These Are a Few of My Ill-Favored Things

I don’t know a single person who has ever kept a new year’s resolution, including me. But that never stops us from making them. Like always, the day after Christmas, after all the toys and electronic gizmos were taken down, displays of workout gear and other doo dads that promise to slim one part of our anatomy or another were put up in their place. Commercials for Nutri-System (now starring Janet Jackson oddly enough), Weight Watchers, and Alli started airing before Christmas dinner had been given a chance to properly digest. (And if you take Alli, I promise you, nothing will digest properly ever again.)

Products that promise to help us quit smoking, get organized, save money, or do anything we’ve put off for most or all of 2011 will renew a desire in us to attack whatever weakness we perceive in ourselves and try to weed it out yet again. We’ve all been in that vicious cycle…the one you begin with every good intention and carry out for weeks or even months of the new year.

Until you quit.

However, most of us restart at least once only to give up again. After that, all that’s left is to hate ourselves and crawl into our dark caves of despair until the sting of failure is nothing but a dull ache somewhere between our third and fourth ribs, easily written off as angina or a pulled muscle.

I didn’t stop making resolutions because I always failed at them (though I did), but because a resolution almost sets a person up for failure. After all, how can we know what 2012 will bring? Maybe the year you swear you’ll lose fifty pounds is the year God has something else in mind. Heck, the year I vowed I’d finish grad school, I went into the hospital and came out with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Grad school simply had to wait until the following winter to be finished. My plans were put on hold for His, and let me tell you His were much better for me in the long run.

Just because you didn’t accomplish what you thought you should during a particular 365 day stretch doesn’t mean that your entire year was in vain. However, we like making lists, checking things off them, and feeling the sense of accomplishment that comes from it. And the thought of doing it when a new year arrives, fresh out of the box and still covered in shiny plastic is just so darned appealing…so symbolic.

As Leigh McLeroy says in her article for In Touch Magazine coming out in March, “We are, all of us, result-oriented people who serve a process-happy God.” I liked that quote when I first read it, so much so that I copied down on a Post-It and hung it on a board in my office already ripe to bursting with them. Sometimes, when I’m between tasks or letting my brain deflate after a particularly strenuous one, I look at that wall, and usually something leads me to find the one I need to read in that moment. But I digress.

What Ms. McLeroy is saying makes perfect sense. We like the concept of a process, having steps to follow, and being rewarded for carrying them out to the letter. However, sad though it is, I think we have been conditioned by Hollywood to think of those processes in montage format. You know–the ones made famous by movies like Rocky or pretty much any Disney moviewhere the hero’s long hours of training, pain, suffering, and growth is condensed into three or four minutes that’s usually paired with a catchy song?

Anyone who has ever truly accomplished something will tell you just how unrealistic it is to expect to gain it overnight. However, we live in a society built on the concept of instant gratification, and that, I think, is why many a resolution takes a dirt nap before the first green shoots of spring force their way up through the thawing soil.

I’m a firm believer in change–both the need for and the possibility of it–but the time of the year shouldn’t be what prompts it. I heard a DJ here in Atlanta say, “You have to have a resolution on January 1…just so you can break it January 2.” Really? To have a resolution only to break it is no resolution at all. I’d rather make it when my moment arrives and see it through to completion. For instance, I made dozens of promises to myself to lose weight, and I failed every time. When I finally made the decision to truly go for it, it was May or June. But my mind and my gumption were ready, and I’m one hundred pounds thinner today. Yes, I lost it and have kept most of it off for two years. It was always possible, but I had to be ready to bring it about rather than being told.

Also, change doesn’t mean you have to throw out everything you are to start over. Think of it like a room makeover. A blank slate to work with may sound appealing, but the work that is involved in stripping it bare is exhausting. And there’s nothing to show at the end of it but that raw, unfinished emptiness. Also, what’s worse is that you may lose tiny details and intricacies that are worth keeping, things that an entirely new version of that room can be built around.

I have to admit that the room metaphor wasn’t originally mine. I got the idea from Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Ellen Goodman who once said, “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

That’s how I’m choosing to think in 2012. For me, 2011 was a pretty great year, and it was a much needed one after six or seven years of struggle on whole host of levels. I want to build on that by continuing to do those things that worked and doing them better. I want to break new ground, too.

