Archive for March, 2012

The Problem with Lent, Part 2

Well, I appreciated the feedback that I got with my last post, “The Problem with Lent.”  In it, I asked about spiritual droughts, and particularly, what you do when you are in one.  Do you press forward with spiritual practices, even when you seem to get nothing from them?  Or do you take a break and wait for some sort of desire to return?

Honestly, the only thing I really know how to do is to press forward.  And so I did.  I actually wrote that post in the middle of last week, and so enough time has passed for me that I am in somewhat of a different place.

I caught up on my One Year Bible, reading all seven days one afternoon, mostly sitting in the library while Anna played some of their games.  A lot of people died in Numbers.  The last story I read on “catch up” day was the one where the Israelites go and conquer a bunch of people and kill all the men.  They bring the women and children back alive, and God asks them why they did that.  He then tells them to kill all the women and boys, but to save the virgins for themselves.

To be honest, I didn’t take it well.

First, I imagined if a society did that today, and then I pictured that happening to my own family.  Poor Anna!  I imagined the scene, the tears, the begging.  I wondered about the God who would order such a thing.  I was tempted to just stop thinking about it, to run and hide behind Isaiah 55:8-9.  Like I mentioned in the comments of the last blog, that just seemed like a cop out to me, though.  I have this assumption that God can handle our questions.  So I asked Him about it.  And I talked to Greg about it.  We had a really good talk, in fact.  And my friend, Molly, and I discussed it.  And our talks really helped me.  They didn’t explain everything in the way I wanted, but they allowed me to really think out loud without having to worry about being thought of as a heretic.

And so I kept reading the Bible.  I’m in Deuteronomy now.

I also kept dragging myself out of bed, for the most part.  I went back to my trusty notebook and pen, and the prayers started flowing again.  My prayers are hardly models of beauty and devotion right now…but they are, um…there.  It especially helped that this past weekend I got roped into “prayer patrol” for a friend.  My impromptu praying responsibilities helped get me back on the right track.

As for serving, I went to serve dinner at Y.E.S. last Tuesday like I always do.  My enthusiasm level on the way there was rock bottom, and I was mentally whining about how hard it is to get to know the kids this time around.  It was so easy when I was a college student, but now that I have two kids of my own to keep up with while I’m there, it is so much more difficult.  I continued to think about my conundrum at the center, while sitting outside on a porch swing and comforting Anna, who had taken a tumble down the bleachers.  I had just sent her and Luke to play in my line of sight on the playground, when a sweet little 4th grader named Corina bounded up to me and asked if I could help her with her homework.  She acted like we were old friends as I helped her look up the definitions to her vocabulary words and explained to her what “parts of speech” were.  After a few minutes, her friend, Cassandra came and joined us on the swing, casually draping herself across my lap to talk to Corina and joke with me.  Then, at dinner, I sat by Nyana, Andrea, and Selena, three girls whom I didn’t know, but who were all extremely friendly and kind. It was the first week where I felt like I really got to know some kids.  And it came from no effort of my own.

Then last Friday, Greg left for a retreat, which always puts me in what I call “super” mode.  My disdain for cleaning and cooking melted away as I whipped the house back into shape in preparation for being a single parent.  For the first time in weeks, I enjoyed working.

I didn’t give up my Lenten fast, although I seriously considered it, and I cheated a few times (like last night).  I decided that as pathetic as my efforts have been, they are teaching me good lessons about denial and self-control.  And since then, God has given me several “boosts” to get through.  Twice in the last week, I have been completely ready to throw in the towel and on my way to get Oreos or ice cream or whatever it is I’ve been wanting…only to find when I get there that I have no desire for them.  None at all.  I had been craving them all day…until I gave up and went to eat them.  I really do not understand that.

But the moment I decided that my short-lived drought was officially over was on Monday, when I got home from school and realized that I had about half an hour to kill before I went and picked up Anna.  I thought about how to spend my half hour, and it occurred to me that I really wanted to spend it with God.  Wanted to.  It was a beautiful day and I took my Bible out to the swing…but I didn’t read it.  Instead, I just sat and looked at the beautiful nature all around me.  My eyes were especially drawn to all those amazing, bright green blades of grass.  So many of them…created by God.  I looked at them and all around me at God’s creation, and suddenly the stories of Numbers that didn’t make sense to me didn’t seem as important.  Even though I still didn’t understand them, I definitely understood the message of, “LOVELOVELOVE” that was coming from every blade of grass and every flower on every bush.  And I realized that I never doubted God’s love for the people He created.  I don’t understand His methods sometimes, but I don’t doubt His love.  I know that probably sounds weak (“I don’t understand the Bible, but the flowers tell me that God loves me, so I’m cool”), but what can I say?  It’s what works for me.

