Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

Truth is Truer in Narnia or Finding Transcendence in Art

 

I love good art not because it reminds me of reality, but because it gives me hope that there is something beyond the reality I see.

I love Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat because it reminds me that even what seems broken can be beautiful. I love Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because his stars are the essence of stars the way I imagined them to be almost alive when I was a child – something magical and unearthly. I love C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia because reading them is like lifting the murky gray of our world and shining a light on it. Truth seems truer in Narnia the way the Technicolor version of a movie is more vivid than the real thing. I love Patty Griffin’s song, Making Pies, because the ordinary is the beauty within it.

Stripping away the facade of reality allows me to see the truths beneath the surface – truths I have grown incapable of seeing in the familiar, often harsh, face of world around me. I am blinded by my hurts, my fears, my prejudices, and my cynicism.

I catch glimpses of this transcendence in life and in nature, but usually only if I am looking, and most often when something has become its least ordinary self – a part of itself I have not yet become inured to. The sun at high noon in a cloudless sky is so common that it will rarely evoke any comment or reaction, but an extravagant sunset with cloud strokes patching the sky in yellows and golds and purples and reds? When I see that, I believe that God took up a brush and palette and painted the sky Himself – just to ravage me with beauty – the way a lover hopes his gift will bring his beloved to tears.

A young man walking across a street will not impress, but seeing a young man take the arm of a blind stranger after exchanging a few words, and then watching them cross together? Suddenly, I have seen beyond the ordinary to something beautiful – something that I hoped existed all along, but in which I hardly dared believe.

Too many of us, myself included, usually experience this hope only when something is so startlingly breathtaking we cannot help but notice, and then, we are like children greedily snatching candy from a curmudgeonly schoolmarm, as if God only dispenses these moments in his most expansive moods.

Art and hope have this in common: they both help you to see and believe in the beauty that is too often hidden in the real world. Good art is an exercise in hope – it reminds you how to use it. I also believe that they both begin with imagination.

So what is this hope, and can I immerse myself in it instead of only stealing these flashes of ecstasy and existing in mediocrity the rest of the time?

And here is where the imagination comes in. If I am hopeless, it is because I have stopped imagining a world or a circumstance where things can be better. The hopeless lack imagination.

In the Bible, the word “hope” is often interchanged in various versions with the word “wait.” If I give up hope because I do not have or see something now, I very much misunderstand the idea of hope, because why would you need to hope for something you already have? Romans 8: 24 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

But there is one more component, and probably the most difficult one: belief aka faith. Waiting and imagining will eventually send you spiraling down in to despair if you do not also have belief, because the longer you have to wait, the less your imagination will be able to sustain you. Ask any adult. And let me be clear – what we are believing for as Christians is not in this world. If we are only living based on the circumstances of the moment and not as if there is something transcendent, then we are living as any secular person.

Have you ever read what is commonly known as The Faith Chapter in the Bible? Hebrews 11 begins: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It goes on to commend those who have lived extraordinary lives of faith. Verse 10 says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Verse 13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Verses 38-40 are so powerful: “…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

I ask you not to skim these verses as we are so often tempted to do when we believe we know them already or we don’t think we care what they say. Go back now. Reread them. Note the phrases:

  1. “still living by faith when they died” – interpretation: they had not received their promise yet and they died. If you give up while you’re still breathing, you’re not gonna make the Faith Chapter.
  2. “world was not worthy of them” – interpretation: when you are tempted to think you must have done something to deserve your hard life or maybe that God is not doing his job, think of these people who wandered in deserts and lived in caves and in holes in the ground and remember that the world was not worthy of them. Don’t give up hope. The world won’t be worthy of you, either, whether it knows it or not.
  3. “since God had planned something better for us” – interpretation: something beyond this world: “…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…” because we are “…foreigners and strangers on earth.”

In Mere Christianity, Bk. III, Chapter 10 (unsurprisingly, the chapter titled “Hope”), C.S. Lewis says this: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Thank God.

The recipe for Hope: Imagine, Believe, Wait

Or in longhand:

To live with a constant feeling of expectation for a certain thing (Isaiah 40:31), a thing which you have not yet seen or experienced (Hebrews 11:1), you must trust that God is faithful even when this world is full of suffering (Romans 8:18), and you must remain in a state of expectation that His promises are true (Psalm 27:14).

Hope: hōp/ – noun

  1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Im·ag·i·na·tion: iˌmajəˈnāSH(ə)n/ – noun

  1. the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

Be·lief: bəˈlēf/ – noun

  1. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.

Wait: wāt/ – verb

  1. to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

 

And a song for your parting thoughts:

Imagination

Music by Jimmy Van Heusen

Lyrics by Johnny Burke

Imagination is funny
It makes a cloudy day sunny
Makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you

Imagination is crazy
Your whole perspective gets hazy
Starts you asking a daisy
“What to do, what to do?”

Have you ever felt
A gentle touch and then a kiss
And then and then and then and then
Find it’s only your imagination again?
Oh, well

Imagination is silly
You go around willy-nilly
For example I go around wanting you
And yet I can’t imagine
That you want me, too

On Writing and Procrastination

I am highly qualified to write this post, because I am chief of procrastinators when it comes to writing. For example, I’m doing it right now. Sure, I’m writing this post, but I am NOT writing an outline for my new book, which is what I intended to do.

