Author: Amy Green

Don’t Live For Others

Have you ever thought about the hidden danger of being Mary Poppins?

The Disney version of the world’s coolest nanny is pretty, delightful, boundlessly creative, and a good singer on top of it all. Everyone, children and adults alike, adore and admire her, and she’s quite perceptive about the world.

Then, once she’s solved everyone’s problems, made people happy, and become a legendary figure, she just…drifts away.

She doesn’t really need anyone else—she’s practically perfect in every way, after all. And I can’t be the only one who’s thought, watching the Disney movie, that she seems rather lonely, despite the fact that she never seems to exhibit a stray emotion.

And it makes me wonder…is there a difference between being a beloved person…and being loved as a person?

Because, while I’m sure the Banks children will miss their temporary governess, are they really missing Mary Poppins herself, or just her magic? Just what she could do and the atmosphere she created? Come to think of it, we know very little about Mary herself. Not much slips through the controlled image she projects.

Disney producer Thomas Schumacher put it this way: “Who of us doesn’t want a Mary Poppins in our life? Someone to love us unconditionally, to be magical but not too sappy, to enchant us and to make everything right, and then to leave us to do it on our own.”

It’s a very good description. Anyone would want a Mary Poppins.

But I don’t think anyone would want to be one.

And yet, sometimes we are. Sometimes—often—I am.

Why?

Partly, it’s fear. Deep down, sometimes we doubt if we’re really all that likeable. If very few people really know us, they can’t hurt us, right? It’s easier, sometimes, to keep up a practical perfect persona than to risk others sticking around when we let it slip.

And then there’s pride. If we can do it all on our own—if they need us but we rarely need them—that makes us feel good about ourselves and our abilities. Admitting we are not fine or don’t know or need to talk would make that come crashing down in the time it takes to say “Please help.”

And maybe that’s the most dangerous thing about this: it looks so…holy from the outside.

We give of our time and energy and resources until we feel empty…but we never give ourselves, the most carefully-guarded parts of us, anyway. We are willing to serve, but never to accept service. We accept admiration and become a loveable icon and hope that it will be enough to make us feel acceptable and useful and worthy.

It won’t. It can’t be. If you live for others, you will soon find that they are fallible and frail, just like you. They can love you, and some of them will. They can see Jesus in your weakest attempts at imitating him. They are worthy of your time and attention, even when you feel you don’t have much left.

But they cannot give you purpose.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is beauty in giving, even to the point where you surrender your own desires over and over again for others. In an era where empowerment and self-fulfillment are virtues, I want to say something completely different, to applaud the quietly heroic sacrifices that many around me make every day.

But I also want to remind you, gently, that it’s not enough.

You can love others with all the strength you have. You can be magical but not too sappy. You can be enchanting and make everything right.

That’s not what God has called you to.

If you spend your whole life dispensing wise advice and cheery tunes and spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine go down, no matter how hard you work and how good you appear, in the end you’ll find it’s a hollow imitation of what your life could be.

Yes, love others. But let them love you. Stay when you could move on. Ask for prayer. Admit when you don’t understand. Mourn for something you’ve lost. Accept forgiveness. Most of all, live in confidence as a child of God, not as everyone’s favorite hero who’s practically perfect in every way.

LeFouGate, Part Two: A Christian Response

Have you ever had this strange, twingy, glance-over-the-shoulder feeling that something is wrong even when there are no obvious signs of it? That’s how I felt about my last blog post on Christians’ reaction to the announcement that LeFou would be portrayed as gay in Beauty and the Beast.

At first, I couldn’t pin down what was bothering me. Most everyone loved it. It was pretty mildly worded and cautious. I didn’t get sucked into the sarcasm trap or say anything that someone could take personally.

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And, although I felt like I didn’t cover nearly the ground I wanted to, the main message was helpful: if you’re going to be offended by something, be careful to explain why in a gracious way to start better discussions.

But there’s something important that I completely left out.

All of the sample explanations I gave were reasonably worded. Even if you totally disagree with their take on sexual ethics—whether homosexual relations are okay or not—I hope they came across simply as people taking a stand on something they believed.

But—and this is hard—I think some, even most, Christians were not just upset about a gay character in a Disney movie because of their interpretations of the Bible or because of their desire to maintain the innocence of their children.

They were upset because sometimes they do consider LGBT people offensive. They find the idea of loving others who deeply disagree with them in this area incredibly hard. Some are trying to work out what that looks like. Some, sadly, don’t want to. (more…)

The Wise and the LeFous: Responding to Beauty and the Beast

In the spirit of considering how to have better conversations on tricky things, I have a proposal for my Christian friends who are reacting to the news that Beauty and the Beast will feature a (sort of) gay character.

