Two nights ago I had a dream. It was actually more of a vision. Lights were out…. darkness surrounded all except for the luminous stream of light particles and words on a movie screen. I don’t know what movie had been playing, but it was over and it was time for the “credits” to roll. But instead of the usual scrolling line of name upon name of Superstar, Producer, Director, Costume Designer, Music Score composer, Make-up artist, second -hand star, fill- in guy off the street, key grip, cable-guy, water boy etc. etc….the “credit” on the screen read All of God’s People. That was it. Those were the only words for the end of the story “Credits”…the only thing left on the screen at the The End … All of God’s People.
Then, last night I had a brief talk with one of my children. I knew that he had gotten kind of “in trouble” recently at school and that he had been summoned by one of his teachers to discuss the reason for their discord. I was curious about what had happened in the meeting….and even more so at his words, “you’re not going to be happy with me.”
It turns out that I was not unhappy with him… Turns out that I completely understand.
Let me explain my children… First they are different from one another in many ways, but they do share at least one commonality: they are all polite and well-mannered. It would be nice to think that is due to my amazing parenting, but it is actually a result of Politeness and Well-Mannered-ness being the cultural expectation down here in the “Deep South” . I was raised in East Tennessee …where we were also polite and would say “Please” and “Thank You”. But I never called anyone “ma’am or sir”.
But people in the part of the world where my children have been raised are expected to say, “Yes ma’am/ No ma’am”…”Yes sir/ No sir”…and they are expected to look people in the eye. And they are expected to stand still and not squirm…they are expected to defer to anyone older… and boys are to defer to girls and ladies….open doors… offer their hand… dance waltzes … properly escort their date at balls and cotillions. (I am not kidding). Children and Youths are expected to listen carefully and to respond thoughtfully.
It is actually quite lovely when a young person has been shaped internally by their outward civil behavior. There is nothing nicer than to be around a person who is genuinely listening and who sincerely takes an interest in how you are and what you have been doing and in what you have to say. It is beautiful when others show respect…and it is obvious that their respect stems from a true understanding and knowledge that everyone is worthy of being treated kindly.
Then…there are people who know how to do the right thing socially…they say the right words and ask the right questions and shake hands straight on …not dominating, not submissive with just the right amount of pressure. They laugh at the right times and pat shoulders at the right times and blow air kisses and say “we need to get together soon” and ask after every member of your family…but their heart is not engaged. They may not remember your name or that they even saw you in ten seconds because they are off to the next hand-shake.
It is a shallow show.
The trouble is…how do you know? How do you know who has a heart and who has a hole where a heart should be? Sometimes it is hard to tell when the heartless has adapted to the rules of the game…at least out in public.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
What a pity. What a waste.
My children, thank goodness, are real with big caring hearts. They are not going to be participants in the horse and pony show put on for everyone else’s comfort and enjoyment. Or at least, I hope not.
Worldly comfort does not bring peace. Peace comes from wisdom and sometimes the road of wisdom is anything but pleasant and enjoyable. I want my children to be wise. And kind.
So it surprises me sometimes when they do things that hurt people. I don’t know why it surprised me…we all do things at one time or another that hurt others. Fortunately it is not common in my house. It is actually such an anomaly for my kids to be cruel and thoughtless (unless it is directed at each other) that their unkindness sticks out like a tall sticker bush in a perfectly manicured lawn. And I can’t stand to see it. I must, as the keeper of my home pull that weed out… by the the roots if at all possible so that it never comes back! I know it is naive to think that nothing else will take it’s place, but I will keep my eyes open and my tools at the ready.
Let me tell you what happened. One of my brilliant children who is well-liked and well-loved by all of his peers… peer parents…peer siblings… his family…. coaches and counselors…and most of his teachers… has demonstrated that he has a tiny problem always keeping his thoughts to himself. I have no idea where he gets this…
He is not the antagonizing type…or the emotional type. He is steady and stoic…so this tiny problem in this one area looks like something foul…it looks like something to clear the pool for…but then Bill Murray comes and checks it out and takes a bite and it is really a Baby Ruth Candy Bar.
Not everything is as it seems. Some things that look like chocolate are not…and some things that look like…you get the point…
Anyway, my kid has always loved to read. And he loves to learn. And he does amazingly well in school. But there is one area that he seems to be lacking…he lacks a love for English Class. It is no longer the grammar rules…they were a former stumbling block. Now the problem is a profound disdain with the way that English teachers interpret other people’s works and words. I don’t believe that he is actually picking on “English Teachers” …it just happens to be that these are the people that he has encountered that share their opinions on heavy matters… and that he happens not to agree with…
It could just as well be an art critic or a movie critic or a preacher or an editorial cartoonist or a politician…
He hasn’t had the opportunity to come across many of those folks, yet. But he has sat in English class for years now…and every year older he gets, analyzing literature in class makes him angrier.
I feel for him. I didn’t know how he felt until last night…but in our very brief conversation I get the sense that he disapproves of the practice of evaluating and critiquing an author’s works and then an individual (in this case the English teacher) professing “THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS!”
My take is that: he believes that writing to writers is like running to runners…it is like swimming to fish…like growing to children. It just is. It just comes. It just must be done. Writers are not thinking about how other people are going to feel about their story…they are just writing what comes to them. They are not trying to create elements of foreshadowing and irony and archetypes and conflict and hubris…they are just story-tellers writing a story that comes to them and through them.
I get it.
