Hope from an Unlikely Place

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During the season of Lent, we’re reminded of our humanness. From dust we were made, and to dust we will return. We attend church services marked by ash, read devotionals to focus our minds, and abstain from sugar, caffeine, or the internet to redirect appetites. The forty days serves a solemn reminder. This year, the season feels particularly weighty. The stark reality of cancer, deeply fractured relationships, and untimely deaths have seeped deep into the Lenten liturgy of our community.

We begin most mornings with a family devotional, which is followed by the current read-aloud. Today, after naming and praying for a number of folks who are walking through incredibly painful situations, I was given pause. Although brief, it was a “Why does any of it matter anyway?” moment. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the small cheerful book covered in red and gold cloth. To transition from our world filled with pain to one marked by myths and fairy tales felt foolish. The moment passed. The show must go on. There are tasks to be completed and boxes to be checked.

Half-heartedly, I opened the book and began reading where we’d left off. The world had been a paradise full of beautiful children. There was no sickness, nor aging, nor despair. Yet Pandora couldn’t be content with perfection. Her companion, Epimetheus, was no help. The ornate box in their possession, full of mystery and promise, drew Pandora closer. With a slight touch of her hand, the golden knot at the enclosure was untangled. The box flew open. The grave deed of all deeds had been done. For the first time in history, the world knew evil passions and diseases and sorrows of all kinds. Again, I was given pause. This make-believe world was a mirror of our own. It was tarnished. Soiled. Full of despair.

But despair wasn’t the ending. It was the beginning.

Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal abominable box. She was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the lid.

Hope had been born from the place of deep darkness.

“As long as you need me,” said Hope, with her pleasant smile, – “and that will be as long as you live in the world, – I promise never to desert you. There may come times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you last dream of it, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage. Yes, my dear children, I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given you hereafter… Trust in my promise, for it is true.”

And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And to tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad – (though to be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to do) – but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box. No doubt – not doubt – the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel them more, as I grow older. But then that lovely and lightsome little figure of Hope! What in the world could we do without her? Hope spiritualises the earth; Hope makes it always new; and, even in the earth’s best and brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of an infinite bliss hereafter! —Nathaniel Hawthorne (A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys)

Perhaps the days we feel least like reading stories of knights and dragons, of giant wooden horses and sea serpents, and of mythical gilded boxes filled with the problems of the world – are the very days that we need to catch a glimpse of the shadow of Hope. In the beginning, Hope spoke while hovering over darkness. In the end, it will sound like rushing waters and blaring trumpets. But while we’re waiting, Hope’s whisper can be heard in the most unexpected of places – like the funerals of saints and the flutter of fairy wings.

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This piece was originally published at The Story Warren.



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Brokenhearted

I’m not really a dog person.

A little over a year ago, we lost our miniature dachshund of fifteen years. Many words could have described her – yappy, longish, feisty, and naughty are among them. But the word that rises to the top of my caricature list would be “loyal.” She was always there – through holidays, sickness, three moves, and all the drama that comes with a family of seven. She sniffed the tiny toes of three new babies. She scuffled around (and under) our feet as we planned two college graduations and a wedding. Maggie loved us well.

Yet as the years rolled by, the demands on my time and the level of my expendable energy were at odds with one another. My heart, which had once been smitten with our little puppy, grew indifferent. “High maintenance” was a term that she earned honestly, and the years were siphoning off my ability to keep up with her needs. I grew frustrated with the cost, upkeep, and energy required of me. I’m sad to confess that in the last months of her life, I was anticipating the relief that would inevitably accompany her passing. When Maggie’s last days actually arrived, I was surprised by the sadness that overtook me. I couldn’t make it through the door of the vet to tell her “goodbye” without dissolving into tears. But the temporary wave of emotion and nostalgia didn’t penetrate my pragmatic resolve. We’re done with dogs. At least for a very, very long time.

With the pang of grief added to the long list of “why we wouldn’t have another pet anytime soon” the kids eventually stopped asking. We didn’t talk about it. I could find no logical reason to sign up for all of the work and inconvenience (and inevitable heartache) that a new dog would bring. It wasn’t practical.

Left alone to the laws of entropy, even the strongest surge of affection deteriorates over time. With our pets, our spouses, our friendships. It’s a slow, steady death.

