La La Life

I la la loved the movie La La Land because how it true it felt to la la life (That was the last “la-la” I promise). The movie was filmed beautifully, the music was great, singing was fun, and it told the best story of any movie I have seen in over a year. But more than anything I loved how the movie made me feel.

It is a movie that made me feel strongly. I sat in my hunched over intently concentrating position that I sit in when I really get into a movie, for over 40 minutes. I loved the portrayal of love. I love the pull and push among the characters as they challenged one another towards their dreams. I loved their love for one another. There was so much I loved about it, though the characters relationship lacked so much, particularly external clarity as to how their relationship was perceived by others, hence the la la nature of their love.

The movie fully immerses the audience into the relationship of the two main characters without including any other characters weighing in on their relationship. It is an isolated romance which makes it all the more painful when the movie ends with an undesirable resolution. In some ways it is smart, pointing to the ideal of pursuing a dream over a person, while giving insight into what could have been. And it is the “what could have been” moment that would have delivered tears had I not been conditioned to the ending. Conditioned to what… I think conditioned to coping.la-la

There is a moment, at the end, in which, from a distance the main characters exchange a smile and nod, no words, just a knowing. My mother, who I did not see the movie with, suggested that the smile was the resolution of souls that recognize things still worked out well, perhaps even for the best for one another.

And that mutual smile is admirable, yet I often wonder to myself, is it attainable? Was the “what could have been” moment for the audience or do the characters have those same vivid imaginings of the love that could have been shared within the fulfillment of their dreams? And if the characters have it, how do they come to terms with it?

The movie moved me to ask more questions, but the one I hang on is: How can I smile at the “what could have been,” while smiling in the present, while remaining optimistic about the potential for vibrant love to fill my heart into the future? Or simply: How do I be okay with today in light of yesterday? Some people are just better at moving on honestly, and one would think for someone who moves as much as I have that I’d be good at moving on too.

But I’m not. I’m a holder, I’ve always been a holder, and based on many articles and reflections I realized that if I am going to hold I must hold loosely. Nothing is mine to hold onto, not even my dreams, nothing is mine to fight for, perhaps to trust for, but not to fight for. We like to use the phrase fight for, but it’s a poor phrase because if you have to fight for a gift, it probably wasn’t your gift to begin with. And if you think you have to fight to keep your gift, you’re probably holding on too tight.

That also is my previous conditioning, holding on too tight. I’ve always been afraid that I will lose something,

probably why I eat fast,

probably why I write small, so no one else can read it, or write vague in my journal so no one else will read it,

probably why I unintentionally give off a dishonest first impression,

probably why I don’t care much about “stuff” or don’t buy expensive things,

probably why I give so much money away,

probably why I put so little effort into pleasantries,

probably why I show up on time or early, and often,

probably why I hate being alone,

probably why I hate being in large crowds,

probably why I hate shopping

probably why I live so often in my head or imagination,

probably why I want too much to have a family

probably why I la la love to la la live in la la land

But if you read this far, I can afford to be even more honest, I still radically believe that real life with God is unimaginably better than my imagination, than a movie, than our heart breaks and aches, and I believe you are worth sharing that with. I believe in Christ we have gained far more than we’ve lost. And I’ll believe we will find that we will overflow with joy.

Mourning an Enemy, Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, Walking Humbly

Ezekiel 30-32

We expect to lament the loss of a home or the loss of friends and family and even a great leader. In 3 chapters, a large chunk of text is devoted to Ezekiel lamenting Egypt, the neighboring former enemy and enslaver of Israel. In this portion of Scripture, Ezekiel devoting 3 chapters to lamenting the judgment of a nation other than Israel seems significant and should give us pause to ask why? Why spend so much space devoted the judgment of Egypt, the enemy?

I think, though I can’t be certain, that the answer has a bit to do with how much time we spend devoting thoughts to our enemies and the ones who have wronged us, that we hoped would not. Someone does not become an enemy if they do not occupy space in our mind. Someone may be mean or rude to me or insult me but if I can shrug it off I don’t make much of the incident and never think of the person again. An enemy is someone whose wrong lingers. Their harm continues to hurt and their disregard for our humanity is a threat. An enemy seeks or causes us harm on more than one occasion. They are the ones that hard to forgive and hard to love but easy to remember.

