Putting the ‘Hope’ in ‘Hopelessness’

In the aftermath of tragedy such as that at Sandy Hook Elementary, we as a people often find ourselves burning bitterly over one three-letter word.  “Why?” we plead in desperation, unable to make sense of evil.  And yet, in the silence of tears, no answers emerge.  The next quandary, then, becomes a question of God’s existence—or at least doubts about His true identity.  “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why would He allow something like this to happen?” we beseech in defiance of our teachings.  Our voices punch the sky as though bullying our way into heaven to demand God to make sense of what has happened.  After all, maybe if we’re face-to-face, He won’t be able to be so silent.

But, if we truly believe in the God of Israel and His Son, Jesus the Christ, there are a few things we must remember.

Come with me to Columbia Faith and Values to discover what these things are.

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What is a Disciple?

I recently read a brilliant article titled Christianity Without Commitment? by a Moorlands College theology student regarding Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s definition of “discipleship”. (If you don’t know who Dietrich Bonhoeffer is, get to know him. He’s awesome). In this student’s message, he essentially asks the question, “What is a Disciple?”

I will pose that question now to you:

After reading a bit further in “Christianity Without Commitment?”, the author (as well as Bonhoeffer himself) mentions that Christian discipleship must entail commitment–to be a disciple without being committed is to not be a disciple.

Regarding commitment to Christianity–and perhaps because I’m a former athlete who loves sports analogies–discipleship can be likened to an athlete who just won a championship. People see the joy and excitement of the athlete as he or she hoists the championship trophy and think, “Man, that looks awesome! I want to hoist that trophy, too!” When the champions are interviewed, however, they talk about all the hard work that has gotten them to that point–all the time, dedication, sweat, pain, struggles, and tears that eventually helped them take home the hardware. There is a daily commitment involved, even on the days when it’s not fun or pleasurable. When the aspect of commitment comes into play, those fans who sit so comfortably on their couch start doubting whether they really want that shiny reward.

“You mean I have to run 5 miles today?” they ask, incredulously.

“Yes,” the coach replies. “And tomorrow you’re going to have to lift weights and do sprints. When the season starts, we’ll have practice every single day and you’ll need to attend those, too.”

Suddenly, that trophy looks a lot less appealing.

“Maybe that trophy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” the bystander thinks as dreams of a championship begin to wither.

Yet, within Christianity, we must remember that we are not working towards a shiny gold trophy. The golden idol that athletes aspire to attain will not–and cannot–satisfy them fully. Sure, they may be proud to have achieved such a lofty goal, but in the end, their lives will remain the same and the trophy itself will gather dust. After all, at the end of the night, even champions find they’re still the same people they were when the day began. Perhaps those who don’t know Christ would think the same thing about Christianity. Why put in so much commitment and effort when nothing will really change? But this view likens Christ to a golden trophy–something that cannot change us or fill us up. As Christians, though, we must believe, trust, and show others that Jesus is, in fact, life-altering in a way that satisfies more than anything this world can offer. Thus, the “reward” of following Jesus is much greater than any hardship or struggle we may go through to acquire Him. “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17: 28-29). If we are willing to put ourselves through nauseating, muscle-weakening sprints for a chance to win a golden trophy, what more should we be willing to endure to obtain the divine?

So, how and when did we begin believing Discipleship was something passive–something we could do out of obligation and other times never at all? Everything else in the world demands commitment–athletics, education, and relationships, to name a few. Why should faith be any different? I know people who call themselves Christian simply because they have heard the name Jesus. They have no personal attachment to who that man was and neither have they any desire to examine who He really is. And yet, as a twenty-something on that desperate quest to gain a professional foothold in the world, a handful of words echo in my ears: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Do we think this applies only to our search for jobs? Or does it also ring true in our search for Christ? In my opinion, a superficial knowledge of Christ is a halfhearted cover letter to God. It won’t get you far in faith. However, knowing God–as opposed to just knowing about God–will continue to push you forward in the constant and continual pursuit of Him.

