Sunday, March 27, 2011

Love Wins

There is an author, readers, who I simply love. His name is Rob Bell. He writes about God and Christ and Love and Faith in the way I have thought of them for years but am unable to articulate. He has a new book out that has the majority of the American Christian Church up in arms. I have yet to finish it, but so far, I don't think it's quite the blasphemy everyone is claiming it is. I say this as someone with a better than average grasp of the Bible and what it says (I am by no means an expert, but I've read a lot of it and I know a lot of scriptures and I try to remember to keep things in the context they were intended).

That being said, he makes interesting points about what Heaven and Hell are, and how they are very much a part of our every day lives. His interpretation is that we bring the eternal into the present. Our actions, the way we treat people and perceive the world and the things we do--that all has an effect of creating more Heaven (a place where God's Will is done) or more Hell (a place where the opposite of God's Will is done) on Earth (a place where many wills are done).

He mentions the story of the Prodigal Son. For those of you unaware, the parable of the Prodigal Son is about a young man who goes to his father one day and asks for his inheritance before his father has died. Being gracious, the father grants him his wish and the son sets off. He quickly squanders all of his money drinking, partying, sleeping with prostitutes, and gambling and is forced to take a job as a pig feeder, where he is only able to eat the slops that the pigs leave behind. He realizes that his father is far kinder to his servants, so he sets off towards his home, hoping to beg for the lowest position, certain of his unworthiness. To his great surprise, his father welcomed him with open arms. He killed the fatted calf and threw a party for the son, much to the dismay of the boy's older brother. The older brother is outraged that his father would throw this huge party for his degenerate, low-life, inheritance-squandering brother, when he has "slaved for years" and never been given a measly little goat for a small party with his friends. In fact, he's so upset that he can't even say his name or call him his brother--he refers to him as "your son." The father replies, "We must celebrate." In his eyes, he has gotten his younger son back from the dead. Since I recently saw the after-effects of a parent who loses a child, I can say that a huge party would probably be the least of what Deana did if Kiefer came back from the dead. Bell then goes on to say "This makes what Jesus does in his story about the man with two sons particularly compelling. Jesus puts the older brother right there at the party, but...refusing to join in the celebration.
Hell is being at the party.
That's what makes it so hellish."

This resonated with me. I've been the older brother at the party. Most of high school was that for me. I was tired of being passed over for parts or stupid, meaningless awards at Thespian Banquet after slaving away, staying late, and generally being the un-sung peon of the drama club. I resented all of it, and the self-induced exclusion in the midst of the party, in the midst of the unity and the "heaven" of it all, I was in my own hell. I sentenced myself to the exclusion. This, I think, is key, and Bell goes on to say it later in the book: "His rule keeping and his law-abiding confidence in his own works has actually served to distance him from his father." This belief in our "goodness" as "Christians" separates us from other people and our Father. Some deep resentment blossoms in our hearts as we see people who have done nothing good ever in their lives welcomed into the arms of God with great celebration, even though we've been "slaving away" for years. The problem with that is this: resentment has no place in the heart of God. Resentment does not lead to unity with the Father. Resentment is being at the party, but refusing to participate. Resentment is staring at the delicious food, but being too angry to eat. Resentment is hearing joyous music but shaking too hard to be able to dance. Resentment is a scowl in the face of a smile. Resentment is separation from the perfect Love that keeps no record of wrongs.

So no, I don't think this book is blasphemy. I don't think it's a universalist manifesto. I don't think it's something produced by a false teacher. I think maybe, it's something that should have been written a long time ago.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bright and Shiny

So, readers, I should tell you something about myself. I don't have a lot of interesting, independent ideas. What I do is listen to other people talk about their ideas and that gives me ideas. I'm codependent that way. Sometimes, these ideas are a little bit off the wall, and as my advisor told me recently, he's never sure if I'm a genius or just crazy. I say I'm a little bit of both, only time will tell which wins out as my defining characteristic.

Anyway, the point of telling you that was because I was reading my bestie's blog and she was talking about how everyone else in the world is all "My life is so wonderful and my husband is so handsome and does the dishes and we NEVER fight and my baby is just the cutest baby EVER and s/he never screams all night long or says embarrassing things in public!" And it's a little... shall we say... annoying. It's annoying because, yeah, your life is wonderful and your husband is a supermodel who does the dishes and your babies are adorable, but you know what? Your husband, he's got some deadly farts. And he picks his nose while he's driving and he's got this habit of tossing his socks in the general direction of the hamper but never actually gets them in and this has lead to giant, screaming WWIII fights in your house where he tells you you're just like your mother and you say better yours than his and he storms out and you make him sleep on the couch. And your precious bundle of joy? She's asking, loudly, "Why is that man so FAT?" (true story. I was 3. My mom was mortified. My grandfather found it hilarious). He refuses to eat anything of nutritional value and when you finally draw the line in the sand and say he has to eat the freaking apple, and he's not getting up from the table until he does, and he's not eating anything else until the apple is gone, it is an 8-hour hysterical drama-fest as you try to assert your will over his.

Of course, it looks nothing like that.

But that's not the stuff you share on your blog. No, blogs are all bright and shiny.

I am not interested in bright and shiny, blogosphere. I know it sounds strange, coming from a self-professed lover of happy endings, but here's the thing: I like my happy endings in books in movies, because real life rarely has happy endings. In real life, I like, well, real life. I don't want to feel like you're lying to me about everything. I like hearing about days like this because it makes me feel like less of a failure, because if I had a dog, I could totally see that happening to me. In fact, during the dogsitting week from hell, they ate some down pillows and barfed up feathers all over the house. It's the same, right?

