Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Better

If you're a person who believes in some sort of personal Divine Being, do you ever play this little head game? Something disappointing happens, and either someone says, "Well, God must have a better plan," or you think something like, "God is sovereign and things happen for a purpose, so clearly I'm supposed to learn something from this, or He knew something bad was going to happen if my wishes were fulfilled, so it's all for the best." Then you sit around mulling this over for way too long and trying to envision all the scenarios that you might have been spared from, or trying to figure out what it is you're supposed to be learning.

Here's an example:

I was supposed to fly to Brother-Dave and Sister-in-Lu's yesterday. I was going to use up my last week of vacation for the year during the last week of the year playing with TWCN and Smiley-Guy. But I live in a usually-cold, wintery northern state, and Brother-Dave's family lives in a pretty far away cold, wintery northern state. My northern state had been a little tardy as far as snowfall and winter weather, in comparison to Ireland, where my parents live, which isn't even supposed to get snow, and was having a blizzard along with the rest of Europe the day my parents were scheduled to fly over here. Closed European airports notwithstanding, my parents actually got on a plane, which actually left, and actually arrived safely in our cold northern state that hadn't had any snow yet.

You would think if it had waited this long to snow, it could've waited a little longer, until the winter festivities were over or something. But it didn't. We managed not to get a white Christmas (snow on Christmas is, of course, totally irrelevant to the holiday, but it sure makes for a lovely landscape), but the day after, we began to get a blizzard. In this neck of the woods, it doesn't even seem like it was that bad, overall. But the timing was miserable, and the short version of the story is that I am now not going to Minnesota to see my brother and his family, and my parents, who were supposed to leave today, now have to wait to fly out there until Friday, and are still working on extending their stay, re-hiring a rental car, and getting back to the house here in the meantime.

This is when someone comes along and helpfully says, "Well, God has a better plan." This is probably true, but it sure doesn't seem like it from this vantage point. There's no use in pretending that any of this is of earth-shaking importance, but if it's important enough for God to have another plan than it, it must be important enough to get kind of a reaction from the people affected. The reaction, at least from me, is that being stranded at home on vacation with nothing to do (but church history paper research, which I can't do much of anyway, because the seminary offices are closed and it's hard to find info on the Protestant modernist-fundamentalist controversy anywhere else in this heavily Roman Catholic part of the world), as contrasted with playing tea party for a week with TWCN is a weird kind of "better." I'd debate it.

Then today I woke up with a cough, which has now established itself firmly in my lungs. So--maybe it's "better" that I was prevented from going because Brother-Dave's family spent pretty much the entire time at Sister-in-Lu's parents' house over Christmas, sick as dogs. Surely they do not need to get sick again, even if it's a completely different type of ailment. But really? Wouldn't it have been simpler just to keep me from getting sick?

Maybe God's trying to grow my character, and maybe it's even working, because in spite of this rant, I'm not actually angry, as I might have been in the past--just a little put out and kind of cynical/curious about reasons. Or maybe He's trying to grow my brother's character, by giving him surely one of the most miserable Christmas/New Year's seasons he's ever had. Or maybe He's trying to show two-and-a-half-year-old TWCN that life's just not fair and the sooner she learns it the better: apparently she cried when she found out I couldn't come to visit her. I wonder how she'll take the delay in my parents' itinerary.

Well, it isn't fair. None of this is the biggest deal ever, but it's disappointing and frustrating and disrupting and . . . not fair.

On the other hand . . . This is the kind of thing that leads some people to decide there is no God, or He doesn't love us, or He isn't all-powerful, and that, to me, seems like overkill. If there is a God, it makes sense that He might not make sense. I mean, made in the image of God we may be. God Himself, we are not (in spite of worldviews that try to tell us differently). In the first place, who am I to think any of this should matter to Him, really? And if, as I believe, it surprisingly does, does that mean He's going to step in at every moment, insuring that everything about my life is smooth sailing? (Evidently not . . . because it hasn't been!) I'm not writing this to prove anything. (Fortunately, since I'm not succeeding in that.) I'm just mulling this over. And here's what I'm thinking:

Maybe somehow, in some miraculous, sparkly-snowflake, cheesy Serendipity-movie kind of way, I'll meet this amazing guy this week and be married by next Christmas or something crazy like that, or maybe I'll just be stuck here with a chest-cold and no little-girl tea-parties. But either way, I still believe God is good, and God loves me, and God is all-powerful. I just don't think any of that requires Him to wait on me hand-and-foot, or forestall any disappointments, and I don't even think there has to be a "reason," or a "better," honestly. At least, not one that I'll necessarily ever see. The world is broken, and "broken" things happen here.

We celebrate God's coming into the brokenness at this time of year. He came ultimately to fix it--to fix us--but first He submitted to the brokenness and darkness, the disappointment and frustration and disruption (do I think His leaving Heaven to hang out down here with us wasn't a disruption?), and even now we're waiting for the final "fixing." It'll come. I hope I learn something from this, even if I'm not married by next Christmas, but maybe it's all just part of living here, and maybe, with God around, even if He isn't fixing it right now, that's okay.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Becoming Human

Earlier this month I was emailing a little with my friend Stephen. He was talking about how he approves of any holiday which involves his getting presents. He was speaking of Hanukkah mostly (and acknowledging that the reason presents are exchanged during that holiday was so Jewish children wouldn't feel bad that they weren't getting presents during their holiday the way the Christian kids were during theirs). I could kind of resonate with this sentiment, if the truth were known (as it is about to be).

"I like presents, too," I said.

I am fully cognizant that my pretty Christmas tree and the digital camera that my family are pitching in to get me for Christmas have nothing to do with what I believe to be a celebration of God becoming a human being. However. I guess you could make the stretch and say the presents are a celebration of the material world which God validated if He did, in fact, become a human being. Or you could just make a pun on the word 'presents/presence.' Anyway. I'm just saying, I like the gifts.

Let's be honest, here . . .

"I have to say," Stephen replied,

that as an outside observer, I've always been fascinated by the fact that Christmas seems to be a bigger holiday than Easter (when I was working retail, I had a customer berate me for us being open on Easter while she was buying stuff - I love irony). It always seemed that Christ rising and becoming God was kind of the point of Christianity. You're the first person to ever phrase Christmas as the day that God became human. Quite interesting...

At which point, I e-blurted,

I can't believe I'm the first person you've ever heard express that Christmas is about God becoming human. No offense to them, but my gut reaction was to blurt out, 'What kind of Christians are these people?' (I.e., the ones you know who haven't expressed it like that.) Easter isn't about Jesus becoming God. Christians believe He was God the whole time. Easter is about "reversing the curse," if you will--death (including separation from God) being the "curse" and consequence of the general human rebellion against God. God didn't want us separated from Him, but at the same time He is just and requires restitution for the upending of the order of things we caused in His creation. The offended party is the only one who can forgive, and the offending party is the only one who can make restitution, so God became human Himself so He could both make the restitution on our behalf and extend forgiveness to the rest of us after restitution had been made. By submitting to death (including a rift in His own nature--most Christians believe that for a moment God the Father turned His back on God the Son on the cross), He took on His own curse, and by coming back to life, He broke it. Not, of course, that we don't all physically die--it's just that the ultimate effects of death can be different. (Presupposing life after it, of course.) Anyway. That's why Easter is so awesome--it's the culmination of God's becoming human and releasing us from our fear of death and giving us a completely new direction for life both now and later.
I know--that's a long "blurt." But this is me--did you expect a short one?

Amazingly, Stephen actually responded even after all that, but he did make the point that, "I have a funny feeling that if I were to post a survey on Facebook asking why Christmas is important to Christianity (as opposed to the day everyone gets stuff), most would simply say 'It's the day Jesus was born' instead of any reference to God becoming human. But don't hold me to that."

Okay, I won't hold him to that. But it really got me thinking. Many Christians want to "take back Christmas." Even though most of the time I am at least partially thinking that in fact it was we who commandeered a pagan holiday or two, and while I don't feel bad about it, it does seem maybe a little hypocritical to phrase it quite that way--in spite of such subversive thinking, it does feel pretty good to have someone random that isn't from either of my churches wish me a Merry Christmas. Like my long-lost Muslim friend who just contacted me on Facebook this evening, for example. But I think sometimes we Christians think that all we have to say is "Merry Christmas," and that is magically going to translate into everyone's head everything that Christmas means to us. Let's face it--those words don't even translate that to most Christians half the time, busy as we are trying to make the holiday significant. Frankly, I'm more likely to be thinking of how stressed out my wallet is this month than I am about how God invaded human history as one of us.

It seems to me that if we really want to get Christmas "back," we should worry less about correcting people who cheerfully and well-intentionedly tell us to "Enjoy the holiday!" and focus more on the fact that God became human. And that He did so, in part, to help us become more human, too, and give us endless reasons to celebrate.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Indispensable

It is a wry joke in many circles that religion and guilt go together. I would argue that genuine trust in and commitment to Christ don't go with guilt, but the general "religion + guilt" thing might be true, I guess.

