Archive for the ‘questions’ Category

Last week, David Ker wrote a CyberPsalm in the form of a prayer for a friend and coworker, Ada, who is battling cancer. I also know Ada, though it has been years since I’ve seen her. Several mutual friends have written me recently, asking me to join them in praying for her.

During this same time, my heart has also been heavy for H., a man in the church I attend now, who is battling a similar cancer. I found myself struggling in my prayers for him, and that struggle was compounded in my prayers for Ada.

I have walked through some very painful things in the last few years. And through the process, I have experienced the Lord’s faithfulness as I have clung to Him. Having more or less come through the worst of that time, I do not necessarily find myself to be more confident in my praying. If anything, the only spiritual practice I find my confidence increased in is lamenting.

And so as I would try to pray for my suffering sister and brother, I could not find the words, only tears. Tears for them, for their spouses and children. I could feel edges of the pain and uncertainty and sorrows they and their families must be walking through. And yet the words to put in a prayer did not come.

During my most painful days, I struggled with the things that God does not do and did not do for me. Now, I think I struggle more with not understanding the things he does do, and with wondering how on earth my prayers are supposed to fit into all of that. I find myself feeling something along the lines of, Lord, I know you can do anything, but as to what you want to do and plan to do…I just don’t know.

And so my prayers (and some would say my faith) are weak and uncertain. And yet I continue to trust the Lord confidently with my tears–crying out and clinging to him, for myself, for my children, and in my longings and cries for Ada and for H. and for their families.

When my friends asked me if I would write a prayer for Ada and send it along with the prayers of others, I wondered how I would send a feeling-prayer, instead of a word prayer. I cannot bottle my tears up and send them in the post or via email.

I did, however, have a verse that kept running through my mind as I thought of the suffering and sorrow Ada and H. are facing, and of all my unanswered questions about how to pray for them.

A short while later, there was a beautiful photo* on my National Geographic Photo of the Day link. I ended up combining the photo with the verse, using my new Corel PhotoShop program.

This is the closest I can come to putting all of my questions, longings, trust and doubts into a prayer for Ada and for H.:

botswana river crossing color with brown

And just because my mood (and therefore my tears and prayers) are less colorful some days than others here’s the same photo, with a sepia effect:

botswana river crossing sepia lightened

Listening to Canon in D while finishing up these photos, I felt like I had just about  found a tangible expression of my heart’s cries and prayers. (If only talking with people was as “easy” as showing them a photo and telling them to listen to a song. There are days when, as hard as praying in words is for me, that I am so thankful the Lord sees my heart, understands the things I feel in response to a song or to a photo, and gets my prayer, after all, even without the words.)

*This photo was  the National Geographic Photo of the Day for May 10, 2009. Here is the description: “A Mbukushu mother and child cross Botswana’s Okavango River, whose seasonal floods bring life to a parched land.” You can see five more beautiful photos from the same book, Mothers and Children, at this link.

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How do you think about depression?

Is it something to be:


Brought under control?




Something else?

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…with a little help from Van Gogh (thanks, Wikipedia) to paint a picture of how a friend’s friend has been feeling lately:


And the prayer, prayed on behalf of this young man, borrowed from Viktor Frankl (quoted in his biography, When Life Calls Out to Us):

God, you have stricken me with mind;
So help me now to bear this life.

I’m thinking about stepping into the mud a bit, with a few posts on depression. I’ve avoided this topic for a while, because I hate the way the intensity on the subject seems to breed misunderstanding and get in the way of productive, helpful discussion.

I reread much of the book of Job this morning, the way I sometimes like to read it (only reading Job’s words, and cheering him on for his courage in proclaiming both his despair and his innocence, in the face of well-meaning friends, who kept getting it all wrong).  And that rereading, combined with concern over my friend’s friend, has stirred up my desire to wrestle with the topic of depression, again.

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For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot lately on all the ways I’m falling short as a Mom. Sometimes I feel like I’m just making do with broken pieces all around. My own limitations and brokenness. The fallout and brokenness in my kids’ lives from the realities of abuse, divorce, learning disabilities, bullies in school, etc. There is so much imperfection in their little lives, and every bit of it takes its toll on them. I’m acutely aware of my ineffectiveness in mitigating for them the effects of life in a hard world. Or even being able to equip them with the resources to live well in that world. There’s so much more I’d love to do to actively help and equip them. Yet, I’m limited by my own limitations and the very real struggle to recover from the weakening effects of abuse in my own life.

