lady knights

I have been meaning to write this post for months, and I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to get around to it.  At the start of last term my mother called me long-distance, urgently; when I told her it was probably costing her an obscene amount of money, she said she had something spiritually vital to communicate, something that she’d gotten from others and from God over the past few days.

She sent me an illustration that she’d found of a female knight kneeling down in the armor of God – she said it struck her because she had never seen this passage illustrated with a woman, and she felt like it was supposed to be me.  “Satan is trying to attack you with untruths about yourself,” Mom said.  “You’ve got the rest of your armor on.  You’re in basic training right now, but you can slay the beast.  All you need to do is pick up your sword.” She urged me to fight with the word of God, to arm myself, and I began to cry as she spoke.

Of course, she was talking about the passage in Ephesians 6:10-20.  It’s long, but I’ll include the whole thing here, because it’s important, and because my offensive weapon is the word of God:

Exhortations for Spiritual Warfare:  Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.  For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints. Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak – that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak.”

I do struggle with so many other bits of this armor, but it’s how we stay defended.  We have to be fully equipped; each piece of the armor secures us against another of Satan’s traps.  When he tells us lies about ourselves, we can counter with the sword, backing up our worth with God’s words.  This isn’t just for us; I later stumbled upon Isaiah 59:15-17, where God himself, seeing that there is no justice in the world, takes it upon himself to work salvation:

He wears his desire for justice [or, ‘righteousness’] like body armor, [a breastplate]
and his desire to deliver is like a helmet on his head.
He puts on the garments of vengeance
and wears zeal like a robe.”

This is not the armor of God because he’s given it to us for comfort; it is His armor.  When we wear his righteousness and are crowned by his salvation, we act as his soldiers – we wear the armor of God, the armor that he himself wears.

Ever since then, I have been building up a tumblr tag, “lady knights”.  While several of them are actual women warriors, knights, or revolutionaries, many are also pioneers in science, technology, journalism, and other areas.  I am beginning to realize that this, too, is part of the fight; we are knights when we act honorably but refuse to be pushed aside, in doing the work of God and in furthering society.  There are few illustrations of women wearing the armor of God, but this fight does not depend on physical strength; I am allowed to be a warrior in it, called to be a warrior for it.

I have wondered so often about my own gender and the restrictions placed upon it in the Bible.  A deep part of me wants to chalk it up to cultural bias, wants to say that it doesn’t matter anymore, but then I see things tied in with Eve and don’t know how to feel.  My first response, of course, is to feel less, somehow incomplete and farther from God because he has made me a woman.  I think this too is a lie from the devil; I do not think God could see me as less just because of the way I have been created, because in Him there is no male or female, and he has used many women in the Bible to further his purpose.  But the insecurity is still there.

I cannot begin to express how deeply I have struggled with 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  I don’t want to remain quiet.  I want to be like Joan of Arc; if God gives me a vision I do not want to keep it to myself.  I mentioned to my father that I could never be a pastor, and he laughed, saying I’d hate the everyday detail-work of keeping everyone happy.  When I mentioned being a theologian, he said that thinking and reading and learning other languages seemed more up my alley (then sent me a chunk of N.T. Wright).  Who knows where I’ll end up; however, if the pen is mightier than the sword, this is another way for me to fight – the biggest way that I know how to fight.

I became a little obsessed with the concept, as my friends can attest.  My friend told me I was like Artemis and I grinned, and when she mentioned there needed to be a patron saint helping girls away from unwanted attention, I volunteered as fast as I could get the words out; when we brought up Joan of Arc my feelings grew.  These feelings are so tied into my prophecy feelings, and I still think it’s such a cool story, regardless of whether it’s true or not and regardless of the discomfort of making war religious; I cannot say if God did or did not use this girl.  In any case, she got an audience with the king, strategically led an army as a teenager, and died when she was nineteen, a year younger than I am now.  She was young, and she was a girl, and she did not let that stop her; she followed God’s voice to death.

Although Joan was tried for heresy, her trial was political; they labelled her cross-dressing as heresy even though she wore her male military clothing – her armor – to prevent the guards from raping her.  This brings me to the next section of this, regarding lady knights: the culture that has tried to objectify and take advantage of women.  All of it is tied up together.

