Many of us struggle with different strongholds in our lives–sometimes we don’t even realize they’ve become a stronghold until something rather significant knocks us on our rear-end and we’re left staring up at the sky wondering what happened. When all along, it wasn’t what happened at that moment, but what had been festering inside us all along, growing stronger. Something we simply chose not to deal with, or thought we could ignore, or believed wasn’t a big deal. Or worse, thought we could handle on our own.
But strongholds are, in fact, strongholds because we CAN’T handle them on our own and until we hand them over to Jesus and make him the ONLY stronghold in our life (Psalm 27:1), we’ll continue to lay on our backside staring at the sky and wondering.
So why do we hold on to strongholds like bitterness, pride, fear, anger, lust, all these things that bring so much pain?
I think it’s because despite the pain, it has become comfortable. Letting go is scary. It’s like in an action-adventure movie where the hero and heroine are hanging off of some kind of cliff or something and swinging back and forth. You can tell at any moment the hero is going to lose his grip and drop the woman into the pit, but then he says ‘do you trust me’? and the woman is sitting there, hanging over that pit thinking ‘dude, I just met you, why on Earth do you think I would trust you?’ But she really doesn’t have any choice. And in that moment she knows he is going to let her go and she has to decide if she trusts him enough to let go or if she wants to hang on–in pain, but where she still feels the comfort of being held.
Inevitably, when the hero lets her go, she falls to some safe little nook. Like it was made just for her in this time of crisis, but if she had held on she might have fallen straight into the pit.
Our strongholds are the same way. We want to hang on because it seems like that is safe. It’s what we know, but if we keep holding on we’re going to fall into the pit. If we let go and let God drop us into a nook of grace, that’s where true grace begins to change and envelop us.
That is not to say that Christians don’t struggle with strongholds. Believe me, they do. And sometimes they’re holding on just as tight as the next guy. BUT the difference is the ultimate STRONGHOLD is there to BREAK the defenses of these other things (Psalm 28:1). And even if we do fall into the pit, he is there to pull us back out again. Because he is always willing to redeem us. It’s all a part of his infinite mercy and grace.
Help, Lord, for the godly are no more.(12:1) The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men. (12:8)
Looking at the bookends of Psalm 12 is like spitting out the attitude I’ve had for a lot of my life. I look around at this fallen and broken world and instead of feeling hope, I feel despair. Where are the redeemed? It seems every time I hear of one good thing a human does I hear a dozen more terrible things humans do to destroy one another. And I know that much of that is perception, and much of it is the enemy playing on my fears and doubts. The media sensationalizes the worst of humanity (fair and balanced hasn’t truly described any media outlet, maybe ever, but certainly not in the past 20 years). The other day I was watching the news and after much of the gruesome, they showed a YouTube video of a puppy and a bunny doing something cute, which I guess was supposed to be comic relief–but when did we begin living in a play where comic relief is fed to us in between the drastic bits of life? Not to balance out what we see in humanity, but just to soften the perception of reality; in a way to desensitize us to the seriousness of the vile among men.
But that’s not the worst of it.
Since when do we heroize villains and honor them?
I’m not against all secular television, don’t get me wrong, but some of what we call ‘entertainment’ is really frightening. And vile. And it is honored among men.
The thing is, God hasn’t changed since the beginning of time (I think the fact that this applies to our time every bit as much as it did to Davidic times proves that), and he doesn’t appreciate these things. And I know what happens when the vile are honored–God withdraws his protection and his people are scattered. Which is why it is important to draw closer and closer to him each and ever day.
Psalm 11 offers that hope, and provides a warning.
In the Lord I take refuge. (11:1a)
Because there is no one else who can provide shelter from the current or future storm.
How then can you say to me: Flee like a bird to your mountain? (11:1b)
The Psalmist takes a stand, he doesn’t flee. He doesn’t run into his local church and stay there, barricading the doors against the evils of the world. He takes refuge in the world, takes a stand and let’s the arrows fly around him. That is a beautiful image and one I feel is important for me to hold onto. Escapism, whatever form it takes, is awfully tempting. Running seems like a good idea. Sheltering yourself from the evils, sure that might work.
But if all God’s people flee, who will stand against the enemy?
Romans tells us we are MORE THAN conquerors through Him who loved us. MORE THAN, beyond. It is our duty and our right to fight for the Lord’s presence even in times of honor the vile. (Romans 8:35-39)
For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice. Upright men will see his face. (11:7)
And that’s the only promise I need to hold on to.
