Saturday, January 30, 2010

Avatar and the Lessons of Unity

My family and I saw "Avatar" this afternoon. Tom had been itching to see it ever since he'd been lucky enough to see 20 minutes of the film at a convention in Las Vegas. You see, the software company for whom Tom has worked for over eleven years developed some of the computer programs that created the special effects in the movie. We had to get to see the film before it left the theaters, before we were relegated to see it at home sans 3-D glasses! It is, in fact, true that the nearly three-hour-long movie has few if any lags in action or story, and the time is gone before you know it. The story left me with much to chew on.

One of the first things to catch my eye is that in 150 years young people on Pandora will still be stretching their ears! It thrills me to know that TALL totally works on the beautifully lush and plush moon. The spiritual dimension of the film really touched me. Now, don't get me wrong, I am a Christ follower and I have never been especially "green". You will never see me praying to Mother Nature or worshiping a tree. I believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God and therefore I believe that man was given authority over the Earth and that the Earth's resources are for our use and pleasure. I find this in Genesis 1:26 - "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'" I believe that if there is life on other planets or moons, then surely God has given those inhabitants the same reign over nature. However, the spiritual unity among the citizens of Pandora, as portrayed in "Avatar", is something I envy.

There's a beautiful scene in the movie when Neytiri's mother, who is the spiritual leader of Pandora, is praying to nature and to ancestors for guidance. Thousands of natives are kneeling beneath a mighty tree, hands resting on the shoulder of their neighbor so that every member of the community is connected. They are all swaying from side to side in unified sincerity. I envy that kind of undivided oneness. We live in a divided country in divided times. Neighborhoods and families are divided, as are churches, communities, companies, and friends. So many people finding so many reasons to separate and stay disconnected. So sad.

I love being involved in the theatre community. When I am doing a play I am united with people from many and varied walks of life. We want our play to be great and so we support one another, lift each other up, and we are united in respect, love, and a sense of purpose. I love watching "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition". I cry each week when I watch deserving families receive the gift of peace of mind and a new home. I am inspired by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of people coming together to give of their time, talent, and energy to better the life of a stranger. There is joy in being united in purpose.

During a conversation with a friend the other day, I was expressing my disappointment with a couple of people in my life. My friend said, "Why are you looking at people? Just look to God." I look to people because I crave community and unity. I work best when I’m a member of a team – a cog in the machine. I find it hard to get motivated to accomplish much of anything when I am isolated, but people inspire me. I love people! I crave people!

In Avatar, as in real life, it often takes a tragedy to unite people. In the days, weeks, and months after 9/11 we were a country united. We looked out for one another, we prayed together, and we supported our leaders. Tragedy unites. Tragedy reminds us to look beyond ourselves and to tend to the needs of others. It reminds us that we NEED each other. I need you every day – in times of peace and in times of war; in times of prosperity and in times of need; in times of sickness and in times of health. So much can and will be accomplished, but only if we work together.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thank You Kay!

Several years ago I met a young girl I will call “Kay”. Kay was maybe 16 or 17 when I first became aware of her. She was a not only a beauty, but she was a gifted singer and dancer. I had been working with the Junior Company (a performance training ground for talented kids) for a few years, and then – as now – I loved working with those great kids. Anyway, Kay was brilliantly talented, and she was around the same age as my own kids. I absolutely loved watching Kay perform on stage – and she performed a lot.

Like many kids that grow up in and around our theatre company, when Kay was around 19 she stepped out of the spotlight for a time while she went to college and worked. Kay was growing up. I would occasionally run into Kay’s mom at church and although we didn’t know one another outside of church or the theatre, we would exchange polite conversation. Then life happened. All my focus and energy turned to my kids as two of them plummeted into the giant abyss of drug addiction. One day I went with my son to a family drug counseling session and sitting in the room was Kay’s brother and her parents. Like so many of us, the evil ravages of addiction were assaulting their family. Kay’s mom and I connected immediately.

