Archive for October, 2011


To Bend, There and Back Again

We didn’t take any hobbits with us, I’m afraid, but it was a good trip nonetheless. Carey and I got up yesterday morning and took off for a drive across the Santiam Pass. It was beautiful! I’m going to include a few of the pictures that I managed to take. It was also timely. On the way over, the sun was out, and the trees, especially those near Detroit Lake (sadly, no pictures from there) looked to be on fire with all the reflected, golden light shining through their gold and rust colored leaves. On the way home, it started to pour. In fact, the drive home through the pass was tense. There was enough water everywhere that the lines in the road were often obscured. My poor car was trudging its way through the puddles. We made it fine, though!

I can’t really say that the rain put a damper on the day. We so enjoyed the scenery. We had a great lunch at Bend’s Westside Bakery. We both came home having made a good start on our Christmas shopping lists. I found a pair of Teva flip flops to replace the ones I’ve worn out. Perhaps best of all, we had hours to talk about whatever. It’s amazing how everyday life can eat that time up.

Without further yammering, some pictures:

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Perspective

Years ago, when digital cameras were still an expensive toy not yet capable of producing the photo quality that even a cheap camera loaded with 35mm or 110 film could, I was asked to shoot pictures at a wedding reception. The bride wanted lots of photos, so in addition to recruiting me, she set out several disposable cameras on each table. Remember those? Generally, they had about two controls. One was for the shutter, to snap the picture, and the other was a dial to advance the film. Sometimes they’d be unusually fancy, and there would be a flash, or maybe they were waterproofed! You’d shoot until you were finished and then take the whole camera, instead of just the film, to the developer of your choice. They were great for people who didn’t like to mess about with loading film, or for kids to take to camp, or for events like wedding receptions.

At the reception, there were shutters snapping everywhere. Any more, that’s pretty common. I’ve been asked to shoot some events and had trouble doing so, because it’s so crowded. Everybody and their brother and their brother’s fat, old cats named Snookums are right there with their digital cameras, phones, or other devices madly snapping away. Ten or fifteen years ago, I didn’t run into that so much, which meant shutters snapping everywhere was something of a novelty. The kids were the worst. They were really having a good time.

A couple of weeks later, we got the pictures back from the developers. I was fascinated by them. Now, what I should explain is that I am not typically fascinated by snapshots. Frequently, they irritate me, because, frequently, the photo is technically deficient. It’s overexposed, underexposed, too much flash, too dark, huge glare where the flash mostly hit a window, not in focus at all, blurred due to movement, so on, so forth. That’s not even touching composition issues! I was like this, by the way, before I even started taking pictures. That annoyance is in fact what got me started and helped prompt me to refine my own ability. Anyway, these pictures were an exception to my normal lack of fascination, even though many of them were technically deficient. Shoot, many of them were taken by small, two-legged camera bandits who popped out from behind chairs and under tables to “get” you. Of course those photos weren’t of fantastic quality!

But I was still fascinated. You see, I’d shot this event. I had a hundred or so photos of my own to look through showing what I’d seen of the reception. I could put them together and show a portrait of the reception as I’d experienced it with all of the officially significant moments, like the cutting of the cake, and the candid shots of people there. The other photos, from all those disposable cameras – I realized that I was seeing so many different perspectives on the reception. All those photos showed various individuals’ differing interests and priorities. People made a point of shooting certain things that were important to them, and you could tell sometimes that one person had shot most of the pictures from that roll due to style or subject. A roll devoted to one family was something of a tip-off, after all.

Perhaps even more fascinating to me than what people were shooting was the where they were shooting from. Height can make an incredible difference in what a picture looks like. There were obviously some tall people using those cameras. Those pictures were full of the tops of heads. Face shots often began at foreheads, because the photographer was looking down at the subject. Those photos didn’t look much like my photos. I’m short. Thanks to having to look up, I was more likely to capture nose hair than a forehead. It was the shots taken by kids, however, that really hammered this home for me. Out of the mouths of babes, right? One picture was full of this big, green thing and what might have been an elbow. Identifying it was difficult, thanks in part to the shot not being in focus, and then I realized the green thing was my butt! It filled the whole print. It looked huge, much bigger that it really was. I wanna say it was Stephers who took that fantastic (haha) picture. She was just about the right height, and she was definitely one of the camera bandits. She got in a little too close (which is why the picture wasn’t in focus – those cameras certainly didn’t have a macro setting) and snapped the shot, giving me a great look from her perspective. Honestly, I feel a bit sorry for kids. How would you like to run around a world where your head is about level with most people’s rear ends?

I learned a lot about perspective from this, about what a person can see and will see from where that person is standing. Everyone has a perspective unique to them, and I think it’s all too easy to not be conscious of that in dealing and relating with others. I mean, think about it. Just stop for a moment and think about this: no matter how much in common you and I might have, no matter how similar our opinions, background, height, education, desires, religion, whatever might be, I can’t see things from exactly the same place in exactly the same way at exactly the same time with exactly the same priorities as you do. It’s incredible!