I want to do so much more for them. I see my limitations, but when I follow that line of thinking to the end, I see that it’s not just my limitations. Even if I could do everything I dream of doing–even if I could be as good as Mom as so-and-so, I couldn’t be enough to perfectly equip them with the resources to live an ideal life.

And so, here I sit, rethinking that ideal. The first thing that is helping me is one little part of a very long conversation at The Evangelical Village. My reaction started with this statement from a commenter:

I am curious as to how you justify using single women as an example to prove your point? We would all agree that God’s design is not to have families being run by single mothers who have to do all of the providing, nurturing, etc…

And here is the response, which gave me a big “aha” and triggered some connections, which have been leading to some smaller “aha”s

God’s design lasted until Adam and Eve were put out of the garden. In the garden, they did not have to labour over the soil to feed themselves. The labour of providing is a post Eden task. However, death also has entered into the equation. Men and women die at different times. Although society at first arranged that widows be remarried, this was not enforced among the early Christians. Paul says they should remain unmarried.

What is God’s design in this? That husband and wife both be immortal? That neither one suffer illness? That all men and women remarry ASAP?

Cannot God’s design be evident in how we surmount life’s difficulties. If either husband or wife fall seriously ill, is it not God’s design that we surmount this and remain faithful providers and nurturers of our invalid spouse. Is not this courage part of God’s design?

Somehow, I do believe that God’s design is not just about us finding a way to return to some perfect Garden of Eden state. It’s not about throwing every ounce of energy into making perfect marriages and families happen, nor about succeeding at creating the ideal of perfect social justice and equality in our societies or world.

I don’t have a fine-tuned theology on all of this, so please don’t throw too many theological rotten tomatoes my way if you disagree! I struggle with what God’s design really is. And how His sovereignty and our free will play into it all.

But I think when we act as if God’s design is all about our attaining heaven on earth (whether we focus most of our energy on attaining those ideals in our own homes or in our wider societies), what ends up happening is either

  1. an obsession that leaves us disdaining, dismissing or angry at those around us who frustrate and keep that ideal from happening (i.e. I have to be mad at a spouse who is keeping me from having the perfect marriage; mad at the President who is messing up the world by making (depending on his political leanings) things like war or abortions or poverty or laziness or whatever easier; or mad at myself for my own very real weaknesses which keep getting in the way of my moving towards a family or culture that perfectly reflects God’s design) or
  2. a frantic whitewashing of our efforts that don’t turn out to be perfect or ideal, and then holding our breath and squinting just so, hoping we can convince somebody (ourselves? God? people around us?) that we ARE getting it right!

I’m not exactly ecstatic with the thought that so much of God’s design has to do with redeeming the terrible things, and with how we surmount those difficulties in life. There are times I admit to finding great comfort in that, and there are times (like now) that I would love God’s design to be a whole lot more about things working out right, all around, the first time, rather than about how well we get through the tough stuff or how much of the evil that others get away with is redeemable in our lives.

Even with that tension, though, I think we do ourselves and God a disservice when we assume we’re doing our best at living out His design when we’re most perfectly imitating what we imagine God designed to happen in Eden. If that’s the case, I’m going to have to work my tail off just to get back to ground zero.  Who, though, is not in the same boat? None of us is operating in a context that sets us up to even come close to life as God designed it to be in a perfect paradise. Not one family who looks like they have it all together is doing so from some perfect (or even nearly so) attainment of an Edenic ideal.

A friend of mine who is going through marriage troubles was told by another friend that she probably shouldn’t take in an exchange student because it would be sad for that student to have her example of a Christian family be one where there was so much emotional disconnection. What?!?! So this Mom can’t live out any kind of good example of faith and love and perseverance and godliness because her marriage isn’t good enough? I’m not even married, and I’m learning a lot about love and forgiveness and wisdom from how this woman lives out her faith in a tough situation. And she keeps telling me that she is learning a lot about honesty and patience and resting in God from watching how I live out my faith in a tough, single parenting situation. Do the two of us only get partial credit for loving and glorifying God and living out His design, because our lives aren’t a perfect reflection of God’s design for families?

