Monday, September 29, 2008

Why I don't Teach Sunday School

Today is Rosh Hashana, so this weekend I gathered some books for the girls to help them learn a bit about it. One was about a white ram that God created in the Garden of Eden specifically so that he could take Isaac's place.

Drama Queen's reaction was something along the lines of, "What kind of idiot would agree to kill his kid?" To which I have no answer, because I think Abraham was out of his mind. All that guff about his complete obedience--bah. What do we all think when we hear of some one who killed his wife/friend/child/dog because God told him too. Would we for one minute entertain the idea that, heh, maybe God would do that and this poor sod was just being "obedient." And if he were the equivalent of Billy Graham, would that sway us? No.

Then there's the explanation about how it foreshadows Christ, as if the events of the Old Testament happened for the sole purpose of tying up a pretty package so many years later.

All this to say that my honest response to DramaQueen's questions was that I told her some of the traditional answers, which she received skeptically. I don't think I am exactly communicating a deep and abiding faith.

Friday, September 26, 2008

RevGals Friday Five: Johnny Appleseed

From Singing Owl:

Raise your hand if you know that today is Johnny Appleseed Day!

September 26, 1774 was his birthday. "Johnny Appleseed" (John Chapman) is one of America's great legends. He was a nurseryman who started out planting trees in western New York and Pennsylvania, but he was among those who were captivated by the movement west across the continent.

As Johnny traveled west (at that time, the "West" was places like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois) he planted apple trees and sold trees to settlers. With every apple tree that was planted, the legend grew. A devout Christian, he was known to preach during his travels. According to legend, Johny Appleseed led a simple life and wanted little. He rarely accepted money and often donated any money he received to churches or charities. He planted hundreds of orchards, considering it his service to humankind. There is some link between Johny Appleseed and very early Arbor Day celebrations.

So, in honor of this interesting fellow, let's get on with the questions!

1. What is your favorite apple dish? (BIG BONUS points if you share the recipe.)
I’m not a big fan of apples. I guess the traditional apple pie would be my answer. With a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. I have no recipe because I don’t cook unless forced.

2. Have you ever planted a tree? If so was there a special reason or occasion you can tell us about?
No, I have never planted a tree. I grew up in a house with a yard full of beautiful pecan trees, which have a special place in my heart. I loved harvesting the pecans. We would have bushels to draw upon for baking and snacking.

3. Does the idea of roaming around the countryside (preaching or otherwise) appeal to you? Why or why not?
If by roaming around the countryside you mean sleeping in tents or something, then no. I like a nice comfortable bed and a flush toilet, thank you very much.

4. Who is a favorite "historical legend" of yours?
I’ve always loved Robin Hood. I grew up reading the stories by Howard Pyle. I loved the idea of an outlaw prompted by a sense of justice to right inequity. The Pyle stories are full of daring adventure and a lot of humor. And I can’t forget King Arthur, the noble knights and the round table. T. E. White’s Arthur novels are delightful.

5. Johnny Appleseed was said to sing to keep up his spirits as he traveled the roads of the west. Do you have a song that comes when you are trying to be cheerful, or is there something else that you often do?
I read when I need to change my mood. Reading soothes and settles my mind. Also, I find that traditional jazz makes me happy—a little Miles Davis, a little Coltrane. Sigh.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11

On September 11, 2001, I awoke and did a second pregnancy test, which was positive. This put me in a thoughtful mood. A little excited, a little nervous. I was missing my mom, who had died in June, and was sad she wouldn’t get to see this granddaughter. I had to take DramaQueen (not yet two) to her daycare and get to work. I wasn’t in the mood to turn on NPR, which I always listened to on the drive. When I walked into our daycare provider’s home, I was ready with my usual greeting, which quickly evaporated. She had the TV on and the phone to one ear. While I was trying to make sense of what I was seeing on TV, the second plane hit.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I got in my car, called Dear Husband, turned on the radio and drove to work, crying the whole way. There was supposed to be a very important company meeting, so everyone showed up but nobody worked. We all sat in the one room with a TV, and then they let us go home and rescheduled the meeting.

