Monthly Archives: October 2013

Life vs. Life

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  – John 10:10

Constantly I’m drawn to this verse and to books that unpack what it is to live abundantly.  Whether they are books about integrating faith and scholarship, going on pilgrimage, walking with others in discipleship, or enjoying sabbath rest, I love to read about the full life God provides his creations.  Sometimes this includes extraordinary events, but more often it is life that is flourishing with the ordinary.  A life that includes friends, family, meals, quiet, nature, work, as well as an awareness of weaknesses and brokenness.  Mostly routine stuff.  But more than routine, these activities help to root each of us more deeply into our places.  What a life!

However, every day I’m also accosted with another definition of life as I scroll though the internet.  I am particularly struck with the Life section of USA Today.  Articles focus on the highest paid actors, the latest celebrity pairing, movie rankings, and the latest drama in the lives of music divas. These articles are nothing like the life explored in the other books. In a way, these articles are almost anti-life.  Instead of rooting readers into their own places of life, these stories steal away attention from authentic lives as they focus on a few lives that are for the most part made up.  Entertainment, maybe, but not life.

First, many of these stories are about the crises involved in creating false worlds, particularly those of television and movies.  Don’t get me wrong, I would be one of the first to defend the need for a myriad of stories in our lives – and even imaginary ventures to other worlds. I don’t think I would have gotten through elementary school without the likes of Jo March or Harriet the Spy.  The books I read and even some of the television shows I watched encouraged and challenged me.  However, they were not life.  I also had the boundaries of parents and teachers, my failings, and daily routines to keep me going.  When the latest gossip or news from the entertainment industries in Hollywood or New York city is listed under the heading of life, what are we saying about the lives of everyone else?  In a way they are stolen.

Second, many of these are trumped up crises – or voyeurism into the failings of those whose lives we can’t even imagine.   Are the shenanigans on the reality shows really worthy of endless critique and angst?  What about the on-again / off-again rehab stints of several celebrities?  On these pages, the extraordinary moments are turning into the ordinary and these types of crises – real or fake – are being shown as the essence of life.  If this is the case, then a person who is not involved in such drama is not really living.

Eventually, these stories can reframe what constitutes life. Since we can not be movie stars, we will need to spend our time watching their movies and lives.  Or critiquing them.  Maybe we start to think that we have to wait to live a full life until we are also enmeshed in similar crises.  Or maybe we hear that we will never live a full life because these crises will never enter our world. It is difficult to measure ourselves against this vision of life.  I know that most people aren’t intentionally designing their lives after the life section of newspapers, but at some level it slowly infiltrates our individual and societal beliefs.

I would love to re-write these life pages.  Do an exposé of a couple married 15 years, with their struggles and their joys – including reading to their children every night.   Highlight the student with an average GPA at high school.  Showcase the wedding of a young couple that took place in a plainly decorated church and was followed by a two day honeymoon to a state park.  In such a section people would be encouraged to see their lives abundantly and know that they can live in such a way.  It’s not only available to a select few.

What stories would you want included in a life section that doesn’t seek to hold up celebrities, but to celebrate all.


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Redecorating a Different Success

Eight years ago I moved into my current bedroom.  It was small, but sufficient, even cozy.  Yet, it has never felt quite right.  A light oak chair rail divided the room horizontally with a dark evergreen painted below and a dirty beige above.  At least twenty nail holes marked the walls where previous owners had hung pictures and diplomas in this former office.  The beige carpet had black stains.  It could have been oil, tar, or coffee, but whatever it was, it wasn’t coming out.  Even though I filled this space with my furniture, books, and clothes, it increasingly felt foreign.  It was not holding my story well when the shadow of another story seemed to surround me. 

It’s not that I wasn’t able to redecorate this space. It’s just that I had never planned to be here for this long.  Then several family health emergencies, including my father’s death, along with career changes, kept me here.  In the midst of everything, an inertia quickly set in.  For years I’ve included repainting this room on my annual list of goals.  Still, I never found the right time.  I knew that the whole process – painting the walls, staining the trim, updating the closet, and laying the carpet – would mean several weeks of disruption.  I didn’t want to mess with it.  

At some level, I’ve also kept this room in a state of unfinished living because I wanted to follow that story of moving.  I felt that if I got frustrated enough I would leave. Well, I’m still here and should probably set down firmer roots, claiming the space for how ever long I am here – for one year or twenty.  Finally, the dinginess of the walls and the frustration with my inaction has started to bear down on me.  I want to see my pictures hung on the walls, not evidence from the life of someone else.  It’s time to make this room mine.

I started by selecting a new color – blissful blue.  A blue like the brilliant autumn skies.  Cool and warm at the same time. Then I took everything out: books, furniture, clothes, pictures.  With a crow bar I removed the chair rail and the old closet shelves.  Now it was ready for me to step and open a new chapter for the this space.  First, I filled-in all the holes in the wall and removed splattered paint from the trim.  After my mom and I re-stained the trim it was time to paint the walls. What a great feeling to cover the green and beige – creating a new canvas.  A fresh look in which to weave stories.  

IMG_2255As I waited for the carpeting to arrive – two weeks – I had time to re-imagine the floor arrangement.  My bed and desk had been facing the center of the house, inward looking.  This simple reality could have added to the inertia as my psyche followed my physique and spent too much time looking within, enclosed by walls that were ill fitting. I decided that I would find a way to arrange things so everything would look out.  Now this room has not only a different color, but a different view.  Both the bed and desk are looking outward – the desk directly in front of the window.  It’s reminiscent of the placement of many desks I’ve seen in authors’ homes.  Moreover, with this new arrangement there was room for a rocking chair where the sun hits everyday.  I can sit here and enjoy looking out the window as I read a book, dream of a new pilgrimage, or write.  

Even though it’s not quite finished, I can finally say it’s a place of my own.  I still have to figure out what to hang on the walls.  Pictures from my past and maybe some I will make. Now I feel an energy to actively create these new images of pilgrimage.  No longer am I ashamed of where I am, feeling stuck in the grooves of a broken record. I had thought success would be moving out in order to create a place of my own. Maybe a spot in the city, or a retreat center in the country.  Well, who knows when that will be, if ever.  So, I’m going to live, looking out on the world before me.  Living into this story, here.  


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