Friday, December 31, 2010

"It is finished!" ...and I am free...

What can I say?
I've been set free.
It's as simple as that.
It's been a long time coming,
but the simplest of truths has finally filled
my thick skull
with peace.

For nearly as long as I've been a Christian I've grappled with the subject of legalism and the Old Covenant Law. I've read so much and heard so many sermons on the subject and all the while the waters have only grown murkier and my confusion greater. I've heard there are those who disregard the Old Testament entirely, seeing it as useless, something we ought not even bother ourselves with. But, to be honest, in all my years in various church settings (from Pentecostal to Reformed Baptist) I've never, ever met anyone who believes that way. No, what I've encountered are a variety of Christians from a variety of traditions all claiming to be "Bible-believing" struggling, generally with all sincerity, to figure out what to do with the Old Testament in light of the New.

What seems to be the nearly universal practice is a combination of cutting and pasting portions or attitudes from the Old Covenant onto the New. The portions cut and locations pasted differ based upon the traditions and opinions of whoever is doing the editing. The messages I've gotten have been mixed and confusing. Some churches, like the Judaizers of old, require their members to incorporate all of the Old Testament regulations, excluding only the ceremonial portions (priesthood, animal sacrifices, festivals, etc.) Others exclude all portions of the Law save its moral prohibitions: the Ten Commandments along with whichever "secondary" restrictions they find they agree with, say, forbidding tattoos for instance. Others by and large disregard the regulations of the Law, with the exception of the Ten Commandments and then substitute their own system of "Christian" law restricting behaviors never restricted under the Old Covenant (drinking alcoholic beverages, social dancing, women wearing pants or working outside the home, and divorce in cases of adultery, to name a few) and converting the New Testament into a new system of super-spiritual laws by which to judge ourselves and one another. Many still teach that the Old Testament system of blessing and cursing applies to believers today. The blessings are for when they do right, the cursings for when they commit sin. Some believe that the Old Testament Law is God's way of governing men and that it should be replicated in civil government (though I've yet to hear anyone seeking to legislate against covetousness...we've got the economy to consider after all). Some believe that just as God sent the Law before He sent the Gospel, that we Christians must bring the Law to bear on people before we can proclaim the Gospel.

At various points in my life I've been subjected to, or even adhered to nearly every one of these teachings, and various combinations of them. Some of them have come very near to destroying my faith. If you've never experienced this confusion I hope you'll consider yourself blessed and forgive my thick-headedness as I reveal to you the simple truth that has transformed my life.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Bedtime Prayer of Sir Thomas Browne

I've just this evening finished reading Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici. You're safe to assume I'll have more to say about that great work here sometime soon. But, as prayer, of late, has become the unplanned focus here (and in my life) I thought I'd share what Browne refers to as "the Dormative I take to bedward; I need no other Laudanum than this to make me sleep; after which I close mine eyes in security, content to take my leave of the Sun, and sleep unto the Resurrection."

image via Wikipedia
The night is come, like to the day,
Depart not Thou, great God, away.
Let not my sins, black as the night,
Eclipse the lustre of Thy light:
Keep still in my Horizon; for to me
The Sun makes not the day, but Thee.
Thou, Whose nature cannot sleep,
On my temples Centry keep;
Guard me 'gainst those watchful foes,
Whose eyes are open while mine close.
Let no dreams my head infest,
But such as Jacob's temples blest.
While I do rest, my Soul advance;
Make my sleep a holy trance;
That I may, my rest being wrought,
Awake into some holy thought;
and with as active vigour run
My course, as doth the nimble Sun.
Sleep is a death; O make me try,
By sleeping, what it is to die;
And as gently lay my head
On my grave, as now my bed.
However I rest, great God, let me
Awake again at last with Thee;
And thus assur'd, behold I lie
Securely, or to awake or die.
These are my drowsie days; in vain
I do not wake to sleep again:
O come that hour, when I shall never
Sleep again, but wake forever.

It seems to me that I recall my dear husband requesting those last two lines as his epitaph.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Prayer For a New Mother

Image via Wikipedia
Prayer For a New Mother
by Dorothy Parker

The things she knew, let her forget again-
The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,
The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men
Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.

Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the endless, tuneless songs to sing,
Grant her her right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.

Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,
The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,
The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud
That wraps the strange new body of the dead.

Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another round - some new favorite cleaning products

These days I've been almost too busy to think, let alone write. But, since it's what I do for a living, I do find time to clean. Plenty of time. Because I'm not made of money I don't test drive a whole lot of products. I really hate buying things and finding out I've just wasted my hard earned money on junk. But, every so often the planets line up in just such a way that I end up trying something new. Over the last year I've come across a handful of new products I can add to my list of Things I Hope I Won't Ever Have to Do Without. And, to make up for the recent shortage of soul fodder here, I'll dish up my latest recommendations free of charge.*

First off, Orange Pledge.

In my last list of products recommendations I featured Endust. I will not take back what I said. It is a great product. But Orange Pledge has taken its place in my heart. Anyone who's ever asked knows that I can't stand Lemon Pledge. It's waxy and leaves a build-up. So when I took on a new client a few months back who told me her former cleaner used it for her marble counters I was dubious. But then I looked at her counters. Like glass! Beautiful, with the smooth protected feel of a car that's been recently waxed. So, I ran with it. It is not only great for marble and/or granite counters, but, like Endust, it leaves a silky, like-new finish on stainless steel sinks and appliances. And then, of course, you can use it on even the most reflective wood furniture surfaces. (Yes, it is a furniture polish after all.) Add to all this the really pleasant smell and you have a uniquely versatile product for a much more reasonable price than all those specialty products.


My next pick is a big-ticket item. My favorite vacuum cleaner. Now, to be fair, I have not worked with all the other high-end brands and so am not comparing this to those. I'll leave that up to you. I read and searched when it came time to select a new vacuum. For two decades my family used an old 1970's model Hoover. When, in the 90's, it finally went the way of all the earth I thought, "Hoover's always been good to me. Look at how long this old gal worked!" Then off I went to pick up a new Hoover. What I didn't realize is that the vacuum industry, Hoover included, had changed a few things over the years - first and foremost the quality of their vacuums. Apparently they decided that vacuums should be like razors - disposable. I was horribly disappointed and went through three of them in a decade.

Another change that came along while I was still happily dancing with my old Hoover was that remarkable invention known as the "bagless" vacuum. The industry was overrun by them, so I assumed they must be good and I must have one. Goodness knows I always hated having to buy those bags every year or so - a huge inconvenience, right? So I made the switch. Three bagless vacs (of my own, not to mention a dozen or so client vacs) later I realized I'd been duped. (Now, I know many will disagree with me on this. Please don't bother to try to change my mind. I do this for a living. I know from vacuums. If you love your bagless I give you permission to keep on loving it.) I vowed never to own another bagless machine. In case you're interested in my reasons I'll list them.

