Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a good age for music. With every passing day, my faith in quality musicians and song poets is more and more established. Today I stumbled over another bright and beautiful artist, its name is Ivan & Alyosha. For a free listen of their NPR Tiny Desk Concert click here. Enjoy. Don’t forget to like this post if I&A tickles your fancy.
Inside I watched the rain bleed blood,
Running down the window Pane. Then
all at once I was outside with
an umbrella that provided
no shade. I walked far away and
came upon an unburied grave.
In it laid no tangible thing,
But hoped-for, now stale images that
Had come to no fruition,
Marked with a tombstone “Here lies strife
And discontent”. I threw ashes,
Desperate to bury what was dead,
As hollow tears unlocked doors that
Were already empty in my soul.
These tears dropped on the ashes of
My grave, they kindled a violent
Flame and hues I had never seen,
brought forth a golden bird that flew
away, a rainbow in it’s wake.
It’s time to finally “Rise in peace”.
From my unlearnt perspective, the principal dancer was exquisite, moving her long, strong limbs from one willful, graceful pose to the next, drawing tears to, but not quite over the rims of my eyes.
My mother, however, knows ballet. She began practicing at age eleven and was a professional dancer with the Milwaukee Ballet Company by fifteen. During intermission, she and I made our way out of the aisle and to the bar for a glass of wine. As is often done during intermissions, we began exchanging our perspectives on the performances of the dancers thus far. But Mom, on top of having practiced dance rigorously herself, had attended a showing of the Nutcracker in New York last year. She was, not surprisingly, fighting disappoint with this performance.
But we soon began talking about ballet in general. We’d talked about ballet before—about the terrors of her dance master, the long afternoons at the studio, and the late nights finishing neglected homework, all she’d endured to become as good as she had. But never before had she expressed to me why she loved it. She’d say she’d loved it and that was acceptable to me. It is an obviously beautiful art form. But after I told her how the movements of the principal had brought tears to my eyes and vainly attempted to articulate the joy I’d felt experiencing the beauty of her performance, my mom said something that was, to me, rather profound. She said she had dearly loved working so hard to form her body into such beautiful poses.
The image will stick with me as long as images can – the image of a dancer working day after day, brow wet with sweat, toes bloody from the rock hard point slippers, almost breaking under the pressure of a strict diet combined with rigorous daily exercise. The image of a dancer enduring all of this in order to see her body, under the direction of some master craftsman, transformed into something beautiful, something worthy of the world’s applause. After my mom had spoken these words, my heart melted with the satisfaction of knowing exactly why I’d been moved to tears, why I am ever moved to tears when I encounter beauty in this broken world. It is a picture of what I long for under the direction of Jesus. His blood was spilt in order to reform me, to reform us – His bride – back into the very heights of beauty, His image.
My mom dancing The Dream Sequence in Oklahoma (left) and Stars and Stripes Forever (right).
As I’ve already described in a previous post, my best friend was married last weekend. She said “I will,” not the traditional “I do.” We wondered aloud before she said “I will” why the change, but came to no significant conclusion in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the ceremony.
I’ve thought about it further and either phrase is both sufficient and insufficient. “I will” is supposed to designate an ongoing commitment (or for the cynical, some pending, ever receding on the horizon commitment). “I do,” is, obviously, an immediate affirmation that he takes her and she takes him (at which point, the “committees” must acknowledge the terms “husband” and “wife” contain within them the idea of “for as long as we both shall live”). Maybe couples should say “I do” and “I will,” just to be sure we know that they know what they mean.
Either way, for Kacie it was to be “I will” because the pastor was to ask “Will you take this man to be your husband?” rather than “Do you take this man to be your husband?” So she replied to the pastor, in her sweet voice, “I will.” And I’m pretty sure she meant both then and now and tomorrow.
And with that declaration she was given a husband; and with his declaration of “I will” he was given a wife; he is now hers and she is now his. More than she was ever mine, as my best friend; more than I will ever be hers. She is Ben’s more than she was ever her grandpa’s or grandma’s, her mom’s or her dad’s.
I think we all felt a strange, sad sort of parting last weekend; though she didn’t leave us, though our relationships with her remain essentially the same, oddly enough, we felt a loss. I think this is because I could never and will never be for her what he is for her now. I could never share such intimacy with her in this life. The Bible even tells me so. Paul never compared best friends with Christ and his Church. No, that comparison was reserved for marriage.
