thankful

As perhaps you have by now surmised, the Intramuralist believes thanks can be given in all scenarios and circumstance.  Don’t let me suggest that it’s always easy nor that we always feel like being intentional with our gratitude.  I would never diminish the days that are hard for each of us.  Nonetheless, I do believe reasons for thanksgiving are always plentiful.

 

Today, I am thankful for…

 

Life.  Liberty.  The pursuit of far more than happiness.  Democracy.  Elections.  Voting.  The absence of dictatorship.  The freedom to agree or disagree.  The right to free speech — even when we actually disagree.  The Constitution.  The Bill of Rights.  Freedoms endowed by our Creator.  The wisdom foreseen by our founders.

 

Communication.  Listening.  The encouragement to listen.  Authentic dialogue.  The art of dialogue.  Respectful dialogue.  Dialogue where opinions aren’t all pre-determined (see again, listening).  Community.  Other people.  People to remind us that self is not as important as we think it is.  Humility.  Being grounded.  Accountability.  Wise persons bold enough and compassionate enough to help us in the grounding.

 

Faith.  Freedom within faith.  Freedom of faith — not freedom from it.  Free will.  The opportunity to see God and love him back.  His creation and the challenge and responsibility to love his children well.  Forgiveness — especially when we’ve needed it most but had somehow had no idea.

 

Ice cream.  Sundaes.  Coffee.  Playing cards.  More coffee.  Jokers wild.  Walking on sunshine, water, or just plain walking.  Game shows.  Knowing the Daily Double.  The Oak Ridge Boys.  Computers.  Christmas.  iPods, Pads, etc.  Diet Coke.  Mountain Dew.  Caffeine-free Mountain Dew.  Garland.  (Not tinsel, though… too messy on Dec. 26th.)

 

Chocolate.  Hot chocolate.  Whipped cream.  Starbucks.  Lattes.  Nonfat.  Foam.  (Did I mention coffee?)  More foam.  Sunrise.  Sunset.  “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Old musicals.  Old books.  Classics.  Julie Andrews.  New movies.  Star Wars.  Han Solo.  The princess.  That Darth is not my father.

 

Music.  More music.  Mariah Carey.  Martina McBride.  Miranda Lambert.  Bruno Mars.  The Beatles.  London.  Those big Beefeater hats.  Prince William and Princess Kate.  Monarchies.  Monarchies not here.  Broadway.  Elphaba.  Empathy.  Compassion.  Selflessness.  Teachability.  Tenderness.  Truth.  Growth.  More growth.  Recognizing both the need for growth and progress.

 

Respect.  Submission.  Honor.  The elderly.  Youth.  The privilege of learning.  The responsibility of teaching.  Taking them seriously.  Being intentional.  Sometimes being silly, too.

 

Old dogs.  New tricks.  Recognizing none of us have life all figured out.  College football.  College basketball.  Good games.  The NFL.  Positive attitudes.  Knowledgeable fans.  Cheering for a good play by the other team.  The other team.  Cool uniforms.  Nike.  Adidas.  Sweats on a Saturday morn.  Swag.  (Sometimes no swag.)

 

Falling leaves.  Brilliant colors.  No more to pick up.  Winter snows.  The beach.  Dreaming of the beach as winter arrives.  The mountains.  Water by the beach and the water by the mountains.  Friends there.  Friends here.  Friends who love you no matter what.  Thick or thin.

 

Foreign countries.  Home.  Coming home.  Clean laundry.  Sheets just out of the dryer.  Picked up toys.  Puzzles.  Getting the toys out.  Throwing them everywhere.  Children.  Babies.  Special kids.  Mature adults.  Even teenagers… well, most of the time.

Sitcoms.  Sundays.  “Cheers.”  A good toast.  Baking.  Alma maters.  Work.  Days off.  Vacation.  Christmas music.  Creativity.  Brainstorming.  Donuts.  (P.S. brainstorming while eating donuts is extra good.)  Wine.  The first miracle.  All miracles.  Being aware of them.  Vision.  Seeing rightly.  Acting wisely.  Loving those around us.  The opportunity.  The challenge.  The joy…

 

Yes, these things make me thankful…  today…

 

Respectfully,

AR

what’s it about?

