Who is a Hero?

Gentle Reader,

Continuing from here.

Webster tells is that a hero is “an illustrious warrior; a person admired for achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.” Much broader than our usual understanding. In our minds, heroic acts generally occur in the physical realm. Often we think of police officers, members of the military, or people who do something out of the ordinary, like rush into traffic to push someone out of the way of a speeding car.

This seems to be what the author of the article I referenced in the previous post focuses on, to the exclusion of all else:

The ideology that sends Brie Larson soaring fictionally around outer space has sent our real daughters, mothers, and sisters — devoid of such superpowers — to war to serve and die in place of men. Real wars, the kind where “horribly smashed men still [move] like half-crushed beetles” (Surprised by Joy, 240). Real wars, the kind C.S. Lewis elsewhere describes as the amalgamation of every temporal evil.

Unquestionably, men ought support women’s desires to be affirmed, respected, and honored. But indeed, few actions display our resolve to honor our women more than excluding them from the carnage of the battlefield. Where can we more clearly display our ultimate resolve to love our women as queens than to step into hell on earth as sacrificial pawns in their defense? Generation after generation has mobilized its men to be devoured — that its women might not be.

Yeah…that’s a weird turn to take when discussing a movie about a superhero. Obviously Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Scarlet Witch, Supergirl, Black Widow and all the rest are going to go to war – because that’s what their characters do. They are, to belabor the point, superheros. This is how they’re written. (As an aside, written largely by men). To say that these movies make a case for anyone going to war, not especially or specifically women, is a major stretch. It’s escapism. It’s fantasy.

The author, not the MCU, oddly glamorizes war here. Lewis wrote about the horror of war. About its great evil. The author quotes him, but then turns the idea on its head, making it sound as if men marching off to battle is always, without question, the honorable and noble and right thing to do, never mind what history, particularly recent history, teaches us. Because that, exclusively, is heroic.

Even when we say, “You can’t go into the lion’s den for us”; “You won’t risk a brutal death to protect us”; “You shouldn’t expose yourself to the bullets bearing our name” — even then, the deprivation still causes offense. But our God, our nature, our love must firmly say, You are too precious, my mother, my daughter, my beloved. It is my glory to die that you may live.

Who, exactly, is the enemy here? Because if one is a Christian, then surely one must keep Ephesians 6:10-17 in mind? But, to insert a little levity, what do I, the woman who believes the message of the Gospel and the life of peace go hand-in-hand, really know about anything?

You best believe that I would go into the lion’s den for the men in my life – because that’s what love does. I would go into that same den for the women in my life – because that’s what love does. I will not carry a gun, nor will I throw a punch, but long ago I resolved that, if it comes down to it, I will put myself in harm’s way in order to protect someone else. Frankly, I don’t see Scripture giving me any other option.

We’re supposed to do these things for each other.

I know that, in this section, the author is writing primarily about wars between nations and the controversy over whether or not women should be subject to the draft. Here, he and I agree, but not in the way he wants me to. The draft is, to use a technical term, deeply uncool. Nobody should have to register for it. Nobody should enter the armed forces without having the freedom to make that decision for him- or herself. Nobody should put on a uniform without thinking through the consequences, potentially good and bad, of doing so. And, please, nobody should be allowed to make such a huge decision before their brains are fully developed, which doesn’t happen until around age twenty-five.

(For probably the millionth time in my life, I pause and say: I do not question the faith or integrity of my fellow Christians who choose to serve on the police force or in the military. Yes, I am a convinced and convicted pacifist, largely because the Holy Spirit is always talking to me about my own very bad temper and the need to control it; because of this I cannot help but see the root of evil in all violence. No, I don’t understand how someone comes to a different conclusion than I have, but I recognize that there is space within orthodoxy for this disagreement. It need not keep us from firm fellowship. Moving on).

We must learn to think differently. We must move beyond the view of heroism as strictly belonging to a physical battlefield or space.

One example of great courage: My cousin, diagnosed with cancer at a stupidly young age. She faced the awfulness of chemotherapy and the derailing of her college plans with faith, grace and humor. Of course she had bad days. Of course she struggled. But through it all, she was determined to fight. Determined to win. She is a hero. Quiet. Unheralded. A hero nonetheless.

Another: My father, who has worked hard every day for years at a job that isn’t lauded or recognized. He’s not a CEO. He’s never made a lot of money. But he put in long hours and did without some days in order to see to it that his family was fed, clothed and sheltered. He’s far too modest to claim the title “hero” for himself, but that’s how I see him. He showed his love for me by making sure I got both the best medical care (we joke that I own him hundreds of thousands of dollars) and education possible.

