Moana

Ok so, if you have not seen the movie Moana (or Vaiana. Depending on what country you are from), go watch it, because it is fantastic. But don’t read any further because I don’t want to spoil anything for you.

(INSERT OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING HERE)

God often speaks to me through stories. Movies and books. There is something about a good fictional story that bring out truths that we might have difficulty expressing otherwise. This is one reason fantasy draws me in with such gravity. So sometimes, when watching a movie, a message (probably not even intended by the makers) jumps out like neon lights by the finish. It was this way with Moana. I watched it for the third time a couple weeks ago. Every time, another layer of meaning peeled back with different symbolism.

The first and second watches, it was the theme of identity that caught my attention. (And of course, some of this might be a stretch because it is Disney, but God can speak through anything if He wants to.) Moana, the lead character, struggles with following the desire to be who she feels she is and the role her parents want her to take. Maui’s identity rests entirely on having his magical hook and what people think of him. And both, by the end, understand a bit more of what their identity is actually defined by. Circumstance, and learning the truth of her ancestors, called Moana to be who she was meant to be. And it turned out, that she did not have to choose between her calling and her role after all. She was meant for both. And for Maui, he sees that he is still himself and he can still be a hero even apart from his hook and what people’s approval. He even chooses to sacrifice his precious hook to aid Moana on her mission.

 

But I caught an even deeper thread that last time I watched it. The scene at the end (Watch here: Moana Confronts Teka) when Moana realizes the enemy Teka is actually the one she is trying to save, Te Fiti the goddess of life. She walks through the waves toward an angry, flaming monster (so epic!). “They have stolen the heart from inside you. But this does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you truly are.” It struck me. This is the truth of the human condition. We have forgotten who we are. Our heart was stolen (or rather we gave it away) and we adopted a new identity. A fiery, ugly identity. It might look more powerful and more in control from the outside. But it is destructive to its core. We build this new image of ourselves based on what people say about us and the lies we believe. Putting them on like new skin. But actually it is a crusty, ashen shell that only serves to cover and hides our life-giving nature beneath. But all it takes is a little piece of truth placed back into where our heart used to be. Even for a brief moment, we remember who we are.

And maybe sometimes, we need someone to confront us with the truth “this is not who you are.” Sometimes (about every hour of every day in my case) we need a reminder. We are not what people expect us to be. We are not what people say we are. We are not what we do or how many approve of us. And we are not the destructive sin and lies we have covered ourselves with .

At our core, we are life-bringers.

Advertisements

Réttir

Every summer, all the sheep in Iceland wander free. So then every autumn, the farmers spend a week in the mountains gathering any sheep they can wrangle and bring them to a corral designated for their area. There, the whole community of farmers, family, and friends turn up to sort them to their respective owners. It has been done this way for many generations and is one of Iceland’s oldest traditions. And this year, I was invited by some friends to join in the festivities.

On the way, the mountains and lava fields were bathed in golden light. My friend´s family welcomed us for dinner. And at the summer house on a hillside, the dancing nothern lights greeted us in the night while we soaked in the hot tub. The next morning was an early start. Clouds hung low but the coming sun still cast its light on the mountains through the haze. There was a pleasant chill in the air lingering fromm the cool night. Autumn is coming. Dressed in layers and wool sweaters, hiking boots, and waterproof pants, we arrived at the sorting location. Horses silhouetted against the moody lighting of the mountains. A loud chorus of mehhh´s swelled from the valley as we passed the Faxi waterfall nearby with its gentler roar.

A circular corral with wedge-like pens radiating around, was filled with sheep and people. The farmers and their helpers step over the sheep to position their neck between their legs to hold the lively wool-ball-with-legs. Grasping the sheep’s horns at the base, the farmers walk the sheep in a quite comical manner toward the pen matching the number on the ear tag. After watching a while and managing to overcome a bit of the overwhelming nature of the sight, I was taught to do the same. With a struggle (he was a very stubborn sheep), I successfully deposited the sheep in the correct pen. I had to take a rest after that and catch my breath. What an adrenaline rush! I was shaking from the effort. And what a strange feeling that must be to be one of those sheep. But how the farmers could do the same for many more sheep was a mystery. And sometimes taking two at a time! But of course, they had been practicing since they were children. So after a while, with some more encouragement from my friends, I managed to take three more.

After a few hours, the sheep were all sorted back to their owners. A group of old farmers gathered and in low, beautiful tones, sung the songs they do every year. The weight of community and tradition drew me in in an envious way. The pens began to empty as the farmers released the sheep to drive them back to the farm. Some in trailers and some free along horse-trails by the road. The farmer we were helping chose the latter option as the farm was not too far away. So for about an hour, we helped herd the sheep alongside the road, urging them along. Some farmers sat tall on horses while others of us walked.

Throughout the evening of visiting farms and family, eating hangikjöt and lamb soup, the draw of real Iceland lingered and the calling mehhhs of sheep echoes in my head.

