How Does It Feel To Be Human?

OneRepublic’s song “Human” is about a man who’d fallen out of contact with God and now turns to Him when things are going badly. They “had a conversation” where the singer asks questions and pours out his frustrations. Then God “said the strangest thing.”

He said, “How does it feel to be human?
Do some of the best plans you make get ruined?
Do people curse you when flowers ain’t blooming?
How does it feel?”
He said, “How does it feel to be human?
If I could for one day I just might do it
Dance ’til the sun comes up to my music
How does it feel?”

While OneRepublic doesn’t sing “Christian music,” the band members are Christians and they know just as well as we do that God does have experience being human as Jesus Christ. But even knowing that, I think most of us can identify with the feeling in this song. We know Jesus lived as a human. But sometimes we still don’t feel like He can fully sympathize with exactly how hard it is. That it must have been easier/different for Him since He was fully God at the same time He was fully human.

Even More Than Salvation

If someone asked you why Jesus became human, most of us would say, “To save us” (or some variation on that idea). And that’s certainly accurate, for “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15, WEB). That is not, however, the only reason He came to this earth.

Some of the other reasons Jesus gave for Him coming into the world include preaching the gospel (Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43) and witnessing to truth (John 18:37). As we read through the gospels, it becomes clear that the work given to Jesus by the Father involved more than “just” dying in our place to cleanse us from sin. I hate saying “just” becasue salvation is such an incredible gift on its own that it should blow our minds. But Jesus wanted to do even more for us. And one of the things He wanted to do was learn how it feels to be human. Continue reading

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How Full Is Your Marble Jar?

I have issues with trust. I knew this to a certain extent, but being in a relationship has brought it to the forefront of my attention. My boyfriend wants to build the kind of trust that I’ve always wanted in a relationship, which is fantastic. But it’s harder to get there than I was expecting and that’s frustrating for both of us. I probably feel safer with him than anyone else who I haven’t known a minimum of 10 years and yet I still feel nervous opening up to him and being “me” around him.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I love Brené Brown’s TED talks. Since writing that post, I’ve read her book The Gifts of Imperfection and I’m halfway through Daring Greatly. Since I’ve been confronting some deep-seated fear issues as well as this trust thing, they’ve been really good books for me. They’re tough, though. For example, she has a list of 10 things that “Wholehearted” people who believe in their worthiness do. I’ve only got one down pretty good and maybe half of two others. And that’s even though all 10 points on the list are things that, in theory, I agree are good and which I’ve considered worth pursuing for quite some time.

The Anatomy Of Trust

Earlier this year, Brené Brown gave a talk called “The Anatomy of Trust.” In this talk, she tells a story that she also relates in Daring Greatly about her daughter experiencing a betrayal of trust at school. You can click here to read the full story (or just watch the video below), but in short summary the situation got so bad that the teacher took marbles out of the Marble Jar (marbles go in when the kids are making good choices and come out if they’re breaking rules, acting out, etc.).

Brené then used the analogy of the marble jar to teach her daughter about trust. When we’re in a relationship with someone and they do things that build trust, we put marbles into the jar. When they do things that destroy trust, we take marbles out. Only the friends with full marble jars have earned a close enough connection to be trusted with things like your biggest secrets, your strongest fears, and your deepest hurts.

Braving Greatly

Trust is something we talk about quite a bit without always having a clear definition. The one Brené uses in this video goes like this, “Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.” She expands on the sort of people we can have this sort of trust with using the acronym BRAVING:

  • Boundaries – we trust people who are clear about their boundaries and respect our boundaries
  • Reliability – we trust people who consistently do what they say they’ll do
  • Accountability – we trust people who own their mistakes, apologize, and make amends and who let us do the same
  • Vault – we trust people when we know they hold things shared with them in confidence
  • Integrity – we trust people who choose “courage over comfort … what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy” and practice their values
  • Non-Judgemental – we trust people if we can fall apart with them and ask for help without being judged, and who we can do that for in return
  • Generosity – we trust people who make generous assumptions about what we do and say, then check-in with us to clarify what’s going on from our perspective

She says this acronym also works with self-trust, which is an essential part of trusting others. In her words, “If your own marble jar is not full, if you can’t count on yourself, you can’t ask other people to give you what you don’t have … We can’t ask people to give to us what we do not believe we’re worthy of receiving.” It’s closely connected with the idea that we can’t really love others if we don’t know how to love ourselves.

