Archive for May, 2012

Job. Denouement.

denouement:  [French] the solution, unraveling, or clarification of a plot in a drama or story

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle,” Mother Teresa said. “I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

In case you’ve forgotten, lets recap what Job has had to handle: Children dead and wealth destroyed. Sick and disfigured, sitting in an ash heap. Friends insisting his calamity is the result of sin. Vigorously defending himself, flirting at times with irreverence, and rashly accusing God of being unjust. 37 chapters.

God must trust him a lot.

One might think that, considering Job’s condition, this would be a good time for the still, small Voice. But no. A massive whirlwind spins up out of the southern desert.  And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. He said, “Why do you confuse the issue?  Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers. (38:1-3 Msg)

Pull yourself together! I’m going to give you a detailed verbal tour of the earth and its creatures with the megaphone of heaven! When I’m done, let Me know if you feel like arguing anymore, or accusing Me of lacking compassion.

Jehovah, wise and watchful, knows that Job’s terrible trial requires an awe-inspiring response. In four blazing chapters, He does not disappoint. And Job answers for all of us: I am a lightweight. What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth.

Indeed. Tribulation has done its hard, exhausting work on the spirit of man. What is left is refined, purified, beautiful. The denouement of God’s purpose, after all.

How has God spoken to you during or after a severe trial?

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Job. Sugar Up.

He is a young man. Bold, audacious, wise beyond his years.

At least he thinks he is. Wise beyond his years.

We’ve all met people like Elihu. It’s not that they don’t make good points (God will never do wickedly. Rather obvious. Hard to argue.) It’s that they get wound up, then start exaggerating, sabotaging their own positions: “I am telling you nothing but the truth, for I am a man of great knowledge!” (36:4)

Dude. Great knowledge is on the way and you are in the way.

Don’t get me wrong. Age is no guarantee of wisdom. Should be, but isn’t.                                       

Unfortunately, Elihu (and his friends) hadn’t heard about the University of Kentucky study that discovered this amazing fact: People who drank a glass of sugar-sweetened lemonade acted less aggressively than people who had the same drink with a sugar substitute. Because self-control (this is important) takes a lot of energy, the glucose just might give your brain the help it needs to hold back hostility and be more positive.

And there you have it. Drink sugar! Have more self-discipline and a brighter outlook! Of course, time dedicated to prayer, ditto the Word, a tender heart, and a balanced diet are also helpful.

We are provided six (count them: 32-37 ) chapters of Elihu. He scolds his friends for their inability to make Job acknowledge his sins – real or imagined. He scolds Job for having the audacity to contend with God. He anoints himself the standard-bearer of God’s greatness, then pokes Job in the eye with it.

In short, he is a spectacular example of zeal without wisdom. So, to be helpful, which is one of my passions, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve made a short list of suggestions for the Elihus of the world:

1) Have a glass of (real) sugar-sweetened lemonade.

2) Think before you speak. A majority of those fabulous thoughts bouncing around in your head should remain there.

3) Think while you are speaking. With love.

4) Think, when you are done speaking, about what you can do to help without words. Help clean up the devastation. Provide a meal. Run an errand.

God’s going to show up and He won’t appreciate the hostility. So have another glass of lemonade. And brighten up.

Do you tend to speak before thinking? What are the consequences?

Job. Defined.

I don’t have a warm personal enemy left. They’ve all died off. I miss them terribly because they helped define me. (Clare Boothe Luce, who was beautiful, witty, and fantastically accomplished. Sigh.)

For our purposes here, let’s define “enemy” this way: 1) anyone who is consistently vexatious, disagreeable, infuriating or 2) who seems to take adverse pleasure in staking out the opposing view. They’re like pepper up the nose.

My mother was born in Arkansas and her family moved to California, rather Grapes of Wrath style, in the 1940s. I was always fascinated by the language of her kinfolk. Being certain about something, (which my maternal grandmother ALWAYS was) meant being “sure as shootin.” If you should be ignored, they would “pay you no never mind.” Perhaps it was because you were “mean as all get out.”

This grandmother, by the way, if provoked by an annoying bluejay disturbing the peace of their doublewide up on the hill, would calmly go to the closet, take out the shotgun, walk out back, and blow the bird clean out of the scrub oak.

But I digress.

Perhaps Job’s friends were simply warm, personal enemies. Their goading helped him process his relationship with God. Their snarkiness provoked him to keep talking, thinking, resisting.

Perhaps they functioned something like personal trainers. I hear about them from women in our church. Hard taskmasters in resistance training who MAKE you do hundreds of lunges, lift unliftable weights, swing bags of sand around for . . . some reason, run in place for-ever!

