Unreal absence

It's funny. When my father's father was dying, I wanted to tell my facebook friends about it, but I felt like I couldn't. Because I knew that no matter how carefully and clearly I explained it to the contrary, people were going to jump to the conclusion that the grandfather in question was the grandfather I've been living with for the last five years, and I didn't have the emotional energy to make the correction over and over again.  (And sure enough, when I finally did make the announcement, even though I explicitly prefaced it with a disclaimer that I was not talking about Ben, a number of people demonstrated lack of reading comprehension.)

Now my mother's father -- the one I have been living with for the last five years -- has also died, and I don't really feel like talking about it.

But I so appreciate the compassion and kind words of my friends, and I want to honor the concern of those who wonder how I'm doing. So. A couple observations:

(1)

Quite a number of people have expressed concern that it must be hard for me to be alone in the big empty house that I used to share with GrandDad. But I've actually been surprised over how not-strange it feels. When I moved here, one of the things that was almost unsettling was the very palpable absence of my grandmother. So when my grandfather left, I fully expected that profound sense of absence to double, that the whole property would be haunted by the privation of both of the people who had given it life for more than half a century. But it doesn't feel that way at all. Even when I occupy my grandfather's room (I'm sitting on his bed as I type these words), the place is not consumed with his absence.

And then I realized that what made my grandmother's absence so profound was the undying heartache of how much he missed her. The emptiness that's filled the house for years has been the emptiness of separation. Now that my grandparents are no longer separated, that emptiness no longer fills every corner of the house. It's peaceful here, not depressing or eerie.

It is, admittedly, sometimes a little bit lonely. I am glad in those moments especially that I have a cat.

(2)

I take immense comfort in the way the details came together in the final week of my grandfather's life. I feel like God knew exactly who needed to be here, and who didn't, and arranged it just so. The people we all would have expected to be here for the end -- the daughter who lives in the next city and myself -- were both on vacation. Because of that, two other daughters and the necessary professional caregivers were here. I do not regret that I was not here at the very end, but I am very glad that my mother and her sister were.

I expected to be devestated when this happened, and am surprised that I am not. I miss him, to be sure. But having witnessed how he struggled with the physical limitations that plagued him in his final months, it feels like it would be selfish to wish him back. I'm sorry that I didn't get the chance to sit with him and go through his watch collection and have him tell me the stories of where each one came from, as we were planning to do when I came back from my vacation. But I'm not sorry that he is free from the "thorns in the flesh" that were such a burden to him of late. And I am grateful that the painful part of the dying process was not drawn out, and that he got the death he wanted: at home, not hooked up to machines, with his children at his side.

I am somewhat anxious about what comes next for me, although there are some developments just in the last 24 hours (that I'm not going to tell you about just yet -- sorry!) that make it feel like that, too, is coming together in possibly wonderful ways. I am hopeful, if unsettled by the uncertainty. And I am deeply grateful for the prayers of caring friends.

Apt descriptions

So, there are a lot of bad theological habits embedded in evangelical popular piety.  And often (for me, at least), a person can run into some such expression and feel like there's something just not right about it, but be hesitant to quibble because it seems petty or unspiritual to object to something that's couched in pious-sounding language.  That's probably the reason I so appreciate it when I come across a turn of phrase that does an especially good job of naming just what is wrong about certain ways of thinking/speaking/acting, as I have several times in the last couple of days. To wit:

"Romantic Prosperity Gospel" -- the myth that trusting in God and sexual obedience guarantees the reward of an out-of-this-world romantic marriage experience.

"Spiritual Incantations" --  quoting snippets of scripture out of context in the hopes that applying the Word of God to an unrelated situation will compel God to act the way we want him to.

“Thou shalt not use the name of thy Lord and Savior as a tool for passive-aggressive manipulation!"-- the best response to those religious chain letters/memes that imply that the reader is a bad Christian if s/he doesn't pass on the spam.

In Praise of Facebook

A new article over at Relevant Magazine talks about the dangers of Facebook envy and the threat social media poses to true community. 

I want to be sympathetic to the author's concerns, but I have to object to the way she universalizes one kind of experience with social media and suggests that it is inherent to those media themselves.  For some of us, Facebook can be a valuable tool for promoting true community.

