as natural as breathing, but it isn't for money, power, fame, prestige, food, drink, drugs, sleep, sex, pleasure, children, possessions, land, or relationships, none of these things can fill that hole in our hearts, though we pursue one thing after another in desperate hope that finally, this time, the key will fit in the lock, but we come away disappointed, always disappointed, especially in this world full of keys of all shapes and sizes, but nothing seems to fit.  We are trying to fill an eternal hole with a temporal key.  The hole is bigger than anything in the material universe, broader and deeper than even the universe itself.  Only a thing bigger than reality itself can fill that gaping hole in each and every human heart, for 'eternity is written into the heart of men.'

There's a subplot running through Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' detailing how the men of Numenor, and later Gondor, yearned for immortality and life unending rather than attending to their daily lives, which brought about their downfall and the decay of their nation as, 'childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin.'  And we are still guilty of this uncouth longing for what we cannot have even in the real world of this 'more enlightened' day and age.  Think of the various projects aimed at downloading your psyche into a computer or those searching for the medical equivalent of the 'Fountain of Youth.'  But take heart, for though man was meant to last forever, it will not be in this broken, fallen state.  Our problem is, we yearn to live forever as ruined and broken creatures, too scared of the unknown to pass beyond this ruined sphere into things too glorious for comprehension.  We want to remain as we are, rather than changing to become what we were meant to be.

I hatched out a moth once (Polyphemus), I found the cocoon in the Fall after a heavy rain alongside a water-filled ditch, where it had apparently washed ashore.  In the Spring, it hatched out but the wings were crumbled and brown as old leaves, it would never fly, it was a sad, pathetic thing.  We want to go on living like that moth, or worse, we want to stay a caterpillar or remain dormant inside our cocoon, but either way, we will never truly live.  We are so desperate for change, as long as it is in our physical state, careers, finances, or relationships, but we are loath to change our selves, at least the part of us that will last forever.  Forget about your waistline and look to the health and wellbeing of your soul.  Quit looking to the next 'big thing' to make life worth the living but rather live the life you have now.  Therein is great wisdom.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Joy doesn't come

Here's a beautiful article on how to survive when Joy doesn't come; how to find beauty amid the ashes.  Warning, tear-jerker, have a hanky handy!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No one will take your Joy

There is a short list of websites I check on a regular basis, and as I was perusing one of them, an article title caught my eye, "no one will take your joy."  The meaning of that phrase to me was probably different from what it meant to everyone else, most especially the author.  Not to go into gory details, but I've spent over two years slogging through the mire of broken dreams and twisted emotions, the result of years of abuse and neglect as a child.  I've grieved, been angry and frustrated, and at other times felt I deserved it or the world would be better without me, a lie, but a common one to those in such circumstances.  Just as I felt I had shaken the last bit of stinking, sticky mud from my feet and stood on solid ground, at last eager for 'Joy in the Morning,' after my troublous night of sorrow and despair, when I felt I was at last an emotionally healthy person, the phone rang.

During this whole mess, we've sat on an adoption waitlist and pretty much nothing has happened, save the one that fell through a year and a half ago.  Our son will enter Kindergarten in the fall and tired of waiting, leaving this last gaping wound of my heart open, we decided we would be done in December when we would have to renew everything.  I had already given up, making plans for the crib and diapers cluttering up the empty nursery.  We had agreed to have our photo book looked at for a special situation and the phone rang the evening of the day the birth parents would be looking through the books belonging to hopeful parents.  I knew it was our social worker calling to say we had been passed over again.

That wasn't quite the message.  Apparently our book had been picked.  And mom was in labor, now!  The baby wasn't due until the end of the month, even if we had been picked we hoped for a couple weeks to prepare.  But apparently that wasn't to be the case.  We quickly arranged matters for work, etc. and called the grandparents to watch our son, threw everything in the car, and drove.  We didn't know gender, as the mother wanted to surprise us, but I've had names picked out since before I was married, a girl name at least, our son used up our boy name, if it was a boy I might be in trouble.

It was a girl and mom had already named her.  I wasn't sure at first, but it was very pretty and fit the beautiful child.  We suggested an alteration to the middle name, which both parents agreed to.  It wasn't my beloved name, but it was the right name.  Later we looked up the meaning of the first name, it was the same as her middle name: Joy.

We took her home (after many tears and more paperwork) and during the risk placement, a weeks long period in which the birth parents can change their mind, the what-ifs have been raging in my mind.  Then I saw the title of that article, and with a sudden sense of peace, I knew it was meant for me.  God really does have a sense of humor!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dreams

We all have dreams, desires, hopes, and fears, but can you really achieve them?  What happens if the plot line of your life runs in a different direction?  Here's an excellent article on realigning your dreams with reality when everything seems to be falling apart.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Oracle of the Dog

'YES,' said Father Brown, 'I always like a dog, so long as he isn't spelt backwards.'
'The Oracle of the Dog,' The Incredulity of Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton

Pinterest can be a very dangerous thing, like any social media it should be used with extreme caution, never taken internally, and not while operating heavy equipment, that being said, it is just as addictive as anything else (like chocolate and Jane Austen).  I love it for finding ideas for recipes and projects around the house (all except that 'natural' weed killer recipe with the vinegar and salt, a lovely exfoliant but hardly a weed killer), but it can certainly depress you like any other social media: comparing your rather mundane life with the highlights and boast-able moments that seem to make up every second of everyone else's existence but yours, but worse, like all other forms of social media, instead of actually living you are only reading about it.  But it can also be an interesting gauge of how people think of a certain topic, how they see the world, and what is important in this perplexing age where nothing and everything is true.

I foolishly typed in the word 'adoption' the other day.  While in common parlance, 'to adopt' is used rather casually to mean anything from acquiring a new hairstyle to actually making someone an official member of your family, quite drastic extremes, only two main themes showed up on this unofficial poll of humanity's view of this particular word (a rather skewed sampling of mostly female persons in the Western world) and I'm not sure which is worse.  Two-thirds of the search results were cheesy, trite representations of adoptive parenthood, making it look like instant happiness and easy as clicking on the Pin; it reminded me of those radio commercials in the US that jokingly said if you could breath and string two words together, you could foster parent, it was as easy as that.  The other third were devoted to dogs, and I am sorry to offend any of you canine enthusiasts, but no matter how much you love your furry friends, they are not people; they are wonderful creatures, but happily for their sake (and ours) they are not human.  No matter how hard the Golden Retriever rescue organizations make it to 'adopt' one of their fuzzy proteges (and yes, my sister went through a so-called 'home study') it is far from the same thing as adopting a child.  And yes, I have heard actual people (well-meaning but clueless) say to other actual people (adoptive parents) that they were in the adoption process as well/were adoptive parents of yes, a dog; ouch.  When our adoption (human) fell through last year, I actually saw a Pin on how to survive when your canine adoption falls through, nothing like a little salt in the wound.

There are actually articles on what to say when people talk to you about your maternity leave being a vacation and people who think maybe everybody should have one!  You can get medical leave for a hip replacement or gallbladder surgery and no one considers that a vacation, but here you endure a major physical trauma and have an extremely needy new family member to boot yet it is some sort of vacation?  This kind of thinking is a little scary, exhibiting either the complete ignorance or indifference our society as a whole now holds pertaining to children, as if they are some sort of a hobby or fettish, no different than keeping parrots or a fondness for marathon running, little realizing that each of us owes our very existence to such fettish-obsessed forebears and that society and civilization as a whole would soon cease to function if there were no future citizens to populate it.  But we leave that to others, little realizing they are leaving it to us.  I'm not saying everybody should have kids or be parents (or even have pets), but we've relegated what was once a very normal part of human existence and society to the list of things we might do, would like to do, or will get around to someday.  Or even congratulate ourselves as some sort of Green saint for not contributing to human overpopulation.  As cute as Mr. Wiggles is, he isn't going to be President, cure cancer, or be there to help 27 years from now when dementia sets in; he won't pay taxes, help the neighbors in a crisis, or drive grandma to the doctor; he can't play the piano, enjoy Hamlet, or ponder the glories of nature.

