Disagree to Disagree

I don’t get to read as much purely entertaining fiction as I’d like. They’re like dessert for me, so I don’t ingest them as much as the vegetables I end up reading and studying instead. But with our recent Fall Break trip to the mountains, I decided to treat myself by reading one of my favorite authors.

 

I read a book about a group of people taken hostage by a bank robber. (FYI: This was not a Grisham-like thriller. It was a charming and funny, character-driven story set in Sweden.) The basic idea was that these eight people with dissimilar personalities and established prejudices and heavy emotional baggage are thrown together in a traumatic situation, and they come out on the other side not as strangers, but as something more like family. They experience a potentially life-or-death situation, resulting in a new understanding of those people who lived in a different “universe” (though they all physically live in Sweden) than them.

 

I have been stewing over this story since I finished reading it a week ago. I keep thinking about if it’s really possible for a person’s entrenched perspective to change. Can years of hurt and misinformation actually move aside for a new view to form? What do we do with people we disagree with? Especially when it’s something we think is important and central to our entire moral code?

 

Dr. Christena Cleveland thoughtfully lays out the issues with division in her book Disunity in Christ where she devotes a lot of time discussing perspective divergence or what she calls the gold standard effect. “Basically, the gold standard effect leads us to believe that not only are we different from them, but we are also better than them…When we adopt a unique group identity and surround ourselves with similar ingroup members, we essentially create our own alternate universe in which we believe that the standards, ideals, and goals of our ingroup should become the new ‘normal’.” She explains that most of us like to live in homogenous worlds where all the people think and act and vote the same as us. And when our Gold Standard view is challenged, there is often hostility. (And when it’s challenged on social media…watch out! Sparks will fly!)

 

We’re living in period of heightened division, and as much as I’d like to think it will all clear up after November 3, I feel like these hurt feelings and angry comments will still be hanging over lots of relationships like a dark raincloud. Someone much smarter than me should suggest how to repair these divisions across our country, but in the meantime, I have a plea for those of us who are a part of the body of Christ.

 

Just like those fictional characters in the Swedish novel I read who survived a life-or-death situation and came out different people—realizing they were more alike than different—those of us who claim to be made new by the One who lived and died for us should be willing to love each other without hurting each other so frequently. Strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, friends and even those who worship at the same church are tearing into each other on social media because they don’t agree.

 

Here’s my advice, the next time you begin to type a comment which tears down the person who posted it have a conversation with yourself. Maybe it can go a little something like this: “Wait…Is this comment I’ve formed in my mind using my own Gold Standard going to punch this brother/sister in the gut? Is it a personal attack? Is there some motivation behind this person’s post which I’m unable to see? I was in a life-or-death hostage situation with this person and by the blood of Christ and God’s overwhelming mercy, we both barely made it out to the other side. If what I’m planning to say is really that important to me, I’ll call this brother/sister up and talk about it privately. Otherwise, I’ll move on. I realize that’s a lot more work than a hastily written 10-word comment displayed for all to see my brilliant assessment of recent political events, but I am not lazy. Looking to Christ’s example, I am a servant.”

Donut cloud

A few days before we took our twin daughters to different cities to move into their respective college dorm rooms, I found myself in a parking lot sitting in my van at our older son’s soccer practice attempting to concentrate enough to read a book. Though it was mid-August, it was especially breezy and almost pleasant.

I looked up and noticed a strange cloud in the evening sky. It looked like a ginormous, fluffy donut with the sun shining through the hole. I snapped a picture of it with my phone and tried to get back to my detective novel and the page I had already read ten times without comprehension or any idea of who the murderer was.

 

Seconds later, I glanced back up at the sky again and saw that the donut cloud had disappeared, blown away by the gusty wind.

The moment was gone, and I suddenly found myself crying. It didn’t help that I was also watching a dad heft two pink bikes which belonged to his young daughters into the back of his pickup truck. One of the girls was pouting because she didn’t want to leave, but the dad barely registered her disappointment. As he continued to load up, the girl grouchily made her way to the back seat of the truck, moving in that way that kids do when they want to show their resistance to a command while simultaneously obeying you. Her arms hung limply at her sides and her feet moved forward an inch at a time without bending her knees.

 

I knew that my tears weren’t really about clouds or even hot pink bicycles. I knew I was feeling the weight of my daughters’ approaching departure from home, just as I knew they were ready to go and on their way to great things. Over the weekend before they moved out, I’ll admit I was pretty teary-eyed. It got so bad that our 9-year old noticed. One day he warily approached me and said, “Hey, mom. That’s a nice shirt. Where did you get it?” I looked down and saw I was wearing the $5 gray Old Navy flag shirt which we each owned an identical version of. I could tell it was time to get myself together.

