Sunday, October 24, 2010

"To Save a Life," priorities

PhotobucketMy parents and I watched the movie To Save a Life tonight. It was produced by New Song Community Church, a church in our area, and was filmed in the area as well (in Oceanside - I recognized Oceanside High School particularly). Basically, it is about this guy named Jake who has everything going for him - a basketball scholarship, popularity, the best girl in school - until his world is rocked when his childhood friend, who'd he stopped hanging out with in freshman year, commits suicide. After a big basketball game, a youth pastor named Chris - who had taken Jake to his friend's funeral - comes up to him and gives him his card. Jake blows this off at first, but finds himself calling Chris for a ride when his friends ditch him at a party and his girlfriend steals his truck. They become friends, and Chris invites Jake to church. Jake starts checking it out, which gets him into conflict with his girlfriend. He befriends a loner named Johnny, an artist who is secretly a cutter. Things seem to be going well for Jake, despite his issues with his girlfriend, until his parents' marriage, which was always strained, starts really falling apart, and Jake's girlfriend Amy stops by his house to tell him she's pregnant, the baby's his, and she's not planning on keeping the baby. Jake then begins to wonder if this Jesus thing is worth it, then after praying in desperation, he decides to give up his dream to go to the University of Louisville to stay with Amy through her pregnancy. The kinda sneaky pastor's kid at Jake's church tries to stir up some trouble, telling Johnny Jake was just using him, spreading a smear campaign about Amy when he overhears Jake talking to Chris about Amy's pregnancy, and framing Johnny for a school bombing. When Jake figures out Johnny was framed, he chases down the police car Johnny was in and (similar to how his friend who killed himself did when they were kids) stops the car with his body. The pastor's kid gets in trouble, things get better at the church, Amy and Jake decide to give their baby up for adoption to a family Chris knows, and then Amy and Jake graduate and Amy has her baby. The film ends with Jake about to leave for school, with Amy telling him she's got to decide if going to school with him is really her dream. Jake's dad then shows up and offers to ride up to school with him. Right before Jake leaves, Johnny gives him a letter. Later, at a rest stop, Jake reads it and learns that Johnny was also thinking of killing himself, but thanks to Jake befriending him he decided not to do it.

The movie made me think. How many people have I ignored? Were there people out there who were hurting that even in my unpopular high school experience I ignored? What about at college?

It also made me think about suicide and how serious it is. Like Jake's friend Roger and like Johnny, I have thought sometimes that my life wasn't worth it, that no one was ever going to accept me no matter what I did, that I didn't belong. I never made any concrete plans to kill myself, though, and in fact I'm scared of dying. I worry often that I'll die without having accomplished anything in life. It's like that one ZOEgirl song ("Forever 17") that goes:

Can someone wake me up?
I haven't lived yet
I'm only seventeen
God, did you forget?
I'm just a baby
And I don't wanna be
Forever seventeen

I was also thinking today of the poems "When I Consider How My Light is Spent" (Milton) and "When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be" (Keats - which considering he died at 25 and knew for a while that he was probably going to die young from tuberculosis, makes some sense).

Here is Milton's poem:

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Now, Milton was writing about his blindness here (this is generally agreed), but I think it is a good poem overall for those feeling useless to God. Kinda like that song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day": "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/God is not dead, nor doth he sleep/The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,/With peace on earth, good will to men."

Keats' poem:

WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Keats' poem sounds less hopeful than Milton's; Keats' constant sense of impending death may have something to do with that, I guess.

Anyway, as I was saying, I've never made actual plans to commit suicide. Why, I wonder? Is it because I've had God and church in my life since I was a kid and thus knew there was more to live for? Maybe. I used to have more faith in God when I was younger, now I don't know.

One of the new baggers we hired is this girl named Catie (short for Catherine). The other night I was doing carts and she was in the lobby/entrance area handing out our new monthly savings flyers. I brought in some carts and she saw the ring I wear on my left ring finger, my purity ring. She, like many people who have seen my ring, asked me how long I'd been married. I quickly said that I wasn't married and that it was a purity ring. It bothers me that I feel uncomfortable saying this often. She and I got to talking and she said she used to have faith in God but then things got tough and she turned away and partied and stuff. Then she got pregnant by some guy she thought was "the One." When her son was born, she said, it brought her back to faith. Now she realizes she hasn't found the "One" yet.

I didn't really say anything during this exchange, and when I went back out to the parking lot, I inwardly berated myself for not saying anything. I've heard people talk about the whole "secondary virginity" thing and how God can forgive you even if you've had premarital sex and stuff, and I probably could've said something about that, but I didn't. I hated myself for it, which is probably stupid now that I think about it. But Christian people - those people who see God in everything, something I haven't really got the sense for - always talk about "divine appointments," people God brings into your life so you can do something for his kingdom through doing something for them. Or something like that. What if that was a "divine appointment," and I brushed it off? How many such "appointments" have I not taken advantage of? How does one recognize one anyway?

There are so many things about the Christian life that don't make sense to me. Like what exactly are we supposed to do with the Old Testament, especially the laws in Leviticus and stuff? When I went with my parents to check out this other church last week, the pastor said that the Jewish law was put in the Bible to show us that we couldn't fulfill it all, that we couldn't get right with God through works. I guess that makes sense.

Another thing I struggle with is how much God is supposed to be part of our day-to-day life. I know people who insist on consulting God on every little thing. But, as I've said to people before, as a Christian do you like have to ask God what you should have for breakfast? I asked someone (one of my parents, I think) this once and they said they didn't know. I mean, obviously some stuff must be within our capability to reason or God wouldn't have given us the ability to reason. And God acknowledges our ability to reason too, like it says in Isaiah - “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isaiah 1:18 ESV). Plus he let Adam name all the animals, which suggests an ability to reason. We're not like robots or zombies (oh and, according to these Facebook quizzes I took last night, I'd last one day if there was a zombie infection going on and a week in an "undead world." Go figure). So how much should be left to our reason and how much to God? It's kind of like that old saying "Heaven helps those who help themselves." Some things we must be able to figure out on our own, right?