Niequist writes:

We check [Facebook] when we’re bored and when we’re lonely, and it intensifies that boredom and loneliness.

Huh?

I check Facebook when I'm bored and/or lonely, sure.  (Not only when I'm bored or lonely, but some of the times I check Facebook are also times that I'm bored or lonely.)  But it doesn't intensify those feelings -- it helps to relieve them.  I cease to be bored because my friends invariably post really interesting stuff that's worth reading on Facebook.  I cease to be lonely because there's a reasonably good chance that checking Facebook (at least at certain times of the day) will lead to having a real-time chat conversation with someone who loves me who is also on Facebook at the same time. And even if I don't end up in a direct exchange with a friend, I feel less alone simply by being connected with my friends' lives, sharing their everyday sorrows and joys as they come across in their status updates.

She continues:
... it only takes one friend at the Eiffel Tower to make you feel like a loser.

Again, Huh?

I can't say it any better than Jon Stewart:  "I'm not a doctor, but if you get upset because other people are happy, it seems your problem might not be Facebook, but that you're an asshole."

Seriously: if you respond to the news that one of your friends is in Paris by throwing a pity party for yourself rather than thinking, "That's so cool!  I hope she's having a great time!" -- you need to get over yourself.  And/or seek therapy.

Now, I freely grant that I have an exceptionally good experience with Facebook because I have extraordinary Facebook friends.  Every once in a while I am reminded that most people who use Facebook probably don't encounter a newsfeed filled with articulate, thoughtful, faithful reflections on life, the universe, and everything.  But Niequist's discussion seems to imply that every one of her Facebook friends uses the service only to present a carefully crafted persona that shows them in the best possible light.

I find this kind of hard to believe.  (Although, if it is the case, I guess I can understand why Niequist would find Facebook depressing.)  What I find when I log in to Facebook is not a newsfeed full of show-offs, but an opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  I pray for my friends who share their fears and struggles with me using Facebook.  I commiserate and offer encouragement to those who vent their frustration over the annoyances of living in a fallen world.  I laugh with delight at the pictures and anecdotes of my friends' brilliant and beautiful children.  I cheer the victories when my friends share the good news of a major goal accomplished.  Yes, I know, my friends don't show me everything that's going on in their lives, but in the aggregate, I feel like my Facebook feed gives me a realistic snapshot of the daily ups and downs in the lives of people I love, not just a set of "carefully curated images."

...I don’t think you can build transforming friendships that take place only in a public sphere like Facebook or Instagram.

I guess my point of disagreement with Niequist here is in her classification of Facebook as only "a public sphere."  To be fair, in calling her readers to "stop comparing" and "start connecting," she says, "You can use Facebook if you want," while arguing that other media like email, Skype, or text messages might be better suited.  She seems to experience Facebook as a format that encourages the user to passively consume status updates rather than interacting personally with the people who posted them.  But there is nothing about Facebook that forces us to use it that way.

Many of the most intimate and life-giving exchanges I have had on Facebook have been through mechanisms that Facebook provides that are decidedly NOT in the public sphere:  a private, invitation-only group that has become a place where members can reach out for moral support when dealing with hostile interlocutors on more public areas of Facebook (or the broader internet); a private message thread through which a group of friends organized a surprise for a new mother; another private message thread in which we rallied to encourage and pray for a friend with cancer.  I imagine these communications would fit Niequist's definition of connecting and building community.  They did not happen in spite of Facebook; they were things that happened in part because Facebook made them possible.

To my own great surprise, I have true friends whom I have never met in real life, but only know on Facebook.  I do not mean here "friend" only the Facebook sense of the word (I've got a number of those, too), but real friends -- people I love and pray for, people I would be delighted to welcome into my home if they ever come to my side of the country, people I trust, whom I genuinely believe I could call on for help in a crisis, and to whom I would readily offer my assistance if they needed it.  These are people for whom I am immensely grateful, and chances are we would never have known each other (and surely not known each other as well as we do) without Facebook.  They are for me the greatest possible testimony of the potential of Facebook to be a vehicle for real community.