Off the top of my head, I can think of two things I gained. One was an understanding or perhaps awareness that it is ridiculously unreasonable of me to ever expect anybody to see things the way that I do. It is even possible that they aren’t not able to. No matter how willing a person is, there are some things about themselves that they can’t control, and I do no favors to anyone when I relate to those around me without that awareness. The second is that I learned to appreciate people more as individuals. Every one of us has something to offer that nobody else does, has, or ever will. I do others (and myself, for that matter) a disservice when I fail to recognize and honor that about them.

One more thing about perspective – it changes. Move a little, shift a bit, and the view will, too. Given that life is a journey, I think it prudent to assume that over time, my perspective will change. I’ll think and believe and feel differently about some things in the future. Chances are good, I’d say, that other folks will, too.

Layers

Marching along from my previous post, which is fun to do sometimes, I want to talk about layers. I’d borrowed a line from “Shrek” about ogres, onions, and layers and said that people are like that, too. I think people have layers.

One reason I say that is because of I Samuel 16:7b. It says:

man looks on the outward appearance,(L) but the LORD looks on the heart.

That’s pretty plain, isn’t it? God is telling Samuel that there are things about people that aren’t immediately apparent. We get all busy looking at how tall somebody is (or isn’t, in my case), what they’re wearing, and so on, and so forth, but all that is hardly the sum of a person. There’s more to them, like hearts.

Another reason I’d say people have layers is life experience. I’ve certainly lived long enough (I don’t think you have to live very long to run into this, actually) to have experience a misjudging based on outward appearance. For instance, I didn’t like my hair to be long (it wrapped itself into huge snarls) when I was in grade school, and I loved to wear jeans and climb trees. Silly people who didn’t know me often thought I was a boy. Another example would be my age. I’ve never looked it! At 15, I was being given menus for 11 year old children, at 18, people wouldn’t believe I was legally an adult, and now that I’m in my 30’s, I still occasionally have to resort to showing people my driver’s license to convince them that I’m not in my 20’s. This misunderstanding has never been based on my behavior (no, I didn’t act like an 11 year old when I was 15 :-P), but solely on how I looked at the time.

Beyond physical appearance, it’s easy enough to misjudge what someone is saying or doing. I heard a great story about this at work yesterday. A lady was telling me about a large group out camping together with a little boy who went boohooing back through the camp. When he was asked why he was so upset, he told folks that a woman “put her hands on me and told me no!” That was true enough, too. Some lady who cared about that kid’s life did do put her hands on him and tell him no, because he was about to grab a baby rattlesnake! Fortunately the lady telling me the story was able to explain that to the boy’s mother before the mother got too protective. Without knowing about the snake, the top layer didn’t look too good. It’s amazing how that works, how the whole story can look so different than a little part of it.

Personally, I think that people don’t stop at misjudging and misunderstanding each other. I think we get confused about ourselves, too. I know that when I look at myself, I don’t always go beyond the top layer, and that has definitely caused me some trouble. There’s another great verse, Jeremiah 17:9. Here’s the ESV version of it:

9The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

This verse can be used as a guilt trip ticket or yet another nail in the heart’s coffin, but, man, I think that’s overkill. So God says that the heart is sick and deceitful – fine. That doesn’t mean beat the poor thing and blame it for all your problems. I’ve tried a variation of that, and it doesn’t work so well. What’s interesting to me is the question. “Who can understand it?” or, as the old King James said, “Who can know it?” It’s taken me a while to really accept that I’m not the person best equipped to understand or know my own heart. It’s been sick, and I’m too easily fooled. What’s kinda funny about it is that I knew, like my head knew, that I wasn’t getting my heart. I would get frustrated over my inability to understand what was going on with my heart – with my emotion and motivation and mood and attitude and desires. It was that whole thing Paul had going on where he knew what he should do and couldn’t figure why he couldn’t do it! So I knew, but I didn’t accept that I didn’t understand myself. I kept trying to make what worked parts like my head work for my heart.

“Who can know it?” Surprise, surprise – the next verse tells us.

10(R) “I the LORD search the heart
(S) and test the mind,[b]
(T) to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.

It’s God, of course. In fact, we already knew that because of I Samuel. God is the one looking at our hearts. At times, that’s been enough to just make me shiver in fear. I expected an Almighty guilt trip, something crushingly powerful. Actually, that’s probably why I fought so hard against accepting that I couldn’t be the best judge of my own heart. I didn’t treat it well, thought it was bad, and I expected God to do the same except worse! More power, right?