For all of its messiness, work, and sacrifice, parenthood, however achieved, is worth it, even if our kids end up in jail or living in the basement into their fifties.  It makes us more human.  It humbles us, teaches us to sacrifice and love in ways we can hardly understand beforehand.  It teaches patience and self-discipline.  It brings joy and wonder unimagined and sorrow and frustration hardly to be comprehended.  We shape dogs in our own image; children shape us into the image of God.  Perhaps that is why we marginalize it, minimize it, and raise other idols in its place: we don't want to change, we don't want to hurt, we don't want to learn faith, hope, patience, and love; we don't want to discover that we are broken and imperfect and full of faults, things our dog will never see, or at least won't mention or hold against us.  The dog won't talk back or rebel and thanklessly break our hearts, yet neither will he enlarge it, he might fill it for a time, but he won't push it to the limits, burst it asunder, and force it to grow.  Dogs are content with what we are, children force us to become what we were meant to be.

Adopting a dog can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it is not parenting.  Dogs are not children nor a substitute for them and thinking such is unhealthy not only to the individual and society as a whole, but to the dog itself; dogs are least happy when treated like children, that is why we love them: because they aren't human, it diminishes the dog and the child both to confuse the two, no matter how cute and innocent the sentiment seems.  Don't believe me?  Type in 'doggy shower party' on Pinterest and see what comes up; I've been to few baby showers that nice.  Or read 'The Oracle of the Dog,' a Father Brown mystery by G.K. Chesterton (careful, if you aren't hook on Chesterton or Father Brown, this might be another bad habit worth acquiring, like Austen and chocolate).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A personal note

"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.  But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase...But go your way till the end.  And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”

When most people think of the book of Daniel, they remember the lion's den or think of the hand writing on the wall or perhaps his prophetic visions or Nebuchadnezzar's dream, indeed, that is usually what comes to mind for me, but the above blurb from the last chapter caught my eye the other day.  Daniel has just finished seeing all these odd things, some involving his own scattered and exiled nation, and he's rather curious about what it all means and how it will all turn out.  But he isn't given the exciting details, save the puzzling prophetic visions he's already recorded, rather he's told how the whole grand tale ends, not the details concerning Israel's exile, moreover, it ends on a personal note, which is rather astonishing, and reassuring, coming from a book addressed to all nations, tribes, and tongues, written for all people in all times.  This particular part of the grand and epic story of the universe and our reality ends on a personal note!

I was overlooked as a kid, forgotten on more than one occasion, neglected or ignored when I wasn't being criticized or publicly humiliated, thus I have a very hard time understanding that I can be loved, that I am lovable, that I have value and worth and that I matter.  So when I am personally remembered, when someone does something specifically for me, it touches me deeply.  And here, after all these grand visions of things yet to come, a sweeping saga touching empires and vast stretches of time, a simple man is remembered, he is asking about the future and well-being of a whole nation, but it is he himself that is remembered and reassured.  He is not to know all those things pertaining specifically to his nation's fate, of which he is vastly curious, but of his own he is assured.

And that is the promise of this great book, for each and every human soul.  We can have an 'allotted place at the end of days.'  We can shine like the stars in their courses above!  Or we can run to and fro after knowledge, vain and ever increasing (were they envisioning google with that prediction?) and go down into darkness and infamy evermore.  As grand and epic as this tale is, it is also a very personal tale.  That's why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; he had friends and enemies, joy and sorrow, a name and a face.  We each desire to be known and loved individually, and that is the very promise of this marvelous book, though it deals with happenings throughout all of time and history and that yet to come.  I love that I can still discover little gems like this, tucked away in various places though I've read and reread it time and again.  Written to all peoples, but also to me. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Life is war

Do you ever feel like your life is pointless, that you are weak and useless, that your existence in general is a string of dull and tedious nothings?  Sometimes it is good to remember we're in a war, and that while things seem quiet and peaceful, the Enemy may come at any moment and surprise us, hoping to ambush us or break through the defenses.  Not that war is all that exciting at every moment,  I think I once read somewhere that it is, 'long stretches of tedium interrupted by periods of sheer terror.'  Whether languishing in the trenches of the first World War or slogging through the endless swamps of Vietnam or sweltering in a desert somewhere, soldiers of every age have never had an easy time of it, but the next time you think about being 'bored,' just remember what you're fighting against:

"And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him...Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Not that we wrestle against such things physically or even on a level we are much aware.  For there are mightier warriors than we mere mortals of flesh and blood, and they fight on a level we cannot comprehend, as hinted at in this passage from Daniel:

"And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.  Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.  The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

This mighty angelic warrior was delayed in delivering his message to Daniel because of this dreadful Prince of Persia, whom he could not counter without the help of one of the greatest angels known to mankind.  If such great and mighty beings cannot overcome such evil, what hope have we, fickle and fallible creatures of flesh and blood that we are?  Paul gives us some idea of this struggle in his letter to the Ephesians:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

Wow!  But how do we fight against THAT?  He continues:

  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints."

It isn't with swords or bows, guns or knives, bombs or even our fists with which we are called to fight, a strange thought to our violence obsessed culture.  Rather prayer, God's word, and a virtuous life are our only weapons and protection, for the fight is not ours, but the Lord's.  We who have no power or strength or virtue in ourselves, can be competent and valiant soldiers in this war from beyond the reach of time that has spilled over into our own reality.  So the next time you are tempted to be bored silly with your dull and tedious existence, remember, you're at war, a soldier manning the walls of some remote outpost, with the enemy snarling and hissing beneath you, looking for a breach in the defenses, a weak point by which to invade.  We don't need a video game to feel like we live in a war zone, it's in our own backyard, our living rooms and cubicles, but do we ignore it and pretend it isn't there and hope it just goes away, do we allow ourselves to be conquered and live as prisoners and slaves of that grim dragon, or do we stay at our posts and fight the fight set before us with all faith and confidence in the One who has thrown down the dragon and waits only until the time is right to vanquish it forever?    

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sweet and salty

The place where I used to work sold a product boldly proclaiming: 'orphan no more!'  I think they have since rebranded themselves but the idea is the same: a powder you sprinkle on a motherless calf to help bond it to another cow.  Cows are strange creatures sometimes, some wanting to kill or abandon their own calves and others so desperate to mother that they'd steal another cow's calf before their own was born.  Most happily fall somewhere in-between.  But life happens and some calves lose their mothers and some cows lose their calves, so if you could match up the orphaned calf with a calf-less cow it is a wonderful thing, but as I said cows can be a little weird about that sort of thing.  Perhaps you've read the stories or seen the movie where the orphaned lamb, foal, or calf is clad in the skin of the stillborn and placed under the bereaved mother's nose in hopes of her adopting the stranger that smells like her dead offspring.  This wondrous powder is supposed to do the same thing but without the grisly effort: just sprinkle it on and voila!  The farmers raved about it, so it must work, so one day, curious, I looked for the magic ingredient.  Molasses and salt.  That's it (and maybe some anti-caking something or other).  Sweet and salty!  They knew the miracles of salted caramel before it was trendy.  But it isn't so easy with people.

