Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Joining the Dance

I've recently begun reading Timothy Keller's book King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. His opening chapter presents one of the loveliest, most cogent descriptions of perichoresis I've ever read. As one of my favorite seminary professors used to say: "That'll preach."

Perichoresis is one of those big theological words that tends to make people scratch their heads. It's a Greek term that refers to the mutual love/indwelling of the Triune God, and is sometimes described in terms of a dance. One of the things I love about Keller's chapter is that he discusses the meaning of this concept in a beautifully winning way without ever actually using the five-dollar word. (I know, I just used it...but I'm using it to make a point about how he's not using it. Does that make sense?)

One of the reasons I struggled with the decision to go or not go on into higher (beyond masters) theological studies was precisely this: I think theology is best when it's written so that real people can understand it, learn from it, grow from it. When I was writing theological papers, I worked hard to make them as free from academic jargon as I could. I don't think writing in this fashion means you lack understanding: rather you work hard to have a deep enough understanding that you can write about it in real language. Not dumbed down language, but everyday language. In other words, I wanted to write theology as a communicator, poet, story-teller, teacher -- not primarily as an academic writing for other academics. I still want to do that.

So I'm thoroughly enjoying Keller, because he's actually doing it.

Here's a bit from the chapter:

"The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each centering on the others, adoring and serving them. And because the Father, Son, and Spirit are giving glorifying love to one another, God is infinitely, profoundly happy. Think about this: If you find somebody you adore, someone for whom you would do anything, and you discover that this person feels the same way about you, does that feel good? It's sublime! That's what God has been enjoying for all eternity. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are pouring love and joy and adoration into the other, each one serving the other. They are infinitely seeking one another's glory, and so God is infinitely happy. And if it's true that this world has been created by this triune God, then ultimate reality is a dance....

If this is ultimate reality, if this is what the God who made the universe is like, then this truth bristles and explodes with life-shaping, glorious implications for us. If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about."

There's lots more. But at least this gives you a taste!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Random (But Mostly Sweet Girl) Musings in the Early Evening

D. and the sweet girl are at our church's weekly children's outreach. I'm usually there too, but this evening I stayed home to finish recording my grades and comments for the seminary courses I assisted in this semester (due tomorrow) and to nurse a bad headache.

I've still got a little bit of work to go, but the bulk of it is DONE. I can't tell you how good that feels. This teaching semester has been oddly difficult for me, especially given the fact that I wasn't actually fully teaching a course (for the first time in several years) just assisting in three. It's been a good experience, but it's also felt like a bit of a slog, and I'm too tired right now to figure out why. (And maybe that's part of the answer right there: my sem work, like everything else, has to be put into the context of overall tiredness and stress.)

Before I dive into the last bits that need doing, I thought I'd take a deep breath and enjoy a few minutes to just journal in the quiet of the early evening. It's rare that I have this kind of quiet time and space to myself before late night.

So here goes, a few random musings from a tired but grateful heart.

* I think I'm raising a writer. The sweet girl began keeping a story notebook earlier this year, and lately she's gotten it back out so she can write more stories. That might be a good clue in and of itself, but the real clue that she's got a writer's heart came for me yesterday when she suddenly announced that there was *one certain pen* she had to find so she could write in her story notebook. I mean, the pen she had was all right, she explained quite earnestly, but it was not the pen she really likes to use when she writes stories. "I need my flowy pen," she told me. "The one that writes all smooth and flowy." Speaking as someone who finds all story-writing easier with a fine tipped pen, I can fully empathize. And hallelujah, we found the flowy pen.

* There's a sign taped to our front window. It's addressed to the birds. It's the sweet girl's promise to feed them "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" -- weather permitting. She's stuck to her promise too, and the sparrows, wrens, and starlings have begun to get quite excited when they see her coming. She keeps putting bird seed in her pockets. I foresee plenty of bird seed in our washer/dryer, though I have asked her to remember to check her pockets before she puts her clothes in the hamper.

