Archive for May, 2013

What Do Bella Swan, Harry Potter and Superman Have in Common?

I remember once trying to explain to my husband the appeal of Bella Swan, the heroine of the Twilight series.  He had watched the first movie (very much against his will) and came out quite unimpressed with ol’ Bella.  I, too, was (and am) somewhat mystified by her success as a relatable character, but there was one part of her personality that stood out to me.  In the book, I explained to Greg, the vampire hero, Edward, can read people’s minds…but he cannot read Bella’s.  That makes Bella very mysterious and attractive to him and hints that there is something special about her, even though Bella outwardly does not seem unique in any way.  My theory then was that the phenomenon of what I call “unmerited special-ness” really appeals to girls.  I think that we hope that there is something very special about us that one day, someone will be able to see…even when nothing outwardly shows that we are special.  Thus, Edward’s inexplicable fascination with Bella is deeply appealing to us.

Now that I’m reading Harry Potter for the first time (don’t judge me), I’m starting to think that this longing is not just limited to girls.  Indeed, one of the most striking aspects about the first Harry Potter book is that the reader gets to vicariously experience Harry’s unmerited special-ness.  See, Harry is famous–a legend, even!–for an event that he doesn’t even remember or understand.  Somehow, as a baby, he survived a deadly attack and seemed to simultaneously vanquish a powerfully evil man.  Because of that, Harry is famous and admired, and a heavy sense of destiny surrounds him.  Apart from that central event, however, Harry is just as normal as can be.  He displays all the emotions–the longings, the pettiness, the love and hatred–of an ordinary human being.  As book 1 continues, we see more explicitly that Harry’s power derives not from his own merit, but from the love of his mother.  In other words, his lineage is what makes him special, not his inherent goodness of character.

Thinking about Harry’s inherited power makes me think of Superman.  Even though I have never really followed the Superman character through comic books or movies, I know the rudiments of his story line (plus, the trailer for the upcoming movie was a good refresher).  As with Harry Potter, Superman’s power–his special-ness–does not come from some inner merit, but instead is in his bloodline.  Put simply, he is an alien of a superior race, and because of this physical heritage, he is powerful and special.

What’s interesting to me is how well that archetype of this special-by-birth hero plays in America.  I can see why it would resonate in Europe, for example, since their histories echo with concepts like inherited nobility and divine right of kings.  But America, with our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, Protestant-work-ethic-inspired “American dream”?  You would think our superheroes would all look more like Batman, who changes the world through determination, rebellion, and full use of the earthly resources available to him. You would think that the image of an inherently special hero, blessed through no merit of his own, would not be so appealing.

And yet it is.  I wonder why that is so.

I have a theory.  My theory is, simply, that people want to think that they are special.  They want to think that they are destined for greatness somehow.  And yet, they also know themselves.  They know that they are, in general, ordinary people with the ordinary amount of strengths and weaknesses, and that, on the surface of it, there is not much about them that seems uniquely special or predestined.  And yet…they still hope.  We still hope.

What’s cool is that, as Christians, I think we have a story that speaks to that hope.  The story of the gospel is that we are that archetype of unmerited special-ness.  We were created as children of an all-powerful God, who has a destiny in mind for each of us.  And that destiny is nothing more or less than a chance to have a relationship with Him and partner with Him to further His Kingdom on this earth.  As Christians, we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  God’s workmanship?  Is that not unmerited special-ness?  Good works prepared in advance by God?  Is that not destiny?

So often, the people I talk to–even Christians–lack this incredible vision for themselves.  We love Harry Potter and Superman, not because we relate to them, but because we long for what they have.  Instead, I think we should read about Harry Potter and Superman and think, “Hey, that’s me, too!”  I think that having that vision is so important.  Without it, we become stagnant and hopeless.  My goal a witness for Christ is to share that vision with the people with whom I come into contact.  I find that people these days don’t simply want to “be saved.”  They don’t want to just stay in line and follow the rules.  They want a purpose, a reason to be here.  I believe wholeheartedly that the Bible supplies that purpose.  Our challenge is to communicate that purpose in a way that gives them hope and excites them.

Like the Harry Potter series and Superman comics, the Bible has  good story to tell.  Unlike those first two, though, the Bible’s story invites real participation.  I think that as a church, we need to give that vision to the world.

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Did You Know God Answers Prayers? No, Seriously.

This first part might be silly to you.

See, for weeks, I’ve had this worship song on the tip of my tongue.  The only problem is that I can’t remember…well…any of it.  I remember that it has a part where the girls echo.  I remember that it is kind of upbeat.  That it might have the line, “I need you.”  I remember learning it in Summerville and singing it around a bonfire.

That’s all I remember.

And for weeks, whenever I’ve been singing around the house or in the car, I’ve tried to remember that song.  I have racked my brain, you guys.

Well, last Thursday, I was driving the kids to Chattanooga to meet my mom, and I was singing some worship songs (the drive to Chattanooga will do that to you.  It is gorgeous!). The kids were content with their i-devices, and I was up front, singing softly through my repertoire, when that song-I-don’t-know came back into my head.  Again, I tried in vain to tease it out of my brain, to no avail.

Finally, I decided to pray about it.  What made me want to pray was that the kids and I had recently read a biography of George Muller, the guy who started all the orphanages in Bristol in the 1800’s.  That guy prayed for everything.  It was nuts.  He never asked for a dime for his orphan houses.  He just literally prayed every day that God would supply their needs, and…God did.  Seriously.  It was insane.

