Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When the blue bunting comes down

When you’re old (I know the politically correct word is “elderly” or “aging,” but some days I feel old), you reflect on the past. Sometimes you get unexpected help in this necessary task of life review.

The other evening I chanced upon the last half of the movie “Rose-Marie” starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, the hugely popular movie stars of the 1930s.  I had never seen the movie before, so I watched, at times with part of me highly critical of this acclaimed  movie, but, at other times,  through the eyes of that young girl during the depression years with daily reminders that water was precious and money non-existent. 

In the movie a handsome Royal Canadian Mounted Police finds a young woman singer lost in the wilderness of Canada, falls in love.  While in the woods, he tells her the legend of the song, “Indian Love Call.”  A young Indian brave and his love were separated because they belonged to warring tribes, but forever after, he  kept seeking her,  often certain he  heard her plaintive call in the distance, only to paddle frantically down the river to find she is not there.

We Funk children weren’t permitted to go to “worldly” movies, but always attended community events, like variety shows, when local citizens showed off their talents. August O. had a fine voice as did his lady friend, Irene C.  They often sang together.  Their career reached a new high the evening they sang, “Indian Love Call” at a community concert.  The place was packed, the atmosphere joyous and expectant.

My sister Anne describes the event in the book of stories we five siblings compiled about our growing-up in our little immigrant community (Growing Up in Blaine Lake by Five Who Did):   “In this rendition, the song, “When I’m calling you...ooo...ooo” starts offstage. Then the lights come on, and the audience sees water, actually a blue bunting banner stretched across the stage. Then, from one side, enters an Indian brave, feather and all, paddling his canoe as it glides through (behind) the water.

“Towards the end of his song, the hero is joined by the ghost of his Indian sweetheart (Irene). Their duet rises to a stirring crescendo in “When I’m calling you—ooo-ooo.”  Just as it reaches its zenith, the blue bunting falls  and the stalwart brave and his sweetheart are seen sitting in a common tin bathtub pulled by rope. To add to the moment, the rope breaks  and the canoe comes to an abrupt stop.

“August continued to paddle, and sing, but he and his ghostly sweetheart weren’t going anywhere. Finally, he stepped out of his conveyance, and walked on ‘water’  so they could bring the "Indian Love Call"  to its crowning finale.

“The moment of high romance was destroyed, utterly destroyed, but the audience went wild,” Anne writes.  

I realize now after sixty or more years  that that acting disaster was more true to life than had the bunting stayed in place and the rope remained strong and steady.  Life doesn’t always go according to expectations. Life isn't always moonlight and roses.

The thirties was a time when I and other young girls were in love with romance, with seeing life bigger than it was, removed from the everyday encounters with dust, wearing hand-me-downs and underwear made of flour sacks.  

We young girls were enchanted by romance, yearning for the time when a young Nelson Eddy look-alike in red coat and high boots would hold us tenderly, and kiss us gently on the lips – none of this desperate mouth-mashing  and lip-sucking that passes for kissing on TV today. Fifty, sixty, a hundred years,  forever,  he would still be holding gently and kissing tenderly.

We dreamed of a different future than what we might experience.  Life after marriage with its full quota of eight-to-five jobs, daily dirty diapers and boiling of baby bottles, shoes too short for growing feet, sleepless nights, sudden illnesses,  limited paychecks, did  not enter our thinking. Life would be moonlight and roses forever.  But it wasn’t. The blue bunting often came down too soon.

But I remember with gratitude the response of the audience – laughter at the incongruity  of it all. Blue bunting comes down, but life has to go on. That’s what I recall about the difficult depression years.  Despite hardship, limited resources for entertainment, squalid home life  for some, life had its joyous sides because we liked one another. We enjoyed one another.  And homemade entertainment was the best. We didn’t need money to have enjoyment.  We could laugh at disasters. Creativity was born out of want. A good lesson more people need in this time of over-abundance.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When God does not heal

Last week the son of prominent and much-loved pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California committed suicide. A news commentator asked: “Why didn’t God heal the young man?”  The  implication was that God was asleep at the wheel to let this tragedy happen. He could have performed a miracle, why not?

Why doesn’t God heal in answer to prayer, desperate prayer?  

It’s a question I asked many decades ago when my husband, father of our four young children, with a fruitful ministry within the church, died after a week in the hospital.  Surely we deserved a miracle, or two. I needed one – desperately. 

People often almost automatically state that God isn’t doing his job when a child  does not get well, when a storm demolishes our home,  when a job application is turned down, when a car crashes  into yours,  when .... “God, you could’ve but you didn’t. Why?”  

On the other hand, people tend to hold to the belief that God is working full-strength when they  need money desperately and find $500 while jogging. When their  school’s team wins.  When there’s a near accident in the intersection and they are spared. When their fields aren’t destroyed by the hail that devastates area crops.  Ah, yes, then God is good, very good.

Theologians speak of the God of the gaps – God is at work, or given the credit when something occurs that can’t be explained by resorting to natural or behavioral sciences, and yet needs an explanation, especially if it is a dramatic event, like sudden healing, anything that makes stimulating  conversation over the dinner table. 

