On kindness: V2 B5 C4

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Why would JVG grope for an escape? Why would he be so desperate in his trapped corner? For the sake of his adopted daughter. This story is the story of kindness. My definition of kindness is using personal power, resources or influence to bring relief, security, or truer perspective to someone else. Kindness requires humility because it is a true gift. Entering it’s front door means to make a unilateral transfer to someone else’s  benefit. Although there is no way to avoid the returning benefits flooding in through the back-door, they cannot be the goal of the transaction, since they will but motivate the giver to greater kind acts. This track of living is so highly desirable (and attractive) I wonder that people are so rare to follow it.

The difficulty is my western Jeffersonian mind of categorization and philosophy. Everyone sees himself as kind categorically. Seeing my person with a desired label, giving myself credit where no credit is due, and excusing myself so easily by defense or by moral superiority are natural habits. All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes – and when they are not, they are at least rationalized as just or fair.

But real kindness must be manifest as actual action in the now. To be kind, I must act on behalf of another despite my judgment and rational excuses, despite the surmise that I have been cheated based on relative merits. My action on her behalf is anonymous and unappreciated in its intent, if not in the actual sense. This action may even appear to have been without the intended impact to the circumstances – not bringing about the relief, security, or truer perspective that forms the objective. Kindness is an act from the heart.

How silly does this sound?: “I am a kind person to those who deserve kindness.”

Some of the most nominally and categorically kind people have the most judgmental and blatantly unkind hearts. This is especially easy to see from the outside, especially so for those who are most judgmental. Once a person establishes that they are categorically kind, then he can easily judge those who are not. I remember an episode of “All in the Family” from the 70s, where Edith rebukes Meathead: “If you were really smarter than he [Archie] is, then you wouldn’t have to let him know it.”

One must lose his life to find it. God is so kind to me. In order for me to follow I must be acted upon by Him. I must seek Him and He must change me (Holy Sonnet IVX).

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He Came to a Wall: V2 B5 C3

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JVJ came to a wall, trapped as he tried to escape and realizing that Javert had intended to lead him here all along. “He looked up into the sky in despair.”

As I have met with friends in various troubled times of anxiety, the best words that I have received are those that convince me that my perception is distorted, that things are not as bad as they might seem to me in this moment, and that almost always what I am worried about will not happen. One friend asked me to extrapolate: What is the worst that could possibly happen? Could you deal with that? I have looked at the wall, and I have looked up and cried out. And things have turned out all right up until today.

But we all know that dire earthly circumstances must befall us, and this temporary life will not last. Yes, we believe we will live on after our bodies, but what can this exercise of facing the trapped corners of this life on earth then mean if it is not to derive benefit from the process itself? It is the story of it all that is the point. Love is demonstrated in the dynamics of living. Win or lose – its only temporary, because the game board will for certain be closed up one day. Yes, I can raise the standard of earthly living of those around me, but if I am not looking up outside of the game it doesn’t matter.

For the Lord of Creation became part of creation showing that He cares that we suffer and strive. This care assures us that the suffering has meaning and will one day be perceived as valuable. So I will look up when I come to walls. I will ask for solutions but anxiously trust that my looking up, crying out, and paying attention is the main point of the perceived wall.

Four shadows entered upon the bridge: V2 B5 C2

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As JVL is pursued across the bridge and into the streets of Paris, fearful of losing his Cosette, I find my own shadows from time to time that threaten me in some way, and tell me more about myself than I want to hear.

The main threat looms that I will not live my life to the fullest in the way I am intended to live. What is it that stalks me so? I am haunted by vague thoughts even though the outward life seems successful and fulfilling.

  1. In part, it is that I know what missed opportunity I have let slip through my fingers. I have had good ideas about loving and relating and yet have found myself stifled to act because of my own inner habits of behavior. I have prepared for the moment, apart from the person, anticipating an opportunity with some meaningful idea to share or demonstration of love. But when the moment does arrive, enough fear also comes with it so that the lost opportunity no longer seems like such a great loss, and the status quo holds hypnotic comfort.
  2. For these choices to sleep and to be comforted are perhaps my main enemy. In hindsight I know the shortcuts that I take which sabotage my creative relational works. But they are on the front end deceptive in their subtlety.

“But the tigers come at night,” stealthily to tear my dreams apart. I must protect my dreams. I must maintain them with bold relational choices that expose me to judgment and scoffing.

I am haunted by the specter of lost opportunity in life. I must recognize and clearly define these choices between personal comfort and bold love. f I want to relinquish judgment and love well for the remainder of my days, it requires diligent discernment. What is my decision now? To stop writing and enter in to a Sunday morning conversation.