The thing is, Muller just had such faith in prayer.  Like, he prayed and expected God to answer.  I mean, really answer.  You know?  So, although my request was a far cry from feeding the orphans, I decided to pray about this song, just to see.  I tried my best to think like George Muller and to really have an eager expectation of God answering my prayer.  So even though I felt more than a little sheepish, I laughed nervously and asked God, “Please, tell me what that song is.  I really want to sing it to You!”  Then I waited for a second.  When nothing popped into my head, I sighed and started to sing another song.  Midway through, I stopped.

“I love You.  I need You. Mmm-hm hm-hm-hm, I’ll never let you go.”

I paused.  Yes!  Yes, that’s how it went.

“You’re my savior.  My closest friend.  I will worship You until the very end.”

Within a minute or two, the whole song had come back to me, and I was happily singing,

“Jesus–you’re the lover of my so-ou-oul./ Jesus–I will never let you go,” 

with a big smile on my face.  I had finally remembered the song.  “Thanks, God.”  I said.  “That was killing me.”

That’s the silly part of the story.  But it gets better.

The next day, I went to a homeschool convention, which was so much fun.  I went to lots of sessions and got various tips about the benefits of notebooking and the importance of including art in your curriculum.  It was the last session of the day, however, that really rocked my world.  The session was called, “The Logic of English,” and it was taught by Denise Eide, the author of a phonics curriculum by the same name.  Her 60-minute session blew me away.  She really explained the nature of the English language to the packed room, and her thesis is that even though English is a complex morpho-phonetic language, it is not inherently inconsistent.  We only think that it is because we don’t understand the rules for it.  Using enough specific examples to convince me, Denise argued that the knowledge of 74 phonograms and 30 spelling rules will explain 98% of the English language.  Even more than that, she used statistics to highlight the reality that our nation is experiencing a literacy crisis.  She showed how literacy greatly affects one’s path in life (and the likelihood, for example, that one will end up in prison or on welfare), and she issued a stirring call to the church to step up and stand in the gap.  She claimed that it is the duty of the Christian not just to teach our own children in our little nest, but also to make the world a better place.

Not surprisingly, this all set my hair on fire.

I drove home that evening, mulling over the implications of her talk and trying to figure out some way to bring her program to the kids at Youth Encouragement Services, an after-school program that is closely linked to our church.  Should Greg and I buy the curriculum for Y.E.S.?  How much would it cost?  Would Daniel, the Y.E.S. director, even be interested in using it?  Would it work well in a group setting?  I had so many questions!

That night, I prayed about it.  And the next morning, I prayed some more.  My song prayer had really bolstered my faith, and so I prayed what I call a “for-real prayer.”  As in, “For real, God, I am expecting an answer to this–today.  I need You to make this clear to me.”  After I prayed, I talked to Greg about my conundrum.  See, we had some money set aside to do something else for God’s kingdom, and I was wondering if God wanted me to use it instead for this curriculum.  It wasn’t much, but enough to buy a teacher manual and some of the manipulatives.  Maybe we could make our own workbooks?  When I told Greg about it, he suggested, “Well, why don’t you ask her if she would cut a deal for Y.E.S.  It’s a non-profit, after all.”  Huh.  I had never thought of that, but the more I considered it, the more sense it made.  If Denise would work with us, then maybe we could use our money to do both things.  That settled it.  I asked God to let that be my sign that He wanted me to pursue The Logic of English.  It seemed like a fair test:  Denise had been so passionate about serving the community in her talk.  We would see if she was in real life, as well.

My resolve wavered several times before I got a chance to talk to her at her booth.  Maybe that wasn’t such a good test after all.  What if they weren’t willing to play ball–did that really mean that I shouldn’t use their curriculum at all?  I lingered around the booth for awhile, and finally got a chance to talk to her husband about everything.  He was open and supportive, and said they would be willing to work with us, but he wasn’t very committal on specifics, which honestly made sense to me.  As I walked away, I pondered.  Was that enough?  Was that my sign?  God knows that I need bright neon signs–We’ve been through this, time and time again, and He usually supplies the electric signs when I need them.  Because of that, I just wasn’t sure that this was it.

Later, I wandered back  over to the booth and ended up talking to Denise herself.  When I mentioned Y.E.S., her eyes lit up, and she asked me all sorts of questions about it.  What really intrigued her was that we had the kids every day.  That’s what she kept coming back to.  This program works so much better if it is taught daily, she kept saying.  She also seemed incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with us.  I knew from talking to her husband that their company was new and not really on its feet yet financially.  Denise, however, waved off those concerns.  She explained that she was friends with the head of the National Right to Read foundation and felt confident that she could get a grant for whatever we needed.  As we kept talking she finally said, “Even if we can’t get a grant, we can make this happen.  If we have to donate it ourselves, we will make this happen.”

And that was my bright neon sign.

Or maybe it was this:

Image

This all came today, just one week after I prayed for a sign that God wanted us to use The Logic of English at Y.E.S.  It is everything we need to launch a K-2nd grade class this summer, and we didn’t pay a dime for it.  Denise donated it.  She and I are also going to work on a grant proposal this summer for money to start a more extensive literacy program in the fall, one that includes more age groups.

This past week has involved a lot of scrambling on the part of Daniel (the Y.E.S. director), Denise, and me, as we tried to figure out how to maximize this opportunity and start as soon as possible, without stretching our resources too far.  Implementing a new program takes a lot of work, and I had to chuckle a couple of times as I thought, “Be careful what you pray for!”  However, this is the type of work that is totally worth it, and it feels amazing to be doing something that seems so clearly in God’s direct will.  I have no idea where this all will lead (right now, I’m focusing on doing “the next right thing”), but I am so thankful that I serve a God who does answer prayers, a God that lets us partner with Him to accomplish His purposes on this earth.  

Sometimes, I need to be reminded of that amazing reality, and I’m sharing this all with you, just in case you need to be reminded, too.

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