The Teacher in Me

My friend Linda over at Litebeing Chronicles posted a Divine Mission-Possible challenge this month. Here are her instructions:

1 – Write about your spiritual mission here on Gaia. Are you a lightworker, Starseed, forerunner, Indigo, or none of the above? What have you incarnated to do or to be? Describe your mission and your journey to achieve it. Are you delighted to be here? There is no correct answer, by the way. Make it your own.

It is my hope that this blog will inspire each of my readers to consider their own life purpose. Surely it is no accident that we have all come together in this time and space, right here, right now. Rachel, I am inviting you to rise to the Challenge. Your life is such an inspiration to me and I believe an explanation of what you see as your role in this life would spur many others on as well. ❤ 

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As a child, I remember having a toy classroom: several little desks glued to the top of a sturdy piece of wood with a larger desk at one end facing the others. The teacher and students were bears, with the teacher being the largest. I am not sure if there ever was a little bear for every seat, but I recall spending hours with a friend of mine, taking turns at teacher and student. I definitely enjoyed playing teacher best.

Image result for teddy bear classroom toy

It was not long before I actually started teaching. One summer in high school, my job was to visit the various parks around town to offer free tennis instruction to the kids. In college I led the first of many Bible studies with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. Unsure of my ability to ‘make it big’ as a soloist, I earned my BS in Music Education, and although six months of student teaching would be the only time I set foot in an actual classroom, I spent the rest of my life teaching others in some capacity. As a church choir director/band leader, I found many opportunities to teach music theory or vocal skills. I spent 15 years home schooling my three children. Now I blog, answer questions on Quora and write books.

In the late 90’s I ran into an interesting set of education material called “Lifetime of Learning.” The author intended to convince any reader of the evils of public school and the benefits of something she called ‘delight directed learning.’ Her theory was that the modern idea of classroom-bound education (imparting endless facts that have little to do with a student’s real life experience) was sure to drive the inborn desire to learn from anyone. I do not completely agree with her premise, but I do believe she was spot on when it came to what ought to be the impetus for any means of education: the desire for knowledge. To be a good teacher, one must first be an excellent student, and nothing delights me more than discovering new information in an area of interest to me (thus my current YouTube addiction).

The truth is, I can’t not teach. In fact, I’ve lost some potential friends over it. Perhaps another trick to teaching is knowing your audience. I have come to understand the phrase “words don’t teach, life experience teaches,” yet here I am, using a bunch of too many words specifically for the purpose of teaching! Maybe words don’t teach, but when a person has been through enough life experience, certain words will resonate. They will begin to make sense and carry the power of influence. Isn’t that the true mission of a teacher – to influence others in some way?

Today I would call myself a recovering Evangelical. I spent over 30 years tied to a religion whose beliefs I now consider silly at best, harmful at worst. During that time, like any dutiful disciple, I taught others that this religion was THE Truth and contained the answer to every question. I believed in it (or most of it) with my whole heart, only to later reject almost everything about it. Looking back, I could feel bad about how many people I potentially offended or even harmed in my dogmatic approach to the subject matter, except that I know a few things now about life that I did not understand then.

Like that evolution is a thing.

Related image
Photo source: https://edu.glogster.com/glog/evolution-of-dolphins/1jpbvjm0fan

No, not Evolution like fish turning into people (which might be a thing – don’t know and don’t care), but the evolution of thought through the course of life experience. I understand now that this life is a journey, and that along that journey people change – everything from how much money is in their bank account to what they believe. I also get now that we can only give out of the well-spring we are dipping from. Christianity was all that I knew – until I blew the walls down and looked around. In that process I learned what I consider the most important lesson for any teacher: it is okay – no, imperative to be okay with – not knowing. Not knowing everything, that is. I can still feel the freedom of finally being able to say, “I don’t know.” Take it from me, having to know the answer to everything is exhausting.

There is a piece of wood paneling running between the ceiling and the top of the closet in my new bedroom. My first inclination when I saw it was to paint the phrase “Temet Nosce” (Know Thyself) across the panel. I know myself to be a lightworker – one who has come to shine in the dark places, be it a person’s soul or the world at large. One of my favorite cards in the Tarot is the Hermit. This figure portrays a solitary researcher seeking knowledge (often from within), as indicated by the lantern he carries. But the light is not only there to illuminate his own path, it is for others as well. Anywhere that his light travels, the darkness of ignorance is dispelled. That is my goal, to bring the light of knowledge to everyone I come into contact with, be they a student of pickleball or metaphysics. Will my endeavors always be successful? It depends on the audience. But as long as I keep learning, my mission will always be possible.