This week was supposed to be “drought” week on the blog.  Unfortunately for my well-laid plans, it rained.  That wasn’t so great for my blogging schedule, but it was good for my soul.

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Top 3 on Tuesday: Rachel Held Evans

First of all, surely you have heard of Rachel Held Evans.  I mean, you have…right?  Because from what I understand, she’s kind of a big deal.  And her blog seems to be something of a hub, when it comes to young, evangelical thought and discussions.  She has written a couple of books, and this year on the blog, she features several series on the interpretation of Scripture.  The first one centered around The Bible Made Impossible, by Christian Smith.  Her current one is based on Scripture and the Authority of God, by N.T. Wright.

My husband says that this is a distinctly church-of-Christ quirk, but as always, I feel compelled to say, “Now, I don’t always agree with 100% of what she writes…”  He’s probably right about the quirk.  We c-of-C’ers are naturally distrustful of anything that is not pure Scripture, and so we always have to add that word of caution before recommending anything that is not a book of the Bible.  And so I will offer my usual caveat with RHE:  I certainly do not agree with many of her stances, but I love her willingness and ability to think deeply on a variety of topics that are dear to my heart.  Even her current focus on Biblical interpretation fits in perfectly with my own interests as I read through the Bible (or try to) this year.

Honestly, though, even if you find yourself at constant odds with her opinions, I think she is worth reading simply because she is so representative of an entire generation of evangelicals (or whatever they/we call them-/ourselves).  If nothing else, this blog will help you get inside of the heads of that group and hopefully understand them a bit better.

Here are my top 3:

1.  How to Follow Jesus…Without Being Shane Claiborne

I loved this one, and I tried to find a suitable excerpt, but the post is really too short to lift something out of it.  Just go read it.

2.  They Were Right (and Wrong) About the Slippery Slope

Another short, but good one.  The slippery slope fallacy is a pet peeve of mine, and so I really liked the way that she turned the idea on its head by showing the ways that it had proven true in her own life.

3.  Ask a Pacifist…(Response)

Rachel has a whole series called, “Ask a…”  Each week, she introduces a new “type”:  an atheist, a Unitarian, a Muslim, a libertarian, a progressive, etc.  Then, she gives readers a chance to leave questions for that person in the comments.  Next, she picks the most popular questions and gives them to the person to answer.  The answers are featured the next week.  The pacifist was her most recent one…and the question from Kim?  That’s me!  I had hoped that she would correct the typos (good grief–I REALLY need to proofread my comments), but she didn’t, and so I sort of sound like a moron.  But I thought he had an interesting response.

Alright, so those are my reading recommendations.  Do you have any good recommendations this week?

The Problem with Lent

The problem with Lent is that it is forty days long.  I mean, really.  I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but forty days is forever.  I have complained repeatedly of this absurd length to my Catholic friend and asked her earnestly why Catholics are so mean!  I was all fired up about Lent when it first started, but I can’t stay fired up about anything for forty days!

The problem with Lent is that I gave up dessert, and I don’t think I really realized how much I love dessert.  I want dessert so badly all the time now, and even though I’m abiding by the Catholic rule that you break your fast on Sundays, that blessed reprieve is definitely not enough.

The problem with Lent is that I hate denying myself.  I live in a culture where food is always at my fingertips.  I can eat whenever I’m hungry, and even when I’m not.  The idea that I would stop myself from eating something I really want to eat is simply ludicrous in such a privileged society.  Even my five-year-old doesn’t get it.  He says, “I just don’t know why you would do that.”  And he even asked, “How does that help God?”  The idea that denying myself would be helpful to me seems not to have occurred to him.  Frankly, I’m questioning the logic myself these days.

The problem with Lent is that appetites are like some cancers.  As long as you let them continue unabated, they won’t bother you much.  But if you try to fight them…ooooooh, boy.  Watch out!  Because they bite back.  And it’s not just with dessert.  I want to eat everything in sight right now.  I will probably be the first person in the history of observing Lent to end my fast weighing more than when I started.