So, blogosphere, let's all dispense with the facade. Let's be honest with each other. But be funny about it. Or at least darkly witty. No one wants to read whiny posts by angsty teenagers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I used to believe there was a reason for everything

But now I'm not so sure. Yes, good things can come out of bad circumstances. And if I'm going to be consistent in my beliefs, I have to say that I think that "all things work together for good to those who love God." But that doesn't mean that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes things are senselessly horrible. Sometimes terrible, awful things happen and there is nothing that anyone can say to make it make sense. You can feed me platitudes, and you can repeat words of meaningless comfort and stroke my hair and hand me tissues, but you can't make things make sense.

Yesterday, I had my first real brush with an unexpected death. When my Poppy died, it wasn't a surprise. Even my not-quite-ten-year-old brain and heart saw it coming and was prepared. He had been ill, it was logical. When Papa died, it was shocking, but in retrospect, not that surprising--he was a cowardly man and suicide is often the route taken by weak men when confronted with serious failings. When Great Grammy died, it was a relief--she had been so absent for so long, her mind so ruined by Alzheimer's that she didn't know who we were anymore. But this death was unexpected. This death was a surprise. This death was a sucker punch. My brother's best friend from elementary school was found dead yesterday morning. The details are still foggy, and the rumors abound (unfortunately too easily believable). Yes, kids died when I was in high school. In fact, I had even met one of them. But I didn't KNOW any of them. It was more abstractly sad for me. I hadn't sat next to their mothers at games. I hadn't driven them home after school. They weren't in my kitchen when I woke up most Saturday mornings from 2003-2006. It was sad, and I did cry. But it wasn't really "real." This boy, this death, it's real. It hit far too close to home.

We got the news in the middle of the Apple store. I was literally explaining to my brother the amazingness of the Grocery IQ app when he got a call from his current best friend, asking if he had heard the news. As his eyes widened and his jaw dropped, I could tell that something wasn't right, but I didn't imagine anything that wrong could have happened. He ended the call, sat down on a stool, and said simply, "Kiefer died." Astonished, I asked if he was sure. It couldn't be true--his friend was a healthy 17-year-old. Healthy 17-year-olds don't just drop dead. We left the store to tell our parents and immediately tears sprang to my mother's eyes. My generally upbeat, stoic, macho brother then began to cry. My family was in shock, so I suggested that we leave the middle of the mall. Somehow the view of New York and Co. was just not what I wanted to be looking at while I processed my grief as people and shopping bags jostled me around. And as I walked out, making calls to people at church, people who could comfort the family, it struck me. The world was still turning. People were driving, people were shopping, people were working. A family's world was shattered, and the world kept turning. I just wanted everyone to STOP for just a moment, and appreciate the fact that nothing would ever be the same again. As I considered the way the family felt--the mother who lost her child, the boy who lost his older brother, my heart stopped beating. I couldn't imagine the way it would feel to lose my brother. Sure, we fight. And I tell him I hate him and want to kill him all the time, but that's simply not true. I love him. I can't imagine a life without him--and I even knew a life without him. Kiefer's brother was younger--he had never known a world without Kiefer in it.

And I guess that's part of why I'm having such a hard time. Because I would never want to know that feeling, to know a world with my brother no longer in it. I tell him he's not allowed to "bat out of order" all of the time--usually I mean he's not allowed to get married or have kids before I do. My five extra years of life should give me some sort of batting order bump. But it also goes for dying--he's not allowed to die first. I'm older, it should be my turn first. It's selfish, I know, but I don't want to experience that grief.

The other part of the difficulty is the fact that he was just a boy. If the rumors are true, and he did cause his own death (whether by accident or intent), it still isn't fair. He was just a boy. Mistakes made as a child shouldn't be that bad. Children should get a chance to try again. Children should get a Mulligan. Children shouldn't know what it's like to bury one of their own. Children aren't cognitively able to handle themselves--if he did have an accidental hand in it, he probably didn't realize the gravity of what he was getting himself into. If he had an intentional hand in it, he certainly didn't realize the fact that it gets better. Life isn't the same as it was at 17, I promise. His friends, they aren't ready to deal with this grief. The parts of our brains that process these decisions and these consequences, they aren't even done developing until we're in our mid-20s. He was just a boy, and I would do anything to be able to give him a second chance at becoming a man.

So, no, I no longer believe that there's a reason for everything. Sometimes, these things just happen. All we can do is hope that God keeps His promise, and that somehow, he can make it all turn out ok, even if I can't see how it's possible.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Figuring out life

So, dear readers, it has recently come to my attention that I am now a grownup. I know. It's ridiculous, right? Supposedly, my advanced age and the fact that I've now graduated from college and own a car and a smart phone and stuff qualifies me as a grownup. I have also been made aware that grownups do things like have their own cell phone plans and own insurance plans and will summarily be booted from their parents' plans as soon as they expire. Unfortunately, I have no grownup feelings. I don't know how to be one. But that is not important. What is important is that I don't have a choice in the matter. Sucks, right?

And all of this piles on at a time when I feel most adrift. My parents say it's because I'm in between the types of goals that I've been striving for my whole life. I say it's because I have nothing significant going on in my life at the moment. So I'm going to steal Pants' idea and do some adventuring. Because I am a very adventuresome person (ish). Ideas to include:

-Paintballing with the little brother (because you gotta try it once in your life, right?)

-Road trip (or, yanno, flight) to the beach (especially likely if I get pulled off the waitlist and accepted into GeographicallyDesirableU)
 (Again, who can blame the family and friends for wanting me to end up here? I can't.)

-Figuring out the finer points of my new camera 
-Learning how to cook yummy things that are easy and will make good leftovers so I can not eat out for every meal in grad school (ideas and recipes are requested.)
-Other ideas as they arise. I think I may adopt the Yes Man approach to life and start saying yes to everything I'm invited to. Throw caution to the wind, right?