Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guaranteed to Blow Your Mind


I would love to sit around and read blogs all day, but I just don’t have that kind of time. There are so many good ones out there, so many people with great insights sharing them in the blogosphere... but I barely have enough time to do what I already need to do... But when a blogger on my Facebook newsfeed posts something that looks interesting, I will check it out. 

Recently, Tony Jones, one of the guys who writes about the Emergent Church, posted a link to an entry on his blog that referenced a book I had read, so I just had to visit it. The book was not a Christian classic or scholarly treatise about the church, but a semi-recent work of historical fiction called Wolf Hall. It’s about England during the rule of Henry VIII – also the time of great reformation in the Christian church – and the question it spurred Jones to ask was this:

Tony Jones
Could anything be published today that would turn the world upside down the way Martin Luther’s writings did at that time? Jones opinion: no, there are too many ideas circulating around and people are just too jaded, plus there is no single ruling theological perspective to shatter, as there was in those days.

I take his point, but I would also have to say that the gospel itself is pretty shocking and game-changing. I’m thinking that was the power behind Martin Luther’s world upset. He re-presented the gospel of grace to a church that had veered off course. 

I don’t think the gospel has lost its power to astonish and transform. I think it’s us. Many of us have heard it all again and again. We’ve been to church, we’ve heard the preaching, we’ve sung the songs... but our minds aren’t on it, our hearts aren’t in it. Others might hear it, but see us and think, “No thanks.”

Martin Luther
Actually I think that if any one of us could actually grasp the fullness of the gospel of grace, our heads would probably explode. And our hearts. It would alter us irrevocably every single time we considered it. And I’m talking about people who already follow Jesus, as well as those who have yet to meet Him. We’d have to hide in a crack and look at the back of it as it went by, like Moses did. (Exodus 33) We can’t look at it full on, and we can’t really wrap our heads around it. Peter said that even angels longed to look into these things (1 Peter 1)

And since my mental and soul grasp of God’s grace through Jesus is just a whisper in a whirlwind, that leaves a great deal of room for expansion. It is for this reason that I seek to learn it through every means possible – both conventional and un-. Books, movies, music, stories of all kinds... And every new drop of truth I see serves to revolutionize my shallow heart. If I let it. 

It won’t always be like this. One fine day, we’ll meet the gospel full on when we meet its Author. And like Paul said: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” That’s what I’M talking about...! 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Now is ze time on Sprockets vhen ve dance!


Yesterday Tom and I got some cul-cha. We saw Pina, a film about Pina Bausch, a German dancer/choreographer. And, weirdly enough, it was in 3D! Now, a lot of times, I think 3D doesn’t add a lot to a movie – just makes it look dark. But this is one time that it really boosted the experience... It really showcased dance as the multi-dimensional art that  it is.

I’m not a connoisseur of modern dance – although I did take dance classes when I was younger. I was never that good at it, but I enjoyed the music and the graceful, fluid movement. Not that I was that graceful, but I did try! Anyway, much of the movie showed the dancers in Pina’s dance group performing the routines she had choreographed. 

Remember that sketch from Saturday Night Live where Mike Myers played Dieter, host of a German talk show called Sprockets? Well, it kind of reminded me of that. Myers’ sketch parodied German art culture in the 1980s and featured, most notably Germany’s Most Disturbing Home Videos, which showed scenes of old men’s heads spinning around, dying cats, ants, and similar disturbing visions. 

Mike Myers as Deiter, host of an
avant garde German talk show
The dances they showed were not disturbing or anything, but they were abstract... sort of like... abstract paintings, only with bodies and movement. The impossibly lean, dancers – of many different ages, rarely wore traditional dance clothing. The closest they got to this was the filmy little numbers that looked like nightgowns that the braless women sometimes wore. Other times the female dancers would wear evening gowns or cocktail dresses. The men mostly wore suits or just pants – sometimes with shirts, sometimes without. Wearing street clothes made the dances seem sort of like plays, and sometimes I thought I could get a vague idea of plot – or maybe just theme... but often I would think, “It’s just about the textures.” She would incorporate elements of nature in the dances – dirt, giant boulders, water... or furniture...
Pina Baush herself

One routine involved dancers in a room full of chairs and tables. Some sort of stumbled around with their eyes closed while others struggled to keep the chairs out of their way, or steer them to each other. On one hand it may have been about just the movement... but on the other, I thought it could be about how life is, as we stumble through our world, not even seeing the supernatural forces that are influencing us.