A comment from a post at Familyhood Church helped bring some of these thoughts together for me:

God’s requirement is that we walk humbly with Him, and leave the glory of it up to Him. I no longer believe that I can make glory happen by being a super-saint in a super-church, my job is to live where I am, learning love, faith and obedience, seeing God where He already is, dwelling in His flawed broken children. And that is enough.

I’ve said before that if God is going to bring hope into my desperate situation, it’s going to have to be His doing. I can’t (and won’t) paste it on like some sort of self-generated commodity. If He’s going to bring light, it’s going to have to be right here where it’s dark, because like Jeremiah (or was it Isaiah), I can’t get myself out of a dark, muddy pit on my own. Yet, somehow it seems to me like God’s design isn’t contingent on whether or not I’m in the pit or out of it. On whether or not I’m depressed (don’t get me going on the topic of needing to fix my depression so God can use me better ;-)!) On whether or not I have the perfect Edenic family scenario. On whether or not I’m able to give my kids all the things they need to make it in a tough world.

I can’t be a super Mom any more than I can be a super saint, or my church can be a super church. But I can be a Mom “where I am, learning love, faith and obedience, seeing God where He already is, dwelling in His flawed broken children [which includes me, and my dear little ones, broken and flawed as they are by the realities of divorce and by, well, just life in general]. And that is enough.”

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Yes, that’s a bit long for a post title, but it was way better, I thought, than what I’d been planning on calling this post: “Entropy and Corporate Grieving.” I’m still thinking about David Ker’s post “Bon Jovi Gets It” and the dialogue in response, which includes this comment from Codepoke:

The problem, though, is that “church” is not a whole experience. The Sunday morning service cannot begin to handle a whole-truth song. There’s no way to make 100 people deeply join in with a whole-truth song. On Sunday morning, if you present a song that complains against God, even for one line, you’re going to fragment your audience.

This is the post I was trying to write, when I got distracted on “A Grief Rabbit Trail”. It is part of my ongoing thinking about why church songs (and ultimately, the churches, themselves) don’t make much room for sadness and grieving together.

As I’ve pondered this question, I keep coming back to an illustration from a Scientific American article: “Does Time Run Backward in Other Universes?” Now, lest you think I’m smarter than I really am, I’m not. I didn’t actually understand the article. A friend was visiting me and we were doing one of the wonderful things that introverted friends can do together–sitting at the breakfast table, drinking homemade smoothies, reading. I was reading a graduation speech turned into a book. She was reading Scientific American. Periodically, one of us would speak up and share something interesting we’d just read, and then we’d both get quiet again. Personally, I think that is way more social than going to the movies together. But, I digress, don’t I?

In any case, I didn’t really understand much of the article. I kind of thought I followed the reasoning of the first paragraph:

The basic laws of physics work equally well forward or backward in time, yet we perceive time to move in one direction only—toward the future.

But, from there, I lost it (emphasis added).

The asymmetry of time, the arrow that points from past to future, plays an unmistakable role in our everyday lives: it accounts for why we cannot turn an omelet into an egg, why ice cubes never spontaneously unmelt in a glass of water, and why we remember the past but not the future. And the origin of the asymmetry we experience can be traced all the way back to the orderliness of the universe near the big bang. Every time you break an egg, you are doing observational cosmology.

I am?!?!

I could work my way into a tension headache right now trying to figure out some deeper reason why ice cubes don’t unmelt than what I thought was the self-explanatory reason that it’s warmer outside the freezer than in it (at least here in Florida).

But, I digress. Again.  My point is that most of the article did not make sense, except for this one particular illustrated sidebar, where the author was explaining entropy with an analogy to eggs:


And now I’m back to thinking about corporate grieving. I wonder if we feel lonelier in our grieving, because it feels like there are so many more individual ways to be broken and hurting and grieving than there are to be doing fine.

I remember once, when I was going through a very difficult time, I was moaning to a friend how alone I felt in facing what I was. I remember his disagreeing and pointing out some of the other very close friends who were walking with me and supporting me, at great sacrifice to themselves, in so many practical ways.