Whatever the case, I always feel this low-level guilt if I happen to miss church. I was ill a couple of Sundays last winter and had to skip out on Sunday mornings and even cancel youth group, and I felt like I had to do some kind of penance or something, even though usually there was also an accompanying sense that God was trying to get me to take a break because I wasn't doing a very good job of it on my own. This morning I missed church because I pretty much slid off my driveway while trying to get out of it this morning. So, it's not like I didn't try to go to church. I tried a couple of times, actually. I also tried not to slide down the embankment on one side, the stone wall on the other, or the woodpile at the bottom. I couldn't even walk Oscar this morning it was so icy out. But still I felt guilty, and so I decided I was going to spend some time on a novel I've not been writing about Mary the mother of Jesus, because I'm working on the birth of Christ part right now and that's Christmas-y and a good use of Sunday-morning-not-at-church-time, right? But I ended up on facebook instead, and then I felt guiltier.

I think this guilt thing is even worse because I actually work for a church. So not only do I feel like I'm shirking some kind of spiritual responsibility, but also that I'm skipping out. I spent a large part of the morning worrying about the Sunday school, because I knew two of the teachers weren't going to be there, and at least one of the subs couldn't make it, and I couldn't sub if I wasn't going to be there, and what about the youth group, and we already couldn't do our plan A for the day, which was a trip to Boston, but if I still couldn't get out of my driveway by this evening, could we even do plan B?

I sat cozy and worried on my couch for most of the morning and then 10 a.m. came and went and suddenly church was over and there was no Sunday school to worry about anymore. They either managed or they didn't, but the moment was passed, and likely everyone survived, even without my hovering presence. It dawned on me that, although I helped get a new Sunday school programme going this year, and although I more or less organise it (I say "more or less," because we all know I'm mostly less when it comes to organised), the teachers are the one who teach it, and they're all adults and they could figure out what to do. And although I do believe my church hired me because they needed someone this position, and I actually feel that God orchestrated the matching of me and the church and this job, somehow, it's also good for me to remember that I'm not indispensable. Or . . . good for me to remember that part of the point of my job is to set things up which empower other people to take leadership in the church, and that I don't have to be in control of everything (because anyway, I'm not)--if I'm really doing my job right, people should be able to make things happen (or make the decisions to cancel things, even) whether I'm there or not.

I still feel responsible for being present on a day that's supposed to be a workday. But I guess this can count as one of my sick days. I haven't had one in almost a year, and it'll be 2011 in just a few more days . . .

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Voyage of the Lost Treader

So once there was this guy named C.S. Lewis, and he wrote this amazing series of novels about a magical land called Narnia. One of the most amazing of these seven stories is called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The framework of the story is a sea voyage, but the themes are deeper themes of personal development and . . .

. . . the new movie based on this book touches on some of them, and they get in most of the key episodic elements, but I kind of feel like they missed the overall point. Also, somebody in Walden Media is clearly a Lost fan. I don't really think mini green Smoke Monsters were exactly what Lewis had in mind. Somehow. I dunno. There was also something highly reminiscent of a hatch moment, some "Others," eerie whispering voices, and some sort of nameless evil that had to be overcome by a more or less arbitrary action which, in the end, didn't seem to answer any questions or have much to do with anything.

Also, not related to Lost, the undragoning of Eustace was pretty disappointing . . . although not as disappointing as I was afraid it was going to be.

I think if you don't know the story, it was probably a decent movie as far as entertainment goes. But I just threw in a spoiler so . . . maybe not. Heh.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

No. I am not confused. Not more than usual, anyway.

This is a post I was going to write around Hallowe'en, but I got distracted, and anyway, it's really just a spin-off of my annual posts about saying "Merry Christmas," so it's not totally unseasonable. Every year since at least 2007, I say something about the whole "meaning of Christmas" issue, whether it be an emphasis on Easter instead, or how sometimes applying the word Christmas to everything might border on taking God's name in vain. My basic stance is that I do not want to be censored for saying "Merry Christmas," but at the same time, I don't think everyone should have to say it, and I wonder if they even should, if Christ is not who they're celebrating.

But it's the issue of censorship I'd like to address here today. I am going to be really politically incorrect for a moment. Bear with me.

I live in New England. I don't know if it's the "witch-hunt" history (which seems to have had the ironic ultimate effect of drawing a lot of pagans to this part of the world) or the fancifulness of dressing up or a genuine fascination with dead things, but I have a lot of friends for whom Hallowe'en is their favourite holiday. And let it be their favourite holiday. It's their choice. I'm going to say, though, that I personally think it's the most hideous holiday going. Maybe it's just because I'm not a fan of the orange-and-black combination, but I think it's more that I just don't get any enjoyment out of seeing skeletons and hooded grey beings and gravestones and clawed hands coming out of the ground. It just doesn't really do it for me. I also don't really support the trend of Hallowe'en being a time for women to look as skanky as possible. I apologise for the language, but really, is there another way to put it? I'm not sure if this trend is more exploitative of women or men, but either way, I don't like it.

However, I do understand the overall appeal of dressing up and pretending and I also understand that some people genuinely like this holiday, and so if the occasion presents itself, I don't object to wishing someone a "Happy Hallowe'en." The general public doesn't either. There may be Christians or other religious groups who choose simply not to acknowledge it, but nobody goes around telling people they should say, "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" at Hallowe'en, even though it is not a purely secular holiday either. I went to my e-card-making application the other day to find a Christmas card template, and there were only two options with the word "Christmas" in them, and they were super-cheesy. Everything else was genericised. But you can find Hallowe'en cards, and they actually have the word "Hallowe'en" on them. People just say, "Happy Hallowe'en," to each other and nobody bats an eye.

So, could everyone please stop batting their eyes if I choose to say, "Merry Christmas"? Or, if I'm in the UK, where merry means tipsy, "Happy Christmas"?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Pageantry

On Saturday and Sunday my church put on their annual Christmas Pageant. People--especially the people who are in it--go nuts over this thing. My first autumn at this church, I was enlisted to be a "Traveler," in the "King's Procession," and in the "People of Other Lands," and I hadn't even seen the production yet. I mean, I know the Christmas story, of course, but I hadn't seen this version of it, and by the time it was all over, though I had a rough idea of all the components and how they all came together, I was still a little uncertain about what I had just been involved in. Mostly all I knew was that we were talking about Jesus' birth and that at the end the narrators said that one day people of all walks of life and all nations of the earth would come and worship the One who gives us life, and then there I was, a white girl in a sari, walking down the aisle.

Last year I got to opt out of the "King's Procession," but I still didn't get to see the whole production until this year, when one of our three narrators couldn't participate. I jumped at the chance. My family read aloud to each other up through the time I graduated from high school, and beyond, so I love reading and being read to. It didn't occur to me that by taking this role, I would also get a different perspective on the Pageant.

On the night of the dress rehearsal, it was not maybe such a good different perspective. Everything was chaotic and we kept having technical difficulties and the whole thing lasted far longer than I had expected or hoped. (God promises to do more than we can ask or hope, but . . . somehow that wasn't what I had in mind.)

On Saturday I had a raging migraine, such as I have not had in a long time (though I've been getting them more often again, of late). I sat up in the balcony far earlier than I needed to be there and tried to relax and stay warm and drown out the low hubbub that was going on around and below me. Then it got to be 2 o'clock and they turned off all the lights and I sat in the quiet darkness and waited for the first scene to go by before I had to read anything. The Pageant had begun.

As it went on, the pain all over began to subside, and I watched as adults and youth and children I know and care about made postcard-scenes in their bits of cloth and glitter and gold lam'e. And I noticed something strange. The best descriptor I could think of for it was Picasso's pithy saying to the effect that "Art is a lie that uncovers the truth." Here we were, a whole bunch of ordinary people, telling an extraordinary story, but not telling it in a very realistic way. There were songs and darkness and spotlights, and no one's costume was, I don't suppose, legitimately first century or Middle Eastern. We had two sheep and a donkey (who at one point almost stole the show because she did not want to exit stage left), and magi wearing bits of drapery and upholstery, and the combined effect was truly beautiful. I hadn't thought those things, which in real life would be quite tawdry, really, could have that kind of a result.

Maybe it helped that I know people here now and all the teens who played Mary and Joseph and the major angels are "my" teens in "my" youth group, but it just seemed like something about everybody's getting dressed up totally differently and putting themselves in a completely "other" context brought out things about them that highlighted who they are, that ennobled them. People carried themselves differently, or the colours they were wearing highlighted certain features about them that made them "more" than they usually seem, or someone caught just the perfect facial expression for the character they were portraying, or the spotlight hit someone just right so that they looked glorious.

