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Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

Gran Torino Redeeming the American Icon

January 24, 2009 Leave a comment

dirty_harryClint Eastwood, like John Wayne, embodied the American icon. From the mysterious cowboys to the gun-toting Dirty Harry, many of his characters embodied traits that Americans readily identify: loners, anti-establishment, rebels, smart, pragmatic and intentional or unintentional redeemers of the downcast. In his recent, Gran Torino, Eastwood plays yet another loner, Walt Kowalski.

At the beginning of the film, his wife just died and he obviously has no relation with his children. Mr. Kowalski, as he prefers to be called, relates better to his dog than to other humans. He lives in a neighborhood that has gradually become home to a predominant minority Hmong population. His unflinching expletives and racial comments seem funny because they are so over the top, much like a Don Rickles performance.

Early in the film Kowalski gets caught up in a conflict with a gang that is harassing his neighbor. And in strange twist of events, this supposed racist becomes a savior for the Hmong family. Up to this point, Eastwood is playing the icon exactly according to the American mythic narrative.

We as a nation would just as soon keep to ourselves. We get in wars only when forced. We don’t want to be a part of some big global cooperative. We’d prefer to go it alone. And yet, we dream that we are really the world’s savior. Whether our mythic values are truly lived or not, Americans consistently reflect variations in our icons.

But then something odd happens. Kowalski is changed by the Hmong family. A Hmong shaman speaks the same words of wisdom that Kowalski’s priest has been trying to teach him. On multiple levels the family enters his life and begins to soften his heart and teach him how to life. Since he knows a lot more about dying.

Spoiler alert: As Walt softens, he can finally enter into relationship with other people including his priest. He is becoming more human. As he begins to live, he offers something Dirty Harry was incapable of offering. He loves. In his love, he is willing to die for the relationship, so that the Hmong family can really be helped instead of a temporary fix through an act of violence and vengeance.

In one act of sacrifice, Walt becomes father to the Hmong boy, judge to the gang, healer to the Hmong family and possibly even a prophet to his own family. Eastwood connects with the American icon but then challenges us to enter into relationship and to learn that sacrifice may open doors that power and violence cannot.

As I dream of what America could be, I am going to keep thinking about Walt Kowalski and the power of modeling the cross, laying down my life on behalf of those I love. And if I follow the rhythm of the gospel, this means loving my enemies as well as my friends.

Vision and Love

January 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Just as true vision proceeds from the Father’s love, all vision is one sense an expression of love. Thus we often discover aspect of the vision when we are in the midst of a loving relationship. One of Van Gogh’s most creative phases was when he was exchanging letters with a close friend. The relationship seemed to draw upon his gifting and calling.

The people we love often stir or draw out something within us that we cannot fully grasp. In the mystery of relationships, we change one another and we stir vision and gifting in one another. In Paul’s letters and in the letter to the Hebrews, we are encouraged again and again to minister to one another, encourage one another, serve one another, submit to one another. In the act of loving and exchanging love we often discover gifts and abilities and dreams. So one key aspect of vision comes from human relationships.

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Relationships, Houses and the Tabernacle

April 29, 2008 Leave a comment

doug and kelly house

We can begin to think more about how space and time intersect by considering the Tabernacle.

There are three areas related to the tabernacle: outer court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies. The Israelites can come to the outer court, but only priests can enter the Holy Place. And only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies at specific times and according to specific rules. The Holy Place is veiled from the eyes of those who are not priests, and the Holy of Holies is veiled from everyone except the High Priest.

Now consider a house. We build walls around a set a relationships we call family. Family members can freely come and go from the house, but the house may be locked to those outside the family. We put a solid veil or a door between the outside world and the inhabitants of the home.

The door represents more than a physical barrier. The relationships within the home are veiled to the outside world. Within the sacredness of family, there are guarded memories, conversations, and stories. The space of the house represents a sacred placed for shared relationships or shared time. Inviting someone to pass through the outer veil is an honor. By inviting them into our space, we are inviting them at one level into our shared time.

The dinner table might be likened to the Holy Place. At the dinner table, we eat (break bread) and drink (pour wine). The bread and the wine (or whatever the meal) becomes a point of contact for sharing space and time together.