But the girls keep returning to the gym for more pain. And muscle-building.

I love the way Job keeps gritting his teeth and hanging on.                                                              

I will never admit you are in the right. Till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it. 27:5-6

So there, all you warm, personal enemies. Be mean as all get out. In your irritating way, you are helping provide clarity. Making it more certain that God’s up to something.

Sure as shootin’.

How have “enemies” or “resistance” in your life helped define you?

Run, Travis, Run!

For the past 3 years, I have been in a Writers Group with 2 women, Janis Coverdale and Jeanette Breaux. Each month we workshop each others essays, articles, blog posts, and poetry. Their writing skills, literary instincts, and good humor have blessed my work. Following is a guest post by Janis. Enjoy.

Travis is neighbor child about nine.                                                          

He appeared on my doorstep with a signup sheet and asked me to sponsor him in a school fundraiser in which children would run around their school track. Travis described the marvelous field trip his class might win for the most laps. Would I please pledge one dollar for each lap he ran?

Of course I would. I signed my name and Travis trotted off. Inwardly I chuckled. Travis was a short, pudgy little guy and it amused me to picture him chugging and puffing around the track. As a reminder, I laid out a couple of dollars on my desk.

Saturday was race day. Sunday afternoon a very weary little boy appeared again on my doorstep. Travis said he would have been to see me sooner but his mother said he was too tired and had to nap first. I wondered why he was so tired until he handed me a signed note from the school’s event coach. Travis had run 30 laps! I was astonished. “Travis, this is wonderful! How did you do it?”

Travis explained that he got to the school track “really, really early in the morning and ran until it was getting dark.” He ran laps, rested, ran laps and rested. He stopped for drinks or snacks. He ran again. He told me in a stage-whisper that he had to walk sometimes, but the coach said it was okay. He fell down, too, pointing proudly to a scraped knee. He had tripped on a rock.

Travis was the last one to stop running. The coach had to wait for him.

Why did he run so hard and so long? Because, he explained, he “really, really wanted to go on the trip.” The coach apparently wasn’t supposed to reveal the final scores until school on Monday. But he confided in a jubilant Travis that, because of his laps, he and his friends would probably be going on the field trip. Travis’ freckles crinkled in a blissful grin.

I opened my wallet and handed a very proud child 30 dollars. Travis hugged me and started home, counting his money as he went.

I was pleased for Travis, but not so pleased with myself. I had paid Travis 30 dollars, but, in a way, I had shortchanged him. I never considered Travis would run more than a lap or two. I had measured him by the length of his legs, but had failed to measure his heart. And it was his heart that got him around the track 30 times. It was his heart that kept him running after all the other children had gone home.

I was reminded that I, too, have a race to run. The prize is Eternity.

On my last lap, I hope I will have run with faith and courage and a heart filled to bursting. I know my Coach will be waiting for me.

I hope He will say that I ran like Travis.

Job. No Doubt.

“It is better,” said French writer, Anatole France, “to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.”  

This observation seems particularly appropriate midway through a book of the Bible that sometimes feels like trying to swim through a vat of molasses.

We’re clear on the friends by now. Evidently they were all born without the compassion gene.

Then, suddenly, in chapter 19, Job provides for us one of the most familiar and moving passages in his story:

O, that my words could be recorded, O, that they could be inscribed on a monument, carved with an iron chisel and filled with lead, engraved forever in the rock.

What words, Job?

I know that my Redeemer lives, and He will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God. I will see Him for myself. Yes, I will see Him with my own eyes. How my heart longs within me.

It has been called one of the greatest Old Testament prophecies of the coming Redeemer.

This is no pseudo “word”, no faux “proclamation” made while prancing around on a massive stage under enormous klieg lights in a stadium filled with tens of thousands and broadcasting around the world via state-of-the-art media systems.

Oh, no. It is spoken in the rasping voice of a diseased and broken man. A real man. One who certainly has serious doubts and desperate questions about God’s reasons for allowing his calamities.

But about one thing there is no doubt. There is a living Redeemer. And Job, one day restored, will see Him.

It is our promise, too, of course. And sometimes it is comforting to simply stop and remember that there will be a day. There will be a day when we will stand before a Savior who loves us, who never permitted one thing that did not some way, somehow, work for our good.

No doubt.

In what ways has personal calamity intensified your faith?

                                                                                                    

The Hunger Games

Well, I read it. Then I went to see the movie with my husband, who actually stayed awake through the whole thing, and then pronounced it “interesting.” (This is a man who dozed off in the middle of Avatar in 3D.) It was interesting. And disturbing.

The Hunger Games was originally published in 2008. The movie has now launched it into the cultural stratosphere.

