Monday, April 26, 2010

A famine of hearing the Word

This is Tuesday's "In Other Words" post. If you are interested in participating, you can write about the verses above and link to other posts about it at this week's host blog.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a study of famine in the Bible. A few facts about Biblical famine:

1) Famine appears 84 times in the Old Testament, most frequently found in Genesis, then Jeremiah

2) Famine appears 10 times in the New Testament, referring to past famines in the Old Testament or famines that will occur in the end times, one prediction of a famine during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius, and the following verse -

3) Believers in Christ have this promise in Romans 8:35 concerning famine: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors"

4) Famine is one of four ways that the Lord punishes the breakers of His covenant in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 26:12-25). The other punishments are disease/plagues, defeat by enemies, and wild animals (such as locusts). These are all repeated in Revelation as means of punishment, along with a fifth - natural disasters. The Lord causes these disasters so that people will repent and seek Him.

5) The verses in Amos are the only time this particular type of famine is ever mentioned; also it is the last mention of famine in the Old Testament.

Here's my conclusion based on my study. We know that there was a gap of about 400 years between the last prophet of the Old Testament and the first of the New Testament, John the Baptist. This gap very likely describes the famine of the hearing of the Word of the Lord predicted by Amos. For 400 years, the Israelites went without hearing anything from the Lord. Of course they still had the written prophecies; but the prophecies about the Messiah were still unfulfilled. This famine, God's silence, was a punishment for their continued disobedience as evidenced over and over again in the books of the major prophets and the minor prophets.

After such a long famine, when a prophet finally did appear proclaiming the word of the Lord, the coming of the Messiah, they should have been very eager to hear!

Some of the Jews were ready to hear and repent, but most of them weren't. Most of them rejected Jesus when he didn't fit their idea of what a Messiah should be. It wasn't until after his death, until the Lord sent the Holy Spirit, that they began to understand (in large numbers) that Jesus really was the Messiah and that his death provided for our salvation.

Jesus is the bread of life. Matt 4:4 "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."

Jesus is the Word. John 1:14 "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

It is certainly possible to experience a famine of hearing the Word, even today - by purposefully rejecting the message of the Gospel, rejecting Christ, by worshiping the creation instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25). Though a warning of famine such as the one in Amos is not repeated in the New Testament, there are some similar warnings: Luke 17:22 "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it." And again: John 7:34 "You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come."

Personally I've experienced a few famines of my own - when I get too busy for church, or to open my Bible on a regular basis. Eventually I get to the point where I am lonely, discouraged, feeling overwhelmed - and then I remember that I've been starving myself of the Bread of Life. I am so thankful that when I remember to seek the Word again, God does not make me stagger from sea to sea searching, and yet never finding. For believers, we have that marvelous promise in Romans 8:35-37. I am so thankful.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More musings on Avatar, part 2

I had always felt life first as a story-and if there is a story there is a storyteller. ~ G.K. Chesterton

In Part 1, I talked about my theory that the Christian symbolism in Avatar contributes more to the movie's popularity than its pantheistic themes.

In Part 2, I'm looking at the mythic structure that you see in Avatar and in thousands of other movies and books. And relating that to the story of our own lives.

The Christian elements in Avatar are overshadowed by pantheism and deep ecology, but they are still there. In addition, the movie follows an archetypal story structure, the elements of the “hero’s journey”. We know that the great myths of almost every culture follow a very similar structure, as identified by Joesph Campbell in his "Hero with a Thousand Faces" - and that modern stories following this structure, such as Avatar, continue to be incredibly popular.

The mythic structure is all over the place. You see it mirrored in the plots of many movies and books, and not just science fiction and fantasy books. A hero is forced to leave his or her ordinary world (either physically or metaphorically) and go somewhere new and sometimes scary (Jake leaves earth and arrives on Pandora; he leaves his physical body and has to adjust to a new body and a new culture). On the way he encounters enemies and allies, and faces trials he must overcome. At some point he faces his darkest moment/greatest fear (he is imprisoned, the enemies destroy the Nav'ii home), gains important knowledge that helps him in his victory (he asks the Nav'ii goddess for help) which he is able to share with others to help them or even save them.

