Learning Not to Be Thankful

Learning Not to Be Thankful

By Jane Tawel

November 25, 2019

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I will do my yearly duty this week and be thankful while consuming too much food while sitting around in an over-warm dining room, swapping surface stories and easily paid-for thoughts and prayers. And I am as thankful as anyone, truly I am, for all the people and stuff I have been given.  But this year, I can’t help but feel the weight of that last thing I said, “given”.  It is after all the season of Thanks – “giving”.  The thing is, that most of us living in Entitlement, forget that all that we have to be thankful for, has been given to us.  Many of us believe we have been given these things by a God.  Most of us come to believe we have been given these things by our own hard work, smarts, dreaming and planning, and “gumption”.  Far fewer of us, would admit that much of what we have is ours through pure luck, the luck of the draw, the luck of where and when and to whom we were born, the luck of our skin-color or gender or school-grades.  After all, how can one be thankful for something one does not really deserve any more than the next guy or gal?  And it is the next guy and gal that make me queasy and eating not just pumpkin but humble pie. It is the next human being, one seat over, that makes me determined to be a bit more un-thankful this year.

 

 

In my particular country, we may still have our sense of tribe and team left, but many of us no longer have any sense of community. Oh, we think we do, but most of us have chosen a community to shore up who we are and give us satisfaction without guilt in all we have.  The causes of our lack of true community are many and I will leave you to find those among the sociologists, psychologists, and economists.  I will also leave to others the stories that I, too, could share about all the things I did last week or yesterday to help out the homeless people on the street-corner by the Starbucks I pass as I drive my Prius to work; or the students’ notes I packed away, telling me how great I was for believing in them and teaching them; or I could mention my hauling of garbage at the charity I volunteer at, or the garbage I pick up from the gutters where people’s gardeners blow it with their leaf-blowers. I could mention the churches and sports teams I have cheered for.  I could tell you how proud I am of my children and how grateful I feel to still have them and my husband around my table this Thanksgiving.  And you and I would get a bit teary and feel such a sense of thankfulness about it all. But in the end, it is all about what I have, isn’t it?  What I have done, haven’t I? Who I am blessed to be, aren’t I?

 

So, I have to ask myself, “Why me?”.  Why do I have all this and as some might believe, have heaven besides? Why aren’t the bombs falling on my neighborhood?  Why didn’t I get caught and put in prison for what I did?  Why did my kid survive that drive, that illness, that boyfriend?  Why did my health insurance pay for that or my house survive the earthquake or fire or tornado?  Why is my tap-water drinkable and why do I have so much food that I need a refrigerator and garbage disposal?  Why didn’t I get that? Why did I get that?  Why? Why me? And more importantly, why not him?  Why not her? Why not them?

Everett, Washington / USA - 10/27/2018 - Homeless person in the doorway of a church

“Everett, Washington / USA – 10/27/2018 – Homeless person in the doorway of a church” by ShebleyCL is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

 

Am I thankful? Yes, but with a caveat.  I am thankful but I am also indebted.  When someone or Someone gives you a gift, you are rightfully thankful, but if you are at all a good person, you also feel that you owe them something. A gift means at minimum you owe someone a thank-you note; at the most, you may owe someone your very life.  Most gifts fall in the between note and life range. But always, a gift given, means a Thanks-given.

 

Sometimes you don’t like the feeling of owing someone for something they give you; it may make you feel uncomfortable.  Sometimes, like when one of my children gives me an extravagant gift of love, I feel overwhelmed with a sense of not just gratitude, but unworthiness – how could someone love me that much? There is a type of happiness in being thankful for something that makes some people not only grateful, but determined to be the person who deserves that someone or something.

 

 

Whether you believe in a Good God or Good Luck and Good Fortune, or you chalk up what you have to Good Genes and Good Heredity, or a Good Work-ethic and a Good Brain; who you are and what you have is because of something or someone outside of yourself, beyond your own capabilities, something or Someone that is “Good”.  There is an old proverb that says, “to whom much is given, much is required”.  Good things happen to good people, but they also happen to bad people.  The reverse is true as well, bad things do happen to good people, and we can read all the books and think all the thoughts on the subject and never figure out why.  The only thing we possibly can figure out, is how to stop being merely thankful, and start being liable, responsible, humbled.

 

I can not be truly thankful this year when I think about Carl, and Donny, and Gloria, and the two men whose names I confess I have forgotten, who sit on the bench next to their purloined shopping carts, full of things they are grateful to have.  I worry about my own wonderful children but I wake up at night obsessed with helpless worry over the children in Syria and Guatemala and Ethiopia. I feel a righteous anger against the rulers and the makers and shakers of my own country who immoral-ize others in their quest to immortalize themselves, but I am new to this game of helpless inadequacy of fighting against the powers that be, and I wonder how people in other parts of the world can go on believing, hoping, praying that things might someday change.  And I just can not be thankful, give thanks, feel gratitude, when I know I do not deserve any of the many things and people that I have been given.  Gifts are not deserved. Awards may be deserved, salaries may be deserved, justice may be deserved – but then again, they may not. Sometimes I have been just as grateful for NOT getting what I deserve, as I am grateful for getting what I think I deserve.