He trusted in God, as she trusted in him: V2 B5 C1

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As JVG and Cosette hide in a dark corner, I will digress a bit about parenting and leadership. There is nothing like the feeling of holding my new-born child and swelling with the determination to protect and provide. Early on I enlisted my known strategies and tactics to make in the world a safe and caring place for my child. And God blessed me to be able to control with hard work the main factors of my marriage and my job. But hard times did come, and as my children got older there were places along the way that I felt incapable – like a novice.

There are two contrasting word pictures of the young man and the older man. The young man with vigor and confidence somehow believed that he saw all the woods from his single station on a narrow path through dense thickets. And that young man moved steadily along believing in himself and cutting away the vines that obstructed his envisioned journey. Lord, I was so arrogant! But the Lord used a man of arrogance who determined to do the right thing. And it worked out because He was with me. I am left with some shudders at my early behaviors, but mostly by what God has done.

The older man sees more of the woods – at least the section where I walked as a young man. And I realize that so much more was needed to make a father than me and my comprehensive ideas. So many more stimuli and counsels needed to happen to my kids than what I controlled or imagined. And the increasing feelings of incompetence as they became teenagers matured into heart-felt thankfulness with the realization that they don’t need me anymore, and perhaps only did in that I played my part as a leading role in His production.

Did I trust God? Yes, that I wagered our lives in a commitment to worship and serve Him.  And our relationship was much more unilateral than me consciously trusting Him as I could have. He had a hold on me, behind and before, and his right hand was upon me. But I felt as if I was in control. I was much more fragile in my own power than I perceived. But for some reason I belonged to Him and He did not let me go. And we are glad.

Terror by night: V2 B4 C5

Jean Valjean could not close his eyes all night. Psalm 91 says that dwelling in God’s shelter will protect us from the fear in the night and the dying arrows in the day. JVJ was not walking in the promise.

I have lain awake through several nights in fear, anxiety, or even terror. In the middle of the night small concerns become terrible inevitabilities. It affords the perfect setting for crying out to God for help and learning to trust Him. “I will be with him in trouble,” Here in this chapter though, JVJ really was in trouble and so “He took her by the hand, and they both went out.”

I also find that the night magnifies the good ideas as well. I usually have ideas when I awake that are bold and beautiful. But in only a few hours the beauty fades and my ideas appear silly. It is the daily routine and my perceived expectations of others that I won’t step out of line too far that spoils the manna of the morning.

I awake with ideas about speaking out my love and appreciation in ways that are awkward. I have grand schemes for meetings and creative projects that could become reality if they had enough momentum and time to grow outside of that daily routine and common norm. I imagine generous sacrifices and acts of obedience that make the ideal seem quite possible in the early dawn. And though the actions often don’t follow the ideas, I am still strongly affected by those ideas in my heart, and like sitting in the sun, I am gradually day by day lifted up. Frequently then, because of my inward filling, I have a ready word of love in surprising moments when I let down my guard and act in the awkward.

Busybody: V2 B4 C4

What did JVJ do all day? He was sawing wood some of the time according to this chapter. He did not have a job. He did not have many possessions. It was just him and Cosette and the old woman who was spying on him. Of course she was suspicious! Spying was gave her life some adventure. Can you blame her.

Five Ways I Must Spend Time:

    1. Drill down into an activity. Even though something seems trivial, if you are going to take the time to do it, take it to the depths and involve yourself with it. Don’t  just skim the surface. Pay attention for a long time and question the minutia. Enjoy the curiosity of things that may not matter.
    2. Learn to sit and just be. How long can you sit still on the back porch without anything other than a cup of coffee and your thoughts and prayers to entertain you?
    3. Striking the right balance in activity. One must have flourishes of adventure in the world. Sorties out into the uncomfortable raw earth and open society to engage with others.
    4. Tithe on your time to live for others. Out of your work day there should be a portion of helping others reach their goals – preferably not some activity that is part of your job. Love your neighbors unexpectedly with a visit, a cake, or a card. Serve the poor. Shop for the perfect gift. Spend the time without personal gain.
    5. Spend lots of time listening. Listen to sounds all around. Listen to people. Listen to God. Listen to your heart. Listen to yourself and ask yourself why your mind is going this direction or that. Listen without judgment or prescription. Just pay attention.

Perhaps JVJ did these things. He could have certainly done all of them within this chapter. But nothing else would have been recorded for our sake.

 

Who is needy now? V2 B4 C3

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Can you love unconditionally? In relation to a particular individual, you can love unconditionally without reciprocation. But not independently. You are not a closed system in that relationship. There must be another Giver that is greater that has loved you better.

