Monthly Archives: January 2012

In His Image (Subtitle: I think God must be a photographer.)

Last night a friend and I were discussing our beliefs, and we agreed that it’s important to be a good person. But I think we need to stretch that further to treating others like they are good people, which led to the question of whether a person’s disagreeable actions can change your relationship with them. And I suppose it may change how (or even if) you interact with them, but it doesn’t change their inherent goodness because that is not based on my judgment. So where does that come from?

Genesis 1:31 – God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

We started with this passage in church today. The story of the Bible starts with goodness, not sin or punishment or even salvation, which suggests lostness. Very good: this is the expectation to which we are truly called to live. But when we’re told that we’re bad before (or instead of) good, it exacerbates the innate sense of something missing, of falling short. To believe that creation is inherently good restores hope that things are not supposed to be as horrible and broken as they are. In my darkest moments in the past year, that was the only grain of faith left to me, that the terrible feelings were not the rule.

Genesis 1:27 – So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

I was always taught that this verse meant that we have to work to be fuzzy little versions of God, which really seems to run counter to my general experience of reality. But then I got to thinking about how a photographic image is produced, and maybe that makes a little more sense. (Hang on to your hats, metametametaphor!) A camera works by capturing light on either a piece of film or on a digital image sensor. The amount of light hitting the film determines how light or dark that exposure is. So the image of God is not something we must strive to achieve, but it is something we receive simply by being in His presence. After all, John 1:4 says about Christ, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”(My photography site’s tagline of ‘Light. Life. Love.’ suddenly means so much more than I ever knew, and that makes me exceedingly happy.) Interestingly enough, the image on film is actually a negative, which then gets inverted during printing…so maybe the world looks terrible right now compared to the searing brightness of God, but eventually it’ll be made right. [/metaphor-a-saurus]

Thinking back to the discussion last night, the question arose of how you treat someone who is making choices with which you disagree. It may seem like they are not capturing the image of God. But maybe they are doing so in ways that you are not. This made me think about channels in digital photography. (Obviously this new kick of mine is taking over my brain.)

A digital image is made of three colors: red, green, and blue. Without getting into the technical aspects that I don’t understand a whole lot, it is the combination of these three colors that gives us all the other colors we see. But you can isolate or filter out specific channels, and what you are left with looks different depending on which channel you’ve chosen. The resulting images look different, but they are all part of the same original image.

The more I go through life, the more I realize that I really don’t have all the answers. And so I’ve made it my goal to learn as much from others as possible, even if I don’t eventually end up subscribing wholesale to what any one person says. I’m convinced that is the only way I can get the biggest possible picture, and be at once more human and more godly.

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Note to self: keep dreaming

My dad saved a brochure from National Geographic Expeditions for me and in it I found my dream job, and I know I probably don’t need to call it that but still. Trip leaders work with groups of high schoolers, traipse around the world with them, teach field workshops on photography, archeology, anthropology, history, ecology. WANNIT.

Applying the minute I get back from Jamaica. As my dad pointed out, this’ll probably require one hell of a cover letter. But still.

Oh, Jonah

It’s been a weird week of rising anxiety, and last night I finally sat down long enough to pinpoint why.  I’ve said no and had no said to me a lot this week, and that has always freaked me out more than a little.  It’s so hard to say no to something that’s not right for me when the best choice has not presented itself yet.  But I have learned not to jump too quickly at the nearest option in times of uncertainty, and I’m trying to sit in the ellipsis a little longer.  I’m determined to keep falling up and eventually break through anxiety as well as depression.

Jonah 2

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said:
“In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, LORD my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”
And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

And another rendition of this timeless story:

The story of Jonah from Corinth Baptist Church on Vimeo.

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In church yesterday we started a series on our belief statements, appropriately enough, by asking, “Why have a belief statement?”  We talked about beliefs being a center around which to gather, and of course the erstwhile science teacher in me started thinking about magnets.

The last two years have really shown the intense homing instinct in me that sooner or later pulls me back to God even if I don’t feel like it’s ever, EVER going to work again.  If it’s true that “in him we live and move and have our being,” then there is something in us that calls us all home, like magnets to true north.  And if that is true, then there is no way to exclude anyone for “believing” or “doing” the wrong things.  There’s no in or out, just nearness or farness, and we are all ultimately pointing to the same True.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” -Ephesians 2:13

And the thing about magnetic fields is that if you ever visualize them using iron filings, not everything runs the same direction…but they are all influenced by the very same field.  Not everyone has a praise band. Not everyone has an organist. Not everyone worships in a tall stone building with stained glass…or a sprawling hall with built-in Powerpoint projectors and state-of-the-art sound systems. (Oops, probably too snarky. Repenting.) Not everyone prays specific words. Not everyone calls it “tithing” but they sure put their money where their mouth is better than I do. Not everyone knows what Jesus would do or even his name, but they have more love for the world than I will ever have.

If belief is a center rather than a wall or a box, then the closer you get to the center, the closer you will get to everyone else, even (especially?) if they’re angled slightly differently from you.  So if I point myself to center instead of worrying what everyone else is doing, the closeness I need should will take care of itself. Please and amen.