So how did Discipleship become so distorted? It certainly wasn’t performed or preached this way by the original Twelve. They remained active even in the face of persecution. Similarly, in other areas of our world today, the terms “Christian” and “disciple” are heavily weighted. In countries where Christianity is illegal, citizens put themselves in life-threatening situations simply so they can praise and glorify the Lord. Is it merely danger that forces us into genuine action? Or can we bring that whole-hearted discipleship to our nation–a nation where Christians are allowed to pray and praise freely? After all, as Paul mentions, “all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it.”

Keep Your Ear to the Grindstone, Gentlemen

As promised, here is the KBIA interview discussing the premise and purpose of This Little Light.  Tune in and let me know what you think!  The first link on that website will take you to the polished 3 minute segment that aired on the radio show.  The link towards the bottom of the page is the raw, uncut version lasting 12 minutes.  Feel free to listen to either (or both)!

Also, as mentioned in the article, DVDs of This Little Light are currently free.  All you must do to order a copy is email littlelightproj@gmail.com with your request and mailing address so we can ship it to you.  Donations are always welcomed, of course, and if you feel so inclined to contribute to the furthering of our visual arts ministry, you can do so at our homepage.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about This Little Light is that it offers information about Christianity in ways that are appealing to believers and nonbelievers alike.  It is not a film that forces beliefs onto anyone, but rather it is an attempt to describe Christianity so the audience leaves with a better understanding of the faith.  To gain a better feel for the audience of this blog, please participate in these polls:

Is This Thing On?

Earlier this week, a reporter from KBIA inquired about my latest film project called This Little Light.  Eagerly, I shared the premise of my documentary, handed her a copy, and encouraged her to watch it.  It seemed like something she might be interested in–after all, she is the editor of the online publication Columbia Faith and Values.  So, her interest in investigating and publicizing faith-related issues is quite evident.

“How about you come down to the station and do an interview with KBIA about This Little Light?” Kellie, the reporter, asked excitedly.  Without hesitation, I agreed.

After emerging onto the fourth floor of the building, she greeted me at the elevator and gave me a tour of the facility.  Soon, we silenced ourselves from the world, hiding behind the two monstrous doors of the production room.  I adjusted a headset over my ears and rolled my chair towards a microphone the size of myKBIA Interview face.  Never before had I entered such a fantastic realm.  I had seen it second-hand through television shows and movies, of course, but never with my own eyes.  It wasn’t surprising, then, that I immediately felt as though I was in a skit from Saturday Night Live featuring Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon.  As we began speaking into the mikes, I half-expected Alec Baldwin to walk in with his Schweddy balls as we conversed about festive holiday foods.  But no one pulled the heavy handles once the “RECORDING” light was illuminated.

“Say something into the mike,” Kellie instructed as she leaned over a panel of flips and switches to ensure the audio was working properly.

“‘Something into the mike’,” I joked with giddiness, feeling more like my cheesy grandfather than ever before.  Rolling her eyes at my tragically genetic sense of humor, she worked the board until it reached perfection.  Then she plopped down at the table and questioned me about the origins and significance of my film.  Over the course of her 15 minute segment, we discussed the initial formation of This Little Light, the misconceptions addressed within the film, and why those are significant.  If you’d like to hear more, stay tuned for a link to the interview!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Delicious Dish on Saturday Night Live, feel free to check it out here.

I Must Confess…

I scooted my chair beneath me to nestle into my assigned fifth grade desk, then pulled two folders from the metal shelving that hung below the desktop and propped them up around me.  Just as I had been instructed.

I always tried to do what was instructed. For me, the pang of being in trouble was intolerable. Shame and humiliation bubbled inside until I swelled with the anguish of disappointment and the torment of doing something wrong. As a people-pleasing perfectionist, doing something wrong was unacceptable.

And also inevitable.

“Today we’re going to have a quiz over our multiplication tables,” my fifth grade math teacher explained while holding an intimidating stack of paper against her bosom. “I’m going to hand out your quizzes face-down. Don’t flip it over until I tell you to do so.”

