Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Love Is Not Safe   Leave a comment

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” C. S. Lewis

Love

Posted June 19, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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The Fear of Being Forgiven   Leave a comment

I lost my USB drive holding my reflections on forgiveness, so my momentum on that topic has died, but here is a great quote from Stanley Hauerwas in The Peaceable Kingdom:

It is crucial that we understand that such a peaceableness is possible only if we are also a forgiven people.  We must remember that our first task is not to forgive, but to learn to be the forgiven.  Too often to be ready to forgive is a way of exerting control over another.  We fear accepting forgiveness from another because such a  gift makes us powerless—and we fear the loss of control involved.  Yet we continue to pray, “Forgive our debts.”  Only by learning to accept God’s forgiveness as we see it in the life and death of Jesus can we acquire the power that comes from learning to give up that control….

forgiveness

To be forgiven means that I must face the fact that my life actually lies in the hands of others.  I must learn to trust them as I have learned to trust God….  

But because we have learned to live as a forgiven people, as a  people no longer in  control, we also find we can become a whole people.  Indeed the demand that we be holy is possible only because we find that we can rest within ourselves.  When we exist as a forgiven people we are able to be at peace with our histories, so that now God’s life determines our whole way of being—our character.  We no longer need to deny our past, or tell ourselves false stories, as now we can accept what we have been without the knowledge of our sin destroying us.

Posted April 25, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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Life is Hard   Leave a comment

From Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow:

Human lives are hard, even those of health and privilege, and don’t make much sense.  This is the message of the Book of Job:  Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horseshit.  God tells Job, who wants an explanation for all his troubles, ‘You wouldn’t understand.’

And we don’t understand a lot of things.  But we learn that people are very disappointing, and that they break our hearts, and that very sweet people will be bullied, and that we will be called to survive unsurvivable losses, and that we will realize with enormous pain how much of our lives we’ve already wasted with obsessive work or pleasing people or dieting.  We will see and read about deprivation and barbarity beyond our ability to understand, much less process.  Side by side with all that, we will witness transformation, people finding out who they were born to be, before their parents pretzelized them into high achievers and addicts and charming, wired robots.

But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening?  We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering.  I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me.

Posted April 17, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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Grace Described   Leave a comment

“Grace… [is] the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook.  It is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.  It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.  Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.

“It is amazing.  I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”  –Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies

Posted February 18, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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Living Life Fully   Leave a comment

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is simple: the purpose of humans is to live fully as humans, pain and pleasure direct us towards life or death, and we must choose life.  I find myself agreeing with her.  “Choose life!” God tells Israel repeatedly through Moses.  Surely life lived to the fullest is God’s design for us, and misery or joy seem to be fairly reliable indicators of what benefits or harms us.  But some caution niggles in the back of our brains: if we avoid pain and pursue pleasure, are we not hedonists?

Rand decries hedonism: “When… the gratification of any and all desires is taken as an ethical goal… men have no choice but to hate, fear and fight one another, because their desires and their interests will necessarily clash.  If  ‘desire’ is the ethical standard, then one man’s desire to produce and another man’s desire to rob him have equal ethical validity….  If so, then man’s only choice is to rob or be robbed, to destroy or be destroyed, to sacrifice others to any desire of his own or to sacrifice himself to any desire of others; then man’s only ethical alternative is to be a sadist or a masochist.  The moral cannibalism  of all hedonist and altruist doctrines lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another.”  Hedonism and altruism are alike in this: one person’s well-being must be sacrificed for the sake of another’s.

Rand Is a Rationalist

“The Objectivist ethics,” Rand explains, “holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.  It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash.”   She sees a benevolent world in which every person can find genuine, full happiness regardless of the actions of others.  I’m not sure how an atheist such as Rand can be so optimistic, but if the God of all grace rules the world, hope is an inescapable, logical conclusion.  A theist might read her statement “the spiritual or life-giving interests of men do not clash.”  If God is committed to what is best for me, then I fulfill his will by living out this truth.  God must see to it that the choices I make  in pursuing what is best for me do not undermine what is best for another.

 

*Rand is an individualist, so we must still refine her thoughts with the Biblical truths of community and interdependence.

