Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are You Trapped by the Monster Regret?

I went on a date with my wife to see the movie Inception this week.  Have you seen it yet? 

Check out this trailer to see if you'd be interested:

The film focuses on Dom Cobb, whom Peter Travers in his review in Rolling Stone calls".. a professional invader of the subconscious played with action-star ferocity and emotional heft by Leonardo DiCaprio. Corporations, like the one run by Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), hire Dom and his crew to get inside people's heads." 

Get inside my head is exactly what this film did, and if you haven't seen it--make plans to go, but be prepared to be confused. Or befuddled. Or enlightened, as the case may be. I know that I was all three before the film finished it's plunge through three layers of dream space,  subconscious "limbo" and sudden shifts from past to present to future time. 

In case you'd like to see the movie, I won't go in to every twist and turn of the labyrinthian plot. I would like to focus in on one aspect of the film that struck me as fascinating. It did, at least, after my wife noticed it. "Did you notice there were only two main female characters?" she asked. (I nod my head semi-intelligently)  And did you notice that the younger woman (Ariadne) leads Cobb out of his regret over his wife (Mal)?" (again the semi-intelligent head nod).

That's when all the classic Greek and Roman mythology I had studied once upon a sophomore year came bubbling to the surface. (Thanks Joe Elias and Lou Ledbetter!) Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete.  Crete had a lovely tradition of accepting sacrifices from Athens to feed their nasty monster the Minotaur, held at bay in a bewildering labyrinth. (see the connection coming?) Theseus was among the third group of unwitting sacrifices, but Ariadne comes to his rescue by LEADING HIM OUT OF THE MAZE. Just like Ariadne does for Mr. Cobb in the amazing movie Inception. 

So what? Well, beyond a cleverly placed classical allusion, Christopher Nolan suggests to us a powerful principle. Ariadne (the maze maker and breaker) helps Cobb overcome his regret over his wife Mal (that means "bad or evil" in Latin) He has trapped himself in a prison of regret. In a very insightful review of the film, we are reminded that a recurring line in the movie addresses that regret. “Do you want to become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?” 

Without spoiling the entire plot, Dom Cobb encases his regrets throughout life in a prison-like structure in his mind, revisiting them in tortured dream sequences. Ariadne discovers this self-torture, confronts him, and ultimately leads him to the only way out of regret--forgiveness. Just as in the classical myth, Ariadne leads him along the thread of past mistakes away from the monster named regret. 
Theseus & Minotaur

Of course the answer to that repeated question for me is "NO" I don't want to be an old man, filled with regret. But like Cobb, I do keep past mistakes locked away where no one can see, like a Minotaur in my mind. I offer up sacrifices periodically to appease my guilt, but those sacrifices are never enough. Cobb was trapped, and the guilt increased, demanding more and more of his life in order to be pleased. With the character Fischer in the film, we face those like a father who their whole life has been "DISAPPOINTED" in us. Regret--living in the past--will consume you like a ghastly Minotaur. 

Do you have an Ariadne that can uncoil the thread of forgiveness for you? I know forgiving others is hard, but forgiving myself is the hardest. Somehow that trap of self-punishment seems appropriate, but its inevitable end is the maze of regret. I loved the movie Inception, and it has planted the idea in me to face what is MAL (evil) in my life, and banish the "shade" of failure through forgiveness. Otherwise, I will be forever trapped. What do you think? 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Weedeater