Yes, I have many flaws, but I want to take the time to evaluate them and see if they aren’t things that can be reclaimed, refurbished, and (though I loathe to use a word like this) upcycled rather than simply chunked out the door of my soul. Because, as Touchstone says of his virgin daughter in As You Like It, it is “an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own.”

I won’t call them “resolutions” as they’re more “projects” than anything else, and they won’t be bound by time. However, I will begin 2012 by focusing on three areas where I know I have potential. 

***

1. My financial situation was much better in 2011 than it has been in recent years. Therefore, I want to continue to build upon that. My goal is to eventually have $10,000 in the savings account. It may be this year, maybe not, but I can make a good start.

2. Most people I know consider me to be exceedingly well read, but I went through my Goodreads page the other day and was embarrassed at how many of the classics I had never enjoyed either by choice or because my studies never brought me into contact with them. It’s not as terrible now as when I was an English teacher and had to admit I’d never read Moby Dick, but it’s still something I’d like to rectify. I would like 2012 to end with me having read at least three seminal works of English literature that I’ve never read before. I’ll wait to see what mood strikes me before I commit to any one of them.

3. I want to do one thing this year that will benefit me in some way such as teaching me a new skill like painting or cake decorating, something I can actually practice and use. I also want to provide the same experience for another person, but I don’t know who or how just yet!

Happy Chipmunk Day!!!

December 21st, like all of its neighbors that separate us from the full on festivities of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, is often overlooked or hastily torn from the calendar in an impotent rage that makes us wish time travel in a DeLorean was possible. However, we should not be so quick to dismiss this seemingly run-of-the-mill day or slap the incorrect moniker “Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve” on it.

Let us not forget that December 21st is the earliest possible day for the winter solstice! Likewise, there are many hallmark moments we should remember and observe on this oft maligned twenty-four hour period. For instance, did you know that on this day…

  • In the year 69, Vespasian was declared Roman emperor.
  • The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620.
  • The HMS Challenger launched in 1872.
  • The timeless play, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen premiered in Copenhagen on a snowy night in 1879.
  • The Royal Canadian Dragoons and Royal Canadian Regiment were formed in 1883.
  • The first crossword puzzle appeared in the New York Times in 1913.
  • Snow White, the first full-length animated film, graced the screen in 1937.
  • The first open heart transplant was performed in South Africa in 1967. Granted, the patient died 18 days later, but still…
  • Many famous and illustrious people celebrate their arrival in the world including Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury, martyr, and saint), John Russell (who gave us the uber annoying Jack Russell Terrier), Benjamin Disraeli, Phil Donahue, Frank Zappa, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Romano, Andy Van Slyke, and Kiefer Sutherland.
  • Still many more chose this day to use as their launching pad into the vast and unknown reaches of eternity. Some famous folks who bought the farm outright on 12/21 include Thomas the Apostle, Giovanni Boccaccio, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Smith Patton, Jr., Frank B. Kellogg, Albert King, Scobie Breasley (an Australian jockey whose name I just really wanted to include in this list because it sounds cool), and Paul de Man.

Yes, December 21st is a veritable cornucopia of moments both trivial and watershed! However, that is not the reason I’m blogging about it. Today is a day that you, too, can celebrate and use to put a little “Whazzup!” in your yearly wassailing.

I’ve always loved the “Creeper Face” Simon is making in this picture! (From 2or3lines.blogspot.com)

Unless you’re a descendant of Ebeneezer Scrooge, you know this song well. Most people know and love the lyrics “Christmas, Christmastime is near…” sung in an impossibly high register. The disgruntled adoptive father who just wants to get it done and two whiny demands for a hula hoop have made this song a standard in the holiday playlist of many radio stations in America for the last forty years.

The record came in packaging with this image on the front, and my mother and aunt loved it so much that they played it non-stop when they first got it. Why? Since our ancestors first began sharecropping the cotton fields of Arkansas, we’ve been Christmas enthusiasts. Out of that great love for one another and the holiday, we’ve slowly added traditions that make it special. For instance, someone always has to dance to “Holly Jolly Christmas,” we have to have the “Festive Yule Log” burning on the television when we’re opening presents (It’s hot in Florida, so real fires aren’t an option.), and while we eat a true meal on Christmas afternoon, the eve meal is a plethora of junk food like cheese sticks, party pizzas, potato skins, and other finger foods.