I think that most of the things that are good for us seem hard to begin – like exercising or praying or reading my Bible – I don’t usually want to do them until they are already done. Writing falls into this same kind of category for me. When it comes time to do it, I can find any reason not to. I’m not the only person with this issue. I read a book whose author said (not in these exact words) that unless you apply discipline to your writing, the dishes will suddenly seem like the most important thing in the world. This is true. Writing often gets relegated to the last spot – when everything else we could possibly do is done – and then we make up some more things to do.

I did fairly well on keeping up work on my book in 2015. In fact, I finished my book in early November. (More on this later.) However, since then, I have not written anything at all, and I’m feeling it.  So, I’m starting again. Kick-starting it is the hardest part…getting into the rhythm of writing again.  I WANT to. So, why is it so hard?

  1. Fear. Fear that I will find I have nothing to say (which never happens).
  2. Fear. Fear that it doesn’t matter (which doesn’t matter, because it matters to me).
  3. Fear. Fear that it’s too big of a job (which is only true if I QUIT in the middle).
  4. Fear. Fear that I will mess it up (which is only an issue if I won’t fix it).
  5. Fear. That is all.

A blank book is a giant canvas with nothing on it, and you feel that from the moment you put a word down you could be making the wrong strokes – the wrong picture – damaging the infinite possibilities that the canvas held before you began. But possibilities are only that, and if you don’t take them, the canvas will remain blank. Whatever comes from your work, it will not be nothing.  And something is better than a life of blank canvases.

So, what is the cure for this fear? Discipline. Plain and simple. When I think of that, I wonder in how many other situations discipline would be the cure for fear. I think there are many things that counteract fear…love for one. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whomever fears has not been perfected in love.” (I John 4:18) And then I remember that love is a discipline, too, so maybe it really is the only cure for fear. In this case, loving myself enough to realize that writing for me is enough of a reason to write.

A few things that I learned last year when attempting to exercise the discipline of writing:

  • Facebook is not my friend. It will not change my life to find out how big a baby swordfish is, nor to know just which of the 10 stars (most of whom I don’t know anyway) got their start in the antiquated version of American Idol that was “Star Search.” (Those are just the things I rabbit-trailed already today. It’s 5:00 AM.) Facebook is my version of “the dishes” that suddenly become so important. 90% of what I see on Facebook does not interest me anyway, but when it comes time to write, I suddenly feel I need to see every post before I can begin. So, twice last year, I temporarily deactivated my Facebook account – times when I found that I was having trouble exercising my discipline or I felt I was stuck on my story, so I was letting my mind wander instead of trying to figure it out. This worked well for me, and I will definitely implement again. I don’t think I will delete my account at this point – too many friend and family connections that are there, but temporarily deactivating, or even just signing out, is a definite.
  • Having a word count goal for every writing session. This was very helpful to me. Instead of saying, “I will write for one hour,” then twiddling my thumbs and staring out of the window. I knew I would be there until I got X number of words down. My goal was 1,000 words every time I wrote. Sometimes that only took an hour. Sometimes it was 3. In cases where I was extremely stuck on where the story was going, I gave up because I realized that I really did need to stare out of the window for a while and figure that out before I put down another word. Now, I didn’t write every day. I’m not sure that I can. I do own and run a business, and sometimes that is just all I can do in a day.

I am hoping that this year, I am able to create a more disciplined approach than I did last year:

  • I’m going to sketch out main story points before I begin my sequel so that I won’t get quite as story-stuck as I did last year. I’m sure it will still happen, but I think that will help me keep going. I tried it without doing this, now I’ll try it with and I’ll see which method works best for me. These will be very loose, as I like to follow the story where it leads. My problem has not so much been writer’s block. I could write something. But making sure it served the story when I wasn’t sure where the next step in the story went was another issue. Maybe it’s the same thing? Opinions?
  •  I’m going to be less excruciatingly deliberative over every phrasing of sentence and tone of voice. I’m going to edit it afterwards anyway. And I think the faster I get it down, the happier I will be with my progress. Everything can be changed later if it needs to be.
  • I’m going to track how many words I am usually able to get down in a time frame (though I will still have word count goals), and see if I can improve it. The more I write, the more I will have written, right? I think that’s how that works.
  • Though I know I will not be able to write every day, I am going to set an expected number of days that I will write per week. Maybe 5 days a week? I haven’t decided yet.
  • I am going to put it on my to-do list. I am a to-do list junkie and I love completing my tasks for the day. I think adding it will be a little mental trick for me to see it is a necessary activity.

If you’re wondering, “So, where’s this book you supposedly finished?” It is still in the edit phase. I wanted a few people to read it, and get back to me with their thoughts. I have gotten those thoughts from some, but have a few more to go before I do the big edit. I also wanted to let it sit and mellow for a while so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes. In the interim, I’ve had lots of ideas about a sequel or prequel or multiples of both. I’ve realized I was making a mistake not to just go ahead and begin one of them. I have a “complete one task before beginning another” mentality, but that’s not realistic for this type of project, and I KNOW it’s not good for productivity. I am actually on the verge of deciding I should wait until I have more than one book written to even begin publishing. (This will be self-publishing, by the way, so all is at my own discretion.) I think people may like it more if they know there is already a sequel waiting for them.

Do you have goals or dreams you need to apply some discipline to? Any writers out there have tips and tricks they use to keep going? I would love to hear your stories!

Conflict Unresolution

Hello, All!

I’ve been dealing a lot with the idea of what I thought was “conflict resolution” in my head lately, until I realized that what I needed to be focusing on was conflict UN-resolution.

I have this obsessive compulsion to force things into some sort of resolution when there is conflict.  So, any time that cannot happen because one or both parties cannot or are not willing to attempt to come to a satisfying middle ground, I find myself unable to let the situation go.