I grew to love Kay’s mom. My son was living on the street, and her son was in the same predicament. We encouraged and prayed for one another. Sometimes Kay would be at church with her mom, but it was apparent that she was wrestling with demons of her own. One day, about a year and a half ago, I was driving down the road and Kay’s name popped into my head. Okay, it was more like her name exploded in my head. I pulled over to the side of the road and wrote down her name and the date. I prayed for Kay everyday for the next two weeks. Then, on a Tuesday night while driving home from choir, I was listening to the local news in my car and it was announced that two arrests had been made in connection with a string of home invasion robberies. They said Kay’s name. I pulled over and called Kay’s mom, who had not yet heard that her daughter was in jail. She said, however, that she hadn’t heard from Kay in over two weeks and just that morning she had prayed, “God, please let me know by the end of the day that Kay is alive”. I said, “she’s alive and she’s in a safe place”. I knew then why God had placed Kay on my heart two weeks before. I wrote to Kay while she was in jail and did my best to encourage her. My son had been right where she was and I hoped my letter would lighten her heart. We exchanged several cards and letters over the next few months.

It has been a year and a half (or more) and Kay’s sentence was severe, but she was given the option of being sent away for a two-year stint in rehab. That is where she is today. Sunday at church someone said, “Liz, do you know that there’s a gift in the office for you?” It had been in there for two weeks! I collected the Christmas bag, stuffed with red and gold tissue, and I found tucked inside a beautiful flowerpot that had been hand made and painted by Kay! She had sent it home with her parents when they had visited her in October. The poor little plant had been neglected and was turning yellow, but it was alive. I cried as I read the card. I cried as I unwrapped the pot. I cried and cried. Kay was working on getting well, but had taken a moment to think of me. I am humbled!

Thank you Kay! I pray for you and your family every day. I’m so proud of you.

Friday, January 1, 2010

40 Days!

My son has been on parole for nearly three years. His parole will end 40 days from today! 40 days. Experts will tell you that forty days are all you need to change the course of your life. If you can stick with a new behavior forty days then it will become a habit – a permanent piece of the whole of you. Want to give up smoking? Give it up for 40 days and it will no longer be a habit. If you want to add exercise into your life, it will ONLY take 40 days to make it as routine as breathing. A Google search of “40 Days” opens page after page after page of hits. You can find books, calendars, and personal betterment courses – a veritable buffet of 40-day challenges. Ancient writings and artifacts (including certain monuments) make it clear that a cycle of 40 days was once carefully time tracked. There are extensive math equations that prove how effectively the solar year can be perfectly broken down into 40-day increments. There are even early writings that are attributed to a Jewish philosopher named Philo Judaeous (c. 25 BC - 45 AD) who wrote about the significance of the 40-day cycle, and in fact, made reference to the Biblical book of Genesis. The Bible, you see, is filled with examples of 40-day stints replete with testing and conquering.

In the book of Genesis we read about Noah, his big boat, and the flood that washed the earth. The rains came for forty days and forty nights. When the boat finally came to rest on the top of the mountains of Ararat it was forty days before Noah opened the window. According to the customs of Biblical times, it took 40 days for a body to be embalmed. Moses spent 40 days and nights on the mountain before descending with the tablet on which was written the Ten Commandments. The Lord then told Moses to have some men spend 40 days exploring the land of Canaan and to report back with their findings. The men lied about what they saw and found and so God punished the Israelites by allowing them to wander in the desert for 40 years – one year for each of the days they had been told to explore the land of Canaan. The Old Testament plays out story after story of 40-day encounters, starring heroes like David and Elijah. Even Jesus spent forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan. He did better than the Israelites – no grumbling or complaining. He set the bar for how to successfully deal with our challenges. We give up far more quickly and under far less stress. I confess…I’ve wimped out on a few challenges and I REALLY hate being in the proverbial desert! But in the Bible, as in life today, if we can stick it out for 40 days, there is a rainbow on the other side of the storm. There is milk and honey after the desert.

Okay…I said all that to say this…40 days! Can I get an “Amen!”? My son will be free from “the system” for the first time – well – ever! He was 18 when he became a pretty hard-core drug user and was imprisoned by his addiction. Then he went to jail, then prison, then parole. The next forty days will (for me) be a time of reflecting on where we as a family have been, and rejoicing with my son for where we are today. I am amazed at who my son is and I am blessed to have the privilege of watching him become a man. I’ve encouraged my son to spend some time over the next forty days reflecting – reflecting on where he’s been, who he is today, and where he hopes the road of life will take him next. I plan to take that same advice. I will reflect not only on where I’ve been, but where I NEVER want to return!

Forty days! Amen!