Tuesday, February 26, 2013

“Wait, what are we teaching our daughters…?”

“The fairest one of all…”

Let me start with a disclaimer; I’m not on a witch hunt and I don’t believe in burning or banning books or any other art form.

That being said, my musings as of late have been directed towards what the media and art are teaching us about our daughters, about ourselves, and about men.  Growing up I’m sure all of us read and or watched different fairy tales with a princess, a prince (or some other form of hero), an evil queen (or vizier), and a story of romance.  All of those stories had a very important element in common: the princess was beautiful.  Perfect skin (adolescence? Nailed it!) , perfect hair (humidity has no power here!), and a teensy little waste that revealed not only super genes but also super self control (or maybe just eating Paleo…I’m not really sure).  Oh!  And let’s not forget the kind of voice that would impress even Simon Caldwell (that’s the grumpy guy from American Idol, right?). 

On the flip side, the prince was much the same.  Good looking (Fabio would cower in his presence), perfect body (step aside Arnold…ok, maybe not that big), and innate fighting skills.  Also?  Pretty stinkin’ shallow if you ask me.  After all, most of the heroes in these stories are infatuated almost immediately with the heroine.  Why?  Basically because they’re hot.  Love at first sight!  Eyes meeting from across the room and, BAM!  True love!  Sound like lust to anyone else out there?

Now granted, these stories weren’t all bad.  In Snow White the worship of beauty is condemned in the evil Queen.  In Beauty and the Beast, Bell falls in love with a guy who looks like a werewolf (we’ll give her bestiality a pass since he actually was a human), showing that seeing past the exterior is important.  Jasmine falls for Aladdin even though he’s a poor thief (let’s face it, dude needed to get a job).  But ultimately, most of these people were really, really ridiculously good looking, and I think sometimes, this elevates physical appearance a bit too much in our minds.

I remember hitting puberty in Junior High and thinking that no one could ever love me because of the way I looked.  Life felt so unfair.  Why did some girls seem to coast through the awkward years while I had to look like a chubby monkey with frizzy hair and acne?  No guy would want to buy me a teddy bear like the other girls at school.  I would never get a valentine.  And why?  Because I wasn’t pretty.

Maybe I’m the only one who thought that, but I don’t believe that’s the case, not after working with Junior High girls for almost five years now.  This is an especially hard time because puberty is awkward and you’re just getting past thinking guys have coodies.  Add to that the years of hearing stories about beautiful princesses ending up with the prince and I think it makes it even harder.  Worse still, the advertisements and entertainment filling our heads are replete with women altered by computers and make up and squeezed into revealing costumes that cast them as nothing more than sexual objects to be used.

We don’t do much better for the men in our culture.  Either they are stupid and lazy (a fact the proclaim from the roof tops constantly) or they too are objects to satisfy sexual desire.  The pictures we see of them are just as provocative as the ones we see of women: cut to perfection, shining with “sweat” (body oil), and staring sensitively into the camera. 

All the while we attempt to proclaim that looks don’t matter, that judging someone on the basis of their appearance is the most vile of offenses, and that character is important.  We’re mixing our signals, screwing up our brainwaves…we’re harming ourselves. 

It’s not an easy thing to fix or to avoid; the media is everywhere and even good stories like the classic fairy tales risk filling our brains with lies, but I think if we paid a little more attention to what we were consuming we might be able to fight it better.  Don’t stop watching Cinderella; consider what underlying thought process it might create.  Don’t ban Sleeping beauty; watch it/read it/listen to it/whatever with a filter.  Talk to your kids about the story thoughtfully…talk to yourself about the story…and then consider what the bible has to say about you, what God has to say…

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman (or man) who fears the LORD is to be praised.”  Proverbs 31:30

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Making Enemies of Each Other

I have a love hate relationship with social media. It’s a great way to connect with people you aren’t physically close to, makes event planning quick and cheap, and stalking- uh, I mean, enjoying your friends pictures much easier but, like most things, it has a dark side (insert Death Star Music here). Aside from the obvious promotion of narcissism (really your whole page is kind of an alter to yourself, even if only a mini-version) it often serves as a platform for belief statements devoid of context said without enough thought or care for those viewing it.