The headlines are messy.  Actually, it’s more than the headlines that are so messy.

 

David Petraeus, who up until 2 weeks ago, was considered perhaps one of the nation’s few, contemporary, national “heroes,” unfortunately instantly had his heroic status removed.  Petraeus, the then current head of the Central Intelligence Agency — and former 4 star general — resigned his directorship of the CIA, citing an extramarital affair that was reportedly discovered via an FBI investigation.

 

Yes, the headlines are messy.  The details are murky.  There are questions and more questions as to the timeline of Petraeus’s infidelity, additional military personnel involved, potential breach of classified information, disclosure to the White House and Congress, timing surrounding the election, and any impact on Petraeus’s testimony regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.  Friends, this blog will address none of the above.  The reality is that none of the ‘questions and more questions’ are issues that at this time we can affirm or deny with certainty; hence, we will resist any temptation.  Today I wish to instead focus on one reaction… actually a common reaction… a reaction we especially employ when we’re fairly fond of the hero…

 

… such as Bill Clinton.  Julia Roberts.  Jerry Seinfeld.

 

All people at the “top of their game,” so-to-speak.  People who were at pinnacle points in their careers, and yet…

 

… they engaged in extramarital affairs.

 

The common reaction when we’re fond of our “hero”?

 

“It’s just about sex.”

 

The reality is it’s not “just about” sex; that’s what we tend to say in order to minimize the extent of what it’s actually all about.  It’s about a complete lapse of judgment.  It’s about emotion trumping commitment.  It’s about an ethical standard that is lesser or potentially nonexistent.  It’s often also about self.

 

Now please hear no piling of shame upon any person.  The truth is that each of us are capable of lapses of judgment and emotion trumping all; in fact, dare I suggest that I am not climbing out on any limb by disclosing that each of us have most likely fallen prey to some poor decision-making.  I also suggest — wholeheartedly — that each of us, also, is not fully defined by that poor decision-making; each of us is capable of redemption and forgiveness…

 

… which is equally available to Bill Clinton, Julia Roberts, and Jerry Seinfeld.  It is available to David Petraeus.

 

True, it still makes no sense.

 

How could a person so admired and decorated stoop so seemingly, unscrupulously low?  Petraeus has a Ph.D.  He was an assistant professor.  He was confirmed unanimously at the CIA.  In 2007, Time magazine named him as one of their 4 runners up for “Person of the Year.”  He was named the second most influential American conservative by The Daily Telegraph as well as their Man of the Year.  In 2005, Petraeus was identified as one of America’s top leaders by U.S. News & World Report.  In 2008, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines selected Petraeus as one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals.  The Static Line Association named him its 2008 Airborne Man of the Year.  Der Spiegel named him “America’s most respected soldier.”  Newsweek named him the 16th most powerful person in the world.  He was also named as one of the “75 Best People in the World” in the October 2009 issue of Esquire.

 

Why would one man risk so much?  … put so much on the line?

 

Because it’s not about sex.  It’s about a lapse in judgment.  If we compromise our ethical standards in one area, where else are we willing to compromise?

 

Recognizing that we are each in need of redemption and forgiveness…

 

Respectfully,

AR

the petraeus’s & sandusky’s

I had a tough evening with my youngest son the other night.  He’s 11.  He disobeyed.  And the reality is that he disobeyed disrespectfully and defiantly.  He announced that he would not do what he was asked — and he would not do what he knew was right.

 

“I don’t care!  You can’t make me!!”

 

And since I’ve been slightly maturing in my parenting (thank God!), I employed what has arguably evolved into one of my more effective techniques.  With disappointment in my eyes and thus no affirming glance, I closed the door and quietly walked away.