Licking the tips of her fingers, she began distributing the tests to the kids across the classroom. They waited patiently as she made her way towards our cluster of desks.

Anxiety prickled my every nerve and my legs feverishly shook them off beneath my desk. Math was never my strong suit. Neither were pop quizzes. And there’s nothing worse for a perfectionist than to be evaluated on a skill with which you feel unprepared and uncertain.

For me, a mathematical pop quiz was the most uncomfortable and vulnerable exposure in the world – comparable to removing my heart and letting it beat openly on the wooden tabletop. And from the powerful pounding inside my chest, I thought that might actually become a reality.

As the teacher neared our group, I plucked up my pencil with sweaty palms. Soon, the bright back of the white paper stared me in the face. I wanted this over as soon as possible, and without thinking, I flipped it over.

“What do you think you’re doing, Kelsey?” my teacher boomed amid the silence, like the first firecracker on the Fourth of July.

“I’m sorry,” I stammered.

“Well, how about I write a big fat zero on your paper and tell you, ‘I’m sorry’?” she replied as sarcasm dripped from her angry snarl.

Join me at ColumbiaFAVs to learn how this fifth grade math quiz taught me about the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

“I always wanted a little girl,” I hear my mom’s voice coo from somewhere deep in my memory, “and when the doctors told me I was having one, I was so happy!”  I was the long awaited dream.  The basket in which my mother had placed all of her hope eggs.  Yet, when I was growing inside her womb, she certainly never expected me to be more of a tomboy than my older brother.  Once my parents had a girl–well, me–they stopped having children.  After all, my mom finally had what she always wanted.  For the first few years of my life, my mom displayed her ever-present fashion sense by fitting me in girlish garments.  When I developed a vocabulary and a mind of my own, however, I swapped my form-fitting dresses for my brother’s baggy, earth-toned hand-me-downs.  I have always preferred boys clothes and chose to wear them in public from my toddler to teenage years.  (Let’s be honest, I’d still choose sweatpants over skinny jeans any day.)  I loved the coverage and comfort of a loose-fitting wardrobe.  While I adorned myself in my brother’s gear, I could do all the things that interested me–climb trees, play sports, catch frogs and fireflies.  None of which were female-appropriate activities.  In fact, when most girls were cradling and caressing baby dolls, I was throwing them down and picking up a baseball bat.  Needless to say, I was not the baby girl my mother had envisioned.  She wanted the gender norm and I refused to give it to her.

Don’t get me wrong, my mom and I have always been close.  Super close.  Best friends, in fact.  I became her sidekick and she became my confidante.  But I’m sure it wasn’t in her original plan to gaze down upon her little girl and see a knotted, bobbed hair-do and a swishy windbreaker suit with holes in the knees from overuse.  She probably wasn’t ready for me to love athletics more than anything else in my childhood world.  And she had no idea what a struggle it would be to make me wear a dress.  “You’ll understand when you have a girl someday and she won’t let you dress her in cute things,” she’d say as I complained while getting primped and prettied for some special occasion.  But, although she may not have understood the choices I made, she never forced, bribed, or manipulated me to be someone else.

For that I am grateful.

It didn’t surprise me, then, when I opened an email from her a few weeks back.  Inside, I found a link to a Huffinton Post article by Shannon Bradley-Colleary titled, “Why I Stopped Trying to Make my Daughter be Pretty”.  Beside it, were words typed by my mother’s hands, “This little girl reminds me of you.”  I feasted on the author’s perspective, finally getting a chance to see through the eyes of a tomboy’s mother.

And I was appalled.

Bradley-Colleary describes her daughter as being beautiful but laments her daughter’s decision to hide that beauty beneath her boyish personality and preferences.  According to the mother, her daughter Clare has a passion for reading the Hunger Games, drawing manga characters, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and learning piano and Judo.  The author also notes that Clare has gorgeous blond locks which she tightens in two braids.  Always.