Posted September 19, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading, thoughts

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Is Selfishness Evil?   9 comments

The Giving Tree (for those who don’t know) is a children’s book that tells the simple love story of a boy and his tree.  As the boy grows, he loses interest in the tree except as it can benefit him, so the loving tree slowly gives itself away a little at a time to the boy–apples to sell, branches for a house, until finally…

Many see in Shel Silverstein’s book an example of unlimited, sacrificial love.  I see a brilliant example of co-dependence.  Is it a virtue to harm myself in order to help others?

A year or two ago I read a quote from Ayn Rand’s book “The Virtue of Selfishness,” and was intrigued by her siding with selfishness against altruism as our ethical necessity, our moral calling.  (She did not distinguish between selfishness and self-care, which is a complex contrast to untangle.)  Here is an example of her perspective, which rings true to a lot of my own life experience:

Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit [i.e. selfishness] is evil….  Observe what this beneficiary-criterion of morality does to a man’s life.  The first thing he learns is that morality is his enemy: he has nothing to gain from it,  he can only lose; self-inflicted loss, self-inflicted pain and the gray, debilitating pall of an incomprehensible duty is all that he can expect.  He may hope that others might occasionally sacrifice themselves for his benefit, as he grudgingly sacrifices himself for theirs, but he knows that the relationship will bring mutual resentment, not pleasure—and that, morally, their pursuit of values will be like an exchange of unwanted, unchosen Christmas presents, which neither is morally permitted to buy for himself….  If you wonder about the reasons behind the ugly mixture of cynicism and guilt in which most men spend their lives, these are the reasons: cynicism, because they neither practice nor accept the altruist morality—guilt, because they dare not reject it.

I had that guilt of never doing enough for others, but instead of cynicism I practiced and accepted the altruistic morality of denying my own needs (because the needs of others always trumped mine).  This conviction that my own needs did not matter left me with a sense of worthlessness.  Is selfishness evil?  Is it always virtuous to give?  I’d like to explore in a few blogs some of Ayn Rand’s views.

Posted September 11, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading, thoughts, Uncategorized

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The Blessing of Disabilities   Leave a comment

Gilles Le Cardinal  shares a vital life concept he learned from those with disabilities, an idea he called revolutionary

Because it is about how our weaknesses can be fecund and fruitful.  Especially for handicapped people, but also for others.  And that was something I discovered from handicapped people, when they said you do not have to hide what is imperfect in you.  And this changed me.  Because in a competitive world, you must hide what is weak or wrong.  Someone will try to beat you when they discover a weakness, try to take advantage of the weakness.  When two players on different teams play, they try to defeat each other.  And that is exactly where the handicapped disagree.  They respect our mutual weakness.

And then Ian Brown, the author who quoted this conversation, a father of a severly disabled boy named Walker, goes on to write a naturalistic explanation with more respect for “the least of these” than many a Christian perceives.

One is revealed by one’s need.  There is no need for posturing….  So you can perhaps forgive me for thinking, some days, that Walker has a purpose in our evolutionary project, that he is something more than an unsuccessful attempt at mutation and variation.  For thinking, probably vainly, that if his example is noted and copied and “selected,” he might be one (very small) step towards the evolution of a more varied and resilient ethical sense in a few members of the human species.  The purpose of intellectually disabled people like Walker might be to free us from the stark emptiness of the survival of the fittest.

Which, I might add, is a tendency we all have to cope and get ahead in this world, even we who are not evolutionists.

Posted July 3, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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A Truth Learned Late   1 comment

I’m glad I finally realized the truth stated here by Parker Palmer: “Let Your Life Speak.”  His description could be the retelling of my pre-grace life.

Like many middle-class Americans, especially those who are white and male, I was raised in a subculture that insisted I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be, if I were willing to make the effort.  The message was that both the universe and I were without limits, given enough energy and commitment on my part.  God made things that way, and all I had to do was to get with the program.

My troubles began, of course, when I started to slam into my limitations, especially in the form of failure.  I can still touch the shame I felt when, in the summer before I started graduate school at Berkeley, I experienced my first serious comeuppance: I was fired from my research assistantship in sociology.

