Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hold it loosely

In a culture that idolizes fame, power, and material wealth, happiness and contentment via any other means is almost impossible to comprehend.  When we act only out of a hope of personal gain or out of fear of accruing shame or guilt, then our misery is assured.  The celebrities aren't happy, those who have attained the pinnacle of our society's definition of success, if judged by their rate of substance abuse, suicide, divorce, and other signs of personal and relational stress and dysfunction.  How much less are the masses, ever in desperate pursuit of this so-called success, ever to be happy?  Is life simply a meaningless striving before an infinite nothingness as the secular humanists would have us believe?  Is there no other option but pointless misery and then death?  Is there a way to fix things?

The good news is that it isn't yours to fix.  Our society glorifies ownership as the highest good, but we were not made to be owners, but are rather stewards.  Yes, we don't reap the glories of ownership but neither do we incur the stress, cost, and worry of being the big boss, the one who must pay or suffer when the market drops or disaster happens, the one left holding the bag when everything collapses.  We are given a physical body, a personality, skills and talents and interests, relationships, and the material necessities to make it through each day and those necessary to accomplish whatever tasks that are required of us.  Anything more is beyond our scope, interest, and abilities and reaching for it only leads to depression, burn out, pride, and ultimately failure and misery.  'Ye can be gods,' said the Serpent, and our forebears reached out and took the forbidden, and indeed we became gods: the gods of Ancient Greece and Rome, of Babylon and Canaan.  Unhappy, wretched, unscrupulous, capricious, fallen gods.

Then God became Man, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.  When man wanted to be God, the only remedy was for God to become Man.  We face the same choice as those in that ancient garden: will we abide within our appointed sphere, content to 'work and keep it,' or will we reach for the forbidden and ruin it all?  That ancient serpent promises happiness, our culture whispers the same, but of all those who have taken that fatal bite, none have yet tasted the promised nectar, finding only a bitter and wormy apple as a reward while their world collapses around them.  Let it go, whatever it is.  No material thing or human relationship is the answer to your problems or current misery.  Only by letting go can we potentially keep it.  Lose your life to find it, lose the world to inherit heaven.

Abraham trudged grimly up a hill, seemingly to destroy a miracle and decimate a promise, but up he went only to discover a greater miracle still.  In giving up his son, he kept both the son and the promise.  God gave up His son too, for us, but that Son was not spared at the last moment and we are the inheritors of that promise, the greatly blessed, though not of our own doing.  We didn't pay the Price, for we aren't the Owners.  We are called to shepherd Another's sheep, tend Another's vines, mind Another's store.  Your children aren't yours, neither is your body, your house, your car, your bank account.  You are born with nothing and nothing follows you beyond the grave, just your own naked soul which will one day give an account of how you used all that was given into your keeping. Will you find a proud and smiling Father on that Day, or a grim and severe Master, disappointed in your poor stewardship?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Put down the phone and pick up the shovel

If the nineties were cool, our current cultural atmosphere seems to be ruled by equal parts fear and anger.  We're all afraid to say the wrong thing and make someone else angry which in turn makes us angry...world without end.  I ran across this article about a new book addressing this very problem and I hope it will help people see the world we've created for ourselves and that each of us will do what we can to resolve it.  It has nothing to do with fixing someone else or changing someone else's viewpoint, rather, as the book urges, we must each look at ourselves and ask, 'how am I contributing to the problem and what can I do to change that?'  I think that's what the whole problem boils down to: we're all angry about something, blaming 'it' for our current disappointments and frustrations in life, somehow thinking that if 'it' was resolved to our liking or had been different, life would be far better.  So we hop on the internet and complain about 'it' hither and yon, until we've plastered our comments all over cyberspace from the trendiest site to the most obscure blog, while we may feel a sort of satisfaction, grim and cold as that may be, we really haven't done anything to resolve the actual problem and we're still miserable, so we complain some more.