 

Given. Given. Give-in. Yes, I give-in. I give-up.  I am so helplessly thankful and grateful and so I give-up feeling I have to hoard it, keep it, own it, praise it, accept it all for the way it is.  No, I am thanks-Giving. I refuse to accept myself as somehow owed all the gifts I have been given – randomly, luckily, blessedly, however you want to call it. I am thankful for one thing this year.  I am humbly thankful that I have one more day left to not be thankful, but to pay what I owe. I confess that I am so weary of the god some people believe in – a god to whom I owe nothing.  I want a God that I owe much to, a God that I owe everything I have, everything I am, everyone I love. I am weary of feeling that I do not owe anything to the rest of the people in my nation, my city, my neighborhood. There but for the grace of God. There but for the good luck and good genes I lucked out with.  There but for my skin-color, or my birthplace, or my skill-set. I  want to believe that I owe those with so much less, something it costs me to give.  I owe those people who have no one,  I owe them my neighborliness, my love, my remembering their name at the very least. And most of all, I owe it to myself to learn how to truly share and sincerely, pro-actively care.

 

I owe the world my prayers,

the Earth my care,

and those who might scare me, I owe it to dare

to give and to live as if all that I own,

is not mine alone, but is theirs.

 

I have worked hard to learn to let go of things that cause me to be out of alignment with gratitude.  That is a lesson I will continue to teach myself.  But this week, as we put a price and a time-limit on Thanksgiving, I will try to teach myself how not to be thankful. I will try to understand how I am part of a community that has so little, has lost so much, and has far fewer things and people in their lives to be thankful for than I do.  I will learn not to feel thankful, but to feel a deeper sense of what I owe it to others to pay forward, to share, to give-back, to give-up, to give-in.  I will not just thank my God, I will question, “Why?”  “Why me?  Why not them?” I will not just thank my lucky stars, I will look at the stars and see the same bright lights up there that a hungry child sees tonight, and ask “Why?” I will lock my house door, and pray on my knees for those who go to bed in terror tonight. I will hug my child, and cry for those whose children did not live to see this day.  I will finish my pie and ask, “Why did I get such a big slice of Fortune’s pie-chart, when someone else got crumbs”? And I won’t find any answers to my questions of “Why”, but I might find not only a more heartfelt sense of thankfulness, but a profound paradigm-shifting realization of unworthiness. And while thankfulness can change your heart, knowing you are unworthy can change your soul

 

A person who doesn’t deserve a gift, but gets one any way, is a truly grateful, indebted human being.  And that is what grace is. That is where hope is found. That is what makes humans just a little lower than angels. Being unworthy, and being alive one more day to know it and do something about it, to give more to others out of all that I have been given; that is what I am thankful for this season. I am trying to learn to not be thankful, but to be worthy.

 

Happy Thanks-for-Giving.

 

Thank You

“Thank You” by James Wickenden is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

 

When God Goes High, I Must Go Low

When God Goes High, I Must Go Low

by Jane Tawel

November 20, 2019

 

 

Now. This. From J. Heinrich Arnold:

“God’s love is like water: it seeks the lowest place. Yet we cannot make ourselves humble and lowly in our own strength. We can see ourselves for what we are only in the light of God’s omnipotence, love, purity, and truth.”

And so I ask myself, “Jane, how low can you go”? How low must I go, to see myself as God sees me, lowly but somehow still, loved? Not loved for who I am, which is but a being made of dust and blown in the wind, but loved because of Who God Is. And the answer comes as a still, small voice: “Jane, you must get lower.”

 When God goes so High, I can go lower. I must go lower.

Remember playing  limbo with your friends?  It’s that game where you only win if you can bend over backwards and get down the lowest to the ground as you possibly can. That is how God says His Kingdom on earth is — the one who gets down to the lowest of the lows, the one who bends over backwards in order to move forwards, wins. In God’s upside-down Kingdom, the lowest of us will win.  The humblest becomes the most praised; the weakest becomes the strongest; the first becomes the last.

 

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How low does a human need to go, to truly understand how high above all things is The Lord God? We do not go low by suffering; all people suffer.  We do not go low by thinking that we are “servant-leaders”; we are called not to let the “right hand know what the left hand is doing”. We do not go low through “thoughts and prayers”; for “without love, we are but sounding gongs”, and as the Son of God asks, “Why do you call on me, ‘Lord, Lord’, but do not do as I do?”.

We are called to fear God; to fear the trials and temptations; to fear our failures as human beings. And to somehow, despite our great fear, and low nothingness, to “love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength”. It is only when we fall upon the mercy of God, that He can lift us from the muck and mire.

And here is what I am incrementally discovering after all these years. The less I think of myself, the more pure gratitude I am suddenly surprised by. The more I die to my self-centered-ness, the more love I feel for being alive as myself. The lower I go, the closer God Is.

We awake to another day, another opportunity, and we play God’s Great Game of Limbo, while waiting in this current Time’s limbo. We can play lots of games in this life, you see them being played out daily by those sad fools who think they are winning. But God is clear that The Game of Life is won only by losing; that God is found, not by our hiding but by our seeking; and that hate is conquered only by loving others in the way God loves us.  We do not even “pass Go” if we are not caring for the Earth as if it were our own, when in fact it is Our Father’s.

We can only understand “how high, how wide, how deep Christ’s love is” by going as low as He did. We do it by loving those who drew the short straw, the lowest of the low in the world’s point of view, and by loving all those we come into contact with in the same way we want to be loved – with “God’s strength, love, purity, and truth”. We get down low and we get down and dirty.  We seek the level of God’s water.