It’s such an amorphous being, though…conflict, I mean.  It never looks the same twice.  How do you take something to the mat (Conflict, as an entity, not the individual on the other side of it) when its face is always changing?

I will go over and over everything that was said on both sides, trying to see if I missed something, if I said something I shouldn’t have, if there was something I could’ve done differently.  The situation will eat at me for basically as long as I let it, and even then will pop up in my mental microscope at the most surprising of times, sometimes years later, and that same feeling will arise.  It’s the feeling of self-doubt, of injustice, of longing for some way to understand what in the world happened, and wishing there were judge and jury to determine if, as I usually believe, I did everything I knew how to do in order to resolve it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve made mistakes in my efforts to resolve conflict.  But when I DO believe I’ve made a mistake, I try to acknowledge it, and hope that the effort is recognized in the proceedings.

And so I find myself with an ever growing list of conflicts that just feel…open.  Unfinished.

Examples, you say?  Everyone is always squirming for an anecdote.  I don’t feel like going into details, but I will attempt a generic list. (Aside: my list proved to be thoroughly opposed to condensing itself.)

The most recent is an ongoing customer service issue with a group of people with which I must continue doing business for a time, and in a personal setting, not over the internet.  After a number of unsatisfactory events, where I would calmly express that I was frustrated, and calmly ask for a little more communication next time there was an issue (you get the idea), I was sent a very defensive, sarcastic message.  I responded with a message that was a good deal more to the point, though still nothing I feel the need to apologize for.  This interaction was completely ignored by the recipient.  *Queue obsessive over-analyzation.*  My next week was spent in dissatisfaction, trying to determine whether a) I really did go to far, b) they are just insanely bad at customer service or c) is there a c?  Someone help me out if there’s another option.  After that week of misery, I decided it was clearly not going to be resolved to my satisfaction unless I was pro-active.  I didn’t want to make enemies of those people, but I also did not want to seem copacetic towards being treated like that by someone to whom I was paying money.  So, I took them a box of chocolates with a card that said, essentially, “Hey, I don’t want to be enemies, so let’s make peace, thanks.”  I didn’t apologize, still not feeling that one was needed, though I’m sure they thought otherwise.  The devil on my shoulder didn’t want me to do even this, as it could be misconstrued an apology, but the angel won out.

I will say that this is one step towards accepting conflict unresolution – doing what you can to make peace, despite ongoing differences, and then letting the chips fall where they may, so to speak.  My inner soul still does not find it overwhelmingly settled…it’s like a song that someone brought one chord closer to finishing, but still did not complete.  It continues to linger, though no longer in manic waves.

Another recent event involves a person…a friend…whom I feel is frequently trying to manipulate me (and others) into doing various things.  If a tag showed up under this person’s name when you introduced them, lately I feel it would be: “Donna*: Always Wanting Something from You.” (*Names changed to protect the living.)  This is one of those different faces of conflict..the conflict that arises in you to which the other person may very well be entirely ignorant.  To raise or not to raise?  That is the question.  And even this is different for every person, in every situation.  There is no hard and fast rule.

Historically, in my life, I have been a conflict raiser.  If something was wrong, you were going to know about it, and truthfully, because I wanted to fix the issue that I was having trouble dealing with so that we could all go on living happily and peacefully, and not (generally) because I wanted to be able to complain to you about your faults.  I clearly have not always done this successfully, but it was my goal 90% of the time.  The other 10%, I admit, amounts to something akin to verbal abuse as a way to satisfy my feelings of injustice.  I’m not proud of that, but I am going for full disclosure here.  I have tried to come to a level of moderation in this, because I felt that I was becoming, myself, defensive and imperious…not who I want to be.  Accepting the injustices done to you, after all, was a trait carried by Jesus to a level that most of us will never even understand.  And what I call “injustices” are generally so petty, that I would be ashamed to face the Lord and tell him about the level of wrath that was kindled because of some minor inconvenience.  Hebrews 10 discusses the new Christians having faithfully and joyfully accepted the stealing of their property as well as many public punishments and reproaches.  How foolish are most of my complaints?

However, interpersonal issues are real, and must still be dealt with.  In this particular scenario, I realized today that I was allowing someone else’s expectations of what I should do cause me to feel pressured, guilted, and often, in the end, forced to do something I didn’t want to do.  And that is on ME.  Not them.  Someone else’s expectations do not have the ability to force me into those actions.  Boundaries, people.  Simple boundaries.  The expectations are theirs, but I get to decide what I will do with them.  If saying, “No,” and disappointing or angering someone is the result, then so be it. I don’t have to get mad, I just have to not do things I don’t want.

The last face of conflict I’m going to talk about is on the flip side: when you think someone has internal conflict involving you, but instead of trying to resolve it, they just disappear.  The disappearing is usually when you begin thinking they have said internal conflict involving you, because I’m not talking acquaintances here.  I’m talking about people you’ve been through stuff with, people you opened your soul to…friends you thought would be around forever.  And then suddenly, they’re gone.  As an introvert (I’ve been reading a lot of books about introversion), I don’t make close friends easily, nor take them lightly.  So, the sudden absence of those people with no explanation (or in some cases, just inadequate platitudes) becomes something close to, if not an actual, traumatic event.  The lack of information creates a world where anything terrible they could have thought of you becomes a possible truth, playing and re-playing the chart-topping broken records of self-accusation and self-doubt, whatever those might be for you: “Am I boring? Too serious?  Too intense in friendship?  Critical?  Judgmental? Negative?”  And then, because you want to feel OK, you run to the other extreme and start considering good traits that maybe they just couldn’t handle in you:  “I’m probably too honest or too spiritual.”  The problem is that you don’t believe any of them. You feel that there must be some glaring flaw deep down in your soul that you’ve never even considered and you will never know, because no one will be honest or brave enough to expose it to you.  And by “you,” I mean me.

