I Have Got to Be That Leper

I Have Got to Be That Leper

More Thoughts: on reading Henri Nouwen

by Jane Tawel

September 10, 2017

We used to sing songs like “This little light of mine” or “Jesus loves me, this I know” or  “This is my Father’s world”, or  “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where?!  Down in my heart!  Where?! Down in my heart!”  Now we sing songs about how broken  and lost we are.  I was making myself giggle the other day trying to imagine my grandpa and grandma pulling up a hymn book and singing along with “Oceans” or “Broken Together”. And, honestly,  I get it, I really, really get it — I love those songs — but reading Henri Nouwen has convicted me that what is most difficult of all for me to do is to live as if I am loved by a real, true God, to live each day as a beloved child of Jehovah.

I have to grow up, out of my whining and whinging, and  accept the covenantal  family relationship of  “IF God = Then I”. I have to see God as a parent who loves me and who promises that no matter how far the world descends into madness or “pig swill”, Our Father will be preparing a party at home in His Kingdom for the return of His lost ones.  Then I have to look around at the suffering in the world and the lost folks on my own doorstep and karaoke with Jesus on,  “this little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

I have got to be that leper  — the one out of ten — that can’t stop shouting about how joyful he is to be healed and who dashes through the opened party doors that Jesus shines the light from. Does that leper have hard days? Yep.  Did Jesus have hard times? Yep.  But those hard times — and they can sometimes be daily — are the times I must follow The Son’s example of retreat — even if only for a moment — to enter  the accepting solace of The Father’s arms. In that love I find true joy as a dearly loved child of God.

The second hardest thing for me to do is to follow God’s ancient command to love other people as if they are also beloved children of a real live God. Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  God loves the prodigal sinner in the very same and eternal way that he loves the eldest believer — both are sinners saved only by the inexplicable, unchanging, running -forward- towards- us  joyful, joy-inducing LOVE of OUR Father.

So if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must not focus on my brokenness but must fight the darkness with joy.   I am a child of God called to speak truth, fight injustice, love enemies, sorrow with the sorrowful, walk upright, and to REJOICE in the nearness and love of God. This is the joy that comes with being not a servant but a child of a King.  If I don’t accept what The Father offers me — complete forgiveness and restoration to what He created me to be — If I don’t allow myself to be reborn and returned not to slavery but to sonship like Jesus, The Son, — If I don’t allow the sorrows of this world to be shadows dispelled by God’s light in me — THEN I am turning my back on The Father as He dashes across the earth’s plains, longing to bring me back into His Garden Kingdom.  I must know Him as loving Father and myself as His beloved. I must daily put on the royal robe and enter the party.

And if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must open my arms with a loving embrace for all those who do not know how loved they are by a God.  BY A GOD!!!!!! With that acceptance of my role as daughter, I must look up from my not so very important work to see the one lost prodigal or the one proud hateful eldest that God also runs toward. I must sorrow with she who is lost and rejoice with he who enters the same embrace I am held firmly in. I must  join in God’s party for each child of God. That is what evangelism is — oh how I mourn with those who have lost that word’s meaning — Evangelism is going out there and discovering that everyone’s name is on God’s party list and then flinging open my own arms to party with each invitee like there are endless tomorrows of celebration. Because there are– God’s Hoopla has no end.  The  “Good News” is an invitation open  for each individual, no matter who they are,  who seeks  joy in God’s love.  In Jesus, I experience the joy of my own celebration of salvation in being loved by God  when I see how dearly loved even my worst enemy is by the God who loves.

One day, as Jesus gathered His children, or those we call His disciples, to Him to give them the power of His kingdom, in  Luke 10:21 the Bible tells us that ” In that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Dear Father, please help me to seek Your gift of Joy in the Jesus Journey. Help me see myself and others  as  much loved children. Create in me a heart and will to mourn with those who have so much to mourn about. Then let me trust that no matter what, You can create joy.  Forgive my petty complaints and help me not act like a slave but as your child Help me accept that everything You have is mine.  Forgive my grasping hands.  Help me to open my hands to all those I meet and to give what You have given me.  Help me to open my arms that You have filled with plenty of Your goodness and love — enough to last forever.  Please let my little light shine. Amen

 

From Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal (emphases are my own):

“From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy….

When Jesus speaks about the world, he is very realistic. He speaks about wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal, hatred and assassinations.  There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent.  But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of  it all.  It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.

All holy men and women, whether they lived long ago or belong to our own time, can recognize the many small returns that take place every day and rejoice with the Father.  They have somehow pierced the meaning of true joy.

For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy.  Cynics seek darkness wherever they go, they point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes.  They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental.  They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior.  They consider themselves realists who see reality for what is truly is and who are not deceived by “escapist emotions.” But in belittling God’s joy their darkness only calls forth more darkness.

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it.  They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little  bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden  but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each other’s offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.

Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between joy and…….

