07 September 2010

Grad School Ramblings - Journal: The Prism

I'm a school-girl. Again. After more than 20 years, I've returned to college to pursue a Masters of Liberal Arts in Global Issues. Yes, being accepted into grad school was on my "50 before 50" list - but acceptance without the journey would be empty. Perhaps one day I'll post my entrance essay, which featured writings from Tennessee, Texas, Russia, and Guatemala. But for now, I thought I'd post my first journal entry for a class simply known as "Perspectives: On Being Human." The first three weeks of the course focus on social and political philosophy. If you haven't read the essays of the men I reference, a quick Google search will provide an abundance of information. Your perspective may end up being far different than mine. I have a feeling my perspective is far different than most of my classmates. And that's OK. I rather like my prism.


I sit in the same Tennessee porch swing that whispered inspiration almost a year ago, as I filled pages with words and phrases sharing my passion to be a change-agent for the discarded. Now I read essay after essay of other change-agents - Rousseau, Thoreau, Mill, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mussolini - and reflect on what it is in each of us that craves something more. There seems to be a constant tug between the “now” and the “not yet,” and we at once grasp both sides of the rope. I feel a connectedness to each author, longing to better understand the prism through which they see. And as I read, my own prism catches the words, infusing each with shape and color.

Though I try to be a mere spectator, stripping myself of all but the most academic of thought, I find it impossible. My vision is shaped through the prism of eternity. Christ is life in my veins, and that glorious obsession washes every moment, every experience. The storyline weaves through the bells that signify the passing hours on the campus of St Edwards, through the spirited discourse of the students hungry to be remembered as more than just a name on a page, and through essays that paint portraits of governments and societies longed for but never seen.

Rousseau dreamt of a world fueled by a common voice. He says, “Each of us places in common his person and all his power under the supreme direction of the general will; as in one body we all receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.” I read his writings and picture in my mind the body of Christ, comprised of individuals uniquely gifted yet at their best when moving in sync with others.

Thoreau also spoke of community, but understood the subtle difference between cooperation and compromise. He might have found company in people like the Israelites, Daniel, Paul, Peter - even Jesus. From refusing to bow down to idols to a conviction to preach even when commanded not to, examples of appropriate civil disobedience appear throughout scripture.

Mill reflects on the condition of man, and walks away with both the profound truth that we are by nature self-centered, and that any decision forced upon us is bound to ultimately fail - that true change comes from the heart. And Mill shares another truth that rings of the eternal: “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.” I hear Christ’s words resonate, “I assure you that whatever you failed to do to the humblest of My brothers, you failed to do to Me.” (Matt. 25:45b)

Marx, Engels, and Lenin also focus on the communal good, though the concept of an ideal “classless” society seems to reinforce the class struggle it rages against. I think about my visits to Russia, and then reflect on the second chapter of Acts, where “all the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to the individual need.” Lenin quotes Marx as saying “While the state exists, there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.” I wonder if the three men might have found their ideal society not through material and political revolution, but through faith revelation.

As I watch a wasp fight with a window that keeps it from catching the breeze of a warm September afternoon, I think about each of us and how we press against the forces that keep us bound, seeking the secret to true liberty. If only I could tell the wasp the window is open - that he only need to move eight inches down to experience the very freedom he desires. Again, the prism of eternity bends the light, and I think about the freedom that cannot be attained through political structure or social class. I think about a religion that’s more powerful than the doctrine of fascism preached by Mussolini, governed by a Sovereign who holds dictators and kings in His hand. His rule cannot be fettered by any system of government, and His liberty is offered to all.

For eternity.

Beautifully Messy. (book review - Permission to Speak Freely)

I'm normally the type to mingle with the pages of a book, then walk away from them for a time before returning. But to fall into those pages and want to camp there - that is a rare thing. Yesterday, I opened the water-washed cover of Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson. And tonight, the book's final pages shared their whispers of confession's beauty with me. Its contents have captivated my heart and imagination.

Perhaps it's the honesty and poetry in Anne's writing that makes the book such a comforting place to dwell. Or perhaps it's that I find myself in so many of the pages - dealing with the shame, the scars, the pain of being abused, rejected, and betrayed by the very people designed to bring love, comfort, and a sense of family. I've been silenced by those in ministry, and have worked for religious organizations where questions were seen as threats. Yet, I believe the Church can still be Christ to the broken, the needy, the hungry and tired. I believe it can still offer sanctuary for the soul.

Permission to Speak Freely is a collection of essays, poetry, and personal confession that focuses on fear, grace, and the beautifully messy act of redemption. The book isn't tidy - it's transparent and raw and brutally honest. It cuts to the heart of who we are, and offers healing through the act of Biblical confession and community. Anne understands the tension between the messy and the beautiful, and her book brings it to life in a real, unvarnished, much-needed way.

"It's time for us to put all we have out in the open - not for the sake of faux humility or self-deprecating exploitation or attention, but for recognizing the things the Cross stands for and left for us: ultimate love and undiscriminating grace."

Anne Jackson reminds us that God does give us permission to speak freely. And in her book, she reminds us of our need to speak - and confess - and allow Him to glory in both our brokenness and beauty.