"I will not leave you comfortless," was one translation but my version read, "I will not leave you as orphans." Wow, I'd read it a hundred times but never before had it sunk in, never before had I understood those simple words.  In the modern West we don't struggle with orphans in the same way they did in a backwater realm in the first century where the poor kids were pretty much on their own.  If there are no parents or family to step in, the government sees that the physical needs of such children are met, but our society struggles just as desperately with a different sort of orphan: the spiritual, the emotional, the social orphan.  It is very possible to have two actually living parents and still grow up an orphan; I did.  I never lacked for clothes and food, but I never had love, acceptance, encouragement, direction, attachment, understanding, or belonging; I was never wanted.  We all just lived in the same house with no more emotional or social connection than indifferent roommates thrown together by chance.  I never understood why the idea of 'family' was so important to some people; I just didn't get it.  They did their best but they couldn't give what they never had; emotional neglect and abuse runs back at least three generations in my family and probably even further back than that.  How many have grown up in homes where this is 'normal?'  It leaves you empty, awkward, and sad, wondering what's wrong with you and why nobody likes you, but even if you had an ideal childhood and great parents, each and every man, woman, and child is an orphan, in a spiritual sense.  We all thirst for something: that meaning, that purpose, that direction, that belonging.  But something isn't right, we're all empty and lost and wandering aimlessly about, seeking that 'something more.'

Social media exists because so many are hollow and empty inside, desperate to be filled.  We form 'tribes' with those of like circumstance, interest, or cause hoping to find community and meaning.  We lose ourselves to addictions or even suicide when the world grows too dark.  We try to lose ourselves in and live through our pets, our children, or some hobby or cause.  We're all orphans to some degree, no matter our family origin or lack thereof, we've all run away and lived selfishly and wonder if there is such a thing as Home.  But there is, Dad's waiting on the porch, and He'll joyously come running the moment He glimpses that wandering child coming dejectedly up the road.  It's a promise from the same Source that said we wouldn't be orphans.  I never knew what home was, what the big deal about family was, I didn't understand.  Now that I do, I so desperately want it, and it is mine, and can be yours, for all we need do is come Home.  He won't leave us as orphans, but first we need to admit that we are and then we get to start counting the days until the biggest and most fabulous Family Reunion in history, where we'll be welcome guests and people will know our names and be happy to see us, rather than being merely tolerated due to social obligation.  We'll finally be home!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Through a glass, darkly

I was reading C.S. Lewis's 'The Great Divorce' the other day and found his portrayal of Hell quite unique.  Most people imagine cloven-hooved and bearded tormenters (a sad caricature he addressed admirably in 'The Screwtape Letters') frolicking amidst the flames while secretly hoping to meet some notorious and interesting sinner of yore or to at least 'hang out' with the set they preferred during their earthly tenure, a strangely fascinating contrast to the dull and tedious vision of Heaven so common to modern sensibilities: overweight middle aged folk dressed in shapeless gowns, sitting upon clouds, harp in hand.  Lewis imagined Hell as a seedy town of immense and ever expanding dimension trapped beneath a perpetual drizzle amid an autumnal twilight whose residents can't stand to live within two streets of one another, where you can imagine up anything and everything you can desire yet the most exquisite roof won't keep out the rain and all the great sinners live so far away and are so absorbed in their own vital concerns that they haven't a thought for anything or anyone else.  His vision of Hell isn't that dissimilar to many people's idea of Heaven (if you can shake off the 'Far Side' inspired caricatures previously mentioned): an idealized earth like experience.  His Hell is a seedy town, to many, Heaven is merely the ultimate gated community where you never have to mow your own lawn.

But why do we have such a hard time envisioning Heaven?  So much so that many say they almost find the theory of Hell more tenable, or at least more fun.  It is the one subject that is never explicitly described in the Bible.  We know a few things that won't be there (marriage for example), but we have no idea what it will be like.  Everyone who has ever had a glimpse of it can only paint in metaphors or is forbidden from speaking of it (John, Paul, Ezekiel) while Hell seems a much more approachable subject and seems the more comfortable or even preferable just from sheer familiarity.  What gives?  Perhaps it is because Hell is that more approachable, understandable, and familiar to mortal minds, being a conception of reality a mere step below our current predicament: we are far closer to Hell than to Heaven in our current state.  I can understand and am far more comfortable with the people and culture in the next town over than I am with those on the opposite side of the globe.  Fallen creation is far nearer Hell than Heaven, it is merely more habitable and joyous because Heaven has not utterly forsaken it.  We can catch little glimpses of Heaven here, like sunbeams through a dirty window, that make life in this dusty cellar livable but we are far more familiar with its dank and dark corners than we are with the surface of the sun from whence comes the light.

Heaven isn't the province of Men, rather it is the domain of God, whither He invites all who would come, but it is His Kingdom, not ours, and we must accept it on His terms: vast, grand, wonderful, terrifying to mortal minds.  Meanwhile, we dwell uneasily in our earthly fiefdom and happily He graces our unhappy land with the least of His smiles from time to time, aside from that rather memorable visit of state some two millennia ago.  Hell however, is our very own domain, whither we can escape His irksome Presence, be that our wish, but it would be to draw the blinds on that dirty window and plunge our cellar into absolute and utter night.  We would never think of breaking down the door and escaping into that unknown and dreadful Dawn, we'd rather dwell in our 'safe' and familiar prison.  But He has broken the door!  Will we willfully sit in the dark, pretending the outer world is but a lie or will we peek around the corner and look upon things too great for mortal words?

 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Slow as dial-up it comes

"Out of the cold Caribbean,
into the desert Libyan,
there crawled a strange amphibian."
~Shel Silverstein~

That's the feeling I got, standing on a bridge overlooking a cold, rushing stream, wistfully gazing over the water as something emerged quite unexpectedly from the frigid flow right beneath me.  It was a bird, not a duck or even a sandpiper but something that looked like a drab just fledged robin.  But it wasn't half-drowned as one might expect, rather it hopped about on the stones and branches, pecking at unseen insects in the vegetation, occasionally plunging back into the flow and swimming about as if it had every right to be there.  And it did.  I had been looking for one for years.  I sought them in such exotic places as Alaska and Yellowstone but nary a glimpse did I see.  And here, right under my nose, flaunting itself for my camera and everlasting amusement, was a young American Dipper, and in a place no more fascinating or exciting than the heart of the Midwest!  I've been looking and searching and waiting, probably quite impatiently, for years and years, and there it was, with no heroic effort or sly maneuverings on my part.  All that was required was a little patience (that and being in the right sort of place on occasion), but I had despaired of ever seeing one.

I remember life before the internet, yes I am that old, and I remember with what impatience we used to wait for the dial-up to connect, and now, in the age of blink and it's there technology and connectedness, I wonder if we are not even more impatient.  Perhaps that is why I love old books: they remind me that life is a journey, a long one, sometimes a tedious one.  If you think the 5 hour 'Pride and Prejudice' is slow, try reading 'Emma' or 'Les Miserables' or any other book of the time.  I'm reading through a copy of 'Les Mis' I picked up somewhere and absolutely hate it.  Before you stone me for hypocrisy, realize this is the very abridged version that came out with the last (non-musical) movie and it is so choppy and pieced-together that unless you know and love the story (in all its incarnations) you'll come away confused and annoyed, wondering what all the fuss is about.  I love the not-so-abridged version (I've never been brave enough to read the whole thing!), the musical, and the movies; it is one of my favorite stories, but they slaughtered it in this version.  They've destroyed the characters, have only an outline of the plot, and in general it makes very little sense unless you already know what is going on.  Yet another symptom of our impatient culture: we can't stand to relish and digest and enjoy a story, we need the cliff note version, asap, and then we are on to the next 'classic,' having merely checked the novel off our 'bucket list' rather than having enjoyed, experienced, or learned aught from it.

