Thursday, June 27, 2013

Seeing Things Darkly, Seeing Things Clearly

There's nothing like seeing random thoughts, memories, experiences, and a movie collide. It happened to me yesterday. I'm not sure what I expected would happen, but apparently that's what did. I'm still sorting it all out.

I'm reading Jeffrey Overstreet's Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies. Even better, I'm reading it as part of an online discussion group with whom I've read some other fabulous books this past year such as The Mind of the Maker which I reviewed last summer. Add to this fun, the author is contributing to the discussion, which makes for intriguing interactions. Overstreet wrote movie reviews for Christianity Today for a number of years, and his work still involves movie criticism, but he's also a gifted author and has written a terrific fantasy series, The Aurelia Thread.

So to say the least, the book is amazing. I have never been a connoisseur of movies; Kraig and I typically watch videos that require little brain engagement--something we can watch at night after the kids are in bed and we're doing some jobs that require hands and not brains (folding laundry, anyone?). But I do like to dissect things--I've always enjoyed literary criticism, or art, and dissecting movies is no different. Also, even though my movie viewing is fairly lightweight, I am always evaluating what I see and holding it up against the grid of what I believe. This book helps challenge that and is forcing me to think more.

It has also piqued my interest to see movies I would never have thought to watch, and why, yesterday, I clicked on a YouTube link to watch the 2004 documentary, Born Into Brothels. You just never know what kind of dangerous territory you may enter when you read, "Jennie knew, as I and so many others have discovered, that Zana Briski's documentary is bursting with joyful surprises and unforgettable characters. She knew that the darkness of the context only makes the lights flare out all the brighter, making this a veritable Fourth of July extravaganza." (p. 188)

The "unforgettable characters" of this film are the children of prostitutes in the Calcutta red light district. Briski, a photographer, went there in order to record and spread the word of the dire straights people live in in this part of the world. What she hadn't counted on was the curiosity of the children, and she ended up handing out cameras to these kids and teaching them photography. In the process, she saw their world through their eyes, and she recorded it for all the world to see. Overstreet writes, "Even sinful behavior, seen through the lens of a child, can tune the delicate intruments of our hearts so we see things the way they should be. By giving us beauty with the ugliness, joy with the pain, laughter with the groans, these revelations give us a vision more complete and more affecting than any slideshow of poverty and pain half a world away" (p. 189).

The beauty is inescapable. The eyes of these children are dark liquid pools that sparkle to life as they grin. When they are solemn, you feel the weight of their lives. They have wisdom beyond their years and certainly beyond their academic education. And yet it was like they were my Indian neighbors' children who play with my kids. This girl and boy are the children of affluent, educated parents who can travel back to India to see family every couple years. Yet they are as spiritually needy as the children born into brothels, and they have the same beauty as any creation of God. I was humbled, as I thought of how, more often than not, I'm annoyed by these two kids who tend to push my patience, show up at inconvenient times, and get into fights with my kids even as they long to play with them and be friends.

These children of the brothels were like the brother and sister I've been taking to VBS last week and this who live in the apartment complex within a mile of our home. It's a low-income complex that I've known only by reputation for eighteen years until I drove into it for the first time last week. I've gotten to know some of these kids and their parents through my daughter's school, but only at school, not at their homes. In the past couple weeks, I've had to evaluate my attitude. When I drove there after seeing this film yesterday, my mind kept superimposing images of chaotic Calcutta over the neat, quiet townhouses in that complex. What stories were the silent rows hiding inside? It made me wonder if the places were really that different...and if they were really that different from my own white-collar neighborhood. No, I don't live in a city of millions packed in tight quarters, much less even have remote experience with brothels, but isn't my hometown as lost as Calcutta? Aren't the children at my kids' school and in our neighborhood made in the image of God as much as the children that Zana Briski connected with? What am I doing to touch their lives? Am I doing all that I can to seek the beauty in them and help them connect to the Giver of True Beauty?

I am awash with this storm of thoughts and am still trying to process this. It was all so familiar, perhaps in part because there were cultural bits in the film that reminded me so much of my childhood in the Philippines. And I think it was also familiar because it was such a true picture of humanity. The joy in the film made the sorrow that much more poignant and real. So much more something that must be opposed.

I'm praying that I will be faithful to what God wants me to do to take part in this battle.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Return of Brown Bear

 I didn't expect to have a sequel to our story, much less such a happy ending. But God has a way of surprising us with joy, particularly when it fosters our children's faith in Him.

Yesterday morning I got a call from the secretary at Clare's school.

"You were the ones who lost the bear, right?" Ms. D asked. "Have you found him?"

I told her we hadn't.

"Well, I think we may have him. When I came in this morning, there was a bear on my desk. Is your bear tan with eyes you can barely see?"

"Um, kind of. Maybe it's him! We'll come check!"