 

My son began to sob.

 

Actually, he sobbed for quite some time that night.  Those tears were hard to hear, always seemingly piercing my own heart and soul.  Yet I knew at least for an initial while, I needed to allow his tears to flow.

 

Why was he crying?

Because I walked away?  Because I was disappointed?  Because of no affirming glance?

 

While each of the above certainly had both impact and merit, none served as the cause of the cry.  My 11 year old bawled because he chose wrongly.

 

Josh was so grieved by his defiant-but-intentional choice of wrongful behavior, that he grieved his own iniquity.

 

“Why?!  Why did I do this?” he cried uncontrollably.  I kid you not; it was uncontrollably for quite some time.  Josh was bothered by his lack of virtue; he was dismayed by his willful wrongdoing.

 

After allowing the tears to flow for several minutes, I re-entered his room and held him tight.  At first I said very little, as the tears continued, but so did the outwardly, now cavernous contrition.  He was unnerved by the obvious fact that his wrongful choice came so intentionally and easily.  Part of me of wondered if he was shocked that he was actually capable.

 

As I finally tucked him that night, watching my budding adolescent fall asleep with swollen eyes and still with tears, I sat and wondered what I could learn… what each of us could learn…  When we make wrongful choices — so intentionally and easily — are we shocked that we, too, are actually capable?  Do we wrestle with our own wrongdoing?  Are we bothered by our own, manifest lack of virtue?  And are we dismayed?

 

Too often I think we miss that — we miss the growth that comes from individual, reflective wrestling because we instead surround ourselves with people who simply “amen” our experience and thus numb our negatives — as opposed to hold us accountable for both the wise and poor choices of our lives.  We are quick to shame the Petraeus’s and Sandusky’s, but far slower in examining any wrongful actions, motives, or thinking that takes root in our own hearts.

 

We live for the moment, allow emotion to trump truth, and often allow moral behavior to be relative with each evolving circumstance.  The challenge is that circumstances will always change; such is a perilous pattern.

 

As is no secret amidst these pages, my young son has Down syndrome.  Please — no sympathy necessary.  Josh has taught me more in life than I ever could have known without him.  He has taught me and stretched me in ways previously impossible.  There is nothing lesser about his life; there is only more blessing in mine and in so many others’ lives because of the joy and wisdom he so freely brings.

 

One of Josh’s many marvelous traits is that he doesn’t allow all the “crud of life” to get in the way — circumstances and emotions never interfere nor trump reality.  And the other night, when it was obvious he had made a wrongful choice, there were no excuses or exaggerations.  There was only the honest grief that he failed to choose wisely.

 

We continue to learn, as it is often the child that leads the adult well.

 

Respectfully,

AR

teach your children well

As has become our annual ritual, yesterday once more was the first day of school… the day I bundle up my boys and watch them march off on that big yellow bus.  Actually, my youngest guy’s bus truly isn’t all that big — but he feels like it’s huge; sometimes feelings make all the difference in the world.

 

I was thinking about sending them off, what they will learn this year, how they will grow.  I was thinking of the friends they would make that would last throughout the years, just like those dear to me who have been close for seemingly forever.  I was thinking of who would teach them…  and then I realized… we are their primary teachers…

 

While teachers make a vital contribution to the maturing of our children, it is we — their families — who are responsible for growing up our kids…

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach them that Facebook rants and Twitter tweets will never usurp the goodness and benefit of authentic conversation.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach them that authentic conversation is a privilege and opportunity for wisdom and growth.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach them that intentional attempts to divide us — based on income, race, demographics, and even NFL sports teams — are grounded in foolishness and self-focus.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach that self-focus is foolish.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach that pride and humility do not have to cancel out one another; we can be proud of our accomplishments without falling prey to thinking we are bigger or greater than we truly are.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach our children that no political party is ordained by God.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach our children about God.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach our children to be responsible with their gifts, abilities, and finances.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach our children to be generous with their gifts, finances, and commitment to service.