Another: My mother, who endures chronic, excruciating migraines, yet had a successful career on the administrative side of medicine for many years. Who, when my brother and I were little, knew how to make a little seem like a lot. Who does a lot of behind-the-scenes things that she’s rarely thanked for (I’m sorry, Mom). Who leaves a bowl of leftover spaghetti in my refrigerator because she knows that my most favorite meal in the whole world.

There are heroes all around us. People who choose, each day, to do the right thing, even when the right thing is the incredibly difficult thing. Or maybe just the boring thing. Either way, not always the fun thing.

The beauty is, even though usually fail to notice the heroism in the mundane, God notices. The, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” that we all long to hear does not belong only to those who do the great deeds or have the big following. Those words will be said to all who daily, momently, take up their cross and follow the King.

And that – that’s the real war. The one that truly matters. The one that rages in the mind and soul. The one that is unrelenting.

Thankfully, there is grace for this.

A grace that flows from the heart of the True Hero.

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P.S. – If you would like to know what pacifism looks like in practical action (because it’s not passive, not in any way), please watch the movie Hacksaw Ridge. The story of Desmond Doss is one that has impacted me greatly.

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Paranoia

Gentle Reader,

He must grow greater and greater and I less and less.

– John 3:30 (Phillip’s)

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t listening.

Carl, the FBI agent who lives inside our Echo Dot, told me that this morning.

That’s the joke in our uber-connected and wired society: Someone is always listening. Or watching. Or selling your information to Cambridge Analytica. Nothing on the internet is private, no matter what we like to tell ourselves. We’ve structured our lives, from work to relationships, around this convenience that zips through the ether, so complete disconnection isn’t really an option, unless you go ahead and plop the tin-foil on your head, purchase a compound in the woods and go full Mountain Person.

Me, I get the paranoia. It’s a not-so-lovely companion to the fear that’s constantly buzzing in my veins. Is this person truly kind, or is it an act? Am I safe right now? Who can I trust? Where can I go?

You’ve read this here before but I’ll write it again: I came so, so close to deleting this blog. As in, my finger was hovering over the button as recently as three-and-a-half weeks ago. It seemed a natural, logical choice to make. After all, I had already deleted all of my social media posts, including photos and memories that I will never be able to access again. Why not do the same here? Anything to make the anguish of past months cease.

Make myself small. Keep quiet. Don’t rock the proverbial boat.

This is a far, far cry from what my favorite camel-suit sporting Baptist meant. John didn’t quit doing what God had designed him to do when Jesus came on the scene. He wasn’t saying, “Well, they like him better. Guess I’ll go back to the desert and eat some locusts.” Did his work culminate in the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry? Yes. We do see him gradually fade, eventually dying at the hands of a weak king.

But John didn’t quit.

He didn’t stop being John.

His job was to point the way to the Messiah. In so doing, he made a lot of people angry. You can’t call people a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7) and not make some enemies. There was probably a lot of gossip about John. A lot of vicious rumors. A lot of people trying to block what he was doing.

He just kept going. Not as a superhuman, devoid of emotion or struggle. As John sat in prison, surely knowing that his execution was immanent, he sent some friends to ask Jesus if He really was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23). Jesus didn’t seem to mind the question. He sent John’s friends back to him with comforting assurances. Scripture doesn’t tell us how John responded to this, but I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to imagine a relieved smile stretching across his tanned face as peace washed over his soul.

Smallness before God is completely different than smallness before people. One is the position of a servant, devoted to carrying out the mission of the Master. Sometimes carrying out that mission involves wrestling with our weaknesses, the things that God is kind and gentle enough to have compassion for. The other is the position of fear and sorrow, allowing someone other than the Master to rule. And that, we call idolatry.

The right response to the feeling of paranoia is to bow before God. We don’t need make ourselves huge so we can squash others before they squash us. We need to sprint to the Throne of Grace, prostrating ourselves at His feet, asking Him to remind us of the proper order of things. Truly, what can anyone do to you if you are wrapped in the arms of the King? In the grand scheme, very little.

You’ll hurt. You’ll cry. You’ll want to rage at people and make them feel as bad as you do. You’ll be tempted to check out and give up. That’s all normal. That’s all part of being a human. Thankfully, blessedly, we have Someone ever-ready to encourage and uplift us.

All we have to do is bow before Him and nobody else.

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Little Spaces

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Gentle Reader,

Like any other writer, I dream of book tours and lecture circuits, but the actual reality of those things is far beyond my comfort zone. Planes, trains, and automobiles whirling about the country, carrying me off to places unseen and people unknown…my heart begins to thud with the mere contemplation.

I’m not a brave person.

When I think of the word brave, my mind conjures up images of people who have done great things. Florence Nightingale, caring for wounded soldiers left in appalling conditions during the Crimean War. Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. Desmond Doss, the conscientious objector who saved the lives of up to 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus.

