[being human: the presence]
In my last post, I talked about the dangerous way in which paranormal romances overemphasize the other-ness of characters who aren’t human. This time, we’re going to look at the flip side, focusing on the way that relatable super-human characters struggle to stay human.
Because the best stories with inhuman characters remind us what it truly means to be human.
The idea really struck me as I sat in front of the biggest movie theater screen of my life, watching the newest incarnation of Superman battle it out against General Zod. My thoughts about Man of Steel’s wasted potential are another story; I came out of it dwelling on a single thing – Clark Kent’s humanity. I’m fully aware that Superman is about the farthest you could possibly get from a human being; however, this movie really made me realize that, at the heart of it all, Superman was raised as a human. He might be an alien, but he grew up in Kansas. And it’s his humanity that saves him.
This movie, and so many modern renditions of superheroes, has focused not on the powers, but on the flaws. Modern-day superheroes can’t do everything. As comics have progressed from the Golden Age, they’ve gotten progressively darker, more brooding, and grittier. Our heroes become flawed.
Superman still has to save the day, but during the battle scenes, we flip back and forth between him and all of the normal human beings struggling to survive an apocalyptic scenario. His powers do not ensure his survival – Zod has what he has physically. The difference? Superman thinks – and feels – as a human being. Zod wants to be a god. Superman doesn’t, and because of this, he can become a bridge between two worlds.
The concept of a character that is at once man and another creature is not new. I have a confession: I have watched entirely too much Teen Wolf lately. Please shoot me a message if you need me to defend this show to you (I know it looks awful).
At its surface, Teen Wolf is a show about a high schooler who gets bitten by a werewolf and inherits all sorts of powers and problems. As it progresses, though, you realize that the main character, Scott, isn’t the only hero (and doesn’t even become one for at least a season). Everyone who supports him, protects him, and reminds him of his human-ness keeps the show going – especially his best friend, Stiles.
From the very start, I recognized Stiles as the true hero of the show, the way that the supportive Samwise Gamgee is the true hero of Lord of the Rings. In a show full of supernatural creatures, werewolves, and werewolf hunters, Stiles stands at the center, fully human. He can’t do any of the things that his friends can do – and that’s why the show needs him to keep everyone anchored. His weapons are his sarcastic wit, his loyalty, his kindness, and his bravery. Even though he is so much more fragile than the rest of the characters, he keeps up with his friends, reminding them of their humanity and risking his own life for their sakes. He is the one who consistently pulls Scott back from the brink of animalistic abandon, reminding him who he is and reminding him the reason to remember to be human. The toll it takes on him is severe as he struggles with panic attacks and massive stress. And that really makes him braver than everyone else, because he has so much more to fear.
Our new supernatural heroes might need someone to encourage them in their power; however, more than this, they need someone to pull them back and keep them human. We don’t want to look up to our heroes anymore; we want to relate to them. We want to see them struggle with the power that they have and see that, beneath it all, they are a human being given a mantle. We want to look at them and wonder, what would I do in this situation?
This is why something like Twilight has it backwards. The whole time, Bella idolizes Edward. She wants to love him, but more than that, she wants to be like him. And in the end, if I’m not mistaken, she gives up her very soul – the most human, eternal, God-given capacity we have – to turn into a different creature entirely. She sees nothing in human beings. But even though we’re fallen, broken, fragile things, there is still something ultimately beautiful in being human.
I wondered for a long time if I was wrong about this. I know that we have fallen into sin. We work evil and tend toward selfish actions. We’re traitors, living in darkness and choosing fear, pain, and death. On our own, we cannot do anything at all.
All of this is true. And yet, we have been created in the image of the eternal God. At the start of all things, God once called us very good. Wisdom says in Proverbs 8 that, at the creation of the world, she
“was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.”
And although we have fallen, each of us holds in our hearts the potential to be restored. And that’s a humanity that should be protected. Eric Metaxes explains it in his biography, Bonhoeffer:
“It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny. It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom – that was what it was to obey God… Earthly bliss and humanity belong to God, not in any cramped ‘religious’ sense, but in the fully human sense. Bonhoeffer was a champion of God’s idea of humanity, a humanity that He invented and, by participating in it through the incarnation, that He redeemed.”
