Monday, April 30, 2007

Rethinking the Lotus

Does the lotus fruit exist in our society today? Absolutely! What sorts of things act as an anesthetic for the wounds of life? Let’s take a look at an example.

Video Games: The Story of Trent

By the time Trent had reached middle school, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would have a difficult row to hoe. He was fairly overweight, and to say that he had a poor complexion would have been an understatement. If you were to make an honest assessment of the situation, you would see that Trent had only one or two friends (if you could call them that) in the whole school. Each day, he awoke with a sickening feeling in his gut, knowing the teasing and tormenting that awaited him upon his arrival to school. “Fat ass!” “Pizza face!” “Wide load!” He tried to ignore the comments as his parents had suggested, but deep down, each unkind word cut deep into his heart. His parents were very loving and did the best they could, but the fiery words of his peers did their damage with alarming precision. The enemy was driving a spear deeper and deeper into Trent’s soul.

Trent began to come up with reasons why he just couldn’t go to school in the morning. Sometimes he felt a severe headache coming on, while other times he forced himself to vomit so that his parents wouldn’t make him get on the bus. He started spending more and more time on the Internet, chatting with others online. Some of these new online “friends” introduced Trent to a multiplayer video game in which they were participants.

This newfound activity was a fantasy adventure game that involved some pretty graphic violence. Trent found himself wanting to spend more and more time playing the game, rather than doing other things in the “real world.” His parents soon noticed that he was spending no fewer than five hours every day playing this game and was interacting with his family less and less. At dinnertime, his mother, father, and older sister would take turns trying to start discussions with Trent about things at school or his life in general, but he didn’t have much to say, for his life was beginning to revolve around the game and the fantasy characters that inhabited this virtual world.

Why did a video game become the lotus fruit to this lonely and hurting middle school student? What was the draw—the narcotic effect, if you will? Well, it offered Trent an escape from the reality that was so painful each day. In the real world, he was overweight, had a bad acne problem, and was teased constantly. However, in the virtual world of the game, he was a gun-toting mercenary named Zax, feared and respected by all races throughout the galaxy.

What did the video game offer that reality did not? During the hours that he played the game, Trent could forget about the painful reality he faced day in and day out. The game was, in essence, an opiate. It offered the feeling of power and courage without really requiring anything of him. He was willing to take incredible risks as Zax, such as single-handedly infiltrating the orbiting battle station of an alien invasion force. In real life, meanwhile, Trent rarely took risks and avoided situations where he was sure to be harassed, such as school dances, rest rooms, and stairwells. The game also offered him the illusion of something that is deep in the heart of every boy: adventure and the chance to play the hero. A recent study publicized by BBC News found that nearly a third of all students were playing video games daily, and that close to 10 percent played for at least thirty hours each week! In this example, Trent found himself acting more and more like the entranced lotus-eaters of Homeric epic.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rethinking Pain-Killers

Man is an animal which, alone among the animals, refuses to be satisfied by the fulfillment of animal desires. Alexander Graham Bell

Bacchus hath drowned more men than Neptune. Thomas Fuller

Dwell not upon thy weariness, thy strength shall be according to the
measure of thy desire.
Arab proverb

Like Odysseus and his men, adolescents are suffering from painful experiences and memories that seem to cause an unrelenting soul-ache. Do they use this pain to drive them on to real answers and true healing? Sadly, no. Most young people (and adults, as well) attempt to numb the pain they are experiencing. We will next examine how Odysseus’s soldiers endeavored to anesthetize themselves against the suffering they had experienced.

The Lotus-Eaters

Odysseus and his men sailed across the seas in a vain attempt to reach the only home they had ever known. Cursed by the god Poseidon and weary from war and adventure, a fierce storm blew their ship to an island off the coast of Africa. This island had the reputation of being the “land where Morpheus plays.” Morpheus was the Greek god of dreams, the son of Hypnos, the god of sleep, and the nephew of Hades, the god of death and the underworld.