I have come to realize that girls are so strong.  Girls are strong because we have to be; you don’t have to be physically strong to show that power, for there are many ways to exhibit strength.  When I started this post, I hadn’t thought about how it would or should link to current events, but I will now, after studies have shown that professors still favor men, that women are drastically underrepresented in media, and that six people, men and women, have been killed this week off the back of unhinged misogynistic rage.

I, like most of my female friends, am so deeply drawn to lady knights, badass girls, and women who know how to defend themselves because that is what we aspire to in the reality of our current society.  We live in a world where “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”; our desire is to be able to defend ourselves so completely that we do not have to fear, because we cannot guarantee that others will defend us.  We are learning to stand up for ourselves in word and deed, to demand respect and fair treatment; however, I know that this must be done out of love, keeping in mind our true opponent – Satan.  I want to be like Joan of Arc; I want to listen to the voice of God in order to bring about the justice of his will, and I want to be able to protect myself and my friends.  I want to put on the full armor of God to take my stand against the devil; I want to fight for God’s truth and justice, for I am called to a bigger battle, not against individuals but against evil.  And I want you – men and women – to fight with me.

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reading aloud

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, all: I just found this post that I’d forgotten to put up, so here you are.

When I was younger, I hated reading aloud.  I loved to read, of course – I’ve always known that stories carry magic – but I remember sitting in my second grade class as we circled around with Charlotte’s Web and I just knew that my tongue would trip over the words in a way my mind never did and my mouth would get dry and my voice do something I didn’t want it to do.  When I read to myself, I was swept up in the world of the book in a way that mimicked restfulness, and I’d look up from my book with the feeling that I’d just woken from a nap.  Reading aloud, though, scared me.  As I got better, I’m sure I became more cocky about it.

But recently, I’ve realized that there is a specific and dense magic that comes from speaking the written word, a magic that transcends what I’d expected from printed ink on a woven page of pulpy tree.

I think that children understand this magic deeply.  I always love to read aloud when I babysit (once I read a self-abridged version of A Wrinkle in Time), but this summer, something really captivating happened.  I was filling in for a family’s nanny for half a week, and the second day on the job was Homework Day.  Everyone was upset about it, obviously, moaning and half-heartedly scribbling on their math sheets.  The youngest’s only remaining homework assignment was to be read to.

I grabbed an abridged children’s copy of Treasure Island and began to read to him in a hushed voice, glancing up at him every once in a while.  When I started, he was squirming, sliding out of his chair, and rolling his eyes up at the ceiling.  Halfway through, he was looking at me.  When I stopped after the first chapter and started to put it away, he grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t stop!”  By this point, the other two weren’t doing their homework either but had started listening to the story.  One of them had crept around to look at the illustrations.  After lunch, we relocated to the couch, huddling together to read about poor Jim Hawkins.  I did some growly pirate voices and we all giggled over Ben Gunn’s cheese obsession.

We sat for more than two hours and read that whole book, cover to cover.  They never once got bored or wanted to stop.  The story had pulled them tight in a sort of magic, and even when my voice began to dry up they wrapped themselves around each word.  Treasure Island has no deep moral or spiritual truth (upon first glance, at least); it’s an adventure story, but it knows how to speak.  It understands the power of story, and so did the children.  This got them focused like nothing I had ever tried before – no sports break, homework incentive, or movie grabbed them like Treasure Island did.  It was absolutely unbelievable.

I think I finally understand the bardic tradition of the Celtic tribes, why the poets advised the kings and were revered as they were.  I understand how powerful it would have been to have everyone gathered in a castle hall for their Michaelmas celebration, shuffling quietly as they listened to the bard unfold the tale of the brave, perfection-seeking Gawain and a Knight, green from the hair of his beard to his very skin.

As Tolkien best put it, it is a “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”

Also this summer, my grandmother, while visiting us, fell and broke her hip.  It was terrible and scary, but she did such a wonderful job recovering.  We would often come visit her to talk and chat, catching her up on everything and discussing different things.  One night, her trigeminal neuralgia was acting up badly, and she was in a lot of pain.  We headed over, and she couldn’t talk.  In half an hour, the nurse could come and give her a dose of pain medication.  I figured I would distract her.  I held her hand tightly, pulled up my story on my dad’s iPad, and began to read.