This one, I don’t have an answer for.  I’ve been trying to figure it out for years.  How do you learn from mistakes you don’t know you’ve made?  On days I am putting my confidence in the Lord (as I should always do) and not basing my emotional stability on my own capabilities and persona, I can look at this philosophically, distance myself from it, and realize that whatever flaws I have, Jesus is well aware of them and loves me anyway.  And that if those people were still needed in my life, God would’ve left them there.  But on days when my conflict unresolution obsessive-compulsive disorder rears its head and I am focused on my faults and downfalls, my broken record still plays the top ten, and sometimes throws some new ones in there, too.

This is a tough post for me.  I usually won’t let myself say anything until I’ve got it mostly figured out.  I bet that there are some folks out there, though, who are further along in figuring this out than I am, so maybe I’ll get the chance to learn a few things.

Different and Confused

This world is hard.  We all know that, though some to greater extents.  But sometimes things happen that just make you look at that fact…look at it square in the face as if it were a person.  They hit you in such a way on a certain day that you want them to change your life, to change your heart, to change you forever and not just to pass you by with a glance, but you WANT to look at them that way in order to be forced to acknowledge them.

Yesterday I had a couple of those experiences.  They weren’t my own sufferings, and probably were the more poignant for it.  There was a woman with her daughter.  I didn’t think anything of it, the daughter was probably around my age and looked normal.  Then she started talking to me.  And I couldn’t understand her.  It was immediately clear that the girl had what I assumed was a developmental disability or something of that nature.  I thought I was catching some words, but really the only one I was certain of was “confused,” which I got that she was saying as a reference to her mother who was a bit frazzled. The daughter continued to talk to me, and, in the circumstances, not really being able to hear or understand her well, I just nodded and smiled.  Before they left, the mother said, “Confused is her word for weird or out of place.  She was in a car accident and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, ‘I’m different now, and confused.'”  I know that life-long disabilities have seemingly insurmountable challenges, but something about suddenly understanding that this girl used to be just like me, and that tragedy changed her, couldn’t settle in my brain.  The idea of her understanding what she had lost, and the thoughts of what the parents must have felt knowing their daughter was probably never going to do the things she had aspired to do before – it just hung with me.

Then I went to a store to exchange something on my lunch break.  I heard a woman who worked there say something behind me, and I thought she was speaking to me.  I asked her what she said because I didn’t hear her well, and she said, “I was just praying for God to rescue me from my life.”  We had a few back and forth interactions.  She told me that she already served her time in prison and she couldn’t take this anymore, clearly intimating that what she was living now still felt like a prison to her.  I didn’t really offer her anything of substance…I just gave a tiny bit of listening.  In hindsight, I wish I had done all kinds of things, but that doesn’t matter now because I can’t go backwards in time, so I’m trying not to dwell on it.

When I was leaving the store, the woman from before was there with her daughter, and I suddenly felt blasted with other people’s pain – not in such a way as in I wished that it hadn’t happened, but in such a way that I was suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.  Not just their pain, but the pain of the billions of people whose sufferings they represent.

And I felt my smallness.  I don’t just mean in that way of, “Oh, I wish I could help everyone, but you can only do so much.”  I mean in the way that I know I could do a lot more for people than I do…I felt my emotional and spiritual smallness.  I was inadequate.

I had a lot of thoughts throughout the day.  I thought about how often I feel “different and confused” myself, which on the surface seems like it would be in a very different way from the daughter, but then I wondered how different is it really?  Different and confused is different and confused no matter where you’re coming from.  (I’m not saying all of the thoughts I had are true, I’m just telling you what they were.)  And I wondered if that car wreck actually could have saved that girl from some other unspeakable horror.  She seemed genuinely happy.  Maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to her?

I thought about the other lady and how sometimes all of our lives can feel like a prison, and how sometimes that is just life and I even found myself wondering if she was just lazy.  (Many of my thoughts are not highly honorable, I’m just being honest.)

I think that a lot of my thoughts were being formed by the sub-conscious desire to make sense of it, to compartmentalize it and make it OK.  But the fact is that it’s not OK.  Just because suffering is common to all man does not mean it is something that we should walk un-feelingly by or be able to dismiss because it falls into something we can categorize as “acceptable” or “understandable”.

I came home, and though I wasn’t thinking of it in relation to the days happenings, and quite unintentionally since I meant to be reading Proverbs, I began reading in Ecclesiastes.  I couldn’t have read something more appropriate.  Vanity indeed.  All of the things we seek and all of the atrocities that occur because of it are pointless.  What was comforting was the acknowledgment of evil:  “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not marvel at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” – Ecclesiastes 5:8

God is the highest of those high officials, and he is aware of injustice and suffering, and He’s got it.  Though all the seeking of pleasure and riches and even wisdom (though he admits it better than folly), he considers vain, it all boils down to what he says at the last, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed in to judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  It is also interesting to me how even in what seems like a most pessimistic view, Solomon still wants you to fight for justice.  We are to mete out the mercy as God’s emissaries, indeed, it’s part of those commandments we are advised to keep:  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

I want to be severely affected by the reality of other people’s pain.  I want God’s mercy to flow from me to the hurting and oppressed.  I want to cease the vain attempts at satisfaction that, from experience, Solomon tells us will never fulfill.