You find this basic structure in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and almost all Disney movies (here's a funny post that shows how the synopsis of Disney's Pocahantas can be changed to Avatar just by substituting a few names). But if you look close enough you also find it in classic novels, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, or stories from the Bible (Abraham, Jacob, Joesph, Moses, David, just to name a few) or other myths (Greek, Norse, Eastern, etc)... there are variations of course but the basic structure still fits.

So why are these archetypal elements of being forced into new and scary things, facing your greatest fears, learning important knowledge and sharing it, so universal? Do these archetypal elements predate Christianity and other current and historic religions or did religion create this mythic structure and propagate it?

I suppose that's like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg. No way to prove it. But I think myth came first (no comment about the chicken and the egg).

I think myth came first because the hero's journey is something that resonates with us so deeply because it is a reflection of our own journey. We are constantly having to face trials in our life. We look the hero myths to see how they dealt with even bigger, scarier trials than we've had to face. We discover that they found help even in their darkest hour, and victory. C.S. Lewis, in his essay "Is Theology Poetry?" tackles the relation of religion and myths. He says myths are a sort of divine illumination vouchsafed to all men.

We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story - the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth - [another type of the hero's journey]. And the difference between the Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc) and the Christ Himself is much what we should expect to find... It is the difference between a real event [Christ's death and resurrection] on the one hand, and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other. It is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses... as an historical event in first century Palestine.

The hero's journey, as retold over and over again in different stories, condenses into our own lives, too. We can see our lives as a random mix of wonderful and awful events, which abruptly ends in our death -story over. Or we can see it as a journey through trials, where we receive help and learn things along the way, and ultimately we face our greatest enemy- death - and overcome it with the faith we learned - that there is an even better life waiting for us.

What do you think about the hero's journey?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

1000 gifts: spring break edition

Before I get into spring break events, an announcement: I've started a new blog under my own real name (the name I hope to publish under someday!). Little Women for the 21st Century is a very personal blog, with lots about my ups and downs, my husband, my kids, my faith, etc. Because it's so personal, I've been a little shy about putting my full name on it. Some of you know my full name, and you'll have no problem finding my new blog.

Why a new blog? Because "Writers need a platform; we need to get our name out there and building an audience for our work for when we do have a book in hand." (See this article, Creating the Breakout Blog: a platform guide for the pre-published writer. (Btw, Guide to Literary Agents is one the most informative blogs I've found so far. A treasure trove of information for writers.) So my "platform" blog will be about all things writing-related: writing progress, writing motivation, books that I dissect for their writing craft. I'll continue to use this blog to post family events/photos, faith-related musings, etc.

So, on to spring break in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was a wonderful week, and allowed me to add to my list of all the gifts God has given me that I'm thankful for, to live out the command "give thanks in all things" (1 Thess. 5:18) in my daily walk.

25. A gift of airplane tickets to Hilton Head.
My mom made this trip to Hilton Head possible. I would never have been able to go if she hadn't splurged on some plane tickets. Thank you so much, Mom!

26. Perfect beach weather.
We had sunny 70/80 degree weather the whole time, all six days. Beautiful!

27. Books to travel with.
Heather asked me if I needed any books to take along. I never turn down her offerings - she had read C.S. Lewis' "Weight of Glory" and other essays on her spring break - now it was my turn. Absolutely amazing. I plan to blog about at least two of these essays. I was raving so much about them that Mom even agreed to read one or two.

28. Beaches and gardens are a great combo
Flowers everywhere and blossoming dogwoods and red buds; beautiful live oaks draped with Spanish moss scarves; going barefoot on the beach, the sugary feel of the sand; the soothing sound of the ocean waves.

29. Watching my kids fall in love with the beach
Serious and Dreamer giggling ecstatically over discoveries of shells, sand dollars, and starfish. Proudly showing off the pits they dug in the beach. They are both frustrated that building sand castles out of sand-filled buckets is much harder than it looks but even their frustration is endearing.