 

I needed some strategies to survive this new phase. I was already planning to avoid going in my girls’ shared bedroom. I wasn’t going to sit on their beds and stroke their bedspreads and smell the clothes they left behind. Uh-uh. No way. That’s a suicide mission. Instead, I started praying. I began a dialogue with God about what I was feeling and fearing. I told him I was blessed and beholden. I asked him to protect them and point them in the right direction. And I consistently received the same 4-word sentences: “Your world is expanding” and “God is big enough”.

Additionally, a couple of Scriptures have begun a rotation in my thoughts:

“Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God! Do you know how God controls the storm and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds? Do you understand how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill?” (Job 37)

“I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32)

Nearly a week after the donut cloud, my girls were all moved into their new rooms—curtains and pictures were hung, throw pillows were fluffed and area rugs were unfurled. (I’m guessing this will be a really different process with my next kids…two boys) Now I can see why my heart is feeling this heaviness. What I’m realizing is that it’s not just that I’ll miss them—their help with their younger brothers, their stories after school and before bedtime, their general presence in the kitchen while I’m cooking or on the sofa while I’m watching TV—it’s an acknowledgement that things will never quite be the same. It’s like that fleeting moment with the donut cloud. The new cloud arrangement wasn’t bad, in fact it was doing just what clouds are supposed to do—move and change and re-form. I’m just happy I looked up from my book in time to see it.

Birds

I have a kind of love/hate relationship with birds. I’ve written posts about them working together as a group, eating from our bird feeder, and terrorizing our gutters.

I love the idea of them—their beauty, their gracefulness, their little birdy tunes whistling through the trees—but I don’t want them too awfully close to my personal vicinity. I decorate my home with whimsical paintings and lamps and ceramic figurines of songbirds, but the real ones need to stay outside.

 

Maybe I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at a formative age and developed a real aversion to them. Or maybe having birds fly down our chimney and enter our basement as if they’d unknowingly flown into their worst nightmare when I was growing up has made me assume they would peck my eyes out if only given the chance.

 

When I was in elementary school, our librarian rescued a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. She brought it school where it lived in a little cage that sat on the checkout counter. I remember observing the tiny bird that was mostly pink skin and frail bones. Every so often, Baby Bird would let out a pitiful squeak, and the librarian would prepare the bird’s food, filling an eye dropper with some whitish, liquid concoction. She would squeeze a few drops into the open bird mouth, and the food would almost instantaneously come out the other end. Needless to say, Baby Bird didn’t make it.

 

When my husband and I were first married and living in Memphis, we spent a lot of time with other newlywed couples. Most of us didn’t have kids yet, but a few had pets. One couple had two cockatiels— “Mr. Tumnus” and “Prince Caspian” which they adored. When we would gather at their apartment, they would let the birds fly freely around their living room. Such a treat, except for my crippling fear of eye-pecking and bird-pooping.

 

I’m not sure why I have this conflicted relationship with birds. I admire them, fear them, eat them and appreciate them all at the same time. I look at the amazing things they’re capable of—making nests out of twigs and fluff, laying eggs and caring for those babies, warbling their lovely birdsong, displaying their marvelous and colorful feathers. Still there is something that makes me nervous when I’m near them. Their actions are seem unpredictable, and this scares me.

 

To be honest, I find myself having conflicted relationships with people, too. Humans are also capable of so much—kindness and cruelty, beauty and destruction, love and hate. Sometimes we’re as frail as that baby bird in the library. And other times we are regal and free to fly (and poop) without restraint. And still they are times when we are afraid, flying into a new place and attacking those trying to help us out.

 

We are also like birds because we go through seismic changes throughout our lives. Birds go from egg to flying creature, and we (hopefully) go from immature child to wise adult. These changes are necessary.

 

According to C.S. Lewis (whose literary characters some people name their cockatiels after): “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

 

Let’s be willing to make these changes so we can have the opportunity to soar!

I will change your name

When my husband and I found out we were having twins, we were a bit like Noah filling his ark—most everything came in 2’s. Two cribs, two car seats, two bouncy seats, a double stroller. We also had to come up with two names.

Before we knew we would have twin girls, we came up with a boy name and a girl name: Sam and Ella. They were short and sweet and sounded pretty good together. “Sam! Ella! It’s time for dinner!” “Sam and Ella, did you brush your teeth?” But the more I practiced saying the names aloud, the more I realized that they weren’t all that great as a combo. If said quickly, Sam and Ella can evolve into Sam ‘n Ella. Then it’s just a short trip to salmonella. Not wanting to name my babies after the bacteria that causes food poisoning, we kept looking.