And so we are called to pray not “dear god, bless me”; but “Dear God, we bless Your Name! Save us from our selves. Save us from Evil. Glorify Yourself. Show us Your compassion, on earth as it is All-Places Out There.”  And if you are at all like me, you will understand, when I simply pray, “Help!  Help!  Help us!  Help me! I can’t go lower without You. Help me.”

Note to self:  Today:  Must go lower. Must go lower. Must go lower.

Psalm 103:11-19

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

 

Must. Go. Lower.

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Photo “ijsje, de poolvos en de stormvogel houden een ijsbergrally” by De Vleermuis is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I’d Rather Be a Stone

I’d Rather Be a Stone than a Leaf

By Jane Tawel

November 16, 2019

 

Simon and Garfunkel have this great old song in which they preach to their listeners that they would “rather be a hammer than a nail” and they would “rather be a sparrow than a snail”.  Good sentiments, sort of along the lines of Ghandi’s ubiquitous “Be the Change” exhortation.  But you know, the problem is that most of us can only manage to fly like a bird for a very short time, and then we tire out. And being a hammer eventually just makes you an overbearing, hard-nosed, abuser of your power against all the little powerless nails. Being a hammer might be a Samson-like calling in the moment, but eventually all hammers hit too hard, just as much as the powers do who currently hold the hammers.  We dare not forget the ends of stories like those of Icarus and Samson.

 

 

I have learned all of this, mostly from literature and other forms of great writers’ artistic endeavors. Stories and poems and authors like Homer, Tolkien, Rowling, and the writers of what we call The Bible, contain what C.S. Lewis calls, True Myth. These stories about hammers, or powerful heroes, or sparrows, high fliers, often end tragically or at least badly for all the little nobodies – that is for the nails who get wacked by the heroes or the people below the high fliers, who get pooped on from those soaring above the fray.

 

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This is the truth that Orwell and Dickens meant to teach us when they wrote about power and revolutions against that power.  Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities to help people understand that even a great cause, such as the French Revolutionaries had, will eventually fall by the way side when the weak become strongmen, and the powerless become power-hungry rulers. And I always loved to teach my students that Orwell was quite clear that Animal Farm  was not simply about Soviet Russia, but also about Fascist Spain and Capitalistic America, and well, about all of us, everywhere, always.   We have been warned—all humanistic, prideful power eventually is corrupted from within.  One only has to look to the powers that those who claim God’s favor, ie all religions, but perhaps today, especially what we call “Christianity”. We have only to see what those in the name of religion or God have stolen, dictated, grasped, and abused, and continue to grasp and abuse, to understand that humanity is always falling prey to either an immoral sense of entitled faith in someone else doing the moral, salvation bit, or  prey to a self-righteous sense of doing for God something that He refuses to do  miraculously for our own entitled sense of greed or benefit.

 

 

I  very often feel guilty and helpless and humiliated, that I am not out there hammering and soaring and fighting and shouting and pledging and contributing and warring and protesting and well, flying.  It has helped me to read great story-tellers, who believe that getting rid of one power to be replaced only with another power will forever condemn history to more greedy and power hungry rulers. If you  say you believe in Jesus, you should have no doubt that he believed this, even for himself, and he had the edge in being the Son of God, so….But we are not allowed to believe that we are to do nothing; that we were put on earth merely to save our own measly excuse for an individual soul and  hightail it to a “Heaven” somewhere out there without all the mess we’ve created here. We are supposed to believe that we were put in charge on this planet, of these beings, and plants, and animals, and volcanoes, and lakes, and rivers, and children. We are meant to believe that there is a way humans were meant to “do good” and “act rightly and righteously” and to make this planet and world and other communities of humans better, more the way we would all like it to be, and that is what Jesus meant by telling us our job was to make “God’s Kingdom real here on earth, like it is in other galaxies, and places we can’t even imagine, ie, the “Heavens- Out-there- Where God is”.

 

So we seek metaphors, and stories, and poetic allusions to figure out how we are supposed to do this thing called “living”. I struggle at my time of life with seeing myself as a soaring eagle or a powerful tool of politics or religion.  My nickname in my family is “Chicken” for good reason and I am definitely mechanically challenged at the best of times. Not sure any one wants me wielding a hammer, though I am prone to the occasional use of the metaphoric kind in conversation. The best metaphor I have recalled lately, for how I might make changes in the world as only one of the little people, a minor character in the plot, is the metaphor of the stone.

 

I think about that great line in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” spoken by a man who suffers death for the sake of his wife and other women, who back then were considered property, and who are accused and condemned unjustly by the over-powerful, over-zealous self-proclaiming evangelical politicians of the time. These abusers of power in Miller’s story, much like the regimes of Orwell’s Animal Farm, or the monarchy of Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities  are up against, hammers and sparrows, and doves who carry secret messages, etc, but in the end the righteous refusal to budge on an ethical, moral response to wrong, badness, and evil, usually comes through those who simply lay down their lives, like a stone in the road, refusing to be carried away by the justifications of those who will not see the Truth behind the lies of the corrupted. Much like many of America’s past and present abusers of power, such as the current configuration of those like President Trump and Senator McConnell and Franklin Graham’s oligarchical Administration, and the Red Scared three-headed beast once seen in the U. S. Judiciary and  FBI and Senator Joseph McCarthy  during that Make America Great Administration, and the “Evangelical” Protestant Witch hunting White Settlers in the Administration who populate Miller’s play. And so, knowing that he would be condoning evil and doing  wrong, by choosing the “lesser of two evils” and thereby, abusing his own power as a conservative, religious man who only wanted to save himself,  Giles Corey, submits to being unjustly charged as a traitor and not Christian-like and is put to death via capital punishment by the state and modern inquisition by the Church. The Puritans did this by the placing of large, heavy stones laid on a man until they had crushed his chest into his heart. As the weight of the stones placed on Giles Corey, one after another, seem too impossible for his body to survive, and the political and religious leaders think surely this man will give in to their way of thinking and behaving now; Corey tells the “Christian” executioners that no, not only will he not join them for any reason but that they must add, “More weight. Add more weight.”