 

It is we…

 

… who must teach our children how to talk — how to build others up instead of allowing cursing and praise to attempt to come out of the same mouth.

 

It is we…

 

… who must model what a loving, self-sacrificing family looks like.

 

It is we…

 

… who must practice what we preach — perhaps the greatest teacher — in responsibility, accountability, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

 

It is we.

 

No education — regardless of school format — public school, parochial school, homeschool, or some kind of vouchers — is more important than “we.”

 

We… must teach them well.

 

Respectfully,

AR

big “if’s”

In the words of one famous (for, uh, not necessarily always good reasons) ex-California governor/actor, “I’m back!”  It’s been a special 3 weeks.

 

First and foremost, many thanks to our guest bloggers, who over recent weeks have creatively encouraged, inspired, informed and made us think; they were vocal about the shooting in Colorado, the heartache at Penn State, the partaking of fiction, moving, accountability, abortion, respectful dialogue, faith, fear, and the inability of government to create jobs.  We heard from men and women, liberal and conservative, of various faith and demographic backgrounds.  We even heard from one self-identified “little kid with some big beliefs.”  (Way to go, Becca… way to go…)

 

So question:  why do we do it?

 

Why on the Intramuralist do we even entertain the concept of a Guest Blogger Series?

 

Great question.  Granted, the series always provides this semi-humble blogger an opportunity to refresh, renew, and “recharge my batteries,” so-to-speak, thinking of what next we should discuss.  I am thankful for the time to intentionally reflect, attempting to discern whether or not the Intramuralist is staying consistent with our purpose in both content and expression.

 

What is our purpose?

To model respectful dialogue.  We do not have to each possess the same opinions; in fact, as a society, we are fairly incapable of that.  But if we are to be a mature, wise people group, we must grow.  I believe we grow through respectful dialogue.

 

Respectful dialogue, however, is not something to be assumed.  Some may argue, no less, that it is even rare…

 

While away, for example, as several of you noticed, a bit of a societal stir took place when one congressman suggested there existed a difference between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape.  Last this current events observer knew, rape is rape, as articulated by both current presidential candidates.  However, in one discussion I witnessed, a gentleman used the controversy to verbally attack VP candidate, Paul Ryan; the gentleman (although the “gentle” is debatable) referred to Ryan and his Republican colleagues as persons who “keep trying to make it legal for husbands to rape their wives.”

 

Excuse me, friends, but that is not respectful dialogue.  That does nothing to advance healthy conversation.  It is also not a helpful articulation that encourages us to discern truth, develop solution, and individually grow.

 

The primary reason we host our annual Guest Blogger Series is because it gives you, the reader, an opportunity to hear from someone different than me.  While I appreciate your sincere interest and commitment to the Intramuralist, I also wish to uphold our blog’s primary principles:

 

1.  We value humility.

2.  None of us have life all figured out.  And,

3.  We each need to listen better, often, and more.

 

The Guest Blogger Series allows us to model each of the above.  Agree or disagree with the perspectives expressed, the varied opinions by others have the potential to prompt growth…

 

if we listen…  if we intentionally humble ourselves.

 

True, those can be big “if’s,” but they are necessary indeed.

 

And so I return to you, refreshed, recharged, and ready to go.  Friends, we have things to discuss!  So join with me in the dialogue.  Contemplate.  Consider.  Comment.  Agree or disagree.  Add perspective.  Add an ‘amen.’  You may even add a ‘what-were-you-thinking?’  But most of all, let us humble ourselves and listen to one another.  Let’s discuss.  Let’s grow.

 

A special thanks to our special bloggers… can’t wait until next year!  You spur us on.

