Sunday, December 21, 2008

random connections

This lolbird

and working on this jigsaw puzzle

set off this song on the continuous-loop-soundtrack- in-my-brain-of-just-about-every-song-I've-ever-heard:

I think I'll put on some Christmas music, or else I'll be singing They Might Be Giants for the next week.  Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

for the child on your Christmas list

I recommend The Christmas Alphabet, one of the more beautiful pop-up books I've seen.  I've been thouroughly enjoying reading it with our three this season--I've yet to read it again without noticing something more about the intricate cut paper artwork that Robert Sabuda's created here.  Indeed, nearly anything by Robert Sabuda is worth having.   Follow the "Customers who bought this" links on Amazon . . . you'll find it worth your time.

some warped holiday humor

Click on the image to get a larger version, or just go here. But the sign by the register says "Today's Special: Ground Vixen."

To fully appreciate this one, start with a toddler whose favorite book is Jack Kent's Twelve Days of Christmas. Sing daily until your semi-verbal toddler can recognizably sing it herself. Make sure you do this in lean times, when the grocery budget is tight and a brace of roasted partridges would be a great treat.

Monday, December 15, 2008

some musing on free speech

Neil Gaiman put up a piece last week on the First Amendent. It's had me thinking. He starts off with this: "If you accept -- and I do -- that freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don't say or like or want said." This makes me more than moderately uncomfortable. It sounds an awful lot like "the ends justify the means" to me. Still, Gaiman is an intelligent, articulate man and I read his piece all the way through. He's coming from a thoroughly secular viewpoint. From a country (England) where they don't have a first amendent, but do have things like the "Obscene Publications Act" where any customs officer can sieze things from you if he thinks you shouldn't have them. He points out that "The Law is a blunt instrument. It's not a scalpel. It's a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out."

The case that sparked this latest manifesto on his part involves pornagraphic comic books. It's got the whole conversation going again with the usual suspects for viewpoints. What is pornography? (SCOTUS Judge Potter Stewart: "I can't define it--but I know it when I see it). What is erotica? (Is there a difference between the two?) What is art? What specifically is the role of the government in regulating these things?

I don't have any grand or spanking new opinions on this can of worms. I admit a bias toward less regulation--I don't generally think that it's the government's job to micromanage an individual's moral behavior. That said, I think that pornography is a blight on human society and far too easily available. Saying that we must defend the indefensible sounds an awful lot to me like "the end justifies the means," which is a dangerous place to go . . . Every election I'm tempted to vote libertarian . . .

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

7 quick takes friday

1.  I think something died in our dishwasher.  It was a nice quiet machine last week.  Now it sounds like a piece of construction equipment with digestive problems.

2.  I can make my daughter's day just by letting her "press the button."  Dishwasher, coffee pot, whatever it is.  It gives me hope that I'm not completely screwing this parenting gig up.  

3.  I am shopping for a basic tea pot.  Big enough to hold several mugs worth.  Ceramic or pottery, under $75, maybe with a pretty picture of flowers or something on it.  I thought this should be easy.  Turns out it's not.  I hope that the intended gift recipient is not reading this, though the way that the shopping is going, it probably won't matter anyway.

4.  Count me among the crew of those who have ZERO Christmas decorations up yet.  Project for today:  get the family room cleared of all the things that need to go into storage so that there's room for the Christmas stuff to come out.  (Though that's been the project of the day every day this week).  

5.  But maybe it'll get done today, because I'm actually sort of caught up on laundry today!  (A rare, fleeting occurence).    And I'm only knee-deep in dishes, not neck-deep.

6.  I'm loving all the recipes cropping up in blog-land this time of year.  My personal contribution is Honey Butter, an easy no-cook gift.  My husband says that he thinks at the wedding feast in New Kingdom, we'll take turns cooking for and serving each other . . . working our way through all the great cuisines and dishes of all times and places.  Yum.  

7.  I think preschools ought to go back to using slates and chalks for writing practice.  I'm rather horrified at the amount of paper that comes home--daily!-- with my preschooler that goes right into the recycling bin.  I'm mentally multiplying that by 180 school days and 30 children at our preschool alone . . . 

HT:  Jen at Conversion Diary

UPDATE:  I should have expected that Amazon would be the place to go for teapots, as well as for everything else in the world these days.  I'm quite pleased with the results of that Christmas shopping venture!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

as long as we're doing recipes

here's one that we often make up in large batches around the holiday for gifts.  
Honey Butter
1 1/2 cups real butter
1 cup margerine (Imperial)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed (plus a smidge)
4 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with electric mixer until smooth.   Yield:  3 1/2 to 4 cups, whipped.
Or, if you have some industrial sized bowls and mixers, the recipe in the proportions that I was originally given it:
6 lbs. butter
4 lbs. margerine
3 lbs. honey
2 lbs. brown sugar
2/3 cup cinnamon
2 ounces (4 Tbsp.) vanilla

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

so I haven't tried making this yet--

but I don't want to lose the recipe, and it looks so good that I don't know how it could go wrong.  

Courtesy of The Anchoress:

Brandy Alexander Pie

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tspn salt
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup cognac. Don’t be cheap, use the good stuff.
1/4 cup creme de cacao
2 cups heavy cream
1 tspn sugar
1/2 tspn vanilla
1 9″ graham cracker crust
chocolate curls for garnish

Sprinkle gelatin over the cold water in a saucepan. Add 1/3 c of the sugar, the salt and the egg yolks. Stir to blend.

Heat over low flame while stirring until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture thickens. DO NOT BOIL.

Remove from heat and stir in the cognac and creme de cacao. Chill until mixture starts to set slightly.

Beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar and fold into the thickened mixture

Use 1 cup cream to make whipped cream and fold into the mixture.

Turn it all into the crust and chill for several hours or overnight.

Before serving, whip second cup of cream with tspn of sugar and 1/2 tspn vanilla and use to garnish pie, then sprinkle with chocolate curls.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

personality surveys

I think that I may have mentioned the Meyers-Briggs personality typing system before.  It lays out four general and sixteen specific personality  types from combinations of four toggle attributes.  It's a good system, and I think that the researchers got things mostly right.  One of its major strengths is also one of its major weakness though.  David Kiersey emphasizes in his book "Please Understand Me" that people's basic personality types do not change and that it is futility to try to change people into what they are not.  And while he is right that you cannot change a cat into a dog, he leaves unaddressed the question, can a cat turn into a better cat?  Something more in tune with its essential cat-ness?

Fortunately, Kiersey's isn't the only book out there trying to systemitize human nature.  Don Riso and Russ Hudson have spent careers working with the enneagram, and laid out nine personality types.  More interestingly to me, they have laid out for each of their nine types nine layers of functionality--ranging from extremely healthy to extremely dysfunctional.  They investigate the different ways that people "integrate" (become healthier) and "dis-integrate" (become less healthy) and how that looks different for different types.  

These two systems, taken together with a good dose of good theology and discretion seem to me to provide a great base for self-understanding and relationship building.  I have no use for Riso and Hudson's assumption that our personalities are primarily determined by how our relationships with our parents were screwed up as very young children.  I think Kiersey is more right that our general bent is stamped on our DNA.  I agree with Riso and Hudson, however, that while each of us have particular driving fears and weaknesses, that we do not have to accept those as inevitable.  That in fact each of us can "change" and grow in such a way as to become more fully ourselves.  

Of  course, none of these secular psychologists have much use for Jesus, or for sin and redemption language.  But I figure it like this.  God made each of us to be someone very particular.  We can indeed grow more and more into the people that God intended and intends us to be.  The wisdom and recognition and fear-conquering that is necessary for that growth, truly comes through Christ.  Additionally, each personality type will gravitate towards particular areas of sin.  This is a true marker of personality, on the one hand, but it is not a true indicator of who we are supposed to be.  

I highly recommend both Please Understand Me and Personality Types for . . . well, anyone really.  Particularly, I've heard a from numerous people over the past year and more who have looked up after an extended amount of time in churches where there were very specific and restrictive ideas about gender roles and marriage, and have realized that those teachings had done nothing to help their own growth as a person or as a spouse.  In order to love our husband or wife we must first know them . . . if we are to help each other grow into the individuals and body that Christ calls us to be, shouldn't we first understand what will be helpful for growth?