What is this dreadful 'it' that has ruined so many lives?  It varies dramatically between individuals.  For my sister-in-law, she thinks the current presidential administration is the key to solving her problems and anyone who thinks otherwise is held in utmost contempt (like us).  For the insecure mothers among us, it could be diapers or breastfeeding or vaccines or organic or whatever, somehow feeling that shaming and bitterly criticizing how other parents do things somehow justifies your own parenting choices.  For my father it was his parents, they never gave him enough money or did X or Y that would have made his life better.  For some it is 'saving the planet,' and those of us who don't live in tiny houses or walk everywhere are little better than Hitler.  For others it is food: pick your trendy diet or avoid certain ingredients or only eat things from a certain source and all other ways of eating are completely unethical and amoral.  It can be anything, absolutely anything you are or aren't from race, gender, neighborhood, religion, money, politics, a rock band, a TV show or movie, family of origin, favorite color or pizza topping...anything that serves as the great excuse as to why your life isn't what you want it to be.  Anything you use to belittle or judge or criticize others to elevate your own value or blame for your current less than ideal circumstances is 'it.'  And everybody has one or more lurking under the bed or in the back closet, just waiting to leap out at an opportune moment.

But the truth is life isn't great or ideal, ever, for anybody.  It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, what you have (or don't), where you live, or what you like, life is hard, period.  Just look at celebrity culture if you think money or fame or success is going to make you happy: addictions, broken relationships, ruined lives, misery...  Sure, you can spend your whole life blaming your parents or the divorce or the adoption or your education (or lack thereof) or an addiction or some group of 'other' people that make it impossible for you to accomplish your dreams, but does that actually help you?  No, all it might accomplish is making others afraid or angry or discouraged when we lash out at them in frustration at our own wretchedness.  It isn't their fault, so let's leave 'them' out of the argument for a moment.  All this negativity does nothing but add to the seething mass of hatred and uncertainty already drowning our world and only furthers our own misery.  What can we do then?

Instead of lashing out against 'them,' let's turn inward and focus on ourselves for a moment.  Why are you angry, frustrated, discontent, or bitter?  Stop, falling back on 'it' as your go-to excuse won't resolve anything.  Dig past the obvious and get down deep, into the very knot in your soul.  It's tender, it hurts, that's why we instinctively lash out at others when they get too close, like an injured dog snapping at anyone who gets too near the wounded leg, even if they are trying to help.  Gently, gently, no judgement, no shame, just dig, dig, dig, and it may take a while.  We tend to bury it deep, shroud it in darkness and mist and obscurity, so much so we don't even know it's an issue.  We've all been hurt, we all carry some secret sorrow or shame, but we're all so busy pointing fingers that we don't understand we're all wounded and should be helping one another heal instead of wounding each other further.  What is it?  Bring it out into the light in all its ugly glory and let it go.  No, not forget it, acknowledge it but no longer let it hold sway over all your thoughts and actions.  Begin to heal, far easier said than done, but it is possible.  But it takes work, patience, and honesty.  Be gentle with yourself, and with everyone else too, they hurt just as much, they just don't realize it.

And someday, no matter how much it hurts now or in the interim, you will find Joy again.  Need some encouragement?  Go read Jane Eyre or Anne of Green Gables or Mansfield Park or Les Miserables or Lord of the Rings, wherein the main characters face external circumstances that range from the uncomfortable to the horrific, yet each understands, though often through much personal struggle, that it is who we are and the strength of our character that determines our happiness rather than our history or lot in life.  Bashing others over the head won't make us happy, it only makes them miserable too, so instead, let's bash our own secret sorrows, disappointments, injustices, and shortcomings over the head with all the vim we once used to scathe our 'enemies.'

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

In the dog house

"Let them own dogs..." was the astonishing statement from Ms. Antoinette before she was made to pay the ultimate price for her heartless remark by the maddened hoard of infertile women.  Yes, my history is a bit revisionistic, not that many amid the tech generations would notice or care how badly I abused and manipulated historical fact to fit my own designs.  But it is a question that has puzzled me of late, not fake news and revisionist history, that would be too timely and prominent a topic to discuss on this blog reserved solely for obscure philosophical maunderings, but rather the role of dogs in society.  Stay your giddiness and warm fuzzies, we are not discussing the various merits and anthropomorphic characteristics attributed (fairly or not) to our canine companions, rather this modern notion that dogs are people, or even better than people, has been one that puzzles me significantly.  Don't get me wrong, dogs are wonderful and amazing creatures, but they are not people.  They are not a substitute for children, friendships, or good human society.  But why are so many determined that dogs and people should be interchangeable, at least on a social level?