Churches nowadays are really "big" on authenticity, and rightly so, I think. I'm really big on authenticity. But sometimes (and I feel I can say this because I feel I've fallen prey to it on more than one occasion) what is touted as "authenticity" turns into self-promotion or self-indulgence, and maybe it's time to recover something that other Christians of other times understood, and that was a sense of wonder and a sense of pageantry and that sometimes, while you don't want to make the costume and mask the place that you live, if they are just temporary measures, they uncover a truth greater than we would have expected.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Leave It

Today I went out to rake some leaves. The lawn actually has looked pretty good, because on some windy day, all the leaves came down but ended up blowing to the edges of the yard, so I didn't think this was going to take too long.

But then I started thinking about it. Apparently some place in the north of England got somewhere around 10 inches of snow this week, so if they're getting that much already, it's probably likely we'll have some by the time my parents get here just before Christmas. And if we do, then all the leaves nestling in snow-like drifts among the flowerbeds would just disappear. On the other hand, and in the meantime, I realised it would look a whole lot better if I raked the beds out, too.

The short version of the story (because I know you don't want to read about every pile of leaves I picked up by hand and chucked in the wheelbarrow and wheeled across the lawn to the driveway to dump into the woods on the other side) is that it took me two hours to rake a quarter of the lawn. And then, just as I was wrapping up that quarter of lawn and muttering under my breath about how that was all I was doing today and I needed some lunch!, the wind changed directions. This meant that the leaves in the adjacent quarter of lawn that I had not touched yet, began to blow into the quarter I had. I valiantly resisted to the urge to swear, and I still went inside and had lunch, but do I ever hate raking! Especially by myself.

After I went in, Smug-Neighbour came out with his leaf-blower and tidied up his already pretty immaculate lawn. Former-Roommate-Sarah and I used to note with some disgust how he always came out with his fancy lawn equipment whenever either of us was doing lawn-work over here. Today I was telling myself we must have made that up, but . . . I really don't think we did.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Musing on Reform

You do know, don't you, that by and large anything I post in this blog is my thought-process and not my conclusion? I will rarely post conclusions because . . . well, maybe because I rarely get to any, honestly. "Jesus loves me, this I know" (to the extent of dying a horrific death and coming back to glorious life), and He loves you that much, too, and I'm certain of it. I'm also certain I want you, whomever you are, to know Him in a life-giving way. Other than that? I just think a lot. Usually in circles. Here are some more thought-processes to share:

This church history class I'm now taking is "From the Reformation," and I have a mid-term in it tomorrow, so there's a lot about the Reformers going through my head. It's a Protestant seminary through which I am taking this class, so little has been said about the Counter-Reformation and the Catholic Reformation, but even though I knew at least a little something about the four initial branches of the Protestant Reformation, I'm finding it interesting to poke around in their history in a little more depth. I'm finding out (or remembering) things like:

  • Apart from the reputed anti-Semitism, and that unfortunate link to the Peasant's Revolt, I think Martin Luther was the man. No--not the Man. But just . . . really cool. By and large, I like his theology and his tenacity and his kind of earthiness.
  • As I thought when we went to visit Grossmunster in Zurich when I was 14, I still think Zwingli was a bit of a twit. I daresay he had a true conversion experience (even though he claimed an earlier date for it than it probably really happened, so he could make it look like it happened for him before it did for Luther), but some of us take a little more "converting" than others, and . . . well, he's just a little harder to like.
  • As he may have done to others who actually met him face to face, Calvin makes me uncomfortable. Too smart for me, I think. But I don't dislike him.
  • I rather like the Anglican church . . . but how it got there is kind of obnoxious.
  • I've got some Swiss Anabaptist in my background, and although I'm not one, I agree with their view on (ta da!) baptism. And, as we all know, although I can't seem to completely identify myself as a pacifist, I kind of lean that way. Here's something that interested me (although I guess if I think about it, it doesn't surprise me): The Anabaptists' emphasis on the radical separation of church and state was "new." This approach was the first time Christianity had been separated from the government since Constantine.
Good grief.

I've already mused a tiny bit about the effects of Constantine on the Church. I guess I think that the Anabaptists were right to keep it separate. I mean, I don't know that it's possible anymore to truly separate religion from government. It seems like either Christians (or religious people--there can be a difference!) try to infiltrate the government, for example, or the government tries to legislate against them. I liked it when I volunteered at a primary school in London and could tell the Easter story freely because religious education (about all religions) was included in standard school curricula. I don't, on the other hand, like the idea, real or threatened, that symbols of my faith should be removed from public places or that I can't say Merry Christmas if I want to.

God calls people to different vocations and maybe He calls some to be politicians. I mean, I guess He does: I don't think there can be any question, for example, that He put Wilberforce in place for a specific time and purpose. I do believe that God can work through political leaders and that if a Christian is in power, I would hope that their relationship with Christ would have an effect on their policies. However, I don't believe we will ever have a theocracy this side of Heaven, and I think most of even our Christian politicians end up with too much of themselves mixed in. (I think most of us--me, for example--have that problem, but when someone's in the public eye, it affects more people.)

I am starting to think the Anabaptist idea that the Church would always be a persecuted minority in the world, and that it and government could never mesh without unhealthy compromise, is probably true. I struggle with words of separatism at all, as highlighted in my last post, but at the same time, I know the Bible talks about it, sometimes in ways I can't understand, and I know there still is sometimes, somehow, a place for it. I guess I'm still just trying to figure out how and where and when it works.

How do you become and remain incarnational, yet without compromise?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Unequally Yoked

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them
and walk among them.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

(2 Corinthians 6.14-18, NLT)

Lots and lots and lots of Christians like to use the above passage to prove that Christians should not marry people who aren't. This interpretation isn't totally unreasonable, but I have said before and will say again that even if this passage applies to marriage, it isn't about marriage. And neither is this post.

Once upon a long time ago, during the Roman Empire before Constantine, the emperors were persecuting the Christians and even though there were a lot of really noteworthy and amazing Christian martyrs, there were also a bunch of regular people and they ended up recanting their Christian faith until things got a little easier. Then later, when they wanted to go back to church, some of the churches wouldn't let them because they saw them (understandably, I think) as being duplicitous, or weak. They said they wanted a "pure" church. Thing is, they weren't really offering a whole lot of grace.

Then Augustine came along and, citing Jesus' parable about the wheat and the weeds, said that no one should be kept from church fellowship if they had repented and wanted to be reinstated. And from there (going through a number of permutations, naturally), the concept/practice of a "parish church" type of set-up was born. The idea is that anyone can be a part of the faith community, whether they're an actual believer or not, as long as they play by some basic rules. So when a baby was born in a community, he or she would be baptised right away because the family was a part of that parish . . . everyone "belonged" to a church. You didn't have a conversion experience because you were "in."

Once the Protestant reformation hit the scene, ages later, this concept began to be switched up a little bit. The Lutherans and the Calvinists, who believed (in different ways) that church and state should work side by side, maintained the sort of parish/wheat-and-weeds setup. They hung onto infant baptism and But the Anabaptists, who believed that the church would always be a persecuted entity until Christ's return and so must therefore be totally separate from the state, wanted to see a "pure" church, where the only members were people who had a genuine faith in Christ and been baptised as adult believers. Their idea was total separateness.

So here I am, this mix of a Germanic Anabaptist and Swedish Lutheran heritage, who grew up in a Baptist church with Reformed leanings, working at an interdenominational church which baptises any little baby whose parents walk them through the door. And I'm taking another big ol' church history class (could you tell?), so I'm thinking about this "what is the church" thing a lot lately.

I will always be a Baptist on the issue of . . . baptism. But I kind of go back and forth as to whether Augustine was right or whether the Anabaptists were, as far as the whole "separateness" thing goes. The passage above seems to indicate fairly unequivocally that a Christian separation from the world is required. Keeping apart from "the world" makes it a lot easier not to "touch their filthy things." I myself have seen and heard of churches and other organisations who have "teamed up with unbelievers" toward a good common cause, and then the Christ-centered aspect of the cause for the believers gets watered down and washed out, and sometimes the entire enterprise tanks. Compromise is maybe inevitable, and, if these verses are anything to go by, it is unacceptable.

On the other hand, I have a really hard time seeing that Jesus did this. I do believe that all Scripture is inspired by God, and so therefore the above verses are something God wanted said, and so therefore Jesus must somehow have abided by them, but however He did it, it didn't look anything like the way I've ever seen those verses interpreted. He is, after all, the guy who got accused all the time of associating with "tax collectors and sinners." If He was exclusionary of anyone, it was the religious folk, the ones who would probably cite verses like the above, if they had been written yet. And I keep thinking about when I was in Gospel Choir in college, and how our drummer who toured with us wasn't a Christian, but how after touring with us for a while and seeing God answer some prayers, he became one. And I think . . . I'm still confused. What is this 2 Corinthians passage really telling us to do. Because how do we make sure the church keeps its necessary distinctives? But how else are people who don't know Jesus going to meet Him unless they're in our lives?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Voting

Yesterday I voted. It has already been well-established in this blog that I am one of the most uninformed voters out there, but at least according to the letter, if not the spirit, of the thing, I did my citizenly duty. Going into the voting booth for me is kind of like going in to take a standardised test that I didn't study for . . . only less stressful. I guess I'm still kind of cynical that my vote matters. It's just that I kind of feel like my non-vote matters. It would be so much easier if I were a member of a particular political party but that, my friends, goes against the grain.