Upon setting foot ashore this strange country, Odysseus and his men crawled upon the sandy beach and fell into a deep sleep. When they awoke, they met a group of people known as the Lotophagi, or “lotus-eaters.” The Lotophagi lived in a drug-induced haze that was the result of eating the narcotic lotus fruit. The inhabitants of this land had little care for the worries and concerns of mortal men and were apathetic toward life. The islanders brought armfuls of the lotus fruit for the crew of Odysseus’s ship. Hungry and hurting from their terrible experiences in war and at sea, the sailors followed the example of the islanders and ate the narcotic fruit.

According to Bernard Evslin’s version of Homer’s Odyssey entitled The Adventures of Ulysses (1969), Morpheus examined the minds of the Greeks as they slept and found anguished memories of warfare and greed. The dream god soothed their sleep with visions of their wives and families and home. As they awoke, they longed to return to the tranquility of their dreams, so they again partook of the lotus fruit and fell into a deeper sleep still.

Sensing that the gods had destined Odysseus for other ends, Morpheus declined to fill the hero’s sleep with intoxicating visions, instead allowing him to dream as he might. Unlike his men, the Greek king experienced frightful nightmares and relived painful memories in a restless and fitful sleep. Rising, he realized that his men had eaten of the lotus fruit and had fallen into a drowsy bliss. Eager to assuage his agony, Odysseus gathered a handful of the enticing fruit and breathed in the inebriating aroma. He knew at once that if he too ate the sweet fruit, his crew would be doomed to spend their days in lethargy and illusion, rather than finally reaching home and family. In an incredible act of the will, Odysseus arose and dragged his entranced men one by one, kicking and screaming, back to the ship and back to reality to continue on their long voyage back to Ithaca.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rethinking Relationship II

You teach people how to treat you. Treat yourself with respect and others will tend to do the same. If you devalue yourself, others will as well. If a person feels that he needs another person, it is probably a signal that he is not ready for a relationship. He most likely has some heart issues to deal with first.

The gods sent their messenger from Mount Olympus to talk sense into Calypso and get her to free the despairing Odysseus. We adult leaders will sometimes have to intervene in an unhealthy adolescent relationship. Remember that it is important to continually invest in your own relationships with students so that when the time comes to engage their story in a meaningful way, your advice and guidance will be taken to heart and not summarily dismissed.

Mythic Connections

You might find yourself in a position to specifically address this topic with young adults. If so, you may want to have the students read selections from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story of Calypso’s island from The Odyssey, or the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus. Some video choices could include any of the film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Can’t Buy Me Love, or The Odyssey.

Discussion Questions
• Which character in this story do you identify with most? Why?
• How were the relationships in this story destructive or unhealthy?
• What changes could have been made to improve the relationship?
• Did the characters in these stories truly love each other, or were they together for other reasons, such as fear of being alone, wanting popularity, and so forth?
• Have you ever been in a relationship that was like the relationships in this story? How was it similar?
• Are you in an unhealthy relationship now? If so, what are you going to do about it?

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Rethinking Balance

According to ancient Hawaiian legend, powerful female spirits known as Mo’o took the form of basking lizards and would use their seductive power to ensnare men. It was said that they could alter their form so that they would appear as beautiful women with long dark hair, perhaps sitting by the edge of a waterfall. Once they had seduced a human male, they would often drown him so that no other woman could love him.

To the Hawaiians, it was very important to maintain a balance between the worlds of males and females. They referred to this balance as pono, meaning “correctness.” One should not dominate or control the other, as this was not the way of nature. Seeking something that cannot be found in a human relationship, such as the meaning of life and healing for the soul, would qualify as an imbalance and would lead to problems.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rethinking Relationship

Be intentional about building relationships with students. The last thing a student wants is unsolicited advice or assistance from an adult who has never bothered to get to know them. Adult relationships typically evolve over a period of time and require quite a few conversations and shared experiences before there is a willingness to be vulnerable and open. Adolescents are somewhat different in this respect. It is possible to build fairly strong relationships in a relatively short period of time.