  • Wimpy - they just aren't as powerful. In a vacuum, sucking is a good thing.
  • Messy - nothing like cleaning a house to a lovely shine then going to empty the vacuum cup and having dust billow up and over all the surfaces within three feet, as well as all over the vacuum. And then there are the filters. They have to be cleaned and/or replaced very frequently. Far more frequently than a bag needs to be replaced.
  • Touchy - I've found almost every bagless I've used to be prone to clogging and overheating. One was so bad that I could never finish a whole house even one time without it overheating.
  • Fragile - Vacuums are very simple mechanical items. A child should be able to take one apart and put it back together easily, possibly even without tools, but at the very least with just a screwdriver. Belts should be easy to replace, and all other routine maintenance - even removing clogs should be simple. This has seldom been the case with any bagless I've owned. I've found many of them will clog in a place that is inaccessible. Another thing is, I have no patience for plastic parts that break. I've gotten really tired of the clips that hold attachments breaking off. I should not have to handle a vacuum with kid gloves.
  • Time wasting - The cup on a bagless has to be emptied at least once, and often several times in the middle of just one vacuum job. My friends, this is ridiculous. Some homes I clean require me to empty it THREE times in one visit - each time scattering more dust. Someone told me once that it was because they pick up more than the ones with the bag, but that is not the case. The truth is, the bag compacts the dirt. A full bag weighs a lot. A full cup weighs next to nothing. In my own home I can vacuum many times, possibly a dozen or more (I've never counted) with one bag. With a bagless I had to empty it twice each time and then clean the cup and the filters. I do not want a cleaning machine than I have to spend 15 minutes cleaning when I'm done using it.
Okay, so I've got a strong opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

Anyway, back to my choice: a Riccar. Two of my clients have vacuums that have lasted more than five years. Believe it or not, this has become the exception, not the rule. Both of them were Riccars. I thought back over the years I've used them and could recall no problems with them, ever. I considered the several hundreds of dollars I've wasted on vacuums over the last decade and did the math. I settled for a mid-priced Riccar. I've used it for a full year before bringing this glowing report.** It has given me no trouble except one clog. And that clog was refreshingly easy to correct. The belt can be changed without tools, though I haven't had to change mine yet. It is wildly powerful. It's cord is very long and nicely flexible. (I hate those stiff vacuum cords.) The attachments are easy to use. After a whole year not a single piece has broken. I'm ridiculously happy with my Riccar vacuum.

Next, I am happy to report I've found something I like even better than my trusty Bio-Clean water spot remover. It's much cheaper and requires much less product to get the job done. Purchased when I was in a pinch and my supplier was closed for an obscure holiday, here it is:

Bruce's GSR, Glass Water Spot & Stain Remover - Heavy Duty Brown.

I tried this the other day on a dingy patch in an otherwise lovely porcelain sink - a patch that even a razor wouldn't scrape off. I was flummoxed. A small smear of this on a scrubby sponge polished it off in a few seconds and left the whole sink looking like new - a thing of beauty. I love when that happens! Bruce's GSR, where have you been all my life?

(As with any product, test in an inconspicuous area first.)

Finally, this may be old news to some of you, but so what. I only just tried my first microfiber cleaning cloth a few weeks ago, and only because they had a 12-pack of them on sale at Cash & Carry for only $7. For that price I figured they were worth trying out. I wasn't even sure, really, what they were for, and I still haven't tried them out on everything yet. I'll say right now, though, that they were worth the money for use as dust cloths alone. A single cloth can dust an entire house, and then some, with no other product necessary. Great for pianos and other highly reflective surfaces as well as cloth surfaces like lampshades. The only downside is that touching them with my bare skin makes my hair stand on end, almost literally. My daughter calls fabrics like this "hangnail material". Perfect description. I'm trying to work past the aversion to the feel of them gradually, wearing gloves when I just can't stand it anymore.  (Tip: do not use fabric softener when washing or drying these cloths. You will defeat the whole purpose.)

So, there's my gift to all of you my friends. I know how much you all enjoy my unsolicited advice!


*Please note, I do not now and never have received any compensation for featuring products on my blog. If I did or ever do, I will let you know.

** UPDATE:  I have now been using this same vacuum for over four years and remain delighted with it!  Go buy yourself a Riccar!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hope is the sweetest gift of all

As I continue sifting, combing, and nit-picking away at several partially written blog entries which I can't seem either to untangle, de-bug, or find the loose ends which need tying up, I thought I'd leave you with some words of hope and comfort, from a book sent to me recently from half a continent away by a dear Christian brother.
"Prayer mirrors the gospel. In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation. In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help. We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers.....

"We tell ourselves, 'Strong Christians pray a lot. If I were a strong Christian, I'd pray more.' Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are. They don't try to hide it from themselves. Weakness is the channel that allows them to access grace....

"As we mature as Christians, we see more and more of our sinful natures, but at the same time we see more and more of Jesus. As we see our weaknesses more clearly, we begin to grasp our need for more grace....
"The gospel uses my weakness as the door to God's grace. That is how grace works....
"Less mature Christians have little need to pray. When they look at their hearts (which they rarely do), they seldom see jealousy. They are barely aware of their impatience. Instead, they are frustrated by all the slow people they keep running into. Less mature Christians are quick to give advice. There is no complexity to their worlds because the answers are simple - 'just do what I say, and your life will be easier.' I know all this because the 'they' I've been talking about is actually 'me.' That is what I'm naturally like without Jesus.....
"Surprisingly, mature Christians feel less mature on the inside. When they hear Jesus say, 'Apart from me you can do nothing' (John 15:5), they nod in agreement. They reflect on all the things they've done without Jesus, which have become nothing. Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can't raise their kids. It's a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can't get inside their kid's hearts. That's why strong Christians pray more."
Paul E. Miller - A Praying Life
 Thanks to simplemann for the gift that's teaching me to come to Christ like a little one again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Speechless

He brought me here to make very sure
I would never take it lightly again
that I would feel it deep in my soul
that pat answers will never do.

He's stripped them all away.
I can't hide behind them any more
and I stand here naked in my mind
the world's evil gazing upon me.

Helpless I begin to see it
for what it really is. It is evil.
My heart for once perceives
the terror of its malice.

And here, exposed, I know it,
that speechlessness without which
I am unfit to speak
to the subject of evil in this world.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Political Correctness and the Gospel

When I was growing up children were taught to address adults formally as:  Mrs. ___, Mr. ____, Miss _____, or maam, miss, or sir, for short. Back then that was then how adults preferred to be addressed by youngsters as well as by those in service professions. In those days it was considered rude for anyone to address any adult by first name unless permission had been given to do so. These customs were in place to show respect for individuals. Customs have changed over the decades. Nowadays most adults seem uncomfortable with formal titles, preferring to be addressed casually in most situations. It's not my intent at the moment to place a value judgment on that change (that's a topic for another day), but to note that, when it comes down to it, the reason we seldom use those formal titles now is the same as the reason we seldom failed to use them a generation ago: good manners. It is disrespectful and therefore impolite to knowingly refer to anyone in a manner that insults them or makes them uncomfortable.

I took guitar lessons when I was in the fourth grade. My teacher insisted on correcting my pronunciation of my own name. My name is pronounced by me, and my mother before me, with a long O sound, Laurie. This fellow explained to me that it is meant to be pronounced LAWry, and then went on to call me that gagging sound at every opportunity. I quit guitar lessons. For all I know he may have just been joking around, but I've come to learn that jokes about given names are rarely funny to the person with the given name. It's never appropriate to mock a person over things over which they have no control (not that I think mockery is ever really appropriate).