Because we can view life as a blind dance fraught with obstacles, or we can acknowledge that there is a grand design - a choreographer, if you will. 

Pina's dance company doing what they do...
And about the choreographer Pina, well - the dancers had a lot to say about her. The director, Wim Wenders, started making the film when she was still living, shelved it when she died, but then finished it and released it as a tribute. It was clear that the dancers who worked with her were in love with her. They had no problems gushing over her work and her role as a teacher and leader. 

She gave vague, but expressive advice like, “You just need to get crazier,” or “Be good.” She also gave the dancers the chance to flesh out her ideas. She’d say something like, “Give me spontaneous, unbridled joy!” and the dancer would show her what he or she thought that looked like using the vocabulary of movement. In this way, her practices were like an improv class. One dancer expressed dismay the she would urge them to keep searching, but never told them what they were looking for or whether they had found it.

Dancing up a storm
I think sometimes life with our Choreographer can feel like this. It can seem vague and unstructured, but believe me this is a good thing. However, sometimes it seems easier to be given the exact steps to take, precise directions to where we are going. I guess that’s why the law was so attractive to people. Outside of the Ten Commandments, the law of Moses gave very specific instructions about things like what fibers to wear, what to do if you have mildew in your house and how much you owed if a neighbor’s donkey fell into a hole in your yard.

In one way, this is difficult - following all those constrictive rules, but in another it is EASY. You don’t have to wrestle with God about what His will is, and how to flesh it out, because it’s all laid out there in black and white. No improvisation necessary. One of the dancers said that there was a time when he was struggling with a lot of things, and Pina told him, “Just make it about LOVE.” (approximate quote) Fortunately, God has a similar rule... One of [the Pharisees], an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22)

Molly Shannon has serious body joy.
Another dancer from Pina’s group says that all of the dances were about pain and love. Pina was always exploring the questions, “What are we longing for? Where does all this yearning come from?” As I see it, the longing and yearning - that’s the pain. And what we are longing for is LOVE. Where does it come from? The temporary detachment from the Source of love and life. That’s how I dance it, anyway...

In some of the company’s dances, Pina herself would weave in and out among the other dancers, one of whom says that they always felt better when she was with them. I can dig that. Another Saturday Night Live sketch featured Molly Shannon as Helen Madden, a “licensed joyologist” touting her book “Body Joy.” She’d do splits and wave her legs around and say, “ I love it! I love it! I love it!” Well, having my Choreographer with me in my dance ... that's MY body joy!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Favorite Waste of Time


Thomas Wolfe, 
Asheville's favorite son.

I had to work two nights in a row this week. I actually don’t mind so much, but it kind of makes my husband grouchy. I think that hunkering down in front of the tube is something he looks forward to during the day... not because he is a couch potato, a tubehead, but because it is something we do together. It’s sort of like a nightly “date” for us. 

The better Tom
and his progeny.
Now, I like TV okay – there are some pretty good shows, but I REALLY love to read. And when I was single, I’d spend plenty of evenings in bed reading a book. When I lived in Asheville I read everything Thomas Wolfe wrote, and he wrote some long books. And it really gave me a sense of Asheville’s history. So when I got married, I kind of missed those evenings with just me and an engrossing bit of fiction/thinly-veiled autobiography

Of course, having a factual hunk of man like Tom Moore to curl up with is much better than an author named Tom who, by all accounts was a little weird, anyway... (Here’s what’s also weird: Thomas Wolfe – went to UNC, worked at the Daily Tar Heel and the Durham Herald / Tom Moore – went to UNC, worked at the Daily Tar Heel and the Durham Herald... fortunately my Tom is a good deal more stable than the other one – albeit also weird in his own charming way.)