Now, this comparison could be talked about in a number of different ways, but, it seems the initial excitement, the subsequent commitment, the heights and the valleys of both man’s relationship with God, and a man’s relationship with his wife all huddle, eventually, under the umbrella of intimacy.
The relationship of a husband to a wife is designed in its physicality and its sentimentality, in its constancy, to be far more intimate than even that between a mother and child, though a mother carries and bears that child. It isn’t unique in the same way a best friend relationship is unique compared to a mother-daughter relationship. It’s unique in that it’s mysteriously more – more intimate and more challenging.
God demands that the love of a husband for his wife strive to be like that of Christ for his church, and the respect of a wife for her husband strive to be like that of the church for her Christ. I’ve wondered if it isn’t the physical, sentimental and constant features of the marriage relationship that allow for the possibility of such high demands to be met. And if so, the marriage relationship, uniquely, must provide a deeper, severer sort of sharpening.
Like all relationships, we can live as Christians without marriage – we can grow, learn, develop and flourish. However, it must be noted, this does not demean the extravagance of the blessings derived from marriage. When you strip it down to its very bones, I think you can say its simply seeing, staying, and sanctifying like you do in no other relationship. Seeing the good, the bad, the sometimes very ugly and staying with the good, the bad, and the ugly – and being committed to pray for and rejoice in the sanctification the Spirit of God works out through the confines of that commitment.
Yet, the very context of the words exalting the marriage relationship, though they do not say so explicitly, imply marriage relationship is but a pillar, a path, a real physical conduit to lead us to the mental, emotional and spiritual understanding of our relationship with Jesus. We are first his.
Jesus prays to the Father right before the Crucifixion, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me…” (John 17:6) We are the Church he came to save from sin. We are Christ’s when we’ve chosen to “be crucified with Christ,” finding along with Paul as we journey that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in Christ, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20-21) Paul writes in a different letter, in specific reference to marriage, that “this mystery is profound, and I say it is between Christ and his church,” (Eph. 5:32) not a husband and his wife.
Kacie may now belong to Ben, more so than she belongs to her family and her friends, but she was given this relationship on earth that she might understand – that she and Ben might both understand – that they always have been, are, and will continue to be, first and foremost, bought with the blood of Jesus. They can belong to each other only because Christ first made them his own.
As K and Ben understand this intimacy with Christ more and more through their love for one another, they are given back to friends, family, and the Church body, further sanctified as individuals, more their true selves. And, I imagine, with a greater capacity to experience intimacy in these relationships than they were able to prior to their marriage.
Still, marriage remains the most intimate relationship – and I am speaking of Christ and his Church. Whether single or married, our restored and growing relationship with God is foundational for intimacy in our lives.
Thus, praise God – praise God for the marriage relationship and, more importantly, for the blood of Jesus restoring us to individual and communal communions with God. Praise God that, daily, through our interactions with Him, with our marriage partners, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ the mortar of intimacy is thickened among the living stones of the Church drawing us closer and closer to one another, that, as Jesus prays at the end of John 17, we may be one as he and the Father are one.
Perhaps it would be appropriate (albeit slightly cheesy) to close with this question: “Do you, will you, take this faith to be your earthly life?” Oh, I will and I do!
The tears began to well in my eyes as the thick silky white fabric took its shape on my best friend’s frame. And there was nothing I could do to stop them, stop it, stop anything. I didn’t want to, or at least I didn’t think I wanted to. It was just all so sudden; so unexpected for all of us, I thought, as I watched her mom finish lacing up the back of the dress.
We were in a back room at Gail’s house. Gail had tailored Kacie’s dress on short notice for no charge—the least she could do under the circumstances, she’d said. The dress fit Kacie perfectly—as perfectly as a child’s hand in her father’s, as her hand in Ben’s. Her mom said a couple of days ago, when she’d first tried it on it had been too big and she’d cried, thinking this was a problem that couldn’t be fixed—one she’d just have to live with, under the circumstances. Lorrie said it was the only time she’d seen K break down over the course of the five days—well three, really, by the time I’d flown in from Las Vegas and Lorrie told me of the small incident. But it was a small town, and many knew of and understood the circumstances. They all wanted to help, Gail included.
