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Archive for October, 2010

Yesterday I explored the Christmas theme in The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Today I want to do the same with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of Christmas and Halloween, birth and death, in these two films.

Great Pumpkin opens with Linus and Lucy going out to the pumpkin patch to select a pumpkin.  Once they bring it inside, Lucy dives right in to carving it.  Linus bursts into tears, “You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!”

After Lucy plays an old gag on Charlie Brown, we witness Linus writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin, with the same formula that would be expected in a letter to Santa.  All his friends laugh at him, and say “the Great Pumpkin is a fake!”  Linus concludes his letter: “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you.  P.S. If you really are a fake, don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know.”

Linus’ description of the Great Pumpkin closely parallels the Santa Claus mythology.  “On Halloween night the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch, then flies through the air to bring toys to all the good little children everywhere.”  But the Great Pumpkin doesn’t rise out of every pumpkin patch – the Great Pumpkin only chooses the one that is “most sincere”.

Linus seems to be fixated on the idea of “sincerity” and refuses to dress up and go out trick-or-treating.  Lucy is horribly embarrassed by her brother’s belief in the Great Pumpkin.  She heads up the group going out for “tricks or treats” announcing her costume philosophy that “a person should choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality.”  She then ironically pulls a witch mask over her face.  Meanwhile, Snoopy has been out reenacting a World War I Flying Ace who has been shot down and is forced to make his way through the countryside.

While the others are out trick-or-treating, Linus camps out in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  Sally abandons trick-or-treating to stay with him, but it is not because of her own faith in the Great Pumpkin.  She stays for Linus, with whom she is utterly smitten.  She listens attentively cooing, “you say the cutest things”, but it is clear that she doesn’t really hear what he is saying.

When the long-awaited moment comes, there’s a rustling in the leaves, and a figure rises up amongst the pumpkins.  Linus faints, initially thinking he “missed” the Great Pumpkin’s arrival, unaware that it was only Snoopy whose play-acting has led him to the pumpkin patch.  When he comes to, Sally leaves him, angry that she’s wasted her whole evening waiting in a pumpkin patch for nothing, “missing out” on trick-or-treating.

Linus spends the night in the pumpkin patch.  In a surprising act of kindness and compassion, Lucy wakes up, notices her brother is not in bed and goes out to find him shivering under his blanket.  She brings him home and tucks him into bed, never having seen the Great Pumpkin.

The next day, Charlie Brown and Linus are talking about their disappointing experiences of Halloween night.  When Linus tells him that the Great Pumpkin never came he says, “don’t take it too hard, Linus, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too”, perhaps referring to going trick-or-treating only to end up with a bag or rocks.  Neither of them got what they’d hoped for on Halloween.  Linus, however, is resilient in his faith in the Great Pumpkin.  He declares that next year will be the year, he’ll find a pumpkin patch that’s “real sincere”, and the Great Pumpkin will come.

There is no omniscient narrator to tell us why the Great Pumpkin never comes or if he did come once Linus fell asleep.  We don’t even know if in the world of the Peanuts characters the Great Pumpkin really exists or not.  I’m tempted to think that Linus has invented the Great Pumpkin mythology himself.  It is interesting to examine the popular heroes of a culture, and to ask what these heroes are being asked to do or to be that is missing from that culture.  For Linus, it is “sincerity”, and I can’t help but wonder if he is looking for sincerity amid all the candy, costumes and parties (or maybe that’s just what I’m looking for in my hero).

Both Jack and Linus borrow (sometimes wholesale) familiar traditions from Christmas to infuse Halloween with new meaning.  And it makes me wonder what it is about Halloween that leaves them craving something more, and what it is about Christmas that they find inspiring enough to bring back to Halloween.  Jack wants to know “what does it mean?” while Linus shouts “sincerity!”  Maybe that is the question, and also the answer.

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How I would have carved a pumpkin this year.

Every year, as Halloween approaches, I look forward to watching The Nightmare Before Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  For a person who doesn’t like Halloween, that seems rather odd – or is it?

For clarification, what I don’t like about Halloween is what I perceive is the main emphasis: fear.  I don’t like being scared.  In fact, it makes me angry if someone intentionally scares me, somehow thinking it is “fun”.  I realize that being scared is fun for others, and I am genuinely interested in learning about why that is.  But I don’t like it.  At all.

