not just a movie

Here is a rather simple statement: people must be willing to change in order to become better. Reluctance to listen and refusal to reconsider opinions is contradictory to the humility Jesus modeled. This is not to say that having a firm conviction is wrong; absolute truth does exist, and it is our obligation to seek it and preserve it. Still, we must carefully reach these convictions before holding them with such tightly-clenched fists. In searching for truth about an issue, we must try to hear from differing perspectives, and to ponder on them all. This may require some deal of bravery, and a good deal of wisdom.

In the past few years, my positions have been formed by many different voices. With some issues, I have listened, read, prayed, and ended up unchanged in my position. With others, I have had my opinions completely flipped upside-down. It is always a humbling thing to admit to being wrong, but it is ultimately rewarding to reach an educated conclusion about what is truth.

I sat down last night with an urge to write, but as usual was struggling to figure out what to write about. I have become significantly less outspoken about political issues in recent months, as I have seen the hostility they can create between myself and loved ones, so my initial intent was not to write about anything controversial. My writing was going nowhere, so I took a break and ended up watching an amazing documentary called Before the Flood. (You can watch the entire thing for free on National Geographic: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/before-the-flood/videos/before-the-flood3/embed/.) After the film, I felt such a sense of urgency that I could not write about anything else.

So many people in the United States do not believe that human activity is affecting the climate, or that the planet is in real danger, despite the undeniable facts. If you are one of them, please know that I do not hate you, nor do I think you are stupid. I believe that fear is powerful and often disguises itself as stubbornness and blindness. Fear must be recognized and addressed, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

God’s desire for us is to be in community, and this requires that we depend on and trust each other. God has given us incredible minds, and God has given us science. Very few people would deny that science is good when it comes to curing cancer or having surgery. Why, then, do some people trust a scientist to save their own lives, but refuse to accept science when it pertains to the health of the rest of Creation (which inevitably includes humankind)?

I suspect nothing I write will convince anyone of what I am now utterly convinced is true, and that is not my goal. My hope is simply to get people to watch Before the Flood, education which anyone on the spectrum of environmentalism can benefit from. Late NASA astronaut and scientist Piers John Sellers is interviewed in the film and states plainly (yet with more optimism than many of the voices in the film), “The facts are crystal clear: the ice is melting, the earth is warming, the sea level is rising. Those are facts. Rather than feeling it’s hopeless, say ‘Okay, this is the problem. Let’s be realistic. Let’s find a way out of it.’ And there are ways out of it…So there’s hope.”

If I needed anymore affirmation that this was something worth writing and posting about, I got it this morning when I opened my little common prayer book. The topic for the month of June just happens to be “Care for Creation”. I was amazed and encouraged as I read what it had to say:

“Sometimes our theology is so concentrated on heaven that it invalidates any concern for the earth. Some images in Scripture have even been misconstrued to perpetuate a disregard for Creation, such as the image that in the last days the world will be consumed by fire. But nearly every other time the ‘consumed by fire’ image is evoked in Scripture, it is a fire that purifies rather than burns up, a fire that frees up life rather than destroys it. No doubt, the way we live is shaped by how we imagine the end of the world—whether we think God’s final plan is for everything to go up in flames or for everything to be brought back to life…At its core, Creation care is about loving our global neighbor, because the poor suffer the most from the degradation of the earth and the struggle for clean water…At the heart of it all is a God who so loved the world and who called everything in it good.”

Please, please watch this documentary. We are privileged to be able to even question the validity of climate change, because we live in a country that can continue to sustain our consumption and standard of living (for now). However, plenty of people are experiencing the reality of these changes in their day-to-day lives, from forest fires in underdeveloped nations like Indonesia to carcinogenic smog in extremely developed countries like China.