In answer to Linda’s final question, “Are you delighted to be here?” Yes! There is nothing I love more than learning and then spreading the word to others. And since there is SO much that I don’t yet know, I will give you some advice I once heard: “Eat the meat and spit out the bones.” In other words, take what resonates and discard the rest. Maybe ‘the rest’ was wrong or maybe it was given to you outside of the context of your experience so it just won’t resonate. Remember, no one has the answer to everything, and in the end, life is the best teacher. So live it, and learn from it.

What about you? There are still a couple of weeks left in Linda’s blog challenge. Would you be game to write something about your Divine Mission? Reach out to Linda using the link above. You can post a comment there indicating your willingness to participate.

As always, thanks so much for reading!

Namaste,

~C

Past is Passed …

… but the Future is Now

Three years ago I read Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. The following is my attempt to ‘flesh out’ where I stand currently on what it means to live in the present moment.

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Anyone who knows me very well is aware of the serious condition from which I suffer. I affectionately call it  made up a name for it: Youtubeitis. It’s more of an addiction than an illness. That’s right, my name is Cindy, and I am a YouTube addict. Whether driving to and from the pickleball court, preparing a meal, or sitting on the couch in my room, you will most often find me listening to back to back talks given by my favorite teachers, all offering their wisdom for free on the Interwebs. My AT&T data plan cannot begin to keep up. The good news is, I think it is finally starting to pay off.

When I turned the last page of The Power of Now, I was fairly convinced that whatever Tolle was talking about, it was both impractical and unreachable – at least for me. Nothing about sitting on a park bench for two years, while becoming enamored with the life force of the leaves on the trees has ever remotely appealed to me. I watched the online class that he and Oprah Winfrey put out to help us ‘get it’, but I still didn’t, and I knew it.

Right around the time that I encountered The Power of Now, a cousin of mine introduced me to Dr. Joe Dispenza. Quickly I found that the science of spirituality made much more sense to me than the esoteric, ethereal notions presented in Tolle’s book. I have since read two books by Dr. Joe, listened to almost everything he has out on YouTube multiple times (this is a great place to start), purchased (and use) several of his meditation CD’s, and in December of 2017, I attended a Progressive conference in Austin, TX. Here is a meditation you can try for free. Let me know what you think in the comments.

About 6 months ago, I stumbled upon Abraham Hicks, and suddenly everything I had learned from Dr. Joe was amplified ten-fold! I moved from directing thought and emotion during meditation to becoming aware of my moment-by-moment feelings throughout the day in light of all that I have become. I am now learning how to elevate my thoughts and emotions in real-time, and the skill is transforming my life in ways I never imagined.

When I first read Tolle’s book, probably my most memorable take-away was that the moment you realize you are in the ‘now’, that moment is gone, and you are actually looking back at the past! Clearly I did not understand how to live in the present moment if every now moment is really a past one by the time it registers in my mind as present. (Try repeating that sentence five times fast.)

This week I have been re-immersing myself in Dr. Dispenza’s interviews on YouTube. Here is one of them. So far, he has not said anything that I have not already heard him say. In fact, the books and conference materials explain the same concepts in much more detail than he provides in the interviews, but somehow I am receiving a greater understanding in terms of application. Maybe something that Abraham said is bringing new meaning to Joe’s words, or perhaps some life experience has built a proper framework for me. After all,

words don’t teach, life experience teaches.

Whatever the cause, I am making new connections that I was unable to make before.

The concept is simple enough. We use our memory of who we were yesterday to remind us of who we are when we wake up today. That means that the majority of us depend on our memories of past experiences to tell us who we are in the present moment. Likewise, the beliefs we have about life and others, come from the thoughts of the past that we have practiced over a long period of time. Added to that, the subconscious mind guides and directs 95% of a person’s actions and emotions on a daily basis, yet the majority of the beliefs governing the subconscious were established before we turned five years old. On a subconscious level, we live completely out of our past experiences. This is why lasting change is so difficult to come by.

So the problem becomes that even though the past is gone, we do not actually live like it is. Every morning when I wake up, I formulate a view of myself and the world based on it. If that past was painful, then pain becomes the defining hallmark of my life. I define others based on the past as well, determined to hold a person hostage to the day I became the target of their bad behavior. But because we define our present reality based on the past, we are unable to imagine a different future. And when we do try to imagine our future (thanks to the subconscious programming in our brains) we envision the worst case scenario based on things that happened to us in the past. We know these fears are rooted in events that are now gone, yet we allow those same events to color our picture of tomorrow in dire shades we dare not entertain thoughts about.

What if a person was able to wake up and only see themselves through the framework of who they wanted to be, rather than who they were yesterday? What if people approached everyone they encountered on any given day as if it were the first time they met? No history of wrongs, no preconceived notions of what that person was like, only a soul, just like them, living out the greatest expression of themselves that they could be in that moment in time. What if people learned to ignore everything from their past (since the past literally does not exist in any form as a reality) and began to focus their attention on the present moment, in the context of becoming the greatest expression of themselves that they could be? Maybe that is what John Lennon really meant.

