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.

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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.

Root of Evil: V2 B3 C2

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Consider the two villains of the book:

While the husband calculated and schemed, the Thernardiess thought not of absent creditors, took no care either for yesterday or the morrow, and lived passionately in the present moment.

The husband’s love of money was the root of evil because it allowed his selfishness to take root into tangible action abusing and neglecting other people. The wife’s selfishness was childlike. Some of the words describing her are similar to those Jesus uses in Matthew 6 as a positive paradigm to trust God for our provision. So what is the difference for her? She trusted in the wrong provider. And her for the rest of the sermon, she cared not for anyone else. Kingdom living is not calculated for tomorrow, but consumed with loving others today.

So how does this matter to me? Growing older has led to smallness in one respect. My garage is big and clean and safe. Small household improvements play too big of a part in my mind and my day. I seem to be “calculating” not just retirement benefits, but more generally the small details of living. Or is that judgment about “too big” too hard?

Growing older has led to expansive thinking. I can give more grace for the selfishness of others, and more and more I find that being kind is almost always the right action. And as for my opinions, I can be sure of one thing: I have a tendency to defend them. Only trust Him.

Interesting how I have grown more liberal in my thinking as I age – it seems contradictory to the maxim I have heard. I take more chances with people because I am less intimidated by them. I am able to sit still more and reflect. And I care less for my reputation than I do for my (perhaps anonymous) legacy. Thankful this morning to have a chance to love.

 

 

 

People are hurting: V2 B3 C1

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JVG is fulfilling his promise to Fantine.

Larry Crabb in Encouragement:

All around us people are hurting more than we know. The people we come into contact with on a daily basis—whether spouse, friend, cashier, custodian, pastor, or prima donna—each have a story, a window through which they view and respond to life. Often we simply react to the ways they hurt, offend, or inconvenience us without considering what might be at the heart of their behavior.

Here with Cossette under the table, the pain is easy to see. And the neglected child screaming in the other room. Again, the Thernardier’s epitomize selfishness, lust, and greed. Yet, people that act that way are hurting as well, driven on in their behaviors, never satisfied.

I know a woman who lost her husband to a sudden terrible disease. She tries to stay active, serving others, but the loneliness and sadness persist. I don’t know her well enough to know her deepest thoughts, but by comparison, I struggle over so much less.

I know a man who has been through two unhappy marriages each ending in divorce. I have been with him through it all, and watched as he and each of his wives suffered through feelings of rejection and mistrust. Harsh words were exchanged and it seemed that there was no way to get reasonable conversation. For my part, Over the years, I have tried to give answers, and I have simply sat and listened. The proper response continues to elude me. Only to be there and to love. But that does not seem to be enough.

I work with a man who complains often of his difficulty in aging and that he is not being respected. This man does not feel like giving the job more energy. How do I help him? Listen well and encourage? It seems he needs to be confronted about his performance. How do I increase my own compassion for him? How do I care more?

Please answer my prayer, Lord, to grant me greater capacity to listen, understand, and care for other souls.

Free Again: V2 B2 C3

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Such a long Chapter leading up to JVJ spectacular escape. I suppose he thought this was OK to escape, since no-one was in danger of suffering on his behalf any longer, and he still had a girl to save – poor Cosette.  What a noble purpose in life to love someone so sacrificially. But to do so, one must give up other pursuits, even other good works.

It is the lengthy pre-amble to the time of the escape that captures my attention. It was toward the end of October in the year 1823, and Hugo describes the European politics in such a way that makes me question any political view. I am surrounded by people who presume that they are right politically. And I have been there. My emotions are still there with certain parties and causes. But I now question those emotions much more because in my mid-years I am much more aware of how deceitful they are to hijack my thought process to righteous indignation for what really lay below: the party spirit.

Recent politics has forced a choice between no-good options for a Christian. The ridiculous antics of our current president divide our worshipping body. What I fear is that many cling to nationalism as if it were God Himself. People long for the good ole days which certainly had their advantages, but the post-modern atheistic tendencies of our culture has many of the hearts and unknowing minds of an ignorant people. And worse is the hateful spirit by which professed Christians hold their views with a slipping grasp on any substantive issues like paying our debts, self-sacrifice, and caring for the poor. What these believers find in their clutches, are only empty social artifices and talking points that define opinions which cannot be understood by the other side, and may sometimes not be worth defending. And we find that the actual emphasis of our leader may very well be toward political power secured by fomenting hot-button issues tied to nationalism rather than those issues we profess to care about most as conservatives..

The scene that Hugo describes in France and Spain of 1823 with a reigning conservatism that does not have the support of the hearts of the people seems so appropriate today. For the parties are re-aligning, and people are changing a lot every day.