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Archive for December, 2007

John, at Ancient Hebrew Poetry, has had several powerful and deeply moving posts recently: On gender issues (this link is to part one of four); market forces, Sabbath and gender; on war. There are more, but these are the ones that have kept my mind and heart stirred up and pondering much over the past several weeks.

Today I read a response he gave in his comment section on the war post and it struck a chord in me that makes my heart cry and begin to find words for an aspect of arguments on heavy topics like this, which I have not been able to articulate.

We are touching on many topics at once: war, prison camps, torture; the prophets, “just war” thinking, and pacifism. It is not easy to address these matters without pain and tears taking over. I have not yet given voice to the amount of shame I feel about specific instances of war in the wake of eyes of suffering that have met mine on more than one occasion in my life. I will, and I will also continue to honor and seek to understand those whose choices and views are different from my own.

Thanks, John, for making space for and acknowledging the deep emotions that make discussions like this so important and also incredibly difficult.

There is so much wrong in the world, and righting it is so complex, multi-faceted and often full of other wrongs, that sometimes I feel paralyzed, both in having an opinion about what should be done and in actually doing something to make a difference. There are days when I feel like the only thing I have to offer is deeply feeling the shame, the pain, the suffering and letting my heart hurt.

It doesn’t seem like much. It certainly doesn’t make a difference for those caught up in the suffering, who don’t know me and haven’t a clue that my heart is breaking for them (very often the people my heart breaks for as I grieve the terrible wrongs carried out against them aren’t even alive). If I were in their shoes, I’d rather someone do something to change the realities causing me to suffer instead of sitting around being deeply sad for my situation. Even so, I let my heart break over injustice, because it’s all I know how to do.  And I read and think and listen in on conversations like the one happening at Ancient Hebrew Poetry, in hopes that I find some way I can make a difference beyond my heart weeping.

But I think one important thing does happen when we stop and express the profound sorrow and heaviness of heart we feel for the real people affected by realities  like this one on war–it unites us even when we disagree. Our arguments might be strong and extremely different. But something changes inside of me when I realize that someone who is arguing for the opposite viewpoint of mine is doing so because they share the same passion and concern and heartbreak that I do.

When connection like that happens and there is acknowledgement over the shared grief that makes us care so much about our own viewpoints on what is wrong and what needs to happen to right the wrong, I experience a flicker of hopefulness. It seems possible that, instead of unproductive polarization and insult-trading, good solutions might come from the collaboration of people with wildly opposing ideas, who care deeply about the same things.

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I feel happiest when I have faced and felt how deeply sad I am.

Probing the depths of sadness and feeling it deeply and widely frees me up to laugh again. I don’t know if that makes sense. I can feel myself sliding and falling into consuming sadness and lethargy, and that can be frightening. But, I have found that I am increasingly less fearful (though not always fear-free) of the falling. I have found that when I let myself collapse into the sadness and feel what I am feeling, that the sadness does not join with the fear of the power of the sadness to overwhelm me quite so intensely.

I call it therapeutic depression. Sort of the idea that the quickest way out of depression is to be depressed. (There’s some more of Viktor Frankl’s influence on my life and thinking for you.)

Anyway, I wanted to try to express this in conjunction with my heavy and sad thoughts in yesterday’s post, “evil ain’t got no roof”. That kind of melancholy concerns some of my friends. And while I appreciate (and even depend on) their concern, I want to say, It’s okay. I don’t feel as hopeless as I might sound when I write and feel those things. I feel more hopeful by being able to acknowledge the sadness and suffering and the weight of it and realize that is the reality where my trust in God happens. After I write something depressing, I don’t feel depressed.

Feeling what I felt when I wrote that is what lets me be able to laugh long and hard and not have the laughter feel like a denial of “the rest of” reality. Somehow, it’s like holding sadness and happiness together in tension makes me feel both more deeply and vividly.

I love laughter, and even though I am not the person who can spontaneously conjure up hilarious perspectives on life, I am connected with people who can (I’m so thankful for relationships), and I admire them in the same way I admire any artist who can make me look at life in ways I wouldn’t naturally look at it. Because I am empathetic and have a vivid emotional memory (blessing and curse that it is), when I see things through a funny person’s eyes, that perspective becomes a part of me, even though I couldn’t self-generate it.