You knew that.

Anyway, yesterday I was in line waiting to go into the booth and this woman I knew was two people behind me and this woman she knew was between us and saying wouldn't it be so much better if you could just go to a voting center in any city, and they could scan the barcode on the back of your driver's license, and you could vote wherever was closest to where you worked.

"Yes!" I agreed emphatically, although I had never met this woman before in my life. "Also," I added, "it would be really great if you could vote for the district and precinct where you worked instead of where you lived." I mean, look. I might actually get more into local and state-level politics if I could do this. I sleep (and watch Netflix) in my Hometown. I work and do just about everything else in the City. The children and teens with whom I work--my own "constituents"--live in the City. I have no idea what's going on in the district in which my Hometown participates, and therefore my vote is even less informed than it would be otherwise, because frankly, until we adopt a dictatorship (which could happen, I guess), whoever I vote for there is not going to affect my sleeping and watching Netflix.

On the other hand, I actually personally knew some of the candidates for office in the City's district, and their presence or absence in office might actually impinge on the people I'm working with and for, or even on my work itself. I get paying property taxes and such to the town where one lays one's head. I also get that for the sake of simplification of bureaucracy, allowing people to vote where they worked would probably not . . . work. (On the other hand, when else has simplification of bureaucracy been a real consideration for the way politics happen?) But I still think it would ultimately be more relevant and effective. That's my vote.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Faultlines

Oscar and I spent most of Friday and Saturday hanging out with Folk-Musician Gale. Usually she comes and stays with us on her way to and from gigs, but this weekend was happily agendaless--for me anyway--so our visit was much more relaxed. We talked a lot over food. Well, Gale and I did. Oscar's still pretty quiet.

Gale told me about a talk she had been to recently, where some historian/professor guy had spoken about the Connecticut witch trials--which had started much earlier and lasted longer than the more famous ones in Salem. I guess he cited the witch trials that had been going on in Europe (in particular, Germany) as the environment for such a similar environment to grow up over here. (Interestingly, I just listened to a lecture on that for my second church history class, and Dr. Rosell said that the witch trials were the result of the failure of the Puritan dream--a sort of backlash in reaction to the fact that what they had attempted hadn't worked. But I digress). This historian pointed out that most of the people accused of being witches were single women over forty who were about to become self-sufficient. Perhaps they were widowed, or had never married, and had somehow come into an inheritance. Whatever the case, they didn't "need" a man "in charge" of them anymore, and in that patriarchal society which was, as Dr. Rosell's comments point out, trying to build itself literally off of Old Testament laws and such, surely having independent women running around was seen as threatening.

Gale and I mused on this for a while, citing instances where it has been clear to us that, despite the feminist movement and other cultural shifts, people are still not comfortable with the idea of single, independent women. We don't have the word "spinster" anymore (thank goodness), so what do you make of us? Nowadays it's assumed we're all lesbians, but that is often not the case either. (Neither Gale nor I would fall into that category. It's still okay for us to hang out, right?)

Later in the day, the topic of "uncomfortable women" came up again. Gale mentioned how she absolutely can't stand it when people are talking about women in abusive relationships as women who have "made bad choices." As if it's the women are the only ones who need to be held accountable, and not the men who are perpetrating the abuse, whether it's emotional or physical. It would be just great if more women had enough self-esteem to notice when they're being abused and say, "Enough is enough!" and get out. But what about the women who are married to these guys and don't believe in divorce? Or what about the women who really love the men who are hurting them and are trying to do the right thing? Can you fault them for loving? Maybe it's a misplaced love, but God does it.

I do believe that men are misrepresented in society, too. It's pretty standard and pretty cliche to say that men are stupid and insensitive and all around jerks. That might be a subject for another post, because I actually feel pretty strongly about that. But right now I'm feeling strongly about marginalised women, who, in spite of the just-mentioned trend and the so-called advances in feminism, are still being marginalised. When women are verbally or emotionally or physically attacked, why are they the ones blamed for it? That happened all the way back in the Victorian era. Surely we're beyond that now? Isn't there some way to help people learn to trust each other . . . and to deserve each other's trust? Isn't there some way to hold people accountable when they jeopardise another's faith in them?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rest

You know those times when you're reading a familiar passage of the Bible and all of a sudden you stop short and think, "Um . . . when did that get in there?" Something strikes you a different way, or you're reading a different translation so an aspect of what's written becomes more apparent or something?

Yeah, well, that happened to me yesterday.

Hebrews is a potentially confusing book of the Bible. Probably particularly to those of us who are not ethnically Hebrews. I like to think I have a pretty good handle on the Old Testament, and I think my "handle" on it is probably better than a decent number of Gentile Christians', but I'm still not Jewish, nor do I know many Jewish people, and I can't very well pretend I am or do.

However, I do have this Bible . . . the Complete Jewish Bible. It's part translation and part paraphrase and you can read about the philosophy behind it on the website, but I guess what I'm getting at right now is that, because it's been translated/paraphrased by a Jewish person, there are occasions where I have a minor epiphany that has more to do with a Jewish worldview peering through the words than simply the fact that the words are slightly differently ordered than the NIV/NRSV/KJV conglomeration of words I imbued as a child. Then again, surely I've read Hebrews in this version before . . .

Yesterday I was reading Hebrews 4 (all ensuing Biblical quotations will be from the CJB unless otherwise noted). "Therefore," it begins, "let us be terrified of the possibility that, even though the promise of entering his rest remains, any one of you might be judged to have fallen short of it."

Really?

The writer of Hebrews has just been using the account of God's "resting" on the seventh "day" after creation as a picture of His promise for all of us. Said writer is warning his (or her!) readers not to ignore God's voice if they hear it, and so miss out on His "rest," like the ancient Israelites did when they doubted Him in the desert. So now here's this injunction to be terrified in case you miss out. I'm going to be honest and tell you that the first, not very politically correct, thought that entered my head was, "Okay, so there are some verses in this book that make 'works theology' seem pretty biblical!" I guess what I meant is, this verse in this translation makes it sound an awful lot like you have to try to earn your own salvation.

Of course, this verse sounds a little different in, say, the NRSV: "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care than none of you should seem to have failed to reach it." Seem to have failed, huh? What does that even mean? That makes it sound like the whole thing is about appearances.

The next verses completely turn the "works theology" around, though: " . . . for the Good News has also been proclaimed to us, just as it was to them. But the message they heard didn't do them any good, because those who heard it did not combine it with trust. For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest" (4.2-3). Ohhhhh.

This is one thing I really like about the CJB. It never uses the word faith, which I feel is one of those words which has been spiritualised to the point of being well-nigh meaningless. Any time another translation would say faith, the CJB says trust. So . . . those ancient Hebrews didn't "enter God's rest" because they didn't trust Him. They didn't trust He was going to get them through the wall of giants and . . . so He didn't. Not until the next generation, anyway.

The thing that really jumped at me yesterday, though, was verses 9-11: "So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for God's people. For the one who has entered God's rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from his. Therefore, let us do our best to enter that rest; so that no one will fall short because of the same kind of disobedience."

"Rested from his own works." I've read this chapter so many times, and I think I've always thought, "Yeah, yeah . . . Sabbath rest, a Jewish concept . . . good symbol for Heaven . . . " I never until yesterday saw this passage as talking about the here and now. Because of Jesus, our great High Priest/Mediator between us and the Father (a concept which the Hebrews-author will talk about at length shortly), we can rest from our "works" as God rested from His. At most I saw it as an injunction to take time off every seven days. But this passage does exactly the opposite of defend a view of salvation in which we have to purchase our own by our own good works (including, maybe, taking time off every seven days? Which I still think is a valuable practice, regardless). It clearly says that the only thing we have to do is trust. Trusting implies resting. That resting trust is the keeping of the Sabbath that the writer is talking about here.

The disobedience that causes us to fall short is our own works. As any good born-again evangelical will tell you, you can't do enough good works to get to Heaven, or to get in good with God. If that's what we're trusting in, there will be no rest at all, and we will certainly fall short of the rest. That kind of lifestyle is completely opposed to rest--antithetical to it. It's not so much that God shuts us out of His promise, as that we shut ourselves out.

Why is it so hard just to trust Him and rest?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Personal History

Yesterday Grandma Madeira turned 90. Today we had a party. I was the only one of her direct progeny who was able to be there, far-flung family that I have, but her brother and most of his daughters, and her sister's kids, and another brother's granddaughter, and my Grandma Grosser and Auntie Jane from the other side of the family were all there. Also The Swedes, a couple of family friends who just love my grandmother and who more than deserved to be there.

