Category Archives: Ponderings

Mirrors

I floss my teeth in front of a mirror. I lean in close and pluck unwanted hairs. I check my teeth, hair, etc. for anything out of place, especially before an interview or something else important. I stand in front of a mirror and take stock of my body–how it has changed from sun exposure, weight fluctuations, age, posture.
I wonder at how different my body and skin look in different lighting. How different I look wearing certain clothing or none at all.

As a girl, I used to brush my silky, long, brown hair; watching in the mirror as it reflected glints of oranges and reds. Other times, I labored at a mirror, dislodging blackheads and zits, and wishing I was pretty, desirable. At a similar age, I stood in front of a mirror and looked at myself, several pairs of socks stuffed in my shirt, as I tried to imagine what I might look like as a woman.

I remember in more recent years, crying and realizing I didn’t really know what I looked like while crying and (experiencing the emotions of the hour); I knew what it felt like, but not how it looked. So, I went in a bathroom and looked at myself. It was intriguing. I was hurting and angry, and yet literally seeing a part of myself I’d never seen before, but one which others had.

I take a deep breath and exhale. I am going to present myself to the world, my slice of the world in which I bounce around, dressed like this, hair styled this way (often not at all), sans make-up, standing this way. Yes. That’ll do.

Buildings, cars, sunglasses, and other objects that reflect on one side, but can been seen through on the other are interesting. The varied reasons for the existence of these like items are interesting.

The world without mirrors (or lots of reflective surfaces). If we could only check ourselves out in the occasional, and often distorted, water surface, what would be different? Would we care as much about how we look? Would we rely more on others to help us look however is deemed appropriate in our group, relying on a sort of group grooming?
How different our perception of self would be.

Reflections on ANZAC Day

Today, on ANZAC day, I will be wearing a poppy badge as a sign of remembrance.

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on war over the past few months.

For a long time I have taken a position of pacifism. Many of the people who have inspired me most are those who have had the courage to actively resist war and militarism whether they be the conscientious objectors that demonstrated courageous sanity in the face of global madness in World War I and were prepared to face the full force of the law (often being sentenced to death) to do it, the masses of people who resisted the war in Vietnam or the Ploughshares Activists who break into military bases and weapons factories to disable the tools of death. I’ve heard similar views to my own described as Nonviolent Action. My position is not a passive position, it’s actively attempting to resolve conflicts with a belief that violence is never the best solution.

I never came to this position seeking to disrespect those who made a choice to join the military. My ancestry includes people who fought in World War I. One of my great-great grandfathers was an Australian soldier who served at Gallipoli. After falling very ill at the front he was eventually discharged. Within months of his return, one of his sons signed up and went to the western front where he was wounded in the head during the Battle of Ypres. On my mother’s, side another great-grandfather, still really a child, was sent into the forests of Estonia armed with an axe and the orders to kill Germans. He would later serve in the Australian Air Force as an airplane mechanic in Townsville during World War II.

Both of Emily’s parents served in the US military and her family connections to the American military, as far back as we can tell, include someone who fought in the Battle of Machias, one of the first armed engagements of the American War for Independence. By no means do I speak for Emily in any of this (she can speak for herself), but I mention her family by way of honouring the experiences of people I know well and care about.

Currently, I have a cousin in Afghanistan with the Australian Army. It’s interesting. I’ve always been told that our personalities are very similar. One of us signed up for the Army, the other is filling in forms to ensure his status as a conscientious objector. I think about him often wondering what his experiences are like there. I bring with those thoughts all of the deep concern for peace and wholeness that have led me to be a pacifist. After all, it’s not soldiers I oppose, it’s what puts their lives at risk that I oppose.

Now I work at the Australian War Memorial store in Australia’s capitol. Thankfully the memorial’s approach to war avoids celebrating it. I do find myself uncomfortable with the attitudes of war as a fun adventure that I see from some kids, but then I also realize that those were my own attitudes at their age and that time, maturity, and education can make a lot of difference. I frequently come across members of different military services from around the world (so far including the US, Canada, Singapore, Israel, Indonesia and New Zealand) and have found myself reflecting on the reasons people join militaries. Very often they are for very noble reasons. (I may not agree with all of them, but I respect them as noble.)

What I have found as I explore my feelings on war is that I can maintain my opposition to violence and militarism and remain comfortable being supportive of those who have made different decisions. I do not necessarily agree with their choices, but I recognize that we all make our decisions based upon our varied understandings and life experiences.