I have a deep appreciation for genius–both the kind that gets shown off in the public eye, and the genius that goes more or less unnoticed.  And I have a mental collection of the geniuses I’m glad are in my life (you don’t have to know me for me to consider you a part of my life. If you impact my life, I’m glad you’re in my life, and I feel connected to you.)

My favorite humor geniuses who paint pictures and perspectives that I can hold in tension with my serious way of viewing life are:

Click and Clack, the automotive genius brothers of NPR’s Car Talk. I listen to them most Saturday nights as a way of rebuilding my depleted serotonin after a stressful week and as a balance to my wacky “therapeutic depression” ideas.

Lingamish–A dear friend in a family of dear, delightful, spontaneous and funny friends, who can be counted on to make me laugh when I’m taking life too seriously. He and his wife have felt some of my heaviest sadnesses with me, and his cyberpsalms often put words to diverse emotions I experience in my walk with God. That depth makes the humor and laughter he shares mean even more. He can make me laugh about the most serious things, and that, in my book, is a real gift.

Dave Barry. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how funny I find his books. Somehow he takes the ordinary things of life that I take for granted (or, alternatively, take REALLY seriously) and squeezes every bit of absurdity out of them until I’m laughing so hard I think I might be able to think about life again without imploding over the seriousness of it all. I recently finished his book History of the Millenium and wondered at my enjoying his perspective so much when most of my immediate circle friends (who are all way funnier than me in real life) would have found him to be intolerably rude and offensive.

Apart from these geniuses, where I can count on being able to get a funny perspective anytime I need one, I love discovering creative and hilarious cleverness in unexpected places.

Today, I laughed and laughed at the following video links from Ray Fowler. And I got double pleasure appreciating the minds that came up with ideas like these and then carried through with the ideas!

Four Handed Guitar Creativity:

Singing Backwards. This guy thought of everything, so that when he played it backwards, you can see that it really is being played in reverse. Absolutely hilarious. Some people might think it a waste of time to do what it takes to master truly SINGING a song backwards. Maybe it is. But, I don’t know–it takes all kind of people to make this world a tolerable and interesting place to live, and I think there are people like this to balance out people like me 🙂 (Or at least to make people like me laugh)

And finally, this hilarious, a cappella, mix-up rendition of 12 Days of Christmas (discovered at Ramblings of a Mother) is  a work of musical creativity that also made me laugh today and be excited thinking about somebody (or somebodies) coming up with this and then pulling it off.

(Can you tell I’m also excited that I FINALLY figured out how to put video links up? I don’t know what I’m doing differently today, because I thought it was the same thing I tried before, but THIS time it works!)

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(A slave woman named Georgia, in answer to the pregnant, 15-year-old slave Aminata’s statement that the master would not take her baby. From the book Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill)

Why am I drawn to the sufferings of others? Why the desperate reading of books like this one and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan? Why am I compelled to watch this video memoir from the Holocaust and feel sick in my gut with each picture and name of individual people who died, and then again with pictures of mass graves of people,  individually and cumulatively disregarded in unspeakable ways?

I go for months not watching even lighthearted movies, because I feel every tension so deeply and empathetically and I see no point in adding vicarious stress and heavy emotions to my life. But, then I sit by myself and watch a movie like In My Country, focusing on the recounting in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the horrors of apartheid. I watch and my heart weeps so deeply, even though only a few tears run down my face. Just like it sometimes feels like I cannot express the things I feel so intensely because words are inadequate, sometimes I wonder if I cannot often weep real outward tears, because they do not seem deep enough to be an accurate expression of the weeping of my heart.

Tonight I’m wondering, Does evil have a roof? I believe it does, even though I am unable to articulate a defense of that–once again the questions you would ask in trying to get me to defend my belief would be impossible for me to answer, because they are some of the questions I also ask. But still, even if you were to call me crazy or illogical I hold on to my belief that evil has a roof. Even that belief raises its own questions, for which I do not have an answer. If there is a roof, if there is a limit to what God allows, why is the roof so high?

