Category: Philosophy


Driving Lessons

I haven’t written anything at all on this blog for quite some time, so I thought I’d try my hand at some fiction: 

My mother-in-law was driving the car when the world changed forever.  The cruise control was on as we flew over a patch of black ice.  I had been in the back seat in between my twin boys, one of whom had hit the other in the face with his rattle.  I remember how grating the crying had been on my ears, but I imagine it was only because I had had such little sleep. Upon recollection,  I can’t see why it was so bad.  I would give anything to hear that crying again.

But it wasn’t to be.  The car flew off the road and into a tree where we waited for half an hour for another car to pass and help us. My mother-in-law suffered a few broken bones, as did I.  But my boys were too young, and the force of the impact killed them both instantly.  And I sat for half an hour, pinned between the carseats, knowing they were dead.

My husband was on business in Japan, and I had to be the one to tell him that he would never hold our sons again. It nearly tore the entire family apart.  He refused to speak to his mother for quite some time, and he could barely look at me.  It was hard to look at him because every time I saw his eyes, I saw the eyes of Elijah and Noah.  When I looked at my husband, I was looking into the face of Loss itself.

The pain of losing my boys never left, but it did change.  Life carried on, and our marriage carried on.  And, in time we found ourselves talking of having children again.  Five years after the accident, I gave birth to Lily, and we were joyful for the first time in what felt like centuries.

As she grew up, we told her about her brothers, but could never say how they died, and every time we took her for a car ride, we never mentioned the boys. We were careful, and perhaps overly cautious.

When Lily was 15, her father passed away.  My world had shattered once again, shattered like the tinkling glass of the windshield that he went through.  For all of our carefulness, it seemed like we couldn’t escape the confines of all the cars that seemed for all the world like so many coffins.

Lily had doted on her father, and she missed him terribly, but we clung to each other in the midst of our pain and grew closer because of it.

I decided that I was going to teach her how to drive, that it would be the most grueling experience of her life up to that point.  If nobody else lived, it would be her, and I would be the one to show her. I would show her because I was the only one left, the only one never in the driver’s seat when worlds collapsed.

I took her everywhere–gridlocked cities, icy boulevards, hairpin turns on mountainsides, and she performed beautifully.  With each passing day, I became more and more reassured that she would make it.

One day, she hit a rabbit that was trying to cross the road.  It appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and she screamed and started to cry when she hit it.

“Pull over,” I said to her.  The country road we were on had a soft shoulder, and she coasted easily over and shut off the engine.

“If you’re crying in the driver’s seat, you won’t be able to see well enough to keep going.  You’ve gotta pull over when that happens.”  I was facing her, and she had her head in her hands. Lily nodded in agreement with me, and we sat in the car for a while as she pulled herself together.  And we kept going, knowing once again the dark feeling of life lost.

The day before her 16th birthday, I had planned the ultimate driving test–one that would require as much from me as it did from her, if not more.   I clicked myself into the passenger seat, and she asked me where we were going.  I told her to head East and get on the main road to Chicago.

About 10 minutes into our journey, I began the story.  “Your grandma was driving, and it had been so long since I had slept…”

By the time we got into the heart of Chicago, my daughter was in tears.  I directed her around tight city corners and she kept saying, “I need to find a place to park. Where can I park, so I can cry?”

But there was no place to park.  The city was packed, the few spaces along the streets had been taken up, and we had no change for a parking meter anyway–I had made sure of that.

“Lily, there is no place to park.  Sometimes you cry, and there’s no place to stop, so there’s only one thing to do–you have to keep going.  You have to muster up your courage and drive through the tears. Be careful, but keep going.”

I remember her half glance at me through red-rimmed eyes, the headlights of the passing cars glinting off the rivulets running down her cheeks.  She only paused for a second, but then nodded in understanding.

I knew she understood, because she never once had an accident.  She had many more tears, many more nights of hot cheeks and puffy eyes, more close calls and more hardship.  And, she had even more days of pure joy, more moments of ease, times of smiling and times of doting on the man she married, and later on, her children. My grandchildren.

Bless her heart, she kept driving. We both did.

Filters

Many people in this world argue that “perception is reality.” However, I would amend this statement and say that our perceptions can easily set up for us a form of deception that is only just passable as reality. Sometimes our perceptions really do reflect the true state of things; at other times, what we see is not always what is really there. The filters through which we see things can greatly impact what we see. There is a certain level of naïveté in the person who sees all of life through rose-colored glasses, for example, just as there is naïveté in the person who only sees darkness in the world. In either case there is a deficiency of judgment–neither one perceives life as it is, and our filters can do the same to us in impairing judgment.

