This is an unusual topic for me to post about, but as I came across this video on my social media timeline several times this week, I eventually relented and watched it. And it profoundly affected me. It was worth exploring why.
As a musician and a writer, I suppose I’ve always considered myself more on the artistic side. I ride the line between being creative vs. being someone who creates, and so sometimes I feel like an imposter if I call myself an “artist.” But I do consider myself someone who considers beauty and art an important art of our lives, which I believe is one of the reasons this video has struck a chord in me. (FYI, this video is from several years ago, it has just now come into my orbit.)
I don’t know anything about Hayao Miyazaki, but I’m thinking he and I have a type of soul connection based on his response to this AI technology. Aside from the grotesque movement that occur in movies I don’t watch, he seems to innately understand where art comes from.
And it comes from pain.
Perhaps this makes you uncomfortable. In my experience, usually the things that makes us uncomfortable are worth contemplating. That’s how we learn. Other than be afraid of the uncomfortable, we are much better coming o our uncomfortableness with curiosity.
If art comes from pain, that means pain is a reality of this world that has a type of power over us. Anything that has power over us threatens our desire to be in control of our lives.
If art comes from pain, that means pain is a reality of this world that has a type of power over us. Anything that has power over us threatens our desire to be in control of our lives.
We can spend a great deal of time trying to control our universe, but if you’ve lived any life at all you know and understand that this broken world doesn’t allow us to control everything. Even if we did live in a perfect world, we would still live in the Kingdom of God, which is controlled by Him and not us.
This, of course, doesn’t mean our decisions don’t matter, they just don’t determine the future (a paraphrase from this Tim Keller sermon). But the fact that our decisions matter is exactly why Miyazaki is responded the way he is to this AI technology.
As a writer, my most powerful and profound work has come from places of pain. See this piece or this piece I wrote for Fathom Magazine. These are pieces I’m very proud of. But creating them was painful. Living them was also painful.
I also came out of the other side a different and dare I say, better, person.
Not all pain does this, but I do believe God desires to create beauty out of the mess of this sinful world. Whether it’s how I’ve been treated as a female pastor or how someone criticized the way I laugh 20 years ago, I’m a different person because of the pain they caused me. By God’s grace, I’m not only different but more like Him.
“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) With everything that is created, spoken, “put out into the world” if you will, we should perhaps be asking “What are the implications of this when lived out? When we put this created thing out into the world?”
This is what, I believe, Miyazaki is willing to consider in this moment of movement forward in the industry. He may not be sure, especially so soon after the initial presentation, of being able to fully understand why he feels the way he does about this technology. But the implication is clear: the art without pain isn’t art he is willing to be part of. And that lived out is “art” without human emotions is an affront to life itself for him.
“What are the lived out implications of creating a machine that creates art like a human being would?”
This poses an important question: what is life without emotions? In a tangible sense, for a person, it looks like a sociopath, who does not feel guilt for the destruction they cause. There are other psychological personality disorders that do not experience emotion the way most people do, but this is the mostly widely used label I can put on a lived-out scenario of what I’m talking about. When one manipulates, controls, and destroys without concerns for the other, the reason it’s harmful is because it assaults the humanity of the person. For a Christian, you could say that it assaults the Imago Dei in them.
When I volunteered at a local elementary school, one of the roles I had was teaching character lessons to the kids in partnership with the school counselor. After my first year of teaching the kids about honesty, responsibility, kindness and the like, I realized something important. The reason why we don’t treat others well is because we don’t think they matter as much as we do. We spent a lot time talking to kids about not bullying because “it’s not nice.”
But it’s so much more than that. Kids need to understand why it’s not nice. Not just that it’s mean. Once I realized this, I started ending each of my lessons with the phrase, “We’re teaching you this because you matter. And it’s important you understand that every other person in the room matters, too.