(Side Note / Addendum:  Also valuable for parenting--if nothing else, starting with the assumption that my children are going to be whoever they're going to be, and that it's within my power to break and harm them--but not necessarilly change them--is very humbling, and useful for bringing any number of parenting issues into focus.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Update on Stewardship

Jennifer at Conversion Diary has an excellent post up on the core of stewardship being knowing what you've said YES to so that you can know what to say NO to.  I recommend you read the whole thing.  Implicit  in it is the recognition that our actions and inactions affirm certain priorities and valueless.  Something comes first in each of our lives . . . and we are better off choosing what that is going to be rather than lettering circumstance and happenstance set it for us.

my single biggest weakness as a writer

is focus.  I'm a big picture thinker, and as a writer I'm always instinctively trying to make my camera angle just a little wider, make the view a little more panoramic, to draw a few more connections and cross-connections . . . My first writing teacher in college chewed me out for this, trying to get me to trim the fat and simply strike the passages that were excess baggage.  It was then and is still now a difficult exercise for me.  I have probably as many drafts on my blog as I do actual published posts.  Some of those are certainly pieces that I started and which turned too personal for me to want to publish.  But most of them are things where I started to try to connect two or five or ten disparate ideas, or engaged on a long preamble to where I was trying to go and then ran out of steam or time or interest before I finished.  Maybe in future I should just start posting warning labels:  Attention:  Context and preliminary thoughts may be missing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

comic score day

any one of these three could have made my day--to get all of them at once makes it a pretty good monday.

I think the dryer elves at our house must be transforming adult socks into baby ones. I can't come up with any other explanation for where the generous supply of good socks that we bought for my husband went, or where the flood of tiny socks that fit none of our three children came from.

Before lolcats was Sylvia, with her cats providing their own captions. As a cat person, I suddenly have a strong desire to send a kitten--an entire litter of kittens--to the Obama family.

the world needs this GPS. :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

7 quick takes Friday

nod to Jennifer--hey, I can do that!

1. Reading / re-reading Italo Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller." (I never actually made it all the way through the first time.) Brilliant. Dense. Post-modern. Funny. Anyone else out there read it? What do you think? Which of the 10 starts of stories there would you most like to know the rest of?

2. Battling the stomach flu at our house. It's taken out two of the three girls and me. Makes it hard to get ambitious.

3. John Stackhouse has a good post up today on humility. Intersects nicely with some of what Philip Yancey writes on the subject. And some subjects I've been thinking about from a lot of angles. What do we get to take credit for?

4. Had a long talk yesterday with a Unitarian Universalist. On looking a little more closely at the history and principles of this religion I find it to be so syncretistic as to be incoherent and non-sensical. And more sadly, I find it to be merely yet one more version of works-based legalism--I'm good enough, you're good enough, if we just try to find it within ourselves to be good enough . . . there is little room for thoughtlessness here--one might even say, childishness. How much more a Father in Heaven who invites us to come to him as children, knowing that our little attempts to put a dent in our own selfishness truly accomplish nothing--like subtracting a handful from infnity . . .

5. I really dislike laundry. It seems to me the most Sisyphean of household tasks. And in our house, the only place to fold is the dining room table, which means that there's a whole lot of other picking up that I have to be on top of before I can even start the laundry. I am inevitably and continuously behind. Especially when there's a sick toddler in the house.

6. There's another mom at my daughter's preschool building an igloo from old gallon milk jugs at hot melt glue. It's pretty cool. Here's an example of someone else doing it. (Ours isn't done yet).

7. I liked this Pearls Before Swine.

I'm increasingly disturbed by the obsession with weight in our culture, and America's focus on image as opposed to health. What if Cathy really were as trim as shown in this strip and still the neurotic, obsessed maniac we've seen in the comic pages for decades? Sadly, it's very plausible.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

just because I've had cause to reference this about half a dozen times in the last few weeks

this blog endorses Green and Black's Organic chocolate, available from World Wide Chocolate as among the very best to go with your coffee. I've also found it to be intermittently available from Wal-Mart, CVS Pharmacies, and other chocolate-stocking stores (so maybe it's best to stock up when you find a source). My personal favorite is the 70% dark made with chocolate liqueur.

Word geek time!

this is just too cool. :) Strange Maps has its latest great contribution up--a piece of concrete poetry that implicitly touches on how our language shapes us and the world around us . . . and opens the fascinating question, does nature reflect our regional accents and dialects?

Friday, November 7, 2008


So it's stewardship Sunday at your church and that means that your pastor is preaching about--the church budget! Yes, we're to be stewards of our money, but how many other things can you think of that we're stewards of, and what does that mean?
  • our bodies--we're to keep them healthy and usuable to the best of our ability, using them for the purpose for which they were created--for some clues, look to our five senses
  • sight--our God is a God who loves beauty, creating it extravagantly. Of color, light and darkness. We honor him when we take the time to notice it
  • hearing--music, harmony, silence. Big sounds and little.
  • taste--good food honors God. when we notice and enjoy what we feed ourselves, it is a good thing. it's no accident that one of the sacraments is a meal.
  • touch--texture. Heat and cold. a hug. sex.
  • smell--flowers, a scented candle, a good dinner.
  • our time--stewardship of our time seems to me increasingly to mean that we not waste it--not that that means, as so many would take it that we use our time only for "useful" things, or for work . . . but that that we actively use our time, that we're intentional about our play and relationships as well as our work . . . that we not let our time simply escape from us without enjoying and living it and that we not neglect or burn the now for the future. (Inevitably that is going to mean some active, intentional, prayerful prioritization)
  • our minds
  • our families--Anne Lamott says of her son that he "is not mine, or at any rate, that he is not my chattel--that he is on loan, he belongs to God, but for whatever reason, he has been entrusted to my care--entrusted, rather, to my clutches." And as husbands and wives we are to encourage, grow, chivy and take care of each other in any number of ways.
  • our churches--which is to say, or ought to be, our extended families. The church, is after all, the people not the building
  • and, oh yeah, our posessions--of which money is just one aspect. because after all, once we use money to make an initial purchase--a house, a car, land, food--we still have the responsibility and privilige of taking care of it . . . of using it.

this does not pretend to be anything like a comprehensive list . . . feel free to point out anywhere I've left gaping holes. The trick, of course, is to keep all of these in balance . . . it's rather easy to be a good steward of any one thing--our friends at the expense of our finances, our finances at the expense of our actually living in and interacting with the world, our church at the expense of our families our children at the expense of our spouse, or any of it at the expense of our own health. It's easy to toss one ball up and down in the air. But that's not juggling. But true juggling is a thing of beauty. Lord, I thank you for all the gifts and responsibilities and priviliges that you have given me. Let me not waste any of them, but use them all to your glory.

do we idolize our budgets?

My understanding of Catholic theology is thus: (and whether or not it's a right understanding is almost incidental--I'm using it as a paralell, but if I'm horribly off, maybe some of the orthodox Catholics out there can give me a heads-up.) That what God's grace grants us is the ability to fulfill God's will through good works. That it's then up to us to go out and do them. That the grace of God is, in a sense, the capability of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Protestant theology on the other hand says that grace has taken care of it all and so that works don't matter--at least so far as our salvation and forgiveness of sins is concerned. (Or rather, that our works do matter, but not for the reasons that we think that they do.)

What's interesting to me is the degree to which what is being preached about finances in conservative Christian circles parlells our discussions of grace. God wants us to use our money responsibly and he also wants us to enjoy the good things of life. No one questions that any more than they question that God gives out grace and also that good works are to be evident in our lives. The question is how they fit together. And it seems to me that what I'm hearing about an awful lot of Christian financial gurus is essentially--God will give you the ability to get out of debt, get rich, secure your financial future (we'll tell you how!) but now it's up to you to put in the work to actually go do it.