Jesus didn’t become human just to try it out, or because of anything good that we’ve brought about. He came to redeem us and restore us, and the rest of his creation, to its former place. Superman was conceived of as a messianic; how much better is the way that our God has become human to save the world and bridge our way! Our very human-ness can become something lovely when tempered to God’s plan. We have the capacity to see beautiful things and understand that something meaningful hums beneath them. We were created with human bodies and human souls, and God delights in us when we serve Him (more). What a word delight is!
Being human means having to serve something. It means being weak and unable. To be human is to be vulnerable. Unlike Stiles, who tries to provide for his friends out of his own strength, it means relying on something else. I had a long talk with my dear friend after she got back from Togo, and she told me several stories that will stick with me. Her tour guide had told her that his grandfather, like many of the people there, was an animist, worshipping different gods who gave him the power to do terrible things, like force people into the ground. I’ve heard similar stories from people in Burma, whose relatives could see creatures or levitate objects. That’s the thing about Satan – he makes people feel powerful when really they become enslaved by him. and here’s the interesting part; when these people become Christians, they have to give up all that demonic power. In Christ, they don’t have supernatural powers. The things they do (healing, etc) are not done in their own power, but in the name of Jesus. In Jesus, they are called to be utterly human and vulnerable, having to rely on God for their strength.
In a way, being human means being shackled down by all of our flaws, confusion, and powers that turn out to be burdens. But it also means being given the ability to be free, the ability to search for truth and to desire real relationship and real beauty. It means having the chance to choose rightly, and having the chance to be utterly restored by a God who created us in His own image in the first place. We are weak; but our weakness is God’s strength.
Read this: Romans 8:9-11 (here)
Stories warning against playing God: Superman, Jurassic Park, Frankenstein
I’ve been trying to write this blog post for weeks. I jotted down all of my thoughts the night of the event and proceeded to lose and find that sheet of paper at least five times. It’s currently lost.
One weekend in April this year, I went to the symphony for the very first time. My friend and I gawked at the Rococo gold-and-white beauty that is Powell Hall, settled down in our fancy dresses, and waited for it to begin.
It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I can safely say that it was life-changing.
Although I expected to like it, I didn’t expect the explosion of thought that would accompany enjoyment of the music. I was completely fixed in my seat, but it was as if that tethering of intense focus only gave my thoughts more room to come alive above the wordless music. Each different twist and turn of the music pushed my mind in another direction, prodding it, summoning up ideas and realizations.
The symphony itself was incredible. I sometimes listen to classical music as I study, but this was arresting, much more so than mere background music. There’s that lovely moment of prescience on the note right before where you wait on that cusp, feeling a contented jolt at a correct prediction and an electric pleasure at being proved surprisingly wrong.
Berlioz was terrifyingly brilliant. Paganini was a madman. Aren’t all artists mad, though, I thought? If madness is seeing something that isn’t there, then poets and artists – seeing the past, the future, and people that don’t even exist – are raving. If madness is seeing what isn’t, then I was hallucinating right there, living in between two realities, planted in one and peering into the other. These are some of my visions.
Watching so many people move together as a unit evoked an imperfect metaphor of the body of Christ and how beautiful true community can be. In true community both people’s individual selves are kept intact as well as the group as a whole (Romans 12). Diversity in the midst of community is one of the most beautiful things the body of Christ exhibits, people from every tongue and tribe and nation coming together for the singular purpose of living life together to praise God.
I thought about the misjudgement people make in comparing writing to music, and the beauty in telling a story without any words at all. I tried to feel the plot from the notes and the instruments, and I didn’t completely get it. But I remember feeling uneasy as my hairs rose, prickling, on my arms, or feeling relief at the tolling of bells.
I was also utterly captived by Augustin Hadelich, the violinist. I saw how beautiful passion makes a person, and how much more there is to beauty than just physical appearance. As he played, I thought about the intimacy of relationship between a musician and his or her instrument. He knew every inch of the violin, exactly what to do with it, how to explore and find new wholes and play old melodies in an entirely new way. He played, and I found myself in a space outside of time, and the rest of the world could keep on moving while I stayed and listened to him.
