The appeal of “Twilight”

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

Unlike my daughter, I’ve not read Stephenie Meyer’s book series — yet. But I was probably as excited as she was to see the first movie in the saga. And now I look forward to reading the books. I don’t think I can wait to see the next three movies to know the rest of the story.

I can understand how Meyer’s books have become a cultural phenomenon. Forget the intrigue of an unorthodox love story between a mortal and a vampire. My husband wasn’t able to get beyond that image and didn’t go with my daughter and me to see the movie.

The concept of a forbidden love affair between two people worlds apart has been around for centuries. My daughter says we can thank Shakespeare for that.

But perhaps the idea of wanting what you can’t have is natural to human nature. Even a toddler is passionate with that desire.

I’m not about to give away any details from the story. You’ll have to read the books or go see the movie yourself — if you are, like me before today, one of the few left in the world who doesn’t know the story. But my daughter said something after the movie that possibly sums up the extreme appeal of Meyer’s story. She said, “We all want to be loved that much.”

I can concur that by Twilight’s end, I had an overwhelming feeling of the love that had just been portrayed — a love that protects without regard for one’s own safety. A love that cherishes every moment shared with the object of one’s affections. A love that wants what is best for another even if it means sacrificing one’s own happiness.

In spite of the conflict the story begins to unfurl, this movie ended with my sigh as I basked in the deep love shown by someone who loves another more than self. Interestingly enough, I found myself contented and satisfied by pondering the purity of such love.

And why not?

Who doesn’t want to be loved by someone who gives love without conditions?

I feel loved in this way by my husband. But after watching Edward’s love for Bella, I’m compelled to ask myself if I show my husband the depth of my love for him every day of our life together.

With the holiday season upon us, I can’t help but also think about Jesus’ teachings on love. He taught us to love others regardless of how they treat us — even our enemies. He said, “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” (Luke 6:31)

A good guideline for any and all types of relationships!

In other words, if we want to be loved unconditionally, we must give our love unconditionally.

As I anticipate the next movie in this love story, I’ll continue to think about the love Edward feels for Bella. I’ll put Meyer’s books at the top of my Christmas wish list. And I’ll do my best to show my husband how unconditionally and passionately I love him.

For the love of a dog

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

It had been a really bad day. I found myself caught up in a plethora of emotions ranging from betrayal, hurt and disappointment to anger. My dismay and anguish might have been beyond relief if it had not been for the happy yelp and wagging tail of the little dachshund that met me as I walked through my door.

After spending a couple of hours holding my puppy in my lap and being lavished with extravagant licks, I suddenly realized that my world didn’t seem so terribly wronged. My peace of mind that hours earlier seemed forever disturbed was returning. I could feel a calmness taking over that was allowing me to once again think rationally and clearly.

A recent study conducted at Queen’s University, Belfast, Ireland shows that the dog may truly be man’s best friend. The research found that people with canine companions tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and fewer medical problems. And, they tend to recover more quickly from serious illness. One of the report’s conclusions states that dogs can directly promote our well being by buffering us from stress. I certainly felt much better after I spent quality time with my doxey!

I always feel an unconditional love and unquestionable loyalty when I’m in her presence. She appears unconscious of my faults, failures or weaknesses. Thank goodness! Her faithfulness is never fleeting — it has no strings attached. Her love continues day after day and is freely given.

As I sat there cherishing the moments spent with my dachshund, I thought to myself: “Who else but this little dog loves me unconditionally?” It was in that moment as I basked in the love of my dog, that I remembered there was another who loved me like this — God.

It’s really no surprise that God loves you and me constantly, faithfully and without conditions, since God is Love. There’s a parable which Jesus shares that for me epitomizes God as Love while teaching lessons about what it means to love and be loved.

I suspect many of you will know this story as the parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32) But there was another son in that story I don’t always remember. The parable begins in fact, “There was once a man who had two sons.”

The younger of the two sons asked his dad to give him his inheritance early because he wanted to leave home to go out on his own. But this younger son didn’t make wise decisions and eventually wasted all of his money. It wasn’t until he was starving and slopping pigs for his living, that he decided to go home and ask his dad if he would hire him, since he no longer felt worthy of being treated as a son. At least his dad fed his hired servants three meals a day!

But when the dad saw this young son whom he had given up for dead, he felt only love for his child. This dad saw no faults, failures or weaknesses in his son. He saw only a much beloved son whom he wanted to embrace.

All the years since the younger son left, the older son had remained ever faithful and diligent in service to his dad. Now this older son felt unappreciated by his dad as he watched him celebrating his brother’s return after he had wasted everything their dad had given to him.

But again, this patient and compassionate dad reminded this older son of his appreciation for his faithfulness and said, “Everything that is mine is yours.” But he also told his older son that it was right to celebrate the safe return of his younger brother.

Because that is what Love does — Love loves.

As I thought about God’s love for me, I knew He was giving no concern to the faults, failures and weaknesses that were mine — or those of others. God was too busy loving me and everyone to see anything less than His beloved children.