Jesus lived this joy of the Father’s house to the full.  In him we can see his Father’s joy.  That divine joy does not obliterate the divine sorrow.  In our world, joy and sorrow exclude each other.  Here below, joy means the absence of sorrow and sorrow the absence of joy.  But such distinctions do not exist in God.  Jesus, the Son of God, is the man of sorrows, but also the man of complete joy.  … The joy of God belongs to his sonship, and this joy of Jesus and his Father is offered to me.  Jesus wants me to have the same joy he enjoys: “I have loved you, just as my Father has loved me.  Remain in my love, If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you this, so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” The Return of the Prodigal  by Henri Nouwen (116-118)

Joy in my heart

 

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“mother to Mother” by Jane Tawel

mother to Mother

A Poem

by Jane Tawel

September 1, 2017

 

I have spent many years with you, My Father

Seeing you only as a Father.

And so when my heart has turned away,

I have seen you as absent;

When my nights were dark,

I turned only to your power which seemed to  pale

 against

the Monsters under my bed.

When I was naughty and sinned against You

I hid from the might of Your Right hand;

As if You would never be able to find me

naked in my temper tantrum.

Your firm judgment weakened my resolve.

For

by treating You only as a Father

I could stay childish.

And alone.

Today Your still small voice

reached out like the grasping hand of

a Woman who never

forgets Her labor pains.

At first I was afraid to come out from my hiding.

I didn’t recognize Your voice when You spoke.

Your Words sounded different

 when crooned through the Heart of Your suffering

 as You gave birth to Your own birth

 in

becoming My Mother.

You, Mommy,

spoke to me endearing my heart with nicknames,

 and You called me to Your breast

As my Mother.

I ran awkwardly  like a toddler

sensing  that I need never be childish or alone with You;

And I knew that I could neither impress nor help You

nor ever make you less of a Mom to me than you were on the day I was reborn.

Because no matter what

 I would always be Your beloved child.

You gathered my sad split spirits

 to Your Womb,

My tiny- limbed tributary returning gleefully

 to its open- armed Source.

And I wept with relief and joy

 because You, my Mother

were powerful enough

to die to save me.

And You took my wee small hand

And helped me cross the vast estate

into the motherly loving eternal arms of

My Father.

 

 

This poem is a poor response to a phenomenal writer and theologian: Henri Nouwen. Here is a small part of some of Nouwen’s thinking on the painting by Rembrandt and Jesus’ parable:

From Henri Nouwen’s Book The Return of the Prodigal Son: (emphases are my own)

I am convinced that many of my emotional problems would melt as snow in the sun if I could let the truth of God’s motherly non-comparing love permeate my heart.

How hard that is becomes clear when I reflect on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard… Why didn’t the landowner pay those who worked many long hours first and then surprise the latecomers with his generosity? Why instead, does he pay the workers of the eleventh hour first, raising false expectations in the others and creating unnecessary bitterness and jealousy? These questions, I now realize, come from a perspective that is all too willing to impose the economy of the temporal on the unique order of the divine.

It hadn’t previously occurred to me that the landowner might have wanted the workers of the early hours to rejoice in his generosity to the latecomers.  It never crossed my mind that he might have acted on the supposition that those who had worked in the vineyard the whole day would be deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to do work for their boss, and even more grateful to see what a generous man he is.  It requires an interior about-face to accept such a non-comparing way of thinking.  But that is God’s way of thinking.  God looks at his people as children of a family who are happy that those who have done only a little bit are as much loved as those who accomplish much.

God is so naive as to think that there would be great rejoicing when all those who spent time in his vineyard, whether a short time or a long time, were given the same attention.  Indeed, he was so naive as to expect that they would all be so happy to be in his presence that comparing themselves with each other wouldn’t even occur to them.  That is why he says with the bewilderment of a misunderstood lover: “Why should you be envious because I am generous?” He could have said: “You have been with me the whole day, and I gave you all you asked for! Why are you so bitter?  It is the same bewilderment that comes from the heart of the father when he says to his jealous son: “My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.”

Here lies hidden the great call to conversion: to look not with the eyes of my own low self-esteem, but with the eyes of God’s love.  As long as I keep looking at God as a landowner, as a father who wants to get the most out of me for the least cost, I cannot but become jealous, bitter, and resentful toward my fellow workers or my brothers and sisters.  But if I am able to look at the world with the eyes of God’s love and discover that God’s vision is not that of a stereotypical landowner or patriarch but rather that of an all-giving and forgiving father who does not measure out his love to his children according to how well they behave, then I quickly see that my only true response can be deep gratitude.

1200px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project

 

 

If He Clothes

janetawel

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If He Clothes

A Poem

 by Jane Tawel

August 11, 2017

 

 

Nature’s indiscreet ignoble ignorance

Revels before The Glory.

Lacking dignity, She indecorously decorates in bold immodesty;

Celebrating unselfishly in fuschia-crimson-midnight-gold-cerulean-purple-aqua-pink-cerise-ecru-limegreen-blue-chiffon-mustard-ochra-red-chocolate-chartreuse-denim-puce!

Creation greenishly proclaims “there is no self outside God’s Glory!”

In this de-meaning comes true meaning.

In this indignity lives dignified identity in Son of Sun.

In this un-nobling comes ennobled rampageous God-image.

In freely- clothed nature’s requited love comes uproarious beauty.

How much more…

How much more….

If Our Parent-Creator robes these in their tumultuous foolish nakedness

How much more should we exude our blooming grace?