Now, suppose you gave birth to a beautiful child - the joy of your heart. As time passes you realize your little one is not keeping up with the child development charts. As more time flies you begin getting calls from teachers. Your baby needs to be tested. More time and baby comes home from school crying. "Mommy, they call me retard!" What do you say to the little one? "Tough up! Don't be so danged sensitive! Get over it!"? Your child already has, through no fault of her own, so many challenges to face in this world, is it too much to ask that people not call her derogatory names? Does she not deserve to be treated with the same dignity that every human deserves?

Jesus famously taught "...in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Elsewhere in the Bible, Paul rephrases it: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

What I am getting to is that "politically correct" speech, that is: "avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive, discriminatory, or judgmental, esp concerning race and gender" should not be something those of us who profess Christianity resent or rail against. Rather, it should be our habit. It is our Christian duty to strive to speak to and about others only in ways that do not dishonor them as human beings. This does not mean, of course, that we only tell people what they want to hear, but it does mean that our speech should be characterized by gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), not mockery, slurs, or other demeaning language. Though we should personally strive to overlook offenses (no easy task), it is not our place to decide the boundaries of another - what someone else should or should not be offended by.
"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." 1 Cor. 10: 31-33
Politically correct speech isn't just a matter of good manners, it's a matter of the Gospel.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

on e e cummings and the simplicity of the gospel

For years I seldom read poetry unless it was required it of me. But e. e. cummings was different. I was introduced to one of his poems in high school and raced home to devour the rest of the collection. I no longer have the book and had all but forgotten it until recently, when a friend posted a reading of this poem - the very one that got me to buy the first book of poetry I ever owned:
i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
edward estlin cummings
It made me smile to hear it again, and to hear it read more beautifully than it ever sounded in the voice in my own head. It delighted middle-aged me at least as much as it did teen-me. I glanced at the commentary provided by the man who had read it with such deep feeling. As it turned out, the man hates this poem and promised to extend little more than civility to anyone he meets who likes it. He offered this disparagement:
"To me, this is a poem for people who in general do not like poetry."

Though I knew I was being insulted, I could not argue with his statement. It's true. I "in general do not like poetry". And yet here was a poem, and I had liked it, and had proceeded to consume a whole book of Cummings' poetry, which I also loved, much of which the critic did approve of.

And, so, my question is: what is wrong with writing a poem so winsome that even a dolt like me can be delighted? Is it possible that the very fact that it could crack a heart as hard as mine speaks to its strength, not its weakness? What is the point of poetry anyway? Exclusivity? Is the mark of a good poem that it appeals only to an elite few? Does the poet really not care that others are touched by it? I find that difficult to believe. What voice cries into a wilderness longing not to be heard?

Yet I've seen this exclusive mindset all over the artistic world - artists pouring out their hearts, dreaming of making a mark, and patrons trying to hoard them to themselves. I've seen it in churches too, people taking hold of the message and soon, as though unable to tolerate its simplicity, burying it under regulations and nomenclature then sitting smugly atop the mound, smirking at those who "just don't get it".

How quickly we forget the simple beauty of first love. How easily bored we become with even the greatest splendor. We aren't content to have enjoyed it, but must own it. So much of what we think of as love of beauty or love of God is really love of self. It's about feeling elite, elevated, in the know, superior, powerful. Appreciating this poem or that teaching, makes me feel smart, set apart from the masses. Yes, Me. I've done it. I've cheapened many wonderful things by using them to class myself up. I've done it with literature. I've done it with music. I've even done it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Cor 1: 26-31 (emphasis mine).
Now that I know Christ as the one in whom " all things hold together" and who has given me a new heart, this simple poem reads more like a prayer.

You can listen to the man who hates the poem read it beautifully here.  Ironically, and sadly, I could find no better reading of it than his.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullied to death

Bullying is as old as humanity, or nearly so. That ancient book of Genesis tells us the first recorded human ever born bullied and murdered the second recorded human ever born.

I came along many millenia later and was bullied for much of my childhood and teen years, and for a very brief time (my mind travels back to eighth grade,when I had my one shot at popularity and became a monster) I played the bully myself. Back then adults, like Charlie Brown's teachers, were muffled voices, and, outside of the classroom, wholly uninvolved in the politics of the playground. We kids were on our own - at least that was my experience. I never told a soul or complained to anyone. There was a code, only spoken when broken. I don't know who invented it, or in what century, but to tattle was a worse crime than bullying itself, removing whatever respect might have remained. I challenged a girl to a fight once. It was to take place after school. I'd been picked on one too many times. But, before the next recess I was called to the teacher's desk and given a goldenrod slip of paper. I'd been ratted out. I felt a strange mix of contempt and relief. In spite of her size (in my childhood, everyone was bigger than me), she was afraid of me. I'd won the fight without anyone getting hurt. Scrawny, homely me had the power. That bit of satisfaction was worth facing my mother with goldenrod note in hand.

But bullying, along with all the other secret sins we children suffered silently back in "the good-old days" are being exposed. People are being encouraged to take a stand, to tell somebody, to get help. I hear the little girl in me cry out, "Don't tell! They'll hate you more! Don't give them the satisfaction of knowing they've hurt you. Don't let anyone know how weak you really are!" But that little girl was just a little girl, inexperienced, gullible.

Odd to think how my Christian school childhood served a better illustration of Darwinian "survival of the fittest" than any teaching of Christ. What I was taught in the classroom was untaught every time I exited its door.

But I've meandered off. Let me come to my point. What's puzzling me these days is not so much the fact of bullying, which has ever been with us, as the fact of the suicides it is leading to. I don't recall ever in my entire youth hearing of a suicide, let alone one by another youngster. High school was like a living hell for me. (Perhaps, if I'd known at the time that life could get even worse, I might have considered it....) But, as bad as things were then, I never seriously contemplated suicide. It would be another couple of decades before that degree of hopelessness could set in. In my teens I still had options, time, and that ability of the young to paint dreams with color, magic, and hope. So I managed my pain in other ways. I lived in a very big city. There were always options. I changed friends, changed schools, changed drugs, changed boys. I also journaled, though we didn't call it that then. And, sometimes, I prayed. These little steps, desperate and misguided as they clearly were from the vantage of my middle age, distracted me from suicide.


I knew other kids, back in those days when stigmas still had some real punch, who really messed up. What I mean is, they got caught messing up. I knew girls who got pregnant before high school was through, one while still in junior high. These girls had their babies and finished school. They didn't abort their babies or their lives. There were other kids who, like me, were hated and made the grist of the rumor mill. Often we outcasts hid together, comforted by a shared hatred of our abusers.

So what's changed? (If it really has. I don't want to rule out entirely the real possibility that these suicides have always been going on but nobody talked about it. Goodness knows we were a secretive bunch before Oprah came along.) Assuming this phenomenon really is new or suddenly and exponentially growing, I've come to think that the difference might not be so much in the bully, or the bullied, but in a new kind of ubiquity.