I imagined him as a boy, learning to clumsily pluck the strings of his new instrument, or maybe a borrowed violin, lightyears different from the borrowed violin that he currently played. I imagined his first recital, his frustration that, even though his ability was growing, he still couldn’t play the hard pieces. I imagined the horror that he felt after being trapped in that fire, his flesh rearranged and reconstructed, the terror that must have gripped him at the idea he might never play again. And I imagined him with white hair, his mended skin wrinkling, playing with as much feeling and skill as he did here.
I saw the dome of the symphony hall tremble, speed up, begin to decay. I imagined the cushions falling from their seats and the lights blowing out and leaving tiny shards of glass on the dirty carpet, the roof sagging and the paint peeling and the wind blowing leaves across the empty stage. I imagined the hall in a hundred years, desolate, nature performing for herself and no one else, and I wondered if, even then, it would remember the sound of that symphony, if it would somehow ingrain itself into the structure. If it would hold it close and bring it back up on lonely days, when the storm outside didn’t quite reach the inside, when the plinked dripping of the rain through the floorboards of the stage renewed itself in Paganini or Berlioz and the ghostly tune swelled within the shell of the hall.
And then a gasp of air, and the hall is glowing golden again, complete and full of life and music and the hushed rustle of hundreds of bodies shifting in their seats, fabric against velvet.
I’m sure there was more than this, and I’m disappointed that I don’t remember the flood of ideas. I wished that symphonies could be like museums, letting everyone experience what I had; I wondered if everyone would want to. I thought much of writing, much of inventiveness, much of God, some of others, and little of love. But the symphony was nearly two months ago, now, and my memory has left me with this and with a feeling of fulfillment, peace, and reaching beyond my own shell.
Listen to this: Augustin Hadelich playing Paganini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsJyuJppA7s
Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DWjI1uLSzw
I was listening to Mumford and Sons for the billionth time in the car, and as the first plucked notes of Sigh No More came through the speakers, I was struck with this feeling. It’s hard to put into words, but I’m going to try.
It was a feeling of comfort, like something you know so well that it never fails to wrap its arms around you, hold you tight and close to its heart, and soothe you, whispering. Folds of melodies and harmonies slowly pull me in, wind their way around me, and settle me down in their familiar fabric.
Sigh No More is a favorite shirt that you got years ago and can’t stop wearing, no matter how faded the dyes on the T-shirt become and how thin the fabric wears between your fingers. You rub the corner of it, and it’s so comfortable and familiar that it makes you smile. You’ve worn it so long that it has more than become your shirt. Friends know it well and it reminds them of you easily.
Or it’s a figurine that someone carved for you out of wood. You know it so well now that you’ve almost forgotten the story behind it, but not quite. You trace its figure between your fingers and you know that every inch of it is wired into your tactile memory.
Or, most accurately, your favorite book that you’ve read so many times that the binding is starting to break, the pages are turning yellow, the ribbon bookmark has frayed at its edges, and the corners of the cover have bent and rounded. You know every word, trace them with your finger, find the places where you’ve annotated with pencil, the eraser marks.
I remember the joy of first hearing the CD, and the countless loops I subjected my family to. I remember first reveling in the voice and the passion behind it, listening to the CD again and again until I learned each line and strum. Catching the references to literature and history, grinning at the lines from Shakespeare, trying to unravel Mumford’s spiritual state and battles through the lyrics, frowning at times and being moved by his own struggle. Thinking it over and turning it around in my mind, deciding what I agreed with and what I definitely didn’t. Learning to love certain songs, like Dust Bowl Dance, that I’d hated upon first hearing them.
And still the songs never grow old. I never tire of hearing them. Your shirt will fade and thin, and the figurine will wear away under the pressure of your fingers, like the stone stairs of a well-trodden castle staircase or the constant beating of waves against a cliff. The songs do not physically change. They’re recorded forever in the same state, the same notes, the same lyrics, the same breaths.
But my perceptions change. As I grow, the songs change and touch my heart in different ways.