I had to agree that I wasn’t as alone as I was feeling. But still, I told him, I felt alone in what I was experiencing. I compared it to having friends holding each of my hands as I walked to the guillotine. No amount of friends surrounding me was going to make anybody’s head but mine roll. In that moment and in that suffering, it felt like my experience of grief and sorrow was mine alone. Of all the myriad ways to be fully smashed, I was smashed this way and not that way, and I felt lonely in that.

I think this _____ (is it reality? is it a belief? is it a fact? is it a cultural perception?) contributes to how hard it is to grieve corporately or to find songs that can be sung, grieving, together. Songs which make space for how hard things can be for any given person at any given time.

It’s not all that hard, I’m thinking, to come up with songs that look at all the different angles and perspectives of the one way to be pristine–to praise the One who makes me happy, to celebrate being a sinner saved by grace, to “count your blessings”. While those things are also, in some ways, unique and personal, they (and the feelings that come with them) seem to be more easily shared and understood as common to all people.

I’d guess it’s quite a bit harder to write songs that can bring people together in the feelings that come from the several ways to be slightly cracked. I think there are some, though my mind is drawing a blank. Can you think of any?

But, when it comes to myriad ways to be fully smashed, how do you cross over into that being a corporate experience? I don’t really have any answers. I’m thinking out loud here, trying to come to terms with some of the roots behind why it is so hard.

Quite often in my thinking, I keep coming back to culture. I wonder what friends in Africa would make of my comparing the loneliness of suffering to a broken egg’s higher entropy?

The comparison to there being more ways for an egg to be pristine to be broken makes sense to me, and it makes sense that there are more ways to be lonely in brokenness than in wholeness. But, I wonder, does it make sense to me because it’s the way it is, or because it’s the way my independent culture has taught me to make sense of things?

Even as I ponder and try to put words to this by comparing entropy, broken eggs and suffering, I feel like I’m getting closer to some presuppositions that if I could put my finger on them, I’d be able to question rather than mindlessly operate out of.

Does this need to matter to the average person any more than the reasons why ice doesn’t unmelt? I think it does. Because if I care about being able to suffer-in-relationship (and I do), something’s going to have to change at the level of seeing suffering as insurmountably and ultimately isolating. Part of me keeps thinking (and feeling, to be honest) that it makes sense that suffering is unique and lonely. But another part of me thinks it doesn’t have to be that way. I keep thinking that there has to be a way to grieve corporately in the communities we are part of,  even if only one member of that community is suffering at a given time.

Here are a few more thoughts from the comment thread on the Bon Jovi post I referred to above:

Songs of grief require specifics. You can be happy for a general fact, like that Jesus loves you, because it’s easy to write the backstory for that in your mind. But you can only be sad for something specific. Grief is painful, so we subconsciously need a backstory, but we don’t write sad backstories as easily. So, bringing songs of grief to a large group makes the most sense in the context of someone’s specific grief.

But we’re not used to telling specific stories of grief in public. Sunday morning is not about that, so those songs end up sounding awkward when they’re introduced. Liturgical traditions do tell the stories of Christ’s grief, so the songs make sense.

Anyway, I agree there’s a problem, but it’s not with the songs. The songs fit the environment we’ve created. Change the environment.

How to do that? Is it inevitable to see suffering as isolating? Is it universally inevitable or culturally so? Do songs of grief really require more specifics than songs of praise and joy? Or do they require more specifics because of a specific understanding of the nature of grief in contrast to the nature of happiness?

In finding this explanation of entropy with the various possible states of an egg (pristine, cracked or smashed), I think I’ve found my way not into more answers, but rather into more questions. I am hopeful that that is a positive direction for my thinking to go in on this topic.

I want to be able to grieve corporately. I want to be able to connect with my local church body and not feel like an outsider because I show up at church with a heavy heart or suffering body.

I don’t wrestle with this just for my own sake, but am also thinking of what it means for many of my other friends who I don’t think would want to be relegated to a homogeneous Sunday school class for “people who are currently miserable” in order to feel connected with in their current realities, which include a great deal of suffering.

