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Nonsensical Times

Exploring the wonderful world(s) of sense-making

Fall

(a poem by Bonnie Tulloch)

I wonder

If leaves ever know 

they’re falling

When they spiral towards

the earth.

Or if they taste the freedom

Of finally letting go.

Of flying in the wind.

 I wonder these things,

as I sit on a park bench.

Gravity has a way of

Pulling us. 

Tugged by its questions,

My thoughts begin to

Fall.

 

Nonsense & Heaven

Do you ever think about Heaven?

I have been thinking about it a lot lately. 

I have been thinking about it a lot, because my older sister recently relocated there on June 13th of this year.

Now, I know a lot of people don’t believe in Heaven. A lot of people think it is a completely nonsensical idea. They think that the prospect of an afterlife escapes the boundaries of rational thought.

My response to this line of thinking is:

Of course it does. I mean, why wouldn’t it?

Why wouldn’t Heaven escape the boundaries of rational thought?

After all, if it escapes the boundaries of our physical experiences on earth, why would we expect it to fit the logic we have developed based on our knowledge of this life?

Does it actually makes sense that we cannot completely make sense of Heaven?

I think these questions are worth asking.

They are worth asking, because, at some point or another, we all have to make up our minds about Heaven.

When we come to the end of our existence on earth, we have to decide what we believe about the moment we bid it goodbye.

Do we view death as a final conclusion? Or, do we view it as a beginning?

My sister viewed it as a beginning.

In her own words, it was a “see ya later moment.”

I can tell you right now, there are many things about the days leading up to that moment that only make sense in light of the reality of Heaven. In light of the reality of God.

Her peace. Her love. Her hope. Her joy.

To people who do not believe in the existence of Heaven or its Creator, her behaviour would have appeared completely irrational.

But, as someone who witnessed it firsthand, I can tell you that it was undoubtedly real.

It was real enough to give me a glimpse of Heaven. A glimpse of a world where pain and suffering no longer exist — a world that most of us long to live in — a world that defies our limited experience of this one. A world that knows perfect love.

So yes, I have been thinking a lot about Heaven lately. And I have a feeling that I will be thinking about it every day for the rest of my life.

I am living for the “see ya later moment” that I know is coming.

I may not be able to make complete sense of this life or the next, but the little that I do know is enough to give me complete confidence that I have many wonderful things to look forward to. One of them is seeing my sister again.

If my experiences on earth have taught me anything, it is that Heaven is as real as the love I have for my sister and the God who created her.

And to me, that is something worth thinking about.

 

 

 

 

 

Nonsense & An Empty Tomb

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

~John 24: 1-12

I know what you’re thinking. Easter is still a week away. Why am I talking about the empty tomb today?

Well, I’ll tell you.

On the first day of this week (yesterday), very early in the morning, my family received some devastating news. My older sister Christine, who recently relapsed with leukemia, was told that her treatment is not working. Since this is her third time fighting this horrible disease, there are basically no other options. From a medical standpoint, the situation is hopeless.

Where do you go when you hear such news?

Well, I don’t know where you go, but I can certainly tell you where I go.

I go to the empty tomb.

I run to the place where hope is resurrected.

Like my sister, Jesus was handed a death sentence. By no fault of his own, he was condemned to die. Despite Pilot’s efforts, the people could not be persuaded of Jesus’s innocence. The Roman governor washed his hands of the situation, releasing Jesus to a fate he did not deserve. Jesus died on the cross an innocent man.

Yesterday, the doctors essentially washed their hands of my sister’s situation. Despite their efforts, they cannot save her from this awful disease. They have released her to an unjust fate.

But, thankfully, neither her story nor Jesus’s story, ends here.

As John reminds us, three days after Jesus’s death, some of his female followers went to the tomb where his body was laid to give him a proper burial. They were grief-stricken. Someone they loved had died. They had watched it happen with their own eyes. Jesus was dead.

Or so they thought.

Until they reached the empty tomb.

It’s important to note that the women did not immediately believe that Jesus was alive. They did not remember his words, even though he had spoken to them about his death many times before it actually happened. Like many people in the world today, they doubted the possibility of his resurrection.