The problem with Lent is that the problem is not really with Lent.  The problem is with my flesh.  It simply does not want to die.  And it seems like on all fronts now, I’m experiencing a bit of a spiritual drought.  For about two weeks, I have not had the desire to practice any spiritual discipline.  I don’t want to be silent.  I don’t want to pray.  I don’t want to read my Bible.  I don’t want to get up early to spend time with God.  I don’t want to do any work.  I don’t want to serve anyone.  My motivation level for each of those tasks has been hovering around 0%.

Now, it is not totally bleak.  Nature continues to draw me to God, and this is a wonderful time of year.  The world has been transformed into bright, beautiful shades of green, and flowers have been popping out everywhere.  There is this one particular type of cherry blossom tree that is currently in full bloom, and it is simply magnificent.  I can’t decide if its blossoms look more like popcorn popping, or a firework exploding; regardless, I’ve never seen a stationary plant seem more in motion.  Whenever I pass them, I just have to stop and stare at them in awe.  They just look like an explosion frozen in time.  Marvelous.

Other than through nature, however, I feel nothing spiritually.  My senses are deadened.  I feel no encouragement from reading Scripture, no inspiration from prayer, no insight from silence, no joy from service.  It kind of reminds me of Captain Barbossa as he rants to Elizabeth Swan about the curse’s effect on him (in Pirates of the Caribbean:  Curse of the Black Pearl.  I will cite that reference for the five people in this country who may not have seen that movie.)  “I feel nothin’!”  he exclaims.  Same deal here.  All I feel is my flesh raging against all forms of self-denial.  I have hit a wall.  And so I have had to ask myself:

Should I keep doing these disciplines, even though they don’t seem to be helping me at all?  Should I keep reading my One Year Bible, even though I’m getting nothing from it?  If anything, I think the book of Numbers is actually taking me farther from God.  Plus, I have gotten seven days behind.  Should I try to catch back up?  Should I force myself to get up early, even though it seems not to be helping me to live a Spirit-filled life?  Should I keep observing Lent?  

To paraphrase my son’s concerns, how do these motions help God?  Or me, for that matter?

Is this not all descending into legalism?

I have more, but I think I’ll stop here and ask what you think.  Basically, my options are to grit my teeth and force myself through, or to stop these motions until some desire returns.

I actually have chosen a course and experienced some results, but I’m genuinely interested in what my brothers and sisters think about this conundrum.    Do you ever experience spiritual droughts?  What are they like for you?  How long do they typically last?  What do you do during them, and what do you do to get out of them?  Also, have you ever tried to observe Lent?  How did it go for you?

Cheap Books

The other day, I wandered into Cokesbury, a Christian bookstore in our area about which I had heard lots of good things.  I wanted to check out their store, but I also was looking for a specific book:  Scripture and the Authority of God, by N.T. Wright.  I have been in a bit of a Bible-reading drought, and I’ve chalked some of it up to lack of communal discussion of Scripture.  Well, one of my favorite bloggers (whom I will feature this Tuesday) is hosting a series of discussions on Wright’s book, and so I thought I would buy it and jump in.  Greg loves N.T. Wright, and I love the subject matter of this latest book, so I thought it would be a good addition to our library.  However, when I finally found the book and took a look at the price tag, all my plans evaporated.

It was $25.99.

And Tennessee has high sales tax.

In short, there was no way I could buy this book.  Even if it were not financially irresponsible at this point in our lives, I think I would have had to put it back on the shelf on principle!

To wrap up this literary-themed week, I thought I would briefly discuss the cost of books.  Personally, I love to read, and I always have a list a mile long of books that I’d like to have.  Most of these books are Christian- or history-themed, and so I view them as edifying and, thus, worthy of my time and money.  That said, books can be expensive, and I do struggle with the idea of how much of my resources should go to buying books.  I wanted to share with you my top three ways to get cheap books.  Even though two out of the three seem super-obvious, it took me awhile to think of them, so  I thought I’d share them anyway, on the off chance that you are slow, too:).