Initially, we feel deeply – so deeply that love stretches the heart beyond capacity creating an achy, visceral joy. Over time, practicality and selfishness prick tiny holes, each slowly draining drops of life. As joy trickles out like air from a deflating balloon, the heart hardly notices. It regains control. It’s protected from pain. It becomes resentful. Even numb.

Yet unsolicited and without warning, the Giver of all Life steps in. With great compassion, He disrupts the status-quo. He offers an alternative to the slow, steady death of hope that accompanies self-protection and control. His gentle whisper extends an invitation. I have been given a choice. The cost – be willing to love, to hurt, to be inconvenienced, to set aside my own agenda. The gain – grace infused. The heart lives and loves and grows once more.

This Advent season, it happened again. The Giver of Good Gifts is changing the landscape of our family by changing the landscape of my heart. Only days after I had explained (yet again) why we wouldn’t be adding to our family, I found the words “I think it’s time” tumbling out of my mouth, landing squarely on my unsuspecting husband. Like a flipped light switch illuminates and drives out shadows of doubt, the decision brought an immediate flood of joy and strange relief. This is Love.

Many times in the past few weeks, I’ve watched my children anticipate Christmas and I’ve smiled. The Father has used our unexpected surprise to teach me much about Himself. Watching my children’s everyday struggles, frustrations, and disappointments, I’ve frequently found myself thinking, “If they only knew what was coming.” They anticipate, but their imaginations fall short of the greater reality that awaits them. A reality snuggled safely in a tiny basket under our tree.

Only my daughter dared to carry the torch of hope for a puppy. When asked what she wanted for Christmas, the standard reply was “A puppy. But I know we won’t get that, so a guinea pig. But we probably won’t get that, so I hope I at least I get a Beta Fish.” Hedging is safer than longing. Hope is a risky proposition.

This Christmas marks one of many small miracles in the story of our family. Much to my own great surprise, my heart has been broken wide open once again.

And I’m deeply, deeply grateful.

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Lucy – 2 weeks

 “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis

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Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

 

 

 



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Mini-Me

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It’s a strange phenomenon – to have a child who bears your resemblance. My son looks just like his dad. He walks with the same posture and cadence. Their childhood photographs are virtually indistinguishable. The origin of my daughter’s knack for messiness and love of all things creative and comfortable isn’t a mystery. There’s a certain fulfillment that comes with seeing a smaller version of ourselves forging new territory in the world. In it’s purest form, the fulfillment reflects the heart of our Maker, who created His children in His own image. It was very good.

But as the story unfolds, the simple enjoyment of our children’s image-bearing has a dark side. One that creeps up in slight shadows, every-so-stealthily eclipsing the light. These smaller humans are trained to reflect our political postures, our preferences in literature, music, sports teams and social causes. We’re proud of our “Mini-Me”s. They’ve turned out well, of course, if they’ve turned out like us.

Having been thoroughly indoctrinated since birth, my children choose Starbucks as their favored supplier of refreshment. They prefer signed, hardback books to the lesser mass-produced paperback versions. Their artistic, movie-going, and musical palates are being refined daily. While listening to the (repeating) stream of popular songs on the radio, one of my children posed the (reasonable) question, “Why isn’t Ben Shive’s music played on our radio station?” To which his brother promptly responded, “The difference between Ben Shive and a lot of the music on the radio is like the difference between Tolkien and Percy Jackson.” They paused for a moment of somber reflection – perhaps for those starved souls who don’t know the difference. My children are becoming increasingly insightful – and opinionated. I’m grateful. I’m proud. Mission succeeded. Until I reconsider the mission. Until I return to the original mandate.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

~ Even creators of mediocre books and cheesy teen-angst music?

~ Even politicians who view things from a radically different viewpoint from my own?

~ Even pop-culture icons who make millions from our lust for celebrity?

~ Even friends who make radically different choices in how they parent, spend their money, deal with disappointment, and (fill your soap opera box of choice in here)?

“In humility, value others above yourselves.”

Am I modeling humility for my children? Are they learning to look for the dignity in others, regardless of their differences of opinions? Are their hearts being trained toward compassion and curiosity rather than judgment and pride?

Too often, my parenting is reflective of my own image rather than the image of the Father. My family becomes an unintentional empire through which I propagate my cause. The task seems insurmountable – to lead young ones toward the light, when my own sight is so skewed.