Which is why it’s so important to ask, “What are the lived out implications of creating a machine that creates art like a human being would?” If we are going to start replacing humans with machines, and those machines create things (such as movie animation, art, etc) intended to make us feel… then what can it make us feel if the created itself has no emotions? Will we come to a place of not seeing value in others, because we’ve removed emotions from what we create?
It’s far too easy to separate the humanity from the person when emotions are not involved.
Which is why I cannot help but ask myself, as technology moves forward with the goal of replacing what humans functionally do, the following question:
How long will it be, if art isn’t born from emotions, before we ourselves forget how to feel?
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. -Mark 11:24
Would you consider the apostle Paul a man of faith? One who believed that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do? So much so that he began the movement of Christianity, traveled far and wide to plant and teach in churches? Yes, you would call him a man of faith; one who believed.
He prayed for the thorn in his side to go away.
It never did.
Jesus’ use of “whatever” in Mark 11 (and Matthew 7 and John 14) sounds absolute and all-inclusive. But it can’t be if Paul was a man of faith and didn’t get what he prayed for. It also is important to consider who Jesus was speaking to at the time. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t us. That doesn’t mean we don’t take take away a lesson from this verse, but it is a reminder that when we come across a verse that seems to not match up with other part of Scripture, we much look closer. And we start with context. Consider the context, who and what, was going on when Jesus spoke those words before you assume the words simply mean what they say and that they apply directly to us today. The Bible was written for us, but it was not written to us. That matters.
But back to Paul and his thorn. This verse also seems to imply not just that God will give us whatever we want, but that if we have enough faith it will happen. The role of faith in our prayers will always be a mystery, but I do know that thinking too much of our own power leads not only to pride but to unnecessary guilt when our prayers are not answered. God wants us to be people of faith, and He wants us to pray that way. He is also sovereign. It would be great if there was a neat and tidy way to explain how they work together, but Scripture doesn’t point us that way (which means God didn’t intend for us to know it) nor does our limited ability to understand unfathomable things lend itself for us to be sure of what it all means. This is messy, frustrating, and not able to be fit into a nice little box.
Welcome to Christianity.
Someone else prayed for something to go away. Jesus himself prayed for the cup of suffering to pass. He still endured torture and death for my sake and yours. Do you doubt that Jesus had faith?
It’s not about how much faith you have, but about the One who gives us that faith in the first place.
This all begs the question: Since we do not know the will of God, how can we ever pray with undoubting faith?
Call me crazy, but I don’t think we can. We can not doubt that God can do it, but we put ourselves in the place of being God’s mouthpiece when we are willing to say that God for sure will do it. It’s the rare occasion that I am absolutely sure of being God’s mouthpiece with regards to something I cannot specifically test against Scripture, like the will of God healing someone I love. It can and does happen, and yes it’s rare. Even more fearsome than being given the responsibility of this, is that because of our sin, we ought to be quite mindful of assuming we know God’s will. Because when we do we put ourselves in a place we shouldn’t be.
“My heart is drawn to self exalting” is lyric from one of my favorite modern hymns. Perhaps this is why were were taught to pray the way we were taught to pray: with the holiness of God the Father in the forefront of our heart, so we can humble ourselves when we are prone to claim to know His will when we ought not to claim we do. We were taught to pray in a very specific way about God’s will, likely because the Father knew the propensity of our heart.
How did Jesus teach us to pray with regards to the Father’s will?
“Your kingdom come, Your will be done.”
And how did Jesus model it in the garden? “Not my will, but yours be done.”
In praying “not my will…” we are admitting that we don’t have certainty that our specific request will be granted. But we can have certainty in the One who has the power to grant the request.
That’s the believe we are called to. That’s the faith we are given. I will ask for prayer of the One who has the power to grant the request, and God will hear my prayer not because of who I am but because of who He is.
As a families ministries pastor, I tend to spend a good part of my week thinking like a child. (Stop smirking, y’all. I know you’re saying, “Well, that explains it.”)
