We are more alike than different
A blur of stories... handmade shoe boxes decorated with little hands to house Valentines cards with kind words and heart shaped candies. A young soldier's wallet found with a tiny piece of paper written by fourth grade classmates listing his greatest attributes. A picture preserving the memory of a loved one in a remote village across the world. Connection.
Part I: Movies
Being a connoisseur of culture, the Oscar nominated movies challenge my intellect by forcing me to look at a movie beyond the entertainment value and into the deeper messages of society. This year was no different covering deeply thematic and visually explicit topics such as sexuality in Carol, The Danish Girl and the animated film, Anomalisa, betrayal in The Revenant, Spotlight and The Big Short, survival in Mad Max - Fury Road, Room and The Martian and subtleties in changing perspectives in Bridge of Spies, Creed and Brooklyn. Responding through emotion, some of the films haunted me for days begging my intellect to connect dots and put meaning behind the visual cues while others were quickly watched with no residual affect. Each person has different perspectives, experiences and emotions that help to color and shape our opinions which then spill into our thoughts and the way we choose to view the world.
Steeped in controversy this year, the black community feels excluded and I hear the academy is responding with a re-evaluation of how the movies are nominated. Similarly, the stories told in this years films sought to challenge the viewer to re-evaluate their own judgements. I love the deep introspection because it says something about the culture in which I live and that spills into our churches: to hope beyond circumstances, and forgive beyond anger and embrace despite hypocrisy, the stories serve to illuminate. From Sunday School where we talked about homosexuality, from my grown children that have varying political views and my own faith walk where the wrinkle between my eyes is more pronounced though tears of struggle. These mirror the multi-plex of issues covered in the nominated films this year.
Avoiding the temptation to dissect each movie, there seemed to be a few themes bubbling to the surface like oxygen floating to the top. A voice... whether it is calming the noise in our heads or the need to shout to the world that our stories matter, the power of love to infiltrate the dark wounds of shame and the need for acceptance is being told though voices that have been silenced for far too long. A realization... whether our own opinions are being changed or whether we begin to see another person differently, the marble statue of right and wrong has been chiseled away causing people to question what they have long believed and in the midst, the dialog of faith persists. A hope... more often than not music, pictures and words are bridging generations together celebrating more of what we have in common than what divides us.
Part II: Parent and Child
This week I was reminded of a childhood memory. Prompted by a little girl, a cat and an allergy, I had long forgotten my own thoughts until I heard that of another person's story and in an instant I remember how I used to be a heavy sleeper sometimes walking and talking in my sleep. My dreams were active, imaginative and sometimes scary so when I awoke to my head out of the armhole and with the fluffy cat on my bare chest tucked into my nightgown purring loudly, i woke up giggling. It's fur tickled my skin and I wondered what sort of adventure I must have dreamt at the time.
No longer a little girl, I am now a light sleeper having trouble falling back to sleep after I get awakened. The slightest thing triggers my mind to move into over-drive wrestling with the complexities of life. It is when I dream with my heart, however, that my imagination moves. There have been times when I have awoken to saying scriptures aloud or waking suddenly to begin praying. Often not knowing why, I just respond out of a desire to have an active faith, where the window of heaven is just a breath away.
Who are the writers behind the stories? What inspires the seed that grows?
We have the most beautiful view of the mountains in our backyard. I sometimes ask people what they think of when they see them. I imagine horses, garments and a ride to a castle. Some have imagined Orcs infiltrating the mountainside or cowboys on horses, a train through the wilderness or even a space ship on a 12:30 flight ... the thoughts are as varied as the stories. Like a book that seeps through intellect, I often go to the Oscar nominated movies alone because I know the stories they tell might be rough. One image from last year's best picture, 12 Years A Slave still remains.
This year, capturing fear and intrigue, there was one movie, Room that serves as the springboard of this post. Tapping into my deepest fears, a teenager is kidnapped and locked into a shed. While captivated and held prisoner, she gives birth to a son and creates a world of normalcy for a little boy in a chaotic world of the narrow, selfish, single-minded clutch of a captor. There is a skylight where she explains the joy of something he can not see. A leaf, rain, sunlight peering through, she explains to her son the overwhelming liberation of being free in a world he cannot fathom. The relationship between a mother and child is told in subtle nuances.