One of the themes in Rob's preaching the last while has been the various guises in which legalism shows up in the church--that we keep slipping from grace back into legalism because the human condition is that we WANT to be able to save ourselves . . . we want the credit for the results. Safer, surer. And so it is with money. We want to be able to tell ourselves that we can make ourselves safe and secure (and part of that is being unburdened with debt). We want to be in control of our finances--in part because we to insure things that are way down the road in terms of goals and hedge against every possible contingency. We want to make ourselves safe.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against college funds, 401K plans, or life insurance. Necessarily. I'm certainly not arguing against taking a realistic look at income and expenditures and living within our means. But I do think that we often, as the Body of Christ, do not do a very good job remembering
  1. that every good and perfect gift is from God
  2. that Jesus assures us that we will be taken care of
  3. that in fact anything we build up here is not actually much of a safeguard because theives steal, moths destroy and stock markets crash
  4. that we are in fact merely hedge fund managers for God attempting to make sure that the resources placed in our care get a good return--but we're not playing with our own investments and to treat them as such, is in fact embezzlement
  5. God is not limited in the ways that he can come up with to provide for us

Historically, the first thing God tells his people to do with their money is tithe--give some back to him. Not pay down debts. Or buy clothes for the kids or food for the table. Not set aside some of the crop to make sure that there's something to plant again next year. He I think that part of the reason for this, that one of the corrolaries of the fact that it's not simply all ours is that God does not lay on us the responsibility to provide it all for ourselves. It's a reminder that that too is beyond us--we cannot forsee ever circumstance or plan against every contingency. He does not set us to do the impossible. Instead he reminds us that he is a good father to us. That he provides. That he is worthy of our attention and worship--not our pathetic little attempts to do for ourselves.

Friday, October 17, 2008

because who doesn't need more stick people in their lives?

It's the New Yorker v. xkcd Cartoon-off!

HT: Neil Gaiman

though the New Yorker might have been interested to know that xkcd had already done String Theory.

Just go check out the archives. Your morning will be gone, but it will be one well spent.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

yes, exactly

From The Anchoress:

What I am reminded, repeatedly, is that time is a construct - that everything is happening simultaneously. Right now, I am writing at my computer. Right now, I am voting at my local school. Right now, Christ is dying on a cross. Right now, He is making a covenant and receiving a kiss. Right now, Napoleon is heading to Waterloo. Right now, George Washington is facing defeat for the umpteenth time. Right now, I am being needlessly cruel to someone. Right now I am being born. Right now I am 78 years old and grousing that my kids never visit me. Right now, Obama has won the election. Right now John McCain has won the election.

This is why prayer has power. In the quantum world, where everything is occurring all at once, prayer changes things. Sacrifice changes things. Wisdom knows this - it is why every religious tradition, Eastern or Western, encourages prayer and sacrifice - because this is how you pierce illusions.

Last week Pope Benedict XVI said: ”He who builds only on visible and tangible things like success, career and money builds the house of his life on sand”…money vanishes,
it is nothing. All these things that appear to be real are in fact secondary. Only God’s words are a solid reality”. Yes. Everything is happening, all at once. What appears to be solid and three-dimensional would does not even exist between its busy atoms. That which the world regards as most ephemeral, and least grasp-able, is actually the solid platform upon which all illusions spin.

About a year ago, out of the blue - a friend of mine - a social studies teacher who is politically “interested” but not active, and who does not go to church - said to me: “I get the feeling that George W. Bush is going to be the last American president of “old” America, and Benedict is going to be the last pope of the “old” Catholic church.” She had a sense of things cresting, of a cusp being reached. Right now, a typesetter is laying down the words Dewey Wins! Right now, Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democrat nominee. Right now, George Washington is refusing a crown. Right now, Barack Obama is training ACORN workers. Right now, Margaret Sanger is preaching eugenics. Right now, a Pole is made Pope. Right now, Nero is watching Rome burn. Right now, Peter, that city’s first Bishop, is being crucified and turned upside down.
Right now, in prayer and in fasting, one may penetrate the illusions of the world and,
touching eternity, impact them. Obama may win this election. Obama may lose
this election. McCain may win this election. McCain may lose this election. No
matter what happens, we are entering a new era, and I believe everyone knows it. With the prayer and fasting, I am “in training” making myself ready for whatever comes, because whatever comes is going to be very different; it will jar us from all of our complacencies.

is that 15% off coupon you sent me in the mail good for this stuff too?

We'd probably all be a bit better off if wewandered into the "beyond" department a bit more frequently.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

so Google Reader has informed me that it's blog action day

judging from the number of posts on the subject that have popped up on it. has something to do with poverty, and making a difference, and all that. I've read some excellent pieces on looking at addressing the root causes before the symptoms, and to heck with the root causes, but treat a symptom anyway, and prioritizing our church budgets, and what the Epistle of James has to say on the subject. I'd commend them all to your reading. Even a cursory reading of the old testament prophets should clue anyone off that when we don't help those who can't help themselves, it really pisses God off.

that said, I think I'd like to add a quote from my grandfather, who died just over a year ago now. He liked to say, "you can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead." Increasingly, I'm becoming convinced that money is really just a figment of our imaginations, that if we try to build wealth, that we're really just locked in some sort of psycho attempt to work the system for poker chips. What I mean is this. If you're at a casino, you don't gamble with actual money. You go in, buy chips, and the chips are good at the casino. You gamble for those on the assumption that, before you leave, you can cash your chips in at the register for something of real value. The actual prize, if you will. The thing is, there isn't any cash register for life. Our wealth, and works and lives will be submitted to the fire at the judgement, and that what is good and lasting will be purified, but that the chaff and rubish will be exposed for what it is and consumed by the fire.

We have the opportunity to turn our worthless little chips into things of Real Merit. But to do that, we have to put them to work. We have to use them. Not hoard them. For a limited time, we can do certain things with our money while we are here in this world. They're not any good when we walk out the door of the casino, and do we really know when closing time is, anyway? A biblical understanding of money starts with recognising its truly ephemeral nature. A stock market crash can obliterate it. Thieves steal it. Moths destry it. And it does not do us any good on that day when our soul will be required of us.

All we have to do is be good stewards. To trade value for Real Value, instead of perceieved. Am I using my money to meet real needs, or perceived ones? Am I using my money in ways that is loving to others, or only to myself? Are my actions loving, or selfish? All those nice, easy questions. Jesus is going to obliterate rich and poor in the coming kingdom. We're going to see ourselves and each other as the equals that we always were. Question is, have we clued into the reality of how much Jesus values each one of us, and been busy being his hands and feet in our time here?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

You Spin Me

I love this song about the same way that I love marshmallow peeps. No merit. So what. :) I had never seen the video though before I went looking it up for this post--it has to be one of the all time worst music videos ever. It's a song that's just begging to to have as its only visual those random neon swirly patterns that Microsoft's video player throws up for any audio only. Anway.

If you want to spew your drink all over your monitor, pop over to the Deconstructed Christian, and jump in on the discussion of idiot worship leader inserting Jesus into this piece of techno fluff and using it as worship music. Appalling. It makes me think of Jesus putting his face in his hands and shaking his head. Why the church should not be about catering to the desires we already have . . .

Saturday, October 4, 2008

sketching worlds larger than ourselves

One of the reasons I so appreciate Neil Gaiman as a writer is the depth and breadth of the worlds that he builds. They're bizarre, multi-tentacled things, and there's always the indication of much more beyond the edges of the page. They reflect reality that way--there's more here than any one of us can understand. Too many fantasies fall into the trap of wanting to explain everything. Of wanting their characters and readers to understand how it all fits together. But when an author contracts her story-world into something that I can understand, with nice neat squared off corners and no messy remainders, it rings hollow to me. This "ordinary" world is already boundless. If you're going to add in magic, fantastical creatures, futuristic technology, and the like, why should it shrink? I like that Gaiman's characters neither know it all, or expect to know it all. That we as the readers tend to know rather more than any of the characters, but still get the sense that there is much, much more that we do not know.

Gaiman's newest book is The Graveyard Book. It's an homage of sorts, to the Jungle Book, about a boy whose family is murdered, who is taken in by the ghosts of the local graveyard and raised with a somewhat different understanding of reality than most of us have. It is much less macabre and horrifying than such a descripton makes it sound. Gaiman's dry, observant humor and keen insight of human nature and of children and how they go about life make for a great read or listen. Neil Gaiman is currently touring the U.S., promoting the book, reading a chapter each evening which is being recorded and posted. There are currently four chapters up. You can listen to them here.