I got very quiet as I did so, for I was self-conscious of reading words that I myself had written.  I shook it off.  My grandma relaxed perceptibly and smiled at me.  The time passed.  It was crazy, the feeling that filled the dark room, a comforting sort of heaviness that blanketed us.  Before we left, though, we all prayed for her.  I was fervent and earnest, and I could feel that the words coming from my mouth were not my words, and I felt the Holy Spirit there.  It was love I was speaking, just love.  The power of prayer was tangible and suspended, and the next day, Grandma was better than we’d seen her in weeks.

I keep running into the reading aloud.  Oxford’s Keble has a chapel built into it, and it’s absolutely beautiful, with storytelling stained glass and a massive organ and echoey, cavernous ceilings.  In one of my first weeks here, at the urging of the Bursar, I crept into the empty chapel’s side-room.  There was a Bible and a list of the readings for the day, and I read them aloud in a whisper, turning from Jonah to Luke and having the privilege of letting God’s Word permeate the place through my voice.

I wrote a play for Oxford’s Cuppers competition, and that was a completely different rush, the joy of watching people speak your words in their voice and telling them how to act around them.  There would be moments when they pulled something out that was exactly right, better, inventing, embodying an imagined thing.  That’s magic, too, isn’t it?

And now we come to the vehicle of my remembrance of this post.  My Paradise Lost essay from last week was all about speech: I wrote about God creating beautiful things through speech and Satan perverting them, about a blind Milton speaking his words aloud and fashioning himself into the old recitative epic poet, and I spoke my words aloud to my tutor.

Words are important, living, and active.  God spoke the universe into existence through the force of his speech, creating the universe through a word and through the Word.  The Word has saved our people by becoming like us, by dying for us, by refusing to stay dead.  Do not discount what you speak; God’s words have power, and so do yours.

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Read this: my story (“The Mason Jar”) if you like;  Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories  (you have to)

being human

[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.

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Read this:  Romans 8:9-11 (here)

Stories warning against playing God: Superman, Jurassic Park, Frankenstein

suffering and human agency

I offer this as part apology and part explanation of my recent absence from this blog.  Last Thursday, we held the long-planned Veritas Forum at my school, for which I was the Forum Director, and, more terrifyingly, the emcee.  We brought in John Lennox from Oxford to speak to one of the hardest questions to answer: why suffering exists if there is a God who is both loving and powerful.  Why can’t He just stop that suffering?

I’ve spoken to several people about this.  Honestly, the answer that I give to most of them is that I don’t know myself, but if God is great enough to be in control, He’s also got to be great enough to have his own reasons for doing things.

I’m in the business of making connections and gleaning information, though, and Dr. Lennox pointed out several interesting things about this problem that we face.  Mostly, it brought up the idea of our own free will as a cause for much suffering.

Firstly, God is not a stranger to suffering.  He didn’t sit back and leave us to our own pain.  He has mourned over our suffering and sent His own Son – his own person – to a broken and needy world to take all of our pain onto Himself.  God understands suffering because He’s gone through it with us.

The next part.  Dr. Lennox mentioned that after an earthquake in New Zealand, he was reading a book about plate tectonics, and here’s the thing:  in order for us to survive here, the tectonic plates need to shift.  It’s a beneficial action.  However, the world is flawed, and when these plates grind against one another, you have an earthquake.  An earthquake isn’t just a fluke, but a malfunction of a necessary system.

And it hit me then that even this stems from the gift of free will.  When man fell, death, decay, and brokenness entered into our own flesh, yes – but they also permeated the fabric of our world itself.  Everything dies, and everything tends to entropy.

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20-21)

Creation groans to be freed from death just as we do, caught in our sinful decision.  “But couldn’t God have done better?” we ask.  “Couldn’t he have created perfect things that wouldn’t screw everything up?”

“Well, we can do that,” John Lennox responded.  “They’re called robots.”  Because eradicating the possibility of sin and suffering also eradicates the possibility of love.  We have free will so that love, one of our greatest gifts, can exist, extended from God to this world.  A mandated love is really no love at all.  C.S. Lewis, as usual, puts it beautifully:

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.  A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.”

There can be no yes without the possibility of a no.  It’s beautiful, really.  John says that we know what love itself is by looking to Christ, who suffered so greatly on our behalf! (1 John 3:16)  If the only way to experience a world of love is to take a world of suffering with it, I choose to take them both.

 

This free will, however, leads us directly to the thought that has plagued me this past week, though: after the influence of society and the power of God, how much agency do I have as a human being, acting in my own power?  If God controls everything, then which of my choices are my own? How does this free will impact my own life?