And today, as I was sitting at work with my headphones in, I finally recognized the few words that had been previously ambiguous in one of the songs, I Gave You All – “brass wires”. I didn’t know that I hadn’t known them. I found something new in the middle of something I knew so well – another whittled facet to the figurine, a tiny tag on the inside of the shirt that you hadn’t noticed before. And that’s the fun of getting to know something complex. It will always surprise you. Caravaggio’s masterpiece reveals something new even after years of drinking it in with your eyes. Your best friend of fifteen years pulls out a talent you never knew they had. A single Bible verse shows you something different when you need it the most. Even though you know every single line of your favorite movie, you finally see something in the background that foreshadows the end from the very beginning. Every time you read that novel, something new jumps out at you, arrests you, and draws your attention. A harmony finally clicks for you, you hear an instrument that had hidden from you in the depths of the song, and you find a reference that you didn’t understand before.
It changes as you do. That’s why it’s worthwhile to do things again, to re-read, re-view, re-listen, re-touch. That’s why the most beautiful and complex things can never be fully understood or known – while we’re stilll earth-bound, anyway. That’s why it pays to pay attention, and that’s what’s so lovely about loving something. So I’m going to get back into my car, turn up the volume, and sink down into the undulating waves of sound and word.
Re-read this: something you haven’t read in years that impressed upon you.
Hear this: Sigh No More ;
I Will Wait, the new single:
Hoo. I’m already moved to near-tears by the lyrics. Okay.
When we first set foot in Paris, it was hot, we were dragging our luggage, and we didn’t know exactly where our hotel was. But I didn’t care. My first impression of Paris as we stepped out of the train station, despite the stress that my parents felt, was untainted. I took in the cyclists, and the cafes, and the lampposts, and the trees planted every so often, and the effortlessly elegant natives that crossed the street with us.
There are a lot of beautiful people in Paris. It’s sort of unfair, how attractive they are.
We finally caught a cab, and I cobbled together a sentence in French from my crash course and knowledge of Spanish, much to the delight of our cabbie.
We wandered that day to the Louvre and down to Notre Dame. I think we walked the whole way, since we hadn’t bought our Metro passes yet. It was gorgeous, and I loved it, even though I was incredibly out of it.
This is where my favorite discovery came. I ended up going here twice. Shakespeare and Co, an English-language bookstore in the heart of Paris. My professor had mentioned it to me before and it sounded fascinating – who wouldn’t want to visit a bookstore that famous expats of the 1920s had frequented? Seriously. Just imagining all of them converging on that one city, creating, thinking, writing… Ugh.
(On a related note, I saw Midnight in Paris shortly after I got home… OH MY GOSH. It was brilliant. I actually threw a pillow across the room when T.S. Eliot popped up. But I’m getting sidetracked…)
This bookstore. It’s… it’s one of the most incredible places I’ve been. And that sounds odd, having seen monuments and architecture and museums. But I cannot even describe the atmosphere there. For a book lover, it was absolutely mind-blowing. Books were organized enough to be found but not enough to give it an atmosphere of sterility… The whole place was just breathing. Everyone inside that store was there because they wanted to be, and nobody was in a rush. A love for books just permeated the whole place.
I could have stayed there forever, and I mean that. I really do. My family had to drag me out of the shop. Everything about it was perfect, and I’ve never been anywhere like it. It’s almost entirely classics, and the atmosphere is… homey? There are signs, and little sections you can visit. Hanging above the stairs is a sign that reads “Be not inhospitible to strangers lest they be angels in disguise”. They have a section called “BEAT” and one simply titled “LOST” for Joyce, Hemingway, and their whole generation. There’s also a well in the floor labeled “FEED THE STARVING WRITERS” and a cell filled with poetry. Did I mention the entire Shakespeare section?
The best part about it, though, was the way that they encouraged reading and, further, writing. They fostered creativity in that spot. Upstairs, they had two reading rooms, a chess board, a piano, a typewriter, and the kid’s section. There are so many places where you can write, though. By the typewriter and the YA section, you can just leave notes, scraps of paper, and bits of prose and poetry, tacking a little bit of yourself up on a Metro ticket or shoving your soul into a crack in the wall. A mirror in the poetry section also urged you to leave your own poems.
It was beautiful, and alive.
And so began a new adventure, which was chronicled with just as much love and affection as the last. More later, maybe.