I made her take her braids down for her class picture.  It was an epic battle and I played dirty.  I used psychoanalysis, telling her I was afraid her braids were like a security blanket (which I am) and that I wanted her to be comfortable in every Hair Iteration and that I didn’t want her to fall prey to bullies who might socially ostracize her (which is true) and to that end I was willing to bribe her with an Obi Wan Kenobe FX lightsaber that could have paid for a month’s worth of groceries.  But underlying my bid for her emotional well-being was the down-and-dirty truth: I wanted her to look pretty in her school pictures, her cascading hair framing her face, so I could show her off to friends and relatives.

What message is this sending to a young girl?  Is “beauty” as defined by runway models and movie stars such an idol that mothers will trade her daughter’s character for a glimpse of it?  When did mothers start wanting to hold a celebrity in their arms instead of the daughter whom they helped create?  Kids aren’t dumb.  Naive, maybe.  But definitely not dumb.  They understand that when anyone–particularly a mother–“tries to make her daughter be pretty”, she is really saying, “You’re not pretty enough the way you are.”  Whether she’s intending to say that or not.  What a travesty when a mother looks upon her daughter and thinks she’s lacking something that would make her more beautiful.  Sure, the child might lack femininity or grace, but should that retract from her beauty?   It simply adds another dimension to who that girl is.  It doesn’t make her any less of a girl and it certainly shouldn’t define her as less beautiful.

Many times I think adults can learn from children.  Sometimes, I also think, adults misunderstand the lesson:

I’m over it.  I’m letting it go.  Clare doesn’t need to fulfill my vision of how she would look most beautiful.  She doesn’t need to care about being beautiful…These kids, man, they teach you how to live.

It seems as though the mother has finally reached a point in her life where she is relieved to throw up a white flag in surrender to her ten-year-old.  But what is she truly surrendering?  From the looks of things, she isn’t letting go of her false image of beauty, simply her desire to fight for it.  I wonder what would happen if she finally saw the real beauty is Clare being Clare.  Maybe she’d say to her young daughter, “You should care about being beautiful because you are beautiful, and I want you to value yourself exactly for who you are.”

Perhaps my perspective will change when I’m a mother.  After all, I did experience the ostracizing that Bradley-Colleary foresaw in her daughter’s future.  And, like many women, I struggle with my own body image and what it means to be beautiful.  But, if I’m going to be honest, I look forward to the “someday” my mom predicted–the day I would have a little girl of my own.  I will teach her to be strong.  To be confident in her quirks.  And, most of all, I will show her that she is beautiful.  Regardless of what she looks like.  Regardless of what she wears.  Regardless of what she likes and dislikes.  And then I’ll smile upon her little face, knowing all the things I told her were the truest words I had ever spoken.

Treasure Hunter 101

Through the hazy fog of partially-lost memory, I squint to see my past.

As the mist gently lifts, I see her – the five-year-old version of myself – walking beside my best childhood friend, Janet Maloney. There we were, like two little ducks, scurrying after Janet’s mother as she led us through two huge, heavy doors. Our feet clicked loudly as we tapped our way into the barren chapel. The church felt empty. Abandoned. The ceilings seemed so far away, as if they were suspended from the sky. Creatures had been carved into dark wooden walls that stretched upwards to hold hands with heaven. Everything looked big and dark and reeked of something I had only smelled after rain. This new world around me seemed immense and unknowable, sterile yet smothered in supernatural secrecy. And, as a child who was never taken to church, it was scary. Ominous enough to silence two rambunctious young girls, which as any parent would understand, is a miracle in itself. A strange woman approached us as we loitered behind long rows of benches. Her wardrobe was drab and colorless, just like the rest of this place.

“Hi, Sister,” Janet’s mother said to the woman. Her voice was saturated with something that wasn’t herself. Sorrow, I thought. Or perhaps exhaustion. Later, I learned it was the sound of divorce.

