Wow.

Aaron Housholder, my friend and former professor, wrote a brilliant response to my “Mary Poppins” post.  Read it here:  http://thephdoctorswaitingroom.blogspot.com/2010/04/concerning-mary-poppins.html

Seriously, read it.

When I coughed for an answer yesterday, I was expecting a response along the lines of “You’ll be fine.  Suck it up.”  Only in more poetic and comforting terms (This is Aaron Housholder, you know. The man exudes comforting solidarity).  But he goes far beyond my expectations and provides a sympathetic yet hopeful post that reminds me exactly why I want to be a prof someday.  Thank you so much for that, Aaron.

*Prepare to Cry*

I have always found Mary Poppins to be a tragic character.  My friends laugh at me for this (I can hear their mockery now), but it seems unavoidably true to me.  Mary Poppins, that poor soul, gives her life to these children, comes to care for them deeply, and at the very moment when their connection is the strongest, she must leave them to start the whole process over again.  Sure, the magical nanny leaves happy families in her wake–the children adore their parents, the parents dote on their children.  But who takes care of Mary?  Not Bert, I can tell you that.  He’s too busy tap-dancing across the London skyline, scouring sooty flues with his mates.  And that talking parrot umbrella cannot be much in the way of company. No, Mary is carried along the lonely winds of chance to her next destination, where she will (despite her determined resolution to stay aloof) fall in love with yet another family in which she cannot remain a member.  Now if that isn’t a tear-jerker, I don’t know what is.  Take the following conversation for example:

Parrot Umbrella: That’s gratitude for you. Didn’t even say goodbye!

Mary Poppins: No, they didn’t.

Parrot Umbrella: Look at them! You know, they think more of their father than they do of you!

Mary Poppins: That’s as it should be.

Parrot Umbrella: Well? Don’t you care?

Mary Poppins: Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking.

Parrot Umbrella: Is that so? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Mary Poppins: you don’t fool me a bit!

Mary Poppins: Oh, really?

Parrot Umbrella: Yes, really. I know exactly how you feel about these children, and if you think I’m going to keep my mouth shut any longer, I-…

[she clamps his mouth shut]

Mary Poppins: That will be quite enough of that, thank you.

*Sob*

And today, I had a horrible realization.  I’m signing myself up for a career of a Poppins-esque nature.  I was thinking about graduation and saying goodbye to all of my wonderful professors (Okay, I am returning next year for grad school, but this is still the end of an era.  Work with me.) and how hard it will be.  Then I thought about how they go through this EVERY YEAR.  For four years, they pour into a certain group of students.  They give their effort every day to teach, encourage, and challenge.  And the good professors, the kind of professor I’d like to be, actually love their students and are grieved to see them go, even as they know it’s for the best.

IT IS TRAGIC.  I am walking around an academy full of Mary Poppinses.  Sure, it’s beautiful too.  But, oh, the heartache of an endless stream of people to love and let go.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m up for that.  Saying goodbye has never been easy for me, though it has gotten easier as I grow up (and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing).  But how do you do it, year in and year out?  That is not a rhetorical question.  I need my professors to answer *cough*Housholder*cough*.

Whenever I find myself sniffling through the end of Mary Poppins, my bemused friends always tell me to think of all the good that Mary does for people.  It’s a happy movie, they say, because she’s happy helping others (even though she must always be alone at the end of the day).  Maybe so, but I think Bert gets it right when he feels the winds of change a’blowin: “Winds in the east, mist coming in, like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin.  Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, but I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”

Reflections on Job

I have often been perplexed by the lessons the book of Job seems to present.  Our hero, the down-and-out Job, finds himself bereft—stripped of wealth, health, and family.  He curses the day of his birth and toys with thoughts of suicide.  There is no comfort for a tragic character such as he, yet he does seek one thing:

Satisfaction.  Job desires justice for the wrongs done to him, seemingly at the hand of the God he served so faithfully.

For almost forty chapters, Job and his “friends” engage in a verbal brawl.  The three friends consider it their personal responsibility to defend God’s judgment of Job.  They believe that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, without exception.  In a sense, they claim that God cannot act in any other way, that he is bound to respond to their actions in a certain pattern.  Essentially, they claim that God’s hand can be controlled and contained by their neat and tidy formula: do good, get blessed; do evil, get cursed.  As his friends accuse him of increasingly heinous wrongdoing, Job cries out with escalating vigor that he is innocent and Yahweh must simply be unjust!  He laments that there is no arbiter to judge between him and God, because if there were, Job would surely be vindicated and Yahweh would be found guilty of falsehood and corruption.