In chapter 2, (around the 11-13 minute mark), Gaiman neatly reminds us of how much of what we take as fact, we in fact take on faith. (Bod is the boy, Scarlet his new friend)
Bod would introduce Scarlet to some of his other friends. That she
could not seem them did not seem to matter. She had already been told
firmly by her parents that Bod was imaginary, and that there was nothing at
all wrong with that
. . . . So it came as no surprise to her that Bod also
had imaginary friends. He would pass on their comments to her.
"Bartleby says that 'Thou dost have a face like unto a squished plum.' . . .
Scarlet was happy. She was a bright, lonely child, whose mother worked for
a distant university teaching people she never met face to face, grading English
papers sent to her over the computer, sending messages of advice or
encouragement back. Her father taught particle physics. But there
were, Scarlet told Bod, too many people who wanted to teach particle physics,
and not enough people who wanted to learn it. So Scarlet's family had to
keep moving to different university towns, and in each town her father would
hope for a permanent teaching position, which never came.
"What's particle physics?" asked Bod.
Scarlet shrugged. "Well," she said, "there's atoms, which is
things that is too small to see. That's what we're all made of. And
there's things that's smaller than atoms, and that's particle physics."
Bod nodded and decided that Scarlet's father was probably interested
in imaginary things.

Friday, September 26, 2008

instructions on how to imbed a link

Thanks to Erin for these instructions! I've had them stashed away as a draft and have found them very useful. It's only recently occurred to me that I may as well post them, and let others benefit from her instructions as well!

The html tags for imbedding are "a" with the usual carats, so

  1. [a href="URL"] text [/a]
  2. So if I wanted to imbed a link for my homepage in a comment box it would be
  3. [a href="] Coffee Randoms [/a]
  4. Except, of course that instead of using [square brackets], proper html code takes right and left carets (the "greater than" and "less than" signs above your comma and period on your keyboard . . . .<>. . . blogger doesn't have any way for me to type out instructions on how to imbed the link without actually then imbedding it. :P
  5. My husband notes that if you're ever commenting on board that uses UBB (Universal Bulletin Board) coding, it actually is done with the square brackets instead of the carets

Happy commenting, everyone!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

the post that's not going to get finished

    I've been trying to put this post together for days. But the rock tumbler that is my brain is refusing to disgorge any neatly polished little stones this time round. If you're interested, here's some of the gravel that's been filling my thoughts of late. I keep thinking that I ought to be able to actually get some conclusions about all of it--but if they're there to be found, it's by someone smarter and less distracted than me. And less prone to ruin the joke by over-analyzing it. :P
  • God invented laughter
  • some of the best comics are those who invite us to laugh at them
  • Jesus--God's own fool (Thank you Michael Card)
  • Jesus does not protect his own dignity
  • humor is critcally situational and ephemeral (I guess you had to be there)
  • look at the historical theology we're doing these days--we hardly understand the culture, even if the jokes of the time had been recorded, would they ever translate?
  • to laugh at myself requires that I not take myself too seriously . . .
  • humility is not the same as thinking badly about myself
  • but it is seeing myself truly--and we're all ridiculous and have mortal faults. (xkcd's undignified)
  • the concept of sputten--we take truly holy things too lightly
  • in part because we take truly ridiculous things too seriously?
  • God as our Father . . .
  • we delight to make our children laugh
  • we play the fool and silliness for them
  • it's part of how they know we love them
  • we make jokes around them that they don't get
  • it's neat to see when they understand enough to get the joke
  • it's one of the best things in the world for your kid to make you laugh
  • laughter is based in large part on surprise and the unexpected
  • we can't surprise God . . .
  • but I think we can delight him
  • but surely Jesus could be surprised? one of the confines of living within time would have been to not know every detail of the future . . . we know that the Father limited his knowledge within his time on earth
  • God obviously invites us to take joy in him . . . enjoy him
  • laugh with him? laugh at him? Jesus's role of holy fool and sacrifice invites us to be in on the joke . . . it is Satan who is defeated.
  • he is the clown . . . the one who pulls off the impossible . . . (Bello Nock) . . . when laughter is the only response to the jaw-dropping wonder that they actually just did that . . .
  • where do funny and joy and awe and all that meet?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

once upon a time

I signed up for a class on classic movie comedy. The class was at the university where I was doing a semester abroad, and I knew nothing about it except what was in the course description book. It promised a semester of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, and I could transfer the credit to slot in my major.

When I showed up for my first day of class, the prof turned out to be one of the most obnoxious jerks you can imagine. He liked offending people. He liked getting in your face. He wasn't going to put up with anyone in his class who wouldn't just swallow whatever he wanted to dish out. He also had about twice as many people signed up for his class as he wanted in it--the university refused to classify the course as a seminar and cap enrollment at 15 . . . so his method of dealing with this was to drive away as many of his students as possible in the first week while they could still re-jigger their schedule. I was one of the students he succeeded in driving away. While disliked letting such tactics "work" on me, and letting the prof succeed in his ugly little game, I also decided that anyone who would use such methods was not someone I probably wanted to study under.

Despite all that, there are still days when I regret not sticking to it with that course. The little bit of content we got on that first day was hilarious--and fascinating. I have the NT's classic instinct of wanting to take everything apart and see the insides of why it works. And while I know that some people think that humor is ruined by such analysis, I really don't agree. (For a great, ongoing discussion on this topic, see Jane Espenson's blog.) What makes a joke work? Why did that one fail? Can we name different humor types as we do personality types? Can we make actual technical distinction between nasty humor and clean? Smart and dumb? And how does character play into all this? Our expectations? What does it take for us to be able to make a joke . . . and take one?

Friday, September 19, 2008

The latest meme

Happy apparently thinks I haven't been blogging enough. She's probably right. Or she just thinks I'm an easy mark. In which case, she's probably right. Anyway. Three things about . . . well, lots.

3 Joys:
  • coffee (and chocolate, and things like tiramisu and Starbucks truffles, which combine them)
  • watching moving water . . . a river, the ocean, a waterfall, a good fountain even
  • praying in the empty sanctuary, Sunday morning before worship. (Preferably with a cup of coffee)

3 Fears:

  • spiders
  • failing my children
  • doing something really stupid with money
3 Goals:
  • To hike the Bryce Canyon trail
  • To finish my book (or honestly, get much past the 2nd chapter)
  • to visit Rome again
3 Current Obsessions:
  • figuring which of the long list of house projects we can / should afford to have done before the snow flies
  • building in a habit of exercise
  • the presidential election
3 Random/Surprising Facts: (um, about me? it doesn't say . . . check out Wikipedia--it's crammed with random and surprising facts . . . did you know that vexillology is the study of flags?)
  • um . . . I can get lost for hours in Wikipedia
  • I like silver better than gold
  • I detest laundry
3 Things I hope for:

I'm adding this one in separate from goals. My goals are the things that I'm striving for, the things, that, whether or not I accomplish them have a lot to do with my own efforts. These things, that I hope for, are things that I want to see God do, in and around my life--and if I try to convince myself that they're up to my efforts, I'll probably just get in the way of God accomplishing them.
  • for our church to grow into a community addicted to worship. One of the sweetest things I've ever experienced was to be part of a group that just swam in it. I want more of that
  • for my daughters to grow up knowing in their innermost spirits who they are in Christ and to live towards being more that every day
  • for the works of my hands to reflect the beauty and truth of the Creator who made us, and to bring glory to his son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit

There you go, Hap. I don't tag. Whoever wants it . . . happy meme-ing!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I find this very interesting

I've generally stayed away writing about politics. For one thing, I figure that Rob has already more than burned through our household quota for political blogging. Also, being married to a political junkie, any passing want I have for a political conversation, I can have in person--I generally don't need to start a comment thread. :) For politics, I can talk to my husband or my father. And for all those other sanity-saving conversations of young motherhood--potty-training, recipe swaps, how-do-you-like-the-schools, and what are you reading for yourself these days anyway (all of which really fall under the category of "reassure me that I'm not the only one dealing with these things), for all of those conversations, I have the usual round of contacts of playdates, other church moms, old friends, etc.

