The Woods, Part 1

woods1“Don’t go into the woods,” they said.

“There are things unspeakable that happen beyond the village wall.”

“I hear there are monsters,” another warned. “I’ve heard about how they’re waiting just inside the tree line to grab you and make you their dinner.”

“Oh, yes!” cried another, her eyes growing as big as saucers as she spoke (not really, but you know what I mean). “They have eyes that see in the dark and claws like razor blades. They will tear you apart slowly, drooling as they hear your screams. Then they will eat you and nothing will be left to show that you ever existed.”

The thought of this sent shivers down my spine. Not that I would be such a great feast, but I’d like to think I would at least be a tasty appetiser.

“Yes. yes! Beware of stepping off the narrow path,” whispered a tall, rather plain-looking woman whom I recognised as my schoolteacher. “Many have thought that there is nothing to lose, and these are the same who lost their lives to the terrible creatures of the woods.”

She continued: “The elders have a book in which they’ve written the names of all who have strayed from the one path to the river and have never returned . . .” (Her voice faded away as if she were channelling the spirit of one of the dear departed.)

Suddenly, as if she was snapping out of a trance, she turned and looked directly at me. “You knew Robert.” she stated, rather matter-of-factly..

Everyone knew Robert. He was the village clown-slash-idiot. Funniest guy I ever met. We used to love hanging around him. He was the life of the party because of his uncanny way of summing up every situation with the most hilarious comedic commentary. His jokes, though sometimes verging on the border of insults, had most of us in tears–and sometimes our sides ached for days.

“Yeah. Of course I knew Robert.”

“He went out into the woods one day . . . and  n e v e r   r e t u r n e d . . .”

True. We haven’t heard anything from Robert for around 5 years now. Once he went into the woods, a renewed fear became the norm in the village. There was debate over how this could have happened. Training was given in the used of swords, spears, and fighting skills. There was also a great ceremony about writing his name in The Book, and then the Town Crier went up and down the streets of the village, calling out a list of misdeeds of which the elders had declared Robert guilty: neglecting his family, turning his back on the goodness of his village, being enticed by a desire to know more than any mortal should know. The list went on, but it was all gobbledegook to me. His own family, while never ever recovering their former happiness, seemed to write him off and go on with their lives as if he had never existed.

“But what about the birds?” I asked. “They fly into the forest every day, and happily return the next day with full stomachs and cheery songs.”

“Of course they do,” an older woman called out from behind me. I turned. “They have a special spell cast over them and the monsters don’t harm them.”

“But what about the rabbits, the foxes, the deer . . .?”

“You’d better stop asking questions, sonny.” This time it was my Uncle Tony in his low, soothing–yet stamped-with years-of experience–voice. “We all want to know what happens outside our village wall, but that is a mystery that we must learn to live with. There are some things its best we don’t know. Surely the elders who have looked after us so well for the thousands of years would never want anything but the absolute best for us.”

Uncle Tony, although getting on in years, was sharp as a tack. Of anyone in the village, he was deemed to be the wisest and most revered. He had often spoken about the value of ‘staying with the family’ and being active in village life. He didn’t just talk about it, but he lived it every day. There was nobody who thought ill of this man. It was said his own son was one of those whose names were in The Book.

I nodded. More out of respect than out of a sense that I could agree with anything he was saying. After all, nobody–at least nobody in my memory–had ever really seen the elders. (There’s a story about the old baker who happened upon an elder about 70 years ago when he was delivering bread to the castle. Apparently he came back down the hill quite fearful and shaken and nothing he said after that ever seemed to make sense. Regardless, that was only hearsay, legend. Nobody made much of it.)

And so life in the village continued.

Every morning I watched the sun rise beyond the great woods and watched it cast its golden beams into the trees. I saw birds rise up out of the forest singing. I heard the sounds of animals greeting the dawn, and felt a growing sense of wanting to know what was beyond the village wall.