I’m beginning to understand, perhaps a little bit more, now, that although God is omnipotent, He still allows me to make my own decisions.  Of course there are the ones that I can’t control – death, nature, information that comes to me.  But I choose how I react, and although God may tell me things, I may still rebel.  When He tells me to follow Him, I still have to follow.

And that’s hard for me, because I am prone more to inertia than to action, to stability than to change, and to indecision more than what I choose.  In part, I’m terrified of where I’m going, because I don’t know it.  I’m afraid that I will regard an opportunity with indecision until it passes and I live with regret after that.

Yes, I want God to be in control of my life; I submit it to him.  But I also have to stop using that as an excuse to stop making my own decisions.  He hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but of boldness, and this is where that great paradox of humble confidence has its inception.  It’s hard to do anything purely, without an ulterior motive, and this includes seeking the Lord.  I want Him desperately, and I seek to serve Him – this is true.  But it is also true that I am human, and selfish, and frightened.

I don’t have agency figured out, and I don’t think I ever shall.  It’s one of those knotty paradoxes that I am beginning to conceive, a great and intriguing both/and.

The two givens of the theorem:

a) God is omnipotent and in control of our lives

b) We have been granted free will to shape our lives.

And although I cannot fully understand this, I accept is as the truth of the matter.  We are free to make choices but also controlled by whatever consumes us.  But we choose what it is that consumes us.

I choose my God, loving and powerful Creator and Sustainer.

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A note: I’m aware this is an incomplete rendering of both topics.  Talk to me about it.

les misérables and the force of grace

I’ve seen the Les Misérables movie twice three times now.  I know all the words to the musical (I was a stellar chorus member in high school) and I was not disappointed with the movie.  This story is so powerful.  I’ll probably have something to say about revolutionaries quite soon (ugh!), but what most impressed me was the way that the movie didn’t shy away from the central message.  In Les Mis, I’ve hardly seen a more beautiful depiction of the gospel, especially in its most baffling component – grace.

The entire story tracks the lives of its central characters, weaving in and out of different people’s stories, and it can get confusing.  But grace and mercy are the threads that tie them all together as the story continues, and Hugo shows that even though we may want to ignore it sometimes, grace refuses to stay passive.  Each time, it becomes a crossroad of the most dramatic and life-changing proportions.

The bishop is the first man who has shown Valjean any grace in a long time.  When the bishop welcomes Valjean into his home, the man is taken aback, stunned, and shouts out that he’s a dangerous convict – an outcast.  Instead of treating him as such, the bishop looks at Valjean as a friend, calling him brother.  This simple kindness causes an uproar in Valjean’s soul as he struggles with whether or not he should steal the bishop’s silver.  There is an entire chapter in the novel that compares the torment of the convict’s soul with a drowning man, saying that “the soul, going down stream in this gulf, may become a corpse.  Who shall resuscitate it?”  Reminiscent of Romans 7:24, Valjean’s hardened heart can only be softened by God’s power.  Valjean is a dangerous man because he has allowed hate to rule him, and when he is presented with love, he cannot accept it.  He steals the silver, effectively choosing imprisonment forever.

But.

The bishop pardons him, claiming that the stolen goods were a gift.  If the welcome into the bishop’s home was inconceivable, Valjean is now presented with the most life changing paradigm shift of his entire existence.  It is grace unbound.  He deserved imprisonment and death, and the bishop handed him love and life.  He was emancipated by this mercy.  He did not get what he deserved.  Grace forces a decision on Valjean, a stark contrast between life and death.  And he chooses life.

After being shown grace, Valjean effectively becomes a carrier, pouring the same love out into the town of which he becomes the mayor.  And then he meets Fantine, who has fallen so far from the beautiful, innocent girl that she was into a dying, miserable woman who has turned to prostitution in order to support her daughter.  She, too, has let hatred worm its way into her heart, and she despises Valjean for letting her be driven away from his factory.

