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An Education (in relationships)

February 26, 2010 3 comments

Kelly and I wandered into “An Education” last Saturday night armed only with a Rotten Tomato rating of 95%, and a preview we watched on the iPhone. We walked out of the theatre enraptured by the magic of film. Great script, great costuming, great soundtrack, and the acting was pure joy. For 99 minutes, we were caught up in teen social world of 1960s Twickenham, Middlesex.

On one level, the basic story seems fairly simple: a precocious young lady is seduced by an older man and suffers the pain of heartbreak (while getting an education). This moral story plays out in homes across the globe every day. The film director weaves this simple plot into an aesthetically fulfilling work that captures the imagination and the heart. I’ll leave it to real film critics to explore the elements of film and subtleties of the plot. I want to briefly comment on the education I experienced in relationships (as seen from a Trinitarian perspective). The sets of relations that captured my attention include Jenny and David (the older man), Jenny and Miss Stubbs, and Jenny and her father.

The transforming power of an outsider
As Jenny stands soaking in a surprise rainstorm, David drives up in his shiny sports car to rescue her Cello and eventually her from the rain. In her mind, he really does rescue her from the rain. At one point in the film, she says that her life was all drab and dreary before David. She even suggests that he may be the one person in the world who is truly alive.

As the tale proceeds, we come to discover her initial assessment as mistaken. David appears to be a man who creates dreary and drab lives for others. He certainly brings grief and pain into her life. And yet, he really does bring her in from the rain. In this pairing and Jenny and David, I see a glimpse of the good and bad of human relationships. We live day after day after day in routines and patterns and habits. Then someone new enters our life.

This person might be a romantic interest, but they also might be a new friend, a new boss, a new co-worker, a new child. Their presence in our life breaks the cycles, the patterns, the habits. A new relation may have the power to transform our whole world. Suddenly our story collides with another story, as we talk and spend time with this new person, they may cause us to think new ways, try new things, create new patterns. In David’s case, his intentions were hurtful and manipulative. He violated Jenny and her family on multiple levels, and yet, his presence still changed her and her family, and possibly opened horizons that previously seemed closed.

Now this may sound off, and I am willing to be challenge, but I would suggest that even people who wrong us and may cause us pain could still ultimately initiate changes that are for the better. Their action and intentions may not be for our ultimate good, but they still could open new horizons in our lives that ultimately enrich us.

I am introducing an “argument through the back door” so to speak. Alvin Plantinga responded to the problem of evil in our world by suggesting that it is possible for a good and all-powerful Creator to create a world where evil exists. While I am probably botching his argument, I understand part of it like this. The presence of evil does not necessarily mean that the world is ultimately. We cannot see the final score. But it is possible that a good and all power God could create a world that allows evil if it allowed the world to become even better (if moral goodness requires free moral creatures).

Now that I’ve probably messed up his main idea, let me just say that presence of another person in our lives even when they may do us harm (intentionally or not) can still bring ultimate benefit in our lives. So while loving friends and lovers may cause pain, I enjoy an enrichment as well. Obviously, Jenny learns that her precocious intellect could not prevent her from making serious mistakes in the way of relationships. She learns there is a real cost of suffering for her mistakes. But she may also discovers new eyes to see her drab world as more beautiful than she previously imagined. It is not David’s gift to her, but rather God’s gift that is part of the fabric of human relationships.

Seeing the Old in New Ways
This is realized when Jenny enters Miss Stubbs house, pleading for help to prepare for college (after she abandoned school in pursuit of David). Up to that point in the film, Miss Stubbs appeared as a tragic figure. She taught teenage girls classic texts and ideas, but she appeared sad and empty (as though life had passed her by). When she warns Jenny of the danger of this new found young man, Jenny responds with hurtful words about Miss Stubbs’ sad and empty life.

But then Jenny experiences the pain of deception and betrayal. With bridges burned, she cannot return to her old school. Her prospects look dim. She visits Miss Stubbs’ at home with hopes of finding tutoring help. Jenny notices Miss Stubbs piano and the beauty of her home. After her painful encounter with David, Jenny can finally see the gift and life of Miss Stubbs in a new way. Her blind eyes have been opened. (see note 1 at bottom).

Weakness and Love in Relation
In the relationship between Jenny and her parents, a very different angle of light caught my eye. The vulnerability of her parents and the challenge of loving and protecting those nearest to us. Throughout the film, Jenny’s father (a humorous figure) is a bit demanding and closed-minded to the outer world beyond their home. But then he encounters David and is seduced right alongside Jenny. He is convinced that David is good for Jenny.

