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!]

we are Penn State

[Note:  Today is day 2 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 went to a wedding last weekend where the theme (which had been chosen over a year ago) was “We Are… Getting Married,” based on the familiar Pennsylvania State University’s theme, “We Are…Penn State.”  The wedding was held in… Pennsylvania. My family lives in… Pennsylvania.  And guess what college all my family attended?  Penn State. I planned on going there, but when President Reagan took away student loans to the middle class in 1982, I was quickly redirected to look at a school in Wisconsin, where we lived at the time. But my dream school was Penn State.

 

Jerry Sandusky has tarnished the name of Penn State and lots of people are taking aim at the whole University, almost as if they are a bunch of sharks feeding on a school (no pun intended) of fish. Small fish that make up a large school, but small nonetheless. So you may think or say anything to do with Penn State is ugly, awful and tainted. But I ask you this: do you think it is possible to be a Penn Stater and be good? Noble? Nice? Not pro-child molesting?

 

My family… over 50 of them at that wedding, were embarrassed to be associated with Penn State. They feel dirty. Disgusting and ugly.

 

They attended school like so many of us have. And if you haven’t, then place your favorite charity or high school or sport’s team in place of a college. My family is from Pennsylvania and went to a great college. No ifs or buts. Penn State is a good university, and we should not run hiding, shrinking in the shadows from people who feel they must excoriate someone other then the child rapist. My family did not rape kids or endorse the raping of kids. Did they enjoy some football? Some of them. Certainly not my mother, who would go to a game and read a book in the stands. But that is not what made them Penn Staters. They should be proud Nittany Lions because they went to a tough college and graduated with degrees and went on to be good members of society.

 

So if you say to me that I should crawl in a hole for ten years as payment for Jerry Sandusky, I ask you why would you say that? Why is it that when something awful happens, or even something mildly irritating, must we cast about to blame someone and something? It does not seem adequate enough to blame the bad people involved. Some more people have to pay. We feel like it isn’t enough for the bad person to pay, so we say that a shooter who killed 20 people had help from the guns. Guns are bad then.

 

Or we say that a drunk driver killed someone, so the bad bartender caused the fatal accident. Too often we do not set blame at the feet of the one it belongs to, because we want justice. Our type of justice. We are angry and we will set things to rights. Right?

 

Hmmm. That’s where it gets interesting. Who made us judge? Who are we to mete out punishment? Do we have the final say? Any say?

 

The parents of a serial killer… are they to blame? When does this stop and we say the person who did the awful deed is awful? When do we stop attacking other people to make ourselves feel vindicated? When is enough, enough?

 

Will you tell my family they do not need to hide that they are Penn Staters? Or do we really want my 72 year old dad to “wait” out your judgment time? However long that is. My brother has stated he will not attend any of the football games with my dad. This is madness! My dad did not rape the kids. My dad goes to the games for fun, and now that will certainly be a thing of the past. So Jerry Sandusky hurt my dad, my brother, me and my family. He hurt Penn Staters. The Nittany Lions.

 

So while you rage against the lack of decent sanctions against Penn State, because nothing can bring back the innocence of those boys (true), I say please, stop and hold your tongue for a minute. We are hurt. We are hurting. We need mercy. And someday, you might need it, too. What do they say? What goes around, comes around? It does. So when you are down because your company did something illegal, or your kid did something tragically awful, or your spouse did something bad, do you want me to come around and kick you in the teeth? Will it not be enough to say you are suffering too?

 

Mercy plays a part in this society. Certainly we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated in that circumstance. The world needs fewer pointing fingers and more hands extended out to help someone up. We are all in this world together and if you can begin to really look at a situation from another hurting person’s point of view, then you are getting it. You are becoming smarter. Less vicious. You are becoming a better person. And if this dark world needs anything, it is people who are kind, patient, full of compassion and mercy. So please, I beg you, remember to wait a little longer before climbing on the bashing bandwagon. And before you take a certain wild and willing delight at the trials of Penn State and Penn Staters everywhere, remember my family’s wedding. Where the affair felt almost like it wanted to be held in a back closet somewhere. Out of sight. Hidden away.

