Friday, August 17, 2007

Harry Potter- Yes, there are SPOILERS!!

My dear Harry Potter series. I cannot believe it is really finished. I have been hooked on it from the very beginning. JK Rowling has helped me feel like I was a part of the world she created and it feels like a very real place to me and I continue to visit it in my imagination quite often. I imagine being a student or teacher at Hogwarts. What a delight it would be! A good story can take us into another time and place. She is a master at this.

I enjoyed the sequencing pattern to her stories. I love the rhythm of her beginning each part in the summertime right around Harry's birthday. Then the preparation for school begins. The traveling to school, the plot moving forward with the seasons and school year schedule. Christmas holiday and finally spring comes. Then everything breaks until the next school year. I think her organization has been superb. I am also amazed at her details. I cannot believe how detailed her setting was, her characters, her plot, her themes; all of it amazes me.

The relationships between the characters make this adventure so memorable. This is at the heart a story about friendship, loyalty, growing up and discovering who one is. It is about responsibility and caring for others. It is about love and loss and life. It is about sacrifice. I especially love the relationship the Weasley family share with one another and all those around them. My favorite relationships, of course, are the friendships between Harry and Ron and Hermione.

This last book was solemn for me. I read it in a gulp, I couldn't stop and had to keep going until I knew what happened to everyone I grew to care for so much. I was heartbroken over Hedgwig. Why, oh why, did this innocent little creature have to die? I still think about the little owl almost everyday. It is such a sentimental little thing but I can really picture it being crushed in the cage after an entire summer of not getting out to fly and it makes me quite sad. Thinking like a writer I see that perhaps it would have been quite a task to try and keep Hedgewig in the story this time around as Harry was traveling all over the place and the pattern was a bit different from the normal school routine. As a writer it seems almost practical to me to allow the precious owl to rest in peace but that did not help my grief as a reader.

I thought I might miss this structure of Hogwarts during this last book, since they did not return to school, but I did not end up missing it. Seven was my favorite out of all of them but perhaps it is because of all the previous books put together. Also, I was grateful that the last battle of all did take place at Hogwarts so we were able to go back and visit one last time. What a battle! I think I forgot to breathe for the last ten to fifteen chapters.

The end of Chapter 34 was so solemn. I closed the book at that point and pretended it was the end of the story. I allowed the moment to be as it was. I sat there and felt that quiet feeling one feels in the soul when someone actually dies. I sat there for quite a while before finally going out to get a drink of water and continue with the story. Only then did I allow my mind to see the hope in the pages remaining in my right hand and the redemption that would follow.

I was so pleased with the ending. She satisfied my every longing for the last book and honored all the characters that died along the way with dignity. It was rough to see so many die! I have to say one of my favorite parts to the story was when all the paintings in Dumbledore's office gave Harry a standing ovation when the battle was over. I cried and got the chills while reading this part! I was so happy to see there was an epilogue, but somehow this was the only part that felt way too short and I wish more had been said. I did want more about all of that, but the story was ending all too quickly and then it was done.

All is well though. All is well. And that really is the point of the story and something we want to know from all the stories we read, isn't it? To know that all is well in the end, all is well. We are not alone. Love is stronger than evil. Friendship endures no matter what. Good prevails in the end. I can't say this was a "happy" ending. It wasn't a feel good sentimental type ending. It was an ending that was hard fought with scars everywhere and losses too. But even yet, all is well.