In this chapter, JVJ is said to have been “no less feeble than Cosette. Thanks to him she could walk upright. Thanks to her, he could persist in virtuous deeds.”

He was walking in the role he was given with the relational resource he was provided. And the results were not in his control. He was just as dependent on resources outside himself, only further along in the journey with a different set of experiences and callings than she would receive.

In any position of prominence there is no more credit than the humbler supporting position. The parent needs as much as the child. The teacher as much as the mentor. Either place has its calling and requirements for resources. Only some are a better fit at a given time. The calling is to use what you have and what you have been given in the way that would honor the Giver.

JVJ joined his life to Cosette not from a powerful place of unilateral lovingkindness and self-denial. Aha! He need her too. On the outside it looked as if He was the strong independent one, being the parent and having the material means and strength for rescue and guardianship. But God was the planner and the sustainer – only He can love independently, and only He can supply my needs. And only He knows what’s going on. Let me have the grateful humble heart of JVJ to enter my calling, not powerfully, but motivated by how I have been loved.

Headstones

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The graves in the cemetery in my town are marked by widely diverse symbols. Some have large stone buildings with columns, some with prominent crosses rising high above the ground that can be seen across hundreds of other graves. More of the graves are marked by simple slate plates with the minimal words for the minimal cost, usually just a name and two dates.

I see these people all around me who will end up under the headstones that they are making. One man I know cannot be happy unless his monument is honored even before it is built. Others I know have even forgotten that there is supposed to be a headstone to show all the later comers that they lived such important lives. These people neglect to expect the credit for their daily work which often goes unnoticed at all, never to be translated into the size of their headstone.

It is that translational work that is so irresistible to some and in which they are constantly engaged. The problem is when these translators run out of material, they must repeat, distort or invent their material. I have seen this done so seamlessly that I marvel at the well-practiced tongue and deceived mind that engage the practice so tirelessly. Language littered by my’s and I’s has such a telling sound in a conversation or  argument. We’s and Thee’s show a longer look which neglects the headstone.

Whether my spent body is burned or buried, ornamented or desecrated, I choose today to act with for-ness. My God is for me. Let me love to live for others. Let me continually  present my technical and creative works as a gracious giver who has forgotten to count.

Sleep and Play: V2 B4 C2

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There is always an anxious thought or memory ready to slip into the mind places not nourished on gratitude. But young Cosette is having none of that. JVJ sees the child sleeping in utter confidence and playing all day without guilt or fear – trusting wholly in her salvation. What a great picture of what we are designed for, and of what I think is possible. Yet still I strive.

I have a new grandchild on the way who will enter this world in the next few days. He has a mother and father (my son) who are brimming with enthusiasm to see him and love him, and what we all are expectant for, to watch him sleep in utter confidence and play without guilt or fear.

No matter how good the circumstances seem to be, some people cannot be happy, or learn to relish life in ordinary moments. Working to a weekend, spending to a security, talking to take from others. Some are clinging to personal ideas so hard to their deaths. There is no room for worship. Choosing solitary confinement is death. Clinging to anything (especially partisan attitudes) to make it a part of me shuts me down to sleep  and play. I can put down my selfish objects, give them away, or at least hold them loosely enough that I can see around them; and one day I might even forget where I out them. If they are so great, then they will be the better without my clinging. I can then enjoy playing with others.

I can take positive steps to get there I know. Being wise about choosing my people interactions, fully engaging in relationships – silent and ordinary moments especially, stepping out in faith when it seems risky,  erring on the side of obeying Jesus, choosing to relax regularly, taking necessary time to get ordinary things finished well. Practicing gratitude and recognizing others efforts. Sounds like worship to me. For fully engaging the day in worship is what will lead me to sleep and play.

Alone in this old house: V2 B4 C1

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Here on the outskirts of the expanding Paris of 1848, JVG finds an obscure home to begin his life in seclusion with Cosette. What must those days and nights been like? His goal was to avoid relationships. Besides missing out on human companionship, he was left with his own uncalibrated mind, to make judgments.

Everyone strikes a balance  in friendships and acquaintences. JVJ was isolated.

Most unconcioussly decide how much life exposure and in what quality of connection they will live. It’s one thing to answer the big questions of why am I here? and How am I living? to myself. But to connect to someone else in order to share purpose and vision on a meaningful level is a much greater achievement. Such a connection requires patience and trust and grace.

Patience is a rare virtue in a friend. It means someone takes the time to be interested and really listen to what I am saying. Trust then means that I can count on that person to have my best interest at heart and to not violate a confidence. And grace means that the friend is persistent in a listening and loving posture until the very end – not cutting me off with a categorization, change-of-subject, or judgment. Who has found such a friend? Let me be that friend.