It took angels to convince them otherwise. Flashes of light to cut through the darkness of their grief and confusion. Only then did they remember.

Understandably, given the situation, they were pretty excited. They ran to Jesus’s disciples to tell them the good news. Jesus had risen, just as he said he would! They had seen the empty tomb! Angels had appeared!

Pretty convincing, right? I mean, if a visitation from angels is not enough to verify your story, what can?

Well, it wasn’t enough to convince Jesus’s disciples.

The very men who had walked with Jesus throughout his ministry, who had seen him perform numerous miracles, including the resurrection of the dead, doubted his ability to perform his own resurrection. They doubted the words of the women who spoke to them. It all sounded like nonsense.

Because they had seen Jesus die with their own eyes.

It didn’t matter what he had said.

The physical proof was too strong.

Just to make sure, however, Peter decided to check things out for himself. Arriving at the tomb, he found it empty. There were grave clothes, but no body. He walked away confused. John tells us that Peter “…went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

He still did not believe the women.

In fact, the resurrection story is a story full of doubt, and not just the doubt of people who did not know Jesus. No. The resurrection is a story full of the doubts of the people who were closest to him. The people who stood by him but had trouble believing in him, even after he had proven himself capable of performing great miracles. They lacked faith.

You see, God knows we have doubts about His existence. He knows that we have trouble believing He is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Even when we want to, believing in what we can’t fully understand is too much for us.

So what does God do?

He meets us where we’re at. He gives us physical proof.

What did it take for the disciples to believe?

It took Jesus standing before them. They had to see him with their own eyes and touch the holes in his hands before they could believe that he had risen.

And do you know why that story is believable?

Because it is relatable.

The fact that it took physical evidence to convince Jesus’s own disciples that He was who He says He was, gives me the courage to believe that my faith in Jesus’s resurrection is justified. He knew that we would have just as much trouble believing in Him today as people did back then.

Out of fear, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. And yet, like the other apostles, he was willing to die for the sake of spreading the Good News of the resurrection. The news that Jesus defeated death on the cross and that anyone who believes in Him will never die but have eternal life in Heaven.

What changes a coward into a martyr?

Confidence.

What gave Peter confidence?

The physical proof that Jesus is alive.

The proof that, as nonsensical as it may appear to some people, makes complete sense to me.

Thanks to the empty tomb, my sister has not been released to an unjust fate. She has been released into the hands of Jesus. And He is the ultimate Healer.

The bigger miracle has already been performed. Whatever happens, Christine has the assurance of eternal life in Heaven.

And that’s one awesome timeline.

We may come to the tomb with heavy hearts, but, if we have the faith to receive the miracle it offers us, we leave it lighter than ever before. We can visit it every minute, every day, and every year.

Easter may be coming, but Jesus is already here.

The tomb remains empty.

Heaven, on the other hand, is getting fuller day by day.

 

 

 

Nonsense & Uncertainty

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”

~ Brené Brown, excerpt from Forbes (2013) interview

Why is it that we often have a negative view of uncertainty?

This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately.

As a scholar working in the field of information research, the aim is often to reduce uncertainty.

Consequently, uncertainty is often presented in a negative light.

It’s associated with a variety of unpleasant emotions, including: fear, anxiety, and panic.

We have questions, but lack answers.

We want to know more, but the more we find out, the more we realize how little we actually know.

It’s a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it?

And yet, as Brené Brown notes in the quote above, uncertainty leads us to some of the most amazing experiences in life.

It opens us up to love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity.

These are the emotional experiences that ground us, but they also unsettle us.

And nobody likes to be unsettled. Nobody likes to be vulnerable—to feel vulnerable.

Hence why uncertainty is often viewed as something to be reduced, rather than increased.

It usually is associated with changes that are happening in our lives. Changes that are difficult to accept. Changes that upset our plans for the future.

Suddenly, our lives do not look anything like we thought they would.

A wave of reality comes crashing down, making us fearful of the next. We spend our time wondering where and when this next wave will happen, and how we will handle it. To mentally prepare, we exhaust ourselves with “what if” scenarios.

In the process, we lose out on the fullness of uncertainty and what it can bring to our lives.

Because change can actually be a positive thing.

Yes, bad things happen in life.

