No Easy Way Out

In my estimation, reading good literature is a part of becoming “one,” a more whole person. I find that in books I can meet people I might never encounter in the real world. I can get inside their heads and figure out what makes them “tick.” I can empathize with situations I’ve never had to go through. It’s truly a profound experience, and the reason I was an English major in college.

But… finding hours to sit on the couch and “do nothing” (though reading hardly counts as nothing!) is not a luxury I feel I can afford most days what with all that’s involved in moving, setting up and maintaining a house, looking for paying work, and being involved in ministry.

My solution? Audiobooks!

Audiobooks are my latest obsession. I have been devouring them lately. I go through at least a book a week, often more. Mostly I listen to them when I’m alone–while I’m driving or working around the house. But I started listening to one recently that was so intriguing that I wanted Jared to listen to it with me. So we did! The book, you may ask?

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

(Don’t ask me how I missed this one in high school!)

I was almost 2 hours into this 4-hour novel when I decided Jared should join in. I gave him a brief summary of the premise, and he quickly saw the appeal. So we started back at the beginning and proceeded together. (Just because of the irony, here‘s a link to the Wikipedia article and summary of the book.)

We were both captivated by the idea of a society that has deteriorated because of people’s disdain for quiet and peace and their desire to constantly be entertained and placated. Sound similar to the world we live in? I certainly was convicted by the fact that I’m so attached to my iPhone and love to have the TV on in the background when I’m doing stuff around the house. I definitely need to create more space and quiet in my life, whether to reflect, process, or simply be with God. (More on this in future blog posts!)

Feeling Dissatisfied

But what most struck me was the simplicity of the novel. In earnest, I wanted more. About a third of the way into the book, when Montague and Faber “joke” about planting books in firemen’s houses all over the country to bring the whole system down, I wanted to see this happen! I wanted to see a large-scale upheaval of the system they were a part of, resulting in massive changes to the whole society.

For those of you who have read Fahrenheit 451, you know this isn’t where the book goes. And for those of you who haven’t read it, I won’t ruin it. But I was most interested by my own reaction to the book. I wanted conspiracy; I wanted mutiny toward a broken system; I wanted action.

But all of these desires in me came about from consuming today’s media. Movies today have to be bigger, flashier, and louder. You literally get “more bang for your buck.” But often times the content is missing. Rarely do these same movies have profound things to say about our world.

Don’t get me wrong: I love action movies–sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for what might jump out at me next. But that’s not reality. Too often we live in a broken society and the solution isn’t that simple. Two people can’t plot to overthrow “the system” and succeed. If Bradbury had gone there, honestly he would have been taking the flashy, but easy, way out.

So What Can I Do?

All I can do is what Guy Montague is stuck with at the end of the book. He’s left with a fragments of two books in his head and a hope that that knowledge will come in handy when the world needs it. All I can do is persevere. I can hope to make my corner of the world a little more like the new heaven and new earth will be. I can try to stand against the system, while realizing that I can’t overthrow it by myself.

And probably most importantly, I can rely on God to make me ONE–one with God, one with my husband, and one with the way God intended the world to be. Our world has gotten pretty far off track, but I hope to faithfully soak in God’s word and wade through the mess to live a more faith-filled and obedient life.

There’s No Easy Way Out

We all want quick, easy solutions to systemic problems, and that’s what makes so much of today’s entertainment so satisfying. But we are stuck in the real world. We are stuck with the problems of expensive health care, a minimum wage that’s below the poverty line, predatory lending practices, perverted media, and so much more. And there’s no easy way out.

However, if we are willing to walk with God, he will show us what it means to be faithful in the midst of this chaos. Even if it never changes. Crises will happen–personally, nationally, and globally. WE must be willing to stand strong and hold fast to God.

Although it seems that Ray Bradbury wasn’t a Christian, he lived in the reality that there is no easy way out. Let’s embrace the reality of our broken world AND the fact that solutions are complicated. Wishing things were other than they are isn’t going to help. After all, isn’t escaping into a world of fantasy exactly what Bradbury is warning us against?

What Beauty Is in Sight?

Again this week, I’m writing for the Faith Jam on Friday instead of Thursday.  This week, instead of being busy yesterday, I was just horribly sick! 😦 And although I still don’t feel great today, I at least feel a little bit better to where I’m able to sit up for long enough to pound out some reflective thinking.

So here goes:

At 30 years old and still single, my life is hardly what I had pictured.  At the very least I assumed I’d be married by now, and perhaps with a kid–though whether I had one or not, at least I’d have that option.

I didn’t think this because of some feminine ideal, that this is what it means to be a woman.  I genuinely want to be a wife and a mother, and I still have hopes that this will happen.

In some sense I realize that 30 is still very young.  But in another sense, I feel old as you hear people say that it’s better to have kids before you’re 35–40 at the latest.

And I’d like to have time with just my husband before we have kids, so with no prospects as I swiftly approach 31 (yuck!), life is not what I had planned.