 

Respectfully… always…

AR

the trail

[Note:  Today is day 9 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

 

I’ve started hiking a nearby trail, running some with my daughter (the things we’ll do for our offspring like no one else!) increasing distance & endurance daily, decreasing our time per mile.  The trail we use has become familiar ~ the same stones to traverse the creek, the same logs across the trail to hurdle… but inevitably, daily there are the fallen sticks that somehow newly appear in my path.  As I speed along the route, I kick some aside.  For others I must slow and bend to grab and toss them aside.  Once in awhile they’re large enough that two of us have to work together to move, and occasionally there’s something new fallen, big enough that we just decide to climb over or step around, creating an alternate route in the trail.  I think of the significance of these as I hike… when do we choose to clear the existing trail… and when we create an alternate route, while clearing the path for the younger ones behind… letting them see that process, while enlisting my child’s help.  Eventually they may go before me and make my path level, as I have begun with parents having a less steady gait, now into their eighties, as well as for the generation to come.

 

At the same time, I’ve been reading philosophy.  Plato envisioned all we see as shadows of some real patterns being cast by a fire outside a cave where we are bound.  I see some truth in what he imagined.  There must be a plan, a pattern, an ideal intended for us to recognize and rise to embrace something higher, more solid, more eternal, and real yet than this world.

 

As I kick branches from the trail, gaining agility and grace, making it almost like a dance step while trying to keep up my speed, I maintain the path worn here by others before me, sometimes making detours, trying my best to secure it for those that will follow.  I ponder the bigger picture:  who cleared this trail in the beginning?  Who is it that I trust, who decided this route best?  Am I sure this turn is the best choice…?

 

I’ve made missteps.  I’ve slipped on wet ground and prayed a thankful landing without injury.  I’ve lost my balance trying not to slow while hurdling a series of fallen logs and tumbled brush, losing some skin and blood (and having to return for gear that flew off unnoticed while I focused on examining my injury.)  In all, I trust an unseen (but real) presence there to thank and call out for help, to one who knows and sees and cares and has a plan that works it all for my good.  Without that, continuing this trail would be rather pointless.

 

I meditate on the choices and conflicts in the world today.  The differing paths that have woven through history and now shape our current perspectives, traditions, and decision-making — personal and political.  As I heard Eric Metaxas, at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, “Thank God that we now argue over how to help the poor, not whether to.”  Progress over the centuries?  Yes!  Now what?  Among all the questions for our world and nation, how do we cease the arguing and progress in peace?

 

I consider the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the USA, as it relates to my belief in God who loves all nations, tribes and tongues of people equally, and exists in holiness beyond what can be attained by a human nation, whether or not we claim or agree to be “one nation under God”.  As much as we may want to offer “liberty & justice for all,” we know that only God will ever be able to fully do it.  I feel compelled to maintain my allegiance alone for him, and thus, to serve the world he’s put me in out of that undivided allegiance.

 

I am grieved by the political/spiritual battle around the issue of marriage.  As I heard one admit recently, haven’t we already allowed the biblical definition of marriage in our country to go by the wayside years ago? … by legalizing “no fault divorce,” among other impurities?  When we talk of the parameters of biblical marriage, I fear most of us have missed what it is — and could yet be a most beautiful reflection of the faithful, relational nature of God.  Am I — are we — willing to confront the “plank in our own eye” before humbly reaching out to others with the authority of God’s love?

 

Only one thing I know for sure.  There is one who said, “I am the way…”  What authority did he have to claim that?  How can we know he is trustworthy to believe?  Big questions, for sure.  Brief answers?  His life claims were recorded hundreds of years before he appeared.  He lived a life of complete integrity.  Instead of dying off quietly, his followers were themselves willing to die while continuing to proclaim his truth, assured there was more beyond their death here.  They said this was the Creator of the world and that he had come to exhibit the very definition of love.

 

How do I know what words to speak that will last?  …what decisions to make in the myriad of choices in life?  …which route to take and who to call when I see I’ve mis-stepped?  How do I come to peace in my relationships and in the world at large?  I have to believe that the one who made me, beginning with the mathematically amazing, statistically unbelievable universe we live in, knows.  The one who was willing to die for me, I believe I can trust to work all things for my good.

