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.