There have been times in my own suffering, relatively small as it is among the evils in the world, when I have found great comfort in trusting a God who could say to Job,

Who defined the boundaries of the sea as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and thick darkness? . . I said, ‘Thus far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’

There have been other times I have had terror that the suffering yet to come would be beyond what I could bear, and if so, it was little comfort that God was still in control. I suppose it was still a comfort, but that comfort did not alleviate the terror. Yes, that is more accurate. It was and is a comfort to trust God and to hope in Him, even as I let go of nearly every preconceived notion of how He would act in my behalf.

And now, I am in a situation where the intensity of the pain and confusion I walked through for a couple of years has abated some. There is still a lot of uncertainty, but, slowly a measure of stability has returned to my life.

And now when my personal pain is less intense, I am drawn to the sufferings of others. And I wonder why. I do not think there is one simple answer.

Do I read books like this one because I need to lament the effects of evil in a way that is not only broad, but also personal–through the stories of individuals experiencing the evil?

Do I have a compulsion to bring honor to the sufferings of others by feeling even little drops of what they suffered or suffer now? Is it that I have a need to weep for as many different sufferings as possible? Do I want to read it because it seems wrong to me to ignore or forget or disregard the sufferings of others? (And is it presumptuous of me to think that my weeping matters?)

Am I drawn to the sufferings of others, because it puts my own pain in perspective? What I experienced and the grief and loss I still feel is great, but it is not as bad as it gets. And I am not alone. And I have much to be thankful for. Do the sufferings of others keep my own blessings in perspective?

Has my own suffering made me afraid of being complacent? And so I expose myself to suffering, so I don’t forget that even when I am not suffering, there are many people who are?

Do I read books like this because they help me step out from my own situation and see and look at and feel suffering in ways that are more manageable because I’m not living that particular story? When I can read the story of another’s suffering and my heart weeps, sometimes it feels like a gift to me. It’s hard sometimes to weep for my own losses, because they are so close and so deep–I can feel the loss, but I can’t see what it looks like. In entering the sufferings of another and weeping for them, sometimes I find myself grieving for my own losses and finding words to think about those losses where I did not have the words before.

Am I compelled to read and absorb and comprehend suffering because I need to know how far evil can go?

Why, coming out of my own nightmare, do I need to lament like never before? Why do I need to listen to the stories that others tell of their own suffering, sometimes like my own and sometimes so very different, when, in reality, there is so little I can do or say in response?

Sometimes I think I need to let myself feel the sufferings of others, because their stories give me a bird’s eye perspective of what it means to find purpose and hope and life in the most incomprehensibly horrific of circumstances. I know that is why Viktor Frankl’s biography and writings have touched me so deeply. Reading the stories of his life and the stories he tells of others during the holocaust, and now reading this book about a slave, I see the ability of people to survive the most destructive of circumstances and yet still hold on to something–to life, to hope, to personhood, to value, to dignity, to a freedom of something that is so very separate from freedom from suffering.  And, somehow, that gives me hope.

But, also, shaped by Dr. Frankl’s writing perhaps, I find myself weeping for those who didn’t survive. Not just those whose suffering or sickness or abuse physically took their life, but to those whose internal lives and spirits were broken or destroyed by suffering. Weeping because I feel how that can happen. Because dying or giving up sometimes makes so much sense. Even more so, now that I have survived so much. It’s like by making it through without ever totally losing hope, I see how close I was to losing hope. And I see so clearly how not losing hope is not something I did. It was a gift of grace to me–other people holding on to hope for me, holding on to me, not letting me curl up and die. Other people, putting themselves at risk on my behalf. Or when they couldn’t lessen the reality of what I had to walk through, being there with me so that no matter how alone I felt, I could never believe myself to have been abandoned. People believing me. People telling me over and over, “You are not crazy.” People trusting God for me. People trusting me and how I was trusting God, even when the things I needed to do did not make sense. People making it possible for us to make it financially so that I, very practically, could survive.

All of those things, in a strange way, have humbled me. So that now, when I read of someone’s suffering, who doesn’t make it, or who doesn’t choose life, or who chooses bitterness as a response to suffering, which ends up consuming them, I weep with understanding and compassion. My heart breaks because I understand how, left to myself, that could have been me. And I feel like if I had given up and not made it through what I have now survived, I would have wanted someone to weep for me and for the loss of my hope. As I wrote that, I realized something. A big part of what kept me holding on to hope and to life and to God was that someone was weeping for me. Someone else (more than one someone usually, but always someone) was weeping with me and sometimes weeping for me when I was too numb to weep myself. Someone cared enough to cry, and in a way that crying and caring was a gift to me. There is so much suffering around me and so little I feel like I can do to make any difference, and sometimes I think I need to cry about it because acknowledging and feeling the awfulness of it all, lamenting the sorrow of another is something I can give, even if it doesn’t really make much difference. When I hear people speak disparagingly of women who “let themselves” be abused, who don’t stand up for themselves or who endure suffering for years, my heart weeps.