Striving for sustainability and fighting against the destruction of the earth is no denial of God’s omnipotence or sovereignty. It is simply an acknowledgement of the responsibility that God has so lovingly given humanity. If a Christian were to say, “God is in control of everything, so I don’t need to bring the message of Jesus Christ to people,” most people would be appalled and tell that person that it is one of our greatest commandments to spread truth and love to others. How, then, are so many people justifying this type of mentality when it comes to the health of the planet, when the same holy book teaches us to be good stewards of the earth, to live responsibly, and to avoid selfish lifestyles?

The environment is not a political issue, and we have to stop looking at it through partisan lenses. This is a matter of human morality. If there’s one thing we can all unite around, it should be this, because we are all inextricably bound to the rest of Creation. Pope Francis released an encyclical letter titled “On Care for Our Common Home” (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html), in which he speaks at length about the unity and holiness of all things created by God. Here is an excerpt of his closing prayer, which I’ll close with.

“Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.”

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a short poem I wrote in Uganda

what have I to worry about

in this little clay ball

blue and green

in the palm of the One who sees

the ones without shoes

without cool, clear water

without a Big Mac

without a pill to cure the pain

  with companionship

  with love.

what immense things have I to worry about

in this little clay ball

blue and green

in the palm of the One who sees

the ones with more shoes than closet space

with heaps of plastic waste from their over-priced H2O

with hearts that cannot sustain the bodies inflated with grease and fake meat

with enough pills to make the Divine unnecessary

  without companionship

  without love.

peacock

I saw a peacock the other day. He was lost and confused and dashing around in some bushes by the side of a small street in residential Cleveland, Tennessee. I had been on a long barefoot walk, enjoying the strange 60 degree weather in January, when I heard rustling to my right. I stood there staring at the creature, and the man sitting on his porch on the other side of the street looked on, confused as to what I was doing. After a few moments, I left the bird and continued walking back toward campus, bemused but unaware of the significance of the sighting.

What I consistently fail to recognize, perhaps because doubtful reasoning usually takes the forefront of my conscious activity, is the supernatural interconnectedness of things which seem coincidental. But when God means to teach me something—when God needs me to focus on some broken thing within me that God intends to heal, God’s gonna use something as random as a peacock to get my attention.

It is what C.S. Lewis, in his classic, Mere Christianity, calls “The Great Sin”, and it “leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Pride just won’t seem to leave me alone. It seems the harder I pry at it, the more relentless pride is in its determination to cling to me. Since the start of my sophomore year back in August, and especially in the past few weeks of second semester, every day presents a greater challenge to my character and requires more spiritual fruit from me. And it has not been a time devoid of improvement; by the grace of God, I have experienced some positive changes inside myself (perhaps a meager increase in generosity, patience and gratitude). But, in Lewis’s words, “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.” No statement has been more relevant to me as of late. So I find myself in this paradox: my wholesome self longs to have the pride dismantled, while my other, selfish self resists with all its might.

Some consolation in my frustrating lack of progress toward humility came to me in Lewis’s words following his initial condemnation of pride: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” It seems that there are no fewer instances of pride in my day-to-day life, but something that has changed is my ability to recognize it (Am I being prideful right now as I proclaim that I am slowly becoming more humble?). Lately, it has been a very recurring instance, often in the classroom, amongst friends, or in the gym. It’s never fun for me to admit to myself that my thoughts are proud, but a particularly difficult time was the other night, at a racial justice discussion during Martin Luther King week. I was ashamed to realize that, while I so quickly condemn others for insensitivity or blatant racism, I have failed to recognize the fact that I have grown up internalizing certain stereotypes presented by dominant American culture. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t fight against racism or call others out for it when necessary, but it was a sobering realization for me to discover that it is going to take a good deal of effort to uproot the lies that live in my own heart.