Yes, in your theoretical vacuum inspired by cute animated stories and heartwarming CG marvels, even a pig could be good company, but then in that happy land everybody can sing and dance and the sun always shines and the bad guy always loses.  But that is not real life and no matter how many Disney flicks you imbibed as a child, I think on some level, everyone knows that to be fundamentally true.  But why does it persist?  Why do childfree couples expound upon their dogs the way society used to extol their children: complete with birthday parties, doggie spas and day care, cutting edge medical treatment, specialty foods, adoption/birth announcements and showers, countless pictures on social media...  But none of it is real, it doesn't mean anything; in the end it is all shallow, vapid, and short lived.  The dog doesn't care, he's as happy eating roadkill as that Organic Caribou and Tibetan Leeks diet you special order from those monks that hand mix each batch according to some ancient secret recipe handed down from heaven ere the worlds were made.  The owner (pet parent, really?!) might get a short lived thrill out of it, and there's nothing wrong with having a little innocent fun, but to obsess about your dog the way others obsess about their children (which also isn't healthy for either the kids or the parents but that's a whole other topic) and insisting that the whole world care likewise is the epitome of self-indulgence.

And that might be the answer right there.  Dogs shape themselves quite naturally to our personalities, behaviors, expectations, and treatment of them, in effect we create them in our own image, whereas children and people in general tend to have wills of their own which will inevitably conflict with our own.  Dogs are the easy way out.  You can kennel a dog, sell a dog, breed more dogs, train your dog to do whatever, and even euthanize your dog if necessary (no I am not advocating for human euthanasia!) but you can't do that to a child, spouse, boss, friend, neighbor, or parent, no matter how tempting, rather you must deal with the conflict and resolve it in a way that accounts for the wellbeing of all involved.  We've become such a culture of 'have it your way' that we even want our children to be as we want them rather than as they are, and in lieu of this or in fear of it, we forgo having kids and substitute 'fur children' or avoid actual human relationships in favor of our pets, it is so much easier that way but far less rewarding.  Our focus is inward on our pets, they adore us and we enjoy them, we become small and insular.  Other people annoy us, frustrate us, challenge us, humble us, they force us to grow and look outside ourselves.  The love of a good dog is a wonderful thing, but to conflate it with the relationships between people is to diminish the value of both.  Let's have our dogs and people too!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A tale worth the hearing?

My favorite stories are full of people doing the hard thing, the right thing, of sticking to the right and the good and the true even when the road seems impossible and the personal cost staggering: Jane Eyre's flight into the night, Jean val Jean turning himself in to spare a man wrongly condemned in his place, Rebecca and Ivanhoe parting ways amidst a budding romance, Elizabeth Bennet spurning her presumptuous suitors, the astonishing conclusion to a 'Tale of Two Cities,' Sam and Frodo plodding hopelessly into Mordor, Luke Skywalker taking on the Empire, when God became man to pay a debt He did not owe...to quote Sam (from the movie):

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the ending, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr Frodo, I do understand... I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only the didn't. They kept going, because they were holding onto something...

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr Frodo... And it's worth fighting for."

Society once held that there was such a thing as right and wrong, a standard of goodness and truth apart from any individual, cultural, or national preferences, opinions, or ideas.  Now everything is relative, based on individual inclinations, emotions, or whims at some particular moment, do what feels good or seems right to you and everybody will just get along fine...until my whims interfere with yours and then we have anarchy.  And though our cultural mood seems to say there is no truth or right or wrong, practically however this is ridiculous, imagine how you would feel if I just happen to help myself to your $100 you left sitting there, because obviously if it makes me happy I should do it, not that it makes you very happy, but hey, there is no wrong, right?  Right and wrong, moral truth, and virtue have not changed, merely our cultural observance of them.  Perhaps that is why all the stories have died.  I have yet to find a modern author that can captivate me like those who wrote the tales above.  And our modern storytelling venue, the movie, has not only fallen flat on its face but continues to sink into the murky depths of the fen it now occupies with each passing year: remakes, obscure comic book characters, sequels and prequels galore...not one good, memorable story in the bunch.  Why?

We do what's easy rather than what's right.  We must have things now (on credit) rather than saving and working and earning to own it later.  Our consumer mentality has infected not only our moral lives but our stories as well.  Sam's right, the tales worth telling and remembering are the ones where the characters stick it out through the good and bad, doing what they know is right rather than what's convenient or expedient.  Will our own tales be worth remembering someday?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

'She is tolerable, I suppose...'