The world is about to turn


I am a devotee of the Great Vigil of Easter.  The most important thing I will do all year is a three-hour worship service tonight that starts with the kindling of the New Fire and recounts the epic story of salvation on which the Christian faith is founded.

I am also a Presbyterian, which is a bit of a problem, because most Presbyterian churches (including my own) do not observe the Vigil.  So for the last eight years, come Holy Saturday, I have been an ecumenical tourist, seeking out some Episcopalian, Lutheran, or (in one case) Methodist church in my area that does have a Vigil.  I've only lived in two cities in this time, but I've attended Easter Vigils at eight different churches in five different cities over the same interval.

I am thankful that my wilderness wanderings with respect to the Vigil are at an end, at least for now, because dear friends of mine who are also devotees of the Great Vigil are living in a neighboring city and are on the steering committee of the new church plant.  There is no way that their church is ever not going to have a Vigil, which means that I have a home to go to for this great service.

It's a 45-60 minute drive, each way, for me to get to their church, so I've put together a playlist for the drive there and the drive back.  Because the Vigil takes place after nightfall, this creates a weird kind of cognitive dissonance: on the way to the Vigil, I am usually driving through a brilliant SoCal spring day, with the sun sparkling off the vivid blue of the Pacific Ocean out to my left, while listening to mournful music of quiet waiting that speaks of darkness and death and entombment.  On the way from the Vigil, I am driving through black night, while listening to/singing along at the top of my lungs with triumphant music about a glorious morning that witnessed the defeat of death and the dawn of new life. 

Really, though, I think there's something profoundly right about the mismatch between my music and my environment on these drives, because Easter is an event that confounds expectations.  This world, even at its brightest and most glorious, is profoundly broken and in need of redemption.  This world, even at its darkest and most despairing, is being redeemed by the same power that brought Jesus Christ back from the dead.

 Songs for Holy Saturday -- Before the Vigil


Songs for Holy Saturday -- After the Vigil

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Last year, I noted with some surprise and some relief that Valentine's Day didn't feel like a huge emotional ordeal anymore.  This year feels different still: I'm fairly sure this is the best Valentine's Day I have ever had.  At least, it is almost certainly the best Valentine's Day I've ever had since the worst Valentine's Day I've ever had, which was the day as a teenager when I first really had my heart broken.  (First runner-up for worst Valentine's Day ever: I came down with the chickenpox on Feb. 14, 1989. So I think I come by my antipathy for the holiday quite honestly.)

It has been a beautiful day today.  I have had several rich conversations with people I love, who love me.  And I have received several serendipitous little surprises that have added joy to my day, from discovering that something that I thought might be a problem with my vehicle turns out not to be a problem to happening upon a book that I have long desired for my personal library at the Friends of the Library sale at my public library.

I scroll through my facebook feed, and I find myself reacting with equal delight to the creativity of those who lampoon Valentine's Day as a made-up, manipulative scheme of the Hallmark corporation and to the sincerity of those who use this occasion to declare their love for their spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, parents, kids, siblings, friends, what have you.  I am blessed with such an amazing collection of people to love, and this fantastic technology that makes it easy to keep in touch with them (even if a certain proportion of them did just sign off for forty days of social media fasting for Lent).

Yet there's a part of me that feels like it's just WRONG for me to be having a good day today, because of something else that is going on at the same time as these rich conversations and little surprises and fun facebook reminders of friends and loved ones: today, someone I love deeply and will miss profoundly is going through the very hard work of leaving this world for the next.

This is a mercy, coming at the end of a long illness that has brought much sorrow to my loved one and those closest to him.  It is a Good Death, with a devoted son keeping vigil, with many other loved ones accompanying him with their prayers, with excellent, compassionate medical and personal care (High Desert Hospice and Pelican Pointe Memory Care Community: may your tribes increase!). He is not suffering, and, as my mother loves to say, "heaven will be better."  Not only that: heaven will be perfect.  But the world will be a poorer place for those of us who are going to catch up later.

