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Learning from Lars

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In honor of Valentines day, I’m re-posting a blog from a few years ago. As you celebrate love, take a few moments to think about what it truly means to love those around us, and seize the opportunity to Learn form Lars. Lars and the Real Girl is, in my opinion one of the best best love stories found outside the Bible. Here’s why I think so:

I want to give a shout out for Lars and the Real Girl, an unusual but very sweet and endearing movie about the need for community, physical touch, and true, compassionate love. It’s also peppered with a bit of Napoleon Dynamite-style humor, though not to the extreme. Don’t be scared away by the basic description: Lars orders a life-size doll and is convinced that she is his real, live girlfriend. Strange? Yes. Raunchy? Absolutely not. For a plot that has potential to go south fast, Lars and the Real Girl keeps it clean and honest. It’s all part of the movie’s commentary on true, authentic love. I think we can all relate to Lars on some levels, and we can all learn from him and his rather unusual ‘girlfriend,’ Bianca.

Lars loves people.
He just has a funny way of showing it. We see this from the very opening scene when he gives his sister-in-law, Karen, his blanket to keep her warm on the short walk home. He’s afraid of interaction with people, but that does not mean he doesn’t love them. Karen doesn’t understand him and thinks she has something against her, but over the course of the movie, she learns that love does not look the same to everyone.

Physical touch hurts Lars. He equates it to the burning sensation you feel when you’ve been outside in the cold and come back in where it’s warm. He wears layers to help protect him from the pain of physical touch. Lars’ strange ‘condition’ is a commentary on the pain involved in love. By locking himself in his own world he has indeed become ‘cold,’ and as he begins to interact with others, he is stripping off some of his layers and beginning to expose himself. If we are to love authentically, we will have to do the same, and chances are, it just might hurt.

Bianca used to be a missionary. Lars says she is on sabbatical to experience the world, but what he does not realize is that she is still a missionary, actually helping him to experience the world. Bianca brings a message of love both to Lars and to his entire community. She gives Lars the confidence he lacks to begin to interact with his family and his friends from work. And she helps the community — especially Karen and Gus — understand that loving someone means accepting them as they are, and not trying to change them. At the end, the pastor calls her a ‘teacher,’ and a ‘lesson in courage,’ and he is right, because true love, the kind that Lars, Gus, and Karen all learn about, takes an incredible amount of courage.

Lars love for Bianca is genuine. He does not use her, as one might expect a man would use an attractive, life-size doll. In fact, Lars never touches Bianca romantically, save a sweet and simple kiss near the end. To Lars, commitment supersedes anything physical in a relationship. He knows that Bianca is committed to him, and that’s enough. Even when Bianca is unsure about his marriage proposal, he stands by the belief that “a man doesn’t cheat on his woman.” Some of the most endearing scenes are when Lars waits nervously at Bianca’s weekly doctor appointments, when he sings to her at the lake, and when he reads aloud to her. Lars gives of his time and affection out of genuine love, not a desire to get something in return.

Sometimes it’s just about having the presence of another person. In the words of the women from the community, “that’s what people do in times of crisis. They come over and sit.”

Gus tells Lars that you know you are grown up when you decide to do what’s right for everyone else, even if it is not what you want. Ironically, I think that Gus learns this more than anyone. He has to overcome his embarrassment to do what’s right and love his brother unconditionally. And we know that Lars has learned this at the end of the movie when he finally lets Bianca go. He has discovered the hardest thing about love: sometimes it means that we sacrifice that which is most dear to us. I think that Lars sacrifices Bianca because he has grown up, in Gus’ definition of the term. Lars realizes that, while love involves sacrifice, it also does not demand it of others. He cannot show genuine love to those who love him as long as Bianca is in the way and so, he gives her up.

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Written by liferenewed

February 14, 2011 at 5:49 am

Are you losing your attention?

