A Rare Title: THE SHAPING OF A LIFE by Phyllis Tickle

I’ve been slowly working my way through this spiritual memoir by Phyllis Tickle. I told Dan it was like a bar of bittersweet chocolate; I couldn’t bear to scarf it all down in few bites – it was meant to be savored. I’ve started and finished several other books since I opened this one in June, but I stayed true to my plan and only read a little at a time. Totally worth it.

I first heard this title in a Convergence DVD hosted by Donald Miller. He was interviewing Tickle (isn’t her name lovely?) about the importance of sharing our stories with one another. When she responded to his questions, I fell in love with her voice, her spirit, and her attitude. I didn’t want her to stop talking. She seemed so wise and yet so common. She looked elegant and comfortable at the same time.

And these are the very qualities that shine through in this memoir. It couldn’t be considered light reading, and yet much of it is connected so well that even the intellectual tangents make sense.

Here’s a list of the things I loved most:

1. Tickle’s approach to memories: “The luxury of memory . . . still revives in me some of that sense of carnival and adventure. I know now, of course, where the girl was going because I have become the woman she made, but I still shake my head sometimes at the strange way of our arriving.”

2. The way she allowed even small events to be part of her shaping. I’ve often looked at seasons of my life that were not long in terms of actual time but certainly long in terms of transformation. Tickle affirms this by describing even the small events in her life that shaped her soul.

3. Tickle describes prayer as a gift, as her “spirit’s vocation,” and it inspires me to follow in her footsteps. I have checked out several copies of her Divine Hours books (guides to fixed-hour prayer that include Psalms and selections from The Book of Common Prayer, among other liturgical readings) but I haven’t really worked them as I hope to eventually. (Alison, I think you might really love these! It’s like a bunch of daily mantras you could choose from.)

4. She affirms the sub-culture as an appropriate place for raising children. After working for a summer in a Jewish community center day camp, Tickle recognized the value of a sub-culture for making one “more self-aware.” There are dangers of prejudice and small mindedness, of course, but Tickle still defends the subculture as a gift: “More commonly, though, they are nobler, more socially useful things. Most commonly, they become the protectors and conservators of a community of the different which, while it engages the larger culture, finds itself most complete and realized within itself.”

You can catch a glimpse of Phyllis Tickle’s presence in this clip.

Trailer- Learning how to Share Our Stories from All Things Converge on Vimeo.

Macy’s Questions and Mine

One of my favorite speakers at STORY was Dan Allender (How many times will I be able to say that and you’ll still believe me?) and last night I listened to his recent 2-part interview with Focus on the Family. He was covering topics from his book How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family. I was surprised to hear Allender announced as a guest on Focus in the first place because I consider him among my “liberal” friends while Focus is among my “very, very conservative” friends. I didn’t know they hung out together! But I tuned in just in case, and it was him. Interesting. I wonder if Dr. D knows what those crazies are doing on his show these days?

During the show, Dr. Allender listed what he describes as the two questions children are born asking:

Am I loved?

and

Can I be in charge?

Sounds like my kids. And, if I’m honest, it sounds like me.

Allender said that our entire parenting lives are, from that point on, a precarious balance of answering both of these questions effectively. We know that our children are not in charge because we know we are not in charge. It isn’t just that we submit our lives to Christ – that is obvious – but we also submit our lives to bosses, to government authorities, to local officials, etc. We really aren’t in charge of much at all! Unfortunately, I don’t think we teach our kids this very well and they end up being rudely awakened to it when they get their first job and find out they can’t get out of work on Friday night when they would rather go to the football game. Or when they hear the terrible news that a dear friend has been killed in a car accident. Discovering you are not in charge is not fun.

In disciplining my children I’ve often used the phrase “Because I want people to like you!” when they ask why I’m forcing them to obey one of my crazy strict commands like “Please stop choking your sister.” You are not in charge.

The Am I Loved question relates to the In Charge question, though, because often we don’t feel loved when we don’t get our way. Allender described this as the balancing point. In the interview he related the story of his teenage daughter who had discovered a very large facial blemish immediately before school. He had to be honest by reminding her that she was not totally in charge of the situation (neither her body’s hormonal irregularities nor her school’s attendance policy), but that she was in charge of her attitude toward the situation. And he found a way to make her laugh and reminded her that her value as a person was much more than the flawless skin on her face. She was loved with or without that blemish. But she wasn’t in charge.

Lots of great conversations here, I’m sure. I’m anxious to read the book. What do you think?

And, do you want to tell Macy?