I was rather delighted to come across this article written by a native Brit on her favorite, but little known, Costume Dramas from the UK.  Not only am I eager to watch her recommendations, but I'm excited to try a few of the books themselves (not 'Bleak House').  And as you can find many of them free on project Gutenberg, I've no excuse not to.  What can we learn from such classic works?  Patience, certainly.  Try reading 'Persuasion' and imagine yourself waiting ten years for that romance to work out the next time you get a little agitated when 'he' won't text you back within five minutes!  It is a nice reminder that just because 'it' doesn't happen immediately, that 'it' never will. Just like my bird, if I persevere and do what I must, 'it' may just work out eventually and at a time I least expected, and if 'it' doesn't, well, there's probably something different, and probably better that was meant to be instead.  So instead of wasting so much time with our social media 'friends,' we might do well to spend a little of it with and learning from all those intriguing characters from the forgotten books of yore, or at least watching a good movie adaptation.  Happy reading (or viewing)!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The parable of the Sheep and the Sheep...?

We went to Yellowstone last week (yes, it snowed!) and I really wanted to see a Bighorn Sheep, a species I have never yet beheld in the wild.  Wolves, black bears, moose, and bison have all been checked off my bucket list, but the bighorn continued to elude me.  Finally, we stopped for one of the requisite 'bear jams,' either a bunch of people gawking at some wild thing or a herd of bison is loitering on the road.  Some lady had parked her car right in the middle of the road and was out photographing what ever it was, but she got her photos and drove off leaving us to guess at what the critter was.  It was grazing with its head down and its rump towards us making it difficult to identify.  It was rather small and light colored and certainly moth-eaten and after several guesses of a sickly elk or a rangy deer, it finally revealed itself to be a rather scruffy Bighorn ewe:  


I was excited and disappointed.  Yes, I had my Bighorn, but it was far from the majestic, stunning denizen of wild mountain cliffs seen on postcards and wildlife calendars.  Yes, all the wildlife was thin and molting at the tail end of winter, but I had hoped for something a little more, well, grand!  But I was content, I had my sheep and could check it off my list.  Then we drove around the corner and came upon a major traffic snarl but as I pulled over briefly (and happily had my atrociously huge lens handy) I managed to snap this picture:



There they were, seven rather impressive (and lazy) Bighorn rams dozing in the sage brush, ignorant that their very presence was causing a bit of a frenzy in the traffic department.  I was willing to settle for my moth-eaten ewe, little thinking there was something so much better just around the corner, if I would only be patient and wait.  How often does that apply to life?  I know I've snatched at things I knew weren't the best or what was meant for me, yet I grasped at them desperately, content with the crumbs when I could have the whole cake, if I would but wait and trust.  A love interest, a job, a place to live, selecting a college or career, a prospective adoption...I've done it all, so afraid I would be forgotten or miss out that I chased dreams that were never meant for me, and I knew it, somehow, and after some angst and trouble, I'd be back to waiting for the right thing, the good thing, though I so wanted to be doing something, anything, to assure my own destiny, bring about my own future.  But I needed to learn to wait, and to trust, and to learn that it wasn't of my own doing that the important things in life were accomplished, but rather they were a gift and a blessing, that I wasn't forgotten, but rather it was not the proper place or time.  How many tears of frustration and how much wasted effort have I vainly spent on such futile strivings?  When all I really needed to do was wait until the appropriate time (this is not to say that all one needs to do is sit tight with open hands and whatever you want will happen, rather, this assumes you have taken the necessary steps to place yourself in the position to wait for the adoption to happen or the job offer to be made, laziness and being ill-prepared will not yield the hoped for results).

Maybe one of these days I'll quit settling for the rangy ewe, I'll be able to walk past it without batting an eye or looking back or wondering 'what might happen,' and rather walk on boldly round the corner and find the good intended for me, long hoped and prepared for, but not ready when and as I wanted it, but rather as it was meant to be.  All the closed windows and locked door, dead ends and walking in circles and endless waiting will not be in vain, but I must be patient in the interim.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The lost narrative

Ever wonder why life is so messy, ugly, and confusing at times?  Why as a society and culture we seem to be either circling the drain or milling about dazedly like cattle in a strange pen?  I think we've lost our narrative.  How can that be possible in a world 'where anything can happen child, anything can be!'?  Think about it for a minute: the very essence of art or story or music is the frame, the boundary, the border; a creative work is as defined by what it excludes as by what it includes.  Art died when all the rules were thrown out in favor of the modern 'freedoms,' the same happened to poetry and literature and if you've listened to the radio lately, music is also on the endangered species list.  In a land of infinite choice, where all choices are equally good, what is the point of choosing?  We are paralyzed by fear of choosing wrongly, of missing out on something, or too overwhelmed to do anything but point at random.  Instead of winning a trip to Norway, we get to go anywhere in the world and do anything, and all we can do is stare at the map with glazing eyes and gaping mouth, unable to decide what and where and how.

In the land of infinite freedom, many would give their right hand for a map.  I saw an article some years back examining the American infatuation with Tolkien and his world and it concluded that lacking a certain, known history, Americans grasped at Tolkien and his Middle Earth as a sort of substitute mythology, making it part of their own story and thereby giving themselves standing in a chaotic and shifting world.  It was an interesting theory, probably only good for a Ph.D. dissertation, but I think it hinted at a very important truth: human beings are creatures of story.  We need a beginning, a middle, and an end.  We need plot and characters and setting, otherwise we are adrift at sea with no knowledge of sailing.  In a world where everything is insane and open ended, story is the one enduring theme.  Need proof?  Look at the movies (not the quality but the quantity).  Almost every major release in recent history is a remake, a sequel, or a prequel of some beloved tale, why?  Because, no matter how insipid or badly done, producers know people will come simply because of the story or character or series upon which it is based.  We are drawn irresistibly to stories.

But how do stories fit in this post-modern world where nothing is true yet everything is?  Is it as certain literary theorists suppose that the tale means what you want it to?  That idea will ruin stories as much as modernism destroyed art.  The last thing we want (or need) is another idea catering to and shaping itself around our wants, needs, opinions, and desires.  We thirst for something outside ourselves, a True North by which to calibrate our overwrought compasses of meaning and purpose and origin and destination; above all else we desire a direction and a purpose in the going.  We want a quest, an adventure, we want to set out like Frodo or Luke Skywalker, upon some needful and meaningful quest.  We are tired of 'just do it' and 'have it your way;' the universe is a dreadfully small place if I (and my enjoyment thereof) is the be all and end all of reality.  We've come to the end of hedonism and found it as empty and vain as every other worldview and lifestyle ever tried.  A really good story is the only thing that yet has the power to transport us out of the mire of nihilistic abandon.