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My thoughts on a world in love with technology

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person from my generation who feels that technology has actually done more to complicate — rather than simplify — our lives. I wonder if I’m the only one who finds it disconcerting just how addicted we are to instant communication and worrisome that we spend so much of our time in the virtual world. I’m old enough to say that I remember life before the internet but not so old that I lived most of my life without it. Despite the fact that I can navigate my way around most computers with relative ease, I often feel like a grandma among my peers. Why? Because while others are concentrating on how they can pull themselves closer to the world of technology, I’m wondering what I can do to push myself farther from it.

Let me explain. I love technology. I love that I can listen to podcasts of my favorite radio programs or watch TV shows days, weeks — even months — after they’ve aired. I love that I can get news from anywhere on the planet at any time of day. I like knowing about big events in my friend’s lives moments after they take place. And let’s be honest, I love that I can type my symptoms into a computer to diagnose my own illnesses (can you say hypochondriac?) or Google my latest debate with my sister to prove that, once again, I’m right. But in the midst of my increasing reliance on, and gratefulness for, technology, I also have a growing unease about the role we allow it to play in our lives.

Ours is a hyper-connected world — we’re constantly plugged in to an endless stream of information that is taking many of us to interesting, often beneficial, places. But if we’re not vigilant in our use of technology, I think we run the risk of unwittingly allowing this stream to carry us away. Recent history shows that as a society, we’re pretty quick to accept new innovations and integrate them into our lives. Our ability to adapt and change with the times is part of what makes us human. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if, in our eagerness to improve our lives through technology, we’re failing to recognize the sacrifices that technology demands of us.

Simply stated, we only have so much time and attention to dole out. While technology may increase our efficiency, it also demands our time and attention. And sometimes, I think we fail to realize that for everything we add to our lives, we must also give something up. That’s just how it works. This principle isn’t unique to technology — it’s true of any venture we pursue — but I find it particularly important where technology is concerned, because technology is beginning to infiltrate every area of our lives. I recently heard someone on NPR saying that nearly everything we do today is virtual. I wanted to argue with him, but generally speaking, he’s right. This worries me. It worries me, because the more involved we become in the virtual world, the less engaged we will be with the real one. A fascinating infographic detailing the world’s obsession with Facebook recently reported that 57 percent of people talk to others more online than they do in real life. Again, the more time we spend in the virtual world, the more opportunities we’ll miss out on in the real one.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI shared his opinion of social networking in a speech entitled “Truth, Proclamation, and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” While I’ve not succeeded in finding a complete transcript of his speech, what I gather from the summaries is that he condoned social networks as something that can add value to our lives, while also issuing a strong warning of what he sees as their dangers. The Pope made it very clear that we must use wisdom and caution in the way we engage in social networks, asking: “Is there a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world ‘other’ than the one in which we live?”

I think that, in the digital age, we’d all benefit from using this question as a microscope with which to examine our own lives. Is the technology we use enhancing our lives or simply absorbing our attention? Where is our focus? I’m not here to bash social networks or suggest that we give up on technology and join the Amish. Instead, I’m imploring us to evaluate the technology we do use and ask if it’s truly adding to our lives. This is an ongoing process. In our fast-paced world, this question will never get old. And the answers aren’t the same for everyone. The things that enable you to live your life more effectively may prove to be a distraction for me. But a good rule of thumb, if you’re wondering what you might need to limit — or eliminate altogether — is to examine where your time and attention are focused. Do a systems check to see how grounded you are in the real world. Ask yourself if your life has become more complicated as a result of your technology usage. Are you struggling to maintain friendships in the physical world, while constantly stressing over the nuances your virtual relationships? Are you sitting at the computer, wondering why you don’t have as much time as you used to? Are you reading about your friend’s days on Facebook, wondering why you’ve lost touch with your family?

It’s when we don’t stop to ask these kinds of questions that I think technology becomes dangerous. When it comes down to it, technology is just a tool. It can be used well, or it can be misused. Using it correctly requires purpose and attention. And I think the benefits of technology are worth it — worth taking the time to regularly sit down and evaluate the risks.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to post a link to this blog on Facebook.