Rare Rock: Corrie ten Boom

I’m not sure what is happening with Radiant Magazine (from Relevant), but I wrote this piece for their newsletter a couple of years ago. (I wish I could buy the whole magazine, actually, if they aren’t going to use it!) I was reminded of the piece this week after watching a documentary, Making Choices: The Dutch Resistance During World War II, with my Christian Classics class before we started reading Corrie ten Boom’s biography, The Hiding Place. This is probably one of my favorite books of all time – definitely one of my favorite stories. If there was ever a woman who defined the Rare Rocks title, it was Corrie ten Boom. Here is my article from 2007.

Becoming a heroine of the Nazi resistance movement during World War II didn’t happen in a single moment, but it started when Corrie ten Boom answered a knock at the door of her family home. Standing outside was a frightened Jewish woman with a suitcase asking for a safe place to spend the night. It would be dangerous to harbor an enemy of the powerful German presence in Holland in 1942, but the ten Boom’s welcomed her saying, “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” Many others would find refuge there as well. By the time the German soldiers came and shut that door for the last time, Corrie and her underground network had saved the lives of nearly 800 Jewish men, women, and children.

Corrie was sent to a Nazi prison camp as punishment for her involvement in the resistance. In the camp she suffered sickness, humiliation, and loneliness. Worst of all, she lost her sister Betsie, Corrie’s constant companion before her death. After her unexpected (and miraculous) release, Corrie embarked on a speaking ministry sharing the lessons she had learned in the prison concerning love and forgiveness. She also opened homes for anyone wounded spiritually or physically by the atrocities of war, providing quiet places of healing and restoration. The author of several inspirational books and devotionals, Corrie writes with a simple, direct faith that challenges others toward both intimacy with Christ and action in the world.

This simple faith mesmerized me as I read The Hiding Place, the story of Corrie ten Boom’s life. I wondered if I could ever be so spiritual or so brave. I was suddenly aware of more than just my own small-town life but also the idea that a world existed beyond me that was full of unknown horrors and corresponding heroism. The story resonated in my soul. I was empowered. By following her example of devotion and neighborly service to others, I knew I could start making a difference in my own little corner of the world.

Every morning and evening of Corrie ten Boom’s life included a reading from Scripture and a time in prayer. This practice fostered an unfailing devotion in Corrie that was rewarded by the peace of God even under the worst circumstances. Surrounded by hate in the physical world of her Nazi prison, her spirit was free to grow closer to God. I am hungry for a relationship with the Word that creates the boldness Corrie had to smuggle the Bible into her prison knowing she could face severe punishment. Her risk paid off. That small Bible became the center of a nightly church service that ministered spiritual life to hundreds of women in the famous death camp of Ravensbruck.

Besides learning to nurture a relationship with God, the ten Boom family also put feet to their faith by serving their community. Casper ten Boom, Corrie’s father, was well known for his benevolence and hospitality even though the small profits of his watch shop could barely support the extra family members and foster children he gathered under his roof. As a young woman, Corrie followed his example and conducted church services for the mentally impaired in her neighborhood. Especially in the pre-dawn of Nazi elitism, these citizens were considered the untouchables of society. Corrie ten Boom was practicing social justice long before social justice was cool. Extending herself to the Jews was a natural response for a woman already devoting her life to what Jesus called the second most important commandment – loving your neighbor.

As inadequate as we may feel when measuring our lives against a renowned woman of faith, Corrie ten Boom would tell us that our own great adventures could be right around the corner. The opportunities to serve people in crisis are many; they range from neighborhood after-school programs to relief missions in Africa. We should start by shaping our spirituality with the Word of God, and the next step is easy. We simply wait until we hear a knock on the door, and then, like Corrie ten Boom, we answer in hospitable faith.

Read more about Corrie ten Boom and see pictures of her famous Beje at www.corrietenboom.com.

Special thanks to Andrew Page1 for this amazing shot of the ten Boom home in Haarlem.

If you have time around 7 a.m. Friday . . .

. . . we would love your prayers!

Claire (top of the pyramid) is scheduled to have a tendon lengthening surgery in St. Louis at that time.

The surgery should take an hour or so. We’ll go back to the hotel for the remainder of Friday to rest and be near the hospital just in case we have any problems with pain. Claire is pretty tough, so I don’t expect anything out of the ordinary.

Specific Prayers:

– that the surgery itself would be complication free

– that Claire would respond well to the anesthesia (she has had problems with this before)

– that the end result of the surgery would be the best possible outcome: normal walking, running, and dancing!

This was Claire’s memory verse this week (Deut. 31:8):

And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.