Think of the popularity of books, movies, TV shows, video games, and whatever other medium you desire, they all tell a story and we eagerly escape into them.  Stories promise meaning and direction and purpose, a thing most lacking in modern life, and for a while we can walk the wilds with Strider or flit between the stars aboard the Millennium Falcon.  They also give us a common understanding with our fellow mortals, we can't peaceably discuss politics or even eating styles but we can dress up like Chewbacca and dream up plot lines for Star Wars Episode LXVIII.  We have lost community along with Truth.  And we are social creatures as much as we are creatures of story.  We are all hurting and lonely and confused, we blame X or Y or Z for it, hating individuals, worldviews, causes, organizations, political bodies, or whatever, blaming everything and everyone for our hurt and pain, when we all suffer from the same disease, even though our ideas are extreme opposites.  We've made our ideas, opinions, tastes, and preferences the meaning and reason for life, we define ourselves and base our worth on our likes and dislikes, becoming as broad and shallow (and important) as an internet message board.

But you will outlast the internet.  Countries and Kingdoms, stars and oceans will vanish.  Sports teams and corporations will not endure.  Lifestyle choices will disappear.  And what will be left?  An old story tells us, 'no eye has seen nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man.'  We cannot even begin to imagine it, for its wonder will boggle a mortal mind.  That's our quest, our adventure, our common purpose, our shared narrative and the basis for our community: to find that Kingdom, and not to come as refugees, saved at the last, empty handed and in rags, but rather as citizens, children of the very King, coming Home at last into our inheritance.  You can 'have it all' here, but inherit only wind, for it is nothing but a passing dream, a vapor of fog, gone in the morning. Or you can have your adventure, you can find Truth, and you won't go alone.  You are called, as much as Frodo or any other storybook hero or figure out of legend to tread this path, to accept the quest, though it won't be easy, nothing worthwhile ever is.  Will you find the Way, the Truth, and the Life?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Leave room for fairies

We've all heard the trite saying, 'bloom where you're planted,' which is a nice little ditty and often true, but sometimes I wonder how anything grows out here (yes, it is that time of year again, this is my annual gardening pointers for life article).  I've tried all sorts of things, but no matter what I grow or try, it seems like all my grand experiments are doomed to failure.  My vegetables get run over by a hay-bine.  Nothing will eat or kill a shrub rose but a deer can sit on it.  A pheasant uprooted all my periwinkle, twice!  My carefully nurtured Columbine seeds die but the neglected or wild ones go crazy (not a bad thing!).  I'm not saying I don't have nice plants and fun in the yard, but my plans never seem to work out, rather it is the unexpected and unanticipated that makes it so worthwhile (just like life!).

A yellow warbler nest, a white crowned sparrow not three feet away, my first sight of an orchard oriole, scads of cabbage butterflies when I thought I was growing nasturtiums, daisies everywhere, the ethereal blue of a flax flower...sunsets and stars and sparkle on the snow...well worth all the weeding and drought and wildlife and soil fit only for making pots (clay, lots of clay!).  My plans go far awry, and my dear grandmothers would likely die of apoplexy to see the disordered riot that passes for my flower beds when theirs were laid out with particular order and care and precision, but they never had fairies.  The same goes for life.  If our plans are all that matter, if there isn't room for detours or backtracking or a completely different course, we are doomed to disappointment, or we can embrace the adventure and see where the journey takes us.

Proverbs puts it this way: "The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (16:9)."

G.K. Chesterton puts it like this: "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered; an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."

We make our plans, and then life happens, we can either stand at the crossroads, staring blankly at our map and scratching our heads, or we can set off into the sunset, whistling as we go, eager to meet the adventure at hand.  I control so very little, be it in life or the garden, and thinking I can control everything (or should) will only lead to discontent and disaster, such things are better left in wiser hands than mine, my only duty is to walk (or dig) that which is set before me.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

When hobbits venture forth

"I hope there are not many more hobbits that have become like this.  It would be a worse trouble than all the damage the Men have done." Frodo, J.R.R. Tolkien, 'Return of the King'

“The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be sought and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth.”  Anne, L.M. Montgomery, 'Anne of the Island'

"Consider, first, the mere quantity.  The quality may be wretched; but we never had souls (of a sort) in more abundance." Screwtape, C.S. Lewis, 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast'

Whoever thought Frodo Baggins, Anne Shirley, and Screwtape could ever have anything in common?  A hobbit, a spunky redhead, and a fictional demon!  But they all agree that the Western world is suffering from a crisis of character.  Even a hundred years ago it was a noticeably downward trend, perhaps even before that, but I wonder what they would think of our tempestuous modern world, could they see it now?  Modernism was the threat then, but we have sunk even past post-modernism.  No longer is it 'who you are (as an individual)' but rather 'what you have (including fame)' that is important.  Being an anonymous saint is far worse (culturally speaking) than being wicked and famous.  Our individuality is expressed in our 'likes' and 'dislikes' on social media, the causes, food, clothes, celebrities, and activities we reject or embrace.  We are a list of loves and hates, vehemently defending to the verbal death those things we love or opposing that which we abhor; hating any that do not agree with us.  No wonder I prefer the company of relatively ancient fictional characters to the insipid ranting and infighting of this uncivil age.

I've been rereading some old favorites lately: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Jane Eyre, various Jane Austen books, Lord of the Rings, Narnia.  Every single one is most of all a study in character, especially "Lord of the Rings."  It is a journey of character building, from small minded and frivolous Hobbits to individuals suited to be leaders in their homeland and ride amongst the great of their own or any age.  And we each have that chance, every day, every moment with every thought, word, and action, we ingrain in ourselves more and more character either for good or for ill.  Will we grow and become great, though the world knows not our name, or will we 'fall into darkness, with all that is left of our kin?'  That is our choice and we don't need a 'Ring of Power' to do it.  We all want to be individuals, we all want the freedom to choose, and this is the greatest freedom of all: the choice of molding ourselves into some likeness, be it good or evil, strong or flabby.  We won't become unique following the clueless herd; we won't grow without conscious effort and yes, some discomfort and pain.  But do we want to be a flavorless nonentity like everybody else, devoid of personality and character, just another shade of beige merely defined by our likes, dislikes, opinions, and preferences?  Consider life the 'gym' of character, will you sit back and watch others work out or will you jump in and get a little sweaty yourself?


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The World's Slowest Film Critic Strikes Again

Yes, indeed, I am probably the world's slowest film critic, not because I spend months formulating my review and analyzing a movie but rather I live at the back end of forever and our little theater takes awhile to get the new releases, but it is worth the wait and even if you are already watching 'Beauty and the Beast' on DVD, I've finally seen it in the theater and am no worse for waiting a few months.  First off, the original release is my favorite animated movie and one of my favorite movies of all time.  Second, I've read a few reviews and analyses of the film out of curiosity and went in not expecting much, as it seemed no one had truly enjoyed the film as much as their memories told them they liked the original.  Third, most of those reviews were written by men; I have nothing against men, they are lovely creatures, except when it comes to things like Jane Austen and movies like this (I am equally hopeless when it comes to action and war movies by the way!).  My husband (and my friends' husbands) absolutely refused to go, which was fine since it meant they could have a 'playdate' and watch the kids while we went and had an afternoon out, overall I think everyone was happy!  But I think there should be a law that guys aren't allowed to review romantic movies and girls can't review war flicks, but that's a whole other blog post.

I was ready for a wooden Belle (I haven't seen Emma Watson in anything since the second 'Potter' movie!), household objects so unbelievable and stiff that I would never get lost in the story, and basically a film that never should have been made as the original was quite sufficient (thanks guys!).  I loved it.  I really did, this from the person who can't make it through a second sitting of the 'Hobbit' but is a diehard LoTR fan and hasn't decided if she likes Star Wars VII yet (also a huge Star Wars enthusiast).  And taking a non-random poll of my companions (three thirty-something gals and one ten year old) it was unanimous, at least the ten year old didn't fall asleep like she did during Rogue One, though her slurping on her soda drew me momentarily out of the movie's spell for a trice, but as that is my biggest complaint about the movie (and has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie itself) I think that's good news.