 

Well, We Are… Hurting.  We Are… Embarrassed.  We Are… Sad.  We Are… Penn State.

 

Respectfully,

D

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  D is a wise and witty stay at home mom, whose never been afraid to tackle the tough subjects.  She also has an innate fondness for Peanut M&M’s.]


a dark night indeed

[Note:  Today is the 1st of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.  Enjoy!  And remember… I’ll be back.]

 

Yet another senseless act of violence.  As most know by now, an armed gunman entered a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight premier showing of The Dark Knight Rises. The perpetrator, whose name will not be made even slightly more famous by repeating it here, just started shooting people. Initial reports suggest that he called himself “The Joker” and may have been mimicking aspects of the Batman story, such as Bruce Wayne becoming a crime fighter after witnessing his parents being killed leaving a movie theater.

 

Any comment on the incident must first pause in respect to the victims, the 12 people killed and 58 injured. These people were someone’s parent, someone’s spouse, someone’s child. Our prayers are with them and those near to them left without someone important in the lives for no reason whatsoever.

 

A public defender has been appointed to represent the shooter. Depending on one’s view of capital punishment, I’m sure most hope the man is either put away forever or is sentenced to the same fate which he inflicted upon others.

 

But I have a question. Where is the ACLU now? Where are all the people who say we have no right to impose our morals on others?

 

Because I’ll tell you:  this type of radical behavior is the natural consequence of a society that refuses to acknowledge an absolute set of rights and wrongs.

 

Most of you shouldn’t even be bothered by the killing.  According to pollster George Barna, 78% of you believe that moral absolutes do not exist. If you are in that majority, then on what basis would you judge this person’s actions to be wrong? Aren’t you trying to impose your sense of morality on him?

 

Sure, the example is extreme, but the fact is that if you don’t agree to an absolute standard of right and wrong, you simply have no other place to draw the line, no basis for saying here’s where subversive behavior has to stop, beyond which it cannot cross….

 

  • As soon as you say it’s ok to put sex and violence on TV… it’s eventually going to become pornography… and as in Colorado, people are going to start acting these things out.

 

  • As soon as you say it’s ok for a man to marry a man… then someone is going to want to marry their student… or their child… or their pet.

 

  • As soon as you say it’s ok to end a life before it leaves the womb… it’s no stretch at all to start knocking off the elderly once their medical costs start busting the Obamacare budget… or to walk into a theater and start shooting people for entertainment.

 

If you have any sense of horror at the Colorado shooting, and I know virtually all do, then you’ve got to reconsider your position on moral absolutes. Teaching people that they define their own sense of right and wrong invariably leads to behavior at the extremes. I respect your right to believe whatever you wish, but the only way back to sanity is to acknowledge that right and wrong exist.

 

“Destroy a nation’s morality, and it will fall in your lap like ripe fruit from a tree.” – Vladimir Lenin

 

Respectfully,

Mike

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  Mike and I go way back.  Boasting an impressive professional resume — along with a humbled heart to back it up — Mike has always made me think…  still again today…]

guest blogger series…

BEGINNING THURSDAY… AUGUST 2, 2012.

For the 4th consecutive year, the Intramuralist is excited to announce our annual Guest Blogger Series — a time when persons I highly respect take their turn articulating an insight or opinion in a respectful manner.  Fire up!

Let me say that the opinions expressed on these pages the next 3 weeks may or may not be ones with which I agree. That’s not the point; the point is that differing opinion is always acceptable as long as we respectfully communicate.  If we respectfully communicate, we can dialogue; and if we can dialogue, we will grow.

Blessings to all, friends…  I hope you enjoy this series — I know I will…  these guys are good!

Respectfully… of course…

AR

 

lovin’ the gold

Oh, how I love the Olympics.  They remind me of all that is good and pure and right… and so much of what is absent in every day life.  Such a contrast…

 

… in the humility…

 

You rarely hear an Olympic athlete claim, “I am the best.  Most recognize they are part of a team and together represent a nation.  It’s thus refreshing to see an athlete like the NBA’s LeBron James — whose nickname at home is “The King” — omit the regality and public promenades.  He is no part of the host monarchy nor is he seemingly acting like it.