And yet, I find something truly compelling about Nightmare, and adore Great Pumpkin.  It is interesting that both these films have in common themes not just from Halloween and death, but from Christmas and new life as well.  It makes me wonder what else they may have in common.

According to the opening song of Nightmare, it’s their job to make you scream, but they’re not “mean”.  It’s an important distinction in Halloween Town.  It’s all meant to be “fun”.  Jack, the skeleton Pumpkin King, has become dissatisfied with just being scary.  He wants something more.  In his own song he sings, “I grow so weary of the sound of screams.”  He’s “empty”.  It could be that anything always done in the same way, year after year, can become dull and meaningless.  But maybe there’s something more to it.

As Jack wanders away from Halloween Town, mulling over his emptiness, he stumbles into Christmas Town.  The song “What’s This?” captures all the wonder and amazement so frequently associated with Christmas lights and smells.  It’s brighter and more vivid.  There’s something new here that fills him, “in my bones I feel the warmth that’s coming from inside.”  By the end of the song he decides, “I want it for my own.”

When Jack returns to Halloween Town, he calls a town meeting to tell everyone about his experience.  But they don’t really get it.  They haven’t experienced the life of Christmas Town for themselves they way that Jack has.  They don’t understand presents that don’t involve “tricks”. They are, however, dazzled.  In his exasperation, Jack plays into their ignorance and turns Santa Claus into a scary “Sandy Claws” to get them on board.

Next, Jack needs to figure how just how to “make Christmas.”  “There’s got to be a logical way to explain this Christmas thing.”  His approach is scientific.  He conducts a series of experiments on traditional Christmas decorations and gifts – holly berries, paper snowflakes, teddy bears, tree ornaments – putting them under a microscope, cutting into them, trying to figure out what exactly Christmas is all about.  Even after trying to use formulas and equations he’s left wondering “But what does it mean?”  Finally, he comes to the place familiar to many believers – “just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it.”

The inhabitants of Halloween Town set about making Christmas their own.  By the time Christmas Eve rolls around Jack is ready to play the part of Santa, bringing presents and toys to the children of the world – made in Halloween Town.  As Jack flies through the air, the screams that Jack found so tiresome at Halloween ring out.  People call the police to report being attacked by Christmas toys.  Everything has been distorted, twisted, and perverted.  News reporters announce that an imposter is “mocking and mangling” Christmas.  Military personnel are called in, unbeknownst to Jack, to shoot him down.  He falls in flames, landing in the arms of an angelic statue in a graveyard, his red costume charred and shredded.  The Sandy Claus persona is dead.

It is only after the disaster of Christmas that Jack is able to come to terms with who he is.  This gives him fresh inspiration and excitement for Halloween.  He is, after all, not Santa Claus, but the Pumpkin King.

The mockery that Halloween Town makes of Christmas makes me wonder what Halloween Town is all about in the first place – in a sense, what they and Jack do best.  It strikes me that this may in fact be the best approach to Halloween, and to death, that I can imagine for someone like me.  As a Christian, I can’t help but think that Halloween might just be the time and occasion most appropriate and well-suited for mocking death.  “Where, O Death, is now Thy sting?”

For Jack, the thrill of scaring people is gone.  In order to feel something again, he either needs to escalate into “meanness” (which Halloween Town does not espouse), or find a new way to feel.  I wonder what would happen if, instead of turning on each other and using each other to feel something — even as so much of the media and entertainment industries threaten to desensitize us — what would happen if we turned on Death itself, and made it the butt of the joke?

to be continued…

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Please welcome the first guest post by my sister, Andi Hindes:

 

Picking the right pumpkin is like picking the right friend. We want them to meet our every need, laugh at all our jokes, encourage us when we are down, they have to be just right on the outside too, perfect color not to light, not too dark, roundness and texture both aligned.

After touching it and holding it, and looking at it for a minute, we say, “yes, this is the right one for me!”

We take the pumpkin home in excitement, waiting to carve it. Several days pass before deciding that today is the day we are going to carve it.

We lay the pumpkin down on old newspaper as we begin the process, with the necessary tools by our side. Some might plan their design while others just start cutting away, shaping, sculpting and forming, as they go.

We cut a circle around the top, and then off it comes, pulling the string of seeds along with them.  We breathe in the powerful odor; this is the first time, this pumpkin as been opened like this before.