 

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Add more stones.  Arthur Miller, the playwright, would later, be a Giles Corey character in real life, when he refused to tattle to the corrupt “Un-American Activities Committee”, who after all were only trying to “make America great”. Again.

 

Dickens writes about a Christ-like figure who is innocent but allows the state to kill him in order for someone else to live.  Orwell, however, has no such hero.  In Orwell’s dystopian worldview, the Christian leaders, in the character of a black raven, symbolizing death, flies off with his share of the goodies; and the politicians, one after the other, are revealed to be not just literally pigs, but archetypes whose greed devolves them from being animals to, you guessed it, game-playing, powerful, greedy, over-fed humans.

 

And again, and again, and again and on it goes. No wonder we can feel so helpless and hopeless, and that we keep trying to tell ourselves that either someone like Jesus, already did all the work for us, and that the world can go to hell because we personally will be “saved”,  if we only have a mindful acquiescence to some historical god’s reality; or that someone else, like a president or prime minister, or a Gates or Gandhi, will come along and be our world’s savior, and all we need to do is “pray” for them.

 

As for little old me, I do believe in the kind of Judeo-Christian worldview in which humans matter and that there is a God that cares about our world. I try to hang on to a belief that I find not just in stories from the Bible, but in the history books, and in Nature and even in other humans I meet now and then. I believe that Love matters most of all and that the small actions of small people matter. And that little actions done with love by little  people can not only change the world, but that somehow, they have a larger meaning in light of God’s Kingdom and in some as yet, unrealized idea of Eternity.

 

I do believe that there is judgement and reward, for what we say, think, feel, and especially what we do or do not do. It seems clear that the consequences of one’s own life, and well as the tides of time and history are ultimately determined by those dueling sins of omission and commission that tug us as individuals, sometimes confuse us as they pull us in different and seemingly contradictory directions.   I believe we all sense the truth, that in some way, we have messed up what is fair and good, and this is true whether we believe in a reckoning in a God-futured heaven, or the more easily apparent judgement that Jesus did rightly warn us of. Jesus did warn his fellow humans that there is an inherent judgement in life that is an ever present danger. This danger comes when any one, any people pass the point of no return on earth by “losing our souls, losing what this life was meant to reward us with as individual human beings,  and when we seek only to gain more and more for ourselves at any cost”.

Surely even the most foolish of us sometimes awakes in a terrified sweat to the recognition that we are becoming less human, less of what we want to be, more soul-less, and zombie-like. Surely even the most religious of us must stand aghast at what we have allowed to happen on our planetary home, as children kill other children, and farmers starve on what used to be their land, and the food we eat  to nourish us causes us deathly illnesses, and whole species of animals die out, and people wear gas masks to breath, and fires rage, and sea levels rise, and those who are supposed to unite us, divide us for their own gain.  Surely, even the most atheistic or immoral of us understand that there is something horribly, horribly wrong on our planet, in our species, in the inner most parts of who we are?

 

And like me, you may feel angry, depressed, frightened, sad, and helpless and hopeless. After all, what can you do? What can I do? What can we do?

 

 

It came as a consolation and a warning and a judgement and a prophetic goading to me, this past week to re-read the part of a story I was reading.  I will share great swathes of it with you here, but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself.  This is from C.S. Lewis’s Science Fiction Trilogy, and specifically from Perelandra.  In it, the character of Elwin Ransom, a human being, has gone to another planet which has just been created by God, who Lewis calls Maleldil. On this planet, there is a sort of new Garden of Eden set-up, and there this traveling spaceman, meets this planet’s archetypal “Eve” character.  Ransom also meets up with the only other fellow human, a man named, Weston, but who according to Lewis, has become an “Un-man”. Weston has allowed evil, “Satan” to take over his mind, body, and soul, but it happened incrementally over the course of time and Weston did it for all the right reasons, much like people today claim to do. The story’s conflict lies between these two humans, who have a different worldview of what God wants from us, although both claim the Bible and God as their source. They also have different ideas about what is the best way to make the planet of Perelandra and her inhabitants, “Great”.  Oh, it is truly relevant, is it not?  I encourage you to read the story.  But what may encourage you today, as it did me, is C.S. Lewis’ own wrestling with his conscious and the pleading voice coming through in the character of Elwin Ransom.  I have taken the liberty here and substituted Lewis’ name for God, “Maleldil” for the more earth-friendly one, “God”. Ransom is at a loss for how to stop the evil and “bad stuff” happening around him. He has tried and failed so far to save The Lady and the planet, and time seems to be running out. Now he is feeling helpless, and thinking dark thoughts in the darkness, thoughts and feelings much like mine at times. Perhaps much like yours.