Usually when our enemies are about to suffer, something inside me rubs my hands together with a smirk hoping the punishment is comparable or hopefully greater than my suffering. That’s the part of me that needs to disappear. And the only way it can is to understand more of the God who loves His enemies. When reading these 3 chapters the refrain we should pay attention to is, “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” 4 times in chapter 30, it is echoed. Chapter 31 warns of the death of the nation’s leader and 32 the mourning of the nation itself.

Ezekiel seems to be aware that a just God administers justice so He might be known. From being known, that we might know His love. From knowing His love to love Him back in obedience.  While annihilation might be inevitable it is not ideal. No creator wants to scrap His creation, which is why God does not delight in death and judgment though He can redeem from it (see Jesus). That is one freeing component of this life, this life and breath and body is not the final verdict of God. In His mercy, there is something more to come. And His mercy is greater, always greater than His judgment. It’s always greater even for those of us that were once enemies of God, even those that still are which is what I think Ezekiel wrestles with while writing these chapters.mercy

Yesterday, I took a step or rather, I vocalized a step hoping my soul and body takes it. I said I can no longer let past hurts and moreover ones who have hurt me hold me back from loving taking risks, steps of faith and obeying. There may be other fears to navigate that present themselves in the present like a fear of rejection or inadequacy, but those fears will be addressed in those moments. However, the ones that are from the past I cannot tolerate as an excuse nor can I hold onto as leverage against God or others to withhold love and creativity. I pray my soul would be sustained by grace to persist in this.

 

To Never Know a Neighbor

Ezekiel 28:20- Ezekiel 29

I would venture to say that if God were to inflict judgment on most of our immediate neighbors we might not ever know it unless it was on the news or if God did it with a meteor or some type of explosion. One reason for this is we don’t actually know our neighbors and the second reason for this is most of us I am convinced don’t believe God executes judgment.  See in Ezekiel 28 and 29 the result of judgment was “then they will know that I am the Lord.” Someone, specifically God, is calling people to account and punishing them, thus the conclusion is God must be real because of the punishment.

In the New Testament Jesus says something similar when He says, “If you do not believe in me for who I am, at least believe in the works that I do because they testify of me (paraphrase).” Herein lies the second problem: I’m not sure I see God or His people doing that much that I can tangibly point to and say, “Hey, look what God just did. God made something out of nothing. God made this new. God miraculously transformed this thing that looked really bleak.”

To counter-balance my typically pessimistic disposition and also to not point the finger at God and say, “you’re not doing something,” I will admit I probably doubt too much, I probably don’t look for Him enough, and I don’t praise Him enough for the good things He does. All of that contributes to the inability to see. On top of it all, I am guilty of treating God like I am bigger than Him.

How do I know this? Because life on paper is good again and I’m still bad. I live in a nice home with roommates so I’m not as lonely. I have a stable job and am in line for a promotion after only working here for 4 months. I’ve come out looking pretty good in several recent photographs, I can lift more weights than I have ever been able to lift. The office fish almost died on Monday and by Wednesday, he was swimming around again.

God makes some interesting promises to His people in Ezekiel 28:24-26. “There shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt… And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely when I execute judgment upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then the will know that I am the Lord their God.” In chapter 29 his promise is to destroy Egypt, a neighbor that enslaved Israel but also was a nation that Israel sought protection from when Babylon invaded.

I find it interesting that God reveals His love through the promise of protection and through the encouragement to create. He protects so build your houses and plant your vineyards. Creativity spurs a sense of familiar and a sense of home. Building a nest allows you to say, that’s my nest and this is my God who has protected it. Furthermore, this is my God who deals with my enemies (those trying to stifle my creativity or those trying to hurt me). In the meantime God says, “Love your enemies.”rogers

I have good things, yet there is still so much I want for myself. I am selfish. I want to share what I have and who I am with one specific person but also the world. I am self-giving. I am want to know I’m fully loved, accepted and protected. I can be selfless. I can see my neighbor and meet their need through the riches of Christ. You can do these things because God said and believed we could and because my neighbor is God’s neighbor and he wants to show them mercy without judgment.

Mourning Bad Leaders

Ezekiel 28

People with power and influence have great potential to disappoint us. And what I’ve come to believe is that leaders disappoint or become corrupt because of their preoccupation with self. I think before leaders brutalize people, they have first brutalized self, and as a result, resolve to create an outlet of false confidence in the exploitation of others.

