Friday, February 14, 2014

"LOVE" IS A LIE

My husband recently preached a sermon on marriage. Afterwards, a young man came up to him and told him it was a good sermon, but he didn't think romantic love could really exist. More and more people of this generation are thinking like this, and I think it warrants discussion.

What do we mean by romantic love? Is it the fluttery heart and magical infatuation that most romantic comedies are based on? Because that most definitely is not something to believe in. That most definitely is a lie. If you want to get jaded about something, by all means attack that.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this person who does not believe in romantic love is speaking out of hurt.

These women who hurt you, did they do so out of a lack of faith in love? Did they not follow their hearts enough?

No. People hurt others in relationships not out of failure of love, but of failure of character. When you fail to respect the other person fully, to guard their reputation, to protect their decency, to leave the appropriate distance in place until you are ready to commit, that's when people get hurt.

Romantic love does not thrive on magic or feeling, it thrives on covenant. The promise to care for someone always, then actually doing it. Always. Even when you don't feel like it. If you're not willing to do that for someone, stay away. If you don't, you're just using them. That's the big problem with our culture's notion of romantic love. It's rooted in selfishness.

Let's take one of the biggest 'sermons' on love, the movie "The Notebook." Boy meets girl, they get all infatuated, they cross boundaries before the commitment is in place, then they get separated. During the course of the story, boy starts sleeping with his best friend's widow and casts her aside as soon as he has another chance at girl 1. Where is the honor in that? Girl 1 gets engaged to someone else but throws it all away to spend a naked weekend with boy. She didn't even bother to break off the engagement first. I'm supposed to believe that such selfish honor-less children make it through the years to become the sweet old people at the end? Nope.

This is preaching that we don't need strength of character, we don't need to keep our word no matter what, and we don't need to respect the boundaries of others. We just need to figure out the object of our selfishness and destroy all else to serve that. Their idea of love is a sort of feeling, and “I feel like it” is not a good enough reason to ruin someone’s life.

So to those who are jaded in their view of love, I get you. Please by all means disbelieve in most portrayals of romantic love. Go ahead. Write it off.

BUT

If you can manage to believe in men and women of character, then maybe true love is possible.

“It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Lauren Spallone

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Defense of Geekery

I was in the middle of a craft, when someone asked me what I was cutting out. I considered lying but then I told the truth. "Its from Star Wars" I told her. "The symbol of the rebel alliance." Her eyes widened slightly and she found something nice to say. I felt bad for a moment. Did I just sound like a childish crazy person?

The moment made me think. There's been a few moments recently when my geekery has slipped out. I've actively hid it over the years, but why?

I'll not readily admit it all the time, but I'm a pretty big geek. I'm probably more familiar with the rules of quidditch than american football. I have to think twice before I can pronounce “Anthropological”, but I can get “Raxacoricofallapatorius” on the first try. I'm more familiar with the battle of Hoth than the battle of Gettysburg. I probably know more ancient history of middle earth than ancient roman history. I can name more fictional space ships than NASA space shuttles.

Does this make me an escapist? Someone out of touch with reality? Childish? I used to think so, but as I've grown up, I no longer do. Mankind is meant to learn through story, and not just story that actually happened. We lost that around the time of the Enlightenment. We seem to have this strange idea that the best way to teach or convey meaning is through over simplified propositional outlines. It's not. It's merely the quickest way to get someone to repeat it, not actually learn it. Do you want to learn about racial reconciliation? I'll tell you about Legolas and Gimli. Brotherly love? I'll tell you about Simon and River Tam on the Serenity. Want to discuss life, loss, love, courage and sacrifice? Let's watch Doctor Who. 

Why do we teach history? Not just because it happened, there are plenty of things that happened that nobody cares about. We teach important things that happened. What makes something important? It changes us; it effects who we are and how we function today. I argue that the same can be said for many events that haven't exactly occurred in our timeline.

I've been uniquely shaped by stories. In my childhood, I felt more a citizen of Narnia than America. Everything is a story. Time, from beginning to end, is a story. In the scope of the universe, is one little human life so different from a story that a human crafted? Christians believe that our real lives come after death. Doesn't that make us all made up stories, living outside of reality?

