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.

 

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For the right reasons: V2 B3 C11

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JVJ had indeed escaped after turning himself in. Evidently he had planned it all along by hiding his money, and when the opportunity arose, he took it. So the point was to save Champmanthieu from the prison, then to save Cosette, but still he saw that he could be exempted from serving his time according to the law. So how was he any different from stealing the loaf of bread for his starving family? Maybe he saw the scape as a “victimless crime.” Or maybe the point is that he now was to live a life of service, different than he had ever before intended, especially after being hardened by his prison time. Or maybe he was just compelled so strongly to save Cosette such that these moral conundrums never crossed his mind. The seeming contradiction of his escape after a surrender does not take away from the great example of self-sacrifice and dedication.

To work hard for the right reasons. The right reason is that he was in a relationship with His Creator and bound to take care of this unfortunate child who was placed in his care.

Greed Unmasked: V2 B3 C10

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Thernardier is not an enjoyable character to watch. Reading Les Miserables, I wish for him to go away. Why? Because he represents the selfish greed that I know is in me. I am not so far along the path that I would overtly display myself as he would, but unfortunately the taste of that motivation is recognizable. The degrees of selfish action seem to me:

  1. Accidental words or acts of selfishness without self-awareness.
  2. Accidental selfishness with hindsight and regret.
  3. Intentional selfishness but feigning a lack of self awareness: manipulation could be involved. This is the last degree in which there is expectation to be perceived as innocent.
  4. Intentional selfishness with acknowledged unspoken awareness by the offender and the offended. This was the degree to which Thenardier was acting.
  5. Intentional selfishness with acknowledgement all around – such was the crime he contemplated and wished for as he regretted leaving his gun behind.

The path is the same for me and Thernardier, and the direction being taken on this path is indicative of the moral health of my soul. If I act with integrity then I act unselfishly when no one else is looking. This is as good as saying that I remain in degrees 1 or 2 above. If I venture on to a higher degree of selfishness, then I am eroding my integrity.

Substitute selfishness for greed or self-interest if you like. One clear example I often wonder about is politicians. The leaders seem to assume quite awkward hypocritical positions without any pretense to self awareness. Are they at degree 3 or degree 4? Do they just depend on their loyal followings who blindly accept their pretense because of their party? Or do they really believe that all people struggle to see them acting in the very way that they accused their opponent of acting when the tables were turned?

This is very interesting speculation and discussion, and so easy to see the trend in others. The hard part is acknowledging and repenting that is the only meaningful point here. Lord, help me to see and strengthen me to repent.

 

Hated and Hating: V2 B3 C9

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Cosette’s rescue from hell was complete. She was transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of marvelous light. Pure experience of a child. She seems to so easily receive the great gift, and skipping ahead has so little struggle to make the switchover from hated and hating into loving and being loved. Really? And nothing is missing that would cause her to throw a tantrum? She seems to be the most 2D character in the book. This is the troubling aspect of the clean humanitarian message of Dickens and Hugo which appears to take away the power of an argument to love the downtrodden by basing it on their ideal innocence and virtue amid unusually sad circumstances. Rather, a more practical and potent argument points toward their image-bearing worth despite learned ugly habits.

I have been reading two other books. One about the The Enneagram personality theory which is basically about “the 9” personality types that grow from our childhood into the ways we now self-protect against perceived threats from our environment. Maybe I am a “4” on this scale. The point about the 4 that resonates with me is that I seem to have something missing which I am always trying to make up for by being and appearing to be special.

I am trying to will to be something that I already am without any willing or trying.

The point that someone like me must realize is that I am complete already. I am made in the image of God and accepted and unique to Him. Relax and enjoy it.

