On Displaying Beauty and Drawing Souls


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This afternoon I screened the first episode of Ken Burns’ award winning documentary The Civil War, for a class I’m teaching.  From the first notes of the soundtrack, I was pulled back in time to September 1990 (and 1994) when I was first enraptured by the sights and sounds of the Civil War.

I’m fairly certain that the love affair with history that marks my life today began that week in the 5th grade, when I spent hours with my dad watching a glorious work of art. Say what you will about Burns’ historical interpretation of the War, the documentary itself is a masterpiece, and I argue that watching it set part of the course of my life (watching his documentary on Baseball in 1994 set another course, but that’s a different post. Go Sox.).

The nostalgia was so thick today that I sent my dad a text, thanking him for exposing me to history in such a beautiful manner. My mom has told me that she still struggles with enjoying history after spending high school in history classes with teacher/coaches who read the sports page while the class read the textbook and completed handouts. That’s not the history of Ken Burns, my friends.

This led me to thinking about the fact that the manner in which we present anything has an impact on how we perceive and receive said thing. The most fantastic parts of life can seem mundane or even terrible if presented a certain way, and the worst parts can appear glorious if sold well. Humanity is drawn to beauty, and I’d argue, we were created that way.

Our God is glorious Creator, and we are Imago Dei. He makes beauty, we are drawn to it. In Exodus 28, God gives the instructions for Aaron’s priestly garments:

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.
You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.”
Make sure you catch that. For beauty. God gets the glory, we enjoy the beauty. Some things are just for their beauty. And that serves a purpose all it’s own. No beauty is wasted or pointless.
All of this led me to think about how this applies to so many aspects of teaching and learning and human nature. A simple rule of thumb is, “Humans are drawn to beauty, so make your topic beautiful.” The Gospel IS beautiful, but man, we can kill it sometimes. Show people the beauty of Jesus, and they will be drawn to Him. God made us to worship, and He created us to be drawn to beauty, so allow the beauty of the Gospel to shine through, and people will be drawn to Him. In an increasingly hostile and mean and ugly world, we are desperate for beauty.
May our lives be testimonies of the beauty of our Creator God, so that all those who know us can say, “Show me what gives your life this beauty.” May our cry be that of Psalm 27:4,
One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.
Oh, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. If 8 hours of beauty can draw an 11 year old to a lifetime of loving history, imagine what hours of gazing at the beauty of Christ can do for a lost soul.

 

 

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What if the Dukes of Hazard were Black?


Thought experiment (in case you’ve ever wondered, “What in the world is she thinking???” Here ya go.):

Listening to and learning from my black friends and family members about how they walk through the world has been quite a humbling a process for the last couple of years (Realizing the most basic answer was “different than how I do” was the first step in the process).

After the conversation my (black) sister and I had yesterday about staying together while she was pushing my (white) daughter in the shopping cart so as to avoid an unnecessary police or security encounter, I thought about the benefit of the doubt that I’ve enjoyed my entire life.

I thought about examples like news reports using white suspects’ yearbook pictures but black suspects’ mug shots. Or headlines describing black folk “looting” after Hurricane Katrina, but white folk “salvaging” after Michael.

Then I thought about the society of my childhood. So I did a little thought excercise:

“Imagine if ___________ was black,” and I inserted famously mischievous white characters and thought about the difference in storyline the racial change would necessitate.

Here were the first three off the top of my head.

1. Zach Morris, Saved by the Bell: Behavior problem, menace to the classroom, sexual harasser of female students; expelled to the system alternative school or in juvenile detention.

2. Dukes of Hazard: Incarcerated, because they’ve “been in trouble with the law/ since the day they was born.”

3. The McAllister Family, Home Alone: parents arrested for child abandonment, family separated, kids sent to foster homes. And since it happened a SECOND time? Probably moving from reunification to permanency.

My conclusion was that, in general, white people get the benefit of the doubt concerning intent, and black people are assumed to be doing the worst.

This, of course, is not universal, but when, as a white kid, you grow up with the understanding that breaking the law is ok if you’re “never meaning no harm,” it makes sense that our current culture exists.

What other storylines would be vastly different had the characters been people of color?

Of Tests, Lifetimes, and Eternity


I’m the testing coordinator at the school where I work. That means I oversee all the standardized testing and test prep and Advanced Placement courses we offer. AP exams numbers 17 and 18 are this morning and then we’re done! What a crazy two weeks it’s been.

Administering thousands of standardized tests has been a stretching experience for this girl with test anxiety, but struggling with tests has been helpful for encouraging students with their own test anxiety. Knowing how big a test can seem means I can help put it in perspective a bit for a student who is flipping out over the PSAT or ACT and all that those test scores represent (one’s worth or identity, a whole lot of scholarship money…).