* We still love picture books. It's been a hard few months for the sweet girl, who has moved into what I guess you'd call "tween territory" with great vigor. Her intensities, her brightness, her energy...blessings...her intensities, her anxieties, her struggles to control her temper...some challenges. All of it comes together in a big package that, some days, feels like more than any of us can unwrap. (So thankful God holds her heart. Mine too.) In the midst of all this, there are moments when she so longs to be "big" and "independent" and moments when she just wants to curl up on my lap again, like she's four. It reminds me of my golden retriever, years ago, when he was just moving out of his puppy stage but would still try to curl up on my lap. Given the sweet girl's huge growth spurt this year, that last is getting more difficult ~ she has really long legs! But one thing we've both realized is how much we miss reading picture books together, so lately we've been making time to do that again. It's been wonderful. I need to get some reviews out, especially of the delightful Emma Dilemma.

* We're loving drawing. One of the best parts of loving picture books is that we no longer just read them together, we pore over them together. And then on Fridays, we draw from them together. This has yielded some surprising creative results for us both in the past few months, which I hope to post about again.

Hmmm...this has turned into very much a parenting/family/homeschooling sort of post, though I had thought I would range further afield on all sorts of topics. I guess my brain just spiraled in one direction. And now I really do need to get back to work. More musings soon!

Monday, May 16, 2011

"And Then God Showed Up..."

There are certain catch-phrases bandied about by Christians that drive my theological sensibilities a bit batty. "And then God showed up..." has always been near the top of the list.

I think it drives me crazy because it assumes that there are times when God is not around. I'm not trying to deny, of course, that we all go through seasons of time when we can feel as though God is absent. Sometimes this may be due to our own sin or apathy ("prone to wander, Lord, I feel it...") Sometimes we may be going through a time when the Lord may choose, in his gentle wisdom, to not speak too loudly -- (unlike the "megaphone" times in our lives) -- perhaps because he wants us to seek him more deeply.

Whatever the reasons may be, there are plenty of wilderness times in our lives when we may feel as though the Lord is not very active or present in our lives. Small wonder then that we marvel when we do suddenly sense his presence, when we find ourselves saying "and then God showed up!" like it's a shock.

As I said, what's bothered me most about the phrase is that, lurking in the background, there's this element of surprise. As though God took a walk somewhere, wandered off, got lost, then happened to make it back. A little late, but hey, at least he bothered to show up. Maybe I'm being over-sensitive, but there's something that smacks a little bit here of the vision of the deist watchmaker God, who sets things in motion and then leaves us all to muddle on as best as we can. But he pops in from time to time, just to check on how things are going.

But lately I've been gaining more empathy for the statement, or at least seeing it in a new light. Maybe because I've been floundering a bit in the wilderness lately, and the times when...oh, okay, I'll say it...the times when God has showed up, clearly and obviously, have provided such deep and meaningful refreshment for my weary heart and soul.

Still, I don't want to forget the pervasiveness of God's presence. He is there, in the hard times as well as the beautiful, in the dry times as well as the garden blooming wild with fruit times. He is there. We may forget it. We may not always sense it. We may forget to walk in the truth of it. But he is there. He is the one who sustains us, every breath, every moment, every mercifully new morning. He is there.

So here's what I think: when we say "And then God showed up..." this is what we just might mean:

We mean to say, like Jacob, "God was here, in this place (this very ordinary, hard-ground, rock-littered place!) and I DID NOT KNOW IT!"

We mean to say, like the Israelites celebrating on the other side of the Red Sea, "there was no hope, there was no way out, there was no way through, and then the most amazing thing happened...God showed up! He rescued us from death!"

We mean to say, from the depths of our heart, "I was once far off, but now I have been brought near, and amazing grace, God is here!"

We mean to say, like Jack Lewis, "God walks everywhere incognito. And the real challenge for us is to come awake."

So maybe we mean to, this moment, this now, I have come awake. The Prince of Peace has bestowed the kiss of life. I have come alive to the presence of God (always here, always sustaining) in ways that have surprised and stunned me. That have made me realize anew that hallelujah, HE IS HERE.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Story Musings and Prequelitis

I got my traditional Mother's Day nap yesterday (three years running makes it a tradition in our household) and was amazed how much that helped me, energy-wise, going into the new week. Perhaps it should be a weekly tradition!