We clean out the inside by grabbing the gooey, slimly, slippery, smelling, guts, pulling and scraping off the sides until the pumpkin has met our standards.

After we are done we place “our light” into the empty space and they glow for others to see. Are we trying to make them pretty, scary, neutral or just like us? Or is our creation just a mirror image of ourselves?

Just as we choose our own pumpkin to carve, God chooses us. He scans the field carefully, then picks us up, say “ah, yes, this is the right one to do the job.” He places us in our environment and starts to cut. Pulling out the strings of our shortcomings, pulling out the gooey, slimy, slippery things we try to hide, and bury from others. Then He carefully, and slowly carves us into his image, the way he wants us to be, for his glory, kingdom and earth.  This process is always continuous, yet he never gives up. Even though he is not done with his creation, he puts his light into our soul, and we shine for others to see!

This fall, whose hands are touching your dark, hidden insides while shaping, carving and sculpting you? Your friends, family or the ultimate creator?

 

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The Lectionary conversation

For a long time I was in the habit of reading all four Lectionary texts before going to church on Sunday.  My church at that time didn’t necessarily follow the Lectionary readings, but it was a devotional habit that helped give shape to the year in terms of the Christian story.  (For a great introduction to what the Lectionary is, click here.)  The more I read, the more I became interested in the space that was created when all four texts were read together.  Put another way, if each passage was a different voice sitting around the kitchen table, what would their conversations be about from Sunday to Sunday?

This past Sunday, a few friends and I got together to do an experiment to test this question.  I chose the texts from the last Sunday of the liturgical year, November 28th, The Reign of Christ Sunday, or more traditionally, Christ the King Sunday.  I printed each passage out separately and gave one to each person.  I deliberately did not read them myself, so as not to bias the conversation.  We each had a pair of scissors and a pencil.  As we began we each read over our passage a few times to familiarize ourselves with our text, but we did not read them out loud to each other.

When everyone was ready, I gave the invitation for anyone to cut out any phrase or verse that seemed like a good “conversation starter”.  We looked at that phrase, and whoever felt that something in their passage responded to the opener in a fitting way also cut out a phrase, sentence or verse, and taped it to the first line.  We continued in this way until we had used every line from each of the four passages.

I imagine that every time this would be done, and with every different group of people, the “conversation” would be different because the people are different.  Thinking of the biblical text as the “living word” would mean that it would continue to unfold and take on new meaning every time it is read, through every circumstance and experience of life.

I would love to know what you hear these texts to be “talking about”.  Here’s the “transcript” of the conversation between Jeremiah 23.1-6, Psalm 46, Luke 23.33-43, and Colossians 1.11-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

(Col 11-12)           May you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father.

(Luke 35)            And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying,

(Jer 1-2)              Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.  Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.  So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.

(Ps 1-3)                God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, thought he earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Selah)

(Col 11)                 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and

(Luke 43)            He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Col 13-15)            He has rescued us form the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(Ps 7-8)                 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (Selah)  Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

(Jer 3-4)                 The I myself with gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply

(Col 18b)            so that he might come to have first place in everything

(Ps 10-11)            “Be still and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nation, I am exalted in the earth.”  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (Selah)

(Jer 6)               In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.  And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

(Col 12b)            who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

(Luke 41)            And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.

(Ps 9)                    He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the blow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

(Jer 5)                    The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

(Col 16-18)            for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

(Col 15)                  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation

(Luke 38-40)        There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?”

(Col 20)              and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

(Luke 35-37)    “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

(Ps 6)                The nations are in uproar, the kingdoms totter;

(Luke 34)            [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]  And they case lots to divide his clothing.

(Jer 4)                  I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

(Luke 42)            Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

(Col 19)                For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

(Ps 5)                    God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it

(Luke 33)             When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

(Ps 4)                   There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

(Ps 6b)                     He utters his voice, the earth melts.

(Ps 5)                        The morning dawns.

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Bean Gratin Haiku & Recipe

trust me, it's better than it looks!

I really think beans are amazing.  We’re not eating a lot of meat these days, so I’ve upped the ante on beans and other sources of protein.  The more I learn about the mass production of animals , the less able I am to buy it, ethically, theologically.  And at the moment, meat that has been raised in just and humane ways is beyond our budget.  So we go without, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything when I’m eating these tasty beans!