But even if today ends up being the day that this precious, faithful soul finishes the race set out for him, I don't think that's going to catapult 2013 to the top of the list of worst St. Valentine's Days Ever.  I'm reminded of how we got Saint's Days in the first place: the early church commemorated the faithful departed not on the dates of their births, but on the dates of their deaths, for that was the date on which they were born into the new life to come.  If this is the day, then St. Valentine's Day will forever after be for me St. Jim's Day, an unshakeable reminder that I have been truly, deeply loved, and I have the precious and privileged heritage of sharing that love for as long as the Lord gives me life.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. Amen.

ETA, 8 p.m. PDT:  A blessed St. Jim's Day to all, especially his family and beloved friends.  Acknowledge, O merciful Savior, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

On the metaphysics of horcruxes

Tygre and I were talking the other day about some of our favorite fantasy universes and their metaphysical underpinnings (or lack thereof), and the subject came around to the fact that J.K. Rowling simply doesn't give a damn how or why magic works in the Potterverse.  And Tygre said something to the effect (I'm sure I'm putting words in his mouth now, so don't hold him to my interpretation of his remark) that this is particularly unsatisfying when it comes to the lack of any coherent mechanism to explain just how it is that Lily's self-sacrifice functions (and ceases to function) as magical protection for her son.

He's basically right about that.  I think that the Potterverse is fundamentally metaphysically incoherent and the ultimate explanation for the "rules" of that magical universe, such as they are, is narrative convenience.  But there is some degree of logic to the way that Lily's sacrifice and Lily's blood work beyond simply being symbols that self-giving love is a good thing.

For starters, it's not the protective power of Lily's love that wears out or expires when Harry comes of age, but only the bond between that magical protection and the home of Lily's sister, Petunia Dursley.  Why this is is never adequately explained (narrative convenience!).  But I think we can posit some sort of plausible theory that, as Harry is merely the Dursleys' ward and not their son, once he reaches his majority, their home is no longer legally, magically, his home, which is the predicate upon which the special protection of that place depends.  (Which makes me wonder whether, if the Dursleys had done as Dumbledore asked and accepted Harry as their own son, if they had loved him as Lily had, or even loved him for Lily's sake, the protective charm upon their home might not have broken when it did.  But they didn't, so nevermind.)

So the protection on the home expires, but the protection on Harry endures, and comes into play in the penultimate confrontation between Harry and Voldemort.

Here is how this works.  (Sort of. I think.)

Laying down your life for another is the opposite of a horcrux.  A horcrux destroys another life to extend one's own; self-sacrifice saves another life at the cost of its own.  This makes Lily's blood a kind of anti-horcrux.

When Voldemort regenerates his human body, he doesn't understand what it is about Harry that allowed him to survive the killing curse and defeat a powerful dark wizard, but he figures whatever that power is, he can appropriate it for himself by using Harry's blood in the regeneration spell.  When he later learns that it was Lily's sacrifice that protected Harry, he thinks that he has succeeded in co-opting that powerful protection for himself.  He doesn't realize that what he has done is infused his own very body with a magic that would rather die than hurt Harry.

So when Harry goes to meet Voldemort in the forbidden forest, he knows that he is a horcrux, carrying a fragment of Voldemort's "soul," and that all the horcruxes must be destroyed before Voldemort can die, and he is willing to lose his own life to make that happen.  Voldemort is ignorant both that Harry is a horcrux and that his (Voldemort's) body only exists by means of the anti-horcrux power of Harry's (i.e. Lily's) blood.  Therefore, when Voldemort uses his treacherous body to cast the spell that is meant to kill Harry, it only succeeds in killing the horcrux.  The power of Lily's blood in Voldemort's body would rather kill itself than hurt Harry, and so the killing spell cast by that body at Harry finds itself -- the bit of Voldemort's soul attached to Harry -- and kills that, rather than killing Harry.

Dumbledore insists that for this to even have a chance of working, Harry must be struck by Voldemort himself, and he must go willingly and not defend himself.  It is not clear to me why these are essential criteria. I think it has to be Voldemort because if anyone other than Voldemort-in-a-body-regenerated-with-Lily's-blood tries to kill Harry directly, Harry will simply die.  The protection of her sacrifice doesn't make him immortal.