"A bunch of honkies that live in a church..."
Anyway, despite the added benefit of marrying someone I loved, and having a flesh and blood Tom as opposed to one made of words, I did miss my evenings in bed with my books. It was Tom’s routine to watch an hour or so of TV then climb in bed and read, where I was likely to skip the TV part. To be honest, I felt the tube was mostly a waste of time... something I had to endure to get to the reading in bed part. 

Is it wrong that I’m attracted
to Boyd Crowder as
well as Raylan?
But one day it dawned on me, the hour of TV is important... because it’s important to Tom. It’s something he likes to do, and he likes to do it together. So I can either get on board, or keep on with my “suffering in silence” attitude. Because, really, it’s not like he’s asking me to do something difficult or heinous. TV is actually pretty enjoyable. And mostly he watches good stuff with me, saving the Zatoichi movies for when he’s by himself, thankfully. I know Japanese martial arts films are supposed to be cool, but they just put me to sleep. 

Zatoichi, the blind swordsman
So now I embrace our time in front of the old flat screen... What do we watch? For the most part, we prefer shows that are well-written. We’ve worked our way through most of the HBO series: The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, John from Cincinnati (which got cancelled, but I liked it a lot,) Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Rome, Eastbound and Down, True Blood... BBC America shows like Doctor Who, Torchwood, Merlin, Being Human, Luther, and The Hour... also, Downton Abbey (this SNL skit parody skit will make you spit whatever you're drinking), Madmen, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Walking Dead, Justified (is it wrong that I’m attracted to Boyd Crowder as well as Raylan?)... We even watch some network shows – like NBC’s Thursday night line-up. Jack Donaghy makes me laugh HARD. And Glee, because we love show-tunes and because Jane Lynch is funny in anything.
Craig Ferguson and his skeleton
robot sidekick Geoff

We watch movies we get from Netflix, movies Tom buys for cheap on Amazon or ebay, and Tivo'd nightly monologues from David Letterman (is it just me, or does he do the same jokes over and over?) and Craig Ferguson. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Craig and his skeleton robot sidekick Geoff Peterson, I suggest you go to CBS.com and watch him now. Craig is smart, silly and SCOTTISH. He’s written a couple of good books. too. Of course, I have to wait until after TV time to read them... 

As you can see, while some of we watch may be well written and/or good comedy, most of it probably would not qualify as spiritually edifying. But is watching TV a waste of time? Maybe. But time I spend relaxing with Tom is never wasted!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Golden Calf of My Own

Today in The Story Aaron makes a clumsy attempt to deflect blame! That’s right, the brother of Moses, the mouthpiece of the exodus, the first priest of Israel... well, he did something stupid and acted like it wasn’t his fault. 

"They gave me the gold, and I threw it into
the fire, and out came this calf!"
What happened was, Moses went up on the mountain to confab with God and was gone for a while. The people got restless and convinced Aaron to make an idol for them to worship – a golden calf. The people go to town worshipping that bovine abomination of a statue and when Moses interrupts their little party, Aaron says, “They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

Um... It sounds crazy, I know, but I know EXACTLY where the dude was coming from. See, he knew he had blown it, but was ashamed and really bummed that he had disappointed his brother. 

The invention of the blame game
A very similar thing happened in the Garden of Eden when God asked Adam if he had eaten the fruit he wasn’t supposed to eat. And Adam said, “The woman YOU put here with me gave it to me.” And Eve said, “The snake made me do it.” Ah, the blame game... Well, we all know how THAT story ends... 

When I was a kid, I had a streak of mischief a mile long and three miles wide. I did a lot of sneaky, downright impish things. I won’t go into detail... mostly because I don’t remember specifics, but if I did, I would probably be too embarrassed to put it out there for all the world to read. I bring it up because my default was to lie my way out of whatever mess I had made for myself. 

Looks like an angel.
Acts like an imp.
I did this for the simple reason that I didn’t want anyone to get mad at me. I’ve always been about pleasing people. Not disappointing them. Just like Aaron. And Adam and Eve. Only their audience was God. Displeasing God... that’s always a grim prospect. I, on the other hand, am playing to the audence of... you guys. I’m guessing that God’s invisibility keeps me from worrying overmuch about His disapproval. Plus, if I constantly worried about that, I go nuts... because of the sheer magnitude of my imperfection!

