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I want to paint, to sculpt, to create. But my art is words. So I’m here. Not writing the ideas I had planned. Just sharing again. Being.

Not feeling much today. Spent emotion all last week. The response is still there, inside, deep.

Babies die and I speak words, numb from the overwhelming inadequacy – from how little my voice effects. Friends talk and I hear, but I’m not connecting. Too hard to shoulder their problems today. Speak truth I know even when I can’t think or feel.

God wants us to love. Forgive. Wait. And He is big enough to do those things in us. When we don’t feel it, don’t understand what’s happening.

Maybe we’ll look back and see His work through us. Laughter. This week I’ve run into people who like me. And I don’t know why. I shake my head asking God how this happened, that these new intersections in my life are friend-meetings. And His laughter fills me. Wasn’t I praying for this, that God would overflow me, blessing these people I meet even when I barely know them? When I wasn’t paying attention, when life and death weren’t before my face, I didn’t know His Spirit was filling me. Smile dipped in grace painting my world.

I say life and death wasn’t before my face, but I think now that it was. I take for granted the little things. Eyes are opening to the spiritual battle. Two weeks ago I told my brother, “It’s strange that there’s a spiritual battle, and you can go or not.” The battle is inescapable, war for souls, for joy, for peace, for faith – sometimes a defensive war, building up the weak and welcoming into strongholds. How frail our hold on faithfulness. No holidays from being carried by grace.

And what when the world crumbles around me? Though I hold tight in prayer, well-guarded by a Mighty Friend, fellow disciples fall, hurt, cry, tire. Call for back-up and I don’t know what to do for them. Pray more because I’m not just praying for me. Because I need my God’s eyes to guide me where next.

But the world keeps breaking, prayers not stemming enough the flood of attack. To pray for a day, fervently, all day, I can manage. Rebuke my doubt that God won’t answer so quickly; He could, you know. Then He doesn’t, and I wonder… and weary… and wane.

This feels empty, when I’m not winnowing with God. I ask for help praying, help loving, help persevering. Can God fill me again, spend me as His servant in these lives I see?

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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I watched the Matrix for the second time last night.  Actually I sped it up a bit, skipping the scenes with interminable punching, kicking, and creepy stuff (like the bug).  This movie was the constant topic of conversation for a few months when I was in high school.  Friends said they had to see it several times just to get it. 

 

Many years removed from its debut, the Matrix is not difficult for me to understand.  Maybe our concept of computers has changed, or the plot has been so absorbed into common philosophy that it is no longer shocking and new.  Either way, watching it the second time was pleasant.  I got to enjoy the exceptional writing, the whole thrust of the story being set up by small comments early in the movie. 

 

The Matrix is about fate and choice.  For example, near the beginning of the movie, Neo asks, “Why is this happening to me?  What did I do?”  The answer is nothing.  Things happen to us outside of our control or choices, and quite often whether we deserve them or not. 

 

In the story, there is an Oracle.  She predicts the future: that a special human will be found; who will find him; how the people will know.  This special human is supposed to rescue humanity from the Matrix.  There is a strong idea of fate in this.  Even if it were naturally possible to predict the future, she was predicting a supernatural event, the appearance of a human being with super-human mind power. 

 

The mind is important in the story.  Almost everything that happens is mental, through the Matrix.  And the epic conflict is the irrepressible human mind (or spirit) that is not bound by a programmed response as machines are.  Humanity can survive and once again prevail because the mind is creative and adaptive. 

 

Yet the mind is not the ultimate reality in the story.  (Spoilers of a ten year old movie coming up.)  At the very end of the movie, Neo dies in the Matrix.  Anyone else who dies in the Matrix dies in reality, too.  The body cannot live without the mind.  And the mind inside the Matrix cannot keep so much a hold on reality that the death blows cannot reach it.  Nevertheless, the physically and mentally dead Neo responds and revives as a matter of will.  There is something else in him that will not die, that will not submit to what the mind senses.  Ultimately it is that will, informing the mind, which enables him to overcome the Matrix. 