Luckily, we had two beautiful baby girls—Lucy and Ella. (And it was only a couple of times that someone thought I said Lucy and Ethel.)

Coming up with that perfect name can be a fairly stressful task for expecting parents. So much seems to ride on a person’s name. Does it sound good paired with a powerful handshake? “Nice to meet you. My name is (insert assertive sounding name here).” Or how about: “All rise. The honorable Judge (don’t-mess-with-me name) presiding.”

When I get a chance to do a little creative writing, one of my favorite activities is coming up with characters’ names. For me, it’s the first step in making fictional people real.

Although we place a great deal of weight on naming someone, our names don’t have to forever define us. I love that God takes the time to change the names of some people in the Bible. Abram and Sarai become Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarah (mother of nations) to show that they would have countless descendants. After Jacob wrestles with God, his negative name changes from “supplanter” (he would unseat his twin brother) to Israel which means “triumphant with God.”

Jesus gave James and John the nickname “sons of thunder,” possibly for their fiery tempers. He took one look at the fisherman Simon and changed his name to Peter which means “rock”.

Most of these new names describe what these people would become, not their present situation. God looked into the future to see that Abram and Sarai, a childless couple, would be parents to more children than the stars in the sky. When others saw an impulsive, inflexible, dirty fisherman named Simon, Jesus saw a firm place (a rock) to build his church.

Though it would be impractical to legally change our names to something new, it is possible to redefine who we are with the help of a mighty God.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea was exceptionally obedient to God’s calling. He was even willing to live out the most inconvenient morality play in human history. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and give their children specific names to describe God’s displeasure with the Israelites. Their first child was named after a massacre that occurred in a place called Jezreel. The next two children were named Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”) and Lo-Ammi (“not my people”). That’s pretty harsh.

But our merciful God didn’t leave it there. In the next chapter the Lord explains that He will pursue His sinful people. “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’”

If you feel that your name is Unloved or Unwanted, allow God to change your name and your heart. It is in His power to do it.

Good guy or bad guy?

Watching movies with Ezra, our five-year old son, is not exactly relaxing, that is, unless you like to give a running commentary explaining dialogue, plot twists, character analysis, and generally how the movie will end for 90 minutes nonstop.

His most frequent question is: “Mom, good guy or bad guy?” Pointing to the questionable character on the TV screen—the one who just lost his temper or just laughed in a creepy way or just stole something, Ezra will interrogate me for information so that he can guess what might happen next. He is trying to formulate which characters he should root for and which characters he should hope will fail.

His “good guy or bad guy” questions aren’t just limited to when we’re watching movies. When he saw the characters from the movie Frozen on our paper towels (don’t judge…they were on sale), he pointed to Elsa, the ice queen who selfishly turns her kingdom to ice and consequently endangers her little sister just because she feels like “letting go.”

“Good guy or bad guy?” he asked as I slid a piece of toast on top of Elsa’s picture. He’s seen the movie several times so he knows that Elsa’s actions are bad, but in the end (spoiler alert) she makes things right with her sister. Good or bad? That’s a tricky philosophical dilemma to wrestle with at 6:30 a.m.

Before bed, I read Ezra a book about the story of Zacchaeus, the man who was too short to see Jesus as he was teaching to a crowd of people. As the song says, “He climbed up in a Sycamore tree. The Savior he wanted to see.” I read the story which touched on Zacchaeus’ reputation as a dishonest tax collector. Then Ezra pointed to the picture of Zacchaeus and asked: “Good guy or bad guy?”

I explained, “Zacchaeus was a bad guy then he decided to be a good guy. Sometimes people change, especially after they meet Jesus.”

I thought a lot about our conversation. I thought about Ezra’s need to categorize people into good and bad and I thought about the monumental task of changing your status and reputation from one side to the other.

When word got out that Jesus had eaten at Zacchaeus’ house, Jesus was confronted by the people of the town. They couldn’t believe that he had dined with a “notorious sinner.” Zacchaeus could’ve decided that he had too much bad press to hurtle in order to change his life around but instead he promised to give back all that he owed and then some. This had to be difficult and fraught with a variety of consequences.