Would you be willing to imagine such a world? Do you think that you could imagine it? A world where people everywhere viewed themselves and others in light of what we are becoming, rather than dragging forward what we/they have been. The fact is, the only way to truly live in the present moment is to utterly leave the past behind. Tolle probably said that, but clearly I did not get it.

The key to it all is the human brain’s incredible ability to use thought. Did you know that when you entertain a memory (a thought) of something that occurred in the past, your brain produces the exact same cocktail of chemicals that were released during the event itself – no matter how far removed you are from it in time? Human beings are the only species on the planet who have the ability to make a thought as real as an actual event. It follows then, that our brains are capable of producing chemicals equal to future possibilities through thought alone as well. In this way, our thoughts are able to bring the future we desire into the present moment, but instead we continue to practice the habit of dragging the pain of the past into our now. We could be dreaming about a future filled with joy, appreciation, love, health, peace, and happiness – all along releasing the necessary chemicals that can change the hard-wired programming in our brain. This skill would enable you and me to live with intention going forward, and it is the true meaning of the power of now.

Backward is impossible. Forward is inevitable. And if you can imagine it, you can create it – good, bad, or indifferent. We have the choice to stare fixedly at the past, or to dare to imagine a better future. Whatever we give our attention to is what we will create in our present now reality.

Perception really is everything.

A Lesson in Contrast

In college, my friends and I had a saying:

You cannot begin to change until you know the opposite of what you are.

It was a reminder that the only way to learn and grow was to face the truth about yourself and then understand the way in which God was different from that. Sometime in my mid-thirties I realized that most of what I knew about success and godly character had been learned by example of what not to do or who I did not want to be like. I began to understand experientially what our college saying meant in terms of the power of contrast to teach.

As time, experience, and study have expanded my understanding of the Bible, I begin to see that the bulk of the stories it contains are pictures of God showing us what he is like often by revealing what he is not like. This particular learning tool can prove quite effective with human minds struggling to comprehend a silent and invisible God. But nuance is easily missed under a strictly literal view of the text.

For example, countless sermons have been preached on Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac. Most people, commentaries, preachers, and Christians believe that God was testing Abraham’s faith when he told him to take Isaac up on a mountain and offer his only son as a sacrifice. They believe that God provided a ram for himself that represented God one day sacrificing Jesus to appease his own wrath. But is that really what this story was designed to teach? Does God test peoples’ faith in such horrific ways? Is this same God so offended by sin that he requires a human blood sacrifice to be appeased? Hm, sounds an awful lot like the Canaanite gods to me.

2-5_abraham-sacrifice

Most (if not all) cultures contemporary to Abraham practiced blood sacrifice to appease their gods’ anger. In fact, some sort of blood sacrifice has been practiced for centuries in almost all cultures ever to exist. Here’s a decent site on the history of blood sacrifice around the world (I found the conclusions page fascinating). So when God told Abraham to kill Isaac, he was not telling him anything new. Sacrificing children (even the first-born) to the gods was commonplace in those days. In fact, everyone was doing it. To Abraham it would have been business as usual for God to demand the kind of worship that required the ultimate sacrifice of human blood. While the story began ordinarily enough, the end revealed something radically new. Abraham found a ram caught in a nearby thicket. God showed Abraham how he was unlike the gods of the surrounding nations.

Lesson #1: God does not require human blood to be appeased.

If you believe that the revelation of God’s nature to mankind has been given throughout history progressively, then this little nugget would have rocked the ancients’ overall understanding of deities in general and the God of Israel in particular. But this was just a stepping-stone to a broader understanding of what made the God of Israel different. Fast forward to the establishment of the temple cult under Moses’ leadership. Here God distinguished himself from other gods by commanding one animal sacrifice each year that would suffice for the entire nation.

Lesson #2: God does not require unlimited animal sacrifices.

The last straw can be found in ringing in the voices of the prophets. They called the nation of Israel to put a stop to ritual sacrifices altogether. According to them, the God of Israel had no need for blood at all.

Lesson #3: God does not require blood. God does not need to be appeased.

Despite this final clear message from the prophets at the close of the Old Testament, the Christian church continues to believe and teach that Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice for our sins. They even go so far as to say that God himself put Jesus to death as our substitute. Which brings me to why I am writing this post today.

In 2011 I wrote a blog post called Walking Through the Pieces. It went on to become my second all-time most-read page, clocking in at a whopping 1,622 lifetime views at the time of this writing. Only my Homepage/Archives have received more hits and no other post of mine comes anywhere near these numbers. Looking at the vast amount of interest in this topic has prompted me to keep digging into the story.