Yet the perfect parent steps in. He reminds us that He will complete the good works He has begun. That He will gently lead those who have young. That He will redeem my arrogant heart, my selfish motives, and my distorted view of myself.

It is in my brokenness that He does his best work.

As I listen to my children echo my opinions and preferences, my hope is that I will experience less satisfaction and more conviction. There, in the messiness of my own heart, the Potter molds and shapes me toward the image of His Son. Oddly, it is often through my inadequacy, rather than my competency, that my children catch a glimpse of their Father and an understanding of His goodness. It is at the pivotal point of humility and dependence that we begin to see ourselves in correct relationship with our Maker.

And it is very good.

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“Mini-Me”s in training.

 



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Less than Ideal

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It’s been a hard month at our house. I’m not sure when the tone started taking a turn – I think maybe sometime late summer. Life had been moving swiftly down the track, a rhythmic clickety-clacking through each sports event, date night, business meeting, and coffee with friends. Yet the track ahead had a sharp bend – one I didn’t see coming. Clackety-click shifted into an ominous creekety-lurchety screech. It didn’t sound good.

My child who loves and breathes activity developed a sharp pain in his foot that wouldn’t go away. After first dismissing his complaints (with five children, dismissing is a legitimate step in the process), we finally went to the doctor. What had seemed to be a temporary ache was actually more serious. He couldn’t run or jump for any length of time without significant pain. The combination of his intense activity and his rapid growth had contributed to a semi-chronic condition that could last for months. Although stretching and ice should bring eventual relief, time was the only guaranteed remedy. Despite his determined spirit, he wouldn’t be playing basketball this fall. He wouldn’t be playing much of anything this fall. My boy had received his first dose of grief. Sometimes, the world is less than ideal.

The early weeks of school are always bring transition, but this year was different. The simple, quiet life that we’d worked so hard to build could no longer be maintained. Although the shift is appropriate given the children’s ages, I’m grieving the closing of a sweet window in life. One day, I found myself driving the same stretch of road twelve times. Twelve. Times. Thus was my initiation into this next phase of parenting. I’ve been there before with our older kids. I know what to expect. Yet I found myself feeling profoundly depleted – after three days. Driving up and down that street through congested afternoon traffic, Ionging for a jog or a book that were no longer options, I could feel the frustration mounting. I knew the correct spiritual answers to my predicament. They couldn’t tame my discontent. I was bored. I was grouchy. I was irritated.  Life was less than ideal.

The same week that school was off to a hobbling start, we happened to notice that my husband’s ankle looked thick. Not swollen – thick. He’s an avid athlete, complete with all the requisite injuries and strains, so we didn’t give it much thought. Until the next day. A precautionary visit to Urgent Care turned into a concerned visit to the ER. “Nothing serious”, we were told. Probably a twisted ankle. Yet the voice of reason outweighed the ER’s diagnosis, and he learned three days later that indeed, he had a blood clot. “Fresh”, “acute”, and “deep” were the terms that applied. Not good news. The weeks to follow were full of unknowns. They still are. Although grateful for a correct diagnosis and treatment, the athletic options for my active husband have become quite limited. Multiple visits to the doctor and trips to the hematologist lab have replaced long jogs on these beautiful crisp mornings. We’re not sure what the next several months will hold. Not ideal.

In a defiant act of hope, I planted my fall garden. My fingers meandered longingly through the dark, moist earth. The earth that would eventually bloom life. In the still point of that late August afternoon, it dawned on me like the obvious answer to a riddle. It was death that had prepared the soil – hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of decaying plants. Plants that had once been green, soaking in sun, giving the good gift of oxygen, drinking in rain. They had served their temporal purpose on earth. Yet it was through death and decay that their impact would be generative. The process was far from immediate. Yet it would be lasting.

Ancient seeds were planted long, long ago. Hidden deeply away in the darkness, they are germinating. Their soil enriched with the death of convenience, ideals, comfort, security, and preferred agenda. If I readjust my eyes and look closely, I see the beginnings. Small signs of growth. Glimpses of what once flourished in the Garden and will be formed fully again. Unfurling are the tender leaves of thankfulness in my son, contentment in my husband, and patience in me.

Perhaps “less than ideal” is ideal after all.