Hello, my dears! Or rather, Guten tag… 🙂 right now, I’m on an Austrian train from Salzburg to Vienna, have finished with my school trip to Ireland (which was amazing) and am about a week into my family trip. I’ll try to post as often as I can, because I have a lot to say, but we shall see.
This is where I went to church this morning:
It was lovely, and the choir may have honestly been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. It was also entirely in German, but oh well. Details.
I thought I’d briefly type up some of the things I’ve learned thus far while travelling. Maybe it won’t be brief. But here are my reflections:
Pack light. With all of the stairs, trains, and cobbled streets, the last thing you want is a giant suitcase. Mine, regrettably, seems to be growing with each stop. I just keep sitting on it… Also, you don’t really need everything you think you’ll need. Vacuum bags are a thing of beauty.
Another reason to pack light is that you’ll buy things. And you should. Not the stupid knick knacks that they sell at souvenir shops. But if there’s something thats sort of expensive but that you’ll a) never see again b) use a lot c) cherish for a long time, buy it! I ended up going into a tiny Parisian shop that sold dresses and coming out wearing one of them. But it’s designed and made by a local woman, so I’m sort of excited about that.
Accept that you will lose something. Like maybe a brand new CF card. Or the food your brother steals from you. Or all of your socks.
Accept that you will be a tourist. That always makes me feel awkward, going to a sight and taking lots of pictures and speaking loudly in English, but I just had to say screw it and smile when my mom points the camera our way.
Be a good tourist, and not an ugly American. That means being quiet (such a struggle for me…) and being aware of cultural differences, like bathroom fees and opening train doors…
Unfortunately, you’re still going to offend someone. Like the very angry bathroom attendant who yelled at me when I didn’t have money to pay the optional fee. I didn’t know! Oops.
Make friends!!! This one is my favorite. People have so much to say. Just start talking to someone. If they’re unfriendly, then all you’ve lost is their opinion of you – and who cares. They’re a stranger, let them think you’re weird or awkward. If they’re friendly, though, you’ve gained a connection, a friend, a way to pass the time, and all of the stories that they tell you. Be safe, CLEARLY. But chatting with your cabbie, listening to the stories of two old Irish men revarnishing a Presbyterian church, getting emotional with someone about the Gutenburg Bible at TCD, or talking to a dapper British man reading Roald Dahl at a Parisian laverie? Probably okay.
Try to learn the basics of the language. I haven’t been very stellar with this one this time around, but I can say “please” and “thank you”, apologize (sort of), say “it’s good”, and greet people. My accent may be awful and embarrassing, and I’ll probably make some hilariously awful slip ups, but most people appreciate the effort. Well, some people. It’ll be a mess when we switch countries. Oh well…
Be aware of the homeless. This one doesn’t just apply to traveling. Okay, if I could, I’d give money to every homeless person or street performer I came across. Maybe not the rude ones. But I feel for them, and I really want to help them. Money doesn’t do much, but it’s one of the only ways I can show them that they are loved. I’ll never forget. We were walking into the subway system in one of the cities when this very sweet man asked for money. We moved on, since I didn’t have any, but I got some and ran back to give it to him. He kissed my hand and absolutely beamed. Not because it was a lot of money, but because I went back for him.That said, be careful (girls especially). Don’t be stupid, and don’t talk to people when you’re alone. Some homeless people will hassle you, and many are mentally unbalanced, so don’t disregard your own safety in your generosity.
Wander. Dear heaven, wander. This is some of my favorite advice, because I’ve found some of my favorite places this way. Stray a bit from the beaten path of touristy areas and find somewhere cool. Shakespeare and Co is the most wonderful place in the world, and I LOVED IT, and I wanted to live there… I’ll probably write a whole post on it. UGH. And in Salzburg, we walked through an outdoor market and bought food from lots of different stalls, then stood around a table outside to eat. We had fried chicken, pretzels, and raspberries, and it was lovely.
Be patient with your fellow travellers. This is something that I have not been, and I’m so sorry for that. When you’re with someone constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sharing rooms, you might start to wear on each other a little. And that’s normal. Be gracious, and forgiving. Try not to fight (or apologize after you do). Give each other space and alone time.