Pride is more harmful to the one who harbors it than to anyone else. I’ve found this to be true for myself as, just today, I’ve come to the most painful revelation of my pride yet. For the past year or so, I have been determined to maintain an appearance of contentment with solitude. Most of the time, I truly am happy and fulfilled in my independence. But today, for some reason, has been melancholy, and has shown me that a part of me is lonely (my prideful side is reluctant to say such a word). I keep myself occupied with things that I enjoy, so the feeling is rare. Still, these days come every so often, and I have to admit the fact that I am facing an intimacy void. I feel emotionally detached from people, which is totally foreign to me; anyone who has known me for longer than a year can attest to the fact that I am typically an open book with no shortage of tears. Somehow, acknowledging my prideful need to avoid loneliness through a façade of joyful singleness is actually freeing, and I am already a little more at peace.

Lewis presents the ultimate level of humility, saying,“The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.” I intend to press on toward such a level of humility, but I have no doubt this journey will be lifelong. That Jesus is far more patient with me than I am with myself is something I am ever grateful for.

In the end, I hope to be the peacock

whose beauty is striking but not flaunted;

Whose pride is replaced with a boldness

which can only be born from humility.

a prayer for fruit

Lord, let me remain in close communion with You, that I may be continually pruned, that I may bear increasingly more good fruit.

Forgive my hatred, and in its place put

love.

Forgive my self-pity, and in its place put

joy.

Forgive my anxiety, and in its place put

peace.

Forgive my anger, and in its place put

patience.

Forgive my hostility, and in its place put

kindness.

Forgive my iniquity, and in its place put

goodness.

Forgive my fear, and in its place put

faithfulness.

Forgive my harsh thoughts, words, and deeds, and in their place put

gentleness.

Forgive my impulsiveness, and in its place put

self-control.

Forgive my desire to control, and in its place put

trust.

Forgive my greed, and in its place put

gratefulness.

Forgive my lust, and in its place put

respect for myself & others.

Forgive my laziness, and in its place put

diligence.

Forgive my disobedience, and in its place put

commitment.

Forgive my foolishness.

Give me wisdom.

Forgive my pride.

Give me humility.

Once again, Lord Jesus, forgive my hatred, and in its place put love.

life is not happy

This is an article I wrote for the Odyssey a few months back…figured I’d post it to my personal blog too.

 

Much of life is about doing what you have to do. To all the advocates of the notion that life is about being happy and having fun, I’m sorry for being a grump. Truthfully, though, I consider myself a happy person. I love being happy, and I love having fun. I just feel the need to address the abundance of cute little pictures edited with the words “Live for the moment” or “Do what makes you happy” that I’ve seen on the internet in recent years.

This summer has been different from any other summer of my life. Summer has always meant freedom, friends, and play. This year, however, I returned from four months studying abroad in Uganda and began working at an Italian market to start paying off the debt I owe my parents, as well as taking online classes to get caught up for the upcoming semester at Lee. Due to a strange sequence of events that would take too long to explain, I spent the summer with my parents in a Washington, D.C., row house. In a nutshell, I spent a long summer working, taking classes and hanging out with my mom and dad in a big city where none of my friends live, and like-minded college kids are scarce.

I realize that this may seem pathetic, but I want to be clear in saying that this summer has been very, very good. Yes, studying anatomy for four hours straight, and making Cream of Wheat (with soy milk) at 2 a.m. throughout all of June may seem depressing and antisocial. For me, however, these past few months have taught me the substantial value that exists in doing ordinary, unexciting, and often not-fun things. I’ve found that peace and joy appear most tangibly during my early-morning bike rides to work, or in delivering an extra foam cappuccino to a customer’s table, or while cooking stir-fry with my mom.

Much of this mentality I now possess is probably owed to my recent experiences in Uganda. Over the course of the semester, I got to live with two different Ugandan families — whom I now call my own. I saw them work hard every single day, without complaining about their lives. One of my two amazing mothers, Martha, forever changed the way I see joy. She was around five months pregnant at the time with a 9-month-old wrapped onto her back, chopping wood for the kitchen stove. All day, every day, Mama Martha worked diligently and with few breaks. It looked like a thankless and tiresome life to me as an outsider. But every night when the day’s work was finished and Mama was gathered in the little kitchen hut with Papa Wilfred and their five children, I saw simple joy and fulfillment beyond anything I had ever experienced. These people, who had little and shared all, were thankful and content.