 

That’s the framework.  But inside the story, as events unfold (a beautiful word image for an idea of fate), these various perspectives on the will, the mind, the feelings, all interact.  One character would rather live based on what makes him feel good.  All of the questions represent a belief about truth.  How do you know truth if what you’ve experienced and believed your whole life is a lie?  How can you tell you’re not suffering a lie again?  What is your definition of truth, and does it matter to you? 

 

The Oracle tells Neo not to worry about a vase, which he curiously turns to see, and knocks it off.  Is this pure prophecy, or manipulation based on possible futures?  The Oracle also gives Neo the impression that he is not the One (special human able to defeat the Matrix), but tells him that he will have to make a choice between his life and the life of his mentor, Morpheus.  The mentor is trying to give his life for Neo.  Whose will wins? Why?  While Neo believes he isn’t the One, he’s actually proving that he is.  His motivation, his will, is stronger than what he believes in his mind. 

 

Neo makes decisions based on what is right.  He goes to save Morpheus because it is the loving thing to do.  We can never let a sense of destiny interfere with what we know is right.  He lets Trinity escape the Matrix first out of love as well.  And these are the decisions that define his fate, that empower his will. 

 

Machines may be the epic enemy in this movie, but they aren’t the bad guy.  However much they try to convince you that they care about something, that they feel emotion and make choices, it’s all a façade, an intimidation tactic.  No, the real bad guy in the story is the man who wants to live by his feelings instead of by truth and justice.  It is he who is willing to betray his companions, even to kill them and sacrifice the human race. 

 

What defeats him is the justice and sacrificial love and determination of two brothers.  The bad guy shoots at one, whose brother jumps between him and the next shot.  The second brother dies.  Greater love has no man than this…  Brother number one survives to defend the lives of his friends by necessary force.  Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man… 

 

The story isn’t all that new.  A pure heart sacrifices itself for love.  The will is superior to the feelings.  Love conquers all.  Truth and love are inseparably connected.  It’s this very fact, that the story isn’t new, that it is filled with eternal truths, which make The Matrix such a good movie. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Books Read in 2008
Persuasion by Jane Austen (ok, so I re-read it, but loved it more the third time. The tale of a good, intelligent woman on the verge of being forever an “old maid,” whose family ignores her but whom she helps all the same. There is a handsome man she loved before he was rich, and so turned down at the influence of her family and friends, and very much regrets. He comes back into her life and suddenly everyone realizes Anne Elliot is the girl they want to marry. I underlined every word that illustrated persuasion, steadfastness, or persuad-ability. There are a lot.)
The Preacher and the Presidents by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (a modern history book looking at leadership, politics, and big decisions as associated with Billy Graham.)
A Walk With Jane Austen by Lori Smith (Single Christian girl in early thirties goes to England to trace Jane Austen’s life. She dreams of love, finds something special, and goes on to share her very human, very female thoughts about life, love, and God – often borrowing words from Jane Austen herself.)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: I’d say the book is about making choices, and the freedom that comes from doing the right thing even when you don’t understand what’s going on. And it has to do with contentment and waiting and hard work. I see my friend, who recommended the book, in the pages. It’s the kind of thing she would like and live – and the kind of thing I would like and try to live.  Kit grew up in the free, warm Atlantic equatorial islands.  When her grandfather, who raised her, died, she decided to move in with her penpal aunt in New England.  The Puritan atmosphere doesn’t quite suit Kit, who looks for friends who share her sense of freedom.  Life doesn’t turn out quite how she imagines (through failure of imagination of consequences), but she means well.  Her influence gently softens the community, but eventually she is still tried as a witch.
I recently read GK Chesterton’s first novel, Napoleon of Notting Hill. It was a quick read, interesting and fast-paced. It follows the life and career of the most unique humorist of England, one Auberon Quin, who was elected by lottery the king of England according to the consummate democracy of his fictional future government. Auberon enjoys making people confounded and annoyed, by being himself completely ridiculous. I have a feeling that this would be an even less popular course in England than in America.
 Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen took a tour of the country to find out about this multi-rooted movement of ‘young Calvinists.’ He did a great job of filling pages with information about theology, denominations, organizations, authors, and what’s so exciting to us about God’s sovereignty. Grace, a consistent description of the world, a God worth worshiping – we have lots of answers, lots of paths that are bringing us to become part of the revival of Calvinism in the West. Why is God doing this? We wait to see.
Brave New Family by GK Chesterton is a compilation of many essays written about the Home and Family, about relationships between men and women and children.  It is excellent, but I read it so long ago that I can’t remember all that much about it.