We always sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and my father (who hates it) has to sing “Two Turtle Doves” because that means he, the curmudgeon, has to sing all twelve rounds. Without fail, someone reads Luke 2, the Scripture that chronicles the birth of Jesus, and we follow that with the things for which we are thankful and what we’re glad the year brought us. Sometimes, I write a Christmas story or poem that we read together, or my husband and I perform a mini concert on our instruments. And we always get new pajamas we change into the instant the sun hints at disappearing behind the horizon.

And while we’ll open a few presents on Christmas Eve to take the edge off our desire to tear into each and every one of the packages stashed under the tree, up the stairs, and in the dining room, never more than a handful make the sacrifice for the greater good. What we usually do is sort them into piles for each person so the process is streamlined the next morning…though it does make the floor a bit hard to navigate! And when we do open those presents, we do NOT do so in a feeding frenzy style, each person wrapping and giving a collective “Thank You” to one another at the end. No, sir! Each person takes a turn while everyone watches (unless two or three people have the same gift. Those can be opened simultaneously). Once they are opened,  gifts are admired, stories of their purchases are shared and bragged on (especially if the item was found on sale), and there is always an “ooh” or “aah” when warranted. Oftentimes, it takes five hours for us all to open, and we often take a break to stretch, fetch more coffee, and snack on cookies and candies not nommed the night before.

“But why Chipmunk Day?” I hear you asking. Well, we started celebrating it when I was a kid. It’s the beginning of “For Real Christmas” for us. After all, the big day is only ninety-six hours away! We don’t give gifts or anything; it usually involves phone calls, messages on Facebook pages, the occasional card, and other things like that. Yes, it is a way for us to begin decompressing, to begin focusing our attention not on the commitments that keep us separated from one another over the course of the year, but rather on those things that bring us together—faith, family, and tradition. “Hurry Christmas, hurry fast.” Indeed, I’m with you in that sentiment, Chipmunks. I’m in such a good mood already that I almost don’t care about the modifier problem in that sentence. 🙂

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Here’s to Ho-Ho-Hoping!

Ho, ho ho….it’s time for another book list. The idea is courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish. Please go check them out to read reviews, find new books and authors, and to join me in this awesome weekly meme!

This week, the topic for the list is “The Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings.” The fat man better come loaded for bear this year—I’m talking a fist full of B&N and Kindle gift cards—because there are a lot of books on my wish list!

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett—This one has all the markings of a book I’d love. It’s thicker than my uncle’s Philadelphia accent and has FIVE different plot lines all woven together. It’s historical fiction at its best, and it’s part of a trilogy! That means I have two more books to look forward to in the future!

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian–This is one of the books where the back/flap matter caught my eye. Sometimes, the cover draws me in (The Night Circus is the most recent example of that), but the description on this one proves why a good hook and a punchy piece of ad copy matter. Read it and tell me you’re not interested in reading this book!

“In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.The home’s new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine. What follow is a riveting ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling, award-winning novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, meticulous research, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply. The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.” I KNOW!!!! GO GET IT!!

Hearing Bach’s Passions by Daniel R. Melamed—We’re going to the symphony to hear this performed in March, and I am REALLY looking forward to it. I like to know about composers as well as their works before I go to listen to them being performed. It makes the entire experience all the richer in my mind, like knowing a story before you see the movie or being able to watch a film or listen to an opera in its original language instead of relying on subtitles. Bach was a musician as well as a theologian, and I’m interested to study these two oratorios for their technical components as well as their spiritual ones. It should be interesting to hear how another religious musician interprets the world.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak—I’ve heard people talking about and/or recommending this one for awhile now. It sounds like something right up my literary alley. It’s a teen fiction read with a great deal of depth. Set in World War II in Germany, it tells the story of Liesel, an orphan who lives outside Munich, who tries to protect Jews and survives by reading pilfered books with her neighbors. It’s a book about survival and the things that make it both possible and worth it. Words are powerful things; after all, they were what made Hitler’s power possible. They are also a sort of portable magic that allow us to escape ourselves and our painful situations.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie—This is another book I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read. Many teacher friends are using in their AP classrooms, and it has been banned on more than one occasion for content. Naturally, I’ll love it. It is also one of the books that combines my love of text and visual storytelling because the illustrations done by the protagonist also help tell the story. Very, very cool stuff.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield—This is another book that combines some of my favorite elements—literature and the act of writing, memory, mystery, exploration of the meaning of identity, and recovery. Here’s the blurb—“Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author’s tale of gothic strangeness — featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess,a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.”