Anyway, it took me a while of living this crazy life of mine to build up even the smallest amount of character... enough to be able to say when necessary, “Yes, I did something wrong. Yes, this is completely my fault.” And even now I am sometimes tempted to just sort of breeze past the truth in an effort to make fewer waves. It's also tempting to tell the truth, but only after I've figured out how to spin it ao I won’t look so bad. You see, approval can be MY own personal golden calf.

Here’s what happened just yesterday... As you may be aware, I fight a constant battle with the ├╝ber mess that is our house. It’s a mess, and I don’t have time to do anything about it. So I did the next logical thing: I called a cleaning service. They sent someone, and she did a bang-up job. Ahhhh... sweet relief. 

What I did next was not so logical: I let my husband think I cleaned the house myself. Because I was ashamed. Embarrassed. I didn’t want to disappoint him. But then I felt so bad about the deceit that I had to call him at work and come clean. Maybe that’s progress, I don’t know...? I’m glad he just laughed when I told him. You know how I hate disapproval... Of course, if I were REALLY about earning approval, I wouldn’t do iffy things to begin with, right? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

French Fried Taters...

Love me some the Mardi Gras Indians!
Woohoo! It’s Fat Tuesday! Mardi Gras! Pancake Tuesday! The Tuesday before Lent, that is. It’s the last day people can indulge in excess before they give it up for the season of deprivation. Of course, lots of people just enjoy the indulgence without following it with the deprivation of Lent...! Not that there’s anything wrong with that... Laissez les bon temps roulez, right?!

But some people still do view Lent as a time of self-denial and reflection on the suffering of Christ. The church I attend is decidedly “low church,” meaning not given to ceremony, not observant of much of the liturgical calendar – except the biggies like Advent, Christmas and Easter. But even though I’m not in a churchy church, I am fond of Lent. I often give up sugar and/or alcohol, but I have to admit that my motives are always mixed.

In England they have pancake races –
this one was in York.
You see, along about February, I’m usually feeling kind of sluggish - weighed down by the woolen clothing and the excess poundage of the holidays. So... giving up sugar seems like an all-around good idea around now. I’m not saying this is right, I’m just saying, I have stunningly mixed motives. I freely admit it, and have discussed it with God. I don’t know what He thinks about it exactly because He has yet to speak audibly to me, but I always feel I should lay it out there for Him. There’s no use pretending I’m all pious and self-sacrificing, because I’m not. And He knows anyway, right?

Grace and I were laughing about the possibility that the observation of self-imposed dietary restrictions during Lent became a thing when the church fathers noticed their robes were getting a little tight. (“Does this cassock make my butt look big?”) The funny thing is, sometimes when I give up sweets for Lent, it has the opposite of the desired effect, as the following weeks I eat even more sweets to make up for it! I wonder if this happened to the church fathers as well...?!

Does my butt look big
in this cassock?
This year, Bill told me that I need to give up 20 things for Lent. He’s working on a list right now - here’s the start of it: french fries, singing, video games, farting... I don’t play that many video games, so that’s not a problem. I certainly would give up farting if that were physically possible... And as for singing, I know a lot of great songs and I really can’t get through any portion of my day without joyfully belting one out. I sing in the shower, in the car, in the kitchen... you know, the same places I like green eggs and ham. I, personally, don’t think it’s a reasonable sacrifice. It’s like trying to give up breathing. No thanks. 

Which leaves french fries. Sacrificing this indulgence seems suitably painful, so that’s my plan. I wonder, though... if I give them up, am I setting myself up for a major french fry binge in the weeks following Easter? (I should say that this doesn’t seem to be a problem for me when I give up alcohol... mostly because I know that if I were to succumb to a wine binge, the resulting headache would be unbearable.)

Last year, I didn’t give up anything. I, instead, tried a “prayer blitz” in which I tried to say extra prayers for my husband. The result? Immeasurable. Literally. I couldn’t measure it. First, I am not sure what result I was trying to get. Second, how is such a thing measured? Not sure. In fact, from what I have observed of God’s ways of moving, He could still be working on it! 

