☕️ Half Lives

A Saturday Caesura- with sorrow

I’m not particularly prone to use movies as tools to reflect on real life issues, but a couple of scenes from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, keep replaying in my mind as I attempt to process the recent exposures of notable Christian leaders and pastors who have been living duplicitous lives.

The movie tells the story of two up-and-coming magicians during the late 19th century. While it is ultimately a story of bitter rivalry and one upmanship, it is also a tale of duplicity. In the beginning scenes, the apprentice magicians, Angier and Borden, observe an older Chinese magician perform a seemingly impossible feat with a goldfish bowl full of water. Angier is baffled, but Borden recognizes the “method,” the secret: the Chinese man has pretended to be a doddering cripple both on and off the stage for years, a deception crucial to the success of his act.

The closing scenes reveal (spoiler alert) that Borden himself has a secret behind his most successful act, an impossible feat that requires a “double,” but which he never appears to use. The secret? Twin brothers living as one person. On and off stage. For years. Borden confesses, “We each had half of a full life.” Half lives that gave the illusion of a full life of success and fame on the stage but brought death and destruction off stage.

I’ve thought of this in light of the Ravi Zacharias story and other similar situations over the past months and years. I’m wondering if the core issue is not that these leaders have lived double lives, proclaiming Christ from their public platforms while desecrating God’s name in their private behaviours, but that they have actually lived half lives.

When an expert in the Hebrew scriptures asks Jesus to identify which commandment is the greatest, Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” All. Your whole life. No justifications. No false pretense. No duplicity. No half living. Only a wholly obedient and faithful love for God. “I have come, ” Jesus declares in the gospel of John, “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” No half lives are intended in God’s economy of mercy and grace and forgiveness and transformation.

Without full obedience to the first and greatest commandment, there can be no proper fulfillment of the second command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Without commitment to the first, our love for others becomes skewed, disordered, manipulative, abusive, self-serving — in essence, not love at all.

I grieve for the victims; they have not been loved according to God’s standard of love. I grieve for the families, friends, colleagues who have been betrayed and now face the accusing fingers of those who would also hold them responsible for not seeing through the act, for a measure of complicity in the harm of half-living. And in my grieving I am reminded of the Lord’s promise to King Solomon: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We need humble repentance. We need healing. Oh, how we need to end the charades and live wholly for the God we say we love — on stage, behind pulpits, in bedrooms and living rooms and government offices and work rooms and shops and hallways and basements. If we claim to follow God, then it must be with all we are and wherever we are regardless of who we are.

Then maybe we can begin to truly love as we have first been loved.

☕️ The Best, the Good… and the Ugly

A Saturday Caesura

Before Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions moved my students from our classroom to their homes for three weeks. We made the transition with resigned acceptance; for too many students extended time alone at home only leads to anxiety or depressive loneliness. To help curb the mental health issues that arose when we had to ‘go remote’ in the spring, I added a “What’s your best thing from today?” to our daily writing exercises. Every day for those three weeks we took time to look for goodness and joy and positive things even when we weren’t necessarily happy about our overall circumstances.

Just this week, our first week back in class, though not back in the classroom yet, a grade 12 student popped back in to our online video session after I had dismissed everyone to work on the day’s assignment. She shared with me that she found the daily focus on “Best Things” so helpful that she decided to extend the practice. She took an empty mason jar, dubbed it her “Best Things Jar” and has been using it to collect more Best Things, each neatly written on slips of paper.

Any guesses what this teacher’s Best Thing for that day was?

My frequent Noticing Walks, a (mostly) weekly writing habit of Saturday Caesuras and Sunday Doxologies, my daily time in prayer and Scripture are all meant to focus my attention, not only on Best Things, small blessings woven into the routines of daily life, but also on the Good Things of God, rich blessings etched with eternity in the human heart.

But noticing the good does not remove the ugliness from the world, or even from my own heart. And sometimes all that ugly looms large and ominous. It consumes.

So I’ve been pondering another aspect of noticing and paying attention: What do I need to overlook or ignore? This question is not meant to ensconce me in blinders, to box me firmly into a position of denial about the world or my heart, but it is a reminder that I do not need to wade into the ugliness or let it weigh me down with anger or swamp me under in despair. Instead, I can respond to the Ugly Things by following Christ’s commands to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (best way to deal with my heart uglies) and love my neighbour (best way to respond to the world uglies).

If this first week of 2021 has taught me anything, it is that I need to pay attention to what I am giving attention to. I need to focus my noticing, set boundaries on what deserves or requires my attention, celebrate the Best Things, be deeply grateful for the Good Things, respond with love, prayer, and humility to the Ugly Things.

☀️ This Love

A Sunday Doxology

Praise and thanksgiving to God on high who made himself low

left his heavenly throne to walk his footstool with feet coated in the dust from which he once formed humanity

set aside a crown of glory to feel the weight of crudely woven thorns sprung from the ground once good now cursed through sin

emptied himself of all the fullness of God which fills heaven and earth to embody love upon a tree of life-giving death

this love so wide and long and high and deep reaches beyond the limits of my understanding, leaves me bereft of words, weeping in gratitude, overwhelmed by grace.