I’ve changed a bit since then. For one thing, it didn’t make any sense to me that I should love God with all my heart if the thing was just rotten. Another is that Ransomed Heart Ministries did me a favor by pointing out a couple of passages in the Bible (Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 are good ones) where God talks about giving us new hearts. Yet another is Psalm 139. It was written by David, a man after God’s own heart. At the end, David writes:

23Search me, O God, and know my heart!
(AG) Try me and know my thoughts![c]
24And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and(AH) lead me in(AI) the way everlasting![d]

For him, the point of being searched and known was to be able to follow God in the way everlasting. It wasn’t about fear or guilt or shame. He didn’t let those things stay lurking in his heart and keep him from following God, and God helped him. That gives me hope.

Real Live Integrity

In my last post, I started talking about the importance of integrity. I also talked about what it is and why I think it’s desirable, but what I would also like to do is get past that and move into application. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten stuck there! It’s easier to talk about something as a concept than to make it concrete and talk about how it looks in my life. Thing is, concepts aren’t much good if they’re mere ornaments. For them to be worthwhile, they have to move beyond the “good idea” and become real, live, and practiced. This might be especially important for something like integrity, which is structure and essence and anything but ornament!

So what does integrity look like as it develops in my life? One point I should probably make is that I think, like ogres or onions, have layers. What’s immediately apparent about somebody is probably not all that they are. Under the immediate, there will be something else, and under the something else, there’s probably something else yet, and under the something else yet… I’m sure you get the idea. That complexity is not a bad thing. It can add richness, interest, even beauty to a person’s life and character. It keeps us from being flat (you know, like old soda pop), boring, single dimensional beings, and I’m pretty sure God made us like that on purpose.

We do have this little problem, though, that messes up the layers. It’s called sin. One reason it is a problem is that sin causes separation and brokenness. It does that in our relationship with God, it does that in relationship with other people, and it does it inside an individual. Sin breaks up the cohesiveness of the layers and causes a person to lose their integrity.

I do think there is more than one way sin breaks up an individual into layers that don’t talk to each other. One way is pure cussedness on my part. I have a conscience. Everybody does. It’s part of a human being’s basic equipment. I suspect that life provides opportunities for the education or desensitizing of a conscience, but that’s another post, because right now, I’m talking about how I will sometimes just ignore my conscience’s pricking in favor of doing something else. For instance, I have a conviction about obeying traffic laws. The government has set them, it has the authority to do that, and a citizen, I’ve a duty to obey them. Once in a while, I’ll deliberately speed, and I’ll find some way in my head to justify it. It’s a little thing, relatively speaking, but I am causing myself a certain amount of brokenness when I violate my own principles. Here’s another way. Because of that conviction regarding traffic laws, I sometimes allow myself to get judgmental about how other people drive. Ever noticed how many people just do what they want without much apparent regard for laws or other people’s safety? I get so mad about it sometimes that I want to treat them the way they just treated me. Besides the utter idiocy of playing tailgating and cutting off games (that’s dangerous) while driving, how well does that anger and judgment jive with God’s command to love others? To treat those around me with kindness, gentleness, and so on? To consider them as more important than myself? Where is my integrity there, huh? When I choose rage, to let myself dwell in bitterness over the injustice, and so on, I’ve lost hold of what really matters to me, and the integrity of my soul has taken a hit. I hope that makes some sense. I’m really having trouble trying to put this to words.

Another way sin breaks us is through the actions of others.  I can tell you that abuse and neglect can do a number on integrity, on wholeness. Being hit, being deceived, being ignored – those force rifts into a soul. Being deceived certainly helps to teach a person to be deceptive. How would they know to do anything else? It’s their normal. It was mine. Being hit without justice – receiving physical pain at the hands of somebody you believed would be your protector – I can’t even tell you how deep that forces the wounds. Again, I thought it was normal. All this stuff hurts, because it breaks us (breaks trust, breaks faith, breaks hope, etc), and as individuals we have to do something with the pain. I believed that’s what I was worth and supposed to expect from those who “loved” me.

I didn’t always do good things with that brokenness that was beaten into me. This in a place where it gets so tricky, because while what happened to me wasn’t my fault, what I did with it was. I had no control over how my dad treated me, but I did over how I responded, and my response was another place to accrue brokenness. I should have been angry. I should have been hurt, and I sure was. Because of that, I walled myself off in sections so that I wouldn’t feel, I wouldn’t react, and he couldn’t so easily to get the most tender parts of me. I also blamed him for all of that, and I shouldn’t have. He didn’t do the walling. I did that. He made me angry, but when out of anger, I did things to simply defy and spite him, that was wrong of me. In that particular place, having integrity meant that I started to learn the difference between his responsibility and mine, and I had to start taking mine.

You know what one really awesome thing is about integrity? I don’t to live as a victim. I can get hurt, and I can move on.

Good luck to you in getting through this!