The not-defending-himself part is harder to parse.  Is it simply so that the protection of self-giving sacrifice can be extended, casting that great protection over all those back at the castle for whom Harry was trying to lay down his life?  Or is that if Harry were to strike back, even in self-defense, that Voldemort-like behavior would have made it impossible, in that crucial moment, for the spell to distinguish the horcrux-in-Harry from Harry himself, and both would be destroyed?

Attempting to construct a fully formed underlying logic from the fragments of Potter canon that we have is an exercise in building castles in the clouds.  It is possible that I have now thought harder about these things than Rowling herself.  (I suspect not, though -- I think she probably did have at least the logic of blood vs. horcruxes worked out for herself, and just didn't put all her cards on the table when she wrote the books.)

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints

Since last summer, I've been tracking with and praying for four families facing medical crises.  All of these families used various forms of electronic media to keep far-flung friends and family updated about their situation; two of the four did this by creating a site on CaringBridge.org.

When I followed the directions for logging on to the first of these Caring Bridge sites, I found that I already had an account with the site, although I didn't recall exactly when or why I had created it. When I downloaded the Caring Bridge App for my iPod and signed into it, I discovered the reason.

When you open the Caring Bridge App, the front page is always your Site List, which gives you one-touch access to all of the personal sites that you have registered as following. And there on the list, right beneath the name of the friend I had just added, was the name of another precious friend who had died two and a half years earlier.

I came very close to deleting that old site from my Site List. It hadn't been updated since about a month after the funeral, and it was jarring, every time I tapped on the app to see the latest news from one of the two families I am now following, to be forcibly reminded that I now live in a world without Dianne in it.

But it didn't seem right to stop following Dianne's site. And before long, seeing her name on that list stopped being a painful reminder of her absence from this earth, and turned into a comforting reminder of the hope that we have.  I went back and re-read some of her husband's accounts of the signs of God's mercy in her final days and weeks, and was encouraged in my ongoing prayers for others whose final chapters of this life have yet to be written.

One of the people I am currently following on Caring Bridge is dying. He has already lived far longer than anyone expected when he went on hospice care, but his condition is not getting better and there is no cure. Sooner or later, and more likely sooner than later, he will join Dianne.

The other person I am currently following on Caring Bridge is also dying, in the sense that to be alive is to be moving towards one's death.  But in terms of the crisis that led his family to create the Caring Bridge site in the first place, the immediate danger appears to have passed.  For several months he was fighting for his life, and the odds were against him; but now he is doing well and getting stronger every day.  Of course, in the midst of those months, we had no way of knowing that we would ever see this day.

It can be scary to pray for mercy for a suffering person and not know what form that mercy might take.  Seeing the name of Dianne, who has finished the race of this mortal life, alongside the names of dear ones who still have who-knows-how-much-more of the race ahead of them, helps me to pray these prayers with a broader perspective, and to remember, as Julian of Norwich said, that "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Today marks the third anniversary of Dianne's death.  It still seems so wrong that her sweet, generous, loving spirit no longer shines a ray of light in this broken world.  But I am thankful that she still bears witness to the resurrection that we have not yet experienced but cling to as a sure and certain hope through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praying for miracles

In Sing Me to Heaven, Margaret Kim Peterson quotes David Steinmetz regarding the difference between conventional Protestant prayers and the Psalms: “The Protestant prays, ‘Oh Lord, we’re not worth much. We have these people we want you to heal. We don’t think you’ll do it. Thy will be done. Amen.’ The psalmist prays, ‘O Lord, remember the deuteronomic law code? It says you will vindicate the righteous. Well, I’m righteous, and I’m a little short in the vindication department. Hello? Hello? Is there anybody there?’” (p. 132).

I recognize the sheepish halfheartedness of my own prayers for healing for people I love. I believe that God can perform miracles. But, to be completely honest, I don’t really expect him to do so in any given case. Because he usually doesn’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t ask, but my asking is couched in hedges and hesitations that, even to my own ears, sound pretty faithless.

Then I feel guilty and wonder whether my charismatic brothers and sisters are right who insist that the faith with which a request is made plays a part in whether the request is granted. They’ve got biblical warrant for this position: Jesus himself, repeatedly, tells people that the healing they experience was due to their faith. And I hear anecdotes even in our modern world about healing coming through prayers offered in faith. (When the prayers offered in faith do not produce healing, you don’t hear about them so much.)