Through the omnipresent internet, playground politics and the snide cruelties of high school now follow us into our homes, right into our living rooms and bedrooms. We can run, but without unplugging entirely from our culture and it's tools, we can't hide. And even if we were to unplug, we would still know that nobody else has. Whatever our fear, whatever our shame, whatever our weakness, once it is exposed is exposed forever. There is no turning back. There is no forgetting. It is available to any heart, wicked or kind, any set of eyes with a search engine, and it can never be reliably erased. No matter where we run, we know any face we meet may have already gazed upon our shame, reveling, mocking, puffing up with pride at the expense of our souls.

We know it will always be out there, lurking, that callous and unforgiving swarm consciousness, hungering after it's next meal, sniffing for the blood of the weak and wounded. An injured one has few options: hope against hope to be overlooked, tiny, in the vast sea of wounded; wait to be scented out and tortured to shreds by a thousand little bites; or if the swarm becomes visible on the horizon, take matters in hand. Better to end it on one's own terms. Get it over quickly and comparatively painlessly.

Of course not all the bullied commit suicide. For any number of reasons, some are more vulnerable than others, but I am convinced that we are all in some way or another impacted. To quote a verse from the Bible, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." None of us are perfect. Every one of us has done something, said something, that could condemn us in the eyes of the world. Every one of us is living in a world looking for someone else to take the blame. Even those of us who are active members of the swarm, looking to bite and devour, have somewhere in our hearts the buried knowledge that we are only one or two missteps away from becoming prey. This is the darkness of our world. It can be terrifying. I know.

There is no way out of the darkness but to break the power of shame. I have tried everything imaginable to do it: changing the rules, denying my deeds are truly shameful, justifying my behavior, blaming others, renaming my sins as illnesses or disorders, sometimes even by re-labeling them as virtues and priding myself in them. The best I've ever achieved by my efforts has been to drive the shame underground and in the process committed more deeds to be ashamed of.

I have found that there is only one thing that can break through the darkness of shame and that is the hope of real forgiveness. Real shame for real wrongs needs a forgiveness that doesn't try to sweep the seriousness of my sins under a rug, saying it wasn't really so bad, or making excuses for it. Real forgiveness tells the truth. It looks right at my sin, sees it for the ugly thing that it really is, and then forgives it anyway. I've wandered and stumbled far and wide in the darkness of my own guilt, hoping that somewhere there might be hope for me, and after more than forty years the light of hope has finally broken through. God has taken pity on me, and all of us. He knows full well the dark filthy place this world has become and into that darkness He has sent a great light - His own Son to bring us the hope of true forgiveness. Jesus Christ took the guilt of sin upon Himself, dying a shameful death on behalf of any who will look to Him in hope.
"And you, who were dead in your trespasses...God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." Col. 2:13-15
The record of our sins has been canceled. Everything that stood against us has been nailed to the cross. It is no longer we who bear shame, but the forces in this world who have sought to destroy us. Look to Jesus for forgiveness and be free once and for all time from shame. In His light we can stand before God free from guilt. In His light we have peace with God and the hope that comes from knowing that if God is for us, no one can stand against us.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1
Christ disarms the bully by taking away his power to shame. May the light of Christ free you today, from the power of sin, the power of shame, and the power of the fear of men.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tango

One heart yearns, tired
tentatively stepping
building, growing,
keening, wailing
grieving, hoping again to love.

It rises up, old
brokenhearted to dance
circling, soaring
aching, climbing,
mounting stairs, again, to heaven.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

A time for every purpose under heaven

After weeks upon weeks of consideration I've decided that it is time for me to set this blog aside. I cannot say for how long. It may be forever, or it may be for a few weeks. I'll leave it here, a record of my thoughts these last couple of years (the ones I dared air publicly that is), a reminder of this stretch of my sojourn.

I began my writing a much different person than I am today. I resist the urge to be embarrassed by my earlier views and attitudes. I was not perfected then, nor am I now. But I pray I never go backward. I want to step forward, arms flung wide open, into the fullness of the freedom that is in Christ, ready to embrace fellow believers of every variety and move forward with them reveling in and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to a hopeless and hurting world.

So, what's next? I can't say really, except that I plan to take my life and my writing in a different direction. That direction might just become clearer if I do it away from the confusing din of the internet.

As for my friends here, I haven't died yet, and I don't want to lose you. Please contact me via e-mail or Facebook if ever you want to keep in touch.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Not the image of God!


"Suggestion for persons entering heaven: Leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and the dog would go in."
~ Mark Twain


Meet Schubert. He's pretty cute, in a gremlinish way. Now I know that "dog" is the mirror image of "god", but Schubert is nobody's co-pilot and we can all raise our voices in thanksgiving that he is not created in the image of God. I shudder to think of a world created and ruled by the likes of him!

Schub is the brunt of a lot of jokes around here. We can get away with that because the only English words he understands besides his name are "Do you need to go potty?" "Sit," "Down", and I think he understands "No!" though he doesn't always obey that one. He also rolls on his back with a big smile and his tongue lolling out if you point your fingers like a gun and pretend to shoot him. He agrees to do this because it always ends in his belly getting rubbed. Truth be told, no one who knows Schubert would argue with me if I said, "Schubert's god is his belly."  It's the plain truth and I've never encountered another creature who is so obvious about it.  Schub has two primary goals in life (he had a third, but the vet took care of that other one): to have his belly filled and to have his belly rubbed.

"Look out for the dogs... their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things...." (Phil. 3:2a,19b)
Now, Paul, in his letter is not really speaking of dogs. He's using the term "dogs" to describe those early legalists known as the Judaizers. No doubt they did not think of themselves as worldly. They were convinced they were more spiritual than the rest, bringing in the Law to those "lawless" gentile Christians. The apostle did not agree. But it's not really in my mind today to discuss legalists. What I've got on my mind is sin, I mean, what is sin anyway? I know the common response is "disobedience to God" or "rebellion". I don't argue that those are sins, but what is at the heart of those. What on earth (good pun, but unintended) would lead a person to rebel?  God created mankind in His image - no small honor. Really, what could be loftier? What more could we want?

Well, we can want the one thing in our world we haven't been given. And isn't that pretty much what we are always so inclined to want? Of course, back in the Garden days we weren't so inclined to want that one thing, because we had all we needed already, and then some, and had been told not to want it by God, whose word was good enough for us back then. But, in that Garden was a tempter who already knew the dark pleasure and the emptiness of rebellion, and whose great desire now was to lead a fledgling race which bears the image of his hated Enemy into that rebellion with him. What a coup it would be to take little images of God and make them into his own likeness, and lower. These beings were made of the earth, the same earth that brought forth the animals. If these beings could be made to rebel against the God who created them, to lose the spiritual life He'd breathed into the lungs of their souls, well, what would be left would be little more than animal life. Or maybe the Enemy really did expect his trickery to lead to the instant death of these little images of God. I wonder if he was surprised to see them continue to live and breath, sewing leaves together in their hidey-hole, and even more surprised when God not only didn't kill them but sacrificed animals to give them better clothes to hide under.

