Off to Oxford!

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I remember the day I first heard about the chance to study in Oxford. I was a bright eyed and bushy haired freshman, and as the professor (who happened to be the advisor for the program) described the opportunity every nerve in my Hermione-ish self stood to attention.

Travel in England? 

Meet people from all over the world?!

Study literature at Oxford?

He had me at “cheerio.”

Fast forward two years, and here I am: exactly one week away from boarding the plane to a great adventure.

It still feels a bit unreal that a week from today, I will be ordering my inflight cranberry juice and pulling out my book. A week from tomorrow, I will be boarding a bus with a bunch of people I don’t know, but hope to know very well very soon. A week from Saturday, I will be set out on the  old streets of Oxford, well worn by many centuries and the feet of many influential people. I hope those streets and I will be friends.

The wonder of this experience is not lost on me. I am incredibly lucky– nay blessed!– to be at a school that offers this as an opportunity to study abroad. I know it is a privilege, but in my heart of hearts I feel mostly that it is a gift– specially wrapped with a bow on top. It feels like an interlude in the midst of my wondrous and cacophonous college years, and I want to treasure it. 

I have been pondering what it is I will come away from this time with; I feel a glorious sense of expectation and ignorance as to what the time will hold. These are things I hope the time holds:

Favorite tea and coffee shops.

New dreams and convictions.

Take-your-breath-away beauty in places I’ve never been.

Surprising life long friends.

Favorite corners in libraries.

Introduction to new ideas and stories.

A deeper revelation of the Jesus that works in America and England.

Challenges and practice in writing and communicating.

Fish and Chips.

It makes me smile to write these dreams, wishes, hopes to God. Who knows what’s to come. 

We’ll see. We’ll see. 

This morning a customer came into the coffee shop with a well pressed suit and a tell tale Oxfordshire accent. I asked him where he was from, and sure enough he had grown up in Oxford and attended Oxford at Saint Peter’s college. I told him I was attending Oxford this fall, and he paused and said:

“Remember to look up, and to look behind. Look up because it is easy to get lost in the bustle and rush of High Street, but you have to remember to look up at the meaningful architecture, beauty and gargoyles. And behind, because you must remember to leave the center of town, and explore the colleges themselves– they are full of beauty and history. Don’t forget to roam gardens, and soak in the stories of the places you live in.”

I can’t wait. I look so forward to looking up and looking behind. 

The road goes ever on and on…

In the meantime, I will take this moment to announce that I will be (doing my best to) update this blog at least once a week, on mondays, with the most recent adventures, revelations, and pictures of my time in Oxford. If you wish to keep up, feel free to follow this blog. 

I will also be starting a facebook page for small updates. You can find that here:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Joyness-the-Brave/818339664863181

Off to pack, soak up my family and friends, and check off doing all the things on my lists of “things I will miss from home.”

Write soon.

Love, Peace,

Joyness

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I Need a Hero

 

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True. Story.

“Aragorn is just not a realistic character,” said my friend as we sat at lunch.

“Really?” I said, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said, holding his french fry a few inches away from his mouth in a contemplative manner, “He’s just too… Resolute… Too good. Nobody is that noble.”

I hmphed and picked at my grilled cheese, he ate his french fry, and our conversation turned to complaints about homework and other serious collegiate matters.

The conversation did not turn into much more that day, but the comment has always stuck with me.

Not realistic. Too Resolute. Too Good. Nobody is that noble.

I have always loved Aragorn. Heavens, I think there are few girls in my generation that have not gone through a stage of Aragorn admiration, and, were we honest, few of us have made it out of that stage. For evidence, see the meme included in this post. 

Tales like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Narnia, or to go back further, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Odyssey, David and Goliath, and countless others have gone deep into the psyche of countless generations. We love stories for their adventure and delight, but I think there is a deeper down reason for our love of these tales. We love them because a good story gets to the heart of the struggle of good and evil that every age has had to deal with. Though it wears different masks– war, oppression, slavery, nuclear war, facism– every age has had its darkness to fight. We tell stories to make sense of the world, and to give us an ideal for how to live in evil times. 