And now the two are starting to overlap. Sarah Palin's speech last night was the play date conversation of this morning. ("I like her!" one friend declared while herding her kids in the door and getting shoes off). A friend of mine who is usually politically clueless by choice ("Tell me who's running in October") made a point of looking up and listening to Palin's speech online today. We're a voting demographic for whom the political process really doesn't intersect with our daily lives all that much. We may turn out to vote, but we're not usually that engaged with it . . . Now we've got a candidate who we can very well imagine having over for a play date. Who gets it that the conversation about which teacher your kid had for first grade and I'm not sure that I like what they're doing with this latest math curriculum matter--and joined the PTA to do something about it. A candidate who respects us. A true feminist who lives the fact that whether I want to have a career or want to stay home with my kids, or whether I want to combine those--it's all good. Not a faux feminist who's implying that my kids are a waste of my time. A woman who's inspired usually silent multitudes to say "I am Sarah Palin. Her story is my story." (Maybe I ought to get me one of those t-shirts. I like her.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Beauty and theology

Creation and destruction. Beauty and ugliness. We worship Creator-God, and when we create, we live out the fact that we are made in his image. On the flip side, when we destroy, we undercut the very purpose for which we were made--by turning ourselves into vandals, we in some sense work to unmake ourselves. When our agenda results in destructions, when our actions result in ugliness, when our theology results in discord, something needs to be reexamined. The call of the Kingdom is to shalom, a word that gets translated "peace" but actually gets at harmony--when everything fits together into one whole thing of beauty.

Here's wishing the best to Bristol Palin

Others have already written about this situation ad naseum. All I have to say is that I'm thankful that Bristol Palin has what looks to be a strong support system through what's probably going to be a very challenging time. Many aren't so lucky. If you've been bothered this week by the politicization of one teenager's story, I'd encourage you to do something about it by helping out another mom who needs it. Buy a couple of packages of diapers and some new pacifiers for your local crisis pregnancy center. Buy a few cans of formula for your local food bank (there's never enough of it). Make sure that the unwed mothers in or connected to your congregation get their baby showers too. The right has taken some justified criticism that they care more for the babies in tough luck situations before they're born than after. Take some steps to make that less true this week. And do it as a tribute to one young woman who looks to be following in her mother's footsteps for doing what she's going to do and not much caring what the rest of the world who doesn't know her thinks about it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

spiritual healing, crash dieting, and four bullet points to a perfect Christian walk

Do we really appreciate, in the Christian community, how long real healing and real growth take? I don't think so . . . It makes me think of the dieting cycle so prevalent in our society. of Gain weight over months or years. Decide to do better. Lose weight via grapefruits, South Beach, the latest new pill . . . okay, so the weight might come off temporarily, but are you really prepared to eat that much grapefruit forever? When things go back to "normal" is the weight going to come back? Usually, real change for a healthier body means starting by adjusting what our idea of normal is . . . what's our goal anyway? To look good? Or to actually be healthy? There is, after all, rather more to health than the ill-thought-out Body Mass Index.

Likewise in our churches. I wonder how much of what's being preached on any given Sunday in the U.S. amounts to the selling of the upside-down diet, or how to count your points . . . bullet points and strategies that might have some good foundational theology under there, but might not . . . are we really looking to know God and have him heal and transform every dark and broken area of our lives with his light and truth? Or are we looking for a bit of a tool kit so we can make ourselves look spiritually good for each other? Are we judging and practicing our theology against the standard of lasting sanctification? Or against measurable-by-next-Sunday results?

extraordinary, unsustainable efforts, for visible short-term reults . . .

shameless plug

my cousin and his family are some of the extras in the background of Brandon Heath's phenomenal new video "Give Me Your Eyes." (The reuniting family).

I've written before about what it would mean for us to deliberately look and try to see each other as Christ sees us. To see the checker at the grocery store as made in the very image of creative God. To see the brand new baby as the one whose sin Christ died for. To see the pain and hurt and frustrations that drive seemingly inexplicable bad decisions. And now, how do I be Jesus for them into their lives? Indeed, give me your eyes, Lord.

Oh, and if you need a first class Christian magician, check out my cousin Curt.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

back from the underground

hellooooo, zeeba neighba!

Well, the kids are back in the school and I'm easing back into something that feels like a more normal schedule for the school year. Looking back over the summer . . . and what? Three posts for July and nothing so far for August? Well, it's been a summer of swim lessons, vacations, in-laws, outlaws, relatives, concerts and church business, and finally trying to get into shape. But here's a sampling of the raw material of the posts that might have been this summer. (And might yet be for all that).

Lolcats have provided some good laughs

Erin, Jared, Happy, and others have explored our schizophrenic relationship with devotionals and Bible reading. I will admit to my own viewpoint being somewhat . . . schizophrenic.

Rob pointed me to a really good article on children's ministry in the church. I could write a book around this subject . . .

Tyler, Jennifer, Tara, and others write about the place of fear in our lives. L.M. Montgomery wrote of one of her characters, Walter, "Realites never frightened him--only his imagination could do that." This was a man who was accused of cowardice in the face of World War I because he did not want to face the ugliness of the trenches. Someone who as a boy, learned the truth of Shakespeare's observation that "Fear is more pain than the pain it fears." Which is in turn, I think, all tied up with worry, and fretting, and control issues, and of course real pains and hurt . . . a horrible mess from the pit of hell . . . certainly more than I'll untangle in one blog post.

We've had some great adjectives on Apples Two Apples

Heather did a rant against hymns series this summer. Some of her points I agreed with, and on some of them I thought that she was really off base, or historically ignorant of where these things were coming from, or both. But I'm certainly glad to see people taking what we sing seriously enough to hold it up for examination. I may disagree about specifics, but I agree that what we sing matters.

My toddler is potty training. Third time round, I'm finding the process more tedious than illuminating or spiritually refining. It takes a lot of time.

My husband got me Rome for my birthday. :)

I really liked the North Sea Drainage project . . . it's as off base as many of the ideas I come up with myself.

Yahoo Games put out a deadly-addictive little thing called Marble Lines

And oh, yeah. I've been reading comics. Lots and lots of comics. And occasionally mocking them, too.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

further theological adventures with children

Bedtime the other night:

My seven year old: "Why did the snake tell Adam and Eve that they'd be like God?"
(Note: this is completely out of the blue--we've just finished praying a completely standard bedtime prayer along the lines of thank-you-for-a-good-day-and-give-us-good-dreams).
Me: Well, the snake was trying to get them to disobey. He had reasons of his own.
7YO: I don't like him.
Me: Good. You're not supposed to.
7YO: But the Bible says that we're supposed to love our enemies.
Me: Oh. It means our human enemies. The people we think are our enemies. Satan's a different category altogether.
7YO: So we're supposed to . . .
Me: Well, God loves us even though we sin. And those people that we think are our enemies, God loves them, even when they sin, and they're being mean to us, and God wants us to remember to see each other the way he sees us and to love each other.
7YO: (considers) So does God love Satan?
Me: um . . . Rob!

(gotta love being married to the pastor)

I really didn't mean to drop off the face of the earth

I've been busy with a great variety of good summer craziness, and then my computer got this Trojan Horse . . . will be without regular internet (or computer at all--I can't even log in) for the forseeable future . . .

Friday, July 4, 2008

Mongreloid: Happy Birthday, USA!

No, I'm not Dutch, English, Scottish, German or Swedish--though I can trace ancestors back from all those places. I'm not knowingly descending from any former slaves--but I know I wouldn't be the first white girl to be surprised on that score, and I'd be proud to have that stream represented in my blood lines. I can trace my ancestry back to 1640 and New Amsterdam, before it became New York. I need to go at least four generations back in any direction to get a first genration anything; all of my great grandparents were natural born US citizens. I'm married to a man who can trace his descent through a US president and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. This is the land of my heritage. I'm proud to be American.

And if our country doesn't get everything right, I'm proud that we get it a long sight better than most anywhere else on the face of the planet. I'm thankful to God that I live in a country that is committed to the principles of freedom and rule of law, however much we may squabble about the best way to carry them out.

I love the Fourth of July. I love bright colors and loud booms. I'm not so fond of the marches of John Philip Sousa, but that probably has more to do with a high school band director who was over fond of them than with the marches themselves.