Looking At Your Marble Jar

Here’s where it gets hard. Because if there’s a lack of trust in a relationship and you go through the BRAVING list and can’t pin-point where the two of you have an issue, that means the next option is you don’t trust yourself enough to really trust the other person. Which puts the burden for fixing trust firmly on your shoulders.

One of the biggest things that sticks out in my mind from Brené Brown’s research is what she learned about the difference between people who feel they belong and are loved and the people who don’t. The only difference is the people who have a sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. How you view your worthiness determines whether or not you get a feeling of love and belonging from the people around you.

For some of us, that’s a drastic shift in how we think. Since I blog so much about personality types I’ll use this example. INFJ types look for relationships with people who will see past our masks and understand and accept the “real me.” But we’ve built up so many years of expecting people not to accept us that when someone does, it’s often hard to let them be the person we’ve been looking for for so long. We don’t trust that they really do see us and like us the way we truly are. And there’s a good chance that’s becasue we haven’t really worked through our feeling that we aren’t actually worthy of the belonging and love we crave.

The thing is, I am worthy of love and belonging. And so are you. We deserve to have relationships built on trust. Which means we owe it to ourselves to do the hard work of getting to the point where we really believe in our worthiness and trustworthiness. Reading Brené Brown books is a great place to start. And then possibly re-reading them (which is what I intend to do) and taking action on it, like working through The Gifts of Imperfection and focusing on one of the 10 Wholehearted traits each week.

Is trust and/or believing you’re worthy of love and belonging something you’ve struggled with? And do you have any strategies to share for getting to the point where you really trust and value yourself?

How Visible Is Your Commitment to Christ?

The culture we live in is not a godly one. None of us can say we live in a “Christian nation.” While we may share some values with the dominant culture(s), living the way Jesus did involves a very different lifestyle than the ones that are most socially acceptable.

That leaves Christians with a choice. We can either lie-low and try to fit in as much as we can, or we can embrace the fact that a commitment to living like Christ involves living counter-culturally. The later is hard. But if we want to become part of God’s family, we have to become like Him instead of staying like the world.

How Visible Is Your Commitment to Christ? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We need a transformative relationship with Jesus

It’s not something we like to think about, but the scriptures indicate that not everyone who thinks they’re following Jesus will actually end up in His kingdom. One of these passages is found in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It’s a serious, scary warning that we do well to pay attention to.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. (Matt. 7:21-24, WEB)

We learn several important things from this passage. Firstly, it’s possible to think you’re following Jesus and still not be in a relationship with Him. Whether or not He knows you is more important than the showy things you do in His name.

Secondly, He tells us how to become people He knows. We must do His Father’s will, hear His teachings, and act on them. Those actions will give us a strong foundation so that when life pounds on us we won’t fall (Matt. 7:25-27). It’s also going to drastically change how our lives look. Continue reading

Why Can’t We Just Let Guys Be Mentoring, Nurturing, And Protective Without Giving Them Feminine Labels?

There’s been a big push culturally to erode traditional gender roles; to prove that men and women are equal and equally capable of filling roles that were once assigned to just one sex. For example: that women can pursue successful business careers and men can care for children. Or that women can display strong logic and men can be emotional and nurturing.

But somehow this has backfired on us and cultural expectations of gender are just getting more rigid. That statement probably raised a few eyebrows. We’ve come a long way, many will argue. Women are now accepted in traditionally masculine professions. They don’t have to just stay at home and raise children any more. We have freedom, equality! Besides, gender is just a cultural construct and we can redefine it however we want so those roles aren’t so confining.