It was fun, it was pretty, it was charming, it was enchanting, and there was enough of a difference from the animated version that I'm very glad they did it.  Think of it like the Titanic movie (shudder) or Pride and Prejudice (which has been done what, 50 times?): we all know the plot inside out but there is always something more to discover, some angle we have not yet explored.  For one, Belle actually had personality!  The 2005 Pride and Prejudice is hard for me, Keira Knightly is just too snarky to play the gentle, considerate but witty Elizabeth and I was afraid the same fate would befall my beloved 'Beast.'  But Belle needed a little snark, I remember one scene in the cartoon where she's kneeling on the floor grinning like an idiot (think of your 8 month old Golden Retriever after you've patted him or called him a good boy), it doesn't matter she's a prisoner and the whole village thinks she's nuts and she'll never see her father again and the beast just might eat her for dinner, but those singing tea cups sure make life great again.  As far as Disney Princesses go, Belle's one of the better ones, but there are moments when she reminds you who owns the copyright!  Miss Watson holds her own and did so phenomenally, she was Belle, but she wasn't the two dimensional (literally) character from the original, and I thought it a nice change.

My biggest beef about the Hobbit was the phenomenal cast that never got to act.  The guy who plays Gaston finally got a chance to do something other than slay a dragon during the opening credits.  He was actually very good, managing an initially less repulsive but much dimmer version of the villain before becoming shockingly nasty at the necessary moment; you almost thought twice about loathing the fellow.  The rest of the actors were very good, and I even got past hearing Gandalf whenever the clock spoke, though now I'm afraid I'll see/hear the bumbling head of household now whenever I rewatch Lord of the Rings; Cogsworth vs the Balrog, hmmm?  My only major complaint was that the candelabra's bad French accent was a little annoying.  The new music was beautiful and unlike Les Mis, actually added something to the magic of the film.  The added backstory was nice and fleshed out the tale (perhaps not necessary in a cartoon, but nice in a feature length film).  And boy could people sing!  The ladies in Les Mis were amazing but the guys really left me flat, not so in this film!  They did leave out or change some of the words to those well known songs, which they have every right to do, but when you are trying to sing along, it makes it tough, but eventually I'll watch this one enough to have it memorized too.

Their attention to detail was fabulous, and watching it for the sets and costumes alone would have been enough.  My one bit of consternation was on the equine front, but that was a problem in the original as well, namely the 'where's Timmy?, Lassie go find Timmy' meme, but it is a fairy tale so I guess I should just accept it as part of the magic.  I don't get Felipe (now played by a wonderful Andalusion, because every poor villager owns a cart horse on par with Shadowfax!).  One minute he's afraid of the beast or the wolves.  And at other points he's okay with the beast and comes to rescue Belle's dad from said wolves.  A minor point, but annoying, but in a movie where the silverware talks, I guess I shouldn't expect a horse to act like, well, a horse!  This is a Disney movie after all, the on screen presence has very little to do with the reality of the actual model, at least not since films like 'Old Yeller' have gone the way of the dodo.  I just wish people would remember that deer don't actually talk the next time they visit a National Park and try to get a selfie with a buffalo!  They did have a gypsy vanner in the movie, which was fun, I'm not sure I've ever seen that breed in an actual movie, they had one in 'All Creatures Great and Small' a time or two, but this is the first recent movie I've seen with one in it.

Overall, I was very impressed and will likely even buy the DVD.  But as I am the last person on the planet to watch it, this poor little review will likely not be of interest to anyone, but then, is anything I have to say?  You can at least enjoy the movie, at least all those of the female persuasion!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Doh!

Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a book and the protagonist makes some silly (or dreadful) decision and you find yourself yelling at the unwitting character (while anyone else in the room gives you a really strange look) not to do it?  As a parent I find myself the most frustrated when my child does not live up to his potential or makes a decision contrary to his best interests.  I catch myself wondering at the choices of friends and family likewise, only to find myself in a certain situation making decisions just as addlebrained.  Why do we do it?  Even the great Apostle Paul seemed to struggle with it, 'For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,' even Jesus commented upon this perplexing tendency that dreadful night in the garden to His groggy disciples, 'the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'  Why do we make such stupid decisions?  And not just once, but time and again!  It is the root of all the fairytales: someone does something foolish or silly and suddenly they or another are thrust into some strange quest that must be accomplished to rectify the matter.

As G.K. Chesterton observed in 'Orthodoxy:' "the true citizen of fairyland is obeying something that he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone."

Why, oh why, do we eat the apple again and again, world without end?  And like the fairytale, our unfortunate decisions come at a cost, one we cannot pay.  But also like the fairytale, there is a hero, one willing to pay the price, to rescue us from our own foolishness.  With that bitter bite, the 'hope of God' fled, but our Hero ventured boldly forth to bring hope back to the world of men.  That's what Easter is all about!  After all, happily ever after isn't just for the fairytales.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

As men of old have sung

"Where is your god amid the suffering?"
"If there were truly an all powerful, caring god, why does he not intervene?"
"Why do bad things happen if god is so good?"

Good and relevant questions, asked by every single person at some point in their life, but a very poor argument against the Christian God, but asked continually down through the ages by determined atheists, clueless about theology.  The modern atheist is far from the first person ever to scoff over the promises of God:

“He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

In the above scene from Mark's Gospel, we see the civic and religious leaders of the day, along with the criminals dying alongside Him, asking the very same thing.  "Where is your God now?"  Even Jesus Himself, with His dying breath, asks it, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

As the old hymn goes, 'Isaiah 'twas foretold it,' but not only the mysterious birth to which the carol refers but also the reason He came and the death He would die:


"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.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

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 (ESV)~


Why do bad things happen? Why is evil rampant in the world?  How can a good God let it happen? The short answer is: we broke the world and are suffering the consequences. The long answer? I am certainly not wise enough to answer that question, even Job didn't dare ask any more questions upon that topic, admitting truthfully that we mere mortals are but dust, what can we know about the universe and its functioning, let alone the particulars of a certain life or event?

But the better and more practical question is: Where is God in the sorrow, the suffering, the shame, the despair? And the answer to that is easy: right smack dab in the middle of it! He is the 'man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.' Instead of brushing our broken world under the rug, He stepped right down into the middle of our wretchedness, took on flesh and lived as a man and more astoundingly died as one, taking upon Himself the sins of the whole world, bearing the penalty for our wrongs that we might share in His joy.  That's what Easter is all about: the answer to all the grief, pain, evil, and suffering in the world.  Yes, things are still a mess and will continue to go wrong, but we're not alone or without hope, and someday we will have our happily ever after!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A pen mightier than despair

There's a new movie coming out ('To Walk Invisible') exploring the lives of the Bronte sisters and I'd really love to see it; then they can make one about the life of L.M. Montgomery.  I was really disappointed with 'Becoming Jane,' not because it was a bad movie, it was really well done, but rather  it didn't end like one of her novels (and yes, I know they probably shouldn't change history to satisfy my sense of justice and need for happy endings!).  I've never been a huge biography fan for just such a reason: we expect the happy ending right now but we don't know, in most cases, how the ending really does happen, even if it is really the end, or more likely it is just the beginning of another story and what we want as the happy ending (the marriage of Miss Austen) may actually turn out to be a bad ending for other reasons (would she have become a famous authoress or would the world have been deprived of her genius?) but it is fascinating to read the fictional works of certain authors and guess at what their real life experiences must have been like.  Good writing is a window, though often of stained glass, upon the soul of the author, the briefest glimpse into the very heart of their being.  That's why books can be such good friends: they have a soul, a connection, a living, vibrant pulse behind the words rather than just a collation of facts and cold, unfeeling ideas, which is why you never befriend a newspaper or get chummy with a magazine.  And of course we all have very different ideas of what makes an attractive friend, thus our varied taste in literature.