“She was nothing more than a mere good-tempered, civil and obliging Young Woman; as such we could scarcely dislike her -- she was only an Object of Contempt”  
~Jane Austen, Love and Friendship

While Mr. Collins may be the master of 'flattering with delicacy,' Jane Austen is no stranger to the witty criticism or comeback.  Sadly, most of us are nowhere near so witty in our own attempts, though we seem to make up what we lack in quality with quantity, much like Miss Bates and her three dull things.  While in school and sports we must each have high self-esteem and everybody is special and perfect and a winner and nothing negative is ever said, and in the media and university and workplace we must be culturally sensitive and politically correct, afraid to speak anything that might be construed as negative or critical of any sensitive group, online and in person however, our tongues are very sharp indeed, or if not sharp, at least a deadly bludgeon with which we happily whack away at everything and everyone from retailers to fellow social media addicts to bloggers and journalists and politicians.  Just check the comment section on any blog or for a given product on any retailer or sites like yelp or your favorite social media site.  The 'mommy wars' are a great example, where one mother runs down another for her choice of feeding, diapering, work or not, or whatever, because the way the former does it is obviously the only way to do things and anyone who says otherwise is a child abuser (ouch!).

But what we are all missing, whether we are of the 'no input for fear of crushing self-esteem or being labeled a hate monger' crowd or the 'running down someone because you think you know better or are better' groupie is that none of it is effective.  There is a place for constructive criticism certainly, but this culture wide addiction to insult and negativity is destructive not only to our social fabric but to each and every individual heart, mind, and soul.  It is a canker that is quickly undermining our very value as people and the cohesiveness of our society as a whole.  What can we do to stop it?  How about noticing the good, the excellent, the wonderful for once.  Instead of 'straining at the gnat,' let's appreciate the soup!

My in-laws are a perfect example: they mean well, they certainly care deeply for their grandchildren and son, but they think the best way to 'help' is to criticize and advise at every turn, making us feel like they think we are stupid, horrible parents, when truly the best thing they can do for their grandkids is to support and encourage their parents.  It is the same with every aspect of society and every relationship.  My mother learned from her mother, and so forth back into the foggy mists of time, that the only way to raise a daughter is to constantly tell her what she does wrong.  I certainly learned what not to do, but I never figured out exactly what to do and I ended up hating myself for being such an idiot that could never do anything right, certainly not a healthy habit!

I ran across this little article on just this topic.  It is very strange to me that the world has been ending since first I opened my 'Weekly Reader' in elementary school, but the cause is always different and we have yet to witness the world's last night.  Back then it was a looming oil crisis (we would have completely depleted world petroleum supplies in 50 years, but 30 years later here we are in the midst of a surplus!) and the Ozone layer was being depleted and the Rainforest was being destroyed and acid rain was obliterating our temperate forests and frogs with supernumerary appendages were a certain harbinger of doom for the rest of us...then there was bird flu and SARS and Y2K and global warming...but we're still here.  I'm not saying there aren't real problems and threats and concerns in the world or that everything is perfect, far from it, but this chronic pessimism is, well, depressing!  I think we all need a good dose of G.K. Chesterton, most especially the media.  A good laugh is just what we need, and he'd be laughing at us certainly, if he could see the muddled pinnacle our modern pessimism has attained.  So remember, above all else, if you want to make the world a better place: laugh, smile, have a little fun, compliment somebody on something they did well or right, contemplate the good and the true and pass it on to others.  Bring a little sunshine to your own dark corner of the world; be a vector of Joy!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The beauty already there

We live in an age of fixers, especially since google makes it so easy to solve every problem in three easy steps with the contents of your sock drawer.  Men are notorious fixers when it comes to relationships, or so I've heard many ladies repine, they just want him to listen, not fix them then and there.  Women aren't much better, especially moms, we look on Pinterest to discover how to easily make our baby quit spitting up (let me know the secret when you find it!) and try to fix everything from grammatical errors to plumbing issues and get impatient when we can't magically resolve something.  I think it's a drug, we get a momentary high when something goes right and we want to feel it again, bring on the problems!  Except it doesn't work every time and then frustration and discouragement set in.  We want to know we are in control, we want to know we can handle everything and anything that comes our way.  And with more technology, information, and resources at our fingertips than any generation or society has ever before possessed, our desire to succeed only grows, and so too our frustration when things don't go right.