The Man who was Thursday by GK Chesterton is a sort of allegorical tale about sovereignty and the war of the anarchists.  It is filled with character sketches.  The full impact of this book did not hit me until after I had read it and proceeded with life, when I began to encounter ideas and people frighteningly similar to those in this book.  I think Chesterton based some of them off real people whom he had met as well.  Hang in there for the end of the book.  It will blow your mind.

Ekklesia, edited and compiled by Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, is an exposition of the New Testament’s descriptions of and instructions for the Church.  Apart from the business model, consumer structure of traditional church meetings, the authors argue from the Bible for a more personal and interactive gathering in homes.  There was very little in this book with which I could disagree.  Not only was it informational, reading Ekklesia was also challenging and encouraging.  The theology and exposition is spot on, well supported with biblical references.  In an age when God is working in many hearts to produce a desire to engage in community and God-powered ministry, this is a good book for direction.  An added bonus is that NTRF has not copyrighted Ekklesia, encouraging you to distribute portions to your friends or quote it in publications.

The Shack, by William Young, is a novel of a man dealing with the tragic death of his daughter and his feelings about God.  He ends up spending a weekend with God, dealing with classic issues of the problem of pain and our acceptance of God’s goodness despite what we feel.  God is incarnate in three persons, with whom he has many vivid interactions and conversations.  At the end of the story, he is left with more peace about God and the life he has experienced, but still does not have answers about what God expects of him.  The story is written in a way that tempts you to believe it is based on a true history.  At the end when I read the “making of” that told me it was only fiction, I was much relieved.  There is enough truth in the philosophy and theology that I could not believe the book represented demonic activity (producing the supernatural things described).  But there were also enough problematic elements (God as a girl wearing blue jeans) that I could not believe the events were truly from God.  Realizing that the author used fiction to introduce his own thoughts on theology must allow for him to be mistaken yet in some areas.  Most concerning are the indications that God would not send any of His creations to hell, because He loves ‘all His children’ – with an unbiblical definition of God’s children.  The semi-gnostic tendencies and references, including a conference with Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, provide insight into the background of Mr. Young.  The book is not keen on the Bible or church, either.  For a best seller, this book is a quick read and an interesting visit to theology.  But God gave us the Bible as His personal revelation; don’t substitute anything for it.

The Midnight Dancers is Regina Doman’s fourth fairy tale novel.  I don’t know whether she was a rebel herself or consulted heavily with people who had been there, but all of her observations on motive and inner conflict resonated well with my observations, and actually explained things.  Her main character is very human, torn between desires to be responsible and to be appreciated as an adult, between her love of freedom and her love of people.  Midnight Dancers also shows the slippery slope of sacrificing even a little bit of discernment while justifying your freedom and pleasure.  Like all of Mrs. Doman’s books, I was entranced.  However this edition, similar to Waking Rose, got pretty graphic and even too intense for my spirit to remain healthy.  I skipped a few pages near the end.  Fairy tales are fairly predictable in their endings, and this is no surprise.  They all lived happily ever after.

