Category Archives: culture
J.K. Rowling first dreamed up Harry Potter in 1990, while on a train from Manchester to London. She finished the story in 2007 with the final book in the seven novel epic. Now, that’s a long story. Those who followed it all the way to its conclusion were held in suspense until the very last pages. We were all surprised by the ending — all of us, that is, except J.K. Rowling. She clearly had planned it all from the very beginning; she always knew how it would end.
This is the wonder of a great story and the gift of the great storyteller. They plot everything precisely and then make us wait for the surprise ending. While we wait, our anticipation grows, preparing us for the BIG finish! In the end, what we couldn’t possibly have imagined happening surprises us, and we’re completely gob-smacked by the satisfaction we feel. If we had skipped ahead to the conclusion, it would be empty. We’d have an ending, but no resolution.
It’s tempting in today’s world to want to fast forward things. Our technology and consumer conveniences make it possible to skip the lines, avoid the traffic, and tape the game so we can fast forward through the commercials. Stories aren’t meant to be experienced this way. They take their time, just like our lives do. That’s a good thing, right? Who wants to rush to the end?
But really, why not? If what God has promised is so much better than what we’ve got, why not fast-forward us to the good part? Perhaps because the God who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Eph 3:20), is still working on us.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:20
God, the great storyteller, is telling His story by His power that is at work within us. For the satisfying resolution to make sense to us, we have to read all the way through to our last page.
We’re not meant to jump to the end of our lives without reading the middle parts. Something of God grows up in our lives as we learn to lead them. It will allow us, with all the Lord’s holy people, to stand before the love of Christ that is so much more than anyone could ever ask or imagine and find ourselves completely filled by it. (Eph 3: 14-20) Hard to believe, right?
Definitely. Yet, if Ms. Rowling had told me in Book 3 how Harry’s story would end, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have believed it either. It took four more books to develop the breadth of things which ushered me into the only ending that made sense.
So, even though from my vantage point on this side of my life story, the path to a happy ending may look narrow and perilous, to the God who conceived, wrote and is still writing it, it’s a broad expanse. It’ll take a lifetime’s filling of His Spirit for me to see and believe just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for me. Surprise!!
Perhaps this is what the late Steve Jobs saw on his deathbed as he uttered his last recorded words: “Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.” Can you imagine what would make an inventor, creator, and visionary like Jobs say that? Yeah, me neither. Guess we’ll just have to wait.
It’s interesting how language lives. It upgrades. It downgrades. It takes to the streets and to the wires and the wireless: it is news, radio and late night tv. Who would have ever imagined there would be an urban dictionary? Who could have predicted that words today would have such different meanings than they did yesterday?
Yep. How we use words is a-changin,’ and not just generation to generation, but person to person, thanks to popular culture characters and personalities in the news. We seem to keep finding new ways to express things for an impact. As Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat, helped us discover, “Not so much” is a very useful expression. Other things he had to say, not so much.
One must guard, though, against the imprecision of words which may on the surface appear harmless, but in fact have significant impact. The word of concern to me right now is “sad.” Recently I have heard so many applications of “sad.” As in, that’s sad, they are so sad, that was just sad, such a sad country, a sad, sad person.
Is it sad? Or am I sad? Because these are two very different things that have become entwined, perhaps to our peril.
Much in our world today makes me feel sad, but it is not sad. It may be cruel, unjust, uncivil or unkind. It may be ignorant, ill-informed or ill-advised. It may be belligerent and abusive or fraudulent and deceptive. But I would challenge us to get better at addressing it by being more precise with our language.
Sad doesn’t capture it. Giving it the “sad” label, which has become popular, may be intended to express our discontent, but this misses the mark, and diminishes these:
Sad is… losing a parent, a child, a spouse, a beloved friend.
Sad is… getting a potentially deadly diagnosis.
Sad is… hearing your season, your career, your life is finished.
Sad is… you’re out of a job, evicted from your house, no longer welcome.
That is sadness. It is an emotion. Often accompanied by deep, gut-wrenching, heart-racking sobs which come from a depth you didn’t know you had. That is true sadness.
Using ‘that is sad’ for a behavior, choice, policy, proposal, or person is a stand in for our disappointment, discontent and perhaps even disbelief. We are angry, disgusted by what we see, hear or read. But that is not sad. We are sad. Let’s say what we mean.
Sad, in its current linguisity (if that’s not a word, it should be), as a label, is lazy. But more than this, it allows us to dismiss something we don’t like by concluding that this is terminal case. Nothing to do about this one. “That’s sad” has become an off-hand way to dismiss people, things, and practices. It’s a “safe” way to have the last word, pretending to have empathy because sad sounds like a feeling. I am entitled to my feelings. You can’t disagree with sad.