That’s where the Aragorns of the world come in. Every good story has its hero. If stories help us make sense of our beautiful, broken and cruel world, Hero’s teach us to live in it. In our favorite heroes, we see people who face the same sorts of hardships and doubts that we do, yet somehow, miraculously come out the other side. We love heroes because they are brave, and because they make us believe that, perhaps, we could be brave too.

Not Realistic. Too Resolute. Too Good. Too Noble.

I believe our generation has lost some of its hope in heroes. We are wary of people who seem “too good,” and I do not think this wariness is totally unfounded. The last score of years have been full of media demagogues: politicians who promise and do not deliver, pastors who preach but do not practice, stars who shine but do not bring light. The rapid growth of social media has engendered a marketing based culture where everything and everyone is claiming to fill a need, and the emptiness of those promises has become quickly evident. As a generation, we have grown weary of people claiming to be heroes. As a result, many people have rejected the idea of heroism altogether, and have replaced it with the ideal of “being real” or “authentic.”

This rejection of heroism and embrace of “authenticity” is evident in the proliferation of anti-heroes in literature and film. Take for instance the popular example of the “real” antihero Katniss Everdeen, who is only willing to do the right thing once she is coerced and harrowed into it.

I am not wholeheartedly condemning all antiheroes, but I think it is worth noting their presence and influence in the 21st century imagination. There is something truly valuable in the pursuit of authenticity and humility, but what bothers me is the idea that true heroism is, as my friend put it, “not realistic.” But what do we mean by “not realistic?” We have forgotten to define our terms. 

To assume that a character can only be “authentic” “real” or “humble” if they are antiheroic means that we have assumed that no one can truly be heroic. 

After all, there are no pure motives…

And that is the assumption that bothered me about my friends statement. 

Is Aragorn’s bravery and heroism truly unrealistic?

I recently finished reading Lord of the Rings over the summer, and was profoundly encouraged by it. The story is peppered with heroes of all shapes and sizes, and that is perhaps what I love most about the series. Be they hobbit or high elf, many a character comes to the edge of peril and decides to press on, to conquer, and to be brave. Time after time characters are faced with certain death, many meeting it, but press on for the love of goodness and the understanding that their decisions are a part of a story much bigger than themselves. 

Consider Aragorn.

In the story, Aragorn is 80 years old. He has spent many years as a ranger in hiding– a job without appreciation and without forgiveness. By the time the book begins, he has fought many bitter battles and spent years in obscurity, but he knows that He– and he alone– is meant to be king. It is not that he is infallible, but that he has spent his life preparing and training for his part. When finally the day comes for Aragorn to take his place as King, it is in a battle almost sure to be lost, but he goes forward bravely, knowing that this was his time to be brave, whether it ended in death or life. 

It was what he had prepared for all his life.

It was the summation of his character.

It was his part in the story.

Not realistic. Too Resolute. Too Good. Nobody is that noble.

I wonder if the reason we have lost our trust in heroes is because we have lost our sense of story. All good heroes know that there acts of bravery are not about them, but about the people, the values, and the goodness they believe in and want to preserve. Heroes seem supernatural, because in their actions they affirm that there is a true and even supernatural narrative that is worth protecting, and even worth laying their lives down for. All of the best and most beloved heroes– Aragorn, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King Junior, Clara Barton, Abraham Lincoln– all realized that their heroism was not about them, it was about the bigger story of love, goodness, and truth they were fighting for.  

Heroism is not about glory, it is about story.

Perhaps more people would be real and authentic heroes if, rather than making themselves out to be great and noticed, they spent their lives, like Aragorn, in silent preparation of character, daily building spiritual muscle to fight, making decisions in quiet moments to walk towards the light and dispel the darkness, so that when their time came to lay down their lives for what is right, they would be ready. 

As I write this, there is a breath stealing heat lightening show happening outside my window. It is like nothing I have ever seen. The clouds are piled miles high and the stars a guarding the clear air around them. Inside the towers of clouds there are great silent flashes of light flashing, as though Gandalf himself is fighting Saruman. I feel small.  

And I am.

I am grateful for these moments, because in their inaudible and yet articulate way they remind me of the Great Storyteller, and the Great Story that I am a part of. I want to be hero.