And that seems scary to me.  And confusing.  Like, “Where are you, God?  Aren’t you the one who made me relational, who gave me this desire to be married?  Why aren’t you fulfilling it?  Are you holding my husband back for some reason?”

These are the questions I’ve been asking recently.  Not asking–profoundly wrestling with.  Tackling God over.  Begging.  Pleading.  Seeking in those deep places of my heart.

So, as a theologian, I’ve had to really examine my theology on these things.  There are so many things I could never dream of knowing about God, but here are a couple things I cling to in these dark moments:

1.  I don’t believe God is cruel.  I don’t know why he hasn’t either taken away my desire to be married or given me a husband, but I don’t think his reasoning involves being cruel and just making me suffer.
2.  I don’t believe God ordains everything.  While I do think God is in charge in some larger sense, I don’t think that means he controls every aspect of our lives.  Perhaps the reason I’m not married yet is simply that we live in a fallen, disconnected world where the crappiness of circumstances hasn’t allowed me to meet anyone I connect with in this way. (I also don’t believe there’s just one “one” for everyone, but that just means I haven’t met any of them yet! :P)
3.  I don’t believe God rewards goodness and punishes badness.  This was a myth that grew among the Israelites in the Old Testament, but Jesus quickly dispelled it when he came on the scene (see John 9:1-3).  So I don’t think I’m still single because I did something wrong or sinful.  I also, incidentally, don’t think you only get married when you’re “ready”–plenty of people aren’t ready and get married, and plenty are way past ready and are still waiting!

So, in the midst of the hardness of my situation, the question arises: What beauty is in sight?  How can I even believe there’s beauty when so many things around me don’t make any sense?

First, there’s beauty in the fact that this struggle has driven me to the Lord.  Just the fact that I can affirm the above theological statements is beautiful.  Yes, a lot of days this just sucks, but I also am discovering the ways that it’s forcing me to rely on God and really figure out what I believe about him.

Second, there is so much beauty in the amazing relationships I have, particularly those I’ve developed over the past 6 years.  I experience every day a depth in my friendships that I think most people never even experience with their spouse.  I don’t say this to brag; I just really believe it’s true.  Most people are terrified to be vulnerable and really share their heart with someone–I have a core of 5-10 people I can do this with any time (assuming our schedules allow!).  I could not be more thankful for the incredible friendships I have.  You know who you are, and you’ve blessed me immensely time and time again!

Finally, there’s beauty in where my life is right now.  True, I don’t love every aspect of my circumstances, but I’m not sure that I’d be in this place if I were married.  I love living in Santa Barbara, I love getting to work with my church, and I love having time to develop the friendships I have here.  I’m not sure if all these things would have lined up just so if I’d been married.

Finding beauty in these thorny circumstances has been my desire lately.  But I don’t always know how to do that.  However, I know that I don’t think finding the beauty means always being happy about how things are.  Sometimes the beauty comes in a really good cry or in a really good, hard, honest discussion with a friend about the pain of my life in this moment.

My prayer these days comes from two sources: somewhere in The Chronicles of Narnia Aslan tells Lucy that it’s not for us to know the “what if”‘s.  I realize that my life might be very different if I were already married at this point, but it’s not for me to know what that path might have looked like.  The fact is that this is my life.  And I want to embrace that.

In a similar vein, I think often about this quote:

joseph-campbell

I don’t know what life is waiting for me, but I know that I want to find out.  And I don’t want to find out passively because I have no other option–I want to be excited about the journey I’m on, ready to embrace whatever twists and turns may come my way.

In the midst of all of this, God is still good.  He is still meeting me in those lowly places–when I’m unsure where to go and why things are just so difficult.

He hasn’t abandoned me.

He hasn’t abandoned you either.

Perhaps life’s difficulties seem too hard to handle.  We are not alone in them.  We have God, but we also have each other.

Let’s walk in these rough places together–not pretending that things are fine when they clearly aren’t.  I believe Jesus is present when we meet one another in those vulnerable places, when we decide to incarnate into one another’s pain.

After all, isn’t that what the Incarnation is all about?  Jesus, perfect God, taking on the imperfect form of a human (though he remained sinless) in order to walk among us and experience our pain.

Let’s be Jesus to one another in these difficult places–whether we can relate to the other’s pain or not.  Let’s be the warm arms of Christ as we embrace each other, trusting that the Holy Spirit is moving our arms to surround one another.  Let’s never forget that life will be hard–more often than we’d like–but we are not alone!  And then, let’s be God’s tangible representatives to one another–little Jesuses in the flesh–as we walk together through the pain, seeking whatever beauty we may find among the thorns.

The Genius of Madeleine L’Engle

It’s official: Madeleine L’Engle is a genius.

I’ve never read somebody who pairs so well the scientific and the spiritual, the playfulness of a child and the seriousness of an adult, the flow of fiction and the reflection of nonfiction.  She really is incredible.  If you haven’t read anything by her, go–NOW–and start.

