Who is needy now? V1 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.

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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: V1 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.

 

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.