He fails Jenny. But in failing, he is forced to find new words (new articulations of love) for Jenny. He finds words to confess to his beloved daughter that he is weak, and he has not always made the right decisions but his heart is for her prospering. In other words, in his weak and stumbling speech, Jenny’s father gives her a blessing of his love and dedication that the story does not reveal at any other point. In the depths of failure, her father is freed to become a truer, more authentic father.

In this sweet, tragic, funny and beautiful film, I behold images. I behold persons. Persons created in the image of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. People created to love and be loved. People created to live in relationships of real sharing, real giving, yes real suffering, but also real glory. In the film, my eyes are also opened like Jenny, and I walk out finding new ways to love and be grateful for all the wondrous people that I have been privileged to know.

Note 1 – While their may have been other ways to this newfound vision that didn’t involve the seduction by David, this is the particular path that Jenny walks down. And even in the midst of this path, there is a hope. I am not confusing this hope with the hope of Jesus Christ in the gospel. Yet as a person who believes in that sure hope in Christ, I also see a certain hope revealed in Jesus about the nature of His creation. According to John, we are created in and through Jesus (by the Father and through the Holy Spirit). So as a Christian, I under that all human are created in and through the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit. Relationship is not an extension of who we are, it is the very essence of who we are (Christian, non-Christian, nice, mean, and so on).

In all human relationships there is exchange not necessarily rooted in a selfish social exchange but in an essential social exchange. Relational exchange is at the very heart of who we are. So even when we know the very real pain of failed human relationship, we may still be able to find transformative elements in that exchange that were/are positive.

Sunshine Cleaning, Pearl Diver, I’ve Loved You For So Long

February 2, 2010 1 comment
Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

In the last few months, I’ve watched three films that explore the relationship between sisters who are coping with a death in the background. I’ve Loved You For So Long, Pearl Diver and Sunshine Cleaning all tells bittersweet stories of relationship, love and profound loss. Often when I watch a film, I look at the film against a backdrop of another film to help highlight contrasts and similarities of the varying stories.

I’ve Loved You For So Long is a French that begins with one sister being released from prison. Shot in muted colors the cinematography captures the inward grief of the Juliette Fontaine. Played superbly by Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliette exemplifies a life turned in upon itself. Her face reads grief, emptiness, isolation, and the colors and images reinforce this overshadowing sadness that closes her heart to life. This aching ex-convict rebuilds her life in the midst of the lives of her sister’s family, including a husband, a child, and mute grandfather.

In the conversations with her sister, we discover a deeply strained relationship across many years. We discover that the parents considered Juliette as dead and no longer even spoke of her. We discover the reason for her imprisonment: murder. She killed her child. This memory haunts every conversation, every relationship, every place. She walks in a world of death. Even though all her relationships are strained, we watch as a mute grandfather and a little child bring her back to life and unveil the secret her child’s murder. I won’t disclose the ending, but the story resolves in a deeply poignant way that reinforces the beauty of human life.

Pearl Diver also depicts two sisters reuniting after years of separation. Prison does not separate them, but a murder does. The murder of their Mennonite mother sends the young girls along two very different paths in life. Hannah Eberly leaves the Mennonite faith of her youth, becomes a writer, and appears to life an adult life of struggle, haunted by painful memories of her youth. Rebecca Miller, the older sister, embraces the faith and lifestyle of her Mennonite upbringing, and spends her adult life seeking for a pardon of the man who is convicted of killing her mom. Hannah consistently opposes her sisters actions and fights for his imprisonment to the end of his life.

Rebecca’s daughter nearly dies after falling into farming equipment. This tragic accident reunites the sisters, and flames shared memories of childhood. As they seek to help Rebecca’s daughter find treatment for the wound in her head, they must also face the wound in their own heads. Hannah writes a novel that exposes the brutal murder of her mother, as Rebecca responds in horror that ancient secrets are coming to light, she enters into the light of remembering. Once again, I won’t unravel the mystery of the mother’s murder, but in right remembering, there is healing for all.