War is an awful thing. ANZAC day is celebrated on the 25th of April because that is the date that, in 1915, the battle of Gallipoli began in Turkey. Gallipoli was a massive disaster. Thousands of lives were lost for no gain. Some suggest that Australia was founded on the shores of Gallipoli. I wouldn’t say that’s entirely the case, but in the disaster of that conflict I would like to think we learned something about the senselessness and horror of war and learned to be a little less trusting of those who would make the decision to send living, breathing, loving, and courageous people to die senseless deaths.

As I have spent a little bit of time researching my ancestors’ war history, I found a treasure trove of files and documents on the National Archives website (most of the World War I documents have been digitized and can be easily perused). Most poignant to me of the documents in the records was a letter one of my great-great-grandmothers wrote after hearing that her son had been wounded (they had told her basically nothing other than that he was wounded).

It’s not a very emotional letter at face value (perhaps filled with British restraint). But as I read the words “very anxious” I get a sense of the grave concern they had that they might never see their son again and that he would be lost in a blaze of mud, blood and chaos somewhere on the Western Front. Those words “very anxious” are very emotional. To me, this is what war is about.

So should conscription ever be reintroduced in Australia, you will find me with those burning their draft cards. But to those who go willingly, you have my respect and love. I will be resisting war, and will be very anxious for your safe return.

Observations on Euthanasia: Humans and Non-humans

Interesting how ending someone’s life for medical reasons is viewed so differently depending on if they are human or non-human.

When they’re human, it’s “assisted suicide” and legal in only a handful of places (unless it is involuntary, which isn’t legal anywhere). Even when the one dying has made the choice to die, it’s taboo. Sometimes people say things like, “You’re playing God. Maybe they should pray more, then let God decide when it’s their time to die.”

When they’re non-human, it’s “putting them to sleep” and it’s legal everywhere. The one dying has no choice in it. It is seen as compassionate to end their suffering, and the humans involved are not viewed negatively or ridiculed, but comforted in their grieving or, for the vets, it’s just part of their job.

Sometimes the decision for death is partly informed by how much money proper care would cost. Sometimes that is the main reason for euthanizing an animal. Imagine if we decided whether or not a human should live based on how much it would cost to treat them and keep them alive.

Pesky Questions: More on Prayer

When someone utters something about praying hard, there are several possible responses. One is, “praying hard, or hardly praying?” A follow up of “zing!” is optional. Hardy har har.

I recently said this (sans the zing) half under my breath to Ricktopher in response to yet another comment about praying hard. He humors me. I’m less sure about how well it was received by others. Maybe they didn’t hear it.

Truth is, I’ve been swimming with all these comments and the questions they spawn and the dad joke humor was the best I could muster at that point.

My (MLE’s) extended family has been gearing up for my grandma’s heart valve replacement in a few days. Admonitions and supplications to “pray hard” have risen from various corners. I appreciate that others in my family (my grandma included) find comfort in knowing that there are lots of people praying hard for her. (This, of course, was followed up with an acknowledgement that it’s still up to God, which I always find interesting–pray, pray, pray, pray, but it’s still up to God.) I want to be a part of this web of comfort and support. But I’ve got questions.

I’m not really sure what praying really hard means. I thought I knew, but now I wonder. Is it the amount of time spent praying? The sincerity of the prayer? Does thinking about that person or situation or being thankful in general count?

At what point does a prayer become mighty or the label “praying hard” become appropriate for one’s efforts? This all seems a little too subjective to me.

Does my inaction of not praying a prayer of supplication actually negatively effect an outcome? I’ve heard this described by some as blood on our hands. That’s a little much for me, but I find it interesting. (I wish people who believe that had as strong a conviction that our inactions often make us culpable in other ways, for example in perpetuating social injustices.)

I’ve felt guilty at times. Like when I’ve said I’d pray for someone, then forgotten. To avoid this, I’ve sometimes said a quickie prayer right away, so that I don’t forget, and don’t have to try to remember it later. Though sincere (of course I want ______’s ______ to get better), these probably aren’t what most of the pray harders have in mind.

And here’s a question for those who favor the hard prayer line: It seems like praying hard, mighty prayer, etc. is almost exclusively reserved for prayers of supplication. Why is this? How would one’s prayer life be different if one injected the same level of zeal and effort in praying hard (and admonishing others to do so) into other kinds of prayer, like thanksgiving?