“Hi, Sue,” the woman replied through eyes of pity. She waved her hand, suggesting we follow her into another room. So, we trailed behind as her long garments swept the path before us.

I don’t remember uttering a single sound during my first visit to the Catholic Church, but when the invisible gag in my mouth disintegrated, I gushed about my adventure.

“Mom!  Mom!” I shouted with my typical childish excitement.  “Did you know that Mrs. Maloney’s sister works at the church?”

To read more, visit the site for my new freelance gig:  http://columbiafavs.com/faith/doctrine-and-practice/treasure-hunter-101.

Suzie Home Filmmaker

The one woman crew of “This Little Light” has been at it again.  Check out the new trailer and let me know what you think!  The official release date for this documentary is set for November 30.  Stay tuned!

Little Light Project

Here’s a little ditty from “This Little Light”, an upcoming documentary that aims to dispel the myths and misconceptions about Christianity.  Created, directed, and edited by yours truly.  Be the first to see the official trailer!

This Little Light – Trailer 1

Why I Write

“Dear Mom,” began my unskilled second-grade handwriting, “I had to write this because I didn’t know how to say it.” I looked at the penmanship, so familiar and yet so foreign, as it blared the reality of my life. At the time, it unleashed my childish fears and feelings. Now, as I read it again, it shouts of new fears–the fears and feelings of my adulthood.  It amplifies the shame I carry for being more comfortable with written words than people’s voices, and it echoes the coddled worry that something must be wrong with that.  The lead, smudged by the passing of my left hand, reveals a deep truth: I have not changed. I do not remember the day I wrote that letter, but I can sense the relief that warmed me as the point of my pencil flattened. I feel a cathartic whoosh as my burdens poured from my veins onto other thin, blue lines. Lines that someone else could read between and, hopefully, understand. I had found a way to release my burdens, my opinions, my thoughts. My self.

Many people have the divine gift of free speech. Of knowing what to say and letting their tongue springboard the message to their audience. I was not blessed with that gift–or perhaps it has just been misplaced and I simply have not opened it yet. Because of this, the first amendment troubles me. My speech is not free at all. It never has been. My brain is the militant governing body, the one that wrestles my mouth and puts it in a sleeper hold. It’s almost like a perpetual case of laryngitis: having something to say, being unable to say it, then resorting to a notepad to share the message with others. The only difference, though, is that everyone understands a medical condition and obliges to be patient with its victim. In the case of ‘social laryngitis’, however, people just look at you funny and wonder what the hell’s wrong with you. And what incentive is that to be social? Yet, every human has an innate need to be heard and accepted. Everyone longs to belong. For me, there was no epiphany, no moment of revelation. I just did what felt natural: I reached for my pencil.

I don’t write for the glory of writing. If that were the case, I’d throw down my pen and vow never to do it again. I mean, who would consider entire days spent silently staring at a computer to be glorious? Certainly not the people who look at you cock-eyed when you say that you’re a writer.

No, I write because, in the words of a very wise woman I know, that’s where my heart feels most at home. I write because my soul can only fully leak into the world through the tip of a ballpoint pen. The only way I can truly extend my hand to others is if it’s stained with ink, as any other lefty might understand. My life, then, is a complete contradiction: I long to reach the world by sitting in an empty room.

Growing up, my parents never put me in time out. Instead, I invoked the punishment on myself. If I was upset or knew they were upset with me, I ran to my room and locked myself in. The solitude was treasure, not torture. In my room I could busy myself with imagination. I could create stories and watch them unfold. During these moments, new worlds sprung up around me. It was the only time I actually played with dolls. And, by the end of the evening, my heart had rid itself of poison. I turned the golden knob of my sanctuary, listening as the lock clicked out of place. Then I strolled back into the world, humming an original tune that was known only to my lips. Somehow, even as a child, I understood that I was more connected to the world when I was alone. Or, at least, I understood that that was how I felt.

So, for me, writing isn’t merely a hobby. It is my first amendment. It is self-expression and socialization, connection and acceptance. It is me in my truest sense. It is essential.

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