 

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Why did no miracle come? Or rather, why no miracle on the right side? For the presence of the Enemy was in itself a kind of Miracle. Had Hell a prerogative to work wonders? Why did Heaven work none? Not for the first time he found himself questioning Divine Justice. He could not understand why God should remain absent when the Enemy was there in person… Suddenly and sharply, as if the solid darkness about him had spoken with articulate voice, he knew that God was not absent… had never been absent, that only some unconscious activity of his own had succeeded in ignoring it for the past few days…. But where is God’s representative?

The answer which came back to him, quick as a fencer’s or a tennis player’s riposte, out of the silence and the darkness, almost took his breath away.  “Anyway, what can I do? I’ve done all I can. I’ve talked till I’m sick of it. It’s not good, I tell you.”  He tried to persuade himself that he, Ransom could not possibly be God’s representative… And then—he wondered how it had escaped him till now—he was at least as much of a marvel as the Enemy’s.   He himself was the miracle.

 

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Yes, we too often forget it. My life itself is a miracle. But we must be careful, for like Ransom, many of us who believe this today, stop there.  Ransom tries to convince himself that this belief, this “faith” in God and in goodness and in his being in “God’s hand”, is enough.  He pats himself on the back that he really has done “his best” and that “God would see to the final issue”.  But Lewis, knows that really, honestly, this is not true-Truth, not even on a mythical planet.

 

 

Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false.  His journey was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in God’s hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours. They could, if they chose decline to save the innocence of this new race, and if they declined its innocence would not be saved.  It rested with no other creature in all time or all space.  This he saw clearly, though as yet he had no inkling of what he could do.

 

 

As Ransom realizes, we must realize that God cares through Us, not just for us. We are each, each day, standing alone on the precipice between the salvation of the world within and without and the death of all that is in both me and the planet, all that is Good and Right and Healthy. I am the only person right now who is utterly responsible for what happens in my own soul, in the souls of others, and on the planet. This is not the vanity of the powerful nor the hubris of the hero, this is the reality of what it means to be a created human being, created in the likeness of a God.  Ransom, however, can not accept this blithely, just  as I can not do, maybe as you  cannot do, and Lewis through his character, rebels and protests these thoughts.

 

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The voluble self protested, wildly, swiftly, like the propeller of a ship racing when it is out of the water.  The imprudence, the unfairness, the absurdity of it!  Did God want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend on such a man of straw as himself? And at that moment he now could not help remembering that men were at war and awaking, like him, to the preposterous truth that all really depended on their actions; and far away in time Horatius stood on the bridge, and Eve herself stood looking upon the forbidden fruit and the Heaven of Heavens waited for her decision. He writhed and ground his teeth, but could not help seeing. Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made.  Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices.  And if something, who could set bounds to it?

A stone may determine the course of a river.  He was that stone at this horrible moment which had become the centre of the whole universe. The angels of all worlds, the sinless organisms of everlasting light, were silent in Deep Heaven to see what Elwin Ransom of Cambridge would do.

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And so each and every day – perhaps moment by moment– one must ask oneself:  Will I be a leaf, blown this way and that by life’s ebb and flow, to eventually be nothing more than the dust from which I grew?

 

Or will I be a stone?  A pebble in the shoe of the king, can irritate him into stopping and perhaps, in that way, the pebble will upend the powerful forces marching towards destruction.  A rock in the road, can cause the jeeps and tanks, to perhaps change direction, and in that way, change the direction of a war. All the little bits of gravel, can build each other up, and change the course of the mighty seas of history, damming the floods of greed, pride, and injustice, restoring the waters to their intended nourishment and life-giving abilities.   And one little pebble found in a righteous slingshot, can slay a Goliath.

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The Cornerstone of God’s Kingdom, proclaimed, that should we fail to be the stones of God, that God Himself could easily raise up actual clods made of dirt and minerals. Should I fail, God does not lack for hands and feet and wings and claws and trunks and even pebbles; for on Ransom’s Earth, on Lewis’ and my planet, a man once came to show us how to live. And this Son of Man, proclaimed that even “the rocks themselves can do our job of crying in praise, ‘Hosanna’!  Blessed is the one who does God’s work on earth, as it is done in all the Heavens and in all the Cosmos!”

 

If I have delayed in my life, ‘til now, skipping a rock on a lake, or dropping a pebble into a pool of deep water, I must delay no longer.  I can not know whether my little stone of an action will create far-reaching ripples, the consequences of which I shall not know until Judgement day; or if my little stone will sink to the bottom of our raging waters, and there, perhaps, small and still as a god’s voice, will change the course of the tide, at least perhaps for someone else.

 

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All I can know without doubt, with fear and even sometimes loathing, is that I must be the stone that God has created me to be. I must use the hands God gave me, the feet God entrusted to me, and the voice God expects me to use. And so, like a good stone, I cry, “Hosanna!  Good news!  God is with us.  And the Gospel is –We are the saviors. We are the ones that God created us to be as the makers and caretakers and workers for Love on our planet. We are the Christ.”

 

We are not called to be innocent bystanders, like dumb rocks by the wayside. Because bystanders, are not innocent, they are just dumb. We neither are called to be dumb as in stupid nor dumb as in silent.  I may be just a stone, but I am a stone that is resting on the Cornerstone, and that Cornerstone, called The Christ, Messiah, Risen Lord and King, has changed the whole course of Time and History. On Christ the solid rock, I stand. Or am crushed. My choice.

 

The next time you are out in the world, stoop down and pick up a little grey pebble. Is it not truly a miracle of creation? Each of us, too, can be that small little stone that is in Truth,  a miracle.