I never really recovered a sense of joy about being pregnant; it seemed to be tainted from the start, and I wasn’t really surprised that it didn’t go as it should. Looking back, it seems to have ushered in a season of sorrow that stayed on for years. I’m sorry that my first memory of Firecracker is so tied up with a national disaster, and that every subsequent challenge to her health has seemed like an echo.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Head for the Exit

Our workplace is offering a screening of Fireproof, that new moving staring Kirk Cameron, an actor I generally like to avoid. I’m wondering—do I go? Do I have to go to avoid everyone wondering why I didn’t go? Will they be asking questions about it later? I think I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that looks even remotely like a vehicle for a Christian-y message. And by Christian-y, I don’t mean that it addresses the pressing issues that Christians should be concerned about, such as poverty, hunger, oppression and the like—a film like Amazing Grace, for instance. I mean the kind of film that addresses whether or not you’ve said the magic Jesus words. Remember that beyond-hideous Left Behind, also staring the underwhelming Kirk Cameron? Shudder.

Fireproof is from the same folks who did Facing the Giants, which I thought surprisingly well acted and well-produced but utterly predictable and bland. In fact, I don’t think I can remember the storyline now. Everyone gets saved and we get to go home. Anyway, both these movies were filmed in my hometown, which astounds me to no end. I detested the place and couldn’t wait to get the bleep out. It was boring, backward and bigoted. Either things have changed or the place has been digitally enhanced.

Fireproof is about a firefighter whose marriage is falling apart. His parents (newly saved, of course, and just oozing wisdom) challenge him to some sort of endurance test of making loving gestures to his wife (Yeah, that part sounds a bit like a Hallmark movie). Which of course will inevitably lead to him seeing the vasty emptiness in himself and saying the magic Jesus words. We can all wipe away a few tears and go home.

My jaundiced view makes me look like a total s**t, because here are these good people making a warmhearted film with the best of intentions. They even have some flair and talent. Dear Husband would say that I’m weak on the necessity of salvation. I wouldn’t say that, although I think subtlety has a lot going for it, unless they just want to preach to the choir. It’s the cynics like me who need God, but we are the ones who are going to run screaming from this sort of film, however good the production values.

When a film (or any form of art) has an agenda, it seems to me that the tail is wagging the dog. To me these films smack of art slapped over some Campus Crusade tracts.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Conversation on the way home from church

Firecracker, chanting to herself: God made spinach. God made broccoli. God made tomatoes . . .

Me: Oh, does that mean you’re going to eat all that?

Firecracker: Noooo. God didn’t tell me to do that.

Friday, September 05, 2008

RevGals Friday Five: Vulnerability

This week’s Friday Five, courtesy of Sally, is about vulnerability. Most of my visitors are probably from RevGals and know about this already, but I ask any other blog friends stopping by to pray for Gannet Girl, whose 24-year-old son died Tuesday night.

1. Is vulnerability something that comes easily to you, or are you a private person?

I talk a lot and probably give the impression of being much more open than I am. But, yep, I keep lots of stuff to myself for various reasons.

2. How important is it to keep up a professional persona in work/ ministry?

Although we have a relatively relaxed atmosphere, it’s essential to me to keep a lot of myself to myself in order to fit in where I work.

3. Masks, a form of self protection discuss...

Absolutely necessary in some cases. I think it’s important to protect yourself from those who may wish to injure you. There are plenty of those out there, and I don’t think anything is gained by letting them romp around your psyche. I don’t necessarily think of masks as negative. Sometimes they help you discover more about yourself.

4. Who knows you warts and all?

Dear Husband, who has pretty much heard it all and knows my idiosyncrasies, doubts, darkness, less than stellar personal history and all.

5. Share a book, a prayer, a piece of music, a poem or a person that touches the deep place in your soul, and calls you to be who you are most authentically.

A lot of art touches me deeply, but I’m not sure I would say that it calls me to be more authentic. Art is tricky, using subterfuge, pretense and fantasy to deliver its truths. Actors wore masks in ancient Greece—art covers up and reveals. I’m not sure I even know what it means to be authentic. We are so many different characters exiting and entering our individual stages.

I keep coming back to my favorite book, Brideshead Revisited, which I think captures so well that longing and yearning for something greater than ourselves, which we try to sate in love affairs, friendships, art, action. The protagonist, Charles, is a painter who becomes very successful. Some describe his paintings as “dangerous”, but a friend who knew him before his fame isn’t fooled and tells him that his paintings are inauthentic: “charm playing tigers.” A charming person seeks to please, whether through beauty or wit or cleverness. They put people at ease. There is no challenge or recognition of terror, pain, or loneliness, all of which Charles has experienced. He has seen first-hand how “charm” wrecks friendships and families, but he had a hard time putting it aside. Like most of us, he has to be completely broken. But the story is about the workings of Grace, so he is redeemed at the end.Yep, I could probably bend your ear for awhile, so I'll stop.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jesus Is My Boyfriend: Jacobean Style

I can’t stop mulling over that Donne poem. In case you missed it, here it is again:

Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

One of the reasons I like Donne is his playful intellect, that double-edged sword. “Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend.” But it doesn’t of course; it keeps us captive. I can relate to the frustration he expresses.