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born by Peter David–This is a visual adaptation of Stephen King’s first Dark Tower book, and I’ve been interested to see it this way since the first book had six or seven amazing illustrations, especially the last one of Roland looking at the tower in the distance. It’ll be like reading it afresh and anew. If anyone is interested, I’d also like a new hardcover copy of the original text as well!

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon—I have never read her before, but this one sounds darned interesting! Check out the blurb—“London, 1760. For Jamie Fraser, paroled prisoner-of-war in the remote Lake District, life could be worse: He’s not cutting sugar cane in the West Indies, and he’s close enough to the son he cannot claim as his own. But Jamie Fraser’s quiet existence is coming apart at the seams, interrupted first by dreams of his lost wife, then by the appearance of Tobias Quinn, an erstwhile comrade from the Rising. Like many of the Jacobites who aren’t dead or in prison, Quinn still lives and breathes for the Cause. His latest plan involves an ancient relic that will rally the Irish. Jamie is having none of it—he’s sworn off politics, fighting, and war. Until Lord John Grey shows up with a summons that will take him away from everything he loves—again. Lord John Grey—aristocrat, soldier, and occasional spy—finds himself in possession of a packet of explosive documents that exposes a damning case of corruption against a British officer. But they also hint at a more insidious danger. Time is of the essence as the investigation leads to Ireland, with a baffling message left in “Erse,” the tongue favored by Scottish Highlanders. Lord John, who oversaw Jacobite prisoners when he was governor of Ardsmiur prison, thinks Jamie may be able to translate—but will he agree to do it? Soon Lord John and Jamie are unwilling companions on the road to Ireland, a country whose dark castles hold dreadful secrets, and whose bogs hide the bones of the dead. A captivating return to the world Diana Gabaldon created in her Outlander and Lord John series, The Scottish Prisoner is another masterpiece of epic history, wicked deceit, and scores that can only be settled in blood.”

The other two I’d like to have don’t have visual aids to accompany them. I would really, really, really like a leather bound hard copy of Jane Eyre to read and enjoy. All my other copies are dog-eared, highlighted, and marked in the margins from all the times I’ve studied it or written about it. Yes, a virginal copy would be just the ticket.

The final book I’d like Santa to leave in my stocking is a new Bible of the apologetics variety…New American Standard Translations preferred. 🙂

What books are you looking for? Also, what translation(s) of the Bible are your favorite!?

Merry Christmas, all!

A Little Thing Am I…

I’ve had a poem brewing in my head for some time about the concept of “dying daily” and what it means to empty one’s self of…well…self in order to be a truly useful vessel for Christ while I’m in the world. The reason it’s a struggle for so many Christians is because it’s just darned hard to give up what you believe to be vital, your identity and sense of individuality, especially when the world touts its importance above everything else. However, we are in it as believers, not of it, and more is expected from us.

This is the result of my musings, and there will likely be other drafts to follow. I would truly appreciate any feedback or comments you would like to provide!

Please click on the image below for a full-screen version of the poem, which I have tentatively titled “Self-Actualization.”

 

My Precioussssss…….

Hooray for another Top Ten Tuesday! This week at The Broke and the Bookish, posters are listing and discussing “Books I Want To Give As Gifts This Christmas.” I have to tell you who and why as well, so this should be an interesting list. Honestly, I don’t give that many books as gifts, and I don’t know why that is. Perhaps I’m like Gollum and hoard books for no other reason than I want them all for myself. 🙂 (I think I just found a New Year’s Resolution I might actually keep!) Well, I am giving two for Christmas this year, so I’ll start with them. (Here’s hoping those two people don’t read this blog!) The other eight are books I would like to give to people.

The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit—I’m giving this beautiful boxed set to my cousin this year. He loves the movies and mentioned that he’d like to read The Hobbit this year before the movie first came out. Here’s hoping he can take some time out of his busy IB schedule to actually enjoy some fiction!