My family has gotten into a complaining rut.  We look only for problems and things that aren't going right and lose sight of the 95% of things that are good, right, true, and beautiful.  We can't see the person for the wart or enjoy the cake because it is slightly dry or we wanted chocolate not vanilla.  Pretty petty, but it can destroy happiness, contentment, and make life miserable.  We've lost our sense of fun, wonder, and adventure and feel overwhelmed and depressed.  It's time to take off our blinders, put aside our petty complaints, and look at this marvelous world anew.  Let us be thankful someone is in our life, warts and all, and enjoy their company.  Let us be happy to have food, let alone something so extravagant as dessert!  There are sunsets, music, books, food, forests, rivers, cats, clouds, smiles, old jokes...just waiting to be enjoyed.  But we must choose it.

The world surrounds us with negativity and despair (just watch the news or read something online); it falls into our lap without effort or thinking.  We must choose the good, the beautiful, the wonderful.  We must choose to enjoy things.  We must choose to have an attitude of mirth, joy, and contentment.  It isn't just a modern phenomenon, it's a problem as old as Eden, perfection and Paradise surround us and yet the serpent whispers doubt into a susceptible ear.  Will we let that wretched snake spoil our Joy or will we choose to trust that things are not as grim as he would have us believe?

Trust, it is so hard to do in this 'do it yourself' culture.  Especially when so many never learned it at home, having no one to take care of them and depend upon but themselves, we can't trust anyone but ourselves, but that way lies misery and despair.  There are some things we can't do alone.  Laughing at our own jokes sounds rather hollow.  Enjoying a movie alone night after night is rather sad.  We need community and society and companionship and we aren't likely to find it online.  We need real flesh and blood relationships, but that requires trust.  And work.  And the risk of getting hurt.  But it is the only way to live, all else is just existing.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A constant dripping of rain

One thing I love about the Old Testament is its use of metaphor and analogy to describe a variety of situations, in our visual culture, we often forget our forebears relied on word pictures because visual representations were impossible to come by or prohibitively expensive.  Everything from a donkey in heat to a swarm of locusts is used to represent something else, and some of them are downright funny, especially in the Proverbs.  Such as the man who would rather live on the roof than in the house with his ill-tempered wife!  Another such example is, 'a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.'  I never appreciated that line as I have in the last few days, and no, I have not been a quarrelsome wife, but rather we have had some adventures in plumbing and it has really been a literal damper on life as usual.  I didn't know how much until it was actually fixed!  There was either a constant drip drip in the background or we had the water shut off to the entire house to keep it from dripping (you don't know how much you rely on something until it is gone!).  After they fixed it, we all sighed in relief.  I literally felt like I had had a broken leg that had yet to be attended to and once it was set, life was so much more hopeful and joyous.

Is there some unresolved wound in your life or soul or emotions?  Is there a 'constant dripping,' an old wound or leak, that has become normal and you don't even realize it?  Mine was a broken family and the resulting emotional havoc, which will likely take a lifetime to heal, but I didn't even know it was a problem until I figured out that what I thought was 'normal' was far from it.  How much misery are we unwittingly inflicting upon ourselves or others by putting up with such 'drippings?'  Ignorance is one thing, pretending something is fine when it isn't or ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away are something else entirely: it's like knowing your roof leaks but not wanting to do anything about it for whatever reason while it slowly destroys your house.  And sadly, modern life encourages just that.  There is no longer anything that is Good or Right or True for everybody, rather we each define our own reality and what is good for me might not work for you.  But the roof still leaks, no matter how you, me, or anyone else tries to justify it and the damage is still going on, even if we can't see it at the moment.  How much injury are we willing to endure just to pretend that everything is 'fine?'