 

The trail starts and ends with him. And in between, He continues to be the way…
… If my people will humble themselves and pray… and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways… then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

 

Respectfully,

REH

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  REH and I became friends as kids at camp a couple decades ago; she has since earned an MA in counseling… and continues to spur me — and many — on.]


fear itself

[Note:  Today is day 8 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

“Solar storm barreling towards Earth”

The headline made me stop and click on the link to read the July 14, 2012 AP article by Alicia Chang.

Solar storm. Barreling. Barreling towards Earth.  That can’t be good.

“A solar storm is due to arrive on Saturday morning and last through to Sunday, slamming into Earth’s magnetic field.”  (Emphasis mine).

Instinctively my heart races a little faster after reading the first sentence in the article.  Barreling and slamming definitely have me a little worried.  I just know this solar storm is big and dangerous.

Fear. Invisible, but potent fear enters my body with the air I breathe.

The fact is, reasons to be frightened are everywhere we turn. The radio, TV, and the Internet literally scream fear into our lives: shootings, climate change, social change, you name it. Our political pundits are especially skilled at pushing our panic buttons.

In his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Why is that? What are the ramifications of being fearful?

  1. Chaos instead of clarity: When panicking we tend not to think clearly or rationally.
  2. Cowardliness instead of courage: Self preservation trumps caring for others. Our survival instinct kicks in when we are faced with the imminent demise of our existence, livelihood, or even our way of life.
  3. Division instead of unity: Fear makes us trust less, and when we trust people less we are more apprehensive about engaging with them, which in turn, fosters unwarranted prejudice instead of true discernment.
  4. Pointing fingers instead proposing a solution: When busy playing the blame game, we often find ourselves too preoccupied with discovering who’s at fault instead of uncovering answers.

If being fearful causes us to toss out reason, can we choose to overcome our apprehension with something more constructive? Is it time for us to collectively take a giant step back and breathe some non-anxious air into our lungs? Is time for us to be courageous, confident, and informed?

Instead of reacting instantly to problem with deep dismay, ask questions, gather knowledge and find solutions.  And have a little faith; faith in each other, and perhaps faith in something bigger than us.

Oh, and the solar storm…

The next sentence in the article read:

“Scientists say it will be a minor event… We don’t see any ill effects to any systems…”

And so I click on the next article, “Are Farmers Markets Safe?”

Respectfully,

Sharon

 

[Intramuralist Note:  As one who has long been impressed and inspired by friend Sharon’s musings, see more at www.sharonsiepel.com.]



the moving process

[Note:  Today is day 6 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

 

After over 30 years in a home that had seen the rearing of children, the hospitality of neighbors, the hosting of family gatherings, I engaged in the daunting task of MOVING.  Oh, it was time, and I was excited about the new home we had purchased.  Even the term “downsizing” was appealing. Nevertheless, “daunting” was the right word.

 

Closets held too much clothes; shelves held too many books; storage areas contained too many long unopened boxes; furniture was unusable in the new house.  But where to begin?  Sorting, pitching, saving I knew, but what should go into each category?  Goodwill and I became personal acquaintances.  Chin families needed clothes and linens.  Salvation Army picked up furniture.  Records and books went to the Half-priced store (for little in return).  My piano went to grandchildren.  (Notice, no garage sales… that’s not for me.)  High school and college papers and classroom lesson plans I purged… with some reluctance.  At times I did feel as if I were “downsizing” me.

 

But I saved other treasures of sentiment as well… gift books with special notes written in the cover by the giver, my dad’s violin, my mother’s dresser, dishes that were their wedding gifts, the first dress I sewed for a 4-H project at age 12 (white fabric with frisky pink lambs on it), pictures and professional recognitions.  Items likes these are touched with love and memory of events and people dear to me.  I’m not saving just the item, but the warmth therein.