 

Wham! The Art and Life of Roy Lichetenstein—This one is for my brother who loves Lichtenstein’s pop art. I leafed through it before I wrapped it, and it looks to be well done–thorough and informational. It’s a little thin for my taste, but it will look good on a coffee table and make for a good conversation starter. I think Jarrod will really like it!

 

Death Comes to Pemberly—I’d have to give this one to my friend Audrey who took a Jane Austen class with me in graduate school. Our favorite book by the lovely Ms. Austen is Persuasion, and I think we’d have a good time laughing at and enjoying this one. I don’t think Elizabeth, despite her many virtues, would make a great sleuth. She should leave that to Sherlock.

Game of Thrones (Book 1 of The Song of Ice and Fire Series)—I’d give this book to my husband if I thought he’d read it. It’s lengthy, and he doesn’t really love reading that much. However, I’d love to have a book in common with him besides Alas Babylon! That was the only book I ever recommended that he actually read cover to cover and wanted to discuss with me. Also, the added perk would be I could then justify adding HBO to our cable package so we could watch season two of the series when it starts in April of 2012.

 

The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook—Why a book like this even exists is beyond me! I suppose fans are just this into the trilogy. There’s a vacuum in the fantasy world since the Harry Potter books and films ended, and this looks like it’s going to fill the void nicely. This one would have to go to my friend, Renee, at work who loves the series as much as I do and would get the humor behind this gift. (And who would likely make some of the recipes with me!)

 

This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession—This each and every one of my musical friends be they band director, music teacher, or humble player like myself. I read through the first chapter of this one while I was waiting for a Margaret Atwood lecture at Emory last year and was hooked. Why have I never gone back and picked this one up for myself!? It is a combination of “hard” neurological science and emotional reactions to music that explains why it is such a powerful force for humans.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks—This one would be a gift for my friend, Sherri, who is a former Anatomy and Biology teacher as well as a Registered Nurse. I know she would love the mix of culture and medicine in this one. If you’ve never heard of her, don’t be alarmed. No one has outside of the medical community. Here’s what the book jacket summary says: “Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years….Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.” Interesting, no?

Throw Them All Out—This one is for my friend, Bree, who is as adamant a political junkie as I have ever seen. She is passionate, moral, and outspoken in all the right ways. She stands up for her right for free speech…as well as the rights of those who disagree with her. However, she’ll disassemble their arguments like a Marine cleaning his rifle soon afterwards. 🙂

 

The Walking Dead: Days Gone By (Volume 1)—This one is for my dad who loves the TV show and is always asking my brother and me what is going to happen next. It is a darned fine television show; I’ll give it that. However, any bibliophile will always tell you that the book, without fail, is much better than the movie or television series. I don’t honestly think I’ve ever seen a film that was better than the book. Have you?

 

A History of the World in 100 Objects—This one is a great looking read for the historian friends I have like Jill and Jeff. From the credit card to the hand axe, this book chronicles the objects that have helped cultures flourish as well as those that have caused their demise. I’d be interested to read this one myself. However, isn’t that always the case with book nerds? We’d like to read the books we give away?

Okay, that’s my official list for this week. What books are you giving away? What books do you hope show up in your stocking or wrapped under the tree?

Also, have you ever read a book you were giving someone else before you gave it to them? I’d love to hear about it!

Pinching Myself Until I’m Purple…

Ernest Hemingway closes his masterwork, The Sun Also Rises, with a scene between Jake and Brett, the doomed lovers. She states that it’s a shame the two of them can’t be together, and Jake closes the book with the the classic line, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Such an odd line from a character who loves drinking, bullfighting, and all other manner of manly occupations. I’ve often used this line when discussing things I wish I had done or thought might be beneficial to me. For example:

Imaginary Friend—“Wouldn’t it be amazing to study abroad in England for a year?”

Me—“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

It has been my “pretty to think so” dream for the last twelve years or so to be a published author. Granted, what I have wanted to write has changed from academic articles and texts to fiction and poetry to non-fiction essays and discourses, but the why has always been the same. I have a lot to say, and I express it better with a pen between my fingers or a keyboard beneath them. Also, I’m crap at math and could never manage a career in something practical like accounting or engineering.