Kacie didn’t break down again. She had started to worry a bit Thursday night when she still hadn’t picked out music for the ceremony, but we pulled out my Macbook and took care of the matter rather easily, actually. Or—it almost seemed—God did. Her mom began to cry as she imagined Kacie walking down to the joyous ballad: 60B by Nancy Wilson, from the Elizabethtown soundtrack. We’d discovered the perfect song, a song that said “this is, indeed, a beautiful, almost frozen moment in time, but still only a moment in time,” for her to walk down the aisle to.
Now it was Friday, and the dress fit, and Gail said “no charge,” and we all said thank you, thank you, thank you Gail. It means so much. We so appreciate you; oh, it looks perfect Gail. She smiled. Lorrie thanked Gail’s husband for giving up the time and company of his wife, that she might make the alterations on the dress. He smiled—his eyes smiled—and he said, that’s okay, but our wheels are holding hands. We looked at one another with confused smiles. He told his joke again, explaining further that Lorrie’s jeep was parked front driver’s side wheel to the front driver’s side wheel of his jeep. We got it. We giggled. Reminds me of a time when a Biola boy told me, on our way into In N’ Out one night after Brown Bag Ministry, that the palm trees in front of the beloved West Coast burger joint were in love. They had grown tall twisting around one another. It was a sweet—albeit cheesy—moment.
The rehearsal and pre-wedding hurrah (bachelor and bachelorette parties) came and went and before we knew it we were at a tres chic hair salon named Panache—meaning “flamboyant confidence of style or manner,” something we all had acquired, in the best sense, by the time we walked out the door into a drizzly afternoon. The owner let us take over for the better part of the morning, and two friends Kacie had made after getting involved in the Grass Valley chapter of Campus Life—a Christian ministry for high school students she and Ben both serve as leaders in—let us use their hands and creative minds to spruce up our hair and faces for the 3 o’clock ceremony. Albeit professionals, “No charge,” Kayce and Stephanie insisted. “Let me do this,” Kayce had emphatically insisted to Lorrie before we sat down for the bachelorette party dinner the night before. “I want to do this. Let me do this.” Overwhelmed to the brink of discomfort at this point with the extent of generosity she’d encountered over the course of a couple of days, Lorrie sighed and smiled.
“Goin’ to the chapel, and we’re gonna get ma-ar-ar-ried,” K, Lorrie, and I sang as Lorrie parked the car, and we jumped out, intent on getting inside the church before the drizzle became more than a drizzle. But Eric needed to take a quick photo with his iPhone. We smiled hurriedly and then made our way to the white-paneled Episcopal chapel. I quickly glanced at the long stained glass windows, grateful there were stained glass windows; grateful they had been able to secure a church to hold the ceremony in on such short notice; grateful my best friend was marrying a man who, in addition to pouring himself into his job as a 6th grade teacher, a volleyball coach, a Campus Life leader, is also a youth pastor at this Episcopal church. Perhaps he is a bit—committed—to a lot of people and activities, but the purpose of these commitments speaks of fine character.
We were directed upstairs to a Sunday school room. Dresses, nylons, last-minute bobbypins, pictures—ones of K and her mom and one of the reflection of the two of them in the mirror. Outside, ones of K and me. Jesse took photos of our upper halves, I secretly held up her train so it didn’t touch the wet ground. (I may as well mention Jesse and Zack, the two photographers, had caught the “flu of free” too. They would only charge for the photos; their time was “on the house.”) Ones of K and both her almost sister-in-laws, and of all of us, and of all of us with the flower girls, and of K and the flower girls separately. Then K and her mom, K and her Grandma Shirley—I adore Grandma Shirley—then K, her mom, and her Grandma Shirley together, then it was much too cold as moderately covered as we were in our dresses, and the drizzle was quickly turning into real rain. K and I, her train in my grasp, scurried under the shelter of the awning and made our way—per the decided direction of the wedding coordinator—to the foyer, to the foyer, to the foyer. The foyer is the place you go before you walk down the aisle. Her hand was in mine. I squeezed hers. She squeezed mine. I, too sentimentally, reminded her I love her—as if this was the end, or some such silly notion. She, of course, told me she loved me back, her heart beating through the hand holding mine. She held up her dress with the other so she didn’t get it wet or dirty as she carefully climbed the cement steps toward the front doors of the church and into the foyer.