Of course what I mean is that I spend time considering and re-framing what it feels like to not know all the things us adults know, to try to look at the world without all the influence and experience we adults have, and to have all the ways of coping we have cultivating in our years of fearful experiences.
Historically as a culture, American family systems tend to approach dealing with a child’s emotions by two extremes: coddling the emotion or dismissing the emotion. Both tend to fail at considering the wholistic nature of our mind, body, and heart.
Studies show that parents who coach their kids through their emotions help their children develop a healthy emotional intelligence. Many parents don’t even understand what this looks like. As emotional intelligence has always been part of our whole self, it’s only in recent years have we come to more fully understand it’s importance in our healthy development as whole people – people with minds, bodies, and hearts.
In this season we’re in with the COVID-19 virus, fear is at the forefront of many people’s emotions. As adults we often don’t fully understand just how much children are primarily lead by fear most of their days. (This is why Vacation Bible School themes often address this with kids, if you look back and think about the different popular programs. Sky from 2013: Everything is Possible with God. Cave Quest from 2017: Jesus the Light of the World. And this year’s Rocky Railway: Jesus Will Pull Us Through. The majority of the lessons address why we can trust God.) And as adults, we forget about the undercurrent of fear we had as children because we’ve developed coping mechanisms.
Emotional coaching starts with, after learning what your kids are feeling, accepting their emotions. In this season, accept the fear they have. Don’t dismiss it, and don’t coddle it, but accept that it’s real for them, and that this emotion is not sinful. Label it and validate it.
If your child exhibits bad behavior as a result of this emotion, deal with it by setting limits however you have typically done that as their parent. It may feel hard to discipline when your child is distraught because of the fear surrounding this virus, but we all understand the importance of boundaries for kids when it comes to their health and wellness. It may be helpful to remember they are likely acting out because they do not know how to handle their emotions any other way.
When someone listens to us, it makes us feel heard and seen, which makes us feel less lonely. This is not only exactly what we are sacrificing as we practice social distancing, but also part of the fear your child is dealing with. They are wondering if anyone else feels the same way they do. Ask your child at least two questions, especially if they are struggling to express themselves. Some examples of the first question might be, “Can you tell me what you are scared of right now?” “Are you scared of what is going to happen next?”
The second question is important, but will also be guided by how your child answers the first question. I would encourage you to listen to this 12 minute podcast from Emily Freeman: https://emilypfreeman.com/podcast/the-next-right-thing/94/. While it’s not about children and this specific topic of fear, it’s about sitting with people and asking questions and how powerful it can be for the one you are asking the question of. She asks the powerful question, “What if we didn’t race to solutions? What if the next right thing was simply to ask a question?”
In the process of asking your child questions, you are sending them a message – you are not telling them how they ought to feel, but trying to understand what they are feeling. As you dig deeper, you can begin the conversation of problem solving of ways to help them cope. With one child, after asking her some questions about the struggles she was having at school, she eventually revealed to me how much she missed a pet that died recently. I suggested that she take few photos of the pet and keep them in her notebook and locker to comfort her.
Some of solutions are simple. Some may be more difficult. And they can take you and your child to the next step of walking through this season together, as you help them work towards a healthy emotional intelligence.
Never underestimate the power of praying over your child. Share with God your own struggles in that prayer, because not only does God want to hear that from you, but you will model for your child what it looks like to be honest with God. God is big enough to handle our powerful emotions, and of course, He is big enough to comfort us when we are scared. Prayer in times of trouble is one of the ways we are able to lean in to just how much we must trust and depend on God.
“God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in times of trouble.” -Psalm 46:1
2019 was a hard year, which is evident by my lack of posts. I had so much to write about, but it was all so hard that I couldn’t write about it.
But that’s not what I’m letting go of today.