In that perspective, why can't I put a Rebel symbol in my house? It represents demonstrated courage, fighting for goodness and truth. It would be much more socially acceptable to display a heart, which is supposed to represent love but is usually boiled down to empty cuteness. Why am I weird for choosing the former?


Lauren

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Culture Shock


We had been back in Miami for about a week and were having dinner at an Outback Steakhouse with some good friends of ours. The food had been good, the conversation better. I excused myself to go to the loo. It felt weird asking for the bathroom. Maybe it's that hard 'aaa' sound in the word. It just feels obnoxious.

I walked in and my eyes for a moment rested on the hand soap. It said "English lavender". For some reason, it stopped me dead in my tracks. The moment I read the words, I was instantly taken back to a very different place. I remembered all the times I had smelled English lavender. The deep, rich color, the fat little bumblebees buzzing around. The long shady pathways along which they grew. The sweet friends who let me pick as much as I wanted from their garden. 


What struck me most about the memory was the sense of quiet. Every memory I had of lavender was quiet and peaceful. I blinked and found myself back in an outback bathroom. My eyes watered a bit. I had been following routine and doing the normal Miami things but everything felt wrong and had felt wrong for a while, I just hadn't known what it was. It was the lack of overall quiet. There was music blaring, even in the bathroom. There were TV’s on the walls, in a place people purposely went to spend time together. The lights were alternately too bright and too dim and people were not keeping their voices respectfully low. There were too many lights, too many noises. I wanted to go home to my peaceful quiet England.

Back to the place where people gathered around tea to talk instead of tv to be entertained. To where the average person would never use the word "need" in relation to upgrading a smart phone. Where people purposely went outside to seek out the green and silence.

I miss the long quiet pathways and the quiet cobblestone alleys.




 I miss quiet churchyards and quiet graveyards. 





I miss interaction that does not revolve around noise, activity and entertainment.


But now I'm in Miami for good. Gaudy, excessive, distracted, magical Miami. And I have to figure out how to get rid of this feeling of wanting to go home.

Also, the soap didn't even smell anything like lavender. It smelled like soap.



I think you'll be happy to hear that Anthony isn't feeling any culture shock at all.

Lauren 

Monday, September 2, 2013

From the City of Dreaming Spires to the Magic City


“In spite of the roaring of the young lions at the Union, and the screaming of the rabbits in the home of the vivisect, in spite of Keble College, and the tramways, and the sporting prints, Oxford still remains the most beautiful thing in England, and nowhere else are life and art so exquisitely blended, so perfectly made one.” Oscar Wilde

Aerial View of Oxford

It’s hard to believe, but our time here in Oxford has come to an end. I’m spending my last night in one of my favorite places here, in the Bodleian Library. Specifically, I like to sit in the Upper Radcliffe by the window so I can look out the window into the Quad of All Souls College with its magnificent two towers blessing this little city with its glory. I can see why W.B. Yeats was inspired to write about this college at night.
From All Soul’s Night by W.B. Yeats

Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell 
And many a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls' Night.
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost's right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.
 
Before Lauren and I came to Oxford we each filmed a video about our expectations and what we were looking forward too. You can see it here and here if you would like. I know most people say that its wise to not have great expectations for something lest it let you down so rather have low or no expectations for something so if it isn’t great then you wont be let down. I guess there are times in life where that is true but it was too hard to not get excited about moving to England and in particular Oxford. It didn’t disappoint.

Lauren's Goodbye at Wolvercote Cemetery (J.R.R. Tolkien's Grave)


Anthony's Goodbye at the Kiln's (C.S. Lewis' House)


What I liked about Oxford?
-The amount of one on one time you get with professors.
-Seminars typically have no more than 12 students in them so you can have a lot more dialogue.
-The Bodleian Library has every book I need plus it is a great place to study.
-I actually know my professors on a first name basis & they treat us as equals.
-I can write from an evangelical perspective and not receive criticism as long as I back up my arguments. Try writing a persuasive essay about complementarianism at Harvard or Yale without receiving points of your grades.  

What I didn’t like about Oxford?
-The weather in winter and the food. I lost 32 pounds and can’t wait to tear up some good old ‘Merican food!