There are a great many filters through which we can see things. Our families of origin, experiences, personalities, and ways of thinking about life can all either enhance or taint our view of the world, and our view (or lack thereof) of God. It has typically been my tendency in life to view God in the light of life’s experiences; thus, my view of Him has traditionally been tainted and wrong, for all intents and purposes. It’s common to feel the need to perform and earn the affections and respect of others, and many of us are ingrained with that mindset over the years of our lives.

I always told myself, even before becoming a Christian 5 years ago, that God did not make me to be mediocre, and I always pushed myself to perform well under all circumstances. It’s been a snare for me, because I never felt like I would ever be happy in life, that I would always be looking around the next corner for the bigger and better thing. I’ve had a life of adventure and relative success because of it, but also a life I didn’t enjoy much until recent years.

This never seemed to mesh well with the idea that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. I thought all my hard work and efforts to “measure up” were what God wanted from me. I saw the Bible as a list of commands–a harsh, rigid manifesto of sorts from a God who was unrelenting and onerous–someone who wanted only my infinite admiration and perfection as the price of His love. But where does this leave room for Jesus? And where did I even get this idea of God?  I have my hunches, and now that I’m a Christian, I’m revisiting all the old opinions I trusted for so long.  Is the Christian life all about “measuring up?” Are Christian living principles the be-all and end-all of what we’re called to on this planet?  Is God a distant taskmaster, demanding obedience in exchange for love?  Is He quiet so often because He doesn’t care? Or worse, since He doesn’t often make Himself known in the way we would like, does He even exist?  I’ve had many of these questions myself and know of many others who’ve had the same. But, I’m learning a new way. A better way.

Maybe God is not to be seen through the lens of those who’ve been harsh with us. He is not the abusive or absentee parent. Love is not a weapon He uses to coerce. He displays no indifference, but only passion–passion for us. The word “passion” itself comes from a word that means “guts.” It is a visceral, physical reaction to something that stimulates you to the core of your being. That’s how He feels about us. It’s why He physically came to earth and died an horrific death to save us–compassion. Passion.  For us. For His children. For His dust-bunny creations.

I’m changing my filters these days. I grew up with one person in particular who contributed to a negative impact on my view of God, though my own perception was the true culprit.  I always thought God was like this person because that’s what I grew up with, what I expected all forms of life to contain. But after I became a Christian, God put certain new people in my path–people who have loved me without condition. They rarely express their love for me explicitly in a verbal way, but they make the reality of it known through their actions, which has been far more important for me. They always have an encouraging word for me, a hug, a term of endearment, a way of emphasizing the bond we share. They take interest in my life and invite me into theirs. They look out for me, guard me, cry for me, lift me up in prayer, rejoice with me in victories, share opportunities, think of me fondly, and talk with me just as well as they listen, learning and teaching in the process of friendly interaction.  Why do I base my experience of God on the people who’ve wounded me deeply, and not more like the people I’ve just mentioned? They are a far better representation of the character of God.

I’m not saying that our view of God should be based on others, because if we viewed Him exclusively in that light, He would be imperfect and fragile. We would have no hope resting in a god made in our own image. But humans learn via analogia, or by analogy. Our experiences of others have surely affected our view of God in some way (the reverse is certainly true as well). But this should not be an indecent thing. There are examples of goodness and godliness scattered broadcast throughout the world. God blessed me by bringing such people into my life. They are helping to change the faulty views of God I had previously possessed. It took a couple of years for me to realize it was happening. Love crept up on me slowly, deliciously, warmly, like the blue-orange glow of the horizon when the Sun is about to rise. Now it’s apparent. God is more like the good people you know than the bad. Don’t look to your bad experiences and relationships and base your relationship to God or view of God on that. It could very well be that you’re not seeing Him through the right filters. In reality, He’s beyond anything brilliant and beautiful that we can imagine, graciously giving us little images of Himself along the path to help light the way home. And in these little images, these little lights, we see reflections of His light, the most glorious star to ever exist.

Son…You are my favorite star.

On Pursuit

Some people are born with the horizon in their eyes, and no matter how hard they pursue, the horizon always descends.  It is with this realization that many wish to be with the Sun, for it breaches every horizon.