 

 

 

 



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The Courage to Keep Going

LITTLE PRINCESS, A (1995)

“I don’t think I can keep going,” I told my daughter.

We were mid-chapter, and the story had taken an abrupt turn. The bright little girl, so full of hope and life and love, was minutes from receiving devastating news. She would have to trade in her pink satin birthday frock for a black dress of mourning. In an instant, her day of celebration would become one of unbearable grief. The life she’d known as an adored, lavished-upon daughter was to be no more. Unbeknownst to her, the little girl’s father had died. Fate had left her a penniless orphan. Life would never be the same.

I’ve been present when such devastating news has been delivered. When the hot coal of truth was passed to a child, searing the tender soul and leaving an indelible scar. I remember wanting to stretch those last moments of blissful naivety into years, where innocence could romp and play through the fields of childhood. Yet the hard realities of the world had intervened. I had no control. The truth had changed life’s landscape forever.

The real world is one thing, a story quite another.  In the world of ink on paper, I possess the power to freeze time. With the closing of a book, heartache and evil can be kept at bay. I didn’t want to read further. I wanted to prolong the party, taking note of every detail, and basking in the enjoyment of fanciful dresses, the bounty of refreshments, and the crowning present – a beautiful doll, complete with a wardrobe fit for a princess. My heart dropped. I couldn’t bear what would happen in the next few minutes. It was all too familiar.

“But we have to go on, Mom,” she said to me. “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”

My girl’s steadfast words spoke volumes.

We’ve been at this juncture before.  When Tacy’s baby sister dies. When Elizabeth Ann must leave the safe, protected world of her Aunt Harriet and Cousin Frances to live with strangers who felt like foreigners. When the cholera outbreak in India leaves Mary Lennox an orphan.

As we’ve walked with these characters-turned-friends through valleys of grief and hardship, a pattern has developed: Life is as it should be. What feels like unbearable hardship interrupts. Provision is made. Adjustments occur. Life, although not what was expected, continues. Like a river quietly cutting a path through stone, with time and repetition, such a pattern is engraved into the heart’s memory,

As my daughter’s insistence to continue reading nudged me out of my sentimental stupor, I was reminded. Of the power of story. Of the unexpected turns in life. Of the truth of redemption. Of a Storyteller who is often unpredictable, yet always good.

Ultimately, our quick conversation about little Sara’s plight left me hopeful. That when disappointment, hardship, betrayal, or heartbreak enter into my daughter’s story, a still, small voice will echo back to my girl (and to me, and to you), “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”

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 This piece was originally shared in Story Warren. Drop by and visit. You’ll be glad that you did.


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The Lanyard

There was a time when treasures came in the form of trophies, grades, promotions and increased responsibility, yet the years have a way of sifting the through a multitude of souvenirs to reveal the few gems of great value. Of revealing that which was, and is, and always will be made of an eternal substance.

Today, I received one of those rare, imperishable gifts. My youngest returned from her first week of camp and proudly presented me with this:

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Which, of course, reminded me of this:

 

Sometimes a glimpse of heaven looks like red and yellow braided plastic.
I’m grateful.



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Summoned by Music and Light

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Today’s guest post was written by Carrie Givens – writer, teacher, editor, friend, and a member of the Greener Trees online discussion group. 

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I have a friend who is a composer. One of his pieces, performed by a quartet of two violins, viola, and cello, he wrote following the sudden tragic death of a mentor and professor. There’s a moment, late in the fugue, when the first violin raises its voice to the heavens in a single, pure, heartbreaking note. It holds, longer than you think it should be able to hold, seeming to carry all the sorrow of the world.

There’s a moment that happens sometimes after a grey or rainy day when the sun breaks out below the clouds as it sets, turning all the world a rich, gold. As evening winds down, we are left in quiet with this strange and lovely light which tinges everything with beauty.

In Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, there’s a scene where the camera pulls back from the mother and daughter working at the table into the next room, and we watch the final moments of their conversation from afar, framed by the doorway, lit by the light coming in from an open door and interrupted by the gentle flapping of an apron hung on a wall hook blowing into the frame.

Michael Gungor, in his book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, writes: “The single atom in the atomic bomb can lay waste to a city. Maybe one note of music holds within it the power to end war” (p. 62).