Surprised by a Good Father

One thing I love about God is that He keeps blowing up the box I try to contain Him in.

Just in the last few months, He has challenged my idea of Him, tested my trust, and brought my faith to a new level.

I think my default picture of God as a Father is one who is loving and proud and caring but who is not always around. I believe in God’s power and I know He is capable of the impossible. But somehow, without even realizing it, I separate myself from that power and assume He would not actually do those things. So I believe that God could do anything, but apparently not that He necessarily would. It turns out this a very small container.

This default assumption of mine appears to be the root of many of my reactions. Especially the attitude I adopt when God asks me to do something. After the initial denial and tantrum, my reaction is usually: “Right. Well then, I will get on that” along with the fear of being alone in it. And fear of God’s disappoint when I fail. (Of course, all of this is ridiculous and ungrounded). It is like I assume, after the wonderful moment together when He gives me the task, He leaves to go do other important things, leaving me to the work He gave me to do. (Where do I get these ideas?)

A short while ago, God blessed my mom with a house. The old house had become a source of worry and God was challenging her to leave it behind. So, she had been planning to move and was working toward that goal, but financially and practically, it seemed impossible any time soon. I new God would work something out, but I never imagined it would be like this. He gave her a house. And it is all she needs and even ever wanted!

I was completely blown away by God’s goodness. How could it be that He would arrange it in this way? Of course, I knew He could do these things but never expected Him to! God blew up my box again. But in my heart, I expected a catch. I didn’t want to but I doubted the blessing and God’s goodness. And then, some time later, it seemed that the catch did come. I won’t get into details, but something came up that could have prevented my mom from moving into what had seemed earlier as an obvious blessing. And I was wrecked. It surprised me how wrecked I was. I thought I had a stronger trust in God than that. But as I was crying out to God, being honest with Him about how He felt cruel and unfair, He showed me a bit of understanding. I may trust Him with a my own life, but it is much harder to trust Him with the people I love most. I doubted His goodness. I believe that God’s love is far beyond my understanding. But somehow I overlooked that the same is true of His goodness. God’s goodness does not play by our rules of fairness or standards or entitlements. He is good because He wants to be good, not because He wants something in return. So then, why do I always think that way? God’s goodness doesn’t come with a catch. So I did my best to trust Him, even if the situation did not make sense. But then, God gave us another miracle. The problem dissolved and my mom could move in! And this time, the box was blown and a stronger foundation was unearthed.

Sometimes, things are just good.

And then, there is another layer to this.

A thought dropped on me while singing Good Good Father at church last week. You know how in John’s gospel he refers to himself as ‘the disciple Jesus loved’? It seems that people often joke about it since it seems like a prideful thing to say. And at the end of the gospel, he is like ‘oh yeah, and by the way, the disciple Jesus loved? That’s me.’

But what if it wasn’t pride? What if John’s identity was so wrapped up in this truth that he was the one loved by Jesus? What if this was his identity? So much so that his name really was a kind of ‘by the way’ sort of thing. So in that way, it isn’t pride at all. It seemed that John might have struggled with pride in his early years following Jesus, but he probably wrote the Gospel at the end of his life. And it is so consistent with how John writes about love in his letters!

I decided that I want to be this way. To be so grounded in the love of Jesus. The love of a good Father. I want to have my identity so wrapped up in being a ‘disciple Jesus loves’ and the ‘loved daughter of the Father’ that I forget my own name.

Lingering Easter

I know that Easter is well over but there is something that I can’t quite shake from it this year. I was talking with some friends about what Jesus did for us, you know, the typical Easter story. I’ve heard it a million times and sometimes I can forget it is actually my reason for living. We were discussing how Jesus was fully God and fully human—and how we can never understand how that works. And that led to this mind-blowing thing: Jesus had the power to escape the punishment of the cross if He wanted to. He could have easily come down from the cross. This is one of the things that makes the gospel so beautiful. Jesus not only endured extreme pain, suffering, and death on our behalf, He chose to when He had the power not to.

But another connection dropped into my mind. One that I have never thought about before. Jesus chose to die for us but He also chose to feel all of it. If He had the power to come down from the cross, He probably had the power to diminish the pain He felt. Jesus could have died and got the job done, but just lessen the pain a little. Why not? But this would have cheapened it, wouldn’t it? There is no way we can comprehend the anguish He endured in our place. The physical, emotional, and spiritual torment of taking on the sins of all of history, present, and future. To become sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God [2Corinthians 5:21]. And He chose to feel it all. That is the extent of His love. He didn’t want to show us cheap love. He wanted to show us real love. The kind that bleeds and sweats and hurts.

And it struck me. Who am I to cheapen God’s love? I guard myself and build walls and hide away. All because I am afraid to feel too much, to feel pain, to get hurt. To care too much. I have steeled myself against the hurts of the world to the point of numbness. I have been on this journey with God over the past year in which He is awakening my heart. A journey past obedience to the place of risky love. God has created me as an empath with the ability to feel intensely and deeply. Who am I to waste it when Jesus chose to feel everything? God has issued this challenge to me: to allow myself to be moved to love, to feel everything and not steel myself against it. Because that love that Jesus displayed, that love is my armor.

