October 09, 2014

Puzzled by Faith

My husband and I watched a movie last night while the kids were gone. The movie was good, funny, and had many mirror-moments for me as a mom. We enjoyed it, even if it isn't one we'd purchase ourselves. I thought over other movies I've seen from "faith-based" production companies (which are poorer quality, art-wise) and wondered what the difference was for me.

I thought of the movie we watched (which I liked), then compared it to the movie Her, which we've also seen. If you are a conservative Christian, it's unlikely you will understand or enjoy Her--not impossible, but unlikely. I think there are too many places that the stretch would be farther than is helpful. It's not impossible to like Her, though, because we both did. I hurt over the relationships portrayed, the hurts in individual lives, and felt characters made poor decisions. I liked the movie because of how it portrayed the raw honesty of it; Her is a movie that was willing to walk into a problem, present an answer, and stick around to see the messy ends of how that answer played out over time.

"Christian" films don't usually do this. They present flawed characters or messy lives, but there's usually an obvious character somewhere in the cast who's getting it "right" and whose approach will be humbly recognized as the godly view by the end of the movie. This is the difference in quality for me.

I am a Christian. I believe that the God I love and serve is the only God who was, is and will be. I believe he never changes his character. I believe he created me and loves me too much to allow barriers between us--most of them barriers I put in place myself. I do believe he is the answer to everything in my life, but it doesn't mean I'm the character in the movie with all the answers.

10/4/11 by mcapraro
When you open a puzzle, the picture on the box (and maybe on a poster inside) tells you what the end will be. That's Christianity. I know how the story will end, and I have some help in piecing it together. Where most people go wrong is believing that picture on the box means they know where each piece goes. No. I still have to sort pieces by color. I still have to work in sections. I still have to put in a lot of time to assemble a complex puzzle. I may not know until the end that a handful of pieces from another puzzle got dumped into mine by the enemy to confuse me.

I get a bad taste in my mouth when books or movies or other Christian art suggest that reading the Bible gives me the ability to pick up a piece and KNOW where it goes. Too often it results in my having a patronizing or pitying tone toward someone puzzling over their present piece. "Those poor people. If only they'd ask Jesus."

Abba, please help me to remember that knowing the picture on the box isn't the same thing as knowing where each piece goes. You've anchored my life in uncertainty so that I can learn to trust in You rather than myself.

October 07, 2014

Play it Forward

The battles of parenting never cease, from your child's cradle to grave. There are lulls, though, and I'm so, so, so very thankful right now to be between the pitched warfare of toddler/preschool and teen years. I haven't seen the oodles of spare time this fall I thought I would, since my expectations for what I'll get done rarely never match reality (My house will be sanitized! All papers will be ordered and in labeled files! I'll work through college texts and FINALLY understand matrix algebra! -I wish I could tell you this last one was an exaggeration, but no.).

One of the weekly events I have is because of a dream of mine. Some people dream of vacations in old age, but I dream of being the 85-yr-old woman on the block that preschoolers want to play with. I have it all pictured in my mind: a small tow-head telling his mom in a piping treble that he's headed over to see if Miss Susan can play.

I remember and treasure the adults I knew in childhood who knew how to play. They are my heroes.

A friend nearby is in a position very familiar to me, because I was there just a couple years ago. Single parenting because her husband's often working on the road, two young kids at home with energy and nap schedules that make outings draining, and one of those children being frighteningly smart, curious, energetic, strong-willed, and verbal. Ever had one of those? It's like being on a tilt-a-whirl in a hurricane some days.

These kinds of kids are enchanting and delightful. In small doses. Whenever someone offered to take my toddler, I'd push back a bit in warning: "Are you sure? She can be a lot to deal with." If they persisted, I figured it was caveat emptor and they had been forewarned. Once I saw a haggard look on their face or a stunned sort of shellshock, THEN I knew we could talk honestly about whether they were up for watching her again. Sometimes it would take multiple exposures. In the middle of my firefight, it could be so very, very frustrating to have others look surprised that I thought my kid was difficult. I often wanted to protest that I wasn't a bad mom; they just didn't know my child like I did. If they had to spend every day as point person, they'd agree with me! I knew they would.