I have finally come to the conclusion that Genesis 15 is yet another look at what God is not like.

In the cultures contemporary to Abram, people made agreements this way: they cut animals in two and spread the pieces apart, leaving a path between them. Both parties then walked down the path and stated the terms of the covenant they were making. The pathway between the animals symbolized a vow and a curse in one: I promise to do thus and so, and may this happen to me if I do not keep my end of the bargain. The practice was quite common and would have been second nature to Abram. Problem is, Abram was asleep when the covenant was ‘cut’. He did not walk through the pieces of the animals at all.

Throughout the Old Testament it was God’s practice to reveal himself over and against the surrounding gods and cultures of the day. In Genesis 15 we find a God who does not bargain with mankind. When God says he will do something, he will do it, independent of any belief or behavior on our part. The lesson here is clear: God does what is right without requiring anything in return. He is a God of blessing not cursing, a God of grace not law and burdens. Too bad Sonny did not understand that all he need do was ask.

Today, most Evangelicals will tell you that salvation is part of a covenant with God called the gospel (good news). They say our part of the bargain is to believe that Jesus’ death paid God back for our sins because God requires a blood sacrifice. Whoever refuses to hold up our end of the covenant (believe) will be treated like those slaughtered animals and suffer an eternity in hell (at the hand of God, no less)!

What if that interpretation of the gospel story is incorrect? What if the church is as wrong about God as ol’ Sonny was? What if Jesus’ death is a picture of what God is not like? What if Rome (not God) sacrificed Jesus on the altar of their power because his message of spiritual freedom was a threat to them and the religious order they supported? What if the story of Jesus’ life and death is a picture of how we were made to live – spiritually free from guilt and shame – and not what will happen to us after we die?

What if the story of Jesus dying on a cross was never about salvation, because we don’t need salvation, because the prophets told true: GOD DOES NOT REQUIRE BLOOD OR NEED TO BE APPEASED?

The literal interpretation of the Bible has served for hundreds of years to perpetuate division, hatred, and war – our modern forms of ritual sacrifice – all in the name of religion. It is time for the world to be turned upside down again. It is time to challenge the powers that be with the nuance of a Biblical narrative that reveals a God more loving and full of grace than any of us have ever dared to imagine or hope for. A God who blesses no matter what, loves no matter what, and requires nothing in return – not even belief that he exists. A God who needs no blood to be appeased but stands in opposition to the angry gods invented by violent men to control people ruled by fear, guilt, and shame.

True change could begin to happen once we know the opposite of what we are. God grant that we be given the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the courage to face the truth.

The Presence in her Absence

Most of the time I see my sister in waking moments. But on September 30, 2014, I was getting ready for work when the dream I had the night before rushed into my awareness. It was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had, and although it is rare for me to remember even pieces of a dream, I recalled this one in its entirety.

I had wandered off the streets of downtown Nashville into a sparsely occupied coffee shop. I sat down at a small table to the right of the door and wondered what to order. When the door opened again, I looked up and in she walked. Her bell bottom jeans brushed softly against the wooden floorboards. She was wearing a loose-fitting plaid shirt, untucked at the waist. The long dark brown hair that hung limply from her head was tucked back behind the ears. Her face was troubled. I stared for several seconds. A double-take later, I realized I was looking at my sister, circa 1977. “You cannot be here,” I thought, “you’re dead!” She did not look in my direction as she sat down at the large table next to mine. Her back was to me.

More people trickled in. I did not recognize any of them, but I somehow knew they were friends of hers from college days. They filled up the empty seats around the table she had chosen, and soon an animated conversation about life and God ensued. I was mesmerized by her presence and could not take my eyes off of her. I sat, watched, and listened, resisting the urge to get up and join the group. I wanted to interrupt, to tell her how much I miss her. But I had the distinct impression that she would not have heard me anyway.

The veracity of the New Testament was the subject of the discussion. Of all people, my sister was patiently explaining the texts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. The young man sitting nearest her commented, “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” She replied in a calm voice, “Of course I do.” I got the sense from her statement that she was talking about something more definitive than faith or belief, something more like knowing. It dawned on me that now she sees and knows clearly, even as she has always been seen and known. For her, there are no doubts or uncertainties, only truth and love – oh, so much love.

I wanted nothing more than to stay there in that room, watching her, listening to her voice. Having a dream like that helps heal the scar of loss. Waking from a dream like that leaves a brand new one.

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Sunset on New Year’s Eve, 2014.

