Monday, February 19, 2007

20 Narcissistic Love Songs

Jeff Crabtree (above piccie) is a Pastor at CCC Oxford Falls and also head of their Creative Arts School. He is also a suberb musician and one night in concert, he did a hilarious segment on the (fictional) album he is working on: 20 Narcissistic Love Songs. It was brilliant ... the melodic strains of "You Are So Beautiful" flowed out from the piano and then he began to sing with the utmost sincerity and passion. "I ... am ... so beautiful ... to me ..." Look at his picture! People started to laugh and he continued, "I'm everything I hoped for ... and everything ... I've dre-e-amed ... I ... am ... so beautiful ... to me". He flowed from one love song to another ... changing all the lyrics to be "I" ...

Think of these examples and sing along ...

Always on My Mind – Willie Nelson
"I am always on my mind … always on my mind ..."

You’re Beautiful – James Blunt
"I’m beautiful … beautiful … "

Saving All my love – Whitney Houston
"Yes ... I'm ... saving all my love ... for me"

You are the sunshine of my life – Stevie Wonder
"I am the sunshine of my life ..."

I Got You Babe – Sonny and Cher
"I ... got ... me babe ... "

You're the One That I Want - Olivia Newton John and John Travolta
"I'm the one that I want ... ooh ooh ooh ...

By now you get the drift. What is my point here? Well, I am just thinking about how hard we find it to get the right balance betweeen self love and self obsession! Jesus tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Often this is problematic because we don’t always love ourselves. We aren’t comfortable with the way that we are wired. Perhaps it’s that we don’t fit the dominant culture of what is acceptable or popular. I remember this in my 20s at church. I did not fit the stereotypical lovely woman image in our church … which was pretty … delicate … and oh yes, of course. SUBMISSIVE! These women shone and had a glow and a grace. There were times that I felt like the proverbial bull in the china shop. I asked questions that made people squirm … I challenged status quo at church … I just could not help myself!

Things changed one day, when I challenged a street preacher. I was upset because of the image of Christ I was seeing displayed and how people were reacting to this. I felt like people were switching off to Christianity and making that decision on a completely wrong picture. I quietly spoke with the man afterwards and the conversation went, “excuse me sir, could I ask you a question?” “Yes … what?” “Well I was wondering if you believe in what you are preaching?” Crossing his arms defensively across his chest, he responded a tad aggressively, “Yes, WHY?” My response was, “well, you are talking about love and I don’t see love. You are talking about joy and I don’t see this.” He was upset and interrupted me with, “do you think JESUS always walked around with a SMILE on his face?!” I responded with, “no, of course not. The bible says he wept. But when he talked about joy, he showed joy. When he talked about love, he showed love.” Our conversation did not last too much longer as I did not want an argument and he was getting angry with me. As I walked away, I had the impression of God’s still quiet voice saying to me, “you see Sarah? There is a reason why I made you the way I did. Those lovely women who you are hung up about not being, would not have had this conversation. I made you the way I did so that you would. You are made on purpose for a purpose, so stop worrying about others and just get on with being who I made you to be.” This was a life defining moment for me. A huge step in self-acceptance. At the same time, it has taken me many years to learn some tact, gentleness and wisdom and I am still learning!

The other side of the self rejection coin is narcissism. Fancy word – what is it exactly? One dictionary I looked in, defined it as, “excessive self admiration and self centredness.” It can also be defined as an overestimation of one’s appearance and abilities and an excessive need for self admiration. Hmmm … is that the sound of clanging bells I hear in the distance … ding … ding … DING! It seems to me that this is the way that popular culture is moving. The cult of SELF. Hmmmm.

Let me illustrate this one for you. American Idol auditions are a primary example. How many people have you seen who in no way, shape or form can get near to singing in just one key … in fact, they can’t sing – PERIOD. When the judges tell them this, they are shocked, outraged and furious. Some of them even have their singing coach with them telling them that they are brilliant and the judges don’t know squat! They storm out with loud protests about how rude and incompetent the judges are … with their family, friends or vocal coaches trailing in their wake saying, “that’s right. Yeah. You’re brilliant. What do they know? …” A wee verse from Timothy (2 Tim 4:2) springs to mind … how people will gather around them those who will tickle their ears with the things they want to hear.