 

 

oh – cranberry beans!

you make a lovely gratin

with bread crumbs on top

 

 

creamy and crunchy

with lots of layers of flavor

juices to sop up

 

 

you’re also so cheap,

in an economic way,

and nourishing, too

 

 

I’ll make you again,

again and again, please just

promise to bring fall

 

 

********

(recipe adapted from Alice Waters, ‘Cranberry Bean Gratin’ in The Art of Simple Food. The haiku presentation is not her fault.)

1¼ cup dried beans, soaked then cooked

¼ c diced onion

¼ c diced celery

½ c olive oil, divided

4 garlic cloves, sliced

6 sage leaves, chopped or 1-2 teaspoons dried

½ c chopped tomatoes

1 c toasted bread crumbs

 

 

to make bean gratin

cook beans and save the water

then set them aside

 

 

sautee equal parts

in olive oil small carrot

onion, celery

 

 

when veggies are soft

add sliced garlic and some sage

and cook a bit more

 

 

small chopped tomato

is added now to the pot

add salt and pepper

 

 

next add the drained beans

and stir it all together

pour into a pan

 

 

drizzle olive oil

after almost covering beans

with reserved liquid

 

 

top beans with bread crumbs

toast them first with olive oil

mmm, nice and crunchy

 

 

for forty minutes

bake at four hundred degrees

then thank God for beans

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Overcoming Inertia

“I do not do the things I want to do, and the things I don’t want to do I do.”  (Paraphrased from Romans 7.15)

 

I have experienced this verse to be true in my life perhaps more than any other passage of Scripture.  It surprises me that a person as willful as I can be, can also be unable to do the things she allegedly wants to do.  After all, if I really wanted to I would, right?  And yet… there seem to be obstacles that prevent me from doing what I want to do.  So what are they, and how can I overcome them?

 

The first thing that comes to mind is my resistance to routine.  I seem to be unable to create a routine for myself and then keep it.  I do fine with routines that are somehow externally imposed: getting up at a certain time, making lunches for myself and my husband, going to work, etc., always done in a timely manner.  But when creating a routine for myself on a day off, or when working from home, I resist.  I say things like “I don’t want to feel trapped” or “I don’t want to be restricted”.  However, when I really look at the difference between my “free-flow” days and my routine days, things that are part of the routine days get done, while of all the things I want to do on my “free” days very little actually gets done.

 

After witnessing my patterns with routine days and free days over and over, I’ve decided that if there is something that I want to do, something that I want to become a regular part of my life, I piggy-back it onto an existing part of a routine in order to get into a new habit with it.

 

For example, I had become in the habit of practicing centering prayer every morning for almost a year (I’m still working on Sundays – a break in the routine).  But when we moved to a new city my old routine was dismantled, and for weeks I found myself unable to “find time” to pray – ridiculous as I had all the time in the world with no other commitments.  It wasn’t until a new routine emerged that I was able to “find time” to pray regularly again.  In my old routine I would get up, take a shower, pray, make lunch and go to work.  Now, I get up, get some coffee, make my husband’s lunch and take him to school, then come home and pray.  As I’m driving home, part of the routine is reminding myself that as soon as I get home I’m going to pray.  In other words, the driving home part of the routine triggers the next part of the routine, time for prayer.

 

There are other things that I don’t do because for whatever reason there is an element of fear, uncertainty, or anxiety associated with them.  Maybe it’s just a two-minute phone call to volunteer at the soup kitchen, or running an errand at a new place.  Whatever the emotion that is preventing me, I have at times found it helpful to take a few minutes to myself to really look at the emotion.  I’m not analyzing it or judging it, just looking at it and really feeling it.  After a few minutes I realize that the fear I’m feeling is just an emotion, it’s nothing of substance, and then it passes.  I find I’m then able to do whatever it was I had been reluctant to do.

 

At the same time, if there is a legitimate concern, that shouldn’t be ignored.  This applies more to thoughts like “what if they don’t like me?” or “what if I make a mistake?” – excuses I give that keep me at arms length from others.

 

I also find it helpful to pray for the desire to do a thing.  It may sound odd – but I pray for the desire to pray.  I pray that God would take what little desire is there, and increase it mustard-seed style (Matthew 13.31-32), so that it is something that I not only should do, but something I really want to do and look forward to.  In my experience, God does not delay in answering those kinds of prayers.