 

… in the individual effort…

 

So much of current culture has recently surrounded this concept of not only shared sacrifice, but also, shared success.  What is the basis for such thinking?  If someone else works hard and succeeds, do you and I deserve a part of that regardless of the lack of any contribution?

 

In the Olympics, 2 kinds of persons tend to earn the greatest gold:  those who are inherently, naturally gifted — and those who work the hardest.  Refreshingly, those who fail to medal recognize they’re not entitled to the reward of another.

 

… in the national pride…

 

National pride has seemed a negative concept in recent years.  It’s almost as if there is no place for a pride absent of arrogance.  But yet, the 2 terms are not synonymous.  Hence, whether you are an athlete of Austrian descent, Iranian descent, or American descent, there is no need for any so-called ‘apology tour. ‘  It’s ok to be proud of your country — regardless of which nation it is.

 

… in commitment…

 

While so much about our younger generations is attractive and contagious, few seem to stay loyal for long… to a job, to a marriage, to a relationship.  I relish the Olympic modeling of commitment.  Authentic commitment.  There is so much wisdom and growth reserved for steadfastness.  And so we watch the Olympic athlete, who has trained for years for essentially one moment in time. The only way this moment exists is due to the individual’s commitment, a commitment to be maintained even on the days with no cameras, no glory, and no medallions strung around the neck.

 

… and lastly, in the good stories… this one from the “Sporting News”…

 

… Just when it seemed U.S. swimming had lost its marquee value, along came Missy Franklin.  She won the 100-meter backstroke Monday, then reacted like you’d expect a 17-year-old to.  “I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “It exceeded my expectations 100 billion times!”

 

…For all the nice stories about badminton whizzes, a truly grand Olympics must hitch itself to a star. We thought it might be [Michael] Phelps, getting a few more golds before swimming into the sunset.  Then all eyes turned to [Ryan] Lochte after he swamped Phelps in their first race Saturday… Umm, not so fast. A French guy ran him, or swam him, down in the final leg of the 400-meter freestyle relay on Sunday…

 

Enter Missy the Missile.  She’s the second-youngest swimmer on the U.S. team. She’s also the most versatile and probably the most embraceable. She’s down to swim seven events in London, one more than any female in Olympic history. Franklin got a bronze in the 400-meter freestyle relay Saturday. But Monday was the real coming out party for the girl who’s been called the female Phelps.  She caught Australia’s Emily Seebohm in the final strokes to win in 58.33 seconds…  “Incredible,” she said. “I still can’t believe that happened…”

 

She’s from Centennial, Col., outside Denver. She’s an honor student who will enter her senior year of high school in a few weeks. She really wants to swim in college, but London may be messing up those plans.  The NCAA is built on the free labor of “amateur” athletes. If Franklin took endorsement money, she’d be ineligible to swim for good old State U. She’s already turned down nice endorsement offers. But if Monday night is any indication, she could make enough to buy a college and make her own darned rules.  Not that such things were on her mind. Franklin was too busy crying as the national anthem was played. About the only disappointing thing was that there was no “Tebowing” on the medal stand.

 

Oh, how I love the Olympics… love that focus on what is good and pure and right.

 

Respectfully,

AR

eat mor chikin

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a bit of a squabble (good poultry term) over Chic-Fil-A, one of the nation’s top fast food franchises.  The impetus for the squabble lies in the voluntary comments of Dan Cathy, Chic-Fil-A’s chief executive, who said the following in a recent interview:

 

“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.  We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.  We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

 

Note that there has been zero evidence of discrimination on Chic-Fil-A’s part.  The outrage entirely revolves around the viewpoint expressed by the executive.

 

Each of us has the right to agree or disagree with Cathy’s viewpoint.  In fact, as consumers, we have the prerogative not to shop there.  We can shop wherever we want… just as some African-Americans are known to support African-American owned businesses… just as some veterans are known to support veteran owned businesses.  Shop where you want.  Shop ’til you drop.  Shop for whatever reasons you want.  Feel free not to shop nor drop.