I tried to keep the kids and me grounded as we got ready to go to the school. "It may not be him," I warned. "After all, he's not really tan, more caramel." (And it's an elementary school where kids often bring their stuffed friends, and it has been a week-and-a-half...) But there was a chance! Evie and Jon discussed the pros and cons.

Eventually Jon and I arrived at the office; he dashed to the door while I followed with bated breath. We stepped inside...and there was Brown Bear, looking fit as ever, and waiting patiently for a little boy to swoop him up in a death-grip hug.

Where Brown Bear has hidden this past week is a mystery. Jon informed me that Brown Bear had come down in a space ship to Clare's school, but I haven't seen the space ship. Maybe it's hidden by an improbability field.

"Where was he while he was gone?" I asked Jon.

"At a fwend's house," Jon said.

So there you have it.

But can I just say, it's hard to find something sweeter than this:

Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Boy and His Bear

Last Monday our family experienced one of those tragedies that every mother prays will never happen: the loss of a lovey. Jon's dearly-loved teddy, Brown Bear, went missing, and we have not been able to find him.

Brown Bear joined our family about ten years ago when he was given to Keren after one of her hospital visits. He was a soft, cuddly creature with a royal blue shirt from Kohl's Kids to Children's Hospital of Detroit. Over the years he sat on shelves, adorned beds, and got stuffed away in bins. Then last year, somehow, magically, like the Velveteen Rabbit, he became Jon's favorite and was dubbed "Brown Bear."

Brown Bear and Jon have had many adventures, and this is not the first time Brown Bear has performed a disappearing act. Typically, though, we've known exactly where he was and he was brought home post-haste. He's spent a day at Jon's buddy Michael's house. He's done two overnights at Grammy and Poppa's (partying with the stuffed friends there, I told Jon). His latest shenanigans involved staying at Jon's cousins' up north...though thankfully Grandma and Grandpa were returning a day later than us and could bring him home. So yes, Brown Bear is a little sneaky. But this time he pulled a trick that none of us can solve.

When we realized Monday night that Brown Bear had gone missing, I wasn't too concerned. I thought through our events of the afternoon (which, unfortunately, involved at least two outings) and tried to remember when I'd last seen our plush friend. Maybe he'd been left at Clare's school playground when we picked her up? Maybe he'd snuck into Mrs. Donna's house when we went for Clare's piano lesson? My mind was a blank. Jon, thankfully, went to bed without a problem and barely asked after his friend.

Tuesday brought no answers and I tried not to worry...and not to mention the missing bear to Jon who whiled his day away without concern. Wednesday went well, too, but no Brown Bear. It wasn't until Wednesday night that I think Jon realized something was wrong, and as I tucked him in, he started to cry for his bear. It was devastating. It didn't help that I was pretty sad about it, too. I mean, this was Brown Bear we were talking about! He'd been in the family for a decade and was one of those little things that linked Keren and Jon. He was Jon's close companion who cuddled so adorably under Jon's arm and flew so fantastically when thrown in the air. I wanted to burst into tears along with my boy, but knew I had to be strong and help him find something positive in the midst of sadness.

"I think, Jon," I said, "that Brown Bear has gone on another adventure, and this time it's a really big
one. Maybe--" I thought of Jon's favorite naptime audio stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, "Maybe Brown Bear thought that he would be like Winnie-the-Pooh and go on an expotition to the North Pole. Or maybe he's on an expotition to somewhere else exciting since Pooh has already found that."

More tears, but Clare and Ev got in on it adding their ideas as to Brown Bear's adventures. Jon eventually eased off into dreamland and I drew a ragged breath of relief. It was helpful, though, to imagine Brown Bear off on adventures, and I thought maybe I'd start writing some little letters from Brown Bear to Jon. Ideas started percolating.

I was a bit concerned the next day because every time Jon brought up Brown Bear his sisters supplied wild possibilities. Ev called out, "Jon! I got a letter from Brown Bear and he's gone away forever!" Great. Real helpful, Dear. And hey, that letter idea was mine! Clare posed the thought that perhaps he'd been stolen. Another joyful consideration. But little by little, Jon was drawn into the play and soon had Brown Bear shooting off in a space ship. Brown Bear has since joined up with Winnie-the-Pooh and is exploring the 100 Acre Wood, along with other places. The sweetest thing was what I discovered by Jon's head when I went to wake him from his nap that day. During rest time, Evie had created a little book that Brown Bear had "written" to Jon to tell him where he was and how he was doing and how he remembered his time with Jon.

So it would seem that Brown Bear has left our home to adventure out into the wide, wide world. I am thankful for imaginations and love surrounding my little ones here at home so that they can embrace his adventures that salves sore hearts. I will admit, mine still has a bit of an ache. But then I picture Brown Bear headed off to Pooh's house for some honey and sweetened condensed milk, and I can't help but smile.

Ev's Letter from Brown Bear