Never was this more obvious than during the election last year. Or the Chick-fil-e uproar. Or pretty much anything involving politics ever. The problem wasn’t so much that people were exercising free speech, that’s a very good thing, the problem was the way in which it was (and almost always is) done. Blanket statements fueled by raw emotion and little explanation drew lines In the sand, dumped gasoline on flames, and created conflict that easily could have been avoided. They were the enemy, we were the heroes, their opinions were stupid if not evil, ours were logical and good…Pick a side any side, pick an issue any issue. Neither was innocent of countless logical fallacies and name calling, every side lobbed verbal bombs at the other behind the bunker of our computers (Hiding Behind the Bunker of Your Computer). Rather than having discussions based on a desire for real relational dialogue, it was war…and mostly a war against those we chose to forget were feeling, thinking human beings.

This can happen in face to face debates as easily as it can via Social Media, but I think the danger becomes more severe when you can hide behind a computer screen. It’s easier to forget that the person you are murdering with your words is one that God created in His own image (Genesis 1:27), knit together in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), has written a story for. It’s easier to stick to a side than consider a relationship. It’s easier to cast the one you disagree with as the bad guy instead of a neighbor the Holy God of the Universe commands us to love (Matthew 22:36-40).

I’m guilty of this myself even though I don’t like to admit it. I blog because I love to write and having it be somewhat public keeps me disciplined but even long explanations lack the benefit of relational dialogue. Still, I hope as I write I can be sensitive to my audience, an encourager rather than one who condemns. So my encouragement today is that we would all be more careful about what we toss into the social media for everyone to see and that we would reserve certain discussions for face to face conversations with a desire to love on the other person rather than being right.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Friday, February 15, 2013

Read Consider the Cross Before it's Cool

Be forewarned: shameless plug ahead. 
I'd planned on writing this beautiful review of Consider the Cross, making you cry with my introduction and basically making it impossible for you to do anything other that head over to Amazon and buy yourself a copy.  Unfortuneately, I've spent a great deal of time reading for my Covenant Theology class that starts up tonight and so I can no longer brain (read: communicate basically at all...my brain is currently mush).  Instead, I'm just going to provide you with a pretty picture (*points below*) and encourage you to support a wonderful writer who has decided to enter the somewhat shakey world of self publishing. 
The author of the blog I Still Hate Pickles (otherwise known as Kirsent Oliphant) has also written and self published one other book and a Christmas devotional that you really should check out.  Her wisdom and insight coupled with honesty and vulnerability make excellent writing and enjoyable reads.  With the way my brain is functioning today I cannot do her justice at all, so please go check out her blog and then head over to amazon.  It's only a few bucks and definitley worth the money.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Drinking Poison

“I will never forgive you for that, so stop asking.”

"The longer we dwell on our misfortunes the greater is their power to harm us.”  Voltaire

When I was in elementary school, I was deeply hurt by someone I trusted, and I never thought I could forgive that person.  Above my head I waved the flag of innocent “victim”, firmly believing in my right to hate the one who hurt me, to see myself as excused for evil thoughts and the like.  I held onto this for years and though I prayed about it some, I didn’t really confront it until college.  On the stairs of my dorm room I broke down, crying into the phone to my mom, feeling a hairsbreadth away from sanity.  I wondered if somehow my overactive imagination had created some awful lie, questioned my own memories, and feared that the only way to find peace in my soul would be to meet the past event head on.  This very thought was utterly terrifying, but it was the only light in a tunnel of darkness I’d gotten lost in.

Over Thanksgiving Break I wrote a letter; hands shaking, heart racing, stomach sick.  I thought I might have been going crazy, considered just forgetting the whole thing and leaving it behind, but into the mail it went, off into oblivion it seemed and all I could do was wait.  Wait and pray. 

Then the letter came.

I was almost as terrified of receiving it as being ignored, but the words on the page, confirmation of my memories, were actually freeing.  An apology followed, a humble request for forgiveness, and my heart wanted to harden. 

“…this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

I had a right to hate this person.  I had a right to let them suffer without forgiveness.  I had a right to cut him off.  But this was all just another one of the lies I’d chosen to believe; a lie that hurt me as much as it hurt the one I was choosing not to forgive; a lie that offended One Who has forgiven me more than I will ever have to forgive.  This truth, the truth that the Holy God I offended not only forgave my sin but poured His very own blood out for it softened my heart.  It was a slow process, like thick ice melting as spring comes, but this love and truth eventually gave me the strength to pour out forgiveness myself. 