 

However, I have discovered that often a process has many other applications.  I wonder if it would not be wise to evaluate just what intangibles we are hanging on to, that which has no real value and should be  purged as well:

 

— a self-regret based on “woulda-coulda-shoulda”

 

— a resentment that others have achieved what we have not

 

— an ego which prevents us from seeing the good in others

 

— a prejudice that blankets collectively people we don’t even know

 

— an anger that we nurse and rehearse because we won’t admit we might be wrong

 

— an unwillingness to forgive because that might give a gift to one who doesn’t deserve it… when it really is a gift we give ourselves

 

— an excuse to live not as we are called to by serving and loving others

 

Yes, I found the moving process though laborious, yet liberating as well.  Shedding “stuff” simplifies life.  But wouldn’t letting go of negative attitudes and hostilities be even more simplifying?  More freeing?  Wouldn’t each day be more peaceful without carrying around a load of burdensome feelings and inner turmoil?

 

Consider trying it. This is a process that doesn’t require a change of address… only a change of heart.

 

 

P.S. Thanks, Intramuralist… and I don’t miss a thing I left behind.

 

Respectfully,

DL

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  DL has poured insight into me for decades; most of the time, I listened.  Well done, Madre… well done.]


stepping on the truth box

[Note:  Today is day 5 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

 

I want the truth. But … do I … really? Sometimes I feel just like the recipient of the infamous line from A Few Good Men, who was told, “You can’t handle the truth!”

 

Hearing hard things makes me wilt a bit inside, even when I purposely place myself in a setting where everyone is encouraged to speak the truth. Over five years ago I joined a group of five women who meet every other week to share life stories, encourage one another, and challenge certain bad habit patterns and distorted thinking.

 

I like to call our time together “stepping on the Truth Box.” But we really call it PDP, which stands for Personal Development Plan. The group was formed to teach some assessment tools for life coaching, but as we began to share life stories and get motivating, growth-oriented feedback, our meetings became like dope. By the time the reminder for our next gathering pops up on my calendar, I’m usually emotionally dragging a bit, in need of my PDP fix.

 

Someone always cries. Last time it was me. I was gently challenged to check my victim mentality when it comes to my chronic illness. Initially I found the words tough to hear, but so often I do need another voice spoken into my life to clearly see the truth. That day I needed a leg-up to get on my Truth Box.

 

When communication directed at one of my many vulnerabilities hits the “ouch spot,” I have to examine why the sting. If the words are true, why do they sometimes hurt? Maybe it has to do with a skewed self-image or a false reality. If I maintained a realistic view of myself, knowing I had flaws, dropped stitches, and natural shortcomings, wouldn’t it be easier to hear truth?

 

In order to avoid emotional pain, some might suggest adapting a thicker skin approach to life but perhaps more permeable skin would serve me better. The callousness of thick skin doesn’t allow for the flow of truth and grace. And maybe that’s the missing component, a dose of grace mixed with the truth. I like Webster’s definition, “a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy or clemency.” Truth always tastes better delivered with kindness.

 

The other day when I received truth from my PDP sisters, it came with plenty of grace.  🙂

 

Receiving hard stuff takes practice. The steadier the diet of truth, the easier it is to digest. My self-awareness learning curve keeps climbing thanks to caring people in my life willing to say the tough stuff.

 

I like living in the emotional place where I can unabashedly articulate my strengths AND my weaknesses. If you have a criticism of me, it may bruise my ego a bit to hear it, but if I want to move forward in life then, “bring it on.” Just please don’t forget the measure of grace.

 

Respectfully,

Caroline

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  Caroline is wise woman.  I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again; I appreciate both her fondness and knowledge of baseball, the bible, and good beer.]

partaking of fiction

[Note:  Today is day 3 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

Numerous parents over the past two decades have approached me with grave concerns over what their children are reading. Their concerns are wide-ranging and unpredictable.

Some say that their children should only read ethically solid or specifically Christian literature; anything else would be too morally relative, as moral standards in this country continue to digress. In fact, I taught for a year at a Christian school whose curriculum oversight committee refused to allow its students to read anything besides specifically Christian literature. To repeat, I taught there only a year.