Don’t sleep in. Also ridiculously difficult for me. But when you roll over in bed, and it’s deliciously comfortable, and you’re warm and sleepy and never want to move, try to remember that you’re in a new place that begs to be explored. (this is a bit of a confession/ self-reminder since it took me 30 minutes and my entire family yelling at me and pulling off the covers for me to get out of bed…)
Do your research. It will help you be a savvy traveller, and you’ll feel super cool when you know your way around and have tickets and things planned out. It also makes things less stressful.
But embrace when things don’t go according to plan. I say when, because they won’t. Make the most of it, though, and see where the changes take you, because it might be better than what you originally planned. One day, our episode of Awkward Adventures in Germany was entitled “We don’t get off of trains when we’re supposed to”. So it turns out that doors don’t actually open automatically… Another American was very upset about it. And we were too, to a degree. But we were sitting (serendipitously) next to a wonderfully sweet stranger from the Railway Advisory, and he helped us. That day was also one of the most fun I’ve had with the jokes that happened and the people we met (Too late…….).
Record your adventures. Take pictures (but don’t spend so much time behind the lens that you miss out!). Keep a travel journal. Don’t say, “I’ll remember”. You won’t (I’ve forgotten many things this way). Write it down.
Finally, consider it a beautiful, glorious thing that God is the same in any language. Christianity allows people to keep their culture and individuality while still being a part of the same family, and it’s amazing to meet and see others who worship the same God all over the world.
That’s all for now! And I realize that wasn’t brief at all. OH WELL! I’ll write more soon with excerpts from my Ireland travel journal and places I’ve been (SHAKESPEARE AND CO). Until then!
First of all, I’m terribly sorry I’ve not updated recently. Secondly, (just as a heads up), I’m going to be on vacation for all of June (I leave tomorrow! Weird). I may get a chance to post something while I’m gone, but it’s very doubtful. I’ll have plenty to say when I get home, though. Okay on to the real post!
This will be fairly quick, because there is SO MUCH I could say on this subject and not enough words to adequately convey my feelings. During exam week, I’d been listening to quite a lot of Pandora, which is nice because I don’t have to worry about picking each song. But every once in a while, a song will catch me off guard, gently pull at my heart, buffet me until I listen to it again, and grow on me every time I hear it. I would listen to a hundred songs just to find one like this that touches something internal and refuses to budge.
I think it has to be a combination of lyrics and melody for it to stick. The actual music is clearly more important, because there are hundreds of gorgeous, gorgeous pieces without any words at all that move me in a way that I really don’t understand (hello, Beethoven). But I love it when the chords surprise you and the lyrics inspire or incite or raise up some emotion or make you think about something in a new way, and think deeply… And the two things, working together, intertwine to create something absolutely wonderful and amazing.
A few weeks ago I found myself literally tearing up at a song because of… just everything about it. Music is relatable, and touching, and somehow creeps into your very heartbeat, taking something from creationand repurposing it. It’s made up of sound, of vibrations – it literally moves you. I think, of all of our senses, we tend to take hearing for granted. Listen, right now. There’s a lot happening around you that you’re barely aware of.
Anyway. It’s a beautiful connection when their intensity and emotions somehow move me into emotion. A bond is formed there, and you’re torn between wanting to share the song with everyone you meet and wanting to hold it close to your soul to play it on repeat as your personal anthem. It’s intensely personal and wonderfully communal all at the same time. Music both unites and speaks to you as an individual. I don’t understand it, but it’s a beautiful thing.
So, yeah. Heh. If you couldn’t tell, I sort of love music, and the way it gets inside of you, and the power behind a good song. Even the amount I sing in the shower is a pretty good indicator of my happiness and/or need for catharsis. I’ve got so much to say about music in general, but I’ll leave it at that.
Australia, The Shins. I love this. I just… I just love it.
Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley. I was actually crying at this. Also I couldn’t decide between the above version and this one.
Little Talks, Of Monsters and Men. I can’t take how beautiful this song/ the described relationship is.
Down in the Valley, The Head and the Heart. I actually love Lost in my Mind just as much as the above (if not more?), but the music video is pretty and you can watch it at that link.
Breathe, Anna Nalick. I just… really like this. Alright.
Old favorites that never get old:
Awakening, Switchfoot. I think that hearing this in middle school was one of the first times I realized how cool music is. It still makes me happy.