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(This post is mostly directed at Christians, some of whom are outraged, some of whom think this is no big deal, and a whole spectrum in between. If you’re not a Christian, read on! Just know that’s who I’m talking to.)

If you are joining in on a boycott of this movie over LeFou’s sexuality, I have a request: when you talk about it, especially on social media, can you explain why? Yourself, not trusting people to read an article and assume it states your position.

You don’t have to, obviously. You are free to post an article about LeFou being gay with just a mad emoticon. Or “Guess I’m not going after all…” or something like that.

I just think it would save you a lot of trouble in responding to comments if you elaborated a bit. More importantly, I struggle with the fact that many people view Christians only as “people who are against stuff.” If they don’t understand why this is an issue for you, you’re just one more tally mark in the “easily offended for no good reason” category.

Here are some examples that I thought of that might be helpful in avoiding the rage-fests I’m seeing in the comments. (more…)

When You’re Tired of Performing

The only thing weirder than visiting your old high school is being asked to give an impromptu speech to a group of students. I was a college freshman, stopping back for some boring errand like picking up a transcript, and I decided to say hi to my favorite teachers. During one of those stops, my choir director asked me to share the most important thing I’d learned in the past year in front of his freshman choir class.

Put on the spot, I panicked and said something bland about getting to know new people and always challenging yourself. I started every sentence with “I” and played right into the hard-work-pays-off script that I knew I was supposed to use.

Later that night, I realized what I should have said, something like this:

Last year, after our diplomas were stowed away who-knows-where and everyone faded into a sugar coma from countless slices of open house cake, everyone in my graduating class went our separate ways.

Most of us traveled to new communities, and it was scary and exciting, all at the same time. These new people hadn’t seen the awards we’d racked up, didn’t know what social group we’d been placed into, couldn’t even remember our names.

And each of us faced a choice. We could either try to build ourselves up again—carefully craft our image, subtly brag about ourselves, work hard, become known as the smart one, the talented one, the hot one, the funny one, whatever we wanted.

We could work and train and charm and achieve, longing to be known and understood and admired…until the next time we had to start over. College graduation. A first job. Another new city. And the cycle would continue, over and over again.

Or we could step away and say, “It’s not about me, and it never was.” We could love and serve and forgive and try and sometimes fail…and live in freedom, not just from the pressure of impressing others, but from the need to make ourselves feel worthwhile.

That’s what I’ve learned this year. I want to choose purpose instead of performance.

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There’s what I should have told them. It’s not the story we usually hear, not from our educational system, not from the American Dream, and not even, sometimes, from the church.

I see the bestselling Christian books and blogs, the articles people are sharing and the verses in flowy Instagram script, and I want to remind you and me and everyone I know:

The way to choose purpose instead of performance, the way to be free from the cycle of impressing others is to realize that life is not about you.

Even the Bible is not about you. It’s not a book you can flip open to gain a better self-image or sense of belonging, not a horoscope chart, not a personality quiz that tells you which Harry Potter character or zoo animal or obscure punctuation mark you’re most like.

It’s about God.

I think I get that in theory, but just like my eyes scan a group picture to inspect my own face, I find myself looking first in the Bible for me.

Don’t get me wrong: “How does this apply to my life?” is a great question to ask. If you hear your heart’s cry in the Psalms, ask which character in Jesus’ parables acts most like you, and feel an uncomfortably personal scolding in James or Proverbs, you’re not doing anything wrong.

But what has helped me most in hard times is not seeing myself in the Bible, but seeing Jesus.

My first winter in Minnesota was difficult—the kind of difficult where you finally brave the biting wind long enough to raise your eyes up from the frozen, salt-scorched sidewalks…and find that you are utterly alone in a new state: friendless, directionless, and very, very cold.

So I taped a paper on my bedroom door where I wrote down things that were true about God, no matter what I felt at the time.

It wasn’t until later that I realized why: for the first time in a very long time, I wasn’t sure about myself, who I was, where I fit. All of that comfort and security had been taken away—the old friends and routines and measurements of accomplishment.

But God hadn’t changed, and what I knew to be true about him was more important that trying desperately to work out my identity again. When I read the Bible, it was less about a to-do list or an emotional connection with the text and more about how what I knew about God would change the way I lived.

I find myself circling back to this conclusion this winter. Not because I’m in the same place I was three years ago, but because the world is looking pretty depressing, and I find people asking, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year?”

I immediately try to string together something brilliant, questions whirring through my mind in the face of fears and uncertainties and strong opinions: What should I say? How can I convince people? What stances will I take, and does it even matter?