Simplicity in the midst of horror. The innocence of love is found in the arms of a father and his son - in faith and here on earth. It is a child's laughter held in a parent's arms that provide a glimpse into the love that surpasses our understanding in an eternity we cannot yet know. That is what faith and hope is all about. Love is the intangible, life-giving liquid washing over the muddy roads of hearts worn through trials and disappointments. It is the bud on a rosebush before it opens into the brilliance of a flower bringing us to stories far away... like Treasure Planet.
Part III: Assumptions
A story: C.S. Lewis, born November 29th (1898-1963), novelist, poet and lay theologian was considered one of the most influential writers of his time. His over 30 books include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy but I include him in this month's post not because of his literary accolades but because of a false assumption.
Upon walking into a friend's estate over twenty years ago, I was told I was standing in the home of the granddaughter of the late C.S. Lewis. The name resonated with me because Poles, my spiritual grandfather, told me that aside from the bible, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was one of the most important books you will ever read. He assigned it as "necessary" reading when providing spiritual counseling. Adopted from his radio talks in 1942-1944, Lewis argues a case for Christianity away from atheism in a dialog that continues today. Because of his name and a discussion, I held onto the assumption I was in the home of one of his relatives.
Looking for a lost puzzle piece, I walked through the house as if I was a detective looking for a clue to a map I had not yet discovered. It was the age before digital cameras so the few pictures I took are lost somewhere in a box of momentos but the vague memories are these: an extensive library of books, an almost life-sized wooden box that sat on a pedestal and an amazingly romantic vintage pool in the backyard with overgrown ivy and a long narrow lawn with palm trees along it's perimeter. As I swam in the dark tiled pool, I imagined garden parties of conversation and inspiration. The idea of this being the home of a relative of C.S. Lewis seemed plausible even at the time because of the astronomical cost and the area; it is notorious for old-money and influential people.
In a simple game of computer - telephone, it quickly became clear it was not probable that the home I stood in had any connection with C.S. Lewis but as I did a surface investigation into the man, Clive Staples Lewis, a few ingredients emerged in the breadcrumb trails of internet. A proclaimed atheist, studying alongside scholars and writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Ring series) in an informal literary gathering known as the Inklings at the University of Oxford in England, the philosophical debate in favor of a Devine God emerged and hence, a re-evaluation of faith. A fascinating article of the juxtaposition between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis about the Question of God in a PBS exploration, culture was examined in a dialog. People then and now challenge the status quo begging for stories to be considered.
Lucy Barfield was the daughter of an Inklings colleague and Godchild to C.S. Lewis and is proposed to be the inspiration behind Lucy Pevensie from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe but Lewis had no biological children of his own. A bachelor almost all of his life, he married Helen Joy Davidson, a poet, writer and friend later in life who succumbed to cancer but whose relationship was said to have been the best years of his life; they were only married for four years. Lewis' brother, Warren wrote, "For Jack the attraction was at first undoubtedly intellectual. Joy was the only woman he had met ... who had a brain which matched his own in suppleness, in width of interest, and in analytical grasp, and above all in humuor and sense of fun."
Lewis invited us into his internal dialog through a lifetime of writing but in A Grief Observed, shares the struggle of life, death and faith after the passing of Davidson before his own death three years later. He succumbed to kidney failure the same day of J.F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov 23, 1963. In a poignant moment, the fictional character, Rocky Balboa reminds us this year in the movie, Creed of the final match yet to be played - death.
Interestingly, the wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia children's book series is owned and housed by a private Christian university, Westmont College, only a mile from where I believed I was standing in the home of his granddaughter and there lies the subtle illusions of false-assumptions. We begin to make judgements about people and experiences that take on a life of it's own. A story - the transformation is not on the screen but within ourselves. The journeys that lead us, the people that persuade us and the experiences that shape us pale in comparison to the love that embraces us.
This year is no different ... we are quick to gather words and stories but in the quiet, still hours of the night when dreams mingle with nightmares, I imagine myself falling backwards and downwards but in a breath and in an instant being a bird flying upward and outward upon the wings of something being made new.
In the Revenant, Leo Dicaprio must wrestle a bear but the real animal is the anger and revenge in his heart. In The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne stands as an artist in the culture but inwardly and tenderly longs to be who she has always been. The stories and collateral damage in Spotlight and the Big Short are casualties in a war of greed and power where the victims are scattered across fields like wildflowers in spring.