 

But that consumer freedom is for some reason not enough for all – especially politicians seemingly more mindful of populist voting than of constitutional legality.  Specifically, the mayors of Boston and Chicago have now vowed to block the business from future expansion in their cities.  “How dare they,” they infer…  (sorry, an Intramuralist paraphrase). But to quote the mayor of Chicago, in reference to Cathy’s comments, “It’s not what the people of Chicago believe.”  Last I knew, we didn’t all believe the same thing.

 

In fact, how have those mayors – officials who serve in a representative democracydealt with the following viewpoints?

 

“If I was a woman in Russia I would be a lesbian, as the men are very ugly.  There are a few handsome ones, like Naomi Campbell’s boyfriend, but there you see the most beautiful women and the most horrible men.”

 

“They’re like leeches…I’m so tired of it… They start out the most popular person in the world, make a lot of money, big house, cars and everything.  End up penniless.  It is a conspiracy.  The Jews do it on purpose.”

 

“Woman is the Nigger of the World.”

 

And…

 

“I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.  Now, for me as a Christian – for me – for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.  God’s in the mix.”

 

Funny… but those cities have been silent about the above words from the mastermind behind popular fashion brands, Chanel and Fendi, the sale of CD’s by Michael Jackson and John Lennon, and the stated stance of then Sen. Barack Obama.  The above quotes are attributed to each.

 

My point is this…

 

Outrage is selective.  Outrage is emotional.  Please feel free to agree or disagree with Dan Cathy’s comments.  That is the beauty of this county.  That is the freedom of this country.

 

When the mayors of Boston and Chicago practice viewpoint discrimination, unfortunately, they are being inconsistent and selective.

 

And let me add one other word:  hypocritical.

 

Understand, friends, this post says nothing about the legitimacy nor purity of gay marriage.  We can choose how to react.  We can choose what to believe.  If any of us are ever puppeteered or coerced into what we must believe, then we are being intolerant and not adhering to the constitutional U.S. of A.  The problem with the Boston and Chicago mayors is that they are extracting our freedom of choice; they’re taking away our freedom to believe.  They are thus attacking the legitimacy of opposing viewpoint, and that, frighteningly, is inconsistent with tolerance, democracy, and individual liberty.

 

Hence, I say once more – “how dare they…”

 

Respectfully,

AR

someone is responsible

Wow, we are good at blaming other people.

 

Witness…

 

Celebrity news outlet, TMZ, is reporting that the first lawsuit is being crafted in the Aurora movie massacre.  It is being filed by Torrence Brown, a man who was in the theater but was not physically hurt, although a good friend was shot and killed. Brown now claims to suffer from extreme trauma.

 

So given his situation, he’s suing James Holmes, the shooter, correct?

 

Of course not.

 

According to TMZ and Brown’s attorney, Donald Karpel, Brown is targeting the following 3 entities or people:

 

  1. The theater.  Karpel claims it was negligent for the theater to have an emergency door in the front that was not alarmed or guarded.  It’s widely believed Holmes entered the theater with a ticket, propped the emergency door open from inside, went to his car and returned with guns.
  2. Holmes’ doctors.  Karpel says it appears Holmes was on several medications — prescribed by one or more doctors — at the time of the shooting, and he believes the docs did not properly monitor Holmes.
  3. Warner Bros.  Karpel says “Dark Knight Rises” was particularly violent and Holmes mimicked some of the action.  The attorney says theater goers were helpless because they thought the shooter was part of the movie.  Karpel tells TMZ, “Somebody has to be responsible for the rampant violence that is shown today.”

 

“Somebody has to be responsible…”

 

I can’t shake that line.  While “someone is responsible,” that person’s name is James Holmes.  Granted, James Holmes doesn’t possess near the bank accounts of the theater, doctors, and Warner Bros.  While certainly the question of what each could have done differently would be prudent, holding them responsible seems financially expedient.  They are easy to blame.

