Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shutter Island: A Mother's Review

Set in the 1950‘s, Shutter Island is a psychological thriller with all the creepy music, mysterious characters, and “dark, stormy nights” that make movies like that work. Then it has the big plot twist at the end. If you are planning on watching it you might not want to read my review because I’m not going to keep any secrets. If you are a woman with children, please do read my review. You shouldn’t watch this without knowing what you’re getting yourself into.

Andrew Laeddis is a US Marshal who fought in WWII. He dearly loved his wife but there was only one problem: she was manically depressed and suicidal. He refused to see that and tried to live with her in love until one day he came home from work to find that she had killed their three children. She had drowned them in the lake and he had to wade out and carry their limp, lifeless bodies to the shore. Then, as his wife talked about how much she loved him and how they could dry the kids off and take them on picnics, he shot her.

The movie opens with him arriving at Shutter Island, where there is a psychiatric prison for the criminally insane. He is on an assignment to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients: a woman who had drowned her three children. He also thinks that the wardens and doctors are using the patients to conduct weird experiments using barbaric Nazi methods to create a person without emotions or pain. His hope is to uncover this conspiracy and expose it to the world. By the end of the movie we learn that it’s all in his head. It’s all part of an alternate reality he created for himself to disassociate himself from what he went through and did. He’s actually been a prisoner/patient on Shutter Island for two years himself, living and reliving this imaginary story.

Using elaborate roll-playing techniques, the doctors are able to show Andrew the truth: that there are no conspiracies and his children are dead and he killed his wife. Over the two years of his imprisonment, he has gone through cycles of realizing the truth, only to regress into his fantasy again. They really believe that he can break out of this cycle, but since he has military training, he is a very dangerous crazy man and this is his last chance. Realization comes to Andrew--slowly and painfully--and for a moment he is sane. But in the morning he falls back into denial and the movie closes with him walking off to be lobotomized. “Is it better,” he wonders, “to live as a monster or to die as a good man?

And that’s it. No hope of change for the better. No redemption.

I could handle all the horrific stuff in the prison/hospital with all the creepy insane people, the long hallways, the unreliable lighting, and all his weird hallucinations of Nazi death camps. But a momma drowning her children...my heart was ripped out. And then there was hope. He remembered. It was tragic, but he was going to get better, move on. Then--no, never mind. Reality was too much for him. He would rather have some nerves cut out of his brain and live in the stories in his head. My heart was left bleeding on the ground.

These were my thoughts right after watching it. But as I thought more about it, I realized that the movie couldn’t have ended any other way. After seeing the things he saw and doing the things he’d done, he couldn’t have forgiven himself. Without Christ he was a monster. The doctors did everything they could for him and it was almost enough. But they didn’t give him Christ.

Without the forgiveness of Christ’s blood we can’t get over sins or mistakes or sinful mistakes. We can’t just forget them, forgive ourselves and move on. We commit them and become monsters. The only way out is to rewrite the story to distance ourselves from the sin. In our minds we can be the victim instead of the villain. We might as well be drugged and have the dangerous tissues cut out of our brains.

I was fine watching this movie, “dark, stormy night” and all, until he came home to find his children drowned. Finding my own children drowned in a pool or in the bath is already one of my worst nightmares. I will literally wake up at night in a panic thinking of it. I didn’t need to see it lived out on screen. The thought of a mother holding her children’s heads under the water till they drown made me (makes me!) feel sick. I wish I could watch Shutter Island and think, “I could never do that,” distancing myself from it all.

My children are small and fragile. Comparatively, I am big and strong. I hold them in the palm of my hand. They have no one else to turn to and they can’t get away. That responsibility is scary. Mothers do cruel things to the children in their care every day and but for the grace of God, I could be one of them. Therein is the horror of this movie. Without the grace of God we are all criminally insane. I am criminally insane.

My response to Shutter Island is to thank God for His forgiveness, to thank Him for forgiving me every week and renewing covenant with me during worship. My response is to pray for His grace to saturate me every day so I can hold my children in the palm of my hand just as I am in the palm of His hand: lovingly, patiently, forgivingly. He has given me a new reality to live out, but it’s not fiction. It’s true. It’s real.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method Two

Never Leave Children to Themselves
“People who can organize themselves and accomplish something as devilishly complicated as a good ballgame are hard to herd around....They become men and women, not human resources. They can be free.”
Boys playing baseball in a field or an empty lot must use their imaginations to set up the game, pick teams, and arbitrate disputes. They argue, using evidence (which must be respected if the game is to succeed), appealing to others or pretending the play never happened. “Anyone who harbors hard feelings is labeled a Sore Loser and is looked down upon with contempt by his fellows; it is a deep character flaw. But anybody who can engineer a quick solution acceptable to all sides is labeled a Good Sport, and of him great and glorious things are expected.”