Things to Ponder

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  ~Ezekiel 16:49

 

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”  ~Proverbs 28:27

 

“Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.  And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.  For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people.  But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.”  ~Jeremiah 22:3-5

 

“Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar?  To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?  Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain.  For all his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” ~Isaiah 10:1-4

 

“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” ~Proverbs 21:13

 

“‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” ~Matthew 25:41-45

 

These verses have been with me a lot, recently.  I’m taking an Ethics class at Phoenix Seminary and it strikes me just how much many evangelicals of the western world take pains to aggrandize our own wealth and comfort, not realizing that often, our excess is detrimental to others.  I’m not exempt by any stretch.  I may not be rich according to American standards, but I’m certainly very rich when compared to the rest of the world.  It absolutely breaks my heart to know how stingy I’ve been with my resources.

For example, I’m preparing to move to an apartment closer to my church and my grad schools (yes, I said “schools”), and so of course I need to streamline my personal property and downsize a bit.  I’ve got a designated place in my room for all the accoutrements I want to dispose of and give to charity.  Time out.  I’m giving my refuse to charity?  The things I have that I don’t like or that don’t fit me?  It seems so akin to giving God the last few minutes of my day when I’m tired, or talking to my loved ones only when it’s convenient.  Maybe those aren’t good examples, but if I do anything to “the least of these,” I’m doing it to Jesus Himself.  And when I think of how little I’ve truly done (for the least, and therefore for Jesus), I feel extremely convicted.

So, I’ve compiled a list of places to go to help out.  Some I’ve worked with before, others I’ve merely heard of.  All reputable from what I understand, but if you know differently, please tell me and I’ll remove it.

 

1.  www.worldvision.org.  You can sponsor a child here or donate to the general fund, purchase wells or animals for those who need them, etc.

2.  www.finca.org.  This is an organization that works with microloans.  For a small price, you can help someone in a developing country build a business so they can feed their family.

3.  www.streetlightphx.com.  This organization exists to eradicate child sex slavery.  Did you know that if you even view pornography, you are almost certainly supporting the child sex industry?  It’s simple supply and demand.  Check the website and see what they’re doing with this important work.

4.  www.mentorkidsusa.org.  It is what it sounds like.  Mentor a child and be a positive role model.  Lots of kids don’t have good people in their lives (I see this a lot in my own field of work).  If you can’t mentor, there’s a place to donate.

5.  www.compassion.com.  This is similar to WorldVision.  You can sponsor a child and learn a lot about advocacy.

6. http://www.fh.org.  Food for the Hungry (FH) works to meet physical and spiritual needs globally.  A very reputable organization.

7.  www.casaforchildren.org.  I have worked with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) before.  They get to know kids who’ve been abused or neglected (including CPS wards) and advocate for their rights.  Very important people.

 

There are many more I haven’t listed, but these are good places to start.  I pray we all learn that a little sacrifice goes a long way for those whose voices are not heard.

Many make the case that perception is reality. If beauty is perception, and perception is reality, then all is subjective. But the fact that beauty can be and is found at all by anyone at all, suggests some objective dimension. Delving into that “beauty is perception and perception is reality” idea, maybe there’s some significance to the fact that much of what the world calls beauty now is fake to a relatively high degree (example: cosmetic surgery, Photoshopped pictures, other deceptive devices, etc.) We’ve exchanged truth for a lie.

Truth and Sanity

I saw “Black Swan” a couple of days ago.  Brilliant movie (though, admittedly far too explicit for my tastes).  Without going into any spoilers, it brought up some great questions on sanity and truth.

As a psychologist-in-training, I think often about issues of sanity, and since I am also a Christian, I think often of how my psychological philosophy can be applied to the life of faith.  After all, that’s what this blog is about: Melissa Seeking Understanding (the rough translation of Quaerens Intellectum).  Very often, I just toss questions out there for people to ponder, and I rarely expect any answers.  I love to live in the land of the theoretical rather than the land of satisfied inquiries.  So, to satisfy myself (by paradoxically leaving myself unsatisfied), I offer the following questions:

What is sanity?  Is it possible to become trapped in the room of your own consciousness? Is memory involved in keeping sanity? Is sanity an act of the will? What is reality? What do our individual perspectives do to impact reality? If we knew the definite boundary between reality and a lie, would we find that we cross that line more than we ever expected? If there were no grey areas, would we find that we are all insane to a degree?