There is power in great beauty. Beauty heals, it soothes, it allures, it inspires. And when we see it, in a film, in a book, in a moment, it can catch us by surprise and stay with us forever. We can lift it up from the depths of our memory again and again, and every time it draws us toward the Creator of beauty, the Beautiful One Himself.

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Jeffrey Overstreet begins Chapter 13 examining Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue. He writes, “Every scene—in fact, almost every shot—unfolds like a poem. . . .Kieslowski leaves clues for us to consider—little windows into understanding the state of Julie’s heart. When we take the time to think about them, we begin to participate in the film in a way that popular commercial cinema doesn’t allow. There are long passages in Blue in which no one says anything and we must shift our attention to what we see in order to discern what is happening.” (p. 305-306)

Are there other films that come to mind in which the filmmaker leaves clues like this—focus on particular objects, use of light, use of music or sound? Have you found yourself participating in those movies in the way Overstreet talks about above?

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Blue became a way I could move through my loss by experiencing someone else’s journey rather than facing my own pain directly. It coaxed me to give creative shape to the grief.” (p. 308)

Have there been movies, other works of art, or moments of beauty that have helped you through a time of loss, sorrow, or grief? Has art ever helped you “to give creative shape to the grief”?

“The power of narrative lies in the succession of events: This happens and then that happens. . . . Imagery speaks even when nothing is happening, offering us something more than provocation to anticipate what’s next.” (p. 309)

What are some of the ways that the nature of film as a visual art form – one based in imagery – impacts how filmmakers approach narrative? Are there movies you’ve seen where the filmmaker has taken full advantage of the opportunity to tell stories through images?

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“Saint John of the Cross wrote that man is like a window through which God is shining. If the window is clean and undefiled, it allows us to see past it, to the light. We hardly notice it at all. And yet, if a man gives evidence of any kind of arrogance or ego and self-interest, then that window becomes noticeable. It is not fulfilling its purpose. It is not merely a vessel for the light.” (p. 320)

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” (John 1: 6-8)

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’. . . He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28, 30)

How do the words of Saint John of the Cross and John the Baptist speak to one another? Have you seen characters in movies or met individuals in life who have exemplified being a “window”? What have you learned from them?

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“There have been so many moments at the movies that have become part of my history, giving me images that function as a vocabulary, enhancing what I experience when I am away from the screen.” (p. 322)

Much of Jeffrey Overstreet’s final chapter is made up of retelling the experiences he mentions in the quote above, when a moment from a movie enhances what he experiences away from the screen. Have you had moments like that?

 

Carolyn Clare Givens lives outside of Philadelphia where she’s a freelance editor and writer. She edits and writes for The Curator and teaches as an adjunct faculty member at Cairn University. She has bumped around the world, growing up as a missionary kid in Michigan and Hong Kong, and serving on staff at Alaska Bible College. 

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If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Introduction/Schedule
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World
Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Intermission – Raising Arizona: An Appreciation
Week 4 – The Art of Darkness

 



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The Art of Darkness

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Look at the picture.

What do you see?

My eye is drawn first to the two profiles facing each other.

I could stop there and would be correct in my description. Partially.

But if I’m willing to take a step back, look away, and view the picture with fresh eyes, I’ll gain a different perspective. I’ll see more. While the darkness reveals the profiles, the negative space reveals an urn. The darkness exposes the white paper that had always been there.

~ Rembrandt used darkness to draw the viewer’s eye to the light.
~ Haydn used bold dynamics in  Symphony 94 (his “big surprise”) to capture the listener’s attention for the rest of the (much quieter) piece.
~ And the darkness found movies can give us a new perspective on the light that is, and always has been, present in the world.

Sometimes looking into the darkness can help us see the light.

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Welcome to our discussion of Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. Feel free to join in the discussion, even if you’re not reading along. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Week 4 – Art of Darkness
Movie of the Week – Apocalypse Now

I’m grateful for the experience of Taxi Driver, as disturbing as it is. It reminds me of what others are experiencing outside of my daily routine. For many of these individuals, a kind word, a conversation, or a gift could come as a bright and guiding light in a time of crisis. – p. 246

1. How can some movies, which are disturbing and hard to watch, result in the viewer having a softened heart? Have you ever had that experience?