On the drive home that night, I thought again about the movie, What Dreams May Come and Robin Williams’s dip in paint. My sister adored color. I have known since the day she left this world that she sees it now like never before. That sunset gave me a little preview. She has painted lots more sunsets for me since then – each of them a creative masterpiece. I know that one day we will swim in them together.

One time at the beach, I asked her to draw the ocean for me. She did it, but then kept insisting she had not gotten the waves or the light quite right. I always thought that the waves and the light in her beach drawing had been perfect, but in this life, my sister had never been able to appreciate her own brilliance. The splash of color across that twilit sky on New Year’s Eve told a different story, a story of artistic abandon transcending the need to get things ‘just right’.

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For many years I have had a vision of a house sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. A garden stretches out in front of it, filled with every kind of flower. Now that she is gone, I can see her there, tending to the plants, anticipating my arrival. I should have known all along it was her garden.

Tattoo March 3 2016
Second star on the right and straight on ’til morning. – Peter Pan

Hawks still visit me from time to time. Her way of watching over me, I suppose. Love you bunches & bunches and tons & tons, Ditty.

~ Your Little Sis

The Narrow Way

NarrowStairs       I have heard it said that the narrow way can be defined as the unique spiritual journey each of us must walk, and that to be on that path is to refuse to conform to the demands of those around us (to walk their path, or the one most people walk), but, instead, boldly trod the path meant specifically for us.

In light of that idea, tonight I had the privilege of taking a walk with a friend who let me share a part of the incredible journey I have been on since we were last really together, some thirty-six years ago. I was reminded that a lot can happen in thirty-six years. (Ya think?!?)

As a result of our conversation, I am making a list of the books (and the people who wrote them) that have had the most influence on my life, both in terms of my beliefs and my spiritual journey. I will list them in order of importance/influence (to me), however, what was important/influential to me may not be for you, understandably. So, eat the meat, spit out the bones, and take from this list what you need (if anything). As a general rule, people will appear first, with their works listed below; book titles will be underlined, other items italicized, and so forth.

NOTE: This list is not meant to be exhaustive by any means. Each of these teachers has written and spoken much more than what I have listed here, however, these are the ones I have actually read and been changed by. Also, I doubt this represents even half of the things I have read or heard that have worked to shape me and my beliefs today; these are simply the ones that stand out in my mind.

If you have questions or would like any further explanation regarding any of these people or their works, please note them in the comments and I will do my best to either answer you, or direct you to a site that can answer better than I.

  • Baxter Kruger – Theologian, Author, Maker of Lures, Founder of Perichoresis Inc.
  1. Jesus and the Undoing of Adam (in my mind, the most important book a modern, Western Christian can read)
  2. The Shack Revisited (reviewed here on my blog)
  • Peter Hiett – Pastor, Author (where the shift in my journey really began)
  1. http://www.tsdowntown.com/images/EDITED_All_things_New_and_a_place_we_call_Hell_edited_12_12_13_blk_1.pdf
  2. http://www.tsdowntown.com/a-theology-of-relentless-love/intro
  • Rob Bell – Author, Speaker, Theologian, Innovator
  1. Love Wins
  2. Everything is Spiritual (video teaching)
  3. Jesus Wants to Save Christians
  4. Here is a great article regarding the firestorm created by John Piper’s Tweet, “Farewell, Rob Bell”, and this is something I wrote during that time.
  • Anthony De Mello – Catholic Priest, Author, Speaker
  1. Awareness (the teaching in this little book can be found on You Tube in several short messages as well)
  2. The Way to Love
  • Michael Hardin – Theologian, Author
  1. Stricken by God? (a compilation of many author’s works regarding the atonement – you can find some stuff around my blog about this book, especially here)
  2. http://www.preachingpeace.org for his blog and lots of information about this amazing author
  • Brad Jersak – Theologian, Author
  1. A More Christlike God (I recently reviewed this book here)
  2. Stricken By God? contributor

Good books on the topic of hell in the Bible:

What does the Bible Really Say About Hell? by Randy Klassen

Razing Hell by Sharon Baker

Evangelical Universalist by George MacDonald

Well, that should get you started. 🙂 I’ll end with one of my favorite theological illustrations:

God bless you as you seek and walk the narrow path laid out just for you!

The Art of Story

What is your favorite book or movie?

Why is it your favorite? Maybe you are into action stories with shoot ’em up scenes or exciting sword fights. Perhaps a good romance catches your fancy, you know, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end. What about stories based on true events and real people? Is it tragedy, comedy, drama? Or is it the characters themselves you love exploring?

If you are anything like me, that is a difficult question. Too many books, movies, and plays have captured my heart and imagination for me to narrow the answer down to just one. I might be able to give you a top 20 list, but even that would be pushing it. I love everything from history to comedy, science fiction to fantasy, and lots more between. Well, if it isn’t the genre that sets a good story apart, then what is it? This idea of story has been on my mind lately; that happens when you put your hand to writing a novel.