But I think I've strayed away from my point. What would lead such a noble creature to rebel? He wouldn't rebel for the joy of rebelling. He had no experience with such a feeling. No, it would have to be a legitimate desire perverted. Ultimately it was his belly that won out, abetted by the spiritual-sounding excuse that to eat would make him godly. His belly wanted that fruit more than it wanted God, and so that belly became its god. So mankind lowered his/herself to the level of dogs, and the devil was pleased. Aside from death, what baser fate could he wish upon creatures that remind him at every glance of the God he hates? What satisfaction he no doubt derives from seeing God's images behaving like Schubert. And for all these years we've continued the tradition of using godliness as an excuse to fill our "bellies" - a blasphemy little Schubert wouldn't dream of.

But let me finish with this: I mean no insult to dear little Schub. My husband will not let me get by with lowering his special little pet to the level of a sinner. It is, after all, no sin whatsoever for him to behave as he does. He's a dog. He's doing exactly what he was made to do and operating exactly within the nature God gave him. Schubert is a foul but affectionate little brute, which is just as God created him to be. Schubert is not a sinner; I am. And in that sense he is a finer individual than me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How do I go on?

How do I keep on
when my good works aren't good enough
when my spirituality isn't spiritual enough
when my heart is breaking
and everyone's a critic?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jesus in the streets and Judgment Day

The last eight months have been a time of existential crisis in my household. We've seen the death of my mother, the alleged beating death of the child of Christian friends, the death of an unbelieving best friend. On top of this, we've encountered dozens of people, some believing, some no longer so, who've been battered by "Christian" doctrine. And through it all, the Great Recession made itself felt through my husband's sixteen months as an unemployment statistic. These last months life has taken us to task for our beliefs and tried them by fire.

I'll be perfectly frank. My spiritual house, what there was of it, no longer exists. I'd erected an elaborate but stark structure, peaks and angles of intricate, flawless, or so it seemed, doctrine. I first began to notice something was wrong when my mother died. My house was cold - so cold. I looked around and realized for the first time that it had no walls and no fire in the hearth could remain lit for long with the winds that kept blowing through. I shivered. I realized what had been missing all along was love. That was the only thing which could keep my heart warm, but it seemed my doctrinal structure, though lovely to look at could not withstand the weight or heat of love. When all the rest followed over the months which ensued, that structure in which I'd taken such pride crumbled right down to its foundation. But that foundation remained, apparently impervious, and that foundation is Jesus Christ. He remains, the One who loves me and atoned for my sin; but now it remains to rebuild. And this time I want to be oh so careful. I must take the scattered remnants and identify which ones were sound, which ones weak, which ones deserve key positions and are strong enough to support the rest of the structure and which are not. As I look at what is left of my house I can see that I used good materials but in wrong ways leaving it all unstable, unsound. I'm an inexperienced builder and I'm suffering the effects of my whimsy and my pride.*

Next to Paul, I sat weeping on the love seat one morning. "I want to see Jesus. I want to know Him. I want to know how He is, what kind of person He is, to hear the sound, and the tone of His voice. I want to experience his demeanor. Is he gentle to the weak and hurting? Is He tender to the doubting? When he tells His people to fear not, is it a barked command, or a word of compassion and comfort? Is He angry? Is He really the Clint Eastwood of gods that so many so gleefully represent Him to be? Or is it true that "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,until he brings justice to victory"? My dear mother was a bruised reed, so was the daughter of my friends, and so am I. Does he demean and disregard my pain because I'm a woman, as so many Christians do? How can I know Him? Where do I find Him? And what does it mean to "follow Him"?

So, yet again, I turned to the one place where though I cannot hear His voice, I can at least read His words. I turned to the Gospels. I've been doing my best to make out His tone of voice, trying to forget the tone which I've heard countless others give to His words over the years, asking Him over and over to show me what He's really like.

Last Sunday, during worship, this passage of Scripture was read:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" Matthew 7:21-23
This is one of those generally terrifying passages so often used to terrify people into...well...into something, whatever thing. It's a very versatile verse likely not least because most of us are pretty vague as to the meaning of "lawlessness". Come on quick. I'll give you ten seconds to define lawlessness..........(Now, if you were a practicing Orthodox Jew, this would likely be easy. But for the Christian it's another matter altogether. After all, we've been told that "all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.' Now if is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith. But the Law is not of faith..." [Gal. 3:10-12a])

In fact, the Law never could be fulfilled by not committing a List of Ten prohibited actions, or any others deeds we may in our zeal add to the list. "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." (Col. 2:20-23) No, regulations and laws are not what the faithful live by. The faithful live by faith; and "faith worketh by love.....For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

In short, those who do the will of the Father in Heaven are those who love. Lawlessness equals lovelessness.

Last Sunday when I heard that verse read my mind did not do the thing it usually does with it. This time my thoughts flew to a different "Judgment Day" passage:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46
And this brings me back to my original quest, my prayer, my deep desire to know Jesus. We've all heard the verse, and we all, believers and unbelievers alike know to the core of our beings that "Faith without works is dead," that "talk is cheap," that "actions speak louder than words". The truth is, no matter how "doctrinally sound" or "Bible-believing" we claim to be, we don't know Jesus by hearing His words, even by listening avidly and voraciously to them, even by studying them and preaching (or prophecying) them any more than we know a celebrity by looking at pictures and reading magazines. No, we know Jesus when do His words: when we follow in His steps and do as He does. More particularly, we know Him when we love who He loves. Until we begin to love our neighbors and our enemies in the most practical of ways we will not know or love Jesus.
"...love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:35-36
And so it seems clear, if I want to see Jesus - to really know Him, if I want to be a daughter of God, I will look to serve Him in the needs of others. If I really want to show my love to Him, I will love Him through His creatures made in His image - my fellow humans.

I read His words in the Book then I look for His face in the streets.

And off I go. Seeking His face. I'm not sure how to find him in my little town where even the poorest receive regular meals and free clothing. But I can start in my heart, thinking kind thoughts of those He loves (which is every living soul), and letting those kind thoughts spill over into kind words and deeds. I can stop looking down on those who are weak and devastated by the curse of the world's sin or their own. I can stop categorizing people with the words "them" and "those" and begin thinking of "them" as people, sinful, hurting, weak, people just like me and more than that, "Those people" are my only chance to love Jesus in this life. I must stop mentally belittling and victimizing people with caricatures, slurs, stereotyping, inward sneers and mockery. Then perhaps when I meet Christ face to face in the hurt or physical need of another I will really love Him, and them. Perhaps Then, when I finally meet Him it won't be with words of boasting of wondrous words and works of the Law, but with humble surprise..."When did I help you Jesus?....All I did was love them. Considering all you've done for me, how could I do any less?"

May God grant me grace for my sojourn.

 *The final three sentences of this paragraph were added at a later date, for the sake of clarity.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lettin' it all hang out

I've got nothing of import to share these days so I thought an update and dose of mundane stuff might be fun.

First, my kids have convinced me there's nothing really all that wrong with my forehead and that I shouldn't wear bangs or a hat every waking moment of my life. Besides that, I've determined to own my wrinkles. I've earned them after all, and wouldn't trade the wisdom that's come with them for the world. So, I'm letting my forehead out of the closet. And here's a picture. Oh yeah. I wear glasses too, except on Sundays and when I want to look pretty.