How do we find our balance in all of this? Jars of Clay have a fantastic song called Art In Me. There is a line that keeps repeating throughout the song, “see the art in me”. I love this. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God’s workmanship. When I looked up the greek for the word workmanship, there is an implication that we are his art pieces. Don’t you love that? We are God’s art pieces. People who know art can look at a Renoir or Picasso and identify it by style. Likewise, they could hear an unknown Beethoven symphony and say, “Oh yes. No doubt. That one is definitely a Beethoven.” How do they know this? It’s because the essence of the artist is impregnated in their art piece. People should be able to look at us as God’s art pieces and say, “oh yes. That one is definitely a God one. No doubt about it …”

So the trick to finding the balance between self rejection and narcissism is to have the right perspective. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Right there is the answer. If we grapple with self hate or rejection, we need to stop the negative self talk and remind ourselves we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yes … as God’s art, we are even told we are wonderful! Now … before we slide on down the slippery slope of narcissism, lets remind ourselves. We are fearfully and wonderfully MADE. Therefore, we have a MAKER. We are God’s art pieces. Can the painting say, “I am wonderful and I sure did well splattering paint on myself?” Do the people listening to the music say, “gosh that violin has great ideas” or … “that manuscript sure was creative in where it placed the dots (notes)?” Nope … the glory and praise always goes to the creator. Therefore, we do not have the right to beat ourselves up or to get overflated egos. We are HIS workmanship. This perspective stops us falling into the trap of self obsession. Dr Larry Crabb says, “I must surrender my fascination with myself, to the character and purposes of God. I am not point. He is. He does not exist for me. I exist for him." How's YOUR balance?

That Fine Shrine ... is Mine!

Isaiah 43:18-19
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

Currently I am doing a study on Isaiah 43:18-19. When I do a study, I like to go back to the Hebrew and find out the meaning of the words – sometimes there is a completely different connotation than how it translates in English. You get a much deeper understanding. I did a word study on “remember” and it comes from the Hebrew word Zakar which means: To mark, mention, burn incense to, be mindful, recount, record, remember, make to be remembered, bring to remembrance, still think on.

The idea of “burn incense to” reached out and grabbed me. It is customary to burn incense at a shrine or an altar. This started me thinking how sometimes in our remembering, we make a shrine and an altar and we worship there, ever setting the thing before us and paying homage to it. God is telling us that we are not to set up shrines to the former days and live there. The former things are just that. FORMER. If we make a little shrine to them (as we have a tendency to do when things were really good) and stay there, then we are not looking forward to where he is moving.

This all begs the question: WHY? Why do we do this – have you got any ideas? We have this temptation to camp at the place of former things whether they were very good or very bad. The very good is easier to explain. If it was good, it meets something in us and satisfies us. We are comfortable and have a desire to camp there. The problem is that God does not camp. He is always moving. With the Israelites, he led them by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. When they were consumed by their fear of the Egyptians (in Ex 14) God would not let them camp but insisted that they keep moving. They were not to be paralysed by the past coming after them or the current circumstances. If we stay still, we will die.

Once when I was in China, I was sauntering along the streets of Beijing chatting with my friend. Out of nowhere, a beggar got in my path and pushed his arm into my face. This was not just a dirty arm. The man had a putrefying, pus oozing, stinking, rotting wound and it was this that he pushed in my face. With the other hand he reached out for money. This is a great analogy of the shrines we make to our bad times – the hard former times. We consider them, hold them before us, attend to them. We can wear them like a medal of honour and wave them in front of other peoples faces. Why? I am wondering if they begin to shape our identity. We can use them to justify why we are not who we think we should be or who others think we should be.

Jesus once met a crippled guy at a healing pool (Jn 5) and asked if he wanted to be well. Instead of answering with a yes or no, he replies with his story of why he is still there in his current state after 38 years. (God, spare me from being in the same place for 38 years!) Jesus doesn’t deal with the story. How could he? What responses are there? Either, “well yes, I see. I understand. Bummer for you” … OR “well … you need to do …. Blah blah”. Neither response helps the man.

The question Jesus asked was relevant. “Do you want to be well?” At first, it seems obvious. The man is at the HEALING pool, of course he wants to be well. However, Jesus acknowledges that he is accustomed to all that goes along with being in his current state. In some way it works for him. Is he ready to let all that go? Sometimes our negative past works for us. Like the beggar, we gain from our wounds. Our wounds can become our excuse for not standing up and being all that we were made to be. We have a choice to be paralysed, or by faith, respond to Jesus’ words: “get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” The man’s mat had been his life and his cushion. Jesus says, “get up! Pick up that thing and move. If you stay on it you will die. I am giving you the opportunity to walk. Do you want it?” Jesus gave the command. The response required faith. It wasn’t Jesus helping the person up, lifting up their feet, saying lean on me. Just … “Stand up!”