Sometimes I think I expose myself to as broad a scope of suffering as possible because I need to know how far the faithfulness of God extends. It is one thing to sit in my narrow world and say, God is faithful. But, I know the world and the evil and sufferings are so far beyond my personal experience and comprehension. Reading, seeing or hearing the stories of others is a way of feeling my way beyond what I know to places where I can ask, “God, are you faithful even there? Are you sovereign even there? ” I do not have answers. I only know that if I am going to trust God, I cannot do so apart from the realities of how awful things really are. If God is good and His love makes a difference, what does that mean for people suffering great evils?

This is why I crave hearing the stories of older believers. There is so much they have walked through and survived. They still trust God, and they attest to God having been faithful. They are not just saying it in faith as I do, but proclaiming it with certainty because of what they have come through. They speak of things and in ways that makes me really believe and hope that God does redeem even the worst of circumstances and also makes a difference in the walking through those circumstances.

Am I also drawn to the sufferings of others because I’m always searching, always wondering, How can I make a difference? Sometimes it’s hard, because it is like there is nothing I can do to make a difference in the big scope of evil and abuse in the world. But, sometimes, my heart makes connections from what I read and grows in understanding about how evil grows and I hope that the things I learn change my heart, change how I relate to other people, changes how I value and give honor to each person I meet, changes how I teach and train my children.

Here is one more quote from the book I am reading. This quote gets at one of the reasons I am drawn to reading and absorbing an understanding of the sufferings of others–a belief that those who suffer should not do so invisibly. This is Aminata speaking, recounting her response to seeing other newly arrived and sickly slaves on a platform being auctioned as she had five years previously.

I felt my stomach churning, my throat tightening. I looked down to avoid meeting their eyes. I was fed, and they were not. I had clothes, and they had none. I could do nothing to change their prospects or even my own. That, I decided was what it meant to be a slave: your past didn’t matter; in the present you were invisible and you had no claim on the future.

As she reflects on her response, she grapples with some of her own losses and griefs and begins to recount some of what she is missing at that moment. She ends with:

I missed the nonstop crying of the cicadas, which I imagined to be the voices of my ancestors, saying, We will cry out like this always always always just so you don’t forget us.

I looked up from the street and again at the wretched captives. I vowed not to the let the noises of the city drown out their voices or rob me of my past. It was less painful to forget, but I would look and I would remember.

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New Perspective on the Mall

I never have figured out what the whole New Perspective on Paul deal is all about, but the phrase sure sounds catchy. And I really haven’t been looking for ANY sort of perspective on the mall, but today I got one, from my six-year-old son.

In general, I try to avoid the mall like the plague. I’m not sure when I was last in the mall before today. I decided to go today because it was my daughter’s 5th birthday, and she has a favorite store in our (sort of) local mall–The Playmobil Store. When we first moved to Central Florida, my kids didn’t care about Disney or any of the other expensive theme parks and museums. They were thrilled to spend an hour or two at the Playmobil Store playing with the dollhouses and farm and zoo and grocery store and airport sets.

We haven’t been in a while and my daughter agreed that this would be a fun place to go on her birthday. So we drove the hour to get there and even picked up a friend on the way only to find out when we arrived that, POOF, the Playmobil store has totally disappeared! My daughter was a very good sport and was very happy playing in the mall playplace we discovered wandering around looking for a mall map, just in case the store had been relocated (it hadn’t been. It was truly gone.)

But before that change of plans, we had to walk through a Dillards, which had the nearest main entrance to the part of the mall where Playmobil used to be. My son was in awe in the department store: “Mom, there’s something for $99.00!” As we walked a little further we saw a sign for shoes for $135 and then more for $175. Mind you, I’ve just quit shopping at the local Goodwill thrift store because I thought the prices were getting too high. (Which pretty much leaves us with yard sales for finding what we need. It’s a good thing we have yard sales year round in Florida 🙂 ) With that background information about our shopping habits, perhaps you can imagine the sticker shock he was experiencing.

