Our normal is dichotomy. We define who we are in distinction from who or what we are not. It’s the way we were born. The way we learned to discern our place in the world. I am distinct from my mother. I am one with my fingers and toes. They are me.
Who is me? The list of ways I may distinguish myself is long and growing longer:
homed or homeless
white or non-white
wealthy or impoverished
introverted or extroverted
middle western or northeastern/southern/western
traditional or non-traditional
teacher or learner
adult or child
scientist or artist
thinker or do-er
churched or non-churched
female or male
sporty or sport-free
English-speaking or non-English speaking
American or world-citizen
married or single/divorced/widowed
young or old
free or bound/confined/constrained
my places of most growth are places of “opposition.”
As a person with a home,
I learn the most about patterns of need
from the homeless.
As a person with white skin,
I learn the most about patterns of racial discrimination
from persons with non-white skin colors.
As a person with wealth,
I learn the most about patterns of poverty
from persons who live in poverty.
The same holds true for every condition I can list.
And more I have left off the list I am sure.
What I know is this:
those who are different from me, distant from me, or distinct from me, hold the key to my growing in faith, in courage, in knowledge, in understanding, in action, in intention, and in truth.
I owe it to myself to get to know them.
Mommy, when you are a hundred, will you be as tall as the clouds?
This, my little daughter asks me from her seat on the swing in our backyard. Her sweet up-turned face looks past me to the billowing clouds overhead. To her, growing up means growing taller so she can reach the monkey bars unassisted and ride all the rides at the theme park. Surely 100 years should be enough to reach those clouds, she concludes.
While our growing taller comes to an end during our teens and early twenties, our growth doesn’t stop then; it merely goes undercover. Throughout our lives, our bodies are busy reshaping, remodeling and renewing themselves, not only to heal after injury or illness but as a regular practice. Cellular turnover is part of our programming.
This notion always came as a surprise to the students in my anatomy class who, though quite a bit more advanced than my small daughter, generally assumed that once they stopped growing up they started growing old. Actually, there’s a whole lot of reconstruction going on.
Even our bones, which seem the deadest of things thanks to archaeological excavations and Halloween decorations, are active and changing our whole lives long. Even when they aren’t growing longer, they’re growing stronger in response to the pushes, pulls and pressures they endure. It’s the beauty of weight-bearing exercise. We’re designed to fortify ourselves. What breaks down gets rebuilt, only stronger, given sufficient time, good design and quality building materials. We are always undergoing renovation.
We call this maturation, and I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be a total make-over of body, mind and soul.
Kids think that once they’ve grown up they’re grown-ups, figuring they may have some “filling out” to do but otherwise they’re ready to take on the world. We, who have spent some time in the maturing phase, know that the growing never stops. Though we’re not getting any taller, we’re always remodeling and reorganizing: filling in gaps, replacing old notions, and fortifying things in light of new information.
We who have reached our full height are meant to be filling in: building spiritual muscle, agility and fortitude as God reshapes it along with our minds, hearts and souls. We are clay in the hands of the potter, teaches Jeremiah 18. A contemporary retelling might call us plastic, hardened at room temperature, but pliable at God-temperature.
God’s not done with us yet. That’s such very good news. God’s continually defining and refining, affirming and growing us, inside out, as we will let Him. That’s not just for our own good, but for the good of all of our relationships, including the precious ones we have with the generations to come.
They’re sure to ask us in Sunday school or confirmation class, around the dinner table or after ball practice, on their graduation day or on their wedding day, “Mom and Dad, do your think you’ll ever be able to touch the sky?” They ask, not because they really think we will, but because they want to. And they can’t see ever doing it without us.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Oh my yes, little girl, there’s every chance I will reach those clouds because, thanks to God, we’re both still growing.
Are you alive? How can you tell?
Frederic Martini, the author of my Anatomy and Physiology textbook, says that, “though the world around us contains an enormous diversity of living organisms that vary widely in appearance and lifestyle … biologists have found that all living things share certain basic characteristics.” These include:
- Growth and Differentiation
- Movement – either internal or external
- Metabolism and excretion
The new puppy at my house has me thinking about all these. He barks and wags and perks his ears. (responsiveness, check) He is bigger by half it seems than when we picked him out just a few short weeks ago. (Growth, check) He leaps, circles, bounds, patters, runs, flops, pants – well you know, he’s a puppy. (Movement, check) He eats, poops and pees. (Metabolism/excretion, check)
Now reproduction. He’s not old enough to produce more little Buddys. But the playfulness and joy he displays is reproduced in everyone around him, so I’m gonna give him a check mark for that one, too. No one would challenge my contention that Buddy is alive: fully alive.
What about me? Responding, growing, moving, energizing? If not, then I don’t want to be reproducing, because I would be perpetuating non-alive. If so, then I do want to be passing all I know and all I do onto future generations. They are not exact replicas, but they can be the beneficiaries of what I have created and lived thus far.
Knowing that, I must be all about responding, growing, moving, energizing and reproducing. (RGMER) In fact, it’s my responsibility to be sure I am attending to each, in each area of my life. In my relationships, my work, my faith, my person, I must choose life over the dead wood that isn’t alive. That I must replace with the freshness of life, and now I have a check list. If something fails the test, it needs a check up.
What about my neighborhood? Is it Alive? RGMER?
What about my community? My school? My town? My state? My country? My world? Is there RGMER, in each?
When we were called into life and gifted for this lifetime, we were created with the capacity to interact in and with our world and charged with the responsibility to attend to them in a healthy way. We were meant to choose life. Are we? Are we fully alive? Let’s see.
- Responsiveness/Irritability (How do you respond to the immediate changes in their environment?)
- Growth and Differentiation (Day by day, are you maintaining and maturing to honor your and support healthy growth?)
- Movement (Do you move from one spot, both internally and externally, or are you so fixed in place that nothing can move you?)
- Metabolism and excretion (Are you breaking down and building up better, eliminating what needs discarding, in order to provide a healthy environment for the life in you?)
- Reproduction (Are you preparing your replacement in this world to be better equipped for this life and the next?)
Life actually doesn’t defy definition. Biologists know life when they see it. So do I.