Another thing I think I must've been struggling with is discerning God's will, because according to the inventory of my bookcase that I decided to do, I have two books specifically on this subject (Thy Will Be Done: God's Will for You by Robert Lloyd Russell and Listening to God in Times of Choice: The Art of Discerning God's Will by Gordon T. Smith), four if The Purpose Driven Life and The Secret Things of God: Unlocking the Treasures Reserved for You (by Dr. Henry Cloud, in response to the bestseller The Secret I think) count. Like many Christians, I want to know God's will for me, and I'm having trouble figuring it out.

Then there are prayer and evangelism. I haven't prayed regularly in a while, mainly because I feel like my words aren't genuine or they just hit the ceiling - not unlike Claudius (I was just reading the Arden version of Hamlet for drama class) when he's trying to pray for repentance of his crime and ends with: "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;/Words without thoughts never to heaven go" (3.3.97-98). I'm also confused about what to pray for; I can pray about myself but not well about other people. I never tell people I'll pray for them because I know I probably won't. And praying for my enemies? I don't even do that.

I once saw a comic in Brio magazine that illustrated the "five-finger" prayer method, where each finger represents someone to pray for. You start with your thumb. Since it's the finger closest to you when you pray, this reminds you to pray for those nearest to you. The second finger is your index/pointer finger and reminds you to pray for those who instruct you, like teachers and pastors. The third finger is your middle finger and the tallest. This finger is supposed to remind us to pray for our leaders, like the president. The fourth finger, our ring finger, reminds us to pray for those who are weak or in pain, since many - including many pianists - believe it is our weakest finger. The last finger, the pinky, is our smallest and is supposed to remind us where we ought to place ourselves, after God and others, and to pray for our own needs. (I suppose the ring finger could also work for praying for those close to you, since it was once believed a nerve led directly from our left ring finger to our heart, which is why wedding rings are worn on that finger).

As for evangelism, I don't even know where to start with that. I'm not very social anyway, and my Asperger's makes it worse. I suppose I'm trying to be evangelical with my current novel-in-progress (which is basically a conversion narrative, or a story about someone becoming a Christian). But that's not quite what I assume evangelism is supposed to be. I know from the spiritual gifts tests I've taken that evangelism is not high on my list of gifts (it was ranked #8 on the test I took for the Spiritual Gifts class I took at church), though the gift of "missionary" is (it's #2, after knowledge). In the course material we got, "Missionary" is defined as "to minister whatever other spiritual gifts they have in a second culture" while "evangelism" is defined as "to share the gospel with unbelievers in such a way that men and women become Jesus's disciples and responsible members of the Body of Christ." So I guess there is a difference.

In this class, they talked about a "gift mix," which the teacher interpreted as your top three gifts. My top three are knowledge/missionary/service. Knowledge was defined as "to discover, accumulate, and clarify information and ideas that are pertinent to the growth and well-being of the Body" and service as "to identify the unmet needs involved in a task related to God's work, and to make use of available resources to meet those needs and help accomplish the desired goals." I don't know how they all work together, our course material said usually there are at least two of them that compliment each other. Missionary and service maybe? Don't know.

I was also thinking today about priorities. I am thinking of maybe taking a break from some of the things that are giving me a lot of stress right now, like the Song of the Week thing at Myu Corner, translation for Miss Dream, and the interview for Family of Moonlight with Sailor Moon Abridged that still hasn't happened (and which I had qualms about in the first place, since that series is full of innuendo and stuff), so I can focus on the truly important things, like school, work, family, and God. But I know deep down that my need-to-be-accepted/routine-loving self would never let me do that. I make commitments and I keep them, even if it stresses me out. But I have a hard time saying "no" to things, even if I know I probably can't handle them. So I get overwhelmed and panic.

I am not even sure the SMA interview's going to happen; things have hit a communications snafu since the only way their leader's been communicating with me is over Family of Moonlight's YouTube account, which I rarely check. Maybe I should e-mail my editor and ask him what I should do? It's been nearly a month since we've heard from SMA's leader Megami anyway. At any rate, if this assignment fails, I can maybe make it up with a nice report on Animé Los Angeles. (That reminds me, I should contact Gina Biggs and see if I can get an interview with her there; she runs a major Sailor Moon fansite).

Translation for Miss Dream I can set aside for a bit now that I'm re-classified as a contributor. Even Song of the Week I can delay if I can convince myself not to freak out about it as I usually do when it's late (like it is this week). I mean, it's not like Myu Corner is super popular or anything.

The other stressful thing besides these things is my novel-in-progress, which I won't talk about too much here because I've committed to covering it on my writing journal. I would like to continue that since it will continue to be on my mind since I'm workshopping it in CWCW. I am worried about the reaction to the last bit I workshopped, since it was rather obviously Christian and got a somewhat negative response from the audience (which is secular because it's a secular school) for that. They asked me to make it less blatant. I mean, I guess this is good feedback because the last thing I want this novel to be is preachy. Once I finally get around to putting it up for the Anamalous Sandbox, a Yahoo group tied to the Christian speculative fiction forum The Anomaly (not to mention christ_writers on LJ), maybe I can get some help on that from people who know how to write these things better than I do.

Well, it's late, I better start getting ready for bed.

Some parting words from Gandhi that I saw on someone's sweatshirt today: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So true.
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