1.  Half.com

My baseline price for books is $4.74.  That is how much a .75 book on half.com costs, plus the usual 3.99 shipping fee.  To me, getting a book I ‘ve been wanting shipped to me for less than $5 is a good deal.  What I have learned about books on half.com is that their price is not influenced by genre, or even popularity, but by age.  It appears that a book needs to be at least five years old before it goes into what I call “the .75 bin.”  On the plus side, you can get a lot of classics for dirt cheap.  On the negative side, you can’t buy N.T. Wright’s new book for much of a discount.  Or Richard Beck’s Unclean.  Or Half the Church.  Or several other books on my wish list.

However, I was able to get a highly recommended and well-reviewed book that I’ve been wanting, A History of the Jews, for my normal .75.

And I got another book on my wish list, The Blue Parakeet, for about $7, including shipping.  It was written in 2008, and thus has not reached the magic 5 year mark.  However, as I have wanted this book for months and have been unable to find it in any bookstore, I thought that was an okay price.

Thus, half.com has proven to be a good resource when trying to buy books that are slightly older.  However, for newer books (or for older books you don’t necessarily want to buy), I recently stumbled upon a grand solution.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…

2.  The library

I know, I know.  Obvious, right?  ‘Cept here’s the thing:  I’ve been making weekly trips to the library ever since my kids were wee tots, and it just recently occurred to me that the library might be a resource for me, too!  Maybe it is because the books I usually want tend to be religious or devotional in nature because I rarely think of them being available at my local library.  However, I am now currently on the waiting list at my local library for an eBook version of Scripture and the Authority of God, as well as the physical version of Rachel Held Evans’ memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town.  Genius!

Lastly, the best way I’ve found to read books that I don’t want to spend the money to buy is to…

3.  Borrow them.

Again, it seems obvious, but I think that often, my consumer-oriented mindset causes me to overlook the free ways to enjoy books without having to own them.  And really, I don’t need to own most books I want to read.  In fact, it keeps my house from getting so cluttered if I can simply check out the book from the library or borrow it from a friend.  Borrowing, however, can be tricky because you need to have friends who 1) like the same books as you, and 2) are comfortable enough to let you borrow them.  To be honest, I haven’t gotten to the “Can I borrow that book?” level with my friends in Nashville yet; however, I did enjoy trading books back and forth with my friends in South Carolina.  At any given time, I probably had a couple of borrowed books in my possession, and had a few books lent out.  My friends and I were somewhat evangelical with our books: whenever we read a good one, our first thought was, “To whom can I pass this worthy message?”  I think that it’s worth cultivating such a community, and I hope to do so soon in Nashville.  At the very least, it will allow you to read good books without spending money that could be better used elsewhere.

Okay, so those are my three brilliant, revolutionary suggestions for obtaining cheap books.  Do you have any others?

The Berenstain Bears, Junie B. Jones, and Didacticism

In one of my college English classes,we once had a discussion about the purpose of art.  Our discussion boiled down to two camps:  the aesthetic and the didactic.  The aesthetic camp believed in “art for art’s sake”; in other words, art needs no justification.  It just is.  Or something like that.  I didn’t really buy it.

On the other side, there was the didactic camp.  The didactic camp believed that the point of art was to teach something.  Art needed a purpose, a worthy message.  Now, even those in the didactic camp admitted that art shouldn’t beat you over the head with that message, and that preachy art is generally not good art.  But at the same time, they argued that art that wasn’t trying to say something was pointless.  I am a practical person at heart; thus, I fell into the didactic camp.

I’m still there.

And yet, I’m often torn between these camps when I read books to my kids.  Even as a believer in didacticism, some books seem over the top to me.  For example, take this Berenstain Bears book we checked out a few weeks ago:  it was called The Trouble with Secrets.  Now, if you don’t have young kids, you might not know this about the Berenstain Bears, but they have seen the light.  I don’t remember the childhood BB stories I read being overtly Christian, but they sure are now.  Well, some of them are.  And others are just regular stories extolling good behavior.  Usually, the overtly Christian ones announce it to you in the title.  For example, we currently own a collection called, The Berenstain Bears Show God’s Love.  I love it.  It has stories about loving your neighbor and about prayer, and the kids love them.