I do know one thing: Truth is reality.  In my Christian worldview and philosophy, God is truth.  So, I suppose that when we step outside God, part of us (our spiritual side, perhaps) is insane in a way.  It’s a scary thought, really, that all of us could be so close to the brink of snapping in some way, and that even if we did, we may never realize our own insanity.   As Jim Carrey once said, “Madness is never that far away. It’s as close as saying ‘yes’ to the wrong impulse. The people who stay sane are the people who can make those quick decisions.”  Perhaps this is a fatalistic way of thinking, but at this point I’m simply questioning.    As far as we know, we are sane, and there is Someone outside us holding us together (Colossians says that all things are held together by Jesus…take that, quantum physicist!).

I suppose, in many ways, ignorance is bliss in this case.  I’m glad I know Jesus, that I know the truth. I’m glad I know many of the ways I don’t measure up to it, because it instills in me a desire to be a better person. But I’m also glad that this issue of sanity, which is out of my control anyway, is something I am somewhat unaware of.  My entire life could be an hallucination. I could be 50 instead of 25, sitting in a padded room drooling on myself, instead of sitting in my office, wondering if my body will ever warm up from the cold outside.

So many if’s, and many likely inconsequential.  I don’t even have a fancy way of wrapping up this written diarrhea of unanswered questions.  I just hope I’m not alone in my mental meanderings.  🙂

I do believe it was Jiminy Cricket who sang, “Always let your conscience be your guide.”  It seems like good advice, yes?  Generally, I would say that Jiminy Cricket knows what he’s talking about.  However, conscience is a tricky thing.  God speaks to us through it, but it’s surely possible to have a conscience that has been corrupted through years of desensitization and stop functioning.   On the other end of the spectrum, it can be overly sensitive and paralyze people to become legalistic and agonized over things that have no real moral value.  It can be a paralyzing element rather than a God-given sense of right and wrong.  The Bible says that the law is written on the hearts of all.  The conscience is designed to help in reminding us of that law, but we have to make sure that our minds (and consciences) are saturated with the Word.

God has brought this lesson to me in triplicate in recent days.  A couple of days ago, I witnessed two people engaging in a rather questionable activity.  My job required me to report it, which I did.  Their first instinct was to blame me (which was not surprising…that’s the first instinct of most people who operate in the flesh). Then one of them apologized and asked me not to say anything.  This person wasn’t sorry for their action; they were sorry because they got caught.  It’s hard to say what was going on in their minds, but their actions were what represented their consciences, ultimately.

Conscience is related to personal integrity as well.  When our conscience is saturated in the Word, we will likely become convicted of certain things.  Are we living out what our consciences are telling us?  If we’re not, we can rest assured that our integrity is suffering in some way, and we’ve added hypocrisy to the mix.

Ask God to search your heart and see if there is any wicked way in you.  Make sure your conscience lines up with the Word.  Once you do this, act on what God says is right.  It’s something I’m working on, too.

Oh, and don’t lie, or your nose will grow.  I have to admit, it’d be really nice and automatically a source of humility if we displayed physical evidence of our inner sins.  But alas, Pinocchio can only help us out so much.  🙂

Population

This is more just me thinking out loud here than anything prescriptive, and I hope nothing I say here is taken offensively.  These are just my thoughts. 

A few short years ago, the 6 billionth person was born on this planet.  I remember seeing commercials about it on television.  It was in South America somewhere.  At any rate, according to the Census Bureau’s population clock, we’re now at 6.8 billion.  Now, with the world’s current rate of growth and the power of technology/availability of resources, we can *reasonably* sustain anywhere from 12-15 billion people.  I say reasonably because it would take a massive shift in rates of consumption (ahem…America and Western countries) to sustain the lives of everyone on the planet. 

Already, we are doing a terrible job of sustaining even the 6.8 billion on the planet now.  Famine is widespread, greed is broadcast throughout, and within the next century or so when the population hits what could conceivably be called “critical mass,” we’ll be left sifting through the detritus of our shattered lives and poor stewardship.

I’ve always been an advocate of adoption, and I think more and more that I would do that just based on rates of overpopulation. Plus, as I work in the social services industry, I see plenty of kids who are in desperate need of parents. When the time comes, I may consider it more fully. 

For now, however, what are we doing (read: what am I doing) to curb my consumption and be a good steward of my resources?  There may come a time when I will not have all that I currently possess.  Maybe I should start learning to live without in the present moment, and spend more time helping those who are currently in poverty.