If Fairest of Them All

Vestures with glory and awe-inspiring miracles of prismatic growth

How much more The Three yearn to en-robe me?

If I but dance with nothing to hide my love

Will not my barren heart be seeded in new life

as David’s was?

If I  de-mean my…

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If He Clothes

 

20604543_1194878280616138_8590296393800670390_n

 

If He Clothes

A Poem

 by Jane Tawel

August 11, 2017

 

 

 

Nature’s indiscreet ignoble ignorance

Revels before The Glory.

Lacking dignity, She indecorously decorates in bold immodesty;

Celebrating unselfishly in fuschia-crimson-midnight-gold-cerulean-purple-aqua-pink-cerise-ecru-limegreen-blue-chiffon-mustard-ochra-red-chocolate-chartreuse-denim-puce!

Creation greenishly proclaims “there is no self outside God’s Glory!”

 

In this de-meaning comes true meaning.

In this indignity lives dignified identity in Son of Sun.

In this un-nobling comes ennobled rampageous God-image.

In freely- clothed nature’s requited love comes uproarious beauty.

How much more…

How much more….

 

If Our Parent-Creator robes these in their tumultuous foolish nakedness

How much more should we exude our blooming grace?

 

If Fairest of Them All

Vestures with glory and awe-inspiring miracles of prismatic growth

How much more The Three yearn to en-robe me?

If I but dance with nothing to hide my love

Will not my barren heart be seeded in new life

as David’s was?

 

If I  de-mean my bleak self

in worship of Their Artful Meaning;

If my dour, dreary soul will paint praise

razzle-dazzled do-see-doed

with showy palm -fronded-joy;

Then I will dance

like David did

Before the Lord

as all Creation gawked in awe.

 

But if I do not cry lushly out

nor dance against the muteness

of my plain pride,

The very rocks–most ugly and controlling of us all–

will riot-up in worship,

kaleidoscoping their praise

for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

 

If ugly rocks will dance,

I can only imagine what those crazy  flowers will do!

Antelope_Valley_Poppy_Preserve

Matthew 6:28 And why do you worry about clothes. Consider the flowers in the fields, see how they grow; They neither labor nor spin.

Psalm 96: 11 & 12 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.  Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

2 Samuel 6:14 “And David danced before the Lord with all his might.

Luke 19:40 “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

 

Musings on Belief and the Current State of Communications Between Me and Myself

Some Musings on a Facebook Conversation between “Believers”

by Jane Tawel

July 13, 2017

 

Hello:

I don’t know any of you in this Facebook exchange, except Scotty. Disclaimer: I have claimed a “form of” Christianity as my own Worldview and worked with Scotty at a Christian high school. Second Disclaimer:  I struggle with the idea of calling myself a “Christian” in the same way I might struggle with calling myself an “American”.  I am both, but the violence done to both of these titles and in the name of both of these identities  has led them to be misnomers in my own heart if not elsewhere. As a person who  values the integrity of words and truth, I am content to continue to struggle with both.

Pete –your arguments are sound and I find they point to something I have been struggling with for the last several years perhaps especially as I continue to work and “play” in “Christian” circles and assess what we have “done to” the Judeo-Christian worldview in the First – World Orders in which we  live.  I don’t want to intrude on this conversation but at the same time I don’t like to “snoop” on conversations that I find important and I think this one is.

My own experience throughout my life is that God as a Being will be as relational as I, as a being, want Him to be. At various points in my life, I made different choices in whether I wanted to be a “Christ-follower” and a “God-believer” or did not. There have been lots and lots of days when for my purposes God worked best as an afterthought. I have found that God is perfectly okay with leaving me alone but He also doesn’t just come when I whistle for Him. He is faithful but not on a leash.  He has no need at all for me to believe in Him or do anything for Him.  He has an Otherness and a  love for humanity that people from the very beginning have tried to communicate with varying degrees of success. Those who call themselves “Christians” believe Jesus communicated it best in the flesh.

A person having no need of what we know as god(s) is an historical, rational non-belief life choice, as you rightly say. There is nothing new about it nor can we blame science for it. We also therefore cannot look to science or any other religions as a basis for argument.  The very tenant of the Judeo-Christian Worldview is “Shut up for once and Just Know that Yahweh is The God.”  (Psalm 46:10) If anyone has forgotten the mystery of this it is probably us yakking, arguing, bullying, world-conforming “Christians”.

Perhaps, Pete, what your friends are trying to argue but choosing what I would say is merely an unhelpful word choice — faith — is more that everyone believes in something.  Perhaps what you are correctly pointing out is that it is also true that many think they believe in something like God who is Otherness, when in fact, they believe in god who is a reflection of their own desires and need and self image. It is kind of like people saying they believe in “free market” or don’t believe in everyone having healthcare and yet their actions show what they really believe in for themselves — just not for others. Believing in God has always meant actions over words. And this is what the non-believers rightly shake their heads at as our actions too often show what we really believe.  Hence, we try to argue Otherness empirically  and temporally and personally and get ourselves all tied up in nonsense. No wonder you keep trying to point that out.  I can only apologize for myself not for all of us, but I feel a great sense of guilt in all of this. I’m sorry.