Why?

Hello, world.  It’s been a very long time.  As to the why…I don’t really have a reason.  If anyone cares to read the last post from Dec, 2008 (Pursuing What You Love), then I guess I could kind of continue from there with the fact that I did get the job I spoke of in that post, and have been in it ever since.  I think, at first, I did not write because I was focusing on trying to do what I spoke of in that post…learn how not to sub-consciously put myself in some position of superiority, but to really live out love with the people I encounter.

I would say that at first I did pretty well with that, reigning in internal grumblings that would usually cause me to become frustrated with co-workers or work in general, i.e. my schedule being changed from 8-4 to 10-6.  I wasn’t a fan of that, but in trying to live the servant life, took it all in stride and figured God had it all in control, so I didn’t make a fuss.

However, as with all things, I am confessing now that the novelty of being loving seems to have worn off, and I am back to being grouchy with others and thinking about myself and what I want all the time instead of living in the knowledge that most of the things I am wanting or I am frustrated with are not important AT ALL.  Realizing that I have slowly allowed satan to creep back up on me in this area is just making me frustrated with myself, and I have not managed to pull out of the cycle yet.

It comes back to re-surrendering “self.”  Allowing the Holy Spirit to take control again, which will in turn cause me to live as Christ did, unconcerned with self-promotion, unfazed by injustices done to me, actively seeking the good of all I come in contact with, whether friend of foe or some intertwined mess of both.  Most people are that, you know.  Most of the time, the people we have a hard time with are those we would call our loved ones and our friends.  They are not enemies, and yet we treat them, or at least feel inside that we must always be prepared to stick up for ourselves and our own rights against them, or else they will all constantly be taking advantage of us or taking us for granted.  The bottom line is that even if that’s true, it’s not our job to make sure we are treated correctly or recognized sufficiently by everyone around us.  That is not the reward.

The reward for acting like Christ is never shown as a warm, fuzzy existence in which no one will ever get mad at you or treat you unfairly.  Paul was repeatedly imprisoned and held on false charges which the government knew to be false, people routinely tried to kill him, and he was in multiple shipwrecks.  Christ Himself had it no better.

This is not to say that we should react smugly to poor treatment as if we are martyrs who must be living the Christ-life to be treated this way…that only comes from condescension which has nothing to do with love.  Our responses to others must not be based on their responses to us.  Love your enemies and the Golden Rule do not give conditions.  If I am walking in love because I am waiting for the world around me to applaud my behavior, I will always grow weary, because there will never been enough praise.  There will always be at least one person around me who cannot be pleased or who finds something wrong with what I do.  If I walk in love because Christ is in my Spirit, and He is living through me, nothing can burn me out…on the condition that I continue to seek Him above all things.

That is the key.  I believe through this after a time, I stopped seeking my strength, my identity, my validation in Him, and started looking to others for approval and reward.  That is when my spirit grew cold, and “loving” started to seem like an impossible drudgery.

Circus Christianity

This morning as I was sitting in church, an image popped into my head.  It was the image of a clown.  This particular clown had a sad face with tears painted on, but was still doing its silly clown show to make people laugh.  And I thought about how Christians do this…how there are Christians who act like clowns.  They might vary in how they look – some of them may have the sad faces, but some have happy ones and some just look a little crazy.  The common denominator is that each of them has painted on a persona that is not their own – a persona that, in fact, hides what each of them really is.  Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show portraying a clown that ends his or her act, then when they no longer have an audience, they begin treating everyone like scum or you find out that they are a raging alcoholic?  It’s a ridiculous analogy, I know, but this style of Christians does the same ridiculous thing.  Their real character is completely incongruous with what they try to portray, leaving people disillusioned and disappointed when they find out the truth.  They thought those Clown Christians had it all together, but turns out, that’s only while they were on stage. 

 

Christianity is not about faking it.  Some people may say, “Well, we have to look cheerful or act cheerful or do something to make everything look great.”  I say this is one of the best ways to chase people away from Christianity.  It doesn’t take a very long look for anyone to tell that everything is not always great for anyone.  It’s hypocrisy at its grandest.  So, if people do fall for it initially, they drift away easily after coming to the truth of the matter: that Christians struggle and mess up, too.  Even the clowns with the sad faces are going through the motions of making people happy…a performance they’ve often been rigorously taught.  People pleasers rarely please people.  Let’s be real, Christians.  The clown act doesn’t become us.

 

And as I thought through this, I realized it was more than just clowns.  There is an entire Christian Circus going on all around us. 

 

There’s the guy/girl walking the tight rope.  It doesn’t take long to spot this one.  These guys are in shape.  They’ve worked hard.  They probably even have a little talent.  And now they want to show it off.  “Look at me – I can walk this rope.  It’s a fine line, but I can do it.”  They put themselves way up there…they are the elite.  They’re not going to fall…falling is not an option.  I mean, if you fall, you die, right?  There’s no net.  God’s not big enough for me to fall.  These are the legalists.  There’s no room for error, and anyone who can’t do what they can do has not quite got it all together.  What happens with them?  They crash…and burn.  They live in fear of stepping one toe out of line, and inevitably find out that they can’t stay up there forever.  It’s a lonely road.

 

Christianity is not about fear.  And all this act does is scare people.  “Ooh, I could never do that.  I might as well not even try.  I’ll just stay down here and walk around on this dusty tent floor.  You have to really work too hard…and it’s dangerous, too…I mean, what if you fall?  You’re done for.”  When are we going to learn that it’s not about what we can do, but about what God already did?