As we eat and drink in the presence of one another, we begin to discard veils. If wine is present, it can help accentuate the removing of veils/inhibitions. As we let down our guard (our veils), we begin to speak.

Around the meal, we tell stories. We share the highlights of our day. We recall memories. We dream together. We think out loud. The dinner table is place of the gathered tribe where people (both in the ancient past and in our current world), learn identity, connect to a family, learn proper social behavior, learn patterns and rituals that will shape their memories and dreams for the rest of their lives.

The dinner table extends beyond the family (tribe) and is a place of forming treaties between tribes. Thus the dinner table has been a place for negotiating great decisions like marriage, peace, business and friendship.

Beyond the dinner table, there is one other room that bears an even weightier sense of the sacred: the bedroom. The bedroom is an exclusive place of protection for only the husband and the wife. Behind the veil of the bedroom door, the couple removes all veils (both physical and emotional).

The physical veil is easy to remove and comes off on the wedding night. But the emotional veils guard such precious secrets that they take years to removed. And unfortunately, some couples never develop the trust of vulnerability required to begin remove these inner emotional veils.

Removing a veil leaves a person naked and completely vulnerable. Isaiah experiences the intensity of such exposure in his vision of the Holy God. A similar (though much less invasive) exposure happens between a husband and a wife.

This removing of veils binds memories and dreams together in a way that makes the couple both physically and emotionally one. The bedroom can be a great gift of healing and transformation when properly guarded, allowing for deep vulnerability, deep trust and deep shared time.

The husband and wife relationship gives a glimpse of the relation between the person and God. By the Spirit (through Jesus), the veils are removed one-by-one as we grow from glory-to-glory. Eventually we will truly behold Him with unveiled face—and we will be changed, glorified in the light of His love.

Without the Spirit’s grace of gently unveiling, exposing and transforming, the glory of the unveiled soul would be painful and terrifying much like Isaiah’s encounter and the encounter of the Israelites on the side of Mt. Sinai. This unveiling exposes our weaknesses, our sins, our absolute need for mercy and grace. Without mercy and grace, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.

Thus the gift of a home begins to help us understand how space becomes a place which serves time: the sharing of memories and dreams and the essential mystery that forms us as unique persons.

Relationship Requires Space and Time

April 27, 2008 Leave a comment

Relationship with another human being does not exist in abstraction. It requires space and time. By reflecting on relationship, we may begin to better understand our relation to space and time.

Think of a marriage. The relationship begins and is cultivated in specific places and specific times. There are times and places where an intimate relationship bonds, and these might be thought of as sacred space and sacred time.

Sacred time might include a family meal, soft conversations in the bedroom, and even sleeping together (resting unguarded in one another’s presence). These sacred times occur in specific places like the dinner table and the bedroom. In a house, some rooms carry more weightiness due to history of cultivating relationships in these rooms.

The same activity may or may not enhance intimacy, depending on the participation of the people. Sometimes when my wife and I watch a movie, I sit on my recliner and she lays on the couch. During the film, I may also divert attention to my laptop to check my email. Or we might watch the film sitting together on the couch, sharing the experience in a more intentional way. The dynamic of shared time and space changes based on how we participate.

I would suggest that the element of intentional intimacy is located within time. Dumitru Stăniloa suggested that time is the interval between the offer of love and the reciprocation of that offer. Intimacy is not something that exists within a space but rather it is something that the people choose to do within that space. They choose to spend time together. We don’t speak of “spending space together” but “spending time together.” (I’ll share more on time and intimacy later.)

By choosing to use a space in a way that enhances our time together, we invest that space with greater significance. A house should be built in a way that accentuates the time we spend together. If we choose to use large spaces within our houses for private experiences such as bathrooms and walk-in closets, we may be suggesting by our use of space that our personal space is more valuable than our relational space. The shape and size of the spaces/rooms within a home and the objects within those rooms (furniture and decor) can all communicate stories or ideas that reflect the values of those who occupy those rooms.

So the content of our spaces and the uses of our spaces reflect the value we place on the times or shared relationships within those spaces. We’ve heard the saying, “A house does not make a home.” This statement reinforces that idea that a place to live, eat, and sleep may not always be a place where people forge intimate relationships.

On my next post, I’ll try to consider “How is a home like a tabernacle?”

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