Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Home and Hearth

Our home was built in the nineteenth century, and like most homes of its era, it has a fireplace. We have only used it once or twice. Currently it is so stuffed with spruce needles and cobwebs that we would burn the house down if we tried to light a fire in it. But fireplaces have hearths, a raised pad of bricks or stone that protects the floor from spitting sparks or rolling coals.

During toddlerhood, we kept our hearth covered with the cushion of a patio chair. Now that all the kids are big enough to walk without toppling, we pitched the cushion (seven years of stains, and it doesn't fit in the washer) and left it bare.

Though it rarely stays bare. If it isn't covered with toy boxes, the girls have cleaned it off to use it as a stage. For four small people, it is the perfect place to stand in your mother's gaze and pretend to be Cinderella or a brave knight or a fairy queen.

Once, the girls wanted to put on a Nativity play, and they brought me into the room to be the audience. "Lie down on the couch, Mama," they said, "So you look like a bigger audience."

I happily complied.

"Close your eyes, Mama, so you can imagine the scenery better."

Well. I didn't want to disappoint them.

Thirty minutes later they woke me up and said, "What did you think of our play, Mama?"

I thought it was the BEST PLAY EVER. I clapped SO hard.

Today my girls performed Sleeping Beauty. They collected every canister of pens and pencils in the house and lined them up in front of the stage to be the thorns that grew around the castle. There was a princess, a prince, a good fairy and a witch. There was a castle and a spinning wheel and a dragon. A pool noodle was a lance. I stayed awake this time, but clapped just as loud.

Motherhood rearranged my life. Things that I had always found useful suddenly seemed pointless. Priorities I'd always had slipped to the bottom of the list. It didn't happen all at once, and it didn't happen painlessly. But eight years into this adventure I realize that my essential self is still here - all the pieces of personality I think of as me are still present - but they have been put to new use. Some days it is painful, and some days exciting.

The architect who designed my house could not predict how it would be used in 100 years, but he built it to last. Sometimes I think of him, whoever he was, and wish I could thank him for my sturdy home. I wish I could tell him what a peaceful home it has been, standing strong through the changes of a century. I wish I could tell him to be proud of his design: the hearth is still in the center of this house, and it still keeps me warm.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

There is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.

One of the most important acts of faith is deciding which world is real.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the darkness. Not merely the many brutal crimes that exist in the world, but the justification of them. The human tolerance for vile exploitation. The blaming of the victim. The dismissal of violence that is even more deadly than the violence itself.

I have learned that I should avoid certain stories in the news, and I should definitely never read the comments. Anything involving sexual violence, for instance. The comments will excuse or justify the perpetrator, often with sweeping claims about the nature of men or the nature of women. The current stories about sexual harassment and threats in the gaming community is another. The sheer volume of threats posted to shut up women who protest is mind-numbing.

And it is tempting - even easy - to believe the basic lie that those comments claim: that this is the way of the world. The studied cynicism of the commenting hordes says that no one is good, no one is kind, and no one merits kindness. That vulnerability is an invitation to exploitation, and deserves it. That compassion is a fiction motivated by greed or lust, and the expectation of decency or courtesy is a pose and manipulation. There is a slavering in these comments and stories, a clawing eagerness to scratch out any assumption that we are more than our basest impulses.

One of the reasons I return to my Christian faith over and over again - and to Reformed theology in particular - is that it stands in direct contradiction to this furious baying. It asserts that the world is good, that humanity was made in the image of a good God, and cannot erase that image, however it claws at it.  Creation has been corrupted, but will be redeemed. That the most powerful wickedness in existence is only the dying scrabble of a cornered rat.

There is more to the world than the darkness.

One of my favorite movie lines ever is from The Two Towers, when Sam must persuade Frodo not to despair in the face of overwhelming evil. The most inspiring line is not actually in the original book, but I think it reflects Tolkien's sentiments all the same. "There is some good in this world, Mr Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."

Fighting for the good in the world means refusing to believe that darkness is all there is. Kindness is real, and I will show it, and demand it. Love is real, and some men are good, and I will live here in this marriage with peace and trust, no matter what hate is hurled at the walls from the outside. My children - my daughters - will be cherished and believed in, no matter what screeds of one-handed typists someday say about them.

There is the world I believe in, and the world the haters believe in. Only one of them can last, because only one of them is real. "Evil is the privation of good," Augustine said, meaning that evil has no reality of its own, it is only the absence of good.

How we live, how we act is every day a declaration of which world we believe in.