I’ve been dealt a good hand. I could choose to not care about most of the hard questions and issues. I could choose to not work very hard and would still survive at an at least mediocre standard of living. Truthfully, I have gone through times in which I have decided to do as I pleased, disregarding almost everything and everyone which seemed to oppose my desires. Those were arguably the darkest and most unfulfilling periods of my life; I found that there was no joy in living for my own fleeting pleasure.

There is a lot to this life, and I’m afraid that being happy and having fun only fills a small portion of it. This is not to say that fun is a bad thing. I believe laughter and freedom are real gifts from God. I believe that happiness is a part of life, but that sadness, struggle, and suffering are, too. So much substance lies in the hard work: the honesty, the patience, the discipline, the gratitude, and the (often voluntary) joy that every day brings.

Real life is not happy, it is not fun, and it is definitely not fair. What I’ve found thus far, and will most likely be learning for years to come, is that the mundane jobs, the simple conversations, the aching backs, the pleading prayers, the ugly cries, the uncomfortable confrontations, the doubting moments, the frustrations, the let-downs and all the awkwardness of life — that’s the good stuff.

6 november ’16

The hardest part about writing, for me, is my determination to write what no one has written before. Whenever I sit down to write, I struggle to come up with something creative. The problem is, I don’t know that such a thing exists. In fact, I could probably find a multitude of other peoples’ recorded thoughts on this exact dilemma. Perhaps my fixation with the original comes from my deeply ingrained individualism as one born and raised in the West. Some of the my most beloved writers—take Mary Oliver or my father, for example—don’t often write about anything new or unthought-of. But their words fascinate me because the words sound like Mary Oliver or my father. Here are my words—maybe they’ll sound like me.

I suppose nothing I write in my life will be truly original, but writing is a necessity for me—for the peace and order of my soul. It was the same struggle for Henri Nouwen, but he persisted in his work, and wrote, “Every time I overcome these fears and trust not only my own unique way of being in the world, but also my ability to give words to it, I experience a deep spiritual satisfaction. I have been trying to understand the nature of this satisfaction. What I am gradually discovering is that in the writing I come in touch with the Spirit of God within me and experience how I am led to new places.” So here I am, making myself sit down and blabber until something sensible takes form. Because every time a few of my thoughts become un-jumbled, I, too, feel that deep spiritual satisfaction.

Much has changed and is changing, as always. The trees know this, and the ducks, and the sun. We humans tend to forget that every season has to pass, and are predictably surprised every time an inevitable loss comes. My loss has been gradual, not drastic, not tragic. It has happened over many years, and is not easily categorized as causing any one feeling. At times it’s joy; others, sorrow; and even others, indifference. It’s the loss that comes with growing up.

Life as i knew it was as the baby of four. I came into this world fully surrounded by unconditional love. Care and awe pursued me from all sides as I arrived (quite purple and oxygen-deprived), the precious bonus baby (or “oops” baby, depending on who you ask) to complete the Ostrander family. I grew up without the feeling of abandonment or helplessness that so many in this world must experience far too early in life. I was protected always. I watched Ryan fulfill his role as the eldest, excelling in sports and school, refusing to be wrong at all costs. I watched Tyler be his eccentric self, unashamedly choosing to be Snow White when we all played dress-up. I watched Rachel command the forces, treating me with the same amount of unwavering commitment and bossy annoyance that a child would give to a puppy of her own. And I watched the joy and honor of my mother and father as they cultivated the four of us with wise and steady hands, ever aware of the inexplicable favor placed upon our family.