 

Will I be a leaf or a stone?  Daily, moment by moment, I choose. And though, I am not all that important in the great scheme of things, I am the only miracle I have today. But then again, I am the only miracle, I need today.

 

And in the end, after all, as Elwin Ransom realized, as C.S. Lewis, and George Orwell, and Charles Dickens realized, and perhaps as you have realized, accepting that I am the miracle God has sent is not only enough, it is everything. My being a small stone is everything. In fact,

The fate of the planet depends on it.

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All Photos from https://creativecommons.org/

Puppets Need Laughter to Be Real Humans

 

 

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“Disneyland, Pinochio” by gigi4791 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

 

Puppets Need Laughter to Be Real Humans

By Jane Tawel

November 14, 2019

 

Every once in a while I simply can’t wait around for humor to find me.  I have to manufacture some myself.  Otherwise it is all just too much, isn’t it?  Below is my latest poetic ditty in an attempt to tickle my own funny bone.

 

I wrote this little silly poem on my half hour lunch break yesterday at my latest temporary gig in an office.  I have developed a new empathy for people who spend their lives at mind-numbingly boring, dull, unfulfilling jobs because they like to eat, have a roof, and clothe their children, all by slaving for one measly, inadequate paycheck at a time.  Yesterday, the cat (boss) was away, and the “mice” began to play a bit, while still accomplishing the work they do day after day after day after day, work that has no personal fulfillment for themselves, only for other people.  A small group of those who sit in the completely silent large, sterile room, like computer chained prisoners, began to come alive. I sat at my separate temp-worker desk (temp workers are both temporary saviors and pariahs),  and I listened in wonderment to people I thought I understood after two weeks on the job. I was secretly and joyfully astounded, and felt much like Geppetto must have felt when wooden puppets became a real boys and girls. The otherwise surly or silent began to share little jokes and stories with each other. They laughed, they teased, and the otherwise meaningless, joyless, slavish work suddenly had a new meaning, because for a small moment, they had other real, live happy, caring people who were working alongside them.

 

I encourage you to find something today, if you can, that tickles you to smile, giggle and when possible laugh loud and long. If you are a little worker-bee today, find a fellow worker-bee, and share a moment – show them a picture of your silly kid, memorize a new joke, laugh at what you brought for your lunch today.  If you are a person with power, like a CEO, or manager, or teacher, or parent, I know you fear the happiness and silliness and joy of those you oversee. I know you think it will make them work less, focus less, accomplish less. All I can tell you, is, it won’t, but to believe that, you may need to learn how to do the most freeing thing of all. You may need to learn to laugh, and if you can laugh at yourself, then others will not be so tempted to laugh at you behind your back.  You may find you are laughing and enjoying your day along with all the rest of us.

 

Ode to Joy, Not by Beethoven

By Jane Tawel

A recent need to be silly,

Due to having the world-weary willies,

About what I fear

In the world far and near,

Made me get out my pen and smirk, “Really?

Oh, you silly, Jane,

You are sometimes so vain,

And you really should not gild your lily!”

But due to my sense of great sadness,

Which often leads daily to madness,

I relate, some, to you,

And the trials you go through,

As we struggle through goodness and badness.

 

So, let’s giggle and wiggle our shoe-clad, sore toes-es,

Let’s tickle our fancies and tickle our noses,

Let’s pull each one’s legs,

And eat green ham and eggs,

And when you feel low,

Well, Hey, Pal, don’t cha’ know,

We are in this together.

So, let’s fight and let’s weather

The storms of this life,

The fears, and the strife,

And down we will knuckle,

Ourselves – to just chuckle.

Let’s laugh, now and then,

And then even when,

Life seems ever so dreary,

We will promise that merely,

Not a day will go by,

When we at least do not try,

To fight all this crappiness,

With a wee bit of happiness.

 

Oh, sing, Ode to Joy!

Share a joke, make a toy,

Of the chains that enslave,

And you’ll soon feel quite brave.

 

For Goodness is not just in suffering,

But sometimes is found in the muffling,

Of the anger and sorrow,

And fears for tomorrow,

By stifling it all with hard chuckling.

Get back up, and just do it,

With panache or wry wit,

With a giggle or joke,

And throw off the hard yoke.

Oh, yes, laugh! Ode to Play!

And then, have a truly “Good” day.

Ten Small Radical Things To Do Each Day

Ten Small Radical Things To Do Each Day

by Jane Tawel

October, 2019

Here are Ten Small Radical Things that I think we should make daily habits, but that we can at least try to do today. These come from my own succeeding and failing at each of these. Try one, or a few of them today. Each day make time to live with hope and joy — these Ten Things could help.

  1. Laugh until your sides hurt. It’s best to do with someone, but if that’s not possible, do it with the person who “gets you” the most — yourself. Laugh with a comic book, a funny video, a comedian, or watch a squirrel or a puppy (often great sources of humor).

2. Hum a tune. This is a great way to relax your mind and your body. It activates the all-important Vagus nerve. It is incredibly fun to do on your own and can also be a great way to drive someone else crazy (should you need to).

3. Take care of something small that you don’t usually make time for. Sometimes, it is as simple for me as taking time to brush my hair for fifty strokes — so relaxing! I find taking care of my finger and toe nails to be a helpful reminder that I really do have time for small things if I stop letting my time be gobbled up by the big, bad things, like the “Busy-Ness Monster” or the “Blob of Ennui”. Try spending just a wee amount of time caring for some small part of your garden, either figuratively or literally. Or do something for just one part of your body that needs attention. Try a face mask or hair treatment or just elevating your feet against the nearest wall. The important thing is to do it yourself, not spend any real money on it, and do it in solitude, caring for your inner self as you care for something outside of yourself. Most of all, enjoy doing it, not as a task, but as self-care.