UPDATE on Monday @ 8:30 a.m.

Claire is off to school this morning! The cast and walking boot only slows her down slightly. She came home with narcotic pain meds and muscle relaxers, but I can barely get her to take Ibuprofen! No sickness post-surgery. Thanks for all your prayers and encouragement.

A STORY Principle (2)

No conference can be summed up in one thought or idea, but, for me, the most useful advice to come out of the STORY event was from David McFadzean, a Hollywood executive. There had been a couple of intellectually challenging speakers before McFadzean, and his credits in comedies like Home Improvement and Rosanne didn’t inspire much anticipation in me. But you know where this is going . . . his words are the ones that have stuck with me. And his message was every bit as intellectually challenging as anyone else. (By the way, if you check out that link, Seren, do you recognize him from one of the HI episodes or something? I don’t know, but he looks so familiar! Imdb was no help.)

So, the life changing words of wisdom were simply this: Art has a cumulative, not singular, effect on us and in us. McFadzean noted that as Christians we often think we need to cram the entire gospel message into our painting or book or song or it won’t qualify as Christian art. (I recognize that feeling!) But instead, McFadzean encourages that good art should work on us in cumulative movement toward better questions, more realistic stories, and an appreciation for the radiance of life. This radiance, he said, includes the good and the bad and especially the mystery of what it means to make the invisible visible.

For me, this advice means I can stop stressing about writing the ONE novel that will change the world, and instead put my effort into the story that is in my head right now. This story involves a lot of themes that faith speaks to, but it does not revolve around a traditionally Christian plot line. (In other words, my protagonist isn’t going to answer an altar call at the end and then see all her dreams come true!)

But if good art should have a cumulative effect, then my little novel doesn’t need to be the end-all, it just needs to be itself. It just needs to tell the story it is meant to tell and be content. As it spins around in my brain, it is quite happy just being its own little tale of loss and discovery. I’m the one who tries to make it more, tries to add characters and sub plots that might propel it into blockbuster Christian stardom. It doesn’t want to do that and neither do I.

Thank you, David McFadzean, the pressure is OFF! : )

P.S. To be fair, the pressure comes back on a bit when McFadzean emphasizes the importance of craft. He says if you don’t have the craft, drop out. (His words, not mine!) And this is good advice for Christians in any line of work. In our culture, we can’t rely on the truth of our message despite the weakness of our form. But for this post, let’s just hang out in the pressure’s off zone, okay? There’s always more . . .

On Romans 8:31-39

I spoke out of this passage during the Awaken Conference at the end of last week. This excerpt is from my notes for the conclusion of my message, which included reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible about the first lie. In Sally Lloyd-Jones’ version, the question that the serpent puts into Eve’s mind is “Does God really love you? If He did, why wouldn’t he want you to have this juicy, delicious fruit?” This root question still sends pangs of doubt into human hearts everywhere: Does God really love me?

What is the meta-narrative of the gospel as we study it in this passage?

In short, we sinned against our Creator and Lover because we doubted Him. We talked behind his back, let someone else convince us He was at best power-hungry and at worst a genuine liar and manipulator. We choose to “talk it out” instead of to simply obey. We forgot he made the rules.

He sent us away for our own protection, promising us a reunion when the time was right. Only he could fix it, and he would.

But we continued to doubt Him. We suffered under the effects of our own sin and questioned even further whether or not it was worth it to be in this long-distance relationship. We didn’t see Him often; we misunderstood His movements toward us, and we turned away from His attempts to draw us near.

He came and he fixed it. He ushered in the beginnings of a new way of living, a promise of the return of a perfect world. He explained that the old laws were just the beginning – he knew we could do better than that. He knew we could conquer anything with his help. It was unexpected, just what we needed, and we’re still trying to understand it.

Then, even when we saw our need for Him and admitted that He was the only answer, we wanted it to be a business transaction, not a loving partnership. He wanted to woo us on a luxury cruise ship of relationship and we were satisfied alone – craving autonomy and independence – in a utilitarian rowboat across an ocean of life’s storms and trouble. We wanted to know, “How is this thing supposed to keep us afloat?!” and He said, “I’m not sure if it will.” And it made Him sad even while it made us angry.

But still He promises: “I’m not here just as your pragmatic answer. I’m here as a person, your Savior. I don’t want you to mentally assent to my presence just so you don’t have to face Hell. I want to embrace you as a father runs with open arms toward his missing child. I am FOR YOU. I am WITH YOU. Nothing, no sin or doubt or failure, can separate us. Run to me.”