But good things can happen out of them.

It’s not black and white.

Uncertainty keeps us asking questions and asking questions keeps us in a position to grow. Once we stop growing, we stop living.

Simply put: uncertainty makes us humble and humility makes us teachable.

Like Brené Brown, I think one of the most beautiful parts of uncertainty is that it can help us learn how to love better, increase our capacity for joy, teach us to trust more, embrace others, and exercise our creativity. Sometimes, the most exciting parts of our lives are those that we did not plan. Instead of spending our time dreaming up the worst “what if” scenarios, maybe we should spend it dreaming up the best.

As for me, I definitely want to stop running from the waves. I want to be better at swimming through uncertain times, maybe even learning to play through them. I don’t want the deep waters to scare me. I want them to excite me. They are where strong connections are made. They are where learning occurs. I know it’s not easy. There will be times when I’m blindsided by the unexpected, when I’m drenched with self-pity, when I want to give up. But I won’t. Because, “what if” the moment that I do, I miss out on a beautiful experience?

So, while we may be in agreement that we are all experiencing uncertain times, let that be an invitation to bring out the best in ourselves rather than the worst. I don’t know what you are going through, but it is my prayer that good will come out of it. The world needs more beautiful “what if” scenarios. It needs your love and joy.

To conclude, let me pose my own “what if”:

What if, instead of running from the waves, we create some ourselves?

Now that’s a beautiful thought!

References:

Schawbel, Dan. (21 April, 2013). Brené Brown: How vulnerability can make our lives better. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/04/21/brene-brown-how-vulnerability-can-make-our-lives-better/#2dd7e4ea36c7

Nonsense & Fairy Tales

“After all, it is fairy tales the world wants. Real life is all the ‘real life’ we want. Give us something better in books.” ~ L.M. Montgomery

Once upon a time. It’s a phrase we all know well, mostly because we have all read it more than once.

When we see it, certain expectations are raised.

We expect there to be magic.

We expect there to be trouble.

But most of all, we expect there to be a happy ending.

These expectations distinguish fairy tales from our real life experiences. In the fantasy worlds of our imagination, we get what we hope for.

In the real worlds of our experience, we often get other things.

Things that make our own stories seem less interesting. Less hopeful. Less happy.

As a result, we fail to see the magic in our lives.

When I reach this point, I realize it’s time for a rewrite. When the fiction I have been authoring is not the one I am interested in reading or living, something needs to change.

I know my imagination can do better.

After all, we can only see magic if we expect to see it. If we don’t expect it, we fail to look for it.

So, let’s look for it.

But where to start?

Hmmm…how about here?

Today, once more upon a time, once more upon a week, a month, a year, I choose to find magic in my life. In the people I meet. In the opportunities I have. In the challenges I face. 

Once I say these words and make that choice…POOF!

Magic appears.

Instead of looking for a happy ending, I look for a happy beginning.

And I find it.

You see? We should never underestimate the power of hope to transform our lives.

Once upon a time may be a phrase we repeat to ourselves in order to escape our realities, but it can also be a phrase we use to rediscover the magic they contain. And we all need to rediscover their magic now and then, especially when we lose perspective.

In the end, I want my “real life” to be worth reading. I want it to be a story full of new beginnings and the hope they bring. I don’t expect a fairy tale, but I do expect to be happy.

And real happiness, well, that’s all the magic I need.

 

Nonsense & Christmas

“‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'” (Dickens 38).

Some stories never get old, they just get more profound. At least, that’s been my experience with Charles Dickens’s classic novel, A Christmas Carol. When I was younger, it was easy to look at the grumpy old miser with a critical eye. I could dissociate from the self-interest and apathy that govern his life. As I grow older, however, I find myself carrying more sympathy in my heart for Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to appreciate the fact that we all have a bit of Scrooge in us, especially around Christmas time.

Whether it comes to counting our money or our time, the Christmas season can easily fill up with business of a sort that has little to do with the holiday itself. When my list of  “to-dos” keeps growing longer and my patience shorter, I know it’s time to revisit my priorities. The clock chimes in my brain begin to sound and the ghostly thoughts of Christmases past, present, and future come to visit.