 

Also, last week we witnessed Penn State receive sanctions for the sexual abuse scandal involving assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.  Sandusky was found guilty of 45 charges of child abuse over a 15 year span.  In an independent report, members of the university’s administration and athletic department were found to be negligent; they were not involved in the abuse, but the tough questions are what did they know and what then, did they do with that information.

 

“Somebody has to be responsible…”

 

Penn State certainly should have reported what they knew when they knew it to law enforcement authorities.  There should exist a harsh consequence for that negligience.  Yet one of the penalties levied against the Penn State football program is the decision to vacate 112 of the team’s wins over the past 14 years.  In other words, all the victories on the grid iron during the time something should have been reported no longer exist.  Also, vacating those wins means extracting them from not only head coach, Joe Paterno, but also from the 85 other innocent collegians who potentially played their hearts out that day.

 

Again, “someone is responsible”; that person’s name is Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky’s perverse activity gave Penn State no competitive advantage on the football field.  What he did was horrific, but it didn’t influence the outcome of the game.  However…

 

“Somebody has to be responsible…”

 

We tend to place blame where it’s easiest…

 

… on those who can’t defend themselves…

… on those who are financially expedient…

… on those who’ve gone before us…

 

If we can hold someone responsible — regardless as to if they are the person responsible — sometimes it makes us feel better; sometimes is also adds to the foolishness involved.

 

Respectfully,

AR

miracles

What happened in Aurora, Colorado last week was evil and horrific.  I can’t imagine the depth of the pain for the families who lost loved ones or who were innocently in that theater that night.  The following [slightly edited] perspective from a Denver blogger, however, caused me to pause.  In fact, my planned post was actually scrapped, as we humbly attempt to focus on finding some kind of good and pure and right…

 

At Columbine, I have seen this before. But not up close.  As a church pastor in Denver, I have worked as a chaplain with several police and fire departments. I was privileged to counsel parents just hours after the Littleton Columbine shootings. However, in this new tragedy at the Aurora Theater Dark Night shooting, one of the victims was a 22 year old woman from my church, Petra Anderson (pronounced Pay-tra). Petra went to the movies with two young friends who are biking across America.  You and I have been inundated with news about what happened next. A joyful movie turned into bloody, unbelievable chaos. Petra was hit four times with a shot-gun blast, three shots into her arm and one bullet which entered her brain. This a bit of Petra’s miracle story.

 

… A bullet had entered Petra’s face through her nose, and then traveled up through her brain until stopping at the back of her skull. The doctors prior to surgery were concerned, because so much of the brain had been traversed by the bullet. Many areas of brain function were involved. They were hoping to keep her alive long enough to get her into surgery. The prognosis was uncertain—if she lived, Petra might struggle with speech, movement, and thinking due to considerable brain damage. With Kim, Petra’s mother (who is in the final stages of terminal cancer), we simply cried, hugged, and prayed…

 

If you have lived any of your days in a hospital waiting room, you know how long the enduring process is. It has a woeful pattern to it. Sit. Walk. Grab a drink. Sit. Walk. Answer a phone call. Sit. Walk. Hug someone. Sit. Talk to the FBI. Sit. Pick at the food. Sit. Walk. Go down the hall, but not too far because you’re afraid to miss something. Back. Hug. Pray. Sit. Sit. A picture of a five year old waiting for next Christmas from January 1st comes to my mind. FOREVER. Only this feels worse: a heavy forever, with no promise of presents, Santa, or good news at the end.

 

After the waiting drags for over five hours, tired doctors and nurses spill back into the room, one or two at a time… The doctors update us: “It went well, and she’s recovering now. We found very little damage to the brain, and got the bullet out cleanly. It went better than we hoped for… Something might still go wrong. We just need to wait and see if she makes it for the next 48 hours.”

 

Tears and thank you’s abound. We are so thankful for these men and women. We hug. Everyone hugs. Then, round two. Sit. Wait. Pray. Fully dressed people cuddle into small snails and try to sleep on the floor. Some are shuttled to a room donated by the Holiday Inn across the street. Thank you, Lord, for every little thing. We sit. We pray. “We’ll understand better tomorrow.”