Wait…how is Job the theological example for us, again?

The answer is found in Job 13:15.  In the midst of his complaint, Job declares, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him!”  Job engages with a possibility that few of us dare to consider for fear of heresy.  What if God were evil?  What if, after all is said and done, the wicked thrive and the righteous suffer under God’s hand?  Job’s response is simple.  Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.  There is no other response.  God is simply God, and man is man.  God is creator, and all creation owes allegiance and worship to him as such.  If God were to act unjustly (and praise him that he does not!), we would still be the creatures and he would still be the Creator.  We do not worship God because he is good (though he is good) or loving (though he is loving) or faithful (though he is faithful).  We worship him because he is God.

Job challenges Yahweh to answer him, and the Lord of all creation concedes to his request.  Yahweh himself arrives in a storm and speaks to Job personally.  What does God do here?  Does he rebuke Job for calling him unjust?  Does he defend his own goodness?  Does he explain to Job that the reason for his suffering was really just a test of his faithfulness?  Does he promise Job that he will bless him after the trials are over?

No.  God does not defend or justify himself or his goodness.  Rather, he thunders from the storm, “Were you there when I created the heavens and the earth?  Did you set the boundaries for the oceans and command them to go no further?  Can you point the way to the storehouses of lightning, wind, and snow?  Did you place the stars in their courses and lead them out in their time?”  Job is brought to his knees by the awesome truth that God is God and man is not.  Job recants his accusations in humility: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”  And Yahweh responds by calling Job his servant, claiming that he has spoken what is right of the Lord.  Yahweh allows Job to fully engage with his suffering, to question and doubt, even to accuse God of being wrong.  But because of Job’s willingness to acknowledge Yahweh as God, for better or for worse, he is considered righteous.  Those three friends who “defended” God had spoken wrongly of him and were in need of intercession from the very man who brought charges of injustice against Yahweh.

When trials come in our lives, when we face suffering and terrible pain, we can rest in the assurance that the God of the universe is good, loving, faithful, and true.  But when that knowledge feels hollow to your wounded heart, you don’t have to understand the why behind it all in order to keep your faith in God.  You don’t have to understand how a loving God could allow such a tragedy to happen.  Please understand, God is good and loving. He always was and always will be.  A time may come, however, when you cannot feel that love or goodness.  When that time comes, and it is too hard to focus on God’s goodness as a reason to worship him, your faith does not have to come crashing down.  Rest in the knowledge that you serve God because he is God and is completely deserving of your praise, whether he blesses or curses, provides or withholds.  This is the difficult beauty of the book of Job, but it provides such a solid ground for our faith during times of trial and pain.  Yes, we can trust that God is working all things for our ultimate good, but we can also simply rest, as Job did, with this confidence: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”

On Writing

The pen, the brush

Written in life’s blood

Written in quicksilver

Thin pages spun from sugar

The heat, the violence

The pen flies but can’t keep up

The paper tears, melts, dissolves

The brush bleeds monochrome

My thoughts rise up, a wordless wail

Like a wild horse, I try to break those thoughts

Bend them to my will

Make them lie still upon the page

Force them to behave, to communicate

To reach into your mind and grip it

Just as they have gripped mine

To help you feel

To help you know

What’s behind my eyes, my smile

The wordless wail contained, restrained

In fumbling words

(This is an older piece, but I haven’t shared it on this blog, so here you go.)

Made for More

The longing.  The longing.  I always come back to it…every time I hear the Story.  You know what I mean when I say the Story?  You catch glimpses of it in every truly compelling tale or expression of unsullied beauty.  It is the heartbeat of those smaller stories, the life-blood flowing through them all.  And it flows into each of us at some level.  That’s where the longing comes from.  That’s why we’re so moved by legends and epics.  They speak to the deepness in each of us, the greatness that resides in our very souls.  This greatness comes from being made in the image of divinity.  The immortal in us feels the rumblings of the Story, like the rolling call of war-drums…inexorable and riveting.  We are drawn to it because we were made for it.  We were made for more than banal 9 to 5 jobs in gray cubicles, more than cups of stale coffee and sitting in traffic.  We were made for more than anything this world can offer us.  This radiant Story completely swallows up our dim and weary world and transforms it into glory, mystery, beauty, and fullness.  This sublime Story, spoken from the Beginning, is so heady and intoxicating that anyone who really hears it must be transformed as well.  And for now, we only hear the muffled voice of the Storyteller.  We can’t hear the words but we can hear the sound of His voice, and that alone is enough to entrance us.  One day our deafness will be stripped away, and we will know the Story in its glorious completion.  We won’t just hear it…we will live it.