The second book is Abraham Lincoln: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership by Elton Trueblood. It is explained how Lincoln’s early childhood lessons in valuing human souls irrespective of their skin color because they are made in God’s image eventually carried the day in his heart. His constant study of the Bible led to his discerning the divine image in all humanity as the real impetus for emancipation. The value of the human is derived, not “self-evident” in the sterile Jeffersonian sense. And Lincoln viewed his own life as a part of the divine plan for men to be restored in due time. He was complete in the full color of his melancholy and awkward moments. And God used him to deliver a nation.

Colette is from this time forward to be loved. And so are we.

Enthralled with a purpose: V2 B3 C8

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JVJ sat all night lost in thought and vision with his elbows on the table. Contemplation of what could be? Adoration of what is? Either way, he was lost in a meditative state of some sort of vision beyond the physical world.

He had a real plan on the ground, but his surging heart and loose mind were all driving his actions. What I like about his character is the child-like adoration of what he saw in Cosette which then makes the dedicated life into easy obedience. The meditation is the most important – not a hallucination, but a constant prayer over all of the hard observations of life. Not a regimented obedience to a stated objective to rescue the child, but a heart-felt passionate life that flowed out of the child-like adoration.

His life of serving Cosette seemed to happen to him rather than it being something he chose. And this life that happened to him was received with such delight.

Life is not about making a positive difference. Its about being a fascinated child of God, one who is loved and is compelled to love, seeing what should be and happily stepping in to the dedicated life of serving others, which of course always makes a positive difference.

Walk with me through these woods: V2 B3 C7

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What a difference a companion makes! JVJ speaks with Cosette kindly as they walk through the dark woods. She tells of her hard life and he carries her load.

I believe that everything is about relationship. Healthy relationships are the main point. Walking together in a way that strengthens and reassures my companions is my goal. This is the Good News – our Companion is very close – and He is for us – not against us.

Every day, even the science and engineering work in which I am involved is immediately and ultimately about relationships:

  1. Relationships with co-workers as we team together to address challenging problems.
  2. Relationships with other staff in the building who have their way of contributing a common goal but who are quite unfamiliar with the technical work we are doing.
  3. Relationships with students, interns, and new-hires to help orient them in the technical world.
  4. Relationships with managers and collaborators who have their own agendas that may or may not coincide with ours.
  5. Relationships with those people all around the world who are benefitting from a higher standard of living due to the R&D that comes from our facility.
  6. Relationships with other drivers/commuters who line up at stop lights and rush to their own places of work each morning.

Then, of course there are the relationships in my neighborhood and community activities and in markets, etc…

The circumstantial problems may not be solved immediately, but those problems drive us to ask for help and offer help, leading to healthy relationship. Every thing obtained or done outside of relational involvement is empty and often destructive. But healthy relationship offers such great fulfillment and joy.

Let me look around. Let’s see, who is walking alone?

Make one person beautiful: V2 B3 C6

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JVG was on a mission. A covert mission to save Cosette. He skulked his way through Paris finding the most inconspicuous apartment as a place to raise her. We are convinced by this convict that his elusive actions (escaping and hiding) are completely justified by his righteous mission.

By maintaining a low profile he was able to serve quietly. By dying to himself, giving up the fulfillment of his achievements as Mayor, and turning himself in, he came out the other side in to a quiet life of dedicated service. He made a quiet womb for Cosette. He himself was nothing other than a protector and provider. Yet in his service and self-sacrifice he found great fulfillment.

How true. How rewarding it is to choose one person to love forever, and find joy in hard work of service and then after many years, a mature delight in the beloved, having discovered that devotion and sacrificial loving has contributed to the beauty of that same beloved.

And it seems that JVJ might have been able to love and serve many people for the rest of his life – how much more the fruit of loving. But no, for God brings the increase, not man, and his blessing bounds forth in response to such devotion and obedience to the call. We do not live in a zero-sum-game life. And the benefits we enjoy are not proportional to our good works.

Take someone and love them well in the moment. Apply from your heart the love that requires no notice or recognition by man, and make one person beautiful. Worship by loving.