Me? I’m lucky if I can put together one coherent sentence when in the presence of a stranger…

Head on over to Lisa’s place to read the rest. Then, stick around for awhile. Lisa a wonderful writer who uses her platform to encourage readers to cling to Jesus.

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Sock Seams

IMG_20131125_191853Gentle Reader,

I’ve been in a funk.

A multiple-year funk.

The last major work I finished writing was for the Women of Faith contest a couple…actually, possibly three years ago. I forget. And reading? I pick up books only to discard them. The mojo just hasn’t been there, not for anything greater than the hammering out of a post or the quick run-through of a familiarly-plotted novel. Words, lovely black-faced words on fresh white pages or screens, haven’t been as friendly as they used to be.

I was only vaguely aware of this funk until last Monday, when the volunteer coordinator at the shelter I’m volunteering at asked me if I had any life-goals.

Cue panic, stage right.

The truth is, I’ve been focusing on getting through each day. Sometimes on surviving the day. Or the hour. I used to spend so much time berating myself for not having brought about the end of world hunger with a Pulitzer and Nobel winning piece of elegant prose. I used to feel ashamed for not having accomplished more at such-and-such an age. I used to think that it was necessary to have a five-year plan and that if I didn’t check every item off the list, I was a complete and total failure. Then the world caved in. Getting out of bed and taking a shower became the major milestones.

For someone who isn’t wildly expressive, I sure do live on the extremes. Plan out five years or plan out five minutes. No happy middle ground.

This simple question, coming from a place of completely innocent curiosity, settled on me like a thick, smelly blanket. What are my life-goals? Why can’t I think of any?

In the midst of this gloominess, I picked up Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson. The hubby had gotten the book for me over the summer, for my birthday. It had been sitting on my nightstand for weeks, untouched. I’m sure I sighed when I picked it up and thumbed through the crisp pages. Why not read? Nothing else to do.

While I’m not the heavy predestination-y sort, I do believe that God orchestrates things for our good (Rom. 8:28). I think there are times when we’ve been wandering around for long enough and He lights a spark under our rears. Where I could barely get through the introduction before, now I couldn’t stop reading. And, gloriously, I came to this sentence:

The problem is, many people can get treated for the rest of their lives and learn to manage an illness, but will never be “over it.” (p. 114)

This screamingly-apparent truth brought new light to the question of life-goals and the answering thereof. While I firmly believe that God can and does bring total healing to people if that is within His plan for them, I also firmly believe that it can be within His plan to withhold total healing. I know that this is true because of sock seams.

I’ve worn socks my whole life. I’ve never had a problem with them. For the last two weeks, I’ve had to turn my socks inside out. I can’t stand the seams. This isn’t just a “oh, seams are annoying” and you carry on kind of thing. No. I have to turn my socks inside out. I’m afraid that the seams will get between my toes and I won’t be able to fix it. If I am in a situation where I can’t fix my socks, then it must be a Very Important Situation. I don’t like Very Important Situations. If I turn my socks inside out, I can avoid the discomfort and, possibly, Very Important Situations.

Does that really make any sense?

No.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). – Mayo Clinic

I thank God that I have what you might term a “mild” case of OCD. My obsessions and compulsions usually revolve around little things, like sock seams and getting my tape dispensers at work lined up exactly. But I know what it is to feel a physical ache and a great, gnawing worry when things aren’t “just so.”

Life-goals and sock seams. And then this, in my Sunday school lesson:

There are other children of God who are hurting and need to be comforted. – Rob Prince

Amy Simpson put a lot of effort into her book. She surveyed pastors and congregations to get a feel for the prevalence of mental illness within the Christian community. My friend, it’s everywhere. The person you sit next to at church could very well be slogging through mirky depths of sadness. Could have chewed her nails to the quick out of fear. Could think that he’s getting special messages during the sermon. There are people in pain and confusion, from the new guy in the back row to, gasp!, the pulpit itself. And even though we’re learning to talk about it more, we still struggle. We still don’t have ministries that seek to serve the mentally ill; it’s no wonder that this is often referred to as the “no casserole” disease. We stigmatize. We fear. We label.

We think of victory in terms of completion. The Christian lives a victorious life if she is no longer struggling, no longer tempted. I think that’s an incomplete definition. Victory is found in turning your socks inside out and going about your day. It’s acknowledging that, yes, there is pain, but that pain will not defeat.

I don’t know if I will ever write a book that gets published. I don’t know that you’ll ever see me work the talk-show circuit. I’m sure I’ll have more days like today, when I wonder if I should really be adding my feeble voice to the cacophony. I do know what my life-goal is, though: Hope. I want to share hope with people. I want to comfort the hurting children of God.

Especially if they’re irritated by sock seams.

My journey to faith. (15)