The Rose

I’m not someone apt to look for beauty when life is ugly.  When life is ugly, when I’m losing people to death and fighting with people I love and finding it hard to sit in church listening to sermons about Revelation and the end times, I only see the brokenness of the world and the people in it. I tend to see only the problems without solutions, the cancers without treatments, and the cruelty of how we’re treating each other in these messes.   Left to my own devices, I get dark and ugly.

And then I reminded that I’m not left to my own devices.  Then friends on Twitter who I’ve not met in real life send tweets of encouragement.  Then my youth girls and college friends send text messages that are really more like prayers, reminders that they’re calling out to Him when I can’t find the words. Then Amy and Mike call and insist that I stay the night in their extra bedroom so that I can get a good night’s sleep, and they make me breakfast and coffee in the morning so I can have a home cooked meal.  Then Danielle and Joe invite me over, and Danielle takes me out to lunch while Joe stays home and fixes the tire on my car that keeps going flat.  Then Julie emails me pictures of my little buddy Joey starting to crawl and she calls and leaves voicemails just to tell me she loves me and that it’s okay that I don’t have energy to answer my phone.  Then Jesse makes me kiss Noah “right there” on his head before I leave church, on the same spot I kissed when I left the hospital on the day that he was born.  And then my cousin’s three year old son runs over and gives me a rose in the middle of my uncle’s memorial service.

A rose: beauty in our midst

And there it is – beauty in the midst of ugly.

And there it is – God right in the middle of it.

I’ve long held to the idea that God shows up uniquely through people, through our relationships with each other.  I remember talking to Jesse about it early in our friendship when we were staying the night at a friend’s house, sharing their guest room, at that time of the night that is actually very early in the morning and that makes lips seem to loosen.  I remember telling her that I know that a lot of people experience God’s presence in a palpable way when they’re walking in the woods and see a butterfly or wildflower or, like my mom, when they’re standing at the ocean’s shore and feeling very small in relation to the bigness of His creation.  I remember sharing with her that I’ve always experienced the palpable presence of God when I’m with people and we’re laughing until we’re crying, or we’re engrossed in conversations about what we’re scared of at our very cores or the dreams we’d like to chase if we didn’t have to worry about paying student loans or mortgages, or we’re holding hands and praying out loud. I stand on this thought even more strongly now, after so many people have demonstrated to me the beauty of love in the bleakest of moments.

Like, a quiet place to sleep after two days of not sleeping.  Like, a patched tire after three weeks of going flat every other day. Like, a kiss on my nephew’s head after a sermon about the judgments facing people who abandon God.  Like, a rose given in the middle of a memorial service by a three year old with mussed hair and a wide smile.

And there it is – beauty.  And there it is – God.

The theology of the Harry Potter Book Club

(c) 2010 Celine Choo, Flickr // via Wylio

My friend, Amy, has been begging me for the entirety of our friendship to read the Harry Potter series. Now, in the time that Amy and I have been friends, I’ve started and completed my Master’s degree and she’s gotten engaged and gotten married.  Our friendship doesn’t have a short shelf-life; we’re doing life together. So, after so many years and so many text messages that started, “Oh, and btw are you reading Harry Potter yet?,” I caved.  I caved because it’s important to Amy and because not doing so was a personal insult to  her.  Seriously.  She threatened to stop hanging out with me, and I knew it was a serious threat when I texted her a “Friends” quote which she didn’t text back to finish.  So, to save our friendship, to save the unfinished “Friends” quote, I started reading Harry Potter.  Which, you know, turned out to be okay because it gave birth to my very first book club experience.  And I’ll do just about anything to sit around, drink coffee, and laugh with my friends.

And we laugh a lot! It’s interesting to me as I get older how much I’ve come to value that piece of life – the laughing-at-it piece.  Probably because my head is now so trained to examine the broken and ugly parts of the human condition, the parts that aren’t working, that laughing makes me feel like something is still working.  Actually, to be honest, I think that laughing with people connects me somehow back to God’s creating heart in Genesis 1 and 2 – created in Love, in His image, to experience the beauty of His glory, in relationship with each other because “it’s not good for man to be alone.”  I think laughing makes me feel less alone.

It’s one of the reasons I value my book club – because we laugh together.  About the book, yes, but mostly because we like each other and we just kind of can’t help it.  It’s the natural outpouring of five women who enjoy being in the same space together.  It’s the organic result of reading the same book, but more importantly, of sharing the same life stories. So, while I may not be the biggest fan of Harry Potter, I am a super huge fan of these women and every minute that I get to laugh with them.

When I posted on Facebook that I was reading Harry Potter, another friend commented, “This is me, sighing loudly.”  I knew this particular friend would comment because we’ve talked about Harry Potter before and I know how she feels about the books and the kind of theological questions she has about its magical content. Quite frankly, I respect her opinion a whole lot and I think her points are valid. But, those aren’t deal breakers for me, so that’s why I commented back, “Then sigh AND shake your head because I’m in a HP book club. Ya know, because I’m all about building relationships any way that I can.”

