Note from Chaplain Mike: Here is a delightfully quirky piece from five years ago, in which Michael talks about one facet of his marvelous imagination. Enjoy.
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Personification. With me, it’s more than just a hobby. It’s a way of life.
I’m reasonably sure that there are entire blogs being developed to prove that I am mentally ill, “dangerously unstable,” without sufficient assurance of faith to be truly converted and unfit for the ministry. The fact is, I do have one serious problem that might qualify me in someone’s estimation as both nuts AND unfit to work with anyone’s children.
I personify objects and animals. They talk to me, and I occasionally talk to them.
What do I mean? I mean that when I look at the inanimate and the non-human, I rapidly endow them with human qualities, personalities and, most interestingly, the ability to communicate. They come to life, not like living in animated movie, but in a way that allows me to see another side to existence.
(Please note that I am doing the endowing here. I’m not hearing voices that I don’t want to hear. But I’ve got plenty of time to deteriorate to that point.)
Take, for example, my cars. They are machines, with no human qualities. But long before Pixar created Cars, the movie, I had created Cars: the Spencer family. My old 1965 Chevy was the first vehicle to speak to me, protesting any number of my youthful indiscretions and abuses, and warning me to stay out of that cornfield. My 1976 Subaru expressed its unhappiness at being hit by a cocaine-headed drunk, then traded, after years of faithful service. (Didn’t I remember that my dad wanted this car?)
And then there were my Fords. They were all whiners. An encyclopedia of constant complaints. Quite a contrast to my Toyotas, which all have good Kentucky accents, and never fail to tell me they will take me anywhere, without problem.
They’ve all got personality, and I’ve patted them on the dashboards in affection and kicked their tires in exasperation. I’ve listened to them cry as I traded them, and I’ve heard them say “I told you so” after I paid megabucks to get them out of the garage.
Most of my personifications are small. My laptops. (“Pick me! Pick me!”) Favorite books. (“Do you ever plan to read me?”) My guitars. (“Get me out of this case. I’m begging you.”)
The smallest thing I ever personified was a packet of pepper. I got it in the cafeteria line and didn’t use it, so I put it in my pocket. When I got ready to throw it away, it said “Please, sir. I was created to be useful to someone’s food. Can’t you give me another chance? Don’t throw me away and waste my life.” I actually made that one into a hit sermon illustration.
Are the white coats coming yet?
My favorite personifications are animals. All of our pets have voices, and different family members have their parts to keep up. My wife is excellent with cat voices, and can differentiate between our various house cats with real skill. Our Tabby has quite an attitude, and is extremely high in herself. She intends to be worshipped and adored, and can’t understand why God actually IS worshipped and adored.
Our Cricket’s voice is gentle and wise, easy to get along with and quirky. Clay’s Mistof is an endless beggar and a liar. He feels entitled to the very best of care, and says so. You love the charm, but you are always sorry you did.
Our old Scottie, McCheyne, had a great Scottish accent that Denise and I had both mastered. When he died, his voice was stilled, and we genuinely miss him.
I’m looking in the driveway. No ambulance yet, so I’ll go on.
If someone were to film our family personifying animals, they would conclude we were several fries short of a happy meal. We enjoy the fun. We’ve passed on this little habit to our kids, and along the way, taught them to think about what they were doing to a toy, or how it felt to be lost and misplaced, or why something given as a gift wants to be shared.
God took the dust of the earth and made human beings. He took a rib and made Eve. These are stories of God making persons out of the impersonal. Capon (via Augustine) says that we are given our meaning in the mind of God, who conceived of us as persons when we were not yet, and had done nothing. He thought of us, as we are at every stage and moment of life, loved us in Jesus, and reconciled himself to us… all before we existed. He delights in us in his own thoughts in perfect grace….and then he makes us persons in his image and in his Son.
We are persons, made in God’s image, only because God gives to us a voice, significance and life. We have lifein Christ. His life is the light of men. He gives creation its personal character. We are persons because we reflect our creator, and not just the creation or other beings. We are made persons by God’s personal action to cause us to be, and to be again.
Jesus treated all those he met with love, dignity and compassion. He made persons out of the non-persons in his culture. He included the sinful, the excluded and the dehumanized. Oppressors have always used the process of dehumanization to cement their power over the world, but God causes the downtrodden to be lifted up, the forgotten to be remembered, and the dead to be raised up.
Now we who are loyal to Jesus and worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ are person-makers as well. We follow Jesus when we look upon the world and endow it, again, with its God-given character. All that God has created displays dimensions of his being, and the wonderful work of his hands. We do not merely exist, use or consume, but we worship God as stewards and namers of creation. We are creative because we want to take the someTHING and show that it all related to and speaks for someONE.
Most significantly of all, we give voice and significant to other persons in a dehumanizing, empty world. We make persons out of the lonely, the overlooked and the suffering. We refuse to live dumbly and distracted in a world where people are numbers and statistics. We seek to joyfully live and serve in a way that gives human dignity, human respect and God’s love and grace to every person who knows us, works with us or lives with us.
Our personification is ongoing, as God makes us, through the Spirit, more and more like himself. Our giving personal significance to others is ongoing as well. Whether we are parents, teachers, artists, counselors or caregivers, we imitate and obey God when we make those around us more the persons God created of for whom Christ died.
Talking pepper packets is a bit odd. Listening, serving, visiting, sharing, giving, enabling: these are also a bit odd in an impersonal world that counts our value in terms of physical beauty, economic production or pragmatic potential. Yet I’ve found personification to be a delight in a drab world, and perhaps I’ve come a bit closer to the joy of God in making the universe- and making us in his image- in the first place.