Looking over my list of dearest literary companions, I discover that I'm an anglophile out of place and time, and of the ladies on that list (Austen, Montgomery, C. Bronte, Alcott) I find passionate souls that are full of wit, wonder, and vibrancy but who have also lived through things with a quiet courage that defies comprehension, horrible things that seep into their writing and oppress their eventually triumphant heroines who shine out the stronger, even if in their own personal lives there never was such a happy ending, but for us, their grateful readers, we have only to pick up our favorite volume to relive that 'eucatastophy' time and again.  Were these remarkable ladies triumphant over bigotry or suppression based upon their sex, an institutionalized evil that worked against female authors at the time?  Is it of this I speak?  I know nothing of their struggles in that arena, rather I think  a more insidious evil was theirs to overcome, one that haunts many of us without our even knowing it.  Our society is in full rabid cry against sexism, racism, homophobia...choose your form of institutionalized bigotry, which in general is no bad thing, but what it overlooks is the tyranny of the domestic and its tragic effect on each and every one of us.

Our home lives shape us dramatically, telling us what is 'normal' and 'good' and 'right.'  No family is perfect and all fall short in some aspect or other; we also each have choices and decisions to make about our own lives so we cannot blame everything on our parents, but those who play a significant role (or abdicate those roles) in our young lives have a dramatic effect on how we think, act, and behave as adults.  Broken homes, abuse, abandonment, neglect, lack of discipline, indifference, no or too much responsibility, spoiling, harshness, lack of love, instability...you can survive it, but it warps you.  Perhaps that is why I love these authoresses so much: they write about such things, their characters (and they themselves) have lived through it and still manage to thrive.  It gives me hope, it gives hope to each and every one of us.  There aren't any grand explosions or swashbuckling adventures in these tales; no dragons or unicorns or wizards.  But their heroines overcome obstacles no less daunting, and are perhaps the more honorable for it, though there are no crowds to cheer or kings to grant favor and titles when they return triumphant.  Perhaps no one knows but their own small, quivering self.

How can I write such stuff?  Have I proof?  What historical facts do I know of these women's lives?  I know little to nothing but what is revealed in their fictional works, what I myself have lived through, and how your own personal experience can effect your writing.  You could perhaps talk to a number of people and do extensive research on the subject and come up with a feasible fictional example of abuse and neglect, privation and fear.  But these ladies write with the knowledge of someone who lived through it, neither did they have access to sociological studies, the internet, great libraries, or the chance to personally interview hundreds of such victims.  They are survivors, or closely acquainted to survivors, of the worst hardships domestic life can offer up.  Not murder per say, but the slow and gradual working of despair on a sensitive heart by those that should love it best, but they are not worn down and destroyed, rather they rise up, if only in the realm of words, and say that life is good, family wonderful, and the world still beautiful even amidst their disquiet life.

I just reread Montgomery's 'The Blue Castle,' and came away thinking she had written my biography (except my in-laws aren't fabulously wealthy).  She lived through something.  Austen's Lady Catherine is too superb a character to have sprung solely from the realm of imagination, I wonder who the inspiration was?  'Jane Eyre' is likewise haunted by grim visions of a gothic domestic scene known only to those who have dwelt long therein.  All of Alcott's 'little women' wrestle with exactly what happiness is, exploring many shades of the domestic scene and the triumphs and perils attendant thereunto.  I can't wait to hear the full tale behind the tales one day, at least I hope that I will!  They give such hope to those who suffer and endure in silence, those who struggle day to day just to cope and survive, let alone smile, but we are promised so much more than smiling: our weeping shall turn to joy.  They have seen that far off dawn of hope through the bitter winds and rain of night, they have heard the strains of fair music from a far country echoing faintly in grim and silent lands, and they have passed those hints, that hope, that fleeting joy on to us, who yet struggle through the 'slews of despair,' who wander aimlessly in the 'valley of the shadow of death.'

They perhaps did not have the expected happy ending that we all demand, but they certainly wrote them and we, their blessed heirs, can rejoice thereat.  I think of my own grandmother, unable to have children herself, adopting three kids out of the foster care system: abused and neglected by their biological parents, afflicted with various mental and emotional hindrances.  One dying young, another a drunk to this day, the third a selfish manipulative monster who blamed everything on them. She did not see her own happy ending during her lifetime, but without her efforts, my own life would be rather dreadful: we owe much of our 'happy middle' to her perseverance through the greatest afflictions that can try a mother's heart.  So stand strong, even when life and everyone you love seems determined to destroy you, when no one knows your pain and struggle and heartache.  Even if you can't see a happy ending on the horizon, know that your struggles are not unseen, your efforts and courage are not vain, as long as you stay true, good can yet come of it, be it a story beloved by generations or great grandchildren who are happily oblivious to the grim reality that was life as usual to generations past.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A glimpse behind the curtain

"I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never draw it quite aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I caught a glimpse of the enchanting realms beyond-only a glimpse-but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile.” 
 ~L.M. Montgomery~

In the 'Wizard of Oz' we find only a doddering old pretender behind the curtain, a disappointment to all those who have come so far seeking his help and wisdom.  I never enjoyed watching the movie, though we watched it faithfully year in and year out when it aired annually on one of the three channels possessed of our ancient and primeval culture; it was rather a big deal back in the days before Netflix, TiVo, etc.  I'm not sure why we watched it, for it was ever the same story, though I always hoped, somehow, it would change, but it never did.  Perhaps that is the next technological advancement: movies that end as you determine, like one of those 'choose your own adventure' books.  It was all a dream, a sad, disappointing dream (and kind of scary for a little kid, ugh, those horrid monkeys!).  And a strange metaphor for modern life.

And then I had found this other curtain, a real one, much like Montgomery, though I couldn't put it into words at the time, or even yet say it as well as she.  People think life is so dull and tedious and ordinary, but that is only because they have not learned to see, to look for glimpses, hints, teasing glances of that other world, the one just beyond ours, the Real World, which as C.S. Lewis says in 'The Last Battle:'

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

It is the Kingdom we are commanded to seek as 'little children,' it is the muse of all the poets and the heart of all the great stories.  It is the thing we look at but cannot see and hear of but do not understand.  It is foolishness and nonsense to the wise of this age; it is beneath the reason and notice of the learned and the great.  It whispers in the summer wind, dances with the stars and crescent moon of a June twilight, sparkles in the snow, taunts bluely from the ocean depths, laughs among the dewy violets, and quivers in each strain of the thrush's song; it is in that snatch of a song you can't get out of your head, in the meeting of old and dear friends, in the teary last goodbye of one beloved, the scent of something fresh baked in a home full of warm memory, and the possessive pride of the new mother in her firstborn.  It is everything good and wonderful, tender and sweet, young and new, old and beloved of which this world can boast.  The best literature and poems are replete with it; it fills our ageless songs and art.