I’ve been really surprised by the depth of conversation that’s come out of this book club, because while these women have great depth, we are reading a kids book about wizards.  It’s not like we’re breaking down Tolstoy or Kurt Vonnegut for that matter.  We’re talking about the Imperius curse and how creepy it is that Mad-Eye Moody’s magic eye can see through clothing.  We’re talking about how weird it is the the Sorting Hat has a brain and how gross pumpkin juice has to be. We’re talking about house elves, and trolls, and three-headed dogs.  But…we’re also talking about the non-negotiables of friendships, and heartbreaks we experienced as teenagers, and how, like Harry, we’re not meant to do life alone.  We’re talking about how pride and ambition and personal flaws can get in the way of relationships and successes.  We’re talking about good versus evil, and what makes someone a “bad” person, and how “good” people can make a difference in the world.  And we’re laughing. We’re always laughing.

So, okay, I don’t know what Jesus would do with Harry Potter.  I don’t know if He’d read it or demand its burning.  But, I do know that He applauds the building of relationships, and eating together, and laughing together.  I know that when He walked the earth that He met people in unusual ways that often ticked off the religious leaders of His day.  I know that those religious leaders sighed and shook their heads a lot when they were around Jesus. I know that all the head shaking and sighing didn’t stop Jesus for one second from building relationships wherever He was.  It didn’t stop Him from turning conversations to things that were for God’s glory.  Like, in John 4 when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, I think there was probably a lot of head sighing and shaking from the religious leaders.  I think if the disciples hadn’t been off getting food, if they had been with Jeus when He started walking toward the well, that John might have been in Jesus’ ear saying, “Um, Jesus, we don’t go there.”  And I imagine they would’ve been like some of my friends saying to me about Harry Potter Book Club, “Um, yeah, we don’t go there.”

But, I am going to Harry Potter Book Club. Because I enjoy these women and because I need to laugh with them.  I’m going because it’s kind of like going to my own metaphorical well, and because I believe that talking about good versus evil, and the foundations of friendships, and sharing our own stories of heartbreaks with each other is talking about things that are of God.  And because, you know, I think Jesus is also about building relationships any way that we can.

No, I’m the leader

There's definitely a twinkle.

My dad has this story about me that he likes to tell.  I guess I was about 3 years old and my dad was trying to explain something to someone – to me the details are fuzzy because I was 3 and to my dad the details are fuzzy because his mind’s not as sharp as it once was, despite how deeply he doesn’t want that to be true.  What he does remember, though, is that my 3 year old self walked up to him, put my hand on his knee and said, “No, Daddy, let me ‘splain it to you.”  He likes to say that I’ve been “splainin'” to him ever since.

My grandpa, my dad’s dad, has a story that he likes to tell, too.  It seems that my grandparents were taking my brother and I on a walk around the neighborhood, just as far as my little 3 year old legs would let us go.  Apparently discontent to be walking behind, I ran past my grandpa and said to him, “No, Grandpa, I’m the leader.”  He likes to say that I’ve been trying to lead ever since.

Grown-up that I am now, I always cringe a little bit when these men whom I love tell these stories.  I don’t think I come off too well.  My 3 year old self sounds, well, bossy.  And while I like to think that I’ve aged somewhat gracefully and have learned to tone-down the bossy, I’m just not sure I have, actually.  In fact,  I can say with confidence that my 28 year old self is still telling my dad and other people how it is and is still uncomfortable with the idea of getting left behind.

I’ll tell you another thing. I think I’m guilty of bossing God around a lot.  I think I’ve treated him much like I’ve treated the other men in my life – like I’m going to tell them how it is, like I’m the one laying down the ground rules, like I’m making it clear that I’m in charge.  I think my general attitude has not changed much since I was three: I’m the leader and I’m going to explain to You how this is going to work.

The thing is, though, being the leader and trying to explain to God how life is going to work isn’t working for me so much. When I was 15, I told God my plan for what my life would look like before I turned 30. As 30 looms ever closer, my life is not happening according to plan.  And I’m not happy about it.  In fact, much like my three year old self, I’m kind of a brat and I’m getting pretty good at throwing temper tantrums about it.

But, the thing about God is that I think He’s okay with it because He loves me. I think He loves me deeper and better and bigger than even my dad and my grandpa. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these two men are crazy for me and that they love me in spite of my ugly parts, and I know that somehow they’re modeling to me the Father’s love.  And I know that these men who’ve commanded troops and flown into combat zones and looked several United States enemies in the eyes always melt a little bit when they tell stories of this 3 year old spitfire who tried to put them in their place. They get this certain twinkle in their eyes, a look that probably isn’t perceptible to most but that I see and says to me that they are intimately acquainted with this very worst part of me, this bossy part, and are still so proud of me.  It’s a look that says to me that I can say the most ridiculous things and treat them not very kindly and try the last nerve of their patience and they still think I’m one of the greatest people on the planet.  My dad gets this same look when he looks at my mom – like she’s kind of a little bit crazy, but like she’s the most amazing thing that’s ever walked the earth. Man, if you could only see THAT twinkle.

God’s got the same kind of twinkle for us crazy folk too, I think. Only I think it’s brighter somehow, because He loves us deeper and better and bigger. I think I say ridiculous things and treat Him not so kindly and try every last nerve He has, and I think He’s still over the moon about me.  I think He knows the very worst parts of me, and offers me grace to live every day in spite of myself. I think He gets a similar kind of pride that my dad and my grandpa get in telling stories about me, because He loves me.  I think I try to tell Him how my life is going to work or run past Him trying to be the leader, and I think He smiles and He gets a twinkle. And man, do I relish THAT twinkle.