Friday, February 23, 2018

Five Minute Friday: BEAUTY

As I do most Fridays, I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: BEAUTY.

Many years ago a friend of mine made a cake for a church event. I don't even remember what the event was now -- an anniversary or ordination or something -- but I know she had put a lot of time into the design and lettering, so it was really special. 

The plan was that after the church service everyone was going to come downstairs and the cake would be cut and served. But while the service was going on, the church ladies went ahead and cut the cake and put it on plates so it would be more convenient when everybody came downstairs.

Nobody saw the cake before it was cut except them -- yet they didn't stop and say, "Wait a minute, this is so pretty, we want to be sure everyone sees it before we start cutting it up." And they didn't take a picture of the cake, so no one else got to see it either.

My friend was crushed. Yes, it was "only" a cake -- and I am sure it tasted great and everyone enjoyed it. But it was beautiful too ... yet nobody else got to enjoy the beauty.

Sometimes, like in that instance, beauty goes unseen because someone is thoughtless. But there is also a lot of beauty in the world that goes unseen just because of the way things are.

In his poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,"  Thomas Gray wrote,

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

Plants of all colours and types bloom year after year in unreachable mountain crevices ... thousands of species of fish and plant life, complex and colourful, dwell at the bottom of the sea ... gorgeous mineral crystals form on the insides of caves, in total darkness ... and none of these beautiful things is ever seen by human eyes.

If beauty always has to have a function and a purpose, then none of that makes sense. Why would something unseen have to be beautiful? Flowers and crystals might as well be ugly if no one's going to see them.

But beauty is its own reward. It doesn't have to have a function beyond itself. God created beautiful things, so God must love beauty. (I admit he must have a sense of humour, too, because there are also some pretty weird-looking creatures out there...) 

It's sad that my friend's cake went unseen. But I hope she thinks it was still worthwhile to make it look beautiful. Even if no one ever sees it, beauty is worthwhile. Beauty makes the world a better place.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Five Minute Friday: WHY

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: WHY.

Another school shooting in the US (this week in Parkland, Florida) has left the world wondering why.
  • Why did the shooter unleash violence on his fellow students and teachers in such a horrific way?
  • Why was a person about whom there had been many ominous warnings still allowed to purchase an AR-15 rifle?
  • Why has the endless series of shootings (in schools, theatres, concerts, churches) not led to legislative change?
  • Why do terrible things happen?
  • Why does God let them happen?
It doesn't take us long to move from questions about the actual circumstances to bigger questions about God's role in tragedy. 

One of my online friends said on Twitter yesterday that when he tried to put the Florida shooting in the context of God's total sovereignty (i.e. Calvin's insistence that all events are orchestrated by God), he started crying because it was such a depressing prospect. 

I understood what he meant. The idea that God caused this event for some inscrutable reason "that we'll never know on this side of eternity" can actually feel more horrifying than the belief that there's no God and everything is random and meaningless. If our hearts are broken by the tragedy of this event, how can we possibly believe that God's is not -- that instead, He is satisfied that things turned out just the way He intended?

I think as people of faith, the biggest Why questions always bring us face-to-face with paradox:
  • God is good ... Terrible things happen.
  • God is compassionate ... People suffer.
  • God is with us ... Things feel random. 
  • Jesus has won the victory ... Evil is rampant.
  • This situation is beyond my control ... I have some responsibility.
Without acknowledging these difficult tensions, either we'll remain in apathy or despair or we'll self-medicate with simplistic cliches and excuses ... and we'll never let Why take us to a deeper, more creative, and ultimately more hopeful place.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

My teenage fashion fail: a re-post up at The Perennial Gen today

The Perennial Gen, a site for people in midlife and beyond, has a "Fashion and Beauty" theme this month, and today they're running a post of mine from a few years back.

Click here to read "My Teenage Fashion Fail" -- and enjoy reliving with me my moment of youthful humiliation!


Photo by Jonas Svidras on Unsplash.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Five Minute Friday: PRIVILEGE

 Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is PRIVILEGE.


A couple of days ago I saw this meme on Facebook: 

It's a play on Bonnie Tyler's popular 1980's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which starts with a man's voice singing hauntingly "Turn around..." between Tyler's lines.

The joke is, imagine if a cop told you to "Turn around" and you responded that way? They'd get so annoyed with you, they might taser you!

My first response was to laugh. It's the kind of "groaner" joke that I like -- and of course I always enjoy anything that pokes fun at the days of big hair and overly emotive power ballads.

But my second response was different: If I were a person of colour, I might not find that so funny.
There have been so many examples of people of colour (usually men) being killed in confrontations with police when it appeared that deadly force was unnecessary. So the idea of responding flippantly to a police officer's command really isn't funny at all -- you might get killed if you did that. You might get killed even if you responded obediently.

It's privilege that allows my first response to that meme to be laughter. I don't have to go about my days worrying that a seemingly innocuous encounter with police will end with my death. I can feel reassured by those who say "But most police officers are good people," because I've never known any different.

Acknowledging our privilege, whether in terms of race, or sex, or wealth, or many other often-intersecting areas, is kind of like putting on glasses for the first time. We start seeing things in a different way than before. It's not always comfortable. Even mentioning to other people that we're starting to notice things differently may elicit complaints about what a drag it is that now we're not even allowed to laugh at a little joke without (ahem) "turning around" to see how other people might interpret it. The words "politically correct" -- and boy, do I hate that expression! -- may be wielded.

Actually, now that I think of it, acknowledging our privilege is more like reversing the selfie mode on our cell-phone camera. Instead of focusing everything on ourselves and assuming the entire world is a mirror of our own experiences, we click that little icon so that the camera swivels and faces outward. We're no longer the focal point, but we can see so much more than we could before.

Are there areas in your life where you recognize your privilege? And if you've recognized it, what are you going to do about it? What am I going to do about it?

Friday, February 02, 2018

Five Minute Friday: AGREE

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is AGREE.

This week I disagreed with someone on Facebook. That is, I didn't just have a different opinion, but I stated it. The person who had put up the post expressing their opinion was someone I like and respect, and the post (which was about something important, not just something trivial like whether smooth or crunchy peanut butter is better) received many replies of affirmation from other people I like and respect. 

But I had a different view of  the issue, so I went against the tide and expressed that view. (I was the glass of Coke in the image above, coming up against all the lattes!)

Afterward I talked with a friend who is not involved in the situation, just about how challenging it can be to disagree publicly and do it in an appropriate way. She said in similar situations she asks herself questions like 

"What is my motivation in speaking up? Do I want to change others' minds?"

"Am I ready to do more than just say 'I disagree' and drop it -- do I want to get into this discussion at more length?" 

"Do I need to have the last word, or can I let it go?"

I thought these were wise questions. In the particular instance I'm referring to, I had additional thoughts that shaped my decision to speak: "Maybe someone else is reading this right now and holds a contrary view, but they're afraid to speak out. Maybe I can make that person feel encouraged or less alone. And really -- what do I have to lose?"

I don't find it easy to express disagreement with others, especially publicly. I dislike conflict, and I don't want to be disapproved of. But sometimes we need to have the courage to speak out our disagreement. We shouldn't demean or dehumanize others in the process, and we should constantly examine our own motives -- but we should remember that we are free to speak up honestly on things that matter to us, and give others the same freedom.