Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The New Story: "Oh, My Poor Villain"

I had always thought life first as a story—and if there is a story, there is a storyteller.”—G. K. Chesterton

Here goes charging into waters that are probably over my head. So, I preface with a disclaimer:

  • This is not a literary analysis of the intrigue and value of an antihero in a story.
  • This is not a witty movie critique.
  • It is not a denial of the power of the past to influence and inform the present.
  • And it is certainly not a denial of redemption—even for the most villainous of us—or of the power of love.

This is, however, a warning. I’m concerned we (all of us, Christians included) are enjoying our skate on a glittery lake and ignoring the warning sign: Danger-thin ice. The ice looks pretty solid to us, so we skate on, oblivious to the melting beneath our feet.

And this is a reminder to myself that things are not what they seem. We experience only one small portion of a bigger universe, which exists beyond our senses, often ignorant that it is, as C.S. Lewis put it, “a universe at war.”

A reminder that there is good and there is evil. There is a hero and there is a villain. And maybe there are millions of little antiheros—us, as we play our brief parts in our own little stories.

Perhaps that’s why we are so fascinated with, so sympathetic to, the antihero in our movies and stories today, why we’re losing patience with honorable heroes and vile villains.

We want someone more complex, like us, to be a hero. Someone good but flawed. Someone whose revenge is justified because of a horrible injustice done to him or her. Someone who has a right to blame the world/society/ his mother/ her lover for why she or he does what they do. Someone we can understand because we see ourselves.

But I am concerned that we are buying into a big deception. We prefer the sign on the other side of the lake that has a scene straight out of a Currier and Ives Christmas card of ear-muffed skaters on solidly frozen ice, which doesn’t look at all as though it were thin.

Recently, I saw the impressively visual Maleficent. I too, sympathized with her once I understood the wretched betrayal that triggered her evil revenge. I oohed and awed as I watched “true love” soften her heart. I applauded her heroic willingness to endanger her life for another.

Love. Redemption. Self sacrifice. All good Christian themes, yes?

But I’ve learned to note the end of a story, to see what message, what “take-away” the author is wrapping up with. This is what I heard at the end of Maleficent. (I didn’t take notes, so this is a paraphrase, understand.)

We’ve been told the wrong story. The story is not of a hero and separate (very bad villain) but of a flawed hero/villain—all in one. (Just like us.)

Why do I think this is a dangerous message? Because I too, can be lulled into a sleep and forget that there is a very different story.

It is story whose author and hero are all Good, all Love, all Justice and Mercy. No evil. The prince in this story will come and bestow the redemptive kiss and take his bride away to the castle.

We are in this story, too, and have a part, but it is not about us (as much as we’d like it to be). We do not need to take our own revenge, deal out justice for injustice because our hero will take of this for us. We do not need to let past wrongs define who we are now because we can receive freedom from the hatred of unforgiveness.

The villain in this story is evil. Pridefully, arrogantly evil. He wants to change the story--steal it from our memory and if not ours, then that of our children. He wants us to believe the “new story.” 

The one that makes him the hero.

So which storyteller are you listening too?

I think movies, stories of any kind are conveyors of messages. They have great power to influence how we think without our even knowing that we’ve been beguiled.

The answer isn’t to avoid them, to hide our heads in the proverbial sand, but to live wisely and to use the power of story, visual or otherwise, to teach our children well, lest we all forget.

May you have great hope and confidence in the part and time in the Story he has placed you.

P.S.S.  Excuse me while I make my blog appear and disappear in an attempt to freshen it. Even though I use backup--it goes away and I don't find it!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Chosen One of the Palace

Poised on the threshold of young womanhood back in the late 60s, I embraced (flung open wide my good-Catholic girl-honor-student-achiever arms) the women’s liberation movement—or at least parts of it.

Actually, I picked and chose from the counterculture and women’s lib agendas as though they were shopping lists: same employment opportunities as men? Yes. Same pay? Definitely. Same political power? Why not? The same sexual freedoms? Most assuredly.

 Did I want to go into mandatory military front-line duty? No. Did I want a guy to pay for dinner on a date? Yes.