But this book about secrets didn’t seem religious; indeed, neither the title nor the plot really lent themselves to religious application.  Instead, it was just a simple story about the trickiness of friendship. It was told from the perspective of Brother and Sister Bear’s friends, who were miffed that Brother and Sister were keeping a secret from them.  Thus, they followed the siblings to find out their secret.  Fair enough.  Throughout this narrative, however, the authors kept dropping non sequiturs about God, from out of nowhere.  It has been a few weeks since I read it, but if I recall, the comments were about God not wanting us to have secrets, or something (which, by the way, is not in the Bible).  Regardless, it seemed like the parts about God were superfluous, that they were shoe-horned into the plot without really fitting.  In a way, it seemed like the authors were playing the God card.  And I didn’t like it.

I think I was also put off by the “sneak-attack” element of the book’s Christian content.  Nothing about the book suggested that it was going to be religious; it just seemed like an ordinary Early Reader in a public library that services a religiously diverse area.  And then midway through the book, the reader is subjected to strained religious applications.  To be honest, I think the seeming subterfuge put me off as much as the heavy-handedness of the theme.

In short, I found The Trouble with Secrets to be too preachy, too didactic.

On the other end of that spectrum, we have the Junie B. Jones books.  I have heard wonderful things about this series, and especially how much kids love them.  Thus, I decided to give them a try.  In retrospect, perhaps the title of the first book should have been a red flag, as we don’t usually allow our kids to say the word, stupid.  But I didn’t want to judge a book by its title, and I do think there is wiggle room with language when it comes to books (and even movies).  Part of teaching our kids about language, after all, is to impress on them that we don’t repeat everything we hear.  Anyhow, I read the first book to the kids.  They loved it.  Then, I read the second book.  They loved that one, too.

And then I stopped.

Because I couldn’t do it anymore.

It wasn’t so much that Junie B. liberally used the word, “stupid.”  Or that she often remarked how she couldn’t stand people.  It was that the overall theme of the book had no element of the didactic.  Instead, I decided that Junie B. Jones is the Seinfeld of children’s literature:  the series seem to share the theme of “no hugging, no learning.”

It’s not just that Junie B. is selfish and hateful.  After all, lots of kid-friendly characters are selfish; the world of Thomas the Tank Engine, for example, is filled with unpleasant, petty engines.  What makes the Junie B. Jones series unique, though, is that everyone is selfish.  At least Thomas and his friends have Sir Topham Hatt as the voice of reason; Junie B. is not so fortunate.  Her parents and teacher hardly seem to care about her:  they certainly don’t listen to her, and they never take the time to teach her anything.  She basically acts like an untrained five year old, which is probably because no one takes the time to train her.  In the first book, Junie B. is terrified of riding the bus, but all the adults dismiss her fears without addressing them, and then force her to ride it anyway.  She is so scared to get back on the bus after school that she hides in the classroom.  Never at any point does she ponder the deception of her scheme or worry about what her mom or teacher will think.  Indeed, she never thinks about anything but her immediate desires.  Again, that’s normal for a five year old, I guess.  However, even at the end, everyone is exasperated with her, but no one takes the time to teach her why her actions were wrong.  Which means that I then have to explain to my own children why Junie B’s behavior is not acceptable.  In fact, throughout both the books, I had to stop repeatedly and ask my kids what they thought about Junie B’s current behavior.  Then we would talk about why she was being selfish.

To be honest, I really see the series as more of a satire of society…but my kids aren’t old enough to get satire.  Instead, they just get a bad example of a five year old (and bad examples of parents and teachers).  The books definitely didn’t scar my children or anything, but for me, they weren’t worth it.  I figure my kids have enough bad examples around them without me spending hours providing them with yet another one through the books we read.  If we read something, I want it to at least have a decent moral.  And it’s okay if the moral is subtle.  To me, even classics like Where the Wild Things Are or Ferdinand have decent morals, even though they are very understated.  But I could find no moral in Junie B. Jones.

So that’s where I stand on The Berenstain Bears and Junie B. Jones.  If you are a parent (and even if you’re not), I’m interested in how you decide what books to read to your kids.  Do you fall more into the didactic camp or the aesthetic camp?   Do you think I am overreacting at either (or both) of these books?  (After all, Greg said that this post mainly demonstrates how picky I am!)  And have you found any books that are both well-written and at least somewhat instructive?  Do a picky mom a favor, and pass those suggestions along!

[Updated to add:  This is in no way a moral judgment on anyone who has read, shared, or enjoyed this books.  It is strictly a matter of personal opinion and taste.  I am just walking through my thought process when deciding what books are worth reading to my kids, given my beliefs and goals for my children.]