God is a choice, not a fact for everyone’s life.   I think what many Christians fear is the admission that they have lived their lives exactly as you surmise is the truth — God as a convenient Santa Claus or God as a convenient excuse and more wrongly — God as personal power and justification– and so we give in to this constant need to convince the rest of the world that we are “right”. (Side note: I keep recommending this but I highly recommend Kathryn Schultz’s Ted Talk on “Being Wrong” or her book if any of you Facebook folk have the time.  It has nothing to do with “religion” and everything to do with thinking and believing unscathed in anything  at all including the infallibility of science.)  Also, with people I love, I feel very sad when they don’t want to believe in God but I have erred so many times on letting that sadness be anger and worry.  It is a Mobius  Strip paradigm, is it not?

Many of us who claim to be “Christians” — and I put it in quotes time and time again because our idea of Christianity is too often like people who think selfies are art — We too, too often have no more real  Need —  or real love or conception and pattern of worship of Another Being — than you do. This of course is why much of the world sadly has found no need of us or Our God. I believe we will be “judged” for this as individuals and also as religious institutions and nations.  I don’t know exactly what judgment means and I understand that to you, Pete, it has no sense in eternal terms, but perhaps if I might just say that I think that somehow what I have been given as soul-life is mine to develop and will someday either be connected to an Otherness Eternity and a “Lifeforce” that  I know and love and that knows and loves me or not.

We too, who call ourselves “believers” have quite often  created a god in our own image. And sadly, this is what people see in today’s religion called “Christianity”.  I say sadly because –mea culpa. It is why some of us are seeking a new name and new pattern of living spiritually and relationally even as we continue to turn to the Scriptures and other spiritual writings for direction and reality checks.

You are correct of course — there is something inherently irrational about both Otherness as a God and divine souls in humans — and when we keep trying to prove its rationality to atheists we do in fact “spin our wheels” as Scotty said. Spinning one’s wheels in my experience, just throws a lot of dirt on everyone nearby.  Those who believe in True Myth — and again you are correct — all religions have some coherent similarities in terms of true myths– know myth to be as divinely inspired as art or communication or sunsets or tornadoes or the inexplicable love at one’s first sight of one’s baby — or anything that we “feel” and thereby “know” to be a Truth truer than “reality”. I know this idea of “True” myth sticks in your craw.  If it helps you any, it also bugs a lot of Christians for the opposite reason! 🙂 Throw it around sometime with “Christians” and have some fun.

The two things that I have been dealing with the past few years are: One — God is not a one way street and faith, hope and love are my part of living intentionally in the world daily and living in a covenant with God daily — not once and then arguing with non-believers for the rest of my life that I am right and they are wrong. Just like my marriage, there are days and nights that I want out of this covenant with God because I just don’t love Him any more or He doesn’t love me enough any more. But just like my marriage, a covenant goes beyond “reality” to a different level of living together and that kind of loving relationship is quite different than anything else I know.

As those who claim “Christ” continue to use Him as a weapon or excuse or battering ram or fear tactic or successful hierarchical corporation or “community”, we create resistance, disbelief, anguish, unfaith, anger, disgust, and as you rightly say again, war and more war and more war.  This is a team mentality that has made us all so small, I fear, at best. At worst, it has made us “cursed are those who give the name of good to evil, and of evil to what is good: who make light dark, and dark light: who make bitter sweet, and sweet bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Secondly, I think a lot about this idea that belief is not about what I do or what God does or what tenets I believe, or what I can prove.  If I read and think about what my Worldview clearly says time and time again, the purpose of my journey is about whether I know God and He knows me.  Whether I love God and whether He loves me — because the idea of “Know” in the Judeo-Christian parlance is that most intimate of knowledge that marriage partners have.

So — all of this to say — these are the kinds of discussions that we should be having with JOY– with excitement — because respecting and being connected to another human’s “innerness” — albeit unusual and uncomfortable in the age of reality TV — is so much more fulfilling knowledge  than knowing about a two fanged snake or whatever you were referencing as a proof.  Our need to communicate with each other, our desire to love or direct each other to “truth”, our own inner light — all of these inexplicable but true facts of self and other — are the greatest “proofs” I know of that there is a Something, and I believe, Someone, greater than just “me”. Wrestling with it as you all are doing is mentally and  emotionally exhausting work, but as my family says at the end of certain work days — It’s a good kind of tired.

…  Thanks for a good start to a thinking working day via Facebook!!! Thanks for letting me go on and on as I think through the important ideas you all raise.