Get to know their hobbies, their interests, and the people with whom they spend time. Ask questions about their lives. Bring up a topic they enjoy discussing: themselves! Once they begin to trust you and understand that you are genuinely concerned about them as people, they will usually be willing to listen to advice you have to offer. It is easy to connect with students who are naturally outgoing and popular; challenge yourself by trying to engage those who are quiet, defensive, or intimidating. Those on the fringe desperately need you to be a part of their lives.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Rethinking Awareness IV

How was Odysseus freed from his captivity on Calypso’s island? Keep in mind, Odysseus had fallen into despair, resigning to the fact that he would never again see his cherished homeland of Ithaca. The mighty hero was in a helpless situation. Intervention had to come from outside the island, from Zeus himself. Why did the gods intervene in this situation? Because they heard the cries of Odysseus and decided to once again step into his story.

Be Aware

Just as the gods noticed the tears of Odysseus, we as adult leaders need to be aware of changes in our students’ behavior. Is a normally happy and upbeat girl now depressed and teary-eyed? Is a boy who is normally talkative suddenly quiet? Is an easygoing student becoming touchy and irritable? Granted, there could be many reasons for such a change, but pay attention to who it is they are spending time with.

If you are a teacher or school counselor, spend time in the hallways or the cafeteria. You would be amazed at what you can learn from time spent daily in the hallways between classes or in the cafeteria during lunch. If you are a coach, pay attention to what is discussed in the locker room or on the field. There you will find adolescents at their most unvarnished. Try to notice who students sit with during unstructured time. This may sound sneaky, but listen in on their conversations. Remember that this is a war for the hearts of the young people in our care! This will reveal a great deal about what is happening in their lives and give you clues as to how you can intervene in destructive relationships.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Rethinking Love III

William Shakespeare warns us about the dangers of young “love” in his play Romeo and Juliet. He tells the story of two young people who fall in love in the midst of a war between their families. Romeo is a Montague, while Juliet is a Capulet. They chase each other with a passion, but in the end, their unrelenting infatuation leads to their demise.

The star-crossed lovers believed that the answers they sought could be found in the other person. When Romeo believed that Juliet had died, he ended his own life. When Juliet awoke from her deathlike sleep, she committed suicide after realizing that Romeo had taken his life. This play is rightly described as a tragedy! How many adolescent suicides, bouts of depression, and insecurities today are related to lost love, and to the perception that the answers to life’s questions and the source of healing have been lost?

Our culture doesn’t help much. Music videos, video games, television, and the Internet all scream sex. Flip through your television channels. Look at the advertising schemes. What is held up as the ultimate meaning of life? Romantic relationships and physical intimacy! Don’t get me wrong, for those who have had relationships like these, they are wonderful things. They are designed to bring people closer together. But to make these things the object of our quest and our reason for living is to set ourselves up for failure and heartache.

We are in a position to help adolescents navigate through these murky relational waters. There are probably some of you who are thinking that you would never be able to advise a student with issues such as these. You may feel that you don’t have your own act together, so you don’t see how can you possibly help someone else. Don’t worry! Having your life in perfect order is not a prerequisite for helping others.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Rethinking Resurrection II

I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me. - Luke 22:34

Peter was the fiery fisherman who followed Jesus with a passion. He wore his heart on his sleeves and often said things he later regretted. He was also known as Simon, son of Jonah. Remember that Christ's death, burial, and resurrection were often compared to the story of Jonah who endured three days in the belly of the whale. While his father and the Jonah of biblical epic were two entirely different men, we will see that there is a metaphorical similiarity between Peter and Jonah.

Jesus was physically crucified, bearing the bitter agony of the sins of the world upon himself. He was nailed to the cross with three nails, one through each hand and one through both feet...keep that in mind. He died, was sealed in the tomb, and rose again on the third day, unveiling a new hope for all humanity. While Jesus was traveling his dark path, Peter too was experiencing a crucifixion on the level of the soul, a death of his own making.

When Jesus was handed over to the authorities, Peter waited outside to hear any news of his master's fate.

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said. - Luke 22:54-57

Peter's heart had just been pierced by the first nail.

A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them." "Man, I am not!" Peter replied. - Luke 22:58

The second nail was pounded through.