And I thought, “Perhaps I need to do the same. Maybe I could forgive and forget what I consider someone else’s fault and failure — and I can do this because I love them.” I also realized that I could forgive and forget what I was considering my fault and failure in the situation because I needed to love myself in the way that God loves me.

Interestingly enough, as I sat there feeling quite loved by my dog and very loved by God, it was not long before I could feel nothing else but love. And what was a very bad day was transformed into a doggone good one!

Humanity’s progress report

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

The viewpoint that human beings and civilization are ever improving and advancing toward a higher and better goal is a very old one. The search itself tells the story — whether it was what brought the Puritans to the American colonies or what sent the covered wagons across the prairies or what propelled man to land on the moon.

The U.S. Constitution speaks of the “pursuit” of happiness. It is this pursuit — this search or quest for something better, higher, more meaningful, more substantial — that illustrates the life practice of progress.

Many people argue and debate about what constitutes progress, and consequently, many times the authenticity or validity of progress is doubted and questioned. This has never made much sense to me, since I believe that existence must always be advancing, proceeding and unfolding because progress is the law of God, the law of infinity.

Steps forward can certainly be of different sizes, whether baby steps or giant leaps. Advancement is actually possible, even when you’re not on your feet. Crawling is progress. Any improvement is a good thing and should be recognized, valued and appreciated. Perhaps we can best define progress in the words of Walt Whitman: “always becoming.” Progress, then, would never be a single fixed point and would never reach an end.

So we are always becoming the people we are capable of being — the people we are divinely created to be, whom God knows, loves and cares for right now and forever.

Recently I came across the slogan of the General Electric Co. in the 1950s and 1960s. And it seems that it was Ronald Reagan who announced this slogan each week on television in the name of General Electric: “Progress is our most important product.”

If this is so, we don’t need to measure progress by what we’ve accomplished, achieved or built and invented. We ascertain our progress by the direction in which we are walking, the practice of our ideals, and our understanding of who we are.

Jesus taught his disciples a lesson in social progress when apparently James and John were angry at how some people were acting. The disciples asked Jesus if he wanted them to “tell fire to come down from heaven and consume” these people. Jesus said, “Of course not!!!” Then he further cautioned them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:51-55).

We must always be about the business of becoming who we are, as God created us to be. We’re not responsible for the actions of others. But we are always accountable for our own actions, our own thoughts and viewpoints.

Perhaps we can better understand who we are by better understanding our Creator. God is Love. If Love created us, then we must be loving, forgiving, compassionate. If we are not living who we are, then maybe that is because we’re not understanding who we are. The good news is we will continue to progress in that understanding and become better at acting like the child of God that we are. Thank goodness, progress is the law of God!

Indeed, there are many would-be foes of progress: idleness, conceit, envy, revenge, and the many self-isms such as self-will, self-righteousness and self-ignorance, to name a few. Misguided opinions of what brings happiness and satisfaction are also detrimental to progress.

This is a lesson I’ve had to learn and learn again throughout my life. Whether I was making a rash judgment, jumping to a wrong conclusion, worrying about what-ifs or stressing out about lack of time, I’ve had to be willing to reassess and alter my perceptions.

As we continue on our journey of self-awakening, we’ll become more alert to these enemies and will allow nothing to impede or hinder our progress.

We are a world of seekers. While our pathways traveled are unique and many, progress is the law that is impelling each of our steps. Human history has been one of progress, sometimes accelerating and sometimes slow moving. But the wheels of progress will keep moving us all forward, as they must, ever so steadily.

May we always celebrate any and all progress in our lives and in the lives of others. After all, progress is what matters most.

A spiritual look at the serious face of bullying

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

Disturbing incidents of bullying continue to make news headlines worldwide. And it seems bullying has a new face, or as some say, no face at all with the “cyber bully.” This faceless individual anonymously torments, threatens, and harasses others via the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, or cell phones.In the United States, studies indicate one out of ten students drops out of school because of repeated bullying. And harassment and bullying have been linked to suicides and to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents. Sadly, some studies have suggested that as many as half of all children have been bullied at some time during their school years, with many children admitting having experience as both the bully and the bullied.

This didn’t surprise me as I recalled my own experience of being bullied. As a young child, I was very skinny and self-conscious about my size and appearance. Getting teased about my size was a frequent occurrence, especially during physical education classes.

Then, through Christian Science, I started learning about my spiritual identity—that, no matter what my opinion or any other opinions were, the child that God created was my “true” self. God could create only the reflection of Himself, and this would surely include such qualities as strength, courage, fortitude, confidence, poise, faith. I was beginning to understand that I could rely on my God-given qualities any time. I remember praying along these lines one day during gym class when a turning point came.

Each girl had to do one chin-up and hold the position. We were each timed to see how long we could hold ourselves up. My turn arrived, along with heckling that I was too weak to even pull myself up at all. But not only was I able to, I also broke the school record for how long I could hold that position. That ended the taunting about my size and lack of ability.

In hindsight, I can see how accepting this spiritual view of myself enabled me to achieve my best and see the reversal of my peers’ perception of me. I was also learning that this God-inspired view must be true for each of them, too.