 

They’re (people pedaling various modes of escapism) after us like paparazzi to celebrities – salespeople eager to sell us redemption at a reasonable price. In seeking satisfaction along these misguided paths, we ensure that we, as a culture, remain dissatisfied. Pursuing happiness, we try to steer clear of anything difficult or inconvenient, convinced that there are shortcuts to joy. As a result, we end up unhappy, disconnected, weak, and lonely – p. 254

Clearly, the heart is the problem. Both Apocalypse Now and Titanic show ambitious human endeavors that lead to catastrophic failure. – p.286

When Bruce’s  (from Bruce Almighty) definition of love is self-referential – seizing the freedom to do what pleases him – he is not capable of finding or receiving love. Some freedoms are only accessible through the denial of ego, along the humbling path of service. Freedom to follow one’s baser appetites is not freedom of all, but slavery. – p.290

2. Many movies focus on characters who live beyond boundaries, who have achieved “the American dream”, and who indulge in their hearts’ desires. At first glance, these films could seem dangerous, drawing us deeper into worldliness and depravity. How could they, like the black and white picture above, result in our seeing the light more clearly?

 

I suspect that these films (Alien, The Thing, The Shining) resonate not merely because they’re outrageous but also because we know they are illustrations of the truth. Evil does exist as a force outside of us, seeking to lure us into error. That leaves us to determine if we are ultimately helpless, or if there might be a power greater than evil seeking to help us escape the monsters. – p.273

Code Unknown (and other similar movies) could be, for some viewers, nothing more than an 118-minute downer. But the watchful may find glimmers of hope. And perhaps we can find understanding by noting what is absent from these confused lives. – p.264

If a heart opens to reveal ugliness and corruption and we respond by recoiling and turning away, we also turn away from the possibility of redemption. – p.267

3. What do you make of Overstreet’s thoughts on the depiction of evil in movies, and of the possible resulting redemption?

 

4. When you think of darkness in movies (in a character’s heart, a society, situation, etc.), what movie comes to mind? What redemption could come from watching that particular film?

 

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If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Introduction/Schedule
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World
Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Intermission – Raising Arizona: An Appreciation

 

 

 



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Fools and Jokers

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“Noah built an ark, the prophet Hosea married a prostitute, poor suffering Job refused to curse God, and John the Baptist ate bugs in the wilderness. They all experienced doubt. They all had things to learn. Yet their unconventional behavior drew attention to their vision, which conveys essential truth.” Jeffrey Overstreet

Welcome to our discussion of Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. Feel free to join in the discussion, even if you’re not reading along. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Movie of the Week – The Fisher King

Webster defines ‘the fool’ as “One who is destitute in reason, or the common powers of understanding; an idiot.”

We see ‘the fool’ everyday. In the neighborhood, at work, on the highway, in our families, and if we’re honest, in the mirror.

When I meet ‘the fool’, I should pay close attention. My reaction to him reveals a great deal about the state of my heart.

Am I quick to judge?
Grateful that I am not him?
Offended by his choices and behavior?

Or am I willing to pause and see that the fool has something to teach me. . .

“Some of the great fools, as Hamlet proves to be, behave in the manic fashion more deliberately and strategically in order to unsettle those around them and lure wrongdoers into exposing their devices.” – p. 210

“If I’m confronted with bizarre behavior on the street or on the bus, I am likely to cross at the nearest crosswalk or get up and move closer to the bus driver. But in the safety of my theater seat, I sometimes find that these characters reveal a great deal not only through their ranting but also by the way they provoke people around them to all manner of revealing behavior.” – p.201

“In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Finding Neverland and Nurse Betty, these characters stir up trouble for the strict, the proud, the upright and the overly rational.” – p.208

1) What character comes to mind when you think of “the fool”?  What truth did he/she reveal?

Take a few minutes to read “Why Honey Boo Boo is Like a Flannery O’Connor Character” by Jonathan Rogers(Rumor has it that Jonathan may have a few things to add to our discussion in the upcoming weeks.)

2. What do you make of the Honey Boo Boo article? How does it relate to Overstreet’s take on ‘the fool’?

 

“The healthiest laughter is that which recognizes our shared fallibility.” -p.226

“Many of us are laughing because we see and reject the errors on display and because we are admitting our own culpability in such folly, without despairing from the shame of it. The laughter is release: I’ve been there, I recognize that, I acknowledge the folly of human behavior, and I know there’s a better way.” – p.220

We enjoy comedy streaming from the TV or movie screen.
Our laughter is spontaneous, involuntary and without invoking further reflection.
We move on to the next scene, sitcom, or to decide what we’ll have for dinner, grateful for having been given a break from the “real world.