In asking myself one very hard question, “What do I need to let go of today?” my mind went to several places, but eventually landed on a six-month period in 2015 when it felt like my whole life was falling apart. My most important relationships and my job had disintegrated and because I’d allowed them to become too important in my life, I very nearly disintegrated too. I made a lot of poor decisions in those six months, decisions that hurt people and decisions I’m still dealing with today. If I could erase that time from my life entirely, I would. That’s how much of a difference they made in my heart.
These six months are part of my life I am choosing to release today.
I’ve had enough hurdles and obstacles in my life to know that I will have to continue to release this over the next several months. Maybe even years? Letting go of something that hurt you deeply is not something that happens in a moment. But this morning as I contemplated what it was I needed to let go of, I realized that though I’d moved on from all that happened in that time, I still had not done one very important thing.
I hadn’t forgiven myself.
Several years ago, I went through a period of intentionally trying to forgive someone who hurt me deeply. I did crazy things like post a picture the door I would see every day as I left the house that said “Forgive”. I wrote the word “Forgive” on the inside of my wrist with a sharpie. I posted a banner on my old flip phone that also said forgive, so every time I opened it up, that’s what I saw. And it worked. (You can read about it here.) I was reminded of these crazy tactics today as I put some sticky notes in different places around my house to remind me of a new challenge I started (Side note: I’ve been using the Fabulous app for a few months now in order to create good habits in my life.) And as I placed the sticky notes around my house, I remembered how long it once took me to forgive someone else.
Now it’s time I become intentional about forgiving myself.
Part of what’s been so challenging about forgiving myself for the people I hurt in that six month period is how I was never allowed to apologize. I was devastated when I realized the series of actions I took to hurt them, and I did try to reconcile. My attempts were refused. As a result, I’ve felt a little like I’ve been in a state of limbo, knowing there wasn’t nothing more I could do to make things right, all the while knowing there were people out there who had no desire to ever see me or talk to me again. That’s a pretty painful place to live in, and it hurt for a long time.
The hurt subsided, and what once consumed my mind stopped consuming my mind. I set my own boundaries in order to ease some of that hurt, but if I’m honest with myself I believed the hurt would only fully subside once they were willing to forgive me. And since I wasn’t given the opportunity to tell them how sorry I was, I think I assumed that never ending that hurt was part of the consequences for what I did.
(I’d never realized that until this moment.)
But that is not living in freedom, and I do believe that is what God has called us to do. To walk in His glory and to release ourselves for what we have done.
The thesaurus says that another phrase for “letting go” is “it doesn’t matter” and I have conflicting feelings about this. Because what I did absolutely does matter. I undid a heart, and that matters. A lot. Yet in this process of not being able to make it right, I’ve undone my own heart.
And honestly, that matters more. Because I do have control over that.
I hope to discover what it looks like to let go of those six months of my life, lay them at the feet of Jesus and ask him to heal all that I’ve broken in it.
I recently watched the movie Annilhation. It’s not my usual type of movie (I’m not much into sci-fi or scary movies) but so many friends recommended it. In that way you could tell it wasn’t a feel-good kind of epic sci-fi, but a “that really made me think and I’m still thinking about it” kind of movie.
Near the end of the movie, when trying to explain what she witnessed, the main character said, “It wasn’t destroying… it was changing everything. It was making something new.”
What an analogy for the Christian life. For better or worse, we can destroy things and then build them back up into something new.
I remember hearing about how difficult the Bible Content exam was when I first began seminary. It was legnedary. The seminary president said he failed it. The theory was that taking the test was about humbling the students as they entered the seminary experience… breaking them down.
Sometimes we must break down in order to build something new. Sometimes we can break ourselves down too much and perhaps even build the wrong thing up in its place. This is what’s so tricky about building.
I’m thinking I need to leave it all the Builder.