Three Different Junes, All the Same Test

 

Three Different Junes, All the Same Test

by Jane Tawel

June 22, 2017

Symbol Scales is made of stones of various shapes

I posted the following on Facebook June 12, 2012 – five years ago when Verity was transferring as a sophomore to Monrovia High School and needed to take some summer courses:

Ok, so I was filling out a scantron for Verity to take summer classes at the Monrovia Adult School so she does not have to take them during the year. First, it is absolutely heartbreaking when some young kid comes in and needs to take classes to finish high school and because of budget cuts he has to go somewhere else or wait until fall. I gave him my best little teacher pep talk and just pray he keeps his chin up and finishes high school. Oh, these poor, poor kids. But on a lighter note, there are at least thirty little things you can bubble in about “what you are”, ie why you are taking the classes and of course, Verity was a “concurrent high school student”, but you could be “out of jail”, or “lost a job”, but it was so hard for me not to bubble in “displaced home maker”. I’m not kidding– that was a choice! and I forgot to ask, what exactly IS a displaced home maker. Did he/ she wander into the wrong house and start cleaning some other family’s house, or did the family vote on getting a new serf, I mean homemaker, thereby displacing this one? Is it someone who thought they were cleaning the bathroom, but they were “displaced” and really in the den? Does he/ she lives in a mobile home?? I guess I am a displaced home maker because as you can see I am not really probably from this planet.

–Posted on Facebook June 12, 2012

 

June 22, 2017:  On the morning of June 14, 2017, I took the CBEST.  This is the educator’s test that anyone who wants to teach or substitute teach in California needs to take.  It was instituted to make sure the people teaching the children knew some basic things about English, Math and Writing.  I took it years and years ago and although I didn’t have to retake it, I was in need of a new teaching job and so I wanted to take the test.  Weird, right?  I am still waiting for my results. If I don’t pass the Writing section though, I’m packing it in – just saying.

 

I took the test this time online – something new since the first time I took it when I traveled to the downtown LAUSD headquarters. That building is no longer there.  That was back in a time when you still had your fingers inked for fingerprint clearance and I suppose we were mostly still using typewriters then. We were definitely still using pay phones. Gone are the days when a parent or spouse, called out the front door, “Do you have enough quarters?”

 

After taking the CBEST test that first June in 1988 I spent a lot of time traveling for jobs to just about every LAUSD  high school and middle school in Southern California. My fiancée at the time,  now husband Raoul,  and I joked that he and I lived in completely different worlds, although technically living only a few miles apart. As I worked in culturally, racially diverse and economically struggling schools and neighborhoods,  he enjoyed the environs of the privileged, educated world of JPL and rich homogenous suburbia.

 

This June when retaking the CBEST, what remained the same for me in life I guess,  were two somewhat ironic truths. The first is that I had test anxiety for days before the test.  It actually didn’t matter whether I even passed the test since I didn’t need it. Having test anxiety was perhaps a very useful thing for me, a teacher. You can mentally understand that some students don’t test well and are overwhelmed by anxiety, but you have a lot more empathy if recently you experienced it yourself. Boy oh boy, were my math skills rusty after years of not really giving two hoots about ratios or perimeters! And why in the world would they form every math question as a word problem?!? That is just plain devilry!

 

Secondly, ironically, just like when I as a parental “displaced homemaker” was looking at Scantrons with Verity for her test in 2012, I was taking the CBEST at an Adult School.  At 7:30 am I was driving to an Adult School Facility, not through downtown Los Angeles but through a suburb which shall remain nameless because it was so utterly depressing.  As an empath I was taking in the “humanity, oh the humanity” and by the time I found the Adult School I was deeply, deeply sad. I was back in the “completely different world” I had first experienced years ago when I started teaching for LAUSD. Although these people lived technically just a few miles from where I live, it is in fact a very different view from the windows of their world. This city  is chockablock full of people without “enough quarters”.

I sat in the waiting area of the Adult School listening to various “languaged” adults, various future-seeking young folks, various hard working, undervalued adult school professors– and I felt the weightedness of my privileged life put in the scales against the weightiness of their various struggles.  And the balance felt all wrong.  The thumbs of the world are weighting down the scales unjustly on the side of People Like Me. One can understand this on an intellectual level, but sitting in an adult school feeling anxious about a test that will determine one’s future job market possibilities, gives one something more than intellectual assent. It can — if embraced willingly –give one a worldview paradigm shift that becomes truly empathetic. And that empathy can — if embraced willingly — lead to a change of heart, actions, words, and life. Heart understanding is always more life-changing than head understanding.

 

I have for the past several years felt that we need to read more of what Gentiles call The Old Testament. The Jews call it more rightly: “The Teachings, The Prophets, and The Writings”.  I have been reading Isaiah again, a book I feel is a prophetic voice for our time.  But the Proverbs contained in The Writings come to mind when thinking of the scales of justice and the scales on our eyes.  Proverbs 11 begins:

 

A false balance is an abomination to the LORD,
but a just weight is his delight.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom.
The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.
The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.
The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.
When the wicked dies, his hope will perish,
and the expectation of wealtha perishes too.
The righteous is delivered from trouble,
and the wicked walks into it instead.
With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,
and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.
By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,
but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.

 

And the first part of Proverbs 16:

The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established.
The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD;
be assured, he will not go unpunished.
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.
When a man’s ways please the LORD,
he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice.
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
An oracle is on the lips of a king;
his mouth does not sin in judgment.
A just balance and scales are the LORD’s;
all the weights in the bag are his work.