For a decade, I was a teacher, the closest thing I could get to writing for a living. I was teaching others about the great literature of the world and helping them to think for and express themselves more succinctly. It was a rewarding decade to be sure, and I still miss it though I have to say that I haven’t graded a paper in almost six months, which is supercallafragalisticexpialidociously awesome. Really, it’s better than, “Hey, I just found a $100 bill in my coat pocket!”

As a content and copy editor, I still “grade” papers, but people actually thank me for marking them up. I’m asked on a regular basis to hunt out and kill mistakes with heartless and laser accurate precision. I’m also asked to take a text and make it better, to assist another author with a particularly troubling paragraph or concept. Also, as a content editor, one of my jobs is to do research, to make sure references and citations are accurate and attributed to the correct person and publisher. These are all things that a Type-A writer/nerd/scholar/perfectionist like myself enjoys doing in her spare time. And they actually pay me for it. Suckers. 🙂

In a place where materials are printed, I’ve gained a great deal of new wrinkles in my brain. For example, I’ve learned that widows and orphans need caring for both in real life and on the typewritten page. I’m mastering the art of kerning and leading and how a document should be flowed to transform it from plain black and white text to a beautifully designed page. I’ve been allowed to work on press releases, syndication articles, web page landing copy and e-newsletters, ads, letters, and even the In Touch Magazine itself. Most importantly, everything I read over teaches me something wonderful about the amazing God I serve, and it does my heart as much good as my mind as it builds me up—both in my new skill set and my spirit.

What I didn’t expect when I started this gig was that writing would be part of the bargain. There is a staff of amazing writers here who do great work for the magazine and the ministry as a whole, and they crank out so much copy each and every month that I’m often staggered by it. What’s amazed me the most, however, is the fact that they’ve asked me to come alongside them in this effort! Seriously, I’ve been afforded the privilege to contribute to the magazine as a writer.

When they first offered me a writing assignment, I had to pinch myself. Hard and often. After doing so to the point my husband thought I might need an intervention, it was still true, so I decided to trust in God and go for it. My first writing assignment was for the December 2011 magazine. The editorial staff wanted to do a six-part feature on the Person of Christ. They are described in the opening paragraph as “brief meditations on six aspects of Jesus’ personhood: Christ as Witness, Prophet, Intercessor, Warrior, Priest, and King.” If you are interested in reading the entire piece (which is both thought-provoking and gorgeously designed), In Touch Magazine is  available in print (subscriptions are free), on the ministry’s homepage, and on our free app for either Android or iPhone. My contribution to the piece, an exploration of Christ as Prophet, is below.

I don’t want to regale you with the story of my life, but just let me say that the last seven or so years have been…rough. Losing my first teaching job due to budget cuts, learning I had a lifelong illness to face (MS), financial struggles, having to move…the list goes on and on. However, when this job came my way, I realized that all the things I’d been through had served a purpose. They were what taught me to rely upon God for everything, to turn to Him instead of looking inside myself for answers or working in my own strength. In short, I would never have been prepared for this job had I not undergone the things I did. That is why I praise Him in both good times and bad because even the things that cause me pain and discomfort are for my ultimate good.

Think about it! The Father has made it possible for me to use my skills in a place where I am permitted to grow and thrive. I have wonderful friends who also happen to be my co-workers, and I am edified and strengthened by God each and every day. I feel so overwhelmingly blessed that I can hardly find the words to express it. I can only praise God for His goodness and mercy, His willingness to involve Himself in the lives of His children, and His omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent power. I do indeed serve an amazing God, the Alpha and Omega, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Dollars and Sense in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Image from Wikipedia.org

Saturday night, Wayne and I finally had a minute to settle down, and we chose to spend it curled up with the “kittehs in teh city” to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Wayne had seen it in bits and pieces but never from start to finish, which meant that he, for all intents and purposes, was really watching it for the first time. I, on the other hand, well-versed in all things Christmas and cinematic, was doing so for roughly the thirty-bijillionth time.

For those of you who don’t know my family, we heavily pepper our conversations with movie quotes. In one sitting, we might lob lines from Ghostbusters, The King and I, El Dorado, The Princess Bride, The Usual Suspects, White Christmas, Flaming Star, Major League, and Jaws back and forth so rapidly that those who don’t watch what the variety of films we do might think we’re speaking in a foreign language. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m an auditory learner who absorbs knowledge via listening and discussion (a big plus for me in college!) who can remember most of a movie’s dialogue after two or three viewings.