We reserved a room in the retirement community where she lives, and we sat around a white-tableclothed table and ate cake and drank coffee and told her a little of what she meant to us and some of our favourite memories of her. There are certain family stories that get told over and over so many times that even though I may not have been born until 50 years after the event, I could probably tell you the story and make you think I had been there. Some of those got re-aired today. But there were also stories or things I hadn't known before. Or at least, I don't remember knowing them.

I didn't know that Grandma Madeira had been proposed to by two different men at pretty much the same time, and had to pick one. I didn't know that her Swedish immigrant parents had moved back to Sweden after emigrating to the States for a while, and that she was conceived there and her mother was carrying her in the womb when they returned to America on behalf of their children. I didn't know how much she and Grandpa Madeira had meant to their nieces and nephews.

I also don't think I knew that her father came to the US in the first place at age 16 because he didn't want to be drafted, because he didn't believe in fighting. You can tell me my great grandfather was a draft-dodger, but the thing is, I don't take that as an insult, and I'm proud he was a pacifist. It was subsequently pointed out that Grandpa Madeira's father was also a pacifist and conscientious objector, as a "plain person" from Lancaster County, PA. I guess I'm about 99% pacifist, and I guess I've mostly come to that perspective myself, but do you think there are pacifist genes? Because maybe I come by this naturally.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Blue Like Jazz

Look--my "Uncle Steve" is directing this project. I wanna help . . .


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Duck Tales

Apparently my life is for the birds right now, as that seems to be all I'm writing about (besides Jason). Today I was escorted down my street by an eider duck.

It is more or less pouring this morning. I had just set out for work when I noticed something with what appeared to be considerably more heft than a leaf, flapping about in the puddles in the street. As I approached, I could tell by its silhouette that it was a duck. There are mallards that sometimes live across the street from me; they moved out this summer when their pseudo-pond dried up, but it's probably back now, so maybe they are, too, though I though mallards flew south? Anyway, I assumed this guy was one of them as he spread his wings.

He seemed to be having a little trouble achieving lift-off, and also seemed to have an aversion to the side of the road, and so instead he flapped along, very close to the ground, right in front of my car, as if daring me to exceed the speed limit. As if I would ever exceed . . . oh never mind.

He landed a couple hundred yards down the street, and there the lighting was better and I could see that he was, in fact, an eider duck. I'm not sure I've seen one of those in the wild before. I was afraid, though, that he wasn't going to move and I was going to end up either thwarted in my commute, or seeing a dead eider duck in the wild. Or on the road, to be more precise.

He took off again and led me down the street a little further, and then finally flew a little higher and disappeared over a house. When I got to work, Office-Assistant-MaryAnn said, "Another day of duck-weather!" She had no idea . . .

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Birdfeeder of Horror

So the last time I filled the Birdfeeder? The Squirrel cleaned out the whole thing in a day. Apparently I have a pet squirrel. That I didn't ask for. When I manage to catch him on the thing, I leap out onto the deck and yell at him, and then Oscar runs up the stairs and hides under the bed, as if he thinks I'm yelling at him instead.

But that isn't the worst of it. Yesterday I stepped out onto the deck to bring the deck chairs inside, finally, and to fill the feeder again, maybe (although this Squirrel is making me feel very ambivalent about the whole thing), and I almost stepped on a dead tufted titmouse lying among some fallen leaves on the boards right outside the doors.

I can't figure out whether this bird had just gotten old and decided my back deck was a good place to die, or if, during some of the excessively windy days we've had lately, he somehow got blown into the door, or if the Squirrel mauled him. Or the Nuthatch. The Nuthatch has been bullying the titmice lately. Anyway, it was kind of horrifying, and even though I wanted that thing off my deck as soon as possible, I actually waited until the morning to take care of it, because I was just a little too grossed out to deal with it right away.

The birdfeeder's still empty. If Nuthatches and Squirrels are killing other birds, I'm not sure they deserve the food anyway. This may be one birthday present that goes the way of the Dodo.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Happy October!

The wind is blowing, the rain is spattering the exposed part of the air conditioner unit in the window . . . which hasn't been turned on in over a month. The leaves are falling, the acorns are trying their darnedest to smack holes in people's windshields--or heads--and the frogs are committing hari-kari (or something like it) by leaping into cars' undercarriages. Taking Oscar for a walk has become an exercise in dodging frog-guts.

Why do I like this season so much?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Squirrel! Or . . . Nuthatch!

I got a birdfeeder for my birthday. This is because I wanted one, and that is because I like to watch the feathered creatures flitting back and forth all day . . . or at least the part of the day that I'm home.

I picked out the birdfeeder myself, and I chose it because it has little metal leaf decorations on it which I thought were kind of pretty, and because it had this spring mechanism which was supposed to make it "squirrel-proof." I was a little skeptical about the squirrel-proof business, but I was willing to give it a shot, because the last time there was a birdfeeder at this house, the Squirrel was pretty obnoxious . . . and hungry, evidently.

I had the feeder for about a week, and the Squirrel knocked it off of its hanger onto the ground, where it proceeded to get immediately warped such that the spring-mechanism is no longer operable, and the feeder is no longer squirrel-proof. If it ever was. I suppose I could get another one (since I replaced the hanger) and find out . . . but I'm too cheap.

Unfortunately, the Squirrel doesn't seem to care about my financial situation. I filled the feeder up last week right before I left on a sort of last-minute trip to New York to visit Dave who was there on business. I was only gone for a day and a half, but when I got back, the feeder was empty again already. I think the birds around here are pretty hungry, but they don't eat THAT fast.

The morning after my return, I happened to look out of the upstairs window and see the Nuthatch fly to the feeder. "Oops," I thought. "I still haven't refilled it." Less than 30 seconds later, I noticed that someone was knocking on the front door. Who could it be? Who do I know who lives in my town and would be beating a tattoo on my front door at 10 a.m.? Because seriously--they weren't stopping. It seemed just like one of my friends to decide to hammer rhythmically against the door just for a joke . . . but I couldn't figure out which friend. I went down the stairs and opened the door. Away flew the Nuthatch. Behind him, he had left a nice little hole in the wall right next to the door. (He had also hammered one of the nails deeper into the wood. He has to have had a headache after that.)

Why did the Squirrel think it was okay for him to eat all the birdseed in one day? And how did the Nuthatch know to go to the front door? And how did all these animals get to feeling so entitled? And why can't they work it out between themselves. I'll just keep supplying birdseed.

Photos: Nuthatch, by Heather Larrabee 2010.
Knock-knock, by Jennwith2ns 2010.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things I Think About While Commuting

1. Why is it that businesses put a number (usually the number of their physical address) in their name to make them sound classy or more viable? Loft 266. Salon 15. Even Pho 54. And furthermore, why does this convince me? I seriously think, "Wow. I want to go there. 266. Must be cool." (Actually, it kind of is.)

2. CVS and Walgreens are currently fighting over flu shot customers. Walgreens is trying to convince people that "A flu shot gift card is a good gift." Is it? I'm not sure how I would feel if my birthday were in October and I opened up my birthday present and got a gift card that could ONLY be used to have someone in a white coat jab a needle into my arm. Meanwhile, CVS is offering "personalised" flu shots. What does that even mean? Decaf nonfat with foam? Huh?

3. People should not put bumper stickers on their cars. I am too fascinated. Someday? I will rear-end one of them. Especially those hippies that I want to be like. Their cars are essentially wall-papered. Even the light at Park and Salisbury isn't long enough for me to read all of their pronouncements. The vampire in the car next to me this morning with the "If it's wrong to eat humans, why are they made of MEAT?" bumper sticker . . . well. How would my morning have been complete without that?

4. Oscar peeing on a windy day is a dangerous thing. Make a note to tell all his sitters . . .

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Amazing Grace

Last night I rewatched the amazing movie Amazing Grace and I got to thinking about how popular it's been among American evangelicals, and how potentially weird that is. I think we like it because it's finally a well-done movie with actors we've heard of before (well--at least if we watch British costume-dramas), portraying a genuine Christian as--a little eccentric, perhaps, but--a really positive, liberating, historical figure. There is no question in the movie that Wilberforce's faith was the driving force behind his movement to abolish slavery in England, and there is no apology made for it. I think, for most of us, this comes as something of a relief. And it should. We should be proud to have a man like Wilberforce in our "family history."

Here's the thing I find potentially weird, though. Most of the American Christians I know (and I love you truly, but if you know me you probably already know that our politics don't match) today take a political attitude that is not unlike that propounded by Wilberforce's opponents. Those guys were the conservatives. Wilberforce was a threat to the then-current capitalist system. The entire economy was built on the backs of slaves, and getting rid of it was going to turn everything upside-down. Wilberforce was accused of being unpatriotic and a rebel and immoral and all kinds of things, all because he loved Jesus and therefore loved people, and he wasn't afraid to give up the comforts of his life and to identify with the oppressed . . . and to recognise that his people were among the oppressors.