Words From a Monk

It is not enough to know God as a theory, from what we read in books, or feel some fleeting motions of affections for Him, brief as a wave of feeling, or glimpse of the Divine, which prompts them; OUR FAITH MUST BE ALIVE and we must make it so, and by its means lift ourselves beyond all these passing emotions to worship the Father…

–Brother Lawrence from The Practice of the Presence of God

God Speaks Through Bass Guitar

It is strange to think of myself as an amateur bass player. But I suppose that is the category I fit into now. For the last few months, I have been learning how to play bass guitar. I am told I am good at it for a beginner. For someone who has maybe plucked a guitar string once before in my entire life. The only other contact I have had with guitars is probably just to pick it up to set it aside.

People that know me well know that it is a big deal for me to be on a stage. Or speaking in front of people. Or even being the focus of a conversation. Honestly, when any sort of focus is turned on me, my immediate reaction is to hide. I would much rather be in the background. Unnoticed. It is too terrifying to be the center of attention. Or even on the periphery of the center. Pair this need to be in the background with my (unrealistic) drive for self-perfection. I think that is one reason I am scared to be in front of people or anywhere close to the center of attention. I fear messing up. I fear how people see me. I fear letting people down and disappointing them. These are things I have seen in myself for a long time. And it has been a lengthy journey to even get this far. God is helping me overcome these things. But it seems that maybe, playing bass is the next step.

The other day, I was asked if I was a musician. I hesitated but said I was not. It struck me how strange that was. There was a time when my life was centered around music. It was who I was. And now I don’t even consider myself a musician anymore? Even though I am not very good at the instruments I play right now, does that disqualify me to be a musician? Apparently, I thought it did at that moment. Odd how much I still define myself based on what I do and how well I do it. I am not a scientist or a biologist because I am not working in that field. I am not a missionary because I don’t do typical missionary things. I am not a writer because I am not that good and not an author because I have nothing published. And not an artist. Not a musician. But in truth, I am all of these things.

So. Back to playing bass. Not everyone here knows me well enough to understand it, but for me to be on stage during Sunday night worship, playing an instrument I do not know well, is a enormous deal. It is amazing for me to look back and see how God has grown me in this area. How He is working on me now. From the days when I would say nothing during class or a group discussion at youth group. The times when I would make myself sick from nervousness days before a five-minute presentation in class. To today. Choosing to be in front of other people, doing something I am not very good at.

I suppose it is just another case of God proving me wrong when I say “I would never be able to do that”. And I am challenged, humbled, and encouraged by it all. All this through learning to play the bass guitar.

Shield

I am so afraid of people taking advantage of me or getting hurt by giving too much of myself.

At my core, I think I am probably the gullible sort who trusts too easily and doesn’t really know when to give up on someone. I have learned early that usually doesn’t work out so well and learned to build walls and defenses to protect myself. I have become a very good wall-builder. So good, in fact, that I usually don’t know that they are there or that I have built them in the first place.

For a while now, I have been seeking the balance between loving and healthy boundaries. Loving but not too much. I thought that was where the answer lay.

But what if the secret of keeping people from walking on me but loving them is to choose to love and serve them. Jesus was not a pushover. He was not weak. He did not let people manipulate him or make him do something he didn’t want to. But somehow He still met their every need. This always bothered me. How did He manage this? I know that He is God and had an endless supply of power and all that. But He was still human and got tired. He helped people until He was exhausted. And when He would go somewhere to get some rest away from the crowds, thousands of people would be waiting for Him there too. And guess what? He served them too, without hesitation. He loved even when He was beyond exhausted. How?

Then I read Philippians 2 (one of the best chapters in the whole Bible. Just saying). He emptied Himself, assuming the form of a slave. And then Jesus is love, right? And what is love? Love is not selfish (1 Corinthians 13). Jesus chose to serve and love above His own needs. Above everything else.

This kind of love always struck me as a bit foolish, to be honest. My practical, self-preserving side always whispers something like, ‘well you still need to take care of yourself too’. Which may be true. But Jesus never seemed to think about that. He somehow still made time to pray and be with God. And that was all He needed it seems. I don’t know, but to me, this kind of love is scary. It is loving against my better judgment. It’s vulnerable, revealing, and self-denying. It doesn’t make sense. Especially in a world where personal rights take a front seat to everything. But, I suppose that is where the emptying ourselves comes into play.

If we choose to love people, it takes the power away from them to manipulate and take advantage of us. We still get hurt. But maybe the sting is taken away because we chose it. Because of love. If we choose to love and choose to serve with that motive, we can be content. We never have the reason to grumble against anyone or feel cheated by someone. We don’t have to guard ourselves. Love acts as our shield.

Ramblings about my missionary adventures