About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly. - Luke 22:59-62

The third nail impaled his heart with such force that Peter wept aloud. He was crucified, maybe not literally but his heart knew the truth. His Lord was crucified on Golgotha with criminals, writhing in agony. Peter was on the streets with criminals, writhing from inner agony. He had disowned his master and friend in his hour of greatest need. He had lost hope, friendship, and his courage in three hammer blows. Just like Jonah, he had been swallowed by the whale that had been lurking in the depths of his soul.

Imagine the next morning and the morning after that. The crowing of roosters must have felt like salt poured into searing wounds, again reminding him of his failure and denial. He was in Hell, the outer darkness, where, as C.S. Lewis declared, being fades away into non-entity. Then came Sunday...

The tomb of Christ was empty. An angel appeared exclaiming that he had risen, just as he said he would! The disciples were amazed when Jesus manifested his presence among them. Peter, however, was still in the belly of the whale.

Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. - John 21:1-3

Nothing could erase the pain he had caused. The old fisherman would have to bear this the rest of his life. He decided to leave the fellowship and return to fishing, to go it alone in the world. He had returned to his old pursuits. Envision Peter near the bow of the boat, staring blankly toward the shore, feeling lost and alone in the morning fog.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. - John 21:1-3

Just as Jesus had called him all those years ago, so too was he being called now.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. - John 21:7

Peter's heart burned within him. He knew where his heart was and in a beautifully Forest Gump-like moment, jumps off the boat while it is still out to sea. Just as Jonah was vomited upon the beach after his time in the belly of the whale, Peter swims ashore, crawls out on the sand, and sits down to breakfast with Jesus. The three nail wounds still ache in his soul...and Jesus knows this.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of Jonah, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." - John 21:15

Jesus doesn't hesitate. Had he left the old fisherman wounded, it would have been a scourge upon the rest of his life. He removes the first nail.

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of Jonah, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." - John 21:16

The second nail is removed.

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of Jonah, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" - John 21:17-19

The third and deepest nail was pulled hurts. It always does, but Peter's resurrection was complete. The old man had been crucified with Christ and now only the new man remained. Jesus foreshadows Peter's own death by inverted crucifixion, but it does not matter. Peter was now truly, as Jesus had named him, the Rock. He had been through fire, death, and water. What could man do to him? He was unstopable, unbreakable.

What nails need to be pulled out of your heart? What cross do you bear? Often we build up walls around our wounded parts to protect them, but the wounds do not heal. In essence, we create our own tomb. How have you created a tomb around your heart? Do you need to experience a resurrection in your life right now? Easter reminds us that there is hope in the midst of great darkness.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Rethinking Resurrection

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. Psalm 22:14-16

It is Good Friday. Christians around the world are commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. At first glance, it appears odd that such an observation would be known as Good Friday, but if we look deeper, look beyond, we will see that it is indeed...good.

Throughout the millennia, human beings have developed a mythos around the seemingly impossible hope of resurrection. It is a brave hope, a desire to overcome the ever nearing reality of the grave. The Sumerians who created the world's first civilization told the story of Dumuzi, a fertility god who was carried off to the underworld during the hot Summer months, only to rise again at the autumnal equinox. The mythology of the Egyptians describe the brutal murder of Osiris, his descent to the underworld, and his eventual resurrection and establishment of the god of afterlife. The Greeks held that Dionysus experienced a resurrection of sorts, as did the Persian Mithras. Polynesian legends speak of a divine eel that gave up its life, only to rise again as a coconut tree so that the islanders would be provided with sustenance.

Even our modern tales carry this primal desire aloft. I love how the movie Braveheart shows the impassioned rise of the warriors of Scotland following the horrific execution of William Wallace. Neo experiences death at the hands of computer-controlled agents of the Matrix, but then is restored with an even greater power and sense of purpose. Gandalf the Grey falls to his doom, doing battle with the demonic Balrog in the darkness of Moria, but is then reborn into Middle Earth as Gandalf the White, head of the Order. Resurrection is and always has been the great hope of humanity.