Written by liferenewed

February 4, 2011 at 4:33 am

Where boldness and courage meet humility

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Reminders about speaking and listening from Watership Down

Being the English geek that I am, one of my favorite things is getting together with the girls in my book club to discuss literature. The five of us each take turns choosing a novel to read and then meet to talk about what stood out to us and, of course, drink coffee. This month, we’ll be discussing the conclusion of Richard Adam’s 1970’s novel, Watership Down. One of my favorite things about taking part in this group is that it’s causing me to read books I would probably never pick up on my own. Watership Down—a 500 page story about rabbits—is one of those books. When I heard this was selected as our next read, I immediately remembered the cartoon depiction I’d seen as a child and, for whatever reason, strongly disliked. I then proceeded to wonder what the heck rabbits were going to do to keep my attention for 500 pages.

But when I finally started reading, I was thrust into an adventure full of conflict and suspense as a small group of rabbits band together to escape the destruction of their warren, find safety, and create a new life on Watership Down. What’s more, I found myself surprised by how well developed these fictional characters are and how their rabbit-sized problems occasionally spoke to deeper issues. Though I’m under no illusion that Adams intended for his story to be some kind of allegory, I do believe that in places, it can speak to our walk as Christians.

I see this particularly in the character of Fiver, a small, somewhat disregarded rabbit, whose keen sense for impending danger feels almost prophetic. Within the first 20 pages of the novel, Fiver senses that the warren where they live is in danger. Though he has no specific idea what that danger may be and knows it may be difficult to get others to listen, he unashamedly shares his fears. Nevertheless, the head rabbit refuses to believe him, dismissing him as misguided and crazy. But Fiver does not back down. With the help of his brother, he is able to convince a small group of rabbits that for their own safety, they must flee the warren immediately.

Like Noah in the Old Testament, Fiver has to warn his people of a danger they cannot understand. And like us, he has an important message that could save others from destruction. I love that this gift of prophesy is bestowed upon Fiver — an unknown rabbit who is the runt of his litter — because it reminds me of how God often chooses to use those who are seemingly small and insignificant — those that the world may cast aside — to do his work. As Christians, we join a long line of “Fivers” — underdogs who God has entrusted with a life-saving message.

Like Fiver, we are asking others to join us on a harrowing journey that is full of unknowns. Thankfully, unlike Fiver — who did not know where they would go or how they would stay safe — we have a strong sense of hope to offer; vital to our message is the promise of salvation and the presence of Christ. But despite these assurances, we are still bound to meet with similar responses as our furry friend. Authority figures might refuse to believe us. Some may laugh at us and say the idea of salvation is unnecessary. Others will dismiss us as crazy. The question is: will we keep the message to ourselves for fear of their response? Will we cave in, backpedal, and deny the truth when others refuse to believe?

I was challenged by the way Fiver never lets fear of what others think compromise his mission. As Christians, we are called to do this both as we interact with the world and as we live in community with other believers. Though we may not all have the gift of prophesy, when we walk in step with the Spirit, he will give us words of advice and guidance to share with those around us. Once Fiver and the others embark on their journey, he continues to sense when things are not right and remains unafraid to speak his mind, even when he knows his opinion will not be popular — and when what he has to say does not seem to make sense.

Fiver’s advice also comes with a spirit of humility, something that is vital for any of us carrying a message in the name of Christ. When Fiver gives advice, he never argues, justifies, or tries to rationalize. He simply shares what is on his heart and leaves the decision in the hands of the person he is talking to. Likewise, he never plays the “I told you so,” card, though there are multiple occasions where he has the opportunity. I think this tells us a lot about Fiver’s motivation. He is not in this to prove a point or make himself look good. He is concerned only for the well-being of his friends, and it is this attitude that enables him avoid getting tripped up by worries about what others may think of him. It may sound silly, but I admire the boldness, courage, and quiet humility that meet in the character of this small rabbit. And it left me wondering, what would our communities look like if we listened to God’s spirit and loved each other in this fashion more often?