 

So Three Separate Junes, Three Separate Tests:  30 years ago….. 5 years ago….. last week. All so very different times in my temporal life. Ironically, they were all the same in eternity timelessness. They were all  tests of my spiritual life.  While I was looking at percentile weights, The Lord was “weighing my spirit”.  As I journeyed through various SoCal cities feeling the tensions in which we live, God was speaking to the tensions of my heart nudging me to accept that, “by the blessing of the upright, the city is exalted”.  Or as the Messiah in a sometimes too unheard, well -worn simile said to those who would truly desire to follow The Lord, “You must embrace your inner spiritual city on a hill. Let your light shine in the world out there.”

 

In 2012 I was joking about being displaced. In 2017, as I am yet again feeling a bit displaced and looking for a new job, I feel more sincerely the weightiness of the truly displaced people in this world.  In 1988, I was taking the CBEST in my maiden name. My name has changed since then along with so much else. But the God of Ages never has changed. Throughout our history with His Story, He tests those whom He loves. Someday I will know my “real name” – the name written on a white stone by my Savior. That will be on the day when all the tests are all turned in and when all the scores we got in this life will be revealed for what they are truly worth.  Talk about test anxiety! And yet the Proverb assures that “a just balance and scales are the Lord’s” and that “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for.” It is The Christ’s steadfast faithfulness and the steadfast love of God that tip the scales and score the tests.

 

Driving to my CBEST last week, I felt the unbearable heaviness of a world that is trashed in trouble, awash in pain, struggling in sorrow, with a rampant poverty of material and spiritual belongingness.  And yet the Proverb assures that the God of the Israelites has “all the weights in His bag” and that throughout history, God has continued to make the offer that our brokenness can be put back together into wholeness and holiness. The Creator of All can and is and will make all things new.

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,  and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelations 21)

Giant-cross

In God’s city, everyone will have enough quarters and no one will ever be anxious about future tests. And we will all live together as God’s people.

Everyone needs the same things and what we all need is heart changing Good News — The Gospel of a Testament that is never “Old” – For God so loved this world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Jehovah sent the only righteous One to take on the weighted yokes of our lives – personal, social, political, financial, relational, emotional, psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual lives. God came to deliver us from the unjustly weighted scales we have purposely chosen through whatever sins we prefer. We are all called to live boldly this good news with oxymoronic irony –with weighted freedom and serious joy.

Isaiah 58:6 has The Lord saying to those who would live justly and righteously: “Is not this the sacrifice that I want: to break the chains of wickedness, to let the oppressed go free, and to break apart every enslaving yoke.” As The Messiah spoken of by Isaiah said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”.

I  need my heart to know that if Christ walked with a cross towards eternity for me – He is calling me to follow Him by walking with a cross for my own neighbor and yes, my own enemy.  And in that way, I am taking my thumb off the scales in my own favor, and piercing my hands with the weighted balances of God’s preferential love for the whole world. It may seem weird, but I’m submitting and with fear and trepidation willing to be tested again — and again –in order to be loved, to love, and be with in eternity, the God who has all the weights in His bag.

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Laughter- Surgery for the Soul to Rise Above

 

Laughter – Surgery for the Soul to Rise Above

A Costume Drama in Three Acts

By Jane Tawel

May 27, 2017

 

Act I

 

It all began one morning on my way to work.  I had taken a new non-teaching job at the high school my son Gordon attended.  Driving to work with one’s son is, well….. different.  I am a person who goes to work thinking through the day and what I need to accomplish and how I am going to do that and then what I will have for dinner when I am done with my accomplishments.  I am a mental organizational task- maker and a worrier and a “To-Do List” sort of gal.  Sons are not.  Teenage sons, like Gordon at the time, like to start their day by catching up on the sleep they still need.  Teenage sons, like Gordon, like to start the day not thinking for even a nano-second about the overwhelming amount of “stuff” other people like teachers and parents want them to accomplish that day rather than the stuff they would like to accomplish that day, like, well, catching up on all the sleep they didn’t get the night before. So like any good mom, I spent our morning driving together verbally illuminating my son on all the things he had ahead of him that day that he shouldn’t forget about, and by keeping up a half hour streaming version of “Tips on How To Succeed in Your Teenage Day Ahead”.  And, yes, Gordon, “You’re Welcome.”

 

Finally after about two months of my rattling  on with the To -Do List that GORDON! should be making for his day ahead and worrying for him about all the things he needed to accomplish that day, Gordon quite succinctly and elegantly explained to me the typical teenage boy’s brain: “Mom, I can’t hear you in the morning.”

 

So for about a month, I honored my son’s astute analysis of our mutal condition, and we rode in silence – unless he wanted to listen to “Papa Roach” or “Eminem” songs to gear up, or unless he broke the sacred silence because he needed to ask me for money.

 

The job I had started at this time of silent rides with Gordon,  was one that demanded some fancier, snazzier clothes than I had worn teaching  home -schooled students out of my dining room.  I had hustled off to Ross and gotten what I thought was some pretty eloquent business attire, including some nice suits.  I am a dress up sort of gal any way, so no biggie.  But I had perhaps made a few choices in outfits that were, to put it nicely, not exactly “me”.  But I didn’t know that. Yet.