Last weekend, I watched Sunshine Cleaning, a tale of two sisters cleaning up crime scenes while remembering the bloody scene of their own mother’s suicide. In this tragicomic tale, both sisters are scarred by the death. Neither is married, both are used by men (and the film follow a popular Hollywood trend of showing men exploit both women sexually), and both women are struggling to survive–financially as well as emotionally. They embark upon a new path of crime scene clean-up. While the film has a few light moments, the tragic overwhelms the comic, and the sunshine vanishes in a cloud of unresolved pain. While this sad tale is true for many people, I think it fails to draw upon the power of narrative and memory to find resolution. The characters live in the cloud of their mother’s death but they never really face the memory and they never find resolution. As the film ends, I have no reason to expect that they won’t continue to be used and exploited by men.

This trio of films highlights the power of shared memories and stories that envelope all our relationships. We might not face the grieve of murders, but we all have memories that haunt us our relationships and our vision of the world. The films reveal the power of memories and the power to retell our stories and recast our memories. The first two films in particular shine light light into the potential power of telling our stories to one another and listening to one another.

As I think about the sad and beautiful longing in these films for right relationships and better worlds, I think the role of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Jesus tells his disciples that one reason the Spirit comes is to help them remember. In fact, Hans Urs Von Balthasar goes so far as to say that “retrospective remembering and anamnesis (loss of forgetfulness) constitutes the basis of understanding anything.” He talks about how the disciples could not see Jesus when he was in front of them. But in remembering, they could finally see him by the power of the Spirit as the Son of God.

Remembering plays a vital role in the Old and New Testament. The ancient Hebrews forget who they are while serving in slavery to Pharaoh. But God remembers them. In resurrecting them, he will tell them again and again to “remember.”  They are to re-member, re-hearse, re-tell the stories of deliverance, the stories of creation, the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his disciples to remember by the power of His Spirit. But this remembering is not simply looking back, but it is re-telling or re-calling past events in light of Christ. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus learn how to remember the Old Testament stories in light of Christ. In so doing, they realize all the events of the Old Testament are pointing to Jesus.

I would suggest that all three films have tapped into the pain of forgetfulness in human relationships and human communities. We’ve forgotten who we are. We’ve forgotten what binds us together. We’ve remembered wrongly and in ways that will further divide and not unite. The first two films reveal that remembering often constitutes relearning our history through a new light. But the last film shows our tendency to face painful memory and turn away without resolve. I fear so much in our world call us to distraction as a means for dealing with our pains, our struggles, our brokenness. Distractions offers no lasting hope. But deep memory, especially memory in light of the healing power of the Holy Sprit can restore and heal old relationships. We may still struggle , we may still limp, but we move toward hope in light of Christ.

2nd Commandment as Praise

June 29, 2009 Leave a comment

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deut 5:8-10)

We sing your praise most glorious Lord and Creator of all things in heaven above, on earth beneath and in the water beneath the earth. By your great and gracious word, you’ve taught us that all things were created in and through the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice Father that you created all things in and through Your Son Jesus by the power of your Spirit.

And even as we are in awe of the wonders of this world, we know and reaffirm that all things that exists exist because they were created in and through Jesus. So in and through all things do we lift up holy praise to the Lord Jesus Christ who chose to enter into His Creation, and fully reveal the Father. And we realize that no image in creation can be worship and glorified outside of you. For you alone are worthy all praise and honor and glory and wisdom.

Jesus, the true image, the express image, the icon of God. For in Jesus, we behold the Father by the Spirit. And we are changed. The glory of the Son changes us into His Image that we might become the image of God for which we were created.

We rejoice in this world of splendor. We rejoice in the stars and sun and moon. We rejoice in the lush world of plants and trees and rocks and hills. We rejoice in the birds in the air, the squirrels and rabbits and every living thing. We stand in awe of the majesty of the soaring eagle and the boundless energy of the newborn puppy. We rejoice in the streams and rivers and ocean. In the fish of the deep sea and the myriad of other living things that teem beneath the surface.

You created us with five senses to experience and enjoy the heavens above, the earth below and the sea beneath the earth. We rejoice in the soft scent of mountain laurel and in the drunken winds that carry the aroma of honeysuckle. We delight in the pungent taste fresh tomatoes, the fiery flavor of salsa and the sweet intoxication of chocolate cake.

Thank for the gift of music that washes over our ears with joyous melodies and the bittersweet songs of love and life. To behold the brilliant colors of flowers and fish and birds, fills us with joy and awe. And gazing upon the streams of gold and pink and blue and yellow in the setting sun bring rapturous delight.

We are grateful for soothing feel of warm water and the cool breeze across our skin. What a gift is the embrace of friends and lovers and the healing touch of one person to another.

Thank you Lord for this world of physical experiences, this world of beauty, this world of breathtaking sights and heart-shaking sounds.