I am linking up for Five Minute Friday a five-minute free write with a word prompt each week. Today’s prompt is “Include.” http://fiveminutefriday.com
I stared at the vanilla latte on the table in front of me. My friend Linda asked questions about what I had shared, and I searched for something sure and concrete to hold on to. The small red table between us reminded me we were at Target and not in the privacy of a home. But that no longer mattered. I felt lost. It didn’t matter who knew.
My chest began to ache as I answered some of her questions, and I moved the cup toward me in what looked like a desire to keep my body warm. But I needed comfort, not warmth. I was scared. That’s why we were there together.
It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving week. I was 4 months into a new job and terrified. My trauma was resurfacing and new trauma was being formed. This time I was aware of it, and it was happening like the quick burn of a sparkler rather than the slow burn of a candle.
“The body keeps score” is a phrase I’ve learned this year. I haven’t studied trauma much, despite having been through a couple of small ones myself. I’m trying to be more focused on the healing rather than the details how trauma manifests itself. That is a new concept for me, as I previously believed that if I knew all the whys and whos and whens that it would all be solved, understood. And I would heal.
But the true path to healing is much messier. More hues of grey rather than the crisp certainty of black and white. Healing feels like your eyes are partially closed while walking through a dimly lit room, stepping over legos and pillows; you find your way in the dark by experiencing both pain and safe places to land.
My safe place to land was in the eyes of my friend who sat across from me that day and very logically said, “Well, you have options. You are not trapped.” The freedom of this statement caused me to exhale sharply, and I realized I’d been holding my breath for many, many months. Maybe even years.
It’s been three years since I exhaled. And every year around this time I remember exhaling. I remember the mountains, the job, the drive to work, the stops at Panera to bring breakfast to my staff each Sunday. I remember the co-workers, who were eventually able to exhale two years later, too. I think about driving around Tucson, longing and hoping. Healing and crying. Feeling this sense of being taken up into a tornado where all I could do was react to all that was happening around me.
I remember being released, thankful that I was one of the few in a trauma who have options. I remember that part of the trauma was in my stubbornness to stay, where each step into the job meant stepping on a lego. I couldn’t remain in that job, that system, that was eroding my heart with the fast burn of a sparkler.
The body keeps score of seasons, moments, traumas. That’s why I remember this each year. I wish the score would settle because revisiting that season of my life is hard. But as I revisit I am reminded that hues of grey are often more beautiful to look at the simple black and white. These hues reveal the reality of the human heart and the sinfulness of our actions towards each other. They help keep me grounded in what’s real rather than what I wish was true so that I can make my way through the dimly lit room with my eyes more open than they were before.
I love curated playlist by moods, and after a recent conversation (see my last post) I decided to create one based on the season of Autumn.
I had an online conversation lately with a few men who were sharing Spotify song lists for the Autumn season. I read in fascination how they described an emotional change that occurs when summer ends and Fall begins; how the music they listen to shifts. One suggested it was about a mood shift from the upbeat tunes of summer into “sleepy” music transition that would eventually lead into Winter. Another guy mentioned the mood of longing, how Fall brings out feelings of nostalgia for him.
This morning I was listening to one of the playlists recommended, and I felt my heart rate slow down. My mind wandered into remembering an old friend, and as I clutched my cup of coffee, I felt the gift this was: a slowing down.
I missed feeling the seasons change when I lived in Arizona.The temperature changed, but the seasons didn’t. Well – I take that back. It sort of felt like a season change in the spring when the Palo Verde tree blooms and sent my allergies into a tailspin. But at least a color changed…. the only time of year that really happened.
Looking back on that I’m realizing what I missed more was a shift in mood (though the beautiful scenery changes of the Midwest were certainly part of it). I missed the contemplation that settled into my heart during the Fall, the slowing down the snow fall would bring. And then the rejuvenation that happened in my body when I watched the brown earth turn into a thousand colors in the Spring, and the energy of Summer as flip flops and t-shirts became my uniform.