It’s always easier to value time in retrospect. How could I possibly recognize the transience of those days while I was in them? A 7-year-old chasing cows through Arkansas fields does not imagine a time when she won’t be searching in the tall grass for the footsteps of 3 others in which to place her running feet. She has always had those footsteps, so why should she think of anything else?

But, of course, time has no time for sentimentality. It has no pity on those who grow attached. Perhaps the only thing I can think of that time gives is healing. Other than that, I would argue that time is more of a taker than a giver.

And so, at 19 years old, I find myself to be, in many ways, in my “prime”. I am developing spiritually more than ever, I am pursuing a discipline of study that I find fascinating, I am passionate about issues of justice and redemption in this world, I am taking good care of my mind and body, I have a wealth of relationships with a variety of beautiful people, I am healed from a past heartbreak, and I am confident. Yet the other night, I found myself weeping. I had been in Nashville all day with my sister and future brother-in-law, and said goodbye, knowing that I wouldn’t see them until Christmas. On the way back to Cleveland, I thought about the fact that this year would be my first Thanksgiving without any of my siblings. And then I thought some more, about life and changes and distance, and then the sorrow that I had been suppressing for so long finally surfaced—a mixture of guilt and anger and sadness.

I remember the mornings we were so sick of each other that we would build walls around our faces with cereal boxes while we ate our one bowl of “good” cereal before we could have our “sugar” cereal (we probably hold the world record for most cereal consumed by a single family). I smile thinking of the summer afternoons we would swat bumblebees with tennis rackets behind the shed, and the Saturdays we’d take turns on the riding mower, conquering our portions of the 3 acre yard. I laugh at the nights we would dramatically (and mockingly) act out the words of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” while standing on barstools in the kitchen. The memories are joyful, but also mournful, because they are gone.

I know I am where I’m supposed to be. Life is a gift, and I know that full well despite its periodical woes. I’ve gradually seen each sibling off, until just I remained. I at least had the perk of finding out that my parents can also be my best friends. But it is hard. Here we all are in this huge country, pursuing our individual paths, and I can’t help but think of the way Uganda (and, in fact, much of the world) values family above all else, staying close and taking care of each other until death. As much as I would love for that to be our society too, this is reality. My brothers are in California; my sister in Indiana; my parents in Michigan; my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, and elsewhere. Such is life!

What a blessing it is to have all of this love to be sad for.

a poem i wrote two days ago at the lake

When I awoke it was dark

and stayed so for another hour or two.

I was northbound and all alone;

alone, and very content.

In the early morning I am always

watchful, and calmly giddy

as I wait for the sun.

Each time I drove past a golden field

I seemed

frantic

to take as many glances as possible,

as if this could be my last morning,

my last chance to gaze upon the glory of this

gift,

the universe.

I might be getting better at letting go of time;

spontaneity is not innate to me.

But today I seized a moment,

for a moment.

I took a turn off the highway and followed gravel

into a sunlit expanse.

At first I didn’t know they were there—

I was momentarily captivated by the Light.

We saw each other at the same time—

they both watched me as I watched,

beaming at the way the daughter pranced with

awkward bounces after her wise and coordinated mother,

their short white tails

shining.

I continued the now-familiar wind

home

to Fredmar drive,

turning and gazing through the trees

as I rumbled down the gravel.

A gasp and a smile jumped forth as I saw what God made for me today—

Out to the dock! Quickly, before it goes away.

The biting mist brushed along my colorless bare feet

on the damp wooden dock.

It was all around me,

cool Breath encompassing so much life.

Underneath the bitter air,

a hundred minnows enjoyed their more consistent home, still warm from

yesterday’s sun.

Whatever it was that seemed to worry me

yesterday

just doesn’t seem very big now.

The morning makes me so small

and the world so big.

And I happened upon some magic in the book of James,

as I watched today’s scene

on the lake.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow,” he says.

“What is your life?

You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”