30. Hermit crabs with painted shells.
More giggling from the girls over the hermit crabs at the Shell Store (my favorite store in Hilton Head. Full of all sorts of tacky tourist stuff, but it's just plain fun. I even found a peg-legged pirate nutcracker there to add to my collection!)

31. Live sand dollars
Discovering how amazing a live sand dollar is. How much it moves, though it never goes anywhere!

32. Alligators snoozing in the sun
The new fence behind our timeshare that allows us to get pretty darn close to the alligator that likes to snooze on the bank - and still feel safe.

33. Poolside barbecue
With my Uncle Dave, Aunt Diane, cousin Mark his wife Mada and their kids - Dreamer and Moriah became instant friends. They also had a lot of fun playing with a lizard that Matthew caught.

34. My mom being willing to do anything, go anywhere
She even took all four kids (Matthew, Moriah, Dreamer, Serious) on a tour of island playgrounds so Mada and I could have the afternoon off to go shopping together

35. Sharing how amazing a personal relationship with Jesus is to me
Got to share this with my cousin's wife. And she was really interested, not just skeptical. Also listened to her share her background and beliefs.

36. Dolphins swimming just off the beach.
On my last morning on the beach, I finally got to see a dolphin swimming. It always takes my breath away!

37. Movies for the kids makes traveling easier.
Flew back home without Mom - just me and the girls for over 17 hours of travel but they were both so good! A long three hour layover ended up whizzing by because I found another really good book to read and was able to rent a movie for the girls to watch.

38. Hiding Easter candy.
Easter Sunday with my Dad. Dreamer and Serious exclaiming every time they found another stash of hidden candy in the living room.

39. Bunnies that poop jelly beans
Finally being re-united with B., Blaze and Starlet after over a week when they got home from their trip to Kansas with all of B.'s family for Easter. Aunt Melissa bought Easter baskets for all the girls (even Dreamer and Serious). The wind-up bunnies that "pooped" jelly beans were a big hit.

40. “We just need to pray, Daddy.”
Blaze tells Daddy not to get upset when the truck gets stuck in mud.

41. All four girls love to ride in the backhoe with Daddy.
Dreamer got an exclusive ride home with Daddy in the backhoe after we drove him out to a job site to pick it up. He let her “drive” it part of the way home.

42. Pink roses smell the best.
B. brought home a pink rose (my favorite) for me, for no particular reason

43. Our names are written in heaven.
A WT (wonderful thing) from the Word: Luke 10:22 "...rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

44. A day off from work.
Getting to sleep in, time to have two cups of tea; not having to get dressed to go anywhere until 10am; wonderful fellowship, good discussion at mom’s Bible study, then a relaxing afternoon. My favorite time of day: the twins are upstairs sleeping, little lumps of angels under dark pink comforters. I’m sitting in the recliner in the living room next to the big picture windows, situated precisely so that my legs and feet feel the delicious warmth of the afternoon sun but the rest of me is in shade so I don’t get too hot or too sleepy. I have just discovered something wonderful in a book, and I have time to think it over, and even take some notes.

45. Inspiration about my job
one day I was mulling over my belief that fulfillment is incomplete if you are only achieving something for our self - lasting fulfillment comes from doing things for others. So then I got to thinking, what about my profession? These days I enjoy teaching more and more, I am helping people learn things. But the stuff that I teach, it doesn’t really change lives anyway, or help people (beyond increasing their skills for their job). I got to thinking if there was anyway I could add more “value” to what I teach. Occurred to me that I can demonstrate how GIS is used to help better people’s lives through planning better communities, more responsible use of the environment, disaster relief: how GIS is used to increase emergency response to disaster, anything from routing an ambulance to get to an accident faster, to pinpointing safe places for shelters and the best routes to get to them before a hurricane hits. Exciting! Will have an opportunity to teach a short class in mid-April, will make sure to mention this.