If it is true that prayers really can alter an outcome, can do more than send good vibes, then it seems to me we are horribly selfish and narrow-hearted in our choices about what and for whom we pray. What if everyone with even the smallest inclination to pray did so every day and prayed for world peace? Every day (good thoughts and vibes welcomed too, of course). If prayers really do change things, then why is it that when time is made during church services to pray for the afflicted, it’s almost always so and so’s physical ailment? Where are our prayers for relationships? For the poor and the starving? For those with no hope? Prayers of contrition acknowledging our inaction to seek justice and pursue peace?

I used to think I was quite good at praying. Maybe had a gift for it. People sometimes said things indicating as much. I was comfortable in the knowledge that I “knew how to pray.” Now I’m not so sure. Pesky, pesky questions.

Meandering Thoughts During a Good Friday Service

Unending sources
Mysteries overwhelming
The  particulars perhaps do not matter
so much.

Who knows me? God knows me. And I
am loved. I know not why.

23 souls in a room gathered together.
Why?

Jesus as political figure.

Intimate and close-knit doesn’t have
to be insular.

Radical love, relational ups and downs,
peace and justice actions, self-knowing,
so little are these encouraged or facilitated
in church services.

“God is with us in the abandonment
of that cross,” the speaker said.

But are we with God?

Truly?

Do not be quick to answer.

Be willing to examine your life.

We use such words.
We’re quick to judge and think
poorly of others; only to smile
to their faces and laugh with
them.

Toward More Useful Responses to Suffering

“God is in control.”
These words are often used as an attempt to comfort people going through hard times. More often than not, to that person, it seems like they’re trying to comfort themselves.

The last few years have been tough on us. We’ve teetered on the edge of poverty for sometime now and it’s extremely difficult. I once heard the experience of poverty described as being like that moment where you see someone suffering and you’re desperate to find some sort of solution. It’s like that moment, but all the time. Now, I willingly admit that, while we’re having a rough time right now, it is harder for many of the billions of people around the world living in poverty. But saying “God is in control”, just says to me that you think God wants it this way. That might be ok if poverty were only a short-term experience, but understanding the nature of poverty in this country, and around the world, we know that many will live in poverty for the rest of their lives. Does God want that?

In my view, this is why the concept of human agency is so important. God allows humans to make their own decisions, and out of those decisions comes the cruel injustice of the rich having their ‘beds of ivory’ or luxury cars, while the poor are trampled. It also means that the solutions are not as simple as “God will fix it.”

The key question for those of us who believe in free agency is, “Where is the comfort in that?” (In fact, as Christians, how to comfort the afflicted should be a central question anyway). How do we find hope and comfort in the midst of suffering? Simply saying “it will get better” or “your prayers will be answered” is not satisfying. God hears the cries of the afflicted all of the time.

Perhaps some of the answer comes from what God is doing. We can find some solace in God’s creation, and the small moments of joy amidst the desperation.  We can find hope in the message of the resurrection: justice and peace will win, in the end. But those things can only help so much in the here and now.

For me, when I consider my own sense of desperation and fear for the future, I feel the most helpful thing is to allow myself to allow myself to feel loved and cared for – by my Creator and by those around me. Being loved helps you feel worthwhile, and feeling worthwhile means when the world treats you like shit, you’re going to start taking action to stop it. Being truly loved also means you’re not alone in confronting the cause of your suffering.

As friends and disciples we can minister by simply offering our care and love without suggestions and self-serving attempts to instill hope that their suffering is going to end soon. Offering your solutions is actually a really bad way to show someone you care. Listening and accepting a person’s feelings is far more important. You can’t be part of the person’s solution until you have stood in solidarity with them. At that point we can collaborate with them (and God) to end their suffering (whatever may be the cause).

A compassionate response must always be focused on how the other person is affected and empowering them. Often, our response to suffering in the world is to make ourselves feel better. We see children suffering in poverty, our response is to throw money at it – to offer our solutions so we can start feeling better. Poverty is best overcome by the poor organizing in solidarity with each other to overcome their challenges.

It is the same with our relationships. When our friends or members of our families are going through hard times, our first response is often to offer our solutions or to say something that helps us feel better. What we should know is that we don’t do any good without first fully accepting that person and their experiences, helping them know that they’re loved, and then being prepared to stand in solidarity with them. If you do this, they will truly know you stand with them. Without this, it is harder for that person to be reminded that they are loved, and that God too is standing in solidarity with them.

Ode to Dog

Every line quivers and jerks with “I can’t,” and “it’s not good enough,” and “it’s not right.”

She come up to me and rests her head contentedly on my leg; brown eyes searching.

A few moments petting her tawny/black fur and it’s right.