(To be continued)

Peter: A Good Friday Story

Enlight1I imagine Simon Peter as a rough fisherman-type man. He’s probably salty-mouthed, says-whatever-he-thinks, does-anything-for-you type of guy. In my mind’s eye, I see him as what we in Australia would call a “bogan.” (Chances are, if he lived in South Australia, he’d be a Port Adelaide footy fan, listen to bands like AC/DC and Chisel, and drink cartons upon cartons of West End.)

So imagine with me the moments after Jesus’ death and his friends are preparing his body for burial. They’ve been asked to say a few words before he’s put into the tomb.

This is Peter’s story.

Hi. I’m Simon, son of Jonas. You might know me better as Peter ‘cuz that’s the name Jesus gave me. Y’know, when he said that “Who do you say that I am?’ line? I just can’t get what he was after, I mean He was the promised Messiah, right? So that’s what I said and he answered by giving me this name. He said,”You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” What? Seriously?I’m a fisherman. I can’t make sense of that. But Jesus was like that. He told it like it is.

I remember some of his sermons. I reckon I stayed awake through most of them…. It’s kinda hard when you fish all night and then spend the day in the hills with thousands of people around you. But what I did catch was that Jesus was all about people and people knowing and helping other people. I mean, like really serious about helping other people in the way that he helped people. He didn͛t seem to get tired of teaching us, even when we didn’t listen.

He also loved kids and I guess that’s why he like threatened those who abused them with stuff like”It would be better if you had heavy weights tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea than to offend one of these little oness.” He loved the kids.

There were some awesome days. Like when me and James and John and Jesus climbed Mt Tabor— amazing view from there! And we were like looking around to see if we spot our town. The view is really amazing! Anyhoo, Jesus just like *transforms* into some incredible angel-like being—like an alien or something from another planet. We were all standing around like gob-smacked. Couldn’t believe it. And weirder still two other alien-like people stood next to him and I swear they were the prophets Moses and Elijah. We like just stood there and didn’t know what to do. Best I could come up with is”Hey Jesus, why don’t we set up three tents for you and them two.” I’m glad he ignored that comment ‘cuz it was a little stupid, looking back now.

Jesus sure knew how to confuse a bloke. He told us that we were gonna rule with him in his kingdom, that we would sit on 12 thrones. Then he said that the greatest of us is a servant, and we had to become like a little child to enter the kingdom. He chose us and called us to follow him knowing that one of us would turn him over to the Romans to be killed. … Can’t quite figure that one out.

Seriously, but. Jesus was a top bloke. He was a good mate who always looked after you. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He didn͛t have a bad bone in his body. When we went to parties—and we went to a lot of parties– he was there to turn the water into wine. Whoa! How good was that?! We loved it when we would go into a town and crowds would flock around us like seagulls around kids with chips.

But things got nasty. The temple crowd wouldn’t have a bar of Jesus and wanted to knock him off. We could see it a mile away. But Jesus … I wish I had done things differently now. I tried to warn him about coming to Jerusalem, but he like wouldn͛t listen. He got quite stroppy at me and said something like”Get behind me Satann.” (Man. That hurt!)

I … I just wish I could have been stronger. This whole business came crashing down around us real sudden. We ate Passover dinner with Jesus and, next thing, Judas leaves. We left the house and walked a few k’s down the road to this garden and it was late and we were a bit tired and Jesus told us to like wait and went off by himself to pray. He knew something was going down but we just fell asleep waiting. Then the Roman soldiers came with the priests, Judas kissed Jesus and they arrested him … and we were all so scared, and we ran away.

Should’ve stayed. Should have stayed and gone to the trial at least. Mind you, I did go back to the Chief Priest͛s house later that night to see what was happening, but that didn͛t turn out so well.

If only I … but it’s too late for that now. He’s gone. There’s nothing we can do. That’s how it ends.