 

And now we have the lion tamer.  This is the dude with the whip.  He is all about beating everyone into submission.  There’s no love in this act.  It’s all force: conversion by conquest.  And then once you get them conquered, you make sure you keep them controlled.  He’s not getting people to follow God; he’s getting people to follow him.  It’s all about the power.

 

Christianity is not about force.  The lion tamer eventually gets his head ripped off when one of the lions he thought he had tamed suddenly realizes this guy doesn’t have its best interest at heart.  He’s just a mean guy with a whip on a power trip.  If conquest were the answer, then the whole world would’ve been Christian after the Crusades.  Let’s stop pretending we can hold people down until they say uncle…or Jesus.  This would only establish that the strongest guy wins.  It says nothing about truth.

 

Then we have the guy who eats fire.  He’s a showman.  He uses a lot of slight of hand, illusions, tricks.  The Christian fire-eater is really not much more than a magician with an agenda, but he sure does make it look exciting.

 

Christianity is not about the hype.  Hype goes away.  People get tired of watching him eat fire every day…he’s a one trick wonder.  They lose interest.  There is no substance to his message.  People don’t get tired of watching someone who is living the abundant life that Christ offers us to the fullest, day in, day out, in every area of their life.  THAT is something to see.

 

The next one is more like a category.  It includes the bearded lady, the tattooed man, etc. – the pejorative “freak show.”  These are the Christians who have embraced their fears and insecurities.  They have accepted the lie that they have nothing to offer anyone, except as a novelty, and therefore have retracted from normal daily interaction with people.  They get mocked a little bit and just take it as their lumps in life, figuring this is the price you pay for being different.  You may as well just own it, right?  Their inability to fit in has become their identity.  It’s an excuse not to become something else, something more.

 

Christianity is not about hiding behind your insecurities.  It’s about facing them head on, and allowing God to make something of you in spite, or possibly because of them.  When we, as Christians, retreat because we feel inadequate, that says to the world, “Look, they really don’t have anything to offer.  They don’t even believe in the power of it themselves.”  God has promised that He will make something of us, and we need to start acting like it!

 

There are probably more, but this is as far as I got on the performers in the circus.  However, there’s one more I want to mention: the ringmaster.

 

You might think that I’m going to say the ringmaster is God.  Not in this case.  In the case of Circus Christianity, the ringmaster is Satan.  He is standing in the middle of that big red tent, directing the performance.  “Yes, that’s right,” he says.  To the clown: “Don’t you dare show your true colors.”  To the tightrope walker: “You (and everyone else) must be perfect or it was all a complete failure.”  To the lion tamer: “Anyone who disagrees with you should be treated as a hostile.”  To the fire-eater: “Give them a good thrill!”  To the bearded lady: “You are not worth anything.”  Satan applauds it all…anything that makes us ineffective, impotent Christians.

 

How many spectators of a circus do you know who watch it, and then decide they’re going to go join up and become part of the circus, too?  It’s just a show; something to do…see what those crazy Circus Christians are up to now.  There is nothing remotely desirable in it.

 

So, this is a call to all Christians – step out of the circus!  Stop doing tricks and putting on shows.  Become a real person with real purpose as God has called us to.  Be engaged with those around you and with what you believe.  Don’t be afraid of people questioning things; know that God is big enough to handle their questions as well as your own.  Don’t pretend to have it all together; if you don’t know, say so.  Respond to people with the love that God asks us to respond with.  Don’t focus on your own insecurities or other people’s faults; focus on God’s strength and the way He can make something out of anyone – just like He does over and over again in the Bible.

Buried or Planted?

Bury: to put in the ground and cover with earth

Plant: To put in the ground and cover, as seed for growth

God asked me on Sunday if I was buried or planted.  I know it was Him because I wasn’t thinking about getting buried or planted, either one.  Those are not two of my normal activities.  But when I felt the question, I knew that whatever I am, I act like I am buried – like I’ve been buried alive.  And then I realized how the two things are exactly the same – being buried and being planted, except for the intent behind them.  Did you read the definitions above?  In case you missed it, here you go again:

Bury: To put in the ground and cover with earth

Plant: To put in the ground and cover, as seed for growth

So, if I pretend I am a seed who does not know the intent of its gardener, then I have every right to flip out when the dirt begins to block out everything in the world that I know and understand in my life.  The weight of the earth on top of me is immobilizing; it’s dark; i’m lonely and scared.  It seems impossible to become anything under here.  And just when I think it can’t get any worse, someone comes along and dumps *#%& on top of me.  Now, in addition to everything else, it starts to stink.  And then they drown me, and all the filth from the you know what starts trickling down over me, mixed in with the dirt and now I’m wet, too.

Is anyone seeing what I’m getting at here?  Being planted would seem a whole lot like getting screwed.  (Theologically speaking.)  But being planted is also the only way for a seed to fulfill its purpose, and when that little green shoot first starts to peer out over the earth, I don’t imagine that sentient seed will be minding so much, although it might wonder if there were not an easier way to get here.  But there’s not. 

I think I act like God has buried me, when I’ve really been planted and now I am being nourished and tended to by a Gardener who says that I should be “confident of this very thing: that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it.” (Philipians 1:6)

And now for the lyrics to a song I wrote almost 8 years ago:

In Its Time

The whole world is barren.  Whenever will this end?

It’s been so long, I hardly know if anything can grow.