Our scientists tell us our world, universe, our very reality are accidents, meaningless and void, purposeless and without direction.  Our doctors tell us all flesh is but dust, perhaps we can keep it from deteriorating quite so fast as might be its wont, but there is no stopping that grim and final reality.  Our psychologists tell us it is all in our heads and a pill can certainly fix it, not that it matters, once your neurons quit firing in a year or a century it will all come to naught.  But then a little bird warbles in a bush or bit of stray sunshine lights up the leaves like the canopy of some Elvin tent or the stars peep out of that mysterious blue sky and mocks them all.  For there is Joy in the world and Hope beyond it.  Forget all this modern nonsense about the finitude of mortal flesh and mind, rather seek the wisdom in the old tales, the map hidden amongst the joy and splendor of the natural world, the pointing finger of purpose and meaning and reason behind the veil of this world.

Away with your technology and science, your degrees and knowledge, the words of doctors, philosophers, gurus, and professors.  Be again a little child, innocent and ignorant to all but the world about you and the world of story, song, and rhyme.  Enjoy the sunshine, the whispering wind, the shy little flowers, birdsong, fairytales and nonsense songs; forget the wisdom of this age, forget yourself in the song of brook and star.  For there is something bigger, more wonderful, more amazing just beyond the curtain; will you peek behind it? 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Bluebird and the Automaton

'This ethereal bird haunts wide-open spaces: mountain meadows, high prairies, rangeland.'  
Ken Kaufman, 'Mountain Bluebird,' Birds of North America.

I don't know how many writers quote a bird manual (nor how many birding enthusiasts care much for literary pursuits) but this is the second time I've gone and done it.  I'm well versed in the technical and scientific writings, bland and dry as dirt, putting to sleep even the most well intentioned grad student or research assistant, but this particular scientist, I think has a poet's soul.  His birds are not dull entries on a page, but rather seem ready to fly off the paper and flit about the room; his love of the subject encourages we amateurs who otherwise might become discouraged in pursuit of such mythical beasties as the Bristle-thighed Curlew or the Pink-toed Albatross, each in its own right as fabulous and far fetched as the Chimera or Cerberus.  The original namers of the various plants, animals, and even diseases were not lacking in this native poetry and still they linger in our common parlance, it is only the cold mechanics of modern science that has bereft humanity of our ignorant follies, leaving us with mere technical names as lifeless and inspiring as a dusty painting of a bird in some forgotten museum corner.  The world was a more interesting place when it was flat, when legend was history and myths were real.

The Old Squaw is now the Long-tailed Sea Duck, Milk Fever is Periparturient Hypocalcemia, but happily they have yet to rechristen the Bleeding Heart.  I am not saying science is a bad thing, not in the least, but it is unfortunate that we pride ourselves so on being a 'scientific' or worse, a 'technological' age, so much so that our nomenclature now reflects this cold affectation; we lose something of our humanity when we depend so much on our science or technology to define ourselves and our society, it is a step towards becoming if not a robot, at least something less than human, perhaps something akin to the more traditional view of vampires: cold, heartless monsters that exist merely for their own satiety.  There is actually a movement amongst some of the elite to figure out a way to download their souls, consciousness, minds, or at least their memories into a technological medium in hopes of achieving immortality, but even if they are successful, the automaton will not be them, it will merely be a computer with their memories and they must still die, as is the lot of mortals.  I think the fairies abandoned England about the same time scientific and technological advances became a dominant cultural movement and a way of living rather than mere tools to improve the lives of men.  So too has our rich vocabulary been atrophying ever since.

But there are signs of hope, such as a birding manual with a little heart and human joy in it: a man who studies birds because he loves them and wants to share that love with others: real passion!  It is a nice and refreshing change from what one finds on social media, where everyone is certainly passionate about something, but instead of wanting to share that love with you, they'd rather shout, insult, and impugn you into loving IT too, which is strangely ineffective.  Maybe I'll just go watch some birds, plant some old fashioned flowers, or read an old book, at least they are translating Shakespeare into English...hmmm?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

After the party

The saddest thing in the world seems to be the empty room after the party.  Wedding, baby shower, graduation, retirement, 40th birthday, whatever you are celebrating, so much planning and eagerness and hope goes into the affair, that half an hour after the last guest has left, you are left feeling as if there is now a gigantic hole in your life.  We work ourselves up into such heights of expectation and excitement that the sudden drop afterwards is well nigh lethal.

As Anne Shirley once remarked,"when I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud.  But really, Marilla, the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts...it's like soaring through a sunset.  I think it almost pays for the thud."

Almost pays for the thud, almost, should we then not celebrate, that we might escape the gaping chasm of emptiness thereafter.  Some ascetics might certainly agree with that logic, but you can't live like that, man is too giddy a creature to live long in despair.  There must be some middle ground between 'eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,' and walking through life as if the whole thing were naught but a funeral procession.  Perhaps the ancient church had it right with its combination of fasts and feast days, alternating celebration with contemplation, mourning and merriment, echoing the seasons of life that bring pain and joy alternatively.  Winter and Summer, Spring and Fall, birth and death, young and old...world without end.  But this world will end, that is what we must remember; both the good and the bad will one day come to an end.

No matter what worldview, religion, or ideology you cling to, the world will end.  The staunch materialist will die and the sun grow cold.  The pantheist may yearn for everything to become nothing or everything to become one thing.  The deist expects a day when the tale of the world will end and he must face the Author at last.  Or some variation thereof, but we all agree that the world as we know it, our lives in particular, cannot go on forever as we know them; they will either end permanently or be vastly changed.  The materialist can do naught but make the best of the days allotted to him, for the long years of eternity to him are cold and lonely indeed.  The pantheist, depending on his ideology, may cease to exist as the best alternative or hopes to join the epic dance of existence as something other than himself.  The deist must depend upon his God's mercy and grace for whatever is to come when the music stops at last.  None of those, save perhaps the last, sounds very inviting, intriguing, or welcome, and the last certainly depends upon the God, the materialist might be the happiest if He turns out to be capricious, weak, vengeful, or otherwise untrustworthy to we poor mortals.

Ash Wednesday has come and gone, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  Good Friday looms upon the horizon, the anniversary of when the world itself grew black with despair that God could die.  But then there is Easter, when God lived and death died.  And Advent, when we look forward to the coming of the God who was Man.  And Christmas, that mystery we still cannot fathom, even two millennia later, what does it mean that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us?  For now our Joy is tainted with Sorrow, the specter of the fasts looms over our feasts; our mortal flesh quakes to know that death creeps ever closer.  The party will end, be it our lives or our world, and what a mess and disappointment that shall be, unless there is some grander reality beyond this one.  This is but the groom's dinner: a paltry little gala the night before the wedding, a mere rehearsal for the 'big day.'

That is why Paul can call everything that has been thrown at him: hunger, cold, loneliness, frustration, shipwreck, stoning, threats of death, imprisonment, and worse, he calls it all 'light and momentary afflictions' and then has the gall to say that it is in fact gaining for us an 'eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.'  Either the guy is nuts or he knows something we do not, and my money is most definitely on the latter.  But it is very hard to wait.  We wait and wait for our earthly celebrations, they take forever to come but are over too soon, leaving us empty and tired and bored.  But not this Party.  Yes, we wait and wait, we've been waiting since Eve was promised one of her offspring would trod upon the serpent's head, but this is a party that won't ever end.  There will be no disappointment the day after, for there won't be a day after, it will just keep getting better and better, forever and ever.  And it won't be one of those horrid parties where you don't know anybody or you're tired or have a headache or the music is too loud or you ate too much and have a stomach ache or you have to go but would rather be anywhere else...it isn't even like the best party or celebration you've ever attended, in fact, it is so wonderful that 'no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man.'

And the best part is: everybody is invited.  Just remember to RSVP!