Some have minimized or dismissed bullying behavior, concluding “it’s just a phase” or “kids will be kids.” And some think bullying is a topic of concern limited to parents and educators. However, whether a child is the perpetrator or target, bullying traps children into destructive behavior patterns that threaten to follow them into adulthood.

Author Barbara Coloroso, who works in Rwanda with orphans from the genocide, draws a link between genocide and bullying behaviors learned in childhood. Describing genocide as “the most extreme form of bullying” in an interview with The Epoch Times, she said: “It’s rooted in contempt for another human being who’s been deemed by the bully and his or her accomplices to be worthless, inferior, and undeserving of respect. Once I have contempt for you, I could do anything to you and not feel any shame or compassion. I’ve removed you from my circle of needing to treat you as a human being” (November 9, 2007). If bullying remains unchecked in childhood, it’s easy to see how it can sow the seeds that sprout into racism and religious and political extremism that threaten the peace and unity of humankind.

Perhaps one solution is to help children find and value their natural attraction to purity and goodness. Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Beloved children, the world has need of you,—and more as children than as men and women: it needs your innocence, unselfishness, faithful affection, uncontaminated lives” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 110). Here is a call to pray for all humankind to protect, preserve, and nurture the virtues that are innate in all of God’s children—and this includes you and me.

As children develop an awareness of their own unique and irreplaceable value, and feel the acceptance and love of their divine Parent, they will in turn treasure and care for themselves, and feelings of trust and respect for others will be awakened.

It’s not too much to say that the progress of humanity, which includes all of us at any stage or age, relies and depends on understanding our spiritual identity. Since we’re each a child of God, we can expect harmony in our relations with others. Contempt and fear are not natural impulses; they can be unlearned and uprooted by the truth of our spiritual nature and God’s unending and unconditional love for all of His children. Contempt can be transformed into compassion and caring, and fear into empathy and love for one another.

Why did you want to kill me?

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

Public shootings at high schools, college campuses, shopping malls, city council meetings or church services have become more and more rampant in recent years. And following these tragic events, the same questions are asked, including: What reason did the gunman have for his deadly actions? We hunger to understand the rationale that leads someone to do what most of us consider as the unimaginable. And yet we’re quite certain there is no explanation that is justifiable. No one is ever entitled to takes the lives of others or make others suffer. Nor is one entitled to end his own life.

Whatever the reasons, these gunmen seem completely absorbed by a victim mentality, blaming everyone else for what has happened in their world. They have allowed themselves to believe they have no power, control or choice — feeling there is nothing they can do to make things better in a world they believe has been so unfair to them. There is hopelessness, bitterness, resentment, anger. And in the end, the gunmen perhaps feel their violent actions are forced on them, as if no other alternative is available. But they are wrong.

I don’t pretend to know or understand what goes on in the minds of these gunmen. But I have spent years trying to understand what my dad may have felt when his marriage to my mom ended, when I was 10 years old.

My dad wanted to end his life. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, this time he announced his plan to kill my mom and me before ending his own life. He revealed this plan to my grandmother as he stood on her front porch with a gun to his head. Fortunately, my grandmother reached my mom on the telephone to warn her in time for us to escape. I never saw my dad again. He died a few months later.

But I’ve often wondered what my dad was feeling that made him want to end my life and his. Of course, I don’t know and never will. But I know what message I would like to have given to him:

“Dear Dad,

“You are loved. Not just by me but by your Father-Mother God. You are wanted and needed. You have a purpose that should be fulfilled. Your life is important and worthy to be lived fully. You are valued.

“There is always a new day, Dad. And there are infinite possibilities — many you’ve yet to imagine and experience. Maybe your life feels totally dark right now, but darkness is always followed by dawn. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Some changes may not be easy. But everything we face in our lives can lead to happier and better times — albeit sometimes different than we first planned.

“I will probably never fully understand all the reasons that led to the divorce. Perhaps there are many things that both you and Mom wish you could have changed or could have done differently. Maybe it is better for you both to move on with your lives at this time — separately. It doesn’t seem like it will help either of you to blame each other or anyone else. And if either of you overindulges in self-pity, you’ll never find your way out of what seems to be a hurtful past for you both.

“There can be a future, Dad — one in which you and I can still share special father-daughter times. I so want to have these times with you. If you take my life and your own, these can never be.

“Your life doesn’t have to be over. I don’t want mine to be. I really don’t think it possible for anyone to ruin your life. God gives you life, Dad. And God will help and guide you each day of your life. With God, you can overcome and withstand the difficult times. Only listen. Only be willing to open your thoughts to His direction, even if it means you’ll be traveling down a road you had not expected. God only wants good for His precious children. And that includes you, since you are a beloved son of God.

“You have a choice to make, Dad. Choose life. Choose to continue on your life journey and expect better tomorrows. Tomorrow will come.”

I never got to say these words to my dad. So, I offer them now to any of you who may be feeling that your life is over or who may be contemplating ending the lives of others along with your own. Please don’t do it. Choose life, my friend. And let tomorrow come. With God’s help, tomorrow will be better. And yes, it may take a few tomorrows before you believe me. But don’t give up. Don’t lose your hope.

Remember — God loves you. You are not alone.