The story is not over yet, and more than ever we need heroes. A cursory glance at your newsfeed or will reveal that light and goodness are being challenged, and sometimes seemingly darkened, every day. But just like Aragorn, I want to know my place in the story, prepare my heart, stretch my spiritual muscle to be ready for my part in the story. 

We need to believe in heroes.

We need to read stories about heroes.

We need to become heroes in ready wait for the true King and Hero.

 

“Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. ‘My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?’

‘Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!’ said Aragorn. ‘You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return.’

‘I will, lord,’ said Faramir. ‘For who would lie idle when the king has returned.'” – Return of the King

Finding my Place: On Women in the Kingdom

The three women discovering the empty tomb of Christ.

The three women discovering the empty tomb of Christ.

To me, early mornings have always been a holy time. I was an RA this past school year, and as often as could, I would wake up before the sun to enjoy the quiet of an unbroken morning before the day began. One morning, I snuck out of bed to do just that.

I tip-toed out of my room trying to not wake my roommate. She stirred, and for a breathless moment, I thought she might wake…but she rolled over, and her covers returned to rising and falling to the steady rhythm of her breath. 

The hallways were empty and quiet as I went to boil water for tea, and only as I walked back with a warm cuppa, did I see a few girls emerge from their rooms, sleepily resolute, sport shorts and yawns, on their way to Track practice. 

I slipped back into my room, and on to my captained bed to peer out the window as the first rays of sun shot out behind the silhouettes of stately palm trees. Palm trees. We’re not in Colorado anymore, I laughed to myself.

I gingerly picked up my Bible from the desk beneath my bed. Dog-eared pages and bright highlighted areas waved at me as I flipped through the chapters of my old friend.  That morning I read 2 Timothy, one of my favorite books of the Bible. I love it for it’s tenderness, truthfulness, bravery, and most importantly, for its steady gaze at the hope and glory that Paul seemed to see so vividly. 

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Suddenly, my peace felt broken. Hadn’t I read this verse dozens of times? It is about discipleship. Why am I bothered? I thought.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Men. 

My stomach sunk. The feeling I can come closest to describing it as, is the feeling when you see someone smiling and waving, and you enthusiastically wave back, only to be met with a grimace– the wave was not for you. And this passage was not for me; I am not a man. 

I felt left out. 

It seemed juvenile, the desire to be included, but there it was, rising up in me. I certainly have no vendetta against men, and no desire to be one. I only wanted to know that there was a place for me in the Kingdom. I wanted to know that I was not a existential afterthought. I want to know your story, Lord! I want to be a witness! 

I tried to rationalize.

It’s only cultural! Paul just wrote that out of a cultural motivation, I said to myself. But instantly my mind rebutted: God is expressed through culture, but it does not contain Him. After all, if this is His Holy Word, then couldn’t he have avoided a cultural confusion of this magnitude? Yes, He could. This left me in a quandary. 

The morning had broken. 

I finished 2 Timothy that morning, but a cloudiness hung over my reading, and I carried a half formed question in my mind that day, and into the months to come. 

I have always identified a bit with Éowyn in Lord of the Rings. She is a great, noble, and gracious lady radiating with true loveliness (all things I aspire to be), who has watched her Kingdom fall under darkness. She loves the legacy of the good Kings of Gondor, and is jealous for them to conquer the darkness that is eating away at her land. The great battle comes, the good and prophesied King has returned, her kindgom seems to be on the brink of doom, and she wants to fight for it. To be in the thick. I believe her motivation is not to gain glory, but to play a part in the preservation of the precious place she loves most. And yet, she feels forgotten.

 In a profound passage she says to Aragorn:

“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house.”

Éowyn’s part to play in the story of Lord of the Rings is beautiful and honorable, but I will not spoil it in case any of my readers have not read it (… and I mean… if you haven’t… get on that.) She represents to me, both a desire I feel in my heart to follow my King, and a struggle in finding a place to belong in the fight for the True Kingdom.

I have always felt that her story understood me and my desire to be in the thick of living for the Kingdom of God. I have always been something of a all or nothing believer. When, after doubting and struggle, I came to realize the King Jesus had laid down his life to save me, and raised up to give me hope and power, I knew that I must live my whole life following Him. I wanted to sit at his feet and be taught by him, and when He rises to follow Him wherever he goes.