Can I really give up fries?
Do tater tots count as fries?
Wikipedia says the purpose of Lent is “the penitential preparation of the believer.” I’m not exactly sure how not having sugar or saying extra prayers fits into this schematic, but I like the idea of participating with Christians all over the world in the recognition of what Christ did for us. I mean, He gave up EVERYTHING to come down here and hang with us. He was a king on a throne with angels all around Him, the Son of God and all that... to come down here and be a human being who needed to eat, sleep, and attend to other bodily functions... He had to work and endure pain and tedium, interact with others – others who must have seemed to Him to be unbearably thick... And I’m not even going to mention the incredible pain and humiliation He went through on the cross for our sorry asses.

So... enduring six weeks without deep-fried, heavily-salted potato strips is the least I can do, right?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

So, I’ve been going on and on about trying to get to know God, and about the Bible. It’s definitely His story, but as I read it now, it is hard not to see that it also has a LOT to say about US. And let me tell you, it’s not a pretty picture.

At the get-go, we meet a couple of people who are too curious for their own good, brothers who hate each other, a bunch of raping lunatics, and a whole race of people that are so bad that the God who created and loves and them is tempted to wipe them out completely. And that’s just in the first book!

The Israelites could see God's presence
in a pillar of FIRE... but still wandered.
Where I am now is in the book of Exodus, where the Israelites have escaped the slavery in Egypt – being forced to meet quotas without being given the materials they need, and are now wandering around in the desert – mostly mad at their leader, Moses. God is literally making food rain down on them and water come out of rocks for them and they have the gall to complain. In fact, they say repeatedly that they’d prefer to be well-fed slaves than hungry free people. I guess to Americans like us, this seems kind of appalling – it’s kind of baffling that they would not have said, like Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” No, they pretty much said the opposite.

And every time they got in a tight spot, they would grumble and complain. They could actually SEE the presence of God with them in the form of a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire, and it wasn’t enough for them. I should be so lucky. I’d love to have a constant visible reminder of God. Of course, I still can’t say for sure whether I’d be any better than the Israelites in the desert. Practically the whole Bible is full of people who can’t for the life of them learn to trust God, to follow Him, to do what is right...

Hosea married a ...
"pretty woman" to illustrate
Israel's faithlessness.
God tells them over and over not to worship foreign gods and ... well, let’s just say, they’re not very good listeners. If they were my kids, they’d have to give up all their privileges. And in the book of Hosea, God has the prophet Hosea marry a prostitute to draw a graphic picture for Israel that she is whoring after idols. I guess we are supposed to envision that Hosea is symbolic of God, and the prostitute is Israel. If you look at it that way, you can imagine a jealous husband’s pain and wrath in a pretty tangible way. It always reminds me of a Pete Townshend song called, Second Hand Love

Pete Townshend
I guess people expect the Old Testament to be full of sin and debauchery – thems was wild times. It looks like nearly every king Israel had “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Even its heroes often fell into low-down ways. King David slept with a married woman and had her husband killed. Their son Solomon – the one who was considered uber-wise... well, in the end he, too, succumbed to foreign women and their idols. The prophets managed to live wise lives, but they were in the minority... and they often suffered for it.

And the New Testament doesn’t get much better. An argument often used to prove the veracity of the Bible often points out that if Jesus’s followers were making it all up, wouldn’t they have made themselves look better, smarter, more together? I think it’s a fair point. Instead they let it all hang out about how clueless, petty, impulsive, faithless they were... like this one time when John and James called dibs on thrones next to Jesus when He got to be a king... because they still thought He’d be a KING king... You know, with a crown and all. In their defense, that’s what a lot of people thought the Messiah would be. 

I’m pretty sure Jesus’s friends waited for this to happen right up to His death. That’s why they were so disappointed when He was killed and so surprised when He came back from the dead. Even after that, one of them asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Yep, they still didn’t get it. In the very next chapter, they are filled with the Holy Spirit in a pretty good fire and light show. This is the Spirit of God in a person, to give comfort and reveal truth. I’d hazard a guess that this is when they finally get it.