Boys simply will not develop their characters if everything is always kept perfectly safe for them. Boys ought to be able to bear a few falls, knocks, and bruises. When we adults over-manage the activities of children we take the joy of discovery out of it and by removing the risks, we remove any chance they had to grow and mature. We emphasize fairness and fun for all which does not build character or a sense of duty.

Now you may be thinking of gangs. Gangs are groups of kids organizing themselves into a society: a society that goes around getting into mischief or worse. Children should be supervised or they might join or form a gang, right? After all, Proverbs says, "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed." You don't get much more foolish than a pack of boys left to themselves. The solution to the gang (or pack of fools) is not to obliterate childhood or community by controlling it and overseeing it. It is to provide the genuine article--solid family and community living--for which the gang is a perversion or a counterfeit. “It’s not that these boys [who form gangs] spend too much time outside the home. It’s that they have no genuine home to spend time outside of.” Children left to themselves will reflect the morals they have been taught.

My children are still little and I can’t expect to send them off with a group of their toddler friends to organize a baseball game. But I do want to be teaching them the kind of morals here at home that will make them be Good Sports and not Sore Losers. Three and five year olds do need to be supervised, but with the goal of instilling honorable ethics and then turning them loose to figure out exactly how it works in the real world.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's My Birthday!

I woke up today to a powdered sugar world. Snow clung to every branch of every tree until each one looked like a sugary confection fit to eat. These flowers from a friend were on the table providing kind of a funny combination of seasonal beauty (thank you, God, for hot houses!). Then the clouds separated and for a while we had blue sky and sunshine. Now when I look out the window the snow is falling again in thick, fat flakes putting me in my very own snow globe.

This year I turned 24 on the 24th. We call that a golden birthday and I was always disappointed as a kid that I would have to wait so long for mine to come around. Besides, I reasoned, I'd be so grown up by then I probably wouldn't care. Well, the year finally came and I decided: You know what? I do care. So I told Eli he'd better make it special. He didn't tell me what he had in mind, even though I kept telling him that surprising me was a big responsibility. I mean, what if I thought the big surprise was kind of lame? He kept dropping hints that he was making plans so I decided to trust him, but I had no idea what was up his sleeve.

So I was totally astonished when I walked in the door after our ultrasound on Monday to find just about every single one of my friends standing in the hall and in the dining room and in the kitchen and living room all yelling, "Happy birthday!" I love my friends and I love big parties so it was the perfect way to celebrate my once in a lifetime golden birthday. And I had no idea it was coming! As my heart rate settled and snacks and cake were put before me I began to make connections, like when he said this, what he meant was this! And that's why we went there then. It was a lovely party with plenty of loving people around to talk to, no matter which room I walked in. And it ended the way the best parties must: hours later than it was supposed to.

Thank you, Eli, for thinking of it, planning it, and keeping it secret! Now I feel really bad that your surprise party got snowed out.

Tonight the kids are eating with Nanny and Poppy and Eli and I are going downtown to P. F. Changs. Next to a party with my friends, a dinner I don't have to cook is the best birthday celebration. Or any day celebration, for that matter!

P.S. I know that I used an over-abundance of italics. A birthday post about a surprise party warrants that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

At the Back of the North Wind

I started At the Back of the North Wind when I was young but didn't get more than a few chapters into it. Since Lewis and Tolkien atribute so much of their inspiration to George MacDonald, I wanted to give it a second try.

This time around I was a bit more inspired, but it was still slow going getting through it. Then, as is the case with so many older books, I began to really enjoy it once I got past the first two thirds or so. In the end it was quite poignant and sweet.

The writing style (naturally) is rather clunky and old-fashioned. The plot and action is understated while descriptions seem to go on for pages. However, it manages to be whimsical and fantastic while at the same time real and moralistic without providing the answers for any of it. Does the North Wind really visit Diamond and carry him in her arms through the night? Where do dreams come from? Does suffering hardships make good times more lovely? Within the pages of this book, even if life is perplexing, it is beautiful, good and worth living. I liked that instead of moralizing in this story (as is so common in many Victorian novels), George MacDonald would subtly and sagaciously slip in values or little moral messages that were actually pretty profound.