But then, I believe that the proper object of our faith is God, and God’s character expressed in God’s promises. And God hasn’t actually promised the specific medical miracles for which we are praying. He has promised to vindicate the righteous, and to work all things together for the good of his children, but he hasn’t promised what vindication, what that good, is going to look like. It’s not honest to myself, or to God, to attempt to pray “in faith” for a desired outcome, if “faith” here means convincing myself that God is going to do something that Godself has not promised.

Besides, faith itself is a gift from God, not something I can gin up by sheer force of will. I trust that God knows that better than I do, and is not going to say to himself, “Well, I was going to heal this person, but since I can tell that Rachel who is praying for him doesn’t really expect me to do it, I guess I won’t.” All I can do is pray my own hurt and confusion and sadness and desperate wishes for things to be otherwise, and let God, who is faithful even when I am not, sort out the details of how to answer.

 The medical miracle for which we fervently plead to God when faced with the prospect of losing someone much too soon is (1) not guaranteed and (2) at best, only a stay of execution. As long as the Lord tarries, everyone dies eventually. The complete miraculous remission of a lethal disease could buy someone additional years or even decades of life, but then: they will die. It’s what people do.

This is not to say that a premature death is not a heartbreaking tragedy – it is – or that we should not pray to God for healing when faced with the prospect of such a death – God invites his children to make our petitions known to him. It is to say, however, that healing from a temporal illness, even of the most severe sort, is not the best thing that God has to offer our loved ones. Even while we pray for a temporary miracle that will allow our loved one to stay with us a little longer (because, face it, even another 50 years is only “a little longer” in the grand scheme of things), we can also pray in absolute confidence for the greater miracle, the miracle that God has in fact promised, indeed has already accomplished:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.... the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.... then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:20, 52-55) 
This is the good news: God Never Runs Out of Time. A terrifying prognosis carries with it fear of not enough time: not enough time to do the things we had hoped to accomplish, not enough time to spend with those we love, not enough time to see our children grow up, not enough time for God to come through with a healing miracle. But our deadlines are not God’s. And God not only can, he will heal his own, even if they die first. I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.

I am praying for miracles, in my feeble, uncertain way. Sometimes I feel pressure to pray these prayers in a more assertive way, and perhaps even to forgo the accompanying prayers for comfort, for mercy in the process of physical decline, for the skill and compassion of medical professionals, for the family coming to terms with the seismic changes in their world – for anything, in short, that suggests that I am anything less than fully convinced that God will answer the big prayer request in the way that we want him to.

But I can't honestly pray that way.  The prayers that I can pray with confidence are of a different sort: Recognize, merciful Savior, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Comfort us with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection; with the knowledge that, in life and in death, we are not our own, but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Preserve us from the fear of evil, for you are with us. And, yes, Not my will, but yours be done. If I could not pray these prayers, rooted in the conviction that Jesus is Lord, then I don't think I could pray the other kind of prayer at all.

Smitten

There's a little boy who is a month old today, but he shouldn't be. He should be settled in comfortably for a whole 'nother trimester of growth inside of mama before his lungs and heart and gut and kidneys and immune system and everything else have to function on their own. But things didn't work out that way. And after several weeks of heroic efforts by mama and her doctors to buy every possible extra day on the inside for this wee one, delaying the delivery was no longer possible. After a couple of terrifyingly close calls, they got him just barely across the line where he had a fighting chance.

It's been a fight. He's in a top-of-the-line NICU, hooked up to the standard array of machines and monitors for such a micro-preemie, doing the best technology can do to imitate the support that his mother's body would naturally provide during these crucial weeks of development. But there's no avoiding the fact that there's only so much machines and medications can accomplish, and his tiny body is being forced into functions that it's really not ready for yet. In many respects, he is amazingly rising to the challenge. But it hasn't been a steady uphill climb. For those of us watching from the outside, it feels like, just when it's starting to feel like things are all moving in the right direction, something new goes wrong. I can't begin to comprehend what this rollercoaster feels like for his parents.