Death and All His Friends, Coldplay. There’s… there’s something special about this one. It always, very gently, touches something inside of me, calms me town, or makes me tear up.
ANY MUMFORD AND SONS EVER. I can’t even tell you how good they are. Sigh No More is one of the only physical CDs I own. Here’s Awake My Soul.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-11
God’s love is absolutely unfathomable.
We are terrible. Fallen. Rebellious and turned away from God, refusing him and choosing our own sin. We think we can live without him, we blame him for things, we fall.
God loves us.
We’re absolutely awful, and He still loves us enough to take the punishment that we deserved. I talked to someone yesterday about this, why we need faith at all, or why God can’t just forgive people. And I didn’t have a fantastic answer to that, because it’s a very tough question.
But I thought through it a little bit. God must be both just and loving. If God wasn’t a God of justice who punished wrongdoing, then He wouldn’t be a good God. And we wouldn’t want to follow a God that’s not good. That’s just… crazy. A just God must rule the universe, and so we must be punished. We deserve to be punished.
But God is also loving. He wants to share that perfect love with us, and bring us to Him forever.
The sin, however, still stands. The damage has been done (by us), and somebody must pay for it. Somebody has to take the blame. Forgiveness always comes at a cost… and He took that on Himself. He absorbed our blame when He died on the cross and took the weight of sin upon himself on our behalf. And as He took that sin upon himself, God turned away from Him in that moment. Can you imagine? It’s like being ripped apart from yourself. And he did this all freely– John says that He gave up his spirit. It was a conscious choice, for you and me.
It’s the most beautiful story I’ve ever heard. I think this is part of the reason that stories of sacrificial love resonate so strongly with us– because it’s an eternal truth, one that we find beautiful. A Tale of Two Cities is still one of my favorite books because of the profound sacrifice of Sydney Carton (sorry if I spoiled it…). Sacrifice is beautiful because it’s true and it’s happened for us.
The story gets even more beautiful with the resurrection from the dead, the craziest, awesomest, and most pivotal event in history. It gives us eternal life and reconciliation.
Death for life.
Happy Good Friday, and, (if I don’t come back soon), Happy Easter!
Come on, snow! I want to say. Keep at it! Come down harder! I know the fine flakes aren’t going to stick, though. The ground reflects something closer to a rain than a snow. I want to coax the tiny snowflakes to grow into wonderfully fat, fluffy flurries that stick to my hair and coat and eyelashes and pad the rooftops and ground with a pure layer of beauty.
It’s amazing when that happens. When the snow comes down and completely transforms something that you thought you knew into an alien landscape. It throws you that the entire world has shifted while you slept, turning everything – sky, earth, the edifices in between – completely blindingly and brilliantly white.
It’s a purification, of sorts, a covering-over of the dirty, sinful world with a layer of glory and transforming it into something new. It’s a mere shadow of what happens to us.
The beauty of snow makes the cold worthwhile. If you’re trudging along, fighting the wind with each step and frowning up at the dreary sky, you’re just miserable and cold and sad. But snow… snow gives you a reason to endure the cold and motivates you to walk onward.
This morning I was thinking of how people pretend(ed) to be dragons when it was cold outside, puffing their wispy breaths into the sky and watching them float away. I blew steady puffs into the air on my way to class. Breathe your worst, fiery sentinel, the knight would exclaim, armed to the teeth. I would smile sympathetically and condescendingly, showing all of my draconian teeth, and reply, I don’t have to. I would send a gaseous cloud his way, enveloping him in its soporific grasp as he slowly fell asleep, becoming someone else’s problem. Sleep peacefully, fair hero, I’d murmur. You’ll have much more to worry about when you awaken.
I think the flakes have grown since I started this. They have, they definitely have!! That makes me smile as I watch them from inside the library. Alright. It’s time to shove down that knee-jerk desire to run around outside screaming “IT’S SNOWING!” while I catch them and look at their shapes. I have to get some work done.
I can’t help it. IT’S SNOWING! IT REALLY IS, AND IT’S GLORIOUS, AND I THINK IT’S ACTUALLY STICKING THIS TIME, LA LA LA LA I CANNOT EVEN DEAL WITH THIS, THE FLAKES ARE ENORMOUS NOW, I’M GOING TO TAKE A VERY LONG WALK AFTER I DO MY HOMEWORK.