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Little by Little

Exodus 23:29-30 – But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.

What wisdom beyond my understanding!  I remember a friend saying, many years ago at this point, that maybe there is a reason God doesn’t magically pluck my self-esteem and body image issues away overnight.  Maybe the process of wrestling is necessary to strengthen me enough to hold up when things are finally set right.  Otherwise, if things just magically improved, it would be like the parable in Luke 11:24-26, where the unclean spirit returns after being evicted and “finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” And I think that is a rather recurring pattern: I try to abnegate my sinful nature through mere self-denial and emptying, like crash-dieting. But I fail to fill myself with God’s grace and love, and as a result a whole host of other problems arise: fear, anger, hate, suffering. (Thank you, Yoda.)

So God works on me little by little, rather than all at once, so that my soul grows strong enough to own the goodness of God in me.  (And because my puny little heart can’t take that much rattling at once!)  And until then, there will be marauders, and plagues, and famines, and droughts…but those will not win.  And that gives me great peace.

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Take Three

So, because not-so-deep down I am actually a corny Caucasian soccer mom in training, I subscribe to these Daily Health Challenge e-mails, and usually they’re goofy things like do 20 calf raises or give a mouse a cookie, but today’s actually did make me think a little.

Picture yourself 3 months from today and write down 3 words that describe the future you.

I like to think that I already have everything I need and want inside me, but I have to own it more.  So in 3 months, that is April 4, 2012, I should like to be more:

  • Peaceful. Because I feel loads better than I did even a month ago, I sometimes forget that I am still coming off a fairly stressful period in which I left, acquired, and left again two jobs, started and ended a relationship, moved one and a half times, and generally threw my life in a blender. So the anxiety that creeps up as I reverse that downward spiral sometimes surprises me with its intensity, but if I can remember that it, too, will pass, then hopefully I can make it to a place of true peace, if only for a little while.
  • Thankful. Right now I have high hopes for the present and future, and it seems logical that in 3 months I will have much for which to be grateful. (Even if those hopes do not come to fruition as I expect, right?)  The key will be remembering.
  • Engaged. (No, not that kind.) I would like to continue deepening my existing relationships while broadening my heart to include new friends and communities.  I think to a certain extent I still have a finite amount of relational capacity, but I’m sure that capacity is rather greater than what I had always believed it to be.

The general gist is that I want to see how quickly God can move things about if I will just get the hell out of His (and my) way.  That scares me still, but not as much as it used to…

Got Your Back

Exodus 14:14, 19-20 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still. Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

Oof. What if, when God seems to have abandoned us, he is merely moving to guard our backs against dangers unseen?  Oh, Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Waiting to Exhale

I was able to carve out a little bit of me time in the car on the way to visit my cousin yesterday, and I came to the realization that when I try to bring any sort of helping role to the forefront of my life, it inevitably leads to bitterness, burnout, and sneaky hate vortexes because I make “helping” the larger part of my identity and the idealistic individualist in me starts dancing and screaming and destroying things for attention. (…figuratively speaking…of course.)  This actually makes a great deal of sense in the context of Enneagram theory, because the direction of disintegration for romantic Fours leads to the overinvolved, clingy version of the helpful Two.  So perhaps forcing myself into roles that by their best nature involve stepping back is counterproductive when it is the creative, the artist, and the performer in me who actually wants to be on.

In my experience, Chinese culture–and evangelical church culture, to be honest–tends to encourage and glorify Two-iness (while yelling at everyone to HAVE A MARY HEART IN A MARTHA WORLD, of course) with the result that I felt freakish and/or guilty at any given point while growing up.  To cope, I decided that martyrdom was the way to go, and that has not surprisingly blown up in my face on more than one occasion. (I like to think that someone Googling “blown up in my face” will come upon this site since I tend to use the phrase more than the average sane person.)  It’s also a little ironic that I’m still having such a hard time accepting myself since the hallmark of a Four is, in fact, reveling in one’s individualism.

The last year has been spent dismantling the ideas of my self that I constructed or were constructed for me as a child and veeeeeeery slowly reconfiguring those into what I hope is a more accurate understanding, an important part of which is learning to like me as I get to know me better.  That is the inhale we talked about at church this morning, and it requires community and prayer introspection to help me take in God’s truth about me.  I did a lot of inhaling after I quit my job, sucking in great gulps of air after months of slow asphyxiation.  But in the last two weeks especially, I’ve also had the chance to exhale, to serve several beloved sisters simply by listening and occasionally passing on a few pearls of wisdom gleaned from my unashamedly silly little existence.  One cannot inhale forever…that’s called hyperventilating. Nor can one exhale constantly…that would be suffocation, which is what classroom teaching became and what remains a constant danger if I make “helpfulness” the center of my life.  But a rhythmic and balanced inhale-exhale is what leads to health, and I think that is the only goal I need right now.  “Let’s talk about this later,” and that’s allowed to be said with God. Ahhhhh.

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