So I took off my bra, liberated woman that I was, lived in a tepee on a mountain top, and played my newly acquired sexual empowerment card.

And that was about it. I know, I know, a shallow take on Gloria Steinem’s idea of a liberated woman.

Decades later, I’m all for gender equality, but my focus on women’s rights has shifted to the Millions of women, for whom “rights” is not a matter of equal opportunity in the work place or paycheck, or choosing with whom they can freely sleep.

For Millions of women around the globe, women’s rights is a matter of Life or Death.

Recently I watched the documentary film, Veil of Tears. It opens with the love story of Emperor Shah Jahan who loved his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, “The Chosen One of the Palace,” so much he built a mausoleum of unsurpassed beauty in her memory.

The Taj Mahal. It’s ironic that India’s treasured wonder of the world is a love tribute to a woman, because females—girls, women, wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, widows—are culturally persecuted simply because they are born as a she, not he.

Still? we say. In the world’s largest democracy? Home to some of the top cities in the world for billionaires. Castes and cast-outs?

A newlywed bride is burned alive every hour because she can’t satisfy her husband’s dowry demands?

50,000 female children are aborted every month(?!) in South Asia because they can’t carry on the family name, work the fields, or bring honor?  (Consequently, there are about 37 million more men than women.)

1.2 Million(!!) children are prostituted? (Families often sell their children in hopes that the people who have the money to buy them will have the money to raise them. Can’t put a face on this? Think of your daughter.)

And 46 million widows are left to scavenge for life because they are “bad luck?” (No matter how their husband died—run over by a train or fallen off a ladder, the wife is responsible for the curse of death and is rejected by family and society.)

The abuse of women is so high that many choose suicide—at the rate of 20 times the world average.

(These statistics according to Gospel for Asia).

It’s difficult for me, as a Westerner, to fathom such things. It’s difficult to sit in the comfort of my recliner, Mac Air on my lap and write about abuses halfway around the world and think that there is anything I can do that would matter, the need is so overwhelming.

But it’s difficult not to do anything. Of all the “causes” in the world with which we can involve ourselves, I believe God has called me to pray for, write about, support in some small way, enslaved women around the world.

My focus today is the ministry of the Gospel for Asia. I like that sharing the gospel is an integral part of their humanitarian aid and yet they don’t just say, “Peace. Peace,” and go their way. They have several resource packages, including this movie for you to use if interested in knowing more. Stop on over and see if this is something you’d be interested in being involved with.

For my small part, I’ll buy some sewing machines for the widows (hopefully the ones on Widows Island in the Bay of Bengal—they are my prayer focus) and pray and tell you about them occasionally, and maybe God will put someone on your heart too.

And maybe, through our small efforts, one woman at a time will don the name Mumtaz Mahal—"The Chosen One of the Palace.” His palace.

Blessings friends as we enter this month of July with thoughts of freedom and sacrifice and all good things American.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The maintenance of your girls, or how to wed a daughter

Marcia Moston

Being knee-deep in wedding plans with our one and only daughter, I had to laugh when I came across the admonition in Proverbs to be good stewards of what you had, so that in time of need there would be “food for your household and maintenance for your girls.”—Proverbs 27:27

Ha! Maintenance for your girls. Lord knows us well. Our dear one and only daughter was not cheap to keep and nor is she to give away. Makes me kind of re-think the verse I used to pray over my children—“Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, And our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace.”—Psalm 144:12

There’s nothing more alluring than the World of Weddings to remind you that your daughter has indeed been fashioned for a palace. I marvel at the limitless possibilities, the complexity of a cake, the minutia of a menu, the height of a shoe and the up-or-down do. All for a price, of course. If you’re not careful, at the end of the day you could come out feeling like you’ve just been the demo in a school for pickpockets. Where, oh where, did all the money go?

But this isn’t a post about spending money (although I did want you to know what’s been occupying my time lately). This is about grace—which I have no control over—and about lessons, pointers, really, that my daughter and I are keeping in mind as we prepare for this special time in her fashioning.