Social media shows us that everybody else has it all together, but it's a lie, we're all a mess, in our own peculiar way.  That's another thing I love about the Old Testament, it doesn't sugar coat anything.  The greatest heroes of the faith are also painfully flawed: murder, adultery, cheating, lying, fear, doubt...it's all there; it's still here today, just nobody's talking about it.  You're no worse (or better) than anyone else in history, we're all human, we're all a mess, and happily we're neither alone nor required to stay that way.  You can heal and grow, but first we need to admit there is a problem: I had to admit there was a leak I couldn't handle before I called the plumber, and life's Plumber is always on-call!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

They shall rise up and call her blessed

What is success?  What is a meaningful life?  What is our purpose and reason for being?  It's a question man has asked since first he gazed upon the stars, lifting his eyes in wondering bafflement at his own place in the universe to those glittering dots, so certain and sure of their own place and course in the heavens above.  It is certainly a question that haunts modern man, perhaps even more so the modern woman.  For millennia a woman's place was in the home, raising the children and seeing to the needs of her family.  In the modern world, a woman can pretty much do as it pleases her, but with so many choices and opportunities, how is she to be certain what will make her happy?

That's easy, promise a thousand different voices, all vying for precious time or money, you need only do X, be Y, or own Z to make all your dreams a reality, but we've tried each and found it lacking, much as the writer of Ecclesiastes protested thousands of years before us: pleasure, wealth, power, relationships, he had 'it all,' but was still unhappy.  How about we modern ladies, can we
'have it all' and be happy and successful with everything like all our female heroes seem to proclaim?

I'm a displaced professional, I tried the career thing but ended up burned out and dissatisfied, wanting to be at home for my then 1 year old son.  A lengthy and messy job loss and an eight hour move later, I got my wish but the career ended up on the back burner.  I've enjoyed my time as a mom, wife, and domestic CEO but as school loomed on the horizon for our son and no more children seemed forthcoming, I assumed I'd be heading back to work this fall on a more regular basis.  But then our daughter appeared when we had almost given up, I was all ready to sell the crib and donate the diapers, having waited almost 3 years with nothing but a failed adoption to show for it.  This past weekend I attended a professional conference, baby in tow, and was reminded just how frustrating and hard it was the first time to balance baby and career, even with a stay at home dad, could I do it again?  The answer was a resounding 'no!'

Now this isn't the answer for everyone, certainly, but I felt a sort of weird peace that I was doing the right thing.  Many still question my choice (mostly those who want the convenience of calling me at strange hours for something that may or may not be an emergency) or those who prize prestige or possessions as life's highest good, but I know this is not that for which we were made.  I married a pastor, not only do I have a family, but I have a church to take care of.  I don't get paid, nor do many realize the hundred little things I do that make a huge difference, the same goes for life in our home.  Can I live with that?  Some have glorious careers, devoted clients, others famous ministries that do worldwide good; my fame barely crosses the living room, where my five year old seems to have forgotten that I just told him not to wake up his sister.

The feminists would tell me that this is demeaning, a waste of my time and talents.  The financial gurus would say I'm wasting my prime earning years.  I'll forgive their ignorance, as they've probably never waited three years for the chance to hold a baby.  No, this isn't what I planned to do with my life...it's better!  There is no magic formula for a happy life, except to do what you know is right, even if the whole world thinks you're nuts!  Even if it is really hard or not what you want (or think you do) and life gets ugly, disappointing, or confusing for awhile, it will be worth it one day, just keep going.

My grandmother never was able to have biological kids.  She adopted my father and his sisters out of the foster care system and strove valiantly her entire life to be the mother they needed, but they had various issues and made poor choices.  One died young.  One is an alcoholic.  My father was abusive, paranoid, and self-absorbed and never once thanked his adoptive parents for anything but rather blamed them for his failings and was always demanding money.  My grandmother never had a day of maternal peace and joy in her life, but ever she pressed onward, was patient and loving towards her erring children, and ever cheery for her grandkids.  She died nearly 20 years ago.  She didn't live to see her great grandkids, but without her influence and example, I'm not sure she'd have any, for she was the only positive familial influence in our lives: she showed us what family could be, she was a light amidst the darkness of neglect, abuse, divorce, and dysfunction.  She never had a fancy title or made a lot of money; her efforts were never rewarded with temporal joy, but the difference she made in our lives will influence generations to come.  Is it worth it, this 'slaving away' in obscurity?  Yes, totally, even if we do not personally live to see it, certainly others will, as does He who, 'sees in secret,' and thus our efforts are neither unknown nor unappreciated.

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


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!