During my road trip to move to California (it started the middle of October), I started reading through L’Engle’s Time series: five books which start with A Wrinkle in Time.  I had read this first one as a child, but only vaguely remembered it.  It floored me this time as I began to realize how effortlessly she weaves together these seemingly diametrically opposed concepts.  It was truly the best book I’d read in a long while.

And then I picked up A Wind in the Door.  This book leaves Wrinkle in the dust.  After a lot of effort to locate these books at various libraries in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, I finally finished Wind by the beginning of November.  It was a deeply profound experience, one which kept me awake late into the evening–even long after I’d finished reading for the night–simply pondering the depths of all L’Engle had to say.

I then proceeded to continue the series with A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third in the series (and which I also thoroughly enjoyed).  But I found I was still stuck on Wind.

So here I am–back reading it again.  I get through maybe two pages a day and then have to stop because I already have so much to think about.  I think I could read it a hundred times and not plumb the depths of what L’Engle is getting at.

So I’ve vowed to blog about it.  I have to do something to process all the wisdom that comes flying at me every time I crack open the pages of this amazing novel.  I started this process two days ago by posting about the idea that “We’re Called Because We’re Needed.”  Tonight I want to process a smaller, but still deeply profound, comment L’Engle makes.

The parents of the main family in the book, the Murrys, are both scientists–and very elite ones at that.  Meg, their eldest daughter, has just met a cherubim and is deciding if she should tell her mother or not.  She decides not to, not because her mother wouldn’t believe her, but simply because her mother is already worried about many things.  But in the process of trying to reason out what to do, the narrator (third person, mostly though not exclusively from Meg’s perspective) tells us that the Murrys’ discoveries “had made [them] more, rather than less, open to the strange, to the mysterious, to the unexplainable” (chapter 3, page 70 in my edition).

I can’t stop thinking about this and had to quit reading there last night.  I love that we can seek to understand the depths of science—-and it can still lead us right back to God.

Science and God are not mutually exclusive.  Scientists don’t have to give up God, and Christians certainly don’t have to give up believing science could have something intelligent to say about the world.  After all, isn’t all truth God’s truth anyway?

I don’t know how the world was created, but if God chose to set up the evolutionary process–and then imbue the first human with a soul–then so be it.  Who am I to question God’s methods?  However it happened, God did it.  And that’s what matters.

And so L’Engle makes room in her books for profound spirituality and profound science.  I love that depth in one can lead to depth in the other.

All this makes me think back to when my mom was receiving her first round of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer back in 2000.  The doctor recommended six rounds, but after my mom was having severe symptoms after five, the doctor confessed that six is the number they use for breast cancer and they hadn’t really figured out what was best for treating ovarian cancer.  I was struck in that moment that, as much as doctors know about medicine, there is so much they still have yet to learn.

The same seems to be true for science.  The more we try to explain, the more we find is truly unexplainable.  I am no scientist, but I look around and can’t imagine this all came from nothing or some “big bang.”  And yet just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I have to give up all ground that has come from scientific discoveries.  And so L’Engle allows room for both, and for that I’m extremely thankful.  Her books speak intelligently to both camps, and in so doing she does a beautiful job of marrying the two.

I pray as we continue to grow in our faith that we too can seek to be smart, deep Christians who understand the beauty of using our minds.  I once saw a bummer sticker that really upset me.  It read, “If you won’t pray in my school, I won’t think in your church.”  Please think in my church!  Being a Christian does not require turning off your brain and becoming a zombie!  May we be intelligent Christians who strive to use our minds as we attempt to discover truth wherever God is choosing to reveal it.  Please let’s turn on our brains.  Please let’s strive to match the genius of Madeleine L’Engle.  Both the Christian and scientific communities could benefit a lot if we did.

“Hope”

“Hope” has to be my word for 2014.  I’m not sure if it’s a noun or a verb, but I think it has to be my word going forward.  A little over 2 years ago now, a friend took a beautiful picture of me (I’m off in the distant background), and he said that, as he prayed about it, God gave him the title, “She Waiting on Hope.”  Well, after over 2 years, I think I’ve been waiting long enough.  There are some things that I desperately wish had changed in my life in those two years, and they just haven’t, but I can’t hope in earthly things.  My hope has to be in God, his love for me, and the abundant life he has promised (which includes amazing friends who love me too!).  I want to have hope (the noun form), but on the days when I don’t, I can still choose to hope (the verb form).  I can hope in God’s promises to be with me always.  I can hope in and be thankful for the fact that I am never alone (God and some amazing people surround me).  And some days, I hope simply because that’s all I can do.  Life is really hard at times (especially during this time of transition), and if I didn’t hope there wouldn’t be any point in getting up each day.  And so I choose to hope, praying that the Lord will continue to faithfully fill my life with more and more reasons to hope.  Please hope with me as we walk together into 2014.  Hope is something no one can do alone.  The beauty of the Christian community is that, when my hope is weak, you can carry me, and I can do the same for you.  Let’s carry one another into this new year, so we may never lose the beautiful hope we have grounded in our God.