I am not even a good writer…but my best “stuff” is not mine. Often the words just come to me. They are a compilation of things that I have seen or heard or read …that feel real and true and universal. My writing can be an attempt to describe a picture in my head or a feeling in my heart or a thought that is not going to give me peace until I release it… in words.
Some people journal…they write for themselves. I write for myself too. But sometimes I hope that my words will have meaning for someone else too.
I think my kid feels frustrated that teachers (and critiques) are no more qualified than anyone else to explain what a literary work means. It was personal to the writer when they wrote the words…and it is just as personal to the reader.
I completely understand this frustration…it causes me a heart pang because challenging the status quo can get people riled up. It will get people riled up. Challenging certain writings and beliefs throughout history and even now can get people banished, excommunicated and killed. This is possibly just the beginning of my kid’s encounters with people who get upset with him for expressing his thoughts and beliefs.
Join the Thinking Man’s (and woman’s) Club, son.
I am proud of you.
I am not happy that someone got upset with you… that they felt upset. But I am happy that you understand the difference between being told what you should think and thinking.
Last night I told my kid to remember that the Bible is also a literary work…one that has been read… and interpreted …and that some people feel like they have authority to tell all of the rest of us what it means.
But the Bible is supposed to be taken personally and understood individually… and the meaning could very well be different for each one of us…And the meaning could become deeper and more nuanced…and the meaning could change completely as we hear more and understand more and are exposed to more living and life experience.
Consider teachers and preachers who study for years and who teach for years and who feel proud and confident and accomplished in their knowledge. They have successfully taught hundreds if not thousands of others what certain stories and poems “mean”.
And then here comes Mr. Smarty-pants Whippersnapper that challenges what they teach…An uneducated nobody says that he believes that the stories and the words mean something different than what is being taught and what has been considered before.
Mr. Whippersnapper challenges the conventional way of thinking. He has the audacity to suggest that we consider that there may be more to it…more to explore and discover and glean and learn.
Mr. “W” acknowledges that: what the story or poem means to him is not necessarily what it means to you…and that it doesn’t have to… He doesn’t care about changing your mind or persuading you that he is right and that you are wrong. He hears you and sees where you are coming from…he just doesn’t see it that way. He is fine with you continuing to understand it in your way as long as you sincerely try to consider what he is saying also
…And he rightfully requests that you also consider that the story or poem could mean something completely different to Mary and to Bob and to Jimmy Joe too.
Why do we have to be right? Why is it so important to us that other people understand and agree with us…and that they know why we are right…because we have read and studied and talked to all the right people and gone to all of the continuing education seminars. We have years of experience that should prove that we know what we are talking about. We are Doctor; Pastor; Master; Professor…
And we DO know what we are talking about.
For us. It “works” for us.
But that doesn’t mean that we know what we are talking about for anyone else. “It” may not be what works best for them.
Why did we strive to learn and understand anyway? To show others how smart we are …or to convince others that they are not smart and should come around to our way of thinking?
What if we aren’t supposed to be like-minded?
What if we are supposed to be Christ-minded and everything that we understand is not supposed to show how brilliant and right we are but to help other people see a really Big Picture of the world. It is impossible for us to see everything. But if we see a tiny bit and add what we see to the schematic where everyone’s views and visions are laid down, it would produce a much more comprehensive and representative picture.
A million zillion and One of us see… but we might explain the same thing in a million zillion ways. All of the ways might be unclear to the One…except for one. When explained in a way that he can relate with…then he can see clearly. Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what we want? For understanding and clarity for all people to see The Big Picture. It doesn’t really matter that it was not us that enlightened them or gave them their “AH -Ha!” moment. Does it?
If it does…check yourself.
You are wanting to be on the scrolling credits. The VISION at The End is to be one of All of God’s People who have been a part of the story.
The Light Particles illuminating the screen are individual, but working together. There is not a signature, picture, title, bank account summary, financial statement, doctor’s report, religious seal, political stamp of approval or any other identifying mark on the light particles. They are anonymous.
…There is nothing that says “More important particle/ Less important particle.”
…All of God’s People together using the gifts that they have been given with the same goal in mind.
No individual names were listed. No person was singled out as Superior. None with a higher rank or position than any other. It is not a matter of stripping people of their identity or their importance. The exact opposite is true. It is coming to a place where we know who we are and whose we are …and that is the only thing about us that is truly important. The Vision is to finally come to a place where we recognize that we are given certain gifts for a reason…and the reason is not to show how awesome and smart and brilliant and talented we are…not to show that we are superior to anyone else.
The Vision is also to finally understand that we are not inferior or damaged beyond repair or unworthy of love.
…no preacher or teacher or doctor or master can tell you what the story means…except One who was all of these things and more. The story is your life and how it interacts with everything and everyone else. You have to interpret it…but you must put aside the things that you have been told by others. If people have said, “you are bad…you are a loser…” you are never going to amount to anything … no one will love you… you are not deserving of respect…you get what you deserve…” It’s a lie.
If someone is telling you that you are better than others…it is a lie.
Stop letting people interpret your story for you.
The Ultimate Writer of the Entire Story has written you into His script. Ask him what part you are supposed to play. Do NOT underestimate your significance.
It you want to know about your importance, consider Esther in the Bible…or Joseph…or Mary. You are not a small player. You were made for NOW.
Personal recognition is not important. We do not need to see our name up in lights on the credit board to know that we have been made to be a part of something Great. Do not feel like our supporting roles are not significant…nothing can be accomplished by the hero without help.
We are the Hero’s help. Our credit will be at the End when we are listed as a cast member of
All of God’s People
That is going to be a very happy ending
And All of God’s People said, “Amen”.
So be it.