In all these wonders, glory: the glory of the Lord shining out from the vast and bountiful world. Everywhere we turn, we are overawed by you Oh Lord and the glory of Your creation.

And the greatest glory of this earth is the man and woman created to bear and reveal your image and glory. In every relation Lord, we rejoice in you.

In watching the father instructing his children or the mother caring for their needs, we rejoice in your constant and unfailing care. We rejoice in Your Spirit that teaches and guides us in the way of truth. In beholding the loving bond of brothers and sisters, we rejoice in you Lord Jesus who is the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

In the love of a man and a women, we rejoice Lord Jesus in your love for your people and by Your Spirit, raising us up together with you and the Father in a communion of love. You have loved and have loved and have loved your people. And you great and wondrous love extends from to generation to generation to generation. We rest in your faithful love, and we rejoice in this world of wonder you’ve given us as home.

Shiny Happy People

January 23, 2009 Leave a comment


Doug Smilin’

Originally uploaded by dulasfloyd

My day started with a mouthful of smile as I read a note posted by the JTV Friends on Facebook. These shiny happy people love jewelry, gemstones and people. They posted a note of appreciation for the time I spent helping start a JTV community online.

Their kind words made this bright day just a bit brighter. We rarely catch of glimpse of the impact our lives have on others, so it’s a nice surprise when we discover our lives have touched someone else.

While many spend their lives pursuing fancy job titles, power, or boatloads of cash, I’d rather make a few friends along the way. Thanks JTV Friends for surprising me with some smiles today.

2009 Retreat Schedule

January 22, 2009 1 comment

Below are a list of retreats I am planning for 2009. If you are interested, please email me (doug (at) springoflight.org). I am making immediate plans for the first retreat on the last weekend of February (27-29). On this weekend, we’ll discuss vision, hope and the power to change the world with the message of the gospel.

In some ways, this retreat will inform every other retreat I do this year. I believe it is timely and important. Much of my writing and meditation over the last year has related to what I hope to explore during this retreat.

Also note, we have a one day seminar on business coming up on March 21. This should be a provocative conversation about the kingdom of God and the market.

Here are the list of retreats and plans. If you plan to come to the February retreat or would like more information, please email. (doug (at) springoflight.org)

2009 Retreats Schedule

Hope in the Midst of the Hopeless (weekend retreat) – February 27-28, 2009
Reforming Business (seminar) – March 21
Relationships and the Commandments – April/May
Holy Creativity – Summer 2009
St. Patrick and the Evangelism of the World – Fall 2009

Hope in the Midst of the Hopeless
February 27-28, 2009
How do you still hope when it feels like your whole world is coming to an end? Worse yet, what happens when everyone else’s world seems to be coming to an end? As I’ve reflected on the fear of personal and cultural suffering, I’ve seen a Biblical response in the beginning and ending the world.

Drawing from Scripture and Church History, we’ll look at how we respond when it feels like the world is coming to an end. Better yet, we’ll consider how the prophets, Jesus, and the New Testament writers can translate faith, hope and love into words of vision that inspire themselves and those around them walk in the joy and power of the kingdom.

Now more than ever, Christians must know how to speak a vision of hope to the world around us. If we look at the Augustine writing while Rome was burning, Luther writing while his life was being threatened, or the early American settlers writing and speaking while facing an uncertain future, we will see how Christians in every age have learned how to speak the word of faith that changed the world around them.

From proclaiming peace and joy to our own souls to speaking the word of faith to the world, this weekend will help each person draw from Biblical wisdom to face the threats around us with an unyielding hope, an undying faith and an unfaltering love.

Brad Getz and Rick Doughty will join me in this conversation. I invite you to join us as well for a weekend of fellowship, reflection and visioning for the future.

Reforming the World Seminars
March 21
This year I plan several one day seminars focused on reforming our world. The first seminar will focus on our role in “Reforming Business.” This is not a theoretical seminar but a practical seminar born from the struggle of Christians in business. While I’ve invited a few folks to share their stories and lead the way, I invite all Christians in business from entrepreneurs to managers to employees, each of us face the challenge of translating our faith into environments and situations that may not be conducive to faith. Drawing from personal stories and the wisdom of the commandments, we will look at the hard questions and challenges of living out the kingdom of God in the mist of the business world.