Even Jesus's cousin John
the Baptist had his bad days.
And even with the supernatural aid of the the Holy Spirit, the early church is depicted as being prone to discord, petty arguing, jealousy, power-grabbing, charlatanry (is that a word?)... Paul was constantly having to tell people to play nice. He wasn’t writing a general “how to be a Christian” instruction manual; he was addressing specific people and problems in the church. It just reads like a “how to” because at any given time, that’s how people are generally acting.

And really, nothing that people do in the Bible surprises me... because I know myself. And I’m a low-down no-good so and so. I mean, I’m not a murderer or anything, and I can’t say it’s ever crossed my mind to kill anyone, but petty, jealous, rude, vain, angry, and more....? Yes. And most of all, faithless. Just like the people wandering in the desert looking straight at the God moving in front of them in a pillar of fire, and whining and complaining that they wanted to go home. That’s a pretty good picture of myself, sorry to say. God proves His love and faithfulness to me over and over in all kinds of ways, but I find myself worrying and brooding, fearing the future, doubting His presence. 

I love this photo of Van Morrison in his cups.
My friend Grace reminded me that even John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist...” Even he had a fit of doubt where he had to send a messenger to ask Jesus if He was really “the One.” So, even a great guy like John the B. suffered from that most human affliction: doubt. And I know just how he felt. Not that I’ve baptized Jesus or been in jail, or anything... but that I am likely to look what’s going on around me instead of at God. As Van Morrison says, When Will I Ever Learn? Soon I hope.

I’m talking pretty bad about the human race in this post, and the truth is, we are definitely capable of being “only evil all the time”... But really, I love us... because we are also capable of great things: acts of whimsy, kindness, sacrifice, beauty, art, generosity, grace and love. I’m guessing it’s because God made us in His image. 

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
And the most fancy thing of all is, GOD HIMSELF likes us. Never gets tired of us. Loves us, even. He uses us to do His work. To love and care for others. John said it all when He said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” You see? Even though we are just... iffy at best... He sees us as beautiful and valuable. He loves us so very much. Like a jealous husband. Like a protective father. He wants us to hang with Him now, and live with Him FOREVER in Heaven. Yes, He loves you. And with a love like that... you know that can't be bad...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ripping Yarns

Our church always has a lot of groovy things going on, and one of them right now is having the people read the same book at the same time. I mean, at any given time, I’m going to guess that many of us are reading the same book at the same time – the Bible... but that’s not what i’m talking about. We’ve all been encouraged to read a book called The Story, NIV: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People.

I've heard it called the
Greatest Story Ever Told.
The title pretty much says it all: it’s sort of like the Bible, but just edited so that it reads as a narrative... you know, plot, characters, etc... Now, it did pop into my mind to wonder: Is it just a marketing/money-making ploy? A way to sell more Bibles to people who already own them? In our house, I’m guessing we might have around 10 different Bibles in various forms and translations... especially if you count the ones that are written as stories for children... Which, honestly, is what The Story reminds me of. But, even though we have all these Bibles... I bought The Story. Not because I needed yet another, but because I thought it would be sweet to be involved with other members of the church in this endeavor. I’m not really a fitter-in, but I can do this. 

I’m trying not to think about the publishers as cheesy money-grubbing marketing guys, but as guys (or gals) who thought it might be easier for some people to read the Word of God if it were kind of like a novel... and that, for people who have read it plenty, it might lend a fresh perspective... 

But even if you don’t read it all in a row like this, the Bible is what you might call a ripping yarn... a wild story – especially the Old Testament. It’s got a woman pounding a tent peg into a dude’s head, a king getting stabbed while he’s on the crapper, a talking donkey, and a whole army being routed by one guy with the jawbone of an ASS (teehee)... 

Yes, all this stuff is in there. But mostly, it’s the story of an infinite God and the people He loves. It’s a romance, for sure... but also a thriller, a mystery, a classic, a memoir, a biography... It’s got history, poetry, self-help, humor... And even the crazy parts are full of truth.