I saw a delightful movie last weekend called Stardust. It is based on a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman. This movie is a fantasy that takes the viewer into a whimsical, otherworldly adventure. Two worlds are divided by a wall that should not be crossed. Tristan (played by Charlie Cox), the hero of this tale, crosses the wall to try and bring back a fallen star to Victoria, the woman he considers his beloved and whose heart he is trying to win (without really thinking about why he wants to win it). The fallen star is a quirky, beautiful woman (a stunning character played by Claire Danes) and as Tristan attempts to bring her back to his land, he encounters many problems along the way that lead him to a deeper understanding of what true love is. He encounters a witch who wants to capture the star for herself so she can have eternal youth (played by the very talented Michelle Phieffer) and Captain Shakespeare (a hilarious pirate played by the legend Robert DiNaro). Throughout the movie there are four brothers of the king (played by another legend Peter O'Toole) also trying to get the star so they can be the one to take the throne next and three of the deceased brothers watch everything going on and are filmed in black and white. The deceased brothers are a very comedic thread in the movie and it really works to create something original and entertaining. I loved watching this movie and surprisingly discovered that it is one of my favorite films of the summer. I did not anticipate that it would be and was not prepared for it to be so good. The wonderful thing about this is it grew on me more and more as the story went on and by the end I was quite hooked. As the plot moved I enjoyed discovering the rules of both lands and all the nuances that came along with it. The characters had depth and the story intrigued me throughout. It was also very beautiful to watch. I look forward to enjoying this one again in the future and love when a movie can surprise me in this way.

True Spirituality

I read a good book last week called True Spirituality by Francis A. Schaeffer. He is a pastor and also founded L'Abri Fellowship, a spiritual retreat center in the Swiss Alps. This book was written thirty years ago, during a time when he was struggling with his faith. He reexamined his entire belief system and began a very detailed examination of spirituality.

Schaeffer studies and searches for what true spirituality is and how it can be lived. Right from the beginning he establishes that he believes true spirituality is freedom from the bonds of sin. I love the main point of his first chapter that states this process begins on the inside and begins with the foundation to love God and others.

He describes this in a fresh way; "First, to love God enough to be contented; second to love men enough not to envy."

I have always felt that the law of love supersedes all other laws in the Scriptures and is a foundation to my faith. However, I have not heard it stated in this way before and it is a new lense for me to examine my own spiritualiy against. It is a very personal, inward question to ask oneself and is a convicting one for me. I have been thinking about this for days now. Do I love God enough to be contented with what he has given me in this life? Can I love others enough not to covet or envy whatever has been given to someone else? In chapter two he states that "if this does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us."

There are rich points throughout the book and my copy is extremely marked up with underlining! He quotes a lot of scripture in the book and I can see how he comes to his conclusions as he goes through the Bible examining how his faith can be lived in the modern day world. It appears to me that he tries to present things in a clear and concise way. He comes across as very logical and matter of fact as he works his way through this map of the spiritual life he presents.

One section deals with Christianity in relation to psychological problems. He describes psychology as "man's relationship to himself in the world of thought." The problem is man's separation from himself and one's attempt to integrate the personality of how one thinks, feels and acts. He examines man's separation from himself in the area of rationality, morality and emotions, but I particularly like how he described man's separation from himself in his morality and will.

"Man cannot escape the fact of the motions of a true right and wrong in himself...and yet, beginning with himself, he cannot bring forth absolute standards and cannot even keep the poor relative ones he has set up. Thus...trying to be what he is not, as he was made to be in relationship to God, he is crushed and damned by what he is will and action- but everything cuts across my will. I would do a certain thing, but I cannot put my will into infinite action, unlimited action. Even in the small area of a painter's canvas, I cannot do it. I cannot have an unlimited action in the smallest things in life, let alone the largest. And so if I am demanding infiinite freedom, whether it is in the whole of life, or in a small area in life, I cannot have it; I cannot be God in action and practice. So again I fall to the earth, crushed with natural tensions in myself, and I lie there like a butterfly that someone has touched, with all the lovely things gone from the wings."

I can really relate to this section. I want to make wise decisions, eat healthy, exercise, practice my music, write, stay organized, be kind, help the poor, be a good steward with my money, be ethical, do my jobs in life well, pray regularly...but so often I find myself doing the very things I do not want to do. I find myself neglecting the important things and lacking zeal. This can be very discouraging and disheartening.

Later he states that "the basic psychological problem is trying to be what we are not, and trying to carry what we cannot carry."