“The Same in Any Lingo,” also by Nancy Wilson, started to play. That meant the family had been successfully seated (to “River Road” by Nancy Wilson) and it was the wedding parties turn to make the trek down the aisle. Perhaps I should have slid, or sailed, or floated down the aisle, but I was walking alone, and it definitely felt more like an awkward trek. No stable arm to prop me up I sort of stumbled along in my one-ish inch heels. At least I felt I was stumbling. Nonetheless, I also felt my smile stretching to my ears and the tears—the ones that had welled up at the fitting and continued to well throughout the rest of the weekend—were welling once again. I made it safely to my place beside where the bride would stand and say her vows.
The intro of 60B must have lifted every heart in that chapel the way it did my own. We stood and waited and she entered, smiling, content, holding her dad’s arm, a dogwood flower fixed to the right side of her veil (a display veil, actually, borrowed from David’s Bridal because hers hadn’t yet arrived; though, ironically, divinely, her dress had arrived a month early and just in time). Three pastors later (Ben wanted all three, each with whom he has a special connection, to officiate), they were pronounced Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mills for the very first time. I glanced over at Ben’s dad. His smile stretched undeniably wider than my own. Though the doctors had given him only three weeks, at most, to live, Jim had survived the ceremony. The cancer had spread and Ben, Kacie, their families, their friends, the town adjusted to the circumstances. And, in an unexpected turn of events for all, this past Saturday, December 4, 2010, Kacie Fredrickson became Kacie Mills; she was made Ben’s wife.
An Education, a film about a young Brit who, bored with her typical secondary school day-to-day, is swept off her feet by an older man, manages to break through some of the typical standards of a Hollywood prototype – good-looking people, with utterly smooth personalities, who sail through life without an awkward moment, ever. Such often render films enjoyable in providing a very short reprieve from reality, yet they are ultimately forgettable.
In An Education, though, our lead lady is 16, almost 17 and she looks it. He’s, well, older. And he looks older. And there are moments of real sophistication. After her first sexual encounter, she remarks on the very temporal aspect of an act often depicted in films as infallibly fantastic. “It’s funny though, isn’t it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all,” she says.
The film was an award winner in the Sundance Film Festival, and a nominee for best picture in 2009. But, beyond the reasons already outlined, I don’t know why. Perhaps it fell short of best picture because the end is as dismally “fluffy” as one recent Morning Glory. It’s almost outrageous to compare the two films: Morning Glory is about as deep as a kiddy pool – with awkward insertions of semi-probing questions about the meaning of life, while such questions actually fuel An Education. Morning Glory, however, was what it was from the outset and never pretended to be anything but as shallow and safe as the kiddy pool. The makers of An Education, however, double-cross their audience. They set a foundation for a tale of a girl confidently confronting the more complex questions in life and then end with an abrupt twist of thoughtless contentment.
“Why? Why school?” is Jenny’s question. After trying on a more liberal and flagrant lifestyle for size and falling into some unlucky, heartbreaking circumstances, her question is apparently satisfactorily answered with something like: “Oh, I guess my teacher has a nice flat. It’s well-lit. She likes literature. And art. Further formal education and the prospect of becoming a school teacher – its not so bad after all.” This for a young woman who, for the 100 minutes in which we make her acquaintance, seems so unwilling to yield to the shallow answers given to her. (“Stability, money, acceptance,” the authoritative figures of the film plead with her, “That’s, ‘Why school?’”) The film doesn’t end with philosophical angst, or resistant resignation to the better of two still unsatisfying paths; it ends to the tune of happily ever after, reduced to a Hollywood typical worse than smooth personalities – that of structuring one’s happiness on fate. Whether you consider her fickle or simply out of your control, fate is not the most stable philosophical foundation for life. Thus, at “The End,” the observant audience is left a bit restless, knowing our lead lady – whom we’ve grown to admire and emulate for her intelligence and tenacity – has abandoned her quest for answers to life questions because all is circumstantially better.
As I’ve reflected on these two movies more and more – specifically on the message of circumstantial contentment they both intentionally or unintentionally convey, I have discovered a renewed conviction that this question of why – answered by circumstantial happiness, philosophical discontent, or faith – truly represents a crossroads in life. The big questions remain though our circumstances become happy. Though they’ve quit nagging us, they most definitely continue to affect, and our answers – whether thoughtless or thorough – affect those around us.