About halfway through our hike through Dillards, my son says, “Mom, I think this is a store for people who like money.” A few minutes later, after we left that store and entered the main part of the mall, he commented again, “Maybe that store’s too expensive for people to buy from and that’s why there’s so much stuff still in it.” May be. For sure that’s why the stuff we might have gotten is still there!

We saw one other interesting thing in our mall outing–the Christmas photo-op center, instead of having Santa Claus, had Three Kings. It made me a bit sad–I think I like it better when Santa is exploited and commercialized.

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I have arrogance in my heart,
and God is faithful in addressing that,
in such a tender and gentle way.

As I have wandered somewhat aimlessly over the past 9 or so months looking for a church, my grief (missing the church I had been in previously) and frustration and uncertainty began to turn into something worse–arrogance. Or maybe the arrogance was there, a bit latent and unseen until I was out of my comfort zone.

In any case, over the last week, I have been grieved to recognize the arrogance, criticism and discontent in my heart as I visited various churches. I wanted to find a church that “got it right,” which meant of course (and this is hard to admit) “getting it right” according to my standards and values and convictions–about theology, teaching, worship, service, etc.

There is a part of the criticism and discontent that is not, in itself, wrong. Discontent can be tied into the everpresent longing for things to be different than they are. Discontent is tied into hope. Why do I need hope or hold onto it if everything now is as I would want it to be or as it was designed to be?

And criticism, well I hope I never stop thinking critically about things–weighing them, searching for increased understanding and truth, not taking things for granted just because they sound impressive or persuasive. Sometimes I think I’m critical as a reaction to and protection from how easy it is for me to mindlessly accept what someone else teaches just because it makes sense. And as an empathetic person with the blessing/curse of being able to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see and understand things from their perspective, I feel especially vulnerable to falling for things I shouldn’t be falling for. Critical thinking is something I’ve had to learn (some by being taught and some by the hard knocks of life).

A result, though, is that now I feel like I’m a person who thinks a little bit like a lot of different people and simultaneously not very much like anybody. I know that is an exaggeration, but not much, in my immediate circle of friends. Another result of my thinking critically from different angles is that wherever I am in church, I end feel like there is a whole lot being missed. And from there it is not a big jump before I am looking down on the specific church and the people “doing church” there and also playing around with self-pity of how lonely I am in my “getting it”. Yuck–when my critical thinking and longings feed a “me vs. them” mentality, I’m digging my own hole of arrogance, loneliness and destructiveness.

You have to know me to know how much I hate arrogance and as a result, how hard it is for me to see and face this ugliness in my heart. I mean I HATE arrogance, and here I am a hypocrite, with arrogance in my own heart. But recognizing that before God is an amazing thing. More than ever before in my life, I realize how helpless I am to will this ugliness out of my life. I couldn’t stop myself from seeing things critically in the churches I visit by just wanting to stop. I couldn’t focus enough on the good and right and true things in the churches and in the believers who worship and teach there to change my internal struggle when I visited.

I could see, before God, how ugly my arrogant attitude is. And I could feel how ugly and hurtful and wrong it is, because I know what it feels like to be looked at by others in arrogant ways. What I could not do was change it by my willpower.

But, the fear of the Lord is such an amazing thing when you trust Him. There was no hiding my arrogance from Him and no covering up. No ability to paste on smiles or better attitudes. I could see the arrogance and hate it, but what a gift to be able to stand ashamed about it, but not afraid. Not afraid, because I trust God. To know that I could truly rest and trust God to change my heart and teach me and touch me. To humble me.

And, tonight, I say with tears in my eyes that He is doing that. And doing it in beautiful and tender ways that make my heart overflow with thankfulness–not just for his tender mercies, but also for the gift of helping me see people–individually and corporately–in different ways. I love Him for helping me see how I need people who I have found it easy to look down on. That doesn’t really say it well. It is not nearly as utilitarian as those words make it sound. I’m struggling to figure out how to say it.