Mark is a book that transports me immediately back in history.  Full of action with little explanation, it is a biography of acts more than teachings, of impact rather than influences.  Beginning with a scene straight from a screenplay, of a voice crying in the wilderness, climaxing with the compassionate passion of a good Man suffering in the place of others, and closing with a simple instruction to pass the story on, Mark is a book for the ages.  Even though Jesus is the main character, the other characters are just as active and many are vivid personalities.  Mark himself may even make a cameo in a humble role at Gethsemane.  First to last this gospel is glorious.

It never ceases to amaze me how many facts are tucked into Genesis.  Details of the lives and failings of men who lived so long ago surprise me with their human reality.  Places and people, kings and battles, ancestries and inventions cover the pages.  Of course Genesis begins with creation, establishing the understanding of matter, time, energy, life, marriage, science, music, farming, boats, rain, rainbows, government, justice, worship, sacrifice, truth, possession, family, and judgment.  The generations are also sprinkled with hints of redemption and unwarranted preservation and forgiveness, of the second man supplanting the first.  Read in light of the New Testament’s references to this first book, Genesis is remarkably alive with parables and theology.  My favorite part in this reading was the theme of changed lives.

Treason by Ann Coulter is a history book with a strong political bent.  She documents how the Democratic Party is always cheering for and or supporting America’s enemies.  In the very least they have a record of opposing any efforts Americans make to defend themselves against enemies.  She describes the myth of McCarthyism, pointing out that all those people whose lives McCarthy’s trials (and just his influence) supposedly ruined were either open Communists or eventually found out to be Communists.  And most of them enjoyed long, pleasant lives (not getting everything their way, but who does?).  McCarthy, on the other hand, died young, at age 48.  But Ann Coulter doesn’t stop with the post World War II McCarthy.  She goes on to discuss Vietnam, the Cold War, North Korea, and the War on Terrorism.  History is dirty, and she both addresses some mature issues and references them to make jibes.  But I appreciate the excessive documentation of the habit of Democrats to stand up on the side most opposed to America’s interests.  They used to call such blatant and effective acts “treason.”

Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power by Jesse L. Byock (see full review)
Sphere by Michael Crichton (see full review)
Alien Intrusion by Gary Bates (see full review)
Godcast: Transforming Encounters with God; Bylines by Media Journalist and Pastor Dan Betzer (see full review) 

Lady Susan by Jane Austen (To balance the post-election doldrums this week, I read Lady Susan, a complete short novel written by Jane Austen, the last on my list of her works to read.  Consisting entirely of letters except for the last two or three pages (which summarizes both why the story could not be continued in letters and the fates of all the main characters).  For my part I wish that the story had been developed more.  I want to know the young Miss Frederica, and the smart Mr. Reginald de Courcy.  Perhaps the value is in the art by which Miss Austen communicates so much leaving almost the whole unsaid.  One feels that there is a whole story and world of events that Jane Austen knew but wouldn’t share because she didn’t have to.  The worldview of the widow Lady Susan is summed up in her words from Letter 16, “Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language, as admiration waits on beauty.”  She is a scandalous flirt and insufferable liar, scheming throughout the novel to acquire pleasure, money, and importance at the expense of all her relations, friends, and even her daughter.  Jane Austen tends to end with her villains unpunished.  They don’t go to prison, or suffer a life-long illness or poverty or death.  The world may scorn them, but generally they never cared what the world thought.  We the good readers may pity the partners with whom they finish the tales, but the villains themselves will not wallow, we think, in self-pity for long, rather getting something for which they have always aimed.  Lady Susan is a novel where, with the concise style, these patterns are readily exposed.  Read Lady Susan.  It’s a light, funny story with a background romance.  Characters are typically Jane Austen even if we see little of them.  And the style makes a good template for understanding the rest of Jane Austen’s beloved books.) 