 

Petra is moved back to ICU. She looks, surprisingly, wonderful. With a small hole in her nose, and her arm wrapped, she almost looks uninjured. She is medicated and sleeping when I come to visit her on Saturday. I sit, talk, and pray quietly with Kim amid the darkened room, lit by glowing medical screens and power switches. Nurses, like quiet soldiers posted on guard, come in, march attentively through the machines, and go out.  These men and women really care. Finally, one of the surgeons comes in to check on Petra. He has had some sleep, and looks more like a movie star this time. As Petra sleeps, he retells the story of the surgery, and we ask questions.  The doctor reads the perfect script, as if he is on Hallmark Hall of Fame. He fills us in on the miracle. Honestly, he doesn’t call it that, he just uses words like “happily” and “wonderfully” and “in a very fortunate way” and “luckily” and “we were really surprised by that.”  Kim and I know a miracle when we see it.

 

It seems as if the bullet traveled through Petra’s brain without hitting any significant brain areas. The doctor explains that Petra’s brain has had from birth a small “defect” in it. It is a tiny channel of fluid running through her skull, like a tiny vein through marble, or a small hole in an oak board, winding from front to rear.  Only a CAT scan would catch it, and Petra would have never noticed it.

 

But in Petra’s case, the shotgun buck shot, maybe even the size used for deer hunting, enters her brain from the exact point of this defect. Like a marble through a small tube, the defect channels the bullet from Petra’s nose through her brain. It turns slightly several times, and comes to rest at the rear of her brain. And in the process, the bullet misses all the vital areas of the brain. In many ways, it almost misses the brain itself.  Like a giant BB though a straw created in Petra’s brain before she was born, it follows the route of the defect. It is channeled in the least harmful way. A millimeter in any direction and the channel is missed.  The brain is destroyed. Evil wins a round.

 

As he shares, the doctor seems taken aback. It is an odd thing to have a surgeon show a bit of wonder. Professionally, these guys own the universe, it seems, and take everything in stride. He is obviously gifted as a surgeon, and is kind in his manner. “It couldn’t have gone better. If it were my daughter,” he says quietly, glancing around to see if any of his colleagues might be watching him, “I’d be ecstatic. I’d be dancing a jig.” He smiles. I can’t keep my smile back, or the tears of joy. In Christianity we call it prevenient grace: God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.

 

While we’re talking, Petra awakes. She opens her eyes, and sits up, “Mom.” Movie-star doctor spins to grab her, to protect her from falling. The nurse assures him she’s been doing this for a while. He talks to her, and she talks back. He asks questions, and Petra has the right answers. “Where do you hurt, Petra?” “All over.” Amazed, but professional, he smiles and leaves the set shaking his head. I am so thankful for this man.

 

Petra is groggy and beat up, but she is herself. Honestly, I look worse before my morning coffee. “I’m thirsty,” she proclaims. “You want an ice cube, honey?” Kim replies, “Please.”  Wow. She lays down, back to sleep, a living miracle who doesn’t even know it yet. Good flowering out of the refuse pile of a truly dark night. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whisper.

 

Petra, you are amazing. Kim, you, too, are amazing. I am so proud of you both. But God, you are in a league of your own. (Duh.)

 

Respectfully — and in quiet awe…

AR

 

[Reprinted from “Celtic Straits” by Brad Strait]

Colorado killings

In moments of tragedy, we grapple for answers.  Pained by unspeakable shock, we seek solution.  “We must fix this,” we demand, “So it never happens again.”

 

We.

Must.

Fix.

 

Never again.

 

Sorry, friends, but I’m a little struck.  I’m struck by this feeling that “we” are so capable, that we’re capable of “fixing.”  We think we’re so in control.

 

“How could he do this?!”  How could a 24 year old man, James Holmes, described as a “brilliant science student” — reportedly planning for months — ravage through that theater Thursday night, mercilessly murdering the innocent?

 

We grapple and seek once again.  “How could he do this?” 

 

We’ve heard some of the articulated reasons…

 

“He lost it!”

“He’s just off inside.”

“He’s insane!”

“Must be a chemical imbalance.”

“He thinks he’s the Joker!”