Inspector Javert, the man ruled entirely by Law and not at all by gospel, is about to imprison Fantine when Valjean comes in to pardon her and take her to the hospital.  He becomes the agent of grace to the dying woman, offering her a choice.  And this action astonishes both Fantine and Javert:

“Javert felt that he was on the verge of going mad.  He experienced at that moment, blow upon blow and almost simultaneously, the most violent emotions which he had ever undergone in all his life… When he beheld that mayor, that magistrate, calmly wipe his face and say, “Set this woman at liberty,” he underwent a sort of intoxication of amazement”

Javert is shaken; however, he does not waver.  He resolidifies into the man of law that he was before, putting his shock aside.  Fantine, however, lets herself be repossessed by grace.

“Had she, then, been mistaken? Must she change her whole soul? She did not know; she trembled.  She listened in bewilderment, she looked on in affright, and at every word uttered by M. Madeleine (Valjean) she felt the frightful shades of hatred crumble and melt within her, and something warm and ineffable, indescribable, which was both joy, confidence, and love, dawn in her heart.”

Although Fantine dies, she has chosen life as well.  She had pleaded to die instead of her daughter, and this exchange of grace and life carries through.  Valjean shows grace to her daughter, Cosette, literally buying her out of bondage to the Thenardiers and raising her into newness of life.  Cosette innocently accepts the gift.

Grace changes the lives of all of these characters in a radical way, but it is a gift that must be received in order to be effective.  It forces a choice between death and life, but not everyone can choose to live in a radically changed world.

Least of all Javert.

I’ve heard people criticize the policeman for being overdramatic, but can you imagine what he goes through when Valjean sets him at liberty?  Javert feels as though he is going mad when he simply witnesses Valjean giving Fantine her freedom – how on earth could he rationally comprehend his state when Valjean, a convict and a sinner, shows grace to Javert himself, giving him back his very life?  The seams of Javert’s world begin to rip apart, and everything that he once knew is turned inside out.  Every paradigm that he had relied on in his life has burst apart, crumbling.  Javert’s world is ordered and clean, black and white, and in it, everyone receives what he deserves.  For him, there are no “minor sins”.  He leaves no room for grace in his adherence to the law, but yet, it finds him.

Javert’s world has been irrevocably destroyed.  Before, he could try to ignore grace, but now that it has been given directly and obviously to him, he cannot pretend that nothing has changed.  He must “stare into the void / Of a world that cannot hold” and choose between the desolation of what he knows and a new, very different, life.  He must choose, more literally than any other character, between life and death.

Because he cannot deal with the world as grace has colored it, he kills himself, choosing to leave it behind forever.

Javert and Valjean are not so different, really.  They both wanted to serve God.  While Valjean was consumed by hatred, Javert let legalism take over his soul.  They both were shown grace in part, and then in its full glory.  But Valjean had the strength to follow God’s path, and Javert, while telling himself that he was following the Lord, followed his own humanity into death.  When Valjean leaps into the river to escape Javert, it is a baptism.  When Javert does the same to escape Valjean, it is death by water.

I think that we forget how powerful a thing grace is.  It’s either life-altering or life-destroying.  It is a force to be reckoned with, and yet, we take it for granted every day.  We deserved to die, and Jesus showed us his pardon, setting us at liberty and raising us from death to life.  “You are free,” He tells us, like Valjean, “and there are no conditions”.  Well, that’s not entirely true – He has traded places with us, giving up His life.

How will we respond? We cannot ignore it.  We must either accept this gift in love and let it transform our lives and our very selves, or we must throw it aside and choose to die instead.  We cannot live as we had before.  We must return the favor by giving Him our lives.

This is the heart of Les Misérables, and I love seeing the ripple effect of grace as it reaches each person.  Valjean is showed grace and then shows it to others.  This is a perfect picture of how Christians should live their lives every day.  We have been shown grace by someone even more wonderful than the bishop of Digne, and we can’t keep it to ourselves.  We continue to pass it on, mimicking God’s grace in the lives of others so that they too can show grace to the people they encounter.  It’s beautiful.  And if we truly understand how powerful a movement grace should be, it cannot be kept a pretty secret.

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a black friday metaphor

A bit of a tardy note on Black Friday.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated the “holiday”.  The hype, the ads, and the crazed shoppers that trample their fellow humans all serve to make me wonder what we value most as a culture.  This year, they pushed it even farther back, Black Friday extending into Thanksgiving itself as some stores opened at 8 pm Thanksgiving night.

I think it’s a metaphor.

