A good idea should not be abandoned merely because we haven't followed through on it yet.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Death of an Icon

While the rest of America shuffled halfheartedly through the commemorative issue of Time magazine devoted to the life and times of the late, great and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, I spent this past week thinking about the beautifully bright and contemplative soul that was Twila Edwards. Lover and teacher of C. S. Lewis and New Testament literature at Evangel College and crusader of gender equality within the Evangelical Church, Twila lent herself generously as mentor to many intellectually curious minds and spiritually humble hearts. When my mother-in-law sadly called me with the news that she had passed away last Friday evening, in her late 70s, her body relenting to an increasingly degenerative heart condition and her mind deteriorating with the heartache that is dementia, I felt an abrupt change of course on an otherwise routine day. Although it has been well over a decade since I sat in Twila's classroom and aspired to greater things, memory undeniably recalls the affection and admiration I had for her and her teaching.

Twila was unique among persons, unique among her peers, despite being a biblical studies professor devoted to academic scholarship, she so wholeheartedly embraced the truth in literary fiction it wouldn't surprise me if she had had her own magic wardrobe tucked away in the attic, door slightly ajar, hinting of other worlds and wiser ways. The creative power of story has always played a pivotal role in my ever evolving view of self and the world around us. Everything she taught seemed to me an extension of her love for Love, not just academia and not just religion. And, as a side note, the significance of my wanting to capitalize that second "L" in love would not be lost on her. I remember in particular a novel we read in her class, All Hallow's Eve by, I apologize, an author I can't recall, that relayed the significance of a single act of kindness, bringing a glass of water to a thirsty loved one in the middle of the night, demonstrating the unmistakable action of true selfless love. That fragmented scene has been replayed through out my own adult life with me both as the recipient and the gifter and has left a deep and lasting impression, providing me with an unexpected lifelong reminder that love is far greater than the irritations, the frustrations, the disappointments and the stressors that inevitably threaten to wear it down.

That was Twila's lasting gift to me, not entirely personal, but completely intimate. I did go on to take another seat under her tutelage on the biblical role of women in ministry at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. I was already of the generation that grew up taking women's equal rights for granted, and the assumption of intellectual, spiritual and vocational equality within society at large and within religious circles was a given to me. But had I pursued a vocation within the Evangelical Church I would have found that isn't necessarily the case in every corner of its expanding walls. One of the largest, most influential Assemblies of God churches in our community today is led by a minister that purports the spiritual headship of males over females and will not allow women the role of teacher or minister over men. But not too many miles down the road stands Evangel Temple, Twila's home church, assisted pastorally by a very bright scholar, teacher and compassionate heart. And I had the pleasure of passing her in the halls of seminary back in the day. That is the gift of Twila to many more.

Although the boundaries of my world view have since shifted beyond the tenants of her faith, Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials resonating more with me now than Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Twila Edwards will always be an icon to me, closer to home for me than any fading Hollywood star.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Apocalyse Now!

There's no better, fatalistic preoccupation than that of the end of the world. Especially if you have the opportunity, by virtue of an Evangelical world view, to safely escape it into the clouds and screw having to face your own mortality in the process. That's a win win, and thereby slightly elating. My dad has always been casually fond of the end times. Even more so now in the sunset of his life. It's become his disclaimer. When discussing whether or not he and my mother will move to Missouri upon her upcoming retirement, "it depends on how things are" really means "if there isn't a major terrorist attack and the Great Tribulation isn't imminent." He manages to slip a little something apocalyptic into almost any conversation these days. All roads lead to Middle East politics and Armageddon. Maybe it stands out more because we don't talk as much over the phone as we used to in person. But maybe it would come up just as frequently if he lived next door. Drives Nathaniel crazy. Drives me crazier. But also makes me sad. Everyone's religious world view is interpreted through his or her own personality and life experience. Does anyone really want to escape life if they are enjoying it? And I'll stop there. I love him as he is, and of course he is many things other than solely a man obsessed with the end of the world, but it makes me wonder...
As for myself, I can't help but think about it too. Though I was never really comfortable with the Book of Revelations, which in my world was synonymous with the apocalypse . Loved the rest of the New Testament, highlighted it to death, and most of the Old, but not so much at ease with the way the Nicene council decided to wrap things up. Didn't enough Jews die in the Holocaust? No matter your interpretation of the cryptic message, it's not exactly brimming with positive motivation. There are carrots mind you but most of the lions and lambs (I know the plural is technically sheep but it doesn't flow as well with the reference) will be long dead before they get to reap the benefits of a new world and get the opportunity to snuggle with one another. I didn't mind being the precocious party pooper who told everyone else at the bus stop that Santa Claus wasn't real but I hated carrying around this graver knowledge that Jesus wasn't coming back for them and in the blink of an eye I would be sucked out of my galoshes into the sky and everyone else left in my wake was pretty much doomed. I remember being traumatized for years after watching the late 1970s/early 1980s trilogy of the end times films at our church over a succession of three fateful Sunday evening services; A Thief in the Night, A Distant Thunder and, for only the truest at heart, WTF? I Made It This Far and I'm Still Getting Killed Off? The name of the third obviously escapes me but the content of these films will forever live in infamy in my adolescent memories. Even though I had years of Jesus Christ under my belt and in my heart, every time my mom went missing for more than several moments I was convinced that the Rapture had happened and I'd been left behind. Instant panic would set in and visions of guillotines and giant scorpion tails filled my head. Running to my next door neighbors' house and finding my friend Tammy's mother alive and well was no consolation, as their family was some other brand of Christian that wasn't quite the same. I was eight. Sigh. Good times.
For those who know me now it seems needless to say that I never fully managed to reconcile that very selective vision of the future with my evolving understanding of the world around me. It never really gelled and wasn't that difficult to unravel. By the time my junior high Growing Pains crush, Kirk Cameron, brought Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkin's Revelations thriller Left Behind to the sort of big screen some, I won't say how many, years later, I had already left *it behind. I'm not unconvinced that an end to our civilization is coming sooner or later, I rather assume it will. I just believe that when it does it will be of our own doing. The future presented by Cormac McCarthy in The Road seems eerily plausible. Father and son nomads traveling through the charred remains of what used to be America in the freezing nothing of nuclear winter searching for any signs of surviving civilization. It may seem prophetic but does God really need to precipitate the cataclysmic for us? As far as we keep advancing in science and technology and arts and humanitarianism there are still many of us who are choosing to destroy our planet and each other. I think we have our bases covered, and just in case we don't Mother Nature is always ready to step in, with her incessantly shifting tectonic plates and tsunami, tornadic Hurricane Katrina like fury. I will think about it. But until then, I will also watch Chelsea Handler and laugh at politically incorrect jokes and inspect every page of People In Style magazine and drool over fabulous shoes and make good use of my employee discount and suck down my daily iced latte and keep replacing the book on my nightstand and repaint our kitchen multiple times until I reach the perfect roller lint free shade of bright orange and dream of our future home as I continue to pay off my credit card debt and look forward to my favorite part of each day, every day, the hour right before sunset.