In fact, when used this way, sad is not a feeling, it’s a label; a cowardly way to assign a category to what we can’t or would rather not deal with — distancing and dismissing it all at once.
The thing is, you and I are sad for a reason. True sadness invites me to sit with you and tell you how sorry I am. It asks, “Can I help you?” “What may I do for you?” “How can I pray for you?”
Let’s not succumb to putting the sad label on people as a cushion to rest on. Who are we to decide who and who isn’t a hopeless human? We are made to help.
In the faith that I follow, there is no such thing; no one is hopeless and no cause is hopeless. Our Lord went looking for that one very lost sheep, and when he found it, he carried it home. I’ll bet that lost sheep was very, very sad. But Jesus left the rest behind just to search for him.
No one is hopelessly lost, but our language certainly can make them sound that way. Can we revive our language. When we say “that is sad,” is that what we really mean? Or are we simply parroting a phrase made popular by a very human being? Instead, when we are sad, can we say so?
Can we sound out our own feelings and then use our language precisely? to describe, to admit, to honor, and to speak truth in love. Because love changes things. It brought that lost sheep all the way back home.
Me too…I am seeing it on Facebook posts, in comments and in conversation far and wide.
I am not sure where it came from, but it’s picking up steam. Why? Because it’s the skeleton in every woman’s closet, the elephant in every room. We’ve carried it cautiously, buried it fastidiously, and borne it boldly until someone tugged it out. Now we’re shocked at the commonness of our experience.
Me too. ME TOO. Me too, we type. We read and think, oh my, you too? And in confessing, we join hands. Fervently, supportively, collegially, then boldly and angrily, but to what effect? We’re angry with no place to put our anger.
Here’s the thing. Everyone who acknowledges and shares a “me too” takes themselves back to that moment in time and place and sensation. We re-live that abuse, that violation, that pain. That’s the way the mind works: our past, when recalled, becomes our present, even if it was a long, long time ago.
This is the invisible danger of the injury perpetrated by sexual harassment and abuse. Borne quietly, culturally dismissed, left unaddressed or without proper resolution, this wounding leaves scars. We are the nesting dolls of ourselves. Everything we have ever lived is re-shaped and covered over by layer upon layer of our next set of selves. Our minds hold the experience of our bodies, even when no scars are apparent. A “me too” campaign activates those all over again.
The pain out there is a real and present danger to full mind and body health. Seeing the magnitude of this effect leaves me both bereft and emboldened. It has me asking, How did what happened to me effect me? How has this behavior been perpetuated?
First, I thank God for the safe haven He provides me to return in my mind to the scene of this crime. A minor incident, I would call it, though my recollection after nearly thirty years would disavow that.
I didn’t say anything. What would I say? No harm done, no physical evidence, no witnesses. Confrontation would have risked elevation, exposure or worse, but I had no conscious thought of these things at the time. There was disgust, acknowledgement of my powerlessness and, yes, even consideration that somehow what I wore that day — skirt and top befitting a college professor in modern fashion — might have made me a target. Should I have been more observant? Was I too trusting of strangers? too naive? (How do we manage to re-work things to find ourselves at fault?)
Just imagine, all that percolation from a moment three decades old, which the “me too” project has bubbling to the surface. I don’t appreciate that, but here we are and I am very not alone. My question for me is, What do I do with my Me Too? Because victim is a role I have never played very well.
Here is my manifesto:
- As a woman, I have heard men say that their private misbehavior is no one else’s business. It is. It leaves lasting scars on the people they have wronged, both the victim of their sexual affront and the family which suffers under the weight of it. My to do: I will speak the truth to any individual who hides behind this lie.
- As a voter, I have heard our President confess that he has participated in sexual assault and then dismiss it as “locker room talk.” My to do: I will continue to cast my vote only for individuals who demonstrate good character and responsible behavior and NEVER for a professed and unrepentant assaulter.
- As a colleague and friend, I now realize that there are many women living with these secret wounds. My to do: I will offer a listening heart to those who want and need to share their story, hoping that some healing will come of this.
- As the mother of three daughters, I now realize how pervasive is the brokenness and sexual sin-sickness in the world they are entering as young adult women. My to do: I will boldly work for a safe and healthy world for them, demonstrating by my words and actions that gender fear has no place here.
- As a writer, I cannot leave these things unwritten or unsaid.
The “Me too” barrage has me marveling at the design of the human mind, equipped as it is, with memory prone to be prodded by emotionally charged things–good, bad or indifferent. We must tread here with caution because these bits do linger and have the power to change us. There in the shadows they may influence us, even without our permission or intention.
While God has the power to forget and forgive, we fragile humans tend to recall things. We can call on God to help us heal those memories, allowing Him to fill in and smooth out the rough places to make a way toward a firmer future.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11
God has got plans for you and me, too.