To come at it from a different angle, part of how God has been tenderly shaping my thoughts and feelings has been through the writing of three of my internet friends:

Kathy at Beyond Words has a powerful post about a group she is involved with called Beyond Welfare. As a single mom, in a rather financially precarious place myself, I personally feel the value of a program that does not treat financially needy people in demeaning and devaluing ways. Sometimes receiving help can be demoralizing, but when it happens in the context of real people really knowing other real people, the same help can be truly restorative.

Codepoke has been writing articles which have challenged me and shaken up my whole “church searching” mindset. How his writing is affecting me is still too fresh and big to articulate more specifically. But the impact has been big and very good. 

And John at Ancient Hebrew Poetry models scholastic genius and firmness of conviction that comes out of a heart that is tender and humble. If anybody could be arrogant or exclusive, John could be that person. And yet, whether he is writing to people in general or responding personally to an individual’s comment, he speaks in a way that affirms the value of others;  he is attentive and listening to what is said;  and he is patient, kind and humble in his response.

To realize that John could look at me in the same way I’ve been looking at other people is humbling. After all, it would take many books to contain all the things I don’t “get” that John understands and talks about. And yet, he makes space and time to speak with me about these things on the  level where I get them and want to dialogue, without demeaning or putting me down, because of how small the aspect that I get is. I hope I haven’t made a fool of myself trying to express this, and I hope I haven’t embarrassed John. It’s not easy for me to put in words how this has affected me and been part of God’s work in my heart. It’s sort of like by receiving what I’ve not been giving, I also receive a vivid picture of what I long for God to do in my heart.

John said something that I am going to quote very out of context here. He is talking about approaching the Scriptures critically even while being comfortable with labels like inerrancy and infallibility (I’m not doing his writing justice in this little summary). Where his words found a deep application to me, though, was in how I listen and process and interact with the theology and teaching of other believers, both individually and corporately in the churches I have visited.

Here’s what he said:

A believer, even and especially a believer who feels called to approach the text with a full panoply of critical methods, will do so with the following words in his heart: “With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.”

And that in a succinct way expresses the attitude that God is growing in me towards others. It gives me a beautiful picture of how the ground can be level where believers meet, even with so much diversity–diversity in cultures, personalities, intelligence, wealth, theologies, power, abilities. Regardless of how different we are on however many levels, I can hear from you, I can learn from you, I can love you, I can understand you, I can walk together with you, I can help you carry your burden and you help me carry mine. And I can do this without denying or minimizing our differences. And I can do that without letting our differences become the main thing. Because I honor you. That honor is a holy thing, and I think I am only beginning to comprehend what it means and what it implies.

I let myself see God in your life and at work through you. I celebrate the ways that you reflect God to me. I’m grateful for what I learn from you. But, mostly, I honor you, because our differences don’t make us stand at opposite ends of some spectrum. I, with my uniquenesses, stand with you before God, in all the ways that you are the same as me and all the ways that you are different than me. I can truly listen to you and learn from you and interact critically with you. I don’t have to become like you or agree with you. But, I’m grateful to be standing with you, as co-loved-by-God ones, as co-servants of God, and as co-beneficiaries of the faithfulness of the Lord.

All of this is part of what is stirring in my mind as I try to comprehend being a critical thinker (albeit always only partially and imperfectly) and doing so (thinking and interacting critically) in a way that never lets go of a firm commitment to give honor. Grasping some of the things which Kathy, John and Codepoke are writing about is part of what makes me so thankful for how tenderly the Lord addresses the arrogance in my heart. Where harshness would have been appropriate, he is changing and shaping and touching me in such gentle and powerful ways. I am grateful for how His love fills me and overwhelms me and changes me.

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So, did you think I’m reading a steamy r*mance n*vel now? [that last phrase before I put the *s got me an unwanted incoming link–is this why I see people put strange characters in the middle of certain words?! Does anybody know how to block a link like that?] Actually, I can’t stand that genre. I’m just not into thinking up a more creative post title at the moment, and this is what popped into my mind.

I’m referring to an audio Bible called The Bible Experience. For some time now, I’ve seen this in a prominently placed display at the Christian bookstore, which guaranteed that I would avoid it with a ten foot pole. I have this rather irrational aversion to whatever is “the rage” at any given time. (Actually there is some rationality behind the aversion and maybe even a grain of wisdom, but that doesn’t mean that it is either wise or rational to judge something on that basis alone.)