This is the place I belong to. Me and my children and parents and grandparents and generations dead now. This is the land whose history I know, whose faults and accomplishments I can claim a piece of. This is my family, my country, my ground, my birthright, my responsibility. Happy 232nd birthday, United States. May God bless America.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Now for something completely different . . .

some thoughts on the differences between what we think we're saying and what other people actually hear. I'm actually posting this for an old college friend I was talking with recently . . . by way of making a point, I referenced a poem I'd written in college . . . she'd read it then, but of course didn't have it now. The poem, in both versions, is titled "After Jeremy's Wedding." Note: I judge the first version to be an utter failure, and the second mostly a failure. Taken together, they were an interesting learning experience for me though . . . the only reason I'm posting the thing is to give context to what I want to say about it afterwards. :P (Note: these had to be scanned in and posted as images because Blogger wouldn't handle the formatting. Click on the image to get a larger, readable, version.)

Version 1:

Version 2:

The story is this. When my brother married, my parents moved his twin bed (black iron) to my room and my double bed (white wood) to his room, which had become, of course, the spare room. My grey cat, Chester, didn't like it. And the white cat we had when I was little, Kitty-kitty, figures in there too.

Now here's the thing. When I wrote that first version of the poem, I thought I was saying something. I thought I was communicating something. Turns out the only thing I was communicating was confusion. I over-reacted against my natural tendency to run on by trying to clean the idea down to the bare bone . . . and ended up with bone powder. Or something. When I expanded on the idea for the second version, I felt like I was explaining the idea in excruciating and over-obvious detail. Frankly, I felt exposed. But in retrospect, the second version isn't all that clear either. It's possible at least to get an idea of what's going on, but I did not succed in loading in the paralells, the emotion and the history that I was shooting for.

But I learned (let's not get too obvious here) that in order to say something, you have to actually say it. What a startling insight! I realized the degree to which I think that I'm saying something, but what actually comes from my mouth or fingers is only decipherable within the massive amount of context that's rattling around in my skull. Often what I end up speaking is some sort of code . . . or something that seems obvious to me . . . and I forget all the internal conversation with myself that made that conclusion meaningful . . .

Taken a step further, I wonder how often we blame each other for not listening or not being interested, when the real problem is that we're not actually communicating what we think we are.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What if?

Among the various theological wranglings that float around Christian circles is this one--why would God create people if he knows that they're not going to choose him? Or more extreme--why would God create people ultimately simply to damn them? These sorts of questions get tossed around in Calvinist/Arminian debates, exclusivist/inclusivist wranglings and other places . . .

It recently occurred to me to wonder if part of the answer is this: what if God just doesn't want to rob all of us of the good that so many of these people bring to our collective existence? There are great works of music written by pagans, writings by agnostics, great works of architecture by atheists. The world would be a poorer place the spiritism driven art of Native American cultures, the slave-built aqueducts and Colosseum of Ancient Rome, Faulkner's "Sound and Fury." God seeks to give us all good things--first of all, himself, of course. But next in line, each other . . .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Swimming lesson

Tonight was the first swim lesson for our four year old. She loved it. She got to practice kicking while holding on to marshmallow sticks (a floating aid). The teacher held her up while she practiced paddling with her arms. She lay on her back and managed to float for a few seconds. It was splashy, fun, a great thirty minute exercise in water confidence.

After the lesson was done, the pool was open for a while for free swim. I slipped in with her. "Is there anything you'd like me to help you practice?"
"Oh, no thanks, Mom. I can do it. They taught me everything."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

There are a lot of people out there a lot smarter than me

This post is in response to Jeff at the Atheocracy, via Jennifer at Et tu?. The question concerns how those of us with an intellectual bent interact with Christianity on an intellectual answer.

I had the advantage of growing up an intellectual (T) kid in an intellectual church. The church I grew up in was a plant to a university community. It was riddled with academics in all fields. We had professors of entomology, engineering, foreign languages, and veterinary medicine. Doctoral candiates in philosophy, business . . . etc. . . . The pastor preached sermons I half understood, during which I occupied myself listing all the words he used that I didn't have a clue about so I could look them up later. And there was my father who seemed to have an answer or a source for any question I could dream up.

What I learned as a child at an intuitive level was that for any question that I tried to engage, I was likely to get more of answer than I could handle. I wasn't the first person to tackle . . . well, pretty much anything. And for all that I was pretty impressed with my own intelligence, there were a lot of people who I loved and respected who were smarter and more educated on all these things than I was. Orthodox Christians who were not trying to hide or ignore anything had found answers that they found to be sufficient. Frankly, I found it a relief to know that it wasn't up to me to come up with all the answers on my own--if ever any of these things bothered me too much, I could catch up on the arguments and join the fray, but in the meantime I didn't need to reinvent the wheel.

As Jennifer noted, of course, knowing God isn't just a matter of thinking about him. It's a matter of loving and being loved. I had that from early on--from before I can remember. And part of the experience of knowing that I'm loved is being able to rest in the comfortable assurance that however deep I want to go . . . God is bigger. He's not afraid of my challenges or questions, and there are answers. Just knowing that the answers are out there is often enough for me.

As an adult, this has really continued to be my experience. I've yet to run across a new concern or question about "life, the universe, and everything."

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said,“See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. (Ecc 1:9 & 10)

So intellectually, you might say that nothing has led me away from Christianity . . . I have found the answers that I have found and been given to be sufficient. And I don't presume that thousands of years of Christian and Hebrew theology and philosophy has done purely by idiots and naifs. After all, I'm not starting this convesation--I'm only continuing it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

And who is my neighbor?

Neil Gaiman, pagan author extraordinaire, has this up on his blog today--

The toilets on many trains in the UK have ridiculously unintuitive ways to open and close doors, with mystery buttons inside the toilet to close and lock the door that are hard to find, even for the sighted. I watched a blind man head into the train toilet. He couldn't find the door to close it, said "excuse me, can some help me?" until a fat man in a suit sitting next to the toilet stopped pretending he wasn't there and pressed the close door button for him. Then I watched the fat man hurry down the aisle and past me and back into the next compartment for all the world as if he was embarrassed by what had just happened. Soon enough there came a frantic knocking on the toilet door as, obviously, the blind man couldn't get out (secret, randomly placed buttons would do it, but you have to find them first). And there was a carriage full of people between me and the toilet, so I waited for someone to get up, press the outside button and let him out. And nobody did. now the knocking started again, louder, and more panicked, and I looked out at a carriage filled with people who were pretending very hard they hadn't heard, and were all now gazing intently at their books or papers. So I got up and walked down to the toilet and let the man out, and showed him back to his seat, because it's the least I'd want if I was blind, and it's how you treat a fellow human being, and for heaven's sake. And then I went back to my seat, and everyone looked up at me and stared and smiled with relieved "thank god someone did that" smiles, and I sat down grumpy and puzzled and remain grumpy and puzzled about it still. I'm still trying to work out what on earth was going on there -- I don't think I did anything good or clever or nice. I just did what I would have thought anyone would do. Except a train filled with people didn't, and in one case actively appeared to be running away in order not to. And I puzzle over, was this a carriage filled with particularly self-centred or embarrassed people, has something fundamental changed in the years I've been away from the UK (unlikely, and I don't believe in lost Golden Ages), did those other people really somehow blindly fail to notice that there was a blind man trapped in the toilet...? I have no idea and I write it down because, as I said, it puzzles and irritates me, and if it ever turns up in a short story you'll know why.

For this post, I'm adding a new label for my list . . . borrowed from my husband. "Orthopraxy" . . . . or in layman's terms, actually living out what you supposedly believe.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I've been meaning to link to this

Rev. Kathy Escobar at the "The Carnival in My Head" has up a post on the six stages of faith, as laid out in the book The Critical Journey.

I think that there's a lot of truth here and that this could be a valuable tool for a lot of people, including me. I may post more on it . . . sometime . . . when the rock tumbler in my brain has battered it around enough that I can get a peek at what I think about it.

HT: Deconstructed Christian

Monday, June 16, 2008

Warning: Seriously half-baked thoughts ahead

What does it do to us to do the right things for the wrong reasons? And what are the right reasons anyway? Is it better to build good habits while reinforcing bad motives and attitudes behind them, or is it okay to not pursue something when doing the "right" thing feels like drudgery? What are your feelings about the complex of words like "discipline" and "perseverance?"