Dead Heat by Joel Rosenberg (see full review)

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver (There wasn’t a lot of new Christian stuff in this book, but it was a good read and some challenging reminders.  This book covers topics ranging from worry to service to worship to personal devotions.  I love how the book draws everything together into the One Thing conclusion.  Joanna invites you to join her journey of seeking a Mary Heart in a Martha World.)

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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What is a strong-willed person? 

Some people are born strong-willed.  Others work into it.  We might think of them as leaders, independent-minded, strong-willed, or stubborn.  They do not go with the flow.  Usually we recognize them in rebellion. 

 

Let me draw a comparison.  The majority of people are driven by emotion and beliefs.  It has been said that facts are far less powerful than what people believe.  These people feel that the most important thing is being sincere.  Inconsistency means nothing.  Life is lived as though relative.  If they felt it at the time, they did it.  They can be impulsive.  I don’t mean they seem impulsive, but that they really are.  (Wisdom can appear impulsive; if someone has an alert comprehension of a situation and an inherent sense of right and wrong, he will confidently choose very quickly and act on that decision.)  If a person is always true to himself, he is able to be manipulated.  His decisions are thus the floating, sleepy subjective of “follow your heart” – almost animal. 

 

However, a different kind of person is always trying to match himself to an outside ideal, whether pragmatic or spiritual (at the altar of self, of parents, of a romantic interest, a hero, a political ideal, or of God). Sincerity is important; only he wants to sincerely be his ideal, and believes reformation of actions will cause the change.  He still has that impressionable emotional side, but is not capable of being manipulated.  His decisions are on facts, rules, and objective evidence.  Standards are set by what he worships. 

All humans are born not worshiping God.  Self might be worshiped, in which case decisions are whatever self wants to do.  Self will be glorified.  Pain and bribery are nothing if the condition is not what the self wills.  Particularly if subjecting to them would profane independence, the terms are not embraced.  Or the idol might be another person, or a book, or TV show. 

 

There are people who begin as the first type of person and are trained or converted into something else.  Subjective manipulation can birth idolatry of a particular thing, rendering the person anchored, and not blown about with emotion any more. 

 

Conversion can happen for a strong-willed person from one idol to another, but it is not a matter of manipulation.  This is caused by more information about the idols.  No amount of pressure effects a change of mind.  I venture to guess that these people are not easily lied-to, either.  They tend to have a comprehensive view of reality that discerns truth. 

 

So eventually a strong-willed person will discover the truth or die in the process.  Discovering the truth and accepting it are not the same thing.  Many strong-willed people live in determined rebellion against God.  They believe in Him, know what His purpose is, and are not pleased.  They have chosen to worship self, and will not be supplanted.  Like the demons, they believe the truth, shudder, but hate the truth all the same.  In fact it is impossible to fully hate what is unknown. 

 

God can convict even an independent person of their sin, and humble them.  He can also establish formerly unstable, wind-of-the-moment-driven people as His worshipers.  I don’t claim to know how He does it.  I do believe that only He can.  When a person is saved, his spirit is made alive, rendering the sinful nature dead with Jesus on the cross.  Then the will has the power, by dependence on the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ life through them, to choose righteousness.  A strong-willed person recognizes that worship is absolute.  When his worship is given to God, his choices are made to God’s standard. 

 

What he worships, he values supremely in a way that the first kind of person cannot understand.  A strong-willed person understands commitment, is a zealous person, and expects fidelity from others.  He sees priorities as life-statements, reflecting not only the preference of the minute, but the direction of the years.  Yet he understands repentance, because it is a complete turnaround, a replacement of allegiance.  Repentance is not simply the recognition that a particular action is no longer popular or pleasant. 

 

A strong-willed person is not emotionless.  He feels just as deeply, and must reckon with the emotions.  But he cannot let them control him if they contradict his convictions.  This can be simpler, but not easier.  Some strong-willed people, when faced with intense emotional situations, feel torn in two. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: Remember.  These are confessions of a strong-willed person.  My conclusions might be a little biased.  The object remains to aid communication between stronger and lesser wills.  Let me know what you think. 