Somehow, some way, it has to be possible in a public gathering to make space for all the realities–the joys and the sufferings–that people bring with them into community gatherings, in this case, particularly the church.

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A friend sent me the link to this photo from the Telegraph in the U.K. with this caption: “Children play in Tskhinvali, capital of Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia”

Here’s what my friend said about it: “To be happening in a place at war makes it really shocking, but it’s just two kids doing what kids do.”

For all of the horror I feel when I see this picture, especially in its context, I just can’t convince myself that those children are less filled with delight than their eyes and faces suggest in the moment captured here. The gun and the context makes me think I should interpret the picture with horror at children playing out the dynamics they’ve seen, of people terrorizing other people. But those children’s faces won’t let me make sense of the picture exclusively in that way–as only a painful acting out of terror and trauma.

As my friend said, “…it’s just two kids doing what kids do.” I have four children, and I know that look (though it is notoriously hard to capture on camera). They’re happy and they’re freely having fun, for that moment at least, in the middle of all the craziness and horror going around them.

I live with a lot of tension. I can’t find relief, usually, in definitive answers, one side or the other, and usually I find much defensible honesty in the questions that both sides ask on any given topic I sit with tension on. Is war a necessary evil? Is unequivocal pacifism the right answer? I. Just. Don’t. Know. Fill in the extremes, the questions and the challenges of both sides on any number of tensions. And keep responding I. Just.Don’t.Know. And you have the story of much of my life.

This picture captures the horror and delights of life, all mixed together in a way that makes me want to look away. Yet, I can’t really do that. My eyes keep being drawn back to the photo. I’ve had the webpage open to it for a couple days straight now. I’ve so seldom seen a photo that really captures that free (carefree?) look of delight in children. But still. They’re looking carefree while one of them is pointing a gun at the other? While their country is at war? How to make sense of that? I can’t.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this photo articulates very well the tensions I live with in so many areas of my life. I want things to make sense, but they don’t. I want there to be perfect answers, but even good answers to bad problems seem to bring much fallenness with them.  And even the fallenness is not as miserably and perfectly and exclusively hopeless as I might sometimes like to imagine.

I can’t explain the tensions and the emotions that this photo stirs. I only know that they feel honest and real and familiar. By stirring me in such a way that anguish and delight, heart smiles and horror collide, I’m faced even more intensely than usual with the reality that the world has no easy answers, and blanket condemnations are no more helpful than pat answers.

(My Wonderful World Blog from National Geographic has an interesting read about some of the geographical realities that contribute to the Georgia conflict being more complex than it can seem on the surface).

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(for lack of the creative thinking skills needed to come up with a better title)

I suppose my blogging habits of late fit me in with this predictably hyperbolic description, courtesy of David Ker:

the rest of the blogosphere has rolled over on its back and feigned death

I’m supposed to be keeping my word to write a post based on a children’s book or series. But every time I start, I stall. Maybe I’m stuck in the Doldrums (my kids and I are reading The Phantom Tollbooth. What a fun book, and what a delightful description of the Doldrums.)

The reality is that every time I try to put my feelings about one of my favorite books into words, it feels either too pedantic or ends up spoiling the simplicity of the story by making too much of it with my words.

The other thing is that every time I start to write that post, I keep veering off course, and it’s always in the same direction. Today, while reading a book called The Gift of Fear, I found some words that got at the feelings my brain kept veering off to:

The great enemy of perception, and thus of accurate predictions, is judgment. People often learn just enough about something to judge it as belonging in this or that category. They observe bizarre conduct and say, “This guy is just crazy.” Judgments are the automatic pigeonholing of a person or situation simply because some characteristic is familiar to the observer (so whatever that characteristic meant before it must mean again now). Familiarity is comfortable, but such judgments drop the curtain, effectively preventing the observer from seeing the rest of the play.

What I’ve been thinking of is how hard it is for me when people I love experience other people I love (or even God, whom I love) in ways that sort of make sense to me (meaning I understand where they are coming from), but at the same time seem to miss so very much.

Sometimes I think I’d like to be a mediator and make a job of being able to say, “Yes, I see it that way. But what do you think about looking at it this other way, too?”