Look. If you're a regular here, you know I don't like to talk about politics. Furthermore, I know I'm not exactly a woman of action here--it's not like I'm doing a whole lot, by myself in my parents' comfortable house, with my dog, to ameliorate the plight of the homeless or the slaves around the world or the sexually-trafficked. And in this day and age there is so much oppression and so many different things we could focus on that it's almost overwhelming to talk about any of it. But I've been wanting to say something about immigration for a long time, so I guess I'm just going to say it.

I really don't get the majority evangelical attitude on immigration. It seems to me that when we get all bent out of shape over people obeying our immigration laws or not, we're kind of losing sight of something--namely, that our identity should be found in Jesus, who loved all people no matter where they were from and whether they were law-abiding or not, and that our identity is not first and foremost as conservative Americans. What are we trying to conserve, anyway? By all means, let's conserve unborn babies. I feel very strongly about that. But it just seems to me that, at least when we're talking about people from other countries and whether they're allowed to be/work here or not, what we're trying to conserve is our own white sense of power and superiority and our own cultural convenience.

It seems to me that a more Christlike approach would be to see the influx of immigrants as an opportunity. Guess what, all of us whose churches send people to foreign countries to tell people about Jesus (and I'm not saying we shouldn't)? We can tell people from foreign countries about Jesus, too! And guess what? Getting all kinds of angry and moral-high-road with them, and then kicking them out, is not going to help. I'm hearing an awful lot these days about how this nation was built on Christian principles and most of the founding fathers were Christians and and and . . . but I say if that's true, then indeed--let's go back to our roots, and remember that with a few exceptions all of us were immigrants here, and this country was built with the premise that "all men are created equal." This place was designed to be a haven . . . for religious, political and yea, even economic refugees. At least, so it seems to me. Did I miss something, or did my Swedish great-grandfather show up here because of a job? Is that okay, and if it is, is it just because he's white?

Jesus hung out with "tax-collectors and sinners," and what I get from that is that He didn't require people to get their act together before He spent time with them. He was perfect and never sinned, but He never told anyone they had to be the same before they could follow Him around. Sure, a nation needs to have its laws. I'm not a proponent of anarchy. But I think the general refrain, "I don't mind if they immigrate here as long as they're legal" is frankly simplistic and self-referential. And I think as Christians we need to have a bigger picture about the whole thing. Jesus told us to go into all the world and tell it the Good News. If all the world is coming to us, does that mean we should tell it the opposite? I suspect it means we all have the opportunity to change the world with Good News instead of bad.

Sure. Terrorists might get in. Or we might breed our own. (Warning: this video is offensive . . . but it makes a point. And it makes me think that if we were still talking about a war on terror, we might want to look within before we start pointing fingers.) Bad things are going to happen either way, and I don't think we're going to keep the bad things out by keeping people out--or by giving them a hard time for getting in. Sometimes, by making immigration laws more stringent, worse things happen. It seems to me that if we're going to tout this country as being a Christian one, we should be reaching out to the world the way Christ Himself did. We should be on the front lines like Wilberforce was, standing up for human . . . humanness. Not preserving our own comfort-zone and living in fear of the Other, but loving, come what may.

I know. This is not a bullet-proof argument for relaxing immigration laws. It probably isn't even an argument at all. Someone will accuse me of being a "bleeding heart liberal" or whatever people are calling them these days. I don't know about that, but I'm fine with it if it's true. I'm just saying, if we say we follow Jesus, I think we should stop getting all sidetracked with manmade laws, and stop living in fear, and reach out to people.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Begging


Sometimes--most times, actually--when I am in the kitchen cooking or doing some other form of food preparation, Oscar will come clicking in there (nails against the hardwood floor) and station himself either on the mat in front of the sink so he has an unobstructed view of my profile, or on the other side of the kitchen peninsula so that he can make direct eye-contact with me. From either position he will sit on his haunches and stare and stare and stare at me with his sad, pleading doggy eyes . . . as if I never fed him anything in his life.

Except that of course I have, and some of it has been people-food, and that is precisely why he knows he can come to me and silently beg--because he knows me and he knows I love him and that sometimes, if he and food are in the same place at the same time, they might actually get to meet up.

His chances of getting a little taste of something are actually pretty good, particularly if I am utilising eggs or cheese . . . or green beans . . . or avocado . . . Sometimes I don't indulge him; I won't give him anything with tomato or onion or garlic or grapes or chocolate, all of which are reputedly doggy-destructive. It doesn't matter how enthralled he is with the smell of frying onions (and really? who isn't?) . . . I'm never going to give him any. But with most other things I feel that a tiny little bite isn't going to hurt, and it's going to make him really happy.

One day this week Oscar came in when I cracked an egg into a bowl. I almost invariably give him egg. But I kind of wanted to finish making the entire breakfast, so I decided I'd give him a little piece when everything else was ready. He sat hopefully in the kitchen for a very long time, but eventually he must have decided I wasn't going to give him anything this time, because he got up and loped back into the living room. (It's kind of tough for such a little dog with such clicky toenails to lope, but on occasion he still manages it.) I guess he figured if he wasn't going to get his preferred option of some Jenn-food, he was going to take the second best thing and chill out on the comfort of the couch. "Too bad for him," I thought to myself. "I guess he's just not interested enough." If he had stayed in the kitchen, I definitely would have given him a taste, but I wasn't going to go bring it out to him on the couch . . .

That day, he ended up coming back into the kitchen for one more try, which was rewarded. But he doesn't always, so it isn't always. Sometimes he will stay in the kitchen until I clear everything away and return to my computer in the living room, just in case I might decide to give him something. And sometimes he misses out because he isn't patient enough and decides not to stick around.

I got to thinking about it, and started wondering if sometimes praying isn't like that. Some things, I suppose, would be to me what tomatoes and onions would be to a dog--no matter how good I think they "smell," it would not be loving of God to let me have them. But I suspect most things aren't like that, actually. And I wonder how many things I miss out on because I feel God's taking so long to get them ready, and I just assume His answer is no, and He's being a killjoy, and so I go off into the living room to sulk on the couch. I wonder if sometimes God doesn't give me what I ask for, not because it's the wrong thing, but because I have gotten impatient and stopped trusting Him and His timing and taken myself out of the right-place-at-the-right-time.

Maybe not, but I wonder . . .

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Survey Says . . .

Mr. Junior-High-Science-Teacher used to like to show us "film-strips." These, naturally, bore the brunt of much mockery. They were a little jumpy, they genuinely started out with that number count-down which films like to add in for retro-effect nowadays, the picture was kind of grainy, and the narration was kind of grainy, too. I'm not sure if this was because we were in the 80's or if it's because these film-strips were actually older than the 80's.

Anyway, I guess they were probably pretty boring, and, as I say, all my classmates made fun of them. I sort of secretly liked them, though--maybe because it was something different, and maybe because it was pictures, and even grainy pictures were better than "drawing sketches," which was the other thing Mr. Junior-High-Science-Teacher used to like to have us do. I have numerous memories of the beginnings of these film strips (4, 3, 2 and then a POP of light, and then usually a picture of the Milky Way Galaxy or something and a man's disembodied voice). But I only really remember what two of them were about.

One was about GPS, which, until a couple of years ago, I had relegated in my head to other unfulfilled promises of my childhood ("By the time you're an adult, the US will have converted to the metric system" being the most cliched one, followed until recently by, "By the time you're out of college, they will have built a tunnel system under Boston to decrease the volume of commuter traffic." They now have the tunnel--finally--but I don't know that it's significantly improved the volume of commuter traffic).

The other film-strip I actually remember was about land-surveying. I'm not sure why we were watching a film-strip about land-surveying. I have no idea what we were studying in science that would have made this relevant. I furthermore have very little idea why this film-strip, among all others, is so embedded in my brain, unless it was the question, "Who would want to be this when they grew up?" which lodged it there. I remember being more or less mystified as to what the point of land surveillance was, and I certainly never did figure out how those weird camera-looking things worked. But, in spite of being somewhat agog that anyone could find this a fulfilling career choice, I remember being sort of excited and impressed the first time I saw anyone on the side of the road using one of said weird camera-looking things. I guess I felt a little bit like I was witnessing a celebrity in action. After all, I had seen land-surveyors on a film-strip.

Today I saw some more, and every time I do, I think of junior high and that film-strip, and sometimes I think that, in spite of the fact that the Big Dig is finally over (more or less) and people now have GPS's in their cars--whoa--we still haven't established the metric system as the dominant "rule" of measurement in this country, and land surveillance technology doesn't look like it's changed much since the 1980's either. Although it may have, I suppose. But I'll probably never know without another film-strip to tell me about it.

My Dog Never Ceases to Delight Me

Like a small child who is growing into a bigger one, Oscar's habits change every couple of weeks. Right now he's in a phase where as soon as I walk into the room, he flops over onto his back so I can rub his tummy. He is also (being a morning dog, which is fortunate, as his person is a morning person) is getting lots more playful in the mornings. After we come in from our first Walk of the day, he tumbles himself up the stairs and runs around my room like a crazy thing until I follow him up, drop on all fours, and the two of us mock-growl and run at each other. Then we play tug-of-war with what remains the only dog-toy with which he will pass the time of day: a cheap plastic Wal-mart bone.