I’m so unbelieving, so foolish for grieving.

How many times have I seen death revive with one small breath?

And every beginning must start with an ending,

Just like the life You gave to me when You died, so willingly.

But right now it’s winter, and it’s still December.

And the sunless sky is dark and grey again.

The cold wind’s still blowing, and though it’s still snowing,

I know that Spring will come in its time.

Lord, help me remember, though it may seem bitter,

There’s always more than I can see underneath those lifeless trees.

And, so in my own heart, when I need a new start,

I know it brings a little pain, but soon enough, the soothing rain.

But right now it’s winter, and it’s still December.

And the sunless sky is dark and grey again.

The cold wind’s still blowing, and though it’s still snowing,

I know that Spring will come in its time.

Cabin Adventures (aka Can I Get Some Water, Please?!)

For the second edition of cabin adventures, I would like to share the saga of the water.  It all started, well, the day I moved in.  When my moving helpers and I first arrived at the house, one of the girls needed to use the restroom.  However, it was quickly determined that there was no running water.  Now, I am savvy enough to check whether a place has running water before I rent it, and I knew it had when I came to look.  So, I called the landlord and asked if I need to go turn it on somewhere.  He told me how to go down to the pump house and turn on the valve for the cabin.  No problem.  To continue this story, I really need to go backwards.  See, when I came to look at the place, he was telling me that the cabin and the other house on the property used to both run off of well water.  However, this past summer, what with our drought and all, the well ran dry.  So, to supply water to his renters (he rents out both the house and the cabin), he had gotten a 550 gallon tank, which he left on a flatbed trailer.  He would hook the trailer up to his truck when the tank ran out, drive it down to the city water supply, fill it up, bring it back, park it by the pump house, and then hook the well pump in such a way that it would pull the water from the tank.  I knew this sounded like trouble, but he had already started the process of getting the city water run to the property, so I figured it would be a short run on the possibility of running out of water, and him saying he couldn’t go get it just now or something of that nature.  But, back to the story at hand….

He tells me how to go turn the water on down at the pump house, but then says something like this:  “You probably noticed that extra toilet sitting in the cabin.”  (Ummm, yes, sitting in the middle of the floor in the one room of my cabin.)  “Well, see, your toilet has a leak, so if you don’t mind, just until I can get that new toilet put in, if you could go down to there to the pump house and turn the water off when you’re not using it, and definitely when you go to bed or leave for work or anything, that would be great.  The leak in the toilet will drain the tank in a night if your water is left on, and I’m in Colorado right now.” 

Greeaaaaat.  You can imagine my follow-up question.  “Can’t I just shut the valve at the base of the toilet off to stem the tide?” 

“No, no, that valve doesn’t work.  You’ll just have to go down to the pump house and turn it off when you’re not using it or else you’ll run out of water.”

Which also means that I will have to go down to the pump house to turn it ON when I DO want to use it.  ***Sigh***

Did I mention that my landlord said he was in Colorado because he had a relative dying of cancer?  I’m not really feeling like I should push the issue right now. 

OK, landlord, I can handle this until you get the toilet fixed.  So, imagine me, after getting ready for bed, bundling up (it was already cold by then), walking the 100 feet or so down my driveway by the dark woods with my flashlight to the pump house to turn the water off for the night, opening the door to the dark and scary pump house only to have a bat fly out at me.  A bat, indeed.  I fell down and dropped my flashlight, it scared me so badly!  From that point on, I opened the door, and stood back before I started sticking my head in the door! 

Then, if I wanted to shower or wash dishes, I had to run down to turn the water on, then back down to turn it off afterwards.  I mean, I really preferred not to run out of water, and was, therefore, trying to abide by this rule. 

Let’s just say that I got really good at doing everything that I needed to do with water at one time.  I would come home, turn the water on when I drove up.  Fill up my handy dandy Berkey water filter so I had enough water to drink, fill up a few pitchers for use during cooking, etc., shower if I chose, and so on, and then go back down and turn it off.  In the mornings, I did not even usually turn it on before I left for work.  I would have enough water ready to make coffee and pitchers to wash my face and brush my teeth.  Running down to the pump house was just too much to ask in the mornings! 

Because of the fear of running out of water, I began filling up jugs of drinking water as my Berkey filtered it.  Just in case, you know.  And then one morning, after about three days of being here, I noticed that the tank was quite low, and called my landlord (still in Colorado) to tell him that I was pretty sure we (meaning me and the people in what I have dubbed “the big house”) were going to run out of water that day.  He called me back, and left me a message saying he put calls out to a couple of people who had hitches and could haul the trailer down to get the tank filled back up for him.  Well, I did run out of water, approximately an hour later.  Of course, this was the day that I had pre-planned to be home all day and work on un-packing.  Which I still did, just with the little hitch of having no running water!  I had enough drinking water put aside for the day, and enough to brush teeth, etc.  One of the people he had called filled the tank back up at around 10 PM that night.  Whew. 

So, all this time, the landlord is really appreciative of me not putting up a fuss about stuff, and keeps reassuring me that the city water would be hooked up soon and so on.  I could see where they were laying the pipes along the road, so I mean, there was definitely progress going on.  Finally, the day comes when the city water is run to the cut-off point at the street, and my landlord attempts to hook it all up, only to find that there is some sort of break in the line (on his end, not the city’s), which must be fixed before the city water can be utilized.  However, now the landlord just runs a water hose from the city hook-up at the street to the 550 gallon tank, and I can run down to the hook-up at the street and turn it on myself to fill up the tank.  No more waiting on someone to haul the tank back and forth.  That’s a relief.  At least I won’t run out of water again. 