Image from IFC.com

Okay, back to It’s a Wonderful Life. I probably watch it three or four times every Christmas season, which makes for at least one hundred viewings. Each time, a bell rings and an angel gets some wings, George offers to lasso the moon, people jump in a swimming pool because it’s there, George is thwarted each and every time he tries to escape Bedford Falls, and George and Mary share that awesome kiss over the telephone. However, for the first time, I finally noticed that this classic feel-good film actually contains some fascinating socioeconomic and cultural elements.

Perhaps it’s the continued presence of the Occupy Wall Street protestors in the news or my own changing political outlook that caused me to take note of George Bailey and Mr. Potter as more than allegorical devices. I may never know. However, I though it interesting enough to point out a few key scenes for consideration.

Scene #1–“Peter Bailey was not a businessman”

This is the scene in which George Bailey stands up for his father’s ideals and makes a statement for the working class, thus losing his chance to go to college and forever dooming himself to a life doing the exact thing he feared–counting his pennies and stretching every one until Lincoln screamed for mercy.

Image from mymerrychristmas.com

Potter represents the faceless institution, the bank that loans money based on a person’s value on paper and the rate of return they’re bound to generate. It’s so easy to hate him as he sits in his Attila the Hun wheelchair in a stern black hat with glasses perched, hawk-like, on his nose. He is the epitome of every man or woman whoever denied a loan or hit us with an extra transaction fee we really preferred not to pay. His stance is, “If we just loan money out, people will come to expect it and not work for or value the things they have.” And everyone, on cue, is supposed to say, “That evil, maniacal bastard! How dare he say that about Ernie the taxicab driver! Why that’s the same fella who picked George up when his father had had a stroke, the nice guy who will serenade George and Mary on their impromptu honeymoon!” (Yes, all the exclamation points are necessary. Righteous indignation and all that.)

You (and George) say that because we know Ernie. Potter doesn’t; to him, he’s a social security number and a credit score. George then gives the great counterargument that the rabble he’s talking about “do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community” and that it isn’t “too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath.” They’re better citizens because they have something to be proud of, something they’re working to own while they’re enjoying it. Treat a human being like a human being, and he’ll respond as such. It’s a noble argument to be sure, one that I think held water in the 1940s when this film was released.

I don’t know if any of you have grandparents and parents like mine; they hate buying things on credit and/or taking charity. “What we get, we earn,” my dad used to say when I was a kid. “If you can’t afford it, you don’t need it.” That was bred into them as children, and they in turn bred it into me. (By the way, I’m still not thrifty enough by their standards. I’m like a goldfish and enjoy owning and staring at shiny things too much.)

This made me think of the Fannie Mae/Freddy Mac debacle of the last few years, the idea that everyone “deserves” a house. I loathe, and I mean loathe, the word “deserve.” There’s an feeling of entitlement to it that just galls me. Do you want a roof over your head? Very well. Choose one within your means, save up some for a down payment, and then go get that loan for the rest. Work, pay it off, take care of it. It’s yours, and you’re earning it. However, the incredible interest only loans and relaxed loan standards helped to create this horrid economic pit of despair we’re in now. (See! Movie reference! I can’t help it!) The difference between the people of Bedford Falls, each of which George Bailey knows personally and who work hard for their lifestyles, and folks today is the decline of individual work ethic/responsibility as well as the structure of our communities.

Image from rickischults.wordpress.com

It’s easy to blame Potter and call him all sorts of rude names in the simplistic snow globe that is this film and try to transpose the same feelings onto bankers in real life, but that doesn’t wash. They’re businesspeople who are responsible to other, bigger businesspeople for their own livelihoods and mortgage payments. They don’t know each person they loan money to–they can’t. They sometimes have to say no because a person doesn’t look to be good investment in order to protect the money for those people who are. Those who are currently protesting via Occupy Wall Street fail to realize this simple fact; money can’t simply be flung around. It must be created, grown, invested, protected, and used wisely if it is to maintain its value in our culture. We can’t simply give it away and make people who have more of it “pay their fair share” to those who generate nothing and add nothing to the overall economic pot. It really doesn’t grow on trees.