So as I sit in this contemplation today, feeling the chilly Fall weather from my head to my toes, I feel my heart beat just a little bit differently. I remember. I’m… wistful. Fall feels like the Sabbath we forget to take during the week. Perhaps God built the seasons for us so our bodies would send us the signals we need: to slow, to rest, to remember, to long.
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
It’s pretty common for me to use the phrase, “pushing back the Fall” when I’m speaking or teaching. This is part of the privilege of being God’s hands and feet on this earth. He uses us to bring healing, to bring light. In God’s providence, we are daily given opportunities to make the earth more like how God intended it to be when he first created it.
This weekend I’ve been struck by the line in The Lord’s Prayer, “as it is in heaven”. In the context of the prayer, Jesus is speaking on how God is sovereign – that his will is done on earth and in heaven. But it got me thinking about how this phrase reminds us of the great ache we all have: the ache of longing for a home we aren’t yet in, but standing in this place, forgiven, called to advance his kingdom on earth. Already given grace… not yet fully restored to glory.
As it is in heaven
Longing for things to be as God intended is part of the human experience, even for those who can’t name that. We all inherently understand this world is just so broken. And it’s so much easier to look at the world as broken, forgetting that we are, too. It starts with us. This is how revival begins, in the heart of one who recognizes that they are forgiven and are meant for more… yet before the “more” we must stand here on earth and call God’s kingdom down to be part of Jesus’ redemption story.
Redeeming the world one step at a time. And it starts with me.
I’ve always wished I was one of those “soft” people.
Not weak, of course. But tender. With no rough edges. The kind of person whose presence makes you feel calm. The kind of soft that responds carefully and with compassion, rather than jumping to judgement and self-righteousness and a “my way is right” way of thinking. Without defense and thought of how it all affects me, but considers what else might be going on in the situation.
A very soft person has come into my life recently. I’m in awe of her. She responds to everything in love. She is always concerned for me and how I am adjusting to a whole new life. She is ready to jump in and help whenever it’s needed, and often anticipates needs I could never foresee. When a difficult situation arises, she has this way of making it all better without compromise for what is best.
She is modeling to me the great fruit of the spirit: gentleness.
I’ve far too often felt like a bull in a china shop. Stumbling over people with my agenda. Running wild and free with a grand plan ignoring everyone else’s. And any warning signs along the way. My clumsiness has gotten me in trouble so many times, I’m not sure numbers go high enough to count.
But also isn’t even about “getting into trouble,” honestly. That would be as if I just didn’t want to get caught in my sin, rather than actually not want to sin… to be changed from the inside out. To not “appear” like this bull is like the Pharisees with their shiny and polished cups on the outside. To actually not be the bull is to have a fully clean cup.
Matthew 23: 25-26
For years, I’ve tried so hard to be the gentle and wise person on the outside (with varying degrees of success.) I make so much of trying to appear soft, that I think if I fix that part, the actually being soft will follow. It’s just like trying to glue the fruit onto the branch. So I know, deep down in my heart that I am going the wrong direction… so why do I keep going back to doing instead of learning about the being? For the task is so much easier for me to understand and grasp then the abstract idea of being present and considering everything holistically.
Deep-seeded in this sin of mine, and it may even be that all-important root (i.e.the idol, not just the surface sin) is self-righteousness. It’s a very strange thing knowing that I have a very low self-esteem, but realizing one of greatest sins I struggle with is self-righteousness. But it makes sense. I’m
simply looking for other ways to make myself feel better, and I am looking externally for those things. How I appear to the world is one of the ways I do that. And believing I know better than so many others is my sick and twisted way of trying to feel better about myself, forgetting how this causes me to view others as less than.
I don’t know how to be gentle. Maybe I never will. But I guess I can take some solace in the anvil. Knowing that I am being reshaped and formed into God’s image. An instrument is only useful if it’s the right shape for the task set before it. If I’m on the anvil, it means God still see me as worth reshaping.