I feel this way because I think people content within themselves are not much concerned with getting even or getting ahead to the detriment of other humans. The discontent and narcissistic leader says of themselves like the King of Tyre, “I am a god and I am wonderful and I have made it so.”

In this scenario “achievement” is the enemy. Accomplishment and the praise of others offer powerful people a choice. Do they recognize their abilities as a gift that can been used and cultivated while consistently remaining thankful to God for the measure they have been given or do they demand credit for their “hard” work? The latter of which is typically the inclination, and it must be fought.leader

When it is not fought against, God gives an indictment like the one in Ezekiel 28:17 “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.” He also brings to light the dishonest trade and defilement of His sanctuary that occurred on the king of Tyre’s watch.

One thing I’m discovering more about God is amid his deep care for us, He wants us dependent and our faith/trust to be fully in Him. He does not want us to venture into our endeavors without Him because the goal of life is to know and love Him. To miss that is to miss living a fully life. This is one reason why I have so little patience for manipulative leaders with crass motives and why I have in the last year paused as I pursue ambitions or relationships reminding myself that using my own self-serving leverage or convincing arguments is not how I want to achieve my goals. I want to obey more than I want fight and claw because in joyful obedience something in my heart transforms for the better. We become free disinclined to harm ourselves or anyone else in the process.

I like leaders who are sensitive to the needs of their followers or employees. I like leaders who are generous and who sacrifice. I like leaders who are secure enough to not ridicule their competition. I like leaders who know when to press on the brakes and when to accelerate. I like leaders who are faithful to their calling and vision. I like leaders who love the people that follow them even when their calling and vision might not be taking shape like they have hoped. I celebrate those kind of leaders, but I know why Ezekiel laments the king of Tyre.

He mourns a leader that became preoccupied with the perks, nice meals and hotels, attentive ears, admiration, receiving gifts, lots of disposable income, attractiveness, or the things that in other words fade or become out of reach as quickly as they came. Faithfulness, compassion, generosity, patience are some intangibles than when persistently practiced create pearls in the soul of a great leader. When I think about those qualities, it’s hard for me to mourn because those qualities leave a mark.

Displacement

Ezekiel 27

Have you ever wept over a city? Or your hometown or your planet. I watched Star Wars: Rogue One several days ago in the theatre alone. I didn’t cry, but there were parts I probably could have. A city/planet blows up and one character who is blind is curious as to how much of it blew up. It reminded me of my favorite TV show growing up, ALF. An alien is displaced from his home planet because it exploded and he lives in a suburban white neighborhood in California with a cookie cutter American family who try to keep him from the alien task force.rocks

It’s hard to think from the perspective of a displaced person when you have a home or at least a handful of familiar comforts. It’s hard for me to have an attachment to a location because I have moved so often. The closest I come to mourning a location is the drug problem in my hometown, or leaving college in Virginia or friendships I miss in Pennsylvania, but my attachment to people does not correlate to a sense of home.

In Ezekiel’s day, the assumption of dwelling in a city presumed a sense of permanence. “I will live here until I die.” If that held true for me I’d have lost my 9 lives all in the last 6 years. I don’t mourn the destruction of infrastructures and architectures as much as the dissolution of close-knit relationships that have come from moving. It does encourage me to know I have a lot of relationships that stand the test of time no matter how much of it goes by without talking to old friends. With some my spirit is bonded in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

But to the residence of the city of Tyre, their city, their livelihood, their familiar was about to end. And Ezekiel laments them, by sharing memories. After all lamenting is mourning through memory. In that sense, I may weep over my home more than I often think. The things that once made us feel secure, that we no longer have are gone, and now we must learn to craft that sense of familiar from scratch. God helps us with the reconstruction.

To conclude, ALF had a very interesting message about the sense of home. On 2 occasions in the show, he has the chance to leave earth because friends from his home planet are willing to come back for him. The first time he chooses not to go, the second time because the show was ending, he gets picked up by the Alien Task force. But ALF, though he mourns his old planet and ravages the house he lives in many times, he finds a new sense of home among the Tanner’s, the family whose garage he crash landed into. Though he is older than the family and will far outlive them because aliens live like 600 years, he chooses to make his home, his livelihood and his comfort interdependent with them. That’s what amazes me about the possibilities of creating home: choosing to stay committed.