I read a book about autism and I think I’d like to take what makes sense about autism and people with autism and sit down with other people who just write an autistic person off as strange and say things like, “But, look, see how this makes sense? See why so and so can’t look you in the eye? It’s because he can’t filter things out too easily, and so your eye movements distract him.”

I hear someone disregard a person who is obsessive compulsive and I find myself (compulsively) wanting to explain that from a different perspective than the observer might ever have considered it from.

I hear someone knocking someone for being down and out and I want to let them know the therapeutic value of being depressed sometimes.

I hear someone understanding an outgoing, vivacious person as “shallow” and I want to say, “No, no. It’s not necessarily so. Look at it this way.”

I hear someone making sense of a quiet person as unsocial and friendly, and I want to say, “No. Quiet is not unfriendly. Lack of smile might just mean that they are concentrating hard on what you are saying.”

It’s not that I always have a certain answer for “how people are”. It’s just painful to me to watch people come to rock solid certain conclusions about things which they are only seeing (perhaps are only able to see) from one angle.

I see people highly offended by the “way so and so is” and I want to step in and say, “But look. If you really understood this, that would make sense. At least a little bit. Or maybe it’s just that your assumption would make less absolute sense.” And sometimes getting people to see that their assumptions don’t make absolute sense feels like it would be good progress in the right direction. But…sigh…I don’t think many people agree with me that it would be progress for them to move into the direction of LESS certainty.

I also find myself caught sometimes between people who I love and admire deeply but who stand out as so different, and others who write off those people as weird, or crazy, or ridiculous, or… And I, who loves not standing out, wishes there were a way to be unique or different and not stand out. Wishes, at the very least, that more things about the gloriously varied ways that people are and do made easy sense to other people and didn’t seem strange, odd, or even wrong, just because it (or they) are different.

You know what? The problem isn’t so much, I think, that people don’t understand other people. It’s more that people are quick to understand people only in the categories they already know or understand. They take what, in reality they don’t understand, and make sense of it in ways so that they think they do.

Sometimes I get weary of seeing people pigeonhole other people or situations–making sense of them because that’s easier to do than living with tension or not being able to make sense of. Sometimes I don’t mind trying to cross that gap and help people see what they might be missing by dropping the curtain early.

But, sometimes it’s just easier to live in my own world–seeing what I see, enjoying what I enjoy, loving who I love and holding on to the tensions of people and things I don’t understand. I’m not willing to default to making sense of the tensions just for the sake of my relieving the tension. But I don’t always find it easy to communicate that to other people. And so, sometimes it’s easier just to sit with the different angles I see things from, than trying to talk about how differently I see or understand people or situations that other people have pigeonholed. It’s easier than trying to explain. It’s easier than trying to put into words “another way of looking at it.”

Sigh. Does that make me an introvert?

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about God, either, for the same reason that I don’t always want my friends from different circles to get together (at least not if I’m going to have to hear about it afterwards). It’s not hard for me to see how differently (and why) people see God (or my “strange friends”) differently from how I do.

What’s hard is to try to put into words something bigger or different than the pigeonhole that people put God or some of my friends into, when I see how automatic and easy and firm the pigeonhole is. Sometimes the pigeonhole makes so much sense, in and of itself, and the way I see it–bigger than and outside of the pigeonhole–while it makes sense to me, is admittedly not nearly as satisfactory to other people as the pigeonhole is.

I’m not a debater and I’m not a defender. I know who and what I love. And I feel deeply why I do, and why I can and do still love and admire the people (including God) I do for all of their complicatedness. But sometimes it’s too hard to try to help other people see something else outside of their familiar judgments, which make so much sense to them. Does it matter? Is it even my business to try to clarify or explain or bring to light another perspective than the obvious pigeonhole? Sometimes it feels like it does and is. But I’m not always sure.

What do you think about that above definition of judgments (and is it just me, but does anyone else think “judgment” needs an “e” after the “g” to make the “g” say it’s softer sound? Or am I trying to pigeonhole English writing to make it more comfortable for me? And if so, what am I missing out on seeing here 🙂 ):

Judgments are the automatic pigeonholing of a person or situation simply because some characteristic is familiar to the observer (so whatever that characteristic meant before it must mean again now).