Relationships and the Commandments
April/May
For many years I’ve resisted a “marriage retreat.” One reason is that many churches and ministries already focus on this area of need, so I’ve concentrated my ministry efforts in other places. But I believe the Lord showed me a way of discussing relationships through the wisdom of the 10 commandments that I think will offer a fresh perspective on marriage, parenthood, friendship, employer-employee relationships and more.

Instead of isolating marriage as the focal point, I would suggest the Bible offers a vision of family relationships that introduces a way of understanding all human relationships. Kelly, my wife of 20 years, and I will lead this retreat together through discussion and exercises.

Holy Creativity
Summer 2009
Come discover the delightful, wondrous creative gifts God placed in each person. Paul often exhorts his brothers and sisters to offer their gifts on behalf of one another. But if you look at his lists in Romans, Corinthians and other letters, you see a wide range of gifts and callings.

Instead of trying to classify and group human gifting into a neat Aristotelian chart, I invite you to join us for a weekend of discovering the riches and surprising and unexpected ways each of us are gifted to bless those around us. If you think you know all about your gifts, you’ll be surprised by what you discover this weekend.

Old friends and former professors, Darlene and Michael Graves will join me this weekend for an eclectic, playful and worship-filled weekend of creativity.

St. Patrick and the Evangelism of the World
Fall 2009
Every year America celebrates his birthday and a few people actually realize the amazing story behind this man. The story of St. Patrick is the story of a man who loved his enemies into the kingdom of God. He loved them so much, we think of him as Irish. But he wasn’t. Come hear more about the story of Patrick, the Biblical and Historical use of power evangelism, and the wonder of a nation that was converted without one martyr.

Sources of Vision

January 10, 2009 Leave a comment

The last post talked about the challenges of translating vision, and I want to think through and write more about that. But for now, here are some notes I made during a recent discussion in our monthly idea night on sources of vision.

Triumphalist Visions – Immediately someone asked, “What about Babel?” How does Babel relate to vision. Wow. Good question. Not all visions are positive. Many visions, even good ones, are triumphalist. In other words, the vision is more important than the people involved. Based on the pattern of God’s dealing with man and nations throughout the Old Testament, I would assume that Babel, in addition to some form of man-oriented worship, was oppressive.

Scripture reveals a pattern that when other gods move into the position of the Creator-Covenant God, people are enslaved. I would suggest that many modern visions, including ones that came from Christians, were triumphalist in nature. The drive to enflesh these visions meant crushing, oppressing and wounding people. Many great visions have broken many relationships. And this is a problem.

So what can we learn from triumphalist visions? We can learn the dangers of vision. We can gain wisdom. We can realize that our vision is subservient to the Creator-Covenant God and that neither we nor our vision can displace the Sovereign rule of King Jesus. So there is value in studying visions gone awry. Sadly, the Reformation spawned many tragic triumphalist visions, and some with disastorous results.

Consider the Munster Rebellion. The leaders took over a city and created their own version of “heaven on earth.” The end result was tragic and makes me think of how many cults begin with a good vision that goes awry. The leader of leaders displaces King Jesus’s Lordship and become little Pharoahs. Eric Hoffer tells the tale of the prophet in the dungeon who rails against the king. Gradually he climbs out of the dungeon. And eventually reaches the king who hides in the tower. The prophet promptly kills the king, declares himself king and immediately locks up all the other prophets. This parable is played out again and again in churches, ministries, governments and families.

As we seek to cultivate vision, may we learn from the failure of others and hold our own visions lightly, trusting that King Jesus is not reliant upon us, we are reliant upon Him.

Failed Visions – Alongside triumphalist visions, we might consider visions that were good but somehow didn’t have the resources to translate the vision. Someone mentioned the community of Rugby. Some English gentry founded this community in Tennessee with wonderful visions of a society that could be. One problem. They didn’t have the ability or resources to sustain this community over time. Today it stands because some folks saw the historic purpose but in reality, it is a community that time left behind.

American history is scattered with a wide-range of communities that started and flourished for a season only to fade or fail over time. From the Shakers to the communes of the Jesus movement. In each of these visions, we can learn many things. We can listen and learn from the visions as well as the problems people encountered in translation. One thing I see is that sometimes one group has part of a vision and part of the resources, but they need relation with others who can bring completion and resources. This is difficult because visionaries sometimes struggle with relationships. But we cannot fulfill the vision of the kingdom alone. It requires people working together, and entering conflict, and learning how to forgive and somehow learning how to continue serving and helping one another over time.

I’ve got more notes, but I want to watch a movie, so I’m stopping for now.

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