Questions to Ponder:
What vile things do I need to take a stand against in my life?
How do I continue to stand up for God without alienating myself from the world?
How can I remember to take refuge in God rather than fleeing like a bird?
Of course, though I often will choose fiction over non fiction, I’m an avid reader so I am constantly devouring whatever books come my way, and I read a lot of non fiction too, but given the choice I’m going to go for the the fiction all day long.
Because I’m a realist, I spend the vast majority of my day looking at the world through the lens of reality: this is the way it is. I often am mislabeled as “cynical” and “pessimistic”, but I’m not a Debbie Downer, I just see the world the way it is, and it is what it is. So, when I read I want something that takes me out of my head.
But, not too far out of my head, because let’s face it, the realist in me hasn’t died–I just want to give her a break every now and then, which is why I like fiction books to be well thought out, planned, structured, with believable and relatable characters. Is that asking too much? I think not.
The NEH grant I received is a terrific opportunity not only for professional growth but for personal growth as well. For those of you who are unaware of what NEH opportunities for summer enrichment are, you should check it out at http://www.neh.gov/divisions/education/summer-programs. As a nationally funded program, NEH grants are always in danger of being cut, but there are many reasons why summer enrichment and educational opportunities are so important for teachers, especially at the K-12 level. I won’t get on my soapbox about this; I could talk for hours. What I will do is share some of our discussions and my experiences so that you can see for yourself that I’m not just on vacation in Santa Cruz.
The program I was accepted to be a part of is entitled Great Adaptations: Dickens in Literature and Film (See the program website here https://sites.google.com/site/nehdickens2014/). Before arriving in Santa Cruz it was expected that all participants (16) have the 2 primary texts read: Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, both Dickens novels are what we refer to as the originary texts. Over the course of the next 4 weeks we will be discussing not only the core texts, but their evolutionary process in how they are adapted culturally, historically and contextually all of which will culminate in a final project which we will submit to our seminar director by September. By collaborating with a diverse group of teachers from across the nation I am able to compare ideas, incorporate strategies and brainstorm critical thinking strategies that not only help me reach my students, but also help me dig inside myself to become a better more focused educator, rejuvenated in the fall (which is vital in a profession that is under a constant barrage of internal and external negative energy).
Upon arrival I settled into my house. I am lucky enough to be staying off campus. At first I was nervous about being isolated from other seminar participants, but then I realized how fortunate I was because I have two unique roommates broadening my experience as a whole. Maggie is my landlord and she is a writing professor at a local college in Santa Cruz and Jennifer is a junior as UCSC. Jennifer has unique insight into what it is like to be a college student on this campus and has given me lots of advice on how/where/when to go places around town and the campus. She is working on campus this summer with a group of middle school students, girls, who the engineering program has designed a camp to intrigue and attract a more diverse range of applicants to their program. I look forward to more discussions with her and Maggie as the summer progresses as they are both separate from my program they give me a break from the academia and keep me firmly grounded in the “real world” of the here and now.
The house I’m living in is surrounded by walking trails that are beautiful. There is a pond behind the house that is very low right now because the area is in the third year of a summer drought. This places a strain on the local ecosystem (which is filled with wildlife! I cannot even count how many deer I have seen on campus and they let you get so close it is a little frightening. And don’t get me started about the Mountain Lion signs all around the place and “what to do if you see a ML”. My favorite part is that it ends with: “And people have successfully fought off mountain lions with their bare hands.” As our tour guide said today (who kind of looked like Zach Morris, I’m not going to lie), it’s only a little comforting to know that I can punch a mountain lion in the face and hopefully win…um…yeah…FORTUNATELY that seems to be unlikely. SO we’re going to go with no mountain lion sightings this trip.
The campus itself has, in addition to the wildlife, given be a broader appreciation for local produce and farming. This campus has a sustainable farm and only about 50% of the land is used so that it can sustain much of its own produce. I wish that more places could be like that. Each week the campus sets up a farmers market at the base of campus to benefit the interns and farm and about 23% of the campus dining is supplied by the on campus farm and agricultural school. I find that to be amazing, not only because they choose to do it, but also in extreme whether challenges, such as draught conditions, they still make it work. Commitment is key.