Oxford (by the way it’s not in London!) is a town of only 165,000 people made up of a huge student population. The University’s motto is “The Lord is my Light.” It’s the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It was officially founded in the 13th century but there is evidence of it really starting 200 years before that. Notable alumni and professors (known as Oxonians) are John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Erasmus of Rotterdam, William Penn, George Whitefield, John Wesley, J.I. Packer, N.T. Wright, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, Dorothy Sayers, Lewis Carroll, T.S. Elliot, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, and Albert Einstein to name a few. 

There is just so much church history that happened in this little town too. In a sense, the Protestant Reformation started in Oxford with John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century. He was the Master (Principal) of Balliol College at Oxford University. He used Oxford’s library for his research and taught the students there some of the essentials of the Reformation. That’s why Wycliffe is known as “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” The Holy Club was started at Christ Church with the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield, which eventually led to the Great Awakening. And just sixty years ago the famous Inklings would meet primarily at the Eagle and Child (known by the locals as the Bird and the Baby). The Inklings were an informal writing group of mostly Oxford dons that met on a weekly basis to drink good beer, smoke their old fashioned pipes, and read their great writings to one another. The two most famous people in this group were none other than C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Plus, Harry Potter was filmed in different parts of Oxford :)

The Baby and the Bird sign from the 1950's (now at the Kiln's)

God has also blessed us with what Lauren and I call “Friends for Life” regardless of where we all end up on this earth. I’m thinking particularly of the Rounds who have been so kind to us and made us feel like family. We can’t forget the Brian’s who moved to New Orleans but who helped us in our first week here in a tremendous way (plus Will taught me how to smoke a pipe :). Rich and Christine Park are our Cali friends who completely sympathize with us in how much they miss American food. They are hardcore though; they eat turtle soup just like our former president William Taft did. There are many more “FFL” that we have made here but we couldn’t imagine this past year without these relationships.

What I also noticed is after being here a while you feel like the magic rubs off on you. Walking around the beautiful dreaming spires inspires your soul to not want to waste your life. I am convinced that distraction is one of the biggest tools that Satan uses to keep us from living out our callings with vigour and steadfastness. These people who did great things for God here in this little town devoted themselves to the Lord with everything they had no matter the cost. When I am on my deathbed am I really going to wish I watched more Duck Dynasty (although it is a great show), read more blogs, and kept up to date on social media? Nope. Not that these things are necessarily bad but they can cause us to lose focus on things of eternal weight. Oxford has encouraged me to take this saying to heart: “Only one life twill soon be past, only what is done for Christ will last.”


The great thing is that the story isn’t finished, Jesus hasn’t fully redeemed his prize yet, and the Shire lives on in our hearts. Now it’s time for us to bring what we have learned to Miami. But we are different people and it feels good. I believe we love Jesus more intensely, love each other more deeply, and want to serve Miami more fully. We needed to go away to grow and mature. One author has said, "Every person changes like seasons. Everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons." The other day I cut off all my hair that I had grown over my year in Oxford. It symbolized the closing of an era. But now we are on to even greater things! 

I have a longing in my heart to see God move in Miami in a mighty way. I know that I am just a weak, miserable, wrecked sinner. But God is not going to build his church in Miami on me or any other man. He is going to build His church on Christ, who is the Rock of the church. I just pray that He would allow us to be apart of something great in my lifetime. Oh that more people might come to know you whether it is in Oxford or Miami or the 10/40 Window. Please build your church my Lord and keep us in Your grace.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Anthony

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Not So Little Mermaid by Lauren




My dearest Livonia,

I do not hear often from home. My old friends are distant and the birds and fishes who used to share my adventures have moved on. Only Flounder is left, and even he is growing apart from me. Never the less, news has been brought to me of your behavior at court recently. You have been neglecting royal concerts, talking back to our father and behaving oddly. In short, you are behaving as I did. I may be away from home but I am still a princess, albeit a human one.

You are coming close to your 16th year, the year that I left. I can see the path you are on and I want you to be aware of the choices you are making. I wish someone had told me how things would turn out beforehand. If our dear mother had not died so young, I might have had guidance. I might not have gone to that horrid sea witch and swallowed all the vile advice she gave me. You know full well how all that unfolded. I'm sure my scandal is still being talked about, if only as a word of warning to young daughters. I want you to know, from me directly, what came of things.