 

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Why am I writing this series?  On Saturday I went to a jewelry party (like Pampered Chef, Tupperware, PartyLite candles, etc.)  There are rules for how to wear your jewelry!  People are afraid to try something new or not their typical style.  Layers are very “in” right now.  But you can go with a classic look that never goes out of fashion.  My friend who was hosting the party disagreed with some of the fundamentals of wardrobe, and the jewelry saleslady assented, “If it looks good to you, wear it; it’s all about confidence.”  I know my friend is independent-minded.   

Style is a big industry.  People advertise their designer creativity with crazy lines of clothing in fashion shows, and somehow make plenty of money.  This happens even though I don’t see anyone but models wearing those things, and if they’re not wearing them, are they really buying them?   Why do people follow trends, anyway?  The popular girl wore that, so I will too?  We really think the movie star’s life is so wonderful that we want to do everything like them, including clothes and hair? 

Because something is popular, we consider it beautiful?  Or just because it is new and different, edgy, we invest money in it?  I can understand doing that with a car (whose innovations usually look good and have functional improvements in performance).   Apparently advertising agencies run the world.  They created the concept of teenager, which now governs economics, education, family, marriage, morality, justice…  The industry tells us how to spend our money by manipulating emotional, need-to-fit-in people into feeling like they need their products.   

Do we have a choice?  Does God have choices?  What is the meaning of not choosing something?  Is value subjective or objective?  Is value placed on a thing by a chooser, or is it inherent?   The capitalist system of economics is based on the notion that consumers will act on their sense of value.  For example, I value a necklace at the jewelry party, but I value other uses of my money more. 

A wrench is thrown in the theory of capitalism when I say that even though I value something more than my fluid cash, I won’t buy the item because of moral/spiritual convictions.  I may believe that God doesn’t want me to spend money I don’t have, for example.  I believe that $15,000 would be a great deal for a house.  But I don’t have 15 grand, so I’m not acting on my sense of value.  Even if I need a house, or think it is a great investment, I won’t buy.   

God is also teaching me about embracing sacrifice, intentionally going without what I want.  This is part of the concept behind fasting.  Fasting is a huge exercise of will over want.   If I was being sincere, I would tell you how I really feel about fasting.  My convictions tell me that the way I feel is sometimes wrong.  So I will exercise my will in acting upon what I ought to be in order that I may become that ideal in sincerity.   

Finally, I’ve been reflecting on strong-willed people, especially children who try their parents.  Some strong-willed rebels are breaking my heart.  Other strong-willed children are too young to have made life-altering mistakes.  I listen to their parents talk about them, and I wonder if I could help them to understand the puzzles who are their children.  Would it benefit them to know?   Dr. Dobson wrote a book.  I haven’t read it.  He doesn’t seem to be strong-willed to me.  I think President Bush is.  President Reagan was. 

Heroes are strong-willed, fictional or historical.  Villains tend to be that, as well.  In Beauty and the Beast, both main characters are strong-willed.  Think of their argument after she runs away.  But, as the song says, somebody bends unexpectedly.  Notice it doesn’t say somebody was bent.  They bend.  The tense is intransitive.   

I can relate.  This could be titled, “Confessions of a Strong-willed Christian.”  In writing this series, I discovered a lot about myself, and happily connected dots.  I have a friend who thinks that it is inconsistent with the rest of my personality that I like to watch football.  My position is that it must be linked to my fundamental identity.  This has been an exercise in associating who I am with that identity.  But no, I still can’t explain why I like football. 

Still to come:

What is a Strong-Willed Person? 

How Can you Tell if Someone is Strong-Willed? 

What should Parents of Strong-Willed Children Do?  

Is there Hope?  The Good Side of Strong Will.  To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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