For some reason, my son asked me the other day if every story had a moral. I told him that some stories were just for entertainment, but sometimes even those could teach you something if you really thought about it. It’s the best way to make things NOT a waste of time in my opinion. I mean, if I’m watching a brainless comedy, sometimes I turn it over in my head for a while and may (or may not) glean a kernel of useful information from it.

Please don't watch this 
movie unless you have a 
cast-iron stomach.
I realized I could do this when I went to see the movie Trainspotting, which, being a stomach-churningly grim tale about Scottish heroin addicts, is FAR from a brainless comedy.  In fact, it has a LOT to say, but it would have been easy for me to shut down, and see it as merely an over-nasty diatribe about the dangers of drug abuse. And as the characters struggled with that most heinous of addictions and the lifestyle that usually accompanies it – depicted in the most disgusting way, I might add – it was easy to think that if they could just get the monkey off their back, everything would be cool... but there’s this really great scene where they leave the squalor of the city for a train ride into the curvaceous green countryside that comprises much of Scotland... “Doesn’t it make you proud to be Scottish?” one of the guys asks in wonder... 

The answer? Well, I could give you the exact quote, and while you know I’m not stickler for propper language, I think it’a a bit much for a blog that says “Christian” at the top. Basically he says that being Scottish is terrible – colonized by the English, a bunch of effete jerks... the lowest of the low, and all the fresh air in the world wouldn’t make any difference. So they recognize that the problem is bigger than just their personal addictions. It might be something that is inherently wrong with their country. 

Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting
And in the end, they find that it’s not just their country, although it’s a convenient scapegoat for their problems... They may leave behind their addictions, with its pain and graphic hallucinations, and they may leave their country... for anonimity and not-so-grimy living in London... but they can’t leave themselves and their own soul-sickness. Because they have made heroin their god and England their anti-Christ, but failed to come to terms with their own sin. Even in the end, the main character, played by Ewan McGregor – if you can buy clean cut Ewan as a junkie – comes out and says, “I’m a bad person”... He vows to change, but he clearly knows that just being clean and adopting a middle-class lifestyle is not going to fill the gaping hole in his soul. 

And again, I could have gotten bogged down in the endless scenes involving bodily fluids, domestic squalor, even the horrendously tragic death of an innocent child, but I allowed myself to stand back and let the real meaning seep in: If I allow something to be god in my life, unless it’s actually God, it won’t serve me well. If it’s heroin, it might even kill me. However, just getting rid of my false god isn’t enough. 

What Ewan McGregor
usually looks like...
A couple of real smart guys have something to say about this: Augustine of Hippo said this (addressing God): “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are rest-less till they find their rest in you.” And Blaise Paschal said this: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

And that’s what I saw when I saw Trainspotting... A gaping hole that needed to be filled with the God of the universe. The world is full of stories that can teach us truths, and this movie is one of them. HOWEVER, if you want to go straight to the source, the Bible is full of stories, full of truth. And even the crazy ones can give you a picture of who God is. Our pastor gave a full-length sermon about the woman killing the guy with a tent peg, and another one about the king who got stabbed on the crapper. Because this book, even at its most outrageous, doesn’t just point to the gaping hole, but gives you the information you need to fill it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

He Might Be A Giant

Eric Montross at UNC
My days and nights are pretty full, so if I have a minute, I try to take advantage and type a few lines... Because I don’t know if you’re aware, but I have a blog. Sometimes this works, but having a few moments and having something to say don’t always go together. Like now. I’m actually at a cub scout meeting, and I know I should be paying attention, but I’m seizing this moment instead to write a line or two. Only problem is, I don't have a line or two to write. Although... A really tall dude walked in a few minutes ago, and I’m told it’s Eric Montross (left.) I have some vague idea that he is a famous local basketball player. I’ll look it up when i get home.

Other than that, not much is springing to mind. How many times have I been in this predicament while writing this blog? Too many. I was talking to Marion Youngblood, who is a fellow blogger, last week, and she has trouble getting her posts up, too... not because she is drawing a blank, but because she just doesn’t feel like sitting down to bang it out. She’s a fantastic woman, by the way – a certified life coach who dispenses wisdom to her clients and at marionyoungblood.com/blog/. She’s truly been an inspiration to me in terms following my gut, professionally speaking. 