It’s easy to hate those who have more than we do, to envy them and their wealth. They become as faceless to us as we do to them. They’re not all evil, and the “people on the pavement” (as Edwin Arlington Robinson called us) aren’t all innocent victims of circumstance. The truth is never as simple, as black and white you might say, as a film would have us believe.

Scene #2–“We can get through this thing all right”

This is a pretty humbling scene, the stock market crash on the level of the everyman. Many a person likely took advantage of their fellow man as Potter did, offering substantially less for something than it was worth but offering a chance at relative security in a totally insecure time. George, ever the altruistic creature, puts his own money up, loaning it to tide folks over until the situation settles–something unheard of in today’s world.

Image from beaufortcountynow.com

The interesting dichotomy here is the amounts people are requesting. The one gentleman isinsistent on getting his $242 or whatever it is while others are willing to live on less than $20. The money they’re borrowing is from George’s honeymoon (and I’m guessing housekeeping setup) fund. They have $2,000 in their pockets while other folks’ entire accounts are a tenth of that. It demonstrates the wealth of the average client in the Building and Loan compared to that of Potter’s bank. (Look at the difference in the two offices and the set decoration if you need another stunning example. I love how directors can use scenery to tell the tale as well as the actors can.) George is by no means poor, but he’s nowhere near as wealthy as Potter. And the people he’s trying to help are so far down the socioeconomic ladder that they are beyond the old man’s notice.

I like the sense of community that is established in this scene as well as the miniature economics lesson that George gives the hoi polloi. He’s right; banks don’t just sit there full of money. Our money, which is insured by entities like the FDIC, is used to make loans, to generate even more wealth that should be put back into the institution. It should work that way, but the bigger the bank (and the more foolish the loans they make), the less likely this is to work out. However, any community is only as good as the sum of its parts. The only reason a place like the Building and Loan works is because people continue to pay their debts on time and in full. Allowances can be made from time to time, but not for everyone and not constantly. Otherwise, the entire house of cards collapses in on itself. It all comes back to the point I made before….individual responsibility is what provides for prosperity, not an institution or a government. If each person takes care of him/herself it becomes possible for them all to also look out for one another. We should be doing the same right now rather than make brainless and unreasonable demands on our government (which stands even less of a chance of doing something well than a large bank does).

Scene #3–“You’re worth more dead than alive”

This is a hard scene to watch, George grovelling in that tiny chair looking up at the blackhearted man who only means to cast him out in the snow to ruin and destruction rather than help him. Normally very well put together, George looks disheveled here–hair unkempt, suit rumpled, hands roaming aimlessly in hopes of finding an answer (or the illusive $8,000) in one of his coat’s many pockets. In short, he looks much more like the people who have come to rely on him than ever before and is treated as such by Potter who wastes no time in heaping derision on his head.

The most interesting aspect of this scene is the quip about going to the riff-raff for help. If you watch this film looking at  ancillary characters, it gets rather interesting. There are African Americans in this film, most notably the woman named Annie who worked for the Bailey family, as well as immigrants like Mr. Martini–the literal embodiment of the American dream. Black or white, rich or poor, male or female–all walks of life are represented in the final scene of the film, pulling money from pockets, jars, piggy banks, and even sending it in via telegram. Even the people there to arrest George get caught up in the general good will of the moment, donate money, and sing along with the townsfolk!

On the contrary, every time you see Potter, everyone around him is very well-heeled and stoic as well as very male and very white. Me thinketh Frank Capra was making a political statement with this fact as race and creed are never mentioned in this film. After all, George is the shining example of WASPhood (that’s White Anglo Saxon Protestant), but he values the company of someone like Mr. Martini over that of Sam “Hee Haw” Wainwright and even (albeit sarcastically) offers Annie a chair at the dinner table when he and his father are talking. This group embodies the principle of Matthew 22:34-40:

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’

For a film first released in 1946, I think It’s a Wonderful Life contains an interesting outlook on both social and economic issues. Like them, we should be prepared to live within our means and to make the most of what we earn. Like them, we should be concerned about and care for one another, but it should be done on a community level rather than by a ponderous and hopelessly inefficient government. When we can do these things and live according to the commandments Christ gave us, only then will we all have both dollars and sense.