 

So one morning Son of Silence and I walked to Polly Prius for our early morning commute and I had on a new outfit.  This outfit was one that certain women I know could definitely pull off with aplomb. But then,  there is me.  The outfit has a leopard-print flowy skirt with a matching neck scarf and a brown blazer.  So Gordon and I are taking the usual long completely silent walk to the car, and as we get to the passenger door for me to click it open, Gordon looks at me out of the corner of his eye and mumbling in his best Australian Crocodile Hunter voice says, “CRICKEY! It’s the most dangerous animal in the world!”

 

And thus, the Era of My Costume Drama began.

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Gordon, Crocodile Hunter, and The Most Dangerous Animal in the World, a Mom who Talks too Much in the Mornings

 

Act II

 

Of course I had to tell every one I knew this hilarious comment by my son. And every one I told laughed almost as hard as Gordon and I had.  I made the mistake though, or perhaps the serendipitously fortunate game -changing play, of relating Gordon’s crikey comment to my work friend Charles, who happened to be Gordon’s History teacher, Mr. Hampton.  Mr. Hampton has a killer sense of humor and is also awfully smart.  So after the dangerous animal outfit story was related, whenever I saw Mr Hampton and Gordon together, my outfits began to take on new meanings. Suddenly some of what I wore as snazzy business attire, did in fact look a bit like  unintentional costumes.  For instance, when I wore my very chic red suit, I became Miss Scarlet in the Library with a Rope or an Airline Stewardess for Southwest Airlines.

 

One of my most obvious costumes however, was not a fancy one.  It was one I wore for casual days and really, it was pretty hard not to see this outfit as my “Where’s Waldo?” outfit.

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In fact, one time I went straight from school wearing this outfit to join Verity at an Indie Rock concert in Hollywood.  Not only did I stand out as the most “mature” person standing for eight long hours in the mosh pit, but I was I think the only person not dressed completely in black.  At the end of the concert, a pretty toasted couple in about their thirties, steered through the crowd, to come up to Verity and me.  With delight in his blurry voice and a twinkle in his blurry eyes, the guy looked at me and said, “We wanted you to know we think you have on the best outfit at the concert tonight.  You’re Waldo, right?”

“Why, yes, I am”, I replied, “and you found me.”

 

Fast forward several years to Gordon at a new school and I in a new job back in the classroom teaching 7th Grade. I missed those silent rides with my son but I still had my Crocodile Hunter outfit and on the day early in the Autumn that  I wore it to my 7th grade classroom, I told my students the story of how it became known as a costume.  I told them to anticipate my wearing other outfits from time to time that might be considered costumes and that if they correctly guessed when I was wearing a “costume” and what the “costume” was, then they would get a point to add to their academically achieved class points to cash in for  candy or stickers at the end of each week.

 

In hindsight, that might have been a mistake.

 

Because of course from then on, every single blasted thing I wore to school was in my beloved 7th Graders’ eyes, a costume.  Because costumes meant points. And points meant candy.

 

So one of them whose parents still had an old Clue game  guessed correctly the Miss Scarlet outfit.

And the Miss Frizzle outfit was guessed by Camille, although I have to say that is an easy one to get with my hair “style” (and yes, “style” in my case is meant to be in quotes).

 

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This is me on Miss-match Free Dress Day at school, dressed as Ms. Frizzle might dress.

 

But then the whole Mrs. Tawel in Costumes began to morph into a somewhat consuming attitude on the part of my students.

 

At first they would politely ask, “Are you wearing a costume today?”  And I would often say, “No, sorry, not today.”  But after a while when a costume had not been worn in many a long lonely Junior High Schooler’s school life, they sort of “ganged up” on me and would rush me when I walked into the building in the morning with, “You look like a flower.  Are you wearing a flower costume today?”  “No, you look like a real estate person. Is that your costume?” And so after a while, all I could do is say, “Yes, that is a good one.  I AM a rose bush today!”  or  “Okay, a point goes to Quincy. I do look a bit like a Peacock  today.”

When on some mornings I had actually managed to sneak into the building without them spotting me, and they hadn’t seen me in the morning before class, as soon as they were sitting at their desks and I took my place by the white board,  the students would rapidly raise their hands, trying to be the first with the correct costume answer.  Some of my favorites were the day I was a “Bowl of Dip-N-Dots”. or the day I was an “Elf Lord from Lord of the Rings”.  And, of course, the day I was “Plankton”.

This is me in my Plankton outfit with Quincy:

photo 3-17

 

But my all time favorite has got to be the day I wore a truthfully absolutely non-costume outfit which was another kind of eloquent business dress I had gotten for my previous fancy job at Gordon’s school.  It has a black and white herringbone top and a black skirt — all in one dress.  It really is a bit too dressy and businessy for a 7th Grade Teacher but, again, I like to dress up and I never throw any thing out if I can help it.

 

So I wear my herringbone patterned dress and I stand in front of the class and of course all the hands shoot up as I am getting ready to disappoint them with the dreaded words, “No, this is not a costume.”  And one student says, “Are you a real estate person?” (That of course had become their go-to which makes me wonder why I, who could never sell a house to anyone even if it were going for free, are their idea of a real estate saleswoman?)

“Nope. I’m not a real estate person.”

“Mrs. Tawel, are you a business woman?” “No.”

“You’re an airline person!”  “Nope.”

“You’re a tree!” “Um, I’m not sure how you got that, but nope.”