 

I’m sure there are as many obstacles to action and reasons for them as there are people.  These are just a few that I’ve observed myself doing battle with again and again.  If you have any tips for overcoming obstacles I invite you to share them with us all.  I for one need all the help I can get.

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bird mobile from fabric found in dumpster

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the ‘mood swings’ of faith – how I can be filled with utter certainty about something one moment, and have that certainty dashed on the rocks the next.  It makes me feel so fickle, and honestly, a bit crazy.  I think to myself, “I must be manic to experience such wide swings of belief and conviction.”

In the midst of trying to “count my blessings” and remembering what is “really real”, I also remembered a course I took last year at the Francis House of Prayer on St. Ignatius’ Rules for Discernment.  There are two sets of rules for discernment that Ignatius writes about in his Spiritual Exercises and we focused on the first set.

We read “The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everday Living” by Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV.  This book offered a wonderfully close reading of each phrase of the rules, punctuated by examples from ordinary life.  As we read each chapter, focusing on one rule at a time, we also rewrote each rule in our own words, helping us to distill the rule into our own lives.

In the introduction, Gallagher offers some helpful definitions.  “The word spirits, as Ignatius uses it in this context, indicates those affective stirrings of the heart – joy, sadness, hope, fear, peace, anxiety, and similar feelings – with their related thoughts, that influence our life of faith and our progress toward God” (p. 3).  And a little further on the same page: “for Ignatius, discernment of spirits describes the process by which we seek to distinguish between different kinds of spiritual stirrings in our hearts, identifying those that are of God and those that are not in order to accept the former and to reject the latter.”

All last year, I experienced the rules for discernment as an amazing tool for understanding the daily swings of my faith.  By paying very close attention to those affective stirrings, I began to notice events and thoughts that would trigger them, either toward an increase of faith, hope, and love (consolation), or a decrease of faith, hope, and love (desolation).  By noticing them as they were happening, I was able, with God’s help, to take action against the desolation, and to savor the consolations.

At the end of the introduction Gallagher puts it succinctly: “The basic message of Ignatius’s fourteen rules for discernment is liberation from captivity to discouragement and deception in the spiritual life” (p. 6).  This is what he perceives as the “major obstacle to faith”, and judging by my own experience of the past few days, I’d tend to agree.

What I would like to do next is something that I’m not quite sure is a good idea, but I feel prompted to do it nonetheless.  I’d like to offer my own rewritten versions of Ignatius’ rules, along side the translations that Gallagher gives in his book.  The reason I’m not sure whether this is a good idea or not is that I wonder if it is too out of context.  Although Ignatius himself just lists the rules, it is in the context of his broader Spiritual Exercises.  In the end, I hope this can give you a taste of what a difference these rules can make in the spiritual life, and might prompt you to further inquiry and reading, for which I highly recommend Gallagher’s book.

*******

Keep in mind that discernment of the spirits is about being aware “of the contrasting spiritual movements of the heart, coupled with an effort to understand and respond wisely to them” (Gallagher, p. 3).  As each rule is presented, read slowly and carefully through Gallagher’s translation, before proceeding to mine rewritten version of it.  Again, I didn’t rewrite them because I felt that they were deficient in any way.  Rather, rewriting something in one’s own words is an excellent exercise in truly coming to understand it.  If you would like to offer your own rewrites as well, I invite you to do so in the comments section for that rule.  Finally, if something is unclear please do not hesitate to ask about it.

The header for the rules says this:

Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them.

RULE 1 (Gallagher)

The first rule: in persons who are going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose apparent pleasures to them, leading them to imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins.  In these persons the good spirit uses a contrary method, stinging and biting their consciences through their rational power of moral judgment.


RULE 1 (mine)

In persons who are unaware of God’s presence and are not able to detect the inner movements of the Spirit, they are drawn away from God by imagining “the good life” and by being enchanted by all those things they think they deserve because they’re “worth it”.  They are drawn away from God by seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in things that tell them that they’re important, successful, and valuable.  They are drawn back to God when they are made aware of God’s presence and when their eyes are made to see clearly that things other than God will never satisfy and that all they have are gifts from God.  They are drawn to God when their focus is shifted from living for self alone, to living for God alone.

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