I remember that night when me and James and John were fishing and a storm came up. We thought our boat would like go under and we would all die. Then Jesus, Jesus comes walking on top of the water towards us! I thought it was a ghost. We were all like terrified. I thought it looked like Jesus. He sounded like Jesus. I said,”If it is you, Lord, ask me to come to you”—and he said “Come.” And I stepped out of the boat and walked on top of the water towards him. I was walking on the water!! But … but when I suddenly saw what I was doing, Ithought,”No way. This isn͛t possible.” And I  started to sink into the water. Jesus saved me. He pulled me up and we got into the boat. He shouted something like”Be still” into the wind and the sea became like glass and the clouds vanished.

If I had the chance to do it all again, I would. I never would have imagined that following Jesus would take me on such an adventure. We had some great times together, the thirteen of us. Yeah, there were some bad times as well, some disappointments, some things I wish we could do over. I wish I would have trusted Jesus more and I wish I would have stood up for him . . . Maybe, maybe things wouldn͛t have turned out this way.

We’ll miss you, mate. Thanks for believing in me even at those times when I didn’t believe in you.

(What Your Dentist Knows) About the Secret to Life

Dr. Kelly Flanagan has written this post on his blog, Untangled. When I read it, I thought to myself, ‘This needs to be shared.’ So here is the first part (that will hopefully spark your curiosity to read the rest by clicking on the link at the end).

We think the secret to life is achievement and status and comfort and painlessness. But we’re wrong. The secret to life lies elsewhere. I know, because my dentist told me…

“Until you can completely feel pain again, don’t eat anything.”

I was sitting in the dental chair last week—the right side of my face numb and drooping—when he said it, when my dentist told me the secret to life.

Our pain is the secret to life.

We can’t even eat unless we’re capable of feeling it.

Yet, we are a people obsessed with avoiding our pain. The DEA reports sales of prescription painkillers increased sixteen-fold in the last ten years. Oxycodone and hydrocodone are the two most popular painkillers—in 2010, pharmacies distributed 111 tons of those pills.

In the U.S. alone.

We build our lives around comfort and safety and ease. We feel entitled to painless living. Both physically and emotionally. We will go to great lengths to avoid our interior pain—our sadness, grief, powerlessness, fear, despair, shame, and anger. As Carl Jung said, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul.”

But what is the psychological equivalent of a painkilling pill?

I think we numb our psychological pain with myth.

By myth, I mean the ever-so-slightly deceptive stories we tell ourselves. About ourselves. About other people. About the world we live in. Our personal myths are the beliefs that protect us from the pain of life.*

Young men will tell themselves they love the bachelor lifestyle, so they don’t have to enter into the sweaty-browed risk of real intimacy and their own sense of inadequacy.

Young women will tell themselves they are in charge—and every weekend it’s the same bed but a different man—so they never have to acknowledge how empty it feels when they are finally alone.

We put doctors on pedestals, so we don’t have to fully feel the terror of the disease.

People who have given up on this life will survive it by adopting a set of rules that will guarantee there place in another life.

Perhaps (and this one haunts me), some of us may even write blog posts about redemption and compassion, so we can feel satisfied with our effort and avoid some of the painful work of love in our own lives.

And our myths protect us against the details of our story that feel too painful to acknowledge: the haunting vacancy in the eyes of our parents, the desperate race for worth in a family who dressed up competition as nurturance, the bitter loneliness of the schoolyard taunts, the aching regret about sleeping with that guy freshman year, the nagging emptiness of a paycheck with no meaning, or the walking-on-eggshells way of life in a household dominated by one person’s anger.

Our myths keep the pain of reality at bay, and so they sustain us with a false sense of freedom.

But what if we’re like puppies, chasing our tails inside the comfort of a grassy yard, thinking we’re free, when we’re actually imprisoned? What if our pain is like an invisible electrical fence, keeping us penned in and depriving us of a vast world and the freedom to fully live in it? What if our personal myths are just Kibbles ‘n Bits—pacifying morsels that keep us from deciding to walk through our pain into the freedom of fully living?

(Read the rest of this post here.)