My perspective of tests is definitely better at 38 than at 18, but there are still stressful times when “Don’t screw this up, B,” can become the dominant thought. In those moments, taking thoughts captive and making them obedient works the same as with anything else: “Seek excellence, not perfection. It’s important, but it’s not eternal.”

Nothing has pounded that thought home for me more than what happened yesterday morning as I was hurrying into the church where we do our testing.

In front of the entrance sat a hearse, and the people from a local funeral home were moving a flag-draped casket from the hearse onto a wheeled cart. There was a visitation and funeral scheduled, and they were taking that person to church for the last time.

As I approached, I saw there was no one with them to hold the door open, so I shifted the box of AP materials to one hand and opened the door with the other.

Standing there in silence, watching them reverently move into the building, I could see my students standing there, watching this take place while waiting for their exams, and I thought, “These tests? They’re not eternal. But the students taking them? They are. Focus on the eternal.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in the temporal, the day-to-day stuff that keeps us distracted and overwhelmed and stressed out. But moments like that, starting your day by pausing for a flag draped casket, are bittersweet reminders that this world will fade away. The people walking it, however, will not. As a former student once observed in her graduation speech, “Education and awards are for a lifetime, but people are for an eternity.”

Invest in the eternal.

Trading Up


Since announcing that I am leading a workshop at the Revoice conference in St. Louis this coming July, I’ve gotten quite a bit of pushback, both from liberal Side A Christians (those who affirm same-sex marriages/relationships) and those with conservative Christian positions who believe ongoing same sex attractions are an unbecoming discussion for anyone claiming the name of Christ.

Both extremes on the spectrum of opinion concerning Christianity and homosexuality bring to mind CS Lewis’s quote from his book, The Weight of Glory:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

For the one side, they will only be pleased if everyone either becomes like them or affirms them.

On the other, they will only be pleased by a solely heterosexual world.

If your goal is for someone to either actively express or suppress their sexuality, you are far too easily pleased.

Both are simplistic and hurtful desires that would lead to a significant population of people who both desire to be faithful to an orthodox sexual ethic while still maintaining that, as they grow in holiness, they are not simultaneously moving toward an increasing heterosexuality. To be attacked by both ends of the theological and ethical spectrums concerning anthropology and sexuality makes for an inevitable defeat in a two front war.

So here I hope to briefly explain this middle ground position that neither denies my God nor myself as He created me.

For most Christians, “The statement, “I’m gay,” leads people to assume one is apostate, having traded in their faith for sexual relations with the same sex.

But stop for a moment and flip that scenario. When someone tells you they’re straight (although, most heterosexuals don’t “come out” as such, so…), do you automatically assume they’re sexually active? I should hope not, and I would encourage you to do the same for LGBT+ friends and family when they are brave enough to share their story with you.

I don’t (at least not intentionally) make that assumption. But I do assume certain ways in which they will interact with others and the world around them.

Our sexuality is not our identity, but it does, to an extent, serve to express our embodied existence in a particular manner.

Same for Christians who identify on the LGBT+ spectrum (sexual minorities). For many, this is a way of explaining how one sees and interacts with the world, not who one is sleeping with.

This conversation led my thoughts not only to Lewis’ quote above, but also to the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13.

For, you see, Jesus is that treasure found buried in a field, that highly sought after pearl. And if denying natural sexual attraction allows me to gain the lover of my soul, the one whose love is better than this very life, than it is worth the cost.

But Bekah, you may say, you can have both! Look at all the happy gay Christians! It’s a new era of love and acceptance.

To that, I say, “Read the Word, friend.” To gain the treasure, the man who found it had to sell all he had in order to buy the field. He gave up possibly his life savings, which, to the onlooker, could have seemed preposterous. But what he gained? Well, it was worth his life, his soul.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

Better than life, and all life has to offer.

But Bekah, you may say, “That’s not fair that you deny yourself (or others) that One Great Love of your Life. That makes me sad for you.”

To that I say, “If God so chooses to bring a man willing to board the crazy train (or struggle bus– pick your metaphor) that is the Mason household, I would be honored and grateful.

If God chooses to send a committed friend willing to make a pledge like Ruth to Naomi, or like the covenant sworn by David and Jonathan, and comes alongside to live and love and press me and my kids closer to Christ, I would be honored and grateful as well.

I could have one or the other, but I can’t have it all. Because no person is meant to be anyone else’s everything. That is Jesus’ place in my life, and he’s doing just fine in that role. So much so that, if he never sees fit for either scenario above to come to fruition, I have an amazing support system of friends and family to love me and my kids and we are enough.

But mostly, He is more than enough.

So to those who say we shouldn’t acknowledge gayness or same sex attraction and also claim Christ, I challenge you to consider that this: This aspect of my life is the one God uses most consistently to draw me to Himself, to point out my weaknesses and my need for Him.

Why in the world would He be so cruel as to take away the thing that most deeply presses me into himself?