… I apologize.
… Although I’m not terribly sorry.
“I can remember at school how we would read together in class an Ode by Keats, a Shakespeare sonnet or a chapter of Animal Farm. I would tingle inside and want to sob, just at the words, at nothing more than the simple progression of sounds. But when it came to writing that thing called an Essay, I flubbed and floundered. I could never discover where to start. How do you find the distance and the cool to write in an academically approved style about something that makes you spin, wobble and weep?” –Making History, by Stephen Fry
WARNING: this is a ridiculously long post in which I obsess over and fangirl about the intricacies of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Prepare yourself or ask me later…
I’m taking a Shakespeare class right now, and it’s quickly risen to become my favorite. It’s actually fun to do the reading. Granted, it becomes a little bit awkward when someone walks in and catches me reading Richard II in a kingly British accent or angrily yelling Shylock’s lines to myself from Merchant of Venice, but it’s worth it.
I’ve learned a few general things about Shakespeare’s plays as a whole already: Firstly, they’re made to be seen. We haven’t watched any in class, yet, but our professor always talks about viewing the plays. He excitedly tells us to watch as we read and listen and create these worlds in our own minds.
Secondly, and most amazingly, these plays are so layered. This is why I’m glad I’m taking this as an actual class, because each allusion that we pick up and explore, every plot symmetry and carefully placed speech, every piece we dig up from the play makes it even more beautiful than it already was. What seemed like simple entertainment at first grows and flowers and shows you that there’s even more behind this play than beautifully poetic words and clever plots and characters. It’s absolutely MIND BLOWING.
We just finished Merchant of Venice, and I was loath to leave it behind and move on to the next play. On the surface, it’s a play with several different subplots: Antonio, a merchant, becomes indebted to the Jew, Shylock, who demands a pound of flesh from him if he cannot pay his dues. Bassanio, Antonio’s best friend, sails to Belmont, a magical kingdom where fair Portia is bound to only marry the man who can choose the right casket. Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, falls in love with Lorenzo, a Christian merchant. And in the end, fair Portia is evidenced to also be clever, brilliant Portia as she poses as a lawyer and saves Antonio’s life with her wit.
But there’s more. There’s so much more that my notes slowly converted themselves into a dance of arrows and lines and deeper connections and dichotomies.
The play opens with Antonio’s isolation and a description of ships on the sea. Antonio is a closed-off riddle, just like Portia’s caskets. The opening lines paint ships as people, and talk of them being opened. Antonio, too, needs to be opened to solve the riddle of his heart, and later in the play, he very nearly is (pound of flesh).
Also, the myth of Jason and Medea circles through and haunts the entire play. Jason quests for the fleece just like the men quest for the women’s hearts. Medea, instead of just being a fairy-tale princess, is also a cunning sorceress, just like Portia is an interesting mix of damsel and savior. In the Jason story, Medea ends up renewing Jason’s father by cutting him up first. Like taking a pound of flesh. Sort of.
And speaking of a pound of flesh, that also alludes to Communion, eating the body of Christ. Which segways into the Jewish and Christian themes in the play and shows those dichotomies.
And when we dug into a seemingly pointless scene of “comic relief”, we discovered all of the major themes of the play. All of them. And they’re all dichotomies: Shylock and Jessica as an expression of New Comedy. Portia’s father and Portia. Old Testament and New Testament. Judaism and Christianity. Justice and Mercy. Old and New, Law and Gospel. Not only is the play split, but each of the characters is divided into two sorts of people, reflecting the schismatic nature of the human heart (the raskol – see? I can relate anything back to Crime and Punishment…). But. Like the Old Testament is taken in and made new by the New Testament, all of these things can be taken in or work together in a new way. It’s absolutely brilliant.
I’m sorry this is so long. I couldn’t help myself. Ask me and I’ll give you the SparkNotes instead of the word vomit. But, in any case, Shakespeare is far more brilliant than I even knew.
And during our last class, my secular professor told the entire class to go home and read 1 Corinthians and Romans. Now that’s beautiful.
Read this: The Merchant of Venice : http://shakespeare.mit.edu/merchant/full.html