That’s not what we’ve done though. Take, for example, the problem of people pushing young children to identify as transgendered (which the American College of Pediatricians defines as “child abuse”). If a child displays traits outside the gender associated with their biological sex, they’re encouraged to get their sex changed. Instead of making it acceptable for a little girl to embrace femininity and enjoy “boy things” like superheroes and tractors, she’s told she’s not really a girl. She’s a boy. In a fit of mass cultural insanity, we’re making social constructions of gender more rigid while trying to make a person’s biological sex something that’s flexible.

Stranger Things’ New “Mom”

I started thinking about this topic (at least in the context of this blog post) when I came across this image while scrolling through Pinterest:Why Can't We Just Let Guys Be Mentoring, Nurturing, And Protective Without Giving them Feminine Labels? Looking At Scriptural Mission Statements For People Following Jesus | marissabaker.wordpress.comLike many Stranger Things fans, Season 2 turned Steve Harrington into one of my favorite characters. For those of you not watching the show, Steve was a stereotypical character  in the first season but in Season 2 he got some spectacular character development. He grew from a standard jock  into a hero who has a great relationship with the younger main characters. And for some reason that gets him labeled as their “mom” by the Internet. Continue reading

Putting On Our Teacher’s Mind: How Christians Learn To Be Like Jesus

When we go to school or a lecture or seminar, we’re typically looking to find out what the teacher knows. And it’s rare for most of us to have a continuing relationship with a single teacher, unless you’re in an apprenticeship situation. We tend to think of teachers as people you get information from, not necessarily someone you mimic or have a relationship with (though it’s great when that does happen).

These assumptions color how we respond to the Bible’s description of Jesus as Teacher or Rabbi (Matt. 19:16; John 1:38, for example). Being a student of this type of teacher goes beyond just listening to what he has to say. The relationship between a rabbi and their disciples, or talmidim in Hebrew, went deeper.

those who leave family to study and follow the ways of their teacher [rabbi].  They study not only to learn what their teacher knows but to become the type of man their teacher is.” (Psalm 11918.org)

Being taught in this sense isn’t just about taking in knowledge. It’s about changing who you are and how you think.

Our Two Great Teachers

We’re not just pulling this idea that disciples of Jesus should become like Him out of Jewish tradition. It comes straight out of the Bible. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, WEB). That’s our goal — to become exactly like our Teacher. And while this title is usually applied to Christ, it also includes God the Father.

It is written in the prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who hears from the Father, and has learned, comes to me. (John 6:45, WEB)

Both member of the God-family are closely involved with teaching us. And as we learn from them, we’re to become like them. The idea that we can become like God is so incredible it’s almost unbelievable, but that really is our ultimate goal (1 John 3:1-2). They mean for us to become part of their family and even share in their oneness (John 17:20-23).

Patterned After God

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about how we need God’s spirit in us to learn the things God gives us. God’s truths don’t make sense to “the natural man … because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:9-15, WEB). We need God’s spirit to unlock our minds and transform them. And this process results in us developing “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16, KJV).

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5, KJV) Continue reading

A Modern Reader’s Frustrations With The Mysteries of Udolpho

I’d been excited to read Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) since I first came up with my Classics Club Book List a few years ago. I haven’t read much Gothic fiction, but when I do I tend to enjoy it. And I knew this was one of the main inspirations for Jane Austen’s Gothic satire, Northanger Abbey (and you know how much I love Austen), so of course I was intrigued. Strangely, what surprised me most about Radcliffe’s most famous “classic work of Gothic fiction” is how much of it isn’t very Gothic at all.

The book is 223 years old, but still … spoiler warning.