Following the nap, I was treated to Chinese food and a video with my dear family. We decided to go on and see The Empire Strikes Back, as the sweet girl had decided (after weeks, or was it months?) that she was ready to move on in the Star Wars trilogy. She loved the first one, but I think the intensity made her want a long breather in between installments. Plus she's sort of charmed by the fact that her Daddy and I had to wait three years -- THREE YEARS! -- in between each movie when we originally saw them.

I love watching the Star Wars films with the sweet girl. It's fun to watch any story you know by heart with someone new, someone who is seeing the story fresh for the first time. It's even more fun when they're watching it from a young, innocent perspective. I like to observe what works and what doesn't work for her, from a story perspective. What does she intuitively get? What needs more explaining? What strikes her as hilarious? Not that every story needs to be simple enough to be fully understood by an almost nine year old, but it's still interesting to ponder what works and what doesn't on a child's level, and which story layers work on more than one level.

She loved Yoda, of course. She lit up like a Christmas tree when we told her he was voiced by Frank Oz! She is a BIG fan of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. She thinks Han Solo is very funny. The running gag of the hyperdrive not being fixed was probably her favorite part (well, next to checking out Princess Leia's changing hairstyles). She practically cackled in glee when Han landed the Millennium Falcon on top of the huge Imperial ship ("it looks like a tiny skylight!" she crowed) and then floated away with the garbage. I think she was momentarily stunned by the big reveal of Luke's parentage -- I was glad she was cuddled on my lap at the time, so I could squeeze her shoulder in sympathy.

Of course, Dana and I ended up getting into a long, geeky discussion, as we brushed our teeth and headed toward bed, about the prequels. And about how we would have written Darth Vader's back story completely differently. (Oh go on, admit it. You would have too! If any villain ever deserved a better back story than the one he got, it's Vader!)

But I think I've had prequels on the brain, ever since we started viewing (thanks to an unexpected wait on a movie at the top of our Netflix queue) the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise. This is a series we've often talked of wanting to watch -- we never caught any of it. Well, D. says he caught part of an episode once in the wee small hours when the sweet girl was a baby, but as you can imagine, that's a bit blurry. I don't even recalling seeing that. So it's all new to us.

I've been hearing that a lot of Trekkies weren't overly fond of the series because it messed with canon and with their preconceived ideas about what the Star Trek universe looked like prior to Kirk, Spock and crew took to the skies. They have my empathy, but I honestly think, based on the three episodes we've seen so far, that the writers were spot on, at least early. The third episode, which we watched a few nights ago, was especially rife with original series "vibes" and references. And it's just plain fun to see the beginnings of things we've grown accustomed to in the Star Trek universe, like phasers and transporters. Their trepidation over using the transporter (and their insistence on using shuttles) is particularly fun -- sort of like reading mystery novels set anywhere prior to the mid 1990s, when you sometimes find yourself gnashing your teeth because the characters in danger don't have cell phones. I also enjoy the sense that the crew members are like kids in a candy shop when it comes to space exploration. Meeting alien races! Cool! Much less high-falutin' talk (no prime directive yet) and much more "let's just go see what's out there." It works for me.

So in general, how do you feel about prequels? Should writers avoid them like the plague? Are they always rife with potential pitfalls? What about companion stories written from a different POVs (like Ender's Shadow/Ender's Game?)And what book, or series of books, would you most love to see "prequelized"? I'd love to have some geeky book/movie discussions about this topic.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

May the fourth be with you...

Yes, it's Star Wars day! It's also the 50th birthday of my beloved husband. And what's a literary, story-loving woman like myself want to say in honor of that wonderful event?

Let's try this.

Happy Birthday to the man who is my...

Luke Skywalker (okay, with some moments of Han Solo)
Professor Bhaer
Mr. Darcy
Lord Peter
Adam Eddington
Joe Willard
Mr. Knightley
Lee Stetson
Almanzo Wilder
Beast (to my Belle)
Charlie Chaplain (he'll get this reference)
Ron Weasley
Will Heelis
Captain Wentworth
Atticus Finch
Christopher Foyle

I know there are more I could put on this list, but it'll do for a start.