I've lately been thinking about this grey territory . . . thinking about the attitudes that we bring to all the things that we're "supposed" to do. About pursuing God, and the paradoxical insistence of much of the church that we do that on our own strength . . . how stupid is that? It is God who pursues us and catches us and purchases at the unimagineable price of Christ's blood . . . it is God who reveals himself to us--and without that, it would be impossible for us to know him? Why do we so often act as if our relationship with him depends on our diligence?

See, we have many things we're "supposed" to do. We're supposed to eat our vegetables, limit our starches, get plenty of exercise. And I know that I, like many Americans, have very mixed feelings about all these things. I want to be healthy, trim, sexy, energetic. I want to feel good about my body. But I also want the freedom to feel good about my body even when I'm tired, overweight and ill. I don't want to get in shape out of guilt, or in order to be good enough. Fortunately, God tells me that I don't have to play the culture's game. He knows that he didn't me a body that would process a bag of Doritos effortlessly into rippling muscles . . . he tells me that I can enjoy the body that I have, and that if I choose to try to honor God with this body, that he will accept the offering and be honored by it . . . I don't have to be thin enough for the culture in order for my attitude to be transformed . . . indeed, for my attitude to be transformed, I'd best start by chucking cultural expectations altogether and starting with the recognition that this is about me and God.

I wonder how many of the same sorts of expectations and church culture attitudes we import into the exercise and growth of Christian life . . . how much of the sovereign specific of "more Bible, more prayer" for not being a "Better Christian" is like saying, "well, if they'd just exercise more, they'd be healthy."

It the thing--one of the worst things that ever happened to my "devotional" life was the unit I had in high school Bible class on "How to Have a Devotional." I was told just how much scripture to read--between 3 and 10 verses. Definitely not more. I'd miss something. Told how to think and pray and feel earnestly about it. How crucial it was to do this Regularly. We were then assigned a week's worth of devotionals to do as homework. That way. To be turned in and graded. And even though, after that week, I never did a "devotional" in that format again, it took me years to shake free of it enough to feel like it was okay for me to get to know God a slightly different way.

I want to read my Bible. I want to WANT to read my Bible. But I don't want to read it in itty-bitty pieces and then attempt to feel earnestly about it. I want to read it in great carking chunks. And yes, sometimes erratically. I want to listen to good music. To pray in the in between moments of my day, and pray while I'm playing minesweeper, and enjoy the long chunk on Sunday morning when I know that I'm not going to get interrupted with the kids. I want to throw great handfuls of all sorts of stuff into the rock tumbler in my brain--and see what comes out.

I want to build good habits to the glory of God. I want to shake free of expectations. I want to not do anything out of guilt. But I want the virtue of perseverance, whatever that means. I want to understand what it is that's shifted in my heart, so that I can start in on an exercise program and really not much care what anyone else thinks or if I lose a pound, though I would like to gain a little muscle and endurance so that I can hike that canyon. I want to teach and encourage my daughters and give them all the tools and attitudes and habits that they'll need so that they can have the lives that God wants them to have.

I want to live the life to the full, by the grace of God.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sub-creation, responsibility and big noses

One of the on-going discussions in our marriage is our role as sub-creators in the image of God. This discussion actually started quite a while before we were married, in a college seminar that discussed, among many other works of fanatasy, Tolkien's Tree and Leaf, which is a fascinating essay on the nature of story and fairy, coupled with an the illustrative short Leaf by Niggle. I firmly believe that we bear responsibility for and to our creations--to make them the best that they can be . . . that we are to be good gods to the little worlds and character-people that we dream up . . . I also believe that it is possible for our works to transcend us. That the true God will redeem and fulfill all of our little attempts beyond what we could dream of--that anything that is good and true and right and lovely will, in some sense, be carried over into the new heavens and new earth . . . I half expect to meet Reepicheep there. And that even as creators, if we behave irresponsibly that we can forfeit rights over our own creations . . .

Anyway, given the--animated--discussion on the subject that Rob and I were having last night, for this comic to come up via a mis-click in my morning comic crawl seemed apropos. The highly entertaining and theologically dubious Berkely Breathed has also played with this material recently. I think . . . that many of our actions are far more perilous and real than we dare hope or fear . . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Will there be roller coasters, or will we just be able to fly?

If you've glanced at my side bar, you've noticed the link for the "Strange Maps" blog. I love maps. No apologies. I'm the kid who spent the family road trip in the back seat with the atlas open on my lap, tracing our route and noting all the oxymoronically named towns in the U.S.

The latest entry on the Strange Maps roll certainly deserves to be there . . . but I want to note in passing that I find this theologically appalling. As far as I can tell, the only thing to recommend this Heaven is that it's better than the other place (and perhaps a step up from the horrible Victorian white-robes-clouds-and-harps version of heaven). The actual scriptural New Heavens and New Earth, New Jeruselum, City of God is an incredibly rich invitation for us to imagine the very best, most fulfilling, us-being-everything-we-were-meant-to-be sort of existence we can come up with . . . and then God promises that it will be even better.

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Cor. 2:9)

(I view this as a challenge from God: "How much can you imagine? Watch me top it.")

Nothing that will fit on a map.

Update (7-3-15)  Find the map image here

Money as a figment of our collective imagination

I went grocery shopping the other day. I bought approximately $120 of fruit, diapers, cheese sticks, bread and the other assorted necessarys of life with three small-ish children. I "paid" for these with a credit card--an intrinsically worthless rectangle of plastic with a little magnetic strip on the back. Somehow the machine took information from that scratched strip and transmitted it to a huge corporate conglomerate where the fact that I owe X is stored on their massive harddrive as a collection of zeros and ones. I will pay off my credit card by transferring, electronically, more zeros and ones from our online bank account . . . where the fact that I have credit for X dollars is stored as more zeros and ones in their harddrive. (Oh, wait--it's the same harddrive. My bank is also the issuer of my credit card). The money was "put" in our account after we mailed in my husband's paycheck--a piece of paper with no value of its own, an essentially extra-spiffy IOU. Payment for services rendered . . . which this week, was, in part, preaching on stewardship and what Jesus has to say about our attitude towards money. Does this all seem more than a little surreal to anyone else? Will trade theology for food . . .

In the giant game of tit-for-tat that is economics, increasingly our money is . . . what? An idea that we've all agreed to pretend together . . . one that starts from the premise that life is a zero-sum game--and then breaks and breaks and breaks again because we human beings, made in the image of the Creator God, create . . .

My girls like to play Webkinz. The currency of choice for the stuffed animal avatars on that site is Kinzcash--site credit that the web masters dole out parsimoniously for showing up, answering trivia, playing arcade games. Collect enough and you can "buy" your virtual furniture, virtual food, virtual clothing. Both the Kinzcash and the items bought with them are nothing--less than nothing. Zeros and ones on a poorly built website. It really doesn't matter to the web masters whether they give out 25 Kinzcash or 25,000 Kinzcash--they're just inventing it as they go along anyway.

What I'm starting to wonder is, is our "real" money really any more real than that? The idea that treasure in heaven is actually more solid and secure than the "wealth" that we amass here is making an increasing amount of sense . . .

Saturday, May 31, 2008

What would it take for you to give us a chance?

Hat tips to Erin, Barb, and Happy and the many commenters on their posts. . . I'm partly picking up on a conversation already in progress on several other blogs. But partly not. This complex of stuff has been swirling in my thoughts for months. You can think of it as an open letter, I suppose, because there's a number of you out there that I would address it to individually, if you lived in my little splodge of Indiana . . . which you don't . . .

Hi. I'm the local pastor's wife. Our church is small--there are two dozen bigger ones in town. We're not doing glitz; we don't have the people to pull it off even if we wanted to. Things often look pretty staid and conventional of a Sunday morning. (I know I do--I'm never at my best in the morning). I would like to have you worship with us. I would like to worship with you--will you give me the chance to worship with you?

I've read some of what you've been writing lately. You sound like someone that I'd like to know. A vibrant, interesting person. A person who's willing to ask questions and let the answers mean something. I love having those conversations. I know you're not going to a church these days. What would it take for you to give ours a chance?

I know you were burned pretty bad last time. Neglect. Lies. Overwork. And boxes--more than anything, you're leery because "they" tried to stuff you into a too-small box and you were told that that was the Christian life. Well, you figured that God is far, far bigger than that. Weirder, wilder, stranger. Holier and more awesome than our frail little human frames can even begin to dream of.