How often do you hear someone talk about the peace that surpasses understanding? When we have serious problems, everyone prays that for us. But exactly how do you find that peace—or put it another way—how do you let God establish that peace in you? I’m here God, ready to feel that peace. Bring it on. Is that it? Sort of. Maybe. Wait, I don’t feel peaceful—all hell’s breaking loose. Am I missing something? I said I was happy to accept peace. More than ready. Sigh.

What does that peace look like? Serene? Calm? Stoic? Eye of the hurricane? How do you feel peace when your mind is always churning, synthesizing, analyzing. I take comfort that Jesus himself doesn’t seem all that calm to me. You don’t knock over tables and sweat blood because you have a serene nature. He’s not the Christian version of Buddha, although he’s always depicted as spouting wisdom with this sappy beneficent look on his face.

How are we supposed to feel God’s presence? Is it warm and fuzzy? Is it in the grass, the trees, our children, other people, the rocks, my computer, everything—or is that too pantheistic? And what about the shadow we see out of the corner of our eye—gone so fast maybe it wasn’t there at all. Frustratingly unknowable. Tantalizingly unknowable. We are always pushing out and reaching beyond and our hands close on thin air. No wonder Donne asks God to get him out of the arranged marriage with reason. We toss and turn in reason, feel hemmed in and stifled, but don’t know how get out. And, if we can’t do it because it’s supposed to be all God’s work, well, we can turn that against ourselves, too. Gee, is that God now? Is He doing something? Am I feeling free? Wait, am I imagining all this? What if I’m imagining all this?

I love those last two lines “I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.” I wonder if Donne felt a bit daring writing that? Maybe it was a commonplace expression of religious piety. Hah. Any commentary will be quick to point you to the bridegroom imagery in the Bible and the Song of Solomon, but it’s still a weird concept. That’s supposed to be the model for a relationship with Christ? It seems so . . . carnal. Honestly, when you read Song of Solomon, do you really think, “This is about the church as the bride of Christ”? It doesn’t exactly calm the senses. Anyway, in pondering all this in my haphazard, non-systematic way, I happened across this link that features a very interesting quote from Ronald Rolheiser.

I wasn’t familiar with Rolheiser. He seems to have rubbed a few people the wrong way, which I find delightful. So I checked out a book called The Restless Heart, which addresses loneliness and the insatiable human longing for connection and meaning. Rolheiser seems to think that we’ll be having sex in heaven, and I’m not quite sure if he means that as a metaphor. It definitely makes heaven sound a lot more interesting that standing around singing and strumming a lyre.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

No Need to Panic: Let Me Do It for You

You know the saying "Today is the first day of the rest of your life"? I guess it’s supposed to be inspiring, but today it came to mind during a wash of anxiety. We have plenty of good reasons to be anxious—we still have medical expenses to pay off after insurance, Dear Husband needs a deviated septum fixed, I still need to find a new psych to check my apparently not functioning too well meds, I need new glasses and dental work, Dear Husband needs to pass his teacher certification test and find a new job. And I’m, well, wherever. Standing in the limbo of 40something looking back at what looks like 40 years wandering the desert and looking forward to what may be more of the same. That gives me plenty of anxiety. I think it’s supposed to be a symptom of ADD that you tend to drift, all your goals ephemeral or gauzy and indistinct. It’s not as if you can just shake yourself and say, “Well, what do you really want?” I don’t know—a happy family, fulfilling work, meaning, world peace and the end of suffering. What do those look like broken down into actual goals? Sheesh. A million different decisions every day. I start to hyperventilate just thinking about it. It’s one thing to say “One step at a time.” Yeah, right. One step. Oh, what’s that over there? Wait, where was I? Another step. This doesn’t look right. Was I supposed to go right or left? Another step. Oh for pete’s sake I forgot to bingety bing. Another step. Jeepers, I’m tired already. The only thing I can be certain about is that I won’t miss the exit.