Me, me, me, me. As if I could save the world. (I want to.) As if all that matters is what others think of me. (It doesn’t.) As if I have all the answers. (I don’t.)

So I stop. And this time, I say the right thing. I tell you what I didn’t tell that choir class years ago.

It does not matter what I’ve learned this year. Not really. My opinions may change, my tastes certainly will. My clever connections and original ideas have been done before, my encouraging speeches will fade away and be forgotten.

What matters is what I know about God and how that changes me.

What matters is what you know about God and how that changes you.

Have you learned something new about the God you worship lately?

Set aside the devotional books and the encouraging podcasts for a moment, clear away the expectations, inspirational quotes, promises to claim, and all the other good-but-not-ultimate spiritual clutter that can set us as the center of our universe.

Then ask God to reveal who he is as you pray, worship, and read the Word.

When we do that, when we focus on God instead of us, we can finally stop performing and start really living.

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How Terrible is This Generation, Really?

Sometimes, I think things are as bad now as they’ve ever been, and probably getting worse.

Our politics are worse than anything since the fall of the Roman Empire, technology has distanced people from the idyllic Little House on the Prairie style of togetherness and contentment, and this generation has a behavior chart full of black marks in nearly every category.

And then I read about vinegar valentines, and I realize that people have always been awful.

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If, like me, you hadn’t heard of this tradition, here’s the short version: from 1850s to 1940s, greeting card companies made cards you could send to people you hated. Or at least people you wanted to make fun of, along with a caricature and a poem pointing out their particular flaw.

This was not an isolated thing. Thousands of these cards were delivered anonymously every year, and not just to your frenemies, but to random people in your life like your banker, shop clerk, or doctor. (more…)

“Love at First Fight” Valentines

This one’s a little different than my past Valentine’s Day series, which were more focused (Theologian Valentines and Lord of the Rings Valentines). But I have to say, I enjoy a good story where lovers start out as fighters.

If your romance started out with conflict (or at least some witty banter), these cards are for you. Enjoy!
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We’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled blogging next week. Happy Valentine’s Day from the Monday Heretic!

Any suggestions for other lovers and fighters?

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The Han Solo Approach to the Refugee Ban Debate

Looking at my social media feed, you’d think everyone in the United States just divided themselves into two distinct groups overnight: humanitarians and Hitlers. Or bleeding heart liberals and pragmatic conservatives. Or media-crazed, oversensitive hype-mongers and fearful, Muslim-hating hypocrites. Depending on your point of view.

It feels like we’re all trapped in this permanent cycle of hashtags and clickbait and memes and soundbites from biased news sources forming a swirl of emotion and propaganda around every major headline. And I do not like it. Even when I’m doing research, collecting others’ perspectives, and trying to find objectivity, it’s difficult for me not to default to either fear or anger. Maybe worse, I feel pressure to have an instant reaction instead of taking time to consider all sides of a complex issue.

I don’t know about you, but I want out. I want some kind of cultural reset button where I can be sure that I’m thinking critically about this issue and others without being influenced by the clamor of uninvited factors screaming to distract my attention.

That’s why this post is not about what I think about the refugee crisis. It’s about how I’m trying think. I don’t want to add to the noise. I just want to offer some questions for consideration.

Many Christians who disagree with Trump’s latest executive order temporarily banning refugees from seven primarily Muslim countries are voicing concerns like: we have a responsibility to oppose this ban because the Bible teaches us to protect “the least of these” and love our neighbors, even (especially) those who disagree with our beliefs.

Because of the sheer number of my friends who have posted something along those lines in the past few days, I want to say right up front: this is not wrong. Our hearts should be engaged in questions of international policy. And Jesus’ words do have bearing on practical issues.

Here’s the problem, though: only saying those things doesn’t address the best arguments of the other side.

Basic principle of discussing a complex issue: you don’t spend all your time hacking apart a weak, less common argument while the actual issue stands behind you, clearing its throat and waiting for you to notice.

Be like Han Solo. You see Darth Vader in a room, you shoot at Darth Vader. You don’t duck into the hall and take on one of his underlings. Even if you know you have a greater chance of success blasting at a Stormtrooper and that your attack on the Sith himself might not make an impact, still: shoot at Vader.

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In this case, I’d say Stormtrooper options—the arguments only a few people are making that can be easily dismissed, on both sides—are things like: “Christian lives are more valuable than Muslim lives,” “We should let anyone in who claims to need help without any screening,” or “We should ban all immigration and become completely isolationist.”

For the most part, taking on these issues is the easy way out, because not many people believe them. There will be friends who disagree with me on this, but I don’t think it’s fair to accuse others of saying these things when they probably aren’t. (more…)