He's beautiful. You're going to have to trust me on this, because I'm not going to invade his family's privacy by posting pictures out here on the open internet. I've shared his picture (it's the wallpaper on my iPod) with a few friends and family members, and am always startled that they're startled by how small he is and all the tubes and cables he's hooked up to. I hardly even notice those things anymore; I just see Jonathan: a tiny, beautiful, growing, much-loved little boy.

I find that words alone do not adequately carry my prayers for this little one.  (Indeed, I was grateful that, when I learned that Jonathan's birth was imminent, I was with another friend who also loves this family, because I couldn't find the words to pray at all in that moment. "Amen" was about all I could manage.) So I've been listening to music a lot more in the last month than I have for several years. The play list keeps growing as I discover/remember/am introduced to songs that somehow express what I hope and pray for this friend I've never met.  Here's the latest version of my prayer mix play list for Jonathan:

Further on the Hunger Games and moral cowardice in storytelling

**Spoilers Ensue.**

Something else about the movie version of The Hunger Games that made it more pleasant, but less profound, than the book:

In the movie, the Good Guys never have to do anything Really Bad.

The movie version spares Peeta entirely of the opportunity/obligation to kill another tribute. He expresses a willingness to kill another contestant, should the situation arise, but he never has to follow through.

A friend of my complained of the books that Peeta comes off as too much of a plaster saint to be believable or particularly likeable.  I didn't feel that way about the book Peeta, mainly because when confronted with the opportunity to kill another contestant, he does not hesitate to do so.  (Granted, he acts to protect Katniss, not himself, which maybe makes the act more noble than simple self preservation?)  But of the movie Peeta, my friend makes a strong point.  Peeta's purity is unspoiled; he manages to emerge a victor from the kill-or-be-killed Hunger Games without ever having drawn blood.  It's a nice fantasy, but it dilutes the power of the basic premise of the story to allow for such a fantastical possibility.

Katniss, OTOH, does kill several times in the course of the movie -- but always defensively, in response to an immediate threat upon herself, Rue, and/or Peeta.  She never has to grapple with the cold logic of the Hunger Games, that only one tribute will be allowed to survive, and therefore any opportunity to kill another contestant is arguably an instance of self-defense, even if that competitor is at a marked disadvantage and offers no immediate threat.  (I actually don't remember exactly how this issue played out in the book -- it's been too long since I read it -- but I'm pretty sure that Katniss is painfully aware that a strategy of only killing tributes who are actively trying to kill her is likely not going to be an effective way to reach her primary goal, which is to win this damn thing so that she can go home to her little sister who needs her.)

So what you get in the movie is one set of Bad Guys -- an alliance of conniving, well-trained, well-armed teenagers gleefully tromping through the woods in search of weaker, under-resourced, less-capable peers to slaughter -- and one set of Good Guys -- Katniss and her allies, the underdogs, who genuinely care for each other, who only fight in self-defense, who deserve to survive.  So we, the audience, can feel good about rooting for Katniss et. al. and not fret about the notion that they are all victims, that even the career tributes are caught up in the oppressive machinations of a government that systematically terrorizes its entire population by annually compelling children to murder each other for the amusement of the residents of the Capitol. 

It's a lot more fun to watch a movie the premise of which demands 23* child deaths when you can apply a moral calculus that rates all of those deaths as either innocent victims of the Bad Guys or Bad Guys who had it coming to them.  But a major part of the moral power of the Hunger Games books is how they convey the reality that, in a situation of warfare, individual combatants cannot be neatly sorted into Good Guys and Bad Guys.  I think the movie's viewers lose out by not being confronted with that truth.

*Reduced to 22 through last-minute rule changes.

Interesting Stuff

Books! Books! Books!

  • Bookfinder
  • BestBookBuys
  • Bookcrossing
  • Book Sale Finder
  • Library Thing
  • Good Reads
  • Disclosure: links from this page to commercial sites -- particularly Amazon.com -- may or may not be affiliate links that remunerate the blogger for sales made through said links. In no case does affiliate status affect the opinions offered on this site.

    HTML 101: How to add a link

    <a href="http://exact-url- of-site-to-which-you-wish- to-link-goes-here.com">WORDS TO APPEAR AS LINK</a>

    RevGals

    Blog Archive