Friday, December 30, 2011

Old Rooms, New Paint

It’s almost 2012. 

Time to make new resolutions—except I gave up on doing those a long time ago.

This past week, as I was painting the interior of a huge house, I reflected on this traditional but futile exercise. What is it about the New Year that brings such hope of transformation in some habit or lifestyle? It’s as if a hidden room reveals itself on January 1 filled with treasures of old dreams and new motivations. Like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement, all I have to do is stand in front of it, think hard about what I need to do for the coming year and poof! I’m standing inside the room where all the needed resources and motivations to change are available to me.

Unfortunately, like the students of Harry’s special school of wizardry, I still have to work hard to learn new habits and make the desired changes. After a while, it gets too hard to even think about what I need in order to get in. The room disappears for another January 1.

Perhaps what’s needed is not the special Room of Requirement (the title may reveal the possible problem), but just a fresh perspective of the old rooms.

There’s something euphoric about putting fresh paint on the walls of a well-worn room. All of a sudden everything seems new. There’s a different feel to the room. Painting a room ends up including a process of cleaning, cobweb removal and repairing. Hidden flaws are exposed. Concealed creatures, usually dead, are uncovered. Dusty surfaces are revealed. Once the room is cleaned and painted, it is transformed into something new.

But it’s not really new. The room is still the same old room. It just feels new and vibrant with life.

I wonder if this is what’s really behind our need for January 1. I wonder if my resolutions disappear by February because I view the need for transformation as being a change from bad to good instead of old to new. I can’t sustain being good when I never feel good enough. But I can live into the new since the old always has an opportunity to become new, whether through refreshment or replacement.

As I painted and reflected, I couldn’t help but imagine what hope for the new year would look like if I concentrated on refreshing old rooms instead of disappearing into the Room of Requirement. Instead of forcing a new lifestyle or habit change through resolutions, I imagined cleaning and refreshing old rooms through new thought patterns and values. I imagined my fears as creatures needing to be removed, lies as flaws to be exposed and repaired, and the deep truths of my faith as furniture to be dusted off and revealed in all its beauty and strength.

What I want for the New Year is to feel new and more alive than the year before. Through the years of following Christ, I have found that newness and aliveness comes through deep transformation of old rooms in my life. What’s freeing to me is that this transformation still preserves the real me. I don’t have to make a resolution that’s unrealistic (for example, “I’m going to train for a marathon like my other 50+ year old friends”). Instead I can identify thought patterns that keep me from putting on my sweats and going out the door for a two-mile walk around the block.

What I want for 2012 is to be available for continued remodeling of the rooms of my soul, to be a more refreshed and life-filled “house” to share with others:

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;
Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
                                                                                    (Proverbs 24:3-4)

I want to wake up on January 1, 2012 with anticipation of newness.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, she is a new creature;
The old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
                                                             (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I want the same for you – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Neverland. The place where you never grow old. 

Jon and I watched the two-day mini-series, Neverland, in one sitting (thanks to the DVR). This Syfy movie is the prequel to J.M. Barrie’s, Peter Pan. It’s the story of how Peter becomes Peter Pan and how Captain Hook loses his hand and his tick tocking watch. But mostly it’s the story of how Peter and Hook end up being enemies. The storywriters provide a compelling, creative and surprising answer to a question no one has really asked about this classic. The answer is also tragic. And it’s rooted in the age-old story of betrayal, heartbreak and loss of trust.

In the story, Peter is an orphan who looks up to and loves James “Jimmy” Hook, who seemingly cares for him like a father. Jimmy is the mentor to Peter and a small band of boys (later the “lost boys”) and teaches them to survive in the streets and on the rooftops of London. Peter’s dream has been to grow up and be just like his “Jimmy.” If he proves himself worthy, he hopes someday that Jimmy will treat him as his equal.

But Jimmy’s personal ambitions have no room for another. The opportunity comes through Neverland to realize his goals of attaining respectability, even deity, in the dark world of London by exploiting the almost heavenly world of Neverland.