What’s happening in our society is an obsession, and one that I’ve bought into as well.  Of course we need things, and things matter to keep us alive, link us to others, and make our lives easier.  The trouble starts when little things become our ultimate Things, taking the place of God, family, and friends, and we begin to trade relationships for power, wealth, and stuff.  When the desire for a new iPad becomes more important than the safety of the person next to you, we have a problem.  Traditions, time with family, and counting our blessings are slowly having the rug pulled out from under them by our own looming greed and desire.

As humans, we are relational beings at heart, and the fascination with things continues to tear apart our links to others just as it has for years.  Mankind is selfish at its core, and that greedy egoism rears its head at every new invention and toy.  But things cannot fulfill us.  They cannot love us back, encourage us, or pick us up when we fall.  The very technology designed to connect us to one another is damaging our ability to hold real conversations, and instead, we revel in anonymity and feel lonelier and lonelier as we scroll through websites that don’t really mean anything.

America in particular is so consumerist, and that’s only getting worse – or maybe just more obvious.  We’re concerned with practicality, and we value the accumulation of wealth, power, and fame above most anything else.  We value things for their immediate use to us, and so things art, music, and writing are marginalized.  Does it bother me? Yes.

But I am thankful for my wonderful family with whom I got to spend my Thanksgiving, and my love for them was able to overshadow the distress I felt for the consumerist encroaching of Black Friday.  And, I have to admit… I did get a pair of jeans.

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Read this:  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Download this: StayFocusd.  I downloaded it recently, and it only lets me spend ten minutes a day on my blocked sites (aka, tumblr).  Take THAT, Internet!

 

EDIT:  This article just came up, and I think it’s relevant to this.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gordon-brown/child-labor-trafficking_b_2245536.html .  Fourteen child laborers were just found and freed from making Christmas decorations for the west.  We tend to just assume that what we buy appears in the stores, and we don’t think about where they come from and what pain was put in to try to make this.  I’m not proposing a solution.  This is just something to think about.

journalling

I am in favor of journalling.  As catharsis, as a thought-process, and as a recording of not only events, but the way that God moves through them and your feelings and perceptions in them.

I finished my most recent journal a few weeks ago, and it was an odd feeling.  Accomplished, yes.  I realized that almost all of it detailed my summer and its decisions.  Each successive volume that I complete seems to cover a shorter and shorter span of time.  That’s a good thing, I think, because it means I’m writing more and more about less trivial things.  Looking back on Volume 1, which spanned several years and simply kept a record of events, I’m glad I’m growing.

I thought I’d post the last few pages of this one.

I’m sitting on my bed, per usual.  My desk is cluttered, and I haven’t used it.  I have three Czech Mucha posters above my desk, and it’s no secret that Hamlet is my favorite.  My super classy bookcase. Posters: El Greco, Rene Magritte, Sherlock, Vertigo.

I’ve finally opened the window, and a cool breeze is drifting in.  I can hear it softly moving the trees.  It’s carrying fall, and the seasons will change and change again until I am grown and dead and gone, and then they will continue to change.

I’ve been trying to name the breeze in the leaves.  It’s not quite an ocean. The best I can do is to call it breathing, living.

I’m reminded of the moment when Aslan approaches the statues in the White Witch’s castle, breathes softly on them, and brings them back to life.  Yes.  It’s carrying magic.

Deeper magic.

And God’s been breathing softly on my heart, and I know He’ll continue to do so as I turn and grumble and strive and harden.

It’s apt that this journal, filled with so much anguish and confusion and so many places, faces, worries, and miracles should end on such a note as this.  It isn’t what I expected. I was going to write about my doubts in writing, my feelings of inferiority in fiction, and my fear.

No.  Instead, I speak of peace, of changes, and of growth.  I speak of the God who breathes life into my own heart as surely as He moves the trees with an unseen power.

I worry, and I strive.

But there is One who takes my worries and shoulders my strivings, bearing them to death and beyond.  There is One who forgives and gives me life and stills my frantic soul.

So.

I will write.  I will write and write and look forward and backward.  I will live and not just exist, I will follow my God wherever He leads and trust in Him.

I will not write for others, afraid of their judgement.

I will write for myself a small bit, and for my readers, if they exist, and I will write for my God.

May the God of peace and life-giving breezes melt your frozen soul.  May the God who has the power to move mountains and dig rivers, who deserves all awe and glory yet loves us still, and who has the power to move our broken hearts in an immensely personal way, be with you always.  In the name of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ,

Amen.

On to Volume 5.

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