So then, I started thinking about me. What negative things have I built and made a little shrine to? How does this little altar work for me? Does it absolve me of any responsibility? Does it mean I don’t have to acknowledge my own fears, insecurities and dreams? Do I get to be self-obsessed and stop looking outward?

God is saying in Isaiah 43:18-19 … “remember NOT. Stop waving this. Be honest. Be REAL.” While leafing through the gospels this morning, I noticed how many times Jesus asked sick people what they wanted. Most times it was pretty obvious. And, even if it wasn’t, he was God. He knew. Yet, he still wants us to articulate our desires, because in the articulation, there is ownership. Yes … often there is the pain of unfulfilled longing as well, but we are honest. We bring these things into his light. Can I encourage you to take some time, stop and critically examine your life. What shrines are you paying homage to? Mark them as part of the forces that have shaped your life, and then pick up, get up and move on. God has a wonderful future … leave the past in the past and move forward into the new thing he has for you.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Be mine ... Valentine!

So ... apparently today is Valentine's Day. This does not enter onto my radar as a single person ... it's even less on my radar as a single person in Korea, as there is no big marketing campaign! I only know it is today because a friend I meet with on a Wednesday is doing something lovely with her husband and cancelled ...

So it got me thinking, have I ever celebrated? Two stories come to mind ...

I once went out for dinner with my friend Sue. We went to a lovely little restaurant ... nice music ... candles and great food! We were having a great chat and a wonderful time and about half way through, we thought, "gosh, this is all very atmospheric - little cozy tables and candlelight everywhere ... quite charming really ... " As we looked around further we were like ... "There are no families here ... " scanning further, we then noticed that the entire restaurant is filled with couples ... and it was all very intimate (we probably looked intimate as we were leaning towards each other talking) ... then we were like ... not only is it couples but they all look kind of romantic ... we were sitting there scratching our heads until suddenly it dawned ... Valentines Day! Not on our radars as singles at all ... it was like stumbling into couples night at the local bingo hall! Very surreal ... I didn't really think kiwis got into Valentines, but it seems romance is not dead in the land of the long white cloud.

Then again ... I did have my boy bring me a beautiful gift at 5 minutes to midnight on the last valentines day I was at home in NZ ... I was asleep when I heard a very persistent, strangely toned RrrOW! at my door ... it was repetitive enough to wake me up ... I wandered blearily to my door thinking, 'thats my cat ... whats wrong with him? He sounds hurt! I opened the door (the next scene unfolded in slow motion over about half a second) ... Psy was sitting side on and whirled his head towards me with a big cheesy cat smile ... "look what I brought for you, aren't I clever?! Aren't you proud?! ..." hanging out of his mouth was... a HUGE RAT! Poor fulla ... I slammed the door in his face and freaked out in my room while he galloped up and down the mezzanine floor trying to kill it ... I was terrified it would squeeze under my door so I jammed the door gap with a towel! In the end, when all went silent outside, I thumped on the floor until I woke my flatmate Julie up. She was full of Christian love and charity ... bought me a shovel and a cloth to cover the body ... (and yes, I hurled it over the neighbours fence into the long grass of her unkempt garden ... I wanted its family to find the body and be warned ...)

So those are my memorable Valentine's days ...

Happy Valentines to you and yours.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This Crazy Little Thing Called Love

My brother and his partner are getting married in several weeks. They asked me to put together a reading for the wedding. I am incredibly honoured to do this for them but at the same time I am laughing at the irony of this. I am single - perhaps the only single person (outside of nieces and nephews) at this wedding and I am so NOT qualified to do this. However, I have enjoyed pulling this piece together. It still needs a bit of shining but is pretty well ready to go. See what YOU think?

Vita Sackville-West (an English poet and novelist) said this: There is nothing more lovely in life than the union of two people whose love for one another has grown through the years, from the small acorn of passion, into a great rooted tree.

When I read this quote, I thought immediately of my grandparents. One of my favourite, most enduring memories of them is this: I was standing on the boat ramp in Ruffins Bay, looking up towards the house. My grandmother was walking in through the gate and my grandfather stepped out from his garden. He paused, waiting for her. As she joined him, she slipped her arm through his, he placed his hand on hers, and together, as one, they walked on up to the house.

I remember standing watching this, feeling deeply moved. I was seeing a living portrait of love … a love that had weathered through more than 50 years … a love that was mature and yet still fresh … a love that was vibrant … a love that delighted in just BEING with the other. In the autumn of their lives, they were still great friends … they enjoyed each other … supported one another … were there for one another … they exemplified love in action.