I went back to read the story again and I was surprised to see that it took place in Jericho, best known for its wall that came tumbling down after the Israelites marched around it for a week. It may be a coincidence that this interaction between Jesus (Prince of Peace and Light of the World) and Zacchaeus (town creep) happened in a place known for tearing down walls that prevent people from realizing their Promised Land. Or maybe that’s what Jesus is all about. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

MacGyvering

I’ve always been impressed by resourceful people. When things look bleak, these amazing pioneers show imagination and gumption. They don’t let the negativity of the situation determine their attitude or the eventual outcome. Sometimes I worry this skill set may be disappearing.

 

Take my childhood, for example. When my sisters and I got bored in the grocery store or in the line at the bank, we would entertain ourselves. We didn’t have mom’s phone to play games or watch videos. Instead, we would make up activities.

 

We would take turns pretending that we were blind so that the “sighted” sister could guide us around the clothes racks. (“Oops, sorry” was an oft-repeated phrase from the “sighted” sister as the “blind” sister ran into mirrored columns and walls.)

 

Another favorite pastime during the hours of errand-running boredom was to tie a string into a circle and play string games like “Cat’s Cradle” and “Soldier’s Bed.” When there wasn’t a string nearby, we would pull the elastic from the waistband of our underwear to make one. Now that’s resourceful. (Our mom might have preferred we had less saggy underwear instead of bugging her while she shopped at Castner-Knott. Actually, it was probably a toss-up.)

 

Back in the 1990’s there was a show called MacGyver. In every episode, MacGyver would get into a pickle—often bound and gagged in a locked room—and he had to keep his wits to get out of it. At some point, everything looked hopeless: the timer on the bomb counted backwards to zero or MacGyver heard heavy footsteps of the armed and angry villains just a few feet away.

 

MacGyver had to ignore the desperateness of his circumstances. He had to still his fear long enough to take stock of what he had available to him.

 

Wrists and ankles tied up? No problem. He can melt the plastic zip ties with a wire coat hanger and space heater. Giant missile about to explode and destroy a Russian orphanage? Don’t sweat it. He can diffuse a missile with a paper clip and a wad of chewed gum.

 

The show has been satirized for its unrealistic ridiculousness, but you still have to appreciate this guy’s abilities. For me, even more than his knowledge of lock-picking, safe-cracking, and bomb-diffusing, I’m impressed by his unrelenting optimism.

 

There are times when I can get pretty low. The news tells me that we live under a constant threat of danger for our lives and our way of life, and it’s only getting worse. It tells me to fear everyone and everything around me.

 

But what if I take a page from MacGyver’s life? What if I look around at what’s available to me and then I act? I don’t sit in a corner and give up in despair. And I don’t waste time casting blame on others. Instead, I look for ways to make things better. I don’t run away from problems, but I stay and save others from harm. Let’s use our resourcefulness to make this world a better place.

I Love Fall

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Fall is for brown-eyed brunettes. It’s our time to shine. Our mousy brown locks suddenly takes on streaks of auburn and honey-gold in the slanting afternoon sunlight. We can easily pull off warm, autumnal colors. That’s why our wardrobe is full of chocolate brown.

 

Speaking of chocolate, Fall is also for the less-than-slender. Gone are the summer days when you had to wrestle your way into a bathing suit. Now our outfits are like onions—layer upon layer. We are even able to wear skinny jeans or even jeggings because the roly-poly parts will be covered in over-sized tunics and long shirts, sweaters and sweatshirts.

 

Now that you mention it: Fall is for sweatshirts. What can possibly match the blissful feeling of slipping into a big hooded sweatshirt on a chilly day? You remove the uncomfortable business casual you’ve lived in for the past eight hours. Then you sigh and bask in the relief offered by the fleecy soft inside of your favorite hoodie. Once properly attired, you can prop up your feet and watch TV or a crackling fire.

 

Fall is for bonfires. The sooty smell is unmistakable on an autumn night. If you are fortunate enough to be present at a bonfire, you bring home the bonfire smell on your clothes and in your hair. It lingers like a perfume and it speaks of more than just scent. It says that you are rugged and you like being outdoors. It also says you enjoy s’mores over an open fire.

 

Besides the bonfire scent, Fall smells of cinnamon and wet leaves. It smells like silk floral wreaths and roasted pumpkin seeds, chili in the crockpot and cornbread in the oven.

 

I’m so grateful to live in a place with changing seasons. Fall comes at exactly the right moment for me. I welcome Summer when it comes calling around Memorial Day, but I’m never sad to see it go. By late September, I’m ready for something different.

 

The author of Ecclesiastes saw the beauty of changing seasons: “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.” (NLT)

 

Sometimes life seems to be spinning out of control. Changes come as uninvited guests. If we choose to relinquish our role as “spinner of the universe,” we might see these changes as opportunities. We might see this new season as a gift.