My Life in the Kingdom Capitol: What I Learned from The Hunger Games


The movie, The Hunger Games, comes out in theaters this Friday.  It is the first installment based on a trilogy of Young Adult books of the same name.  I had been aware of the books for awhile, but since I have a thing against kids getting killed, I was naturally turned off by the bloody premise of a televised game show where kids must fight to the death.  However, then I saw the trailer for the movie and decided to give the books a shot.  And I’m really glad I did.

For those who aren’t familiar with the trilogy, the basic plot is set in a dystopian future, where an oppressive country called Panem rules ruthlessly over its twelve outlying districts.  As a sick and continued punishment for a long ago rebellion, each district is required to provide a yearly “tribute” of a young boy and girl to participate in a televised slaughter for the amusement of the citizens of “the Capitol.”   The Capitol is filled with wealthy, privileged citizens who benefit from the labor and the oppression of the districts.  Because they live in such an insulated, comfortable world, the populace of the Capitol are generally oblivious to the suffering around them.  Instead, they divert themselves with frivolity.  They focus an obscene amount of attention on their appearance, embracing over-the-top fashions such as skin-dyeing and elaborate make-up and hairstyles.  They spend their time attending parties full of every food one can imagine…and take vomit-inducing pills so that they don’t have to stop eating when they are full.  And they are so desensitized to the suffering around them that they divert themselves by watching children slaughter each other.

The genius of Collins is seen in the degree of difference she uses between the Capitol and today’s Western world.  Her descriptions of life in the Capitol are just foreign enough for Western readers to easily condemn them, and yet, they are similar enough to then give us pause.  For example, here is Katniss’ reaction while listening to her Capitol-dwelling make-up crew:

After they’ve exhausted the topic of the Quarter Quell, my prep team launches into a whole lot of stuff about their incomprehensibly silly lives.  Who said what about someone I’ve never heard of and what sort of shoes they just bought and a long story from Octavia about what a mistake it was to have everyone wear feathers to her birthday party (Catching Fire 37).

I thought of that specific passage while I read about the upcoming Hunger Games movie in Entertainment Weekly…and then turned the page and saw this:

Wow, can you see the irony?  Octavia can’t stop talking about feathers, and we can’t stop talking about oversized bows.  Really??  Really.  Were the editors of EW trying to be ironic, or do we truly live in a “Capitol-lite” society?  After all,

We don’t dye our entire skin, but we do tattoo and tan it mercilessly.

We may not have as outrageous fashions as they do, but we definitely focus a lot of attention on superficiality and appearances.

Vomit-inducing pills may not be en vogue, but gluttony certainly is.

And while we don’t watch shows where people die, we do love ones based on physical (Wipeout) or emotional (The Bachelor/Bachelorette) suffering.  Even though the contestants are volunteers, what does it say about us as a society that these shows are hits?

Plus, I get the feeling that sometimes we (I) are (am) often as oblivious as the citizens of Panem’s capitol.  Our lives of comfort can have the effect of insulating us from the suffering of others around the world.  The book highlights this obliviousness by forcing the privileged reader to see the world through a poor teenager’s eyes.  And that teen, Katniss, clearly sees the vast differences between her lifestyle and the Capitol lifestyle when she is taken there for the Games.  Through her eyes, we see the contrast between these privileged citizens and the rest of their world.  For me, those differences provided both a critique of my own society and a guide of how to use my privileged position to help others.  When looking at my life through the lens of The Hunger Games, I was made aware of two huge privileges I possess, and challenged to use them for God’s greater Kingdom, and not simply for my own personal gain:

1.  Time.

Interestingly, one of the biggest differences between Katniss’ life and the lives of the Capitol citizens is in regards to time.  She notices this difference when she views an elaborate meal that was prepared for her:

I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home.  Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey.  I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange.  Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream.  We can grow peas in the garden.  I’d have to get wild onions from the woods.  I don’t recognize the grain…Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels.  As for the pudding, I can’t even guess what’s in it.  Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitute for the Capitol version.

What must it be like, I wonder to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button?  How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by?  What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment? (The Hunger Games 65).