Through most of the movie, Peter saves, defends and serves a man who continually lies to him, betrays and uses him. But as the one with the innocent heart trying to protect Neverland, Peter repeatedly ends up in a sword fight against his mentor who eventually exposes his selfish, scheming heart.

In one climactic scene, Jimmy reveals that he was the one who killed Peter’s father out of jealousy and hatred. Jimmy had loved Peter’s mother, but his father had won her heart. Peter is broadsided by a double betrayal. In that moment, he realizes that Jimmy is not the man or “father” Peter thought he was. And his world and his dream is exposed for what it is—a fantasy.

At the end of the movie, what now becomes the beginning of the classic story, Peter chooses to leave his fantasy world and stay in Neverland, his new reality. But so does Jimmy, now Captain Hook minus one hand. In this story, it’s Peter who severs Hook’s hand, not the dreaded crocodile. And when he does, he has the opportunity to end Jimmy’s life and be rid of his betrayer who murdered the only one who probably loved Peter as a true father. But Peter chooses not to kill Jimmy. He chooses not to be like his mentor/fake father. Peter proves to be the better man.

As I thought about what Peter’s new reality would now entail, it occurred to me that I’m not sure Neverland would be a better world for him. Neverland. The place where the child remains a child and the adult an adult. The place where people never change. Neverland is now Peter’s world of constant betrayal. He can never grow up and move on and his enemy will never die of old age since Peter has chosen to spare his life. Neverland is a Foreverland of conflict and reminders of his deep pain, of the terrible Betrayal.

I would not want to live in Neverland—even if I could fly with pixie dust. I have my own story of being betrayed as do others I know. Just that afternoon, before I watched Neverland in the evening, I sat with someone and heard her story of a terrible betrayal, even two: a brother who forged her name on financial documents while she lay in a hospital bed fighting for her life against a dreaded cancer and a father who chose his son over a daughter who needed his protection.

There are other stories, like the brother who stole the money needed to care for a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s…the father who did despicable things to an innocent young girl…the pastor who used power to damage his flock or seduce one of the sheep…the husband or wife who found comfort in the arms of another, and not necessarily of the opposite gender...

…the religious leaders who should welcome the Messiah but instead crucify him…the disciple who should have loved Jesus but instead betrayed him.

In those moments when I think about the one who betrayed me (don’t worry – it’s not my husband!) and I start to feel the pain again, I redirect those thoughts and the pain toward the Cross and I remember the Betrayal of Christ. It had to happen that way. Betrayal is what brought hope and redemption and a real Foreverland. Betrayal opened up possibilities of reconciliation in our dark world as well as certainty of reconciliation in our Forever World.

But in this in-between time, in our “stories in the middle,” we struggle through the “how” of a resurrection life in the midst of a broken world where we might not get the “I’m sorry” and we might not be able to have the relationship we once had. Forgiving the betrayer is difficult and forgetting is nearly impossible. And if there are moments when you are forced to face the betrayer, you have to choose between either getting in a sword fight or walking away. Or maybe you choose imperfect reconciliation.

Or, because you are not strong enough to constantly face the betrayer, you have to leave and find a new community. This one is tough on two fronts. It gets complicated to know how to continue relationships from the old community because no one knows the full story of the betrayal. Not even the betrayer. Not even the betrayed. But what can be known is often rejected because most people, especially Christians, don’t know what to do with stories of betrayal. It’s too threatening. The fantasy world must be preserved at all costs.

On the other front, because the betrayal has torn down your fantasy of the community you were in, it raises questions of what was real and what was not. If you are fortunate, you start to re-engage a new community but it’s with the condition that authenticity, honesty and brokenness are celebrated alongside reconciliation, redemption and a lot of patience with each other. And there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. If you were fooled once, who’s to say, you won’t be fooled again. It takes a lot of faith and trembling to step back in and risk once again.

The only answer is a new perspective of the fantasy world and the “real” world. It can only be found at the Cross. It can only be gained through repentance. It can only be understood through the Gospel story that takes my past, my present “middle” and my future and offers healing, hope and eventual reconciliation, even with my betrayer.

In Christ’s “Neverland” we will never grow old. And we will never be betrayed again.
    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4) 
Neverland was a good story---but I like this one better.