So what is love? And what does it look like in action? I have looked far and wide for a definition and I still cannot go past the words written by Paul nearly 2000 years ago.

Love … is patient.
Love … is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast.
It is not proud.
It is not rude.
It is not self seeking.
It is not easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects …
always trusts …
always hopes…
always perseveres …

There are many different types of Love. The one we generally refer to when a couple are in love, comes from the word Greek word EROS. Often we have taken that word to mean the physical attraction of love. CS Lewis tells us that Eros is “a delightful preoccupation with the Beloved – a general , unspecified preoccupation with them in their totality”. Unlike the Hollywood version of love, the primary desire of EROS is the beloved. It is no longer about ourselves and what we can get, it is about the beloved and what we can give. Lewis states that Eros obliterates the distinction between giving and receiving.

Love … is the foundation for marriage. As the foundation, it goes hand in hand with friendship. Friedrich Nietzsche (a Prussian philosopher) said, “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages”.

A comment I often hear spoken of good marriages is that they are 50/50 partnerships. The mathematics here are faulty … it assumes that 50 + 50 is one whole. Actually … the mathematics of marriage is completely illogical! The actual sum is 1 + 1 =1. 100% + 100% = 1 whole marriage. Don’t shortchange your partner by bringing 50% of yourself to this relationship … Give all you are. You are part of the whole, but you must come whole.

Ursula Leguin said, “Love doesn't sit there like a stone. It has to made like bread; remade all the time, made new”.

This brings us to the paradox of love … it is incredibly strong. In fact there is nothing stronger. The paradox is that it is also incredibly fragile. Give it the attention it needs. If you oil it with care, it will be supple, flexible and strong. Neglect it and it will become brittle and easily damaged. Do not neglect love, nurture it, tend to it, guard it.

In closing, I found these words which would be my prayer for you both as you grow together in your married life:

Treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind
yourselves often of what brought you together.

Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness and kindness
that your connection deserves.

When frustration, difficulties and fear assail your relationship,
as they threaten all relationships at one time or another,
remember to focus on what is right between you,
not only the part which seems wrong.

In this way, you can ride out the storms
when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives –
remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment,
the sun is still there.

And if each of you takes responsibility for
the quality of your life together,
it will be marked by abundance and delight.

That concludes my spiel ... what do you know about love?

Lessons For Living From The Dead and The Dying #1

*I wrote this last year, but have reorganised it on the advice of a friend so now it looks like I did it this year!*

Well ... this is a seemingly heavy one but if you persevere ... there is hope ... :)

This past summer I was travelling in Turkey and I received an email from a good friend of mine. She is in her mid 30s and is married with three gorgeous boys. She was writing to tell me that she had been diagnosed with cancer and that the medical prognosis is bleak. Transplants wont work due to the immunity suppressing drugs they use would cause any other cancer cells to grow out of control. Surgery to remove the cancer growths in the liver not an option cause they are spread throughout the liver and not only in one area. Chemo may (30% to 50% chance) only relieve symptoms but not cure it. She is completely dependent now on what God can do. (Perhaps that is a lesson on how we should be living life!) I went to see her when I was home and her emotional state is amazing – fighting … positive … looking to God. Also real.

A recent Oprah Magazine was on friendship and there is a wonderful piece in there written by a lady who sat with her friend as she was dying - her friend had asked her to help take her there - not physically, but emotionally. It was beautiful and reminded me of being with my Dad as he died and what a gift that was. The last line of the article talks about how her friend's death impacted her. It said, "it broke my heart. It strengthened my soul". I read that and sat and just cried - it's so true and really crystalised it for me.

So with my friend looking to live, I have been thinking of loved ones who have died and the legacy or life lessons they left with me – I shall share with you.

Lesson Number One – Dad
He was greatly respected in our town – so much so that I used to be embarrassed by little ladies on the street who would stop me and tell me how wonderful my father was and how kind he was to them.

He was 49 when he died – had lung cancer and then 3 brain tumours. He had a lot of living left to do. When he died, the thing I heard the most was “how is it fair that good people like him die when there are so many horrible people doing horrible things in the world who live”? Fair question … the fair answer is that life is not fair. The thing here is it’s the wrong question and the wrong focus – brings me to lesson number one.

Ps 139 says that all my days were ordained for me in your book before one of them came to be. God is Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end. He alone knows our days. The lesson I learnt is, “it’s not how many days we get, its what we do with them”. My Dad did not waste his days.