I would not recommend this for young readers unless they have been raised to appreciate slow-paced and subtle literature. I will consider reading it aloud to my kids in a few years, but not until they've learned to sit through longer descriptive passages.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method One

Keep Your Children Inside As Much As Possible

Contemporary life happens within walls and most people will live most of their lives indoors. In preparation Esolen says,
“...we must replace the great world around us with an artificial world where not the imagination but the stray nervous tics of the brain may roam for a while and then rest.... Replace air with virtual space.”
Children who are left to their own devices outside “may develop into people who do not do as they are told--meaning that they will not buy what marketers want them to buy.”

Outside children will find:

The Sky
The sky is full of color, clouds, stars, birds, and planes taking people to or bringing them from Elsewhere. “[It] startles us out of our dreams of vanity, it silences our pride, it stills the lust to get and spend.” It’s just there, vast and infinite, challenging us to be.

Video games and TV fill our visual field with neon lights. Smog discolors our outlook on the sky whether it’s physical smog that clouds our physical view or mental lust that clouds our mind. “A child that has been blared at all his life will never be able to do the brave nothing of staring at the sky.” He will be too bored.

A World Untamed
Outside contains a world not yet managed into submission. Even the small and ordinary found just past our own doorsteps will show us the perplexities and unusualness of life if we take the time to notice. Nature is not all cute and nice. The hunter and and the hunted are waging a war and the result is often kind of gross.

The mysteries of the world can not be contained in parks (national or neighborhood) and zoos. And they are easily dulled by sentimentality and “nature lessons.”

A World in Which to Encounter Himself
To have any effect on nature, you must struggle. Mere words, clicks of a mouse, transferring of electronic data will do nothing against rocks, stumps, dirt, and weeds. Outside man encounters what is beyond man and attempts to come to terms with it or to master it by cunning, courage, and sweat. Nature can help develop a self to rely on, growing a person in strength and cleverness. The music of the hills, rocks, streams, and trees finds its way into the mind and being.

Since I don’t live in the country, I was interested in the little section about growing the imagination in the city. The city can not compare to the “illimitably complex, wild yet orderly” environment in the county. But cities are full of people--lives being lived side by side, so different yet often so similar. These can be watched and learned from and known just as streams, rocks, and birds can be in the country. Fear, degradation, sin, romance, vitality...these can be found in the alleys, streets, tunnels, bridges, and shops of a city.

There is less to excite the mind amid the manicured lawns and homogenous homes of the suburbs. If nature is untamed in the country and human nature is untamed in the city, both have been conquered here in the in-between land. The imagination needs a world of possibilities in which to explore, work, and struggle. Here it has already been done. The sidewalks are spacious and smooth; the yards are professionally landscaped; the people are safe behind curtained windows and closed garages. The opportunities are there for the finding because there is always work to be done in this fallen world, no matter where you are, and there are always people to meet, but it takes more creativity and perhaps more direction from adults.

And safety is a concern. Our kids can’t go roaming the streets and making friends with whomever they might bump into. I don’t want to raise kids who are too afraid of every passing car to venture outside but neither do I want them so naive that they trust every person they see. Maybe if I keep a childlike outlook on the world my kids and I can go off on adventures together to explore “man’s jumble of artifacts.”

It's a...

BOY!!!

Yesterday I had my 20 week ultrasound. Eli's been wanting a boy so much that he didn't even want to talk about potential girl names. We have a name in mind that we are really excited about for a boy but nothing for a girl. The doctor went to examine the baby's pelvic area but the bottom was too far down and the feet were curled up under so we couldn't see anything. After looking at the head, the heart, and taking some measurements the baby had turned a bit, so Dr. Ed said, "It looks like this is a girl...no, maybe it's a boy..." Eli didn't need the added suspense! So we finished the other measurements and got the above adorable profile picture. By that time the baby had completly moved and we got a nice clear view. Even we could tell that it will be a son that we welcome in July!

My favorite moment of the ultrasound was when we could see a perfect profile: nose, mouth, little round head. And at the same time we could see his heart beating strong and steady.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Introductory Chapter

Introduction: Why Truth is Your Enemy and the Benefits of the Vague
“A fact may not be much by itself, but it points toward what is true, and even the humblest truth may in time lead a mind to contemplate the beautiful and the good.”
The imagination needs memory. In ancient Greek mythology, the nine Muses (the inspiration for everything creative and beautiful) came from the union of Zeus and Memory. Inspiration that comes merely from within--without drawing on history, art, and literature--is self-centered and peculiar.