4. Chew more slowly or drink more deeply. Actually and intentionally tasting what you are imbibing or masticating will give you two important, transformative things; it will give you more pleasure and more gratitude.

5. Go outside. If it is too hot or too cold, stand on your porch or your stoop and let your body really feel what is going on. If, like Goldilocks, the weather is just right, take a walk. Of course, Goldilocks may vary. The best of all weather for me, here in the desert, is rain. I love to walk in the rain. But even if you just have a three-minute break today, go stand outside. But don’t do it for steps, or exercise, just go outside to BE. Be in a real environment called “The Outdoors”, with no fake lights, no fake air, no fake animation. Enjoy the Realness. Look. Listen. Feel. Breathe. Unwind.

6. Wave and smile. If it’s to a stranger, that is the best kind of gift since all you will hope to get in return is a wave and smile back. If they don’t smile or wave back, you will still feel better. If you make this gesture to someone you are working with or someone in your home that you see day after day, a little wave and smile will be a happy reminder to both of you that you are both human, and you are both trying your best. That connection will remind you that two people can find a little happy moment together, no matter how much stress you may be experiencing. A smile and wave cost nothing but bring joy to the giver and the receiver. Better than words sometimes, is the unspoken gesture which requires neither deflection nor acceptance. A wave and smile will interrupt any flow of negativity, at least in the giver, and hopefully, in the receiver.

7. Play with some thing. I keep a little canister of Play-doh near my computer. I also have a life-long habit of playing with a strand of my hair. Play with something that does not require any thought at all — no Sudoku or Crosswords (though I love both for other reasons). If your teacher will let you, (and I always tried to), play by tapping your pen on your desk. If your husband will let you, just play with his hair or his earlobe. Stones and leaves and rolly-pollies are good to play with, as is mindless doodling in the margins, or by amusing oneself with a piece of string or sticky tape. Playfulness leads us away from childish behavior into child-like behavior, and in that makes all the difference towards enjoying a life well-lived.

8. Be a hero and save something. Save water by using less. Save something from the trash that should have been recycled. Save someone from having to stand, by offering your seat. Save some time to volunteer to help needy bodies rather than always working on your own body at the gym. Save a bit of time to call someone for a chat. Save a bit of money by making your own coffee then giving that money to the homeless guy on the street. Be a small hero in some way every day and give yourself commendations for heroism and bravery and moral achievement. And with enough small acts of heroism, you will develop the super-powers of love, hope, and joy.

9. Relax. Turn everything off. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Meditate or Pray. Stretch out or curl up. Nap or take a bath. If you absolutely have not a single moment for any relaxation, go into the bathroom cubicle, sit or lean against the wall for a minute, and give your mind a one-minute vacation. Think about ocean waves and sun. Think about swooshing down a snowy slope. Think about floating on a raft down a lazy river. Think about splashing in puddles in the rain, holding hands with your best friend. Think about a place and go there. Immerse yourself in the imagination of that place. Find a moment of tranquility there. The mind is an amazing tool for accomplishments; let it do the same amazing magic and restore you.

10. Tell yourself something good about You. This is not like an affirmation or mantra, but rather, you talking to yourself like a positive, encouraging Coach. Find a name for the part of you that you are talking to. For instance, instead of chastising myself and trying to motivate myself through negative “pep talks” (which I do often) such as when I sneer at my two Nemeses of “Gut” and “Butt”; I could say, “Hey, soft, swishy Tum-de-tum-tum, thank you for being strong inside with all your good bacteria you grow there. I appreciate your inner health. And thank you, dear Womb-an, for carrying four babies that are the joy and love of my life. You did a great job and I am proud of you for surviving.” Maybe you would like to say something like, “You know, Silly Sally Mind of mine, you made your boss smile today with your silliness and that is a great accomplishment.” Or you could just tell yourself, “Hey, The Rock, you worked like a beast today. Bravo you!” Or try saying this to You today:

I thank you, Self, for being alive.

I thank you, Me, for sticking with Myself.

I thank you, My Dear, for giving it another try.

I love you, Me for being my best “I”.

Ten Small Things. But as Mother Teresa might add: “Not all of us can do great things. But all of us can do small things, with great love”. Love Yourself. Love the World.

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 “Squirrel” by Matt Peoples CC BY-NC 2.0

Loving With All My Art

Loving With All My Art

by Jane Tawel

October 20, 2019

 

What is on my mind, my social media asked me?   ART!   But not just my mind, because real art is about heart. And heart, or what some call “soul”, is that deep, deep place in our species that elevates us beyond the mere animal.

 

I am a privileged person who has enough money and time to occasionally experience real, honest to-goodness live art. Live art is different than “static” art — both are worth spending a lot more time and a lot more money on than most of us do. Both are infinitely valuable to a life well-lived and a development of the best of human character; much more valuable than all the stuff many of us currently spend our most precious possessions on; that is our money/ savings and our time.

 

Just a quick refresher course for those of you living locally in the Los Angeles region or near other big cities in America — almost every museum has free days or nights. Art has become expensive because we no longer value it as a necessary component of any decent, long-range thinking society. Tragically, America does not value and support the arts, whether produced by current living artists or by dead famous ones; not in the school systems nor in the mushy, weak soups (and soaps) served up by reality TV or competitive showings of anesthetizing couch potato entrees.  So it’s up to us, I fear. Or rather, I don’t “fear”, but I exhort and encourage you to step up and seize the opportunity to experience Art.