This song represents those stories ... and for those who weep.
Part IV Football
"I am no longer a slave to fear - I am a child of God." Bethel Music
This is the song I sing. Like water that washes over me, my faith pours through my pores like sweat on a football player's brow. This month marks the Fifty year anniversary of Super Bowl Sundays and like a player on the field, my perspective has been put to the test as I wrestle with the idea that I am deeply and sincerely loved.
In youth ministries, I was told that kids are used to people coming and going in their lives so a leader that stays in the game for the long haul is a valuable gift. I guess you could argue that I am at the end of the baby boomer generation, except that I grew up as a Gen X'r because both my parents worked and my parent's explosive divorce places me squarely in the middle of the field of not being on either team. I distance people before they distance me. I have limped along with fear for more years than I care to admit until I was called on the field to play the game ... on the inside out.
Last year, I was at a Jesus Culture conference as a chaperone with a church van of high school kids (about a six hour drive from home). There was an illustration on stage where a log was being cut in two in order to demonstrate the brokenness in our lives and as I starred at the scar on my left thumb that at one time had been broken in two, I stepped out of my seat in order to make a tangible motion toward a willingness for God to heal the broken places in my life. Three days... a bunch of stops at Starbucks, In & Out, Crispy Creme donuts and a late night option - bowling left me fatigued and accelerated on adrenaline. With a football movie playing on the church van dvd and a long ride home, a quiet thought emerged.
Fast forward a year, and a few more stories and God has muddied up the field with a new bucket of water... Football.
I have spent more time with two brothers this year than in their entire lives.. but, that isn't the story. They are flying my biological father out next month in order for all of us to spend time together in my home - that is nothing short of a miracle and to be honest, I am a tad frightened. I never watched Super Bowl XV with my childhood Raiders or my dad or any one from that side of the family ( which was ironic since I had spent the first fifteen years of my life watching them) but God has turned everything about me upside down calling me to the ten yard line in order to see what I'm made of.
What's new? No longer a slave to fear ... coupled with the realization that I am deeply loved.
I took this picture in an artist's room this morning - that of my daughter's. Analytical, intellectual and with a lens that sees people in unrehearsed, candid shots, she captures frames of joy and struggle. That is a perfect analogy for the story. The ones that spill off of the screen, onto the landscape and deep into the well of water.
A cup of water is a strong symbol of my faith... from the woman at the well to flocks being watered under Jacobs care to Noah and the parting of the red sea, water serves as the life-giving provision for God's people. His story, that of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the story that floods my story.
I vividly imagine Jesus carrying the heavy wooden cross upon his shoulders where the pain causes him to stumble to the ground. A woman, with no thought of fear, upon her knees, offers him a sip of water from an old tarnished tin cup. With eyes searching for the love of a father mixed with pain, he accepts with gratitude a gesture of love and begins again to stumble back up to the crumpled weighted stance of a savior.
Contrasting scenes from last year's best picture, a slave is being hung by a tree. The rope is just long enough that he must remain on his tip-toes in order not to perish. People around him are going about their business of everyday life as if they don't notice his struggle and pain hanging from the branch of a tree.
Because of a relationship with a savior, God has enabled his people to be the Kingdom Come in a dry and desert place. Theologians ponder the existence of God; His people must provide the cup. They must first drink freely from the wells of God's word but then respond out of a posture of love. In Room, we get just a hint of the world outside the confined walls of prejudice, injustice, poverty and ignorance in order to see God's lens.
A childlike faith sees bubbles floating in air and giggles in a father's arms with the tickle of fur on skin. The wisdom is the strong roots of a tree whose leaves have been worn through the seasons and whose rings stand tall under the weight of the cross. Talking with her son about the adventures of Treasure Island, or stepping through the closet door in the Chronicles of Narnia, stories are being told on and off the big screen. Will you be someone to notice? I had to seek out the movie houses for the few, obscure nominated movies this year - a perfect example of what we must do. Notice. Notice the story, notice the picture, notice the look in ones eyes. Tip toes or baby toes, we are more alike than different.
May you have sweet heart shaped candies with tiny words of encouragement - handmade cards of love - in shoeboxes of childlike faith this month of February - valentines.
All my heart -
mind, soul and strength,
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.