In spite of my aversion, for some reason which I cannot now recall, I clicked on a link with a video about the making of The Bible Experience. It was amazing and I was (of course) deeply moved by what I saw and heard. I’ve never heard Scripture read with such life and passion. Many of the readers were actors and actresses and although the final form is audio only, on the “How it Was Made” video, I could see some of the readers’ actions–they physically got into what they were reading. The result is stunning.

I followed some other links and discovered that I could listen to samples from a few books of the Bible as well as download the Christmas story and the Easter story for free from Audible. In addition, I decided to purchase the book of Psalms for $3.99 (a great price, I thought, for over five hours of reading). And, wow, am I glad I did.

Zondervan’s marketing still annoys me, and the long list of celebrity names among the entirely African-American cast does not impress me (I hardly ever watch movies and don’t even recognize most of the names.) What impresses me is the beautiful and alive interpretation of the Scripture that each reader gives.

The African American community in general (and I’m aware that generalizations are just that) is  comfortable with an emotional expression of faith, which I do not often see or hear in my own cultural tradition. And this audio dramatization of the Psalms pulsates with emotional expression. The Psalms are read by different readers, and many of the readers are women. As I listen, it is not like I’m hearing the Psalms just as something someone else has said a long time ago. But the ways the emotions burst forth resonates with me, and I FEEL the cry of the Psalmist as if it is my own (and very often it is).

I am listening through the book of Psalms as I fall asleep at night. When I have  a few minutes in the morning as well, I love to turn the reading on and lay back down and worship the Lord with the Psalmist, joining my heart with the full range of emotions in the words and in the readers’ interpretation of them. Sometimes at night before they go to bed, my kids will sit and listen with me as well.

One of the producers said that this project is, ‘‘a gift from our community to the world to be shared and appreciated by all.’’ And so I say, “Thank you. You have touched and ministered to my heart in a beautiful and powerful way. In a way that affects my life and lets the words of God impact me on many levels and in new places of my heart.”

I think this was the best $3.99 investment I made this Christmas season.

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Why I Love Florida

Because it’s sunny. And warm. And because we DO have beautiful seasons–you just have to think outside the box to notice them. There’s the rainy season (also known as the hot, can barely breathe because of the humidity season), hurricane season, baby lizard season, squirrels running around in your attic season (okay, that one lasts all year, since the weather is never cold enough to motivate the squirrels to hibernate). We have flowers blooming and critter activity all year round. We have citrus season right now, where oranges and grapefruits rot on the ground, even if you drink loads and loads of fresh squeezed orange juice.

It’s really hard for me to miss the beauty of the snow that is covering various other parts of the country, when I was sitting over the weekend, with my screen doors propped open because of the building work happening right now, and hoping that not too many more mosquitos would come in. Yes, the mosquitos are a pain, but the perfect weather that is implied in the reality of having mosquitos in December, well, that is just wonderful.

I suppose this is where being highly empathetic becomes a positive thing–I can read your stories of being snowed in and drinking hot chocolate before a roaring fire and receive vicarious pleasure through your experience. I can feel the pleasure of those experiences without having to freeze my nose or my toes off. Plus, my highly emotional memory can bring forth all my own beautiful snow experiences to play like home movies. My highly emotional memory also vividly plays back what it felt like to be attacked by the cold every time I stepped outside, so any sentimentality is effectively kept in its place. (And that would sum up the story of my life–never a good memory without the bad, never a bad memory without the good. But that’s another nasal-gazing ramble for another day. UPDATE: I meant navel-gazing, but the thought of nasal-gazing sure is funny, now that I think about it.)

All this pep talk is because I’m cold right now and I need to remember that Florida is still, in comparison to the rest of the Continental U.S., warm. Winter hit last night and my kids and I are shivering today. The weatherman says it only got to 41 last night, but my kids don’t care what any scientist says about the freezing point–it’s freezing here, and if you don’t believe them, ask the school crossing guard wearing about 7 layers of clothes, gloves and a scarf covering up everything but her eyes. One of my kids asked why we didn’t see frost on the ground and another asked if that was ice on the lake. It’s practically incomprehensible to them that it has to get 9 degrees COLDER before anyone can technically say anything is frozen.

It’s days like this when we need to view the following photo documentary to keep how cold we are feeling in perspective:

WHY PEOPLE MOVE SOUTH

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