 

We’ve also heard the early instant fixes…

 

“Take action now!”

“We need gun control!!”

“Tougher gun laws!”

“Stop the violent video games!”

“All movie theaters must have electronic screeners… restaurants, too!”

 

As witnessed above, in tragedy, we’re tempted to rush to both judgment and solution.  Why?  Because otherwise we have to admit that evil exists.  What James Holmes did Thursday night was evil.  It was wicked.  There are few other ways to authentically describe it.

 

The inherent challenge for us then is that no legislation or philosophical explanation can eradicate wickedness.  We can’t simply “fix it.”  Hence, what can we do?

 

We can fix our thoughts on what is good and pure and right…

 

We can focus on the victims… the young man who dove in front of his girlfriend, shielding her from the bullets… the 6 year old girl… the newlywed… the young female sports reporter… focusing on their innocence.

We can focus on the community… how people work together…  support one another… law enforcement… leaders and politicians…  focusing on what we have in common instead of this divisive crud.

We can focus on a God who knows far more than us… humbling ourselves… recognizing we can’t possibly have all the answers… focusing on the comfort that only an omniscient power can provide.

 

This post doesn’t offer any answers.  It also doesn’t answer any “why’s” or “what if’s,” and it certainly doesn’t provide a so-called solution to the “problem.”  The Intramuralist simply suggests that  wickedness isn’t something we can “fix.”

 

Finally… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — think about such things.

 

Yes, we would be wise to think of them.

 

Respectfully,

AR

i see dead people

Funny thing about dead people.  They can’t talk.

Funny thing about us.  We talk about dead people.

 

Remember the deceased can’t talk nor talk back.  They can’t respond to the words we say nor the impressions we have.  They can’t affirm what’s right nor correct what’s wrong.  Hence, I wonder what they’d say…

 

Thinking back over the years… what would John F. Kennedy say?  By most historical accounts, it seems an inspiring sense of optimism evolved via JFK’s leadership.  There was something contagious in how this charismatic, young politician spoke… how he dreamed… how he challenged…

 

  • “To whom much is given, much is required.” 
  • “Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.”  
  • “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal.”

 

Yet after only an approximate 1000 days, JFK died in his political prime.  While for some this prompted increased reverence, romanticism, and historical rewrites, there’s much the public learned after Kennedy died.  There were reports regarding affairs with multiple women.  There were reports of serious health ailments and prescribed drug usage for those problems.  There were questions as to how the medications impacted his infidelity.

 

I wonder what Kennedy would say.  What was intentional?  What did his wife know?  What would you tell us if you could speak?

 

More recently, what would Joe Paterno say?  Among the NCAA’s winningest football coaches, Paterno led Penn State and contributed significantly to academic life, donating over $4 million to the State College campus.  There was something unique in how this career coach spoke… how he motivated… how he challenged…

 

  • “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.”
  • “Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.”
  • “It’s hard for me to explain. I don’t have an ego. I’m going to work to give these kids a chance to win. If we win, it’s theirs.“

 

Yet after 46 years as the Nittany Lion coach, Paterno’s former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested on 40 counts of child sexual abuse over a 15 year span.  While Paterno passed away this past January, investigations continued at Penn State.  There are now reports of conspiracy and cover up.  There are questions as to what the coaching staff and administration knew.

 

I wonder what Paterno would say.  What did he know?  What other motivations were relevant?  What would you tell us if you could speak?

 

And finally, 3 days ago, Steven M. Covey died.  Covey wrote the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Unlike JFK and Joe Paterno, there is no residual scandal; hence, I think I know what he would tell us if he could speak…

 

  1. Be Proactive.  Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the consequences that follow.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind.  Self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals.
  3. Put First Things First.  Prioritize, plan, and execute your week’s tasks based on importance rather than urgency.
  4. Think Win-Win.  Genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships.
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.  Use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you.
  6. Synergize.  Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals no one person could have done alone.
  7. Sharpen the Saw.  Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.

 

Personally, I like #5 best.  We could all work to understand a little more…  especially understanding dead people… especially not assuming we know all.

 

Respectfully,

AR