Working to create a good story begs the question: what makes a good story in the first place?

There is a short scene from the movie Out of Africa that serves as one of my inspirations to write. In it, Karen, Denys, and Berkeley have just enjoyed supper together. Karen, known for her storytelling prowess, takes a line from Denys and proceeds to invent a story that enthralls her guests late into the night. First and foremost, then, a story must engage the reader, or, in this case, the listener. Stories are meant to entertain and capture the imagination. In Storyteller, by Kate Wilhelm, the author explains: “There are natural storytellers and there are wordsmiths, and their methods are quite different.” Chapter Heading: “Can Writing be Taught”, page 14. I am a wordsmith; storytelling doesn’t come as easily to me as it did to Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen, if you want to get technical).

I learned a long time ago that words have power, and I love words.

Words influence, they can create an emotional response in the reader or hearer; words can actually change people. Movies are nothing more than words come to life before our eyes and ears. I read like I’m watching a movie. A true artist has the ability to make the reader transform words on the page into images and sounds in the brain. I can still see the children sitting in their virtual reality playroom and hear the lions feasting on their parents. I read The Veldt, from The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury probably 35 years ago, but the images remain crystal clear today. Now that is some powerful writing!

Certainly, I don’t remember every book I’ve read the way I do Mr. Bradbury’s very short tale. In fact, I remember little of the rest of that collection of short stories. Why did The Veldt make such a lasting impression on me? Because it elicited an emotional response; Bradbury’s words combined with my personality type brought us together on an emotional level. In other words, his story touched me somewhere inside. I still remember it because emotions burn memories into the brain. That’s why you can smell something and experience a powerful memory laced with all the emotions that come with it – sometimes against your will. It’s also why you want to read some books or watch some movies over and over again – to recapture the emotional response – be it fear, happiness, anger, or love.

Walt Disney understood the makings of a beloved story. In the movie, Saving Mr. Banks he says something profound about human beings and storytelling:

George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.

Hope.

Now that is a powerful word, and the stories I love are chock full of it. Assuming Hollywood got it right (a big ask, perhaps), P.L. Travers (the creator of Mary Poppins) had a difficult (dare I call it ‘tragic’?) childhood. Here is a short exchange from the movie:

Walt Disney: I think life disappoints you, Ms. Travers. I think it’s done that a lot. And maybe Mary Poppins is the only person in your life who hasn’t.

P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins isn’t real.

Walt Disney: That’s not true. She was as real as can be to my daughters, and to thousands of other children – adults too. She’s been a nighttime comfort to a heck of a lot of people.

And there you have our obsession with story. It really is quite simple, isn’t it? Life disappoints, we want something (someone) that doesn’t, a “nighttime comfort” if you will. Even when we know it isn’t real. But, wait a minute, if it isn’t real, then it isn’t hope. What’s truly sad is that somewhere along the way we lost the meaning of the word ‘hope’ altogether. We have turned ‘hope’ into ‘wish’, but hope didn’t start out that way. Hope started out as ‘know’, something you could sink the teeth of your faith into. I believe the need for hope is universal, and hope as a theme makes good story no matter the form. What if we look for hope in a story (be it fiction/fantasy or history/reality) because we know instinctively that it represents something that is very real?

From The Shawshank Redemption, to Liar, Liar, to Seabiscuit, hope – the kind that anchors – is the draw.

I would like to share with you two of the most powerful images of hope I have ever encountered from a writer’s pen. There are probably hundreds of examples I could give from the millions of words I have read and heard, but these stand out. The first is a line from The Return of the King, book 3 of The Lord of the Rings. I will give it to you as the movie line and then from the book:

Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.

In the last chapter, The Grey Havens, Frodo’s final journey:

“And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

The inevitability of death drives our need for hope.

If everybody dies, is hope enough? Well, maybe that depends on what you are hoping for. There is only one object truly worthy of hope: redemption. Jonathan Safran Foer understood that. In the final chapter of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (please don’t waste your time on the movie – terrible; the book is phenomenal), Foer describes redemption as he sees it. People fall up, back into the Twin Towers; the bomb implodes and the planes fly backwards; and so on throughout history, until finally, Eve places the fruit back on the tree. As people stuck in forward, linear time, isn’t the only logical meaning of redemption the complete reversal of all the evil ever to exist in the history of the world? That is my hope.