It is difficult. I feel alone. I never see my old friends anymore. The People, the ones I always longed to know, are strange and foreign to me. My ignorance of their ways was cute at first, but I am getting more and more dirty looks for not knowing the proper etiquette. I thought I knew so much about this world, but it was mostly lies from that blasted bird. It wouldn't be so bad, if I could hide myself as a strange hermit until I learned more but I married the prince, and now I have courtly duties. I stand and greet foreign dignitaries with a plastered on smile, with the weird bow people with legs do. They changed my name to something more pronounceable in their tongue and made up a story about my past. Apparently being from the sea is not respectable enough for this dingy little kingdom. Sometimes I want to shout, "I am Ariel, daughter of Triton, ruler of the sea!" But I smile demurely and go along with whatever nonsense they are discussing.

Also, Gravity is really tiresome when you feel it ALL the time.  These stupid legs get tired. Not like swimming from the eastern trench to fathers grotto kind of tired, but standing absolutely still for too long gets tiring! And these gowns! They are indeed pretty, but heavy and stifling. I long for my seashells but they have taken them and hidden them somewhere. If I find out they have been destroyed, I will seriously hurt someone.

It took me a little while to discover that I had lost the ability to breathe in both worlds. I went swimming and realized that I had to hold my breath. I longed to stay under and seek out old friends for just a few minutes, but I could not even speak under the water! It was like the witch had taken my voice all over again. I sat on the shore and wept.

I do love my husband, or so I tell myself. I had only met him once, when he was not even conscious, before I went to the sea witch and tried to make him love me with nothing to offer but my body. How foolish I was! It makes me cringe to think of it. Still, we did marry so very quickly and we are finding it difficult to get to know each other. He is so busy, he'll be king soon, and when we talk its hard to understand each other. Our lives before we met were so different. We spend the whole time trying to explain what something is, we can never get to the point of the story we are trying to tell. It gets a bit frustrating. Most times we give up and talk about court duties. It's then that I feel very alone.

I tell you all these things so that you may grow wise. Leaving everything for "love" is a high sounding idea but an empty one. Enjoy where you are, be grateful. Respect your father and do not think that you know better than your elders. You are a beautiful princess; you do not need to offer your body to gain love. You have so much more to offer.

I send you all my love. I hope this reaches you soon. Give my love to our sisters, if they will hear it.

Sincerely,
Ariel

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An Awfully Big Adventure


Things I haven't done in a year (or more):
- Driven a car
- Worn high heels
- Eaten a mango
- Gone swimming
- Seen the ocean
- Hugged my mother
- Seen any of my family (minus David and Laura and Jonathan)
- Heard Cuban Spanish
- Drank Cuban coffee
- Eaten croquettas or pastelitos.


If I am not mistaken, all of those things are integral to Miami life. I miss home very badly. But I love it here so very very much. We both have grown in unpredictable ways and we are no longer the same people. That should be fine, because I'm sure Miami is not the same city. It's a place that is constantly new, constantly building, trying new things, expanding. We won't fit in the same way we did before, and it wouldn't be right for us to try either.

We can't wait to see old friends and pick those relationships back up in a new way, but things are going to be different. We went away from home in our early twenties, a season of intense life change. Everyone else in our generation is going through those huge changes. People are getting first girlfriends, getting married, having babies. People are deciding careers, pursuing grad school, moving on from first jobs. People are getting fat, loosing weight, realizing we are not teenagers anymore. Siblings and younger friends are graduating high school, leaving home for the first time, testing the waters of more complex college coursework. There are not many other seasons in life where two quick years can make such a difference.

It's hard to handle it at first. Ours is a generation of nostalgia. We like retro everything. Toy Story 3 made us cry our eyes out. We constantly post "Remember the 80's/90's?" picture posts about old toys, candy and TV shows. It's hard to swallow the idea of things coming to an end as long as you believe that the past held the best memories you'll ever have. It's not true. The best is yet to come. As long as you hold on to that, everything is an awfully big adventure.