Jenny decides to continue with her education, after her “education,” but she does not know why. There’s reason to fear in the near future she will find she lacks the motivation to persevere. The question will persist: “Why literature? Why become an educator? Why care about the state of society? The next generation?” The questions will continue and Jenny’s already begun to develop the habit of riding the rickety roller coaster of fate, of chasing circumstantial happiness. Without some sense of why, the how morphs into a monster of a question. Our reasons why we do what we do guides our “how” we do these things, rendering our hows more or less effective, more or less efficient, more or less helpful to those around us.
Christians must persevere in letting this question permeate our lives, especially as our circumstances are happy. Experience – reflected in a plethora of old adages – teaches that faith is most fervent in “the fox hole,” when one has “hit bottom.” Conversely, it’s often least fervent when all is “smooth sailing.” We forget how out of control we actually are when we at least feel in control.
Perhaps we drop the question because, basically and humbly, people are not crying for truth as much as for comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1). Our Father knows we want to understand life, but he also knows that, at the root of our desire for knowledge, is our desire for comfort, for peace – with Him, with the world, with ourselves. The tendency to, at minimum, rest for a while in circumstantial happiness and the temptation to check out entirely when life is going well, reflect this most primary motivating factor of the human heart – that is, comfort.
Yet, this is an uncomfortable world to live in. Tragic circumstances – especially in an era of globalization – stand next to, rub shoulders with, and ultimately taint (or should taint, if we’re awake) happy circumstances when fate does not rob us of them. The wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes reminds us (or perhaps reflects our awareness) that happy circumstances are “vanity, vanity, vanity.” Thus, the Sermon on the Mount calls us to live a life based, not on making ourselves as happy as possible, ignorant of the masses of suffering surrounding us, but to a life of self-sacrifice, that the Kingdom of God might be manifest through us. Immediately after that famous Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records Jesus reminding the people “moth and rust destroy” circumstantial happiness and “thieves break in and steal.” In heaven, it is not so. Thus, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” Jesus commands and then promises.
So where must the “comfort, comfort” of the Christian be found? Yes, in God, in Christ, in the Spirit. We must resist the temptation to rest in circumstantial happiness, lest we begin to chase her frantic whims, becoming frantic and unstable ourselves – not to mention, wholly selfish. An old professor of mine recently published a book on these three in one. In The Deep Things of God, Dr. Fred Sanders speaks of how the trinitarian nature of God makes room for the confessor of Christ within the life of God, how she is actually ushered into what he calls the “happy land of the Trinity,” particularly in the act of prayer (which is perhaps a much more pervasive act than the “Now I lay me down to sleep” utterance of a young by her bedside that often comes to mind).
Drawing on the work of Andrew Murray, Sanders draws to his readers’ attention how the reality of God’s eternal existence “as Father and Son (in the unity of the Holy Spirit) means that there is an opening, a space prepared, for the structure of asking-and-granting…” Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father is explicitly displayed in the gospel accounts – his habits of prayer, of drawing attention to the Father and away from himself, his claim to only do the will of the Father, his sharing in the Father’s glory, etc. Dr. Sanders draws particular attention to this structure of communication within the life of the Trinity, and then draws the connection: we pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Thus, Christians – at our most spiritually aware moments – find ourselves resting in the name of the Son, in the Son’s relationship with the Father, bonded by the Holy Spirit.
Scripture testifies to our Father’s wish that we do find comfort, particularly in him. Yet, the sinful nature fighting for control of our souls, even after we find salvation in Jesus’ blood, persists. Our hearts are often numb to the warmth of the love of God. But Scripture teaches that we must seek God, not primarily for comfort (though – as Augustine famously said – we’ve restless hearts ’till they rest in him) but we seek God because he answers the “why” question.
Either way, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, the answer to the question we must remember is Christ is Lord and the Father has willed that the Kingdom of God comes through us by the sacrifice of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. How we answer this question will continually lead and guide us. Chasing happiness, beating back boredom, warding off heartbreak – this is the life of a hamster on her wheel. To find rest and mission in the life of God – this is the true life of a human being. Because, whatever our circumstances, the steadfast love of God persists and the answer to the question will ever be “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Full; fully fed.
Read; I read some of a book today –
I have a bed,
a roof over my head.
My laundry is in the dryer.
No pressure, just life –
the pressure of life –
the real one,
and the one I create,
and the vast space in between –
between me, my drying t shirts,
and the life in my mind;
between me and my shoulders
and my back –
tense with what they call knots –
and the life I know,
I know I’m not living.