But there is a more immediate need for hope than just believing there is life (and redemption) after death. It has been said that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The capacity for evil in the human heart is more real than we like to admit. Ferguson, Isis, 9-11, these are proof of the evil escaping into the world from the hearts of ordinary men and women every day. We live in a scary place. We live in a world that forgets that
the love that binds us is more important than the power we wield. – Mordred, from Merlin, Season 5
But story can influence and even change the hearts of men. Consider the movie Cry Freedom. I had the privilege of watching it in a packed theater in 1987. The movie, recounting the true story of Donald Woods and Steve Biko during the dark days of apartheid in South Africa, had no happy ending. Biko did not live through his final beating. Woods did not expose or overcome the evil of his day (not by the end of the movie, at least). It is the only movie I’ve ever seen that while the credits ran, not one person moved. 200 or so people sat, stunned, while the credits rolled. No one spoke, no one stood up, no one could. Where was the message of redemption in Cry Freedom? In the ones who saw it or read it. The message was for the audience: “be the change that you wish to see in the world”, to borrow a good one from Ghandi. The movie left us asking ourselves if there was something we could do to make a difference half a world away. The movie inspired. And isn’t that what hope is all about: inspiration?

We need inspiration to believe in ourselves.

We need Harry to defeat Voldemort … Frodo to destroy the ring … the boy to get the girl … and Mr. Banks to be saved, because then we can believe that … the Hitlers of the world can be defeated … our addictions can be overcome … and love is worth giving up everything for.
I doubt I could write a story to capture hearts like The Lord of the Rings, I may not have the literary genius to create a character as universally loved as Mary Poppins, but I would like to tell a little story of redemption, of hope, of good triumphing over evil, of love winning, because that is not just the greatest story ever told, it is the only story worth telling.

Why I did NOT write a story for last week’s Friday Fictioneers

A couple of weeks back, after a conversation with my Mom about her grieving process (if you don’t know, we lost my Sister December 19, 2013), I suddenly had the strange feeling that 4+ months into this gig, I had not even begun to grieve her passing. Never mind the stuff I’ve written about her death, the talk/song I shared at her funeral service, and all of the tears already shed …

A day or so after that conversation, I ran into a wonderful blog site about grief; specifically the post dealt with grief having no expiration date. It occurred to me that being so far from her (in proximity) for so many years prior to her death along with her inability to carry on our normal phone conversations during her final couple of years combined to make it that much more difficult for me to know she’s really gone. While I have no clue what the next step in my process will be, I suspect it involves some intense ‘realization.’ Not something I’m particularly looking forward to.

On Wednesday, the following photo showed up as the Friday Fictioneers prompt (I won’t even try to explain why a Friday photo prompt shows up on Wednesdays 😉 ):

Copyright – Björn Rudberg

My gut reaction was how familiar the picture was – not that I’d seen it before, but that I saw myself in a similar photo-memory of what I now think of as my former life. The emotions that boiled up to the surface when I saw the prompt surprised me a bit. A mixture of nostalgia and excitement, fondness and regret coalesced inside me to produce one clear thought in my head: “I can’t write a story about this. Not now, not maybe ever. This isn’t fiction; it’s too *real.”

In a conversation with my son about humor I told him that for me to find something funny, it has to be true, to ring true. Fiction for me is quite the opposite. Sure, the characters have to be true – to themselves, and believable – to the reader. But the more fantastical the story, the more I am drawn to it. Maybe that’s why I prefer tales about dragons, fairies, magic, and aliens more than historical fiction (Seabiscuit notwithstanding).

As I’m sure you’ve already begun to grasp, seeing what looked like the scraps of an old life of mine reminded me again of my recent loss. It was as if writing about the picture would have been a step in the direction of dealing with my sister’s death. I don’t feel ready for that right now, for lots of reasons.

First, I’m daily faced with the raging hormones of a 15-yr. old son. Having raised 2 daughters, you’d think I’d have been up to the challenge. Whole. Different. World. I’m literally at the end of myself and my ideas about how to navigate these waters. Most days I throw up my hands and just ask God to take it. Hopefully He’s listening.

Second, there are huge financial outflows facing us right now: my husband has been renovating the upstairs of our house having been out of work for 7 months; June 1, 2014 he will restart his counseling business; my daughter is getting married in October; and I would love to find a way to block my noisy neighbor before then. Being the primary breadwinner (hubby still serves as a Reservist) can be stressful in today’s economy – especially as a woman.

Third, my parents have both had rough years health-wise. 85 and 84 respectively, my Dad and Mom continue to manage on their own, but we all lose the battle against Father Time eventually. With the recent loss of my sister, their well-being is pretty much on my mind 25 hours every day.

Sunday afternoon I did some shopping to find a dress for the wedding. I knew it was a mistake when I looked into the mirror and saw almost the exact replica of the one my sister wore to her son’s wedding:

My Sister dancing with Hubby
My Sister dancing with her Hubby

It wasn’t exact, but the color, the tiers … I said out loud to myself, “I can’t look like her.” Fortunately, it was the last of the 3 dresses I tried. I hung it up with the other disasters and promptly walked out, giving up the search for the moment. So many memories, at every turn they hit me.