So what do you think when you read that? Agree? Disagree? Does it make you think of a story in your own life or experience? I love stories. Stories help me sort out my own thoughts better (and right now, you can probably tell, these thoughts aren’t too well sorted out, being pretty much on the emotional soapbox level). And stories give me hooks. And, finally, stories are the best ways I find to think about things from other perspectives (because even in this, I’m sure there is more than just the way I’m looking at it, to look at it.)

In any case, whether you have a story to share along these lines, or any other form of comment, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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…You called him an old dead English guy, and he certainly is that. But he’s not just difficult language, and he’s not just elaborate plots that could never really happen. He doesn’t live in my brain. He’s not a man of ideas. He’s a man of feelings. I love him because when I am sad or lonely, or feeling brave or scared, I can always find a character or a play that will talk to me about what I’m feeling, that will help me do a better job with my place in this world.”

(from Set Me Free, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, p. 190-191)

Shakespeare doesn’t do that for me. But Langston Hughes does. And the United Methodist Hymnal. And some really good fiction authors. And the book of Job. And Isaiah. And Jeremiah. And Psalms.

Once again, I wonder, if I didn’t have books, if I didn’t live in a world full of literature, where would a visual learner introvert like me find the words I need to connect me to other people, to give expression to the things I feel deep inside of me? Where could I learn and hear things at a pace where my brain can process them without all the other overwhelming social things that interfere with oral learning?

Do I just feel this way because I grew up in a literature-driven culture? Or would I still be the same way–but a little bit lost and a little more out of it and not knowing exactly what it was I was missing–if there were not so many books available for me? Or maybe none at all.

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What is your favorite (or least favorite, depending on your perspective and degree of optimism at the moment) example of a verse from the Bible taken out of context, misused or misapplied?

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Once again, I am thinking about semantics and would appreciate your input. Don’t feel you have to answer all of the questions that follow in order to comment. Any response will be greatly appreciated, whether it directly answers one of the questions or comes at the topic from an angle I have not thought to ask about. Feel free to ask other questions in response.

Before I start asking, I know that this way of thinking with incessant and nit picky questioning frustrates and annoys some people. If you are one of those people, I hope you will bear with me or temporarily ignore me for this post, and then come back when I’m less annoying to you 🙂 . This is the way my brain thinks and sorts through things. It is not the only way nor necessarily the best way. But, it is how I think. And I find it helpful to be able to do so out loud and invite other people to contribute to what I am processing.

Now for some of my questions:

How do you define grief and mourning? How do you see them as similar and different?

Can a person get “stuck” in one or both of these states, and if so, how does that look? Is there a connection between grief or mourning and depression? Or is the loss of hope in depression something quite distinct from prolonged grief or mourning?

Can joy and peace coexist with one of these more easily than with the other? How about faith and hope? Do you think these “positive” emotions alleviate or relieve grief or mourning? If not, how do you see grief or mourning looking different with the presence of joy, peace, faith or hope, compared to the sadness of grief or mourning without joy, peace, faith or hope?

Are the sad genres of music more expressions of grief or mourning? Or something else?

What other similar words do you think of which fit into the same general domain? How do you see these words overlapping or contrasting?

When I read through the Psalms and the prophets, there is a frequent expression of sad emotions, which I think of as “lament”. Do you think such lamenting is expressing more grief or mourning, or does the word “lament” imply any expression of anguish, regardless of the type or degree of anguish?

Do you think people in general are more comfortable with either grief or mourning? What are some of the emotions that are stirred up in you as you see people walking through either grief or mourning? What is it about either of those emotions that is disconcerting or uncomfortable?

What do you think are some appropriate responses to either grief or mourning? Do they call for different or similar responses? (Admittedly, formulaic responses are rarely helpful, and that is not what I’m trying to establish here. I’m more thinking about generally the needs and pain being expressed by grief or mourning and whether one’s heart response would be different when listening to or sharing in grief vs. mourning).

Is either grief or mourning a more lonely place? Is one or the other more easily to enter into with another person or group of people?

What are some expressions of either grief or mourning which have moved you deeply–personal stories, memoirs, memorials, songs, poems? I’d love to hear either general categories or specific examples.

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