Similarly, what would happen if we listened to the wisdom of others more openly, recognizing that God’s Spirit may speak to us through them? In Watership Down, it takes the rabbits awhile to catch on to the idea that they should probably pay attention to what Fiver has to say. His brother helps him convince a few rabbits to leave the warren, but even after they realize how right he was about that danger, they still question and sometimes refuse his advice, often due to selfishness and pride. I think that God has placed “Fivers” — people who are in tune with the His Spirit and can bring messages of instruction and warning — in each of our lives as well. Like the rabbits in Watership Down, we are faced with the question of whether or not we will be able to put aside our own ideas and desires and be open to the possibility that the one who has a word for us may be God’s mouthpiece.

My prayer is that I would cultivate a listening heart and humble spirit — that I would be open to hearing God speak through those around me and ready to let him use me however he sees fit, no matter what others may think.

Written by liferenewed

June 3, 2010 at 3:40 am

Learning from Lars

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I want to give a shout out for Lars and the Real Girl, an unusual but very sweet and endearing movie about the need for community, physical touch, and true, compassionate love. It’s also peppered with a bit of Napoleon Dynamite-style humor, though not to the extreme. Don’t be scared away by the basic description: Lars orders a life-size doll and is convinced that she is his real, live girlfriend. Strange? Yes. Raunchy? Absolutely not. For a plot that has potential to go south fast, Lars and the Real Girl keeps it clean and honest. It’s all part of the movie’s commentary on true, authentic love. I think we can all relate to Lars on some levels, and we can all learn from him and his rather unusual ‘girlfriend,’ Bianca.

Lars loves people.
He just has a funny way of showing it. We see this from the very opening scene when he gives his sister-in-law, Karen, his blanket to keep her warm on the short walk home. He’s afraid of interaction with people, but that does not mean he doesn’t love them. Karen doesn’t understand him and thinks she has something against her, but over the course of the movie, she learns that love does not look the same to everyone.

Physical touch hurts Lars. He equates it to the burning sensation you feel when you’ve been outside in the cold and come back in where it’s warm. He wears layers to help protect him from the pain of physical touch. Lars’ strange ‘condition’ is a commentary on the pain involved in love. By locking himself in his own world he has indeed become ‘cold,’ and as he begins to interact with others, he is stripping off some of his layers and beginning to expose himself. If we are to love authentically, we will have to do the same, and chances are, it just might hurt.

Bianca used to be a missionary. Lars says she is on sabbatical to experience the world, but what he does not realize is that she is still a missionary, actually helping him to experience the world. Bianca brings a message of love both to Lars and to his entire community. She gives Lars the confidence he lacks to begin to interact with his family and his friends from work. And she helps the community — especially Karen and Gus — understand that loving someone means accepting them as they are, and not trying to change them. At the end, the pastor calls her a ‘teacher,’ and a ‘lesson in courage,’ and he is right, because true love, the kind that Lars, Gus, and Karen all learn about, takes an incredible amount of courage.

Lars love for Bianca is genuine. He does not use her, as one might expect a man would use an attractive, life-size doll. In fact, Lars never touches Bianca romantically, save a sweet and simple kiss near the end. To Lars, commitment supersedes anything physical in a relationship. He knows that Bianca is committed to him, and that’s enough. Even when Bianca is unsure about his marriage proposal, he stands by the belief that “a man doesn’t cheat on his woman.” Some of the most endearing scenes are when Lars waits nervously at Bianca’s weekly doctor appointments, when he sings to her at the lake, and when he reads aloud to her. Lars gives of his time and affection out of genuine love, not a desire to get something in return.

Sometimes it’s just about having the presence of another person. In the words of the women from the community, “that’s what people do in times of crisis. They come over and sit.”

Gus tells Lars that you know you are grown up when you decide to do what’s right for everyone else, even if it is not what you want. Ironically, I think that Gus learns this more than anyone. He has to overcome his embarrassment to do what’s right and love his brother unconditionally. And we know that Lars has learned this at the end of the movie when he finally lets Bianca go. He has discovered the hardest thing about love: sometimes it means that we sacrifice that which is most dear to us. I think that Lars sacrifices Bianca because he has grown up, in Gus’ definition of the term. Lars realizes that, while love involves sacrifice, it also does not demand it of others. He cannot show genuine love to those who love him as long as Bianca is in the way and so, he gives her up.

Written by liferenewed

February 5, 2009 at 12:32 am