I looked back at the photo prompt Sunday night, glad I had left it alone. I want to push myself to write like I want to push myself to get through the grief – I’ve never been known for my patience. I’m not ready. I’m learning to be okay with that, to give myself permission to breathe. Sometimes even that hurts too much.

*Actually, my favorite part of this video is the (probably drunken) man dancing in front of me. 😀

 

QUOTE: God Needs No Defense

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God. As if ultimate reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy, begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street and think, “Business as usual.” But, if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening. 

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves, for evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open battlefield of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush. 

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

 Matthew 25

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

.  .  .

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Daily Prompt – Audience of One

Daily Prompt: Audience of One

Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.

Dear _______________,

Look at that. I don’t even know what to call you anymore. You have become for me a nameless, faceless entity, grown out of control and out of reach. Your strength remains, yet too often is used to wound instead of heal.

So many things I want to say. Too many words rolling around to make coherent sense. Impossible to ‘boil it down’. Overwhelming to think of saying it all. But if this were my last chance to say what needs to be said, what would it be?

God has not lied to you.

He means what He says. He will never be too small to do beyond what any of us dare to imagine. He is everywhere, in everything. I know it’s hard to see that when you look around you. Maybe if you looked inside with honesty you would see that you are but a microcosm, a mere reflection of what you choose to vilify outside yourself.

Paul has not lied to you.

You think you teach grace, but spend all your words applying law. The letter really does kill. Only grace signifies. You focus on judgment, not seeing how that leads you into the very things you say you hate. Would that your eyes would focus on mercy. Would that you could see the living Word as the only lens through which you can interpret the written word. Bereft of grace you follow your fathers, eating from the tree of judgment – toward those who are different, those who are outside, anyone who does not hold to your dogma. Jesus does not believe your dogma, why should anyone else? Would you recognize the Lord of grace if He stood inside you? Or would you denounce the One you name Lord when you saw His refusal to adhere to your pet teachings?

It’s not about ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Really. It’s not. As long as you believe you have the only truth, you will never be able to reach anyone outside yourself. Not really. Not with anything that matters. Not with love. Not as long as you cling to your agenda. You know what I’m talking about. That ‘hidden’ agenda behind every relationship you make. The agenda to save. But you do not seek to save, only recruit. After all, someone has to fund the machine, I get it. What if everyone finally saw you for what you really are? What if God finally decided He’d had enough of your corporate machine? What will you do when He says, ‘No’? It’s coming. I’ve been hearing it for a long time. Your days are numbered … at least in your present state.

Hell is not a place, it’s a condition.

By making it into a place you cripple the ones around you already ‘there’, leaving them with no way out and no hope for the future. That you are a slave to it by your own fear is the saddest part of all. Fear is crippling your message, leaving you bereft of any joy to give to anyone, even yourself. You believe the opposite of hell is heaven, but Jesus said the opposite of hell is abundant life.

Abundant life is not a place, it’s a condition.

My heart breaks when I see what you have become … even more when I see what must happen for you to become. I have seen your death. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone.’ A chrysalis awaits to transform you into the bride you will be. You won’t see it that way when you face it. It will crush you to dust until you submit.

I have felt your loneliness. The utter disconnect overwhelms me at your gatherings. You meet together all the time, but face one direction (never one another). You force yourself to perform, else others would know the devastating emptiness inside you. Refusing connection within, fearing connection without, you content yourself with loneliness, assuring yourself that being right is what matters.

I have seen your pride. You can’t connect with anyone from the prison of your self-satisfied beliefs. The idea that your law-keeping, or Bible thumping, or finger-wagging secures God’s love breaks my heart. God is near to the contrite, the broken, the humble. He does not need your rod of correction for anyone. He needs you to open your heart to grace, forgiveness, hope, and love. Your pride divides, delineates, denominates. So certain that your belief, your prayer, your works have saved you from punishment, you never realize that your form has bound you to a lifeless corpse – a form of godliness, denying the power of His grace. Ultimately, you have boiled your message down to one miserable word: Believe in Jesus in order to avoid God’s wrath. But really I must believe in your version of the Gospel in order to be saved. Huh.

Still, I have heard His voice calling, calling even you. His patience will never run out. His heart will never let go. His love will overcome everything – sin and self-righteousness alike. He’s like that, you know. Relentless. You cannot escape His love, no matter how deep you run to hide in the recesses of your structure. He has torn it all down, removed every nook and cranny where you cringe in fear of His coming. But I have seen it. I have seen you – exposed.

You are beautiful beyond imagining!