Predators, Survivors, Heroes, and a Savior


Tonight I am thankful for a woman who said, “No more.”

Who told her story until she was believed.

Who empowered other women and girls to share their stories of abuse, to begin to find healing.

I am thankful that she spoke in court today, calling names, both giving an account and holding other accountable for their actions and inaction.

I am thankful that she asked a judge, “How much is a little girl worth?” And then asked her to sentence their abuser thusly.

I am thankful also for a judge who allowed her courtroom to become a classroom, teaching the world the right way to hear and affirm survivors of abuse.

I am thankful she allowed them all to speak, and to do so for as long as they needed to speak their peace.

And I am thankful that Judge Aquilina answered Rachael Denhollander’s question with the answer, “I just signed your death sentence.”

Because, a little girl is worth everything.

But mostly I am thankful that Rachael shared the Gospel, that in that moment, she declared the only One who can truly give everything did so for us all.

I am thankful that she extended human forgiveness to her abuser and shared with him that God extends forgiveness to even those who prey on children for their own pleasure. But she not only forgave, she also sought justice from the court, because the same God who grants forgiveness to the repentant also declares that millstones be hung about the necks of those who cause little ones to stumble. You see, justice and Love are not mutually exclusive. The two go hand in hand. God’s Love is His justice, and His justice is revealed in His Love.

Rachael Denhollander is a powerhouse, and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina is a hero. May Larry Nassar be forgotten, but may the voices heard this week in that courtroom never be.

Take the time to watch Rachael speak in court. You will be both devastated and empowered.

(Photo Credits: Heavy.com and Daily Mail)

Singleness and Submission


Singleness has been the subject of a lot of my conversations lately. Currently I’m part of a book launch for my friend JoyBeth Smith. The book is called Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness. The book is fabulous, as is its author.

And while I’ve loved the book, I have loved the launch group’s Facebook group almost more. The people there have become some of my favorite with which I interact. Brilliant, sassy, wise, honest… and best of all? They’re inquisitive. And the questions? No. Holds. Barred.

It’s been the best of conversations about singleness, from the mundane to the concerns of utmost significance. And then today, a link to an article I wrote last year for Boundless was in my Timehop. Reading it for the first time in 52 weeks, having spent significant time considering singleness and marriage and how those two do and don’t relate to one another, I was surprised by how little I would change the article if I had it to write again.

So, what say you? How do singleness and submission go together?

On Waiting and Blessing


When Jacob wrestled, he waited, but he didn’t stop wrestling in the waiting. He wrestled until he received his blessing.

Waiting doesn’t always mean stopping. Sometimes waiting takes a “meanwhile…” stance as we multitask through life.

And sometimes, wait really just means wait. Like I’ve waited twenty years to read this one particular book. In the meantime, I’ve read hundreds of others, but the book always waited.

Twenty years ago, my parents gave a rightfully Brit lit obsessed teen a copy of The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh as a graduation gift. Having only recently rediscovered my love of reading, I was ecstatic to have it. And I flipped through it. And then I started two summer jobs followed by school and Rush, and suddenly I was much too cool and adult for Pooh.

But Pooh stayed with me, through a college transfer and back home again. To grad school and back home. Again. And through eight moves in the last decade. There was Pooh, always near my desk and heart, but with his binding never broken. Because that Pooh, the heavy one with the satin ribbon to mark your place and a small picture on each page, was meant to be shared with others. You read this Pooh aloud.

And while the first person who called me Aunt B will turn 17 this year, and my niece will be 8 next month, I never read that Pooh to any niece or nephew, whether they called me Aunt B by choice or by blood. Taking Pooh to another’s house just seemed strange.

So when the kids started staying with me for respite weekends, I thought about starting them with Pooh. But if you’ve ever tried holding a sprawling two-year-old and a 7 pound book, you know why that didn’t happen.

There was more than just a perpetual motion machine preventing the reading of Pooh by this time. To finally pull him off the shelf and read him would seem so final, and nothing has felt final these last two years.

For two years I was partially afraid that to begin reading would be to jinx it, and we would never get to finish. So we’ve read small Pooh storybooks and big Disney Pooh storybooks and Jesus books and truck books and princess books and pirate books and the complete stories of Paddington Bear, but not of the Silly Old Bear.

Until tonight. Because tonight, five weeks after the judge’s decree and five days after receiving new birth certificates, and about five hours after a hair cut to correct the one she started on herself on Saturday, two chubby little feet scurried back to her room from the errand of “Go find one book to read,” with two dimpled hands holding a blue bound storybook. “Here. I picked this one book. Read it to us, please.”

And there sat Pooh.

As I opened the book, I laughed, partly because Miss Smartypants brought me the biggest “one book” she could carry, but also because, after 20 years of wanting and worrying and whining and wasting and waiting, Pooh came to me. And we read of honey and the wrong sort of bees.