The Mysteries of Udolpho opens with a pastoral travelog detailing the main character, Emily St. Aubert, and her father’s journey through picturesque Italy. There are a couple scenes with a harrowing flavor in the first of four volumes, but not many. Even after Emily’s father dies and she goes to live with her aunt in volume 2 there’s very little about the novel that feels “Gothic.” The setting isn’t gloomy, decaying, or haunted. There aren’t any supernatural elements. And there are only a few hints at a larger mystery. The heroine is a damsel and she’s in a bit of distress, but not much yet. The only hallmark of Gothic fiction that you see from start to finish in this novel is a focus on intense emotions (you know, the sort that inspire fainting fits and romantic swoons).

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Emily is a master of fainting. Graphic from “How to tell you’re reading a Gothic novel

The novel becomes recognizably Gothic only after we arrive at the Castle Udolpho on page 226 (out of 672 in the edition I read). And now, suddenly, it’s very Gothic. We have a creepy house that becomes almost a character in its own right. We have mysterious rooms, whispered histories of possible murder, unbridled villains (who still manage not to physically harm the heroine), secret passageways, dead bodies, and rumors of ghosts.

This was my favorite part of the novel because it’s what I’d been expecting. But it doesn’t last even half the book, since Emily escapes on page 451 and has no further contact with the villain, Montoni, who conveniently dies off-page before making any further trouble. It’s also a hallmark of Radcliffe’s writings that she leaves nothing with a supernatural hint unexplained, so before the story ends all the ghosts, murders, and mysteries are explained in such a mundane or outlandish fashion that it robs the story of a spine-tingling emotional pay-off.

For example, in the Blake Veil incident Emily lifts a curtain and swoons because what she saw behind it was so dreadful. That happens shortly after arriving at Udopho, but it isn’t until the end of the novel that readers learn she thought she saw the body of a murdered woman. Emily is left under that illusion. For us, Radcliffe explained that it was actually a wax figure molded to resemble a decaying corpse that a previous owner of Udolpho was assigned to look at every day as penance to remind him of his mortality. He put it in his will that all future owners of Udolpho should do the same or forfeit a good chunk of their land to the church, but they just hung a curtain over it ans locked the room. Mystery solved! (though honestly the idea that Montoni left a murder victim in the room would have been less fantastic).

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Illustration from The Mysteries of Udolpho
(1806 edition)

I haven’t mentioned the romance yet because honestly there isn’t much to tell. Valancourt is a character throughout most of the novel but he doesn’t really do much. He befriends Emily and her father then spends most of his time after the father’s death moping around Emily’s home hoping she’ll step into the garden so he can declare his passionate love for her. While she’s in Udolpho he’s in Paris ruining his reputation. And when she returns, they get so tangled in miscommunication that they almost don’t get married. I found the romance incredibly frustrating because they were always so emotional that they wouldn’t just talk with each other.

In case it’s not clear by now, I didn’t really like this book. If you want to give Radcliffe a try I’d recommend The Romance of the Forest (which I read in college for my research project). It’s much shorter and, in my opinion, a more enjoyable read. So why was The Mysteries of Udolpho a best-seller in it’s day and now Radcliffe’s most famous work?

Perhaps the answer lies in an observation made in the introduction to my Oxford World’s Classic’s edition. This intro points out that while Radcliffe rationalizes the supernatural in the outside world of her novel, she “presents the mind itself as a kind of supernatural entity.” It is the characters’ perceptions of what is going on in the world around them that adds a magical, mysterious flavor to the story. Radcliffe gave the novel’s first readers “a fantasy about the mind itself” being haunted.

For modern readers this idea isn’t anything new. We live in a post-Freud world where we’re accustomed to thinking of our minds as having layers that we don’t fully understand and reading stories that explore how a character’s psyche unravels under stress. But for Radcliffe’s readers it was a new kind of thrilling, escapist reading even when the plot was a mess. The way she accomplished this psychological character exploration isn’t what we’re used to today and it feels sloppy to me an I suspect other modern readers. I usually find 18th and 19th century literature very accessible, but in this case I just couldn’t connect with the story.A Modern Reader's Frustrations With The Mysteries of Udolpho | marissabaker.wordpress.com