After all of these years, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. And yet, each Yuletide I find myself in need of re-education. I find myself grumbling or complaining about some aspect of the holiday and the different things I have to do in order to prepare for it. I might not see Marley’s face in the door knocker, but I do begin to see Scrooge’s face in the mirror. This is when I return to Dickens’s classroom.

Reading Marley’s words to Scrooge, I begin to speak them to myself. I remind myself that charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence are the things that truly count in life. Busyness will steal my past, present, and future of these gifts if I let it mess up my priorities. When it comes to Christmas, spreading love, joy, hope, and peace is the business that matters most. It is my greatest priority as a human being.

I think the main reason Dickens’s story continues to have enduring appeal for me and many others is that it speaks of redemption and grace. Mankind is in the business of making mistakes, but we are also in the business of forgiving each other for them. The nightmares we navigate teach us the power of new beginnings. Christmas gives us the promise of a fresh start.

So, if you, like me, are finding yourself in need of more than one fresh start this Christmas season, remember that Dickens’s story is a carol we can sing all year round. Our mistakes are invitations to start anew and to accept the gifts of grace and kindness offered to us by our fellow human beings. May we grow better at accepting these invitations and offering them to others.

If I am going to see any aspect of Scrooge’s face when I look in the mirror, I hope it is the joyful spirit of these words:

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” (Dickens 146).

Wow. Grace sure has a beautiful effect, doesn’t it?

Merry Christmas Everybody.

May God bless you all this holiday season. Each and everyone.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. 1843. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Image courtesy of kissclipart. Retrieved from https://www.kissclipart.com/christmas-carol-dickens-clipart-a-christmas-carol-gdg1t4/

 

Nonsense & Puppies!

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”

~Charles M. Schultz

On dark, cold, fall nights it is nice to enjoy the comforts of a warm home.

It is even nicer when that home contains a puppy.

Staring at him chewing my sister’s sock, I had to snap a picture. This new addition to our family is ridiculous, frustrating, noisy, obnoxious, needy, and downright lovable.

He has turned our lives and our living room upside down. Training pads, toys, gates, blankets, and water dishes lie scattered on the floor. Furniture is chewed and scratched, food spilled, accidents waiting to be cleaned, and sleep disturbed.

Yes, this puppy is a handful.

He is a bundle of nonsense leaving a trail of chaos in his wake.

And yet…

The decision to bring him into our home makes complete sense.

Because, while he is a handful, he is also a heartful.

And on dark, cold, fall nights nothing fills your heart quicker then the sight of a puppy following your sister devotedly around the house with her sock between his teeth.

Yes, puppies are nonsensical. But the most nonsensical thing about them is their ability to love.

And when it comes to the question of whether or not to bring that kind of love into your life, the answer is easy.

It is worth giving up your socks for and even some sleep.

After all, on dark, cold, fall mornings, it is nice to enjoy the comforts of a puppy’s kisses.

Waking up to that kind of love is worth a bit of nonsense now and then!

 

 

Imaginative Stories

“For all that, we know that if we are to appreciate and understand an imaginative story (or an imaginative hypothesis, for that matter) we must ‘suspend disbelief,’ accept what we hear for the time being as putatively real, as stipulative” (Bruner, 1986, p. 51).

In his book, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986), psychologist Jerome Bruner addresses the longstanding divide between the sciences and the arts. In his exploration of the different assumptions distinguishing these human endeavours, he comes to the conclusion that both center around the creation of hypotheses.

An imaginative hypothesis, he points out, is in essence an imaginative story. It is an idea that proposes the possibility of something—something that we have to be open enough to explore.

At least, initially.

Hypotheses, after all, are designed to be tested.

The question is, how?

The answer, Bruner observes, is telling in its distinction between scientific and artistic inquiry.

“With science,” he explains, “we ask finally for some verification (or some proof against falsification)” (Bruner, 1986, p. 51).

With narrative, on the other hand, “we ask instead that, upon reflection, the account correspond to some perspective we can imagine or ‘feel’ as right” (Bruner, 1986, p. 52).

These insights leave us to consider whether feeling is enough verification for the hypotheses we explore in life.