I don't think I've mentioned it here but since it's public knowledge (in the most legal sense of the word, and the most literal - it's been published in the local paper) I can state here that I'm serving on my county's Grand Jury this year. It is taking up a lot of my time, and, with my cleaning business flourishing as it is, I'm left with precious little time for things like, well, things. My writing here will likely be sparser than ever. Grand Jury proceedings are highly confidential, so no matter how interesting it might turn out to be I cannot discuss it. Our findings and recommendations will be made public at the end of our term in our published Final Report and no further comment by any of us is permitted beyond that - ever.

So, what's left? As I said, my business is flourishing. If such a thing was possible, with the number of referrals I've had to turn down I could be working 24/7. But such a thing is not possible or wise. My work is strenuous and I also have a home and family of my own to consider. My husband is very fond of me and likes to spend as much time with me as he can. I try to accommodate him. He also is an intellectual and likes me to read a lot - not that he gets any argument from me! I love to read and find just about everything interesting - except financial stuff - yack! I can understand it, but I don't like it one bit.
I'm also not a poetry fan - a fact my husband is doing everything in his power to change. And he's made some progress. I actually wrote a poem on my blog the other day, the first one of my life. I can't say it's any good, but it's definitely mine.

So along with my random musings I've included some pictures of my random life. Lately I've posted nice pictures of the re-decorating we've been doing. What I've left out of those pictures are the corners of my home where I actually live - where I sit down and think, and talk, and write. Those places are not so tidy or orderly. They represent all my incomplete thoughts, the things I'm struggling to understand and make sense of piled right alongside some of my very favorite things. In that sense these corners are an apt microcosm of my soul. (In case you're wondering where the Bible fits in - I've been judgmental enough in my own Christian life to know there will be someone asking themselves that question - there's a MacArthur Study Bible on top of my desk, a Hebrew/English Tanakh behind where I'm standing in the picture above, and my big fat ESV Study Bible is on the coffee table where both Paul and I can get to it.) Some of these books have been read cover to cover, underlined and dog-eared. Others I'm only part-way through. A few I've stalled on and may have to start over from the beginning if too much more time elapses. Some I've been meaning to read for a really long time and am afraid that if I put them back on the shelf I'll forget them forever. A couple, like Black Beauty for instance, just need to be put away. (Gina borrowed that book and I have no intention of torturing my soul with it.)

We live in an adorable house, which I'm fond of posting pictures of. But what I don't advertise much is that we live in a questionable neighborhood and get a lot of questionable foot and vehicle traffic. The binoculars on the nightstand in that last picture are so we can tell if we need to call the cops or not. We've learned over the last few years to limit that to clear evidence of drug dealing, to camping, to physical abuse, to terrorist threats, to vandalism, and to unconsciousness. As it is we call the cops at least once a month. The flashlight is for power outages which for various reason we experience several times a year. No matter where I keep a flashlight, I've never been able to remember where I keep a flashlight. So it will likely sit there unused during the next outage. And so, as my mind wanders off I'll end my ramblings here, hoping someday soon I'll happen upon something worthwhile to share with my friends.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Just whose wife am I anyway?

In the first place, I wish I could take credit for coming to that critical question on my own, but really it was a slow train coming, and on the caboose was a friend who during her own womanly journey snagged this obscure little bit of Scripture: "If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home." (1 Cor. 14: 35) I admittedly have no intention of diving into the minefield of context on this one. I've honestly seldom been able to notice these words through the din of those that surround it, but my friend drew them out for me and gave me a timeless, culture-spanning use for them.
"I think one of the reasons...to learn from our own husbands at home (in a good marriage) is because that's the one person who loves us most and is most willing to protect us."
On came the lights. "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." (Eph. 5:22, all emphasis mine.)

Now, let me put on the brakes for a moment, for the sake of anyone who may happen across these words who is either not a Christian, or else one not from a fundamentalist background, who will no doubt think this is nutty, turn-of-the-twentieth-century, backwoods talk, and clarify that I am speaking as a Christian person who has spent many years within the world of fundamentalism and is these days, for a number of reasons, taking a fresh look at what Christianity really does and does not require of its women. If you don't mind bearing with me, perhaps you can gain some understanding into our little world. As you are likely aware, our book of Scripture was written in a different time, in a different culture with different mores: a middle-eastern, tribal, patriarchal culture. As a result, it is important for us to understand what principles underlie the instructions given all those years ago, what they would have represented to the original recipients, and how to appropriately apply them in our own cultural context. For example, what is the first thing you think of when you see a woman with a head scarf: 'Oh look, there goes a married, chaste, devout woman?' Likely not. In fact, such a head covering represents something vastly different to westerners these days. Here and now, what used to be represented by a headscarf is conveyed by a wedding ring on a woman who is modestly attired - meaning: not in an ostentatious, or sexually provocative manner.

Now, when we come to the word "submit", if your knee jerks, it's okay. Mine does, too. I understand. That word has been so abused for so long that it's to be expected. And here is where we can begin to loop back around to my point. (Yes, I do have one.) Let me begin with a wildly popular verse that never did exist in the Bible: "Husbands, make your wives submit." That's right, I said that is NOT Scripture. Men are never given that command, or that responsibility. In fact, according to Jesus, no Christian with any degree of authority is to use it to lord over anyone.
"But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mt. 20:25-28)
And the same, we are told, clearly applies in the husband/wife relationship: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (see Eph. 5:25-29) And, just in case that is too heady a concept, husbands are further told to love their wives as much as their own bodies, which, I assure you, is a LOT. (Go ahead, take a minute to think about the devotion men have to their bodies....That's a whole lotta love! And a lot of nurturing and respect.) So, while the Christian man is living that love out on his wife, the wife is told, by the Scripture, to respect that man and submit to his care.

That man. Not some other man. Not some woman. Not some "Bible teacher" - man or woman.

When the lights came on, I realized that I've been taking my cues on what it means to be a "good" wife, a Christian wife, just about everywhere but from my husband. I've read books, and listened to sermons, lectures, and the advice of fellow Christians. I've taken it all in and, over the years, internalized it, along with all my other cultural idealizations of "the perfect wife".

A word about "complementarianism"

To the right is a diagram of complementary angles.

"The adjective complementary is from Latin complementum, associated with the verb complere, "to fill up". An acute angle is 'filled up' by its complement to form a right angle."

"Why are Complementary Colors Important in Color Theory?

When placed next to each other, complementary colors make each other appear brighter, more intense. The shadow of an object will also contain its complementary color, for example the shadow of a green apple will contain some red."