Nature itself conveys the deep longing. Spring turns to Summer, which turns to Autumn, then eventually to Winter. With a beautiful intensity, the endless Winter once again gives way to the joy of Spring. A seed dies, is buried, and rises again as a flowering plant, something much more majestic that it once was. The sun dies in the west and rises again in the east. Sorrow and death are overcome by laughter and splendor. All creation speaks of this mystery.

In the first century AD, Jesus of Nazareth, a real historical figure, embodied what all the myths had echoed throughout the centuries. He incarnated the hopeful mystery of restoration whispered by the first sweet winds of Spring and the bright rays of the dawn. Just as an author makes use of foreshadowing in a good novel, so too does the Author make use of this literary tool in the Great Story. Jesus was crucified on a hill called "The Skull" and buried in a rock tomb. This all happened on a Friday.

But You caused my life to ascend up from the pit, Yahweh, my God. - Jonah 2:6

The entombment of Christ is often compared metaphorically with an earlier biblical story, that of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, the prophet is swallowed by a whale due to his refusal to obey God. What is the significance of Jonah in the belly of the whale? Well, the belly is where digestion takes place. One substance is destroyed, broken down, and through this transformation, the substance is converted to energy. The tomb in ancient times was viewed in much the same way. The term "sarcophagus" literally means "flesh eater" because what was temporal wasted away in the tomb.

When the disciples of Jesus went to his tomb early Sunday morning, they found it empty. He had risen. Death had been overcome. Likewise, Jonah was vomited out on the shore, a changed man. The belly of the whale had digested the old self and had created a new man. The resurrection of Jesus pierced the veil that separated the temporal and the eternal, creating a way for humanity to partake in the same transformation that poets, prophets, storytellers, and nature itself expressed in epics, oracles, and the germinating seed.

Are you experiencing the belly of the whale right now? Are you sealed in some personal tomb? What is being digested and broken down in your life? Allow the transformative power of Christ's resurrection to create a new life within your heart, an Easter of your own. There is hope...never lose sight of this even in your darkest hours.

The sign of the cross has to be looked upon as a sign of eternal affirmation of all that ever was or shall ever be. It symbolizes not only the one historic moment on Calvary but the mystery through all time and space of God's presence and participation in the agony of all living things. - Joseph Campbell

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Rethinking Love II

Teenage relationships that are passionate, move fast, and lead to heartache and ruin. Just as Odysseus washed ashore on the island of Calypso, wounded and in pain, many adolescents run to the arms of the opposite sex for solace, a shelter in the midst of life’s storms. In essence, they end up seeking answers to their heart’s deep questions in another person. This is a recipe for disaster.

Counselors, teachers, and parents could tell countless tales of young girls who sought their answers from a teenage boy. They give of themselves physically, believing that if they give everything they have, the answers and healing they seek will be found. Usually, they find the opposite instead—more pain and more confusion. The boy will often feel smothered from the weight of the girl’s needs and will run from the situation. The girl will then be devastated by the loss of what she perceived as the quest object of her life and will despair. When you make someone else your life’s goal, you feel destroyed and hopeless if they leave.

The way adolescent boys end up running to girls as their source of healing and life’s answers can look a little different. A teenage boy may become subservient to a girl, catering to her every whim, just as Odysseus was made prisoner to Calypso. The girl may become more demanding and bossy and begin to look down upon her boyfriend for his neediness and lack of courage to stand up to her. This is typically because what drew her to the boy in the first place was his strong, untamed nature. Deep down, she isn’t looking for someone who needs her, she is hoping for someone who wants her. This may appear to be a subtle difference, but it is very significant. She will push and push, actually hoping to prod the boy into standing up to her demands. This may sound odd, but it occurs frequently.

A darker way in which some teenage boys take their quest to their girlfriends is through violence. Searching for healing and answers, a boy will sometimes feel strong anger toward the girl for not providing what his heart is seeking. In situations like these, abuse is common. In a move that seems to defy common sense, the girl, struggling with her own wounds and insecurities, will commonly stay with the abuser. Like Odysseus, these young people end up becoming captives of the very thing they found so alluring in the beginning. As Calypso served only to delay Odysseus’s journey home, so too do unhealthy relationships delay an adolescent’s quest to find the healing and heart-level answers for which they search.

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