And finally above all the shooting hands still trying to put off the moment when we really do have to do our grammar, the darling, sweet, tiny, delightful Mia, loudly blurts out:

 

“Mrs. Tawel – You’re a COW!”

 

Silence.

A room full of big scared eyes looking at me for a response.

 

And I can’t help it.  I begin to laugh and say, “Why, yes Mia, I am a Cow!”

 

And an eruption of hilarious laughter overcomes the entire room and we all laugh until we are literally holding our stomaches and falling out of our desks. (The boys love any excuse to laugh and fall out of their desks, so…).

And so the legend was born and the story of My People– the 7th Grade Class of Mrs. Tawel was born and soon took on a life of it’s own, much as the now mythologically legendary story of my son, the Leopard Printed Mama Hunter, became a legendary story to tell and retell for years and years.  And years and years hence, these stories will be repeated and told again and again; because  the best mythologically proportioned stories of all are the ones that make us laugh. And the stories that help us understand who we really are in our collective heart of hearts are worth storing up and remembering and retelling to each other and telling to new people who become Your People. And in those days when you need a good story in the silences, they are worth remembering even when you are all by yourself. Even if you laugh all by yourself.

“Why yes, Mia,  I am a Cow!”

 

Act III

 

I have never seen my Anglophile husband laugh so hard as when I told him this story because of course, after years of watching PBS and British movies, we know that you simply do not call your teacher a “cow”.  But then, haven’t you found as I have recently that we have lost the ability to laugh and we have especially lost the ability to laugh at ourselves?

 

I learned in the car rides to school with my son that you can’t take some one else’s life captive with your seriousness about what they should do and who they should be.  And maybe we shouldn’t be so serious about our own day’s future accomplishments? Maybe we should just be present in the very moment we have, enjoying the ride we are on right now.

I should have realized that Gordon and I would share a love of laughing together when he as a child designed these matching noses for us to wear together:

 

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I learned with Mr. Hampton that the very best gift a friend can give is laughter and that if you are not willing for that laughter to be about you, then you are missing out on the delightful lightness of being.  I think about that scene in the movie “Mary Poppins” when crazy Uncle Albert played by the laughable and laughing Ed Wynn, invites everyone up to the ceiling for a tea party.  The only way they can rise is to laugh. Maybe the only way we as people are going to Rise is to go back to sitting around together with all the machines turned off and tell our stories to each other.  Maybe we could laugh together at the things that otherwise might pull us down.  I personally don’t want to spend my life with both feet planted firmly on a ground that could open up before me at any moment and suck me down into yet another horribly serious situation. I couldn’t agree more with Uncle Albert when he sings, “I Love to Laugh”. And if laugher is called the best medicine, then perhaps learning to laugh at one’s self is like a successful surgical operation that just might save one’s life.  Laughter is the “surgery” that removes the bad “heart” and replaces it with  a brand, new good heart. Or maybe it replaces whatever is wrong inside with a funny bone. (Ta dum duh!) When we laugh, we begin to rise above the typical responses to problems or situations. Laugh and Rise Above.

And finally, I learned from my students, that the honest pure  blurtings of a child  are incredibly Freeing and Hopeful. It is after all, a child who blurts out, “The Emperor has no clothes on!  Don’t you all see, the Dictator is naked!”  And the teacher is dressed like a Heifer today. And when every one in the room can see the truth in a child’s happy, hilarious awkward shout, then we are all freed into the wonderful simplicity of child-like truth and wonder. For that moment of shared laughter, we have those eternal things called Hope and Love.  And we Rise Above.

A child blurted out, “Mrs. Tawel, you are a cow.” And I laughed. And we all laughed.

Because honestly? — what does it matter if I look like a cow?  If I can laugh at myself, I just might avoid acting like one.

 

Dressing up in costumes is a lot more fun that dressing to impress.  I highly recommend it, intentional or not.  And I highly recommend allowing others to laugh at you – and then joining them.  Maybe if we all laugh at ourselves a bit more, we will have less time for being stressed, and worried, and combative.  And we can in sometimes silent companionship, but sometimes giggling together joyfulness, enjoy the ride we’re on right now.

Let’s make stories together — of mythical, legendary proportions! Let’s make some belly-laugh fall -out -of- our -chair moments together.  We so often choose the path of talking our To-Do lists to death and taking each other so very, very seriously in our Emperor clothing. The ride to work seems to be full of anticipated stressful and busy, busy serious moments just around the corner.  We have forgotten that the current path we are walking on is just this moment. The path of joy and wonder in The Now is a path we seem to have veered off from lately, but, if we choose the path of laughter shared, then just maybe, our children and our children’s children and their children’s children will have a future worth making To-Do Lists about and as Robert Frost might encourage us,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I walked among the people accidentally wearing many different costumes, which ended up opening  different paths for us to talk (sometimes) and walk together.  In the process of path finding with my own children and with my students I found people to share stories with. And we will walk and sometimes talk and often  laugh together. And even when we leave each other, we will pass on to others our stories to help them enjoy The Now and laugh maybe for just that very moment. And in that way,  We will Rise Above.
Even the Cow.

 

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The Cow with Her Beloved 7th Grade Herd