We walk around with the desire to be perfect. We walk around with the fear of the impersonal, the fear of non-being and the fear of death. We also struggle with feelings of superiority and inferiority in relationships with other people. He addresses each of these areas and how he believes basic Christianity can solve these issues within man. He even mentions that Carl Jung will tell patients to meet some of these fears by "acting as if God were there." He argues that Christian psychology can actually solve these issues within man more than secular psychology.

He argues the point that he believes in a very personal God. He illustrates us to be like icebergs where we will never know everything underneath our surface, but with faith in God we can believe that he is taking care of that which is hidden below. As we confess the failures we know of, we can be assured and trust that God is taking care of the rest.

Frances A. Schaeffer tries in this book to accomplish a very huge task. He tries to bring a unified Christian teaching to the table and he works to help solve many of the dilemmas he sees people struggle with in life. He offers Christianity as an answer to help a person deal with these life issues. I truly appreciate his efforts. He gives me a lot to examine and think about in regards to my own Christian faith.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Rule of Paul

I just finished my first John Howard Yoder book called Body Politics. He focuses on five New Testament practices that were central in the life of the early Christian community. Binding and loosing, baptism, eucharist, multiplicity of gifts and the open meeting. He believes the original intent of these practices is important to recover in the church today.

For today, I am only going to focus on the Rule of Paul, the last practice Yoder writes about, although all of the topics could be discussed in a lengthy fashion. The question posed is how should a meeting of the church proceed? Paul discusses this in depth in Corinthians, chapter 14. There is no reference or mention to a single moderator, such as a priest or minister, as is the practice in Christian circles today. There appears a pattern of decision making based in open conversation. God's will is made known through discussion where all voices are heard. First Corinthians points out that it should be moderated only to keep it orderly and the conclusions reached should be recorded.

A great example is given of the Quakers using this forum today in their church meetings. They wait in expected silence until someone is moved to speak. This is considered worship. I especially like the example that the "...Friends bring together warring parties to foster the potential for dialogue among individuals even when their institutional loyalties are in conflict."

My favorite quote referenced is by Gandhi when he says, "The reason one renounces violence in social conflict, is not (not only, not merely) that bloodshed is morally forbidden; it is that the adversary is part of my truth-finding process. I need to act nonviolently in order to get the adversary to hear me, but I need as well to hear the adversary."

The bottom line of the chapter is that conversation is the setting for truth- finding. This is so counter-cultural to the way churches and secular institutions are run today. My first thoughts are that it is very time consuming. In today's world we want everything instantly. Products and results need to be produced as quickly as possible. We are an impatient people with our own selfish agendas. Listening to people who think differently than we do can be for some, like nails running down a chalkboard. If we can become more comfortable with a practice like this, perhaps instead of just getting quick fixes and decision, we could actually begin to solve problems.

A positive by-product of this practice is that minority voices can be heard. So much can be learned from the voices of people in a minority group or of a different opinion than the masses. This connects briefly to the third practice of the multiplicity of gifts. Every person has a gift to share with the world. We should indeed work as teams, each using his "grace-given" gifts and when this is done, much more can be accomplished than by a few elite trying to do everything on their own.

I like seeing some of the Emergent churches taking this kind of approach with their services. Oftentimes, they mention that the pastor lecturing is one of the least beneficial parts of the service and as they attempt to create meaningful worship, this means for some to create an atmosphere conducive for everyone to participate. Some of the churches sit the congregation in a circle and have a dialogue with the pastor and each other.

Change never comes easy so the question I find myself asking is how can I adopt this practice more in my own personal life? I think for me, this means trying to make sure that voices and opinions are shared in meetings and conversations that I participate in at work, at church, at social gatherings or even in my own home. Also, speaking up myself, when my opinion differs from another. Gently and humbly trying to conduct open conversations, which is actually something I already value a great deal. The trick is doing this in an orderly fashion. The question I often ask myself when in the presence of someone very different from myself (and aren't we all quite unique?) is what can I learn from this person? Really listening takes time and putting down one's own walls of defense.

It often feels like an uphill climb- and it is. It is the work of the Kingdom.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Robert Frost

Robert Frost first published "The Road Not Taken" today back in 1915. Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets. More information can be found about this at Today in Literature.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.