It was only then that I really started to heal, really stopping feeling the effects of the wrong done to me years and years ago.  The poison of withholding forgiveness had hurt me more than the initial sin.  I had exacerbated the problem, choosing to ignore it, poisoning myself all the while thinking I was actually protecting myself.  Thankfully, God did not leave me there.  He shined a spotlight in my eyes so bright I couldn’t ignore it.  He reminded me with loving words what He did for me, what I’ve been forgiven.  It wasn’t by shaking a finger at me that God won me over; it was with open, loving arms.

The hurt isn’t gone and never will be in this life, but I can say that since God gave me the strength to forgive I have healed significantly.  Moreover, I learned that it is not my right to withhold forgiveness, that I am commanded to give it freely as I have been forgiven myself.  God does this for my own good and for His glory.  My prayer is that I will continue to remember this, and always be willing to forgive.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”  Ephesians 4:32

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

"Being Alone"

I believe a lie.  I believe that if I never experience romantic love, if I never get married, I will end up alone.  This, of course, is complete nonsense, but I hear the phrase “end up alone” in relation to romantic love constantly.  The very idea that one might never “find somebody to love” (a Queen reference is always appropriate) is viewed as so intolerable (by humans?  By society?  All of the above?) that the alternative is loneliness and worse still, some sort of punishment or a failure on the “old maid” or “eternal bachelor”.  I doubt anyone would accuse a sweet old lady or man who never married of such things, but the idea sort of skims beneath the surface of messages in the media, books, even art.  It’s so prevalent that it sort of sears itself into the mind, turning it into a core belief. 

I thought maybe I was the only one who believed this lie, the only one with such a screwed up view of love and life in general, but the more I browse the internet (yes, I admit again that I have a pintrest problem) the more I become aware that this is not the case.  Women joke about being alone, about feeling dorky around guys they like, about watching full seasons of their favorite show on a Friday night because they have no love lives (*cough* I’d never do that *cough*) and far too often chalk up a lack of romance to the fact that they, in some way, are not good enough.  No matter how unsound such logic is (we’re all screwed up, even the pretty people) it’s a difficult belief to shake.  And the terribly sad thing is, that such a lie elevates romantic love to being this unattainable thing we begin to worship.  It becomes an in-crowd we fear we will never enter.  It becomes an injustice we suffer at the cruel hands of fate.  A punishment we receive for doing something wrong.

This is a lie, but I think it’s a lie that tells us something about ourselves.  Romantic love is different than other kinds of love.  Within a family you love each other because you are family; you don’t chose them, but you will always love them no matter how weird they are or what stupid things they do.  Romantic love (something I can admit I don’t quite understand) is more of a choice.  No, not a choice (see?  I don’t get it.)  It’s like winning a prize, being viewed as desirable in some way whether it be character or personality or beauty or all of the above.  It’s a desire to know and be known more intimately than any other relationship you’ll ever have.  It’s an enigma to me because I’ve never experienced it.   Maybe this is a poor description of this sort of love, maybe it’s only the world’s description, or maybe…maybe it’s part of the lie.  Still, it reveals a deep desire of our hearts (or maybe just mine because I don’t know yours).  We want to be desired, to be known, to not be alone.

But romantic love will never really fulfill this desire.  We are humans and we fail each other no matter how deep our love runs.  We are selfish and sinful and rotten to the core.  Everything we do is tainted no matter how we try.  There is only one love that will ever fulfill this desire and that is the love of God.  And the thing about His love is that He knows just how rotten we are, just how wicked and screwed up and wayward and yet He died that we might be called his “bride”, that we might be in His inner circle.  No friend or family member or husband or wife will ever be able to do something like that.  More beautiful still is that this love story smashes to pieces the lie I believe.  As His daughter I am never alone.  I am indwelled by His Holy Spirit and part of His body, the Church.  So even if I never get married and never have children and end up an “old maid” (we seriously need another term for this, just sayin’), I will not be spending my life alone.  We are part of the greatest inner circle whose mission is to glorify its creator and call out to others to come in. 

My prayer is that I will start to believe this.  I know it to be true, but I need to get it in my head, bury it deep with in.  Only then will I be freed up to worry less about being accepted and more about making sure others are accepted and loved, only then will I cease to feel that twinge of bitterness when a friend gets married and truly be able to rejoice with them.  I still hope for marriage one day, but I am praying for a contented joy that fills my entire being because I know Who is with me ‘till the end of the earth.