Which brings me back to our coursework. Being committed to our study here is vital which is why I am so excited to be here to learn. One of the things we discussed today was the concept of adaptation. There are many ways to adapt a work: From x to y, of x for y, of x through y, of x beyond y. Each of these are done for different purposes and different audiences, different contexts and different cultures. When we begin our discussion of the adaptations, we have to keep all of that contextual information in mind not only when discussing the originary, but also the adaption and how that helps us with shifting perspective. Often when we look at adaptations in a class we ask our students to compare and contrast which leads them to only one conclusion: one is better than the other; they’re alike but they’re different. That is not the type of critical thinking we really want from our students. We don’t just want them to compare and contrast we want them to look at the purpose behind the choices authors, directors, and creators make when adapting a work for those different ideas. That’s where the deep thinking occurs.
This reminds me of what a student said to me earlier this year: “Ms. Carmichael, you’ve completely ruined movies for me.” “Oh?” I responded. “Yes, I can’t just watch anything anymore. I’m always looking for meaning.” I laughed and said, “Then I’m doing my job!” I want students to look at more things this way, not just movies but every text they read they need to look for intention. If we had more people in our world thinking critically on a regular basis, decisions would be a lot wiser.
Which is the point of the seminar. I love that we will be looking at just that. Here are a list of questions the participants posed for the rest of our discussions over the four weeks and I look forward to hearing what will be said and discussed:
1) How does the idea of authorship work as an obstacle to adaptation? (intentionality and ownership)
2) How might we begin with the adaptation before the orginary text?
3) Why are we afraid of “losing the text”?
4) How can the multiple versions coexist?
5) Do we even read the orginary text? (adaptation in lieu of rather than in conjunction with)
6) How does success of an adaptation or desire to produce, adapt and reflect cultural values?
7) What are we wanting to give our students? (cultural skills)
8) What are we teaching alongside these texts—how does curriculum fit together?
9) How can we engage students in a conversation about adaptation?
10) Why do we feel we must choose the “best” adaptation?
As I continue with this program, I am excited to learn not only from my colleagues and roommates but also, hopefully, from others too. This is a broad topic and one that applies not only to literature of Dickens but to the culture at large especially to the writing culture. As a writer I see the value in adaptation, not only studying and reading adaptations but even to a degree incorporating it in your own work sometimes which is why people write books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Emma, Mr. Knightly and Chili-Slaw Dogs. We truly do live in the ‘culture of the copy’ as Hillel Schwartz says. But is that such a bad thing?
In teaching Of Mice and Men this week, I came to the startling realization that I have a crush on Slim. Yes, Slim. Why Slim, you ask? Well, it’s quite simple, really. I love a real man. As far as fictional characters go, Slim as about as manly as it gets, and though he is idealized in a lot of ways, he is also very real.
Slim isn’t the only character I’ve gotten attached to over the years. There have been many. Fitzwilliam Darcy (what woman hasn’t fallen in love with this terrifically flawed ideal?), Theodore ‘Laurie’ (Teddy) Laurence (I was devastated when Jo said no; though it was really the only answer she could give—I still felt it deep), Tom Shaw, among a myriad of others. And what is about these characters that attract my admiration?
Loyalty. In a world where people flit from idea to idea, object to object, relationship to relationship—loyalty has become old fashioned. Call me an Old Fashioned girl, but I find loyalty to be a honorable quality that few people can truly define, but most men in my “literary crush” repertoire possess. We need more people in the world who feel a deep sense of loyalty not only in relationships but to other aspect of life as well. Because, after all, if you can’t be loyal to something or someone, what purpose do you live for?
As an avid reader, I’m often invested in characters on levels which are borderline unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grounded in reality, which is probably why I’m still single. I realize that no matter how much I want them to, the men I date don’t stand a chance when compared to my ideal built up in years of reading and building a personal character study. And maybe that’s unfair, but it’s out there and like it or not, it’s a real part of who I am.
So what do I do with this realization? Do I stop reading? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s actually becoming more of a challenge for me. Instead of focusing on how people (myself included) do or do not meet my qualifications for the ideal, I wonder if I can’t start treating them as characters in my own story. If I start viewing people as terrific, albeit flawed characters, maybe I can begin to judge less and accept more. That is, after all, what I should be doing all along.
Art mimics life; life mimics art—it’s all entwined.
So here are my questions for you:
Can we see people as characters, or will they always just be people? Is there even a real difference?
Who are the people of your literary dreams that cause you to ponder, wonder, and question the world?
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.