Like a Headless Chicken

I’m pretty sure they call what I’m about to do here “eisegesis,” which means it may or may not be heretical. I mean, if I thought it was heresy, I wouldn’t write it, but I’ve been wrong before. So read at your own risk:)

I’ve been reading in Matthew, and I love reading about Christ calming the storm. I am so often like the disciples, whom I can imagine running to and fro, bailing water frantically, screaming–freaking out–while in the corner Christ sleeps peacefully. Did they try to wake him before the last moment, when they felt for certain they would surely drown? Or did they resolutely try to handle the situation themselves, torn between the two thoughts of 1. It’s not serious enough yet to disturb the Master and 2. how is He not waking up on His own to help us? Martha comes to mind–her rebuke, I mean, of Jesus’ apparent apathy toward her situation–her question, Lord, don’t you care? Previous to this, Jesus has just preached a long sermon on a mountain somewhere, in which He’s said, among other things, that the Father answers prayer–but do the disciples ask for help? Not until the last minute, when their vain efforts to handle it on their own have failed completely, do they turn to God, who calms the waves and wind He created in the first place.

Hey disciples, I get you. I understand the desire to be able to handle things myself. I want to feel in some small way capable and independent. So I think, God, you can handle the big stuff, but I got this little thing. I can do this myself.

So I try to deal with anxiety, or loneliness, or doubt, or any of a thousand things, without turning to God, and soon I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I’m moving around a lot, worrying, so maybe I appear normal, but there’s kind of a problem. I have no head. I’m not really alive. So that’s pointless.

If I could get into the habit of going to God first with every troublesome thought or situation, I think I’d be happier. I think it pleases God when I admit my dependence on Him; when I celebrate His marvelous capability by acknowledging my pitiful inability to handle even the “small” things.

I want to believe that the Father’s gifts are truly good. I want to live each day with the knowledge of Matthew 6:25-34: that I am called to seek God and His will, and that in that He will satisfy me.

It makes sense that He would know the best thing for me. I agonize about what it is I really want–because it changes daily!–but the Maker of something knows His creation so completely, surely He knows what the creation needs.

It’s sort of like if a character in one of the stories I’ve written came to me and complained about how I’d written them. Whatever they complained about–how they were designed, for example, or when their story ended, or perhaps that they weren’t as integral to the plot as they wished they could be–I think I’d have a response.

It’s just that, as the author, it was my job to write the best story I could–one that communicated what I’d wanted to say–and for that reason I’d placed each character where I did for a purpose. Maybe I’d have patience with the character, since I know the overarching plan of my story, and the character has a limited view, but still, to think that a character isn’t crucial simply because she isn’t the main character of the story is ridiculous. You can look at almost any work of good literature and find at least one “side character” you remember well–maybe even better than you remember the main character.

I’m thinking of two characters like this: the first is Gavroche, from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Tiny character (figuratively and literally), appearing in only three, or maybe four chapters of a massive book of many chapters and many characters. Yet Gavroche is crucial, I think, to the story. [It’s been a while since I’ve read this, so if I’m mistaken about how much Gavroche appears, tell me. And if you know that information, bravo for reading the book. :)]

The other is Samwise Gamgee from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I think J.R.R. Tolkien did an especially good job of illustrating the crucial part each character has to play in the telling of a story, but Sam. Holy smokes.

I could talk a long time about how I admire Sam’s persistent hope; his faithfulness as a friend; his stoutheartedness; but what I want to focus on is his role as a secondary character. Frodo is the one who carries the ring and bears the burden, but Frodo could not have gotten far without Sam, and Frodo knows it. If Sam knows how indispensable he is, he doesn’t let on much, doesn’t revel in his own importance. If anything, he delights in serving his friend, and when he finds himself, at one point, carrying the burden on which Middle Earth depends, he isn’t glad to somehow be a more crucial character.

Sam does what’s next.

In one of my classes, we’re reading a book called Culture-Making, by Andy Crouch. This guy, in practically every chapter, tells me the way I’ve been engaging (or not engaging the world) is wrong; that I need to do things differently in order to really make a difference. Reading it has got me anxious all over again, because at the core of who I am, I want to save the world. And I can’t. There’s already a Savior, and my humble, glorious job is to talk about Him and live like I know Him.

A job at which I stink, most of the time. My job isn’t to be the most capable person when something crazy happens and this storm blows in out of nowhere and threatens to sink some kind of metaphorical boat we’re all in. My job is not to be the main character of the Story. My job is to do what’s next, with a willing heart and a soul that rejoices in God’s provision.

It’s a job that can seem awfully daunting when I’m running around, handling things by myself. I can slip into questioning whether God actually cares about what’s going on down here. But it’s when I finally just ask, just plead for His help, that He gets up and speaks quiet into His creation. And then my job is very simple: to stand and marvel.

Thanks for reading! Respond if you want to. Don’t if you don’t:)

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The Crucial Thing

“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.”
― A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh stories

Ouch. I love sharing quotations from authors and thinkers I admire, and I like to imagine I think through what the authors are trying to say before I quote them. I do admit, however, to having a particular quotation on my Facebook page that I don’t quite understand all the way. I know nothing of its context; I only gleaned it from an introductory philosophy course I took as a freshman.

It’s from a philosopher named Søren Kierkegaard; an existential-y sort of person, as I understand it, who happened to write a thing at one time that I liked and subsequently ripped out of context and quoted him. Here’s what he said:

“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”
–Søren Kierkegaard

I like the quote because it makes me feel inspired and noble and hopeful that I do have something I believe to be true and for which I could live and die.

It makes me think of other quotes that affirm the ideas that, even as there is Great Possibility, some things are certain.

Like this one:

“What is true deserves to be known and to be believed. What is good deserves to be embodied. What is beautiful deserves to be enjoyed, to be loved. And what is just deserves to be defended.” ~Kevin James Bywater

That’s from the director of a study abroad program in England called Summit Oxford, which seems like one of the neatest opportunities I can imagine. You should all check it out! I think you can find it through www.summitoxford.org but if not, let me know and I’ll fix the link thing.

What I’ve been wondering is this: what do other people think important enough to live for or die for?

What is one thing you think so wrong with the world that you’d die in the effort to make it right?

What’s one thing you think so right and marvelous that it motivates you to keep living?

Is there an idea that’s important enough that you’d fight for it? Or one that’s awful enough that you’d fight against it?

If there’s something worth dying over, is there anything worth killing over—and what on earth would that thing be?

What stirs your soul and your mind and your body to action?

All these questions I’ve been mulling over for myself, and I’d like to hear your thoughts, if you’d care to share them. Maybe they aren’t thoughts to share, but to mull over for yourself, I don’t know. All I know is I think Kierkegaard was on to something. People ought to know what the “crucial thing” is for them.

Maybe A.A.Milne is right too, though. Those crucial things aren’t passed down through heredity, like the color of our eyes or hair. Nor can we depend solely on what others say; we must face the “laborious business” of thinking for yourself. To own a belief, we ought to engage with ideas deeply and seriously.

I also think of the scene in Lord of the Rings, perhaps my favorite scene in the Peter Jackson’s movies, where Frodo turns to Sam and asks for a reminder of what it is, exactly, they’re risking their lives over.

Oh! it’s a great scene! Because, as Sam explains, they’re fighting for something unseen but real nonetheless; a hope that this ruined world is not all there is.

And because I think it’s very much worth quoting the whole thing, here it is.

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

Thanks for reading!

<><Jo