Lessons For Living From The Dead And The Dying #2 FOCUS

Lesson Two - My Friend
After receiving the email from friend, I went for a visit home and popped in to see her. When I went, we talked about many things and laughed about all sorts as well. However the thing that came through loud and clear that has stuck in my mind that she said to me is this: “I can’t be bothered with talking trivia and wasting time. Really the only thing for me at the moment that matters is living in God’s presence”.

One of the things that I have learnt about death is that it crystallises things. It strips away all our pretenses and we get real. We get down to the bare bones and focus on what is essential.

My friend has caught the heart of David – Psalm 27 “if I could have ONE thing, it would be to dwell in the house of God and gaze upon his face…” I find that a personal challenge … David says if he could have one thing … what would my one thing be!?

The Lesson here is Focus/Vision.
I think this is the biggest one of all.

Jn 4 talks about worshipping God in Spirit and Truth. That word comes from the Gk work Proskuneo – which means to kiss – as a dog its master. Have you ever had a dog? Dogs are awesome … you will sit down and they will sit and gaze at you. My brother’s black lab Tahi is like this. He will sit and gaze at me – although sometimes his paw comes up to remind me that he’s there. If he’s feeling like he needs to be particularly close, he is really skilled at getting his nose under my arm and tossing it so that my hand falls down in a pat … at the same time he manages to wriggle his body along so that my pat goes all the way along. God doesn’t need reminding that we are there. Ps 139 tells us that he has laid his hand upon us. His thoughts towards us are more than the grains of sand. We are constantly on his minds. The question I ask myself is … Is HE constantly on my mind?

As a child in NZ we would spend summers at the beach. Our beach has a lot of rips and currents. We were always taught to swim between the flags – my parents would remind us of this as we went to swim. I would be bouncing up and down in the water having fun and periodically I would glance up at the flags. Often to my complete surprise I would be at the edge of the boundary or just outside. I constantly had to readjust and make sure that I was in the zone.

Where is my focus? Life has different seasons for all of us. We have all have times where we have to make choices. Our choices can keep us in the zone or allow us to be carried out. What will we allow our focus to be? My friend has a lot that could take her out of the zone and yet, as she fights for her life, her reference point, her one thing is to be living in God’s presence.

There is a scripture in Psalm 61 that says when my heart is overwhelmed, led me to the rock. Many things overwhelm us – hurt, injustice, grief … There is a beach in West Auckland called Piha. Very dangerous beach but very beautiful. I once had a mental picture of the huge waves there booming and smashing against the cliff. Imagine a very narrow rocky ledge running around that cliff. If you are standing facing the waves you will be consumed. The picture I have is that when the waves come … face the rock, press in and spreadeagle yourself against the rock. If you open your eyes it will be the rock that fills your vision not the waves.

This is like life. Many things/waves come and we have a choice – will we see God on the throne or will we see the waves? Will we choose to see God working in all things knowing that as Romans 8 says – he will bring good out of all circumstances or will we just look at the waves? If we focus on the circumstances and allow them to shape our view of God we will have a very small view of Him. Circumstances are like rips … they carry us out of the flags and down the beach before we are even really aware of it. If we focus on God and allow him to shape and work through our circumstances we will see just how big, awesome and incredible he is. I have noticed in life that when hard things come, people can become bitter or better. Often the determining factor is our focus. It is hard but it is our choice. Like running – its mind games! What will you choose to focus on … the pain or the music?

Sometimes we struggle to find our way through it all and make sense of it. I had the most wonderful freeing revelation a couple of months ago that has just stayed with me. I was reading in Jn 14:6 where Jesus says he is the Way, Truth and Life. Thinking of Jesus as the way I had my normal thought of a narrow path with Jesus pointing along the way to travel (I think influenced by a picture I saw when I was 10). Anyway the thought came to me that Jesus is not the guide on the way … he said he IS the way. So then this means that he is the path. All I have to do is put my feet on him – the path. This made me think of a friend’s little girl. She loves to dance on her Mum or Dad’s feet. She doesn’t know how to dance … she doesn’t know the steps but it doesn’t matter because all she does is put her feet on theirs, holds on … looks up and off they go … dancing, whirling, twirling, spinning in a glorious celebration of the moment.

This is what God would have us to do. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the steps or the way through. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the path ahead. We just need to put our feet on his … take his hands … look up at his face and laugh … be recklessly abandoned to him. His grace is sufficient and HIS hands and feet are sure.