Some parents allow their children to read a small selection of secular fiction, but they fret over it. (“Should they really read these books with obviously sinful or ‘ethically-challenged’ characters?”) Others take a very relaxed stance, allowing their children to read whatever their hearts desire, but not helping provide any kind of filter through which to read and understand this literature.

Same goes for movies, only more so. Since it is such a visual medium, movies are more scary to parents, who approach them with fear and caution — and rightly so.

This all begs an important question: What standards can we apply toward viewing/reading fiction?

The obvious answer is biblical: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Then they look at the work of fiction to see what is lovely, honorable, and just.

This is an excellent standard for a start. Let’s consider adding more to this list of criteria.

First, realize that “whatever is lovely” wants us to dwell on truth and beauty. Also realize that “whatever is true” includes not just beauty but also the whole truth about, well, truth. What’s true and real is that this world is full of sin. It’s ugly, and it warps everything it touches. And evil is evil; it is to be avoided, not desired.

How best to show that evil has consequences? Depict it in all its ugliness, and watch the consequences unfold. Well-written fiction will do just that. However, sugar-coating the truth provides an unrealistic picture of the “real world.” Does this mean that students should read every kind of pulp fiction out there? Absolutely not. Find good fiction that shows the true tension of good versus evil, that shows the repugnance of evil. Take a careful look at what happens when people give in to it.

Some of the dark literature of modernity will provide excellent examples. I want my students to read about the cry of man’s heart: “What do I do with the darkness I have inside me?” In realistically-depicted fiction, we can see what happens when man cries out for a savior and then tries to save himself, or invents his own savior, or destroys himself in pursuit of a better life. Perhaps he creates a whole new society in which everything can be manipulated so that human emotions and attitudes can be tightly controlled. We see how successful that is in Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, Hunger Games, Divergent, Anthem, and Atlas Shrugged, to name just a few. And can a student learn something from the failed experiment of the creation of a new society? You bet.

The naked, ugly truth is that deep down, man cries out for a savior. That heart-wrenching agony can be clearly seen in Romans, in which Paul tells the truth of man’s situation: the things I want to do, I don’t do; those things I don’t want to do, I do. Then Paul cries out “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  Isn’t this what every person despairs of, at some point in his life? What kind of sugar-coated, romanticized fiction ever depicts ugly, unbearable truth like that? Rarely does Christian fiction do it well.

However, look at Picture of Dorian Gray, Heart of Darkness, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example. The futility of trying to overcome one’s weaknesses by creating some sort of hero oneself is portrayed in all of its dark brutality. Did these authors know the one, true God? Some will argue the answer; however, it is clear that these authors realized the futility in their own lives and expressed it clearly.

Can a non-Christian depict the truth in his work of fiction? For an answer, take a look at Les Miserables or A Tale of Two Cities. (Some will argue that Dickens was a Christian; we will not take up that argument here — someone else can. We do know that Hugo was an avowed pagan.) What about revenge and its devastating results in The Count of Monte Cristo? The beauty of reconciliation and repentance is laid out clearly in all these books. Did God use these men? I would argue that yes, he did — and does.

So how do we approach literature with our children? Teach them the truth of the Law and the Gospel. Man is sinful and cannot save himself. He desperately needs a savior and tries to fill the void with his own works and inventions. Dead in his own sins, God reaches in and pulls him up out of the grave and into life. How tragic for those who have not been made alive by God!

Let’s see how this is played out in literature.

(For more reading on how to view literature from a biblical worldview, see Reading Between the Lines by Gene Veith, The Twelve Trademarks of Literature by Jeff Baldwin, and How to Read Slowly by James Sire.)

Respectfully,

Shaunna

[Intramuralist Note:  For more of Shaunna’s wit & wisdom — which she has long, generously shared with me, see www.writingrhetorically.com.  LOVE her emphasis on discerning rhetoric!]