The orange and chrome hardware gleamed in the afternoon sun as Matt, the knowledgeable sales clerk cradled my new Stihl FS 70 RC-E trimmer in his muscular arms. With a quick flick of his fingers to adjust the choke, and a terse tug at the starter cord, the machinery roared to life. The whirring buzz of the string whirling at hundreds of revolutions per second sounded like music to me, announcing my triumph over that most annoying of adversaries—a perfectly good apparatus that refuses to work as it was designed.
If you’ve ever used a weedeater or trimmer, you know the basic concept is devastatingly simple. A small motor spins a shaft down the length of the trimmer that in turn rotates at high speeds a head attached to its end. Heavy plastic line cleverly wound in a tight coil around the head is released by a spring-loaded assembly when the operator taps the head on the ground. The result is enormously gratifying; a whirling dervish of devastation that thrashes weeds and undergrowth like a magic scythe of power. Magic, that is, as long as it works.
I say that because the dirty little secret about weedeaters is that they RARELY work as they were intended. For every moment that I’ve enjoyed riding the wave of power as the weeds fell in submission at my feet, I’ve suffered through ten more of untangling snarled string, taking apart clogged-carburetors and expressing in colorful language my feelings for a machine that just won’t start.
My recent purchase of this commercial-grade piece of mechanical beauty reminded me that my feelings about the weedeater almost exactly mirrored my view of another apparatus—the church. The church was designed by God to be an amazingly powerful and awesome tool. Men and women rescued from lives of selfishness and sin bond with one another in gratitude over God’s grace in their lives. They turn their hearts heavenward in thanks to their Savior, and then extend their hands in service to others. The Owner’s manual says it comes down to only those two things (Love of God and neighbor), devastatingly simple right?
Wrong. If you’ve ever ventured into a church you will have discovered their dirty little secret…they don’t work like they’re supposed to. People who’ve been in church for 25 years are just as mean and nasty as when they came. The church’s line of love intended to extend to a hurting community becomes wrapped firmly around itself, snarled in internal conflict. Sinners—for whom the church was designed—are made to feel unwelcome (as if the weedeater were shocked to find a weed in its path). Insecure leadership foul the engine of God’s love for the world with self-aggrandizing plans of kingdom building. More than once I’ve cursed the whole, darn contraption.
And yet…the roar of that orange and chrome magic machine in my hands brought a prayer to my lips. “Lord, this time let the thing work right. Repair it Lord, fix it and start with me…”

Monday, July 5, 2010

Is Hoarding Rewarding?

I recently saw someone who had hurt me badly. I knew the meeting was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. My stomach dropped like it does on a rough plane ride when I saw the person. Old pain returned instantly as I recalled and rehearsed the ways this person had betrayed my confidence, attacked my character, even physically threatened me. Both “fight” and “flight” presented themselves as equally attractive alternatives—and for a moment I wasn’t sure if I was going to run away or punch them in the gut. It made me wonder--what do you do when old feelings flow over you in an angry flood?

Me—I tend to be a hoarder. Just come over to my house and you’ll find all the books and cool stuff I’ve “saved” in storage. My garage ostensibly houses cars; alas, now one can barely squeeze in past all the stuff I’ve hoarded. (Notice when it’s mine I call it stuff, if it was yours I’d call it junk.) So just to be consistent I hoard up all the hurts from the past and store them conveniently where I can get to them when I need them. Somebody hurt me? Well, I may have to haul out the junk I have on them and just share it with somebody at just the right moment to do the most damage. Or if I have a chance to help someone, may have to check my emotional attic to see what “junk” I have hoarded up against them.

You know what I’ve discovered about my system, however? Not only does my emotional “house” get really cluttered and hard to get around, I may be killing myself. Come on, really? Researchers have demonstrated that the way husbands and wives argue over those old wounds, you know the hot button topics right? Money, children, sex, dirty socks on the floor (I was going to move them honey, I promise!) …the way we argue over them can actually cause hardening of the arteries. All that junk I was hoarded up seems to have landed in my arteries!

So what’s a hoarder to do? It’s simple really. If you had a bunch of outstanding checks that were floating around out there, and you’ve never really figured out how they affect the bottom line of your checking account, what would you do? You’d reconcile your checkbook, right? That’s exactly what we need to do with our emotional debts, reconcile them, and in Bible terms that means forgiveness. Remember that phrase in the famous prayer? MT 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. That means we have to find all the junk in the basement and just throw it out. Go to the person if possible and let them know we forgive them. You know how much fun it is to go down the checkbook and see all those nice little check marks beside outstanding checks? That’s what it feels like to be reconciled—all outstanding debts accounted for, all the junk thrown away, instead of hoarded up in my arteries where they’re killing me!

What's in your emotional attic?