These experiences sank into my bones. Seeing someone else in the same predicament made it a no-brainer for me: I get a weekly playdate with her kids. She's still point person. She still has the dirty work. I just know that I'm uniquely positioned to understand her and understand her kids, too! It can be fun when it's just a couple hours in a week. And oh, the difference between 24/7 and 21/7... The day I got a break automatically became my day of worship. I looked forward to that time all week. Monday was doable because Thursday was coming. I got the bliss of setting down the heavy weight I hefted the rest of the week, and because my parenting muscles got a break, they had a chance to rebuild.

I don't believe in karma. I don't even think I'm doing anything terribly hard. My friend probably thinks I'm a saint and her savior and that I hung the moon and walk on water. For me, it's paying it backward in recognition of where I was and how hard that time was. It's about paying it forward so that I CAN be the senior citizen every kid wants to visit. More than anything, it's about encouragement. Sometimes it's nice to know it's possible to survive young children without committing homicide or winding up in prison. You know, the little things in life.

October 01, 2014

Voicing Thoughts

Aretha Franklin released her cover of "Rollin' in the Deep" this week (full album available October 21st); she began singing at age 10 and is still performing at age 72. I marveled today at the power of her voice and what the human voice can do. Whenever I get interested, I usually go looking for more to learn, so... this morning I went looking for information about the human voice.

Following A.W. Tozer's example, I often like to start my learning with looking at Bible verses about the topic. The word 'voice' occurs hundreds of times in the Old and New Testaments, from Jacob's voice when he tricks Isaac to get Esau's blessing to descriptions of voices of angels, the voice of God, and comparisons of the sound of voices to thunder, trumpets, and mighty waters. The Greek word translated 'voice' is phone (foh-nee'), which we still use today in a number of words like telephone, phonetic, and euphonium. Plutarch called phone "that which brings to light upon that which is thought of in the mind." Or, to use Spiros Zodhiates' words, "The voice explains that which one had in his own mind for others... Phone is the cry of the living creature."

The spectrogram of the human voice reveals its rich harmonic content.
When we inhale, our bodies gather oxygen in the lungs, then exchange needed oxygen and unneeded carbon dioxide. Exhaling removes carbon dioxide. That exhaling, when it's controlled and shaped, is how we speak. Air from your lungs is the fuel for speech. Muscles like the diaphragm are the regulator, controlling the rate the air leaves your body; singers train for years to learn proper diaphragm control. Controlled air goes past two flaps of tissue in your airway called your vocal cords. Vocal cord length and shape plus the size of your airway are what determine the pitch of your voice, how high or low it is. You flex and relax throat muscles to control the pitch of your voice, whether singing or speaking. When the airflow is controlled and the pitch is decided, you use your cheeks, tongue, jaw, teeth and lips to turn the air into recognizable patterns. Vowels are shaped airflow; consonants are all about restricting or stopping the airflow.

Most of us learned to talk farther back than we remember. Without thinking about how we do it, we take the thoughts and ideas and feelings inside us, then use air (breath, wind, spirit, ruach, pneuma) to carry those intangible things past our shaping manipulations so they can take shape in someone else's mind. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.

Beyond that, the human voice is one of the most intimate things about the human body. We identify loved ones by voice alone; we yearn deeply over hearing our name said by someone we love. Darlene Rose once said that no one ever said her name the way her mother did; I know I feel similarly about how my mom says my name. Parents learn to recognize their child's voice across distances, to discern whether a cry is their child or someone else.

This is the kind of relationship and knowledge Jesus talks about when he says in John 10 that sheep follow their shepherd because they know his voice; they will not follow a stranger. Hebrews 3 & 4 plead several times for us to listen to God's voice today rather than hardening our hearts and turning away.

I think of all the speaking and singing voices I can recognize in very short order and how quickly I move from identifying the person to enjoying whatever I might hear. I'm working to recognize God's voice like this. I'm trying to take time alone to be still, to listen, to train my heart and inner ear to become so familiar with him that I could never mistake a stranger for him. I know it will take time.