 

I love going to see “static” art — museums, if you will. (If you happen to be in Los Angeles,  The Getty is always free and currently has an exhibit on Manet).  However, seeing art performed in the moment, something that will never be repeated in exactly the same way, is an experience that can change you from the inside, out and from the outside, in. If you at all have any money you can spare, please, please, please go to live art events. If you are in Southern California, you really must visit, if possible, the two live art venues that my hubby and I went to this week.

 

You absolutely must go see real, gut-wrenching, “make you think for weeks”, awesomely produced and phenomenally acted live theatre — somewhere, somehow. Ask around, find it and get off that couch and go. Raoul and I are privileged to live nearby a great theatre in Pasadena called “A Noise Within”. This is adult-sized theatre plays, not for Disney-kids, (but ironically, not Disney outrageous prices, either). This is one of the few remaining repertory companies left standing in America. Their current production of Sam Shepherd’s “Buried Child” is outstanding. Raoul and I were just blown away and the actors were so exhausted at the end of the performance from living the intensity of their characters they could hardly stand up for the curtain call. If you haven’t used your little grey cells in a while; go see a play that is written by a playwright with guts and ideas and thematic deepness and acted by actors who are what we call “method” actors, who “live the part” right in front of your very eyes. If you haven’t seen a play worth talking about for days after, or actors who have honed their craft to a fine point, go see something like, “Buried Child”. I highly recommend any play that was not first a movie and was written before tickets cost $600.00 a pop.

 

The second thing you absolutely must do is go to a concert where real artists play music. I love all genres of music and enjoy going to see super riffing guitarists and stick-throwing drummers from the viewpoint of a mosh pit, to nightclub-style singers at a piano bar, to country western twang-ers in an open air park. BUT — there is nothing that compares to seeing a live orchestra play. If you have a more limited budget that means you can’t make it to a big-city orchestra event, there are still struggling but hopeful orchestras all over the world playing out their hearts and souls. We found a wonderful and amazing opportunity near us, in Pasadena at a lovely, small hall called the Ambassador Auditorium, the home of “The Pasadena Symphony”. It is a much more affordable opportunity than Disney Hall (which we sometimes splurge on), a great venue without a single bad seat, and the home to an orchestra with a group of  artists, and special guest artists that are beyond talented. Seeing an orchestra perform, will leave you feeling that humans are truly capable of great feats and godlike mastery.

Last night, I saw not only the always excellent symphony members but a violinist named Tessa Lark, that, I could not tear my eyes away from as she played. It is hard to describe, but when Ms. Lark plays, it is as if the violin is merely feeding her –feeding from the body of her “fiddle” and from the strings and bow a sort of elixir and she is imbibing the notes and then somehow impossible music is being emitted not from the instrument but from her body. She is absolutely mesmerizing but she is completely oblivious to her “show”; rather she is madly in love with the unseen lover that is the music.

But you don’t feel like a voyeur; no, in the audience, I felt as if I were witnessing an event on a different planet; that I was observing with delight a different species of human beings, beings who are similar to what I am as a human, but so much more whole, so beautiful, so pure and innocent, and beyond lovely. It is glorious to witness such beings who are capable of such greatness. It is a greatness at once incredible and unbelievable but also comforting and encouraging. It is comforting and joyous because Ms. Lark and her fellow players are giving something to those who participate with their presence in the audience; they are giving us a gift. The gift is given with joy and the knowledge that their playing is only complete when there are live people in the audience sharing in the gift that the music gives them. It is a community of musical artists and audience and the audience also gets to give gifts; the gift of our hearts. Tessa Lark is the sort of unique soloist, who takes, not just the audience, but the whole orchestra with her, all the players seem elevated to a group of beings who are in love with the music and in love with themselves and each other and with me and my neighbors in the audience and in love with life.

A live orchestra is about art as an act of sacrificial love. And that love is for something Big! and Important! and Phenomenally difficult! and Outstandingly magical! With Capitals and exclamation points!   But it is also about us. Little old us, sitting in the audience are loved through the performance too. And love like that is worth a lot.

 

I gush, I rave — but really…. please, please, please go see artists perform. If all you can afford is a dollar for your local busker, start there, but start valuing art. More importantly though, is to start valuing yourself enough to support and experience live art.

 

Find something being performed that makes you feel … well…. better. Just Better. Bigger, and yet, delightfully, Smaller. Braver. Truer. Smarter, and yet, More Innocent. Hopeful. Thoughtful. Cheerful. Energized. Awed, and yet, Safe and Warmed.

 

Most importantly –see other people doing amazing things. Doing God-like things right in front of your very eyes and ears, things like gods do. Creation. And if you are like I am, you will say to yourself: “God, if possible, could I use my first 5,000 years in Eternity, taking violin lessons from Tessa Lark?”

 

And then in your own small way, you will boldly and joyfully love the world, and your neighbors, and your family, and yourself — with all your Art.

 

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Tessa Lark

 

 

Part II: The Only Questions

Here is the promised Part II in my series, “The Only Questions You will Ever Need and Should Always Ask”.  Please click on my name in the picture below to be taken to my friend’s  page on Medium.com  Thanks as always for reading,  Jane

View at Medium.com