The question she wrestles with here is one that, paradoxically, I also wrestle with a lot, as a citizen who lives in a similarly privileged environment:  What do I do with my time? It’s funny because I don’t feel like I have a ton of time laying around.  And yet, Katniss’ thoughts here reminded me that I don’t have to go out and get firewood to start a fire over which to cook.  I don’t have to kill (or grow) my supper.  I have electricity.  I have running water that comes out hot and cold on command.  I have a washer and dryer and dishwasher.  I wonder how many hours a day these blessings give me, hours that others do not have.  What do I do with those precious hours?  Do I dedicate them to pursuits that are unworthy or meaningless?  Of course, a lot of my time on Facebook could easily qualify as unworthy, but even besides that, this book made me pause and consider the things that I normally don’t question as valuable.  It made me think that, in the grand scheme of things, some of my “worthwhile” pursuits are less valuable than I imagine.  For example, how clean does my house need to be in order to be healthy and functional?  Does it really need to be free of dust bunnies, or could I spend more time writing cards to the sick?  That’s just one example, but there are several things like that in my life.   Reading The Hunger Games, then, challenged me to use my privileged time to further God’s kingdom, instead of my own agenda.

2.  Passion.

After the Games, Katniss is required to learn some sort of talent.  It is comical because she has spent so much of her life trying to survive that she has come to see most hobbies and “talents” as frivolous.  She chooses clothing design, but never has the slightest interest in it.  In contrast, her stylist, Cinna, is passionate about design.  As a citizen of the Capitol, he has had opportunities to pursue skills that aren’t necessary for survival.  What is instructive for the reader is how Cinna chooses to use his privileged passion.  Without giving too much away, he uses his skill in order to help the cause of the oppressed around him.  He uses Capitol privilege to challenge Capitol culture.

Similarly, I have been privileged enough to pursue passions that are not necessary for survival.  For example, I like to write and to record things.  Had I been born into a third world culture, I probably would not have been able to exercise those passions, as I would have too few resources and would be spending too much time trying to stay alive.  But Cinna’s example challenges me to use my passions in a way that further God’s Kingdom.  It also opens my eyes to a truth I haven’t been able to see about Jesus and His call to us.  So often, I think that Jesus wants me to renounce my position of privilege and to become like the poor.  (To be fair, I tend to get this idea from the Man Himself, who seemed big on rich people selling their stuff to provide for the poor.)  But thinking of Cinna made me realize something about Jesus:  He did not renounce His God-given gifts.  Jesus had power.  He had the power to heal people and to know people’s thoughts.  The great majority of the world could not do that.  Even so, Jesus did not give those things up in order to become like everyone else.  Instead, He used His power in order to help those who could not heal themselves.  Maybe this is a false analogy, but to me, having privilege is like having power.  God placed me in this position, and I don’t glorify Him by turning my back on what He gave me.  Instead I glorify Him by using it to further His Kingdom.  

The Hunger Games really opened my eyes to these gifts of time and passion that I have been given.  They made me understand that my time and passion are part of life in a privileged culture.  And they challenged me to use my citizenship in the Capitol for the good of all the world’s citizens, not just my own.

That’s pretty good, for a young adult trilogy!

Have you read The Hunger Games?  What did you think of them?

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

 “In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?’  tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”   Deut. 6:20-21

She was pretty.  She looked younger than I suspected she was, although her skin showed the effects of over-tanning.  Her eyes were an unearthly blue, aided, no doubt, by colored contacts.  Her already long lashes were accentuated by heavy mascara, and colorful tattoos snaked up and down her arms.  To be honest, I thought they were lovely and that they suited her personality well.

She came from a small town in Ohio, with very few non-White people and very low crime.  As she put it, if an ashtray was stolen off her grandma’s back porch, it would make the news.  Even though she had lived in Nashville for at least ten years, she still sometimes got culture shock from all of the different people.  It certainly wasn’t what she was expecting when she came down here at age 20, trying to break into the music business.  Unfortunately, her musical dreams fizzled out in a few years, but by then, there was a guy in the picture.  Here, she shook her head and laughed in disgust.  “Bad idea.”  Obviously, the guy fizzled out, too, but by that time, she had bought a house and now had  a mortgage to pay.  So she stayed in Nashville and worked at a job she enjoyed.  She is now dating another guy, a composer, and he is currently working on an album of reinvented covers.  He even asked her to sing vocals, which made her very excited.

I could probably have learned more, but by that time I had completed my blinds order and checked out at Lowe’s.