WRONG.

 A few days after this wonderful breakthrough, and having control of how much water I can use without having to worry about rationing, I start to note that it seems I am having to fill up the tank far more frequently than it used to have to be filled, say, like twice a day instead of every three days or so.  I’m just thinking that the people at the big house are going crazy on water usage now that it’s not limited.  The tank and the pump house are closer to the cabin than the big house, so I thought that maybe they didn’t know how often I was having to go down and refill it.  Then I find out that they have called the landlord because they are having to fill it so frequently.  So, if we both think we’re having to fill it way more often than we should, obviously something is wrong.  One of the underground pipes has apparently sprung a huge leak somewhere. 

The landlord, in the meantime, had at least fixed my toilet so that I wasn’t having to go down and turn the water off and on in order to conserve it, although it was approximately one month after I moved in. 

So, now, because of the leak, I run out of water all the time.  Run down to the street to turn it on and fill the tank up, go turn it off, use the water I need, and a few hours later the tank is empty again.  I’m thinking this is going to equal a massive water bill for the landlord!  After enough calls from me and the people at the big house, the landlord finally just tells us we can just leave the water running where it fills up the tank so that no one will run out.  So, as its gushing out in the ground wherever the leak is, at least it is re-filling the tank at the same time. 

However, before he decided this, I had a group of friends over.  This was at the beginning of when we noted the constant filling of the tank, but the water had been working steadily for several days.  Until that day.  The day I was going to have people over, of course.  I got home to find there was no running water.  We went down to the tank, and it had water in it.  We couldn’t figure out why if there was water IN the tank, it would not be working in the house.  I called the landlord, but could only leave him a message.  My boyfriend went to the store and bought gallons of water, figuring it was only polite to offer guests use of water to drink, wash hands, flush toilets, etc.  So, I had my party with no running water.  No one seemed to mind.  🙂 

We figured out later that it was not working because the leak was hemhorraging so fast that the pump could not hold any pressure even when there was water in the tank, which is what makes it kick in when you turn the faucet on.  This was when the landlord finally conceded that we could just leave it running. 

Well, he has since found the leak in the ground, so it is not running constantly any more.  However, I am still having to go down and fill up the tank when it empties (but only every few days or more if the people at the big house do it also), and re-prime the pump if the tank has run all the way down so that the pressure will build back up.  And, he installed a valve up by the tank, so I don’t have to walk all the way out to the road to turn it on anymore, but just down to the pump house again. 

It was funny to me that when the landlord would come out to work on something, he would turn the water on, call up to my house and say, “Hey, I’m down here working and turned on the water for you, so use as much water as you want, take showers, whatever!”  I wish you could hear his tone of voice…it was almost like a kid being proud of doing something good, like a landlord is being magnanimous to allow his tenants the use of all the water they want, which, I suppose, in some cultures would be true!  He’s the kind of guy it’s tough to be mad at, because he always seems like he’s really trying.

So, this is me, eagerly awaiting and grateful for the consistency of a city water line.

Cabin Adventures (aka “Tragic Mouse Tales”)

I told you a little about my cabin in “Letting the Cabin Out of the Bag,” so I figured that it was time to start sharing a little more.  Here are a couple of pictures of my little cabin in the woods.

cabin-closeup.jpg

cabin-far.jpg

There she is!  Well, as you can see, it really fits the bill for “Little Cabin in the Woods.”  And my experiences here so far readily verify this! 

One of the first fun things was the mice.  When I was cleaning out the kitchen cabinets before I began unpacking, I noted a significant amount of mouse droppings.  I wasn’t really surprised.  I mean, it’s in the woods, and I don’t know how long it had been since the last person lived here.  I cleaned very well, don’t worry.  AND I put down shelf liner.  Well, all of that took so long that I did not get to unpacking the kitchen on the same day.  So, the next day, when I began to put things on the shelves, I could not help but notice that there were NEW mouse droppings on TOP of the shelf liner.  Ahhh, so this makes it a little different.  It’s not left from past mice.  It’s current mice!  So, of course, I go and get some mouse traps.  (Sorry to all who are disturbed by this.)  I put them out in the shelf where I saw the new droppings, and in the two adjacent cabinets as well.  Three or four days passed.  No mice.  Hmmm.  Now, why would they be there the first night, and never again for four days?  Unless they are very smart mice, and know how to avoid multiple traps.  I was perplexed, but happy not to see or hear any more evidence of them. 

I should now mention that there was also a monstrous leak under the kitchen sink.  And when I say “leak,” I mean that all the water you ran through the faucet subsequently ran out of the ubend underneath.  ALL of it.  (Thankfully, this has since been repaired.)  So, I had a nice 5-Gallon bucket to catch the water, which had to be emptied frequently.  And one night, I am about to wash the dishes, and figure I should empty the bucket first.  I pulled the bucket out (you know where I am going with this, don’t you?), and thought, “What is that lump?  Nothing that big would fit down the drain.”  Of course, then I take a closer look, and realize that it is the carcass of a small, drowned mouse.  Ewwwwww.  Then as I am looking, yet another body floats lazily up beside the first.  DOUBLE ewwwww.  Two drowned mice in my leak-catching bucket.  Poor guys…the water in it probably smelled like food scrapings from dinners gone by.  Diving in expecting to find paradise, and…well, I needn’t continue.  The tragedy is apparent.  Shakespeare could do it justice.

On the upside, there has been no more evidence of mice.  Who needs traps?!

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