The dictionary defines the word "complementary" this way: 


1.  Forming or serving as a complement; completing.
2.  Supplying mutual needs or offsetting mutual lacks.



If we're truthful we have to admit that the Scripture gives precious little practical advice about being a "perfect wife". All it gives are a few over-arching principles. And suddenly this makes perfect sense to me. I am to be subject to my own husband, and to learn what it means to be his wife from him. After all, every man is different. Every woman is different. Every marriage is different. That's the way God intended it. We are not clones but uniquely gifted individuals. Not only that, but every culture is different and so is every age. The Scripture is meant to be versatile and timeless, valuable to every person in every era. In the old days, and I mean very old days, God created man and announced, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Gen. 2:18) And the man was delighted with her. She was just what he needed. She was his "help" - his support in weakness. Together they were one. That's were this idea of "complementarianism" we hear so much about these days comes from, and, based upon the definitions and illustrations above, I think that is a perfect description of what the marriage relationship is meant to be. But here's where I see that the idea has taken a wrong turn. Instead of treating each man and each wife as individuals complementing each others' own strengths and weaknesses, encouraging them to fill in and support each other as needed, whatever that may look like, many influential church leaders have chosen one single example from from the host of possible complementary relationship styles and set it up as a pre-fab model for all Christian men and women, expecting them all, no matter how different they may be, to conform to it. So, by way of example, instead of having a wide range of pairs of complementary angles, we are all required to be 60 and 30 degrees. Instead of a spectrum of colors, we are only allowed violet and yellow. Not only is that boring, it's wrong. God created the spectrum. We are all different. When we try to be what we are not, we cannot be what God created us to be. We spend all our energies trying to make ourselves into someone else's image, squeeze ourselves into someone else's ideal.

My husband is an intellectual and very creative man. As it happens, he would rather I write poems than clean the house. He'd prefer I paint canvasses than do laundry - really. My husband would like to cook meals once in a while. My husband would rather I sit and talk with him on the unmade bed than get up and make it. He would rather I giggle, dance, and cry than be the picture of cool, staid contentment. There are dozens of things just like this that would delight Paul which, until a couple of days ago, I would not do. Why? Because cooking, cleaning, organizing, and maintaining decorum were all the things "good wives" do, and they took up all my time. In this and so many other, deeper ways I would not submit to my husband. I would read articles for Christian wives and feel so wrong. When I would tell Paul how I felt, he'd say, in no uncertain terms, "I don't want that kind of wife! I married you!" Then I would secretly think, well, this person, this Bible teacher is so godly - perhaps Paul is wrong... and I'd go ahead and follow or fret over the advice anyway. That, my friends, is NOT submission.

So, whose wife am I anyway? Paul's wife, that's who. He's yellow-orange and he fell in love with  my blue-violet, because something in his soul told him that was just what was needed to complete him, to make him shine brighter and with more intensity. I agreed to be his wife because I felt the same way. So why am I not writing poems? Why am I not painting? Why am I not dancing, laughing, and letting Paul cook dinner? I'm done taking my cues on what kind of wife I should be from anyone but him. I'm determined to honor the unique man that he is. From here on out I submit myself to my own husband. When it comes to what it means to be a good wife to him, beyond the Scripture, no one but he has a right to inform me.  I will learn from him at home.

[You will find a follow-up to this post here.]

Monday, July 5, 2010

Who is this Jesus?

Who is he?

This one I speak to
upon waking each morning,
full of fear....
This one I've never laid eyes on,
yet trust
with my dread and my life?

Who are you, Jesus?
Why do I trust you?
Why do I wish it was me,
washing your feet with my tears
Touching your skin
fear of your disciples, their taunts
washed away by hope of your acceptance?

How do I know you will not agree with them
and turn me away?
I don't.
I never have.
And yet I come,
day after day
hearing the whispers.
The way I approach is all wrong,
offerings foolish and wasteful.
A woman,
I belong in the kitchen, quietly working, useful.

But I need you.
Oh, how I wish I could touch you, hear your voice
drowning out the voice of your men. 
Then I would ask you
Who are you?
Why do I trust you?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Go Ask Alice

Like every self-respecting girl of my generation, and probably every other kind of girl too, I loved the Brady Bunch. Every Friday evening for five years (decades in little-girl-time) centered around it. Like every other little girl I knew, I wanted to be Marsha, the oh-so-cool and beautiful older sister, or at the very least to be as cute as little Cindy, who everyone adored. Even to be Jan, the relatively plain middle daughter, would be better than the knobby-jointed, crooked-haired, four-eyed, bad-toothed, unpopular child I saw looking back at me from every mirror. Raised an only child (my siblings having grown up and moved away before my earliest memories), I envied those sibling relationships. I wanted cute brothers to fight with but who would secretly really love me, and would defend me when kids picked on me at school. I wanted a family name that would escort me immediately into the attention of every teacher and student who heard it. And, of course, I wished for such parents: in equal parts kind, respectful, fair, caring, young, hip, and wealthy.

Ah, the Brady's! They had it all. No wonder they smiled! No wonder we loved them.

But there was one smile in the Brady household that puzzled me even in childhood - Alice's. This was a smile I could never account for. She had neither youth, nor beauty, nor husband, nor child, nor car, nor home of her own. Oh, sure, they threw her and Sam, that non-committal butcher, on an occasional date, but, so far as I was concerned, she had no life. She lived her every waking moment smilingly serving this family - every one of them - as if she were a slave, and smiling as if they were her own flesh and blood, which they weren't. In my mind there was just no accounting for it.  Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a stupid child. I understood this was TV and these were actors. But even then I had some awareness that in the world there were and had been real slaves, and real servants who really lived their lives in that way. I knew that somehow they had to find their happiness within that structure, and I knew that those who did where finer humans than I could ever hope to be. I was awed to think such a thing was possible, and yet, admiration aside, I knew I did not want to be that fine of a human, not if that's what was required. I'd rather be numbered among the shallowly happy elite than the deeply happy humble.

Alice was a bridge to another time, a hold-over from a day who's sun was setting. I've heard our economy referred to as "service-based" and yet I've wondered again and again, "Where is the service?" Indeed, I've just as often sat on my end of a phone call wondering, "Where is the human?" Service, along with professionalism, are relics of by-gone days. There was a time when it was only the elite (and the men - but that's a discussion for another day) who expected to be served. Now, we all want to be served, but no one wants to be a servant. So it wasn't just homely little-girl-me. It's my whole generation; we all want to be the Brady's. The yearbook from my junior year of high school satirically depicts the two seniors voted "most likely to succeed" in the school custodian's closet holding his mop and bucket. Poor janitor, mocked by the children he served....

No one wants to be Alice.

But think of the poverty of a world without "service with a smile". Imagine how your soul would shrivel if you knew that every last person who served you did not care about you at all, not in the least, but did it only for selfish gain, or avarice, or desperation, or fear. What if every smile really covered a cold dark universe of swirling motives. Imagine a world without mother-love, father-love, the mutual admiration of lovers, without genuinely concerned employers and employees interested not just in making a buck, but in making the world a more lovely place. Imagine if the whole world was like the DMV.

It seems the longer I live, the less I need to use my imagination.

Yes, I've seen Gosford Park. I know Alice represented an ideal, and there never was a time when the world was full of people like her. But behind every ideal is a hope - a vision of a perfect world. She represents a yearning in us all - the tugging need to be cared for by someone devoted to us, deeply committed, loving us selflessly and unconditionally. If there is a picture of the humility and love of Christ in the Brady Bunch, Alice is it. She represented the secularized residuals of the Christian ideal, the dying legacy of the Protestant value of work as worship and self-sacrifice as love. Alice did have a life. Her life was consumed with love and spent loving. That may not have been her family by blood, but it was by choice, and it was by love. That is why Alice smiled. She knew the joy of love. In this she was rich. In this, she was beautiful. In this, she was better than all of them.