But occasionally. . .
As we’re gulping in prime-time lightheartedness,
We ingest traces of something more substantive.

We discover that the comic elixir wasn’t a mixture of well-timed stunts, clever puns, or sticky situations. It was concocted from the most basic ingredients. Those that represent the truth of who we really are – the good, the bad, the obvious, the unspeakable.

Have a taste.

3. How can comedy convey eternal truths? What does laughter (even at ourselves, or perhaps particularly at ourselves) have to do with Hope?

 

* * *

For further reading:
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner

If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Introduction/Schedule
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World

 

 



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Posture

Xray-Julie-Posture-June-2013

I recently had an ugly fall while running. I lost a layer of skin on my hand, mobility of my jaw, and a modicum of dignity. I gained six stitches squarely at the base of my chin and a healthy fear of pavement. Months later, I’m grateful to report that the external injuries are no longer visible. My body had totally healed. Almost.

Despite my recovery, one nagging reminder of the painful incident remained. My jaw wouldn’t close completely – at least not without intentional effort. It’s amazing what we take for granted every day. Eyes that blink. Fingers that grasp. And a jaw that closes when not in use.

Weeks rolled into months. There was no longer pain in my jaw – just a nagging reminder that something wasn’t quite right. Surely time would heal that as well. When time didn’t heal, my dentist nudged me in the direction of a physical therapist.

I confess that the few minutes spent filling out paperwork were marked by a combination of pride and irritation. I’m rarely sick. This would eventually get better on its own. For crying out loud, I don’t even have a primary care doctor. Doesn’t that say something? I should have waited it out. I have better things to do with my time. Then the physical therapist walked through the door.

After asking the prescribed battery of questions and assessing my condition, she made a few, measured comments. If I didn’t deal with the cause behind the issue, permanent scar tissue could develop. Full healing might become impossible.

The recommended rehabilitation for my jaw included daily ice packs, isometric exercises, and the need to hold my head straight (rather than tipped forward). I read a lot during the day. A whole lot. Actually, most of my activities result in my head being tipped forward ever so slightly. Apparently, this didn’t help my jaw; rather it stretched out the very muscles needed to keep my jaw securely closed. If these actions didn’t remedy my problem, we’d have to resort to a high dose of topical steroids. “We’ll see,” I thought. After all, we were heading out-of-town for several days. Surely, it will get better on its own. Pride and denial make a powerful cocktail.

I promptly disregarded all instruction while on our trip, except I was intentional about correcting my posture. Head up, jaw back. It turns out that I didn’t need ice packs or exercises. I didn’t need steroids. Within days, the tension in my jaw had vanished. It closed easily and without effort. A change of a few degrees in posture had changed everything.

Some injuries are obvious. The gash in my chin and subsequent flow of blood made it clear that a visit to the emergency room was in order. Six stitches, and I was on my way toward healing. Other injuries are more subtle and easier to disregard. Like my achy jaw, they may not demand immediate attention, but if left untreated, long-term damage can occur.

I have “achy jaws” in many areas of life.

~ Relationships that aren’t completely healthy, but that I’ve chosen not to address. “It will get better over time. Surely.”

~ Envy of others who are smarter, more disciplined in their pursuit of fitness and nutrition, better parents, etc.

~ Laziness masked as busyness. If my life is full of (fill in the blank), I can’t possibly have time to attend to (fill in the blank).

The chronic, muted ache is a warning sign of a deeper problem. One that won’t go away with time and could prove to be insidious if left untreated. At the very least, it’s a problem that will prevent me from flourishing.

Yet if we’re willing to listen to the ache and have the courage to address the root cause, then there’s hope.

Sometimes hope comes in the form of excruciating surgery.  Sometimes it’s found in years of adjustments and rehabilitation.  In the midst of the uncertainty and suffering, we can take courage. We are under the tender care of the Great Physician.

But occasionally, our pain is more subtle. It’s the result of spiritual misalignment – the seemingly innocuous habit of looking down rather than looking up.

Sometimes hope comes from a change in posture.



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