1.     Grace and God’s provision. When I asked the Lord for the finances to help her, I imagined God giving us money from some unexpected source. What has actually happened is that we have walked into bargains and discounts and at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time opportunities galore, amounting to thousands of dollars in savings. He doesn't always provide in the manner we expect, but surely, Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!

2.    Remembering, “What is the Important?” Although we want everything about this day to be lovely and enjoyable, perfect, in fact, at the end of the day she will be married, and the important is to

Honor God
Honor guests
Honor each other
Enjoy these moments
And keep our perspective amid the razzle dazzle—elegance in simplicity

 Come to think of it—good to remember anytime, whether marrying a daughter or living a day. 

Our daughter has been through dark places and we have travailed at times in despair. But I am so thankful, so blessed, so bowed, that my God is faithful and he has clothed her in his righteousness. Now when I see her standing there in that beaded, lace gown, white flowing down behind her, I see not who she was, but who she is: a pillar fashioned as for a palace—God’s palace.

My heart to any of you parents, worrying and wondering. We lift our children to you Lord. Hear our prayers.

Thanks for checking back after my long delinquency, friends.I appreciate your encouragement and interest.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Not the trail to Pisgah

After two hours of driving winding mountain roads, we stood there, stared at the sign posted in front of the two-track dirt path, then doubled over in laughter.

Not to say I told you so, I did remind the others how odd I thought it was that there were no tourist signs marking the turnoffs that got smaller and more rugged by the mile. But we had trustingly followed the GPS directions that had led us to this point.

And it was not the trail to Mt. Pisgah. 

It had all started that morning when my brother, who was visiting from Vermont, came in from his RV parked in our driveway, and said he’d like to go see Mt. Pisgah in NC. Coincidentally, I had just been reading Deuteronomy 3 in my morning devotions—the passage where Moses says he pleaded with God to let him go over the Jordan and see the land he had been trying to lead those stubborn Israelites to for the past forty years, but the Lord was angry with him (Moses) and said, “Enough from you. Go up to the top of Mt. Pisgah and lift up your eyes…”

And so we all piled into our car, my husband, brother and sister-in-law, and went in search of Mt. Pisgah. (We did know it wasn’t the same one, by the way!)

We stopped at the pleasantly informative Discovery Center of the Cradle of Forestry (where I picked up this fun hologram(come by and try to touch the frog that looks like it’s sitting on top). 

The road forked.

“Let’s take 64. It’s the “scenic route,” my brother said.

And indeed it was—past waterfalls and mountain streams. We were blissfully unaware it was not the way to Pisgah until it dead-ended at the sign:Private Road-Not the trail to Pisgah. Hours later, after making a complete circle, we came to a marked pull-off on the Blue Ridge Parkway within spitting distance of the mountain.

We had literally driven all around the mountain, only to discover it was only a few miles away from the forestry center where we had stopped earlier.

Have you ever done that? Spent a lot of time and energy (maybe money) only to end up back where you started?  In our case, we had little at risk other than some extra gas and time, and so chose to just enjoy the diversion.

But Moses had a whole lot more at stake. One of the things that impressed me as I read the ensuing chapters of Deuteronomy that led to his death on the mountain, was how utterly, uncomplainingly surrendered to the Lord he was.

After forty years of dragging forward rebellious people whom he never asked for to begin with, many times pleading and interceding for their lives, he is told he can’t enter the promised land.

What does Moses do? Does he pull out his entitlement card? Does he kick and scream “unfair”? Does he pick up his staff and leave, resentful and angry?

No. He continues to deliver all the Lord’s instructions, warnings and blessing to the people who will go in. 

And then he worships:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,
and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching drop as rain,
My speech distill as the dew…
For I will proclaim the name of the LORD,
Ascribe greatness to our God!
“The Rock, his work is perfect
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity”…. —Deuteronomy 32:1-4

Moses finishes well.

Lord, whatever the reasons we go around our Pisgahs, whether from following a faulty GPS or from our own foolishness, open our eyes to the lessons, the unexpected treasures and beauty along the way that we may see you and accept your provisions and plans without murmuring or expectation of entitlement. May we too, finish well.

Blessings abundant friends as we leave this merry month of May and look forward to our June journeys,