So why don't we see it? Why is it that everybody wants an Alice, but no one wants to be one?

Why does no little girl want to be Alice when she grows up...?

"The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Matthew 23:11-12

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Three years and counting - part two

So, yesterday's post brings us up to about February of this year, three years after the house went into escrow. One thing I alluded to, but did not state outright, was that during this past Christmas season my mom passed away. Things are a bit of a blur surrounding that time and the four or five months that followed, but having a temperament that requires me to be busy when grieving, a lot got done around here in spite of it all. Some of it also came from a different kind of necessity. Mom passed exactly one week before Christmas, and two weeks before the first of the month when her apartment would have to be vacated. We siblings and our grown kids sorted through her belongings - laughing, crying, remembering - then divided them up and carted them off to our various dwellings. This led to a flurry of rearranging to make room for our keepsakes and added further impetus to our plans to "finish" the house. It was a bittersweet time, finding new homes for Mom's treasures, thinking how much she would like the way they look in their new spots, wishing I could show her, and then crying. 

It was my mother's floor lamp that finally helped me choose the color to paint the living room. Since it is separated from the dining room only by an "arch", it was important that we choose a color which looked great with terra cotta.  I didn't mention it earlier, but I LOVED that color from the moment I laid eyes on it and about cried over how great it looked in the dining room. There was a part of me that wanted to coat every surface of the house in it. So I felt a lot of pressure to choose just the right color for the front room. The lamp offered me choices between green and gold. I determined early on I did not want green. I just didn't.  So I set out to Lowes, paint chip of dining room color in hand, to find a nice gold....even though I don't like the color gold. I settled for the one that looked the best with the paint chip, brought it home, then proceeded to procrastinate. There is always plenty of other stuff to do when you're trying to put off painting. (Have I mentioned yet that I HATE painting?) But here was our main reason for putting it off:

This wardrobe is huge and PACKED with movies, books, games, etc. All of this would have to be moved somewhere. In other words, painting this room would require rearranging everything.  
While I was dilly-dallying about the living room, the announcement came that Tony was moving out. The room he left behind is off the kitchen, but it in my life it might as well have never existed - really. It was the hole my teen son crawled into shutting the hatch behind himself. (This is also why I don't have a before picture of it. Imagine rental-house white walls covered entirely with posters of no interest to full-blown adults.) Once it was empty I would just stand there with the door wide open staring in awe. Someone had added on to my house! There was a window that let in light in the afternoon! With that door open, the kitchen seemed washed in it. I could put stuff in there when I got up the nerve to paint the living room, then, later, it would become my office/hobby/art/guest room! I started to tidy up the random items Tony left behind.  Just about when I got everything picked up enough to vacuum,the announcement came that Tony was moving back in. Adulthood proved a tad more of a challenge than he was up to just then. (I'd told him that I'd hold his spot for three months, in case things didn't work out. Good thing.) We had two weeks before he would be back. It was paint now or for a really long time hold our peace. So we agonized briefly over a nice color that would reflect well from the kitchen - settling for a soft color called "Spice". I thought it looked like Chai. Everyone else called it peach. I moved in a normal length twin bed instead of the extra-long model he'd used, covered it with Paul's childhood quilt, hand-stitched by his grandmother and stared at it, longing for another child, or a grandchild to come sleep in it. Tony really likes his new room. Napoleon does too.

Detour complete I was fresh out of excuses. The living room's time had come. It looked like a dull blob next to that bold and beautiful dining area. I took it in stages so as to move as few large objects at one time as possible, read that, the walls which were not behind the wardrobe and TV stand.
I was in for a shock. The color made me feel ill. I hated it. But for some reason, stubbornness maybe, or disbelief/denial that I could have exhibited such poor judgment, I kept on painting all the while thinking, "It'll look better when all the walls are done."  It took a couple of weekends to get to there and I did not think it looked any better. But, I hate to paint and I hate to spend money on paint and wasn't about to do either again any time soon. So I told myself, "Remember the gold stripe on the ship? Remember the gold in the lamp? Remember...? It'll look great when we put the furniture back." At this point we also decided to change the furniture arrangement. The room looked so much more open without the wardrobe looming in that front corner. Strangely enough it looked much better in the interior corner, alongside the arch. So, we positioned it there and placed The Napoleon (the ship, not the cat) in its place atop it. Suddenly, the room was beautiful. The gold stripe in the ship justified a whole room of gold. In fact, Gina stopped by at this stage of the works and said, "Wow the color looks really great with the ship!"

Then we placed the rest of the furniture. It all looked crisper than it had before. Even the rotten loveseat and chair (which we were about to replace that last weekend until we heard our wallet weeping openly...) didn't look quite so bad. Then we started trying out art. The gold walls made everything we tried pop. Every single print we own looked better on that horrible gold. Suddenly I knew I'd made exactly the right choice, and did a dance of joy. The picture at left is what you see straight ahead when you walk in the front door, a lovely little print we picked up at the Getty Museum gift shop on our first anniversary.  The one at right is to your right if you're standing just inside the door. The photographer is our friend James Evarro of Rev411. This was a wedding gift. Notice how great the colors look!
And here is the rest of the room. That picture above the TV will probably not stay. I have other ideas.
So that's the bulk of it. All that's left is nothing of great consequence...well, at least until the giant sack of money drops on us which would permit us to redo the floors. Until then we have a few small projects: crown molding in the dining room and Paul's office, and the bathrooms which we haven't done a thing with yet. But these are small things compared to what we've already done. We've decided to leave our bedroom as it is. There's something peaceful about it that we like. If we do paint it someday it will be only a brighter shade of white... but that's not going to be any time soon...there's that really big armoire to consider.


Did I mention we have the world's smallest bedroom? We had to put in a folding door because the regular door could only open halfway before hitting the foot of the bed. I love that black and white oil painting of Venice. I bought it from a pair of Israelis who were earning a buck selling them door to door.
The little Asian doll was my mother's. It held a special place in her heart, and so in mine. The print above it came from Paul. I framed it for him for his birthday one year. It's a map of Atlantis! Bet you didn't know it was a real place, did you? Well, I have the map as proof. When I'm sick, I lay in bed and stare at it.  On the other side of the door, next to the closet, is a charcoal drawing I did decades ago and underneath an antique gate, just perfect for hanging purses and assorted stuff.

So that's the grand tour. I'm afraid you'll have to leave without visiting the bathrooms, so I'll describe them for you. If you head to the back of the house, past the kitchen there is a hallway. To the left is a small bathroom. To the right, is a small bathroom. We always joke that we should put signs on them: "Men" and "Ladies". Both are basic rental house utilitarian. Beyond the bathroom doors to the left is a dryer, facing it on the right is a washer, and straight ahead is the back door. And there you have it. Thanks so much for visiting! You are welcome any time.