As I drove home pondering my chatty sales clerk, I noted how compulsive story-telling is for people.  You would think we would get tired of telling our own stories–but no.  Quite the contrary:  our own story is usually the one we hold most dear.  And we tell it again and again.  We tinker with it and tailor it to our current circumstances.  We constantly tweak it to reflect our current understanding and opinions.  But we still tell it, if only to ourselves.  The reason is simple:  we tell our story to remind ourselves who we are and why we’re here.  

Our story defines us.  We cast ourselves as the victim, the hero, the anti-hero, the saint, the sinner.  We have our allies and our villains, our plot twists and our slow parts.  Our stories take the random, chaotic events of our lives and give meaning to them.  They are able to give that meaning, b/c our stories have an overarching plot.  That plot tells us why we’re here (created by God?  an accident of evolution?  something in between?).  The plot tells us who the good guys are (Christians?  America?  A political party?  Some combination?) and who the bad guys are.  Our stories also have characterization.  Not only do we “flesh out” other characters through our personal judgments of them, our stories tend to characterize all of humanity.  Is humanity good?  Bad?  A combination?  Our stories will tell us.

I think that our propensity for storytelling is by design.  Either that, or God caters to our species’ idiosyncrasy, because He chooses to speak to us in the form of a story.  He could have simply given us a list of facts or rules; in fact, that seems a little more logical, if you ask me.  Less room to misunderstand. Less cause for confusion.  But no–He revealed Himself to us mostly through stories.  And within those stories (collected in the Bible), He told about His Son, who in turn preached largely through stories.

The story of Jesus is one of God’s big stories.  But before that, He had another biggie:  the story of the exodus from Egypt.  When God saved the Israelites from four hundred years of slavery, He made sure that they remembered that story and passed it down.  It is clear from reading the Pentateuch that God intended the exodus story to define His people.  From His insistence on that point, I learn two important things.

1.  Stories > Facts

In one of my college psychology classes, I learned that we tend to interpret data in a way that conforms to our own preconceptions.  For example, if you have a preconception that women are bad drivers, you will tend to remember the woman who absent-mindedly cut you off more than you will a man who did the same thing.  That’s because we make a clearer mental note of the behaviors that reinforce our stereotypes, while we are more likely to let conflicting data slide by unconsidered.  I think that phenomenon is an example of how our stories determine our reality.  If, in your story, women are bad drivers, then facts are at a considerable disadvantage.

On the flip side, our stories can convey truth to us in a way that facts simply cannot.  Perhaps that’s why God instructed His people to explain the “facts” of the Law to their children in the form of a story (see the verse at the top).  He knew that facts don’t stick unless they work into our personal story.  One application of that principle for me is that people are not going to be convinced of the reality of God or of Christ’s love simply by a presentation of the “facts.”  While there may be a place for apologetics in evangelism, the most important, powerful tool we have is the reality of our own story.  We must live a better story for the people around us, so that they will want it to be their story, as well.

And that brings me to my second point:

2.  Stories are meant to be lived, not just told.

When God gave the Israelites their Exodus story, He made clear that it was not simply to be a nice narrative that they shared and celebrated.  That story was supposed to affect their lives and their behavior.  Several times throughout the Law, He references their story.  Here is a sampling:

“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.”  Ex. 22:21

“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”  Ex. 23:9

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”  Lev. 19:33-34

Clearly, God expected the Israelites’ story to affect their behavior; I think the same is true for us today.  On an individual level, the different experiences God gives us should increase our empathy for others who share those experiences.  Our pain should make it easier to help others in pain; our joy should make it easier to rejoice with others who have joy.  Similarly, the Israelites were to use their experiences as aliens to help them sympathize with foreigners in their lands.

On a collective level, the story of the gospel, which casts us as sinners in need of redemption, should make us more empathetic to other sinners in need of redemption.  That empathy should, in turn, lead to action.  The Israelites were supposed to treat people more kindly and mercifully because of their common heritage.  Shouldn’t our common heritage as sinners cause us to treat others kindly and mercifully, as well?

Today, I want to remember that “my story” is not simply found in the pages of the Bible or in the narrative that exists in my own head.  On the contrary, my story is embodied and enlivened by all of my actions.  Today, I want to live in a way that reflects the truth of the story in my head.  I want to live in a way that points others to God.

(This post is linked up with Word-filled Wednesday and iFellowship.)

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