Briefly, the setting is somewhere in the future. The United States is now Panem, a surreal Capitol surrounded by 12 struggling districts. Once a year, each district must send a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to The Hunger Games. The Games take place at the Capitol inside an immense theater (think The Truman Show). Recreated as a rugged wilderness, the “Tributes” fight to the death until only one survives. The arena is filled with hidden cameras, and everyone in the Capitol and the Districts can watch – and even place bets on the winner.

Pretty clever stuff, right? I can’t quibble with the creative skill. And I can’t help but like the main character, 16 year old Katniss Everdeen. Author Suzanne Collins creates a tough, resourceful, and self-sacrificing young woman. When her sister’s name is drawn as their district’s female Tribute, Katniss offers herself instead. Commendable, considering the horrific task ahead.

Yes, there’s plenty of weird, bizarre stuff, and it’s an interesting plotline. But, and this is where I part company with the Love This Book! Such a Great Movie! fans, I had to deliberately keep reminding myself that the underlying theme of book and movie is kids killing kids.

They are under the control of abominable adults, you say. Okay, I get that.

But consider this scene where Katniss is thinking about the “list of kills”:

The boy from District 1 was the first person I knew would die because of my actions. Numerous animals have lost their lives at my hands, but only one human. I hear Gale [a friend back home] saying, How different can it be, really? Amazingly similar in the execution. Entirely different in the aftermath. I killed a boy whose name I don’t even know. But then I think of Rue’s [a 12 year old tribute killed by this boy] body and I’m able to banish the boy from my mind. At least, for now.’

This is obviously not Lord of the Flies. There is very little thoughtful reflection or emotion in the terrible ritual of slaughter. I think this is what bothers me most. Collins has written the book at high school level and could have created characters who think seriously about what they are actually doing and what it actually means.

Instead, we get this exchange between Katniss and her partner, Peeta:

 ‘My best hope is to not disgrace myself and . . .’ He hesitates.

‘And what?’ I say.

‘I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only . . . I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?’ he asks. ‘I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.’

I bite my lip feeling inferior. While I’ve been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self.

Purity of self? Here is an opportunity to talk about the value of life, the sanctity and preciousness of it, for everyone, including all the kids pitted against each other. Instead we get “I just wanna be me.”

 The flyleaf breathlessly describes this as a “searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.” Really? Where in your present or mine are teenagers fighting to the death in a manmade arena at the behest of adults?

However, it does provide a great opportunity for parents to discuss the big themes in the book, and those important things that might be missing. For those of you who have read the book or seen the movie, I’d love to have you post your responses here. Do you  have questions you think would make for good discussion with teens? I invite you to post them, also.

 

Job. Critical Eye.

If you were to describe your personal outlook on life, what would it be? Are you generally pleased with what you see? Do you view everything (and everyone) through the lens of, shall we say, making improvements? Hmmm? 

A recent article by Maurilio Amorim got me thinking about this. And I confess to suffering from The Critical Eye. Things may be good, but they could be better.  And I know just how to get ‘er done.

My husband will confirm this, if pressed. Or just casually asked.

Amorim writes: “Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our ability to accomplish goals.”

I’m not thrilled with this information. Of course, we (people like me – you know how you are) would not describe ourselves as negative. Rather, we are constructive. Making things better. Mending. Reforming. Enhancing.

Right.

As I read through the Book of Job, I cringe at the constructiveness of his “comforters,” which is a ridiculous description of these men who Won’t Shut Up. A favorite commentary describes them variously as “accusing, mocking, reproachful, rude.” Criticizers on steroids.

Maybe we’re not that critical, but I suspect we’ve all been close.

Borrowing from Amorim, here are some questions for when we feel an Attack of Disapproval coming on:

Have I considered the positive?  Regardless of the circumstances, there is always something to commend. And not as backhanded compliments, either. Job’s friends do this repeatedly throughout the book. And it’s cruel.

Do I have a servant’s heart?  If changes need to be made, help find solutions.  Rather than simply dwelling on some real or perceived misstep, sometimes it would be more useful to send someone after the livestock thieves (1:45-15).

Am I kind?  For those times when corrections should be suggested (or must be made), our words are to be seasoned with grace.  Job’s friends heaped up words against him. (16:4) Pitilessness and harshness? Let’s not participate in the shame of such things.

So, switch lenses. Grace for criticism. Lovingkindness (what a great word!) for dissatisfaction. Hopefully, we will increase our creativity, lower our stress levels, and enlarge our ability to accomplish our goals.

Job would be proud.

How would you describe yourself as being a critical person? More importantly, would others describe you this way? Would asking the questions above help in tweaking your perspective?

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