The pond in University Parks

Yesterday, Anthony and I went to the park. We sat by the pond and watched the little brown ducks dive in and out of the water under the brilliant sunlight. Anthony had read a quote from one of our favorite books:

"We went often that autumn to our local pub, The Lamb and Flag. There, amidst the dark throwers we would sit in the corner...and talk. There was a sort of realization in us that it was we two again. All this grey magic of Oxford would fade away, but we, we should go on, we should be together, back to back if need be. In us in all these talks was the sense that the time was ending, the Oxford time, and was ending, we felt, at the right moment. " A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

We felt it applied to us in an eerily similar way and we sat there quietly, a little sad about leaving behind such a beautiful place as Oxford. We forgot the future adventure for a minute. We still can't see very far past that one-way ticket back to Miami. Then we were reminded. A sweet older lady asked to share our bench. I had been secretly checking out her classy hair and awesome outfit from across the pond. We struck up a conversation and she was very excited to find that we were headed into ministry. "Oh!" She said, leading forward and looking me straight in the eye "I'm so glad! That's the best job you could ever have, a pastor's wife!" Her husband joined us and told us cool stories about men he has worked with whose names I recognized from our bookshelves. Men like John Stott and Martin Lloyd Jones. At the end of the conversation, the wife said again, "I'm so jealous of you, you're just starting out!"

Anthony with the older couple

That meeting was sufficient to kill my 'leaving Oxford' pity party. It won't always be easy, but like the old Tony Bennett song, I really believe "The best is yet to come."

Lauren

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Jerusalem, if I forget you… (Part 2)


2 Chronicles 32:30
It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook.


The entrance of Hezekiah's Tunnel

My favorite part I think was Hezekiah’s tunnel. In a touristy little area that calls itself "The city of David" just outside the walls of the old city, there are some archeological diggings. Now we wandered into this place on day 4 or so of the trip and I was not super interested in every last pile of rocks we passed. I rushed Anthony through that part because we were running late (as always) and the place was going to close. Finally we came to some steps that went down, and down, and into the rock, and down some more. There were a few more informational plaques about various pottery found there but again, I wasn't interested. At the very bottom the path split off into two tunnels. One was a well lit short walk through a narrow tunnel with a high ceiling that was supposedly made by the Canaanites. The other was a stone archway leading into darkness. That was where we wanted to go.


We had a quick look in the Canaanite tunnel to be sure we weren't missing anything, then prepared to enter Hezekiah’s tunnel. I had read about it beforehand and it sounded like a cool experience, walk through the old waterway under the city. We put our sneakers and trousers in our bags. (I was wearing leggings. Anthony went in his boxers) and got out a tiny LED keychain flashlight they sold in the gift shop. I tightened the straps on my backpack, turned on the tiny light, took a deep breath and stepped into the tunnel. 

I was surprised to find after taking two steps in that I wasn't in the tunnel at all. There was a rock wall in front of me. Instead, to the side, there was a small crawl space that seemed to emanate blackness and the sound of rushing water. I backed out quickly. "That's the tunnel?!" Anthony rattled of his list of reassurances. Its perfectly safe, thousands of people have done it, etc. He asked if I was ready. I told him I was terrified but I couldn't wait to do it.
  
I made him go first. We stepped into the blackness through the tiny hole and immediately the water was up to our knees, then thighs and the sound of rushing water was deafening. I found my legs shaking a bit. I clung to the back of Anthony's backpack and forced myself a few more steps. The water went down and it got a bit quieter. We continued along, sloshed through the water and felt narrow stone walls on either side. The only light was the keychain. 

Anthony loving every moment of it

I started to calm down a bit. It was rather peaceful sloshing along slowly through a pitch black narrow path. Then I thought I heard something behind me. I looked back and the sheer blackness of it made my heart race and I squeezed my eyes shut and grabbed onto Anthony. It took another moment, but we continued on. Once I pulled myself together, it was actually really cool. We saw chisel marks from thousands of years ago and thought of the people who made them. We walked along quietly meditating on the sheer oldness of it, how many people, kings, empires have come and gone over the head of this little tunnel. 

Then, behind us at the entrance of the tunnel, teenagers entered. We knew they were teenagers because they were loud and purposely stupid sounding. They shouted and did not stop for a single minute for the duration of their walk through the tunnel. The walk takes about 45 minutes. We tried to stay ahead of them to preserve some of the quiet. It didn’t work. If there is one thing that gets to me, it’s loud noises and small spaces in combination. When we finally made it into the sunshine outside, I needed to sit down. It was a turning point, I think. It made me realize that I can handle much more than I thought. The experience is worth the fear and difficulty. I can see and experience so much more in life, now that I’m willing to have a go at conquering it.

My terrified yet excited face

Lauren