Yesterday I told him we were taking today off, not going to work, because I have to work on Saturday. I didn't really expect him to understand this, but I think he might have, because today, instead of following me round the house for every step in the getting-ready process, he parked himself on the couch and stayed there most of the morning. He did, however, come running into the kitchen when my cell phone started ringing upstairs, looking at me as if to say, "Your phone's ringing. Aren't you going to get that?"

Such a smart doggy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Autumn--A Month Early

If you are single with no roommates and there is therefore no one waiting for you at home with a hot meal, the next best thing on a blustery, rainy, chilly day is definitely this:

Get home, slightly damp, and change into sweats or pjs or something. Feed the dog. Feed the birds. (The ones outside, I mean. I don't have indoor birds.) Feed the woodstove. Make a fire in the woodstove which, in itself, is a thing of beauty--starting with the first match, no smoke in the house, no wet wood (on account of Mark-the-Plow-Guy putting some in the garage last winter). Heat up a meal that you made the night before so you don't have to prepare anything else. Curl up on the couch with your meal and a book or a movie and some crocheting (after the meal, naturally), in front of the fire, with your feet on the dog. Finish up with a cup of hot chocolate.

The only thing--and I really do mean the only thing--wrong with this picture is . . . hey, did you notice the date-stamp on this post? August 23rd, people. I do not live in Alaska. Why did using the woodstove seem like the best idea in the world on August 23rd? If I'm writing blogposts from a permanent relocation to Costa Rica come February, you'll know why.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Children

The Good Neighbours just had their baby son christened today. Between the two of them (and therefore in their one baby) the comprise some mix of Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, I think Finnish, and something else. Not surprisingly, their party next door was pretty mammoth, and I'm pretty sure everybody there was somehow related to the baby-of-honour, except for me. I just learned how to crochet at camp last week, though, so I'm making him a blanket, which is almost as good, right? Not surprisingly (what? am I stereotyping? okay . . . yes) the Italian strain at this party was particularly strong, incorporating food, accents, hand gestures, a couple of fresh-off-the-boat teenagers, and a cute but slightly skeevy cousin telling me I was gorgeous while serving me a cheeseburger. (Are cheeseburgers Italian if an Italian makes them?)

Like a wedding in which one only knows the bride and groom, I felt a little awkward for most of the party, though Good Neighbour Dad's dad was friendly. It helped when I brought Oscar over. Then a couple of elementary-aged girls came over to pat him and we sat on the grass and talked for a long time. I told them about the two weeks of day camp I had just finished running, and said that I thought they would like it and maybe they should think about going next year. They were a little uncertain when they heard it was a church camp; they said if we talked about the Bible all the time, it would be too much like CCD. I assured them it wasn't, but then, what do I know? I've never been to CCD . . .

Anyway, while I was sitting there having a smashing time with these children and Oscar, I also found a moment to feel relieved. The Sixes have been back and staying in my house again this fall, and while their presence is a pleasure and we've had some really nice moments (when I've been around and not on teen mission trips and church conferences and day camp to have them). But their kids are--well, kids--and I just spent two weeks running a day camp full of kids, and I tend to be a rather low-energy person anyway, so all this energy has been a little overwhelming. I found myself feeling, on Friday . . . and yesterday . . . and this morning . . . more than a little disappointed with myself. I mean, this is the chick who used to want to run (or at least work in) an orphanage or something. What has happened to me, that I only feel comfortable with teenagers and no younger these days?

It's probably a good sign that I shouldn't have kids of my own, but evidently, if this afternoon is any indication, I can still enjoy spending time with children, and they can still enjoy spending time with me. It just kind of helps to be able to turn them over to their parents at the end of the day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Too Something for Somebody

Pastor Marty retweeted something from a guy named "Pastor Tullian" the other day. The tweet (and the retweet, amazingly enough) said, "If you follow Jesus faithfully you will seem too pagan for your Christian friends and too Christian for your pagan friends."

Something inside me that wasn't John the Baptist leapt at those words; they seem very true to me, although I suspect if I thought about it long enough I could think of a circumstance in which you could be seemingly "too Christian and too pagan" and not be following Christ at all. All the same, that little summation sentence really describes the way I feel most of the time. And reading it like that, it made me feel sort of triumphant. Is triumph a worthy response to something like that? I don't know--that's just how it was. Maybe I just sometimes feel quite certain I am relating to Jesus but that so few Jesus-followers really "get" where I'm coming from that reading that just made me feel a little better about it.

Here's what I've gotta say about the downside to that, though: It makes it a heck of a lot harder when you're visiting dating websites . . .

Saturday, August 07, 2010

All Change

Do you ever have those moments when it suddenly dawns on you that even though you're still the same person you've always been, you're starting to react to the same scenarios in slightly different ways?

I'm a Director of Christian Education at a church in the City, and for the last three summers I've directed their two week day camp. The first summer I shadowed someone else, and last summer was my first one as full-fledged director, and it was scary and stressful because I'm not a very organised person, so trying to organise a whole bunch of other people as well as myself was kind of a 24/7-type of experience . . . even though day camp is supposedly a day camp and only runs five out of the seven days of the week. (It isn't really a day camp though, but that's another story for another time.)

This summer I think I thought was going to be more stressful because we have more teen staff than we have elementary school campers, and I wasn't sure how to keep everyone busy and productive as opposed to destructive and make sure the campers were all happy and not totally overwhelmed by big people. And maybe it should be. I mean . . . there have been a few minor incidents. (There were last summer, too. There probably always will be when you have a considerable posse of kids together.) But about halfway through the week I realised that I was spending much more time with the other adults in the screened-in porch off the lodge, and that it wasn't because I was hiding or shirking responsibility, but because everyone (for the most part) knew where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to be doing, and they were doing it.

I'm pretty sure that would have been the case last summer, too, but last summer I was running from activity to activity, hovering and feeling slightly hyper-ventilated. This summer I've been grouchy, I've told some people off, I've forgotten a couple of things and had to make far more trips to the grocery store than anyone should have to make . . . but I'm not stressed. There is, of course, one more week to go, but I still feel like I must be growing or something, and that, my friends, is a good thing.

Friday, July 30, 2010

On the Side of the Road

Now that we're done with bumper stickers for a while, how 'bout billboards?

There are some really dumb ones out there lately. McDonald's are just weird. Clearly they're trying to be clever ("Good things come to those who wake"), but . . . I dunno. Something just seems to fall flat. My favourite one is "Our hotcakes are going like . . . " but after that, it's just "If coffee is Joe, ours is Joseph." Huh? What does that even mean?

The most bizarre billboard up on the main highway going through our City right now, though? It depicts three women, each in a different decade of life. They all look like they're laughing hard enough, if they had any sort of bladder control problem, to . . . have a bladder control problem. The caption says, "Not your mother's hysterectomy." Okay. Guess not.

Everything You Think

Here at Jennwith2ns' blog, we're analysing popular cultural catch-phrases. Why are we doing this, you ask? Because they're there, and I, Jennwith2ns, overanalyse everything. (You mean you hadn't noticed this yet?)

Previously on Lost . . . I mean, on this blog, I analysed an email forward, and then right before this here post here, I analysed a couple of bumper-sticker sayings but this afternoon, because I found the previously-mentioned awesomely-hippie site, Soul-Flower, I have a whole lot more bumper-sticker-catch-phrase fodder in which to revel, so here are my bumper-sticker reviews. I'm not going to give the nod to every single sticker on the site, but it turns out I have something to say about quite a few of them, so here I am, going to say it.

Bumper stickers that make me feel very un-hippie (i.e. make me want to punch someone in the face):

1. Coexist - Indeed. Please let us exist together peaceably. But I don't intend to stop talking to people about Jesus and the fact that I believe He has a vested interest in their lives, and also, I don't believe that all religions are on the same level, so seeing all those symbols mashed together on a dark rectangle makes me start having extremist feelings, which I don't really want to have.

2. Treehugging Dirt Worshipper - "So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen" (Romans 1.24-25, NLT).

3. Karma Happens - I actually kind of agree that it does--I kind of agree that there is something like karma out there. I just feel like Jesus came to free us from it. If it was really for freedom that Christ has set us free, I'd rather not get tied up again in slavery to the law--even by acknowledging it on the back of my car.

Turns out, though, that there are a lot more bumper stickers on here that I actually do like, even though you might not expect all of them to be right up my street.

1. Peace Be With You - Hey guys, they say this in church. 'Cause Jesus said it first. I'm down. (Interestingly, though, He isn't cited. Unlike Bob Marley, Gandhi, and John Lennon on other bumper stickers.)

2. Lord, Help Me to Be the Person My Dog Thinks I Am - This might not be a bad thing to pray, really.

3. Support Organic Farms - 'Cause I do.

4. Support Your Local Revolution - Especially if it's the next Great Awakening or something.

5. Break the Chains! Shop Independent Stores - I like this sentiment. I would never put it on my car, though, because it would make me a card-carrying hypocrite. I shop at Marshalls and Old Navy and I used to work at Starbucks, for crying out loud.

6. Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional. - Both things are true. As I have observed and personally experienced.

7. Roots Run Deep - I don't know if I even know what the hippie meaning for this is, but they do, and I want to be rooted deeply . . . in the Jesus-life.

8. Compost Happens - Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

9. If We Don't Change Direction, We'll End Up Where We're Going - Do I need to explain this?

Okay. The end. I'm happy to have got this off my chest. What are some of your loved or hated bumper stickers?

Well-Behaved Hippies

So . . . remember how I have this pipe-dream (pun sort of intended) of being a sort of abridged hippie? By this I mean I maintain somewhat old-skool, monogamous, etc, sexual standards, and I have no desire to take up recreational drugs, but I like the clothes and the colours and the wind-chimes and the barefootness, and stuff like that. So today, thanks to a Facebook side-bar ad (because you can't tell me you never click on those), I discovered Soul-Flower.com. How much more hippie can you get? For the record, I would wear almost any of the women's clothes on there, minus the slogan ones, or ones with identifiably Bob Marley and/or Grateful Dead designs. In case anyone wanted to know. You know.

I confess I scoured the site to see if they were secretly selling marijuana on there . . . not 'cause I wanted any (honestly), but because it just seemed like they might try to be subversive in that way. Hippies want to be subversive, right? The closest thing I found was incense and hemp lip balm. But maybe I just don't know how to find out about these things. I could never be a narc.

Anyway, one of the things they did have was plenty of bumper stickers and graphic tees, as any good hippie shop should, really. I have a love/hate relationship with the types of slogans that end up on these sorts of things, for similar reasons to my ambivalence toward emails like the one I analysed last time. For example, I actually love the one that says, "Don't believe everything you think," but it's because in my head, I turn it around toward the idea that things are "true for you" as opposed to there existing an objective Truth "out there," like they told us on X-Files. I'm sure the writers of the sticker want me to stop "thinking" about my faith and just "feel" things, but frankly, although my feelings toward God are often somewhat obstinate or confrontational, I both think and feel that He exists and that the story of Jesus as recorded in the Bible is true, and if I have to submit to some sort of esoteric drug-induced experience to stop thinking and feeling that . . . well, it all seems a little suspect to me.

One of the slogans on Soul-Flower, usually found on bumper stickers but in this case on a woman's t-shirt, was the one mentioned by George Norman Lippert in a comment to my last post. (George and another guy named Darren have been blogging it up on Pastor Marty's blog this week. You might want to check it out.) One of GNL's pet peeves, evidently, is the slogan, "Well-behaved women rarely make history." The first time I, myself, saw said saying, it was paired with another bumper sticker which said, "Eve was framed." I think that's the peeve-making thing about it. In spite of being something of a feminist (maybe an abridged one of those, too) and an attention-seeker, I do believe that Eve (and Adam) actually sinned--hey guys! I believe there's such thing as sin!--and the implication that we should "break rules" for the sole reason of making our presence known to the world sort of drives me crazy. GNL puts it best, I think, when he says, "As with any of us, the breaking of the rules is only meaningful, methinks, when it is done for a powerful reason, and not just to be cool."

I probably hate the "well-behaved women" thing slightly less than GNL does, but only because I choose to look at "well-behaved women" in a different way than probably the authors of the phrase were actually thinking of it. By which I mean I can think of some women who broke rules for powerful reasons and not just to be cool. True it is that there have been mistresses and scandalous queens (Jezebel comes to mind) and Yoko Ono (sort of--though I'm a little skeptical that she and Angelina Jolie will be historically viable in a real sense if human history gets to muddle on for a few more centuries) who have made history because they have not been, in the traditional Western sense, "well-behaved."

On the other hand, there are ways of "misbehaving" against society which are actually Biblically moral and upright and still end up being subversive. GNL points out the Biblical Ruth and Esther (each of whom asserted themselves to men in a culture where that was not usual or even acceptable, but did so for family or the nation, and to uphold the larger law of God). There are also people like Mother Teresa, who subverted a selfish, capitalistic, shallow society where arbitrary value is put on human life. Also, in my church history class this spring I learned about people like Catherine of Siena and . . . some other Catherine--I'd have to look her up . . . who worked to reform aspects of the Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation even happened. I suppose people who slap "well-behaved women" bumper stickers on their cars don't really know about the Catherines. But it doesn't matter. They still, in some way or other, made history. But in all cases, I don't think it was because these women were trying to make history. Or even trying to be subversive. They were just trying to do the right thing.

Does that mean they were well-behaved, or not?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Carpe Diem

Dead Poets' Society came out one summer when I was in high school and captivated the minds of a generation . . . or at least of my compatriots in both youth group and at school. One of my guy friends resonated with one of the characters and one of my girl friends had an aunt or someone who lived in New Jersey or something and somehow vaguely knew some of the actors. My friend and I spent our entire senior year fantasizing about a trip to visit her in which she introduced us to those young gentlemen, but naturally no part of it ever happened. For my own part, I had to give a speech at the beginning of school that year, and I chose as my theme that of the movie: carpe diem--seize the day.

I don't really remember what I said, but I remember feeling very inspired and, as I went to a Christian school and was very intent on its being as Christian a school as possible (as if I had much to do with it), I tied the theme in with our faith. As I say, I really don't remember how I did this. And, as I implied in the last post, I don't know that I lived it out very well, as "spontaneous" and "Jenn" are not usually words that show up in the same sentence. Not this Jenn, anyway.

After my friend's comment the other week, though, I had to reassess whether "carping" the "diem" is truly a "Christian" approach to life. I think I decided I can still at least mostly agree with the sentiments behind the email; on the other hand, the way in which I perceive them is likely different from the way my friend does, and, if I am genuinely trying to walk in the steps of Jesus in some way, it probably should be.

So now I'm going to "explicate" that email I mentioned last time, with the Bible in mind. (The last time I explicated anything, it was for a literature class in college, so whoever wrote this email forward should feel really honoured at all the attention their writing is getting over here.)

Life is short.

Yes. It is. "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (Psalm 103.14-15, NIV).

Break the rules.

I'm gonna go with yes, but probably not in the way the writer of the email meant. There are the 10 Commandments and the perceived traditional morals which are usually implied as being the rules that need to be broken in this sort of thing. But it seems to me that those are just convenient scapegoats for a fairly amoral society which wants an excuse not to take responsibility for decisions. There certainly are and have been societies or pockets of society where oppressive legalism is the, er, "rule" of the day, but I kind of feel like the "rules" in this society are about living completely for oneself and running roughshod over other people, ideals and beliefs that differ. So . . . I'm okay with breaking those rules. Yeah. Let's be counter-cultural. Let's actually think about the results of our actions and make decisions based on true, self-sacrificial love, and not self-love. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Gal. 5.22-23).

Forgive quickly.

I don't know that that's always realistic--I think true forgiveness is a process, and if what's being forgiven was a true injury, too quick a forgiveness is probably more of a suppression. BUT--the whole point of the Bible is forgiveness, and if someone has wounded us, forgiveness and it's process isn't even really optional. "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6.14-15).

Kiss slowly.

Um . . . okay, how 'bout we not talk about kissing?

Love truly.

Along with forgiveness (being a specific manifestation and capacity of love), the whole point of the Bible is love. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4.8). The "truly" part is kind of important in this context, though. I think the general understanding within this type of email is "love with feeling." But God's love is beyond emotion and has a lot to do with choice and decision, and less to do with spontaneity. This isn't some "love the one you're with"--although, I suppose you could argue you should love the people you're with. It's just that true love doesn't necessitate the physical, and the danger of emails like this is that if you were so inclined, you could always justify doing something "spontaneous" . . . and not God's idea of the best way to live life and love others . . . by saying you were "loving" in the "truest" way that you could, when really, it was just the most physical, or immediate, or convenient--or self-indulgent.

Laugh uncontrollably.

I'm pretty down with that. It raises your seratonin levels or endorphins or something. You know, "Science has shown . . . " Plus it's fun, and in my own experience, the times when I've laughed the hardest have usually been the times when the humour has been the most innocent. It's a little tough to find a Bible verse about this. But there is always this: "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit" (Proverbs 15.13). Which I guess kind of implies that true happiness, smiling, and even laughter, overflows from who a person is on the inside to begin with.

And never regret anything that made you smile.

This is probably the bit with which I disagree most. There are plenty of things that can make me smile, I suspect, for which the time or place or means is not actually pleasing to God. I guess that's probably the main difference between the possible different interpretations of the advice in the email. You can interpret it in such a way to provide short-term pleasure for yourself, or in such a way as to provide pleasure to God. The second way sometimes (but not always) limits the responsibility. I tend to think, though, that it also provides a longer-term, deeper, more repeatable pleasure that you end up enjoying yourself, even as God does.
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