Marion Youngblood
When I was working at my last “office job,” she encouraged me in a big way to go freelance, and when I did, the company she worked for was one of my first clients. Having coffee with her last Monday was a bit like a shot of Red Bull! Her exuberance is plain to all who meet her, and our conversation was animated, but not frenzied. We talked about our lives and our work – catching up, but also going deeper, discussing spiritual aspects of our lives.

I don’t know when the occupation “life coach” became a thing, but I can see how it would be helpful to people. I guess some folks see their problems in a more compartmental fashion, like, “I have a problem at work,” or, “I’m having a hard time with a particular relationship,” or, “I have a headache.”

It’s my experience, however, that it’s rarely just one thing. It may start as one thing, but it inevitably shoots out tentacles that wriggle into other parts of our lives. For instance, at the early part of the year, my business fell off a bit, producing strain between my husband and myself, and stress for our whole family... which led to headaches and digestive problems. 

Jonathan Acuff,
a prolific blogger
Often, when I am in the middle of such a spiral, I can’t see the forest for the trees. In these cases, it could be helpful to have someone who can look in from the outside, see all the pieces and how they fit together, and help you get a better view so you can move them around ‘til they fit better. Because sometimes it’s not the pieces, but how you are viewing them that is the problem. 

But that’s not actually what I was starting out to write about. I guess I was just writing about blogging. Even for a dynamo like Marion, it’s not always easy to get those posts out there. I don’t know how prolific bloggers like Jon Acuff (left) do it. He is the son of a former pastor from our church, and he has not one but TWO blogs that he updates pretty frequently: jonacuff.com/blog/, and jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/. 

Jon's book... 
well, one of them!
He has quite the following and comments out the wazoo. He even published a popular book called Stuff Christians Like, with an offshoot page-a-day calendar. How does he come up with topics? Does he ever run out of things to say? If so, what does he do? Does he wait until he gets an idea? Does he try to conjure one? Does he just start typing and hope that something worth reading comes out? Like I’m doing right now? Actually it’s kind of a goocher that I mention both Marion and Jon Acuff in the same post, because they both have things to say about following your dreams / gut in your professional life. Jon’s other book is called, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job.

Anyway... If I’m going to join these two ideas together, I guess I could wonder whether my lack of meaningful blog fodder is not my real problem, but a one of those places where a tentacle branching off from a real problem has wriggled its way in, and is making itself known. But what IS my real problem? 

In the Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus comes out against worrying.
Maybe it’s just how I'm looking at things. I mean, I’m sitting here at cub scouts, rolling my eyes, constantly checking my email on my phone, looking at my watch and thinking what a pain in the ass it is... when I could be watching the kids do hilarious things (a very nerdy looking redheaded scout with glasses just gave a short speech, which he ended with a rapper/gang hand signal), and thinking about how scouts is going to help Bill grow up to be a fine young gentleman. I could be thanking my lucky stars for the guys who lead the pack, plan and direct the activities, track the achievements... I could be getting to know the other parents... I bet they all have fascinating stories.

I took this blurry pic of Eric 
Montross at cub scouts. 
I think he might be a giant.
So... is the problem that I so often fail to live in the moment? Even my attempts to bury my head in my blog show that I am not giving this moment my all. Maybe if I fully embodied each moment, I would have more to say? I don’t know... just speculating. I am not that familiar with Buddhism, but I am thinking that living in the present is a sort of Buddhist thing. But I think Jesus also addressed this issue in Matthew 6 when He told listeners not to worry about the future - what they would eat or drink or wear. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Part of me argues that if I don’t multitask, some tasks will remain undone. Or maybe if I focus on each task, maybe each task will take less time...? Or maybe some tasks don’t actually NEED to be done...? I guess the trick is to figure out which ones... 

All I know is, had I not been paying attention earlier (ie. "living in the moment"), I might have missed seeing Eric Montross, who, according to Wikipedia played basketball at UNC-Chapel Hill and also with various NBA teams. And even if you aren’t into sports, it’s not that often that you get to see a seven-foot-tall man... am I right?