Having been a golden boy through grade school, high school, and college, I was devastated by this sudden turn of fate.  Not only was my source of summer income gone, but my entire graduate career seemed in jeopardy, the professor I had come to Berkeley to study with was the director of the project from which I had been fired.  My sense of identity, and my concept of the universe, crumbled around my feet for the first, but not last time.  What had happened to my limitless self in a limitless world?

The culture I was raised in suggested an answer: I had not worked hard enough at my job to keep it, let alone succeed….  But that truth does not go deep enough…. I was fired because that job had little or nothing to do with who I am, with my true nature and gifts, with what I care and do not care about….

Neither that job nor any job like it was in the cards for me, given the hand I was dealt at birth.  That may sound like sinfully fatalistic thinking or, worse, a self-serving excuse.  But I believe it embodies a simple, healthy, and life-giving truth about vocation.  Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials.  We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials.

Despite the American myth, I cannot be or do whatever I desire–a truism, to be sure, but a truism we often defy.  Our created natures make us like organisms in an ecosystem: there are some roles and relationships in which we thrive and others in which we wither and die….

If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and to myself for a while.  But the fact that I am exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences.  I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship–and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to do this particular “good.”

When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality loveless–a gift given more from need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for.  One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout.

Posted June 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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Disapproval   Leave a comment

Kimberly and I were visiting her relatives in Arkansas for a week, and some days after that, my laptop died.  It is much easier for me to pick up my laptop as I sit on the sofa and begin to compose, but now I must come into our office and sit at a desk to compose, and it takes away the spontaneity and ease (and requires coordination with my wife).  So I’ve been missing.  Kimberly read to me this morning from a book written by the father of a boy with disabilities.  He quoted a poem by Wendell Berry that I appreciated and so will share here:

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty; you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them,
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin his evening flight from the hilltop.

Posted June 5, 2012 by janathangrace in Poems, Reading

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Redefining Normal   Leave a comment

A blog post well worth reading:

My son Cade is a survivor.

To Cade and the Eight Percent

Eleven years ago this week, Rebekah and I celebrated the birth of our first-born. Despite his Down syndrome diagnosis, we were overjoyed to welcome this new life into our family.

But not everyone welcomes children like Cade.

It’s no secret. People with Down syndrome have been targeted for extinction. In November, the New York Post heralded The End of Down Syndrome and profiled a new, safer test for pre-natal detection. Before this test was available, 92% of Down syndrome diagnoses (and many times false diagnoses) resulted in the mothers choosing to terminate their pregnancies. With these new tests, some experts foretell the end of Downs.

Why the rush to rid the world of people like Cade?

Certainly, it isn’t because his disability physically threatens anyone. Rather, Down syndrome children pose adifferent kind of threat to society—the in your face reminder that our aspirations for “perfection” may be flawed. People like Cade disrupt normal. Whether it’s his insistence that everyone he says “hello” to on the busy streets of Manhattan respond in-kind or his unfiltered ability to hug a lonely, wheelchair-bound, homeless man without hesitation: people like Cade bring new dimension to what normal ought to be.

I’ve been encouraged to see several pop-culture venues putting on display just how normal children like Cade—and the surviving 8%—really are.

I was surprised and delighted when I opened a Nordstrom catalog a few months back and saw a young boy with Downs syndrome posing as a model for children’s clothes. No mention or special attribution was made of it. But there he was, hanging with a few other boys, included as one of the gang. The way things ought to be.

Then again, last month, dozens of major news outlets picked up this story line when the same young model was included in the latest Target ad campaign. One father and advocate, Rick Smith, took the story viral when he posted 5 Things Target Said Without Saying Anything on his blog.

Only two weeks ago on the popular show Glee, a sixteen-year old girl with Down syndrome was portrayed beautifully. Her character showed life as a high school teenager, a member of the cheerleading squad dealing with the pressures of modern teen life. During the episode, you could hear her internal thoughts playing out as the writers took a bold step forward in portraying how it might feel to walk in her shoes.

But these public displays of inclusion are only part of how we counter the extinction of those with Down syndrome.

Why do the majority of expectant parents determine not to carry these pregnancies to full term?

Fear.  [for the rest of this insightful article, connect to http://www.qideas.org/blog/to-cade-and-the-eight-percent.aspx

Posted March 15, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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