From a conventional scientific perspective, the answer would appear to be no. Affect is viewed as disruptive to the powers of reason and the logic it employs. Feelings must be removed from science in order to make accurate, “truthful” observations.

This is not the case, however, for the arts and the humanities.

As Bruner writes, “they too are constrained in the kinds of hypotheses they generate, but not by constraints of testability in the scientists’ sense, and not by the search for hypotheses that will be true across a wide range of human perspectives. Rather, the aim (as already noted in the preceding chapters) is that the hypotheses fit different human perspectives and that they be recognizable as ‘true to conceivable experience’: that they have verisimilitude” (Bruner, 1986, p. 52).

From an artistic or humanities oriented perspective, then, the question is not whether we can prove the existence of the proposed reality, but whether we can imagine its possibility.

That is, does it feel right?

Or, perhaps more importantly, does it feel wrong?

What happens, in other words, when the imaginative hypotheses we generate and the perspectives they offer, do not align with our own?

Does that mean that they are “not true to conceivable experience”?

Or, does it just mean that they are not true or conceivable to our experience?

I think that if we are not careful to acknowledge the role affect plays in our ability to embrace imaginative hypotheses, we might be tempted to project a universal reality onto the world, one that is equally as constraining as scientific perspectives in its efforts to generalize what is true and ignore the role subjectivity plays in shaping our understanding of what is real.

Because, the fact of the matter is, we cannot turn off our emotions. Feelings play as much of a role in scientific thinking as they do in artistic thinking. Bruner (1986) notes that:

“To the degree that modern science (or science in any era, regardless of Newton’s famous hypothesis non fingo) also is involved in hypothesis generating, as well as in hypothesis testing, it is akin to the activities of the humanist and the artist. That much we know from examining the metaphoric crutches with which the good intuitive scientist proceeds up his abstract mountain. But his object is always to convert those dense metaphors into the transparent, frangible hypotheses of science—or into untestable axioms that will generate hypotheses that, with luck, may be tested” (p. 52).

In order to be truly transparent, however, we have to be honest about the way our understanding of the world is influenced by our emotions.

That is the nice thing about imaginative stories or hypotheses that do not feel right.

They help keep us honest.

They force us to reflect on the different worlds we inhabit. They force us to question the assumptions, values, and beliefs we have come to take for granted.

In short, they test us.

The object of such testing is not to arrive at a perfect place of absolute correctness, but rather, to protect us from the arrogance of ever assuming such a position.

The hypotheses we allow ourselves to explore determine the extent of our growth as human beings.

They narrate the stories of our lives.

The question is: How imaginative are we willing to make them?

 

References:

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Stop, Drop, &…Reach Out

Do you ever feel like you are constantly putting out fires? I know I do.

Lately, it seems like whenever I get one area of my life under control, another quickly catches some spark of trouble and I am left scrambling to put it out.

Work. Family. Friends. Personal Wellness. That’s a lot of ground to cover when you think of it.

And it’s all connected.

While I might try to tell myself otherwise, these different areas of my life overlap in significant ways.

Which means that trouble in one area can affect all of the others. When a fire takes up a lot of my emotional, psychological, and physical resources, it inevitably spreads to everything that I do. It affects my ability to concentrate. It affects my ability to make good decisions. It affects my ability to get things done.

In short, it compromises my ability to function.

Because, when life feels like it is in a state of emergency, prioritizing responsibilities can be very difficult.

That’s why we can’t fight fires alone.

If there is one thing I have learned from living in B.C., it is that firefighting is a team effort.

When we feel the heat of life getting to us, we need to stop before we drop and roll right over to the people who are waiting to extend us relief.

Once we do, the haze begins to clear. Breathing becomes easier. The flames start to shrink. The fight becomes manageable.

We regroup. We re-evaluate. We rest.

We remember that, while life’s fires may burn us out at times, they also show us how blessed we are to have the support of incredible people.

Perhaps even more importantly, they remind us that we have the opportunity to be incredible people.

The more experience we gain through fighting fires, the more compassion, understanding and relief we can extend to those going through similar times of distress.

When we see signs of trouble, we can stop, drop some of the items on our to-do lists, and reach out.

I am truly grateful to live in a world where so many heroes do this on a daily basis.

And boy, do I ever want to be one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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