Here's the thing. I dream of having a church full of people who know that--know down in their gut that belonging to Christ means a wild ride. That God growing us into the people he wants us to be is going to shatter our boxes and expectations . . . that chasing Jesus is not a side-bar to whatever life we happen to be living anyway, but that it is turning "in a direction that isn't usually there . . . a left turn that was left to absolutely everything." And that it leads us to a place more wonderful, real, and difficult than this world wants to admit exists. I want a whole church of that. I want the gift of being able to worship together with people who take me off guard.

Oh yeah. It'll be messy. I really do know that--have I mentioned that I'm a mess too? I'm not completely clueless. I know that the realest, most alive parts of our being are the places where we've been hurt the most deeply, the places that the darkness seems to live. And yes, that's what I want--I want a church where we're not afraid of each other's brokeness . . . because I think that it's only when we dive into those depths that we can find out just how much further God goes.

But here's the thing. There can't be a church of hurt people together unless some of the people who know that they're hurt are willing to give me, to give us, to give each other a chance . . . I've heard you say that what you want doesn't exist. And I know that our congregation isn't that either. Yet. But I would like to take it closer. And I'd like to have your company along the way. I think that by God's grace we could build something pretty good--and I think it would be better for having your insights, hurt, expectations and creativity in it. Is there anything I can do so that you would give a less-than-perfect church--any church--a second chance?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

One of the best things about re-reading is re-discovering exchanges like this

The creature laughed, scornfully. "I," it said, "am frightened of nothing."
"Nothing," it said.
Charlie said, "Are you extremely frightened of nothing?"
"Absolutely terrified of it," admitted the Dragon.
"You know," said Charlie, "I have nothing in my pockets. Would you like to see it?"
"No," said the Dragon, uncomfortably, "I most definitely would not."
There was a flapping of wings like sails, and Charlie was alone on the beach. "That," he said, "was much too easy."

--Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys, pp. 348-349

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

10 Things that make me happy

Tag! I'm it.

Rules . . . the usual. You know. Follow 'em . . . post 'em . . . tag more people . . . nah. If you haven't seen these on Rob's blog already you can go look at them there.

1. Coffee: Well, what did you expect to be first on my list? This includes it in all forms. Fresh-brewed. Lattes. As a mixed drink. Ice cream. But not left-over-and-oxidized-from-yesterday-and -then-reheated. That's not happiness. That's just desperation.

2. The music turned up really loud on a sunny morning.
3. A good morning with my kids.
4. A couple of hours to write
5. Worshipping together with people who are right there with me
6. My husband. I'd elaborate, but none of you really want to read my getting sappy.
7. Rereading a great book
8. Arches National Park
9. Coyote and road runner
10. Poking a stick in the campfire.

11. Rome
12. comics
13. chocolate
14. prayer
15. cats!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For your reading pleasure

I recommend Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union. It's always a delight to find a previously unread author with a back catalog to devour. The last time I was this taken with a read was when I read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Chabon is a master of prose. Never mind the fact that the book's written in present tense. Quite beside the fact that you'll stop noticing that you're reading present tense after about the first chapter, it serves a purpose. (The POV character is severed from his past and is pointedly neglecting his future--to tell this story nearly requires that it be always living only in the immediate moment). The plot is beautiful, the characters vivid, and this Sitka-that-never-was is alive in a way that makes me wish that the U.S. had given part of Alaska to the Jews in 1940 after all . . .

What I did not expect to find in so secular an author and his vulgarity riddled book was an extended meditation on the nature of faith and the desire for home. And not just an earthly home, but a spiritual one . . . and how much of that can we have here on earth anyway? And what does our salvation look like? And how much of our own salvation can we create for ourselves? What is this thing we call faith really made up of?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Taking the city for God

Abmo started this meme, thoughts sparked by a post of Heather's. It asks what a city would look like if it really were taken for God. If the whole city suddenly (or even gradually) became 100% really Christian (you define that in the post). I like a lot of what Abmo had to say on the subject. Heather said, that that city would be a ghost town--because we'd be sent. I'm going to be contrary and say that that city would explode in population.

Speaking as a parent, that'd be a city that would take care of its kids. Yes, we're sent to make disciples, and one of the first places that most of us are sent to do that is in our own homes. Every day, more sinful people are born into this world that need the love of Jesus. That would a city that understood that the most fertile time to tell someone about Jesus is before they're twelve years old, and that if you start actively discipling people in pre-school and grade school then you've usually saved yourself a lot of grief and heart-break later on. There would churches that LOVED their kids. Encouraged, interacted with and answered their questions. Parents, grandparents and communities that loved worshipping WITH their kids and loved teaching their kids to worship, and didn't just warehouse the kids while the adults "had church."

This would be a city where parents actively loved their kids and demonstrated how to live a God honoring, Christ-abundant sort of life seven days a week. There would be parks, sidewalks, and bike paths and affordable public transit and it would be easy and safe for kids to be outside LOTS, honoring God with their bodies by playing hard and just being kids. People would understand that we honor God by really nurturing the minds he gave us. The schools would be well supported. There would be plenty of volunteers to help kids who needed extra help. Art and music programs would flourish as artists and musicians trained up the next generation. No kid would be sent off in the morning without breakfast, or be unable to learn because she was worried about whether the heat was going to be able to be on this week, because he was thinking about the fight his parents had the night before. Teachers would be recognized and honored and wouldn't have to teach to any damned standardized tests.

And you know what? This would all make this a great city to live in. It would win awards like "Most bike-able city in America (or Australia, or whatever)" and "Most Parent-Supported School District." That city would GROW. A church and city that understands that it is sent first to the next generation would truly be the light of Christ's city on the hill.

some toddler messes are theologically significant . . . most, NOT

What can make her think that it's a good idea to pour most of a bottle of water into her cereal? Or to then try to climb down her stool with it? Carry it half way around the house? All I ask is that until I finish my first cup of coffee, any messes she make not be ones that have to be dealt with immediately. Shouldn't even two year olds have more sense than this? Oye. Emergency prayer: oh-help-God-help-oh-help

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Signs you're a control freak, # . . . eh, I don't want to know what number

My being a control freak might be more understandable if I was more competent at it . . . But God has apparently decided to address this particular flaw in my character in large part by handing me a life that is most obviously out of my control. Mind you, I'm not complaining. God has blessed me with more than I would have dared ask for--but it's obvious that it's not by my efforts nor within the realm of my being able to manage.

Most days, I content myself with shoving this great good on the back burner and instead incompetently attempting to assert my own sense of control by micro-managing the stupid details of my family's life. This too is doomed to failure because:

1. I'm fundamentally lazy and micromanaging is a lot of work

2. I'm a big picture thinker and micromanaging requires keeping track of a lot of details

3. There are 4 other control freaks in my family who want to manage their own affairs, not have me manage them for them.

Which brings me round (almost), to my point. Let me note in passing, that by training and inclination, I am a (moderate) Calvinist. Theologically, I'm not a control freak. This is very comforting to me. I can't even manage to get my dental appointment made--the fact that my status before Almighty God is not subject to my screw-ups is a really good thing. Upholding God's sovereignty over a bigger picture than I can even comprehend appeals to my sense of things. So . . .

What is it about us as parents that leads us to think that when we cannot control anything else in our world, we can control our children--independent agents, separate people, their own wills? I keep finding in myself this deep-seated insistence that my daughters' well-being, spirtitual and emotional, is dependent on my efforts. On my doing a good enough job as a parent. I may affirm every week that we're all sinful, but when my kid screws up, there's the devil, whispering in my ear that it's due to my failure. I am fighting, I think, a battle common to Christian parents . . . I may know in my gut that MY salvation is only by grace, the product of Christ's death and mercy . . . but by golly, my kids' salvation is going to be my job . . . by my own blood and sweat . . . surely, if I just do everything right enough I can ensure that my kids will be okay . . . and when I run into the horrible truth that yeah, my kids are sinful too, I find myself asking "What did I do wrong?"

Dear Lord . . . you ask me to trust you with my whole life. Some days, I can almost manage that. But I'm having a hard time with your asking me to trust you with the lives of my children as well. Help me to remember that they are not my posessions. Help me to know that you love them more deeply than I ever can . . .