A Home Run of Kindness: V2 B3 C5

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Victimized Cosette alone in the dark woods is swiftly rescued by the all-powerful hand of kindness.

Story book examples of the hero stepping in to save the damsel from the villian make up the basis of the hopes and dreams written on our hearts. The stories we love just take the paradigm and perhaps reassign the roles. The “miracle” of Christmas is the simple and fundamental truth that resonates so perfectly and leads us to create more stories with our minds and hearts and words and hands. We make His praise glorious when we work in concert with this truth, even when we say we don’t know Him.

Sometimes the ideal examples such as that found here in Chapter 5, or those I hear of in sermons, can discourage me. Such perfect, effective kindness is uncommon to my perception, and my attempts to love rescue someone can seem more like strikeouts than homers. So I want to hear that I am OK in the strikeouts because I am standing at the plate swinging. And, that my perception of the success of my efforts is usually highly distorted.

Yesterday I received a letter from a man thanking me for being a good leader and making it possible for him to finish his career by enjoying his work. It was a surprise, even a shock for me since I perceived the perception of my efforts might be that they were shallow and full of pretense. But it turns out that the perception was not that at all. People may not react like I hope for when I show kindness. They may even carry away the candlesticks and continue in their criminal attitude like JVJ. But as imperfect as my attempts may be (even shaded by pride and pretense) they are more effective than I perceive, and seeing the few instances that are actually revealed to me, I imagine that my my batting average is higher than I perceive.

Eyes of a child: V2 B3 C4

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Grandma Simon said that back in the days of the dust bowl on the Kansas farm they did not know they had it so hard. They woke up in the morning and shook the settled dust off off of their blanket and went about the new day, ready to play together and explore. She lost an eye in an accident playing and exploring as a young girl, but they just did what they had to do. Not much self-reflection, self-pity, or self-aggrandizement. They fought and feuded and suffered, but it’s all relative. And her father, great-grandpa always did what he could to help the stranger. Her memories were pleasant as they were shaped through her child eyes.

Thinking back to childhood, what was it that excited you most? Pretty lights? A toy train or doll or fresh new baseball glove? A wrestling match with grandpa? Delicious food treat prepared by Mom? A hug? Through eyes of a child, the sensations come disproportionately with the worldly value because the perceptions are wrapped in delightful dreams. Looking on those same eyes from the outside, those adults around are similarly delighted by seeing the awe and joy of a small child. How much we thrill to see a new human being experience life for the first time.

Cosette’s fascination with the doll is beautiful in itself – “she forgot everything.” Where do I find this sense of awe again? Her first sense of satisfaction in just a gaze is so pure. How can I worship like that?

Of course, soon JVJ will soon have the adult pleasure of watching the child be overjoyed with his gift, but how beautiful is the adoration? And what a sensation to be cultivated in my own heart, holy apart from demandingness! How sad, the life lived without this childish wonder.

She is my child: V2 B3 C3

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Hugo and Dickens were contemporaries. At this Christmas, the reading of this sad account of Cosette’s neglect resonates with Dicken’s classic haunting scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present:

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

  • Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I cannot deny it. JVJ could not deny it. In fact he gave his life for just one such child. He felt responsible. His responsibility came from someone else taking responsibility for him. So this chapter is the opening of the robe with the call that I hear this morning: “Yes, its a sad sight, and hard to believe how such a scene might be non-fiction. But you know it’s worse than this, and many times over, and such people are not even so far away from where I sit in comfort.”

The best we can do is to distract ourselves. And I do that pretty well I fear. At this Christmas, I recognize that the same collective union of mankind that was impacted by the star and birth announcing that God is with us (the same child who would grow to tell all how very near indeed He is), that same collective union binds us to reciprocate and own the ignorance and want for ourselves. It’s not someone else’s problem.

Cosette is not just Fantine’s child.

Cosette is not just Jean Valjean’s child.

Cosette is my child.