In times of difficulty people long for big dramatic  miracles like Jesus's  healing of the lepers  or  his  stilling of the storm. They want something more than a little upheaval  in their spiritual experience. They want  something they can, well, almost brag about.  Rick Warren’s son’s cure  of  long-standing depression would have been  something worth talking about – and merited at the very least a book and a tour. 

I don’t deny God’s miracle-working power, but my lessons in this area have been learned with difficulty over  the years. 

Missiologist Paul Hiebert writes that when we focus on the dramatic, the unusual, as evidence of God’s working, we set up categories:  sacred and secular.  To be able to explain an event using scientific proof, moves our thinking into the secular realm.  No explanation available?  We relegate to the sacred realm. Anything miraculous is sacred, unexplainable, a God-thing.   This event I can’t explain must have its origin in God, especially if it is a single dramatic event, like someone turning from alcohol to sobriety. 

People rush to hear someone speak about recovery from drug addiction, healing from cancer, and such, oblivious to the fact that God is working all the time in the lives of those who trust him. Living by the light and power of God’s love is sometimes a long-term process, not the dramatic  once-in-a-lifetime happening that makes a best seller.

Over the years I have learned to see God’s modern miracles in  these ways: 

Forgiving the person who has hurt you and starting over again. 

Asking for forgiveness. It’s the best way to clean up the past. 

I knew a woman once who cared for a paralyzed, mute husband by herself for 13 years without complaining.  That is a miracle of love.

Men and women valuing, honoring the gift of sexuality day by day, is becoming more and more of a miracle instead of a  mechanical coupling for a few minutes of heady pleasure. 

A turning from a life of dissipation to the better  way.

Choosing nonviolence over the urge to blast the other person into eternity with blows – or words. 

Finding courage when circumstances go against us 

Strength to pick up the pieces of life and put them together after a severe illness or death in the family.

Strength to remain faithful to a spouse when tempted to have an affair on the sly.

Courage  to stand by children who mess up their lives.

Readiness to work steadily and lovingly for justice in an unjust world, out of  range of reporters, commentators, and paparazzi is a Class A miracle.

Joy in being part of the fellowship of believers even when the church seems to have such a small voice in the darkness stands high on my list of miracles.

Now you add yours.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Kicking a bucket or shooting a child?

A few weeks ago a young man shot a baby in the face in a stroller.  For no reason.  Just to shoot.  Just to kill.  I think it was sort of  “Have gun, why not shoot?”  A baby happened to be in his line of vision. This shooting, in addition to the many others, has troubled me all week.

I may never know why he did it. For the thrill of it? Out of boredom?   Because that’s the sort of thing he liked to do?   Did he equate shooting the child with  swatting flies, because it annoyed him for some unknown reason?  To dapping stones across the water on a lazy summer afternoon?

Whatever the reason, he did not see the child as a human being with dignity and worth, a person his mother and others loved.  Perhaps he also did not see himself as a person with individual worth in the eyes of God.   He reduced that young life to the equivalent of a blob that moved -- and shot it. He reduced himself to the same level at the same time.

To reduce a human being to less than a whole person usually involves contempt.

I thought of a novel I used to teach in college English:  Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Novels are some of the best ways of teaching about life. The famed novelist spent eleven years in forced labor in camps in exile in the former Soviet Union for having criticized Stalin.  He and countless thousands spent years in these camps with the political forces in control determined to destroy his human dignity – to reduce him to a  mass of human tissue without desire to know joy, sadness, pride in work,  and love of others.

The novel follows one prisoner, Ivan Denisovich, from reveille to nightfall in the cold darkness of Siberia, on starvation rations, yet forced to put in a strong man’s work-day.   He survives only because of specific strategies he employs that allow him to hang onto his self-worth.

Solzhenitsyn wrote the novel not just to reveal the plight of one prisoner, or even one group of prisoners, but to show the world that the camps  were “not an isolated feature”  in  Russian society, but a “microcosm” of society as a whole.   

The Foreword states: “A day in the life of an ordinary Soviet citizen had much in common with that of his unfortunate fellow countrymen [like Denisovich] behind barbed wire. It was the same story of material and spiritual squalor, corruption, frustration, and terror.”   

Degradation of a fellow human being doesn’t happen only in a prison camp. It happens in society generally.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a graphic novel based on his military experiences  in Vietnam, reveals a lot about that war – and other wars. The novel shows how important it was for soldiers to separate the enemy from anything that resemble normality – from men who taught Sunday school, walked the baby to sleep, who listened to music, or wrote goofy romantic  poetry to a girlfriend.  With such a mindset it was easier to blast the “gook” into eternity without discomfort.Yet that discomfort came later, and then much later.   

Today I see it in the form of increasing suicides among veterans unable to bring together the incongruity of ruthless killing while in uniform and then that not being the right thing to do when out of uniform back home.

We deplore the shooting of an innocent child.  We deplore the shooting of innocent children in Sandyhook school in Newton.  We deplore the shooting of  thousands of  other shootings that will take place in our country. 

 Each senseless shooting means another little step taken toward a society that is moving toward “spiritual squalor and corruption” and to devaluing its citizens.  As O’Brien writes, “Thus, when someone got killed .... his body was not really a body, but rather one small bit of waste in the midst of a much wider wastage.”  The narrator continues, “I learned that words make a difference. It’s easier to cope with a kicked bucket than a corpse; if it isn’t human, it doesn’t matter much if it’s dead.”