Facts--whether they are historical, scientific, geographical, or what have you--may not be inspiring in and of themselves but if they are in the memory of a questioning mind, they can lead to all sorts of inspiration. The memory can call up two seemingly unconnected things and mold them into a whole new thought. Without the memory, the imagination has little to play with.

The memory needs facts learned in a structured, organized manner. Random and disorganized facts are robbed of their creative potential. Real art--whether it’s a painting, a poem, a story, or a mathematical equation--is subject to rules and structure.

A memory stifled by laziness and flattery will quickly fill up with everything that is silly, flat, and vapid.

Esolen quotes Aeneas, the saddest hero of ancient epic, in the Aeneid when he tells his son:
“Hard work and manhood learn from me, my boy;
Good fortune you can learn from someone else.”
A student of Latin fights his way through inflectional endings to translate that passage until “the moment of understanding, the vision of a truth that is precious precisely because it turns us away from easy and comfortable consolations, a truth made more splendid by poetry that burns itself in the memory, will have made the laborious study worthwhile.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen, is a new book about how destructive the modern culture is to the childlike mind--though in a genuine Screwtape manner, it is written as if that's a good thing. It's a bit schizophrenic as well because it is also a glowing tribute to all the creative and inspiring achievements that have come from imaginative people throughout the ages. You've probably heard the adage: "Show, don't tell." This book shows the power of a visionary mind through pages and pages of examples from history, literature, old textbooks, and more. But since all the logic is reverse, it leaves the reader on his own to figure out how to go about encouraging that--whether in his children or in himself. As a result, it's a book to chew on and it may take some time to digest. I have found it extremely thought-provoking and those thoughts have ended up becoming the subject of most of my conversations since I began reading it.

And now it's about to take over my blog! I've been taking notes so that I can actually convers about it instead of just saying, "Uh, yeah, um, it was really good. You should read it." I'm going to write those notes up chapter by chapter in a series of blog posts here. It's a bit tricky to translate the reverse logic, but for the most part I will try to say what actions I think we should positively take. When I quote though, it's coming straight from the book so don't be scared off by anything like, "Sit your children down in front of the TV for all of their free time."

Below is a list of links to the completed posts:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Splendor in the Grass



"Life's been moving oh so fast 
I think we should take it slow
Rest our heads upon the grass
And listen to it grow."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hand-Me-Downs


I bought this dress when Lucy was tiny and couldn't wait till she was big enough to fit it. All too quickly she out grew it and I had to put it away. Now it graces another adorable little girl!

Do you think they look like sisters?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In Which Exodus Books Pays for Our Vacation

Exodus Books has grown every year. Eli always has projects he's orchestrating and goals he's working towards, but after thirteen years the whole thing is big enough that he can't just show up at the store and sit down to the first undertaking that comes to mind. And frankly, we aren't done growing. Eli and I are both dreamers and let me tell you, we dream big. So we called the First Annual Exodus Books Focus Meeting. If one is going to strategize for the future, think creatively about organizing the present, and dream big, the Pacific Coast is the place to go.


See how small those people are? With a sky like that you can't help but wonder, "Who am I?" With the psalmist you ask, "What is man that you are mindful of him?
The sky startles us out of our dreams of vanity, it silences our pride, it stills the lust to get and spend."
-
Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Our sanctuary of choice was the cozy Sylvia Beach Hotel, right on the beach in the middle of historic Newport, Oregon. "Truly a hotel for book lovers," it was a perfect location for our vision meeting. Each of the rooms are dedicated to a different author--from Jane Austen and Mark Twain to Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. The library overlooks the sea and the cats that roam the halls are fat and friendly.


Eli and I enjoyed two nights at the coast along with our webmaster (my brother) and his wife and our office manager and his wife. On the day in between our other two full-time employees drove down for the epic all-day meeting.


Yes, we had a lot to talk about, but don't worry. There were plenty of snacks provided by Costco (and the lovely wives' kitchens) and we ate a satisfying lunch at the Irish pub down the block. We did manage to make it through the entire agenda, even though the laughter was profuse and exuberant.


I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity...
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.
-St. Patrick's Breastplate

I wonder if they have assigned seating or if it's just first come first serve?


Do you ever have dreams of flying? I never wish I could fly more than when I'm at the coast watching seagulls glide and soar over the surf. I know they are mangy, selfish scavengers with a tendency to poop on unsuspecting tourists, but when they spread their wings and leave the restrictions of the ground behind, they seem so free. The sky is the limit.