But, doubts creep in. Often, I felt a small voice follow me around saying

“You can be a Christian, but the really important jobs are to be left to Men of God.”

“When Jesus said that, he wasn’t really addressing women.”

“You are too strong.”

The voices say my love for Christ, while not unrequited, is perhaps a bit over enthusiastic or misguided. Perhaps I should be less passionate, and more meek. 

In my heart, I always know these whisperings are not true. They flit about like a buzzing fly. I bat at them, but they return. I would swat them dead, but a tiny doubt tells me perhaps they are the truth.

But isn’t that exactly how the deceiver would work? Convince a heart bound to Christ and His Cross that, because they are a woman, they’re actions would not have quite as significant repercussions, that their voice is not as important, that they would be better off retiring to the fate of the second class saved. 

But it is a lie. 

The more I press into scripture as a whole, the more I am aware that There is a place for Women in the Kingdom of God. 

Not lesser, not weaker, not to be hushed and pushed aside. Nor to be masculinzed in the name of equality. No. When I look for Women in the Kingdom of God, this is what I see.

Hannah: A persistent pursuer of God and his blessing, a good and faithful mother.

Esther: A beautiful woman, knowledgeable in foreign policy, fervent in prayer, wise and diplomatic, acting to stop a genocide without thought to her own safety.

Deborah: A judge of discernment, a leader, a victor in battle.

Rahab: A woman experienced in the hard life of oppressive lands, a prostitute, yet with such faith and cunning, that she was counted in the line of Christ.

Writer of Proverbs 31: A poet, a master of words, a wise mother, a provider.

Anna: A prophet faithfully waiting for the Messiah. 

Mary: A brave strong young girl with such a developed character and deep investment in scripture that her response to the angel was immediate, faithful and brave submission, and a poem unmatchably rich in scriptural references and trust in the faithfulness of the God she had a personal faith in.

Phillip’s Daughters: Recorded evangelists in the early church.

 And with these I barely begin to scratch the surface of the women who are impactfully present in the story of the Kingdom. Indeed, the very first people to discover Christ’s empty tomb were women– and incredible fact in a day when women could not even testify in court. 

But that is the way of the Kingdom. Though the world in it’s shifting shadows frequently chooses people to whom they say “you are not as important,” Christ does not. The Kingdom is about Christ, and He is not a respecter of what mankind deem valuable or not. In the gospels he repeatedly addresses women personally, calling to their deepest needs and beliefs, honoring them in a way almost unheard of in that era. 

And, He calls to me today, and to all women who would faithfully follow Him. The call to “Die to yourself pick up your cross and follow me” is every bit as much a call to my heart as it was to Paul’s, or Peter’s, or Mary’s.  

Let me end by bringing to my kitchen nook table, about a week ago. My father, brother, and I sat munching away at a summer salad, as everyone else was out for the evening. A quiet cool was descending on the hot day, and the sun smiled sleepily through the stained glass hanging in the bay window. We were enjoying the comfortable rhythm of silence and chatting that comes from a lifelong knowledge of one another.  

“I came upon something interesting today,” Said my dad, water glass in hand. 

“You know I’ve been writing this small group leader’s guide, and I am using the passage from 2 Timothy, where he talks about discipleship, so I decided to look it up in Greek. You know how it translates to something like ‘entrust these things to worthy men?’ Well, I looked it up, and the words is ‘anthropos’ which in almost all other cases is a gender neutral word for ‘human being’ or ‘people.’ So it really ought to be “entrust these to worthy ‘people’.”

I felt a rush of relief, and prick of reminder. God had heard my question that morning, and taught me, and is continuing to teach me that, yes…

I do have a place.

Rain

It rained today, so of course I wrote a song about it. Do you love rain as much as I do?

Lyrics:
It rains and I remember
Some part of me I left behind.
It pats the tender the soil tender
In the garden of my mind.

Rain, old friend.
Life, growth, peace, come near me.

My soul breathes deep of memories,
Some still yet to come.
Yet vivid they draw near me,
As down the roof the raindrops run.

Rain, old friend.
Rain, old friend.
Rain, old friend.
Rain, peace, growth come near me.

There is some solemn magic
That the cool wind rushes in.
A spell clean, fair and tragic,
That crawls beneath my skin.

Rain, old friend,
Come again.