Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: I Am the Lorax

No, I do not have orange skin and bright yellow hair, as does the title character of the new movie The Lorax. I haven’t even seen the movie, but I’ve read the book, a Dr. Seuss story about a creature who “speaks for the trees,” trying to defend them from others. As I thought about the movie and how many people are annoyed at the preachiness of its message, I realized that I have my own truffula trees to defend.

A really smart guy named Albert Borgmann talked about what he called “focal practices” – the practices that require time and interaction with other human beings. In a world where technology distracts and multitasking is a high priority, we’re letting the focal practices slip away, he said.

“Not on my watch,” I replied, striking an epic pose to make myself seem way cooler and tougher than I really am.

I love board games because of what you can learn about others through them. I am the first to volunteer to make a homemade meal or bake cookies, not because I’m the food-artist type who loves the end product, but because I love it when people come together around the table and eat something that wasn’t microwaved or grabbed in a drive-thru. I plan parties based on wacky games that require working with other interesting people instead of just watching a movie. I tell stories and try to do so in a way that invites audience participation.

I am the Lorax, and I speak for fellowship. I speak for laughter and quality time and tradition and all those sentimental things that you thought only existed in Hallmark commercials.

As a Lorax, I have three things that I think are very important for others to know and/or do. Actually, I have several dozen, but here are a few that I’m very passionate about:

  1. Be present. I understand that you may need to respond to a text message every once in a while when we’re playing Settlers. But if you feel obligated to reply to every one you receive, think about why. Do people expect you to respond immediately? Do they really? If so, maybe you should break that pattern of expectation. Unlike whoever’s talking to you via phone, the people around you took time to be with you in person. Please, please, respect that. And, for the love of all that is real and significant, if you play Angry Birds or Words with Friends when you’re with me, I will do something drastic that might involve significant damage to whatever gadget you’re using.

  1. Experience reality. And I’ll give you a hint: it’s not The Bachelor. Do something in person that you could do virtually. Write a letter (you know, those things with stamps). Run outside instead of on a treadmill. Climb a tree. Go to someone to ask them something if you can rather than texting. Bake cookies or bread or anything from scratch. Make a few Christmas cards for special people instead of mass-mailing a letter. Then take time to think about the difference. Was it worth it?

  1. Realize that you’re going to die. This is a big deal for me. I pass a gravestone on my way to college every time I return from a break with my last name, “GREEN,” written on it in bold letters, and it always encourages me to live well. As morbid (or as much like a corny country song) as this may sound, it helps me to take little risks, remember to compliment others (most people you admire probably don’t know it, or why), and not waste too much time on unnecessary things.

What about you? How would you finish this statement? I am the Lorax, and I speak for ______________? What are three things you would want someone to do in response?

Find your truffula trees – if there’s something you need to speak out for (or against), do it. Don’t feel burdened to change the world on your own, but defend your passion. This doesn’t always mean picketing or starting a crusading charitable organization. I’ve known people who speak for kids with special needs, hugs, or the need to learn from history. It does mean caring deeply about something and letting that show in your actions.

But…. (And you knew there would be one of these, didn’t you?) Be ready to accept that not everyone cares about what you care about. This, I think, can really set you apart in a society where everyone is selling a cause. If you’ve ever heard a mission agency or outreach group talk about what they do, you’ll notice that often they don’t understand why everyone within hearing range is not moved to action.

Go ahead, be passionate. For me, at least, seeing someone who truly loves something is more compelling than a thousand altar calls, slideshows with adorable international children, and pleas for donations and prayer. But do recognize that this is a passion that God has given you, not everyone you encounter. Sometimes, hearing about your cause may not inspire someone else to join it…but it may inspire them to find their own God-given passion, and that’s just as good.

As usual, if you’re a writer, this applies to your characters as well. Heroes especially should care about things, unless you’re writing The Stranger and the whole point is to support an existential philosophy about apathy. Know what your character speaks for, what he’s passionate about, and the readers have a reason to believe that he will pursue that goal no matter what ridiculous odds are stacked against him.

This especially applies to those who have a bent toward the epic. If you’re one of those people who wants a really intense, high-stakes plot, your readers must believe that your character would value what they’re after even above their own life. That, my friends, takes a lot of passion.

Care about things. Have your characters care about things. And then your reader will care.

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